Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hiring in IT

As I told you a couple of posts ago I’m changing my career. Since then (July) I’ve been looking for a job in the field of information/data management. After almost two months I’m still looking for it and quite disappointed with the companies I’m applying to. I don’t understand why companies don’t spend the few seconds required to reply to your email saying “Thanks for applying, we really appreciate your interest in this company”. You don’t know what is happening with your application, and even after they call you to present tests and approve them they don’t call you back to tell you the final result. Why is it so difficult to give bad news? It is more important to tell the truth than just hide it.

During this process I’ve learnt a couple of things. The first is that you need two things to get a gob in IT: being an engineer (doesn’t matter if you had good or bad grades neither the university where you come from) and certifications (the ones that you can get in one week). I knew certifications were important, but not that can be more important that your academic achievements. I’ve been the best of my class, received scholarships for my academic performance and done a research Master in Systems and Organizations Management. All of this years of study, research and being at the academic elite are worthless because companies don’t want academic studies, they want certifications. In order to get a certification you pay a course that lasts a couple of weeks (maximum a month) where you memorize all the topics of the certification, after that you present the exam and voilà! you got a certification. So for me there is a bit of disproportion here.

The second one is that your technical knowledge (specially the tools or programming languages you know)  is more important than your personal and cognitive skills. In other words they evaluate your skills based on the tools you might know rather than the value that you can add to the company. I can group my experience in two sets: personal and professional. In the first group (personal or human) is my experience as a volunteer, teacher, researcher and entrepreneur; which clearly show a strong personal and leadership side. Also I speak three languages (Spanish, English and French) and have strong human values like ethics, morals and compassion. In the second group (professional) I’ve been a systems administrator, software engineer and business intelligence analyst. Also I’m always reading about the latest innovations and techniques in my field; now I’m learning more and more about BI, Big Data and data management. All of this doesn’t matter because companies don’t look for people who are able to learn, unlearn and relearn (like the famous quote “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”) but for people that already know a tool/language and maybe are not willing to change it.

There is a need in the IT sector, at least in Colombia, to change the way we recruit people. If we want to build a world class sector we need to invest first in the primary resource of IT, the people. Companies need to hire people with more personal/cognitive values/skills even if they don’t have a lot of experience in the technology they will work with. People can learn, and is that differentiating factor that can build great companies or destroy them. We live in a society where people are getting used to live the easiest way possible, that’s why McDonalds, reality shows and pollution have succeeded. Nowadays people have less and less abilities to learn, unlearn and relearn; they are not willing to change their careers or learn new tools/technologies.

One of the findings of my research thesis was that software companies need to invest more in the discovery of new knowledge and the development of innovative products/services. We cannot achieve this by narrowing the selection of new personal to the tools/languages/certifications they have work with. New models of recruitment must be developed. These models have to give more importance to the human/cognitive values/skills of the engineers than the technical skills. If companies hire people that are able to learn, unlearn and relearn we will be able to build a high class IT sector.

For me this new model of Hiring in IT has to have three dimensions: human/cognitive, professional and technical. The first element should evaluate the integrity, ethics, morals, passion, communication and other human values. Also cognitive abilities, like learning or language skills, must be evaluated in this step. The weight of this evaluation must be at least 50%. The second element (professional) must evaluate the fields of your career you know the most and it must be technology/tool independent. So if you want to work in software development you should be able to solve problems algorithmically or if you want to work in BI you must be able to design a dimensional model. This should weight between 30 – 40% of your overall evaluation. The final dimension evaluates the knowledge you have in specific technologies or tools. If you know Java you should be able to demonstrate it or have a certification of it. This should be the 10 – 20% of your evaluation.

With these dimensions we can be able to select employees that will not only do the tasks they are supposed to but that can give an added value to the company. While writing this post I looked for some ideas to support it and I’ve found a very nice article written by the CEO of oDesk (the biggest online job marketplace) where he claims for new ideas to help the hiring of people. I completely agree with him and share the dimensions he proposes, although I think we need to adapt them to the IT world.

Changing this wont happen overnight, so I still need to get a bit more disappointed while looking for a job in BI, Big Data or data management :P.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Surviving

I’ve survived like 5 apocalypse days, some sickness during my first years and even a meconium aspiration syndrome that I had when I was born, and today I’ve survived another dead near experience: the 27th year of my life. There is something called the 27 club whose members are sadly remembered for dying at the age of 27. Also I can cite the death of the Colombian writer Andrés Caicedo who committed suicide at the age of 25 because he believed that living more that 25 years was madness.

Today I’m 28 so it is fair to say that I survived this 27 “curse”, just kidding :P. Anyway, this year I survived in five different countries (Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Cuba) and here I am ready to start again. Some people say that 28 is the start of a new moment in life and the consolidation of the self. For me the proposal for this year is to move forward in my career (as I told you in the last post I will move to the data science side), live in another place (maybe here in my city or in another country) and stop being alone. I’ve 365 opportunities to do it, so let’s start tomorrow ;).

Ps. I will share with you this song, it has been in my mind all the week.

 

No te va gustar–Solo

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New beginnings

For the n-th time I will remember a famous quote that has defined a lot of things in my life: “Change is the only thing that is permanent in life”, and I’m about to change again. This time I will change my career focus. In order for you to understand this change I will tell you what has been my career path.

When I was finishing my university studies my choice was pretty simple, work as software engineer in a big company, get married, buy a house/car/pet, get retirement and die happily ever after. Then I lived in Dominican Republic and it changed everything. Since then I’ve worked in several roles: software engineer, volunteer, researcher, university teacher, business intelligence and entrepreneur. I’ve been in six different roles and each one of them has taught me something that has led me to the person I’m now. Few months ago I thought that this was a bad thing to have in your CV, but now after understanding the Antifragile concept I realized that it is not as bad as I thought. In the book the author says:

“Do not invest in business plans but in people, so look for someone capable of changing six or seven times over his career, or more (an idea that is part of the modus operandi of the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen); one gets immunity from the backfit narratives of the business plan by investing in people. It is simply more robust to do so”

The reason for my constant change is that I’m always looking for challenges and learning opportunities. I don’t fit in the system. It is designed for people who just want to stick around, make enough money to live and spend it in banal things (like partying), and to be able to pay to the bank for the things they want. That’s life for most of the people. My main motivator to work is not the money or the guarantee that I’ll have a normal life, no, it is the learning and purpose that you can have. Learning in the way to gather new knowledge/ideas, connect them with the ones you had before and understand how the world works in order to be able to propose real changes to our reality. Purpose understood as working for something bigger than oneself.

Based on this I will change again my career, I will retake the business intelligence side but adding a bit of the data science side. I believe that data science is a key for us to improve our society. Developing countries, like mine, have a great opportunity in data science to explode their wealth and reduce their inequity gap. Several systems can benefit from this analysis, like education, health, politics, among others, and I want to be part of this. I’m aware that I’ve to start from below, working with big companies in order to learn and be able to use that knowledge to change our reality as Latin-Americans.

The road is ahead and the desire is there, just need to find the right position in the right company, here or abroad. The next weeks seem challenging and though as I’ve never looked for a job, but hey! there is always a first time for everything :P.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

About vacations

DSC03959The general definition of vacations is that time when you don’t have to work so you can go and meet new places, go out with friends, fix things at home, smile and sleep well; basically you live your life as it was supposed to be. If this is true, what do you do when you are not on vacations? Usual answer will be work. But for me it is different, I’ve never had vacations in my life. I’ve had more than 10 different jobs in the last 8 years and never asked for vacations (because being always a contractor doesn’t give you the opportunity for), and I feel like I don’t need them. I’ve several seals in my passport, stories to tell and experiences to share.

Regular jobs and regular vacations are one of the mayor constraints of life. Vacations are where you want to be and the only way to it is working hard for one year, doesn’t matter if you like it or not. Confucius said  “Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life”, meaning that a job will be a heavy weight in your life and you better enjoy it, if no you will suffer (except for the 2-3 weeks you have of vacations). And guess what, people who enjoy their jobs don’t take vacations. Of course they meet new places, new people, take pictures of amazing landscapes, sleep and smile. They don’t call it vacations, they call it life.

So my proposal for you, my dear reader, is to analyze the way you see vacations, and also weekends. If they are your time off, your escape time, that time you are waiting to come forever, or the time to enjoy life and reconnect with your friends and relatives, you must reconsider the time you spend at the office. Ask yourself if your life is worth the salary they pay you. If the time you don’t spend with friends, family, at museums, at theatre, at movies, in another city, learning a new language or a new skill is worth the salary they pay you. If so please go on. If no you can ask for more money or start living your life. And remember at the end you are nothing more than an asset to the company and they can replace you with other, but the time gone never comes back.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Travel light

The last month has been quite challenging and fun. I went to Buenos Aires for a week and it was very nice. One less thing in my bucket list  :). I really enjoyed it because I only carried with me the necessary things, something I learnt by living alone in the Caribbean. When I went there I carried with me a lot of stuff (even some clothes for cold :P) and I used like 70% of them. So I decided to travel only with the necessary things, anything else can be bought on the road.

The same line of thought can be used in life. We have like a visa (oh visas!) for this planet and sooner or later it will expire and we will be kicked out of it. We are only travellers in this world. If we carry a lot of things in life we will move slow and when change will be required it will be quite difficult to move everything. The less things you carry the easier to move. I’ve moved two times in my life to different cities in different countries and so far I’ve learnt to live with the necessary.

Making decisions with a heavy bag will make you think twice and great opportunities could be lost. Most of the things we carry are useless or we could live with out them. We are attached to them. The more attachments we have the unhappier we are. People are so used to their lives that for a small trip they carry soap, shampoo, all types of cables, and even hair cream! when they can buy those in any store in the world. They do it because change for them is hard and it is easier to carry their heavy lives than change them for a short period of time.

My proposal is simple, next time you will be packing for a travel ask yourself how are you going to use each thing inside the bag, if you can replace it with something already packed or if you can simply buy it or borrow it at your destination don’t pack it. After you learn this do the same with your life, ask for each thing at home, work or your personal spaces (your laptop, email, etc.) and if you don’t need it just take it out. The last thing you can do is to inspect the non-physical things, like relationships, memories, feelings, among others, and decide which ones add value to your life and which ones are just a heavy weight for your soul. This type of attachment is the hardest and heaviest one and is the most difficult to lose. I’ve done this exercise but it took me years and kilometres away to lost the attachment, in my case to some people, memories and feelings.

Remember travel light, detach the things that make your life heavy and you would be able to reach further destinations :). 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Being in the 90%

Statistics show that in the start-up world only 10% of the ideas succeed, meaning that (if you do the proper math) the 90% will fail. Guess what?, we are now in the 90%. But everything is OK, at least we have health and no debts, as we use to say in Colombia. Last week here was a moment of reflection in order to figure out where did we fail and what can we learn from this experience. In this post I’m going to be very honest and critical.

Before listing the key points of my thoughts I have to admit something: failure sucks. I know it is part of the learning process, that we learnt more things that the one who succeed and that we should be treated with reverence because through our errors and mistakes is how discoveries occur. Trust me, I know how failing and changing help you to discover new things and being more confortable with yourself (I’ve changed 4 time my MSc thesis topic because I didn’t feel confident enough with it, but my final topic has taught me more things about life than I could ever imagined), but in the end all the process sucks. The patient needs the medicine but it tastes awful.

So let’s list the things we learnt in this stage of our lives, they are not in a predefined order:

  • Everybody lies. The most important quote from House MD is something I learnt this time. People lie when they tell you they want to change, that they want to be out of their comfort zones, that they want to be better, etc. People lie to you because they lie to themselves.
  • People don’t want to change. I have changed sometimes in my life, mainly during hard times. I truly believe that “Change is the only thing that is permanent in life”. We are so dependent of the environment that any change on it should trigger compensations in ourselves so we can adapt to the new conditions, afterwards that’s how we have evolved from unicellular beings to homo sapiens sapiens. But people are so attached to their comfort zones that it is almost impossible for them to change, adapt and improve. I call that inertia, as first Newton’s law says: “An object that is in motion will not change its velocity unless an unbalanced force acts upon it”. Think that the object is the person and the motion is composed by all the things they are used to (like their jobs, their cars, their language, being stuck in traffic for hours, going to sleep late, chatting, Facebook, playing games, etc.), if there is no force that acts upon it the person will be the same all life. And the strongest force to change this motion resides in each one of us, if you don’t use it nothing is going to happen and the inertia will be forever.
  • Management. We were not as good managers as we thought. We decorated everything to motivate us, we were always there doing and helping, and we pushed a bit when it was required. In the end we didn’t realize how we should do it to improve the productivity, we failed in this, but we learnt a lot of things in the process. Like how important it is to have the team in the same place and the joy of a huge whiteboard.
  • Honesty. Studies show that we think the best of ourselves, that we are the best drivers, sons, parents, friends, students, etc. That’s why we don’t like that people tell us the reality, that we are not as good as we think. We defined as a core rule of our company the honesty, no matter what will happen we will very honest with ourselves. And we did it. We did an “honest meeting” once and it improved how we performed as a team. But we forgot about it and people went back. So for now on, if I will work again in a team, I will propose to create this “honest meetings” at least once per month to let people speak their minds, being honest with themselves and with others. The only way to build great things is through the transparency that honesty gives you.
  • Truth. I always thought that if you say the truth no matter how bad it will be and if you behave accord the law nothing will happen to you. All my life I’ve had problems with that, and during this time really bad things happened that made me change my mind. I still believe that truth, justice and equity are the key to change the world, but respecting those values will cost you, and sometimes will defeat you because the society we live in is not prepared yet to manage the truth.
  • Risk management. I learnt to be paranoiac about everything. If something has to fail it will fail, says a Murphy law. It is true, trust me. We planned everything, we had everything covered but we take for granted a small detail that, in the end, helped a lot to our failure. So please never take anything for granted, think about every possible scenario and be able to confront them. Being paranoiac can save your ass, so don’t be lazy and cover every corner.
  • Knowing each other. The best way to know people is to live with them, but trust me in this: you will never finish to know somebody. Each one of us has its own habits. Improvement the coexistence with others is just not an enough reason to change. Strong habits die hard, and I didn’t see any habit die while I was here. I still need to understand why people cannot adapt when circumstances require it, maybe they don’t give a shit about that.
  • Exercise. For the first time in my live I’ve been working out regularly for almost all the year. The results are not what I expected for all the work done (maybe more healthy food will help) but with more patience and discipline I can get in the shape I want. From now on exercise will be a must for the rest of my life. My only remorse is to have not learnt it some years ago.
  • Design. I do not like to design. I was not born with the neuron of art/design. But in the world we live now for technology to succeed it has to be related with design and arts, as Steve Jobs pointed out several years ago. We thought we could do our own design, we a bunch of geeks. And guess what… it sucked. The job that this guys do, designers, is impressive. With it they can sell a lot of things, even if it does not work in the backend. We provided a robust architecture, great and scalable performance, and it didn’t matter. Lesson learnt, next time hire a good designer. Ideas are not sold by how they perform but by how they look.
  • Motivation. I worked in AIESEC, as you might know (joke! no one reads this so you wouldn’t know :P). There I learnt how to motivate people and why it is important to make things happen. In this start-up experience I learnt that in order to motivation to succeed it has to find a catalyst inside you.  You can brain-wash all what you want but if the people don’t react or the motivation cannot find that catalyst it is not going to work. So you need to find the right people that has the catalyst your motivation needs.
  • Getting older. I’m 27 now. Studies show that is in this age when your brain activity begins to decay. So I’m really worried. I’ve been experimenting some changes in my brain activities since last year. Concentration is more difficult to get, now I’m procrastinating and getting easily distracted. My brain is becoming lazy, now I don’t remember a lot of phone numbers (not even mine) because I can access them quickly in my phone. So I’m beginning to train my brain. I’m learning again calculus, practicing my French, reading more books, making more exercise, and in the future I want to learn a new language and play again the guitar. Also I’m worried by the fact that I’m single and by somehow I’m feeling now that I want to have children. Maybe my brain thinks that it is time to rise a kid, teach him/her all I know and put in this world a being able to change it. Time passes, my brain gets older (hope not dumber) and the world is still there waiting for me to know it.
  • Antifragility. Antifragility is a concept introduced by Nassim Nicholas Taleb that wants to describe how biological system (like human beings) can recover from failures and become stronger. Human systems, such as education, economy, health among others, are fragile, meaning that each failure of the system leads to another failure, making the system weaker and more exposed to black swans, like the economic crisis of 2008. The author presents the need to create antifragile human systems in order to improve society. Our company was quite fragile, as many start-ups are. We didn’t know that and we didn’t build it in a way to be less fragile. And when adversity hit us, it was in a way we could not recover. So for the next time, if it will be one, we need to build ideas in a way they can resist adversities, get hurt and learn while they recover, in other words to be more antifragile.
  • Remorse. Simple, do your best and give all you have so you wont have any remorse. I did it in that way so no remorse baby!
  • Believe. At last but not least. You have to believe in you and your ideas to make them happen. It doesn’t matter if you don’t succeed at the first try, or if no one likes what you do. If you believe you will probably succeed. When we lunched we didn’t get the feedback or the acceptance we were waiting for. Then we decided to change the idea or how it is called a Pivot, but it went even worse. Now looking backwards I think we could have fought more, have not done the pivot, tried to create new things..., etc. Next time I hope I can believe more.

I don’t regret coming here. It has been an amazing experience. I’ve had the opportunity to live in two different countries: one several years behind mine and other several years ahead; this has taught me a lot of things and help me in my self-production process. Everything in life is an “apprentissage” and we have to take the best of each moment.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

About success

Success is one of the most difficult things to define. As each one has their own set of ideas, beliefs and behaviours it is quite difficult to create a definition that suits everyone. I still don’t have one for myself.

Some time ago I realized that success is not about the money or things you get, what is the western more likely definition of success. Neither being smart or learn new things everyday can be regarded as success, because the more you know the more you understand and the more you get disappointed (at some point you begin to understand how things work in this world full of hate and selfishness).  Friends? someone could say that having an active social life, thousands of people on Facebook and everyone thinking that you are awesome could be a great approach to success. Nowadays we live with the “Culture of personality” where social, public speaking, smiles and the clothes you wear are the most important things. If people loves you and they want to follow you then you are successful. This simply doesn’t fit me. I’m in the other side, in the “Culture of character” where your values are the more important than how you project yourself to people. Compassion, honesty, altruism, selflessness, among others, are the values that are emphasized in the culture of character. These values differ completely from the personality ones and are more related to what you are as a human being. And maybe there is were success lies, on developing yourself as human being.

As I pointed at the beginning of this post define success so it can suits everyone is quite difficult, I will define it in the other way around, success is being what you are. A typical Colombian song says: “My son if you want to be a shoemaker I just want you to be the best”. Success is do the best we can with the things we have. Success does not lay in the comparison with others (human beings are born and trained to compare with others), it is about develop ourselves and in the process help the development of others. From the Buddhist point of view happiness is achieved through the development of values like selflessness, compassion, humility, among others, and helping in the happiness development of others. In the words of Mathieu Ricard happiness “means transforming oneself to better transform the world”. And for me achieving happiness is achieving success.

Why I’m writing about success? The last weeks have been quite tough and we have achieved nothing. So it is required to settle things down and the best way is to define where do we want to be. Hope this thoughts could help me to see the road towards success.