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Kimberly Blessing

2015 Year in Review

5 min read

TL;DR: I turned 40 but felt like I was 16.

This is my first post on my new Known-driven site. I'll be aggregating all of my various web content here going forward. I've posted a few year-in-review type things on Facebook in the past, but I can't find them to figure out what format I used,.. and honestly, that platform is crap. Anything where you're not in control of your data is crap. Self-publishing is where it's at. Still. Let's get back to it.

Anyway... this was a year of ups and downs, as I expected. Turning 40 wasn't that big a deal, although it's fun to toss around that number and get wide-eyed looks from people. ("You can't be 40!" was the typical response.) Learning to be single again... ugh. Nursing a broken heart was painful, remembering how much I hate to cook caused me to eat out far too often, and dating introduced me to all sorts of interesting characters. Music, books, Crossfit, and good friends made all of it better, though.

At the start of 2015, I knew that I'd be seeing Ride seven times this year... but their comeback was so massive -- they were better than ever! -- that they kept on adding tour dates and I kept on buying tickets. In the end, I went to 17 Ride shows, thus making up for a good bit of lost time. I'm surprised my ears aren't still ringing after: Swervedriver, Ride (their warm-up show, in their hometown of Oxford!), They Might Be Giants, Ride (Atlanta), Primal Screen, Ride (Glasgow), Ride (London), Ride (Amsterdam), Ride (Paris), Ride (Brooklyn), Ride (Toronto), Ride (Terminal 5 NYC), Morrissey, Paul McCartney, The Dead Milkmen, The Containment Unit (Stratford ON), Elle King (NYC), Dick Dale, Popup Opera performing L'Italiana in Algeri (London), Ride (at home in Philadelphia!), Ride (Irving Plaza NYC), The Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride (Asbury Park), Ride (Chicago), Severed Heads and Cocksure (Cold Waves IV in Chicago), Kraftwerk, Ride (Boston), Ride (Bristol UK), Blur (MSG NYC), The Dead Milkmen, Ride (Portland), Ride (Seattle - my last show of the tour!), and The Ocean Blue. (And probably one tonight!)

With all of those shows, it might seem like there wasn't much time for new music, but oh, there was. I'm obsessed with TVAM's Porsche Majeure, Besnard Lakes (who opened for Ride), Cocksure's sophomore release "Corporate Sting" as well as Chris Connelly's twelfth solo release "Decibels from Heart", Ruby's "Waiting for Light", Most Non-Heinous, Boxed In, Rodriguez... and I'm sure I'm forgetting many other tracks and albums. (And Rdio, I will miss you.)

More importantly, I made my own new music this year -- for the first time since... well, since my grandfather died 21 years ago. That requires a lot of unpacking and will have to wait for a separate post, although, again, Ride gets a lot of credit here.

In May, I was excited to see Neil Gaiman read from his latest book, Trigger Warning, and answer questions. He answered my question, which I was thrilled by! (And still have yet to write about.) I was less thrilled when I returned home that night to find that I had been robbed. (Another fucking growth experience.) Due to the association between book and robbery, I still haven't read his new book. But I re-read American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and followed Sandman Overture to its end. I finally picked up Phonogram, after being introduced to The Wicked and The Divine. I eagerly read Ernie Cline's new book, Armada, and slogged through the entire Outlander series, after years of many friends recommending it to me. I read The Martian before the movie came out (and loved both). I read The Phoenix Project, A Line of Blood (by Ben McPherson), and Canary (by Duane Swierczynski) on recommendations from friends and loved them all. (A Line of Blood particularly creeped me out. I highly recommend it.) And for self-help, I read Brene Brown, Pema Chodron, and most of the School of Life series.

I kicked ass at Crossfit this year. I finally made it into the 200 Club, backsquatting 203 pounds and deadlifting 232 pounds at our last Total. I've built enough upper body strength to be able to snatch more than an empty training bar and I can even overhead squat 75 pounds! I still can't do a bodyweight pull up, but I can hang from a bar for 60 seconds, and I can even kick up into a handstand and hold it for 30 seconds.

If I mention one friend, I'll have to mention them all... and I'm sure to forget someone, so let's not go there. Suffice it to say that if we had a heart-to-heart over coffee, a drink, a meal, Twitter, email, crayons, standing in line for a concert, standing against the barrier at a show, hanging around backstage at a show... you had an impact on me this year.

Love and hugs and all the best wishes for 2016. Let's kick it in the balls.

Kimberly Blessing

Managing, Mentoring, and Hiring: Why is it so damn hard?

4 min read

Think sticker

The super-cool Think Brownstone stickers I gave away at BarCamp!

I had the privilege of leading a problem solving discussion at BarCamp Philly this past Saturday. The session was proposed at the last moment (while the first sessions were going on) in response to a few conversations I had over morning coffee -- I was amazed to end up in a packed room full of very vocal people! It's clear our community has a lot to discuss on the topics of management, mentoring, and hiring. Thanks to everyone for participating and making this such an engaging session!

Here are photos of the blackboard notes/mind-map -- they're a bit blurry, but you still make out most of the text and the lines connecting ideas.

  1. Define the Problem "Screen Shots": 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  2. Mentoring focus "Screen Shots": 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

A transcription of all the blackboard notes follows -- but I think the big takeaway of the session were the mentoring action steps we identified:

  1. Define mentoring: what are you trying to achieve?
  2. Carve out the time: make it important, protect it, make it part of everyone's job
  3. Ask: not for mentoring but for information, for input, "how can I help?"
  4. Do things together and make it visible
  5. Express thanks

Before you go through the full notes: I'm serious about getting together again to continue the conversation! Please leave a comment on this blog post, email me, or @/DM me on Twitter so I can be sure you get an invite to the meetup!


Define the problem

    • No mentoring at many places
    • Hard to mentor if you're not being mentored
      • No managerial/organizational support
        • Do you set aside time for mentoring activities?
    • No one gives a shit when trying to mentor
    • Bidirectional mentoring: [other party] not always interested
    • Finding people / the right people
      • People with potential
      • Headhunters [=] Noise
      • [Many] unqualified candidates
      • Depends on company: hiring for culture, skills, experience?
        • Do we even know what we're hiring for?
          • Speedy growth
          • Same job title (not description) means different things at different companies
            • Different responsibilities, different expectations (on both sides)
          • As person being hired:
            • Why am I being hired?
            • What am I doing?
            • Is it OK to ask questions?
      • Dilution of credentials
        • PhD [in CS] but can't code
        • As jobseeker, educationally over-qualified, less job experience
          • Resume format hasn't changed, how do you present yourself?
            • Cover letter still important!
          • For developers, where is the code portfolio?
      • What is the qualification to get through?
        • Puzzles
        • Quizzes
        • Essays
      • Can someone meet our expectations?
        • [Example: job posting asking for] 10 years of jQuery experience
    • Hiring
      • Tools are shitty and inhibit process
        • Broad job posting not effective
      • Expensive! Job portal posting and lots of asshats apply
      • [Managing/researching applicants]
        • Resumator + LinkedIn
        • Stack Overflow
        • Ranking candidates
          • Bullet Analytics
      • Where to post jobs locally?
        • Technically Philly job board - will have job fair in 2014
        • Local network and community
          • Be an active participant in community so people want to work with/for you
          • Most groups are for senior/advanced people
          • How to go from email to action?
        • How to find junior talent?
          • Campus Philly
          • Drexel Co-Ops (people love them)
    • At this point, we were 15 minutes into our time, so we voted on one area to focus on; the group chose mentoring.

Focus on Mentoring

  • This is a skill in and of itself!
  • Big difference between mentoring and training
    • What is the hidden curriculum in your organization?
  • Finding time
    • Carve it out
  • Care more!
    • How to make those NOT in this room care more?
      • How do we encourage more soft mentors?
        • Make it a requirement
  • Coaching
    • Helping people express themselves makes them better at what they do
  • Apprenticeship
    • Formal programs
  • Context/structure
    • "Soft" mentoring instead of formal
      • Team collaboration and valuing others' opinions?
      • Recognition is important
      • How to find a mentor as a junior person?
        • Look for someone who is passionate about what they do
        • Look for someone who is open
        • Show them what you're working on
        • Ask
          • We aren't taught to ask good questions
            • Are we hiring people who won't ask by looking for purple squirrels (super ninja rockstars are self confident)
            • [Nor are we taught] to recognize others, e.g. acknowledge someone in code comments
          • Conversation starters:
            • What's wrong with this?
            • What am I missing?
            • What have you tried?
    • Some organizations separate mentoring from management
      • [Why?] This introduces BIAS in management process
  • Why is this a corporate expectation? Why don't kids go out and find [their] own mentors?
  • Manager != Leader, Leader != Manager
    • Being a mentor is a differentiator

Mentoring Action Steps

  1. Define mentoring: what are you trying to achieve?
  2. Carve out the time: make it important, protect it, make it part of everyone's job
  3. Ask: not for mentoring but for information, for input, "how can I help?"
  4. Do things together and make it visible
  5. Express thanks

Kimberly Blessing

WaSP's Work Is Done, But Mine (and Yours) Isn't

2 min read

Yesterday, on March 1, 2013, the Web Standards Project (aka WaSP) -- a small, grass-roots group of web standards advocates assembled nearly 15 years ago -- announced that it was formally wrapping up shop.

I was invited to join this small group of passionate and dedicated people almost nine years ago. My first email arrived on March 24, 2004 and, for the next few years, engaging with WaSP members and working on its projects were practically daily activities. Thinking I was a web standards "expert" when I started, I quickly learned that I had miles to go in terms of both technical knowledge and leadership growth. WaSP was a wonderful learning and growth experience for me.

Activity within the group slowed in more recent years, in part due to individuals moving on in their lives and not having as much time to dedicate to the mission, and in part due to the industry changing and naturally embracing what WaSP had advocated for so long: that implementing and following the specifications would make the web a better place for everyone. So, while the group exits the stage quietly, it's not without having had a tremendous impact. And so, to my cohorts, I say congratulations on a job well done.

The final WaSP blog post closes by entrusting the ongoing WaSP mission to the reader. Don't think you can change your team, your company, your country? WaSP's legacy proves true the old adage: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." So go on, now -- go change the world.

Kimberly Blessing

Working On Weaknesses

4 min read

Say NO to kryptonite t-shirt Even Superman has a weakness. (One of mine is wanting to own lots of cool t-shirts, like this one.)

In my last post, Understand and Leverage Your Strengths, I wrote about focusing on your strengths to make yourself (and your team) happier and more successful.

But a former direct report of mine wrote to remind me that, even when one understands and leverages his or her strengths, it's still possible to have a weakness or skill deficit that makes true success difficult to attain. What does one do in this type of situation? If this is something that's weighing greatly on you, here's my advice.

First, get specific about the weakness. Don't just summarize it as, for example, "I'm not a good communicator." What is it that you're not good at or comfortable with? Is it that your written communications lack structure or suffer due to poor spelling and grammar? Are you terrified of speaking before a crowd and thus get tongue-tied whenever you must do so? You want have a focused statement that spells out what you're addressing; for a bit of positive reinforcement, you might even specify what related skill you have that you're good at. Using the earlier example, you might be able to make the following statement: "While I am able to clearly summarize and deliver my thoughts verbally to one person or a few people in a regular team meeting, I get very nervous about speaking before larger groups or people I don't know well, to the point where my delivery of prepared statements can be very awkward."

Next, determine how much you need to grow to be successful -- and this means getting specific about what success means to you. Let's say that you're a web designer and you want to start doing some consulting work where you deliver design and front-end code for clients. You are already a decent HTML and CSS coder, so you have that covered, but you don't know any JavaScript and anticipate having to write some every so often. Rather than give up on your consulting business idea because you think it will be too hard to learn JavaScript, you may want to think about finding someone you could outsource that work to. Or you can work with some developer friends to create a small suite of scripts that you rely on. Or maybe you really should buckle down and try to learn JavaScript before you assume that you can't!

Once you've figured out the above you can create a development plan. Take out a sheet of paper. On the left, write down where you are today; on the right, write down where you want to be. Then identify the steps you need to take to get from one to the other and write those out in between. Assign some dates to each step, et voilĂ , you've got yourself a plan!

Does that sound too easy? It might, especially if the idea of addressing this weakness fills you with dread or fear. To that end, I strongly suggest that you seek feedback throughout this entire process. You may be surprised to learn that others don't view your weakness the same way you do -- this can be a really great perspective to consider. By talking about your weakness, you may come to terms with it. Or, you may be able to identify someone who could mentor you as you work through your development plan.

So, what's your weakness? Leave a comment and you just might find someone who can help you as you help yourself!

Kimberly Blessing

Understand and Leverage Your Strengths

4 min read

I like to know things about myself. Don't you? I've taken personality tests and behavioral assessments to be more self-aware, to learn what I should focus on in my personal development efforts, and to better understand how I related to and communicate with other people. OK, and for fun. You've probably done the same, right?

Me with my StrengthsFinder book My strengths are: Command, Deliberative, Significance, Strategic, and Learner.

My favorite self-assessment is one that many people don't know about: StrengthsFinder 2.0. StrengthsFinder is both a book and a test: the book includes an introduction to StrengthsFinder, a code for accessing an online assessment tool, and an explanation of the 34 strengths (or "themes"). The assessment results in a customized report which will help you understand your strengths and how you can use them to be more effective in both your work and your personal life.

Personally, StrengthsFinder has really helped me embrace my strengths. For example, I used to think of myself as "bossy" (because that's how people described me) and I looked for ways of toning down this "weakness". But learning that my number one strength was Command made me feel different -- it helped me understand that being the boss is a natural position for me and that people look to me to lead them. It made me realize that having formal management and leadership responsibilities would make me a happier, more productive person, rather than a cranky and bossy individual contributor.

You may already see why, as a manager, I love StrengthsFinder. We can't all verbalize what we're good at or what kind of work we love to do. For a while, I've asked everyone on my teams to take the test and share their results with me. Once I know what strengths a person has, I can better leverage their skills to make them -- and the team -- more successful.

For example, in the software development community, most programmers have one of the rational temperaments (ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP, or INTP). But if you manage a team of programmers, you can't just look at them as a a bunch of INTJs (a very common type for programmers, though a very small percentage of the overall population) -- you need to see them as individuals. INTJs are introverts and can be brutally honest, but that doesn't mean that they can't be persuasive communicators to large groups. StrengthsFinder gives me far more specific information about a person than a behavior or personality test can tell me.

StrengthsFinder Team Top 5 Grid

Once a group of people complete their StrengthsFinder assessments, you can chart their results to determine overall group themes. I've done this with three teams of employees at different companies and the results are always enlightening. For example, about half of my present team has the "Adaptability" strength -- this is perfect for our team because our product strategy has shifted around quite a bit in recent months, so we have people who can roll with those changes. We also have about 50% "Input" and "Learner": both are crucial to the way we operate. Where we have only one or two people exhibiting a certain strength, I see how I can use those individuals to encourage the overall team, to ask important questions, or to sustain us when the sh*t hits the fan (a necessary evil).

Strengths Finder 2.0

What are you waiting for? Learn more or buy StrengthsFinder 2.0 now and take the test. Learn about yourself. Share the results with your family and team. Encourage others to take it and share their results. At the very least, it should confirm what you already know about yourself -- but I'll bet you'll learn something new, too.

Have you already taken StrengthsFinder? What are your Top 5? What have you learned about yourself or others?

Kimberly Blessing

Working with the Not-So-Tech-Savvy

2 min read

Maybe it's the co-worker who sits next to you, or perhaps it's your boss. It could be a new client. And, invariably, someone in your family qualifies. That's right, they're the not-so-tech-savvy you have to deal with. How do you get them to understand you so that you can communicate and work together effectively?

Web Worker Daily provides 10 tips for working with the computer-illiterate, ranging from the obvious (avoid jargon and be patient) to smart strategies you may not have figured out yet (introduce new technologies gradually, talk results instead of process).

Two things that aren't mentioned in the article but deserve emphasis:

  1. Don't talk down to the person or treat them like an idiot. First of all, no one deserves being talked down to. Doing so is going to make you look bad and it will make future communications even more difficult. The person you're talking to could have a Ph.D. in some other field and simply may not have the background or experience to understand you without more explanation or context.
  2. Take the time to educate. I had a boss who was very results-oriented. When I was able to demonstrate the ROI of Web Standards in an effective way, he wanted to understand more. Over the course of a few months, I helped him learn some HTML and CSS, introduced him to our publishing tools, and gave him a copy of Zeldman's Designing with Web Standards, which we discussed at length. Didn't my boss turn around and become my biggest supporter and advocate to more senior management? And all it took was my investing in his education. Think of what educating a co-worker or client could do for you -- relieve you of that constant headache from one-off questions? Stop you from rolling your eyes after every interaction? Maybe the payoff seems small, but the mutual growth is worth it.