Time to consider job crafting

A few weeks ago I wrote about career skeptics and the changing way we are interacting with our jobs during the pandemic. Today I want to talk about job crafting and how it can be used to improve your working conditions and perhaps move your job in the right direction and help your career.

5 Best Hot Glue Gun Options for Crafts and DIYs - Bob VilaThe term conjures up glue guns and glitter, which isn’t a bad metaphor for what is really behind the term. In a 2007 paper written by academics, the authors talk about how employees should redesign their jobs to improve work satisfaction and engagement. If HGTV or DIY had shows about job crafting, they would show the before and after shots of tedium transformed into an exciting, vibrant workplace. Or something like that. (But please, no shiplap. I can’t stand shiplap.)

There are three components of job crafting: tasks, cognition and people relationships. Let’s take them in turn. The task crafting is perhaps the easiest to get your head around: you want to change the type and scope of the particular tasks of your job to make the job more interesting, more useful or other reasons. This often involves changing your job responsibilities. My wife says you should be doing the job that you want to have when you get a promotion. A companion piece is changing your cognition or mindset of these tasks, such as how you interpret your job responsibilities or the specific work that you have been hired to do.

Here is an example: if you take orders from your customers, your job could be defined as just pure input, and making sure the orders are entered correctly. But if you alter your mindset a bit, you could be providing your customers with the best possible experience and making sure that they are ordering what they need and have the right expectations. It is a subtle shift, but an important one.

Finally, crafting your relationships is a lot harder: are you aiming to get more mentorship from a particular person in your organization? Or find a particular collaborator? Or are you looking to build particular connections to an important customer or partner? The authors of the 2007 paper wrote a 2020 piece for Harvard’s Business Review that provides some case studies to illustrate these three points.

These three elements interact with each other, so the lines are somewhat blurry among them. But what is important is that crafting your job is only possible when you have cooperation from your manager. If your boss is a bad one and can’t delegate responsibility and authority (just to pick something at random that frequently happened to me), they aren’t going to be able to help and will use their job glue gun to gum up the works, rather than build something wonderful.

Who is Maria Ressa?

What if you built an online news site from the ground up, ironically starting from a simple Facebook Groups page. You grew to hire dozens of editors and became the antagonist of the President as you investigated various criminal activities of his administration, including calling out various fake news proclamations by government officials. Then to silence your efforts, the  government used a new cybersecurity law to (again ironically) indict and ultimate find you guilty with a six-month jail sentence. Oh, and there were death threats and various Presidential proclamations and attacks along the way.

Maria A. RessaYou might be trying to figure out which American news source I am talking about, but it is the website Rappler, The site was founded nearly ten years ago by Maria Ressa, who just shared the Nobel Peace Prize (and has numerous other awards including a Fulbright).  Ressa’s Rappler has exposed a variety of Philippine government corruption scandals and various financial dirt and called attention to the anti-drug campaign that has resulted in the murder of thousands of supposed drug dealers.

Her arrest warrant was issued in 2019 was created due to one seemingly innocent action by Rappler: making a small spelling correction to an 2012 article that made it fall under the law’s purview. Ressa faces numerous other pending legal cases too.

Ressa’s plight was documented in an excellent PBS Frontline piece not too long ago. Called A Thousand Cuts, it shows how hard she worked to reveal the perfidy of her government, and the peril that she faced for running an investigative news operation. I am glad the Nobel committee has recognized her efforts and hope that all the attention will eventually overturn her unjust criminal charges. The world needs more people like her to bring sunlight into the real criminals running her government.

Avast blog: Facebook outage: How to prevent your own network failures

On October 4, Facebook was offline for about six hours due to human error. The company states that “configuration changes on our backbone routers” was the cause. In this post for Avast, I’ll explain what happened and walk through the takeaways for running your own business network. Thanks to two Internet protocols, DNS and BGP, Facebook engineers accidentally took their servers offline and prevented their users of WhatsApp and Instagram from operating their apps as well.

A more technical explanation can be found here on CLoudflare’s blog. This diagram shiows the outage of all three services:


Biznology blog: Understanding how collaboration happens

The PC era brought about an unprecedented transformation in the world of work, but it mostly empowered individual employees to run their own productivity apps. But with the work-from-home challenges brought about from the COVID-19 pandemic, workers must to figure out how to collaborate together. It’s now a business imperative, and it isn’t a new problem, but it’s an increasingly complex challenge not because of a lack of tools, but because we have too many to choose from. Now that more of us are working from home, how can we have a virtual experience that will work? There are two posts for Biznology:

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the history and evolution of collaboration. We set a historical context and show you how collaboration has evolved over the past several decades by looking at some of the more interesting and effective moments in shared team productivityIn part two,  we turn to how to choose the right tools so that you can collaborate effectively.

FIR B2B podcast episode #150: Marketing truths from Ruth Stevens

Ruth StevensThis episode brought us together with Ruth Stevens, whose consulting firm, eMarketing Strategy, helps clients build customer acquisition and retention strategies along with other marketing programs. Ruth has had a distinguished career. She has taught marketing at the NYU Stern School, the Columbia Business School and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. Before that  she held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, IBM and other firms.

Back in the early 1990s Ruth headed up marketing for the Ziff Davis Computer Library, an early – and highly profitable – business that repackaged content from Ziff-Davis’ portfolio of publications and delivered it on a CD-ROM, if you can believe it. Ruth is an unabashed fan of B2B marketing with a wide scope of interests. As a blogger on Biznology.com, she has lamented the often toxic relationship between sales and marketing organizations and described tools for connecting with your website visitors that even our hosts were unaware of.

Ruth is past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York and was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine. She has written a number of books, the most recent being B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results, which was co-authored Theresa Kushner. In a recent presentation, she talked about ways to plan your content marketing library.

Among the topics we touch on in this interview is the value of account-based marketing, the importance of understanding the difference between lead quantity and quality, the mistakes that B2B marketers make that still drive her crazy and why B2B marketing is more complex, difficult and fun than B2C marketing. You can listen to our 20 min. podcast recording below.

Understanding career skeptics and the role of employee monitoring

We all know that the pandemic has had a major impact on employment patterns: not just more people working from home, but fewer people returning to their pre-Covid jobs. This has revealed what journalist Charlie Warzel calls career skeptics. His original piece can be found here, where he says folks don’t reject how they navigate their careers, but a complete rejection of having a career. That post received a sharply divided reaction from his readers: one group agreed with his point of view, but another felt the skeptics were a bunch of entitled complainers with a poor work ethic.

I have had essentially four careers. The first began when I was still in college and with a full-time job in my senior year as a professional photographer for the City of Albany, NY. It only lasted a year and only paid $5000 but it was the prototypical “foot in the door” in a very competitive profession. How competitive? After the job ended, I came to New York City with my portfolio in hand to try to get a job with a photographer. It was depressing: most of the people I tried to talk to wouldn’t even give me the time of day. Some just laughed at me: “What New York City (with emphasis on the last word) experience do you have?”

One of the photographers who actually let me in his door was W. Eugene Smith, the celebrated magazine photojournalist who was a few years away from his death. When I saw him he was in poor health, after being poisoned by covering the Minamata Mercury pollution story. He was very kind, although also very critical about my work. But just being able to spend a few moments with him made me realize that I had a long way to go, and that photography wasn’t in the cards in terms of my own career.

That “decisive moment” (to quote from another photographer) with Smith is what I guess many people are going through right now with their own career decisions. Maybe they don’t have a famous person giving them advice. Maybe they are seeing what their contemporaries are doing and want to find something else. My point is that you don’t necessarily have to stop at one career, if you understand your motivations and why you aren’t happy with your current job.

My other three careers were more successful: as a policy analyst in Washington DC and then various roles in IT and finally as you probably know me as a tech journalist. Early into that second career – in fact, at the end of my first job and about to take a second job offer – I remember a conversation with my dad, who ended up working for the same employer for decades as an accountant. I had just finished two years with the first firm, and he cautioned me that the change in jobs was too quick and wouldn’t look good for any future employer. It seems so quaint now, where a two-year tenure is almost too long in some quarters. My point here is that times change, and how our careers evolve need to be considered in the context of the times.

Warzel posits that our culture should perhaps aspire to better relations between employers and employees: the old saw that a company owes you nothing more than a paycheck and a safe working environment aren’t enough in today’s world where career development, intellectual stimulation, and doing something good for the world should motivate people to come to work, or at least come to their laptops in their spare bedrooms.

But that brings up another issue that is bugging me, and that is how we monitor our newly remote work forces. Employers are using increasingly intrusive monitoring software to track what their remote workers are doing, according to this piece in the Washington Post. This software category has exploded: It used to be just time and keystroke tracking, but now these tools can take screen captures, record video and ambient audio as well as track browser URLs and track geolocation. These tools include products such as Hubstaff, DeskTime, VeriClock and ActivTrack, and their use is growing quickly. PC Magazine even has a review of the category here. They say that “solutions that have been traditionally focused on tracking employee activity, logging suspicious behavior, and sniffing out possible insider threats are now pivoting to not only track productivity, but also monitor health and wellness, and even improve engagement.”

That frankly scares me. If we want to develop better employee/employer engagement, we have to start out trusting each other. Using more heavy-handed monitoring is a step backwards and could be yet another reason why employees aren’t returning to their pre-pandemic jobs — even if they don’t have to suffer long commutes to get to the office.

Back in the late 1980s, when I was a manager at PC Week, I supervised about a dozen people. Almost all of them were working remotely from our main office in downtown Boston. It was easy enough to measure their productivity: if the writer wrote his or her assigned stories, that was good enough for me. One of them was Bob who started out with a bang and then eventually tapered off to writing very few stories, and I had to fire him (the first person that I ever fired, by the way). Now, maybe your own productivity can’t be so quickly quantified, but I tried to give Bob the benefit of the doubt but after a month of no output and numerous requests to change his behavior I didn’t have much choice. That firing was a decisive moment for Bob, who went on for a second career as a pastor and talk show radio host.

Avast blog: Here are OWASP’s top 10 vulnerabilities in 2021

owaspLast week was the 20th anniversary of the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), and in honor of that date, the organization issued its long-awaited update to its top 10 exploits. It has been in draft form for months and has been updated several times since 2003, and before its latest iteration, in 2017. In my blog post for Avast, I probe into its development, how it differs from the older lists, and what are some key takeaways for infosec managers and corporate app developers.

The 2021 Top 10 list has sparked some controversy. Security consultant Daniel Miessler complains that list is mixing unequal elements, and calls out the insecure design item as a problem.  “While everyone can agree it’s important, it’s not a thing in itself. It’s instead a set of behaviors that we use to prevent issues.” He thinks the methodology is backwards: “OWASP should start with the purpose of the project and the output you want it to produce for a defined audience, and then look at the data needed.”

YAFAT (Yet Another Facebook Apology Tour)

Could it be that we have witnessed the last of the Zuck World Apology Tours? Technically, his last one was in 2018, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal (which I wrote about on my blog here). But the Facebook executive – and his minions – have been apologizing frequently since then. Kara Swisher writes in her last week’s NY Times’ column, “What’s most revealing is the persistence of the tired old, so-so-sorry, we’ll-do-better excuses that Facebook’s executives trot out when the company is called out for its destructive products.” This was in the context of some recent bad news about Instagram, but still.

In Swisher’s column, she points out that Marc Benioff, the Salesforce CEO, told her back in 2018 that “Facebook is the new cigarettes. It’s addictive. It’s not good for you.” Now this remark seems eerily prescient. Yesterday, the Times ran a story about how Facebook will be pushing more positive stories about itself in its news feed in attempts to burnish its image. Called Project Amplify, it is doing what it does best: tweak its algorithm to present its own warped world view. This comes after a series of other failures to use various large-scale manual efforts to monitor and control how it spreads information.

One of the tweaks is to break up the data analytics team behind its CrowdTangle offering. This used to be the domain of data nerds and a few selected social media managers at major news outlets and retail brands. For example, here is a promotional piece that NBC News did on how they used the tool to identify individuals who post particularly poignant pieces on their news feeds. The tool was acquired back at the end of 2016 and its small development team was kept more or less intact until earlier this year. The developers explain it makes engagement on public content from various pages and groups within Facebook, Instagram account posts and other content more discoverable for researchers.

“CrowdTangle is a good resource for the right question such as large-scale text and image analysis but it is limited in its focus on public pages, which isn’t appropriate for my research,” says Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, an Assistant Professor at UCLA.

But the top Facebook brass didn’t like the results of its analysis, as Kevin Roose explained (in another Times piece entitled, “Inside Facebook’s data wars”) how he constructed his “Top 10” Twitter list of most engaging Facebook posters using CrowdTangle. He still produces these lists daily, and they vary widely across various familiar and unfamiliar names. Roose pointed out how his Top 10 lists were frequently filled with conservative opinion leaders such as Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino and Sean Hannity.

Facebook has tried to be transparent and continues to fail. It has this idealistic vision of being the online town square where ideas can flow freely. That may be the case in one corner, but the folks who shout the loudest and buy the digital equivalent of ink by the barrel are only interested in their own world view and the spread of misinformation. Its leaders suffer from toxic positivity, where they think their company can do no wrong.

As newspapers have become endangered species, we now have a new target, the addictive and unhealthy social media. As one gruesome warning label in Australia claimed about smoking, using social media can cause blindness and irreversible eye damage. Sad to say, Benioff was spot-on years ago.

Book review: The Spectacular

The best recommendation that I can give to a work of fiction is the feeling I get when I finish the book that I haven’t read a novel. With this book The Spectacular chronicling the lives of three generations of women, I felt like I was reading real reporting about what happened to each of them and had to check to make sure that it really was fiction. The three women are all flawed in interesting and complementary ways: grandma has adjustment problems as an immigrant from Turkey, mom doesn’t want to be a parent initially and leaves her daughter in grandma’s care to go find herself, and the daughter has so many issues that drive the narrative that to document them here would spoilt the book. The author tackles some very real issues: gender identity, understanding how to live with others, finding your calling and your passions, etc. I really enjoyed this book, even as a white cis male. There are many familiar chords that were struck while reading its pages, and I wanted to meet these three women in real life when I was done. Highly recommended. I have read an earlier work by Zoe Whittall and would recommend her earlier works as well.

Is someone hiding their servers in your data center?

Christopher Naples is on track to become the second most infamous person for bringing his own computer gear to work illicitly. He was recently charged with using more than 40 devices to mine Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, connecting them to his office computer racks. Naples is (was) an IT supervisor for the Suffolk County Long Island government. His gear was placed under raised floors and inside unused power panels, clearly to avoid obvious detection. The crypto mining gear generated so much heat that the HVAC folks had to rebalance their systems to cool everything off, costing the county thousands in added electrical power.

His case will now be heard by the courts, and I wish them well in being able to sort out the situation. Mining, or creating new crypto value, is a very energy-intensive operation because it uses very high-end computing gear that draws power. There have been some estimates that the total power consumed by all the worlds’ Bitcoin users is more than the demand by Finland, which has 5.5M people.

I think the case against Naples is pretty solid: this was gear that he was using to enrich his own personal gain. The reason why I say his second place entry in this unique category is because of the case of Aaron Swartz, a computer scientist who ten years ago hid his server in a MIT closet. Swartz was unhappy that an online academic research consortium called JStor was charging for copies of articles to private citizens but granting free access to certain academic users. Hence the location. Over the course of several months, he managed to download millions of articles to his server, which eventually tripped a network monitor and brought a huge federal case of 13 felony charges against him. He killed himself shortly before he was to begin serving a long jail term. (Carl Malamud, who worked with Swartz, documents the situation nicely here.)

A case could be made that Ed Snowden deserves to be on this list somewhere: he did bring USB thumb drives to his office to download various NSA secret documents, although he didn’t leave any gear in his office closet. Unlike Swartz and Naples, his frantic document copying tactics weren’t detected by his employer, which is more ironic given the nature of the NSA and presumably the various scans and network checks that should have been in place to detect this massive effort.

What Swartz, Snowden and Naples to some extent prove is the value of intrusion detection, particularly as it relates to exporting data to a remote network. Of course, now that many of us are working remotely, this brings up special challenges to detect these massive data exports when they are part of the normal operations and not something fishy going on.

You might think that hiding your personal servers at work could be solved by moving more resources into the cloud. But this just makes finding these illicit servers a lot harder to find. There are a number of tools that can specifically search for non-sanctioned servers, but you still need IT staffers to keep track of things.