Event: Advancing The Careers of Technical Women (ACT-W), Details

Speakers and Notes from “Advancing The Careers of Technical Women (ACT-W)” New York 2017 Conference

Following up from my previous post about the very inspiring ACT-W NY conference with a write-up of my notes.

Unfortunately, I could not attend all of the presentations, but they were all interesting an inspiring. Below are notes from just a few of the speakers I heard.


Presentation One: Advice about promoting yourself, by Natasha Awasthi

Her advice came in two parts, due to being a speaker in two presentations at the conference. I liked what she had to say in the first one, I went to the second.

  1. It’s not bragging to talk about your accomplishments. You’re earning trust:
    • I can completely relate with the idea of feeling like I’m bragging when talking about past accomplishments. So much so that I might avoid talking about what I’ve done in the past, even though it would be very relevant. Now that I can frame my past as a credential to build trust, I will be “bragging” about my past accomplishments as much as possible
  2. Don’t network. Build a community:
    • As an introverted person, the idea walking up to people and introducing myself for the sake of “business connections” or “networking” is almost like a 4-letter word. It sounds so fake and manufactured; like you’re “using” people. But when framed as “community building”, that is a concept I can get behind. It’s not so scary. I can definitely do that.
  3. Don’t get mad. Get what you want. (Create an action plan.)

 


Presentation 2: A story about diversity, by YZ Chin

Her advice was about diversity and the importance of being yourself. There were two main take-aways:

One: Diversity is important because if everyone is the same, it means they can all fail the same way. She went on to give an example about how, as a new member of the engineering team, she solved a critical error that all the other experienced team members failed to recognize. Her value to the team was her knowledge about their customers, not her skill as a software engineer.

Two: It’s important to be honest. In her example, she recognized that you’re not an impostor if you say you’re 2nd best. She again related a story where her manage told her that he didn’t hire her to be the best engineer. He hired her for her customer expertise.

 


Presentation 3: What she did well / What she wishes she done better, by Natasha Awasthi 

In Natasha’s second talk, she presented a list of career aphorisms based on what she had done well vs things she wishes she could have done better. I think the first list mostly speaks for itself. But I’ll explain the second a little more, because I think it’s interesting and helpful.

What she wishes she had done better
  1. Show don’t tell.
  2. Seek to clarify before you criticize.
  3. Find a kernel of truth.
  4. Ask for help.
  5. Have a board of people as advisors (not friends or family):
    • This is a group of professional contacts, that will give you difficult but critical feedback on your ideas, projects, career, etc. I thought this tied in really well with the point from her earlier presentation, about building community. People like this would be a great addition.
  6. Working together means going slower.
What she did well
  1. Act on little knowledge & lot of imagination.
  2. Ask for help, twice:
    • What she means is, instead of getting angry and assume people have simply ignored your request for help, just ask again.
  3. Declare your ignorance:
    • This is sort of like getting lost. Sometimes you just continue on the same path, thinking you’re going the right way and then realize you’re way off path. It would be better to just admit you’re lost and find out where you are and where you need to go, than to just start walking. Same here: rather than pretend you know the answer, admit you don’t and find someone who can help.
  4. Make it easy to have hard conversations:
    • I’m actually quite bad at this, probably because of my desire to separate my professional and personal life. In her example, if you never talk to a colleague about anything, good or bad, that one time you’ve got to have a conversation it’s clearly probably about something terrible. So, take the time to get to know your colleague on a more personal basis and build up a congenial rapport.
  5. Focus on what you want.
  6. Follow your obsessions:
    • She mentioned that she was a writer, who wrote articles for Fast Company. She said she also taught classes at General Assembly.

 


Presentation 3: How to Tell Your Story / Personal Brand, by General Assembly

This talk was given by two people from General Assembly. I think their job was to help students find jobs, or help them find support. (Another example of working in tech, but not being technical.)

At first, I was really annoyed when this talk started. I thought it would be about building a personal brand, which is an area where I felt I could use help. Instead the dual presenters gave somewhat detailed stories about their backgrounds, which I was kind of annoyed by. However, they helped make it useful by talking about how to use your story to convey to employers how you can help them.

The Q&A and Summary section really clarified a few points from them, about what employers are looking for when it comes to the non-technical qualities of an employment candidate:

  1. Employers want to know you have leadership qualities, which they described as seeking personal growth. I personally am not sure what leadership means to me, but I do know that I am growth-minded in that I am always looking to learn and expand my skillset. I want to know what I don’t know.
  2. Employers want to know that you take criticism well. I suppose I always knew this, but it’s good to hear it spelled out like this. For me, trying to apply the improv “Yes, and…” technique might be a good way to accept criticism when I don’t want to accept it. “Yes, I see your critique…and X-Y-Z.”
  3. Coming up with a story can be hard. So they suggested asking friends or acquaintances, maybe that board of advisors, to send 3 characteristics that they would use to describe you. And using that list to help guide your story.

In addition, in combination with YZ Chin’s story above, I came away with the idea that I should think of my story into tech as unique to me – and I shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about how I didn’t go to design school or study engineering. I’m not being an impostor by admitting that my path into the tech industry was a straight line. Some employers might find that meandering experience valuable.

 


Final Talk of the Day

My last talk of the day, I actually cannot remember what it was called. But it was about finding peace at work and learning to cope with difficult situations.

In this story, the presenter talked about how she created her own job, at her current company, after running into resistance and unhappiness in her previous role.

A quote:

If you think it, you will say it. If you say it, you will do it.

They attributed that to Confucius but many people have said something similar.

A few more:
  • Move towards vs move away
  • Bearing down. (Sometimes you just have to work through difficult times, rather than run away.)
  • Crowd source advice from toughest critics. (Sound familiar? This theme is common, I guess.)

Event: Advancing The Careers of Technical Women (ACT-W), Highlights

Wisdom from “Advancing The Careers of Technical Women (ACT-W)” New York 2017 Conference

Or How a Woman’s Tech Conference Saved My Butt

Kind of on a whim, I decided to attend the Advancing The Careers of Technical Women (ACT-W), 1-day conference. The purpose was to provide career advice for women in all parts of the tech world, not just for developers. Overall, it was incredibly inspiring and energizing, which I really needed. Job hunts can be very depressing.

In an upcoming post, I will share detailed notes from each speaker. But for now, I will share some highlights and how I’ve applied the advice I learned from attending.

Highlights of Wisdom, Summarized

  • build a community; don’t network
  • create an objective panel of reviewers
  • tell your unique story
  • diversity of opinions and experience is important
  • earn trust
  • ask for help
  • be honest

Taking Action

Examples of how I applied the advice I learned by taking action:

1 – BUILDING A COMMUNITY

I immediately started applying the concept of community building. I got some business cards and names, from a few attendees, and I connected with them on LinkedIn and sent emails. I’ve even been reaching out to complete strangers on LinkedIn!

Coincidentally, this was kind of happening in real life, too, which made everything a little overwhelming but also provided another opportunity to try out these new ideas.

2 – ASKING FOR HELP

I decided to ask for help from people I haven’t tried before. For instance, I reached out to employers that rejected me for a job, to ask for help. Either to ask what they look for or to ask for career advice.

3 – BUILDING TRUST

I’ve been working on redoing my website (again) and this time, I included more information highlighting my expertise. Not to brag, but to build trust.

4 – TELLING MY STORY

As a part of redoing my website, I’ve included an About page. I’ve used part of that page to go into more detail into my background and how I got to where I am.

My new “About Me” page has a “My Story” section.

 


My next post will include detailed notes from the speakers.

Website Update, June 2017

It might not be easily noticeable from this blog, but over the past few weeks I’ve updated my main website. I tend to do this a few times a year, as I gain feedback, or learn what works and what doesn’t work. Hopefully this change will stick around for a while. This post is documentation of what I did and why.

Research

Over the past several months, I have been trying to get a better understanding of what UX managers look for when they view a candidate’s portfolio. There were a few resources I looked at that helped inform my opinions in this regard. After reading a few articles and slideshow presentations, reviewing websites, and gathering feedback, I had a few ideas. Here are a few points and screenshots demonstrating my ideas and how they affected the design.

I. Overall Design and Home page

One way or another, I ended up looking at a few portfolio pages from designers I’d met in-person or came across online. Despite reading several of those “10 UX Portfolios To Admire” articles, what I’ve discovered is that sometimes simple is best. And that translates to a template site, often paid.

Paid subscription services are anything from $6-$8 or more each month. I don’t think someone should have to pay a monthly fee in order to apply for a job. That meant I’d have to create it myself or use a free service. I’ve used Carbonmade, Coroflot, and even Behance (barely), which are all free. But their designs are limited and my research showed that managers will evaluate candidates on the usability of their portfolio, even when it’s hosted by a third-party.

Reviewing both free and paid sites, the ones I liked best were made by the paid services Squarespace or Wix, using remarkably similar templates. Essentially, that template was a site with basic navigation, a grid of projects on the home page, project pages, and a simple About page. Following that template, I came up with a basic grid for my home page. But I jazzed it up a bit with some fancy CSS throughout the site.

II. Presenting an Overview

In previous designs, I assumed that managers would read. But, my research showed that they might spend 30 seconds reviewing a portfolio, for the first time. I also came across numerous resources insisting that candidates outline role, problem or goal, and outcome when presenting their work.

So you can see in the screenshot below how I’ve outlined this information right at the top, next to an image.

Overview of the project and role, along with keywords. This image is actually a screenshot from the company’s website, promoting the product.

II. Fast Scanning

Another consideration was the amount of time a manager spends reviewing a portfolio. My research showed that managers only spend 30 seconds on a portfolio and review 12-50 portfolios for a given position. I used the process/approach section to break up information into digestible, one-sentence long chunks.

An earlier version of this section was a 3-column layout, with longer paragraphs. Breaking it up makes it easier to scan. Fontawesome does this, also, on their homepage. http://fontawesome.io/

III. Tell a Story

The word “storytelling” is thrown around a lot, especially in relation to self-promotion. I think “storytelling” is overused and cliche, and I’ve written about storytelling a few times.  However, for the redesign, I thought about the concept of beginning, middle, and end. Thinking through these part of a story, I ended up with the following sections: overview, a process/approach section, documentation, and outcome. Outcome really helps “sell” it as a story, because it provides a conclusion.

Outcome

Having talked about outcome, what now?

One idea I thought of, as I was writing this, was to shrink the size of the thumbnails on the home page to show more information on the screen. But, I think the “hero” image/section is what takes up most of the space, vs the size of the thumbnails. This is one change though; I have a running list of updates and ideas on Remember the Milk, where I can also track priority.

I plan to ask more friends for feedback and maybe get feedback from a few connections on LinkedIn. It was fun, I learned a lot. I look forward to adding more projects and the site evolving over time. Or until I redesign it again!