Friday, February 27, 2015

Weekend Links: The Big, Strange, Wonderful Internet Edition

Wow, what a wild couple of days on the internet we've had. First the llamas, then the dress, and then the very sad news that Leonard Nimoy had died.

I'm going to assume you've read all you want to about the llamas and the dress, although I will point out that I found the perfect quote to put up on Tungsten Hippo today.

And here are a few really nice things about Leonard Nimoy.

He stood up for equal pay.

Spock was a role model for biracial kids, and he embraced that.

If only more of the geeks who say the idolized him really tried to be like him, eh?

Speaking of geeks behaving badly:

Cate Huston on leaving the tech industry.

"The problem is not with the pipeline, it’s with the industry that the pipeline is piping into. "
from a great post by Rachel Sklar.

A good article in Pando about the Ellen Pao trial going on now, and whether a verdict in her favor will actually change anything.

You know, I post a lot of things about sexism (and racism) in the tech industry, and in geek culture in general, but I think it is worth remembering that tech is not all that unique in this regard. It is perhaps behind other industries that have been forced via litigation to improve, but the idea that the tech industry is some odd island of misogyny and racism in an otherwise equitable work world is laughable. And to be honest, there are some aspects of it that are better than what I've seen in other industries. Perhaps this is why I haven't given up on it entirely. Or maybe it is just that I enjoy the actual work too much to give it up.

Also, while I think there are some true sexist snakes in both the tech and science world, I think there are far more basically good guys who have just never taken the time to think about fairness and merit in a world with so much bias built in. They have been praised for their rational intelligence for so long, and have done so well by it, that it just doesn't occur to them that there might be areas in which they are not, in fact, applying cold, rational intelligence to their decisions. I think we'll learn how to deal with the sexist snakes far before we figure out how to reach the basically good guys that just don't realize they're part of (and benefiting from) an unfair system. I find more and more men I know are somewhat aware of the problems and ask questions genuinely trying to learn. I'm glad we're having the conversations. Maybe my daughters won't have to have quite so many of them.

Anyway, on with the links.

This is a wonderful post from Annalee Flower Horne on the portrayal of survivors of abuse and assault in books.

This post from the mother of an autistic child who was late to talk is amazing. Just amazing. All parents can learn a lot from it, I think. I certainly did.

This is a very generous, but sobering post from Kate Davies on having her stroke misdiagnosed.

Hope Jahren wrote a good post about vaccination and the trust gap medical science needs to bridge.

This post about calorie expenditure is really interesting, albeit a little depressing for anyone who wants to lose weight. I find the idea that one potential benefit of exercise is that it helps the body keep its calories focused on useful things really intriguing. I certainly find that my repetitive strain injury and asthma are overall less bothersome when I'm exercising regularly.

Here's a cool science fair story.

And here's the funny thing to end with: new traffic signs in Hayward, CA.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I Am Not So Special

I recently came across an article about the impact of commute times on the number of women in the workforce. (@Geknitics tweeted it out.) The article discusses how long commutes are often more stressful for women, who are more likely to have the job of keeping the family's schedule on track.

That is certainly true in our household- I have always been the person who makes our weeknight dinners, so if my commute is delayed there can be ripple effects that disrupt our entire evening. This is less traumatic now that my kids are older, but when Pumpkin was little a screwed up evening routine often translated into even more disrupted sleep than usual. She really liked routine as a baby and toddler. As I sat in a traffic jam, I could predict the ripple effects through the rest of our evening, leading to me getting only a few hours of sleep that night. It made me want to cry. Of course, I was so sleep deprived in those days that a somewhat stirring television commercial could make me want to cry, but you get the idea.

So, I shifted my schedule to make sure that traffic jams were a very rare occurrence, and that our nighttime routines stayed intact. If Mr. Snarky was late, we just ate without him, and kept the routine on schedule. Things rolled merrily along... until they didn't.

It is no secret that one of the things that contributed to the timing of my decision to quit my job and start my own company was the fact that my company relocated and made my commute more difficult. The small amount of slack I'd managed to squeeze into our schedule was gone, consumed by the longer commute. Dinners were late a lot and although that no longer translated directly into crappy sleep it still had an impact on our evenings, and we all felt it. I had planned to work at my last job for at least two more years before quitting and starting my own business, but a variety of things combined to make the pressure grow and grow... until last April, I couldn't take it anymore and just quit. The commute was definitely one of the forces applying pressure.

There were other forces, too, of course. I am still not ready to write about them in detail. This is partly because I still don't think I really understand what, exactly, happened and partly because there are bridges I'd rather not burn.

But you can probably guess some of the reasons, and I'm able to write about things that impacted me over the course of my career. I often felt like I had to work harder than my male colleagues to be taken seriously. I found myself assigned less technical roles, and then I found people (even people I considered supporters) surprised to learn that I could do hands-on technical work. I couldn't see a path for advancement. I felt blocked.

All of this is pretty standard stuff, as cited in the report about midcareer women leaving IT jobs that I've shared before.

So, while there were positive things pulling me to quit, there were a bunch of negative things pushing me to quit, too, and those negative things are depressingly common.

Sometimes, I feel empowered to learn that the challenges I face are general, not personal. Not this time. I could certainly put a positive spin on things, but I have a rule that if I'm going to write about something here, I will be honest in what I write. I definitely don't write about everything, but if I write about it, I have to be honest. Otherwise, what's the point?

And to be honest, realizing just how in line with common trends my experiences have been makes me feel defeated, not empowered.  It is like I came up against a well-mapped mountain range and got lost in it, anyway.

Rationally, I know that I am being unfairly harsh to myself. But the negative voice of self-doubt in my head is not particularly rational, and in these early days of this my new endeavor, solid signs that it is going to be a success are rare, which only emboldens that snotty little voice.

Even with a map, that's not an easy climb.

I am fighting this the only way I know how: by focusing on the positive things that pulled me in my new direction, and reminding myself that it is too early to know how this story ends. My new company is going to grow slowly by design, because that is how I want to build it. My efforts can look a bit scattered right now, but they are in fact proceeding pretty much according to the plan I laid out when I decided to do this. There is enough money coming in to pay the bills. I need to find more contracts, but that is normal and I have only just started looking seriously, since I gave myself a lot of time last year to decompress. I love that I can write about whatever I want now, without having to ask anyone for permission. I love that I can define for myself what things are worth my time. I love being in charge, even if it is only of myself.

In short, there is a lot of good on this new path, and it is quite likely I would have chosen to follow it even if the old path had been nothing but flowers and butterflies.

Could I have stayed on my original career path if I'd just tried harder, and maybe found a better map? Maybe. But this new path suits me well, too.

Will I be a success story, or a cautionary tale? Only time will tell.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Weekend Links: The Good Writing about Annoying Things Edition

My plans for today were upended when Petunia woke up with a fever and clearly feeling not well at all. So I've been home with a sick kid today. She slept a lot in the morning, which let me get quite a few things done. I write my links post in the afternoon, though... and mostly, she has insisted that I sit next to her on the sofa. She let me do some work while she "snuggled" me by putting her feet on any exposed skin (or skin she could easily cause to become exposed), but that wasn't very conducive to typing.

So what I'm say is that this post is a little more rushed than usual.

I didn't read the NY Times article about Justine Sacco and "internet shaming" that had everyone talking. I did read a couple of reactions, though. This post from Sam Pritchard is quite good, and references a piece Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote on the occasion of a different racist getting fired over an ill-judged tweet, about how part of our discomfort with these repercussions is that we aren't used to seeing white people treated as having a race. I will not do justice to either piece trying to summarize them, so just go read them.

You might also want to read Shakesville about the poor treatment Adria Richards received in the NYT article, and note the difference in outcomes for her and the man who was fired for the stupid dongle joke that set that story in motion. As she points out, the guy who was fired was violating a published policy at a professional conference. Perhaps he was just not expecting to be made to pay a price for misconduct. I don't necessarily think that firing him was a proportionate reaction, but then I don't know what else was in his HR file.

Moving on... sort of. This article from Anne Therieult does a good job arguing that we should consider the sort of harassment that Adria Richards suffered to be a form of terrorism. It might sound like an extreme label for this, but it does have a terrorizing effect, and not just on the direct target.

Here is an excerpt from a book on the subject by Danielle Keats Citron, who is an academic studying this issue.

And here is a Pastry Box post from Eileen Webb about how perhaps we all need to sit with the discomfort brought on by people speaking up about their mistreatment. It is aimed specifically at the tech industry, but I think it applies broadly.

Moving on for real this time: here's a list of things Susie Orman Schall learned when she interviewed a bunch of women about how they achieve "work-life balance." The points about how achieving balance means making choices and takes effort particularly resonated with me. At least in my experience, there is no magic solution to making all the pieces you want in your life fit together into a satisfying whole. You have to look at the problem, analyze it, and try out solutions until you find what works for you.

Have you ever wondered why people with chronic fatigue and/or pain syndromes often refer to themselves as "spoonies"? I had. Here is the answer (I think). Either way, it is a good analogy to help the rest of us better understand what living with that sort of disease is like.

Brittney Cooper wrote a profile of Dr. Pauli Murray, a Black, queer, feminist legal scholar whose work Ruth Bader Ginsburg referenced and who has largely been forgotten. There is an interesting example of not appropriating work in the profile, too, in which Ginsburg gives proper credit to the people whose work she used in a brief.

I usually end with something funny... and this is funny in a LOLSOB sort of way: If critics wrote about male directors the way they are writing about Ava Duvernay.

In other news, I posted another kid's book we love over at my author site. And here's a drum that Petunia and I made together. If you have access to Nature Chemistry, you can also read a review of Navigating the Path to Industry. If you don't have access, the ebook is cheaper than even renting access to the review, so if you're curious you might as well just buy the book! This page includes all the links. The GumRoad option includes a PDF, if that is your preferred format.

And here is a proper light-hearted ending: the evolution of bunnies, in needlework.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

No Complaints

I have a bunch of little tidbits, none of them big enough for a post of their own. So I'll put them together even though they don't have anything more in common than the fact that they are bouncing around my brain at the same time.


Every now and then, one of my kids has what I guess is a developmental leap. It seems strange to be using that term, which I associate with the baby and toddler phase, about my 5 and 7 year olds, but I think it is accurate. Anyway, I always feel about three steps behind when this happens.

We're in the midst of one of these periods with Pumpkin. My little baby who screamed if you tried to stop interacting with her for even a few minutes, the one who became a little girl who never wanted to play without an adult keeping her company, is now pushing for more independence. She wants to get email on her Kindle Fire. She wants to know when she can walk to and from school on her own. I struggle to explain that these things are complicated, and require us to work out new guidelines for her.

Mr. Snarky and I are trying to figure out what freedoms to give her, and what rules to have. And what potential bad things to explain. This is hard, and requires time we don't really have right now.

So what we'll probably do first is leave her alone in our house for a short period of time while I run up to the store. I told her she needs to practice answering the phone when I call, and then we'll work out a time to try this out.

Still, this is better than screaming every time I try to go to the bathroom. Come too think of it, she's even stopped barging in on me when I'm having my shower. I call that progress.


I've decided I need to experiment more with advertising. I've run some campaigns for Tungsten Hippo in the past- it is my learning project, after all. But the results were sometimes hard to gauge since I'm not really selling anything on that site. I did some analyses based on number of hits on the website, or number of new subscriptions to the weekly digest newsletter, but I wanted something with more direct measures of what might make people actually spend money. So I decided to run an AdWords campaign for Navigating the Path to Industry. It hasn't been a direct financial success- I've spent a little more than I've made in additional sales. But that is itself an interesting piece of data. I've also learned about which keywords have performed the best, and I can take some of that information and tweak my other marketing material (namely, the book description on Amazon and the book's webpage).

So, maybe I need to set myself a slightly larger budget and do some more experiments and focus on the return in useful information than the return in dollars, at least for a little while.


I need to do more yoga. There are all sorts of problems in my way. I can't find the right kind of class near me. This strikes me as ridiculous- I live in Southern California! There are yoga studios all over the place. By the fashionable yoga style right now is a very vigorous yoga, sometimes even combined with Pilates. The goal is exercise. That is not my goal. My goal is deep soft tissue healing. I prefer a yoga style that is sometimes called "restorative," in which the poses focus more on stretching and blood flow and you hold them for longer periods of time. The last class I had was with a bunch of septuagenarians (I am not exaggerating) but it is in a very inconvenient location for me now. I'm sure I can find a class. I just need to search harder and maybe accept a less convenient time or place.

In the meantime, I'm trying to restart my own practice at home. But my kids have other ideas. They construct elaborate "houses" out of our ottoman-like things and various toys. I never know what to call the ottoman-like things, so here is an old picture showing them:

Ottoman/coffee table things, with half of Pumpkin at 9 months
Once the kids got old enough to be a threat to the TV (or to have the TV be threat to them, before we upgraded to a wall mounted flat screen), we moved two of the ottoman things in front of our entertainment center. They have stayed there because we shove the cubes full of "kitchen stupps" (Petunia's mispronunciation of "kitchen stuff") under them, which  makes our living room look slightly less overrun with toys. But the kids pull them out and construct houses, and then there is o floor space.

I can't be bothered trying to describe a "house," either, so I posted a picture to my Crappy Things I Made to Stop the Whining tumblr, which also occasionally hosts things my kids have created. That particular house was from last month.

We don't typically make the kids clean up the living room every night, but since the living room is literally the only place in our house big enough to do a proper reclining twist position... this may need to change. If we do go ahead and add on another room, there will be space for some yoga in there, I think. But that is at best five months away from completion (and hasn't even been contracted for, let alone started). I don't think I can wait.

Along those same lines, I need to come up with a temporary solution to the storage problem in our current office, so that I can work at my desk again, instead of the dining room table. The light is nicer in the dining room, but the ergonomics are better at my desk and ergonomics needs to win. I have a old repetitive strain injury, and it is starting to flare up. I have finally learned to take the early warning signs seriously and make changes before I am unable to hold things that I can't afford to drop in my right hand.


Petunia has been on a cleaning rampage (except of the current house in the living room, which she wouldn't take down so I had to do it). Last night, she wouldn't go to sleep. I gave up at 10 p.m. and came out and had a beer. As I was heading to bed a little before 11, she came out of her room, handed me the Kindle case I had left by her bed during my unsuccessful attempt to keep her company while she fell asleep, and then joined me in my bed for some more tossing and turning.

When we got up this morning, she showed us what she'd been doing between 10 and 11, when we assumed she was sleeping. She had cleaned her room.

Then tonight after dinner, she demanded I put a swiffer cloth on our swiffer and she swiffered the entire house, then berated me for not having a kid-sized broom so she could sweep, too.


In short, my life is full of wonderful things and problems that I can only consider good problems to have. No complaints here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ups and Downs

Chinese New Year is this upcoming Thursday. A former colleague of my husband threw a party to celebrate, so we spent this afternoon and evening enjoying the chance to see some wonderful people we don't see very often these days and eating delicious food. We even got to help make some dumplings, although our technique was nowhere near the standard set by our hostess and the other Chinese people at the party. They were gracious about our ineptitude.

It was delightful... until Petunia announced that her "throat hurt" (her word for feeling like she's going to throw up). It was almost time to go, anyway, so I hurriedly got the kids ready to leave while Mr. Snarky said good-bye to everyone. I even dug a plastic bag out of my purse for the car ride home. Just in case. It wasn't needed, and Petunia is sleeping now. We'll see what the night holds.

The party was at a beautiful house in one of the nicest nearby parts of San Diego, up on a hill with a 180-degree view out to the ocean. Mr. Snarky and I used to live in the flatlands near the bottom of this particular hill (not that I'm complaining- that was when we lived walking distance to the beach!) and we would sometimes go for long walks over the hill and around the neighborhoods at the top of the hill, enjoying the view and gawking at the beautiful houses. This was obviously before we had kids, although Mr. Snarky would sometimes push Pumpkin in our jogging stroller around the same route, since she would only nap when in motion or on a person, and I was almost always desperate for a nap myself.

I remember walking past this house when it was getting renovated, so it was sort of surreal to be inside it. We spent some time out on the deck, enjoying a view of the marine layer that had rolled in. This was still beautiful. It was hard not to feel a little bit jealous.

Early in the festivities, we all walked to a nearby viewpoint. On the way back, Petunia told me that she liked the fancy house, but that she liked our house better, because that was where we played games and slept. It was sweet to hear. I actually like our house and our neighborhood a lot, and while I would love to have a deck with that view, I am reasonably content with our nice backyard with the big avocado tree.

We are, however, looking to add on to our house. We want a bigger office, and to move Petunia from her little room to the bigger room that is currently our guest room and office. I almost started that sentence as "we need..." but that is bunk. We don't need more space. We just want it. It will make our lives better, but our lives are pretty damn good as they are.

Anyway, we have been working with a design firm and have a design we like and think we can afford. We need to do our taxes to be sure. 2014 was an unusual year for us and we have pretty much no idea what to expect when we get our tax return completed.

Meanwhile, I really want the new office, so I can sit and work at a desk with a keyboard tray again. I legitimately need this bit to happen, as my current set up is not doing good things for my old repetitive strain injury. If we cannot afford the remodel, I will have to find a way to make this happen in our current office.

The uncertainty is frustrating, even more so because there is a voice in my head telling me that this would not be a problem if I hadn't quit my full time job. This may or may not be true, but it is irrelevant. Thankfully, I was reminded of this at the party today, too. One of the other guests was telling me about why his wife had quit her job at my husband's company- a company that my husband likes and thinks is full of good people. I recognized something about the story. Sometimes, a good company full of good people can still be all wrong for you. My former work situation was wrong for me, and the wrongness was overflowing to impact the rest of my family. Things are better now, whether or not we end up being able to afford the new office.

Still. I'm feeling a little extra motivation to get things moving. This morning, I finally wrote up and posted instructions for how to buy an ebook some place other than Amazon and load it onto your Kindle. This has been on my list of things to do at Tungsten Hippo since the beginning of the year. I sent an email about a potential contract. It would be small, but it would be a new client and that would be a good thing. I sent an email about a potential review of Navigating the Path to Industry. I also set up a trial Google AdWords campaign for the book. I have some good, specific keywords so I am cautiously optimistic that this will at least be an informative experiment.

As I was telling someone at the party, sometimes I am full of optimism about my new work goals. Other times, I wonder what the hell I've done. The trick, I think, is to write my to do lists during the optimistic times, and just keep trucking through them regardless of the ups and downs of my mood. So that's my goal for the next little bit: just keep on truckin'.

A decorated Pakistani truck. I found the photo via wikipedia.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Wow, February is Short Edition

Another week has sped by... When I lived in cold places, I thought February was the longest damn month. Out here, where winter is mild to non-existent, it tends to speed past. I have a sort of work-related trip coming up at the beginning of March and I had a little panic session this week in which I realized that it is past time to be booking my tickets and that I really need to start working on my talk now.

Anyway, on to the links. I don't have that many (see above about panicking), but I do have some.

This interview with the friend of one of the young Muslim students killed in North Carolina is heartbreaking. I hear there is also a StoryCorps recording with one of them, but I have not been able to listen to it. I always struggle with finding the balance between self-care and what we owe victims in situations like this. In some ways, I think we need to look at the tragedy until it hurts us, so that we will be moved to do what we need to do as a society to stop these things from happening. But I also have to protect my own sanity. I will say that I get very angry when I see this crime explained as "a dispute over a parking space," as if that is a reason that should make any sense and as if that makes it not a crime motivated by hate. There are so many things we as a society need to work on. Perhaps we need to let our hearts break a little more than is comfortable so that we'll find a way to actually work on them. I don't know.

This summary of a speech by FBI director James Comey is somewhat encouraging. Not encouraging enough that we can stop affirming that Black lives matter and demanding that law enforcement do a better job protecting them. But somewhat encouraging, nonetheless.

A female CEO writes about how her male cofounder is treated differently than her.

Roxane Gay has a piece in Fortune about how workplaces need to support people with varying personalities. ("Not just a**holes," says my inner snark.)

I like this idea for a kid's clothing company. I haven't had a chance to go check out their Kickstarter and see if I want to contribute (probably not unless it is running for several more months- we're cutting back on most non-essentials as we try to figure out if we can afford the house renovations we want to do), but I agree that little girls shouldn't have to choose between dinosaurs and dresses.

Despite spending four years in Chicago, I was unaware of the existence of ice volcanoes on Lake Michigan. @SarcastiCarrie sorted me out.

Speaking of SarcastiCarrie- check out her latest submission to Crappy Things I Made to Stop the Whining. It is a pretty awesome snow plow.

And while you're there, check out my latest post, which is a shirt I designed that my daughter loves so much she talked me into getting a matching one for her best friend. Bonus- the model in the picture is my daughter!

If you click through from that post, you'll discover that I'm now selling my t-shirts on Etsy. One of the reasons I made the switch was because the manufacturer I'm using has the slimmer "girl's cut" t-shirts that my daughter prefers. So, if you want to get one of the NOT a Princess or Not JUST a Princess t-shirts I designed to support Petunia, the Girl who was NOT A Princess for an elementary school age girl, now you can get it in the shirt style that girls that age tend to prefer. I'll be designing more shirts soon. Once I stop panicking about the upcoming trip, that is.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Marketing and Talking about the Things I Love

In my last post, I mentioned that one of the "not true for me" values I absorbed in academia was a distaste for management. I'm long over that now, and am now moving past another false value I absorbed: that marketing is easier and less worthy of respect than technical work.

This particular false belief- which I would never have said out loud!- stuck with me well into my post-academic career. Frankly, a lot of scientists and techies in industry also tend to look down on marketing as "easier" than what we do.

I can now categorically state that this is utter bunk. Effective marketing is HARD. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that I think the success or failure of my business is going to come down to how well I learn to market my products and services. Sure, I have a lot of other things to learn, and if I don't learn those well, I'll probably fail, too. But those things- how to write apps, how to format more complicated ebooks, even how to create more appealing t-shirt mockups- are well within my comfort zone. They are, primarily, technical problems. I'll research them, and practice and develop the technical skills I need. When I research them, I'll probably be able to find the "right" answers, or something close to them, and if I can't, I'll be able to derive these answers based on other technical information I find.

Marketing is a completely different thing. What is the "right" way to market something? Who knows? Similar to management problems, marketing problems are at their root problems of understanding how people behave, and that is an endlessly varying topic. I'm sure I'll eventually find some resources that help guide me, and develop my own methods of experimenting without spending a fortune... but there are no first principles here, not really. It is going to be one endless, high stakes experiment. It is a good thing that tackling touch challenges and learning new things are a couple of my actual career values!

So, I'm sending sincere apologies to all of the marketing people I ever thought had an easier job than I did. I was so very, very wrong.


I've actually been experimenting with marketing for awhile now, via my Tungsten Hippo site and via marketing Navigating the Path to Industry. I have learned a little, but not as much as I'd like. Mostly, I feel like I've learned that I have a lot more I need to learn.

One of the things I've learned is that the absolute best marketing happens when a fan shares his or her enthusiasm for something. I don't necessarily believe in the literal idea of karma, but I love the concept of it, and in that spirit, I want to share three things I've loved recently.

The first is a book that has been waiting for me on my ereader for far too long, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms,
 by N.K. Jemisin. I finally read it last weekend and... wow, it was wonderful. Beautiful writing, fast-paced and engaging plot, and interesting, believable characters. It also had an ending that I did not see coming and loved. Sometimes, I love a book right up until the ending, and then the author stumbles and leaves me with an unsatisfied feeling. Not this time. If you're into speculative fiction at all, read this book. If you aren't, consider reading it anyway. It might win you over.

The second is a podcast that I'm actually still loving. Longtime readers might remember that I loved the BBC History of the World in 100 Objects podcast. I was a little bereft when I finished it, but I've finally found another podcast I love just as much. The History of English podcast is a fascinating blend of history, archaeology, and linguistics.

The organizing principle is telling the history of English, but to do so, Kevin Stroud starts back at the very beginning, with the first language of our language group, Indo-European. He traces the development of all the languages that made their way into English- Greek, Latin, Celtic, French, and Germanic dialects. He also discusses the people who were speaking those languages, and their histories. I am learning so much, and since I will probably not retain anywhere near all this new information, I may revisit this podcast again later.

However, there are some tidbits I've picked up that I'm likely to remember. For instance, the idea of an alphabet- i.e., a system of writing based on fundamental phonemes- happened once, and all of our various alphabets have evolved from the first one, which was developed by the ancient Phonecians. Tracing the development of our alphabet has been one of the surprisingly fascinating parts of the podcast- there is an entire episode on the letter C which is just great- so I'll almost certainly buy the companion audiobook, The History of the Alphabet, when I finish this podcast.

Another interesting tidbit I just picked up this week: the phrase "to egg him on" is very, very old, dating at least from when the Vikings came to England. Egg at that time had a meaning of to prod or poke, and actually derived from the same word that gave us our modern word "edge."

The final thing I want to share is a short ebook, The Fort of Young Saplings. I posted it at Tungsten Hippo a few weeks ago, and it is just wonderful. It is also a great example of the strengths of the short ebook format- it would not support a longer book, but is long enough that I prefer to read on an ereader versus a website. I read it over two or three evenings, and ereaders are better at remembering your place than websites! So if you're wondering why I am so enthusiastic about short ebooks, go over to the Tungsten Hippo post and check it out, and maybe give this book a try.

And of course, if you're won over by the format, I'd be thrilled if you'd bookmark the site, follow on social media (TwitterTumblr, Facebook, or Pinterest) or sign up for the newsletter! (See, I'm working on marketing....)

Now it is your turn! Do you have any thing you've loved lately and want to share? Put it in the comments.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Becoming Me, Part II

As I mentioned in the weekend links post, I've been really busy lately. It has been a good busy- a lot of things I set in motion in the early part of January came back around in the last couple of weeks. (I write in more detail about my business activities in my monthly newsletter- I prefer to keep those details out of this blog. The next issue comes out this upcoming Friday.)

I'd also agreed back in December to give a talk based on the first part of Navigating the Path to Industry, and that talk was on Friday. My topic was "getting ready to search for a non-academic job," and I took the material in part I of the book and expanded on it a bit. One of the themes I wanted to touch on was the idea that you have to change your mindset and do the work of figuring out what actually matters to you. Academia is a culture, and like all cultures, it has a set of values. When you've spent a lot of time- in many cases, your entire adult life!- in a culture, you'll absorb its values.

I think this is one of the things that makes it so scary to look for a job outside of academia: the values you've absorbed tell you that leaving academia is a sign of failure. But of course, it is not a sign of failure, not at all. There are plenty of successful, happy people outside of academia! The problem is that the mindset and values that we pick up during our time in academia makes it hard to really see the options.

While I worked on these slides, I thought about my own path, and could see that it has taken me many, many years to really leave other people's ideas of success behind and figure out what actually matters to me.

Here is what I have finally realized: all I really have to do with my work is make enough money to support myself and my family. Everything beyond that is up to me to prioritize. I get to decide what success looks like for me, and it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks.

This was the realization that helped me take the step of quitting my full time job to do what I'm doing now.

It was a long time coming. As good as getting a PhD has been for me personally, there is no question that I absorbed some values that weren't actually in keeping with what really matter to me. As I look back over my career, I can see several points in time when I made progress towards leaving those false for me values behind, and figuring out what my own career values are.

The first step was probably my decision to take a job at a biotech company rather than a postdoctoral fellowship. Most of the advice I got was to take the postdoc. It was at a fairly prestigious place, and most people were of the opinion it would set me up to pursue either an academic position or a career in industry. Basically, they were arguing that it would give me more flexibility. And maybe it would have. But when I looked at the two jobs on offer, the work I'd be doing in the postdoc was nowhere near as interesting as the work the biotech wanted me to do. In the postdoc, I was going to be trained- they had a system of doing things, and they were going to show me how to do things their way. In the biotech job, I was going to be figuring out problems on my own. Now, there is nothing wrong with training, but I love the challenge of figuring things out. This in fact turns out to be one of my core career values. At the time, I couldn't articulate this so clearly, but my gut instinct was that the job was the right choice for me, so that's the choice I made. (It didn't hurt that the job paid twice what the postdoc did!)

The next point at which I remember really making progress towards understanding what matters to me was a little less than five years later. I was working in my third job, which was the one in which I was being converted into a project manager. I had thoroughly absorbed the mindset that management is a waste of time, something less than being a hands on scientist or techie. I was clearly rather good at project management- my projects were succeeding and coming in on time and within budget. But I struggled to view what I did as "real" work, and was experiencing my first real bout of career angst.

I can't remember who suggested that I see a career counselor/coach, but it was a great idea. I worked with a wonderful coach, and really learned a lot about what matters to me. One of the best exercises was a career values worksheet, in which I went through a long list of possible values and indicated how much each mattered to me. (You can find a lot of these worksheets online. This one looks similar to the one I did.)

At the end of my six week session, I had three possible career paths and was struggling to figure out which one to choose. The coach couldn't tell me what to do, she could just give me some tools to help me figure it out for myself. Although those sessions ended with me still unsure what to do next, they were immensely helpful, because they gave me the framework in which I've worked through these issues ever since.

I'd made good progress, but was still unsure what to do next. At the time, Mr. Snarky and I lived near the beach, and were in the habit of taking long walks on the beach. Ah, the time before kids.... Anyway, during one of these walks, we realized we were both not that happy at work, we both wanted to do some serious traveling before having kids, and we had the money to allow us to do this. So a new plan formed, and we both went to ask for four month leaves of absence from our jobs. We both expected to be told no, and were prepared to resign. Instead, we were both told yes. We launched into a period of intense travel planning, and a few months later, set out on our big trip.

Talking about the transformative properties of travel is cliche, but I came back from that trip with a more balanced view of what a successful life might look like.

Among other things, contemplating the moai at the quarry on Easter Island will make
you think about how things don't always turn out exactly as we plan.

Less than a year after returning from that trip, I was pregnant with our first child. That was the start of almost seven years in which I didn't worry so much about my overall life plan, focusing instead on just keeping my head above water. I did make some career moves during those years. I realized that the job I returned to after my trip was never going to make me happy, and made a change to another job. By the time I was laid off from that job, I had an inkling that what I really wanted to do was be out on my own, but I was not quite ready to make that leap, either financially or emotionally.

Over the next couple of years, I recognized my own ambitions. I was ready to make the leap, but was blocked by something. Fear, mostly, with a dash of insecurity. I found another career counselor, and she helped me understand what was holding me back. I made the plan I am currently living- working about half time as a consultant/contractor and using the remaining time (and some of money contracting brings in) to bootstrap a company. I had a nice conservative plan for how to get there, in keeping with my desire not to rock my family's financial boat. But that plan was taking longer than I'd hoped to work, and then things went a bit sour at my job, and I ended up just quitting.  I am extremely fortunate that I landed essentially in the situation for which I'd been aiming.

I still struggle with self-doubt and feeling like I need to "prove myself." But I am better able to shut those feelings down now. I've adopted "All I really have to do is support myself and my family" as my new mantra, and I'm trying to relax and enjoy this opportunity to really be me.

This is something of a follow on to Becoming Me, Part I, which focused on the path up to and through graduate school. As with all of my navel gazing posts, it is not really advice. I'm writing about my own path to a state of reasonable career happiness- other people's paths may be quite different.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Where Did That Week Go Edition

Wow! Things have been busy here lately, both with work and home things. I hate having a week go by with no posts, but sometimes, it can't be avoided. I tried to write a post Wednesday night, but couldn't make my thoughts coalesce into anything coherent, so I went and read a book instead.

I hope to be back to posting next week. In the meantime, here are some links for you to read:

When neuroscience papers about gender differences get publicized, stereotype reinforcements often get added... even when they are not in the original paper. This is one reason why I always caution people to be very, very careful about studies that find gender differences in cognitive abilities, or behaviors, or anything, really. As this article points out, scientists are people, and their stereotyped beliefs can influence how they present their work- and then the stereotyped beliefs of the people publicizing or writing about the work can distort things further. (Another reason I always caution people to be very, very careful about studies that find gender differences: it is most common for the studies to find a bigger variation within each gender than between the genders- but that gets overlooked. And that's not even considering the fact that treating gender as a strict binary is probably not a scientifically rigorous thing to do....)

This answer from an autistic boy about why making eye contact is hard is so, so good. I think a lot of us have a very limited understanding of how sensory input is received and processed by autistic people, and that causes us to lack empathy about how they are responding. Which is sort of ironic, really. I am far from perfect in this regard, and want to do better and help my children learn to do better when they come across other kids who are on the autism spectrum. Therefore, I am really looking forward to Steve Silberman's upcoming book NeuroTribes.

Out of a sense of self-preservation, I continue to not read what Jonathan Chait (or almost anyone else) is saying about "political correctness", but this response came across my Twitter timeline so many times that I broke down and read it and it was definitely worth my time. It is a response to Chait's piece, but it really stands on its own and has some really thought-provoking points.

Did you see that the Twitter CEO has said that they suck at handling abuse? I am cautiously hopeful this means that they're going to start getting better.

And that's all I have this week!


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