#76 - 30 July 2021
Now that we can, should we meet in person?; Writing better job ads; Taking time off;
We’re going into a long weekend here in Toronto - the second-to-last one of the summer - and it’s very much needed. We have a number of pretty ambitious efforts we’re working on, and it’s been a long year already. I hope that you and your team are taking care of yourself, and that you in particular as manager or team lead are taking some time off. There’s an article below on the importance - both for you and your team - of you taking some time off, to recharge yourself and give your team the opportunity to step up.
And on to the roundup:
When Do We Actually Need to Meet in Person? - Rae Ringel
In the past 17 months, having to work and communicate in new ways, we’ve learned to be thoughtful in planning how to communicate and work together. With teams starting to be able to meet in person, there’s no need to discard that thoughtfulness! What the right approach for a meeting will be will depend on the the goals and purpose of the meeting.
Here Ringel offers a simple framework for thinking about when a meeting benefits from being in-person. Complex goals and building/maintaining relationships push towards favouring in-person meetings, while simple goals and working on tasks favour hybrid or asynchronous meetings. (Incidentally, those are also the meetings where very strong meeting facilitation skills are the most necessary).
Relatedly, a lot of managers are starting to think of ice-breaker/team-building activities to get people used to working together in person again, particularly when new members have joined the team while it was purely distributed. Lots of people are suggesting games like Zip Zap Boing - what sorts of things have people tried?
Writing Better Job Ads - Eli Weinstock-Herman
This is a nice lengthy post on writing job ads. And given what I see scanning job ads for research computing team managers, the advice is needed!
There’s too much for me to completely summarize, but some key points
A Job Ad is a Landing Page… A job ad is marketing. An advertisement.
I can’t agree with this enough. Even if what you have to post on your institutional jobs website is constrained to have to have all kinds of meaningless boilerplate and a dry list of job requirements - and at universities and hospitals there’s definitely some of that - there’s little to nothing stoping you from posting a job ad elsewhere, on your team’s website or on external job boards. You can direct people to the dry-as-dust “official” posting to apply.
What’s worse, most of the stuff we’re tend to put into job descriptions and job ads are… well:
[…] I’m more and more looking at “5+ years of (skill)” as an intellectually lazy statement. […] I wrote a job ad for a fungible human gear.
God yes. Even if “5 years of C++” (or whatever) was a meaningful measure, like any given 12-month period of experience working with C++ was interchangeable, it’s an input. A person with that laundry list of inputs might, if you’ve done your job well, be able to be a capable team member, but what you care about are the outputs - the results the new team member helps the team achieve. And other combinations of inputs might help the new team member accomplish those things just as well or better.
Weinstock-Herman makes the following suggestions for a process:
Start with the end in mind (always a good focus)
Create the core of the job ad first:
What will the candidate achieve?
What are expectations from a team member in this role?
What are the specific tools/processes in use
What does the team do, why is it interesting, what’s the impact?
What does compensation, benefits look like?
Boil it down to a pitch
Work on tone, length, engagement
Test, test, test
We have huge advantages in research for hiring. We’re helping advance the frontier of human knowledge. We’re doing meaningful work, not trying to drive up click rates on advertisements. We offer the possibility of going between multiple quite different projects, learning both new tech and new science along the way, and the possibility of outsized impact. Why do so many of our job ads read like working in our field is a chore, that could easily be done by anyone with 3 years experience in linux and 4 years in “a scripting language”?
Managing Your Own Career
Questions for potential employers - Carter Baxter
My questions for prospective employers (Director/VP roles) - Jacob Kaplan-Moss
We do a lot of discussion of hiring from the hiring manager side of the table in the newsletter, but when thinking of our own career prospects it’s worth considering what we should ask when we’re the candidate, too.
Asking questions about how the position came to be free, the goals of the organization, the goals of the position, what six-month success looks like, how much autonomy the role has, travel requirements - these are all important things to know before you take a job offer.
Out of Office Alert: Managers Need Vacations Too! - Samantha Rae Ayoub, Fellow
It’s important to take time off to recharge, even though as managers we’re often not great at this. It’s a little too easy to convince ourselves that our firm hand on the till is too important to completely let go… and that’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. You’re robbing yourself of needed R&R, and your team members of the chance to step up in your absence, by not completely checking out. And the more often you completely step away, the easier it gets for you and the team
Ayoub goes through ten steps to go through - the key ones to my mind are:
Prep a “While I’m Away” list
Put one person in charge
Ask your team to keep a collaborative set of notes
Turn on your Out of Office Alert
Do not reply to your email or voicemails
Carve out 2 hours in the morning when you get back to get caught up
One really clever suggestion I don’t know that I’ve read before is, in to make that “while I’m away” document a shared writable document and have it not only be a checklist of things to do but somewhere where people keep notes of what was done, what happened at the meeting with Prof X, etc - so you come back to a briefing document to catch you up.
The other really crucial thing is to put one person in charge while you’re away - or at the very least to have a very clear decision making process. Decisions will have to be made in your absence, and the team needs to know how to make them. You can rotate between people, but it should be someone who has a pretty good big-picture view of the work of the team.
121 questions for managers and ICs for one-on-ones.
If you’ve been using google drive for a while, links shared earlier than 2017 will break shortly.
Getting started with a bullet journal.