Working Outside The Box

January 3, 2010

As part of my current job search, I have been thinking about what potential employers think of my careers.  That’s not a typo, I really meant careers in the plural.  Just look at my CV and I’m sure you’ll agree that my working life has spanned more than a single area of experience, which is what I think is the principal element defining “a career”.

So I started out with a career in the aerospace industry, having graduated from the Engineering Science program at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Science (a.k.a. Engineering), having majored in Aerospace Engineering.  I had a good career, starting right out of school working in the aerodynamic design department at de Havilland Aircraft of Canada, where I worked on the development of the DHC-8 “DASH8” commuter airliner.  I still feel a great sense of accomplishment and pride when I see one flying overhead.  From there I went to MBB Helicopter Canada (now Eurocopter Canada) where I worked on the aerodynamic design and performance analysis of light-utility helicopters.  That, however, was an inauspicious time to be working in the helicopter manufacturing business, as the economy went through a downturn and helicopter sales, if you’ll pardon the expression, took a nose-dive.

As a result, I ended up – like a lot of people in the business – out of work.  Now during my career in the aircraft industry, I had gained a lot of experience with computers and programming – I had always been strong in that area from high school on through my university education, but to that natural aptitude I had added much practical experience.  So, looking at the state of the aircraft industry and foreseeing a long recovery period ahead, I decided to make a career change and sought out a position in software development.

I was fortunate, and found a position at Hostess Frito-Lay Canada (the company is now just called Frito-Lay Canada) as a Programmer/Analyst which used the skills with Cognos 4GL tools that I had acquired in developing custom Budget vs Actual reports for the Program Management Office at Eurocopter.

Following that, I moved to the pharmaceutical sector, but still in the IT field as a Senior Analyst in the IT department of what was then Pasteur Mérieux Connaught (it has since been through a number of changes, from Aventis Pasteur to the current Sanofi Pasteur).  I continued gaining experience in business systems analysis there while working on an SAP implementation.  After that successfully launched, I was elevated to the position of Project Manager and subsequently was selected to manage a global Documentum EDMS (Electronic Document Management System) implementation project, based at the company’s headquarters in France.

During the four years I worked on the project, I lived in France, so in addition to gaining experience in Project Management, I also learned about bridging cultures – both corporate and national – because the implementation team was spread over three countries: France, the USA and Canada.  Each site had its own corporate and local business and regulatory requirements to satisfy, and each nationality had its own culturally influenced point of view and way of communicating.  I suspect part of the reason I was selected over candidates from the French and US IT departments was the reputation Canadians have for being good intermediaries between diverse cultures – and I believe that I lived up to that stereotype.

After returning to Canada once the EDMS was in production, a reorganization of the IT departments in the North American sites left me looking for a new job.  And that ended up with me moving on to my third career, as the Manager of Customer Care and eBusiness at an engineered products manufacturing company, ASCO Valve Canada (a subsidiary of the US based ASCO Valve).  There, I was responsible for managing a group of Customer Service Representatives and Inside Sales Technicians.

That role also had me in frequent direct contact with the distributors the company sold to, as well as with colleagues at the parent company and other subsidiaries around the world where we sourced components and finished goods.  I think all my previous experience made me well suited to the role: strong analytical problem solving skills which I used in dealing with supply-chain problems to expedite order shipments; people skills developed working with individuals and teams having diverse levels of technical and business knowledge, as well as cultural and language differences; and experience with arranging the resources needed to achieve an objective.

A management-level reorganization resulted in my departure from the company, and I subsequently returned to a role in my second career of IT Project Management.  I joined a software company that had developed an enterprise-class Learning Management System (LMS), in the role of a Client Project Manager in the company’s Professional Services Organization.  That job again had me in frequent direct contact with clients, managing our internal resources and working with their Project Manager to schedule the implementation steps and the client resources that were needed to support it.

After being in that role for some time, I was asked if I would be interested in an internal transfer to fill an opening in the Product Development division – a Program Manager was required for one of the Product Teams.  That role was partly Project Management and partly personnel management – I had a team of Product Designers, Software Developers and Quality Assurance Analysts reporting to me.  I still had some direct client contact, which was not the case for the other Program Managers in Product Development – the team I was in charge of had done some custom work for one specific client, and I took on the role of managing the ongoing work being done for them.

That job ended recently, and I am now looking for a new one.  If you are looking to fill a position that my skills, strengths and experience would suit, let me know via the comments and I’ll get in contact so we can have a conversation about it.

But enough about my careers, at this point, I’d like to ask you about yours: whether you have had one linear career or multiple careers – closely related or wildly diverse – what has your experience been like?  Have you had opportunities to grow (both personally and professionally) and stay interested within one career, or did you find it necessary to change careers to continue growing personally/professionally and maintain a strong interest in what you were doing?  What upsides/downsides did your particular career path result in?

For me, I have been fortunate that whether the change in career was a deliberate choice (switching from aerodynamics engineering to IT) or serendipitous (having the right combination of skills and experience to manage a Customer Care group) I have had lots of opportunities to grow, both personally and professionally, and plenty of things to keep me interested. There have been downsides as well, in that starting fresh has sometimes meant coming into a role at a salary lower than what I might have been at by staying on a single career path.

Please tell me about your own experience in the comments to this post, I’d love to hear what you have to share with me.

Oh, and the reason for the post’s title – well, much has been said about “thinking outside the box” as a way to break out of past models of behaviour in order to make progress.  Since there has also been a lot of talk about multiple careers being the new norm, replacing the old one linear career model it seemed appropriate to paraphrase and say that many of us are now “working outside the box”.


Starting fresh

January 1, 2010

I recently had an e-mail conversation with Kneale Mann about my top 5 goals for 2010 – more about #1 in a bit, but the second on my list was to blog more regularly.  And in order to do that, I said I would need to work on achieving a better balance in my writing.

What I meant by that was, well, here’s what I said to Kneale in my e-mail:

I write well, but it takes me too long – I am by nature a perfectionist, and when combined with my great respect for language, it means I end up spending a lot of time reviewing, editing and rewriting until I feel every word in what I’ve written deserves to be there.

So the first step is writing this post today; the second will be to heed Voltaire’s aphorism Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien (“The best is the enemy of the good“) and not sweat each post so much.

What else did I have in my list of goals? Let’s see:

  • #3: Help the CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) farm program at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph become even more successful.  K and I have been members of the CSA for a couple of seasons now and have really benefitted from the organic produce we received in our weekly share of the harvest.  In the Fall of 2009 we volunteered to be part of the CSA’s “Core Group” and I have also joined their BAC (Business Advisory Committee) to help with the financial side of the CSA.
  • #4: Expand my circle of on-line connections – I’ve benefitted enormously in the past 3-4 years from making connections on-line (many of which have led to face-to-face relationships).  That said, I will continue to be discriminating about who I connect with – I don’t need to “friend” everyone, just the right people: intelligent, socially committed and willing to act in order to make the world better.
  • #5: Write the next killer non-fiction book, using everything I’ve observed about people, corporations, governments, crowds and their behaviour to explain how we’ve managed to screw the world up so badly. And if I’m lucky, come up with some useful suggestions to alter that course before it all ends very, very badly for humanity.

As I said in my e-mail:

#5 is what they call a “stretch goal” (and it’s a BIG stretch, but hey, as they say “Go big or go home”).  The other 4 are emminently do-able, I think.  Not necessarily easy, but do-able.

So, #2 is underway (you’re reading this post, aren’t you?), #3 has been started and will continue (next BAC meeting is in several weeks) and #4 is happening all the time – if you’re not already one of my connections, you can start by leaving a comment here or by finding me elsewhere on the interwebs: I’m on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to name a few places we can connect.

Oh, and #1 goal for 2010? Well, this one wasn’t quite what Kneale had in mind when he asked for my goals, since he was looking for ones that were things that others could aspire to and this one is a very self-centred goal (although I’m sure that there are many out there with the same one right now):

  • #1: Find employment – whether this is a full-time position with a company, contract work or consulting. Gotta pay the bills.

If you want to connect about helping me achieve that one, I’d certainly be interested in hearing about opportunities that would suit my particular skills, strengths and experience.  If you want to know more about what I’ve done, you can see my Curriculum Vitae page (there’s a downloadable PDF version of my résumé availble there too).

There, done. And without sweating the details… too much, anyway.

CV Updated

January 21, 2008

Just a quick note to say that I’ve updated my résumé/Curriculum Vitae page and the PDF that you’ll find linked there.

While I’m not in active job search mode, it doesn’t hurt to keep it up to date and, well, I’d be daft not to be interested in hearing about good opportunities for advancing professionally.

Let me know if you hear of anything that would suit my strengths and experience.

First Day Notes

June 18, 2007

Started my new job today, as a Project Manager. Orientation and training sessions with the 5 (!!) other new-hires starting today (well, one is actually starting next Monday, but he wanted the opportunity to meet the rest of us today).

Lots to learn about the company’s products, customers, projects and so on. Usual disclaimer applies: opinions expressed here have nothing to do with my employer etc…

Stay tuned, more as time permits…

Bien élevé

May 8, 2007

For those of you who don’t speak French, this post’s title literally means “well raised” — that you’ve been brought up properly and know how to behave in the company of others; you have social graces and good manners and so on. It’s not a phrase you’re likely to run across in a guide-book, but it gets used all the time in France — as well as the pejorative negative form, “pas bien élevé“. You really don’t want to hear the latter being said in reference to you…

And what does that have to do with what’s on my mind today? Well, if you’ve read one of my responses in the comments, a couple of posts back, where I described my experience with going to a job fair, you’ll have seen me mention that I was contacted by a recruiter about a position she was trying to fill for a client after she had found my résumé on one of the on-line job search sites.

As it turned out, I had already been interviewed for the position (but didn’t get the job), so the effort on her part ended up being in vain. With most recruiters I have been in contact with, things would have ended there — time is money, as they say, and the recruiting business tends to be particularly cut-throat and competitive.

So, with most recruiters, unless they feel you’re an exact fit with a position they are trying to fill they don’t want to bother presenting you to a client — they’re looking for a quick, low-effort slam-dunk placement so they can get on to the next one.

What impressed me about this woman was that she told me to e-mail her a copy of my résumé to have on file in case she came across another suitable position. Well, that’s not the part that impressed me, as I’ve had other recruiters ask me to e-mail a copy of my résumé — and then there’s been absolute radio-silence from them…

For example, another recruiter that I spoke to on the phone told me to e-mail it to her and asked me to follow up by calling her back the next day, which I did. When I called back several times over a few days, she was always either in a meeting or out of the office. I left voicemail, but never heard anything back.  Zip, zilch, nada, bugger all, not a sausage…

What did impress me about this latest recruiter was that I actually got an e-mail back from her — several in fact as we conversed about the circumstances that had transpired when I had been interviewed for the position she was trying to fill. I had explained that after the second face-to-face interview I had not heard anything back from either the company (possibly because they had not been provided with my contact information — this is a fairly common practice with recruiters to prevent them from being cut out of the deal and losing their contingency fee) or the recruiter who had presented me to them.

In response she said that too many agencies seem to “have lost the basic principles of courtesy and mutual respect” and she added that “I hope I never fall prey to this negative trend”. She also said she would be happy to keep me in mind for any suitable position that comes her way and asked me to let her know if I land a position on my own.

That’s when the phrase “bien élevé” popped into my head, and when I wrote back to her I told her that based on our phone conversation I thought it unlikely that she would lose the basics of courtesy and respect; that some things are bred in the bone, and I felt she was “bien élevé“.  I also noted it seems that this is becoming all too common behaviour in just about every facet of life, not just the recruiting business.  Sigh.

Once more, she took time to respond, and thanked me for my kind words, asking me again to keep in touch. I certainly will, as I don’t want to be “pas bien élevé” 😉 .

Now, if you’re either an employer looking to fill a position or a jobseeker and are looking for a recruiter with a difference, if you’re in The GTA you should check out the website of the agency she’s with: Career View Inc.

Their website has contact info (general e-mail address, phone and fax numbers, snail-mail address) for the company, but if you’d like to deal with her specifically let me know by leaving your request in the comments (you’ll be able to provide your e-mail in the comment form, but it won’t be displayed in the blog) and I’ll pass it on to her (as I’m not about to put her e-mail address in this post, opening her up to spammers and other assorted internet trolls and vermin).

Hey, do you think someone “bien élevé” would just give out another person’s e-mail address on-line?

Curriculum Vitae – Professional vs Personal Experience

March 29, 2007

I’ve been wondering how best to present the divergence (that may not be the right term, but I’m not sure how else to express it — suggestions welcomed, once you’ve read the post and see what I mean) between my personal and professional experience in my CV.

What I’m referring to is the fairly extensive personal experience I have with a lot of internet related technologies:

  • Web development, HTML and so on: right from hand-coding my wife’s first blog — back in the “dark ages” when blogging first climbed out of the primordial internet soup, before the appearance of the manifold blogging tools & hosted services — through to fine-tuning the look and feel of her current TypePad-hosted blogs using CSS.
  • Website management: uploading web pages, images and so on; managing files on hosted blogs.
  • Computer Graphics: bitmap/photo editing, vector drawings and so on in the production of logos, buttons and whatnots for the aforementioned blogs and web pages.  This is in addition to my professional experience with typical business graphics tools: MS Powerpoint, Visio, etc in the “Office” world, plus CAD drawing tools (CATIA 3D, AutoCad, etc) in the engineering world.
  • Podcasting: setting up a PC-based home recording system, which required researching & selecting appropriate hardware and software, purchasing and configuring everything, figuring out how to get good quality recordings and then teaching Katherine how to use it all to produce her podcasts.  I’ve developed some decent skills at editing the recorded audio and have become pretty knowledgeable about things like RSS feeds, XML and iTunes in the process.  You can check out the results at Katherine’s podcast and blog pages; links to them are in the sidebar under the “Wabi Sabi Universe” heading.  I can’t take credit for the writing, soothing voice or eclectic choice of music that seem to attract her listeners (that’s all to her credit), but the technical aspects of the sound quality, consistency in using the ID3 tags, and managing all the files and feeds — that’s me.
  • Blogging: hmm, come to think of it, there’s this blog.  And now I have some experience with WordPress, in addition to being very familiar with TypePad.  Perhaps it helps demonstrate my communications skills…

Of course, there are plenty of other areas of my personal experience that might be useful in some position — but how do you catalogue it all, without overloading the CV?

So, any thoughts or comments on your own experience with presenting personal experience in a professional CV will be welcomed.

CV posted

March 27, 2007

As part of my job hunting strategy, I’ve posted my CV as a page on the blog — there, you’ll find a text version of it as well as a link to download it in PDF format.

If you know of a suitable position (for example as a Manager of Customer Service in a manufacturing company that’s located in the Greater Toronto Area or south-western Ontario), please contact me by leaving a comment — I’ll be notified by e-mail that a comment has been posted.

Also, if you think someone you know might be aware of a suitable position, you can forward them a copy of the CV or direct them to it on the web.