Thursday, October 22, 2020

Break into product management

When I teach the Intro to Product Management class at General Assembly, my most asked question is how to break into the product management field when you don't have experience. In fact, I see this question so frequently that I decided to summarize my best advice into a blog post. 

I advise people to volunteer to work with the product manager at their company to gain experience. I shadowed my product manager at SAP on a design thinking project interviewing attorneys to understand  their frustrations and pain points.

 If you don’t have a product manager to shadow at your company, go to the meetup and startup community to get some pro bono experience. Given coronavirus, most of these opportunities have moved online. Check out and for groups of interest. I have expanded my network through affinity groups like She Geeks Out and Tech Ladies, as well as Women in Product.

You should also leverage your transferable skills. For instance, are you good at juggling multiple priorities? Have you worked on an agile team? Understand technology? Review your resume to look at the skills you do have and highlight these transferable skills on your product-focused resume.

General Assembly has some great workshops and bootcamps to build your skills in product management, agile, and other topics. Good luck!


Monday, December 16, 2019

Hour of Code 2019

During the second day of my new job at Amazon Web Services as a business development manager for cloud intelligence specializing in artificial intelligence, I discovered that Amazon is a premiere sponsor of The Hour of Code.

From, " is a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Our vision is that every student in every school has the opportunity to learn computer science, just like biology, chemistry or algebra. provides the leading curriculum for K-12 computer science in the largest school districts in the United States and also organizes the annual Hour of Code campaign which has engaged 15% of all students in the world. is supported by generous donors including Amazon."

The Hour of Code is held during December in celebration of Navy rear admiral Grace Hopper, one of the founders of COBOL programming language and the engineer who coined the term "bug" to mean a computer defect after finding a moth in a mainframe computer.

Despite having missed the initial deadlines with my November start date, my fantastic and dedicated Amazon colleague Jacqueline Olliges enabled me to order swag including stickers, Amazon Future Engineer certificates of completion for students, and t-shirts for volunteers. The look on students' faces when receiving their stickers and certificates was priceless. They felt so proud having spent the hour learning about coding and imagining a future in engineering.

Amazon Future Engineer sticker
Amazon Future Engineer certificate
On December 11-13 at Philbrick Elementary in Boston, MA, kindergarten through 5th grade students participated in the international movement to teach programming and logic skills to kids. This year, Amazon sponsored an expansion of the Dance Party game, including an expanded hit song list, new characters, and effects.
Dance Party from Blain's perspective

Katia Inezian, 4th grade, creating a Dance Party scene
Aiden Alexander, 3rd grade, codes using Dance Party
Chloe Alexander, 3rd grade, finished her Dance Party level
Charis watches 5th grader Blain Assefa's creation
Using the drag and drop Sketch interface to teach programming
5th graders Blain Assefa and Yasniris

Hazel Hartung, third grade
De'Ana Florence, Philbrick science teacher and Zipei Wei, Amazon volunteer, assist 5th grade students

Dance on!

Science teacher De'Ana Florence graciously welcomed me and my colleague Zipei into her classroom. We had an excellent, memorable time and can't wait to return for next December's Hour of Code.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

All about podcasts

I've had the pleasure of being interviewed a few times recently, both on Facebook Live as well as 2 podcasts.

My first interview was with Linda Ugelow. We talked about artificial intelligence, working in tech, and working styles.

Click here to watch the video

The next was a podcast out of the Carribean run by Engel Jones. It was really fun to have this conversation with Engel, which I found out about through Bobbie Carlton's Innovation Women.

You can listen to my conversation with Engel here
Finally, I have been writing a newsletter about AI news for nonprofit professionals. Nonprofits are near and dear to my heart, as I've been a volunteer for Epilepsy Foundation of MA/RI, The Alfond Scholarship Foundation, and the Hour of Code. I recently began working as a product manager for a nonprofit Mozilla, whose parent company Mozilla Foundation (hilariously abbreviated as MoFo) believes the Internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible to all.

As part of my AI newsletter work, I moderated a podcast introducing Google's AI for Good award winners.
You can listen to their stories here, Episode 18

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

How do you get into artificial intelligence?

When I tell people I work in artificial intelligence, the most common question I get is how I got started. I followed the learn on the job approach. I was offered an amazing opportunity at Microsoft in 2016 and I took it, and have been learning ever since. I've held product management roles creating or expanding on AI projects for several industries, and now I work for myself in this domain. I have taken some massively open online classes (MOOCs) that offer a solid foundation in machine learning. I've attended dozens of conferences, meetups, and affinity groups.

Here's a roundup of the resources that I've found most useful.

Blogs and Online

This is my friend Brandon Rohrer's blog: We worked together at Microsoft and he's a data scientist at Facebook. This is the most comprehensive and easily explained resource I've encountered. You can find him and other influencers in the field on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep informed about new resources.

Brandon is in good company on this list of 9 YouTube channels to subscribe to for ML learning.

Khan Academy is an excellent resource for brushing up on concepts like standard deviation, which can be a tricky concept.

KDnuggets has a variety of resources including this 2019 predictions article.

Andrew Ng’s AI Transformation Playbook provides a business-oriented roadmap for your company to transform into a great AI company. His newsletter The Batch is a great resource.

Kaggle provides a fun way to improve your modeling skills, complete with cash prizes! The Titanic dataset is a good introduction, as are the Iris classification and the diamond linear regression. 

Here's an AI in 3 minutes presentation I wrote for my local friend PowerPoint Club.


Most of the major online sites offer classes you can audit for free or get certified for a fee. I recommend the following platforms:

General Assembly
Emeritus's MIT Professional Education machine learning class (for which I'm a learning facilitator)
Thinkful I am taking a python class through my local library's subscription.


Prediction Machines
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
Automate The Boring Stuff With Python: Practical Programming For Total Beginners
Weapons of Math Destruction
Algorithms to Live By
Statistics Done Wrong 
Machine Learning for Dummies
I recently read and really enjoyed The Master Algorithm, but I'd save it for after you have a fundamental understanding of machine learning.

Developers may benefit from this more technical reading list.


If you are an extrovert or a hands-on learner, I recommend learning from the experts at one of these conferences.

Strata: all things big data, expect announcements from large companies about their latest tech
PAPIs: a mix of expert and more entry-level sessions, organized by an awesome European-based committee
ODSC: really friendly, volunteer organized, more accessible sessions
Harvard's Institute for Applied Computational Science holds Computefest and some other excellent lectures and events
ICML: big names in data science attend this, very expert-level


I'll provide a Boston listing here, but look for similar resources in your city.

General Assembly
So you want to be a data scientist
Boston AI Tech Talks Group
Thinkful Learn to Code
Boston AI Meetup
Boston Machine Learning
Boston TechBreakfast
Boston WITI Meetup - Women in Technology
Women Who Code Boston
Boston Predictive Analytics
Boston Deep Learning Meetup
Boston Data Science Meetup

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Why New England is not all that great in the fall

A local friend of mine with whom I share several personal and professional interests, Inci Kaya, and I recently discussed my blog. She mentioned that she'd like to try her hand at blogging. I am happy to introduce the second in a series of guest articles penned by Inci! 

Why New England is not all that great in the fall


Come the beloved fall foliage season of New England, its agricultural bounty atrophies rapidly, dwindling to 1) apples, 2) pears and 3) root vegetables. And all that cheering for beets you hear, yeah, it's actually crickets.

Just think how much more joyous (!) the task of packing school lunches for kids is about to become - especially if you have a kid or two who routinely return their lunchboxes untouched. What is the one thing that you try to put in those lunchboxes all the time? A piece of fruit, right? Well come fall guess which fruit I have to choose from? This kind of apple or that type of apple or umm the other freaking kind of apple. 

Before Halloween rolls around I've already had it with the various varieties of apples that I can never remember to distinguish - (same with potatoes, by the way). Was it the Cortland that was good? No, maybe Empire... Or the Macintosh - oh wait, those absolutely sucked and should only be used as puréed baby food for some innocent one who doesn't know any different... are those Granny Smiths going to be overly tart? And Why are the Honeycrisp apples so expensive? Should I get organic, or will my kids survive eating the regular kind?

Of course my kids are asking why they can't have mangos and pineapples as part of school lunch instead. Ugh, do I have to go into explaining the carbon footprint those delightful fruits bring with them at the crack of 7:00 am in the morning...? Also, is my name Martha Stewart? Please don't even....

Here's the thing: my bathing suit has barely dried from summer and I'm just nowhere ready for fall. I will complain and deny the fondness New Englanders have for autumn viewing and apple picking until some kind New Englander out there takes mercy on me and points me to a delightful New England bounty I have been missing (roasted carrots and turnips don't count). Please tell me and help put an end to my autumnal complain fest as the leaves turn color (which means my husband will want to go rake, wasting many a precious weekend time better spent doing other things); and as shopkeepers are wringing their hands with the anticipation of the snowy-star-lit-street holiday season. (Halloween is so last July, puhlease). 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to fill a couple of lunch boxes with a child and mom accepted fruit or vegetable that does not come from tropical places, but is also not in the apple or root vegetable family. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Hold your sexist tongue

A local friend of mine with whom I share several personal and professional interests, Inci Kaya, and I recently discussed my blog. She mentioned that she'd like to try her hand at blogging. I am happy to introduce the first in a series of guest articles penned by Inci! Welcome to Inci, and without further ado:

Hold Your Sexist Tongue

by Inci Kaya

During a recent conference call with several colleagues regarding trends in the workplace that allow workers to work remotely, one of the highly knowledgeable, educated males on the call uttered that this technology "could be good for women who are at home with children”. I blinked for a moment with disbelief and surprise and jumped in "or for men...".

My reaction came partially from the fact that I live in a very progressive, almost utopic neighborhood where it is not uncommon to see men carrying babies in those wearable baby carriers; and those men do not feel emasculated. Oh, and partially because it’s 2016.

So, which neighborhood or decade was this guy from exactly?

This co-worker’s (let’s call him Mike) remarks, though inadvertent, were fifty plus years old, and did not belong in today’s workplace. Or did they? Was I just overreacting? I looked up the US Bureau of Labor Statistics site for statistics on women in the workplace; and found ample proof that I was not overreacting:

  • In 50% of households, both parents work outside the home 
  • In 30% of households, women outearn their husbands 
  • In 20% of households, only husbands are employed
  • In married households, %70 of women and 81% of men work (ages 25 to 54 years)
Not convinced? No problem. There’s more where that came from:
87% of men who are married with children under 18 work but when men are separated or divorced or widowed that share drops to 73%.

While the reasons for the 14% gap are not listed in the statistics, as an analyst, and as somebody with common sense, I’d say that the presence of a woman remaining at home is what enables men to go to work.

Let’s stay on the topic of those women for a moment longer: Let’s try outsourcing the tasks that a woman typically does inside the home (for free) to third-party service providers. Between services like Task Rabbit, center-based daycare or a nanny, food delivery services, concierge, cleaning and driving services, the value of that woman doing all these errands would be around $150,000 or so a year (happy to give you the breakdown of that). What a deal men get! I want that deal too.

One more statistic, this time for the single men out there:

The percentage of single men that work full time is under 50%. So, dear men, if you want to improve your chances of full-time employment I suggest that you hold your sexist mouth shut for starters; you just might get lucky and find a woman who will agree to marry you and help boost your chances of full-time employment.

After my study, I realized three things:

  1. I had enough ammunition to put Mike to shame for our next conference call.
  2. I made sure that I wasn’t being an insane crazy bitch, and that I was using my rational mind to present irrefutable facts and a cool and calm manner.
  3. I believed that aware Mike's words were completely unintentional; and that he didn't mean anything bad by it. His slip of the tongue was not uncommon to hear, even from women.

For better or worse, I gradually climbed down off of my soapbox, and put my boxing gloves down. I decided that instead of shaming Mike over a phone line, that I should put the word out to a broader audience. Because I know there are so many well-intentioned Mikes out there, and they – we – all just need to remember to hold our sexist tongues sometimes.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Hour of Code 2016

This week, I had the pleasure of spending 2 days at my daughter's Boston public school, the Philbrick Elementary School. I was helping the school's fantastic science teacher Erin Flynn to teach the Hour of Code for Computer Science Education Week, celebrated on Grace Hopper's birthday.

Erin and Charis

This was my fourth year teaching the Hour of Code, which coincides with the program's existence. Here are my 2014 and 2015 recaps, which detail the drag-and-drop program Skitch. You can view all of the code-based games on the Hour of Code's website. Thanks to my employer RueLaLa for making this opportunity happen with their volunteer days program!

Every year, I am astounded by the students' boundless energy and impressed by the teaching staff who keeps them engaged on a daily basis. This year, we worked on the students' ability to solve difficult problems, and talked about the determination and perseverance required to end up at the correct solution.

Although it's exhausting to teach programming to 170 students in just 2 days, the Hour of Code is a rewarding experience every time and I am so grateful to be a part of it. This year was especially gratifying when my daughter came home after day 1 and we spent 2 hours coding on a Monster High platform from before I finally convinced her it was bedtime. I am so proud of my little coder and all of the wonderful students at the Philbrick. It's really special to be able to have lunch and attend recess with my daughter two days in a row, and a great side benefit to this volunteer experience!