October 2009

Seeing in three dimensions

October 4, 2009 - Categories: life

The last few movies I’ve watched in an actual movie theatre have been in 3D. Whenever I see the opening sequences, I still can’t help but think, “Wow. The future is here.”

It seems that most 3D movies are kids’ movies, which is perfectly all right with me because I like watching those too. Today, we watched “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” If you haven’t guessed by now, I have a soft spot for nerds. Nerds in love? Even better.

As it turns out, watching a 3D movie with lots of kids in the audience was actually quite fun. The sheer wonder they couldn’t help but share made me smile. This was perhaps the first 3D movie for many of them, and there’s something magical about seeing _into_ the screen for the first time.

Even though I’ve watched many movies in different formats, I’m still amazed by it all. I appreciate it for different reasons than I did as a kid. Now, I think of moving pictures and the persistence of vision; of polarization, depth perception and 3D images; storytelling and plot devices. I see the advances in computer animation overlaid with different cinematic techniques. Over time, I may learn to appreciate movies within genres and place films in the context of the director’s work.

But today, when the 3D movie started, I still closed one eye, then switched to the other, and then went “Wow.”

Weekly review: Week ending October 4, 2009

October 4, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

I also:

Next week, I plan to:

How do you keep in touch with 500+ contacts?

October 5, 2009 - Categories: connecting

“How do you keep in touch with 500+ contacts?” asked Khalid, whom I met while I was active in Toastmasters. We were connected on LinkedIn, where I’d accumulated a number of contacts along the way.

I don’t. Remember that bit about being a shy connector? I’m still working on becoming more comfortable with pinging people out of the blue.

In general, I make it easy for people to keep up to date with me through my blog and FB updates, so I’m not limited by my courage in reaching out to people. I also look for excuses to exercise my network. I take notes, too.

Don’t worry about the numbers. Focus on creating value and helping others.

Finding the sweet spot

October 5, 2009 - Categories: career

Dave Pollard shared this excellent diagram for finding the sweet spot for what you want to do in life. He lists these nine career types:

  1. Explorers, whose work is study and research, and whose work-product is discovery and insight
  2. Interpreters, whose work is mentoring and facilitation, and whose work-product is understanding
  3. Inventors, whose work is imagining, and whose work-product is ideas
  4. Designers, whose work is crafting, and whose work-product is models
  5. Generators, whose work is creating and building, and whose work-product is ‘goods’ and services
  6. Nurturers, whose work is cultivating, and whose work-product is well-being
  7. Menders, whose work is sustaining, and whose work-product is regeneration
  8. Actors, whose work is re-creating, and whose work-product is fun
  9. Connectors, whose work is distributing, and whose work-product is cross-pollination

- Dave Pollard

This made me think about who I am and what I enjoy doing. A large part of my work is interpreting - helping people learn more about emerging tools and technologies. As an IT specialist and application developer, I’m also a generator. I love building systems. And I can’t help but be a connector both inside and outside the organization, spreading ideas, resources, and connections.

Some thoughts:

So right now, I’m in a great spot. I get to switch between Generator and Interpreter (and sometimes I combine the two in a single engagement). Because I’m in a large organization with great social computing tools, I can connect people too.

Hmm… How do I grow from here?

How about you? Where’s your sweet spot?

Drupal workflow for small projects

October 6, 2009 - Categories: drupal

One of the recent hires dropped by with a few questions about Drupal development in small projects. She wanted to know if it was worth having another person do the HTML and CSS theming if that person didn’t know PHP or Drupal, and what the workflow might look like.

As a Drupal developer who really hates working with cross-browser fiddliness, I think it’s almost always a good idea to have someone else do the HTML and CSS theming. In an ideal world, that person would also create the Drupal theme and whatever Javascript behaviors are desired, but it seems hard to find people who are comfortable with both front-end and back-end development. A reasonable compromise is to have someone else translate the visual design into cross-browser HTML and CSS for the splash page, an inside page (anything representative of the main layout), and other layouts. What takes me four hours of teeth-gnashing may take an experienced designer just one, and he or she might even be happier doing it. So go ahead and optimize for developer productivity and happiness.

Another benefit of splitting up the work is that you can work in parallel. While you work on the technical bones of the application, the designer can get the theme just right. The earlier in the project that you know about complex parts that could be problematic, the better, and this is true for both theme and function. You’ll still need to integrate the theme at the end, so budget at least a few days for that.

So here’s what the workflow might look like:

  1. Developer installs modules and configures them to work together.
    Designer prepares basic HTML and CSS.
  2. Developer fleshes out site and adds custom functionality.
    Designer fleshes out individual forms/pages requiring special treatment.
  3. Developer ports HTML and CSS theme to Drupal.
  4. Developer and designer collaborate on fixing any cross-browser problems that show up.

Build the functional parts of the application before worrying about the theme. Problems in the theme layer can mask problems in the functional layer. If you build the theme first, then build the features, tracking down bugs might take more time.

It’s usually a good idea to build the hard parts first, so you can get a better sense of how much more effort is needed and whether you need to scale things down. If you’re new to Drupal, you may want to build a few easy parts first so that you can familiarize yourself with the system.

Hope that helps!

Find your attention wandering during teleconferences?

October 8, 2009 - Categories: productivity

Find your attention wandering during teleconferences? The temptation to check your mail or surf the Web is hard to resist when no one can see you.

Instead of giving in, try taking minutes for the meeting. You’ll force yourself to pay more attention, avoiding the embarrassing need to say “I’m sorry, what was the question again?”. You’ll also find it easier to remember action items and details afterwards. If you share your notes with your team members, you’ll create more value, too.

Saving time and money with a chest freezer

October 9, 2009 - Categories: cooking, finance, life, productivity

Living an awesome life is easier when you can free up some time and money to do so. W- and I bought a chest freezer more than a month ago, and it’s been great.

When we analyzed whether or not a chest freezer would work, we realized that most of the usual monetary savings didn’t apply to us.

We wanted to explore freezing more food in individual portions, though, to cut down on cooking time during the week.

So far, our new freezer-enhanced routines have been wonderful. Here are the key benefits we’ve seen:

You can make and store your own convenience foods. When we have time (usually every weekend or every other weekend), we make a big batch of food and store them as frozen lunches and dinners. This means we can have our favourite foods practically any time we want, with enough variety to keep things from being monotonous. (Although I don’t mind eating the same thing a number of times in a row!) Our evenings are freed up for reading, hanging out, or cramming in a little bit of work, and in the morning, lunch is all ready to go. Good stuff!

I also keep freezer bags of frozen biscuits (home-made!) for snacks and entertaining. This makes it much easier to host tea parties, and the conversation makes my life that much more awesome.

You can stock up. We try to buy things on sale as much as possible, so the cost savings from stocking up aren’t significant. But it is nice to know that we can (almost always) reach in and pull out our favourite things.

You can extend the life of other things. We keep a bag of milk powder in the freezer. The milk powder’s part of our emergency kit, but the bag had more than what we needed, so we keep it in cold storage to extend its life.

The chest freezer takes up space, uses electricity, and requires an up-front investment. But it’s definitely been worth it for us, and I’m glad we got it. If you’ve been thinking about getting a chest freezer and you have more questions, please feel free to leave a comment!

Public speaker worried about losing control? Don’t have lectures – have conversations

October 9, 2009 - Categories: speaking, web2.0

Public speaking is the greatest fear people have, and losing control seems to be the greatest fear that public speakers have. Like the way that companies have to adapt to social media’s effects on brands, speakers have to adapt to the reactions that spread like wildfire through social tools, reaching people far outside the auditorium’s walls.

This fear of losing control is interesting, because I love turning that speaker-audience relationship upside down. It’s incredibly more powerful and more fulfilling than lecturing, and you’re going to love it too.

Jeremiah Owyang posted great tips on how power is shifting to the audience, and how speakers can develop social media strategies to adapt. He said:

Critics would suggest that monitoring the backchannel is counter intuitive to what a speaker should be doing: focused on presenting. Yet, I’d argue that some power has shifted to the audience –and with that comes responsibility of the speaker to respond to the power shift. As a speaker… I feel empathy and at the same time am scared this doesn’t happen to me. The best way for speakers to avoid this revolt is to make sure that they be aware of the changes in power shifts and develop a plan to integrate social.

I’d love to hear from you how speakers should respond to the power shifting to the audience, I know there’s a lot I can continue to learn in the craft of speaking. What should speakers do?

I love giving people power, and that’s part of why I love speaking. I love learning as much from people as they learn from me. I love discovering where we can go together. The word “audience” bothers me because it’s too passive, just as I hate being referred to as a “consumer”. So here’s the unconventional perspective that makes it easy for me to ditch my slides when I want to, embrace the backchannel, and have conversations instead of lectures:

A speech is the start of a conversation, not a one-way street. It’s not about advertising your company. It’s not about building your reputation. It’s about helping people learn something, understand something, or be inspired to do something. It’s about starting a hundred or a thousand conversations. It’s about discovery.

The speaker’s work is important. When you speak, you give abstract concepts names, flesh them out, and make them real. When you speak, you can weave different threads into stories that help people understand. When you speak, you can help people figure out what to do next.

The participants are the ones who do the real magic. If you can inspire people to think about what you’ve shared and build on it, if you can help them understand a complex topic and act on what they’ve learned, if they go on to share that with others… fantastic!

Your role as a speaker is to set the stage and enable people to succeed. You’re there to serve them, not allow them to bask in your presence. ;)

So for your next talk, flip your perspective around.
Realize that presenting is a privilege, and work on living up to it. Create as much value as you can. Look for ways you can learn from people. It may take some getting used to–learning how to wait in silence was tough for me, but it’s essential for drawing out questions!–but it’ll definitely be worth it.

But wait, you think, that’s all very good if you’re facing a small group, but what about a large session? I find that I can have a conversation-like atmosphere with around 300 people if I step away from the podium, use a lapel mike, warm up the audience a little beforehand, and have fun. I’ve given keynotes to larger groups before, and when you’re in an auditorium with a thousand people, that does get tough.

You can still have a conversation with thousands of people. You might not do it with interruptions from raised hands, but you can do it on your blog by posting your material before or after your session. You can encourage people to post their thoughts and comments in a backchannel, and periodically review that (maybe during your water breaks?) to check the pulse. You can keep the conversation going by giving people a link to your presentation or related blog post. (If you don’t have a blog yet, you should definitely start one.) In fact, the more people are listening, the more important it is that you have some kind of conversation going. If you’re off track, you’re wasting a lot of people’s time. If you’re not listening, you’re wasting a lot of people’s insights.

Okay, maybe not all sessions can be this interactive, but far more of them can have this magic than most people would think. I’ve had fantastic afternoon sessions even when I was the last person on the agenda after a full day of talks. I’ve spoken after lunch, after awesome speakers, after boring speakers. The challenge I’m currently working on is figuring out how to facilitate this kind of energy during teleconferences with people from different cultures. (People from North America and Europe tend to jump right in, while other people tend to be quieter, but maybe other techniques can help!) But there are far more opportunities to have these kinds of conversations that most people realize, and I hate watching people squander those opportunities on lectures. (Unless they can be as inspiring as the TED talks!)

Try it out – you’ll feel awesome when you build listening into your speaking. You might be wondering how you can manage listening to people while talking at the same time. Let your body deal with listening to people’s body language in the room. Pay enough attention and you’ll find yourself physically mirroring little things about the audience – tension, interest, understanding. Can’t read and speak? Read the notes during your water breaks and course-correct, or have a buddy in the audience give you cues. And when you pull off your first wildly interactive session, when you were totally in the zone and everything just flowed, you’ll feel such an amazing buzz.

Missed sketchblogging!

October 9, 2009 - Categories: sketches

Squeezing through a traffic jam

October 10, 2009 - Categories: sketches

Queen Street was congested earlier, but I went right through it on my
bicycle. Hooray! It would’ve taken me much longer on the TTC. I like
my bike. :)

Sacha Chua (sacha@sachachua.com)

A weekend well-spent preparing for winter

October 13, 2009 - Categories: life

My arms are sore, my shoulders are tense, my back is stiff, and I’m basking in the satisfaction of seeing our garden almost ready for the end of the growing season. We spent Thanksgiving weekend doing a final harvest, digging up the soil, turning over some turf, and preparing a 4′ x 12′ raised bed bordered with spruce planks. We had done some limbering up before doing so (rule #18 ;) ), but apparently, not enough. We cycled a lot this weekend, too: 41 kilometers over two days, which included lots of errands around the city. I’m still tired, but I’m happy.

Frost looms on the weather forecast. I’ve brought out my thermal wear, dusted off my winter shoes, and girded myself for another long, gray season.

At home in the Philippines, the -ber months are times to look forward to. The drier, cooler air and Christmas festivities are pleasant breaks from summer heat and typhoons. The parols blink in almost-synchronized harmony by the roadside, Christmas lanterns lighting up the night, tassels fluttering in the breeze. The streets explode with colour and the air fills with music. It may not be paradise, but it’s home.

But W- is here in Canada, so I am here. While I am here, I will make myself home. The garden has done its job in bringing me more in tune with the seasons. I have cheered seedlings on in spring, picked herbs in summer, snacked on garden-grown tomatoes in fall, and now it is time to let the snow blanket my garden and lull it to sleep. Our pantry’s stocked with home-made jams and jellies. In preparation for long, cold evenings, I’ve picked up indoor-friendly hobbies such as drawing and sewing.

It’s time to dust off the lanterns my mom mailed me when I was sun-starved and sad. Time to hang up the parol we brought back. Time to fill my life with colour to balance the desaturated days. And maybe winter will be a little bit better this year, now that I’m getting the hang of it. I have my fuzzy socks, merino wool thermals, waterproof gloves, and Polartec fleece jackets and scarves. I may even have fun–after all, the toboggan is waiting for the first adventure of the season.

7 Tips for Remote Presentations That Rock

October 14, 2009 - Categories: presentation, sketches, speaking

Remote Presentations That Rock: given at the virtual IBM Technical Leadership Exchange conference in November 2009 and the IBM Take Two women’s leadership sessions. Please feel free to learn from this and share this with others!

UPDATE: Added 14-minute standalone video.

(I just discovered I could draw more than just stick figures! Yay!)

Virtual presentations are tough.

We’re not going to talk about basic presentation skills: how to organize your thoughts, how to deliver your presentation, how to support your message with the right charts or images. There are a number of books and IBM courses on effective presentations, and I’ll link to them on the webpage for this talk. Today, we’re going to talk specifically about giving presentations online.

Why is this important? It starts with the reason why you give a presentation–any presentation. No matter what kind of presentation you’re giving, your goal is to persuade people. You’re convincing people to pay attention to what you’re telling them and to act on that information. You want people to make a decision or take an action.

Persuading people, influencing people, is a lot harder when you’re not face-to-face. You’re competing against e-mail and instant messaging for people’s attention. You can’t watch their eyes or their body language to tell when you’re going too fast or too slow. People can leave any time they want, so you have to be interesting all throughout.

I’m here because I think virtual communication skills can make a big difference in our company and in our world. To me, remote presentations mean that no matter where you are in the world, you can attend events that used to be limited by travel budgets. Not only that, no matter where you are in the world, you can share your expertise. I really, really care about that. I want you and everyone else to be able to step up, take the stage, and share what you know. I want you to be able to present well so that you can teach and inspire others.

But virtual presentations are tough. Let me share with you some of the things that hold other people back. People say,

I’ve faced those challenges too. I still do! So here are my seven key tips that can help you not only get better at doing remote presentations, but even enjoying them.

1. Make it real.
2. Interact.
3. Make space for learning.
4. Practice, practice, practice.
5. Keep it simple.
6. Start strong and end strong.
7. Continue the conversation.

(more…)

Weekly review: Week ending October 11, 2009

October 14, 2009 - Categories: weekly

Better late than never!

From last week’s plans:

I also:

Next week (this, really), I plan to:

Rawr!

Weekly review: Week ending October 18, 2009

October 19, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

I also:

Next week’s plans:

Routines

October 19, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, life

It’s funny how powerful routine is.

Take exercise, for example. If I try to find time for exercise, I’ll do it sporadically. If I make it part of the way I get to work, and I think of it as a cheaper, healthier alternative to taking the subway, then I exercise without needing to make time for it. (Someday, I’ll build in weights, flexibility, and cardio too.)

Or vegetables and fruits: after we switched to making our lunches a week in advance, we found ourselves forgetting to go into the fridge and eat fresh fruits and vegetables, so they spoiled. Now, if I’m hungry when I get home, I make a beeline for the broccoli, and I make that part of our meals. (Which doesn’t preclude, say, raiding the pantry for instant noodles… Mmm…)

I find it helpful to outline my routines for mornings, evenings, and weekends. I leave enough room to be flexible, of course. =) And it’s relaxing to mentally run through my routines for the next day.

Things I need to work back into my routines: writing, sketching, library runs (tend to be weekends), reading…

Maybe this is part of growing up: gradually smoothening the roads you travel, while not getting stuck in ruts.

What are your favourite routines and rituals?

Speaking of routines: life is cyclic

October 20, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, life

Having a large blog archive means coming across blog posts that you’d forgotten about but which are surprisingly relevant to what you’re thinking today. It’s like having a Magic Eight Ball, except with more insight.

Two years ago, I had just started working at IBM, and I reflected on some changes I needed to make to my routines (The best-laid plans of mice and men). How far have I come since then?

Five years ago, I was getting ready for my first real winter. My technical internship in Japan included classes in Yokohama and work in Tokyo, and my eldest sister lent me some winter clothes (including a pretty cashmere coat). In retrospect, winter there was pretty mild, but I thought it was Really Cold. (Now I’m, like, ooh, 2 degrees? That’s two layers and gloves when biking.) Since then, I’ve learned to have more layers: wicking camisoles, merino wool long johns, the works.

Two years ago, I was talking about passion, blogging, and Web 2.0. And I still am! <laugh>

Check out “7 Tips for Remote Presentations That Rock” – notes posted

October 20, 2009 - Categories: presentation, speaking

So I’ve posted the first draft of speaker’s notes for Remote Presentations That Rock. Check it out! =)

The actual talk I’ll end up giving on November 3 will likely bear little resemblance to the talk because of the interaction (yay interactivity!), but at least you can now figure out what I meant by the slides. <grin>

Almost a permanent resident! Decisions, decisions…

October 21, 2009 - Categories: Uncategorized

It’s a good thing I checked the status of my permanent residency application online, as the request for my passport had slipped through the cracks of my e-mail. (Must’ve looked spammy.) So I’m in the final stages of my application, hooray! Now I need to send my passport to the Buffalo consulate so that they can stamp my passport, and then I’ll leave Canada and land as a permanent resident.

Complications:

This is like those logic puzzles I so loved to solve as a kid. ;) (Still do!)

I have two variables to play with here:

So, what are the options?

Looks like the best option is to mail my passport to Buffalo after the training trip. There’s still a risk that I won’t get my passport back in time, but that’s the lowest risk of all the options.

Yay decision trees!

Thinking out loud about my presentation

October 22, 2009 - Categories: speaking

In two weeks, I’m going to talk about Remote Presentations That Rock at the Technical Leadership Exchange, a virtual conference inside IBM.

The TLE is a prestigious conference. I got to attend the TLE in my very first year, sneaking in as a speaker about a timely topic: I.B.Millennials. (Tip: Speaking is the best way to get into conferences that you wouldn’t be approved or even invited to attend.) About 4,000 technical leaders and one newbie (me) descended on Orlando, Florida, for lots of inspiration and learning. In line with the travel restrictions of 2009, the conference shifted to a virtual format and opened up attendance to anyone who wanted to make it to the calls.

The TLE being the TLE, one of the conference organizers asked me to add some tips specific to technical leaders. After all, we’re expecting the cream of the crop.

So here’s my first challenge. When I think about my upcoming talk, I don’t see the audience as limited to “technical leaders”. I want to talk to future leaders as well as present ones. I want non-technical people to embrace these tips and techniques, just as technical people might pick up these tips and start using them. About the only differentiation I currently make is that I’m definitely thinking of people who have had some experience presenting remotely, and who are passionate about doing it better. I have to think about how to work the technical leadership angle in without alienating people who don’t yet think of themselves as technical leaders.

What does it mean to be a technical leader, and how is that related to presentations? Hmm, may be time to think out loud…

I changed the slides in the beginning, setting the stage and adding a lot more interaction. Thinking through a presentation is hard work, but fun!

Thinking about conferences

October 22, 2009 - Categories: conference, life, reflection, speaking

I might feel anxious about starting a conversation with a stranger, but I love inspiring a room through public speaking. As a result, I’ve spoken at numerous conferences, and I’m often invited to speak at more.

Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out when and how to say no. I’ve been very good at saying yes in the past, and I’ve come across all sorts of great opportunities and met all sorts of great people that way. But presentations take time. I get three weeks of vacation each year. Visiting the Philippines or enjoying a staycation with W- and J- takes a two-week chunk. I sprinkle the days from the remaining week throughout my year to give myself short mental breaks or to take care of things I can’t easily reschedule. Conferences are great, but they take time too.

Planning a presentation is hard work. I almost always customize or re-create presentations extensively. I typically spend more than four hours preparing a presentation, much of it in the impossible-to-outsource task of organizing my thoughts and clarifying the key message. Some presentations take over my mind for a few days, using even my dream-time to sort out the content and the flow.

Then there’s the time it takes to actually give the presentation. There’s travel and the arrangements that need to be made. There’s delivering the presentation. If I want to make the most of a conference experience, I’d probably want to attend the other sessions and go to the evening events. Too many events close together, and the edges unravel. I misplace little things, I feel rushed, I stress out. I get myself through it with introvert breaks, but it’s still tough. And then there’s the time I need to catch up with work and life.

I’ve not been very good at saying no. The last time I tried to say no, I wasn’t very clear about it. I had offered to help find someone else—so I was still on the hook. That experience taught me a number of valuable lessons:

The numbers are pretty crazy, too. Yes, I can speak to ninety, a hundred, two hundred people in a room—but I can share the same presentation online and reach more than 10,000 viewers. I want to reach much more people than those who pay the conference registration fee. With online presentations and blog posts, I can make things whenever I want to, without giving myself deadlines to worry about. My online work is a lot more searchable than most conferences’ archives. My estimated ROI is an order of magnitude larger, even discounting the value created in purely online presentations.

The key thing I like about conferences is the serendipity of learning from other people, of meeting interesting co-panelists and speakers and participants, of bumping into people over Twitter and in hallways. The Net is giving me more and more ways to do that on my own. It may be slower, but it still works.

So I’m beginning to understand why many speakers charge fees, and why authors have form letters that express their regrets. They’re making conscious decisions about how to spend their time and energy, and what to trade those for. I haven’t completely figured out how to handle speaking fees that with IBM. I love what I’m doing, so I’m not about to go off and become an independent speaker/consultant/writer/geek. (At least not yet!)

Some conferences I may still accept: the ones that are directly related to my work, perhaps, and from which I and my manager can see a clear benefit. Then they’re counted as work time, and there’s no confusion about whether something is IBM or not IBM. I’d be happy to let people explore other opportunities.

Over time, I may learn how to say no gracefully—and that will free me up to say yes to opportunities to deepen my understanding.

Vacations and the introvert

October 23, 2009 - Categories: family, life, reflection

What’s your ideal vacation? Many people would probably describe an idyllic retreat on a pristine beach. Others dream of action-packed adventuring or blitzing through foreign hotspots.

Me, I want a clean, well-lighted place. So I’d better figure out what I want to do with my vacation, or else I won’t get to make space for it.

I don’t think of a vacation as an escape from work. I like my work, and I live an awesome life even during the weekdays. I like investing blocks of time to prepare the foundation for even more awesomeness. I like developing skills. I like catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a while. I like reflecting, writing, drawing, expressing. For me, a vacation is a block of unstructured time that I can use to make things happen.

Last August, W- and I took a staycation. We got so much done around the house. We picked up a new hobby (canning), deepened existing interests (sewing and photography), got some exercise (biking), and puttered around for two weeks of weekends. It was absolute bliss.

I guess I’m a strong introvert that way. It’s not about external stimulation from scenic views or activities. I want to explore the inner landscapes of my mind. This may sound self-centered to extroverts, but introverts understand that self-centering – becoming centered – isn’t necessarily bad, is even essential.

The previous paragraph still looks somewhat scandalous to me. I imagine other people’s reactions: “Are you saying that the world isn’t as interesting as your thoughts?”

It is impossible to explain. Yes, I see the value of stepping out of my comfort zone, of exposing myself to new and interesting things. I read with interest my eldest sister’s stories of awe in the African savannah, and the adventures my middle sister takes around the Philippines. But for myself, everyday moments already contain a universe of insights waiting to be unpacked. I don’t need to gaze on the Mona Lisa in the Louvre to feel inspired by the sublime (although I have, thanks to my mom’s love of travel; the painting was smaller than I’d imagined, but beautiful). The wood grain of a table is fascinating enough for me. I think of the complex processes needed to shape it and bring it to our kitchen, and I am amazed. I’d be perfectly happy to stay at home and explore the intricacies of Manila, or even to stay in Toronto and connect with people online, or even just to sit in silence, reflect, write, read, and maybe chat with a few people. Actually, I wouldn’t mind spending the vacation doing voluntourism instead. Building houses, that sort of stuff.

What an unpopular way of thinking! So I adapt, because my sisters chafe at being confined to the city boundaries during a vacation, and my parents insist on the value of shared experiences. (Which is true; we do have some great shared stories, such as the one involving schlepping a box of iced tea around Europe.) It seems to be the only way to convince my father to set aside his work, relax, and take a real break. Easier by far for me to pack a notebook, a pen, and the fortitude to ignore my sisters laughing at me for being such a geek. I do join in activities—I breathed water during our attempts to learn wakeboarding, and I got the hang of bodyboarding—but I don’t have to do everything or be into everything, and I certainly don’t need to be fixed.

The more I understand about myself, the easier it gets. For example, now I understand why that last car trip drove me crazy.

The introverted daughter or son in a family of extraverts, for example, may learn to be more extroverted to keep up with the rest of the family but also must find time alone, perhaps through reading in his or her room. However, car trips or other situations in which s/he can’t physically get away may remain difficult. 

Leslie Sword, The Gifted Introvert

By golly, it really is liberating to give myself permission to be myself. I’m happy that my sister’s excited about the vacation, and I’m okay with tagging along. I’m definitely going to geek out when I’m there, though, and my sister is not to drag me into activities or spike my orange juice.

What are the ingredients of a perfect vacation for me?

I think we can make this trip work out, and maybe we’ll get the hang of the alone/shared-time dynamic too.

Sharing this here because I think other introverts struggle with this too, and I’d love to hear what you think and how you deal with vacations. My mom once asked why I blog about family things. People say it takes a village to raise a child. Y’all are my village, and I’ll take all the help I can get when it comes to figuring things out. And who knows, maybe sharing these thoughts will help someone else down the road…

So… Introverted? How do you deal with vacations?

(See my comment below for additional reflections.)

Happy Bee-Day to me!

October 24, 2009 - Categories: career, work

I recently celebrated my two-year anniversary with IBM. This is what I posted on my internal blog on October 16, 2009.

Yesterday was my two-year anniversary with IBM. And yes, I’ve been blogging since 2006, but that was as a graduate student doing research with the IBM Toronto Center for Advanced Studies. I can get away with saying I’ve only been an IBM employee for a little over two years.
Here’s my Bee-day post from last year. I wrote:

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.

It’s been a terrific year, and I’ve grown a lot. I’ve stayed fully-booked doing Drupal and other projects. I’m still in Global Business Services, but I’m currently working on an engagement that’s more like corporate strategy, marketing, communications, and emerging technologies evangelism, all rolled into one position that was created for me. I get to brainstorm ideas, develop strategy, design and implement systems, and coach people and groups on Web 2.0 and other topics. So yes, my day job is exactly what I dreamed up in the beginning.

Many of the other goals I had have been accomplished without much work on my part. (Yay!) The campus hire and new hire networks around world have been linked up through the Worldwide IBM Graduates group. Social networking is now part of the new hire orientation process, and tutorials are featured in the New IBMer Zone. Many conferences have shifted to a fully virtual format, and I’ve helped some of them use social media to connect participants. I’ve been giving lots of presentations and writing many blog posts. I recently discovered that I could draw. =)

So here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way:

Drupal: I spent most of the year building Drupal-based systems and sharing what I was learning. I shared my top 25 tips for Drupal development at Drupalcon 2009 and was promptly invited to speak on a panel. I coached a number of other developers on Drupal, and we’re well on our way to developing a Drupal competency center that helps us deliver great websites within small budgets and even smaller timeframes. I don’t do official Drupal development in my current engagement, but I keep my skills sharp by answering other people’s questions and by working on small intranet sites that support the work that I do. I like coaching people. We get tremendous leverage on time and we can spread skills. I help people by answering questions and pointing people to the relevant modules or lines of code, and then they go and take care of everything else. I’d love to scale up.

Web 2.0 coaching: I’ve been helping my team and other communities learn more about tools for collaboration. I love helping people think about adoption and coaching, and I’m often surprised by what I’ve managed to learn along the way. The more I learn and share, the more interesting the space becomes. I’m getting better at thinking of how we can scale.

Presentation skills: I’m getting better at finding my voice and visual style when it comes to presentations: sparse, simple, sketched out, and happy. I’ve had two talks accepted at the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange, which tickles me pink because I still think of myself as an IBM newbie. Three of my recent presentations shared online reached more than 6,000 people each. I’m getting better at organizing my thoughts, working with corporate templates, and presenting ideas and proposals, too.

Some of my mentors have moved on from IBM (hello, Aaron!), but that’s okay. They’re off to other great adventures. I’ve gotten to meet so many amazing people, and I’m glad whenever I get to share what I’ve learned with others.

My manager and I have had the “would you be interested in people management?” talk, and I think it might be a great long-term career goal. I like improving systems and processes, but I like helping people improve even more. I have to confess that I’m curious about what small businesses, independent consulting, or entrepreneurship feel like, though, so I may explore that before committing to one career path or another. But what I’m doing right now at IBM makes me feel happy and fulfilled. I can see how I help others, and I connect with amazing people all over the world.

Life has been fantastic, too. I’ve made myself more at home here in Canada. We adopted two cats from the shelter and started a vegetable garden (which has now been put to bed for the winter). I finally got over my fear of bicycles, bought a city cruiser, and have started riding it almost everywhere. We’ve been streamlining our household routines and have taken to stashing lunch portions in our chest freezer. I’ve taken up sewing and improv comedy. Sewing has been great for learning patience and precision, for exercising creativity, and for making things for the house and my wardrobe. Improv comedy turns out to be great for creativity as well as leadership, and I look forward to exploring it further.
Two years in, and I’m even more in love with IBM and with life than when I started. =) It’s been a great two years, and I look forward to more.
What might next year be like?

I want to stay fantastically happy, and I want to help lots of people grow in happiness as well.

Thank you for another great year!

Thinking in terms of decades

October 26, 2009 - Categories: career

One of my mentors is about to celebrate his quarter-century anniversary with IBM. Over biscuits and tea at my place, he shared insights into how the organizational culture has evolved in response to acquisitions, technological changes, and business needs. I really appreciate being able to learn from deep organizational knowledge like his, and it’s been very useful in helping me not only navigate IBM but also get a sense of what my future path might be like.

My mentor said that he could easily see me at IBM for more than twenty years. I told my mentor how I’d recently celebrated my two-year anniversary with IBM, and how I figured out a little bit more about work. As I explained my passion to the friends and mentors I’d brought together over tea, I found myself surprisingly comfortable with the knowledge that these ideas can take decades.

I want to help people connect and collaborate. I want to build a truly global organization. I want people to fully engage their passions and skills no matter where they are in the world. I want teams to collaborate across timezones and cultural differences. I want to enable leadership to be as diverse as the world. I care deeply about this for a number of reasons. I believe that there’s so much untapped talent in different geographies and organizational units. I believe that making it easier to talk and work together across all these boundaries will transform our innovation ecosystem. I want to make this happen:

And when everything and everyone is connected, we know what happens… work flows. It flows to the places where it will be done best—that is, most efficiently and with the highest quality. It’s like water finding its own level.

Sam Palmisano, IBM Chairman and CEO

IBM is probably the best company at which to explore this passion. We are global. We have good tools for collaboration, and we’re not only getting better at using what we have, we’re always improving our toolset. Because we’ve embraced it whole-heartedly, we experience the strains of timezones and blended hours, of collaboration and leadership when we aren’t face-to-face. We’ve come a long way in just the last decade, but we’ve only just begun the hard part of working in a globally integrated economy.

One of the amazing things about this passion is that even as a graduate student and now a new hire, I’ve been able to make a difference. I’ve become part of the web. And I can keep making a difference through writing and presenting, coaching and connecting. My formal job position influences my focus, how much time I can invest in helping people build these capabilities, and how well I can align with other resources and initiatives. As I learn more about what I want to do, the fit just keeps getting better and better.

In my current engagement, I’m helping create boundary-spanners who can work across organizational units. I’m figuring out what I’ve learned in the past two years about tapping resources and talent across the company, and training others to do that even better. I’m learning how other people align different parts of the organization and even the ecosystem so that we can work on complex challenges. I’m figuring out through experience how individuals can tap the network, how teams can organize information and work together, and how communities can facilitate discussions.

How can I grow? I want to get even better at helping individuals, teams, and communities learn more about and use existing tools. I want to spread success stories and good practices from all over the organization. I want to help figure out where the gaps are and envision where we might go next. I want to connect people with similar passions so that we can help transform the organization. I want to keep doing that as as our people and our processes improve, our tools get better and better, and as the business challenges get bigger and bigger. I want people to be able to do their best from anywhere.

This is an age-old dream. This is work that takes generations. I can’t wait to find out how we move this forward over the next few decades!

The man who should’ve used Connections

October 26, 2009 - Categories: ibm, web2.0

Wow. There are some seriously talented IBMers out there.

This is the latest installment in “The Man Who Should’ve Used Connections”, by Jean Francois Chenier (a project administrator at IBM Japan). He created it using Anime Studio, Garageband, and iMovie.

When I grow up, I want to do things like this.

Weekly review: Week ending October 25, 2009

October 26, 2009 - Categories: weekly

Plans from last week:

I also:

Plans for next week:

Big dreams and small dreams can coexist

October 28, 2009 - Categories: life, reflection

On the way home from work yesterday, I realized that big dreams and small dreams can co-exist.

I’ve struggled with that idea for a while. Ever since grade school, people have told me that I have great potential. I distinguished myself early through programming, went to a high school for geeks, and continued to do pretty cool things in university. Once I’d gotten past class essays, I discovered the joy of writing and presenting.

Big dreams were easy for me to find. My parents often reminded me that to whom much is given, much is expected. Whether I was focusing on open source, computer science education, or even something as esoteric as Emacs, I could find the big picture and see the difference I wanted to make.

Big dreams have their own tyrannies. I heard stories of younger people doing more incredible things, and I felt that I had been wasting time. I read studies of women in the workplace, and I worried that having relationships or raising a family would stop me from being able to do what I want to do. (The numbers are pretty scary.) Choices felt like compromises in a zero-sum game. Time spent doing one thing could not be spent building skills in another.

Something changed, and I’m starting to figure out how to express it.

Yesterday, I realized that big dreams and small dreams can co-exist. I have big dreams that require decades, such as helping build truly global organizations. And I have dreams about the minutiae of everyday.

I used to feel embarrassed by my small dreams. I’m slowly giving myself permission to admit that yes, I do want to know the pleasures of harvesting from a garden. I want to know what it’s like to build a small business–not a billion-dollar one, just something that teaches me how to take business risks and create value. And who knows, maybe someday we might raise a family. (The preview I have from watching W- raise J- is pretty encouraging.)

The previous paragraph still feels a little odd. I half-expect my parents to chime in here and tell me it’s too early to think about these things, or coworkers to shush me because confessing interests outside the workplace may hurt my chances of promotion, or former teachers who might say, “I can’t believe you’re settling down! You could do so much more than this.”

But small dreams are also okay. It’s good for me to know that I have them, and for me to nurture them just as I do my big dreams.

It’s good to talk about them, too. We hide our small dreams because we think they make us small. We fear they’ll limit our big dreams. As a result, we miss out on the kinship of small dreams and the joy of everyday things.

So what triggered this epiphany that big dreams and small dreams can co-exist?

Yesterday, one of my little experiments at work started paying off. A small program I’d written helped me learn a lot more about helping communities connect. I realized that even where I am right now–a recent hire, a relative beginner–I can help make my big dreams happen. More than that, I realized that my big dreams are amazingly flexible. To follow my big dreams, I don’t need to wait for the right job title, salary, or situation. I can contribute from right here. I can work with others. I can start from scratch if I need to.

That realization is incredibly liberating, because it means that I don’t have to worry about falling short of my potential as long as I do my best with each step.

It seems that the key fear people have about life decisions is that if they make the wrong one, they can fall off the fast track. Promotion in organizations is like a tournament where losses have far more impact than you might guess. People re-entering the workforce after an extended break can be at a significant disadvantage compared to people who have stayed in. Even backing the wrong project or the wrong leader can scuttle one’s hopes.

But if my success isn’t determined by external factors such as position, pay, or prestige, then possibilities open up. I was successful yesterday because I had helped make things better. I can be successful again and again. The better I get at understanding success, the better I’ll be at creating opportunities for myself and others.

That ability to create opportunities for my big dreams means that I can explore my small dreams without worrying that I’ll mess up my life. =) Based on my experiences so far, I can follow my intuition and my curiosity, trusting that the different threads of my life will come together in surprisingly useful ways. Having small dreams doesn’t mean I care less about my big ones. The small dreams round me out, coax me to grow, and give me a kaleidoscope of raw material that will help me help make my big dreams happen.

How I met Jeff Muzzerall

October 29, 2009 - Categories: connecting

It’s a small world, particularly for those who work to make it smaller.

I helped organize a two-day brainstorming conversation across the organization. One of the participants recognized my name from conversations with his other mentors. He reached out through e-mail and told me how my name had also come up in a conversation with Jeff Muzzerall, the assistant director of the career center for the Rotman School of Management. He wanted to know how I met Jeff.

I told her that it’s a good story. In fact, I was surprised that I couldn’t find a blog post about it in my archives. Perhaps I hadn’t gotten around to telling that story yet. But it’s a good story about stepping forward, so I’ll tell it now.

It was September 30, 2008. Daniel Pink was about to give a talk on “The Adventures on Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need.” I arrived early and took the front-center seat (best seats in the house!). I like watching speakers’ pre-talk rituals; I learn a lot from them. I also like seeing if I can sneak myself into get-togethers with speakers. (It worked once, and that means it might work again!)

Daniel Pink was talking to the organizer. As I was conveniently standing around near the front (it’s funny how that works), I heard how the organizer was interested in helping his MBA students prepare for the real world. I volunteered to send a link to Garr Reynolds’ (Presentation Zen) excellent visual summary of Daniel Pink’s talk. So that’s how I got to meet Jeff Muzzerall.

Lesson: Sit up front, and look for ways to give value.

What to do during boring teleconference calls

October 30, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, productivity

What do you do during boring teleconference calls?

Redesign other people’s presentations, if you’re Lesley. That’s how she keeps herself interested in a call. She corrects typos, makes fonts and colours more readable, adds diagrams and animation, and generally experiments with how to make presentations better. She often sends the presentation to the original speakers so that they can take advantage of her work.

Want to try that during your next call?

New Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch!

October 30, 2009 - Categories: geek, sketches

path5451

Inspired by Dan Roam’s annotated-in-real-time presentation, I picked up a Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch drawing tablet for portable use. I’ve got an upcoming talk (“Remote Presentations That Rock”) and I’ll need to deliver it from 3600 because of other appointments, so I can’t use my ever-so-wonderful Cintiq 12WX. I decided to spring for the multitouch tablet because I thought the extra buttons and multi-touch gestures would help me work as smoothly as I work on the Cintiq.

After some driver hassles, I got the new tablet working with drivers downloaded from Wacom’s website. The multitouch works better than expected, and I’ve been using it to scroll through webpages in Firefox. Zooming in and out worked with Inkscape, as does scrolling vertically, but scrolling horizontally or rotating don’t work.

I’m still getting used to looking at one surface while drawing on another, but that’s something I can pick up with practice.

Although a tablet PC would probably be an even more efficient way to handle all of this, I think my decision to explore the in-between steps was good. This way, I can add drawing capabilities to any of the computers.

Looking forward to sharing my experiences with you!

The “Remote Presentations That Rock” reading list

October 30, 2009 - Categories: book, reading, speaking

Here are some of my favourite presentation books:

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
Garr Reynolds
slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations
Nancy Duarte
Give Your Speech, Change the World: How to Move Your Audience to Action
Nick Morgan
The How of WOW: A Guide to Giving a Speech That Will Positively Blow ‘Em Away
Tony Carlson
Rainmaking Presentations: How to Grow Your Business by Leveraging Your Expertise
Joseph Sommerville

Learning from failure

October 30, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, life, productivity

As a foreigner working in Canada, I have to deal with lots of paperwork. The three documents I stress out about the most (and therefore remember to renew) are my work permit, my passport, and my temporary resident visa. Without a valid work permit, I’d be an illegal alien. Without my passport, I can’t travel. Without my visa, I can’t come back into the country.

Ah, paperwork.

Because there are big consequences if I don’t get things like that sorted out (possibly getting kicked out of the country? having to answer yes to awkward questions on future visa applications? getting stuck on the wrong side of the immigration counter?), I haven’t needed long-term reminders.

Renewing my social insurance number, which I really only dig up during tax time and when opening new accounts? That apparently gets me every time. This is the second time I’ve pulled out my SIN card and realized it had expired.

So here’s a checklist for other folks on work permits, if you ever need to renew your passport:

  1. Renew your work permit, which was probably issued with the same validity as your old passport.
  2. Renew your social insurance number record, which was probably issued with the same validity as your work permit. The process is very fast, but you’ll need your passport and your work permit.
  3. Renew your temporary resident visa. This involves sending your passport in the mail, and you should do it after #2 to avoid the wait.

Something like this happens when my task management system fails. I’m getting better at not letting things fall through the cracks, so little failures like this are instructive. I much prefer testing my task management now rather than later, when it might Really Matter.

So, where had it failed?

  1. When I received my previous SIN card, I didn’t make a long-term reminder. I briefly mentioned it on my blog before I renewed my work permit, but (a) I didn’t create a WAITING-FOR task, and (b) I didn’t stop and think about it when I received the card. Either action would’ve caught this, although a good WAITING-FOR system is better. I didn’t have an electronic task in Toodledo, which I’ve gone back to using for my day-to-day tasks. (Emacs stores my long-term goals, and I fill Toodledo tasks in based on that.) I didn’t store anything in my then-not-yet-set-up tickler file. This lack of task recognition was the key point of failure. Action: Record WAITING tasks and add them to my weekly review.
  2. I didn’t have one place to put my SIN card. I checked three places and two folders (Employment, Identification) for my card. I found a SIN card in the first place I checked (one of my drawers), but because it had expired and I remembered being in this situation before, I thought I must have another SIN card. Also, the drawer was the wrong place to put it – I should’ve moved it to the Identification folder when I set up my filing system. ACTION: Tidy up this weekend and file things that are out of place. 
  3. I didn’t have a good action log. Back when I published my full task list, I could easily find out when I last renewed my SIN. I thought I’d renewed it later than that, but apparently I didn’t. So my confusion resulted in maybe five minutes of looking around for a possibly newer SIN card, just in case I happened to have two. Although I suspected that I turned in my expired SIN card during the renewal, it was good to check anyway. ACTION: Get back to posting my task list. I do something like that in my weekly review, but it might not be granular enough.

Slowly figuring things out!

Flowcharts and drawing

October 31, 2009 - Categories: family

J-‘s social studies lesson included two flowcharts. W- asked if the flowcharts had diamonds indicating conditionals. Apparently not, so we seized the Teachable Moment and started teaching J- (she’s 11) about flowcharts and logic.

In related news, decision trees and flowcharts are awesome when they involve cats. ;) Will sketch some when I get my new tablet.

(In quite tangential news, I’m thinking of picking up the Wacom Bamboo pen and multitouch tablet. It’d be way cool if I can figure out how to use it for presentations. Maybe next next year, I’ll save up for a proper tablet PC.)

Grocery round-up: Toronto

October 31, 2009 - Categories: finance

We shop according to what’s on sale at the supermarket so that we can stock up on staples and fill our freezer. =)

Here are the sales for the week:

Metro

No Frills – 1/2 price event

Loblaws – $1, $2, $3

Sobeys

Price Chopper, $1 sale

So it looks like we’re going to do lasagna today, and Chicken Maryland and lots of curry tomorrow, plus restocking Campbells. That means passing by Loblaws and picking up everything from there on my way back from improv, assuming that their price for chicken breasts isn’t exorbitant. And if it is, we’ll just cook something else. =)