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ohhh, taxonomy, how I love thee… May 14, 2008

Posted by andrea in thinky thinky.
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shall I compare thee to a….okay, enough. But you get the point. I spent a hour with a company doing crazy, CRAZY, text mining in really cool ways. I’m going to their conference, so hopefully more pointy-headed insights will come.

I sometimes think that I would be very happy sitting in some dusty warren of an attic, cataloging and cross-referencing until my fingers bled and my brain simply exploded from the content relationships it wanted to make.

There’s taxonomy, and its revolutionary backlash, the folksonomy. And the pendulum swings back, where a balance between the two seems like it will work. I think though that the Holy Grail of content is something akin to a synaptic firing of electrical impulses to make connections. It will never be completely machine-driven, but moving the humans from task-drudgery (entering imposed naming conventions, say) to the leap-of-mind connections that a machine couldn’t do.

I’m geeked out. I’d love to write and write and write about this, but the aforementioned synaptic firing/cohesion hasn’t happened yet in my own brain…

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parents + computers = me, ashamed August 2, 2007

Posted by andrea in ephemera, thinky thinky.
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So, as the “computer” person in the fam, my dad often requests that I help him with his laptop (which I gave him 2 years ago), ’cause it won’t do what he wants. Usually, I spend the weekend archiving everything, wiping the drive, and re-installing Windows XP, then setting everything up again.

This time, I totally lost it on him. Admittedly, he doesn’t understand the nuances of how Microsoft and Google are actual competitor, and so how Google docs really will not work with Outlook (which I’ve told him NEVER to use…and the whole rabbit-hole of CRAP went on from there).

But: me, yelling, trying not to cry out of frustration – totally uncalled for. To those who work in tech support, I bow down, I couldn’t do it, seriously.

So, what do I do? I thought of getting him a Mac (hard to f-up), but he deals with PC-based clients. Maybe he needs an admin service? My lifesaver has been emptytray.com, but they’re focused on accounting and stuff like that. Would they take on someone like him?

I absolutely love my dad, he’s a great person to talk to about strategy and and clients and getting by in business. He just does NOT get the digital world…or organization/categorization, which is basically, what I do.

I bought him a whole bunch of the peanuts from the St. Lawrence Market that he really likes, as a peace offering. I wish I could include a person to manhandle his computer in with them. 🙂

Chicks in tech May 31, 2007

Posted by andrea in thinky thinky.
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Disclaimer: events, descriptions and ideas referred to herein are not meant to be a diatribe against the great men I work with…mostly. 😉 It’s not about you, it’s about our work-culture. Oh, and don’t dismiss it as over-sensitivity (or the ever-unspoken female cycle) either. That really gets me.

1999, dot-com boom. I joined a project team, and went into the meeting room for the first time. The client (young guy, mid-20’s) gasps and says “this is the first time we’ve had a lady on the team!”. Me: utterly gob-smacked, blush, don’t know what to say. No one says anything. I start my presentation, pitching my voice as low as possible.

2002, KPWGMED, major project in Boston. Technical architect (early 30’s, male) and I have been having discussions about an aspect of our project, quite technical in nature. I offer a suggestion on what we could maybe do, and he turns on me, yelling and pointing his finger “you will not ever talk to me like that! I make the rules! Shut up!” (literally seared into my memory). Again, I have no idea what to say.

Two of many examples where I personally feel really dumb for even trying to bang on the door of the boys’ treehouse club. I know I’m not alone. Every woman I talk to in this, or a related, field has their own “oh wait you gotta hear this!” story. Times being referred to as ‘the girl’, stuff like that.

It’s enough to drive you to a margarita and a manicure. 😉

There’s enough of us out there, now. I’m encouraged by things like Toronto Girl Geek Dinners, and by all the awesome women I know, all who are bringing something to the table.

The proverbial glass ceiling. We’re supposed to believe it doesn’t exist still, but it does. And I don’t put any blame on “who” is responsible for it – it’s just the way it’s always been.

Money: hard to ask for it, or even to believe we expect it, or a raise, or a promotion. It’s like being the tall-poppy…”who do you think you are?”. When I was much more used to “please sir, can I have some more?” My fear was always that if I asked for a raise, then not only would I not get it, but they’d take away what they were already paying me. Crazy.

Pride and Confidence (no, not Jane Austen 2.0): which for me, has been so closely related to bragging. And no one likes a braggart. But tons of braggarts fill the corner offices all over Toronto.

An interesting discussion from dinner with friends last night, where we talked about the “good guy” phenomenon. How you can work your ass off, and produce really really good work; while the slack guy (you know, the one at the pub) gets promoted ’cause he’s, well, a “good guy”. In this case, it’s not so much squeaky wheel gets the grease, it’s greasy wheel makes the machine go faster, I guess.

I apologize (no I don’t) – this post has no real point, no beginning, end, or major arguments to make. Just meandering thoughts…kind of like today, when I wondered how club DJs get gigs. Do they do resumes, reels, bring in sales figures (door take, number of patrons, for example), rely on a network? A lot of DJs are guys, too. What does a female DJ do, if success is based on a network, and not results?

title, schmitle May 5, 2007

Posted by andrea in thinky thinky.
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Back in tha’ day, I was very in awe of this dude that I worked with..totally smart, and well-read, and cynical. And liked to yap, over beer, which is when I became even more cowed…until I had had enough beer, and then I’d yap on, too. Like when you’re drunk, and know a few words of a foreign language, and try to converse in it, like you’re a native speaker? Like that.

Anyway, it’s taken me a few years, but I think I caught up to his ideas…ones that he had years ago. Gah.

To wit:
job titles are stupid.

Why? Because so many people want a better title – and what does it mean? Account Manager/Supervisor/Director. What’s the difference – besides salary, which is the hugest secret EVER, in companies.

When you go to a new company, though, you want the better title. True, true. It brings a better salary, definitely. My sister-in-law is grappling with this issue right now.

A title is a way of asserting dominance, through acquisition. Like taking over a company, sort of. My title is “such and such” so automatically we all assume the level appropriate to that title.

I was asked by a really great, smart woman who I sat down for coffee with, and we just blurted out the truth to each other: (her) “I can’t offer you a title, but I’d like you onboard” (me): “I don’t give a shit about a title…I got the best one possible…owner/president/CEO (um, of me)…I just want to do some great work, and you guys are all about that.”

Which is why I really loved the KWPFDT, whatever company consulting firm. All our biz cards just stated our name and contact info. Which is the most important thing…how to reach us. I understand the ceremony of business cards, and taking them with two hands, as a sign of respect. That’s nice, that immediate assumption of respect – you have trust, and it’s up to you to keep that up.

However, titles don’t mean shit to me. Not anymore at least. Mine now is “that girl who does requirements, and information architecture, and is really concerned with the ‘right way to engage people’, and she’s kind of a hard-ass, and doesn’t suffer fools”.

I used to be about titles…back in the same day. Becoming a SENIOR information architect meant so much to me. I had started off at this company as a PM, and oh boy I was shitty at it. Seriously. I spent way too much time thinking about the site, and its organization, and how people would approach it. And couldn’t make heads or tails of a Gantt sheet. So I mentioned to my then DIRECTOR (why was he director? he was older, and came from the military) that this was what I wanted to do, nay, meant for. I finally got a business card that said “information architect” (after having to fight the entire company on what the name should be). But that “title” doesn’t confer role, function, or purpose.

time went on, and the company grew (dot.com boom circa 1999) and more people were brought in, to do what I did. I didn’t get to meet them…’cause I didn’t have the title to see whether they’d be good in the little practice I was hoping to build. They hired three: one of them became a friend who I respect dearly. But because of the nature of the growth, they hired some other people. And, as it eventually does, with one of them, his salary came to light. More than any of us were making. so they made me a “senior” information architect (throw a title as a bone)…and split the company into “pods”. I told my dad about it, and his first question was “is there a military guy there?” Um, yes. His response: “they’re turning you into platoons, to be outsourced.” Then came the IBM guys, the ones who thrive on titles, and the ones who have very little actual knowledge.

dot-com crash: we did nothing for a long while…played Bejeweled, and had long lunches. And the atmosphere was poisonous, and divisive. And created a lot of us-vs-them, between the “pods”.

It made me cry, a lot. Because I was caught up in it…the title search. And I didn’t have the maturity, or distance, to take to heart what my friend was all about. So I went to Morocco, for three weeks. Got my human-ness back, came back, and quit.

And encontered another “title search”…solely based (well, kind of) on performance. And I got the title, but it didn’t fit…because it wasn’t me. And I left again, to go to “client side” which turned out to be worse. They timed my bathroom breaks. Enough said.

So, this is where I am. And I get asked a lot, when I contract, whether I would “drink the Kool-Aid” and go full-time. It’s tempting, but I know me, finally, and I’m best as a “gun for hire”, like Clint Eastwood, I guess. I do the work, I strive for the best possible, wherever I am, but I just can’t buy in, like a really good full-time employee would. When I think about full-time, I get the jitters…like a commitment-phobe towards marriage (That I’m not. I met my now-husband, and got engaged, in two days…and yes, it’s awesome, after 4 years). A buddy of mine said “you’re a rolling stone, baby”, so that’s what I am. It’s not all of me, but where I want to go.

I like it. I boot around, and I never welsh on a deal, or (knowingly) fuck someone over. My name, and ability to get hired again, is the only performance review I have, which is good.

Who knew a little suburban bad-ass teenage girl, hating the world, and authority, could find a place? Wow.

info-ADDict April 11, 2007

Posted by andrea in ephemera, thinky thinky.
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I just read an article that really made sense to me…that information gives us a lot of things, but also takes our concentration away. That our brains aren’t that plastic to deal with all the stuff coming in. Again, I reference Bobby who said to me “could you work in a space with other people? Since you have to think so much?” If I would, NOT could – I “could” shut off everything, and work, but I haven’t yet – then yes. And I did today.

1993: Small story (and this is before *my* Internet, and Flickr, and Facebook, and Gmail): I was on a cargo ship to Africa, with my then-best friend. Every night, while trying to sleep, I couldn’t. Too much information in my head, but none of it linked – just random bits, all over the place – visual, word images, thoughts, reading I hadn’t done. I remember saying to her (and writing in my so-called “journal”) that I was overloaded, and tired – there was too much to know, to learn. And my brain held photo colour-correction formulas, and shot-analyses of what I was seeing in real life. Jesus.

Ahhh, Africa time. Where your goal for the day can be: buy a train ticket, OR get money out of the bank. Not both. Freedom. Simple goals: shelter, water, then food. Then maybe hanging out with people, or going out, or reading. Possibly, even, a shower! I remember hitting Nairobi after months and shaving my legs…absolute heaven.

1995: I had worked all night, producing a major print campaign for some mutual fund company. I came home, sat down on the couch, and the president called me back to fix something. Went into my room, undid my ponytail, brushed my hair, and re-did it. It looked terrible (as did I). So I said (honestly) out loud, “apple-Z” the command for undo. No go.

1997: I could tell anyone, even being woken out of a deep sleep on threat of losing my job (true, sadly), the entire SKU list of the tires for sale in the NFLD version of the Canadian Tire flyer, and their prices. Of course, I drank a lot to combat that affliction. 🙂

1998-2006: I won’t even go there. I hold a stupid amount of esoteric information in my head that has no business being there. I could be so much more interesting if I didn’t know the exact process an insurance policy document goes through, or the various permutations of how an airline ticket is priced.

Now: Facebook, blogs, multiple email addresses to keep checking, the latest whatever…and that’s only online stuff. The real world? Groceries, bills to pay, dogs to take care of, relationships to care for…

It’s no wonder that I have a hard time concentrating – it’s not the renovations, it’s me. How ironic I’m blogging about it. My concentration needs caring for, too, it seems.

Today I visited a friend, and I was supposed to call her before I showed up, but I forgot my ‘berry (leash, chain, etc.). So I just showed up. Saw another friend who was on her way out, and then I went in. My friend totally apologized for not being ready, but I was supposed to call, so honestly, it was my fault. I explained about my lack of connectivity, and her colleague smiled and said “ahhh, freedom”. And I liked just sitting waiting. I thought I should probably pull out my laptop and ask for a wireless connection, but then I thought “wtf?” and continued to just sit. And have this lovely soft random moment…of nothing. It was fantastic.

I definitely should do more of that. And visit with friends in real life more often, as opposed to typing to them. Maybe try an entire conversation – like my friend and I had tonight. It’s a start. I am hopeful.

(dis)employment March 15, 2007

Posted by andrea in thinky thinky.
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I read a lot about how web dev shops (I’m sure among many industries) don’t get it, how workers are marginalized, turned into cogs in a wheel (yeah, I know my Marx). I totally get it. I, too, was like that. Working crazy long hours, dealing with difficult clients, no support from higher-ups, being billable is king, etc. I worked for a Big 5, in the US, no less – where shitting on people as you rise up is your God-given right, ’cause that’s what you had to endure. Quid pro quo.

I think there’s two problems: expecting that a company who touts innovation as their goal should have “employees”, and that “the talent” should expect some kind of loyalty to them.

Loyalty: in friends, and family it’s a wonderful thing. Sticking up for people who have nothing to gain or prove.

Employees: those beholden to the place that pays them regularly, to show up at an assigned time, and be there, even if they aren’t providing “value”.

We used to have a joke at KDEWPAG – “hey, it’s only 8:30, and I’ve provided value! Can I go home now?”

The monumental shift is in not thinking of yourself as an employee “one of the family”, but as someone who has intelligence, knowledge, and experience that they can sell. As a service. I don’t mean it to sound crass like people are rated on square-footage, but there is a certain price that companies are willing to pay for knowledge, and NOT have to pay for benefits, and vacation, and sick leave.

Loyalty to a company is dead, as I see it. Re-making mission statements, and company values, and all that kind of crap rings hollow to me. But I’m an extreme version of a non-joiner. Forcing camaraderie and cohesiveness never worked on me. Which is not to say I’m not a team player, I thrive on working with other people, trading ideas and making each other better. But I feel it when we’re actually doing the work, not when we’re talking about how we’re all a team.

So, having worked in various companies as an employee I used to be one of the instigators of “more autonomy” (bosses always hated me :-)). Now, as a contractor, I’ve pretty much separated my work from my being. Pay me to be there, I will be. Do I go the extra mile? Definitely. Will I help to solve client issues? Yes. Do I care about the work that I do? A thousand times yes. Do I give my best to whatever contract work I have? More than my best – if I don’t, I’ll know, and feel guilty about it. I can’t help it – I’ve never been able to phone it in.

Do I want a job title, and promises of “where you could be in 5 years?”. No. I don’t care about “the industry” and becoming “famous” (or infamous) as you’d have it. I love what I do, I’ve had the excellent fortune to work with some of the brightest people ever, and I’ve learned a lot as I go. I hope to continue doing that. But not at the expense of handing over my life. I have the best title ever…owner. So VP or Director or Manager doesn’t mean much, and the only thing I would do with people I had to “manage” would be to encourage them to leave, get out…and find their own worth, on their own terms.

Ach, what do I know? I’m just trying to keep it going…to avoid getting a real job for as long as possible (thanks for the quote, Bobby).