Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Some tips for finding a job

While I hope noone loses their job, it's not looking good. Here are job hunting tips that worked for me. These might be of general interest but are aimed at technical writers in Waterloo.

Post your resume on monster.ca, workopolis.com, and linkedin.com. Keep in mind that employers and recruiters search these sites electronically, so make sure you include all the keywords, software and skills that they will use when looking for someone for a job you want. Look at job ads to figure out what those words are. Set up an alert from Monster to get emails with new job postings. Every few weeks, update your resume on Monster and Workopolis (updates trigger interest).

On LinkedIn, get three people to give you recommendations. (Apparently it is not uncommon for employers and recruiters to filter searches to people with at least three recommendations.)

Register with the major recruitment companies in your town and in any town you would be willing to work in. Try to make an appointment to meet with one of their recruiters and treat it like a job interview. Ask them for advice about your resume. I am registered with a bunch, including Procom, Ian Martin, ProVision... I can't remember them all. Here's a site that has links to some recruiters and similar companies: KW Jobs, but there are loads out there.

Set up a job alert at indeed.ca. Before my recent job switch, I got a daily alert from indeed.ca of all writer jobs in Waterloo Region and Toronto. Indeed is a little different from other sites because it trawls through corporate careers pages finding job postings, so catches some that aren't posted on Monster or wherever.

Bookmark sites that have job postings you're interested in, such as Southwestern Ontario STC, Data Shaping, Charity Village and Mobile Dev Jobs.

If you're interested in living in the US, two must-see sites are dice.com and the US STC job bank.

There are millions of online sources of advice, but here's a good one: STC job bootcamp. My main piece of advice is to have a friend revise your resume. The biggest mistake on resumes is that people don't sell themselves sufficiently: an objective person can point out where you need to beef up your sales pitch.

The University of Waterloo careers department has a boffo career consulting service. If you are a UW alumna, you get three free sessions; otherwise there's a modest fee. It is well, well worth it. You can sign up on this site, which also has lots of great info: UW career action.

I wish everyone well.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

RIM, BlackBerrys and Waterloo

The Globe & Mail announced this morning that RIM is planning large layoffs in the next couple of weeks, probably more than 2,000 of its 16,500 worldwide workforce. I got out just in time: I resigned from RIM so recently that my last day was this week and I haven't even started my new job yet. But I live in Waterloo, and RIM's fate affects all of us here.

(Full disclosure: I do not have any confidential information, and if I did I wouldn't spill it here. But with skin in this game, I have spent a lot of the last year reading the industry analysts and thinking about these issues.)

In a town of 100,000, RIM is the largest employer with nearly 10,000 employees located here. RIM occupies approximately 30 buildings in Waterloo, most in the Phillip-Columbia neighborhood.

Waterloo has done very, very well as RIM flourished. Property values are significantly higher than the rest of the region, meaning our tax revenues are also very high.

For many local businesses, from business support to sandwich shops to retail, RIM or RIM employees are the major customers.

As an interesting side note, the salaries at RIM have brought in a particular kind of business. Many RIM employees (not me) receive enormous salaries. Our subdivisions are packed with huge luxury houses. A friend who works at a jewelery store tells me that they regularly sell Rolex watches at more than $15,000 each, always to RIM executives. Waterloo has a disproportionate number of high end shops and restaurants.

We're all hoping that RIM turns things around and becomes a booming business once more, but there is very little chance that that will happen. RIM is pinning all its hopes on its new operating system, BB10. Since RIM unveiled BB10 at the beginning of this month, the stock price has fallen more than 30%. Analysts do not think BB10 will save the company for a number of reasons, including:
  • This year's release will be 1.0, meaning that it will have lots of insufficiencies and bugs that will take years to work out, and RIM doesn't have time.
  • The new OS has some good features, but not enough to make it competitive against Apple and Android, especially as Apple is set to release iPhone5 around the same time as RIM expects to release its BB10 phones.
  • And most importantly, consumers are more interested in apps than hardware, so a smartphone lives or dies on its apps. RIM just can't attract enough app developers to get the apps built.
The success of the company isn't just based on the quality of its products. According to analysts' reports, RIM has significant inventory problems these days. They say that its attempt to be competitive in the low end smartphone market (its sales have moved from richer to poorer countries) has resulted in lower quality phones with markedly higher return rates. Public perception of the company has also taken a huge hit recently, partly because of its inability to meet deadlines and release quality products, partly because of unintentionally funny and/or annoying ad campaigns, and partly because of stunts like a recent scandal in Australia where RIM secretly hired people to stage an anti-iPhone rally.

So what's going to happen?

In the near term, the Globe says that layoffs will occur on June 1 (next Friday). The Globe reports that the first to go will be from the legal department, HR, finance, sales and marketing. I could add (as pure speculation) that people working on the old Java-based operating system are vulnerable, along with internal support personnel, manufacturing workers, and employees who fill secondary roles.

Over the next year we can expect more layoffs; RIM will start to vacate many of its Waterloo buildings. In the long term, RIM will probably survive as a smallish company; for example, QNX, which is an Ottawa-based company that RIM purchased last year, has a successful business creating the operating system for automobiles. At some point parts of RIM will probably be purchased by other companies, although an all-out sale seems unlikely (RIM has courted a number of companies and all passed on buying it so far). By 2014 or so, in a good-case scenario RIM may have consolidated its remaining local employees into its three buildngs at Northfield and University.

For employees who work outside of Waterloo, there shouldn't be too many difficulties in finding other jobs. In Waterloo, the situation is quite different. For example, RIM probably employs as many technical writers in Waterloo as all other local companies combined. As those technical writers get laid off, there simply won't be local jobs for them. But it is quite possible that local house prices will fall after layoffs, so it isn't going to be easy for some of them to move.

As for the city of Waterloo, the tide has already started to turn. Waterloo property values are so high that the high tech hub has started to move to Kitchener, which is not only cheaper and more central to transit but also has a large number of empty manufacturing buildings that make attractive office space. (Communitech and Google have gorgeous offices in the Lang Tannery.)

Currently, a building on King Street in Uptown Waterloo (store on bottom, a couple of apartments up top) will set you back $600,000 to a over a million dollars. In downtown Kitchener, you can pay half that. Downtown Kitchener still has a scuzziness factor, but it is fast improving - and it is a much more interesting and varied downtown than Waterloo. If Waterloo's high end boutiques lose their clientele, you have to expect that there will be some dramatic changes.

One has to hope that someone at Waterloo City Hall has started to prepare for what might be coming. I hope they're running a series of projections of tax revenue given several possible scenarios, and thinking about how to cope with each. Uptown Waterloo was planned as an upscale, boutique shopping destination: will that vision survive the fall of RIM? (And is anyone thinking about the possibility that the Uptown could become a club district as Kitchener did, with the problems that would bring?) Does the city have a plan for attracting new businesses to the empty office buildings? If Waterloo has thousands of new unemployed people, what will the impact be on social services?

Don't get me wrong. I hope RIM can survive and thrive. But there is enough reason to think it won't that we need to be prepared.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Throw the Bum Out!

Okay now. I was willing to let Conrad Black be, on the principle that when someone has served their time they should be left alone to live their life - unless they are a danger to society.

Black has been back in Canada such a short time, and already Black the Bully has re-emerged. Already he has:
  • Threatened to sue the head of the Official Opposition.
  • Hinted that he's starting new business ventures (just not public ones).
  • Announced that he's completely unrepentent.

In short, he's made it clear that he's back and it's business as usual. Is there a word for a business psychopath? Are we to return to the days when investigative journalists had banks of lawyers to neuter their articles because of fear of Black's lawyers?

I'm not exaggerating... some time ago I noticed in my blog stats that lawyers were looking at posts I had written about Black. And I am as small potatoes as it gets.

Nope, this is something up with which we should not put (to copy Black's literary style).

The man has got to go. He is not a Canadian citizen. He is a convicted felon. He has made ample demonstration that he is not of good character. The visa that lets him be here is wholly unprecedented, and mighty shady.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What Makes a Great Superhero Movie?

A few hours ago I plunked myself down in a movie theater, 3D glasses on nose, popcorn and diet coke to hand, ready to watch an action movie that got 93% on Rotten Tomatoes - The Avengers.

And I was bored. The movie was packed with great actors doing fine work. The characters had depth and interactions. The casting was inspired (Mark Ruffalo is a perfect Hulk). The writer and director, Joss Whedon, is a favorite of mine. No expense was spared. Why was it so flat for me? What is it that I want in a superhero movie?

Rollercoaster ride action
Action needs to have some punch for the viewer. Surprise me. I remember when I saw the first Jurassic Park, I had to sit up straight and tuck in my legs because I kept involuntarily kicking out when a dinosaur sneezed or bit someone's head off. That was great!

It's not like we're really worried that Thor is going to die when he plunges 30,000 feet in a glass cage. We know he's going to survive. We need some chills and thrills, or at least some arresting visuals. The 3D actually interfered with that because everyone looked so teeny tiny on the screen, like little GI Joe dolls.

Plot, please
This movie kept telegraphing that the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were manipulating the superheroes into becoming a fighting force on behalf of mankind, and then the ending was -surprise!- that the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had manipulated the superheroes into becoming a fighting force on behalf of mankind. Other than that, the plot was verrrrry thin.

Hello, romance!
Or bromance. Or fromance. The season finale of The Big Bang Theory had more human resonance than The Avengers, and it's about a bunch of Aspergery geeks.

This movie had so many main characters that I didn't come to care about any of them. If we have to have all six Avengers, couldn't we emphasize some over the others? Or see the events from the perspective of one of them? This felt like equal time had to be given to each of the dozen movie stars.

Bring back the auteur
Like the last Batman movie, this felt like something created by a committee. Just because it's an action movie doesn't mean it can't have vision and passion. Like Back to the Future or the Matrix movies or the Tim Burton Batmans or the first Iron Man. You know you're going to make a billion dollars in the first week, but why not pour your heart into it and make it art? (We all know the answer to that: in Hollywood, money is the only measure of success. But Joss Whedon should know better.)

I've heard the complaints that there are too many superhero movies. I don't agree. I'm aware that ever since Disney bought Marvel the brand has become a hollow copy of its previous hollow copy of its golden days in the 1960s. I still think we can have (and that we deserve!) great superhero movies. I remember the first time I saw Kill Bill Part One: when the last line was delivered I hopped out of my seat and punched my fist in the air and whooped. That's what I want.


Saturday, May 05, 2012

Olga Picasso in Transition

I have long been fascinated by Picasso's portraits of his first wife, Ballet Russes dancer Olga Kokhlova. Not so much the sculptures and pictures at the end of their relationship, when he hated her for interfering in his latest affair and portrayed her as an ugly, evil animal - but from the decade or so when he loved her, and his view of her changed from a bourgeois, genteel creature to a Spanish aristocrat (he was Spanish, she was Ukranian) and then (with the birth of their son) to some sort of elemental icon. (And no, she didn't gain weight or change hair or skin color in real life.) I don't have any words for what these pictures mean to me, so I'll just display my idea of their progression.

Musings on Robocalls

At this point, can we avoid falling into a state where political power is seized rather than awarded by the public?

The only way we can maintain good governance is to soundly reject the many corrupt practices of the Harper government: but how do we do that with three years left on their majority rule? Time and again they have been exposed and have gotten away with it. Even when Elections Canada found them guilty of In & Out, they paid no political price. Each time they get away with something, they are emboldened to go further and be more unscrupulous. Each time Harper shrugs off one of these scandals, his supporters get the message that this is the way they should operate.

Sharing the world's longest border with the anti-democratic cess pool that is the United States doesn't help. American politics is a never-ending source of inspiration for the corrupt, and still surpasses Canada in so many ways: gerrymandering, lobbying, campaign finance... We need to stop looking south, and adopt other jurisdictions as our sense of normal.