Monday, 28 February 2011

PMP - Project Managment Professional Certification Course



So today was the first day of my PMP course, expected to last a week. It's an intensive course aimed at covering the essentials for the PMP exam. Study guide is 500 pages long,
and the PMBOK is equally as long. Registration for PMP is tedious process since you need to detail all the hours spent on past projects and get them reviewed, signed off my your respective managers.


Day one: Monday 28-Feb
Israeli tutor,from RBS Training. Been working with my company for 6 years, and contracted to push through PMP training worldwide, and also to follow through and assist the management teams in developing a PMI process as a company-wide process for project management.
Very lively guy, full of action and confidence - likes humour and other anecdotes
This guy firmly believes that project management is a very real profession, and the PMI/PMP movement is growing stronger year on year, with more and more companies demanding project managers must have PMP certification. Not everyone can be a project manager, so he says. Not everyone can be a very good project manager, there are some skills that one has to be born with, a "PM has to be charismatic...can you go on a training course to be charismatic??" No, says everyone.


I'm not so sure I agree 100%. Yes, management is hard, I firmly believe that. It also relies on skills one wouldn't necessarily have coming from a technical engineering background. But most of the skills can be learnt through on the job training, and sheer perseverance on the the individuals part. It is an opportunity to learn new skills, appreciate and measure in an objective manner the desired skills required from a PM, benchmark against your skills/personality and build in plans for yourself to improve. Yes, it's hard work, but with lots of practice, it'll eventually pay off. Granted, some charisma and on-the-feet thinking can't come naturally to a person who's default position is careful analysis before proceeding, but over time, should you be thrown in the deep end enough number of times, I'm sure you'll get the hang of it....


Anyway, what the guy said did make some sense - and made a few people think. I questioned my own goals because I know I have many interests, and that project management is an interesting role for me to explore the areas I feel I'm competent in, but not given the opportunities to prove them...


The first half of the day was spent discussing the spirit of PMP, the value of the project manager and the responsibilities/accountability's thereof. Practical guidelines into approaching the PMP exam itself, that this one week course isn't enough and one requires at least 50 hours minimum to prepare for the exam. The exam is computer based, 200 multiple choice questions, 4 hours duration, about 70 seconds to answer. It covers the 9 areas of PMBOK and is based not only on theory, but expects people build and rely on their experience in the field. The requirements for PMP exam varies according to one's educational background/experience. Firstly in order to qualify for the exam, you must prove you've got the minimum amount of hours of valid PM experience: 4500 hours if you have a bachelors degree, 7500 hours if you don't have a formal degree. You have to describe in detail how you spent 4500 hours, which should be signed off by appropriate managers, and proof of education. There is a 15% chance of being audited, so you have to keep all your paperwork just in case.


The trainer likes jokes - so as part of his course he's got this rule that at least one of us should tell a joke after lunch.

He also likes riddles. His riddle went something like this:
A father and his son are driving to town. They meet an accident, the father is immediately killed. The son is injured and rushed to hospital. After a while the doctor comes out and says "I can't operate on this boy because this boy is my son"....How can that be??
The answer of course being "The doctor is the boy's mother, the wife" - Interested how fixated we become and assume the masculine answer...


His joke went something like this:
A couple was moving house, they were well to do, but wanted to move to a better place. Whilst they were packing, reaching the last stages of packing the bedroom, the husband finds a box under the bed that he couldn't recognise. So he takes the box out, opens it and sees something rather strange. He sees 5 chestnuts and £150000 in cash. Astonished by this, the husband confronts the wife...the wife breaks down and confesses that she'd been unfaithful in the past, and she kept that box to remind her of the times she slept around. Every time she messed up, she'll place a chestnut in the box....So the husband thought, well OK, over the years then, that's 5 instances...i could forgive...but what's the £150000 for?? Well the wife said, every time she accumulated 30 chestnuts, she'll sell them for £50000....
He also showed us some video clips that convey the message of project management. The first clip was from a Superbowl ad: A young boy is playing football on his own, realises this isn't too great, he needs company. That was his project. So he arranges a dinner, romantic evening for the parents, and 9 months later baby is born. The boy is proud his plan worked and delivered...






Today we covered Project Integration Management process that included a 15 question multiple choice teaser for the exam ...will update this section when I go through the slides again - see how we remember all the funny parts but not the real content ;-)

We ended the day by watching a clip from Pulp Fiction, the scene where they had to clean up the mess of the dead teenager who was accidentally shot in the car, and needed the Wolf to come and clean up the mess. The scenes have parallels in Project Initiation, Charter, Objectives, etc...



Tomorrow is Scope and Time Management.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

When an Expat decides it's time to go back home...



For an expat, deciding to return back to one's home country is possibly one of the most stressful periods in one's life, even more stressful than the period when leaving home the first time round. In my earlier post about myself, I mentioned I left South Africa to settle in United Kingdom, and now have feelings of returning back home to South Africa (even though I'm in a messy situation with my citizenship-status, according to SA Law, SA citizenship is lost automatically on acquiring foreign citizenship)...

It's been 10 years that I've been away from home. I left in April 2001 to brace the shores of Ireland. A recent graduate with one year's work experience, it was a chance in a lifetime to be offered an overseas job, so I jumped at the opportunity, it was an obligation I couldn't really refuse. Whatever I earned went back to home to support my family, I kept funds just enough for me to survive....Of course, at the time I was a single guy, free to do what I wanted, the whole world was waiting for me to make my mark....I turns out, that even though I settled quite well in Ireland, had good friends and thought my work was going well - it all ended abruptly when the internet bubble finally burst, EU started losing money and companies started to shed off their excess baggage, so jobs were cut, people sent back home. I did return home to SA in late 2002, but was lucky to land a job in the UK roundabout the same time. So, as every decent Muslim boy does when he's around 25 years old, thinks about marriage, because I had the funds saved up, and as we're told if we reach that age and can afford it, then we should marry....and the thought of living in the UK without companionship didn't go down too well with the folks and family, so I found my wife and decided to marry, take her with me to UK to start a new life, afresh...

Eight years onwards, happily married with three children, we find ourselves, despite living a fairly comfortable life in the UK, wanting to go back home. The truth is, even though, being from South Africa made it very easy to integrate with British life, and not feel isolated or separate from the people - the lack of having immediate family around you to support you, or even the social events with family - can really get one down. Making friends is also challenging, it's much easier to make friends with similar expats from other countries, than to break the ice with native english folks. So with a handful of friends, we try to live a life...but more recently though, with the kids growing up, we notice they're really growing up in isolation: The people that they know is just their mom and dad. Yes they've got to see both grandparents for short stints during holidays, but that's not enough time for them to experience their grandparent's love, warmth and sincere affection. They're also not getting a chance to spend time with their aunts and uncles & cousins - there is no sense of family...whilst it is true that the life we've started to build together in the UK can be the beginnings of my very own family legacy/heritage in the UK, I think it's a bit unfair on the kids not really getting to know who their family are....ignoring the saying "You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family". Yes, family can be a bit of a pain, but no matter what happens, family are there to support you when the going gets tough, they are your life line, your support network when things get bad...something that is absolutely absent in our current life....you live in this world only once, when you die you leave behind people who care for you, memories and the result of your work if it had an impact on people's lives...when I look at it like this, suppose we die in the UK, it'll be very empty and almost meaningless...I grew up without the love of grandparents (apart from my mom's step-mother), I'd really like my kids to cherish memories of their own grandparents whilst they still around...

Perhaps it's just the way we were brought up. Muslims have a strong sense of obligation and duty to family, especially their parents. We are taught the values of parents, especially that of the mother first, then the father, immediate family and extended family. We are taught to be kind and gentle, to love them even despite their misgivings. And when parents are getting old, it's the child's responsibility (and the right of the parent) to take care of their parent's needs financially and emotionally...This has been growing on me for some time, even though I provide financially for my family back in SA, it seems a little impersonal and detached being so far away. In times of crisis, I'm not able to travel home...My in-laws are elderly and not in the best of health. My parents are also seeing their age take a toll on them: My father may have prostrate cancer, my mom has trouble with her vision, my eldest sister now has breast cancer and is undergoing radio therapy, my second eldest sister has also just been diagnosed with breast cancer [correction - they assumed she had cancer, it turns out it's benign now 18/03/2011]. My youngest sister lost here husband aged 32 (5 years ago) to stomach cancer. My brother's second wife died soon after what supposed to be a routing operation...all of these things happening, and I'm not around to be there in person to offer my support....

But emotions aside, the decision to move back to SA must be based on some logical reasoning as well. Granted there are tensions within SA and SA is a country that is in its teenage years of true independence, politically there are concerns that SA could follow the route of Zimbabwe...but if people keep the spirit of Mandela alive, SA can become the best African countries to live in. The SA constitution is one of its kind in the world, it offers total freedom of expression to live, the right of people of all colours, races to live side-by-side, offered equal opportunities - a true multicultural, free society...if this country maintains its standard of human rights and constitution, what better country to have my kids grow up in and experience life. There are many challenges, but the opportunity to make a difference is great - something that I've always aspired to contribute - is to make a difference. Contrasted to the UK on the other hand, the UK is so developed, so well organised, everything works like clockwork, society is so used to things that it feels almost boring to live here, there are no real challenges - there isn't any real poverty, which is a danger because children growing up in this environment have to sense of hardwork and don't appreciate that life is hard, nothing comes for free...

When I first left home, my aim was to learn as much as I could, in the hope of returning one day to SA and contributing back to the development of the country. Since then, times have changed, the world is gone flat. South Africa is no longer behind, yes it could still be considered a third-world country. But the world is within the reach of people's fingertips, thanks to advances in telecommunications, the internet, the ever increasing availability of affordable consumer electronics and web technologies. In terms of IT infrastructure, SA companies are utilising the state-of-the-art technologies, in some cases setting the standard for other countries to follow, this is most apparent in the mobile communications world. One of my reasons for leaving SA when I did was the lack of opportunity for real world programming, that is writing real software systems from the ground up - to work for real software development companies. Instead of being users and managers of systems, or doing minor integration, I wanted to be part of the teams that actually wrote the underlying software, that's why I moved. There just wasn't that opportunity...In the eight years of being away, things have changed. Take Canonical for example, a local SA company embracing the culture of open source software. Ubuntu a very popular open source Linux distribution is an African inspiration. Cape Town is becoming the centre of investment, and is being touted the Silicon Valley of the Africa. The opportunities are just beginning...South Africa is no India, it's definitely not a Bangalore. South Africa doesn't have two hundred thousand IT graduates or 74000 MBAs (according to Friedman) and cannot even compete with the likes of India and China...but still, SA as a country has a growing economy, is a prime candidate for investment.... The world is flat, people are able to travel overseas often, all it takes is an overnight trip...

Just look at India - people used to leave the country in droves for Europe and the US...not anymore. In my recent trip to Bangalore, I saw first hand the opportunities that city presents for its people. The top companies are located in India, not just workshops for maintenance works - companies are investing huge amount of resources to setting up state-of-the-art R&D facilities. What once started off as a place for cheap, cost effective outsourcing has now changed such that innovation, and inventions are coming out from India itself...and the people that work for these companies can travel to company headquarters located throughout the world. The salary is excellent, the amenities are just as they are in a western country, why leave India at all??

The same can be said of South Africa in the next few years, well that is the hope...but it's still good to hope right? What else is good about SA? The weather is much better than the UK, there is more land, and the natural sceneries are breathtaking...

So where are we in deciding what to do?? Well, we did a little brainstorm and currently we've got the pros and cons of both countries on our local whiteboard - see pics below.... We are leaning towards going with the heart, rather than the head - and should an opportunity present itself, we're willing to give it a try ;-)
UK pros and cons

SA pros and cons

Kids whiteboard overtaken for brainstorm

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis



A refreshing read, always good to see someoneelse confirming much my own ideas and thoughts about what people, companies and industries need to think about, to adapt, change, and prepare for the future that will be dominated by Generation G, the Google Generation.Yes, consumers are very much in control. The web brings about openness, collaboration and a whole new way of organising society & community.  In fact, this little gem was the trigger that kicked my ass into gear to set-up my own blog. It's nothing much at the moment, but who knows it might just get me noticed and connected with like-minded people that share my interests, and it could be the start of something beautiful. 


Yesterday yet again validated the power of the link as explained in the book and Jeff's blog. See for yourself, Jeff replied to a recent blog post of mine, prove that this guy lives and breathes what he's talking about. I wish more people, especially companies set in their ways, start listening, really listening about the new way of doing business, building relationships and conceding to the fact that consumers must be listened to, they're in the driving seat for sure. 


For long, we've heard the "customer is king" mantra, but now we're getting to the point of talking the talk and walking the walk. Something that is especially close to me is TV, since all my professional life I've been involved in creating systems that "changes the way people are entertained and informed" - but that world is an absolutely closed world. We the people, consumers, have little control over what we want to watch, the number of channels to choose from, and the option of using multiple service providers; compared to other markets such as mobile phones, where the consumer is a little more in control. Short of derailing this review into a rant about lack of choices of Digital TV, I'll save this for another topic on my blog :-)


Back to the book...

What Would Google Do? is definitely a catchy title, and even though much of the new behaviours described in the book can be attributed to the Internet in general and other big players like Yahoo, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, etc - Google, no doubt has become, and is - synonymous with the Internet...well actually now, according to recent reports it's probably Facebook or Twitter that own the Internet.... Google is ubiquitous, as open as it allows itself to be, and has been the enabler and provider of many great things, more often than not taking the lead in disrupting, forcing us to change our ways of working, thinking, and even living...



I've learnt alot from this book, even though I thought I understood much of the features of the link economy already, Jeff provides enough examples, providing context and facts that increases the learning experience. Certainly, the content hit the nail on the head for me, and opened up my eyes to embracing the new way of doing things, i.e. to actually do something and experiment...

Definitely worth a read, but if you don't want to spend money, you can always get the essence of Jeff by reading his blog on buzzmachine.com, or listen to him participate in Leo Laporte's weekly podcast on TWiG - This week in Google

Tribes by Seth Godin



This book at first appears to be too thin on the ground, incoherent snippets from blog posts turned into a book - but get a little further ahead and it builds up momentum, driving deeper into the subject of leadership. Be warned though this isn't your usual "How to be a good leader" books of which there are hundreds of such books...it's about the reality that anyone can assume a leadership position, as long as one is committed and has the grit to persistently face resistance no matter how tough the going gets, and from that all, over time you will get people following you...forming your own tribe.

I've recently become a follower of Seth Godin's Blog.

Interesting bits that struck a chord in me & that'll stick with me are (quotes from the book):

Leaders have followers, managers have employees.
Leaders initiate, managers react.
Become a heretic, question the status quo.
Sheepwalking - the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them brain-dead jobs and enough fear to keep them in line.
The only thing that makes people and organisations great is their willingness to not be great along the way.
The desire to fail on the way to reaching a bigger goal is the untold secret of success...
The longer you wait to launch an innovation, the less your effort is worth...
The tactics of leadership are easy, the art is the difficult part...
The yin and yang are clear: without people pushing against your quest to do something worth talking about, isn't to be worth the journey.
Persist...
What's hard now is breaking the rules. What's hard is finding the faith to become a heretic, to seek out an innovation and then, in the face of huge amounts of resistance, to lead a team and to push the innovation out the door into the world.
Don't settle - it's an obligation not to settle.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Pyschometric / Personality / Emotional Intelligence Testing - Part 1



One of my ideas that led me to setting up this blog was about capturing my experiences of the recruitment processes currently in practice today. Of special interest, and this is something that everyone should start paying attention to, is the topic of Pyschometric Testing, sometimes known as Pesonality, Intelligence or Emotional Intelligence testing.

Apart from my knowledge gained from a few books and training seminars on project management, I hadn't realised this topic has now become mainstream in the recruitment process. Despite how you might feel about silly multiple choice questions on scenarios that least describe you, best describe you, or your dislike of solving number puzzles, abstract shape puzzles and logic problems - that they have no direct bearing on the workplace and isn't an accurate measure of the person you really are...well, get used to it - companies are relying more and more on the results of these tests to provide them the guidance they seek in making you an offer or not. Yes, in some companies, it's the deciding factor on whether you get the job or not!

So this came as a surprise to me in my recent foray on to the job market. I've been working for the same company since 2003, started as a software engineer and climbed the ladder to senior software engineer, then switched to junior project manager and climbed again to senior project manager, and about to switch again to become a principal engineer / technical project manager. In my 8 years at this company, I managed to switch roles and progress internally, between various departments since the company was big enough - and all the interviews were basically check-ups with colleagues and previous managers. I hadn't been through the real, full interview process in 8 years, so you could say I was starting from scratch.  I was (and still am) looking for a new challenge, something that'll not only stimulate me mentally, intellectually and emotionally but also to be more meaningful.


As Rob Sutton in his excellent book Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to be the Best... and Learn from the Worst says something along the lines: A meaningful job is one which has these 3 traits: 1) It must be challenging; 2) Degree of Autonomy & 3)Efforts must be rewarded.  Over the years I've found the job less challenging, and despite my heroic efforts, sadly the rewards aren't that great any more. So time for me to move on...

My experience with Pyschometric Tests
My very first pyschometric test was for my first job as an engineer-in-training, straight out of university. Surely enough, the results of that test revealed that I was very efficient, logical, analytical, enjoyed the detail and solving problems - the traits one would look for in an engineer fresh out of university. And the feedback from HR was that my profile sat within the range of all the graduates recently hired, and expected from people with a technical, engineering background.
Personality tests follow largely the same pattern, although the area is abound with research proposing different strategies for measurement and metrics. Like all things dealing with the pyschological, it is difficult to measure and report based on traditional, scientific research which is largely empirical. However, the results cannot be ignored since there are observable and measured from a different perspective.

Nevertheless, I'm of the opinion that a multiple choice test of 60-120 statements with varying degrees of responses, typically: 1) Strongly Agree 2) Agree 3) Neither Agree nor Disagree 4) Disagree 5) Strongly Disagree - for a variety of statements (e.g. I can be described as someone who keeps a tidy desk, or At times of pressure my desk can become untidy which is OK, I plan my work out in detail to the letter, Always planning ahead,  etc) - and summing up this test with some analysis thus producing a report on the type of person you're likely to be, and whether you're good enough for the job - doesn't really cut the mustard for me. The report, though astonishingly correct at most places, tends to fail just when you need it to work - as I'll show you in the next section.

The BBC Recruitment Process
The British Broadcasting Corporation is well known throughout the world, a huge, monolithic giant of an organisation offering a multitude of jobs in various categories that make up the broadcasting television and radio world. What better company to aim for than the BBC in my quest for the perfect job, and also as a natural and sensible move for me to move to a different company in the same domain as I am. Since recruiters will often tell you that your chances of making a complete jump to a different industry and to maintain current expectations of salary, are slim - unless you make a good impression...a point which I disagree with, because I believe one can be a jack of all trades and competent in a variety of areas (but that's a topic for another post).

So the BBC have set-up this elaborate online process of screening candidates. You have to register online, setup an account, answer some questions, submit a CV and a profile; propose the roles and areas you'd be interested to work in. In my case I chose the technology/engineering category related to software and seeking mid-to-senior management positions. Filling in the online forms was ok, the next part comes as a surprise an one needs to ensure enough time has been set aside to proceed. You will need about 2-3 hours to go through the series of tests, that once started cannot be paused and continued later. The tests are timed, so there is a countdown timer for the element assessing response under pressure...What they tell you is that these tests are designed to highlight one's strengths and weaknesses in areas relevant to the role they're seeking...Anyway, unknowingly I proceeded with the next steps, amidst my noisy house of kids and interruptions and somehow managed to get through the battery of tests successfully. I know this because, you wait a few weeks for the results to find out if you're through to the next stage ;-)

I am still waiting for a position to come up with the BBC, but it was a good taste of what's to come in future. I will now talk you through my own results, and comment on the output - if I agree or disagree, etc.

My Feedback Report from BBC
I've shared with you the complete report on Google Docs. I'll briefly go through the feedback for each category here, along with my brief responses to the accuracy of BBC's intelligent interpretation, which of course is based on 30 years of data mined from a history of similar tests and applicants ;-)

Inductive Reasoning Ability
This assessment measures the ability to identify specific patterns in data or situations and generalise that information to broader contexts. It provides an indication of the ability to solve complex problems using limited information...This form of reasoning is commonly required to support work and decision making in many different types of jobs at many levels...This report provides information regarding an individual's ability to accurately identify missing pieces in complex figures and select appropriate next steps in a series of figures

You demonstrate an above average level of inductive reasoning ability compared to others in similar job levels. You are likely to be very skilled at working with fairly complex concepts and should be able to quickly identify trends, patterns, and key facts from abstract information.
At work, you are likely to understand and interpret complex data quickly and make well-reasoned decisions based on newly acquired ideas and the central relationships amongst them. You demonstrate the ability to examine information from multiple perspectives, think strategically, and combine new concepts with existing knowledge to solve complex problems.
You have the ability to see the underlying relationship between many moving parts. Use this ability to identify the commonalities between recurring issues at work


My Verdict: Yes, that's sounds about right, thanks 


Teamwork

This component measures the tendency of one's sensitivity to the needs and feelings of others, as well as the extent to which he/she values agreement among co-workers. This trait can be viewed as valuing cohesion; being helpful and co-operative with others; and easily accepting other people.

You are likely to be very accepting and considerate of others, and to be open to others' attempts to build relationships. You may often consider the feelings and opinions of others prior to making important decisions. You may also value teamwork and seek co-operation among co-workers. You may be naturally inclined to be very trusting of others' intentions. 



My VerdictYes, that's sounds about right, but I am not always that trusting. It depends on the situation, politics of the project and politics of the company. In general though I am trusting at the workplace, but outside of work, real-life survival instincts one cannot be too trusting.


Influencing and Persuading
This component measures the tendency of a person's effectiveness in directing and influencing others. This trait is characterised by: persuading and negotiating effectively with others; influencing others' decision making; and co-ordinating others' efforts to accomplish work
Your responses indicate that you may confidently take charge in situations where leadership is needed. You tend to be firm and decisive in your decision-making and others tend to be drawn to you for guidance. You appear to enjoy taking on this role and the attention that typically comes with it. You may also enjoy the opportunity to motivate and direct others and feel a certain obligation to co-ordinate team efforts toward accomplishing goals.


My Verdict: Yes, that's sounds about right, thanks 


Flexibility

This component measures the tendency to work effectively despite changes in co-workers, settings, and environment. This trait is expressed as one's desire for variety and flexibility in work, and a comfort level in the midst of changing circumstances.

You are likely to be somewhat uncomfortable with changes in your work setting. While you are able to make some adjustments when needed, you may be reluctant to adapt to new surroundings. While you may be able to handle additional workload and changes in the environment, you will likely prefer that things remain unchanged unless anticipated and met with adequate preparation. 
My Verdict: No no no no no no no! This is absolute garbage. I find myself very flexible and versatile. I left my country of birth on my on volition, I make my own choices in life. I thrive on the unknown, I switch jobs and roles every 2-3 years because I get bored and look for challenges. I'm not reluctant to adapt to new surroundings!!! This assessment couldn't be further from the truth. I wonder what statements I'd answered to have given such an assessment. So case in point here, this is so untrue of me....

Self Development

This component measures the tendency of one's desire to understand how things work and to seek out opportunities to learn and grow. This trait is described as: a willingness to take advice; asking questions to better understand something; and applying new learning to relevant situations.
You may have a wide range of interests and enjoy learning about all sorts of things. You may find some fulfilment in growing in your knowledge and understanding, and you may actively seek out opportunities for training and development. If constructive feedback is not readily offered, you may seek it out from a variety of sources, including those whose knowledge you admire.
My Verdict: Yes, absolutely on the money here. I'm always striving to learn more and do more. I don't want to settle. In fact, these are qualities of a leader, as Seth Godin in Tribes says about one of the traits of a leader is "Don't Settle".  I'm not unstable, it's just I've got a desire to do different things - to learn as much as a I can about the software product development industry. And so true, I do seek out criticism and feedback from colleagues I work with, how else does one grow??

Responsibility
This component measures the tendency of a person's responsibility for his/her own actions and a commitment to performing assigned tasks. This trait is characterised by: reliability; proactive involvement in work; and a dedication to complete even the most mundane tasks.
Your responses indicate that you tend to plan and prioritise tasks in order to accomplish your work on time and according to expectations. When assigned boring or routine tasks, you tend to focus on your work with the same diligence as you would for more exciting projects. You tend to plan carefully and adhere to expectations when accomplishing even the most challenging work. People may see you as someone they can count on to complete work and to accept responsibility when things go wrong. 

My Verdict: Yes, absolutely...however I do find myself seething sometimes when faced with boring repetitive work that strictly speaking should be done by a project co-ordinator or a junior member of the team. A few times is good, but wasting time repeatedly doing mundane activities when I could be putting fires off, or learning a new skill is not my cup-of-tea. I generally seek out ways to eliminate repetitive work by automation, or cease doing the work if there is no real value from the task. Don't get me wrong, I'm am a team player, but there are some tasks that just shouldn't be assigned to you just to keep you busy....

Thoroughness

This component measures the tendency to be thorough and precise in approaching work and personal activities. This trait is characterised by: being accurate; finding and correcting errors; and maintaining order in work and personal affairs.
You are likely to balance efforts to remain organised and orderly with the need to get things done. While accuracy is important to you, you sometimes feel that too much time spent on fine details can affect overall productivity. As a result, you may not always take the time to keep track of some information. Your work area is typically organised, but there are times when you struggle to quickly find everything you need.
My Verdict: Not really happy with this one. I am generally highly organised and try to maintain a sense of organisation even with the lowest priority tasks, however, there may be an element of truth of slight disorganisation for tasks that are in the low-value, low priority area and sometimes finding that information is a little tricky. But for most of the time, I'm efficient and organised and know what's going on in my work, my team and all around me...I'm one of those people that stores all information in my head, but I don't generally fail on communicating the important bits...But this is uncanningly true with respect to my current situation at work where I've been at a lull and not really motivated to perform the usual 150% that I deliver....

Resilience

This component measures the tendency of one's ability to think clearly and objectively during times of stress or intense pressure. This trait is often described as "grace under fire" and is further characterised by operating under a positive outlook despite criticism, worries, and guilt.
Your responses indicate that you are likely to become upset and discouraged by criticism. When confronted by stressful situations, your feelings of doubt and worry may cause you to avoid making important decisions. You may feel vulnerable to the opinions of others and may tend to worry about situations that are beyond your control. When you experience obstacles and setbacks, you may spend significant time focusing on the situation, making it difficult for you to maintain a positive outlook. 

My VerdictABSOLUTELY NOT!!! HOW DARE THIS ASSESSMENT INSINUATE THIS!!! I approach everything from a professional angle first, look through the evidence and accept the criticism or blame and see it as a learning experience. I do become upset if I'm attacked personally and will stand up for my rights and will maintain my personal, principle and moral ethics. When you're a project manager your job is to worry about the risks, hence things beyond your control...Every situation must be analysed whilst simultaneously preparing for the good/bad outlook as a result. This assessment couldn't be further from the truth...

Situational Judgement
This is a measure of the degree of alignment between one's approach to resolving work-related issues and the expectations of BBC. This is characterised by responding to work-related scenarios in a way that promotes original thinking, connecting with audiences and communities, being open to new ideas, taking responsibility for decisions and actions, and displaying a can-do attitude when faced with obstacles.
Your responses to the work scenarios demonstrated a high level of match with the judgements and behaviours looked for by the BBC. The BBC values and promotes original thinking, connecting with audiences and communities, being open to ideas and partnerships, taking responsibility, and having a can-do attitude.
My Verdict: Yes, absolutely...so interesting then...why haven't the BBC called me up yet?? :p


Really, who am I?



Okay so I kicked off my blog yesterday and thought I'd introduced myself pretty well. Is that the best I can do? Come on, blogging is all about openness & sharing. Expressing one's self as openly and shamelessly as possible. How else are people going to trust you, or respect the content of your blog...You cannot remain anonymous forever. Be a bit more open like Jeff Jarvis :-)

So here goes ...


What's in a Name?
My name is Muhammad Junaith Khan, on the web I prefer to use my name Junaith and go by the handle khanmjk. I thought khanmjk is unique enough, trying to copy from GNU Gnu's not Unix and the like, the k in khanmjk is meant to be recursive looping back to khan. It turns out however, that my handle khanmjk isn't that unique after all and so I have to share it with others from Pakistan, India, Phillipines & South Africa to name a few...Google for khanmjk produces a mere 96 results, and thankfully though you'll find me showing up on the first results page: My Linked In profile and some other long ago posts I submitted on forums...so 96 isn't that bad, and still unique enough :-)

Googling Junaith on the other hand reveals 19,800 results - surprising - because I thought I was really unique in that my parents misspelled my name, which should've been transliterated from Arabic into English as "Junayd" after the mystic and saint Junayd-al-Bagdadhi but the name Junayd also means soldier/warrior according to the folks at BabyNamesFamily.com. According to them, it's not a popular name, but still it has a presence of ~20,000 results online.

Muhammad is a common name for boys from Muslim families. Google for Muhammad and you'll find just over 72 million results. Lets narrow that down a bit: Google Muhammad Khan produces 780,000 hits, and further Muhammad Junaith Khan 2,200 results and guess what?? I am first on the list - wohoo! My LinkedIn Profile tops off the other 2199 Muhammad Khans out there... Anyway, my friends call me Mo. My home name is Junaith. My school and work name is Muhammad. I prefer my handle khanmjk.

A little deeper

I was born in a small suburb called Northdale, city Pietermaritzburg, province Kwa-Zulu Natal, country South Africa in 1978, so that makes me 33 years old as of today (2011). Five or Six generations of my family heritage in South Africa, with little or no trace history back to our original birthplace of India, whence in the 1850s the British colony was shipping Indian slaves/labourers to work in the sugar cane plantations in Durban...

I am now living in the UK, and a naturalised British citizen. I had to emigrate because at the time it was impossible for me to earn enough money to support the needs of my family. Overseas exchange rates helps a lot when the you can get at least 10 South African Rands to the British pound. So with a stroke of luck I immigrated to UK and been away from home for 10+ years...

But I find myself wishing to go back home to SA, as things have changed and looking more hopeful now - besides I miss my family very much, and my kids are missing out on growing up with a people and family network so important in the overall experiences of life...

As you can tell from my name, I am Muslim by birth and try to be practicing one. I am open and objective to all ideas, and peaceful in my ways. In fact, I subscribe to the school of Sufism who's core tenets are based on love, obedience and service to humanity. I'm not one of those people yearning for an Islamic state, neither am I one of those wishing for a central Imam or Caliphate. I do what makes sense to me, and most importantly feels right...If I am honest, I sometimes find myself debating in my mind about blaming religion for all the problems in the world today, if only people could get along with one another :p

I am a fan of the Halveti-Jerrahi Tariqa Traditional Sufi Order, and I long to be re-united with a once-close Sufi friend/sheikh who's been estranged in the last 7 years, but nevertheless thankful for having found this order, and the prolific Sheikh and author Muzaffer Ozak al-Jerrahi


So I'm an open, broad-minded and normal guy... I also wish the world will one day live like the utopia of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek - co-operative, open society with the sole purpose of striving to maintain peace and social evolution...So I'm a trekkie! On the political side my other heroes are Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln. The American Civil War and the SA Apartheid Struggle (Madiba is a legend IMHO) are close to my heart, revolutions as a result are inspiring. Nelson Mandela in my opinion should be voted as best leader of the century...







I also grew up on American TV: Tundercats, HeMan, She-Ra, Gummy Bears, Tom & Jerry, Transformers, MacGyver, A-Team, AirWolf, etc. Big fan of the trainers and jeans...One day I shall visit America, especially always dreaming of working in Silicon Valley or even having my own start-up there!

What else?
I am married to a wonderful and beautiful woman, Fathima who is talented in so many ways and a wonderful mother to our 3 children: two boys aged 5, 4 and a baby girl 1.5 years old. I'm an engineer by profession, specialising in software projects around the consumer device industry. I've spent all my professional life working on Digital TV products, especially Set-Top-Box software, the Electronic Program Guide you use to control and navigate your 100s of channels - so perhaps you've got satellite TV and using my software: For example, Multichoice in South Africa, DirecTV in USA and Latin America has some of my code...

Getting more personal
Read details of my personal journey here.

What do I look like?
Opening up a bit further, here are a few pics to prove I'm embracing the age of openness:

A walk at the local park, feed the ducks

Here's me trying to show junior the head-stand

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Sunday, 20 February 2011

10 minutes is never enough - Late working - Don't do it!



Ten minutes is never enough. I had some unfinished work to get through on Friday evening, but because I was depending on an architect to finish updating his document, I couldn't send out my email to the development teams on the Friday as planned. Instead, I told the guy don't worry I'll send it out on Sunday...that's because Sunday is a work day in Israel, and my company being geographically dispersed throughout the world, it's not unusual for people to do so...but for a number of years now I've made a lot of effort NOT to take home work as it eats into my family and leisure time, time that is lost and cannot be regained again. Besides being a software project manager doesn't help, because the culture assumes that one works late hours any way, without being rewarded - in contrast to a development or integration engineer, where generally it does get noticed when that individual puts in the extra hours...anyway, 10 minutes is never 10 minutes.

What I thought would take 10 minutes, has now been two hours for a Sunday afternoon...The kids were asleep and the wife and I were looking forward to catching a nice movie together. Kids are now up from their afternoon nap, I've got one waiting in the loo for me to clean up and the other two munchkins are downstairs waiting to watch their own Sunday movie Marmaduke. Marmaduke [DVD] [2010]

The way my 10 minutes turned into an hour:

  • 10 minutes to switch on my laptop, waiting for network connection
  • 5 minutes spent wondering why my wireless isn't connected
  • 7 minutes to enable my router to filter my laptop's mac address. I forgot I did some security checks a few days back where I removed some unknown MAC address from my access control list, it turns out that MAC address was in fact my work laptop!
  • 5 minutes to get my VPN connection to corporate network up and running and then another 5 minutes to download and checkout a document from our document repository system (everybody hates it, but lives with it. Surprising that 5000 employees can tolerate a slow, clunky application but our products and customers give us so much grief for performance issues)
  • Remainder of the time spent reviewing the document I was hoping would be in good shape, but had to make some changes, and then writing an email to send out to 200+ people - has to be read, re-read a few times to make sure the story is good, etc...and after a few more minutes of scrutiny, I hit the send button and gone!
  • Of course, 15 minutes to write this blog post
Personal Efficiency and time-keeping at the workplace
I try to maintain a high degree of personal efficiency. For those of you not familiar with the basic time management tools and tricks, or you're looking for motivation and new ideas, then I urge you to get a copy of The Personal Efficiency Program: How to Get Organized to Do More Work in Less Time Admittedly, most of it should be common sense, but the secret is consistency in planning. I pride myself being a good time keeper and efficient in my planning activities, but I found it actually led to my being further overloaded and burdened by more work.

Recently I've switched to working just the hours required of me: 9-5, 7-4 etc, i.e. just do the 8-to-9 hours, without slacking. However in a time of recession and the company mantra of "Do more with less, be efficient", it's not stopping.

Coming from a recent project from 2008-2010, I worked very long hours. Days on end I'd be working from 7AM-10PM, getting up at 3AM to publish reports in time for the morning meetings. I'd wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the work or issues I needed to resolve. I had ideas at odd hours in the morning, switch on my PC and mind map my thoughts to present to the VP the next day. Most of the project managers were working really mad hours, compared to the rest of the development managers. I wonder who is more valuable to a company: A Development Group/Line Manager or Project Manager (a topic for another blog post perhaps)....Anyway, it was my knack at keeping all these multiple tasks at bay simultaneously that my manager did praise me, saying he didn't know how I did it...well it's all down to personal efficiency, but also stupidity and misdirected loyalty to company and project...for in the end, all my hours and effort went largely unnoticed, and taken for granted as just being part of the remit of being a Senior Project Manager.

Once the project was over, I decided to look elsewhere for more fulfilling and meaningful work....and I'm still searching.

I believe lack of planning and lack of listening from senior managers results in unnecessary pressure down the ranks. Did I really need to send that email out today? Are people going to respond to me in time by the deadline enforced? I wonder....but because I'll be OOTO Monday and Tuesday, it made sense for me to do that....

Unless I'm really passionate about my project's value, and know that my work is meaningful, I try not to spend extra time and effort, and the expense of my personal and family time, doing company work. Over the years I've seen many people make similar mistakes, causing unnecessary stress. 

Whenever you run out of time, or being asked to work the weekend or stay late to send out a report, always ask:
  • Why is this so important that it can't wait till tomorrow?
  • Who is going to read the email or memo if I send it out now, at 11PM or 3 AM in the morning?
  • Even if I send it out now, will people have read it and reviewed it in time for the 9AM meeting the next morning?
  • What value will this be adding to the company?
  • Will my effort be rewarded or go unnoticed?
Work-life balance is important. Company time is also important... striking the right balance is key....


Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell



Malcolm Gladwell has attempted an ambitious project in analysing the secrets behind successful individuals, "Outliers" - providing wide coverage including hockey players, rock bands, software entrepreneurs like Bill Gates & Bill Joy, European Jewish Immigrants success in Law, challenges with schooling, misconceptions of relating high IQ with success, cultural legacies & social differences, & other interesting tid-bits that forces the reader to think & question, generally acknowledging Gladwell's logic of analysis in most cases. Gladwell ends accounting for his own personal success, an exercise I'm sure most readers will no doubt apply to themselves.

This book by far does not solve the puzzle of understanding talent, intelligence & success; but it definitely is a very good attempt backed up by research & accompanying references that sets it apart from being the unsolicited opinions of the author. However I'm inclined to challenge some of the cases put forward by Gladwell. I agree talent & IQ doesn't make one successful - hard work, dedication & the will to succeed - grit are those qualities that really pay off. Indeed, the timing counts, environment, cultural heritage also do play a part... There are 6+ billion people on this planet, success is measured in different ways - it means different things to different people; examples cited are indeed popular & well known figures in western society, the sample size for the research should extend to outside the US, for example Africa & India; Nelson Mandela for example would've made a good citation for Outliers...The 10000 hour rule is also an interesting observation....

I'm glad I came across this book as it forces one to gain perspective; re-affirming most of what I already know & learnt through experience myself. For example, how does a someone from South Africa of Indian descent - born to a family of labourers who's parents had no high school education (Mother's education stopped at age 8, Father's age 12), growing up through the apartheid era - work his way out of the ghetto to become a relatively successful professional now living in the UK, continuing to support more than one family??

If you want to learn more about my background, click here to read my own Outliers story, or continue reading my personal story here:


Following Gladwell's analysis, we start by going back to understanding a bit of my cultural heritage: Indians started to arrive in South Africa during the early 1860s from the British colony of India - mostly labourers to work on the plantations, but some traders & skilled people also tagged along as it was an opportunity. Sadly not much is known of my heritage past my parents: my father was orphaned at the age of two & took the name of Khan under his foster family. Growing up, I vaguely remember my father's foster family as he liked to distance himself from them. My mother's family tree stops at her father, her mom died when she was 2 years old, her father remarried. I grew up listening to stories of difficulty, sadness, hardship but the underlying message was always honesty, taking pride in what you do & working very hard. Mother lived in a village, with African neighbours side-by-side, houses were made of mud. Mom would walk 5 kilometres to fetch water twice a day...her house got destroyed by floods, when it rained they would be busy patching the walls...under Apartheid they were dispossessed & relocated to an Indian area under the Group Areas act, whatever land they could claim they had was gone...Father's foster family seemed to be slightly better off, city people, street savvy - he'd recount stories of how everyone would be afraid of the Khans, the fights he would get into - he was part of a gang, etc - to this day, he stands for what is right & single-handedly patrols his neighbourhood watch...My father worked all his life in a shoe factory, earning the same £20 a week for 30 years. Five siblings in total, a brother & 3 sisters. None of my sisters finished high school, just my eldest brother & I did...I started reading at an early age of 5 years old - my eldest sister thought me to read, would take me to the library, I still remember my mom reading to me the newspaper, she could barely read & write herself, but she tried her best. Growing up I had the support of my older sisters & brother - I being the youngest, was taught by them. My parents weren't teaching me after hours, they would stress on the importance of education & made sure the homework was done, etc...We were not well off, I remember not being able to go for school excursions or even pay for school photos...

My brother started working part-time at the age of thirteen, I would do grocery shopping & go to pay the bills when I was 10 years old..we would walk 4kms carrying bags of groceries, sometimes with a 10kg bag of potatoes...I finished primary school with flying colours taking most of the awards, went to public, state-funded school, where most children were of a similar background as me - i.e. most of us had someone in the family working for a shoe factory...Enter high school, I meet a whole different bunch of kids from different backgrounds - all Indian - but this time, I was the only one in my class who's father worked in a shoe factory - the rest were middle-class families...In high school I met my best friend Zeyn (His mom was a high school physics & Maths teacher, his dad was an Accountant. Zeyn was absolutely brilliant at everything - he grew up in completely different circumstances to me - but for some reason we became best of friends, he was pushed by his parents to excel at school & sport, passing whatever he learnt to me, helping to advance on my own...for example we’d finished much of the maths and physics courses a year in advance of the final high school year...During holidays I would be working part-time or helping around the house, whilst my friends would be enjoying their vacations - I was always bitten by the practicality of life. Knowing what it takes to survive in this world, that one has to work hard to succeed, nothing comes for free, one has to determine one own’s future through sheer hard work. Despite my humble conditions, I was fortunate enough not to join the wrong company, diligently living through teenage years with the goal of finishing high school, studying to become a doctor, earning lots of money to support my parents one day...I finished high school with distinction...
It was this environment that challenged me & kept me motivated to strive to break through the barriers of my heritage...but as Gladwell proves in his book, dig deeper & I'm not singularly responsible for my break in life..My brother, through his hard work managed to complete high school, enter university & become an accountant, the first university-graduate in our family! He's a true outlier himself - through his working through high school, he impressed the local businessman, a Mr. Asmal who funded his 4 years of University tuition fees. Over the years my brother would marry, leave home & fall out of contact with the family, leaving me to figure out how to deal with the situation...So when it was my turn to graduate high school (it was still tough then, I couldn't afford going for the school prom, I'd just enough for Physics tuition & couldn't afford buying a suit for the ball), I finished with an A-average. I'd applied to Medical school & got a place confirmed for a university in Johannesburg, 5 hours away from my home - I'd never been to Joburg. Like Chris Langdon as Gladwell explained, Chris didn't have the wits or family support required to help him break through the obstacles he faced. Here I was unprepared to know how to make my decision - do I accept the offer on the phone or not?? Medical school costs R20000, plus food plus residence - I didn't have that kind of money, neither was anyone in my family able to take a loan or stand guarantor for me for a student loan. Besides my estranged brother I didn’t know anyone else that went to University. My parents were not equipped to deal with the situation. I had no one present that could offer me guidance on what my options were; I had not lived away from home - a life-changing decision awaited my response, the admissions officer was pressing me for an answer on the spot, so what happened? Based on the financial reality of my situation, I turned down the offer! Sadly, no medical school for me then...maybe even no university at all...I was set on looking for a job and figuring out a way to work and pay for my studies...

Then a surprise came my way - my estranged brother (my eldest sister made contact with our brother & urged him to help) managed to talk to his friend Mr. Asmal  into calling me in for an interview & offered to pay my tuition fees through university. By that stage I missed the medical school boat, so settled on Engineering (Eng was 4 years compared to 7, so I could start earning money faster contributing to the family by being an Engineer). Mr. Asmal funded my first two years of University...Again, drawing from Gladwell's analysis, I got lucky - there was an element of timing that helped me out: I was part of the transition out of Apartheid, in 1990s there was a big push for equal opportunities & affirmative action grants - where companies would seek out individuals offering scholarships/bursaries & work placements. Late in my second year, I received a surprise phone call from university finance department saying that Vodacom were giving bursaries to students & I'd been chosen (what wonderful news this was to me since I'd been sending letters to hundreds of companies each year) - so I got three times as much as what Mr. Asmal was offering - it allowed me to live on my own, be an independent student...In the spirit of Gladwell, dig a bit deeper & we might find that the year I was born played a part too: people born between 1976-1979 would see the transition of Apartheid & new opportunities for tertiary education, although competition was still tough...if I remember correctly, all my classmates from class of 1995 had distinctions in Maths & are also living quite successful lives today...

After university though, Vodacom had no jobs to place me in so I was left in the lurch as I'd not applied for jobs elsewhere...it would be a good few months till I landed my first job after graduation, with UEC...After 13 months with UEC, I applied for a job with S3 in Ireland (advert in Sunday times newspaper) - I had never been out of my country but jumped at the opportunity - got the job, went to a land where I had no family, knew no one & started on my own with just £500 in my pocket, although S3 did a nice job with relocation assistance...18 months from S3, moved to the UK with NDS...Wait, could this be another stroke of luck? Indeed, my specialty is in Digital Television, a technology area that was only coming of age at the turn of the millenium. Had I not gained experience with UEC, there wouldn’t have been any opportunity to leave SA. S3, a small Irish company had received money from the EU to increase its workforce, investing in employing foreigners, and companies were targeting places like South Africa at that time!

And getting the role at NDS had a bit of good timing in itself as well. At S3 I had just come off a project to implementing an end-to-end software stack for Digital Terrestrial TV and my experience from that project had direct relevance to NDS at the time. Not to mention S3 was well known for its professionalism and competency, so that reputation helped as well. Within NDS I’ve spent the last 8+ years, climbing the ladder every 2-3 years, always interested in learning more and trying out new things. My overall ambition is to learn and experience all facets of software product development in practice, from the early grassroots ideas that start-up projects, moving on to continuous product development and maintenance, supporting customer projects and delivery. NDS provided the platform to grow, opportunities presented themselves, due to sheer hard work & determination, I was able to move between departments to pursue my personal interests at the same time adding value to the the company. No luck breaks from that point on I’m afraid ,continued success is a result of consistent perseverance past the point that got you there, something that Gladwell fails to present in his book.

I continue to support my immediate & extended family. I paid for my father's driving lessons & even bought him his first car (how often to you see a son setting up his father, almost as if the father/son roles were reversed)....In my journey I was able to achieve what some might've predicted as next to nigh on impossible given my cultural legacy - but as Gladwell's chapter on European Immigrants highlights, the family tree that I'm about to start should set the stage for my kids, nieces & nephews to become equally successful, if not more successful than me or my brother...So as Gladwell points out, no one is singularly responsible for one's success: Thanks to my brother, my parents for teaching me about grit & patience, Mr. Asmal, Nelson Mandela for succeeding to bring change to SA, Vodacom, UEC & Sunday Times, S3 & NDS...I am always striving to move forward, hopefully this will be enough motivation for my children, and it is my hope they are more successful than I am, which according to Gladwell should be a natural progression...