Change Management

Author’s note: I had to go back and read through this blog a bit because I was certain I had already talked about this, but it turns out I’ve only dallied around the edges. Time to hit it head on.

I’ve been at my current company for about 8 years, meaning that if I stick around for another year (likely) it will be the longest time I’ve ever been at one company (and, should I stick around another year after that, the longest time I’ve been consecutively in the same approximate management chain/position). We just underwent the largest reorganization I’ve ever been through.

When a reorg happens, one or more of at least three things can happen:

  1. Your manager changes.
  2. Your reporting chain changes.
  3. Your charter changes.

Any one of these can be disruptive and when they happen it’s a good idea to go through and do that risk assessment, “Do I want to be here/Do I want to do this”. I advocate doing that assessment on a twice annual basis (or however often you have formalized reviews/checkpoints of your career at your company) anyway, so in my case, this assessment was about a two-minute exercise.

Once you’ve picked your stance, you then have to pick how you’ll approach it. As a manager, my first responsibility is to my team to make sure they have what they need to 1. do that risk assessment and 2. act on their plans outbound from their risk assessment. It’s also to make sure they get the answers they need to the questions they have, and to make sure they are supported. My second responsibility is to my charter: I am here to do a job (and it is not volunteer work, I am well paid) so let me focus on that job.

Which is why when a major reorg happens, I am probably not the best person to ask about “how I am feeling right now”. I put that in quotes not because I don’t feel anything, but because any emotional reaction I am going to have about the change will not hit until all of the change is managed and is *complete* — meaning, until we are all comfortably in our new place doing our new things as defined the new way, I am still in “change management” mode and my focus is to *get things done*. One of the defining criteria of leadership at this company is the ability to manage through ambiguity and my ability for that is to work consistently until there isn’t any.

This is all well and good until you work with someone who expects you to want to talk about the emotional reaction to the reorg, to have sentimental lookbacks, to “wallow” in the unknown a bit, or (and this is the one that grates the most) you have to work with someone who is “ostriching” — ignoring the change and hoping that things will just “stay the same”. That last shows up in things like being willfully obtuse, or pretending like the decision today will not make a larger impact four weeks from today; it’s the opposite from “I see the vision of the future and I want that future right now” (which to be fair is also pretty annoying — you have to traverse the interim between the two, you have to *do the work* to close out the old world and prepare for the new one).

Unfortunately, the way many folks deal with change are to either ostrich or to do that “assumptive time jump”, and so when you are the person who points out you can’t really do either and you must traverse the A, B, C, and D between the two, it can be perceived as unfriendly or adversarial. Which sucks, because the intent is to get through that sludge as quickly and efficiently as possible, not to reinforce the discomfort people are feeling with that change.

The problem is even though I’m aware of it I can’t really turn it off, for two reasons: 1. I’m literally paid to make sure we actually do the things we’re supposed to do, and 2. I’m fundamentally wired this way. Case in point: when my mom died. My mom died of vascular dementia and acute arteriosclerosis in April 2020. We found out she had this in December 2019, her having hid the dementia (and associated health issues) behind an alcohol problem and a refusal to share any health information with us. By the time she got through the first of two surgeries it was clear that we were in the end of the book, and by the time we had to engage Hospice there wasn’t any pretending anymore. This is change and that change bridges between the old world (Mom is “fine”) and the new world (Mom will not be here). And in that world, I felt helpless, because unlike this in-between space I have at my job, I couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t a doctor, a nurse, a hospice person; I had no job to do in this space except sit and wait. I could bring blankets and chocolates and have nonsensical discussions and on the side work through the endless paperwork; but these were things I could manufacture for myself to do to at least feel like somehow, I was contributing.

It’s a pretty stark comparison to take a major life event and compare it to something so trivial as a job; I draw it only to reinforce that this is a “me” thing and not a “me at work” thing and it’s a thing I have to balance.

I’m therefore in this weird space between Old World and New World where I want to focus on the steps to get from A to Z but I’m dealing with folks who want to pretend we’re in “A” for ‘just a little longer’ and folks who want to get to Z ‘right now’ and I’m the shit bird who has to point out there’s 25 steps to do first and the more time people insist on wallowing the less time there is to do those effectively.

In terms of energy expense, I think the main difference is that for these other folks, their mental energy expenditure is the stress surrounding the change and what that could mean for them/their charter/their vision; for me, the mental energy expenditure is the practical approach to get it done. Which is why on my Insights profile I get things like “Bobbie needs to be reminded of the humanity in others.”

So really, I have to manage myself through this change.

Unplug

TL;DR: Use your paid time off if you’ve got it.

There’s kind of a lot going on in my world right now, a conflux of “things we should have known better” and “things we had no idea would happen”; as my job is professional Anvil Spotter these things touch me in one way or another. (Typically: “Yes we saw that anvil, here’s proof we saw that anvil, here’s how we will duck out of the way of said anvil”, or, “Nope, didn’t see that anvil, but here’s how we dealt with a similar anvil, and here’s how we’ll keep from being under this anvil next time”.) So far none of the anvils have landed but there’ve been some close calls.

What this means in a dynamic, hybrid work environment is a finely controlled chaos. In a meeting talking about interpersonal dynamics the other day a graph popped up to show all the interaction capabilities in a group of say, six people — and it’s factorial. Which means that if you have six people then Person A can have a “group” with all 5 other people, or 4, or 3, or 2, or 1, and as you whittle down the numbers the combinations increase as to which people they can be interacting with. Which in turn means that a group of “six” people is actually something like 720 “groups”. Which is why at the end of the day you and I and everyone are exhausted when working on a “small group” project (never mind 3 or 4).

The privileged luxury I have is to be able to take a break. This break has been like a few others where I’m actually not completely removing myself (even though that is/was the stated purpose) from work, but it is a departure from my normal work habits and a drastic reduction in the amount of mental involvement and time spent in front of a machine (for work). It’s that last that gets to the crux of it – the same machine I would log in to for fun or just routine access to docs and such, is aligned with my work. I can remove work notifications from my phone relatively easily (without having to remove the apps) but removing those from my Outlook, for example, is a bit more of a project. Thusly I’ll log in to say, update my grocery list or check in on something outside of work and I’ll see the little red bubble and it will entice me to go pay attention to that Teams chat or email. These sporadic check ins are not as tiring as a full day of work but are, as you can imagine, not as relaxing as one completely departed from it.

The fact that I *also* stacked this “break” with my to-do list of non-work stuff makes it feel like less of a break — car maintenance, catching up on house stuff, etc. means that my eternal fantasy of sitting on the couch systematically eating the marshmallows out of a box of Lucky Charms while watching Jaws and Aliens still eludes me.

That said, this “break” still provides respite and is necessary to ensuring that when I do officially return, I’m a sane, practical, rational person, whose job it is to identify anvils as they hover. The takeaway here for you, is to use your paid time off.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a thing – and probably drives some amount of “nah I’ll just take a break later”. It’s not necessarily fear of missing out on the fun stuff, though, but rather fear of missing out on crucial information to a given project, or the nuance in a meeting, or having the time to catch up on XYZ technology, or getting your administratea done. The objective horror of coming back to literally hundreds (thousands) of emails can also be a deterrent. Much as lying down without sleeping can offer an incomplete yet still valid rest, so too can be the “break” with a teeny check in here and there. In my case, the little red bubble will not be too scary when I return.

Does this sort of “semi break” take the place of a real, honest to goodness, vacation? Heck no – no more than that 20 minute beanbag loll takes the place of 8 hours of sleep. But it can give you the respite you need to keep going until you can get to the *real* break. Just remember to actually take that real break. I’m scheduling mine shortly… you know, while on this one.

To Link or Not to Link, That…

… is really a decision that gets made on an individual basis, if I’m being honest.

Having ranted about What LinkedIn Is Not For, let’s talk about what LinkedIn *is* for, at least as I understand it:

  • To create connections between yourself and people you have worked with,
  • To create (potentially) connections between yourself and people you have worked withs’ connections, to expand your network (e.g., in order to reconnoiter on employment prospects, places of work, specific candidates, etc.),
  • To identify potential candidates for your open role (if you’re a recruiter or hiring manager),
  • To share your work/discipline achievements with your peers and potential recruiters/hiring managers,
  • To share news/media/thought leadership/anecdotes around your area of occupation or expertise,
  • To find candidates or indicate interest in candidacy for nonprofit or volunteer positions (board or otherwise),
  • To vet skills and/or educational achievements

It also gets used by consultants and service providers to find potential provide-ees, which I find questionable, but I’d totally roll with (if there were an option to opt out, see previous). With that, here’s my criteria for linkage.

  • We worked together, either in the same group or in the same company on a given project or product
  • We served board or volunteer time together (yes even PTSA)
  • You have provided goods/services in a professional capacity (the very best traffic lawyer in Washington is one of my links, you’re welcome)
  • You reach out and identify how we are linked (“I see you worked with Princess Buttercup, I did too back before she started working at Dread Pirate, Inc.”) AND you identify how a link would help either or both of us (“I’m looking to transition into program management from engineering; do you have time to talk about your experience?”/”I see there’s an open role in your organization that I think would be a perfect fit for me…”)
  • You reach out and do not identify how we are linked and/or aren’t really specific about why we should be linked (e.g., I can see from the tooling that you’re linked to Inigo Montoya, and I remember working with Inigo Montoya on that project for Vizzini, so I can infer that that’s how you found me; but I’m not really sure if you’re just clicking “link” to have a bigger network count or because you want something from me or what.)
  • You are “cold mailing” me out of nowhere (as part of your mail you don’t share how you found me/why you think the linkage is worthwhile),
  • You are using InMail to sell me stuff, and want to link me so you can sell my links stuff,
  • You are one of those aforementioned service providers with whom I haven’t actually transacted any business,
  • You are just trying to expand your network via searching for keywords/key organizations and clicking “link all”
  • You do things that make me question your judgement, either on LinkedIn or at work. This includes conspiracy theories, derogatory comments about others, grind shaming, self-care shaming, or just generally being a d*ck.

Linked Out

I have, as of right this moment, reached my tipping point with some Bad Behavior on LinkedIn — from “professionals”. I’m not talking about your coworker who posts political stuff or that link from 3 jobs ago who posts pictures of their kids’ graduation — spare me the “LinkedIn is not Facebook” drama; I understand that but can scroll by those posts just fine on the “let people live” principle.

I’m talking about proactive outreach that is ostensibly about opportunities, that is not in fact about opportunities. These actually really waste time, and not just the recipients’ time. They waste your time, recruiters and business opportunists. They make me think less of your organization. They make me less likely to consider your company and/or “opportunity”, ever.

I’ve grouped these broadly into four categories. If you’re thinking about doing any of these, please count me out.

The “Come Apply for This Completely Irrelevant Role” In Mail

In this one, you get the semi-form letter that says “Dear [your name here], I was looking across your resume/LinkedIn profile and think you’d be perfect for [their job title here]…” and then goes on to list the benefits of their organization and how to get in touch with them. So far, so good. Here’s where the red flags come in:

  1. You are pitching me for a level that I have exceeded by at least 3 stages and/or haven’t been at in 7 years.
  2. You are focusing on a skill set or keyword that is not in the last 10 years of my job history.
  3. You sent me this same mail 30 days ago, 60 days ago, 90 days ago, etc. and at that time I sent you a polite, “thank you, love where I’m at right now, might consider new options *next year*”.
  4. You are identifying a role or a skill set that appears nowhere, not anywhere, and in no way in my history. Like ever.

Looking at you, Major Seattle Tech Company, Major California Banking Company, Major Seattle Tech Company, Major Seattle Tech Company, and Major Silicon Valley Tech Company.

When I get these, they tell me either your algorithm is borked and coming from a tech company that’s probably not a good sign, or that you aren’t using an algo and your recruiters are so desperate they’re legit just looking for any name whatsoever to send a mail and make some sort of number/incentive, which is also not a good sign.

The “Come Join Our Advisory Board as a Way to Give Us Cash” Opportunity

Admittedly I fell for that this morning, and it wasted 30 precious minutes of my life and also probably someone else’s. Here’s how this one happened: I have, on my LinkedIn, that I’m looking for opportunities in the nonprofit sector specifically in board support – either as member of a board or of committees (as I already am and have). Life is precious, time is precious and so I’d like to spend my ephemeral existence trying to help improve things. In this case, I got a mail for an advisory board role opportunity linked to a local educational endeavor, one I’m actually close to. I accepted the 7:30am call (because sure!) and the day before the call I got a link to “more information”.

Cue the red flags.

The first three pages of “more information” is/was the usual stuff around board support — this is what we do, this is what we need, these are the kinds of support. Then it got into phrasing like, “Work with the design team to select the format best suited for your organization and budget. Each activity and discussion will focus on your industry and company needs. Start your corporate program with as few as 30 employees…” which… somehow read as a sales pitch? For a board role? I responded to the invitation asking for clarity and, got none.

Here’s where I made my mistake: I attended the call. I should have taken the non-response as “we don’t want to answer that right now”, either because it would mess up people’s target call numbers or perhaps the plan is to get people emotionally invested in the first five minutes. Regardless, I attended the call. The inviter was five minutes late (fine) and after some initial small talk when I brought up my question about the “hey what kind of board role is this”, after some very scripted speech the ask was to start talking more about me and what I’m interested in. I was frank, “That’s another red flag for me; you shouldn’t need to know more about me or what I do in order to let me know how the board advisory opportunity squares with the language around organization and budget.” After some initial clarification, what came out is that prospective board members are expected to actually participate in the program the board advises on, to the tune of $5k (oh! but for special people it’s only $2.5k).

I have no problem donating money to nonprofit organizations and do so, on the regular, for ones that I do and do not participate in directly as a board member or advisor or committee member. This bait and switch, however, means that I would re-think any fiscal donation to the educational institution whose name shares this “opportunity” because this “invitation” feels like a scam, and frankly if anyone comes asking me about it, I will share with them my concerns and experience. I mean, if you’re looking to drum up cash just say so, don’t obfuscate it with a theoretical opportunity to actually advise or help.

The Come Use Our Irrelevant or Superfluous “This As A Service” Service

I work for a Very Large Company. There are a few Very Large Companies on my resume and that’s normal as I like the stability of Very Large Companies – you can move around within them without having to renegotiate health insurance sign ups, for example. When I get a LinkedIn email asking me if I want to consider using your HR services to administrate my HR needs, though, it sounds really tone deaf. Like somehow, I’d have the power or the inclination to bypass my existing company Human Resources organization (which is pretty darned great) and just– somehow use your company for my team? I understand when people offer contracting services — that makes sense, I’ve hired contract services before so that is normal — but when I get solicited for things like payroll services it is just a time waster — the precious minutes of life gone, reading that email.

The “Here Let Me Help You Even Though You Didn’t Ask for it and I Don’t Know You or Anyone You’re Linked To” Service

Executive Coaching. Financial Management and Estate Planning. I do not know or understand what the algo is here but I get one about once a month of someone offering to be my coach or manage my money. On one hand, good for you! Go get ’em. On the other hand, I wish LinkedIn offered us the ability to flag that we are not open to business opportunities. We have for example the ability to say we are “Open To Work” (for recruiters — which is not the case for me and I still get the pings), it would be great to opt out of “business opportunities” or better yet opt in to the ones we are looking for.

You get what you pay for.

I’ve been thinking about the so-called the “democratization of information” or “right to information” or just the plain old adage that we went to the moon with less technology than what sits in my pocket and catches emails for me; if I want to know the answer to something then Google is there for me (or Duck Duck Go — browse privately, friends).

This is the same world where we see quips like “Please do not confuse your Google Search with my medical/law/etc. degree.” The same world where one has to look for and describe what “peer reviewed research” means. The same world where “alternative facts” and “fake news” are lobbied in counterpoint.

We have an information pricing problem.

In a conversation with a colleague we were discussing school adventures — ours — and up came terms like “microfiche” and “card catalogue”. Back in my day (with overtones here of “get off my lawn you kids”) if one wanted information one had to go to the library to get it — you went armed with your topic (say, Earthquakes) and went to the card catalogue and first searched by subject and then narrowed it down to one or more books/items that had information about that subject. Each item was printed on a card, with the name of the item and the author(s) and publishing information (in fact, cribbing from that card is what typically got you your bibliography). You then followed the Dewey code for that item and went looking in the stacks to get the item in question, and then you had to actually read the whole item even if you were for example going to cherry pick things to meet your needs. (Card catalogues have been around as “the way to find things in the library” for over 100 years, so what was true for me was true for my parents and theirs and theirs and so forth).

Microfiche was even more involved — if your item was microfiche then you had to take it to the librarian or look through the drawers for it, put it into a special machine, and scroll through it until you found the article or print you were looking for. Microfiche has not been around as long as the card catalogue, but it’s coming up on it’s 85th birthday in libraries. Microfiche (and film) is still in use, but it wasn’t as snazzy as this when we had to use it. It looked like this. Somehow everything in the 70’s was beige.

This was “pull method” of information – you made the investment and went to the library and invested your nontrivial amount of time to go and get the information and glean it for whatever purpose.

“Push method” — ingestion of information in a someone-else-does-the-bulk-of-the-work-way — was mostly TV (nightly news, from 6:30-7:30) and radio (mostly public or talk radio). This was before blogs and user-based journalism which have largely changed the landscape of the form and presentation of journalism (far less stuffy but far more opinionated). Journalism has a code of ethics that most journalists follow, rando persons on the internet (such as myself, hi/hello) are not bound by those ethics. (I mean, I try, but I’m not formally trained and this is not a professional blog, this is just where I spit things out that are in my brain). It’s important to note however that the “push method” of nightly news and radio, along with relative lack of choice (when I grew up there were at first 3, and then 9, channels) meant that the news you were getting in your home was the same news that everyone else got. The same leading stories, the same local color, the same news from Washington and the world. The accessibility of the news, even with the “scheduling war for news” we saw with the Gulf War, was still relatively uniform.

Which is all a very long way to say that, for the previous 100-odd years, the foundation for information was roughly uniform and the amount of investment one had to do to get it, past that initial uniform bit we got with Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather (or before them, the nightly newspaper), was relatively involved.

My offspring recently graduated high school and he has never known a world where information wasn’t searchable locally at home: every “paper” (for most of them never made it to paper) was researched via internet.1 Everyone I know has a mobile phone that has internet search functionality on it and can quite literally “look up” the answer to any question at any time for any purpose. The *investment* to procure information is drastically lower, information is now astonishingly cheap – and I do mean cheap.

Quick digression – I’m a fan of good diction, this comes from how I operate in the world (very explicitly). If one has a reputation for being specific and direct, one has to choose one’s words carefully because the amount of thought that goes into receiving them is ostensibly higher. When I say “cheap”, I do not mean “inexpensive”. There are a variety of definitions for “cheap” and the fact that “inexpensive” routes to “cheap” according to Merriam Webster is a tragedy. I think someone cut a corner there. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary gets closer to the nuance I’m looking for. “Cheap” comes with an inference of low quality as to the reason for something’s low price, whereas “inexpensive” (for me) does not.

Here we return to “Do Not Confuse Your Google Search with my XYZ Degree”: The seventeen seconds you spent online “researching” your symptoms do not equate to the years of study (and practice) a good MD has (always get a second opinion, though). How many times have we heard the joke that one goes to google with one’s symptoms and they’re either dehydrated or dying? The issue at hand is while the access to the information has been greatly simplified, the investment required to get to it has also been removed: the knowledge isn’t earned and the context is absent.

I can go watch endless YouTube videos about solving household plumbing problems (e.g., how to clean out your P-trap, remove drain flies, even replace a toilet). This does not make me a plumber. If I elect to attempt any of these things on my property it’s my problem but I sure as heck should not be advising you on yours (nor should you take my advice there except as maybe a prompt to go talk to someone who actually has been trained in this). I do a lot of home cooking and watch a lot of food recipes, this does not make me a professional chef. I read up a lot about the things I contend with (thyroid, cardiological, etc.) but I do so in preparation for an intelligent conversation with my MD’s about it and not *instead of* those conversations, and absolutely not to “guide” others. (Or to suggest to them that “doing their own research” will arrive at the same conclusions.)

The cheapening of information combined with an elevation of User Generated Content to Journalism (a loosening, in my opinion, of how journalism operates — a lot more opinions and editorials) and the breadth of information and information targeting (my “news fix” may not be the same as my neighbors) has led to extreme polarization and, worse, a willful ignorance to information that may not align with our inclinations. (This exists, incidentally, in scientific exploration which is why peer review is so important and why you should always get a second opinion). This polarization is not only political, it extends to our societal behaviors when it comes to medicine (e.g., vaccines in general — not just for COVID) and how we view things like Climate Change (regardless of political affiliation, or perhaps exacerbated by it).

I am not suggesting we somehow lock down information (I mean, that would create a scarcity which in turn would increase the price as supply goes down and demand ostensibly goes up, but that’s a little more 1984 than I think anyone wants). I *am* suggesting, as with any (relatively) newfound2 privilege or boon, we do our homework. Specifically, we elevate the role and investment of critical thinking (in our schooling and as a foundation of education), The information tsunami (and its accompanying hurdles) will not go away and so, much as we should be teaching financial literacy and scientific literacy in schools, we should be teaching critical thinking skills. In a world where information is cheap and easy, the filtration and identification of information of actual value is not.3

The “good” news (?) is that educational standards are set at the State level. Meaning the curriculum requirements for your state are owned by your state Superintendent of Public Instruction (or equivalent). In a world where all politics are local, this can be influenced by your local state representative and local state senator (again: not Federal. You’re not writing to the person that goes to DC, you’re writing the person that goes to your state capital).

Yes, writing. This is the sort of topic that would not come up (or only come up cursorily) during election season, likely drowned out by the myriad of other agita that happens at that time. The very best way to get action on anything from an elected representative is to visit them, which can be impractical (in terms of investment), so the second very best way to get them to look at a thing is to write a letter (like… the kind that gets mailed). Email is your third choice here. Don’t want to go through the pain of finding your state’s legislative site and then figuring out who represents you? Go here — you can find your state (and federal) representation. Here’s a guide on writing legislators. As to your State Superintendent of Schools — sometimes these are elected, sometimes they’re appointed, you can find that out here. (You can also use that link to find your State Superintendent, their office, and their office mailing address and email). In addition, you can get involved through your local school *district*, either directly with the district or via a PTSA council (if you have that kind of time, and not all do).

There is a contingent of folks who will read this who either 1. do not have children or 2. whose children (like mine) have already graduated and are off to their next endeavor. The inclination here is to say “this does not affect me” and therefore no investment is needed. I argue that that is shortsighted and obtuse: you as a taxpayer are paying for the education system and you are paying for the product of that system (its current and future students), who in turn are going to be your future co-electorate. If the purpose of public education is for a well-informed and productive public, then you should be very much incentivized to ensure your investment is well spent.

  1. The teachers explicitly stated not to use Wikipedia as it is not considered a credible source; we taught him to check out the footnotes to find the credible sources and use Wikipedia as a coalescing function.
  2. Let’s just wave a hand at it and say it started with the internet in the 90’s. That’s 30 years, and so we’re at least one and likely two generations behind here already. “Relatively newfound” is overgenerous. We are late.
  3. In a sad turn of events, searching for “critical thinking” (in quotes deliberately to get that phrase), plus curriculum plus legislation, all I got was the never-ending debate over Critical Race Theory, which is a different thing altogether. That and a WaPo article about how Texas doesn’t want to teach critical thinking skills but I couldn’t find a second source.

Goodbye, Facebook

I’ve been on Facebook for the better part of 11 years. In that time it has afforded me the opportunity to keep in touch with friends, old and new; to see the immediate impacts of world events through a local lens; to ensure my family knows I haven’t fallen into a puddle of stress. In return, Facebook sold my data to various marketing endeavors, so I’d get served up “relevant” ads for Stitch Fix, Starbucks and You Need a Budget. I was fine with this arrangement.

I am not fine with them selling my data to a firm that will target ads to me in order to change my voting behaviors or my social views. I’m fully cognizant that they already have my data, and my deletion of my content on Facebook the site – which I’ve mostly done thanks to a script referenced in this article – is an academic exercise for those wishing to mine it from Facebook. The deals are done, the data is out. (Note it’s not technically a data breach, because Facebook gave the data freely away.) This is me, voting with my keyboard: they don’t get any future data.

Not directly, anyway.

Facebook still creates ghost profiles, still uses cookie drops through scores of sites on the internet, leverages publicly available data and sells the cooked product. It will still sell the cooked product. I will not help them do it, though. I am deleting my Facebook entirely March 30th. I have already deleted WhatsApp and Instagram (two Facebook properties). I am retaining Twitter (for now) and LinkedIn.

Things I Recommend:

  • If you remain on Facebook, I recommend using FB Purity.
  • If you want to delete your content (after downloading) I recommend Social Book Post Manager.
  • If you want to keep the cookies at bay, I recommend Ghostery.
  • If you want to listen to some great podcasts about the latest Facebook data sharing issues (because this has happened before), I recommend this and this.
  • If you are more of an article-reading person, read this and this and this.

Keep in Touch:
If you have my email, or we’re linked on LinkedIn or Twitter, that works. If you have my phone number we can totally text. My friend K has set up a private photo sharing process in his family that I will be pinging him shortly on how to do the same, to make sure my son’s grandparents get the latest photo evidence that he’s still growing and healthy and making bland sartorial choices. And if a more responsible photo-and-update sharing platform arrives on the scene, I’ll have a look.

Freedom

It’s that time of year again, where kids are out of school and we all forget about the responsibilities and management associated with education. School’s out for the summer!

Here in Washington State our legislators have come up with a budget (after two special sessions, for which, may I remind you dear voter, our congresspersons get paid). It got signed in, but doesn’t include the funding for the recent education bill that got passed, which totals slightly over $2 billion. Out of $38 billion, that means we’re missing about 5% or so of our budget. As much as I want to look at that and still give us an “A”, I’m a pretty harsh grader.

This little rounding error is for reduced class sizes, voted in by the constituency. The reason why there’s no funding for it is the measure didn’t include a funding resource, which is like saying “Do you want to have free groceries?” as a voting item. Of course you want free groceries, or reduced class sizes. When we don’t address how it’s going to get paid for, however, we end up with extended sessions and bickering and our very own elected officials trying to delay a measure we elected to have.  A funding measure wasn’t included, though, because as soon as you mention the possibility of raising taxes — of any sort: real estate, business, sales, or (eek!) instantiating an income tax — people lose their collective shit.

Here’s the thing: we can get mobilized around *some* social progress. We have gay marriage and subsidized healthcare and it only took Donald Trump one speech to ignite and unify the Latino vote (hi, I’m one of ’em, Donald) and get NBC, Macy’s, etc. to drop him like a hot potato. We are a country moving towards better social freedoms, recognition of our needs as a society, and intolerance of intolerance.

“We” (and by “we” I mean our dear, elected officials) do this because of one very simple reason: those movements represent votes. They get the Latino vote. Or the gay vote. Or the elderly vote. Or the African-American vote. Or the women’s vote. They love those voters! Those voters will help them *win*. It will be great.

As long as those voters aren’t educated.

We live in a country that is 14th in the world for education — and a state that is 20th in the US. Those figures are dropping with each year.  You don’t have to be smart to vote, and when you have your Legislative Branch playing games with numbers to “pass a budget” that doesn’t include all of the things that it is required to pay for, it’s better if the voters aren’t smart.

I live in a good school district. Our kids get issued laptops.  One of the more common rejoinders to this is: if the school district can furnish laptops, why can’t it pay its teachers (or reduce class sizes)? Great question.

Local school districts augment federal and state money (because it’s not enough) by levies and bonds. Here in our county it’s not uncommon to see an education bond measure every two years — for this district or the one down the road — to cover a given thing. Technology levies are separate from operating levies are separate from capital bonds (the latter used for building new schools). So if the tech levy passes but the operating levy doesn’t, you get computers but no one to administrate them.

Let’s take a look, then, at the operational cost of a teacher — that’s really what it comes down to, right? The teacher is who your child interacts with on a daily basis, they’re the ones that “take all summer off” and “Only work like 6 hours a day and get multiple in-service days and spring break and such”. Let’s look at a “Schedule C” teacher, who has either a BA and 90 credits or a Master’s Degree. We will take one who is 5 years in. That teacher makes $43,607/year. (Note to those who go look up those hourly rates — those are based on in-class hours. They are not based on hours worked).

Let’s further say the teacher doesn’t work at all during the 10 weeks of summer (they actually go in a week early, but it makes the math easy), or spring break (1 week), winter break (2 weeks), and holidays (Veteran’s day, Day after Thanksgiving, Presidents Day, Mid-winter break adds up to a week). I exclude Thanksgiving and Memorial day because they are typically off for everyone.

OK so 52 weeks/year, minus 10 for summer, 3 for regular breaks, and another for miscellaneous days == 52-14=38 weeks. That translates to $1147/week, before taxes, or an hourly rate of $28.67. Woo hoo! Riches behold!

Well, wait. Do they really work 40 hours?

My son’s school starts at 7:4oam and gets out at 2:10pm. Teachers are expected on-campus by 7:10am. So let’s assume they hightail it out of there with the kids and do not stay late to cover detentions (they do), test retakes (ditto), clubs (which they do and it’s usually on their own time, but it’s a choice so we will ignore that). That’s 7 hours. Oh, they get lunch, for 40 minutes. That means 1 hour, 40 minutes short of an 8 hour workday.

Except there is no room in there for lesson planning, grading, etc. Six classes at 30 kids/class is 180 kids worth of papers to grade, tests to grade, and lesson plans. Fine. Let’s be super-generous and say that is used up with that 1 hour and 40 minutes. (Note: my kid averaged 3 hours of homework per night in 6th grade. Each class had one graded item per night, roughly, not including major projects and papers. Translation: go through roughly 180 pieces of math homework and check the answers and they showed their work correctly. At one minute per paper you have used up all of your 100 minutes and then some).

Great! We’re done.

No, we’re not. These days, your dear teachers are expected to answer email from students and parents. This averages 30-50 per day (I am not exaggerating, I asked a bunch of different teachers — and I know I contributed to that count more than a few times). Call it 30 per day at 1 minute to read and 1 minute to respond– that’s another hour. Then add in IEP meetings (teachers with a student in their class in an IEP attend one or two of these a year — and there’s about 2 per class, so 12 per teacher) and those add up to another 15 minutes a week. Then add in staff meetings, call it another 15 minutes per week.

With me? Your 40-hour per week teacher is now at roughly 48 hours/week. Let’s go back and do that math again: $24/hour. Looks great! Except remember we removed all those weeks off the teacher gets — we assumed s/he didn’t get paid for that period.

Now lets look at how much “life” costs.

  • Take off 20% for taxes.
  • The cheapest 2 bedroom apartment I could find within a 20 minute drive (because there is a gas/transportation trade off here) is $1200 ($14,400/year).
  • $300/mo for food
  • $100/mo for transportation — bus and/or gas money/insurance
  •  $150/mo electric/gas
  • 10% for retirement

That’s $2294-(20%*2294)-1200-300-100-150-(10%*2294)=2294-458-1200-300-100-150-229=and guess what we’re in negative numbers. Because after I take out electricity/gas we have only $86, and that’s what the teacher can put to retirement.

As long as they don’t have kids. Or pets. Or hobbies. Or unforeseen medical expenses. Or mandatory union dues. Or chipping in for the kid who can’t afford school supplies. Or student loans, because our higher education system is horrifically messed up, too.

Today we celebrate our independence from a government that wanted to give us taxation without representation. We need to look at our government today and understand our responsibilities, and theirs. We pay the taxes. We may need to pay more. In turn, we need our legislators to represent: not just because they “let” us have the freedoms we were already granted (my 12 year old was shocked to find out gay people couldn’t get married already) in our constitution, but because we put the legislators where they are today.

If they don’t represent what we need, then we need to put others in there who do. That is the ultimate freedom we have as Americans, and we need to remember it, and use it.

Pockets

Right now my life is all about finding pockets of time in which to get things done, or, more rarely, in which to opt to do nothing. They’re everywhere, like the air spaces between those metal ball bearings in the glass beaker that your 7th  grade science teacher made you put in there. Then she or he made you add sand to fill up the spaces, and then you added water to fill up the microscopic spaces between the granules of sand.

Teeny, tiny pockets of productivity or reflection.

I write this sitting as I do, lately, in a Starbucks on M street in Auburn, WA. It’s a nice Starbucks — it’s kept quite clean, and there’s a nice set of leather-esque chairs that, at 7pm on a Tuesday, are blissfully free in their little corner by the window. The wifi is Google and the tea is hot.

I should be at my son’s Scouts meeting. But as my son’s Scout meetings usually entail him meeting with other scouts and not with me, and as I now have a Very Important Partner in India, well, I filled that particular pocket.  There’s no wifi at the church my son’s Scouts meeting is held at, so to Starbucks I go.

Thanks to the recent time change though, my Very Important Partner needed to bump our call a bit later, and I find myself with a pocket. I’m using it to blog.

I haven’t done much of that lately. The last time my blog petered out — not this one, the other one I did when I was a Freewheelin’ Divorcee — it was because I had no more dating drama to write about; I had Found Myself and (mercifully) found I wasn’t an asshole. More specifically, I had discovered that I didn’t, actually, need to waste time on people not worth it, which in turn means you have a lot less to bitch about. Bitching is entertaining, if done well, and so it was cheap and easy content to create; in the absence of something to bitch about there was a period for about a year where I had nothing to say.

This blog is not about bitching (you may have noticed). Or not much. It’s mostly about reflection, and it’s a soapbox; if you’ve read it you have a very good idea where I stand on some things (education! food!) and have no idea where I stand on others (vaccinations! gmos!). (Incidentally, it’s not that I don’t care about those things — I do, although my opinions may surprise you — it’s just that I think they’re so damned evident or so not worth arguing about that they get no space between my ball bearings here).

I digress…

The issue I seem to be having of late — and it would appear it’s not just me — is that I am very “busy”. “How are you doing?” people ask (most of the time it’s a set of symbols delivered as a greeting: most people really don’t want to know exactly how you are doing when they ask that), and the inevitable response is “Good, good, been busy…”.

This business is not a lie, for any of the people who regularly state it (including myself). Although it is often, I think, exaggerated. There’s work and school and home and errands and social stuff and community stuff and the unexpected things like auto repair and failed septic systems. You can take a step back and attempt to cull some of these in order to be less busy — but my question is, to fill it with what?

Case in point: I could, for example, bump my Very Important Partner call to Thursdays (and… I may). This would free me up to be at the Scouts meeting, right? Where I will…

Sit. Maybe stare at my iPhone. Once a month there is a Scouts committee meeting, for a board I am not on, for things that it is nice to know but are typically on Facebook and delivered via email and on the Scouts website. I could attend that, but I’m not sure that I add any value, and in any event, sitting in a room separate from my kid is only slightly more removed than sitting on the edge of a large room where my kid sits 50 yards away discussing the relative merits of waterproof matches.

I could use that time to knit — and indeed, I did for a while — but knitting is “busy”, too. (The husband person says that “knitting is fidgeting that produces clothing” and he’s actually right, at least in my case).

So we come back to how I use that pocket. And we come back to the Starbucks, where I can work or do board stuff or blog or research grey woolen flats that are alas unavailable in my size.

Yet I know I will wake up tomorrow, not feeling productive or content, but feeling like I’ve dropped a ball somewhere, forgotten to check a box, or left a productivity pocket unfilled.  The thing is I know I have enough time for All Of The Things, and I know it can all get done. I just need to figure out a way to pour water into the beaker.

This is Going to Hurt You More than Me

Greetings from the ending of a self-imposed blogging silence: I got the aforementioned email and am happy to state that I will shortly be joining Microsoft.  Sur La Table was very diverting and offered many challenges with respect to data, but it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to work in, and with, big data.

As a result of that interview loop, plus some interviews I did for an open position we have at Sur La Table, I’m here to write something Very Important: Don’t Lie on Your Resume.

Typically when I am called in to conduct a technical interview, I read the candidate’s resume, and then ask the hiring manager how technical they want me to get. If it’s me, and I’m hiring for a developer, I’m going to get very technical, and you’re going to spend 100% of your time with me at the whiteboard. If it’s for someone else, and I’m hiring for say, a PM, or a QC, or technically-minded-but-not-otherwise-a-developer role, I’m still going to test you on skills you state in your resume.

So when you tell me that you have a lot of experience with SQL, or that you’ve been using SQL for five or six years, I’m going to run you through the basics. Either of those statements will tell me that you know the four major joins, you know the simplest way to avoid a Cartesian product, you know how to create data filtration in a join or in a where statement, and you know how to subquery. I’m not even getting to more advanced parts like transactions with rollbacks, while loops, or indexing — the aforementioned list are what I would characterize as basic, everyday SQL use.

Imagine my dismay, then, as an interviewer, when after declaring (either verbally or on your resume) that you are a SQL expert, you can’t name the joins. Or describe them. Or (worse) describe them incorrectly. When you say you know SQL, and then prove that you don’t, it makes me wonder what else is on your resume that you “know”, that is less hard to prove (in the interview) that you don’t. The default assumption, for the protection of the company, is that your entire resume is a raft of lies. It’s the surest way to earn a “no hire”.

It would have been far better to state the truth: someone else wrote SQL scripts for you, told you what they did, and you were adept enough to figure out when there was a disparity in the output. That does not mean you “know” SQL, it means you know how to run a SQL script. This gives the interviewer an honest window and the ability to tailor your time together (remember, they’re getting paid by the company to spend time with you, if it’s productive it is not a waste of money) to figure out your strengths and weaknesses. Having just been hired into a position that works with big data, where I was honest that the largest db I have worked in and with was about 3TB, I can attest that it’s really hard to have to look a hiring manager smack in the eye and say: “I have 90% of what you have asked for but I’m missing that last 10%”. It gives them the opportunity, however, to decide if they’re going to take the chance that you can learn.

If they’ve already learned you’re honest, then that chance-taking looks better in comparison.

Beyoncé and Lean In

I was listening to NPR the other day (this seems to be the thirty/forty-something ubiquitous intro to a story) about Beyoncé’s new album, and how Twitter trended when it dropped, and there as an awful lot about how She Is A Feminist and This Album Is A Tribute To Feminism. Naturally, it being NPR, the second person they interviewed pooh-pooh’d this, pointing out that in her videos apparently Beyoncé is gyrating in such a way that she is gyrating for men, and therefore it isn’t any different than any other oppressed-female gyrations. This is all very normal and to be expected anytime someone declares something “feminist” or “the new feminist”, women will gather on either side and debate earnestly. None of this really irked me until this lady (Tanya Steele, which is a fantastically appropriate name) pointed out that when women were telling her about how they feel Beyoncé’s gyrations/music/etc. made them feel empowered, and/or they felt it was a good example of feministic power, she had to “walk them back” and “explain it to them”.

It took a while for me to sort through why this irritated me. I don’t normally engage in discussions on feminism or women’s issues, it wasn’t part of my educational background and it just really doesn’t come up. I’m more likely to get into an economics debate. (NB: I have not taken a single women’s studies class. I do however own a vagina, and have friends who own vaginas, so I think I’m somewhat qualified to discuss the condition of having a vagina and the thinking that may or may not go along with vagina ownership.)

Merriam-Webster defines Feminism as: “The belief that men and women should have equal opportunities”. (It also defines it as an “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests”).

Beyoncé and Steele

As best as I can tell, Ms. Steele’s contention is that when women view Beyoncé’s new album, and more specifically her videos in which she “gyrates” (I have not seen them nor is it really necessary to do so to illustrate this particular point), as “feminist”, they are incorrect. Her reasoning is Beyoncé is gyrating sexually, as to appeal to and/or entice men, and therefore is acting like someone who has to sublimate their own needs/desires in order to attract someone else, and therefore that isn’t beneficial in any particular way to her gender representation.

This reasoning is highly subjective. First, it assumes a knowledge of what is in Beyoncé’s head as she’s gyrating on the screen. I am willing to wager as she was gyrating, under a myriad of hot lights, multiple takes, makeup touches, reminders on choreography, adjustments to the mic, etc. that what was in her head was,  “I am working, I am working, I am working, I can’t wait for a hot bath and a glass of wine, but I am working.” Beyoncé’s reputation in the industry, even for one who doesn’t follow it altogether much, is one of extreme professionalism and hard work. Her personal wealth is such that she never, ever has to work again, independent of that of her husband. Beyoncé works if she wants to work, she busts her butt because she wants to, and she gyrates because she wants to.  Second, it assumes that Beyoncé’s gyrations were intended for the sole or at least primary benefit of a male and/or lesbian observer (and/or customer. Remember kids, she’s selling a brand.) The assumption is she is gyrating sexually, she is therefore objectifying herself sexually for a sexually interested party. Demographics aren’t readily available for her album but I’d be willing to put the $20 down to say it trends female more than male. And they are not all lesbians. Third, Beyoncé has gone on record, on multiple occasions, for “loving being a woman” and “enjoying her curves” and “dressing sexily”.  It would be a little disingenuous then to expect her to stand in a full-length evening gown when singing songs about seducing her lover.

The fact of the matter is, some women like to exhibit and some do not. Because Ms. Steele does not see value in exhibition she would like others to not see value in it as well. This is human nature, but it is unreasonable to then have to explain to someone why something they like, that you don’t, that doesn’t cause you any personal harm, is “wrong”. If a male person sees Beyoncé gyrating and from that infers all women should gyrate, then it is NOT Beyonce’s gyrations that are to blame. It is his rationale that “female person gyrating on TV = all women gyrate for me” that is wrong. To assume that Beyoncé’s gyrations set feminism back in any way is tantamount to saying that “because a woman dresses XYZ way she is asking for it”. You can’t have it both ways: either the observer is responsible for their own behaviors or they are not.  I prefer to think that men, and women, are rational human beings capable of using their brains and if they are NOT, it is not the fault of society or other folks. Your brain, and your actions, are your own to manage.

Lean In

The larger discussion, though, is how women are perceived in society and, in terms of Lean In, how we perceive ourselves (vs. how we “should” perceive ourselves, as best as I can decipher it).  While the “Beyoncé is/isn’t a Feminist” debate is exciting mostly because it can be and mostly because of the method in which she chose to drop her album, the “Lean In” concept is trickier and, I think, longer lasting. The basic takeaway I had from reading Lean In is that women don’t get opportunities as much as men do because either a. we would if we spoke up but we don’t speak up, or b. we need to speak up more so men get used to it and therefore will “see” us in the roles we want.

Here I think I need to step aside and explain something in my own, personal world that means my subjective take on this is going to be just that — very subjective. I am 5’10” tall. I have never been of slight build. Physically, I do not appear meek or weak or shy. Further, I am the daughter of two strong-minded, outspoken women, and two male engineers. I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem asking for something if I wanted it, and/or providing a rationale on why I should have it. (True story: when I first moved to San Diego 15 years ago, I worked for a company that believed you should get personality tested before you got a position within the company, so everyone knew how to work with you. The sociologist who reviewed my results said that I was a bit like an elephant: when I entered a room everyone would know it, and if my foot fell it would be a resounding stomp, whether or not I intended it to.) A casual reading of my employment reviews would validate this: the best term I think that has ever been applied to my attitude is that I was “highly apolitical”. Time has allowed me to learn how to say “No”, for example, in sixteen different and appropriate ways, but the long and the short of it is if I want something I will ask for it, and if I am told No and I don’t understand why I will press.

Which I guess makes me rather “mannish” in the workforce.

So when Sheryl Sandberg talks about not even thinking about asking for something until it became a really big issue (e.g., preferential parking for expectant mothers) I must confess I don’t understand. When one of the most intelligent, driven women I know in my social circle tells me that until she read this book she would have thought twice, or not at all, pursued a particular project because she wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing so, I am aghast. This book wasn’t particularly instructive to me. It was however, revelatory.

Leaning In Objectively

There is an old joke that PMS is “when women act like men do all the time”. I don’t really think this is accurate and in any event because of better things and better living through chemistry it doesn’t apply to me. However I do think that women can be raised, or conditioned, to not ask for things they want.  It is kind of bittersweet that a Pantene commercial illustrates the deltas in how some women perceive themselves (as well as how they perceive society perceives them, etc.)  It’s entirely possible I am perceived as a bitch, that I’m bossy, or that I’m self-promoting. The question becomes though: what is the end result of my efforts? If I get the promotion, or the project, or the job, or the budget, have I failed still because I ruffled a feather or two? If the tenet is that “men do it all the time” do feathers get equally ruffled? We are told that men “ball-bust” each other and the sting doesn’t last; why must I assume it does if I engage in it as well (abiding thoroughly by the rule that if you dish it, you need to take it).

Bottom line: if I earn what I was after, does it matter if I’m “liked” as much as if I had stayed put? And does it matter, to me, to be liked by someone who would  rather I had stayed put? Like blaming Beyoncé for the perceptions that men may have of other women because of her gyrations, I don’t know that you can blame the woman who gets the project, or the raise, or the bonus, and possibly irks someone, because she asked for and earned it. If there’s anyone who needs to own that, it’s the one who is irked.