First trimester in Vegas… a bit hard.
Standing at a conference all day, during first trimester, isn’t fun. Your business partner doesn’t know because you and your boyfriend have decided not to tell anyone. You’re not showing, but beyond exhausted and nauseous. I power-napped in the hotel hallway. I started with caffeinated tea, and then moved onto the hard stuff – evil coffee. It wasn’t great networking-wise to miss out on happy hours to sleep. Walking through smokey gambling halls was a definite low point, but walking along the Strip was really entertaining. In general, of course, Vegas is not great pregnant.
“It’s really hard to find maternity clothes that say: “CTO.” “
Our first client, Women2.0, hosted the event at The Bellagio, and the catering was top notch, which is great when your palate is changing and you have no idea what is going to sound appealing. To save on costs we drove down and back, and the long freeway drive was wonderful to start fantasizing about child-to-be. And, a great time to sort through our new contacts and work on marketing strategies.
These things lined up for me in a way I can only express as “timing”: months of introspection resulting in a business idea- PickAxe Mobile, fast, inexpensive mobile prototypes for entrepreneurs. And, then, realizing I’m pregnant in an unplanned way: getting laid off work, having fun hiking local parks in the Bay Area, and a few vacations to New Orleans and Southern California resulted in a delightful surprise. The anxiety of genetic screening coincided with long conversations regarding our Articles of Operation.
Some small issues have arisen – it’s really hard to find maternity clothes that say: “CTO.” Luckily a trip down to Cupertino’s Target had great working mom outfits, in suitable blacks and grays. Zulilly, while it took a long time to ship, helped out with some nice professional styles from London (at a great price). With a colorful scarf or footwear, I can rock a meeting. Working in our co-working space, I just remember to bring mozzarella sticks, crackers and a big water bottle. Lots of meetings occur over drinks, but a lime and soda works great, and looks grown-up.
Starting a company at this time comes with some perks- friends and acquaintances are understandably more interested in a new person in the world than a new company. In a time of hyper-networking over free infant strollers and onesies, we also get the word out about our very new value proposition. Community takes a front seat during a pregnancy. For a services-based startup, community is all you need, want, or should have. It’s turning out to be a very natural combination.
Second trimester- much easier
I recently fantasized about working at a 9-5 with real maternity leave. I could zone out all day on BabyCenter and Pinterest. Just a few hours later I was eating lunch at Facebook with a friend, and looked around. The sheer amount of “at your desk” time, even at a great solid company like Facebook, would drive me mad. It was vital to take a few hours off to nap my first trimester. And it’s really awesome being able to leave at 4pm to walk for an hour, and pick up at 6pm until 9pm coding. Getting in an afternoon swim- a regular occurrence. I love the freedom of my own schedule, especially at this time in my life. Sure, CEOs like Marissa Mayer have a daycare in their office, but for working grunts? It’s not ideal.
Professionally, I’ve noticed also that I’m a lot more focused on what’s important. Priorities are easier to line up, and everything seems clearer to me. I think having a big life occurrence happen does that to you- also being an older mom. Things seem less scary and more predictable, and thus do-able. Recently a friend suggested we make a “techie working mom’s, who drink, have coffee, and live in SF” mailing list. I’m secretly creating a list of friends in their 40s/having a second kid in SF list, especially if they’re techie. One of my developer friends does all the iOS apps at BabyCenter, now that is hooked up ;) He hears me regularly kvetch about features. One of my app biz partners is also a mom of a 2 year old, neighbor, and thus one of my best hand-me-down sources. As I said, it’s all about community.
I think starting a business at this time isn’t necessarily wise… in fact, if I hadn’t run a successful consulting business, and later a profitable blog, I’d be at a real disadvantage. But that stands for anyone starting a business. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready. I was getting some free CEO coaching from my brother, who also had a child during one of his successful endeavors. He told me in all sincerity: “Good timing.” My mother (mom to 5 kids) had her own business most of my childhood, and I grew up in it. I honestly think that for me, while hard, starting a business has an energy and creativity that’s totally natural. By the way, usually conversations with my mother start off with pregnancy and end with financial business advice.
My New Year’s Resolution was to be more thrifty. To this end, instead of buying a few chicken breasts the other night, ($11-15 at Trader Joe’s) I bought a whole chicken ($8). Then, ended up stretching it to about 6 meals, not exactly on purpose.
Roasted chicken (Rinse chicken, cover with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in oven for 45 mins.)
Instant mashed potatoes
ready to eat turkey gravy (trader joe’s)
Meal 2-5: Chicken Salad Sandwich lunches
Pick out some meat from carcass, mix with diced artichokes, mayo, mustard and relish, toast some bread, put lettuce on bread, put salad on top. Voila.
Meal 6: Chicken Pot Pie- serves 6/8
(Variations from Joy of Cooking)
Pick all remaining meat from carcass.
Sauté chopped 3 medium carrots, 1 large onion, a few small red potatoes, 1 large apple in olive oil.
Boil water with carcass in a saucepan. Once carcass is clean, remove, add a few tablespoons of sherry, salt, pepper, strain through cheesecloth. (After the recipe I still had 2 jars full of broth!)
Make quick biscuit dough (either from mix or scratch)- flour, baking powder, salt in bowl, cut in 1/2 cup of butter. Add 3/4 cup of milk. Flatten or roll out.
Combine meat, veggies, gravy, some plain yogurt, leftover gravy from first dinner, and a cup or two of broth. Put biscuit on top. Brush egg yolk on top. Cook at 375F for 1/2 hour to 45 mins, or until top is brown.
My mom asked me how long it took- I said, “Not all of Fresh Air,” – to be honest, I got in the zone a little and wasn’t rushed.
I decided a month ago to start a business. The funny bit is that my business partner and I had been collaborating for a while- we both worked closely at two different jobs, and many projects together, before deciding to “go legit.” We already had clients, even. We just hadn’t done the paperwork.
Between jobs last transition, I thought I wanted to start a business, but didn’t have any idea of *what* kind of business. I went to networking events, as a founder/CTO, hoping to be inspired. I went to a lot of them. I remained uninspired.
Then, like all big life transitions, you realize that it’s staring you in the face. I actually had clients that were still in the limbo state I had left them when I took my last job. So, we picked up right where we left off. I think, in retrospect, my last two positions were actually training grounds for this venture. In a weird way, it all cosmically made sense. Not that the road isn’t rocky. I was very down yesterday– I admit it– and wondering if this was the right decision at all. In a way that’s what makes partnerships great, he reminded me that we had such a great run of it recently, that this was a bit of start-up reality soaking in. Sometimes things don’t always go your way, etc.
And, it’s not all an accident or unplanned. I had conscientiously been building up resources and connections, people who I wanted to work with for x,y,z, all those things that prepare you. Now that we’re in the midst of it, it’s still overwhelming and there’s so much to do. So this isn’t some kind of triumph story, it’s definitely still a struggle. And I always question our value proposition, wondering if we should pivot, if we are viable, etc.
I don’t believe in the “you’ll find work doing what you love” life coach ideology- I would sit around eating cake and watching TV “for work.” I do enjoy helping people out with my skills, and building tight little good-looking prototypes.
Also, if you really want to do something, I do think everything ends up being easy. We had our first app launch, and I had a lot of jitters. I had to seriously convince myself that there was a small possibility everything would be fine… and it was. In fact, the users were more engaged than I’d hope, usage was higher, and we were able to live deploy about 5 changes during the launch. (Our strategy was to build an app that could be modified during launch).
Starting a business isn’t for everyone- I occasionally long for a situation where I can just show up at 9am and get paid, instead of wearing 5 hats. But it is nice to put into practice what we’ve observed, learning from errors and successes alike.
Last night I learned of the opening demo at TechCrunch’s Disrupt, “TitStare”. An app that takes a photo of you (and you are of course a heterosexual male) staring at a woman’s breasts with or without her consent, doesn’t really matter. Also, an app Circle Snake that ranks your (male) masturbation technique.
Got a voicemail from my boyfriend this morning offended and that I should write about it something like, “Anna Billstrom finds this kind of app horrifying…” (he tends to think I’m more influential than I am). My reluctance to tweet about it last night is perhaps another post altogether. Something about fatigue, desensitization, laziness in trying to find yet another way to talk about this issue. When it happens so often, is it new to you or other people, and therefore interesting anymore?
One switch up to this situation as compared to all the other conferences where I have to sit through boring brogrammer apps… there was a 9-year old girl presenting her app. Did the developers of TitStare or Circle Snake know that? If they did, did they care? Like me, did they assume all the audience was young, white, heterosexual men?
Well, how did these two offensive apps get in? The apologies from TechCrunch say that they didn’t screen or vet- the Twitterverse has been wondering how dumb they are to let “titstare” – even just in the title it’s obvious – get through.
To me, screening isn’t the answer. Diversity is the answer. Opening up the playing field. Because it’s really not a good competitive contest if it’s just one section of the population. When we start getting new, fresh ideas from other sections of the population- racial, age, gender, sexuality- then we start getting some interesting apps, interesting concepts, truly “out of the box” concepts. I’ve stopped going to Silicon Valley-only tech conferences. instead I like mashups with schools, museums, government, heck anything than *just* tech guys. Making it so the audience, the participants, the judges, everyone is a healthy mix of our population (and really, our eventual customers). It’s just so myopic and provincial to think geeky guys are the only consumers. For top bikes, yes. For Google Glass, sure. But for a mobile phone? Absolutely not. And technology, as we see here, is not what was offensive. Both of these apps were relatively simple technical concepts, but *applied* to a very narrow market.
The TitStare guys were followed by Adria Richard’s demo- Adria was well known for her blog post – also from a conference where guys behind her were opening making chauvinist remarks. Methinks these brogrammers like the attention. “Fun aussie hack,” the TitStare devs apologized. How is that an apology is beyond me #badapologies.
Developer Adria Richards was fired from her job after tweeting about sexual comments at a technology conference.2011, MSN
An Apology From TechCrunch 2013, TechCrunch
TechCrunch Disrupt Kicks Off with “Titstare” App and Fake Masturbation 2013 TechCrunch
*this* woul dhave been funny – an app for Forehead Tittaes, by Marion Cotillard
Really, I Have To Write This Article Again? 2013, Women2
How To Prevent Inappropriate Presentations 2013 SarahMei.com
This Christmas, close to 90% of shopping will occur on a mobile device. Companies are scrambling to get in-house developers.
Imagine you’re hiring an in-house team. You’re tired of outsourcing with contractors. You want to be able to walk to someone’s desk and ask them, “Can we do that on Android?” And, in this fantasy, the engineer lights up, does a few keystrokes, and voilà! Your new Android app does the dishes or your taxes, or some awesome feature. No long protracted meetings and $100,000 later you get a feature that doesn’t remotely look like what you asked for, and doesn’t even work that well doing something else.
I know these companies, and I understand their situation. They don’t have someone in-house to interview mobile. If they did, they wouldn’t have to hire them, ha. So here’s my opinion as a senior mobile developer and lead engineer, on how to interview candidates for mobile, as well as leadership roles.
1. Get rid of the fantasy that quick deployment will happen. Be realistic- two out of three marketplaces require review. Old software rules apply, that with good planning, iteration, and testing, you will get a great product. You can setup a quick deployment environment, but it’s not about the developer, it’s about your engineering group and how quick you release in general.
2. Mobile engineering is not rocket science. Complicated, obscure, and varied, yes, but mostly about getting up to speed on different systems and SDKs and hands-on experience. Put away the Google Questions, engineering exercises, and hypotheticals. Good design means thin clients to a single code repository on the server where you have the hard core engineers. Look for architecture chops- that limit the development on the client. If a mobile developer wants to “do everything on the client” that is generally a bad design. There are interesting problems on the client, but mostly around UI, caching and responsiveness. Hard-core developers in mobile are very tight with the operating system, or moving out of native and into web- HTML5.
3. More and more (and this is a good thing) the user interface and user experience are key elements to good mobile apps. Quick feature development is nice, but good and elegant solutions, from people who have done many apps are better. As an experienced iOS developer, my most intensive code is around a gradient button that I subclassed from the usual UI toolkit from Apple. Yes, making a button. And, it’s a damned good button. Also, my highest points from StackOverflow come from the blog post I made sharing the love on how to make gradient buttons on Android and iOS. So ask them about buttons. Ask them what apps they like and why. Ask them what is slow responsiveness, what is fast, what users can expect. Propose a problem and see how they answer it. Like, “What’s the best way to do a login and facebook login on the same app?” Have them whiteboard some mock-ups and screens. That is probably what they’re going to be doing all day- mobile mock-ups to communicate functionality. If you have an amazing design team, have them meet and interview the mobile developer. This will be a significant portion of their job. The right answers to “what is your favorite app”- one that you like as well. If you have different opinions, it’s probably not a match (or it’s a battle you’ll keep fighting during their tenure, if you want that.)
4. Hire someone who knows how to setup A/B tests for product design and customer feedback, analytics, and testing frameworks. That raises engineers from hobbyists to professionals. If they’ve been in a large engineering group, more the better. Working side by side with your API developer is key, key, key, to a successful internal mobile team. Can they “speak” to the server developer about how to access the API, or how to build one? Setup an interview with server developers and have them focus on data calls, modeling the server side, see if communication is good and they can work together. This will be approximately 30% of their workload, working with server engineers.
5. The “front-end” and “back-end” engineering roles of most web sites does not apply to mobile. If it does, it would be all front-end, but you need to handle memory management and work with a computer language that is Java or C. So, it’s a combination of a serious back-end developer, with user interface and UX interests. Hiring someone internally who is “interested in mobile” – I wouldn’t recommend this as it will be the blind leading the blind. There’s a lot of catching up to do, and while folks may learn fast, you will be their guinea pig, and all deadlines will be pushed out, or products released poorly. Without mentorship, I have seen this go very wrong. So, if you do hire a senior iOS or Android developer, or a lead, do train someone from another department if they’re interested. But don’t saddle them with product and feature deadlines, in a high pressure situation, right out of the gate. It is an expertise, and your business is important.
6. Ask them if they’ve ever versioned an app, and how they did it, and what they recommend or lessons they’ve learned. This will prove that they were involved in the architecture and implementation of a released product. The right answer is that they’ve done it before and can easily explain it to you. There are different flavors, but mostly it’s just whether it’s been done.
7. For developers who point to a lot of iPhone apps in the store that don’t list them as the creator, ask what role they had in the team. Many folks claim apps that are in the store that aren’t theirs, and understanding how they worked with their teammates, and the roles they had, and if they can justify certain code or decisions. Ask them how it got started, what their invovlement was. Were there any changes along the way? Did feature get dropped, if so, why? Sniff out bullshit here, and ask if you can get a reference from another team member. Developers are pretty territorial and will make sure that their work is theirs.
8. Points if the candidate has done packaged/downloadable software (application developers) are good candidates for mobile- the versioning is similar (vs. web), as it’s released software to devices. The problem with web developers who want to do mobile… the movement to HTML5 and mobile web is a great transition in the mobile space, but not completely done at this moment (to be in the store you still have to do a native wrapper app). The modal style of development for applications is still more application (vs. web). Application developers have been solving similar problems as mobile, just with bigger monitors. Web developers have two dangerous tendencies: live updates (not on a release schedule), and easy to create interfaces. Mobile development has a structured, timed release, and the user interface elements are more complex (longer to build) than web.
9. If you happen to land yourself a very senior mobile developer that you’d like to lead your group, the key elements to interview for, in my opinion:
– Ability to code for Android *and* iOS, and gravy if they can do mobile web
– Experience in the server language, or, structural and architectural understanding of the rest of your site and/or product.
Having architecture expertise, and proven experience in developing for multiple platforms, will place them in a unique situation to understand what the clients need to have responsibility for, and what others systems the clients need to interact with. Then, you can start doing the fun work of lining up all those cool features you want to develop.
Tucson, Arizona sunset
I took the Coast Starlight to Los Angeles, then the Sunset Limited from LA to New Orleans, and then back again 4 days later. A total of 10 days, mostly spent on the train. Coach class to Los Angeles, which was 13 hrs, and then sleeper (smallest/cheapest) to New Orleans, which was 2 days.
The Slow Pace
I loved the timing- slow. You were forced to slow yourself down. 3 hours, before the trip, I could cram with errands and tasks, emails, conversations, work. During vacation, 3 hours meant looking out the window. Picking up a book, putting it down. Getting coffee. In First Class (sleeper) we had meals included, so we were almost timed to the schedule of the dining car and reservations. I didn’t go online at all, if but to post the occasional photo on Facebook. Staring out the window, playing gin and chess, and drinking a cocktail or juice, those were my biggest activities. Or, napping, sleeping, chatting with other travelers. It was almost like you were taken back to a pre-digital/pre-car era.
One could say that baby-boomers brought us Viagra and IRAs, hippies brought us whole grains and hot tubs, and slackers (my generation) brought us the Internet and WFH. For no apparent reason, some of my friends have been dwelling on the question: “What Have Hipstesr Brought Us?” This is the current list:
– Berlin Beer Pong
– Biking in your regular clothes downtown is cool
– Better cocktails
Photo from: “How Hipsters and Irony Have Ruined Everything”
writing this post was inspired from many conversations with Kevin, but also, “A Very Gentle PSA To Anyone Writing a Trend Piece about Millennials” on Jezebel
Probably one of the hardest things to coordinate was getting the piano out of my mom’s house- which she had finally sold- and up to my apartment. 150 miles, from a large Victorian in Pacific Grove, to a small 1-bedroom in San Francisco.
First, I read an email in line at Trader Joe’s from my Mom that she needs x,y,z moved out of her house, including, the piano. Could I? The crazy idea of having a huge antique piano in my tiny apartment. Almost everyone I told thought it was crazy, for my under-700 square foot apartment. Granted, the reality is that as I write this, I’m sandwiched between a coffee table, an end table, and a media shelf destined for GoodWill.
All of my older siblings have passed up the piano. They have pianos, sure, but they are smaller and in tune. This piano is old, it’s quirky, it’s got a deep tone but it’s inherently flawed- a shifted part means it will never be 100%. I do really like the sound it makes, but I know that in the hard light of day, it needs some serious tuning love.
We always had music lessons growing up- piano at home, and an instrument for band or orchestra in school. A perk of being the youngest is that I got good piano lessons earlier than the other kids, and I got lots of material to learn on. Lessons were wasted on me when I was a young kid. For some reason at 16, I ended up paying for piano lessons, which seems weird to me now. I don’t know why I didn’t put that money towards cello. My cello playing was pretty good, I was proud of being first cello in our regional orchestra.
In college, I lived next to the big house that was the music hall. So I could play on any of the 10 grand pianos any time of night. And, I could hear from older students criticizing my playing, which was new to me, coming from the loving fold of adoring family. Moving out onto my own, I thought I’d got to practice studios but never did. I joined a band, tried other instruments, but as a renter, never really considered owning a piano.
I’m not a great piano player- my teacher used to comment on how I was into “certain music” (romantic) and to her credit, she got me into some more weird modern pieces that I like now. My hands are pretty small, with barely any span. I have a very subjective (ha) relationship to rhythm. I can read really well, but never learned to improvise well or play jazz. I get nervous when I have to accompany people. My favorite times are playing in the afternoon, when there’s a lively conversation in the other room. I like to get in that zone of half-hearing, half-paying attention, when I’m going along with the notes, figuring out the phrasings, the melodies, pleasantly surprised by some new thing I’ve learned, but not working too hard.
Back to the practical: moving the piano. I have learned there are specialists, and they are incredible. In mid-day traffic near Lombard Street, three guys stop the truck, raise the back, move the piano out, ride it down the ramp, push it across the busy traffic with the light, push it into my building, up the elevator, down the hall, do a tight turn, and plant the instrument right in the cubbyhole. In about 15 minutes. 750 pounds.
The piano is a Kranich & Bach, made in Harlem, NY. Five years after being a foreman at Steinway & Sons, due to labor strikes & disputes, Kranich left and formed a cooperative with 11 other ex-Steinwayans, the New York Piano Forte, Co. In 1874, he struck out with a colleague Bach, the cabinet-maker, to form Kranich & Bach. It was during this time, pre-1900, that my model was built (I can discern from the serial number). Known for its rosewood and mahogany, and other fine woods, they started making these adorable baby grands. Not quite respectable now- considered by many Honda of old pianos- the piano company was bought over and over again, and yes, at one time manufactured in China. Some consider pianos from this earlier period collectible. I don’t know anything about the original owner – my folks bought it used so my mom could relax (her words). At that time she was a young bride with a new son. Then, they moved it to DC, various houses in the LA area, to Monterey, to San Jose, and then back to PG. The only piano move I witnessed, was when my dad tried, by himself (and perhaps a sibling or two) and broke his wrist. It was in a cast from his neck to his wrist, for months, it seemed.
When I told my mom I was moving the piano, and it looked like it was really happening (yesterday, that is) she was so excited and relieved. I feel like it was one of the first times I could really do something nice for her. It consisted of a day and a half of bureaucratic paper shuffling, phone calls, arranging insurance, insurance riders, coordinating people who are harassed and busy all day. Thank god for email ( no more faxing!) and a flexible workplace where I could make phone calls. I found out that one mover, for 50% less, could do it if it was tomorrow. I had to make room, make sure folks were there at the pickup site on time, available at my apartment, coordinate the move, etc. And, I had to finally dejunk the little alcove that has collected computers parts and paperwork for 5 years. Correction, cough, 9 years.
The hardest part of having it is being OK with being loud. In city living, we make more compromises, and I love how quiet my building is. I broke into the new piano by playing my favorite piano piece, “Confidence” from “Songs Without Words,” by Mendelssohn. Then, “Remembrance” another small piano piece by Schumann. I stumbled a few times, noticed some new out of tune keys, realized how grungy the keys were. It was 5pm, I hoped I wasn’t interrupting my neighbor’s kids’ naps. Let’s hope.
Antique Piano Shop
video of someone playing a Kranich & Bach, similar tones to mine
Dr. Kranich, Your Piano’s Ready… I’m Afraid It’s Not Your Dad’s
Look how many women are at Google I/O – this is my world. Let’s change it.
I was recently on a call with a developer (woman), and a colleague who was her supervisor (male). This colleague is *very* well-intentioned and the last thing he wanted was to alienate, silence, diminish, humiliate, or shame the developer. He truly wanted to know what she thought, and to collaborate on a touchy timeline estimate we were building.
Throughout my career, as a woman and working with diverse teams, I’ve noticed a few things that made me think that women, as well as people from other cultures, minorities, or any “other” in the American technical workspace, may be contributing in a style different from what we expect. American business style is a certain way- and I can see the effectiveness of it- but for more diverse teams, there are other techniques to getting the strongest collaborative product out with all resources available.
Ask open-ended questions, and wait for the answer.
Don’t predict or propose a solution or statement. Instead, ask an open-ended question, to find out what they think. Wait for them to actually complete the entire thought. I feel like the American discourse style promotes initiative, assertiveness, and directness, and this is not taught or supported in other cultures (in France, for example, I was routinely told to downplay initiative). So by asking open questions, and creating clear interval or silence where you are listening for the response, helps bring out opinions from others that may be intimidated, or generally not as forceful speakers.
Ask leading questions
Contrary to above, ask questions that posit a strawman or a certain attitude or potential criticism. Then, key to this, is to wait for the full answer to complete.
Your point is stronger knowing the other collaborators’ opinions
You may know the right answer. You may have solved the problem. But your argument, eventually, is far more persuasive if you have heard more opinions from the team, and know how it fits in with your final argument. Listening to as many individuals in a team as you can get- regardless of seniority or experience- strengthens your position.
Ask before you posit your own opinion
It sets bias to say what you think, before asking for a response. Especially if you are senior or in a position of more strength than the person you’re asking. So always ask first.
I learned a lesson in one of my first workplaces- about goodwill- that has proved itself over and over again.
I had a colleague that was much older than me, and knew almost everything about our little software animation shop (4 people, including 2 co-founders). Classic startup- I worked the phone, customer service, accounts payable, product management, and (cough) engineering. Whenever I had a question, I asked him. He got tired of this, and stopped wanting to help me. What I was told by my boss (the president) was that I “hadn’t built up goodwill.” Regardless of whether it was in this guy’s job description (my argument), I had to still help him. I had to make it worthwhile for him to help me.
How goodwill relates to the collaborative process: communicate what you have learned in gathering opinions, for example. Communicate to the developer how her opinion is backed up by other investigations into the problem. Reveal and contribute, where you can, to help her be part of the solution. In the future, she will be more ready to contribute and offer resources to the solution. Sure, it’s in her job description, but showing the final goal and how she contributes to the goal is how you, as a senior person, can give something valuable back to her. Take an opportunity to help her if you know a way of researching a problem she has had. Unsolicited help, or asking if she needs more eyes on a problem. Offer to pair, or contribute feedback before she submits her next pull request.