Portland Flights of Fancy (and Beer, and Tea)

Great Notion BeerWell, we did it – after over a year and a half of living in Seattle, we finally made it to Portland.  I admit I had lowered my expectations somewhat – could the beer really be that good? As an old, jaded beer nerd (not to mention one who has been thoroughly spoiled by having lived within walking distance of Tired Hands), I’m used to finding things that I’ve heard mentioned in either hushed reverence or wild enthusiasm to actually fit somewhere between ‘it’s not bad’ and ‘did we really need another 12% barrel aged sour?’  Or worse – ‘does it have a high BeerAdvocate and/or Untappd rating simply because it’s so alcoholic/hoppy/sour/hard to find as to be nearly undrinkable?’ And the much-maligned Portlandia-is-real hipster food scene – surely it would be quite similar: lots of dishes that were perfectly nice, but probably little worth braving Amtrak for (or – spoiler alert – your replacement bus that is required when Amtrak is sidelined by a landslide). After all, Portland is much smaller than Seattle, and I’ve found Seattle’s food and beer to be pleasant, though not nearly as good as what we had in Philly, and certainly nothing like our old Brooklyn stomping grounds, though that’s always an unfair comparison.

I am quite happy to report that I was wrong: it really is that good, and you can get tasting flights of absolutely everything: beer, spirits, ice cream, tea – you name it – and we did. Portland breweries, bars and restaurants also seemed to be much more comfortable with well-behaved children than their Seattle counterparts; we only encountered one place that wouldn’t let them in, and they were incredibly apologetic and said they are working on getting their license revised. Most of the places we visited, and I’ll highlight a few standouts in a moment, welcomed them with toys and great real food in smaller portions (though if you are my tween, he really only wants a place to plug in his phone so he can stream 1990s television and ignore us while we eat, though he does appreciate the food). Here are a few places we will definitely want to try again the next time we visit:

Ex Novo Brewing
Something billing itself as ‘the nation’s first nonprofit brewery’ sounds like a Portland cliché, right? But absolutely everything about it – the welcome, the food, the beer, the fact that they donate their net profits to the local community and beyond – was fabulous. It was outstanding across the board: the kids had milkshakes of a quality I’ve not had in years (so good it stopped a travel-induced tantrum), I had possibly the best taco I’ve ever eaten, and we got bacon for the table. The beers were uniformly fantastic, from Cactus Wins the Lottery, a Berliner Weisse made with prickly pear cactus, to Where the Mild Things Are, a great – you guessed it – mild. I loved this place so much I started looking at local real estate prices.

Great Notion Brewing
This was on my ‘try if in the neighborhood’ list, rather than a must-do, but it was so good I had the ‘what are the local house prices’ reaction again. I admit I was a bit skeptical after my first glance at the menu; quite a few sour beers, and I’ve had so many mediocre sour beers of late – some clearly accidental, some just not nearly as good as their makers suggested.  But thoughts of bad beer were banished quickly – the Key Lime Pie and Blueberry Muffin beers were both wonderful; tart and refreshing, nice fruit character, but never cloying or perfume-y as is so often the case. Juice, Jr. was a fabulous IPA and as with Ex Novo (with whom they also collaborated on Best Budz – not a hipster pot beer, as you might fear, but a successful New England-style IPA, as we are calling them now), the food and service were both great. There was a welcome toy box and even the children’s menu was made with top-quality ingredients; I would be tempted to order off that menu for myself.

Deschutes Brewery
Deschutes has always reminded me of Victory, our previous local stalwart when we lived in Pennsylvania – they’ve been around much longer than most of the smaller (and often weirder, in both good and bad ways) breweries, and to some they sit in that awkward ‘uncool’ space between the upstarts and the mega-brewers, but both have continued to thrive by offering a consistently high-quality product line, as well as careful expansion and innovation. Their Portland brewpub offered a good range of interesting food and tasting flights that backed up their reputation. Everything was lovely, but the Altbierior Motive stood out as a new-to-me offering.

Steven Smith TeamakerNot Beer
I’m not generally a huge ice cream fan, but it would have been churlish to go to Portland and not at least try Salt & Straw, even though it seems their frozen empire is slowing moving up and down this coast, and it was well worth the trip. We actually skipped the tasting flight simply because the line was long and this time the tween, rather than the toddler, was fussy, but we did swap around a few times to good effect. We returned to tasting flights when visiting the fine local distilleries, but my favorite non-beer sampling session came at Steven Smith Teamaker. Both of their locations are in nicely-restored buildings, and we very much enjoyed the beautifully-presented custom tasting flights, each complete with a card detailing the tea’s origin and properties.  We went home with a lot of tea.

Putting aside a few minor quibbles – one much-talked-of brewery that had excellent food but only ‘meh’ beers, a ghost/history tour of highly questionable historicity (not to mention the poorly-constructed ghost stories – there are formulas for this, people!) – Portland also impressed with its largely-thoughtful historic reuse. For a relatively young city by global standards, there is a large collection of older buildings and walkable neighborhoods that sit comfortably next to their new additions, providing a lot more character and visual interest than you get in much of Seattle. And, of course, there was Powell’s Books – that certainly lived up to and exceeded expectations. My major disappointment in visiting Vancouver was the absence of a great independent bookstore (though, to be fair, the ghost tour was pretty good – yes, I judge cities by their bookstores and ghost tours), so Powell’s, with their detailed categorization and (actual) curation, makes Portland a much more attractive destination for us bookish types; the transit and odd specialty shoe stores were also very much to my specifically-weird liking.

In short, we can’t wait to go back – if someone could send a beer and taco truck from Portland to Seattle in the meantime, I’d be most grateful.

Why Your Tech Company Needs an Archaeologist to Fix Your Corporate Culture

for realz indeed!It’s been difficult to miss stories of tech and startup culture fails of late, whether it’s Uber or Thinx, and there have been many excellent suggestions on how to improve diversity and the employee experience, but I’ll throw another one into the mix: hire an archaeologist*.

No, it’s not a joke, though I fully admit it may be a head-scratcher at first, but hear me out: I’ve been working in technology for 20+ years, and while I’m emphatically not speaking about my current role at AWS, where I’m the Culture Lead (yes, we’re secretive, but you knew that, and no, I’m not claiming we’ve ‘solved’ everything culture-wise), I can assure that my two archaeology degrees have been incredibly useful in this field – though never more so than in my present position. Allow me to explain –

I fell into technology while working on my MA in archaeology at University College London in the 1990s; I began my tech career as a coder and moved (kinda/sorta) swiftly into people and technology management in Silicon Valley, NYC and elsewhere – I’m now happily situated in Seattle, where I get to do all sorts of Secret Things I Can’t Tell You About Right Now. Along the way, I’ve seen some pretty bizarre things from a company culture perspective (terrible brand rallies! awful ‘culture fit’ excuses in hiring! team and product names that are totally offensive to colleagues in other regions!), but I’ve also been lucky enough to see the good as well. After a few general culture protips, we’ll discuss how having an archaeological viewpoint can be a huge benefit – for real.

First, though, a few notes on What You Should Do; your company culture, like any other aspect of business, can’t be left to good intentions – it needs structure and mechanisms to reinforce it and to help it evolve in a positive direction. Whether you are a tiny startup or a huge multinational, you need mechanisms that will scale with your organization’s growth, and that can be consistently applied wherever your people are. You may need to modify them to work in some regions or for remote people or teams, but they should still be scalable and repeatable.

Your culture is modeled by your leadership, and that’s at every level, from the c-suite to brand-new dev managers. While it seems that every company has ‘values’ or ‘principles’ that were drawn up early on, in my experience the uptake on these ranges from absolutely embedded and referenced on a daily basis to openly mocked and derided, with most places falling somewhere in between. When they work, they are a valuable tool and a core driver of your business – they dictate hiring, promotions and offer direction on key decisions. When they don’t work, there’s usually an obvious reason:

  1. They were developed by outside consultants to ‘sound good’
  2. They are meaningless platitudes that simply take up time during the onboarding process
  3. They are actively terrible, and are used as an excuse to avoid diversity

I won’t dig too deeply (see what I did there?) into the third point, simply because it needs to be its own discussion (as it is here), but I’ll pivot to why they work when they work:

  1. They are thoughtfully, and intentionally, developed in-house, taking into account a wide range of viewpoints
  2. They are flexible and can be specifically applied to daily work, but aren’t ‘rules’ that must be obeyed
  3. They are regularly reviewed and updated as the company grows
  4. They are an expected, and hence unremarkable, part of daily worklife

If your company’s mechanisms for people management don’t reflect whatever your company’s stated values are – or if they overindex on a specific one or two points – you’ll very quickly get drift away from the good intentions that went into their creation. Having repeatable, measurable processes around your business life cycle and the people who make it happen is the key to a healthy culture, and this is where the archaeologists come in.

The popular view of archaeologists falls into one of two main camps: we’re either Indiana Jones or scruffy bearded people with a fondness for drink who wish they looked a bit more like Indiana Jones. I surely don’t need to point out that both of those impressions skew almost entirely male (feel free to insert a Tolkien joke about dwarf wives and their beards), but there’s a lot more going on than just drinking digging and/or punching Nazis. While I won’t get too deeply into describing different approaches to archaeology (for example, did you know that theoretical archaeologists mainly argue about French social theory, and rarely, if ever, go outside, much less dig? Did you know that post-processual archaeology is real? Mostly true facts!), there are some commonalities that give archaeologists an edge in mapping and shaping company culture.

Everyone ‘knows’ that archaeologists can take an artifact (or, more typically, an assemblage of artifacts) and use clues from that artifact to tell us more about the people who created it, traded it, used it or who perhaps just thought it looked cool. At work, we create ‘artifacts’ every day without thinking twice about it – documents, wikis, websites, apps, you name it. And when we’re speaking about those internally-created artifacts that are used to hire and manage people – interview notes, performance reviews, presentations and so on – it’s easy to forget that the mechanisms that generated those artifacts were designed with specific long- or short-term goals in mind. Indeed, there may have been considerable ‘cultural drift’ between a mechanism’s original purpose and its current usage; for example, it may have once been the case that ‘big ideas’ went through a presentation-heavy gating process to get executive buy-in, but now it seems that absolutely every decision goes through some version of that. That’s not to say that processes and mechanisms like that can’t work, but that the rationale behind them needs to be understood, and that they need to be regularly reviewed to ensure they are still fit for purpose. Not infrequently, most employees who need to actually follow these processes have little-to-no information about why it was created, or what the unwritten rules are – it’s purely tribal knowledge.

Ritual!

And that’s another way archaeologists ‘get’ how to dig (har) into corporate culture: when they don’t know why something was created or can’t pin down an obvious purpose, there’s a default answer – ritual! (In all seriousness, this is a thing. It’s practically reflexive). But so much of what happens day-to-day at work falls into this bucket as well; as mentioned, the people who designed (or inherited) a process have left, or have long since forgotten its origin, and it has become almost entirely ritualistic – we do it ‘just because.’ Sure, we’d like to fix that broken process or mechanism, but it’s like that For A Reason, we assume – and thus are corporate sacred cows born. This is just as true looking at archaeological sites; while some pretty weird things do, indeed, fall under the ‘ritual’ heading (at least without further evidence), it’s also clear that people in the past not infrequently did things just because they were fun or looked cool – they aren’t so different from us.

Throwing an archaeologist at your company processes and mechanisms can turn up all sorts of unexpected things about your company’s culture; simply having a complete audit of all the ‘things’ you’re doing, how they came about, whom they affect, how and where they are implemented is quite illuminating. Turning an archaeological lens on this adds further value; as mentioned above, people rarely know precisely why they created something or how it evolved, so having a background in making educated guesses in that regard, based on data, is quite useful.

With this information in hand, you can begin to make better data-driven decisions that drive your company culture – did you discover a gap in your onboarding process in a specific region? Perhaps there is no policy to handle difficult employee situations, or you may simply have not had time to develop a codified, shared value system for your organization. Knowing where you have a potential problem and what resources you need to allocate is job one – you can thank an archaeologist when they help you unearth these clues.

Finally, a closing thought for the archaeologists out there: want to come work in tech? You have great skills in data analysis, project management, research and writing (to name just a few), and many of you have excellent coding skills – while we don’t get to spend much time studying the past over here, we have the opportunity to help our organizations be thoughtful about how we build the future. Bonuses: excellent pay and benefits (actual excellent pay and benefits, not what most rescue digs or academia can afford), opportunities to work remotely and/or travel, and a work culture that still enjoys a drink or three – though that’s not certainly a requirement. Beards are entirely optional.

*Other types of social scientists are also available, but I don’t know if they are as much fun.

This post also appears on Medium.

The Session #120 – Brown Beer, At Home & Abroad

The SessionI have long had a fondness for ‘brown’ beers of many descriptions: dark milds, schwarzbiers, porters, dunkels, and, of course, your better-than-average brown ale (either theoretically British or American – I know I should like a good Oud Bruin, but it’s just not my thing in quantity). And, once upon a time, brown ales loomed large on the beer horizon. Newcastle Brown Ale was widely available, and Pete’s Wicked Ale was the go-to American version of the style.  Cast your mind back to a differently-benighted America in the early 1990s…while there were a few interesting regional beers, nationally-available ‘microbrews’ (as we used to call them) were few and far between. If you weren’t a lager fan – and you might have over-corrected in your dislike of the macro-brewed ‘lager’ offerings to ignore Sam Adams – your options were relatively limited. Your ‘import’ choices tended to be pretty straightforward British beers: Newcastle Brown, Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout and the like.  These were presumed (at least by me, in my inexperience) to be vastly superior offerings – they had color! Flavor! Exciting times.

Moving to the UK in the mid-’90s quickly taught me that while there were certainly good things about British music and television, there was just as much that was terrible as there was in the US; it was just that the worst (and some of the best) never made it abroad. This rule applied equally to beer – I discovered that ‘the good stuff’ was often simply from a local family brewery, and they didn’t always make enough to export. But I loved my go-to beers, even if they weren’t ‘fancy’ – a pint of Theakston’s Best, Brains Dark, Moorehouses’s Black Cat, Lancaster Bomber (the version from the 1990s, not the current iteration, which seems much changed). I tended to go for beers on a chestnut-to-dark-brown continuum, and while I do go for more variety today, overall, that pattern still seems to hold.

Even back in the US in the dead-end of the millennium, the Mountain View Small Brewers’ Fest featured a wide variety of copper-to-black beers of varying quality, not infrequently named after less-renowned Tolkien characters, though this is to be expected when software engineers have side projects. Shortly thereafter, the American beer scene exploded – microbrews became ‘craft beer’ and bitters, stouts and porters began to play second fiddle (or perhaps eighth oboe) to IPAs. ‘Boring’ brown beers began to disappear – milk stouts were booted for coffee stouts, and everything else on the amber-to-brown spectrum seemed to end up aging in or on oak. Fortunately, though, the pendulum for extremes seems to have shifted slightly – sure, it’s nice to have some of the more extreme stuff from time to time, but on the whole, it’s lovely to have beer that tastes like beer.

Of late, there are few things I enjoy more than a toasty, biscuity ESB or a roasty – but not too roasty – mild, but they are relatively few and far between in the Pacific Northwest; granted, we have great IPAs, but the ubiquity of great IPAs also means we are awash in mediocre ones, since nearly everyone feels they need to make one to compete for tap space, even if they aren’t particularly successful at it (and they are probably correct). There are a few local standouts that do fit the bill for this discussion, however – Lower Case Brewing’s ESB is very fine indeed, and I recently had an excellent, straight-up brown ale called Betsy’s Mountain Brown at Naked City Brewery a few neighborhoods over from ours.  Perhaps because they grew out of the 1990s microbrew tradition that was more influenced by British pubs than (often wonderful) Belgian oddities, Seattle’s brewpubs tend to have a much wider variety of the sort of solidly-made, eminently quaffable ESBs, porters and stouts than many of the more buzzed-about small breweries – or maybe they simply assume a fairly large percentage of their clientele will be there for a meal with the family, and a tap list of 12% tequila-barrel-aged strong ales doesn’t suit all palates or occasions. So, with little fanfare, many are consistently turning out great coppery altbiers, dark caramel ESBs, deep ruby-brown porters and nearly-burnt-toast dunkels.

Long may they continue – and here’s hoping more of the ‘edgy’ breweries also opt to show off their skills with a few subtle brown beers.

And thanks to Joe Tindall for hosting The Session this month; I’ll be raising a glass of something coppery to you for prompting me to get back to regular-ish beer writing.

An Unabashedly Subjective ‘Best’ Beers of 2016

Fresh local beer
Fresh local beer

We’ve been in Seattle for just over a year now, and I’m finally beginning to develop a consistent list of favorite local breweries and beers, though I continue to discover new (or new-to-me) options on a regular basis. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have a fair amount of travel this year – mostly for work, but with some fun family trips thrown in as well – and while it is certainly possible to find mediocre IPAs across the globe, there are some real gems as well.

A brief aside: I will note that while I don’t mention them below specifically, I really, really miss several Philly breweries and events, notably Philly Beer Week; sorry Seattle locals, but it’s better than Seattle Beer Week by an order of magnitude, as illustrated by these True Facts: 1) my favorite part of Seattle Beer Week was Victory Brewing doing a tap takeover and 2) there wasn’t even a working iOS app. We have some excellent festivals, but the Beer Week game is weak. I particularly miss Yards Brewing and Tired Hands – though I’m pleased I’ve been able to pick up Victory Festbier here. But I digress…so, without further ado, my favorites of 2016 (categories as per the brewery, in most cases):

Pacific Northwest Beers
Reuben’s Brews – Daily Pale – Seattle Beer Week 2016 – Pale Ale, 4.9%
As mentioned, Seattle Beer Week isn’t nearly as fully-featured as Philly Beer Week, but this brewed-for-the-event beer was outstanding – a perfect pale ale, full of flavor and subtlety.

Reuben’s Brews – Gose, 4.3%
Can you tell I really like Reuben’s Brews? Their taproom is great, kid- and adult-friendly and their regular lineup is fantastic. This is now my favorite gose; it was perfect all summer, and frequently on tap at the Ravenleaf Public House which opened earlier this year – we have a local again! If you’re looking for a great burger (which was surprisingly hard to find in Seattle), it’s a must-visit. I’m so happy it’s just around the corner from our house.

Atwood Ales – Lodge – Session Ale, 3.2%
This was a road trip discovery; we came across the brewers at the farmers’ market in Bellingham, WA and could not have been more pleased. For those unconvinced that a 3.2% beer can impress, I’d suggest this – it was dark and toasty without being coffee-like, and was simply all-around delightful. I’ve been cheered to discover they now send some bottles to one of my local bottle shops; it may well become my Yards Brawler ‘replacement’ as a go-to beer.

Optimism Brewing – Automatic, ESB, 4.1%
I was a bit wary before trying Optimism, as I’d heard they didn’t label their beers by traditional styles ‘to avoid limiting choice,’ but I found that by the time I visited they (more or less) had pretty standard descriptions. I enjoyed quite a few of their beers, but especially this ESB – I frequently complain that there aren’t enough around, certainly when compared to the ubiquitous IPA, but this one was especially nice.

Lowercase Brewing – Chocolate Milk Porter, 5%
They also make a fine ESB, but I especially enjoyed this seasonal variant on their regular porter. Despite the name, it’s not overly sweet, but just right.

Holy Mountain Brewing – Helmsman – English Mild, 3.7%
I admit I am on the fence about this brewery as far as some of their ‘strange’ beers go; they just haven’t had the consistency of Tired Hands, who are strange alchemists when it comes to regularly pulling off the weird and wonderful, though I freely acknowledge my bias. That said, Helmsman is outstanding – a perfect mild, and one I’d happily pipe into my house if I could.

Floating Bridge Brewing – Bitter – 5.2%
Another great bitter! We’ve only managed to get to their new-this-year taproom once, but it was well worth the effort.

Stoup/Cloudburst – Fist Bump – Pale Ale – 7%
Is it really a pale ale at 7%? Probably not, but it is a fantastic beer. I am a big fan of both Stoup and Cloudburst (more on them in a moment), and this was a top-notch collaboration.

Georgetown Brewing Company – Bodhizafa – IPA – 6.9%
I complain a lot about all the ‘meh’ IPAs that seem to have taken over the world, but it’s nice to be reminded that there are some truly fantastic ones in this area. Some local beer nerds turn their noses up at Georgetown for (presumably) being easy to find on tap, making beer that tastes like beer and having been around a long time, but there’s a reason they are successful – it’s good beer.

Cloudburst Brewing – Phenomena – IPA – 6.9%
Having said that, the new kids are doing some amazing things – I don’t think there is a better brewery for IPAs anywhere on the planet than Cloudburst. Everything else they make is good too, but the IPAs are simply outstanding, and constantly rotating. They may well be the best brewery on this coast.

Wild Ride Brewing – Nut Crusher Peanut Butter Porter – 6%
This should not have worked for so many reasons, but it did. It was so good I sought it out multiple times.

Boneyard Beer Company – Bone-A-Fide – Pale Ale – 5.5%
Another fantastic pale ale from a great Oregon brewery – perhaps we’ll finally make it down there in 2017.

Elsewhere in the US
Toppling Goliath – pseudoSue – Pale Ale – 5.8%
I am always a bit dubious about beers for which people make special road trips, but this lived up to the hype. Yes, this is a pale ale for which an old-school bottle trade is a worthwhile endeavor.

I also made it to New York, Virginia and Texas on business trips this year, but alas, there was quite literally nothing to write home about from a beer perspective (not including the Mid-Atlantic beers I know and love from previous visits, and the fact that I did get to have a Hamilton-themed beer before seeing the show).

Canada
Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub – Lion’s Head Cascadia Dark Ale – 6.5%
We have yet to make it to Vancouver, but we did cross the border by water to visit Victoria. While most other local beer wasn’t especially impressive (at least in our limited sampling), everything at Spinnakers was wonderful, especially this hoppy/malty/roasty wonder.

Fine Irish beer
Fine Irish beer

Ireland
The White Hag Brewery – Little Fawn Session IPA – 4.2%
I enjoyed this on cask at one of the many Galway Bay Brewery locations scattered around Dublin; while their beers were pleasant enough, this one was special. I would love to see more breweries offer at least a few guest taps for friends, though I suspect that may be a vanishing trend.

Guinness – Dublin Porter – 3.8%
Yes, Guinness did taste different (and better) in Dublin, but it’s never been a favorite of mine. However, the Dublin Porter was wonderful; if the good people at Diageo began distributing this worldwide, I’d be most grateful.

England
Almasty Brewing Co. – Dry Hopped Stout, 6.5%
Our travels to the north of England were only a few days after my return from Dublin, so I wasn’t actively seeking out any more stouts, but this was a delight. Also delightful was The Knott in Manchester – wonderful, friendly staff and a wide selection of beers from around the world and around the corner.

George Wright Brewing Company – Mild, 4%
I know it’s becoming something of a broken record, but I love a good mild. Finding a great one was even better. We enjoyed this at The Ship & Mitre in Liverpool, which came highly recommended – while it did get crowded (and rightfully so, given their beer and food), it was an excellent find, so thank you, internet!

And there you have it for 2016; I certainly left off quite a few excellent beers and breweries that I hope to re-visit in 2017 (looking at you, Salish Sea Brewing Company, Seapine Brewing Company and Stones Throw Brewery), but it’s clear my theme for the year was one of Great Normal Beers, because I’m at the top of the craft beer cycle again – or maybe it’s because 2016 decided to bring the weird in so many other ways that I simply needed beer to trend in the opposite direction. Regardless of the reason, I’m looking forward to exciting new beer experiences in 2017; farewell, 2016!

#GHC16, Avoiding Gatekeeping and Expanding Opportunities for Women in Tech

At GHC16After years of following along on Twitter, not to mention 20 years simply existing as a woman in tech, I finally made it to my first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Houston (#GHC16 for you Twitter nerds) this year. And on the whole, it was a fabulous event — great keynote speakers, especially Dr. Latanya Sweeney of Harvard and Ginni Rometty of IBM, and so many opportunities to share experiences with other women in the field. It seemed that the vast majority of the attendees were computer science students looking for internships (and more power to them); they were poised, well-prepared and passionate about what we do — I wish I had been that clear about career paths when I was in my early 20s, and I was thrilled to chat with them — it was a splendid chance to offer advice and, of course, try to recruit them. Hiring is a lot harder now than it was in the 1990s, though more on that in a moment.

But I did notice a creeping undercurrent about who ‘counts’ as a woman in tech — not, I hasten to add, coming from any of the sessions I attended, merely snatches of conversation I overheard while walking the conference floor or lining up to get into a heavily-oversubscribed talk or two. ‘She’s just the recruiter’ or ‘I think she’s in marketing, not a software engineer’ or even ‘she’s not a CS major, she’s just looking to find a job with a good salary.’ And I admit that earlier in my career, I also had similar divisions in my mind — the women (and we only ever remarked upon the women, never the men — unconscious bias is a bitch) in marketing didn’t ‘get’ what ‘we’ the developers did, they were a different breed. Never mind that back then, few of ‘us’ had actually studied computer science; we had fallen into the profession through various routes — perhaps coding on the side as a hobby, or taking an interesting tech elective, or even been ‘drafted’ into a long-open role by having the ability to fog a mirror. But we worked with code. We were techies. Different. Special. Highly in demand.

But having racked up a lot more work and life experience then, I realize now that it’s just as easy to be the person on the other side of the ‘othering.’ A decade-plus into my career, when a CS degree was becoming the more standard route into tech (and the number of women I worked with dropped off quickly around that point), not having one suddenly became a bit suspect. Was I still a ‘real’ techie when I became ever-further-removed from hands-on coding? Sometimes my matrixed reports didn’t think so — and were on occasion surprised to know that I understood what they were talking about and could call them out on sloppy development work. Were my project managers still techies? Maybe. What about tech writers, editors and designers? Sometimes — especially if they were men.

The current mania for ‘STEM education’ at the expense of the arts and humanities, especially at the undergraduate level, makes the tech/non-tech division seem natural and ‘correct’ — when, in fact, you cannot build good tech products and programs without a diverse mix of skills and backgrounds. Yes, we need more women (and people of many other underrepresented backgrounds) in technology, but we cannot let an undergrad CS degree and a great internship become the only path in, nor should we let people become so focused on writing great code that they cannot develop in other ways. I want to meet great engineers who can also write well, give a kick-ass presentation and become go-to mentors for others — and those so-called ‘soft skills’ are just as vital, and need nurturing from the start. Outside interests are just as important; you can be passionate about what you do without it being the only thing you do.

I digress to make the point that we’re all in this together; whether you are a woman working in HR at a tech company or a female software engineer just getting started at a non-profit, you’re both women in tech. Even if your current team has an ideal gender balance (and I’ve been on quite a few), it’s unlikely you’ll always be that lucky in your future career; being able to advocate for each other, instead of only those who are Just Like Us (and Just Like Us doesn’t have to be based on gender or background — when we define ourselves by our roles at work, either in whole or in part, it’s relevant) is hugely important. There are no Fake Tech Women any more than there are Fake Geek Girls. Women who want to transition into a tech career from another field, perhaps with decades of non-technical experience under their belts, should not feel unwelcome. Given how incredibly difficult it is to hire people with the right skills, we need to stop gatekeeping, even when it’s unintentional, and help build other solid paths in. Coding boot camps, especially those with industry support that include internships for so-called non-traditional candidates, are a good start, but coding is just one important element of a successful tech career. Code should not be the sole defining feature of what a tech career looks like, any more than being a white dude under 30 is what a tech worker ‘looks like.’ We need to focus on our commonalities and drive positive change; creating artificial barriers is no help to anyone, not even the bottom line.

And that leads me to my next topic — where are the senior women in tech? The metrics presented at #GHC16 showed an uptick in early career tech women, but still what looks like a sheer cliff in mid-career and senior executive positions. The guidance offered was that formal leadership development programs are the key, and it certainly sounds like a useful path forward; I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in some useful coaching programs in previous roles, but they tended to focus on developing capabilities for individual projects or programs, rather than looking at how to move to the next level — that just ‘happened’ along the way. And I am very much aware of the fact that most of the other women I worked with in my early career are gone — they’ve left the field entirely.

But I took great inspiration from walking the #GHC16 conference floor and watching companies work hard to impress potential interns, entry-level and early career folk — imagine if we had the same opportunities as Old People to be, as Lerner and Loewe once wrote, ‘worshiped and competed for’ at conferences that focused on sharing roles at those levels. Yes, we get random calls from recruiters, but it’s not the same as having the opportunity to see a fuller picture of what’s out there and what we might work toward, nor does that offer the same chance to do in-person networking and story-telling. Luckily, there were some of ‘us’ there, and while we may not have been explicitly catered to by the hiring companies — not really an issue since most of us were there to hire for our own teams — it was nice to have some representation. Your tech career doesn’t have to end when you switch careers at 35 or take some time out to travel or have a family, and it’s important to see people who are visible reminders of that, just as it’s important to see real-life examples of women of color in tech, transwomen in tech, disabled women in tech and so forth.

I’ve written before about how the media tends to portray ‘successful’ women in tech as those who made the C-suite before 40 (or 30, or 25, or hey, why not 12?), or as young company founders blazing new trails. But a mature field allows for a wide variety of career paths, and incremental success is just as valid as headline-friendly overnight success. Sure, I’d like to have retired wealthy by 40 and had the opportunity to become a world-traveling philanthropist, funding rare book libraries and specialist archives all along the way, but I do really love my current position — I’m still moving onward and upward in my career (which affords me a ludicrous level of freedom and privilege compared to most), and I have the opportunity to mentor others. Whether that means we need to have more conferences aimed specifically at mid- and senior-career women in tech I do not know, but I do know that representation matters, and there was a lot of it at #GHC16. Hopefully there is more to come.

My other takeaway was that people will stand in line for a very long time for a freshly screen-printed t-shirt, but I have yet to wrap my head around that one — though that said, it created an ideal bottleneck for career conversations, so all in all, a win. 🙂

Now, if I can just find (or kick off) one of those formal leadership development programs, I’ll be set for my next act

This post also appears on Medium.

In Praise of the Pale Ale

Boneyard Bone-A-FideIf the ignored press releases in my inbox are to be believed, we seem to have reached Peak IPA, at least in the US, and while there are certainly many fine IPAs available nationwide, it can be increasingly difficult to find other styles, whether at a bar or restaurant that is known for their great beer lineup or at your local dive, which nowadays is likely to have at least one local (or not so local) IPA on tap. Indeed, it can seem that the more ‘curated’ selections are nothing but a mix of high-octane IPAs and whatever variety of ‘sour’ is popular this week. Simply finding a well-crafted beer that is neither a high-ABV hop bomb nor something peculiar – lovely as those are when the mood strikes – can be something of a chore.

Given that context, I am cheered by a little-heralded trend (microtrend? Local trend?) that seems to be emerging in my (still new-to-me) surroundings here in Seattle – a good availability of excellent pale ales. I have long been a fan of classic British pale ales like Timothy Taylor Landlord, and I had essentially resigned myself to only getting anything similar on business trips to Europe, or visits back to the east coast; the left coast is certainly much better-known for its experimental IPAs than for its mellow, malt-forward beers.

R2-Beer2But having been pleasantly surprised by the quality of local pale ales, I hope to shine a spotlight on a few that don’t receive the digital column inches and Untappd love often reserved for their IPA relations. Starting with the veteran offering, Manny’s Pale Ale, I can happily report that ubiquity does not negate quality – this has become my go-to beer, and it’s always a welcome treat, whether it’s at a Mexican restaurant where the options are Manny’s or Negra Modelo, re-fueling after finishing running 200ish miles with your colleagues or being served by R2-Beer2 (a real thing that happened at work the other week – the perks of tech nerdery are many and varied).

And there are more than a few that are truly outstanding. Special mention must go to Boneyard Bone-A-Fide, Cloudburst Unreliable Narrator and Stoup Fist Bump – a collaboration with Cloudburst, though their standard Mosaic Pale Ale is also excellent. While these do bend toward the hoppier side of the pale ale continuum, their shared feature is a clean, fresh biscuit-y backbone – thoroughly approachable and enjoyable. Boneyard and Cloudburst are more likely better-known for their top-quality IPAs, but these beers are not just scaled-down versions of those; they are well-crafted and deserve to be sought out in their own right.

Other fine examples of Pacific Northwest pale ales I’ve recently enjoyed are Seapine Mosaic Pale Ale, Reuben’s Daily Pale and Lowercase American Pale Ale – all hitting the mark for quality and flavor. And it’s not exclusive to Seattle area; I recently had many cans of Toppling Goliath’s PseudoSue appear in my refrigerator, and it’s just as good as advertised, though I would argue the Boneyard, Cloudburst and Stoup beers are quite easily in the same class. If real or engineered rarity adds to perceived beer quality (it shouldn’t, but it often does), Cloudburst beats Toppling Goliath – at present, they are only available on tap in the immediate area, and they are delicious.

My hope is that if People Who Like Beer actually seek out some of these fabulous pale ales, as well as others available in their local areas, we can drop the ‘session IPA’ nonsense (let’s be honest – good ones are re-branded pale ales, bad ones taste like hop tea) and breweries can properly embrace ‘pale ale’ as a marketable term once more.

That said, if someone invents a made-up style term that makes great ESBs more widely available, I will happily take one for Team Pedantry if it means I can find them more easily.

Consider the challenge issued.

On the (Hamil)Tonys

The (Hamil)Tonys are fast approaching, and this year promises to be an especially spectacular edition, not just because of the Hamilton juggernaut, but because of the diverse range of talent on display across all the nominated shows – can you imagine another Tonys year in which there was so much quality that the always-brilliant Audra McDonald didn’t get a nomination? How lucky we are to be alive right now.

And for those who question whether Hamilton is really that good, I offer an emphatic yes; I’ve catalogued everything I’ve seen on Broadway, in the West End, at the Globe, the National Theatre or at the Royal Shakespeare Company (both Stratford and London) over the past decades for comparative purposes. It took something truly amazing to move the most perfect production of A Little Night Music off the top spot, but there you are.

Without further ado, some theatrical reminiscences; I’ve left out opera, touring productions, college shows and children’s theatre for the sake of some attempt at brevity, but still largely failed. Art isn’t easy.

Holy Cats, That Was Amazing

Hamilton, Original Broadway Cast, 2016 Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson History is happening in Manhattan
A Little Night Music, Royal National Theatre, 1995 Judi Dench, Siân Phillips, Joanna Riding, Patricia Hodge Best Sondheim production ever
Fun Home, Original Broadway Cast, 2015 Michael Cerveris, Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas, Judy Kuhn, Emily Skeggs Amazing cast and show; I hope it runs forever

Truly Great

Assassins, Broadway Revival, 2004 Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Cerveris, Denis O’Hare Fact: Michael Cerveris wins a Tony every time I see him
Richard III/Twelfth Night, Globe Theatre on Broadway, 2014 Mark Rylance, Stephen Fry, Samuel Barnett, Paul Chahidi, Kurt Egyiawan Mark Rylance! Also, one of several productions featuring an alum from The History Boys
Henry V, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1995 Iain Glen, Daniel Evans, Tony Britton Or, where I first discovered Iain Glen. Excellent St. Crispin’s Day speechifying
Henry V, Globe Theatre, 2012 Jamie Parker, Kurt Egyiawan Another great Henry V, and another History Boy to add to the collection
Company, Broadway Revival, 2006 Raúl Esparza He could drive a person crazy; everybody rise
One Man, Two Guvnors, Original Broadway Cast, 2012 James Corden Some of the best physical comedy you’ll ever see
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Original Broadway Cast, 2013 Jefferson Mays, Bryce Pinkham Jefferson Mays is a national treasure

Really Quite Good

Equus, Broadway Revival, 2008 Daniel Radcliffe, Richard Griffiths Really nicely observed production
Avenue Q, Original Broadway Cast, 2003 John Tartaglia, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Ann Harada What do you do with a BA in English? Work toward your EGOT
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Original Broadway Cast, 2005 Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Dan Fogler I do love some William Finn, and this was an outstanding cast
Hamlet, Almeida Theatre, 1994 Ralph Fiennes, Francesca Annis, Damian Lewis, Tara FitzGerald, Paterson Joseph, Rupert Penry-Jones, Nicholas Rowe Before internet scalping, before Tennant and Cumberbatch, this was the Hamlet people were looking for
The Clandestine Marriage, West End Revival, 1994 Nigel Hawthorne, Finty Williams Fun with Molière
Cabaret, Broadway Revival, 2014 Alan Cumming, Michelle Williams How did Alan Cumming look fitter and stronger, all these years later?
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Broadway Revival, 2011 Daniel Radcliffe, John Larroquette, Tammy Blanchard Yes, Daniel Radcliffe is quite a good singer and dancer, even with his clothes on
The Light in the Piazza, Original Broadway Cast, 2005 Victoria Clark, Kelli O’Hara, Matthew Morrison Well worth the price of admission
Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, Original Broadway Cast, 2012 Hugh Jackman Yes, please
Henry IV, Pt 1, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1991 Julian Glover, Michael Maloney, Robert Stepehens Julian Glover!
Julius Caesar, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1995 Hugh Quarshie, John Nettles, Julian Glover, Paul Bettany As with a lot of ’90s Shakespeare, I was often getting my Julian Glover fangirl on
Take Me Out, Original Broadway Cast, 2003 Denis O’Hare (though we saw excellent understudy Nat De Wolf), Daniel Sunjata Sportsball! On Broadway!
Spamalot, Original Broadway Cast, 2005 Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria, Christian Borle, Sara Ramirez A fun show, and glad we got to see Tim Curry

Great Cast, Meh Show and/or Production

Nine, Broadway Revival, 2003 Antonio Banderas, Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, Chita Rivera, Nell Campbell, Mary Stuart Masterson Never a huge fan of the show, but the cast was amazing
The Boy from Oz, Original Broadway Cast, 2003 Hugh Jackman This should be the dictionary definition of a performer utterly transcending a mediocre show
Man of La Mancha, Broadway Revival, 2002 Brian Stokes Mitchell (and future Hamilton choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler in the ensemble) Stokes! And not a bad production, just not a great one, either
Curtains, Original Broadway Cast, 2007 David Hyde Pierce Another fine effort, but the show didn’t hang together well
Dessa Rose, Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2003 LaChanze, Norm Lewis, Rachel York Once again, a great cast, a middling show

Not Bad

Urinetown, Original Broadway Cast, 2002 John Cullum, Hunter Foster, Spencer Kayden A cute show, and a lot of fun
Lenny, West End Revival, 1999 Eddie Izzard, Elizabeth Berkley Eddie Izzard is often underrated as an actor, though the production wasn’t amazing
Relative Values, West End Revival, 1993 Sarah Brightman, Susan Hampshire I don’t think Sarah Brightman was cut out for Noel Coward

The Lows

A Little Night Music, New York City Opera, 2003 Jeremy Irons, Juliet Stevenson, Anna Kendrick One of my faovrite shows butchered by a non-singer in a must-sing role; props to a very young Anna Kendrick for playing a delightful Frederika, though

Martin Guerre
, Original West End Cast, 1996
Iain Glen, Sheila Reid, Baby James Corden (in the chorus) I love Iain Glen, there are some OK tunes, but the words and brief talking bits were a trainwreck; mystifying choreography as well
Aspects of Love, Original West End Cast, 1990 Not Michael Ball that night, but Michael Praed instead A series of drink ordering by recitative, followed up with creepy would-be teenage cousin molestation – not a great idea for a musical
Speed the Plow, Original Broadway Cast, 1988 Madonna, Ron Silver, Joe Mantegna 2/3 of the cast was great, and the other 1/3 was Madonna – enough to ruin everyone’s evening

DAMNY 2016: All the Thoughts

damnyAnother DAMNY is in the books, and once again, there were a few too many thought-provoking sessions than one could attend without bilocating, but to my mind, that is the sign of a healthy conference agenda and a maturing field. While there were still discussions on choosing the right DAM and making the vendor-vs-roll-your-own decision – and very important and useful those are for those new to the field – it was encouraging to see more panels looking to the future – indeed, some were beginning to address the gaps I see in the DAM world. I continually wonder when DAM, content strategy and knowledge management will all coalesce (or, barring that, make their boundaries clear in solutions that play nicely together), and this year’s conference confirmed that I’m not the only person asking those questions.

Sometimes a DAM is implemented without giving much thought to the foundational content strategy: in these cases, simply ‘getting a DAM’ is expected to solve any and all problems related to the digital supply chain, content marketing, audio and video encoding, web content management, rights management, digital preservation and content delivery, all in one fell swoop. A tool built to manage what we might now call ‘traditional’ digital assets – images, audio and video – may be tasked with being the single source of truth for copy and translations, contracts and filesharing; in short, handling and delivering structured and unstructured data of all stripes to varying degrees of success.

And perhaps that is indeed where we are going, albeit more thoughtfully – if the DAM is truly to be the core of the digital ecosystem, the end users may not need to know what it can and cannot do under the hood, as long as ancillary systems are seamlessly doing what the user needs, thanks to some deftly-designed data models, well-described asset relationships and friendly APIs. But without DAM leaders, both those at DAM vendors and expert DAM managers, developing these use cases and solutions for them, and demanding some firm industry standards, it will take some time to get to that ideal state. A case in point that came up in several sessions was that of the explosion in video resolution and formats – while that (exciting) problem will not apply to every organization, the approach to potential solutions will most likely affect the direction DAM vendors begin to move.

Similarly, the opportunities presented by linked data and well-described semantic relationships must be embraced; the digital humanities field was quite rightly called out for being at the forefront of this wave, having been surfing it long before business or even most technology companies thought to dip a toe in the water (just take a look at any THATCamp writeup). Indeed, it’s another example of how librarians have been key to the development of DAM over the past decade; not only can they (we) whip up a snazzy taxonomy and run your DAM better than anyone else, but they (we) can be amazing futurists – defining a roadmap for a product before the vendor thought to do so, or simply building a homegrown solution.

And that brings me to a slight worry; I noted (though I was far from the only one to do so) that a few of the technology-specific panels fit the dreaded all-male panel stereotype. This has not been my general experience at previous DAMNYs, and I did see that at least one of them had not been designed that way, but DAM managers and end users – frequently librarians and, nowadays, marketers – and DAM product managers and developers sometimes give the appearance of dividing along gender lines. I’ve previously raised the concern about how this could affect salaries (tl;dr – as a technical, or any other sort – of profession becomes more ‘feminized,’ salaries shrink), but I would hope that as a small, though growing, profession, we can all be mindful of that pitfall and work together to avoid a needless binary, where (at least superficially) men develop the software and serve in senior executive roles, but women do the day-to-day work. I will certainly grant that as a women with 20 years of experience in technology, my Spidey sense is more sharply attuned to look for this than it might be otherwise, but here’s how you can all make me feel better – take this year’s DAM Foundation Salary Survey and let the data speak.

But there is another way we a rising tide can lift all ships in this field – we can be more proactive about creating mentoring opportunities, both for those looking to get into the field, as well as for those looking to get to that next career step. The DAM Guru program does an excellent job of matching people with those looking for advice on a particular solution or for those who are just starting out, but we have no formal mechanism as DAM practitioners to take that next step for mid- and senior-level folk. As someone who has been ‘doing this’ a long time, and in different types of companies, I’d be more than happy to mentor those coming up, but I’d equally love to spend some time with some of those very senior executives who are driving the shape of DAMs to come. To borrow a phrase, I want to be in the room where it happens, and I’d like to help other people who want to get there find their own paths.

My biggest takeaway from this year’s DAMNY is that we’re at an exciting point in DAM’s maturity, and for those of us who are lucky enough to have found our way into this field, often by fairly circuitous routes, it’s always nice to re-convene to be among ‘our people’ – but let’s take lessons learned from other tech specialties and ensure that the DAM community’s diversity continues to grow, rather than contract. As we develop systems with ever-broader capabilities, the field as a whole can only benefit from a wide range of backgrounds and experience – let’s aim to keep adding new lifeblood.

I should probably propose a DAM career development workshop for next year…

A Many Years Ago, When I Was Young and Charming…

Way back when...
Time Out

Twenty years ago this month, I landed my first tech job, quite by chance – and fell headfirst into a career I neither planned for nor expected, yet here I am, two decades later, enjoying my standing desk in a gleaming tower. The setting for this serendipitous accident was London, and London in January of 1996 was an exciting place to be. Britpop was in full force (even if many of the bands lumped into that category did not embrace the tag, often quite rightly), amazing comedy was all over television and live clubs, and the theatre was in fantastic shape, from the RSC to tiny pub venues. Keeping track of the wealth of culture on offer was the purview of Time Out, and even as a relatively poor grad student, especially one who was thrilled to discover student discounts on theatre tickets were much deeper in the UK compared to the US, I happily paid for a copy of the magazine each week to plan my leisure time – more on that in a moment.

Of course, I should not have had such extensive free time; I was busy studying for my MA at the Institute of Archaeology, with plans to go on for a PhD, and then to become a clubby and chummy academic in the JRR Tolkien or MR James mold – obviously, I fell at the first hurdle by never learning to use abbreviations, rather than my first name, or possibly by having two X chromosomes and not being born in the 19th century. Instead, I seemed to find ample opportunity to hang out at the British Museum (that totally counted as work, right?), see bands like David Devant and his Spirit Wife, catch Iain Glen and Judi Dench onstage, hit regular comedy nights and, just for fun, I learned to build websites.

My coding hobby began initially as a way to organize websites I liked for easy access – enormous shared desktop computers in a lab did not make bookmarking useful, but having my own hotlist (hotlists were a thing) gave me some portability and, oddly, kudos among my less-technical peers. Even in that now-distant era before web comments became an archive of discontent, I soon realized that my free webspace let me share my interests – and gave me a platform to complain about things. I believe the Spice Girls came in for a good deal of online umbrage from me in those early, pre-irony days, but as a cool indiekid, my online persona had to take against them. But I later turned this opportunity in a more positive direction by building sites for bands I liked – official versions were still some way in the future. There was also the instant gratification element missing from academic research – if I wanted to spin up a new webpage, it only took a few minutes to knock together some code, find an appropriately-’90s background image, and play around with fonts. A brief aside – I once had a turquoise and neon yellow tiled background that perfectly matched a cheap shirtdress I bought at C&A, or possibly Topshop – it is possible that I was cosplaying my own website before anyone discovered something so ridiculously meta was possible.

Then I realized you could get paid to do this.

One day while poking around on Time Out’s website – one of a very few covering London in any meaningful way at that point – I saw an ad for a web assistant. If memory serves (and it may not be as accurate as I believe it to be), it sounded slightly mournful – the site was getting bigger, but no one else had the requisite HTML skills to keep it updated. Could someone please apply and perhaps they would train them to do the work? ‘But I can do that right now,’ I thought – and I duly emailed off a copy of my resume and links to the pages I had built. I got a speedy reply and an invitation for an interview – the notion of attaching a resume as well as links to previous ‘work’ seemed to have been rather more than any other candidates had managed. Within a few days, I presented myself at Universal House, just a short walk down Tottenham Court Road from my UCL stomping grounds, and was hired immediately.

I discovered that in addition to the princely sum of £75/day (yes, really), I’d also be receiving a free copy of Time Out each week – two if I wanted them! Never having had a real job before, such an unexpected perk was especially welcome – my days of getting terrible free corporate art, snacks, software release t-shirts and on-site massages were still some way in the future. I’d get to hear about upcoming gigs in advance as I dropped them onto the website, and if something was missing, I could add a plug for a band I liked, as long as it matched the writing style of the rest of the site. I learned about an exciting new comedy group called the League of Gentlemen, who had yet to make their way to television. I got press kits from bands like My Life Story, and invitations to alcohol-soaked book launches. I discovered that there was a free drinks trolley that went around the office on certain afternoons. In short, there was not a better job for an overeducated 20 year-old with no real responsibilities.

But it wasn’t all just fun and games – I also got the chance to build on my skills. When my boss (the only full-time employee on the website for a very long time indeed) went out of town, I got to field all the questions about what we did, and generally run the show; when I came back after a week away, I was excited to learn that he’d tweaked the site to improve the layout with ‘a new thing – tables in HTML.’ With our nested tables (frames came later) and many, many carefully-sliced gifs, we could almost, but not entirely, get rid of imagemaps for the ‘graphics-heavy’ version of the site that was offered to people with faster dial-up connections. A second brief aside here: while I never liked the sound of a connecting modem, I do miss the Eudora ‘new email’ tone, which was an exciting thing to hear at the time. The office sounds fundamentally different today.

In many ways, that first job set the template for my career; if I wanted to try something novel on the site – Javascript, ASP or another ‘new’ technology – I was encouraged to experiment. If it worked, great, and if not, well, it was worth giving it a go, and it was never bad to add another technical string to one’s bow on company time; continuous learning was considered standard practice. I could dress as I liked, and my usual t-shirt-jeans-and-Doc Martens wardrobe was utterly unremarkable. Another plus: occasional-to-frequent free booze. That structure has served me well in the diverse directions my career has taken me since then – to Silicon Valley before the dot-com crash, where I worked at Women.com (an experience not unlike a triple-decker novel in many ways), Juniper Networks and Hewlett-Packard, to New York as a techie-in-non-tech companies (and ditto in Philadelphia), and back to the west coast, where I’m now an Amazonian in Seattle.

In those twenty years, I’ve only ever had to ‘dress up’ for work for the non-techie organizations (interestingly, it’s also only outside of tech-specific companies that I’ve experienced any overt sexism, though that’s another story) – it was delightful to donate all my ‘grownup’ work clothes when we moved back to the left coast, where I can wear my nerdy t-shirts, hoodies and DMs to work again without a second glance. Also back: occasional free booze, though as the tired parent of a tween and a toddler, I’m rarely out late – I need my sleep, so the ‘occasional’ aspect is really by choice these days.

If I have any work wisdom to impart as a ‘veteran’ tech nerd lady, it’s this: hire smart people, with diverse backgrounds and skillsets, and let them get on with solving tricky problems as a team in their own way – but set high expectations. Keep learning about new technology, languages and tools, even if you accept you can’t be an expert in everything; it’s especially important if your career evolution has taken you out of day-to-day development and into a leadership position. Volunteer for things – the non-profit world desperately needs your skills and experience, and you never know when your passionate hobby project may become your full-time concern. But most importantly, ensure that the ladders you used to find your way still exist – or build new ones if they do not. There is no single path into the tech world, but people from ‘outside’ are not always aware how transferable, and ultimately useful, their experiences might be for a technical team. A little coding knowledge on top of solid writing, communication and management skills can go a very long way, especially if you give someone the time and space to learn by doing. Beer helps, too.

And if there is a larger moral to my narrative, it is that procrastination can pay off in ways you never expected – just call it ‘learning’ and it becomes a virtue, rather than a vice!

This post also appears on Medium.

The Dogfish Dash at 10: An Appreciation

Dogfish Dash ephemera September for the beer nerd may herald the welcome return of fresh festbiers and pumpkin beers (presuming you weren’t already tripping over them in the shops in July or August), but for me, it just means one thing: it’s Dogfish Dash time.

Now in its tenth year, the event has grown from a casual, friendly run around a portion of the Junction-Breakwater trail and a stop in Dogfish Head’s Rehoboth Beach brewpub afterward, to quite a competitive event beginning and ending at the brewery in Milton – and the competition starts with simply scoring a bib. I ran my first Dogfish Dash in its second year, and will be back this time for my eighth; I had to break my nearly-perfect streak last year as I was Far Too Pregnant to run. Despite missing a year, I seem to have amassed a larger-than-expected collection of Dogfish Dash ephemera: not just t-shirts and race bibs, but semi-forgotten unredeemed coupons, water bottles and the odd blog post (or two, or three).

My favorite is still the Dogfish + feet = love shirtIt seems strange to think now that it was possible to fit most of the runners and their friends and family into the brewpub, with (relatively) minimal waits for beer, but as the Dogfish Dash has grown, the art of getting an ever-increasing number of runners to their beers has evolved and improved over time. Yes, some years had very long lines, but that’s simply incentive to try to finish in good time, and it’s clear that lessons are learned and applied to line management the following year. The other advantage of staging the race in Milton is the opportunity to tour the brewery; it seems there’s an entirely new portion each time, and the organization of the mini-tours has been top-notch. My now-10 year old looks forward to the race every year just for the tour; while he’s probably toured more breweries around the world than most adults, Dogfish Head is the one he sees annually, so he enjoys noting the changes (and donning the safety goggles). The staff members do an amazing job of moving large groups of people safely through the brewery, and the volunteers keep the beer flowing outside with plenty of enthusiasm. It’s also great to see the returning runners, both before and after the race: there are regular groups of costumed teams who seem to have better beer-related themes each time out.

I’ve developed my own strategies around registration and packet pickup over the years – though it’s worth noting that while it seems it was ever thus, there was no great rush to sign up for the first few years; you could take your time and see how you felt a few weeks out. It’s true you do need to schedule yourself to register and collect your bib and other goodies, but given the popularity of the race, it’s to be expected. That said, it’s quite reasonable to cap the number of runners, even with a race for charity; anyone who has ever run in a huge event like the Broad Street Run or one of the many Rock & Roll half-marathons knows that a huge wall of people in front of you, fast or slow, isn’t the most inspiring running experience. And given that the race goes through Milton, which no one would accuse of being a large town (though it is a town of considerable architectural interest), there’s only so much room on the course. And I hear rumors that the backlog at the bridge – a familiar, if minor, issue for anyone who has run this race in the past – won’t be an issue this year with the change in distance and route.

First time! pre-dogfish Growth!

That brings us to another point; when those changes were first announced, there was the expected grumbling on Twitter about the loss of the 10K, while others lamented the lack of a 5K – it was too short for some, while too long for others who had hoped to make it their first race. For both, I’ll offer my perspective: the Dogfish Dash is what made me become a ‘real’ runner, and it can do the same for you. Prior to my first Dogfish Dash, I was a novice runner who could barely manage a few yards without stopping, though I was a keen and seasoned beer drinker. But after that first race, it became an annual part of my calendar, and I began signing up for other, longer races, just to be ready to run a ‘good’ (by my standards) Dogfish Dash – anything that would make my wait in the beer line shorter. I began doing all sorts of other fitness-related things that would have shocked and horrified my teenage self, but it has always paid off – I’ve exceeded my 10K PR each year in the Dogfish Dash, and I can’t avoid setting a PR (personal record, for all you couldn’t-care-less-about-weird-runner-jargon folk) for this new, ‘off-centered’ distance. And while I’m still not back to my pre-this-baby speed, and I realize that calling what I do ‘speedy’ would inspire laughter with certain stripes of runners who take things a bit too seriously, my prep races have convinced me it’s returning. So whether it’s a stretch for someone who is just starting out as a runner (welcome – there’s beer at the end!) or a shorter race that a distance runner can use to push their pace, it’s good, well-organized fun for all.

So, if there’s a moral to the story, it’s that beer is good for you, and makes you a fitter, faster runner. I’m living proof.

See you there!