How I Got My Dream Job By Daring To Be Vulnerable

My Dream Job

For the past couple of years, as many of your know, I’ve been battling to find permanent work here in Denmark after I lost my job in 2012. I’ve had some temporary and freelance work since then, and completed a couple of internships, but none of these leads turned into the long term position I needed to secure our home. This has been the first time I’ve really known what unemployment, and the threat of losing everything at any moment, was like.

I reached a point where I lost hope of finding a good company and a job I enjoyed, I just wanted something that took advantage of my technical skills and paid the bills. My Job Center reached a point where they wanted me to take any job, such as bagging bread in the supermarket, or cleaning in hotels when I would be on my feet all day, which is not great when that causes you nerve pain. They didn’t care if I could pay the bills they just wanted my case closed. I wondered if I was finally being thrown on the scrap heap; that I had passed my peak and should be grateful for anything.

At the end of 2013 however I lucked out and managed to get a temporary job as an in-house software developer to cover an employee whilst they were receiving treatment at a hospital. As I was willing to start will little notice, and I happened to know someone at the company, I managed to squeeze my foot in the door. I was told from the start that they wanted to expand their development team and after 6 months it was very likely the job would become permanent. However by the time we reached May 2014 the funds for the position had dried up after two major clients slashed their budgets. So I was back to being unemployed again.

By then I had noticed some of the differences in the Danish job market, compared to Britain, I knew I had to try another tactic if I was going to keep this spell of unemployment short. The answer came to me on the 20th of June 2014 at the Forge 2 conference in Copenhagen when I saw a talk from Laura Jul.

Laura Jul at forge 2

Laura talked about her employment issues: being trapped in a 80 hour work week and her employers dared to ask for even more of her time. She talked about how this routine equated to having no life beyond work and sleep, and the toll it took on her well being. At the end of the talk Laura described how she found her new job, when she posted her story online – detailing what kind of position and company she was looking for, as she had no time to job search. After being flooded with offers Laura found a home at Rise Digital, where they aim for a 30 hour work week to promote a good work-life balance. Laura Jul’s prevailing message though, that has stuck with me ever since, is how important it is to dare to be vulnerable; to put yourself out there and go for what you want. This was shortly followed by an announcement that they needed more web developers at her new company.

In that moment I knew that I had to apply. I spent a week thinking about how I was going to write my own employment story to accompany my application. In the end I wrote about being fired due to sickness, after working 3 years for a company; how I found, once I was better, that my verbal Danish skills proved a huge barrier to work. My Danish lessons had been de-funded part way through a module by the kommune, the after-effects of which caused me to start and stop my lessons with three different schools. I talked about my fears of losing the house, my first impression of being unemployed – and my overwhelming desire to work with everyone at Rise Digital. They were exactly what I was looking for.

I realised right then how badly I needed to tell my story to someone outside my inner circle. I had been holding myself in reserve, in an attempt to avoid showing the parts of myself that might affect my job prospects. It had not occurred to me that this risk is what a company might be looking for. Usually these topics are the kind of things that get your CV tossed in the bin, no matter how good it is. I had been so used to trying to fit the mould all the advisers had been trying to squeeze me into for the past year that I felt I was not free to be myself. When I finally wrote my personal story and sent it to Laura it was an amazing release. I knew then it was necessary to dare to be vulnerable, if for no other reason than to be sane with it all. Within the week I was hired after just one interview.

Rise Digital

One of the things I liked about the position was that it helped to round out my resume with more front-end work; as I have specialised in back-end development over the years. Instead of all my hard work being inaccessible without a valid login, it was great to finally develop websites I could show to other people (see: CarlsbergForFan & GreenGo).

I wish I could say that was the end of the story. Until a couple of weeks ago this was roughly where I was going to stop this post, but the truth is that after a couple of months I was unfortunately let go. They needed someone with more front-end skills; however, we did discuss the possibility of some freelance back-end work in the future. When they told me that my permanent contract was going to end I had to face the reality that Hermit Studio was at risk again.

During that emotional roller-coaster ride, and the days following, I reflected on the crossroads that I found myself in, what was and wasn’t working, and two things stood out: the idea of becoming a mentor, and the idea of becoming a full-time freelancer. It felt like it was finally time to risk the transition from permanent to contract work.

It occurred to me that maybe the reason I was having such a hard time was because I had to create the job I was looking for. I had been holding back for fear of not making enough to cover the bills from month to month with irregular freelancing, but since I couldn’t rely on permanent work either right now I had little left to lose.

When I considered becoming a mentor, after watching a video online that brought up the topic, I felt energised and knew intuitively that it was worth exploring. I love to help people, and I have always found ways to express this during my schooling and career. With 15 years experience in web development I liked the idea of sharing it through pair-programming, code reviews, tutoring, and generally guiding other developers online.

In the process of researching on the Internet I came across codementor by accident, and found myself drawn in. It didn’t take long before I felt compelled to apply, daring to take the next step on my journey to find my dream job. Rise had been an important step, and although it did not work out in the way I had hoped, it was as essential a part of the tapestry of my life as any other experience. Now it is time to weave a new path and I am truly excited to see where it leads…

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” – Arthur Ashe

Niamh Brown at codementor

Do you need a Code Mentor? Then make my day! I can help you with: PHP – SQL – .NET – HTML – CSS – JavaScript – MySQL – C# – jQuery – WordPress

Do you need a freelance Web Developer, Writer, or Proofreader? Hire me directly: hermits@HermitStudio.com

Want to be the first to know when I’m available? Then join my mailing list for instant updates: http://eepurl.com/2enKD

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How I Got in Print for the First Time and Why It Took so Long…

NovoPulp 2013/2014 Anthology

NovoPulp 2013/2014 Anthology

Although I have been writing fiction seriously since 2000, and I have published articles on websites and blogs since 2007, I am finally in print for the first time this month. A lot of my early writing years were taken up on a 6 book Sci-Fi series that involves a form of commonplace time travel. In order to do it justice I’ve had to write all out of order. It took many years before I could show anyone just the first few chapters. To date I have:

  1. Book One: Second Draft (Rewrite)
  2. Book Two: First Few Chapters + Detailed Outline
  3. Book Three: Two-Thirds of the First Draft + Detailed Outline
  4. Book Four: Sketchy Outline
  5. Book Five: Few Odd Chapters + Outline
  6. Book Six: Few Odd Chapters + Outline

In 2007 I finally had enough of having nothing to show for my hard work and I wanted to be published. I knew it would mean I would have to reduce how much time I spent on the series of novels, but it was a price I was willing to pay. Within one month of going freelance I got my first paid assignment and it just took off from there.

Since then I have written online for: Symphonical, CMS Critic, Degree Search, Hermit Studio, Bite-sized Blitz, Helium, HubPages, Squidoo, TBIU, and (b)human. By 2013 I had made the transition to spending more time writing articles, blog posts, and engaging on social networks than I did on my fictional novels.  In January of that year however I was also handed the reins of the NovoPulp project from Hermit Studio – Press Division. This was my chance to get in print and learn about the self publishing business at the same time, without having to commit a huge word count. I had a short story I had written 4 years earlier and I submitted it to the NovoPulp editor pool and I was really happy with the end result.

The aim of NovoPulp is to anthologise a collection of pulp inspired short stories and artwork by Google+ authors and artists and publish in time for Christmas each year. That was the plan at least, and still is the plan, but unfortunately it was not how it worked out in our first year as we stumbled along in the dark learning as we went. Three months later than scheduled, however, we have finally produced the first anthology. The proof of concept was complete.

I know I have learned so much that next time round I can make a number of changes to the internal processes to avoid the pitfalls we fell into with the first book. Now I know how easy it is to self publish through outlets like CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, and Google Play Books I know this is just the beginning. NovoPulp has definitely inspired me to meet the next writing milestone: to self publish an entire book of my own! Watch this space 🙂

Bite-sized Blitz Newsletter: Practical Productivity in Bite-sized Steps

Hermit Studio Press

I recently started work on a new book about productivity, which I call the ‘Bite-sized Blitz’. During the process of forming the idea behind it I have come to realise that, without knowing it, I had a huge passion for productivity. I am always looking for ways to be more productive in the fast pace age I find myself in, but it took me a while to realise I had enough knowledge to write about it regularly. I wrote one productivity piece about 5 years ago called Distributed Organizational Tools, but nothing much since except in my day job as a Web developer. I have tried many more tools and methodologies since than, so I realised I had enough material to fill a productivity blog.

Although the Bite-sized Blitz blog shares the same name with my book, it will have one difference. This blog will be about sharing the…

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Publications Page Updated to Include CMS Critic

Niamh Brown at CMS Critic

Click to go to my Author Bio on CMS Critic

This is just a quick post to say that I’ve added a section on my publications page for the CMS Critic related articles I’m writing. I’ll try and keep it up to date but you can always find it on my author bio on the CMS Critic website.

We are the Featured Post on the Front Page of CMSCritic.com

Last week I got an offer to write freelance for CMSCritic.com and I’m pleased to say my first article was released tonight. It is called “Squarespace 6 Review and the Long Awaited Commerce Solution“. Every share, like and +1 counts, as it keeps the sponsors happy, which frees up more funds for us writers 😀

Here is a screen shot of my article on the front page:

Niamh Brown on the front page of CMSCritic

Niamh Brown on the front page of CMSCritic

Chronic Incompetence and Communication Breakdown at Dankse Bank

danske-bank Over the last few months I have experienced some truly unacceptable behaviour from Dankse Bank, which up until this year I had been entirely happy with. Some of which would have probably been illegal back in my home country of Britain. After many attempts to pro-actively solve the issues I mention below I was left with the only recourse of writing about it in the hope of drumming up some bad publicity for them. It seems because they are the largest bank in Denmark that they can afford to ignore anything that is inconvenient to them. What follows has occurred in the period between May and December of 2012:

It all started back in May when without warning they changed the overdraft agreement on my Basis+ checking account. As described on their website one of the features for this account is:

“An overdraft facility of DKK 10,000 with no set-up costs – may be raised subject to agreement with us”

I had never breached this amount, I believe the most I had ever used was around 6000 kr. Then when I tried to pay my bills in May I kept getting an error saying there was insufficient funds available. When I phoned up I was told (without any written warning on their part) that the overdraft had been removed because “we had used it too much”, with an implication we were abusing it. After arguing down the phone at a few people, including a manager, we finally got a new agreement upgrading the Basis+ account to a Danske 24/7 account with a 20,000 kr overdraft limit, as well as a new MasterCard credit card with a 10,000 kr limit. As stated in section 16 of their terms and conditions stopping my overdraft even breaks their own policy:

“We may change the card conditions without giving notice if the change is to your advantage. Otherwise, changes are subject to three months’ notice. We will inform you of changes electronically or by letter.”

Sometime passed until we hit the next snag. On the 22nd of September we had the funds to pay off our MasterCard balance in full. However after doing this we found that Dankse Bank had set up a transfer for the full amount to go out on the 1st of October. We called, explained the situation and tried to get this duplicate transfer removed. We were called back and told it would not go through. A few days later we saw the duplicate transfer was still showing on the eBanking website and went through the same process again, where we were assured over the phone it would not go through. 1st of October hits and the duplicate transfer goes through, removing money in error that was needed to pay my direct debits (PBS in Denmark). This caused one of them to fail as it took me over my overdraft limit and I was charged 150kr. I called Dankse Bank again and finally got through to a woman who actually could do something and put the money back into the Danske 24/7 account so we could use it, as it is not possible to transfer or pay bills via the MasterCard online.

When I emailed Dankse Bank to get the fee refunded via their secure mail system online I asked them why this duplicate transfer had been set up. Their reply was there was 100% automatic repayment that is calculated on the 20th of each month. Since we had paid the balance via bank transfer after the 20th the duplicate was already in place. Now I don’t know about you but I have NEVER heard of a credit card with automatic 100% repayment. The whole point of a credit card it that it can be paid in instalments with a minimum amount required each month. 100% is NOT a credit card! Their argument in the end was that was just the way things were done in Denmark. This again was an arbitrary change in our agreement without notice as we had not encountered this issue between May and September 2012.  The 100% repayment was still out of odds with what their website says about the monthly repayment amount required:

“10 or 15 per cent of the invoiced amount – but always at least DKK 250. [OR] a fixed amount – but always at least 5 per cent of the credit limit.”

In their email when they explained the automatic repayment they said the following:

“The MasterCard is a Creditcard, with automatic repayment. You can choose to pay 10% every month, but if you do so, the credit won’t be without interests (sic), as it is now.
So I will recommend you to keep your card, as it is now – that is the cheapest solution for you.
” 

After reading this on the 14th of October (10 days after I emailed them) we knew that this would cause us a problem for December as we had to charge a large amount to the Master Card again (we waited until after the 20th of October to give us another month). We tried for 7 weeks to get this resolved in good time. This is where Danske Bank royally screwed up. First of all they just flat out ignored our emails requesting the automatic repayment be changed to 10% as requested via our emails. After this had gone on long enough that we were within a couple weeks of approaching deadline of the 20th again we started calling them.

The banking system in Denmark is very “Branch Orientated” and decisions like these to flip a switch in a database from 100% to 10% require that only a person in your branch specifically assigned to this kind of enquiry handle the case – causing a huge unnecessary bottle neck in the decision chain. This turned out to be the person who had been ignoring my emails. Whenever I called I was told no-one was available and that someone will call me back. When this happened 4 or 5 times we demanded to stay on the line until we could speak to a manager. When we finally got through after much raised voices and frustration the manager finally forced the guy who should have done this a month ago to change the automatic repayment. Unfortunately it was a day too late (maybe even by a few hours!) and he said that it wouldn’t take effect until January, meaning the full balance was due on December 1st which completely defeated the point. We had to get him to cancel all my direct debits/PBS transfers so we didn’t get charged again. Here was his solution to the transfer problem that was created entirely by his inaction:

“I’ve now changed your MasterCard to the 10% option instead of 100%. But, unfortunatly I can’t do it so it works from the 1st of december, which means that there will be a transfer between your 24/7 account and the MasterCard of XXXX,XX kr.Therefore I have to ask you to go to an ATM on the first of december and withdraw the money from the MasterCard and put it back in to you (sic) 24/7 account.After that it will work with 10% payment (from the 1st of january) The withdrawal causes a fee – a fee I’ll make sure to refund december 2nd!”

This was entirely unacceptable: First the 1st of December was a Saturday when the banks weren’t open (he couldn’t even check the calendar to get the first working day of the month right!). Second there is a cash limit withdrawal meaning I would actually have to go out 4-5 days in a row to get enough cash out to deposit it. Third we had little confidence he would actually refund any of the fees considering his past behaviour. Fourth the bank in my local town has closed down so for me to get to the nearest branch to pay the money back into my account I have to go to a town I never have reason to go to, which is a 25 min bus ride, plus a train and a walk half way down the high street. I am disabled so doing this in the cold weather can cause me a fair amount of pain, besides which I can’t afford to lose half my day, everyday for a week when I’m supposed be spending my time finding a new job just because he was incompetent to begin with. I replied:

“Can you explain why you want to us to go find 4-5 ATMs to get the full amount of money we need out to put in my 24/7 account (which by the way is a real pain for many reasons) when last month (when the credit card was paid twice by mistake) they just set up a transfer from the mastercard back to my 24/7 account? Why was that possible last month but not now? Please can you just set up a transfer from mastercard to 24/7 account (like we did last month) for 90% of the balance paid, as we said before ATM solution is unacceptable.”

We got nothing back from him. We tried calling again and got promises of call backs that never came, as well as promises of call backs after hearing we had promises before that never came – that also never came. In the end we think we made 15-20 calls wasting much of our time and energy for the days in question trying to get this resolved. At no point was it possible in all these times we called to get through to a person with the authority to do this. It was a complete stonewall. Of course the full balance came out on the 1st of December leaving us way over my overdraft limit. I decided to see if this would grant us an audience with someone who could handle it. It did not. The closest we came was the standard “you are overdrawn letter” on the 15th of December that the computer sends out.

We tried sending a fresh mail in the hope someone else would get it and handle it better. In the end the only response we got was:

“It is not possible to make a transfer from your MasterCard account [back to your 24/7 account]”

We have of course complained to Dankse Bank in writing but since they are investigating themselves we doubt anything will come of it. They haven’t acknowledged the complaint and we have heard nothing to suggest it is being looked at. So we decided not to waste any more of our time or energy on it.  I’ve decided to change branch whenever I have a chance to get to the one nearest me to see if it was just that my branch in Store Kongensgade was a bad egg. Until then I’ve opened an account with another bank entirely called Nordea as they have a large office in my local town so the trip is nowhere near as bad. As soon as I can pay off my debts at Danske Bank I will transfer my custom to Nordea entirely.

I would really appreciate it if you would spread this post around and drum up as much bad press as we can. I doubt it will make a dent in their profits but it would be interesting to see if it finally get a human response out of them.

Hermit Studio Press

black_smoke_the_cancer_large

‘The Cancer’ by Niamh Brown – Christmas Special: Save over 30%!

I recently had the pleasure of having my science fiction short story ‘The Cancer’reviewed by +Charles Strebor on Google+ It was a wonderful boost and it prompted me to do something I had been meaning to do for a while, which was to update the cover (see above) and a few other details.

I’ve been trying to get the discount option working on the new version as well, but it doesn’t seem to want to work so I’ve reduced the price by over a third instead. (I only wish cutting the cancer rate were so easy.)

I also updated the store front details to use Hermit Studio Press, now that we have the business set-up (it was originally Niamh Press). For a direct link to the ebook ‘The Cancer’ click here.

Unfortunately when I updated the project…

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