You wake up 5:30 a.m. Snowflakes tumble softly through the dark outside. That feeling of anxiety arises: Will there be a snow day? How will I know? When should I set my alarm?
We identify and then overlook simple problems constantly, every day. Small problems, like restarting the computer, require similar problem-solving skills to large problems, like codifying machine ethics. A strange dichotomy of productivity emerges, in which the performer is judged by the performance, not the effort.
At Hamilton, you cultivate mind, body, and spirit with great effort. You may be able to talk the talk, but to build your career you must show your crop. I will offer you a few ideas of crops that you can sell in the market. This means that when you are looking for jobs, you need to create measurable, marketable examples of your performance, experience, and skills.
Simple Business Similarities
Here are examples of conceptually simple things that businesspeople do all the time:
- We apply our team’s capabilities to client requests, like using one law to prove another.
- We gather requirements from clients, like clarifying a homework problem with the professor.
- We design process workflows, like designing a new “button” onto the Google search page.
- We research best practices, like reading Wolfram Alpha or Wikipedia.
- We structure information in databases, like building the Statistics test questions.
- We develop systems through programming computer code, like structuring matrices into operations to produce desired outputs.
- We test to ensure quality software, like the old “plug and chug” algebra method.
- We train clients to use our applications, like showing classmates the (process of finding the) answer.
The Business Case: Showing Your Crop
I work at Booz Allen Hamilton, supporting the implementation of Capital Planning software for Federal agencies. My job duties vary from training clients and building custom Excel reports to testing application developments and analyzing defects. Thus, the following examples revolve around software development and technology consulting.
Here are some ideas that allow you to show off critical skills and produce the measurable results that businesspeople value. For any or all of the following 11 steps, build things that you can take into an interview and show off, such as documentation, prototypes, or interpretive dance routines.
- Plan: Think of a problem you have or a way to improve something. Better yet, ask someone else. This problem does not need to be a new problem. Write down a paragraph or create a PowerPoint deck describing the issue or the enhancement: “Students and professors don’t know if class will be cancelled due to snow the next day. Early in the morning, countless people interrupt sleep cycles unnecessarily or lie awake, disappointed. We can do better.”
- Analyze: Imagine if you had $1,000 and two weeks to build a solution. Imagine if you had $250,000 and six months to build a solution. Document similarities and differences between reaching out to your roommate vs. reaching out to the local mayor’s office.
- Gather Requirements: Talk to a friend or professor for 15 minutes about what they would need if they were paying you to solve the problem. Document the conversation(s). Generate a list of requirements of the form “As a [user], I want [function], so that I can [goal]:” “As a Hamilton student, I want my alarm to know when to wake me up even on snow days, so that I can party the night before.”
- Research: Find a solution. Anything that might work. It does not need to be your own idea – solutions rarely are. Write it down in detail. “I want to build an alarm that directly connects to the Hamilton snow day notification system. If class is on, alarm on. No class, no alarm…”
- Design: Create a way of presenting your solution to others. Draw a picture of your alarm clock. Show different pages and screens a user can click on.
- Develop: Build or imaging building a basic prototype. How did you build it or how would you build it? Use screenshots and show step-by-step the process.
- Track Data: Build a database of important things you would need to track in your solution. Imagine how to organize tables of users, times of day, or alarm sound preferences. Or, determine where to put a “flag” that is set to 0 as a default and then set to 1 when there’s a snow day.
- Integrate: Tie your solution to other tools and systems. For example, how would your alarm communicate with the Hamilton snow day notification system? What information would transfer in between the services, how often, and in what form? Imagine and document.
- Test: Create test cases that list, step-by-step, reproducible instructions on how to verify that your solution is working as expected. Imagine ways your solution could break and ways of addressing those issues. For example, how could the alarm business logic misinterpret a 1-hour vs. 2-hour delay?
- Market: Show off your solution. Magnify the problem or solution by running around throwing snowballs at people at 5:30 a.m. to wake them up. Document the results.
Hamilton has a long history of connecting students with alumni and parents whose advice, expertise, and resources help talented young people achieve success for themselves and in their communities.
By using any or all 11 of these ideas, you can structure your vast knowledge, experience, and skills into a crop that you can sell by pointing at it. Just like a normal day pales in comparison to the fresh, exhilarating giddiness of a snow day, you want to walk into interviews and rip open the curtains, as the interviewee’s eyes lift wide to gaze upon the mountains of fluffy snow… metaphorically of course.