My Changing Thoughts on the Notion of “Hard Work”

Early in my career, I admired those who worked really hard. They put in extra hours, did whatever was asked of them: whatever it took to get the job done, and then some. They took on extra work just to take on extra work. I felt like I should do the same. After all, that’s what we are taught in school: work hard and you will get somewhere in life! Hard work is also rewarded in school to reinforce this idea. In general, if you work hard, you get good grades, recognition from teachers, Honor Society, your name printed in the paper, college acceptance letters…

In my 6 or so years of working in corporate America, I’ve found that “hard work” is never rewarded to scale with the amount of effort put in – instead,  “smart work” is where the big rewards lie (lay? I never know!). The people who see the inefficiencies and perhaps automate processes so that the company saves millions over time. People, who, instead of doing things the way they’ve always been done “just because that’s how it is”, take a step back and examine if there is a better way to do X, or if X even needs to be done at all.

Over time, my thoughts on “hard work” have evolved. But I’m thinking that the corporate world’s idea of “hard work” is evolving, too. As we take leaps ahead of the industrial revolution ways, where physically working harder than everyone else really did set you apart, it is  now “smart work” that distinguishes employees from others.

 


Giving Mountain Biking Another Chance

Recently, I gave mountain biking another try. This was my second try at the sport, after my first time last summer was kind of a “fail”. At the recommendation of a co-worker, my husband and I went to Hillman State Park (also known as Bavington) , and we hoped that the trails were a bit more beginner-friendly than at Brady’s Run Park, which is basically a super-steep valley. Another aspect that drew us to Bavington is that the reviews that we read online said that as far as PA parks go, the trails stay pretty dry due to all of the pine needles. This time of year, that’s extremely important. You don’t want to bike on muddy trails, and it has rained a lot lately.

Indeed, the trails were mostly dry due to all of the pine needles. Just some mud in low-lying areas, which is to be expected. The trails were what my husband considered to be “intermediate” level – still lots of hills, twists, and turns (this is Pennsylvania, after all) but there were flat(ter) portions where you could catch your breath. I was scared at first, but after falling in the parking lot (let’s not talk about that!) I didn’t fall again. I did have to get off my bike and walk about 30% of the time. I wasn’t able to get up some of the hills, and was too scared to go down some of the steep ones. My husband telling me that I might fall over the handlebars if I didn’t keep my weight back certainly didn’t help!

Mountain biking requires processing lots of inputs at once – you need to keep an eye on what is coming up immediately ahead, have a sense of what is further ahead, and also be aware of what is happening right now, all so you can adjust weight/position/gears/brake accordingly. I didn’t get comfortable with it until about halfway through the ride. It’s a lot to process, especially if you have to “think” about everything. After awhile, it starts to become more automatic. Thank goodness!

 

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My mountain bike and me – on the trail!

 

We covered almost 7 miles, which isn’t bad for my first “real” ride. The trails were in awesome shape, and that credit goes to the Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group, which maintains the trails at Bavington.

 

In the past, my husband and I have tended to get lost on hikes and bike rides. We can’t find the trail if it isn’t marked. The trails at Bavington weren’t blazed, but they didn’t need to be – it was obvious enough where the trail went that a blaze isn’t necessary. It did split off a few times, and we used this map which we then overlaid with our current location to know exactly where we were. It was so helpful and we never had to question if we were lost. Gotta love technology!

I have a newfound confidence when it comes to mountain biking and I plan on doing it a lot this year. It definitely went better than I expected!


“Show Your Work” at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

On March 12, I presented my work at an event called “Show Your Work” at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The goal of the event is to give 5 technology entrepreneurs the chance to present their ideas and their progress on them. The entrepreneurs then get feedback from both a panel and the audience.

Everyone’s startups/ideas were at different stages: some were still ideas, others had been executed on but were still not to a stable product/service offering, and others were more mature products with sales numbers.

I had a good time talking about my work on incruiter, and somehow, wasn’t too nervous and didn’t forget anything! I credit the welcoming, laid-back environment for this event! The feedback from both the panel and the audience was excellent, and I will be incorporating a lot of it into my product. Here are my 3 main feedback takeaways, things I need to work on:

1. Strategy for making the site ‘sticky’ – A user needs a reason to come back to incruiter more often than only when he/she is seeking a job.

2. Digital Badging – Using digital badging instead of star ratings for recruiters. This will provide a more complete picture of what areas recruiters specialize in.

3. Creating inertia – Driving people to the site for the first time. This is an effort that needs to go beyond SEO and to a bigger picture awareness of incruiter.

Obligatory picture of me presenting:

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I found out about “Show Your Work” thanks to my friends Andy and Shannon of giftbug. Shannon presented at the event last year. I’m very glad that they told me about it – it was a great experience to “Share MY Work” and hear what others are working on. Thanks to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for organizing this event!

 


Flying Too Low

I’m almost done with the book The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. I figured I would like the book, since I am a huge fan of Seth. What I didn’t expect, however, is just how infuriated this book would make me – infuriated with myself for flying too low for too long now. So I decided that it’s time to do something about it.

First, a quick attempt to summarize the book…it is about the new economy – the connection economy – and how it does not reward the safe, ladder climbing, corporate obedience that has been put into our heads by what is left from the industrial revolution. Instead, the connection economy rewards artists. Artists, not in the traditional sense, but artists: those who make something original for a specific audience, who dare to create without a map. Seth articulates again and again that art is meaningless unless it is shared. This is perhaps the most difficult part! It requires vulnerability – you are forced to open yourself to criticism, to the resistance of society, to everyone telling you that your art is worthless and to just go back to safety – the status quo.

So on March 12, I am going to share my art at Show Your Work at Carnegie Library. I’ll be giving a short presentation on my software product, incruiter. I am about 70% to my MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and plan to, well, show my work! I’ll write a separate post soon that summarizes incruiter, for anyone curious.

I’m considering this my first step towards a goal of flying high – after all, the real danger is not in flying too high, it’s in flying too low. And putting my art out there is scary. Uncomfortable. But I’m giving it a go.

Note: My disjointed summary did not do this book justice. Check it a good summary of it here, which is where I first read about it and what ultimately made me decide to buy it.


Technology is a Flexible Career Choice

One of the things I like the most about having a career in the technology space is the flexibility. There are so many options. Not only are there lots of different IT roles, there are also many domains to explore, since every company needs IT to function. When I was in college, I didn’t exactly realize that this career flexibility existed…but over five years later I can tell you that it does, and I’m very thankful that I have been able to take advantage of it.

Thus far in my career, I have worked in software quality assurance, development (coding), and most recently, in a business systems analyst role. On the software side, I have covered every step of the SDLC (Software Development Lifecycle) except for implementation. Having all of these roles has made me a more well-rounded IT professional. I have insight into both the positive aspects and the challenges each role faces.

To add another facet, I have also spent time in companies where the software is the sole product, and in other companies where software just plays a supporting role.  There is something to be said for at least considering this distinction when choosing a next move.

I haven’t spent any time in the systems/network administration side of IT, but that is another possibility.

As far as domain knowledge, I have spent time in medical, energy, and transportation thus far. Currently I work in parking (part of the ‘transportation’ umbrella) but after almost four years in this space, it’s time to learn something new – to advantage of that flexibility IT offers! So I am moving on to a new domain – a mix of science and e-commerce. There is never any excuse to be stagnant in your learning and your career when you are in the technology field.

The best part of it all, in my opinion, is that there is no additional formal education required. In tech, real-world experience is valued more highly than a certificate. So, if you are looking for a change, all you have to do is go learn a new skill and build something with it. That’s a lot easier than paying off $30,000 in student loans!

In tech, so many doors are open to you, but it’s up to you to go find them.


Header Image Not Displaying – WordPress Genesis Theme

Recently, I helped my friend Jess with an issue she was facing with her website. Although I no longer code day-to-day, little tasks like this make me feel like I’m still keeping at least portion of my skills! Plus there is no one I’d rather help than Jess!

Her site is WordPress based, running the Genesis theme. The header image on her site wasn’t showing under certain conditions – in certain browsers, on mobile devices. Seems pretty straightforward, until I could not reproduce the problem on any of my devices. If you’ve spent any time troubleshooting technology related problems, you know that it’s next to impossible to fix a problem unless you can reproduce it. Jess was kind enough to let me remote into her computer (one of the places she was having the issue) so I could check out what was going on.

A quick check – of the black space where the header image should have been – in Chrome developer tools, and I immediately saw the problem. There was an odd media query in the site’s custom CSS that was looking for a certain pixel ratio. If the query hit, the correct CSS was being overridden by CSS was pointing to a header image that didn’t exist. Ok, that explained it – for some reason, her devices were hitting the query, and mine weren’t. I’m still not sure of the exact reason for that. In terms of fixing the problem, it doesn’t matter.

The solution was either to:

A: Remove the media query from site.css
B. Modify the media query to point to a valid image

I chose to remove the media query for now, because it seemed like a bug to me – mainly, the fact that the URL was pointing to a totally bogus location, and the average WordPress user would have no clue how to change this. Maybe this got added into the site.css by a stray plugin or update. I can always add it back in if I notice any adverse effects.

I wanted to write this post in case anyone else has trouble with their header images ‘disappearing’ while using the Genesis theme on WordPress.


Speaking at Tech Events for Beginners Workshop

Yesterday, I attended the “Speaking at Tech Events for Beginners” workshop hosted by Pittsburgh Code & Supply. I decided to sign up because I would like to do more public speaking. It’s something I have always enjoyed – no, I’m not lying, some people really do like public speaking! The Tech community seems to have a lot of opportunities for it – I have gone and enjoyed many talks in the tech community by now, and I want to give back. I also hoped that this workshop would help me come up with some topic ideas for speaking.

The workshop was run by Julie Pagano, who has a couple years of public speaking under her belt. She gave the keynote at Open Source Bridge this year, and I have seen her give multiple talks in Pittsburgh. She always does an awesome job and she is very supportive/encouraging, so I knew she would be a great teacher.

At the start of the workshop, we were split into small groups and got to know each other. We then provided feedback for each other though the course of the workshop, which was split into the following sections:

1. Team Introductions

2. Brainstorming

3. Proposal

4. Outline

5. Slides

6. Practice

and finally, Present! We presented our lightning talks to the class.

I didn’t have too much trouble coming up with ideas, although most of mine definitely fit into the “People” umbrella of topics. Using feedback from my team, I eventually settled on topic title of “Be in the Driver’s Seat – Taking Charge of Your Career in Tech”.

This talk mostly focused on my personal experiences (hey, we only had 3 minutes to speak, after all!) on switching roles in tech. There was a phase of my career where I let things happen TO me. Sometimes, even good things can happen to you when you let things happen TO you. I was promoted to a lead position. Was it of my own volition? No. The next phase of my career (and the one I’m in now) is being in the driver’s seat. I’m taking a harder look at what I consider my “best days at work” and aligning my day to day work with my strengths and interests.

The most difficult part of the workshop was taking an idea THIS big and stripping away all the ‘extras’ to get your talk down to 3 minutes. It’s tough to be clear and concise, especially when you don’t have much time to refine your presentation. When I have a 90 second pitch this summer at PitchFest, I really had to work on refining my pitch. I practiced it in front of 15 or so people and refined it each time – boiled it down. That is a tough mental exercise.

Oh, as a sidenote…we (meaning the entire class) used Google Drive for collaboration and presenting and it worked really well.

Thanks to Julie for teaching, and to Pittsburgh Code & Supply for hosting a great workshop. I now feel confident that I will speak at tech events in the future.


Pittsburgh Marathon 2014

On May 4, 2014, I ran my first half-marathon – the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Half Marathon. I had been told by multiple people just how awesome this race was, so my expectations were high. The race managed to meet all of my expectations, and that was mostly due to all of the people who came out to cheer on and entertain the runners. Until I started running, I wouldn’t have believed that a few encouraging words could make such a difference, but they definitely do.

The church group singing in the West End (yellow shirts) was especially memorable, as well as some of the funny signs…my personal favorite was a drawing of Heisenberg from Breaking Bad with the word “RUN.” The few “Worst Parade Ever” signs also made me chuckle. A little girl on the sidelines stuck out her hand for a high-five when I was feeling miserable around mile 11. Stuff like that makes such a difference, and gives you the boost you need to keep going…because yeah, I definitely needed a boost!

The race was well organized and the aid stations and port-a-potties were plentiful. I appreciated the divide between gatorade and water at the aid stations – the volunteers made it very clear which was which, and the different colors of the cups was a very good idea.

There were times during the half when negative thoughts crept into my head and I wondered why anyone would voluntarily put themselves through this (let alone pay a hefty registration fee for it) but the feeling you get after you finish is worth the pain. I had a nice long walk back to my car (parked at the casino) and I think that helped. I so badly wanted to sit down, but I think it was good to shake out my legs.

Overall, I only really have 2 complains about the race. First, the super crowded race expo, which you were forced to attend to pick up your packet. It was so crowded that I could hardly breathe, and there were no signs telling you where packet pickup was. I asked a couple people and bib pickup and packet pickup were on 2 opposite sides of the convention center, forcing you to wade through the crowds and vendors. The other is the crowd at the finish line. Another case where I couldn’t move due to the crowds.There must be a better way to keep people flowing out of the finish line area. Can you tell I don’t like crowds?!

I’m very glad I did the race, and may even consider doing the half (the half was enough for me, no fulls anytime soon!) again next year. In the mean time, I’m signed up for two small local races this summer, a 5k and a 10k. Looking forward to those, they will seem like a vacation!

Here are some pictures from the race:

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After the race

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Wooo I’m finally done

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Proof!

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My friends, co-workers, and training buddies


Spring has Finally Sprung

After the worst winter in my memory, I am so thrilled that spring has finally sprung in Pittsburgh! This spring seems extra sweet due to the never-ending and severely cold winter we had. The grass seems neon green, and I’m noticing all kinds of cool birds that I never noticed before (maybe this is just me getting older?)…

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This is how my cat, Tux, celebrates the warmer weather.

So, what has been going on so far this spring? I have the Pittsburgh Half Marathon coming up this Sunday. I have been training for it, but not nearly as well as I anticipated. I didn’t quite make it the priority I thought I would. However, I did discover North Park a month or so ago, and that has been a great place to do some of my training. Two laps around the lake and my hips are shot, but the sense of accomplishment is worth it. It also helps to see all the other people out there dying running. I don’t feel as alone as I do when I run at Brady’s Run Park. During my runs at North Park, I totally scope out Over the Bar and envision myself sitting on the patio drinking a beer – it WILL happen!

Unless the Pittsburgh Half is amazing, I don’t plan on ever running long distance again. I am signed up for a couple 5ks and a 10k in the next month, and I’m looking forward to dialing down the distance.

I’ve had a couple new experiences so far this spring. I went to my first Barre class, at Pilates on 3rd in Beaver. It was awesome. Nothing like the experience of your gluteus maximus cramping up from overuse! I am the farthest thing from a delicate ballerina, but this class let me pretend, while simultaneously kicking my butt. I definitely plan on going back.  I also went on my first mountain bike ride. Thanks to my husband Tim for his patience with me, while I yelled things like “This is terrifying” and “This is not my idea of fun”. Let me just say that mountain biking is really scary, and also really physically taxing. I had to stop for breaks a LOT, and I am in good shape at the moment. It was tough! I think I greatly prefer riding on a paved path to riding on narrow, windy paths filled with tree roots, rocks, and mud. I’ll give it another try and maybe it won’t seem as bad, but my first time was an overwhelming experience.

We opened the pond for spring, and all 3 of our koi survived the winter! If they can survive that winter, I think they can survive any winter. However I’ve seen the neighborhood cat on the ledge of the pond eyeing up my fish – he better leave them alone! We found a stray cat in our garage, and it got itself stuck in the ceiling. A real life ceiling cat…poor thing. He was terrified and, uh, marked his territory in the ceiling. We spent a few hours trying to get the cat out, and finally did…but the other stench lingers on, far after the cat is gone! Hopefully Nature’s Miracle can perform a miracle here.

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Struck by Lightning vs Healthy Pine

Check out this set of pine trees in our back yard. The tree got struck by lightning last summer, and looked fine until very recently. It seemed to just die within the past week or so. So instead of buying the new cell phone I wanted, I will be spending that money to get this gigantic pine tree cut down before it falls on someone or something. Ah, the glamorous life of a homeowner.

Well, this post is already much longer than I had intended it to be. I want to talk about how things are going as a software engineer, now that I’ve been doing development for almost a year. I’ll have to make that a separate post because…enough already! Happy Spring!


Couch to 5k for Beginners

1.5 years and 145lb ago, I decided to start Couch to 5k (C25k). It’s not too exciting of a story – Couch to 5k was Amazon’s free app of the day at some point, so I downloaded it. It took me probably 6 months to finally begin after I downloaded the app. I was sick of thinking about it, and thought, “Hannah, just DO it then, so you can stop THINKING about it.” So, one day over my lunch break at work, I drove to a local park and and did Week 1, Day 1 of Couch to 5k. If I could do this 145lb ago, then you can do it too – trust me. I was definitely on the “couch” end of things when I started, but by the end of it, I could run a 5k. Even at my most in-shape point in the past, the most I could run was a mile.

I learned a few things along the way, mostly from internet research, but also through experience. Sometimes when I get bored on my runs, I start thinking about advice I wish I had when I was doing C25K. So maybe this will help someone…

1. Your body will hurt. This is hard for me to recall in detail now (it’s been over a year since I finished C25k), but I know that if your body is not used to high impact exercise, things will hurt. Try to take it in stride. I mainly struggled with shin splints, which luckily, are not very serious. Sure, they hurt like a ____, but you will be fine. Stretch your calves, roll a tennis ball under your feet, prop your feet up and ice your shins…whatever it takes to…(this brings me to my next point)

2. KEEP GOING. No excuses. I did not let myself have one single excuse during C25K. I printed out the plan, hung it on the fridge, and followed it exactly. If I was feeling like crap, I still did the run. Bad weather? Run. Shins hurt? Run. See what I mean? To this day, I still don’t let myself have any excuses. I’m afraid that if I let myself back out of something one time, I’ll do it again and again. Keep going!

3. Slow down. I can’t emphasize this enough. There were times when people who were walking were going faster than me. This happened multiple times. It was embarassing, but I didn’t let it get to me. Just focus on completing the intervals – whatever it takes. It does NOT matter how slow you are going. Make the goal to finish the interval, and you can always work on speed later. This is imperative to finishing C25k in my opinion.

4. Celebrate by running a race. I finished C25k but didn’t run a race until 6 months later or so. Not sure why I waited so long – I guess I was just nervous. But running the race felt like an awesome accomplishment, and I wish I would have done it sooner.

5. Shoes. This is a bit of advice I found online right after I began the program and I think it made all the difference. Go get fitted for good running shoes at your local running store. I went to Elite Runners & Walkers, and I’ve also heard good things about Fleet Feet. The right shoes make all the difference. It can be expensive but it could mean the difference between completing the program and not. I’ve got to give a shoutout to my shoes, the Brooks Ghosts. I’m on my 3rd pair and will be running my first half-marathon in them in May.

6. You will learn to pace yourself. This goes along with #3. I think the greatest gift this program gave me was the ability to pace myself. In the past, even when I was extremely in shape, I could hardly run 1 mile. Now I am confident that I can run for a long time, it’s just a matter of how long it would take (adjust pace based on distance). It’s really nice not feeling like I’m going to die at the end of a run – thank goodness I learned how to pace myself, or I would have quit running long ago.

7. It can be the start of something big. How often in your life do you take something that you believe is impossibly and turn it into reality? I truly believed that I could never run a 5k. But once you do something that you once thought was impossible, you just may find yourself looking at other once ‘impossible’ things and realizing that they are within reach. What’s there to lose?