Your CV

This is the third post in my coaching for junior developers series, a humble effort to help engineers find roles in 2021.

Your CV is a summary of your experience, it’s the your way of introducing yourself to the recruiter and hiring manager and is your first. There are countless guides out there for creating a good CV which I won’t try to outdo – what I’m going to do instead is write from my views as an experienced hiring manager.

Putting a good CV together is not easy, I always have to trim pages and pages out of mine whenever I do dusting. Striking a balance between what to include and what to cut is the eternal battle and two people giving you advice will always disagree with each other.

Putting a CV together is not an easy job, what do you leave in and what do you leave out? Photo by Samson Katt on Pexels.com

Lets talk about what the CV is actually for. In my opinion it has three purposes:

  • To list your core skills so the recruiter can match them against the job spec
  • To give a high level overview to the hiring manager to decide who to phone interview
  • To give the hiring manager something to ask you in your interview

Let’s take each of these in order.

Recruiters are usually non-technical but they’re well versed in filtering out people who know about the technologies they’re discussing and those who are bluffing. Their job is to find the best selection of candidates for the job description by matching skills and experience level. Your job is to make this as easy as possible for them. Look at the job advert, look at the skills they’re requesting and split them into three catagories. Skills you have, skills you want to aquire from the role. You don’t want to try to pretend to have skills you don’t have, don’t hide gaps, highlight what you can do and explain why you’d like to close those gaps.

One more tip for recruiters. I never send a blind CV to a recruitment agent. It’s one among hundreds and it’s too easy to get lost along the masses. I always call the agency beforehand and ask some questions about the role. Help demonstrate that you can communicate and will do well in any future phone interview they put you forward for.

Next, giving a high level overview of your skills. To a degree you’ve already covered this in the first part when you aligned your skills to the role to make it easy for the recruiter. However, what you need to do now is make your CV interesting among the masses. It’s extremely difficult for a hiring manager to decide who to speak to when they’re faced with overwhelming numbers of applicants who are all equally qualified. What you want to do is add a little personality to a list of previous jobs, skills, and qualifications. There are a few ways I’d recommend you do this:

  • Sumarise yourself in a couple of sentences, it’s a bit like opening a big presentation. Don’t go with “I am Adam Griffiths and I’m here to talk to you about…” that’s what everyone says. You’d go with “Do you know what most people get wrong in their CVs?” Now you’re listening. You want the equivalent, don’t say “After a three year computer science degree your role looks like the perfect fit for me.” Surprise me try “I’ve done my degree, now I want to know how real software is built!”
  • Consider adding a link to your LinkedIn profile (you do have a LinkedIn profile right?). Personally I don’t like pictures in CVs but I’m not going to start hunting around the internet to find your LinkedIn, GitHub, personal website, and any other account you’ve got active, list them – especially if this is your first role. Put a face to a name and show me what you’ve done. Don’t include social media which shows you downing a yard of ale in a tutu. While impressive I don’t hire people based on their party tricks at the end of year bash.
  • If you’re currently in a role put “references available on request”, companies will understand that you don’t want your referees contacted yet and it won’t be a problem. If this is your first role then go and track down your referees and ask their permission before using them as a reference.

Speaking of, if this is your first role your biggest experience is your project, disseration, any work experience you’ve done, and any learning projects. Once you’ve worked in the industry for a few years these will be replaced with professional projects.

How do you show experience when you are applying for your first role!? Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

The last reason for your CV is to help prompt me with questions. When you come in for interview you’ll be nervous and panicking. One of the most common opening questions is to ask about your current role, or what you’re currently working on. This is because I want to help you relax by getting you to talk about what something you know. If you don’t tell me what you’ve been working on that question is much much harder. Help me to help you here!

Those are my biggest CV tips and suggestions. What do you think? Are they helpful? What would you add?

As I mentioned above this is part of a series of posts I’m running for people wanting to break into software engineering. Make sure your subscribed to my blog and are following @DotDotDevBlog on twitter so you don’t miss my other advice.

Five Dysfunctions of a Team Book Review

I read this book a few years ago and really would recommend it. I believe it was mentioned in The Phoenix Project and I added it to my reading list.

Much like Gene Kim’s work Five Dysfunctions is a story, in this case of an exec team at a high flying company who are struggling. They have all the best people, but the company is failing.

Lencioni talks about how safety acts as the foundations for a team to be able to challenge each other and succeed. It really hammers home how people feeling comfortable sharing their strengths and weaknesses leads to dull meetings, lack of accountability, and poor results.

Not a difficult read, lots of useful information – definitely one to add to your reading list if you’ve not read it already.

What The Recruitment Process Looks Like

From the outside a recruitment process is fairly opaque. As someone applying for their first developer role it can be easy to get lost with who’s who. Let’s go through the high level journey of recruitment for a role.

The job interview is often only one small part of the hiring process. Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

Remember, the process will always be slightly different for each company and each person but the common building blocks are often there.

  • Company identifies they need an additional person and speaks with a recruitment agency (sometimes done by a specialist team withint the company) to post an advert and job description.
  • The applicant (you) see this advert and decide to apply.
  • You will most likely be asked to provide a CV and potentially a cover letter.
  • The recruiter will then shortlist a number of candidates, filtering out the people who are clearly unsuitable and share them with the hiring manager. They may do this by speaking with the applicants themselves before forwarding them on.
  • The hiring manager will then often select a subset of candidates to hold a telephone interview with, these are usually around 30 minutes long.
  • A small number of people are then invited in for a face to face interview (obviously in the current climate this may be done slightly differently).
  • The hiring manager then assesses each candidate and decides which, if any, would be suitble for the role.

Ok, so let’s assume you’re the selected candidate. What happens next?

  • The recruiter will most likely call you either way to get your impression on how the interview went. They will most likely update you on whether they’ve heard anything on whether the company intends to make an offer. Bear in mind that a hiring manager may have many interviews for a single role and will often wait until finishing all interviews before offering the role.
  • If you are selected then the recruiter will often give you a verbal offer, or let you know that the company intends to make you an offer. Nothing is binding at this stage but it’s often wise to give an honest view of whether you would accept or not. It would be impolite for you to let a company go through the efforts of getting a contract out to you if you have no intention of accepting.
  • The recruiter will most often want to discuss start dates with you. This is great news, however if you are in an existing role you shouldn’t hand in your notice until until you’ve read the contract from the new company. It’s safe to assume you’ll be able to start 2 weeks plus any notice period you currently have, but these can always be adjusted once you’ve agreed your last day.
  • You will be issued with a contract of employment which you will be asked to sign and return.

So there you have it, the entire process! I’m going to break these various steps down over the upcoming weeks but there are a few points I want to highlight now.

It’s a long journey from advert to offer! Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

Sometimes, especially if a company is hiring multiple people in the same role they may run an Assessment Centre rather than going through the entiring process for each candidate. These are nothing to be afraid of, and can be a lot of fun. But it’s often very daunting to meet (and be expected to work with) people who are competing against you for a small number of roles.

It’s important that you’re assessing the company as much as they are judging you. Hopefully you’re going to be spending several years of your life at this organisation and working with the hiring manager. If you feel uneasy around them or don’t think you would fit in there then there’s nothing wrong with turning down a job offer. It’s disappointing for the hiring manager to lose someone they feel would be a good person for a role but if your aspirations are elsewhere you should listen to that.

Finally, a LOT of candidates apply for roles. Especially during difficult times (like we’re expecting in 2021). Look for ways to stand out. I’m not talking about bringing cake to the interview or wearing bright colours to the interview but think about what differentiates you and makes you unique. Make connections with the recruiter and hiring manager by asking questions and always show your interest.

I intend to cover recruitment in a lot more detail over the next few weeks but hopefully there’s enough here to get you started.

As always if there are any questions please get in touch and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and follow me on Twitter.

Taking Back Control of Your Calendar

I had an epiphany the other day. I’ve long believed that the number of meetings in your calendar was some kind of function of the size of your organisation and seniority. As a people manager at a company of over 8000 people my calendar gets pretty full on (I dread to think what my boss’ looks like).

I was commenting to my wife while making a drink that I was invited to seven different meetings over the next hour. She rolled her eyes at the ridiculousness of an overpacked calendar and I was about to smile ruefully when something struck me.

Letting meetings pile up and sit as “tentative” is a sign of indecision, a source of stress, and disrespectful to the meeting organisers who have requested my help.

When I have a block of fifty or more meetings a day in my calendar no one looking at it (including me) can actually tell whether I’m busy or not. Good productivity comes from having a plan of what to do with your time, not making it up on the spot.

We need to start owning our calendars not letting manage us!

Calendars should be a tool to keep us organised not a source of stress. So what did I do?

  • Immediately declined any meeting I wasn’t planning on going to with apologies
  • Ensured that I was never supposed to be in more than one place at once
  • Scheduled time to actually do the tasks I needed to do

This turned out to be an extremely therapeutic exercise, one I plan to repeat each week going forward. Time will tell if it leads to less indecision and procrastination!

What are your tips and tricks for managing your working day? How do you deal with excessive meetings?

So You Want To Be A Software Developer?

I’ve been working in Software Development for over ten years now. First as an engineer, then a tech lead, and now a manager. It’s an extremely exciting, challenging, and rewarding industry to work in but it can also be stressful and quite opaque from the outside.

I had the misfortune of leaving university in 2008, right in the middle of the financial crisis. I’d like to be able to tell you about rejection letter after disappointing email but the truth was more often than not I head nothing. I was one of the lucky ones, after three months of sending applications off onto the void I stumbled across a small company in Harrogate who took me on and saw my potential as a future developer. I’m immensely grateful to Bill, Joy, Pete, Chet and the others who invested in me and gave me that opportunity to show that this was an industry I could thrive in.

People looking to enter IT in 2021 are going to be facing competition just as difficult, if not more so than I did. I want to help. That’s why, over the next few weeks I want to blog and write my advice, suggestions, and advice for anyone looking to join the industry for the first time. I’m in an immensely fortunate position of having gone full circle from applicant, to engineer, to experienced hiring manager and this is my attempt to pay if forward for all the people who have helped me along my journey.

If you would like to receive this information then please subscribe to my blog and follow the Twitter Account. I would also like to set up a mailing list but, as that’s likely cost £££s I’ll wait until I’ve got a few people following along and feeding back to make sure I’m not spending purely for my own vanity.

The software industry is not what you see in the movies!

So what is working in the software industry actually like?

First, there’s a lot less creation of new software than you may actually expect. There are “greenfield” projects as we call them. But these are usually with either startups (which can be potentially risky) or an established company investing heavily in a new product. The majority of software roles out there are for established companies wanting to fix bugs and expand the functionality of their existing systems.

We rarely work alone. Most companies have teams of around seven people called Scrum Teams. These teams will contain a mix of developers and testers, most will also contain a representative from the business called a Product Owner.

Professional Software Developers rarely work alone, teams of around seven people are most traditional.

When most people think of development they think of websites and mobile apps because those are the most visible. However, unless you decide to specialise in web or mobile you’re much not likely to find a role building membership systems (my second job), warehouse stock inventory, or finance (my current job). Software is everywhere and there are IT jobs out there in sectors you haven’t even heard of yet.

I want to finish this post by asking you a question. I’ve interviewed more people than I can count and asked hundreds of questions in interviews, I want to give you practice answering these questions so you don’t get stuck when you find yourself on the phone or in an interview situation.

Given what you know what especially appeals to you about working in the software industry?

Think of your answer and let me know how you’d answer either on Twitter, via email, or by posting in the comments below.

I hope you found this post useful. As I mentioned above this is going to be the first in a series which I will aim to publish each Thursday. So please subscribe to the blog and follow me on Twitter, join my email list (when it’s available), and share it with anyone else you know who’s likely to be looking for a role in software development in 2021.

Let’s Talk About Goals

It’s getting towards that time of year again, where have conversations with our managers about what they expect us to achieve over the upcoming year and we throw in a few “personal development goals” which won’t really matter when we’ve forgotten about them in twelve month’s time.

Somewhere personal development and annual performance have got mixed up somewhere here. Most companies base some element of their employees’ performance on how well they’ve met their goal. Personally I disagree with this. I believe there are three types of goals.

  • Goals which you need to meet to successfully perform in your role
  • Goals which form part of the team’s improvement plan
  • Goals which are designed to help you meet your long term career aspersions.

Ideally a goal should fit in to two or even three of these. However it’s the third option, goals for personal development I want to discuss in more detail.

Insert Cheesy Goals Picture Here

My grandad was a train driver, he drove everything from The Flying Scotsman to the first diesel Deltics. When he joined the railways he was given a number, everyone who subsequently joined would get a higher number. As the years went by and he progressed in his career The drivers with the lower numbers, who joined before him retired and he became the senior driver on the east coast mainline because he had the lowest number.

In today’s organisations we can’t sit and wait for the people ahead of us to retire for us to gain our promotions. I’m not suggesting that there wasn’t a lot of study involved to progress on the railway, however there was a lot more structure. If we want to progress in our careers we need to identify not only the gaps, but our long term objectives.

List a few of the people you believe are very successful. I admire Barak Obama, Dwayne Johnson, Bill Gates, and several others. None of these people became successful by chance. They envisaged their careers, their successes, and they made them happen.

Ok, enough motivational writing and comparing ourselves to famous millionaires. In his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advised his readers to Start With The End In Mind. In order to get a big picture view of your goals in life he suggests you write your own eulogy, or perhaps less morbidly, your retirement speech. What do you want people to say about you? What accomplishments would they list? If you find this too difficult visualise where you want to be in five years. What role do you want? What skills do you want to have?

The next step is to break down those ambitious goals into smaller steps. For example if you want to start your own business but don’t have any knowledge of sales then you may set yourself a goal to complete a sales training course. If you want to be working as an iOS developer then perhaps you have to release your own personal app to the app store?

Lets stop assuming that major change in our lives and our careers will suddenly happen. Successes like Microsoft, the presidency, and film careers don’t happen by accident. They happen because those people took small, measured steps, and smaller goals which we set ourselves and complete on a daily basis.

This is why your annual goals are so important. They’re your commitment to your personal progression and an opportunity to seek support from your manager and organisation.

Large scale change doesn’t happen by coincidence, it’s planned and happens through a series of small steps.

Our annual goals should reflect where we want to be in 12 month’s time, a step on the ladder of where we want to be in our grand vision. If we want to deliver on them we need to manage them, quarter by quarter, and even day by day.

This is why personally I don’t believe our personal development goals should factor into our annual performance reviews. However, as managers we want to coach people on their careers (not to mention meeting department goals). These are people’s personal and private goals and I don’t think any bonus or annual performance should be tied to those. But we work within the systems we’ve got!

So what should you do now?

  1. Create a vision of what world domination looks like – what’s your super goal which you want to achieve over the course of your career (this can evolve as you go, today it just acts as a lighthouse of where to aim for).
  2. Understand WHY you want to achieve that.
  3. If that’s the end goal what significant steps could you make towards that vision in the next 12 months?
  4. Discuss (if you wish) these 12 month goals with your manager.
  5. Create an annual schedule, what will those 12 month goals look like as you move through the year? How will you know if you’re on track? Schedule these times in so you don’t forget
  6. Reserve a little time each and every day to move one of those goals forward.

Don’t wait for that big ambitious career goal to mysteriously drop out of the sky. Make it happen, a little each day until you’re there.

Goals for 2021

As is the time for goals and be years resolutions I’m going to throw out a few of my own.

  • Read 21 Books
  • Write 52 Blog Posts
  • Pass my PSM1
  • Finish my new book
  • Finish painting my Stark and Lannister armies!

21 books isn’t that ambitious for me, although without knowing whether I’ll be commuting will cut into my audible time. The scrum master exam, yeah – I probably should have hit around to that years ago!

The book is top secret, well… unless you’re on Leanpub! But the blogging and painting will take some discipline.

Let’s see how it goes. Happy New Year everyone!

What I Read in 2020

I’ve done this before (in 2016), I always think it’s a great idea to round out the year by summarising what I’ve read and learned. It’s far better than a quick check in GoodReads or The Story Graph!

The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim

I try to read The Phoenix Project every year because it’s such a fundamental book for IT management.

What am I Going To Take Away? Every reread I pick up on something different. This year I’m going to try to model the workstations in a software development team.

The Unicorn Project

The Unicorn Project by Gene Kim

I had little doubt that I was going to enjoy any follow up to The Phoenix Project and The Unicorn Project didn’t dissapoint. It has to sit on that list of Must Read books for IT professionals.

What Am I Going To Take Away? The value of proper documentation and onboarding and the importance of end to end testing of an entire system.

When

When by Daniel H. Pink

I’ve always enjoyed Dan Pink’s books, Drive is a classic everyone should read. I didn’t think When was quite as strong but there’s lots of interesting stuff going on.

What Am I Going To Take Away? Are there optimum times of day to run certain scrum ceremonies?

The Mark of Calth

Mark of Calth by L.J. Goulding

A set of short stories set on Calth following the World Eaters betrayal of the Ultramarines during the Horus Heresy. I’m not usually a fan of the short story books but this one had some decent stories.

The Temp

The Temp by Steve Nelson

Some easy listening while we were going through the start of lockdown, a hapless temp who signs up for a whole set of weird jobs.

Unification (short story)

Unification by Chris Wraight

I don’t think I even remember this one. Something to do with a Death Guard warrior from the Horus Heresy to the “present day” in the 41st millenium perhaps?

Plague War

Plague War by Guy Haley

The continuation of the story from Dark Imperium. Ultramarines battle against the Death Guard.

Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design by David Spicer

A fun if fairly predicable story about AI taking over the world.

On Writing Well

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Quite an interesting book about writing but, ironically, a little dry in places – especially when a section wasn’t something you were likely to find much use for (sports reporting in my case). Good examples of simplifying language.

The Solar War

The Solar War by John  French

I’ve been working through the Horus Heresy series but this was my first foray into the conclusion, The Siege of Terra – I’ll definitely read the others!

The Little Book of Ikigai

The Little Book of Ikigai by Ken Mogi

Less of a book about finding happiness and contentment and more about accepting the status quo in between lots of interesting facts about Japanese culture. Interesting but wasn’t a game changer for me.

Building Communities of Practice

Building Successful Communities of Practice by Emily Webber

Really interesting short read about taking a structured approach to building Communities of Practice. Maybe a little idealistic.

What Did I Take Away? Using a maturity model to slowly build and measure a community’s sustainability rather than going about it in a haphazard manner.

The Man With the Golden Gun

The Man With the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming

Classic Bond, very very dated in terms of his views about women, Russia, and pretty much anything. But still good fun.

Team Topologies

Team Topologies by Matthew    Skelton

Game changing. Proper strategies for organising teams and understanding how they communicate between them. Highly recommended.

What Did I Take Away? Consider architectural goals when designing team structure andbe aware of cognative load on teams. Consider the use of platform teams to provide platforms for product teams to consume.

Scientific Secrets for a Powerful Memory

Scientific Secrets for a Powerful Memory by Peter M. Vishton

Interesting book about human memory. Teaches and explains some of the memory hacks used by memory champions.

I Am Slaughter

I Am Slaughter by Dan Abnett

Despite having one of my favourite space marine chapters (the Imperial Fists) in it I didn’t really get to grips with this one. It’s the start of a long series and I’m not convinced I’ll pursue it. Maybe it was because I was having a rough few days while I was reading it and didn’t really give it a fair chance?

Insanely Gifted

Insanely Gifted by Jamie Catto

It’s ok to embrace you’re weird. Actually some good advice about embracing your deamons (not demons) and the fact that it’s rarely what people have said but you’re own baggage which drives your reaction. Some good stuff, if a little self help style – got me meditating though which can’t be a bad thing.

Spear of the Emperor

Spear of the Emperor by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

I wasn’t sure whether I’d do this but I really did. I loved that it was told from a mortal woman’s perspective as opposed to a space marine’s. Only problem is now I want to buy and paint even more models just so I can paint them in a slightly different shade of blue…

Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done by David    Allen

Really good book (see my review). I’d never really considered personal organisation as something you had to learn and develop. More as something which you should just know…

What Did I Take Away? Being organised doesn’t happen by chance. Develop a system and constantly challenge it. Get your commitments out of your head and onto paper.

The Advantage

The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

I picked this up in an airport spotting it was by Patrick Lencioni (of 5 Dysfunctions fame). I have to admit I wasn’t blown away. After a repeat of everything in 5 Dysfunctions it all got quite woolly and repetitive.

What Did I Take Away? Try to define the team values before hiring anyone into it.

Understanding Non-Verbal Communication

Understanding Nonverbal Communication by Mark G. Frank

Everyone wants to know about non-verbal communication because they want to be able to tell when people are lying. In reality this course was so much more! Enjoyed listening about personal space and dominant/submissive posture.

What Did I Take Away? Consider my non verbal communication when delivering messages. Everything from where I’m sat to what I’m wearing plays a part in the communication.

Routine Machine

I was really impressed with this, I wasn’t 100% convinced when I bought it but it was on a £3 sale at Audible so I was willing to give it a go. I’m really glad I did. John is obviously obviously a director and investor in many many businesses – I’m not, but I do like a good routine and there was lots in here to like.

What Did I Take Away? Quite a bit actually! We’re the sum of our routines not our individual one of actions. Tracking and improving routines and handing them our internal computer leaving our mind decision free is a powerful thing. I also REALLY like the idea of tracking your routines and keeping an eye on the averages. A highly recommended book this one. Oh, and actually reflecting and implementing thigns from books instead of just reading them. So expect more book review posts next year.

A total of 22 books – considering the year we’ve all had I don’t think that’s bad!

Photo by Eduardo Braga on Pexels.com

Next year I want to do a lot more book reviews, not especially for you but for me. It’s not enough to just consume pages. I need to take something away and implement change from the best ones.

Routine Machine Book Review

This morning I finished listening to Routine Machine on audible. The book is by John Lamberton, who describes himself as The King of Routine and in it he discusses the power of a good routine and how it helps him (and many others) achieve financial suggess and good health.

I’d highly recommend it. There are some really good ideas in there and it really gets you thinking about long terms goals and the small steps we take each day (how agile is that) towards achieving them.

Routine Machine: How successful people improve their morning routine, daily  habits and guarantee themselves results: Amazon.co.uk: Lamerton, John:  9781910600276: Books

Of course the book isn’t perfect, there are a few ideas and comments I really don’t like. Especially around the Director or Investor of any company locking himself away for a week to write a book and ignoring all emails and messages of people who work for him who require help with emergencies. I take John’s point on board – that he shouldn’t be a bottleneck and that these emergencies often don’t actually need his help. But I can’t help thinking that he and Simon Sinek would have a very heated debate on that one!

However, there was so much I did find valuable that I’d recommend you read it to. Here are my highlights:

  1. Big goals aren’t achieved by a few big actions, we achieve them by doing lots of good little actions day after day, week after week, year after year.
  2. The biggest asset you have to achieving success is time, don’t expect success overnight – aim for it and embed the habits you need to make it happen into your daily routine.
  3. Track these habits in an excel spreadsheet (other spreadsheets are available) and give yourself gold stickers to ensure that they are sticking.
  4. Don’t bite off too much too soon.
  5. Don’t read books without taking the message way. Read the book, follow the instructions.
  6. Identify what’s important and make sure you schedule time for those things first. Put the big immovable objects in your calendar first, not the day to day 30 minute meetings we’re all a slave to.

Although John told me to write a review I don’t want to share all the advice (because second hand is never as good as the source). Instead, if I’ve peaked your interest then grab a copy and have a read.

A Geek’s Guide to People at DDD2020

I was recently lucky enough to speak at DDD2020. I spoke at DDDNorth last year, but this was a completely online and very different to anything I’d done before. The organisers did an amazing job and created an amazing virtual event.

Personally I hope they consider doing an online version of the conference even once the shadow of covid has gone.

If you would like to watch my talk you can find it on youtube along with dozens of other talks from the day.

The guys were kind enough to send me a shiny certificate!

I hope you enjoy the video. If you have any questions please get in touch!