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Six surprising things I learned from Kevin O’Leary

Six surprising things I learned from Kevin O’Leary

To see Kevin live go to http://www.kevinoleary.com/live/

To see Kevin live go to http://www.kevinoleary.com/live/

This morning I had the opportunity to see Kevin O’Leary speak at the Toronto Board of Trade. Topic: “DNA of a Successful Business.”

He talked about everything from dividends being the future to sensor technology being the next best investment.

As you would expect, he had a few surprising things to say.

Not so surprising Kevin advised, “Business is war, never underestimate a competitor“. If you’ve seen him even once on the Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank, you already know that this pretty much sums up Kevin’s approach to business — he’s here to make money, not friends.

I have a problem with the business is war mentality.

I’m in business to make friends and, of course, to make money. But to me, the relationships come first. The friends I make through business are still my friends, long after we stop doing business together.

That’s why I was surprized to get a few take aways from Kevin’s talk that will influence how I run Stafflink.

Surprising takeaways from Canada’s most notorious Dragon Kevin O’Leary

1/Service Trumps Price

Really? Kevin cares about something as touchy-feely as customer service? Yes, because it means you can charge more. (Think of Kevin rubbing his thumb and forefinger together.)

According to Kevin, you can charge at least 15% more if you provide great service .

That’s not all. Great customer service brings loyalty. A well served customer hates leaving. Look at telcos, insurance and benefits companies. These are annuity companies that thrive until their customers not served well.

We all know that happy customers recommend you to their friends, creating new happy cusomers and growing your business.

Maybe Kevin and I are more in sync than I realized.

Takeaway: It’s more important to invest in serving current clients than to invest in getting new customers.

2/ The Boss doesn’t always make the most money 

Whoa! This one hits a little too close to home.

Kevin says to analyze where the revenues are driven from and you will discover that the top sales person should be the highest paid person in the company. With no cap on their salary.

You may have the best product in the world, but without sales nobody cares. Microsoft is a good example. Seldom have they had a best-in-class product, but they have a tremendous sales department.

Phew! I do most of the sales for my company, so all is well. I would LOVE to find someone to share the load.

Takeaway: Mentor my current staff to help out more with sales.

3/ It’s more important to know your weaknesses than your strengths

When Kevin meets a business owner who says she does everything, his BS radar goes up.

Find out what you’re good at and delegate or outsource the areas where you’re not so great.

This reminds me of my mentor Leon Goren (President of PEO – Presidents of Enterprising Organizations) who often tells me to “stay out of the weeds.”

Takeaway: Give other people a chance to step up and solve the problems, because the business can’t grow if the leader is always caught up in the weeds.

4/ Canadian businesses should focus on Asia and SouthEast Asia

These countries have the fastest growing economies in the world. According to Kevin, the lack of unions and fast growing population make these markets attractive. Not easily done, for sure, but Mr. O’Leary says, “Only the Swiss are more loved than Canadians in Asia.”

Takeaway: Be open to opportunities to expand beyond our Canadian borders.

5/ If you’re thinking of firing somebody it should happen at the moment

Dangerous advice for sure. I would never fire someone spontaneously in a moment of anger. However, I’ve beeb guilty of letting people hang around after they stopped being productive, just because I liked them. Big mistake. It’s not only bad for my company but it keeps the employee stuck too.

Takeaway: Provide more frequent employee reviews. When someone is losing interest in their job, work together to come up with a plan to reingage them.

6/ Dragons Den gets more viewers in Canada than Hockey Night in Canada

And their largest growing demographic is 10-25 year old woman.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprized since I watch Dragaons Den and Shark Tank with my wife on Friday nights. I used to watch Hockey Night in Canada.

I hope that those young women, and all of the demographics watching Kevin O’Leary on Friday nights, will start up new businesses, create jobs and keep our economy rocking. And I hope they give me a call when they’re looking for IT staff.

What do you think of Kevin’s advice? Do you agree that business is war?

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Help HoHoTO 2013 support the Daily Bread Food Bank

Help HoHoTO 2013 support the Daily Bread Food Bank

Are you involved with Toronto’s tech community and interested in supporting the Daily Bread Food Bank? Party with Stafflink at HoHoTO 2013 tomorrow night!

We’d love to see you there! HoHoTO really needs your help to fill the venue and hit their stretch goals for supporting Daily Bread.

What is HoHoTO 2013?

HoHoTO 2013 is Toronto’s biggest holiday fundraiser for the geek community. It’s happening on Thursday, December 19 (7pm) at the Mod Club (722 College St.) .

HoHoTO is an annual event that started out as a way for Toronto’s tech community to spread some love during the holiday season while helping those less fortunate. It started as a casual remark on Twitter and grew, almost overnight, to become a viral sensation. HoHoTO has been recognized by Queen Rania of Jordan as an example of social media influencing online activism, and endorsed by  Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, Rick Mercer, David Miller, Don Tapscott, Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian, Cory Doctorow, and David Weinberger. But most importantly, HoHoTO helps to support the Daily Bread Food Bank..

Click this image to retweet HoHoTO and get a chance to win a VIP pass

Click this image to retweet HoHoTO and get a chance to win a VIP pass

Here’s how you can help

Tell your friends, colleagues, and any other folks who may be interested in attending HoHoTO 2013 to support this great cause.

Share the event on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #hohoto to be entered into a draw for 2 VIP ticket upgrades (which includes complimentary drinks and food from 7-9pm, plus access to a VIP bar and seating on the main floor).

How to get tickets for HoHoTO 2013

Tweet, Facebook, blog, and share away and let us know with hashtag #hohoto for your chance at VIP tickets. And if you haven’t yet, grab your tickets at http://hohoto.ca/tickets/.

How to find HoHoTO

Hacking your way into an IT security career

Hacking your way into an IT security career

Perception of hacker as an shady unknown quantityu

Hacking has come out of the shadows to become a legitimate IT job.

The word ‘hacker’ used to mean an online criminal. Nowadays, it’s practically a job title.

We’ve all heard this one before: 18-year old hacker gets busted for virtual break-and-enter. A few years later, he’s travelling the world and making big bucks as an expert on network security.

Not too long ago, companies were pretty discreet about hiring former hackers. But things have changed. Once a few companies realized that hiring a reformed hacker could improve their security, many others had a different idea.

They went out and found people who could do the same thing, but didn’t come with the baggage of a shady past. This happened more and more over the years, and by now, with thousands of people hacking for the good guys, ‘hacker’ isn’t such a bad word anymore.

Pick a hat. You’ve got three choices.

Ever heard of “white hat” hackers and “black hat” hackers? As much as it sounds like good guys vs. bad guys, it’s not that simple. Especially when you throw “grey hats” into the mix.

Here’s a pretty generic look at the differences:

White hat: Someone who will try to think like a hacker, probing a company’s network and software to find weak spots, for instance. Generally, it’s someone who looks for vulnerabilities in all sorts of systems and plays the part of malicious user.

Grey hat: First of all, this doesn’t mean a person who’s an IT security expert by day, illegal hacker by night. In fact, the top grey hat hackers are like undercover police officers. They’ll pretend to be a member of the underground hacking community, giving them access to secret message boards, for example. Then they can identify emerging threats in advance.

Black hat: This can be a fuzzy category. In the information security world, they’re normally seen as the bad guys, working underground and breaking into places they shouldn’t. Nevertheless, they’ll mingle with legitimate security pros from time to time. At conferences around the world, black hats will even share their experiences with the folks on the other side of the fence.

But keep in mind that we aren’t talking about phishers or credit card scammers in that case. The black hats who go to these conferences might be on the wrong side of the law, but you’re unlikely to run into serious profit-driven criminals. They do pretty much the same thing as their legitimate counterparts — probe for weaknesses and exploit them, only without authorization.

Ultimately, the three groups work towards the same goal, even if it’s unintentional. They help companies develop better software and more secure networks.

Get your hack on

If you work in IT security and want to learn more about breaking into a system from the other side’s perspective, here are a few ways to get started:

Sign up for a hacking contest: Symantec recently had a competition in Toronto that simulated a real network for participants to hack into. Check the Web for upcomign events.

Get certified as an ethical hacker: http://www.eccouncil.org/courses/certified_ethical_hacker.aspx

Mingle with security pros and black hat hackers:

The most famous place to do so is at  the Black Hat Conference. But in Canada, there’s a similar organization called SecTor that has annual conferences and also provides training.

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Startups: a look at rewards instead of risks

Startups: a look at rewards instead of risks

Young entrepreneurs are pitching investors for  seed money for their startups

Young entrepreneurs are pitching investors for seed money for their startups

Pitching your business idea with zero assets of your own sounds like an all-or-nothing risk, but there are many forks along the IT startup road that can lead you to the perfect career.

Getting noticed

It’s a scene you’ll see all over Toronto these days: a mingling of young entrepreneurs with big ideas and  venture capitalists looking for  just the right one. I went to a startup event last night and, along with the usual networking, I got a chance to see a few two-minute pitches, where the would-be startups try to sell themselves in just a few breaths.

Few of them will realize their ultimate dream: getting the financial backing they need to grow their own company. But others will attract the attention of companies that simply want to buy them out, or even hire them outright.

Many of these young companies get noticed with the help of Toronto startup guru April Dunford or start up marketing specialist Mark Evans.

I spoke to Andrew Lo, the CIO of Kanetix, a company that offers a Web-based platform to compare insurance rates. He attends these events as a spectator, prospector and also as coach, helping young entrepreneurs perfect their pitches. It’s pretty much a truism, he said, that the people in the startup world tend to be the youngest—right out of school, without the responsibilities that will weigh them down later in life.

To be sure, once you’ve inked a contract with an investor, you are taking on a big risk, but it costs you nothing to get up on stage and present your ideas to the world. Sure, startups may be a young people’s game, but at the same time, how many of us were certain where our career would lead us at the age of 22?

Startups are about innovation, not rebellion

There’s a stereotype of the startup “personality” as an independent, almost rebellious type who doesn’t want to answer to a higher authority. But that’s not true across the board. If there is a common thread linking these people together, it’s their desire to innovate. That’s a personal quality that is as useful to a fledgling company as it is to a salaried employee working for a large enterprise.

Everyone has to make compromises in life, and if you realize your dream of being your own boss isn’t feasible, it can be a tough one. But years later, you may look back and realize that you wouldn’t have wanted the stress, the risks and the responsibility. And remember, you aren’t facing a choice between freedom or bondage: many companies can provide you with the space you crave, especially the kinds that attend startup events, of course.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Many people have an innate ability to innovate, but not necessarily the business acumen to turn their idea into a realistic proposal. One thing that Lo stresses when he coaches startup candidates is that they should focus on making a coherent business case as much as on their idea itself. Many younger people simply don’t have the experience to understand the what, where and how of financing a business, he said.

There’s a reason why failures vastly outnumber successes in the startup world, and often it’s because not everyone can translate their knowledge into concrete business requirements. But even these “failures” learned valuable lessons along the way, and no doubt, met people who could help them take another route in their professional life later on.

Remember the fake Bill Gates quote, circa 2000, about how unlike in school, the real world cares only about your achievements, not your effort? Well, whoever did write it was wrong. The real world does value effort. So, go ahead and prepare a two-minute pitch. You never know where it might take you.

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The best software developers are able to say ‘I don’t know’

The best software developers are able to say ‘I don’t know’

A good software development team can turn individual ignorance into collective knowledge

A good software development team can turn individual ignorance into collective knowledge

There are a few people out there who can give you an honest, evidence-based answer to the question, “what is the meaning of life?”

But don’t get your hopes up. The people who study the fabric of the universe, whether at the largest scales (cosmology) or the smallest (quantum mechanics) aren’t likely to give you the one you’re looking for.

Question an experimental physicist on the subject, and you’re very likely to get a standard answer: “I don’t know.”

This is the second time I’ve compared software developers to physicists, and I think it’s because there are many parallels between the two. You’ll find the same blend of imagination, intellectual rigour and desire to test hypotheses in the best people in both professions. And they’re both able to admit the limits of their knowledge.

Opinions—not everybody has them

As it happens, I met someone recently at the Toronto Hadoop Users’ Group who fit into both categories: an experimental physicist involved in developing software for data modelling. Serious software. He’s working on analyzing the data collected from smashing atoms into tiny pieces at high velocities.

As a layperson with a Wikipedia-level knowledge of physics, I naturally took the opportunity to bug him about all the cool stuff I’d read about. What did he think got closest to the “theory of everything”? Superstring theory? M-theory? What about multiple universes and brane cosmology?

Answers: “I don’t know, I don’t know,” and “I don’t know.”

Far from being disappointed, I left that evening feeling refreshed at meeting someone who didn’t have an opinion on everything for once.

Software development, where ignorance is bliss

In software development, as in other intellectual pursuits, there’s a pathway to learning that can begin with ignorance (when their education begins) and eventually end up at ignorance even with many years of experience. But this isn’t such a bad thing.

Let me explain. I spoke to Israel Gat, a Cutter Consortium fellow and director of its agile product and project management practice, about what makes an effective software development team. Should it be composed entirely of free-thinkers, ready to question everything? Or in some cases, is it actually beneficial to have a few people so task-oriented that they ignore the big picture, yet help get the job done faster without over-thinking everything?

From our conversation, I realized I was asking the wrong question. Free-thinking is certainly a valued trait for both software developers and project managers, particularly those who follow the agile methodology, which emphasizes constant reflection on code quality and tight feedback loops from the business side of an organization.

But the most effective software development team is one that regulates itself according to individual strengths and weakness, Gat said. Simply put, the collective ability of the team to produce good code is more important than that of the individuals it comprises. And part of this, he says, is not about the knowledge each team member possesses, but rather the lack of it.

He recommended a paper titled, ‘Symmetry of Ignorance, Social Creativity and Meta-Design,’ which is somewhat dated, yet explores concepts in software design that are still relevant today. One of the key takeaways from it is that ignorance should not be thought of as an impediment to creating good software, but rather as an educational opportunity.

When you admit you don’t know something, it opens the door to learning from people who do. And this is a big part of creating a team with the intellectual space to grow and excel at what they do.

Your biggest weakness?

The question of ignorance ties in nicely with a subject this blog has looked at before, how to answer the dreaded question: “what is your biggest weakness?” during a job interview. As Emily Hudsonroder pointed out, the right approach is to be honest about your lack of ability or knowledge in a certain area, but talk about how you’ve managed to turn it around. It’s a way to articulate the concept of ignorance as an advantage.

From the recruiter’s point of view, this is the best answer a candidate can give, certainly better than listening to someone who fails to appreciate that they don’t know everything, and thus aren’t willing to learn. The smartest, most talented and best team players in the world are those who realize that “I don’t know” is a starting point, not a dead-end.

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Cashing in: Top IT salaries in Canada

Cashing in: Top IT salaries in Canada

The top IT salaries are being created by emerging technology and some old technology

The top IT salaries are being driven by both emerging technology and some older legacy technology that needs care

It’s that time again. If you’re an IT pro looking for a job in Canada, read on for the latest figures on what some of the top IT salaries are.

Mobile is where it’s at

In general, the hot stuff, emerging technology, is what’s paying big these days. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that mobile development has taken off like a rocket, and there are loads of opportunities for developers right here in the GTA.

Objective C and Android developers with a bit of experience can expect between $70,000 to $90,000 a year, with the numbers rising to $120,000 and beyond once you’ve got a solid five years under your belt. Companies hiring mobile developers range from startups to the largest corporations, so whatever type of business culture you prefer, you’ll have plenty of options.

Lots of data, lots of opportunities

Big data. It’s a broad term encompassing many things, but that’s good news for you, since everything from DBAs to data scientists are in big demand. Hadoop skills plus a bit of data science acumen will put you over the $100,000 mark. And the more impressive your data science credentials, the higher that figure will rise. Even right out of school, if you’re an expert in the R statistical modelling language or have been trained in SAS Institutes’s predictive analytics you’ll have financial institutions eyeing you hungrily.

There’s a trend that’s seeing “business intelligence” proper separated from predictive analytics. BI tools are becoming easier to use and what used to be an IT role has shifted somewhat into the realm of business analysis. But this is actually an advantage to people who straddle the line between business and technology. If you’re a tech-savvy business analyst who can harness tools like SAS Visual Analytics, you can still deliver a lot of value to a company without an advanced degree in statistics.

Similarly, social media marketing also has a major big data component to it, so if you’re skilled in marketing as well as making sense of unstructured data, you’ll have an added advantage.

Top IT salaries for multi-talented people

Solutions architects and data architects. These are examples of another role that technical at its core but is integral to the pre-sales process. As such, you’ll be paid handsomely. Starting salaries range from $80,000 to $100,000 and can rise to as much as $200,000 once you begin to specialize in a particular field (e.g., become a subject matter expert).

If you have good people skills and don’t mind travelling quite a bit and working longish hours, client-facing developers (working for software or consulting companies) are making great money with salaries in the range of $80,000 to $120,000.

Wanted: good guys who understand what the bad guys are up to

Security. Some informations security professionals complain that companies aren’t paying enough attention to keeping their systems secure, but make no mistake, there are plenty of firms that take it very seriously. A security architect these days will earn between $80,000 to $120,000. The jobs are certainly out there.

From front-end to back-end

It’s hard to say whether cutting-edge front-end or old school back-end IT pros are in higher demand. Certainly, user experience designers (UX or UXD for short) are raking in some decent money with salaries ranging from $80,000 to $120,000. Meanwhile, people with excellent mainframe skills and knowledge of legacy code like COBOL can reasonably expect to make $100,000 and up.

Finally, with web development consistently in demand, Ruby on Rails developers are looking at around $80,000 a year.

Want in on the action?

If you’re a developer living in the GTA who wants to add one of these in-demand skills to your repertoire, stay tuned for a blog about an interesting new opportunity at Durham College in Oshawa.

More posts about IT salaries and skills

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