What NOT to put on a resume

I see a lot of resumes. Every 4 months, we hire from the University of Waterloo co-op program, which means I generally review about 500 resumes per year.

I’ve written before about how to stand out, and what to put on your resume (see this post). I’m really glad to see some resumes that are well designed, reference a personal website or portfolio, or have cover letters tailored towards the company and position.

However, I think it’s time for a post on what you shouldn’t put on a resume, based on themes I saw from recent resumes.

Useless Skills

For a programming position, don’t put on your resume that you know how to use a web browser. I’ve seen resumes that say “Experienced with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.” You also don’t have to put that you know Microsoft Office. Even if you’re in first year and don’t have a lot to write on your resume, this just devalues your resume. You’re applying for a programming position. Talk about how you know various languages or more about your specialties in each language.

Keep It Professional

I can’t believe I have to write this, but putting a link on your portfolio that points to a site that is full of profanities is terribly unprofessional. I have a pretty quirky sense of humour, but one portfolio I saw simply crossed the line. And imagine the folks that don’t have the sense of humour I do—what are they thinking of your site?

Always be professional, and remember that not everyone gets your humour. If you built a website but it is full of questionable content, just omit it from your portfolio.

Finally, remember that anything you publish on the web will be there forever, in some form or another.

Hobbies and Interests

I love seeing a quick note about hobbies and interests on a resume, because they give you a personality. Perhaps you’ll connect with the individual reviewing your resume, and be able to chat about a similar hobby during an interview.

That said, hobbies like “TV watching”, “watching movies with friends” and “playing video games” are not hobbies. They don’t highlight you as a candidate that is interesting. Hobbies such as “playing the flute”, “painting”, “writing a novel”, “making video games in C++”, “designing vintage posters in Photoshop”, “cooking Italian food”, “playing tennis”, etc. are hobbies you should highlight.

GitHub

A GitHub account is not a replacement for a personal portfolio. You don’t have much time to capture the attention of the person reviewing your application. A personal portfolio that shows screenshots of projects you worked on, a description, and a downloadable demo or video demonstration is way more valuable than landing on a page with a bunch of code. All of these things quickly show the scope of the project you worked on (was it a real project or just a quick demo?) and also highlight your personal style and capabilities.

A reviewer won’t dig through your code to try to understand the scope of your projects from your GitHub account.

That said, after you’ve captured the attention of the reader, and they understand your skills or background, showing off your best code can be helpful. Link to your GitHub account from your website, and not as the main entry point from your resume.

Conclusions

You literally only have a few seconds to make an impression once a reviewer opens your resume for the first time. Get right to highlighting your skills, your personality and your interests…and skip the generic stuff.

Talking To Future Entrepreneurs

On July 16, 2014, I was the invited speaker for the BET 300 course (Foundations of Venture Creation) at the University of Waterloo. The instructor, Wayne Chang wanted me to share my experiences as an entrepreneur and to be completely open to the students about what it was like to have a startup.

When I began to prepare for my lecture, I didn’t think I had a lot of interesting things to say to a group of aspiring entrepreneurs. When Tony Jedlovsky, Steve Brenneman and I started Jedor over 16 years ago, the world was a lot different. Google didn’t exist, Apple was on the verge of bankruptcy, and “social media” meant newspaper and magazine execs going out for drinks! No Facebook. No Twitter. No Pinterest. Though I did get my first mobile phone in 1998, a Clearnet handset! But I still didn’t own a digital camera until 2003.

So…1998 seemed like a long time ago – ancient really, in the technological world. What could I possibly reflect on that this class of potential entrepreneurs could use in their journey?

Well, I thought about it deeply and discussed with the class a few points that I believe are still important today. Things we did right, and things we did wrong.

1) The Internet won’t sell your product

We figured that if we made a product that was superior, people would flock to buy it. We now had “The Internet”, and didn’t this mean the saying “Build a better mouse trap, and the world will beat a path to your door” is true again?

No, it wasn’t true, and it’s definitely not true today.

We had a great product, but the sales didn’t roll in as expected. Looking back, our marketing plan was pretty lousy – we didn’t have a big budget, so we concentrated on a grassroots approach (online reviews, posts to forums, press releases, and word of mouth).

Today, with all the places to sell things online (App Stores for software, stock music/photo/graphic sites, artisan sites like Esty, and even Kickstarter), you’d think it’d be even easier to find customers. But there’s also a lot more competition, and chances of someone “just finding you” is low. True, some folks have gotten lucky in the past, but people also get lucky winning lotteries.

You still need to market your product.

2) We had our priorities wrong

We spent 16 months coding a product, and 4 months selling and marketing it. Shouldn’t this have been the other way around? We should have spent 4-6 months creating the product, and worked very hard to try to get the software in the hands of users. Make a minimum viable product (or a minimum lovable product, which is way better), get it out there, and gather feedback. Then start adding features based on what users asked for.

Keeping our heads down for 16 months was also a poor decision for other reasons. We missed big industry changes that happened in the year. We were aware of them, but it didn’t really click until we had our heads out of the code and starting to think about marketing. In 1997 when we conceived of Viscosity, animated GIFs were becoming the rage on the Internet and Viscosity would be amazing at creating them. When we shipped in 1999, it was apparent that Flash would eventually dominate for web animations. Animated GIFs were a dying fad. (…Until in 2013 when they came back into fashion again. Where’s my copy of Viscosity anyway?)

3) But, we worked hard…and shipped.

Sonic Foundry bought Jedor in 2000 not because we had millions of users or a product that they could make a lot of money on. They bought us for the team. We demonstrated that we could take a product from ideation to completion. There’s a lot of value in shipping a product, and more than ever, companies today value individuals or teams that can ship. I think a lot of tech buyouts are still based on acquiring talent. Shipping is king. (Read 99u for inspiration.)

4) Starting a business is easy, but being an entrepreneur is hard.

The three of us start a business. Easy. The three of us crank on a product for over a year – a lot of work, but for all intensive purposes, “easy”.

But all the rest of what it takes to have a successful business – this is where it gets hard, at least for 3 coders. We really had to stretch out of our comfort zones and do everything a software business needs to do to function. Beyond code, this involved administration, IT, operations, hiring, networking, graphic design, QA, customer support, marketing and sales.

I like to create things – software products, websites, UI designs, and music. Although I ended up stretching out and even enjoying some of those roles, oftentimes it was just a distraction from my end goal: making and shipping products.

It’s so easy to think you’ll release an app on the App Store, and maybe put up a website to showcase it. That’s a side project, and one to be proud of. But running your own business requires you to wear a whole lot more hats. If you are product focused like I am, this may not be your idea of fun. For others, let’s say “true” entrepreneurs, creating a business is their passion, and enjoy having their hands in a bit of everything.

The take home: reflect on what you want to do with your life. If it’s creating products, create products. If it’s creating a business, become an entrepreneur.

Summary

The experience of having a startup was one that truly shaped me. It was fun, rewarding, and educational. It was a lot of work, I was broke, and it was scary too. But the lessons I learned have certainly impacted the way I think about and develop products, even today. And expanding into uncharted territory – like writing marketing copy, learning graphics design, working with customers, and managing employees prepared me for activities that are now a regular part of my job as a UX manager at Sony.

I’d like to thank my co-founders Tony Jedlovsky and Steve Brenneman for their incredible work at Jedor from 1998-2000 (and onwards!), and also highlight two of my UW colleagues that are still running their own small businesses today in amazing ways – Gene Goykhman (of TimeTiger) and Mike Blackburn (of Camplete and Miltera)

University of Waterloo Engineering Team Alumni Award

Last night I attended the University of Waterloo Engineering Awards dinner, and was awarded (along with my colleagues Tony Jedlovsky and Steve Brenneman) the Team Alumni Achievement Award.

It is a real honor to be the recipient of this award, and the three of us are humbled that they would choose us. The ride has certainly been interesting – from starting our own business together as Jedor in 1998, being acquired by Sonic Foundry in 2000, and then later by Sony in 2003.

We could have never imagined in 1998 that one day we’d be part of the Sony family. Sony has provided us the opportunity and resources to grow our office in Waterloo, and we are extremely grateful for the support from all of our colleagues at Sony that could make this happen.

And although the award was presented to us, the success of our office has always been due to the amazing people we have found to work with us. Many come from the University of Waterloo as co-op students or recent graduates, and we can definitely attribute our awesome work environment to our employees.

Without Sony, the University of Waterloo, and our colleagues who now work at the Waterloo office, we definitely wouldn’t be where we are today. Many thanks to you all!

See the official news release from UW here:
http://www.uwaterloo.ca/engineering/news/engineering-awards-dinner-celebrates-students-staff-faculty

My New Website

Well, it’s finally here — a brand new design of my website!

It’s interesting to look back and think how much has changed since I designed the last version of my website in 2003. Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist, there were no iPhones or iPads, Google was pretty much just a search engine, and decent computer monitors took up at least 2′x2′ of desk space.

And the web has changed a lot too. In 2003, I nearly put on my website “Designed for Internet Explorer 6.” Remember when sites did that?

This time around, IE was the last browser I tested on. In fact, it was the only time I used a Windows machine during the design and development of the site since I’ve been Mac-only for a few years now. I don’t even own a PC — another change from 2003 when my personal and professional projects revolved solely around Windows, and I followed what Microsoft did with bated breath.

Interestingly enough, from an engineering point of view the old site did hang on well considering it was made with the best layout technology of its time: tables and slices of many tiny images. Browsers have maintained pretty decent backwards compatibility in this regard, and the site rendered well on modern desktop browsers, tablets and phones.

But from a design perspective it was pretty old looking. It was time not only for a new coat of paint, but a completely new design that would be simple, modern and elegant. By focusing on the content itself, I could remove a lot of chrome and reduce visual clutter. Typography plays a strong role on the site, and graphical effects and embellishments are minimized to keep the design simple.

And by using modern web development techniques, the site can be much more easily changed in the future. If 10 years ago we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, iPhones and iPads, I can’t even imagine what will be here in 2023.

Let’s see if this design lasts that long!

Still to come: better support for phones and other devices with small screens.

No more Lorem Ipsum…No more Lorem Ipsum!

Lorem Ipsum Dialog Example

Lorem Ipsum Dialog Example

I’ll get right to the point. Designers, please stop using Lorem Ipsum placeholder text in your designs!

Sure, I understand why you’d use Lorem Ipsum placeholder text. I’ve been tempted myself: you want to fill in your design and make it look ‘real’. And now the temptation is stronger. Photoshop CS6 has a Lorem Ipsum text generation feature built right in.

However, any sort of placeholder text that’s essentially gibberish shows that you haven’t actually thought through the design fully.

How will you really know how much space text will take if you haven’t come up with real, plausible text? How will you be able to evaluate the balance, layout, spacing, and flow of your design if you don’t know how much text will be displayed in real life user scenarios? What about usability? How will you determine if your design is cluttered, or completely void of information, if you haven’t filled it in real textual data?

You see, the problem with placeholder text is that the designer will always pick just the right amount of text to make the design look good. But when the real text comes in, the design can easily fall apart.

A Designer Has To Be A Writer

I once had a designer work for me that used Lorem Ipsum placeholder text. I understood it was an early design, but I posed the question: “What kind of text goes here? What message is it trying to convey?” The answer I was given: “I am not a copywriter, I am a designer.”

If you think of yourself as a designer, you have to be a writer. At least to get the wording about 90% right, so you can effectively convey your design. An editor can polish off the rough edges, but you are in charge of creation.

Say “no” to Loren Ipsum text placeholder text!

How to get an interview with a software company

Actually, the title of this post should really be “How a first year University of Waterloo Co-op student can get an interview with a software company without any previous work experience”…but that was a tad long winded! However that’s the gist of this post, and (student or not) if you are looking for a job, read on.

Some background first. On Monday, March 19th, 2012, I attended the University of Waterloo’s Co-op Strategic Review Session. This event was set up so that employers, students, and the University of Waterloo’s Co-op Department could all get in the same room to discuss issues and suggest ways of improving the co-op system.

One of the recurring themes that came up was first year students, and their struggles with finding jobs without any work experience.

Since I’ve looked at literally thousands of resumes, interviewed hundreds of candidates, and hired dozens and dozens of co-op students from UW, I thought I could share some tips from the employer’s side. We’ve been hiring software engineers for about 12 years in Waterloo, and are always looking for top talent to join our team. But sometimes that talent is hard to find because students don’t market themselves well.

I’ve assembled a few tips to help students make the most out of the application process for co-op jobs. However, these tips can be used even for full-timers looking for a new career. Read on.

Tip #1 – You have to stand out

The co-op advisors tell you this, your professors tell you this, your parents tell you this…but it’s true. You have to stand out.

Literally your resume is given 15 seconds to make an impression, and if no impression is made, it’s on to the next candidate. [April 11, 2012 Update: Research has shown that recruiters only spend 6 seconds on a resume for an impression to be made.]

Although this sounds so impersonal, think of what the employer looking to hire a few co-op students has to do: go through several hundred resumes, searching for maybe a dozen candidates to interview. This takes a lot of time, so you have to be efficient.

I’ll leave it up to “Tip #3″ to give you a sure fire way of getting noticed. But let me talk about ways of not getting noticed first. You won’t get noticed if your resume looks like everyone else’s. Remember that all of your peers have taken the same courses, have done the same projects, and probably have just as little work experience as you. So quoting that you “wrote a Tetris game for course X” is not that helpful because everyone in your class did the same project. And employers notice this because they are looking at many resumes from students in your class.

Suggesting you are comfortable in C++ because you took a course is also not helpful, because if you are not practicing this skill outside of the classroom (and cannot demonstrate it on your resume), you are on par with everyone else in your class.

So unless your marks put you at the top of your class, you have killer scholarships, or have worked somewhere in the industry in high school, you have to get creative.

A few ways of getting creative (without getting to “Tip #2″ or “Tip 3″):

  • Write a cover letter. Tailor it specifically for the company you are applying to, and discuss how you could see yourself fit into the team based on your background and strengths. Comment on the products the company makes or the services the company provides.
  • Have a well designed resume. Most resumes are quite plain, especially from engineers. Find a design student to help you out if you aren’t design savy.
  • Write a different resume for different companies. A broad resume where you know every single programming language gives the impression you don’t know any of them well. If the job asks only for C++, specifically showcase your C++ skills.

Tip #2 – Make software or websites on your own

As I mentioned, everyone in your class is taking programming courses and doing the same programming projects.

But if you’re coding at home for fun, and have made real projects, showcase them on your resume! These personal projects often mean more to many employers than course work, course projects or even marks because it shows you love making software. Producing games, apps or websites on your own time means you have a love for coding, and if the project is a real shipping app or website, even better. It shows you can complete something – and finishing software takes a lot of work.

Tip #3 – Make a personal website

If all your resume said was:

My Name | Programmer | www.myname.com

…you’d probably get some funny looks but you would likely get a click-through. This example is a bit drastic, but my point is the following: making a website is a sure fire way of standing out.

If I see a resume and the candidate has a personalized website, I’m bound to check it out. Granted, if the website has nothing on it or is designed poorly, there’s obviously no value. But here’s where you can showcase yourself. As a coder, show off some of your projects. Especially personal projects – ones you’ve designed or coded on your own time (mentioned in Tip #2).

There are also some hidden benefits of making a website.

  • Statistics. You can monitor how many people have viewed your website, their IP, and what pages they focused on. You could even make a special link for each employer.
  • Your resume can be a living document. Employers always get the most recent “you”, especially if you are making progress on your software on a daily basis or have learned a new skill. The time between submitting your resume and an employer looking at your resume is valuable time, so use it.
  • You now have a face, a personality. Your website design and writing style show more of “who you are”, and demonstrate those ever-difficult-to-showcase “soft skills”.

Tip: spend the $10/year and buy a personalized domain, like www.myname.com. This adds a level of professionalism that employers appreciate, and your website address is then easier to remember. Oh, and don’t even think about putting ads on the page to help offset any costs.

Conclusions

Before I wrap up, if you are not a software engineer, you can still use these tips. If you are in design, planning or architecture, invest some time in personal projects, and showcase them on your website. If you are in accounting, make a website with a blog on tips for students and how to manage their budget or do taxes. If you are in a field such as physiotherapy, make a website with photos of you doing volunteer work, and your philosophy about healing and nutrition.

These are just some examples, but hopefully you get the idea.

So now you’re equipped with some sure fire ways of getting noticed. What I’ve outlined here is easy! Mind you, it is a lot of work, but think of it as an investment. The more you put in now, the better you’ll be for not only your first co-op term, but the rest of your career.

Looking Back: My Retro Computer Music

- Are you a fan of retro computer-based music?
- Are you a collector of MODs, S3Ms, ROLs or MIDI files?
- Do you like video game and demo music from the DOS era?

If so, then head on over to my new retro music page. You can download some of my compositions from the early 1990′s, including MODs and S3Ms, ROL files from the Teamtris video game, and MIDI files such as the Windows 95 Easter Egg theme song (Clouds.mid) and the music from Microsoft game Immortal Klowns (found on the first DirectX SDK).

All are free, and MP3 versions are available as well.

Feel free to leave comments below if you like what you hear or have an interesting retro music story.

Teamtris: A 4-player DOS Tetris Game

Teamtris is one of the best and most fun multi-player Tetris games that you’ve probably never heard of.

This year (2011) marks the 20th anniversary of when Teamtris was finished. Twenty years later, it has finally been made free for all you retro gamers and Tetris addicts!

Yes, it’s a DOS game, but you can enjoy it on all modern operating systems (Windows, Mac, and Linux) with DOSBox.

The game was coded by Tony Jedlovsky and myself, and you can read all about how the game was developed here. I also composed the music for the game: 28 pieces of original music written for the Adlib sound card. If you like retro game music, you can download the whole soundtrack for free on the Teamtris music page.

Don’t forget to visit the Teamtris website here:
www.teamtris.net

Feel free to leave comments about Teamtris below. Happy Tetris’ing!

Like Rockabilly?

If you like rockabilly (or you are just a music fan in general), then you must check out Buster Fayte’s new blog at www.rockabillyromp.com.

Although the blog just got started, he’s already written plenty of interesting content about the music and musicians of rockabilly.

Enjoy!