Can You Work from Home and be Productive

Working from home is a dream for many IT professionals. It’s great to imagine reducing your commute to a few steps down the hallway, wearing pajamas to work, and never having to deal with office politics again — not to mention being able to set your own schedule and rates, and making enough money to have an in-ground pool as your office.

But the fact is, while the work-at-home lifestyle is portrayed as easy and carefree, it’s not so easy to actually work while you’re at home, surrounded by endless distractions. It takes some serious discipline and practice to stay focused, but it can be done.

Here’s a great collection of must-read advice for staying productive while you work from home.

Let go of telecommuting myths

When you work from home, you’ll be your own boss and have plenty of free time — or will you? It’s important to realize, especially when you’re first starting out, that you’ll have to work hard for several different bosses on all the freelance IT projects you take to reach success (but ultimately, you have the final say in what you do or don’t work on).

Microsoft’s Crabby Office Lady takes a look at common telecommuting myths, and offers tips on getting work-from-home to work for you.

Learn the 10 Commandments (of working from home)

From actually getting ready for work in the morning — even though you’re not going anywhere — to making time for your physical and mental needs, this checklist is a must-read for anyone considering or already working in a telecommuting environment. The bonus commandment also helps you maintain your friendships, which will be invaluable when the isolation of working from home gets to you.

Thou shalt read and remember the 10 Commandments of Working From Home.

Find out if you’re the work-from-home type

Telecommuting is not the right choice for everyone. If you don’t work well without direction, or depend on interaction with other people to get you through the day, you may flounder when the only person holding you accountable and keeping you going is you. You also need to have a real working space, and the ability to separate your personal and professional lives.

Find out why Entrepreneur.com says that Working From Home is Hard Work.

Get the lowdown on eating well at home

A lot of people who work from home find their eating habits dropping drastically into the poor to disastrous range — they might end up constantly snacking at the computer, or “forget” to eat for hours (or days). It takes a little planning, but balancing your nutritional needs with your work-from-home lifestyle is essential for keeping up motivation and productivity.

Lifehacker discusses how to eat well while working from home.

Avoid becoming a hermit

Another common problem for telecommuters is the sense of isolation. Spending the majority of your day alone, when email may be your only contact with other people, can take a toll on your mental health, creativity, and ability to produce. Fortunately, there are many ways you can alleviate the isolation and still work from home successfully.

Inc.com discusses this and more with 8 Ways to Be Happy and Productive in Your Home Office.

Know how to work from home…with kids

For a parent, working from home can be a fantastic opportunity to earn a living without having to shell out for daycare and juggle transportation. The ability to have a flexible schedule and be there for your kids is priceless — but making things work when you’re surrounded by little ones can take some extra effort.

One work-from-home mom shares her secrets to success in How to work from home without losing your mind.

Discover your personal productivity boosters

Everyone has different work habits. The best way to be successful as a telecommuter is to find what makes you most productive, and work it into your routine. There are plenty of out-of-the-box strategies that can help you keep things running smoothly in your home office.

Check out these productive work-at-home hacks from Lifehack to get started.

If you need help implementing successful work-from-home tactics, or are searching for a career with flexible hours and telecommuting options, contact the recruiting experts at The Armada Group today.

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4 Important Tips for Underpaid Workers

With the recession not quite behind us yet, many people feel that they’re lucky to have a job — even if they aren’t being paid what they’re worth. But being overworked and underpaid takes a real toll. It places undue stress on your work environment as well as your family and personal life, and can quickly lead to burnout or even serious health problems.

How do you know if you’re underpaid? If you suspect your salary is lower than it should be, you probably don’t want to start asking around the office about how much everyone else is making. Fortunately, there are more covert ways to find out what your salary range should be:

  • Try a salary calculator: Many career-focused websites such as Salary.com provide aggregate data on salary ranges for a variety of different careers. If you’re looking for a rough estimate, this is a quick and easy way to find it — but remember these sites may not calculate education, experience, certifications, job locations, and other factors that can influence salaries.
  • Browse job boards: Looking at recent listings for positions similar to yours on sites such as Monster.com or Careerbuilder.com can also give you general idea of the expected salary. You may find listings that match your experience and location. However, you might have to scour a lot of listings to find numbers, since many employers describe salary offers as simply “competitive” or “depending on experience.”
  • Ask a recruiter: A recruiter’s job is to match candidates with positions and “sell” them at the highest possible price. Recruiters are valuable sources of information when it comes to salary, because they know exactly how much employers are paying for a given position and have worked with candidates at several levels of education and experience.

If it turns out that your current salary is lacking, there are steps you can take to remedy the situation and start earning what you’re worth.

Ask for a raise

The fastest route to getting the salary you should have is to ask for it. Once you’ve researched your position, you’ll have evidence of the fair market value you should expect to receive, and you can present it to your boss when you make your case for a raise. But if your manager or supervisor is unapproachable or refuses to consider it, you have more options.

Ask for equity

If you’re underpaid and working for a small or startup company, you may be able to make up the difference with equity. Talk to the owner about the possibility of sharing ownership — perhaps a 10 or 15 percent interest in a rising business would make it worth temporarily working for less. Stock options are another possibility for gaining equity and increasing the value of your work.

Resign from the job

Barring a raise, shared ownership, or any effort to address your underpaid status, it may be time to say “take this job and shove it.” You can be polite in your resignation and give proper notice — but if there’s no chance you’ll realize a fair salary any time soon, your days at your underpaid job should be numbered.

Sign on with a recruiter

Looking for a new job can be a long and difficult slog, especially if you resign because you’re underpaid. Recruiters can make your job search process faster and easier, and ensure that you receive the highest possible salary for your skills and experience.

Once you leave an underpaid position, you don’t want to wait around too long to find a job that pays what you’re worth. Working with a recruiter gives you more options and a faster path to a job you’ll love.

Want to know more about how a recruiter can help you get what you’re worth? Contact The Armada Group today.

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Large-Scale Hadoop Installations are the New Norm

What web-based company has the world’s largest Hadoop cluster? Surprisingly, it’s not Google, Facebook, or even Twitter — it’s Yahoo!, with 455 petabytes of data stored on over 100,000 CPUs in more than 40,000 servers. The company’s biggest Hadoop cluster, at around 4,500 nodes, is around four times the size of Facebook’s largest cluster.

Hadoop is a hot topic in today’s tech world, especially when it comes to Big Data. As more organizations work toward mining and implementing Big Data strategies, the use of Hadoop on a larger scale is set to become the new standard for practical, results-driven applications of data mining.

What is Hadoop, and why does it matter?

At the most basic definition, Hadoop is a free, open source software library that makes useful, cost-effective processing of Big Data possible. The Hadoop library, developed by the Apache Software Foundation, is built on underlying technology that was invented by Google to index the massive amounts of data collected by the search engine and transform it into relevant results for searchers.

Hadoop consists of four modules — Hadoop Common, Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS), Hadoop YARN, and Hadoop MapReduce — and includes several compatible add-ons such as programming languages and databases, which enhance the real-world applications of the library.

Providing scale and flexibility for large data projects, on a basis that’s affordable for both enterprise and small business, makes Hadoop an attractive solution with endless potential.

The appeal of Hadoop

As Yahoo! has come to realize, Hadoop provides a wide range of flexible, scalable capabilities and vastly increased potential for the real application of Big Data. In most large organizations today, data is siloed — stored and worked with in separate systems with little to no cross-functionality. Large-scale Hadoop installations make it possible for organizations to share data quickly, easily and effectively, with strong security measures still in place to prevent data breaches and malware attacks.

With an organization’s data stored collectively, Hadoop installations can then run YARN to manage data ecosystems. Hadoop YARN is a framework that provides job scheduling and cluster resource management, enabling the system to spread resources out sufficiently across multiple machines and deliver increased flexibility. The YARN framework also maintains redundancy to guard against data loss and system failure.

With YARN, engineers and developers can work immediately on small clusters within a larger deployment, and collaborate with others without sacrificing security.

Combining Hadoop with other systems

Within Hadoop, there are several distinct systems that can be operated independently, but still remain part of the larger ecosystem. This includes elements such as Hbase, the non-relational distributed database for Hadoop; Pig, a high-level platform for large-set data analysis; and Hive, a data warehouse infrastructure.

Hadoop has the capabilities to handle large swaths of an organization’s data needs, but depending on the individual company, other systems may be used to supplement a Hadoop installation — and the library integrates well with popular enterprise systems. For example, Yahoo! employs other systems for email serving, and photo serving in Flickr, but stores copied data from these systems in Hadoop.

The rise of Big Data and the need for efficient, cost-effective analytics has paved the way for Hadoop to become standard in organizations of all sizes. To find out if your organization should be undergoing a Hadoop installation, contact the IT experts at The Armada Group.

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Why You Should be Encouraging Feedback from Your IT Employees

Honest and constructive feedback is a valuable tool for any manager. But while you may have no trouble offering feedback to your IT employees, receiving honest feedback can be challenging. There are many reasons your employees could be reluctant about being honest — but overcoming those roadblocks and encouraging feedback can benefit your team in a big way.

Why employees avoid giving feedback

Even if it’s solicited, a lot of IT employees are worried about offering feedback. One of the most common reasons is concern that their opinions will be used against them, resulting in a more difficult working environment or negative consequences for their career. If this concern exists, employees will typically either give falsely positive feedback, or not speak up at all.

Another popular reason employees refrain from giving feedback is the belief that their thoughts and suggestions won’t be taken seriously, or even considered at all. If they feel, rightly or wrongly, that you’re just asking for feedback to humor them or because it’s expected, they won’t waste their time offering it.

How to encourage honest feedback

Whether your employees are afraid of recrimination or feel they won’t be taken seriously, you can overcome these issues by clearly communicating what will and will not happen when feedback is offered, how you’ll use the feedback you receive, and how your employees can help.

Trust is essential to giving and getting honest feedback. In order to find out what your IT employees really think, you need to create a company culture of open, authentic communication that encourages honesty. To do this:

  • Start with yourself. If you can’t be honest with yourself, you can’t expect to do better with your employees. Genuine feedback can be a powerful tool to help you identify opportunities for improvement and change your company for the better — but only If you really want to hear it. If you’re just going through the motions, your efforts could have negative consequences.
  • Show your commitment. Simply asking for honesty isn’t enough to get real feedback. Demonstrate that you’re offering more than talk by acting on the feedback you receive and making changes that address employee concerns. When you show that you’re serious, you’ll find your employees far more open and willing to participate in feedback.
  • Enlist your people. It’s far too common for leaders and managers to solicit feedback from employees, and then vanish while they “fix” everything themselves. This not only places more pressure on you, but also keeps employees from seeing the efforts you’re making to incorporate feedback. Make sure your processes are designed to engage everyone in making changes.
  • Check your reactions. If you’re known for reacting poorly to bad news or things you don’t want to hear, don’t be surprised when your employees fail to offer honest feedback. Taking note of and tempering your reactions will go a long way toward an open and secure workplace environment.

As a leader, your actions and attitudes set the tone for your IT team. Encouraging and gathering honest feedback — whether you use simple surveys, focus groups, interviews, team meetings, or informal hallway chats — can benefit you significantly and help you build a successful, productive, and focused workplace that gets results. If you want to find out how to better solicit honest employee feedback, contact The Armada Group today. They are industry experts who know exactly the types of feedback you should be seeking from employees, and how to get it.

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Friday, Oct 17 2014

Big Data Gets Big Results

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Big Data Gets Big Results

The buzz about Big Data continues to grow, but are companies that have already started working with it seeing any returns on their investment? According to a new study from tech consulting firm Accenture, an overwhelming majority of executives who’ve launched big data projects are pleased with the power and effectiveness of this new digital tool.

Big Data is consistently valuable

The Accenture study looked at big data projects and installations implemented by CIOs, CFOs, COOs, CMOs, CDOs (chief data officers) and other senior IT leaders across seven industries, in 19 different countries. Responses indicated astonishingly high rates of satisfaction and ROI from big data investments:

  • 92 percent of executives were satisfied with the results of their big data installations
  • 89 percent said big data is “very important” or “extremely important” to the digital transformation of their business
  • 82 percent said big data provides significant value to their organization

The research and observations from senior executives point to big data as not just a passing fad, accessible only to a small percentage of huge, multi-million dollar corporations, but a truly effective strategy that delivers actual benefits like streamlined operational efficiency, an expanded base of loyal customers, and increased revenues. With effective use of big data, businesses are able to develop a competitive advantage in an increasingly crowded online market.

Big Data pinpoints new sources of revenue, enhances customer experience

One of the most common ways businesses are using big data is to find new sources of revenue — and this area is also delivering the most tangible benefits. According to the Accenture study:

  • 94 percent of executives use big data moderately or extensively to identify new revenue sources — and 56 percent report extensive tangible benefits
  • 90 percent use big data moderately or extensively to retain current customers and acquire new customers
  • 89 percent use big data moderately or extensively to develop new products and services

While bringing in new customers creates new sources of revenue, organizations are also using big data to improve customer relations. Of the executives surveyed, 47 percent report extensive, measurable benefits from winning and keeping customers through big data, and 51 percent say enhancing the customer experience through big data has achieved measurable gains. Considering the next five years, 63 percent of executives believe that big data will have the largest impact on their customer relationships.

Challenges to big data implementation

As with any relatively new technology, using big data comes with some challenges and concerns. Accenture found that security is the greatest challenge, with 51 percent of executives citing security as the top issue — particularly as the number of big data users in their organization expands.

Other major challenges facing big data include:

  • Budget (47 percent)
  • Lack of talent for big data implementation (41 percent)
  • Lack of talent to run big data / analytics on an ongoing basis (37 percent)
  • Integration with existing systems (35 percent)

Flexibility and a willingness to experiment with approaches and strategies has been the most effective means to overcoming the challenges presented by big data. Accenture states that it’s vital for organizations to recognize that no single big data solution will fit every situation.

Tips for success with Big Data

With the increasing accessibility and cost-effectiveness of big data technology, companies of any size in every industry can take advantage of the benefits big data provides. Accenture’s key recommendations for capitalizing on big data include:

  • Start small. Attempting to accomplish everything at once with big data can, and typically will, result in a scattered focus and little to no return. Instead, choose a single business area to target first, and launch a proof of concept or pilot program to prove value before implementing wider strategies.
  • Stay flexible. The technologies that drive big data are still relatively new, and in a constant state of change. Companies using big data must remain nimble and alert to the opportunities presented by these evolving technologies.
  • Focus on talent. In order to capitalize on big data, companies need a workforce that’s able to implement strategies effectively. One solution is to offer training for existing employees to build big data skills — a strategy 54 percent of executives said they are currently implementing.

But don’t rely on your in-house team alone — only five percent of executives said their company uses solely internal resources to develop, implement, and manage big data strategies. Outsourcing IT talent for big data is a fast and effective way to start reaping the benefits of the latest technologies for your business.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of big data, or find staff who are already well-versed in big data implementation, contact the recruiting experts at The Armada Group today. 

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How to Better Measure Your Success in IT

Most IT departments are, by nature, results-driven. And because IT loves numbers and formulas, you’ll find myriad combinations of analytics and KPIs and data charts designed to measure success — usually in terms of output or dollars. But how good are these measurements in gauging the success of your career on a day-to-day basis?

If you’re an IT pro, and you want raises and promotions and accolades (and who doesn’t?), all those analytics won’t help you much in the way of personal advancement. There are better ways to track your progress that can alleviate the daily stresses of your job and help you become more satisfied, productive, and promotable.

Here are three of them, relating to the most common issues IT professionals face in the workplace: prioritizing, communicating, and building relationships.

Prioritize: Measuring where all your time really goes

For an IT pro, there are never enough hours in the day. Your workload always seems to exceed the amount of time you have to spend on it, and every week you feel further behind. But the good news is, you’re probably spending a lot of time on tasks you don’t need to worry about — and you can focus your efforts to increase productivity and decrease stress.

Take the time each day to write down your top three-to-five priorities. Then keep track of what you do all day, and how long you do it. Once you have these lists, figure out what percentage of time you’re spending on your priorities versus everything else, and prune out the clutter. If your workload is actually too heavy to accomplish your core tasks, you can show this data to your boss and ask to have non-essential activities reassigned.

Communicate: Measuring the effectiveness of what others are hearing

Good communication is essential in the workplace. As an IT pro, you need to communicate not only with the rest of your team, but also with your supervisors, management, people in other departments, or even customers. And the most common barrier to communication is that not everyone you need to convey information to speaks the same language.

When you’re communicating something, the tendency is to think only about what you have to say. But the key to effective communication is to understand how the other person needs to hear it. If you’re speaking to a non-tech person, you can’t use jargon or complex terms. If your style is straightforward and to the point, a less direct person may find you abrasive or intimidating — and therefore will only hear your tone, not the words you’re saying.

Consider the communication issues you’ve experienced in light of your audience. Is it possible they could have misunderstood you because of their listening style? To measure your effectiveness in communicating, pay attention to nonverbal cues that suggest they’re confused by the terms you’re using, or tuning out your words in favor of your tone. You can adjust the way you convey information to make sure everyone’s clear, resulting in smoother daily operations all around.

Relate: Measuring your workplace relationships

Relationships make the working world go ‘round. When you have strong relationships in the workplace, your career will flourish — but weak relationships can hamper or cripple your progress. You may get along great with like-minded people, but what about those from different generations, different cultures, or even different departments?

Improving your workplace relationships will help you get ahead, and make for a more harmonious environment for everyone. It only takes a few minutes at a time to build rapport — you can choose a day to sit with a different group at lunch, or invite a co-worker you don’t know well for a cup of coffee. Make it a point to offer authentic compliments on other people’s work, especially those in different departments, and send a quick thank-you when another person does something that positively affects your work.

Charts and analytics are great for measuring the technical ROI of your work, but these real-world measurements can help you achieve personal satisfaction and advancement. Speak to the experts at The Armada Group today to find out how to take a better measure of your IT success, and enjoy lowered stress and higher productivity.

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