Archive for February, 2010

4 Common Traits of Women Leaders

I’ve spent some time in the past few days trolling blog…er…um..doing research.  Turns out you can spend a lot of time looking for good blogs.  There is lots of content out there, but not as much good reading as I hoped.  I did find some good blogs that I’ll share with all of you in the next few days and weeks.

I was in a leadership retreat sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers today.  Since I’m in the leadership mood, I thought I’d check out the Future Women Leaders Blog.  The current post is about 4 common traits of women leaders.  Leaders who motivate others and empower them.

I was curious, are these traits that I have?

  • Goal- Orientation- This once I’ve got.  I set short term and long term goals for my team at work and the groups outside of work I lead.  I’ve been goal oriented since as long as I remember.  My sisters might say it made me bossy.  I argue that I had a vision for what we should spend our afternoon, summer, etc doing and I worked with them to make it happen.
  • Effective Communication- The more I work, the more I realize that success is weighed very heavily on how well you can communicate.  You can be a brilliant engineer.  If you can’t communicate well to different types of people at various levels of management and expertise, your only hope is to find an effective communicator who can translate your thoughts out to the world.  I am an effective communicator, but I’m also always looking for ways to improve.  I watch to see how other effective communicators alter their words around various audiences, and how they phrase their emails for the best readability and influence.  I think I also pay more attention to nonverbal gestures and the feelings and reactions of those people around me than most others I work with.
  • High Emotional Intelligence- EI is the ability to identify, assess, and manage your own emotions and the emotions of a group.  It’s about remaining calm and collected in a crisis and also not allowing any self-defeating feelings to affect you.  I am pretty laid back and from growing up in a big family and learning from my mom not to let things affect me.  I do believe that being optimistic is very important in leading.  When things get rough, you need to stay above it, smile, and encourage the rest of the team to focus on making the changes to get to the goal, not dwelling in everything that is going wrong.  It’s tough, but it always works.
  • Ability to Delegate-This one is probably the weakest of the four areas for me, only because it’s one I’m still learning to do well.  In some areas, I delegate well.  I think back to my wedding.  I chose great vendors who I trusted, I explained my vision to them, and then just let them go execute it.  It worked wonderfully.  Not very many times in life do you get to pick your team like that.  I am still finding that balance of delegating with team members where we haven’t worked out the trust and expertise yet.  I’m also learning how much effective communication matters in being able to delegate well.  You have to be very clear in communicating your vision and expectations.  If not, then I notice I see someone headed the wrong way and jump into more of a micro-managing mode.  I agree it’s a trait of good leaders, it’s one I probably do well 60% of the time.  I’ll keep working on growing that percentage.

Overall, not too bad for my leadership assessment. There are a lot of leadership assessments out there.  It’s nice when someone narrows it down to just a few characteristics, like this list.  The simplicity reminds me that it takes only a few things to make you a good leader, yet those are not  simple traits to master- you can continuously work on improving them for years.

Engineering Sights Around You?

I came across a neat website the other day.  The site, created as part of National Engineers Week (Feb 14-20th this year) points out engineering marvels around the country.

I was curious to see what was around me.  Northern California has the NASA Ames Research Center, Cable Car Museum, San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, Exploratorium and Jelly Belly factory.  I’ve been to the last 3, but not yet the NASA Center or Cable Car museum.  Guess I have a few engineering to do items next time I’m looking for a weekend trip.

May you’ll find a fun engineering activity by you. (or if you’re one of those people who have trouble just sitting around and relaxing on vacations, you’ll find some neat engineering things to check out)

Making the Most of Mentoring

I love having the flexibility at work to take an hour or two out of my day and either give back or enhance my skills.  I try to balance between taking time out to talk to a high school class or after school club about engineering and to work on building my own skills.  Today I took out an hour to listen to a webinar about making the most out of mentoring. (If you find my analysis valuable, consider signing up with Jo Miller to listen to some of the other webinars she has going this year)

I appreciated that the webinar brought out three baselines needed to get the most out of mentoring: luck, performance, and recognizing opportunities.

  • Luck– I believe that about 50% of life is just being in the right place at the right time.  I think you have to go into a mentoring relationship knowing that they will help with your skills and plans, but that part of getting that next opportunity is also dependent on luck and timing.  It takes some patience.
  • Performance– It’s alot easier to find, engage, and keep mentors when you are a high performer and have the right attitude and effort in your current job.
  • Recognizing Opportunities– I find most people are change adverse.  When you walk into a mentoring relationship, you have to accept they are going to ask you to change.  You need to be open to listening and trying new skills, new jobs, and hearing about another perspective.  I’ve found in my experience that being open to trying new things has helped me immensely.  (my current job came from an opportunity I wasn’t sure I wanted…I took advice from a mentor and flew to Austin for a speaking engagement that has reaped me huge benefits- including getting paid to speak in Boston!…it’s amazing what happens when you just go for it)

When you do go out to get mentors, make sure you are building a “board of directors of mentors”.  I agree that these are the right types of mentors to have.  I think I would expand the list some to state that sometimes you need mentors that are not in your company.  I think that an advisor or two who can talk to you about other opportunities in the industry and geographical area is very valuable- especially in this time of job instability.

  • Coaches– These are the mentors, usually somewhat informally, who you work with on a regular basis to build your skills.  I have a few coaches.  One is a peer of mine who I talk with at least once a week and discuss how to best approach situations, handle communications, and when to escalate issues.  Another coach I’m using to build my technical skills and yet another I’m using to work on my communications with senior management.
  • Appraisers- These are the mentors who can talk to your performance versus potential and help gauge your value.  I have found that my manager doesn’t always see everything that I do.  So I go out and poll certain people I work with and ask them to give me some assessments on what I’m good at and where they see I have potential that I could further develop.  I’ve also gone to mentors and asked if they thought I might have the skills to do a certain job, or take on a particular project.
  • Advisors- These are the mentors who can help assess your plans and help highlight routes to take, usually they are more senior leaders than you and have visibility and perspective. This is the most difficult category for mentors for me.  I think it’s because I am never quite sure where I want to go next and feel awkward having more open ended conversations with senior leaders.  That said, I have certainly had some of these advisors at one point or another and they have been very helpful in looking outside my narrow view of the possible opportunities at the company.  My advisors have also helped show me different routes to take.
  • Referral Agents- These are mentors who can help you make connections to get information and visibility.  I love to meet new people and am a natural connector.  I have found that most of jobs and even big success at work have come from asking others outside of my direct realm for information or a contact for more information.  My advice is to find people who are natural connectors, especially those in an area you want to grow, and ask for their mentorship- even if it is just for a short while.

Once you identify one of the potential mentors above, set up a 20min informational meeting with them and bring 3-4 concise questions.  I’ve sometimes had to wait awhile to get the meeting (I think 2 months is my longest so far), but no one has turned me down yet.

Formal mentoring programs are good ones to meet potential mentors and get your foot in the door for the informational interview- but the best mentoring relationships come when there is chemistry.  If you meet with a mentor and don’t feel any chemistry, it’s better to find someone else than keep pushing on that one.

When do should you become a mentor?  NOW!!   I do believe that people wait to long to be a mentor.  I was mentoring people without admitting to myself I was a mentor because I thought I didn’t have enough experience.  Once you get through engineering school, you can mentor students still in school.  Once you get through your first year at a job, you can help others through their first year.  I have some great coaching relationships with my peers that have blossomed into very symbiotic mentoring.

Want a way to get started?  At a minimum consider signing up to be a mentor on mentornet! I was a mentee in college and had a great email mentor.  I’ve since mentored quite a few people.  It’s fun and you’ll be amazed at what you learn about yourself and how much advice you really have to give.

Happy Mentoring and Mentor Seeking 🙂

Boyfriends and Boy Friends

My sister was visiting this past week/weekend.  She brought her boyfriend out to visit and we ended up having a conversation about boyfriends and boy friends.  My sister is also an engineer and works in the construction industry- a male dominated place, especially when you include all of the sub contractors she deals with on a regular basis.

I think it takes a very secure guy to become be the boyfriend of an woman engineer working in a male dominated field.

As that woman engineer, you’ll be surrounded by guys all day.  They will like hanging out with you, in the midst of all the men they work with, you’re a nice change of pace.  (chances are you dress better than most of the guys too).  You will have alot of guy friends.  These friends are not just from work, but from college too.

When I was in college I purposely joined the society of women engineers and even a sorority to try and get some more girl friends.  I seemed to have just good guy friends.

That takes me to the boyfriend part.  When you are starting to date a guy and you are always surrounded by other guys, it is hard for them.  You have to build some trust quickly so he doesn’t think you are dating other guys or attempting to cheat on him.

Not long after I started dating my husband, he got pretty upset that I appeared to be flirting with another guy.  I told him that I had guy friends, I was always going to have alot of guys friends, and if he had a problem with that, then we probably weren’t going to work out.  Good thing he got over it…we’ve been together for almost ten years.  (He’s also gotten back at me a few times by leaving me stranded in corners at social gatherings with some guy who won’t leave me alone and not saving me 🙂 )

My advice to all you other engineering gals out there searching for boy friends- let them know up front that just because you have a lot of guy friends, doesn’t mean you want to date them all.  And just because you have a new boyfriend, doesn’t mean you’ll ditch your friends.

WWE- Weekend Woman Engineer- Grace Hopper

I thought I’d start a new blog series about inspiring women in engineering.  Since I have a little more time on the weekends to do research, I’ll post these on the weekend.

On the very top of my list of – who would you like to eat dinner with, dead or alive, is Grace Hopper.  I think she was one of the coolest women of all time.  Why? Read on…

A few things we can thank Grace Hopper for…

  • Not having to program in a cryptic machine language- but actually being able to write in understandable English.  Grace developed the first computer compiler
  • Those early years when people learned to program in COBOL. Grace conceptualized and led the development of COBOL, one of the 1st computer languages
  • Every time someone says “debug” or “I’ve found a bug”, they can thank Grace.  She coined the term after finding a two inch moth in the Harvard Mark 1 experimental computer in 1945.
  • The ease at which most of us can pick up new computer programming languages due to their similarities.  Grace pioneered the implementation of standards for testing computer programming languages and systems.
  • The saying “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”- It’s one of her famous quotes.

Grace Hopper was a computer scientist and a rear admiral in the United States Navy. (She was one of the first women to be promoted to rear admiral in 1985).  She was born in 1906 and went to Vassar to receive a degree in mathematics and physics, then Yale for a masters and PhD in mathematics.

At age 34 she joined the Navy (inspired to serve her country with the outbreak of WWII) and became a programmer for the Harvard Mark 1, the  world’s first large-scale automatically sequenced digital computer. The computer was used to calculate aiming angles for Naval guns in varying weather conditions. Because the numbers were so pertinent, Hopper and her assistants were often required to run and monitor the system twenty-four hours a day.

Her years of service to the country led to a US Navy Destroyer, the USS Hopper, being named after her.

Grace won many awards, but she also has a great legacy that lives on today through scholarships in her name, and the Grace Hopper conference. I think it is one of the best technical conference for women, especially those in computer science and computer engineering.  Her legacy and impact continues to live on.

Barbie Computer Engineer coming your way!

Thanks to all who voted.

Even though computer engineering barbie as not the winner (news anchor barbie was)…Mattel is going to build computer engineering barbie for winter 2010!  details here

Barbie will be wearing a “binary code patterned tee and equipped with the latest gadgets- smart phone, blue tooth head set, and laptop.”  I’m not a fan of her leggings.  As another blogger pointed out on geek feminism, jeans would have been better.

5 Women Leaders to Follow on Twitter (or Blogs)

I’m not big into Twitter yet.  My husband is, but even he will admit it is somewhat of a time waster.  I’m not big into following celebrities and my family isn’t really on twitter (although that would cut down on the number of phone calls from my mom 🙂 )

That said, I read this earlier today and I think I might need to get on the twitter train.  At least to see some of these ladies’ thoughts.

I also appreciate that Jo points out their blogs.  I’ve now got some good ones to add to my feed.  Hopefully  you’ll enjoy them too.

Here is a repost from Jo Miller’s column on the Anita Borg Newsletter.

5 Women Tech Leaders You Should Follow on Twitter

Ever wondered where the interesting people are hiding on Twitter? Here’s some dynamic, interesting women to follow.

1. The CTO
Cisco’s Chief Technology Officer Padmasree Warrior tweets with news from Cisco and industry, daily replies to her followers and the occasional Dr Seuss quote.

Recent tweet:
In my home no two things are the same, nothing “matches” that’s what makes it cozy. In life, each different moment is the beauty
Jan 31st

2. The Business Strategist
CEO & Founder of Rubicon Consulting Nilofer Merchant is an authority on creating business strategy to win markets. A prolific user of Twitter, Merchant’s tagline is “solving toughest business problems with strategy”.

Curious — has anyone seen a company do SOCIAL as a core part of their business strategy (not as an add-on or just marketing) #ask
Feb 2nd

3. The Fashionista Technologist
Dr. Umit Yalcinalp is a former Software Architect turned Evangelist with a Ph.D. in CS, and a self-described “seasoned technologist, fashionista geek and web technology veteran”. Dr Yalcinalp’s blog is WS Dudette.

Getting ready for the Developer Meetup on for Thursday. Will be covering “Data Modeling, Queries, Feeds”. Oh my.
Feb 1st

4. The Women in Tech Expert
In her Twitter bio, ABI’s Director of Research Caroline Simard lists areas of interest including “organizational behavior, tech human and social capital, retention, diversity”. Her tweets provide a constant stream of facts and information on all the above. She co-authors a blog on Fast Company on the issues facing women in technology.

Report – companies losing out from org structures reflective of a 1960s workforce and not of today’s diverse workforce.
Jan 26th

5. The Emerging Leader
One to watch! Gail Carmichael is a PhD student in Computer Science at Carleton University, focusing on educational entertainment and augmented reality. She has a passion for encouraging girls to enjoy computer science. Carmichael blogs on The Female Perspective of Computer Science.

Blog: Game Day at Carleton University: Game Day is an annual event at Carleton University. It’s a day full of …

Shoes of Confidence

I wonder if this is a girl thing….

I just finished up a presentation I’ll be giving tomorrow morning to my General Manager and his staff.  It’s going to be contentious.  I’m speaking the truth, but there are emotionionally charged comments and face-saving words that will be hurled my way.

I’m now thinking about what shoes I’ll wear tomorrow.  You see I usually where practical shoes- cute, but comfortable wedges.  I can walk fast in them and they are closed-toe lab appropriate.  However, tomorrow I might wear heels.

Why?  Because there is a certain confidence that always comes to me when I wear heels.  Maybe it’s the click they make when I walk across the floor.  Maybe it’s the way they make me stand up straight and take deliberate steps.  Maybe it’s just the nicer clothes I’ll wear with them.  I am not exactly sure why.  I do know that when I walk down the hall towards a my meeting in those heels, I’ll feel like I can take on anyone.  I’ll already feel successful and put together.  It’s a power rush…and one I’ll need to take the world head on tomorrow in my 8am throwdown.

Stereotype Reminders

I spent Tuesday this week at my alma mater doing some recent graduate recruiting for work.  Unfortunately, it also ended up being a reminder that gender stereotypes continue to exist- even with those in college today.

The career fair lasted for 5 hours and I was talking to people non-stop.  I would guess I talked to about 75 eager job hunters.  Three people out of those seventy five assumed that I was an HR person.  They were somewhat suprised when I responded that I had graduated with a degree in electrical and computer engineering from this very school and had a very technical job at work as an engineer.

Now I’ve never been a man.  But I would venture to guess one of students approaching a guy standing in front of a technology company booth at a career fair  would not immediately assume he was with HR.  I can hope that the other 72 people I talked to thought of me as an engineer and did not immediately categorize me as probably being with HR.  But I’m really concerned that here in 2010, where women have been pushing to break down those stereotypes for over 60 years, 4% of the engineering population at a very established, highly regarded school, still verbalized the stereotype.

In fact, just last week we had a senior women’s lunch at work.  I was chatting with the most senior technical person in my division.  She mentionned that a few weeks prior she was doing interviews for an open position.  She walked into the interview room and the young man vying for the position said “hi, nice to meet you, this must be the HR interview”.  She nicely put him in his place and replied with “no this is a harder technical interview than your last one with the most senior developer on the team”. 

Just typing this takes me back to one more story.  A few years back I won a very presitigious achievement award at my company.  There were just over one hundred winners from around the company.  They flew us and our spouses to San Diego for the weekend to accept the award and party with management.  As my husband and I mingled, person after person walked up and congratulated him.  Each time he would smile and say, “no I’m just the husband, Allison won the award”.  Needless to say, there were a lot of red faces and “sorrys”.

Sometimes when I hear all the push about increasing diveristy and breaking down stereotypes I start to wonder if there is too much hype.  Maybe we’ve been talking about this all for too long.  Maybe women have gained enough of a footing in the technical space that we don’t need to keep pushing the equality.  Then I have an experience like this week and it reminds me- there has been progress, but there is still a way to go.

Looking for New Challenges Along All Coordinates

I’ve been working on a presentation for the region SWE conference on Career Management in Difficult Economic Circumstances.  One of the topic areas is around what to do when you feel bored and stuck in your job.  With the lack of promotions in the corporate world lately, and people afraid to get new jobs themselves or even retire, there are not nearly the number of “higher” positions available.

Sometimes, though you look up at your manager and your manager’s manager and think, I don’t want that job.  Either way, the question is, what do you do?

Well, you look to the side and you even look down.  I’ve made a few lateral transitions.  One of my transitions was continuing to do project management, just on a different product in a whole new business group.  I was able to use my same set of project management skills, but expand on a whole new set of technical skills.  I also got to work with new people in a new environment.  It kept me challenged and happy.

I have not personally moved down the hierarchy to find a new challenge, but I know a few people that have.  They said initially accepting the fact that they were going to be “a low run in the ladder” again was tough.  After a year, and a steep learning curve, they were each back at or above the level they were when they moved down.  Not too bad.

When you reach that stuck spot, I think there are 5 options for you:

  1. Move up (if available…though I’ve found this one can be tough as the number of openings is always smaller than where you are)
  2. Move laterally (best if you can use some skills you’ve mastered and build new ones)
  3. Move down (best for moving to entirely new area,and typically ends up with you moving up again after a year or so)
  4. Stay where you are (and convince your manager to give you some different things to work on- requires a manager who will help you out)
  5. Move out (sometimes the only option to stay happy really is to leave the company)

The key to any of the moves above is make sure you know what will make you happy and make the company money.  You need to figure out the intersection of your passions, your skills, and the business need.  When you can do that, you’ve got a nice template for the job to go after.

For me, that intersection has been project management.  I didn’t reach the conclusion on my own- I needed the help and advice of some mentors to help me see the intersection.  It has served me well for the past few years.  As my skills grow and the business need changes, I’ll need to re-asses that intersection and see if it has changed.  I think I’m about a year away from needing another change.  Better start thinking about it…