Tag Archives: mindset

Why Don’t I Speak Up?

That was what I asked myself a couple of days ago at a company sponsored hackathon. The product was part of a domain I know practically nothing about; and of the languages that it understands, I have a skill level of about four in the secondary one and flat zero in the primary one. But I was fired up about hackathons, having gone to a Code Camp session evangelizing them, and I was eager to get out, learn, and, um, have some fun.

I spent the day before installing and studying the product. I scolded myself for waiting until the last minute. If I really had it together, I thought, I’d be ready to hit the ground running on a sophisticated app that had a shot at the prize. Instead, I wasted most of the day trying to understand why I kept getting the same cryptic error messages with every example on two different machines. Clearly, I was missing a dependency, or had a permissions problem, or something.

So when I showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed the next morning, that was my first question–what was wrong with my system? Embarrassingly, the person who helped me was the company’s founder. After about ten minutes of intense trial and error, he found it: the product’s API had changed, but the examples hadn’t been updated. He was a bit red faced, but kind and respectful.

(In fact, not only had the API been changed, but a complete redesign of the entire documentation site had been rolled out while I showered that morning. This wasn’t the first time I’d shot myself in the foot by trying to get a jump start. Once, in college, I finished the week’s assignment early and already had an outline written for the next week’s, only to learn in class that I’d been working on last semester’s assignment. The new assignment–uploaded to the class website at the last second–was completely different.)

As the day wore on, my frustrations piled up. There was another gotcha in the autogenerated template; a line was technically not incorrect, but was misleading to a noob like me. There was an iffy condition on the servers that led me to believe my app was failing, although my code was actually correct. And oh yes, it was alienating to be alone in a room full of nerdy males half my age. To top it all off, the tap in the bathroom sink was baffling. There was no clear affordance for controlling the flow, no motion sensor, and no moving parts. I ended up taking a bottle of drinking water to the bathroom to wash my hands.

The hosts genuinely did their best. They came by several times to make sure I was doing OK. One even said to me quite plainly, “Please ask! If something isn’t working or isn’t making sense, it’s probably not your fault. It’s probably our fault.” On one level, I understood that the glitches I was facing were part of getting a new product off the ground. Bumps in the road are intrinsic to moving forward, and are to be expected. I also knew that I “should” take things in stride.

On another level, one that was much more real to me, I was a bimbo. I thought of what the hosts had told me. I heard the young males asking their questions, basic conceptual questions about the product that even I understood. I also thought of what my mentors, my friends and supporters, countless articles, and practically every other supportive voice has told me: you have to speak up. You have to ask questions. It’s the way you learn. It’s the way you become part of the community. It’s the way you get things done.

But, I just couldn’t. The inner voice that told me that the woman who speaks up is an attention whore, a fraud looking for a free pass, a professional victim, shouted down everything else. I expected the hosts to lose patience with me, and the other participants to target me, even though they’d given no indication of doing so. During my final battle with the design failure in the bathroom I thought, if I’ve looked through the docs pages multiple times and the descriptions of those objects didn’t jump out at me, there’s no point in continuing. Asking how to use the API is humiliating; and even if this question gets answered, there will be another, and another. I’ve wasted enough time on this. I should cut my losses and leave now.

The rest of the day was shot. Instead of spending the reclaimed time on my other projects, which I thought would be a good way to get my confidence back, I played sudoku until 1am trying to drown my depression. Why, exactly, was I depressed? Was it because my fears were accurate? Or because I silenced myself and gave up? I don’t know.

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NSA Workshop With Patricia Fripp

Would it intrigue you to know that, today at lunch, one of the world’s greatest public speakers sat next to me? It was the result of my putting myself in the company of high quality people for several years. There were times when I had to push myself, and times when I’ve made social mistakes; but I knew that if I kept immersing myself in positive environments, eventually I would grow.

A public speaking friend (Thanks, Elaine!) brought me to Patricia Fripp’s workshop “How to Prepare and Present Powerful Presentations” as a guest. I was already familiar with the Fripp speech model, but since “Learning requires repetition and reinforcement,” as she says, it was helpful to hear it again. Today, she gave a more interactive version of the workshop, with more audience questions, mini-coaching, and of course, general audience interaction. I’ve heard of people who are so adept at reading others that it’s almost as if they can read minds. I now know that they’re not just urban legends. She could tell just from watching the audience that I was star struck and nervous around her, and she wasn’t going to let me stay that way–she made sure I got a big dose of Fripp! I’ll definitely be more at ease the next time I meet a celebrity.

This is the third time I’ve seen Fripp live. Her presentations are so content rich that they give me that light-headed buzz after about an hour, yet I push myself to stay focused and absorb all I can. Several times during the presentation she asks the audience “What have you learned so far?” I can’t remember, but then I’ll hear myself quoting her over the next several days. “It’s hard to be creative in isolation,” I told my lunch mates, as we recounted how much we value face to face meetings.

That was when she came to our table and helped an NSA member hone an upcoming presentation. I had no well-formed questions, so I just observed. There’s value in the presence of high-achieving people above their words. Beyond listening to them, modeling them is an indispensable way to learn from them; and mindset is contagious.

Thank you, Patricia Fripp, for sharing your time and attention with us. I hope to see you again soon, and when I do, I’ll have some progress to show you.

Slides for my SCaLE 12x Talk

Here they iz. They don’t make much sense without my narration, but if they’re of value to you, I’m glad to share them. Hopefully, you will come see me in action with them in room Los Angeles A at 4:30. You’ll be glad you did.

Hacking the Kernel, Hacking Myself (.odp)

Hacking the Kernel, Hacking Myself (.pdf)

Meanwhile, here are the links I put in them:

Gnome Outreach Program for Women

OPW info at Gnome Wiki

Google Summer of Code

Spinning Gears

During the OPW application period, I was running on nervous energy. I had a lot of reasons to be nervous: I had quit my job, with no assurance of finding another; I was hiding the fact from certain important people, on whom I was dependent; and I had never truly tested myself as a coder before. The terror of it would jolt me out of bed and into the computer chair. I was aware of what I was doing, and I knew that it was not sustainable, not for the internship or for a permanent job. It’s just for now, I told myself, and once the application period is over I’ll change.

I was not aware of how deeply ingrained the habit was and is. Well into the internship, I’m still relying on my dysfunctional patterns to get myself into a coding frame of mind. I haven’t yet found another way to do it. It’s not a simple matter of “I’ll get to bed on time tonight, and start work early tomorrow.” That leads to a half day of Sudoku and gray fog.

The habit becomes obvious when I look back over the history of my Toastmasters speeches. Time after time, even if I had an outline for the speech weeks in advance, I’ve put off practice until the eleventh hour. I needed that pressure to get the creative juices flowing. Once I even stayed up all night watching the BND logo trying to get wired up (not the screaming version, I haven’t gone that far down the rabbit hole yet), and finally shifted into gear at 3:30am for the 7am meeting. The speech rocked. The rest of the day was a waste.

If there was an emotion that I could ascribe to the swapoff system call, it would be nervousness. It digs into its work at the most obvious point, instead of the most logical one, and flails about covering the same ground over and over until it finally finishes the job out of sheer effort. It’s my job to break it down, see how it’s spinning its gears, and use my knowledge of the big picture to create for it a new life of order and peace. The kernel isn’t the only thing I’ll be updating in these three months.

Who Is This Spoiled Princess?

This past weekend, I got a real good look at my greatest enemy.

It started Friday morning–before that, actually. I had started on my Toastmasters speech a week ago. For some reason, though, my practice kept falling apart. I simultaneously approached and avoided the speech all Thursday afternoon and night (yes, I was up all night); then after a last few broken run-through in the car on the way, accepted that I’d have to ad lib my way through it. I did fine–not my best, but fine. The other speaker, an accomplished and seasoned Toastmaster, gave a 2 to 3 minute speech, and brought down the house when she gave a member a gift on behalf of the club during Table Topics. Because of the way those events fell, she was voted best Table Topics for the meeting, and the club let me have the Best Speaker’s ribbon. “I don’t deserve this,” I thought as I sheepishly accepted it.

From there, I went to the Dojo. When I first started working there, I didn’t want to hog any of the semi-secluded tables around the edge of the room, which I thought I should leave for regulars and “real” geeks. So I took a seat at the emptiest location, in the center of the room. I sat in that same general area from then on out of habit. Then on this day, forgetting about happy hour, I stayed later than usual. At least four people I knew who had come to socialize came through, one at a time, and I shared a big smile and a wave with each one of them. One of them, a famous geek with a Wikipedia page, chatted with me for some time–he was duly impressed that I was working on the kernel, and he glowed with the respect I had just earned from him. I felt warm and happy as I drove home that night, my internal vision filled with happy smiling faces.

But there was one thought that kept popping up that evening and the next day, a thought I tried to tell myself was insignificant. I wasn’t sitting in the middle of an empty room just so people would see me, I thought. But I had been there. Haughty little princess, sitting on my throne and soaking up the attention.

I couldn’t bring myself to settle into my work the next day. I wasted time through the evening and night until about 8am, when I was forcing myself to finish a game of sudoku that I actually dreaded and loathed, even though I was repeatedly falling forward in my chair from lack of sleep. The last semi-coherent thought I identified before I finally pulled myself out of the trance was “Good, another half hour down the drain where it belongs. You have no right to that time or to the pride of that finished work. When you throw it away, you understand that you’re not special.”

Guilt. Guilt because earning money isn’t supposed to be fascination and joy, it’s supposed to be misery in a Bullseye store. Guilt because I’m supposed to be silent and invisible, not be seeking attention with a blog and a social media presence. Guilt because a hot new laptop is supposed to be a frivolous toy, not a tool to get the job done. Guilt because I’m supposed to be all alone on the playground, hated and rejected, not immersed in a community of supporters and kindred spirits. Guilt because I’m always supposed to be a loser, not a living, acting human being.

Getting the guilt off my back will be the real challenge these three months. Understanding the kernel’s MMU will be trivial compared to that.

I have at least one tool I can use: visualization. I got through the application period, and several Toastmasters contests, by picturing myself working, practicing and succeeding. Even though I knew failure was a distinct possibility, and I let that knowledge drive me harder, I never allowed myself to dwell on the image of it. Next, I can visualize myself introspecting, identifying the guilt and the fact that it is unearned, and saying No.

My New Year’s resolution last year was to advance my career, which I did; but the real resolution was to cultivate the mindset to allow it to happen. The game is now leveling up.