Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Redefine Your Bar Identity


Sadly, I will admit up front, I have never been quite "cool enough" to craft myself an alternate identity to share with people I meet while out on the town. It was always entertaining to hear engineering friends in college try and charm ladies at the bars, by pivoting the nerdy-sounding "engineer" into the oh-so-intriguing "Rocket Scientist" or "Code Cryptographer." Not surprisingly, I never thought that claiming myself to be an Exotic Dance major would win me more desirable attention than Electrical and Computer Engineer. I like nerds, what can I say? 

Though now, for the first time since I arrived in San Francisco two months ago, I am seriously contemplating creating a new bar identity. I was out grabbing a late happy hour with friends the other night, when we began to talk with people sitting next to us. After learning that they work in tech recruiting, we happily enjoyed conversing about the latest buzz around town. Everyone eventually left and, like dozens of other simple encounters, I assumed we would never think of each other again. Right? Wrong. Within a couple of days, I was connected with some of them on LinkedIn. And while I think their intentions were purely friendly and social (read: they were not actively recruiting in a bar)...the situation still feels a bit weird. Suppose I had told a white lie, inflating my position or previous work experience, as thousands of people do while having evening drinks? It is as if the web now exists as a fact-checker that people can consult the next day. To be sure, the expression "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" is becoming frighteningly less true all the time; just ask my friends on Facebook who have posted hundreds of pictures detailing every minute of the adventure. 

Note that I am not (yet) picking sides on whether this outcome is "right" or "wrong." But it is definitely worth taking a second look at. It is another weird case to add to the file, which documents how the web is becoming increasingly person-centric. Now, it matters much less if you are Larry Page or Katie Corner: both biographies of information can be searched and found on Google.com in seconds. Thus, I have attempted to turn my indecision into something more productive (in the short term at least): creating a new, fun bar identity to buffer some space between my personal life and my online professional life. The current top contenders are Susie-the-volleyball-manufacturer or Judy-the-Mango-Scientist. 

But jokes aside, think about it. The social web rules are still being written. How far should our society allow the online and offline identities to blur?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Google My Maps: Because Your In-Laws Will Stop Asking You Where Your Son’s Pediatrician Is

Anyone who knows me well is laughing already: directions, maps, navigation…not my strongest skill. Thanks to my decade as a Girl Scout, I am a decent map-reader. But truth be told, I am notoriously awful at keeping track of cardinal directions and street names. I am more of a “turn-right-when-you-see-the-big-tree-by-the-McDonalds” kind of girl.
As a direct result of my loose navigating style, I consult Google Maps on an (almost) daily basis. At some point, I stumbled upon a cool feature where you can build your open personalized map. Cue the flood gates: I became a map building fiend! Remember growing up, when you would see a map plastered up on your grandparents’ basement wall, covered in thumbtacks and push-pins of their many adventures? Now you can build a map online with a bunch of locations and simply share the link with your friends or family. Here are a couple fun examples I thought of, that could be a great use for My Maps.
  1. Wedding Website: Nowadays, I have seen more and more couples creating a website where all of their wedding details can be seen. How about creating one map with all the important locations on it? Chapel, hotels nearby, rehearsal dinner, reception, airport … done!
  2. Restaurant Map: San Francisco has more restaurants than I can remember. I keep a single map with all the places I have eaten, along with a few notes of what I had. That way, if a friend comes into town and wants a recommendation, I can just send them the link and they can pick a place close to their location.
  3. World Travel Map: Drop a pin on the map for every place you have visited, and easily add the dates or names of cities for referencing later.
  4. Family Schedule Map: Families can get busy. How about having one map the whole family can see, which has the most important locations to see: home, Dad’s office, Mom’s office, doctor’s office, dentist, daughter’s ballet studio and obviously…grandma’s house!

If you are curious about My Maps and want to build one of your own, you can check out a post on the official Google Maps blog I authored a couple weeks ago, Using My Maps for your summer sublet, for step-by-step directions. Still, I always get a kick of being mapless and instead wandering to find that-one-bakery-by-the-house-with-the-extra-friendly-golden-retriever-and-rose-bushes…

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Building a Gender-Aware Interview Part 1: "Success"

I had dinner with a friend who works at Google recently. Over Mediterranean cuisine, we fell into a topic we have talked about before: Google’s low female engineering population. To be fair, Google’s statistics are similar to many companies. They are also leading the way in fantastic initiatives such as the Anita Borg Scholarship or BOLD Intern Program…but that’s not good enough for me. It may be na├»ve, but I have secretly held out hope that Google would be the single company to truly push the boundaries with an enlightened and inclusive recruiting process.

I have a dream to impact more than 10,000 young women who are considering a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field. My senior year at CU, I spent 10 hours/week completing research on women in the College of Engineering & Applied Sciences. I care about this stuff. A ton. So much, in fact, that it almost feels too personal to publish it to a widespread blog. But the movement continues, and I insist on being part of the propellant. Springing forward…

After learning of my research, I am occasionally asked, “What was your most surprising finding?” Clear winner: men and women use different language to explain their successes and failures. Let me give you an example. In separate settings, both men and women in the college would lament about certain classes: “Oh discrete math? Yeah, I totally failed that class.” The differentiator? When inquiring about their specific mark, while the men had actually received a failing grade in the class, the women had typically received a passing grade. Yet, in their words, they had both “failed.” I listened to this phase repeatedly, even from women who had received A’s and B’s, which is above the college’s 2.9 average GPA! My research team observed this shifted semantic scale for the other side of the spectrum too. Generally speaking, women would say they did “ok” when receiving an “A-“ while males would unblinkingly say they “rocked it.” Unsurprisingly, both sets were happy with A’s.

I am obviously generalizing a bit to make a point, but it is a point I want to make clear to potential interviewers out there. I have heard stories from Qualcomm, Microsoft and Google about interviewers who really liked the look of a female candidate “on paper,” but she did not appear as confident in the interview. I have even taught fabulous women in programming classes, who have confided in me that they are, “not really good at engineering stuff and just work super hard.” Believe me, ladies, I have felt the same way before. But stop. Saying. That. Stuff. In. Interviews. Especially when you are styling a great GPA and being interviewed by top companies. It’s 100% normal to have these thoughts (dig into the Impostor Syndrom, for proof), but save the comments for your friends and mentors who can help you grow.

As is the theme with most posts on this blog, I am not promoting a strict metamorphosis from one side or the other. Let’s step forward by meeting halfway. Women, it is not a crime to question your instincts and employ tactics that seem more egocentric than your typical style; know that it is sometimes a dog-eat-dog world, where you are evaluated against your peers. Interviewers of the world: there is data out there. A little education and sharing among your colleagues can go a long way, as it may bag you one of the great female leaders of the future.

(Please feel free to share this with your friends and coworkers. More tips in the “Building a Gender-Aware Interview” to come!)