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billing…time May 1, 2008

Posted by andrea in working life.
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Yes, yes, yes…time-tracking systems are an anathema to workers. I ripped one apart writing my M.Sc. I was not very popular at work, which was the target of my rippin’.

However, (always a big however with me) the situations I’ve heard described – where someone said “bill 8, so you get paid a full day” is just crazy. Crazy for everyone…client won’t ever pay the 8, contractor won’t see the 8, but agency will absorb the overflow. Weird. There’s a whole sort of black market of billable hours…promised in lieu time (which rarely get realized). In order to meet fixed-cost projects.

Fee for service: I tell my clients outright that if they want a fixed-price cost that’s cool, but I’m also honest enough with them to say that my hourly rate will cost them less at the end of the day. It’s the same with my husband, a carpenter (oh, yeah, thanks to Mike Holmes and Designer Guys everyone thinks a kitchen can be completely drywalled and plastered and painted in a day…plaster and paint don’t dry according to TV schedules, sadly). He tells his clients, up front, that an hourly will cost them less in the long run, but they almost never buy it.

And on the other end: the payment end? Clients who futz about, and don’t pay until the 91st (or later) day? Um, I’m not going to work with you again. Especially when I have to spend 2 hours a week juggling finances because you didn’t pay AGAIN, and have to chase you for it. I may have loved the people I worked with, but I can’t take on that risk again.

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remote teams April 30, 2007

Posted by andrea in working life.
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Remote teams have a lot good things about them. Communicating non-verbal gestures ain’t one of them. However, having a sense of humour about the limitations goes a long way towards overcoming the drawbacks.

A: “Okay, so we’ll add two icons, and have three rows of two”
B: “Can we put them in two columns?”
C: “Won’t that make it too wide?”
B: “Columns go up and down”
A: “I don’t have enough room”
C: “Vertically?”
B: “Okay, I’m lost”
A: “I’m going to add xxx icon underneath, and the second one beside it”
B+C: “Ohhhh. got it.”
A: “I say tomato…”
[laughter ensues]

For the record: columns go up and down, descending is newest to oldest, and stalactites hang from the ceiling. I’m still not sure whether cannelloni is the meat-filled pasta, or the cheese-filled one, though.

who adapts best to contractors? April 19, 2007

Posted by andrea in working life.
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About companies – some of them are well-experienced in the whole realm of contractors. They understand what they themselves need (a service), and can provide the necessary tools for the contractor. Contractors, on the other hand, should also understand that they are not necessarily “drinking the Kool-Aid” of a company, but providing the necessary service – which doesn’t give you the right to bitch about benefits or perks that full-timers get. And don’t get disappointed when bonus time eludes you…you chose the itinerant life, remember? 🙂

There are some places that get it, and some that don’t. All in different ways, which is interesting. Some dangle a full-time job, like a carrot, thinking that’s what you want. Some don’t understand that while we all know everyone hires “out”; a company email address is pretty necessary, particularly in client relations. Some make you jump through security hoops, and buy very expensive internet access, and then don’t allow you the privilege to see documents with that other (non-contract) team members work on. I won’t go any further to say that hasn’t happened to me in Toronto.

It’s a sliding scale, and we as contractors adapt. But we also remember the experience, and how easy (or not) it was to “on-board”.

The worst: I showed up, and no one: a) knew I was coming; b) had any idea what I did; and c) were quite put out that I couldn’t pinch-hit as a graphic designer. It took me 3 weeks to get an email address, during which time I was on a client site, and had to use my gmail account. The client there set me up better – own office, log-in, introduced around, etc. … the day I went there. The “solutions provider/systems integrator/agency” (take your pick) fell down on that front.

The best: I think this is a small thing, but HUGE: A little pile of supplies – paper notebook, some stickies, pen, pencil, a highlighter. Awww. That’s really nice. A desk, internet hook-up. email access immediately, links to the shared drive to get what I need to start my learnin’. (A huge bonus…when I bring my own laptop in, and can get online with that – kudos!)

A bonus: when there’s a team that you’re joining, and they turn out to inspire you, challenge you, and push you to do your best. Ahhh, that’s nirvana, in my world.

But, at the end of the day, as Led Zeppelin said (did I just really write that?) babe, i’m gonna leave you. With good memories of great work together, and trying times struggling to meet deadlines, it’s all part of the package.

Okay, quiz time: which example above regularly off-shores all its work?

What’s the best? Probably the place where I showed up, totally sick, but knowing that calling in would not be cool…and my lead (love her) sent me home, for very good reasons. They had a laptop ready, a regular email, shared access, even a name tag at my “desk”. Same goes for my latest contract – and then let me bring my own laptop, hooked me up with shared access, printers, email, etc. Both even gave me a little pile of post-its, pens, and such. That’s way cool.

Other places? Well, I worked one project, in a city far far away, where I was not to be trusted. Reasons?: a) from Toronto; b) non-IBM; c) didn’t have a full-time job OR children. Highly suspect, I was (I suppose speaking like Yoda didn’t help either).

Actually, I have to say that most of the places I’ve contracted, which are largely in the web ghetto of Toronto, have been excellent. I’ve met and worked with the most amazing people, again and again; had the privilege to learn a ton of stuff; and generally had a fantastic time. But I don’t want a full-time gig. I get offered that, quite a bit. Why don’t I want that?

I guess this generation is different, a bit. I started out in publishing (crappy restaurant guides), then advertising, then the web-graphic thing, then projects, then severe enterprise app stuff – up and down, all over the place. My mum couldn’t understand it – why do I keep switching jobs? Now she’s one of my biggest supporters, and can talk me through the people stuff.

Okay, not a generation – just me. If I kept switching jobs anyway, I might as well just contract out. I find if I get too sucked into a company, then I start caring about “position” and the hierarchy, and the “career path”. Which makes my work suffer

Another project it took me 3 weeks (out of a 4 week contract) to get an email address.

You know how companies make us sign contracts? Well, maybe there should be a contractor contract: a) provided with access to shared materials (I signed the NDA, you hired me); b) an email; c) introduction to the team that goes beyond “this is Andrea” – uh, maybe what I’m here for? Might be helpful.

green, greener, and green-ish grass April 4, 2007

Posted by andrea in working life.
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I work from my home office, almost 100% of the time. This has its pros and cons, as many people have found, and have many ways to deal with the cons.

Pros: allows you to be on your “own schedule” some/much of the time. Great when you’ve got family commitments during the day, saves almost 100% on commuting time and costs, allows you to self-manage, provides a space where you can be comfortable and undisturbed (unless you’re me, and your house is 75% under construction, and the dulcet tones of the tile saw and nail-gun air compressor kind of wreck that experience).

Cons – and this is just what I’ve found: the aforementioned house renovation noises, the tendency to drift away because you have “other” distractions (NOT the TV, for me, though), the alone-ness esp. in the winter months, and the lack of team drive, since you’re all in a different space, and everyone has their own distractions.

I attended two days of meetings with my teams (mostly the same people), like I do every month. I really look forward to those days. It’s a chance to catch up, yap, trade jokes, and get some serious collaborative thinking happening. Yes, we have the tendency to digress, but what team doesn’t? There’s a certain energy that’s in the room, and it’s a good way to trade off on ideas in real-time.

At the end of day two (today) one of our project teams decided that we’d like to work face-to-face once a week. The project is on a heavy deadline, and collaboration is vital. A colleague (Bobby, again!) asked me if it would be a good idea for our other project team to do the same thing, as we drive towards launch date. For me, absolutely – but I wasn’t sure if anyone else would be into it. Bobby said he thought those who could get to Toronto easily would definitely be into it, which is most of the main players on the team. So, another day of working together.

It’s a nice balance. There’s no one right way to work, obviously, for everyone. But more and more, especially since my home office environment is not really conducive to hard-thinking work, I know I need to get out of the house. At least part of the time. I don’t want to do either extreme, actually. But recognizing that sometimes we do need actual human interaction, non-mediated by the Internet and our GUIs is important, I believe.

Luckily, here in Toronto, I’m connected with a group, Indoor Playground, that has a space where people can sign-up and pay for office space use. This is where we have our monthly meetings, and I think I’m going to use it more and more. It’s not super-elegant, but it’s a good big warehouse space located right in the web ghetto (and where many of my work colleagues and friends work, so lunches out are a real possibility).

I know a lot of office people dream of working from home (I was one of them) – jealous of the self-management, the time you have if you can to go run errands (driver’s licence renewals, maybe a grocery shop or two when it’s not busy, doing taxes, etc.). The grass is always greener, and I found that out last week when my husband said to me as we were heading downtown to our accountant’s, “wow, you really miss going to an office, don’t you?” I miss being part of the continuous thrum of city working life – it doesn’t seem like drudgery to me anymore, but purposeful.