Category Archives: Work Skills

Core Skills

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the core skills a young adult needs in order to successfully move into adulthood (and being self-sufficient). In my job, we hear a lot about “soft skills” and how the 21st century workforce really needs them. As I’ve been thinking about my own children, and my own life experiences, here are what I’ll call the “Core Skill Set” for starting a successful life, weather it be going to college, getting a job or going off in a completely different direction:

Honesty: Tell the truth always and be someone who can be counted on, at all times, as being a straight-shooter.

A Strong Work-Ethic: Always show up when you are supposed to (to work or to class), even if you feel crappy. Be committed to being there and keep focused when you are there.

Intellectual Curiosity: Always seek to learn new things. Look to the past. Read. Think about the future. Explore related and tangential skills. Be a lifelong learner.

Creativity: This can also be thought of as problem solving. Load your brain with lots of experience and continuously practice coming up with new ideas – flex your creativity muscle and you’ll make connections and solve problems that matter.

Collaborative Skills: Be awesome to work with – pull your weight, offer encouragement and support, lead when you are supposed to, contribute always. You can do more together than you can ever do alone.

Communication Skills: Learn how to speak effectively in front of people. Learn to be quiet and listen. Write clearly and effectively. You’d be surprised at how many people are super-talented but are horrible communicators. Communicate effortlessly and people will listen.

A Killer Resume

A solid, professional resume is often the first form of contact you have with a potential employer. Here’s what I think are the essential elements of a great resume:

  • Keep it to one page
  • Use a professional font and basic layout
  • Begin with your name and all vital contact information
  • Do not have an “Objective” section – it’s obvious what your objective is
  • After your name, list your work experience (under the heading “Experience”), from current back through time. Indicate position, company, location and time there on one line.
  • Under that, explain what you did in a single, matter-of-fact sentence.
  • Under your experience section, list your education (under the heading “Education”) – institution, location, degree and date
  • Finally, add a heading “Skills” and list your skills simply, one right after another, separated by commas (from most important to least), and use parenthesis if you need to list a few relevant sub skills)
  • Remember, no longer than one page!!

Take Stock of Your Mistakes

Nothing is more painful than the realization that you screwed up. Obviously, to avoid turning a mistake into a lingering cancer, you need to own your mistake – fess up and fix what you can, humbly.

That being said, you will learn far more from your mistakes than from your victories. Most mistakes are minor and provide a great ongoing opportunity for real-world learning. But some are real doozies – the kind you can’t pretend they didn’t happen.

A useful tool is to keep for yourself a private list (you don’t need to share this with anyone – it’s for your eyes alone) of your major mistakes. No, you don’t have to rehash every detail, but just list each mistake matter-of-factly and don’t pull any punches. It’s sort of a shopping list of what not to do in the future.

The purpose of this list is not to make you feel bad, but rather to lessen the power of your major mistakes over your own psyche – listing them out honestly tells yourself that you aren’t hiding from anything. And coming back to that list once or twice a year is a great opportunity to review the lessons learned and to also feel good about how far you’ve come.

Core Maker/DIY Skills

1. Calculate power consumption and estimate battery life- Most electrical projects will involve batteries of some sort. Having an idea of how long your project will run on a battery can save you a lot of trouble later- that wireless garden soil moisture monitor is probably not going to run very long on a 9V battery. Maybe solar is a better idea?

2. Spot valuable salvage- Not only knowing where to get it, but knowing it when you see it. Finding it isn’t too hard- curbs, alleys, and the classic dumpster dive. Deciding whether to keep it is the real trick: can it be broken down? Are there useful things inside (gears, motors, electronics, hardware, salvageable wood, springs, etc.)? Is trying to salvage parts of it a wise thing to do (upholstered items left outside are a great way to get bedbugs into your home)?

3. Spot eminently hackable, cheap Chinese crap- The glut of crap from China occasionally brings some real gems with it. recently sold some rotating LED-based “police lights” for $3, which connect to USB and can be turned on and off by pressing a key on the keyboard.

4. Find “prior art”- In the patent world, “prior art” is anything which suggests that the idea you are trying to patent (or have patented) was developed or described by someone else first. The existence of prior art can break a patent. In the Maker world, prior art is a springboard. Someone, somewhere on the internet did (or tried to do) what you are trying to do. They may even be selling bits of the project which may make showstopping technical challenges mere speedbumps.

5. Stitch a simple and serviceable seam- We’re not talking about making your daughter’s prom dress, here- just being able to neatly and durably reclose the seam on the Furby you just hacked into reciting the Vincent Price speech from “Thriller”.

6. Understand the voltage/current ratings on a power supply- If a battery won’t cut it, you should understand at least the rudiments of power supplies: how to get a cheap wall-wart AC adapter, what voltage you can use, and why it’s okay to use a 500mA supply to replace a 250mA supply.

7. Know which glue to use, when- Elmer’s white, spray mount, Uhu glue sticks, JB Weld, cyanoacrylate, and two-part epoxy all have their uses.

8. Know which tape to use, when- Duct, masking, Scotch, foam-two-sided, and (occasionally) electrical tape all have their uses.

9. Deal with recalcitrant fasteners- Sooner or later, you’ll want to remove a screw or bolt that is stripped, broken, or uses a security bit. Owning a wide variety of driver bits is a start, but knowing how to drill out a fastener or cut a notch for a flat-edge screwdriver should be somewhere in your bag of tricks.

10. Use a Dremel- ’nuff said.

11. Find the parts you can’t salvage- Locally or over the internet. You should know where local shops are that sell things like nuts and bolts by the pound, simple electronics (resistors, soldering tools, protoboard, etc.)(RadioShack is a poor choice for this, if it can be helped), fabric, paper, artist’s supplies, wood, hobbyist tools and toys. You should also be familiar with,,,,,, and, just to name a few.

12. Identify electronics in the zone between too-hot and smoking by smell- When you smell the smoke, it’s too late.

13. Strip, splice, and terminate wire- Trickier than it sounds. You should be able to splice wire using a crimp splice, a wire nut, and heat shrink + solder (note: electrical tape is NOT on that list). You should know how to use a wire stripper to strip stranded wire without cutting more than one or two strands. You should be able to attach a wire to your project in such a way that it will still be attached in two weeks, two months, or two years.

14. Create fairly neat holes of arbitrary size and shape in sheet metal, plastic, and wood- Nibblers, step-bits, tin-snips, chisels, awls, drill bits, and the appropriate Dremel bit all play crucuial roles here.

15. Use Ohm’s law- V = I*R. Know it, use it, love it.

16. Tie useful knots- Bowline, taut-line hitch, slip, figure-eight, overhand, square, clove hitch, sheet bend. One or another of these knots will get you through most situations.

17. Solder.

18. Program a microcontroller- nothing fancy, just something along the lines of the Arduino. Just enough to make it spin a motor on a trigger or light an LED or sound an alarm.

(source: Make Magazine)

How to be a Great Employee

  • Don’t rush your work
  • Work slowly, carefully and methodically (like you are practicing for something awesome) — you’ll enjoy it much more and get better results
  • Don’t surf the web or check email all the time–just every once in a while
  • If you screw something up, fess up
  • Be humble, courteous and honest
  • Revel in other people’s success
  • Surround yourself with folks who are smater and more skilled than you are
  • Laugh and smile often
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously
  • Dress crisply

In such a redesigned school teachers would act as fiduciaries for students, giving serious attention to their choices regarding their education, considering what’s best for each student, and helping each discover what’s best for him or her.