Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Experiences with Google Technology Part 2 - Business Professional Track - Gmail

My initial experiences in a business professional role with Google technology beyond the search engine started with Gmail. Gmail started as Google's free web mail service and has been incorporated into its Google Apps suite, although you can still sign up for a free email account alone if you want. It set the standard for near-unlimited mailbox space among its competitors, and its easy to use interface, many intuitive features and powerful search capabilities made it a viral hit for many web users. In fact, Gmail set the pace for all other popular mail providers such as AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo to start AJAX-ifying their own interfaces in order to produce better user experiences.

One cool feature I liked about GMail was the ability to insert periods (.) anywhere within your email address to create separate "virtual" email addresses. Thus, for business purposes, I gave my email address as nissan (dot) dookeran (at) gmail (dot) com, but for mailing list subscriptions or sites which required me to sign up with an email address I would use nissandookeran (at) gmail (dot) com. This way I could easily use Gmail's filters to tag the business emails with their own label and prioritise them over less important emails.
Using labels rather than creating folders as destinations for filtered emails is definitely a different, but still very useful, approach to sorting volumes of emails. With 3GB and counting of available email space, there's definitely need for these types of innovations to keep things manageable.

Contact management is also quite simple with Gmail. Basically any email to which a "Reply-To" link is clicked automatically adds that email address to your contacts database. Now this initially was quite useful to me for creating quick coworker, client and mailing list emails. Eventually though the contacts database became a bit polluted, as one-time reply to addresses, such as mailing list subscription and unsubscription addresses, became automatically added into My Contacts as well. Google has recently produced a solution to this issue, deciding to auto-add addresses to a "Suggested Contacts" list from which a contact can then be moved into the My Contacts section manually, with the address being automatically added to your contacts database if you've sent email to the "suggested contact" five or more times.

Spam is virtually non-existent, as Gmail's powerful spam-filtering capabilities have in my experience only allowed at most one or two emails per month through their strong protective barrier. Compared to the hundreds of email per month I receive, and with hundreds of spam messages being caught automatically, this is quite good enough for me compared to my past horrendous experiences with Microsoft Outlook's Junk Mail feature. Google's recent acquisition of Postini has only served to strengthen its ability to produce higher grades of security in its Google Apps products.

Two useful sites I have found for maximising Gmail and becoming a power user are the official Gmail blog and the Gmail Google Group. Occasional checks on the Gmail blog reveal the new and upcoming features and by using the Gmail Google Group any technical difficulties not explained by FAQs or the help itself can often be answered quite easily.

One thing that Gmail still misses though is an offline/desktop client. The Google Gears technology makes one likely to be in the making, and the rumours are already there about it, but to date there hasn't been any beta produced (or even confirmation a beta version is in the works). Most folks would have no problem with web-based email given the superb nature of the Gmail interface, but there are two types of users who still require this. The die-hard Outlook users among us, and those who are on severely limited Internet connections such as dial-up and need to make web pages load as fast as possible as often as possible.
In fairness, the second type of user does have the option of disabling the AJAX features of Gmail and using a Basic HTML view, but this limits the user experience tremendously and being one of the second type, I found this option not very appealing.

I personally have chosen to move back to Microsoft Outlook as my email client of choice until my Internet scenario changes, but thankfully I've found the experience quite useful at learning just how much Gmail's creators have catered for a varying audience. Setting up Outlook to receive my Gmail content was quite simple as Gmail provides IMAP/SMTP settings or POP3/SMTP settings to allow receiving and sending emails through any mail client.
Google even surprised me when I saw that email that is sent from Outlook via my Gmail account gets logged into my Sent Items on my Gmail web interface, removing any concerns I had about future synchronisation problems.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of features, and I have purposefully left out mentioning features such as Calendar synchronisation with Outlook and Chat integration in Gmail's web interface for future posts where I write specifically on GCal and Google Talk, I hope that this post is sufficiently enticing and filled with enough links to get the non-Gmail user (if they still exist) trying out this excellent free tool, and that it will also get current Gmail users experimenting and becoming power users in their own right.
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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Experiences with Google Technology Part 1 - The Plan

Google Inc.Image via Wikipedia
I've always been a fan of Google and its innovative applications suite. Despite not having a funky name like the Microsoft Office System, the Google products out there today do form a cohesive structure of applications which can support the technical needs of any business or developer. This series attempts to take a look at my experiences with Google technology, both from the business professional perspective and the developer's perspective.
As such the tracks would be as follows:

1. Business Professional Track - focusing on Google Apps. These include details of my real world experiences using Google Docs (Writely, Spreadsheet, Presently), GmailGoogle Talk and GCal. I also mention Google Gears and how it brings the realm of web applications to the offline world making life much easier for mobile-but-offline folks like myself to keep productive.

2. Developer Track - focusing on my experiences building custom portals using devices such as the Google Mini as well as my recent adventures with programming tools such as Google Web Toolkit and Google Android and the recently launched Google App Engine.
A talk about Google APIs and initiatives such as OpenSocial would also be included here as well as links to learning resources such as Google Developer Day videos available on YouTube .

3. Hacker's Track - here it's strictly about how I have fun using Google tools. I talk about my experience with Blogger, their blogging tool, Picasa, their image sharing tool, Google Desktop, their desktop search tool and YouTube, their video sharing tool. Since I am in the process of moving I'll show the usefulness of Google Maps for getting one's bearings in a strange new location. I'll also look at how I manage my RSS subscriptions using Google Reader as well as fun enhancements I use in Firefox to maximise the experiences with some of these tools. I'll take a look at Google Labs and funky projects like Knol which let you write "expert" articles about practically anything. Finally, in a serious-but-fun moment I'll look at how i use Google Analytics to monitor how popular my blog posts are and gather feedback about what sort of topics I blog about are more popular than others.

My initial disclaimer is that this is by no means an exhaustive list of Google's applications. It's just a subset of the ones I've used and the personal experiences I've had with them. The plan is to create an intense but fun series of articles that other folks can look to as a guide for getting started. I hope I can do the guys at Google justice with my take on their tools.
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Saturday, 5 July 2008

Building a one page resume

So my time at Teleios has ended. It was a decent place to work, with many memorable folks and events, but at the end of the day life threw me a curveball which I chose to catch by moving out of traffic-centric Port-of-Spain and working from home for at least the next month or so. The upside is that I now have much more free time on my hand while I build a business pipeline and seek new opportunities for private jobs to sustain my income. One of the pet projects I had on my plate, which seemed appropriate to start with as I am now technically unemployed, was the "one-page resume."The idea of a one-page resume is not a new one. Sadly in Trinidad, it may be new since the inexperienced new graduate or recently working individual feels that a resume of several pages in length trumps that of a shorter length. In reality though, brevity can be a key component to whether you're put at the top of the pile for callbacks or whether you're lost in the sea of other candidates' resumes. I once had the task of "short-listing" the fifty odd resumes of recent university graduates to a list of no more than 20 for initial phone screenings, the first step in the hiring process at my previous employer, Medullan. Each resume had at least a two page length, with some being stretched to as much as five pages. Needless to say, it was very monotonous, and slightly headache-inducing, extracting the information from each resume needed to make a fair evaluation of the candidate to determine whether he or she fit the criteria for short listing, especially when superfluous information such as extensive details of course contents from irrelevant but standard university courses were included as an obvious attempt to make a lengthier read.In my interest to be fair, I ensured I read all the resumes, every detail, since I remember too well what it was like to be inexperienced and could forgive such mistakes in the interest of giving these faceless folks a fair evaluation. Another individual with such a task, with perhaps as many as two-hundred or more such resumes, might not. The five page resume filled with multiple suitable references to qualifications and job experiences in line with the position may find itself at the bottom of the pile, last to be read if read at all, simply because it would take too long to be evaluated fairly when compared to the much shorter two to three page resumes other, maybe less suitable, candidates might have put forward.Consider now if this bypassed candidate's resume was condensed to its smallest possible size, one page, and that its content, although brief, contained the necessary details for a fair evaluation to be made at a glance. The likelihood of this resume being read in its entirety when placed in a stack of two hundred lengthier but similar documents has now drastically gone up. Additionally, if written well enough, "hooks" can be planted into the wording of the details in this one page that make for the opening of your "selling strategy" when the actual interview happens. Experienced candidates know that the resume is an advertisement of yourself, an invitation to a recruiter to get to know you better as a potential suitable candidate for an opening. Having purposefully included starting points for exploration (or hooks) throughout your resume are key to allowing you, as a candidate, to direct an interview in a direction where you can demonstrate your strongest qualities and "sell" yourself as the best candidate for the job at hand.One person whose attempt at a one-page resume I highly like is Kevin Fox. His resume is freely available as a PDF file to download, and it is his layout that I have copied in my attempt to create my own personal one-page resume. One cannot create one's own one page resume by simply copying the structure used by Kevin though. Alone it is not the crux of things. The key to his resume is how subtlely his hooks are placed. The one page of details about Kevin is laced with sell points, from his experience with Gmail building, to his working with Apple as a client, to his interest in "Viral workflows". Not a keyword placed is wasted, for I am sure behind each keyword he has placed, there is a strong story demonstrating key attributes about him and his abilities.So now my challenge, which would be the same as all who seek to create a one-page resume, is to condense in a similar fashion my current three page resume into one page, ensuring I include the essential details that, at a glance, will make me an ideal candidate for any future software developer position I wish to apply for. At the same time, I also need to include the "hooks" in the content that can lead to sharing the stories with a future recruiter in an interview. These stories would demonstrate me as not just a strong developer, but a strong leader and team-player with a passion for using technology to create new systems, make existing systems work better, and finally sharing those stories with others as a means of advocating what works with others and gathering feedback to making my own processes better. In the end, I hope, this one page would help me more be the guy getting made the offer for a terrific job, and less the guy whose resume was at the bottom of the pile, passed over because its three pages couldn't stand out in the sea of similar candidates. Update: Please feel free to take a look at my first-cut at a one page resume.