Let others choose their own hats

How many hats do you wear?

When I’m in a city and say I’m there for a software conference, I wear my “all technical people” hat. When I’m the only woman in a room of men, I wear my “the entire female gender” hat. When I’m the only American at a long table full of Europeans, I wear my “American” hat. At those times, I feel like my behavior reflects on an entire gender, nationality or industry.

That often makes me think and act very carefully. Sometimes that makes me feel guilty. It often feels stressful.

So just go easy on Marissa Mayer.

She didn’t choose to wear the female hat. But she did choose to wear the CEO hat. And the mom hat. And the female mom CEO hat. Wow! What a burden that must feel like at times. So give her some slack. Let her do the best she can the way she thinks is right. She obviously chose not to wear the “children should spend the first couple of months with their mom” hat. That’s ok with me. She’s wearing a lot of hats. And she’s pushing the stereotypes. For a lot of hats that I care about. Give her some room to breath. Remove the stress of imposing yet another hat on her. Support her in all the hats she has to wear.

I say this from my a day of camping without work and without kids. So pretty hat free, relatively speaking. Yeah to the female, mom, CEO!

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.

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?

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?

“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”?


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.