Wednesday, October 14, 2015

GHC here I come!

Having 16 m/o Ella on my lap for 4 hours in the air made me question the decision for bringing my family to the conference more than once. She was a trooper for the most part, just couldn't sleep and kept climbing all over us (sometimes over the stranger sitting next to me to). The flight didn't have any open seats to have her on a separate seat. My 6'3" husband has enough trouble fitting himself in the economy class seats which seem to keep shrinking every year, to be able to hold Ella for the duration of the flight. Although he shared both holding the screaming child and complaining about the decision to come to Houston with me.

The car rental experience and the hotel check in went well, we have a room that has a pool patio (I hope to get a chance to use it). The only hiccup was the booking agency calling me minutes before the flight and saying that the hotel is going to cancel my reservation since the credit card had expired. Texas has a promising food scene, which we got a chance to sample last night and I am planning to be enjoying for the rest of the trip.

The keynote is just in an hour, so it is time to get ready and out there! I am really excited about the conference and the people I will get a chance to meet here, yet a little skeptical about the size of it! 12000 attendees. There is no typo, that is twelve thousand!!

Google sent about 1500 people, Apple about 300, and Microsoft about 800. Becides all the corporate representations I hope smaller companies and independent techies from the industry got a chance to come in. Wish you a good day, and it's time now to get ready an out there!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cards we are dealt

Last week I had a chance to listen to an inspiring panel of Armenian Women in Leadership. All the speakers were great inspiration: self-made success stories, mothers, wives, captivating speakers and leaders of the community.

Instead of asking the beaten question "Evaluate your [success/looks/happiness/...] on scale 1 to 10, one of the panelists proposed an alternative question: "Evaluate the cards you have been dealt from scale 1 to 10 and what you have done with those cards".

Everyone had different ideas, and this is more of a philosophical question, since cards you have been dealt made you who you are. I keep reiterating this question, trying to find answer to it for myself. It is easier to evaluate what I have done with cards I have been dealt (8/10) than what cards I got.


I am still looking for the answer to the question about the cards. How about you? What cards have you been dealt and what did you do with them?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Maternity leave and returning to work in tech [in Bay Area]

I started writing a post with this title many months ago, when the memories of hardships of returning to work with a 12 week old baby were fresher and long before Netflix announced the updates to parental leave.

The ultimate question of balancing (Image: Huffington Post)

draft from March, 2015

Disclaimer: Let me start with the statement, I love my job! This goal of this passage is not way to prove otherwise or advertise my employer in any way.

Some months ago I found out that I was pregnant, something we had been hoping and praying for for many years. From that moment on the life got much more beautiful and meaningful. I was very fortunate to have a job I really liked, profession of Software Engineer which wasn't physically demanding. And it wasn't until the last few months that I started feeling how pregnancy affected my work, or rather how working on fast-paced environment started affecting me. Naturally, during the last month sitting through a two hour meeting without using a bathroom break was next to impossible, I was also struggling to find a comfortable sitting position at my standing desk, since standing was no longer an option. Once, on my eight month I needed to re-wire some of automation machines in the lab, I squatted and set on the floor bent under one of the lab desks, and was unable to stand back up. I stayed sitting on the floor until a coworker eventually walked in to the lab and helped me get up, and finished connecting my machines. (He is a father of two toddlers so my situation didn't shock him too much).

I was looking forward to maternity leave as a time to relax, read and dream about the arrival of the little one. At the same time,  I was confident that I will end up calling work or even going in out of boredom, after all I hadn't been without a place to go to every morning since I started school at 6 years of age. The reality ended up being somewhat different: I did catch up on the baby literature that was considered as absolutely "have to read", cleaned and scrubbed the place when the "nesting syndrome" really kicked in - but I didn't miss work. I didn't miss being at work at all. I was so uncomfortable at the end, finding no good position to sleep, sit or stand and so sleep-deprived that I spent the last week on the sofa watching Netflix, and also eating chocolate croissants for breakfast, lunch and diner. The later I regretted pretty soon ;)

When the little one was born, as excepted of a new parent, I was overjoyed and ecstatic, feeling really tired at all time simultaneously. Breastfeeding my baby exclusively until her 6-month birthday became my number one goal in life, casting all the rest of life objectives to shadows. I can't quite recall the details of those days, everything seems like a dream that was happening to someone else.

I had committed to returning to work by Ella's 3 month birthday, and had my mind set to it. That's what I did and found the transition much harder than I expected. Naturally, I am forever grateful to my parents and in-laws for their support in that difficult time. Being away from the baby proved to be hard, not having a set schedule and at times having to leave the office past 7 pm was devastating. The most challenging part of the experience was pumping: several times a day between meetings, discussions, ad-hoc code reviews. One day I might write a memoir on pumping wars, since booking the designated pumping rooms at certain times was exceptionally hard, leaving new moms to struggle and fight for the "prime" slots.

I was quite fortunate that California requires employers providing designated pumping spaces for new moms, my coworkers in Michigan were only given access to using the shared bathroom!

For a while I wasn't able to give 100% because of time restrictions and certainly because of the pumping breaks. Once there was an  incident of debugging a problem with coworker for half an hour which needed to be interrupted because of the "pumping time" (since I couldn't possibly book the room again for any other time that day), and then I couldn't find him and was interrupted for the same reason the next day. I felt embarrassed trying to explain to my all male team reasons I needed to take break from an important discussion.

Looking back I would not have returned to work so soon if I was to do it again and had a choice not to.

August 2015 update

My employer (Netflix) recently announced a pioneered approach to paternal leave laws. According to the announcement new parents, both moms and dads, will have the option to take up one one year of paid time off. Alternatively parents can arrange working flexible hours, working from home, etc. This announcement is groundbreaking not only because it gives flexibility and paid time off to new moms, but also since it gives the absolutely same benefits to new dads. Both biological and adoptive parents are entitled to take advantage of it. This is already raising a new wave for companies offering better leave options to new parents: Microsoft announced extended parental leave later same week.

This is great new for new parents at Netflix and those employed by other tech companies in Bay Area and Seattle. At this time companies trying to recruit top talent, should start considering paid parental leave along with other perks; e.g. free haircuts, on-site gym and ping-pong tables.

I am hoping that this announcement will be first among many, to set the course for congress to rule providing paid parental leave and job security to all salaried employees.

In this post I focused on companies in tech sector, which is one of the most flexible and tolerant areas of employment. Many moms these days don't even have the luxury of job security, let alone paid leave that company would give for at least a few weeks. I am truly hopeful that positive change is on the way.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Becoming more productive on a busy schedule

Today I am going to try my take on the million dollar question "How to become more productive at work and life? Juggling career, kids, marriage, continuous learning, relationships and enjoyment". Due to the inflation of US dollar the million dollar question has now surged into billion dollar range.

The overwhelming number of resources tell us about super-successful superheros, who seamlessly work a demanding job committing 50+ hours weekly, at the same time train for a half-marathon, have 3 children and 2 dogs, volunteer at the local charity, bake the best cakes in the neighborhood and are about to publish their second fiction novel. This list goes on and on.

By no means I claim being one of these superhumans, and in fact I am very far from reaching the status of one. After working a typical intensive day at the office, picking up my 1 year old daughter from daycare and cooking dinner and her meal from next day, usually all I want to do is watch Netflix for the next hour before going to bed. Yet, I sometimes end up needing to catch up on some work after my daughter to bed, and if the day calls for a special occasion my husband and I will have real conversation at the dinner table, instead of eating in front of the TV while answering emails. On typical weekday I am too tired to go out and socialize, but I am thriving to improve changing one bad habit at the time.

Some several small changes in my daily routine made a big difference for me, especially after becoming a parent. Here are some of the tips that are helpful for me, and I will encourage you to try:

1. Focus: Don't multitask, focus only on the task at hand.  

I am extremely bad at multitasking. However the expectations in today's workplace is that you should be able to juggle 3 projects at the same time. When you are trying to create paradigms and ideas, or even improving current features on 3 different projects, these ideas somehow blend into one and becomes tangled. It takes lots of unnecessary time and effort trying to untangle the mess and try to do something for half and hour only to discover you need to switch again. A good example of this is having 3 work meetings that have 30 minutes in between. That half an hour is wasted time.

The minimum amount of time I would commit working on one project is 4 hours or half a work day, usually morning till lunch or lunch until leaving office.

2. Have a list of goals

Having a clear list of goal for the week on Monday helps set priorities and realistic expectations for the rest of the week. I go into creating daily TODO lists, this effort also helps to reflect at the end of the week, month or quarter on all the things that were successful and not so successful.

I have a healthy obsession with Microsoft OneNote saving and syncing my lists on OneDrive. It is very convenient since the consistent syncing allows to stay on top of things across different laptops and tablets.

3. Limit social/time consuming apps from phone/tablet

Each of us have our own obsessions, be that daily deals on Groupon, daily email newsletter from your community, Facebook/Twitter notifications, or Pinterest shares. Each new app I install from Iphone store, requests permissions to send notifications. In the result, phone is constantly buzzing, distracting you from meetings or focused work sessions. This also has a cascading effect similar to sneezing, once someone pulls their phone out during the meeting to check something unimportant, everyone else starts checking their phones for even less important news.

The best thing I have done was uninstalling Facebook from my phone. This dramatically decreased the temptation to randomly check the phone for interactive unimportant information. I still check Facebook several times daily from the desktop, this helps Facebook algorithms filter the feed to less entries that are more relevant versus checking every 5 minutes.

4. Start the day early

Never before I could have been considered as an early bird, my typical day at the office would start at around 10 in the morning and continue past 6:30 in the evening. I remember occasions of complaining to coworkers for scheduling a super early 9:30 am meeting. I would usually wake up around 8:30 am, shower, have a nice glass of coffee and drive to work. Waking up late used to mean time being past 10 am.

However with the necessity to work around the daycare schedule which requires picking up children by 6 pm things had to change. Now I typically arrive to office within 15 minutes of 8:30 depending on the traffic. Waking up late means waking up at 7:30. Our morning TODO list has grown exponentially, requiring getting my daughter fed and ready for day at her daycare. The early mornings before summer heat becomes intolerable motivate me to go on a run, I am trying to find my best routine to get better at this. (Power of habit). Having the time limit to leave by 5 pm makes me much more productive. I know I can't procrastinate.

Besides the benefit of being more energetic and goal oriented, the 1,5 hours in the office before everyone gets in are invaluable. I get to check my email, and complete the task I had spent last evening on.

5. Have a reliable support system

Occasionally there is a meeting that will run past 5 pm, or the feeling of *being in the zone* to finish a project. Many programmers will relate to this, the feeling that you need to finish your task, that everything is in the right place to do it, otherwise it will take you many hours to get back in that mode the next day.

Last night was such a day, I had a deadline that wasn't too close, yet I felt *in the zone* to finish a major infrastructure piece, so I asked my husband to pick up Ella. I left the office at 7 pm, tired but happy and accomplished.

6. Don't sweat the small stuff

There are always distraction that come into place, your phone beeping ones in half an hour with Facebook messages from friends trying to decide where to meet up, emails about choosing the bakery or gifts for your child's birthday party, reminder to call your aunt for her birthday. All these are very tempting to get overwhelmed about, just to read your email, to make the call, confirm reservation with the rental company. At any time a coworker my stop by to ask how your weekend was and tell you all about his time on the cruise vacation. Yet, your precious momentum is lost and it will take a long time to recover.

Turn off the notification on your phone for personal email, add a calendar entry at 8 pm to call your aunt and deal with contractor emails at that time. Your coworker will understand when you tell him it will be awesome to catch up on lunch, yet you can't right now.

7. Take time to refresh

One of the bad habits I developed after being time restricted on when to leave work was eating lunch at my desk. It seems very efficient at first, since there is an extra 30-60 minutes to get more done and allowed less temptation to cheat on my diet. However I ended up spending the time get distracted on reading the news and checking out your friend's vacations pictures on Facebook, yet overall it decreased my effectiveness. I am now committed to eating lunch with my team at least twice a week, which is the ideal place to chat about something very random and exciting, like a trip to Iceland or climbing Mt Shasta (which motivates me to be more effective at work and start planning my next vacation), it is also ideal environment to bounce some ideas, and get feedback on what you spent last 2 hours stuck on.

This applies to taking time off internet at night, not checking your email while in bed first thing in the morning, and being able to relax on vacation without checking your work email for entire week. You will be surprised how much more refreshed you start feeling in the short amount of time.

I highly recommend "Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg, identifying one thing that you want to improve and making small changes to reach your goal.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Executive Presence from the lens of an engineer

Recently an experienced friend recommended me to read "Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success" by Silvia Ann Hewlett. I just finished reading it few days ago, and while some of the strategies in the book are universally applicable, I believe most of the advice does not apply in today's technology scene with exception of several industry giants. Since my career aspirations are to stay in startup or at most midsize company environment and create great things, instead of worrying about raising the career ladder some of the best advice won't apply, ever.

The main areas the books suggests to work on, summarized in one of Amazon review are:

• Gravitas (How you act) - you can master it, get a sponsor, hire an executive coach
• Communication (How you speak) - seek for feedback, record yourself and listen to you speak, hire a speech consultant
• Appearance (How you look) - lose weight if you are overweight, wear makeup if you are a woman, and dress for the position you want, not the one you have now

The most important aspect of one's EP is the gravitas - how you can take charge of your audience and keep people engaged. How you can change your actions and communication to portray more confidence, such as standing tall, using wide gestures, getting rid of your foreign accent (unless it is British).

Regarding the communication skills, best advice in the book is to improve public speaking skills, and get rid of empty phrases, e.g. "like", "just", "i mean". This reminds me of a great article on the word just in particular. Apparently best advice for women's career success on appearance is to wear high hills, always look polished, lose excess weight and wear makeup to look credible. Doesn't it sound sexist?

Examples in this book and most of similar leadership books are mid-level managers in large corporations, and based on the context I found myself thinking that for successful career these people don't need to perform actual work as much, but smile wide for the right audiences and mingle with the right people.

One of the key words was getting a sponsor in the company to help you grow, sponsor is your superior in the company who has an interest in seeing you succeed. I am pretty sure going to somebody and asking "Would you be my sponsor?" will not work too well, and have no clue, but would very much like to learn, how you actually get one.

The most amusing part of the read is the advice to ask your management to pay for your leadership coach, I can see me trying to explain this to manager, and his confused face trying to figure out what exactly is wrong with me.

So hereby I present my plan of action, a takeaway:

  1. Improve my accent, take a class or use a recorder
  2. Actively seek for public speaking opportunities
  3. Proactively ask for constructive feedback after presentations and speeches (and always)
  4. Wear a lot of makeup (just kidding)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Guess who's speaking at GHC this year?

This year I am planning to go to Grace Hopper Celebration conference. As I am writing this post, I have confirmed my attendance and registered for the conference as a speaker. Registration is now open and likely to sell out. I had been hoping to attend for many years, ever since I first heard of it at University of Michigan back in 2006, but every year there was either some other pressing priority, or no sponsorship offered to attend the conference. Well, guess what, my proposal has been accepted and I will be co-hosting a workshop session! I am hoping some of the readers of this blog will be able to attend my session called "A fine line - balancing motherhood and career". It will be quite useful for working moms, and especially women planning for motherhood and not knowing what changes to expect in the work front.

I had made another paper submission this year about the cutting edge topic of continuous deployment that tech industry is trending about and every company wants to adopt. My paper illustrated different approaches and what we use at Netflix. Well, that proposal did not pass, and the one about balancing career and motherhood did. I understand that is much more relevant to well almost all the attendees of the conference who are moms or are planning to become moms.

So, wait for me Texas in October 2015! Hope to see you at GHC 2015!

Monday, June 1, 2015

My experience of Google I/O 2015

Today is the registration for Google I/O, and one the affiliated organizations invited me for dinner, that I am really looking forward to. I am staying in Park 55 Hilton hotel at San Francisco right next to Union Square and about 5-10 minutes walk away from Moscone center. This year keynote access is assigned based on the time of your registration, which opened at 9AM today, so getting to San Francisco early was definitely a good idea. An awesome coworker drove from Los Gatos to Downtown SF and I snitched a ride. We made it in time to sign up for the keynote, and got a few goodies, a water bottle and a shirt. For some reason registration staff really wanted to take our pictures with the little Android guy and I/O sign, so we let them do that. 

Made it to the hotel, and got an awesome upgrade to a view with spectacular view on San Francisco. After a bit of shopping I am back to catch up on some work. Afterwards Women Techmaker's dinner at a great restaruant with amazing company.

Keynote day... the line has been standing from 7:30. Keynote access was already assigned the day before but a lot of people went and stood in line to get a good seat. I arrived at 9:20 for the 9:30 kickoff of the keynote. It was the right decision, skipped the line yet got in for a seat (towards the back). Everything was visible in all the N screens around. The overall energy in the room was inspiring, with so many Google enthusiasts in the room. I am really excited about photo sharing update and free unlimited photo storage online.

At the end of the day I got the opportunity to meet with Systers - who were the main reason I ended up attending the Google I/O, and who I am very thankful to for the helpful advice and great-great opportunity to meet like-minded women.
Some of the sessions after the keynote were interesting, but most didn't really apply to me. Some sessions were very high level such as "Monetizing your App", "Material Now". For some of the test sessions I was most excited about there was no way to squeeze in, because of overwhelming number of interested people and very few available bean bugs (and the people who occupied those were never leaving there "rooms").

The day started with receiving the Nexus 9 - giveaway of the year, that my husband is very excited about. I got a chance to check out Android auto which is soo promising, as well as 360 degree camera.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Yet Another Fitness Tracker review

Few months ago I gathered my courage and signed up for a 5K run in San Francisco. I will be posting more about how it went in about a week. The run is girly and silly, it's not by any means a hardcore competition - up to the point were participants are given tutus to run in with registration. And I am actually planning to run wearing a tutu... So I am by no means a serious runner, here is my official confession that I haven't regularly exercised in nearly two years.

The run was a good motivation to get moving. But what is the point of running if you can't measure it by ten different parameters? As a reasonable geek, the workouts, especially runs seem dull and pointless to me if I can't pinpoint a number.. that being steps run, distance passed, calories burned, maximum hearth rate reached, and some other not entirely accurate information presented in numbers.

Therefore, before even starting to train I went to look for a new fitness tracker. I had previously had an  Up fitness tracker by Jawbone that I was reasonably happy with for a few months. Until the time it started to incorrectly count the steps and shut down sporadically without any warnings. I gave up on it after shutdowns started happening every day, multiple times a day.

When Apple watch was announced I was reasonably excited about it, expecting to fall in love with it from the first glance (the feeling I had for iPad). From the very beginning I was convinced that I was going to by the cheapest model - Sports edition, because Gold edition is for very rich people who I will not understand (no offense if you are reading this post from a over 10K worth iWatch), the intermediate model also seemed really overpriced, paying extra few hundred dollars for a strap sounds too much. I also wanted the bigger screen size 42" to give me more real estate for watching Netflix (kidding, kidding). But I really wanted the larger screen. So I finally got to try it, and really didn't like it, especially the Sports edition. The way the band and buckle fit are just awkward (band sort of goes under itself, pinching you every time). The intermediate edition I liked was $700 before tax which seemed like too much.

After some more research I ordered Pulse Ox by Withings from Best Buy. First and foremost because I love their scale and app that comes with it, allowing me to track my weight changes overtime. (I especially enjoy the tracking when the weight chart goes down, not so much when it goes up). Secondly, a coworker who is hardcore runner and backpacker, recommended it, especially stressing that the battery only needs to be charge once every 2 weeks. Online reviews warned that it is very sensitive to water, if you happen to get some sweat during the workout or even few drops when washing your hands it gets fried. Therefore, I got Best Buy's incidental insurance ($29) and ordered the band for $120.

So far, I have had it for 3 days and absolutely I hate it! The band appeared nice until it broke within first half an hour of wearing. It broke irreversibly second time later that day. I am down to wearing it with the clip. One of the features it is advertised for is sleep tracking if you sleep with it around your wrist. Well that is a dangerous plan and you are sure to scratch your face and other body parts if you move your arm when you sleep, I took it off after first 5 minutes in bed. The band also has hearth rate monitor, for which to work you need to take if out of the clip/strap navigate to correct menu item and old hold against your finger. Something you are not going to do when running.

I haven't returned O2 yet, but I will soon. Please share your experience if you have better luck with other products.

Update 5/31
The run was a great experience. I survived it at 40 minutes, with about 12 minutes per mile. And here is the self-incriminating photo promise.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Microsoft girl going to Google I/O

Wow, it has been over a year since my last post. I hereby promise to post *much* more frequently. My life has changed dramatically in this time, and I constantly felt the need to blog about so many things, the difficulty of choosing the most pressing topic to write about and the time to write about them. In one sentence summary of the changes: today I am proud mom of 11 moths old Ella, trying my best to best split my time between my family and the job I love – building things and breaking things.

Now focusing on my upcoming trip to Google I/O... 
I have been a Microsoft girl for a very long time. Even when I complained about not planning to use Visual Studio few years ago, I ended up going back to it (I know), and building the test infrastructure and automation frameworks of Netflix on Windows phone 8.1 in C#. In the last few months I am focused on building test framework (from scratch again!) for Netflix app on Windows X coming this summer. Since Microsoft is changing directions, and the native apps don't have to be written in .Net anymore, and they also promise easy conversion from Apple and Android apps to Windows, it is tempting to forgo .Net. That is what I am doing and using Javascript and Node for building the framework. In this world I switched away from Visual Studio to Sublime. Have to admit, I miss the debugging utilities of VS.

Back to my excitement, Google I/O ( is one of the most popular developer conferences, that gets sold out in minutes and offered a lottery system this year to buy tickets. A group I am member of, offered me to participate last month. Of course I said yes. I am going to learn a ton about Google products, GO language and maybe their approaches on large scale deployments and designing automation frameworks. Coming up June 28-29, in San Francisco. Any topics or sessions that you think is not to be missed?