Dealing with redundancy

It’s been four weeks now since I was made redundant. In that time I’ve had a chance to reflect on this horrible position that many of us go through. It’s not my first redundancy either and probably won’t be my last, but there’s a number of things I would like to share that may help others get through a similar experience.

Being made redundant from a job is a painful experience to go through, but I think that level of pain relates to the size of the company you are being let go from.

Take for instance my job at a large payroll software and services provider at the start of my career. They were a large company at the time of my redundancy. My role was working on a payroll and personnel product. After nine months though, my development manager moved on to somewhere else and the product was shelved. Fast forward a few months and the company was bought over. I was deemed surplus to requirements by the new parent company and was made redundant.

When I found out I was being made redundant I acted calmly after hearing the news. I realised that even though my line manger was giving me the bad news it wasn’t his fault and there was nothing personal about it.When you work in a large company, chances are you are just another cog in the machine. There are multiple levels of management from the decision makers at the top to those at the bottom and it’s usually very rare that these two levels will mix on a daily basis.

From the way I see it, It was a decision made by others who either didn’t know me or knew very little of me. It wasn’t personal, and that’s an important perspective to take on it. Lots of people feel anger when they are made redunandant, but at the end of the day it’s sometimes just about the numbers.

Now my last two redundancies have been made at smaller companies. In each case there were less than ten employees in each company and each time I was made redundant I was more than just annoyed at the news of being let go. I had spent two and five years at each of the respective companies.

With small companies you end up knowing everyone on really good terms, well I do anyway, and you get to know everyone a lot better than you would have at a large company. In this case it can become boiling pot of emotions you feel when you are told by a colleague that you know really well that you are being let go.

In this case you need to handle things a bit differently. Redundancy in a small company is difficult to deal with.In both cases my redundancy came out of nowhere. I had assumed in each case that the company was performing well to that point. Experience has taught me though that in a small company, day to day duties can hide underlying problems the company is having.

In my first redundancy the company was entertaining prospective buyers for a number of months before myself and others were made redundant. It was kept from staff until the announcement that the company was being bought over. the company buy over was announced on the Friday and I was made redundant on the Monday. Pretty fast moving. I completely resented the company owner and the development manager for not at least giving the staff a heads up on the activity of the company. Looking back I wasted a lot of time in a negative place rather than focusing on moving myself onto another position. I did eventually find a new job, but I’ve always thought I was pushed into the job move rather than moving on for better reasons.

In my second redundancy I found myself in a better frame of mind after hearing the bad news.After being told that the company was going through financial problems and I was being let go, I simply gathered my things, said my goodbyes and left. Stepping out the office I was surprised by the swiftness of it starting as another day in a small company to not having a job. I learned from the past that dwelling on the negative and blaming others wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I simply picked myself up and moved on.

The experience of being made redundant from a small company has taught me to expect bad news at the drop of a hat. Working with a small company with people you know well doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be told of any pending bad news on the horizon. And if there is a bad news for the company then you are probably better off being somewhere else.

Also in a small company, you should accept the redundancy for what it is and move on. Regardless of what you think about the company or it’s remaining staff, it’s not going to have any positive input on your prospects for a new job. Accept the redundancy and move on.

A redundancy from a large company has been easier to manage from my experience. It’s largely a decision based on numbers. You get the bad news and then move on. It’s no-one’s fault.

My last piece of advice is to pay attention to the company you are working for regardless of its size. Watch out for news alerts on the company and pay attention to shifts in company size and locations.

When external office locations are shut down, services or products are removed or other departments are closed down, look towards your own department and question it’s viability within the company. Does your department still align with the companies overall objectives?Yes you might just be a line worker and not privvy to what’s going on in the board room, but you can observe how the company is performing. With that knowledge, a redundancy will then at least be expected and not a complete surprise.

Redundancy is sadly a part of the career world that many of us will face, but it doesn’t mean that it needs to be a largely negative affair. When you get the bad news, close the door on it and move on. I did and I feel a whole lot better for it.

Stop sending 'important' emails

Ever get an email marked as important and then proceeded to wonder why it is so important?

I get them every now and again at work, but what amazes me is that people still send email and mark it as important. Do you really think that little red flag you put on it will automatically kick me into state of tunnel vision, where I stop until the issue in the email is resolved? Be honest, how many times have you received an important email asking you to complete a task and deferred the work to later rather than doing it now. It’s not your fault. You know the task is important, but how important is it really? I think we can all agree that most of the time, it’s not that important.

Email doesn’t convey how important a task is because there is no tone in an email to indicate this. Also, we’ve lived with email so long now that we question every important email that comes into our inbox. How important is it really?If something is so important why waste the time on an email that may or may not get actioned? That little red flag called ‘important’ doesn’t have any magical powers you know.

If you’re about to send an email with a task that you think is important, then stop.

Discard the email and find the phone number of the person you wanted to send that important email to.Phone this person, discuss the task at hand. Provide that person with the all the necessary information that they need to complete the task.

Not only are you conveying how important the task is but you can also clarify any details that you might be asked about it.Next time you’re mouse hovers over the important flag, decide whether the task is so important that it warrants a phone call. Most of the time it won’t be that important, but when it is important, you’ll be glad you conveyed the importance of the task yourself rather than relying on a dumb machine to do it for you.

The $5 SaaS

Is $5 the magical number when it comes to pricing your product in the SaaS market?

Here’s my current list of subscriptions:

I have other subscriptions as well that are on an annual price that I haven’t listed here, but it’s safe to say that most subscriptions fall in and around the $5 mark. Don’t just set a price though, do some background work on your product and market and get feedback on what your customers are prepared to pay. It might surprise you.

via Ahmet Alp Balkan

Firefighting

Firefighting. I’ve been doing this for most of the last three weeks. It’s the onslaught of unforeseen tasks and issues that take you away from the work you had planned to do. It’s the ad-hoc requests and “emergency” problems that try to rob you of a productive day.There’s nothing less motivating than firefighting most of your time at work and gradually seeing those deadlines slip again and again and again. Thing is, too much firefighting can be averted in most scenarios. Here’s a few tips which I found quite good. It’s mostly common sense, but I sometimes lack this human trait!

  • Identify the source of your firefighting - First of all make sure you know where all your firefighting issues are coming from. The most important step. More likely it’s a single person or organisation than a random number of people or organisations.
  • Filter all incoming fires - Make sure to route all firefighting issues to the right person. As a developer, I’m often mistaken as the “go to guy” for a particular project or software. In reality, these issues should first go to someone else first, before they come to me.
  • Schedule time for firefighting issues - Once the issues have come in, block off some time later on in the day or week for dealing with these issues. It should be a maximum of two hours per day. Spending too much time on firefighting issues is counter-productive and a real motivation killer. Believe me, I’ve been there.
  • Think about a long term solution - Firefighting should be a short term phase. You shouldn’t allow this to be come part of your daily work. When resolving issues of this natrue, ask yourself “could this happen again?”. If the issue probably will, then think about a long term solution that will stop the issue continually coming back to you.

Most firefighting work is work that we can put off for a later part of the day or week.​ Don’t let your day go to pot with putting out fires.

Stop using email for internal company communication

​I have a love hate relationship with email.I love having a medium that allows me to communicate effectively with others all over the world. Being able to send some thoughts to a family member in Canada, or thanking your mentor for that little motivational book they sent you in the post. Yip, it’s hard to beat email as a form of communication.

Until of course you get to your desk at work at 9am on a Monday morning and the deluge of email in your inbox makes you regret that you didn’t just phone in sick that day. Yes there are ways of dealing with your email on a daily basis that let you work smarter and more effectively by implementing filters and such, but that doesn’t stop people sending email to you.You see, when you work in a team, department or in a small company, email is often that go to tool that let’s one person tell everyone else about something. That’s great, but when email becomes the standard form of communication for ideas, discussions and projects, that’s when you’re going to wish you never opened that your inbox again.

From my experience, I have found that email in the work place is an invasive form of communication that tries to grab your attention from the pressing, but productive work that you are doing. It aims to break your concentration. When you have processed that ‘urgent’ email, you then need to reset your focus and get back to what you were working before you were interrupted. Personally I can do without that kind of distraction.

So what’s the solution? Well it’s easy. Non-invasive forms of communication that let you see with others want you to see without distracting them from their work. Project and task management, customer relationship management, and intranets are all greats ways of communicating with others in your company without interrupting what they are working on. They let your team see the information they need to see and they can act upon that information in their own time.

And don’t be under the impression that the digital world is the only place you can communicate.

The daily stand up is a great way of communicating with your team and shouldn’t be thought as being for developers only. Anyone in a team, should consider the daily stand up where you want a status update from the previous day and to quickly plan what’s going to happen today.

Kanban boards are another great trick I learned to use from my days working in an agile development team. An overview of the work in progress is a great way for everyone to see what’s going on. It also increases verbal communication over work rather than team members continually pinging emails back and forward.

As a rule, email should be the last form of communication in any team, department or small company. There are so many other ways of communicating that are more productive and will also let your colleagues get their work done.

So next time you want to update the team on a project or want to discuss idea, find an alternative to the evil that is email. 

For me, web apps still rule

Like most people I’ve spent my fair share of money on apps for the iPad, but recently I’ve found that I’m just not using them that often. The problem is that while I like the apps themselves and chose them for their functionality and their ease of use, the freqeuncy with which I use them just isn’t right. When was the last time I wrote anything with iA Writer? I can’t remember.With web apps though, I’m finding that they are more accessible to me during the day at work and at night when I am at home.

I looked at a number of apps for keeping a journal before I ended up writing Journalong, and the same goes for writing. I managed to write a whole book with 750words.com. The only reason I didn’t use it every day after NaNoWriMo was the fact that the pressure to write 750 words became a bit too much. My journal is for every day thoughts, but typerighter is for taking those thoughts and fleshing out something more fuller and richer.

Web apps like Typerighter and Journalong also work well on my mobile devices. I don’t want separate apps for each device I have.Don’t get me wrong, native apps have their places where they don’t require a web interface. However if a service has a web interface with no need for a native app then I will use that service as it’s web interface is easily accessible from the number of different of platforms and devices I use on a daily basis.UPDATE: Since publishing this, I’ve deleted my Typerighter account in favour of writing using Sublime Text 2. Typerighter is a great product if you need a minimal writing interface, but I’ve started using ST2 for writing as it’s easier to pick up my drafts which are kept in Dropbox.​ Maybe I’ll go back to Typerighter when they let you connect to your Dropbox.

Book store vs Amazon

While browsing through the books at my local Waterstones store, I became aware of how easy it was to pick up books, rifle through them and decide whether to add them to my reading list or not. It’s something I do every month. Flick through a few books at the bookstore, take notes of their titles and then purchase them on Amazon for my Kindle. I’ve never just bought a book on Amazon though.While the purchase of books on Amazon is simple enough, the actual browsing of books isn’t the same as your average book store. At the book store I find that it’s quicker to pick up a book, flick through it, read the synopsis and then decide whether you like it or not.

On Amazon it’s fairly easy to decide on whether a book interests you or not as all the information is there on the book’s product page. Finding that book on Amazon however isn’t as easy as the bookstore method. You can’t glance or scan the books on the Amazon website.

Finding a specific genre or category is easy enough but then you’re met with a massive volume of books displayed in a white spaced grid with tiny images of the books cover.I’d much rather be able to scan the book spines in a horizontal page ordered by author. Just like the bookshelf at the bookstore. They have images of the book cover on the Amazon website, but why not the spine?

They’ve probably already done tonnes of research on this with teams of designers and marketing folks and disagree with my view. For me however, the browsing of books on Amazon just doesn’t compare to the experience of visiting a bookstore.​

Bespoke

I believe there is a place for this is the world of technology. I think there is a need for a Software Tailor. For instance, you have a text editor that works well but could use just a few changes to make it work perfectly for you. You take it to the Software Tailor and they do that for you. Or perhaps you go to one to build the perfect task management app to fit your specific working style. In my mind, many who program are crafts people and I think there is a growing opportunity and need for such a service by people with these skills.

Bespoke by Patrick Rhone

Patrick Rhone’s latest post on software tailoring got me thinking. Software is used by millions across the world, yet I wonder how many people are aware that some of the software they use can be tailored to their specific needs?Yes there are freelance developers out there who specialise in building plugins, extensions or custom versions of software applications, but that’s the problem. These developers specialise in one application or product. They won’t even think about touching anything else.Sounds to me there might be room for a number of developers who are jack of all trade developers who are prepared to dig into just about any code that is given to them and make the necessary changes.

Just a thought, that’s all.

Why You Should Blog

I’m pretty chuffed with my blogging habits lately. I’ve covered different topics recently and I’m getting the odd comment here and there. I’m not too bothered about getting masses of people to subscribe to my blog, because that’s not what this about.

There’s 2 main reasons why I’m blogging.

1. It’s good practice for writing

I’m a massive book reader. I’ve been reading fantasy and sci-fi books since I was a kid. When I was in school I spent a fair bit of writing short stories. Then computers became mainstream and I got sucked into programming for the next 20 years.

A couple of years ago I decided I wanted to re-ignite my writing habits and so to give myself some practice, I started blogging about mind mapping. When I exhausted my knowledge of mind mapping, I turned to general blogging about anything and everything.

The whole point of this is that when you’re blogging, you’re writing. When you blog a lot, you write a lot and eventually, well hopefully, you’ll get better at it. I’m hoping that with all this blogging, I’ll become a better writer.

2. It’s out there for everyone to see

Writing for yourself is a great way to get ideas down on paper, but if you want the instant reviews and critique from people then where better than on a blog. Now your writing is out there for all the world to see and criticise.

Don’t be put down by negative feedback though, yes there will be people who criticise the small things, but in that feedback you’ll be able to filter for the negative positive criticisms. Negative, because someone may comment on your writing in a way that you don’t like but agree on, and positive if you can take the criticism and make your writing better.

What next then?

Get a blog and get writing. Simple as that. Dedicate 30 minutes a day to writing about something and publish it. Write about something you specialise in or you’re passionate about. That’s all it takes.

Writing is such an over-looked skill these days, yet it plays an important part in many people’s day to day jobs. Everytime you write an email, you’re writing. Creating reports, specifications and documentation is all part of what I do as a developer. If I want to do my job well then it makes sense that I should spend some time writing.

Part of excelling in any career involves how you communicate using any form of medium, whether it’s written or verbal. If you’re a good writer then you can convey information in a clearer way that people can understand and people will notice this. Especially those people in the hiring and promotion positions.

So go on, get writing!