Why, hello 2014! Let’s have some adventures.

Last year was quite the whirlwind and as some of you may or may not have noticed, I kinda-sorta disappeared. Not just from the inter-webs, but from the USA entirely. I was extremely lucky to have been able to spend three months this past fall living in South America on a personal sabbatical. The time was eye-opening on a personal level, challenging (with my beginner Spanish), and incredibly fun. I highly recommend – to anyone who is lucky enough to have the flexibility in their schedule – that you strongly consider taking a personal sabbatical abroad at some point in your life. At least two months is best. It takes over three weeks before you stop feeling like you’re just on vacation and that’s when things start to get deep. At least, that was my experience.

But, this was about more than just a chance to take a break and experience something new. Although not initially planned this way, my three months in Buenos Aires became a professional and personal period of soul-seeking and reflection. Just weeks before packing our things, my co-founder-turned-husband and I had made the incredibly difficult decision to exit our small software shop in Chicago and each head out in new directions. So you see, it couldn’t have been a better time to take several steps back in order to start moving forward again. And that’s exactly what I did.

When the Chicago skyline initially disappeared in the background, I was overwhelmed with nerves and tears at the end of a wonderful and exhilarating five year adventure. As soon as I touched down in Argentina, however, I instantly started to feel like I was on a mission to chart a new course for myself. And luckily, I had plenty of time to think/examine/research/ponder/explore. This was the time in my life – I determined – to be picky, to not settle, and to seek out the right challenges. All while enjoying a bit too much dulce de leche, steak, and empanadas. Bonus!

I’ve always appreciated writing for its power to permit self-reflection, help process emotions, and just clear my head. So I started writing journal entries, poems, random thoughts or quotes, and lists. Lots and lots of lists. I have always been a bit of an obsessive organizing freak, so I applied my usual strategies towards figuring out where to go next in my life (over a glass of Malbec or two ;). I also read a lot. What I learned by taking this extended time for myself, was how important it is to do so on a daily basis, not just once in awhile. This is something I intend to actively work on.

There were a lot of other exciting takeaways from this journey too. Which brings me to the brink of some very exciting adventures in 2014. After almost a decade of making truly great memories in Chicago, I’m going to try on Portland(-ia) for size. I will miss my Chicago friends dearly, but am really looking forward to new scenery and new friendships too (so - let me know if you’re a Portlander who can show me the ropes). In addition to a new city, I will be taking on an exciting new gig as well which I’m certain you will be hearing more about from me very soon!

Cheers to new adventures and Happy New Year!!

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Jan 01, 2014 10:00 am

The Fine Line Between Support and Reverse Discrimination

I have to make a confession. I don’t much like women-only professional communities. I like the idea of it, sure. Women are amazing. But, I just cannot get past the whole reverse discrimination idea. When someone says “hey, we should build a community that’s more female friendly” and then simultaneously turns around and builds a professional organization that literally refuses men from participating, I call bullshit on that. To me, that’s just an uncomfortably incomplete solution, however well intentioned. Do I believe that women should support other women? Absolutely 100%. Do I believe that a majority female environment is more likely to grow and encourage women to enter and perservere in the realm of technology? Probably, yep at this point in time (wasn’t necessarily true for me but I get it). However, I completely dislike anything “professional” that excludes someone from participating based on gender, sex, race, nationality, religion, really anything. Exceptions of course would be someone being excluded because they violated a code of conduct or just general human decency at a previous event or something of that nature. Anything else just doesn’t sit right with me.

Here’s another reason, and this is really just more about me than anything. I love working with mixed gender groups. I think a diverse mindset and really strong perspective is created from having women and men brainstorming on a product or service. I also am rational and like to deal in the realm of reality. The reality is, tech is 80%+ male right now. Training women to only be comfortable in isolated female-exclusive groups just isn’t practical, it isn’t in touch with the reality of the field, and it’s not going to lead to success. Let me be clear, I think there are huge benefits to women helping women, and to creating reverse-ratio support groups (90% women, 10% men for instance), organizations that support or encourage minority participation, and even companies that take a serious approach to diversity recruitment. But, closing the door on someone because they are a dude who wants to participate? Just not ok in almost any scenario for me.

I’ve been leading Girl Develop It in Chicago for nearly 6 months now. I had only one make-or-break question before I committed to being involved with the organization: “is GDI women exclusive?”. Nope, they said. We empower women, but we are an INclusive organization and people from all walks of life are welcome. Sold. Let me tell you, it does not deter the success of our classes, our social networks, our power to grow each other. Not one bit. The only thing that matters is creating an INclusive environment, where beginners feel comfortable asking “what the heck is a compiler any way?”. That’s something we can all create. It does not require a gender sort at the door. However, just by calling it a women empowerment organization, means women feel comfortable showing up. And when women feel comfortable showing up, and they keep showing up, that’s what creates that reverse ratio. More importantly, when newbies start showing up in droves, ready and willing to learn, that creates change. Change is happening my friends.

So, please don’t shut the door on anyone who just wants to be a part of your community, your class, your cause. Let’s set a better example than that, shall we?

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Jul 08, 2013 6:56 pm

Why I don’t condone boycotting tech events to promote diversity

A lot of buzz has been generated recently around the idea of taking a pledge to boycott all male speaker panels at conferences as posited in this article in The Atlantic. The basic idea is that by refusing to participate in all-male speaker panels, we are supporting diversity and forcing conference organizers to actually make an effort to include minorities in their lineup. Now, I definitely think that the motivation behind this, and the people who have adamantly supported it come from the right place. But there are some serious and glaring flaws to this approach which make me, as a woman who has been both behind the scenes, a speaker, and an attendee at many tech events, very uneasy.

It’s not fair to push the diversity burden onto event organizers.

If your sole contribution to helping promote diversity is to say “hey organizer of tech conference X, get more women in that line up or I’m not coming”… does that seem fair? I think what a lot of people aren’t realizing, is that many of the tech event organizers actually are already making a pretty big effort to get diversity. They realize people want this now. They are trying. What are you doing to help?

Minorities who regularly speak, are stretched thin as it is.

There are so few of us in certain developer circles, that many of us receive more requests than we can handle. As a result, an event organizer may be genuinely trying to get speakers that are diverse, and having a lot of “no” responses because these people are so heavily requested.

Enough with the negativity!

Boycotting is somewhat negative, and causes pressure, stress and hostility on our community. This is the last thing we need right now! (More on that in a moment…)

I don’t want to be a speaker to fill some quota!

I want to be invited to speak on merit, and because I deserve to be there. I feel that this approach encourages the former and hinders the later. Event organizers will be so nervous that if they don’t get one more woman on the panel, no one will come, that they might resort to desperation. That is not constructive!

So while I do feel that it’s always great to see people trying to do something rather than nothing, I don’t feel this is the right way to encourage diversity. I have a better idea…

Here is my counter proposal. I challenge every technologist to do the following:

1) Think about at least one minority you know in your personal network, and encourage or mentor them to become a speaker. For instance, you could offer to brainstorm topics with them and help them submit their first proposal, or offer to put in a good word for them with a conference organizer you’re connected to (again, only if you feel they deserve it).

2) Write to each of your favorite conferences, and send them at least one recommendation for a minority speaker that you would like them to consider. Remember a lot of the problem stems from the fact that in order to grow diversity, organizers have to be willing to take a chance on new “up and comer” speakers. If they receive requests for someone, they can feel a lot more confident to approach that person, knowing their audience approves.

3) If you are an event organizer, email minority mailing lists like devchix@googlegroups.com that are teaming with minority developers. Let them know that your event would love to have them attend. Studies have suggested that explicitly reaching out to and inviting minorities has the best results.

I think diversity in tech is going to get better continuously over time, as long as we stick to a supportive, encouraging, and positive approach!

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Jan 10, 2013 10:18 am

Five Qualities That Should NOT Impress Your Boss

There are plenty of managers out there who value the wrong things when it comes to their team members’ performance. I have seen it before in past jobs, and I hear about these ridiculous precedents all the time from friends and former colleagues. The next generation of great managers are able to look beyond these superficial expectations to appreciate real value in their people.

1 - First in, last out. Your employees are not a queue. Under no circumstance should it be desirable to “put in the most hours” in order to impress your boss. Research has proven that thought workers are productive for no more than 6 hours in a day, and that the more time off and sleep they receive, the better they will use those six hours. If you value this, you are stuck in the factory era.

2 - Always available by phone or email. Unless we’re talking about some kind of “on call” job situation like the medical profession where lives are at stake, being constantly available on vacation should not be impressive! If your team is afraid to turn off their email on their paid time off, you’re doing it wrong. Relaxed and refreshed employees make infinitely better team members.

3 - Never complains or argues. I’m not suggesting you want your team to be whiny babies or instigators. But, come on. If your employees cannot even admit when something is not up to their standards, cannot even bring themselves to disagree, then you have group think at best, and a dis-functional environment in the worst case. Open, honest, and supportive offices breed innovation and creativity.

4 - Intimidated by the boss. I think a lot of people confuse intimidation with respect. While the former may demonstrate power, it’s the latter that demonstrates leadership. Intimidation is negative, while respect is positive and productive.

5 - Always says yes. This one might be the most controversial, but I don’t see the point in rewarding people for taking on everything and anything you ask of them without question. I see that as a lack of understanding of time management, best use of team resources, and a sign of personal ego. Not qualities that should be rewarded.

If any of these ring a bell from your office culture, you might want to think about seeking out better leadership or possibly a new team.

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Dec 22, 2012 2:22 pm

The Importance of Supporting Computer Science In K-12 Education

You may not know this, but next week is Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), a community effort to raise public awareness of the importance in paying more attention to the teaching of computer science in schools. We desperately need to start paying closer attention to our education system’s lack of emphasis and proper instruction in technology and specifically computer science. This is not only a blossoming field with enormous career potential, but it is also training that is becoming more and more critical for our future leaders and innovators. The computer science field is among the worst diversity performers in the realm of engineering, math and science. But this movement is not just about increasing diversity, it’s about seriously taking a step back and analyzing our priorities in K-12 education. It’s just crazy in the current state of the world, not to be placing computer science as a higher priority in our children’s education. Instead, computer science in K-12 education is under prioritized, under funded, and is not even a requirement for graduation in most schools. It’s up to us as a community to demand more from our education system, if computer science has any hope of playing a more fundamental role in schools.

Often, people will confuse computer science education with computer literacy education. Computer literacy, is when we teach our kids how to use the various technology devices that exist, namely computers and tablets. On the other hand, computer science is about teaching our kids the fundamental concepts towards understanding how technology works, and how to use it to create and innovate. Simply throwing money at our schools and building computer labs, is not enough. That does not create future app developers or computer engineers! The focus needs to be on reforming education to not only make computer science a high priority requirement for all kids, but also giving it the respect and attention it deserves.

If you agree that computer science deserves a bigger seat at the education table, you can visit csedweek.org and take the pledge. Or go a step further, and find out how your organization can get involved in raising awareness!

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Dec 03, 2012 1:08 pm
About

cocoa by the fire

brittanytarvin

Hey there, I'm Brit! Co-founder & CEO of FadingRed in Chicago, software developer, leader for Girl Develop It Chicago, frequent speaker and writer, working to change the ratio in tech.

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