2007 in Review

above: another gorgeous winterline sunset, Mussoorie, December 2007

The past year was so busy that, in spite of the many articles, photos, and videos I published here, there are still travels and events that I haven’t even mentioned, video and photos you haven’t yet seen. 2008 is shaping up to be even busier so, in case I never get to those, I thought I’d do a quick gallop through 2007 and at least hint at some of the stuff you missed.

The first half of 2007 was mostly awful. But, somewhere around August, things changed drastically for the better, and I began to think of having a T-shirt made saying: “Life doesn’t suck.”


6: As a Christmas present from my dad, Ross and I, along with some of the British side of our family, saw Spamalot in London, the very last night that Tim Curry was in the cast. Fantastic! We also had our portraits taken.

14: Enrico and I took a day trip to Sormano and other points on the Lake Como peninsula above Bellagio

19-21: In Rome for my first (but not last) barCamp.


Ross and I were busy completing her application to Woodstock School, due March 1st. Much anxiety around this whole process, not least: wondering how I would pay for tuition.

14-19: I visited my dad in the UK again. I don’t remember now if this was because he had been in the hospital again or what.

^ Alpini in Lecco, March 2007


7: Attended the Cisco Expo in Milan.

20: Began working for Sun Microsystems, as a part-time contractor. First trip to Broomfield, Colorado, returning on the 28th, just in time for:

30: First Girl Geeks Dinner Italia

31: rItalia Camp

Infant apricots on the young tree in our garden. late March, 2007


Worked on my garden, held down two jobs, Ross got accepted to Woodstock (and now I knew that I could pay for it).

hothouse geraniums, Apr 15, 2007

22: Visited Milan Design Week with Ringae Nuek. (No, that’s not her in the picture.)

Milan Design Week 07

this was taken in the courtyard of Castello Sforzesco

28: Enrico and I went to the Castello di Vezio, near home on Lake Como.


15: Flew to Colorado for Sun again. Visited my classmate Tin Tin in her fly genetics lab. Returned to Italy just in time for:

26: FemCamp


Continued preparations for Ross to go to Woodstock, including getting her student visa for India.

17: Had lunch with Pamela, a Woodstock alumna, and her Swiss-Italian husband Tino at their holiday home on Lake Como.

21-25: Visited England while my dad was having knee surgery again.

Towards the end of the month, a doctor saw something she didn’t like on my mammogram, which began a period of torture and extreme anxiety. Around the same time, my mother was having an ovarian cyst the size of a grapefruit removed. Which, thankfully, turned out to be benign.

at the beach – July 6, 2007


5-8: We drove down to Roseto degli Abruzzi for my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday, stopping along the way at an excellent restaurant near Modena.

11: Finally got the word on my biopsy: no cancer. The next evening, to celebrate, we had expensive cocktails with friends before we all went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix together (in English) in Milan.

14: Had a visit from Peter and Peggy Jenks, former Woodstock staff.

21: I (and a bunch of other people) won a dinner at one of Italy’s finest restaurants, Symposium, in Le Marche, sponsored by San-Lorenzo.com. Spent the night in the nearby town of Cartoceto, which Susan and I toured the next day in intense heat.

28: Ross and I flew to London with her 46 kilos of luggage, to spend a few days with my dad and Ruth, and pre-celebrate Ross’ 18th birthday:
Ross birthday champagne


1: Ross flew out from Heathrow. Her departure did not go smoothly. But she got there safely and was happily launched on her great India adventure.

3: I flew to Colorado to spend my vacation (from TVBLOB) working for Sun, staying with Tin Tin again.

when geeks do urban planning – Broomfield, CO – Aug 2007

11: Ross turned 18 at Woodstock. By this time we were getting regular phone calls from her and knew that she was doing well and very happy. This was worth all the upheavals it had taken to get her there.

12: Tin Tin and I went hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Forest.

17: Flew to New Mexico to visit Woodstock friends Steve and Sharon.

18: Sharon and I visited Santa Fe, including the Crafts Museum.

31: College friend Steph came to visit from Tulsa; we drove down to Taos by way of the Garden of the Gods.


2: Back to Broomfield.

5: Flew to San Francisco and saw many old Bay Area friends, and a few Woodstockers, before going down to San Jose, where I filmed many Sun speakers at the Storage Networking Industry Association’s Software Developer Conference (SNIA SDC).

15: Participated in a fun fundraiser in San Francisco.

17: Flew back to the UK and spent a couple of days with Dad and Ruth.

20: Flew back to Milan. By this time, I had parted ways with TVBLOB, and only had one job to do, to my considerable relief.

We had house guests as soon as I arrived: my Woodstock classmate Sara Ahmed, and long-time family friends Leslie and Nathan. While they were all with us, we visited the beautiful old abbey at Piona, towards the northern end of Lake Como.

28: Enrico and I began to enjoy the advantages of the empty nest. On a sudden invitation, we took off and spent a weekend inVenice:


6: Wine-tasting in Valtellina.

19-21: Hosted Web Women Weekend at our home in Lecco.

27: Enrico and I took another day trip on the lake, eating at Beccaccino (justly famous for its fish) in Sorico.


3: Enrico and I went to Lugano for eTourCamp, on the way taking the ferry across the lake:

Lake Como, Nov 2007

10: My travel arrangements for India all set, we had our traditional fall dinner party a bit early.

14: Left Milan for Delhi. Arrived the same night, slept in a hotel for a few hours.

15: Took the Shatabdi Express to Dehra Dun and a taxi to Mussoorie. Wandered around the school looking for my kid til I finally met up with her on the ramp. She hugged me tight and whispered: “We’re so weird.”

16: Filmed Ross et al in a Bollywood version of “The Taming of the Shrew” – she played Bianca.


19: Pondered my past as a technical writer and my future as… what?

^ Ross and cat, Mussoorie

28: I turned 45.

Wrote, photographed, and filmed lots more stuff about Woodstock, spent intense times with many old and new friends, all the while working remotely for Sun.


14: Ross and I, alongside a school party of 200 kids plus chaperones, went down to Delhi at the start of our winter vacation.

16-18: In Delhi: shopping, eating, running around, seeing friends.

^Â I have not tried dragan (dragon?) fruit yet – never heard of it before. Note the strawberries, cherries, and plums – none of these were available in India a few years ago.

19: We flew to Mumbai, where we spent another intense period shopping for a sari, seeing many old friends (mine), and meeting movie stars. And I bought art:

Rashmi Dogra tin trunk

^ a piece by artist Rashmi Dogra – a tin valise, with a Kathakali dancer’s face – this was my Christmas present for me!

29: Ross flew to Goa, I flew to Delhi.

30: More shopping in Delhi.

31: Arrived in Milan, Enrico picked me up at the airport. After a few hours at home to rest and unpack, we drove up to a place in the mountains where friends were staying, to celebrate New Year’s with them. I made it through dinner, but slept through the traditional midnight feast of lentils – and slept through 25 people partying in the room next door, and fireworks going off in the street outsidehttps://www.beginningwithi.com.

And I think that’s about enough for one year!

Workspaces – “Office” is Where the Laptop Is

I must be the perfect modern employee. In my 20+ years of working life, I have rarely had an office or even a cubicle to call my own, and haven’t particularly wanted or missed one.

my office at home in Milan

In the three-room apartment that was our home in Milan for 13 years, my workspace (when I wasn’t in a shared office) was a corner of our bedroom. The temporary cubes I was assigned on my visits to Silicon Valley were a comparative luxury!

But, even in cramped conditions, working at home had advantages: if my daughter was sick and had to stay home from school, or if public transport was on strike (as happens frequently in Italy) and I couldn’t get to the office, it just didn’t matter. As long as I had a computer and an Internet connection, I could be productive wherever I was.

with my laptop on a P&O Ferry

I began travelling extensively for work around 1994, so I always had a laptop (in addition to or instead of a desktop computer), and was accustomed to working anywhere, anytime.

This became a standing family joke: we would stage pictures of me working in unlikely places: on a P&O ferry from Calais to Dover, at the top of a snowy Alp, on a beach recliner in Martinique.

working at my in-laws' home in Roseto

I did not actually work in any of those places – I do know how to take a vacation. But not being tied to a desk meant that I could work, when I chose, anywhere in the world. I didn’t have to take vacation time to be present at the obligatory family holidays halfway across Italy: I could spend time with the family and still get my work done.

In our new home in Lecco, I have a small home office with a spectacular view – who needs a corporate corner office?

the view from my studio, Lecco

But that’s not enough to keep me in one place. My colleagues at Sun don’t much care where I am physically located (and are scattered all over the world themselves, both in Sun offices and at home), so I can pick up my laptop and go wherever I want to. With my Sun badge, I can waltz into any Sun office in the world and use a desk and high-speed Internet – but I don’t have to.

Right now I’m in India, visiting my daughter at my old school. Thanks to the hospitality of a classmate, I’m in a comfortable home with a more-than-decent Internet connection. I can even use Skype to keep in touch with my colleagues. The only thing lacking is a desk, but, hey, I’ve still got a lap.

working from the Bothwell Bank guest house, Mussoorie

And the view ain’t too shabby, either.

How about you? Are you ready to give up a cube or office?

Web Women Weekend

^ top: the finer points of CSS – Tara and Elena in my kitchen

Increasingly frustrated with the low visibility of women in technology in Italy, back in June I and a few like-minded ladies hatched a plan to start doing something about it.

The first step was to get together. So I invited them all up for a weekend at our house (sent Enrico off to visit his mother – yes, he is a supportive husband!).

Turnout was not as large as I had hoped (the house could have slept 14 or so), but those who came were motivated – most had to be, to trek all the way out here.

Friday night it was just me, Tara, and Elena. It had been a long week for us all, so we ate dinner, watched a movie, and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up early (as usual) and got to work cooking (while my computer was compressing video for Sun). Tara and Elena eventually wandered in and set up their laptops on the kitchen table, working separately and together on this and that. It was oddly comforting to have them there while I cooked (usually a lonely activity for me); I’d like to have girl geeks in my kitchen more often!

The crew gradually assembled and introduced themselves:

  1. Tara Kelly, founding partner of PassPack
  2. Elena Franco, aka Delymyth, sysadmin
  3. Silvia Cavallon, a former colleague of mine from Incat days, now a tech support manager for HP
  4. Sara Rosso, Internet Services Manager at Ogilvy Interactive
  5. Sara Maternini, corporate blogger and event manager for San Lorenzo, who kindly furnished us with a six-pack of Franciacorta (Italian champagne-method wine)
  6. Celia Abernethy, web designer/builder/programmer and owner of MilanoStyle
  7. Susan Quercioli, a manager of technical projects and people
  8. me

Talk flowed, mostly informally, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t sharing useful information.

There were the expected horror stories:

  • Every woman in Italy knows that being married and in età fertile (of childbearing age) is an enormous handicap in finding a job. It is perfectly legal for a prospective employer to ask your age and marital status (indeed, many job announcements specify the age range they will consider). Italy’s generous maternity leave law has backfired: no one wants to hire a woman who may go out to have a baby, costing the company money. And there are no real protections against discrimination of any sort in the Italian job market.
  • As in many other countries, women in Italy are paid less than men for the same work (and all Italian salaries are low against European averages, especially considering the cost of living here). One of the group, upon requesting a raise, was asked: “Doesn’t your husband earn enough to support you?” As if her work was just a hobby! The reality is that most women in Italy who work do so because their families need their income as much as their husbands’, so, yes, we need (as well as deserve) equal salaries.
  • We see our male colleagues getting jobs, raises, and promotions based on their skills at self-promotion as much as or more than for their actual abilities or work accomplishments – and getting paid more for doing less than we do!
  • And on, and on…

So, yes, there is plenty for women in IT in Italy to be unhappy about. But we didn’t get together just to bitch. The point of the weekend was to discuss what we can do to help ourselves, each other, and the larger community of girl geeks in Italy.

Under Sara Rosso‘s (welcome) leadership, each of us described what we hoped to get out of this event. These included:

  • “How should I write my curriculum to reflect my real-world experience, especially since I don’t have the formal qualifications that companies think they need?”
  • “I’m a female manager in a male world, and I think I can see better, let’s call them more ‘feminine’, ways of managing people. But in my job I don’t have any role models I can look to for advice or examples. I’d like to have someone to talk to about my ideas.”
  • “I’ve been badly underpaid in my career, partly because I find it hard to negotiate, partly because I don’t know the Italian market value of my skills. Where can I get information on salaries and freelance rates, and advice or training in how to negotiate?”
  • “I wanted to change jobs, but I didn’t know enough about possible Italian employers to tell which companies I might actually like to work for.”
  • “It’s great to know that I’m not the only woman in high tech in Italy, and not the only one to deal with these issues. When can we meet again?”

^ Sara Rosso and Susan Quercioli [Susie Q?]

Sunday morning the first-round attendees left, to be quickly replaced by:

  1. Enrica Garzilli, Sanskritist and journalist
  2. Ruhama Zayit, software engineer at TVBLOB
  3. Bruna Gardella, Senior Analyst at Etnoteam Spa

More useful experiences and information were shared (as well as an Indian lunch that I cooked).

At the end of the two days, we had some next steps:

  • Set up an online community where we can discuss and plan. For the time being, this is a Yahoo group.
  • Though we did not explicitly say so, one of the aims would naturally be to get more women to join this community – if you want to join, head on over and ask!

Possible projects for the community:

  • Periodic social events – aperitivi, Girl Geek dinners. A monthly aperitivo in Milan will probably start in November (2nd Tuesdays), organized by Lisa Morris of TVBLOB. And we’re discussing a date and a speaker for the next Girl Geeks Dinner.
  • Practical workshops where we can learn skills we feel we are lacking. One specific suggestion was negotiation – ideally, with role-playing to help us learn how to do it. We need to share info on where we might find people to do such workshops and how we would finance them (e.g., a good friend of mine is the Italy coordinator for the Open University, which might be interested in doing something relevant).
  • Job bank? At the very least, we can start sharing information on jobs we’re aware of via the Yahoo group.
  • Salary bank, with a wide range of both men’s and women’s salaries and freelance rates (in Italy), to help us see how we’re doing and price future jobs and freelance work. Bruna told us that Il Sole 24 Ore already runs quantomipagano.com, which looks very useful but does not cover freelance or contratto a progetto rates. Perhaps we can persuade Il Sole that it’s in everybody’s interest for them to expand their database to include this info. Who has a contact there?
  • Events calendar. Sometimes we don’t go to technical conferences or barcamps because we feel overwhelmed by the vast majority of men there. A shared calendar will let us track events we might be interested in, and encourage each other to go.
  • Speaker lists. Another reason we don’t go to events is because we’re not represented among the speakers – we get tired of being talked at by men. We can develop and maintain a list of women qualified, willing, and able to speak on various technical topics, and, um, gently suggest them when we know about events being organized.
  • Many of us don’t have women technical colleagues we can talk to at work, so we would like to both give and receive mentoring (on specific questions or for general support and advice).

Having this nascent supportive community of women in IT is already proving useful. Had I met Bruna a year ago and talked with her about some Italian IT companies she’s familiar with, I might not have been so much in despair about my job prospects in Italy. Celia said that, had she known us three years ago, she might not have abandoned the web business she enjoyed (and in fact she’s now thinking about getting back into it!).

Your thoughts and contributions welcome!

FemCamp Bologna 2007: Sessions & Reflections

In the afternoon I attended some sessions, though I missed the most popular presentation of the day, Iocelopiulunghismo (“Mine’s-the-biggest-ism”), by Elena and Feba, a funny and ironic look at (male) bloggers’ obsession with their (blog) statistics.

I poked my head into Andrea Beggi‘s unfortunately-titled presentation on “Blogging for Ladies,” but the room was so crowded I couldn’t stay. I hope and assume that he intended the title to be tongue-in-cheek, but it was risky, and evidently a number of people did not take it as ironic. After what was apparently a useful bunch of technical how-to’s on getting more traffic to one’s blog, he came in for some flak about “what makes you so sure women want more traffic to their blogs?”

If this comment was really made, it was more than a bit silly. There are indeed private blogs intended for specific, closed audiences (e.g. one’s family), and hopefully the people who write them are smart enough to make them accessible only to the desired readers. But anyone else who’s blogging probably does want to be found and read – if you blog and nobody reads you, have you truly blogged at all?

I attended a session on women in the open source community, basically a report of statistics which, while I had not heard them before, did not surprise me in the least. I knew instinctively that women are a small percentage of the people working on open source software (I can remember seeing only one on my particular beat – storage – in the OpenSolaris.org forums). The interesting question is: why are there so few? One possible answer (given) is that people tend to do open source work in their free time, which women have less of than men (this is not fair, but that’s a topic for another time).

Something was said about technologies designed by and for women, a concept that wasn’t clear to me. In that context, we certainly weren’t talking about recipe organizers. Marzia responded with an example, Cercatrice di Rete (“Web Searcher”, the word searcher being in the feminine in this case), which she explained in more detail the next day at the E-Wit conference. It’s a search engine tuned to highlight women’s issues, e.g. searching on violenza returns results related to violence against women.

I suppose it’s one more example of a vertical search engine. I may be missing the point but, if I wanted to research “violence against women”, wouldn’t I just type that in? And if I needed immediate resources to protect me against an abusive spouse (the example Marzia seemed to have in mind), I would probably search on something more to the point, like: “how to murder your husband and get away with it.”

When it was my turn to present, I was disappointed that few of the younger women I’d seen at the camp were in the room. I was aiming mostly at them in my talk Fuori dagli Schemi – Aneddoti e Lezioni di Una Carriera Insolita (“Outside the Box: Anecdotes and Lessons from an Unusual Career”). I was afraid that what I had to share would be obvious to career women closer to my own age (well, okay, in their 30s), who seemed to be the bulk of my audience.

But several friends were present to cheer me on, and everyone seemed enthusiastic in spite of my quavering delivery in unusually shaky Italian (a result of nerves plus jet lag). If you want to hear it, go to this page and look for my name (towards the bottom), and click video at the end of that line (actually, it doesn’t sound as shaky as I had feared, though the grammar is not perfect).

Afterwards one woman told me she had needed to hear my admonition to “make sure the people who count know about the work you’re doing”, because she, too, had suffered from accomplishments that went unnoticed.

There wasn’t time for discussion, unfortunately, so I missed the opportunity to raise the question of what next steps the group could take for us women to help each other in our professional IT careers. I do have some ideas, though, which I’ll be discussing shortly in these pages.

Lele then got up to introduce a group of “cheerleaders.” I was about to rip his head off – the idea that my “go get ’em girls” talk should be immediately followed by sexist, male-pleasing bullshit was just too much. Then I realized that he had been asked to introduce a presentation I’d been curious about, “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World,” on gender in the fan communities of Heroes. Lele had gotten the wrong end of the stick in introducing the three young women doing the presentation as cheerleaders – the cheerleader referred to is character Claire Bennett.

One of the three did a good job of presenting the research carried out by a (mixed gender) group of students at the University of Urbino, but we didn’t actually hear any conclusions: those will be presented in a video to be posted on YouTube. It’s a pity her two colleagues didn’t get to speak, and I wasn’t sure of any of their names as Lele made a joke of them. But I appreciated that they had stood in the audience and smiled at me through my own presentation – I hope they gained something from it (e.g., don’t let someone else do all the talking for you, even if she’s female). later – I know at least one of them did: she left a very nice comment.

Amanda then gave a well-researched presentation on women in IT in Europe. That ties in well with what I heard the next day at the E-Wit conference, so I will talk about it in that context, in a future article.


There’s been a lot of bitching about how hot and crowded the venue was. In fact there would have been a lovely and capacious alternative venue, the one used for E-Wit the next day, in quarters shared between the Women’s Library of Bologna and the University of Bologna’s Department of Visual Arts.

However, as Federica (one of the organizers) explained to me, Internet access there was so hemmed about with firewalls that it would have been impossible to stream the video which allowed people from all over Italy (and the world) to follow the event live. Many of us present had also attended RitaliaCamp, hosted at a branch of the University of Milan which turned out to be very grudging in allowing attendees network access, to everyone’s frustration. (Hyper-bloggers gasp like fish out of water if cut off from Internet access for more than 15 minutes.)

The organizers of FemCamp opted instead for via San Felice, and, thanks to a sponsor, were able to provide the best wireless coverage anybody has yet seen at a camp in Italy – lack of which would surely have been cause for complaint at the other venue (note to conference organizers: you can never please everybody).

FemCamp Bologna 2007

Saturday morning I got up bright and early – way too early, considering that I had barely slept Friday night (jet lag – I had just returned from Colorado Thursday). Succumbing to travel paranoia, I took a taxi down the hill rather than wait for the first bus at 7 am, and got to Lecco station in time to catch the (late) 6:47 train to Milan. Which may have been wise, since the later train I’d been planning to take was also late. As it was, I got into Milan over an hour before the 9 am train to Bologna on which I and several other FemCamp participants would be travelling.

I had breakfast (coffee and a croissant), and discovered some newly-restored corners of Milan’s Stazione Centrale.

The station was crowded with people, many headed out for a weekend at some beach or other. Eventually I spotted Sara, and we soon met up with Michelle. My friend and colleague Lisa met us in the station as well, but she had to take a later train as the one we were on was sold out. The rest of us, including three women from Style.it, had all booked seats in the same train car, but weren’t sitting together, or so we thought. But by some weird logic of numbering, I found that my seat 86 was next to Susan’s 82. Which was great: we had a good long chat (she had said she wanted to take a nap, but I rudely preferred that she stay awake – I was afraid that if I gave in to sleep, I would never wake up).

Although we made the entire journey together, including the walk from Bologna station to the site in via San Felice, I never actually talked to the Style.it women; they didn’t introduce themselves, and they seemed such a compact gang that I was shy to intrude (had Mafe been with them, it would have been different – I already knew her from the Girl Geeks Dinner). Oh, well. I had plenty of good conversation with the others, in a random mix of Italian and English.

Arriving at the site (the HQ of TechneDonne), we were startled at the number of people present, and even more at how many were men. Seeing the attendee list on the wiki, we had already been perplexed at the intent of so many men to participate in what was billed as a women’s event. The guys seemed nervous, however: during the early part of the day they milled about, talking and taking pictures mostly among themselves (to the extent that the photos on Flickr show far more men than women!).

Women were only a slight majority at the camp. Nonetheless, a presenza femminile so much larger than at most tech events seemed to cow the men. Later in the day they warmed up and mingled better – I guess they figured out that we weren’t going to bite them (a disappointment for some?).

There were lots of congratulations for Lele, recently hired to be the official blogger for Cisco Italy. Quite a coup for the Italian blogosphere: blogger goes corporate (our very own Robert Scoble). I reflected that I was hired two months ago to help the storage software group at Sun Microsystems with blogging (among other things); evidently I have failed to capitalize on the self-promotion value of that!


Alessio, Delymyth, Gioxx

The presentations began almost on time (only half an hour late, for a barCamp in Italy, is a near-miracle), but I did not attend any in the morning. Not that they weren’t potentially interesting, but I was enjoying talking with friends new and old in the courtyard, and the interiors were crowded. Everyone else complained of the heat, but I had seen Susan’s warning on Twitter that the forecast for Bologna that day was hot and sunny, so I was dressed entirely in linen, and very comfortable.

Amanda, Deirdré, Tara

photo by Luca Moretto shows off my new hair to advantage.

Amanda on the left, Tara on the right. I don’t know the identity of the person with the skeptical expression in the background.

I’d just had my hair done the day before. My hairdresser had proposed blonde streaks to lighten up for summer, but I dismissed these as unnecessary – my hair will lighten up by itself in the sun. But somehow Ross persuaded me to do something radical. She’s certainly an influence on my style!

Lunch, as usual, was provided by San Lorenzo. Thanks to the vagaries of jet lag and the half dozen or so coffees I’d already had, I wasn’t that hungry: I ate mortadella, salame, porchetta, bread, a few olives, and, later in the day, biscuits. Then went for more coffee. I didn’t dare touch the wine, or someone would have tripped over me sleeping in a corner of the courtyard.


Giovanna dishes up yummies, carefully observed and recorded

Glamour magazine is getting its tech on lately: the photographer I’d already met at Girl Geeks and RitaliaCamp was present, setting up all sorts of shots. Here, again, is the lovely (and very smart) Amanda:

Amanda glam

She also shot Lisa and me for an article on women and networking (I think it was – the journalist who’s to write it was home ill, and will be contacting us later for the actual material). We’ll be happy to talk about women and networking and TVBLOB!