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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

Code Archaeology: Dusting Off the Line Mode Browser

6 min read

Photo of an old IBM computer running the line mode browser, with the explanation page displayedThe line mode browser (LMB) info page, running on the line mode browser.

It's been over a month since I returned from my trip to CERN to participate in the line-mode browser hack days and I'm finally getting my photos and my notes in order. If you haven't read much about the event, Jeremy wrote an excellent summary of the whole experience.

I was on the "coding" team and spent a good deal of time reading through and tracing the logic of the line-mode browser (LMB) source code. It felt like every few minutes I was finding something new or interesting, and pointing it out to the rest of the team, so we could be sure to make note of a feature we needed to implement or something that might be a pitfall. I referred to this work as "code archaeology". Here are some of my more interesting findings:

  • The earliest style sheet (compiled into the browser) had six styles: normal, list, glossary, monospace, address, and heading. (Heading had a further seven nested styles for TITLE and H1-H6.) What changed with each of these styles? Left indent (two levels), right margin, alignment, capitalize states (two, one for each left indent), double spacing, number of blank lines before and number of blank lines after.
  • There's code in place to handle H0 as a heading level. It was mapped to the title heading style -- so if both TITLE and H0 were present, H0 would overwrite what was shown in the TITLE location (at the top right of the screen (see picture).
  • If you've been doing web development for long enough, you'll probably recall the ISINDEX element -- and perhaps, like me, wondered it was supposed to do. If it existed in a page, it added a keyword command to the list of options in the prompt (see picture). It doesn't look like this feature was fully implemented in the LMB -- I don't see any code that would return a list of pages matching the query. In addition, the LMB only recognized ISINDEX if the opening tag was in all caps.
  • Here's an HTML element that was new to most of us: LISTING, which is supposed to render plain text. The LMB code we were looking at had a bug, however: only the opening tag was parsed and any closing tag was left to render in the page (see picture).
  • Another element that we'd never heard of before was HP, for highlighted phrase. HP comes from SGML. It had the effect of forcing text into all caps. The LMB that we reviewed parsed and only.
  • Because of the way the LMB parses a document, HTML comments (e.g. ) are ignored -- even though there were no comments in any of the early HTML documents we reviewed. In fact, any unknown tag is thrown away as a "junk tag", yet its contents (what's between the opening and closing tags) are still rendered to the screen. Thus, a modern web page with a or block would end up showing the user a whole lot of code!

My handwritten notes from my time at CERN My handwritten notes tracing the logic of the LMB, with Tim Berners-Lee's original proposal in the background

I'm not sure that we explicitly discussed it, but it soon became clear that we were building a simulator that we expected could render both current web pages as well as the earliest markup found in the first web site. This led to review of some very old markup, written by Tim Berners-Lee himself, and lots of experimentation with the old IBM system we had with us, which was running the LMB. Some more fun discoveries:

  • The HEAD element doesn't yet appear in HTML -- it would have been parsed out as a "junk tag". That said, in some old HTML documents, you'll find HEADER tags surrounding the TITLE and NEXTID. Fortunately modern browsers handle this old markup pretty well, so we didn't have to code anything special for our simulator.
  • These days, we're used to surrounding paragraphs of text with opening and closing tags... and, back in the day, we just putt hem at the start of paragraphs. Originally

    tags were used as paragraph separators, to create space between paragraphs. This made the work of writing the simulator CSS, to render both old and new code correctly, a little tricky.
  • The LMB indicated a hyperlink by placing a number in brackets following the link text, e.g. [1]. If your link text was more than one word, it might be confusing or hard to determine what text was part of the hyperlink. That said, the list command would show all of the hyperlinks in a document... but it was only helpful if your URLs were descriptive (see picture). The LMB could be started with flags to disable the showing of hyperlinks, which may have been useful when also running in non-interactive mode -- perhaps when trying to cat contents to files for storage or printing.

You, too, can get the line-mode browser source code and read through the main file (www.c). See what jumps out at you!

As I've expressed before, I'm concerned that many web professionals don't understand the history of the web and thus are doomed to repeat past mistakes. My biggest hope is that anyone who writes code for the web today will spend just a few minutes using the LMB simulator to browse the first web site as well as to check out their own site -- and notice, at the very least, that well-marked up content was and still must be the foundation of the web, in order to have a decent experience, regardless of browser capabilities. Good markup never goes out of style.


Kimberly Blessing

'Change' Is Not a Four-Letter Word

1 min read

A repeat performance of my AccessU keynote, delivered at the end of the two-day, online Accessibility Summit. If you're not familiar with the Environments for Humans conferences, check them out! (Powerpoint slides with notes)

Kimberly Blessing

Change Is Not A Four-Letter Word

1 min read

It was my great honor to be invited to give the keynote at the John Slatin Accessibility University (aka AccessU). This year's theme, "From the Margins to the Mainstream," really struck a chord with my inner change agent, and thus my keynote address was born. (Accessible PDF or PowerPoint file with full notes)

Kimberly Blessing

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day 2010

8 min read

My Ada Lovelace Day post is a two-parter: the first part, recognizing two women who inspired me in math and computing; the second, recognizing Milly Koss, an inspirational and accomplished female computer scientist.

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science. Learn more

Mrs. Smarkola, Miss Herrick, and the Dawn Patrol

Article about The Dawn Patrol From the Grace Park Mini News, an article about Dawn Patrol by yours truly, circa 1985.

I am so fortunate to have been raised in the 80s, during the emergence of the personal computer. My school, Grace Park Elementary, and my teachers were excited about the TRS-80s and Apple IIes in the classroom, and many kids had Commodore 64s at home. Our teachers saw us get excited about learning; we were having fun playing with new toys our parents never had.

Our librarian, Mrs. Smarkola, was one of my most favorite people at school. When I think of her, I always imagine her with a large book in hand, head down, adjusting her glasses, focused on her reading. But I also remember her running the classroom full of typewriters and computers which was across the hall from the library. She'd walk from computer to computer, typing commands, turning them on or off, inserting tapes or disks, making sure each computer had an instruction sheet or book for the next activity. Around the time of fourth grade, a few of those computers moved into the library itself, and the whole school used them to check out and return books -- under Mrs. Smarkola's watchful eye, of course.

My fourth grade teacher, Miss Herrick, was one of those teachers that all of the kids in school were afraid of. Kids talked about her being "hard" and "mean" -- but when I got in to her classroom, I was in heaven. You see, Miss Herrick loved math. I loved math. We were a perfect match! She frequently gave us math quizzes with long division problems, which I always aimed to complete first -- because the first to finish got to "play" on the computer we had in the classroom. I'd guess that I spent more time on that computer than anyone else, and I think I was also the classroom "computer aide," to help other students with it. (BTW, to this day, I love doing long division in my head when I'm bored.)

So many of us kids at Grace Park were interested in computers and learning, that our awesome principal, Dr. Joseph Fleischut, authorized a program called "Dawn Patrol" which was run by Mrs. Smarkola and Miss Herrick. For kids who signed up and got to school about 30 minutes before the opening bell, it was a time to use the computers, typewriters, and library. As you may have guessed, I signed up nearly every day. It may have been during Dawn Patrol that I programmed a TRS-80 CoCo 2 to play the harmony to "Yesterday" by The Beatles, so that it could accompany me as I played the melody on the flute. (When I got to perform at the district concert with the computer, it choked under the hot lights of the stage, sadly.) It also may have been there that I first attempted to program a Joshua-like AI from WarGames. I definitely spent time playing the Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego games there, as well as being questioned by Eliza. But what I remember with the greatest certainty (and the utmost thanks!) were the ways in which Mrs. Smarkola and Miss Herrick (and Dr. Fly, too) encouraged me, nurtured my passion for math, computers, reading, and learning, and always praised me for my accomplishments -- key factors which recent studies say are crucial to getting more women in to STEM.

Adele Mildred (Milly) Koss

Milly Koss and Me I was introduced to Milly Koss in September 2006 when a historical marker was placed at the site of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation.

Milly Koss "had a distinguished career of more than 47 years in all phases of computer technology, implementation and management, including applications design and development, software/hardware selection, database technologies and computer security." Her name is known to some -- but not enough, in my opinion.

Milly was raised in Philadelphia and attended the selective Philadelphia High School for Girls. She earned a scholarship to attend the University of Pennsylvania in 1946, at a time when schools were primarily giving spots to veterans. She graduated in 1950 with a degree in mathematics. In the early days of computing, women were seen as ideal computer programmers due to their "patience, persistence, and a capacity for detail." Of course, in order for a woman to get one of these jobs, she had to have a degree in math and not be married. Milly Koss qualified on the first point, but not on the second: she was engaged. The first company she interviewed with rejected her for this reason.

Fortunately, she was in the right place -- Philadelphia was home to the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and, from the way Milly describes it, I imagine it to be a workplace much like any modern internet company -- except that 40% of their programmers were women. Milly interviewed with Dr. John Mauchly, who she described as being very nice, flexible, and open. He gave her a wonderful, exciting, creative job -- working with the UNIVAC.

Milly worked with Grace Hopper and was responsible for developing Editing Generator, a problem-oriented language for computer-generated reports, in 1952. Milly was interested in what "computers could do for programmers... how it could help programmers program." She also worked on sort routines for years, which she calls "the quintessential program for machines." She reminds us that today we should be grateful for that early work in automated programming, interpreters, assemblers, and compilers.

By the way, much of this she did while working part-time and remotely! According to Milly, when informed about her pregnancy, Grace Hopper told her to "take it home" -- meaning, the work. Milly would go in to the office one or two days a week, otherwise working from her dining room table. In an interview with Kathy Kleiman (who is the driving force behind the ENIAC Programmers Project), Milly said:

"What’s funny about that period, I’m not sure who my boss was. This was such an unstructured environment… Once I had a child they let me continue to work the way I wanted to. I inferred from that I was of value to them. Nobody lets you work that way unless they are getting value. I got increases. I got paid fairly well. Eckert & Mauchly was pretty good that way… There were no models, they didn’t care how you worked. There were no preconceived notions as to the way you could contribute. You did not have to be in the office…. We did not have huge management teams. We did incredibly new and exciting things and nobody had a problem.”

Milly later went to work for Burroughs Corporation, Philco, and Control Data Corporation, and Raytheon. At Burroughs and Philco she continued her flexible work schedule and would send her work in by mail! At CDC, she worked with early graphics algorithms and interfaces including light pens. Then Milly moved to Harvard University, where says she finally started feeling the hierarchy and loss of flexibility. She spent 27 years at Harvard, in multiple roles. She applied data management expertise to applications for the school and led an R&D effort to develop one of the first data warehouses, the Information Utility. She served as Associate Director of the Office for Information Technology and as the Information Security Officer for the university.

Milly retired in 1994. In 1997, she received a Pioneer Award at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. In 2000, she received the Ada August Lovelace Award from the Association for Women in Computing. With her many years of contributions to the field, I'm sure she also inspired many people -- women and men alike.

Additional Resources

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

Kimberly Blessing

Better Living through Technology

3 min read

Kevinalways likes to talk about better living through chemistry, but for me it's all about better living through technology. Here are some products that are making my life better right now:

  • Tassimo: Despite having worked as a barista during high school and college, it took me until 2005 (during a trip to Italy) to really develop a taste for coffee. I was fearful of spending all my money at Starbucks until I learned about Tassimo, and heard its praises sung by a few coffee lovers. Requiring very little effort on my part, this system makes excellent coffee drinks (I especially enjoy the Gevalia Lattes) as well as hot chocolate and tea. Our local Target recently started selling the T-Discs, but I get mine direct from the manufacturer once a month via auto-replenishment (requiring even less work on my part!). It's convenient and it's cheap. Mmmmmm.
  • SlingBox: I signed up for NHL Center Ice and I accepted a new job that will require me to travel, all on the same day. How would I get to watch my games while on the road? I'd had my eye on the SlingBox since before last Xmas and decided to give the new Pro edition a whirl. With the ability to connect four devices, I can watch regular cable, digital and HD cable, or whatever's on the DVD/VHS. How well does it work? Well, Kevin's on the other side of the globe right now, and he and I watched the Flyers game the other night together. What a way to keep the family together!
  • Microsoft OneNote: Despite being a total technology nerd, I love paper. Whenever I have to think something through, I grab a stack of paper and pens write down all of my thoughts. I'm also big on making lists. I carry a little notebook wherever I go, and it's filled with random thoughts, reminders, quotations, and phone numbers. Now I have a digital notebook that allows me to organize my notes just as I would on paper. I can copy and paste just about any data from any program into OneNote. Checklists, tabbed sections... I can do it all, and I save trees at the same time.

Now all I really need is a high-resolution widescreen tablet PC to replace my high-res widescreen laptop and my slate-model tablet PC. I'm talking about something like the Toshiba Tecra M7, but with a normal keyboard layout. (Who the heck thought that moving the Windows key was a good idea?!?) I don't care how big the thing is or how much it weighs. I just need a workstation replacement that has tablet functionality, for when my hand injury acts up (which it does frequently) and I can't use the touchpad. It would also be handy on all those flights, when the person in front of me fully reclines and I can't keep the laptop open more than 4 or 5 inches. Dammit, Dell, make me a tablet PC! NOW!

Kimberly Blessing

SxSW notes, for you and for me

2 min read

(This post originally started on March 13, 2006 at 10:36 AM CST)

The crazy thing about SxSW is that you get busy and don't have time to do the things you mean to do. It's not a bad thing, it's just the way it is. So you go with the flow.

Anyway, I wanted to post notes, cool quotes, and links to folks I've met (or reunited with). I'll update this whenever I have time... maybe not until after I get home!

So far, here are some new folks that I've met:

There are many people here that I already knew (virtually) but am meeting for the first time:

  • Chris Kaminski, a fellow WaSP member, and the guy who saved me from having to take time to write some scripts for the new site when I was still busy working on templates and design issues
  • Drew McLellan, another fellow WaSP and creator of 24ways
  • Kazuhito Kidachi, yet another fellow WaSP, whose done a fine job of translating and testing for the group

And I've gotta call out some of my AOL and ex-AOL friends:

  • Tom Crenshaw, fellow hockey fan, Corrado enthusiast, and author of the foreward to the Flash 8 Bible
  • JoRoan Lazaro, creator of the AOL Running Man

There are some really good pictures up on flickr from various activities, too:

And all of my photos are up on Flickr as well.

And here are the slides from the panel I did with my AOL pals!

Kimberly Blessing

The Buzz about WaSP

2 min read

There was lots of buzz about the Web Standards Project during SxSW Interactive, and for good reason! After a panel on WaSP Task Forces, an open meeting, and the (slightly troubled but finally debugged) redesign launch, it's clear that people see WaSP as alive and well, and ready to start stinging again. Woo hoo!

I'll toot my own horn a bit and admit to my role in the redesign, which was the porting of the design created by Andy Clarke to WordPress. A proud moment for me just yesterday was in describing how I accomplished some of the content presentation objectives to Matt Mullenweg; he told me that I'd figured out some pretty cool stuff (which I fully intend to write about in the future)! But projects like this aren't accomplished single-handedly, so I have to give big virtual hugs to Chris Casciano for porting tons of content to WP, Chris Kaminski for doing the scripting, and Holly Marie Koltz for doing lots of QA and content tweaking.

Meanwhile, the response to the Education Task Force has been overwhelming. I've probably got 30+ business cards and notes in my suitcase from folks wanting to know how they can help in our mission, as well as wanting to know how they can help affect change in their schools. And the contacts and ideas keep coming in via e-mail too... now to get some plans together! You can be sure that you'll be hearing more from the eduTF soon.

Kimberly Blessing

Notes from CSS panel

1 min read

Dave Shea was kind enough to take notes during CSS: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the SXSW panel in which I participated. Thanks!