Life as an Introvert at HBS

I decided that I owe the world a little more of an update on “How’s HBS?”- Particularly because after the last post I got a lot of “you’ll be okay! It gets better!” which I wasn’t expecting. The beginning of a new thing is always challenging – so no need to worry.

I don’t want to be a broken record, but four weeks in, I’m still most interested about how different HBS is for introverts. I’ve been considering that aspect across a few different angles. (I have some other insights, but I’m going to focus on the introvert part for now).

Social
This week was first time I thought “it might be nice to make some new friends.” There was so much forced people interaction at the beginning that I had no desire to get to know anyone past the required activities. I barely wanted to talk to the people I already knew. When I did try to force social interactions at the beginning, I came across as cynical.

I’m glad to be more interested in meeting people now, but I can see the downside to waiting. Now that we’re in week four, everyone else already has expectations and roles. I went to my first post-dinner section drinks during week three, and it was already surprising for me to be there. The first thing I heard was basically “Ellen! This is the first time you’re coming out!” – while I was relieved that anyone noticed/cared/wanted to talk to me, it still left me aware that I’m not participating as much as some others are.

On top of that, people are so extroverted that it can be hard to explain how I feel. The extroverts are also overwhelmed, but it isn’t the same issue. They often wish they had more time – could get to more activities – are missing something. I’m not worried about missing anything; I’m just exhausted from having to talk to people. I’m shocked at my inability to explain to people that introversion is different than fear of missing out (FOMO).

The upside of this is that while the social patterns at HBS form quickly, they’re also fluid. There’s nothing stopping introverts from engaging more as time goes on – the invitation is always there.

Classroom
I feel similar tension academically. At HBS, we have 93 students in our section. In our 80 minute classes, 30-40 students get to talk per class. That means on average people only talk about once every three classes. Professors have papers that highlight which students have talked the most and least. In the same way I can tell that it’s unusual for me to go out, I can also walk by and see that I don’t talk as much as some people.

Early on, I tried to force myself outside of my comfort zone by tracking how often I raised my hand, and getting used to the risk of having it up. I’ve settled down to the point where I only raise my hand if I (1) have something unique to say or (2) haven’t talked in a REALLY long time. I am looking to get a better system to record my own comments so I’ll have a more objective idea.

This is different from some of the more extroverted people. They’re more willing to start talking (sometimes when not called on!) or assume that they should continue in a back-and-forth debate, rather than waiting for professor guidance. I can see how extroversion could be an advantage in the classroom.

Since I consciously made the decision not to go for Baker Scholar (top 10% of the class), this isn’t too big of a deal. The vast majority (70%) of people get a “2,” which basically means “good enough.” As long as I’m learning and adding the things I think are particularly interesting to the discussion, I’m fine with getting 2s. This academic discrepancy might bother me more if that weren’t the case.

I do care about if I’m perceived to be taking my education seriously. I don’t want to be here and be wasting anyone’s time. Luckily, professors tend to stay in the front of the class after it concludes. This gives me time to ask some of my off topic questions after class, so I won’t distract anyone else. I hope that even though I don’t speak as often, people can tell I’m interested and want to learn.

There are some things that specifically help introverts in the classroom. One thing that does help is that we have the Cases to prepare ahead of time. While I can’t know exactly the direction our conversation will take, I know the general line of thought. I can reflect on my own beforehand. HBS would be far more stressful if we didn’t know what we were talking about until we arrived in class.

Another is that we have assigned discussion groups. The “assigned” part means I didn’t have to go out of my way to find people. It’s also only six people, so it’s much less scary to share ideas. I’ve found that my discussion group helps me feel far more prepared and comfortable speaking in class.

Professors also work to engage people. If I don’t speak, I know I’m more likely to be cold called. I enjoy being cold called because I prepare – and it makes it easier for me to jump in without worrying if I’m adding enough value or not. This means even if I’m not always confident about when to speak, the professors make sure I get things in sometimes.

Another thing that helps: Sitting in the same seats in the classroom every day has helped me. It makes it easier to remember and understand my class mates contributions. I’m far less overwhelmed than if all 93 of us played musical chairs each day.

Professional Clubs
Now that we’re a month in, the professional clubs have also started to kickoff. I think this is one area where there could definitely be improvement.

My gut feeling is that most of the people in leadership roles at HBS are extroverts. As I wrote before, everyone is so quick to jump in, that I don’t usually feel a need to organize. I think we need better ways for introverts to connect with organizations. I took one look at the club fair and turned right back around and went to sit in Spangler and read a case. I cannot imagine a situation in which I could walk around to hundreds of people, have a quick chat, and decide what to do.

The sheer number was too confusing. Some of my friends developed intricate strategies for what to get involved with. My solution has been to be clear about my interests, and then let opportunities find me.

So far, that’s working out, but I think it’s from luck. I came to HBS knowing that I love my industry. I also know enough people to already have some connections. A member of my discussion group helped me to become the Online Editor for the HarBus. I’ve gotten involved with the Campus’s Digital Initiative and audit PM101. I’ve given some other students advice on Kickstarter projects. I’m also hoping to do some things with the Tech club.

If I didn’t have clear cut interests, it wouldn’t be easy for me to find my way. I think this is the place that introverts are most disadvantaged at HBS, and I’d love to see improvement for ways to include introverts in clubs, and in club leadership roles.

Conclusions
I think my big takeaway is introverts will always be in the minority at HBS. You’re always going to have a different experience coming in as an introvert compared to an extrovert.

Based on my feelings and conversations with others, I think this is the difference:
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For extroverts, HBS is exciting off the bat. New people! Parties! Whoo! Things are pretty good. People say to focus on the people, don’t worry so much about the work! There are still the low moments that come periodically, but on the whole when things are good, they’re great.

For introverts, there’s a longer ramp up. Frankly, the part at the beginning was sort of miserable. I never want to learn a ton of new things, do emotionally intense exercises, and meet a bunch of people all at once. People talk a lot about the parties, and not so much about how great cases are. It can be hard to find the other people who are feeling the same way. You have the same drops the extroverts have, but it’s a little bit less of a contrast. Over time, we start finding our places, and things get better – bit by bit – it just takes longer to be obvious.

To speculate a bit, I’m guessing (hoping) that the introverts get to the same level of happiness and belonging as the extroverts. They might even end up at a better place because they took the time to stop and thinking about where they were going. But I think the ramp up is always going to be harder.

Thanks, Parents.

Mea Culpa: The other week I published a piece called Lunch with Dads, about my time at Kickstarter. I was trying to get across the feeling of “otherness.” I opted for the example because it was my personal feeling, and also because non-parenthood is a much easier example to “get.” People either aren’t parents, or remember what it was like before they had kids, so they remember that tension.

In no way was it a critique of parenthood – parents have their own hurdles to overcome in the workplace. There are practical constraints (does the company have health insurance that makes it affordable to support families?) and as well as the perception ones (are parents as committed to the workplace? will they work as many hours?) I hope it didn’t give the impression I don’t like having parents in the office.

I care a lot about having parents in the office. There’s a bunch of reasons for that. Philosophically, I think it’s important to have a workplace that lets people stay if they want. At least some of your employees will have children – so it’d be unusual to have no parents. Parents are an important demographic. I also happen to like working with parents. I like hearing about kids, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot about parenting from all the parents I’ve worked with.

The less obvious, and most tangible reason is that the presence of parents is one of the ways I evaluate if a company will be somewhere I want to work. I’ve mentioned this to people in personal conversations, but never written about it publicly. Parents push us towards better companies.

When I’m looking for somewhere to work, the first thing I focus on is the job content. All the things you’d expect: a product I’m interested in, room to learn new things, and coworkers I can learn from.

But past that, I have practical constraints. Unfortunately, the most direct way to ask about those doesn’t work well in interviews. It’s not practical to say “what are the typical work hours?” or “how’s work life balance?” because I look uncommitted. It’s also hard to say “do people here have a good sense of priority? soooo do people freak out a lot?” – that looks paranoid. It can be hard to ask for those, because it’s viewed as a lack of commitment.

Instead, I look at parenthood as an important signal for those sorts of factors. It’s also not hard to figure out if a company has parents. You often don’t have to ask – parents often have photos of kids on their desk, or mention their kids. To be clear, many non-parents also do the things I’m mentioning. I’ve just noticed parents consistently impact the work environment for the better.

First, parents tend to keep a good sense of perspective. They have other things going on, and they’ve had a lot of practice being patient. They can maintain composure in difficult situations. I like working with people like that.

Others can do this and I don’t have concrete data, but I get the impression that parents are consistently good at this. In my experience they are more likely to step back and not get upset or bogged down in details at work. This tends to make for more level-headed conversations. Plus, their behavior sets an example for others. It improves dialog.

Reactive behavior in the workplace makes it harder for me to do well. Having parents around reassures me that the environment will likely be calmer. Then it’s more likely to be an environment where I will add value.

Next, parents tend need flexibility. Babies have lots of pediatrician appointments, and reasonable bedtimes. As much as I love to work, I also love sleeping and seeing Tom and a whole host of other things. Parents have more challenging schedules than mine. If a job’s time commitment works out for parents, it definitely works for me. It isn’t that parents work less – it’s that they get work done in a way that works with their life. I don’t have to worry about it being an issue for me if I know there are parents there.

Finally, I’ve found parents to be empathetic when things don’t go according to plan. I’ve had situations where I needed to be out of work for family related reasons. With parents, it’s understood that we all have those situations occasionally. It doesn’t happen often, but I know in an environment with parents it’s less stressful if it does.

Parents in the work place is also good future assurance. I’m not planning on having kids now, but it’s also nice to know that the work environment I’m in is already set up for parents.

So, I think parents are an important indicator for company culture. Yes, having parents at your company is important philosophically. Yes, it can be fun. Yes, it’d be good just in case I had kids.

But it’s more than that. Having a culture with parents means the parents are pushing important things. Parents push companies to trust employees to use their time well. Parents push companies to remember that employees have a life outside of work. Parents push companies to create better situations for employees.

That’s why I use parents as a signal for where I want to be. Thank you, parents. I know you’re making my job better. I want to keep working where you work, and I think other non-parents should too.

HBS: Weeks 0 and 1

Despite years of having talked to people at HBS, I woke up on Day One and realized I had no idea what was about to happen. Rather than a factual “play by play” of HBS, I want to set the context with how it feels, and why it’s different from other places. This is a personal overview of how it’s been so far. In the coming weeks, I’m going to share some of the “practical” things that I think will be widely applicable to industry.

At HBS, you have to be yourself.

I’ve heard a lot these first few weeks of how business school is a transformational experience. I’ve also heard a lot of friends say that it helped them find what they want to do. Two weeks in, I have two theories on why this is the case.

First, there’s never a vacuum.

I’m an introverted person. People often don’t believe this, because I organize events. I need a ton of time to be alone. Large groups of people, and noisy rooms tend to make me anxious. It’s not so much that I like organizing events as that I like to fill vacuums. If there’s no one is organizing an event that I think is important, I’m happy to. If someone needs to step up to get a group together, sure. Over time I’d gotten accustomed to myself being someone who organizes things, because it’s a common need in groups.

I think many people at HBS have had similar situations. When you’re in a room and you can see what needs to happen, you jump in and fill the gap.

That doesn’t happen at HBS! At HBS someone is good at everything. There isn’t a vacuum to fill. For any task, there’s a bunch of people around me who truly enjoy doing it. It’s done before I even see a gap. You’re only doing the things that you’re suited for – because someone else can do everything else.

Second, you’re very tired – physically, intellectually, emotionally.

Physically, these first couple weeks didn’t allow for that much sleep.

Intellectually, the case method is stressful. There are very few situations where you have to talk to 95 smart people, about topics you’ve never studied. I’ve learned the basis for four different fields in the past two weeks , none of which I’d touched before. Every day you have needs hours of the type of energy and focus you’d usually reserve for only the VERY important meeting.

As my FIELD professor pointed out, your day goes like this as you go between class and downtime:

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Emotionally, you’re always meeting new people. This isn’t tiring for everyone, but it is for me.

My throughput on everything other than what I love has dropped. When I’m this tired, I only do the things I want to do. There’s no energy left for anything else. My email response has gone from same-day to a week or so. I haven’t given advice for getting into PM. The house is a mess.

I’ve learned that all I do is go to HBS, and write. (Sorry people who sent me email! I’m trying!)

When there aren’t any gaps, and you’re too tired for obligations, the things you’re intrinsically motivated to do show themselves.

Formal education pushes you harder.

There’s been a lot of talk about how you can just “teach yourself” the things that you’d learn in business school.

Yes, I could have taught myself accounting.
Yes, I could have memorized some financial ratios.

No, it wouldn’t have been the same.

The benefit of formal education is a lot like other types of service industries. Education works the the same way a trainer pushes you harder at the gym, or a therapist pushes you to think more deeply about things.

Good formal education forces you to learn more quickly, and more deeply. I’ll give it to HBS on this one. They’ve fine-tuned the curriculum to be just about on the edge of what people can do.

For me, learning a new concept is a lot like exercising. Learning the new concept at first is hard, and it feels like my brain breaks. The new things don’t fit in with the old. Then slowly, it rebuilds itself around the new concept, and integrates it into the web of my existing knowledge.

The more new concepts there are, the harder that process is. It’s harder to reconcile them all at once. I tend to only do one thing at a time to let myself absorb.

Not so at HBS. I’ve hit the wall twice in the last two weeks. Once on the Wednesday evening of Analytics, when I just couldn’t get cash flows. Once this Thursday, when I was too tired to come up with a Marketing plan.

I hadn’t hit that wall since undergrad, and it was refreshing to know I was working as hard as I could. I would not have learned this much material, in a short time, on my own.

After two weeks, I hope I’m through the hardest piece. I’m excited to settle into a routine this week. Excited to get more comfortable speaking in class. Excited to get to know everyone else.

Lunch with Dads

Earlier this year, Erica Swallow wrote a post about the challenges she faced working in Venture Capital. Yesterday posted a follow up about the internal reaction.

Few people are brave enough to write about how gender plays into their day to day work environment. I wrote this piece earlier this year. I didn’t post because I was nervous that it might reflect badly on my coworkers – who were all extremely supportive.

This week I decided to post it, because we need to be able to discuss diversity issues without fear. In this anecdote, no one did anything wrong. This is about how it feels to be the “different” person – even when everyone tries to be inclusive.

At Kickstarter, the Product (Engineering + Product + Design) team at Kickstarter hangs out in Campfire – a group chatroom – during the day. One of our uses for Campfire is announcing lunch plans.

When I started work I didn’t want to eat alone, so I wandered out with the people who talked about lunch in Campfire.  There was some variation, but there were a few core people who went out to grab lunch most days. That wasn’t surprising – everyone has habits. But as it was, those people were mostly new dads.

That’s also not surprising. At Kickstarter, most of the employees are young. In particular, we had a lot of new parents! When I started, many of the people on the Engineering team were dads. So much so that as a company, we joked around about “the dads.” Dads was definitely part of the culture, and a nice part of the culture at that.

On top of that, they were happy for me to come to lunch with them. No one ever tried to exclude me. The opposite: I was actively included. Once I went to lunch more, people would drop by my desk, invite me, include me.

But over time, a nagging feeling built up. I wasn’t a dad. I wasn’t even a mom! I’m not even married. Plus, I was a PM instead of an Engineer. I also don’t know much about pop culture or sports, so it’s always a bit harder to find common topics to discuss with me.

I wondered what they’d talked about before I started joining them for lunch. Was I ruining the conversation? I was afraid that the dads just wanted to talk about dad-stuff, and I was in the way. They were being so nice, but maybe didn’t really want me there? None of them ever said anything like that, but I kept feeling it.

It wasn’t just one thing that made me feel like I was imposing. Wasn’t just being a non-parent. Wasn’t just being a woman. Wasn’t just being a PM. It’s just that all the differences added up, and I felt “different” from the rest of the group.

Over time, it got me down. Some days I’d just avoid going to lunch so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Sometimes days would stretch into weeks. It sucks to eat alone though. Plus, I felt less connected to the team. I liked going to lunch. I just didn’t like feeling like I was the different one.

One day, I mentioned my worry to a work friend, who also happened to be a dad. He pointed out each of our other coworkers who aren’t dads, but sometimes go to lunch. He understood my fear, but was happy to tell me “if you go, you’re part of lunch! the lunch conversation comes out of who is there. it’s not that you’re ruining it. go, and have whatever conversation you want.”

I want to make it clear: he wasn’t trying to dismiss my feelings. He was trying to reassure me that I was a valued part of the team (and lunch) even if I wasn’t part of the dads. It was helpful.

I went to lunch more again. Sometimes I still felt bad, but at least I could try to remind myself that a Dad had told me it was okay. I had weeks where I wouldn’t go, and weeks where I’d go. But, almost every day I still considered if I should go to lunch – and if I’d be imposing by doing.

That’s what being different does. It makes you aware of your actions, and that you might be imposing. It’s so minor, but it adds up. There’s no reason I should have wasted five minutes of every day analyzing that lunch choice. If lunch had always been a mix of lots of types of people (old, young, parents, not parents, whatever) I wouldn’t have thought twice. I doubt any of my coworkers did.

When you don’t have a diverse team, there will be that nagging sensation for the few people who are different. It’s more likely those people will leave, or continue to feel out of place. I can’t imagine my coworkers being any nicer than they were, and I couldn’t tell you anything that they could have done better. But even with all their support, I still had the nagging feeling of not belonging.

That’s the thing about diversity: we can talk about lots of ways to help make better environments, but the only real way to completely fix it is to hire a diverse team.

Everything That’s Right With Y Combinator Sexism In Tech Post

Sam Altman released a piece on the YCombinator blog yesterday, discussing the issue of gender and tech. It got some immediate backlash on areas that it can improve. The criticisms, especially of HN, are fair, but I wanted to point out some of the good things, too. **

We don’t talk about how long it’s going to take to make tech a more equal place for women & other minority groups. I will not be surprised if I spent the rest of my life working on this. I do not think it will be perfect for my children. I hope that by the time I have grandchildren, it could be a history lesson. I will do other things in the rest of my time, but social change is slow. It will not happen overnight.

This is not an ally-cookie. It’s a me-cookie. It’s a cookie for anyone else thinking “this is exhausting and it won’t ever get better so I’m just going to stop and go do something else now.”

If I only point out when things go wrong, I will give up. I want to look at the improvement we’ve made, too. So yes, of course there are ways Sam’s post could be improved. But there are a lot of ways it’s good.

He wasn’t under pressure to write it, but still did.

I felt like in the past (female founders conference) I thought YC’s diversity talk was pandering. The Female Founders Conferences seemed like it might be a PR move to combat Paul Graham’s pipeline statements.

This week, YCombinator was not currently in the media for doing things wrong. The heat was more on the data that’s been coming out from Twitter, Google, etc. They could have tried to lay low until they “fixed” more things. They could have just gone radio silent.

Instead, they decided to talk more about it instead, and that’s a good thing for everyone. It opens the ability for the rest of us to give feedback. We should give feedback, but we also need to say “yes, it’s good that you’re talking about this, we need to talk about it.”

“Sexism in tech is real.”

This sentence does not beat around the bush. This does not leave anything open for debate. This sets the rest of the piece up to ask “how can we fix this?” instead of “is this a thing?”

This is obvious for:women, people who have worked on the issue for a long time, and the sorts of people who usually read my blog. It’s not obvious for everyone.

My partner is a Software Engineer. I didn’t manage to convince him that sexism in tech was real for a year after we started dating. Now that he understands, he goes out of his way to ask about things at work, points out things that are wrong and tries to help. I believe that are lots of men out there in the place he was four years ago. They just can’t see the sexism.

Sam Altman will reach more of those people than I will. Him saying it’s real will make those people take a step back and think about it. Coming from me, it sounds “personal” or “emotional” or self serving. Coming from Sam, it might have more impact. I haven’t seen it so bluntly from someone in his position. It might open the door so those men actually ask the women around them what’s going on.

This is the right message for Sam’s audience.

He listened to the advice he got.

There’s three things in here that I think are particularly important.

1) “Even though it will break backwards compatibility, we are considering changing how we look at this to the percentage of all founders that are women instead of the percentage of companies with a female founder.”

This is important. The old metric was a vanity metric. This metric would matter. As a PM (former Engineer) – I feel the pain of breaking the compatibility. I’d go manually get all that data so I could fix the compatibility. Regardless, this is a change we specifically asked for, and I’d love to see implemented.

2) “It’s important to make sure we have women speaking at all of our conferences and during our batches, which we’ve been doing. We’re also showcasing more women and people of different ages and races on our website.”

This is another thing women have been saying. He said that he’s heard it from women, and it’s true. The first speaker at Startup Day in NY was Shana Fisher. It was great to hear her speak, and she even touched on the gender issue. At the time, I remember being surprised that gender came up at a YC event.

3) “We’re encouraging our startups to get HR infrastructure in place earlier. ”

This is something that has come out of challenges recently. This is important. We asked for it. Yeah, it might be the first, simple step towards improvement. But it is a step towards improvement, and an important one. Having an HR department is important – and the sort of thing an investor can encourage.

All of these pieces are concrete feedback that’s been given by women, and then incorporated into YC.

Yes, this can go further, but yes, change from what we say is starting to happen.

Conclusions

I’m glad YCombinator chose to write this. I believe it is a step in the right direction. One of the most valuable pieces of feedback I’ve gotten is “always take the most respectful possible interpretation.” I’m going to do that. Sam made a genuine attempt to implement all the feedback he’s gotten.

We know that we all need to keep trying to improve. We need to call things out that are wrong. We shouldn’t stop doing that. YCombinator isn’t perfect yet, and there are ways this post could have been better, too. Hackernews is still a terrible place for women.

But sometimes, we need an hour to sit down and look at the improvement we’ve made so far, before we pick up and keep going.

**I have heavily criticized YCombinator in the past. I found aspects of the Female Founders Conference to be lacking. I was upset at the way Sam treated responses to his last post. I was upset at the seeming lack of action after that entire conversation.

 

I’m not a fan of Hackernews. I prefer things I write not end up there. Last week, I emailed Sam about another Hackernews thread I found disappointing. I don’t think Hackernews is much better than it was either, but that’s a small part of this overall piece. 

An aside: I write primarily about gender. It’s personal for me and I have the most understanding of it. I also think we need to do a much better job of being inclusive across the board for people of color and trans* people. I’m working on finding a way to better include that in my writing.

Packing: One Month

I’m going back “home” tomorrow, for the first time in about a month. When I left, I packed one suitcase full of everything I’d need for that time. It was particularly challenging because it involved a bunch of places: Seattle, NYC in the Summer, the Galapagos, and then back to NYC. I did get to do laundry every ten days.

Typically, when I pack (even for a weekend) I worry that I’ll forget something. Given I managed to live for a month, I’m pretty sure this suitcase has everything I need.

I’m mostly documenting for myself, but if anyone else dreads packing, maybe this will help…

Bags

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For the trip, I brought three different bags. I highly recommend each of these. The suitcase is by Travelpro (I think it’s this one on Amazon), the laptop bag is le pliage by Longchamps, and the smaller purse is Cole Haan. All of them are very durable and comfortable to carry.

Electronics

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This is pretty straight forward. I need my Macbook to work, my Kindle to stay sane, and my iPhone for everything else. The iPhone isn’t in the photo because I needed it to take the picture (before it was in that little gap in the middle).

I also take all the associated chargers. This trip I brought along two sets of headphones. For a short trip, I only take my earbuds. For any long trip, I also bring the noise canceling ones. For “wearables” (can’t believe I just wrote that) I brought my Pebble watch and my Fitbit. I carried these all in the laptop bag.

Would pack again: all of it.

Clothes

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This is where things get more complicated. I was pretty surprised by some of what happened here.

Staples

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The biggest limitation when traveling is shoes. To give myself the most variety I opted for a pair of black ballet flats (with ties) and a pair of beige sandals. They’re neutral, so they match everything. They generally work pretty well for casual, and about as formal as I get.

I’m also usually cold, so I included a beige cardigan. I have some shirts I like to wear something under my shirts, so I included Uniqlo airism tank tops in both white & black.

Would pack again: 5/5.

Neutrals

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I packed five neutral shirts. For the last year or so I’ve been a subscriber to Elizabeth & Clarke, a basics service. Each season they send me a couple new basics. I haven’t been a fan of the fitted tops (button down particularly) but all of the T-shirts are great. Four of my neutral shirts were from there, and I’d recommend subscribing.

Would pack again: 5/5.

Blouses

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I also packed two blouses. I’m not really sure why. I’ve worn one twice, and one not at all. I probably could have gotten by without this.

Would pack again: 0/2.

Pants

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I packed four pairs of pants. Jeans, jeans that happen to be green instead of blue, capri jeans, and maroon shorts. All of these were completely worth it. I only wear pants on planes, so I wore the jeans when I flew. Seattle was cold, so I wore jeans there too. NYC was super hot, so I wore the shorts or capris.

Would pack again: 4/4.

Skirts

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I packed three skirts. The pink one also doubles as a strapless dress. These were of the most use in the Galapagos to pull on over my swimsuit. I could have gotten by without the purple one.

Would pack again: 2/3.

Dresses

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I’m a little befuddled by this. I own 9 white sundresses (no, I don’t know why). Yet somehow I didn’t bring ANY white sundresses for the month of July. I did bring five colorful ones.

These were worthwhile, especially in Galapagos/NYC. If I was doing it again, I wouldn’t bring the long one. I hardly ever wear maxi dresses, and it takes a specific mood. Not a staple.

Would pack again: 4/5.

Exercise & Sleep

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I always have grand aspirations of exercising while traveling. For that matter, I have grand aspirations of exercising while home. Regardless, I always pack the clothes just in case inspiration strikes. I did end up going running some this trip, so it was worth it.

My exercise clothes aren’t very exciting. I literally still wear the same sweatpants and sports bras I used in high school. For shirts, I tend to use startup tshirts and other tops I like. I sleep in the same type of stuff.  (Yes I wear those weird shoes to run, whatever. I like running in them and never wear them in public unless I am out running).

I also brought a swimsuit & towel.

Would pack again: 8/9 (one less top).

Other Stuff

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There’s a few other things I always make sure to have – a set of rainbow pens, a few small notebooks, and a reusable water bottle. I did forget one notebook I would have liked to have, but generally this was good.

I also packed the usual toiletries you’d expect: toothbrush, toothpaste, antiperspirant, razor, etc. I very rarely pack shampoo or conditioner, and tend to rely on hotels and/or friends having it. One of the things I try to make sure to do is pack bandaids & cortisone (just in case!) I also pack some basic meds: ibuprofen, nyquil, sudafed, etc.

Every time I pack I end up thinking “What if something important happens and I need make up?!” So I pack it. I never wear it. Similarly, I packed a few extra pieces of jewelry, but I just wore the rainbow block necklace the entire time.

Would pack again: everything but the makeup and extra jewelry.

New Stuff

I obtained some things during my trip.

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I’ve been teaching with Startup Institute New York for the last year, and during my last class I was gifted a hoodie. I just wish I’d had it earlier in the trip when it was cold in Seattle! Similarly, when Diana was in town from Soundcloud she let me have a tshirt. I’ve been sleeping in it.

One day while i was in NYC at the end, I went shopping. In high school I LOVED shopping, but haven’t done it as much since adulthood. I picked up a dress and a couple shirts, all of which I’ve been wearing.

Things that are conspicuously absent from these photos…

Underwear. I packed basically all of the underwear I own. I figured you didn’t need to see a photo of it. I would pack all of it again, it doesn’t take much space, and it’s nice to know you have it and aren’t going to be in a laundry crisis.

Traditional sneakers & socks. I hate both of these things. Tying shoes is so much effort and my feet feel suffocated and like I’m walking on a weird pillow. I also just dislike having to wear socks. I’ve come around to wearing them in the winter, but very rarely do in the summer. While Galapagos was doable without, I’d recommend taking either durable rubber sandals, or sneakers/socks. So I didn’t back either of them, but probably would next time.

Hair dryer & straightener. Sometimes, I dry & straighten my hair. Both of those items are big and took up a lot of space in the suitcase. So I didn’t bring them. I’ve been happily hair dryer free all month. If it were winter and cold out, I’d bring it.

Umbrella. Yeah, should have packed that. Whoops. Next time.

Anything I didn’t have that you always take, but should? Let me know!

Engineers: So your PM sucks? Here’s how to fix it.

Dear (Senior) Engineer Friends,

I was thinking more about the time you told me that your PM sucks. They might.

There’s three options:

1) Your PM is awesome, and you are wrong.
2) Your PM is awesome, but you don’t know what they’re doing for you.
3) Your PM might suck. Or they might not suck, but they could be better.

I have some good news! Regardless of which of these options it is – you can help improve the situation.

To start with, it’s important to understand why your PM might not know how to do their job.

You probably got to go to college where you learned how to write software. You probably had internships and wrote software professionally. If not, you at least did a lot of projects and practiced on your own.

Your PM didn’t get that. They didn’t go to college to major in “PM.” They majored in Engineering (like you), or Design, or Business, or Liberal Arts. It’s hard to practice being a PM on your own time – you have to find other people to work with.

Plus, practicing PM skills is a lot more complicated than just starting a side project. I’m envious every time Tom says “I want to learn Go, I’ll just start a project.” If I want to learn how to be a PM for internationalization, there’s not much of an equivalent.

If you have a brand new PM, at best, they got a three month internship being a PM. There’s a decent chance they never even got to finish an entire project.

Even if you have a PM who’s done a couple projects, there’s a chance what you’re working on is something they’ve never done before. Plus, PMs don’t get that much tangible feedback. At a bigger company they might, but at a smaller company, most of the time they are on their own.

So yeah, I’m not surprised when you say your PM sucks. No one ever taught them how to be a PM. I know you don’t want to teach them, and it isn’t your “job,” but it’ll save you a lot of time in the long run. Here’s a few common ways PMs tend to screw up, and how Engineers can help. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list.

1) Your PM isn’t doing the right work.

This happens a lot, especially with people who studied Engineering and then decide to go into PM.

You might find your new PM is annoying because they try to dictate how to write the code, instead of what the code should be.

You also might find that your PM feels closer to marketing/sales. Those PMs tend to like a conduit – “well the Account Manager says we need X” instead of synthesizing how the Product works.

The PMs manager won’t always notice either of these situations. If you do notice this, the best way to solve it is just to tell them.

In my first project I worked Nokia on Office Mobile for Symbian. There were a lot of discussions between the Nokia PMs & myself. I was much more junior than the Nokia PMs and came into the project late. Unfortunately, I just ended up telling the Engineering team whatever Nokia said. They didn’t know when I passed information along to our Engineering team, and didn’t feel the cost the same way I did. As a result, they tended to change their minds, and I’d just change the spec. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me.

Until in my first review. The engineer I worked most with wrote something like “Ellen has the potential to be a great PM. Unfortunately, I feel like she doesn’t yet have judgment for what things in the Product will change. The PM’s job is to prevent churn. Since she isn’t doing that, we’ve had to rip out code several times when the spec changed.”

This was the most important feedback I’ve gotten to date. No one had told me my job as a PM was to “prevent churn” until that piece of feedback. I was doing lots of work, but not a core piece of my role. I wanted to be a good PM, and had no idea I was messing up such a key piece.

As an Engineer, if your PM isn’t doing the right work, figure out a way to tell them. If you don’t feel comfortable telling them, see if you can find someone else who does.

2) Your PM isn’t doing the work well.

A new PM is doing everything for the first time. They might have a vague idea that their job is “defining things,” but not a clear impression of all the details.

The first project I did on Office Mobile was writing the spec for a Sprint on error cases. I knew nothing about error cases. I did my best to write a spec, but because of my inexperience, it basically said “we should take care of error cases.” (in four pages). My version of a spec review was reading the entire four pages out loud to the entire team and then saying “Okay? Thoughts?” I’m pretty sure the spec review was painful for everyone involved. Me included.

The development lead I was working knew it was wrong. He didn’t embarrass me in front of the room, but he pulled me aside and pointed out I hadn’t specified anything. He made it crystal clear that I needed to go back, figure out what types of errors happen in mobile apps, and specify what to do in each one.

As a Senior Engineer, you can look at a spec or direction and know if it tells you what you need to implement things well. You’ve seen specs before. Honestly, you could write the spec better than your junior PM can.

So when your new PM doesn’t do it right, don’t just sigh and do it yourself. Instead, tell them what’s wrong. It doesn’t even have to be confrontational – “I took a look at your spec, but I saw you haven’t defined the error cases yet. Could you add those and get back to me so I can give you a better cost estimate? Let me know if you need help figuring out how to do that.”

Next time, they’ll give you a better spec, and you won’t have to write it yourself.

3) Your PM is overwhelmed and can’t focus on anything.

Starting a PM job is complicated. You need to be thinking about lots of moving pieces. New PMs often seem to be like chickens running around with their heads cut off. If your PM seems stressed and is doing badly at everything, see if you can figure out a way to lighten the load.

You can split the PM role into a few big pieces. Two of those are “vision/direction/spec” and “project management.”

As an Engineer, you’re used to managing your own time. You figure out your own estimates, talk to your manager about your own estimates, etc.

If your PM seems overwhelmed it can be really helpful to take on some of the project management yourself.

As a new PM one of the worst moments is when you go into a 1:1 with your manager, they ask about a specific project, and you have to stare blankly.

As an Engineer, if you have a new PM, go out of your way to let them know how long things will take, and if things are progressing. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Plus this lets you do it when you want, and doesn’t result in the PM interrupting you while you’re trying to work.

If you’re an Engineering Lead, you can do even more for this. As much as I kept track of the projects I worked on at Microsoft, I knew the Engineering Lead knew far more than I did. If I were to make a mistake, he’d be there to step in and fix it. He had enough experience that it made sense for him to do that – it helped de-risk our project, and also helped me learn.

Again, as an Engineer, this is more work for you in the short term. But in my mind, having a PM that does one thing well is better than having a PM that does two things badly. In the long term, it’ll help your PM master one thing. As they get more comfortable there, they’ll start getting better at other skills, too.

4) Your PM has bad judgment.

This is probably the most common reason Engineers get frustrated with PMs. The first three happen a lot more in the first few years of a PM’s career. This can happen continuously, and each time you start a new job.

One common way is not having a good sense of what is “hard” or “easy” to do from an Engineering perspective. The way to fix that isn’t to say each time if something is hard or easy – it’s to explain why. Again, like all of these suggestions, it’s more work in the short term.

It pays off when your PM starts to get better judgement for how long things take, and why. (“I remember this part of the codebase is old, and in a technology we don’t typically work with, so that’ll be hard.” or – “These types of stats queries are ones we don’t usually do, and we’ll have to invest in new infrastructure.”)

Another way is when your PM has bad Product sense. While the PM usually owns “what” and the Engineer owns “how” – you should still say something if things seem wrong.

The solution here is to ask more questions. You shouldn’t say “no, we should spec like this instead” – that’ll just make the PM defensive. Instead, try to make sure their decisions were deliberate. “Why do you think we should build this feature vs. this other feature?” “Did you consider X as an alternative? What were the problems there?”

This makes you seem interested in the Product work, and helps the PM see alternate perspectives, without feeling undermined.

Conclusions

The common thread running between these suggestions is that you need to tell the PM what you need. There’s no “PM school” they went to where they learned a proper process. Especially starting out, you’re their best hope for learning to be a good PM. So yes, they might suck right now. I can’t fix that for you, but you can. Set clear expectations, and invest in teaching them early on. Let me know how it goes!

Design Play Seattle

Last year, Jon wrote “What if 20 people show up?” about having a design conference that’s just getting 20 people in a room to talk. (You might want to read his piece first).

Last weekend, 23 people showed up for just such an event. 23 people who have work that I admire. But rather than speakers and discussion, we just hung out.

It turns out 23 people hanging out makes for a lot of Space. Space for fear. Space to sketch. Space for rest. Space for stories.

Space for Fear
Our first activity for the weekend was a two hour Improv class. Two hours of space. Two hours of silence to fill. I’d always wanted to take an improv class. I also rehearse what I’m going to say for a standup meeting – even when it’s just “Working on the Play Page.”

So as much as I wanted to, the fear had always won.

Having it as part of an event suddenly switched the equation – it became harder to not participate, than it was to participate. It wasn’t too scary given there were only 23 of us, and we were all expected to participate. Design Play gave me the space to try it.

Plus, I needn’t have worried. We filled that space with exercises. Our instructors walked us through games. We learned each others names, practiced building on ideas, and got comfortable moving around.

It turns out what I’m afraid of isn’t talking. I’m afraid of starting a new topic. It makes me nervous to pick something out of thin air. What will people think? Will they judge me? That’s what I need to practice.

The weekend culminated with something much more scary than – Karaoke. I didn’t quite get to the point of willingness to choose a song, stand up, and sing, in front of all of those people. (I never have!) That can be what I try next year.

Space to Sketch
When we arrived, Jon gave us each a sketchbook. Mine is Maroon, and had forty pages of blank space. Forty pages to fill during a weekend.

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Having forty pages to get through is nearly impossible. I didn’t get anywhere close. The expectation helped.

Knowing I had forty pages to fill in a short time made me draw differently. I’d dare to say it was the first time I just sat down to draw “for fun” instead of being anxious about getting it right. Quantity more than quality. I drew tons of things I wouldn’t have otherwise. I experimented more. I played with ideas I wouldn’t have otherwise. I got to sketch my way.

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Space to Make
The weekend of sketching was nicely complimented by Sunday afternoon. We went to the Pratt Institute and spent four hours screen printing. I’d only screen printed once before, and hadn’t really gotten into the details.

It was nice to make something with higher production value. Nikki and I teamed up and made the Awesome Foundation logo:

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Space for Rest
At almost every conference, I am overwhelmed. I’ve started taking a book to conferences for this reason. I can go sit alone, and read my book. It’s still pretty awkward, but a little bit less awkward.

The complete openness of “sure feel free to go do your own thing!” at Design Play let me take breaks when I needed to.

The large chunks of time for longer small group activity also let me get to know people as individuals. Rather than jumping from person to person, we spent more dedicated time.

Saturday morning we spent time exploring Seattle in a group of five. Rather than constantly talking to all five people, I got the chance to get to know each person. Some through our group conversations, and some 1-1 as we walked around the city. That also let me spend some time walking and thinking alone.

I’d almost always rather go to an event with fewer activities, and more time to reflect on them. I think because our events are so expensive, we expect to cram them full of things. This reinforced that I’d rather do something cheaper and just get to talk.

Design Play was the opposite of your typical event. We even had 35 required minutes of silence. that was what enabled me to be ready for the next conversation.

Space for Stories
My favorite activity of the weekend was on Saturday afternoon. We were responsible for spending three hours on Bainbridge Island getting to know one person’s life story.

Three hours is a long time. Most of the time when I meet someone, the first meeting is an hour (or less). You get 10 minutes to run through your background before diving into some discussion topic. My typical “life story” is surface level. I grew up in Michigan, went to Olin, took a year off to do a startup, it didn’t work, went back to school, went to Microsoft, went to Kickstarter, going to HBS. Honestly, I’m bored of it. It’s linear. I’ve told it a billion times.

I got to talk to Bob for those three hours. Even though we talked chronologically, Bob’s story didn’t feel like a list of “things I have done.” Instead, it was a set of “the experiences that made me, me.”

I started out with a lot of my linear pieces. But the way Bob described things got me thinking about how I could tell my story differently. The longer we talked, the more I added anecdotes that have personal meaning instead of the things other people care about.

And that’s what I got from this weekend: I might be a little less afraid to try new things. A little more willing to pull out my sketchbook and draw. But most of all, I know that when I’m bored of my story, I can tell a different one.

Product & Art

Last week I had the chance to talk at #ProductSF. I gave a talk on Product & Art – and the different processes that go into making each. This is a written version of that talk.

Something that’s been on my mind a lot recently is the difference between Product and Art. The notebook on the left is a Moleskine. My brother and his girlfriend got me a bunch for Christmas. I take them everywhere to take notes. The notebook on the right is one I made in an Art Books class with Esther Smith.

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One is a Product. One is Art. Both are notebooks that I take to conferences and take notes in. What’s the difference?

I started thinking about this a lot after I started working at Kickstarter. When I joined the company, I thought it was a tech company. I’d heard about the Elevation Doc and the Ouya and the Pebble.  Everything I saw in the press I read was about using Kickstarter as a different way to fund companies. It was for cool projects. Prototypes. Experiments. Things.

But that’s not really what Kickstarter is about. It’s obvious as soon as you look at a profile page – Kickstarter has 15 categories now, and 13 of them have nothing to do with technology! In a deeper way, a very substantial piece of Kickstarter is about Art.

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Shortly after I started, I was frustrated. Trained in Engineering, I felt like tech was usually about solving problems and art was usually about expression. As a PM, it was hard for me to build features that I thought addressed both of those. I went through a phase where I spent a lot of time questioning if both could live in the same home.

Just to come back to the same conclusion, that, yes, Art and Product are both about creating things. Kickstarter is about creative projects, and they both belong.

The difference is in the process. I’m generalizing – not every artist and every PM use these same process. These are some underlying themes I’ve seen.

The Product process is an established system. Whether you’re using something like waterfall, or agile – you have goals and metrics. You have a schedule for what you want to get done. You have a roadmap for what you’re doing next. You build things, get feedback, make changes. At the core, you have a dedicated problem you’re trying to solve – and you can measure yourself on if you managed to solve it.

The Art process isn’t like that. It tends to be much more about starting the work, and progressing as you go. You just keep working. If you make a mistake, it’s likely to somehow shape the future direction. You don’t show your unfinished piece for feedback. You know when it’s right, it’s right, and when it’s done, it’s done. You share, and get reactions, not feedback. The best way I’ve found to describe it is from Steven Pressman’s book, the War of Art.*

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photo from Tambako (linked).

 

“The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality. The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep those huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull into Nome.” – Steven Pressman

It sounds a little crazy to think about building a product the art way. You just start building something – you don’t know what it’s for – and someday you make a Product? I definitely wouldn’t have believed that a year ago. But for some projects, it can work.

During the talk I walked through the example of how we re-designed Kickstarter’s Start Page using a more artistic process. Before the redesign the page was the version that Andrew Cornett made in 2011.

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When we started the page redesign, it wasn’t necessarily from the sort of thing a PM would usually start with. It wasn’t a list of features and metrics and all the usual “Product” things. We started with the sentiments that we wanted to create.

Image from Magnus Brath (linked).

Image from Magnus Brath (linked).

One that stood out to me was the St. Exupery quote “If you want to build a ship, do not drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

(It turns out this quote isn’t really a quote, but it’s what we used internally. Marc Hedlund’s interesting story about that is over here).

During the talk, I walked through a few different versions of the page that we tried out. I’m not going to include them in the blog, but to summarize…

There were 11 major versions in all, and many minor versions. I showed the first version we tried (very literal), we tried sketching, we tried lots of videos of creators, and we tried drop downs to let people make choices before getting into project build. We learned a lot, but none of them were quite right.

When we got to the seventh version, we started playing with the idea of having a walkthrough of the project process, and we continued along working on things.  Eventually we got to the point where we were pretty happy, and felt pretty close to shipping.

Of course, as mentioned before, the Product way cares about a ship date. The Artist way wants things to be right!

From the Pressman work: “This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”

Unfortunately for your PM, Ideas come and insights accrete right before that ship date.

As Verlyn Klinkenborg pointed out in Several Short Sentences about Writing – “It was all change until the very last second.”

So, we kept working to make our version of the Start Page better, right up until the end. The added the entire celebratory confetti video the weekend before shipping. We changed the copy until the very last day. We ended up with an experience that I’m very proud of. In the talk, I showed a video, but you can see the final page over here.

The thing I like about this page is that it really shows the benefit of using an artistic process. This page is way better than anything I would have come up with by trying to optimize, or by setting a goal. The artistic process can help steer you away from a local maxima, and towards something much better.

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One caveat I want to add to this is how long this process took us. The entire process to create the page ended up taking about eight months. While I’m proud of the page – it’s hard to say “was that page worth eight months?” Eight months is a lot of time you can use to build Products.

I think it was worth eight months. First for the page, but then for everything we learned along the way. We spent a lot more time wondering why people do and don’t create, and how we could help. Many of the earlier versions of the page were adopted in different ways – our version of the drop downs ended up being this page. The $1 Billion Page uses many aesthetics that we first experimented with for the Start page. The Start Page was a worthwhile investment.

All this is to say – you can try out the artistic process with your Product too. It’s not for every project. If something’s primarily engineering work, I’d steer clear. If something’s really time sensitive, you probably don’t want to go this way either.

But when you want to express something about your company – your brand, your values, your mission, the art way can help you find the best way to do that. It can help you figure out what you’re really trying to make when you start a new Product.

Don’t replace your Product process with the Art process. Remember that it’s another option you have available, and sometimes it’s the best tool for the job.

* Full disclosure: that Amazon link is an affiliate link – experimenting with that. If this bothers you please let me know! Here’s a non-affiliate one.

#ProductSF

Deciding to go to #ProductSF

Have you read Rachel Sklar’s piece about how buying a plane ticket to go to Arianna Huffington’s party changed the course of her career? If you haven’t, you should.

#ProductSF was a bit like that.

Josh Elman and I have been friends on Twitter for a while, and started emailing after I announced my plan to go to HBS in the Fall. During our exchange he dropped the critical phrase, “if you were in town I’d love to have you as a guest [at #ProductSF].”

Those are the magic words. When someone you respect says “if you happen to be in town” – it tends to mean “you should get yourself here, it’ll work out well for you.”

So, I booked my own plane ticket and got myself there.** Before I even had a list of speakers, a venue, or knew anything about what was going on. It was worth it.

Adam Sigel already wrote a nice recap that covers most of the talks, so I’m going to pull a few my personal highlights. Later this week I’ll post my slides and a summary of my own talk.

Make sure every decision is intentional.

Julie Zhou, Director of Design at Facebook, talked about how to work with designers.

She made hundreds of points, but on in particular resonated for me. The PM’s role is to “make sure every decision is intentional.” I think this could be a PM tagline. I also think it expands way beyond just working with designers. If I had to pick the one point that made the whole conference worth it, this was it.

It’s so tempting to avoid asking all the questions, especially as you get closer to shipping. It’s a bad habit of mine. Everyone wants to ship, you don’t want to throw a wrench in things, but it’s your job.

Sometimes the questions are hard – “Is this what we should ship?” “Do we want to continue to invest in this?”

Or it can be something more design like – “Why is this piece of information the most important?” “Why this order?” “Why’d we choose this motion? These are the questions Julie was pointing towards.

It goes beyond that, though. As the PM you want to be responsible for how well the Product goes out the door, and working with each team. “Can we go through this detail of the launch plan again?” is a question I wish I’d asked more in my career. “How do you think we can best respond to tickets about this feature?” is another one.

You can keep yourself honest on this. When something doesn’t work after shipping, be sure to ask yourself “was this intentional?” If it was, you can figure out which assumption was flawed. If it wasn’t, there’s your problem.

If you’re a PM, and can only have goal to measure yourself off of, I’d try “Make sure every decision is intentional.” That’s a much stricter commitment than “Ship a high quality product.”

Focus on making the best thing – not on the competition.

Mark Towfiq, CTO @ Flywheel ended up doing an Ignite-style talk right after Mina from Uber talked.

That’s an interesting place to be, speaker-wise. It sets everyone else up to be thinking about your competition. Of course, someone asked Mark about the competition.

His response was what resonated with me. He did not waver. You should work with your users and build the best possible product. Focusing there will help you improve far more than focusing on your competition. The market is big.

This struck me because while I was at Kickstarter, people asked me a lot about other funding platforms. I do find other platforms interesting and keep track of them. Still, it always shocked me how much impact other people thought it would have over what I built. What motivates me wasn’t competition. I just wanted to make Kickstarter’s tools as wonderful as possible for Backers & Creators.

Mimicking someone else seems like chasing shiny objects instead of committing to your product. Like Mark said, focus on making something that matters to your users.

Sales is important for everyone.

Another talk that struck me was Ty Ahmed-Taylor‘s discussion of sales. He organized his talk to be about you, internal stakeholders, and external stakeholders.

He drew the parallel between Sales and how a PM gets other people on board with your ideas. He also shared a “one page” template for advocating for yourself to management.

I think in Product we sometimes get absorbed in our area, instead of talking about the adjacent disciplines. It was great to hear Ty diving into Sales techniques.

Unfortunately, At the time he was talking, I was nervous for my talk. When the videos go up, this is definitely the first talk I’ll be watching again so I can take better notes :)

I also want to call out that this was an Ignite style talk. He’d rehearsed his talk – all his timing was spot on.

Let yourself love the details.

To close the day, Shiva Rajaraman talked about how to take PM from “meh” to “awesome.” He showed us tons of the everyday delights you find when working on YouTube as a PM.

For instance, try to search for Futurama Neutral Response. You’ll find that somehow the community has made it so that all the videos have the same number of up and down votes.

I love stuff like this. I love meeting people who backed every category on Kickstarter. I love finding projects from my hometown. Sometimes I try to downplay it – I feel like it’s a bit lame because I get SO excited every time. But I do get so excited every time, so maybe I should just own it :)

Running Better Events.

I also always try to think about “what did this event do well?” for when I plan things in the future. Plus it’s nice to call it out – organizing is a TON of work. Josh & Ty did a great job.

First, they included a non-Product talk. I haven’t seen this many times, and they referred to it as a “palate cleanser”.  Andrew Shanken talked about the history of Treasure Island. I enjoyed this – it gave me a chance to learn some about where we were, and also be a “fun” talk rather than a “work” talk. I hope to see this copied at other events.

The venue they picked was great. I heard rumors they chose something a bit out of the way to prevent people dropping in/dropping out throughout the day. If so, I’m in support of that. If it was just to feel like a “retreat” I’m in support of that too.

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It was a lovely place to have the event. Being able to look out over the water and at the skyline between talks was great. The food was good, too.

They ran on time. I hate when events get behind and things feel rushed. Everything was on time, and it didn’t feel like a hassle to do so. It was just the expectation.

I’m looking forward to (hopefully!) attending again next year.

** Sure, it can be a bit of a work to figure out the plane ticket/housing cost, but it’s almost always worth it. This is far from the first time I’ve done something like this. Going to SXSW 2009 on a whim resulting in being on a SXSW 2010 panel with Hung. A trip to XOXO was a piece of my job at Kickstarter. You’d be amazed at all the ways I tried to be invited to join theli.st, but that’s a story for another day. Invest in yourself.