Musings of an Info-Geek
Musings of an Info-Geek

Why I'm Not a LION

I've been attending a lot of events lately, talking to a lot of new people, getting to know acquaintances better, and generally doing a lot of networking.  One thing I haven't been doing is "open networking" on LinkedIn.

My core networking philosophy is it should be meaningful, and not transactional.  LinkedIn Open Networking isn't based on cultivating a relationship; it's a numbers game.  I'm not an extrovert (although I can pass as one through a lot of practice).  I know it's impossible to make those meaningful connections with people if I don't spend time with them. I limit my LinkedIn connections to people I've at least started to build a connection with, even if it was one really great conversation. When I joined LinkedIn, I made concious decisions about how and why I would connect with people, and when I'd make exceptions. I even included a statement about on my LinkedIn profile page.
That's not a judgement of people who are LinkedIn Open Networkers. There are some roles that are particularly well suited to being a LION; anyone in sales, business development, or talent acquisition needs to build a pipeline of potentials (just to name three). But I'm none of those roles.  And I really like knowing who's in my immediate network and exactly why we're connected in the first place. 

I really like the idea of building community, but that means making the effort to get to know a person. That includes virtual communities as well as face to face ones. For me, that means focusing on getting to know people. 

So if you want to connect on LinkedIn, don't take it personally if I don't accept the invite.  Because it isn't personal (yet).

Speaking in Code: G11n, L10n, A11y, Oh My

If you're not actively using social media to stay current, "g11n," "l10n," and "a11y" may seem like inscrutable code.  In fact they're all simply numeronyms for globalization, localization, and accessibility.  All three are much faster to type (once you get familiar with them), and easier to spot if they're of particular interest to you.

Tag Cloud with numeronymsWith microtweeting and texting so common, being able to quickly and concisely share information is vital.  And frankly it's a lot easier to find information on a topic with a numeronymic tag of four simple characters. 

Most of us are familiar with Y2K, although that wasn't the first numeronym around; the numeronym K9 has been around since at least WWII. And while there could be an intriguing discussion on Xmas as an early numeronym, that's a topic for another time (and place).

These are more than simply tacking some numbers at the end of an abbreviation, they become a whole new term.  Numeronyms have evolved; they're more than substitution; tr8n is for translation, not train.  In an earlier post I mentioned how the freedom of being able to create your own hashtags on Twitter is also a curse; numeronyms gain traction because of their inherent elegance.  It's not like "ICC" which could stand for several different things that don't relate at all. 

Search on a11y and you're going to a lot more results related to accessibility than you will for girls with the name Allison on their birth certificate trying to be creative with their online branding. And we've been doing it long before little Ally was texting IU2U to her BFF. JSYK (J4F). You're much more likely to find content by someone like Char James-Tanny; I heard her speak at Lavacon Austin a few years ago, and she really opened my eyes to accessibility/a11y.

If you're in either technical communications or learning development, they should be of great interest to you. I'd add in n11n (normalization) and d11n (documentation).  They're all related, complex concepts that can reduce misunderstanding and finding the topics online can be a real time sink without the nifty numeronyms.

My Mobile Office

Mobile Office - Wheeled Laptop BagI frequently keep an office with me at all times. No kidding.

Some years ago I decided to break down and buy a wheeled laptop case. It's a survival tool, originally used when I was working on site with clients, using a loaner laptop and the bulky, awkward laptop case that went with it. If you're visiting an office and you don't have the resources you need at hand, you know how inconvenient that can be.

I went out to eBags years ago and got a model that had wheels and an extending handle, and I can roll this thing along with me just using a pinkie. Seriously.

It's almost perfect (I'd redesign it to be 2" less deep to fit under theater seats, and have a smaller, higher external pocket on the front. Otherwise, there are plenty of internal pockets and features to help even a packrat like me. In the past, I've written Survival Guides for SXSW on this blog and ananotherother, and that same mentality goes into my mobile office.

The obvious items are a notebook computer or iPad (with a Zaggmate external keyboard), a portfolio binder, notebook, and whatever other hard copy files I might need. Other items neatly stored in various pockets or travel mesh include:
  • Sustenance: a Kleen Kanteen, a meal replacement bar, mint, gum
  • Office Accessories: mini stapler, mini-tap, paper clips, mini highlighter, sharpie, pencil, several pens, post-its of varying size
  • Personal Care/First Aid: lint brush, acetaminophen, antihistamine, bandaids, cotton swabs, lens cleaners, cosmetics, handwipes, hairbrush, nail clippers, hairspray, deodorant, tissues, hand sanitizer
  • A/V/Connectivity: RJ45, monitor, USB, HDMI cables, mic attachment for recording, USB extension, wireless mouse, thumb drive, and occasionally a camera and a mini tripod (my netbook has a long battery life so I usually don't pack the powercord for that)
  • Contingencies: Spare battery (for mouse and if I have it, my camera), compact umbrella, tee-jacket (soft cotton, very foldable, for those arctic office environments), MP3 player and earbuds (doesn't eat up battery time on my phone)
  • Miscellany: pedometer, business cards, sunglasses, canvas bags for those random store trips

Yes, I do like to plan for contingencies.  But everything in this is something I've needed, and I still have space left over.   So when I say it's a mobile office, I'm not kidding. It only needs a mini printer and I'm set. Except maybe one of those solar charger thingies.

Do You Subscribe to Twitter Lists? You Should.

Twitter Lists ScreenshotDo you use Twitter?  Are you subscribed to any lists? You should be.

Twitter clients allow you to filter your feeds, but following just a few dozen twitter accounts means you can easily be overwhelmed with all updates.  You could get around it through filters and searches, but search terms can get stale. And it's not always the most efficient way of staying current. 

Twitter lists allow anyone with a Twitter account to create public and private lists of other accounts.  This is particularly useful if there's a group of people or organizations you want to follow.  Even better, others can follow a public list. 

I have several lists available publicly on my Twitter account; most relate to learning and development, including software vendors, conferences, MOOCs, and more.  There are also a few Austin-centric lists, including professional groups and networking events, recruiters, and thought leaders.  I'm still developing all of them, so there may be changes in the specific accounts being followed, but that doesn't mean you can't follow them.

When you create them, you can add a brief description to explain the list.

The other advantage to these lists is that I don't have to directly follow each account to put them in my lists; that means I can keep my Twitter feed lean enough to be readable. Mostly.  So take a look at my Twitter lists and feel free to subscribe to any of them.  And if you have some suggestions for any of them, do let me know.

You Don't Need No Stinking Badge: Virtual Conference Attendance

This was originally developed as a handout for an Austin ASTD SIG meeting, for people in the learning and development field who haven't full adopted Twitter as a career development tool.  The one-sheet handout was created to alert them to recent and upcoming conferences and how to take advantage of them even if they aren't physically attending.

Savvy businesses, conferences, SMEs, and speakers promote their events and products on twitter, and share links to useful information and even to the presentations from conferences. You don’t have to be following a specific twitter account to find relevant accounts or topics, you just need to know how to look. Useful accounts to follow include
@ASTD_austin, @SXSWEDU, @TCEA, @eLearningGuild
‏@Articulate, @AdobeTCS, and @Lectora just to name a few.

Twitter is a social media network utilizing short updates to share information (144 characters or less). "Tweets" are status updates that may include links for webpages, images, other twitter handles, and hashtags.  So what's in a Tweet?
  • Handles – Account Names
  • Mention- Name-dropping
  • Follows – Profiles show who you follow & who follows you
  • Hashtags – user-created "tags" to help others follow a specific topic
  • Lists – Users can compile lists of other users, such as vendors attending a conference

Twitter feeds update in real time, often there are "Live-Tweet" events associated with a conference. Past tweets are viewable, and through searching on hashtags. You can also search on handles or key words.

Three upcoming conferences for L&D professionals (two in Austin) are of particular interest to Austin ASTD members:
  • ASTD TechKnowledge (January 30-February 1), @ASTD #astdtk13
  • Texas Computer Education Association (February 4-8), @TCEA #TCEA13
  • SXSWedu (March 4-7), @SXSWEDU #SXSWedu
  • See also my list of L&D events on twitter
More and more vendors and speakers at conferences are promoting their online content or presentations by tweeting about them before, during and after events. It's almost as good as being there. Sometimes unofficial, free, open-to-public events may be announced during the conference, and then you can be there, even on a budget.

If you don’t already have a Twitter account, go to http://twitter.twitter.comcom (see Help under Settings for more information). You can also go to the Social Media tab at the Austin ASTD website at

State of Tech Austin

Went to the Austin "State of Tech" event tonight.  I'd only intended to stay about an hour or so. I ended up staying for four, and it was even worth twisting my ankle after I left. Ran into people I knew, made some new friends.  Slapping myself for not stocking my bag with business cards, though.

The event itself was almost all networking of the low-key type.  The speech portion was less than five minutes.    I was rather surprised at the numbers; while there were quite a few people there, I was expecting the place to be overflowing.  Apparently the vast majority were already converted to the message of the importance of startups and innovation.  

The place should've been packed, but I won't complain. It meant I got a chance to actually get a chance to have real conversations with several people, including someone I've known peripherally for years.  There's something to be said about getting more than a few minutes between events to get to know someone; in this particular instance it turns out we had quite a few more things in common than we thought. 

Strategically Selective Trials

One of the things I emphasize in my "If I Only Knew X" talk/workshop is to be strategically selective with using trial versions of software to brush up or develop skills with particular software. 

It's a lesson I learned the hard way; all the best intentions of using the software in what's often a 30 day period can quickly be spoiled by Other Things.  That 30 days goes by fast, and then all the glorious plans for learning a whole software suite or doing a side by side comparison of two similar applications can be wasted, even if you're good at time management.

The good thing about trial versions is that once a new version of a software is released, you can do a new trial.  I've held off on downloading the latest version of Captivate for just that reason; I've wanted to make sure I could take full advantage of the trial period.  But for the next few weeks, I'm going to be nose-deep in developing Captivate content to brush up the portfolio, specifically so I have NDA-free content free of restrictions.

What's in a HashTag, Anyway?

A couple weeks ago I asked to do a quick reminder at a meeting about using twitter as a means of back channel learning -- staying on top of trends and  topics at conferences even when you can't physically be there (for whatever reason).  When I've presented "If I Only Knew X" as well as that meeting, there are questions about hash tags. 

Twitter Hashtag Example

Hash tags are simply a type of tag, or key words, used to identify relevant content. In the twittersphere, a pound sign (aka an "octothortype") is used before an alphanumeric string of characters that identifies that twitter update as relating to that topic.  Which is why we just say "hash tag" instead.

The beauty of hash tags is anyone can create them.  The bête noire of hash tags is that anyone can create them. Some are really obvious, and others, not so much.  And like many acerbs on twitter, I've been known to make a smarmy hashtag as a punch line, such as #justsayin, and no one owns a hashtag so there's a bit of sleuthing required to find the relevant ones.  They're a lot like buzzwords, they come and grow, and become popular and fade into obscurity based on who uses them.

Conference speakers often share links to their presentations, and vendors often share other resources, which make them valuable for attendees and others.  Savvy types know to make them short, and relatively unique, especially conferences. #SXSWedu is a great example, because "SXSW" isn't a common character string in words, and the "edu" prefix filters out generic SXSW related tweets, of which there will be millions in the next two months, pre- and post-SXSW, with it's Music, Film, Interactive, and Edu conference and satellite events. And trust me, just using SXSW as a search string to find information is going be useless.

Two recent events along with #SXSWedu are of particular interest to learning and development professionals who are on twitter;  #ASTDTK13 (ASTD TechKnowledge Conference) and #TCEA13 (Texas Computer Education Association).  They're really easy to find on twitter. Notice how they added the year at the end of those hashtags?  That makes a huge difference; just knowing the acronym for an event may still not be enough; notice the results you get if you were trying to find ICC events just by using "ICC" in the two examples below: 

On the other hand the Intelligent Content Conference has had some great tips, and #ICC2013 is currently a useful hashtag, but can be confusing, since there's more than one "ICC" (such as the International Cricket Council and the International Criminal Court just to name two).  If you looked for #ICC right now, you'd see a lot of results about Kenya.  If you do a search on #ICC2013, you'll see quite a few of the relevant tweets, along with some other hashtags of use.

So when you make hashtags, think about brevity, relevance, and uniqueness.
David Kelly even went so far as to create a Twitter for Learning Professionals Resources at #astdtk13 page.  I didn't attend #ASTDTK13, but because I was following the hashtag, I know have some great resources at my fingertips.

I created on learning & development related events including relevant conferences.  By checking out that list, you can see what other relevant hashtags are in use. You can also see the one page handout from Austin ASTD Career Transitions on 28 January 2013.

Allegorical Pomegranates

Pomegranate Blossom Closeup.  Copyright Jennifer A Brown, all rights reserved.I've had a dwarf pomegranate tree potted and sitting outside my front door for about 10 years now. I've had it so long I can't quite remember the day I got it, but I remember falling in love with the delicate petals that appear out of these elongated buds. 

This tree has been through a lot; it's been baked in droughts, frozen in the occasional ice storm, and neglected far too often. Even my lackadaisical watering habits didn't kill it.  I've had to prune back dead twigs several times due to my neglect, although the worst indignity it's suffered was evisceration by two kittens in mere minutes when I brought it in once to protect it from a deep freeze.  That was five years ago, and it's still a bit lopsided, although considering I thought they'd killed it, it's recovered rather well.

In turn it's delicate petals, lighter than tissue paper, disappear in the slightest wind, so it's hard to enjoy the beauty of that deep orange-coral color against the bright green leaves.  About six months ago it even bore fruit for the first time, one lone pomegranate hanging impossibly from a thready twig.

For some unknown reason, it's decided to grace me with dozens of buds this month; it seems to develop them a few times a year, but I've never seen so many at once.  I suspect the fact I've made an effort to fertilize it contributes to the fact it's blooming so prodigiously.
More Pomegrante Blossoms

The reason I bring this up is, it's allegorical. Like this particularly tenacious pomegranate plant, things that are tended are more likely to flourish than those neglected. That applies to skills, careers (and this blog, for that matter). Even after languishing for months or more.

It's Been a Long, Long Time

Light BulbI didn’t intend to have so long between updates, but Things Happen.

It's that "life happens while you're making other plans" law of the universe.  And part of the reason why I hadn’t been updating was because I was contemplating changing the focus of this blog.  But there's still a lot to be said about career development, even with a focus on the learning & development side of things.  In particular, the opportunities for back channel learning are so strong it can be overwhelming, and that's an essential part of any one's career development tool kit. 

Last year I was invited to speak on the topic of "If I Only Knew X" twice; this year I've already got two additional speaking gigs on the subject lined up.  The more I learn about these back channel opportunities to gain knowledge and skill build, the more possibilities I find.  It's a particularly fun topic, since people tend to have a lot of "light bulb" moments when they start realizing how many options there are to learn without breaking their budgets (especially when there is no budget for learning).

Related to that, I'm working on building twitter lists related to learning & development and on career development, all public so others can use them.  I'm also researching a few other projects, including the best online portfolio tools for sharing work samples.  There's a certain motivated self-interest angle to it, sure, but it seems like a good opportunity to share what I learn with others in the same situation, especially in the online era.  It's taken me a while to recreate some of the NDA restricted work samples and transform them into materials safe enough to share with potential employers.

So in the coming weeks, expect to see some posts on Twitter for luddites, virtual conference attendance, Austin-centric networking, learning and development tools, "If I Only Knew X", and those online portfolio options.  And more, but that should whet your appetites.  Or not.  I'll be rambling on in any case.

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April 2014