How to make your summer internship a success

IMG_1888-e1496689718596-986x1315A few weeks ago, TransLoc’s interns started work. Each year, TransLoc hires a handful of interns across departments to help us tackle projects and help them gain work experience. We take onboarding seriously here at TransLoc, even for our interns. They are welcomed with balloons, company swag, and approximately five pounds of their favorite candy. With all the Reese’s Cups, Kit-Kats, and Sour Patch Kids we have floating around, it’s a good thing walking trails surround our office and a gym sits right across the road.

In addition to the copious amounts of sugar, one of our other onboarding practices is a one on one with each department head to share how their department advances TransLoc’s mission, introduce the other people on the team, and share any other TransLoc wisdom worth sharing.

This past week, during my meeting with our new interns Kayleigh, Joyce, Nancy, and Jess and our new salesperson Dustin, I introduced them to my department and also provided some advice on how to make the most of their experience at TransLoc. Beyond their usefulness in the short term, these tools can also help them identify compatible organizations to work for, wherever they end up later in their career.

Here’s the advice I shared:

Turn your inexperience into an asset

It’s easy for someone new to an organization to question their ability to contribute, especially those just starting out in internships or entry-level positions. What do you know about the industry? Or the products? Or even the company culture? Probably not much. And while this lack of knowledge undermines many newbies’ confidence to contribute, that’s a mistake. Your very inexperience is what makes you so valuable.

You possess a perspective that is free from the assumptions or blind spots that those of us who have been neck deep in the business for years have missed. So how do you turn this inexperience into an asset? Ask good, hard questions. Listen carefully. Apply logic to what you hear and politely ask for clarification if things don’t make sense. Bad organizations will be threatened by this questioning and it’s better you learn that quickly. Good organizations will welcome this approach and your contribution to the “marketplace of ideas.”

Make your teammates look good

In any organization, there is always more work to be done than can be possibly be done. Only the most effective “Essentialists” will ruthlessly prioritize the most important things and clear the decks of the extraneous fluff that doesn’t move the needle. For the rest of us, we’re in a constant battle between the urgent, the important, and the “Holy Crap.”

Recognizing that your boss and your colleagues likely exist in this world is the first step towards using this reality to your and the organization’s benefit. The more you can anticipate their needs, ask for work, or just jump in and start identifying problems you can tackle, the more they will appreciate you. Another benefit: it allows you to practice a critical skill that will be necessary as you grow in your career: making a recommendation. Many times, your boss will take your recommendation and implement your ideas. Other times will be opportunities to get great feedback on what your recommendation may be missing. It can be scary to open yourself up in this way, but great managers appreciate this initiative.

Begin with the end in mind

You won’t work here forever. Whatever job you’re in, it will be for a finite time, even if you do not always know the specific length of time that will be. So it’s important to begin with the end in mind. As Yogi Berra so eloquently stated: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

So think about what those bullet points are that you want on your resume when you finish your internship or job. Is there a specific skill or software you’d like to learn or a specific type of project you want to gain experience in? Share that with your manager so that they can help figure out a way to make that happen, which is easier if the skills you want to learn are something your team needs.

A caveat: beginning with the end in the mind doesn’t mean that you run as a one-man wolfpack, pursuing projects that benefit only you. It simply ensures that both your interests and the organization’s interests align so that you both receive value, which is how any good relationship works. The motivation sweet spot is where your interests and career goals intersect with the needs of your team and manager.

What other advice would you share with our newest employees as they begin their TransLoc careers?

P.S. If you would like to work at TransLoc–either as a full-time employee or as intern–please let us know!

(Crossposted from the TransLoc Blog)

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The intersection of transit and diversity

E3A13C32-3706-4B45-A258-37971625C87CIn March, I chaperoned my daughter’s third-grade class on a walking and public transit field trip to explore economic development in downtown Durham.  As a working parent, I don’t get to attend as many school day events as I would like.  But, beyond the obvious connection of this trip to my work in transit, this outing appealed to me for one important reason: it highlighted the innate inclusiveness and diversity embodied by public transportation.

My daughter’s public school is roughly ⅓ white, ⅓ Hispanic, and ⅓ African-American.  Over half of the kids at school qualify for free and reduced lunch, indicating a larger issue of food insecurity for children in Durham. Her school truly reflects the diversity of the area. Our use of the fare-free Bull City Connector—and the ½ mile walk each way to the bus stop—ensured that the field trip came at no cost to these children, allowing all kids to participate, regardless of means. It also gave me an opportunity to blow the kids’ minds when I used TransLoc Rider to tell them exactly when the bus would arrive. I even managed to sneak in some learning by asking them to count to 120 until the bus that was 2 minutes away would arrive.

Public transit at its heart embodies and celebrates diversity. Its fundamental mission to provide equitable access invites diversity of age, background, income, and physical ability. You don’t have to be rich to use it, but you can be.  You don’t have to be able-bodied to use it, but you can be. You don’t have to be a third grader to use it, but you can be.

Beyond the introduction to public transit, the field trip was powerful in other ways. On the heels of February’s Black History Month, our tour guide, third-grade parent and former city councilman Farad Ali, showed the students Parrish Street, Durham’s famed Black Wall Street. Here, many of Durham’s minority-owned businesses sprouted in the early 20th century. In unique symmetry, with March being Women’s History Month, the class visited two woman-owned businesses now taking up residence on Parrish Street as it begins another transformation.

The week after the field trip, I found myself again at the intersection of diversity and transit at TransLoc’s office a few miles south of Parrish Street.  It was International Women’s Day and our CEO reflected on the impact that our women employees have on TransLoc:

I want to thank each and every one of you for all that you do here and everything you bring to TransLoc. We wouldn’t be where we are today, as special a place to work, nor would we reach the heights I know we’ll reach without you. You are truly valued and appreciated and I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with you all.

At TransLoc, we’re taking concrete steps to create a more diverse work environment by assigning indexed, market-based salaries for each role we hire for.  These indexed salaries eliminate the need for negotiation, which research indicates disproportionately benefits men.  As a result, we have increased racial and gender diversity to 49% of the company in 2016, up from 32% in 2015.  Our commitment to diversity at TransLoc serves multiple purposes. Sure, it’s a smart business decision, as non-homogenous teams are smarter. But, it’s also the right thing to do.

Our mission is that of seamless mobility: to create a world where all modes of transportation are fully connected into a single, integrated network with transit at the center. At the core of this mission is our belief that transit is an equalizer, a democratizing force, transit is for all—much the way it was during my daughter’s third-grade field trip.

Transit’s role in promoting diversity started way before TransLoc entered the scene a few years ago and it will continue long into the future. In the meantime, we are excited to do our part in helping to reinforce its importance on our way towards accomplishing our mission to create seamless mobility and make transit the first choice for all.

Crossposted from a post I wrote for the TransLoc blog.

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High Intensity Interval Training for the Community

One of the great joys in life is volunteering in the community with your children.  Children are impressionable and exposing them now to the benefits of volunteering will pay dividends down the road.  The trick is to find volunteering that will hold their interest.  Enter High Intensity Interval Training for the community.

With three kids, two jobs, and one busy life, my wife Sarah and I are big fans of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).  I first learned about HIIT in a New York Times article citing the benefits of a “7 minute workout” that cycled participants through 12 exercises using only body weight and a chair in only 7 minutes.  Since then, we’ve found a free Johnson & Johnson app that has several pre-planned HIIT workouts as well as the ability to customize your own.   It gets your heart rate up and is a great complement to my running.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised recently to find a couple volunteer activities that help the community, are family-friendly and provide a good workout to boot.  

Stop Hunger Now, a Raleigh non-profit whose mission is to “end hunger in our lifetime,” packages thousands of meals in a couple hours with a highly efficient assembly line comprised of dozens of volunteers.  My kids and I ran from table to table collecting packaged meals to put them into boxes.  The payoff?  Ringing a gong every time we packed 250 meals.  Seriously, what kid isn’t going to be excited to ring a gong?

StopHungerNow

The Diaper Bank of North Carolina offers a similarly accessible environment to volunteer with kids.  The Diaper Bank converts donated pallets of diapers into packages of 50 for local community partners to distribute to their clients who cannot afford to buy clean diapers.  When our family volunteered together on Sarah’s birthday, we packaged 3800 diapers in an hour and a half.  We were hustling to count, stack, and package diapers and I definitely broke a sweat.  More importantly, the kids were able to help out with the packaging, continuing their exposure to ways to help in the community.  

DiaperBank

So if you’ve been looking for a way to get your kids volunteering in the community (and get you a workout to boot), check out these ways to get involved with Stop Hunger Now and the Diaper Bank of North Carolina.  And let me know if you have other High Intensity ways to get your kids involved with volunteering!

Above the clouds

It was one of those days where you’re not sure whether you should be flying or not. It was midday, but the sky was dark, the rain is falling, and the wind was howling. You just have to trust that your pilot has been through this before and can handle it.

We push back from the gate and start our taxi. As we hurtle down the runway, our speed forces the rain on the window to move from vertical to horizontal. We start heading up into the teeth of the storm.And then we break through the clouds and it’s sunny and clear. None of the gray clouds or rain are present. It’s as if we are in a different world.  

This should be self-evident. This is simple science. I’m sure I learned about this in sixth-grade science. But, if you can’t tell, I wasn’t always paying attention when I was in school. 

But it isn’t self-evident. When you are in the midst of the storm, it feels like it is that way everywhere. And that’s true whether we’re talking about weather or we’re talking about the storms in our mind.    

The trick is remembering that the storms aren’t everywhere. It’s always clear above the clouds. 

So how do you stay above the clouds?

Photo credit

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The humanity beneath your Uber driver’s star rating

“How’s business?”
“I’m not talking to customers today.”
Well, this is getting interesting.
I persisted. “What’s going on?”
“Some guy gave me 2 stars yesterday.  And I drove for 13 hours yesterday and made $37.”

When I booked my Uber on my way to the Houston airport, I noticed the driver–Anne–had 4.7 stars out of five.  Most drivers care very much about their star rating, with Uber penalizing drivers if their star rating drops too low.  4.7 stars is about the lowest I’ve ever seen an Uber driver.

When my colleague John and I got into our Uber and had the above exchange, I got an inkling of why she may have received two stars from a passenger.  Anne was having a bad day or, likely, several bad days.  I had known Anne all of 30 seconds and she had made quite an impression on me.  

I recalled a recent terrific podcast Tim Ferriss hosted with comedian Whitney Cummings.  In it, Whitney describes how she deals with the daily struggles of life and people and her needs and their needs.  She simply says to herself prior to interacting with anyone for the first time, “I love you.” This simple act humanizes the person and allows her to see that they are just as frail and broken as she is, though in different ways.

After the humanless computer program failed to deliver any decent fares yesterday and some guy penalized her for feeling frustrated, Anne was feeling unhuman.  The easy way out would have been to simply murmur something polite and then stare out the window for the next 20 minutes and hope she didn’t say anything else.  

But Anne opened up.  “I just graduated from nursing school and I can’t find a job so I’m doing Uber to pay the bills in the meantime.”  As she talked about her 22 years as a phlebotomist, her passing of the state nursing boards last week, and the other humanless computer program online that overlooked her resume since she hadn’t seeded it with relevant keywords, I looked at her less as a number of stars and more as a human.

As she talked, her voice and her eyes conveyed her passion for helping children and cancer patients.  She understood intuitively that being a nurse is only partly about technical skills, but more about connecting with her patients.  These kids were scared to have their blood drawn and she let them have control on when she did it because kids in hospitals often feel like they don’t have any.

After faceless computer programs kept dinging her, Anne felt that she didn’t have control either.  John recommended an organization that he had volunteered with, Jobs for Life, that connects job seekers with volunteer mentors to help with the transition to work.  

Not only will mentors and informational interviews help unlock the hidden job market where most jobs are found, but those people you meet along the way become your cheerleaders.  They give you hope when you feel like you can’t write one more cover letter or thank you note.  

As we were getting out of the car at the airport, Anne remarked to me and John, “You have been so helpful. And I wasn’t going to talk to you today!”

I’m glad a computer program can’t get in the way of that.  

Uber Receipt

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Architecture Inside Out

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I’ve loved architecture for as long as I can remember.  In high school math class, in the height of irony, I sketched baseball stadiums on my graph paper when I should have been paying attention to the information needed to become an actual architect.  And I devour those coffee table books bookstores always have on sale near the registers, highlighting the world’s coolest structures.

On my first trip to Silicon Valley a few years ago, I expected this area of mythic proportions in US business would be dense, pulsing with energy, and filled with cool architecture.  It wasn’t.  My visits to Google, Apple, and Microsoft found bland office buildings plopped near freeways. I noticed this same phenomena when I visited Zappos headquarters for a tour in 2013.  Zappos’ bland office buildings were indistinguishable from the rest of the sand-colored office buildings in the Las Vegas suburbs.

This image of multi-billion dollar companies in their suburban wastelands surrounded by parking lots was what I imagined when TransLoc announced our move in early 2014 to a bland office building in the suburbs plopped near the freeway surrounded by thousands of empty parking spaces.

We exchanged our urban address surrounded by college students for an office park for the same reason that those blue chips did so: access to enough space to collaborate and grow, ease of transportation access, and the right price per square foot.

I was scared about this move.  After growing up in the mountains with plenty of room to run, I’m now almost completely citified. Cities provide energy from the density of people, the ability to walk to nearby interesting places, and access to good food.  I recently finished a fantastic book called Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser that the subtitle describes as “How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier.”  I believe it. The thought of moving to a suburban office park depressed me.

Our old office on a main thoroughfare in Raleigh near NC State University allowed us to walk around campus and gather that energy.  The inside of our old space, however, was limited.  Our teams couldn’t collaborate well because we were physically split between two suites, there was no collaboration space even if we could get together, and the low ceilings and bland walls didn’t inspire anyone.  I was one of the few who still thought it was fine, simply because I don’t need many creature comforts to do my work.

As I pondered this disconnect between my feelings on the external location and the internal finishings, I realized that–contrary to many–I have an external bias when thinking about workspace.  That makes sense, right?  The first rule of real estate is “Location, location, location.”  You can’t change location but you can always change the interior, even if many don’t.

What I didn’t appreciate–and perhaps what all those in Silicon Valley believe–is that if the inside of the space meets your needs, the external matters less.  Thankfully, our company hired an architect to help design the workspaces, collaborative areas, and to use color and furniture to help make the space more attractive and help our teams work together more closely.  Exterior location may still always be more important to me than many of my colleagues, but the value of the collaboration space, high ceilings, and liberal use of color has blunted the negative impact of the location.

The best spaces recognize that the interior and exterior must work together to achieve the goals of the tenant.  And recent indications are that there is a positive change in appreciation for both the exterior of the building and the location.  Shortly after my tour of their suburban headquarters, Zappos moved to a renovated modernist building in downtown Las Vegas and Google recently released their plans for their new headquarters that will “transform the sea of parking into a natural landscape.”

And I only learned this by looking at architecture inside out.

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Cheapest Marriage Advice Ever

jogging at beach http://barnimages.com/

jogging at beach http://barnimages.com/

And it’s not what you think.

Sure, spending more time talking or cuddling with your spouse is important but I do that already.

So what’s the best way to deal with the inevitable frustrations that come from being married, managing a household,and raising children?

The simple way that my wife and I dealt with that is: if one of us wants to exercise, the other has to let them. Simple, right?

We came to this plan after a particularly tough stretch that included stress,  short tempers, and not nearly enough sleep. As we tried to figure out the root cause of all of these frustrations, we reflected that we didn’t have any of these frustrations when we exercised regularly.

We enacted a family rule that gave us each the power to exercise whenever we needed it. And while neither of us has abused this privilege, we’ve each had moments where we’ve had to use every bit of patience to accept that is what our partner needs at that moment.

The benefits of this commitment have been obvious for our family. Healthier, less stressed spouses and parents setting positive examples for our children every day.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you.

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A reading/writing ritual

I love to read books.  And yet I’m often distracted by the siren song of my iPad and its candy-coated delivery of snarky sports websites and boring email.

And I love to write.  And yet I’m often paralyzed by my ability to develop an idea fully or what others may think of it, so it just festers like a half-eaten croissant in a dumpster.

If I want to do these things more, I need to habituate myself.  I’ve been getting up early in the morning to exercise–when the house is quiet and distractions are few- so I’ve got a roadmap on how to successfully add another habit.  For me, the hardest part is not the habit itself–I’ve got plenty of willpower–it’s the decision to create the habit.

I had set aside some time in my morning routine for reading and writing before, but I was finding that the amorphous and large amount of time I set aside for it made it harder for me to stick to it. I’ve learned from my own experience and others that it makes sense to start with small goals.

So, my goal for January is simple:  write and read for just 9 minutes a day each.  I’ll add a minute a month so that by the end of the year, I’ll be up to 20 minutes a day of writing and 20 minutes of reading.  That doesn’t sound like much, but that’ll be over 85 hours each of reading and writing in a year.  That would be like taking a month off of work to just read and write.

You may wonder where this desire to devote this much time to reading and writing came from.  I’m a big consumer of other people’s talents (TV, sports, books, websites, good food).  High-speed internet access, digital cable, iPads, and Amazon have made it easier than ever to consume these items.  And this ease obscures the thousands of hours of hard work and practice that goes into making something of quality, whether that is a page-turner book, an exciting football game, or a grits souffle umami bomb (RIP, Magnolia Grill). It is only by consuming quality books mindfully and then finding my own voice by writing will I truly appreciate the work of those creators.

Follow along as I track my progress and let me know what you think.

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New Year, New Hike

Count me among those who find New Year’s resolutions tiresome.  People who make a big deal out of them in January almost invariably don’t mention them by December.  Maybe the word resolution has too much baggage.  Or maybe it seems most people who make resolutions are trying to make wholesale changes in their lives, which is difficult and often doomed to fail.

So when my wife told me that the local state park was offering ranger-led hikes on New Year’s Day, the cynic in me said it was a way to grab all those people who recently decided to commit to exercise.   And yet I thought it was a great idea for our family because it was consistent with activities that we already do, like getting 10,000 steps a day.

The timing for the ranger-led hike didn’t work for our family so we chose a family-friendly hike along Cabe Lands Trail in Eno River State Park. Surprisingly, my son’s three-year-old legs made it the whole 1.2 miles. And my five-year-old daughter probably did twice that after spending the first ten minutes challenging herself to run to the next bend of the trail and back in 30 seconds.

It was peaceful being surrounded by woods.  And it made me realize that I don’t spend nearly enough time in nature.  Growing up on ten acres of land in Asheville meant that I spent most of my youth exploring the woods, mostly by myself. This exploration was supplemented by daily bike rides to the pool during the summer and weekly hikes with my family along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Sometime between then and now, I lost this exposure to the outdoors.  Whether it is our family’s urban lifestyle, my newfound appreciation for the dangers of sunburn, or–coincidentally–my sheer hatred of sunscreen, I am now almost completely citified with comparatively little outdoor exposure.  Sure, I go for daily walks in the neighborhood and take the kids to nearby city parks, but not like this hike where I was completely surrounded by nature.  Where I could hear the water rushing over rocks and feel the cool breeze on my face.  Where I noticed the forest reclaiming thousands of fallen trees, a powerful reminder of the circle of life.

And where I could see the wonder of my city kids out in the wilderness.  D carried a stick for most of the trail and conducted an experiment on logs and trees to hear the different sounds they make.  I watched E exploring the limits of her body.  She is more active than she ever has been.  She is jumping off of playground equipment, orchestrating aggressive soccer games in our backyard, and concocting elaborate running tests that I would not have expected six months ago.

This hike was a reminder that our kids need to be active, for their sanity and ours.  So maybe a resolution isn’t such a bad idea after all.  One that is realistic and consistent with our family values would be a welcome addition to our family’s busy lifestyle.  So, this year, we’ll be looking for ways to spend more time as a family outside in nature.

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On authenticity

I’ve conducted 26 interviews over the past two weeks and helped three of my sales colleagues on major presentations to prospects.  And one theme that emerged was an overall lack of authenticity.

Our authentic selves are so much more powerful than the packaged ones that we force ourselves to wear prior to that big job interview or sales presentation.  But why don’t more people use this powerful tool?  Fear.

When we are more focused on getting the job or six-figure deal, we will often compromise on what’s important to us, shield the audience from who we really are, or give the audience what we think they want to hear.  This is dangerous.  It’s also an entirely reasonable feeling to have. We’re afraid that if we reveal our authentic selves, they won’t like us or we’ll lose the deal.  But what is often lost in these headgames we all play with ourselves is that we wouldn’t even want that job or sale if they didn’t respect us for who we are.  

I love this quote (PDF) from Helen Keller that I originally found via Sam Parker at Just Sell:  

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.”

The candidates that stuck out to me and the presentations that resonated with me overcame that fear.  They were authentic.  They were real.  They were, at times, bold.  

One candidate commented on his beautiful wife in his cover letter.  I’m sure that the career services office at his alma mater would be horrified.  And truthfully, I might have been horrified too if it hadn’t been pertinent to him telling his story about why he ended up in Raleigh and why he was interested in working for us and also consistent with his actions and stories during the interview.  

And as a colleague of mine practiced a sales presentation last week, he conveyed the key concepts, but it didn’t resonate with the audience.  Why?  It wasn’t in his own voice.  He hadn’t made it his own yet.  He tweaked it by weaving a personal anecdote about how the blisters his cheap hiking boots gave him will ensure he buys quality boots going forward.      

Both the candidate and my colleague realized the following benefits of authenticity:

  • It forces you to clarify your thoughts.  It’s easy to just parrot back ideas that we read from other places or get from our colleagues.  It’s a lot harder to go through the mental jujitsu necessary to clarify why it matters to you.  But without that clarification, you haven’t shown us who you really are.

  • Your argument will resonate more.  When the presenter or interviewee drops the veneer of “what you’re supposed to say,” the audience automatically starts paying attention.  There’s probably complex psychological and biological reasons for this, but the result is your audience leans in and really opens up their ears.  

  • You stand out.  This is different from how your argument resonates.  How your argument resonates is infinitely more important than standing out.  But there is some value to theatre.  And whether it’s a job interview or a sales presentation, it helps to be remembered.  Think of it as a backstop.  Even if your audience doesn’t remember your whole argument, they may remember enough to re-engage with you or your materials.  

And while interviews are inherently personal affairs where one is expected to talk about oneself, I’m sure some sales manager may be saying “selling is not about me or my sales rep, it’s about the product.”  Being authentic doesn’t mean you have to talk about yourself, but only that you’ve thought enough about the product to frame it as more than just corporate marketing speak or a bland set of product features.  

How can you inject some authenticity into your day today?

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