Open to new software opportunities

Last month, I left the Calgary software firm I was at.  It was a Microsoft Gold partner with an integrated Human Capital Management suite of products.  My role was QA Engineer and I was there for 11 months covering a maternity leave.

Professionally, it was the first QA role I’ve had in a 20 year IT career.  I have to say I quite enjoyed it.  Why?  It was the products, the people and the processes that I really liked.  The product is 30 years old but a .NET/SQL solution.  A client could purchase 1 module or all 10 together and they would fully integrate into one database.  I thought the design was very solid.  There was little redundancies between the products.  Payroll was their main product and the top seller.  Lots of Canadian tax features since it was specifically a Canadian solution.

My role was to QA and perform software support on the products.  If Support had a critical bug, they would come to QA for help.

We used Microsoft Team Foundation Server.  I’m really happy I got some TFS experience since it’s standard for Microsoft type shops.

I worked really hard there in general and starting new 11 months ago I had quite a bit to learn about navigating and understanding the finer points of the products.

I did some SQL Admin work such as backing up and restoring databases since we would receive and send SQL databases to clients.

Some of the bugs reported would be a little hard to replicate.  It often took 1, 2 or even 3 of us to replicate a bug.  It was fun though / challenging to try and replicate some of the bugs.  Sometimes you needed to know exactly the steps the user took to get the problem and therefore replicating could be tricky.

I was really motivated and quite into the company and wanting to do well for them.  I got a bit sick in August and it slowed me down a bit.  I was in pain on and off for a month and it may have affected my productivity but overall in the year I was there I was healthy. I was not sure when I took the position if it would be a fit as I’ve developed all of my IT career but it was great to look at things from a different / functional point of view.

My strengths I think are of a design mindset.  Having worked in different systems from banking to oil & gas and now HCM has helped me.

When I got out of banking I had in mind trying to broaden my systems knowledge and if you would of told me 5 years ago I’d have oil & gas, manufacturing and HCM experience to complement my banking, I would have been ecstatic.

I love systems work still and how software fits together.

Some people at this HCM company were technically amazing.  The company had web and desktop products.  Products used IIS and SQL and some people knew how to solve all the technical problems.  From network protocols not right and dropping connections on clients machine to SQL collation issues to getting IIS settings right for the web products, they could solve it all.  Not sure why but I quite admire some people for their skills even though they have no clue how perceptive I am.

My major strength now I feel is an understanding of different systems and how it all fits together.  At this HCM company for example they had a unique way of doing software licenses.  It worked so well.  I love learning about how organizations build systems.  How they support, license, sell, market – all of it – software.  I find all of it interesting.

I could see myself doing an Account Management role but I do have very strong technical skills.

The people at this HCM company were amazing.  I say that without too much knowledge how they felt about me and my skills as I left a month ago.  It was not a competitive one up’ing other people type culture.  It was a true team, everyone pulling on the same rope.

I would say I liked it as much as my Telvent position but for different reasons.  Both challenged me to learn their systems inside and out.  This HCM work was more collaborative/team work where at Telvent it was more independent.  Me and the technical manager would work out a design and I would code for a week.  I loved working in the oil & gas sector.  I found it exciting and relevant to current climate here in Calgary.  Payroll is different as there are a few players but not sure it’s as big a business as oil & gas systems or even banking.

At the HCM company they had a lunch room with a large TV in it and when the World Cup & Olympics were on, the games would play and sometimes we’d gather around the TV as a group and watch.  I was in heaven – software, sports & teamwork.  Cheering in a Canadian software company when Canada would score – there was nothing more I could ask for.

When sporting events were not on, the TV/monitor would show a presentation about one of the staff members that they would create.  Each week a staff member would have to prepare a presentation about themselves, their interests, the industry or their family.  Fabulous idea, a conversation point and a great way to get to know your fellow co-workers and see pictures of their family.

Looking forward, I am hoping to be able to find something working with one or both of my favorite software things: data and the web.  I was thinking business intelligence possibly but I don’t have BI specific experience.

If anyone knows of anyone looking for a Systems Analyst, my email address is mbbrennan at GMAIL dot COM.

80 year old Leonard Cohen

I have this www.rdio.com subscription.  For $10 / month I can stream music on my computer or smartphone.  Been listening to it quite a bit lately.  I gave away my CD collection about 3 years ago since music will be avail online now.  I really love this RDIO service.  I’ve been listening to all sorts of music lately.  Everything from Midnight Oil to John Legend to Leonard Cohen.  We have walking trails near my office here in Calgary and at lunch I’ve been doing a 30 min walk and turning up the tunes (not sure how artists can make $ when the rate is $10 per months for a vast array of music choices).

Been totally into Leonard Cohen lately.  My sister and I here in Calgary saw him about 1.5 years ago at the Saddledome.  It was incredible.  She got the tickets free from work and surprised me with the concert.  We went about 20 years ago, maybe 1993, in Edmonton.  She did a university french immersion thing in Montreal and ran into him on the street once there.  He was with two women and Nancy did a double take and he smiled to acknowledge her.

His music is maybe an acquired taste.  It’s a mix of spirituality, sexuality, wisdom and religion.  My Mom used to say the man can’t sing but Nancy and I think he walks on water.

Just listened to a bunch of his music but on a noon hour walk this week, “Come Healing” played and I was kind of blown away by this song.  At age 80, I know he has a new album coming out but I worry will we lose this amazingly unique talent soon.

This song .. it feels like it speaks to me – or at least it radiates in my underlying conscience.

“Come Healing”

O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow
The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
he cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The Heart beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above

O let the heavens falter
And let the earth proclaim:

Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud

O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

It’s timeless and beautiful in my opinion.

QA Engineer/ Systems Analyst

For the last seven months I have been working in Human Capital Management software.  So, payroll, time & attendance, HR, recruitment and other related modules that work together but are sold and priced separately.

My role is QA Engineer.  This is the first QA role I’ve had in a 20 year IT career.  I think having bounced around in the last few years to different companies has helped me in some ways as I try to use some of the same tactics to get proficient in a new system.  It seems it varies for different people based on their background and skill set how long it takes to be proficient at a new software job.  For me it’s 4- 6 months before I am at a level where I feel comfortable with my proficiency.

Being in a QA role has been good.  First time in 20 years in a job I’ve not coded a thing.  It’s been good to look at the system from a primarily “does it work OK” point of view.  It’s been a good way to learn the system as different from development, it’s more broad-based thinking and not as deep/technically.  I don’t concern myself with the inner workings of the software and just focus on can the user get what they need from the software and then I move onto the next issue.  We used Visual Studio Team Foundation Server to track software issues.

They have structured software releases so as a team of 3 we test the release and OK it for release to clients.

The company internal processes are I think the best I’ve seen anywhere and the tools used to work with our software are crazy good.  I’m kind of amazed at some of what I’ve seen as far as tools and processes that support our software.  It’s a very efficient operation.  It’s a 30 person company.

It’s been good being able to stay in Calgary as my sister and her two kids are here and this job is close to my new condo in the Southwest.  I am close to Glenmore Landing.  Stephen Harper is my Federal MP here.  It seems like an affluent jurisdiction but my particular neighborhood is not in that category.  Someone was murdered across the street in the pub about 2 years ago so I would not say it’s a top class neighborhood but I love being the Southwest.  For the first 7 years I lived in Calgary I was in the northwest (the city is divided and referred to but the 4 quadrants) but I’m crazy about the SW and my area.

My oil & gas software experience 2012-13

Been thinking about the previous position I had in software.  Senior Systems Analyst for a company that develops software for the oil & gas industry.  One of the hottest products the company had was what was their SCADA software.  SCADA stands for supervisory control & data acquisition.  Basically it’s the low level software that interfaces with the pipeline. This product the company had was a common component for different software products the company had – both for oil software and natural gas products.  I did not work on the SCADA part however but after leaving this company I found out the SCADA stuff is quite in demand here in Calgary.

I really liked this position.  The guy who hired me was a project manager and I did not have oil & gas experience at all so was ecstatic when I got the position.   I found the position through LinkedIn.

The product I worked on was used for natural gas software.  Many SQL stored procedures were used to accept data into the system to be validated and saved into SQL.  The main stored procedure ran as a service that selected tasks to run from a SQL table.  The tasks were defined with a priority which would determine the order they’d run in. These other procedures would run in sequence and validate the record for example and save it to the database.  For the meter you could set the high and low range for volume and pressure and if the incoming reading exceeded or was below the range, the record would be flagged and showed to the user in the UI.

The system was basically organized into gas meters.  A company could have thousands of gas meters.  The main form in the system would show the days in the months and then click on the day to see the readings for the day.  Attributes of meter were stored such as type of meter, dimensions of the meter and other attributes.

The user interface was C# and the code was a bit complex.  I learned a bit about time zones as the meter could be in one timezone and the host was in a different timezone so when the record was read, we’d convert it to GMT time with the offset for that timezone.

One of the interesting projects I worked on was for house gas meters where a hand wave reader used by a meter reader technician would read the meter and the data would be saved to the reader and later downloaded into the main software.  The was the automatic meter reading project or AMR.

Another project was spreading data where for example you would get a reading at 1 PM and next reading and 4 PM and system would average out the volume received in the reading over the 3 hour period and insert 2 additional records automatically (the 2 PM and 3 PM records).  Some interesting SQL code was used for that.

Overall, I learnt a ton at this position.  It was mostly all guys but the lead for the project was great to me.  We’d hash out the solution over a conversation in the hallway and we all had offices with whiteboards.  They were used a lot.

Feminism and IT, 20 years on in IT

I did not grow up a feminist and I don’t recall having those values instilled in me growing up.  Actually, up until age 20 I don’t recall making gender an issue at all.  It was just something I was not interested in.  I recall my sister taking women’s studies classes in university and that sounded interesting but I was more of a math mind than a women’s studies person back then.  I’ve also recall never feeling comfortable weighing in on the abortion debate.  I’ve never been pregnant so leave it to those who feel strongly about the issue.

In college, I was in a group of friends both men and women and I recall feeling it was great.  My friends in the class were open minded and we’d discuss all sorts of issues,  Gender in college wasn’t an issue for me.

Second job out of college I recall starting to notice it a bit because at work often the men hang out together and the women hang out together and often the women are quite out numbered by men.  I recall back 20 years ago thinking Hillary Clinton was quite cool because she was able to hold her own against a lot of tough men.  When Kim Campbell became 1st female Prime Minister of Canada, again, I thought that was cool because these women were trailblazers for other women who had ambition.

After a few years, though, and some comments from the men, I started to think that assess a person’s abilities irrespective of gender and I went with that for a number of years.

I traveled to Japan a few times for work and some people (mostly women) would comment to the affect that it must of been difficult because at work it’s primarily male dominated there.  I would brush it off and say I would just focus on the work and not pay attention to it.  The men would go to the clubs at night where there would be young women there to “wait” on them and again I would just mind my own business and take the good from the experience.  I recall once the guys arranged to go to a car show in Toyko and I heard second hand I thought it sounded like fun but was told it’s a men only thing because their are women there that are there to sell the cars and appeal to mens “drives”.

Maybe our Canadian culture has change or more likely it’s just me but at age 40 now, being a women in the Information Technology business is not easy at all.  It’s male dominated and often the people are very smart and there is one right way to do things and if you are wrong, politeness is not a word I would use to describe some of the men in the IT business.

Having said that, most of my mentors in business have been men. People that care about developing and seeing other do well in the organization.  There have been some amazing men I’ve met in 20 years in IT.

People have commented to me that I tend to think like a man.  I am not very emotional and don’t seek out men a lot for validation and relationships.  I am quite happy on my own and love having male friends.

Ideal for me is working with both men and women but hope the men can understand we women are different than men.  We are more compassionate and care about others a lot.  We are not as competitive and we don’t derive as much of our worth from our work in the office.  For most women (not me because I have no kids) their #1 responsibility in life is raising their kids and being there for them.  It seems to me what happens in the office is a distant second or third importance for women.

On Twitter and in the news recently there has been more talk of gender diversity.  I try and mind my own business and not get into the he said she said but the number of stories where women feel marginalized by the opposite sex is growing.  What can we do?  You have to hire the best person for the job.  But what if you have a team of 10 men.  For myself, I don’t think I would be too interested in joining that team.  Not really sure what the answer is.  Get more women interested in IT in their high school years, I guess.  Speaking for myself only and being a 22 year IT veteran I advise my niece and nephew away from IT as a career.  I would not – like others do – openly recommend it as a career.  Outsourcing is one of the big reasons why.  Salaries are not going up from what I’ve seen in Western Canada and it’s demanding.

New Coldplay

New Coldplay called “Ghost Stories” is very good.  Not great but v good.  This song I love.

Chris Martin, Coldplay’s lead singer, wrote the song about recent split with ex wife, Gwyneth Paltrow.  I hard Martin say what the song is about is he felt he was not good enough or at the level Paltrow was as far as being committed to the relationship.  I like when he sings, “One minute they arrive, next you know they’re gone”.  Sound like Chris Martin really loved Paltrow a lot.

Flock of Birds / O

A flock of birds 
Hovering above
Just a flock of birds
That’s how you think of love

And I always
Look up to the sky
Pray before the dawn
‘Cause they fly always
Sometimes they arrive
Sometimes they are gone
They fly on

A flock of birds
Hovering above
Into smoke I’m turned 
And rise following them up

Still I always
Look up to the sky
Pray before the dawn
‘Cause they fly away
One minute they arrive, 
Next you know they’re gone
They fly on
Fly on

So fly on
Ride through
Maybe one day I’ll fly next to you

They fly on
Ride through
Maybe one day I come fly with you
Fly on
Fly on
Fly on

Twitter

I’ve been on Twitter for about 6 years now and was surprised to learn that when they recently released their results,  they stated that they lost $132 M for the QUARTER.  It’s 140 characters and has 250 million uses (not sure how many of the 250 million are active users) but 6 years later, I expect the company would have figured out a way to turn a profit.  I would guess the most complex part of their business technically is system performance and having 250 million users and updating twitter.com with the tweets.  The site is a lot more stable than it was, say, a couple years ago when it would go down quite a bit.

If I am investing in the company, which I am not, I would be asking where is the $ going and what is the plan to start to make it profitable.  I understand start-ups often don’t make $ for the first couple years but 5 years on, I think it’s time to start asking some questions.  Even break even.  They have to start to find a way to make it a real business – one that earns money.

Myself, I started using it to follow one of my top interests, NHL hockey.  I followed reporters from the different markets around the league.  It’s good for that.  As a user, I find the coolest part is being able to interact with people that I would otherwise not have access to.  People like Steve Nash and other athletes I know tons about but never met.  David Matthews Band bassist, Stefan Lessard, was following me for a bit and it made me even more interested in the band.  He would tweet after concerts and do Q&A’s where I’d learn more about him and the band.

It seems to me, though, you – Twitter, the business – needs to find a way to make it profitable.  Maybe start offering other services, not sure.  I read 80% of Twitter users are mobile so definitely the strategy has to focus on mobile and tying into services on mobile.  As an person who likes to invest in good companies, I would not go near Twitter as an investment.

 

Managing Technology, at least in Canada

I’ve now worked for 10 companies in a 20 year IT career.  There is a difference between working in a software company where their main revenue is their IT services and a company where IT is part of the organization – mostly a support department to the main business.

Here’s what I’ve noticed.  Managing technology is hard and I’ve not seen it done that well, IMO.  My view is you need to have a bit of an understanding of what’s involved in doing the work.  Having managers that don’t understand the technology has not been for me or my favored type of set-up (but it’s common).

Companies such as Microsoft have a large pool of software pros that can manage or program manage as they seem to like to do.  Thee people have intricate knowledge of software but where I am in Calgary often there are managers who don’t understand the technology and that’s just the way it is.  Often times finding professionals that have the software knowledge is hard enough let alone have an aptitude to manage people. For me personally, I really prefer working under someone who has an understanding of technology.  Maybe it’s a limitation on my part, not sure.

In the 10 companies I’ve worked for about half were software companies and the others were organization were software was one department in the organization where the org gleaned their revenue not from the software.  The software department was a “support department” in the overall organization.  It’s different can of worms working in the different types.  If you really want to improve your software skills, the best way is in an organization that sells software as their main business.  There, I find. you get more dedicated software pros.  Other organizations that have software as a support role, at least in Calgary, may pay more and offer better benefits so the choice is an individual one.  For me, working with other highly motivated software pros that care about what they are doing – there is nothing better,

Mom

My Mom passed away July 2010 and three years later, I still really miss her.  I think about her a lot, about her illness and what she was going through at the time but also the great times we had together.

She lived in Vancouver for 10 years having moved out from Edm in 1996 after my father passed away.  In her last year, she lived in Edm near my oldest sister and was getting treated for her illness.  The last year of her life even was incredibly special for all of her children.

My Mom was a nurse, trained as a nurse, so knew a lot about medical stuff and my oldest sister also knows a lot about medical info.

My Mom was really intelligent and well read.  She liked to stay abreast of the news and national news, politics, sports, etc.  She was 74 when she passed away but as her kids grew up, she was like a sister to me and my two sisters.  We would travel together and celebrate special occasions together.

Her passing made me realize the fragility of life.  Nothing last for ever; everything is temporary including our time here on earth.  Things can be going along great and an illness can strike very fast and take you out.  I guess a lot of people feel they did not do enough or where not there enough for their loved ones and I definately feel that.

I miss taking to her; she was a big Vancouver Canucks fan and loved watching them play  Even when she moved to Edm, we got the NHL Center Ice package so she could watch their games.

I miss just taking about current affairs with her and her kind ways.  She was a really kind person, quiet but smart.

Some of her favorite things were:

- great books

- a glass of wine

- watching Canucks hockey

- Monteray, California (she loved it when she would travel there)

- Nice things such as nice and simple pieces of furniture such as stuff from Bombay Company

- long walks

- eating out for lunch and having a good chat over lunch

- coffee

- she liked art but simple pieces

- salmon.  She really loved a great salmon meal

- her kids.  She loved to see her kids and grand kids.

- she works as a libririan for a time and loved books

- cleanliness.  Her place and things were spotless, totally clean.

I was not easy having 4 kids in 5 years and she did everything she could for us.  My Dad traveled quite a bit in his working years so she would have to look after us.  She was a great cook and would make all my father’s favorite food.

She was a really incredibly special person to me and I miss her terribly.

Available for a software position

I was watching Internet Development star Paul Irish talk about how to improve ones software skills and he said blog about the stuff you know.  Get your voice out there and try and be heard plus get feedback on the stuff you are building.

I feel I know that and it’s a great strategy so I am going to try and update the blog more often.

I left Schneider Electric in August of 2013.  It was a lay off and a bunch of people were affected.  I was working in R&D adding some features we’d developed on the project I was on into the product and they wanted to cut costs.  I signed some sort of legal document saying I would not talk about it so that’s all I say.

For the last couple months I’ve been looking around Calgary for a new position.  I feel my skills are somewhat of a “mixed bag” – I like coding but I also enjoy requirements gathering and writing.  I am a good technical writer as well.  The position I just left was using C# and SQL and I did a lot of SQL stored procedures work.  It was WinForms.  A lot of the positions out there want someone specialized in specific technologies, tools and software packages.  Here in Calgary it’s heavy on the oil & gas focus.

I am using PluralSight – an online traning company for software developers – and for the first bit was focused on learning ASP.NET MVC.  I feel now I have a pretty good handle on that.  I’m not sure but can a person say they know a technology when they’ve done training with it and not been paid to create stuff with it?  That’s my challenge now. I want to add web development skills to my resume but I am self taught and the companies I’ve worked at have not done web.

In addition to ASP.NET MVC, I have been really reviewing C# and getting better at that.  It’s my strongest language and I really love using it.

Not sure if anyone reads my blog but if you know of a software position based in Calgary, I’d love to hear about it.  My email is mbbrennan at gmail dot com.