Leadership? Maybe When I Grow Up.

In July my 15-year old son and I went on a Northern Tier Boy Scout wilderness canoeing trip in Atikokan, Ontario. Our crew consisted of five boys and three adult leaders. It was a great time, very challenging, with many adventures along the way. For the first time since I can remember we were also “ off the grid” totally for ten days, miles from civilization, with no connection to iIPods, iPhones, iPads and other electronic devices.

Lessons in LeadershipWith outside assistance several days away, crew teamwork was essential, not only for mutual survival, but also for efficiency.  Everyone had to pitch in and carry their weight (sometimes literally as in the case of portaging an aluminum canoe for up to a mile) As ours is a boy-led troop, the scouts assigned a crew leader, who made all the daily work assignments like who would cook, gather water, build the fire, set up tents, make on the spot decisions and deal with other issues that came up unexpectedly. The adults could “advise” but the scouts themselves had to ultimately decide.  Now keep in mind that all these 14 and 15 year olds are peers in every way in school, sports, etc. – but here in wilderness they had to follow the hierarchy that was set up.  It was no easy thing, for example for my own son, to defer and take orders from one of his best friends, with no room for push back, or even utter the ubiquitous teenage boy insult (“You are such a loser”).

It was a new world, this one of structure, respect, obedience for peer leaders.  Being a leader in a Boy Scout troop is like being a leader anywhere else. Every leader deals with two major things- the job to do and the group. On our trip the jobs were easy, they were clear cut and easy to define --- We needed to paddle this far, not tip over the canoe, purify the water, camp here, cook the food, etc.

Managing the group was more difficult for the crew leader, as he had to incur the wrath (or distaste) of his fellow scouts several times a day. Really just because he was telling them what to do. We could tell he was struggling with it, and finally some of the simmering issues boiled over into a confrontation that left several with hurt feelings. It was a no-win situation, he had to perform his duties as a crew leader, and in doing so he almost without doubt was going to alienate his friends. Midway through our journey we relieved the boy,) from some of his leadership duties and the rest of the trip went smoothly. The scouts had no problem taking orders from the adults, as that was more normal for them. 

The decisions you make as a leader in the working world are always not so easy either. Sometimes it is hard to choose a path that others are willing to follow. And sometimes it is difficult to follow orders you don’t understand or agree with. But we learn to follow them anyway. Or have a very, very good reason not to.

Hopefully the leadership lessons learned will be ones with stick with the boys. I’m not so sure however. Without the structure of the rules and trip, in no time at all my son has reverted to his old ways. Last night he and a friend stayed up till the wee hours playing video games. The ensuing mess in the family room this morning resembled a battlefield, with banana peels, Sprite cans, cracker wrappers, and other food items strewn about the floor. Absent a leader to tell them to clean up, nothing happened…until next morning that is.

About the Author: 

Rick Sanders is Digital Content Strategist/Writer. He has broad experience in technology-related marketing, and writing for the tech-savvy crowd. Rick sees the explosion of social media as a great reason for revisiting the basics of effective communication.  He can be reached at rsand@bellsouth.net or on Linked In at www.linkedin.com/in/ricksand

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What I am, What I am Not

There are many things a recruiter can do for your job search, but there are also limits.

What I am: 

I am your advocate to my client companies.  I genuinely and actively want you to find a job that meets your professional and financial goals.  Both personal and professional motives play into this.  The personal component is that I find satisfaction in helping other people find a position that improves their situation. 

I Yam What I Yam!I’ll also go ahead and mention the dirty “C” word – commission.  I do have financial incentive to get you a job – I will do everything I can to get your resume in front of a hiring manager, push for interviews, prep you for interviews, and then seal the deal and get you an offer.  This does NOT mean that I have financial incentive to nickel and dime you out of a fair pay rate. 

“I have found no greater satisfaction than achieving success through honest dealing and strict
 adherence to the view that, for you to gain, those you deal with should gain as well."

Above is my favorite quote from Alan Greenspan.  It embodies everything I believe as a recruiter and as a professional.  A career is made through honest dealings and acting in the best interests of those your work with.  I create sustainable long-term success for myself and my company by treating you with respect and doing everything I can to get you what you need.  If a recruiter whittles you down to a low rate or misrepresents a job opportunity, you have no incentive to stay in that role.  I understand and appreciate that.  I have a vested interest in your success, and I will act as such.

What I am NOT:

I am not your personal job search representative, and this can sometimes be surprising to candidates.  When you contact me about a position, I will do my best to find as many jobs as possible that fit your background and professional aspirations.  Again, I genuinely want to find you a job.  However, the job market doesn’t always dictate that I will have an opportunity that is a match for you, whether that is due to rate, skills, or other mismatches.

I understand both as someone who has been on the job-seeker’s side, as well as in my role now recruiting, that this can be extremely disappointing and discouraging.  While every staffing company strives to have as many job opportunities available as possible, no one company has a corner on the entire market.  So the solution I can offer is this: don’t just rely on me to find your new opportunity.  Continue to work the job boards and your own network.  I would love to be the person who finds you your next role, but at the end of the day, I just want you to find the best role for your career moving forward.

Also, don’t be shy about following up with me again in a couple of weeks.  New jobs come in every day, but contact from you to let us know you’re still on the market and looking can help us to proactively identify those roles for you.

About the Author: 

Kathryn Smith is a Technology Recruiter at MATRIX Resources and has been recruiting for over a year. As an Economics graduate and prior Economic Research Analyst, she continues to follow the labor market and emerging technologies closely. Look for future blog posts about the recruiting process as well as labor market outlooks.

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Job Seeker

ReMIX South 2011 - "I can't wait for the next event"

This past weekend 400+ designers and developers gathered in Atlanta for the 2nd Annual #ReMIXSouth Event. Featuring break-out track sessions in: UX, Web, Mobile&Tablet, and Kinect, audiences had a chance to interact with fellow tech pros and learn from top-notch presenters alike. MATRIX was proud to help sponsor such a great event. We also want to give a big congratulations to Holly Reynolds who won our drawing for a $200 gift card.

MATRIX at ReMIXSouth 2011One of our friends and attendees, Michael Faber said:

"The ReMIX South Sessions were truly a blast. Being able to socialize and meet others in my field was great, but the highlight of my experience was the seminar hosted by Jenn Downs of Mail Chimp, it reminded me how much fun you truly can have in a User Interface environment. I can't wait for the next event."

Heather Perez, MATRIX Technology Recruiter, was one of our teammates that attended the event and said:

"I talked with a lot of developers and designers who were impressed with the speakers that presented and the sessions they were able to select from.  Many had a hard time deciding among them!"

Be sure to check out their Flickr page and the ReMIX South website for future events along with more information about this year's presenters.

About the Author: 

Adam Waid is the Director of Marketing at Mediacurrrent, an industry-leader in helping organizations architect custom Drupal websites. Adam is also a MATRIX Alumnus, where he worked closely with the Sales and Recruiting organizations to develop differentiation strategies, create content, and drive CRM and social media initiatives with a single goal in mind - build stronger, more meaningful relationships with our clients. Leveraging new technology, the latest social media trends, and a good mix of traditional marketing, Adam grows online communities.   Follow Adam on Twitter and Read his Social Media Blog.

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Wellness in the Workplace

When do you feel you are at your most productive at work and in everyday life?

I bet it’s when you feel good – when you feel your best. If people feel healthy, then they are happier and have better attitudes – all of which make them better at work!

Here are some simple things that can make you feel your best at all times.


The better you eat, the better you feel.  If you honestly look at what you eat and how you feel afterwards, you might change some things.  Here are three simple things you can do today that don’t require anything special:

  1. Eat breakfast.  It really doesn’t take much. I personally like protein first thing in the morning and eat spinach and scrambled eggs every morning and it takes 5 minutes.  Other good options: toast with peanut butter (wholesome bread and natural peanut butter are key), oatmeal (watch the sugar), yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit, cereal with milk.  If you really are stretched, then keep healthy bars at your desk at work. Many studies have shown that people who eat a good breakfast maintain the healthiest weights.
  2. Stay hydrated during the day.  If you are feeling sluggish, tired and/or hungry, first try some water and I bet you will feel better.  Many people are chronically dehydrated and this is a quick fix.  Water is best but even I struggle with too much plain water so I add a splash of cranberry juice.  Try to stay away from full strength juices, sodas, etc. as they add a lot of calories and unnecessary sugar which will make you slump all over again.
  3. Use a salad plate to eat dinner.  It is automatic portion control and you won’t miss it.  Your eyes only know that it is a full plate, and, trust me, it’s enough food for you.

ExerciseWellness at Work

You knew I was going to say it!  You don’t have to do a hardcore 60 minute workout to have the benefits.  Just do something…the old sayings of “bodies in motion stay in motion and energy begets energy” are so true.  If you are active, you have more energy.  And studies all show how activity improves brain function, memory, productivity, hormone changes, etc. etc.  Hopefully in addition to your workouts, make activity part of your everyday life…

  1. Park your car furthest from the entrance at work and get a little walk in.
  2. Strength training is important and easy!  In your cube, you can
    Push-ups - put your hands on your desk, feet on the floor and go.
    Squats - feet wider than hips, and put the weight in your heels. 
    Sit on a stability ball - a conversation starter which helps with core strengthening.
  3. Get up from your desk once an hour – talk to a colleague, use a bathroom on the other side of the floor…just walk around and stretch a little

Stress Relief

Here are the key things that help me control the stress in my life.

  1. Sleep – get it and get enough!  I’m good for 8 hours a night…and I plan for when I need to go bed based on when I will get up (which is pretty consistent).  Make sure you wind down and relax before going to bed.  Turn off the TV, the computer, etc. and relax.
  2. Organize – three key areas to organize that will make your life easier:
       a.  Your In/Out of the house routine – everything should have a home when you walk in the door.
       b.  Getting dressed – if your closet is organized, you should be able to get dressed in less than 5 minutes.
            Tip: only have things that fit and look great and put in them in order.
       c.  Cooking – Make sure things are logically in place and everything has a home.
            I pre-package grapes, snacks, etc. to make it quick.
  3. Have some fun! Call or meet your friends, touch base with family, keep up with your hobbies, play a sport, etc.  Do things you enjoy and you will naturally relax and feel good.  Studies show that even introverts gain energy from reaching out to other people.
About the Author: 

Chrissy Petri is an Account Manager for MATRIX Resources with 15+ years in the IT recruiting industry in Atlanta. She works with small, medium, and large companies to find IT talent from Help Desk to Programmers to Project Managers and Directors.

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Agile Project Management—No Upfront Estimates!

I’ve been managing software projects for much of my career. Early on, I spent most of my time trying to estimate projects more and more effectively. I pulled together models for how to estimate. I kept track of historical estimate vs. actual data, so that I could evaluate the quality of my estimates. I even tried some modeling or arithmetic techniques to fine tune my estimates. Some of these are quite well know techniques like Function Points or Cocomo or the Personal Software Process.

Agile Project ManagementAll of this was focused towards estimate quality…not software product quality. I was worrying about how to represent the time to build the software to stakeholders and accountants so that we could reasonably know how much it would cost. Then we could make better decisions around whether to start it or not.

The odd thing, at least in my experience was that no matter how hard I tried nor how much effort I expended on estimation and planning, over 60% of my projects went awry. They failed. They were Death Marches. They were incredibly painful. And in many cases, they resulted in people losing their jobs.

I guess my point is—estimation is incredibly hard.

Now you may say, well Bob, you simply were poor at estimation and didn’t really perform it all that well. My counter is that I am really good at estimation. I’ve studied a wide variety of techniques and applied them diligently. I’ve even taught software estimation at international conferences. So, while I still have much to learn, I’m not a tool-less novice.

And I guess my other more crucial point is—estimation was the wrong place to be focusing my efforts!

What the Agile Methods Taught Me

When I first was introduced to the agile methods I was struck with the practicality of the planning. Instead of focusing on planning & estimation, the methods broke things down into two levels—high level release forecasting and low level detailed iterative planning. More importantly, it was the interplay between these two levels over time that refined your estimates.

No longer did you try to predict a guaranteed endpoint for a project. Instead you gave a reasonable, high level view that you promised to refine every time you got real-time performance results from your team. You would then narrow your view over time as you iteratively gained traction delivering real, working software. At each point of actual data, you would update your release plan / model and re-communicate to stakeholders where things actually stood in relation to their expectations and your previous views.

If you were behind schedule, stakeholders had the option of dropping, reducing, or re-framing scope based on business value and priority. But in order to hold to a date, they would have to adjust something. If you were ahead of schedule, a not so rare event, they could pull in more value-based scope and deliver more than anticipated.

High Level – Release Planning

The methods don’t spend a lot of time estimating in excruciating detail at the high level. Instead you estimate work (usually expressed as User Stories) in generic level of effort/complexity units (usually expressed as Story Points) so that you can plan the number of stories you can fit into a series of sprints to meet a content commitment for your stakeholder.

Remember, release planning isn’t a firm commitment. Nor is it exhaustive, detailed planning. It’s a best guess, high level view to packing work into iteration sized time-boxes. However, there’s a missing point to accurately planning a release. What you might ask?

It’s the teams’ own velocity. Put another way, the teams’ ability to execute and deliver fully done stories within your iteration time-box. The first time your team actually delivers work from a 2-week sprint you have a wonderful data point—actual team velocity! Please don’t undervalue it.

Low Level – Sprint Planning

But I got a bit ahead of myself.

In the agile methods, where does the team dig into the details? Refining tasks, looking at dependencies, breaking things down into smaller, quantified (hourly) units of real work to be completed? They do that on an iteration (Sprint) by iteration basis—grabbing a small “chunk” of the work, always the highest priority and most urgent work, and breaking it down for the very next Sprint.

If you ever get the chance to attend a proper Sprint Planning session, you’ll have transparent access into a software team breaking down work into very small tasks. You’ll begin to understand all of the complexity and nuance for each story. You’ll hear the testers challenging the developers on testability and how challenging this piece of code will be to test—which will add more tasks for testing and quality.

If the team feels a more detailed design is required, you’ll hear them discuss it. How much? Who should be a part of it? And what does the review look like? Etc.

In general, you’ll experience all of the complex gory details of software development—the real work involved for a single sprint. Then they’ll do something wonderful. They’ll commit to the work and deliver what they can (fully done) at the end of the sprint. You’ll now have an actual data point for the teams’ capacity that you can compare and contrast against the overall release plan—with full transparency into the plans and details and with no extra padding allowed.

How cool is that?

Wrapping Up

I do quite a bit of sharing on agile methods nowadays—via presentations, formal training, and coaching. Believe it or not, I often get challenged on some critical aspects or techniques surrounding agile. None more than the point being made here.

The challenge goes – “There’s no way my boss will put up with a non-committed date for a project” or a “We’ll know how long it will take when we see it” approach to project estimation will not work in my company because we live in the “real world”.

My counter then is usually the same—“Fine, do what you’ve always done”. Try to predict the future on a highly complex software project without doing any real development. If you can guess correctly, then great—stick with your practices.

BUT, if you notice that you often fail. And by often I mean 50%, 60%, 70% or even 80% of the time to successfully meet your stakeholders expectations, THEN you’re practices are clearly not working for you.

Admit that and try something a bit different. Agile Project Managers make the above approach work every day in a wide variety of business, customer, and technology contexts. It’s no longer a bleeding edge technique! It simply drives more real-time transparency into project progress. It helps with adjustment based decision-making. And it leads to more collaborative and successful outcomes.

From my perspective, if your methods aren’t working that well for you then what do you have to lose? So, what DO you have to lose?

About the Author: 

Bob Galen is the Director, Agile Practices at iContact and founder of RGCG, LLC a technical consulting company focused towards increasing agility and pragmatism within software projects and teams. He has over 25 years of experience as a software developer, tester, project manager and leader. Bob regularly consults, writes and is a popular speaker on a wide variety of software topics. He is also the author of the book Scrum Product Ownership – Balancing Value from the Inside Out. He can be reached at bob@rgalen.com

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