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!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Field Trip to the Boston Nature Center

Last week, I had the pleasure of taking Mr. Berg's 2nd grade Philbrick Elementary School class to the Boston Nature Center (BNC).

Ms. Maciunas and Ms. Brown assisted us on the walk over to the BNC, about a quarter mile from the school. The students did well maintaining a safe, straight line.

Once we arrived, Andrew and Chelsea from the BNC greeted us and went over the day's planned activities, including collecting bugs in the meadow and harvesting the community garden.

We broke into 2 groups and headed toward the garden. On the way, we spotted bees pollenating a flower and passed several beehives.

In the garden, Andrew showed the class how to harvest green zebra sausage tomatoes.

The tomatoes were delicious!

Next Andrew asked the class to identify the parts of the plant.

Then it was time to switch groups. Off to the meadow we went to sweep for insects!

Before long, it was lunchtime, a picnic enjoyed outdoors. Afterward, the children viewed the insects they'd gathered and illustrated and labeled a drawing and wrote about them.

Finally, it was time to work together as a class to build a structure. Although the scene was a bit reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, everyone successfully collaborated to build a huge fort.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Girls Who Code Visit Microsoft NERD Center for Mentoring Event

Author's note: This blog originally appeared in, and was written for, the Microsoft New England blog.

For the second year in a row, Microsoft hosted 20 girls this summer at the Microsoft Cambridge campus to teach coding in partnership with the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program. The girls apply for this competitive program and spend 7 weeks learning Python and other programming languages, as well as building their business and networking skills. When I participated in a speed mentoring session at the NERD office on July 11th, I had the chance to speak these 20 remarkable young women. They mostly live in Massachusetts, but some attend Girls Who Code from as far away as Virginia. Over 25 women Microsoft employees participated from both sales, marketing, R&D, data science and machine learning, as well as from our intern program.

We started the event with lunch and informal mingling.

The Microsoft mentors and students shared stories about how their interest in technology developed, from whom they drew their inspiration, and what type of projects they were working on.

Through the mentoring program, Girls Who Code aims to provide girls with the invaluable opportunity to interact with strong, powerful, and exemplary female role models. Through mentoring relationships, students gain deeper exposure into the professional world and career opportunities once deemed impossible or unattainable. Mentoring sessions provide a safe and encouraging space for girls to ask questions and get both academic and career advice. Mentors had the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of ambitious and talented girls interested in technology.

I very much enjoyed being able to spend 10-15 minutes individually with nearly a dozen girls. I told them what I liked best about my job, which is that I use technology to make a global impact to improve communication outcomes for neurological patients and improve health screening for women in developing nations. I honestly addressed questions about maintaining work-life balance and coping in a male-dominated environment. Most of my advice revolved around confidence. I explained imposter syndrome and suggested that they read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Contribute to Women’s Health Outcomes Via New Data Science Competition

Check out the latest competition I just launched at work!

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report released in 2011, about 820,000 women and men aged 15-24 were newly infected with HIV in developing countries. Over 60% of these were women. Among so many other challenges, developing countries are plagued with serious reproductive health illnesses such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unintended pregnancies, and complications from childbirth. A key priority for policymakers, researchers, and health care providers working in developing nations is to emphasize prevention and distribution of information about STIs and other reproductive tract infections (RTIs). This report on Improving Reproductive Health in Developing Countries from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences contains additional information on the topic.

To achieve the goal of improving women’s reproductive health outcomes in underdeveloped regions, Microsoft has created a competition calling for optimized machine learning solutions to allow a patient to be accurately categorized into different health risk segments and subgroups. Based on the categories that a patient falls in, healthcare providers can offer an appropriate education and training program to patients. Such customized programs have a better chance to help reduce the reproductive health risk of patients.

Read more ...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Game On! Introducing Cortana Intelligence Competitions

Cross-posting an interesting project I spent this winter and spring working on.

Machine Learning algorithms powered by intelligent applications serve useful functions in our daily lives in ways we may not even be aware of. For instance, predictive analytics allow businesses to retain key customers, help assembly lines and buildings to run more efficiently, and help us find movies that we are likely to find intriguing. The ML field has gained tremendous traction and respect over the last decade, prompting Harvard Business Review to name the Data Scientist the sexiest job of the 21st century.

To encourage new ML applications and foster a vibrant online community, we are thrilled to launch Cortana Intelligence Competitions, a gamification feature of Cortana Intelligence Suite, as well as our first competition Decoding Brain Signals. This platform provides an intuitive and fun environment to hone users’ data science and analytics expertise, and our first competition will allow you to have the chance to contribute to the important field of neuroscience to win prizes and recognition.

Read more ...

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Resume tips and tricks

As a former editor, I'm often asked to give feedback to friends and colleagues on their resumes.

Photo credit

Here are the guidelines that I follow:

  • One page is no longer the norm, especially for a professional in their 30s or 40s.
  • Omit "references available upon request." Duh.
  • Update your LinkedIn profile at the same time.
  • Include a description of your company's mission and revenue at the top.
  • Add an objective statement.
  • Add some bullet points to the top that describe your professional persona. Are you driven? Passionate about sales? Personalize this section with adjectives that colleagues would use to describe you.
  • Ensure that your resume doesn't read like a job description. How did you add value to your job above and beyond your job responsibilities?
  • Proofread for typos early and often, and have other folks review it. Only use 1 space between sentences.
  • Make it a habit. I update my resume at least twice a year, and preferably after each quarter. It allows me to keep my accomplishments fresh in my mind and always have the latest copy available as an example. This also helps at performance review time.
  • Consider a professional. I used JC resumes for my resume a few years ago, and I could not be happier with the result. This is not an affiliate post, they paid me nothing for this testimonial. They really did a fantastic job.
Best of luck with your resume updates!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Exploring STEM Careers at Boston Public Schools Job Shadow Day

Author's note: This blog originally appeared in, and was written for, the Microsoft New England blog.

Friday March 11, 2016 was job shadowing day at Microsoft for Boston Public School students. I signed up to participate in the job shadow experience because I love to introduce students to my work in technology. I think STEM educational programs are critically important. Because my daughter is 6, I’ve focused on elementary school educational opportunities in STEM and hadn’t yet had the chance to work with older kids. I was matched up with James and Billy, two seniors from East Boston High.

Charis, James, and Billy

We began with a group overview of the roles of the participating Microsoft employees, then paired off and began with individual meetings. I shared a short video of my project and explained how to set up a machine learning experiment.

I attended my team’s scrum meeting via Skype in my office, and the students got to hear the day’s progress, roadblocks, and next steps. Then we went directly to a meeting about our backup strategies and options. After the meeting ended, I was impressed with how much the students had picked up on during our meeting.

We ended the brief shadow with a group lunch. I’m looking forward to participating in the next event!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Takeaways from Managing Time Mindfully workshop

I walked into Pam Kristan's time management workshop in Jamaica Plain on January 30 feeling that I was already somewhat of an expert on time management. After all, I had successfully completed an MBA with honors while working full time while I had a two-year-old. I am somewhat of a time management aficionado, picking up tips from a wide variety of sources. So I was pleasantly surprised when I learned a huge amount from the two hours I spent at the workshop.

Pam's system revolves around the ABCs: attention, boundaries, and choices. She started off with a quick tip for us to deal with interruptions. She suggests that if someone interrupts you, pick a word so that you can return to that spot in your project, somewhat like a pause button.

As you might expect, she was very mindful with time, informing us how long she expected something to take, how long until a break, etc. this was useful for participants' planning purposes. I plan to apply this at home in the mornings with my daughter to better manage our morning time with a timer.

A highlight of the program for me was when Gabriel led the room in a guided meditation. I realized how much better I respond to a guided meditation than going it alone, so I found several good tracks by Meditation Oasis that I've downloaded onto my phone to do each morning.

 Pam left us with nuggets of wisdom around each of her ABCs. For example, when she discussed attention, she suggested a system of catch, distribute, and review. To put that in practice, when idea comes in, catch it by writing it down. Then, distribute it where you need it. Finally, in the review stage, assign this task to where it needs to go. You might add it to a calendar or a list, for instance. 

Another wise suggestion regarding attention is that we each control our own attention. Sometimes, a bit of empowerment can allow us to feel more comfortable with a never-ending to do list. As she reminded us, our to do list is impossible to finish and never ends. She encouraged audience participation and suggestions, so I chimed in with my favorite to-do list, Peter Bregman's six box to-do list. Pam stressed that different systems will work for different people, so do what works for your specific circumstances.

One of the most useful takeaways for me was a technique that Pam outlined as satisfaction reflection. She pointed out that most people rush through their days focusing on what they haven't done yet. Instead, she urged us to focus on what we have accomplished rather than dwelling on what we have not. This is essentially optimism for time management, and as an eternal optimist, I'm drawn to the idea.

Pam suggested a timing your work using a block of 20 minutes, and 17 minutes in, closing the segment down. She suggested to first reflect on the past via a satisfaction practice and note down what was effective. Then, looking forward, identify your next steps. Finally, remain in the present. This reminded me of a working technique that I really enjoy, the Pomodoro technique. Combined with the three-minute closing, I think it will be very effective in managing my competing priorities.

When establishing boundaries, Pam suggested that we consider a cell membrane and its semi-permeable nature. She suggested that rather than being completely rigid, that we allow for flexibility in terms of our schedule. This tip is especially good for the chronically late. Pam suggested thinking of both/and rather than either/or and finding creative solutions to accomplish more.

Pam led an interesting heartbeat tracking activity that drilled into attendees that it is very difficult to be in touch with your own agenda while paying attention to that of others. As a people pleaser, this one hit home for me very intensely. As part of my satisfaction practice, I set an intention for myself to be very firm in ensuring that my activities align to my priorities.

One of the last takeaways I jotted down before I had to leave at the lunch break was about perfection. Pam reminded us that perfection is the enemy of production, and 85% effort is a perfectly acceptable cruising altitude. Certainly, some tasks can be given less effort and attention, well some absolutely require more. But you can't give your 100% to everything all the time without burning out.

I feel honored that Pam allowed me to be part of the promotion and marketing of her very successful event. I strongly encourage you to check out Pam's website and her books.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Managing time mindfully

I strongly advocate for time management awareness and best practices because I've seen the positive impact that good time management has had on my life, especially in terms of achieving my goals. I've been at my most successful, both personally and professionally, when my work and personal life are in balance. Through my awareness practices such as meditation and organization, I can avoid and minimize feelings of chaos and overwhelm and achieve an optimal flow and rhythm to my days.

I want to share this awesome new  time management resource with my blog readers. For those local to Boston, Pam Kristan is hosting a workshop entitled Managing time mindfully on January 30th. I recently met Pam Kristan through the JP Time Exchange, an interesting time and skill sharing site that I joined about a year ago. Both the Time Exchange and Pam's workshop operate under the gift economy. The folks who meet and collaborate on these type of projects enjoy giving back and learning new skills.

Here's a sneak peek at some brainstorm sessions Pam used to create the event.

I'll be at Pam's workshop on the 30th where I plan to acquire new skills and techniques for managing stress and organizing my life. I'll also bring with me some of my favorite resources, like the Pomodoro technique and 6 box to-do list. I hope to see you there!

Here are some additional details about the event:

Workshop exercises dissolve individual/cultural patterns that no longer serve and let attendees try out new ways of being, thinking, and feeling. Pam says, "the practice cycles between Awareness and Action -- each informing and generating the other." A mix of hard skills and reflectiveexercises reinforces the new cycle.
Time management loosens the hold of distressing feelings such as being overwhelmedanxiety/guilt from not doing enough, and despair from feeling powerless to change.
Attendees can expect to reframe how they think of time management, get hands-on techniques to live more powerfully, give substance to their personal visions, andlay groundwork for continuing after the workshop.
The Parish Hall will be set up with a gallery of powerful images and signs, music/video stations, and areas dedicated to specific topics so participants can explore time management through several modalities.
The session is offered by free will donation in the spirit of the gift economy. Bring your own lunch or patronize JP'slocal lunch places.
Pam is author of Awakening In Time: Practical Time Management For Those On a Spiritual Path. She has been giving consultations and workshops in spirituallyoriented time management for 30 years. She moderated speak-outs for National Take Back Your Time Day. More at and Facebook page.

"There is so little time, we must go slowly" (traditional Taoist saying)

If you're not from Boston, you can check out Pam's books here.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Violet Loveland's extraordinary rescue

Since our cat Violet went missing on Monday, I've been patrolling my neighborhood, a complex of townhouses, calling her name and shaking toys and treats, hoping to entice her to come out. We publicized our search on Tuesday, and received lots of good wishes, thoughts, and tips. We put up posters, set an alert with Home Again, and shared on Facebook and local news sites like

Violet and Isabella in calmer times

One neighbor suggested looking at construction sites, as their family pet was found at one after a 17-day search. Others suggested setting a humane trap outside along with her litter box. All of the buildings look the same, so we figured it was quite likely she was lost very close by, and scared.

My family was growing more distraught and hopeless as the week progressed. On Friday afternoon, I went for a walk with a friend and brought my flashlight and a cat toy. We were talking and calling for Violet when after about three minutes, we heard a frantic meowing. The next door neighbor came out from her back porch and we asked if a cat lived there. She said that she'd called the neighbor that morning around 10 am to make sure the cat was OK because the meowing was louder than normal, and that the neighbor had just told the cat to be quiet and moved on with her day. But the next door neighbor agreed that the meowing sounded frantic, so she called the other neighbor a second time, around 4 pm. We waited for a couple of minutes in this neighbor's house, and she got a call from the adjacent apartment that the meowing was coming from the wall and that it was not her cat!

I called to Violet from the vent opening in the second floor and heard her and her bell jingle very clearly. I was so, so relieved to have located her! I was crying and hugging my friend and neighbors. Little did we know, our rescue effort would take us until the next day.

I sat in my neighbor's bedroom calling Violet for about 5 hours. I phoned everyone I could think of: Boston Fire Department, Animal Control, Angell MSPCA, the building management company, HVAC specialists.  The Boston Fire Department and Animal Control tried for hours to get her out, with no luck.

It seemed Violet was trapped next to, not in, this duct in the wall.

Finally, a contractor from our town came to our rescue.  Greg, an employee at Step by Step Construction, owned by Todd Vaughan, came out and spent 3 hours trying to get her out. By 10 pm, we had a few holes in the first-floor ceiling but no Violet. We decided to regroup in the morning.

After a night of little sleep, Greg returned with Todd. They cut open the duct work in the second floor and had her out within 45 minutes!

This little cat caused quite a disturbance and a lot of repairs! We suspect that she somehow fell through a small hole in my townhouse in the attic and crawled across to the neighbor 3 doors down.  We have sealed off the attic and Violet is readjusting nicely to her surroundings, albeit with a lot fewer than her original 9 lives! We are so, so happy to have her home, and so grateful for everyone's searching, thoughts, tips, and good wishes. And if you need a reliable, honest contractor, please call Todd Vaughan, 617-504-0914 or