I wrote this for a class project around SharePoint in Fall, and I’m deleting the site, but it’s almost too good to let go of:
I Have “Blog Block”
There’s all this effort going into trying to figure out what I’m supposed to blog about. Drat it, I have no topic ideas. None. Zip. Nada.
And that, ironically, brings me to my topic – writer’s block. Writer’s block is a significant problem for many writers, especially in academic environments where the stakes are high. I suggest several ways of getting out of writer’s block:
Don’t write (at least not for a while) – give your brain time to recharge.
Consider freewriting for a set period of time – say, 20 minutes. Even if all you do is write the phrase “I have no topic” endlessly, at least you’re writing. When freewriting, don’t stop writing for any reason (unless your life depends on it – your house burning down around your ears is a good reason to stop).
Create a community of writers. Perhaps you’re not the only one experiencing writer’s block. Talk to others who might be having the same problem.
I went down to Olympia yesterday to interview for an internship with the Washington State Department of Information Services. This position would essentially be working with DIS to help them roll out services from their development to production environments; most notably, this would involve work with SharePoint and allow me to have fairly decent exposure to a lot of different projects across state agencies. I wouldn’t be dealing with “end users” per se – at least not in the traditional sense of “non-technical everyday people”. The work would support system administrators and developers in their efforts to use the offerings put forth by DIS.
The interview went about as perfectly as I could hope – after getting signed into the building and getting a visitor badge, I was shown upstairs and talked with the group about my previous experience in SharePoint and answered a few questions about what I thought the internship might entail. As it turns out, one of the people I would be working with in that position was actually an MSIM student in the past, so there was also a smaller conversation about the program itself. The next step is figuring out who I would report to, since there’s some deliberation as to who would be most effective. After the interview, I was given a brief walkaround to meet a couple of other individuals in the office.
On this one, I’m optimistic.
There is, however, still my original discussion with the Washington State Department of Ecology, which has turned into something of a hassle. While Ecology’s project is fascinating – involving working directly with the state’s sustainability initiatives – there are a couple major problems that are causing red flags to pop up in my head left and right:
Communication. I get very random e-mails from Ecology, and not just from a single person – from multiple people, and it’s often fairly clear that they’re not talking to each other internally at all. While I was very comfortably dealing with multiple people at DIS, I have always had a primary contact at each step of the way, which moved from their HR department to a high-level supervisor to a supervisor closer to the work that I would actually be doing. I know at this moment exactly who to talk to and who to work with within DIS to make an internship happen. With Ecology, I have no idea who’s in charge of coordination or who I’d be reporting to. On top of that, they can’t seem to figure out the difference between a capstone project and an internship.
Vetting. Whereas DIS put me through a state application process, the usual requests for references, and an in-person interview, Ecology has done nothing of the sort (and in fact, unless I’ve been misreading the last couple e-mails, seem to be assuming that they’ve already brought me on as an intern!). As important as the vetting process is for an employer, it’s actually almost as important for an employee – it tells me that DIS is taking this seriously and putting me through a standard process for hiring. Ecology hasn’t even so much as requested a resume, to my current recollection.
In short, regardless of what happens with DIS, I’m likely to withdraw my interest in an internship with Ecology – it doesn’t matter how great the project is if the planning process itself isn’t executed well, and at this point, it doesn’t feel well-executed in the least. I’ve had a couple e-mail conversations with people within the MSIM program who have both recommended talking to Ecology either over the phone or in person, but with the DIS interview having gone well (and, quite frankly, sounding like it’ll offer many more opportunities to get involved in different areas), I’m not sure it’s worth the effort.
I’ll credit Zach Hale for first making me wonder why the hell Twitter was really even worth thinking about (though I can’t appear to locate my original comment on his blog to that effect).
After much resistance, I’ve finally set up my Twitter account (you can find it on my Profiles menu on this site’s navigation bar). Why? This series of articles had a lot to do with it, but I also decided that I’d take a page from the book of one of my co-workers, Martin Criminale, and at least try throwing my hat in the ring. And, of course, Zach had a bit to do with it.
Now if they only had an import option that allowed me to upload contacts without sending out invitations (the Gmail contact import doesn’t appear to be working for me at this point). I’m also curious about whether it might be possible to integrate my blog posts and my Twitter posts in such a way that they all appear in a continuous stream on this page (without necessarily being an entry in my WordPress RSS feed). It’s probably doable, just a question of figuring out how. Tweets, as they call Twitter entries, would have to be indicated, but that’s not overly hard. Perhaps a combination of SimplePie and my standard WordPress template code?
I’ve now registered for Spring, which makes my Thursdays really freaking long, but that’s alright. The lineup is as follows, for 13 credits total. Descriptions are taken from the UW Course Catalog:
IMT 520A: Information Services and Resources (Metoyer, 4 credits) Description: Concepts, processes, and skills of information involving creation, production, distribution, selection, collection, and services to facilitate access. Analysis of the information mediation process, including determining information needs; searching for, evaluation and presentation of appropriate results; and modalities for delivery of services.
IMT 541A: Principles of Database & Semi-Structured Data Systems (Boiko, 5 credits) Description: Introduction of database management systems for teh storage and access of structured and semi-structured information. Examines the relational model, Structured Query Language (SQL), Entity-Relationship modeling, database design methodology ) conceptual, logical, and physical design), and Extensible Markup Language (XML) for storage, retrieval, and interchange. Prerequisite: IMT 540.
IMT 582A: Strategic Planning and Evaluation (Coker, 4 credits) Description: Studies and applies strategic information initiatives within an organization, including: readiness assessment, organizational mandates, information inventories, content management, information audits, and information architecture initiatives. Focuses on building business cases for and leading information initiatives in organizations.
It should be an interesting quarter, since I’m not sure at this point how these will end up connecting together (which is something that isn’t always obvious – another post on that later, more than likely).
My résumé has been updated. I’m starting to wonder whether I need to trim the damned thing, since it does seem like there’s a lot on there, and some of it may stop being entirely relevant after a certain period of time. I’m still very proud of being Eastside Journal’s Most Inspirational Graduate of 2001, but how long does a high school graduation award actually matter? This is a bit of a trickier question, since I’m still in school. I’ve had people look at that document and think it way too long, while others think it proves that I have a vast array of experience (let’s ignore my personal reaction to that last opinion for the moment).
Something quite interesting popped into my head, and thus prompted this post. As most know, I do a lot of reading as a part of my masters studies, and have done a lot of reading in the past regarding a host of different topics, particularly during my undergraduate work at Evergreen. Oddly, when I’m doing academic work, I almost never like to read anything else, since my energies tend to get a bit drained from having to keep up with the academic stuff in the first place — there’s residual effect as well in that I seem to not like reading much for time periods after the academic year has ended. Regardless, I find myself in a bit of a quandary; I’ve done a lot of reading on the subjects of sustainability and information management, but I really have no method as it stands of referencing all of that information or even recalling where something in particular cropped up.
This is a big problem, and spans a lot of different resources: textbooks, class notes, handouts, technical articles, magazine articles, programming code snippets, old web site designs, even in-line notations on whatever I’m reading. I come up with ideas for projects that (no pun intended) peter out (cough) after a while, either for lack of motivation or for lack of appropriate reference material – in general, it tends to be more the former than the latter, but lack of reference material also rears its ugly head occasionally. This isn’t because I lack the information; it’s because I’ve seen it somewhere but can’t find it again!
I’m not the only one. Not by a long shot. Everyone faces this. I have a slight advantage in that I’m beginning to recognize some of the ways that this is solvable, but at a slight disadvantage in that I am not quite as involved with stuff like social tagging or folksonomies — though I should note that Wikipedia has it wrong; folksonomies and social tagging are not the same thing, and saying they are is misleading. Anyway, the main reason I have a problem is that I don’t have a quick way of finding any annotations or relevant readings for a particular topic. If I wanted to remember a bit about economics, for instance (a highly relevant subject for me at the moment because of PB AF 594), I don’t have any way of knowing what articles I’ve read related to the subject or where my books are that cover that subject or what I might’ve taken as notes in classes three or four years ago that talked about the subject. This is partly lack of time to look all this crap up. This is also partly because that requires locating things – like my ink in my last blog post, I may not know it’s already around or may think I loaned the book on the subject to someone else. I actually thought I had loaned one of my economics books to my mother (don’t ask me why I thought this) until I spotted it going to bed one night on a bookshelf directly across from the bed!
I’ve tried recently to reduce the amount of stuff I hang on to that makes it harder to find things. I’ve started a “clippings binder”, where I rip out magazine articles that I think might be useful for future reference and recycle the rest of the magazine. I can’t bring myself to do this for my copies of eco-structure, since those are just pure gold, but most of the other magazines I have floating around succumb to this sooner or later. I can’t do this to books (and won’t – my father, who is doubtlessly reading this, would about have a conniption and ban me to the seventh or eighth layer of hell). Last year before moving to Seattle, I donated a bunch of (admittedly mostly fiction) books to Olympia’s Goodwill branch to reduce the number of books I had sitting around. But really, this hasn’t done much – I still have a lot of books I want to be able to reference.
There’s an extra dimension here – not only is there stuff I have read, but there’s stuff that looks relevant that I want to read, but can’t find the time.
It seems like the only really good way of doing this would be to start creating additional notes on every single book I read that might be relevant to future work, but that in and of itself is a lot of additional work. Would it increase my ability to look for and find information? Probably, especially if it were implemented correctly (I’d guess a wiki system with some sort of tagging grafted on would work quite well for this). Perhaps I’ll take a sabbatical in 2009 after I graduate and spend the summer reading and making notes and putting them into some coherent system. Yeah, right. So how do we organize all these resources that we personally find relevant? There are answers — maybe — and those answers are (fairly) likely to be relevant. But in the meantime, if I want to remember all I’ve seen on sustainability, I’ll have to read it all over again, or at least spend a copious amount of time reading over whatever notes I made in the margins of books or on paper somewhere in a binder buried in my closet.
That’s assuming those notes existed at all, and that’s a whole ‘nother problem.
I’ve been thinking I needed printer ink for the last several weeks, since my printer is reporting that several of the cartridges are getting quite low. I had intended to order some tonight, and nearly did until I opened my filing cabinet and found refills for every single ink cartridge I have.
Well, at least I found the cartridges before I ordered new ones…
Note – I use a business-level printer that does duplexing and provides an insane amount of paper storage capacity (and it’s got a wireless connection built in to boot) – why do I use something with that much power? Home-use printers seem to fall a bit short in the areas of networking and duplexing, thus I went to business models. This is an HP OfficeJet Pro K550dwtn (actually, it’s a K550dtwn), and thus far has served me quite well. It helps that I keep my need for ink down by forcing all printouts to only use black ink and to use the “Fast/Economical Printing” setting (which is essentially draft printing). There is no visually appreciable difference between draft printing and normal printing speeds, except that draft printing uses a lot less ink.
The iSchool held a panel of practitioners in the field of Information Architecture as part of iCareer Week at the beginning of the quarter. These are my notes from that panel (interpreted without quite as much of the fresh context in my head as I usually like, I must admit).
Recommended courses: 530/540 (taxonomy/technology); project management; research methods and analytical skills; coollaboration/teamwork; 580s; User Centered Design (UW Extension/UW Educational Outreach)
When in class, always ask the question: “What’s the point of this?’ Also ask, “How can I communicate the value of this to someone not familiar with the concept?”
What kind of information architect do you want to be?
“What other value can I add to the degree?” (ask this)
Mike Crandall: What functional subspecialties are there in IA? What is IA?
metadata, user experience, user research, usability, analytics, wireframes, data modeling, interface/interaction design, evaluation
Major groupings within IA: taxonomy, HCI, design (visual and interaction)
There are also “innies” vs. “outies”: internal and external consultancies in IA. The contrast here is one of a mother who takes care of the kids and an ER doc who does triage. This is the contrast between a consultant for a company and a consultant for an agency.
If you want to get into programming as part of the MSIM degree, go for concepts, not languages
It’s difficult to be a developer and an information architect.
It’s important to be able to talk to people who understand how the system is built – hence why programming can be important.
Mike Crandall: What kinds of tools do you use?
Outlook/Excel/Office, mind mapping software, Illustrator (some), InDesign, workflows
“We’re consultants first” – need to be able to advertise and deliver IA. How to express that? “Deliverables, wireframes…”
“Tools were not a big concern [in work] – I had the underpinnings.”
Mike Crandall: Looking for a job – what did you do in your job search? How did you find IA-related jobs?
Join a professional organization related to IA and stay informed
Look for a job using your own personal network – go through the people you know
Make your own projects while you don’t have a job and build it. Create your own portfolio.
Get into a company that needs what you want to do and do it (note that this may not match your “official” job title!)
Brush up on resumes and cover letters
Audience question: how do you present stuff that’s not really done?
Get to the level of “I feel good about this piece of work” and give the context of the assignment
Depends on the type of IA you want to do
You’re attempting, in your portfolio, to show how you synthesize a large amount of work
Mike Crandall: process is the important thing: you sell the process, not the work.
Don’t be afraid to say you don’t do something because it isn’t your strength!
Mike Crandall: What is your next career step?
CEO! Getting more of the science behind the ideas, getting more in front of clients, practicing current work, “getting good”, balance design with working with people, create a collaborative process, start their own company, become web director, learn business skills, learn team management, work on motivation (self and others), get more management/oversight experience, work on client/account management
Audience question: What do you hate?
Being rushed, repetition, wireframes (sort of)
wireframes are breaking down – high level of interaction
Special Interest Group lists are valuable
Audience question: when did you finally feel confident?
When working with first client
Focus on the user is your selling point
Fake it – say stuff with confidence, even if you have no clue what you’re doing