Exciting Adventures at CodeMash – Part 2, Session Days

With CodeMash coming to an end, I figured I better recap my experiences while they’re still fresh on my mind.  I’ve recapped my Precompiler experiences in the previous post.  Now, let’s see how I did on the days with sessions.

Thursday

I had Thursday figured out early on.  I figured I’d wake up early, catch breakfast and an awesome keynote, and then catch some sessions to inspire me for future projects.  Unfortunately, none of that happened, as I managed to wake up in the middle of the night to turn my alarm off and go back to sleep.  Doh!  By the time I arrived at the conference center, I had time to talk with friends, vendors, and other attendees and then make my way to lunch.  It was a great chance that I got to meet my Microsoft MVP Lead, Esther Lee.  She came to CodeMash to meet up with some of her MVPs, as well as other developer MVPs from other countries.  It was great to talk with her and give feedback on products, knowing that our feedback is heard and taken into consideration.

GesturePak

I managed to make it to one session on Thursday – Carl Franklin’s session on GesturePak, used for creating gestures for Kinect for Windows.  I wanted to sit in on this mostly for my own curiosity.  Now that I have a child in my life who seems obsessed with our XBOX Kinect – only 9.5 months old and already yelling at the XBOX to turn on and try to get it to do things, I want to look into writing programs for him that he can interact with.  When I was younger, I used to write flashcard apps in VB6 for my baby brother, who’s 8 years younger than me, so it’s natural for me to want to write apps for my own little guy.  Seeing how easy it was to create gestures with GesturePak, I can only hope to one day find the time to write some apps for Kinect for Windows for Logan to play with.

Friday

I knew I wouldn’t catch much in the way of sessions on Friday.  My goal on Friday was to check out the Arduino session and then relax, as my family was coming.  My dream for Friday came true.

Arduino

I really wanted to check out Sharon Cichelli’s Arduino talk on Friday.  We have an Arduino here at home that has a bunch of temperature sensors connected to it, so that we can monitor our house temperatures.  We originally had kept our chinchillas in a room on our 1st floor and had to make sure their room stayed within a certain temperature range.  However, once I was pregnant, we moved the chinchillas to our basement (where the temperature would be acceptable) and turned their old room into the nursery, where we could monitor the room temperature for our little boy.  We take the data from our temperature sensors and graph it with Cacti.  Here’s a sample of the output from our Arduino:

tempsensors

 

Sharon’s talk was great!  It was great to get other ideas on how Arduinos can be used – robots, video games, ambient clock,  greenhouse monitoring, and many more things.  Honestly, the ideas for using Arduinos are endless.  She also has a great list of resources for getting started with Arduinos.  Seeing how easy it is to work with, I am  tempted to play around with Arduinos more at home.  Either that or – after seeing many presentations on it – I may consider playing with a Netduino and using the .NET Micro framework.

Conclusion

While I didn’t catch much in the way of sessions this year – as the session list just didn’t really jump out at me and excite me as much as it has in the past, I still enjoyed the sessions I did catch.  More importantly, I was happy to talk with people who I see sometimes just once a year at CodeMash and seeing friends in general.  The hallway discussions and chatting with friends at lunch really got me thinking about the rest of this year.  CodeMash was my first big conference since having my son, and it’s great to be back in the community again.

Exciting Adventures at CodeMash – Part 1, Precompilers

Every year, CodeMash sells out quicker than the last.  It’s growing in size and popularity beyond belief, which is a good thing.  Overall, it’s been a great adventure.  As I mentioned in my past precompiler selection article, it was tough to choose precompilers, as there were so many great ones to choose from that seemed relevant to me.

Speaker Workshop with Leon Gersing

As I suspected, this was a wonderful Precompiler for me to start with.  The room was filled with some familiar faces (such as Cori) and a lot of new faces (including Kevin N., Sharon, DustyJohn, and Evan).  We had a brief eyes forward session on tips and tricks to use while presenting.  Once that was done, then Leon got us involved in group activities.

The first activity involved dividing the room in half.  One half of the room had to stand up in front of the other half of the room.  The seated half was supposed to observe the standing half.  Being up there, I either stood with my arms crossed (as I hate standing up in front of a quiet room where all eyes are on me and the audience has blank expressions on their face) or tried to make them laugh (did I mention that I don’t like standing up in front of blank faces).  For me, when I’m standing in front of a crowd and being observed, I’m typically presenting.  While presenting, I’m also reading my audience and trying to keep them engaged.  So standing still and trying to be quiet up there… not a comfortable thing for me.

Then there was the activity of lining up in groups and then coming to the center and introducing ourselves.  Some people introduced themselves with a question tone – so along the lines of “I’m Sarah Dutkiewicz?”  I knew not to come out with the question tone, but I’ve had practice speaking and had a speech class in college where the speech instructor taught me the tricks and helped me channel the self confidence to get away from that.  However, I started with a long introduction (that I ended up doing 3 or 4 times, so much so that I’m sure most of the people there could repeat it) and then ended with a “I’m Sarah Dutkiewicz!”.    Now I have to admit… doing the introduction a ton of times, I heard a lot of “Hey, Sadukie!” throughout the conference – so I knew my introduction style was effective.  But man, having to introduce myself so many times… I knew why, but I just had to do it.  That, and Leon is my friend and knows that he can put me through that and that I could handle it.

Overall, I really enjoyed observing others and how they carry themselves and then listen to Leon’s critique and suggestions.  Reading body language was quite an interesting exercise as well.  I look forward to putting the experiences in there towards becoming a better speaker.

Creative Problem Solving with Jessie Shternshus

This was the precompiler I really wanted to get into.  Jessie Shternshus of The Improv Effect led this session. They limit the session to 40 participants, so I skipped breakfast (other than peanut butter filled pretzels) so that I’d get a spot.  Well worth it!  Learning how to solve problems creatively by using improv exercises really turned out to be an effective session.  Starting out the session cheering “I FAILED!” and celebrating that set a fun tone for the session.  These are just some (but not all) of the exercises we did.

Defining Randomness

In this exercise, we got into two circles.  As we went around the circle, one person would make up a word and the person next to them would define the word, as if they were an expert on that word.  It was great to see how random the words really sounded and who got really creative with their answers (and how close they could tie to the sounds of the word).  It really flowed well for the group I was in.

Completing Words

In this exercise, we were still in two circles.  As we went around the circle, one person would start a word and the next person would finish the word.  Then, the two of them would have to say their word together.  To give you an idea of how our group went, we had these scenarios:

Person 1: For

Person 2: Play

Person 1 & 2: Foreplay!

Person 1: Shh

Person 2: It

Person 1 & 2: Shit!

Group Telephone

In this exercise, we were in a large circle.  Jessie would start by making an action at Jim (another one of the improv guys), and then he’d repeat it to the person next to him, who’d repeat it and so on around the circle.

Colossa… mama!

Suh, suh… hmm?!?

Oh the phrases and actions we passed around as a group telephone experience!  You learn about people’s different personalities and ways of conveying a message, and you can see how things change over time.  The second phrase started more as a saunter and the “hmmm?!?” was a slower, in-your-face experience.  However, this message travelled twice around the circle and sped up and turned almost into a tribal dance.  It was awesome to watch the evolution of the message!

No, but… Yes, but… and Yes, and…

This was an exercise between two people.  You had to try to carry on a conversation first with starting sentences with “No, but…”.  In the second part of the exercise, you have to try to carry on a conversation starting sentences with “Yes, but…”.  Finally, you had to try to carry on a conversation with “Yes, and…”.  We found ourselves sometimes struggling with the “but” part of the sentence, and when we both agreed on things, it was easy for the conversation to fall flat.  Honestly, I find it hard to carry on a conversation with only one of these.  I tend to employ each of these multiple times in conversations rather than sticking with one.  But that’s just me.

Tear Apart a Commonly Used Object

In this exercise, we got into groups and had to find all the faults in a commonly used object.  I was in a group that tore apart (no pun intended) 2-ply toilet paper.  It sticks to shoes.  It doesn’t make good crime scene tape. It’s a bad raincoat.  These were just some of the things we had to say.  This exercise was helpful in that we can apply it to tearing apart a business’s (or even competitor’s) product and see ways of how to improve the product.

Creative Uses of an Office Object

We had to suggest an office object and then 3 people would be at the front of the room and making suggestions of how else the items could be used.  The first object was a stapler, which the group came up with all sorts of creative ways to use it and the staples inside.  Then, there was the group that had to come up with uses for a pencil.  Let’s just say that the 3 of them seemed to assume it was a wooden pencil and they all tended to stick with a morbid, grotesque theme until the end when it was suggested to use the metal piece as a warmer for food.  This reminded me in a way of the props skits done on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”  This exercise helps us realize that if we think outside the box, we can use our tools to solve all sorts of problems.

Sentences with the Last Letter of the Previous Sentence

This was absolutely maddening to me!  I would rather have a conversation with someone without having  to think about the letters of the words being used.  I think this is because I’d rather listen to what people have to say and then play off of it.  I learned about Jean from Pittsburgh’s little boy and how his name came from somewhere in the family tree.   It was great talking with her!

3 Words, 5 Words

For awhile, someone would say 3 words and then the other person would follow with 5 words.  Trying to have a conversation while counting words is also maddening!  I opened with “Cards Against Humanity”, which led to a fun discussion – my intuition told me that Jean probably played it too!  But we found ourselves counting words a lot more, which, to me, interrupts the flow of the conversation.

Conclusion

There were quite a few more exercises going on throughout this session – it’s jam packed with interaction and thinking outside of the box.  I loved participating in these and learning how to apply them to our day-to-day dealings.  I am so glad I was able to get into this session, as it was well worth it!

Thoughts on the Precompilers

Overall, I chose wisely as to which precompilers I felt I would benefit from the most.  It was great to be in sessions that had participation other than sitting and writing code.  It forced me to be a little out of my comfort zone and really taught me some things about myself that I never realized.  I look forward to channeling the skills that I’ve learned in these sessions in future presentations.

Asshattery in Technology – Why WiT Struggle at Tech Conferences

As I’ve just finished another CodeMash, I’ve got to admit that there were a lot more women there than at past CodeMashes.

 

It was great to see this, but at the same time, my inner dread of hearing about asshattery at the conference came true too.  Apparently while CodeMash was going, CES – a massive tech conference  – was also going on with asshattery of its own.  Talking with my husband, he thought this was something of the past.  Unfortunately, this awfulness is still prevalent today.

Booth Babes Should Not Exist

I caught wind of this article on Mashable about a particular booth at CES 2013.  Then there’s this article on The Atlantic Wire about CES’s booth babes.  There’s VICE.com’s “Why So Many Booth Babes, CES 2013?” article.  Finally, Business Insider did an article called “Meet the Booth Babes of CES 2013”.  Ah… CES…. you’ve yet again showed me why our industry isn’t mature and tends to sexualize things when they don’t need it.  Booth babes?  Nude models?  Just how are these ladies relevant to technology?  That’s right… they aren’t!  As stated in the VICE.com article, this gimmick works  in a purely male industry.  But wake up, vendors!  Technology may be male-dominated, but it isn’t solely males.  Not only are you doing a disservice to the females in the industry, but you’re also doing a disservice to the guys in the industry who find this behavior not only uncomfortable but uncalled for.  Overall, you’re doing a disservice to the industry as a whole. 

Not All Hot Women Are Booth Babes

Now I have to say this, especially about CodeMash.  Many of you who’ve talked to me know that I’m curious about the other women at these conferences.  If their name tag doesn’t give an idea of what they do, I tend to chat with them to find out what they do.  There were women there who had “booth babe beauty”, but they weren’t booth babes.  If you talked with them, you’d find that they were in marketing/copy writing  recruiting, and yes even some in development.  However, men and women alike are quick to make the assumption that if a woman is hot, then she is a booth babe.  This is very far from the truth, even in technology.

Just Because She’s Hot Doesn’t Mean You Can Hit On Her

When we’re at these tech conferences, we are there to learn more about things that interest us and can help us further our career.  This does not include sleeping with co-workers to get ahead – such an outdated practice that never works anyhow and leads to complications in the office.  Trust me, ladies – don’t prostitute yourself just to advance your career as you will regret it later.

Men, the last thing we want to deal with are guys hitting on us and making assumptions that giving our room number to people for a party later means something more.  For those who are out there and dating, about 95% of them are not looking for a potential mate at a tech conference.  And if a one night stand happens, there’s most likely alcohol involved.  But still, just because it happens to a few doesn’t mean you have to follow their “lead”.

Rather than treating women as ladies to be potential dates, see them as people who share tech interests as you and may be interested in friendship.

Why The Gender Card Complicates Things

The gender card complicates things a lot.  I know many males and females who are friends who later are rumor fodder due to the immaturity in our field.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, guys and gals can be just friends and aren’t necessarily sleeping together (even if there appears to be that chemistry between them).  But unfortunately, not everyone believes this, which complicates things further.

One of my favorite authors, Shel Silverstein, writes in his poem “No Difference”:

Maybe the way to make everything right

Is for God to just reach out and turn out the light

This is how I feel about the gender card.  Turn out the lights and you can’t tell gender.

Speaking of Cards… The Idea of Creeper Cards

My friend Zee pointed me to the Red/Yellow Card project.  While this is an interesting way of making it a point that someone is getting close to crossing a line or may have even crossed the line, I don’t see how effective it would be to hand them a card.

Anti-Harassment Policies

Jacob Kaplan-Moss, of the Python community, wrote an article called “Why conferences need a code of conduct”.  While codes of conduct are nice in theory, they do no good if they aren’t upheld/enforced.  The problem with reporting someone not adhering to a code of conduct or anti-harassment policy – which also applies even further to someone making a harassment claim in the workplace – is that there’s always the fear of retaliation for being reported.  CodeMash does have an anti-harassment policy, and I’m sure if the incidents were reported to a staff member that the policy would have been enforced.  But between the fear of retaliation and the general uncomfortableness of situations (including the room number incident that made one of my guy friends who witnessed it uncomfortable), it’s honestly difficult to report these things.

One Other Factor… Social Awkwardness/Issues in Geekdom

There’s one other factor that complicates this topic as well.  A lot of geeks are socially awkward and some even have some type of issues that make it hard for them to read people.  So unfortunately, they can misread a cue and say something totally inappropriate without having a good read of a situation.  This is a character flaw that can’t always be changed.

What Should WiT Do About This?

Since WiT are more often than not on the receiving end of such asshattery, I want to put some of the onus on them.  We as WiT need to be more aware of our surroundings and try to avoid these guys.  Travelling in groups and even having guy friends watching out for you can help in learning to deal with these situations.  It sucks that they happen, but realistically, we have to be aware that these can happen and not say “Oh this conference is great!  We don’t have to worry about that here.”  And when those guys are acting up, we need to put our collective foot down and call them out on their bad behavior.  Going back to your room and crying (which I have done in the past) does not solve anything and just makes you feel more miserable.

Sharing the Onus

Men, please look out for the ladies there.  Remember that they are somebody’s daughter.  They may be someone’s girlfriend, someone’s wife, someone’s partner, someone’s mom.  If you don’t know them that well, then play nicely and talk to them to learn more about their tech perspectives.  But please. please. please… lose the brogrammer approach to things.  Realize that at the conference, we’re all professionals who want to hone our crafts (and I don’t mean that euphemistically) in one form or another.  And when you see improper behavior going down, please call them out (or report it if you don’t feel comfortable calling them out).

Let’s put an end to the asshattery at these conferences and make them more enjoyable for everyone!

The Excitement of Mentoring

Mentoring is a topic that has always been an interest to me.  A few years ago, I wrote a blog post called “On Mentoring…” as I was curious about mentoring programs out there.  At Central Ohio Day of .NET 2008, Brian H. Prince mentioned the benefits of mentors as part of his “Soft Skillz” talk.  At CodeMash 2009, I caught a couple Open Spaces that referred to having mentors – “Getting Started on Speaking” and “Being and Choosing a Mentor”.  During CodeMash v2.0.1.0, my friend Joe O’Brien talked about all sorts of things in his “Refactoring the Programmer” talk, including  having a mentor and that an informal mentor relationship works well too. At devLink 2011, I caught Randy Walker‘s session on “Managing the mentoring process”.  I’ve always been intrigued by other people’s perspectives of mentoring, and even now, that intrigue continues.

Informal vs. Formal Mentors

Talking with friends at various companies, there are companies out there with formal mentoring programs.  They match people to colleagues who can help them navigate through various stages of their career at a particular company.  Sogeti, for example, is one of the companies with a formal mentoring process.

MentorNet is another program that is a formal mentoring program.  I heard about this through ACM, and it’s a great way for people in engineering to find formal mentors.

I’m not sure how companies necessarily match mentors to those who they’ll mentor. I do know that sometimes the mentoring relationship works and sometimes people just aren’t compatible – different learning styles, different approaches – and it doesn’t work.

I am part of a mentoring program that allows students to find mentors in the professional arena, and from what I know, the students have a portal of mentors to choose from.  The student I’m mentoring now is studying hardware stuff while tinkering with software stuff and lives in Jordan.  It’s the first formal mentor program I’ve participated in, and I’ve enjoyed it so far – helping him find out how to go further in his studies and enjoying his development on the side.  I’m also working on reaching out to my contacts to get them to help share their stories on how they got where they are, as that’s where my student mentee is aspiring to be.

Informal mentors, on the other hand, tends to be less structured.  These relationships come to fruition on their own.  There aren’t contracts or agreements.  These tend to be people who can help you get to where you are by learning from them and can be colleagues, bosses, experts in the field, and even friends.  Most of the people I’ve considered mentors would fit in this category.

Having Many Mentors

I have had many mentors throughout my career, as early as high school.  From getting an internship in the field right out of high school (thanks to a sibling’s friend’s dad who saw my potential) to working with very talented students in college, I had the privilege early on to learn and grow with their help.  While I don’t talk to some anymore as we’ve moved on in separate directions, there are still some who I stay in contact with and thank for helping me get to where I am today.

Right out of high school, I had a bunch of guys who I considered mentors – guys who’ve been in the field a long time and could teach me things.  One in particular stood out – a consultant who worked with me and introduced me to database people, who in turn showed me how Oracle and SQL Server databases differed and worked.  That really encouraged me to continue tinkering with databases.

In college, one of my fellow students who was a couple years ahead of me struck me as super smart, and he and I talked quite a bit about various aspects of software development.  Talking with him forced me to step up my game, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him at a national programming conference and learn some Java from him while there.  While at the conference, I had a lot of time to talk with him and learn more about his job, and once we got back home, he introduced me to some guys he worked with who would later hire me and teach me the joys of being in an IT role (while the guy who introduced us would graduate and move on to a Fulbright grant program – super smart!!).

Even now, I have mentors who I learn from and grow with the things I learn.  I have mentors who force me to step up my game in the development arena.  However, I also have mentors who guide me in terms of business development.  My mentors in various areas are strong in their respective areas.  I choose to look up to strong figures, as I know they know what they’re about and if I learn from the strong, I stand a chance at developing (or sometimes even exceeding) their strengths.

Conclusion

While I may not have a formal mentor, I don’t find that a problem for me finding success in my career.  I’ve crossed paths with many talented individuals – developers, architects, business people, entrepreneurs, government officials, and others.  I find that I learn a little something from most of the people I encounter, and I take from those.  However, just because I haven’t had a formal mentor doesn’t mean I’m closed to that option.  It just means that I haven’t found a formal program with people that I’d like as mentors.  Overall, though, I recommend having mentors – formal and/or informal – to help further your career and/or interests.

CodeMash Decisions, Decisions… Precompilers

This morning, as I get settled in after a wonderful holiday season, I’ve been looking at the precompiler descriptions and session descriptions for CodeMash.  It’s hard to believe that CodeMash is next week!  Here are my thoughts so far just by looking at the descriptions.

PreCompiler – Tuesday

This is my short  list for precompilers for Tuesday.

  • Cloud Architecture with Windows Azure
  • Developing Mobile Applications with PhoneGap
  • Developing on Windows 8
  • Speaker Workshop

While the sessions on testing looked interesting, I digest a lot on testing when I’m working with the LeanDog crew, so I’m going to take a break from that.

The Windows Azure session is on my short list for many reasons.  For one, they mention Pottermore in their description and tracking that site’s story from afar, it’s good to see that mentioned.  (No, I’m not a Harry Potter fan.  I’ve more been interested in it from a tech perspective.)  I also have been wanting to work with Azure for some of my personal projects and figured it’d be good to catch a session on it.

The PhoneGap session is on my short list mostly because I’m curious about mobile development tools other than the Microsoft tooling (as I’m playing around with the Microsoft tooling).  Don’t expect to see me playing with Android or iPhone development just yet – taking baby steps as it’s truly nothing more than a side venture at this point.

The Windows 8 session is on my short list because I’ve been enjoying Windows 8 so far and should probably pay attention to Windows 8 development a bit more.

The Speaker Workshop is on my short list because even though I speak at various venues, there’s always room for improvement.  Yes, I’ve been speaking recently for a consecutive 5 years? 6 years?  I’ve been speaking at user groups and conferences (local, regional, and national) since 1999.  But it’s Leon, and I’m sure he’ll have a different perspective on things and offer more nifty pointers for speaking.

PreCompiler – Wednesday

This is my short list for Wednesday.

  • Creative Problem Solving
  • HTML5 Workshop
  • Into the Mind of a Hacker
  • Web Development with Python and Django

Creative Problem Solving intrigues me, as it’s using improv techniques.  One of my mentors is involved in improv, and hearing his tales, it just intrigues me more.  I’ve wanted to catch this in the past but haven’t had the time.  Maybe this will finally be the time for me to catch it!

HTML5 Workshop would help me update my web development roots a bit.  I’ve had a little time to play with HTML5, but not as much as I’d hoped for.

Into the Mind of a Hacker appeals to the white hat in me.  When I was in college, I was known for finding flaws in university systems and reporting them to the engineering’s college computing team.  Boredom at its finest had me getting into things but with good intentions.  Every now and then, I catch sessions like this that remind me of my past.

Finally, the Django and Python session is on my list as I mentioned to them that I may be available to help them with Windows support.  Having tinkered with Python on Windows in the past, it wouldn’t hurt if I helped where I could.  I may be in and out in here though since there are other sessions that I want to catch.

Conclusion

There are too many awesome sessions to choose from – including those that didn’t make it on my short list!  These are just the ones that I personally am interested.  You can see the full list of precompiler sessions on the CodeMash site.

Hope to see you there!