How to have hallway conversations when you can’t see the hallway

I recently listened to a talk by Michael Lopp about how to be a great manager.

During his talk, he stressed the importance of hallway conversations. Hallway conversations are informal conversations about projects, goals and status. As Shez says, they are great for bouncing ideas off people you might not normally interact with and just letting them know what you are up to.

Here’s how I do “hallway conversations” while working thousands of miles from my colleagues:

  • Chat informally. While most people will tell you it’s important to have an agenda for every meeting and to stick to it, I think that if you never see your colleagues at the water cooler, you need to build in some time for rambling. Maybe you’ll gripe about the latest project, maybe you’ll share the cool project you’ve been working on with your kids, maybe you’ll just talk about what you had for lunch. Or maybe you’ll have a great shared idea that inspires you to write that blog post that changes the whole project. It’s those relationships that enable you to informally share how you feel about the projects you are working on.
  • Send that trivial piece of feedback. Often I’ll send an irc message or an email that just says “I liked how you did this” or “here’s a piece of feedback I heard about your project”. Sometimes they seem too trivial for an email message. But if I don’t send the email, and I store them all up for the next time we talk in person, I might not send them at all. (I also keep a file where I keep track of things I want to talk to people about next time I interact with them. Things I think are easier to explain via interactive chats.)
  • Keep open channels. If at all possible, have some sort of real time channel where you can reach your colleagues. Best is a something like IRC where you can hang out and have informal chats. But if not a standing room, at least know how to find them via IM or txt messaging.
  • Be available. Be available in as many channels as possible. I’m regularly on irc, Skype, IM, email, txt messaging, Twitter and Yammer. And I try to respond in a timely fashion. Why? Because when someone thinks of something they want to tell you, you don’t want them to have to remember what they had to say until they get back to their desk. Right then, while they are standing in the hallway, you want them to be able to ask you “what do you think about …?” (You also need to make sure you aren’t letting your life be completely interrupt driven, but that’s for a different post.)
  • Get help. Ask others for help. I’ll regularly ask people I talk to what it feels like in the office or what they think about a paritcular project. What the mood is like, what people are talking about. Or I’ll say, “the next time you chat with so-and-so, can you ask him what he thinks about xyz?” I’ll also tell them I’m worried about a particular person or project and ask them to check in for me. After a meeting, I’ll check in with other folks that were at the meeting to share perceptions on how it went.
  • Meet regularly. If there are projects you care about, make sure you meet with the principal people on those projects regularly.
  • Meet in person. GNOME folks go out of their way to attend GUADEC – often taking vacation and time away from their families. It’s an important event because it’s the one time a year when much of the GNOME community gets together. Meeting people you work with in person is invaluable for community building. I love how humor in email makes much more sense after you’ve met someone in person.
  • Ask them. Ask how others are doing, how they are feeling, what’s top of mind, what keeps them up at night, what makes them feel so passionately that they are working at 3am, ask them … you never know what you’ll learn or what you’ll be able to do together.
  • Communicate effectively. I used to say “over communicate” but I now believe you have to communicate effectively. If you publish everything in the world on your blog and nobody reads it, or the important pieces get lost in the noise, you haven’t communicated. But it’s key to make sure people hear what you are worried about and the ideas you have for solving problems.

How do you effectively have hallway conversations when you don’t share a hallway with your colleagues?

How to get more visibility

I hear a lot of people worrying about getting more visibility. While I think visibility is important, I think worrying about visibility is the wrong way to go about it. Worrying about visibility makes people do weird, self-centered things.

If you want to be more visible, talk more about other people! Meet people, listen to them, laugh with them, spread their story.

Here are a few simple things that I think raise your visibility:

  1. Talk about what’s exciting to you. Talk about things you think are exciting – not things that you think will make you sound cooler. Blog about things you find exciting, not just what you are working on. (Hopefully you are working on things you find exciting!)
  2. Don’t worry about getting credit. I read lots of advice – especially for women – that says be sure to speak up for yourself, “toot your own horn”, make sure people know what value you add. Maybe they are right, but I think what you are working on will come across if you talk about what’s exciting to you and you promote others.
  3. Promote others. It seems counter-intuitive, but I think it’s much more important to advocate for what other people are doing than it is to point out what you contributed. First off, it’s much more effective. People are much more likely to be impressed when you tell them this awesome person you know planned an awesome event which got 20 developers together and in a weekend they wrote all this awesome code for this awesome program that does this awesome thing … you get the picture. Much cooler to talk about other people. They are much more likely to believe you and to be impressed. And to retell the story. And who knows? Maybe some of the karma will rub off on you. Either way, you’ve made a difference. You’ve helped spread the word of a great project or person.
  4. Listen to others. Listen to people, read their blogs. Actively listen, show that you’ve heard, ask questions, leave comments. People like being part of a conversation. People like being heard. They are more likely to remember you than the person that talked at them. And you are more likely to learn something really cool you can tell the next person about.
  5. Don’t worry about how important someone is (or isn’t). You shouldn’t be afraid of speaking to “important” people. A GNOME developer once told me he was afraid of speaking to famous people on the project – it took him years to work up the courage. Believe me, my first couple of days as Executive Director of GNOME, I didn’t feel very important, I felt rather intimidated myself! And you shouldn’t consider hanging out with “unimportant” people a waste of time.  We all make a difference and you won’t know what cool things they are doing until you talk to them. (One exception: if someone is boring you to death, it’s best to move on. They can tell you are bored. If you are stuck with them, ask more questions, you probably haven’t found their passion yet.)
So my advice to raise your visibility, for what it’s worth, is meet people, listen to them, laugh with them and spread their story.

 

Did you have to fight?

Yesterday it was implied that I might not know everything about raising boys because I wasn’t in physical fights as a child. While I am sure I do not know everything about raising boys, I was startled to think that not engaging in physical fights would be a parenting gap.

I was even more taken aback to be told my career path was easier because I never had to engage physical fights. While I’m not afraid of controversy, I avoid physical fights. I consider that a wise decision that has advanced my career.

So I promised to get more data about people in “successful careers” like mine and whether they thought fighting was important or not.

I was able to find data on fighting in kids: fighting among school aged children is declining in the US. Whereas 43% of 9-12 graders had been in a fight in the past year in 1991, only 32% had in 2009. There is also a gender and race difference. 39% of boys had been in a fight and only 23% of girls.

But I did not find any data that broke down those that fought and what careers they ended up in.

So here’s a short survey for you. I will share all the data on my blog. (This survey is anonymous. I am not saving IP addresses or any other identifying information.)

Please take a minute to fill it out.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

The secret to my success in a field of men? All my friends. My guy friends.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks talking about why we have so few women in open source and web development and how to encourage more women to join. (I even got to spend an awesome afternoon with a bunch of girls. I was supposed to be mentoring them but they were already Python game developers and small business owners – at the ages of 10 and 15!)

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I am in this field because I really like the people. And 95% of those people are men and I appreciate them. I appreciate all the help they’ve given me whether they knew they were helping or not!

So I decided it’s time to thank all the men that I appreciate, who have helped me in my interests and my career.

First, there’s my dad. He not only told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, but promised to make sure I had the opportunities. I think he’s always been secretly disappointed I didn’t want to play football.

To my grandpa. He told me it was his sandbox, so I could play in it. He taught me how to defend my right to participate with out a leg to stand on — it wasn’t his sandbox. (And to Chris who taught me how to play toy soldiers in that sandbox. I still consider that to be one of the most boring games I know but it taught me how to steer the game or the conversation in the direction I wanted it to go.)

To my uncle John who saved all his computer magazines. He asked me once if I wanted to organize conferences. I stand by my firm answer of no, you’d have to be crazy. (But I do help out occasionally!)

To my uncle Larry who used to save me boxes of science fiction books. Boxes! Boxes of science fiction books! When you live in Spain and can’t get them that was a treasure.

To my great uncle Ted who was more delighted than I was when I finally managed to beat him in a game of cards.

To my boyfriend Frank who projects complete confidence that I can do anything. Except mow the lawn. But he is willing to get in a small boat in a big ocean with me. And he listens to my excited stories and my gripes and promises to beat up anyone who bothers me. I know he’s got my back.

To all my friends that I hang out with online and at conferences. I couldn’t possibly hope to list you all in one blog post but you’ve made all the difference. Especially those that welcomed me in the beginning. Meeting all the HelixCode guys. An afternoon hanging out with Havoc Pennington and the Eazel guys in Copenhagen trying to stay awake. Dave Neary encouraging me not just to be GNOME Foundation member but to run for the board! I didn’t run for the board then but he did later convince me to apply for the executive director job.  Dinner with Bastien Nocera, Jeff Waugh and Glynn Foster.  A cab ride with Daniel Veillard during which he explained why he didn’t trust OpenOffice. An afternoon hunting for saffron with J5. Conversations with Bradley Kuhn about free software and community and who was always helpful even when I was causing him great grief. All the questions that Vincent Untz answered for me when I started as Executive Director of GNOME – he was probably starting to get worried there! For Luis Villa, Brian Cameron, Lukas Rocha, Germán Póo-Caamaño, Behdad Esfahbod, Diego Escalante Urrelo, who took all my suggestions seriously and never acted like any question was stupid even when they were. For Jeff Schroeder who regularly pings me and encourages me on the ideas I’ve mentioned. For Paul Cutler for always making time to meet in person even when I delayed his trip home! For Ragavan Srinivasan who taught me we can be the ones to start something. And for all my new friends in the world of JavaScript and web development. Dave Herman, Christian Heilmann, Trevor Lalish_Menagh, Robert Nyman, Peter Svensson … Even after I’ve shown I have no clue how to write good JavaScript, you’ve still made me welcome.

And a whole bunch more people that I’ve talked to on IRC, IM, in hallways, over lunch or a beer, … I’m not leaving you out. But I do have to get back to work at some point.

Thanks to all of you. For all the conversations, for all the ideas you’ve shared, ideas you’ve given me feedback on, questions you’ve answered, trust you’ve shown, … I thank you. Hopefully I am successful in returning the favor or passing it on because I think it’s what makes our communities great. It’s what will continue to bring more men and more women to our communities.

That’s why I’m part of these free and open source software communities and why I’ve chosen this career path. For the people in the communities and the way we are making the world a better place together.

And I love the 5% that are women too! But I feel like I owe the guys a special thank you as we don’t often mention how encouraging and helpful they are.

The secret to getting your way

You know those people that come into every meeting and everyone just loves their idea? Or they propose an idea on the mailing list and everyone immediately pipes in to say how great it is?

Ever wonder how they do it?

They do their homework.

Before they propose their idea to a large group, they’ve floated it by a lot of people. They’ve discussed it in various settings, public and private, with individuals and with small groups. They’ve explained it, adapted it, discussed it. Most importantly, they addressed a lot of key people’s issues ahead of time and incorporated their feedback.

In some meetings, I know the person proposing the idea has actually discussed it with every single person at the meeting before hand.

Yes, that’s a lot of work. But that’s how they get their ideas accepted.

It’s not sneaky. It’s getting feedback.

It’s not broken. It’s communication.

It works.

So if your idea didn’t get accepted, stop to consider if you could have done more homework. Communicated more. Incorporated more feedback. Addressed more concerns.

LinkedIn Maps: How are your friends connected?

LinkedIn Maps takes your LinkedIn contacts and groups them. The result is not only interesting but rather pretty. You can mouse over the different nodes, see who they are and who else is connected to them. After a few nodes I was able to see patterns in all my groups but one …

The group I can’t identify is dispersed throughout the whole map and contains friends from college, old collegues from HP as well as people that used to work at O’Reilly. I believe the group is really one of people that don’t share enough connections with others in my network to fall into any one group.

Changing Roles

I have really enjoyed working with GNOME over the past 2+ years. Working with the GNOME community on creating a free desktop accessible to everyone has been fun and exciting – as well as challenging – which is part of the fun. :) It is the community that makes GNOME, and it’s working with that community, in particular the board, that has made my job so much fun.

Over the past two years I think we’ve made great progress with the GNOME Foundation. We’ve more than doubled our income both from corporate investors and individuals. We’ve made great technical progress especially with all of the hackfests. And we’re well on our way to GNOME 3.0 which is looking like a solid release at this time. In addition we’ve grown teams and processes like the marketing team, the sys admin team and the travel committee. And you know all this because we’ve also improved our communication processes with things like the quarterly report and more active use of the GNOME Foundation blog.

And I can’t take credit for all this. Obviously this is way more than one person can do! It’s been a team effort and again and again I’ve felt extreme gratitude for all the hard working people on GNOME.

So I am really sad to say that I am leaving my paid position as Executive Director. It’s been really hard to write this blog post because I really don’t want to leave. (And I won’t be leaving – more on that later.) However, I’ve been offered a great opportunity to work on the open web at Mozilla. As you all know, I think we need to be pushing for freedom on the web as much as we’ve pushed for it on the desktop. So I see this next step as continuing in my contributions to making sure users have a completely free and open experience when using technology.

So what about GNOME?

The timing of my move comes at a time when GNOME is getting a lot of press. I’d like to give my thoughts on how GNOME will move forward over the next couple of months.

In particular I’d like to highlight one that’s at the top of everyone’s mind, GNOME 3.0. I am confident the GNOME community will continue to work hard on GNOME 3.0 and they will release it next spring when it is ready for end users. My leaving will not affect the development of GNOME 3.0. My job was to run the GNOME Foundation to support the GNOME community. I did not set technical direction nor contribute to the code base – the GNOME community, led by the release team, individual contributors and partners, sets the technical direction and does the work. While I will not have as much time to help with things like marketing and partner coordination, because of the GNOME Foundation, GNOME has the resources and funding we need to move forward with GNOME 3 whether it’s hackfests or resources for marketing. Not to mention that we have many partners hard at work on GNOME technologies like

Red Hat on Nautilus and Evolution … Igalia and Collabora on WebKitGTK+ … Novell on Sabayon and Banshee … Collabora on Empathy and Telepathy … Intel on Clutter … Litl on GObjectInstrospection … Openismus on gtkmm and anjuta … Oracle, Mozilla, Igalia and F123.org on accessibility … Nokia with a GNOME Mobile grant … Google on Outreach … Openismus and Canonical on the Bug Squad … Igalia, Lanedo, Codethink, Red Hat, Openismus and others on GTK+ … and many, many more

Where I can continue to help by supporting the marketing team or helping introduce companies, I will.

Another area where I’ve invested significant effort is fundraising. People have expressed concern that it won’t be easy to duplicate the work I’ve done. I’m proud to say that the GNOME Foundation is looking good financially. We recently hired a system administrator, sponsored numerous hackfests and we will now be increasing our administrative assistant’s hours. Our financial status is very solid and will continue, given the generous support of our advisory board members. I’m confident that with our current board, our finances will be well managed and we will be in a great situation for the new Executive Director to take over.

There are numerous other things I’ve been working on that might be affected. I’ve worked a lot on the marketing team and I hope to work with the dedicated team that’s grown there to make sure all the projects I’m working on move forward. The GNOME Advisory Board  has been benefiting from regular monthly meetings. One of the board members will take over that and we have numerous topics lined up. For everything I’ve been working on, I’ve been working with the board on how best to transition them and make sure items that need attention are addressed in the next couple of months.

If you are working on a GNOME project and regularly checking in with me, please know that someone on the board will be available to help you and you can always continue to bounce ideas off me in IRC or IM or email. If you don’t hear from me about who your contact is, feel free to ping me or the board (board -at- gnome org)

Where am I going?

I’m going to Mozilla to head up their developer engagement program, focused on the open web! As many of you know, I think we have a complete free and open source solution for the desktop but we still have a lot of work to do on the web. Many of us now depend on web applications that are not only not free but don’t even let us download and protect our own data in reasonable ways. Working on developer engagement at Mozilla will let me dedicate more of my resources to making sure developers have the tools and knowledge they need to create applications on the open web.

(And I should point out that GNOME is hard at work solving the problem of how web applications integrate with the desktop with efforts like libsocialweb in GNOME 3 which will integrate instant messaging and social web sites into your desktop. In addition, applications like Tomboy, Banshee and Rythmbox are all integrating with the web. I hope my work at Mozilla will compliment what GNOME is doing and that we will work together.)

I’ve really enjoyed all my conversations with the Mozilla folks I’ve met and I am excited to be joining them. They are aiming to create an open standards-based platform for innovation without restriction. Something that fits very well into what I’ve been thinking and talking about for the past six months.

When I started at the GNOME Foundation, everybody asked me what I was going to work on. So I spent the first couple of weeks asking everybody else what they thought I should be working on. I feel a bit like that again. I’ll be working with the people and team at Mozilla to enhance and define their developer engagement program. I’ll be blogging more about Mozilla and my work there in the future.

What’s next for me and GNOME?

While my last day as a paid employee will be this weekend at the GNOME Boston Summit, I don’t plan to leave the GNOME community. I will continue to be active in the marketing team and I am always available to chat or help. My focus for the short term will be helping the board hire my replacement.

When elections open up for the GNOME Board of Directors next spring, I plan to run. I’ve really enjoyed and appreciated all the work the GNOME Directors do (it’s the most active board I know!) and I hope to be able to continue that trend and contribute my share. I believe the skills and interest I have can continue to strengthen the GNOME Foundation in its efforts to create a free and open source desktop for everyone.

And to echo a cry I’ve heard:

“Rock on, GNOME!”

How do I raise enough money to work on my project full time?

“How do I raise enough money to be able to spend all my time working on my favorite free software project?” is a question I hear often.

I have a few ideas and I’m very interested in hearing others as I think the world would be a better place if we all could afford to do work we loved and thought useful.

  1. Focus on the difference you’d make. First off, I wouldn’t approach it as “I need to raise money to pay myself.” Unless you are raising money solely from people that love you, whether or not you get paid is probably not going to sway them one way or the other. You need to tell them what $100,000 a year would do. How would your project be great then? Who would it help? How would it make the world a better place? How would it help this particular type of sponsor?
  2. Believe it. You need to truly believe your project would benefit from the money and your work. If you aren’t convinced, you won’t convince anyone else.
  3. Figure out how much you need. It helps to have a goal. Would you quit your day job if you had $20,000 in funding? $100,000? $200,000? (Don’t forget costs like health care, vacation time, etc.)
  4. Identify different types of sponsors. Are you going to raise money from developers? Or software companies? Or philanthropic grant givers? Also think about how much money that type of sponsor is likely to give. Be realistic. Maybe they gave a project $100,000 once but they gave five other projects $10,000. You are probably going to get $10,000 if you get anything. Then figure out how many sponsors you’ll need. Figure out where those people are and how you are going to get introduced to them.
  5. Create a pitch. You need a really good web page, a good email, an elevator pitch and unfortunately, you probably need a slide deck too.
  6. Tell the world. Don’t ask everyone for money. But tell everyone about your project and what your goals are. (Hint: your goal is not to raise money but to make your project better. The money is a means to an end.) Use your elevator pitch. Listen carefully to their questions, their skepticism, their ideas. Evolve. Make your pitch better. Figure out how to pitch it to different types of people.
  7. Sell your project. Don’t forget to talk about your project. You aren’t just asking for money, you are selling the potential of your project.
  8. Collect stories. Studies have proven that people are willing to give more money to save one child identified by name and ailment than they are to save 100 kids. Personal stories are moving. Find a couple of stories of how your project has made a difference.
  9. Learn about them. You are not going to get any money from someone whom you don’t understand. Know them, know their business, know what they care about, know how they view you.
  10. Work with an organization that can help. For example, maybe you want money to work on your favorite project and you found companies that are willing to sponsor it but they don’t want to manage it. Would they be willing to funnel the money to you through a nonprofit organization that also supports your type of project?
  11. Ask. Talk to lots of potential sponsors, ask them for money, apply for grants, look for opportunities. If you don’t ask for the money, you will never get it.

What else would you recommend?

P.S. If you are looking to raise money to work on GNOME, please consider the GNOME Foundation your ally.

Why I wear suits

Photo by thinkpanama http://www.flickr.com/photos/23065375@N05/2247354856/

I’ve struggled with business dress for a long time. It’s inconvenient (requires ironing), complicated (business casual dinner for a woman?) and it’s often uncomfortable (why don’t women’s suits have pockets??)  It’s even harder now that I work with people that are more likely to show up naked than show up in a suit.

I don’t care what people wear, and I’d much rather be wearing sweat pants, so why do I ever wear a suit?

I finally figured it out.

I do not want my clothes to make an impression for me.

I dress to not stand out. (At least when doing business.)

If someone at a business meeting is going to remember something about me, I don’t want it to be my clothes. I want it to be the idea I was talking to them about. So if they expect me to be wearing a suit, I want to show up in one, so they don’t even notice it. If they are expecting me to wear khaki’s, then that’s what I want to be wearing. So that my ideas get 100% of their attention.

And I’ll wearing my sweats as soon as I get home …

Procrastinating? Ask a question.

I find that when I’m procrastinating, I often have a question.

For example, this week I delayed submitting an expense report because I wasn’t sure what expenses were covered. The problem is that I didn’t realize that. I just procrastinated submitting an expense report and figured it was because they were no fun to do. When I finally sat down to submit the expense report, I realized I had a question. I sent it and got back a quick answer and suddenly I had no problem submitting the expense report. I no longer felt like procrastinating.

I also procrastinated responding to a business offer because I had questions as opposed to opinions. Again, it took me a few days to realize that. I thought I was just procrastinating writing up my response until I realized that I had a couple of key questions before I was willing to give my opinion.

So next time you are procrastinating, stop and think if you really have a question you need answered first.