Scott Hanselman

I know apps

October 26, 2011 Comment on this post [49] Posted in Musings
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Lots of technologies listed on a resumeA very good friend of mine - not a programmer but a very technical IT professional - sent me their resume to review today and I noticed how the top part of the resume contained a lot of applications, technologies, keywords and acronyms.

At what point do we as a subculture need to stop doing this?

It's so ironic that the most technical amongst us without jobs are asked to create a resume to be consumed by the least technical so that they might facilitate an introduction to the very technical people with jobs to give. Some larger companies *cough*Nike*cough* are rumored to use high speed scanners and OCR to hunt for keywords and assign a weight value to a resume. This just results in us padding our resumes with every TLA (three letter acronym) we've ever encountered.

And why are we still listing Word and Excel? Has anyone missed out on an opportunity or lost a job when they forgot to add Microsoft Office? At what point in an industry or a level of experience does it become compulsory to know these tools?

Aside: Ever get a resume in Microsoft Word format then press the little Paragraph Mark toolbar button that shows tabs and spaces as characters? Not to sound too judgey or anything, but if you really want to know if someone knows Word or not, explore some of the insane feats that the uninitiated can do with a few thousand ill-conceived tabs or spaces.

I am less interested in whether you know Word or Excel and more interested if you know, for example, about iCal files. Could you subscribe to an iCal feed in a calendaring app? (Any calendaring app, to be clear) Could you write a program that creates a feed like this? Do you understand structured data, the many ways to store it and the many ways to move it from place to place?

I am less interested in the fact you have "Mozilla" on your list of Apps you're an "expert" at, and more interested in your understanding of HTTP and what certain headers do, how caching works and how mime-types enable browsers to launch apps. Do you know why bookmarklets are interesting? Why Greasemonkey is useful?

Are you a user? Are you a Real User? Do you actually use the hell out of your applications, your phones, your web sites, the Web itself?

I am less interested in your experience with Basecamp and more interested in how you implemented Agile at your last job. Did you use Scrum or Scrummerfall? What worked and what didn't and more importantly, do you know why?

I blogged years ago how funny it was that folks work for five-plus years to get the privilege of putting ",PhD" at the end of their names, but computer people take a 45 minute test and tack on ",A+,MCSD,MCP,MCSE+I" without a thought.

Why don't we include projects rather than companies on our resumes? How about a little post-mortem with some details about what worked and what didn't and why? Do you have 20 years experience or do you have the same 1 year of experience twenty times?

Do you know how to make text dance? There's a big difference between the XMLs, CSVs, vCards and open text formats of the world and the PSDs and proprietary binary formats of the world. Other than Adobe products that do years to master, I am going to assume you know how to use an application. I'm assuming you've seen a mouse, get the concept behind hotkeys and you can type, although perhaps that's too much to assume.

If you're truly able to make Excel dance or you spent a summer writing a TCP driver, by all means, tell us. If you wrote your own SQL lexer, you're a special person. But instead of a list of applications you know, tell a story about your successes and failures and the applications and technologies that played starring roles in your experiences.

I like what StackOverflow Careers is doing in this space in that a listing emphasizes not just what you've done, but also what you've written and what you've read. The list of technologies only happens in the context of projects you've worked on. Here's an invite if you want to try it. This is not an ad link or an affiliate code. They have advertised on my podcast once before, but I mention them here because their resumes present a more well-rounded picture of an engineer. My profile is at

Personally, I think on my next resume I'll just put this:

Scott Hanselman
I know apps.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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October 26, 2011 10:44
October 26, 2011 10:46
I have never added those things, but then saying that, i sometimes make up a quick one off report using excel. A lot of people cant do that and i cant use the complete power of excel. Nevertheless, I have never come across a point of adding them to my resume.

Maybe we should add an appendix, which is more garble and less functionality designed for bots :)
October 26, 2011 10:46
Really great post Scott!

After a long time of now being on the job market, once you feel the need to change your job,when you start refreshing your resume you don't event know what you even did in the last few years and how to summarize that. I've tried to rewrite my resume and i wrote it exactly like the one you gave us as an example.

October 26, 2011 10:47
Truth be told, I wish more people judges resumés like that. More often than not do you get in contact with these large headhunter firms or scouting agencies that either have no clue whatsoever they're talking about, have no clue what certain technologies/keywords actually mean and contact you in the least convenient way because some keywords got flagged on a resumé that's already collecting dust for a few years in their database.

I've had the chance at one of my previous employers to help out in selecting new candidates for our programming team. Some of those resumés make you want to call the guy and immediatly hire him, only to find out that he actually has no clue what was put on his resumé. As a small example, we worked alot with C++, so we asked candidates to explain the "caller and callee" rule in C++, not many knew the anwser....

The problem I think, is that we're so used to the steorypical resumé that innovations or changes are immediatly shot down. I tried it myself once to create a resumé that listed all the projects I worked on, the feats I achieved and the technologies I learned. I only had a small summary of the companies I worked at, and all the agencies I worked with kept asking the to change the resumé, because companies wouldn't like it.

guess what, I'm a Software Engineer, and I love my job & boss !
October 26, 2011 10:48
Hi Scott,

I totally agree. My last 2 contracts I was hired more because of the work I've done outside of contracts and the fact that I write and research code outside from work as much as I do if I'm getting paid.

I'd also suggest developers to become a stackoverflow user and answer questions. I don't ask questions (That's what Google "I mean Bing" is for)

Now for a small rant. I don't like technical recruiters, although, they do get the contract for us developers because of their handshakes. Sometimes they ask us really idiotic questions. For instance, I was asked, "Do you know how to use Visual Studios and TFS or other forms of source control?"

Well duh, I thought. Any developer who is worth their own grain of salt should be able to know how to use these tools and so I didn't list them; especially being a .Net developer. However, to get the job I had to make a special list of developer tools I had used in the past. </rant>

October 26, 2011 10:50
I'm glad I'm not the only person who feels this way! I'm currently applying for summer internships (Sophomore in college). A lot of my friends will have long lists of languages that they may or may not have any real experience with beyond a week playing around with it. Everything technical on my resume is listed as projects, with me listing what technologies I used for that project, as well as a brief description of that project. I feel that more adequately tells the employer what my skill set is than a long list of programming languages alone.

One example of this is the project I worked on in my last internship. For that internship, I list:

Kinect SDK for Windows

Right now I have three projects listed that I would consider valid examples of my skill set, and they follow that format.

I hope people take your advice and move beyond the silly practice of listing things like "Microsoft Word", which is especially silly for kids in my generation, because I'm pretty sure nearly everybody learned how to use Microsoft Word in grade school. Projects give a way better indication of somebody's skill set.
October 26, 2011 10:54
Well there is a problem with that. At least at the companies where I applied for a job. At my previous employer, the people of HR made the decision who comes on an interview and who doesn't.

They got the assignment to find anyone who is good at SQL Server, Visual Studio and XML. I am not sure how anybody can be good at SQL Server, is that person good at scheduling backups through the SQL Manager or does he write awesome SQL queries?

So if you create a resume that says you have skills in TSQL Querying, C# and XSLT Transformations, that would seem like you are not qualified for the Visual Studio requirement.

Of course this is a ridiculous way of finding new staff and I am not saying that it is this way at every company, but not all companies have software development as their core business. The company mentioned above was focused on publishing books, and I was one of the first developers to be hired. Because of that, there was no-one around that could tell if a person was qualified for what they were looking for.

Nowadays my resume just lists a simple list of my skill set and I mainly mention projects I worked on either professionally or personally. This seems to work better when applying to companies that have software development as core business.
October 26, 2011 10:57
One exception I always make is Excel. It's rarely the best tool, but it's nonetheless a very capable log file parser (great for visualising patterns), BAT/CMD file generator, SQL script generator, and of course pivot takes kick ass. If someone tells me they're an Excel whizz, I expect them to be a very versatile knowledge worker.

October 26, 2011 11:05
I think your opinion is valid for some roles, but not always, particular not with my experience in smaller companies.

Firstly, there's the situation where you get 100+ resumes for a position. Smaller companies tend not to have dedicated HR who are also tech-savvy. So you need to have a way of trimming that number down to a set that you can actually put the time in to reading, and unfortunately that might mean simply weighting resumes based on simplistic criteria.

Secondly, sometimes companies simply need to hire someone who is already up to speed with a certain suite of technologies. The company has X dollars to pay for the position and they need someone asap.

Its all very well when you work for Google and can hire geniuses without specific expertise, then train them up, but for smaller companies the situation can be different. Waiting 6 months before someone can dive into your C# codebase because the applicant only knows VB is sometimes a luxury you can't afford.

I think the misconception here is that the resume is the be-all-and-all of hiring. Of course its not - its only a first step.
October 26, 2011 11:20
Hi Scott,

Love the post! I believe the structuring of resume to point out every single platform, application and such, was a trend in the 90's and early 2000's. Hence, individuals that still use this structure are the ones that have not been involved in the job market for a while.

oh....and I know apps too :)
October 26, 2011 11:21
Good point as usual.
I've been at both ends of the hiring process. One thing I'd like to add is, if you're going to list technologies (which you should) include a score you give yourself (raning from 1 being "I've used this a few times" to 5 being "I could do anyting even remotely possible in this". It really helps to know if someone is good at something or just did one or two small projects with it.

Something else. If you're going to list you're great at Visual Studio, you better know how to write extensions on top of Visual Studio.
Just using the IDE doesn't make you an expert, just as using the internet doesn't make you an expert at HTML.
October 26, 2011 11:32
press the little Paragraph Mark toolbar button

Pah, CTRL+SHIFT+8 more like ;-)
October 26, 2011 11:35
In the first sentence, you say that you're reviewing a resume for a friend which is not a programmer, but an IT professional. That lets me to think that you're friend is an sysadmin.

Sysadminds come in two flavours, namely desktop and server. Actually we can also distinct Windows and *nix systems. For a desktop sysadmin it's more important to 'say' they're an expert with Firefox than a programmer, because if the programmer gets stuck, the sysadmin is called to fix it.

The main problem with resumes is that in most of the cases the first filtering is done by upper-management or HR. The remaining list of applicant for an opening goes to the chief of the department. But if a resume first gets sifted by the IT department it will eventually end up with upper management or HR.

So a resume has to satisfy both groups, most people tend to forget that. So yes, including all those keywords in your resume is a good thing. Upper management has often no knowledge about client side HTTP technology (a.k.a browser), but they do understand the term Internet Explorer or Firefox. They also know the buzzwords from the presentations we (the tech heads) keep feeding them with flashing diagrams.

I have a totally different background than most IT folks. Before I joined a ICT company in 1999, I used to work as a certified plummer, electrician, heating and airco mechanic. So I've learned very fast to include both companies, projects and the tasks I performed on my resume. My resume (20 years experience) is about 32 pages long.

I also noticed that certifications from Brainbench has often the same value as a MCP exam. For those who like to apply for a web developer job, do not forget to include you know HTML and indeed HTTP. While those are implied, you need to specify them for HR or management. I don't read keywords, but I do (like to) read the list of projects you've worked on. If you're application gets selected for the final round, you're invited to visit and solve a few simple cases. That give some insight if you also know how to apply those keywords you've put on your resume. A consistent coding style, comments, unit tests and the ability to solve issues are some things I look for..
October 26, 2011 11:40
I just went through the job-hunt process. Coming from a 12-year small (< 8 people) software company, how do you adequately explain that you helped start the company, developed products in .NET, supported customers, sold software products, lead conferences, washed the dishes in the back room, etc.?

In resume format you just can't, especially if you're applying through recruiting sites online. Those sites are simply looking to box you in to a specific role. They have no place for a complex, well-rounded person. Over 50 resumes submitted, lots of automated email replies, no interviews.

Thankfully, a connection was made via a friend and I'm joining a company that needed someone like me. StackOverflow Careers is definitely a step in the right direction, but I think there's more to do there.
October 26, 2011 12:43
What is really scary is that people are starting to "manage" their career path the same way they write a resume...

I am pretty much interested by the difference you put between "20 years experience" and "same 1 year of experience twenty times" ?
October 26, 2011 12:58
It all depends which job the person is applying to: if he/she seeks a secretary or front-desk position, obviously he must list in the CV the he knows how to use Word, Excel, Outlook a web browser and other apps.

If he wants a programmer or sysadmin job, obviously such list if apps is not relevant and just created noise.

As a developer, a dry list of technologies (.NET, ASP.NET, ADO.NET, WCF, WPF etc.) is necessary to get past the recruitment company or HR filters, but when possible, a list of relevant projects should be included (if there is no NDA signed for those projects) - even if no real clients/projects names are given, a list of projects is still more relevant.
October 26, 2011 13:12

if you have a blog like this, you don't need a resume, just give them the URL to your blog.

For the rest of us - I read somewhere that an average (non-technical) HR person responsible to triage all the incoming resumes takes less than a minute of her time to scan each resume, so if you fail here, your resume will never ever reach the person who might actually have an idea what you're talking about. So that's why we use TLAa, to impress the HR triage instances and make it to the next step. That's what most resume books have been advocating for years.
October 26, 2011 13:31


Really nice post. I would like to show you my friend's resume which is my favorite.


October 26, 2011 13:39
Lots of companies don't even have in their hr responsible persons with enough technical knowledge do understand the resume. Writing a resume sometimes is oriented to get an interview based on that kind of HR, the result is what you just showed in this blog post :)
October 26, 2011 14:27
Someone is working on it:

My idea is to come up with a 'GettingItDoneBoilerPlate' Framework of html/css/js that focuses on the github pages as a way to do a living dynamic project based resume.

In my own case I have started to weed out those application/interview invites that want to see just a resume.

October 26, 2011 16:59
Great post Scott. You could do a whole series on this and other hiring patterns and practices in the tech world. It might prove quite entertaining.

I'm personally partial to the "mock" interviewee, where one person (usually the smart friend) dials in for a phone interview but someone entirely different (the not-so-smart friend) shows up for work on the first day.
October 26, 2011 17:11
Great post Scott.

Just a heads up, your site is hard to read on a Nook tablet because for some reason the site is "unzoomable" on that device i.e. you can't make the contents zoomin/out using pinch gestures. I think I've seen that behavior on some (other) sites with the iPod Touch also.
October 26, 2011 17:16

While I totally agree with your premise, I think the reality is that 90% of interviewing managers don't understand the distinctions you've presented (including 20 years vs 1 year x 20 - brilliant!).

When I'm hiring, listing acronyms will lose you points. But I think I'll include them on my own resume, if I know it's going into an HR stack! Ironic, eh?

October 26, 2011 17:26
For my last round of job searching, I combined the traditional resume with the an additional page (or 1.5 page) list of projects. This idea was came about from a couple different sources.

The main one was a friend who is an IT director and he told me when he looks for new developers he wants to know that they can write.

I picked about 6-8 projects that highlighted various aspects of my life as a developer (team lead, grunt worker, requirements analysis etc.) I typed up about 2-4 sentences on each one. And highlighted some of the technologies I used (e.g. Wrote an app that parsed an XML file using LINQ to generate sales descriptions.)
October 26, 2011 17:29

Dislikes: mean-people

Seriously? Was that cribbed from your Playboy photoshoot captions? :)

Great post though.
October 26, 2011 17:29
I think it depends. If I was new to the field and my technical knowledge overshadowed my experience I would probably do just what this guy did.. As someone with 22 years in the field I now just list my last 5 jobs and what I actually did there naming any technologies I used to accomplish my standout tasks.
October 26, 2011 17:36
Very true Scott, but unfortunately it's those horrible wildcard search systems used by monkeys that get us the projects we need. Not many of us can pick and choose our clients :|

I tend to completely rewrite my CV every few years, making it more concise as I get more knowledgeable - removing the useless information and keywords that are irrelevant (read: "Supported a legacy VB6 application").

At the top of my CV, I tend to list the amount of years experience I have at each of my main skills / technologies - it's a question every client / agency ask, so it cuts down on the jibber-jabber. Personally, I'm not sure why the number of years matter any more... I've only been writing C# for about 3 / 4 years, but I'm still a lot more proficient than most of the developers I come across that work for my clients (I like the (20 = (20 x 1)) analogy :P). I'm not saying I think I'm particularly good, but the standard is pretty low in the places I work.

After that, I list "achievements"; a few detailed paragraphs about some of the more interesting projects I've worked on, or ones I'm particularly proud of. Then, unfortunately, it's down to the brass tacks of listing each company I've worked for... though I'm seriously considering removing all of that and listing my own company, followed by a number of "clients" and "projects" - I'm probably going to do that with my next update, even though my CV gets plenty of attention at the moment anyway.

You tend to find (in England, at least) Agencies will farm your CV for information. It's a catch 22, because if you don't list that you've spent "10 years working with digital design agencies", you may not win a contract with a client that wants only digital design agency experience (I'm still not sure why this matters, especially if the developer is worth his salt).

... did I actually say anything relevant there? :|
October 26, 2011 17:51
Maybe we need to start submitting resumes with appendices -- the body of the resume would contain an exhaustive list of acronyms to get past HR, then the appendix contains the actual information managers would be interested in.

I did once prepare a resume using the non-acronym style, then showed it to an HR friend of mine and asked him to estimate my chances. First thing he told me was to add a bunch of acronyms. Of course, this is the same HR guy who advertised one of our positions as needing experience in "WTF" when we had actually specified "WPF".
October 26, 2011 17:52
I would ask that you look at it from a technical recruiter or HR person's shoes. You've made a lot of statements related to what you would expect a developer to know. And that's all well and good, because you're a developer. But a technical recruiter doesn't get the luxury of just handling developer types.

If the majority of developers, even senior level developers were handled a detailed resume of a seasoned IT security analyst or network engineer, most of what would be on that page would be jargon they weren't familiar with. Think about it. When folks start talking dealing with STP issues, the security ramifications of CDP, MPLS tagging and EIGRP troubleshooting experience, how many developers have the knowledge to make a call on who knows what they're talking about and who doesn't? Not many, and it would be unreasonable to expect such because they aren't network engineers.

Now consider that a technical recruiter or an HR type doesn't just handle the developer specialist or the network engineer specialist, but all the IT specialist types that a given organization deals with. To expect them to be able to decipher a resume full of job experience without these types of helps is a bit unreasonable. Of course, the alternative is to take them out as a filter and let *every* resume come through. I don't see most folks liking that option.
October 26, 2011 18:04
Wim is exactly right, HR are usually some of the worst at pulling tech resumes, many are looking for buzz words or acronyms that don't understand.

A few years back when i was looking for a new position, and HR rep and a third party recruiter asked int he same day if I had any MS SQL experience. Mind you, my resume had on it I am a MCDBA, and the words SQL Server appeared thru out it.

It's always a rough having a highly technical background and being the job market. Networking is a techies friend, saves on the frustration with HR types.
October 26, 2011 18:16
I am loving the Careers 2.0 site as well, even though I'm not looking for a job. It's the kind of interactive resume I was hoping for and I love how you can showcase your work and contributions to the community.
October 26, 2011 18:52
Your proposed new resume reminds me a lot of Slashdot creator Rob "CmdTaco" Malda's: I'm not quite arrogant enough to use this
October 26, 2011 18:53
The "little Paragraph Mark toolbar button" is a pilcrow
October 26, 2011 19:17
Couldn't agree more with your points. I was fortunate enough to have a good mentor early in my career, and went through the work to adjust my resume from a keyword-based write up to a project/success/experience based. It was quite an eye opener -- reading the two side by side, you would never believe that they described the same person (though neither contained any exaggeration).

That said, the real trick is getting the "good" resume into the right set of hands. The project/experience based resume will often be "filed" by an HR person who is only looking for a few buzzwords. Your mission is to get your good resume into the hands of the hiring manager, and doing so really relies up your having built a good professional network.
October 26, 2011 20:03
The problem on this side of the Atlantic is that in organisations of any size HR/Personnel departments try to impose fairly close standards on recruitment: if a skill is marked as essential for a role, CVs without it (or some HR person's interpretation of it) will be bounced without being passed to the manager of the team needing the new recruit. Similarly, if a skill is tagged as useful, and the manager wants to interview people who don't have that skill, they may need to explain why....

I was lucky once: I didn't have convenient access to my O-level maths certificate, which one job required. Luckily I did have access to the degree certificate for my MSc in computing, which was deemed an acceptable substitute!
October 26, 2011 21:52
The whole resume paradigm is obsolete and inefficient. Why do we solicit forms for data entry for EVERYTHING else, except when asking for skills and accomplishments? Online web forms are the obvious solution. Force the cattle to enter their data in neat bins and ignore all the stupid formatting crap and useless/extraneous fluffery. If you want at job at my company, you put your information into my form, I don't take an hour to read your unique form. Sorry.
October 27, 2011 5:21
Totally agree with you Scott. I'd rather read short listed resume while it's deep in essence and substance of previous work.
October 27, 2011 14:13
Haha I actually got told by a few "experts" at Sun Microsystems in 2003 (after uni) to replace my project list with a technology list and skill level matrix (beginner, intermediate, expert).
October 27, 2011 16:39
I got an email this morning from LinkedIn, saying

Add skills like "Windows" to make your profile easier to find‏

So, I'm told by a social network to add a generic keyword like "Windows" to my profile only so that people could find me. Who would search for someone that know Windows? That's so broad.
October 27, 2011 18:04
I read four 1000-page books before passing the MCSD tests. It took longer than 45 minutes.
October 28, 2011 1:56
"You know apps"
Seriously, do you think you pass to the HR forks with this resume ?!
More, do you know apps on Linux too ?
With all respect , I think you are overreacting a bit...
October 28, 2011 3:36
As always, this post is one-sided. It depends on the situation.

I've been sent Java jobs from recruiters because I had a bit of Java experience on my CV which was over 9 years old. If they had read my CV they would have seen that it was too old and not relevant as I was seeking a .NET role. But instead they search for keywords.

The problem is many recruitment agents don't have a clue about our profession and don't care either.
October 28, 2011 4:16
Oh good, I'm not the only one that reads resumes with the paragraph marks on.
October 28, 2011 9:11
Great article!

I'd love to check out the StackOverflow site you mentioned but the invite link didn't seem to work. :(

October 28, 2011 10:12
Christopher - Hm, maybe I ran out. I'll see what I can do.
October 28, 2011 12:03
I don't know whether it is my presence on Stack Overflow or whether recruiters and companies are finally starting to think, but prior to the last six months or so, it was very hard to sell people on, "No, I don't have X or Y but I am more than capable." I remember a conversation with one recruiter:
"Tell me what you're looking to do"
"Well, I'm really interested in back-end work."
"Great, I have this JavaScript/Flash position..."
"I said that I wanted back end stuff."
"You don't really think you're qualified, do you?"

This problem came because a resume generally has to be chronological with a focus on full-time professional. So, despite the fact that there were far more bullet points related to back-end work (both as a consultant and for more open-source stuff), the recruiter discounted it all because it wasn't first.

It is hard to get an interview without gold on your resume. It stinks, but it is a fact of life. And rightly so, if I were given a resume which simply said, "I know apps" my reaction would likely be, "Ok, but you clearly don't know enough about how to show me that."

It has gotten better though -- we are well beyond the point where recruiters would demand a Word version of your resume. Now I can at least say, " goes to a Google doc. You can download my resume as a word file, a PDF, or whatever." Of course, still required a Word document last I saw, but they're... not really worth much.
October 28, 2011 22:48
I agree that putting apps on resumes is of little practical value. That said, I think it is a duty of those of us who have written books or otherwise acquired some level of "micro-fame" in software development to sit in the shoes of the masses of anonymous software developers who have to fight through the HR hoops that stand in the way.

I remember when my employment prospects depended on keyword matching more than they depended on personal relationships. In such a system, you are are forced to do stupid things like this in order to get past the gate. If anything, I would direct my ire towards those who hire people based on such silly systems.

Glad that SO, github, et. al. are working to create better systems to differentiate candidates though - someday, even the annals of HR might even understand them!
October 28, 2011 22:48
I agree that putting apps on resumes is of little practical value. That said, I think it is a duty of those of us who have written books or otherwise acquired some level of "micro-fame" in software development to sit in the shoes of the masses of anonymous software developers who have to fight through the HR hoops that stand in the way.

I remember when my employment prospects depended on keyword matching more than they depended on personal relationships. In such a system, you are are forced to do stupid things like this in order to get past the gate. If anything, I would direct my ire towards those who hire people based on such silly systems.

Glad that SO, github, et. al. are working to create better systems to differentiate candidates though - someday, even the annals of HR might even understand them!
November 09, 2011 23:28
Do you know how to make text dance?

Some combination of <blink> and <marquee> should do the trick! :o)

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.