Five Years of Facebook

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I encountered this unassuming little anniversary reminder on Facebook today:

 Facebook screenshot: January 11, 2011 - on this day 5 years ago, you became friends on Facebook with 30 people

As you can see by the date, I was not a Facebook early adopter. In fact, for years, I called myself a Facebook Resister, and wore my defiance as a badge of pride. It didn’t bother me that others were on Facebook, it was just Not For Me. Twitter was more my thing, and as far as I was concerned, it would stay that way for as long as possible.

Here’s what I wrote in my then-company newsletter back in 2007:

My dear old friend (and Zoonini client) Victoria Stanton coined a term recently that made me howl – and she’s kindly allowed me to share it with ZooNews readers. Facebook fascism describes an increasing number of people’s irritating assumption that everyone who matters to them is signed onto Facebook and is therefore privy to their invitations, news, and other day-to-day information. As Victoria says, “Maybe that’s an extreme way of putting it, but there have been a few occasions lately where people have just assumed I’m registered and will be able to read some post they’ve made for an art event, birthday party, etc. I got an email from (my friend) and her partner who invited me to join so that I can ‘keep up with their news’. So if I don’t join, then I don’t get to know what’s going on with them?”

I have no problem with people using Facebook as a channel to disseminate information, but please folks, don’t make it the exclusive channel. It can’t be just Victoria and I who are resisting joining the Facebook throngs. We don’t want another online addiction, but we don’t want to be completely shut out of the loop!

And then one day, I relented and changed my mind about joining. (Coincidentally, so did Victoria, around the same time as me.) I realized I needed to experience Facebook for myself if I was to help my clients with social media at the time — and frankly, I was tired of feeling left out.

I remember the exact moment I finally gave in and entered the Zuckerverse. If I recall, my heart was pounding a tad. I hit Submit on the signup form — submitting in the other sense as well — and then it was done. Suddenly, I was on the inside.

Featured image (viewable when sharing on, um, Facebook) (cc) by Sam Michel

Hairstory: a father-daughter tale

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Every year at the Automattic all-company Grand Meetup, we each have to give a short presentation in front of our colleagues. This “flash talk” can be about anything at all – and it can be in any format we like, whether a more traditional talk with slides, a song, video, or interpretive dance: pretty much anything goes.

This year was my fourth Grand Meetup flash talk, and I decided I was finally ready to do something more personal. My past flash talks had been about growing garlic, the peculiarities of Quebec English, and foods from Quebec that everyone should try at least once… but this time would be different — it would be a story about me, my dad, and our hair.

I hope you like it.

Transcript

Last year, my flash talk was on growing garlic. This year, I’m going to talk about growing hair.

Even before my birth, the subject of hair in my family was fraught with anxiety. You see, my dad Bob had an autoimmune condition called alopecia areata. By age six he’d already lost much of his hair.

He wore a hat constantly from 6 to 13 so the other kids wouldn’t bully him. They bullied him anyway; they knew what the hat must be hiding.

By 14 he began wearing a wig.

A pretty bad wig.

What had started out as alopecia areata was becoming alopecia universalis – as in hair loss everywhere. Eyebrows, eyelashes, leg hair, my dad was losing it all.

By his early twenties when he married my mom Ellie, he’d ditched the wig, and was attempting to pencil in the missing patches on his head instead.

Doctors didn’t know very much about alopecia back then – they don’t know much more today – but they thought there MIGHT be a genetic component, so my parents were understandably concerned this condition might be passed on to their kids.

So when their firstborn – me – came out with a small little head of dark hair, my folks were pretty relieved that I appeared to take after my mother in the hair department.

Still, my parents held their breath a bit as I grew older. Watching. Waiting.

The hair grew. And grew.

My dad stopped penciling in his head every day and eventually shaved off the last stubborn locks. They never grew back.

By the time I got to elementary school, it was clear that my thick, curly, unruly, hair was here to stay. My parents were very happy.

Ironically, I decided around that point I hated my frizz and wished I could just have straight hair, like the rest of my friends. My mom would blow-dry it for me in a vain attempt to turn tight curls into the straight hair I’d never have.

After certain really terrible haircuts – by hairdressers who hadn’t the faintest idea how to cut curly hair – I would go home feeling like I looked like Little Orphan Annie – but with MUCH less optimism.

After one particularly horrific haircut I professed to my mother quite earnestly that I needed to become a nun so I could hide my hair every day. Never mind that we were Jewish, that was just a detail. The Catholics needed nuns, surely something could be worked out.

When I got into acting, my hair took on a leading role.

Hair got big.

Hair got short.

I went through my own hat phase.

My yearbook photo was a big disappointment. I detested it so much I covered it up with a retake. This time, with a hat.

I went prematurely grey the summer I was 17. But it was just for a play.

As I got older, I gradually began to hate my hair less and less. Adolescent angst turned to adult apathy. It just didn’t matter so much anymore.

After meeting a cartoonist named Shane, he took a stab at drawing me. My hair had made an impact. You can see how he was trying to get it just right.

Five years later when we got married… he made this for our wedding cake

These days, my dad & I are both pretty accepting of our heads and our hair.

As I get older, grey hairs have come along. Real ones this time. I used to pull them out as they appeared, but in the wise words of a former hairdresser, “That’s probably not a good coping strategy.”

Will I dye my hair? Time will tell.

A few years back, a relative shared this picture of my great-grandmother Rose. I wouldn’t mind rocking the grey frizzy look as well as her someday.

The Techie Continuum – Redux

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Based on a post I wrote this past April called The Techie Continuum, I presented a lightning talk by the same name at this year’s inaugural WordCamp US in Philadelphia.

It’s a much more personal talk than I’m used to giving and it made me pretty nervous to give it, but I’m happy that it seemed to resonate with some people.

You can also watch the original over at WordPress.tv, along with dozens of other talks from WordCamp US, with more still to come.

Transcript

First, a story

Let’s start with a story my mother told me.

There was a website she wanted to show her co-worker – who I’ll call Barbara – so my mom gave her the URL. After a few minutes at her computer, Barbara became incredibly frustrated and said, “I can’t find the site!”

My mom went over to Barbara’s desk to see what was happening, and quickly realized that her colleague had put the domain into Google’s search box instead of the browser’s address bar. My mother couldn’t believe it, and patiently showed a wide-eyed Barbara how to get to the site directly.

Now, there’s something else you should know. This didn’t happen many years ago in the early days of the web when people were just getting used to browsers, it happened earlier this year. My mother is 70 years old, while Barbara is decades younger.

It’s so easy to assume that everyone knows how to put a URL in a browser’s address bar. Sometimes it takes this kind of story to remind us that not everyone does.

Knowledge bubble

Don’t assume everyone knows what you do, even if it’s something you consider extremely basic or obvious.

We’re all wrapped up in our own little bubble of knowledge. It’s so easy to forget that not everyone knows what we know.

Do I know enough?

It’s something I’ve asked myself many times after getting involved with web design and WordPress, and maybe you’ve asked yourself the same question.

When referring to myself over the years, I’ve always adamantly declared that despite whatever skills I might have, “I’m not a techie.”

I didn’t study computer science and I’m not what I’d call a “hard-core programmer.”

And yet some might point out the obvious. I’ve been sharing WordPress knowledge in forums and at conferences since soon after I started using it. My family and friends come to me for tech support of all kinds. I spent over a decade building custom websites for clients. I now help folks with technical issues all day, every day, and even get paid to do it. I solve people’s WordPress problems, quash quandaries, clarify conundrums.

Expert, guru, unicorn

Even so, I still wouldn’t dream of referring to myself as an expert, guru, or unicorn.

(And let’s not even talk about “rock star”)

Good things

Whenever good things have happened to me in my WordPress life, I made up explanations for them that didn’t involve my skills, experience, or knowledge.

Got accepted to speak at my first WordCamp! Ah, they just needed more women.

Helped someone at a WordCamp Happiness Bar? Their question was easy. Anyone could have answered it.

Asked to speak at WordCamp San Francisco? Well, that was only because someone else dropped out at the last minute. It had nothing to do with me.

Got hired by Automattic — to do, uh, tech support? Ha, I must have fooled them really well. Uh oh, wait til they find out I’m a fraud.

Does any of this sound familiar to anyone? Does it sound ridiculous?

A dream

Here’s an actual dream I had shortly after landing my job at Automattic, where I would be working alongside people I admired greatly.

Actually, a nightmare

My new boss, some guy you might have heard of called Matt Mullenweg, looked at the code for a website I’d built, decided I didn’t know what I was doing — and rescinded my offer to join Automattic, before I’d even started. I was going to have to tell all my friends and family that I didn’t actually have my dream job, after all. How embarrassing.

Subtle, huh? Interesting what comes out through our subconscious in dreams.

A combination of low self-esteem, imposter syndrome, and, let’s face it, a severe case of Canadianitis — has prevented me until very recently from truly believing that I may actually know a few things. Some stuff that might benefit others.

Imposter syndrome

But how did I start to overcome this, and how can you do the same?

Start small, like I did.

Pass it on

What’s one little thing you know how to do?

Know how to change the colour of a site title with CSS? How to set a scheduled post?

Help someone do it in one of the WordPress support forums.

Is someone in your local meetup group asking for plugin ideas for their project? Suggest your favourite and tell them why you love it.

Did you just learn how to do something cool with WordPress? Write a blog post and show others how to do it.

Before you know it, you’ll start to get more confident.

Help a friend or family member set up a WordPress site.

Volunteer at a WordCamp Happiness Bar. There’s nothing quite like seeing people’s faces light up in person when you’ve just solved a problem they’ve been struggling with – sometimes for months.

Then suddenly, after a short while, you might start to find that helping people with WordPress is addictive. In a good way.

Thank-yous

You’ll probably starting getting some thank-yous from people you’ve helped.

Hugs and kudos

At Automattic when WordPress users thank a Happiness Engineer for something we helped them with, we call those “hugs” and we share them with each other. Save your hugs. Show them to someone.

Has someone helped or inspired you? Send them a hug, privately if you like but especially in public. Send them a tweet, leave a comment on their blog. Lift up someone else and make their day.

We have an system at Automattic called kudos, which lets us send a short written message to a colleague we want to recognize for something they did to help us out, a job well done on a project, or anything else we want to call attention to. Kudos are visible to anyone within the company and I go back and re-read mine every once in a while, whenever I could use a warm fuzzy or two.

Dwell on praise

Dwell on your praise. Revel in your successes, small or big. Save it all up and look at it when your brain starts to have doubts again. You deserve it. Just think, if you’re afflicted with imposter syndrome there’s zero risk of your head getting too big. At some point along the way, I stopped saying “I’m not a techie.”

The techie continuum

The way I see it now, everyone can be found somewhere along the techie continuum, and perhaps, just maybe, I’m somewhere toward the higher end of it.

No matter where you are on the techie continuum, chances are you know a bit more about something than someone else. Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge with them. It feels good. It’s giving back. And maybe some day you’ll even start to feel like you know a few things.

It Was Grand

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Nearly 400 Automatticians descended on Park City, Utah, earlier this month for our annual Grand Meetup (GM). The intense in-person time together helps forge new bonds and reinforces personal connections that stay with us through our daily remote work after returning home. Here are a few highlights of my week.

Practical Development

I spent the first few days of the Grand Meetup immersed a programming class taught by Code Wrangler Jennifer. I refreshed my PHP coding skills and flexed brain muscles that haven’t had quite such a workout in some time. Jennifer possesses a rare gift – she’s not just a highly skilled developer, but she also has the ability to share that knowledge with others in an accessible way. I was lucky to be part of her group.

Collect Them All

My fellow Happiness Engineer Karen put together a set of colourful badges to represent the different teams and aspects of tech support we’ve each worked on. Some are just for fun; +t+d stands for “totes def” and somehow became a common abbreviation internally at one point. They remind me of the Red Cross swimming badges I used to get as a kid. Now to decide where best to show them off.

Happiness Badges

Yarn Party

Any Automattician can organize an activity or workshop for their colleagues at the Grand Meetup. As someone who’s never moved beyond knitting a rectangular scarf, my ears perked up when I heard that Andrea was planning a yarn party, where people could learn how to knit or crochet, or get help with a project. Sensing an opportunity, I picked up some beautiful soft blue and grey wool from my local knitting store, packed up my supplies in a wine bag (a delightful discovery), and during the knitting circle somehow convinced experienced knitter Shawna to help me get started. OK, so it’s still another scarf, but this one is tapered and multicoloured – look how cute!

The Paint Mixer

To counter some of the more adrenaline-heavy GM activities (Paintball! Go-karting! Alpine slides!), I brought in a local company to run a painting activity for anyone wanting to get creative. I was pleased to see everyone from Theme Wranglers and UI Designers to Happiness Engineers and Code Wranglers – many of whom had never painted before – take pride in their finished artwork.

Photos courtesy of The Paint Mixer

Picture Not So Perfect

One evening my colleague Marcus shared his passion for night photography and his handy exposure calculator. While I’d brought a tripod all the way from Montreal, it turned out my mighty little camera was not quite robust enough to capture shots of the stars, and every frame looked pretty much like this:

night photography

Fortunately, all was not lost in the photography department. Later in the week, Happiness Engineer Jen organized a photo tour with local pro David Schultz, who taught me how to use the manual settings on my camera – and happily didn’t make me feel inadequate for not having fancier gear. David guided us through some local nature trails and wildlife preserves and while we didn’t encounter any exotic animals – the most exciting creature I saw was a squirrel – the stunning fall scenery made it worth the huffing and puffing through high altitudes.

♦ ♦ ♦

The week featured many other memorable moments: a fun trip into town with my fellow theme-team members; an incredible closing party with performances by talented musician/singer Automatticians, a relaxing hot-tub hangout at the end of a long day; a workshop on how we can foster a more inclusive and diverse company; a cozy hot chocolate-fuelled knit-fest in my suite; and many good chats with colleagues I’d only previously talked with online.

Until we meet again next year, my dear Automatticians.

Photographing the Moon

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I may be cynical about a lot of things, but the spectacular-ness of the natural world is not one of them. So last night, I went down to the corner of our street to stare at the sky for a while with my husband. And we took a camera and tripod with us.

Before the digital-photography era, I was pretty comfortable with a single-lens reflex camera. I knew my way around F-stops and shutter speeds. I even developed my own negatives and prints in the darkroom. When I finally gave in and got a digital camera before a trip to Australia back in 2006, I never learned how to apply the skills I had to the digital world, and sadly lost the ability to manually adjust settings on my camera. I rely on automatic settings and blind luck to get OK-looking photos, which is why I was so pleased to have some of last night’s shots turn out much better than I’d expected. Here’s a few, straight off the camera.

A CSS Adventure

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If you have a WordPress site you’d like to tweak the look and feel of — but you aren’t sure how — you might like to check out my CSS Adventure presentation from this year’s WordCamp Montreal. During the 40-minute session, I walk you through the basics of using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to make small changes in the design of a site. Follow along with the accompanying workshop site and demo site.

Very special thanks to my colleague Michelle Langston, who originally co-developed this workshop with me.

Dynamite Girls

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In the early 1980s, I was a Dynamite Girl. That is, inspired by my subscription to Dynamite Magazine, I formed an all-girl club with a posse of grade-six friends, appointing myself as its president.

Unlike what you might imagine, the club was serious and secretive. We had detailed typewritten rules and minutes, Liquid Paper-laden formal agendas and questionnaires. We took anonymous polls and collected dues.

Ensconced in my suburban basement, we planned fundraising endeavours like backyard sales, and creative projects like publishing a newspaper. (Whether we actually followed through with these grand plans, I can’t remember.) We tried to solve mysteries, scanning the local newspapers for connections between crimes in the neighbourhood. That undertaking I’m pretty sure never panned out.

Rule #6: No fooling around.

Here’s a typical rundown of a Dynamite Girls club meeting, based on the official typed minutes from March 4, 1981:

  1. All members wrote down on paper what they wanted to talk about but disguised their writing.
  2. We talked about maturing and what we would do if we got our period.
  3. We talked on a loopline and got a french guy after more than 1/2 hour of trying different numbers.

Googling doesn’t turn up much about these mysterious “looplines,” but they vaguely sound like the eighties telephone version of today’s online chat rooms. (Our parents would have been horrified, I’m sure.)

It’s clear that along with the sober fundraising and mystery-solving projects, we also talked about typical girl things like bras and periods. We used a code phrase – “certain matters” – to refer to something I can’t even remember, but was probably boy-related. When we took that secret poll about things we each wanted to do in the club, one piece of paper said “I want to talk about ‘certain matters'”; another said “I want to talk about things of adolescence”; and a third said “Do you guys want to have a social? I do but I don’t know where to have it!!!!!” Only one lonely piece of paper said “I WANT TO PRICE BOOKS!!” Even with the “disguised” handwriting, I can tell that this one was mine – apparently I was mostly keen to get going on the backyard sale.

The club’s collection of paper artifacts gives me a peek into my pre-adolescent world, before heavy angst hit and female friendship became more complicated. I was able to indulge my urge to organize and plan, even as my friends and I entered the turmoil of teenagedom, my gang of dynamite girls.