Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fruitful Thoughts About Career Trajectories

"Do you have career ADD?" 

I loved that question. Jo Miller, CEO of Women's Leadership Coaching asked her audience that question during the latest Global Tech Women webinar "Take Charge of Your Career Trajectory" (see also my previous post). Jo was discussing a common problem for ambitious successful women - do this, do that, say yes indiscriminately to all projects and tasks that come your way. On the one hand it can be exciting to take on all these different opportunities. Never a dull moment. On the other hand, everyone has a brand and what does it say about your brand if you appear to others to be always willing and available to do anything that needs doing? You need to be strategic about what you take on.

Everyone has a brand. It is good to be reminded of this every once in a while.  Often your brand is placed upon you rather than created by your own design. Stop and think - what is my brand? Whether you realize it or not, other people view you as ___________. Perhaps the least helpful situation is when you don't consciously position yourself as owning some area - this was Jo's message.

Once you start to think about your brand, you need to actively work on building it. This is how you will evolve your career and move upwards. You can define "upwards" however you like - traditionally or unconventionally. But if you just leave your self-brand to chance or are kind of wishy-washy about it, you miss out on the really awesome opportunities to go where you want to go professionally.

Perhaps the worst thing is to try to be something you are not. I know I have done this in the past and I'm sure many of you have as well. There are pressures from all quarters to make decisions that may mean squishing your multi-faceted self into a square box. Imagine taking a grapefruit (one of my favorite fruits) and shoving it whole into a small glass jar. You may get it in there and the lid may go on (screw it down tight) but it is going to be bruised and pulpy. Do you really want to be that grapefruit?

Jo wasn't talking about beating up on innocent grapefruit; that is what I thought of as I listened to her discuss the importance of Building a Scalable Brand based upon what is authentic about yourself. What is really you?

It was also enlightening to hear Jo talk about what works and what you need to do depending upon whether you are early career, mid-level, or senior level. It occurred to me that "early" "mid" and "senior" are not always obvious. It certainly isn't job title or size of paycheck that definitively decides. You can have a spiffy job title and a fat paycheck and be viewed as rather so-so in the hierarchy and dead-ending.

Do you know how others view where you are in your career trajectory?

SO much terrific information about being an emerging leader. I'm so glad I have my notes. You can make your own notes. If you haven't already done so you can view the video of Jo's presentation here.

While you do that I am going to go be nice to some citrus.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Computer Scientist and Spy

When I was a child I wanted to be: a Writer, a World Traveler and a Spy. Lofty career goals. Kids don't have all these embedded notions of what is and is not possible.

My passions led the way and I followed my gut. I kept a meticulously detailed Journal. It was most definitely a Journal and not a Diary, because a Journal meant serious business, whereas a Diary implied fluffy stuff. Each entry started with what time I got up in the morning ("Alarm went off at 7:32"), proceeded through the day, replete with commentary about my adventures, and ended with exactly what moment I went to sleep ("Lights out 11:46 1/2")

My favorite book was Harriet the Spy, and I wore my copy to shreds. Harriet was my mentor: brave, brilliant, determined, adventurous and a good friend. I emulated Harriet by toting around a Spy Notebook (so labeled on the cover) where I wrote down observations of my classmates. Strict reporting ("William is picking his nose again", "Tom hit me over the head with his book on the bus so I turned around and shot a spitball at him") mixed with opinions ("That is disgusting", "It is completely unfair to send me to the Principal when I was acting in self-defense")

No one was safe from Lisa the Spy. In the afternoons and evenings, when I was not out leading the neighborhood kids in high intensity games of hide and seek, I was sneaking around the neighborhood crouching under peoples windows and recording their (boring) conversations in my Spy Notebook. It wasn't the conversations that were really important, it was the act of being a successful, undetected Spy gathering accurate information.

Things got a bit muddled somewhere along the line, I lost track of my passions and found myself a Computer Scientist In A Cube. Stuck indoors all day, writing code. Code just didn't cut it. Constantly breathing recycled air just didn't cut it. Those ghastly pantyhose definitely didn't cut it (this was the '80s).

The story has a Happy Ending. Over a period of years, through a process of introspection, serious goal setting, muddling around, and several instances of life throwing some real zingers my way, I found myself not only a Computer Scientist but a Writer, World Traveler and Spy.

Being a qualitative researcher, author and program evaluator entails all of these activities. No cubicles, only rare short term incarcerations in germ-laden recycled air, and lots of globe trotting. No disgusting pantyhose. Ever.

It just goes to show there are endless opportunities in the computing field in spite of persistent stereotypes or what some people may tell you is "the way things are".

The reason I'm sharing all this is because of a webinar I heard last week: "Take Charge of Your Career Trajectory", the latest webinar produced by Global Tech Women. This particular webinar featured Jo Miller, CEO of Women's Leadership Coaching. Jo's first point (numbered "5") was that you need to Know Your Niche. Your ideal niche, not necessarily your current niche. You need to understand your passions and what makes you feel good. Really get clear on it. Steering yourself towards what you enjoy and feel good about makes the greatest difference over the long run.

Depending upon how far off you are from your ideal niche, it may take a while to get there. But it doesn't have to take several decades. Jo provided a ton of useful, actionable advice for technical women (and anyone else!) to consider. I found my way to where I am somewhat circuitously, but you can speed things up if you set your heart and mind on it. Heck, if I can be Lisa the Spy then you can be anything!

Luckily, the webinar is online. I highly recommend checking it out. While you are at it, if you are in the computing field and doing something interesting let me know. I'd love to write about you!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Better Living With Computer Science

A bubbling frothy mass got me wondering

Why do so many people still think that "Computer Science" means fixing a broken computer? 

Why do so many people think that teaching "Computer Science" is the same thing as teaching keyboarding (e.g. typing on a keyboard) or word processing? 

Why do so many people not understand the significance of the questions? 


After all this time, I still get looked at with disbelief and dismay when I say I am not the best person to upgrade someone's neighbor's friend's relative's new operating system or that I'm not the most qualified person to take apart your printer. I mean sure, I'll be happy to take apart your printer.  But you may not be happy with me doing so. Assuming you want the problem, whatever it is, guaranteed fixed and all parts back in their correct places and functioning properly.

I willingly throw myself upon the mercy of the repair guy or gal when my motherboard pukes or my external drive locks up or my video controller goes psychedelic. I do have an advantage in that I can generally figure out what is going on ("oh crap, the xyz controller has gone belly up"), but that doesn't mean I am going to put my sticky fingers in there to mess with it. With or without a magnetic screwdriver. I want everything back in one place and better than functional at the end of the day. Instead, I call in the pros.

But I'd never ask that same repair whiz to develop a pedagogically sound online tutorial, or lay out the requirements for an enterprise software system, or develop an effective computational biology DNA algorithm. The repair whiz would likely think me slightly deranged for asking.  

We go through high school classes in chemistry, physics and biology and we come out understanding a few distinctions between chemists, physicists and biologists. For the most part we have at least a basic understanding of what chemistry, physics and biology are because we have taken classes in those topics.

I was watching a strange concoction burbling on the stove the other day. I pondered that I was watching chemistry and physics in action: burble burble the molecules interact in order to boil in a certain way, the electrons bounce around, the foam develops and slithers around.The Pyrex nicely distributing heat from the element is the result of some darned smart chemists. I recognize the relationship between chemistry and physics in front of my eyes. And the biology involved with my quivering nostrils and soon to be activated taste buds.

I am a Computer Scientist. Also at times a Mad Scientist (and proud of it). I'm not a Chemist or Physicist even though I can cook. Doesn't it sound crazy to even suggest that?

Perhaps we need to teach Computer Science in high school along with Chemistry, Physics and Biology?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Have a Little Grease With Your UX

If I hadn't been so busy sucking down delicious ice cream, greasy onion rings and french fries, I might have wanted to take notes. Fortunately I didn't have to.
A Bit Frightening When Looked At Up Close

There was plenty of food, some of it scary food, available at the January San Diego UX Speakeasy meetup, along with a most edifying (the word seems to go along with "edible") discussion of the upcoming year's roundup of UX meetings and conferences.

For someone familiar with the world of User Experience conferences the slides flipping up on the overhead provided an opportunity to extoll the virtues of one vs. the other. We had people popping up and down taking turns talking about the best deals, the best experiences, the best after-conference parties, the best speakers from the past.

For someone not so familiar with the world of UX conferences it was enlightening to say the least. BIG conferences (Interaction 13 - alas sold out...; ConveyUX - looks cool, but seriously Not Cheap at $1195 registration), conferences just on mobile (MEX - ok, this one makes ConveyUX look cheap), wonderful conferences in wonderful places (SXSW - yes, I love Austin) and more wonderful places (CHI - I have a soft spot for Paris too), nicely specialized conferences (Design Research anyone? or Web Visions?).

Just for starters.

And then, there are those here in San Diego - some pretty cool conferences coming our way. Quite convenient for those of us at the meeting who for one reason or another can't constantly travel (although I'm often tempted). Interesting trivia pops up along the way: one conference was referred to as The Dolphin Conference; when I got home I couldn't remember its real name. But I'm pretty sure it is this one: Valio Con. Now if I could only remember *why* it has the cetacean nickname. Perhaps I didn't eat enough greasy french fries and onion rings to lubricate the memory neurons. Well... no, on second thought... ditch that gastronomic theory. I ate enough unhealthy food that night to last a lifetime.

Conferences with cool names and cool web pages: Aiga Y Design (your guess is as good as mine), and the obligatory surfboard portrayed for An Event Apart

and of course, to follow up on our wildly successful events of the past year, UX Speakeasy San Diego will be hosting UX Speakeasy Mobile Experience Conference - in the summerish timeframe. No website yet, but you can be assured I'll let you know. Our last two conferences sold out really fast - to our pleased surprise  - so we're plotting and planning our next adventure-in-conferences.

Meanwhile - if you are a member of the San Diego UX Speakeasy meetup, you can find a full listing of all the conferences we hunted down and spoke about posted in our meetup pages.
Kept My Distance From This One