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Opinion Editorials

Are you an expert, an expert time waster or a realistic amateur?

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The meaning of life via technology

(AGBeat) – Since the first of the year, I’ve dealt with a fried hard drive, settin’ up a new TV/DVR, and hookin’ some new goodies to my office’s wifi network. Along with those relatively minor to-dos I’ve also been in the serious ramping up phase of some marketing. This entails a new website, and some medium to major remodeling of an old site. It also includes resurrecting consistent direct mail, something I did for nearly two decades, but not for several years.

The mailings necessitates dealing with some serious data suppliers, which ultimately has been pared down to one. Two schools of thought — Do it yourself — OR — Call the guy. As I often declare without shame, I’m President for Life of TechTards Anonymous. I make no bones about it. I know what I know about high-tech electronic equipment. It mostly ends with call the guy. The new TV? The guy set it up, handed me the controller, and wished me a good day. Took him about 10 minutes to make everything work perfectly. Much obliged. I woulda spent an hour cussin’ at inanimate objects then ended up with results far inferior.

The importance of results

How important is it to you that the results be superior? There’s a difference between makin’ your own basement bookshelves, and doin’ something that will directly impact what you do for a living.

The office equipment? Gimme a break. Tried it myself, which was stoopid. I figured, just like most of us do when launching into a DIY project, ‘How hard can it be?’ Try impossible. After several lame attempts, I decided to return it, and buy a different brand. How did I know to do this? I called the guy. He figured out the problem was the machine itself. Anywho, back to the new one. This time I reverted to my Call the Guy theology.

It was in the box when Steve arrived. 30 minutes later the office was as modern and up to date as it’s ever been. Everything, without exception is wireless now. It’s the answers to the questions you never knew to ask that come back to bite you. 

The direct mailings are being headed up by another guy. Yeah, I do have experience there. But since he’s been responsible for puttin’ out over a million pieces a month in another life, I made a courageous assumption that he knows more than I do. Hey, it was a judgment call. I’ve already learned more from this guy in a few months than I did in over 18 years of direct mailing. Very successful direct mailing, I might add. I’ll report on that project when I have something to say.

My websites? The guy I called to run my own blog operates under one all-encompassing executive order. When it comes to my blog, I’M IN CHARGE when it comes to writing posts and pushing ‘publish’. He’s in charge of everything else. It’s worked out just fine, thank you. One day, he told me, pretty casually, that the design of my blog needed to be changed, along with the updating of what version of WordPress I was using. ‘Great, let me know when it’s done.’ It is virtually seamlessly. The new site is finished and toolin’ itself up. Should be producing some time in the next 2-4 weeks or so. I called the guy.

My role in the process

Told him to get it up ‘n running without any input from me, except for anything he needed to know about real estate investment, which the site is about. We both knew exactly what result we wanted from the site. It wasn’t complicated — the result, that is. Getting there? I don’t know, and I don’t care. It’s not what I do. I don’t need the satisfaction of tellin’ folks ‘I did this’ while proudly pointing to the finished product. I’ll report on this project too, but not ’til it’s had some time to produce.

So far this year, and February’s not over yet, I’ve easily saved hundreds of man hours by calling the guy. But forget the saved hours, I’m about results, period. My results would’ve been shameful, relatively speaking. In other words, hundreds of wasted hours put towards producing little if any of the desired results. Yet, this is what so many of us do with parts of our lives which cannot stand much failure.

The DIY approach

Think about all the folks within shouting distance of their retirement. For the last 20-40 years, they’ve been planning it. It’s been my experience the last few decades, that most retirement plans are 75-100% DIY. Yet most don’t give that reality a second thought. Well, they do, but typically a year or two before their scheduled retirement — which won’t happen on time — if it EVER does.

Setting aside the only acceptable reason for the DIY approach, lack of funding, the litany of excuses are almost always more pitiful than the results our own efforts have produced. What convinces us to take the DIY approach when it’s simply not what we do professionally? Is it false pride? Is it ego? I know that whenever I’ve created another Keystone Kops situation from a silly decision to do something myself, it’s almost always been due to ego. Yet when the smoke clears, the ego has taken thrice the beating cuz now everyone can see what a dunce we’ve been. We need to learn, sooner rather than later, to get over ourselves and just… Call the freakin’ guy.

Photo above is a screenshot from the SNL sketch, “Your Company’s Computer Guy.”

Opinion Editorials

Job listings are popping up left and right, so what exactly *is* UX writing?

(EDITORIAL) While UX writing is not technically new, it is seemingly becoming more and more prevalent. The job titles are everywhere, so what is it?

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UX writing

The work of a UX writer is something you come across every day. Whether you’re hailing an Uber or browsing Spotify for that one Drake song, your overall user experience is affected by the words you read at each touchpoint.

A UX writer facilitates a smooth interaction between user and product at each of these touchpoints through carefully chosen words.

Some of the most common touchpoints these writers work on are interface copy, emails, and notifications. It doesn’t sound like the most thrilling stuff, but imagine using your favorite apps without all the thoughtful confirmation messages we take for granted. Take Eat24’s food delivery app, instead of a boring loading visual, users get a witty message like “smoking salmon” or “slurping noodles.”

Eat24’s app has UX writing that works because it’s engaging.

Xfinity’s mobile app provides a pleasant user experience by being intuitive. Shows that are available on your phone are clearly labeled under “Available Out of Home.” I’m bummed that Law & Order: SVU isn’t available, but thanks to thoughtful UX writing at least I knew that sad fact ahead of time.

Regardless of where you find these writer’s work, there are three traits an effective UX writer must-have. Excellent communication skills are a must. The ability to empathize with the user is on almost every job post. But from my own experience working with UX teams, I’d argue for the ability to advocate as the most important skill.

UX writers may have a very specialized mission, but they typically work within a greater user experience design team. In larger companies, some UX writers even work with a smaller team of fellow writers. Decisions aren’t made in isolation. You can be the wittiest writer, with a design decision based on obsessive user research, but if you can’t advocate for those decisions then what’s the point?

I mentioned several soft skills, but that doesn’t mean aspiring UX writers can’t benefit from developing a few specific tech skills. While the field doesn’t require a background in web development, UX writers often collaborate with engineering teams. Learning some basic web development principles such as responsive design can help writers create a better user experience across all devices. In a world of rapid prototyping, I’d also suggest learning a few prototyping apps. Several are free to try and super intuitive.

Now that the UX in front of the writer no longer intimidates you, go check out ADJ, The American Genius’ Facebook Group for Austin digital job seekers and employers. User-centric design isn’t going anywhere and with everyone getting into the automation game, you can expect even more opportunities in UX writing.

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Opinion Editorials

Have an in-person job interview? 7 tips to crush the competition

EDITORIAL) While we all know the usual interview schtick, take some time to really study for your next face-to-face job interview.

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Job interview between two women.

So, you’re all scheduled for an in-person interview for a job you’d kill for. It’s exciting that you’ve made it to this step, but the question is, are you ready? Especially with remote interviews being the new norm, your nerves may feel shaken up a bit to interview in person – but you’ve got this! And many of these tips can be applied no matter the interview setting.

We all know the basics of a job interview: dress nice, get there early, come prepared, firm handshake, yada, yada, yada… However, it’s good to really sit and think about all of the requirements of a successful interview.

There are seven steps for crushing a face-to-face interview. Do your homework upside down and inside out in order to walk into that room.

Which brings us to the first step: know everything you need to know backwards and forwards.

This can be done in two steps: getting to know the company and getting to know yourself. By doing website, social media, and LinkedIn research, you can get a feel of the company culture as well as the position you’re interviewing for.

By getting to know yourself, have a friend ask you some interview questions so you can practice. Also, take a look at your resume through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know you. Make sure everything is clear and can compete with other candidates.

The next step is to anticipate solving future problems. Have some insight on the department that you are interviewing for and come prepared with ideas of how to better this department. (i.e. if it’s marketing, give examples of campaigns you’ve done in the past that have proven to have been successful.)

Step number three requires you to go back to the research board and get some information on the employer. Find out who you’re meeting with (head of HR, head of the department, etc.) and make your self-presentation appropriate for the given person.

Next, work on making the interview conversation a meaningful one. This can be done by asking questions as people like to see you take an interest in them. Also, be sure to never answer the questions as if it’s your regular spiel. Treat each job interview as if this is the first time you’re presenting your employability information.

With this, your next step is to have stories prepared for the job interview. Anecdotes and examples of previous jobs or volunteer/organization experiences can help bring life to an otherwise run-of-the-mill resume.

After this, you’ll want to make sure that you’re showing enthusiasm for the position you’re interviewing for. Don’t jump on the couch in the lobby like you’re Tom Cruise on Oprah, but definitely portray that you’re excited and up for the challenge.

Lastly, make a good impression by being impressive. Be professional and in control of your body language. Put yourself in the mindset of whatever position you’re interviewing for and show them that you have what it takes.

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Opinion Editorials

The benefits of remote work are just too good to overlook

(EDITORIAL) Employees scream it from the rooftops and businesses don’t want to admit it: Remote work is just too beneficial to pass up- and here’s why.

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Work from home written with scrabble letters.

Remote work has been rising in popularity in the past several years. Especially following the COVID-19 global pandemic, more companies saw significant benefits for both their business and their staff that went beyond the realm of finances by allowing remote labor.

Less happily, many people lost their job during the pandemic, but they ended up having more time to put toward their passions or were compelled to get creative with their remote business ideas to ensure a consistent stream of income.

If you remain on the fence about allowing your employees to work remotely, or are considering a career shift yourself, take a look at the top four benefits of working remotely, which may sway your decision.

Better Overall Quality of Life

Allowing your employees to work remotely doesn’t necessarily mean they work from home full time. There are benefits to having your employees work in an office part of the time – say, two or three days – and working from home, in more familiar surroundings, the rest of the week.

In this way, your workers enjoy some freedom and independence while retaining the ability to interact face-to-face with their peers. That provides human interaction, which can play a substantial role in terms of improved mental health for your staff.

Happy employees means healthier employees, which can save your outfit money in the form of healthcare costs and lost productivity. But we will get further into the cost-saving benefits a little further on.

If you’re a remote worker, you should see yourself becoming significantly more productive. But why would this be the case if you don’t have a manager over your shoulder watching your every move?

It’s true that when employees have a greater sense of independence, they also experience a significant sense of trust on the part of their employers and managers. This is one of the huge benefits of working remotely because it has a trickle-down effect on the quality and overall production of people’s work.

Can Work Anywhere with Internet

Whether you are a small business owner or have crafted your work to tailor toward a life of remote labor, this is an opportunity for someone who has dreamed of being a digital nomad. You have the ability to work anywhere in the world as long as you have access to the Internet. If you love to travel, this is a chance to spend time in various places around the globe while continuing to meet your deadlines.

Multi-member Zoom call on a Apple Mac laptop with a blue mug of black coffee next to it.

Set Your Own Hours

In some cases with remote businesses, you have the freedom to set your own hours. Content writers, for instance, tend to enjoy more flexibility with regard to when they work because a lot of what they produce is project-based rather than tied to a nine-to-five schedule.

When you’re a business owner, this can be incredibly useful when you outsource tasks to save money. You can find a higher quality of performance by searching for contractors anywhere in the world and it doesn’t limit you to workers who live near to your office.

Saves Everyone Time and Money

 In the end, remote work typically saves money for every person and entity involved. Businesses save costs in terms of not having to pay for a physical space, utilities, Internet, and other expenses. This allows you, as the owner, to spend more of your income on providing quality software and benefits for your employees so your operation runs more smoothly and efficiently.

According to FlexJobs, employees or remote business owners may save around $4,000 on average every year for expenses such as car maintenance, transportation, professional clothing in the office, or even money spent dining out for lunch with coworkers. Eventually, the costs add up, which means extra money in your pocket to take that much-needed vacation or save up for a down payment on your first home.

These benefits of working remotely only skim the surface. There are also sustainability factors such as removing cars from the roads and streets, because people don’t have to travel to and from an office; or employees missing fewer workdays since they have the ability and freedom to clock in from home.

Weigh the pros and cons as to whether remote work is right for you as a business owner or online professional. You might be surprised to find that working from home for more than the duration of the pandemic is worthwhile and could have long-lasting benefits.

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