October 2008

Gen Y Perspective: Flexibility, Work-Life Balance, and Curb Cuts

October 1, 2008 - Categories: gen-y, management

In today’s Teach Me Teamwork seminar on managing Gen Y, Bea Fields (the author of Millennial Leaders) mentioned that many managers are taken aback by Gen Y’s demands for flextime, telecommuting, and other work-life balance initiatives. Some companies complain about the lack of work ethic in young employees and wonder how much of a circus work needs to be in order to retain and engage Gen Y. Other companies are adapting, exploring results-only work environments and other-than-traditional-office arrangements.

I am really glad that Gen Yers have the chutzpah and the numbers to make workplace flexbility and work-life balance a front-and-center issue. We’ve seen the consequences of other people’s decisions. We’ve seen people work overtime, weekends, and holidays for companies that then laid them off in resource actions or folded because of market circumstances. Many Gen Yers come from separated families where stress from work took its toll. The lesson? Making a living can’t be more important than living a life.

What do Gen Yers want? Here’s what often comes up:

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Workplace flexibility and work-life balance weren’t a Gen Y issue in the beginning. This started with working mothers who found themselves pulled between the demands of family and job. Some fathers were interested in this too, but social conventions stopped it from becoming a real issue. Gen Y of both genders care about work-life balance and flexibility, and not just because of family responsibilities.

I read a lot about work-life balance, and I talk to a lot of people who’ve made decisions either way. I’ve heard how focusing on work can become a vicious cycle: if the rest of your life suffers because of your focus on work, then it’s easier to focus on work and harder to build up the rest of your life to the point where you enjoy it again. I don’t mind the occasional crunch. I want a sustainable pace, and life is too short to work at a company that wants to burn me out instead of help me grow.

Initiatives for workplace flexibility and work-life balance are like the curb-cuts that make cities better for people in wheelchairs: they benefit many more people than the original targets. If you’ve ever rolled a stroller or a suitcase along a busy street, you know how great those curb-cuts are. Flextime, telecommuting, results-only work environments, and other initiatives aren’t just about attracting and retaining Gen Y. They also help companies make the most of other people’s talents: Baby Boomers phasing into semi-retirement, Gen Xers starting to raise their own families, and people who work in non-traditional arrangements.

Flexibility and work-life balance: good for everyone.

Gen Y Perspective: Why Gen Y Won’t Stay at Jobs that Suck

October 2, 2008 - Categories: career, gen-y

In yesterday’s talk by Bea Fields on managing Gen Y, one of the listeners asked how much of a fun circus work would need to become in order to attract and retain younger workers. The well-known and much-criticized Gen Y tendency to job hop makes Gen Y retention a key issue for companies around the world. Here’s my Gen Y perspective on this issue: when work-life balance is important and career plans are chaotic, it just doesn’t pay to work at jobs that suck.

Why do people work at jobs that don’t make them happy? There seem to be three main reasons:

Let’s look at those three reasons from a Gen Y perspective.

Do they need the money or the health insurance?

Many Gen Yers still live at home, so they have less financial pressure. Others live on their own or with friends, but aren’t carrying mortgages or supporting families. True, many Gen Yers experience financial pressure from student loans, credit card debt and other obligations, but most can get by.

What about health care? We’re in the prime of our lives, and most don’t need to worry about losing insurance coverage. Life insurance and family insurance needs are low, because we typically don’t have any dependents. That means we can shift jobs without worrying about not being covered in the meantime.

Why else would people take jobs they weren’t happy in? They might not care about the other sacrifices they need to make, such as working long hours and living under high stress.

I know many Gen Yers who work overtime and weekends, but I also know many Gen Yers who prioritize work-life balance and who make time in their lives for other things. If their jobs don’t allow them to have the kind of life they want, they’ll look for other opportunities. They know that for every company that talks about company loyalty and retention but then turns around and expects an unsustainable pace of work, there are also companies that walk the walk and are really interested in improving workplace flexibility–not just for senior employees, but for everyone.

Why would people work so hard, anyway? The answer is related to the third reason why people stay in jobs that don’t make them happy. They see those jobs as stepping-stones to greater opportunities.

It used to be that you would “pay your dues” in a boring, thankless job, eventually rising in the ranks and gaining a cushy position. Not any more. After rampant downsizing (I mean, “right-sizing”, or “resource actions”, as IBM likes to call it), the failure of even supposedly rock-solid institutions (hello, Fannie Mae!), and the un-cushy-izing of formerly cushy positions such as partners in law firms (who are now subject to the threat of de-equitization) is it any wonder why many people–Gen Y, especially, as we’re making these entry-level decisions–no longer believe in long-term career planning and in paying your dues in a thankless position?

Lesson One in Daniel Pink‘s unconventional career guide The Adventures of Johnny Bunko is: “There is no plan.”

There is no plan. If there can be no neat plan from getting from point A to point B, if being the office gopher won’t get you to the corner office, if you can burn yourself out because of overtime and high stress but still be laid off because of unpredictable market conditions, then it makes sense to take a step back, invest in yourself, and do work that creates value and make you happy.

Gen Y knows this: your employer pays you, but you ultimately work for yourself. You are ultimately responsible for developing your own skills, finding your own opportunities, and making the life that you want.

Gen Y challenges for recruiting and retention, such puzzling issues for HR departments all over the world, are really just logical reactions to the realities of the marketplace. It makes sense to pick jobs and organizations where you can create value, learn, and enjoy working. It makes sense to contribute and learn as much as you can, then move before you get moved–whether it’s to another job in the organization, or to another organization entirely. It makes sense to make sure that there’s something in it for you.

Does that mean that Gen Yers are mercenary? No. In fact, money isn’t the biggest reason why Gen Yers leave organizations. Gen Yers are looking for opportunities to make a difference, to grow, to connect, and to work with people they admire. Dot-com-like perks like foosball tables are fun, but they don’t make up for opportunities to make a difference.

The organization that can quickly tap new Gen Yers’ passions and skills, move them into a position where they can contribute in a meaningful way, and help them build the social networks that will make them even more productive–that’s the kind of organization that will be able to easily recruit and retain Gen Y, because that’s the kind of organization that understands what matters.

Sometimes you just have to do it

October 3, 2008 - Categories: sewing

Last Wednesday, I was definitely not a happily sewing kitty. I was halfway through the blazer I was sewing, and it felt wrong. The darts had bubbless. The sleeve I’d attached was crooked, and when I tried the blazer on, it looked boxy. I tried taking in the side seams, but I had no idea how to do it without making the fabric do weird things. It was frustrating. I was tempted to put that project on hold and switch to making either a cotton mock-up of the same pattern or an easier pattern.

After taking a day’s break from sewing, I revisited the project. I took my time in basting the pieces of cloth together, and then I sewed the sleeves on even though I wasn’t 100% confident yet. And you know what? It actually looks like a proper blazer now. It’s a loose fit and the darts are still somewhat puffy, but it looks somewhat like the illustration, and that makes me happy.

Note to self: next time I’m plagued by self-doubt, it might be worth following the plan all the way through and seeing what happens. =) Sometimes things end up much better than they looked like in the middle.

Notes from WordCamp

October 4, 2008 - Categories: Tidbits, wordpress

wordcamptoronto on Twitter
#wpto08, #wcto08, which one?
Joseph Thornley
search.twitter.com
sociology + technology
RSS changed it from pastime to productivity tool
Magazine analogy – doesn’t make sense to keep physically checking newstand
Asked audience who has developed plugins, nice interaction
Check out category enhancements
wpdiso? profile plugin
live-conference.ca
phug.ca

Matt Mullenweg
If it takes you more than five minutes [to upgrade], you’re doing it wrong, as the lolcats would say (good idea for another presentation: bring in lolcats picture)
2 Wikipedias a month posted on wordpres.com
5 billion spam comments caught, 99.925% accuracy
camp vs conference, open source vs closed source
kudos to Davao WordCamp for being awesomest, mentioned karaoke sound system, pool, lumpia, super-passionate people, awesome shirt
Release cycles, time-based, 2 months dev 1 month cool-down, 1 month testing – reminds me of what Mark Shuttleworth said re cadence
Top 10 WordPress plugins
Looking into better multimodal support

Other notes
Wordpress help desk
Role scoper
Flashpress
Wordpress developer’s toolbox, Drupal version also
Flutter
Comicpress
Theme test drive
Wordpress e-commerce
Contact manager

Conversations
Himy – misses Emacs Planner PIM bliki
Brian Anderson, Mireille Massue, Elena Yunusov – storytelling
Mireille -SecondLife, presentations, storytelling, visual thinking – introduced by Tania Samsonova
Stuart Dykstra – SecondLife, virtual culture

Firehose

October 4, 2008 - Categories: Tidbits

October 4, 2008 - Categories: Tidbits

WordPress and lifestreaming – check out my draft firehose interface

October 4, 2008 - Categories: wordpress

Inspired by WordCamp Toronto (and the Flutter plugin in particular), I decided to spend some time figuring out if I could use WordPress as a tumblelog/lifestream without overwhelming people and while still making my regular blog posts easy to find. I also wanted to bring in some of the weekly and daily planning that I do. Here’s what I have so far:

Draft firehose interface

It’s currently running off categories of posts that are excluded from the default RSS feed and from index.php. I’m half-tempted to make it run off files instead, because I can very easily rsync those from my computer… and that will probably end up involving Emacs. ;) That would be pretty sweet, wouldn’t it?

… or a blosxom instance that feeds RSS into WordPress…

… or an Org/Planner export that feeds RSS into WordPress…

Oh, the possibilities.

What do you think? I’m planning to offer several interfaces to my blog. Firehose might become the default interface (there’ll be a mainpost-summary version for people who like scanning and a main-post full version for people who hate clicking). There could be a traditional reverse-chronological everything view and an almost-everything view (excludes tidbits). There could also be an explore view full of random posts and “On This Day” goodness. And maybe another view for people coming in from search engines…

What do you think? What would make it easier for you to browse?

New domain name: livinganawesomelife.com

October 4, 2008 - Categories: blogging, geek

I like having my name as my domain name. It makes sense, and it’s very searchable… if you can remember how to spell my name, that is. But people misspell my name even in respected print publications, and there’s very little chance people are going to be able to figure out my name if I mention it in a Q&A session. I needed something easier to spell.

So now you can look for me at livinganawesomelife.com, and you’ll get to my blog. =) How’s that for fun and memorable? And it’s true, too!

October 5, 2008 - Categories: Tidbits

My blog should be a little bit faster now

October 5, 2008 - Categories: Tidbits

I picked up a lot of ideas from this weekend’s WordCampToronto, and I’m looking forward to doing a front-page redesign over the next few weeks. I finally got around to using YSlow to look for ways to optimize my site (or at least make it suck less), so things should be marginally better now. Thanks for your patience! =)

Sewing: Wool jumper, blazer

October 5, 2008 - Categories: sewing

(blazer not pictured). This is the jumper I made following Simplicity 4097. I also made a blazer from the pattern. It was my first time working with wool, lining, interfacing, facing sections, and sleeves. My conclusions? Wool was pretty easy to work with, lining made everything look terrific (even if my seams didn’t quite match up), and sleeves were difficult. Mine still pucker a little. But it’s not bad at all, and I’ve worn it outside the house already. Whee!

Week ending Oct 5

October 5, 2008 - Categories: weekly

Accomplishments:

Plans for next week:

Deploying Drupal updates onto a live site

October 6, 2008 - Categories: drupal

Our configuration management discipline paid off last week, when we rolled out lots of bugfixes onto our production server. I used my deployment script to test the release-1 branch against our regression tests and copy the source code to the production server after it passed. A quick database update later, and everything worked without a hitch.

Why did it work? Here’s what’s behind our build system:

I think it’s pretty darn good. What would make it even awesomer?

October 6, 2008 - Categories: Tidbits

I’m so sorry!

October 7, 2008 - Categories: wordpress

I got caught up in IBM’s Innovation Jam, and I hadn’t realized that my blog was somewhat broken.

Oops.

I’ve disabled a great number of third-party things, including the Twitter Tools feed that made everything go haywire.

Which widgets would you like back?

It’s a little bit scary

October 8, 2008 - Categories: life

I feel a bit nervous. There’s a lot of shifting around, and lots of things I wonder about, too. I’m starting to feel a little unraveled around the edges, which is usually an indicator that I haven’t been doing enough writing and reflection. There’s a little bit more left to the Innovation Jam, some more work on my project, and then there’s some more time to rest.

Running on hugs, cough lozenges, and more hugs.

Writing presentation abstracts together

October 11, 2008 - Categories: presentation, web2.0

When Jennifer Okimoto pinged me about possibly putting together a presentation for Web 2.0 Expo 2009 in San Francisco, I perked up at the possibilities. I had been intimidated by the list of previous sessions (who am I to tell all these experienced techies and businesspeople about Web 2.0), but Jen and I could definitely share lots of lessons learned about Web 2.0 in a large enterprise, bridging generations and geographies.

So I started a Google Doc for the abstract. After several invitations, she finally got access to it, and we brainstormed and refined our abstract through the shared document. It was a lot of fun, particularly coming up with a good title. I think my fondness for alliterative, catchy titles showed: “Linking the Leviathan?” “Moving the Mountain?”

This should be easier, though. I should be able to right-click on a person in our instant messaging client and say “Collaborate”, pick a document, work on it in realtime, be able to invite other people in, and have that persist.

Someday…

Sewing: Red jacket, V8343

October 12, 2008 - Categories: sewing, sketches

I’m working on a red jacket now. I’ve been meaning to pick up a red jacket, but I’d never found a dark red jacket with clean and simple lines… so now I’m making one. It helped that there was a sale on Vogue sewing patterns, and that I’d stumbled across this deep red wool while W- was picking up fabric for the dining room cushions.

In other news, sketching is so much easier in a vector drawing program where I can edit my mistakes. Thank you, Inkscape!

Week ending Oct 12

October 12, 2008 - Categories: sketches, weekly

Text:

Priorities for next week:

Happy BlueDay to me!

October 15, 2008 - Categories: career, yearly

Today is my one-year anniversary at IBM! Yes, I know, I’ve been on the IBM network for a couple of years now, but I was a graduate student then, and before that, I taught university-level computer science. This is my first year outside the academe and my first year working with IBM, so I’m going to take this opportunity to look back, celebrate what I’ve learned, and celebrate the people who made this possible.

Over the past year, I’ve grown tremendously as a developer. I learned how to develop on the Drupal content management platform, and I’ve contributed back to some of the modules we’ve used. Applying the principle of relentless improvement, I invested time in setting up unit tests and functional tests, creating build and deployment tools, integrating the tests into the deployment script, and managing multiple branches of source code. I also acted as the system administrator for our project, developing installation scripts, setting up multiple testing and production environments, and keeping them running. I’m a much better developer now than I was one year ago. I’m looking forward to growing even more. Thanks go to Robert Terpstra and Ted Tritchew, who arranged my first Drupal project; Jennifer Nolan, who worked with me on my first and second Drupal projects, and from whom I learned a lot; Daniel Kumm and Kamran Khan, who gave me that second Drupal project where I learned how to really rock it; Stefan Nusser and the other Drupal-using folks in IBM; Waclaw Ferens, whose CSS skills helped me avoid the frustration of cross-browser coding and just focus on the code I really liked to do; and the tons of open source developers out there who shared not only their code but also their insights on how coding can be done better. Yay!

I also grew a lot as a speaker. This year, most of my presentations were about Web 2.0, Gen Y, or social networking. While helping another IBMer, I stumbled across a distinctive personal style of hand-drawn illustrations that resonated with people. Applying that style, I won a category prize in Slideshare.net’s worldwide Best Presentation Contest, delighted senior-level clients, and helped many people think of IBM as just a little bit cooler and more creative. I’ve spoken at numerous conferences and delivered part of two keynote speech, one of which was in front of 700 people. I’ve delivered remote presentations that informed and energized people. I’ve participated on panels, facilitated workshops and brainstorming sessions, and even helped organize conferences. I’ve presented to fellow new hires and to IBM’s technical leaders, to internal teams and to our clients. Presenting teaches me a lot about a topic, and I enjoy making things easier to understand. I’m looking forward to even more presentations, particularly when that intersects with my consulting. Thanks go to all the people who gave me opportunities to speak and to learn from other people, to my manager for being fairly liberal when it came to travelling to speak at conferences, and to the wonderful people who listened to what I had to share (and especially to those who gave me a high rating afterwards ;) ). Particular thanks go to Laurie Friedman, who nudged me to figure out a way to explain to Gen Yers coming out of college that Web 2.0 _does_ work at work.

I haven’t been doing as much Web 2.0 consulting and coaching as I’d like, but I’ve been able to help a few clients learn more about Web 2.0, incorporate the concepts into their strategy, and learn how to use these tools more effectively. My youth and my lack of industry experience means that many clients and account teams feel more comfortable with the more senior consultants on my team. However, I occasionally get to offer a Gen Y perspective, pitch in for others, or help with background work such as doing industry scans, brainstorming ideas, or capturing the discussion. I’m good at that work, though, and I can see how it adds value. I also help connect the dots, bringing opportunities into my team and helping my team members find resources throughout the company. I can get even better at this by exposing myself to more ideas, by exploring clients’ interest in Gen Y and collaboration, and by developing marketing materials for my team. Thanks go to Aaron Kim for getting me into this terrific opportunity and for encouraging me at every step of the way; Robert Terpstra, for giving it a try and bringing together this team; Bernie Michalik and Jennifer Nolan, for guidance and good examples; Jenny Chang and Tom Plaskon, for helping our team grow; Jennifer Okimoto, Pauline Ores, Kathryn Everest and all the others who sent insights and opportunities our way; the account teams we’ve worked with; and the clients who figured we had something good to share. (And we do!)

I’ve helped a number of IBM communities, teams, and individuals. Again, I’ve not been able to do as much as I’d like (still no New Bee’s Cartoon Guide to Web 2.0 at Work), but I’ve tried to make sure that people could reuse as much as possible. Next year, I’d like to not only help put together that guide for new hires, but also make it part of the new employee orientation process, link it up with all the new hire groups and campus hire groups, and set up mentoring and reverse mentoring relationships among many people. Thanks go to the totally awesome Web 2.0 evangelists; people all over IBM who are interested in learning about these new tools and who keep us busy; to the new hire network AS Foundations which made IBM feel even more welcoming; to the new hire networks and the other people around the world that I’ve had the pleasure to reach; and to everyone who, through blogs, other social computing tools, e-mail, or instant messaging, shared their insights with me and mentored me.

I’ve been really lucky to learn from and share what I’m learning with lots of people. I’ve not only been able to post chunks of what I know, but also learn from other people’s contributions and get a sense of the value I’ve created and passed on to others. I’m thrilled that I’m one of the top contributors, and I’d love to help more people contribute there and on our other tools.

It hasn’t been a perfect year. I’ve seen a number of my mentors and role models leave for other companies, and that frustrates me. I’ve heard some of the difficulties encountered by fellow new hires and experienced IBMers, and that frustrates me, too. On the plus side, I’ve been glad to share my energy and enthusiasm with lots of people, and I’m glad I’ve helped some of the people I look up to remember why they enjoy their work. Many people have returned the favor, including David Singer, who shared a great perspective on the bigger picture.

When things get really bad, there’s always getting a hug from my partner. He’s awesome. And we have a cat who loves giving massages. My parents and I have worked out the distance thing, I think. People in IBM are amazing, too, and there are even more people and things outside IBM helping me find energy and happiness when I have one of those maybe-I-should-start-my-own-company days. ;)

And of course, there’s so much more I won’t be able to fit into this already-long blog post… but thanks. =)

What an amazing year. I’m looking forward to the next one. I would love to keep myself booked doing things I love: developing quick community sites using Drupal and other open-source platforms, helping people learn more about Web 2.0, brainstorming ideas, developing strategy, designing and implementing systems, and coaching people and groups.

There are also a number of things I’d like to help do in order to help make IBM a better place. I want to see the campus hire and new hire networks around the world linked up (maybe even recognized as a formal diversity group?) so that we can share resources, get representation, and make it easy for people to bounce ideas off us. I want to help put together different guides to Web 2.0 at Work that can be incorporated into the new employee orientation process or into the community-building cookbook. I want to put together a set of conference social networking tools that’ll help people make the most of those face-to-face or virtual get-togethers. I want to teach everything I’ve learned (or at least capture it somehow) so that I can understand it better, so that I can share it with others, and so that I can go and learn even more. There are a lot of things I want to do, but there’s plenty of time, and there are plenty of people who are passionate about similar things who can help make it happen.

At the end of it all, I want to be someone who’s contagiously happy: someone who loves her life _and_ her work, someone who helps other people be happy with their life and their work, and someone who’s making a difference in people’s lives. I’m already like that, on a small scale, and I look forward to growing.

So that’s what my year’s been like (fantastic!), and that’s what my next year will probably look like. Why am I sharing all of this with you? Not just because I’m patting myself on the back – although I literally do that even for small victories, as it’s fun to celebrate the small things… Here’s why:

Thanks for an amazing year. Let’s see what the next one can be like. I’ll keep you posted!

(UPDATE: Fixed HTML tags. Teeheehee!)

Oooh, pretty presentation!

October 16, 2008 - Categories: speaking

When I grow up, I’m going to make presentations like this. =)

Sketchboards + Prototypes
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: prototyping ux)

Weekly review: Week ending Oct 19

October 19, 2008 - Categories: weekly

Last week, I:

Next week, it’s all about:

Things I do when I’m travelling on my own

October 19, 2008 - Categories: life

Here are some odd things I give myself permission to do when I’m travelling on my own:

I wonder what W- is doing with his kitchen pass… =)

Catching my breath

October 23, 2008 - Categories: life

I just came back from a trip to Boston that was jam-packed with interesting conversations and connections. The cookies were a big hit, and I added lots of value too! =D

I’ll be heading to Tel Aviv tomorrow for another client workshop. I’ve suddenly been made in charge of the social networking session, so we’re going to see if I can pull another rabbit out of the hat and get everything sorted out before my session on Monday. Right after that, I fly back and run to my session on social networking business models at CASCON 2009.

I’m not entirely sure I’m going to get through it all without going crazy, but hey, it’s worth a try. ;) And it’s a good thing W- and Leia will be there for me no matter what.

I can panic after all of this is over. =)

Back on the ground; lessons from Innovation Discovery Tel Aviv and CASCON

October 29, 2008 - Categories: travel

It’s good to finally be on the ground.

It’s been a crazy two weeks, so I’ve been blogging very little. From Sunday to Wednesday last week, I was in Boston. I returned to Toronto, then I flew to Tel Aviv on Friday and I got back on Tuesday. Tuesday was also when I’d promised to talk about social networking business models at CASCON, so I did, jet-lagged and all. Before all of these Innovation Discovery workshops turned up on my calendar, I’d bought myself a ticket to the opera (Don Giovanni). It was a beautiful production (great lighting and set design!), and the singing was, of course, amazing.

So the long and short of it is, this is the first time I’ve been able to sit down and write! <laugh>

Time for the usual reflections. What worked well:

What to do better next time:

Now back to my regular work!

Week ending Oct 26

October 29, 2008 - Categories: weekly

So late! =) I’ve been very busy.

What I did last week:

Plans for Oct 27 to Nov 2: