Developing Technical Confidence

When asked what I do, I usually say that I’m a very technical project manager. There have been times over my career where I was underestimated because I was “just the project manager.” More often, my technical knowledge allows me to excel as I have the skill to step in as the “cardboard batman” to developers as they work through issues, or assist with data validation or even do some of the heavy lifting around requirements analysis before having to involve the technical team. And while I don’t consider myself a developer, I have demonstrated that I can learn and adapt and assist in a variety of languages or frameworks.

My older daughter, Cayla, recently started to look at colleges and decided she wanted to major in computer science. Both last summer and this summer she has had internships with us, focused on making her more aware of technology and how business works. Last summer, her project was data analytics oriented, where she had to learn the R programming language in order to see if she could predict who would win the 2016 Stanley Cup. She had to find the data, develop the methodology and execute her program. This summer, she is focused on learning CSS, HTML5 and Javascript. To her, these are just something she’s done. “It’s not a big deal, and nobody is going to care.”

We’ve tried to convince Cayla that these are just building blocks of things she’ll do in the future. That it is less to do with the languages she is learning, and more about building the foundation of computer science, and technical confidence she needs to be able to learn the languages of tomorrow, or 5 years from now when she is graduating from college.

Unfortunately, this attitude and behavior is more common than it should be. There have been several studies that show men apply for jobs based on potential while women lean towards applying for jobs based on what they have actually done. This is absolutely counter to how quickly skills, technologies and organizations change. We need to change the mindset on how we think about our own skills, so we are better suited for developments as change happens. I’m not in any way suggesting you lie, but I am suggesting you think about what you have done and learned, and figure out if that will give you the potential to take on the next technical challenge, programming language, or framework.

 

 

Recap & Top Lessons Learned from DrupalCon New Orleans

DrupalCon New Orleans was the epitome of “work hard, play hard.” The days were spent in intensive, thought provoking sessions, the nights were spent at the multitude of social events.

Business Summit

Monday was spent as expected, at the Business Summit. Susan Rust coordinated this year’s event and focused on 3 key areas: recurring & repeat revenue, killer marketing & new clients and leading with ease. The day was planned with presentations by corporate industry leaders followed by small group discussions and subsequent presentation of the key take-aways.

While the information was interesting and valuable, the business summit tended to raise more questions than provided answers for us as a micro-business. For example,

  • How do you ensure that you don’t exert too much emotional (or other) investment on too few customers?
    • How do you do this when the same resources are working in and on the business?
  • Do you find or grow your talent? And how do you do this without distracting from the revenue that keeps your business afloat?

Two critical sentiments resonated with me for most of the conference:

  1. Scaling your business is about process, tools & business infrastructure.
  2. Spending too much time working in the business will prevent you from long-term health & success.

We closed out the day by attending the Opening Reception and started collecting our DrupalCon swag (for me it was t-shirts and some awesome drupal socks).

Conference Session

Tuesday was the official opening of the conference. It started with some early morning global entertainment with costumes, Drupal parodies & skits followed by the official kick-off keynote by Dries Buytaert.

My first session was all about data structures in Drupal. This is a pretty fundamental component, and plays to my internal data geek, so I thought it would be a good place to start my technical Drupal education. Ron Northcutt did a good job of describing the structures and providing guidelines for making better decisions. If you ever get tripped up on the terminology or want a starting point in your Drupal education, this presentation would be good for you to watch.

For the remainder of the day, I stuck mostly to the business track. I attended the critical metrics for your drupal business session, hosted by Michael Silverman (DUO) and Dave Terry (Media Current). These guys dove into resources, tips and metrics we should all understand and track for our businesses. Some key points and resources include:

  • Know your goal or exit plan from the beginning
  • “Master the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm” by Verne Harnish
  • “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel Pink
  • “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wickman
  • Don’t forget to measure your culture (presentation highlights ways to do this)
  • To scale your business, you need to be accounting on an accrual basis
  • Sales Tools: Geckoboard, CRMs, templates
  • “A Win Without Pitching Manifesto” by Blair Enns
  • Recruting Tools: JAZZ, DISC, Perform Yard
  • “TopGrading” by Brandford D. Smart
  • “Bo’s Lasting Lessons” by Bo Schembechler
  • “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie

I also attended Jeff Walpole’s session on why and how enterprises get involved in the open source community and the drupal showcase GE and FFW case study. I briefly attended the birds of a feather “BOF” (adhoc session) for small drupal shops before I had to head over to the Women in Drupal event. Approximately 200 people showed up before heading off to the other parties.

On Wednesday, I played hooky in the morning before attending Jeffrey “Jam” McGuire’s session on the value of Drupal 8 technical features. This was incredibly valuable to me and I would recommend taking the time to watch this presentation if you aren’t already immersed in Drupal 8. I also attended the diversity in tech session by Nikki Stevens and Karyn Cassio. They shared valuable stats and practical actions we can control in our own behavior, before opening the floor for an honest discussion.

Thursday is the official last day of the conference so is a bit shorter, leaving room for the closing ceremonies and time for contribution sprints. I attended Aimee Degnan’s session on prioritizing your scrum product backlog for Drupal work. The focus was balancing “keeping the lights on” with new product features for a site or group of sites over time. The biggest insight for me had more to do with how to apply a similar model to working on the business and working in the business.

  • Your business (like a single site) is comprised of: primary value creation; supporting systems with direct impact to value creation and supporting systems with indirect impact to primary value creation.
  • Like a project, there is some overhead associated with running your business as well as the application and review of reporting.

We often apply agile methodologies to our projects, but we haven’t been as effective on applying them to our business.

The next session was Jody Hamilton’s talk on growing your own talent. Jody shared her experiences build Zivtech’s talent. She provided tactical tools & tips on on-ramping, quality, recruitment methodologies and evaluations. The key to doing this successfully is process. The biggest argument small shops have for not pursuing this is struggling to balance workload capacity with training resources. Jody challenged this assumption, pointing out that focusing on the work at hand is a short-term initiative. For long-term viability of your business, it’s imperative to think long-term.

  • Developing the talent to keep your culture, philosophy and work are a requirement to scale your business.

My final session selection was easy. I attended Susan Rust’s margins & maseratis talk. There were so many key points in this talk that I think you’ll need to watch it. Susan started with these 3 directives for successfully scaling your business:

  • Be data driven
  • Measure over time
  • Develop processes

From a practical perspective, I learned we have a lot to do including:

  • Documenting everything we do to deliver value to clients
  • Document the tools we use to do them, measure them, report on them (yes, document ALL the tools..)
  • Measure everything..per project, per person, per organization
  • Make sure to focus (aka specialize). Don’t be everything to everyone.
  • It’s all about the margins! Businesses that want to grow focus on revenue where businesses that want to scale focus on margin. It’s not that revenue isn’t important, but it’s more about changes in revenue that are most critical.

And lastly, we attended the closing ceremonies and the Drupal 6 funeral procession, with brass band and police escorts as we shut down New Orleans streets.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my adventure at DrupalCon New Orleans. I know from others that there are quite a few sessions I missed. I’m planning on watching the recordings of those over the next couple of weeks. I’d also love to hear about your experience and take aways.

My Take on the Data & Women DC Inaugural Event

It’s been a while since I wrote about women in tech, but I attended the Data + Women DC Inaugural Event last night, hosted by CHIEF (check out their blog for their monthly events) and was really inspired by what I saw and heard. In some ways the format was like all other meetups, networking followed by a program, but this group did something a little bit different by splitting into smaller groups for more intimate discussions. It was definitely easier to get to know people, and as one person in my group said “maybe all meetups need to treat each event like it’s an inaugural one, and give everyone a smaller forum to be heard.” I tend to agree.

Unfortunately, or given the aforementioned feedback, fortunately, I was coming from another appointment so missed the networking. I caught part of the panel discussion and then all of the small group discussion. We hit on quite a few pieces of advice or considerations that I wanted to share.

Brag!

One of the most critical points made in response to the question about what you and/or your company can do to help advance women was about bragging. Often we are uncomfortable with other people bragging about our work, especially if it’s unexpected. It’s important to promote the work you do, and if you’re not comfortable doing that, then maybe having your friends and colleagues do it for you, will help make it more comfortable. One participant said she was going to take that recommendation back to her corporate lean in circle.

Emotion & Passion

We definitely touched on not allowing your emotions get in the way of your passion (or lack their of). Several participants shared their experience creating a goal to accomplish X to prove you could, then realizing part of the way that you didn’t want/like this. In the same vane, if something isn’t working for you in your current role or with your current company, it’s within your right to fix it. And if your company isn’t willing it work with you, then it’s time to fulfill that somewhere else.

Confidence & Competence

We had a fairly extensive conversation about women’s confidence & perceived competence. There have been many studies that show men interview for potential (what they believe they can do) and women interview for performance (what they know they can do). While the overall consensus was that we wanted to be true to who were are, and what are capabilities are, but still acknowledge what you can do. Some discussion occurred around how frustrating it is to work with people who say “they can do everything”, but in reality can only do some portion of it. This conversation brought to mind the differences I see in male and female developers. Many male developers I know will say they have experience in language a, b, c and therefore have learned the programming methodologies and frameworks and feel they can do languages d, e and f. Female developers that I know tend to put more weight on what they have done (i.e. language a, b, c). I hope female developers will become comfortable enough to take the same stance as men, extrapolating from their experiences to speculate what they can do.

Inherent Bias in Open Source and Software Language Naming

Our group shared some interesting experiences with the open source apps and software language naming conventions. One participant was recently using an app and came across very male gendered language in the examples and documentation. In pushing the issue on social media, she was able to get some changes made, but no clear alternatives to the problem. Another participant introduced the topic of software languages named for females tend to use very comfortable, personal first names (Ada, Ruby, Julia). That’s rather interesting when you apply the aggressive “wrangling”, “manipulating” verbs towards it.  I can’t say that I had observed either of these first hand. I wonder if I just don’t notice.

I had a great time connecting with my small group. I hope I represented our conversation well. And I hope to see everyone again.

Teaching data science to my teenage daughter

Note: This post is a bit long, but it’s the story behind the evolution of our project to teach data analytics and data science to a teenager, leveraging her love of ice hockey.

There are a few times during my career where I have made decisions, that were in retrospect, a lot better for my family than I initially thought. At the time I made the decision, I did weigh the impact of the decision on my family, but there have been 2 that were really the best things that could have happened. The first was back in 2011 when I quit my job. My younger daughter was struggling in school and having the time and flexibility to get her the help she needed would have been extremely difficult if I had been working the schedule I had been. The second happened recently. In March I left another job to join my husband in the full-time running of our business. Since March, I’ve been able to spend one-on-one time with each of my daughters, taking separate spring break trips. And more importantly (at least for this post), I was able to work with Cayla, our 16 year old, during her summer internship project.

This story begins when we decided in the spring that we were going to hire Cayla as an intern in Digital Ambit, our software and data integration consulting business. At the time we knew we wanted to use this time productively, specifically we hoped to teach Cayla some technical skills. The most obvious route would have been to have Carson teach her programming. However, Carson was more than 100% utilized in our consulting business, where I had a bit more available time working on the business. We needed to be able to get Cayla some tech skills, without severely impacting Carson’s ability to deliver on our billable work. This left me to figure something out.

My background is fairly diverse, with time spent in both technical and software skills. I consider myself a technical project manager, truly leveraging my technical skills to manage customers and projects. While I can manage any technical project or implementation, my actual technical experience focuses on databases and data management. I had recently taken some data science Coursera courses and had dipped my toe in the R world. I finally decided Cayla was going to do a data analytics/science project to take hockey statistics and see if she could predict who will win next year’s Stanley Cup.

I bought Cayla a couple of books on data science for business and practical data science with R. I knew Cayla had never studied statistics and had a few concerns about the complexity of resources written about data science and R. I made Cayla write a blog to make sure she could articulate the material she was learning. Once she started picking up some of the basics, we talked through the project at a very high level so Cayla knew what the next steps were. This was very much a hands on project for her. She had to find the data, download the data, cleanse the data, and figure out the R syntax to load and analyze the data. I gave her space to work through issues, especially after the first few times she told me she had an issue with R and after asking if she had confirmed the syntax, pointing out the missing comma or syntax error.

We were about a month into the project before Cayla could bring all the pieces together and really explain what she was trying to do. She could relate the daily work to the project, and had mapped out her next steps to align to her business question (“Who will win the next Stanley Cup?”). At this same time, we learned we had been accepted to present this story to the DC Web Women Code(Her) conference. This intensified the pressure, and added a hard deadline of September 12, 2015.

This is where it got a bit difficult for Cayla. At this point she had gotten all the data she thought she needed, cleansed it (or so she thought), and had found  at least one way to calculate the historical means, and populate the 2015-2016 statistics. The complex nature of the statistical models and the applicable documentation caused this to be a real sticking point for Cayla. Unfortunately, the method she had been using, along with her still dirty data made reproducibility and data modeling extremely difficult.

At this point, I stepped in to help in a more hands on way. I knew that I wanted to create an R script to share during our presentation, so I started walking through Cayla’s syntax. Sometimes things that work in isolation, don’t work the best when combined with the other methods you applied. It took some intense focus to step through the process, cleanse the data to acceptable R processing standards, and leveraging different syntax for historical means and filling gaps. The hardest part was finding clear, concise examples of people who had done this before. Ultimately, I was able to find syntax that worked to run models against the data and analyze the data. We were not successful in getting the model to predict any winners.

I think Cayla and I both learned a lot from this project. Cayla learned that she can do really hard things, she’s never done before. Cayla also learned about planning and organizing data projects, and how truly difficult, but incredibly important, it is to clean your data. I learned that Cayla can learn anything with the right incentive, or within the framework of something that interests her. I also learned that in data analytics and science, more people need to publish their work in simpler forms. Please don’t assume everyone has a PHD.

We presented our story at the Code(Her) conference on Saturday. Cayla reinforced her knowledge of data science during the Intro to Machine Learning session, and seemed to have fun learning agile principles while playing games. The day culminated with us presenting to a room full of women. It was really rewarding to see how well Cayla did, and to see how many wanted to hear us.

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To see our detailed presentation and additional materials, visit my github page.

Agile and #ILookLikeAnEngineer and the perception of things

I’m struck this week by the perception of things. This is not an unusual state for me as often I’m perceived as something different than what I am. My husband often tells people he is married to a West Indian woman. This creates some startling responses when those same people meet me for the first time. The general assumption is that I’m a black woman, so when they are presented with a blue eyed, blonde, very pale white woman, there is a bit of confusion. In addition, I am also 5’4 tall and average sized with an exercise of choice is Kempo (karate) and have earned my second degree black belt. Just another example of conflicting perception versus reality.

As a technical project manager, I am always interested in learning about new techniques and methodologies so like most of us, am familiar with Agile Development methodologies. It strikes me as interesting that many people and organizations will say “they do agile.” Agile is an adjective defined by Merriam Webster as “able to move quickly and easily” or ” having a quick resourceful and adaptable character.” How does one then “do agile?” I understand employing some specific components of agile methodologies, or working towards becoming agile. Organizations would be a whole lot better off if they stopped worrying about doing agile and actually started working towards becoming agile.

This week I was struck but yet another campaign about women in tech and what it means to be an engineer. These types of conversations always frustrate me a bit. I fully consider myself a women in technology, regardless of the fact that I’ve approached it from a business perspective. I’m raising two daughters, one who is very interested and one who doesn’t know she’s interested yet. “An engineer” or “to engineer” all relate to skillful or clever delivery of plans. While I will not minimize the effort it takes to obtain a engineering degree, the engineering mindset is definitely more than a degree.

I did participate in the #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign, posting photos of both my daughters today. My youngest is very crafty, often coming up with elaborate stories for dolls and creating amazing worlds in Minecraft (parkour courses, stables with fancy armor, and star trek doors to her fancy chateaus). She also is learning to program so she can create games and websites on the topics she likes. We’ve been spending the summer tinkering with old laptops, assembling wooden model skulls and have plans for making cheese, soap, roominate assembly and arduino programming.

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As I have written about before, my older daughter sits on the periphery of STEM. While she has never expressed an interest in learning to program, or really anything mom and dad were doing. That said, when we proposed a summer internship working for her parents’ consulting company; learning about programming, social media (for business) and using “big data” techniques and software to predict who wins next year’s stanley cup, she accepted the challenge with open eyes.

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All of these are indicative of a larger problem. To make assumptions based on first impressions is harmful to us all. It is within our best interest to approach each situation with an open mind. Be observant; see what the reality looks like, hear what is being said, and then make your assessment.

My first Drupal GovCon

I went to my first Drupal conference Drupal GovCon, last week. I have been to other conferences, primarily on the vendor side, but this was the first one I went solely as an attendee. Carson (my husband) is an expert in content management systems and has been working with Drupal for quite a while. I have never worked with it, but since we are highlighting it as a core competency of Digital Ambit I thought it was time to get some more exposure. I had 3 goals for the conference: give back to the Drupal community; make some of my own contacts in the Drupal community; and expand my technical knowledge of Drupal.

Unfortunately, I got called to an on-sight client meeting on the first day of Drupal GovCon. I was disappointed to miss Angie Byron‘s (webchick), keynote on Drupal 8. Not only is she iconic in the Drupal community, I’m sure it would have done a bit to lessen the knowledge gap. I had also hoped to catch Forum One’s Drupal 8 for non-developers. That didn’t work out either. It’s a good thing all the sessions were recorded so I can catch up on everything I missed.

I did make it to the opening reception. I met some nice folks from 4Site Studios and reconnected with Sleight-of-Hand Studios. We had some pleasant conversations about the highlights I missed as well as discussing our respective businesses.

Day 2 and 3 started early for me with my volunteer stints at the registration desk. Due to the venue, this was a free event. This resulted in quite a few no-shows, late additions and tickets transfers. There were hiccups, as there are always are, but we worked through them. I met some really passionate organizers who put on a really good event.

The day 2 keynote was a general discussion on open source, including advocates of civiCRM and joomla. The day 3 keynote showcased how Drupal was being used for the NIH 3D print exchange. I did end up making it some sessions, but primarily stayed to the business track. I may have done this because this is the track I feel most comfortable. In retrospect, I probably should have gone to a few more of the technical Drupal ones. Each session was identified as beginner, intermediate or advanced. I had some initial concerns that some of the more technical Drupal sessions were going to be beyond my expertise (having never touched Drupal before). When Carson asked me to attend the intermediate Drupal site auditing session, I found out that those descriptors had more to do with general technology familiarity rather than Drupal itself. With the exception of a few specific Drupal modules, I followed the presentation.

Ultimately, I view the entire experience as a positive one. I learned a few things too.

1) Be confident in my general technical knowledge – As I approach new technologies, I need to remember that I have ~20 years of experience working in and around technology. While I haven’t had my hands in every new software that’s been introduced, I can have the technical knowledge and skills to be able to understand the framework’s and follow the discussion. While I’m not ready to spin up my first Drupal site yet, I feel comfortable that I could  figure it out if I needed to and most definitely could manage a Drupal implementation or migration.

2) Participating in after hours networking is critical – When you attend conferences as a vendor, or simply as an attendee, you have an agenda. There is some list of goals you are trying to fulfill. It may be education, or it may be finding employee candidates or business partners. Regardless, you have limited time to really get to know people during the day. The after hours networking is where you have that extra time to ask more questions, and find more common ground. Having been on the vendor side, I know how much work it is to host those events. Please know that they are worth it and all the attendees appreciate it.

3) Open source is more than the technology, it’s the community – Carson learned this lesson at Drupalcon LA. It was the first time he attended Drupalcon on the side of the business (versus as a developer) and he was really blown away by how open the business leaders were about sharing their processes and KPIs. It’s one thing to hear about it, but it’s another to experience it. NIH provided the venue, but required the event be free. Lots of people gave a lot of time to organize Drupal GovCon. And even more shared their time and expertise to host sessions or run all-day trainings.

4) DC has women in tech – For all that I’ve shared about women in tech, I was really excited to see how many turned out to represent at Drupal GovCon. I believe that there were definitely more than the industry average of ~22% in attendance. Maybe it was the “free” component, but I don’t think so as I have been at other free tech events and not seen the same turn out. Or maybe, it was just that this was an awesome event and they had to be a part of it. Whatever it was, I was happy to see it and be a part of it.

A different path..

In my last post I wrote about teaching my younger daughter about arduinos and my dad’s change of heart on whether I sit on the edge of technology or am an active participant.  I wanted to explore this idea a bit more this week, especially as I watch my older daughter sit on the fringe.

My older daughter, Cayla, is 16 years old and typical in many ways. It’s difficult to find a time when she isn’t on her phone, or iPod or computer. She has taken some very basic computer classes in school, but has never expressed an interest in learning to code or playing video games other than the ones on her phone. Cayla likes science and math, but has been struggling this year with geometry and biology. In many ways, this is not unlike my own experiences.

We got our first computer when I was 7 years old. My dad taught me the DOS prompts to be able to get to do what I wanted and I was a pretty avid “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” fan. I was placed into an advanced math class in 7th grade, but then had to drop it because I was too busy with dance and other after school activities. In HS, I enjoyed my sophomore chemistry class and took the only advanced science class I could take. It was that Physics class where I got so frustrated with the instructor that I took it out on my father by throwing the book at him. Poppa John still holds this over me.

Despite my early exposure to technology and my dad having an education and experience in chemical engineering, I did not even consider engineering as an option. It was the constant learning and growing that inspired to pursue my advanced degree and go the business route. That said, that technological interest fostered early in life has carried to some unique opportunities. I was involved in internet at a dotcom in the late 1990s, then moved to telecom/software company and then most recently worked at a big data analytics company. I have been able to combine my soft business skills and technical interests to be a strong project manager and business analyst. I am able to get in the weeds with my team and work through fairly technical problems. I am able to discuss big data and algorithms with data scientists and less technical customers. I am also able to be that cardboard batman when my husband is having one of those moments. I do all this while writing about and networking with other women in technology (or those too hanging on the fringe). I am also able to get my hands dirty writing some SQL, programming that arduino or learning enough HTML, CSS and Javascript in a 2 week period to take my younger daughter to an app development workshop.

IMG_2937At the end of the day, I believe that being involved with technology will provide better lives for my daughters, and a bigger impact on the world. While Cayla isn’t ready to sit down and program a website, she is willing to support her sister. I have brought them to a couple recent STEM symposiums and showcases. Cayla does a great job encouraging Ana and stepping in when Ana is feeling a bit shy and overwhelmed. I hope that Cayla continues to appreciate the technology and become open to the possibilities. Let her be her sister’s mentor and advocate. We all have our own path’s to technology.

P.S. Cayla agreed to learn about data analytics and R as her internship this summer. May the journey begin.

Raising a Women in Tech

I recently went on a trip with my dad, Poppa John and my youngest daughter Ana. This was the first time I traveled with my daughter separately from the family. She negotiated this trip to Disney World for spring break and was quite persuasive. That said, I knew I wasn’t going to spend every day for a week at a Disney theme park. Ana is very interested in technology – she’s the daughter who wants to learn to code, immerses herself in Minecraft and has participated in app development summer programs. Our entire family encourages this and Poppa John indulges her.  For this trip, Poppa John purchased a couple of Arduinos for us to play with during some downtime. He also compiled a selection of really cool things that Arduinos can be used for and got a book for kids, written by a kid on how to program our Arduino.

My husband is the programmer of the family. He started when he was 14 and has made this his career for the last 20+ years. I have had a much more diverse career supporting technology – project and product manager, analyst, customer success manager and software team lead.  To my father, I was sitting on the fringe of women in tech and needed to get motivated to lead Ana on her quest. If we sat around waiting for Carson it would be slow going.  This Arduino projects we had planned were as much for Ana’s benefit as it was for me to step up to the challenge.

Our downtime fun started a bit slow, with Ana not really understanding what an Arduino was and why she should care. Her attitude swung to the other extreme once she figured out that she could build a car with lights and sounds. However, she just didn’t understand why she had to do the basic lessons and not jump straight to the car. Since Ana doesn’t like to be left out, Poppa John and I started connecting the Arduino and making it light up and sing. This at least got Ana creeping over to the computer and looking over our shoulders. We knew we had her attention at least for a little while when she took her spot front and center on Poppa John’s lap.

We took a very simple approach to this, using the existing open community scripts for making the light blink or the song play. We then took the next logical steps to add blinking loops, change the speed of the blink or the manipulating the time between the blinks, slowing making the code a bit more complicated. I took my pretty standard approach of asking Ana the engaging questions, but having her work out the details with Poppa John. I also stepped in to help troubleshoot or explain something when mistakes were made.

It was during this time that Poppa John was surprised. He claimed I was holding out on my women in technology-ness. How was it that I could never have had coded anything (expect sql during my brief DBA days) but yet could read the code and make suggestions and resolve issues? In each one of my diverse opportunities working for technology companies, I have always been hands-on. When issues arise in my projects, I worked very closely with my technical team to walk through the business requirements and the code to figure out the best way to resolve these issues. I have always been willing to lend a helping hand and truly get my hands dirty. Apparently I have picked up a few technical skills.

We ended up having a lot of fun with something new. We made our Arduino blink SOS and play music. We also turned the Arduino into a finger flute. Ana still wants to build her car and thinks it’s pretty cool. Ultimately, I taught my father that I was a women in technology and had the skills to teach my daughter to be one too (in any capacity she wants).

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Are you truly confident?

I recently met up with a friend who I have known for almost 20 years now.  I consider this woman very successful.  She grew up in NJ and has degrees from Duke University and a law degree from University of Pennsylvania.  Since she got her law degree, she spent 7 years at a top law firm and then she was corporate counsel at a Fortune 100 company.  My friend just started a new job for a global company that is considered one of the most admired in the US. What struck me as most interesting this visit is when she acknowledged doubts recently about whether she could do this most current role.  Not only is this women smart and talented, she is also the epitome of a confidence, social butterfly.  Of all my friends or colleagues who have doubts about themselves, I would never have considered that this applied to this friend too.  My friend’s experiences align pretty closely to what I have been reading about women in technology, leaning in and other topics at the forefront of my interests.

This also very much ties into a book I just finished and a keynote that one of the authors just gave at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Women in Business “The Science of Success” Conference.  Claire Shipman, author of The Confidence Code gave a great overview of a challenge that definitely exists for Women, in technology and other industries.  I had purchased the book prior to seeing Mrs. Shipman speak, but didn’t read it until afterwards.  This is a compilation of my thoughts on the book and notes from her speech.

I think it is now common knowledge that diversity is key and that soft skills are becoming more and more important in the workplace.  There was an HP experiment conducted that highlights the confidence gap.  Women tend to apply for jobs where they have 100% of the skills required for the job, while men apply for jobs when they have 60% of the skills required.  Another research study at Berkeley shows that confidence is a better measure of success than competence.  Women tend to hyper focus on competence.  If this is the case and women are so focused on being competent that we’ll only stretch ourselves when we believe we have met 100% of the requirements, those opportunities just may not be available for us.  It’s imperative that women start treating confidence like a skill and incorporate into our professional and personal play books.

One of the most interesting pieces of The Confidence Code was learning that confidence is at least partially hereditary.  The majority of the brain is the same between men and women.  However, women and men differ in how the brain fires its neurons and also in the risk taking versus worrying areas.  Men have more testosterone and therefore tend to take more risks while women have more estrogen and tend to overthink or ruminate preventing the brain from building the confidence.  The good news is that the significant developments in neurology have taught that we can train our brains – the science known as brain plasticity.

We should not get too bogged down in blaming our genetics as there are also societal impacts that influence confidence in girls.  We subconsciously initiate the confidence gap for girls by raising our girls to be perfectionists and people pleasers.  Girls are taught to follow the rules, be good listeners and do what they are told.  Boys are given a bit more leeway to try things, take risks and ultimately fail.  Ultimately as women transition from school into the workplace, it becomes very difficult for them.  They are still seeking the rewards and praise they got in school, whereas the workplace is really recognizing the confidence, risk taker who is willing to take on increasingly more responsibility.

There are a few recommendations for what we can do differently.

  • Fail fast – do, learn, move on.  Start acclimating yourself to risk taking.
  • Act more, think less – ruminate less. Come up with an explanation that is not a failing on your part.
  • Be authentic – this is critical.
  • Play competitive sports – there is a huge link between confidence in girls and competitive sports.  Not everyone is a winner.  You need to work hard, develop competency and ultimate become confidence.

Confidence is what turns your thoughts into action.

 

The On-Demand Workforce

It is true that there is some critical mass at which real problems get solved.  The evolution of causes has proven this.  I find that the constant chatter and conversations about women on boards, women in technology, women in STEM jobs, women in senior positions are all good.  The more we talk about, the more it is seen as a critical issue and the more ideas batted around will result in long term solutions.  While some might argue that some conversations are healthier or more positive than others, even the extreme points of view can drive further conversation and creative thinking around the problem.

One of the more interesting commentary I found has come from Jody Greenstone Miller, Founder of Business Talent group.  She has been promoting her viewpoint that time is the real issue for women.  She promotes moving away from quantity as a deciding factor in “A Team” designation, as well as a critical factor in project workload.  Once you remove minimum time as a requirement for professional or project success, you must think about and plan work accordingly.  This is not to say that professionals would not be available outside the defined times.  It is the requirement of time that is removed.  Ultimately, jobs must be designed around how much someone is willing to work, with a structure so that the job or project can get done in that allotted time while still helping those individuals meet their professional goals.  Ms. Miller has validated her approach in her business model.  She works with top talent to define their constraints and find work that matches their skills and limits.

I’m living this approach right now.  I’m choosing my projects and setting my goals on my terms as a consultant.  I provide my expertise in technology operations, process and project management to a small company that needs those skill sets.  The number of hours I work shift depending on the shift in workload at the company and the lifeload of stuff that happens outside of work.  I make myself more available when my family is at work and school, and less available when they are home.  This does not mean everything ceases.  I will still take calls, and periodically scan and respond to emails, but I’m not sitting in front of my computer actively acting on my task list. I add value to the organization for which I’m consulting.

Wingham Rowan, Founder of Slivers-of-Time, spoke about this new type of job market at a TedSalon Talk in November 2012. His premise is that employers can absolutely use a pool of extremely flexible, talented, skills workers.  While his focus leans toward service oriented businesses, however I think the premise can be expanded to our entire economy.  Business fluctuates and it would be beneficial for organizations to have access to talented, skilled employees to fulfill projects and processes.  The ability to have access to this pool of people on relatively short notice would be incredibly beneficial.  This would allow businesses to stay lean and enhance skills and talents as needed.  This model is being supported by services like Guru and oDesk (I’m sure there are several others, but these are the ones that come to mind).

At the end of the day, does it really matter how or when you complete tasks or accomplish your goals?  It does require that the expectations are clear and goals are aligned.  It’s all about the on-demand workforce to support the on-demand economy.