Amy Guy

Raw Blog

Friday, October 22, 2010

Professional Practice: guest speaker number three

[This post is written as an informal part of a university module]

Speaker: Paul Charman
Area: CV Writing 

I've had so many patronising talks about CV writing in my life that I'll admit I was dreading yet another. The fact that Paul almost at once acknowledged that his slides and advice may be patronising was a good start though, I suppose. I have no doubt that for people who have not been subjected to so much identical advice in their lifetime would have found the talk useful and informative, but for me it served only to reinforce everything I already knew. 

(Not to mention contradict some of the things the first speaker of this module said, and consequently support some of my comments in my first blog post). 

With every website, book, tutor and professional giving out matching advice about CV writing, it baffles me how people still manage to get it wrong. But I guess advice is rarely given out for people to take. I do feel I learnt a great deal about the subject over summer, working closely with the staffing team at Google (although there are many company-specific quirks, that may not apply to the wider industry). But if I want fresh, new advice about applying for jobs, I feel I would seek it from a recruiter, someone in the industry... someone who actually reads and judges the CVs for a living. But even then, until recruitment processes in general get a massive overhaul, there is only so much anyone can say about the subject.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Professional Practice: guest speaker number two

[This post is written as an informal part of a university module]

Speaker: Roy Isbell
Area: Digital security

Depending on your point of view, you can probably claim the company you started was successful if it is eventually bought out by a global giant, such as Symantec. Roy certainly had this air of success about him as he told us about the route he'd taken to get where he is today. But he didn't dwell on his life story for the entire hour as we half expected. Instead he gave a thought provoking presentation about digital security issues, from their origins in the days when losing your data was the biggest concern, to modern day crackers, malware and botnets. 

He emphasised how much of a profitable growth industry digital security is, from both the point of view of those trying to breach the security, and those trying to prevent the breaches. Roy mentioned that the UK government has recently allocated £8 million to cyber security but a quick search* yielded nothing to back this particular claim up... Instead I found articles from as recently as this afternoon about the £1 billion that will be spent on this issue, as well as quite a few statistics that reinforce everything else Roy had to say about the activity and effectiveness of botnets. 

So although I'd heard of most, if not all, of the buzzwords that came out of Roy's presentation, I'd never really thought about them. That's not entirely true. I use free anti-virus software and common sense when I'm browsing. Goodness knows data security was hammered into all the new Google interns on the day they handed over our shiny new MacBooks. But when you log into your Internet banking from your own laptop, what could possibly go wrong? How can this textbook company you've never used before, that you're putting your card details into right now, possibly not be legitimate? Why would a stranger in Russia be interested in logging my keystrokes? It's one of those... It'll never happen to me situations. 

I paid attention though, because although I've never really built a web application big (powerful, used, important) enough to warrant anything more than sanitising database entries before, I will be doing this year. So I should probably get wise to this network security stuff. 

*A search of thirty seconds or less being all the multi-tasking, attention-deficit 'Internet generation' of today are capable of.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Professional Practice, guest speaker number one

[This post is written as an informal part of a university module]

Speaker: Ken Blair of BMP Recording
Area: Sound recording/engineer

Although Ken’s area of expertise is not directly relevant to my degree, I have frequently worked alongside media students both informally and more recently as part of a start-up company in Sparkhouse. Thus I am able to relate to many of the things he discussed about sound engineering, as I have had second-hand experience of creating soundscapes for animations, or musical tracks for short films, for example. I wrote lots of notes about the details of the things he does on a regular basis, and the differences between on-location and studio recording; between recording pop music and recording classical. But it seems fruitless to transcribe them all here, when his day-to-day experience, while interesting, is of little consequence to me personally. 

However what did catch my interest was that Ken started his own company straight out of university, similar to what I am involved with in Sparkhouse. He discussed the ‘catch twenty-two’ of needing industry experience to find work for your company, but people being unwilling to hire because of a perceived lack of experience. He also affirmed that the decreasing cost of technology has made it easier for people to create their own recording studio setups, enabling freelancers to charge the absolute minimum for the work they do, causing a very competitive price market. 

I (and the others I am working with in Sparkhouse) have fortunately been able to take advantage of the latter issue to solve the former. Several years as informal student freelancers meant we could afford to charge the minimum, or work for free, with the focus being on gaining experience and reputation rather than worrying about earning money. Now we have started our own company, we can start charging ‘real world’ prices to bigger companies, and are able to do so supported by a significant portfolio of existing work. 

Knowing that this method has so far worked for myself and others, I feel Ken could have offered his hindsight to those in the audience who may not have had the same experience. That is, he could have advised to take advantage of the years of having a student loan and lots of free time to build up a portfolio of work and experience relevant to an individuals particular career aims, without needing to worry about taxes and bankruptcy. This would help to avoid the problems that his own company had right at the beginning. 

Having said that, level three is probably too late for students to be hearing that kind of advice; it might be more useful, and inspirational, during level one. 

Ken did offer advice about writing CVs, for those who do have little industry experience - to focus on one’s skills, rather than one’s past jobs - but commented that employers of new graduates are sympathetic to the lack-of-experience problem, understanding that their job applicants have just come out of university. I’m not convinced that this is a good message to be sending... Perhaps employees of sound engineers and audio technicians think differently, but my experience so far in the computing industry (mainly software and web development areas) has taught me that the new grad job market is so saturated with graduates with high calibre degrees that having something on your CV that you have done, rather than can do is vital. 

Anyone can list the modules they’ve done, and the programming languages they have dabbled in over the course of three years. You stand out if you write about the open source project you contributed to in a specific language, or the academic poster you presented at a technology conference about your chosen field. Listing skills has a lot more impact if you can prove that they really are your skills.