GenCon is a gaming convention where 60,000 people appear in Indianapolis, Indiana, US to play board games, participate in role-play games, show off cos-play and many other types of fun, each year. This year was the 50th Anniversary. There were 19,000 events and 500 exhibitors.
This was my second time at GenCon. I have been playing board games and RPGs since the 1980’s. You can see most of my collection at www.boardgamegeek.com/user/ericbrooke – Boardgames (221) and RPGs (289).
If this is your first time I have broken tips and hints out at the end of each section and put top eights things to do at GenCon, at the bottom of this section.
Sales for tickets started in January and Housing (all the Hotels become available in February). We bought tickets (April 2017) and discovered there were no hotels and then we searched the web and still no hotels. Thus we cancelled within 2 hours, and of course lost money (cancellation fees). I consider this an actual con as you cannot see what hotels are available before you buy the tickets, easily solved by sharing this information upfront. Have to say I have little trust of the organizers but it is a good event.
A couple of friends bought tickets earlier, and found hotels in January and they noticed in July that Hotel spots started appearing. So we bought new tickets and booked a Hotel near the airport (Wyndam) at $500 for three nights. This also meant we would have to rent a car ($339) to get to the Hotel and drive into the conference each day, parking ranged from $10 to $30 per day depending how much walking you wanted to do.
Ticketing & Housing Tip
My suggestion is to get your ticket in January at Pre-Registration. For Housing be there (on the web) the moment the housing opens up, know your group and book together.
Here is the dates laid out for 2017:
- Sunday, January 29, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Badge Pre-Registration begins.
- Sunday, February 12, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Housing reservations open.
- Sunday, May 28, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Event Registration begins.
- Saturday, July 2, 2017 at 11:59 pm (Eastern) – Pre-Registration ends. All shipping method changes must be completed by this time.
- Sunday, July 2, 2017 – Registration begins. Badge prices increase. All purchases fulfilled through Will Call only. This is the last day to cancel badges for 2017.
- Monday, TBD at 5 pm (Eastern) – Housing cut-off date, the last day to make new hotel reservations.
- Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Onsite Registration begins.
- Thursday – Sunday, August 17 – August 20, 2017, Gen Con 2017 happens live at the Indiana Convention Center.
My preference for events is writing seminars/workshops and RPGs sessions.
The website sucks. It’s hard to navigate 19,000 events some which are good and some which are not. You really have no sense who your GM/DM is going to be and how much experience they have. A lot of events had sold out by July, so we were playing mostly evening sessions.
- Book Events early, so you can plan your experience better and match to your preference e.g. mornings/afternoons/evenings
- Some people recommend getting the “Generic tickets” and just turning up to sessions, a lot of people bail at the last moment, so there is often empty spots.
- The Writing group does have a booklet which is a lot easier to navigate. It is usually available with some goodies at the conference.
- Pay attention to which search options you have selected
This is kinda of amazing, its big and there is a lot of booths, many, many games and a lot of people. Not only is there an opportunity buy many games, but there is a lot of play testing available, to try out games.
Exibit and buying tips
- Break up the Exhibit Hall into several time chunks and search by block, its big and a lot of people. You will literary get emotional exhausted if you try to do it in one go
- Note some games do sell out on the first couple days. For example Spirit Island and Twilight Imperium sold out on Saturday.
- Some studios you will have to line up for i.e. Fantasy Flight Games.
- I generally find games are cheaper bought on-line, there are some deals to be found at GenCon, but they are usually used on the first couple days.
Your First Time at GenCon?
Some advice for first time attendees:
- Do things at GenCon that you can’t do at home
- Don’t over schedule
- Food pack – bring a water bottle, nuts and dried fruit, protein bars
- Remember Dice, Paper & Pencils
- Lunch – Take it early or late – There are a lot of food trucks, but the good ones build up big lines fast.. eat 11.30 or after 14.00
- Choose one or two games a day
- Attendance – Thursday is by far the lightest day of attendance, and is a good day to see the dealer hall. Friday is busier, and Saturday even more so. Not as much happens on Sunday
My Experience at GenCon 2017
Eclipse Phase GMing
So I love Eclipse Phase RPG for many reasons. Thus I offer to GM for them at the Convention. I did last year (my first GenCon) and this year. Posthuman Studios will pay you to do so, though I do not care about the money and instead do it to introduce new people to the game and help out a small Studio.
Pre Convention we played two sessions via Google Hangouts. Marc Huete ran both sessions and they were a lot of fun.
I have to shout out for David Cooper who does a lot of organization to get GMs from all over the US, to fill 37 Sessions, 6 Scenarios, with 3 different rule systems (1st Ed, Fate and 2nd Ed) and 14 GMs. Thanks David.
Why you should run sessions
One great reason for helping a studio run sessions is that it automatically gives you a group of people to give you advice on GenCon, as well as challenging you to be a better story telling and good drinking people to talk about games. Some like PostHuman pay for your time, give you a free pass to the convention and buy you a couple of drinks. Also you also get into an early play test group.
Things always change
The first day I could not go, so I delayed my arrival by a day and arrived Thursday. But my partner could not go to end of day so I took a GrayHound (4 Hours) and she drove down later that evening.
13.00 Pick up Pass an event tickets – super fast
13.05 Get GM Pass
14:00 Legends of the Five Rings RPG – Open Library – 4 Hours
New game to me, interesting and simple mechanics. The scenario was very ritualistic, with etiquette being very important, pulling heavily on Japanese culture.
The fictional setting of Legend of the Five Rings is similar to feudal Japan, though it also includes aspects of other Asian cultures, as well as magic and mythicalbeasts. There is no given name for the entire world which the setting describes, so “Rokugan” is used alternately to refer to the specific nation within the setting or to refer to the entire world.
18:00 Ars Magica RPG Seminar
I have been playing since first edition 1987, the current versions is fifth. Good news a New version is being worked on, I was worried that they had given up on Ars Magica.
Ars Magica is a role-playing game set in ‘Mythic Europe’ – a historically-grounded version of Europe and the Levant around AD 1200, with the added concept that conceptions of the world prevalent in folklore and institutions of the High Middle Ages are factual reality. The players’ involvement revolves around an organization of magi and their allies and foes both mundane and supernatural. The game was originally developed by Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein·Hagen, with its first edition published in 1987.
The current edition (the game’s fifth) was written by David Chart, and published in 2004 by Atlas Games, who continue to develop new material for it.
Ars Magica was one of the first examples of a Troupe system. Early editions recommended that the players collaborate to create the campaign world and story.
Each player has an opportunity to be Story Guide. (e.g. alternating by-play session, ‘chapter’ of a story, or at the whim of the troupe)
Each player has more than one character; when the primary character lacks opportunity or reason to participate in a session (typically due to laboratory or library activity), a secondary character is played.
To enhance the ‘authenticity’ of the historical setting, the game uses medieval Latin for a number of key terms, particularly in the game’s most prominent feature, a system of Hermetic Magic.
19:00 7th Seas RPG – Heroes of Altamira – 4 Hours
7th Sea is a “swashbuckling and sorcery” themed tabletop role-playing game set in the fictional world of Théah. The mechanics are very simple. We had a fun game.
Breakfast -> Wild Eggs -> Good
Writings Craft -> How to Write an Amazing First Page
The first page can make or break a book. Whether you’re trying to impress an editor or hook a reader, we’ll show you how to wow them! Featuring Toni Weisskopf, Leigh Perry, Marco Palmieri, Dan Wells
Here are my notes from this session:
- What are your promises to the reader?
- Who is this character?
- What is coming?
- First draft -> Is what you want to say
- Final draft -> How do I want to say it
- Introduce magic or technology elements
- First page advertise your book
- Remember those Promises
- Write the first line after you know your story
“I like to be dropped in it, Grab the reader by the throat, Give me dramatic imagery”
- Allows for discovery
- Total immersion
- Author wants me to keep up
- Emotion and visceral
Eclipse Phase RPG – GM – Dog Star – 4 Hours
Doom metal laser whales on a helioseismic crusade tackle a high-tech dungeon crawl in the heart of a star.
All five were newbies to the game, and fun to lead in a story.
Eclipse Phase RPG – Sympathy for Uncle Silence – 4 Hours – Tim
Jovian trade negotiations with the fiercely independent city-state of Hyoden conceal deadly intrigue as Firewall operatives hunt a dangerous weapon.
This was probably the most effective and efficient random group of people who played together, that I had ever experienced at GenCon. Tim was our GM and did a great job.
Breakfast -> Wynham -> Awful
Writers Craft: No Room for Ego – How to Take, Give, and find Critique for your writing
- Find good critique partners
- Have people who are different to you
- Avoid people who can only tell you how great you are
GM Session Get Together Eclipse Phase
Posthuman Studios (Rob, Jack and Adam) get together with most of the Eclipse Phase GMs who ran sessions for Posthuman Studios. We talked how the sessions went, made comments on scenarios, and talk about life, GenCon and games.
Writers Workshop: Wrinkles in Time
The strategies and rewards of tense, pace, time, and memory in fiction. This writers’ workshop includes specific discussion and exercises on tense (the many variations even of “present”), control of pace (including full-throttle tips), the various functions of fictional time, and the chance/means to mine our own memories for more honest stories. For writers of all genres and levels.
Here are my notes:
- Readers should know when. Every page must have 3 senses. And each page must have time
- Readers recognize breaks and new chapters mean time has gone by, so you need to reestablish time
- Look for simple ways to show change in time ex. First day of school. Next chapter, Christmas, or thanksgiving.
- Always try to avoid comments like “3 months later”. Be more clever and subtle with your time marker ex. “A week ago you told me this”.
- You can also set up time at the end of the scene ” next time I’ll see you you’ll be married”. Author used classic events before and after a wedding to set time for readers without ever saying time.
- Fiction time montage is possible ex Stephen king’s the last stand directors cut
- How does character mark time? Ex. A kid marks time by “Brady bunches”– this also teaches you about the character. Character with heart problem, how many heartbeats? It builds character and articulates time in interesting way.
- Pace: should be fast-paced– most publishers want this. Ex. Author started with 3 months, got it down to 15 days
- ex. “A bomb in this room going off in a month vs. 5 min” time makes everything more exciting. Time fixes everything. To make things hard for your character, you have to take away time. Be mean to your characters, put the pressure on. Don’t give your characters time
- Start your story in the middle, shit is going down, ignore the backstory. The first sentence must grab you. Need to catch attention of agent, editor, reader
- End chapters to cut out bullshit. If you nail it, don’t keep talking. Shut up, end chapter. Every book should start in the middle of action and end with “do something cool”, mic drop. 1 chapter could be 2 pages. Also, get rid of scenes you don’t need
- Exception: Slow down for the emotional stuff. 2 pages on coming to terms with tough shit is okay
- You can make backstory interesting by making it a scene. “I was there…”. Gatsby is great at backstories as scenes
- Who is telling your story and why. Depending on how long ago it was, different perspective on their own story. Time affects characters’ perceptions too
- Learn how to play with tenses. Because we live in all tenses, our characters should too.
Whats up with Eclipse Phase & Posthuman Studios? Seminar
A lot about second edition – Simplified character development, updates to Asyncs, 33/66 rule, update background to reflect the U.S. present day and what science has discovered in the last seven years.
Dinner -> Cerulean Restaurant – Really good
The Bad Trip – Call of Cthulhu RPG – 4 Hours – GM -> Tony Messerges
Life is always grooving at Professor Green’s pad. As he likes to quote Kerouac, “All things are like visions beyond the reach of the human mind.” Freaky man, freaky.
Last time I played Call of Cthulhu was in 1987. This was an amazing session which ran over by about 90 mins. 60’s music playing and hypnotic setup. A lot of great props. A fun random group with one guy who was using GenCon as is Bachelor party.
After the session we went for a few drinks @scottys, with Dan (Eclipse Phase GM), Adam, Jakob and others. We had some great conversations about games they were playing.
The Anatomy of Action in Writing: The Craft of Storytelling
Join award-winning author Maxwell Alexander Drake as he takes you deep into the action, breaking it down piece by piece, and giving you tips for creating more realistic and exciting action scenes.
- Your plot needs to be tight -> Your plot is a Jenga tower with the last piece before it falls
- Draw everything, map it all out
- Use photos for each character, google them
- Ask every character their motivation, even the guard who dies right away
- Five stages of grief e.g. PTSD Buffy
- 70% of book readers are female
- Make people uncomfortable
- Dialogue is not just a conversation it fills out dev, motivation
- Words have weight, power
- Avoid adverbs
- Setup plot – Plant. Tend, Reap
- Scene openings – Macro to micro
- Micro opening starts with singular description
- Paragraph size determines pace
- Small paragraph adds weight
- Avoid speech tags
- Italics in their head
- POV rule stay in one persons head, unless you are certain
The Anatomy of Action in Writing: The Craft of Writing
Join award-winning author Maxwell Alexander Drake as he explores when and how to use physical conflict and using words to craft action. Action that your readers will not simply read, but experience.
I will add more notes here later
Buying – Call of Cthulhu, Boardgames Planetarium
- Call of Cthulhu Books – Keepers Rulebook, Investigators Handbook, Quick Start Guide, Keepers Screen and Doors to Darkness (Beginning Scenarios)
- Coriolis – scenario
- Eclipse Phase, second edition Quick Start Rules
- 7th Sea Books – GM screen and Nations Volume 1
- Element Boardgame
- Planetarium Board Game (Tiger Stripes came with it for free)
These are games, I heard great things about from multiple people at the convention
- Spirit Island Board Game
- Jakob and Dan told us about this game they have already played a bunch of times and love it
- Bought it and played loved it
- Twilight Imperium Board Game
- Asked staff about the changes, they sound good – Greater politics, simplified technology ladder, better defined plastic pieces and box container.
- Pre-Ordered gam for $110, it was $150 at the Convention
- Expanse Board Game
- Get plastic covers for cards in my most played games.
Games to do more research on:
Games I would love to play at GenCon next year
- Ars Magica RPG
- Coriolis RPG
Thoughts from GenCon 2017
- Lots more Miniature war-games than previous years
- More Science boardgames
Next GenCon go to
- Lucas Stadium
- Board game library
- Second-hand games
Each year Apple holds a Developers conference called Apple Worldwide Developers Confrence or for short WWDC. It is a great place to learn and talk about Mac OS, iPhone Apps, TV Apps and Watch Apps. This year it was in San Jose, CA, USA and lasted five days.
It was a fun conference, with an incredible amount to learn and absorb.
Overall I would say #WWDC17 was the year of the engineer, they have given us so many great new APIs and better tools so we can produce some great experiences for our users. The AR/VR and Machine Learning tools are really setting a solid foundation for a interesting and diverse future.
Early 2016 after working on mainly Web application development for a bunch of years. I took leadership of the Mobile Team at Enova (FinTech), which started with just working on an iOS App. Later in 2016 we eventually added an Android Squad. Last year the whole iOS Team applied for WWDC and none got a ticket, its a lottery chosen on your Apple ID.
This year when we applied we expected to be lucky to get one. So of course we got three! Nick a Senior iOS Engineer, Dan our Mobile UI Designer and myself all won tickets in the lottery. I offered my ticket to our other iOS engineers at Enova, they declined. So I went to #WWDC with Dan and Nick.
There was 5300+ people heading to this the conference, which made booking flights and hotels fun. The Hotels are booked through Apple and you need to move fast.
As a team we discussed what we wanted to get out of conference, what sessions we were interested and discussed what questions we wanted to ask the Apple Engineers – you can book sessions with them and discuss your Apps. Great for both your designer and engineers. Not all the session are revealed as they will show up after the Keynote.
Day -1 – Sunday
Up early to travel from Chicago to San Jose.
Getting a conference pass was fast and easy for me. We all got a pin to represent our country, and set of Apple icon pins and a Levi Jacket. Arriving at the Apple conference they had set up a outside garden with music, food and drink. The rest of team came through different routes, we met up for dinner at MOSIAC.
Day 1 – Monday
I got into the lineup at 6.02am. I figure there must of been 1000 people infront of me. I saw people lining up at 7pm the previous day. The reality is that first few lines are saved for VIP and the media.
So you will be stuck in a line up for hours, getting to know the people around you is a good thing and helped pass the time. I met some interesting people from a NewYork Agency, Calgary MRI scanning, Day of Wonders, German Bank, Domino Pizza, Danish FinTech, and Canada RBC.
We talked about many things but there was definitely a couple themes of frustration around a lack of customer research and respect for UX in most companies when working on mobile. Most people seemed to build for a generic user. Others talked about Product Managers who did not really understand the differences between web app and mobile apps.
Once we got inside there was a light breakfast and coffee.. thank you.. after a total of 3 and half hours later I sat down at 9.44. I was in a centre block but a ways back. If you were smart like Dan who lined up after me he got a much better spot by checking where there were gaps i.e. single seats up in the front.
The good news is the room was big enough for everyone all 5,300 to get into the keynote room. Though room is fairly flat so having a tall person in-front of you is going to add hours to your neck dancing skills.
The Keynote was fun, and full of energy. Things that jumped out included iOS 11, Xcode 9, Swift 4, Metal 2, Machine Learning, ARKit, VRKit, Apple File System, and HomePod. From a hardware perspective it felt evolutionary more than revolutionary. with the exception of the 18 Core iMac Pro of course. The real meat and a lot of it was in the software releases. All the things I wanted to see heading in the right direction. A lot of important things to take Apple Engineering to the next level.
Lunch – 5300 people is a lot to feed, there were a lot of places though both outside and inside to eat your lunch.
The Platforms State of Union – this got a lot further into key software updates – it was awesome with lots of stuff we can use in our day to day as an iOS engineer i.e. Xcode catching up with Android SDK, machine learning and a lot to do with testing…
Xcode 9 – Rebuilt Source Editor, Refactoring in Swift, Codable, Language Modes, Faster Builds, faster indexing, GitHub Integration, ViewController update, No need for Mac OS X Server (fingers crossed one day you can build on a linux box), Testing multiple devices at the same time, Wireless Development and a lot lot more..
iOS 11 – Drag and Drop (iPad), new PDFKit, QR Codes, new Video and image formats, Machine Learning, Metal 2 and yea much more.
After the team headed out to a Taurinus Brazilian Steak House – Happy Hour. We recommend it, the grilled pineapple was amazing. Than we headed out to find some random parties
I met a lot of App developers at the Beacon App Party from Dark Storm Comics, Historic house overlays in New York, a couple of the scholars and Apple engineer. Beacon is meet ad-hoc people App and a bunch of people used to find people with common interest at WWDC.
Day 2 – Tuesday
Actually had a light breakfast, as opposed to multiple coffees and head out early (7am) to see Michelle Obama. Her talk was down earth and full of good advice.
In another great talk that day Dr. Christine Darden told us about her journey from Monroe to NASA. I learnt a lot about sonic booms and how to reduce them.
Sessions for the day
The links are to Apples Videos, I will add my summary notes as I transcribe them. Note that links take you to the video page, but there is also a resources tab which includes a pdf of the presentation and full API documentation where relevant.
- Michelle Obama
- Christine Darden – From Monroe to NASA
- Your Apps and Evolving Network Security Standards
- New developments in certificate handling, TLS, and certificate status checking
- Privacy and your Apps
- Love CoreLocation When in Use
- Safari ViewController
- Intelligent Tracking Prevention
- Swift 4
- Faster, easier to use Strings that retain Unicode correctness and add support for creating, using and managing substrings (only keeps what you sliced), Multi-line string Literals
- New Generic Features – where clauses, subscripts (PartialRangeFrom)
- Smart key paths for type-safe, efficient, extensible key value coding for Swift types
- Enhancements to creating and manipulating Dictionary and Set types
- Extends support of archival and serialization to struct and enum types and enables type-safety for serializing to external formats such as JSON and plist
- Enforced exclusive access to memory (Ownership)
- Make it easier to reason about local variables
- Enable Better programmer opt
- Access Control – private and extension work better together now
- Composing a class and any number of protocols
- Improving Cocoa Idioms – Smart Keypaths, Swift Archival & Serialization
- Introducing Core ML
- Bringing Sentiment Analysis, Handwriting Recognition, Translation, Scene Classification, Predicting text, Music Tagging and more to your device
- Updating Your App for iOS 11
- UIKit Bars, Avoiding Zero-Sized Custom Views, Margins & Inserts, Extending Safe Areas, Scroll Views, Self sizing Table views, Swipe actions,
Many years ago I met an amazing CTO/engineer (David Dossot ) in Vancouver, he now works for Apple so we headed to the Infinity Loop to share dinner at Cafe Macs. We had some great conversation and awesome food.
In a previous life I had worked at Apple, as a Genius in the Applestore in Vancouver, BC. Our training at that time brought us to Cupertino and CaffèMacs was my favorite place to eat for several weeks.
After I headed to Buddy build party, than the GitHub social and than Apple Social with a live band. Engineers I spoke to today included from Tumblr, another Creative Agency, a UK Bank and a lot of engineers from Vancouver, BC Canada (where I moved from before working in Chicago).
Day 3 – Wednesday
Sessions for the day
- Natural Language Processing
- Some great examples to get you started
- Debugging in Xcode 9
- Wireless Development, ViewController Debugging, NS Progress, Thermal Notifications, Performance Updates, Key Paths
- Whats new in Foundation
- File Provider Communication
- Improved NSString ↔ Swift String range conversion
- Discrete NSProgress support in NSXPCConnection
- Thermal notifications on iOS
- Copy-on-write NSArray, NSDictionary, NSSet
- Data inlining
- Faster calendrical calculations with lower peak memory
- Faster bridging of NSNumber to and from Swift
- Key Value Observing
- Essential Design Principles
- Why all of theses are important to you -> WayFinding, Feedback, Visibility, Consistency, Mental Model, Proximity, Grouping, Mapping, Affordance, Progressive Disclosure, Symmetry
- Advances in Networking 1
- ECN, IPv6, Network Extensions, and Multipath protocols
- An essential change in URLSession
- Advances in Networking 2
- New URLSession APIs to better handle connectivity fluctuations, to schedule background session tasks, and to receive progress reports for session tasks
Today I met a lot Gaming App developers and learned about their challenges.
For dinner Dan and I hung out with Jaqueline from Calgary first at the Fairmont and than the Farmers Union.
Day 4 – Thursday
This morning was a little harder to focus, as I headed for Breakfast an Apple employee asked me “Hey you care about Woman!, you should go this Women@WWDC – knowing when to do what I am told 😉 I joined the session. It was really good – why Woman should have male allies, how to invite them and how to support them.
One comment really rang true, I have to be invited to go to a Women’s event.. in part because I do not want Women not to have their safe space. But I do care and inequality deeply frustrates (actually it make me angry) me.
Sessions for the day
- Core ML in depth
- Great Presentation with some simple examples that any engineer could play with
- Design for Everyone
- Learn how designing for accessibility and inclusiveness
- Advances in Core Image
- New ways to efficiently render images
- Custom CIKernels in the Metal Shading Language.
- CIFilters that include support for applying image processing to depth data and handling barcodes
- Vision framework can be leveraged within Core Image
- What’s new in Testing
- XCTEST Enhancements
- Async testing – XCTWaiter, XCTestExpectation
- Multi-app testing – App Groups
- UI testing performance – .first, Block-based NSPredicate
- Activities, attachments, and screenshots – XCTActivity, XCTAttachment, XCTScreenshot
- Whats new in LLVM
- API Availability Checking for Objective-C
- Static Analyzer Checks
- New Warnings
- C++ Refactoring
- Features from C++17
- Link-Time Optimization
Fall Out Boy played at the Apple Bash, 5,000+ people in a park with alcohol and food. Not from the US I had never heard them but they put on a great performance.
Today I met engineers from RBC, a Creative Agency, and several education App companies.
Day 5 – Friday
A number of the Apple scholars presented their ideas and answered questions from the audience.
Maybe #woman would be more interested in coding if the examples for Computer Science courses were more interesting and not just calculators..
- Writing Energy Efficient Apps
- The cost for waking the radio is high
- Control retries and be mindful
- A number of specific examples
- Business Chat –
- I can imagine a future where people could sell via chat, or we could support so much easier with customer taking a screen shot of what they are seeing, debugging will become so much easier whilst not awkward for customer and we could share videos of people solving common problems or take a screen shot or needed information. Or just pay with Apple Pay
- PDFKit – yes, yes, yes
- Design Session with an Apple Designer
- This was incredibly useful, we asked him to look at ourUK OnStride App
Talked to an iOS Engineer from Ticketmaster, two from Apple, and an education App.
I deeply thankful that my company Enova sent me along with the team to WWDC and to all the staff at Apple that pulled together a most awesome event.
Broad thoughts for the conference organisers:
- The quality of talks was excellent
- I love there were some all star woman i.e. Michelle and Christine and a lot of engineer woman presenting technical talks, as well as womane@WWDC breakfasts
- I deeply appreciate Apple is starting to sneak Peek future products
- I spent a lot of time in line ups – like hours and hours
- Meeting people was a little hard – some suggestions below:
- Ask when people sign up what they want to get out of conference for example I would love to meet up with other FinTech companies and learn from them. Make this public on a website or add it to our badges
- Or have a noticeboard for people to state what problems they are trying to solve, and types of people they want to meet
- Maybe support an App like Beacon to help the adhoc stuff happen
- Maybe have a recruitment board
- Maybe vary the music a bit
- Have big neon signs at the back of the hall so people know where they need to go when exiting or have the presenter tell people, it was very confusing on the first day
- Communicate more to people when they are lining up what the plan is and not just the front, maybe use your App?
- Overall the conference felt encouraging, positive and I learned a lot
Hints & Tips for Attendees:
- If you win the lottery, book your hotel and flight fast
- Book the parties fast – There is sometimes a list and there is a party App. Some of these go with 15 mins of becoming available
- Consider booking the place you want to have dinner as they fill up with 5,000 extra people in town. We just went to dinner early, where we could
- When booking appointments e.g. UI, App Store, they open at 7am (for that day) and they literary all go within 60 seconds. Be ready and ensure your internet is ready
- Use the Lab sessions to troubleshoot the new software release and your App
- Bring Business Cards, you meet a lot of people and maybe never seen them again
- Bring water and snacks for the line ups
- If you are alone do not be shy in grabbing those middle empty spots in the KeyNote
- The Platforms overview talk is the place that it really gets real for engineers
- Prepare for the appointment sessions, make sure your App is working so you can show them. Know and target you’re areas of weakness.
- Note all the extra conferences that appear around WWDC
So a big plus the Airport is close to the centre. There are a lot of places to eat, most of the week the centre felt lacking people. Friday night was like the whole place was invaded. There were a lot of humans. Most of centre area was very walkable.
- Social Policy offers good food and coffee, the seats rely on perhaps some extra cushioning you may bring with you
- Taurinus Brazilian Steak House – was good and has a happy hour at 5pm to 6pm during the week
- Farmers Union – good comfort food and we had great service
- San Pedro Square Market – A great range of food
I booked my flights late so most of my options were 18 hour trips with connections. So I took the next direct flight leaving 10pm Saturday. This gave me the opportunity to update this blog, consider the upgrades that Apple presented this week for Enova and what we needed to do vs. wanted to do. I also got the opportunity to catch up with another Apple Employee and friend Jerry who works in Apple University. We spent a good six hours talking about AI, tech, education, science fiction and writing.
Lets assume you get offered a job in the US and you live in Canada. You are a Canadian. This was my setup. I writing this to help other avoid some of the pitfalls that I have so far learned.
Summary of the things
- The type of Visa will impact on your and your partners freedoms
- You need to prepare for the boarder crossing to get your Visa, make sure you have enough time – maybe a week
- You need somewhere to live – ask how its done
- Pay attention to the Exchange rate – learn what is about to happen
- You need a Bank Account – The Patriot Act in the US, means you need a residential address in the US
- You need a Social Security Number – You will need this for Credit Card, Internet, Electricity, Mobile
- To move your things or not – Get estimates on the weight and add 30%-50%
- Documentation from Homeland – having my Canadian Credit Score was helpful in securing that I was a respectable person looking for a new place to live
- Doctors Documentation – Get it all
- Budget – Health is about to cost you a LOT more. If you have a domestic partner a LOT LOT more – unless your new company covers this.
- Having no Credit Score will limit you in a lot of ways. Some rental places will not take you unless you have a Credit score and it will take a longtime for you to get a useful Credit card limit.
Things to negotiate in your employment process
One month apartment paid for by the new company.
This saves so much pain, as you immediately have a place of residency which allows you to open a bank account, it allows you to take time getting to know where you want to live and choose somewhere, rather then have to take something in a rush. It allows you transfer monies without getting completely screwed by the exchange rate. Really understand the Health care plan the company offers. I would suggest a meeting with their benefits person.
Ask for more vacation
There will be times you will need to go back to support your friends and family, some of these will not be breaks or times of rest. You could even ask for more for the first year only, and then drop down to a lower amount.
The Company pays for Immigration lawyers
Some will do this without question. But what is your path? H1BN Visa to Green Card? If this is a place you want to really grow 3 years (e.g. TN Visa) may not be enough.
Apply for your Social Security Number
Your Social Security Number(SSN) acts as your unique identity in the US for taxes, and is also used by your employer and for most on-going services.
It can take 2-3 weeks for your SSN to be processed and this number really is needed for most things. Do it as soon as you have your visa, if you can ask for it as part of the visa process, do this.
It can take up to 10 days for the information to be transferred from Homeland security to Social Security and then 2-3 weeks after that is processing time for Social Security – so this can take upto 5 weeks.
When you go to a Social Security Office, you need your passport (for identity and proof of age) and proof of Visa (the actual right to work). You will also need a place to send the social security card (this can be work or your living place).
Give it a couple of hours of free time, Social Security Offices are busy places.
Examples of what you need your SSN for
- Credit card
For both Electricity and Internet I had to go to physical stores (show identity) and I had to pay a “security fee” as my credit score was so low (actually non-existent). Because I was a new customer to ComEd (Electricity) I had to pay an extra $20 per month for the first 18 months, which I will presumably get back when I leave (we’ll see about that).
Open a Bank Account
Choosing a bank account, I asked my future work colleagues and local friends what they thought. Chase came up a lot and their mobile app was very good.
You need a US residence first :
- You need a lease
- a letter stating you are living in a residence with signature stating you live there
- Some work places will let you use their address, some will give you an apartment for the first month, maybe make a friend, or get to know your new work colleagues really well.
Sometimes you need a Social Security Number, depends on the bank. You need to get open an account as soon as possible so you have a place to deposit your US paycheques and an account to start paying bills from.
Man this sucked for the move, since I was still earning Canadian dollars and paying in US dollars. So my initial costs were really high:
7 December 2015
Foreign Currency Amount: USD 5,000.00
At a Rate of 1 CAD equals: USD 0.7361
CAD Cost Excl. Fees: CAD 6,792.56
I used Forex to transfer my money, my Bank in Canada does not do Wire Transfers. Forex gave a great exchange rate and only took 34 hours. That said it could take a lot longer.
I needed enough money for my rent, security deposit, and first two weeks living (until I got my first pay). Also for the places that wanted me to put a security deposit down due to a very low credit rating e.g. Credit Card, Electricity, Internet.
Somewhere to Live
This will depend on the market. In Chicago you get an Agent for free, who will take you around multiple apartments. They get half the first months rent from the landlord.
Exploring the neighbourhoods was a combination of asking all my friends in Chicago, book research, walking around them, looking at google maps and using the “Nearby” function.
My filters were within 45 mins walk from work, 5-10 from CTA (Train), good light, good kitchen and about 1000 sq ft.
I worked with two very different agents. Travis Smith from Homescout Realty and Warren Smith from Chicago Apartment Finders. Both were amazing and very different, this reflected in the places I saw. I saw 19 in all. It helped to get a sense of the areas in Chicago, and the prices.
Advice is to find out who which utilities. In Chicago heating and air conditioning is a big cost (it has cold winters and hot humid summers) so watch who pays for that. I was clear I only wanted buildings that paid for that.
The biggest problem I encountered here was getting the money to them. They wanted Cashiers cheques, now! I nearly lost a place because I did not realize how long it could take to wire money.
Transfer money from Canada to US
- Canadian Forex
- A bank that exists in Canada and US e.g. TD
As soon as you are considering moving to the US, make sure you have home insurance for current address that covers your property during a move. Movers charge a ridiculous rate to insure your property. I found it very difficult to find a good third party moving insurance.
What does it cost to relocate?
- Getting rid of things you will not take
- Flights to explore and find a place
- Accommodation whilst exploring
- Extra weight baggage costs for the flight to move
- Large number of deposits (because you have no credit score)
- Moving Cost (See below)
- Packing takes much longer then ever expected
- Getting rid of things you can not take and replacing those things
- Replacing thinks that get damaged in the move
Losing your stuff
You cannot ship a number of things to the US:
- Alcohol – I gave it to friends. That was about $400.
- Food – I had a lot of food which I gave away to friends. That was about $500 right there (I packed my spices and some tea into my luggage and that was it)
- Any flammable things e.g. camping fuel
Movers will under estimate your weight
I got quotes from nine companies, three visited and estimated I had between 5,000 to 6,000 lbs. They gave me quotes based on this weight. You then end up signing a contract that basically the Movers are not responsible for anything. When my stuff was weighed it came out at 8,300 lbs. It felt like the movers deliberately underplay the weight to get you onboard and then sting you.
The Con of Shuttle Service
Shuttle Service is the biggest con from Movers. They cannot get the biggest truck to your front door so then they have to use a smaller one, and they charge you for this privilege (e.g. $1,000). They want to use the larger one so they can transport multiple houses and make more money at your expense.
In hindsight I would rent a car for a couple days, so that I could get rid of things my friends would want. I used a combination of Facebook and Craigslist to get rid of a bunch of things. I had a lot of old electric things that I had to get to the right recycling place, a propane tank, plant pots, patio chairs, furniture that would not survive another long trip, books it was time to let go off. All of these places were really only accessible by car and the services that pickup up scrap end up being expensive and all the charities we could have donated to were either full up or had strict schedules for pickups which you needed to book weeks in advance.
Some places e.g. Chicago require it. I went with All State as they cover your property during moves. State Farm did not.
Bring things early
As soon as you know you are going to move, each time you fly out, bring things and pay for the extra case. My work let me store a bunch of my RucSacs before I started. I brought the things I knew I would need for my first month and other things that I did not want to trust to the Movers.
Prepare for a month
Of not having your things. No bed, no chairs, no table.. After sleeping on the floor for three weeks, we had a vacation at a Hotel.
Buy Health Insurance
Do not mess around with this. Make sure you have enough travel insurance to cover you for at least 45-60 days while you get settled. Once you arrive, if you are in charge of purchasing your own health insurance within 2 months of moving there (otherwise the window closes and you have to wait until the following January). So make sure you get on this right away. At the same time you may want to bundle it up with your car, life, contents and personal umbrella liability insurance.
To note that most US Health Insurance plans will “charge” you for every use e.g. visiting the doctor, prescriptions.This is called co-pay. Different plans cover different things and have different percentages of co-pay. The more you pay per month, the lower your co-pay. But not matter how much your plan costs, the deductible is going to really high, usually in the thousands of dollars. So even if you get health insurance, make sure you have US dollars saved up to pay up to the deductible amount in case of a health emergency. Most US health policies are heavily reactive, they fix you when something goes wrong, and only cover a few preventative things, such as 1 annual check-up. There will be no massages 😦
If you (or your family/domestic partner) can’t get health insurance through your work, and you don’t qualify for The Affordable Care Act (for as long as it will be around…), the best option seems to be Blue Cross Blue Shield. Give them a call rather than using the marketplace, and let them know what you’re looking for. They will explain to you what all the plans mean and are patient with people unfamiliar with the system. Be prepared to pay hundreds per month. My domestic partner’s insurance costs me $360/month (includes dental and 20% copay).
If work pays for your medical, health and dental – ask LOTS of questions on how much coverage, co-pay and liability you have. We found that our liability on our car insurance was super low, so we topped up and bought an additional umbrella policy. If you have wedding rings or major jewellery – bring your appraisal forms or else you need to get everything re-appraised again for insurance purposes.
Building a Credit Score
Nations do not share this information as where would be the profit in it for businesses if they did? You are legally in the US able to obtain your score once a year for free (there may be an admin charge 😉 ), but businesses are likely to make this “difficult” and slow. The fastest way to push up your credit score in the US is to get a “secured” Credit Card, spend often on it and pay off each spend ASAP.
How does a low credit score affect you? Essentially no organization will trust you:
- You will have to pay deposits on most services
- Some services are limited to people with good credit ratings
- Some services will charge you more
- You will have to physically visit stores to prove who you are
- Some apartments that you will want to rent will ask for a range of a credit score, so you may not be able to get them
Get a US Credit Card
Apply for a prepaid credit card where you would leave a upto $1000 deposit for a $1000 limit on a credit card. Use this to slowly build credit score over the next 3-6 months and then you can eventually ask for your deposit back. This is essentially to build a Credit Score. You will miss your old one.
You will need a SSN before, this is a requirement from the PATRIOT Act
If you’re a resident of Canada but work in the United States, the Canada-US Tax Treaty provides special rules to determine how you are taxed.
If you work full-time in the US on an income over $10,000 – You must pay US federal and, if applicable, state income tax in the United States on your US-source wages (income is sourced to the jurisdiction where the services are performed, not where you’re paid from). You will also have to report this income on your Canadian tax return. To avoid double taxation, you will generally be allowed to claim a foreign tax credit on your Canadian return for any tax you pay to the United States. You should note that the individual US states are not bound by the treaty. Therefore, even though you may be subject to an exemption from US federal tax under the treaty, there is no guarantee that you will not be subject to a state’s income tax.
You will have to sign a W8 form for every Financial Organization that you work with. The details from the Canada Revenue Agency are here.
Dual Status Alien- First Year Choice
If you are a Nonresident Alien who will become a Resident Alien under the Substantial Presence test in the year following this taxable year, you may elect to be treated as a Dual Status Alien for this taxable year and a Resident Alien for the next taxable year if you meet certain tests. Refer to the First Year Choice area, under Dual-Status Aliens, of Chapter 1 in Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.
I applied and got a TN Visa (part of the NAFTA Trade Agreement), for three years. This is not difficult to get if you are in the right job category, you have a degree and a job offer. Still use a lawyer.
Check the law and political environment i.e. anti immigration or pro immigration. Understand it.
Your Partner on Visa
If you have a partner (married or domestic partner) you can get them an extended B2 Visa. A B2 Visa is a holiday visa which you automatically get when you visit the US. However, you are usually restricted to 6 months per year on the B2 visa. You can get it extended for up to 1 year at a time (make sure you have print outs of all the documentation). Under the B2 Visa, your partner cannot study, work or volunteer. Once you arrive, you can begin the process of applying for an H1BN (where you are entered into a lottery). If you were to get it, it would make no difference from your perspective, but your spouse (doesn’t apply to domestic partners) could then work and study. A partner on B2 Visa cannot get a SSN, which limits what they can do e.g. phone, health insurance, utilities, credit cards, etc. In some cases a TIN can be an alternative.
Emotional journey of leaving friends
Watching the emotional journey of your friends who actually like to spend time with you is sometimes painful. Some are excited for the new place to visit, some tell every reason why you should not go, some are just pissed off at you, some just shut you out. A lot of emotions like grieving. I love you too and will miss you much.
We do not free ourselves to move on to new adventures by cutting our ties with where we are now. Instead strengthen those roots and drag them through the deep earth with you to wherever you go. In your new place these roots will help you thrive and grow, creating and attracting the same wonderful things from where they came and this will sustain you and them.
You may notice that you miss your friends, the banter, the calling you out, the hugs. You will feel it unless you are a sociopath. This combined with your new colleagues think and feel slightly different, your colleagues will have a lot more culture references to bond over – these will make you feel the outsider more than once. Work to make real friends, find your tribe inside and outside of work, do not let yourself become isolated. The first year will be exhausting, so take good breaks, refresh your soul in whatever manner that serves you.
- Have a house warming party and invite the people you like from work
- Have multiple dinner parties (even if you order take out)
- Boardgames Nights
Working in the US
Here are some other things I noticed that are different but have yet to process them. Some of them maybe related to where I work.
- Style of communications
- Conflict Resolution
- Office Politics
- How Race is talked about
- How Gender is talked about
- How Religion is talked about
There are those in the Startup/tech community who often say “stay out of my way and let me do my job mentality” to Government.
Take this article for example: JUSTIN TRUDEAU SHOULD DO NOTHING FOR STARTUPS
This feels like a lack the understanding of how Government at all its levels can impact on the ability of the business community to grow and be global champions.
I spent four years in elected office at cabinet level (Cornwall County Council, UK) with one of my remits been Economic Development of Creative Industries and for the last seven years I have being a part of the Vancouver Tech/Startup scene. This has given me some experience, thoughts, problems, solutions for what any place that wants to consider Startups as a part of their economic strength.
I worry like many, that Vancouver will become a resort town.. technology is one pathway to diversify it. Over the last decade I feel the BC Provincial Government has failed actual Startups (those who are not large Tech companies), at time that could have made a real difference, they made their economic focus elsewhere.
Here is a list of areas to explore before the Provincial Elections in British Columbia in 2017.
Most ideas/solutions/problems will have to be solved in partnership with Vancouver City, Federal Government, businesses, teachers, unions and many others.
1. Listen and understand what Startups offer – not just “leaders talking to leaders”
By engaging with the industry and community leaders to explore approaches and strategies both with the leaders and their employees.
It needs to be wider then the traditional old boys network, so not just friends/connections/trade associations. The traditional group of “talked to” are generally mostly men, white and from well off backgrounds. Talk to women, which our sector is so sorely missing in the top positions. So talk to people like Maura Rodgers or Jenn Cooper people who have created actual communities. Look for who is excluded and work out why.
2. Understand the businesses at their different stages – Not just one type of entrepreneur
By exploring the different needs of different sized organizations whether they are small, medium or large. It tends to be the larger ones that can afford lobbying, lets not ignore the small. The needs of Hootsuite are different to those of a five person startup, or the startup whose main target is a non Canadian market i.e Payroll Hero.
3. Involve Traditional and non Traditional Education institutions
By ensuring that all teaching and training organizations (including schools, colleges, Universities, bootcamps i.e. CodeCore and other private training organizations) that educate or train people are involved in the on-going journey to strengthen our knowledge based economy.
It seems that some of traditional educational institutes only talk to the really large companies i.e. E.A. or Sage or SAP. They often want experience with a C variant or Java. Whilst most startups want a framework/language that lets them to get up and running within a 3-6 month window and experimenting with a product to market fit. They do not always have time to train a person in a new language. Some Universities in the US have recognized this and have Startup Engineering programs i.e. Stanford.
I think Bootcamps and on-line learning platforms are an important part of our future learning culture as they adapt much faster then Universities and Colleges in which programming languages/frameworks/techniques to teach.
P.S. Who teaching people how to learn? Schools, Colleges or Universities?
4. BC Training grants DO NOT recognize online learning
This is the case for monthly subscription learning which can occasionally have the most up to date knowledge. In a place the size of BC it is not always economically to get a trainer out to the middle of no where. The mentality of BC Government is that they want you to give a job to a trainer and get them to train your people in personal. This can be very expensive. Reduce the barriers to learning not increase them. Are they environmental benefits from delivering online?
5. Developing effective skills training in schools
By exploring which skills are needed in an effective knowledge based economy. That these skills become fully understood and clear strategies are developed to to ensure they are gained from School upto University e.g
- Change management
- Conflict management
- Risk taking
To consider how these skills compare on the Global stage, Vancouver/BC is competing against every other city/area on the planet. What are Vancouverites poor at, how can we improve it? I feel that I have seen a lot of conflict avoidance (rather then conflict resolution) in my time in Vancouver is this just my experience or is it a “Trait” of Vancouver? Lets understand our vulnerabilities and counter them rather than ignore them.
6. Growing Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship is encouraged at every level of education, from school upwards e.g. Young Enterprise in the UK. It should become part of the school system to teach children conflict management, understanding risk, managing stress and managing change. Maybe the program should consider Social enterprise and not just be limited to private enterprise.
7. Coding for all ages
I am not convinced that programming is for everyone, we humans are far much more diverse then that. One UK programmers’ feelings are well expressed here – Learn To Code, It’s Harder Than You Think
But we should consider Programming a good way to teach problem solving, logical analysis and critical thinking and not just as a career. As it is in UK, US and Nova Scotia.
8. Career changing
Why do Governments only consider this when the shit has hit the fan? Its a reality of now and the future, there are no jobs for life. We should teach the reality in schools, rather then just try and box people for life in a career through poor decision tree mechanics.
How do we make this easier and less feared, almost part of our natural lives like it will be for any Gen Yers.
Consider how people can support themselves whilst re-training, consider how to make this possible for shift work. Consider online as well as physical education.
Developing alliances between industry and research institutions to create innovation infrastructure is of courses necessary, and some exists, but is currently poor. Maybe make some of the “intellectual property” known about.. Hacking events? Open Transparent patent libraries, people whose job is to market their intellectual property.
10. Support the jobs that are actually needed i.e. Software Engineers not just Post Grads
Most government programs support PHds and Masters, but we actually need far more people with Bachelors in Software Engineering. Also what about the 40% of people that learn programming themselves? Could we better support them they are a large chunk of our software environment.
11. Support of growth Technology Leaders
Consider how to support the next generation of CTOs, from co-founding to a full CTO with a scaled up business. There are many programs that support the CEO/Founders but to be truly successful you need the product to scale. It seems like we have few homegrown success (if we do why not celebrate them rather then just the CEOs?), most companies want “magical” tech “genius” or “star” or “rockstar” or “ninja” from some other country. We have no programs to support Tech Founder to CTO, why? To have a successful tech community we need many of these people.
12. Open Government – Community, Procurement and Solutions
The Government needs to lead by example and considers how startups/SMEs can help them in all aspects of their scope, make parts of their systems more efficient e.g. innovate through Government Hacking events, fairer procurement procedures for SMEs. That Startups are looked at like NGOs as a possible solution to a problem i.e. how to make government delivery of services faster, more efficient. IBM or other large corporates are not the only ones with solutions and frankly some startups could beat the large corporates in producing solutions i.e. The Obama health online system
13. Social Enterprise
That Startups who work with Government or NGOs, should consider sharing their success with Government and/or NGOs who were core partners. For example either paying back any, grants when they can afford it (i.e. making a lot of profit), or even better give a number of shares to represent the initial investment or revenue sharing.
14. Evolving beyond “Me too” products
To consider how we can come up with something new, rather than the solely Canadian version of this or that. I feel that productivity in the innovation economy comes from generating new ideas that generate new revenue. Yet where is the support to take Visionary or high risk projects in B.C.? I hear many people in Vancouver tech conferences call for this, but the Angels do not invest in these, IRAP does not invest in these. NVBC never lets these through. We need some way of support high risk ventures, yes maybe limited it per year, but something.
15. Why the basis for B2B and B2C in BC?
Explore what we in BC have failed to produce more successes with B2C companies here, as we seem limited to B2B. Why?
16. Avoiding the Social Problems seen in Silicon Valley/San Francisco and Seattle – “Cruel Gentrification”
For us to consider a kinder approach to gentrification, bringing the startup community together with the community they often displace, and develop solutions that could help both succeed. There was an event to explore this but it was more hype then solution based. The solutions offered were just give more money to charities. It like many meetings really avoided Gentrification. We can see this happening in Gastown and to some degree China town, how can we create a proactive “kind gentrification”?
17. Involvement in Policy
Canadians entrepreneurs can help our policy makers design strategic policies for intellectual property rights in trade agreements, judicial strategies when ideas ownership is on the line, technology standards strategies and many others. And please talk to people outside the “Canadian maple syrup mafia“. I am not discounting their wisdom/experience but we need the next generation involved to and those who are currently excluded.
18. Upgrade SR&ED
First of all Thank You (yes I know its federal). It does make a difference. But make it easier to apply for the smaller startups. I think the documentation process is so complex that now consultants help lots of companies, or worse startups have to invest a lot of time in it. This program needs to be streamlined.
19. The ability to solve a problem
They maybe some that think that start Startups are just for making money but like NGOs they can solve any problem. Software Engineers are problem solver machines. This is a resource under used by Governments at every level and by every party. There could be Startup Weekend events or Hacking events that target specific areas of concern i.e. Government, Health, casework database, transit systems, etc Maybe Government contracts should include a clause that every large spend on IT systems should work with Startups or support the community in some fashion. Or maybe you have a open competition over a week and compete startups against corporates?
20. Explore the support of turning a service company into product
So two companies that evolved products from a service company (Web Agencies) Vision Critical and Hootsuite. Is this something we can repeat, is there a way to support this?
21. With Industry define targets of success could really look like
By using the above to develop achievable targets for expansion with specific strategies linked to specific industries.
Over my career as a software something, I have had a bunch of technical interviews. Some I have done well in and some I have not.
The first part of this journey was understand something for myself. For the interviews I performed poorly in, about 50% of them I actually knew the answer, but could not get it out. Why was this?
The second part was as I led teams, I wanted to find an accurate way of assessment where a person was in their journey, whether they would stick with it, and whether they are a good fit for the rest of the team.
Here is the presentation I did to a lunch and learn group at CodeCore:
I feel many Technical Interviews fail to do their job properly. Whether the process is not well enough thought out, the people involved are not trained, whether interviewers are evaluated higher for their technical skills but not their people skills, or they really just trying to get extra “clones” of themselves. But without a doubt the worst is, there is a lack of reflection and accountability for the actual success of their chosen candidates.
Still too many questions are on topics or specifics that the interviewee will never do in their actual day to day work.
So many people conducting technical interviews fail to imagine that this is a two way process. That the “employer” is actually showing the future “employee” how they work with people.
All of that said, some are getting right and it is not from the traditional “hazing” approach, but a more collaborative approach, where the potential “employee” show a project they have worked on, where the interviews feel like a great passionate conversation..
My decision to leave was made with the following understandings: that if I stayed here I would be very unlikely to afford a place of my own, and that if I wanted to take my career to the next level I would need to work for a larger company than Vancouver houses. And with the exchange rate between Canada and US, it seems a perfect time to go to the US now.
This is my journey through reasoning why I am leaving Vancouver, BC. Of course I am not alone a Angus Reid Poll estimates that a staggering 150,000 struggling families are seriously thinking about moving away from Metro Vancouver to avoid the region’s housing costs and transportation issues.
Wages in Vancouver do not match the cost of housing
In Vancouver, BC the average wage is $76,805 per year — if you borrow three times your salary you can afford a place to live at $230,415. The average place to live in Vancouver on the other hand is $857,015. Globe & Mail reports that Vancouver is the worst place to live in Canada for difference between wages and Housing. Last year the Financial Post stated that Vancouver was the most expensive place in North America. The Demographia Housing Affordability Survey puts Vancouver, BC has the second most expensive place to buy a house behind Hong Kong.
In Vancouver, the Chinese have helped real estate prices double in the past 10 years.
Here’s how the Chinese send billions abroad to buy homes – Bloomberg Business Nov 2 1015
Controversial foreign ownership study is about money — not race: Vancouver planner
“Money is no longer connected to what you do and where you live”
In contrast, Vancouver median incomes remain among the lowest among Canadian cities, while home prices in the region are the highest in Canada. The way government structures are set up in Canada means that Canadian municipalities are relatively weak and rely on other levels of government to set policy. Business Vancouver Nov 6 2015
Shrinking housing sizes
What these figures do not show is the shrinking of the size of the place you can buy. So you could pay $500,000 for a 500 sq ft apartment. Most of the places built now have stupid small kitchens, which encourages people to eat out. What does all that salt do to your health? Let alone the psychologically impact of living in a box. I have no problem with density and I believe cities need to increase it, along with good transit. That said, an apartment should to be liveable, it has to give moments of peace away from your work, and personally I want a good kitchen and somewhere I can share food with people. The current builds are not good for people.
Down Payments on a Mortgage
I have spent most of my life working for the community, non-profits and Government. I have got by, but I do not have the savings for a house down payment, I have no family to inherit from or provide a financial security blanket. This has been my biggest barrier to buying a place.
You can get a mortgage with just 5% ($42,850.75 on the average place) of a down payment but you then need to pay mortgage insurance. Premiums can vary anywhere from 0.5% to 3.5%. A great way of taking more money from poorer people. If you have a deposit of 20% you need no mortgage insurance. So 20% of the average place $171,403 is what you need for a down payment.
The Have and Have nots
Toronto, Vancouver house prices still soaring, stats show
Benchmark detached home is $1.2M in Vancouver, while average detached runs $1.07M in Toronto
CBC Nov 5 2015
Of course one of the problems for access into the Housing market is everybody who owns a place does not want the housing market to dip, because they are making money off it. Collectively that is a lot of political power, money and votes. This from people who do not want it to get easier, if it hurts them.
In Canada it is also getting harder to borrow money even though the Interest rates are low. I have so many friends in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who have just given up the idea of owning a place in Vancouver. They are also torn by Vancouver being a beautiful place and they want to live here.
The Economic Divide – is it sexist?
It feel like we are about to reach a point where people will never be able to buy a place if they do not do it soon. Whilst this obviously hurts younger people, it also hurts people who work in lower incomes i.e. women and caring professions.
I have already lived (Cornwall, UK) in a place where teachers/nurses/non-profit/carers/government (still a much higher percentage of women), could not afford to live anywhere near where their jobs were based. There the average house price was £500,000 and average salary was £16,500 pa in 2008.
Any good city needs Transit. I have expressed my opinion on this in a previous blog post, when the City asked for more money (via Tax) to invest, Vancouver said no.
Beyond owning a place
The rest is my feeling and experience of the Vancouver job market after 8 years in multiple startups/technology companies.
In Vancouver there are fewer software jobs than about two years ago when there was a lot of more opportunities. The companies that are now looking for software engineers tend to be small and medium sized startups with fewer career opportunities for growth than larger corporations. That said, we have a few more global companies (e.g. Amazon) here than before, so it is possible the lack of jobs is due to the a depressed market now. With national figures showing Canada is currently in a recession, despite a recent job news showing an increase but these are mostly in the Public Administration, in Government.
I changed career after 20 years in campaigns/communications/marketing/public office/leadership/training as I felt the Vancouver market was very limited in these areas for someone in a senior position. I knew that to grow my career I would need to leave Vancouver and I was not ready to move, as I love this place.
This and my need to create again (my first degree was Computer Science, 1996) led me down a two year path of re-educating myself (via BCIT evening courses and small web contracts) in software engineering with modern languages specifically for the web. With three years additional years of web development (in full time work) under my belt, I am in a similar position of wanting to grow my career.
In Vancouver, software leadership roles are generally promoted from within (few come with quality training for the internally promoted person to gain leadership skills) or some outside “star” usually from a US company, used to working at a much larger scale. In fact I can only think of one person who received their leadership training outside of the job — and they were my best leader. I have also worked with a lot of non-technical leaders which is a different kind of challenge.
In Vancouver in eight years I have had three leaders who have inspired me out of nine. In the UK the ratio was higher, I think in part because of 360 degree Appraisals which are more common in UK, leading to a faster/tighter learning loop and higher leadership quality. It is possible my experiences have been unusual, and I simply been unlucky with my leadership in Canada. However, when I ask my friends how many of them had leaders who inspired them, most agree it is rare in Vancouver and that they had better experiences in Toronto/Waterloo/Ottawa. Other skills they shared they felt missing from ‘Leaders’ included giving feedback, risk management, change management, empathy and conflict management.
In the Vancouver job market your learning is often self directed and more often self funded. Sometimes a company will have some money available but not much. One very Global company I worked for made it impossible to claim the so called 50% off Tuition costs. More European/US companies seriously invest in training and their leaders, the UK recognized this problem a couple years back and started investing in it, in every sector.
The irony is the Canadian Federal/BC Government has made available monies for training and whilst the program is not perfect — it does not recognize online training — not a lot of companies apply for it. There is also tax credits for official education institutions and even bootcamps now. Training and Conferences are something I have had to negotiate in my contract to get them in Canada. I would like to see this as more of an active partnership than what I have experienced here.
In the technology sector the pay is a lot lower compared to US cities.
Lets take http://www.payscale.com or http://www.glassdoor.com as a comparison. In Vancouver the average Senior Software Engineer would be paid CDN $ 89.214, in San Francisco it would be US $130,00, New York US $95,000. The big differences is not so much in base salary, but in the bonus which is often 10%-20% of your base salary and then shares gifted at again 10%-20% vesting over three years. These last two are not common in the Vancouver market. In fact few companies appear to share success in Vancouver. There are even a couple that claim to be startups, but are actually family business with no scheme to buy stocks or share the company’s profits. Maybe they like the label startup, its good for marketing and recruitment.. and you can ask your people to work harder and longer.
An added bonus for working in the US is the current exchange rate whereby you would get an extra 20% to 30% when converting your US dollars into Canadian money. Taxes are also generally lower in the US.
BC & Company Benefits
A lot of small companies will do the minimal in terms of benefits and BC employment law (thanks to the BC Liberals) is so pathetic in compared to well everywhere, that some employers think they can get away with offering crappy benefits and they do.
And then there is 3 months wait for extended benefits, by some, not all Vancouver companies. Do they not care about the health of their new employees during the most stressful part of a job. All of the companies I interviewed with in the US start extended on day 1. Still Canada has a better health care system then the US.
Cost of living
Ok lets not be blind here, you need more money to live in a bigger city. Using numbeo/expatisan it rates Vancouver 34% cheaper than San Francisco, or 23% cheaper than Chicago. This seem greatly affected by exchanges rates, so I am sure they give me some indication but they are not entirely accurate.
Cost of living comparison between Vancouver, Canada and Chicago, Illinois, United States – Expatisan
- Food 8% less
- Housing 24% less
- Clothes 12% less
- Transportation 23% less
- Personal Care 20% less
- Entertainment 37% less
- TOTAL 23% Vancouver is cheaper than Chicago
- Consumer Prices in Chicago, IL are 22.63% higher than in Vancouver
- Consumer Prices Including Rent in Chicago, IL are 23.63% higher than in Vancouver
- Rent Prices in Chicago, IL are 25.43% higher than in Vancouver
- Restaurant Prices in Chicago, IL are 31.30% higher than in Vancouver
- Groceries Prices in Chicago, IL are 23.89% higher than in Vancouver
- Local Purchasing Power in Chicago, IL is 8.19% higher than in Vancouver
The United States is ranked No. 1 for most expensive healthcare per capita at $8,233. Conversely, Canada ranks No. 6 worldwide and is over $3,700 cheaper than the United States at $4,445 per capita, according to a 2012 OECD Health Data study using 2010 statistics. Americans pay over 17 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards healthcare while Canadians sit at about 11 per cent.
From what I can work out I will have to something like $100 to $180 a month to get a similar service to that in Canada, with the exception that serious stuff is paid for me after a ceiling but I am still paying a percentage. Where as in Canada serious stuff is part of our Health Care system. If you have a domestic partner you will have to pay for health insurance for at the cost of $3,000 per year. If you are married, your companies health scheme would cover them at much less cost but roughly about an additional $1,600 to $2,000 per year depending on the scheme you chose.
Actual Work Culture
Every company I have worked for in Vancouver has “over sold” how good their culture is and made it sound like the best place on planet earth. They will rarely talk about the weaknesses and problems they are encountering, things they still need to fix. Maybe I am at fault here, I am from the UK and we are direct people, and not scared of conflict.
The companies I interviewed with in the US were a lot more honest about what they were good at and where they needed help. Their leaders were more vulnerable, something that engenders more trust in me.
Culture is formed from all the ways people communicate with each other, the more honesty the better. And honesty should be matched with kindness. How you start any human relationship for me says a lot, yes be proud but also be honest. You really get a sense of how good a culture is and how good the leadership is when you or the company fails in some fashion, what level of forgiveness is there? Also on the opposite side how does the company celebrate success? Values and Ethics matter.
Working for a company that is actually working at scale i.e. Billions of transactions versus Millions, is hard to find in Vancouver. A lot of the companies here are building a form of Marketing platform and/or B2B platform, often at a much smaller scale. Successful B2C is rarer in Vancouver.
In software you are out of date pretty much every three months, you have to love learning and I do. I have built a number of “social media platforms” and job sites I want something more complex.
I moved from the UK to Vancouver with a lot of stuff in 2008. It is not cheap, there are many things to be careful of and the insurance can be a killer. Advice given to me specific to a US move is that the initial offers do not match the actual cost. That technology is hard to move and expensive. And inventory everything.
Oh a really important thing to watch is they will give you an estimate based on what they think gas will charge. Then ding you for the actual amount when you arrive. And in some instances if you live where they can’t get the big moving truck and need to move items to a smaller one, they ding you with that too. Plus you need to be very careful with valuables. I think one friend ended up with an empty box instead of a playstation the last time she moved. And my move back to Chicago was $1000 more than quoted because of gas and miscellaneous charges.
Make them Saran Wrap all your furniture. All my furniture got nicked. Even though they paid for my insurance claim, I wasn’t about to replace my furniture so I just end up with ugly furniture.
If you go to the US there are a bunch of risks:
- There is no employment insurance for you in either countries
- Your TN Visa will expire and you will have 30 days to pack up and leave the country
- You pay double on Relocation, there and back again
- Trips home cost a lot more money
- If you have a Spouse or Partner they cannot earn money.. so what do they do? Do not under estimate this
- You have no credit score in the US and it will take months to a year to build one. Get a secured credit card ASAP.
- Consider how you will maintain your Canadian Credit score
The actual job that got me to move
A couple years ago I once met a guy at a software conference who was a mentor like me and was very passionate about his company. I liked him but he worked for a finance company that have a reputation of not being innovative (FinTech had not really kicked as a trendy thing). A number of years later the same company started an apprenticeship scheme and posted it online on github so anybody could use it. Wow I thought they are a company to watch, it was smart, courageous and risky. Another year that guy emailed me and asked if I could recommend any good software development managers. I did (not me).
I got contacted by a US recruiter (NeoHire North) looking to bring people from Canada. We explored an opportunity together and I started to realize that maybe I could move to the US. The TN Visa is simple enough you need a company that wants to sponsor you. You can bring a spouse into the US with you or you could get a B2 Visa for Domestic partner that has to be renewed every year.
So I reached out to the guy and said, hey do you still need any Software Development Managers? Yes we do. Two Interviews were done over the phone and seven in person.
The thing that really struck me is I really liked the people, all of them and they were so different. I asked them all the question “Why do you work here?” they all spoke with passion and vulnerability. In the end I had a number of opportunities both in Canada and the US, on the table. Whilst this company did not offer the best financial package, I wanted to work with these people, learn from them and help them be the best they can be. And the finial package is substantially better then anything I would be offered in Vancouver, and it means one day I will have a box that I can name as our own.
It fucking hurts to leave your friends, to leave the mountains, to leave the sea, and it is an exciting time in terms of Canadian Politics (I am hopeful that the Federal Liberals will do a good job and the BC NDP could revitalize BC). The emotional journey of moving country/city is a hard one and should not be under estimated.
Is it over for me and Vancouver?
Maybe not, I hope given a number of years I will be smarter, wiser and better off. Then I could come back and share what I have learned and find somewhere to live. That said, I fear if Government (Federal/Provincial and City) keeps ignoring the problem, not finding a way to collect data, to truly understand the problem and find a solution; then I will come back to find the situation much much worse. Then I will find a new home in Canada.
Brian Jackson (retiring City Planner) foresees no change in ever-upward pricing pressures on housing unless Ottawa shifts immigration policy or applies land purchase restrictions on foreigner buyers or the Bank of Canada hikes interest rates.
Possible Housing Solutions?
In my time in Vancouver I have spent about $115,200 in rent over 8 years. My biggest problem was having a downpayment. I will add more ideas to this as I learn more:
- Make it easier to pull together the downpayment, maybe larger companies could help their employees
- One idea I considered exploring was buying with a bunch of friends and living together
- Have better building regulations in making Kitchens actually useful
- Re-define what Government thinks is affordable
Checklist for moving to US from Canada
Apply for your Social Security Number – It can take 2-3 weeks for your SSN to be processed and this number really is needed for most things. Do it as soon as you have your visa, you can ask for it as part of the visa process, do this.
Open a Bank Account – Once you have a US mailing address and SSN, you should get to a bank and open an account so you have a place to deposit your US paycheques and an account to start paying bills from.
Get a US Credit Card – Apply for a prepaid credit card where you would leave a $1000 deposit for a $1000 limit on a credit card. Use this to slowly build credit over the next 3-6 months and then you can eventually ask for your deposit back. This is essential to build a Credit Score.
This is my first time voting at the Federal level in Canada.
After being so heavily involved in Politics in the UK I needed time to recover. Most voters do not consider the cost to the citizens that make our democracy work. There is a high cost for politicians, their staff and all the people that get them elected. Let alone those that run our countries as civil servants.
When I first looked at voting (in the UK) and polices I voted Green (European Elections), the UK party that interested me was the Social Democrat Party in part because they were more favourable towards Europe (they merged into the Liberal Democrats). My political journey came out of student politics where I was an advocate for free education. It was interesting reviewing my policy journey and looking where I ended up now. I would say that I am Liberal in my outlook and believe in a balance of the needs of the community and the individual.
Trying to ignore politics
Canada makes it easy to not be involved, you are not allowed to vote until you are a Canadian citizen about 5-7 years, even though you pay taxes all the time.
In my opinion democracies and voting is a bit backwards. People are always talking about demanding more and better performance from elected officials, but when you get right down to it, shouldn’t a democracy demand more and better performance from the citizens who vote? If they do their job well (e.g. like research, understand policies, question candidates, volunteer), then the quality of those they elect will naturally follow..
Ok that failed
My first involvement I guess was working for Angus Reid, then helping out on the Startup Visa. My first vote was for Vancouver City Council, then next was the Vancouver Transit plebiscite. This led me to sit on the Vancouver Active Transportation Council.
“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”
So what about the Conservatives?
The Canadian federal elections gave me the incentive to learn what is going in Canada’s politics. To choose a political party to get behind. I started by reading a couple books on Canadian politics and visiting a number of Canadian museums. Without a doubt the torch was A Party of One by Michael Harris. It both horrified me and made me furious. It walks you through some of the Conservatives major decisions and how they handled them.
The things about the Conservatives that bother me:
- The removal of debate in parliament and not providing details when correctly asked
- The removal of powers from independent Auditors/Boards who work to ensure no party politics
- The Nuclear Safety Failure – the CNSC under Linda Keen – they ignored her warnings of dangers
- The removal of protection of our environment. Harpers Navigation Protection Act removed the protection of 31,000+ lakes. Leaving just 97 Lakes protected and most of them are in Conservative Ridings. Under the act construction of dams, bridges and other protected structures would be permitted without prior environmental approval. The national energy board is now responsible for navigable waters.. wait what..
- Their relationship with the First Nations and “delayed” involvement in pipeline projects
- The lack of care of our Veterans and overloading of caseworkers that support them
- C23 – The unfair elections act – The changing of election laws that benefit the rich voters and suppress poorer voters
- The cuts to the CBC
- The muzzling of scientists and other civil servants by Stephen Harper and his office
- The abusing of omnibus bills – the act of combining budgets and laws – leading to lack of scrutiny
- C51 – its reduction of freedom of speech and groups gathering
- The approach to International Relations is arrogant and hostile.
- The way they use fear as an election tactic and the copying of US Republican campaign tactics
- The converting of Canada to be the extra 10 US States.
- Wide spread corruption for which they were elected to clear up
- The lack of “courageous truth” on the costings of the F35 and firing the Parliamentary Budget Officer when he told the truth
- The inability to admit when they got it wrong and then learn and become better
- The lack of funding transparency and management
The lack of information on spending and on results achieved for money spent is a common theme throughout Ferguson’s report, which includes 11 chapters in total.
And for all the claims about being better for the Economy, the Conservatives managed to get rid of the surplus that the previous Government had, selling off National assets to governments with questionable humans rights. They then claim a surplus in the elections (2015), of course what they had not told people is they underspent on Veterans ($1.1 Billion) and Migrants ($350 Million). I imagine in part this was created by the closing Veterans Affairs offices, leaving some Veterans several hour journeys to get to see their caseworkers.
Sad thing is bill C23 pushed through by the Stephen Harpers Conservatives reduced Elections Canada to enforce or investigate any voter suppression/ Robocalls scam, I wonder why..
They use fear as their way to get people to follow them. When I ask another Canadian to define what makes them Canadian they often say “We are not American”. Yet Stephen Harper is Americanising Canada and has enacted more US Republicans policies here in Canada then they could in the US.
This removed the Conservatives as a viable option leaving me with National Democratic Party (NDP) or the Liberals. I guess you could called me a Strategic Voter or anything but Conservative for this election.
So what about the NDP and Liberals?
I tried out a couple sites to look at issue/policy comparisons such as isidewith which was a helpful start, but maybe a little off. The was also a good piece in the National Post (yes I know its Conservative in its views, but also has some well written articles). The best for last though I Can Party.
Federally I was more inclined to vote for Liberals before I started my journey to understand the NDP and Liberals. This was in in part because I voted/supported and worked for Liberal Democrats in the UK.
Now I had some biases going into this — I did not like that the BC NDP had run a campaign against HST in BC (it was better than the current system). I felt they misrepresented the tax system. I get that people were angry the way it was implemented by the BC Liberals (which is fair) but process overtook a good improvement. I have also not been impressed with the BC Liberals and their ability to listen and learn.
This was partly countered by the NDP in Alberta who did many things, but very importantly they reduced the ways companies AND unions could contribute to election campaigns. This inspired me.
I do know political parties work very differently at federal and provincial level, I also had some biases at the federal level.
How do the political parties create their policies?
Most political parties have conferences where all the members submit policy ideas and the members vote on them. Each party comes with its people; So we think that the Conservatives are controlled by businesses, Liberals by rich people and NDP by Unions. Of course the truth is far much more complex.
So, I was also worried about the grip of the Unions on the NDP — are the Unions progressive enough? I was a member of a teachers union when I taught at BCIT. They never contacted me and it seemed like they considered me lower class when I spoke to them because I was part-time even though I was a paid member. That said, Unions are something I believe are necessary and could be a potential progressive force in our democracy. Also, upon exploring the NDP policy making structure, I discovered it is one member one vote, which is good as opposed to Unions having block votes.
A lot of pundits (i.e. pollsters and media) I spoke to said that the Liberals were a lot more controlled from the centre, similar to the Conservatives that candidates had to check in with their central HQ before doing polling or some messaging. They also mentioned, that year after year it was the same people you spoke to, where as the NDP you saw a respectable turnover. Whilst there is always a measure of top down it feels like it is greatest in the Conservatives, whose many candidates rarely attend all party candidates meeting so voters can see them debate. The next seems like the Liberals and then the NDP.
Trudeau spent a year traveling the country, meeting with Canadians, and talking with them about the values they thought were essential to the country.He then recruited people, created several policy groups, and gave them instructions to come up with polices that reflected Liberal values; and, then, to find the ones that were right for Canada, rather than the ones that would win an election. Trudeau took his party through an elaborate, three-year strategic planning exercise for Canada, driven by an overarching commitment to “get it right.”
At this point I had removed some of my misconceptions of both parties structures, policy making and started filling in actual facts.
Comparing policy documents
There are policies I like in both and some I felt were weak and need more input from respective stakeholders. For example I would like to improve some of the NDP thinking on Corporations and Startups. I felt the NDP had thought more about how to evolve economy to one that works with our Environment rather ripping it to shreds.
Initially I was frustrated by not being able to find NDP policies and costings, yet could find the Liberals and they were good. Eventually I found policy books for both. I read both and compared.
In terms of costings for all parties they are weak, not surprising really consider how much work it takes, in government you have an entire civil service to help you.
Where am I coming from when comparing these?
I feel I have been lucky in life: I have had jobs when needed. I am happy to pay taxes in order to help others, whether it be those with disabilities, single parents or our elders. We survive together. Education is paramount for our future as well as our environment. No Environment, no planet, no human race. We also need to define ourselves as competitive to other nations, and science should be a core part of that, other nations should know we are not just their gas tank or wood supply.
Looking at the policy spread I did not disagree with any of the NDP or Liberals policies in terms of what needs to be done, but when it came to the ‘how’ I had some suggestions.
What sets NDP and Liberals apart for me?
I do emotionally favour the Liberal policy of spending on infrastructure when the interest rate is low. I feel that Canada has to spend a lot of money on infrastructure for us to move to a more environmentally conscience country and to be ready for the lack of Gas and Oil in our futures. That said, it could leave debt for future generations. I was a little frustrated that the NDP was committing to a fiscally conservative budget for a few years – this is similar to what Labour (in the UK) did when they got elected in 1997. That said with flux with oil prices at the moment perhaps we should consider a more fiscal approach. The NDP have a fiscal approach.
One in five Canadians are raised by a single mother
Clear areas of difference existed around:
- A new election system – NDP Proposition Representation – Liberal vague commitment to something
- Civil Liberties/C51 – Harper and Trudeau both got into bed very quickly with each other on C51. When a law that questions basic freedoms and refuses to clarify its scope, people will come to expect the worst. The fact is they do not trust Canadians and Harper appears to be trying to turn us into another United States.
- Universal Childcare – For childcare, the Conservative and Liberals are just offering one system: the tax benefit. The NDP will support an additional one, by ensuring Childcare spots at just $15 days, keeping it affordable for all families and helping women have the choice about going to work.
- Prescriptions – NDP offer a solid plan where as the Liberals is a step forward but not enough
- Keystone XL Pipeline – Harper and Trudeau both had a pipe dream on the Keystone XL Pipeline yet both Hilary Clinton/Obama don’t want it. Is this the pipeline to nowhere? We need a Government that can work with others, like the Americans or the First Nations or even our environment.
- War and defence – Liberals would keep using our forces in an offensive role the NDP would not. We are a very small contributor in terms of ‘Allied’ forces. Would our money be better spent on solely ‘Humanitarian’ roles. In part the Conservatives have made us a target, and dropped our Peacekeeping vision to one of offensive and a target, thus needing more security..
- He let the Conservative budget in 2009, 2010 budgets pass unopposed
- And he voted with Stephen Harper on 70 confidence votes
Some will say that the Liberals wanted time to rebuild, for the new leader to establish himself and to save us from another immediate election after election.
- The Keystone XL Pipeline process
- C51 – Justin Trudeau voted with Stephen Harper on Bill C-51. He said – he didn’t want Stephen Harper to make “political hay” out of it.
- Approach to International Relations and the use of our armed forces
I reflect on the party in the UK (Liberal Democrats – Under Charles Kennedy) I used to be a member of and they would not have supported any of this Conservative acts that attack Civil Liberties or the Environment. The Liberals have a lot of history of campaigning on the left and governing on the right. I am having a hard time getting over the Liberals supporting C51.
Watching the first debate I felt Trudeau was robotic and off his game, Mulcair was good and Harper defended himself well, but was not entirely honest.
The second debate all party leaders did well, Mulcair was sharp, calm yet fast, Trudeau was very aggressive (I got a little tired of his interruptions) and Harper was solid – but clearly twisted some points from fantasy into fact i.e. That carbon emissions have gone down during is time – this is more to do with the reduction in the economy not his policies.
Trudeau feels like an emotive “connecter,” a nearly USA-style, touchy-feely politician. Without a doubt there is potential here, the campaign will allow us to see who he is. I found his book a bit cheesy at times, but informative and worth the read. I share a lot of his views.
Mulcair appears sharp, fast-talking, analytic, policy-focused politician. When he brings up his upbringing and personal history he does a bit of sociology about the meaning of coming from a big Catholic family in Laval, Quebec. Watching some of parliamentary speeches he was impressive. Two things single him out:
- He quit his job as Environmental Minister for QC Liberals when they told him to build in a National Park
- He joined the NDP when they were the fourth party and no where to be seen in QC
This to me, shows courage, and principles.
One other thing that makes a real difference for me is the willingness to work with other parties i.e. Green, Liberal and NDP. Possibly in a coalition. Trudeau has said he will work with the NDP but not Mulcair, that seems a little petty to me. Mulcair has said he will work with the Liberals.
The Liberals appears largely non-ideological, they tend to take a centralised, symmetrical and anti-Quebec nationalist approach to federalism, and most of the time they are to the Left of the Conservatives – but occasionally jump to the right with the Conservatives. That said they have some good policies out there, some are lacking details but the intentions appear good. They are very different from Liberal Democrats in the UK. Maybe they will what we hope for. Their policies target the middle class.
The NDP appears moderate, but still left-leaning, social democratic party that is ideologically committed to social justice, progressive social policies and egalitarianism in general (but they’re less socialist than they used to be).
The NDP remains committed to social democracy (a well regulated, mixed market economy with a strong welfare system), and they are uncompromising on social policies (abortion, gay rights, trans rights, etc.). Also, they’re more open to Quebec nationalism and the idea of asymmetrical federalism than the Liberals. Their policies target less fortunate people.
So they are different how?
The NDP has “modernized” (i.e. moving from a socialist party to a social democrat party) and has passion, it still recognizes that governing will inevitably means choosing between competing and contradictory interests.You can please some of the people, some of the time; but you can’t please everyone, all of the time.
Trudeau, appears to be all things to all people. He is a friend to rich and poor, alike. He is for the environment and First Nations while supportive of the Keystone XL pipeline. Trudeau’s vision does not require making any difficult choices, yet. It seems the Liberal Party has been about the pursuit of power, not ideals, and with Trudeau at its head the Party, it may avoid any stances that might upset the elite and established. I am interested to see how this changes through the campaign.
For both we often just have the past to make a judgement, and it can often be hard to really understand their potential. Either have the potential.
I think we need a Government who can upset the cart to transform us into a country ready for the future.
Listening to friends
Most of my Canadian friends had no idea, undecideds, something between Liberal and NDP, and a small number of Conservatives. Many wanting real change to the Canadian future, i.e. anti Conservative
Where can I help the most?
Swing Ridings are where all the tough battles are fought between parties and there is a likely chance of change or maybe the riding is new. Two groups make it easier to see where strategic voting will help:
I explored all the Vancouver ridings to see which had Conservatives leading or second, with another party close behind or leading. Vancouver Granville and Vancouver South seemed likely swing ridings (i.e. change seems in the realm of possibility). Vancouver South has a very strong Liberal candidate so no need to help there.
Lead Now showed that Vancouver Granville is close as NDP is in the lead with Conservative second. This seems like a fight 🙂
Vancouver Granville: State Of Play – August 15-18 LeadNow poll
- NDP 36%
- Conservative 30%
- Liberal 24%
- Green 10%
I have worked on a lot of campaigns, it is very possible to move a campaign by 10% locally but anything above usually needs some mistakes, exceptions or global shifts. For example if the national leader clearly outpaces the others in terms of perception, this will help local campaigns but not define it. In my own election we shifted the vote by 14%. I was really helped by a very successful national campaign and clearly very different types of candidates, combined with some successful issue campaigns in the area of electors. It makes sense to help the NDP candidate to ensure the Conservative does not get in.
On the point of polls, I have seen hundreds (working for a polling company and as a campaign manager) in most have not predicted the actual result. National Polls are even worse they often ask 3-5 per riding, so do not help on the local level. They are helpful for identifying issues and how they play. And seat predictors are very dangerous. I worry about their impact on people creating a self fulfilling prophecy, by following a leader rather choosing what is “right” in their perspective by policy and candidate comparison. I suspect that the national polls may be more important their candidates, policies, etc to voters
Let me clear Strategic voting could be useful, but should not be the whole equation, just one part. You vote for one candidate in your local riding, that candidate has to be good and they have to be a party that you can accept with policies that work for the place you want.
Meeting the local candidates
So with the goal of helping to shift the vote, I met both the Liberal (Jody Wilson-Raybould) and the NDP (Mira Oreck) candidates for the Vancouver Granville riding today. The campaign office NDP was faster to respond and it started with a long phone call with Mira Oreck and then a face to face meeting with her and her campaign team. The Liberal campaign was a little slower to respond and I was invited along to a “coffee meeting” at their office.
They are both good candidates. Very different candidates and teams. I asked a lot of questions and tried to see where I would be the better fit. I felt that Mira dealt better with my tougher more aggressive questions. Jody redirected some of my questions and relied very much on the national platform for her answers. Mira was more willing to share her personal feelings where Jody was a bit more standoffish. When I ask Jody what she thought of Mira, she said she had never met her. Which is curious because they had already being to at least one all candidates meeting. Mira was kind about Jody. I think that was a decider..
After I debated strongly: should I help the Liberals take Conservatives voters ensuring more of a fight between the Liberal and the NDP or should I help one to try to win outright.
Now I have to decide which one to help get elected. I will help one for the rest of the campaign so 3-4 weeks of volunteering.
What do I want from a Government
I would like Government to provide stability for our businesses (thus taxation allows us to provide services), guide us to keeping our environment healthy, help us as citizens find our potential, allow us to be different, find the right choice between our freedom and security. And I want it to protect the vulnerable and help them climb the ladder to a better place. Maybe I do not need as much help as others, but I want to know that the Government has their back. In terms of international relations I want us to be open to others and different cultures, and not enforce our culture on them.
Making a Decision
In the end we are judged by our actions, not our intentions. I felt the NDP in Parliament have done a better job than the Liberals in the last term (I feel that you should reward the behaviours you want to see). The Liberals seem to swing to right when uncertain. NDP seem to know who they are. Mira is a strong candidate in Vancouver Granville with clear principles.
After a time of having unprincipled leadership in Stephen Harper I feel we need a leader with core values, tested principles and a will to take us back to a compassionate, forward looking Canada. Trudeau’s support of C51 really worries me, and I am not ready to get passed. Yes we need security but at what price to our democracy or to our freedom of speech? Would we need this extra security if our international relations was done with more respect, tact and finesse?
I feel that Tom Mulcair at this time shows guts, experience, compassion, respect and ability to listen.
Thus I decided to support the Mira Oreck NDP candidate in Vancouver Granville, in this election. I feel she is one of the strongest candidates in Vancouver area and I feel she will be a strong advocate for both her riding and Vancouver. I will reflect after the election.
[Update] Watching the all candidates meeting (about 500 people turned up), I felt Mira did an amazing job with both the introduction and questions, the next best was without a doubt the Green candidate (Michael) he had a lot of courage and then Erin the Conservative (I did not like what he said but he presented himself well). Jody did well on a couple questions. Watching this debate it was confirmed for me that Mira would do right by this Riding, and achieve results in Ottawa for us.
What should you do?
I would would prefer you travel your own journey, learn about what is important to you, take time to understand the people and policies and choose the right candidate for you. Often people vote lazily i.e. they choose just the party, please don’t do this get to know your local candidates choose the representative for your riding and your beliefs. Every party is the sum of its parts and its individual members of parliament will impact on the “sum” or overall picture.
Action Plan for you
If you have not received a voters card:
- Get your postcode
- Know what riding you are in, go to this website (Elections Canada)
- Check to see if you are registered to vote here the deadline is Tuesday, October 13 at 6:00 p.m. (local time) you can do this online or at a local office
Find out who your local candidates are?
- Go to the Elections Canada website, on the right enter your postcode. New Page on the right click on “Who are the candidates in my electoral district?”
- Do a web search on each candidate looking for the next All Candidates meeting. Go and see them talk.
Understand what each of the parties will do?
- First write a list of things you think are important now.
- Then add items that are important to people you care about
- This site does a comparison of policies – I Can Party
- Then checkout each parties website, refer to your list, it may grow thats ok.
If you could read one book?
P.S. What about Greens?
I strongly believe if we don’t get a grip on the impact of us and our economy on the environment soon, we will move the planet to a point that it cannot heal from. I think environmental impact should be a part of every policy. I also felt Elizabeth May did very well in the first debate. But I want to get involved in actually evolving policy, in a party that has the ability to form a Government or a strong opposition. I imagine the Green Party will teach me many things and I will listen and learn.
Ten years ago (May 2005) I was elected as a public politician for the county council seat of Newquay North in Cornwall, UK. Whilst being the campaign manager for 17 county candidates and 1 Parliamentary candidate. Together we won 17 seats..
Here is my journey in politics not my whole life and not certainly not all the politics..
I reflect often that I coped with a messy upbringing by reading a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy books. They gave me a place to retreat to, but at the same time I was learning what society and what humans could become. They showed me how certain principles could be taken to the extreme and what kind of society we would end up with.
Why was it messy? Well my mother disappeared when I was 6 months old and I ended up in foster care for a number of years, changed schools a bunch of times I think 6 before the age of 14 and yep my father and step mother were both good fighters.
Fantasy books test the different ways people can grow up in a good versus evil environments. I got to explore many societies, many cultures, some human, some alien, and many pathways through life. The best and the worst of what society could become. I recall Spock once saying that with infinite diversity comes infinite possibility, maybe here is where my Liberal and Social leanings come from.. I have always known I want to leave the world in a better state than I arrived in it.
I once asked a teacher, why they wanted to be a teacher
“There are no innocent bystanders.”
William S. Burroughs
This quote has stuck with me for most of life, because it put words to something I already strongly believed in. This quote has driven me to go down the path I followed, it has made me feel guilty for inaction and has given me part of the reason to be better.
A little bit of confidence (1982)
In my last year at school I got involved in Young Enterprise (school pupils setup a business with help from local business people and try and make a profit), started as the Sales Manager and eventually became the Managing Director. This got me talking/selling in front of other people (on the street and in shops). I also had my first experience with public speaking to an unknown audience when we won one of the regional awards. I remember to this day how much I shook as I spoke.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Learning about Print and Design (1982 -)
One of the services we offered as a Young Enterprise company was Letterhead printing, as I had access to Desktop Publishing System (Quark Express and Apple Macintosh) through my Dad’s company. In fact, through this I taught Pagemaker and Quark Xpress to printing professionals and they taught me the print profession. I started to learn how to communicate effectively and impact fully through print.
Calm under fire? Strategy, Tactics and problem solving (1982 -)
Thinking through strategy, tactics and problem solving grew out of my Wargaming (Advanced Squad Leader, Warhammer 40K, Space Marines Epic). Dungeons & Dragons (tabletop role playing games) also contributed to my confidence and creativity as a teenager as well as the ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes. There were many times when I stood as the leader in chaotic circumstances and I developed a rep as “calm under fire” with my friends. Whether it was true or not, it formed a part of who I am now.
My first vote
In 1989 European elections and I voted Green. My view at the time was: no planet, no human race.. The result to me was shocking. Greens got 2,292,705 votes, nationally 14.9% (UK), and got not one MEP (Member of European Parliament). To me, the election system seemed screwed up, so this started my journey in exploring how elections worked.
Standing up for others (1992-)
During my first year at UoH (University of Hertfordshire) I found I enjoyed sharing my understanding of software/computers/networks. I have often found it “easy” to explain very complex things in terms anyone can understand through analogies. I quickly became one of the “mentors” and helped many students, and thus became one of the informal course representatives. This course (Software Engineering HND) was really well taught, I enjoyed it and performed very well and got offered the opportunity to move up to the degree course.
I think it was near Christmas when the student halls (Pembroke Halls) I was in were trashed. The University responded by sending a notice of eviction to all students and taking everyone’s deposit. This is a hall with 220 students and the walls were made of “paper”, one of the those temporarily buildings that stays around for a long time. The facts were unclear but cause was likely a mixture of students and locals from Hatfield who sneaked in. I worked with students to get their parents to challenge the University through the court and force them to prove their case. Of course they could not, and a compromise was established. Both the Halls Association and the Students’ Union did nothing.
So in the next election cycle I stood for both. For The Halls Assocation I stood for election as Vice-President and for the Students’ Union (UHSU) I stood as Communications Officer, and was duly elected for both. These elections taught me how uncomfortable it is to “sell” yourself. But these were my first elections as a candidate.
“We must be the change we wish to see in the world”
During my second year at University I expanded into unknown territory and became a member of the Drama Society. Standing up in front of people was shit scary. Overtime I learned to pace myself, I learned how to project my voice, I learned timing, I learned to practice and memorise my lines. I learned to take complexity and simplify it. I learned to perform and act a character that was not Eric. Whilst Roleplaying games (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons) started this journey Drama took this to the next level.
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”
Student Politics – University of Hertfordshire Students’ Union (UHSU)
My year as Communications officer made me concentrate on student engagement/involvement/motivation, getting students to general meetings, demonstrations and also learning how to do publicity well e.g. putting up posters. During this time I used to go to food places to stand on a chair and tell all the students what was going on. I got used to speaking in front of a couple hundred people who did not care about what you care about, and I learned the best places to put posters.
The Conservative Government was in the process of removing students grants (money for food and accommodation) for University and considering charging for each year of attendance. I am not sure if I would have gone to University if it was not free. Free Education became a part of my political beliefs at this time.
I got the attention of the NUS Regional Officer (Nick Berg) who asked me to help out with training the colleges on Regional Training Weekends. NUS taught me how to train and share my knowledge. I trained a lot of FE Officers in East Anglia, UK. I throughly enjoyed teaching and learned from my students.
My third year (at University) I stood for election as the Union Affairs Officer, who managed the elections and the formal rules process of the Union i.e. The constitution, standing orders and policies. I do not remember the reason now, but I had such a strong disagreement about one policy that I resigned. I learned how ineffective resigning is, as now I could not influence anything.
In my final University year I stood for Academic Affairs. It was to be a busy year, as the University decided to change the way it delivered all of it is courses. I worked with Education & Welfare sabbatical (full time post) to communicate with students. In part, the way I handled myself through this change and helped the University to compromise, led to my election as President of the Students Union (UHSU).
President of the Students’ Union
Suddenly I was the leader of 350 staff, several bars/clubs/shops and the representative of 21,000 students. Its kind of like being a mayor. Watching, advising and criticizing is a lot easier than being the person at the top. My first year was a lot of cleaning up a business nightmare, we were running at an increasing loss, we employed 350 staff most of them without any employment terms, and most of our permanent staff were commercial facing with very little support for our students services. So we had a complete restructure. This got the University onboard for specific increases for our grant (for the Students’ Union) from them, setting us up for a healthier future. This was not a process without cost. We had to close some services and lets some people go.
And it led me into a tough election, which I won my second term but it was close. I would not have won this election without my colleague Sam Fawcett and my remaining friends. My second term focus was using my now established relationships to gain more resources for the students’ union, and advocate for students through the University and nationally.
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”
Albert G Hubbard
National Union of Students (NUS)
Through my training I had built a strong standing with my region i.e. East Anglia. When I stood for NUS Regional Council, I had a lot of support. Which eventually led me to standing for the NUS national executive (NEC), after my term as president at UHSU had finished. NUS was a battlefield of the left of the Labour party and the right of the Labour party, as most of the people in power were members of the Labour party.
This was one of the strangest years of my working life. I was doing a full-time job but earned part-time money and I could only work on projects I was authorized to. Expenses were signed by whichever political group was onside at the time. I felt that I had got elected with a lot of good people, but the culture of NUS was sick, and we inherited it and we were not always our best. NUS politics was vicious and at times petty compared to real world politics.
All of that said I feel I got some good work done with Mature Students, Peer to Peer Training (STADIA), Environment, Training and helping student unions grow. None of it was done alone there were many people who helped me.
As my term on the NEC drew to a close, I decided to stand for the NUS President. My standing for election as National President for NUS was really about making a point. I did not expect to get elected, but I wanted to make some points to wake NUS up from the US and THEM sick culture and the acceptance of Labour Leadership, which I was not against if it was more inclusive. I ran the campaign as an independent, took no deals, no money from parties, just from friends and other like minded people. I came really close to winning, I think just 42 votes out of a 2000 electorate. I learned an incredible amount from my time in NUS about campaigning, public policy, voting, block vote tactics, winning and losing. I was happy with the campaign and knew it was now time to move on. And that in politics, you may die many times – it’s the grace you do it with that will define your future and your friends.
There are many people I am thankful for in my time in NUS, who helped me survive and be a stronger advocate including Sam Fawcett, Andy Martin, Tommy Hughes, Kat Price, Colin Ross and many others.
“Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”
My time in student politics taught me about diversity. Whether that be sex, gender, race, sexuality or age. These are part of my core because of the exposure to the real life stories, the debate and the polices. I am thankful for all the people in UHSU/NUS who educated me and helped me grow. And I would say now I am a passionate campaigner for equality of opportunity – passionate and sometimes clumsy, as I still have more to learn.
“Return hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
Choosing political parties
Before University I would have fitted into a Green or Labour voter. I was left of centre, I believed in social justice, but I did not fully know what that meant. I felt society should be fair, more of a meritocracy. And of course green.
In 1997 I met all the Parliamentary Candidates for Welwyn Hatfield. Without a doubt the best candidate was Rodney Schwartz, he was very authentic and round beat the other candidate Melanie Johnson, in the student debate. This was my first encounter with a Liberal Democrat and we often talked during the General Election. He lost gracefully to Melanie Johnson.
I found the the NOLS i.e. Labours Students very controlling, and I understood the timing was leading to a place where New Labour would form, and they needed to modernize to take on the Conservatives. Which I wanted them to achieve. It was their methods that bothered me.
NUS often felt like a battleground between the right and the left of the Labour party with students being left in the middle. I would say that I started out as a Labour supporter but my time in the NUS made me think about this decision. Overtime I got to know a few Liberal Democrats and even went to a LYDS conference, which I have to say put me further off party politics. Some of my closet friends were in the Green, Labour and Liberal Democrats but I felt more comfortable with the SDP (Now merged into Lib Dems).
The one thing I knew was I was not a Conservative. I felt Conservatives was for rich people who cared less for the vulnerable in our society, whose priority was business above all other things. Who were happy with the divide in wealth and classes.
Paddy Ashdown was the Lib Dem leader at the time. I liked the policies that the Lib Dems put forward. The Lib Dems were the only political party at this time stating that higher education should be free. I felt their stance on the environment and education were something I could get behind.
Liberal Democrats Youth & Students (LDYS)
My experience of this was very varied. I had a number of friends who were great supporters during my time at NUS. I stood for election after my time at NUS. I wanted to share some of my seven years of experience. It was my worse experience of an election process, it included character assassination and lies about me. They made Labour Students look nice. I never went back.
Working with a Member of Parliament
Lembit Opik (at this time MP) and I met during my time in NUS. With his policy brief of Northern Ireland (I lived there in the early 90s) and Children/Youth, we had a lot to talk about. Whilst we did not agree on everything, I think we helped each other understand very different perspectives. I learned about Rural policy from him and his then colleague Richard Williams, MP another Welsh MP. We worked with each other for a number of years until 2002.
Real World Campaigns
When Lembit Opik MP, invited me to come and help out in the first Welsh Assembly Elections (1999), I jumped at it. I could use my campaigning skills and learn a wider policy brief i.e. more than education. The Head of the Campaign, Chris Lines, was awesome and I learned an incredible amount from him, particularly about working with Journalists. We supported 40 candidates, whilst supporting a national and federal strategy. As I really started to understand the whole political partys’ policies I felt I had found a home. I still agreed with policies from some other parties, but their implementation was often different i.e. more authoritative rather than involvement of stakeholders.
General Election Manager for Wales & Organizer for the Leaders Office (March 2001)
Whilst at NSPCC I was offered the opportunity to Head up the Welsh Parliamentary Election campaign. I asked for a leave of absence and I was denied, even though others in the organization were being given time off to support their political parties. I handed in my notice and for the next four months lived and worked in Cardiff, Wales.
Who needs one job? Yeah so I also worked as part of the Federal Leaders office (Charles Kennedy MP) organizer of the final week of his tour around the the UK. Reporting into Niall Johnston, another amazing mentor for me.
During my time I was also a paper candidate for Pontypridd, Wales. It was a Labour stronghold, the candidate was a Government Minister and I did well enough to get my deposit returned. People should have a choice..
Becoming an Approved Parliamentary Candidate
This process really helped me flesh out what I really cared about, what were the policies I wanted to work on. What my underlining principles were. How I defined myself compared to other parties. What language I would use to describe these beliefs. For example, is the individual more important than society, or vice versus or a balance of both? Whist in the past I had agreed with policies, this helped me really think about what were the principles behind them and connect it all together.
I got myself through the “accreditation” process and became a valid Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate.
“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”
Selection in Totnes, Devon (2002)
When the seat of Tones came up for selection, I decided to take off 2 months.
As a child I always had fond memories of South Devon. I learned to swim in the swimming pool in Totnes, I went to primary school in Stokenham and attended my first comprehensive (High) school in Kingsbridge. It was a really interesting mix of people with its Art college, Hippies, farmers, tourist service providers, beaches, and a strong mix of rich and poor.
I rented a place for 8 weeks and started my campaign, going door to door to all the local (Lib Dem) members, learning what their perspectives were and what the future needed to look like. I got to know a lot of locals, not just voters in this primary/selection process. The vote came and I did well but not good enough. It feels very personal to lose a campaign where you meet all the electorate, but the choice is really about whether people perceive you as a potential winner, and a friend, and sometimes that takes years.
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away”
In between my political adventures, I occasionally had to earn money, so I did this by working for charities and non-profits. I learnt an incredible amount in specific areas of policy.
- National Union of Students’ – Further and Higher Education
- British Youth Council – Youth, Childrens’ Rights
- NSPCC – Paid Parental Leave, Childcare, Domestic violence, Smacking, Parenting and Child Development
- NCDL/Dog Charity – Animal Welfare
- Action for Blind People – Disability, Economics
- Consumer Rights – Economics, European political system, Housing, right to return, Advertising.
“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”
Hartlepool By-Election (Sep 2004)
After finally getting rid of my student debts, I got my TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and I went on a around the world trip lasting 11 months. In which I learned Spanish, met my Argentine family for the first time, and became a Dive-master. I remember diving off a beautiful reef and finding myself thinking about what would a perfect Education policy look like. I was bored and it was time to get back and do some “good”.
I headed to Hartlepool, UK for a couple months to help the Liberal Democrats in a by-election. Like most people in a by-election I did a little bit of everything. It was the first by-election where ‘The Guardian” plugged for Lib Dems over Labour.
During the campaign I met the then campaign manager for North Cornwall. He was considering leaving as he had been offered a civil servant position, and he talked about new candidate Dan Rogerson who I met many years ago and liked. This combined with the fact I was born in Cornwall: I wanted to rediscover my birth home.
Campaign Manager for North Cornwall Constituency
After an interview with Dan Rogerson & Paul Tyler MP, I headed to North Cornwall to live and work for the Liberal Democrats.
My first task was a by-election for Newquay Town Council.
Then I started preparing the campaign for 17 County Council seats ( for the then Cornwall County Council, which later got merged in with all the Cornwall District Councils to form Cornwall Council) and one parliamentary seat by getting to know each of the candidates and their divisions (election area). My role included producing our newspaper, leaflets, posters, volunteer management, election planning, election database management, message management, speeches, poster creation and placement, canvassing door to door and on the phone.
Becoming a Candidate for Newquay North (Cornwall County Council, UK)
We had a candidate for Newquay North, but he had to step down. I asked if I could stand in the seat, initially as a paper candidate (the intention is to give voters a choice but necessarily run a full campaign). Clearly I had other responsibilities i.e. 1 MP candidate (PPC) and 16 other county council candidates and to be clear I did not expect to win. The North Cornwall Liberal Democrat Leadership had a bit of a heated debate on it, but in the end they decided I could stand, and asked that I run a campaign in the area.
Some of my best friends came from all over the country to come and help me get elected. Ashley,
Malinee, Cheryl and others did some phone canvasing for me. Sandy (Samuel Carter) made a real difference, he tireless delivered leaflets for me, and canvassed for me. Without him it would not have happened. George Edwards also told many people that I was the man for the job, even whilst fighting for his own seat. And then there was Dan Rogerson, Steve Rogerson and Pat Rogerson, they were all invaluable in the campaign. We also collectively saved a bus route during the campaign!
During this time I didn’t rest much and worked on 18 campaigns. When I had spare moments I would work on Newquay North. I met a lot of people, I was careful not to promise anything, except that I would work hard. Where I agreed with voter I was clear and when I did not I was also clear. I described my values and principles. When I did not understand all of the issues I was honest and learned from them. I learned a lot.
We did good work together as evidenced by the results.
“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”
Being a local candidate (2004 – 2005)
It starts pretty tame and then gets seriously intense. First the letter of introduction, who are you and why are you standing and some defining issues. Going door to door gives you a real mixture of what people are angry at, sometimes they may even tell you what they would like to change and possible solutions. Sometimes they will use some choice words the moment they open the door and see you. There are some who will play along and pretend to be interested, to delay you as they are of another party. Some just want to talk and have human company. I met a lot of people and took copious notes, and found a few pieces of casework to investigate.
Print journalists really vary, some are just interested in who you are and what you believe in, others have a story and they want you to fit into that box. Sometimes they will paint you as something good and sometimes as something weak, either way it is part of the political life, something to get used to. You sacrifice your privacy, and the privacy of all the people close to you. Something else to get used to. People want to feel they understand you, both the good and the bad. It forces you to reflect on who you are as an individual, and in comparison to the other candidates. Learning to take the hits, reflect and move on is important in politics, just like the rest of life. I think quality journalists that check their sources, do not have an overpowering agenda, and seek the truth, are a fundamental part of our democracy, without them it will fail. Of course most papers have to make money, and thus need readers and thus need exciting titles. Then there’s radio, which can be much more combative, as each candidate wants to voice how different they are.
Few candidates get elected without volunteers, whether they be family/friends or party activists. The campaign will have many peaks, troughs and even moments of despair. Keeping your team in the loop and motivated is essential. I found sharing stories both good and bad was great for bonding, and also to prepare how to respond to questions.
And let’s not forget the other candidates. My view is, you never know who you will end up working with in the future, so be respectful. Anyone who has the courage to be put through an election campaign and lose part of their privacy in the process has a sense of civic responsibility.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
Candidates with opposing views is a good thing, it allows “us” to test ideas out, to even make them stronger. Personal attacks will come, and some will also be offensive. Just because others play in mud, you do not have to.
I asked some friends to observe my count. We knew it would be close. I now had other responsibilities with counts in two locations (North Cornwall District Council and Restormel Borough Councils) and 17 candidates.
- 1279 – 37.6% – Eric Brooke – Liberal Democrat
- 1231 – 36.2% – Patrick Lambshead – Conservative
- 889 – 26.2% – Harry Heywood – Independant
The current politician Harry Heywood could not even shake my hand. Losing is hard, but I had practiced that I lot. Again it all depends on the campaign and how personal it gets. Pat was always respectful and always clear he was not my friend, either way I liked him.
“There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Leonard Cohen from Anthem
My next posting will talk of my experience as an elected politician
This is my third RailsConf, having attending them in Portland and Chicago. I have found the Rails community as mostly open, people generally easy to ask questions off, and a good range of talks. Railsconf are well organized conferences, they feel professional and evolve each year.
This year the courses seemed to concentrate between the beginner and the intermediate with occasional spikes into the advanced. A lot of the course titles were a little abstract and thus encouraged you or discouraged you (depending how tired you were) from reading the actual description.
It was noticeable this year the number of women that attended (i.e. a larger number) and equally notable how few Blacks there were attending the conference. There were a lot more talks about how software developers are human and soft skills.
The main thing I get from the conference is the people I meet, the conversations I have, the things I learn from attendees.
I felt all four were really good and worth attending and worth watching when they become available.
DHH Rambled a bit, but got to a good point that Rails is a backpack to build a medium sized company like Github or Shopify. He took on the criticism about Monolith architecture and termed the phrase Majestic Monolith and ‘integrated systems’. Again this created some great lunchtime and evening conversation. We also talked about two features in development for Rails 5 Turbolinks 3 and Active Cable. His talk.
I see you have a poorly structured monolith. Would you like me to convert it into a poorly structured set of microservices?
— Architect Clippy (@architectclippy) February 24, 2015
Sarah Chipps talked about her journey. I love that she gave up part of her talk time to some students and their journey to coding and drones.
Aaron Patterson did his usually trolling and then talked about the areas he is now working on – some great stuff on controller and integration tests. I love that he walks us through the process, I learn each time he does. His talk.
I found that day two and day three had more topics I was interested in. Here are some of my favourites:
- Good education talks included Sandy Metz on Nothing is Something (talk) followed by React.JS by Michael Chan. I call them educational because I learnt something from them.
- A great comparison talk on Processes and Threads – Resque vs Sidekick by James Dabbs
- Interesting journey/scaling talk on High Performance APIs in Ruby using ActiveRecord and Goliath by Dan Kazlowski and Colin Kelley
I heard some good things about:
- Ernie Millers‘ Humane Development
- Bending the Curve: How Rust Helped Us Write Better Ruby by Yehuda Katz, Tom Dale
- Playing Games in the cloud presented by: Nadia Odunayo
- Why we’re bad at hiring (and how to fix it) presented by: Kerri Miller
New things at the conference
Each year the conference improves 🙂 I am impressed with how well organized overall the conference is for a non-profit organization relying on volunteers.
- The theming of topics was really good and helped participants navigate talks
- The Rails core team talk was very informative
- Having many big boards with schedule on, was great
- Having a mobile app was very useful
- I think the notice board was a lot bigger
- Lightning talks had a lot of talkers
- Separate page for sponsored parties. It would be good to have this one page for all the after parties. Often they get booked really quickly but only the people in the know.
Old Things and still good
Railsconf has a scholarship scheme which gives free tickets to a number of people who are coming to the conference for the first time and might otherwise be able to. I love this. I was a scholar in my first year and have being a guide in the last two. I think Ruby Central is awesome to provide this.
Are a great way for people to try out presenting or were not able to be fitted onto the whole schedule. I would suggest moving this to a morning, they are good but often get tagged on the end of the day and maybe a little tired.
This was very useful with both the schedule and the map. Meet the team is a nice touch, maybe add what role they are playing at the conference.
I loved this, I feel having more would be great, I suppose I miss the fourth day!
Venue – The Mart
Of the three RailsConfs I have attended, this year there was either a lot of noise pollution (e.g. Bang Bang, or the equivalent to a freight train going over your head). In the main room there was a lot of echo, if you managed to avoid the really big pillars. In the smaller rooms, there were several issues with the projectors not being powerful to counter the lights and no one knew how to turn the lights down. All of that said this was the best WIFI hands down.
Sorry this was not a great venue.
The first lunch was a little light. The second and third lunches were really good. The snacks were all gone by the time I got there, though there was fruit 🙂
Was it worth the trip?
Conferences are essentially a social experience, as most of the videos/decks appear online, thus the most valuable part is the people I meet at conferences. I wonder what the future of conferences is, with all the content being streamed, will they become totally virtual or in fact will they become more social. The problem with big conferences is that you can get comfortable with sticking with your team or people you know and not meet new people. For me this is what I get:
- I meet new peers and mentors
- Discover new perspectives
- Discover how others solved a similar problem
- Share what I know and become a useful part of the community
- I can ask questions in talks to clarify my understanding
- Sometimes a talk will teach you something new, or you learn to communicate something complex in a new way or you realize that you know this topic.
- Find people you want to work with
- It was not my favourite year for talks
But I am an extrovert, I will actively introduce myself to a lot of people. That said it tires me out!
This year I sent three people and myself (from Vancouver, BC). There were some great talks, but more average talks then I had seen in the past. I feel the social aspect is one of the areas we could evolve and make the conference even better. It is also what I think will keep bringing people back. For the social members of my team the conference was good, for non social the talks were not compelling enough on their own this year, in part due to the level of expertise and in some cases because of venue distractions during the presentations.
Ideas for next year
Its not just our code base that needs to evolve and grow, the conference does to, here are some thoughts/ideas/suggestions that may improve the experience.
1. Making the conference more social
You can see all the talks online, why attend if not for the social aspects?
- Publish the attendance list. As people register, ask them Name, Company, Title, length of time coding, and what they want to get out of the conference.
- I suggested a couple things last year in my rails 2014 blog and rails 2013 blog
2. Upping the quality of the talks
- Coaching for first time talkers, from communication experts, education experts and experienced presenters (I will volunteer for this)
- Learning style guide – help speakers think through the styles to make easier for all to absorb
- Feedback for each talk by participants to be fed to the speaker, this would be great in mobile app
- Room instructions – How do I turn lights down/up, who fixes the projector
- Pretest room for computers and projectors
- Hands on masterclasses and workshops with very experienced people like Metz and DHH
3. Interview DHH
This would be even more fun if it was Aaron Paterson who did it..
4. Grow the conference committee to include people who have sole responsible for:
Scholars champion – Have a person own this and evolve it each year. Make sure there is a table that scholars can go to and make sure they have space to see the keynotes, check on the beginners track to ensure the content is actually beginner friendly.
Connections champion – Work in ways to help other newbies/lone travellers meet others. Be the person who can introduce people to other people.
Presenter Experts Volunteer Pool – Ask the community to apply to help out first timer presenters and those that would like a sanity check pre-conference and in-confrence.
5. A non interruption space and a “singles” want to meet people space
Most of us occasionally need to work/code get shit done. Maybe we could have a space when we have power and can code without interruption or sound sshhh. And then another space where I will code/play/experiment but happy to be meet people, in fact please interrupt me. Its kind of like a singles bars, in that it is easier to approach people, making it a bit easier for all. You could have board with I would love to speak to people about x and here is my twitter handle (in case I am not in the room at the time you step in).
Great food and calming accent. I also visited Martin Luther King jr. centre and Human Rights Centre were emotionally overwhelming as well as educational.
There was a stark contrast between the Race of the attendees of the conference a lot of white and some others, against all of the people who served the food and drink who were Black.
As a community I think we are welcoming. Bootcamps seem to help those with money. Ruby Central offers scholarships (reduced ticket price to free) for all minorities and those with little money, which is awesome.
I feel the lack of certain communities in software development is not just a Rails/Ruby problem, but wider. I wonder what we can do as a wider community to add more to our diversity? We are after all in the hometown of Martin Luther King, Jr. Is it an issue of poverty, education, role models or something else. How do we make it better? If there is a software community that could consider this and maybe make it better – I think it is the Rails community…
A friend (non technical) recently asked me how I lead my dev team, he had led product and marketing before, so I have attempted to focus on the differences, that said good team leadership has commonality with all disciplines.
I currently have three software engineers, one IT/Dev OPs and one product designer (3 female and 3 male). In the past I have led 23 teams. I will use this blog for my team to hold me to account 🙂
Being accountable for “no surprises” is the core. Where ever possible you should be accountable for all of the people that you work with, people should not be surprised by what you say, because you have already asked their opinion, maybe even evolved your thinking and they can see the process by which you went through to reach a decision.
It means more communication and more interaction with your people. It means you can be vulnerable. It means stepping outside of your “assigned” responsibility and forming relationships with all parts of your organization, and other organizations. Its about being connected, its about being a leader and a follower. It shows that people understand you and your core principles. That you can be consistent and when you adapt they can see that to.
There are not things left unsaid, you are not passive aggressive or have control issues.
Being a Leader of context
The role you take on should change depending on the context. Sometimes you are the coach, sometimes the mentor, sometimes the friend, sometimes a psychologist, sometimes the engineer, sometimes the product owner, sometimes the user advocate, sometimes the engineer advocate, sometimes the leadership context, sometimes the inspirer, sometimes the critic.. There are different leadership styles and yours should adapt. In 2003, prior to my MBA this book really helped me step up my game The New Leaders: Transforming The Art Of Leadership Into The Science Of Results
You are the right person at the right time
Different places/ways to work
People are generally smarter/productive longer, when they can have different types of environments to work in and have multiple ways to express themselves. Have multiple places that engineer can work in. When I recruited my current team, I got the organization on board with the following:
- Give the engineer a laptop
- Have somewhere comfortable to work e.g. sofa, kitchen
- Have somewhere serious/quiet with extra screen
- Have somewhere they can stand up and code
- Have somewhere outside if possible, natural light/fresh air is a great refresher
- Make it possible to work remotely
- That there are white boards for people to express, figure out a problem.
This is a good book if you want to really consider your culture and the way you work. The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Without doubt you should ask each team member what helps them concentrate, what distracts them, what they need to stay in the zone. The obvious big one for many is a good set of headphones. Do not underestimate the quality of a good display also, anything at the quality of a Retina can reduce eye tiredness.
Different physical environments can refresh you, help you think bigger or focus. Be flexible.
Leave chunks of time to code
Engineers are generally more efficient if given chunks of time to code. Thus have your meetings meetings near mornings or lunchtime. To give several hours of interrupted research/code time.
- Get engineers to block out their time on their calendars, so product/founders can book time when needed
- Use an IM system to ask questions such as Slack or Skype during those chunks of time and do not expect a quick response
Developers need chunks of time to be left alone to get on and focus
Being a good human being
This means understanding each others needs and wants. Expectations both from the lead and engineer should not be hidden, things should not be left unsaid. Sometimes we need processing time, to check in destructive emotion, but you should still tell that person how they made you feel. You should also be kind but not nice.
Both people should be able to be vulnerable with each other and trust each other. You both need to avoid surprises. This is done through good communication, which is not common and takes effort. This needs time together.
- Feedback in the moment, always ask permission before giving feedback and make it about the behaviour you saw. Do not assume intent, in fact assume positive intent. Give positive and negative feedback. Understand how each member likes to receive feedback. This is my slide deck from teaching my teams about feedback.
- Weekly One to One checkins 10-30 mins, any fire issues? any smoking issues?
- Monthly sit down at least one hour. I have a list of questions to always go through, which we agree when we start together.
- Allow others to lead, giving opportunities to members of your team to lead on a project/task whatever you do not need to be the boss of everything.
Question set for monthlyFirst conversation should be to agree the questions, here is a starting set. They should based around the culture we wish to create and how we want to treat our people
- How are you feeling? Any hot issues we should talk about?
- How are you contributing to the company and your team?
- Are you a Team player? How are you involving others in your process?
- How are you growing/learning? Are we are helping your reach potential? Do you have mastery?
- What are your Technical Capabilities here? Where do you feel competent?
- How are you helping the company grow and evolve?
- Are you Hungry? How productive are you? Are you taking inspired action?
- Do you have a friend here?
- Do you have a mentor or coach in the company? Are you coaching others?
- Do you want stay with the team and the company?
- What can can we do better as an employer/me as your leader/CEO?
- Do you feel you have Autonomy? Are there things stopping you doing your job?
- Do you feel you have Purpose? Do you understand what we are building and why?
- Are you contributing to the wider community? What can we do to help?
One to one, face to face is the highest bandwidth of communication
Your processes and system should evolve.
The way you do things should be Agile (as originally intended i.e. flexible and evolve NOT rules). Agree a workflow together from product to engineer. It should change and evolve to be right for the context.
- When starting with a team, I will audit all current systems and ask for each members views privately on each tool/system/process, to ensure the less confident or shy people get their say
- I will then have a team meeting to review what we need and what we like
- Any team wide system change should involve all parties
- Deadlines should have engineer involvement and not be dictated downwards
For example in my latest team we discussed the tools we wanted and we decided to use
- Slack for IM
- BaseCamp for idealization and research
- Github for product/features/user stories and code/issue management – The way we used tags evolved several times.
Freedom to solve the actual problem
Sometimes Product/founders/Engineering leads may try to solve the problem in their way i.e. micromanage. Giving the engineer the “code monkey” role of just coding to a very prescribed way i.e. an exacting feature. Giving no space, to actually problem solve can be very limiting and create an environment where creativity and innovation are stifled i.e. the evil called micromanagement. Most humans do not like their freedom taken from them. So find the the right balance between the organizations’ needs and the employees. That said some people like more structure, context matters.
- Give space for engineers to solve the problem in their way. If you are already using Agile then you may evolve the story a couple times as users respond to the work.
- Within the user stories/feature requirements do not limit. Ensure you actual describe the problem you want solve, suggestion ideas/solutions but where possible do not dictate
- Involve the team in talking about the features and discussing possible approaches, but the actual engineer who takes the feature gets to decide
- Engineers should have some understanding of the customers. Ensure your engineers meet customers, and spend time with your Customer success/relations people.
- Keep the engineer accountable for the response by users. Thus have good monitoring software and have a culture when engineer go back to check the real world implications of their work.
Micro Management is the evil of leadership, it kills creativity, innovation, trust, and growth. It can appear both in a manager and in the processes you impose on your people
A culture of science
Scientists experiment many times and fail many times and one day they get it right. Encourage a culture of learning from mistakes not teasing/persecution which means encouraging experimentation and forgiveness.
- Discussion should be based on logic in reference to code
- Create an environment where people can I say “I do not know.. but here is an idea/feeling/instinct”
- Call people out if they tease others about their failures or use it to argue they case in a discussion
- Careful to not let irrelevant aspects enter into the discussion such as gender, race, age or sexuality. I say careful because humour can involve these but they should not sway discussions and the receiving of the humour should not be hurt.
Experimentation and failure should be Ok, team members should not “haze” each other. Leadership need to be able to move on
To build a team well, needs reflection and the teams involvement
The team needs time to connect as a team and evolve together as a team. We have a book club where we talk about the teams performance in terms not related to code. How good are we at communicating:
- Giving/receiving feedback
- How do we react to others ideas?
- Who do we go to help us through problems?
- Who pair code with more often
- How much do we know about each others strengths and weaknesses?
- How vulnerable can we be with each other?
We used The Five Dysfunctions of a Team to kick start this conversation. Every couple months we take time to talk about how a team we are in terms of communication. You need to invest in the actually team to have a team..
You need time for the team to talk about the team, spot weaknesses and evolve
Ask your people how you are doing
“How am I doing?” should not be a hard question for you. Ask it informally in your one to one monthlies and formally at least every 3 months. The no surprise rule should be for all. It should be 360 your leaders, peers and your people. Find out if people get what they want and what they need from you, in terms of communication, conflict/challenge, advice and performance.
You learn faster by other people telling you what you are doing right and wrong
Collaborating with your leader
Hopefully you chose your boss carefully when you were recruited into the organization.. but things evolve, so maybe that perfect person you went to work for, moved on. I have found the best leaders are those who keeping growing i.e. they read about how to be a better leader, they can be vulnerable with you and you can talk openly. When you make mistake your instinct is to tell your boss, when one of your team performs really well you never feel the need to take credit and generally you have no fear of your boss talking to your team. If you do find the above hard, understand why.
- Never underestimate the amount of time you will need for your leader
- Know each others strengths, weaknesses and blind spots
- Find those things you really enjoy about each other
- Find those things that you find difficult and talk about them
- Build strong relationships throughout the organization, ensure all find you approachable
Success in any organization is about working together and helping each other evolve
Adding to the team
Whilst you as the lead will drive this process, you should involve the team in the process. You should ensure everyone is trained and good at the interview process. This may mean mock interviews, where your team interview you. Its worth noting that you do not want more clones, you need different types of people, skillsets, who sometimes will clash, but have the communication skills and reasoning capacity to grow from each other.
- Be clear what the team is missing and what you need
- Agree on what you are looking for both terms of technical and personality
- Ensure the all those that are interviewing try out their questions, again no surprises
- Have space for something social
- The best interviews are like a great chat amongst friends about something technical
- Personally I hire on communications skills, problem solving skills, learning capability and then current technical skills
- I often look for potential as much as current craft capabilities
- I do not hire more of me, I want diversity
- If employing someone with less experience, be clear what the areas are and put in place a training program to fill those gaps.
I look for growth potential, hunger, curiosity, pro-active, problem solving capability, how they will add value to the team and how they will help the team evolve. Then I start start to consider technical experience.
Software engineers are great problem solvers
Sometimes we box people into a role. Humans are so much more than their job title and job description. Most people are capable of applying their skills in other domains. You have a problem, why not ask a software engineer?
I will keep adding to this blog as I learn.