Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Work, university and everything inbetween

In mid November dad came to stay for a day, literally. He was in Leicester for 30 hours which didn’t leave much time to show him around a city he hadn’t been to for 37 years. He arrived around noon on a Friday and I met him at the station. We dropped off his bags at our house then walked into town where he got the whirlwind version of the tour Nina and I gave mom a few weeks earlier. On Saturday we took him out to Foxton Locks and had a nice drive through the countryside before getting him to the train station in time for his train to London. It was a fun time, but much too short.

At the end of November Judith, one of Nina’s closest friends, came over from Germany. She came for an extended weekend which gave us time to give her a proper tour. Out of the 4 days Judith was here, the two girls got 2 days of shopping in. I didn’t understand. They went shopping in Leicester and then spent an afternoon in Nottingham where they did more shopping. I asked Nina if the stores were the same in Nottingham and Leicester and she said yes. Then she shook her head and walked away coming to the conclusion there was no point trying to explain it to me.

Work has proved to be an interesting situation to say the least, and, as has happened to me in the past, I fell ass-backward into a lucky and favourable situation.

Toward the end of September when The White Door and RAVE-cruitment merged, tension between Stefan and Stefania (an Italian recruiter he hired 6 months earlier) reached a crescendo. They both had feelings for one another and finally gave into them, all the while keeping it a secret from me and from Gijs from RAVE (my new boss).

Shortly after, Stefan left Amsterdam and headed back to Croatia where he had been living for the past half year. Now that he was free of The White Door, he was going to move to South Africa as he had spent some time there earlier in the year and really enjoyed it. Stefania didn’t want to see him go, so she travelled to Croatia after him in the hopes of convincing him to stay so they could explore their fledgling relationship.

Stefan didn’t want to pursue things further with Stefania and she was a hot-blooded Italian who didn’t want to let Stefan get away so easily. During Stefania’s weekend in Croatia they spent the majority of the time arguing. At one point it got a little too heated, Stefan said something to really piss her off and she punched him, full-tilt, in the nose. Twice. She ran out of his apartment to a neighbour’s flat where the police were called. Stefan’s nose was gushing a fair amount of blood, so when the police arrived, it looked like far more had occurred than a few punches. Stefan and Stefania spent the next 12 hours at the police station where they were both given physical examinations and their stories were corroborated. In the end, they found themselves in front of a judge and although Stefan didn’t want to press charges, Stefania was put in jail on assault charges.

On Monday Stefan got on the plane to leave for South Africa, as planned. I had not heard from her, although she did send a terse Email to Gijs wondering why he hadn’t contacted her to ensure she was alright. Since she hadn’t shown up for work for a few weeks without making any contact and after hearing Stefan’s version of the story, we were all quite happy to part ways with her.

So… how does this affect me? In October it was becoming apparent my job might be in serious jeopardy. Gijs had agreed to take Stefania and myself on until the end of the year, but he wanted to see some results (obviously) which would likely affect our chances of being renewed with a contract for 2011. I was not in a good position as I was working remotely meanwhile Stefania was working in the same office with Gijs. She was a recruiter by trade and I had previously been in a support position. Gijs wanted me to concentrate on recruiting as that was a revenue generator and the support work I did was not (although it freed up the recruiter’s time so they could concentrate more on the money-making aspects of their jobs). It was becoming clear to all of us that mine was the job that was likely to be on the line. Stefania had become the contact person for all The White Door’s clients and that alone gave her a certain amount of job security.

When Stefan told Gijs and I about the Croatian incident, Gijs realized Stefania was not as dependable as he had hoped. He transferred many of her major responsibilities to me and I became the key contact for many of The White Door’s major clients. In one day I became the last remaining White Door employee and I ran with the new-found responsibility.

I have now been The White Door’s sole recruiter for one month and I have a candidate who has gone through the interview process with 2 of our biggest clients. One client has already made him an offer and the other said their offer will arrive tomorrow. There is a good chance there will be a bidding war for him which will bode very well for me. Needless to say, Gijs is very pleased with my work and has agreed to sign a contract with me through 2011.

Wherever Stefania is — in Amsterdam or a Croatian jail cell — I wish her all the best. I didn’t want to succeed on the back of someone else’s failure. However, I also wasn’t the one stupid enough to punch my boss in the face. Twice.

At the end of November I was scheduled to give my usability workshop at the University of Derby again. Since the last time I was contractually obligated as part of my fee for writing the course, this time they asked me to quote them a price. I calculated my hourly rate for 8 hours and, for good measure, added an additional 50% expecting there to be a bargaining process. There wasn’t; they agreed to pay it. When they sent me the invoice, they had added an additional 20% for reasons well beyond me. So in short, my rent was paid after one day’s work.

And to top it off, the 6 people who paid good money to attend gave me rave reviews and were very involved which made it more enjoyable for me. In fact, the same material took me 2 hours longer to get through than the previous time due to the number of discussions. I told the group I would gladly stay as long as they wanted and the class that was meant to finish at 5pm went until 6:30pm.

I received some feedback from my contact at the university regarding my workshop. They are very pleased with how well it is doing and have, rather ambitiously, scheduled it to run twice in the spring with the hopes they can get more bang out of their marketing efforts if they are promoting two dates for the same workshop. I told them I will gladly keep showing up as long as they can put attendees in the classroom.

I recently made a decision to buy a mobile phone which will likely shock everyone who knows me. I even shocked myself. There were a few events which led me to realize the importance of having one.

My program at De Montfort is in creative technologies and thus some of my lectures have been on mobile computing and locative technologies. Because I didn’t have a mobile, I didn’t fully understand what the lecturer was talking about (I certainly couldn’t relate) and it occurred to me that I was probably the only person in the room who was in that position.

I also learned an interesting statistic; by 2014 half of all web traffic will be coming via mobile technologies opposed to people on PCs and laptops. If I aim to make a career in website usability, I will certainly need a strong familiarity with the limitations of mobile computing.

So I decided to buy a smartphone (mobile phone with a more advanced computing ability and larger screen than a traditional phone). I came to the conclusion my protest against them was starting to hurt me.

I have found myself using it multiple times a day from the get go and am enjoying the convenience of having a computer in my pocket. Let me be clear, 98% of the time I am using it as a computer and 2% as a phone. I don’t have the ringer on (I *hate* hearing phones ringing all the time and everywhere) and if I don’t feel it vibrating, I call the person back later when I realize I missed a call. I may be a late adopter, but I am a new generation of phone user; I don’t jump simply because someone is calling.

Incidentally, the photographs in this blog were all taken with the camera on my phone. The temperatures have been going up and down like a yo-yo over the past couple of weeks. It started to freeze three weeks ago and got as low as -8 degrees. By the end of the same week, it was back up to 9 degrees and the snow left as quickly as it arrived. Now there is word the freezing temperatures will return this weekend followed by more snow. This will play havoc with the Christmastime travellers which we are two of. Here’s hoping we are able to make it to Germany as scheduled.

University has been going really well and this semester has whipped by at lightning speed. I took two classes this semester; Research Methods and Creative Digital Media Design. Research Methods is a mandatory class within my Master’s program and the 12 Creative Technology Master’s students are all in it which is nice as it’s allowed us to get to know each other. Our workload has involved working in groups of 3 on a research proposal such as the type we will each have to submit for our thesis later in the program. It involves research, writing up the proposal and making a formal presentation in front of 2 senior lecturers. We submitted out work last week and made our presentation which I feel really good about. Now I have a month to write a 1500 word report on the process as the final element of the class.

My Creative Digital Media Class centred on the methodology and process of creating a digital media campaign (research, design, test, implement). In this class I have been leading a group of 6 on creating a campaign to promote energy conservation within the offices of the university. To achieve this we put together a 3 poster campaign (the big red and yellow imaged to the left), created a website to promote energy conservation and an Email strapline for staff which also drives traffic to the website. The university’s energy conservation and sustainability officer was our client and he was very happy with the work we produced. He gave us a full sign-off on the project in full which will go a long way in helping our lecturer determine our grade. As with the other class, we made a formal presentation and I also have to write a 1500 word report to submit.

Although both modules have presented their challenges, I have yet to come across anything impassable. That is probably the biggest surprise I have encountered; thus far, university isn’t nearly as difficult as I had imagined. Although it has involved a tremendous amount of work, probably more than I had counted on. But that’s OK, I have a job that is offering me almost complete autonomy (far more than when Stefan was my boss) and that has proven to be the key to balancing my work and university commitments.