Category: work

My very first TED conference

Over the past few months, I’ve started multiple drafts to explain why I joined TED and how much I value the organization’s mission, but never had time to finish writing a complete post. Suddenly, it’s already a year later, and here I am after attending my first TED conference ever.

I am fascinated by how connections happen via technology and art, and I’ve always been inspired by TED’s work to spread important and beautiful ideas around the world. TED is headquartered in New York City, and as a company it is over 200 people small. It’s daunting how quickly we have grown, and there are always whispers of cultural change within any rapidly-growing organization. But what I see is opportunity: we all joined TED because we believe in the possibility of ideas to change an individual, an organization, a world.

Being present at TED2017 last week was a thrilling journey. Over 1900 people attended this year. I love being a part of TED’s tech team (read about some of our mobile app work, how we stay connected as a distributed team, and how we use technology for concierge-style communication and support). I posted up at my daily shifts at the built-by-TED-tech-team TED logo booth. When approached for suggestions, I dutifully gave multiple options for the best poses (see below). “Very applicable,” responded the 6’2″ guy when I said that some people like to pose in the space between the T and the E. “So easy,” said the group when I jokingly suggested yoga poses or the splits while J. photobombed me. Nothing is impossible, you know.

I was lucky enough to see (and be a part of) all the work and sweat and tears that went into the preparation for the conference. Sometimes the dialogue that happens at these types of conferences and events that have been happening for over a decade goes something like this: “Oh, I remember ten years ago when the conference was better because _____ and _____ and _____.” Often people like to reminisce about the good old days: when things were not “overproduced” and maybe therefore more authentic. While it is certainly true that things at TED have evolved and inevitable that things will be different from year to year, I can only speak from my own little tiny perspective of someone attending for the first time.

A recurring thought that many conference attendees shared with me: everyone felt that the people attending the conference were open, honest, and non-judgmental. While I was working all week and did not have a chance to attend all of the sessions, just being in the presence of the energy of ideas made me feel more optimistic about the future. Elon Musk closed his interview with: “I’m not trying to be anyone’s savior. I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.” We need to save our planet, we need to build a future we want the next generation to be proud of.

As I walked the Vancouver Convention Center’s outer loop hundreds of times, I was amazed by the surprise and delight that occurred throughout the week (including watching sessions from a huge jungle gym, handing out (and eating) handmade maple bacon chocolate bars, becoming a Ghostbuster in virtual reality, and meditating in a dome). Thousands of people were coordinating behind the scenes to put together all the complex parts of a huge event. There were mistakes, there were victories, there was progress and improvement. Now, with sore feet from walking that aforementioned loop so many times, I am humbled and honored to have been able to be part of the ripple that touches (and changes) people’s lives. I am painfully aware that at this point, TED talks can often incite eye rolls or quips about pithy statements. But also, I am impressed at the great impact an organization or person can have on the world, as exemplified by TED Prize Winner Raj Panjabi’s talk about his mission to bring healthcare to remote communities. We have come a long way and we still have a lot of work to do — but still I can’t deny the power I felt from being a part of the conversation around difficult yet poetic, concerning yet action-oriented, diverse and artistic, hopeful ideas. Our world is filled with so much tragedy and beauty at the same time — Anne Lamott reminded us that life is “filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.”

So how can we be better? How can we remind ourselves that we’re all connected? How can we use technology for good? How can we work together to save the world? Even finding just a tiny glimpse into the answers is a pretty good start. Pithy, I know.

“People are mistaken when they think that technology just automatically improves. It does not automatically improve. It only improves if a lot of people work very hard to make it better, and actually it will, I think, by itself degrade, actually.”
― Elon Musk

“Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude.”

― Pope Francis, Why the only future worth building includes everyone

“I love how the English language is strewn with little signs of tension between the desire to be comprehensible and the limitations of the technology available at the time. Something as small as the dot on an ‘i’ symbolizes how technology influences form.”

― Helen Zaltzman

“You may use your power to build walls and keep people outside, or you may use it to break barriers and welcome them in. You may use your faith to make people afraid and terrify them into submission. Or you can use it to give courage to people, so they rise to the greatest heights of enlightenment.”

― Shah Rukh Khan

“Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared. Even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to other people’s outside. It will only make you worse than you already are!”

― Anne Lamott

** PS: The full speaker lineup of TED2017 can be found here. The video recordings of TED talks at TED2017 will be posted on TED.com over the course of next year. Up-to-date summaries and coverage of this year’s conference can be found on the TEDBlog. Thank you to all of the incredible TED teams for making the seemingly impossible, possible.

Computer science — literacy for the 21st century

The moment a guy says, “I love reading books,” and then gives an example like, “Have you read the latest book by Junot Diaz?” I have to try to walk away and try calm my faster-beating heart. I have a similar reaction when any of the guys in my office have black screens of code open on two monitors.

Strange attractions and (sort of) jokes aside, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to require all public schools to offer computer science to all students. I admire the trend toward increasing emphasis on code as a fundamental literacy.  Whatever amateur coding skills I honed in the past are definitely obsolete by now, but my background has allowed me to at least understand code that other people have written. It’s been immensely helpful, not just in tech but in other areas of life (including writing!). On broadening the application of computer science:

But let’s back up a step: What if learning to code weren’t actually the most important thing? It turns out that rather than increasing the number of kids who can crank out thousands of lines of JavaScript, we first need to boost the number who understand what code can do. As the cities that have hosted Code for America teams will tell you, the greatest contribution the young programmers bring isn’t the software they write. It’s the way they think. It’s a principle called “computational thinking,” and knowing all of the Java syntax in the world won’t help if you can’t think of good ways to apply it.

Unfortunately, the way computer science is currently taught in high school tends to throw students into the programming deep end, reinforcing the notion that code is just for coders, not artists or doctors or librarians. But there is good news: Researchers have been experimenting with new ways of teaching computer science, with intriguing results. For one thing, they’ve seen that leading with computational thinking instead of code itself, and helping students imagine how being computer savvy could help them in any career, boosts the number of girls and kids of color taking—and sticking with—computer science. Upending our notions of what it means to interface with computers could help democratize the biggest engine of wealth since the Industrial Revolution.

— From “We Can Code It: Why Computer Literacy is Key To Winning The 21st Century” via MotherJones

It may not be requisite for everyone to deftly write enough code to become a lead developer, but I agree with the Mayor’s statement that “a computer science education is literacy for the 21st century.”

what work looks like today

wrote furiously while riding the subway, so much to share with you guys.

all of it currently in a hastily-scribbled mind dump on Simplenote for now, but i wanted to tell you about this moment:

iced green tea with mango, fervent evening sunlight streaming through the windows (yes! sun still shining in the evening hours!), the guy who shared blueberries with me, remembering the most excellent conversations with N while we lay side by side on the bean bags this morning, and this incredible rendition of bob marley’s “no woman, no cry” playing in the background.

everything’s gonna be all right. sing with me now.

whatworklooksliketoday

on how to live life “on fire with the same force that made the stars”


waymorethanluck2

In one of the most recent Brain Pickings issues (and now one of my all-time favorites), Maria examines (with the borrowed words of David Foster Wallace):

How to live life “on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.”

I could most definitely quote the entire article. Many of the commencement speech excerpts elicited thoughts about my attempts to live life on fire (circling back to Brain Pickings’s mission of making an ongoing inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life).

On bravery

After all of the tumultuous change that transpired during the past year of my life, I am still sinking deep within the theme of how to live life with bravery.

I have learned to ask myself often, “Am I doing what I love to do?” or “Is what I am doing bringing me closer to my dreams?”

Much of the time, I find myself quoting a “script” in my head when people ask me what I do for work. I feel burdened by some unspoken need to run through a list of my credentials and job history while defining my current “role” rather than just saying, “I’m pursuing my passions.”

Every day I recalibrate and try to do better at living with bravery and pushing what I thought were my limits, but I also remember to be kind to myself. While exercising, I remind myself that two years ago, I couldn’t even walk. When I run into frustrating issues at work, I remember that a year ago I was trapped in an office cube shuffling Powerpoint slides about oil and gas pipelines. When the weather doesn’t agree with me, I remember that I dreamed of living in this city for a decade.

On being limitless

We limit ourselves all the time. We create boxes, we set boundaries, and write ourselves into corners because we are terrified that if we approach something greater, that we will fail. What if, instead, we imagined immensities? What if, instead of scrambling to describe or articulate it all, we allow ourselves to feel it at its fullest? What if, instead of expecting failure as a result, we focus on the journey? As I mentioned in a recent post, we must face discomfort and allow ourselves to see beyond it. I let myself be lovesick. I let myself be homesick. I have been practicing not assigning meaning to it.

Millman argues, we meet “someone more courageous” than we are, a person who “didn’t determine what was impossible before it was possible,” and something in us is reawakened. (The very purpose of a commencement speaker, after all, is to be such an awakening example of that courageous someone, a preemptive living proof that there is hope for transcending those self-imposed limitations.) Turning to Robert Frost’s famous proclamation, Millman transmutes the secret of a great poem into the secret of a great life:

The grand scheme of a life — maybe, just maybe — is not about knowing or not knowing, choosing or not choosing. Perhaps what is truly known can’t be described or articulated by creativity or logic, science or art. Perhaps it can be expressed by the most authentic and meaningful combination of the two: poetry.

As Robert Frost once wrote, “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is never a thought to begin with.”

I recommend the following course of action for those, like you, who are just starting out, or who, like me, may be re-configuring midway through. Heed the words of Robert Frost. Start with a big fat lump in your throat. Start with a profound sense of wrong, a deep homesickness, a crazy lovesickness, and run with it. If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love. And don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can. Imagine immensities. Don’t compromise and don’t waste time. In order to strive for a remarkable life, you have to decide that you want one. Start now. Not twenty years from now. Not thirty years from now. Not two weeks from now. Now.

On loving the process

Sometimes I’ll spend every evening by myself for an entire week or two at a time just reading, doing research for work, learning, or creating. I’ve learned how to turn off the eternal Rose-alarm that has gone off my entire life screaming that I should be out doing something social or fulfilling external obligation. Instead of perusing Facebook, I try to write instead. I am an avid procrastinator that has had to train myself to love the process.

Number One: Fall in love with the process and the results will follow. You’ve got to want to act more than you want to be an actor. You’ve got to want to do whatever you want to do more than you want to be whatever you want to be, want to write more than you want to be a writer, want to heal more than you want to be a doctor, want to teach more than you want to be a teacher, want to serve more than you want to be a politician. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy is in the journey.

Number Two: Very obvious: do your work. When faced with the terror of an opening night on Broadway, you can either dissolve in a puddle of fear or you can get yourself ready. Drown out your inevitable self-doubt with the work that needs to be done. Find joy in the process of preparation.

Number Three: Once you’re prepared, throw your preparation in the trash. The most interesting acting and the most interesting living in this world have the element of surprise and of genuine, honest discovery. Be open to that.

On kindness and changing the world

On top of that, I have gotten into the habit of asking others, “What can I do to help?” I try to tell friends that they can do what they’ve always wanted to do- I try to ask them to be brave, and go for it, and what can I do to help them make the jump? I’ve offered to write reviews, set up websites, make food, teach dance, teach how to set up Google Calendar, take photos, etc. All of my life I have placed importance on how I can have an impact on people, and I’ve recently attempted to be more direct about it.

I was on the subway one day and thought about the phrase, “I want to change the world.” So many of us think that it’s such a huge task that it is impossible. As I get older, I truly think that we can change the world even if it is just by helping or showing love to one person at a time. Even things as small as asking if you need me to get up to refill your water or wine glass, or get you your second beer, or put something away. When I visit overworked, exhausted coffee shop owners, I wordlessly go and find a cloth to help wipe down all the tables and put mugs away. Once, I simply asked an employee at an office supply store if he needed help with some boxes he was lifting. He looked at me incredulously and said, “I have worked here for 20 years, and you are the very first customer to ever offer to help.” The look in their eyes, it makes me feel like the world changed just a little bit from that tiny action.

While I may never be publicly recognized for what I’ve done or be published in a book or have a Wikipedia entry created about me, I think the little ripples of impact truly can help change the world. After all, isn’t kindness truly the greatest enlightenment?

Most of the time, most people are not crying in public, but everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word, or deep empathy. There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs. There are as many ways to do this as there are kinds of loneliness, but all of them require attentiveness, all of them require the hard work of emotional computation and corporeal compassion. All of them require the human processing of the only animal who risks “getting it wrong” and whose dreams provide shelters and vaccines and words to crying strangers.

[…]

Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.

***

Instead of building ourselves into boxes, let’s climb into the sky.
Appropriately closing with poetry – let’s “wade mouth-deep into love./ We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.”

being a woman in tech

Speak up — but don’t talk too much. Light up the room — but don’t overshadow others. Be confident and critical — but not cocky or negative.

New York Times  on Ellen Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins

I am proud to be in tech. I was a middle-schooler that would run home to get on the computer and frequently stayed up until 5 a.m. studying website source files. For fun. On dial-up connections! Yet, because of others’ expectations and perceptions, I wouldn’t have imagined that I would have gone to business school and developed a tech-focused background.

I remember being one of two women in my programming classes, and being regarded with surprise (almost shock) when I calmly stated my major in university. “Shouldn’t you be in social work? or communications?” their looks seemed to say. I remember being flatly told by one of my best friends that I would most certainly “fail” in the business world. He stated that I am too shy, too amiable, and not enough of a “type A personality.” Men still “apologize” to me if they think a meeting will be “too geeky/nerdy,” as if I won’t belong, or as if I couldn’t possibly take interest in the things that they do.

I remember receiving “developmental feedback” during my performance reviews – and no matter how outgoing or assertive I had tried to be throughout that quarter, they would tell me I would have to “take more initiative” – this was, of course, only because of perception. As a 5’0″ Asian woman, I had to work three times as hard to garner respect from middle-aged white males. “Why do you always dress in slacks? You should wear pencil skirts, you’d be so much hotter.” Really? My goal in the office should be to serve your hungry lust?

In my first three months I had dozens of meetings with tech executives, entrepreneurs and investors, and the only women I met were scheduling the meetings and bringing drinks to the boardrooms. I started asking myself what year it was in Silicon Valley for women. Had we reached the point where we could wear pantsuits and play golf, or was it still the Mad Men era?

The women who quit tech aren’t fragile. I think they’re fed up. Why would a woman want to work for Uber, whose chief executive told GQ he calls his company “Boob-er” because his wealth makes him attractive to women?

Who would want to work for Snapchat, whose CEO, five years ago in college, sent emails to his fraternity brothers characterizing female students as “bitches” and “frigid” and “sororisluts”? Why would a woman want to attend industry conferences that feature presenters miming masturbation from the stage, or presenting apps that help users “stare at tits”?

– Why women are leaving tech by Sue Gardner

I work at a tech accelerator now – in arguably one of the most progressive cities – and unfortunately I still receive gender-based comments that should infuriate me. The saddest part of this is that I don’t even notice anymore. It has so firmly become part of the fabric of my career that I just don’t even bother- because if I did let it get to me, I’d have left a long time ago.

But I think part of the reason we’re stuck here is that we’re understanding the problem incorrectly. When I hear people talk about it, they use words like “encourage,” “support” and “nurture.” We advise companies to do a better job of “looking after” or “caring about” their women employees. We categorize the problem as though it were an issue of corporate social responsibility and as if we really believed women aren’t good enough and need coddling or remedial help.

That doesn’t fit my experience. The women I know in tech are tough, resilient and skilled. They have to be, to have pushed through the barriers to get to where they are. Like Charlotte Whitton said, back when she was mayor of Ottawa in the middle of the last century:

“Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.” (And then she added: “Luckily that’s not hard.”)

I’ve learned that I just need to take a deep breath and tough it out. I crack jokes with the execs. I make them laugh. I’m not afraid to cuss. I’m not afraid to walk into a room with my eyes shooting daggers and letting them know that I mean business. I don’t mind speaking loudly to be heard and arguing my point while using better vocabulary. The intimidated middle-schooler inside of me feels a little triumphant when they say, “I can’t imagine that you would call yourself a shy person.”

As a courteous person by training, I still happily offer to get the coffee and schedule meetings- but I’m leading those meetings.

To this day, I still remember what I responded to my friend’s comment that I’d fail in business. I quietly argued that i think in this world, it’s not necessarily all about having a homogenous workforce of “dominating drivers” – diversity of thought and personalities within organizations is what matters.

We still have work to do.

Studies show that when women speak up in negotiations or other meetings, they are often penalized for doing so. And should women get ahead by aping the air of overconfidence and bravado that characterizes the Valley’s most cringe-inducing men?

“I think that in 2015 we can give women better advice than ‘Behave more like men,’ ” said Cate Huston, a software engineer who has worked at Google and IBM.

Instead, Mr. Wadhwa’s response to women who questioned his ideas often reinforced their belief that men don’t like it when women speak up.

“I think there’s value in men talking about this — I absolutely do,” said Melinda Byerley, a marketing consultant who has worked at several tech firms. “But if you’re telling us to be tough, to lean in, to speak up — we’re going to do that.”

New York Times on Vivek Wadhwa’s tone

Added: “Coding like a Girl
(this was originally given as a talk at AlterConf in Oakland. this talk only addresses gender diversity and was given in the context of other talks addressing racism, disability, classism, and many other topics.)”