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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

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

How do you define/defy "best practice"?

1 min read

Cross-posted from The Circle of Standards:

Since the practice of setting and managing standards is as much a management concern as it is a technical concern, I spend time reading a number of business blogs. The HBR Voices blog is full of important management insights.

A recent blog post, How Are You Defying "Best Practice"?, was particularly insightful. Although the article was referring to business and management best practices, it just as easily could have been about design and code best practices.

The only difference is that, while the business world has well-documented and well-established best practices (most commonly taught in MBA programs worldwide), the Web design and development world doesn't yet have that common set of agreed-upon best practices. What one designer or developer considers a best practice may be contrary to what another one believes.

This leads me to the question of how do you define what is an industry best practice? And, how do you defy those best practices, if at all?

Add your two cents

Kimberly Blessing

How do you define/defy "best practice"?

1 min read

Since the practice of setting and managing standards is as much a management concern as it is a technical concern, I spend time reading a number of business blogs. The HBR Voices blog is full of important management insights.

A recent blog post, How Are You Defying "Best Practice"?, was particularly insightful. Although the article was referring to business and management best practices, it just as easily could have been about design and code best practices.

The only difference is that, while the business world has well-documented and well-established best practices (most commonly taught in MBA programs worldwide), the Web design and development world doesn't yet have that common set of agreed-upon best practices. What one designer or developer considers a best practice may be contrary to what another one believes.

This leads me to the question of how do you define what is an industry best practice? And, how do you defy those best practices, if at all?

Kimberly Blessing

CSS & Troubleshooting IE6

1 min read

On Saturday, July 18, I gave a talk as part of the CSS Summit on CSS & Troubleshooting IE6. Many designers and developers are passionately anti-IE6, while I'm one of those folks who has a soft spot for the browser. So I laid out the case for continuing support for the browser and gave some tips on how best to do that. Most importantly, I tried to reinforce the idea of planning for and managing browser support, especially the phasing out of specific browsers. After all, if you don't have a plan, you don't know where you're going.

You can download the presentation slides as well as read and comment on the use of IE6 hacks over at my personal site.

Kimberly Blessing

Beyond Web Standards

1 min read

I'm often asked how one can convince their employer to adopt Web standards, and unfortunately there isn't a short or simple answer. That, in part, is why I created the Circle of Standards (both the process and the Web site). I also give presentations on this very topic, including one I'll be doing today at the online <head> global web conference.

My slides are available for download and if there are questions that don't get addressed sufficiently in the session, you can post them here.

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.

Kimberly Blessing

Books I'm looking forward to reading

2 min read

Lately I've been on a steady diet of technical books and management/leadership books, but my required reading for an upcoming meeting at Bryn Mawr has gotten me back in the swing of reading other subject matter. This is a good thing, since I've got some very interesting reads coming up...

First up is a book by my friend, Chris Connelly. He's written Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible and Fried: My Life As a Revolting Cock, about his life in the music industry. His career has spanned nearly three decades and has included stints with industrial groups such as Fini Tribe, Ministry, Pigface, and the Revolting Cocks (duh!), just to name a few (seriously). I'm hoping that some of the stories that I've heard over the years -- like the time he disassembled every piece of furniture in a Four Seasons hotel room with William Tucker -- appear in this book... and I'm sure there will be plenty of other crazy anecdotes, too. Chris is still making music, though of a much calmer, more esoteric variety. He has a new album titled Forgiveness and Exile coming out this spring that I'm also looking forward to.

Today I pre-ordered Hubert's Freaks: The Rare-Book Dealer, the Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus by Gregory Gibson. The book tells the true story of Bob Langmuir, a rare books dealer in Philadelphia who discovered a treasure trove of never-before-seen prints by the legendary Diane Arbus. The photographs were taken in the 1950's at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus, a Times Square basement phantasmagoria -- an odd piece of Americana deserving of such documentation. The New York Times has an interesting article which piqued my interest... though I'll be honest and disclose that my mom went to high school with Bob, which is how I learned about all of this in the first place.

The next thing I need to work on re-integrating to my reading queue is some fiction... any suggestions?

Kimberly Blessing

'07 and the Ragged Kimberly

2 min read

There are only about 12 hours left in the year, which seems about the right time to take stock of what's happened to me in the past 12 months and what's to come in the next 12.

Looking back, I can't believe all that I accomplished in 2007. Some of the highlights include:

And that list doesn't even include work accomplishments!

As I plan for 2008, I have a number of exciting challenges ahead: more writing, more speaking, more travel -- but also serving as a committee chair for GHC08, running a BarCamp, writing a CS1 course curriculum based on Web development, and more! But best of all, I'm looking forward to moving home to Philadelphia -- a slight change in plans, but a good one.

Into 2008, and into the Arena! (And if you don't get the Duran Duran references, shame on you!)

Kimberly Blessing

How not to recruit talent

2 min read

Robert Scoble alerted readers to Jeff Barr's post about Google recruiting. I had to laugh out loud here, because I've also been subject to some strange Google recruiting crap myself.

Most recently, I got an e-mail from a Google recruiter (who clearly did look at my Web site, because she commented on the pink-ness of my blog) with regards to a technical solutions engineer position. The first thing that struck me as odd is that, if you actually read my resume, you'll learn that I've been in management positions for a while... so why would I be interested in an engineering position? The next oddity was the requirement that I complete a self-evaluation before discussions could proceed. Uh-huh. No thanks.

Of course, when I got that e-mail I was laughing pretty hard, because in the many years I've attended the Grace Hopper Celebration I've talked to Google folks many times about job opportunities there -- and was basically told again and again that "Google doesn't recruit Web developers because that's not important to [their] business". Whatever.

I have some friends that have gone to Google, but honestly, the more I learn about them, the more suspicious I am of them. I feel like they're one giant social engineering experiment, and we're all their guinea pigs.