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Kimberly Blessing

Understand and Leverage Your Strengths

4 min read

I like to know things about myself. Don't you? I've taken personality tests and behavioral assessments to be more self-aware, to learn what I should focus on in my personal development efforts, and to better understand how I related to and communicate with other people. OK, and for fun. You've probably done the same, right?

Me with my StrengthsFinder book My strengths are: Command, Deliberative, Significance, Strategic, and Learner.

My favorite self-assessment is one that many people don't know about: StrengthsFinder 2.0. StrengthsFinder is both a book and a test: the book includes an introduction to StrengthsFinder, a code for accessing an online assessment tool, and an explanation of the 34 strengths (or "themes"). The assessment results in a customized report which will help you understand your strengths and how you can use them to be more effective in both your work and your personal life.

Personally, StrengthsFinder has really helped me embrace my strengths. For example, I used to think of myself as "bossy" (because that's how people described me) and I looked for ways of toning down this "weakness". But learning that my number one strength was Command made me feel different -- it helped me understand that being the boss is a natural position for me and that people look to me to lead them. It made me realize that having formal management and leadership responsibilities would make me a happier, more productive person, rather than a cranky and bossy individual contributor.

You may already see why, as a manager, I love StrengthsFinder. We can't all verbalize what we're good at or what kind of work we love to do. For a while, I've asked everyone on my teams to take the test and share their results with me. Once I know what strengths a person has, I can better leverage their skills to make them -- and the team -- more successful.

For example, in the software development community, most programmers have one of the rational temperaments (ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP, or INTP). But if you manage a team of programmers, you can't just look at them as a a bunch of INTJs (a very common type for programmers, though a very small percentage of the overall population) -- you need to see them as individuals. INTJs are introverts and can be brutally honest, but that doesn't mean that they can't be persuasive communicators to large groups. StrengthsFinder gives me far more specific information about a person than a behavior or personality test can tell me.

StrengthsFinder Team Top 5 Grid

Once a group of people complete their StrengthsFinder assessments, you can chart their results to determine overall group themes. I've done this with three teams of employees at different companies and the results are always enlightening. For example, about half of my present team has the "Adaptability" strength -- this is perfect for our team because our product strategy has shifted around quite a bit in recent months, so we have people who can roll with those changes. We also have about 50% "Input" and "Learner": both are crucial to the way we operate. Where we have only one or two people exhibiting a certain strength, I see how I can use those individuals to encourage the overall team, to ask important questions, or to sustain us when the sh*t hits the fan (a necessary evil).

Strengths Finder 2.0

What are you waiting for? Learn more or buy StrengthsFinder 2.0 now and take the test. Learn about yourself. Share the results with your family and team. Encourage others to take it and share their results. At the very least, it should confirm what you already know about yourself -- but I'll bet you'll learn something new, too.

Have you already taken StrengthsFinder? What are your Top 5? What have you learned about yourself or others?

Kimberly Blessing

Review of HTML & CSS: The Good Parts

3 min read

HTML & CSS: The Good Parts

O'Reilly's HTML & CSS: The Good Parts by Ben Henick is a new book to educate and aid web professionals in building quality web experiences. A quick disclaimer about this review: I worked on this book as a technical reviewer and the author is a colleague and friend.

This book is primarily for those who have some experience with HTML and CSS and want to refine their skills -- but even front-end code ninjas will find some valuable reference material in this book. While the title implies a focus on HTML and CSS, Ben takes the time to touch on a number of related topics, such as the client-server model, creating usable interfaces, image optimization, and web typography -- thus giving the reader greater insight on the wider range of knowledge and skills it takes to build a quality web site.

One of my favorite sections of the book is chapter 4, "Developing a Healthy Relationship with Standards." Ben gives an excellent explanation of the history and benefits of standards adoption and then wraps it up with 10 rules for "standards-friendly" development. If you're still trying to make the case for adopting standards where you work, definitely check out this chapter.

If you've read any of the "Good Parts" books then you know that these books also highlight the "bad parts" and "awful parts" of the subject matter. While Ben gives a good overview of the browser wars as context, he spends a number of pages calling out the various issues with Internet Explorer. (I like to think that I helped tone down some of the harsh criticism he originally wrote by reminding him of how advanced IE6 was at the time of its release.) He goes on to explain the concept of graded browser support (something near and dear to my heart) and hits on a number of seemingly nit-picky but important concepts which standardistas care about.

It's really amazing how much information Ben packed into this 352-page book -- far too much for me to address here. Besides touching on HTML5, there's a helpful glossary and numerous reference tables. As I'm writing this review, in fact, I'm sticky-noting the book so I can easily find reference information that will help me in my day-to-day work. That said, you can also sit down and read the book cover-to-cover. (Ben's an incredible writer.)

If you're looking to enhance your skills, improve the quality of your work, find a better job, or even if you just want to have a backup brain handy, I recommend HTML & CSS: The Good Parts.

HTML & CSS: The Good Parts
  • HTML & CSS: The Good Parts
  • by Ben Henick
  • Published by O'Reilly Media, ISBN-13: 978-0596157609
  • Companion web site
  • Buy it from Amazon

Kimberly Blessing

Web Development as a Craft... and Career

3 min read

Karl Dubost's recent post on the craft of HTML coincided with the launch of the first round of Web coding standards at work. Why did we need coding standards? Karl answers that for me in his first paragraph:

HTML is a practical art. In a professional context, it requires precise and extensive skills. As with many popular crafts, the vast majority of people do it on their own, but only a few do it for a living. The quality of products varies a lot.

When you have a team of developers working on a product, you need to set quality requirements... but to meet those requirements you also need to set the expectation that the developers will work in a consistent manner. Sometimes this can be achieved by having the team lead set the direction for the code by crafting templates and doing code reviews. But what happens as team members rotate on and off the project -- how do you retain the knowledge about the coding direction without taking time to bring each person up to speed? What happens as your development team grows to 10, 40, 100 people? This stuff doesn't scale without spelling out the rules and setting expectations... thus the need for coding standards.

But standards alone won't create consistency, of course. When Karl says that "HTML is a craft", he implies that there are techniques that one can only learn through study and practice. When practicing a craft, there are skill levels that reach into the realms of mastery that only few will ever meet. Out of that team of 10, 40, or 100 developers, how many will truly become those masters?

My experience over the past 8 years of working in industry has led me to find that only a few will ever commit themselves to the craft of Web development, and that worries me as a developer and as a manager. We all want job security, and dedicating oneself to excellence in a field implies we're in that field for the long haul. But what career path can a Web developer expect to have today? What opportunities will be available 5 years from know? There are many unknowns and I think that this may be one big reason I don't see more talented developers taking the plunge and committing themselves more fully to Web development as a craft and career.

Karl points to another problem: the "majority of people do it on their own, but only a few do it for a living", which to me implies that most people think anyone can be a Web developer (how many times have you heard someone state that their kid could build a better site?) and therefore they don't take the craft of Web development seriously. I've found that most Web developers who didn't emerge from computer programming backgrounds have serious complexes over whether or not they're "real" developers... and a lot of this is due to snarky computer programmers who put Web developers down because they make the same, stupid assumption that "anyone can do Web development". How is that encouraging to anyone looking at committing themselves to this work as their career? (Nevermind how irrational it is for a computer programmer to dismiss part of their larger discipline.) How is that encouraging to anyone who has hopes of using Web development as a basis for a career that could include programming in other languages?

So what's a developer to do? And what's a manager to do? I'll post my ideas at another time... right now, tell me yours.