Time flies

It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole month, but my contract at The Pixel Shop is over. The principals, Vince and Tim, took the whole team out for frozen yogurt on Friday in honour of my last day, which was fun, but it was sad to say my goodbyes. I managed to learn a lot over the month in terms of what really goes on behind the scenes when it comes to web design and development. The coding skills I brought with me came in handy, but now I have some real world experience as well.

I’m on the lookout for my next challenge – wish me luck (again)!

My awesome new job at The Pixel Shop

I promised I would post updates on my career situation, and I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve started work as a UX Designer / Interface Developer at The Pixel Shop. What exactly does that fancy title mean? Well, I’m going to be taking on a variety of roles on various projects. Some of it will be front end development, but I’ll also be doing some information architecture, usability testing, and more.

I was first introduced to Vince and Tim from The Pixel Shop a few weeks ago, at Hiring Week for Bitmaker’s 5th cohort. Of course, I was a student in cohort 4, but when the following cohort’s Hiring Week rolled around and I still wasn’t employed, the Bitmaker staff invited me to join in. From there, things moved quickly: our initial chat at Bitmaker was on a Wednesday, then they invited me for a follow up at the office the following Monday, they made me an offer the day after that, and I started work that Wednesday.

I’m really enjoying the experience. I work with a great team, on projects for a variety of clients ranging from small non-profits to big corporations. Every day it’s something new, whether I’m updating existing code or coming up with a new structure for a site that’s being completed overhauled, so there’s never a dull moment. Plus, the location is fantastic, and my commute is about 25 minutes by bike.

Life is good!

On the job hunt

As I’ve mentioned before, when I was researching the web development program at Bitmaker Labs, I learned a lot by reading the blogs of previous students. Unfortunately, many of them stopped blogging when they finished the course, which I found to be terribly frustrating because I wanted to know what they ended up doing with their newly acquired skills.

This is just a quick post to assure you, my dear readers, that I will keep you up to date as to my post-Bitmaker career-relevant activities. At the moment, I’m treating finding a job as a full-time job, which means networking (e.g., meeting people for coffee and attending tech-related social events, which are two things I enjoy doing anyway), checking job boards, and keeping my skills sharp (e.g., through Code School). I’ve also started a personal project I’m not quite ready to announce on here yet. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Hiring Week at Bitmaker Labs

Jan 13 – 17, 2014 was Hiring Week for the 4th cohort of students at Bitmaker Labs. What’s Hiring Week all about? I’m glad you asked.

As you may have guessed, Hiring Week is when students have the opportunity to interview with a number of different organizations, most of which are Toronto-based tech companies. In total, 16 organizations participated (including 3 talent agencies and one individual representing a handful of startups):

The Bitmaker staff had put together an online Hiring Board, where each student created a profile, highlighting our social media presence and uploading our resumes, and each organization posted some information about what they do and what types of positions they were hiring for. In some cases, companies had specific job postings they were looking to fill, while others were scoping out talent to keep in mind for the next time they hire.

Each organization indicated which morning or afternoon they would be coming to Bitmaker. Then, students could request interviews with whichever companies interested them, and the companies could also send requests to students whose profiles had caught their eye. Some organizations were more selective than others when deciding how many interview requests to accept, but most were happy to talk to as many interested students as possible. Finally, Lidia (Director of Community & Student Experience at Bitmaker) went through all the accepted requests and fit them into 20-minute time slots.

Naturally, 20 minutes is not very long for a job interview, so most of the conversations focused on how well the students would fit the company’s work culture, and what non-coding skills we would bring. Some organizations asked a few technical questions, but in most cases they saved those for a second round of interviews.

As you can imagine, it was an intense week (I had 13 interviews), and the hiring process isn’t over yet. Like many of my classmates, I’m still scheduling follow up interviews with some employers and waiting to hear back from others. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

How I landed an awesome job through networking

As you may already know, in September I started a new job as Information Literacy Librarian at the King Campus of Seneca College, just north of Toronto. My position involves a lot of teaching (i.e., in-class information literacy sessions), some reference work, and a variety of fascinating committee-based projects. I’m working with an innovative library team, supportive faculty, and engaged students who are researching interesting topics. Life is good! And did I mention that I recently married the most wonderful woman in the world? Life is very, very good!

On this blog, I generally avoid writing posts that are purely personal, and I’m not telling you my good news because I want you to be happy for me (though I hope you are). I want to tell the story of how I landed my job through networking.

It all started back in March, when I was on the job hunt in Toronto. I had signed up for a course through the iSchool Institute that wasn’t so much a course as it was a series of panels where librarians would come to talk about their jobs and about librarianship in general. It was led by the fantastic Kim Silk, and although it won’t be offered again in 2013, you can still read the course description, and I would highly recommend that you check out Kim’s session at the OLA Super Conference (Thursday January 31st at 3:45pm – session #611), where she will be discussing the course. One week the panel was made up of government and academic librarians, and one of the participants was Kathryn Klages, who was at that time doing exactly the job I’m doing now (she’s at a different Seneca campus now). She was clearly a superstar librarian, and working on some very interesting projects, so at the end of the session I arranged to meet her for coffee so we could chat a bit more about her work.

I didn’t know much about college libraries then, having spent my professional career in Quebec; the CEGEP system is similar to college but quite different in many ways. So I was interested to learn from Kathryn about the college system, and how it differs from universities. I had heard previously that Seneca is one of the best academic libraries in Ontario to work for, and our discussion gave me the impression that this was accurate. Kathryn seemed to think I would be a good fit, so she kindly offered to mention my name at work. She even said there was a position opening up that would be perfect for me, and that she would discuss it with her outstanding Chief Librarian and Director, Tanis Fink. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t eligible for the position Kathryn had in mind because it was the OCULA New Librarian Residency position, which is only available to recent grads (the good news is they found a great new librarian, Lydia Tsai – check out the video she made about her position). This was disappointing, but as you already know, everything worked out in the end. I kept plugging away at the job search, and a couple of months later I was at the OCULA Dinner at Ryerson, when I had the good fortune to end up sitting at a table with three Seneca people: Tanis Fink, Shanna Pearson, and 2012 OCULA President Jennifer Peters. I had a good chat with all of them, and Jenn generously offered to show me around Seneca, so we made plans for me to visit. She arranged for me to meet with four librarians, including Shanna and herself, so I could learn about different areas of the library. The visit went really well – everyone was happy to share their experiences with me and seemed to be working on very cool projects, and I could definitely picture myself working there.

A couple of months later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call from Tanis Fink, telling me that a position had opened up and asking whether I would be interested to come in for an interview. After months of applying (unsuccessfully) to jobs by emailing a cover letter and resume to a hiring committee I’d never met, I knew I’d succeeded with my networking when I received a call before even applying. The interview process was just as rigorous as it is for most academic library positions (after an initial interview I was called back for a second one where I gave a presentation), but looking back, it comes as no surprise that of the many interviews I went through this spring and summer, it was Seneca that offered me the job.

So here I am. I owe a huge thanks to Kim, Kathryn, Tanis, Shanna, and Jenn for their roles in the process; they are all fantastic people. I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned from this experience, but I’m going to put some thought into it before posting. Stay tuned!

P.S. This is unrelated to networking, but here’s a photo of me at work, participating in Movember and doing my best Hulk Hogan impression.

Dressed up as Hulk Hogan during Movember

Dressed up as Hulk Hogan during Movember

Some sobering advice regarding library school expectations

I came across an interesting post from Mr. Library Dude, who offers his advice on the reality of library school and library job hunting. Although it comes across as somewhat pessimistic, I do agree with most of his points. For example, here’s #1:

Library school: if you have the time/money to find a school that “fits” you, then by all means. However, it’s completely OK to just pick the in-state/cheapest option. A library school is a library school is a library school.

I usually wouldn’t put it that bluntly, but it’s a fair point. People often ask me whether I think McGill offers a “good” MLIS program, and truthfully I don’t believe there is a significant variation in quality among schools (at least in Canada). If one program offers a certain specialization that others lack, feel free to choose accordingly, but at the end of the day, when it comes to finding a job, what matters is that you’ve (a) received the degree, and (b) accumulated some work experience along the way.

The only point I completely disagree with is #2:

If you have not worked in a library before attending  library school, why are you making such as a large financial commitment for a career that you have no experience in? A “love” of books and “I like to read” won’t cut it.

I don’t believe that anyone who has done some research and decided to become a librarian should feel they must first job hunt for a library assistant position and then work in it for a year before applying to library school. Certainly, a love of books and reading doesn’t necessarily mean you will enjoy a career as a librarian, but if you put in the research and talk to some people in the field, you can make the decision with no previous experience. The important thing is having library experience on your CV before you graduate, but you can acquire this during your studies.

I will also comment on the final point:

Don’t blame library school if you cannot find a professional job. You are an information professional. Did you not research the state of the job market?

I hope no one believes that earning an MLIS is the most challenging part of starting a library career; on graduation day, there will be no line-up of employers begging you to work for them. This is not your school’s fault. It is simply the way the job market works (as is the case with most careers). But I also hope no one is discouraged from starting an MLIS because of what they’ve heard about the library job market. As long as you’re willing to put in the extra effort (and often patience), you will find an appropriate job eventually.

In fact, many of Mr. Dude’s points are the same ones I’ve made before (don’t neglect to read the comments on his post for even more tips). Gain experience while studying, find a mentor, and don’t be shy about marketing yourself.

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