Take-Aways From Alterconf

My biggest take-away from AlterConf, a conference on diversity in tech and gaming, is the profound realization that I am embarrassingly ignorant of the issues of other underrepresented groups.

I know intimately the issues of Women in Tech. I live them, I overcome them, and I am in the loop when something happens–good or bad–to Women in Tech.

I can rant for an hour about the “Barbie: I Can be a Software Developer” debacle or “Gamergate”. Another woman doesn’t have to tell me that women in tech walk a gender tightrope–careful to be neither too feminine nor too masculine, too bold nor too passive, simply so that we can be taken seriously in our careers. I know these issues because I am on the inside.

What really hit home at Alterconf was how little I understand about the issues I’m outside of.

I never imagined how frustrating it must be to wait 20 minutes to use the bathroom because there’s only one accessible stall. Or to be of a non-binary gender and, perhaps, not have a bathroom to use at all.

I would have never thought to ask a transgender person about their pronouns, much less understood that saying “preferred pronouns” instead of simply “pronouns” might be insensitive. I’m also acutely aware that using the wrong wording is probably the least of the insensitive things I have inadvertently said or done.

Every person that spoke opened my eyes a tiny bit further, but what I saw most was how much more I need to learn and how much more we need to amplify these voices.

Writer’s Block

I have Writer’s Block, so I figured, “I should probably write about that.”

I’ve started at least 5 blog posts in the past week. I’ve deleted more lines than I’ve written. (Yes, it is possible. You just have to delete someone else’s writing.)

A few things I’ve started to write about:

  • The opportunity to leverage coding bootcamps to improve the IT gender gap
  • Puppet shows with the kids
  • Ruby Enumerable (I’m walking through the documentation, writing a program for each Enumerable method)
  • Work: I’ve finally gotten enough of a grasp of things to start contributing in very, very small ways

Each time I start to write, my brain screams, “Stop! No! Don’t want to think!” and then red lights start flashing and a mechanical voice says, “Powering down.”

I’ve been pair programming daily at work, stretching my brain power and my social interaction limits to the max. It’s only now, as I write this, that I’m realizing just how fried my brain is. Thinking about it hurts.

(Mechanical voice): Switching to auxiliary power. Shutting down all non-essential brain functions. Good. Bye.

Geek Chick Gift List

Much like toy manufacturers, geek gift makers seem to think that the formula for a great Geek Chick Gift is:

Take a geeky gift made for a man and either:

a) coat it in pink plastic

b) paint it pastel pink

c) produce it in women’s sizes

d) replace the word “Man” with “Girl” (:%s/man/girl/g)

e) any combination of the above

–> Sit back and watch all the nerdy ladies swoon.

I would not be mad if me husband bought this. I would just nicely request that he wear it himself.

I would not be mad if my husband bought me this. I would just politely request that he wear it himself.


What is this, Legally Blonde?


“Trust Me, I’m Pointing at My Boobs.”

Ummm….no. Thank you for playing.

For those of you who cannot immediately understand the idiocy of this marketing strategy, lets try to reverse it:

Honey, I bought you:

An Enormous Blue Purse!

A Bra that will fit your hairy man-chest!

Blue lipstick!

A “Man Power!” T-Shirt! (:%s/girl/man/g)

–> “I know! I know! Those are tears of joy.”

My original thought was “I’ll comb through the internet and make a list of cool Geek Girl and Geek Mom gifts!” But then, I couldn’t really find any.

So, here’s my “Wish-They-Made” List:

1) A Sphero that would seek out raised voices and echo in a creepy Robot-Mom voice: “Stop fighting. Do not touch your sister. Give that back to him. Do not make me get your father.”

2) A sleek, black leather laptop case that looks more like a fashionable purse than a man’s briefcase and/or an F-ING PINK MONSTROSITY.

3) A chemistry kit where you add 2 drops of the blue liquid to four drops of the red liquid and BAM! out comes a fully-cooked dinner for 4, a butler, a maid and a marching band.

I should mention that, while I don’t like the idea of coating every female gift idea in pink, I am not at all opposed to coating those same gifts in chocolate. Please forgive me for reinforcing that particular stereotype. I could not resist. It was just so tasty.

My Thanksgiving Grace List

This year, if I get picked to say Grace, we’re going to end up eating cold turkey. There are just too many people to thank.

In order to make it through a full-time, 60-80 hour/week coding bootcamp and find a new career as a Junior Developer while also raising 2 young children, I needed A LOT of help.

Luckily for me, I got a lot of help from a lot of people.

While I couldn’t possibly thank every person who has helped me, I do want to thank a few people who have been extraordinarily generous.

In no particular order (other than my husband obviously coming first):

My Husband Donnie: For agreeing to ride this crazy roller coaster with me. For hanging on by his nails when it turned us upside-down and the seatbelts broke. For keeping one arm around the kids as he hung upside-down, by his nails, with no seatbelt on a looping roller coaster…and still looking back to see if I was okay.

Bill G: For listening and encouraging me when I was on the brink of insanity. For laughing when I was laughing, and lending a sympathetic ear when I was not.

My Dad: For making this financially possible, and for believing I could do this.

Robert G: For explaining things without being condescending, even when the question was as lame as, “How do you double click on a Mac?”

Saron: For creating CodeNewbie, which gave me a place to find support and meet other people who don’t fit the classic programmer mould.

Johnson and Tammy (My Managers): For approving a leave of absence, even when it wasn’t in their best interest, just to give me a safety net.

Ben B: For putting me in touch with several other Senior Developers and telling me everything he could think of to help me improve my skills and break into the field.

Everyone from Rails Girls: For taking up the cause of getting more women into programming, and creating a meetup where I could learn and connect without the suffocating competitiveness I’ve experience at other meetups.

My Brother: For repeatedly telling me “You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. I have no doubt you can do this.” and for introducing me to Ben.

There are loads of other people who have helped me, in big ways and in small. If I didn’t put you on the list, it doesn’t mean I’m not grateful. It just means my list was very long this year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Reflection On 10 Years of Marraige

For a moment there, the fate of our marriage seemed to hinge on the placement of the litter box.

Donnie would say I’m being overly dramatic, and I’m sure he’s right, but when you are 6 months in, a marriage is as fragile as a sheet of ice. Even the most mundane argument can cause it to slip through your fingers and melt into a pool around your feet.

The argument, which had persisted for nearly as long as our marriage, was this:

Donnie wanted to keep the litter box in the garage because litter boxes smell horrid. I wanted to keep it inside, because I liked the idea of the cat being able to reach the litter box, and that would mean leaving the door to the garage open and consequently, having to pay to air condition the entire Earth.

I was, of course, right.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Why not install a pet door?” And, yes, that would have been sensible, but doing so would entirely skirt the real issue, which was, “Who gets to be right here?”

I feel the need to defend our former selves by saying that we were not just being immature.

This argument would set a colossal precedent and forever decide who would be King of the Bullheadedness Mountain. In addition to the spoils he would reap (i.e. a God-awful box of cat poop), the loser would have to publicly acknowledge the victor’s superior obstinacy. Henceforth, all stalemate arguments would be decided in the victor’s favor.

I don’t remember the exact point at which I realized Donnie was going to win. I don’t think I had ever been truly out-stubborned until that point.

However it happened, I eventually came to the realization that the need to win was so throughly woven into the fiber of his being, that losing this argument would unwind him.

I had finally found my match, and if I wanted to keep him, I would have to pretend not to notice that he had, again, dragged the litter box out to the garage.

I would not–could not–admit to him that I had given up on the argument. Thankfully, he knew me well enough to know that doing so would have destroyed me. We are woven from the same cloth.

The argument did set a precedent, and perhaps the fact that we settled it early is the reason that we are still happily married 10 years later.

We’ve become more and more expert at anticipating which arguments will lead to a stalemate, and silently agreeing to avoid them whenever possible.

When we reach a standoff, I am almost always the one who eventually gives in, regardless of how thoroughly right I am.

10 years later, the cat box is still in the garage, and I don’t regret it for a second.

Happy Anniversary, Donnie.

Unexpected Benefits of Coding Bootcamp (and a picture of a Soap Shank)

They say that you become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.

Up until recently, that would have made me the average of 2 toddlers, my husband, and a couple of degenerates I chose as best-friends when I was 13. (They’re the fun and eternally loyal kind of degenerates, so I don’t regret the choice.)

Yikes! That’s not a pretty average.

I would love to argue that I’m the exception to the rule, but first–Let me take my son’s underwear off my head.

One of the side benefits of attending Coding Bootcamp is being surrounded by interesting, intelligent people.

My New Friends Spend Their Free Time:

  • Learning Esperanto
  • Playing Strategy Games
  • Rock Climbing
  • Playing the Drums
  • Volunteering

My Old Friends Spend Their Time:

  • Accumulating DUIs
  • I’m afraid to ask what else

(Have I mentioned I chose them when I was 13?)

If the average theory is true, I’ve got a lot to gain by being here. In the past 6 weeks, I’ve heard more about must-see TED talks and less about… whatever it is my old friends are talking about (how to make a shank out of a soap bar?).

Don't Ever, EVER Google "Soap Shank"

Don’t Ever, EVER Google “Soap Shank”

That’s a pretty cool side benefit (the TED talks, not the shank)*.

On the other hand, I think it’s good to keep contact with a wide range of people. If everyone you know is an astrophysicist, you lose sight of what it’s like to not be one.**

I may not love that my old friends are systematically trashing their lives, but growing up with them has given me more compassion for people whose lives were built on a shaky foundation. I don’t believe that pulling their average up necessarily means pushing my average down.

And even if the theory is true, and I am just an average of the 5—who cares?

Right now, I’m wearing my daughter’s socks on my ears, and I am not ashamed!




*Who am I kidding? The shank is pretty cool too.

**You’d never guess it, but astrophysicists make some bad-ass soap shanks.

Hi, My Name is Humility. No, We Haven’t Met Before.

Someone I love dearly just graduated from college and is having a hard time finding a job. Actually, it’s been a year since he graduated college, and since then he’s been living off of hot dogs, ramen noodles, and credit cards.

He says “It’s a catch 22. Jobs want experience, and you can’t get a job if you don’t have experience.”

I’ve tried explaining that lack of experience isn’t the problem.Lack of humility is.

Our culture barrages children with the message, “You are special!”

“You’re special, I’m special, everyone’s special! Horray!”


Sorry to break it you, but if everyone is special, nobody is.

The minute that you throw your graduation cap, you enter a world where you are nothing more than the sum of the experience on your resume. And, oh crap! That section is blank.

Since you are special–and even more special for having a degree, you can’t humble yourself and take a crappy job. You might get an interview for a crappy job, but you will reek of “I’m too good for this”. The manager will hold his nose until the interview is over, spray some Lysol, and put your resume through the shredder.

My first interview for a semi-professional job was as an office assistant at a tiny startup. The owner explained that I would have to do a variety of tasks, including boring things like filing, since I would be the only employee. I think he expected me to object.

Without thinking I responded:

“If you can work around my school schedule, I don’t care if I have to clean the bathrooms.”

He hired me on the spot.

I didn’t fully understand why until I became a manager and realized that humility is one of the hardest traits to find. It’s also one of the most important.

Somebody has to clean the bathrooms. And if you are just starting out with no experience, I am so sorry to be the one to break this to you…that somebody might be you.

Interviews: Can we All Be a Little More Honest?

I’ve spent plenty of time on both sides of the interview table, and if there’s one thing that drives me nuts, it’s the implicit agreement that we will put a sugary spin on everything. The employer will pretend the job is perfect, and the potential employee will pretend he is perfect. Then we will both go home and try to read between the lines.

A Lifehacker article explains how to spot a bad boss through his use of pronouns. The catch: every pronoun is connected to a different negative trait. 


There are scores of articles that give (usually bad) advice for employers to help them spot problematic employees.

What a waste of time!

I can’t help thinking, “This could all be avoided if we’d agree to be a little more honest with each other.”

Go ahead—tell me my average work week will be 60 hours. Don’t gloss over that–be honest, and let me decide if I can handle that. We will both be happier in the long run.

On the other side of the coin, employees need to stop answering that their biggest weakness is that “I’m a perfectionist. I’m just too freakin’ perfect, and I have to tone down my perfectionism so that average people can keep up.” 

As a manger, I can’t remember ONCE receiving a truly honest answer to the question about weaknesses. The worst answer I ever got was “I’m probably not tall enough to see over the teller line.” It was the low point of an otherwise wonderful interview.

I did hire her, by the way, but it was her lapse into honestly that won me over. At the beginning of the interview, she admitted that she has 8 children, and that several companies had not wanted to hire her because of it. She explained that her oldest kids babysit her youngest, so she doesn’t have to worry about missing work. In the end, her honesty benefited her: she was turned down by the companies that were not family-friendly, and hired by the one that was.

My biggest flaw is NOT that I am a perfectionist. I am a perfectionist, but for most employers that’s a good thing. 

My biggest flaw is NOT that I have no sense of direction and drive like I’m on fire. Unless you are my neighbor’s mailbox, you probably don’t care about that.

What is my biggest flaw? There are so many, it’s hard to choose. I could list them all here (and I will if you care enough to send me an email), but in a world that expects a BS answer, I’d be unfavorably compared to someone whose “biggest flaw” is that they “care too much about their work”. 

So, here’s my true, but not-very-useful answer: “I’m too honest”.


Google Me: Managing Social Media Presence


Today The Iron Yard (my coding bootcamp) had an awesome guest speaker, John Saddington. His talk was about the importance of branding and managing your social media presence.


My biggest take-away was that I need to not only blog regularly, but blog on a schedule. Blogging helps establish an online reputation that you can control. It gives potential employers more chances to find you, and more information about you. Scheduling time to blog helps keep you from lapsing into a bout of laziness and falling off the radar.


It was really amazing to see John google his own name and come up with —DA TA DA—a million pictures of himself! And none of them were of him puking off the back deck!!

I have to admit that before John’s talk, I thought of my social media / internet presence mostly as a potential hazard to my job search.

I briefly entertained the idea of imploding my social media presence because…well, because people are stupid. I mean, really….how many times do I have to remind people that my GRANDMOTHER is on Facebook, so please don’t tag me in pictures of naked men. Do the right thing, and text them to me instead.

New goal: take control of my online presence.

(Bam! I blogged today.)