Tag Archives: women in technology

GHC09: Becoming a Person of Influence

Still trying to catch up with my notes from the talks I attended at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in October… Jo Miller was a very popular presenter at GHC08, so was invited back this year to speak on Becoming a Person of Influence. Jo, an Aussie with a somewhat confused accent Read More…

Still trying to catch up with my notes from the talks I attended at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in October…

Jo Miller was a very popular presenter at GHC08, so was invited back this year to speak on Becoming a Person of Influence. Jo, an Aussie with a somewhat confused accent after years in California, does Women’s Leadership Coaching for a living, and I suspect from this experience of her that she’s good at it.

This talk had the particular merit of being useful to everyone attending, at whatever stage of their tech career.

I was amused that she started the session saying: “Anyone caught blogging or tweeting during the session will absolutely be invited back next year!”

From my notes:

The emerging leader’s quandary: you can’t get to the higher level job without leadership experience, but you can’t get the experience without the job.

How can you establish yourself as a leader while doing your current job?

Question: Are you the best-kept secret in your organization?

“In my company, influencing skills are the single most important success factor after knowing your job.” JoAnna Sohovich, Honeywell

Are power and influence good or bad? “Power is like manure: it really stinks if you keep it to yourself, but it’s good if you spread it around.”

Wanting to be an influencer means wanting to be a person who can make a greater difference than one person alone can.

An influencer arrives at the meeting early to greet everyone, and doesn’t wait for permission to speak when it’s her area of expertise. If you walk into a room with confidence and authority, people are predisposed to hear what you say.

Don’t think about influencing a specific situation but “how do I become a person of influence?”

First impressions count, but the cumulative impact of all impressions is more important.

The dog whisperer doesn’t train the dog – he/she actually trains the owner to exude an air of calm authority.

Our behavior teaches people how to treat us.

You can influence others in every conversation you have.

Jo asked people in the room to mention what they think of as leadership qualities. Responses included:

  • know the people you’re working with, and care about them. People are not a means to an end, they ARE the end.
  • be consistent and principled, good at engaging people in interesting conversations
  • a leader makes you want to be a better leader

Countdown: The Six Sources of influence Available to Women Leaders

6. Positional influence: the influence inherent in your job title/role

For example, a woman was reorged into a situation where no one knew what she did, but her boss made a point of having her meet people.

“How are you introducing yourself?” You need an elevator pitch.

Building on positional influence:

you have an important job and people need to know about it
take every opportunity to educate others about the importance of your role and how you can help them

create a 30-second commercial:
1. name
2. title
3. I am responsible for…
4. come directly to me when you need…

You may need multiples “ads” to cover various aspects of your job.

Mine might include:

I’m Deirdré Straughan. I am responsible for helping people communicate about technology. Come directly to me when you need help/advice/training with social media, especially videoblogging and video streaming.

Or:

I am responsible for building and nurturing tech communities. Come directly to me when you need help with community strategy and execution.

One pitfall with positional influence is to over-rely on it and to imagine that, if you are higher up, influence comes naturally.

5. Expertise influence: background, qualifications, experience and expertise

Make sure you don’t let someone else take credit for your work!

Ways to build expertise influence:

  • don’t wait for an invitation to speak up about your area of expertise
  • promote your accomplishments
  • present in meetings etc.
  • write
  • speak on panels, conferences

Pitfalls: “Are men smarter than women? No, but they sure think they are.” Women underestimate their own candlepower while men overestimate theirs (2008, Newsweek). Male job candidates are not shy to claim expertise they may not necessarily have! It’s not about paper qualifications, it’s about owning and making visible the achievements you already have.

4. Resources Influence:– the ability to attract and deploy resources you need to do your job well.

e.g. budget

Ways to increase resources influence:

  • become a strong negotiator – know how to ask for and get what you need
  • learn matrixed management
  • cross-train others in your area
  • gain visibility for the importance of your work and the effort it takes
  • suggest special projects as developmental opportunities for others

3. Informational influence: being an informational powerhouse, who keeps finger on the pulse on business, personnel and organizational issues

Know the above, know who the other informational powerhouses are. Walk around and gossip, but filter useful info from noise. Seek out info about changes before they occur, e.g. new projects, opportunities, resource allocations, budget, long-range plans.

2. Direct influence aka coercive

Being firm,professional and direct when someone’s behavior is detrimental to team or org (1% rule) – when something really important is at stake. But also share a vision of what would be possible for them if they changed their behavior – show that you care.

Tips: be firm, fair, professional, direct and concise with tough news
explain what was unacceptable and why
focus on a positive vision for the future

1. Relationships influence: that which comes when you know who the key people are in your organization (and other areas of life), when you reach out to them and build authentic, trusting relationships and an influential network.

The most importnat thing you will build in your career is your network, aka your sphere of influence.

McKinsey leadership project – What drives and sustains successful female leaders? Connecting.

Think about:

Which sources of influence are you most strong in?
Which do you intend to strengthen?

GHC09: Women in the Flat Connected World

^ Panelists (L->R): Kristin Rozier (NASA); Sumitha Prashanth (Sun Microsystems-India); Radha Ratnaparkhi (IBM); Claudia Galvan (Microsoft); Bev Crair (Quantum, formerly Sun); Meenakshi Kaul-Basu (Sun Microsystems); Lydia Ash (Google) – photo from Meena “Globalization has forced companies to create new processes to empower distributed teams to collaborate. It could mean that individuals have to travel for Read More…

^ Panelists (L->R): Kristin Rozier (NASA); Sumitha Prashanth (Sun Microsystems-India); Radha Ratnaparkhi (IBM); Claudia Galvan (Microsoft); Bev Crair (Quantum, formerly Sun); Meenakshi Kaul-Basu (Sun Microsystems); Lydia Ash (Google) – photo from Meena

Globalization has forced companies to create new processes to empower distributed teams to collaborate. It could mean that individuals have to travel for longer periods of time across the globe, work at odd hours, and work from home or make other adjustments to accommodate a new working lifestyle.

Panelists will discuss and give their perspective on the topic, impact on women, and the technologies and strategies they use to maintain balance.”

This panel at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2009, run by my colleague Meena, was one of the few sessions at GHC09 that I felt addressed the  practical needs of women currently in technology management: all of the panelists manage geographically-dispersed teams (which are increasingly the norm in high tech).

One theme that came up over and over was the importance of face-to-face interaction, especially for the managers, who therefore end up traveling a lot. Phone conferences, email, and instant messaging simply can’t build relationships in the same way. As Bev Crair said, even for teams that know each other and have worked together for a long time, “Trust breaks down after six weeks of not seeing someone.” I’ve seen this in my own experience of working remotely.

Bev added that relationships can be supported by video conferencing: “We use WebEx a lot.”

But she and others also felt strongly enough about the importance of in-person interaction that (during her time at Sun) she created a rotation program for Sun’s engineering office in China. US-based test engineers visited for three weeks at a time (the company had rented four apartments) and did their regular jobs from Beijing while also mentoring/training Chinese colleagues.

This taught the local engineers Sun standards for engineering, but it also helped the US-based engineers understand local problems so they could better represent their Chinese counterparts when they got back to US.

Kristin Rozier, NASA: “We put a lot of emphasis on face to face” within her small US reearch group. They host an annual symposium where everyone can get together.

Lydia Ash, Google: “As a manager I had to realize that bad news travels much faster than good news.” Solution: over-commuicate rather than under-.

Claudia Galvan, Microsoft: “You need to let go of driving everything from HQ and let the remote sites drive, too.”

Work-Life Balance

Bev Crair: “Working globally means there’s not a hard line between work and home life. I take time for myself and my daughter n the middle of the day. I have to set aside that time.”

Women are about connectedness, so why try to separate work from life?

Sumitha lives with her in-laws (a traditional arrangement in India), who are very supportive of her family and career. She says: “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. You figure it out as you go along. There’s no perfect situation. You have to prioritize. And don’t feel guilty about anything.”

Radha agrees that work-life balance is a myth. But there can be harmony if you have control and a support system (family, friends, community).

Two of the panelists’ daughters wouldn’t want their mothers’ jobs: “Too many phone calls.” One thinks that being an engineer is cool because you get to go to all these exotic places.

Women often end up taking care of family stuff (babies, aging parents), which leads to breaks in their career histories. Being able to “integrate” the personal with the professional is critical. Remote work allows people to deal with things e.g. cultural observations (such as the rituals around a death in the family) while still working. We need to have the tools and processes in place for this to happen.

Question from the audience: All this flexibility needs company support. How real is that?

Answer: Even the [US] federal government offers time off for family situations, e.g. up to 12 weeks to help a parent after surgery.

Tools and Pitfalls

It was mentioned that video conferencing can feel weird because of lag times (at long distance) and the fact that it doesn’t provide a sense of eye contact, because the webcam lens is not where you direct your eyes when you’re looking at the video you’re receiving. “Everyone looks stupid in a videoconference.”

Bev said they have extra monitors which display video streams from other offices, to maintain a sense of presence even when not actively participating in video conferences.

Lacking funding or tools for any of this, one manager said that her group put up photographs of their remote colleagues to enhance a feeling of connectedness. Every little thing can help.

Virtual environments (such as Google Lively and Second Life) can become informal and unprofessional very quickly. It’s important to remember that professional presence matters even in these virtual worlds. In video conferencing, watch out for bedhead and undone laundry in the background; what is the message you are sending by your video presence?

Use tool such as Writely to collaborate in real time on documents.

On the whole, a very useful panel, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from these women.

Open Source Community Development Panel #ghc09

^ Valerie Fenwick, Sun, moderator. Panelists: Terri Oda, Linuxchix. Kathryn Vandiver, NetApp. Stormy Peters, GNOME, Sandy Payette, Fedora Commons. Teresa Giacomini, Sun. (These are just my rough notes.) ? to Sandy what activities and attitudes have helped your community flourish? Teresa on diff tactics to grow communities in different parts of the world: In our Read More…

^ Valerie Fenwick, Sun, moderator. Panelists: Terri Oda, Linuxchix. Kathryn Vandiver, NetApp. Stormy
Peters, GNOME
, Sandy Payette, Fedora Commons. Teresa Giacomini, Sun.

(These are just my rough notes.)

? to Sandy what activities and attitudes have helped your community flourish?

Teresa on diff tactics to grow communities in different parts of the world: In our June user group leaders’ meeting it became glaringly obvious that you have to take cultural differences into account, e.g. meeting styles and formats (formal vs. not, long vs short presos). The meeting built trust among the leaders, and has resulted in ongoing contact and idea sharing.

how to handle conflict within communities? if the community itself can’t resolve it, OpenSolaris has the OGB to resolve it. Val: we have had to step in a few times, but no serious action to be taken, just a moderation of issues – more getting people to talk

Stormy: GNOME version control change was controversial

? how do you convince management to invest in open source?

building community around an OS –

the hard part is getting people into a complex development environment

Stormy:

(Stormy Peters tweeting while ON the panel. #ghc09 Interesting.)

Building a community around an operating system is an amazing thing – people can just play with it at a conference. #ghc09

RT @storming: What’s hard about growing communities? Getting newcomers into a complex development environment. #ghc09

how can we get developers in Africa involved? forums are scary for them because of language barriers. Reaching developers in Africa: problems include lack of bandwidth, many languages. What can we do to help? #ghc09

I wonder if the TED translation project cd be applied to open source software translation needs (specifically, for hi tech videos like mine).

are women good participants in open source?

Terri: commercial 20% women, in open source 1-5% Why? more intimidated? (your code’s out there in public – could be embarrassing)

how to get people to participate? invite them! #ghc09

reaching women may require specific outreach e.g. women’s t-shirts

FSF had a mini summit for women recently

how to get people involved? invite them. find less-intimidating projects to get started with

Sandy – project lead makes a difference, breaking things down into smaller projects that SWAT teams can handle

Kathryn – advantages to having open source on your resume – we recruit those

Kathryn – as a commercial company we put our reputation on the line when we contribute to open source, so we make it good

Stormy: Why do you like working on oss projects? Passionate people! (Me and Teresa) #ghc09

sheer number of eyeballs who review code – Val can get six reviewers just by tweeting about new open source code

open source gives developers public recognition

experiences that open source communities are women hostile – competition, license to yell

Terri got a death threat “women in open source are a distraction”

but the community totally offsets that

Linuxchix has two rules: be polite, be helpful

women in open source – attitude can be a problem

Terri get involved in the women’s communities – very different environment

 

My Career Strengths

What are some qualities about myself that are important/useful in my working life? I thrive on interacting with people, especially from a wide range of cultures. NB: I speak fluent Italian (I can understand a lot of Spanish and French as well), used to be fluent in Hindi. I have spent significant portions of my Read More…

What are some qualities about myself that are important/useful in my working life?

I thrive on interacting with people, especially from a wide range of cultures. NB: I speak fluent Italian (I can understand a lot of Spanish and French as well), used to be fluent in Hindi. I have spent significant portions of my life in Italy and India. Love to travel, anywhere and everywhere.

I think in terms of cultures, and am good at interpreting different cultures to each other (this applies to corporate / workgroup cultures as well as national ones).

I believe that everyone has an interesting story, and I love to help them tell it. This genuine interest in people makes me a great customer advocate. Having listened carefully, I bring their concerns and needs back to those who can act on them.

I connect people to each other. When someone tells me about a problem or challenge they are dealing with, or a skill or asset they have, I think: “What can I do, who do I know, to help this person achieve their goal?” Or: “How can this skill / asset be applied to a problem I’m aware of?” If I don’t have an immediate answer, I soon start noticing new things / people that could fit. Finding such solutions, e.g. putting the right bunch of people together to tackle a problem, thrills me. It feels like amazing luck sometimes, but it’s really about knowing many people, and being awake to the possibilities that each represents.

I’m constantly thinking about how things could be made better: products, processes, communications, organizations. I find new ways to solve problems.

I embrace and enjoy change.

I’m self-winding: I don’t have a problem with taking direction, but I go along fine without it; I will always think of something to do that’s useful and to the point.

I get along well with geeks. (I am one!)

What tasks have I enjoyed most in my various jobs?

Communicating. This has taken various forms: technical writing, web content, web applications, training, video. I constantly try new tools and methods to see how they answer different communications problems. Social media is simply another set of tools, and I’m an active user. On Twitter I’m @deirdres.

Translating. Not so much translating from one language to another, as translating from one culture or mind-set to another, e.g. helping explain user requirements to engineers, and helping engineers design or document their work so that users can better understand it.

Designing / improving user interfaces, including the interface between customers and companies. Everything a company does that touches a customer is part of their user experience, and I love opportunities to improve that.

Explaining / teaching, whether through documentation, presentation, teaching, or simply sharing what I know individually – I enjoy using my knowledge to help others.

Event planning. I like designing events for specific technical communities, from the overarching vision through speaker list and session flow to the nitty-gritty details, making it all come together, and ensuring that it runs smoothly on the day(s).

Measuring. I analyze, getting at real numbers (as far as possible) to help me understand what’s working and what isn’t. I’m not afraid to change my ideas when the numbers prove me wrong.

What should I avoid?

Routine. As soon as something is routine to me, I’m ready for a change. I get interested in something, see how it could be usefully applied in my life / work, learn it, do it. Then I document it, share it, teach it, hand if off – and I’m ready to learn something new. This cycle can take years, depending on the material, but once I have mastered a thing, I want to do something different.

For a more standard resume with the details of where I’ve done all this stuff, go here.


The original impetus for this (when I wrote it in August, 2009):

As someone who may be seeking a new job soon, it behooves me to prepare myself for a possible job search. Which is something I’m really, really bad at. I’m very good at doing jobs once I get them, but clueless and inept when it comes to seeking them.

The process would be easier if my experience included anything that fit neatly into established categories, but I’ve always stretched my jobs well beyond their initial descriptions. Those bosses who let me out of the box (I’ve been lucky – most have) were happy with the results. But it makes explaining what I do in my current job, or imagining what I’d like to do in future jobs, a bit tricky.

Instead of trying to identify a specific job or category to try to fit into, I might more productively reflect on the strengths and skills I’ve brought to and taken from my jobs to date, to help potential future employers picture me as part of their organizations.

Who’s a Guy?

One session I (and many others) attended at the Community Leadership Summit was on women in technology/communities. Frankly, I lost patience very quickly. As I said then, we all have horror stories; I’m more interested in discussing fixes. (Which, with Sara Ford to get the ball rolling, we did.) One meme that came up repeatedly Read More…

One session I (and many others) attended at the Community Leadership Summit was on women in technology/communities. Frankly, I lost patience very quickly. As I said then, we all have horror stories; I’m more interested in discussing fixes. (Which, with Sara Ford to get the ball rolling, we did.)

One meme that came up repeatedly during this session was the sexism – or otherwise – of using the term “guys” to refer to a mixed group of men and women. In other words, is it offensive to walk into a room containing both sexes and say: “Hi, guys” ?

Some felt that it was sexist, though probably unconsciously so, others felt that anyone who thought so was being over-sensitive. Impasse.

A few days later during OSCON, I found myself in a Moscone Center women’s bathroom at the same time as one of the women whose job during the conference was to make sure that no unbadged person got into a session. We were the only people in the room. She said to me: “You guys are really rare at things like this.”

It took me more than a few milliseconds to parse this. She meant: “Women at technical conferences are rare.” And used the term “guys” to refer to me and women like me.

Case closed. “Guys” no longer refers to men only, so we can stop arguing about whether it’s sexist.