2015 had its share of ups and downs. The end of the year was particularly hectic for mostly no good reasons that I’m not going to get into now.
I had meant to do my traditional long-form “these are the albums I liked the best” post but my heart has not been into it, and my time has been sparse. So, in brief:
- Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
- Clutch – Psychic Warfare
- Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
- Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think And Sometimes I Just Sit
- Pure Bathing Culture – Pray for Rain
- Tame Impala – Currents
- Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
The list of albums that I still want to hear is longer still, but these seven are pretty great. ♥
March 2nd, 2016
(Or resumes, or résumés, if you prefer. Although to my mind “resumes” reads like “re-züms” and “résumés” like “ray-zoo-mays”. So, resumés it is.)
I’ve been in the people management gig for a while now and, even before that, my former boss would have me screen the resumés of potential hires for our team. Even before that, back in the pleistocene era, I spent a lot of time looking for work and, when I wasn’t actively applying for a job, I was either polishing my own resumé or reading up on how to do it. So when it comes to the subject of the resumé, I have opinions.
A friend of a friend who’s moving to town recently asked me for some help finding a job in a field tangentially related to my own. They sent over their own resumé and, before I proferred to forward it on, I decided to start with some advice on what they sent. I tried hard not to be overly critical but it was a rather lengthy response; I have not heard back from them since. Perhaps they were insulted, or perhaps they just thought it was too much of a response to actually read. I may never know, but I thought the advice was, in general, good advice from someone who has a good deal of experience in this arena. I thought I would post it, in a bit less specific of a form, here.
1. Your Resumé is Your First Impression
This is your first and maybe only chance to get your virtual foot in the door. Remember that the person you’re sending it to is very likely a busy person. To that end, I personally don’t read cover letters and I’ve never sent one unless it was asked for. And yes, it will probably be pre-screened by a computer for keywords, but keep things realistic.
2. Your Resumé Should Not Be More Than One Page Long
This one is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but it goes directly to the first point above. I often get resumés that look like novellas and I patently do not have time for that. There are rare exceptions, but if I get a resumé that’s more than two pages, I ignore it outright. If you have enough detail to catch the hiring personnel’s attention, you can always get around to the more gritty details during an interview. Again: managers are busy people, hiring is a pain in the ass, and this is your elevator pitch.
Say there’s a lot of stuff in your resumé, though— how do you cut it down? Well, what’s most relevant to your career? Usually, it’s the stuff you’ve been doing either the last five years or the last two-three jobs. So, provide the details on those jobs and then, perhaps after that, you can just bullet-point previous jobs that you feel also lend good credence to your expertise. But if I’m applying for a job in the IT industry, I don’t really need to trump up my accomplishments from working at Hot Dog on a Stick in the summer of 2012, no matter how many Employee of the Week accolades I received.
3. Describe Your Accomplishments, Not Your Job
The job title should, more or less, describe a given job. There’s no point in then rehashing your specific responsibilities. Instead, focus on what you, personally, achieved in that position. Again, just focus on the highlights.
Software Guy (2009-2013)
- Helped develop “Happy Fun Game 2.0”
- Assisted with patch delivery
- Worked in a multi-faceted environment using Git and Maven to achieve deadlines
Focus on your own accomplishments:
Software Guy (2009-2013)
- Improved loading time performance on “Happy Fun Game 2.0”
- Fixed critical defect on a short deadline to ensure a stable release
- Instigated adoption of Agile processes to improve our delivery lifecycle
The point is, just doing your job is not that interesting. Anyone can be a “Software Guy” (or Gal). The interesting part is: what did you bring to the table?
4. The Summary
Also known as the “professional profile” or “career goals”, this guy usually sits at the top of the resumé and, ideally, gives a quick summation of what a person’s background and goals are. E.g. “Software developer with over seven years in the information security sector”.
In my experience, this is rarely the case. This section is, instead, actually used for more buzzword bingo dreck. This is where people trumpet that they have “good communication skills”; that they can “work well in team environments”; that they are “self-motivated self-starters”; that they have “proven skills” in some form or another. If you find yourself using these terms, you’re probably doing it wrong. (And I would hope that almost anyone that I would hire would have passable communication skills and some level of self-motivation.)
In short, I’m not a fan of this section of a resumé. I’ve gone back-and-forth on including it at all, myself, although usually I have omitted it entirely.
5. The Skills
This is absolutely one of the things that I’ve struggled the most with, but one of those sections that is, itself, fairly important in the tech world particularly. But I’ve used a thousand different programs, tools, and languages in my career. What the hell do I put here?
Well, if you’ve read this far, you can correctly surmise that the answer isn’t “everything”.
First off, list only those things that you’ve used the most and/or have the most proficiency with. Software languages provides a fine example. Here are the list of languages that, offhand, I have used and programmed with in at least some capacity, academic or otherwise:
There are probably others, but we’ll take this list for consideration. Some of these I have only dipped my toe into (such as the recently-released Swift); others I haven’t used at any length for years (HyperScript); and still others that I’ve only used on a project or two (most of these). Instead, I would just list the ones that I have multiple years of real-world experience in and would feel comfortable really diving into on short notice. For myself, this list becomes:
Another thing you can do here is, if you did use some particular language on a project, you can just list it in the details for that job. This is a pretty good rule of thumb: if I’ve used the name of the software in my “skills” section, I don’t need to include it in my job descriptions and vice versa.
For instance, if I’ve included “Java” under my skills, I don’t feel it’s necessary to point out that a given job was developed using Java. However, if I had some special project that was built up during Python, I might well bullet-point it under the job details (e.g. “developed server-side load test tool using Python”).
In other cases, you can probably do some consolidation. For instance, if you say “Microsoft Office Suite”, I can assume you know your way around Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. I could even safely assume that you could make your way around similar tools, such as OpenOffice or Apple’s iLife suite without too much trouble. You could even just say “office productivity suites” and people would know what that meant without you spending too much time trying to remember every word processor that you’ve ever used. (Is WordPerfect still a thing?)
6. No Typos
Spell check is built in to every program. There’s no reason for typos.
If you were hiring for a job where attention to detail wasn’t critical, maybe you could let this slide, but it’s unprofessional at best. A typo means the resumé goes straight into the round file.
My own– admittedly somewhat minimalist– approach to my current-ish resumé is here.
It’s always a work in progress and I’m never quite happy with it, but even though I’m not actively looking for anything new, I do try to revisit it once a year and keep it current. (I really need to fix up the bullets under my current job, but that’s another story).
Just remember that, as the old Head & Shoulders commercials used to say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
October 30th, 2015
Back in the early days of internet, before the heady days of six-hour memes and drunken Priming, we all had shitty internet connections. Music had made the leap to the CD format but the analog cassette was still very much alive and well; in 1997 the CD burner was still a several-thousand dollar machine. The MP3 was still a twinkle in some programmer’s eye, downloading music was an exercise in torture, and downloading a movie was right out.
The mailing list, however, was very much alive and well, and the Pavement mailing list was probably the only one of which I was ever actively involved. It was, really, one of the best communities of people that I’ve ever been involved with of which I have never met a single member. (Edit: Along with the Grandaddy mailing list; memories…)
The cassette in question here comes from a random person on that mailing list, a fellow enthusiast of Pavement who went by the moniker “For Solemn Avalanche”. Whatever email address I had at the time is long lost and I can find no further records of any of this, but somehow, someway, this kind soul made me this awesome mix.
I was a a fan of Pavement already– and obviously, or I wouldn’t have been on this mailing list to begin with– but this tape was crafted with care. I remember an exchange, where FSA asked me what my favorite songs were, to ostensibly find some live versions to put on this tape for me. A lot of my favorites were newer songs and so there wasn’t a hell of a lot of traction there but in the end it really didn’t matter. I got this tape and I listened to it. A whole lot.
As I walked the streets of Eugene everyday, it became the soundtrack of my life and deepened my love for this band, encouraging me to dig deeper into their oeuvre. And you know, some of their best tracks really are the b-sides? I sometimes wonder how intentional this is.
Later that year, I got the chance to contribute back to the mailing list. We had decided to make a shirt among us and I had already designed for myself a hand-crafted Pavement silkscreen the year before in art class. I submitted the design and, somehow, it won the vote. A kind fellow named Rob (from the Boston area, if I recall) had a number of them printed up for anyone who wanted one. He also took a set of the shirts for the band and gave them to the guys at a show. It’s too tattered to wear now, but I still have the shirt.
The tape, in similar fashion, broke a few years back. I repaired it, but it won’t ever be quite the same. I don’t even have a device right now that will play a tape, so I couldn’t listen to it anyhow. But it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever gotten from a stranger. Thanks, For Solemn Avalanche.
April 12th, 2015
3. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
All my friends are disappearing
All my letters are in codes
All I ever think and feel
In your shadow, it erodes
-“Ducking and Dodging”
The follow-up to last year’s amazing Light Up Gold expands the group’s sound without losing the wit and quirk at the core that makes them interesting. It’s a front-loaded album, kicking off with rockers “Bodies” and lead-off single “Black and White”, both songs which I initially enjoyed, then glossed over, then really grew to appreciate after a time.
I remember, in particular, hearing “Black and White” for the first time. We were in our cramped hotel room in downtown Chicago our first night there having just gotten back from finding a sports bar at which to catch the Blazers game. We turned the television on, as much to drown out the sound of the city as to ostensibly watch anything. Some late show was on– Seth Meyers’ show, perhaps– and the musical guest du jour was playing. I hadn’t heard the song but, a bit incredulously wondered aloud, “Is this Parquet Courts?” It was in this way in which I heard the last minute of this song, not quite knowing what was going on. It’s not a great story, but there it is.
PC has a knack for making a song that is at once very repetitive but also endearing (“Always Back In Town” is exhibit A here). They also have a penchant for taking something great and then totally fucking it up. My second favorite track on this album is the laconic “She’s Rollin”, a lazy, summery tune, totally pleasant for about four minutes. That’s when the harmonica from hell kicks in and the next two-and-a-half minutes become increasingly unlistenable, an audio endurance test perhaps best compared to the ending of Velvet Underground’s “I Heard Her Call My Name”. (If you don’t know the song by title, it’s that one track on White Light/White Heat that you are always tempted to skip over once the outro starts in.)
While grabbing the above quote from my favorite track on the album, “Ducking and Dodging”, I learned that the song is actually about “…Stalin and the KGB and the fear that they loomed over Soviet composers like Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev”. So that’s intense. There’s a lot going on here.
RIYL: Pavement, Television, Velvet Underground, Richard Hell, Parkay Quarts
2. Nicole Atkins – Slow Phaser
I am always naked in my mind, tryin’ to reconcile with a towering dark side
The only dress I wear is my shadow on the wall
File this one under psych/alt/folk/pop. If the turnout at the Wonder Ballroom for her last show is any indication, Nicole Atkins is criminally unknown. But if you’ve never heard of her, her third album is a great place to start. This came out early in the year but it stands as Atkins’ most accessible record as well as one of the best records front-to-back that I’ve heard in some time. Decidedly more funky and less folksy than its predecessors, the songs here are catchy but not cloying; fun, but not overly self-aware. It’s good songwriting that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
As individual songs, there is not a dull entry among them; as a whole, and sequenced as they are, it’s simply a great album. Yeah!
RIYL: Neko Case, Cotton Jones, Regina Spektor
1. Parkay Quarts – Content Nausea
My friend walks the same path every day
Stoop to stairwell, cognizance to coma
Ignoring best he can
An inconvenient reality
The consequential chore that unfolds in the naked sprint from screen to screen
Scrolling binary ghettos for escape for reminders
– “Content Nausea”
Content Nausea is not a perfect record. Half of the songs on here are short, straying instrumental transition pieces with little inherent interest. “Slide Machine” sounds like a song I would write or have written which is, perhaps, not a compliment to anyone involved there. The cover of “These Boots” is probably my least favorite cover version of a song that I’ve heard in the last year (with Spoon’s languid cover of “I Just Don’t Understand” a close second) because both are extremely straight covers, which— why? There are also a fair share of aimless instrumental tracks and general weirdness. But if you put out a second album in a single year (albeit under a slightly different band name), you get a lot of latitude.
So it’s not perfect, but it is my favorite record of the year. I just cannot stop listening to it. A few songs in particular have their hooks deep in me. First and foremost, the fast-train-tempo title track which smartly and relentlessly skewers our self-obsessed social media culture and the lament of the loneliness brought on by technology. Holy hell, what a song. “Pretty Machines”, with its unorthodox riff, is probably one of those songs that gets these guys compared to the likes of Richard Hell or Television (in a good way) and it’s a catchy piece of music.
Then there’s “The Map”, which is to me reminiscent of one of my favorite tracks off of Silver Jews’ American Water (the one with the lyric “his sweaters had faces all over it, famous faces, knitted, all over it”). And, finally, the strangely enchanting harkening strains of “Uncast Shadow of Modern Myth”, a sprawling epic that is at least in part about Elvis, and in part about political corruption.
Few albums really grab my attention, musically, at a primal level. Even fewer of those make me actually think about the state of modern man, his place in the world, and exactly what all of our constant consumption of everything is doing to us, to our mental well-being, to our relationship with the world around us.
But then again, the best records are seldom perfect.
RIYL: Pavement, Silver Jews, Television, Velvet Underground, Richard Hell, Parquet Courts
April 12th, 2015
I’ll be brief about these and conserve my rambling for the top three and give these just a sentence or two apiece. I may stretch the definition of sentence through the extended use of colons, semicolons, dashes, and what-have-you, though.
#10. Spoon – They Want My Soul
My favorite Spoon album since Girls Can Tell, although I could do without the super-straightforward cover of “I Just Don’t Understand”.
#9. Sylvan Esso (s/t)
A pretty record: Frou Frou meets Regina Spektor, but bassier.
#8. Courtney Barnett – Split Sea of Peas EP
Billed as a “double EP” instead of an album, which speaks to its somewhat schizophrenic nature, but there’s some work here that is in turns clever and exciting; come for the catchy “Avant Gardener” and the turns of the tongue on “History Eraser”, stay for the soothing strains of “Anonymous Club” and “Porcelain”.
#7. Aphex Twin – Syro
Dense electronic music that provides the perfect soundtrack to blocking everyone around me out so I can get some real work done.
#6. Band of Skulls – Himalayan
Some great, straightforward rockin’, solid songs solidly performed, ain’t nothing wrong here.
#5. Raveonettes – Pe’ahi
I don’t know how I’ve never listened to any of their previous… six albums?! This is good, stuff, though: music for people who aren’t afraid of a little fuzz in their pop rock.
#4. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Chilling, heart-breaking, but not without a sense of humor, Van Etten’s distinct and powerful voice— in both a literal and a writerly sense— bring this thing together beautifully, and it just gets better with subsequent listens.
And we’ll stop there for now. Next up: #3! Is it that Taylor Swift album?
January 29th, 2015