It seems fitting after a long day of responsibility and leadership that I should look down at my feet and see wiggling ears on my socks. I remember that I paired these socks’ color with an executive ensemble designed to give a good impression in the office today. I put on my black boots to pair with my slacks, and the boots and the slacks covered the ears. But now the boots are off, the day is done, and the ears can wiggle. I am pleased in an illogical sort of way.

I spent most of last weekend at my alma mater, UMBC. Friday night, I met some new mentees through the CWIT mentoring program, and Saturday and Sunday were spent at HackUMBC. So, lots of opportunities to observe undergraduates in action and answer questions about what sorts of things my company does and who we hire.

The hackathon was a very interesting experience for me. Participants got started after lunch on Saturday and turned in their projects Sunday at 1. There was no guidance on what to build or who to build it with, other than that teams could consist of 1-4 participants. There were a few prizes offered by sponsors such as ourselves for which a team could go after – ours was for best data visualization but others sought best hack using Docker, best use of public financial data, or best use of Google Cloud Platform, just to name a few. There was nothing stopping a project from applying for multiple categories: I know we saw a project for our data visualization judging that used financial data and Docker containers – not sure if they hosted anything on Google Cloud Platform.

The goal of a hackathon isn’t only to win prizes, of course. It’s also supposed to give teams a chance to learn and apply new skills. The team that won our prize used Unity, a gaming engine. Other teams used d3.js or plot.ly or Google Maps + some HTML or even Minecraft (linking directly to that project – innovative idea). Some teams got farther than others: one team had a great concept and a locally installed Jupyter notebook (via Docker, if I remember correctly: check off a potential prize category) with a well-built out machine learning model that they could reason about and defend. But they just hadn’t gotten to hooking up their prototype UI to their data. Another team had a drop-down list to trigger a visualization, but could only as yet talk to their concept of the visualization. That didn’t win them our prize, but still gave those teams a good bit of interesting experiences to talk to us about.

Remember, these students had 24 hours to bring together a team, put together a project concept, and then execute on their concept. Now, I know practically that some of these folks team regularly together. And at least one team indicated they’d been scraping Twitter data ahead of the event to give them a leg up on building out their display that needed geo-located tweets. Still, though: I saw team formation happening in the hackathon Slack channel and at the tables in front of our sponsor area.

What was more amazing to me was that a few teams came up to our table and asked my guidance on what tools to use. Some of that happened late in the afternoon on Saturday. Meaning, they were picking their toolkits on the fly, and then building out their app without prior experience in at least portions of the stack. For a project that had a hard timeline, though admittedly loose requirements. Wow – the very thought gives me personally the shudders, were I in their shoes. Uh, I’d want to form my team knowing that folks had complementary skills that could come together to solve a generic set of problems. One team told me they didn’t know how to interact with databases and knew they wanted one, so they coded up a flat file database on the fly. I have to believe I’d have taken a different route, but kudos to them for pulling something off with it.

I’m trying to imagine how to use that hackathon idea for an event at my company or through BWIC. I’d have a hard time personally carving out a full weekend: attending the event during the day was a big enough lift, but many of the students stayed overnight. One indicated to me she’d had a great idea and burst of energy after her 20 minute power nap. Ugh. Been there, done that, don’t wanna go back! But maybe spreading it out over a week would work. Or constraining it to a day. It just looked like so much fun!

Last month was my one year anniversary with ClearEdge. I had the opportunity to drive our company Tesla for one day… and I passed it by because I was crazy-busy working on a proposal.

Sweet Tesla ride!

My chance came around earlier this month again, and I passed it by.. this time, I’d managed to lose my wallet and license while driving my motorcycle. Since I didn’t have a license to present for insurance purposes, I had to let my chance slide by.

This week, though – well, this week I had my license AND a new promotion to a director-level position. I didn’t let it pass me by. That Tesla and I drove to all the happening places: church for VBS, the Chic-Fil-A drive-through where my daughter was working, breakfast with my hubby for our anniversary (21!) AND the Bruster’s ice cream stand. Because the new cyber technical director needs to go out in style!

So, Tesla uniqueness… electric car, ridiculously good pickup : 0-60 in < 5 seconds. SO comfy inside.. Streaming music. Quiet ride. App that lets you make your passengers’ seats make fart noises. Automatic lights and windshield wipers. Self-driving.

Self-driving: As a parent who relatively recently had to ride with a new teenage driver, I have to confess feeling that same panic when auto-steering was on. As a software engineer, I never want to think about computers being in control. Watching Tesla think that the car next to me was shaking and pivoting 30 degrees back and forth into my lane did not give me confidence as I rode past a guy walking along the side of the road. And auto-steering did mean auto-braking on the highway as cars ahead of me slowed; it did not mean auto-braking at the red light in my neighborhood. Thankfully, I was watching and testing for that…

My twelve year old is convinced we should buy one. My frugalness suggests I’ll pass. That said, if ClearEdge were to pull my name from the hat in September as the winner, I’d be happy to use the fart app all the way down the highway…

Ran across a comic strip this morning described as “9 Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies For Women”. . Linked to the original source, but the reminder of it this evening came from Fast Company’s “How to be a Non-Threatening Woman”, which linked back to the Cooper Review’s original article…

In this fast-paced business world, female leaders need to make sure they’re not perceived as pushy, aggressive or competent. One way to do that is to alter your leadership style to account for the (sometimes) fragile male ego.

When I first skimmed it this morning, I thought the writer was trying to give good advice… “Trying” being the important word here. I grew frustrated as I read the article, until my caffeine-deprived brain got enough clues that this was a tongue-in-cheek approach and meant to highlight the pain-in-the-rear-edness behaviors some of us experience, and the stereotypical coping strategies / highly annoying behaviors some folks use to cope. (Note that I’m not focusing solely on women doing the coping – seen guys do some of these things as well. Just as highly annoying.)

I’m a woman in tech. Highly outnumbered and have been throughout my career. On my current project, in a room of 35, I’m one of 3 women. The 3rd woman joined one month ago, while the 2nd woman was still on maternity leave. So, for several months, just me in the estrogen column. Neither of the other two women are leaders of groups in the room. Leaving me the sole female leader in a room where the guys shoot rubber bands at each other as a form of male bonding, where another of the tech leads said his frat-hazing treatment of a more junior member of the team was his way of showing care, and where one team member gave another leader in the room a thong as a way of poking fun at his accent in pronouncing ‘thon’… I’ve been talked over, had things demeaningly explained to me, and had my points and ideas repeated by others (and thus finally heard)… I definitely lean to the ‘left’ on the pictures presented in the article, and refuse to shimmy to the right.

Next week, I leave that particular team. I didn’t think I was leaving because of the sort of behaviors demonstrated – there were other reasons to leave. But suddenly realizing how much I’m looking forward to gelling with a new team.

Part of my job duties include recruiting new software engineers to join our firm. I think we’re pretty neat. We’re small, though, so its not as if we run mega-magazine campaigns or TV or radio ads. Instead, we rely on a more direct form of recruiting. If I know you, you’re likely to hear about our company. If I don’t know you but we have a chance to talk about professional stuff, you’re likely to hear about our company. If you’re connected to me on LinkedIn, you’re likely to hear about our company. And if LinkedIn thinks you might be a good fit for the candidates we’re searching for, you’re likely to hear about our company.

Where you’re not likely to hear about our company, as heavily anyway: my personal Facebook profile or other social network personas. I keep my professional network fairly broad, and my personal network a bit more close. Microsoft announced today that it’s buying LinkedIn, and various TV talking heads were concerned that LinkedIn’s network reach and stickiness (how many times I’m likely to return in a day/week/etc) aren’t as high as, say, Facebook or Twitter. I don’t go to LinkedIn as often. When I go, it’s for a specific purpose. When I “clock out”, I go to other places. LinkedIn wouldn’t serve me well, and thus wouldn’t receive the money I give it per month to provide search and contact services, if it was as wildly open to interactions as other spots.

So, Microsoft, find better ways to help me source candidates. Find better ways to help me market myself to potential employers. But don’t expose my info to every family member, church member, friend of a friend, etc: I prefer to keep my business activities separate.

Headed on the train up to NYC to attend Strata, which is a BigData + Hadoop conference. Looking forward to sessions on Spark, as well as getting exposure to other open source platforms which might be of interest to my company or to its clients. And, of course, interested in making contacts that help us either hire more people or enter into new business areas – particularly those that have fewer barriers to entry to bringing on people!

That’s the blend of things that go into my idea of a successful conference visit. I should come away with some 3-5 contacts that make sense to follow up with, post conference, and should find 2-3 things that I hadn’t previously really been exposed to. Oh, and I should be able to come away with some sort of themes of the event – folks were talking about topicY moreso than topicX, or the main thrust of the birds of the feathers sessions aligned or didn’t align with what I saw in the curated conference speaker topics. And somehow fit in a bit of wandering around the expo to see if there’s a commercial offering that makes sense to track or compare the open-source world to – some killer feature or ease of use bundling or new infrastructure or platform as a service offering to experiment with.

After the event, I’ll put together a summary – intent is to post it here, as well as make it available through our corporate LinkedIn page. Nerdery publicly shared!

[I intended to write this post about a week ago, and then got distracted by all things motorcycle.]

Someone on the web suggested that a good way to mark Labor Day was to think through the first jobs you had, and what they taught you in life.  So, here goes…

My first “job” was as a paper route carrier at the ripe age of 9 1/2.  I may have needed my folks to ask special permission, since I was so young.  Each Wednesday and Saturday, one of them would drive me around to deliver my 40-80 subscriber route (varying routes over time). I got my first checking account and learned to balance my checkbook to be able to pay my district manager; I earned a life-long habit of calling folks “ma’am” and “sir” that gets me in trouble today, but got me lots of tips then; and I got my first taste of sales as I’d go door-to-door trying to convince folks to join my paper’s subscriber list so I’d earn extra money on my route or prizes from the district.  Being a young kid did not protect me from rudeness from folks who really didn’t want to talk with me.  I learned to not take it personally, as well as a certain amount of empathy for sales folks as they knock on my door now-a-days.

I had a paper route until at least 14, which was the earliest my state would grant a work permit for kids.  The local hardware store hired me on as a cashier.  I was decently good at it – kept a good attitude with customers, and liked getting customers through my line quickly.  It became my own personal competition – could I remember that scan code?  Could I hit the keys quickly on the keyboard without making any errors?  And, of course, there’s the challenge of making sure the till at the end of night all evens out.  Some of my coworkers weren’t as motivated, as one would expect in a place that pays minimum wage and hired teenagers for whom this money was spending money, not living-on money.  But I was making better money than I did on my paper route, and hey, if I was going to be there, I decided I’d rather be busy and productive.

I had a few more jobs as a teenager- fast food convinced me that I needed to make sure I found a better career.  Long hours on my feet, customers who definitely didn’t respect you, and the occasional filthy bathroom duty.  Did I mention the customers not respecting us?  I think a few went out of their way to make the nastiest messes they could in the bathroom, just to imagine us having to deal with it.  Other retail gigs were painfully interesting in the Christmas rush season (lines to where?!!!) but also put more pain in my feet and less money in my pocket than I was willing to consider dealing with long-term.

I haven’t yet decided how strongly to encourage my kids to get jobs when they’re old enough.  The jobs I did as a teen kept me from things like sports or clubs that I also see as valuable.  In hindsight, the small money I made wasn’t actually going to cover my college costs, even though my folks’ rule was that I had to save 50% of everything I made.  Thankfully, I earned scholarships to put me through, as my folks were upfront that they weren’t going to pay for school, and I don’t remember having any large stockpile set aside from my jobs.  The big highly valuable life lesson jobs gave me was a sense of what things cost.  Nothing like comparing my car payment to the number of hours I’d need to spend flipping burgers to earn it!

Accomplishment for the night: a WordPress update from 3.5.1 to 4.1.1.  In most systems, that’s a well-planned out affair.  The combination of a ‘what the heck’ attitude this evening by me, and a push-button upgrade by WordPress means that I made a major upgrade with nothing more than an XML export without suffering any (at least thusfar noticed) undue effects.   Well done, WordPress!   No login to my hosting environment to rescue my database, no even import from the afore-mentioned XML export.  My theme came over successfully, even though I’ve hacked it up…  Again, well done!  May my development efforts handle software upgrades as successfully as you have!

A business blog recently described a list of interview questions HR might ask you to try to get inside your head.  Some of them I’ve actually used on interviews with candidates.  I’m not an HR person, but hey, seeing if someone can describe the technical projects they’re most proud of helps me to see that they take pride in their work, as well as what they consider to be something worth bragging about.

The question I’d never asked anything near is what someone would do if they won $5 million dollars.  I’m certain: I’d be done working for anyone in particular.  I’d keep doing technical work, but I’d only do that which particularly interested me.  That’s not a very reasonable scenario for working for someone else…  there is this thing about keeping the customers happy and paying the bills that is worthy and valuable. But without the need of an ongoing paycheck, I could definitely see geeking out on open source projects, working as a technical contributor for a non-profit, etc…

I’d actually be interested were someone to ask me the $5 mil question…  their response to _my_ response would help me understand how big they think their impact on my life ought to be overall…    So, a highly useful question if it helps us each winnow the other out.

The life of a technologist is rarely boring. If you’re a senior developer or architect, you’re expected to drop into a project situation and make sense of nebulous requirements, new and/or undetermined technology stacks, and unreasonable timelines (they’re always unreasonable – it’s a truism – partly because the requirements are nebulous, partly because you’re getting up to speed on the tech stack..) Your job is then to convince folks you know enough to get the job done, while knowing you don’t yet, and then paddle like crazy to figure out the right stuff to actually get the job done. If there’s a new technology out, you’re supposed to have an understanding and an opinion of where it fits in the ecosystem. To be effective, you have to know how to do all of the above, while keeping your conversations at the business impact level. Oh, and you have to find a way to lead folks who think they can all do things better than you. If you’re honest with yourself, for at least some areas, they can. Your job i to stitch it all together. Good luck.