Browsing the blog archives for January, 2010.

Geek fun: Turning your genius ideas into reality

Geek Fun

We’ve all had those middle of the night, Eureka moments in which we thought of the “next big idea”.   Your brain swirls with possibilities and inspiration and you see yourself as a future Steve Jobs – Superstar Creator.  Then reality hits like the thud of a lead brick.  Your idea is too complicated or too costly or you don’t know anything about design and manufacturing.  So you get up, shake off the dream and go about your life.

In today’s world of information and connectedness, maybe your idea is not so far-fetched after all.   Wired magazine has a fascinating article about innovative, open source manufacturing that allows individuals and small businesses to compete with the big companies.  In the article entitled, “In the next industrial revolution, atoms are the new bits”, Chris Anderson highlights several cases of folks who have used networks and open source development to create and manufacture innovative products.  In one case, Local Motors produced a new car – yes, a new car.  It is a $50K street-legal off-road racer.  They had a design contest to create the style, so they don’t owe any licensing fees.  They used available parts and kits and resources to build the cars.  They work on a $7 million budget to produce these niche vehicles.  That is a small drop in the bucket compared to the product development and operating budgets of GM and Ford.

With the power of the Internet, inventors have access to partners, design ideas, manufacturers and raw materials and components like they never have before.  Innovation is going to start coming more and more from these small shops and less from the big companies that are bogged down in bureaucracy and overhead.

At Geeks Gone Pro, we focus on developing professional skills to succeed in the corporate world.  Skills you learn in a big company will help you if you ever decide to go solo and find a dream.  There are a lot of principles of business and interpersonal relationships that apply to small companies and entrepreneurs just as they do to bigger companies.  But it sure is nice to know that there are alternatives out there for creative, dynamic self-starters.  Now, if I could just remember what I dreamed about last night…

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Geek Career Questions

Broader role, Geek 5

In recent posts, we discussed using career assessments to determine what career path or job works best for you.  There are some additional things to consider about what career direction to take and also how ambitious you want to be.  This relates to the Geek 5 issue of “resistance to a broader role“.   Think through these questions – they can help guide the direction of your professional development.  Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. What career is well-suited to my interests?  The career assessments are a big help for this.

2.  Are you willing to make sacrifices to get ahead?  Can you truly commit to moving up the career ladder or would you rather stay where you are?

3.  Do you understand how careers generally progress in your field?  Do you have the right education, experience and credentials?

4.  Do you understand what it takes to get ahead in your company?  Career advancement often rests as much on relationships as it does on skills and results.

5.  Do you understand how to “brand” yourself and advocate for your own career?

6.  Are you willing to take career risks?

7.  When you think of a promotion, what interests you?  Is it only the additional money and status or are you truly interested in the work you would be doing?

8.  Would you consider a lateral move in order to gain more skills? 

9. Who do you know who can provide help, guidance, mentoring?

10.  What are your primary skills?  Do you have any additional skills that can help your career?

What other career questions do you wrestle with?

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CIO Delusions of Leadership

Leadership, Random
Pradco published a whitepaper entitled “What it takes to be a CIO” in September 2009, and I just ran across it. It is striking in several ways. First, I have to mention that Pradco is an assessment company that works a lot in the IT space – this is their bread and butter work. Second, this information is based on an ad hoc survey of 36 CIOs at a March 2009 IT Leaders Conference. So the data is not statistically significant, but the tone of the self-report data is interesting.
The CIOs acknowledged that managerial skills are important and 69% of them said that was a key factor for themselves in getting hired. 77% of the CIOs further believe that their leadership skills are as well developed as their technical skills. They are quite confident in themselves and 90% of them are satisfied with their own performance. This is striking, because CIOs have notoriously short tenures (average about 6 years) and one in four gets let go for poor performance. I guess for these survey respondants, those statistics apply to the other guys.
Some of the CIO self-confidence is necessary to perform in a C-level job. There is some interesting research that shows that many C-level executives demonstrate clinically significant levels of narcissism. But that is a topic for another day.
Overall this whitepaper is short on meaningful conclusions, but I took away two things. One is the fact that CIOs recognize the importance of leadership skills. This is promising – they should start expecting leadership from themselves and direct reports. Technical skills alone are not enough. Second is that the group of CIOs lacks self-awareness about their own skills as leaders. If they were all as good as they claim, then IT groups across the country would be functioning flawlessly. Personal insight and awareness is an important factor in career development. I encourage you to look at your own strengths and opportunities more critically. You have to admit to your opportunities, before you can improve on them.




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Geeks Gone Pro joins Alltop


I’m proud to announce that Geeks Gone Pro is now part of Career Alltop.   This is part of the all-important effort to get visibility for this new blog.  Career Alltop provides RSS feeds of blogs related to – you got it – Careers.  This blog joins 50-60 other blogs related to HR, recruiting, job searching, etc.  Scroll down to the bottom – yes, all the way to the bottom, and you’ll see my RSS feed.

Alltop, all the top stories

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Stan the Interior Designer

Broader role, Geek 5
We’ve been talking about how to decide whether or not you want to take on a broader role at work and how career assessments can help. If you want a solid career assessment instead of one of the plethora of free assessments, you can try the Strong Interest Inventory. The Strong has been around for a long time and is well-proven.
The Strong Interest Inventory compares your interests and preferences to other people of the same gender who are in specific careers to help guide you to potential career matches. The assessment breaks down results into six general occupational themes: Artistic, Investigative, Social, Enterprising, Conventional, and Realistic.
Artistic is about creative arts, social is about taking care of people, enterprising is about sales, and realistic is about hands on work. The two categories that are mostly likely to be the primary themes for geeks are Investigative and Conventional. Investigative covers science, medicine, math and research. Conventional covers data management, accounting and computers/ information systems.
The assessment matches you to primary and secondary themes to link you to careers. You always gotta remember though that these are directional possibilities and not absolutes. Sometimes the caeer suggestions also need to be interpreted in context. We run career development workshops in my company and sometimes run in to this issue. For example, if the profession of Interior Designer is recommended to Stan, we don’t send him off to compete on America’s Top Designer. Instead we help Stan figure out how he can translate that recommendation into a career in our company. Interior Designer is an Enterprising theme. That is similar to Marketing Manager and Purchasing agent – we do have those professions in our company, so we might steer Stan there.
Another great feature of the Strong is that it gives you some personal style scales. Most importantly here, it measures your leadership style and how comfortable you are leading people. Leadership is about behaviors and you can learn behaviors. But if you are clearly uncomfortable managing others, then that could decide your career path.

If you get the Interpretive Report along with the basic profile, it walks you through a series of questions and action steps that can help you think things through. It also points you to resources like ONET that can help you research careers.

The Strong assessment is generally administered by a trained professional. Someone in your company’s HR department might offer it. It is owned by CPP and you can find more information on their site. CPP does offer a self-scorable option that anyone can purchase for $8.25.

Disclosure: I use the Strong Inventory in my work, but I do not have any connection beyond that.

Hopefully this series of posts have given you some resources for figuring out your career direction. Good luck!






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Talented geeks without business savvy

Business Acumen, Geek 5

A recent blog post at BNET explored two situations in which talented geeks failed at a major business deals due to lack of business savvy.  This is a perfect illustration of one of the Geek 5 that we have not yet tackled.  The relevant Geek 5 is Business Acumen or rather the lack of it.

Geeks have generally spent their careers focused on their technical specialty – whether it be computers or medicine or statistics or psychology.  Specialized academic programs often do not allow for a lot of extra time to take management classes and such, so exposure to business often does not occur during the university days.  Once working, early careers are often built on technical expertise – again, no time or energy for general business and financial learning.

Once geeks leave the early career stage, business acumen starts to matter more.   As a matter of fact it can mean the difference between surviving and thriving or failing. 

Steve Tobak at BNET does a post mortem on two business cases in which talented people fail due to lack of business acumen.  The first explores the development of a video game, Duke Nukem Forever, which was an intended sequel to Duke Nukem.  However, the development team could not focus or stick to a timeline and plan.  After 12 years of development and a $20M investment, the project was shelved without being completed.

Another case study was on the chip maker Rambus.  They had a break-through technology DRAM chip.  However, they attemped to use an unusual approach to selling, got on the wrong side of some lawsuits and ended up behind the game.

The best technology does not always win.  Geeks need the right business acumen to protect their ideas and find success.

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Geek fun: Geek Dad

Geek Fun

If you are looking for a good repository of geek-lore and interesting stuff, check out GeekDad at Wired Magazine.   Geek Dad is not actually one person, but a collection of people.  And they are not all Dads.  I know this through my powerful observation skills and intuition – or at least because some of them seem to be female.  In any case, the posts are funny and often informative as well.  The posts span topics like technology, Legos, Star Wars, geek humor and more.  Most of it is not kid or parenting oriented, so it is recommended for all geeks, regardless of kid status.  Check it out!

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To Play or Not to Play

Broader role, Geek 5
So what if you are not sure whether or not you want to play the corporate game? What if you are interested but also resistant to a broader role?  How do you decide?
Some geeks already know they don’t want to play.  It is always great to meet people who have found the right career and are content with their work and pay and advancement.  Those lucky geeks have found their bliss.  They can be doctors who just want to practice medicine and programmers who just want to write code.

Maybe you are already following your passion. If you cringe at the idea of going into management or fighting for career advancement, then you probably are not going be happy playing the game. In that case, think about what you love to do and pursue that – assuming you can make a living at it.

But what if you are not sure?  Maybe you like your work, but you feel stuck or you want more recognition, responsibility or a higher salary.  Maybe you feel like you ought to pursue a broader role in order to recession-proof your job.  But you aren’t sure if the trade-offs are worth it.

If you are not sure what you want, there are some great tools available to help you think it through. There is a whole industry built around career assessments and advice. These are not necessarily deep psychological assessments or research-based resources. These are generally common sense guides that help you think through options based on your own interests and skills. Don’t get too caught up in the specifics, instead focus on the themes for you and your preferences and the process of thinking through your options.

One old stand-by career assessment is the Strong Interest Inventory. It profiles you and matches you to careers based on your interests.  In the next post, we’ll talk about some of the components of the Strong Interest Inventory and how you can take one.

 As a psychologist, I have a preference for the proven assessments, like the Strong.  However, there are a lot of other free and easy to access options.  Search for “free career assessment” on Google and you get 7,540,000 hits. 

One example of a free career assessments site is which is a subsidiary of Career Builder.  That site offers several free assessments after you provide your email address. has a Career Planner Report, a Career Planner Quiz, Job Discovery Wizard and a Job Satisfaction Quiz.  I can’t vouch for the science behind this type of free assessment, but this is one of the rare circumstances in which the science of the assessment is not as important as the process.

Assessments should help you think about yourself and your career in different ways.  They are directional and provide guidance but not answers.   Hopefully you’ll get some insight into yourself. You can turn that insight into action and make some well-informed career decisions.

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I don’t wanna do it!

Broader role, Geek 5
What if I don’t want to play?  Specifically, what if I don’t want to play the corporate game to further my career?  This is a common dilemma for many geeks which is why it is one of the Geek 5 – Resistance to a Broader Role.
Some geeks are content with their role of being a technical expert and don’t want or ask for more. These folks frequently want to be left alone to develop or create or experiment or to do whatever magic they do. They are focused on the work and not on their career. That is a perfect choice for some – but it has its pros and cons. If you choose the pure technical route, you’ll probably be giving up career opportunities and promotions and higher pay.

In his book,” What Got You Here Won’t Get You There“, Marshall Goldsmith gave an example of someone who got the technical role and prestige. It started as a coaching assignment for Goldsmith who was asked to work with the company’s technical guru and get him to play better with others and spread his knowledge. But after five minutes with him, Goldsmith recognized that the software wizard was basically antisocial and only wanted to be left alone in a room and computer and high-end audio system. He was very valuable to the company. It was in everyone’s best interest to leave him to his work and continue to reward him well for it.

Most of us aren’t in such a protected position. We’re all vulnerable to layoffs and competition and workplace politics. If you don’t want to play the corporate game, you should find a technical company to work for that offers a technical career path. Otherwise the development tips in this blog should help you crack the code on career advancement. 

Next post, we’ll talk about some assessments that can help you sort out your career preferences and skills.



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Geek Fun: Geeks of the Year

Geek Fun

Fast Company magazine had a fun feature at the end of 2009 to identify the Geeks of the Year.  Some of them make perfect sense to me.  I understand JJ Abrams, Mark Zuckerberg and the guys from Twitter.  But I gotta admit that I’m not enough of a techno-geek to know who the founders of Layar are.  Except for the blurb, I’m not even sure what Layar is.   One more indication that I’m not a techno-geek, but I’m sure they’ve done some important stuff, whatever it is.

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