At the end of 2014 I took a beginners statistics course and was introduced to R, which is a programming language and software environment for statistical computing. It was brand new to me, but I picked up the basics fairly quickly. As is my nature, I played around with it a fair bit, trying things out, and eighteen months later, I know enough to have convinced my boss that I am literally a magician based on what I can produce.

To complement, in the last year or so I’ve taught myself the basics (and a bit more) of LaTeX, which is a document preparation system and markup language. Perhaps just the basics, but enough to produce documents that I’m actually proud to present to management as my work, rather than the (especially now) disappointing documents I used to produce using Microsoft Word.

Despite all this, I still feel intimidated by the idea of programming languages that I don’t know. And it’s holding me back. I think it’s probably because I don’t really have any formal background in computing, and everything I’ve ever learnt has been self-taught, but I seem to pick up the basics of anything I try without any issue.

I taught myself enough HTML in 2003 to be able to build the website for the Leeds University LGBT society from scratch – I did the whole thing in Notepad (the ongoing management of the site was another issue, I hasten to add), but I was scared to learn any CSS because it was new.

When I was maybe 12, I wrote some games in BASIC – from memory a slot machine (poker machine, fruit machine, or what you will) that was pretty simple, but functional; and a safari park management sim – all text based (because I’m not artistic enough to do graphics). The object of that game was to balance the antelope and lion populations by culling or inseminating either lions or antelope on each turn – again, a simple game, but proof that I could write programs, and was good at it.

There’s little point to this post, other than for me to combat the impostor syndrome I suffer dreadfully from. I can’t go back to when I was 14 years old, change my mind and decide to do a Computing GCSE instead of Business Studies (even though, with hindsight, I totally should have) – that would probably have taken me somewhere. But perhaps this can be an inspiration to someone who can make that sort of decision.

I’m going to drive to work less

A statement I have made too many times is that I would go to work on the train (instead of driving), but my workplace is too far away from the nearest station, so it’s impractical and inconvenient.

What garbage.

A few weeks ago on Twitter, a friend briefly described his Public Health Utopia, and one of the points was that it involved more people walking more. And then it clicked. To walk to work from the station takes me fifteen minutes. Maybe twenty if I take it easy. But either way, it’s not a long walk.

So I’ve resolved to go to work on public transport more often.

The downside is that it takes longer overall for me to get to work, so I have to get up earlier in the morning, and if the weather is no good it’s not that nice, but otherwise it’s positive. I’ve found the walk from the station to work is a pleasant one: it’s relaxing and gives me some space to think. It’s suburban too, so the fresh (ish) air wakes me up, and I guess the walk itself loosens me up a little. I won’t pretend it’s a workout, but there must be some health benefits, even if minor.

Perhaps importantly, I like traveling by train. And I don’t like driving. Even though in the morning I drive away from the city, I still get stuck sitting in traffic, or otherwise have to deal with whatever dickhead drivers decide to assault the roads with their aggressive driving styles, and I arrive at work stressed. When I go on the train, this just doesn’t happen.

Although not a major motivation, it’s in my mind that tolls will be back on the M4 next year, and I would honestly much rather pay a train fare than a road toll.

I’m sure I’ll still drive to work sometimes; probably a lot at first, but hopefully less and less. Even then there’ll be days when I wake up and think “bugger it; I’ll drive”, or days when I just can’t work my personal schedule around the train timetable. But I hope that more and more this will become rarer and rarer.

In short, I’m working on becoming a proper train commuter, and I hope my life will be better because of it.

It might be interesting to say that I wrote this post on my phone on the train on my way home from work.

Five Resume Tips

I don’t claim to be an expert on resumes or recruitment, but I do read a fair few resumes, and I have to say I see a lot of, erm, interesting resumes. Some are interesting in a good way, catch my attention and make me want to read more, but some are painful to read. I used to feel I had some sort of duty to give each one I read equal attention, and to read it whether or not it grabbed me, but nowadays I’m quite happy for my advice to be “don’t hire this person” based on the briefest scan of a poorly constructed resume.

Here are my five tips to get your resume onto my maybe pile.

Ignore resume advice

The internet is full of advice on how to produce the perfect resume (this post is no exception), and most of it is absolute bollocks. Your TAFE course likely includes being taught how to write the perfect resume. Your careers centre at high school or uni will give you endless tips on resume-writing. None of these people have a clue. Why? Because they don’t hire people. People who hire people, people who read resumes – they know what they want to see in a resume. And they are literally the only people you want to listen to.

The golden rule on resume advice: do not listen to any advice from anyone who is not involved in hiring people. Anyone else will give you bullshit advice about fonts, making your resume stand out, being quirky, including buzz words, summarizing your character. Ignore all of it. People who actually read resumes (and read them for the purpose of finding candidates to interview) will tell you what they want to see in a resume, and since that is the sort of person who you’ll be sending your resume to, they’re the people you should be taking advice from.

Include signposts

I am very lucky: I don’t read resumes on a daily basis, and I whenever I do read resumes it’s rare that I have more than four or five to get through at once. But chances are wherever you send your resume, it will be in a pile of about ninety. The first time I read your resume, I probably have around fifteen seconds to spend on it, so it’s very important I don’t spend those fifteen seconds aimlessly searching for the information I am looking for.

The way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to make your resume look as standard as possible. It should be plain, and (for want of a better word) visually boring. And the most important part of the “standard look” resume is signposts. Guide me through it. I want to know what your experience it – show me, and in a way I can find it at a glance. I want to know where you work now – make sure I can see it instantly. Any super-important skills? Signpost them.

Your resume should stand out, but not because of a quirky design, but because of outstanding achievement that stands out because I can see it at a glance.

Don’t lie

Don’t lie. At all. Don’t be misleading. If it’s “technically true”, it probably counts as a lie. If you’ve worked somewhere for ten months, you haven’t worked there for a year.

The reasons are fairly straightforward: you’ll get caught (or if you don’t, you’ll spend months or years worrying about getting caught), or you’ll end up in a job that’s just not suitable for you so you’ll hate it.

In short: don’t lie. Sell yourself, but make sure that your resume is a true, fair, and accurate representation of your experience and achievements.

Talk shop

Your resume is a business document, and it’s a marketing tool. When I’m reading your resume, I’m looking for how well you will fit into the business. So I care about how well you have fitted into other businesses. I don’t care about your personal life (and that includes your hobbies). I don’t care about your family, what books you have read, what you watch on TV.

I promise, I assume you have a personal life. I promise I understand that it’s important to have a work/life balance, and I promise that I understand you agree. I promise that I understand that when you finish work you don’t stop existing. And I also promise that if your after-work activities involve nothing but sitting on the lounge with your cat, eating Doritos and watching reality TV, I’m okay with that – I’m only – only – only interested in what you will achieve at work.

(That’s not to say if you, for example, look after the finances and budget for your church as a hobby you shouldn’t include it, because that is something I want to know.)

Your opinion is irrelevant

The number one thing I will definitely ignore on your resume is any opinion you offer of yourself. Examples include good attention to detail, excellent communication skills, or great team player. You are using this document to sell yourself so of course you are think you are all of these things. So seriously, tell me about your achievements and let me decide whether that is indicative your communication skills or your attention to detail.

Read your resume again, and for every single statement ask yourself “is this a factual example of something I have achieved or is it a quality I am claiming to have”. If it’s the latter, replace it with the former or delete it altogether,

Your resume is a marketing tool, but it’s also a business document. Keep it relevant, keep it business-like, and keep it true. Your resume should stand out, but not because of gimmicks, but because of factual achievements that easy for the reader to find.

Good luck!

Any thoughts? Let me know in the comments! Any resume faux pas, or things you’ve seen that you loved? Let me know!