My process of learning code originally went something like this:
Work through as many of the examples as possible. It might take a year but that’s ok.
Make my own crappy stuff.
This strategy went to hell for several reasons when I decided to get more serious about learning web development for the following reasons:
1. Any half-way useful web-stack has many pieces and a considerable amount of time can be spent just getting those to work together.
2. The pace of the web typically outstrips any book.
3. I’ve gotten serious about a novel I’m writing. Every morning, I spend an hour writing creative fiction. Between that and working 8 hours a day, when I get home, I am usually D.O.N.E.
But I’m still serious about learning more web development. Since I work at Pivotal Labs in test and support on Tracker, when fellow Pivot, Sarah Mei mentioned a Railsbridge workshop, my ears perked up. Railsbridge is an intensive Friday evening installfest plus all-day Saturday learning extravaganza. Recognizing the opportunity to commit to myself with a date, I signed up and have attended a couple of Railsbridge sessions. The thoughtful detail put into Railsbridge shows in how they divide people up by skill level, how they make sure you have what you need installed on your computer, how they have a great student:teacher ratio and do a retro at the end of the Saturday. I honestly wish I’d had the benefit of an experience like Railsbridge in college.
There will always be a debate about whether people should get a CS degree or not. I have one. Many successful people I know don’t. Many places require them for employment, but a lot of places in San Francisco don’t. While I believe there are benefits to college, specifically, liberal arts degrees, I’m becoming a believer in the community education system I see emerging here in San Francisco.
In the case of Railsbridge, while the program doesn’t cost money, it is a sacrifice of a Friday night and most of a Saturday so there is an opportunity cost and some commitment involved. It’s true that there are many beginners, but I’ve met plenty of people there who are beginning to get pretty effective at building Rails apps. In fact, at the last Railsbridge I attended, I was greeted by someone who got a job after attending and learning from Railsbridge. I’m sure she worked really hard on her skills outside of Railsbridge as well, but she did the work and got results.
If you think that these types of group learning only cover a few “beginner” topics, what about Algorithms or Scala?
Part of what’s fueling this ecosystem is the proliferation and refinement of online learning. I remember when the M.I.T. open courseware was a bunch of syllabi. I also remember the agony of pre-millenial online classes. Those were definitely the dark ages. Now we have Khan Academy, Code Academy and CourseEra. Between these and the ease of setting up a gathering with Meetup, the SF tech community is turning into it’s own community college, and I’ve learned a whole lot more about Rails.
What I like about this system is that it’s not just the students who win. If you’ve ever taught someone how to do something you’ll understand the benefit the instructors are getting out of it too. As a bonus, I can see that anyone who learns something out of this community system is also likely to turn around and give back. I dream of the day when I’m good enough at web development to be the one pointing out CSS and Rails typos.
These words were on my mind as this year’s Telerik Testing Summit kicked off. They were advice my grandfather, Ed, frequently imparted to me amongst other life lessons such as, “Don’t act too smart. It can scare a guy off.” (I married a firefighter I met volunteering. Heh.)
Despite his advice, there are plenty of landmarks in Atlanta, Georgia such as the Fox Theater, that would not be standing today if he hadn’t raised the alarm and helped start a campaign which saved the Fox and resulted in the formation of Atlanta Landmarks, Inc.
But this isn’t all he did and isn’t, in my mind, his greatest accomplishment. In the 1960’s when most people in The South were finally waking up to the fact that segregation is inhumane and not to be tolerated, he volunteered, as a restaurant owner, to be the spokesperson for the voluntary integration of Atlanta’s fine dining scene. I’m proud to say that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dined at Herren’s.
Sometimes, as a child, I got to hang out with Ed downtown as he managed the restaurant. I guess it was the old-school version of take-your-kid-to-work day. I always noticed that he seemed to know and say hello to everyone we saw on the street and treated his customers like gold.
And then there was his sense of humor. Ed lived for corny jokes, goofy smiles, red socks and the beat of his electric organ. I can still hear echoes of “Strangers in the Night” as he sang at the top of his lungs to his wife whom he referred to as “Beautiful Jane.” I can still feel the wind in my hair as he drove us down the street in his orange convertible chevelle with a fat basset hound wagging her tail in the back.
Ed was a master collaborator and new how to bring people together for good. Although I do my best to be as engaging, it can be hard sometimes. We live our lives at such a fast pace these days. Sometimes it’s easier to tell someone “no” and keep on trucking with my own agenda rather than to stop and listen to what someone has to say. Ed was the greatest example of a person who knew how to slow down and listen to others.
The Telerik Testing Summit takes place yearly in Austin, Texas and I was lucky enough to book a few relaxing days in Austin ahead of the conference. My flight for Austin left the Sunday before the conference. Unfortunately, after I cleared security and was having a pre-flight beer and garlic fries, I got word that Ed passed away. Let’s just say it was an interesting flight to Austin and I’m glad the lady sitting next to me was so comforting.
Although sad, it’s not like this was totally unexpected. Ed was 91 and suffering from Alzheimers. Also, Beautiful Jane passed away a few years ago and he was definitely a boat without a rudder without her.
It’s just… he was such a force for good in the world and so lighthearted about it. Perhaps this is why I prefer surrounding myself with lighthearted people. I married a man who makes me laugh when I least expect it. At work, I’ll often try to move my desk next to someone with whom I know I can tell jokes and maybe act a little stupid. (Okay, a lot stupid.)
There I was, in Austin for a week while my complicated family gathered for Ed’s funeral in Atlanta. There were a few times when I almost called the airline to ask about a flight home, but family members told me I was much better off following through with my plans. I floated in the pool, drank some margaritas and had a cry, then it was off to the Testing Summit.
Ed was my role model for engaging the community I live in, engaging other people and, above all, keeping a sense of humor and humility about it. All of these were important themes at the Testing Summit this year and I thought it a great unspoken tribute to Ed that I was able to take part in these discussions.
I like to think that Ed was hanging out over my shoulder as we talked about the new realities of testing in the wider context of software development and how we can all get our community more positively engaged. These are things I’ve started making notes and writing about, but I wanted to take a post to reflect on someone who meant so much to me and who I’d like to make an unofficial member of the #expectpants crew.
I’m ending this post with a link to Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks.” One of Ed’s favorite jokes was to say, “follow me” or “walk this way” and commence with his own silly walk.
It’s the breaking point: the moment when someone has pushed you too far and you know that the rest of your time with that person will be spent managing as you find a way to make your exit.
The moment you realize you’ve had enough is so awkward because, usually, in addition to feeling angry and possibly embarrassed or ashamed, you are asking yourself “how the FUCK will I get out of this.” (If this is happening in your head, how censored are you really going to be?)
So then you start assessing how this is going to go down, how you’re going to make your escape and possibly let the other person know that you are D.O.N.E. This is when ideas of revenge start flooding through your head and you make a list.
Contemplating the list gives your rational brain a split second in which to punch through the other side and keep your anger from boiling over.
It’s a split second that can determine how much longer you will live with someone, how much longer you will continue in your present job or how much longer you will sit in a chair at a conference.
These situations usually involve a compromise in dignity. Professional life seems especially rife with personal indignity because the stakes are high. If you have a mortgage or aren’t sure how you would otherwise make money…yeah. Work or even peer situations in our industry can require checking your dignity at the door and putting up with some awful shit. Maybe you hate yourself for it and maybe there really isn’t a good way out even after you assess all of your options.
And then you get to that moment with a boss who keeps pointing out what they feel are your numerous personal failures while you’re sitting in the middle of a crowded open office with people swirling all around you in oblivion as the insults fly or you’re stuck listening to someone at a conference on or off of a stage who is saying things that offend you so deeply you just want to jump up and scream, ENOUGH!!!
What happens next?
Here is what I did:
I had just moved to the Bay Area and was attending my first tech Meetup in San Francisco. It was exciting to finally talk to some people and to participate in the San Francisco “tech scene.” I noticed that there were even a few women in the audience which made me happy. There were 2 speakers on the schedule and the second speaker was in the middle of his talk when he cut to a slide of naked male parts. You know what he said?
“This is San Francisco, I’m sure we’re all ok with this.”
I was not ok.
I was disgusted and embarrassed. I looked around at everyone else looking around. My internal conversation went something like this:
Angry Marlena: I’m gonna stand up and scream at that motherfucker that IT IS NOT OK!!!!!!!! Friendly Marlena: Shut up! You came here to make friends! Who will want to be friends with you if you shout down a speaker at this tech talk where you don’t know a soul? Angry Marlena: (Heavy sigh) Fine! But I’m gonna stand up anyway and just STARE HIM DOWN! Friendly Marlena: Would you shut up! That’ll just make you look crazy. Angry Marlena: $%^^%$$%^&(&%$%^&*(*^%$#$^&**& Friendly Marlena: %#$%^&J#$@#$#&^((^$#&*^%$#%@#%^%^&*&$
After another 2 minutes of mortification, I noticed that the bus I needed to catch would be arriving directly across the street in 15 minutes, so I got up and quietly exited. It was a while before I came back to San Francisco for a Meetup.
But that’s not my only example.
A few months later, I was at an internal corporate conference (for someone other than my current employer), sitting in one of those “seating areas” with some co-workers. The conference had just wrapped up and we were all sitting around being pretty quiet as our energy was at a low ebb. Through the thin veil of fake-conference-plants behind me, I overhead a conversation.
“But how do you get the motion of them so that they’re nice and bouncy? Like you just want to grab ’em?”
“Oh, there’s a library for that. I love using it for 3-D tits.”
People who know me will know exactly the look that was on my face.
The conversation continued and I kept doing my best to let it go. I was not in the best place with my job at the time, and it would have been horrific timing for me to rock any kind of boat. This made it hard to have a realistic perspective in the moment.
Also, as an aside, I’d just like to say that I LOVE California for making people at larger companies take an online workplace harassment course created by the state. With the B-movie actors and the hysterically cheesy script, I laughed my way through when I took it, but there have been so many times when I’ve been glad that I took it and glad that my co-workers have also taken it. It set the right baseline.
Back to the conversation about how to create the best virtual female parts.
I tried to be quiet. I did. But I wasn’t. I jumped up, turned around and screamed, “WOULD YOU STOP TALKING ABOUT ME???!!!!!!!”
The guy turned around with the most freaked out look on his face and he screamed back, “NO, NO, I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT YOU!!!!”
That was the end of it. Was there a better way to handle this? Of course there was! But, the split-second opportunity for my rational brain to make a better assessment was not long enough. I guess this was me finding my voice, and even though I’m not 100% proud of what I did, I’m glad that I did something because if I hadn’t said something, I would have been bottling my rage at this incident for the next unfortunate person who told an inappropriate joke in a professional situation.
And that’s the double-edged sword that gets plungedthrough your heart when you’ve been pushed too far:
If you don’t do anything and stay quiet, you bottle your emotions up for later which means you’ll be even more rage-tastic the next time something similar happens even if the offhand comment isn’t as cut-and-dried or your boss is making the only fair point he’s ever gonna make.
On the other hand, if you do say something, plenty of people will say you’re a crazy paranoid freak on a rant and you just might get fired (in Joan’s case, burned at the stake).
At this point, I’ve been through enough to know that no matter how bad things get immediately after you say what you need to say, even if you lose your job or popular opinion is not on your side, at least you’ve said your peace and let it go.
There is a person in tech, let’s call the person Engineer X, who thinks I am a blight on the industry of software and that my opinions deserve to be seen nowhere other than inside of a black hole.
This happened after a really awful conversation on twitter that I won’t be talking about here. Let’s just say that it happened, and it doesn’t really matter if anyone was right or what either of us said. For Engineer X, this culminated with blocking me from their twitter and removing the link to my blog from their much viewed blog roll.
For me, it began a genuinely awkward couple of months. I got in trouble at work as my then-boss thought and still thinks Engineer X hung the moon. I showed up at a small conference typically attended by Engineer X (Engineer X was away that year) and had to introduce myself, for the first time, to people who knew ALL ABOUT the whole twitter fight. Between my boss’s anger and my own personal anxiety, there’s not much I remember from that conference that wasn’t awkward, and it was no one’s fault but my own.
Eventually, though, I moved on and realized that it didn’t matter that much because there is a whole community of people who have been left behind in the wake of Engineer X publicly denouncing them, even threatening physical violence in public against them for the opinions they have expressed about software. One of my friends tweeted to me, “Welcome to the Walled Garden.”
In this age of extended contact through blogs, twitter and other social sites, it’s much easier for anyone to interact with someone they view as a “leader,” and we do. I’ve actually become pretty close friends with some of the bloggers and people from twitter I followed and originally, idolized. Sometimes, however, it can be much harder to get a real picture of the people we idolize, and sometimes that picture is vastly different in reality from what we think it will be as we build a pedestal for our uninformed perceptions of these people.
I’m a big believer in forming my own opinions about things, but when you start following people on twitter and they start following you back, not to mention having conversations with you, it can be easier than you think to relinquish control over your own thoughts and opinions. Twitter is always on and fairly asynchronous. Thus, while I initially thought Engineer X was amazing and a thought leader, when things went so far downhill, so quickly, it hurt even worse because here was someone I had really looked up to telling me that my opinions were worthless.
It was upsetting for a while. Having a harsh conversation in public is unsettling, but everyone has their own personal tipping point. When this happened to me, I went back over what happened and found that while, in some ways, I had acted rashly, there were good reasons for doing what I did, and I wouldn’t take it back today, even if I could. There was even a point at which I tried to apologize for my part in it to Engineer X and it didn’t work out at all. I guess there are some people in this world I’m not meant to get along with and this person is one of them.
We all have favorites on twitter and in the software industry. We all have our false idols. We hold them up as better versions of ourselves. Maybe they are who we want to be “when we grow up.” The truth is, they are all humans. They say things they don’t mean, they talk out of turn and I’m sure that there is a time, every now and then, when they take out anger and frustration on someone undeserving, just like every human does when we are at our worst. In this age of blending professional life with personal faults and idosyncracies, where do we draw the line and how much should we be willing to forgive? How bad is it ok for Engineer X to be?
Personally, I’m happy to have this person out of my life, but it still hurts when I see them dump on other people I care about. What’s even crazier is that there is this weird silently understood reaching out that happens when Engineer X dumps on someone. This is how often and how widely the person is known for dumping on people.
It’s time to recognize that we live in a world where our personal and professional lives mix more than ever and that this usually happens in a good way. But, also, we deserve better than to have bullies in charge of thought leadership in software (or anywhere really), (and before you hold up Steve Jobs, I’d like to remind everyone that there was exactly one Steve Jobs, he is deader than a doornail and you are not him).
This blog post comes with an ask. My ask is that you, dear reader, commit to standing up when you see someone getting bullied on twitter, at a conference or wherever and, even if the bully is someone with influence, letting the bully know that you don’t approve and that IT IS NOT OK. If you end up being the person who steps out of line because you’re human like the rest of us, at least make the effort of a sincere apology when you are ready. It will be humiliating and it might not be well received, but it is important to try.
As for people like Engineer X who don’t seem to understand how to not bully others, I believe they are in a slow process of building their own walled garden because, eventually, they will block out everyone who’s opinions don’t seem as perfect as their own.
Well, you know We all want to change the world You tell me that it’s evolution Well, you know We all want to change the world But when you talk about destruction Don’t you know that you can count me out Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right all right, all right
Have you ever had Grand Plans to Take Over the World? I have. It requires hunger, and not just the “oh I need a little snack, here let me have an apple” kind of hunger. I mean the kind of hunger that would be a lion’s roar if it had a sound. This is the hunger that will you lead down the craziest paths which turn into the craziest ideas which become inspiration that lights the way after you’ve been stuck in the basement working your ass off with nobody watching.
The sad thing about Grand Plans to Take Over the World is that, more often than not, reality overtakes them. Even if you have a firm grasp on your Plan, there are countless for it to be torn away and it’s usually taken in pieces over a long period of time.
The pieces of my Grand Plan are scattered across the skyline of Atlanta,Georgia, sunk at the bottom of the Tasman Sea off the coast of Sydney, Australia, buried in a server room in the heart of Silicon Valley with the final pieces washing up on the ever gray and windy shores of Ocean Beach in San Francisco, California.
I arrived at Pivotal Labs a shadow of the person who started this blog. I was missing so many pieces, I didn’t even know if I wanted to stay in tech at all. There have been many days when I asked myself what happened to that girl with the Lion’s roar. I wondered if she was gone forever and if it was time to just acclimate to the fog invading my head like the fog which so often invades San Francisco.
In my first week in Pivotal Labs, I sat in on a retrospective where lots of strong feelings were shared. When I pointed this out, a co-worker let me know, in writing, that empathy is part of the Pivotal way.
I don’t know why, but it seems that in so many work places, empathy and trust are checked at the door. It doesn’t matter if the culture is supposedly “open” or supposedly “no bullshit.” There are still a million ways to hide toxicity and mis-trust in what appears to be daylight. Open can mean many things including a festering, open, passive-aggressive wound that’s hidden beneath a t-shirt with a pithy phrase or a clever logo.
This is why I dismissed and completely ignored every ambition I ever had in tech and boiled it down to looking for the right team with the right culture. I decided it didn’t even matter what I did every day as long as I got to do it with respect and trust. I’ve found that at Pivotal in spades. A match was struck and a flame was lit. Maybe it was the tiniest flame and maybe my head was still cloudy with fog, but I felt alive again, and, occasionally I got to scream with glee and do a snoopy dance whenever, Elisabeth Hendrickson would show up to hang out at the Lab. (I think we scared some people with our screams.)
Everyone should have a list of people they scheme and plan to work with, and Lisa Crispin has been among those on my short list for a while. Aside from being a champion of collaboration, she is one of the greatest cheerleaders for trying new things you could ever hope to find. When she joined our team a few months ago, a window opened and daylight flooded through.
However, Lisa works in Denver and I work in San Francisco. We’re lucky that the Tracker team is willing to bring us together every once a while, but it’s not the same as being together in the same place. I could feel pieces shifting around me, but I’ve still had this feeling of, “now what?”
My answer came on Monday when I saw Elisabeth with an HR person in the closet. She was being handed the black track jacket all Pivots receive upon joining Pivotal Labs as an employee. If anything, Elisabeth is a catalyst for positive change and WE’RE WORKING IN THE SAME PLACE!!!! We can trade crazy ideas over lunch and I’m sure we’ll find ways to loop Lisa in with our crazy ideas as well. The fog is burning away and in it’s place, three Lionesses of Test are rising up at the Labs.
Alan Page’s tweet sums it up nicely:
We might be quiet for a while as we marinate in each other’s company, but rest assured, electricity is gathering at Pivotal Labs as it does before a powerful storm that shakes the ground. Am I making Grand Plans? Not anymore. Instead, I want to focus my revolution on today and what I experience on a daily basis rather than grasp at some mythical Grand Plan.
A belated blog welcome to Lisa Crispin and another welcome to Elisabeth Hendrickson. I’m so grateful that I get to work in the same place with you both. As the Beatles say, “it’s gonna be all right.”
Here I am at my desk, doing some cross-browser testing. You’ll notice that I’m surrounded by screens.
I’ve been fortunate because I’ve insisted at my testing jobs that I have two or even three monitors and I have never been turned down.
Having more monitors leads to better testing because:
More supported browsers are open and easy to compare
More sessions are open so it is easier to see cause and effect problems
I can have more than one or even two or three users signed in with different permission levels.
Even though there are still several browsers open, I can also have some terminals open for grepping through log files and taking notes or logging bugs.
In the world of web application testing, this is the difference between noticing something and having it obscured behind too many screens where you will never see it. In fact, if you have to switch to another tab or swipe to another space on your Mac YOU ARE TOO LATE. The bugs are gone and laughing at you beneath your fingertips.
We live in a time of “do more with less” and, let’s face it, testing is usually where the money dries up. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you will be seen as greedy if you ask for another monitor, but it makes the difference between being a good tester and being a great tester. If your team really wants you to find all the bugs, they should make it possible for you to SEE THEM. Believe me, they will crawl across your screens faster than you ever thought possible.
How do you ask for more monitors?
The three situations I’ve encountered from easiest to hardest (and naming no names):
If you see a monitor no one is using, just take it and hook it up. This is exactly the time to ask forgiveness instead of permission, and the truth is some places really don’t care. Hook it up, find some bugs and mention it to your boss. On the positive side, if no one is using the monitor, you’ll be putting a resource to use that would otherwise be wasted. At the worst, you might have to give it back and endure the “we have an allocation spreadsheet” talk from I.T., but if you can show someone the benefit before it’s taken away, you’ve got your case for more monitors started.
Ask in your job interview – when you are negotiating for salary is the time to ask for any special equipment you will require. Ask for a laptop and not one, but two additional external monitors so that you have a total of three. If the person on the other end balks, be sure you understand exactly why and be very clear that you will not find as many bugs if they don’t honor your request.
Here is a vga to usb adaptor I’ve had success with in the past. The company seems to update their drivers for Macs more quickly than others vendors.
If you work at a place where developers (even developer interns) automatically get two monitors, argue that everyone doing cross-browser testing should get an extra too. I’ve actually done this before and credit the group I was working with and the boss I was under for taking the argument to his superiors. In this type of workplace, however, where management isn’t too dear with what they give to developers to get their job done, it only stands to reason that they would want those doing testing to have what they need too. If you need to make a case, you might want to get some developer collusion going and have one of them test with you for an hour or so. That’s usually all it takes for people to judge the effectiveness of more browsers.
If you work at a place where no one has an additional monitor, it is possible the assumption will be made that you are setting a dangerous precedent which means everyone will want more monitors. Go ahead and laugh but there are places where you will hear this. If you happen upon this situation, strap on the guns and BE THE WICKED TESTER.
If better testing is dangerous, then I wanna go down in flames.
The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.
Writing about tech is as necessary for me as breathing. It’s something I do every day and have done for a long time. It’s probably not surprising that the novel I’m working on involves a tech company. When I started, I didn’t think of myself as writing science fiction. There are no jetpacks. There is no space travel. There are no cats shooting lasers out of their butts.
I spent quite a while setting up a story world that would help me reinforce the story I am telling. This has included creating a fake office, fake products and fake managers with fake management problems. It has included creating company in-jokes and company events. There is a boss and a boss’s wife.
This is stuff I’ve been working on since 2010. I named the company Time.ly.
This morning, as I was writing, I noticed that when I typed the company name, it turned into a URL. Initially, I dismissed it as my writing software mimic-ing Word’s annoying habit of turning all URLs into a link. In trying to remove the distracting hyperlink formatting, I discovered that it goes somewhere.
This is but one small problem. I won’t even go into the challenge of writing about cutting edge products that will still seem cutting edge when I finish the novel.
It turns out that I am not alone in my struggles.
Earlier in the week, this article came out with writer Warren Ellis saying, “Futurism’s gotten harder to write, because the future arrives so quickly.” Although he’s talking about the future, I would extend that to writing about today as non-historical fiction which is why I totally get the next thing Ellis says which is that his new novel is set in,”near-as-damnit present day.” (hat tip to Chris McMahon for the article)
The photo of Ellis in the article shows his bald head in the foreground yet lined up with a row of skulls in the background. I’ve seen this photo before…
only it wasn’t a photo. It was writing.
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? (Hamlet, V.i)
Lately, much of my time has been spent writing. Aside from the support emails I write at work, I’ve been building a practice for my writing. So far, the result has been that I spend one to two hours every day writing creative fiction. After writing tons of blog posts, a few conference talks and an article for Techwell, I now feel extremely comfortable with writing in various shapes and forms. There might be areas in my life where I work at having confidence, but writing is not one of them. If you like this post, you might also enjoy what I posted a while back On Blogging.
This post is my way of sharing what has worked for me. If you have something to say but are wondering where to start with writing, I hope some of what has worked for me will encourage you.
Start small with a focus on consistency
Although writing now takes up a chunk of my time every day, I didn’t start that way at all. Maybe give yourself 5 minutes 3 days a week or 10 minutes each Saturday and Sunday. The trick is to give yourself an attainable commitment and don’t focus to much on writing anything in particular. A 10 minute brain-dump will tell you a lot about where your head is. These are the creative breadcrumbs that will lead you to more writing later on.
Don’t be your harshest critic
Writing is an act of self love, especially if you feel ignored or dismissed by those around you. I never put anything on the page that isn’t 100% for me. This is why I haven’t done a lot of paid writing, but it keeps all of my writing true and helps me tap into my own thinking and opinions. It should be about what you feel and what you want to say.
Don’t worry about grammar or slang or whatever. I promise, Strunk & White are not gonna ring your doorbell if you misplace a comma. Just focus on getting your thoughts down however they look. If nothing else, some of the writing in my posts should prove that you can write even if you use way too many adverbs, capital letters or pepper everything with lol-speak. (Cuz, you know…<3<3<3)
If your writing is a reflection of you, then, well done!!
Write it when you think it
I never know when inspiration will strike, but when it does, I find a way to grab onto it no matter where or what I’m doing. Evernote helps because it’s on my phone, my computer and available through the web. While it’s not the most secure application, the biggest risk is that someone will get in and see my chicken scratch notes that don’t make sense to anybody but me. It is not uncommon for me to jump out of the shower, write something down and jump back into the shower.
If you are searching for words…mark your place and put the writing away
If I had a $1 for every time I heard someone say, “I just sit there and can’t think of any words,” I would not be living in a 1 bedroom apartment. If you are staring at a sheet of paper, it’s time to do something else. Believe me, this is how your brain works. If you continue to sit and stare at the page, you will fall into a cycle of beating yourself up for not having anything on the page which will make it harder for you to put something on the page. Remember: this is about being good to yourself and learning your own creative rhythms. If you are struggling for words, put the writing down and go do something else that makes you feel great.
Write like no one is reading
Fear is a huge creativity killer. It is also something that everyone faces at one time or another in their writing. I have found it helpful to tell myself, NOBODY IS GONNA READ THIS!!! Each blog post, article or whatever might as well be a message in a bottle I toss into a vast ocean. Even if my message reaches a few people, most of us are so far apart geo-spatially that it won’t matter anyway. The other side of it is that once you are writing for other people, your writing is no longer yours and that would be sad.
Know where and when you do your best work
Somewhere I read that Steven Spielberg goes for long drives with paper and pencil in his car because it brings up ideas. While I hope he pulls over when he starts writing them down, this is a great example of knowing what brings up ideas for you. For me it’s the shower and my walk to and from work. I also love writing in the early morning when everyone else is asleep. In fact, I go to bed early because I love getting up and writing so much. I’ve had a couple of jobs that required me to be working during this time and they completely zapped my creative energy. My husband will tell you that I am very cranky in the morning, but it’s definitely my best time for creative work.
The cabin is a MYTH
You are not a writer if at some point or another you don’t fantasize about a solitary cabin in the woods or at the beach where all of your needs are met and all you have to do is sit down and write. The reality is that most of us have to carve out time for writing. As I mentioned, I get up early because I’m committed. I know others that write late into the night. The goal is, to find your time and space during the week and do it consistently. This holds true even if consistency means a few sentences during time that you’ve managed to snatch away from your job and your family. I try to write a page every day. it works, mostly, but I also don’t beat myself up if life happens.
A blog is not a ball and chain
It always makes me sad when people think they have to write a post every week or have to stick to one narrow subject to have a blog or when they post something like, “I know I haven’t been writing enough but…” The posts on this blog range from conference notes to research to book reviews and even a few vacation reports. There’s no editor to tell me what is appropriate or not and I don’t have a schedule. There are times when I go a few months without a post and times when I post more regularly. While I see the readership go up and down, it’s more of an interesting for me than a goal. This is not a billable project and, believe me, velocity is the LAST thing that matters.
Once you think you need a certain number of readers, I don’t see how the writing can really be about you anymore unless it’s just because you want to make money. I’m not saying that wanting to make money with a blog is bad, but it does change the writing and it’s not a great way to build a beginning writing practice.
Find a writing class and see what happens
For a few years, I’ve had fictional characters move into my head and set up camp. While I did some sporadic writing mixed with bouts of self-denial and thinking they would go away, they didn’t. To be clear, I’m not saying they control my thoughts or anything like that, it’s just that they didn’t leave. For that reason, I started sneaking away early from work to take some writing classes this past Winter. The classes were terrific because they not only validated my need to write, they gave me hints on writing craft that I’ve found has spread into the other writing I do.
If you feel the need for a jump start for your writing, take a writing class for any type of writing that interests you. College outreach programs are a good place to look. In some cities, you’ll even find businesses dedicated to the teaching of writing such as San Francisco’s Writing Salon. Fellow blogger and tester Lanette Creamer will be leading a workshop at the 2012 Star East conference titled, “From Practitioner to Published Author: A Workshop About Writing About Software,” which will, likely, be a highlight of the conference for those who attend.
Be sure that if you go the route of taking a writing class that you email the teacher and ask how they will critique your work. You are looking for a teacher who believes in positive, constructive feedback. Anything else can be a hard strike at your confidence no matter how tough you think you are.
We need more voices in technology and I’ve met people with incredible stories. It doesn’t matter to me if the voices are similar to my own or quite different. I place a high value on differing opinions. By building your own writing practice, you can not only learn about your own voice, but, by building a writing practice you will be learning how to “own” your voice so that it is clear and distinct.
But don’t take my word for it, here are a few writers with their own opinions:
An interview where William Gibson describes some of his writing habits …hat tip @chris_blain
As Summer draws to a close here in the Northern Hemisphere I’m taking stock of my summer reading. I can’t remember the last Summer when I had time to read for pleasure instead of doing homework, renovating a house, learning more Selenium or writing a paper and practicing for a conference presentation. Being so industrious in my off time has made for a great blog, but without getting out there and living life, there’s not much to write about. Thus, I took a blog-cation and caught up on some reading instead.
While half of my blog-cation has been summer reading, I’ve also been getting to know my new home of San Francisco, California. This has involved adventures such as screaming at the top of my lungs while driving up or down the incredibly steep hills, catching the wrong bus and deciding my new journey is better anyway, hearing a mix of Brazilian, Mexican and Chinese in a one-block radius in the Mission and learning how to shuck my own oysters.
This post is a wild ride through some of the things I’ve seen in San Francisco matched with the books on my Summer reading list.
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser
This is a book that I began reading over 2 years ago and finally picked up again this Summer. It fits in with the collection of women’s biographies I keep and was the inspiration for one of my favorite movie adaptations and soundtracks of all time (Thank you very much Ms. Coppola!)
Aside from the events themselves being interesting, the writing is phenomenal and the research…OMG…THE RESEARCH!!! Excuse me while I take my master’s thesis and go jump back into the research kiddie pool! The balance between the macrocosm of world events and the microcosm of Marie Antoinette’s daily existence made me feel like I was there.
Catching Fire and Mockingjay(Books 2 and 3 in the Hunger Games Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire and Mockingjay(Books 2 and 3 in the Hunger Games Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins
There are many reasons why I love the Hunger Games Trilogy. While romance is part of what’s going on in this series, it’s more of a sub-plot. The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, is faced with some very tough choices, all with trade offs.
The author of these books specializes in writing about children and war which shows in the way the characters, many of them children handle some pretty heavy situations. The best YA fiction stands on it’s own outside of the genre, and Hunger Games certainly does that. Also, if you liked Hunger Games, I recommend Glass by Ellen Hopkins.
Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon Mackenzie
If you find yourself describing your job as soul-killing, the opposite of creative or undignified, this book will shine a light on how to restore at least some of what you have lost. The author, Gordon Mackenzie worked for Hallmark Greeting Cards for years which is why format of the book is so interesting. The book itself is card shaped and the the pages are filled with illustrations and craziness. There is no digital version of this book for a reason.
Spook Country by William Gibson
As part of living out my professional credo, I’ve been experimenting with creative writing. This includes some literary analysis and reading fiction that has thematic commonality with my own writing. Since most of my writing has a heavy slant towards software and technology (surprise!), I’ve been reading William Gibson very closely.
I must have read the first chapter of Spook Country 3 or 4 times because a good first chapter is supposedly a microcosm of a novel. What’s crazy is how similar some of the characters are to people I know in real life. People with more gadgets than underwear who are always traveling and may or may not have a permanent place of residence…I know a few of those.
Summer might be winding down up top on planet Earth, but there are plenty of folks who are just beginning to welcome the warm weather back to the Southern Hemisphere. As for me, it’s back to writing and blogging although it is highly likely I will sneak off to read Elisabeth Hendrickson’s new book Explore It!
It has been nearly 3 months since I joined Pivotal Labs and the Pivotal Tracker team. So far, the experience has been great. While most of my time is spent writing email replies helping people get to know Tracker, I’ve also done plenty of testing and even committed a tiny fix. In short, I’ve been doing whatever the team needs done and it has all been fun.
There is plenty to write about with Tracker. Aside from selling what I personally think is a great tool for managing software projects, there is how the Tracker team operates. Obviously, we use the tool we make, but there’s another layer that is firmly grounded in the culture of trust I have found at Pivotal Labs.
Starting with this blog post, Tracker on the Agile Continuum, I am working along with my teammates at getting the Tracker Team’s story out. You might want to follow the Tracker blog because I’m not sure how often I plan to do “content pointers.” This is because I am more of a fan of having actual content in my posts, and besides, If you like my post, you might like some of my Teammates’ posts as well.
There are some phenomenal writers on the Tracker team, and next week, we’ll be welcoming another great writer and tester, Lisa Crispin, to our team. Tracker’s collaborative energy is ever rising and I hope that by combining the building of an awesome tool with writing about our experiences, we can disseminate even more of that energy. Working with it every day has been invigorating and I’d like to say thanks to all of my teammates for that.
Although the question in the title frames this post of how it’s going for me at Tracker, I’d love to hear about how it’s going for you with Tracker. If you send an email to tracker at pivotallabs dot com, chances are, I’ll be the one who replies. Send me your questions, your frustrations and your bugs!!