A 100% unrelated photo

I thought today on the Roadshow, I would post a few handy resources for my fellow unemployed. These things are really only helpful if you are an “Insured Participant” meaning you’re currently collecting Employment Insurance or have collected it in the last three years. (Please note that these are services available in British Columbia–not sure how it works in other provinces and territories.)

1. If you’re on EI, you’re entitled to a case manager. Get one, even if you’re almost at the end of your claim. Because the case manager will tell you in more detail all of the great services that you can access.

2. Wage Subsidy programs — If you’ve been on EI in the last three years, you can apply for targeted wage subsidy. You can get more information about it at Future Works. This program will entice an employer to hire you because the subsidy program will pay up to 40% of your wages for three to four months. It’s geared for folks who might need to do some on the job learning.

3. Self Employment programs — Same deal — if you’ve been on EI in the last three years you’re eligible. This is for folks who want to start their own business. A case manager can give you all the information to get you started on this. Or you can find more information on the Service Canada site.

4. Tuition — EI will also chip in for additional skills development. They’re not going to pay for your masters degree. But they will contribute to some skills upgrading and training. Check it out here.

The Roadshow will return with its regular-scheduled programming next week!

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Last week I asked readers for submissions to the Roadshow Readers’ Choice. I figured you, the reader, would come up with a bunch of great ideas for a stop on the Roadshow. And I was right — the suggestions have been funny, interesting, terrifying, and weird. Here are some of the jobs that have been proposed for me to do so far:

Flight Attendant
Overnight Security Guard at a half-built condo complex
Dog trainer
Cell Company Customer Service Rep
Engineer
Skytrain Employee
Braille Translator
Boom Operator
Embalmer
Pageant Judge
Adult Store Attendant
Union Rep
Childcare Assistant
Zookeeper
Stand Up Comic (this one scares me the most)
Oyster Floater
Parade Float Dismantler
Logger
Carney
Taxi Driver
IMAX Screen Cleaner
Mascot
Chicken Sexer
Organic Farm Inspector
Port-o-Potty Empty-er

Keep the suggestions coming! If you haven’t played guidance counselor yet, be sure to think up a job for me. (Visit the rules before making your suggestions.) You can email me your ideas or comment below. Send them in by December 16th. To recap what jobs I’ve done so far, visit my resume. Once all the submissions are in, I’ll compile a shortlist of the most popular and most interesting (and possibly the most terrifying) and have readers vote on what job they want to see me do for the Roadshow.

Your Choice

December 1, 2009

I’ve been on the Roadshow for just over two months and I’ve done a total of 14 different jobs. While I haven’t yet surmised where I want my career path to go next, I have gleaned an inside look at many interesting professions. So far, most of the Roadshow stops have been through referrals or people contacting me. Now I’ve decided to put my fate in the hands of my readers. Yup, that’s right: you. I want you to pick where I go next. Because I believe you will come up with jobs that I never would. (Think of it as a chance to act out your secret desire to be a high school guidance counselor.) So if you have suggestions on what type of work I should do, or a particular organization or company that you think I should work for, send me an email or leave a comment.

I’ll take the most frequently suggested and best ideas, put it to a reader’s vote, and then try to arrange a Roadshow stop doing that job. Please send me your ideas by Dec. 16th.

Just in case you haven’t, be sure to visit the Roadshow Rules before making your suggestion. And in particular, pay attention to Rule #1. And as a recap, I’ve so far done the following:

Jewelry Designer (upcoming post)
Carbon Project Developer (upcoming post)
Film Executive (upcoming post)
Dog Walker
Personal Trainer
Software Developer
Acquisitions Editor
Film Swing
Sous Chef for an Underground Supper Club
Stockbroker
Transportation Planner
Business Reporter
Graphic Designer
Line Cook

Looking forward to your suggestions! Send them here by Dec. 16th.

The Computer-Inclined

November 18, 2009

Roadshow stop: Nitobi Software

A rudimentary (and homemade) pictorial depiction of my day at Nitobi Software.

The lights were low and the place was filled with the constant accumulative hum of high powered computers. In the entrance way sat a Foosball table, the little plastic men, abandoned from a recent game, pointed all askew. A half assembled soap box derby car was propped up haphazardly in a corner. In the board room were stacks of empty pizza boxes. Desks were littered with jars of salsa and half-drank bottles of Dr. Pepper.

No, I wasn’t in my college boyfriend’s shared apartment. The furniture was too nice and the place too tidy to be mistaken for that. This was my Roadshow stop at Nitobi Software, a software development firm that builds web and mobile applications. Although one of the shortest commutes for me on the Roadshow (they’re located in Gastown), this, so far, was the furthest leap for me professionally. (As may be gleaned from my homemade drawings.) I don’t know the slightest thing about building software. I don’t speak the languages–PHP, Javascript, HTML, to name a few–or understand the jargon–complete UI, open source, wire frames. And, pre-Roadshow, I worked in fundraising and publishing–both predominantly female industries. (What’s the opposite of a sausage party?) So Nitobi’s all male staff of 14 was also a new one for me.

My mentor for the day was Brian LeRoux, a software developer who’s been with Nitobi for four years. (Before that he was ‘playing video games and pumping gas’.) According to him, his responsibilities include coding and client management. As well, he said with a laugh ‘evangelism and general B.S.ing.’ (No, that’s not developer jargon–he meant the universal language of bullshitting). Brian explained to me that software development was more like gardening than manufacturing–it wasn’t just building, but creating something that needed to be tended and maintained because of its ever-evolving nature.

After chastising me for not bringing my laptop (“Who comes to work at a software development company and doesn’t bring their laptop?” he asked) and mocking me for the analog notebook I did bring (spiral bound with ruled sheets), he told me to go check in with the ‘guys’ to see what kind of work they were doing.

I started with the front room, which housed about five developers. Some of the developers eyed me warily, curious as to what the heck I wanted. Others avoided eye contact. Some slipped on their headphones. (I wondered if they were suspicious of my lack of a Y chromosome or if they were just busy.) But these avoidance tactics weren’t going to stop me. I grabbed an ergonomically correct desk chair and rolled up to the first work station. From here, I hopped from desk to desk getting tours from each developer on what they were working on and what kind of projects they had worked on in the past.

I learned all about PhoneGap, which is an open-source tool that lets anyone (well, anyone who knows how) develop mobile apps with javascript. I was given a quick run through of a virtual social forum on Canada’s Arctic created for the Vancouver Aquarium. And a mobile petition application created for tcktcktck.org. I was shown an application that can give virtual tours of museums and art galleries, all on a smart phone. It was all amazing stuff.

Some of the developers were working on what they called their ’20 percent’. Nitobi has an 80/20 policy, meaning 20 percent of developer’s time can be spent working on individual and personal projects. According to Andre Charland, co-founder of Nitobi, product development has proven to be a good source of revenue, and he felt what better place to create these products then with his staff. PhoneGap is an example of a successful product built in-house. So eight hours of an employee’s 40 hour work week can be spent on doing his own thing–and he gets paid for it. Sounds like living the dream.

It was clear that fun was an integral part of this workplace. And not just the appearance of fun you sometimes see in big corporate offices to placate over-worked, over-stressed, and under-appreciated employees. These guys seemed to actually enjoy what they did and enjoy being in the office.

“We take work seriously, but not ourselves,” said Andre.

“Nitobi is the idealized fantasy of what software development is all about,” said Brian. “Other software companies are mostly cubical farms.”

At the end of the day, I was told I would be sitting in on a meeting with Mark Scott, President of D&M Publishing. As I made a few notes and waited for the meeting to start, I noticed a small group gathering around Andre’s computer. They were ogling a girly calendar–the Rad Boob Club Calendar, which was created by female skiers to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. It features photos of (fully dressed) female skiers doing daredevil moves off cliffs, soaring over highways, and plummeting down vertical drops. The guys appreciated it with the same enthusiasm one would expect from a swimsuit calendar.

As they admired ‘Miss December’, Brian proposed cracking a beer. Andre suggested waiting until Mark arrived. I assumed he meant waiting until after Mark had come and gone. Clearly I was new to the world of software development as beers were distributed ten minutes into the meeting. (And everyone, including Mark, took one.) With icy Pilsners in hand, the developers, designers, and Mark went through some of the finishing details of Book Riff, a new publishing website that will allow users to pick and choose from published books, add their own content, and have a book printed, bound, and shipped within 24 hours.

Admittedly, going into a day of software development, I figured I would be immersed in a world of computer geek stereotypes. But I was dead wrong. This office wasn’t filled with socially awkward, ill-dressed, girl-fearing men. What I discovered was quite the contrary–smart, creative, self-assured professionals who love their jobs, make super neat stuff, and work in an almost utopic office environment. Okay, maybe I have a residual soft spot for the computer-inclined because of my college boyfriend, or maybe it was the fact that they gave me free beer, but after a day of hanging out with software developers, I think they are, and what they do, is cool as hell.

Follow-up Thank You Email
Helen:
Thanks for letting me come in and follow you around. It was fun. And will definitely provide me with some good stuff for a post. It will probably take me a week or so to get a story fleshed out.
Thanks again. It was a real pleasure meeting you. Oh, and thanks for the pils.

Nitobi:
eh no worries — glad it worked out for you / let me know if you need any more details. feel free to stop by and drink our beer any time!

Helen:
You may want to reconsider your unconditional offer of free beer to someone who has no gainful employment. You may live to regret it! Will let you know if I have questions/need details. I’m sure I will.

Nitobi:
nah, anytime — fairly certain no guys here are going to complain. shit, bring some friends. =)

Roadshow stop: University of Texas Press
Roadshow mentor: Casey Kittrell, Acquisitions Editor

When I worked at Whitecap Books, my favourite days were the ones a new shipment of books arrived from the printers. The Marketing and Sales Manager would circulate the office dropping off a copy for everyone–the spine still uncracked, the dust jacket smudge and fingerprint free. I would stick my faces between the pages, take deep breaths of the new book, and rub the smooth pages against my cheeks. For each new title, I would spend a few minutes like this with my nose pressed into it.

Indicative of a glue-huffing addiction? Perhaps. Mildly perverted? Probably.

But I’m guessing this sensory experience won’t creep out other book enthusiasts–especially ones who have worked in the industry. I think they’ll understand the compulsion to take in every detail of the book, not just the words in between the covers. Because book lovers really do love books. They frequent blogs like this one, dedicated to the design of cover art. Or this one that gives the origins of a book’s title. (Did you know it was originally supposed to be called Catch-18?) Book lovers aren’t just avid readers. They’re a breed apart.

When I was visiting my sister in Austin, Texas, I was invited to spend a day at the University of Texas Press, shadowing an Acquisitions Editor. And although I have already worked in publishing, I jumped at the chance for two reasons:

1. If I said no, I would be breaking Roadshow Rule Number One.

2. I clearly have a thing for books.

University Press
A University Press operates a bit different than a private publishing house–obviously, they publish a large list of academic books, including books for college courses. More important, profit is not explicit in the press’s mission. While they publish many books that are widely read and reviewed, others are so specialized their audience is not large enough for even modest commercial success. So UT Press uses its nonprofit status and connection to the university, to fundraise for their most specialized scholarly books–a credit line not typically found in the ledgers of corporate houses (Surprisingly, a title like De-colonizing the Sodomite: Queer Tropes of Sexuality in Colonial Andean Culture is not often a contender for the bestseller’s list and may require a little funding from the alumni).

For my afternoon at UT Press, I sat in on two meetings–the Big EC and the Little EC. (Editorial Council). The first meeting was a check-in with all the departments needed to bring a book from concept to creation–editorial, production, design, accounting, rights & permissions. As with most industries, the creative and the financial departments had the occasional head butt, and there were a few murmurs and suppressed smiles when discussing the ‘marketing plan’ for a book with a proposed print run of 500 copies and a title like The Geometry of Modernism: The Vorticist Idiom in Lewis, Pound, HD, and Yeats. But overall, it was a mostly civilized conversation about books.

The Little EC was comprised of the editors and the director. In a round table discussion, each editor pitched projects that they had recently unearthed. The group would discuss the book concept’s potential and then decide whether to pursue it, research it more, shelve it, or bury it. It was another conversation about books with people who loved them as much as I did. And who understood the magic and thrill of how a book proposal or idea could take so many shapes before it became a bound, finished product.

Smart people and Books: Two things I love that face potential extinction

After hanging out at UT Press, part of me wanted to jump off the Roadshow and throw myself back onto the publishing bandwagon. To surround myself with smart people and books. Sure the job has its drawbacks–the pay is lousy, and authors can occasionally get all diva on you. (My personal favourite at Whitecap was a D-list celebrity chef/cookbook author who reamed me out for 45 minutes before I could get a word in to tell him he had dialed the wrong extension.) Overall, however, it’s a pleasant environment to work in.

But part of me is reluctant to re-enter the publishing realm and not just because it’s tough to get into. But because there’s an elephant sitting in the office of every North American publisher—people simply aren’t buying books like they used to, in volume and in format.

There are a lot reasons for the grim state of the book business, some well-documented and some still theoretical. According to my mentor at UT, Casey Kittrell, part of it can be attributed to online access to cheap, used books.

“The Internet revolutionized used book sales,” Casey says. “To the extent that most brick-and-mortar stores now function more as offices for online sales rather than browsing spaces. And it IS wonderful that if the old hippie bookseller down the street doesn’t have a $2 paperback of Noam Chomsky you can have one 24 hours later via an old hippie in the next county, state, country. Ah, Noam doesn’t need the royalties anyway.”

But online used sales are just the trunk of the elephant. There’s also a decline in the number of people reading—people have shifted their attention to other forms of entertainment, such as film, TV, video games, and the web. The analog book is suffering a popularity slump compared to its digital competition.

Digital publishing is another piece of this literary Dumbo. Google announced last month its upcoming launch of Google Editions, which will allow readers to buy books that can be read on their laptop or smart phone. And serial literature is making a comeback on blogs, and in Japan, on cellphones. (Keitai Shosetsu) To what extent these new trends and technologies will affect traditional book publishing in North America remains to be seen.

Some publishers are embracing digital publishing so much that they are redefining not only how books will be read but how they are created. Book Riff, created by Douglas and MacIntyre and Nitobi Software Inc., melds book publishing with user-generated content. Users can pick and choose content from existing publications, combine it with their own, and have a book bound and shipped within 48 hours. But Book Riff is well ahead of the game. Because the majority of publishers don’t seem to be engaging digital publishing with this kind of innovation or zeal. Many are sticking to business as usual.

But information and how readers consume it, is undergoing a continuous transformation. And, as much as I don’t want to admit it, the book can’t continue to hide between its covers–eventually readers will demand (for some genres at least) that books, and book publishers, catch up to the digital revolution.

So although I loved my day with smart people and books, I’m not sure I’m ready to jump back into book publishing. But I am intrigued by what direction digital publishing and other upcoming technologies will do to the book. Perhaps this impending and inevitable publishing ‘revolution’ will present a new industry and a new opportunity worth exploring. Although, I’m not sure if pressing my nose against the screen of an e-book reader and taking a deep whiff of glass and plastic will hold for me the same level of sensory satisfaction.

My Mentor: Andrew Petrozzi
My Mentor’s Details: Staff Reporter, Business in Vancouver; Editor, Employment Paper

I imagined a lot of smoke and whiskey. And way more yelling. I obviously watch too many movies, because before experiencing it first hand, my fantasy of a news pit was a chaotic room with people dressed in black suits and skinny ties wielding long cigarettes and highballs. I was way off. Because it’s 2009 not 1952. While most of my mental picture was entirely unrealistic, I did expect the environment to be bustling. And in this, I was spot on. Business in Vancouver‘s news pit was busy and abuzz with the energy and ideas of its staff.

Reporter is a profession that has been romanticized countless times in novels, film, and television. (I’m a perfect example of someone who’s been taken in by this.) But it reappears in our entertainment media for good reason. The news is exciting, compelling, and essential to society. And reporters work really hard to make sure this is true. They dig, explore, prod, poke, research, and investigate to discover the latest, most relevant, and most interesting stories to communicate to the greater public. They certainly don’t make the news. But they work hard to find it.

Not a dull boy
I’ll confess another misconception: I thought business news might be a bit dull, or at least duller than other news. Because when reading the newspaper, the finance section is my last stop. I skim over it quickly, and if in a rush, I sometimes don’t even bother clicking on it. But my short tenure at Business in Vancouver showed me how wrong I was. Because business news IS interesting. It’s not just numbers and investments. It’s also about people and relationships and risks and adventures. This may seem like a naive realization, but my focus tends to be on food, politics, and the arts, and sometimes a busy schedule necessitates I’m selective in what I read. I know I’m not alone in this. But after job shadowing a business reporter, my news consumption habits have changed.

My mentor for the day was Andrew Petrozzi. Andrew’s a staff reporter for Business in Vancouver, and editor of the Employment Paper. He’s worked at BIV for more than four and a half years. And what he loves about his job? No day is ever the same. Each day holds something new: an exclusive interview to chase, a story to break, a shady business venture to expose.

Much like my day as a line cook, an extra set of hands on a newspaper do not go to waste. As a deadline driven industry, there is a ton to do. I was asked to write the “People on the Move” section, which highlights recent hires, fires, and retirements in Vancouver. It’s not a complicated section. But most of the information is buried in emails and has to be extracted and rewritten and then double checked. Writing it took most of the day. It was straight forward work. And by no means hard-hitting journalism. But it proved to be a great resource for the Roadshow. Because part of my motivation for doing this is to learn about what kind of jobs are out there. And the “People on the Move” section is essentially a big list of jobs and it comes out every week. It’s a good tool for the Roadshow, but it’s also great for people looking for new work. Because it lists what jobs have recently become available, and in turn, which companies might be hiring. In fact, the entire paper is helpful for job seekers. It features industry trends, mergers, new directions, and endeavors that companies are taking on. It gives job seekers an inside scoop about potential employees and companies that isn’t found in an online job posting.

Writing my small section wasn’t exactly breaking a story that would expose a corrupt industry or take down any world leaders, but I did get to contribute to the action. And while I didn’t play out my personal Investigative Reporter fantasty–which would have involved butting out a smoke (even though I don’t) while I swirled a glass of whiskey, and signed my name to a Pulitzer prize winning headline–I did get a glimpse of the excitement and charge that buzzes through the office of a newspaper.