Archive for the ‘Advocacy’ Category

Girl Geeks vs Geek Girls and why does it matter?

GeekGirlWaterBottleTo get more girls interested in technology we need role models they can look up to. In this post I talk about not only geek girls as role models, but also girl geeks! Because we need both!

I recently returned from the Ontario Celebration of Women in Computing. This event did exactly what the title describes: celebrated women in computing. Microsoft Research was a sponsor and there was high demand for their geek girl water bottles. Shortly after, I was telling a co-worker about the water bottles and we ended up discussing whether a geek girl was the same thing as a girl geek.

This may seem like a trivial discussion, but it helped me clarify something that had been picking at my brain throughout the conference. One of the ways we can encourage more girls to enter technical fields is by providing role models. When we recognize the two different types of girls who enter technical fields, we recognize the need for two different types of role models.

Sometimes, I am asked to act as a role model. Anyone who has seen me present knows I am a passionate speaker. I love having the opportunity to try and get people excited about technology and it’s capabilities. But am I the right role model? The answer, as is so often the case, is “it depends.”

I was good at math. I was told engineering was a good degree if you are good at math. I was a tom boy as a kid. So I was quite comfortable entering a field that was dominated by men and had a perception of requiring strong math skills. I was coding Choose your own adventure games on my TRS-80 computer before we ever had a computer in my classroom. I spent hours playing video games at the arcade (okay I really dated myself there didn’t I?) or playing Dungeons and Dragons.  I was a geek, I just happened to be a girl. I consider myself fully qualified to inspire future geek girls!

ButterflyBut are there girls out there who have the potential to find their inner geek? I know there are! You don’t have to be a tomboy! You don’t have to have math as your favorite subject! You don’t have to own a 20 sided dice, in fact if you don’t even get the reference to a 20 sided dice, you can still find an amazing career in technology.

I have met some amazing girl geeks! Let’s make sure we find more of them to share as role models along with the geek girls!  Let me introduce three girl geeks I have the honour of counting among my acquaintances!

Meet Marwa and Alaa from Bahrain, together they form Team Butterfly! They love nail polish and observed the constant challenge faced by others with the same passion to find a specific color. Their solution? An app that allows you to design your own custom nail polish, pick your color, select your finish: glitter, gloss, matte, and then send it to their printer to get a sample that provides just enough polish for a single application! These girls have found a way to combine their love of fashion with technology! They have also got a brilliant business idea. Which is why they took home third place at the Imagine Cup World Finals.

meu_wearable_led_panel_3

Meet Sage Franch (@TrendyTechie). Sage is one of the Microsoft Student Partners I work with from Dalhousie University.Her blog, Trendy Techie,  is a blend of fashion and technology topics! She’s blogging about how to use the Kinect sensor one week and about Tentacular knitwear scarves the next. What’s really exciting is when she gets a chance to combine the two as she did with her post about MeU, a wearable LED display that attaches to fabric and displays custom information through your clothes.

A junior at McGill University, Genevieve has a double major in computer science and molecular biology, a small exclusive program made up of about 30 people.Finally, meet Genevieve L’Esperance, who used to describe herself as a Tech Diva. She is currently a Microsoft YouthSpark ambassador but I first met her at the 4 Girls coding event in Montreal.  Genevieve decided to become Microsoft certified after hearing a woman speak about a tech school she wanted to create for young women in Bangladesh with the help of Genevieve’s mom. Genevieve was only 14 at the time and jokes that she only agreed to attend the Texas conference so she could buy new cowboy boots. But when she listened to the woman and heard her express such heartfelt desire to teach girls in an area with extreme poverty, she was inspired to further pursue technology and teaching.

Since she unleashed her love for computer science and her desire to spread it, Genevieve has devoted countless hours to teaching programming to girls. She works not only to show them the skills but to convince them that the field is a viable option. She learned that in part from her mom, who worked as a model at tech trade shows before becoming a successful entrepreneur. She attempts to show girls how technology is opening doors for her with the hope she can convince them it’s not just for boys

So if you are talking to young students about careers in technology, make sure you tell the story of a geek girl and a girl geek! You never know which story will inspire the next young woman to seek out a career in technology!

I know what I am doing, why do I need a process?

If you have worked in a big company, you have been told “there’s a process for that”. This post will look at why the process, as much as we love to hate it is essential for long term success.

Some people are very good at their jobs! They know instinctively what needs to be done and how to do it. I love working with these people, we all do! Maybe you are one of those people. But, even if I have a team of high performers, I still need process.

Maybe someone on the team is changing roles. Maybe we just hired someone new. A team is usually a mix of junior and senior team members. If you have rock stars on your team, I think a manager would want to bring some junior people onto that team to learn from the top talent!

When different people do the same task the quality is going to vary. Some people will do it really well, some people will do it reasonably well, others will not do it well at all. Those who are underperforming at a specific task may be very talented people but perhaps they are new to role, or this particular task is not their area of expertise. Ever met a great programmer who seems incapable of filling out a time report or expense report correctly?

The result is a widely varying level of quality, the quality level changes depending on who did the task or even depending on how alert and busy someone was on a particular day. (I have days when I write carefully thought out blog posts, and I have days when I knock out a couple of short paragraphs and point to a video to meet a deadline). Quality can vary tremedously as shown in the graph below.

QualityBar

So how does process fit into all this? Well when you define a process, you guarantee a mimum level of quality. By having a checklist or a set of steps that you *must* complete and that you complete *every* time you undertake a task, you ensure the quality never falls below a certain minimum standard. If someone new joins the team and all they do is follow the process, at least you know the task was completed acceptably well. Likely not as well as if it were completed by a senior team member, but it got done! If your junior team members can complete this task that may free up your senior team members to do other things that require their specific expertise!

Basically a process throttles the quality. So  you end up with something like this

MinMAxQuality

The lower red line indicates the minimum quality guaranteed by following the process.  The upper red line indicates the highest quality that can be reached when you follow the process. So, following the process is great for the a new team member or someone who is not an expert on that task because they know following the steps in the process guarantees an acceptable output.  Some of you are cringing at my terrible drawing skills above. But at least I centered the drawing on the page, and I set it to the recommended size for this blog (300-600 pixels wide), and I removed the shadow background on the image. I am a lousy artist, but at least I have a process I follow when I add an image to a blog post. Nobody is going to yell at you for doing a a lousy job if you followed the approved process. If you ever do have somebody accuse of of not doing your job properly when you did follow the process, then it’s clear your process needs updating. This may be an opportunity for you to be a star by being the person who identifies the need to update the process and works with the team to update the process so the next person who comes along doesn’t have the same problem you did!

But what about the rock stars on the team? Do we make them follow the process as well? After all you can see on my professional looking chart above that if I follow the process I limit the quality level that can be reached. My strongest team members may be able to achieve a greater level of success by not following the process! Good for them. But don’t I want the entire team to be successful? Don’t I want my top team member to not only do their job well but to help other people improve? What is it about the process that limits their ability to perform at their best?What information do they have? What tricks have they learned? I look to my top performers to help me improve the process so that everyone on the team does their work better. So for all of you who took one look at my graph and cringed, I ask you: If I was on your team what specific steps could I take whenever I am drawing a graph to make it look more professional? What tool should I use? are there particular colors I should select? a particular font? Yup, I know all those things affect the quality of my graph. (now you are wondering am I really that horrible at drawing or did I do it this way just to provide an example… I’m not telling). They key is that I look to the experts and the rock stars to help improve the process. That way you raise the quality of the output for everyone!

BetterProcess

Now, before you go off to your boss and start suggesting improvements for all the existing processes, I do want to point out another very important aspect of processes! A process can be used to guarantee a minimum level of quality, but sometimes steps in a process are there to ensure we are compliant with the law, or to ensure we can track important information. So if you are trying to convince the boss to remove steps from a process, it’s a good idea to try and find out why the steps are there in the first place!  I hate scanning all the receipts and attaching them to me expense report but since Revenue Canada requires the company to have copies of my receipts we can’t just take that step out of the process. Though I would like to thank whoever it was at the company who improved the process so we can just scan and email them in now. I used to have to send in physical copies. The work doesn’t end when you define a process, you should constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to make the process more efficient and more effective.

So next time someone tells you ‘we have a process for that’, your response should be ‘awesome I am glad to hear it’. If you are new to the task, you have instructions on how to complete your task with the confidence. If you are a subject matter expert then I fully expect you to look at the process with skepticism, and if you think the process can be improved, talk to the process owners! Let’s make it happen and make everyone look like rock stars!

How to pitch an idea to management and executives

This post will show you a great presentation structure you can use when you are requesting funds or resources to help you implement an idea.

pitchpostexecutiveWhen presenting to an executive it’s important that your presentation be clean, concise and to the point!

If you know the individual there may be a format they expect or prefer for presentations. For example, Max Long was president of Microsoft Canada and he believed you could do anything with one slide so when you presented to Max your best bet was to use one slide whenever possible

But not all exectuvies have pre-defined powerpoint templates you can borrow before you meet them. That’s when it’s important to have a solid strategy for presenting a proposal. This is true whether it will be you delivering the presentation or someone else is presenting on your behalf. When I taught ITIL there was a model they recommended when defining a strategy that makes an excellent format for executive proposals. I’ve had great success with this model and wanted to share it with you today!

Slide 1 – The vision

Does your company have a vision? Although sometimes from the ground visioning can seem a little vague and you may wonder why executives go offsite to discuss vision, it’s actually very important for a company’s success. What differentiates you from other companies? Why would someone choose your company’s service or product over another company? What are we good at? What do we want to be best at doing? If you can’t answer these questions it’s hard to set a direction for the company and to make the right decisions as to which opportunities to pursue and which to put aside for now.

One of my favorite quotes is “I can do anything, but I can’t do everything!” This is true for companies as well as individuals. How do you decide which plans are worth your limited time and money? You look for plans that help you achieve your vision. When you have an idea to put forward, you need a vision as well.

A vision is your ultimate goal.  Let’s be clear, your proposal or idea will not achieve this vision, but, it will be a step in the right direction! A vision is something you strive for. I strongly recommend taking a few minutes to look up the vision of the company you are presenting to as well! It can certainly help if your vision aligns with theirs!

I think this will make more sense if we look at a few specific examples:

I want budget to buy everyone new laptops because our existing laptops are out of date – Perhaps your vision is a team of employees who feel empowered and productive! Will buying new laptops make them feel empowered and productive? Not necessarily, there are other factors in play which affect their productivity and sense of empowerment but it will help!

I want to take some software we have in house and make it open source – Perhaps your vision is a company seen as leaders in their field.  Will publishing some open source oftware make you leaders in the field? No, but it shows the development community that you have software in that field and you are confident enough to share that software with the developer community. It should certainly help your reputation (as long as the software is good )

I want to upgrade to the newest version of Office because of the data capabilities. Perhaps the vision is a team with the information they need to make the best decisions!  Once again, Excel doesn’t guarantee you will have the information you need when you need it or that they will make the right decision, but having tools that help you analyze data effectively will help!

So slide 1 should be a single sentence that states your vision and possibly an image that captures your vision.

Slide 2 – Where are we now?

Now that you have presented your vision, it’s time to create a sense of urgency. You want to provide your audience with a feeling that the current situation is not acceptable and something needs to be done. You need to provide an honest assessment of the current situation. If you are taking the time to present to the executive, presumably it’s because you see something you feel needs to be fixed or an opportunity that should be seized. Now is the time to help them understand that need or opportunity!

This is a good time to present data or statistics that demonstrate the need  for change. You want new laptops? Get some data, tell them exactly how old the current laptops are, maybe get some data from the service desk to see if you can find out how many users are losing productivity because of laptop issues.

If you don’t have data, a good story can fill the gap. Was there an incident where a customer was unhappy because your team didn’t have accurate data that shows the need for better data analysis tools? A strong management team understands the value of a good customer experience and the potential negative impact of a bad customer experience so if you can provide specific examples where customers were unhappy because of the current situation that can also demonstrate a need for change

Slide 2 should provide some data or some specific examples that demonstrate why the status quo is unacceptable.

Slide 3 – Where do we want to be?

Okay, slide 1 was your vision, a long term goal you would like to reach eventually. This slide should be a very specific goal you can reach in the foreseeable future. It should be a SMART goal. A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Which basically boils down to “what do you really think we can achieve if we implement your proposal?” What exactly will get better?  Will customer satisfaction be 50% higher? Will employees spend 10 hours less a year dealing with IT issues? How long will this take? Will you achieve this goal in 6 months? a year? Ideally you want something that will show a return in a single year, you are going to have a tougher time proposing something which takes multiple years to show a benefit.

If you do have an idea that will help the company in the long run you might want to break it down into smaller proposals. What could you achieve in year one, in year two? in year three? Most companies do their budgeting one year at a time, so it’s easier to approve or finance a project for one year. After your first year you can approach them for a follow up project.

Slide 3 should provide a realistic goal for the end of the project you are proposing. Be specific general statements such as “employees will be more productive” or “users will be happier” won’t cut it. You need something that can be measured such as 15 % less calls to the service desk for this application, 10% increase in satisfaction on the employee satisfaction survey.

Slide 4 – How will we get there?

Okay, you’ve got their attention. They understand the problem, they understand where you want to take them. Now, they are ready to hear your proposal! This is the one section that may take more than one slide, because this is where you pitch your actual proposal. This is where you ask for the funding, the time, the resources, the commitment from other teams to help you, whatever it is you need to execute your plan!

Slide 5 – How will we know when we get there?

On slide 3 we specified a specific and measurable goal we were going to achieve. On the last slide we specify how we are going to measure how close we are to that goal. If you said there would be a 10% increase in employee satisfaction, when will that employee survey be distributed? Will you need to issue an extra survey to measure the success of your project in a timely manner? Will you work with the Service Desk to get reports on the amount of time spent on incidents for the application you are trying to improve?

If you are lucky there is already a reporting structure in place you can use to measure the success of your project, however you may need to work with another team to collect some baseline data now and agree on data that will be collected as the project progresses to make sure you can tell if your project is working!

What gets measured gets managed! It’s important to monitor your progress as you execute your plan. If the reports indicate things are going well, then you have some great data to share with your boss to show that their investment is paying off! If things are not going well, you want to know that sooner rather than later so you can determine if you need to make adjustments to your plan if needed. You don’t want to go up to the executive a year after they gave you the funding and say, oh well it looks like it didn’t work. If at the end of the year your project doesn’t work (which is a possibility, lots of things can go wrong, unexpected barriers may prevent your success) when you go back to your boss, if you can show them you were monitoring the progress and you tried to redirect and adjust when things weren’t going as well as you hoped that’s going to be a much better story to tell than saying, we did ‘x’ then at the end of the year we found at that didn’t work.  But hopefully, the reporting you set up will showcase that you met or maybe even exceeded your original goals!

You may think the reporting is just something management wants, but it helps you as well!  It allows you to monitor the success of your project so you can tweak as needed along the way, and it allows you to concretely show the impact your project delivered when it’s over.

Finding Inspiration

I just attended and presented at TEDx Youth Montreal. An incredible opportunity to inspire and be inspired.

Our first presenter is Olympic medal winner Andreanne Morin. She was on the Canadian Women’s eight team at the London Olympics and came home with a silver medal.  50 weeks of training a year, 6-7 days a week, 3 workouts a day, oh and she’s a law student! Through sleet, snow, fatigue, they trained and worked. When the big race happens your training pays off, especially the most gruelling workouts when you were tired and didn’t think you could do it. Because you know you got through those and you can do it when the time comes!

The next presenter is David Ragsdale, a neuroscientist who pulls an actual human brain out of a bucket! He then proceeds to explain what defines each of us, changing the way we see ourselves completely.

A 13 year old girl named Sophia who has a disease that caused all her hair to fall out and was forced to realize that now she’ll never fit the mold of the perfect 13 year old and explains that since she accepted that and took time to just figure out who she is and stop worrying as much about what others think she’s never been happier. “No-one here fits the mold, we are all different, so take a step back and figure out who you are and break the mold!”

Uhhhh… wait a second, I usually present to a bunch of geeks and explain how to write code, how exactly did I end up here again waiting for my scheduled time to go backstage and get miked up.

I have 9 minutes, no cue cards, and no slides. Why does 9 minutes seem like such a daunting task when I used to spend all day standing in front of a class explaining and presenting.

A video from a TED talk by a man who took fun pictures with his 28mm lens of people in Israel and posted huge photos of them on walls in Palestine, then took pictures of people in Palestine and posted giant photos of them in Israel. Showcasing local everyday heroes and giving everyone a reminder of the commonalities between the two sides.

Next, Sasha Diguilian, a professional rock climber who recently won a gold medal at the Pan Am games. The training is hard, she says, but every time she considered skipping a training session she reminded herself that every training session she attended was a step forward, every one she skipped was a step backwards. Why would anyone choose not to keep moving forwards!

I’m up next. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time preparing for 9 minutes. On the train, in the hotel the night before, in the hotel the morning of, sitting on a bench in the hallway visualizing it in my head, changing only a few words here or there, not wanting to risk throwing off the speech I had written up. I think the last time I wrote every word of a presentation and memorized it was in high school.

My talk, is apps, seriously Susan? I mean isn’t that just your job? How do you make that inspiring? Well, some aspects of my job are inspiring, no seriously, when you see the apps other people create it can blow you away! Do you have a smartphone or tablet? They are everywhere. Of course the apps make them really shine. Anyone can build an app, in an afternoon you could build something simple. That’s a great way to start. Now think bigger, something that could help you day to day. Now think bigger, something to help others day to day. Now think bigger, what app could help a charity. Now think bigger! Could your app have a real impact? Help someone with MS record and report their daily symptoms to their doctor? Take a recording from a stethoscope and send it to a program that analyzes the sound to determine if an infant in Africa has pneumonia so they can be treated in time to save them?

“Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”

It’s a quote from an Apple commercial, but I love it.

Are you crazy enough?

Dream it! Build it! Live it!

You could see the students in the audience nodding, they get it, they see the potential of the devices they already have in their hands. The students seem to understand it better than most adults! That’s why they inspire me, they don’t see the barriers or limits, they just see the potential. May we all take a lesson from the students and be crazy enough to think that we can make a difference!

My talk might never be posted online, so maybe only 200 people will ever witness a 9 minute talk that took me hours of work. But, no regrets! I will never again share a stage with such an inspiring and diverse group each of whom inspired me in a different way. I can only hope that in some small way I repaid in kind.

Is Microsoft becoming the cool kid?

Times are changing…

I just came back from Microsoft TechEd North America, so much more than PowerPoint!!

They had the Microsoft Mustang developed as Project Detroit that was developed with West Coast Customs. This project was so cool it was featured on CoolCarsHotGirls, who ever thought Microsoft would be on a website with a name like that!. By the way it’s Open Source too!

Similar to a concept car, Project Detroit was created to inspire developers to think about building apps and automotive technologies of the future. Connected-device scenarios featured in the car incorporate Kinect for Xbox 360, Xbox 360, the Windows operating system, Windows Phone, Windows Azure, Bing, Ford Sync and more.They had the Boxing Bots from Coding for fun (thank you Clint for helping me beat @GeekTrainer not once, but twice). This brings Rock’em Sock’em robots to a whole new level and controlled by Kinect! Coding4 Fun does some very cool stuff!

Battling Bots with Kinect

Not only that they had a whole section of classic arcade games. (Galaga!) Vijay destroyed me at air hockey, but I retained some Canadian pride by subsequently beating him at bubble hockey.

The Kinect just makes everything more fun, they even had a Windows 8 app on a massive screen where you could zoom in and out with Kinect on a flight tracking application!

I had some great discussions, including one with a developer from the company that built the Hunger Games and Prometheus websites using HTML5.

There were also  opportunities to check out Windows Phones including the Nokia Lumia 900 which was reviewed and recommended by Playboy magazine?!  Sure Consumer Reports recommending the Titan as a good buy, but Playboy!

I also had fun showing off my own Samsung slate running Windows 8 to lots of curious developers showing them some of the features that I think make developing for Windows 8 unique (Share Contracts rock!)

Oh yeah, there were some good sessions too Smile, I particular recommend the exam cam on the 70-599 Windows Phone exam, but I’m biased.

The world needs more geek girls

IMG_5169Yesterday I had the pleasure of being involved at an event that exposed grade 5 & 6 girls to science and technology, the event was fun but it does address a serious issue: the shortage of girls in computer science and engineering.

My son covered his ears as the girls screamed, cheering on their teacher and classmate competing in the 50 metre sprint in Kinect sports on the Xbox. My son was seriously outnumbered yesterday as 218 girls from grades 5 & 6 descended on McGill university for the 4 girls event organized by Clumeq and GenInc and sponsored by Microsoft. The girls spent the day going to different sessions to learn about science and technology.

The day was kicked off by Marie-Jo Leroux of Ubisoft who talked about life as a video game producer. I think I may have enjoyed that presentation more than the girls as she gave us a behind the scenes look at making games like Driver: San Francisco and IronMan. She delivered a great message: my job isn’t easy, but I love what I do, so I don’t mind! Find what you love, your career will choose you!

So why doesn’t the technology career path choose more women? I don’t know the answer, they were asking that question when I went to university years ago as well (I won’t admit how many years ago). Maybe events like this will help. Some of the girls may have been surprised by how cool and fun science and technology can be hopefully they will come to love technology as so many of us do.

McGill student Genevieve L’Esperance, former Microsoft Student Partner and intern, did a workshop using SmallBasic that gets kids to explore programming. She has delivered this workshop at many Teaching Kids Programming events outside of Canada and was very happy to finally have a chance to do it in her hometown! Quoted in the Montreal Gazette she says “I have one or two girls in my classes, I have no biases toward anybody, but’ it’s nice to have like a sister in class”

In my workshop I talked about the different ways to interact with computers, and we discussed how programmers have many tools to choose from and you have to figure out which tool is right for each solution. The kids compared drawing with a mouse to drawing with touch on Windows 8 and Windows Phone, they compared using calculator with a keyboard vs a mouse, we tested the accuracy of voice recognition on the Windows phone and of course they thoroughly enjoyed testing the motion recognition of Kinect. We finished on a more serious note talking about how these new capabilities of voice and gesture open up new possibilities and truly give those of us in the technology field a chance to change the world for the better.

Hopefully reaching girls early in their education and exposing them to the capabilities of science and technology will draw more girls into the field. For Canada to compete globally we need a strong pool of students entering science and technology. Depsite above average wages the computer sector struggles to fill many positions. There is a decrease in university enrollment in fields such as Computer Engineering, Computer Science, and Software Engineering. Girls are a source of talent that could help fill these gaps.

As a student, or a working professional you can help! Speak at a high school, speak at an elementary school, show them what they are missing. Here are a couple of great resources you can use when speaking to school kids about the computing field: Computers unplugged, Teaching Kids Programming. I may be an evangelist for Microsoft, but we can all be evangelists for a career in science and technology!

Be a better blogger – Add a Summary Sentence

Adding a summary sentence to the top of a blog post helps a reader decide if they want to stay and read your post.

My team took a great course on writing for the web where we learned a number of tips and techniques to improve our blogs. I want to share some of what we learned so you can be a better blogger

The average user spends 10 seconds looking at a web page before they decide if they want to stay and read it. That means you have 10 seconds to convince them they want to read your post. Now having said that, not every post is intended for every reader. When I write a blog post about the Imagine Cup competition it is aimed at university and college students taking Computer Science or Engineering. Whereas this blog post is aimed at bloggers. You don’t need to hook all readers, just your intended audience.

The easiest way to tell someone in 10 seconds or less what is in your blog, is by adding a summary sentence. I find putting it in a different font size or color helps it stand out.

Don’t believe me? Test it out

Look at this blog post for 10 seconds. Do you know what you will learn if you take the time to read that blog in full? Was 10 seconds enough time for you to make a good decision as to whether you want to read that blog?

Now look at this one. A little intro paragraph at the beginning helps doesn’t it?

Now look at this one. See how the opening two lines give you enough information to decide if this blog is of interest to you?

Now look at the first sentence of the blog post you are reading right now, did that sentence catch your eye? Did it help you understand what you would learn by reading this post?

It doesn’t take long and your readers will appreciate it!