Tag Archives: Work

A Woman’s Place

Late last night, I flipped the final virtual pages of Sinclair Lewis’ The Job: An American Novel (free for Kindle!).

I love books that fit the genre: set in the early 20th century, starring young women who find strength in fending for themselves and making it in the big, bad city. (See also: Theodore Dreiser.)

The Job spanned a decade starting in 1905, when Una Golden and her mother moved to New York City from a small Pennsylvania town. Una’s father had just passed away, and after the dust settled, the mother and daughter decided that a big city like New York held more opportunity for a young woman to earn a living (and support her mother).

Such “opportunities” were vastly different than what women expect today. After a quick stint at secretarial school, Una started her career by taking dictation, eventually running small offices. Throughout, her fellow secretaries and stenographers married and left their jobs. The message – and reality – were clear: women had to choose between work or family. Women tended to work only when they had to support themselves in the absence of a father or husband. Una struggled to reconcile her desire for a family with her career aspirations.

As I read, many of the office dynamics were familiar, with hierarchies and break time confidences. But I marveled at just how far we’ve come in a century.

My own company, IBM, recently named a new CEO. As of January 1, Ginni Rometty was named President and CEO – IBM’s ninth CEO in a century.

Ginni Rometty is IBM's new CEO and president

When the news was announced in October, the gender-focused headlines bothered me. Why should it matter that she’s a woman? That our best and brightest, someone who worked her way up through IBM’s ranks since 1981, happens to be a woman? We should applaud the best person getting the job, regardless of gender.

But I know that it is a big deal. As long as Fortune and Forbes keep putting out lists of “Most Influential Women” and we have stand-alone “Women in Technology” receptions at conferences, the divide will persist. (Can you imagine if they had a “Men in Technology” night at a software conference?)

I grew up truly believing I could be anything I wanted to be. It never occurred to me that being a girl limited my career choices. I could be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or even an astronaut, as long as I worked hard. (Funny, “social media strategist” never popped to mind as a career option back in the 80s or 90s.)

But not terribly long ago, that wasn’t really the case. When my mom applied for teaching jobs in the 1970s, she had to include a headshot and answer questions about her marital status and whether she intended to have children.

It’s certainly changed in the century since Una Golden arrived in New York. Even so, I look forward to the day when gender isn’t highlighted as something novel during such announcements.

We’re getting there. Our outgoing CEO, Sam Palmisano, reiterated the point: “Ginni got it because she deserved it. It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies.”

Congratulations, Ginni, and thanks for helping perpetuate the reality that a woman’s place can be in the board room.

The New York Times has an interesting look at women in technology, and specifically, women in IBM. 


Farewell, Initiate

The sign that used to greet visitors, now in a closet.

My old office closed its doors today.

Initiate Systems, founded in 1995 as Madison Information Technologies, officially ceased to exist last year when it was acquired by IBM.

I joined in 2005, asking my dad if this “customer data integration” thing had any potential. Since then, the Master Data Management market – the successor of that early CDI software – has exploded.

When I joined Initiate, I was one of about 90 employees. I sat in a cube between the offices of our CEO and CFO, and learned a lot just listening to their hallway conversations. We were most definitely a startup, with putting greens in the hallways, a foosball table in a conference room and a fridge full of free soda. We worked really hard, but we played hard, too, with extravagant All Company Meetings, Christmas parties, and more. Working with such a bright crew made everyone work harder, because we were building something better, competing against more established companies. We celebrated analyst mentions and customer wins.

Being a startup, we grew very fast, expanding office space to two additional floors. My cube moved four times, but I was always near good coworkers, occasionally within Nerf firing distance. By the time we were acquired, we were up to about 350 employees and multiple offices, but Chicago was our headquarters.

In the 18 months since acquisition, a lot has changed. Several colleagues have left for new adventures. There has been a push to work at home – which I have embraced, and enjoyed. I’ve still gone into our Madison Street office once or twice a week, ostensibly because it makes evening classes easier, but really, it’s been nice to touch base with with colleagues who have become friends. Working at home is nice, but it can get lonely. You get more done because people can’t stop by and chat, but you miss those hallway conversations.

Working for a giant company – 400,000+ employees – is cool. I just returned from our annual Information on Demand conference in Las Vegas, and marveled at how people are using our software to solve very real problems, with a huge impact. We built Watson, the Jeopardy-winning computer, that has huge potential. The IBM brand itself has cachet, and it’s nice to not have to explain who I work for.

Officially, our group is moving to a new office that’s only a block away. It’s nice enough space, with “Innovation” in its name, and it’s a block closer to the train. But I didn’t request a permanent home there, knowing that realistically, I don’t go in often enough to merit a cube of my own. I’m fine with that. I know I’ll go in periodically and see my old colleagues and maybe even meet some new ones.

But it won’t quite be the same. We worked together to build a brand that is now gone, absorbed into something bigger. I was 23 when I started working there, and I marvel at how much my life has changed, how much I’ve learned, who I’ve become. Back then, I was living in a one bedroom apartment in Wrigleyville, commuting in heels on the Brown Line, still dating my college boyfriend. I had never heard of IMC, swore I’d never work for a giant company, and couldn’t imagine living in the suburbs again.

The "Initifish" logo on a cake for our first day as IBMers, April 2010

They say you spend more of your life at work, among coworkers, than you do at home with family. I feel so very fortunate to have been part of Initiate Systems and its legacy.

So thank you, Initiate, for everything.

Who Still Uses the Yellow Pages?

A few weeks ago, I saw something glistening in the snowdrift on my driveway. (Ok, maybe more than a few weeks ago. I’m behind.) By the glow of the porchlight, I saw a blue bag. I pulled, and discovered a Yellow Pages. Argh. At least this year I didn’t get two, I thought, since that has been the case every year I’ve lived here.

It was bitterly cold, so rather than trying to break the ice on the recycle bin to dump it directly, I carried the bag into the house, set it on the mat by my dripping boots, and forgot about it until morning. As I was straightening up the next morning, I looked and realized that the bag held two copies: a full size white/yellow pages combo and a smaller “fun sized” version that appears to just have some selected (higher priced?) Yellow Pages ads. Perhaps they think I’ll use the small one as a desk reference instead of a doorstop?

But the fun didn’t end there. Mere minutes later, I went to retrieve my newspapers from the end of the driveway/snowbank/neighbors’ yard. (I am consistently amazed that three papers, delivered by the same person at the same time, can end up so widely dispersed.) As I turned and walked back to the house in daylight, I saw another blue bag sitting on my front steps.

So apparently the legacy of this house being a two-unit continues? And they chose to leave one on the driveway and one on the steps? They also spammed the vacant houses on the block – I wonder how long their editions will sit before they disintegrate under the spring rain.

A recent HubSpot cartoon captured this nicely.

The whole yellow pages concept has outlived its lifespan. When was the last time you consulted the physical book when you need a number? I use Google, often from my phone, when I need to find a restaurant or business. Plus, I can read reviews rather than relying merely on a company’s own words. If I need a plumber or other contractor, I post something on Facebook and usually get a half dozen solid recommendations in a couple hours, which is far better than randomly picking someone out of the yellow pages.

And yet companies still pay for yellow pages ads. But who are they targeting? Scott Stratten of UnMarketing wrote a fantastic post about the phenomenon, examining the case that people use to justify the directories’ continued existence: “They work in some markets! People still use them! Like old folks, shut-ins and people who are still locked into AOL contracts!”

What do you think? Do you still see a use for the yellow pages? If you’re in marketing, is it part of your mix? As a consumer, when was the last time you cracked open the pages – or did it even make it indoors?

There are opt-out options, which I’ve now completed. Fingers crossed I don’t get more.

Hat tip to HubSpot for the spot-on cartoon

Scraps of the Day

What do you do with the scraps of your day?

How do you make the most of your cookie dough scraps of time?

As I write, I’m in that weird hour between when work “ends” and class begins. In reality, it’s about 45 minutes, by the time I factor in walking to class and getting settled before the Regression Analysis talking starts. (Shudder.)

Later this evening, I’ll have 40 minutes before my train departure. Again, it’s not really enough time to “do” anything of any consequence. And with no place to sit at Union Station, I can’t open up the laptop and write or work. It’s precarious in-between time. I usually end up chatting with a classmate, which is great, but I’d rather be home – and in bed – 40 minutes earlier.

At work, the worst days are those with several 30 minute gaps between five or six meetings. Those 30 minute blocks aren’t enough time to really accomplish any project or task that requires attention, especially after you spend a couple minutes reading the emails that came in during your meeting and prepping for the next meeting. What’s left? 20 minutes?

The other night, I was thinking that time isn’t like cookie dough. You can’t combine the scraps, roll them out and end up with tasty sugar cookies.

But maybe time is like chocolate chip cookie dough. The little scraps can be eaten raw, or blended into ice cream.

So I spend my scraps reading blogs or tweets, by reading the newspaper, or making lists, all the while feeling like I’m just killing time. And given how precious time is, that frustrates me.

Am I missing something? What strategies do you have for making the most of those scraps of time?

Working at Home: Avoiding the Office Cuisinart

Since I started school, I’ve been working from home a lot – usually three days a week.

My new parent company has really encouraged working from home, so it’s a relatively serendipitous turn of events, especially after getting home at 11 PM on class nights. Not having to leave again at 6:45 the next morning means I avoid the stress of ensuring breakfast and lunch are ready to go, figuring out my clothes, repacking my bag, etc. Plus, I can sleep in a bit. And, in theory, I can work out with that extra 3 hours of my day I’m saving.

When I first started this routine, I was worried I’d become too much of a hermit. Or worse, I would epitomize the worst of The Oatmeal’s Working At Home warning.

In reality, though, I’m busy enough that it’s not really a concern. Instead, I’m coming to love my work at home days as a way to help balance work with the rest of my life. You know, like doing laundry. Plus, my house is QUIET. Often, in the afternoons as I hit my stride and am cranking through my to-do list, the only sounds in my cozy home office are my fingers flying over the (ergonomically incorrect) keyboard and the snoring of the cat. Compare this to the often-raucous cubeville with bad lighting and plentiful distractions.

And I don’t need a key to use the bathroom.

I can sneak in a run at lunch or mid-afternoon when I need a break. In a few weeks, I’ll pull out the patio furniture and eat lunch outside, in the sunshine – far better than the terrible fluorescent lights and climate control of the office. I take conference calls while balancing on a wobble board.

In reality, I think I’m working more the days I’m at home. There aren’t the distractions of the office – no passing-by-the-desk hello and chat, no experiments to see if we can build a plumb bob to represent the building’s sway in the wind – and there’s no rush to bolt out the door right at five to catch the last express train bound for the hinterlands, so I can reach a more natural stopping point.

And the meals? For an evolving cook, working at home is divine. It’s nice having the time to sautee spinach, dice some peppers, and crumble feta into my morning eggs. I can easily throw together a marinade at 3 PM so dinner is ready to cook at 5:30, and I’ve ended the frantic just-got-home-starving-starving-FOOD-NOW panic.

The other day, I saw a Ted Talk from Jason Fried that nailed my Work at Home rationale:

He’s absolutely right about the office being like a Cuisinart, shredding your day into “work moments” where you can’t really accomplish thing. After all, you can’t get things done in the annoying 15 minute breaks between meetings. Fried says that work is like sleep: useless in short, choppy blocks.

But you know what’s even better than working at home?

Having the day off. I’m heading out to play.

Tingly Toes – Or, Goodbye Heels

I just assumed I’d spend all my adult years wearing heels. After all, I’m not that tall, and that’s what women do, right?

Over time, I’ve built up quite a collection of “grown-up” shoes, in colors from black and pink to red and lime green. When I lived in Chicago proper, I wore stilettos for my standing commute on the El, walking blocks, sometimes miles, in heels and never thinking twice.

Since then, I’ve lived my theory of commuter shoes, which stipulates that the easier the commute, the more comfortable the shoes. I typically wear a relatively comfy pair of atheleisure shoes or sneakers for my commute, then switch at the office.

But this fall, I’ve encountered a couple big obstacles.

First, now that I’ve started grad school, my work bag is stuffed beyond capacity. By the time I haul my laptop, giant packet of readings, lunch and dinner, travel mug and notebook, I have no room left for leisure reading material (not that I have time for such a thing!) or shoes. And in my own vanity, I don’t want to wear the ugly commuter shoes to class. So I’ve been stupidly wearing pretty shoes for walking to the train, to the office, around all day, to class, to Union Station, and finally up the hill to home.

Second, now that I’m running, my feet just can’t take the heels anymore. This week made that especially apparent. After an eight-mile run last Saturday, I developed a small blister on my toe, and my feet were sore. Fair enough. Then Tuesday, I wore relatively low heels all day, including to/from the off-site meeting a few blocks away. Normally, this wouldn’t be any big deal. But the combination of already-sore feet, a blister, and more walking than I intended left me limping by the time I got off the train late Tuesday night.

Wednesday, I woke up with feet that were downright numb. They screamed as soon as I put weight on them. The numbness persisted through a five mile run that evening, all day Thursday, and finally began to ease a bit by mid-day Friday – just in time for today’s long run.

A couple years ago, I sprained my ankle and had to go out and buy flats. I wore those two pairs daily for about three months, then returned to heels. I’ve been wearing those two pairs again (and again) and think it’s time to expand my collection.

Plus, even my old shoes – the ones I’ve worn faithfully for years – suddenly cause problems. They almost feel too small – as if my feet have grown since I started running.

I won’t swear off heels entirely. Sometimes I like the boost of height, and for special occasions, they just seem right. (And what if I meet a really tall guy?) But I’ll start treating my feet – and myself – better.

Besides, thanks in part to running, I feel taller than ever before. So goodbye, heels. It’s been fun.

Sluggish Posting

I’ve been very very bad at posting lately, but I have excuses!

First and foremost, it’s National Novel Writing Month, that glorious, caffeine-fueled time when, to rail against the increasing darkness, you set out to write 50,000 words towards a novel in just 30 days. I participated – and made the goal – in 2006. Last year, I couldn’t get an idea developed well enough to do anything with, but this year, I’m on top of things. I’m about 16,000 words in, so just a hair behind goal (1,667 words a day keeps you on goal, so I should be at about 18,000, but who’s counting?

Second, I’m traveling, in London this week for work. I had visions of writing the whole way over, but after about three hours of work-work, I cranked out about 2000 words before I couldn’t bear to be hunched over anymore. Last night, when jet lag wouldn’t let me fall asleep until 2 AM, I managed about another 800 words.

Hopefully on tomorrow’s flight home, I’ll be able to tackle at least another 2000 words.

It’s all at the expense of posting… but I’ll be back to my semi-regular routine in December.

Coming home

I’ve been traveling a lot lately for work, and it’s always good to get home. I love flying into O’Hare at night, especially coming from the east coast, since the typical flight path follows the Lake Michigan shoreline. I can pick out the landmarks starting around the Museum of Science and Industry and follow them all the way up to Wrigley Field before we bank towards O’Hare itself.

I always watch for Elgin – you would think with the river and casino it would be easy-ish to spot – but no luck so far. I’ve got a couple more trips planned for the next month, so I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

I’ve also been heavily window shopping. More details on that soon.

Commuter Shoes Revisited

I was at the suburban job for about two months before returning to my old company downtown in a new role. The experience taught me a lot about what makes a good job and a good company. Meanwhile, I expanded my commuter shoes theory.

My current (new-old) job is at an urban office full of a very diverse workforce who live all over Chicagoland and commute via public transit. At lunch, there are dozens of nearby places – all within walking distance – and the area is very amenable to head-clearing lunchtime strolls.

Other Company was in a suburban office park. There was an attached parking garage, and (nearly?) everyone drives. (One of the IT interns often had a bike helmet on his desk, but that could have been a red herring.) Schaumburg has a seemingly great network of bike routes, but they don’t connect with Elgin’s nor those of the towns in between, and sometimes end mid-block, answering the question of where the sidewalk ends. My window cube overlooked the forest preserve, and I could watch hawks soaring around, looking for lunch.

However, working at Other Company added a new dynamic to my Commuter Shoes theory. For the uninitiated, my theory of commuter shoes holds that the easier the commute, the more likely you are to wear practical shoes.

When I lived in the city, I took the El to work, which was usually standing room only. Not only were the cars overflowing, but you were pressed up against strangers, and the lightweight cars would sway and jerk violently from side to side, throwing you into your fellow commuters. Yet, despite the difficulty in staying upright and holding your balance (which, with time, became a skill), the majority of the women commuted in impossible shoes – stilettos, tall boots, heels of all flavors, etc. Even in the summer, with a nod to “comfort,” you would see a flotilla of flip-flops, which offer no support for walking any real distance. Yet, women who commute via the El likely walk the most and spend the greater part of their commute standing on their feet than those who commute with other modes.

While making the suburbs to city trek, I commute on Metra. I bought my house in part because it was an easy walk to the Metra station, so I knew I wouldn’t need to drive at all. In fact, nearly half of my 7-minute walk was through the Metra parking lot itself. Probably 95% of my fellow Metra commuters drive to the train. In the morning, everyone gets a seat – though in the evenings, as gas prices have risen, it has become more difficult and strategic to guarantee a seat – and then we walk to our downtown offices. In my case, it’s about 7 minutes on the Chicago end, too. Even so, despite the much more comfortable, seated commute and the reduced walking, most Metra women wear what I termed “commuter shoes” – comfortable sneakers or, increasingly, the new athleisure shoes to carry them through the commute before changing into “work shoes” at the office. (I periodically purge the accumulated shoe collection from under my desk – at one point this spring, I had eleven pairs lined up.)

In an office where everyone drives to and from work and to and from lunch (as there’s very little in walking distance – and I got crazy looks when I walked the 15 minutes to the nearby strip mall for coffee), many women wear comfortable shoes all day. Many never have to step foot outside at all during their commute, yet Nikes seem to be the footwear of choice.

While at Other Company, I usually wore my work shoes (sandals with heels) to and from work. I did discover one important caveat – the grocery stop. Where I don’t pass anything on my Metra commute, while working in the suburban office park, I passed nine, count ‘em, nine grocery stores on my normal route home – more if I deviated from the path. It was great to run in and grab a couple things or heck, even do my full shopping trip for the week – the stores are much less crowded on a Tuesday evening than on a Saturday afternoon. But high heels are not designed for grocery store power-shopping and can be dangerous in the slippery produce aisles. So I threw a pair of old flip-flops in the car to slip on when I need to snag strawberries.

When I made the decision to return to the city – albeit with more opportunities to work at home, or WAH – I happily dusted off my commuter shoes. It’s great to be back, though I’m not looking foward to the icy days ahead.