Monday, July 25, 2016

Earning another degree - What was virtually impossible is now a virtual possibility

Many years ago, I had reached that point in life where I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go with my career, but to get there I knew I’d need another degree. I wasn’t sure how I would achieve it, but I enrolled as a part-time student in a program at a local university and began the seemingly never-ending juggling act of managing my current career, family, school and me.

About half-way through my program, the university began offering some of the courses online, and I leaped at the opportunity to save myself the two-hour, round-trip commute to campus. The online classes were challenging—probably even more challenging than I expected--but I easily fell into the weekly ritual of completing my class work on my own time table.

I eventually completed my program and the additional degree did help advance my career. As I look back, I realize that I was the prototype of what has now become the typical online student. Here are my top five reasons online learning is perfect for so many people.
  • Career: Whether you want to take a few classes to enhance your skills, or like me, you want to pursue an entire degree, online learning allows you to continue working in your current position while you plan for your next one.
  • Convenience: If you take online classes that don’t require you to be online at a certain time, you can complete your course work when you’re most alert whether that’s 5:00 AM on a Wednesday or 10:00 PM on a Saturday.
  • Cost: Not only can students shop for the best school, online learning can also save on child care, tolls, parking, gas, and with no commute, that most precious of all commodities, time.
  • Connect: Traditional classroom discussions are usually dominated by a handful of gregarious students. Online classrooms encourage everyone to share their views offering a wider variety of perspectives.
  • Conscience: Guilt is a frequent companion to working adults. Taking classes online can mean one less missed work-out, little league game or fund raiser.
Online learning has opened up so many more education choices and opportunities. What used to be virtually impossible to accomplish is now a virtual possibility.
Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

If you do not change directions...

In all things of nature...

Artwork courtesy Heron Dance
Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Obscene Student Loan Debt -Whose fault is it?

If I borrowed all of the money that VISA is willing to loan me on just two credit cards, I’d be in debt to the tune of almost $55,000.

How much do I owe VISA?

Zero. Zip. Zilch.

I pay off my balance every month. Just because I CAN borrow obscene amounts of money, doesn’t mean that I do.

This same logic of fiscal responsibility is mostly absent when it comes to student debt. What makes the headlines are stories of graduates who have racked up debt loads that could take them a lifetime to pay down. The subtext to this, which isn’t usually discussed in polite company, is that often much of that debt doesn’t pay school expenses, but rather supplements a lifestyle. Where else but the federal government can you get such a low-cost loan with virtually no credit-check?

Working in higher education, I myself have been on the receiving end of more than a few phone calls from irate students, who having learned that their stipend (money borrowed in excess of actual education costs) was going to be delayed for a week, accused me of personally ruining their family’s Christmas, child’s birthday, or long-awaited vacation. I’m pretty sure most of us can agree that the "living expenses" portion of federal financial aid isn’t meant to be used for a 10-day Caribbean cruise.

Now, to be clear, students who have maxed out on their student loans aren’t doing anything wrong. They’re legally entitled to borrow what they qualify for, and there are probably a few who can justify the extra debt-load as an investment in themselves that will pay off in the long run. But as we continue the national discussion on graduates who have little hope of paying off their student loans, we need to add to the dialog that just because you CAN borrow obscene amounts of money, doesn’t mean that you should.

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Start-Up of You - Good but not fresh advice

When I reserved this audio book, The Start-Up of You from my local library, I hadn't realized that one of the authors, Reid Hoffman, was also the co-founder of Linkedin. Had I known that, I would have readjusted my expectations for the book.

I use Linkedin (Here's my profile) and I advocate its use, but much of the dispensed advice is focused on expanding the user base of this social networking site. So reader beware. There's overt and covert shilling between the pages. If you can get beyond that, there are a few nuggets of useful career wisdom.

One great point the authors make is that all of us should see ourselves in permanent beta. Just like software companies (at least the good ones) are always improving their products which are dubbed beta versions when in these testing/trial phases, we should also always be learning and improving ourselves.

Some people erroneously believe that with four years of a college education you're set for a fruitful and meaningful life-time career. Not only does that assume a static economy with a static workforce--and you should never assume either--it also assumes that YOU will never change. That mindset has all the trappings of a mid-life crisis. People DO change and learning new things helps keep you open to other options that might not have occurred to your eighteen-year-old self when you thumbed or clicked through the college catalog to pick a college major.

Pivoting into a new career is called A to B to Z planning, and it's another one of the books take-away points. Plan A is what its name implies. This is the career that you believe you want to be in. Plan B is a similar career and one that you could pivot into if you simply reframed your thinking--say moving from accounting to finance or web page design to search engine optimization. Plan Z is your fallback plan. What can you do should all else fail? Move back in with parents? Draw down a 401k? Those answers vary depending on where you are in your career, but having a Plan Z gives you a hedge that allows you to take calculated risks.

Finally, a lot of emphasis, and rightfully so, is placed on building and growing a professional network. That is, after all, the purpose of Linkedin. Successful people know they must nurture their professional connections because they understand the value of helping others in order to help themselves.  You never know when you'll want or need to find another position, tap into someone's expertise, or seek advice. If you are willing to offer your assistance to others, they will be more willing to offer it to you. The Golden Rule applies to business too.

None of what's in this book is hardly the fresh advice that is conjured up with the word "Start-Up." I would hope that anyone who's at least mid-career would have already learned all of it. But for recent college graduates and/or twenty-somethings, it's definitely worth reading. It might save you ten years trying to figure this out on your own.

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

AOL and Apple - Technology for the masses who don't know any better

I’m not usually one to judge people, but when it comes to their choice of technology, I’m prejudiced. Apple users drive me nuts. 

I’ve tried to be open-minded. As Apple introduced more products and increased its computing share of the market from miniscule to marginal, I kept an open mind.  After all, Mac users, or Tooty-fruity Mac users as I call them in a nod to Jason Fox, the nerdy kid in the comic strip Fox Trot who frequently makes reference to the iFruit, insist they love their machines even if they can barely use them. 

The most recent use case, and I have hundreds of other examples, happened on a trip to a designer’s office. There perched on the desk was a mammoth-sized MacBook Pro. Inwardly, I groaned while privately congratulating myself on having the forethought to bring along my own PC.  

Sure enough, at one point during the meeting, the designer swiveled over to her stylish behemoth and attempted to locate some photographs from a previous project. She couldn’t find them.  A few minutes later, she couldn’t retrieve some images that had been emailed to her, and still later she couldn’t connect to a basic web conference. This designer will tell you that she LOVES her Mac even if it is useless to her during a client consultation. 

And so it is, starry-eyed Mac users swear allegiance to Apple with an absolute conviction that their devices are far superior to any other piece of equipment even as they bumble about trying to use them. 

From my vantage, Apple is using the same trick that landed AOL into virtual obsolescence. It charges exorbitant prices and reaps monopoly profits by targeting low-tech users who have limited computing needs. For a while, this business strategy worked well for AOL.  In 1995, AOL cost $2.95 an hour for Internet access after a $9.95 monthly base fee and five free hours. 

AOL claimed to be easy to use, had proprietary content, and a plethora of devout low-tech users who thought AOL and the Internet were one and the same. However, AOL couldn’t keep pace with the free-wheeling development that was going on outside of its closed-in domain. Eventually, people caught on that there was a lot more worth having at a much lower price than what AOL had to offer. 

Fast-forward to today. Apple claims its computers are easy to use although I find most Mac users completely flummoxed by the technology. It also has proprietary content, and most people believe that all smartphones are iPhones. Although there's no question that the company has been wildly successful in putting expensive media devices into the hands of the masses, there are fissures appearing in its carefully crafted landscape.

Unlike other so-called messier platforms like Android or Windows, Apple's applications seamlessly work with one another because Apple has maintained a stranglehold on what it allows to run on its systems. That reason alone is why Apple will never be taken seriously in the business computing market.  And as lower-priced technologies emerge that allow people to do exactly what THEY want to do instead of only what Apple believes they should do, Mac users are going to look more and more like AOL'ers.

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

No work on Christmas? Bah humbug!

It's Norman Rockwell's fault.

Yesterday, I was chatting with a nurse practitioner about the upcoming holidays, and she said rather proudly that she would be working in the emergency room at Tucson Medical Center on Christmas day just as she had done the last 20 years.

Her comment stood out in sharp contrast to the sappy sentiments that I often hear about how horrible it is that people have to work on holidays. Well, actually not all holidays come under fire. It's usually only Thanksgiving and Christmas that conjure up the farcical and romanticized renderings of so-called American life that Norman Rockwell became so famous for.

And that's why I blame him.

Even Charles Dickens, champion of the working class, who penned A Christmas Carol in 1843 depicted the hustle and bustle of buying and selling on Christmas Day. The large goose that Ebeneezer Scrooge bought for the family of Bob Cratchit was both bought and delivered on Christmas Day. In fact Dickens made it very clear that buying and selling was part of what made Christmas a special day.

Thankfully, many people don't buy into this "no work" on holidays nonsense. Fire fighters, police officers, EMTs, utility workers, ranchers, IT specialists (to keep all of those servers running so you can continue to like your friends' Facebook posts...) broadcast workers, farmers, etc. all work on Christmas so our lives peacefully go on uninterrupted.

The next time you hear someone squawk about how no one should have to work on Christmas day, remind them how very fortunate we are that not everyone shares those beliefs.
Photo credit: Merry Christmas Grandma. We came in our new Chevy. Norman Rockwell
Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Zig Ziglar - RIP

"It's your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your ultimate altitude."

That's just one of the catchy slogans coined by motivational speaker and writer Zig Ziglar who passed away last week at the age of 86.

I first heard Zig Ziglar when he was a guest on a radio program when I was in my early twenties. He had a deep confident voice laced with a folksy southern drawl that made him well suited for a career in public speaking. I never saw him speak in person, but a couple of books he authored are still on my bookshelf and a quick search in a desk drawer unearthed his "See You At the Top" presentation on cassette tape.(I no longer own a device that will play it, but I still couldn't part with the tape.)

He was deinitely one of the first of what became a long litany of positive attitude disciples that I've heard or read in the ensuing years. Although there are many similarities between Zig Ziglar, Wayne Dyer, Tony Robbins, Brian Tracey, et al., Zig always struck me as being guided by a bigger moral compass. He remains one of the very few people I have ever encountered who expressed a Christian belief AND who did not spout doom, gloom, hell and damnation. In those years, he had a virtual monopoly on that perspective.

When I taught freshman microeconomics, I used one of his quotes to summarize how capitalism and the profit motive works.

"You can get everything you want out of life, if you just help enough other people get what they want."
(I'll forego the entire lecture that accompanied it, but I can assure you it was riveting.)

A student of human nature, Zig Ziglar also observed that people often went to work and worried about family only to return home to worry about work so that "they ain't never nowhere." Wrapping up that segment he would ask,
"Are you a meaningful specific or a wandering generality?"
Although I could argue now that there's a time and a place for being a wandering generality, his message of the importance of setting goals, focusing on the present, and keeping positive in a negative world still resonates. RIP.
Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Unplugged from work - Day Five - I did it!

I did manage to stay unplugged from work for five days. Part of my success was luck and part of it was timing. Nothing urgent happened…well, at least nothing that anyone has admitted to… And although it didn’t used to be, the span of time during the academic year was a relatively quiet time to be gone. Rescheduling what had been on my calendar was fairly easy, and all of this had weighed in to my decision to take the step back in the first place.

The hardest days were Sunday (remember, I work EVERY day) and Monday. It was as if I was playing an Olympic volleyball game in my head against myself. One part of me would power serve a thought about work across the net of my consciousness. Another part of me would lunge to hit it out of play. During those first couple of days, the serves were relentless, and I often found myself working harder at trying NOT to think about work than I would if I was actually working.

On day two and three, the intensity of the game eased a bit. By the end of the week, my power server had about as much oomph as an aging relative playing a game of sand lot volleyball at the annual family reunion. At that point, it wasn’t hard to claim victory.

The whole point of my week-long mental jousting was to force myself to face a loss. Or more specifically, yet another loss. In a relatively short period of time, I have lost my mother, a close friend who I considered a family member, and a beloved furry companion.

For the first two, I never missed a beat at the office. Who has time to mourn? Besides, it’s so much easier to just slip back into the whirlwind. Finally, the cumulative effect required an acknowledgement.

In the Jewish faith, there is the tradition of “sitting Shiva” after the death of a family member. Shiva literally means seven and during this week, the mourner is not supposed to do any work while family and friends gather for support, remember the deceased, and allow for grieving and healing. I’m not a Jew, but I could see the wisdom in this forced stepping back.

So I did.

I’m not going to wait 11 years to do it again.

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.