[ Content | View menu ]

Thought Leader

Mark Mzyk May 1, 2013

The term thought leader is being thrown around a lot lately, mostly in a derisive way, since it is over used. The Wikipedia definition, copied wholesale here, is this:

Thought leader is management terminology for a person or an entity that is recognized by peers for having progressive and innovative ideas. Typically thought leaders have proven themselves in the business, academic or political sphere through successful implementation of their ideas. Thought leaders often publish articles and blog posts on trends and topics influencing an industry or directed internal to an organization. Through effective communication and clarity of purpose, they effect change and are considered exemplary leaders.

That works as a definition, but I think it misses a crucial component of a thought leader. My definition would be this:

A thought leader is someone who takes disparate ideas and expresses them as a cogent whole. This doesn’t mean they necessarily have original ideas (although they often do), just that they are good at expressing and merging ideas into something new and useful.

Another part of being a thought leader is that you have to be visible. If no one knows of your ideas, then by definition you can’t be a thought leader.

You also can’t be a thought leader by calling yourself one. It’s a term bestowed on you by others. It should never show up on a business card.

An Open Letter to Recruiters

Mark Mzyk February 26, 2013

Dear –,

I’m sure you mean well in reaching out. I’m sure you’re just trying to do your job. However, a solicitation like this isn’t going to get me to change jobs. I believe I speak for all technical workers when I say that repeated solicitations like this wear on us. It’s not that you’ve hit me up multiple times, but you’re just the latest. If there is a week that I don’t get at least three to five recruiters asking me about a position I start to wonder if something tragic befell the industry.

I may have even spoken to you at some point. I’ve tried to be nice to recruiters, so occasionally I’ve spoken with them on the phone. I know you’re human and don’t deserve to be treated badly. However, at this point I don’t even bother answering my phone, because I know that if I don’t recognize the number, odds are it is a recruiter. The recruiter will then leave a voicemail and email me. I will delete the voicemail. If I answer the email it is just to decline it. I’ve yet to see a job from a recruiter that I would care to take.

Perhaps I would actually like some of these jobs. The only ones that even pique my interest at all, which isn’t saying much, are from company recruiters where the company is known and I have some idea what project I might be getting into. In emails that I get from recruiters where the company isn’t named, the descriptions are always so bland as to be meaningless. A programming language might be mentioned, but I have no clue what would actually be expected from me in that job. Part of this is because I have no clue who the company is. I realize recruiters don’t want to name companies because then the job candidate could just go directly to the company. If you’re so afraid the candidate is going to bypass you that you can’t name the company, what kind of value do you think you’re adding to the process?

I’ve also frequently seen the tactic of recruiters claiming they want to get to know me so they can better help me, even if they don’t have a job now. This is a hollow promise. What this means is that a few words get entered into a database about me and then I occasionally get job offers for health startups or devops positions or something else just because I mentioned those words. There isn’t any really knowledge transferred because neither side really cares about the transaction.

I’m purposefully very open on the internet. I’m on Twitter. I have a blog. My email address is easy to find. Perhaps it’s because of this that I get a lot of recruiters emailing me. It also means that it’s easy to find information on me. All of my public information is linked. You can find out a wealth of information about me. This should make it easy to tailor information to me when you send me job descriptions. You just sent me one that asks for 7+ years experience. My public resume shows I’ve been doing professional development for 6. That doesn’t mean I might not be a good fit for this job, but you should probably acknowledge that I’m lacking in this requirement and then explain to me why you think that doesn’t matter in this case. That would show that you took some initiative and that perhaps you have my interests and the company’s at heart. Instead it appears you just slapped my name into a form letter and called it a day.

Recruiters can do better. You might not hit up as many people in a day, but I believe you will place more people if you personalize your approach. I know you want to catch people when they are thinking about changing jobs but before they do. It’s hard to know when this is. It’s hard to follow a thousand pepople and develop meaningful relationships that will pay off over time. I don’t think what I’m asking you to do will be easy. But then, taking the action that leads to success never is.

So no, I’m not interested in this position. I’m happy in my current one and it would take an extraordinary job offer for me to change my mind. If you’re going to get that type of offer in front of me and get me to pay attention to it, you’re going to need to try a lot harder.



Culture, Work Location and Critical Thinking

Mark Mzyk February 24, 2013

Recently I read Shanely’s What Your Culture Really Says. I’v also been seeing a lot of tweets about how you should let employees work remotely lately. Certainly DHH has been saying this loudly for a long time.

There is a truth in these arguments, but they go too far. Life is complicated and there is no one right way. You should see what everyone is saying, think about it, and then incorporate those elements that work for you and make your culture better.

Working Remotely

Let’s look at working remotely. It’s true that working remotely can be great. I work remotely. It would be difficult for me to to go back to working from an office. It allows flexibility for the worker who gets to work from home and it allows flexibility for the employeer, who gets to hire regardless of location. That doesn’t mean it’s always great for everyone.

If you’re an employeer you have to consider the tax and law implications of hiring someone from another state or even another country. Is your business ready to take on these complications?  Beyond the legal aspect, there are other issues with remote work. The employee has to know that they can handle working remotely. When your office is your laptop, you can work anytime, anywhere. This is a blessing and a curse. If you work in an office, when you leave your work is often done for the day. You can focus on family because the temptation of work is an office away, instead of a laptop away. There is a clean separation between home life and work. Some employees need this, but it can be difficult to know if you’re someone who does until you try working remote.

Supporting remote workers also takes the right office culture. Even those workers who work from the office need to shift their behavior as if they were a remote worker. Conversations and decisions need to move online so that remote workers are included and understand what is happening. If this doesn’t happen, its easy for the remote worker to feel left out and for productivity to drop as they try to find the information they need. If decisions at your company are decided in hallway conversations, having remote employees isn’t going to be successful.

Face to face communication is still the best way to communicate. Despite the fact that online tools have come a long way, being in a room with someone is the best way to get to know them and communicate effectively. Even when working remote, it’s much easier if at some point you’ve had face to face communication with the other people you are working with. This builds rapport so that remote employees can understand the meaning and intent behind communication from their coworkers. What most companies with remote workers don’t often publicize is that periodically all the remote workers gather at the company headquarters or get together somewhere in person to build a rapport. If you’re going to have remote workers, be prepared to do this at least once a year, if not more often.

Is working remote great? Absolutely. It gives the remote worker flexibility in their schedule and where they live. It gives the company an expanded talent pool to draw from. Ultimately you need to think about the changes it takes to support remote workers and if your company is capable and willing to make them for the benefits that come with remote workers.

Company Culture

Much like there are caveats to remote working, there are caveats to any culture you might adapt. To pull one example from Shanely’s post, let’s look at a culture of having no managers. What Shanely says could certainly be true, but I also believe it doesn’t have to be. I assume the reference she is making is to GitHub, as they have been the company most vocal about having no managers.

I’ve been watching GitHub for a long time, like most people in the tech world. They are an amazing story. Recently they cleared 150 employees. I take them at their word that they have no managers. I also don’t think this is a strategy that is going to work for most companies. Why? Because most companies don’t have the same hiring practices GitHub does. For a long time, GitHub has been hiring very senior people. Their employees usually join the company with years of work under their belt and have proven themselves to be leaders in whatever their chosen specialty is. These are very self driven people who know how to get things done and how to organize to do it. If every company had employees like this then no company would need managers either. It is much harder to be a company of no managers when you’ve taken young or unskilled employees on. These employees need guidance and direction, or else they have a tendency to bounce from one shiny tech to the next. That guidance usually comes in the form of a manager.

There is also the fact that GitHub has been profitable for a long time and now has massive cash on hand after their funding from Andreessen Horowitz. When money isn’t an issue that frees up everyone in a company. If someone goes off on a side project that doesn’t add to the bottom line now, but might in the future, well, that’s okay, because the bottom line right now is just fine. GitHub has this freedom, most other companies don’t.

The Takeaway

What is the takeaway here? To be cliche, it’s that things are complicated. There are good things in the reports that come out about company culture and working remotely, but it’s up to you to look at them with a critical eye. Think about why it works for the company saying it. Think about what they might not be saying. Then take what works for you and improve your company culture.