Tag Archives: Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders

What I learned on my (Memorial Day) “vacation”

Last weekend, an unexpected turn of events (that involve our dog and a box of Bisquick) left me at home, while my family headed off for a planned weekend away with our friends.  The time alone gave me a lot of time to catch up on things, including shopping (which I usually detest), home improvement projects, and podcasts.  I thought I would share a little of what I learned over the weekend, things that might be relevant to people who would read this blog.


I caught up on a lot of podcasts while I was sanding and staining our windows. The irony of listening to Java Posse podcasts while doing "windows" even amused me.  But anyhow, I caught up on a bunch of those podcasts, including the recordings they did while at Java One.  The BOF and CommunityOne recordings were fun to listen to.  It always seems to catch Dick by surprise that people actually show up. I don't think that he realizes the impact that the Java Posse has on its listeners.  I've said this before, but it's worth repeating.  The podcast really does a great job of giving people an idea of the breadth of things that go on in the community.  I also listened to their Java SE 7 interview with Danny Coward. That was interesting and relevant for anyone who wants to know where Java is headed.  Between JavaFX and the proposals for Java SE 7, there are a lot of things to keep in mind.

After I had my Posse fix, I listened to Scott Hanselman's Hanselminutes,  on Microsoft Research's new language Spec #.  Spec# started as a fork of the C# compiler and added language extensions that support contracts.  I really like Scott Hanselman's podcast.  He covers a wide variety of topics, and in spite of his new job at Microsoft, he doesn't strike me as a Microsoft Fanboy.  Rather, he has a grounded view of things.  I appreciate that.  In anyone.

I then listened to "The Evolution of Yahoo" on Stanford's Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast.  This was recorded in the same week as the Microsoft/Yahoo buyout talks collapsed, and was an interesting perspective on where Yahoo is going.  If you think that Yahoo turning down Microsoft's offer was a mistake, this may give some insight into why the Yahoo people thought that their stock was undervalued, and where the company is going.   

Somewhere around this time, during last weekend, Jay Wren twittered about Software Showtunes, and so I popped over to listen to that.  TOTALLY amusing.  Well worth the time. Microsoft takes a bit of a beating, but Apple doesn't come away completely unscathed either.

I think that I wrapped up the podcast/staining windows fest with IT Conversations "High Performance Computing Considered Harmful", which really provoked a lot of thought. The fact is that scientists and engineers write a lot of code.  Computer scientists often turn their noses up at the tools that they use, like Matlab, when in fact that tool serves them very well.  In fact, my husband uses Matlab for a lot of simulations, and one of our employees (Anne) has been working on the ProjectEuler problems using Matlab.  One of our consultants (Alex) thinks highly of it as well.  The truth is that this tool lets them get their jobs done.  What do we snooty computer scientists promote?  Parallel simulations?   Seriously?  Most CS grads can't write a decent multithreaded or parallelized app and we ask scientists and engineers to do this?  I loved it when the guest on the podcast said that if a scientist comes to him and says that he's run into a timing issue, then we should all realize that we're failing as computer scientists.  In fact, he estimates that only about 10% of scientists and engineers even use version control, yet so much time, effort, and research dollars go into speeding up simulations that will only be run a few times.  There are a lot of interesting things to consider about this.  I'm still thinking … I'm sure that many more blog posts will be generated from the ideas bubbling around in my head.

Buying Services

On the non-technical side, a learned a lot too.  More than just the fact that a dog needs to go to the vet if he eats a box of Bisquick and that much more gets done on home improvement projects when the kids are NOT home. 

What I learned was to take advantage of services that people provide.  As I tell my kids, we choose our professions based what WE do best in life.  For example,  I don't want the woman who cuts my hair writing software (and she doesn't want me cutting hair), which is why I pay her to cut it.  But more relevant to the software developer community (I'll affectionately brand us all as geeks for this rant), we need to recognize that there are services that we SHOULD be taking advantage of.  For me, that's shopping.  I HATE HATE HATE shopping. OK, I'm fine with buying software and hardware, but is that really shopping?  More explicitly, I hate clothes shopping.  I have discovered a service which I think that many of us in the geek community should embrace: the personal shopper.  It's free.  Some department stores (I used Lord & Taylor) pay them to help people like me, who are inept shoppers, choose items to buy.  Yes, they get a commission, but that's payment for their expertise (by their employer!).

Much like the scientists and engineers who don't use version control because they don't even know it exists, how do you discover that you could benefit from a service that you don't even really know about?  I had previously stumbled upon this service as I wandered aimlessly about, looking for a dress for an event that I had to attend.  I happened to run into the personal shopper who took me under her wing, escorted me to "her" dressing room, and brought armloads of dresses for me to try on.  She did a much better job of selecting a dress than I had done, and I returned the one that I had previously bought and purchased one that even COST LESS.

OK, there's a point here.  I'm trying to let you know the process so that you, friendly geek, are not intimidated by the process.

Here's a summary of my personal shopping experience from last weekend.

  1. Call department store and make appt with personal shopper for the next day. She asked a few questions, like what I was looking for. 
  2. Show up. 
  3. Clothes in my SIZE were hanging in the dressing room, for me to start trying on (ordered by color, type, etc).  I was a bit overwhelmed by where to start, but she walked me through it (start at the right and move left).  She brought me a bottle of water and retrieved other selections along the way (different sizes, etc.).
  4. Try on clothes.
  5. Personal shopper helps decide what does/doesn't look good.
  6. Fork over the credit card.  Personal shopper even applied a coupon (I didn't need to have one with me).
  7. I left with a nice selection of clothes that GO TOGETHER and are updated for 2008. 

That's my kind of shopping.  I wouldn't usually expose my personal weakness (my complete lack of shopping abilities), but I figured that this was a public service.  I've seen how people dress in our profession.  We need to consider this as a cost of doing business. 

I don't know when I'll get another "vacation" like this.  I promise not to poison the dog as an excuse to get one, but he's fine and I learned a lot (and my husband and kids had a great time with our friends too).  Doesn't get much better than that. 

Immersing Students in Research Projects

NSF and Oakland University's REU program

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to speak at the Oakland University REU program, for Computer Science students. The program is funded by the NSF to encourage students to pursue graduate programs and careers in computer science.

Students participate from around the country in this 10 week program and it sounds quite interesting.  One of the groups is doing some biochemistry/neural net research toward drug discovery.  I was surprised to see that the students even receive a stipend to participate in the program (as well as a travel subsidy and housing).  I would definitely encourage college students to apply! 

Yesterday's program brought in several professional women to discuss, in particular, women in computer science fields.  The speakers were all quite different, so I think that the students got a well-rounded view of the industry, from small companies like mine to large companies like Dow Chemical, all of the way to what it's like to direct a university's IT department to what Post-Docs do.   Sadly, I had to miss two of the speaker's presentations, but it was an interesting day.

I talked about my journey to becoming an entrepreneur and how unlikely it seemed to me, when I was a student that I would have my own company. I feel like I'm quite risk averse, but I've really learn to accept the risk that comes along with working in my own business as ME being the one who is managing the risk rather than being at the mercy of my boss (who may or may not be truthful with me about the financial status of the company).

I also talked about how I try to stay current, focusing a lot on podcasts and blogs.  I told the students about some of my favorite podcasts (all are available for free on iTunes, but also on websites).

  • Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders, for business advice
  • The Java Posse
  • DotNet Rocks
  • IT Conversations

I also really encouraged the students to become involved with user groups in their area (and hoping that one of the students comes out for the July meeting of the Python User Group).  I told the students that in the Ann Arbor area, our user groups are suffering from an aging demographic and that we all feel that we would really benefit from some younger opinions and participation. I know that it's intimidating, but I got some feedback about how to welcome students.  I will likely approach the Ann Arbor Computer Society about doing a program geared toward students and heavily advertise it at the local colleges and universities.

Most of the other speakers discussed work/life balance, which always seems to be a topic at these events, as it was at MICWIC earlier this year.  With 2 young kids at home (ages 2 and 4), this is a work in progress for my husband and I.  The only advice I can offer to students in that regard is to choose their spouse wisely.  Thankfully, I did that right.  One of the participants commented that it didn't seem like any of us had any "down time".  I assured her that I had plenty of down time before the kids were born!  For me at least, it's not the job, but the kids (but they're fun in a totally different way).

We had lunch at the gorgeous Meadowbrook Hall, where photos are prohibited.  There are photos and history on their web page.  If you're in the Detroit area, and haven't visited Meadowbrook, it's definitely worth the trip.

Anyhow, the students were great and I really think that they did a good job with the Women in Computing Day.  By pairing each speaker with a student, they gave each student the opportunity to participate in the process (through introductions).  I hope that they had a good time; I certainly did.

Oakland University's REU program

Meadowbrook Hall, on Oakland's campus

Brooklyn Bridges Program
Brooklyn College in City University of New York (also NSF funded)

Carly Fiorina on Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast

I recently learned about Stanford's Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast (on the Java Posse podcast: thanks Tor Joe!), and downloaded a few episodes to my iPod.  I swear, dog walking has NOT been the same since I got the iPod.  Sometimes I extend my walk because I'm enjoying the talk so much that I don't want to head home (or back to work).  Today was one of those days, in spite of the fact that it was raining.

Anyhow, today's speaker was Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP, and Stanford alum.  She studied medieval history and philosophy at Stanford as an undergrad.  She talked a bit about her windy, twisty career path, and it was quite interesting.  I have to say, I would have never guessed that she was a secretary as her first job out of college, before her MBA!

The entire talk is great.  The first 40 minutes or so consist of her speaking.  After that, there's a Q&A session with the audience (another 30 minutes).  If it takes too much out of your day to listen to the entire episode, definitely listen to the first 40 minutes.

The highlight for me was in her describing leadership.  She talked a lot about it being a personal choice.  Anyone can choose to be a leader, and make a difference. It's not always those who seem to be in the best position financially, or status-wise, that make leaders. Often times, those people don't choose that route, whereas someone that you would expect to be unempowered to make a difference stands up and chooses to do so.  She compared some Harvard grads in her age group who seemed unable to determine what it would take to make a difference to a soldier, recently back from Iraq, who had lost both legs and his eyesight.  It was the 20 year old soldier who was incented to make a difference, in the lives of other people who had been injured and not the Harvard grads who, seemingly, had "everything" going for them.

She described some key aspects of a leader:

  • Capability
  • Collaboration
  • Character

It takes all of these things.  It struck me that the times in my life when I have been most disappointed in situations where I met someone who I thought was a leader, were when the person violated one of the these principles, specifically the latter two. From a collaboration standpoint, either they don't know how to "ask questions and LISTEN to the answers" (as Carly put it) or they don't seek out people with differing viewpoints and learn from people with varying experience.  Or, they fail in the character category by not treating people well.

If you have a chance to listen to this podcast, definitely do so (and feel free to post comments; I would love to know what others thought). I'm looking forward to the other talks in the Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series and I hope that I will be as thrilled with them as I was with this.   The dog will enjoy them too, I'm sure.  Anything that prolongs his walk makes him happy.

Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast
(also available on iTunes)