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Kimberly Blessing

Welcome 2013!

1 min read

XKCD Comic

Via XKCD. Happy new year, everyone!

Kimberly Blessing

They Told Me I Was Smart

3 min read

A great post over at Wired, Why Do Some People Learn Faster?, included a pretty comprehensive explanation of some research done by Stanford psychology professor Carol Weck. From the article:

Her most famous study, conducted in twelve different New York City schools along with Claudia Mueller, involved giving more than 400 fifth graders a relatively easy test consisting of nonverbal puzzles. After the children finished the test, the researchers told the students their score, and provided them with a single line of praise. Half of the kids were praised for their intelligence. “You must be smart at this,” the researcher said. The other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

The students were then allowed to choose between two different subsequent tests. The first choice was described as a more difficult set of puzzles, but the kids were told that they’d learn a lot from attempting it. The other option was an easy test, similar to the test they’d just taken.

When Dweck was designing the experiment, she expected the different forms of praise to have a rather modest effect. After all, it was just one sentence. But it soon became clear that the type of compliment given to the fifth graders dramatically affected their choice of tests. When kids were praised for their effort, nearly 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. However, when kids were praised for their intelligence, most of them went for the easier test. What explains this difference? According to Dweck, praising kids for intelligence encourages them to “look” smart, which means that they shouldn’t risk making a mistake.

Growing up, I was always being told that I was smart -- by my family, by my teachers, and even by fellow students. I wore it as a badge of pride. And now I realize that was the worst thing for me -- because I realize that back then -- but even today -- I make safe choices so that I avoid making mistakes and thus potentially looking stupid.

I need to print this out and carry it around with me, perhaps on the back of something that reads It's OK to make mistakes!:

The problem with praising kids for their innate intelligence — the “smart” compliment — is that it misrepresents the psychological reality of education. It encourages kids to avoid the most useful kind of learning activities, which is when we learn from our mistakes. Because unless we experience the unpleasant symptoms of being wrong — that surge of Pe activity a few hundred milliseconds after the error, directing our attention to the very thing we’d like to ignore — the mind will never revise its models. We’ll keep on making the same mistakes, forsaking self-improvement for the sake of self-confidence.

Kimberly Blessing

Life Lessons from the Labyrinth

2 min read

I came upon a labyrinth in the woods.

I considered the labyrinth, and its goal at the center.

There are two ways to the goal:
- follow the path, trust it will get you there, or
- skip the intended process and jump to the center

Wondering what I would get out of trusting the process, I followed the path.

I worried that I was traveling in circles, when I observed an obstacle in my path. I had to duck to avoid hitting tree branches. I kept moving.

I saw myself moving towards the goal, and I was pleased. At one point, I was close enough to touch it, but I did not. I was traveling in a circle but felt momentum pulling me in. I knew I would get there.

Then I took a drastic turn and moved to the outside of the labyrinth. I was far from my goal, and I questioned why the path had diverted me. I was so focused on my anger over being as far from the goal as I was at the start that I neglected to see the tree branches ahead. But I had encountered this obstacle before, and I remembered to duck. But this time I had to be more flexible -- there were more branches than before, so I had to bend further and for longer. I could have stopped, abandoned the path. But I kept moving.

Upon exiting the tree branch obstacle, I found myself moving closer to the goal again. I felt a sense of calm -- not excitement. I was glad I had been challenged by another obstacle on my path. My commitment to the goal had been tested, my faith in the path had been tested. I knew I would succeed.

I came closer to the goal. I did not think about jumping the path to the goal. I did not even fixate on the goal getting closer. Instead I found myself thinking back on the path that I had traveled, and what I had learned along the way.

And, before I realized it, I had reached the goal. I looked around at the path that had gotten me here, and thanked it. I thanked myself for not abandoning the path.

And then I exited the labyrinth, ready to face the day.

Written June 26, 2011 at Bryn Mawr College

Kimberly Blessing

Now we are 36

4 min read

Another year has passed. Now I am 36.

I wanted to have a party this year. I wanted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of my 16th birthday. To me, this sounded like the perfect way of acknowledging how I feel -- older in reality, but still celebrating my youth. But I've just been too busy to make it happen. And there have been more important things for me to worry about than a party for myself.

So instead I'm celebrating by writing this post.

What have I learned this past year?

I've finally realized that overcommitting myself does me no good. A year ago I would've acknowledged that it didn't do anyone else any good, but finally I can see that it does ME no good. I already said no to one opportunity that came my way recently, and it was really hard. But I need to keep saying no to doing for others. I need to keep saying yes to myself. Being selfish is okay.

I also learned that it's easy to get back into good habits, like working out every day -- but it's even easier to let yourself break those good habits because you think you'll go right back to them. I did lose about 8 pounds this year, but I've also gained it back. Once I establish a goal and a set of habits around the goal, I need to stick with it. (Part of that whole "it's okay to be selfish" thing.)

I think I've finally gotten the hang of not needing "stuff". I got rid of one of my cars right before my last birthday, and since July my other car has been in storage. I've been to conferences where I don't take the swag. I've been taking more books out from the library (and realizing that many of them just weren't that interesting). I took about a quarter of my clothes to Goodwill last year and now I'm looking at my closet and thinking about getting rid of half of what's in there. I take more digital pictures of things that are cute or visually appealing, rather than buy them to hang on to. Most significant, perhaps, is that I haven't been able to write a "want list" of any kind. I've learned that I have everything I need. I probably don't need everything I have.

Finally, in the past few months I have come to realize how incredible hard it is to take care of another person. It's a huge mental drain, even when it's not physically draining (which it often is). And managing other people's expectations when it comes to caretaking is probably the hardest part of the whole thing. I've always been a supporter of assisted suicide for the terminally ill, but I think we need to have more conversations about allowing the elderly to choose to leave this Earth in a dignified manner of their choosing.

What have I achieved in the past year?

One goal that I've stuck with for a few years is getting out of debt. When I got laid off in 2008 I established a set of financial habits that I have successfully maintained. I won't give specific numbers, but I will say that I now have more money saved as an emergency fund than I owe on all of my credit cards. In fact, I will be out of credit card debt by October! I check the numbers carefully every month (actually, daily), because part of me still can't believe it will happen -- but the other half of me doesn't quite know what to do with the free time I'll have soon, once I'm done obsessing about getting out of debt! I hope I can channel it towards my health goals.

Other "achievements" from this past year have weighed heavily on me, because I was giving too much of myself to make those things happen. So, in my mind, I've only achieved stressing myself out, which isn't all that great of an achievement.

Favorite experiences from the past year

  • Finding my old friend, Rose, and being able to tell her how much she influenced my life
  • Seeing the re-formed (reformed?) Revolting Cocks perform in Chicago
  • Running 5 kilometers with no pain, and actually enjoying the run
  • Waking up to my cat pawing me (her new-ish thing, so that I get up early to feed her)
  • Getting up early on a Sunday morning to drive to the shore for pancakes with Scott

What I'm looking forward to in the year ahead

  • Getting out of debt!
  • Completing two back-to-back terms on the Bryn Mawr College Alumnae Association Executive Board
  • Losing 10 pounds
  • Figuring out what I want to do when I grow up

I think that's pretty good for one year. Happy birthday to me.

Kimberly Blessing

Moving to a new blog

1 min read

After blogging here on a mish-mash of topics for a number of years, I'm shuttering this blog and moving on to a new domain, focused on web development and technical management. I hope you'll join me at Obi-Wan Kimberly!

Kimberly Blessing

How to Improve Page Load Times

1 min read

My latest article for Peachpit is on one of my favorite topics: web site optimization and improving page load times. This article is a review of the basics, which I hope will be helpful to those of you wondering where to start with optimization.

As a next step, you may be interested in my 2008 presentation from WebVisions: Optimize Your Site in Seven Easy Steps. This repeats a few tips but also provides some additional steps to improve page load times.

These resources just scratch the surface of the topic, but they're important fundamentals. If you want to optimize your site, you need to do it at every step -- in your code, with the use of graphics and other assets, at the server. Building a site and trying to retrofit for optimization may help, but it doesn't pack the same punch. (The same thing holds true for accessibility. And, like accessibility, creating an optimized site isn't terribly difficult when planned for from the start!)

If you have any questions about Easy Steps to Improve Page Load Times, please ask and I'll answer in another article or post!

Kimberly Blessing

In Control Orlando

1 min read

In Control OrlandoIf you're planning which conferences you'll attend next year, be sure to look in to In Control Orlando, a Web Design Workshop Conference, being held February 22-23 in Orlando, Florida!

I presented at In Control Cincinnati this year and thought it was great. As a presenter, having only 60 minutes to relay your information and message can cause you to rush -- but the workshop format lengthens each talk to an hour and 45 minutes so there's plenty of time for taking it easy, giving demos, and answering questions. I think that makes for a much better experience for attendees, too -- no more furious note-taking without ideas sinking in!

As for the presenters, you'll be learning from some industry leaders: Jared Spool, Ethan Marcotte, Kelly Goto, Stephanie Sullivan, and Christopher Schmitt. (Nope, sorry, I won't be there... and I'm kinda jealous, because I'd really like to see these folks speak!)

Interested? Want to get $50 off the registration price? Use this discount code: INCKIMB

Kimberly Blessing

Planning for and Managing Browser Support

1 min read

With a flurry of new browsers hitting users’ computers and mobile devices this year, everyone involved with the Web has had to scramble to ensure that their sites are compatible with the latest and greatest. This has left many Web professionals and business teams wondering, “What browsers should my site support?” Kimberly Blessing helps you answer that question.

Read my article at Peachpit and let me know what you think! And stay tuned for my next article on optimization...

Kimberly Blessing

Tips for Women in the Workplace

5 min read

From the New York Times, The Mismeasure of Woman:

"For the first time, women make up half the work force. The Shriver Report, out just last week, found that mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of families. We have a female speaker of the House and a female secretary of state. Thirty-two women have served as governors. Thirty-eight have served as senators. Four out of eight Ivy League presidents are women. Great news, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, it couldn’t be more spectacularly misleading."

Sadly, it's true: making up half of the workforce has not brought women equality in the workplace. American work places are still largely ill-suited for us and our employers do not fully recognize or taking advantage of our talents. What's more, we're still far too often demeaned, belittled, and treated as sex objects -- usually behind closed doors, but sometimes publicly, too. What must women continue to do to gain equal footing?

In Ten Things Companies -- and Women -- Can Do To Get Ahead, employers are reminded that a lack of gender diversity in executive and board positions hurts both the company, as well as professional women, and provides some great tips for companies seeking to increase female presence. While all of the tips were good, those which I'd personally recommend, from personal experience, include: (emphasis mine)

  • Make Mentoring a Priority: Research shows that mentoring programs can be powerful tools for advancing the careers of professional women. Every young professional can benefit from having a mentor. But for women in male-dominated corporate environments, the need is even greater. Women with mentors, research finds, are more likely to apply for promotions.
  • Retain Your Best Women: What does it take to keep talented women in your organization? Asking them directly is a good place to start in getting an answer. However, research finds that flexible work hours, generous maternity leave benefits and coaching for women returning to the workforce can make a difference.
  • Measure Your Results: When companies put goals in writing and track their results, things gets done. Companies need to know where they stand and make managers accountable for the level of gender diversity in their organizations.
  • Move Beyond Tokenism: According to McKinsey, companies with three or more women in senior management scored higher on measures of organizational excellence than companies with no women at the top. It is not enough to add a woman here or there. The best performers build a critical mass that gives women the power to have their views heard.

The article also provides some suggestions for women -- again, all good tips. Here are the ones I'm always telling other women:

  • Dare to Apply: McKinsey, citing internal research from HP, found that "women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements." That by itself, if it holds true across the corporate world, could be holding back a lot of talented women.
  • Know What You are Good At: Instead of just focusing on what you are lacking, take time to inventory what you have to offer. Evaluate your potential based on your skills and competencies, not merely the jobs you have held in the past. Many of your skills could be applicable in jobs -- or in fields -- you have not considered.
  • Know What Success Means to You and Move Toward It: If you want to get somewhere, it helps to know where you are going. In the book "Stepping Out of Line: Lessons for Women Who Want It Their Way...In Life, In Love, and At Work," author Nell Merlino says: "You have to see it before you can devise a plan to get there."

Some of the best advice I've read lately comes from an unlikely source -- Forbes. (They've published a number of sexist pieces in the past year or two.) The article states what many people won't acknowledge, telling women: "Sexism, whatever you call it, hasn't disappeared. But it's better to know exactly what you're up against." Amongst their list of unwritten rules: (emphasis mine)

  • Men get the benefit of the doubt. Men generally get hired on their promise and women on their demonstrated experience. Men are usually taken at their word, while women get challenged more, required to deliver data and substantiation for their views.
  • You won't get sufficient feedback. Professional development depends upon rigorous, comprehensive, ongoing feedback. Your (male) boss may not feel comfortable delivering that information to you. You need to be direct in asking for it from him and from other colleagues and team members.
  • Women are rendered invisible until they demonstrate otherwise. If you want to be noticed, you've got to offer your ideas, approach a mentor, ask for the assignments, build a network, convey your aspirations and communicate your achievements.

I feel very lucky to have worked with some great women and men in the course of my career who -- regardless of whether or not they acknowledged that sexism still exists -- proactively mentored me, instructed me, and helped me overcome any roadblocks which could have set me back. Still, I see too many environments in which sexism, however subtle, is part of the status quo and managers and leaders are unprepared (and, sadly, sometimes unwilling) to change their own behaviors, as well as those of their teams. I realize that I make people uncomfortable in raising these issues and pushing to address them. But what others must realize is that I live according to a rule my mother taught me long ago, which is reiterated in the Forbes article by Ann Daly, and which I can't say often enough to other women: "Don't let them sabotage your ambitions".

Kimberly Blessing

Notes to my team #1

1 min read

I wrote the following on April 30, 2007 for the standards team I managed at PayPal. It's a good reminder to any evangelist: stay focused on results, don't let yourself get bogged down in the politics of the organization, and don't try to do everything on your own!

We are a SOLUTIONS team --
     not the whining team
     not the complaining team
     not the commiserating team
     not the finger-pointing team

ALWAYS

  1. focus on the problem
  2. determine what we can solve
  3. define what's for others to solve
  4. involve others to help
  5. facilitate communications