I belong to the “don’t have anything to lose” school of electronics repairs. Six months ago I was profoundly irritated that my new-batteried iPod suddenly wouldn’t respond to its buttons. It could still play if attached to a computer, but that didn’t do me much good, so I had to replace it with a newRead More…
I belong to the “don’t have anything to lose” school of electronics repairs.
Six months ago I was profoundly irritated that my new-batteried iPod suddenly wouldn’t respond to its buttons. It could still play if attached to a computer, but that didn’t do me much good, so I had to replace it with a new iPod.
Or did I? Yesterday I ran across the old one in one of my boxes of “I’ll do something with this someday” electronic junk and thought “Maybe I can use this as a travelling extra hard drive.” I plugged it into my laptop and, sure enough, it was still perfectly recognizable by the system. I was able to delete all the data from it and reinstall the iPod software, though this did not fix the non-response problem.
I couldn’t do the usual iPod three-finger-salute to reset it because you first have to click on and off the lock button and, no matter which way I slid it, the lock symbol on the display remained on. The problem was clearly mechanical: the iPod wasn’t responding to the lock button.
I did a Google search and found an old post by danah boyd, whose blog I read regularly, but it’s not usually technical in that way: she had issued a cry for help with her own iPod. She ended up having hers replaced, but it was still under warranty – I didn’t have that option.
The numerous comments, however, provided my answer: a mechanical problem admits of a mechanical solution. Some suggested banging (well, tapping) it on a table, others pressing on the case until the two parts re-aligned properly.
I had a better option: I had kept the plastic doohickeys used to open the iPod to replace the battery as described above. I ran one of them around the join of the case at the top, where the button is. I heard a loud, satisfying click – and the iPod lit up, ready to play.
Old Days, Old Ways: Adaptec When I began working for Adaptec in 1995 (as a result of their acquisition of Incat Systems, the company which created Easy CD), I was already a remote worker. Fabrizio Caffarelli, who had founded Incat in Milan, had moved himself and the engineering staff to California in late 1993 withRead More…
Old Days, Old Ways: Adaptec
When I began working for Adaptec in 1995 (as a result of their acquisition of Incat Systems, the company which created Easy CD), I was already a remote worker. Fabrizio Caffarelli, who had founded Incat in Milan, had moved himself and the engineering staff to California in late 1993 with the goal of selling the company. In the meantime, though still living in Milan, I needed to work closely with engineering staff to document, test, and help to improve our software products. I began travelling to California regularly, but most of the time I worked from home, keeping in touch by phone and email.
Nobody at Incat had a problem with this, but the concept was foreign to Adaptec back then. In 1995, they had not even had email for very long because (so I was told) the company’s executives had resisted, fearing it would be "a distraction" (they may have had a point).
Adaptec’s employee benefits would not actually have been all that interesting or useful to me (e.g., I didn’t need US health insurance). However, although even the regular employees had California-standard "at will" contracts, I suspected that, as a contractor, I was more vulnerable than they to cyclical layoffs.
On one memorable occasion, a customer reported to me that he had phoned tech support, quoting me on some technical question.
"Oh, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about," responded the tech. "She’s just a consultant."
I also had the uneasy feeling that, even among some of the people I worked most closely with, I wasn’t perceived as being part of the team, nor as being serious about my career. Part of the reason I started an MBA (via distance learning, of course!) was to demonstrate that I wasn’t just an over-privileged housewife.
While I was doing one of my first MBA courses, an engineering colleague from Adaptec’s Longmont, CO office, Dan Maslowski, came up against a personal situation: he was perfectly happy in his job, but his wife had been offered the opportunity to open the European offices of the (Web) company she was working for.
Dan’s boss didn’t want to lose him, but wasn’t sure how to deal with a remote employee. So they talked to me, as an example of how it could be done, and Dan eventually moved to the Hague while still working for Adaptec. We were a mutual support society of two, commiserating on how difficult it was (and still is) to schedule phone conferences when you’re eight or nine time zones away from everyone else. I even wrote him up as a case study for my MBA course.
My own situation with Adaptec endured, but several changes of manager back at headquarters increased my sense of vulnerability, frustration, and alienation. From some perspectives, I had an ideal job: I could set my own hours (as long as those included lots of late-night phone conferences), and was largely managing my own work and that of two other contractors, all of us working from our respective homes.
But I was at a career dead-end. It was clear that, with Adaptec, I could never become a regular employee, let alone have a career path, as long as I was off-site. I was good at what I was doing, but had been doing it long enough to be getting bored. I could see things that (desperately) needed changing to make life better for Adaptec’s customers, but I would never be in a position to make those changes happen.
Hence my attempted move to California in 2000-2001, to participate in the Roxio spin-off. I wanted to help define, from the ground up, how a new company would deal with its customers, using the Internet as a tool for support, marketing, and relationship-building via customer communities.
I planned to move my family to the US for a year or two – long enough, I hoped, for me to launch a career and then find a way to move back to Italy, where my husband had his own career that he was not willing to give up.
That didn’t quite work out. The whole Roxio situation went sour for me, and I returned to Milan in March, 2001 – back to the same situation in which I had previously felt so vulnerable, alienated, and frustrated.
All those same adjectives still obtained, redoubled. The (ridiculously good) money was not enough to overcome my misery, especially when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t think I could handle a major family crisis while hating my job every day. I quit in July, 2001. (My mother-in-law was successfully treated for the cancer and is still living; Roxio is no longer with us).
A New Dawn: Sun Microsystems
Corporate practice and technology have naturally moved on, and working remotely no longer seems as strange or difficult as it did ten years ago (although in Italy it’s still highly unusual). Having suffered through the early days with a resistant employer, I am now delighted to find myself working with a company that gets it.
Remember Dan? He ended up working for Sun Microsystems, where he’s currently a Senior Engineering Manager. When he realized in February that the new position he had just taken on entailed responsibilities for part of a website, he thought of me.
Obviously, Dan was asking me to join him knowing that I live in Italy and, though very willing to travel, this is where I’ll be staying. It didn’t occur to me to ask whether this would be a problem; his answer would have been: Of course not. His team was already spread across time zones from Silicon Valley to Beijing, so managing one more person in one more location wasn’t going to make much difference to him.
Arriving at Sun’s offices in Broomfield, CO for a first meet-and-greet visit in March, I astonished to learn that practically all of Sun is like this: teams seem to be formed on no geographical basis whatsoever, and many Sun employees work from home, wherever home may be. According to an official company statement I heard in an online presentation for newbies, at least 50% of Sun employees work from home at least one or two days a week.
This point was made most forcefully for me when I read the first blog post from Deb Smith, a Director in the software group I’m working for. Go read that now and you’ll see what I mean. As soon as I read it, I thought: I’m in the right place. The whole company is built for what they call OpenWork, with all the right systems – and, more importantly, attitudes – in place to make it work well both for the company and its employees.
This is probably a factor in the large proportion of women who stay with Sun – I’ve never seen so many women in an engineering organization!
And it’s not just the women: practically everyone at Sun seems to have been there for at least ten years (the company celebrates its 25th anniversary this year), with no intention of leaving. Upon getting to know Sun a little better, this does not surprise me at all. Sun demonstrates that it values its people, and understands the importance to those people of all aspects of their lives, not just their careers. That sounds like an organization I’d like to stick with.
Massacre at VA Tech – Malaysian Students Safe read a headline I spotted via Google News this morning. Naturally, it came from Malaysia’s Straits Times newspaper. It’s facile to say that the global is local and the local is global. But there’s more to this particular phenomenon. When we hear about horror anywhere in theRead More…
Massacre at VA Tech – Malaysian Students Safe read a headline I spotted via Google News this morning. Naturally, it came from Malaysia’s Straits Times newspaper.
It’s facile to say that the global is local and the local is global. But there’s more to this particular phenomenon. When we hear about horror anywhere in the world, the natural human instinct is to want to make sure our own loved ones are safe. But we also nurture a sneaky desire, hidden even from ourselves, to have some connection to the news, to somehow feel we are participants, not just audience, in a great world drama.
Of course, no one wants to be directly affected – to be killed or wounded, or have that happen to someone we know and love. But to be able to say that we were somehow part of the larger story – it’s only human to enjoy that.
This is the bread and butter of local newspapers, as I see constantly illustrated in the posters advertising Lecco’s local and regional papers. “So-and-so disaster elsewhere in the world: no Lecchese hurt”. But sometimes they are: “Lecchese drowns swimming in Rimini” appeared a year or so ago – this would hardly be local news (Rimini is on the Adriatic coast, nowhere near Lecco) except that a local man died.
As soon as something dramatic happens anywhere in the world, we would all like to be able to say whether or not we are connected with it or hurt by it. An ideal headline would read: [disaster] strikes [someplace else], hundreds dead – but no one you know.
Hence this modest (and ironic) proposal to some entrepreneur who’s got the technical skills: find a way to combine (mash up) Google News with all my social networks, so that I can immediately know whether the horrible (or good) events of the day hit me close to home. Call it “Six Degrees from Disaster,” because, as John Guare illustrated, we are all at most six “links” away from anyone in the world – in tragedy or in triumph.
Some years ago Silvia, who had been one of our tech support team (of two) at Incat, paid me the enormous compliment of saying that she considered me a role model. This from a woman with a laurea in physics who holds a managerial position in a team supporting HP servers, and certainly never neededRead More…
Some years ago Silvia, who had been one of our tech support team (of two) at Incat, paid me the enormous compliment of saying that she considered me a role model. This from a woman with a laurea in physics who holds a managerial position in a team supporting HP servers, and certainly never needed any advice from me on how to do her job!
I was extremely flattered, of course, but startled: I had never thought of myself as a role model for anybody. But it now seems that I am, and the job comes with responsibilities. Such as, um, eating free dinners and giving speeches.
Amanda Lorenzani (whom I’d enjoyed meeting at barCamp Roma), organized Italy’s first Girl Geeks Dinner, which took place in Milan last Friday. And she pulled it off magnificently: sponsorship from Excite, Dada.net, and San Lorenzo (who contributed the bubbly) ensured a very good dinner, complete with wine (though my request for a gin & tonic was turned down on the grounds that “then we’d have to give the strong stuff to everybody”).
At least 60 people were present, most of them, indeed, women. By the rules of Girl Geeks Dinners, women couldn’t be fewer than 50% of the guests: each woman attending can, if she wishes, invite one and only one man. (My date, by his own request, was Luca Conti.) After years of attending tech conferences at which women are always a minority and often silent, I was thrilled to meet and talk with so many smart, capable women. They had plenty to say for themselves, all of it interesting. Conversation flowed easily for most; I did what I could to involve those who seemed to be shy, though I was constantly distracted by new/old friends, and my feet hurt (I’m not used to wearing heels, but Ross had insisted I should).
We didn’t have a main speaker (as Girl Geeks Dinners often do although, surprisingly, they often seem to be men), but Amanda had asked four of us to each say a few words:
My two-minute speech was neither as off-the-cuff nor as nervous as it probably sounded. I had been trying all day to decide how to translate that immortal line from Thelma & Louise: “You get what you settle for.” I finally settled on (which is different from settling for): Nella vita, ottieni quello di cui ti accontenti. And added, as my own closing line: Vi auguro di non accontentarvi mai – “I hope you never settle.”
Almost everyone in the room had a blog, several specifically food blogs, which I will now go and read although it’s dangerous for me to do so, especially now when I have no time to cook.
Apparently I terrified at least one person in the room. Sorry about that – totally not my intention. I was a little weirded out – though extremely flattered – by people coming up to tell me they admire me, and/or like my site. Okay, it wasn’t that many, but it’s a strange experience nonetheless. Am I really somewhat famous, or just a legend in my own mind?
I was therefore a little manic, and very tired – had woken up at 4 am from jet lag, still wasn’t well (and destined to get much worse the next day), and had to get home to Lecco, with Luca in tow (as our house guest) at a not-too-unreasonable hour because we had to get up for rItaliaCamp. I hope for the next dinner I will be more relaxed and awake. There were so many topics in the air that I would have liked to hear more about.
Just one example: Beatrice came to represent TechneDonne, a project to study gender (in)equality in the world of IT. Among other things, they are asking themselves: “Is software different when women write it?” Interesting question. These are the folks who have asked me to speak at FemCamp in Bologna on May 26th; by then I hope to have had some opportunity to explore the roles of women at Sun Microsystems – in one week, I saw more women there than in any other tech company I’ve ever worked for or visited!
It was altogether a fun and stimulating evening, and I would/will be delighted to see all of these people again, and hope to have time to talk with the ones I missed this time around. In fact, I’d like to do it more often – maybe we can do regional lunches or aperitivi in between dinners?
April 2, 2007 – My pleasure in reminiscing on the joys of the dinner was somewhat soured by this:
For me, it started with a comment on Pandemia. Luca Conti (one of Italy’s most influential bloggers) reported the quizzical complaint of Marina Bellini: why were there practically no females signed up for barCamp Rome? Luca Mascaro, Federico, Diego Bianchi, Luca Conti I’d been reading more and more Italian blogs lately, especially since IRead More…
I’d been reading more and more Italian blogs lately, especially since I met some Italian bloggers at a conference in Torino back in December. Luca had endeared himself to me by telling me, as soon as we met, that he had liked my piece on Bormio. And I’d gotten to know Lele Dainesi since he began doing PR consulting for TVBLOB (although, dazzled by the charms of my boss Lisa, he rather ignored me until I established my geek street cred by showing him my own site/blog).
So, in answer to the question “Why are women so under-represented at tech conferences?”, I commented that it might be because we hadn’t been invited, and that, fond as I am of Lele, initiatives like his LeWeb photos make us uncomfortable: “We like to feel appreciated for our brains before our tette.”
Lele jokingly replied that he simply loves beautiful women and, if they have brains as well as breasts, so much the better.
(I was irritated by a similar posting of photos of The Babes of CES – really, guys, you can stop asking yourselves why women don’t come to tech conferences. As I commented on Thomas Hawk’s blog, it’s probably because we’re tired of trying to have conversations with your bald spots.)
^ Diego Bianchi aka Zoro
Another commenter pointed out that I didn’t need an invitation to come to a barCamp: anyone is welcome to attend and to speak. Then I received email from Amanda, a British woman (married to an Italian) living in Rome and working in tech (Excite), wanting to know if I was coming to barCamp, as she would like to meet me. Turns out she works with Diego, whom I knew from vlogEurope, who would also be at barCamp, along with others I knew, or wanted to meet.
So I bought a train ticket on Thursday (100 euros – ouch!) and arrived Friday evening at Rome’s Stazione Termini. From there I would take the metro to the end of the line, near the home of our friends Serena and Sandro. As I looked around me in the metro station, I reflected that, the further south you go in Italy, the more good-looking the men. Not that they’re ugly up where we live, but I’m often astonished at the sheer beauty of Roman men (I admit to prejudice: my husband was born in Rome, though that doesn’t make him a Roman). But no one’s allowed to take photos in the metro, so I couldn’t document the ones who particularly caught my attention that evening. (What you see on this page are men who attended barCamp.)
Serena picked me up at the metro station and brought me home to have dinner (and lots of wine) with the family. Sandro went over my Italian slang pages, making additions and corrections; eventually I want to get him on video demonstrating and explaining Roman slang. (I do have some video from that evening, finally edited and posted.)
Saturday morning Serena dropped me at the bus stop to begin an hour-long odyssey across Rome. The day was beautiful and the ride fun; I had to change bus lines once and ask directions several times (I was delighted at the friendliness and helpfulness of the Romans). I found my way to the Linux Club in via Libetta by around 9:45, for an event that was scheduled to start at 10.
This being Rome, we actually got started around 11:30, with the first speakers starting to talk while some of us were still registering for our badges and t-shirts. I stood in line with Amanda and Antonio (above), a winsome Sicilian philosopher who works for a company that makes adver-games (cool!).
barCamps are informal, and this one utterly chaotic: I had a hard time figuring out what was going on where and when, so I didn’t make it to any of the talks I thought I’d like to hear. But the ones I did end up listening to were interesting, and designed to provoke conversation rather than dispense wisdom in only one direction. Me being me, I got more than a few words in edgewise.
^ Federica Fabbiani, Andrea Cuius, Mystery Woman 2, Mystery Man J
During one such intervento, I pointed out that the Italian blogging community ignores the many foreigners blogging in and about Italy, whose perspective is different and potentially useful. Some people pitched in enthusiastically that they had recently discovered some of these blogs, and in the hallway afterwards several told me that they’d specifically discovered mine (thanks to a recent link from Lele), and enjoyed it – always good to hear!
When I wasn’t listening to “formal” presentations, there were plenty of other interesting conversations going on. Elisabetta, whom I met at vlogEurope, had come down from Milan to conduct live online interviews during dolMedia‘s coverage of the barCamp. She interviewed me about my 25 years online (a topic I had considered speaking on, but there were too many speakers already) and about TVBLOB.
I realized that Robin Good, whose blog I’ve been reading for years, was present – and the photo on his site does not nearly do him justice (nor does mine, unfortunately). I had not been able to locate his talk on Come pagare l’affitto con il sito (“how to pay the rent with your site”), but he was happy to give me individual advice. He, too, had followed Lele’s link to my site recently, so had some truly useful things to say. (I’m now mulling over what I’ll actually carry out.)
Robin is Italian, but writes his site in at least three languages (English, Italian, and Spanish, that I know of – and he may be adding more), and does a nice job of explaining all sorts of high tech stuff even to non-techies – I recommend it if you’re interested in understanding what we nerds are up to.
I spent a lot of the day talking with Amanda, who’s trying to set up a Girl Geeks Dinner in Italy – we need to find a woman who works at a high level in IT in Italy to be our inspirational speaker. I also talked a lot with Diego, about everything possible, and lots of other people. By the end of the day I was exhausted from talking.
Around 8:30 pm, 40 of us moved a few blocks down to a restaurant for a group dinner. Pastarito is part of a chain in Italy, almost American in its approach and menu styling. It wouldn’t have been my first choice for a meal, but it was nearby and could seat 40 people, so probably the best we could do in the circumstances. The food was okay, though nowhere near the level of the dinner I organized for vlogEurope (said she modestly).
^ waiter who looks like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, Fabrizio Ulisse
The dinner in any case was mostly about (more) conversation, though we were all running out of steam by the time we broke up at 11 pm. Diego dropped me and Luca at a metro stop, but the Roman metro closes for (ongoing) repairs every night at 9, and we couldn’t figure out where to catch the substitute bus. So we walked to a taxi stand, and finally found a taxi. Which cost a LOT less, for the distance, than it would have in Milan. I collapsed at Serena and Sandro’s around midnight.
^ Andrea Beggi, Mystery Man X, Pino (who shared an excellent dish of mussels at dinner)
Many thanks to Fabio Masetti (above) who organized it all, very well.
As for Les Boys: if all tech conferences were stocked with this many good-looking men, more women would probably go to them! (Sorry my photos aren’t so great – I really must get a better camera.)
I’ll leave it to the public to decide who is il piu’ figo (the hottest). If you’ve got better photos you’d like me to post or can provide links to (and names for – thanks to Luca for those already fixed), please do! Some photos I’ve already found are Luca’s.