Monthly Archives: December 2014

The one word that changes how I answer every question

Spoiler alert: “Yet”

It’s been a crazy few weeks as we get ready for 2015 at work.  Lots of meetings, lots of planning, and lots of change.  Some days I’m in a complete panic, but mostly I am optimistic that this work will pay off with a smooth plan for how we execute in 2015.

I’ve noticed that as I am working on progressively bigger projects with broader scope, I’m not comfortable saying “I don’t know.”  Several times each day, I’m in fast-paced meetings where we’re making big decisions, and not knowing just doesn’t cut it.

So I’ve started to answer questions differently. Subtly, I’ve made the shift from:

“I don’t know”
“I don’t know yet”

It’s a sign to whoever’s asking that I’m engaged, and I want them to ask me that kind of thing again in the future.  It’s a reminder to myself that this topic or type of question is something I need to be better prepared to address if I want to work at this level.

“I don’t know” means more than “I don’t know”; it means “I don’t know and also I don’t know how to form an opinion for next time you ask.”

“I don’t know yet” means “I don’t know because I don’t have all the information I need or the framework to have an opinion, but I’m going to figure that stuff out so keep me in the game.”

Sheryl, do you think your hiring plan is appropriate for our growth?
Sheryl, do you think we can achieve those goals on the screen?
Sheryl, should those be internal or external resources?

I don’t know…yet.

Me and 9,999 of my closest friends

Last week, I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women. I had gone last year, and was

The women from Infinio enjoying the conference lunch keynote.

The women from Infinio enjoying the conference lunch keynote.

very excited to attend again.  It’s a huge event – upwards of 10,000 women attend.

My Uber driver was an immigrant from Ethiopia whose daughter recently finished her degree in Ethiopia in….Gender Inequality!  So he was really interested to hear about both the conference and whether I thought his daughter had any job prospects here.

The conference itself was amazing.  Riding down the huge escalators in the morning, I saw the expo floor already teeming with women, eager and excited.  There was palpable energy in the air, and it was immediately apparent upon arriving in the ballroom.  The highlight of the morning keynotes were definitely Tory Burch (fashion designer) and John Jacobs (co-founder of Life is Good.)  Tory’s story was very understated of how she’s become a top lifestyle brand, and John was just full of life and enthusiasm.

The morning sessions I went to were pretty good.  In particular, I enjoyed the panel discussion on work/life balance.  That seems to be code these days for “tips to get your kids picked up from daycare” but that was fine with me.  It was a very practical discussion of what models work for several women in different industries.  For the first time, I felt like I was equivalent to one of the women on the panel, not just learning from an expert.

Lunch had several impressive keynotes, most notably Lupita Nyong’o and Hillary Clinton. Nyong’o talked about how she got from Kenya to the Academy Awards; her talk was really one about following your dreams because nothing else will feel right.  Secretary Clinton was, of course, in a class of her own.  She began by speaking about the deaths in Ferguson and New York, then spoke more generally about leadership and her experiences.  We all got a chuckle out of the moderator asking her what would the right qualities be for a “First Gentleman.”

In the afternoon, I attended a session on feedback that was okay – the thesis was that we practice and get a lot of training on how to give feedback, but don’t focus enough on receiving it.  I liked that idea but found the actual content a little basic.  I’ve thought about reading the speaker’s book, because maybe it is more in-depth and more relevant to me.

On my way to the coatroom, I was stopped by someone running the coaching area, and offered a free 10-minute coaching session that I couldn’t turn down.  I had a really interesting and helpful talk with Laurie McAnaugh, who was masterful at getting to the crux of the issue I had brought up.

My takeaways this year were vastly different than those of last year.  Perhaps a little less star-struck and a little more interested in practical advice, I ended the day feeling and thinking the following:

1. The theme of needing to bring one’s personal “self” into work and align values was louder than I had heard it in the past.  I don’t know if it’s the next iteration of work/life balance, or if I was just listening for something different this year.

2. There was practically no content for non-traditional families – speakers used “husband” pretty liberally, only sometimes remembering to also offer “partner” and nearly never recognizing that there were likely many single women and single moms in the audience.  While I’m married to a man, I think talking to a more diverse audience helps everyone better understand options, challenges, and sensitivity.  Would have liked to see more of that.

3. The feedback session stayed in my head; not because I learned a lot from it, but more because I thought a lot of its content was rooted in having a lack of confidence.  In fact, a lot of the content throughout the day was about building confidence, and not suffering from impostor syndrome, and I struggled with that – because I don’t relate to it.  The issues and challenges I have with getting to the next level aren’t ones of confidence.   Good news/bad news I guess.

What most surprised me was that I felt different coming out of this year’s conference than I had last year’s.  Less elation, more introspection.  But another good year nonetheless.

I am an individual and I still have an unstructured data problem

Working in IT, I’ve been talking about unstructured data for years.  We know it’s growing fasterdocs than data in databases, we know much of it is machine-generated, and we know there are several emerging technologies to help manage it.

But one of my Achilles’ heels at work is having never been on the customer side of the table in enterprise IT.  I’ve been talking with customers for 15+ years about storage and data management, but I have never been the person actually responsible for it.

In the past few weeks, however, I’ve realized that I have a major unstructured data management problem in my own life – and it’s giving me a taste of what IT management struggles with on a massive scale.

Let’s just consider two important types of files in my life: my music, and my photos.  For a few years, I’ve been syncing every song and every photo to the cloud (for music, first iTunes, now I’ve moved to Amazon; for photos, Google).  So I don’t have a storage space problem, and I don’t have a portability problem – everything is accessible from each of my devices.

The music is organized by artist and by album.  And the photos are organized by date (and sometimes by trip).  This works ok when I know what I’m looking for and it’s aligned to these structures.  For example, these types of things are easy to find:

  • Pictures from our trip to Prague and Budapest
  • The Tori Amos Little Earthquakes album
  • The photo I took of Curt Schilling at the Red Sox Parade in 2004
  • Let me Clear my Throat by DJ Kool

But there are times I want other kinds of things, and these are nearly impossible to find:

  • The best 5 photos of my daughter since she was born
  • All the photos of my dog
  • 30 songs I like from different artists that I haven’t listened to lately
  • A playlist-style playlist of good songs to work out to.

For music, I do have a few other options – I have Amazon Prime, so there are a lot of playlists of music I may or may not otherwise have in my library that i have access to.  So, I recently chose to listen to a playlist called “90’s Alternative Rock” and it was like being transported back to college.  It was exactly what I wanted.  But that was a kind of lucky hit.  And what about something as effective like that, but with my existing library that I have acquired and culled over the years?

I can see why people hone Pandora stations and stop buying individual songs or albums.  But even if that worked for me (and I’m not ready to give up my music library just yet) I can’t do that with my photos.  Google’s been doing a nice job with “highlights” and with making animated GIFs and collages from my photos, but even those aren’t as focused as what I can get from music.

I could tag every photo (and song, I suppose, or at least put songs on playlists) to help with this. But I don’t always know when I take a photo (or tag a photo) the ways in which I might want to look for it.  I could tag all the people in photos, but how would I know that I would have wanted to tag something as “outside” or “old apartment” until I want to retrieve it that way.

I would love any suggestions you readers have about solving either of these problems, but mostly I’m enjoying the parallels between this and enterprise IT.

Revisiting video calling

Last week I was fortunate enough to work remotely – from my parents’ house in Florida, to be

View from my remote office last week - note the reflection of the blinds in the glass - I really was working inside!

View from my remote office last week – note the reflection of the blinds in the glass – I really was working inside!

exact.  Work is much more palatable with palm trees.

I had a few meetings scheduled back in our Cambridge office during the time I was in Florida, so I did some by phone and some by video chat.  I use Facetime pretty often so my daughter can talk with her grandparents, but it had been a while since I used them for professional meetings.

Here’s what I learned.

1. Video calls have come a looooooong way.  There still may be a little turbulence in logging in and getting set up but they’re nothing like the choppy and garbled experiences I remember.  (We used Google Hangout)

2. I liked video chat far more than I liked voice calls.  One day I had two meetings with the same group of people, and did one in each format.  So much more effective to be “in” the room – I could see responses better, which is the obvious benefit everyone mentions, but I could also better understand when was the socially appropriate time to contribute my thoughts.

3. It’s silly to join a video chat and then not appear via video.

4. There’s no sense in joining a video chat and then making it a screen share so you don’t see any video.  Get the person or team to send you the presentation and then have both windows open (the preso and the live video stream of the room)

I was pleasantly surprised at how effective video calls were – a technology I’ll definitely rely on again in the future.