April 2010

Thinking about travel

April 1, 2010 - Categories: career, ibm, travel, work

I’ve just submitted my application to IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, which sends IBMers to emerging countries. The volunteers work with local non-profit and government agencies to share their skills in IT, management, and other topics. Applicants need to have been with IBM for at least two years, so this is the first time I can qualify. I joined IBM shortly before the program started, and I’ve been waiting for the opportunity since then.

The program involves three months of prep work, one month overseas, and two months of service afterwards. While a month of travel makes me a little nervous, W- reminded me that he managed just fine during my three-week trip to the Philippines. He needed to come home earlier to feed the cats and take care of the litter boxes, but things were otherwise okay. Maybe longer-term travel isn’t so scary after all. We can figure out going from three weeks to one month, maybe even two. A year-long international assignment still seems like a big stretch, but maybe we can work it out if needed.

I’d love to be selected and to help make a difference wherever I’m sent. It would be amazing if I’m assigned to the Philippines—plugging into my old networks, bringing people together to do something great. It would also be amazing if I’m sent elsewhere, because then I’ll learn about a different place and connect with new networks. I’d love to tell stories from the field!

In the medium- and long-term, both my first-line manager and my dotted-line manager (ah, matrix organizations) have recommended that I look into global roles or growth markets. If I want to keep growing in my career, I suspect that at least some travel will be in my future.

I’m starting to realize that travel doesn’t have to be the bogeyman I’d thought it was. I’m getting better at the paperwork I need for visas. If we can get a cat sitter or housekeeper to drop by the house everyday, that means W- can focus on work if he needs to. I’ve dealt with culture shock before. I’m starting to find role models who’ve successfully pulled it off before, which is even more encouraging.

It’s worth an experiment.  Maybe I can gradually work up to it: one month for CSC, three months helping with workshops, six months or longer… I need to balance that with other things I want to do with my life, but it would be interesting to explore.

On role models

April 2, 2010 - Categories: love, reflection

Mel Chua’s comment about relationships and role models made me think. She’s right, you know. It was something that had felt very alien before, and I’m gradually coming to terms with it.

Growing up, I remember feeling anxious about relationships.  I knew my mom and dad had managed to raise us and do well in entrepreneurship at the same time. I was surrounded by godparents whose loving relationships also served as good examples. But as a bookworm, I’d also read lots of scary statistics.

All of the happily-married couples I knew were of previous generations, of course. Towards the end of my university degree, as I heard of high school batchmates starting to marry and have kids, these early matches were spoken of in hushed, gossipy tones.

The thought of relationships really only started becoming more “normal” for me over the past couple of years. In graduate school, I met people who pursued their degrees while raising kids. Thanks to W-, I got a sneak preview of parenting (turns out to be pretty good), and I saw that separation and divorce could stabilize into amicability. At work, I saw people with different kinds of family situations do well. I looked for stories of executives who valued work-life balance and other people who’d left and rejoined the corporate world. I listened as people told stories about their families. I listened as people who chose not to have families talked about their relationship and their other priorities. I learned that people have figured this out before, and things will be okay.

It’s pretty interesting to think about this in terms of the diffusion of ideas, too. In this, it turns out that I’m a mainstream adopter, opening up to a idea once I see that lots of people around me are exploring it with good results. W- makes it easier, too. We’ve probably got the best starting point for this kind of an adventure.

So, yes, role models. Very important. More common than people would think, and more mutual than people might expect. A great benefit of having a diverse workforce, too. I’m looking forward to exploring, to sharing what I’m learning with others, and to learning from others along the way.

IgniteToronto video: The Shy Presenter

April 2, 2010 - Categories: presentation, speaking

I’m giving up on getting the organizers to update the incorrect abstract and bio on the page, but anyway, here’s the 5-minute video from my “Shy Presenter” talk at IgniteToronto:

Ignite Toronto 3: Sacha Chua – The Shy Presenter: An Introvert’s Guide to Speaking in Public from Ignite Toronto on Vimeo.

Minor miscalculation: shy or introverted presenters-to-be are not actually likely to come out to a bar with 200 people to watch an Ignite talk. Ah well. ;) Here’s to fellow introverts who would rather catch the replay!

The Shy Presenter If you’ve ever struggled with small talk, felt overwhelmed in crowds, or wondered how to speak up at work, this talk’s for you. In five minutes, you’ll pick up quick tips about discovering what you have to say, how to say it, and why it’s worth braving the spotlight.

Bio: Sacha Chua spent grade school to grad school hiding in computer labs and libraries. She prefers bookstores over bars, close friends instead of crowds, and silence over small talk. Blogging and public speaking turned out to be excellent ways to learn, though. Today, tens of thousands of people have viewed Sacha Chua’s presentations, attended her keynotes, and read her blog (LivingAnAwesomeLife.com).

WordPress admin screen tweaks

April 3, 2010 - Categories: blogging, geek, kaizen, wordpress

A few months ago, I decided to experiment with publishing (mostly) one post a day, scheduling posts to go out at 8 AM. That’s been working well for me, although I now have a backlog of 22 scheduled posts (as of March 11), and I keep reshuffling my queue because I want to post some things sooner.

I started using the Manage Posts page a lot. I checked the dates in the queue and used quick-edit to move posts around. I double-checked missed posts (grr). I looked up posts that got scheduled at 8 PM instead of 8 AM.

And then I decided to code in a whole bunch of things that would make life a little bit easier for me. =) I got rid of columns I didn’t use, increased the number of posts per page, added a few custom columns, and styled things differently. Kaizen: relentless improvement!

Just in case I find this useful in the future, or someone else wants to do something similar:

<?php
/**
 * @package Sacha_Chua
 * @author Sacha Chua
 * @version 0.1
 * Feel free to use this under the GNU General Public License v3 
 * or the Creative Commons Attribution License
 *
 * This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify
 *  it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
 *  the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
 *  (at your option) any later version.
 *
 *  This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
 *  but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
 *  MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.  See the
 *  GNU General Public License for more details.
 *
 *  You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
 *  along with this program.  If not, see <http://www.gnu.org/licenses/>.
 */
/*
Plugin Name: Sacha Chua's fixes
Plugin URI: http://sachachua.com/#
Description: Tweaks to make my life easier
Author: Sacha Chua
Version: 0.1
Author URI: http://sachachua.com/
*/

add_filter('manage_posts_columns', 'sacha_manage_posts_columns');
add_action('manage_posts_custom_column', 'sacha_manage_posts_custom_column');
add_action('admin_head', 'sacha_admin_head');
add_filter('edit_posts_per_page', 'sacha_edit_posts_per_page');
define('POSTS_PER_PAGE', 50);

/**
 * Increase posts per page to at least POSTS_PER_PAGE
 */
function sacha_edit_posts_per_page($page) {
  return ($page < POSTS_PER_PAGE) ? POSTS_PER_PAGE : $page;
}
/**
 * Resize the columns
 */
function sacha_admin_head() { ?>
  <style type="text/css">
  .column-time { width: 150px; }
  .column-categories { width: 300px }
  .column-status { width: 100px }
  .scheduled { color: green } 
  </style>
<?php }
/**
 * Remove the tags column
 */
function sacha_manage_posts_columns($defaults) {
  unset($defaults['tags']);
  unset($defaults['author']);
  unset($defaults['date']);
  $defaults['status'] = __('Status');
  $defaults['time'] = __('Date');
  return $defaults;
}

/**
 * Show the time if it's not 8 AM, and show the status and date
 */
function sacha_manage_posts_custom_column($column_name) {
  global $post;
  switch ($column_name) {
    case 'status':
      if ( '0000-00-00 00:00:00' == $post->post_date) {
        _e('Unpublished');
      } elseif ('publish' == $post->post_status) {
        echo '<div class="published">' . __('Published') . '</div>';
      } elseif ('future' == $post->post_status) {
        $time_diff = time() - get_post_time('G', true, $post);
        if ( $time_diff > 0 ) {
          echo '<strong class="attention">' . __('Missed schedule') . '</strong>';
        }
        else {
          echo '<div class="scheduled">' . __('Scheduled') . '</div>';
        }
      } else {
        _e('Last Modified');
      }
      break;
    case 'time':
      if ( '0000-00-00 00:00:00' != $post->post_date) {
        $t_time = get_the_time(__('g:i A'));
        if ($t_time == '8:00 AM') {
          $t_time = '';
        }
        $t_date = get_the_time(__('Y/m/d'));
        print $t_date . ' ' . $t_time;
      }
  }
}
?>

Next step might be to make a plugin that automatically handles scheduling for me. Or even rearranging my queue… Hmm… =)

Unstructured time update

April 4, 2010 - Categories: life

I’m going to find out if all that cooking we did last weekend will get us through this week and next week. If so, then that will free up a valuable block of unstructured time.

My weekdays have mostly settled into a good routine. Thanks to cooking ahead, I have 2-3 hours each evening of unstructured time. Batch-cooking takes a day out of my weekend, which means I have to plan around having one day of unstructured time instead of two, but the convenience and variety of meals during the week is worth it.

So, what are the things I can do with that unstructured time?

Evenings:

Weekend: Evening +

So I should prioritize sewing over writing or coding during weekends, because I can write and code during evenings, but cutting pieces and patterns is harder to squeeze into an evening. =)

Happiness at work

April 5, 2010 - Categories: career, happy, ibm, reflection, work

What makes you happy at work?

It’s good to know what specific activities make you happy. That way, you can work with the organization to do more things that fit you. It’s also good to know what general factors contribute to your happiness. When the tough times come, you can hang on to those reasons.

Almost a year ago, I came up with this map of things that make me happy at work.

Since then, I’ve been doing way more of my happiest activities than the unhappiest ones. It’s amazing how life works. Hooray!

What factors make me happy at work?

I braindumped a quick list of my go-to communities and people in response to a few questions asking me for referrals. It took me a few minutes to write that. I thought I’d share it in a quick update on Lotus Connections Profiles, and it turned out that other people found it useful, too! Nifty. That made me happy. =)

I care a lot about happiness at work. I do my best work when I’m happy. People tell me that they value my energy and enthusiasm, and I can only share that energy and enthusiasm if I have a good foundation of happiness. Besides, if I focus on doing things I’m good at and happy about, I free up opportunities for other people who love doing the things that aren’t a good fit for me. I don’t expect to be ecstatic-happy all the time, but being pleasantly happy most of the time is fantastic.

What makes you happy?

Weekly review: Week ending April 4, 2010

April 6, 2010 - Categories: weekly

What a wonderful week and long weekend!

Plans for next week:

Work

Relationships

Life

Plans for this week:

Work

Relationships

Life

Technical leadership

April 7, 2010 - Categories: career, leadership, work

Technical leadership contributes to career growth and personal satisfaction. Here are some ways you can build your technical leadership:

How are you building your technical leadership?

Large team challenges

April 8, 2010 - Categories: enterprise2.0, sketches, web2.0

What collaboration challenges do large teams face? Here are the key problems I often hear from people, organized in a rough flow of how teams encounter them within each category. Can you help me improve this list?

image

Assets and knowledge

Interaction

External

Does that resemble what you see? How can we make this list better?

—-

Goal: Map the challenges, look for teams that address these challenges well, make preliminary recommendations based on their practices, and  then help teams identify their priorities and next steps

Find your wall

April 9, 2010 - Categories: life, reflection, sewing, sketches

The Sewing Hype Cycle
The Sewing Hype Cycle
(Apologies to Gartner ;) )

I like sewing because it frustrates me.

I start optimistically enough. I pick out a pattern. I choose fabric. I tweak the pattern. I cut out pieces. I start sewing them together.

Seams don’t quite line up. Threads break. Pins prick. I hit my lowest point: the facings are flapping about, the clothes don’t quite fit, and I’ve just sewed a seam that I have to rip out. I wonder why I put myself through this agony when I could buy better-made clothes for less than what I would spend on fabric.

I stop and put my work away. The next day, I take the unfinished pieces out and keep going. Somehow, it turns into something that looks okay.

I’ve never had a “flow” moment during sewing. It’s a struggle all the way to the end. That frustration is important. It’s why I do it.

It’s a good kind of frustration. It’s not a “life is unfair” kind of frustration. It’s not a “people suck” kind of frustration. It’s the frustration of knowing that there’s something I don’t know, or something I’ve skipped, or something I haven’t figured out.

It’s the frustration that accompanies learning things that don’t come easy to me, like a wall with hardly any handholds.

I learn, and I learn how to deal with that frustration. I learn when frustration and fatigue push me into making mistakes. I learn the value of sleeping on it. I learn how to keep thinking about how to do things better even when I’d rather do something easier or more fun. I learn how to experiment. I learn that I can find a way over, under, around, or through things that frustrate me.

I learn how great it feels to climb that wall.

I learn that there’s always going to be another wall, and another, and another – and that’s okay, because the walls help me learn.

I learn not to fear walls by trying them, just as I learned not to fear falling by intentionally doing so.

It’s tempting to spend your time on easy escapes. Find your walls. Deal with that frustration, and keep going.

Show your work

April 10, 2010 - Categories: blogging, leadership, learning, sketches, writing

Show your work

In grade school, I got into a lot of trouble with my math teacher because I didn’t show my work. I wrote the right answer, but I didn’t show the intermediate steps because I was doing a lot of it in my head. After lots of missed points on tests, I eventually got the idea. I needed to show my work so that the teacher could  double-check that I was doing everything properly. Now, I show as much of my work as possible, and not just in mathematics – in every area that I can. I think out loud. I post my mind-maps. I publish my in-between steps. It’s probably one of my most useful habits.

There are a number of reasons why showing your work can help you work better.

Showing your work means that other people can check if it’s correct. This is particularly important when you’re learning. Talking through your processes helps other people verify that you haven’t missed a step or done things incorrectly.

Showing your work can also help you share your knowledge with less effort. If you publish your in-between work, people can learn from it and from your growth.

Showing your work helps you teach more effectively. As you gain experience, you take more and more for granted. Eventually, you might find it difficult to explain topics to people who are new to the field. Your records of in-between work help you remember and empathize with the challenges faced by new people.

You might be afraid to show your rough drafts. What if someone thinks you’re sloppy or indecisive? What if you’re wrong? What if someone steals what you’ve done?

What other things are stopping you from showing your work? We can explore those reasons in a future blog post.

I heart gardening

April 11, 2010 - Categories: gardening, sketches

image

I used part of my dream fund to buy a 4’x2’ lean-to greenhouse. Right now, it’s sheltering our bitter melon (ampalaya) seedlings. I hope we’ll be able to grow them to maturity this time! That will be fun. I also move other seedlings into the greenhouse as they sprout from our seed starters, because we don’t get enough light indoors and grow lights still feel a little too serious. ;)

Perennials: The blueberry bushes in front are beginning to grow their leaves back. The strawberry plants in our raised beds have returned with a vengeance, bright green leaves pushing through the dried stalks I’d almost given up on. The garlic shoots have poked up in neat rows (except for two – snacked on by starving squirrels, perhaps?). Even the lavender is beginning to recover. The oregano didn’t make it through, though.

New plants: The new blueberry bushes near the deck are still establishing themselves. The basil seeds I planted last weekend sprouted quickly, and I’m looking forward to lining the path with the seedlings once they’re large enough to transplant. Squirrels dug up many of the onions I planted in the back, so I might look into making a scarecrow. The cilantro and lettuce I planted two weeks ago are beginning to emerge. No sign of the bush beans or the pak choi, though. Might be time to plant another set, just in case.

I’m already thinking of what to do as we expand our “productive garden” space further into the back yard. W- will help me clear and prepare maybe eight more square feet of sunny garden.

What a wonderful thing it is to have a garden where we can grow herbs, fruits, and vegetables. I’m looking forward to good cooking, good food, and lots of learning.

Over the next few years, I plan to:

Exciting!

Weekly review: Week ending April 11, 2010

April 12, 2010 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

Plans for this week:

Work

Relationships

Life

Plans for next week:

Work

Relationships

Life

For love of numbers

April 13, 2010 - Categories: finance

I enjoy thinking about money. I mentally calculate unit prices in the produce section (counter-intuitively, loose garlic was cheaper than 5-head packs). I built my own spreadsheet to support financial decision-making, and I’m tempted to figure out how to do those Monte Carlo simulations. I have fun balancing books and filing taxes, and I even volunteered to help W- with his.

Why do I enjoy personal finance?

My mom occasionally tells a story about how we played Monopoly when my sisters and I were growing up. In the game, my eldest sister often gave my parents investing advice, my middle sister kept giving her money away, and my parents would often end up giving me money. With a seven-year difference between me and my eldest sister, I suspect that the finer points of real estate value, probability, and negotation were lost on me, and my parents probably just wanted to help me stay in the game. (Saling pusa.)

My mom probably sees the story as a wonderful example that three children can have very different temperaments. For me, that story’s one of the reasons why I think about money a lot. I plan and save so that I can enjoy financial independence. I find it difficult to accept gifts that feel extravagant, because I don’t want to be the spoiled youngest child. I keep my life simple and live within my means.

Living within my means and building up good reserves helps a lot. Being an immigrant means that I don’t have a ready safety net aside from the one I make for myself. I can’t just temporarily move in with my parents or crash with some relatives.

Love has a lot to do with it, too. W- is eighteen years older than I am. If I live frugally and manage my finances well, I might have the flexibility to retire when he chooses to. If he’s anything like my parents or his parents, though, we’ll probably live and work for quite a long time. Money is a major issue in many marriages. Good planning, good habits, and good communication can mean that money isn’t a source of friction, but a source of fun.

What do I think about?

I don’t spend a lot of energy worrying about stocks. Day-trading is a zero-sum game that I’d lose. I invest in the market as a whole instead, building my portfolio out of no-frills index funds.

I think about what’s worth spending money on, and what isn’t.

I think about the balance between the present and the future.

I think about what I need to learn from others.

The last time I talked about saving on my blog, my mom said she was uncomfortable with my sharing that I save more than half of my income. Money is taboo. It makes people feel judgmental, envious, or disappointed.

I write anyway. I need to connect with more people. I like reading about what other people are learning about money. I’ve read tons of personal finance books, and I can’t find enough information to cast light on the road ahead. Most of the personal finance books I’ve read focus on paying off debt, managing a mortgage, dealing with cars, setting up the right kinds of insurance, and investing. My favourite personal finance book is Your Money or Your Life, which also helps you learn how to make better decisions by thinking in terms of chunks of your life.

I’m learning that books can’t teach you everything. Books can’t cover what’s worth spending on, because that’s personal. Books written for young professionals often assume you’re shackled by student debt and buried under the debris of reckless credit card use, and not that you’ve gotten things mostly sorted out. Books don’t talk much about blended families or age-gap relationships.

I need to write and to connect. I can do that here, or I can do that in some anonymous blog to at least nod to the taboos. But I always tell people not to count on anonymity on the Internet. Sooner or later, someone will out you. And I’d rather take a look at that taboo and figure out if there’s a good way for us to talk around it.

What are the next steps for me so that I can learn more about personal finance?

Save and invest. Continue building and using my “dream/opportunity fund” for experiments, reflecting on the results.

Connect with other people who are figuring things out or who have figured this out already.

Flesh out goals. It’s good to put a price tag on dreams – not so that you can sell them, but so that you know when they’re within reach.

From the ground up: Helping our organizations work smarter

April 14, 2010 - Categories: ibm, leadership, work

IBM’s latest Smart Work study is about how outperforming organizations have adopted smarter work practices much more than most organizations have. It has a lot of useful insights from CEOs and case studies. Reading it, I thought: This is written for executives. What do the results mean for us on the ground? How can we help our organizations work smarter, even if we’re not in leadership positions? Ultimately, cultural change doesn’t come from just CEOs or consultants – it comes from what we do every day.

The study showed that top-performing companies focus on:

What can we learn from that, how can we challenge ourselves, and what are some ways we can get started?

People

How can we learn more, and how can we help others learn?

How can we reach out to people outside our departments and outside our organizations?

Processes

How can we make our team’s processes more flexible and responsive?

How can we build collaboration into the way we work and the tools we use?

Information

What real-time information could help us make better decisions, and how can we get it?

How can we combine information to give us a better view of the big picture?

No matter where we are in the hierarchy, we can help our organizations work smarter. What are you doing to build a smarter planet?

On getting started with collaboration

April 15, 2010 - Categories: ibm, web2.0

The hardest part of collaboration is getting started.

In the days and weeks and months before you have a critical mass of people on board, your progress can seem very slow. There’s a lot of resistance. People don’t trust your new initiative. They don’t see the value in changing their behaviour. They don’t see the value in working with you. I see that resistance a lot, whether I’m coaching groups on new collaborative tools or helping organizations learn more about changing business trends.

Building a new collaborative initiative is like making a big snowball. You start with a tiny core. You roll it around and around and around in the snow. Then suddenly it starts picking up new snow easily, and it gets bigger and bigger, and it gets easier and easier to roll. But in the beginning, you have to be very careful about using light snow and smoothening it into the right shape.

Here’s what I’ve learned from coaching individuals, teams, communities, and organizations on collaboration:

Find your champions. Don’t be discouraged if adoption is slow. In any group, you’ll find people who adopt new ideas earlier than others and people who influence other people’s opinions. Find those early adopters and influencers, help them make the most of your new tools, and collect and share their success stories. They will inspire other people to explore, and their examples will help other people learn.

For example, when I help a team learn more about wikis so that they can easily create a web-based knowledge repository, I don’t expect that everyone will contribute to the wiki right away. I look for the one or two people who already organize and share information for the group, and I work with them so that they can use the wiki to organize what they know. If other people find it handy, that’s a bonus. These early adopters and influencers help us convince the rest of the team to read the wiki. Over time, others may be inspired to edit and contribute to the wiki themselves.

Focus on immediate personal benefits. As much as possible, show people why your initiative is worth their time and effort. If you conduct a survey, share the results. If you build a discussion forum, make sure someone is responsible for answering questions. If you want people to read your blog, focus on sharing things of value to them. Help people get value from their participation as quickly as possible.

For example, when people start blogging, they often feel discouraged because they don’t get comments from other readers. That’s the kind of social benefit that comes later, after you’ve developed your network. I help people focus on saving time by using a blog as a professional notebook for remembering solutions and ideas, and I help them see that the practice of writing helps them improve their communication skills. Without that immediate personal benefit, many collective initiatives fizzle out.

Make sure you build compelling personal benefits into your initiative. Personal benefits will motivate people to participate, and then they’ll be able to take advantage of the collective value of their participation.

Fully participate in the conversation. Make it easy to give feedback, and show people that you’re listening. Keep people up to date as you act on their suggestions. Ask questions and reach out.

For example, IBM regularly runs large-scale Jams, which are brainstorming discussions across all of IBM. Seeing decision-makers participate in, respond to, and act on the suggestions raised not only energizes the discussion, but lays the groundwork for even more discussion and action in the future. On the other hand, traditional suggestion boxes that stay locked and unacknowledged can sap morale. As you collaborate with others, show people your progress and the results of that collaboration.

Find your champions, focus on people’s immediate personal benefits, and fully participate in the discussion. Good luck!

Thinking about mentoring

April 16, 2010 - Categories: mentoring

One of my mentors invited me along on client interviews with one of my mentors. He took notes while I asked questions, and I learned how to ask better questions.

We’re doing this because you can’t learn consulting in school. You have to do it to learn. Learning consulting skills under a mentor’s guidance is much better than getting pushed out on solitary engagements and figuring all of this stuff on your own.

I wonder: why can I tell tons of stories about wonderful learning experiences when other people have such a hard time finding mentors? And what can we do to help more people connect?

One of my mentors said that visibility plays a big role. You have to get yourself into a position to be noticed by people who can mentor.

The mentor who’s been teaching me about interviews said that people have to want to invest in you.

Blogging and public speaking get me out there. Passion and enthusiasm help me connect with other people who care.

What would it take for more people to experience this?

Things that work well for me:

Hmm….

Tea

April 17, 2010 - Categories: friends, party, sketches

One of my indulgences is hosting tea parties. I love bringing friends together for conversation. There’s something about an unhurried afternoon when people can come and go as they please, enjoy some snacks and as much conversation as they’d like, and share their lives.

After lots of experimentation, I’ve settled into a good routine. The week before, I prepare tarts, biscuits, muffins, scones, or other delectables that I can stash in the fridge or freezer. I think about dietary restrictions and make sure there’s something for everyone. When guests come (or a little before), I get small portions ready.

Even if no one makes it (life happens!), I’ll have a freezer of goodies to see us at least through the next week. Yay!

People always come. Most of the time, lots of people do. We crowd around the kitchen table, unwrap the favourites that people have brought, and share stories and tips and questions and advice.

There’s something about these low-expectation whoever-shows-up get-togethers that feels wonderful. When I read about the extended family dinners Trent wrote about on the Simple Dollar, I thought, “Yes, that’s what I do, except tea works better for me than dinner.” Less juggling of dishes, less competition from other weekend priorities, less need to get everyone together at a specific time.

I’m planning to host another tea party near the end of the month, or perhaps mid-May. I’ll buy a few more saucers so that I’m not always scrambling to find a clean one for later visitors. It’s a good time for lemonade and lemon curd squares. (W- makes awesome lemon curd squares with shredded coconut.) Pies and tarts are starting to give way to fresh fruit and lighter breads (perhaps some pandesal?), but maybe I can learn how to make pecan tarts. Soon it will be barbecue season, which opens up even more possibilities.

If you haven’t hosted a tea party or other get-together yet, try it out. It’s fun, surprisingly frugal, and a great way to connect.

In my dreams of wild success

April 18, 2010 - Categories: career, passion, work

In my dreams of wild success, I am not an executive, not a manager, not a consultant, not a seller. I am a maker.

I don’t architect complex systems. I build on the human scale: small, simple tools that make individual people’s lives better.

The mechanical translation of designs and diagrams to code has moved to other countries. Development is seen as less valuable, less interesting, less glamorous. There must still be opportunities for invention, for finding a need and solving it.

I love the concrete progress of checking requests off my list, delighting people, and building something that saves people time and effort.

This is interesting for me, because I’m learning that my happiness map can change, and there’s always more to learn. It turns out that I’m more passionate about coding than about coaching people on collaboration or helping executives learn about emerging business trends.

Maybe work is like happiness. It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey. I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy what I used to do, too. There are multiple ways forward.

Like the way I learned to not stress out about “potential” in life, I need to learn how to not stress out about “potential” at work.

I don’t have a clear path for myself yet. I haven’t picked a life out of a catalogue and said, “That’s who I want to be.” I haven’t picked a job description and made that my goal.

I don’t know. There, I admitted it. This might discourage people from investing in my career. Who wants to groom someone for a particular field and then have them cross over into a different one? But I’d rather be clear about figuring things out than pretend that I’m certain.

I love what I’m doing. I’m passionate about what we can do at IBM as we learn how to work smarter. I enjoy helping people brainstorm and innovate. I’m exploring this with IBM because I’m in the right place at the right time, and I can help make bigger things happen.

But I want my life to also include rolling up my sleeves and making things myself. At some point in my life, I want to build systems that people will enjoy using.

Maybe I’ll take a sabbatical in a number of years. Maybe I’ll free up time to do this as a hobby.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll find more role models for this other path, and my dreams will expand to include what I’ve learned from them too.

What do you see in your dreams of wild success? Does it match how you’re living?

SimpleXML and Xpath problems solved

April 19, 2010 - Categories: geek

I’ve been working on a tool that looks for a list of people with a given tag and displays their names, titles, locations, e-mail addresses, and other tags. It’ll be useful for reviewing our list of experts. I didn’t want to hammer the Lotus Connections server with too many requests, though, so I added some delays between requests. I should also cache the results.

I was using PHP’s SimpleXML library to parse the search results, but my XPath queries didn’t return anything. It turns out that you need to str_replace(‘xmlns=’, ‘ns=’, …) before you parse it with SimpleXML. That solved the problem.

Also, the tagcloud document didn’t get parsed at all. I had to replace the app:categories tag with atom:feed and remove the atom: namespace to get everything to work.

On the bright side, I figured out how to interact with long-running PHP processes! I used Sqlite to store the requests and updates, then I used at to run the PHP process. Next step: Cache results, rig up a temporary file directory, and tidy up the interface. The batch process code is another useful building block that will help me write other programs.

Weekly review: Week ending April 18, 2010

April 19, 2010 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

Work

Relationships

Life

Plans for next week:

Work

Relationships

Life

Being visible

April 20, 2010 - Categories: reflection

A colleague asked me to write about the benefits of being visible. I want to share the experience of it.

I learned about passion and visibility as a child. My father combined a love of photography with a spirit of adventure. He revitalized a street filled with photography equipment stores. He took care of elephants. He flew cross-country in an ultralight plane. He started a movement around autism and photography. Whatever he touched became newsworthy. I learned that the right idea at the right time with the right passion can become amazing.

All of us were visible in some way or another. My first news appearance was when I was five or six, I think. I’d fallen in love with computers then, and a local tabloid wrote about me as a child genius. In high school and university, newspapers occasionally reported the results of the programming competitions I participated in. (My mom grumbled that the basketball team got way more recognition, but such is life.) For my final-year project, I explored wearable computing—and the Borg-like contraption resulted in television appearances and magazine features, even though I insisted that the speech synthesis I eventually adopted was much better for blending in. At work, I’m surprisingly visible for someone who has only been at IBM (and outside the academe!) for a few years.

What does being visible mean?

It means getting to know and work with amazing people. It means hearing about interesting things I wouldn’t have thought of looking for on my own. It means finding opportunities to play to my strengths and passions, because people know about them. It means not being afraid of change.

But being visible also means being acutely aware of how other people don’t get the same breadth of opportunities that you do. Being visible means pulling back the hype and fighting the constructed persona. Being visible means struggling with the hairsbreadth difference between inspiring people and discouraging them because they can’t identify with you.

Being visible means working on listening to the passion within you instead of letting your ego take over.

I feel uncomfortable with the thought of pursuing visibility. I have to remind myself to stop belittling myself. I work on sharing as much as I can with as many people as possible. I work on being real, on being up-front about what I know and don’t know. I work on building bridges, showing people how they can get from where they are to where they want to be.

My dad uses visibility almost instinctively. He has a sense for story, of how a shared vision can align people. He uses that visibility to make things happen, to help people connect with their passions, and to help people see things in a new light.

This visibility is a gift, and I want to learn how to use it well. It’s a tool I can use to help people grow. I’m passionate about sharing what I’m learning because I want to share the opportunities. I’m passionate about connecting people because I want to broaden the spotlight. I’m passionate about coaching because I want to close that gap.

What will you do with your visibility?

New hires, ignorance and innovation

April 21, 2010 - Categories: ibm

It’s pretty amazing to think that at IBM, people value not only what I know, but what I don’t.

People tell me that the way that I work is very different from the way many people work. I bring a different perspective to work. I connect across business units and geographies. I share what I know. I share what I’m learning. I write a lot about what I’m thinking and how I work. I ask for help. I’m happy. I work with IBM, not just for IBM. I look for the bright side of things. I explain the big picture, and I find the big picture if I need to.

I don’t know that I’m supposed to be an IT specialist just working on code, or an entry-level employee who hesitates to talk to higher-ups. I refuse to learn that a big corporation should be soulless and passionless. Instead of learning cynicism and grudging compliance, I approach our standard paperwork with deliberate empathy and excitement, thinking about the reasons why people created these processes and about how I can use these processes to help me grow. I don’t know any other way to work except to reach out, learn, and share.

Ignorance can be useful. When you don’t have tried-and-tested ways to work, you’re forced to experiment. When you have a different set of perspectives, you can ask questions that test assumptions. When you’re new, you can help more experienced people think.

(And then people go: “Oooh, I hadn’t thought of that…” and then people experiment, and they end up working better too!)

The trick is to stay new; to keep that beginner’s mind, while sharing as much as you can of what you’re learning.

Why do I share this?

There must be many new people out there who are also coming in with a different set of perspectives, and who wonder what they can contribute to their companies. If you’re one of them: you can teach and learn at the same time.

There must be many people who worry about becoming ossified in their habits. If you’re one of them, remember: you’re new to something, too. Find out what you don’t know, and help people learn from that.

Ignorance can lead to interesting ideas! =)

Here’s a short presentation I made on the topic some time ago:

Thoughts on presenting: I love the backchannel

April 22, 2010 - Categories: braindump, presentation, reflection, speaking

One of the reasons why I like presenting online more than presenting in even the best-equipped halls is the text chat that participants can use to share what they think. I love it. I think it’s incredible how, through talks, I can provide a space for people to come together and discuss something they’re interested in, and I can listen to what’s important to them and what they’ve learned.

The value I bring to a presentation:

The value I receive from a presentation:

It’s a lot of fun. I hope I can help more presenters get the hang of the backchannel!

The problem with personal branding

April 23, 2010 - Categories: blogging, connecting, web2.0

One of the problems with personal branding is that we tell people that they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. We scare people with stories about college students posting inappropriate pictures, employees complaining about their bosses, and search engines remembering everything. Then we tell people that they need to be on LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter and their own blog if they’re going to have a chance in today’s job market.

And we wonder why people don’t make the most of these tools.

I think the cautionary tales we tell people are interesting. We tell people to remember that search engines have a long memory, so you shouldn’t post complaints about your work or drunken pictures of you at parties. I think that’s focusing on the surface and not the roots. It’s not about keeping rants offline. It’s about getting better at focusing on the good stuff and taking responsibility for shaping your life.

Here’s the difference:

Personal branding tip: Don’t gripe about your work on your blog.

Life tip: Figure out how to make your work better so that you don’t want to gripe all the time. Accept that there will be times when you want to gripe and being frustrated is part of learning. Focus on the positive.

Also:

I think people are getting stuck, not because the tools are hard to use, but because people don’t know what to share. We can talk about how personal branding and social networking are great ways to build your reputation and demonstrate your expertise, but many people don’t feel like they’re experts.

I care about this because thanks to connection and opportunity compounding, the gap between the people who get it and the people who don’t get it will get wider and wider unless we do something.

In my case, that something includes demonstrating that you don’t have to be an expert to create value. That you can admit you don’t know something and you want to learn. That you can make mistakes and deal with your weaknesses. That you can build on your strengths and interests, and that the path from mediocre to good is worthwhile. That you don’t have to have a “voice” right away and you don’t have to sound like a polished writer. That you can be human.

When we tell companies to be human, we don’t mean that companies should use toilet humor or lie. We mean the best part of being human – connecting authentically, being real. We should encourage people to be human, too. I don’t want people to think that they need to be these polished and carefully-controlled brands. (Particularly considering we’re telling companies that they don’t control their messages!) I want people to find and share their best – as well as the seeds of what could be great. I want to build a world where people don’t have to worry about the rough, unfinished parts of themselves. I want to build a world where people can learn out in the open if they want to.

I think under-sharing is more of a problem than over-sharing. Yes, it’s a good idea to think before you post, and there are plenty of examples of failure. There’s that occasional exhibitionistic streak—the rebel in us that likes to shock others—that we need to rein in. But the bigger and more interesting challenge is that people don’t know what would be good to share, what other people might find useful.

Sure, thinking about personal brands can help you figure out what you know that other people might find useful. Truth is, practically anything can help someone out there. I’m often surprised by what people pick up from what I do – even little things like the way I use [  ] and [X] and [-] in my weekly review. So there’s a ton of things you can share, and the fun challenge is prioritizing so that you can get more valuable things out first. When you think that way – starting from a position of abundance and opportunity, rather than from a position of fear and anxiety – things get much easier.

So: Stop worrying about personal branding. Focus on what matters. Share. Create value. Don’t worry about whether you’re on all the right social networks and you have a complete profile with lots of recommendations. Start figuring out who you are, what you know and do, why it matters, what you can share, and how you can share it. Don’t worry about whether you look good. Focus on how you can help others. Everything else flows from that.

Forgot my keys; automating memory

April 23, 2010 - Categories: kaizen

I left my keys at home this morning. They were hanging on a hook by the door, and I forgot to pick them up on my way out. I realized this after a half-hour bike ride to work–and worse, after saying hi to one of my mentors as he was walking towards the building, which necessitated a quick shuffle and slight embarrassment when I realized that I couldn’t lock up my bike and go inside. Fortunately, he’s an awesome sort of mentor who is likely to see this as one of my growth opportunities rather than incontrovertible proof that I’m permanently scatterbrained.

When I realized I’d left my keys, I started back to the house. Maybe I could get my keys and then come back to the office to get my–oh, wait, I can’t get into the house without my keys. I thought of Plan B: well, I could work from the deck, where there’s an outdoor power outlet and some Internet access. I could stash my bike under the deck if I needed to have lunch, although I could probably get by with just the energy bars and water I had in my bag.

I called W- up and confessed that I’d left my keys. Fortunately, he hadn’t gone all the way to work yet, so he promised to meet me near my building and drop my keys off.

Also fortunately, I brought my netbook, so I could put that waiting time to good use by writing my morning pages instead of fretting. I found a bench at the nearby park, leaned my bicycle against the seat, and squeezed in and started typing.

What can I do to lower the chance of this happening again?

One of the reasons why I hadn’t realized I’d forgotten my keys until now was that I didn’t lock the door behind me. W- was still there when I left, so he saw me off. If I go through the montions of always locking the front door whenever I leave, that will act as a safeguard.

I should also get out of the habit of throwing my keys into the bag, where I can’t immediately verify if I have them. If I clip them onto the handlebars instead, then they’re more visible. So I should get used to the routine of locking the door, then clipping the keys onto my bicycle.

On a related note, I forgot my lock when I dashed to the supermarket the other day. No one stole my bicycle while I was there (hooray!), but it would also be good to make that systematic, too. If I get into the habit of looping my lock around the seatpost or using a bungee cord to secure my lock to the rack, that would make sure that my lock and my bicycle are always together.

Lastly, I used to step through a checklist of my morning routine, which reminded me (among other things) to pack my badge, my keys, and my lunch. I’d stopped doing it because the routine felt, well, routine and easily-remembered, but perhaps that’s precisely when a checklist is needed. So I’ll go back to using that checklist, too.

One of my weaknesses is having these little moments of inattention. This occasionaly gets in my way, so it’s something I need to work on. One way to do that is to work on being more mindful. Another way is to build routines so that my subconscious can get better at telling me when something feels wrong and I need to pay more attention. Sooner or later, I’ll sort this out!

Good thing: I can come up with multiple backup plans quickly. If I do end up locked out and in limbo, I can head home, stash my bicycle, and either work on the deck or walk to the library. Good to know I have options!

Also another good thing: It’s much better to learn this lesson now, rather than in the middle of winter or before a client meeting. =) Always look on the bright side of life!

My cats have been teaching me how to draw

April 24, 2010 - Categories: cat, sketches

My cats have been teaching me how to draw.

I want to learn how to draw well. I want to be able to mix imagination and reality like on Urban Sketchers. It looks like it will be fun, and it might even be useful. =)

Women and technical leadership

April 25, 2010 - Categories: career, leadership, women

I’ve read enough books to understand that when it comes to rapid career growth, family, and personal happiness, I can’t have it all, at least not all at the same time. I collect role models and goals anyway, just in case it turns out to be possible.

I think about the choices I make and try to project the consequences decades down the line. Do I look for a role in a growth market, and can our relationship thrive despite the distance? Do I focus on becoming an individual contributor, or do I prepare for people management? Do I focus on Canada or find a global role?

This profile of senior technical women from the Anita Borg institute helped me understand a little bit more of the road ahead. For example, if three out of four senior technical women have a partner or spouse who also works full-time, then maybe W- and I can balance our careers. If half of the single senior technical women surveyed have children, then people can lead even in a difficult situation like that. If senior technical women are more concerned with professional development than with work-life practices, that tells me that work-life practices and the need for flexibility probably won’t be limiting factors. Senior women in management roles think more about new opportunities outside or inside the company than senior women in technical contributor roles think of these things, so senior women in management may be at a higher risk of turnover. This reminds me of a mentor’s advice to stay technical, because strong technical contributions are a way to stabilize your position.

A recent IBM feature highlighted a few female IBM Fellows, the highest technical rank in the company. I’d met a couple of them already, thanks to my passion for collaboration and Web 2.0. I’m glad to work with a company that cares about diversity, and I’m looking forward to learning from everyone’s inspiration.

Weekly review: Week ending April 25, 2010

April 26, 2010 - Categories: weekly

Plans from last week:

Work

Relationships

Life

Plans for next week:

Work

Relationships

Life

What do I hope to inspire people to do and be?

April 27, 2010 - Categories: passion, reflection, sketches

Inspiring? Me? Maybe that's something we can grow into.

It amazes me that people find my work and my life inspiring. It’s an honour to be able to share what I’m learning and to learn from how people build on it! I can’t wait to see what adventures we’ll share.

Sometimes I feel the twinges of the imposter syndrome. Sometimes I worry about things going to my head. But I want to be inspiring, the way my mom and dad are inspiring, the way that my role models are inspiring. Sometimes I suspect I’m an experiment in happiness. =) I want to be the person whose example reassures people that good things are possible.

If we’re creating this gift in the space between us (between us, because it’s too big to be just me), what will it be for?

What do I hope to inspire people to do and be?

I want to inspire people to be happy and passionate and alive. I want to show that work can be an expression of love, that happiness can survive in this world, and that good things do happen to good people. I want people to know that happiness isn’t something you strive for or buy, it’s something you are.

I want to inspire people to share. If people can learn from what I’ve shared of the things I’ve learned in these few years, imagine what people might learn from others (and from themselves!).

I want to inspire people to play to their strengths. Many introverted people feel limited by their personality, when it can be a real strength. Same goes for lots of other factors that we often mistake as weaknesses.

I want to inspire people to practice relentless improvement in a kind and loving how-can-we-make-things-better way (as opposed to here-are-all-the-ways-you-suck).

I want to inspire people to connect and collaborate to make bigger things happen, and to figure out their own big picture if they need to. You don’t need a special title in order to be a leader.

I also want to inspire people to read manuals, save up, spend time and energy and money on what matters, smile more, let go, and a million other things, but we’ll figure that out. ;)

It’s a big thing, too big for my small hands. But I have  a world to learn from, many conspirators, and (I hope) decades to explore.

I don’t want to be a star, shining but remote. I want to be a lens that helps bring out the light and colour of people around me.

How can we grow towards that?

Stitching together a semi-rotational program; training is not the limiting factor

April 28, 2010 - Categories: career, ibm, leadership, reflection, sketches

Choices

At an external networking event a few years ago, I talked to an up-and-coming MBA grad who told me about the rotational program he was in. He was scheduled to spend one year in one department, one year in another, and so on. I envied how he was being groomed.

Deliberately moving through different departments helps you build a wide base of experience and a diverse network. The formality of the program means that the frequent job shifts won’t be taken against you, as they might in an organization that values depth and specialization. Management development programs like that are essential for cultivating people with a broad understanding of the organization. Without sponsors or organizational backing, most people would find it difficult to shift from one part of the organization to the other.

Rotational programs and other leadership development initiatives tend to be offered only to high-potential people, where high potential is not only based on performance, but also velocity. When I was starting at IBM, my eldest sister advised me to find the fast track, get on it, and stay on it. While not entirely following her advice—I’d pick coaching people on collaboration over working tons of overtime on well-understood projects, even though the first doesn’t show up on my metrics and the second doesn’t—I’ve also nudged my manager about some of the development programs I’ve seen. I’ve volunteered for things like the Technical Leadership Exchange and the Take Two women’s leadership program. I read as much as I can, as widely as I can. I learn from people all over IBM.

Envy is a surprisingly useful driver as long as you don’t let it consume you. This reminds me of the invitation-only web development course I heard about when I was in high school. I wasn’t invited—me! and I’d done well in our programming competitions!—so I talked my way into it. It reminds me of how I envied the courses that students in other universities got to take, so I read through the online course materials and learned whatever I could on my own.

It’s not about the world being unfair, and it’s not about other people receiving opportunities that you have to make for yourself. It’s about looking around and saying, “Hey, that’s a great idea. How can I borrow part of that idea and make something for myself?”

Back to rotational programs. I don’t know what fields need to be set in my record for me to show up on HR’s radar (in a good way), but I’m not going to worry about that. I don’t have to wait for permission to learn as much as I can from other parts of this huge organization. I probably have the perfect starting point, actually. During my graduate studies, I learned about research. In Global Business Services, I’ve learned about development and consulting. In my Innovation Discovery engagements, I’m learning about marketing and sales. From our clients and experts, I learn about strategy, operations and finance. I help people in communications and learning and IT. I can take free online courses in almost any area. I don’t have the depth that comes from everyday delivery, responsibilities, and war stories, but I’m learning from people who do.

This matters because there’s tremendous value in being able to break down silos and work across organizational boundaries. The more we can reach out and tap the talent throughout IBM and the world, the more powerfully we can work. If we can learn from different parts of the organization without a formal rotational program, then that broader understanding becomes available to anyone who wants it. If we can influence and inspire without formal authority, then other people can learn emergent leadership too. If we can figure out this different way of working, we can share it with other organizations and influence the world.

I don’t have an executive sponsor or an HR program shaping my career path, but I have many mentors and role models, including some who take a chance on me and give me opportunities beyond my level. That’s enough to make a difference. The limiting factor here isn’t training. It’s my time and energy. There’s so much more to learn.

If you’re waiting for training—or an organizational blessing—look around and see what you can do with what you have. You don’t need a rotational program or a classroom course. Think about what’s really limiting you, and find out what you can do about it.

Thanks to David Ing for nudging me to think about this!

Smarter leaders braindump (long, visual)

April 28, 2010 - Categories: braindump, leadership, sketches

Jump to comments

Things I’m planning to talk about during the virtual leadership session tomorrow:

smarterleaders

Backup URL: http://sachachua.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/smarterleaders1.jpg

On stores and surroundings

April 29, 2010 - Categories: life, sketches

Fascinator

When I went to the UK for a client workshop in Reading, my schedule didn’t permit much sightseeing. I had an evening free, though, so I walked through the shop-lined streets and the local malls.

Stores tell interesting stories about a place. What struck me most about the shops in Reading was that hats and fascinators were more popular than they were in Toronto, and much more than in Manila. Feathered combs and flowered headbands hung in racks. Suits were displayed with color-coordinated hats. Although I hadn’t seen anyone wearing a fascinator (perhaps this was saved for cocktail receptions, weddings, and other events), it tickled me pink that millinery was alive and well.

Stores also have a way of telling people what “normal” is. As in Toronto, Reading’s stores stocked clothes with cool spring colours that go well with paler skin. With my brown skin and warm tones, it’s hard for me to find anything that makes me feel comfortable – hence the preponderance of black and white in my closet. Size is often an issue, too. It’s hard to find petite clothes in small sizes. It’s hard to find wide office-ready shoes with low heels (or none at all). Shopping often frustrates me and makes me feel alien.

I’ll just have to learn how to make things myself, and stock up on clothes whenever I’m in Asia. =)

In the meantime, I can explore the local quirks: fascinators in the UK, racks of winterwear in Toronto, and other interesting things. (I didn’t actually buy a fascinator, as my social calendar typically does not involve many opportunities to wear one, but I had fun browsing!)

Paper is the new PowerPoint

April 30, 2010 - Categories: speaking, visual

… and that’s a great thing. =)

Check out these creative presentations by Betsy Streeter:

If you like my hand-drawn presentations, have fun making your own! All you need is a something to write on, something to write with, and a camera. Alternatively, you can get all fancy-like and buy an inexpensive drawing tablet. Enjoy!