Friday, November 02, 2018

Today is a momentous day.... and the rubber hits the road as they say...


Finally, after almost ten years of being in the proverbial "shadows" while the press, media and industry raged about the "pipeline" problem and focused solely on recruiting/hiring and massive marketing campaigns geared towards such things, I am seeing glimmers of realization from the press and some industry stalwarts, that the "retention" issue might be a serious problem (56+% dropout rate?).

And that all the progress on the recruitment initiatives are going to be futile without a bigger and much more serious commitment to retention initiatives from the tech industry.  It is much harder to move the retention needle than the recruitment needle.

Ha.

So, two weeks ago, I tendered my resignation at my full time job, flew to speak at an open source conference in Scotland (opensourcesummit.eu) and returned to US soil earlier this week with serious jet lag.

Nov. 1 was my first day as full time staff at CodeChix as CEO & Founder.

No, I'm not getting paid anything.  Yet.  Bootstrapping it is - just like all good startups :).

Given that all sister non-profits in the "Diversity and Inclusion" space are doing rather splendidly as far as funding is concerned, I am confident I can get to a point in the next few months given our track record and reputation where we will have enough resources so I can get paid and build CodeChix to the next level as a global organization with serious impact to move the needle in the retention space for women engineers and technologists.  And hire some wicked-good product managers and engineers to catapult us.  And build a board to match our ambition and trajectory.

We are poised for growth, to challenge the status quo and to help the tech industry disrupt itself to become the leaders and role models with regard to retaining women engineers and technologists.

We need everyone's blessings and help with fundraising (DevPulseCon sponsorship, individual donations) in the next few months so we can achieve our goals.

Stay tuned to codechix.org@codechix and @devpulsecon on Twitter as we launch our campaigns.  If you can donate and get matching funds through your company, please help us (codechix.org/donate).   And please do share in your network - it is the only way we can grow our impact and make a difference.

And we are expecting DevPulseCon 2019 to be a landmark conference as we catapult ourselves to lead the retention space.

May the code be with you. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Transitioning from a "Dev" to a "Product" person...

It's been over 90 days since I joined WalmartLabs as Principal Product Manager for IaaS and, so far, it has been an interesting journey.

Since the company (like any other company) has issues with me talking too much about what I do, I'll focus this post on how I did my transition in an effort to help a myriad women engineers who have reached out to me both internally and externally on how, they too, can transition into a product role.

This post is specifically targeted towards software developers who have a significant history and tenure in the industry doing software dev and might have also done engineering management in their career.  It is targeted for engineers who have greater than 7-10 years of experience doing software development and are pretty good at it.

Here are some advice/learnings/thoughts:

Key Role: You are the Swiss Army Knife of the organization.  And that is a very hard job to do.
  1. Product management (PM) is a variety of skillsets, mindsets and deliverables rolled into one nebulous title.  No two product managers do the same thing.  They might have similar products they are managing, but their approach might have to be vastly different since one of the key tenets of  PM is to get things done without having any direct reporting structure to you, i.e., the people whom you manage do not report to you and may have their own agendas/trajectory.  
  2. Product Mgmt. is vastly different from Project Mgmt. which is different from Program Mgmt.  Know and understand the differences.  You might have to dabble in all 3 but make sure you are doing more of Product than Project/Program.  Some companies don't make any distinction and will give you a title of a Product M. and will expect you to only do Project or Program.  Get the hell out if that happens - those places are deadends.  You will lose valuable time and technical skills will get rusty.
  3. You have to know and understand what "influence" means.  As an engineer, I had very little knowledge or exposure to this concept and, practically, no experience in "influencing".  As a founder and ED for a non-profit where everyone involved is a volunteer, I got some extreme, doses of reality over the last 9 years on how to get people motivated, committed (as much as I could) and get volunteers to deliver on tasks without having any direct reporting structure and no money.  This was the biggest lesson that I transferred from my work with CodeChix into my current PM role.  To be frank, most managers in industry become managers in order to "control" and "dictate" and set up a power structure in order to get work done by employees reporting to them so that said managers can deliver and look good and get promoted.  This is the antithesis of a good PM.  The first rule is to be able to sacrifice your own ego and anything related to it in order to help and showcase your team in every way possible.  If I had not learned some crucial lessons the hard way through my work with CodeChix, I would have been an utter failure as a PM.  I now know how valuable those lessons were - regardless of how abominably painful they were. Note that you need to keep a good record of all of your accomplishments and these are what you use in your performance evaluation with your manager.  THAT is where you scream about how many great things you did and how you delivered on things.  THAT is the ONLY time you get to bring out a saxophone and play your best tune.  Other than that, EVERYTHING is about the dev team and you are only there to help them in whatever way you can so they can achieve their best.  Their success is your success.
  4. Hold your own with the Engineering team - their respect is the foundation of your success.  Without it you are dead.   You have been an engineer - you know how to do this.   And you know how important it is to keep up your technical skills, so DON'T be LAZY and FORGET to do this!!  It is a critical skill that will give you an edge over most other PM's in the industry.  Learn the tools, techniques and high-level concepts for the languages, tools, techniques and go to as many technical seminars you can in your personal time.  Yes, most companies will not give you time to do this as part of your day job which SUCKS.  But, c'est la vie.  Look for a place that might have a better balance of what you think you can live with.
  5. List of resources - I'll post this soon.  Ran out of time.
  6. Prioritize like there is no tomorrow - I cannot stress this enough. Every single day - take a look at the list of high-level tasks/stories/whatever you have for the team, think about direction, strategy, alignment, fit, ROI, and prioritize, prioritize and repeat.  Then share, share, share with the team and the dev manager and stakeholders (if needed).  They will not like it - heck, when you were an engineer, you didn't like it when the PM tried to drill this into your brain either.  So, now that you're on the other side of the fence, guess what, you're going to get some flak when you do this.  Suck it up and keep at it.  This will save your a** later.  Trust me.  Caveat: Don't change high-level direction too frequently otherwise chaos and mutiny will ensue.  Deep and long term thinking are key here - develop both. Read books, go through YouTube videos, get your company to pay for Udemy and Pluralsight accounts and use them - there are lots of resources.  Pick the ones that address your need and discard the rest until you need them.  You have limited time, make the best use of it.
  7. Time management - become a master executioner - without this skill, you will burn out and die and slink into bed and not come out until next year.  On a daily basis, you will be pulled in at least 3-4 different directions where you will have to wear 3-4 different hats and talk to different audiences (upper management, your PM team, your dev team/s, external dev and PM teams etc.).  The context switching is pretty high so get used to that.  Prepare for it mentally, emotionally and physically.  PM is a role that can completely drain you and burn you out like a light if you let it.  Be in charge of this and guard your personal time like a dragon.  And if you're called names for it, tough.  Just do it - it will save you in the end.  But do it nicely and explain the why to everyone.
  8.  Politics is everywhere - get used to it.  Get good at it and develop a special part of your brain to operate at this level.  This will probably be the most difficult thing for engineers to learn.

I will post more as I have time - ties back to #7 :).


Saturday, August 18, 2018

We are hiring !!! Woohoo !!

Hallelujah !

After almost 9 years of slaving on CodeChix at night/weekends, changing directions, board members, venues, execution plans etc. etc., I am finally at a point where I can ACTUALLY hire someone to help me!

So, we have an opening for a Chief of Staff for CodeChix which is a unique position involving a high degree of project and program management skills as well as a deep interest and knowledge of the landscape of women engineers in industry.  Ideally, it would be tremendous if I could find a former woman engineer who left the industry with formidable project/program management skills.

Here's the JD: https://goo.gl/jMG9Kz

The preference is to have someone who lives close to the Bay area so that we can meet F2F when needed but remote is also OK.

I'm truly looking forward to being able to start scaling CodeChix to get to the level I would like to.  Baby steps :) and fingers crossed we will find someone fantastic soon!

Thanks to all our awesome supporters and volunteers who have made this day a reality after so many years.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

On leadership and male allies...

Much has been touted about leadership and leadership styles - certainly in Silicon Valley over the last several years.

Here's an article that seems to finally cut through a large extent of the BS and focus on what really works, based on history and the fact that we live in an imperfect world full of imperfect people who may or may not have their own short/long-sighted agenda's and have varying degrees of commitment and persistence to pursue their goals.

https://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/leadership/getting-beyond-the-bs-of-leadership-literature

I haven't read all these books yet, but, would certainly like to.

I get preached to by a lot of senior management and, sometimes, executives with varying degrees of success.  Some say that I don't listen to "direction", some say that I'm "perceptive, visionary, resilient, gritty..."  blah blah.  Whatever.

I say, what are you telling me that will help me reach my goal?  Do you even understand my goal and the challenges that I (and people like me) face day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year?  Are you able to advise and help regarding the specific challenges I have?

If you don't, then no amount of talking to me and "guiding"/"directing"/"advising" me is going to work - it boils down to lip service.  Which means, yes, I will probably not listen to your well-intentioned advice because it does not make any sense to me and it certainly does not help me or others.  Which, also, means that you did not do your homework before providing "advice"/"direction".

For male allies (or those that tout themselves as such), here are some resources to get under your belt and start your journey to building reliability as a male ally (note:  this is just the minimum, baseline to getting started).  It is not easy to be a male ally - you will face lots of opposition from both men and women alike.  But, as they say, nothing that is worth doing is ever easy :).  And, frankly, the experience might help you understand what women engineers and technologists go through everyday.  The subtle behaviors that you might not see/notice, come to the forefront - not always, but,  there's a high probability that you will if you let yourself see it.
  1. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-miller-black-panther-ally_us_5a92ac97e4b03b55731d1442?utm_campaign=hp_fb_pages&utm_source=main_fb&utm_medium=facebook&ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063
  2. Twitter:  Better Allies
  3. NCWIT: https://www.ncwit.org/resources/read-online-maleadvocate
  4. ABI: https://anitab.org/news/abi-in-the-news/male-allies-support-women-technology/
  5. SLATE: http://www.slate.com/blogs/better_life_lab/2018/01/08/want_to_be_an_ally_to_women_at_work_five_things_men_in_tech_have_been_doing.html



Friday, April 13, 2018

Yup - I fell off the engineering ladder - finally. 23+ years was a good and difficult run...

Written - 3/25/'18

And now I am one more statistic in a long list of statistics - compiled, shared and pontificated over with much rah-rah and zero true effort from companies to make a difference. 

So, I'm looking at product management and realizing that there's a lot of similarity with what I have done and am doing for CodeChix.  So, it's actually pretty good - I get to develop my skills in an area that I've never had a chance to look at but is essential to running a company.

And I can no longer hide in my cubicle when I want to - time to learn some skills that I don't have... yet.

I still refuse to wear heels or makeup.  Absolute no.

And in silicon valley, that's not a problem, thank heavens.   Jeans and sneakers are still my staple - yay!

And I'm still going to have opportunities to dabble with coding, I think - will have to see.

And, oh yeah, I quit VMware.

Went to New Zealand to climb my fourth glacier (Franz Josef - heli in/out which was cool), hike the Tongariro trail, see and photograph Mt. Doom ad nauseum (not to mention Hobbiton), visit the Weta Workshop, white watered Tutea Falls which was both terrifying and exhilarating since we had to morph into a rescue boat when another boat flipped over and 8 people ended up in churning waters with paddles and booties floating everywhere, stargazed at Mt. John observatory at 1 in the morning and saw the Magellanic clouds before the rainclouds moved in over Lake Tekapo (awesome night sky!), saw the unique glow-worms in Waitomo at night in an underground cave 150 ft deep in pitch dark (a bit unnerving) and, generally, had a hectic, activity-filled 3 weeks before heading back and starting a new job this week @walmartlabs. 

Nothing like adventure to rejuvenate and shake the rat-race doldrums.

But, now, back to the rat race.  And getting DevPulseCon squared away - fingers crossed.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

My thoughts on the nomination for finalist for the Women in Open Source award

First off, I was not expecting to make it to the finalist round of this prestigious award.

And I am completely, humbly grateful and happy to have made it this far, doing something that I gave up pretty much all of my free time (weeknights and weekends) for the last 9 years or so, when I started CodeChix in my living room.

Open source has been a part of my tech life ever since I wandered into it during my student days at CU Boulder, where I was in the "dungeons" (that's what we lovingly called the windowless, card-entry large rooms of tables with SUN workstations) working on projects/homework etc.

It started with hanging out on USENET groups and fiddling with Minix and, voila, Slackware showed up.  And, the complete un-usability of the initial versions which kept crashing and backup/restore was an exercise in patience and stamina (including developing a great curse-word vocabulary in multiple languages).  Fast-forward to the 2000's, the rise of programming languages other than C/C++, open source growing from a fledgling, struggling effort of die-hards with long beards (yup - you know the sort), and, in this decade, it is mainstream and has found a foothold that is no longer low-profile as it once was.

My own dabbling with Python, Go and other languages and a variety of tools to help me build things that I need in my own day-to-day life, not to mention, at work, has been the best way for me to stay technical and keep the flame alive.  I try to instill this in all others whom I interact with, to the point that some people take a different route if they see me coming down the hall (perhaps, I should dial back the enthusiasm a bit, hmmm).

The entire premise, mindset, attitude and drive of the free/open source communities has been a huge inspiration to me - and one that I, personally, try to emulate as much as possible.  It is not the mindset of hyper-competitiveness, aggression, climb-the-ladder-at-all-costs, put-other-people-down, oh-look-at-me-I'm-so-great and other attitudes that proliferate the industry.  It is the co-operative and collaborative mindset, the uplifting of those who are struggling and helping put them on the path to growth and success, the inspiration and freedom to dabble in whatever technology you want without having to pay an arm and a leg to do it, the community of super-smart, diligent, committed and helpful people (most of them white men/women, BTW) who make this movement a movement.  It is the way to free oneself from the bounds placed on us by either society or technology or environment.  And find a way to contribute to a greater good by whatever means we have time and capability for.

CodeChix has been my passion, my joy, my grief, my struggle and everything in-between these past several years.  There have been countless times I have felt like giving up and just saying, "Hell with it - what am I doing?  This is not going anywhere and there is no way I can make a difference in this quagmire."
Particularly, when many former colleagues who join startups and become multi-millionaires, jeer at my foolishness for doing something that will never make me a rich, prosperous, status-symbol person.  And, believe me, I am constantly asked why I'm not using my "great skills" to do something in the for-profit startup world with so much automatic help/mentorship from VC's and fellow startup-pers who can guide/help with every step.
I don't have any mentors who have done what I'm trying to do (and have done so far) - working full time in a demanding job and founding/running a non-profit in my "free" time.  And caring for elderly parents in even more "free" time.

With all the flak that I have to take (both at work and outside of work) for CodeChix, I wouldn't change one damn thing.  CodeChix has given me far more that I could have imagined - a voice and an outlet to share with others who are and have been running into the same issues (and more) that I have (and am) constantly run into.  It has exposed me to so many fantastic women engineers (most of them far better than me technically and otherwise) who have inspired me to improve myself and others.  Things I never thought I would have - ever.  I have learned (had to) skills I never had in order to get past hurdles that showed up.  And I have relied on so many wonderful, helpful people who were there for me through some very, very difficult times indeed.  I would never have known them were it not for my work with CodeChix.

Yes, the work is brutal - I have no life, as such.  I work a tremendous amount - from board work, to fundraising, to vision, strategy, execution, accounting, taxes, technical scouting for the next thing to teach at DevPulseCon, speaking at conferences, listening/counseling/mentoring so many young and not-so-young women who reach out where I see the struggles they are going through and it enforces my will to continue to fight because no one else seems to care.  And I take vacation time from work to do this.  And, if I get sick, everything falls apart until I get better and re-chart trajectories with brutal prioritization and focus.

This year might be a turnkey year (somewhat like last year) where the industry might actually start caring about retention of women engineers and technically-oriented women in PM and other roles.  I'm hoping - time will tell.  Maybe, all the millions of dollars spent on marketing/promotions and "looking good externally while trying to hide what's happening inside the company" will change and the C-level executives will start looking at the "Why" seriously and employing their formidable analytical/execution/financial powers to addressing the nebulous and insidious cultural issues that proliferate behaviors that affect retention.  We will see.

In the meantime, I hope to use all my efforts (whatever I can spare) towards moving the needle by expanding DevPulseCon to India - fingers crossed this will happen if I get funding and significant support from companies both in the US and in India.   First task is to have a great DevPulseCon in April in Mt. View this year - the line-up of speakers and workshops is looking fantastic :).  I should be able to open registrations very soon, I hope.  I still need a few more sponsor companies.

My fellow nominees for the Women in Open Source awards are all phenomenal - I am beyond honored to be considered to be in their league.   As a builder of a technical community in a very niche area I hope to be able to win this award to bring light to the essential need for women engineers worldwide to have a voice, support and recognition for all our work/contributions and struggles so far.

To that extent, if any of the above resonates with you, I would love to have your support and your vote.

May the code be with you.




Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Working towards DevPulseCon 2018 - April 20 & 21 @ Computer History Museum

Well..... this is the fourth year for DevPulseCon with our safe-space panels and open source technical workshop tracks - I never thought it would come so far and grow so fast.  I'm pretty stunned, frankly.  Which is both a good thing and a bad thing.

Once again, I'm working weeknights and weekends trying to bring together all the threads to make this year's DevPulseCon another huge success like it was last year.   And searching for new open source technology/software/hardware etc. to teach.  And then find someone to teach it per our guidelines.

Each year I think it's going to get easier and each year, I have to work more and harder to get the same things done.

Sponsorships, board meetings, being the board chair and pushing things/people, recruiting, interviewing recruits, looking for volunteers, budgeting, streamlining the payment/account management process with my treasurer, coming up with which technical topics I want to target and what safe space panel topics would be most relevant at this time, finding speakers, instructors, coordination, logistics (food, venue, layout, A/V blah blah), blasting out emails, setting up eventbrite, website updates once we nail down the speakers/instructors/topics etc. 

And the list goes on.

And it doesn't get any easier to try to find a conference chairperson with my limited budget.  And to find volunteers - dedicated, no-nonsense, non-flaky volunteers who understand the mission and are passionate about technology.

My board has helped me find some sources this year (YAY!) since I have had NO time in my new group at work to dedicate time towards CodeChix work in the last 6 months.

I'm still looking for sponsorships from companies across the bay area - I have 2 committed sponsors so far and need at least 5 or 6 more.  Fingers crossed I will get them soon so that we can have the growth I need - another 50% growth in number of attendees.   A whopping 300 women engineers - lick finger stick in the air.  I'm hopeful.

Last year, we had 220 women engineers attend for the 2 days of the conference.  I had no idea there were that many women engineers in the bay area.  When I started CodeChix nine years ago, I barely managed to find one other person - that too for a very short time since her schedule was as crazy as mine.

How did I manage to get to this point?  By the great help and blessings of so many people around the world and open source friendly foundations and groups.  I could never have done it without the fantastic women engineers I've met and learned from.  I could never have done it if I hadn't seen so many women engineers suffering silently and being bullied and intimidated into submission for whatever reason.  Like me at various points in my career.  Brilliant, dedicated, sincere and committed engineers who truly want to be engineers (as opposed to many who just care about money/title/status and not about building unique, great and useful products).

I hope DevPulseCon gives them all hope that there is one place that they can come to where they will be able to talk about all the horrific things they have encountered and together we can find possible solutions (maybe build something) to mitigate these persistent and insidious cultural issues.

And be reminded that the real reason they are doing what they are doing is because technology can free us all and that, since we're all engineers (not code monkeys), we have the power to truly make a difference.  As they say, God helps those that help themselves.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost (The Road Not Taken)