On starting a new job

I recently started at a new job. A new job title, responsibilities, office and work environment. Change. Training. Overload.

This job is my third “professional” job (I’m only counting jobs I had during or after uni as professional here) ever. And the new job is at a big company. The new firm I work with has been super supportive and helpful, but of course that doesn’t stop the requisite information overload and “culture” shock (very mild in this case).

As I often do on my blog, it’s time for a reflection. I thank the mundane commute I enjoy for the time to write these blog posts.

This new company is quite unlike anything I’ve worked with before. I’ve always worked in either small businesses or in small teams (when I worked for QUT). This firm is giant; the number of business offerings is extensive; the scope of my work is radically changed. These types of changes mean I have a lot to learn.

But the are three things I’ll takeaway as lessons from these first few days in my new job.

The first thing I’d call out as important is to find supportive people. This wasn’t hard at the new firm as there is a strong culture of support and the team coming together. I probably would have tried to meet for people in the earlier days to learn more and find additional points of support in my team. But that’s hard given people are often out with their clients. Such is life.

Another thing I found important was finding a way to process all the information that gets thrown on to you. Being a big company, there were a lot of processes and documents showered on me in the first few days on the job (although, this seems to still be the case as I keep learning). The thing that worked the best for me was talking through these things with the other grads and my buddy (another good initiative this firm has).

A final takeaway I’d bring up is that you should never be afraid to ask about anything. I’m fortunate to work for (and have worked for) companies with open, transparent cultures. Questions are welcome, and indeed prized, in these environments. Questions support dialogue and get things done. I know not everyone has the type of organisational culture to support this type of communication, but just one question can really go a long way.

So there are my worldly insights on business after 12 days on the job. I’ll say I am very happy with my job and look forward to learning a lot!

What tips and tricks did you find important in your first days and weeks at a new job?

Ex-battery Hen Adoption

Everyone I meet seems to think I live in the outback as soon as I mention I live in Ipswich City. I really have no way to hide the fact I sort of do live on a (very small) farm, as we have started keeping chickens as a source of eggs (and an entertainment option if you are me). I think as soon as you start keeping livestock, you’re a farmer.

We originally bought in four hens from a local rural supplier. As we never had cared for chickens before, we decided to get a copy of Jackie French’s Chook Book (which has turned out to be a great first guide). The book discussed the possibility of sourcing ex-battery chickens (the poor souls who lay cage eggs you buy in the supermarket) as a way to also get hens and treat battery chickens to a second lease on life. As dedicated animal lovers, we immediately took the opportunity. We received four additional hens on Sunday from a local ex-battery hen adoption program (called Homes for Hens).

As animal lovers, we always try to buy free-range everything (where it is available in the uncultured location that is Ipswich), and we have always used free-range eggs. I always knew cage eggs were come by under depressing conditions for the hens forced to lay them; I’d never given it much further though. The adoption program really made it clear just how poorly battery hens are treated.

The hens, when in the battery, are given roughly an A4 sheet area to live on. This as it turns out does not provide enough room for the hens to stretch their wings, an important part of a chicken’s self-care. They are exposed to continuous fluorescent lighting 24x7x365 to break their normal cycle of egg laying, forcing them to lay more eggs than is natural. Shortly after being born, battery hens have their beaks trimmed; unlike clipping a human fingernail, clipping a hen’s beak cuts through nerves causing a great deal of pain. The beak never grows back. Cutting the beak makes it difficult for the hens to eat. They constantly peck each other due to being packed so closely together, perpetuating the need to cut their beaks. They are given only a wire cage (wire on all sides) to live in and the limited size means their feathers are rubbed off, and the constant light causes the hens to put all their nutrients into egg laying rather than growing feathers, bones and other parts normal in chickens. Because cages are open at the bottom, they expel their waste onto the chickens below (cages are stacked one on top of another in long rows). After a year of this terrible ordeal, the hens are treated to slaughter (male chickens born in this system are killed by gassing or some other disturbing method as soon as they are born). This is hardly a just way to treat chickens that have gone through so much.

Below I have some photos of our initial chickens compared to our adopted ex-battery hens. The poor ex-battery hens are emaciated. They were never treated with respect. They have trouble doing normal chicken activities (like foraging and finding food and water on their own). I am disgusted this is allowed to happen in Australia. The EU is phasing out caged egg farming by the end of the year.

An ex-battery hen
Healthy chicken

If you purchase cage eggs, you should feel extreme guilt. These inhumane farming practices are perpetuated by your decision to buy cage eggs over free-range eggs. You cannot tell me you cannot find the extra dollar to buy free-range eggs when 11 million hens are suffering in Australia to satisfy your need. For each cage egg you buy, a helpless, voiceless, innocent animal has suffered for 30 hours.

The solution is simple: buy free-range eggs. While the farming practices here are not free-range in the exact same sense we at home operate free range, but the hens are treated with infinitely more dignity and are not treated to the same horrors as their unfortunate caged counterparts. If you have enough room, you really should investigate if keeping a few chickens yourself is a possibility.

With a lot of TLC, I am expecting we will be able to rehabilitate these chickens and allow them to have a long, happier life.

On Submitting my Thesis

Eight months of painstaking work is nearly over. 51,000 words and 213 pages later, I am submitting my thesis A Framework for Managing Multiple Vendors in an Outsourcing Arrangement for examination at QUT. While I am (very openly) excited at the near completion of my second qualification (this thesis is for my honours degree), I think it is important to keep things in check.

So what did 32 weeks of hard work teach me? A lot, and that’s outside of what I learnt about IT multivendor outsourcing. While research has been an exhausting, stressful and exciting experience, I think there is a lot to learn from the experience before saying all is done and dusted.

The first thing I learnt is that you must always have a “Plan B” (and Plan C wouldn’t go astray either) research. Given the size and complexity of everything, it’s important to have a second way out. I must admit I’m not great at this: it’s often either my way works or it’s time to start a yelling match (always at my Mac that probably did nothing to deserve that kind of treatment). The one thing I’m going to take away from this is have someone else there to help you find Plan B; in my case it was my supervisors that did that. I’m thankful they had a Plan A and Plan B all along (I suspect they were both probably planned up to Plan X though).

Secondly, never trust Word. While I respect what Microsoft does in developing and supporting a gigantic, feature-packed office suite, Word’s performance and reliability starts to break down at around a 100-page document. When you’re working for hours on end on a 200+ page document, the last thing you want is a crash. I learnt that the best thing to do is create a template with all the layout, styles and bits and bobs you want, and then use it as a pseudo-template. Do things in bits (chapters for me, that is how serious things get). Save frequently. Backup often. Version. Just always do one thing: don’t trust your computer not to crash.

Some of the other things I learnt were small but valuable lessons. I really should know these things by now, but who has time to try and remember these sorts of things?

  • Have a plan and keep a journal. Do this from the beginning.
  • Ask for help (this is one of my biggest issues).
  • Use mind maps. A lot of them.
  • If something isn’t right the first time, iterate.
  • Know when to stop writing (this is a hard problem).
  • Don’t trust EndNote or any of the academic databases to get citations right automatically.
  • Get someone else to do your printing and binding (using Officeworks saved me a lot of time!).

The last thing I want to do is thank every single person who helped me. I must thank my supervisors or their support and interest in the project. Thanks to QUT for the scholarship that made it all possible. I want to thank every participant and supporter of the project for their ability to make things happen (especially data for the research). Thanks to my family that had to listen to constant complaining, put up without seeing me surface from my desk for hours at a time and for being there to provide much needed support. For my manager and co-workers at Tech-Knowledge, thanks for providing support in terms of study time off and for having someone to vent to. To my friends who were keen supporters of me, thanks for being supportive and hilarious at the same time. Every single person’s support was invaluable and I doubt I’d have gotten this far without you all!

Jetpack Joyride

Contrary to what many academics might believe, research students can’t constantly work on their research. There is always a need to try and do something that isn’t the constant writing, thinking or data analysis. Of late, my choice of break has been Halbrick’s Jetpack Joyride.

I normally don’t blog about or review games, but in this case I think it is worth it. Originally the game was 99¢ or $1.99, but the developers of the game made it free. Given how much I play and enjoy the game, the new price of nothing makes me feel a little bit guilty (I did buy an in-app purchase to support Halfbrick on that feeling). The game is s side-scrolling, action, arcade style game with simple controls and simple gameplay. Just try and fly “Barry” (the main character at the centre of the game’s super-involved story) as far as you can collecting coins, tokens and achievements along the way, while trying to avoid comic death by “zappers” and missiles.

Jetpack Joyride - Angry Birds
Jetpack Joyride - Angry Birds crossover?

The game, while straight-forward, can be a massive time sink. The “one more try” factor in this game is huge and the constantly changing missiones (game objectives) give the game excellent replay value. The choice of “Barry” as the character’s name is as Australian as a thong-wielding, flanny-wearing, roo-riding bogan; but I love the choice of name.

Machine Gun Jetpack
Jetpack the steampunk way – The machine gun jectpack

The one thing that I would change about the game is the ability for the game to synchronise across iDevices using GameCentre. With the older version of the app, I kept loosing my achievements projects and had to restart the game each time. There was no way to recover achievements or game progress. I know other games sync to GameCentre and allow you to restore on other devices. I’d like to see Halfbrick to do this; although they just released an update that seems to fix the problem of progress loss.

My recommendation:Your a fool if you don’t try this game that’s available for free (and is developed by an Australian company).

Personal Continuous Improvement vs New Year’s Resolutions

Being the new year, there is much talk about new year resolutions and people wanting to change certain aspects of their life in a little need of TLC. This of course is embodied by the all hallowed New Year’s Resolution. I never really paid much attention to this cultural norm.

Until this year. I started wondering why on Earth people would leave self-improvement until an arbitrarily defined time in the calendar we happen use to track the passing of time.

I work in the IT industry, specifically software development and technical consultancy at present. My current workplace uses Agile software development for all of our software development, which means we build and improve products iteratively. Being Agile means always being on the lookout for improvements and reacting to change in the environment. You also develop in such a way that you build incrementally, rather than building in one big block, later discovering something is wrong and then having to start from scratch to fix it. Agile is much more, dear I say, Agile than old ways of developing products, services and processes.

Thinking about self-improvement at a time talk about New Year’s Resolutions has reached fever pitch, I became inspired by Agile. If something changes in an Agile environment, you can immediately change and adapt to that change. Based on that fact, I think we should definitely be aiming to improve year round in our own personal lives. This would allow us to:

  • Adapt to changes in our life in terms of what we want to improve,
  • Break the changes down into smaller parts to make it more achievable,
  • Fix something straight away if something in our plan for success fails,
  • Make changes anytime of the year as our situation changes.

Committing to a New Year’s Resolution means we are making a big upfront investment that most people won’t achieve because the goal is too large to achieve without breaking it down and adapting. Implementing an Agile mindset to self-improvement means we can achieve our goals without depending on waiting until the start of the next year or face the fact that our goals may be too large without breaking it down and adapting if our first attempts don’t work.

In the words of well-known journalism academic Jeff Jarvis, “Life is a beta”, so get out there and start trying to continuously improve your life with an Agile mindset!