What Does Allyship Require?

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian artist and activist

As a woman in tech, I’ve been asked for advice on how to be a good ally and how to help make a more inclusive tech community. My response typically starts with some reiteration of the fact that as a white, able-bodied, young, upper-middle class, cis, hetero woman, I benefit from basically every other sort of privilege that there is. I have by no means written the book on how to be an ally as I am getting an education on that all the time.

I believe that there are a few things that you must do to be a truly good ally to the friends who need you. This does not represent all of what goes into good allyship; but I do not believe you can be a good ally without doing these things.

Allies listen. This means being quiet and making space for their friends to talk about the pain and problems that they experience at the hands of hierarchical social structures. Listen, internalize, and empathize.

Allies amplify others. By definition, they have privilege and platforms, and they cede their platform to amplify the voices of those who have to work hardest to be heard. This means not only inviting others to “lean in” the table; it
means sometimes leaning back yourself.

Allies are humble, not defensive, when faced with their mistakes. They make mistakes all the time and recognize it does not make them bad people. What is bad is to become defensive when someone, often the hurt person, tries to tell you why what you said or did was harmful. Understand you are not perfect but listen to what others say and internalize it to be better.

Allies contemplate their own behavior and evaluate their own biases. They think through the implications of their actions – sometimes beforehand, and sometimes
when it’s too late, when trying to determine whether corrections or apologies should be made. They don’t simply wait for instructions or corrections; they take on some of the mental labor of policing their own actions.

Allies apologize, and apologize well. When they make a mistake, they take ownership of it. They do not say things like “I am sorry your feelings were hurt.” They recognize that intent is different from impact, and that, just as I must apologize if I step on your foot with no intent, so must I apologize if I harm you with my comments or actions, however overt, subconscious, or micro- they may be.

Allies call attention to harmful behavior, especially by their own friends and family. Taking apart the ideas that reinforce social hierarchies starts at home, folks.

Allies “weaponize” the privilege they have for the benefit of marginalized people. They use the resources that they have – money, hiring power, networking capital, an audience, authority over company policy, indeed their social power
as men, white people, etc. – to not only support marginalized people but to dismantle the structures that enforce normativity of any kind in their community (structures like white supremacy and patriarchy as examples).

Allyship requires that you put yourself to the hazard. It demands your speech, your attention, your social standing, and definitely your time, money, and work. It requires you be open-eyed to the ways you fail at it and the benefits you gain from social power structures so that you can help work to take them apart.

The crucial thing to understand about being an ally: it is not optional.

A Delicious Metaphor for Painless Prioritization

When I think about my own personal time management, I sometimes have to remind myself: “I can do anything; I just can’t do everything.” This is true about building products in the digital space too. No matter how effective and speedy the development shop is, product and project managers are responsible for reminding the stakeholders that we live in a world of finite resources, and that once we have our laundry list of all the stuff we want, we have to decide what stuff is more important than the other stuff.

This is always harder than you think it’s going to be, because the product you are building in real life is always competing with one the stakeholder imagined in her mind. I sometimes find it useful to employ a bit of shorthand to help everyone speak the same language when prioritizing. Metaphors are very effective for that, and ice cream is great, so here we go!

High Priority: The Ice Cream

Represents the features that constitute the basic conditions for satisfying the business need. Not a picture of ice cream, not ice cream without flavor, but a real, delicious, sweet frozen treat in at least one tasty flavor. It’s not worth doing the project ‘go get ice cream’ without this set of functionality. When imagining a new digital product, try to identify the pieces of work that are non-negotiable – the things for which the statement “It’s not worth doing this without x” evaluates to true. These are your success criteria. They are the minimum feature set necessary to be able to say that the product developed moves the business closer toward its objectives. As much as is possible, product managers must work to recalibrate their stakeholders’ expectations to maintain focus on this feature set. Remember, ice cream is, by itself, delicious.

Medium Priority: The Cone

After we’ve addressed the basic minimal needs of the product, we can start to look at features that add some more substance to the product. I relate these features to the cone: also quite tasty, definitely an improvement over the basic paper cup and spoon, convenient and environmentally-friendly disposal mechanism. But it stops short of being high priority because by itself, it does not make or break the ice cream experience. You wouldn’t go to an ice cream shop and ask to buy a sugar cone by itself because that would be crazy. The cone only adds value to the ice cream. It’s good at its job, but ultimately it’s not a ‘project ice cream’ dealbreaker. Try and imagine the features that would eliminate pain from the user’s process even if, without those features, the user could still get the job done.

Low Priority: Sprinkles

Asking for a bunch of sprinkles without an ice cream cone would make even less sense than asking for a cone by itself, and that’s because the sprinkles really only have any value when added on top of a solid foundation of sweet frozen dessert. In terms of digital products, this category describes those features that are nice-to-have, but require that the high-value items — remember, they are the reason we are doing the work — are in place before they make any sense or add any business value.

Prioritization can be a difficult exercise no matter what metaphors you use. No stakeholder is excited to imagine a world in which they don’t get all the things they want. Whatever analogy you choose to use, going through this exercise is critical for organizing your team’s effort to help ensure you minimize risk and maximize the odds that you will actually deliver on all of the value that the stakeholder needs.

How you sabotage your efforts to hire inclusively

There are reasons why your teams still look like this

I recently finished a year-long job hunting process aimed at the role of product manager, which ended with me taking a position at a product development agency that I feel very fortunate to be a part of. While the team contends with the same problem of homogeneity that plagues the tech industry as a whole, we are aware of it and making conscious strides to try to draw people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

In the year that I spent wading in the world of tech recruitment, I filled out countless online applications, attended a handful of interviews, and showed up at meetups, happy hours, and open houses at company headquarters. It was tough sometimes, but it came with one advantage: I got a front row seat to some of the best and worst recruiting tactics the tech scene has to offer. I attended an open house recruitment event where the hiring managers spent the evening drinking and conducting interviews like speed dating. I had a job offer rescinded because I took a day to think it over and in the meantime they found a ‘better fit’. I tailored countless cover letters to the hyper-masculine messages: We need rockstars with hustle! Get shit done! Grind! Hustle! Rockstar! Is that you? If not, don’t even think about applying! Etc. Am I doing this right?

Below are a few of the ways that companies might sabotage their ability to create an inclusive culture. I focus largely on women, but these issues apply to all minorities; most are more affected than I have been due to white privilege.

You have said the words “it’s a pipeline problem” and meant them.

There are a ton of cultural reasons why women don’t pursue tech careers in the numbers they once did, but we don’t do the issue any service when we pretend it is the only explanation and abdicate our responsibility.

You recruit exclusively from your existing tech network.

Tech ecosystems – even the ones working hard to evolve – are notoriously homogeneous. Find ways to creatively reach beyond people you know.

You only recruit at the same networking events all the time.

Attending only evening events will make you less likely to meet excellent candidates who have after-work obligations like picking the kids up from school, getting them to karate or soccer practice, getting dinner on the table – still disproportionately women. I moderate a biweekly coffee club in the morning because it is way easier for me to accommodate that than to change around evening plans. Vary the types of events you attend and the ways you reach into the community.

You fail to diversify your hiring committees and panels.

Homogenous groups have historically not been shining examples of meritocracy when it comes to evaluating people who don’t look like them. If you have the ability, stack those committees with people that represent the diverse culture you want to create. Not only will they be more fair in their evaluations, they will also show minority candidates that they are represented in the company. You can also curb this issue by conducting blind hiring exercises using tools like Blendoor.

Your education/experience requirements are inflexible.

A requirement that a candidate must have a computer science degree, for example (or, frankly, a college degree at all) is a blunt instrument. It’s a great way to weed out great candidates that don’t meet a requirement that isn’t actually required to do the job as often as job postings would make it seem. It doesn’t honor the huge variety of life paths and educational experiences that lead different people to the same role. Again, while there are a lot of cultural reasons why women and minorities are much less likely to pursue or finish computer science degrees than their white male peers, it’s a fact, so by requiring it you are decreasing the odds that a person of color or a woman will fill the job. Is it worth that if the job doesn’t really call for it?

You fail to actively seek out minority candidates.

You’re expecting those candidates to come to you and you’re not willing to do any extra legwork to identify them, find roles for them in your workforce, or convince them your company is a welcoming place to work for them. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Salesforce have directors of diversity for a reason – they recognize that it’s not just about meeting quotas, it’s about changing the face and culture of your workforce, and that takes planning, effort, and resources. Are you wondering if it is okay for you to say in a forward, public way, ‘we would really like to see more applications from women of color’ or similar statements? It is.

There are no minorities on your leadership team.

Even worse, there are few, if any, minorities to speak of on your entire team. Representation matters. When people don’t see people who look like themselves on your team, it makes it more difficult for them to visualize themselves there; this might even be turning good candidates away from applying. Further, if they don’t see anyone who looks like them in your leadership, they might also worry about their upward mobility. This is a problem that takes time and concerted effort to fix.

You penalize women for negotiating salary or other elements of an offer.

I hope most companies would never dream of doing this, but it’s not always intentional. My rescinded offer happened right after I asked questions about medical coverage, the stock options they thought were such a great perk (always ask what the total shares are), and if I could think it over for a day and talk it over with my husband. I didn’t get an opportunity to negotiate, but got the sense that having the audacity to interrogate the offer was a misstep. I have sincere doubts that this would have happened to a man in the same position.

Avoid falling into this behavior by interrogating your responses to negotiation: would I react this way if a man were asking these questions? Am I being fair?

You require candidates to disclose their current salary and use that to determine what you offer.

Massachusetts made this illegal.  You should be basing your salaries on what the job is worth to the company. Since women and minorities are more likely to begin their careers with pay disparities, each subsequent job that requires them to disclose their current salary puts them at greater risk of losing more earnings over the course of a lifetime. Math has been done to back this up. Ideally, companies would share a range right off the bat – but at the very least, allow applicants to state what they feel is a fair market rate for their position as a requirement.

Just be more human.

If you are in a hiring role in technology, these are just a few practical ideas you can try. I’m asking you to be more thoughtful and human in your hiring. Realize which of your habits and behaviors are sabotaging your culture. Ask yourself if you would want to be treated in the way you’re about to treat an applicant, and if the answer is no, do something about it.

A day’s story of womanhood in four parts.

Today has been an interesting day to be a woman for me. It’s also interesting that it happens to be International Women’s Day, when many of us are talking about the experiences – both shared and distinct – that represent womanhood for us.

My husband, son, and I are in Los Angeles this week for the annual Code4Lib conference, an annual event that brings together the people who build and support digital innovations in the library space. While Adam attends the conference and Eliot spends much-needed family time with his grandparents, I ended up spending time on my own and had four separate experiences – all in the course of a day – that represent facets of a beautiful, sometimes terrifying, sometimes affirming experience of existing in a woman’s body.

I. The energy of a hundred women talking in a room together.

In the morning, I took a Lyft (my first ever!) from Westwood to Santa Monica with a driver named Carlos (Hi Carlos!) to General Assembly for a session of Lightning Talks with eminent women from the LA area. GA in Santa Monica is an open, bright, industrial-chic space, and this morning it was packed with women, their voices clamorous and energetic and finding homes in all the corners. The room was at such ease that it wasn’t possible to know who was familiar or who were strangers until that morning. The speakers gave feminist advice mostly of a sort of ‘Lean In’ garden variety, though there was a shining moment where the Public Policy and Community Engagement Manager at Facebook mentioned intersectionality.

I’ve found that, perhaps because of the necessity of women having to take their problems into their own hands to solve, feminist talks often focus inordinately on how we can change to better position ourselves for growth and greatness – stop asking for permission, make your own jobs, find/be a mentor, lean in, etc. – not leaving enough attention for the systemic issues that are more appropriately to blame (non-inclusive hiring practices, retaliatory/predatory policies). These talks were not an exception. But the women’s stories brought more to the table than the teaching moments. Each speaker brought elements from her own history as a woman – an affirming conversation with a parent, or a career-deciding moment with a mentor – that gave dimension to the mosaic of womanhood they represented.IMG_1336

Perhaps the greatest opportunity of all was just the sheer number of women gathered to meet and celebrate each other. I had the chance to meet Eileen Rosete, founder of Our Sacred Women, a company that makes ethical accessories and gifts with messages that honor women, and buy one of her beautiful pins. No event can be perfect, but there is some magic to us being all in a room together, and it was a wonderful opportunity to do that.

II. Sometimes you can’t go on strike.

After the session, I moved to a sunny coffee shop, bought a plain black coffee and settled into a booth to take a work call for an hour. I so would have liked to say that I had gone on strike today along with many other women, and in fact I didn’t work a full day after my call was done. But my customers on the call were with the department of public safety in the division of emergency management, and our task was to finalize requirements for a new solution to improve the process of mobilizing resources for fast and effective incident response. We’ve been working together on these requirements and process for months (it is not a full-time endeavor for any of us). They took time to speak with me despite the fact that they were simultaneously battling multiple fires in my state. I am privileged that the reasons I was required to work are not tied up in pay or job security, and that I have the option to work remotely to make my life easier. Working for an hour on a day that I wished I was striking was a reminder, frankly, of how good I have it.

III. Gratitude, black girl magic, and gratitude.

After I finished the call, I took off my jacket to enjoy the warm sunshine and walked up a block to the Third Street Promenade. I grabbed a table at a bougie fast casual open-air restaurant called Bruxie and got a chicken sandwich on a waffle. It’s not important to the story but it was delicious.

In the tall booth across the restaurant, four young black women had lunch together. They sat in shorts and tank tops on bar stools with towels draped over their shoulders, maybe having just come from the beach, and sipped on strawberry lemonades. One took a picture of her waffle with her phone. They chatted, laughed, and ate in familiar and comfortable silence. They were beautiful. They seemed so easy together. Maybe I’m just attuned to noticing women together as friends, and I’m not sure why it seemed so miraculous. Maybe because I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the cultural idea that we should expect women to compete with, envy, manipulate, and undermine other women. When that is our social precedent, enjoying a comfortable, sunny lunch together does seem more miraculous, more revolutionary, perhaps more sacred.

I ate my lunch in silence and drank my own lemonade; the breeze and sun came in and lightened the whole space; I witnessed not only these young women but a whole restaurant bustling with talk in several languages; I reflected on the good fortune of an entire morning in a room filled with a hundred women who are willing to be vulnerable and use the words ‘sisters’ and ‘goddesses’ without a hint of insincerity; and I ate a chicken waffle sandwich topped with honey infused with chili and cider coleslaw and marveled at how I could truly be there. People with anxiety are often not in the present but actually in one of many possible scary and bad futures. I was truly present and was awash in gratitude.

IV. Grounded in reality.

After lunch and a quick walk, I was tired and full and my shoes were getting uncomfortable and it was time to hail a Lyft back to the conference center. I started walking down Ocean Avenue looking for a good place to sit and wait before making the request (I had learned my lesson from this morning, when I had actually missed my first ride because I did not make it down the elevator in time).

On a corner, a boombox was playing and a man was dancing and as I passed, he moved toward me suggestively. I ignored him and continued walking. He followed.

His comments were just low enough that I couldn’t really make them out, but at one point he did call me ‘bitch’. He followed me for blocks. I tried to duck into a shop that turned out to be closed up; I heard him say, ‘locked out, bitch.’ He knew I was scared and seemed to enjoy that. I continued to ignore him because I thought the safest thing was not to engage at all. I lost count of the number of people who walked past both of us without saying anything.

As I got further from the commercial district and into more apartment complexes and he still followed, I thought fleetingly of calling the police but chose not to. This may sound dramatic to you if you’ve never been followed menacingly for half a mile. I didn’t do so because there was a racial dynamic and I didn’t feel it was worth the risk to this person. But no one should have to make that kind of judgment and I’m glad that I finally stumbled on a restaurant so I didn’t have to.

Relieved, I ducked into the lobby. When the hostess approached, I simply told her I was being followed and she invited me to act like I was meeting someone and sit as long as I needed. I was offered a water. I used the moment to breathe and request my ride.

The experience was a bucket of cold water after such a transcendent morning. It is a sobering reminder of a few facts:

  1. You would be surprised how much harassment happens in broad daylight in heavily populated areas.
  2. Very confident, outspoken, self-possessed people can still get scared when harassed/followed. There’s really no ‘right’ response to harassment.
  3. Many people will walk right by without noticing or may notice but may not get involved.

If you see a woman you think is getting harassed, I BEG you, PLEASE stand with her and wait and talk with her until her harasser is gone.

Thank you to the women who encouraged me to take refuge in their restaurant and told me to be safe as I left to catch my ride. You’re perhaps the most important part of this woman’s long story today.

My love to all sisters and goddesses and refuge-givers today.

Thank you, and happy International Women’s Day.


Work friends are life rafts.

My work is a mixed bag of face-to-face customer interactions punctuated with solitary work. As a business analyst, after I meet with customers and get them to talk to me about what they need, I spend long stretches documenting those needs, diagramming models and mockups, or doing more research. With customers dispersed across the state, we conduct many meetings virtually, meaning I take them at my desk. I often eat lunch at my desk or skip it altogether. A not-insignificant amount of time is spent in my car getting to customer meetings. I work on a team with other analysts working on other projects, so we only meet as a team every few weeks or so.

Most people with extroverted tendencies need a strong social undercurrent to our everyday life to help recharge our batteries. There was a brief period of a few months when I was on a dedicated program team in a shared workspace. It didn’t last long before a reorganization put me back in my cubicle, but I can’t remember a time at this job when I felt more engaged and integral to getting things done.

Some suggest that the social nature of the open workspace is an enemy to productivity, but my team and I shipped two new custom-built applications for our customers during that time while keeping the lights on for a portfolio of other clients. It should go without saying that this isn’t everyone’s recipe for success – it depends on the team dynamic, and since a team is not monolithic but is composed of individuals with different work preferences and social habits, it won’t work this way for everyone. But being in a social, collaborative workspace taught me how important it is to try to develop real friendships at work.

We called it the “circle of trust.” While we may have been poking fun at ourselves a bit, there is something to that. As I think on the most edifying relationships I have had at work, I realize that the common denominator is typically a sense of trust. This is not just the ability to depend on the other person to come through on their commitments – more than that, it is the sense that I am at liberty to express myself honestly without fear of judgment or reprisal. The obvious corollary is that the most anxiety-ridden interactions are the ones most marked with distrust or the absence of trust.

As careers have turned from long-term, pension-bearing relationships with single employers to sequences of three-t0-five-year stints, the need to connect with our co-workers has diminished. There’s no longer a sense that your relationships with your co-workers will be decades-long, so making a generous emotional investment doesn’t make as much sense as it used to. But studies have shown that friendships at work correlate to higher levels of productivity and employee engagement, and my personal anecdotes support that.

Work friendships are of significant and particular importance for women working in male-dominated fields like technology. Work friendships are at least a matter of convenience and can help pass the time. For a woman in tech, they can be life rafts. Talking to other women is often the only way that we know if we are being gaslit; sometimes they are the trusted venues by which we confide in one another about the frustrations of bias, discrimination, or harassment. Women are more likely to empathize with the nearly relentless questioning of our competence, questioning that comes from ourselves as often or more often than it comes from others. They provide emotional support for the issues that still predominantly affect them, like how to keep moving forward in a career with a family when working in an industry that often demands a deep well of ‘hustle’ and after-work work. Work friends, specifically, are important here, because even if you are lucky enough to have strong personal friendships as an adult (many of us struggle with that too), those personal friends don’t come with the shared context of the workplace. That shared experience becomes a shorthand. There is an efficiency to your understanding of one another.

While I still work in a cubicle and sometimes struggle with feeling ‘a part of things’, I have a group of women I count on to be game to get together over happy hour and shoot the shit. These women are sharp, bold, funny, and self-possessed. This is my new ‘circle of trust’, and it fortifies me against everyday emotional wear-and-tear. I’d be adrift without it. If you don’t have something similar at work, you should do something to change that.

On Anxiety and Serenity

When most people think about anxiety, they think of panic attacks. A panic attack is both a dramatic event to witness and to experience. It can heralded by the horsemen of heart palpitations, difficulty or inability to breathe, nausea, dizziness, sweating, and, of course, acute panic or worry. Many people feel as though they are actually dying. It’s searingly memorable.

My experience with anxiety – and, I suspect, that of many others – is less acute. It is not some antagonist that I encounter and defeat on occasion like a boss in a video game. It shares more similarities with chronic pain – a constant hum of worry that I carry inside me all the time, which can sometimes flare up if the weather serves or which can even occasionally leave entirely, but never for long. Like many who deal with generalized anxiety disorder, I have a personal fingerprint of stressors that I know can send me in the wrong direction – climate change is one; money is another – but anxiety is more inclusive than not, meaning that if I have an opportunity to worry about something, I tend to take it.

This means that much of the time, I have intrusive, worrying thoughts that are difficult to control. It can make my thinking feel frenetic and disorganized. Imagine the last time you left the house and felt like you had forgotten something important but couldn’t place it. Now, imagine feeling that way all the time, as the rule, not the exception.

Days like Friday, and indeed, the last few weeks have challenged me for reasons micro and macro. Like many, I met the inauguration with emotions that range from trepidation to outright indignance. There is a lot of build up to the ‘peaceful’ transition of power in this country, and we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. That’s a playground for anxiety.

I manage my anxiety through exercise, doing good work, being creative, getting quality sleep, and being mindful of the things that tend to generate anxiety for me and managing them. But sometimes, those things are difficult or impossible to manage – in case you haven’t noticed, you can’t go anywhere today to ‘get away from’ what’s going on (and I’m not convinced you should be trying to – in fact, it’s more important than ever to tune in and put ’em up). It’s on the radio, it’s consumed the Internet, it’s at the family dinner table, and it’s an adversarial climate at every turn.

Needless to say, my go-to techniques haven’t been working as well. Back in November, after election night, my anxiety full-on melted down. I went outside in the dark, went to my car, closed the door, and wept deep, loud, and wet sobs for a solid ten minutes.  That wasn’t the only time since, and it won’t be the last.

After a long time of accepting that periods like this were a fact of my life, I started to realize something very important: I needed “serenity now!” I know this sounds like a punch line at best and new-age bunk at worst, but listen: the experience of the last few months has made me realize I had made no room for peace in my life, so I couldn’t find it even if I wanted to. You need that place to exist, because it provides you the tools to be creative or productive in your worst moments, to mount the kind of resistance needed to battle the instruments of unpredictability, fear, anger and darkness wherever you find them.

It doesn’t mean you run away from or ignore pressing problems. It means you need to prioritize which you deal with first, how soon you attempt to solve or neutralize them, how much of yourself you’re willing to give to them. It means acknowledging them when they do present as anxiety, regarding them with a nod, and perhaps saying, ‘not right now.’ Maybe you’ve already set aside time to deal with them; let that plan appease them for now. Find an activity that brings you perspective, gratitude, or awe and guard that time against the worries that do nothing but thieve your energy and capability.

I am trying to think of myself like a river. My worries, tasks, thoughts, feelings, are all stones in the riverbed of my life. Hope, optimism, empathy, compassion, freedom from worry are gold. I make myself a sieve and separate the gold from the rest. I’ve surfaced the elemental human stuff. The worries are still there, but they’ll be constantly smoothed over and reshaped by time until, when I pick them up next, they’re soft to the touch. That’s what I mean by serenity.

I will be calm. I will be mistress of myself.  – Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility


Product Spotlight: Enhancv

Any variation on the product management interview is bound to have some variation of the following:

Name a product you like, tell me what you like about it, and tell me what you would change about it.

To speak to that, I want to do the occasional ‘Product Spotlight’, picking out some of the products I stumble on and writing about them. First up is Enhancv: a clean, dead-simple modular resume building app.


Enhancv uses a freemium subscription model with increased customization options when you upgrade. You can tie it to your LinkedIn or Facebook account and it will automatically pull some basic information into the resume depending on which you choose; or you can opt to create a standalone login.

Let’s start with the likes:

  • For starters, I like the concept. Whenever it’s time to update my resume, I spend ridiculous amounts of time fiddling with the formatting and appearance, trying to create something as slick as what Enhancv produced in about twenty minutes. I also like that the modules forced me to pay attention to space and be more careful in my content choices.
  • Very intuitive interface; once inside the app, I couldn’t help myself but click the boxes to begin editing and switch out the dummy text with your own content. Formatting options are all in the left sidebar and the ‘$’ icon made it clear which I could use and which would require an upgrade.
  • All the while you are editing, the app provides hints and examples (e.g. ‘Here’s an example of a great summary’).
  • Change the layout between one column and two; rearrange the sections any way you wish.
  • Great customization ability even in the free version – two basic fonts, multiple color schemes, over a dozen section ‘types’ that act like widgets on the page unconventional section types (Books, Passions, ‘Day in the Life’ pie chart).
  • I don’t even mind the logo at the bottom and probably wouldn’t remove it even if I upgraded to Premium.

What I would change:

  • When I tie it to my Facebook account in order to change the picture (it gives you an option to upload a photo or use Facebook), it would be cool to be able to go through my Facebook photos and pick one – not just use my current profile pic.
  • I would love a way to host this resume live and tweet or share a short-link or link to it from my website without doing the legwork to do it myself with Google Drive. E.g. under the ‘Download’ button, simply a ‘Publish’ button. Perhaps a premium feature.
  • In the Settings menu, I stumbled upon ‘Tracking Settings’, with a little checkbox next to ‘Don’t anonymously track me for product improvement purposes.’ Of course as a product person I know why they do this and I’m happy to participate in the analytics, but I wonder if this will come across a little less ‘big brother’ as an opt-in message during sign-up rather than as a hidden opt-out.
  • Since people aren’t necessarily updating their resumes constantly (unless you’re me), I wonder how effective the subscription model for this? Would a ‘per-document’ fee be another option?

At any rate, take a look at what I came up with and be sure to check out Enhancv for yourself.

Thoughts on Ethics in AI

New applications of artificial intelligence technology keep surprising us, but they probably shouldn’t. After winning Jeopardy, IBM’s Watson computer went on to support applications to assist attorneys in building cases as “Ross” in bankruptcy law; advise doctors at one of the world’s foremost cancer treatment centers, Memorial Sloan Kettering; and serve as virtual teaching assistant “Jill” at Georgia Tech, its natural language processing capabilities convincing enough that students in the class were unaware until professor Ashok Goel revealed the nature of their TA after the final exam.

At the Denver Open Coffee Club recently (a local meetup for discussing tech and startup issues), we raised the subject of artificial intelligence (and automation) and humans’ relationship with it. Passions rose a bit as we talked not about the astounding capabilities and myriad applications we could achieve through thoughtful employment of artificial intelligence (well, there was some of that) — but about just how far, ethically, we as a culture were willing to go. It became less about the many people that a class of robot workers will likely soon render unemployable, and the ethical and economic questions that we will be forced to reckon with when that happens, than it was around the very human psychological rejection of decisions and judgements made by a machine.  The largest obstacle to a full embrace of artificial intelligence in our culture is not our lack of technological capacity but ourselves, said one of our group. When it comes to some things, humans seem to just want humans.

But still, humans built a sophisticated question-answering machine like Watson. We have many, many questions. Many are questions that we want and feel comfortable with AI answering. But it seems there is a boundary somewhere, something nebulous. A red line, after which the asker says, “I don’t want a machine to answer this. This question needs a human.” We don’t know where this line is and it’s probably different from person to person or even the same person on different days, but has to do with meaty, moral, ethical, judgment questions. Can you teach an AI to be moral? Do you want to, or would we just be doing that because when it comes to these questions, we’re afraid of the answers an AI would offer?

I would argue that it is less about where we want to divide those questions and more about how we define and separate real and artificial intelligence. What I find chilling in this question is the place where, after a lot of contemplation about what a human is, a human itself seems not unlike a machine. We are complex organisms, with mechanics inside that allow us not just to move about the world but to ponder it and our place in it, a sort of miraculous ability, but a mechanical one nonetheless, an ability derived from our cerebral cortex.

I wouldn’t argue that an AI exists today that could conceivably replace all of the cognitive abilities of a human, nor the capacity to balance rational thought with ethical judgment (unless I missed something in the news). In high stakes situations, I would still prefer a person to be in charge. Given time, though, I think it’s inevitable we wrestle more with these questions and place more responsibility on AI, allowing what we create the space to learn and make those judgments. The problem we’ll wrestle with then is whether and when, when given human or near-human abilities in cognition, it will begin to recognize its own self, its place, and begin a human-like sentient experience in its own right. I hope we’ll have confronted the relationship between ourselves, our morality, and our AI by then.

What’s in a product manager? Analysis of over 2,000 job requirements

As part of an effort to discover the path I’d like to take in technology in my career, and at the recommendation of several advisers of mine, I decided to do an exploration of the role of the product manager. I became very interested in the ways it seemed product managers are able to walk between different types of teams, bridging communication between customers and engineers, helping to prioritize business needs and keep things running smoothly. I like the idea of taking responsibility for a product and having a stake in its success and that of its users, the customers.

So I decided to look at some postings for PM roles to find out what it would take to get me there if I decided it was the route for me. I found the needs to be heavily dependent on the specific culture and goals of the company – many of them preferred niche expertise in the company’s vertical (e.g. “Prior experience working with medical devices is a must”). Some employers sought technical expertise, others preferring an MBA. I left this experience with no better sense of where to focus my energy if I wanted to lay out a path to product management, and figured that there had to be a better way to get a high-level view.

I started by compiling job requirements for any product management role I saw into a Google Sheet. I had some requirements/exceptions: 1) It had to have “product manager” in the title, though I did not focus on a specific level. 2) If something seemed overly technical, niche, or focused on physical products, I stayed away from that – opting to focus on strategic roles supporting technology products. I ended up with a list of just over 2,000 job requirements.

I manually scanned for some recurring terms, drafted a list, and used a Google Sheets function to count the density of the terms. Here’s a basic view of what I ended up with:

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Right away, I started mentally building a “lowest common denominator” job description in my head: 3-5 years of experience in business and/or product management; marketing skills and expertise; some technical or engineering background; agile experience; MBA preferred. I now have a more prioritized list of where I need to build my skills if I want to land a role in product management – a much more effective research and planning tool than scanning through all of the postings one at a time.

To add to this, I also separated some of the more qualitative terms – the “qualities” as opposed to the “qualifications” – that I could see emerging. The result is this:

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That’s it – nothing rigorous, but certainly it came in handy in getting a more holistic view of the profession. I know I have probably left some important terms out, so feel free to give me feedback. Are you a product manager, and what qualifications or qualities were most important in getting you there and, more importantly, making you successful?


How to Be Concise

As a child, I never thought twice before I spoke, and sometimes didn’t think even once. I’ve learned ways to control this (often the hard way). My childhood and adolescent memories sometimes feel like a film reel of cringe-worthy moments wherein my mouth fired off (and kept going) before my brain had caught up – but I find myself, as an adult, still working through this in different ways.

If you Google this problem, you’ll find a great deal of advice on how to stop rambling. It’s great advice that I know I need to work harder to take – tips like:

  • Don’t be afraid to pause and think through your thoughts before presenting them.
  • The stoplight rule: after the first 20 seconds, your light is green; for the 20 seconds after that, start slowing down; if you get past 40 seconds, your light is red – you’ve lost your audience. Even this seems too long, even though I know I break this rule all the time.
  • Focus on slowing the pace of your speech. You’ll have more time to realize when you’ve reached a good stopping point.
  • Lower the tone of your speech. It will give your words more gravity and make you sound more confident in what you are saying.

I work very hard to remember these rules in any conversation, whether on the phone, in a meeting, or making a presentation to a group, and by and large, I’ve grown more aware of my speech – though I admit, it is sometimes harder than others. Because while these tips are great, they don’t get to the root of the problem for this rambler: anxiety. At its heart, my habit of running on and on is born out of a feeling that I must continue to speak until I’ve sufficiently demonstrated my knowledge about a subject. I’m afraid of not knowing the answer to something; afraid to acknowledge publicly that I’m not sure, I don’t know, or I’ve never done that. Resistance to saying those words is a tough habit to break, but I think many have this fear sometimes. Ultimately, I just fear being dismissed by my audience. The tips above are great for learning how to appear confident. But freeing yourself from insecurity takes a little more sweat. I’m working on it.


The Muse: Three Smart Ways to Keep from Rambling

Harvard Business Review: How to Know if you Talk Too Much