High Tech Invention

In comic strips and action movies, robot exoskeletons give inventors superpowers. In factories and other work environments, robot exoskeletons support workers, to improve occupational safety.

The need for improved occupational safety is large. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 3 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses in private industry during 2013. The impact on productivity is large, with a median eight days off from work due to injury or illness. The number of fatal work injuries was much smaller, at about 4,500, but the personal impact is, of course, immense.

Sit Down On the Job

For assembly line and other industrial workers, repetitive stress is a common medical issue. The Chairless Chair supports workers in a half-sitting position, customized to their specific body shape. Wearers don't have to drag a chair with them as they move about; the Chairless Chair moves with them.

Lend A Hand

The Ekso Works, like the Chairless Chair, transfers the user's weight to the ground. It goes a step further in having a sprung arm that can handle a heavy tool, making it practically weightless to the person wearing the exoskeleton. Another exoskeleton, the Fortis, lets wearers lift heavy objects effortlessly in a standing or kneeling position. Wearers will be able to work more easily in areas where bench-mounted tools can't be used.

Put a Spring in Your Step

A device that fits around the wearer's calf, the Walking Assist Clutch, literally puts a spring in the wearer's step. The device is triggered at a specific moment during a stride and increases the efficiency of walking by seven percent. This would benefit workers who are on their feet all day long, like nurses or a police officer walking a beat.

Benefits Beyond the Workplace

Businesses are looking at these devices to provide more ergonomic work environments, and increase employee productivity as well as minimizing health expenses due to employee injuries. For employees, benefits include the reduced risk of injury, and no lost wages from unpaid time off. Outside the workplace, exoskeletons will enable paralyzed individuals and frail elderly to maintain independence. In those cases, the exoskeleton is indeed delivering a superpower.

Buy Into New Processes

Information technology teams are often eager to work with the latest technology, but they aren't always that eager to work with new processes, which are seen as management fads with little benefit to the technical workers. If the team doesn't support the new process, it may fail, reinforcing that opinion. Managers should take steps to get the team to buy into the new process, so they are invested in its success. Here are some steps that will help your team buy into a new process and help it succeed:

Explain the process and stand behind it

When you talk about the new process with your team, your belief in it has to be evident. If you aren't able to convincingly explain what the new process will achieve, the team won't be motivated to make it work. If you can show the team how the new process will benefit them – not just you or the business - that's even better. Even the most dedicated employee has a little bit of "what's in it for me?" inside them.

Don't be a dictator

Even if you're the one mandating the new process, if you take input from the team, they'll feel ownership of the process and want it to succeed. When someone offers a good suggestion, integrate it into the process. Also, realize that developing a good process requires iteration. Be willing to modify the process, once you see how it works in reality.

Stay involved

Don't mandate a new process and then wait for a final report. It may take time to fully roll out the process, and you need to be aware of how the team is responding each step of the way. Have regular feedback meetings, and let the team know that getting feedback is a priority. If you're not hearing any complaints, don't assume everything is going fine. Schedule one-on-one discussions with different team members to get their opinions; you may get feedback they weren't comfortable offering in a public forum.

A team is also more likely to believe in the value of a new process if they hear about benefits from a peer, not just management. If the new process is rolled out over time, rather than implemented across the entire company simultaneously, non-management employees who found the change to be positive can become evangelists for the change. Let them spread the good news to your team and share their excitement. They can get your team excited about the change, too, which goes far beyond simply accepting the change, and is much more likely to make the change succeed.

Systems Integration Engineer

If you like taking the big view, working as a systems engineer may be the right career choice for you. Systems integration engineers focus on the entire system, not just a single piece of it in isolation. They're responsible for making sure the hardware, software, and network function together with appropriate performance and security.

Succeeding as a systems engineer means being well rounded technically, as well as having good interpersonal skills. Here are four skills essential to your success.

1. Understand computer hardware, software, and networking 

Systems integration engineers typically have a degree in computer science, computer engineering, or other technical disciplines. Solving system integration problems requires the ability to understand all the different components of a deployed solution. Because integration issues often arise when older technology must be coupled with newer technology, systems integration engineers should enjoy constant learning.

2. Enjoy both analytical and hands-on work to solve problems 

Systems integration engineers have to untangle difficult interoperability issues that arise when different application components are developed, at different times, by separate teams. This can require analysis of application and network logs, as well as writing middleware code to make components work together. Systems integration engineers often are involved with testing the system, including unit testing of middleware and complete end-to-end testing of the application.

3. Communicate well with customers and other engineers 

Because they solve middleware issues, systems integration engineers should be able to participate in technical discussions with other systems integration engineers and their software engineering and network engineering colleagues, to discuss application and architectural issues. They should be able to develop technical documents to propose alternative solutions, document the implemented design, and define test cases.

4. Bring a focused attitude to work with a strong attention to detail 

The solution to systems integration problems often is found by understanding the fine points of the application. Systems integration engineers should have the persistence to methodically work through a problem and multiple potential solutions to identify the best approach for resolving it. Systems integration engineers may need to switch focus from thinking about long-term design issues to solving an immediate application issue, so the ability to switch between tasks without losing focus is key.

As computer applications and the environments they run in become ever more complex, there's no end to the challenges systems integration engineers need to solve, making this an exciting career for technically oriented thinkers who thrive on variety.

DevOps Requirements

You may think the transition of an application from development to production happens at the end of the software lifecycle, but achieving a successful transition requires thinking about it all the way back at the start of the development process. Here are 10 things you can do during development to make it easier for the operations team to take responsibility for the app in production:

1. Make it easy to gather metrics. A key part of the operations team's job is monitoring what the application is doing and how it's doing it. That's a lot easier when the application gathers basic information and provides hooks for ops to check other performance numbers.

2. Document system dependencies. No system runs in isolation, but if the ops team doesn't know your application depends on some obscure package, that package may end up getting deleted to free up space. Put together a list of all the necessary components to make sure they get installed and stay installed to keep your app running.

3. Degrade gracefully. Don't write an application that falls apart when there's any sort of problem. Applications should flag problems and alert the support team, but continue functioning as fully as possible. This means applications shouldn't fail to come up just because the log file system is full.

4. Keep compatibility in mind. If your application can run with past and future versions of third-party products, the DevOps team will have a much easier time deploying your application and managing it, especially if it runs in a shared environment where other applications may want different versions of those components.

5. Make it easy to change configuration settings. A key responsibility of the DevOps team is keeping applications running when the environment around them is shifting. Building connection strings and other configuration settings into compiled code makes it impossible for DevOps to do that.

6. Provide configurations settings and flags for as much as possible. If a feature isn't configurable or can't be turned off and on, the DevOps team has no way to control it and manage the impact in production.

7. Build with scalability in mind. If you're lucky, your application will be wildly successful and have to grow to support more users. A well-designed application will let DevOps handle this by running the app on more nodes. If you don't design the application well, it may need to go back to the development team for a rewrite before the user base can expand.

8. Think about support scripts. The support team would love to automate as much of their job as possible. This means making sure application functionality can be invoked from a command line, rather than only by clicks within a GUI.

9. Provide a regression test suite. DevOps wants the application to keep running when the environment around it changes. A robust regression test suite lets them verify the system will still work after they make changes.

10. Document. Document. Document. There's a ton of critical information that exists only in the developers' heads. Writing it down means the DevOps team won't need to call developers in the middle of the night to find out where to change a configuration setting.

Salary Negotiations

The job sounds perfect, until you hear what they want to pay you. A job offer doesn't necessarily need a yes or no answer right away. If the role and responsibility are what you want but the salary isn't, you may be able to negotiate to get an offer you can say “yes” to. Use these six tips to help get you what you need to say “yes”.

1. Know what you want. It's difficult to get to a place of “yes” when you're not sure what that means. Before the interview, do research to know what market rate salaries and benefits are for the position you want. Not only does this insure that the number you ask for is realistic, you can point to the data to back you up in your discussions with the business.

2. Don't be the first one to bring up money. Sometimes you have more wiggle room than the company does. They may have a firm budget, while you have an aspirational salary goal but flexibility to take less for the right opportunity. If the company asks what you expect, and your goal number is outside their budget, you may never find out they could have paid a salary within your flexible range.

3. Negotiate better benefits. Not all monetary compensation comes in your paycheck. Vacations and paid time-off have implicit dollar values, too. Particularly at smaller companies, you may be able to negotiate some extra days off in place of a larger number each payday.

4. Negotiate a better title. Sometimes if the company can't give you a bigger check, you may want to negotiate for a better title. At some firms, this can put you into another salary band and potentially improve your future salary, even if they can't budge on the initial one. The better title will look more impressive on your resume and can help when you look for your next job, too.

5. Stay pleasant. Always negotiate calmly and politely. Remember, if your negotiation succeeds, you'll be working with these people. You want them to be happy when you show up to start your new job.

6. Practice. It's likely the person across the desk from you has negotiated salaries more often than you have. Whether you're negotiating in person or via e-mail, get input from a coach who can help you prepare and guide you through the negotiating process.

Staying Relevant

The moment you graduated from college, your skills were well on their way to becoming obsolete.  Sounds depressing, but that's a fact of life for an IT professional. Technology changes daily, seemingly at the speed of light. It's up to you to keep up if you want to remain relevant and marketable in your field. Here are a few tips that may help:

Be a people person

The IT field is rife will professionals who are highly knowledgeable, but unable to communicate what they know to people who don't speak IT. Increasingly, employers are adding communication skills and other soft skills to their list of “must haves”. Become a more well-rounded candidate, and you'll have your pick of opportunities.

Make keeping up a priority

Between your career and your outside obligations, remaining relevant in the IT field can seem like just one more thing to fit into an already overbooked day. But taking some time to focus on your professional development is essential to your career. Schedule some time into each week to keep up on industry news and advancements.

Keep on learning

Commit to continuing education as part of your career strategy. Work towards new certifications each year, learn new programming languages and technologies, or return to school to obtain advanced degrees. Your employer will likely encourage this initiative and offer reimbursement or allow you to expense at least part of the cost. If not, consider it an investment in your own future.

Stay connected

Stay in touch with others in your field.  Join groups, either online or by networking in person. Attend conferences and speeches by industry leaders so that you are always abreast of new developments. It's easy to work in a vacuum, but by making that regular commitment to engage, you increase your knowledge and marketability.

In a field where staying cutting-edge is essential to the industry and your career, it's important to make the time to improve your interpersonal and technical skills, that way you will always be ready for the next big opportunity that comes your way.