Sunday, November 8, 2009

Career Cultivation and Creativity

Dean Wampler wrote an excellent article about the importance of cultivating your career, and provides some ways to do so. A thoughtful piece with some great ideas.

In classic piggyback style, I thought I might add some suggestions. I'll keep this brief, as I fear an audience mismatch: those who might benefit most from these kinds of blog posts are the people who don't read blogs. This means, sadly, we may well be yammering to ourselves in a cyber echo chamber.

Developing Experience

Dean suggests trying new technologies at work (testing is a great opportunity), or an open-source project.

One other option is a public repository such as GitHub. In my experience, posting a project on a public server really forces you to dot the i's: you want a good build process, unit tests, clean/idiomatic code and so on. The public nature of the effort removes the laziness that can happen on homegrown "Sunday night" projects.

Another option is to build a website. If you want to learn Rails, then really use it. Hosting is cheap, as a career investment.

You might protest: What would I build? All the great ideas are taken! Well, first remember that you aren't trying to get rich, you're trying to get experience. That said, it will take some creativity. All too often we concentrate on creative technical solutions, but do not apply it to our careers. In this instance, there are lots of ideas: consider a single service site, help a volunteer organization, etc.

If you play it right, you might learn something and make a name for yourself in the process. A friend of mine wrote Online Task List: he learned a ton about web development and now has hundreds of real-life users (including me).

Use Technology

Everyone talks about social media, but there are many other technologies such as screencasting and the mighty YouTube.

As an aside, I am stunned that it is 2009 and I see 6-page résumés: each job has the same lengthy details, no matter if it is a senior position in 2008 or an intern level gig in 1999. There is a painful list of technologies that includes things like log4j. I realize résumés are tuned for search engines, but no one cares that you know log4j!

What I'd like to see is someone on YouTube standing at a white-board, taking 5-10 minutes to explain the inverse=true concept in Hibernate. Or your definition of unit tests versus integration tests. What is your favourite data structure? Anything! If you're good, you will shine through.

If I were to receive a minimalist résumé with contact info and a URL to your YouTube vid, I guarantee you'll have my attention. (Here, I'm assuming a thoughtful, tailored cover letter as part of the offering.)

The Upshot

In both solving problems and cultivating careers, don't discount creativity.

We are only bounded by our imaginations.