Sunday, October 30, 2016

My Bucket List

I thought it was time to create a bucket list so I started googling for ideas. I found lots of them, and almost all were either things I had already done, or would never care to do, so I abandoned google and looked inside myself.  Then I thought, make a list of everything that would have been on my bucket list, had I made it 30 years ago.

It was an interesting exercise because I realize that I have done and seen almost everything I could have hoped to. So this exercise could be called counting my blessings.

Here is my bucket list not in any particular order other than I have listed those yet to achieve first and highlighted in green those I have done.

Retire while I still have the energy to enjoy it
Attend a live baseball game
Visit Alaska
Visit the Sphinx of Giza
Visit the Dead Sea
Win the lottery
Meet Willie Nelson
Learn to dance country western
Dance country western with a real cowboy.
Visit the Alamo
Meet my soul mate
See the Northern Lights
Visit Hawaii 
Visit the Grand Canyon
Go to Disney World
Visit the Painted Desert
Visit the Petrified Forest
Visit Monument Valley
Visit The Colosseum in Rome
See The Trevi Fountain in Rome
Climb The Spanish Steps in Rome
Visit India
Tour Paris on the back of a motorcycle
Visit Edith Piaf's grave
View Paris from the Eiffel Tower
Visit The Louvre in Paris
Visit Notre Dame in Paris
Visit The Tower of London
See Big Ben London
Visit Buckingham Palace London
See Westminster Abbey London
See Tower Bridge London
Visit Las Vegas
Visit The Greek Islands
Visit Yosemite
Visit the Space Center in Houston
See the biggest Redwood tree in California
See the Golden Gate Bridge
See Niagra Falls
Attend Willie Nelson's 4th July Picnic
Publish a book

Friday, October 28, 2016

Dealing with an abrasive personality

In my career, as a human being, I have had to deal with abrasive, arrogant and aggressive people in both my professional and my personal life. At no time was it easy, but I have to say that as I get older I get more capable of dealing with these people, of whom there really are far too many.

Really parents, what did you not notice about your overpoweringly rude and abrasive child that you let them grow into such unpleasant thorns in the side of humanity? You surely didn't do them any favors either.

I was the child of an aggressive father. I was the personal assistant to an extremely arrogant and abrasive man and in almost every job I have ever worked in, and many of my personal relationships, I have had to deal with people with varying levels of one or all of these extremely unpleasant traits. (read my book)

Some of the articles I have read, suggest that the abrasive or arrogant person is someone who feels inadequate and therefore compensates by being aggressive. Some suggest arrogance comes with confidence. My experience has been that it is purely a personality trait, whether is is a result of environment, childhood experience or just plain being over indulged is irrelevant. It usually accompanies a total lack of empathy.  That is the arrogant / abrasive person is incapable of putting themselves in another's shoes.  They have no way of understanding how others feel. Generally they all share the belief that they know everything about everything. And there's the rub, you can't change some of those traits - certainly you cannot teach someone with no empathy to feel another's pain, they are missing the essential gene. There is also a strong element of plain bad manners. And sadly their behavior was not corrected when it could and should have been.

Typically when we think of abrasive personalities we are talking about arrogant or aggressive people who seem to have no filter on either what they say or how they say it. In some cases the abrasive person might be a no-nonsense straight-shooter who is perceived as abrasive but who may be advantageous in an overly passive work environment.

On the other hand they may be control freaks with over inflated opinions of themselves and their abilities. In which case they are generally very arrogant and self-centered. Frequently they are also domineering and bullying, sometimes domineering to peers and subordinates, and fawning to superiors.

However, when an abrasive, arrogant individual is added to a group of self driven, active and experienced people, that is when the entire structure of the team is undermined. If that person is a key member of the team, the manager - assuming he/she knows of the behavior - may work with the employee to change it, but that is rarely successful and generally the final result is the loss of most, or all, of the rest of the team.

And yet, so many managers put far more value on the arrogant, abrasive personality than the more ignorant one. Ignorance is not necessarily an indication of lack of intelligence, and arrogance is not necessarily a sign of intelligence. It is all about confidence. Personally I will put my money on the ignorant, intelligent, willing to listen and learn person, than the arrogant, abrasive, overly confident know it all - the latter will learn so little and offend so many. Disruption in the workplace is invasive, just as bullying in the playground is.

But the title of this train of thought is directed at 'dealing' with that obnoxious person.. so how do you do it? That really depends on whether you are dealing with them in the workplace, socially or in the home. The easiest to solve is socially - just don't socialize with them. In the home in my opinion,, and experience, the best way to deal with them is to react as though their behavior is completely normal and acceptable. Do not react at all, unless of course you are the parent and you are dealing with your own child - definitely you want to correct this behavior.

I have used this tactic in the workplace also, where I have not had the authority to do anything about the situation. Some completely withdraw and do nothing, which is probably exactly what an arrogant person is trying to achieve, how else can you shine if your talents are limited? By shoving the competition into the shadows of course. Others fight back and get nowhere. Given the choice (and the authority) I would let that individual go, you cannot build a team around a bully. The alternative is to go yourself.

The older I get, the more I prefer to just remove myself from the environment completely, life is way to short to put up with assholes.

Some interesting reading:

Is it bullying or abrasive behavior?
The secret to being confident without being arrogant
7 Ways to tell the difference between being arrogant and being confident
Confidence -vs- arrogance
10 ways to tell if you are confident or arrogant
The abrasive personality

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

GHC 2016

The Grace Hopper Celebration 2016

I really wanted to attend this conference, so when I received an email from our HR department confirming the date and time that registration would open I was on it.  The second registration opened I was clicking on the register button, nothing happened, I clicked and reloaded and clicked to no avail. Finally I got a message saying that the conference was sold out. To say I was surprised would be true, but I was also very disappointed. I responded to the HR email bemoaning the fact that I was unable to register. That was a lucky move, because some weeks later I was offered one of our org's places - someone had dropped out and did I want it?  Did I? you bet I did!

As luck would have it, I was booked to fly to Houston early afternoon on the same day that our internal Women in Engineering group were having a STEM (Science, technology, engineering & mathematics) event. We had 40 middle school children, mostly girls but some boys too, coming to the office for a series of presentations and I was on the career panel. Fortunately we arranged the panel for first thing in the morning and immediately following this I was heading to the airport.

The flight from Austin to Houston is only 50 minutes, it seemed no sooner had we reached cruising altitude we were preparing to land at Hobby Airport. Once on the ground I got an airport shuttle to my hotel. Houston is a huge city, the 4th largest city in the US and the largest in Texas with a population of almost 2.5 million within the city and over 6 million in the greater Houston metropolitan area. As a result, getting to anywhere from anywhere is slow going. Mid afternoon on a Tuesday, it took close to two hours to get to the hotel.

The conference had a fleet of coaches running between the official conference hotels, of which there were about 40, and the conference center. From the hotel to the conference center took between 45 minutes to an hour.

Getting our badges
Needless to say, I was at the conference center early the next morning. The keynote address was at 9 a.m. and I needed to get my badge before that. I didn't expect the badge process to be so very streamlined. It was incredible. I joined the end of a long snaking line and within minutes I was at one of the many desks and my badge was issued seconds later. Of course it helped that the organizers had emailed out a QR code which, when scanned, immediately issued the badge with the correct information printed on. I suppose, when you think about it, I should not have been surprised, after all this conference was run by, and for, women in technology.

Waiting in line at the Toyota Center

The Keynote Address was in the Toyota Center across the street. The size of the auditorium was impressive - and it filled up fast. The speakers were Anna Patterson, the winner of the Technical Leadership ABIE Award and Vice President of Engineering, Artificial Intelligence for Google. Latanya Sweeney, probably my favorite presentation, she is professor of government and technology at Harvard University and also Editor in Chief of Technology Science and director and founder of the Data Privacy Lab. Her talk on privacy in general, and in the health care area in particular was extremely interesting.

Starting to fill up
The other two speakers continued to hold my attention, Ginni Rometty, CEO and President of IBM. She continued the theme of Artificial Intelligence and specifically in the Healthcare arena, with a fascinating talk on Watson. The final speaker was Alyssia Jovellanos, the winner of the Woman of Vision ABIE (Anita Borg Institute of Engineering) award for Student of Vision. Alyssia is a Computer Science student at McMaster University but has already made a name for herself in the world of technology. At 17 she founded her own multimedia technology company which was funded by the Government of Ontario and Kevin O'Leary's Future Dragon Fund.

This was a name I recognized
Surprisingly in the presence of such incredible, powerful and successful women, I did not feel at all inadequate, in fact, though I arrived feeling like a worker ant of little significance, by the end of the first morning I was feeling empowered. Yes, I consider that I am not fully appreciated in my field, and I will certainly never be a CEO, or even a major Award winner (I have won minor awards in the various companies with whom I worked), but I am part of a movement, one of the growing number of women who have managed to break out of the traditional mold reserved for women, even more so when I was growing up.

I believe I was one of the older women present and I don't think there were many there who were even born in the same decade as I was. Quite something, when there were actually 15,000 people present, 14,000 of which were women.

 The conference center in Houston is enormous and the number of sessions planned were almost endless. The most difficult thing to do was select sessions, because I had to make a choice, many sessions I would have attended were being held at the same time.

The second problem was trying to figure out if a session was going to be worth attending, based on a very small description, or no description, just the title of the session.

A big challenge was the fact that there were over 83 different countries represented in that mixture of 14,000 women and 1,000 men - and some countries do not have the same respect of even understanding of 'orderly queues'. So while you might have arrived early for a particular session, and joined the growing line waiting, there were others who just ignored the line and joined at the head of the queue.

One particular session, titled 'Should I stay or should I go' was so popular that 30 minutes before it was due to start there was already a long line snaking around the corridors. With no conference staff there to control the enthusiastic line jumpers, it turned into a free for all. Finally one of the staff arrived and for whatever reason decided to split the line into two, the first line to get admission was mainly the late comers / line jumpers. Believe me there was rumblings of dissatisfaction in the second line, where I was crammed in the center. I think more people were turned away than actually got into that session. And there are now a large number still not sure whether they should stay or go. This was probably one of the very few times I saw bad organization.

The exhibition hall was huge and while there were casual sessions at various locations within the hall, mainly at the Anita Borg Stand, because of the noise in the area, these were not great - and one I attended was bottom of my list of favorites. Neither the content nor speaker were up to par. Sadly it was one of the few QA related sessions.

And of course there was an app for that which made selecting sessions and managing your schedule much easier - if only the app didn't keep crashing, somewhat embarrassing for a technology based conference.

Naturally I attended the Expo, and toured the floor a few times, picking up some very nice swag. In my career I have attended countless conferences and I have to say, this one had the best swag. But that was not what I was there for. It didn't take long to figure out that the Expo was a glorified job fair and I was not interested in being recruited so once I picked up my t-shirts, pens, water bottle and assorted USB expansion and extended life charger gadgets I headed for the first of my chosen sessions, after all not only was I not there for a job, I was not there for swag either. Luckily I had selected second and third choices from the long list of sessions available, because on more than one occasion I didn't get into my first choice, or my first choice was not what I expected so I left and headed to my second choice.

Apart from the Keynote, probably the session I enjoyed the most was 'Quiet: How to Harness the Strengths of Introverts to Transform How We Work, Lead and Innovate' - a long title but leaving no doubt as to the content. This was a talk by Susan Cain, the bestselling author of 'Quiet' and the founder of the Quiet Revolution. I didn't need to take this quiz to know that I am an introvert.

Other sessions I attended were:

  • Rock Your Career: Core Skills for increased effectiveness
  • Powerful Body Language: Small Mannerisms with Big Impact
  • A Day in the Life of: Exploring Different Career Paths in Technology
  • Turning your Snakes into Ladders - A Career Exploration Journey
  • DevOps and the future of QA - what you need to know and how you can prepare

 Apart from those sessions, I also attended a number of talks at the Speaker's Corner, this was the noisy Anita Borg stand. The QA talk was 'QA in an Agile world. What's the difference from waterfall?' and as mentioned before, it was not very impressive nor was it useful, but it was QA.

So, what did I take away from the GHC 2016 Conference? Apart from the aforementioned swag, a heap more stickers for my laptop I gained a lot of knowledge.  I also have a sense of gratitude to my employer not just for funding my attendance, but also for supporting GHC and diversity. Most of all I have a renewed sense of pride in myself and my chosen career.