Kalamazoo X – Inspiring Change

For the past 9 years, my dear friend Michael Eaton has been holding an amazing conference in Kalamazoo, MI called Kalamazoo X.  In 2018, he will be putting on the 10th Kalamazoo X conference.  And he has quite the line-up!

In 2009, I had the privilege to be invited to speak.  I had the speaking slot before lunch and took advantage of that.  It was great to inspire others to talk to other people and share stories, encouraging social media.  Not only did I speak, though, but I also paid attention to other talks going on and learned a lot that day!  Check out my 2009 Kalamazoo X recap!

While I haven’t been able to make it back – as April is my chaotic month between family obligations and some of my own conference/events planning – I cannot recommend this enough!

All Speakers are Invitation Only

Mike handpicks those who speak at his events.  Whether it’s someone in the local Kalamazoo scene or someone in our speaking circles who really stands out and shares a message he really wants delivered, Mike has a variety of speakers of all walks of life.  As he attends conferences, he takes recommendations from us as to who else he may want to look into besides the usual people.  However, it comes down to what Mike wants for his event.

Topics are Geared for All Sorts of People

The topics that appear apply to all sorts of people and not just tech.  They can apply to juniors, mid-levels, seniors, technical and non-technical.  Some of the topics they’ve covered include:

  • Self-Promotion
  • Branding
  • Empathy
  • Change
  • Neurodiversity
  • Teamwork and Collaboration
  • Mental Health
  • Managing Expectations
  • Leadership
  • Geek Parenting
  • Culture
  • Mentoring

A little something for everyone!

Amazing Storytelling

Looking at past line-ups, one thing that all speakers have in common is that they’re storytellers.  They not only make a point, but they bring interesting stories to help illustrate their points.  They use empowering words while keeping it real.  They captivate, engage the audience, and make an impact whether it’s through introspection or an explicit call to action.  They motivate and are truly inspiring.

My Call to Action for You….

When I think about Kalamazoo X, the storytellers who’ve come and gone, and the lives it has impacted, it gets me feeling warm and fuzzy – in a “restoring faith in humanity” kind of way.  Go check out the Kalamazoo X site.  And if you’re looking for inspiration and motivation to be a better you in 2018, put “attend Kalamazoo X” at the top of your 2018 goals!

Thoughts of My Dream Job Situation

While watching Twitter, I saw this pop up in my stream:

As I have taken a twisty career – tech support to desktop admin/webserver admin/reports writer/DBA/developer (all under an IT analyst role) to web developer to independent consultant (mostly development) to teaching assistant to instructor to lead instructor – I have always wondered – what really makes up my dream job?  SwiftOnSecurity’s question has me thinking.  These are some of the things I’ve liked in past or current roles.

Flexibility – Not Tied to Certain Hours

As a mom, it is important for me to be in a job where I can volunteer at school every now and then and where I can be available to handle that call when the teacher has a hazmat situation where the kid needs to be sent home (you may laugh – I had this one happen in the past couple months).   I need to be able to address mom needs every now and then, unapologetically and without a lot of extra guilt.  As a working mom, I feel guilty as it is when I have to leave work early.  However, I end up working when my kids are asleep, so the time gets in eventually.

My strong productivity times are when my kids aren’t around – so when they’re at school and when they’re asleep.  Now, when they’re home, that’s my family time.  My guys are little – 3 and 5 – so I’m at a phase where I’m still an important figure to them.  I need to be able to have that time and not feel tied down by work.

Leadership – Two-Fold

I truly enjoy leading people.  Whether it is in an official capacity – such as leading my tech support team and leading an Online remote instructor team – or an unofficial capacity – such as mentoring juniors while I didn’t have an official “lead” title, I have enjoyed supporting others in their careers, being the voice of them against the business side (HR/accounting/etc.), and encouraging team morale.  Leadership is in my blood – it’s a part of who I am, and it’s something I’ve embraced.   My enthusiasm for leadership is quite clear in my servant leadership talk that I will be delivering in January 2018 at CodeMash.

As a leader, I thrive with other leaders who are communicative, transparent, honest, and know how to handle even the tough situations.  When the going gets tough, if my leaders are transparent with me, that makes it easier for me to be able to disseminate the knowledge appropriately to my team.  As a leader, I prefer to have that transparency and open door policy for my team and expect that of my own leaders.

Play and Creativity

For me to be successful in any role, I need to be able to play.  No, I’m not referring to Nerf gun wars or Corporate Challenge type things. I’m referring more towards having fun while learning.  Is there a way for me to learn a new technology while having fun?  Can I put my creative ideas to work to make my work environment or the tech community a better place?  If I enjoy whatever it is I’m working on, there’s a much higher rate of me being successful.

Education / Training Others

I am enjoying the education space, much like I enjoyed academia while in college.  The one downfall to this is that I only have a Bachelors degree – but I won’t let that slow me down.  I did have my app in for a Master program but rescinded it recently due to a downturn of events.  Maybe one day…

What do I enjoy about the education space?  I enjoy teaching others with examples and real world applications of concepts.  I especially like taking concepts that seem difficult to others and making them approachable.  I enjoy writing curriculum and presentations.  Most of all, I enjoy learning and helping others grow in their careers by learning.


This is something I really enjoy – being able to share my stories and experiences with those who are just getting started in the field, and learning about their journeys and how to apply their journeys to where they are today.  I remind those who learn from me – I also have my own mentors!  Having mentors – especially ones outside of your company – give you a wider perspective on things, and being that person for others is something I really enjoy.

The Road to my Dream Job (of Today)

For now, I will continue to go down the path my career has taken me so far and see where it will lead.  Every day is an adventure, and every step changes who I am.  And each experience, I learn more about myself – my likes and dislikes, what helps me thrive, and what sets me up for success in the future.  I look forward to seeing where this path goes.

CarNSteer - Sarah's first Squeak demo

Initial Thoughts of App Inventor

Recently, I was voluntold for a teaching adventure for a local high school.  We were going to meet with high school students for a career day and show off App Inventor 2, having them go through the Magic 8 Ball tutorial.  The night before the presentation, I ran through the tutorial and ended up with this:

Initial Thoughts – Complicated Yet Simple

When I first learned programming, I had it easy – one screen, no drag-n-drop UI, no properties.  For a starting tool, the App Inventor landscape is feature rich, which can be intimidating for someone just starting out.  Designer vs Blocks… the various groupings on each of those screens… if I wasn’t familiar with IDEs in general, I may find this to be a complicated setup.

However, at the same time, drag-n-drop development is a bit simplistic.  No need to remember when to use curly braces or square brackets.  Code blocks are different.  And what’s even nicer with App Inventor is that you can create an app that responds to an accelerometer shake with a few drags of code.

Something else that’s nice is that the App Inventor tutorials are well laid out, making it easy to understand what’s going on.

Puzzle Pieces as Building Blocks

When I first saw the Blocks interface with the puzzle pieces layout, I liked that I could talk to them as pieces of a puzzle.  This also reminded me of Scratch, as I am aware of Scratch and how it is used to get kids into programming.  And deep down, it reminded me of the topic of my first solo speaking engagement – Squeak!

CarNSteer - Sarah's first Squeak demo

Now What?

Now that the high school engagement is over, I want to play more with App Inventor.  Why?  Because I’d love to expose more people to coding and want to know more about this tool and use it when appropriate.  Will I recreate the Car N Steer demo that I presented in 1999 when I talked about Squeak at the Toledo Area Linux Users Group?  Will I write more apps that work with various sensors in my Android phone?  What will I create next?  Stay tuned, as I suspect another app will happen soon enough.