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Archive for the ‘career’ Category

on degrees

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I have two degrees. I’ve carried on studying with Open University. My degrees helped me get specific jobs. I love studying. I’m still fascinated by some of the stuff I studied at universities and I’m still inspired by some of my lecturers.

But. I’m not convinced I couldn’t be in a very similar role, earning similar amounts of money, without the degrees.

I’ve worked with plenty of people who have taken alternative paths. And those of us with degrees have all got wildly different degrees so it can’t be the subject matter that matters.

There must be other things I could have done with 4 years and the money spent that might well have made up for the lack of certificate.

Most of the non-graduates I’ve worked with have perceived their career paths blocked by their lack of a degree. I once knew a VP of a billion dollar multi-national who felt hampered by his lack of a degree. He was hardly hampered from where I was sitting.

It will certainly be true that specific roles will not be open to non-graduates, although many (good ) employers are increasingly relaxed about their academic requirements. But that doesn’t mean you’ll do worse overall, and it might even save you from damaging your career by working for a bureaucratic, old-fashioned employer who isn’t clear what qualifications their employees actually need to do a good job.

Even if we know graduates earn more, we don’t know they earn more because they are graduates.

Written by Karen

April 20th, 2012 at 6:20 am

Posted in career

long view planning

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A lot of goal setting articles include the assertation that “you overestimate what you can do in a day but underestimate what you can do in a year”.

A similar quote is attributed to Bill Gates:

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

via The quotable Bill Gates | Developer World – InfoWorld.

There’s a long view planning technique based on these concepts. It asks you to “Describe your life in the future”:

  • 50 years from now
  • 25 years from now
  • 10 years from now
  • 5 years from now
  • 1 year from now

I write the descriptions as  prose but I’ve seen this done in a more structured tabular way so that the same topics are covered each time.

50 years is so much time, it makes most things seem achievable. In fact when I’ve done this I usually find I can’t imagine much difference between 25 years and 50 years, as I usually assume I can get my goals sorted in 25 years. 50 years takes me to 82 but my life expectancy is longer than that even without taking scientific/medical advances into account.

Of course, the time points are completely arbitrary, so long as the final point is sufficiently far in the future.

It’s a good activity for planning and prioritising the meaningful stuff, and for when you need an optimism boost. It’s also  useful for “future now” activities. It challenges you to think about making 1 year look a lot more like 50 years.

A slightly uncomfortable but sometime useful variation is to include 100 years time, or after you are dead! How will you die, what will you be remembered for and by who, and what impact will you leave behind?

Written by Karen

February 17th, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Posted in career,future,happiness

the trouble with careers advice

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The main memory of my school’s careers advice was an interaction that went something like this:

“You appear to be rather good at science…have you thought about being a scientist? No? How about a science teacher?”

I don’t remember anyone ever suggesting that there were hundreds of thousands of jobs out there that don’t appear in Happy Families.

And the range of generic professions suggested seemed to be based on what subject you were better than your peers at. Enjoyment didn’t come into it.

I was very good at physics and I even found the lessons moderately enjoyable.  But left to my own devices, physics didn’t particularly feature in the way I spent my time (barring a bookish interest in astronomy).

I played with my dog, went swimming, spent a lot of time on the swings, read heaps on books, wrote stories, sketched, painted, cooked, drew maps of fantasy places, drew plans for imaginary buildings and gardens, and made models of buildings and towns.

That stuff made me happy (and it still sounds pretty good today).

Reading that list, it does sound like architecture (the proper kind) would have been a sensible direction. At 15 I did a stint of work experience at an architects practice and I had great fun clambering around building sites and drawing up plans.

The architect got me to draw up a plan for my dream house.  He had a look at how I was getting on and suggested I should be more ambitious because:

“this is the last chance you’ll have to design a house that you actually like”

And that was the end of my career as an architect.

At the heart of his comment was a real problem with careers advice. Even if we can direct children to learn crafts that they will enjoy that doesn’t ensure they will enjoy the day-to-day realities of their work.

Written by Karen

June 8th, 2010 at 6:23 am

Posted in career,happiness

my newly complicated job title

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The eagled-eye amongst you (or those with a fondness for the detail of LinkedIn updates) have noticed that my job title has changed.

I’m now officially “Business Analyst/Information Architect”. Yup, there is genuinely a slash in my job title.

Now part of me is genuinely impressed that RNIB is chilled enough about such things. We all get in a lot of tangles trying to come up with one job title that sums up what we do (both to our colleagues and the outside world). That slash is a nice acknowledgement of a messy reality (although you’d probably need to tack another couple of job titles on end before you had an accurate representation of reality).

So why Business Analyst?

1. IA isn’t well understood inside my organisation, outside of my immediate colleagues and unusually the chairman (and before you start, user experience designer would be even less illuminating). People have a reasonably good idea of the space that Business Analysts work in, if not an understanding of the exact details.

2. But more importantly I was already doing business analyst work. A lot of IA/UX training assumes that no BA work has been done, so you start with that before doing the design work. So I naturally did stuff that my BA colleagues recognised as business analysis.

When I did my BA qualification last year, I was struck by how similar the tools and problem spaces are to those in UX world. The cultural context is different so the language used is more business than design, the outputs are less pretty, and there’s often an emphasis on users being staff not customers. Creating such detailed requirements documents was new to me but everything was familiar.

3. There’s more business analysis work that needs doing than there are business analysts. Now you might say that there is surely a lot of IA work that needs doing, and only one IA. And there is. I’ll be putting IA problems on the backburner that need fixing. But I’m comfortable with this because the BA role puts a greater emphasis on ensuring the right problems are being solved, rather than just implementing the chosen problem well.

Again I know there’s plenty of folks who’d say that IA (and UXDers more so) should absolutely be part of the process of picking the problems. That’s fine, you can say that. I’d support you pushing for that to be the case. But the reality on the ground for many IA/UX types is they get told what the project is.

There’s a greater expectation that the business analyst shapes the projects. So for me that route is the fastest way to my destination. And that destination isn’t championing a professional cause. It’s about making sure the money given to the charity is spent well on the people who need it.

Written by Karen

March 22nd, 2010 at 6:19 am

Posted in career,rnib

build your own job title

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In the old days job titles were created by grabbing a bit of Latin/Greek and adding ‘er’ or ‘or’ to it. The suffix just means “one who does”.

Something of the bits of Latin /Greek are obvious, some not:

Carpenter=wagons, Cooper=vats, Plumber=lead, Lawyer=law, Miner=digging, Baker=roasting, Butcher=slaughtering goats, Doctor=teaching, Teacher=also teaching, Farmer=collecting tax/rent, Soldier=being paid, Tinker=jingles, Tailor=cuts, Dyer= dark/secrets

Vicar interestingly just means substitute or deputy.

And who slaughtered anything that wasn’t a goat? (I’m putting the etymological dictionary away now).

It seems for a modern job title that a single word is not enough. You need a combination of object and activity.

Possible objects in my professional sphere:

    user experience
    customer experience

Posssible activities:


Some people seem to feel hemmed in by the activities bit and choose something vaguer. This usually implies they will only produce opinions not things e.g.


In the public and non-profit sector you also get ‘officer’ as in police officer but also projects officer or knowledge officer. This usually just means one who holds an office and seems to be a way of avoiding saying ‘man’. “Head of” is similar but usually at the opposite end of the hierarchy.

All combinations of object and activity are plausible and many are common. Although so far I only know one Usability and experience design oompa-loompa.

Written by Karen

August 26th, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Posted in career,ucd,words

tactics for finding work

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Recession-Proof Graduate is getting attention mostly for Charlie’s advocacy of working for free but there’s lots of good stuff about how to approach your career. None of it is rocket science but it is the sort of stuff we lose sight of when job hunting.

View more documents from choehn.

Some quotes, mostly from the stories contributed by others interesingly enough:

“Postpone getting paid now, for amazing opportunities later”

“I quickly figured out that the most important thing to do in college was to not focus on getting great grades, but to get out of the classroom and start working for people to build a solid portfolio.”

“I learned more from my Google Reader than I ever did in graduate  school.”

“There are absolutely no rules to what you can put on your blog.”

“Very few job seekers take the time to actually put themselves in the shoes of the people they want to work for.”

Also a must-read in this domain is Avinash Kaushik on Web Analytics Career Advice: Play In The Real World!. Gold dust if you want a career in analytics but still applicable to everyone else too.

Written by Karen

August 18th, 2009 at 6:27 am

Posted in career,junior ia

working on a new job title

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I’m probably going to get a new job title. And it won’t be UX-anything, so don’t worry that I’ve had a change of heart on that.

I don’t use my IA title much within the organisation. The web team get it but that’s four people.  I tend to introduce myself by what projects I’m working on. In project kick off meetings and meetings with stakeholders I’ll explain what I’ll be doing on the project but not my title.

A lot of the teams I work with are intimidated by IT projects. And for them the language of user experience design and information architecture is as alienating and terrifying as the language of server architecture and database design. It is all big words from people who get paid more than they do and seem to work in an alternate universe of conferences, social networks and blogging.

So mostly my introductions go something like…”I’m Karen, I’m part of the project team and I’ll be responsible for making sure users can find their way around the new site”. Or “the search actually works this time”. Or “putting your content into the system isn’t such a nightmare”.

So my boss and I are trying to come up with something that both more accurately conveys what I actually do and is also a user friendly one.

Anyone got any examples of doing user research into what their job title should be?

Written by Karen

July 28th, 2009 at 6:54 am

Posted in career,rnib,ucd,words

non-profit IA

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Whilst I can’t be said to have planned this, it appears I only work for organisations that aren’t really about making money.

I started my career with the Guardian newspaper. We were told at the time that the Guardian was “profit making but not profit driven” although this really refers to the Guardian Media Group as I believe the Guardian itself is ‘loss-making’. The Group is owned by the Scott Trust, a non-profit organisation.

I moved onto the BBC. A public corporation, it is funded by a combination of TV licence fee, commerical activities (BBC Worldwide) and a grant-in-aid from the Foreign Office (for the World Service). It has a Royal Charter and is governed by the BBC Trust. When people join the BBC they are often excited to be working for the public rather than shareholders. They are right that this is lovely. However working out whether you are doing well or not is a lot harder to work out. Hence my struggles with defining a metric for the information architecture of bbc.co.uk.

My latest move is to the RNIB. This much more straight forwardly a charity, the patron is the Queen.

It appears that mostly I work for the Queen.

Written by Karen

August 19th, 2008 at 6:21 am

moving on

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This is my last week at the BBC. Next week I’ll start my new job at the RNIB in Kings Cross.

I’ve seen lots of people quit the BBC for the wrong reasons. Or at least they don’t resolve those problems with their first new job (the spring board job). The only things you are guaranteed to get when you leave a job are the tangible things, the kind of stuff that is written in your contracts.  So I will definitely be getting:

  • a much, much shorter commute
  • less money, although pretty much the same benefits otherwise
  • no working in the office over the weekends or late nights (they shut the place up)
  • a greater variety of places to eat at lunchtime
  • to be working for a charity, working for a goal worth getting out of bed for
  • proximity to the British Library
  • an office with purple floors

This really distills down to “closer to home, for a charity”.

Tangible sacrifices:

  • I won’t have a community of IAs immediately around me (although I have high hopes for regular coffees with the lovely folks at the Wellcome Trust in Euston)
  • I won’t be managing people (one of my favourite things about my BBC job)
  • My projects will be lower profile
  • I may end up less well-read (because of the shorter commute)

My intangible but realistic hopes:

  • get some energy back. A shot in the arm
  • to work with a lovely team of people
  • re-apply stuff learnt at the BBC
  • learn new things
  • to unravel a new organisation and the way it works

I won’t be expecting to get unambiguous and stable strategy, respect that doesn’t have to be earned, and to get away from decision making I disagree with. But I think lots of people fall into that trap.

Written by Karen

August 18th, 2008 at 6:40 am

Posted in bbc,career,rnib

volunteering: get IA skills to get out of the no-experience trap

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Pretty much every job ad asks for experience, which can make trying to break into a new field seem nigh-on impossible at times.

If you are trying to break into information architecture and hitting the ‘experience-required’ brick wall then consider doing some volunteering:

  1. The IA Institute is always looking for volunteers. There’s a list of opportunities on their website and most of them can be done anywhere in the world.
  2. Use the advanced search on do-it.org and select ‘computers, technology and website development’ to get results for charities looking for help with their websites. Or try idealist.org or the equivalent service in your part of the world.
  3. Approach a local charity direct and offer to help with their website. Usually they’ll be looking for help write, publishing and troubleshooting but you can start there and suggest other improvements as you go along.
  4. Get familiar with how people use technology – volunteer to help teach basic IT skills. Age Concern are currently looking for IT trainers and Help the Aged run a similar scheme. Schools and other community groups are often looking for help like this as well. Try the same computers search on do-it.org but narrow with the keyword ‘trainer’.

Volunteering gives you an opportunity to try out what you’ve read about, build up your portfolio and it is great experience at making IA improvements with a limited budget (or more normally, no budget). That’ll be attractive to any employer.

Written by Karen

June 24th, 2008 at 10:19 am

Posted in career,junior ia