9 scenarios to have prepared for a College Interview [from someone who does interviews]

This quick advice for preparing for a college interview is also useful for any interview: identify three key strengths and activities then prepare short insightful stories that show your strengths in each activity.  Stories are the strongest way to convey information.

I’ve been doing engineering college interviews since 2013 for my Alma mater, Duke University.  I love meeting the upcoming generation of engineers and seeing how their educational experiences will shape their future careers.  Sadly, I also find that few students are really prepared to showcase themselves well in these interviews.  Since it makes my job simpler if you are prepared, I’m going to post my recommendation for future interviews!

It does not take much to prepare for a college interview: you mainly need to be able to tell some short, detailed stories from your experiences that highlight your strengths.

In my experience, the best interviewees are good at telling short and specific stories that highlight their experiences and strengths.  It’s not that they have better experiences, they are just better prepared at showcasing them.  Being prepared makes you more confident and comfortable which then helps you control of how the interview goes and ensures that you leave the right impression.

1/9/15 Note: Control the interview?  Yes!  You should be planning to lead the interviewer to your strengths.  Don’t passively expect them to dig that information out of you.  It’s a two-way conversation, not an interrogation.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Identify three activities that you are passionate about.  They do not have to represent the majority of you effort.  Select ones that define who you are, or caused you to grow in some way.  They could be general items like “reading” or very specific like “summer camp 2016.”  You need to get excited when you talk about these items.  Put these on the rows/y-axis of a 3×3 grid (see below).
  2. Identify three attributes that describe you (you may want help from friends or parents here).  These words should be enough to give a fast snapshot of who you are.  In the example below, the person would be something like “an adventure seeking leader who values standing out as an individual.”  Put these attributes on the columns/x-axis of your grid as I’ve shown below.
  3. Come up with the nine short stories (3-6 sentences!) for the intersections on the grid where you demonstrated the key attribute during the activity.  They cannot just be statements – you must have stories because they provide easy to remember examples for your interview.  If you don’t have a story for an intersection, then talk about how you plan to work this in the future.

Note: This might feel repetitive when you construct your grid but this technique works exceptionally well during an hour-long interview.  You should repeat yourself because you need reinforce your strengths and leave the interviewer with a sure sense of who you are.

Interview Grid

Sample Grid – Click to Enlarge

 

Remember: An admissions, alumni or faculty interview is all about making a strong impression about who you are and, more importantly, what you will bring to the university.

Having a concrete set of experiences and attributes makes sure that you reinforce your strengths.  By showing them in stories, you will create a much richer picture about who you are than if you simply assert statements about yourself.  Remember the old adage of “show, don’t tell.”

Don’t use this grid as the only basis for your interview!  It should be a foundation that you can come back to during your conversations with college representatives.  These are your key discussion points – let them help you round out the dialog.

Good luck!

PS: Google your interviewer!  I expect the candidates to know me before they meet me.  It is perfectly normal and you’d be crazy to not take advantage of that.

Physical Ops = Plumbers of the Internet. Celebrating dirty IT jobs 8 bit style

I must be crazy because I like to make products that take on the hard and thankless jobs in IT.  Its not glamorous, but someone needs to do them.

marioAnalogies are required when explaining what I do to most people.  For them, I’m not a specialist in physical data center operations, I’m an Internet plumber who is part of the team you call when your virtual toilet backs up.  I’m good with that – it’s work that’s useful, messy and humble.

Plumbing, like the physical Internet, disappears from most people’s conscious once it’s out of sight under the floor, cabinet or modem closet.  And like plumbers, we can’t do physical ops without getting dirty.  Unlike cloud-based ops with clean APIs and virtual services, you can’t do physical ops without touching something physical.  Even if you’ve got great telepresence, you cannot get away from physical realities like NIC and SATA enumeration, BIOS management and network topology.  I’m delighted that cloud has abstracted away that layer for most people but that does not mean we can ignore it.

Physical ops lacks the standardization of plumbing.  There are many cross-vendor standards but innovation and vendor variation makes consistency as unlikely as a unicorn winning the Rainbow Triple Crown.

493143-donkey_kong_1For physical ops, it feels like we’re the internet’s most famous plumber, Mario, facing Donkey Kong.  We’ve got to scale ladders, jump fireballs and swing between chains.  The job is made harder because there’s no half measures.  Sometimes you can find the massive hammer and blast your way through but that’s just a short term thing.

Unfortunately, there’s a real enemy here: complexity.

Just like Donkey Kong keeps dashing off with the princess, operations continue to get more and more complex.  Like with Mario, the solution is not to bypass the complexity; it’s to get better and faster at navigating the obstacles that get thrown at you.  Physical ops is about self-reliance and adaptability.  In that case, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from Mario.

If I’m an internet plumber then I’m happy to embrace Mario as my mascot.  Plumbers of the internet unite!

Who’s the grown-up here?  It’s the VM not the Iron!

This ANALOGY exploring Virtual vs Physical Ops is Joint posting by Rob Hirschfeld, RackN, and Russel Doty, Redhat.RUSSEL DOTY

babyCompared to provisioning physical servers, getting applications running in a virtual machine is like coaching an adult soccer team – the players are ready, you just have to get them to the field and set the game in motion.  The physical servers can be compared to a grade school team – tremendous potential, but they can require a lot of coaching and intervention. And they don’t always play nice.

Russell Doty and I were geeking on the challenges of configuring physical servers when we realized that our friends in cloud just don’t have these problems.  When they ask for a server, it’s delivered to them on a platter with an SLA.  It’s a known configuration – calm, rational and well-behaved.  By comparison, hardware is cranky, irregular and sporadic.  To us, it sometimes feels like we are more in the babysitting business. Yes, we’ve had hardware with the colic!

Continuing the analogy, physical operations requires a degree of child-proofing and protection that is (thankfully) hidden behind cloud abstractions of hardware.  More importantly, it requires a level of work that adults take for granted like diaper changes (bios/raid setup), food preparation (network configs), and self-entertainment (O/S updates).

And here’s where the analogy breaks down…

The irony here is that the adults (vms) are the smaller, weaker part of the tribe.  Not only that, these kids have to create the environment that the “adults” run on.

If you’re used to dealing with adults to get work done, you’re going to be in for a shock when you ask the kids to do the same job.

That’s why the cloud is such a productive platform for software.  It’s an adults-only environment – the systems follow the rules and listen to your commands.  Even further, cloud systems know how to dress themselves (get an O/S), rent an apartment (get an IP and connect) and even get credentials (get a driver’s license).

These “little things” are taken for granted in the cloud are not automatic behaviors for physical infrastructure.

Of course, there are trade-offs – most notably performance and “scale up” scalability. The closer you need to get to hardware performance, on cpu, storage, or networks, the closer you need to get to the hardware.

It’s the classic case of standardizing vs. customization. And a question of how much time you are prepared to put into care and feeding!

Three critical ingredients for digital age relationships. [Collaborate Series 8/8]

Translation: Are you ready to apply these lessons?

This post is the final post in an collaborative eight part series by Brad Szollose and I about how culture shapes technology.

End of LineDuring this blog series, we’ve explored how important culture is in the work place.  The high tech areas are especially sensitive because they disproportionately embrace the millennial culture which often causes conflicts.

Our world has changed, driven by technology, new thinking, and new methodologies yet we may be using 20th century management techniques on 21st century customers and workers. There is an old business axiom that states, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  Yet how much of our process, interaction, successes, and failures never wind up on a spreadsheet, yet impact it?

Customers don’t leave bad companies; they leave companies that miss the mark when it comes to customer engagement. To better serve our customers we need to understand and adapt to the psychology of a new customer … one who has been trained to work as a Digital Native.

What would that look like? Tech people who interact with patience, collaboration, deep knowledge, and an openness to input, adapting to a customer’s needs in real-time. Wouldn’t that create a relationship that is second to none and unbreakable? Wouldn’t that be a leg up on the competition?

By understanding that new business culture has been influenced by the gaming experience, we have a deeper understanding of what is important to our customer base. And like a video game, if you cling to hierarchy, you lose. If you get caught up in linear time management, you lose. If you cling to bottlenecks and tradition you lose.

Three key takeaways: speed, adaptation, and collaboration

Those three words sum up today’s business environment. By now, you should not be surprised that those drivers are skills honed in video games.

We’ve explored the radically different ways that Digital Natives approach business opportunities. As the emerging leaders of the technological world, we must shift our operations to be more open, collaborative, iterative, and experience based.

Rob challenges you to get involved in his and other collaborative open source projects. Brad challenges you to try new leadership styles that engage with the Cloud Generation. Together, we challenge our entire industry to embrace a new paradigm that redefines how we interact and innovate. We may as well embrace it because it is the paradigm that we’ve already trained the rising generation or workers to intuitively understand.

What’s next?

Brad and Rob collaborated on this series with the idea of extending the concepts beyond a discussion of the “digital divide” and really looking at how culture impacts business leadership.  Lately, we’ve witnessed that the digital divide is not about your birthday alone.  We’ve seen that age alone does not drive the all cultural differences we’ve described here.  Our next posts will reflect the foundations for different ways that we’ve seen people respond to each other with a focus on answering “can digital age workers deliver?”

Like the conclusion?  Reading the rest of the series! 1: Intro > 2: ToC > 3: Video Reality > 4: Authority > 5: On The Game Training > 6: Win by Failing > 7: Go Digital Native > 8: Three Takeaways

 

Cloud Culture: Becoming L33T – Five ways to “go digital native” [Collaborative Series 7/8]

Subtitle: Five keys to earn Digital Natives’ trust

This post is #7 in an collaborative eight part series by Brad Szollose and I about how culture shapes technology.

WARNING: These are not universal rules! These are two cultures. What gets high scores for Digital Natives is likely to get you sacked with Digital Immigrants.

How do Digital Natives do business?

You've gotta deal with itYou don’t sell! You collaborate with them to help solve their problems. They’ll discredit everything say if you “go all marketing on them” and try to “sell them.”

Here are five ways that you can build a two-way collaborative relationship instead of one-way selling. These tips aren’t speculation: Brad has proven these ideas work in real-world business situations.

Interested in Digital Native Culture?  We recommend reading (more books):

1) Share, don’t tell.

Remember the cultural response in Rob’s presentation discussed in the introduction to this paper? The shift took place because Rob wanted to share his expertise instead of selling the awesomeness of his employeer. This is what changed the dynamic.

In a selling situation, the sales pitch doesn’t address our client’s needs. It addresses what we want to tell them and what we think they need. It is a one-way conversation. And if someone has a choice between saying “yes” or “no” in a sales meeting, a client can always have the choice to say “no.”

Sharing draws our customers in so we can hear their problems and solve them. We can also get a barometer on what they know versus what they need. When Rob is presenting to a customer, he’s qualifying the customer too. Solutions are not one size fits all and Digital Natives respect you more for admitting this to them.

Digital Native business is about going for a long-term solution-driven approach instead of just positioning a product. If you’ve collaborated with customers and they agree you’ve got a solution for them then it’s much easier to close the sale. And over the long term, it’s a more lucrative way to do business.

2) Eliminate bottlenecks.

Ten years ago, IT departments were the bottleneck to getting products into the market. If customers resisted, it could take years to get them to like something new. Today, Apple introduces new products every six month with a massive adoption rate because Digital Natives don’t wait for permission from an authority.

The IT buyer has made that sales cycle much more dynamic because our new buyers are Digital Natives. Where Digital Immigrants stayed entrenched in a process or technology, Digital Natives are more willing to try something unproven. Amazon’s EC2 public cloud presented a huge challenge to the authority of IT departments because developers were simply bypassing internal controls. Digital Natives have been trained to look for out-of-the-box solutions to problems.

Time-to-market has become the critical measure for success.

We now have IT end-user buyers who adopt and move faster through the decision process than ever before! We interfere with their decision process if we still treating new buyers as if they can’t keep up and we have to educate them.

Today’s Digital Workers are smart, self-starters who more than understand technology; they live it. Their intuitive nature toward technology and the capacity to use it without much effort has become a cultural skill set. Also they can look up, absorb, and comprehend products without much effort. They did their homework before we walked in the door.

Digital Natives are impatient. They want to skip over what they know and get to real purpose and collaboration. You add bottlenecks when you force them back into a traditional decision process that avoids risk; instead, they are looking to business partners to help them iterate and accelerate.

 How did this apply to the Crowbar project?

Crowbar addresses a generation’s impatience to be up and running in record time. But there is more to it than that: we engage with customers differently too. Our open source collaboration and design flexibility mean that we can dialog with customers and partners to figure out the real wants and needs in record time.

3) Let go of linear.

Digital Natives do not want to be walked through detailed linear presentations. They do want the information but leave out the hand holding. The best strategy is to prepare to be a well-trained digital commando—plan a direction, be confident, be ready to respond, and be willing to admit knowledge gaps. It’s a strategy without a strategy.

Ask questions at the beginning of a meeting—this becomes a knowledge base “smell test.” Listening to what our clients know and don’t know gets us to the heart and purpose of why we are there. Take notes. Stay open to curve balls, tough questions, and—dare we say it—the client telling us we are off base. You should not be surprised at how much they know.

For open source projects at Dell (Rob’s Employeer), customers have often downloaded and installed the product before they have talked to the sales team. Rob has had to stop being surprised when they are better informed about our offerings than our well trained internal teams. Digital Natives love collecting information and getting started independently. This completely violates the normal linear sales process; instead, customers enter more engaged and ready if you can be flexible enough to meet them where they already are.

4) Be attentively interactive.

No one likes to sit in one meeting after another. Why are meetings boring? Meetings should be engaging and collaborative; unfortunately, most meetings are simply one-way presentations or status updates. When Digital Natives interrupt a presentation, it may mean they are not getting what they want but it also means they are paying attention.

Aren’t instant messaging, texting, and tweeting attention-stealing distractions?

Don’t confuse IMing, texting, emailing, and tweeting as lack of attention or engagement.

Digital Natives use these “back channels” to speed up knowledge sharing while eliminating the face-to-face meeting inertia of centralized communication.

Of course, sometimes we do check out and stop paying attention.

Time and attention are valuable commodities!

With all the distractions and multi-tasking for speed and connectivity, giving someone undivided attention is about respect, and paying attention is not passive! When we ask questions, it shows that we’re engaged and paying attention. When we compile all the answers from those questions, our intention leads us to solutions. Solving our client’s problems is about getting to the heart of the matter and becomes the driving force behind every action and solution.

Don’t be afraid to stray from the agenda—our attention is the agenda.

5) Stay open to happy accidents.

In Brad’s book, Liquid Leadership, the chapter titled “Have Laptop. Will Travel” points out how Digital Natives have been trained in virtualized work habits because they are more effective.

Our customers are looking for innovative solutions to their problems and may find them in places that we do not expect. It is our job to stay awake and open to solution serendipity. Let’s take this statement out of our vocabulary: “That’s not how we do it.” Let’s try a new approach: “That isn’t traditionally how we would do it, but let us see if it could improve things.”

McDonald’s uses numbers for their combo meals to make sure ordering is predictable and takes no more than 30 seconds. It sounds simple, but changes come from listening to customers’ habits. We need to stop judging and start adapting. Imagine a company that adapts to the needs of its customers?

Sales guru Jeffery Gitomer pays $100 in cash to any one of his employees who makes a mistake. This mistake is analyzed to figure out if it is worthy of application or to be discarded. He doesn’t pay $100 if they make the same mistake twice. Mistakes are where we can discover breakthrough ideas, products, and methods.

Making these kinds of leaps requires that we first let go of rigid rules and opinions and make it OK to make a few mistakes … as long as we look at them through a lens of possibility. Digital Natives have spent 10,000 hours playing learning to make mistakes, take risks, and reach mastery.

Keep Reading! Next post is Three Takeaways (previous Win by Failing)

 

 

Cloud Culture: Level up – You win the game by failing successfully [Collaborative Series 6/8]

Translation: Learn by playing, fail fast, and embrace risk.

This post is #6 in an collaborative eight part series by Brad Szollose and I about how culture shapes technology.

It's good to failDigital Natives have been trained to learn the rules of the game by just leaping in and trying. They seek out mentors, learn the politics at each level, and fail as many times as possible in order to learn how NOT to do something. Think about it this way: You gain more experience when you try and fail quickly then carefully planning every step of your journey. As long as you are willing to make adjustments to your plans, experience always trumps prediction.

Just like in life and business, games no longer come with an instruction manual.

In Wii Sports, users learn the basic in-game and figure out the subtlety of the game as they level up. Tom Bissel, in Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, explains that the in-game learning model is core to the evolution of video games. Game design involves interactive learning through the game experience; consequently, we’ve trained Digital Natives that success comes from overcoming failure.

Early failure is the expected process for mastery.

You don’t believe that games lead to better decision making in real life? In a January 2010 article, WIRED magazine reported that observations of the new generation of football players showed they had adapted tactics learned in Madden NFL to the field. It is not just the number of virtual downs played; these players have gained a strategic field-level perspective on the game that was before limited only to coaches. Their experience playing video games has shattered the on-field hierarchy.

For your amusement…Here is a video about L33T versus N00B culture From College Humor “L33Ts don’t date N00Bs.”  Youtu.be/JVfVqfIN8_c

Digital Natives embrace iterations and risk as a normal part of the life.

Risk is also a trait we see in entrepreneurial startups. Changing the way we did things before requires you to push the boundaries, try something new, and consistently discard what doesn’t work. In Lean Startup Lessons Learned, Eric Ries built his entire business model around the try-learn-adjust process. He’s shown that iterations don’t just work, they consistently out innovate the competition.

The entire reason Dell grew from a dorm to a multinational company is due to this type of fast-paced, customer-driven interactive learning. You are either creating something revolutionary or you will be quickly phased out of the Information Age. No one stays at the top just because he or she is cash rich anymore. Today’s Information Age company needs to be willing to reinvent itself consistently … and systematically.

Why do you think larger corporations that embrace entrepreneurship within their walls seem to survive through the worst of times and prosper like crazy during the good times?

Gamer have learned that Risk that has purpose will earn you rewards.