Wednesday, April 30, 2014

All About Conferences

After attending the awesome Simmons Leadership Conference last week, I pause to reflect on how these type of events have been transformative and inspirational. Especially when there's a lot going on at your job, it can be really difficult to justify being out of the office for a whole day or several. But sometimes the busiest times are the most important ones for you to take that break and gain a new perspective.

Dee McCrorey's work introduced me to strategic inflection points, those times in one's career where you can make a pivotal jump or change to secure a successful future. I fist met Dee at an intensive workshop she ran at the 2010 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. This event in retrospect turned out to be a strategic inflection point in my own career. Being around so many successful women in the technology industry helped me to overcome my impostor syndrome and aspire to seek leadership roles in tech.

Dr. Duy-Loan Le's inspiring mandate to the attendees really resonated with me: Be excellent. I've never heard anyone command a room the way Dr. Le did. Everyone ceased checking in on their devices, except maybe to tweet a key quote from the speech.

It's possible to internalize the energy and passion of speakers and bring this enthusiasm back to the office with you. These new ideas and new connections gleaned from the event can inspire, energize, and jumpstart you in a new role or an existing job.

While at the conference, be open and receptive to meeting new connections, while making time to strengthen existing ones. I've met some of my most interesting conference connections while in a line or at the same lunch table. The sessions at many conferences are recorded, so I stop to enjoy a hallway conversation as they develop, and can watch the speaker later.

Actively participate by taking notes, and following twitter. Here's a tweet I sent while listening to Hillary Clinton's afternoon keynote.

What conference can you register for in the next year that will allow you to return to the office inspired?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What Is Crowdsourcing?

I just started a new job at my company last Monday. I love the role, the team, and the mission. I'm really excited to be part of a group changing my company, and technology, for the better.

My new manager recently asked me a question that at first glance seems fundamental, but is actually quite complex. What, really, is crowdsourcing? It feels like a buzzword. I thought about all of the different ways I've been positively influenced by learning from others. Really, my entire existence is croudsourced, and I am always looking for ways to add to the collective knowledgebase.

Crowdsourcing is the act of participating in a collective wisdom. Tapping into an external body of knowledge can improve your life in so many ways. I crowdsource many areas of my life, including my parenting. I am a member of an online forum of local moms run on Big Tent, where I get all sorts of information. I learn everything from parenting techniques, activities and places to visit, and new time management and work/life balance tips. I even buy and sell things in my community: baby clothes, a microwave, storage bins, you name it. Another, smaller group of parents and I organize a babysitting co-op on the same platform to save a lot of money watching each others' children at mutually convenient times.

This all may sound superficial, but in fact has had a huge influence on my life. Some of the amazing things I have learned from my moms'  forum include:
  • where to take my daughter for ballet lessons
  • what is the best way to soothe a colicky baby
  • which hospitals are best
  • how to host a birthday at the playground
  • what books should I read this year
  • what type of school might be best suited for my daughter
  • how to schedule a large event (use Doodle)
More importantly, I've made several personal and virtual connections that have turned out to be dear friendships. I met my best mom friend at a new moms group that I learned about through the online forum. We carpool now and our kids are best friends, and I truly don't know what I would do without her. We co-parent, buying clothes for each other's kids and acting as a third parent. I also met my jogging partner, another local mom, got a referral for a food delivery service, and have found several excellent mother's helpers through the Boston University jobs board.

I love how my moms' group comes together for tragedies, both citywide and nationwide. The moms have organized for change in the wake of the Newtown shooting, Boston Marathon, and firefighters'  tragedies, and rallied around local moms who need some extra support due to personal illness or setbacks. I've seen so many moms deliver gift cards and meals to moms in need, sometimes complete strangers. It's truly heartwarming.

You can even crowdsource and coordinate meal delivery using Meal Train or Take Them a Meal, and crowdfund through Kickstarter or GoFundMe. Amazon has a new program Smile that allows you to fund causes like my daughter's school (The Boston Education Development Foundation Inc) while shopping at Amazon.

My contribution to crowdsourcing is sharing cool stuff that I've learned, like the free streaming media from Hoopla and OverDrive at the Boston Public Library, as well as how you can make make domestic or Canadian phone calls from your gmail account for free. I often share with new moms or those struggling to balance work with their family the amazing site Work Options*, where you can download professional telecommuting, maternity leave, and flextime templates that you can quickly customize to your specific situation.

Crowdsourcing can certainly been used in ways outside of your community, including gathering new ideas, looking for feedback, and getting suggestions to tailor an idea. If people share your values and vision, and they align with your objectives, you can use them to help amplify your message. You can use social media, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn,, and blogging to test that idea that you're floating around.

Just this evening, I was catching up with a good friend experiencing some worrying physical symptoms. I logged into my local moms' forum and entered some keywords, searching for a specialist. Within minutes I'd found an anonymous thread of another mom with similar symptoms, who had received advice and referrals for doctors. I shared the doctor contacts mentioned and the tips recommended by these moms with my friend. While it may not be the same issue, it will hopefully at least give her a frame of reference to research her symptoms. Reality check: Doctor Google does not know anything, so never crowdsource your medical treatment! It can be helpful, though, to ask around for medical referrals or hear from others with similar issues. When dealing with a health condition in college, I found a national foundation for the disease and was able to chat with others about the symptoms and how to manage them. It was such a huge comfort to be able to connect with people going through the same thing. I also found a similarly helpful forum when dealing with a relative's challenging condition.

I've learned that the more knowledge I gain, the less I find I really know. So I continue to crowdsource to find out how I can live my best life. I encourage you to try it, and tell me about your crowdsourcing experiences in the comments!

*Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Work Options.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Why I don't mind my 45 minute commute

That's 45 minutes each way, no traffic, about 70 miles round trip. Lu winning the kindergarten lottery means we will stay in Boston for the foreseeable future. I just accepted a new position at my company, so the commute stays.

I use my 45 minutes to enjoy listening to audiobooks. It is such an escape, like having a travel companion on a long road trip who is the best storyteller. Thanks to the Boston Public Library (BPL), I have access to a nearly unlimited selection of stories from world-renowned authors, plus relative unknowns. I never know when I'll discover my next favorite author. BPL has 2 great online services for audiobooks, eBooks, and more, OverDrive and Hoopla. The best part is that all Massachusetts residence can access these for free.

I manage my wish list of books on Goodreads. I have about 80 on my to-read shelf. That should keep me listening for at least a few more years. Not to mention all of the awesome books that have yet to be written.

We're shopping for a new place to live in Boston. I'm holding out for a house that has a bookshelf like this.

Edited 8/6 to offer this handy tip from a colleague: Check out this post on how to set it so that your iPhone or other device remembers where you are in an audiobook: