thoughts on IT, software development, and technology

I’m on holiday for a few days and have been reviewing job applications! Joy! Here are some things to think about when applying for a tech job. This is mostly aimed at first time job hunters …

  1. DON’T make simple spelling and grammar mistakes in your cover letter or CV. There is simply NO excuse. None! If you can’t be bothered to check these basic details you’ve got an uphill struggle with me. The damn computer does it for you!
  2. DON’T forget that the internet has a long memory! Be careful what you post online. Regardless of whether they admit it or not potential employers will “google” you and draw conclusions from what they find. And the converse is true – if you’re a positive and active member of some online communities this can be a big plus point.
  3. DON’T write the same old drivel as everyone else. So you’re a “team player”? Wonderful! According to the resumes I have read so is everyone else in the world! 75% of “personal statements” are the same old nonsense! What’s personal about that!?
  4. DON’T make inane statements about your abilities without evidence. Evidence is key. Prove to me with examples that you are “resourceful” or “dedicated” or a “hard worker”. ‘cause I don’t believe you!
  5. DON’T BORE ME TO DEATH with the results of every module you’ve taken since you were ten! I really don’t care. That you got 57% in a 3 month course in Scrunge Value Maintenance means nothing to me. I have nothing to compare it too – I don’t know what the course involved – was 57% good or mediocre? – did everyone else get 95%? Sorry, but it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Can I let you into a secret? If you’re applying for a job in my company I don’t even care if you’ve got a 1st, 2:1, 2:2 .. or no degree at all! (Disclaimer: that’s certainly not the case for every employer.)
  6. DON’T answer every question with “we did a module on that”. If that’s your only experience in a core skill then I’m going to be worried. I’ve interviewed many junior programmers who when asked about their experience with c# say “yea we did a module on that” – or worse – “I THINK we did a module on that”. If you want work in a small/medium tech company then you need real experience – probably gained in your own time. Write some software. Anything at all. Contribute to an open source project. Want to be a network engineer? Then set up some servers – a virtualised 5 server network in your bedroom is perfectly possible on a decent PC.
  7. DO read widely in your chosen sector – read blogs, articles, magazines,  and books. Find out who the leading people are in your industry and follow them on twitter. Our industry changes daily – you need to be on your game.
  8. DO be clear about what you want to do – “I’d really like a job as a Network Engineer, or maybe a Programmer, or maybe a web designer”. Eek! This doesn’t fill me with confidence – maybe you don’t know – that’s ok – but a job interview is not the best place to express this view!
  9. DO stand out. I don’t care how you do it but in a pile of 10,20,30+ applications you need to stand out. Preferably in a good way!
  10. DO write a decent cover letter / email which includes at least one line or paragraph specific to the company your are applying with – it’s ok (sort of) to send your CV to dozens of potential employers – just don’t make it look like that’s what you’re doing.
  11. DO read the job description & requirements. If you’re entirely unsuitable then don’t apply – maybe send your CV with a cover letter stating interest but asking if there may be other more suitable vacancies.
  12. DO follow up a few days after you submit  your application– and then after a few weeks. Make it look like you want the job. I’d much rather have someone with 70% technical ability who really wanted the job – than someone with 95% technical ability who didn’t.
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I’ve written about this before – here – and here – but two recent incidents have raised this again in my mind and suggest that things have got worse and not better.

Beware – this is mostly just a rant to make me feel better! I stand by all of my original comments and am speechless beyond words at the incompetence and staggering woefulness of our national ADSL broadband & telecoms service …

I’m not having a go at BT as such but they are still guardians of the keys to the network (at least for the majority of the population) and have a responsibility to make this work. Either that or get out of the way and let someone else make it work!

Two examples :-

1. We had a customer recently who moved about 2 doors down the street. From number 3 to number 3b as I recall! Unfortunately the process of moving was fraught with difficulty. We had a 3rd party telephone line “provider” in the mix which didn’t help. All in all the customer was without connectivity for 4 weeks. Our call log on this job runs to 11 A4 pages and represents a catalogue of incompetence, indifference, and sheer bloody buck passing. That’s 1/12th of a year! And absolutely and completely unacceptable. Not to mention horribly expensive for us in terms of providing support to our customer.

2. Closer to home – my esteemed broadband supplier of many years (Lixxus Internet) has gone bust without so much as a wimper in the direction of their loyal customers. Things started getting dodgy a few months back with various DNS outages giving some indication of what was to come – and then nothing ….. cut off Tuesday 2 weeks ago.

During this saga I’ve had conversations with many of the “players” :-

OFCOM had “heard something about this” but only confirmed what I already knew. There was no practical help they could offer at all.

The administrators in London were about as much use as a chocolate teapot!

BT Wholesale refused to talk to me. Surprise!

The upstream suppliers (Opal/Tiscali) didn’t want to know – then did want to know – then decided they didn’t want to know again – then decided they might want to know if I signed up for a 2 year deal with them!

My chosen new provider (Zen) has been helpful & professional as one would expect from a PC Pro service award winner – but still pretty much hamstrung by the whole thing and hampered by the incredibly inept system we live with.

After finally getting a MAC and initiating a migration and waiting the inevitable 5 days it appears that Zen / BT Wholesale (I can’t be sure which) has now messed up the migration by trying to migrate me onto a service which isn’t even available on my local exchange – now I’m back to waiting another 5 days.

Meanwhile my business suffers because I’ve no connectivity – my family suffers because I’m stuck in the office doing things I should be doing at home – my recreational time suffers because all my photos/reading/music is online.

It’s time broadband was treated like the essential service it has become – it would be unheard of to be left without electricity for 4 weeks simply because we moved next door. Or with no running water for weeks on end because NI Water had some financial difficulties. The sooner broadband starts getting treated like a basic household service the better for us all ….

They tell me it’s complicated! Rubbish! In the case of the move from 3 to 3b – if I could have got into the BT exchange I could probably have done it myself !

As for OFCOM – it’s high time they stopped faffing around with a myriad of tedious and peripheral issues and got to grips with the real problems we face.

It’s nearly one week since I upgraded my 3GS with iOS4. Been waiting on this for a while! So what’s the verdict? Well … let’s say the excitement isn’t going to keep me awake at night but it’s definitely a worthwhile upgrade.

Pros

  1. The multi-tasking / fast-resume functions are good – Evernote syncs in the background after I write a note. It makes VoIP a real possibility. Streaming audio now possible in the background with 3rd party apps. Of course it’s not true multi-tasking really but to be honest I think apple have struck a very good compromise here.
  2. Home page group functions – trivial as it sounds this is actually a real productivity boast. My previous 6 or 7 pages of icons are consolidated into 2! Every app is now within two taps rather than potentially 6 slides! I was previously worried the edge of my finger was going to wear away ….
  3. If you use your iPhone in bed then the orientation lock is a nice feature. I don’t understand why it offers portrait only but hey!
  4. Email option for two exchange accounts is welcome – and the message threading actually works really nicely.
  5. Spell checking – works nicely – wouldn’t have been high up my “request list” but quite like this

Don’t cares

  1. The general UI tweaks give the impression of being faster. Not sure it actually is. Nice but hardly epic!
  2. Background wallpaper. Hmm!
  3. Digital zoom etc. Who cares? And the camera now seems slower to start

Still to look at

  1. iBooks – Nice idea – not sure the screen will be big enough
  2. Bluetooth Keyboard option – I like the idea of this a lot! Will be buying a keyboard over the next few weeks to try it out.

Cons

  1. It definitely has had a detrimental effect on battery lift – it was woeful before and now it’s worse!

What’s still missing?

  1. Lock screen is wasted. Why can we not have notifications from the various apps like mail shown here rather than forcing a login before we can see anything useful?
  2. Notification bar – why can’t we have notifications shown discretely on the top bar for incoming email etc when in other apps.
  3. No fast scroll option for scrolling to the bottom of a long document. Or in fact any decent shortcuts as we have with the blackberry
  4. Still no settings profiles for fast swapping between car / office / night modes

The third major incarnation of the Universal Serial Bus is starting to arrive on the high street. USB is the name of the connector/cable/interface most commonly used to connect external equipment to your computer or laptop – most phones, printers, cameras, scanners, webcams, mice, keyboards, external hard drives, flash disks etc now connect using “USB”.

Your existing equipment will almost certainly be USB 2.0. So if you’re buying a new laptop or camcorder what do you need to know about USB 3.0?

1. It’s faster! A lot faster. Theoretical maximum speeds are something like :-

USB 1.0 – 1996 – 12 Mbit/s
USB 2.0 – 2000 – 480 Mbit/s
USB 3.0 – 2008 – 4.8 Gbit/s

So – theoretically it’s ten times faster than USB 2.0. Of course we won’t get anywhere near the theoretical speed but nonetheless it’s a lot faster. Much faster than both Firewire (800Mbit/s) – and eSata.

This is great if you’re attaching an external hard drive – or an HD digital camcorder and need to move a lot of data to or from your PC quickly.

2. The cable is thicker and the connectors are blue!

There are six wires in a USB 3.0 cable so cables are thicker. The connectors look similar though and by convention are coloured blue so you can tell them apart. Clever Eh?

3. It’s backward compatible – sort of!

a. You can use old style USB 2.0 cables with new USB 3.0 devices – but they’ll only work at the slower speed.

b. You can plug new USB 3.0 devices & cables into old USB 2.0 style PC ports – but again they’ll work at the slower speed.

c. You cannot plug a new USB 3.0 cable into an old USB 2.0 device as the connector at the device end (B end) is a different size.

4. It can provide more power.

USB is widely used for charging stuff as well as connecting to a computer. Very handy and reduces the number of chargers / power supplies to carry around.

USB 3.0 can provide almost twice as much power as USB 2.0.

Image from Maximum PC

I’m an iFan!

Oh dear … despite my anti-apple protestations (all in jest to wind up the fan boys of course! mostly!) … and after a succession of windows mobile & blackberry devices … it would appear that I’ve become an Apple fan …. almost!

There can be no doubt that the 3GS is a sublime machine. The UI is a master class in the art, the app store is bunged full of wonderfully engineered apps (and a load of old tat too!), and the whole experience is just very slick.

The battery life is nothing short of horrendous. It didn’t even make it past 2pm on my first day on the road! A collection of chargers & car chargers now follow me around.

Email handling is much less fully featured than my old Blackberry – but it works – and it’s a doddle to set up linking to gMail or Microsoft Exchange. Much easier than the BB in fact. 10 minutes and I had my calendar/mail/contacts sync’d wirelessly to the iPhone. Try that on a blackberry .. and weep!

I loath the iTunes tie in. How can the same company produce both the iPhone masterpiece and the iTunes disaster? iDunno! I hate the fact I can’t just copy some MP3s onto this without having to put up with iTunes messing me around. I hate it so much that 6 months on I still have no music on this machine.

Generally the “locked in” apple approach does still wind me up – I want to install whatever app I like without having to “jailbreak” it. Just get out of my hair apple – if I want to bugger up my phone I should have the right to do so! Damn communists ….. (sorry – just reverted to my antagonistic past for a moment …)

Bottom line? I use this phone for many hours a day for a wide variety of things – both business & leisure – much more than any other phone I’ve had. It’s the first Smartphone which is much much more than just a phone. It really is a Smartphone. And I like it a lot.

The killer feature for me though is not the hardware, or the UI – it’s the massive range of high quality apps available. Many of which are mobile versions of specific software I use on the desktop.

I’ve downloaded a load of bits & pieces – but what are the apps I use almost every day? Actually mostly many times a day.

  • Email / SMS / Phone!
  • Google Reader
  • Instapaper
  • Remember The Milk
  • Facebook
  • Sky News / BBC News / Bloomberg / Guardian
  • Evernote

And every few days?

  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • OnTime
  • LogMeIn
  • m.Strands
  • iPeng
  • Memengo Wallet
  • Wolfram Alpha
  • Wikipanion
  • Ping Lite
  • Maps

And occasionally – once a week or so?

  • WordPress
  • Tweetie
  • Ebay
  • WiFiPhoto
  • WiFi Analyzer
  • DocScanner
  • iFlight UK
  • AroundMe

What about the iPad? Tempted. Very tempted. When not using the iPhone as a phone I would love it to be bigger. There’s been a massive amount of chat about the iPad form factor etc. I really get it. But it’s early days and I foresee some interesting kit coming out over the next 18 months.

What about a MacBook Pro? Not sure it would survive life on the road with me. And it would have to run Windows 7 instead of that strange OSXYZY thingy. But maybe ….

Blog traffic spike

I’ve had this blog for over three years now! Scary! I’ve never looked at it as a revenue generating exercise (thank goodness …. ‘cause that would have been a dismal failure!) – but I do wish I’d put a bit more effort into it. I have certainly learned one thing about blogging. It’s hard work!

So, it ticks along, getting a few thousand hits a month on some of the historical posts, but generally is a neglected little creature.

However one post last year clearly hit a “nerve” when I hit upon a nasty little virus which wasn’t easily removed by any of the mainstream antivirus apps. Over 4 months worth of traffic in about two days.

And all down to the power of Google …

 

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Been looking for a while for a simple utility to let me quickly set an application as “always on top”. Very useful for a calculator app when working on a document – or when entering data into a spreadsheet from a web page etc. Tried a few but most had some unpleasant side effects!

Here’s one that looks good – nice & simple – (thanks to “How To Geek” for the intro!)

http://www.nurgo-software.com/products/aquasnap

Just shake the window and it will go transparent and remain on top when you set the focus back to the other application. Also some nice improvements to the side snapping feature in Windows 7 – and an option to make windows transparent when moving them around  – which surprisingly is actually quite useful.

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