Remote Career Summit 2020

I’m going to speaking at the Remote Career Summit 2020 on Thursday June 25! Alongside other people at companies who focus on remote hiring, I’ll be participating in a roundtable discussion.

Here’s the event description:

Millions of people are now unemployed due to the global pandemic. At the same time, many tech companies have announced they will go remote permanently. Against the backdrop of these massive shifts in the workplace, we invite you to join us for this virtual event to discuss these challenges and plan for the future of remote work together.

Remote Career Summit 2020

The roundtable I’m participating in is titled “Working at the World’s Biggest All-Remote Companies: Automattic, Buffer, and GitLab” — which really says it all! I’ll be speaking with Kevan Lee (of Buffer), Darren Murph (of GitLab), and Laurel Farrer (of Distribute Consulting). I’ve been working on answers to some questions ahead of time, and I think the topics that will be discussed in the roundtable will be interesting to people on the hunt for jobs, people who are wondering about working remotely, and other companies who want to accelerate their remote programs.

If you’d like to register for the event (it’s free!) you can sign up here.

Recreational thinking

Something that I’ve found enormously helpful lately is having a sort of release valve and a way to for ramping up thinking and then diffusing the tension from work-time thinking. That kind of recreational thinking gives me a chance to puzzle over something that has low stakes, and high pay off in terms of satisfaction. My go-to is crossword puzzles.

I’ve been working my way through the Best of the Week series from the New York Times. I’m halfway through Wednesday. The books are collections of 50 puzzles from that day of the week, so they get increasingly difficult. The Monday collection was almost ridiculously easy, but still super satisfying to finish each puzzle. There was a rhythm and a similar level of expected cultural knowledge that made them varied enough to make me feel smart! Each successive collection, the rhythm changes again and the expectations around what you should be able to figure out rises. Of course, you can answer them all by Googling the clues, but it’s more fun to look up something and get lost reading about the topic for 5 or 10 minutes, and piece the answer together organically.

I’ve found that I will start to struggle with the clues and will wrestle with them for longer and longer late at night. Then I grab my crossword book when I first wake up (instead of reaching for my phone, on my better days), and I can zip through clues I couldn’t make heads nor tails of the night before. After I finish a work shift (I have basically two main shifts, revolving around childcare), I can work off the surplus buzz (and therefore not stress about work when I can’t log in and do something about it) by working on some crossword clues. It’s the perfect funnel for my overthinking. Likewise, I can help my brain get into prime mode by slipping into crossword mode for a few minutes before I go back to work. Fun and rewarding!

I’ve also been dabbling in cryptic crosswords, but they are a much bigger mental shift, and I haven’t gotten the rhythm down for how to identify the type of puzzle, and how to then decode them. It’s an interesting challenge, but I need more focused practice, and a lot of focused time isn’t something I have right now. Maybe when I’ve successfully gotten all the way through the Sunday collection I’ll be ready!

FD2020

The past 4 months have been hard on everyone. The enforced time together, the unrelenting juggling of work and children, and the constant worry. I couldn’t have a better partner at my side through it all. Bob and I are perfectly balanced. I could sit home all day, and he needs to travel. I get frustrated at the kids, and he reminds me that they are just kids. When I feel that something needs to give, he helps me find solutions. When I get mad about something sexist or misogynist, he also gets mad about it.

Happy father’s day to Bob, and all the dads (including mine!) out there, especially the ones in our extended family and friends!

Here are some of my favorite Bob photos from the past year (click to see full size).

Anti-racism

I’ve been reading How To Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, and it seemed the day I downloaded it, I started seeing the phrase “anti-racist” everywhere. To be anti-racist is to actively be against racism; not only the individual acts as committed by individuals, but also the policies and systems that have shaped our entire country here in America. If it sounds radical, think it through: because the entire country was built on stolen land on the back of stolen humans, it has always bent to protect and benefit white people, and white men especially. Racism baked into policy may seem a side effect, but it’s real, it’s damaging, and it’s on-going.

Something that was really interesting and eye-opening for me was that Kendi explains how “not racist” is, actually, racist. I’ve considered myself “not racist” for … ever? But if you’re just “not racist,” you’re passive about racism. You may not commit an individual act of racism, but you aren’t doing anything to remove systemic racism or challenge racist policy. Your passivity is perpetuating the racism, which makes you part of the system that approves of racism, which is racist.

Well I don’t want to be an accidental racist anymore. Fuck racists, and fuck racism.

For the past 4 or 5 years I’ve been donating to the ACLU on a monthly recurring basis. Last month I added a recurring monthly donation to ActBlue’s bail funds program. If you have money, donating to organizations such as these is a good option. One-time donations are great, especially when there’s a lot of publicity for a specific organization and they can raise a ton at once. But recurring donations are what keep the lights on, and lets the organization plan their budget for the year. If you can, set up recurring donations for the anti-racism organizations that speak to you — or that people you trust are donating to. If you don’t have money, research the policy-makers who focus on anti-racist policy and volunteer. If no one in your voting district is anti-racist, demand that they become anti-racist. Write letters, write emails, and call. Remind them that they can eat your farts if they aren’t inclined to be anti-racist, and then take your vote from them. Run for office.

The past three years have been absolutely fucked, and we’ve all been so numbed by it (while the ignorant and racist misogynists have been thrilled) that when an outrage isn’t met with indifference it means something. At a time when people are seriously struggling with the ongoing gaslighting about literally everything that’s happening, that we are able to protest in gorgeous masses and hold onto these men and women, to say we haven’t forgotten them, and we don’t want any more of our young people to grow up victimized by a system that is unerringly brutal and over militarized, that means something. I don’t know that all white people will be able to get our heads out of our collective asses and dismantle the racism that’s been in our system since before the first day, but I’m cautiously hopeful.

Lately, I’ve been trying to protect my limited mental bandwidth. I spend my day taking care of 3 kids, while having Zoom calls with co-workers, and then I flip from childcare to work-mode whenever my husband gets home, and continue the calls and the tasks until I eat dinner, then I go back to it. It’s a lot of context-switching, and it takes a toll. On top of that, the pandemic turned me into an avid Twitter user. I was scrolling Twitter constantly. But a few weeks ago I had to stop. It was more context-switching from the political to “my cute puppy” tweets. I had whiplash, and the surging emotions were like a bowl of water being carried by a toddler. More water was sloshing out of the bowl than was being retained. Just another mess without any benefit, and ending up less instead of better. So I took Twitter and Facebook (same problem) off my phone’s homepage. They’re buried in the app list, but I can’t open them by rote any more. It helps. But that alone is “not racist” instead of “anti-racist.”

In the void, I’m listening better. I’m reading books by black authors about racism and their experience in a racist America. I’m filling the space I filled with non-productive, hurtful-in-its-volume chatter, with substance that can help me to change, and to then use my privilege as a white woman to amplify that change. We can’t wait for “them” to fix this and make the change we need to see. We need to be that change, and not just for a week or a month. We need to demand that equality actually means something for always. Black lives matter. Question. Vote. Donate. Show up. Volunteer.

Adjustments

This week has been killer. I just started a new role (which I am incredibly excited about, and will describe a bit more later) and in this transition period ended up working very, very long days (I had 22 calls this week, many spread across a 10 hour day, and then additional work after all the kids were finally in bed) while still juggling 3 kids all day long. It’s been exhausting. I need to talk a little bit about the exhaustion I feel.

I find my work energizing. I get a lot of satisfaction from working hard, finding solutions, and talking to the clever, thoughtful people I get to work with. Working while dealing with Grant, however, is probably one of the most draining things I’ve ever had to do. I can do it, and I can continue to do it (which is great, because I don’t see any alternatives), but the deep knacker that lies like a weighted blanket on me all day every day is hard. The constant context switching between thinking about a work problem to solving a Grant problem is relentless. I literally had to stop between “context” and “switching” in the above sentence to answer him. 20 minutes ago, he was cleaning out my ears (for giggles, not because I wanted him to) while I was working through my to-do list.

I love Grant (and the other two as well), but giving him part of my attention is not sustainable in his opinion. The twins are 8.5, and are happy to find things to keep themselves busy, and they also like getting focused attention when I’m not working. Grant prefers focused attention all the time. I don’t blame him. He’s nearly four, and this is his childhood.

I think some of my frustration is that this wasn’t supposed to happen. Like every privileged person, my problems are small potatoes when you think in a global context. In fact, I couldn’t feel more ridiculous. That self-assigned shame is also part of the problem. I’m grateful that I can work from home, and that I’m good at it and my company is excellent at it, and I could sob with relief that everyone I work with is patient beyond words with Grant being on my calls. But I wish he wasn’t. I wish he was somewhere learning how to write his name and singing songs with other 4 year olds, spending time with kids his own age, and learning how to function in a society without me. Even as I type this, he’s leaning on me trying to get me to read my Echelon manual to him.

But since this is reality, I’m finding new ways to work. I do a lot of work at night and after my husband gets home (in the afternoon). Since I have calls routinely with people in APAC and EMEA, I end up having calls during my morning, too, which is where things get a little hard to juggle. With the new role I have, I will be able to work mostly at times optimized for Grantlessness. There will still be calls at non-optimal times, but not as many. A sad side effect is that he is learning to be ignored. Which is good for him, to be clear. A bored kid is a creative kid. But Grant’s creativity still takes the form of destruction and generalized mayhem. When Grant is quiet, things are going to hell. But I have mixed feelings about him learning to not need me. Which I know is directly counter to everything I have just said! This is a confusing time.

My rank exhaustion is also emotional as well as mental and physical. I switched into a new role, as the lead of Happiness Experience at Automattic, where I will oversee Happiness Hiring (an existing team that has been doing an amazing job for years), and begin to put centralized effort to improving the Happiness Experience. It’s bringing together two separate spheres of effort into one team, where we can coordinate to make the Happiness experience consistent from trial through the entire HE career, and flesh out leadership opportunities and individual contributor opportunities, so that growth and development within Happiness is robust and fruitful. Some of this is an extension of work I’ve been doing already in my Lead of Leads role, so I can’t wait to dig in deeper. A big change always has some kind of toll to pay eventually, including self-doubt and impostor syndrome. It’s very exciting that I don’t necessarily know precisely what my work will look like in 6 months. But that uncertainty also carries with it a weight. At the top of my mind is making the Happiness experience world class, and working with many people throughout Happiness proper to make that happen is essential. Knowing how much coordination this will take, as well as understanding that it is impossible to produce immediate results for everyone, can be a little daunting. But I still am resolved and eager. A new challenge, counter-intuitively, couldn’t have come at a better time. I have something to focus on that dwarfs my little problems with homelife coordination. For today, I’m going to turn off my computer for the night early, and save the rest of my to-dos for another day.

Grant says hi.

MD2020

I’ve got a pretty good crew. Today they let me sleep in, and while I slept, they cleaned the whole house and made me breakfast. And coffee! I played the Game of Life with Eleanor and played with all the kids outside. Everyone hugged me a lot and I got a hanging basket and home made cards. Is there any nicer day?

Tot Mess

It took seven years and a global pandemic, but I’m finally meeting my co-workers’ kids.

After everything shutdown, one of my friends (and co-worker) and I arranged for our little boys to meet over Zoom. They’re just shy of a year apart in age, and very much interested in the same things: potty training fails, Lightning McQueen, and being the apple of their mama’s eyes. Being the deeply social being that he is, Grant adored it.

Fast forward six weeks, and I’m hosting a Zoom every Friday morning (our Friday morning; 1430 UTC) for other kids to meet Grant (and socialize amongst themselves, too, of course). Grant and I have hosted six times so far, and have no plans to stop.

Throughout the week, the twins have class Zooms, often over lunch or at dinner time. These calls are, therefore, quite “public” — Grant knows they’re happening, and he badly wants in on the action. He attends every call I have for work that he’s awake and under-supervised for (while we have a handoff schedule, I have some calls in my morning with folks in Europe and Asia that I refuse to just cancel, and my husband is at the office during those times). He’s become something of a mascot. He demands my headphones, and then I hear “What’s your name?! <pause> GRANT. Grant Ring! <pause> <pause> <pause> OK. Bye.” It’s almost always the same. Sometimes he’ll talk to them about bikes or ice cream or something else that’s top of mind to the toddler set, but lately he’s ringing off after the first exchange of pleasantries. Towards the end of the week, Grant asks me over and over “When do I talk to my kids? Today?” And every day I say “On Friday. It’s (X) days away.” And he counters with “Tomorrow?”

So we hang out for thirty minutes with whoever wants to join us. Sometimes it’s just us and another family. Sometimes it’s four or five families. Our maximum was something like fifteen over the course of the call. Grant doesn’t care. He warms up to being around people virtually, and he goofs around. Sometimes he “co-plays” (playing near the computer while the other kids are also playing nearby, and us parents chat). Other time he wants to have everyone’s attention. We read stories to each other, we show off toys, and we play Eye Spy. Grant really lives for these calls. I can tell he thinks about them a lot. He also has ideas for what he’s going to do on the call; for example, today he dug out an old toy of Henry’s that I personally hadn’t seen in a LONG time ahead of the call specifically to show it off (a Very Hungry Caterpillar that zips inside out to be a Beautiful Butterfly).

I’m so glad that I can arrange this gift for Grant. I’m grateful that other parents at Automattic find value in it as well, and it’s been really cool to meet other A12s who are parents and small talk about our small ones. It’s soothing. It’s a normalcy I don’t have anymore right now. Of course I can talk to parents, like my other parent friends, but there’s something of the “meet at the playground” randomness that’s missing. It’s hard to explain, and I didn’t even know I was going to find it through these calls. There’s a freeness in these calls. I find it refreshing to come to these calls and catch a fellow parent in their jammies, coffee in hand, and just chat kid stuff. There’s a feel of the GM to it, too, (stay with me here) in that you just don’t know who is around the next corner. I don’t require people to sign up, so I never really know who will be there. There’s a pleasing organizational chaos to it.

Ahead of the first call, I was excitedly talking about it in the Slack channel I share with my boss and peers, and when I said it would be a hot mess (and was very pleased by the prospect) my boss, Andrew, said “you mean a tot mess.” And so it was named. Each week I take vast pleasure in naming the Zoom call (which I don’t think anyone but me can see) when I schedule it. So far we’ve had “The Toddler Zoom” (I didn’t name that one, but it’s nice and descriptive), “Tot Mess 2: Electric Bugaloo,” “Tot Mess 3: Escape from Ghost Island,” “Tot Mess 4: Toddler’s Revenge,” “Tot Mess: Wrong Kind of Tot,” and “Tot Mess: The Band Gets Back Together.” Suggestions welcome.

Seventy-Seven

My mom is 77!

My mom is 38 years older than me. Last year I turned 38 and then a week later we were 38 years apart again, which is pretty cool (but we didn’t dig into it last year because mom was in the hospital having lung cancer surgery). And now we have another birthday combination under less than auspicious circumstances.

During quarantine I’ve been thinking a lot about how my mom managed 3 unruly children, mostly while living overseas, and often alone while my dad traveled for work. We all turned out amazing so she got it right, but I bet she was as frustrated as I feel a lot of the time. She was parenting during a time when there was no internet (at least not in homes) and no electronics for young kids. What a world! She must have heard so much whining about boredom (not from me, I was an utterly perfect kid, but my sisters…). We had computers in the house from the time I was pretty young, because when my dad was housebound after gallbladder surgery, he needed something to keep him occupied. I remember playing Chuckie Egg, and fighting with my sisters for computer time. As the youngest, I was probably the scourge of my older sisters (again, this is their failing, not mine), and managing the relationships between siblings is difficult and mostly just breaking up fights.

But my mom managed it all, and came out the other side! Now she enjoys wine afternoons with my dad on their sunny porch, tea mornings on the back deck, and living for the pets (they dote on their pets). I know they’re missing their grandbabies, but they’re gamely joining Zooms together, trying out technology that’s new to them while taking the opportunity to see everyone they love on one screen.

So happy 77 to my mom today; it’s going to be another great year and just the start of many new adventures.