MATRIX Employee Spotlight: Holly Carman

Our spotlight blog series aims to highlight MATRIX employees and consultants, and who they are outside of work. Today we get to know Holly Carman, one of our Jacksonville team members who has worked in many roles at MATRIX in the last few years.

MATRIX Employee Spotlight: Holly Carman

Tell me about yourself.
I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. I haven’t ventured out too far since graduating from Clay High and attending the University of North Florida (UNF). My father owns a swimming pool company, so I grew up with an entrepreneurial mindset and strong work ethic at an early age. I recently married a wonderful man, Ryan, and we have a Boxer puppy named Emmitt. I also have four cutie pie nephews whom I adore!

What are you passionate about outside work?
Outside of work you will find me out on Black Creek, playing golf, or dancing – West Coast Swing or 2-Step. I enjoy being outside soaking up the sun and relaxing when I can. I have been dancing competitively for five years and it has been amazing to travel all over the country to compete and meet new friends.

If you have nothing better to do, check out my routine - but don’t hold it against me!

What are you excited for in 2015?
MATRIX is growing and I couldn’t be more excited to expand a great company into my hometown. I’m looking forward to strengthening current partnerships, building new business relationships, and helping great tech professionals advance in their careers. My goal is to grow my network all throughout Florida. Let’s connect!

Why MATRIX?
Almost four years ago, my best friend was working at MATRIX in Atlanta and recommended that I look into their Phoenix office. I was working at the PGA TOUR / TPC Scottsdale at the time and wasn’t looking for new opportunities. I doubt anyone grows up thinking “I want to go into IT staffing” – I think it’s something most people fall into. But as soon as I met the guys in the Phoenix office, I knew it was the right fit for me and my career.

MATRIX really is all about taking care of people and doing the right thing. In less than four years, I’ve received three promotions and had the opportunity to work with almost every MATRIX branch in one way or another. Each time I meet another colleague I fall in love with MATRIX a little more. So I guess the better question is, “Why Not?”

What’s the most rewarding part of your career?
Meeting new people and building great working relationships! I pride myself on helping people and companies grow. After bad times in the economy, where so many people were laid off, it’s awesome to help people get back to work and get companies back on track.   

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Fun

Quiz: Who's Your Famous Movie Tech Persona?

Have you ever related to a character in one of your favorite movies?

We put together a quiz with some of the top famous techie characters to get to know you guys a little better. Answer the questions below to find out who your movie tech persona is and share your results on social media!

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Fun
Tags:

Four Product Management Universals

What exactly do you do?

When I started out as a product manager, my friends and family all asked this question. I answered it like this: I figure out what we need to build, I write requirements, I prioritize requirements, I create user journeys, I sketch pages (back then “UX” wasn’t a thing) and then I manage the development process to get it all built. I’m like an architect and building contractor tied up in a bow, except I don’t design and build houses; I design and build websites (back then, that’s all we made).Four Product Management Universals

Over the years, the device ecosystem expanded, the responsibility grew, the scale scaled, the project requirements became more complex, but the fundamental job of product management hasn’t changed. It has definitely been more codified in the last 15 years, and we’ve all worked with and know what makes good and bad product managers.

I was asked the question again recently, and I decided to look back through dozens of executions — some good, some great, some failed — and uncover a few product management universals that I think are worth a paragraph or two, and hopefully lead to a new answer:

1. Product Management is People Management.

I’ve built and been a part of great teams. I’ve also made some bad hires. What I’ve seen is that great products are built by people who think of a team as an ensemble. Ensembles understand that it’s the aggregate of their combined prowess, smarts and experience that produces the best product. Ensembles are also flat. No one member is more important than the other. And the more diverse the ensemble, the better the product. Product managers with a CS degree/background are great, but I’ve also had great results hiring product managers with degrees in English and Music. And product managers don’t corner the market on ideas. Some of the best product ideas I’ve heard have come from junior developers in their first weeks on the job. When you empower and encourage a group of people to think of themselves as attached to a greater “sum” experience, their individual agendas get diffused and their creativity thrives.

Leading teams that are structured and think this way is more coxswain than dictator. Your hand is on the rudder, not the megaphone. The Taoist philosopher Lau Tzu said it this way:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists. Not so good when people simply obey him. Worse, when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.”

Now don’t get Lau or me wrong; “barely know he exists” doesn’t mean, “not present” — it’s that you don’t know he or she exists in the classic “leader” role.

Hiring this ensemble cast is not easy, especially in today’s increasingly self-important workforce. You want diverse yet relevant experience. I’ve found the sweet spot is folks with diverse life experience, combined with relevant market expertise and core product acumen for the project at hand. I also like product managers (and CEOs) that have gone through a failed execution. Failure teaches humility and gives the proper context for true success. Oh, and I’ll tell you what doesn’t work:

2. Narcissists make lousy product managers.

Narcissism’s root cause is insecurity, and insecurity leads to decisions made out of fear or self-aggrandizement. Narcissists also lack empathy (except for themselves), a fundamental skill for product management. Web and world history is full of VERY bad decisions made by people who prop themselves up at the expense of the reality around them. Don’t hire these people as product managers — they put themselves before users and lose their minds when you tell them they’re wrong. You’ll spend your entire time managing ego instead of performance. They’re hard to spot these days because you can easily confuse the occasional millennial self-entitlement with narcissism. You have to look for the small signs of inherent self-destruction and self-loathing in the narcissist. Millenials are great, they just want your job; narcissists want to make sure you pay for not recognizing their awesomeness.

3. Plan to improvise.

Yup — oxymoronic as it is, you need to bank on the fact that you’re going to wing it at some point. Most people do. The thing is we have an Agile mindset now that embraces change and uncertainty as part of the process. This is vital to great product management. Market shifts and competitive product releases are measured in days not months, and your ability to respond quickly with the right next move is the difference between good and great product management. Celebrate your launch for about five minutes and get back to work, because launch is step one.

4) What’s the process for finding a good process?

In every organization I’ve joined, helped start or consulted for, process is always the first “problem” area.

The three classic process complaints:
“There’s no process here, so our job is to manage chaos.”
“There’s too much process here and it bogs us down.”
“Process kills creativity, so those folks are exempt.”

The last one is just plain wrong, so if you hear that, run for the hills. The first two complaints mark the poles of the spectrum and process bliss is some spot along the line based on a company’s organizational behavior and values. Where do you start? Not with tools. Look at your company’s culture and back into a modular process and set of supporting tools that fits the organization at the moment. And yes, the moment may call for a simple shared spreadsheet on Google Drive. And remember, process is shaped over time and influenced by its practitioners, so pick one and start.

**

My answer to the question today? Ultimately, great product managers are Chief Anticipation Officers. They pre-worry about everything — spending their time anticipating and solving problems before they become intractable. They learn to hone their anticipatory anxiety into a laser-focused attention to detail. They write user stories with exhaustive acceptance criteria in anticipation of every impact. They anticipate the market needs for the product they’re building. They anticipate the competition. They anticipate stakeholder response to roadmap changes. They anticipate user expectations and needs for each touch point in the journey. They anticipate and adjust for their team’s (ensemble’s) needs, strengths and weaknesses.

The role is “product manager” — the job is to create simple, elegant products that people love — the methodology is to anticipate as much as possible, then reincorporate what you miss and learn along the way.

About the Author: 

Smith Forté is a product builder and strategist with over 17 years of experience in digital product management, product development, execution and operations. From the early days at GeoCities and Yahoo! to Current TV, the global media company founded by former Vice President Al Gore; and most recently in the digital marketing space for clients like Chase, Intel, Vice, Unilever, GE and EA.

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PM-Agile

5 Tips to Ace your Next Video Interview

Welcome to 2015, where video interviews are a reality with more than 60 percent of hiring managers now using them in some way to more quickly and efficiently screen candidates.Five Tips to Ace your Next Video Interview

Why the trend?

Whether using a prerecorded one-way video interview with preselected screening questions or conducting a two-way Skype interview, IT hiring managers are finding the process saves time, money, and more quickly helps them identify their top candidates for a face-to-face meeting. If you haven't done a video interview yet, don’t be shocked if you are asked to do one in your next job search. Much of the same advice for regular in-person interviews also applies to a video interview, but there are some unique aspects of the interview you need to be prepared for.

1. Practice

Whether you are recording a one-way video interview or a two-way Skype call, practice filming yourself talking about your resume as a way to warm up to the camera. Think of some of the commonly asked interview questions and rehearse your answers, looking directly into the camera. Don’t forget to smile!

Questions such as “Tell me about your background” or “Please explain why you are a fit for this position” are good questions to practice with. Practice with your recruiter, a friend or family member over Skype to see how you look and sound. Your recruiter will be able to coach you on your presentation and may be able to share some of the hiring manager’s “hot buttons”.

Check for technical issues such as internet bandwidth and noisy feedback. Get that all ironed out before the actual call so you can ensure there are no technical glitches.

Like any other interview, dress for success and keep the mood professional, even if practicing with a friend. Make sure, however, that you have researched the company and get a feel for their culture on their website. Your three-piece suit from the last wedding you attended may not work with the laid-back technology startup you are talking to!

2. Handle Technical Issues like an IT Pro

It will happen when you least expect it: the dreaded “poor connection” pop-up or strange extraterrestrial sounding echo in the middle of your interview. How you handle it will show your potential employer how you deal with stress. After all, IT pros know something unexpected can happen at any time and this is a good way to showcase your cool head. “Excuse me, we seem to have a poor connection, would you mind if we disconnect and call back?” It is critical that you do not get flustered or show impatience.

3. Prepare your Background

Proper lighting and background are important to consider. Natural lighting works best. Do NOT take a Skype interview or record a video interview in your car, outdoors, or in your home with children or pets in the background making noise. (Yes, all of the above have happened with our candidates - trust us on this. Your barking dog is not cute during an interview.) Make sure you are in a well-lit, clutter-free room and there are no personal objects behind you. No one needs to be distracted by your family photos, yesterday’s coffee mug or a disorganized desktop.

4. Close out your Apps

It’s a good idea to close out any apps you have running before beginning the interview. Email or Facebook notification sounds might seem unprofessional to the interviewer and will distract you. The only thing you should have in front of you during a Skype interview is the interviewer and your resume/notes. If you are looking away from the camera frequently, you will come across as disinterested.

5. Be an Active Listener

Maintaining natural eye contact during a video interview means you look at the camera and NOT the screen. If you look at the screen, it will seem like you are staring downwards, which won't leave a good impression. Make sure you smile, nod your head in agreement and use words of acknowledgement when the interviewer is speaking such as “yes”, “ok” or “hmm”.  Ask well thought out questions to show interest and preparation, but never interrupt the speaker. Asking for clarification on points he or she is making shows you are actively listening and engaged.

Last Word on Video Interviewing

Video interviewing is changing the face of IT hiring. Embracing this technology NOW will give you a unique chance to sell yourself and set yourself apart from the other candidates. Make sure you convey high interest in the position and show energy and enthusiasm in your posture and your voice. Be expressive and personable, yet professional. IT hiring managers we work with consistently tell us that the best video interviews happen with candidates who are visibly prepared and able to highlight how their experience matches the specific requirements of the position.

About the Author: 

Elizabeth Varrenti currently serves as the Vice President of Professional Development at MATRIX. Since starting with MATRIX in Atlanta in 1998, Elizabeth has fulfilled numerous roles including: Account Executive, Recruiter, Sales and Recruiting Team Lead, Director of National Recruiting and Vice President of National Accounts Delivery. A graduate of SUNY Geneseo, Elizabeth resides in Rochester, NY.

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Job Seeker

How to Innovate at Work? Give Time!

Innovation. Some companies don’t have any and need some. Others have some and want more. Surely everyone wants to be an innovator. Who wouldn’t want to produce innovation? It’s the modern-day professional currency that we trade in as programmers, designers, and managers.How to Innovate at Work? Give Time!

What Does Innovation Mean?

I never know what people mean when they say innovation because I was never taught it in school. I decided to give it my own definition. I’m claiming innovation means, “a surprisingly creative invention that proves valuable.”

When I reflect on my work performance in 2014, I figure I was innovative five times. Was that enough? I hope so. Either way I simply ran out of time.

Time is the Raw Material for Building Innovation

Innovating, for me, is a study in stealing. Stealing ideas? No! I’m stealing time. In my opinion, the profitable return of innovation comes from an investment of time. Time is a scarce resource and we generally don’t have enough of it.

Creativity and invention can’t be scheduled and prefer to happen at their own pace. They often occur around and between regularly assigned tasks. To make innovation happen, I steal time.

Stealing time from whom? Myself, because inspiration usually strikes at home, from my teammates as I ask them to cover daily tasks, and lastly from my managers as they purposefully organize project stories during iterations.

When I deliver something cool, life is good and high-fives are given. When discovery leads to dead-end there’s an empty, guilty feeling. We can steal time to create and invent, but is there a better way?

Learning, Solving Interesting Problems, and Sharing

Innovation seems to me to just be an outcome.

It’s what our leaders ask us to do at the end of the day. How do we get innovative? How do we know we’re doing it right? What are the practical tasks that lead to innovating work?

I break it down into a simple pattern: learn, solve interesting problems, and share.

It’s a virtuous cycle that directly improves you, offers value into someone’s life, and raises up the skills of all those around you. When others respond in kind, it makes you better.

 

Learning

How can you learn on the job or while pursuing your next job? Going back to school is out of the question for most people. It’s expensive and takes time. Formal training might not be crucial for a tech-related position. All the same, there are always new skills you need to pick up. Below are three great ways to continue learning.

Conference Videos

Watching video recordings of conference talks is a fantastic way to take deep dives into the technology you know you need to learn. Many conference organizers host speaker videos on YouTube. Here are some examples:

Choose an hour each week to view a talk to level up your skill or prep for an interview. Leaders can do the same thing for their team. Gather your people to watch a video over lunch. Sharing a meal, and some enlightened thinking, are easy wins for bonding while experimenting with new ideas.

Self-Paced Online Coding Challenges

These sites challenge you to complete a programming exercise. Because they’re built to test your knowledge, you’ll find that they focus your spare time by igniting your competitive fire. Gain insights into particular aspects of computer science and learn from others by comparing solutions.

Follow the Influencers

Creators building leading software tools and libraries steer the tech world. Follow the makers of your favorite software on Twitter to learn from them. Read when they update their projects. See how they view the world as they discover new concepts.

Search out people actively building community for designers, product managers, and developers. Here are some people I enjoy reading:

 

Solving Interesting Problems

What interesting solutions are you finding? If your daily work feels routine, what can you do as an individual to get an exciting jolt of mental stimulation from completing a unique challenge? Hone your latest practices against solid, real-world problems. That’s when skills become your own.

Volunteer for Special Projects

If you’re at work, volunteer for special projects evaluating new technology. It doesn’t happen often, but when you hear about one raise your hand with an open attitude. You might be surprised that your teammates won’t show interest when they can’t imagine the intellectual reward. Be the first to say yes, but remember to bring back what you learned. Share something valuable with your team.

Hackathon

Block off an uninterrupted amount of time and run a hackathon for one. No need to hold yourself to the traditional 24-hour straight marathon. Set a fast pace to keep your ideas lean and your moves quick. Sometimes too much time brings too many ideas, and not enough execution.

Negotiate with loved ones if family obligations make you wonder if you can dedicate the days. Give yourself enough time that you can start and finish your hack. Convert your hobby project into an excellent portfolio piece that you can use as a conversation starter in your next job interview. Demonstrate that you’re a self-starter, engaged in your career, and passionate about learning.

Company leaders can use a hackathon to cultivate solutions for ongoing business problems or generate new opportunities. Think of structuring your staff by encouraging them to team up with folks they wouldn’t normally work with. Bring in a marketing person, or a product manager, with a designer and some programmers. Mix in QA. Break down silos and build up alliances.

 

Sharing

Once you’ve gone away and learned something, it’s time to share. Why? Because serving others often makes the hard work of discovery easier. It’s worth investing in other people to build community while lifting up their level of quality.

Speak To a Group

Public speaking might be a challenge. Many people have a natural fear of presenting to a group. Take it from me that any audience showing up to hear you speak is more interested in learning from you than judging you.

There is no better way to become great at something than being on the hook for teaching it. Become the best student that you can and solidify your learning by guiding an audience through your expertise. Who should you talk to? Here are some ideas:

  • You company’s team during a lunch-and-learn.
  • A local professional group. Many are listed on Meetup.
  • Regional or national conferences. See entries at Lanyrd.

Write

Write an article summarizing something that you’ve learned, built, or discovered. Starting a blog is easier than you think. You can easily register and start self-publishing on WordPress, Medium, tumblr, or Blogger.

Answer questions on Stack Overflow, Quora, or Twitter if writing an article feels like too much commitment.

These Are Ways to Innovate

Experiment with these suggestions as concrete ways to achieve innovation. Each requires giving or taking some time.

Individuals can take time from their own personal schedule to try them out. Company leaders should give time to their team by carving some out from their regular schedule.

Stay sharp and make all those around you better. Let’s do something awesome today!

About the Author: 

Ken Tabor is a Dallas-based product engineer with years of experience developing consumer-driven products. A frequent speaker at conferences, and a dedicated blogger, he constantly shares his passion for mobile, JavaScript, HTML, Sass, UX, analytics, open-source, coffee, and cupcakes. Visit his blog for more insights on software and leadership.

His first book, Responsive Web Design Toolkit: Hammering Websites Into Shape, is available from Amazon.

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Development