The Gift of Warm Introductions

giftThe internet has had a profound effect on business, yet nothing is more underrated than the power of a warm email introduction. In the startup world warm introductions are a life blood, in the professional world it makes the difference in finding the best employment, and in your personal life the best dates or valuable resources to do personal business with. For example I got an excellent broker through a warm introduction. With all the value that can be shared, why are warm introductions so difficult to get?

Warm Introductions are an Investment

crysalis-to-butterfly

Good Things Take Time

Great warm introductions take effort and time. It’s important to ensure they are valuable to both parties. For example, it’s not always proper to fire off an introduction without asking folks first- someone could be going through a difficult time, or they may not want their contact information shared. On the other hand, it’s tough to tell if someone is really ready for an introduction, just because they ask for an introduction on LinkedIn doesn’t mean they are entitled to it.

To add grease to the fire, sadly too few people know how to follow-up to best make use of a warm introduction even when they get it, either letting it fall cold or following up wrong, resulting in a sad loss of opportunity, power and momentum. The worst part about a botched introduction is that it’s a detraction from the bank of social capital — every time you don’t follow-up properly when someone makes an introduction for you it subtracts social capital from the person who made the introduction (who was most likely doing you a favor) and yourself as well. There will inevitably be a conversation about “whatever happened with that introduction?” and in this hyper connected and highly competitive world you won’t likely get a second chance. When you receive a warm introduction, what you do next and when you do it are of critical importance. It’s never to late to learn however, and that’s what this blog is about.

 

When is an introduction the right gift?

When someone makes an introduction they are offering a small gift by really making a clear connection and usually presenting a clear opportunity. emailintroduction

A personal example comes from last year when I was featured on a project with NPR on the topic of blacks in technology, I looked at the list of contributors and almost fell out my chair when I saw that less than 25% of the participants were women and I was the only one from Silicon Valley. It was a perfect opportunity to help fill a gap and connect good people with a great opportunity. In a single afternoon I introduced the producer to 10 awesome people including women in the Silicon Valley tech scene using the 3 line introduction rule. For the introduction I briefly recapped the last conversation I had with the producer summing up my intent to connect the program with some amazing folks in the Valley that meet the needs of the program, introducing each with qualifying details, in other words- to say why this person is awesome for this opportunity. I used the second to provide more information for the second person about the program, the producer and why it’s a good opportunity for them to jump on it. The 3rd and final line is me getting out the way, it’s the same model found in this forbes article. A great email introduction has a little bit of a gift for each person and ultimately is intended to add value to the individuals being connected.

What struck me about this encounter with NPR was how every person I introduced responded almost immediately confirming their interest and availability and setting clear next steps. That day I really learned how far the power of a warm introduction can go because while it would have been easier for me to provide a list of recommend women to the producer, it would have shifted the burden of effort onto her to reach out to each one of them individually, giving her more work rather than making it easier and it would leave me in the dark as to who was following up. By putting the effort into the warm introduction it put the ball in the court of the people I’d introduced, giving them the chance to form their own destiny and close in on the opportunity. Fortunately everyone introduced knew not only how to dribble the ball once it was put in their court, but they each made a collective slam dunk andturned the introduction from an opportunity to a successful branding event to raise the profile of a critical topic. This leads me to 7 basic rules for follow-up to a warm introduction and how you can ensure your email intro follow-up game is tight.

Dos-Dont-explorer-asia

What to do:

Do move the introducer to BCC – A great opening is to thank the person who made the introduction and announce that you’re moving them to BCC – this shows that you appreciate the introduction and that you will take it from there. The person who introduced you also doesn’t need to ask if you followed up because they will have received the BCC note.
Do confirm your interest & value - Validate your interest in connecting and add further detail or questions but keep it brief. If you have a lot of questions it’s better to schedule a call to get more details.
Do provide clear next steps - No email introduction response is complete without clear next steps. This will likely be a set of dates and times you can meet to further discuss the opportunity.
Do share the results – Especially if the introduction was fruitful you need to make sure you relay that to the person who made the introduction. If it turned into a disaster you should let them know as well so they can improve their connection quality. Everything in the spirit of future success.

What not to do:

Don’t let the email go stale - If you don’t know how to best respond call the person who made the introduction to get more detail. It’s also better late than never- if you get an introduction while on vacation, reply when you get back even if it was a time sensitive thing and the opportunity is past, don’t just ignore it. If you just let an introduction sit that person will probably never introduce you to anyone again. That will suck.
Don’t keep the introducer on the email chain – Unless the opportunity includes collaborating with the person who introduced you then keeping them on the email chain is just cluttering their inbox. If you want to keep them informed for the purposes of coaching use BCC instead.
Don’t be available anytime – The worse thing you can do with busy people is say “I’m available anytime”. When you say this it means one of a few things: You’re time isn’t valuable. You’re too lazy to take the time to check your schedule. You’re leaving it up to chance. When you say you’re available anytime it means you expect the other person to look into their schedule and pick out slots of availability for you. Unless they really really want something from you they aren’t going to play secretary and you’ve effectively erected a barrier to what could have been a great opportunity for yourself.
There is of course a lot more to this as making sure you hit the mark on bridging connections takes a caring and human approach. It’s not all about the next big opportunity. At any rate I highly recommend going deeper into this topic as there are plenty more resources out there. For starters I recommend reading The Supremacy of Warm Introductions by Dave Lerner, for a longer read check out The 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen R. Covey. If this article helped you at all please let me know with a comment and if you are a professional at this make sure you add a comment with any tips I may have missed so you may spread your knowledge as well.

Bullshit We Tell Ourselves to Excuse Our Dreams

too-many-of-us-are-not-living-our-dreams-becuase-we-are-living-our-fears

Upon finally reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath with a great friend of mine and while reviewing the book together, I revealed to my friend a personal realization that despite all my personal and professional success, I was –to be frank– full of shit. If you know me you’re probably gasping right now wondering why someone so accomplished would say such a thing about herself. My friend did the same thing (gasp that is). It took a while to calm the situation down and explain that my statement was not intended to be self-effacing. This realization of my own BS was far bigger than one of Impostor Syndrome, or waning self-esteem. It was a wake up call to the inner yet to be fulfilled desire for purpose.

As confident and self assured I appeared, it was all because I was measuring myself against other’s measuring sticks. Trust me, it’s impossible to fulfill your purpose when you’re measuring yourself against another person’s image of success. Your success is not my success, and mine is not yours. To further that statement I also came to realize that it’s impossible for me to fulfill my purpose when I’m measuring anything at all. I’ll spend more time measuring than I will being present, being inspired and executing the awesome within. Measurement is not to be ignored altogether, it has its value for sure, but if it’s getting in the way of forming and realizing a vision then it’s bullshit, it’s a trap and it must be set aside for more important work.

In exploring the ideas for what constitutes awesome, I had to set aside much of the programming I’ve learned in various frameworks for entrepreneurship, personal growth and business and reemerge with an ideal so new that it was inherently risky, utterly terrifying and presumed broken by anyone other than myself. That ideal was simple; passion, gut intuition and faith. In arriving at this ideal, in arriving at the edge of my millennial rainbow, which would ultimately lead to my pot of gold, leprechaun, unicorn and genie in a bottle, I had to overcome all the bullshit I previously told myself which sounded something like this…

1. I’m too…
When we spy a twinkle of a shooting star, an idea, a hope, something which we decide is awesome which we must do we can all expect a litany of “I’m too” to come crashing down upon us from within. I’m too fat, skinny, sick, fill in the blanks, they will never stop coming. “I’m too” claims that there are some other priorities that must come before you can catch your shooting star. Achieving these somehow remarkable and definitive milestones will mark your success and worthiness for the true prize of being your true brilliant self. What we need to realize is that nothing is more important than being who we are, and that spark, that hope, that idea and that purpose within you is within your grasp no matter how fat, sick, or skinny you are. I recently read a story about a young woman who was studying architecture when suddenly her freakin’ arms and hands stopped working and she could no longer complete her course work. What did she do? She started doing her work with her nose. HER NOSE. Seriously, any day is a good day to stop prioritizing other bullshit in front of your dreams.

2. I’m not…
This is another face of the demon “I’m too”, but while “I’m too’s” goal is to get you to focus on another goal and re-prioritize your dream, “I’m not’s” goal is to get you to give up on your dream all together. “I’m too” makes you feel so unworthy that you lose faith in your ability to achieve your dream. It sounds like I’m not good enough, I’m not prepared, I’m not certified, I’m not ready or some other blue moon ideal that may never happen. It sucks the spirit right out of you and leaves you feeling dejected and settling for abusive spouses, low paying wages and unfulfilling employment. Remember Harriet Tubman? Yes, that Harriet, the conductor on the underground railroad. Ever wonder what would have happened to America if Harriet had told herself “I’m not free”? This phenomenal woman is known for her quote “I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Many of the folks she lead were previously afraid to go with her, they feared what was on the other side of “freedom”. Those who never took the trek thought things like I’m not “going to make it”, or I’m not “fast enough to get away”. But we all know she never lost a passenger on her railroad and she never let an “I’m not” get in her way.

3. Something came up…
You know when this happens… This happens when you’ve gotten past deprioritizing your dreams, and you believe you are worthy and that your dream is attainable and just as you are on your way… somebody gets gravely ill, or somebody dies, or your department reorgs, or your kid hits puberty and starts acting like they think they are grown, or your significant other breaks your heart and there goes your dream… Lying in wait, gasping for breath as you abandon it just as it was about to get good. Shit happens. Believe me, I know. But I also know that shit ALWAYS happens and it always will. Few people have someone in their lives who will treasure your dreams more than you do yourself. Remember, you were not put on earth to realize the purpose of others, that is their job. You are here to deliver your unique mission in life. It’s okay if you are derailed temporarily, but if your life is so chaotic that being on track is the exception to the rule of being side tracked by “something came up”, you need to get some “get right”. Get right is when you can distinguish the urgent from the important. Your dream is important. It’s up to you to guard your time against unimportant matters that are urgent.

4. I don’t have support…
Support is poison. Reliance on support is a death wish. This sounds brutal but life is hard and chasing dreams is harder. Achieving your dream is a combination of miraculous heavenly intervention and dogged preparation and dedication. Support, especially the form that reveals itself as a cheer-leading squad is a distant third. Remember David in the story of David & Goliath. Nobody believed he could do it. Not even his own family. If David had relied on his family to spur his confidence he would have been sorely disappointed. This is how we must be. It’s not to say that we will never experience support, because we will, and when we get it– it will help, and at times make the difference. However it is a fatal mistake to rely upon support. You must center yourself, find your chi, and have faith that you can do this against all odds.

5. I can’t do this alone…
I learned a valuable lesson from my sister when she moved out on her own, when she went to college and paid for it all on her own, when she graduated, when she found work without any inside referrals, when she authored her first book, when she quit her job and went back to school to pursue a masters degree. She did all this in a kind of jarring solitude, almost in isolation and I didn’t understand why she never asked for help. Seven years later I discovered that it is the amateur who despises isolation and that her focus was on the pieces which she could do alone. Her demonstration of the characteristics of the professional who pursues her work in quiet, being the greatest critic of self, besting herself until she decides it’s time to share her work with others. With this approach it is she who decides when she is done. And in truth, the professional doesn’t need an audience or validation because the completion of work, the completion of their piece is the prize. This is not to downplay collaboration, rather this part, that which is done alone focuses on the initial journey to the MVP, the minimum viable product. The MVP is the definition and execution of smallest releasable product which you can do, even if attempted alone. Ultimately, this is the work which will inspire and attract others who will present opportunities for future collaboration.

6. I can’t measure this…
How many times has someone asked you how you measure success? Let’s be clear, if you are truly attempting your dream then measurement is not for you.  If you are working toward your dream you won’t pay attention to success markers. You won’t pause to celebrate, your very work is a celebration. Every day you don’t give up on your dream is a celebration. Measurement is for others. Measures and metrics are wonderful indicators of progress and success for spectators, not for those who are driving the vision. They help align and hold others accountable to the vision, but they are not for you. Measurement justifies you are on the course you expect. When you are starting out, when you are just beginning to chisel the dream from the mold you won’t fully know what the dream is, let alone where it will go or how to measure it to verify it is going there. You are going to fly by the seat of your pants for a while, and if it feels good you’ll know, and if it feels scary you’ll know even more. If you can measure it, it’s probably not your dream, it’s someone else’s.

7. People don’t like or people won’t accept…
Approval is easy, it’s just rarely satisfying. Dreams are not easy to accept, just as difficult as it was for you to accept your dream, it will be 100 times harder for others to accept it. The reason is because the best dreams are often before their time. You must never forget that people thought Steve Jobs was crazy. There is a key reason why first followers is such a key concept in entrepreneurship. Few successful entrepreneurs set out with an idea they know people will love because if you know people will love it there are probably a hundred other people attempting the same thing, meaning your market is saturated and dude, you’re not really innovating. If your dream is just outside the realm of believable and people need to suspend their disbelief a bit to see where you are going then most people are not going to like what you are doing. That is until the time has come and people start to get it, which usually takes a long time, if it ever happens at all. And if it never happens at all, that doesn’t mean your dream hasn’t come true, it just means your dream may yet be only for you.

Greg McKeown quoted some smart person in his book Essentialism when he said “it is hard if you work easy at it, it is easy if you work hard at it.” I re-read that quote ten times before saying it aloud to myself in response to the need to commit that phrase to memory. The lessons shared above require constant re-commitment. I consider them the seven sins of the meek, and while our David in the Bible was a humble sheep herder, he was also courageous, and smart- he knew his strengths. He knew his gift and he could also spot his opponents strengths and weakness. Because he spent a lot of time alone, in solitude honing his gift by fending off wolves and protecting his sheep in the darkness he was prepared. When his moment arose, David stood up to live the brave dream, not for fame, but because that’s what he was born to do. Let nothing stand before you accepting your gift and realizing your dream, least of all your own mind.

5,858 miles, 100 Developers, 25 hours, 10 days in territory, 5 cities and 5 lessons learned about Technical Sales

Dreamforce, Salesforce's Annual Global User Gala & Conference

Dreamforce is the largest technology conference in the world produced by Salesforce

This time last year a random conversation at Dreamforce lead me to a new career path. I hadn’t set out to find a new job as I was enjoying my role in Product Management with plenty of growth opportunity ahead, however the new role presented a much greater challenge in areas that would truly put me outside my comfort zone. Only one perceived drawback, the role was in pre-sales.

I considered all the pros and cons then decided to take the job, and just like that, a transformation began that changed the perceptions of how I viewed myself and a company I’d worked at for over 6 years. It’s a long story but the gist is I always held fast to the notion of detesting sales people (with the exception of a handful who I held in very high esteem). I can’t lie, I even took some measure of pride in hating sales people as many people quietly (or loudly) do. Bottom line, I was bonafide tech folk and I didn’t do “sales”. I made, created, ideated, worked hard to understand problems, developed solutions and took pride in my DIY mindset. Then suddenly, almost overnight, in the blink of an eye I had joined the ranks of one of the fastest growing sales armies in the world as a Senior Solution Engineer. It suffices to say, I had a bit of a social crisis while struggling to adjust to new perspectives on long held misbeliefs about technical pre-sales.

Change is ScaryThe cinch that lead me to accept the role was the promise that I would be working with other technical folks, CTOs, CIOs, Architects and Developers more often than a VP of Sales. This meant that I would be working with the people who spoke my language, the language of security, scale, agility, bits and bytes, excellence of execution and fresh innovation beyond keeping the lights on. I assumed I would find challenges outside my comfort zone that would keep me excited, but what I found was that the technical part was in general no more challenging than most other problems I’d seen in my other technical roles. The immediate unexpected challenge I faced was how to avoid losing myself in the fast paced energy of constantly churning sales cycles, a highly aggressive & type A culture with an emphasis on “ain’t nobody got time for that!” if it didn’t have to do with meeting a number. Real talk, I’ve always been goal oriented but never with the pure intention of scoring points. My ENFP Myers Brigg rating would have me focusing on quality rather than quantity and while my corporate culture was committed to catering to quality, the consistent pressure and focus on the quota was entirely foreign to me coming from the world of technology execution. So how did I keep my bearings? Well, to be frank, I didn’t. At least not at first.

 

Photo of Alec Baldwin from Glengary Glen Ross

Quote from Glengary Glen Ross, "It Takes Brass Balls to Sell Real Estate"

I spent 5 straight months drinking from the sales funnel firehouse and it spilled all over me. Yet slowly but surely I picked up on the lessons that would be critical for my healthy adjustment and authenticity. I sank my hooks into doing stuff that I thought was cool and interesting as much as possible and learned from the people around me who demonstrated a strong sense of individuality, thought leadership & sincerity. It was by latching onto the clear vision of passionate problem solving that I was able to turn my back on the image of the slimey, overpromising sales guys who came from downtown for Mitch and Murray. I turned my back on that slick hair greaseball, at least in theory anyway. I still needed to truly test myself. I needed proof that I was growing into a better “me”. I decided venture into territory.

With MacBook Air in hand I foraged in the wild of my territory for 10 days delivering Developer Workshops in 5 cities, San Francisco, Austin, Seattle, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. I truly put myself to the test and these are the lessons I learned, which I’ve decided to share with you now. I related each challenge of the journey to a lesson learned and included it in my first ever infographic. Read on for details on each lesson I learned. Powerpoint has game, and so does hubspot where I got the template! *wink*

5 Lessons Learned in Technical Sales

Infographic: 5 Lessons Learned in Technical Sales

 

5,858 Miles, Always Be Discovering

In reality I travelled more than 5,858 miles but the point is that being away from home is difficult. However it also can leave you with a sense of abandon from thinking about things which with distance you no longer have control over back at home. This presents an opportunity to practice presence in a powerful way.

Real Talk: I’m not down with the A.B.C. (“Always Be Closing”) mentality, but I’m definitely down with A.B.D. – “Always Be Discovering”. Being on the road makes discovery easy to practice because well, everything is foreign. Seeing things with a new eye reveals insight in problems around us all the time, city to town, taxi to uber, airline to airport. Being present and engaged with what’s around you offers invaluable opportunities to learn about your customers, customer’s customers, and what makes a great experiences vs. a poor one. Keep your eyes open.

 

100 Developers, Developers are Diverse, Engage Them

In those 10 days I engaged with over 100 of my clients or prospective clients developers. The best part about that experience was that they were all different. Even in the same room their backgrounds varied from analyst, to admin, to developer, to c-level and the challenges they faced varied from the need for speed and agility to integration challenges and beyond. With such diversity abound it’s very important to realize that not everyone shares the same level of knowledge, even and especially when working with smart developers.

 

Real Talk: There are hundreds of platforms out there ranging from languages to frameworks to services and no one is an expert on them all. This means it’s best to start everyone off on the ground floor with the basics. In other words take people from 0 to 60 when exposing them to a new platform no matter how experienced they are, this enables everyone to be engaged through the process and learn as much as they can to walk away with value in their time spent.

25 Hours of Developer Workshops, Facilitate Exploration

Being a strange person in a strange land is hard. But in this line of work you have to be strong and confident even and especially when you don’t have home court advantage. Just be careful how that confidence shows up. Let me ask you this… What do you do when someone shows up acting like they’ve got all the answers and they’re going to solve all your problems? If you are anything like me you start rolling your eyes. The sad part is the “typical sales guy” does just that when he starts offering solutions before the problem has even been articulated, trying to discover the problem you have that fits their solution. Man, that’s the blind leading the blind. Lucky for me the folks who came to my developer workshops reinforced in me the importance of facilitating exploration. They showed up with their open eyes, looking to see, touch, and lastly hear what I had to say. I did my best to talk as little as possible and instead facilitate and enable them to explore as much as I could.

 

Real Talk: Once someone gets their hands on a tool they’ll use it to solve problems on their own. In Technical Sales we’re just here to help you find the tools to prioritize for exploration. Bottom line, people’s time is valuable so shut up and help folks get their hands dirty so they can do their work.

 

10 Days in Territory, Relate, Correlate, Tessellate

One of the biggest challenges in introducing a new platform to a group of people is the answer to the question “What can I do with it?” It sounds like a simple question right? Imagine for a moment, looking back to your childhood when someone first dropped a box full of tinker toys, legos, or some other abstract platform for building “stuff” in front of you. Remember how you couldn’t imagine what you could build at first? It wasn’t until you tinkered with it for a while, or looked at things built by other people did visions begin to emerge, and by the end of the day you probably had built a bunch of things that connected with your imagination in powerful ways. Platforms are just like that, tools for delivering a vision. Steven Pressfield said it best when he said “The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come. The professional is sly. He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.”

 

Real Talk: The balance between tools, technique and innovation is scary and unpredictable. No platform has the answer to everything. And on top of that innovation is hard! It becomes especially difficult when businesses are pressuring their teams to tow the line and just make it “good enough”. This is why stories are so powerful. The practice of sharing a story of innovation where the product your audience is touching right now played a key role sparks the imagination. The story or stories you tell must either “relate or correlate” to the challenges or conditions of your audience, that enables them to “tessellate” bits and pieces of your platform into their vision of a complete and innovative solution and gives them stories to tell to help sell their vision to the higher ups who would settle for “good enough”.

 

5 Cities, Stay Hydrated & Reflect

After meeting clients in 5 different cities there was one scary thing I found they all had in common. Each event had one or two attendees that posed a question or two that I didn’t have a good answer to. Getting stumped in front of an audience is no fun at all, and if handled incorrectly can be terribly embarrassing. By the way, the first thing someone taught me when I started this job was how to deflect difficult questions. Most of the deflection tactics centered around delaying the answer or trying to convince them that they are asking the wrong questions and suggesting a “better” question for them to ask. I hope I am not the only one who thinks that is a terrible strategy. As a matter of fact, question deflection is one of my personal pet peeves so there was no way I was going to internalize this strategy with my own clients. This is why I say “don’t deflect, reflect”. It took me a while but I learned to put special emphasis on reflection when I don’t have the answers because my mother taught me at a young age that “it’s sad not to know, it’s a tragedy to not want to know”. Let me be frank again, if you knew the answer to everything you’d be developing high frequency trading systems for Wall Street or cashing in like Paul Tudor Jones. No one is perfect so do everyone a favor and don’t try to pretend to be.

 

Real Talk 1: Good engineers (in sales or otherwise) enjoy breaking down complex problems and are not too proud to bring an interesting challenge up to someone in their braintrust when they don’t know the answer. There are many ways to reflect on a challenge; you can pose it back to the person who asked, or offer it up to others in the room who may have experience with it, or discuss it openly for a moment before putting it in the parking lot for research or follow-up later on. To quote John C. Maxwell “Leaders who fail to prune their pride will meet demise. That’s not a guess, it’s a guarantee. With pride, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ we will fall, but ‘when.’ There are no exceptions.”  Reflecting is a great way to “get right” when you already know you are most likely wrong.

 

The second part of this lesson is staying hydrated. Traveling to all these places is hard on the body and hard on the psyche. At the end of some days I just wanted a stiff drink. But I resisted the urge. Why? Because the instant gratification of a shot of whisky can too easily become a crutch or a distraction from what you are really seeking, which is good health, sound mind and security. Usually a glass of water and a phone home to someone sweet does a better job and keeps your immune system strong.

 

Real Talk 2: Stress on the body can make you sick. Since our body is 65% water when we consume diuretics like alcohol or sugary drinks our bodies have to work even harder to stay hydrated. Drinking water, coconut water, and working out in the morning goes a much longer way in alleviating stress than a stiff drink.

 

Maintain Engagement with Feedback Loops:

I’ll end this with the reason why I wrote this in the first place. In 10 days I met over 100 people and many of them I spent a significant amount of time with and will spend more time with them in the future. That means it’s more important than ever to keep the lines of communication clear and open. Whether it’s to recommend a client for a pilot, or to deep dive into a challenge they are having or to learn about some cool tech thing that they do, keeping the channels of feedback clean and clear is critical. Many people are hesitant to reach out to others for help, they don’t want to waste anyone’s time, or it might take too much effort to explain a challenge over email, and it takes some people a long time to develop a rapport where they feel comfortable picking up the phone.

Real Talk: These days it’s important to be available in a variety of ways whether that be linkedin, twitter, email, Chatter or skype chat, frictionless communication is one of the keys to building lasting relationships. That said, if you read my lessons learned or enjoyed the infographic I hope you’ll join in and give me some feedback. Thank you!

 

 

Cracking the Code: Lies About Learning, Lies About Math, Lies About You

Foundational Math

When I thought about NPR covering the topic of diversity in technology from the perspective of African Americans I thought long and hard about what my contribution would be to the conversation. I thought about what misinformation has made me most angry in my journey through technology and what I could do to prevent others from being misguided by the wrathful deities that tell us “math is hard, go play Call of Duty”.

I know that parents face challenges preparing and supporting their children in mathregardless of race, which is why there are many resources targeted toward parents. The challenges in learning math impact student readiness and excitement for learning other concepts directly related to science and engineering technology. I knew in my heart that education was the right topic for me to tackle along with my fellow peers in the #NPRBlacksinTech series, and that I needed to tackle it in a way normal people would understand.

 

Monologic forms are the hallmark of individual competence and accountability, and are one of the primary measures of expertise in learning assessment

Lies About Learning:
Let me begin by saying that I was fortunate to be born to a mother who made math a high priority in our home. I can clearly recall the sadness of missing the first few games in the NBA final of Jordan’s Chicago Bulls vs Clyde Drexler’s Portland Trail Blazers because I failed a math test AND said “I hate math!” to my mother. She didn’t punish me so much for failing the test as much as for saying I hated math. If only then I knew that I just learned things differently I never would have felt, or said those words. A few years later I was fortunate to have the opportunity to shift from the general didactic way of learning (teacher lecturing the student) to a monological (self-guided and exploratory) way of learning by the time I was high school age. Let me explain. I was homeschooled, this came with benefits as well as unique challenges but for me the benefits (of homeschooling) far outweighed the challenges. Let me tell you why. At the most critical phase of developing my own personal learning process I was allowed the freedom to discover how and why I most loved learning. Through my love of learning cool new things I realized that math was really powerful and had incredible applications such as 3D modeling which I learned (via online tutorials of 3D Studio Max) when I was 16. Loving learning has been my secret weapon ever since.

Fostering a love of learning is key to engaging the self-motivation to overcome challenges one faces when a subject is difficult to learn. When people are enabled to learn in the best way for them they begin to love learning. The frictionless experience of learning something you love to learn becomes addictive. Joyfully addictive. Unfortunately most students in traditional education rarely experience this feeling because standard form factored curricula can trigger the feeling of being a square peg forced into a round hole, students feel the pain of having to learn a specific style of learning that they may never fully embrace AND whatever concept the learning is supposed to transfer. It is the epitome of painful learning through “Weapons of Mass Instruction”. No wonder people say math is hard or that they hate learning new (hard) things!

Some experts believe that we falls into one or more category of learning styles which can range from visual (learning from pictures or illustrated concepts), to auditory (hearing information), to tactile (interacting with physical projects) to abstract conceptualization vs concrete experience and/or active experimentation vs reflective observation and any combination in between. Many people know their learning style instinctively, you’ll find yourself saying things like “show me” if you are concrete example or visual learner for example. The challenge is when institutions (whether it is work, or school or church) refuse to support someone in their learning style and instead buy into the didactic method of instruction that requires that we sit in tiny chairs for hours on end and listen to someone lecture us (and I’m going to make a terrible reference so you can see the power in this) as if we were children! No one, least of all children ought to be subjected to this as the basis of their existence unless it happens to be the best way that they learn (didactic learner).

I find that the friends I tend to collect are all people who love learning, we don’t all learn the same way, but we all are passionate about discovering new stuff, testing it out, and doing something with what we learn. They’ve all overcome the institutions which attempted to force them into some specific grid and came out on the other side as empowered individuals with a clear sense of self and creativity. Yes, mathematicians and engineers are just as creative as artists and musicians. I would even challenge to say that math, science and engineering IS art. They are tools as powerful as paper, pen and paintbrush. Actually they are tools to craft and create other tools (works of art) to craft more art, whether it be a bridge, a tablet, global network to transfer data or the roof over your head. My friends and family helped me to see that I wasn’t weird, rather I was passionate and talented in something that was somewhat unordinary. Unordinary people become quite ordinary when they are are surrounded by other unordinary people. So people who geek out on math and science are totally normal! They’ve just discovered their own unique way rather than letting tradition misguide them.

Lies About Math:
So really, I get mad when I hear people say “math is hard”. I now understand thoroughly why my mom whooped my… I mean, punished me for saying I hated math. Because WE ARE MATH. Every electron that fires through our nervous system from our brain to make our legs walk is made of math. The Xbox that you play Call of Duty on is made of math. The x-rays, sonograms, breathing systems, and heart monitors used in hospitals are all math. Everything you are grateful for right now is mathematical in some shape or form. You just didn’t realize it. And now that you do you are responsible for spreading the word far and wide.

If I’ve gotten through to you you might now be thinking “you’re right, I do love math, but it’s still hard as hell!”. If that is what you’re thinking it’s okay, I’ve got an answer for that too. Read on!

Like in Angry Birds, a weak foundation is easy to break down, math is just like that. Math is not hard, it's layered.

Education instruction isn’t all broken, but there is one specific area that makes me particularly angry. It’s loosely related to no child left behind and the forced graduation and promotion of students through the conveyor belt of institutionalized education. Math, like reading is a subject that people frequently say becomes increasingly difficult overtime. I disagree with that assertion. Math doesn’t get more difficult overtime. Math simply builds on top of previous concepts and if you are forced to move on prior to having a solid foundation, the learning becomes increasingly painful. It’s just like playing angry birds, if the foundation is weak, the game is easy. If the foundation is very strong you’ll be trying to figure out how to get pass the level for an hour or more.

Math generally begins with recognizing the concepts of letters, numbers, shapes and colors. Then we begin basic arithmetic, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and a variant of division called fractions. If you don’t understand addition, subtraction gets harder. If you don’t understand addition, multiplication gets harder. If you don’t understand subtraction, division gets harder and so on and so forth. The point is, if students weren’t forced along before they are comfortable and fully grasping a concept, they would never think math was hard! I call this manufactured complication. Our culture of contest and competition has put our youth at a severe disadvantage because students are afraid to be left behind by their peers, yet if the students progress they will continue to struggle more and more in the future and their confidence is heavily affected. Arithmetic is really where the problems begin and students are forced to move along this conveyor belt before they are ready.

More affluent communities have discovered a lucrative method of counteracting the result of the ever moving conveyor belt, tutoring businesses have popped up at least since the 90s and make a killing in cash to supplement student education. Many of these businesses leverage either more ideal learning styles or drilling to nail the concepts deeper into the students. Sadly many in underserved communities do not have this luxury of further study. As a result students in the affluent communities move onto advanced subjects like trigonometry, calculus, computer programming, robotics and even game design enabling them to create and invent new products, while students in underserved communities are relegated to being consumers and shopping at walmart. This is all to say that if you are struggling in math you are not broken! The institutions are broken. Education is not broken, the process of schooling is broken.

Math in the Real World:
Inspiring and motivating students to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is difficult when STEM is presented as an abstract concept. Not everyone wants to be a scientist yet you’d be hard fought to find a teenager who doesn’t want to make a design or build a house, a video game, a mobile app or earn a six figure salary. Can we put out some fresh carrots for these students please? Learning math concepts opens doors to doing incredible things and working in very lucrative (benjamins baby!) careers. And you don’t have to go as far as trig and calculus to do it even!

Someone is going to get mad at me for saying this but most programing uses basic algebra and statistics (see Combinatorics). Certainly the more math you learn the better off you are, but if a counselor ever tells you or your child that software programming is really hard and requires a lot of math they are selling you a load of crap. Programming involves some math, but trust me, most of it isn’t mindblowing. The majority of programmers are able to do their work and make six figure incomes without very complex math but how would a college counselor know this?

Simple Diagram Illustrating the Foundational Pieces of Math with Professional Career Application

Lies About You:
If you have been forced along the conveyor belt of education and you feel perhaps you need reinforcement on some basic arithmetic, don’t be embarrassed. Fill in the gaps by watching tutorials on youtube, or kahn academy, or coursera, or take a community college class. Do whatever you need to fill the gap. If you have children, learn it with them! Do not be discouraged, your commitment to learn math will inspire others to do so as well. Can you imagine what it would feel like to not only increase your own ability and end up in a better paying career but to also know that you were the role model for someone else to do the same? It could affect entire families! Really, this is big stuff. Just do the math ;-). You can have an exponential impact and inspire others just by committing yourself to learning in the best way that you learn.

Lastly the greatest lesson in learning is to think. Think for yourself. Test it out. If you think you learn better in some specific way, double down on that method and see what happens. Become your own advocate and when you see things working advocate for others as well. Confidence is critically important to enabling us to chase our dreams and take risks. So be on your own cheerleading squad and join someone else’s cheering section as well, preferably a child and help them overcome the odds and build a strong foundation in math. And remember, it’s not hard because you love to learn.

The Law of Reciprocity 2.0: Better Sharing

People ask me about technology all the time but more and more I find myself reiterating the idea that behind every piece of technology there is a person, a human, a user, or as we call them in business a customer. We use technology to improve the relationship we have with that person, user or customer. We use the technology to show them that we know them better than others, that we can serve and support them better. That we will help them grow. We help others and by doing so we engage in that age old law of reciprocity where that person or customer will do something for us in return. Perhaps they will provide us with an endorsement, or cash payment for services rendered. As entrepreneurs we come up with creative ways to keep the law of reciprocity going strong and benefitting us to help us achieve our goals. We generally call that our “business model”. Something about me though never quite fit that mold. I simply am not aroused by the money or the fame. What can I say, “fast cars and bitches just don’t excite me”. What gives me chills however is seeing others turn “on”. Watching the lightbulb alight over the mind of a would be inventor. Watching someone initiate a journey leading to their passion. It’s the greatest high I can afford, and best of all, it’s free! It’s so wonderful in fact I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how I can get more of it. How does one get more of what money can’t buy?

I’ve always liked helping people, even since I was a kid. To add nuance to that I deplore the sinking feeling of letting others down, or potentially harming someone (even if just their feelings). I realize now that it was an early sign of my innate desire to engage people’s passions in a positive way. I’m not a techie (well I am, but I am not), I’m an enabler. Always have been. Got a problem? I want to help you solve it. I want to enable YOU to solve it. I want you to feel the empowerment and excitement of moving forward. I love growth and progress. It excites me. It’s the process of self actualization being activated that entices me. This experience is part of what makes facebook, twitter and pinterest so fun. The instant gratification you get from knowing you contributed to someone’s enjoyment as indicated by their “like”, “favorite” or “re-pin” etc. You engaged someone’s passion albeit in a small way, you engaged it for a moment and it made them feel… something. It made them feel something powerful enough to take action (even if just to click like).

I’ll share a secret with you. I feel uncomfortable when people thank me. I am starting to understand why. I see others thanking me as them buying into some idea that they owe me something. To that effect I am probably the least entitled person with a sense of entitlement you’ll ever meet. If I did something for you it was not with the intent of getting anything in return, I am not waiting for the thank you. I am waiting to see you succeed. I am waiting to see what you will do as a result of my investment in you. That is my reward! Did I enable you or not? What did I enable you to do? How did it contribute to your success? You are my reward. My reward is your success. But I am starting to realize that I ought to desire more than that… I ought to desire some reciprocity. But what kind?

Reciprocity Took

For the last year I’ve been very focused on the element of community building, culture transformation and engaging people to do powerful things. My experiences with mentoring have given me great satisfaction, excitement, and I am anticipating in those I’ve mentored not only their success, but also the success that they will foster in others. That is when I began to realize that my “thank you” truly lies in the “Law of Reciprocity 2.0″. It’s not just give and take for me, it’s giving the gift that keeps giving. It’s the creation of the domino effect. If I help you and you pay it forward (and it helps someone else as a result) it is greater than any “thank you”. This article got me thinking today about not only ‘why you shouldn’t say “you’re welcome”‘, but also why I don’t want to hear “thank you”. It wasn’t me who helped you, if “I” helped you it was really the hundreds of hands who helped shape me who helped you. You should thank them. The only way you can thank them is by following “The Law of Reciprocity 2.0″ to pay it forward. Help someone else. That’s what family, community and humanity is all about. It’s the best way to say “thank you”.

LegoFest – My 7 Year old Daughter’s First Engineering Conference

Saturday I took my daughter to her first real engineering conference for kids, Lego Fest. We bought our tickets over a month ago and the event was now sold out. The night before the fest my “mini me” hopped into bed at 7 o’clock and said “I want to go to sleep so tomorrow will come quickly and we can go to Lego Fest!” Her expression and exuberance was contagious, I was excited too! The next day we took the hour long drive to the San Jose Convention Center. Upon entering the conference hall we were met with a quarter-mile long line of impatient parents and kids. The kids were mostly boys, maybe 10% girls. The families were mostly white. I saw one interracial family in the entire line. But this isn’t about race or gender, it’s about my little girls first experience in a Tech Conference.

Safety Rating: 5 out of 5
The first impression I received was the great effort the conference organizers put into child safety. There were reminders setup for families to set meeting places in case they get lost, and there was a booth setup to register your kids and provide parental contacts in case your kid shows up lost during the conference. Very helpful as I counted at least 30 calls over the announcement system for parents to come pick up their lost children. Hey, it’s Lego Fest, people get excited and lose their kids! It basically felt like the kids version of SXSW with Legos. I *wish* SXSW had Legos.

 

Fun Rating: 4 out of 5
Anyway the activities were a blast! We attended the Master Builder Academy session where one of the 7 Master Builders from around the world gave a workshop on how the Master Builders construct life sized characters like Darth Vador, Batman, Toy Story characters etc that were on display during the festival. The kids were incredibly curious about this profession of “Master Builders” watching on with wide eyes and very few seemed to lose interest or leave the sold out session. After the workshop the children raced to the bins to build adhoc robots, space crafts, cars, insects and all manner of creations.

 

Further in the conference hall there was an Art Gallery where families were making Lego art and putting it on display. There were games, building races, and robots sponsored by Play-well Teknologies. Play-well by far had the best group of staff managing their booth as they knew how to engage the kids, keep their attention and establish order to keep the line moving. It was so well organized that it has me considering enrollment into one of their classes for my young one.

 

Diversity Rating: 3 out of 5
The last area we checked out was the Lego Friends section that I call barbie style legos. This area was decked out in pink and there was ZERO ethnic diversity in any of the marketing. Also no boys included in the Lego Friends marketing or play set. I guess boys can’t be friends? Whatever. Of course this made me wonder what would happen if girls were featured in marketing for regular legos. Would the marketing alone change the social stigma that legos are boy toys? Later on I was even more disappointed when I went to the Lego website and was met with a video ad for lego friends that didn’t include any ethnicity other than white girls singing, dancing and being friends. I guess there are no friends of African or Asian descent? Check out the video: http://www.lego.com/en-us/videos?video={42804DA9-1B6A-4C08-9969-016C3373ADDD}&category=all&theme=friends . This made me think that the long held stance that lego’s “yellow” people did not reflect any particular race doesn’t reflect across the children which they include in their marketing collateral. There is zero diversity in the marketing. At least they finally introduced a woman scientist minifigure.

 

Educational Value: 5 out of 5
There is still no denying the value that Lego’s provide to the creative thinking and problem solving capabilities of a child. A day dedicated to building with legos left my child building more creative things for hours on end, racing to use the instructions herself, and racing back to show me what she’d built for the very important parental nod & “oooh!” of approval. I always put emphasis on the “ooh”ing when she veers away from the designs to make her own creations. Despite my criticism I encourage parents to play Legos with their children and use it as a stepping stone to robotics as well. The one activity that we didn’t get to enjoy at Lego Fest was the robotics section because the line took over an hour just to get through. The cool thing about their robotics programs is that there are international competitions all the way up to high school. So no, Lego’s aren’t just for kids.

 

Girls and Minorities an Uber Minority in Youth STEM Pipeline
All in all the experience was fun, exciting, and a noteworthy first engineering conference for my girl yet a healthy reminder that the issue of lacking diversity in engineering professions is more than just a pipeline issue. Lack of diversity in tech and engineering is pervasive across every generation and even more extreme at the younger ages. This is why programs like Black Girls Code MUST exist and be given even more support. I wonder if my daughter was the only African American girl in the entire event? (If any other parents sharing my plight attended please leave a comment for me to contact you.) Luckily she’s still too young to realize that she’s one of 10 African Americans out of hundreds of children, or that the girls had all been ushered to the “pink play pen” to play with a non-ethnically diverse set of dolls. If she were old enough to notice these things it would have been a problem because I’m just not prepared to explain to her why the best events with the most innovative toys are homogeneous. Here’s to hoping that something will change before she starts to notice the divide and that the divide itself will not negatively affect her.

TechWomen End Jordan Delegation with Faith & Technology

Let me be sure to tell you that I am writing this blog from the paradisiacal setting of The Dead Sea in Jordan. It feels like a reward on top of the reward I feel in my heart due to the volunteer work I’ve been graced to share with the rest of the TechWomen and Jordanian community since Monday.

Students from Jubilee School settle in at Princess Sumaya University for Technology before the start of the TechWomen Networking Conference

Today was especially delightful as the full day was set aside for the TechWomen Networking Conference presented at Princess Sumaya University for Technology. Her Royal Highness was in attendance of the conference which showed her great support for young women to pursue STEM & ICT. I’m sure the young girls attending were delighted to be there and know how much their Princess supports their efforts to study hard and become innovators.

The conference featured sessions facilitated by TechWomen Mentors and Emerging Leaders from the 2011 and 2012 season. Session topics ranged from Entrepreneurship, to How to Land a Software Engineer Job, to Faith and Technology and featured speeches delivered by Deputy Secretary of State Lee Satterfield, of US Department of State and Her Royal Highness Princess Sumaya herself.

Her Royal Highness Princess Sumaya poses for photos with TechWomen Mentors from the United States and Emerging Leaders from MENA regions

Satterfield’s address highlighted TechWomen as a critical program because people to people relationships form the foundation for more productive global relationships. Princess Sumaya remarked that TechWomen represent smart power and took pause to recognize the young students in the room. I imaged what it must feel like to be one of these young girls and have your nation’s Princess show pride in you. I look at the young girls attending the conference as the future leaders of a more brave and better world. Their experience is vastly different from my experience growing up as a young woman in tech precisely due to the efforts of advocates and sponsors like Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

TechWomen connect with Networking Conference attendees on the topic of Faith and Technology

I heard positive things from the girls about all the sessions. I was honored to facilitate one of the final breakout sessions on the topic of Faith and Technology along with Akiko K. Takashima, Amy Miller, Maryann Hrichak, Ramziyeh Jaayssa, and Neeti Gowda. The session had the best attendance of all breakout sessions and the participation from the girls showed this was a topic that was important to them and they were fully engaged. This session was very personal and interactive with discussion ranging from faith to family, technology, innovation, and the pros and cons of technology. The closing remarks of the session tied faith to ones own destiny in life and technology as a part of delivering that destiny. Martin Luther King Jr. said “faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase”, tying the very act of innovation to faith. One of the young girls bravely stood before everyone in the auditorium as the final speaker to deliver personal testimony that the conference and discussions on Faith and Technology was “just what I needed” with a great beaming smile. I felt the same way.

Before I return to enjoying the amazing attraction of the Dead Sea I want to give a shot out to Heather Ramsey, Arezoo Miot and Lexi Curtice for arranging all these incredible visits. Kudos to Sheila Casey and Lee Satterfield for supporting cultural exchanges that change lives. This was an experience of a lifetime!

 

Young Girls Inspire TechWomen Jordan Delegation

I’ve had several people ask me what I am doing on this trip to Jordan and why is being a “TechWoman” significant. This post will answer that question in detail. Today (Wednesday Feb 6th) was the 3rd day of our activities in Jordan and the most inspirational yet with the majority of the day dedicated to meeting with young girls of the region. We started at Injaz which is an organization which offers several programs aiming to inspire the youth motivating them to aim high through exposing them to successful role models in society. The young girls at Injaz demonstrated a tool developed by Injaz to teach business management skills through simulation in an educational game. The program offered the girls opportunity to build their companies as a part of a team and compete against other teams. This simulation was a pleasure to watch but even more inspirational were the young girls testimonies which highlighted all the young girls to be incredibly gifted leaders who are confident, articulate, and highly intelligent.

Check out some of the video Jill Wetzler captured and shared via twitter as well as some advice offered by Hwayda Hemaid to the girls:

 

 

It is not enough to say that advocating for girls and women in STEM and ICT is something to be passionate about, you really have to get out there, interact and feel it in your soul. Amy Miller brought tears to the eyes of many with her heartfelt accolades to the girls remarking on their confidence, talent, and leadership capabilities. The general consensus in the room was that Injaz is the type of program that needs to be modeled everywhere. They have illustrated some truly remarkable success that was definately worthy of the plaque and certificates of recognition presented to them by Lee Satterfield. It was a perfect way to start the morning in Jordan and it made peeling the TechWomen away from Injaz quite difficult.

The next stop was at the Jubilee School where I had an opportunity to chat with some of their students over lunch and then receive a tour of their acclaimed institution. We jotted from lab to lab to watch presentations from the student body on robotics, chemistry, visual arts and other research projects developed by the students often in partnership with Universities, illustrating the truly advanced and gifted nature of these students. I had an opportunity to review and sit with Asoool, a student who showed me the projects she created in 3DStudio Max. Her aptitude compelled me to share some of the applications that I use (that are also free to develop 3D games and environments) such as Unity and Google Sketchup. Her curiosity reminded me of my own and I had to smile as I responded to her questions.

I also felt a beam of pride to watch my salesforce.com co-worker Jill Wetzler share her technical journey of becoming a Development Manager on a panel session delivered to the students. Jill presented along with other TechWomen, Maha Akkari, Lisa Ramirez, Diala Alkhawaldeh, and Zeina Hobaika. As a matter of fact, during this past trip I’d found a new mentor of my own in Lisa Ramirez of Juniper Networks. Here is a brief sample of some of the advice Lisa shared with the girls of Jubilee, “spread your arms when you sit at the table so that you take up space and raise your seat up so that you don’t minimize your appearance”. 

During the panel discussion Asool and I discussed the varying personalities of the Tech Women on stage and their impressive areas of expertise. I shared what inspired me most about the women; Zeina, the Emerging Leader who’s swagger was matched by her intelligence (she’s a doctor and HIV researcher), to Diala who’s calm, patient and humble spirit made her the admiration of many members of the delegation. I realized that these women presenting on stage were far more than just stories, they were prototypes and models for all the young women in the room. Their offers to share their contact information and be a resource to the girls was more precious than gold. I have no doubt that many of the young women of Jubilee will take advantage of the offer.

The third and final stop of the day was a visit to OASIS500, a startup accelerator and training program. During the session Emile Cubeisy shared some interesting information on Oasis500 including the fact that the managing team has a really nice gender balance which contributes to higher enrollment of women entrepreneurs to their training program and the 40% of acceleration companies being being women owned.


Some of those women in the accelerator pitched their companies to us which included Aqar-Estate, ArabiaWeddings.com, First Bazaar, Maktabee, Gallary Alsharq, and Abjjad. Two delegation members even pitched their ideas during the session. Kudos to Lina Akiki, and Diala Alkhawaldeh and congratulations to all the women for pursuing and sharing their dreams!

It seems incredulous for me as I document the things which have happened on this delegation trip but the motivation I feel to continue advocating for this cause keeps me from shutting my mouth! That being said, the previous day (Tuesday) was also a great treat that I’d like to highlight. We visited the Jordan University of Science and Technology to encourage the women there to apply to be Emerging Leaders. All the TechWomen who spoke up at the event had inspiring things to say but I want to highlight two in particular, Dareen Alhiyari and Kinh DeMaree who offered such practical and inspiring advice to the women in the room. Dareen, being a native Jordanian was able to engage with the women in arabic and speak from the perspective of how to advocate for yourself to your home and family on why it’s worth it for you to apply to a program which will take you away from home for 5 weeks. She told them how to explain the importance of the value in gaining a new global family. Kinh shared her experiences of going through the Facebook IPO, recruiting in top Silicon Valley companies, tips on how to build a strong resume which will get you noticed, and her experience being with Geeks on a Plane. Their words will certainly increase the number of Jordanian women applying to the program and potentially other programs as well.

 

After the University we all hopped onto the bus for a nearly 3 hour ride to Ingrid and the village of Kouhra. Many of us fell asleep during the ride and woke up to a scene likening something from the classic film, The South of Music. This photo doesn’t do the lush green landscape justice. Nor do they give justice to the delicious home cooked meals provided by the women from the village (see gallery below). I digress, I’m not really here to talk about the food and landscape, I want to say something about how inspiring the women in this village were.

One of the women in particular (pictured in the blue jacket) did something amazing for this small community. She went away to learn about e-commerce with another IIE program and upon returning to her village she took it upon herself and taught all the other women how to sell their authentic handmade crafts online, creating new streams of income for this rural community and delivering a greater sense of independence to the women there.

Cultural differences aside, the American dream is independence and the women in Jordan seem to overcome incredible odds to go after their own dreams. What can you do other than support them? Well support them TechWomen did! As a matter of fact Katy Dickinson organized an e-commerce workshop for the village and delivered a wealth of information along with Jeannice Fairrer Samani, Dareen Alhiyari, Huda Al-wahidi/Isbaitan and Shoruq Morakten. Great job ladies!

I am so motivated by the ever incomplete job that is before us in terms of supporting underserved communities, gender equality and leadership development. The camaraderie I feel on this Delegation trip can’t be summed up in words, but maybe, just maybe it was captured in this photo with Jill. In a few hours I will be joining the rest of the TechWomen to complete our final day of volunteer work here in Jordan and if Thursday will be anything like Wednesday I just know that I will be truly blown away, inspired, motivated and… well, FIRED UP! AND READY TO GO!

Kicking off TechWomen Delegation in Amman, Jordan

First official day of volunteer work with the TechWomen for the U.S. Department of State Delegation to Jordan was incredible. Many of us began Monday morning sleep deprived and jetlagged, however it didn’t take long for the excitement, inspiration, joy and love for the work that we were doing in Jordan to re-energize us. The agenda was packed with a visit to N2V, a technology investment holdings company, followed by visits to different companies, then presentations at Amman Tech Tuesdays (yes, Tech Tuesday happened on a Monday). It turned out to be a day of learning what Entrepreneurship and ICT (Information Communications Technology) mean for the people of Jordan and sharing our knowledge of technology, resources and connections.

Rami Al-Karmi kicked us off at N2V with presentations and pitches from local Jordanian entrepreneurs, followed by a presentation on N2V, and allowing us to ask questions. Rami was such a good sport when he was grilled on how he planned to provide strategy and support for women in technology and even offered to setup an online network where women can contribute and facilitate technical discussions, collaboration and strategy for the advancement of women. Kudos to Rami!

Company visits were next. I was fortunate to visit Palma Consulting which was selected as Arabia500 winner for the second year in a row and connect with their CEO Tamara Abdel-Jaber who has been recognized among the 500 Most Influential Arabs for the Second Year and is listed among the 100 Most powerful Arab Women. I also met Khaled Kilani who co-founded Palma Consulting and led the boardroom discussion on the importance of practicing the humanities and sociology in conjunction with science and technology. I’ll just say that I was inspired by the details that he shared about the country of Jordan, it’s challenges, opportunities, and his willingness to welcome partnerships with the U.S. to develop solutions for the young people and their entrepreneurial spirit. I felt like hugging them both before leaving. I was fortunate to have a break between company visits and the Tech Tuesday event so I returned to the hotel for a power nap and prepared myself for the dual presentations I’d be giving at Amman Tech Tuesday. While I was visiting Palma Consulting Jill Wetzler and Akiko K. Takashima both visited Yahoo! which had bright offices and from what I heard featured great presentations and incredible women leaders who shared their personal stories.

After my power nap I headed over to Tech Tuesday to kick off the event with speed geek sessions where Jill and I presented on Unlocking the Power of Social Media (featuring Radian6) to groups of people for 10 minutes at a time. We got a lot of great questions and I felt the main point was well received; that it is not enough to use social media for your business and personal brand, you must also filter through all the “noise” in order to attract and engage the people on social media who are relevant to your business and it’s vision. The plenary session following featured 6 TechWomen (Emerging Leaders; Nour Alkhalil, Maha Akkari, Ramziyeh Jaayssa, Mentors; Kinh DeMaree, Katy Dickinson and myself, Ayori Selassie) presenting our technical journey to an auditorium full of people. This session was a great success and there was quite a bit of talk on twitter about it. My favorite question from the audience was what is being done to promote and support STEM advancement with underprivileged communities. There were several TechWomen who had started their own initiatives which support rural areas and it was an opportunity for me to talk about Pitch Mixer and build connections with people who would be interested in building online communities that focus on providing tools, resources, and support for developing entrepreneurship in underserved communities. All in all my heart was full of shukran (thanks) to be selected to present among those women and even more thankful to talk to some of the women from the audience after. I spoke to one woman at length who’s story really touched me and we ended up talking about destiny, following God’s path and the importance of faith to following your dreams. I will be leading a session on Faith and Technology on Thursday at the Networking Conference so I felt that conversation was affirming of that agenda as well. After all that running around I was finally able to have a good nights sleep after falling asleep during a Skype call with my baby girl Trinity back in the states. I was THAT tired.

If you are interested to know what made me so tired on Monday I will start by saying that I spent my first full day (which was Sunday) in Amman with IIE Staff (Arezoo, Lexi, and Heather), TechWomen Mentors from 2012, along with some Emerging Leaders from the 2011 delegation on a tour around Amman, Jordan. I spent my time re-connecting with the TechWomen and IIE staff, soaking in the Jordanian sun, and experiencing a surprising overload of my senses, both visual and cultural – all in good ways.

Sunday started with a delicious complimentary breakfast in the Four Seasons hotel, where I had the best tasting grapefruit juice my tastebuds ever experienced along with a variety of fresh fruits. I honestly forced my food down as quickly as I could so as not to miss the bus which would be taking us on a day long tour of the city of Amman including a tour of the Ancient City of Jerash – I wasn’t going to miss that! Sitting on the bus I felt myself reflecting on the ease at which relationship building with the other TechWomen had become after having met them all a mere 6 months ago. I began to realize that it was trust after having gained a great amount of respect for these peers since initially meeting them. Trust isn’t developed by following their lives on Facebook, email, twitter but it certainly is put to the test when you are far from home and in the middle of a foreign nation where you don’t know the language or customs. Trust is developed by getting to know people, their needs, desires, aspirations, personal story, circumstances, successes and failures. My morning bus ride reflection helped me focus my attention to the fact that I was surrounded with the best of the best and there was respect, camaraderie and trust between myself and these women.

As we made our way to the Ancient City of Jerash I snapped pictures from the bus window as a proxy for challenging myself to see things from the perspective of my peers on this delegation trip- to learn as others learn from me. As our bus made it’s way to the destination the tour guide exposed us to many things about the region, history, culture, some of the politics related to Jordan being the home to so many Palestinian refugees and the dwindling water resource concerns due to Jordan being the 4th (or worse) nation in line to receive water from the river Jordan. Three TechWomen from Palestine sat in front of me on the bus from the 2011 class. I felt these issues had a great deal more impact to their future than my own, yet with having lived through the message of Hope and Change for the last four years, and a new message of ever pressing forward from the Obama Administration, I felt a desire to view things from their perspective as well and understand the politics that impact their lives.

As we drive past the Iraqi Embassy I observe a soldier outside the Embassy has set his firearm down before him on a mat and was preparing to kneel for prayer in front of his post while on duty. This culture and land is foreign to me, yet I am bonded to these women by more things than just technology. I ponder briefly, what part do I play in making the world a better, healthier, more peaceful place as a woman? How might I continue to influence and be a part of change? There was no time to answer such questions right now, we had arrived to our destination- The Ancient City of Jaresh.

Jaresh could have been a representation of my thoughts that morning for it contained a commingling of cultures consisting of dedications to Greek Mythology as early as 69-70 AD, Christian antiquities from 350 AD, a 4th century cathedral, an ancient synagogue while the city itself represented a majority muslim population with the Ancient City teeming with vendors. I trailed behind the group during most of the tour trying to capture the essence of the relics as well as the excitement from the group of women as they snapped pictures on their phones and cameras. The mosaic tiles were stunning, the overlap of era, religion, and philosophy intriguing. My favorite spot was The South Theatre whose acoustics I wanted to mimic in my backyard. When standing from a certain point in the center of the Theater your voice could be heard throughout the theatre without even raising your voice. Special circles were built into the base of the structure to allow people to carry on side conversations with one another while being on opposite sides of the theatre.

I felt my senses being overwhelmed, how could I take it all in, capture the magnificence in photographs, and process this into a meaningful experience at the same time? I could have spent days in the Ancient City alone and still not have processed it all the way I would have liked, nonetheless I left the site with a great feeling of satisfaction for having witnessed it, and especially with such a special group of friends. I couldn’t help but wonder, what innovation would we leave in this world that could last so long or longer than these ruins. What great stories of collaboration, culture, brains and wit would our work one day tell to generations of the future? We departed Jaresh to have well earned lunch at Wild Jordan Cafe. The cafe served as somewhat of a hub for the non-profit nature preservation and eco-tourism efforts that are helping to bring new business and jobs to the region. We enjoyed a 3 course meal along with much laughter and excitement over the next few stops which would be a visit to a soap house (handicraft cooperative) and souk shopping.

The soap house we visited had an incredible story in that some of the products were created by local women and some proceeds were donated back to the community to develop the region. There was a consistent feel of reinvestment into the people of the region which made it a bit easier to shell out premium dollar on the extra pure and natural olive oil soaps. Not to mention their signature product shared the same name as my daughter, Trinity. After the soap house we stopped at a local shop where I purchased some souvenirs for folks back home. I share a moment with some of the women as we sit outside the shop and talk office politics and specifically the sometimes complicated politics between women in the technical field. We always manage the leave these conversations on a positive note. There aren’t enough technical women around for us to be catty with one another. The goal must remain doing great work and inspiring change for the generation to come, the young TechGirls of the world who would one day become TechWomen.

Our final stop would be the Mosque where all the women had to cover their heads in order to gain entry, and to show respect for the local customs and religion. The Mosque was beautiful outside and in, the fiery orange setting sun behind the great construction felt fitting of the spiritual energies brewing within. Some women prayed, including myself, then we took a group photo before heading to a much needed dinner.

I felt my body craving food and sleep from jet lag but the excitement over an authentic Jordanian meal propelled me on. We arrived at Huwara restaurant to find the longest table I’d ever eaten at decorated with roses and place settings for about 30 people. The food came quickly and went as quickly as it came, vegetarian options and meat in separate dished. I tasted the best babaganoush I’d ever had in my life, along with a scrumptious eggplant dish that looked and tasted nothing like eggplant, along with hummus, warm soft pita bread, carrots, salad, and various other vegetables. I perked up when served a traditional Jordanian coffee with cardamom spices (yum), which was followed by dessert, which turned out to be fresh fruit. Trust me, the oranges, apples, pears and bananas were not taken for granted. I think it was a welcome deviation from meals that otherwise required cinching of our waist afterwards. In other words, every meal was rich and delicious, and the fruit was no exception to being delicious.

The bus ride to the hotel included strategic talks of final prep work on presentations for the next day’s events which would be a special edition of Amman Tech Tuesdays delivered entirely by TechWomen. I worked with my coworker Jill until late putting final touches on our Speed Geek session which would unlock the power of social media to the community of Amman.

Some of my favorite photos from the last 2 days journey are posted in the gallery below.

Research: Run it like a small business

Last week I was simply blown away by a group of gifted women who take STEM to levels I’d previously only saw in movies. These women were from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and they didn’t just surprise me, they also inspired me. As a result I attended a session on Wednesday about “Starting and Growing Your Own Research Program” presented by Deb Agarwal (LBNL) and Julie A. Adams (Vanderbilt University) to further feed the hunger that was inspired at LBNL. I was not disappointed. The session was planned with slides but the duo decided to forego the slides and make the session more interactive based on what the audience was looking for. Great way to run the session as people appeared genuinely engaged and the session ran slightly over.

Key takeaways for me were that while research projects need resources such as equiptment, people, and funding, that it is your good judgement, agility, hustle and relationships which are key to delivering those resources. Again I am reminded that GHC is Social, as the serendipitous nature of a successful research program sounds to be more the result of relationships with program managers, people of influence, peer relationships and timing than dumb luck.

Agarwal offers the advice that those in research labs should start by delivering on a project that is already fleshed out and funded. Delivery is hard enough on its own, but it is key to building your reputation which will support your when you are ready to branch out with your own research. Adams adds that in the academic space delivery is synonymous to publishing, you must do it alot to be recognized! Tips to aid in feeding the publishing and delivery schedule are to find good collaborators that help you acomplish more, faster and with better agility.

I relate much of this session to my own experiences in professional services and in delivery based IT organizations where relationships can make or break you (regardless of skill and experience) and agile practices improve delivery quality and release timeliness. In laymens terms, your project management is just as important as your program management and you must master the context switch to be successful in your own research program.

More great tips (in no particular order):
Relationships help you find out the best funds to go after
Don’t miss deadlines
Build your collaboration network
Diversify your funding mix
Don’t try to fund it all as one project
Think of it as running a small business
Expect a ton of rejections
Don’t expect a big fund within 2 years
Serve on review panels with organizations you’d like to fund you
Work on conference committees to add flavor to your reputation