Speaking at Ignite ATL

04/13/2010

I‘ll be speaking at IgniteATL next Monday (April 19th), which will be my first official day of self-employment after almost exactly three years of working for Accenture.

What the heck is Ignite?

Ignite was inspired by Pecha Kucha Nights, where speakers are given 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds, giving each speaker 6 minutes and 40 seconds of fame.

The first Ignite took place in Seattle in 2006, and since then the event has become an international phenomenon, with gatherings in Helsinki, Finland; Paris, France; New York, New York; and many other locations.

Topic of discussion

I’ll be speaking about a new way of thinking for humans in the working world. My desired topic originally leaned on one of my offerings, but as I was working myself into a frothy lather on the phone with Peter Baljet (the organizer of speakers for Ignite ATL), I moved more in the direction of something that could reach a wider group of people.

This was easy for me to do because my services have little to do with technology (as it relates to assisting the client) and more about solving a problem. Let me explain.

The problem is systemic and cultural

We’re conditioned by society to be extremely modest. Upcoming graduates play down their skills and strengths on their resumes. Working professionals discount their own experience with different methodologies, software applications, and the like.

In some cases this stems from a lack of confidence but in others, it’s needless modesty. My gripe with this pointless social conditioning is that many people lack the ability to speak about themselves competently and confidently.

This is a travesty.

If I’m interviewing you for a position in my company or if I ask you to elaborate on some of your skills, you better start marketing your pants off. If I ask you about your experience with PHP and you know enough to get through just about any problem that a web application can throw at you, spare me the unnecessary modesty!

Tell me that you haven’t encountered a problem you couldn’t solve. Tell me you’re a fast learner and read about the language in your spare time.

But for the love of all things decent, please don’t crawl into a shell of self-imposed meekness and squeak out an answer to the effect of “not much” if that doesn’t accurately characterize your competence.

Let’s move on; I’m getting fired up >:o)

Putting all your eggs in one basket

When I was fully committed to my career as a technology consultant, I had one source of income. It paid all my bills and afforded me the ability to enjoy regular weekend recreation. Life was good. What more do you need?

Well for starters, everything.

The economy is in the toilet. Hearing that a colleague has been laid off these days doesn’t surprise me any more than hearing that regular exercise and a sensible diet leads to better health.

Now that I’m transitioning to self-employment, I have about half a dozen solid income streams. If one of them dries up or isn’t worth the effort, I can lean on the others or simply drop one. If a company decides that your services (or the services or your entire department) are no longer needed, you’re gone. Done.

Tell me something: what sense does it make to pull all your eggs in one basket? Remind me why having a side hustle isn’t one of the most important things you can have, please.

That’s right. It doesn’t. And it is.

Résumés suck

I’ve written about this before. I hate resumes. I actually don’t have one. Don’t see the point. I see them as a remarkably inefficient way of communicating your strengths.

My gripe is that résumés and CVs teach you nothing about building a meaningful personal brand. Articulating your unique value proposition as an individual. Communicating why you—and only you—should be hired for a particular role or project or job.

This is one of the reasons I build personal websites (like this and this and this) for my clients. It has little to do with the technology, and everything to do with the marketing—the spreading of an idea.

But for an idea to spread, the idea must be defined.

So I work with professionals, artists, and entrepreneurs on crafting their message. Telling their story. Walking them through the process of listing their strengths and pitching them in the context of the needs of an organization or prospective client.

This is where the magic is, because this teaches a person how to talk through the x-factor in what they’re bringing to the table. Writing and talking about yourself is hard, I know.

But so what? That’s no excuse. I’ve been a walking, talking, self-marketing machine for years and the skills I’ve been developing in these areas have paid dividends.

Tying it all together

In short, everything we’re doing is wrong.

Many (not all) universities are teaching a dated curriculum on watered-down material from instructors who have never spent a second in corporate america or running their own business to students who have no idea what they want to do.

And that was fine…ten years go.

But things have changed. It’s time to start making some changes. It’s time to think differently about what it means to have a career in modern times. It’s time to re-evaluate what risk really means. Not enough people are leading this discussion on relevant, practical education, entrepreneurship, and how to adapt.

So I will. See you Monday.