Best of times

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, … it is a time like any other time.

When Charles Dickens wrote the introduction to a Tale of Two Cities, he was writing a historical novel about the French Revolution. Many times since first reading his gripping story, the first sentence in the book has resonated with me when the present has presented itself from its worst and best sides. Trump, Brexit, and Corona, but also smartphones, drones and internet everywhere.

For me personally, Corona Time has meant lots of quality time with my wife and kids. After the initial disruption and the re-discovering what is valuable, important, meaningful and possible right here, right now, we have enjoyed many great moments.

We live in a beautiful spot with forest and lakes close by, in a suburbia with bike lanes, play grounds, shopping facilities, and still close to nature. A few weeks ago, I took off the supporting wheels on Sofie’s bike at her own request, and soon after she was biking on two wheels. This Sunday, we went to Hågelbyparken, a 3 km ride each way, to enjoy the afternoon sunshine with Sofie biking herself both ways. Saturday on the way back from a car trip to the south tip of Botkyrka, a mother elk and her young kid were grazing in the evening sun right next to the road as we passed by.

It is more than 2 months since I’ve been in the city center of Stockholm and I don’t miss it.

Remnants of fortifications at Skanssundet protecting access to Södertälje from the sea. The fortifications were abandoned by the Swedish garrison shortly before Russian troops arrived and razed the area in 1719. According to local legend, the departing troops should have said: Now you will be rid of us; soon others will come that will hurt more. Copyright Frederik Jensen.

From change comes opportunity

I was laid off from my job a few weeks ago. It’s never fun, but it was the right decision for the company. I was in a strategic position with a short notice period. It was great to get to know the company, but also great now to get to re-invent myself. At work, I had a colleague argue “it has been like that for 15 years, we can’t change that”, while at the same time, outside, people stopped going to concerts, movies, and plays, and stopped visiting relatives and holding parties. A time of change is a time of opportunity, rules are being rewritten.

I’m half way in my professional life, I’ve worked in the space between technology and business for 20 years. I’ve written code, designed libraries, frameworks and tools, I’ve initiated, executed and closed projects. I’ve set up a company to launch a hobby project. I’ve picked up countless new technologies (and vaporised buzzwords) and I’ve worked with lots of smart people. I’ve met my wife at work and we moved to Stockholm to explore new opportunities. 

And still the best is yet to come.

So I’m discovering the job market in Stockholm (again). We hear a lot about the companies that are hit hard by the crisis. But there are winners as well as losers. Plenty of open positions are being posted on LinkedIn, at least the kinds I qualify for. So, to land a good next job, is like playing a game or optimising a process, both of which I enjoy!

Here are some insights I’ve gotten so far:

  • Python & Data Science is hot!
  • LinkedIn Learning does have good quality content!
  • Covid-19 has shown that working full time remote is possible! But companies and recruiters have not yet found out!

Getting into Python and Data Science could be great fun — let me explain why.

Python is huge

I first came upon Python 20 years ago. I was fascinated with the core design principle, the Colombo egg of having white space replacing the semantic meaning of curly braces and semi colons. And then, having learned Matlab at university, it felt very familiar. 

Then I joined SimCorp and became an APL programmer for 10 years. APL is one of the inspirations for Matlab and Python. APL has a run time interpreter and awesome native array support for working with vectors and matrices. The one thing that puts most people off is the non-ascii characters, which certainly impose a learning curve for newcomers. For SimCorp, this meant establishing its own training programme and developing lots of libraries internally.

Now Python has overtaken Java and JavaScript as the most popular programming language (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Og847HVwRSI).

I revisited Python last week. I installed Visual Studio Code and took an online training course to brush up on my skills. Some takeaways:

  • Great interfacing capabilities (want to run your own analysis of Covid-19 data? https://covid19api.com)
  • Great libraries for calendar and dates. 
  • Great community of Python lovers.

I also came upon Daniel Ross’ talk from PyCon Sweden 2019 on why Python is huge in finance, well worth half an hour of your time.

Data Science is all around us

Well, what is data science? Beyond the hashtag and buzzword, it is about using domain knowledge and statistical and mathematical models to understand and analyse data. Funny enough, back in my university days, I put together a master program in applied mathematics for myself with courses in numerical analysis, optimisation and data fitting, and a thesis in stochastic calculations. So getting into data science is quite like going back to the roots.

And although I visited the Swedish Workshop on Data Science in October 2019 (https://www.kth.se/en/eecs/om-oss/konferenser-och-event/sweds19), I have a thing or two to catch up on, so I’ve set myself up for a self study of An Introduction to Statistical Learning (http://faculty.marshall.usc.edu/gareth-james/ISL/index.html) and R for Mac (https://cran.r-project.org/bin/macosx/).

The arrival of Covid-19 has popularised modelling and data-driven decision making as never before and correct understanding of a phenomena and the data are crucial for life-and-death decisions these days. In the next Netflix drama, a Data Scientist will be played by cool, young, diverse actor and — in the voice of a prophet — correctly predict the consequences of messing with the laws of nature.

Let me leave you with one final link, an extraordinarily informative presentation of the concepts of epidemiology we now hear every day: https://ncase.me/covid-19.

How is the job market?

One question I get a lot lately is how is the job market? It is not an easy one to answer. There are plenty of jobs posted on LinkedIn, but I only need one job, so what I care for is if there one for me and how to get it.

When I returned from vaction, I started sending applications. Typically, I didn’t hear anything for weeks besides the automated “application received” response. Then another automated mail, “we have chosen to proceed with other applicants”. Maybe it is just the holiday period, but I think not. Even for the jobs that sounded cool enough to follow up on, responses were slow to come and vague in details. Not very useful (1).

So how to improve?

Yesterday we went mushroom hunting in search of the “gold of the forest”. The top prizes are the King Bolete and the Common Chanterelle (actually, the relaxing walk in a sunny late-summer forest with the family was the top prize), but if you broaden your search to include other edible mushrooms, you will find plenty. However, just like job hunting, do your research well, or you may end up with one that looks good but will cause you a lot of pain. Copyright Frederik Jensen.

What do I want and what are they looking for?

I have had the pleasure of doing many fun and challenging jobs in my career. I like new challenges and have been thrown into different situations and delivered. I want to do more of that!

Looking at my cv, others will easily see me as 20 year experience running complex, financial software development within large development organisations and thinking they will hire me to do more of that. This may not give me the job I want!

So part of the application process has been to tailor the cv to just look right. More emphasis on the stuff that matches the job post (and using the same words as in the job post), less emphasis on the stuff that point towards other interests and skills.

One of the insights gained in this process is that while I may have seen myself as an agile project manager, a lot of what I have done is what is also called business analysis, business intellegence and business process modelling (2). And I prefer heading in that direction rather than towards a role as scrum master or agile coach.

Tailoring the cv to the job post assumes that the company articulates what they actually are looking for — and that what they are looking for is what they actually need and will hire. I have seen job posts that mention specific tools and technologies like Tableau, Power BI, Azure, or AWS (3), when the truth is that picking up a new tool or technology and using it in a specific context could take no more than a week or two, while a cultural mismatch can’t be fixed as quickly.

It’s a broken process

The hiring process seen from the recruiting companies is not super fantastic either: First the hiring manager needs an approved headcount. Then the manager drafts a job description which goes through HR before it is published on whatever platforms the company has chosen to pay for. Then in a week or two, they get 200 applications, most of which are from people with no connection to Sweden or Scandinavia and no insight into the business, products or customers. Screening applications is then outsourced or done by a keyword match. Even if this produces a decent shortlist of candidates, it takes time to set up and do interviews and tests before you maybe get to send out offers. During which the headcount approval may need to be renewed or the candidate may have accepted another offer. Only if you end up signing with one candidate, you get to write feedback to the candidates you didn’t hire. It’s a broken process. It is designed to avoid mistakes, not to act fast on opportunities.

Do it differently

Obviously, there is another way to do things. It is called networking. A few weeks ago, I announced widely in my network that I am available for a new opportunities. I haved received great response, and it was great to catch up with people I haven’t been in touch with for a long time. Thanks!

This resulted in 3 interviews over the last two weeks. One of them led to an offer that I have chosen to accept — I’m starting a new job tomorrow.

Then you can start asking how is the new job?


(1) Feedback should be specific, acurate, objective, timely and usable.

(2) I read the BABOK Guide (Business Analysis Book of Knowledge).

(3) No LinkedIn and your automated keyword completion: AWS does not mean membership of the American Welding Society.