Moms Are People, Too

One of the most frustrating aspects of working as a mom in tech is working with team members who don’t understand that I sometimes have family obligations.

Not all women in tech have families, and I’m certainly not here to begrudge those who don’t, nor belittle those who are consciously choosing not to (in fact, I applaud you).

Many, many men in tech have families and family responsibilities that often surpass mine.

In my experience as a technical project manager, though, it seems that the majority (but not all) of my dev team members fall into three family-related categories:

  1. Dudes with grown kids who are teenagers, in college, or otherwise self-sufficient.
  2. Dudes with no kids who have partners who either work similarly demanding jobs and/or have gotten used to the uncertainties that come with dating, marrying, or partnering with someone in tech.
  3. Dudes who have kids but have a partner or other family member who is able to address the needs of the kids when the dude needs to address a work issue.

These dudes are (in general) easier to get in touch with and more able to spring into action when the servers go down at 10 pm over the weekend.

I’m not a dev, I’m a project manager, and most of the urgent situations do not require my problem-solving prowess, but my people-rallying, meeting scheduling, and communication skills.

I’m also a single mom with two kids, ages 6 and 8.

I’m not asking for sympathy.

I’m not asking for “special accommodations.”

I’m simply asking for understanding.

Before it’s said:
Yes, I knew what I was getting into. I chose to have kids. I chose to work in tech.

But I did not choose, and cannot choose, to put urgent and unexpected tech needs above the equally urgent and often unexpected needs of my family.

This means that when you need a PM to set up a conference call on a Sunday evening, I may be away from my machine, or not checking my work email, or not responding to texts, as I’m helping my kids to remember to brush their teeth and giving out hugs before bedtime.

While I’m doing this, I may not respond immediately. Trust me, had I known a meeting was needed in advance, I would have made accommodations.

This also means that during 7 am deployment calls, I’ll need to be on mute occasionally as I rouse the kids, again remind them to brush their teeth, find something for my daughter to wear that doesn’t offend her sensibilities, make two lunches, locate the lunch boxes, and put the kids on the bus.

During this time I will be temporarily away from my computer, unable to screen share while the team updates stories on the agile board.

My time on mute, my slightly delayed responses, and my temporary time away from my computer are not a reflection on my dedication to my job, my role, or my clients.

I’m simply doing my first job: Being a mom.

And sometimes, this has to come first.

Thanks for understanding.

Your intrepid project manager,
Kate

PS: This is a commentary on moms in tech, but the larger conversation of why our tech jobs are unpredictable and so disruptive to “life” is subject for another post.

I’m interested in that, too.

This article was originally posted on Medium on November 24, 2014.

Just Another Woman’s Story About Non-Consensual Ass-Grabbing

My college had a unique schedule. We had fall and spring semesters like most places, but also had a lovely month in the middle there when students could have internships, travel, or take short classes on campus.

It was January Term.

Jan Term was one of the “deciders” when I chose Westminster (that, and a nice alumni scholarship, as my mom was a ‘73 grad). I spent my first Jan Term reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and taking hikes around the frozen New Wilmington countryside. As a sophomore I spent the month at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM, in a traditional loom weaving class, and following that, I was an intern at the Erie Art Museum.

Which brings me to my senior year.

I was an English major, and not far away, in the city of Youngstown, OH (also the place of my birth), a small literary magazine and printing press was still in operation. One of my professors knew the proprietor from ages back, and I happily signed up to be an intern at The Pig Iron Press.

Run by an aging hippie (I loved, and still love, aging hippies), the Pig was located in a 4-story building downtown, right around the corner from one of Youngstown’s coolest bars. Old Hippie Jim kept the first floor open to customers and operated a copy center, Kinko’s-style, to keep the lights on.

The building was something to behold.

The first floor had copy machines and a kitchen where I tasted natural peanut butter for the first time. The loft on the second floor featured overstuffed couches, a table with ashtrays, and stacks — yes, stacks — of dusty envelopes of poetry and short-story submissions that had been piling up over the years. The third floor had more stacks, an ancient Mac, and several Selectric typewriters.

The fourth floor was where he kept the costumes.

The basement was where we roller-skated.

Jim needed an intern to review submissions and help finish a book he’d been working on for a while, a history of the city titled Young’s Town.

I had a key to the place after my first day. I’d arrive just before 9 am, open up the copy shop, make coffee, and flip through the couple-few used books he had for sale, copies of On the Road and collections by Langston Hughes.

Jim would roll in around 9:30, disappear into the upper floors, and smoke weed. Around noon a few of Youngstown’s colorful residents would appear, usually in costume. They’d descend into the basement for roller-skating and smoking while I made $0.06 copies for folks off the street, most of whom would comment on the heavy smell of pot.

I’d brush it off with an excuse about incense.

We never had many customers in the afternoons, so I’d spend my time reading through the manuscripts (some sent in a decade before) and working at the old Mac, editing what would eventually become the book. Jim and the others would float about in a haze, telling stories and trying on funny hats. When Jim invited me and a friend to attend a local theatre production, I naturally accepted, and our evening of theatre, consulting the I Ching, and smoking weed in Jim’s old car, three abreast in the front seat, did not disappoint.

It was about mid-January when I noticed that Jim had started to stand a little close while I pored over the yellowing sheets of paper.

It was a few days later when he hugged me pretty tight when I was locking up for the night.

And it was the next morning when he came up behind me at the copy machine and rubbed his hand all over my ass, cupping each cheek through my thrift-store corduroys.

I stood at the machine, frozen. I was making copies of manuscripts to take home and read that night, so I needed to wait until the stack was done.

He moved away from me, and I finished out the day, avoiding him as much as possible. I knew he was high — he was always high — and likely lonely. I’d suspected something was going on with the roller-skating girl, but didn’t know for sure.

The Press at the time had a sort of advisory board, a board of directors, made up of local artists and historians, folks in the community who knew the Pig was special and wanted to keep it going.

The president of the board, and I’ll be damned if I remember his name, was a kindly straight-laced fellow, a cool guy who had become a confidant of sorts over the previous few weeks. We’d talk about books, my own writing, and give each other knowing looks when the building smelled more dank than usual.

I considered him a friend, and I told him my story.

He was nonplussed, but also very concerned. He told me that the board would speak to Jim, about this as well as his near-constant weed-smoking.

They did. And I was relieved.

I was also done with my internship. The month was nearly over, and I worked out the last few days, taking care never to be alone with Jim, putting the finishing edits on the book and making copies when needed. I told the story to my professors. Jim’s old friend was sad and disgusted. She felt guilty for setting me up there in the first place. But, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t mine, and it wasn’t the board’s, either.

That didn’t keep me from feeling guilty about it, though. I’d been chummy with Jim — I tend to be chummy with a lot of people, especially old and interesting people. I’d smoked pot with him. I’d sat in the middle when we got high in the front seat of his car. I wasn’t innocent.

Right?

It’s taken me years to tell this story. It came to light only this morning when I read an article in the Toronto Star about professors at the University of Western Ontario telling students that internships at Q were “off-limits.”

I, like many NPR-loving Americans, admired Jian Ghomeshi’s radio voice and frank interview style. I’d sent him flattering tweets a time or two and giggled with pleasure when he’d fav and occasionally respond.

I, like many people, sent tweets of support when I heard he’d been fired.

When the full stories emerged, I, like many women, knew that women don’t lie about this stuff. Why would we? What, pray tell, would we have to gain? Money? A brush with “fame?”

As I write this now, I’m thinking about the folks still involved with the Pig Iron Press. They don’t have a website, but they do have a Facebook page, and it looks like it’s still in business. It’s crossed my mind a few times that this might stir things up, reopen old wounds, or hurt a lonely, horny old pothead.

But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write it.

And the same goes for all of us. All of us — all the college girls who have been uncomfortable during a teacher’s evening office hours. All the women in jobs where we have to work hard to convince coworkers that we know what we’re talking about, despite our choice of clothing. All the moms at Target who are afraid to linger in the family planning section. All the church-goers who think the minister’s compliments are a little “off.” All the women whose husbands have hit them with guitars; all the girlfriends who have wanted to jump out of moving pickup trucks.

We have to speak up.

It’s scary as hell, but we have to do it.

The only way it’ll be less scary for our daughters and granddaughters (and who knows, maybe they’ll live in a world where this kind of behavior is as foreign as some Americans believe slavery to be) is if we TALK ABOUT IT.

That’s the first step, at least.

Thanks. I support you. And I’m listening.

This is dedicated to Kathy Sierra, Carla Ciccone, Lucy DeCoutere, Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, Taylor Swift, the anonymous student at UWO, all my friends, my future friends, my daughter, sister, mom, nieces, and all women everywhere.

 

This article was originally posted on Medium on November 4, 2014.

I Wish It Were This Easy.

In the interest of continuing a fair and balanced dialog about what I think is a very serious issue, I feel compelled to write a response to “How Bad UX Killed Jenny.”

TL;DR: Fixing the bad UX that can potentially kill people — and already has — is going to be a very difficult task.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t time to start.

When I read Jonathan Shariat’s article this morning, I experienced what can only be expressed, in a classic Twitter-in-cheek way, as ALL THE FEELINGS.

I had ALL THE FEELINGS for several reasons:

    • I worked at the Oncology Nursing Society for 12 years. I started out there as a copy editor and eventually ran software projects.
    • The article directly links oncology nurses struggling with a complicated user interface to the death of a patient.
    • ONS offers a Chemotherapy Certificate course that helps ensure oncology nurses who administer chemo are trained, certified, and prepared to handle not only the drugs, but also the emotional side-effects of living with cancer and undergoing cancer treatment. Chemo nurses who work in many hospitals and out-patient clinics are required to take this course.
    • The nurses referenced in the article may be people I know, or have met at a conference over the years. Regardless of the personal connection, I know nurses like them. I have hugged them. And I understand them.

Shariat’s article is deservedly successful for several reasons. For one, it has a great title, and even if I wasn’t passionate about UX and healthcare, I would have read it. In addition, it gets the conversation started. And that’s what we all need.

I see the solutions, however, as more nuanced.

Industries that could use the help of talented designers and developers — and my list of these is growing, from insurance companies to school districts to departments of motor vehicles — need help understanding why our work is so dearly needed. Leaders in these organizations have to understand the need, and place importance on it.

My struggle with the recommendations to do something — and I do appreciate the call to action — is that we need to do more than apply for jobs at these organizations and speak up. We need to find a way to influence and inspire the leaders who run them.

Because without that, and without the support from the top, it’s sadly too easy for talented, passionate people — people who care so deeply about a company’s mission that they will work nights and weekends to make it happen —to get very burned out.

It happened to me and it is happening to others.

Please get those jobs. Please redesign things. Please start it up and speak out.

Go to UX Conferences. But take your boss with you.

Hold a lunch event and watch Jared Spool speak. Invite the CIO.

Design a great site. And then find ways to measure — preferably in dollars — how this new design can positively influence the “bottom line.”

Test that great new site with real users. And ask the CEO to watch the session.

Because our designs can’t do it alone. And neither can we.

We need support and buy-in from everyone in the C-suite, everyone who signs the checks, develops the strategic plan, and sets the priorities.

This will be the hard part, but it’s the most necessary part.

Your great designs will come, and then — and only then — will they be able to make the difference we all need them to.

Thanks for getting the conversation started.

I love you all.

Unless.

Unless

Three weeks ago, I tendered my resignation at the company where I’d worked for twelve years. I spent nearly a third of my life there. When asked if I’d considered “not going out with a bang,” the answer was no; but my bang wasn’t in any way destructive.Driving in on my last morning, I found the right way to say goodbye. Below is my farewell letter to staff.

As I cleaned out my desk this week, sorting through twelve years of creativity, project plans, pencil-drawn wireframes, and printed-out emails scribbled with ideas, I had a chance to reflect on my time here. I’ve been given many opportunities to influence the course of the organization, and for that, I’m very thankful.

I’m thankful for A., who hired me, and who listened when I brought up the idea of making our employee newsletter into a website. I’m thankful to K., who gave me a server to host it on, despite her puzzled look when a copy editor came and asked for this. These events changed the course of my career here, and as time would tell, the course of my life.Over the years, I’ve been told that I care too much. Thing is, I can’t stop caring. I can’t stop caring about an organization like ours.With that, I’d like to leave you with a few thoughts.

Always fight for quality.
Anything less doesn’t count. Remember that everything we do, everything we say, and everything we put out on the Internet is competing against posts on Facebook, funny stuff on Twitter, and emails from Target, ASAE, ASCO, and everyone else for our customers’ attention and time. Make it good. Make it as good as possible.

Admit your mistakes.
We all mess up. We’re supposed to. And we’re supposed to learn from those mistakes, have a laugh, and move on. If you mess up, admit it. Fix it. Learn from it. I’ve had some epic fails during these twelve years, and each time I’ve spoken up, admitted my mistake, and moved on. If this is scary, it shouldn’t be — it’s liberating. I don’t hide the fact that I have a strict intolerance for errors, but I’m sure this letter has a copy edit or two that I’ll notice later, maybe tomorrow. But I’m human just like the rest of us, and it’s OK.

Listen to each other.
Don’t discredit the voice of reason simply because it speaks with emotion. If you’re in a meeting with someone who seems upset, there’s likely a reason. Chances are this person is feeling something that she or he is afraid to say; seeing something in a different way, despite what the group is discussing; or wanting to contribute but can’t find the words. Talk to this person and listen. Find out why. Because the people who show emotion are the ones whose personal goals align with the goals of the company. They care, and they have a passion for what we do.

Take it personally.
We all should. Yes, it’s “just a job,” but it’s a job we should all care about. To quote Erin Brockovich (Soderbergh, 2000):

Ed Masry: PG&E is demanding 90. In other words, everybody. Do you understand? This is serious.

Erin Brockovich: And what, Ed? I’m not serious?

Ed: You’re emotional; you’re erratic. You say anything, you make this personal, and it isn’t.

Erin: Not personal? That is my work! My sweat! My time away from my kids! If that’s not personal, I don’t know what is.

Remember that the work we do touches the lives of oncology nurses. These brave men and women hold the hands of mothers, brothers, dads, sisters, and kids during the most difficult times of their lives — and often, at the end of their lives. Remember that our organization helps nurses, doctors, and patients, and the work you do every day touches them in some way. Remember this, and do the best work possible.

By the time many of you read this, my account will be disabled, my years of service plaque will be removed, and my work here will just be a memory. Please keep in touch.

If you’d like to say hi, you can email me. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Polar, SoundCloud, Vine, and whatever other social network crops up that seems cool and offers something new and lets me log in with an existing account.

I also have a personal website, kateda.ly. It’s responsive, so it’ll work on the mobile device of your choice, but the desktop version works nicely as well.

Goodbye, and good luck.
Kate

References

Dr. Seuss. (1971). The Lorax. New York: Random House.

Soderbergh, S. (Director). (2000). Erin Brockovich [Film]. Beverly Hills, CA: Jersey Films.

Support oncology nurses with a gift to the ONS Foundation.

This essay was originally posted on Medium on November 27, 2013, and has been backdated accordingly.

How HealthCare.gov Can Help Save Software Development

St. Isidore

St. Isidore of Seville, Patron Saint of the Internet

A tale of martyrdom

Since early October, it’s become much easier to determine where people fall on the political spectrum.

If they refer to the health insurance exchange website as the “Obamacare” site, they’re a conservative. If they refer to it as “HealthCare.gov,” they’re a liberal.

If they call it “not surprising,” they likely work in software development.

When the stories started to surface, I was in Boston, MA, attending UIE’s User Interface 18 conference. A few of us joked about the irony of being at a UI conference when the president was on TV talking about an “unusable” website.

Being a software project manager, I could picture how things went down and started to feel for the managers and devs who were in the middle of it.

At Boston’s famous Quincy Market, my buddy and I sat down at a communal table with some kind-looking older folks. After learning we were in town for a “website convention,” our new friends shook their heads.

“It’s a shame,” the gentleman said, “we have a nephew who works with websites. He says it’s really hard to get anything done. It’s no wonder this HealthCare.gov site is a mess, too.”

Knowing I could trust them, I shared my thoughts.

“Somewhere in DC is a project manager who saw it all coming, and hopefully, she went to her boss. Chances are she was told to go back to her desk and keep working. She’s likely losing her job right now. But at least she raised her voice.”

Unfortunately, she probably said things that nobody wanted to hear.

~~~

Failed software projects don’t just happen.

Failed software projects are a sprawling network of tributaries, with switchbacks and rocks and an occasional small waterfall. These lead into streams, then rivers, and eventually to an ocean of mismatched data types, trimmed zeros, and botched customer records, washing up on a beach littered with Mountain Dew cans.

Then everybody stands around a boardroom table and wonders what went wrong.

~~~

“It’s a management problem.”

As a software PM, I resented this statement. How could it be my fault if my devs don’t do their work? How is this a management problem when I’m such a good manager?

It wasn’t until I’d lived through a failed project or two that I realized the “management problem” everyone’s talking about isn’t our inability to make estimates, keep abreast of development, or keep an eye on the budget.

It’s often a fear of re-planning.

Re-planning is everywhere. How many times do you go to the store and only buy the items on your list (if you made a list at all)? How often does a dinner party go as planned? And, with kids in tow, how many times do you leave for vacation, school, or grandma’s house at the exact second you’d hoped to?

We humans naturally re-plan and revise every minute of our lives (this sentence brought to you by over 20 seconds of back-spacing).

But when it comes to software projects — especially large-scale and well-documented ones — there’s sometimes a fear of re-planning.

Because to many people, this feels like admitting a mistake.

I’m not claiming to have any insight into the planning of HealthCare.gov or to have a clue about what should have been re-planned. Yet, all the risk assessment matrices in the world won’t do you any good if everyone involved isn’t aware of them — or isn’t cool with changing things up if needed.

If re-planning isn’t discussed up front so that everyone understands, you’ll have some people — most dangerously, managers and higher-ups — who are afraid of it. Bottom line: Be cool with re-planning. It’s gonna happen.

~~~

“But we totally had a process.”

“So, are you guys straight-up agile, or agile with some waterfall, or strict waterfall, or what?”

Years of conducting developer interviews has me anticipating this question and trying to come up with an answer. Regardless of what your answer is, everyone has some kind of process.

For a while now, many companies have been “going agile,” mostly out of a desperate attempt to get people talking. Scrum and other agile methodologies seem like a perfect silver bullet for all the development teams out there that can’t seem to get anything done.

The world is filled with countless managers — including myself — who have thanked the Gods of Backlog for bestowing us with the amazing boon of the Daily Scrum.

It all seems so simple, right? Just look at the amazing benefits!

Requirements written in language that stakeholders can understand!

Daily meetings where we can actually discuss progress and impediments!

Time-boxed development cycles!

Not convinced? Wait, there’s more!

Retrospectives— postmortems!—where we can talk about everything that went wrong and then fix it!

Just call the number on the bottom of your screen to have this life-changing software development process delivered right to your door for the low low price of solid requirements plus tax, paid in easy, two-week installments.

Ok, enough silliness. Agile can be great — lots of very successful companies use it to pump out some really cool stuff — but agile for the sake of agile, or process for the sake of process, isn’t gonna cut it.

I’ve talked to folks who have worked on teams that keep moving ahead with sprints despite a need to stop, assess what’s going on, and re-plan.

“We kept getting behind and rolling stuff over to the next sprint,” they said. “But we had to have another sprint planning meeting the next day, so there wasn’t any time to figure out why this was happening.”

Teams sometimes keep using a process because they’re afraid not to have a process — they keep having daily stand-ups even though everyone says the same thing every day—and rush through those once-promising retrospectives because everyone’s too nice to say what went wrong and it’s time to start planning the next sprint.

I have no idea whether the teams working on the HealthCare.gov site were or weren’t agile, but I’m guessing their work had at least some of these elements. And when you keep using the process because it’s the process and you need to use the process, it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re actually doing.

~~~

“Software isn’t complicated. People, on the other hand…”

I was once talking to a woman whose development staff served in a staff augmentation role for clients. For one client, they’d gone through four PMs in one year and were about to introduce a fifth. The client was obviously skeptical.

“We hired these dudes coming right off of their PMPs,” she’d said.

But as soon as they talked to developers, they only heard the teacher from Charlie Brown.

Now, I love developers. Some of my best friends are developers. But, the more I talk to folks in my industry, the more I learn that this is unique.

I imagine that most PM-developer conversations go something like this:

PM: Hey man, how’s it going?
Dev: (Removes earbud) It’s going.
PM: So it’s all good?
Dev: Yeah bro, it’s all good.

Then the PM walks away and tells his managers that yep, everything’s on schedule, everything’s “all good.”

Chances are, though, that even if my mythical dev’s work is “all good,” what about the other guy? What about the dude writing the API? Or the new chick in the design department? How’s her stuff coming?

If PMs don’t actually talk to devs and ask real questions about what they’re working on, or don’t have someone else who can do this for them, “all good” can quickly turn into “total bullshit.”

And even if it’s not BS, “all good” might actually mean that:

A) the dev is totally going to pull an all-nighter to get this shit done
B) his work is “all good” but who knows about the other guy
C) both A and B
D) neither A nor B.

I’m not saying that all PMs should be devs in a former life. Hell, I’m an copy editor-cum-manager, and some of the best project managers I know couldn’t SELECT * themselves out of a paper bag. But they know what SELECT * does; they have a general idea of why you shouldn’t always use it; and they can talk the talk enough to be taken seriously.

It also helps to have a nose for BS and a good sense of humor. And when you’re talking to developers about estimates, it’s always a good idea to ask them how long they think it’ll take the team to do it, not how long it’ll takethe dev to do it.

(Believe me. I have a formula: dev estimate x 6 = real estimate. It’s pretty accurate, and takes into account communication, testing, deployment, confirmation, and things I forgot [TIF]. Give it a try and let me know what you think.)

~~~

“It just takes a lot of ‘giving a shit.’”
— J. Endler, musician, developer

Some people, at times myself included, are surprised that any software products work at all.

Truth is, a lot of them don’t, but most of them work well enough for us to keep our jobs.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Engineers — just like we say we are — have built bridges, nuclear reactors, and that giant-ass building in Dubai.

We put people on the freaking moon. So what’s the difference? Physicality? Maybe, as we can’t actually “touch” the API that runs our Google maps.

I think it’s more about risk. Say the bridge you’re building can’t hold trucks. What happens? People die.

If that hotel in Dubai has an elevator that’s designed incorrectly, people die. If your lunar lander can’t make it back to earth, people die.

Houston? Here’s the problem.

We all know that complex computer programs are running systems critical to public safety, and their failures can, and sadly do, result in death (think: Toyota break recalls).

But for the vast majority of people writing software, nobody’s gonna die. Nobody’s gonna die if your datatype is wrong. A few records might get botched, but nothing huge. Nobody’s gonna die if your site takes over 10 milliseconds to load.

And as another designer friend once said, “Nobody dies if I choose the wrong blue.”

Since no one’s gonna die, and more often than not, no one’s gonna get fired, what’s our incentive? Good companies know that good software sells products and builds customer loyalty.

But lots and lots of companies are putting out software because they need to get something on the web — and if it pisses you off, well, sorry, bro.

This is where it helps to “give a shit.”

In our high-paying, low-stakes world, all we have to do is give a shit. We have to give a shit from top to bottom, from CIO all the way to the guy who pushes the button to run the automated tests. Because even if what we’re doing isn’t going to kill anyone, we should care about it. We should want to do good work. We should all want lighter sites and clean code and better user experiences.

It’s our duty to hold our peers accountable for this, for our managers to hold each other accountable, and for the people above them to do it, too. But what do we even have to say?

“Hey dude, I hope you care?”

Which brings me to our martyrs.

For the first time in my professional life, and maybe for the first time since “the modern web,” we have an epic fail to talk about. A Hindenburg. An Apollo 1. And as much as it grieves me to say, a Challenger disaster.

On HealthCare.gov, something went wrong. Somebody messed up.

Or, a lot of somebodies messed up. Maybe a lot of somebodies were messing up, and nobody thought it was a big deal or had any clue as to what a big deal it was going to be.

These somebodies have given us a gift. They have given us the words we need to talk to our bosses, and our boss’s bosses: a cautionary tale.

And even if our companies aren’t anything like the federal government and our projects are only a tenth of the scale of HealthCare.gov, messing up and failing to re-plan, use a good process, talk to people, and give a shit will cost our companies money, and someday, maybe our jobs.

We don’t want that. We can’t let it happen.

To the PM I believe is out there: thank you for your sacrifice and for giving us what we needed.

I promise not to go forth in vain.

~~~

Special thanks Nick BialaszewskiBrandon MillerJason GodeskyKris Graham, and Justin Endler, all of whom totally give a shit.

Saint Isidore of Seville image via http://en.gloria.tv/.

 

This essay was originally posted on Medium on November 1, 2013, and has been backdated accordingly.

Dear Marketing Team

Marketing Kitten

Let us discuss software development.

I’d like to take a moment of your time to explain software development in terms you can understand.

I have provided the kitten above to help draw your attention and included additional kittens below to help retain it. I understand you are quite busy, so here’s a list of salient points.

Details Kitten

Details Kitten

Details
I know you think I’m annoying when I ask questions. I see your face when I ask for details. I’m doing this because I need to fully understand what you’re asking for.

I need to “get” it and document it, and this documentation needs to be crystal-clear, clear to the point that I can give it to a developer, who can then make a computer do something.

And that computer? It only understands ones and zeros.

Maybe you get annoyed because I ask about things you don’t have answers for, but you know what? That’s totally ok. I understand that you may not know exactly what you need.

In fact, it’s more likely that you won’t know what you need until you see what you don’t need. And that’s also ok.

We have a process for that, where you get a chance to try out our handiwork and let us know if we got it right. I understand that you’re often too busy to come to meetings, but please consider that we have nothing to hide, and we truly want to include you.

Next time we invite you to a planning or review meeting, please come, and maybe it will alleviate some of the frustration you’re feeling.

Teamwork Kittens

Teamwork Kittens

Teamwork
When I say that a software development team must work together to make something happen, I’m not just talking about collaboration, or consensus, or, you know, “being on the same page.”

I’m talking about working together to understand a business problem and finding a solution that will work.

And when I say work, I don’t just mean “work” in that it doesn’t crash, but work so that it makes you, our management, and our customers want to use the software. And finding that sweet spot takes time and a helluva lot of talking and Skyping and drawing and trying.

On your team, you’re lucky enough to have folks with shared skill sets who can easily absorb each other’s extra work. On my team, not only do we have to rely on each other to get everything done, but each member of the team has a special role in the process.

We can’t move the work around as easily, although my .NET guys are getting better at PHP by the day.

Tenacity Kitten

Tenacity Kitten

Tenacity
The mention of our expanding skills leads me to discuss tenacity. A former developer (no, not that one, the other one who quit this summer) once said that software developers have to draw upon the same tenacity, the same drive, that we did in college — just to make it though the day.

So if you ever wonder why we’re all typing in a Google search box, or scrolling through code samples, or reading comments on Stack Overflow, it’s not because we’re bored.

We’re learning. We’re questioning. And we’re digging for answers because things can break and we need to learn how to fix them.

It’s also because even if our code needs to change, the deadline usually can’t.

Deadlines Kitten

Deadlines Kitten

Deadlines
Oh, deadlines. I’ve seen your raised eyebrow when we discuss deadlines, and you’ve probably also seen mine.

Software development teams love deadlines, but deadlines that are set before we’ve had a chance to understand the scope of a project, or figure out how much work it’ll take, are pretty scary.

You once advised me to “be softer” about deadlines and to “find a way to make up for late work” because, as we both know, we’re not a dedicated software shop.

It’s important to understand that on a software team, we often can’t make up for late work on our own. This isn’t just a result of the dedicated skill sets I mentioned above — sometimes, it’s a matter of security.

I’ll explain.

We do a fair amount of business through our eCommerce site (the new product images look great, BTW).

In order to keep doing that business, we have to play by lots of rules. Some of the most serious rules surround the collection and transfer of personal credit card data. Perhaps you’ve heard us mention PCI compliance during a scrum or two.

These rules dictate which members of a team can have access to secure information, including passwords to the servers that store it.

As a manager, I have access in a limited capacity, but my developers sure as hell don’t.

So, when a deadline is missed before something gets to us, we can’t just make up for it by turning around a fast job on our end. We have to talk to the folks at the gate and convince them to turn the key. I don’t enjoy doing this in a rush, and I also don’t enjoy having to explain why it’s in a rush.

When I can’t set the deadlines, I still want to make plans to meet them. I also want to set up ground rules for re-planning when things are late.

This way, if a deadline is missed early in the project, we can adjust accordingly, and I can let the gatekeepers know to expect my knock on their door.

Balance Kittens

Balance Kittens

Balance
In 2012, the revered Jared M. Spool said, “When the marketing people win, kittens die.” Now, I don’t completely believe this, because I think we can find a balance, and work together.

But to do that, my friends, we need to understand that we’re in each other’s sandbox, and we may have different needs. You bring the buckets and water, we’ll bring the shovels and sifters, and we’ll build something new. Something better.

Thanks for listening.

Your friend,
Kate

PS: I know you’re not interested in talking about social media strategy with anyone outside your team, but I was reviewing some data and noticed that my tweet about cardboard Jar Jar nearly got more interactions than your last targeted email had click-throughs. Just let me know if you’d ever like to discuss ideas.

PPS: Need more kittens? Here you go! http://emergencykitten.com/

 

All kitten images: www.emergencykitten.com.

This essay was originally posted on Medium on October 14, 2013, and has been backdated accordingly.

 

I Danced Onstage With Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan, Pittsburgh 2002

On February 27, 1999, in the Copa Room at the Sands Casino in Atlantic City, NJ, I danced onstage with Bob Dylan.

Bob did two shows that night, and we had tickets to the late show. We walked around the casino for a few hours before taking our table seats inside the smallish, 750-seat room.

Bob had been letting folks up onstage that tour, playing the last few songs surrounded by fans, much like he did during the Soy Bomb incident on the Grammys the year before.

I was determined to get up if I could, and when a few brave souls jumped up during the intro to “Love Sick,” I left my seat and joined them.

I can still feel his sweaty, turkey-wing shoulder under my hand.

When the band left the stage, I bent down to grab the set list from the floor. A roadie gave me a “you really shouldn’t do that” look, so I left it there. Someone else grabbed it, though, and you can see an image of it here.

Thanks for the memory, Bob.

 

Cover photo: Bob Dylan at the AJ Palumbo Center, Pittsburgh, PA, November 2002. Photo by Kate D.

This essay was originally posted on Medium on September 19, 2013, and has been backdated accordingly.

Confessions of a Metal Edge Pen Pal

The Girls, 1988

When I was 11 I lied and said I was 13 when I submitted my full name, parent’s address, and list of favorite bands to Metal Edge magazine’s Pen Pals section.

Which was good because I was 13 when they published it.

I’d been a faithful reader of Metal Edge ever since my friend Annie, whose parents smoked Marlboro Reds in the kitchen and whose older brother played “Cum On Feel the Noize” in the basement had started decorating her room with its torn-out pages. We’d walk to the Rite-Aid not far from her house and buy each issue, taking care to get one from the back that hadn’t been fingered by other shoppers.

Soon my room was covered with long-haired, ripped-teeshirted Gods of Rock the likes of Rick Savage, Zakk Wylde, Stephen Pearcy, and Joey Tempest, their names discreetly printed in small white capital letters in the corner.

The Pen Pals page was newsprint like the other sections of the magazine not dedicated to preteen walls and promised the opportunity to make friends with metal fans world ‘round. On a piece of notebook paper I wrote:

Kate Daly
(house and street omitted to protect my parents, who still live there)
New Martinsville, WV
Likes: Def Leppard, Poison, Whitesnake, Europe, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Stryper, White Lion
Age: 13

and sent it to the address ATTN: Pen Pals. Each month I’d stand in the Rite-Aid and nervously scan for my name. I didn’t know they’d printed it until the first letter arrived from Japan.

They came from Sweden and Huntington, WV. Letters came from Minneapolis and Ontario and Nevada, and one day an envelope arrived from San Antonio, TX, decorated with the most beautiful artwork I’d ever seen.

Freddy Q. was an artist. Freddy Q. loved White Lion. Freddy drew an amazing rendition of the Pride album cover on a piece of typing paper and sent it in a legal-size envelope so it wouldn’t have folds. I wrote and told Freddy about my family, my tape collection, and how I’d stained the driveway spray-painting banners for the Def Leppard concert. I told him about my Swatch phone and how my friend Rachael and I met a boy at the WOMP-FM Monster Jam and called everyone in the Wheeling phone book with his last name, asking if Mike was there, and the $124 phone bill my dad was surprised to receive.

Freddy and I exchanged phone numbers and agreed that he’d call. I waited that night with my finger on the hook, popping it up on the first ring so my parents would assume it was a wrong number.

The voice on the other end surprised me. It wasn’t his Spanish accent or the fact that his deep voice made him sound at least 17; it was the fact that I was hearing the voice behind the slanted scrawl and the heartfelt pencil drawings. We didn’t have much to say.

Later that spring, around the time mom filled my Easter basket with To Hell With the Devil on cassette and Misty of Chincoteague in paperback, my love of the magazine had started to fade. I’d graduated to full-sized posters, Kip Winger in a Bastille Day tank-top and the iconic G N’ R band shot replacing the tear-outs. Freddy didn’t write after the phone call, but I’ve always wondered what happened to the boy in Texas who loved White Lion.

Maybe I’ll find him on the Internet.

 

Cover photo: The Girls, May 1988. L-R: Shauna K., Kate D., Rachael H., Annie K., Sheri E. Photographer probably Becky W. 

This essay was originally posted on Medium on September 16, 2013, and has been backdated accordingly.

My Boyfriend Is a Metal Head

Kirk Hammett

But we both like Zeppelin, so it’s ok.

I never miss a chance to talk about gear with an old guy at a picnic.

Late last summer at a pig roast in Buffalo, my boyfriend called me over to talk to an older guy who was dating one of his fifth-grade teachers. “Barry’s a musician,” he said. “I told him you played bass.”

“Yeah!” I said, pouring the head off my draft of Labatt Blue. “I’ve played for about 15 years now with a few bands in Pittsburgh.” I went into my usual spiel, how I started playing mostly surfy stuff, not Beach Boys but more The Ventures, yeah, we covered Telstar, Mr. Moto, Surf Rider. “We did some cool gigs, opened for Dick Dale a few years in a row, played with The White Stripes before they were on MTV. I have a Mexican p-bass, a ‘95, sounds great.”

“I’ve got a ‘67 Hofner, too,” (my companion makes a “Well, then!” whistling noise when I say this), “Yeah, it’s cool,” I respond, pretending not to notice, “You can tell someone had the pickguard on for lefties. I play with an Ampeg B-15 — have a B-100 for home, but I take the Portaflex to shows.”

“Ah, the best bass amp there is!” says my new musician friend as I nod knowingly.

“I’ve got a Les Paul custom with EMGs. Used to have a Mesa Dual Rec with a Marshall 4×12,” says my boyfriend.

“That’s quite a metal machine you got there,” says Barry the Musician.

I resist the urge to say it’s an Epiphone, not a real Les Paul, and make a joke about solid-state vs. tubes. But I don’t. Barry says he’ll friend me on Facebook and we decide to get some pulled pork.

I didn’t make the joke because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that he’s a metal head. I love his Metallica posters and his Children of Bodom CDs and his NIN tee-shirts. And I don’t care that he would probably buy a Flying V.

Tonight he’s downstairs picking out “Over the Hills and Far Away.” He really is a great guitarist. It’s not Bob Dylan, it’s not The Byrds, and we’ll never share a love of Leonard Cohen. And even if he doesn’t think the Troggs Tapes are that funny, he loves me.

And we both love music. That’s good enough for me.

 

Cover photo: Kirk Hammett, fanpop.com. 

This essay was originally posted on Medium on September 16, 2013, and has been backdated accordingly.

My Divorce Goes to Eleven

Or, why I’d rather be your bandmate than your wife

When I got your name in the Borders employee gift exchange, I knew you’d appreciate a thrift-store shirt and some salt-and-pepper shakers. When you asked me to the Bob Dylan show on Valentine’s Day just a few weeks later, and offered to drive even though your car didn’t have heat, I knew it might be something.

I bought a bass with my September paycheck and played that Halloween show just a month later, dressed as Roller Girl. We were in a band. was in a band. I was playing bass in a band!

And you were, well, ok.

We spent Saturday mornings making fliers with my bootlegged copy of Pagemaker and Saturday afternoons walking around the city, staple gun and Scotch tape in hand. I spent evenings after work designing album covers, buttons, and tee-shirts.

We got married because I think we thought we had to. It seemed like the next step in growing up, like going with mom to Penney’s to buy a bra.

But afternoons at guitar stores do not a marriage make. A trip to Memphis for analog mastering isn’t a honeymoon. Releasing a 7″ isn’t a recipe for happiness. And reverb doesn’t say I love you.

You were cool about the divorce thing. We cried, of course. But you understood when I told you that I needed someone who would dance with me. Not onstage jumping up on the last note, not behind me at a packed GBV show, but really dance. Like at a wedding or a reunion when you’re going to look like an ass and that’s the point.

You’d always sit there.

I’m glad we’re still in a band. I love it, actually. I love lugging my amp up onstage, I love my blue P-bass, and I love the songs we play. It’s part of who I’ve been, and who I want to continue to be. I’m glad it’s who I can still be without you.

See ya at the show.

 

Visit the hi-frequencies website.

Cover photo: The hi-frequencies at the Mattress Factory, December 2000. L-R: Kate D., Bill M. Photo by Melissa S.

This essay was originally posted on Medium on September 12, 2013, and has been backdated accordingly.