Don’t let them label you a demon kitty

Over the past couple of days I’ve had a number of conversations with women that have left me frustrated. And I realize I’ve heard a lot of stories like this. For the record each of these comments comes from a different woman who works for a different company, none of which I have worked at. So this is not about the companies but about empowering individuals.

Each of these women is super smart and talented, with a good career and has done and created awesome things.

  • “Is there a life outside this company? Tell me there are good places to work.”
  • “I’ve gotten so much negative feedback, I’ve stopped listening to any feedback. I think I’m unemployable now.”
  • “I’m not doing anything meaningful at work but I can’t quit. If they offered me a severance package, I think I’d take it.”
  • “I’ve given up on advancing my career. I just want to find nice people to work with where I can do good work.”

And all that reminds me of the lesson I learned from my demon kitty.

I used to foster kittens for the humane society. And one kitten they gave me was a demon kitty. She would attack me with tooth and claw every time I ate; she peed in every corner of my house; she shredded curtains. She was truly a demon kitty.

I took her back and said “I’m sorry, she’s a demon kitty, I can’t work with her.”

A few days later I called and asked how she was doing. They said “oh, she’s great, we placed her with another volunteer.” I didn’t believe them, so I called the other volunteer. She said, “She’s the sweetest little thing ever.” I asked her to describe the demon kitty just to make sure we were talking about the same cat.

Something in my organization (i.e. my house) was toxic for the kitten. Maybe it was the wrong kind of food, maybe it was the big slobbery dog, maybe it was the color of the carpets. Maybe I was just a terrible manager (i.e. foster mom). And she tried to tell me. And I gave her lots of negative feedback (sprayed her with water) and I labeled her a demon kitty and recommended her for lots of remedial behavior training. I failed her.

So if your organization is labeling you as a “demon kitty”, it’s not your fault, not any more than it was the fault of a six week old kitten. So, hold that knowledge, that it’s not your fault, and decide if you want to work it out with them or if you want to find a better home. Don’t let them tell you who you are or what you are capable of. Don’t argue with them about what label they’ve given you. Don’t let them make you feel like you have no other options. They might think you are a demon kitty, but if you’ve shown you can create great things and you work hard, there’s a place that will show you that you can be a shining star.

7 tips: how to introduce yourself

I hate introducing myself. It’s very hard to introduce someone but especially yourself. So here’s what I’ve learned about giving awesome intros:

  1. Talk other people up. This may seem counter intuitive, but if you are doing a round robin set of intros, be sure to help others talk themselves up. For example, in a recent Kids on Computers set of introductions, Serena introduced herself. I jumped in to point out that she filed our original 501(c)(3) paperwork – which passed the first time. After that, several people jumped in to help others introduce themselves. The focus of the introductions becomes helping others, not trying to one up others.
  2. Know what you want. What do you want to accomplish? What do you want out of this group? Do you want them to know you can make decisions for your company so that they’ll negotiate with you? (Establish your authority.) Do you want them to see you as like them so that you can be friends? (Focus on what you have in common.) Do you want them to know how successful and fun your organization is so that they’ll volunteer? (Talk about what you’ve accomplished.) Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you focus on what’s important to stress in your introduction.
  3. Keep your audience in mind. You are not going to introduce yourself at a conference the same way you introduce yourself at the bar or at a little league game. I do not tell other parents that I meet for the first time at a little league game that I’m a VP at Cloud Foundry. If I intro myself that way, they tend to go “oh, nice” and move right on. It means nothing in that context. Being VP of Technical Evangelism at Cloud Foundry is an important thing to say when I’m talking to other people that lead developer relations and I want their help.
  4. Focus on accomplishments, not titles. Don’t be afraid of your title but realize that by itself, it might not convey anything. For example, saying I do advertising might not mean anything but if you could say “I did the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign“, everyone would know what you did.
  5. Know when to focus on your title. A few times to be sure to bring up titles are:

    1. Titles are important to that group. There are a few audiences where titles are very important. If titles are important in your meeting, you’ll probably know. Go ahead and use it.
    2. You are feeling overlooked or underestimated. Sometimes your title can convey your accomplishments better than the stereotypes associated with your looks. Legs of seated businessmen and woman wearing leg warmers
    3. Your title makes your role obvious – in one word it defines what you might want and what you have accomplished. For example, “high school principal” clearly defines a known role with authority.
  6. Don’t worry about sounding pretentious. If you worry about sounding pretentious or conceited or full of your self, you will either sound pretentious and conceited or you will sound insecure and dismissive of your own accomplishments.
  7. Listen to other people introduce you. One of the best ways to get comfortable with introducing yourself is listen to people you respect introduce yourself to new colleagues or friends. Listen to how they stress your accomplishments or strengths.

What are your tips for introducing yourself?

Why child care at conferences is great

Child care at conferences is awesome but not for the reason you think it is. We think it helps women who have no other options for kids to attend. Really it helps all parents be closer to their kids, helping people in technology build strong families, relationships and communities.

Child care helps attendance for local meetups

Child care is often toted as a way to enable women to attend conferences. I think that’s really true when the conference is local. It’s not that women (or men) couldn’t find someone to watch their kids but it’s one less impediment. The meetup is posted, you see there’s child care, you can just rsvp. Later you might find child care or you might use the meetup child care.

Most people that travel for work have child care

But as anyone that travels a lot for work knows, it’s much more work to bring your child than it is to leave them at home. If you have to travel for work, you probably have child care options for your kids at home because there aren’t enough other options while traveling for work these days. (Luckily, I have an awesome extended support network at home.)

But child care at conferences is vital for our extended community

The reason I think child care at conferences is awesome is that it allows me to share my work, my travel and my colleagues with my kids.  It allows me to bond with my child in an environment that I don’t get to share with them very often.

My kids love attending conferences with me. They get to share my love of traveling, stay in hotels (which they still think is awesome), get swag, meet all the people I talk about and play with colleagues’ kids.

My kids have met my colleagues – really smart, funny people. They have played nerf guns and games with the kids of my colleagues like at the kid day at SCALE or the daycare at Grace Hopper.  They see what I do when I travel – my youngest turned the slides for me at my talk at SCALE and helped out at both the Kids on Computers and Mozilla booths. They’ve enjoyed exploring cities with me the weekend before a conference.

Hopefully they’ve learned more about the world, how technology makes it works, why open source is important and how people debate and collaborate on things that make the world a better place.

What’s in a good developer relations plan?

Screenshot 2015-08-13 15.04.58

Developer relations is the combination of activities, programs and tactics to get developers using or developing for your organization’s product or ecosystem. The goal of a good developer relations team is often to make your organization’s product or ecosystem the first choice for developers. (You may be doing this just to sell more of your product or you may be doing this because you believe your product’s mission helps make the world a better place. You are still trying to get more developers using your product.)

What’s the goal of a good developer relations plan?

Your developer relations plan needs a goal that you can focus on. You need to be able to measure the results of your activities so that you know what you should do more of and what you can do less of.

Some potential goals for a good developer relations plan might include: (Some of these by Patrick Chanezon.)

  • Increasing the adoption of your organization’s product. Example: more people using Firefox.
  • Increasing the number of available complementary goods. Example: more 12 factor apps running on Cloud Foundry.
  • Providing an opportunity for developers to profit. Example: an app store for developers to list their applications.
  • Growing the number of people that benefit. Example: training companies, consultants, app providers.
  • Reducing the cost and risk of using your product.
  • Increasing the percentage of developers that are developing only or mostly for your product.
  • Increasing the network effects in your ecosystem.
  • Decreasing the cost of adopting your platform or increasing the cost of leaving your platform.
  • Creating an environment where developers just assume they’ll use your platform.
  • Encouraging third party tools, trainers and consultants for your platform.
  • Creating a community of volunteer advocates.

Some developer relations groups also act against the competition. I don’t think that’s a long term strategy. Your product and ecosystem have to be good.

What are the stages of a developer relations audience?

Screenshot 2015-08-13 15.04.58

You can move from one stage to the other using many different techniques. Breaking down the stages a bit further, you can map how specific evangelism activities like blogging or talking, might take you from one to the other.

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Who should you have on your developer relations team?

While we usually talk about developer relations as teams, we also need to look at their functions. While each team has a primary function, functions are often shared between teams. Mozilla has outreach and content teams. Google is also organized this way, as presented in a talk by Patrick Chanezon.

  • Outreach. Creating awareness of the product or ecosystem among developers. Most outreach efforts include evangelists. These are people that go out and speak, engage with others, teach enough to get people started, write blog posts, let large numbers of people involved. They are typically most involved in the outreach and awareness part of the program.
  • Content. This includes tutorials, documentation and examples. Making sure that developers that are interested in the platform have the materials they need to learn it. This team should include technical writers, educational experts and programmers. These are the people that are most involved in the online training part of your program. They write documentation that lets people learn how to use the technology. Sometimes they write the examples. Sometimes they create training or online tutorials.
  • Support. When developers start using your product, they will need people to help answer their technical questions or help resolve the bugs they find. This team usually consists of support engineers. They are around to answer questions, help people get going, create code examples. Often when bootstrapping, this function comes from the evangelists but it’s really a different type of personality and role. This team is most likely to provide valuable feedback to the product teams.

There’s another couple of roles worth calling out.

  • Program managers. A successful developer relations program often relies on programs. These might be things like a world wide community run, simultaneous events or a “free phones for apps” program.
  • Key stories/participants/case studies. These are people that have a story that successfully highlight what you are trying to do. And, while they might not be evangelists, they are competent spokespeople. You talk about them, point people at them, highlight them, enable them to tell their story and help them spread it.
  • Event managers/coordinators. Smaller groups might have several volunteers. Larger organizations might have lots of volunteer meetup or hackathon organizers and maybe even a paid staff team to support them.
  • Community management. Whether or not you have an official community manager, there are probably numerous people helping out with “community management” whether it’s onboarding new contributors, reviewing patches or answering questions on the mailing list.

What are the key components? What types of tools and projects are useful?

It’s useful to first look at your project’s strengths. Do you have a large community? Strong contributors? A highly followed blog? A strong culture of global meetups? A clear brand?

Some of the projects and tools you might consider are:

  • Programs that support your goals. For example, Mozilla ran Phones for Apps.
  • Messages/materials. Developer relations can either include product marketing and press or work closely with those teams to develop messaging and materials that support the goals and the audience.
  • Events. Events can include everything from monthly meetups to hackfests to large annual conferences. Many teams often divide events into the organization’s events, sponsoring others events and sending speakers to events.
  • Training. As people join your ecosystem or start using your product, they are more likely to stay if they can get the training they want. Cloud Foundry has “dojos” – a place at several member organizations where interested developers can go train with a more experienced member for six weeks.
  • Examples. A key component of learning is being able to see how something is done and copy it. At Mozilla we created Demo Studio to allow people to share and build on others work on the web.
  • Documentation. Documentation is key to a project for two key reasons. One is discoverability and the other is learning and support.
  • Contributors. Depending on the type of product or organization you are supporting, you may want programs in place to specifically support contributors. This may be as simple as swag or as involved as official titles and budget for programs and travel for them.
  • Feedback mechanisms. An important part of many developer relations teams is providing feedback mechanisms for users to give feedback to the product teams. It helps to put into place objective tools and mechanisms for this.
  • QA forums. Question and answer forums like StackOverflow have become critical to how developers expect to find help when they are working. Having a standard place where your experts will be will help.
  • Membership. Often membership can support the different groups you want to grow. You can have users groups, contributor groups, advocacy. You can use titles, mailing list membership, swag and travel funds to distinguish and reward them.
  • Discussion. A place where people can come and chat and “hang out” with your community is important. Q&A forums often give them answers but not a sense of belonging. Also discussion groups are often an easier way for really new users to get started.
  • Advocates. Recognize our key advocates and give them a megaphone. Connect them with the press and speaking opportunities.

What does your Developer Relations plan and group look like? What would you add to create your ideal plan?

The best jobs in life are challenging

The best jobs in life are not the easiest ones. The best jobs are the most meaningful ones. They challenge you – and make the most of your skills. The best jobs give you a chance to make a difference in the world. (And often great jobs also involve working with awesome people that also motivated by making a difference.)

Through exhaustive analysis of diaries kept by knowledge workers, we discovered the progress principle: Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.
Harvard Business Review

I’ve seen a trend in how people talk about vacations. Actually, maybe it’s not a trend as I’ve heard it for the past 20 years. People want to go on vacation and sit at the beach. Lie at the beach. In the sun. Doing nothing but reading. Relaxing.

Now, I love reading. Not in the sun, but I do love reading. I could probably spend a whole vacation, a week, several weeks, maybe even months, just reading.

But the best vacations I’ve had are the ones in which you try new things, are challenged in new ways and succeed. Sailing in the BVI, as the person in charge for the first time, was way more fun than any day I ever spent at the beach. (And, to be sure, I’ve found plenty of friends willing to go on these fun and challenging vacations!)

Same goes with work. You could probably pay me a lot of money to do nothing very challenging. Every time I see what someone pays to sit in business class, I think you could pay me that amount to not sit in business class! Just think, you pay $5,000 for business class on a 10 hour flight. For $500/hour, I’d happily sit in an economy seat! I can’t sleep, but I could read my book or talk to my neighbor. Things I’m happy to do for $500/hour. But it wouldn’t be a very rewarding job. I wouldn’t feel like I had accomplished anything (other than earning $5,000!) I wouldn’t feel like I had used any special skills or learned any new talents or made a difference in the world.

Now imagine a job where you had a meaningful challenge. A purpose like making sure the next billion people coming online have the ability to create their own content. Or a purpose like making sure people creating the apps of the future could focus on their apps instead of the infrastructure. That would be a meaningful challenge. And if you were doing it well – especially if you were doing it well with people that were equally motivated and fun to work with – you’d be having fun.

So next time you see someone having fun at work and you feel a little jealous, ask yourself:

  1. Is your work meaningful?
  2. Is it challenging?
  3. Do you enjoy the people you work with?

If not, what are you waiting for?

10 quotes from Edward Tufte

I took Edward Tufte’s Presenting Data and Information class. Normally I would have tweeted these quotes (especially since Edward Tufte is active on Twitter!) but the room was dark and my phone’s screen would have looked like a spotlight. (This is not my summary of the day. Just some of the tweets I would have sent.)

  1. There are only two industries that call their customers users: illicit drugs and software.
  2. No visualization for little data. Use sentences.
  3. Taking notes shows respect.
  4. Marketing = amateur social science.
  5. It’s just as easy to get fooled by big data as little data.
  6. Just block people. If someone pees in your living room, you don’t want to stick around.
  7. By age 35, all future music will become an utter mystery.
  8. If you have an inherent interest in operating systems, it’s unnatural. (Operating systems was my favorite university computer science class! And my first job.)
  9. All complex ideas can be expressed in normal language. This is what reporters do.
  10. Distrust anyone who replies with character assassination.

And there was also lots of good content.  More later.

7 ways to know if you are suffering from impostor syndrome

Have you ever suffered from impostor syndrome? Most of us can relate to it. And it’s more prone during certain times of your life, like new jobs.

Impostor syndrome[1] is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Notably, impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women. – From Wikipedia

Having recently started a new job, I thought I’d make a list of the signs that you are suffering from impostor syndrome:

    1. Not accepting praise. Usually when someone says you did a great job, you should say “thank you” not “but I goofed here and I could have done better here.” My performance in my OSCON talk was not as good as my CiviCRM keynote, but I should still accept the nice comments people say. And my OSCON talk was better in many ways – like working with someone else.
    2. Announcing your mistakes or shortcomings. Telling everyone what you don’t know. There’s a lot of technologies in Cloud Foundry! I’m learning them. Just please don’t ask me any detailed questions about exactly how scheduling works.
    3. Being afraid of making mistakes. Everyone is afraid of making mistakes but you find yourself going out of your way to avoid situations that might put you on the spot. You hesitate just a moment before stepping up – a moment you don’t normally hesitate in.
    4. Feeling stupid. Not asking questions you have for fear of looking stupid. I’ve got lots of questions. I’ve asked about 90% of them. I’ve also asked some of them twice – the key is just to ask the same question of different people in hopes that somebody will answer it in a way you understand. That’s a trick I learned in karate. We would take turns pairing up with everyone in class. Eventually someone would explain the move to me in a way that just clicked with me.
    5. Writing lots, publishing nothing. Because nothing is good enough to you. I’ve got a book’s worth of blog posts at this point. Should make life easier later.
    6. Feeling uncertain in other parts of your life where you know you are competent but suddenly you are doubting yourself. Seriously, we’ve had a boat for over 10 years and I suddenly couldn’t get it started last weekend. Luckily for me and my 8yo, I did know how to use the trolling motor (or rather together we figured it out) so we weren’t stuck in the middle of the lake.
    7. Researching and writing about the impostor syndrome. :)

How do you know when you are suffering from impostor syndrome?

What labels are applied to you every day?

When you hear that a 13 year old, black girl is giving a keynote at OSCON, what do you think?

  1. Wow, she must be a child prodigy, what did she do?
  2. Who are her parents?
  3. She got that keynote because she’s a 13 year old, black, girl.

I’ve heard all three options and a few in between.

The truth is that Keila Banks is pretty awesome. She’s an accomplished blogger/technologist and her 10 minute keynote (to a 4,000 person audience!), “The Undefinable Me”, is well worth watching.

And Keila’s parents are pretty awesome too. They have given Keila lots of support and encouragement as she explores the opportunities around her. They are as inspirational to me as a parent as Keila is.

“Just do it” vs “Make it count”

I was standing on stage last week when I realized that the words out of my mouth were in direct contradiction to advice I normally give. Nothing like having a couple hundred people and a video camera staring at you as you try to figure out what you really mean.

Just do it

In the past, I’ve pointed out that it’s really hard for people to make their first contribution. Think back to that very first time you posted to a mailing list or newsgroup. It was a bit intimidating. You don’t know how many people will read it. You don’t know how people will respond. And it will be public forever. That’s pretty intimidating.

So I urge that you just have to do it. And community managers and mentors need to help people to Just Do It.

Make it Count

And then last week, I said first impressions count. So make sure your first point is one you want people to remember you by. And in the context of my talk, I said you should especially pay attention to first impressions if you are in the minority. Do you want to be remembered for that crazy red shirt? Or for the great question you asked about the target audience that started an awesome debate?

When I first started at GNOME, they added me to Planet GNOME and my very first post was about traveling alone. I wish I could take that back. It’s not a bad post. It just has nothing to do with GNOME and it’s not what I wanted the whole community to know first about me.

You can recover from less than stellar first impressions. All the GNOME posts I’ve written since then about the GNOME Foundation and projects have surely made up for that first off topic post.

Finding balance

The balance between Just do it and Make it Count is even harder in some circumstances.

  1. Representing multiple groups. If you feel like you are representing others, especially as a lone representative of a minority group (the only woman, the only American, the only Asian), you will feel like your actions have to be even better, and that your first impression has to be good.
  2. More experience. I also think that more experience makes it harder to “just do it”. Once you are seen as an expert, posting to a mailing list is probably no longer scary. However, you might feel like your work is held to a higher standard and that more people are watching you. (And I think this ties directly to the Impostor Syndrome.)
  3. Other disadvantages. I also think it’s hard to just do it if you have another disadvantage. For example, if you first language is not English, it’s much harder to make that first post.

What’s your balance?

How do you find balance between “Making it count” and “Just doing it”?