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Wednesday
Nov282012

Conference Tweeting or What Is Up With That?

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed: I was at a conference last week. Not only did I announce it several times, but I'm sure that the frequency of my tweets increased at least slightly. (Actually, I think it increased a lot, but who am I to say?)

The problem with tweeting from conferences is that it can easily scare those who don't really have a connection with whatever I'm talking about. There probably were a couple of questions: What the hell is up with that? Why is she tweeting so much? And what's she talking about? And why is she suddenly tweeting in English?

Well, there are answers to all that. But let's begin from the start...

About the same time last year I was at a Lean/Kanban conference in Munich. Those were two days filled with talks, keynotes and pecha kuchas about Lean and Kanban, agile and processes.

I didn't really think about it when during the first talk I unpacked my laptop and began tweeting about what was happening on stage. Even better, and faster than I expected I got feedback. People replied to my tweets, retweeted and faved them. Pretty quickly there was an official hashtag for the conference so that it was even simpler to follow all the tweets between and during the talks.

"Ah, you are Anne. I think I've retweeted you", someone said when I sat down for a talk. I'm not one of the hot shots of the Agile scene, but using Twitter made it unbelievably easy for me to get to talk to other people. After all, we had been going back and forth on Twitter all day.

It was at this conference that I learned how to use Twitter. Before that I didn't really feel comfortable replying to people who didn't follow me. I thought it would seem weird, even a bit pushy, since - after all - they didn't know me. At the Lean/Kanban Conference I learned that this is bullshit. Twitter, for me, is best when used as a tool for communication and that's what I've been using it for ever since.

A lot of the people I started to follow at this conference, I still follow. Some people who started following me then actually still follow me, although a lot have dropped out when they realized that usually I don't actually tweet in English and very seldom about software topics. I can't blame them. But it means that I'm even happier for those that stuck around.

This year, once again, I was at a conference. This time it was the Agile Testing Days in Potsdam. Because I was pretty certain that I knew what was about to happen I wrote a couple of warning tweets, including the hashtag of the conference. And indeed it was just as predicted: The minute the first keynote started I was there with my Laptop tweeting along and following the tweets of my fellow conference tweeters. Of course I wasn't alone, actually a lot of the speakers of the conference were big on Twitter, too. There was Lisa Crispin, active as always, as well as Mike Scott and Matt Heusser (whose talks I unfortunately missed), Sigurdur Birgisson and Huib Schoots, who walked up to me during one of the words saying "I have to meet you, I've been retweeting you all day".

The experience basically was the same as last year. The timeline was busy with people writing, replying, retweeting and faving. I seem to be at least fairly good at what I call "conference tweeting", at least that's what I gather from my average retweet quota. Conference tweeting isn't actually that easy and has some disadvantages. First of all, it's hard to adequately squish the content of a 45 to 60 minute talk or keynote into a couple of 140-character-or-less snippets. And secondly, it does require some of your concentration. I'm still busy repeating these last three sentences in my head to write them down as truly as possible while on stage it just goes on. Nobody waits for me to be done with that tweet.

It's a trade-off: Trade you loads of awesome interaction and communication for a certain percentage of your concentration. But since I believe that this interaction and communication is one of the most important things at a conference I'm happy to trade. I can understand why other people won't do it, though.

But I will keep on doing it. For all my "normal" followers, there's no need to be scared. I don't go to conferences that often, and it's likely to stay that way. But maybe now it's a bit clearer why I do what I did. And if you don't happen to find what I tweet from conferences interesting I'm sure there's a neat filter option in your Twitter client that you wanted to try out anyway.

Most of all I was amazed that some of my tweets actually got positive feedback from people who were not at the conference, sometimes not even involved in software development, but still seemed to like what I was writing (or at least some of it). I actually would like to write about "Agile" for non-software people, but I will have to think about finding the right angle to attack this huge topic. We'll see.

After all, you can have a lot of fun on Twitter. When in the first keynote of the conference, Scott W. Ambler said "in the real world" one time too often, Gojko Adzic couldn't help but writing:

another f*ing "in the real world". does everyone else live in the unicorn land? #agiletd

Gojko Adzic, November 20, 2012 10:05

 

new task for #agiletd speakers. add unicorn pictures in your slides

And that's why at least 75 percent (that's a complete guess, by the way) of the presentation suddenly contained unicorns. This caused enthusiastic cheers from those who knew and some irritation for those who didn't know what the hell that was about. It wasn't until the second day when I realized that in this case, what happened on Twitter kinda stayed on Twitter, when I overheard a conversation from three conference participants who tried to figure out what was up with the unicorns. Apparently they didn't use Twitter.

I love tweeting at conferences. Before you know it you are in, communicating, getting to know awesome people and having fun. It's also great for those who cannot make it to the conference but get to follow it at least a little via Twitter. If anyone is looking for professional conference tweeters for software or internet conference, I'm totally up to it! Although I'm sure there are lots of people who will be there anyway willing and able to do the job. (Damn.)

Thursday
Jun142012

It's Oh So Quiet

It's been slow here, but mostly because it hasn't been slow elsewhere.

I've been writing a lot on that other blog of mine, the one I started in January. It's been a fun ride so far, which is why it's been so quiet here. Unfortunately for some of you, my other blog is in German only. But I usually post lots of pictures, so if you're interested in seeing photos of my little adventures, you can head over there and take a look.

I've also been busy filling my other blog with foodie content. Unfortunately, it's German yet again. I'm sorry.

So that's that. Apart from that we're currently working on some music stuff which hopefully will be presentable to the public some time soon and of course between work, writing blog posts and singing into the microphone there's this thing called life.

But the good news is: This blog right here isn't dead. (Yay!) It's just currently on a little vacation. I have posts in my mind that I would like to write, I just haven't found the time to do it yet. But I will.

In other news, there's a little surprise coming up. I'm excited about it, and will post the news as soon as I can.

So, please be patient. Thank you.

Tuesday
Apr032012

Great News for Geeks: Felicia Day Launches the Geek & Sundry YouTube Channel  

And in other awesome news, Felicia Day has launched her very own and very geeky YouTube channel called “Geek and Sundry”. I can't decide what I am most excited about, but one of my favorite things is that my online scifi and fantasy book club “Sword & Laser” is getting a video show every other week.

“Geek and Sundry” started with a 12 hour Subscribathon on Sunday using the Google+ Hangout feature. The first shows were uploaded yesterday, including Felicia's own show Flog, Wil Wheaton's show TableTop which is all about geeky tabletop games (I squealed inside when one of the players actually called them “German style boardgames”) and Dark Horse a show which features animated indie comics.

And yes, of course I watched all  of the shows, even more than that, I tested my TV's YouTube integration to watch them in HD on a (kind of) big screen.

Basically, I love it. I love the YouTube channel, I love my TV's YouTube integration, I desperatelywant to try out Smallworld (the boardgame that Wil Wheaton played in the first episode of TableTop, and if it was ever possible, my geek girl crush on Felicia Day has increased.

As a bonus, they released a new music video featuring The Guild cast and it's pretty much awesome.

So, yeah, it's great news for geeks like me and if you haven't already you should head over to the YouTube channel and start watching now.

Monday
Feb062012

(All) Boys Club Follow-Up: Links and Stuff

There are a couple of interesting organizations and articles regarding the gender gap I talked about in my last post. I only have listed a few here, if you know more, please don't hesitate to post in the comments or send me a mail.

There's the Ada Initiative and Ladies Learning Code, both non-profit organizations aiming to get more women into coding by organizing conferences, workshops, trainings, etc. You can also check to see whether there is a Girl Geek Dinner organized in a city near you.

Then there's a very cool blog post on the Fog Creek Blog called Girls Go Geek... Again! which (amongst other things) briefly sums up the history of women in programming and includes an article with a female developer at Fog Creek Software.

Another nice article over at Sharp Skirts focuses more on the communication differences and what it means in the workplace and it's called Girl Developers vs. Women In Tech: More Conversations That Need To Change.

My favorite article though is located over at Microsoft, more specifically Jennifer Marsman's MSDN blog. It deals with the question why there are so few women giving talks at conferences. This is one of the articles I routinely search for and link when someone asks the "Why so few women?" question. It's called Why are more women not speaking at technical conferences? Insights from the WiT discussion at CodeStock and most of all it's awesome.

Yeah. And there's this. I thought you shouldn't miss this.

Thursday
Feb022012

(All) Boys Club  

Let's try to make this post non-complainy, shall we?

But see, I am annoyed. I am annoyed that at my job I'm usually surrounded by men with hardly any other woman in sight. (This is not completely true. I know and have worked with other female developers, but they – or we – are scarce.)

What I am most annoyed with is that I don't know what to do. I am perfectly aware of the fact that nobody actively discourages women from going into programming and IT. Yet at the same time I'm tired of hearing excuses like “Women are just not that technical” or “Well, that's just the way it is”. Even if this is true, I still think that we should care about changing this outrageous status quo and getting more girls and women interested in coding.

See, I don't believe that it's a biological thing, but that the biggest reason for the big gender gap in IT is cultural conditioning. And I think I have proof for that.

When we were in Vietnam to train our off-shore developers I noticed that the female-to-male ratio in the development department there was way better than what I have seen in about every company I have worked for in the past ten years. It wasn't 50/50, but a fair guess (without any numbers to prove it) would be that it was about 30/70 (maybe even slightly more), which is pretty good and the overall impression was that the ratio was enough to make it feel somewhat balanced.

If you look a bit into the history of programming, you'll also see that back in the 60s it used to be foremost a women's job, but that pretty obviously has changed.

Now, let me get that straight. I have been lucky and never have I worked in a team where the testosterone level was so high that it made me feel out of place. Most of all I am a software developer and a geek and I enjoy working with other geeky (and non-geeky) developers. But I am also a girl (well, woman, but you know…) and I wouldn't mind seeing more female developers around. More than that, I would welcome it. Maybe with a song.

The reason I think is mostly to blame are cultural stereotypes and prejudices and the fact that nobody seems to care enough to change it. And while it's true that any girl can decide for herself whether to go into IT or not, this is not an excuse to just throw your arms down and say “Well, so they are just not that interested. We can't force you to.”

The truth still is that the whole IT community sometimes feels like an all boys club and while this might sound a bit lame, it's not that easy to enter this boys club when you're a girl and not feel weird. I was raised to believe that I could do anything I wanted to, so I did. I was pretty good at math and took biology as a major in high school and was one of the first pupils to spend their afternoons at one of the two computers connected to the internet at my school. I have never and hopefully never will let anyone tell me what I am supposed to like or do or be interested in because I am this or that (e.g. a girl).

But I fear that not everyone is like that, and I also fear that society is still doing a pretty good job in steering boys to science and technology and girls to languages, art and humanities and encouraging girls that it's perfectly okay to not understand a computer and boys that it's okay not to be into learning Italian as long as they know how a car works. This, in my belief, is utter bullshit, but I don't know how to fight it, either.

These prejudices and conceptions of what is acceptable based on a gender run so deep that it's hard to imagine a world where certain areas of expertise are not predominated by one gender or the other. It happened to me, too, despite of what I said a few lines earlier. I never took any programming classes in school, although I would probably have liked it.

So here are some simple ideas:

  • Make programming classes mandatory for all pupils in school for at least one year. I bet you'd be surprised at how many girls find out that programming isn't nearly as hard as they imagined and – more than that – that it's fun and that you can do pretty awesome things with it.
  • Offer programming classes (in school, at university or as evening classes) for girls and women only. Yes, I know, that sounds like the wrong direction. We want to get rid of the gender gap, not feed it with special courses just for the ladies. But the issue here really is to get rid of the fear of failing for just as long as it takes to make it clear that programming is no rocket science (unless you are actually coding for a rocket, in which case, maybe it is) and that it is not magic either. We need to get over that first hurdle and this is probably easier done in a (temporary) all girls club.
  • Cater to the prejudices. While they are still there, let's make use of these stereotypes we talked about. Maybe coding is uninteresting for girls because it seems so technical. Make it look more artisty, colorful and fun. Start with building websites. While you could argue that HTML and CSS are not strictly programming languages I do believe they are the perfect gateway drug to actual full-fledged coding.

So there. Three simple ideas. They won't solve everything, but they might be a good start and maybe other people have even better ideas.

Just personally, I'm sick of being the one girl crashing the boys club. I'm tired of pretending that I'm somehow less female or different from other girls or women because I work as a software developer. I'm not. And if I could get the support of other awesome girl geek developers out there, that would be pretty sensational.

Sunday
Jan292012

In-Between Video Treat

I have a couple of things I want to write about, but I can't seem to find the time. In the meantime, please enjoy this video of strange programming language quirks. I couldn't help to giggle throughout the whole thing:

https://www.destroyallsoftware.com/talks/wat

(I can't find an option to embed, so you'll have to click the link. Sorry.)

Wednesday
Jan182012

What Does Like-Minded Mean?  

I saw the term “link-minded” today on the website for an upcoming conference. The exact words were:

Our aim is to attract as many like-minded thinkers as possible.

And I wondered: What does that even mean?

Don't get me wrong. I think I know what it means, but I'm still confused as how this works together with aiming for diversity. Where does the good like-minded end and the bad like-minded begin?

But let me explain:

  • Good like-minded: Aiming for the same goal, being able to communicate without difficulty, sharing the same interests.
  • Bad like-minded: Not able to think out of the box, very similar backgrounds, no disagreements, no challenges.

The bad like-minded is like a club that only accepts members after making sure that they won't disturb the peace of the club, won't question long-held beliefs and will hopefully just blend in without anyone noticing.

The good like-minded is like a community with a shared interest which is always happy to accept new members, search for new ways to look at things and will not shy away from anyone questioning them (as long as it is done in a socially acceptable way).

I'm pretty sure that what was meant on the website was the good like-minded, the one where a common goal is key and like-minded means “people who are smart and love to argue and discuss stuff and are not afraid to speak their mind, because we sure as hell aren't”.

But the fact that it started me wondering (and partly worrying) also means that it's a fine line between looking for allies in the battle for knowledge and a better world and trying to avoid those that might challenge you and make you feel uncomfortable.

Wednesday
Jan112012

How Well Did You Sleep Last Night?  

P1010928A couple of months ago I got a wakemate to track my sleep. Actually, I had told my husband about it and he asked me to order one for him. When it finally arrived he didn't really bother to set it up, so I started to use it instead and now it's mine.

Here's what it does:

1. It tracks my sleep and uses the data to analyze my sleep patterns.

2. It wakes me up at the best time within a 20 minute time frame.

As you can see, the wakemate has been used a lot. I usually wear it on weekdays when I have to get up early, but also occasionally on weekends and when I'm on vacation because I'm curious how my sleep patterns change.

What it does is that it tracks my movements during the night and somehow figures out how deep my sleep is based on that. I was sceptical at first, but it seems like Actigraphy, for that is what it's called, is a standard method to measure sleep patterns.

I've also noticed that whenever I remember something about last night's sleep I can usually trace it back in the data from the wakemate. So if it takes me longer than usual to fall asleep or if I wake up in the middle of the night, I found that this is reflected in that night's sleep graph. I still can't tell whether I really had a deep sleep phase when the wakemate says I did, but since the data I can check is usually correct, I'm pretty confident that the data the wristband collects and how it is analyzed isn't complete nonsense.

As for the waking part, how it works is that you choose the time that you need to wake up the latest and the wakemate tries to find the best moment to wake you up in the twenty minutes leading up to that time without disturbing your sleep pattern. If it can't find the best moment it will just wake you up at the latest possible moment. The theory is that you will feel better and more awake when you haven't been woken in the middle of a deep sleep phase.

While this seems to work well, it unfortunately doesn't work so great for me. The problem is that I'm a big lover of the snooze button and it's not so much that I am too tired to get up, most mornings I'm just too lazy. So I ignore the wakemate alarm and just wait for my regular alarm to go off. And then I hit the snooze button three to seven times and then I get up. But that's not the wakemate's fault. I have noticed that sometimes I'm half awake and the moment my brain starts to work in consistent thoughts the wakemate alarm goes on. Which is another indicator that the movement measuring seems to work fine.

Vollbildaufzeichnung 11.01.2012 193629.bmpYou can track your patterns on the website of the wakemate. You need some kind of mobile device (Android, Blackberry or iOS) which connects to the wakemate via Bluetooth. This device will also transmit the data to the wakemate server and also provides the alarm clock feature –  basically: There's an app for that. You can then check your nightly graph, compare graphs, add tags and look at some statistics.

Basically I know now that on average:

  • It takes me 8 minutes to fall asleep.
  • I wake up 2 times a night.
  • I sleep for 6 1/4 hours a night.

The last one isn't quite true, since I usually sleep for at least another 30 minutes after the first wakemate alarm has gone off. Also, I don't always wear it on days when I don't have to get up in the morning, which are probably the nights I sleep a lot longer to make up for my lack of sleep during the week.

There are other devices similar to the wakemate, wristbands, but also headbands. I like the wakemate, because it's relatively hassle-free (I also haven't tried any other devices, so I can't really compare). The only complaint I have is that the band has already widened with time and I'm not sure whether that affects its measuring precision. Scott Hanselman tried the Zeo headband and wrote about it here.

 I don't claim that the science is soundproof and totally accurate, but from what I can tell it works surprisingly well and is quite a fun way to check up on what's really happening when you sleep.

(It's also fun to walk into the office in the morning and with a loud voice claim that “Last night I got a sleep score of 85! Woo-hoo!”)