Chris Gammell's Analog Life

Analog electronics and everything else between 1 and 0

Tag: job

Clueless About Income

I’ve been going over my personal finances lately. I’ve decided that I would like to increase my wealth (shocker, I’m sure). I’ve always been a bit of a cheapskate and I’ve cut back more thanks to the recession. And so I need to go in the other direction. And why not? Making more is just as effective as spending less on the road to wealth.

So how do I make money?

I’ve never really thought about that before. I guess there are the conventional routes:

  1. Ask for more money at my current job — We’re in a recession, remember? Try again.
  2. Get a new job — I could, but I like my current job and there are a lot of hidden costs with changing jobs. My move from Austin was pricey, and that was with help from my current employer. Not to mention I would have to win out over the many other qualified people out there who are currently employed. No thanks.
  3. Win the lottery — Ah yes, the illogical man’s backup plan. This wasn’t serious, I’m just trying to illustrate how little I’ve thought of making more money for myself in the past.

Wasn’t that a fun exercise? I’m not saying that’s all there is, I’m saying that’s all that came to mind before I really started thinking about it. So what other options are there?

Well, I’m sure at least one or two of you have noticed that I run a website. I could pretend that I could make money on here, selling links and putting up ads for people, but I just don’t think it will work; plus I usually hate how that stuff looks on websites. Aside from the fact that you really can’t make money with a blog, I’m not even sure I would want to. If you focus all your efforts on your one endeavor (such as writing), you lose the spice that makes your perspective so unique. Why else would an online comic artist go back to school for physics? (duh, to get good jokes about nerds!) I’d prefer to write AND continue working with analog electronics every day to be able to use skills I learn from one in the other.

Then there’s consulting. Ah, the money that can be made from consulting, so they say (you know…”they”). The thing is, I really don’t have that much experience yet nor do I have the contacts necessary (the most important part, so I hear). And this whole model is still dependent on others giving you a salary of sorts (albeit with more independence). While this is a possibility in the future, I just don’t see this as a possibility yet. (FYI: I also group “freelancing” in with this category. Freelancing is just consulting for a much lower price in my opinion).

Well why not make something? Selling a product has probably never been easier. The supply chain is set up, you can get prototypes up quickly and cheaply and there is a whole region of the world just waiting for you to send ideas their way that they can manufacture. The problem is, I said I want to make money, not spend it. And spend you will if you ever try to launch a product in any capacity. There’s always the homemade versions of electronics, such as kit manufactures and hobbyist board houses, but they’ve got those models down pat and I don’t have a lot of interest. So as of now, I’m counting the “product” idea out as well.

I wrote this post because I wanted to point out that there may be lots of ways to make money, but I’m stuck in a mode where I am dependent on others to give me a salary. That’s a dangerous position and one that will limit your earning potential over the life of your career. I’ve stated that one of my long term goals is to start my own company, but I’m thinking that I should perhaps start in sooner than later. That way I can get the mistakes out of the way early and decide if it’s a hobby or an actual money making endeavor. The main thing holding me back is that I have zero clue as to what I would do.

What about you? Have you broken out of the conventional model of going to work every day and earning a steady paycheck? I’m on the beginning steps of a long journey that could take many directions and having one or two people wave at me from down the path might make me feel a little better about thinking about finally leaving home.

Squeaky Wheels Get The Job Hunting Tips

Last month, I had a not-so-nice commenter remark that my last post on blogging keeping me going through a recession was a waste of time. He or she went on to remark that they didn’t have a job and they were obviously looking for some help. While I can’t say I condone their harsh tone and unnecessary crudeness (I know, I know, it’s the internet), I do empathize with their jobless situation.

So today’s post is going to be on some ways (and notably some non-traditional ways) to go about getting a job and hopefully getting through this recession. Here is the big disclaimer though: I don’t know how many of these techniques work. I am basing them on my own ideas and experience and some are just brainstorms. Let’s start from the top with the most traditional methods of finding a job and work our way down to the silly and intriguing ideas. On with the show…

  1. Online job searches/classified ads — 4% success rate, 10% unemployment. Do the math and consider this one to be a non-option.
  2. Networking — Ahh man, I know I’m not going to get this point across like I want to, but there are so many ways this is important. I actually had a digital designer I worked with a few years back sit me down and explain the importance of networking, and I STILL didn’t get it. In fact, for a long time, I was infuriated by the idea that just who you know might get you a job, as opposed to what you know. But here’s what it comes down to: there are a ton of people who can do your job. In fact, there are a lot of people out there who can do your job better and possibly cheaper than you (think China). However, you are the person who was in the right place at the right time, with the right skills, the right charisma and the right contacts. Everything else you start learning the day you start your new position. Networking takes time, though, and you need to start it before you lose or leave a job. It means that you are friendly with the people you work with and you’re actively keeping in touch with people you used to work with.  If you haven’t been doing that, call up a former co-worker and see what they’re working on; you might find something interesting and you get to maintain a relationship easily.
  3. Vendors — Yes, this still falls under the category of networking, but in a different way. Vendors, for those of you who do not know, are people trying to sell you (an engineer or scientist) stuff. They can be salesmen, application engineers, marketers, you name it. If they’re trying to get you to buy what their company has to offer…they’re vendors. They are also in the unique position of trying to sell stuff to other people in your industry; therefore, they know a lot of people doing a lot of stuff that is similar to your job. If I lost my job tomorrow, my stack of vendor business cards would be the first thing I would reach for. Call up some of them and see what trends they see in the industry. Ask for a place to look for your next gig. If you don’t deal with vendors on a regular basis, try other people you interact with daily who have contact to the outside world (maybe the UPS or FedEX delivery person?).
  4. Get something published — You don’t need to publish a paper in IEEE or Nature to get noticed by people. Sure, those first two magazines will get you noticed by a lot of people, but you really only need one. Think smaller. Write a letter to an editor in EETimes or EDN (two of my favorites).  I know whenever I see a letter to the editor, I am usually curious to what kind of expertise that person has and what industry they work in. Make sure when people look you up they know how to find you and that you have some good examples of your work.
  5. Blog Comments — The traditional gatekeepers to knowledge have started to transition. Whereas engineers and scientists might have only had a few sources of news in the past, blogs now offer an alternative in myriad forms; be it a day-in-the-life format or an aggregation of smaller news stories that might interest an engineer or scientist, information is available everywhere these days. These outlets also provide new ways to find others interested in the same stuff as you. If you see a comment from someone on a blog that intrigues you, try to strike up a conversation with them or see if that person has their own website (usually a link from their name). Try contacting the writer of the blog and see how receptive they are to talking to their readers (hopefully very). Blogs provide information and a new method of meeting people online. As with many of the other items on this list, try the less traveled places first; don’t try writing to an administrator of slashdot if you are interested in tech stories. Look for some smaller blogs (maybe from people linking their own blogs on slashdot) and try to contact them.
  6. LinkedIn — One of the best ideas I have ever heard in a job hunt is “informational interviews” (I first read it in the classic “What Color Is Your Parachute”). Basically, you call up someone and ask them about what they do, their industry, job trends and anything else you think might be relevant to a position.  Sometimes people will pick up on the fact that you’re in the market for a job, but other times they might not and you just have an interesting conversation. The problem I always had though was how to get an interview. The best way would be through those contacts I mention when I talk about networking…but the real problem is when you don’t have any contacts either. Then you are in a bit of a tighter spot and you need to get creative. One technique suggested by a friend that had worked for me to look up people on my LinkedIn network; extra points if they work somewhere I think I would like to work. Then once I know their name I try to figure out what their company email might be (usually they’re standardized at companies) and try to email them to request if you can call them for an informational interview. Sure it’s a little sneaky, but I think it’s OK if you’re genuinely interested and not just trying to use them as a contact. Sometimes you won’t get a response, sometimes you’ll get a confused response, sometimes you get a grouchy person and sometimes you get a person who doesn’t mind taking a few minutes out of their day to talk to an inquisitive person. I’ll let you look up informational interview questions for yourself, but go through the interview, keep it brief and ask if they wouldn’t mind passing you a name of someone else to talk to; if they do, be sure to thank them profusely afterward. If they don’t pass you a name… thank them profusely anyway. If nothing else, you will get a good conversation and some more information about an industry that interests you. Note: I always tried to email people first before an informational interview. You could always try and call someone out of the blue (call a front desk, ask for them) and ask for an informational interview; they usually will be confused by this abrupt request. Refer to this technique (that I learned from some sneaky recruiters) only if you really would like to talk to someone and they are non-responsive to email (remember, there might be a reason).
  7. Work For Yourself — My friend Pat recently came up with a great idea while he looks for work. He has been helping me out with my (still) broken Wurlitzer, taking the old schematic and putting it into a modern CAD program. He gets the experience of using common, open-source tools and I get some free labor to help me with my board. He also mentioned learning other software while he is looking for work. I see this sprouting into other opportunities too; if you are working on a new piece of software, you’re likely going to go to discussion boards for help.  You might even get involved in the development of the open-source tools, all of which can provide great experience and great contacts. If nothing else, you can put hobbies on your resume that are relevant to your potential job (the only hobbies that should ever be listed in my opinion). Showing an employer that you are passionate about your chosen field (i.e. willing to go home and do the same stuff you just did for 8-12 hours that day) really can make you stand out in a crowd.
  8. Work For Free — Starting to get into ideas that I’m really not sure would work. Offer to work somewhere for free. This could be considered an “internship” or whatever you want to call it. You’d basically be working for two things (besides no money): contacts and experience. The latter might be limited, especially if you are working somewhere with a sensitive security policy. However, if you offer your services for free, you will get to meet people and that could be worth more than anything else. Remember, you want to look in the non-standard places for work, so don’t waste your time begging for a job at this place. If they don’t want to pay you to start with, they probably won’t want to pay you in the future (at least not in a recession). Instead, talk to everyone you meet and make them want to help you. This idea might be the most difficult of the bunch but if you can pull it off (namely getting the internship to start with), it might have the best chance of success.
  9. Guerrilla marketing — Are you particularly good at CAD programs? Have you created a novel circuit that you think might interest an employer? Have you made a website about analog electronics? Use non-standard ways to stand out; however, make sure you do this at non-standard times. Don’t walk up to a recruiter at a job fair and hand him a circuit diagram with your signature on it. Instead, find out who is in charge of the hiring process (non-HR) and send it to them. Better yet, use the idea in number 5 and figure out who that person is and send the circuit diagram as a thank you to each person you talk to along the way. As for the CAD designer, make your business card out of a circuit board or something else novel like that. Passively advertise that you are in the job market. The “Parachute” book mentions putting it on your answering machine that you are currently looking to have your contacts help your searching project. If you have a website or a facebook profile, make sure it is well known (your front page or your default status message)that you are in the market for a job and some of the best characteristics you can offer. Shameless? Nope, just a good way to get your name out there.
  10. Walk in a front door — This idea was the inspiration for this post and also the most ludicrous of the bunch. What would happen if you dressed up in your best suit and walked into an office and asked for a meeting with Mr. BigGuyInCharge? Sure, you’d need to figure out that person with some sneaky or not-so-sneaky methods prior to walking in there; but if you did it right, this technique has a small small chance of working. It’s like the in person cold call. Most managers won’t have anything to do with it, but that one time it might work that makes it all worth it. I’d suggest any of the above methods before this one, but since it was the inspriation for this post, I figured I had to include it.

The recurring theme for all of these ideas is stepping outside your comfort zone and to try approaches to non-standard job paths. You don’t have to try the most extreme of these ideas (like walking into an office asking to talk to a manager), but you might have to pick up a phone and call a bunch of people. Or you might need to develop some new skills on your own before applying for a new job. If you keep trying hard and keep trying different things (other than online applications), you’ll eventually find something. If you are lucky enough to be working right now, keep an eye out for friends and colleagues and help them when you can. Good luck to all and leave any other ideas you might have in the comments.

Photo by brettdarnell

Yes, I’m still here

It’s 2009.

More importantly I’m still employed. I actually had a blog post planned out for early January in the event that I lost my job. Hey, if you’re not going to promote yourself, who will?

I was reviewing my new years resolutions from last year and I realized the only one I really followed through on was finding new employment. And since finding my new employment and starting a blog and all of those details, I have come to some important realizations, mostly about work:

  1. If you’re doing it right, there are 3 sections to your life: sleep, work, other.
    • Sleep is unavoidable. At least for now. If there are ever advances in sleep technology that allow people to sleep less per night (besides coffee), I will be the first in line. Plus, I have come to the realization that without the sleep component in your life, you enjoy the other 2/3 much less.
    • Other is everything you’re not doing when sleeping or working. The most important thing you should be doing (in my opinion) is building relationships in your life and enjoying those relationships. Sure, there are hobbies and time for relaxing and whatnot, but really it’s the connections in your life that will enrich your “other” time. And in this economy, you shouldn’t be planning for too much “other” time, so savor what you get. Heck, I consider this blog to be under this time category and in the event sleep and work  and my family and friends get in the way, the blog will fall behind.
    • So work takes up that last 1/3 of your life…probably more. What I’m trying to get across is, it’s important, much more so than I was ever told when I was deciding what to do with my life. It’s important to enjoy what you do, who you work with, how fulfilled you are by the things you accomplish and having an employer that respects your non-work time. For me, I continue to tell myself that on mornings when I’m walking the dog in the snow or when I glance at the forecasts for my old hometown. I think about how I enjoy my job now and how I let that trump some other things when deciding whether or not I wanted to change my life around and move up t0 the blustery north. And given the choice, I would do it all again and have advised others to do the same (pick up and move across the country for a job they might like).
  2. A job that pays you to learn is probably one of the best jobs in the world–I’m not talking about being a grad student (although that’s not bad either). I know those jobs and assistantships pay you (sorta) to learn and do research and such, but my experience has been in the private sector; jobs where the real expectation is that I produce an item that can be sold for the company. However, the important thing is that you learn in the process.  My job is particularly well suited to learning, mostly because I am handed problems and then told to start fixing them. Jobs that require thinking on your feet and quickly adapt to your situation will give you the steepest learning curve and you should relish the opportunity to be challenged like that.
  3. If you learn new skills, you’re not a commodity anymore–Let’s face it, we’re all afraid of losing our jobs at one point or another. I’d say a higher percentage have that fear now that we’re in a recession. I was talking recently with a friend that just lost her job and she mentioned a similar thought: to stay employed, you have to be valuable to your employer. A simple but powerful concept. In the end if you’re not learning and are not contributing (or not showing off what you do contribute), you are expendable. So in the event that you are in a job that does not allow for learning (either mentored or self-learning), push your employer to let you start new projects that will allow you to do so. If they say your workload is too high, offer to work overtime on your learning project. I think it’s that important and it might just help you save your job.

The recession will deepen. But even in the Great Depression, with 25% unemployment, that meant three out of four people were working. I plan on being one of those 3 by continually increasing my skillset in my work projects or in my “other” time (reading new books, working on my piano and blogging). What are you doing to make yourself more valuable to your employer or to any future employer?

Picture by _neona_