Random writings on running, software & product development, business and anything else

Category: Work

Telework Forum on the Central Coast

Last night I attended a forum on teleworking held at the Regional Development Australia Central Coast (RDACC) offices at Ourimbah. The reasonable size group was a mix of interested people trying to promote telework on the coast plus those who actually do for some portion of their working work, others who would like to.

For background, 2 days per week I work from home on the Central Coast. I am fortunate that my occupation of software developer affords me the opportunity to easily work remotely from the office. And because the laptop I use is my factory, I can perform most parts of my job on a train, turning often unproductive travel time into actual work, planning or learning time. BTW this post is being written while on the train.

The forum heard from a range of speakers including Barbara Lepani for a federal government perspective on their efforts to promote telework and the obvious tie in with the NBN rollout. Speakers spoke on their experiences and frustrations of long travel time every day and the strain that places on themselves and their family. There was also discussion on approaching employers and the ways workers have been able to get telework as part of their working week, and the obstacles a potential teleworker is likely to find from organisations.

One area I was interested in is telwork centres in Gosford and Wyong which are planned as part of National Teleworking Week November 12-16. These would be great for those unable to work from their homes, and I could see becoming permanent places. Roll that it with collaborative spaces for micro businesses and freelancers, and this could have the added benefit of giving Gosford CBD some weekday life back.

Their is a facebook page for those wanting more information, and more information at innov8central.

To me telerwork is a no brainer for many occupations, with a decent internet connection, a professional attitude by the worker, and an open mind by those they work with. And given that its reported that towards 40,000 Central Coast residents travel outside their area for their work, that is a lot of potential teleworkers.

Given a large part of the audience they want to reach was actually commuting at the time of the forum (5:30), would it be possible to have the next forum on a morning CityRail train?

Flowerella – New Site

The website for Flowerella is now live. Flowerella services the area around Gordon in the north of Sydney. It is part an online flower shop, and also information about the great work they do for functions and weddings.

The site is built on WordPress, and uses a modified version of Jigoshop to handle the online shop. The site design was done by Matt and I turned it into a WordPress theme. Not the most complicated WP site, with pretty standard plugins and a custom type to handle the testimonials.

Best of luck Flowerella.

And Another Door Opens

So as previously posted I am leaving McCann, leads to the search for a new developer position.
Luckily I have found a new Senior Web Developer position with Australasian Medical Publishing and I am really looking forward to it. It is a 12 month contract where I will be working on a project that is consolidating a number of sites from a variety of platforms to running on Drupal. My experience with Drupal is limited and not recent (around v 4.x), but data conversions are something I have plenty of experience with and at least 1 system is WordPress which I know very well these days.
There will be a steep learning curve around Drupal, but I have always liked a challenge. And I have heard plenty of good about Drupal in terms of flexibility and power that it will be interesting to compare to WordPress and Joomla which I have worked with in more recent times.

A door closes

Back in April I accepted a full time position as the Tech Lead at McCann Sydney, but just the other day myself and the development side of the digital team have been told our positions are to be made redundant and dev work outsourced. This was not totally unexpected, but still an obvious personal disappointment. I enjoyed my time at McCann and was proud of the work we had achieved.

So that door closes but I am not sure which door will be next for me. I like the combination of being part developer, part system admin. The one area I would like to pursue is around improved dev processes. Its the area I wanted to improve at McCann but there never seemed to be the time.

Clarity of work focus

It has been over 5 years now since I went and sent up a company so I could work for myself. In that time it has ranged from very lean to actually having to say no to work. There was a short detour back to perm work but in reality their painted picture was better than reality.

Lack of clear direction

One mistake I can readily admit over these years is a lack of clear direction. At times the business has been part:

  1. Full service web company
  2. Hired gun contractor / freelancer inside other organisations
  3. Web site content with income from advertising
  4. Web site services with pay for use

Number 2 has been by far the most successful in a monetary sense with the others suffering from being a small fish in a big wide sea. This is not to say the time spent on them has been wasted. I have learnt a lot about business models, promotion & marketing amongst other non technical skills. But it did have me wearing too many hats, and results suffered because of this.

Current Focus

Over the last 6 months I have consciously been moving to a situation where the company structure is purely to support my freelance software development. No more trying to build the next big thing by myself or compete for small fry work from small companies where the dollar cost seems more important than the benefit that can be derived from their web presence.
The core skills are still developing in a Linux / Apache / MySQL / PHP environment. Working with customising WordPress as a CMS has become much more prevalent, and I have been putting effort into taking my front end web skills around javascript and jQuery to another level. I still like to use my skills working with relational databases.

For the Future

A few ideas for the future.

  • Finding & working with other skilled professionals on a project by project basis. Whether they be a project manager, graphic designer, marketer or other developers.
  • Writing more here and sharing some of what I have leant from a technical perspective.
  • Releasing more code when I am in a legal position to do so under a free license. I have lots of custom WordPress plugins and modifications to other plugins that others should find useful.
  • Understand more about non relational databases
  • Learn and do more development for mobile platforms

Goodbye devreview

devReview is a site I have run through a couple of incarnations over the last 4-5 years. It has never really had the time & attention for the plans I had for it, so I have decided to close it down, and put the domain up for sale through sedo. All the content that is relevant will be moved here over the coming days.

Web Thumbnail Service

About six weeks ago I moved webthumb.net into beta. So what is webthumb.net? It is web based service that returns a thumbnail of a remote web site. More details including the api are available at the web thumb site. Usage is free and basic use doesn’t even require any type of registration.
A few years ago I released a similar service, but it was based on inferior technology, and it had the misfortune to get very popular on net, the same night my son was born. Between a new child and existing work, I didn’t have time to give it the improvements it needed, so I took and offer and sold off the domain, but not the code behind it.
Time marches on, and now webthumb uses Webkit as its render engine, and a nice Linux base, so I have decided to relaunch the service.

Help! The financial crisis stole my job

The recent crisis in financial markets has spread into the real world with the real world consequence of job losses and lay-offs. Workers in software development have not been immune from this problem. This is especially true for those whose work relates to financial markets where some very large firms have announced large workforce cuts. If seemingly unrelated to your job performance you have been laid off or the dagger sits over you and your co-workers, here are some hints and tips in no particular order that may help.

Don’t Panic

Losing your job is never going to be a pleasant experience, but try and keep your cool. It may feel good to vent at your former manager or co-workers who survived the cut, but it will not help you in the long run. That former manager may be a needed reference down the track. People you know working in the industry are the best source of information about job availability.

Unless you have been in IT a very short time you will remember the tech bust around 2001. Some very smart and hard working people lost their jobs, because people outside IT suddenly realised that cool ideas and lots of hype don’t pay the bills, it’s cold hard revenue being greater than expenses. From all the doom and gloom it didn’t take that long for the good times to start rolling again where talented IT people could pick and choose from job offers. That time will come again. It may not be within 6 months, but it won’t be 7 years of famine.

Keep the Network

Keeping in touch with peers and former co-workers may seem hard and embarrassing now, but it could be the ticket to a new job in the future. This does not mean constant harassment for any clues about possible work, but keep in friendly touch. The closer you are to people in paid work, the closer you are.

Skills skills skills

This may be the best opportunity to improve your skills. This is especially true if your speciality is a technology that is falling out of demand. Grab yourself a book, do a short course to either deepen your current skills or expand them out if they have become narrow and less demanded. There is no need to abandon all that you know, but use it as a base to push in a better direction.

Any new or improved skill need not just be technical. The ability to communicate or have business understanding will improve your standing in the job queue. If your written communication skills are lacking, take a writing class or maybe a public speaking class to improve your verbal abilities. It is no use being the most brilliant technical person if you cannot articulate this to people with less knowledge.

Join an open source project

Ok, so you have improved your range of technical skills by self or class education, but how do you prove it. Participating in a free software or open source project is a great way to practice your new found skills, but it also puts you in touch with other technical people and end users. Pick you niche, find a worthwhile and publicly facing project. It’s probably best to add your efforts to a project that has commercial applications and uses. Every developer can make a better text editor, but that has a very narrow audience.

Is this what I want to do?

Maybe its time for a change. Software development does have a burn out factor, and not everyone wants to be coding to the day they retire. Have you thought about moving into business analysis or sales? This could be the time to start that change. Possibly you want a complete change to raise sheep 50km from the nearest internet access point. Double and triple think before you go down the complete change path.

Go on your own

I am sure you have seen plenty of consultants come through your previous workplaces, and considered becoming a hired gun yourself. Your name on the company, pick and choose your clients and hours, the boat at the marina. It’s a nice dream, and something people try when layed off. Unfortunately its harder than it looks. It will take more than just good technical skills. Your network is all important. People that you know, and that know you. You will need not just great in depth skill, but you must be able to communicate it.

One advantage of being an IT consultant is that it is relatively cheap. A laptop, mobile phone, business cards and a good suit will all help. Mostly it is about your time and knowledge rather than specialist tools and materials.

Be good to your loved ones

Family and friends will be much needed support should time without work drag on. Don’t take your frustration out on them, they are not to blame. Someone who has gone from long hours of hard work in the office to many hours of home time may find they are confronted by family they don’t know as well as they thought or should. Don’t resist the idea to take them on a week away. Get some sun, catch fish or climb a mountain. The real world can generally wait for a week, and a happy partner and/or kids could make the real world a nicer place.

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