Final Notes & Thoughts @ Access 2011

So I didn’t do a full post for all the sessions, but the live notes that were taken and presumably, video recordings will later be posted on the Access 2011 website.

Data Visualization

Jer Thorp gave a great talk on the data visualization work he’s done and has been working on at the New York Times. I couldn’t really take notes since so much of it was visual, but he blew a lot of minds with his work, so check out his blog.

My Lightning Talk

What really excited me beyond the work itself was the fact that he mentioned he was doing it all through Processing, so I decided to do a lightning talk to introduce everyone to Processing and more importantly Processing.js.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Processing is an open source programming language primarily used for dynamic and interactive graphing and data visualization. Processing.js is the sister project which brings processing to the web. What’s the greatest part of processing.js is that a developer can start doing the same sort of thing but from the JavaScript side.

Check out the demos to see what kind of things you can possible do. I am particularly interested in the educational applications, such as giving students interactive graphs to see how mathematical functions work (see the Bezier Curves tutorial).

Added value: web accessible, Drupal plug-in, WordPress plug-in, fun games like a remake of Asteroids on the exhibition page.

See Access Live Notes for Lightning Talks and talks about other tools.

Digital Preservation

  • what does digital preservation mean? preserving more than objects and items
  • think on scalability
  • preserve what matters
  • start with policy and practice, not a platform
  • library can’t do it alone, partner with IT, Archives, etc.
  • need to think strategically
  • no one answer
  • some good tools
  • get started
  • think about what we can do with partnership

Fail Panel

The fail panel was great, because there were a lot of great stories by the panelists and others. Here are some of the lessons learned from the fail stories.

  • bleeding edge is not always great
  • good escape clauses to get out of bad situations
  • make sure company is stable
  • don’t make thematic websites – not scalable
  • don’t be working on original records or have a backup
  • never trust a tech
  • if you think it’s a bad idea, speak up
  • don’t have a project driven by one person
  • sometimes there isn’t a tech solution
  • make sure you press the right button
  • need to make sure

Share your own stories at failbrary.org

Thoughts

This was actually my first conference, but I think (and I’m clearly not the only one) it’s been really well put together and the food has especially been awesome, many within great socials. There’s been some tech fail, but that’s expected at every place I think.

I have particularly liked this conference because rather than simply having speakers talk, everyone has been highly encouraged to participate in some way (i.e. hackfest + presentations, lightning talks). I never though I’d be speaker at a conference, especially my first, but with the nature of the talks and encouragement of people got me to do a lightning talk. I think that alone speaks loads to the community.

It’s been an awesome experience, I’ve learnt a lot, and met a lot of great people. I really hope to be able to attend the next one.

Access 2012

Sad to see Access 2011 end, but for next year, a  site will be set up to see who will host it, and the planning of the conference will be continued code4lib style.

Taking Advantage of Your Co-op Work Term

Whether it’s an internship or co-op, students should take advantage of the opportunities available to them during their work term. Recently, @otowncoho wrote a blog post on strategies for those who hire students in government. Being near the end of my own co-op term, I thought I would reflect on advice I would give to students coming into a similar situation.

Before the Term

Be Prepared

Might sound like common sense, but students should remember to ask about procedures for the first day and if they need to bring in anything (typically finance/pay or security related information).

Consider Not Taking Classes

I know students want to finish as soon as they can, but I have heard from a lot of students (and hearsay of supervisor comments) that taking one or more classes while on a full-time co-op term can be very stressful. If tired and/or stressed, you might be likely to underperform, be less enthusiastic, or seem less “present”. Although you might do your work well, it might be hard to leave a really good impression on the employer.

At the Beginning

Orientation

If one isn’t provided, ask your supervisor or a coworker about an orientation guide, which might include student employment policy (including stat pay and hours/overtime), how to set up phone and/or e-mail, use policies, contacting support services (such as IT), facilities, and useful links (like where to eat). I would expect an employer to (have someone) show you around the office and introduce you to coworkers, but if some are absent, remember to introduce yourself when they return.

Paper work

You may not like paper work, but it is a necessity. Make sure that HR/pay forms, tax forms, etc. are all completed on your first day or as soon as possible. Ask to see if direct deposit is available. Most of the time it’s not a problem, but I have heard too many stories about paycheques being lost or missing, which can be a big problem for students trying to meet rent and what not.

Work Plan / Objectives

Many schools and programs require the work or learning objectives are written and discussed with a supervisor. If not, it’s still a great platform to discuss with your supervisor what you want to get out of your co-op term. Topics you might want to cover:

  • Technical skills to acquire/work on
  • Interpersonal skills to learn more about/improve on
  • Weak Skills/Traits to work on
  • Knowledge Areas to learn about
  • Career Areas to learn about
  • Strategy on how to meet your objectives (applies to you and your supervisor)
  • Strengths/Areas where you can contribute
  • Communication frequency and style: set a method of to regularly update your supervisor and discuss your progress

Typically, steps to achieve these objectives might be written for each objective or an overall strategy might be determined, depending on how interrelated they are. Objectives should also be specific and measurable in order to measure your progress and completion of your objectives. For example, “Learn more about information management” is a great goal, but very vague. Many advise using the SMART method, and though not all the questions always apply, it helps to turn a vague goal, into something more specific, such as:

Learn more about information management by reading about one methodology and the policies it puts into practice within the first month of the term.

Regardless, I believe the most important part is discussing objectives with a supervisor so that they might accommodate or at least share information and resources that are of interest.

Work Term Project

Many co-op positions (common in government) allow for an individual project to be completed during the term. You might discuss with your supervisor about the possibilities and set a work plan including how much time you can set aside, working this into your objectives. If you know beforehand that you will have this option available, consider thinking of possible projects ahead of time as not all employers will prepare one for you. If you don’t have any ideas, ask your supervisor if there is anything they have been wanting to do, but just haven’t had time to do. Ideally, the project would be something that you are interested in or an area that you want to explore, and contribute to the team or organization.

Want to convince your supervisor of the benefits? Start with these reasons from the student strategies blog post I mentioned earlier.

By having such a project exists, it serves a number of functions:

  • Something to Show – It gives the student a finished product to add to their portfolio. It’s an actual accomplishment, rather than simply conducting routine functions on a daily basis.
  • Time Management – Depending on your office, sometimes things can get very busy, very fast. It can often be easy to forget about students that you may have working in your office. This project ensures that they always have something to work on.
  • Contribution to the Group – In a busy office, sometimes you lose sight of the bigger picture. The capstone project ideally will fulfil some sort of need in your unit that is a “nice-to-have”, and will contribute to your unit in a positive way.

During and Throughout

Building a Portfolio

If you haven’t started already, begin building a portfolio. You might consider school work that you have done as well as work that you do during your co-op term. Depending on what you want to showcase, this might be digital or in a paper format. The work term project if you have one is a great addition. Remember that it’s not just about the products, but the process or methodology in creating the products that you may want to capture. You will also want to discuss with your supervisor how much can be made public and if not, if it can be used for interviews at the least.

Keep Current and Learn

If for whatever reason you have some “free” time, use the time to learn more about the organization or read more on topics related to your work. You might:

  • Attend workshops or information sessions at your organization. For example, library students in the National Capital Region (NCR) should make sure to take part in library tours and socials organized by the CLA Government Section.
  • Ask coworkers about their sources of information.
  • Subscribe to relevant news, blogs, twitter, etc. feeds or mailing lists.

Essentially, keep up to date on the field and organization you’re working in.

Take Part and Get Involved

I wrote about my experiences in this last week, Reflecting on Communities through Collaborative Tools in the Government of Canada. I didn’t join in on communities with networking in mind, but of course it helped. More than anything, I met a lot of great people and had fun doing it.

Find out whether there are any initiatives going on either inside or outside your organization. In large organizations, such as government or universities, there may be interesting interdepartmental initiatives, groups, community of practices, etc. that are not only interesting, but relevant to your work (if perhaps indirectly). If you don’t get work time to participate, find ones that allow you to participate outside of work time. Just one or two can help you meet others, find out what else is happening, and network! Take part in socials too.

Network and Get Bridged

I am sure every student has heard a million times by now that networking is very important. Particularly in more ‘closed’ systems, jobs are rarely externally or publicly posted. People are hired through recommendations, or just good timing. Consider getting business cards to give people (even just your name and contact info with a line or two about yourself), or asking people for theirs. Alternatively, ask if they are on a social media platform like LinkedIn and for their e-mail address to find them.

In particular, the federal government has a student bridging program which expedites hiring of recent graduates who have done a co-op or FSWEP term during the time of their studies. If you do a co-op term in the federal government, find out more about bridging and add yourself to the National Inventory of Bridgeable Students [internal link].

At the End and Afterwards

Thank People

Again, this may seem like common sense, but I’m surprised to hear how many people don’t think of it. Find a way to thank the people who helped you during your co-op term. This might be as simple as a thank you card addressed to everyone on the team you worked with.

Keep in Touch

When networking, you need to continue to network and keep in touch, especially with your supervisor who will be providing your references and possibly recommendations for positions (again, this applies particularly in more ‘closed’ hiring systems). I will admit myself that I haven’t necessarily been the best at this, but I plan to work on it!

Hopefully this post isn’t too much of a rehash of what others have said, but if it’s been heard before, I think it just reemphasizes how important some of these things are.

Reflections on Communities through Collaborative Tools in the Government of Canada

With only two weeks left and after last night’s meetup, I thought I’d reflect a little on some of the Government of Canada (GC) initiatives I’ve been part of over the term that are outside of my assigned projects, most of which are fairly recent or new.

Young Professionals Network Committees

Admittedly, this is a departmental (not GC) group, but it’s worth a mention.

Many departments (if not most) have a Young Professional Network (even if not by that name). YPN has committees to organize events as well as other work to support staff at the department. I sat on and contributed to:

  • Retention and Renewal Report, another survey is going out to validate the results
  • Student Committee, where we’re currently trying to develop a new orientation guide for students in the department
  • Spend a Day with Senior Management, a job shadow event which has been approved by the YPN sponsor ADM

Contributing to the committees has been a good experience. It allowed me to meet other people working in different sectors and has given me a sense of accomplishment and contribution towards the department even if I’m not here to see the results.

Wiki Community of Practice – WikiCoP

My understanding is that my coworker started wikicop about a year ago in order to have people in the GC community meet every 1-3 months and share ideas, knowledge, and experience on their internal wikis as many departments are developing or have them now. Although I only got the chance to attend a couple, it was great to see what other departments were doing with their wikis and to participate in the discussions. I also got a chance to see a couple of the ways Confluence was being used, which was neat.

GCPEDIA

The GC wiki, GCPEDIA, is a great place for GC staff to share information GC-wide without making it public. There is a lot of great stuff including draft strategies, guidelines, and start up initiatives surrounding all aspects including social media and web usability. I didn’t actually take part in sharing much information, but I have been helping with maintenance. Most of it is day-to-day stuff like fixing broken/double redirects, categorizing pages/files, and page clean ups, but I have also:

  • participated in a wikibee (essentially you do a big clean up as a group in person) for UXWG (User Experience Working Group)
  • been helping with the migration to a new and much improved National Inventory of Bridgeable Students [internal link]

Doing wiki maintenance has helped me learn more about the different departments and what goes on in GC. I also got to know a few people through doing wiki maintenance and participating in the 2011 Best User Page Contest. It was lots of fun!

I think that’s one of the things that makes GCPEDIA interesting to work on. The very active (more permanent) people have been very encouraging (i.e. @jesgood and C. Au) and people will do little things to increase the sense of community and enjoyment, namely by making fun user boxes. I got a green belt/experienced contributor award (basically it’s a level up system based on how much you contribute to GCPEDIA), the 5th level, which I think is pretty decent for a single summer.

Web 2.0 Practioners – W2P

It’s kind of funny, because I avoided Twitter for the longest time. I didn’t think I’d have much use for it, and it just seemed like another social media platform, especially since I don’t have a phone with internet and lacked a laptop for the longest time, I didn’t see how I’d get involve with any conversation.

I was pushed onto twitter because of work. It helped that I got tweetdeck installed. Regardless, I was somewhat surprised by how much of day-to-day sharing between GC employees involved twitter. I shouldn’t have been, but then I used to work at an agency where you had no internet access.

It’s been a great source of keeping up with GC Web/technology news, finding interesting reads, and resources. But most of all, #w2p really taught me what a great community can be built through twitter. It’s been a rare experience for me to simply show up and be so welcomed into a group of veritable strangers. Being a little nervous about going by myself to my first #w2p meet, I was encouraged by many #w2p members most memorably by @spydergrrl (for various reasons includind the fact that she was a co-host). At the meet, I ended up chatting mostly with @mhellstern who introduced me to lots of other people. It was great.

The proof that #w2p can just suck you in (in a good way) is how involved I got. After only two meetups, I ended up co-hosting last night’s meet up. Thanks to @macjudith and her discussions with a friend, the meetup’s theme was to meet the (bridgeable) students of #w2p and I cohosted with @mhellstern (I didn’t even know she was a bridgeable student!). Each student/recent graduate got a couple of minutes to introduce themselves and “sell” themselves just a little bit. We had a great turn out, plus as always, great conversations and stories. I got to finally put a few more faces to twitter nicknames, especially the ones from my department! Not least of all, it meant I got to add another userbox to my GCPEDIA user page (see the fun?).

I will definitely miss #w2p, because unless I get a position in the area in the future… well, it’s not unknown that getting a group together like this outside the NCR can be difficult since this is where most GC staff work and where a lot of this type of work is done since this is where all the “headquarters” are located.

Sense of Contribution, Engagement, Belonging, and Community

I’ve frequently heard people on contract talk about how they don’t in any way feel connected to their department, or the government, especially as a student when you may conceivably never return in, but I didn’t get that feeling thanks to joining #w2p and other groups. There are of course so many different ways to get involved and to find out what’s going on in the GC world, and these are but a few examples, so I encourage GC staff, especially students to get involved; it doesn’t matter that it’s only for a short time, and newbies are welcomed!

The Politics of Gardening a Wiki

Disclaimer: The purpose of this is not a criticism of anyone, but simply a reflection on the reality of things. Opinions written here are also my own and do not necessarily reflect the organization I work for, nor is it necessarily a reflection of what goes on in my organization as I have experience participating and managing numerous wikis. (This more or less applies to anything on my blog really…)

Normally, when you have a wiki, the idea is that the community collaborates to create and manage content. Others will not only suggest changes, but make them. There is little in terms of crossing lines or boundaries or stepping on someone’s toes beyond general netiquette, because what you begin, change, and read is created by a community of users whether that be a partner, team, organization, or the whole world (as is the case with large wiki sites such as wikipedia).

Nevertheless, because the wiki is a very open space, organization and managing content can become very unwieldy. Thus, in order to keep everything working and useful (i.e. not just a hodgepodge of pages), there is one or more wiki administrator and moderators.

So, what happens when a wiki is created within an organization? Hopefully people are educated about the purposes and the workings of a wiki. Then hopefully, as a result, if people start suggesting or changing things (especially moderators and admins), people do not ignore them or complain. However, in an organization where a set of content was traditionally created and managed by a single person who had complete control over what they do and how they do it without that really affecting anyone else, the idea of the wiki itself is hard to grasp for a lot of people, let alone the fact that it’s for community use and other people may come in and change things.

Many people also have a hard time grasping categories as it’s a different kind of organization and many people treat it like tags using their own personal organization without realizing that other people might change the hierarchy and/or use of the category as the wiki evolves. Most of all, because they use it as a personal tagging system, they don’t think about the larger use or organization of the wiki.

Because it’s obvious that some things are related to a specific unit’s or person’s project (but which will be used for greater use and public viewing), as one of the wiki moderators (and the one tasked with a specific area of it), I generally try to make suggestions instead of simply changing things in the hopes of not stepping on anyone’s toes. In some cases though, I simply get ignored or essentially get told “I/we don’t need your help, leave me/us alone”. Sometimes it’s all the harder because not only am I on a part-time contract, I’m also a student (which in some people’s view means I’m not fully qualified to do my job and/or make decisions for the organization without approval).

Perhaps the fact that I’m a student is an easy excuse or out, but whatever the reason, I think the real problem here is that our organization is changing the way we create and disseminate information. People will have much less control than they used to. This can mean more time for them to do other things, but as one who likes to have control over things, I can fully understand that people might not want to let go.

Getting people to understand the new system is one thing. Getting them to accept it is something altogether different. (And please don’t misunderstand, some people have been great about accepting and working with the changes that have been going on. I might even say the majority, but I don’t really know.)

What might be most interesting is that I will soon be passing this work onto someone else. Who that is, I don’t know, but I suspect it will be the next student to come along. It’ll be interesting to see how our wiki develops.