THANK YOU for supporting BIT to reach over 1000 registered members!!!

This past August Blacks in Technology reached a special milestone, 1000 registered members! It feels exciting to be writing about this achievement because when BIT was started by a few good men (Greg Greenlee and Ronnie Hash) who wanted to change the perception of African Americans in technology they started simple with a forum to create a safe place for people to connect, share, learn and grow. Since then the vision has expanded to:

Increase Visibility, Participation and Change the Perception, all through community. BIT is “Stomping the Divide” by establishing a blueprint of world class technical excellence and innovation by providing resources, guidance and issuing a challenge to our members to surpass the high mark and establish new standards of global innovation.

To that end BIT has reached thousands by  sparking inspired discussions with a plethora of very talented individuals on our podcasts (Anjuan Simmons,  Lisette Titre, Keatron Evans, Hadiyah Mujhid, Curtiss Pope and many others!)  hosted mentoring discussions on our forums from people new to the field looking to learn more, and even presented a rousing discussion on what it takes to create the next  Tech Thought Leaders at SXSW where inspired leaders in technology joined the conversation such as Chris Bennett of Black Founders, Christine Johnson of IamDTech, Cleavon Blair of Blosme Software and Navarrow Wright CTO of Interactive One and of course our very own Greg Greenlee, founder of Blacks in Technology. Blacks in Technology has grown in it’s social media base to over 5000 subscribers across LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and others. All of this would have been impossible without YOU. This post is to thank you, our members and those organizations who have joined us in the journey to Stomp the Divide! To honor this occasion I selected just a few of my favorite tweets from this year. 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AND before I go I have to thank and highlight our friends over at Broadband Social Justice for selecting Greg Greenlee as Geek of the Week! Woo woo! Way to go Greg! Congratulations and thanks for your contributions and making this possible!

Geek of the Week - bbsj

Google Site Reliability Engineering: Reasoning About Systems

Google seems like a great place to work. I say this after being invited to participate in a Site Reliability Engineering workshop hosted at their Mountain View headquarters a while back and I have to say, I learned a lil something something. A few of my favorite people have taken up work over at Google Inc. over the years (including one of my earliest development mentors) so of course that helps my impression of the company but the Google engineers who delivered the presentations and mentorship over 3 days impressed me as well. I do apologize for those who came looking for this blog earlier. It’s been sitting in draft for weeks with my busy schedule so I hope you enjoy it and don’t forget to download the full pdf mind map on what I learned. Google SRE Site Reliability Engineering Concepts Mind Map

The workshop was being held for an interesting reason: Site Reliability Engineering is an emerging field with no university major or related coursework so you can’t learn it in school. There are no certifications for this area of work. The engineers in this field have paved the way with pure sweat equity, and when it comes to managing global distributed systems as large as Google’s I’m just guessing it’s got to make you sweat from time to time. Some of the stories shared during the workshop included “the day google search broke everywhere, all at once” and “the day google blocked everything”. I won’t publish too many details because I don’t want to spoil the fun but your welcome to ask me more questions about the experience offline.

 

At any rate, these engineers have mastered and designed tools, techniques, resources and experiences that you get only in real world production settings aka trial by fire. I love it! As a result it is increasingly difficult to find engineers with these kind of skills. Basically Google, Facebook, Twitter and all these companies poach employees off each other with experience in this arena all the time.  That begs the question… What do Site Reliability Engineers do anyhow? Well they work on making all Google’s services such as Search, Gmail, Google Ads, Google+ etc more reliable. It’s beyond keeping the lights on. Some may call it DevOps, but it’s more than that too. Think about what has to be done to keep all those API services that companies pay big bucks for up and running with seven 9s. I learned in the workshop that people who tend to be good in this field come from a variety of backgrounds. One of the guys worked at NASA while some have backgrounds in product management. To be good at this you need to have diverse skillsets and much of it really just comes from a lot of lessons learned.

 

The biggest takeaway I took from the workshop (and there were many takeaways) is that you need to have a way to reason about your systems. It’s something that after being brought to the forefront I immediately began to think about better ways I could do that at my own job. It’s got me thinking about reasoning about systems in a whole different way. Visualizing problems has always been fun to me. My favorite tool for this is actually Doogle Draw. I’ve been using it to facilitate reasoning about all sorts of problems from annotation system design, to the problem of increasing diversity in technology.

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 3.03.20 AM

If I were to leave you with one tip I would recommend every BIT Member hit the library (check online libraries too) to find The Back of a Paper Napkin (Solving Problems & Selling Ideas) by Dan Roam. This book was recommended to me by one of my Product Management mentors and it’s a great introduction for learning how we can improve the way we look at problems, see elements at play, imagine the elements in an abstract way and show them to others through visualization. Reasoning about systems is a difficult thing to do especially with very complex systems, and there is no one who will not love you (not even the biggest a-hole) if you make this easier.

P.S. I did ride around on the Google bikes. It was fun. The end.

 

Entrepreneurs Gain Visibility at TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon

The anticipation is electric for the anxious entrepreneurs wondering around the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco where one of the most anticipated Hackathon events of the year is being hosted by TechCrunch at Disrupt SF 2013. The powerpoint decks are smokin, the live demos work (mostly) and the shaky accents come from all over the world to earn our interest in 60 seconds or less.

 

The event started on Saturday morning with several hundred participants made up of entrepreneurs, professionals, hackers. Corporate sponsors like Evernote, Samsung, Chevrolet, Amazon, and others participate with hopes to increase adoption of their APIs and have the next killer app, integration or innovation leverage their technologies. Everyone is here looking for talent or showcasing their own. It’s no surprise to bump into former colleagues from around the valley, or people you follow on twitter at an event like this. There is even a contingent of hackathon frequenters who use these events as opportunities to find seed capital and connections leading to capital for their endeavors.

 

Hackathons aren’t for the faint of heart, and they aren’t for kiddies either… On second thought, let me take that part about kids back… Black Girls CODE brought a few girls to hack alongside developers from ThoughtWorks. I was so inspired by them I joined in to include some Salesforce hacks to allow them to store chapter, class schedules, students and volunteers inside Salesforce while ThoughtWorks participants hacked up some ruby code to display a public facing app with the mashup. They weren’t the only kids to steal the show, another young girl (couldn’t be more than 7) was found hacking alongside her dad. Spoilers: She stole the show on Sunday when she presented her final product superfunkidtime.com, an app to find playdates with other kids. Hackathons are for everyone!

 

 

 

Some hackers have built their products entirely from scratch over the last 24 hours while others have extended upon already existing technologies that they work on already. My personal favorites were a live tweet news app that finds news based on tweets, annotation app for books targeted at university students, Protect Me app which routes your directions to avoid recent crime scenes and another app that allows you to turn your bookshelf into a library enabling people to bookshare. Glasion was the most flashy and lets you use google glass to find and buy stuff you see people wearing on the street online. Some pitches were not very original, two groups presented a service to allow you to share you travel itineraries… Hello, Tripit.com? Some were not so serious, one guy even built a chat room. A chat room…? Some were just blatant self promotion, one guy obviously wanted to highlight his github account and coding skills to boost his consulting.  A few exceptions appeared to have only presented for laughs, I’ll spare you the misogynist details but they ended up trending on twitter. I give a shot out to TechCrunch staff for calling out the bs by telling people to treat the event with respect by not presenting stuff that would be blatantly offensive or inappropriate for an audience that could contain ambitious 15 year olds (actually there were people there younger than than, remember superfunkidtime?) and anyone who might be streaming it live from all over the world.

 

From the BIT community Adria Richards (some of you might remember her name) took to the stage to pitch an app to find places you should consider moving to based on the demographic makeup of the region. A young man presented Postcards for Change (if anyone knows his name please post it in a comment) as a way to spread awareness about causes you care about through a postcard.
Black Girls Code as I mentioned before represented very well while Justin Dawkins and Kwame Ampem who some may remember from NewMe Accelerator pitched a Fashion app to find clothes based on color swatches.

 

 

 

Aside from the pitches the hackathon was a great way to meet other people. I also bumped into some talented people I’d like to highlight although unfortunately I missed their pitches! Did anyone catch them? (Please comment)

disrupters

I always get inspired when I go to events like these. It’s very important for members of the BIT, women and tech community in general to find more opportunities to participate in events like these because they keep you on top of your game and engaged in this fast moving competitive field. The sooner you get into it the sooner you find friends that will help keep you in, engaged, and up to date. Inclusion starts with engagement. And speaking of engagement, if you can’t be there in person watch the live screen here and join in on the discussions with us on twitter @blkintechnology or follow me directly @iayori.

 

Hope to provide a few more updates on Disrupt SF before the conference ends and if you would like to guest blog on this topic and others, hit us up! We want to hear from 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.

Culture that Inspires DIY Mentality Builds Tech Stars

The first time I heard the quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” I got a geek rush. My brain immediately went flipping through every failure I’d seen where the strategy was perfect, but failure ensued anyway. I thought even more about my upbringing in the school of hard knocks and those fallen soldiers who had brilliant minds, but nevertheless, never made it out of the hood. Culture is critical, it’s what we feed our children without even knowing it. It is the foundation of what drives our interaction with others, even how we see ourselves. I identify myself as an engineer because everything I ever read about engineers, inventors, and creative people seemed to resonate with my own identity (with a few tweaks here and there). What I’m saying is, no one had to tell me. When you don’t require external validation, or someone to qualify you, you have the autonomy to be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do (or at least attempt so). The battle for identity establishment starts in the mind, but even before that it starts with your culture.

Culture that promotes advancement in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) gets it’s support from some key factors such as social economic status, parents level of education, dual parent households and exposure to other cultures. Where I grew up the predominate factor on culture was survival because in the words of President Obama, cities like mine and cities like Chicago suffer ”the equivalent of a Newtown every four months.” We know that culture is so critical yet the debate rages on and on about what we must do to get more African American kids interested in STEM and more diversity in technology. It’s not that the African American community doesn’t see the value of pursuing technology, it’s been pretty obvious that technology is the future for the past 2 decades at least. I believe the problem is more akin to the issue faced by women in STEM. The advice given to address the disparity for women and girls is that families must provide early encouragement in math and science.  Well it certainly doesn’t hurt! Encouragement is important. But in our media drenched societies our children raise themselves on youtube, music and peer pressure more so than parents, especially in the inner-city where single parent households are predominate. So although I value the comparison, I don’t accept the cookie cutter solution that says encouragement is enough. I need examples and resources to boot.

When I was a kid my mom didn’t really let us watch much of anything on tv if it wasn’t educational. There was a lot of PBS on at my house yall. 3,2,1 Contact!, Electric Company, Sesame Street, Bill Nye the Science guy, that sort of thing got easy approval. Science became cool to me early on. Unfortunately my mother wasn’t fond of us making a mess in her kitchen so experiment much I did not. However the foundation was set because the interest was there.

As I got older and we got poorer, puberty set in and fashion became important. I’m serious! We couldn’t afford to buy nice clothes so my mom did the next best thing, she bought us a sewing machine. Don’t tell me clothing design isn’t engineering because I’ll just disagree and leave it at that. I spent hours drafting patterns, sewing skirts, head wraps and dresses, coming up with methods to reinforce seams in a way that provided the durability required while still looking fashionable, but this was design labor at it’s best and practiced by a 14 year old girl from the hood in Oakland, CA. What I didn’t realize was the effect that DIY was having on me and my sisters brains. I didn’t realize that we had gone beyond the realm of consumerism to creation. From buyer to innovator. But that leap made all the difference when it became time for me to build a career in web design as a teen.

What I learned from watching PBS was that the stuff in our world was really invented by regular people using science and sometimes a bit of dumb luck. But what I learned at home stitching crafts was that I could invent just as well as anyone else if I had the right tools. These experiences laid the foundation for me to readily soak up the knowledge my brother dropped on me when he taught me HTML, which I latter turned into paid work. Well paid work at that. What I’m trying to get at is that in my experience, it wasn’t just encouragement that made the difference (I had my share), but the key to building kids confidence to try new things is providing satisfying experiences combined with their own creativity, where they can create rather than consume. Innovation isn’t as hard when you’ve innovated once before. For most people it’s getting beyond that first initial step and trying something new, risking the failure (hopefully failing gracefully, this is where adults come in) and turning it into some kind of success to reward the behavior of risk taking and trying new things.

The brightest kids in our society aren’t innovators simply because they are gifted. I recently judged a host of applications for scholarship awards for high school students across the nation and the thing that struck me most from the applicants in Silicon Valley was the sheer ambition of the projects these kids were willing to attempt, even for those who failed, and many of them did fail. These kids were trying all sorts of things, experimenting with robots, solar energy, all sorts of stuff we normally attribute to geniuses. Was it because they were all geniuses? No, I highly doubt it. It was because they believed they could do it, or at least saw the value in trying. Trust me, genius or not, privileged or not, people don’t try things when they don’t think they can achieve some measure of success by doing it. Obama’s inaugural speech still rings in my ears,”Yes we can”. Those 3 words infused into our culture will be the difference for this generation. The 3 words “Yes I can” infused within a child will be the difference in their life. And you… YOU might be the one who makes a difference in that kids life by believing in them and taking action to support them.

Want to see how far a DIY mentality can take you? Watch this man build an iPad… from Scratch! My mentality says, if he can do it, why can’t I?

Soft Skills for Software Engineers (and other techies)

Anyone can learn to code, but being a successful engineer requires more than mastering the language of machines, you must also be fluent in human needs. I’m talking about soft skills and emotional intelligence. The first thing I learned when being groomed in the land of geeks and nerds is not to take things personal. Geeks and nerds can be… well… (I can’t really put this nicely) crass, gross, and outright rude in the same way that jocks can be. Responses like RTFM and email replies to your questions with “lmgtfy.com” are the tip of the ice burg. Wait til the yo mama jokes start coming out. At the computer lab in college (where I also worked) I often sought out a quiet place in the corner to work on my projects because I didn’t want to deal with people making fun of my web designs and critiquing my code to death. Eventually I developed what I like to call the “Tech Skin”,  it’s a type of cloak which allows you to interact undetectable inside “the borg”, accepting all manner of South Park-etiquette and learning to dish out your own emasculating zingers when the opportunity arises. In laymen’s terms the tech skin is a thick skin developed acutely  for the techie environment. The tech skin allowed me to ignore most of the bs jokes and teasing that gets dished out as part of the culture. Developing that tech skin is essential to survival in tech, but success… Success is not survival. Success is something different.

In order to be successful you’ve got to get beyond the culture and get with the soft skills. Sitting behind your monitor and writing neat code isn’t enough, you’ve got to come out from behind the screen and start making friends. Making friends sounds kinda soft and mushy but it is really a critical talent, and it can’t be forced. Here’s the secret… You actually have to care. If you want to rise to the top by creating incredible products you have to care about your customer. If you want to make your company successful by solving their great challenges of performance and scale you have to care about the people who these challenges impact. You have to care enough to communicate, relate, emphasize, design, develop and implement to make them and their lives, their spouses, their kids and grandma (yes, grandma) happier.

 

When I landed my job doing quality engineering I loved it, I lived in the land of reverse engineering, test cases, black box and white box analysis and I didn’t have to worry about feelings. I came in every day, I did my job (and a bangup job I might add *wink wink*) and I went home to live my life. I didn’t stop to learn about the life of the people who I built the software alongside, I didn’t wonder how the founders met, what brought the frenchmen who managed our offshore developers to the American shore, or why that one consultant has a parrot in his office. Frankly my dear I didn’t give a damn. In my mind it was just a job to me (and a meager paying one at that), but that was my first mistake and luckily I recovered from it quickly. As I began to get to know my cohorts I learned about their culture, their families, their personal challenges and professional challenges. Ultimately I realized that learning and caring about who they were helped us to work better together under the toughest conditions, including rounds of layoffs, multiple acquisitions, recovering after major systems failure, role changes and ultimately moving on without burning bridges.

The crux of my experience was that no one told me I needed to develop these soft skills, and more importantly, no one showed me how. In the uber masculine culture of tech, being one of very few women, how do I learn to get past handshakes to hugs? When is it appropriate to shift, how do you know for sure? When do you insist on explaining something patiently when someone makes it sounds like they already know it all (recognizing false pride). How do you get others assistance when everyone is slammed with their own priorities? How do you get people to listen to your ideas and enroll them in executing with you? How do you get people to give you truthful, heartfelt counsel and advice? I’ll tell you how and what I tell you may shock the hell out of you. 3 rules, people, engagement and environment.

Step 1: People: Remember people’s names, not just the names who you think can get you ahead in your career, but the receptionist and the person who empties your trash just the same. Bonus point when you make the effort to pronounce names correctly whenever possible. You might be surprised by the good vibes people receive when they realize “you know who they are” and they are in demand. It’s a simple ego boost but it really is real, especially in the sometimes thankless world of technology where we all remember the names of coding language, but no one can pronounce their lead developers full name.

Step 2: Engagement: Greet people with meaning, when you say “Hi, how are you doing?” you have to mean it. AND when you say it, you have to take the time to listen for the response. It’s called engagement and it’s a two way street. When you engage with people, they tend to engage back. When you listen to people when they speak, have a genuine interest in who they are, what they have to say and build a foundation of meaningful engagements, they tend to pay you the same respects overtime. That respect goes a long way. It’s all about knowing how to give and knowing when to take.

Oh yeah, since this is a technical audience and I’ve been in attendance to many a cons (anime, comic, sci-fi and tech) in my day, and I know better than to leave this out when I have an opportunity to sneak it in… Defiantly make sure you have that showering, teeth brushing and smelling good thing down. Nothing kills interest and engagement like BO. Just keeping it real folks!

Step 3: Environment: Change your setting, and I don’t just mean go to happy hour. Take meetings in the break room or at the cafe. Take walks with the pregnant lady on your floor. Greet your co-workers when you see them at the gym. Smile for Pete’s sake! [Who is Pete by the way?] Bring more of who you are into your work life and career and use your tech skin when it counts, like when you’re trying to keep the building from burning down.

Well there you have it, 3 simple rules that I hope will help you to jump start your soft skills and hopefully help you be more successful in life and your career in technology beyond the code.

Let me know what you think and if you have anything to add in the comments!

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.

IT Manifesto

Have you ever worked with someone who happens to be the legendary name that is the author of the only useful document(s) that get handed to every new tech person in the company? I’m talking about the kind of reference docs that if read properly creates an expert by the grace of RTFM. The genuis’ behind building, and sharing this information are guided by principles that surpass hand to mouth labor. Their craft in tech is a work of art, some say a labor of love. I have been fortunate to keep the company of more than a few genius minds in this arena and have compiled their collective wisdom to form an IT Manifesto which I hope will inspire you.

 

Don’t just “Keep the Lights On”, OWN the Boogiema: I’ll put it bluntly, maintenance sucks and without it things fall apart. Being the one who puts things back together all the time can unfortunately establish some not so good habits. If you’re in an environment fraught with issues related to keeping the lights on then make it a point to avoid being the IT person who is kept on staff because “without her/him everything would fall apart”. Rather, aim for the reputation of the person who turned the entire department around and people now say “you are an amazing asset to grow along with us.” How do you do this? By learning from the maintenance pitfall you’ve encountered and devising solutions to make maintenance easier. By learning the cultural norms surrounding maintenance related to small business vs. big business systems and designing solutions to address them you can be the superhero who is heralded on the patent plaques rather than the guy who gets celebrated month after month for saving people’s behinds from the same boogieman sneaking up out of the dark again and again.

 

Know the Beauty of Abstraction: Complex problems often breed complex solutions which can create more complex problems further down the road. The worst part about a really complex problem is that if you aren’t careful the problem will begin to drive you, rather than you driving the solution. This is precisely where abstraction can be critical to the long term success of your work in IT. Any problem you solve is only a piece of the puzzle, if you can master the art of abstraction then your puzzle pieces will always fit together rather than stepping on each other over time or creating bigger problems down the road. Trust me, you don’t want to be the one who built the system that gets ripped out entirely in 3-5 years. Abstraction prevents you from overburdening your solutions and enables you to foster simpler designs that are prime for automation, reuse and future extensions. Learning to think abstractly is no easy feat, it involves a keen interest in learning about the best systems in the world, the problems they solve, and the solution development process for those engineers.

 

Don’t be Afraid of the dark: Teddy Roosevelt said it is the man who errs, who’s face is marred with dust and sweat, who tries but fails valiantly who is to be admired. Roosevelt, like many of the greats knew that the difference between good and great is the ability to take risks and try something new. In IT that is particularly important over time because technology changes as fast as you can turn a page. One example of playing it safe is the fear of the shift from on-premise to cloud-based solutions. Stop stalling and do something that makes you feel completely ignorant for a while, something that will require you to think harder, more creatively, and unlock innovations you didn’t realize you had locked inside. Work on something that makes you stay up late into the night troubleshooting, something that will be on your mind when you wake up and you’ve found that in your dreams you’ve discovered a new possible solution to a problem you’ve been having. In other words, stay sharp. There is nothing wrong with doing things the old way, there is something very wrong with being afraid to try something new.

 

Scale and Performance as Foundation: Many of us are familiar with the “quick and dirty” and the heralding celebrations for such solutions. Know in your little IT beating heart that the celebration is both short lived and superficial. Ponder this, who likes a firefighter who puts out the same fire once a quarter? Yes, I said it, it gets old and it’s dangerous. Don’t be like that. Every IT person must know how to ask themselves basic performance and scalability questions and have the ability to assess when a band-aid is an unacceptable solution.

Sample Scalability Questions: Is the system architected to allow for extension or modifications for a changing business? What are the needs for long term maintenance? Have you allowed for configuration options or does everything rely on a code change? Is there technical debt?

Sample Performance Questions: How many users are expected to use the system? How does it react to concurrency? What is your systems threshold and where are the failure points? What are the direct and downstream impacts of an increase of usage by a multiple of 10 or 50000?

Many quick and dirty solutions meet the answers to these questions in a live environment, Orca anyone? You need to know these answers before ever going live based on GP.

NOTE: Because I’m passionate in this area I’ll give you my personal advice: Don’t let your business stakeholders influence you not to think about scale. Ignore comments like “we only expect x number of users at one time”, or “we aren’t concerned with performance right now, just get us the functionality”. All the features of Noah’s arc won’t help you if you spring a leak before you hit land. Think about what happens if you get an incredibly high influx of data or if your batch size is met continuously for several days, how will your integrations respond to the consistent load? What are the impacts to db performance or cpu? Are other services impacted? What happens downstream? As an IT person you must know in your heart that features, scalability and performance all work together for the long-term good.

 

Keep Calm, Stay Focused: Everyone with a career in IT has seen it. I’m talking about the “Emergency Breakfix” situation. The system is down hard, the release won’t deploy and you’re 4 hours behind schedule or there are 4 department heads on the emergency bridge line and they all want updates from YOU. Building a successful IT career isn’t just smarts, access and permissions, a big part of being successful is having your wits about you and knowing how to respond to a variety of incredibly stressful conditions AND STILL bring everything back online. It takes not being deterred by egos, whether your own ego or those of other people. It takes being an influential voice of reason (reason alone isn’t enough) when the basic procedures and organization breaks down. It takes integrity, trustworthiness, patience, a voice that conveys power, dedication and focus. I highly recommend praying to God and some form of meditation. For real.

 

Embrace your inner step-child: IT can get a bad wrap, someone once told me that the totem pole for tech careers went from support on the bottom, to IT in the middle with R&D on the top. My response to that was basically “Whatever dude”.  Don’t be overly concerned over what other people think you do in IT, or how valuable they think you might or might not be. YOU KNOW the impact and buiness value that you deliver. We don’t just install software in IT. We don’t just open the box, take the Apple out and plug it in. In the world of IT we fix bugs R&D never even knew existed. The concepts to develop solutions in IT are not the same as R&D, it’s an entirely different world, apples and oranges. Don’t be fooled by talk of salary differences either. That being said, don’t waste your time arguing this debate with others. Be confident and embrace the inner step-child that is inherently created through the politics of division of roles and responsibilities. Once you get over the politics you can focus on the real task at hand- building awesome stuff and toasting to successful deployments. If you know anyone in IT struggling with this totem pole and pecking order, tell them to get over it. Then tell them to read this Manifesto.

Ref docs, ref docs, ref docs: Learn the basics of technical writing and document your work and systems from the perspective of a newb. Not only will it help you remember critical details and decisions about your systems, it also affords you the freedom to take month long vacations to Africa or India without all hell breaking loose. Also, since we IT people like to talk a lot of smack to each you need to know that without mastering this very simple step you will never truely know the deep seeded satisfaction and glory of telling someone to RTFM or STFU.

 

There you have it! I would love to hear what your thoughts are on this issue. Please comment or send me a tween @iayori