Monday, December 04, 2006

My feelings exactly...

This comic pretty much sums up my feelings about getting turned down at Google.
I'll get my chance though.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The sleeping in the back of the truck incident

There has been a massive cry (two comments) from the masses (probably ten people) to elaborate on how I was effectively homeless for an entire semester. Granted, this is a technology blog and we were instructed to stick to writing about technology and careers so here is how technology was included in this story: I checked the Internet each night before I slept outside to see if the temperature was going to get below freezing so I wouldn't die. Done.

My freshman year in college I pledged a fraternity at Oklahoma State. During rush it was touted as the most elite group on campus; we had won grades 72 of 75 years, best fraternity on campus 32 of 35 years, and had more Homecoming Royalty, IFC Presidents, Student Government Presidents, and more trophies for academics, athletics and community services than any other Greek house on campus. FarmHouse only pledged the best of the incoming freshman and to be asked to join was an honor. So I eagerly signed a pledge card when they offered it to me and moved into the house my first semester at OSU.

While I was being rushed a lot of credit for the success of FarmHouse was given to our summer camp style of living that no other fraternity on campus employed. When I moved into the house we all had roughly 4 to 6 people in a room that held our desks, clothes, couches, and televisions. That was it. Your room was to be viewed as an office for getting homework done and hanging out with other members and pledges but you had to sleep in "The Rack". The Rack is a room that is painted pitch black from wall to wall and is kept at a chilly 62 degrees Fahrenheit. Perfect for sleeping... if it weren't for the other thirty people that slept in the same room.

Now, for those of you that have been in a fraternity, visited a fraternity, or watched Animal House, then you know that someone is always awake and requires much less sleep than you do.
I tried to cope and I made it through an entire year of sleeping in The Rack, but there is only so much one man can handle. During that year I experienced one six foot four, two-hundred sixty pound man land squarely on my chest on accident, a water sprinkler being smuggled in and connected to a hose... then turned on, fireworks being ignited, a motorcycle being put in the rack and fired up, people talking across bunks, people yelling across the room, doors slamming as someone entered/exited The Rack, girls being spirited in or out, and at least a dozen different occasions where a pledge would forget to wake me up. So, since I was the first person up almost every morning and with a job at stake, I saved up my money and came up with a clever solution to my noisy sleep environment. A hard tonneau cover.

This was sheer genius. When my sophomore year started I started going out to the parking lot when there wasn't anybody around and slide into the bed of my truck. It really wasn't too bad since I had a mattress, a sleeping bag, four quilts, travel alarm clock, and a push light back there. To be honest, some of the best sleep I ever had was in the back of that truck. Granted, there were nights when I would park too close to our basketball court or a sorority would come by and spirit chalk our windshields in the middle of the night and I would wake up, but for the most part, I was fine. That is, until winter hit. I still remember the first frost we had that season when I awoke to find that my breath had created small icecicles just inches away from my face. Neat. At least it was until another member accidentally bumped my truck and I ended up with a face full of frost one evening. But hands down the worst experience I had sleeping in my truck was when the first serious snow hit. I'll let you do the math: one chilly fraternity boy + one solid fiberglass cover + 200 pounds of snow inches away from my nose = PANIC! I was finally able to get out after I moved a bunch of bedding over to one side and used my legs to lift the cover. After that incident, I started waking up every few hours when it snowed to tilt the snow off the cover so I could get out in the morning. Sure it was irritating having to wake up all the time but it was better than being beaned by a soccer ball while I was trying to sleep.

After one semester of sleeping in my truck I finally decided to petition the membership to let me have out-of-house membership, something that was unheard of in those days. I went before the fraternity and pleaded my case and explained that sleeping inside was killing me and that I went to the extreme to keep my membership intact while preserving my sanity/health. In an overwhelming show of support, I was allowed to move out of FarmHouse and into my own apartment, which started a whole new phase of success for me. I could finally sleep and study in a clean environment and I watched as my grades and activities went through the roof.

This period of my life gave me a huge amount of respect for workplace and home environments. Since then I've studied a lot about members of groups and how their productivity and happiness is affected by their surroundings and I've taken a lot of it to heart when I put my workspaces together. Hopefully, you'll never have to go through something like I did in order to appreciate or change your working environment.

The Agricultural Hole...

There is a market that the tech industry seems to be ignoring when it comes to a simple solution: Agriculture. The Ag industry has been crying out for a simple solution that goes beyond the everyday accounting program, a vast array of untested programs, and spreadsheets that can be misleading. Why are spreadsheets misleading?

An average farmer will generally look at the bottom line, that is, what they made on each crop as compared to their general expenses. Problem with that is there is no way for the farmer to discern whether or not one crop, piece of equipment, or input is losing them money. The best system that I have ever seen for recording farm costs and analyzing if they are being productive is the Ferguson System.

Roy Ferguson has been doing financial analysis on mainstream crops and niche' crops like pumpkins and other exotic staples. Now, Ferguson has more experience with agriculture than 95% of people in the industry and even at his advance age he is still making major headway. That is, with one exception: his software. The Ferguson site has a way to track farm expenses but it is based on depositing "tokens" that you have to pay for in order to continue to keep using the site. But the worst part about the Ferguson system is that you have to be online in order to record your farm transactions. And if you have ever used a dial-up connection with a very data intensive site then you know how difficult it is to try and use something as useful as the Ferguson system.

So, my charge is to the Ferguson Group to come up with a software suite that is not memory intensive, because most farmers don’t own cutting edge computers, that will do everything that the online system can do but on the desktop. This will easily give the average farmer the ability to track all of their expenses and chart progress without having to hassle with the slow connection speed and wasted time and money of other accounting programs.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Why do I want to work for a tech company?

I've been asked this by a number of people who have always known me as the guy who works for lawyers. To be honest, there isn't one really good answer for this, instead I have a whole range of experiences and skills that have turned me towards the most exciting industry I can imagine. With that, here is a summation of my ultimate goal.

About Me

I'm going to level with you, I'm a nerd. A huge nerd. But not the type of nerd that gets all excited and falls over forward in a ritual that resembles lost contact lenses when I hear about the awesome marketing and customer outreach that tech companies do. Why do I love this so? I mean, to a lot of people it is just a clever and cheeky way of touching your user but to me this is actually "GETTING IT"! Ever since I got interested in technology I have always harped about the end-user being the fountainhead of wisdom. The end-all and be-all of your product should be the guy sitting at the end of your supply chain tinkering with your product. And I don't mean just giving the customer a quality product, I want the customer to be able to take whatever it is that I helped to produce and set it free. Use our ideas to his or her own advantage and create something that nobody I work with would have imagined the product doing. Let the user become more incredible and creative than they could have ever imagined through your efforts.

Treating the Employee as a Valued Resource

For the last five years I have been lucky enough to work for two lawyers in Stillwater that have all but taken me in as their own son. They have worked with me through tests, grueling event planning schedules, projects and ideas for the office that failed and succeeded, and an entire semester of sleeping in my truck. And in return, I have worked my posterior off for these wonderful people, giving them as much as I possibly can in return for their kindness and respect. Now, I am ready to take this ethic and mentality into a larger office environment. While I don't expect the same type of attention and care that I am receiving now in a corporate environment, I am ecstatic about working for a company that has a clear directive that is aimed directly at making the user's life better. Plus, I would love to get my hands on bigger tasks and responsibilities and see the direct results follow through for the benefit of the company.


I've always been a HUGE proponent of attention to the office environment. This last summer I took on trying to renovate my office in Stillwater so the office would look as high class as the talent inside. From everything I've read about tech companies and their office environments, they are laid back with flexible hours but they require a lot of productivity for all this leniency. This is the perfect match for me because I am in top form when I am relaxed and not forced to wear clothes that are professional yet incredibly uncomfortable and given an even mildly stimulating environment to work in. I don't expect something crazy like this but being able to feel stimulated and relaxed while not having to suffer through second hand smoke would be amazing.

I Bring Something Amazing to the Table

How many potential employees have six years of experience in the legal field by the time they are 23? How many college grads have worked for two internationally known criminal lawyers and in Oklahoma's largest medical malpractice law firm? How many applicants have slept in the back of their truck for a semester, written for the school portal and started their own freelance web site company to help put them thought college?

I haven't taken the normal route through college. I've always worked, always been involved on campus, and always balanced it all with an active social life. I've been given responsibilities that were well beyond the realm of what a normal 21 year-old would or even should be given and I've succeeded beyond expectations. I can bring a wealth of insight and excitement that no other applicant in your pool can remotely begin to parallel.

If you have a position that you think I can absolutely immerse myself in and want me to blow your expectations out of the water then send me an email at clint (dot) james (at) gmail (dot) com.

So, another crack at this online job finding business...

In a previous post I talked about how it was very unlikely for me or generally ANYONE to get a job from just submitting their resume' online. Well, my good friend, former roommate, and hetero-life partner asked me to give the online route of finding a job another try. He suggested that I give his company a try.

What it is

Zoominfo is essentially a search engine for people. Instead of looking for pictures of Halle Berry or the latest on Fed-Ex, this search engine will find staff for people in different industries via any number of variables. For example, I looked up Marketing Directors for Technology Industry in California and immediatly received an avalanche of names and contact numbers. The results are incredible and there is more information there than I could possibly sift through over my entire Christmas break.

Why this is a good thing

Instead of going through the normal route of submitting your resume via the company web site, you can now contact the decision maker directly and tell them who you are, what you are about, and why you are wonderful and excited about working for their company. This gets you past the HR Directors who are already immune to your witty coverletter and dazzling resume' and puts you right in the face of your potential employer.

User's Review

Using the Zoominfo system is a little like filling out a profile for Facebook, or MySpace, or Orkut. But instead of cruising for women to spend money on you are looking for jobs, which avail you of the means to spend said money on said women. You can even "friend up" with other people you know that have profiles on Zoominfo's network.

Filling out the profile starts with your basic contact info, employment history, organizations / professional associations, and biography. The biography is what sealed the deal for me. It is so easy to just fill the normal stuff out and leave it be, however, Zoominfo likes to give you a little more leeway and provide a personable part of the profile that shows just how brilliant you are. A resume and cover letter will only go so far when it comes to displaying your writing ability so this is just more pie on the plate.

While the idea of adopting social networks for other purposes is not new, this is by far the best execution of a user driven site that is meant for something other than bolstering your imagined social status. The interface had a very... Web 2.0 feel, which is strange to say because I don't thing there is really a clear standard for what this means but Zoominfo seems to have captured its essence. How? Well, the icons and colors are all very organic, and there is a direct emphasis on the user and their experience. I could almost liken it to having a sumptuous personal masseuse for your job search. Maybe that is why I spent two hours playing with it last night.

If you are interested, here is a link to my profile. Hopefully by the time any sane person gets a chance to examine it the errors that I had on it last night will be corrected in my job title. Feel free to friend up with me or leave a link to your profile in the comments.


Diggers, submit your questions for Kevin in the comments and I'll tape his responses and the responses of the other staff members. Any question goes.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

When it comes to implementing new technology...

your biggest enemy is undoubtedly going to be the user's tastes and preferences. Here is a little story about how I tried to integrate Gmail at my office.

I work at an office with two lawyers, two secretaries and me, the utility infielder of the legal profession. Generally there is a lot of collaboration between the lawyers and secretaries and both sides of the office generally need to know where the other lawyer is going to be so they can schedule meetings.

At the time we were using AOL and their calendar, but one of the lawyers was having SEVERE problems with the calendar actually saving and sharing events. Enter Google Apps. This would give us the ability to chat across the office, share calendars, use almost unlimited email, and have a firm start page. Plus it would have given both lawyers the ability to check and add to their schedules from home or anywhere else they were. All of these features, for free.

But despite my intensive work on the project and the time and effort spent training the other secretaries and trying to get the host we were on to work correctly with Google Apps, the users rejected it.

How could that be? The system was superior to anything we were using. It had a cleaner interface and would have actually reduced a cost for the office. So how could it fail? Simple. User tastes and preferences.

Despite the fact I had been in the office for four years at that point in time, brought about a successful technological revolution (I built a high speed network into the office and took us off of dial-up along with going from 386 IBMs to Pentium III's), and helped make the office faster and more efficient, I fell short of the mark. The only thing I can honestly chalk it up to is that despite the initial excitement that came with creating the system, my boss' tastes and preferences were with the old AOL system. Try as I might, I couldn't get the lawyers to make the switch after everything had been put into place. Ever tried to lead a horse to water? It isn't always easy. So, I've compiled a list of things I wish I would have done before I started switching us from one system to the other:

1. Make it seem like the user's idea.
- If it is a great success then they will look like a genius and absorb some type of social gain. Pitch it to them as a the best possible option amongst two or three other options, almost like you are forcing your hand so the boss will hopefully go with your suggestion.

2. Put it on paper.
- Most bosses run by the numbers and if you can give a SMALL inclination as to how this is going to quantitatively improve the company then it will help facilitate the migration.

3. Slowly migrate them over.
- Granted, most of us reading the blog are tech savvy and ready to rumble when it comes to technology but most people our employer's age aren't so brazen when it comes to technology. So, the best thing to do is give them a slow, gentle migration, something akin to massaging a grizzly bear. First take them over from their old email to their new ones, then the calendar, then the chat program. Much like massaging said bear, this will not be painless or easy.

4. Make sure the office staff are ahead of the decision maker.
- If the secretaries and everbody else are loving the system and raving about it then the decision maker's adoption will be that much easier. They won't have to wait for the new users to figure out what they are doing or suffer through painful and costly errors that could be a result of the transition. Plus, if the support staff is already onboard, it will appear that there is work ready and waiting for them when they finally do adopt.

Here is something of use.