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Are You Doing Business In The Cloud?

Are You Doing Business In The Cloud?

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    All of my email addresses are directed to my Gmail account. Most of the documents I need on a daily basis are on Google Docs. I’ve been slowly moving towards living in the cloud. In a way, this has been very good for me: I can access just about everything I want, whether I’m in my office, at someone else’s office, a friend’s house or anywhere else with an internet connection. But there are downsides. If something happens to one of the services I use, I’m up the proverbial creek — and the same is true if something happens to my internet connection.

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    Business In The Cloud

    Keeping personal data in the cloud is one thing, but uploading the information you rely on to earn a living is an entirely different matter. The benefits are huge. Just the ability to pull up files while visiting a client’s office can make the difference in landing an account. But risks go hand in hand with those benefits — the likelihood of something happening to your data in the cloud is about on par whether it’s personal or work-related, but the consequences can be far more complicated.

    So far, it’s been difficult to determine whether the risks outweigh the gains. Working from the cloud can be incredible: with just a netbook, you can often access everything you need for a project from half way around the globe. A business will to upload files to the cloud can make it much easier to work with telecommuting employees, along with clients who may need easy access to information. It doesn’t hurt that many online applications come with a price tag that makes the cost of the software many companies currently rely on absolutely laughable.

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    Personally, I’ve found that moving my own work into the cloud has made a major difference in my ability to work on projects. I can work just as easily from a coffee shop as from my office. There were no barriers to me moving my work into online applications, though: if I had needed a supervisor to sign off on my choice of applications and whether they were online, getting to the point that I am now might have been almost impossible.

    Getting The Okay

    Depending on who you work for, moving into the cloud may not be a simple matter. If you’re self-employed, you must reassure yourself that your information will be safe in the online applications you plan to use. That sort of reassurance can include:

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    • Security: If you’re placing any sort of sensitive material online — financial information or files your competitors would be very interested in looking at — you’ll want to double check that each application you use has sufficient security measures in place to protect your data.
    • Backups: In the event that something happens to your data online, you’ll want to make sure that you have a backup in place — even if that means manually downloading your data on a regular basis. Remember, not even Gmail works perfectly every day.
    • Contingency Plan: Making sure that you have access to your information goes beyond creating a backup. If you’re planning a presentation that relies on a file you’ve saved to an online application, for instance, have a contingency plan in place in case you don’t have internet access or you’re not on a computer with the right software to use it.

    All that is necessary just to make sure that you’re able to work in the cloud effectively. If you’re adding an employer to the equation, though, things get more complicated. At a bare minimum, you’ll have to convince your supervisor that your idea to work in the cloud is not only effective but will clearly help the company.

    When it comes to working in the cloud, the “better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” approach seldom works. If you’re thinking of taking even a small amount of your employer’s information into the cloud, I’d recommend against it. Some employees sign contracts specifically stating that they will not share information with a third party — which can include Google Docs. Others get issued a company handbook stating essentially the same thing. That means uploading information to the cloud could constitute a firing offense if something goes wrong.

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    That doesn’t mean that you can’t convince your higher ups to move into the cloud, though: it just means that you’re going to need to be able to reassure them on issues like security and backups before you even think of uploading one file.

    Are You In The Cloud?

    Have you already moved into the cloud? If so, it would be great if you’d be willing to share in the comments how you addressed the issues that go with keeping important information in the cloud. Personally, I stick with a handful of trusted sites, and I still have a few pieces of information I don’t put into the cloud. For instance, I keep my financial records on just one computer in my office.

    I do know some people who simply aren’t interested in moving any of their work into the cloud, for one reason or another. If you fall into this category, it would be great if you’d share your comments on why, as well. Is it due to one of the concerns I listed above, or another issue altogether?

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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