An arbitrary milestone on piano

A little over nineteen (19) weeks ago, a friend living across the street was moving and he couldn’t take his old upright piano to his new place. He’d gotten it free from a friend and so I got it free, aside from splitting the cost of piano movers (needed even just for across the street) and a piano tuning, as it hadn’t been in a while.

So we got a piano in our living room.

A dark brown upright piano from Franklin Piano Co sits with the keys showing. On the leaned out music stand is a piano method open to a version of Amazing Grace. Classics to Moderns and the Rocky Horror Show song book are closed to the right with a notebook. On top of the piano is a record player, a lamp, some other books and various pieces of art which are too long to describe here (email me!)
A piano. In our living room!
Continue reading “An arbitrary milestone on piano”

I 💙 Spreadsheets, Election Night Precinct Data Edition

I am finally, after sixteen years of post-college experience as a “software engineer” learning to understand and love spreadsheets. So much so that I’ll inefficiently figure out how to do something in a spreadsheet to answer a question as opposed to just writing a script or dropping the data into a proper structured data store with a more programmer focused query language. But spreadsheet formulas, etc. are programming! I am fairly certain that some business spreadsheets I’ve seen are self-aware and planning to throttle us all. Anyway, I can do this. I am a professional.

Tonight I dumped the August 1st primary election night precinct level results CSV file into a Google Spreadsheet and decided to do some programming. You can find the original csv on the elections website – look on the “Download results” tab to see what’s available. The specific file I played with is this one. Note that all the screenshots on this post are using the election night results only. The final precinct results won’t be available until August 16th, sob, though at that point I can just replace one tab in my spreadsheet and voilà! It will all update.

Continue reading “I 💙 Spreadsheets, Election Night Precinct Data Edition”

Nerdy Reminders

Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

Part of me broke on the day of the election. Hillary Clinton quoted that verse in her concession speech. While I would have gone on if she hadn’t, those words have sometimes given me the ability on some days to not snap at someone or not snark or dismiss or even just to stop crying and get up. I’m not really religious anymore but I went to a Presbyterian church for many years and went through confirmation. Even as an adult many of the ethics underlying and certainly the words of Christianity resonate with me.

I work at a company making a laser cutter so I decided after the election to make something to carry with me to remind me of my values. I’d been planning to make an IDIC for a while. So I made this on the Glowforge:


The woods are unfinished walnut and padauk with a small chip of mussel shell glued at the center. The wood is stitched together with some copper wire and then small metal posts were drilled to attach the chain. Everything was cut on the Glowforge except the metal (low power CO2 lasers just don’t cut metal).

Why I would want to carry around that quote – a reminder to pick myself up again – is obvious. The IDIC is perhaps less well-known. Spock wears one in the original Star Trek television series and the symbol was explained in one episode. I was often a loner as a kid and my devotion to Star Trek extended to being home every afternoon for a summer so I could record every episode of TOS on VHS. Spock was a figure I looked up to. The concept of the IDIC was barely explained in the show barely telling us more than it stands for “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”. It expresses the Vulcan belief that the diversity and strangeness of the universe was to be embraced and celebrated. I was saddened to learn as an adult that the symbol in this world was really created as a prop to sell merchandise to fans. But as a kid I knew none of this and I read every Star Trek novel I could get my hands on. A book provides a lot more space to create emotional resonance to a simple idea – and they are often written by very good authors with real ideas even if they are “only” writing franchise fiction.

One of my favorites has always been Spock’s World by Diane Duane and it holds up well enough as an adult. The structure of the plot is alternating chapters with a “present day” story of Spock, Kirk and the rest arguing against the planet Vulcan seceding from the Federation and past chapters presenting episodes from the supposed history of Vulcan, including eventually the life of Surak and the philosophy that turned (most) Vulcans away from war and fear. The chapter on Surak carefully does not try to explain the philosophy too much. How can a Star Trek franchise novel invent the full philosophy in enough detail to make it credible? But the philosophy was enough to emotionally attach to the pre-teen me. As an adult the bare strokes of the supposed philosophy are recognizable in different real traditions or thinkers.

Most days I remember to wear it and after a few months I feel naked when I realize I’ve forgotten it that morning.

We must turn and realize that the Other is afraid—and then say to him, ‘You have nothing to fear from me,’ in such a way that he knows it to be true. Another thing we have no desire to say! Each of us secretly desires to keep the Other in some slight fear of us, so that he will not harm us. But if we can only bring ourselves to say those terrible words, and have them be true, then the Other will become what he should have been from the earliest days—the constant companion, the source of delight in all his differences.
(Spock’s World)

Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
(Galatians 6:9)

Toward a feminist future

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day which is a much bigger deal in every country that isn’t the United States. I only learned about it as an adult at a company with offices all around the world. It’s not really surprising that a day created by socialists is ignored here. This year in the United States, a “women’s strike” or “a day without women” is being organized for the same day. I guess we can thank one of the more openly misogynist political campaigns and administrations for all the newly activated feminist agitation.

I feel weird about a strike, even in solidarity. I like my job. I’m at no risk of losing my job (nor have I been for a long time). I’m appreciated at work. I’m paid well. I believe the men who run my company try to be aware of the contributions of women, both in our workplace and elsewhere in society. It seems hollow for me to not be at work for the day as my absence won’t teach much of anything. Working in tech, often it feels like my presence in a room is an uncomfortable statement. Plus we have a lot to do at work and I want to work on it.

Instead, I’m giving a day’s salary to Living Goods. In the words of the Life You Can Save, Living Goods “employs and trains local people — the majority of whom are women — to sell goods and life-saving medical supplies at competitive prices. Living Goods provides businesswomen and saleswomen with employment and entrepreneurial skills while improving health outcomes in their communities.” They even did a randomized control trial studying the outcomes of their model and it saves children’s lives. Sounds about right to me.

I’m doing pretty well in life. I attribute a lot of that to a lot of luck. Our household normally gives money to international aid organizations because luck isn’t distributed uniformly. Women everywhere, but especially in less wealthy countries, do most or all of the work needed to maintain households and raise children with less social or political power and less wealth. A day’s salary for our family is not really a lot, but that’s a lot of luck to pass on to another.

If you don’t feel comfortable taking tomorrow off, consider giving some money to an organization working to improve the lives of women. You’ve got a lot of choices because there’s a lot of work to do.

“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

GHC and feelings on being experienced

I went to my first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing a couple weeks ago. I graduated from school with a computer science degree in 2001 (and had a student programming job even before that). I’ve been working in industry ever since. Unsurprisingly, I had feelings about the experience. I spent most of the time there overwhelmed by all the people (not a fan of crowds and there were 11,000 attendees!). I talked to many excellent women, both young and more my age. I bonded with some of my women coworkers more than I had in the past. I felt a renewed sense of drive to do awesome things. But I was frustrated by how far we haven’t come and that GHC is necessary-useful at all. Many of the career and organizational change tracks I avoided — I’ve heard it all and don’t need to be reminded. But most of all I was glad to see so many different women in different places in life.

I graduated in 2001 with a B.S. in Computer Science (and a lot more math courses than strictly necessary due to a poorly planned double major in math). My program at the time required you to “apply” for the major after meeting introductory course requirements (calculus and introductory programming primarily). I remember sitting in the room where they welcomed us all to the major with around fifty people in the room. Only a couple of us were women. I didn’t know it at the time, but even then my program was clearly well below the norm for women. In 2001, almost 28% of CS degrees granted in the United States were to women (data in excel). But I didn’t care at the time. I was just excited to do do math and program computers. But this might be why I never learned about GHC until I moved to Seattle six years ago to take a job at Amazon which actually had a women in engineering group internally. I had few women role models or even peers before.

My career path has been strongly guided by a desire for security and stability. I grew up pretty poor. Getting a college degree was the first step to getting a good, stable job which for most of my career has been far more important than traditional concerns of career development, like learning new skills, taking risks or changing jobs for more money or better projects. Changing jobs is risky. Sticking your nose out is risky. I think a lot of folks forget that not everyone has the same career goals or life path. Especially in big tech companies, we tend to focus a lot on college graduates with very similar backgrounds (middle class or better usually). In reality, a lot of tech job advice looks risky and low reward to someone who’s pretty glad they aren’t waiting tables at a diner for a living (I waited tables in college and I can’t say I really liked it). Why change jobs? Whatever minor (or major) irritants my job has, it’s probably the same somewhere else. Fortunately at most of my jobs I have been challenged. I got career development in spite of myself, but it wasn’t really because I was looking for it. Mostly I just wanted stability.

The last few years I’ve been a lot more conscious about my career and made some decisions that were a bit more risky. I changed teams in 2014, helped build a team starting with me and my manager to two dev teams that has shipped several features that are already doing well (in terms of practical business goals and user feedback). It was a risk and I definitely went into it feeling like I might fail. But I’m in a place where that felt okay to risk. And the outcome has been pretty good: I’ve learned a lot both technically and in terms of leadership. I got a promotion. But it’s also been really stressful. While doing that, I’ve also been doing a lot of things with the internal women in engineering group. This is also stressful. And, more other things at work (I like to call them “extracurriculars”). Meanwhile, I do have a partner and a toddler I care for quite a bit. So much stress! I joke about “leaning in” all the time, but it’s not a joke at all. It feels like running against a headwind.

So GHC triggered a lot of feelings about career and life goals. There just aren’t a lot of women who’ve been “around” as long as I have — and I’ve only been around 15 years depending on how you count. The last few years I’ve met a lot more women who have been around a while and that’s been great. GHC was dominated by two groups: many, many college students and large contingents from various tech companies. The latter were overwhelmingly younger than me which I couldn’t help but remind myself was because most of the older women had left tech. Some of the few career talks or panels I did go to tended towards being positive to the detriment of being practical. I feel well past this advice and found it hard to not dismiss some of it as a pep talk. (And a couple of the plenary speakers should be at tech conferences actually attended by men because those are the people who have more power.)

I’m maybe a bit burned out about the “women in tech” topic right now.

But I got to meet so many interesting women! I met several women who are fairly senior in their careers and wanted to talk about what it’s like to work where I do. (My answer briefly: it’s not rainbows and puppies but it’s workable and make sure you ask a lot of questions about the team and organization.) I also met some young women still in school worried if they had enough resumes but so excited to be there (why exactly do we still have print resumes?). I got to have excited, expansive, “what if?” conversations with multiple (multiple!) women who are awesome (in different ways). I got to meet (or re-meet) women I don’t know well. I saw technical talks by women at many different places in their careers and life (internet of things despite the silly name is really cool and I want to do more in it!)

In short, I got to see women living a variety of lives and not constrained (or appearing to be constrained) by one way of being a “woman in tech”. I got to see women who clearly just don’t bother with thankless emotional labor in service of increasing the number of “women in tech”. And I got to see women who do some but have learned to be choosy and (maybe) avoid burnout. Because I’ve frankly probably been a bit burnt out.

I’ve been pretty pensive since GHC. And wildly enthusiastic at other times. What do I want to do next? Where am I going 2-3 years from now? Where do I want to be in ten years? What does it mean for my family? What’s important to me besides having a well-paying, stable job? Shouldn’t I go work on something more meaningful (thinking long-term) if I can? What’s that going to be? What should I be doing now to make that happen? How do I manage myself day to day and week to week to not lose sight on that? How do I manage my own emotions so I can be committed and happy with how I spend a third plus of my life?

In other words, I have choice unlike many people who grew up like I did. And that’s a weird and strangely uncomfortable place for me.