I initially wasn’t that interested about this movie, but after watching the teaser and hearing Alan Menken’s score… Beauty and the Beast has always been my favourite Disney movie (I mean: a bookworm that always has her head in the clouds? Come on!) and this just makes me want to sing along to all the songs again. I can’t wait for this now:

I also initially thought it was going to be another live-action but-slightly-different adaption like Alice in Wonderland and Malificent, but it turns out they’re keeping most of the songs from the animation! Plus the cast sounds amazing: Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as The Beast, Luke Evans as Gaston, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Kevin Kline as Maurice, Josh Gad as LeFou… yeah, I’m totally onboard for this!

A couple of weeks back I got invited to share my blogging tips for the Women Hack for Non Profits monthly meetup. I couldn’t make the event, but since I’ve been helping friends and colleagues recently quite a bit with their blog posts, I thought it would be useful to write up some of the advice I found myself repeating quite a bit.

These tips aren’t really about how to get you blogging more often or how to set up your blog – rather, it’s about how to write a long form blog post/article. There’s also a lot of overlap here between how I approach creating my blog posts and my talks: you could easily apply a lot of these tips to creating a talk too!

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What story are you trying to tell?

Before writing anything, I try to sit down and think through all the different aspects of my blog post. For starters, who am I writing this post for? Are they other developers? Users of my product? Fans of a TV show? What’s their background, what do they know? Knowing who you’re writing for frames the entire article – for me, it makes it easier to understand and define the scope of what you’re attempting to write.

Once you know who you’re writing this post for, think about what story you’re telling them. What is it that you want them to take away from this post? What’s the key message? Are you trying to convince them of something? Are you sharing something that you did? Have an idea of what effect you want to have on your audience.

Create an outline

My process of writing typically begins with post-it notes. I’ll start with all the key points I want to make, including some of the answers I came up with to the questions in the previous section. Once I’ve got all those post-its I start grouping them and moving them around to create different sections. What I like about this method is that it allows me to play around with how I tell the story – it’s easier to move post-its around and come up with the structure that works best without being bogged down in paragraphs and paragraphs of text.

When done right, the groupings of post-it notes give me a good idea of the flow of my blog post. I’ll know what points I need to make in my intro and conclusion, plus the groupings will give me a rough idea of headings and their paragraphs. Of course, you might not necessarily have any post-its handy, but I think the main lesson is to think about the overall structure before diving in to write something.

Write the part that comes easiest to you

Once you know what to write, actually sitting down and writing can be quite tough. For me, it depends on the type of blog post, but often I’ll find that it’s the opening and intro I struggle the most with. In those cases: I initially just skip it and leave it for last. Start with whatever section is most clear in your mind and write it! There’s nothing stopping you from writing the post in the same order that somebody reads it.

Refactor and rewrite

It’s rare I’ll write something that I’m completely happy with in one go. Typically I’ll have an initial draft and go through it completely again – cutting parts, moving paragraphs around and turning it into a better story. Just like with refactoring code, you need to keep in mind that it’s all about making the end product better. Sometimes I’ll have written a sentence or paragraph that I completely love, but I know I need to cut, cause it just doesn’t work.

It will never be perfect

Finally, the main thing I’ve had to accept is that whatever I do none of my posts will ever be ‘perfect’. It’s sometimes super tricky to hit that publish button on something that you feel could be better, yet at the same time you can’t keep every single post in a drafted state forever.

Even now, just looking at this post, I feel as if maybe I’ve forgotten something, maybe there’s something else that should be included in this list. But it’s been hanging around in a draft state for about 2 weeks now and I haven’t made that many changes.

Waiting for perfection just gets in the way of sharing you know and helping others.

Tags: Geeky

Trailerrific: Obduction

March 4th, 2016

I backed this about 2.5 years ago on Kickstarter and now we finally have a trailer and a release date: June 2016!

It’s been ages since I last wrote a blog post about TV, so today I’m sharing my favourite recent geeky TV shows. All of these 4 shows aired their first season sometime in the past year, and they’ve all been renewed for second seasons. I love each of them and can’t wait until their next seasons begin!

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Sense8

What if 8 people each in different parts of the world were suddenly mentally connected? That’s pretty much the main premise of Sense8. It’s created by the Wachowskis and J Michael Straczynski, and they’ve gone on record saying they have all 5 seasons figured out. Whether or not we’ll get to see all those seasons… Hopefully! The first season starts off a bit slow and the characters initially feel quite sterotypical, but stick with it. I think this show really made me question my own beliefs about the world, the people around me and how I see myself, which is a rare thing to find in a TV show.

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Mr Robot

Most of the time when TV shows or movies feature ‘hackers’ or ‘developers’, chances are they won’t be portrayed very realistically and that’s putting it mildly (case in point: Scorpion with their Ferrari + airplane + ethernet cable). In Mr Robot though, we find a reasonably realistic hacker in our main character, Elliot (Rami Malek), who’s recruited by the mysterious anarchist Mr Robot to take down one of the largest corporations in the world. It’s a great show and thoughout the entire first season I couldn’t quite guess where the story was going. Still can’t. I’ve got my own theories of where it might be headed, but am so curious to find out whether I’m right or not.

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The Man In The High Castle

Based on the Philip K Dick novel of the same name, The Man In The High Castle is set in an alternative 1960s America where Germany and Japan have won the Second World War. The east coast of the US is controlled by the Nazi’s greater reach, while the Japanese empire rules the west coast. The pacing of the show is a bit slow, but I think that helped build the atmosphere – there are a lot of scenes that maybe don’t necessarily move the main story forward, but they show what this alternative world is like – how would people behave? What would people aspire to? How would our world have changed?

TheExpanse

The Expanse

Another show based on a book series (written by James S.A. Corey), this show is set two hundred years in a future where humanity has colonised the Solar System. The first season follows several characters: the main ones being Detective Miller (Thomas Jane), a police officer on Ceres; James Holden (Steven Strait), the executive officer of the ice trawler Canterbury; and Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), the U.N. Deputy Undersecretary. Again, it takes a couple of episodes to get into, but I love that we’ve got a proper space SF show on TV. The cinematography, visual effects and set design are all awesome, creating a believable futuristic yet somewhat grim world. The next season won’t be airing until 2017, so I’m super tempted to read the books now!

What are your favourite shows you’ve watched recently? Let me know in the comments!

Tags: TV Series

Who you gonna call?

Ooh, this is looking like fun! There’s also a really cool hidden link to Paranormal Studies Lab within the trailer (apparently hidden within the physics equation): so geeky!

This 10 minute talk by David Marquet got shared last week at work and I just love the ideas behind it. David tells his story of when he became captain of the USS Santa Fe, and started treating his crew as leaders, not followers:

Marquet has also written a book about this topic called ‘Turn The Ship Around!‘, which goes into more detail on how to apply Marquet’s approach to create a workplace where everyone takes responsibility for their actions. I’ve just started reading it and so far it’s great.

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Can I just replace my entire wardrobe with all of these, please? I only just discovered this dress collection from Shenova and it’s so gorgeous, amazing and absolutely geeky!

I’ve featured my 4 favourite dresses here, but check out the entire 16 dresses of the collection, they’re all wonderful!

LB Code Print Dress

It’s a dress with code on it! And not just any code: it’s the source code of DOOM. Want.

Also: if you want your own code on your dress, you can get that for an additional fee.

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Fibonacci Sequence Dress

We use the Fibonacci sequence for our estimation sessions (to give a rough idea of how much work we think certain features will involve) and I just love the idea of wearing a Fibonacci dress specifically for those!

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Circuitry Print Panel Dress

If you want something geeky but a bit more subtle, go for this dress. It features a lovely circuitry print and doesn’t obviously scream geeky as much as the others.

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Blueprint Rocket Scientist Dress

I love this dress: it features NASA blueprints of Apollo lander on the front and the Saturn V rocket on the back. Check out the photos of the back, cause it’s awesome.

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As I said at the start of my post, I’ve only featured my 4 favourite dresses here, but check out the entire 16 dresses of the collection!

Video of The Day: The Present

February 11th, 2016

Today it’s Time to Talk Day, a campaign to make people aware of mental health issues and to get people talking about them. I’ve dealt with a lot of anxiety in the past 15 years or so, but have to admit I’ve never talked to a professional about it or even really considered it a mental health “issue” I have. Looking back though I’m realising maybe I should have – maybe I could have made it easier for myself if I had. I guess part of me just thought that this is what being a grown-up means, that everyone experienced these things but I just wasn’t good enough at coping with them. And that in itself is why I’m writing this – if it helps only one single person out there, that alone means this post was worth writing.

This time she spotted me

Being “perfect” and Imposter syndrome

I think my anxiety started in the final years of high school. Before those final 2 years, I thought school was pretty easy. I’ve got an awesome short term memory, so memorising stuff for exams wasn’t very challenging, and I always considered myself in the top of the class. In those final years though, things changed – I still was getting high marks and performing well, but it took way more time and effort than it did before and I put a ton of pressure on myself to be that ‘perfect’ student again. I started feeling anxious and bad whenever I got a bad grade, leading to me putting even more pressure on myself, creating this continuous loop of pushing myself maybe a bit too hard.

And that only got worse when I went to university. I decided to study Computer Science without having programmed anything before in my life (well, except for my graphical calculator) and I was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff my peers already knew. Compared to them, I felt so inadequate – maybe I had made the wrong decision and I should have studied something else? Despite feeling like that, I kept pushing myself trying yet again to be that ‘perfect’ student even though I knew I could never be as good as my peers. And thanks to all my hard work, I did keep getting high marks for exams and assignments. I knew I wasn’t bad, but somehow I felt like it was just luck, that one day someone would expose me for the fraud I actually was.

At its worse, it would come on as full-on episodes of anxiety – I’d be sitting in the computer lab with a ton of other students around me, reading through the latest practical assignment and just freeze, knowing I didn’t know how to solve this problem. My chest would go all tight, my face and neck would go all red and splotchy, and the sound of my way-too-loud beating heart would drown out all the noise around me.

I now know that this is what is called Imposter Syndrome, but at the time I thought I was the only one feeling like this. Realizing that most people I know, even those who are way more experienced than I am, have dealt with imposter syndrome was a huge eye-opener to me. Hearing how I wasn’t the only person that has this and talking to others about their own experiences has been the main thing that has helped me deal with this type of anxiety. Knowing that most of us are ‘imposters’ and just trying the best we can has taken away that feeling that I don’t belong.

Throughout the years it’s gotten a whole lot less, but I’ll still have days where I don’t feel good enough – that I’m not doing the best I can. I’ll get stuck in loops of self doubt and blame for not having done more. It’s not quite Imposter Syndrome, but it still is anxiety about how I assume I should be. Especially after a day that hasn’t gone quite as I thought it would, I’ll get easily stuck in thinking of all the other ways I could have done something, replaying events over and over in my head.

The Worst Case Scenario Thinker

Tied to that is that there’s always this part of my brain that for any situation will try to come up with all possible outcomes – going down every path, be it good or bad. I’ll imagine all the ways past conversations could have gone, or how future conversations might go and (from a code perspective) come up with most edge cases before it’s needed. It’s a great skill to have (especially for work and board games), but only when I can reign it in and actually turn it into something I can act on.

In the worst case scenario though my worst case scenario thinker will focus way too much on the negative, coming up with a ton of unlikely and bad scenarios, causing me to freeze up and get massive panic attacks based on ‘what might happen’. I’ve had lots of sleepless nights where my mind has gone down the rabbit hole of doom and dread, conjuring up the worst things I can think of.

Nowadays it mainly happens to me when I’m doing stuff not part of my routine, like when I’m going on holiday. I’ll get super anxious just thinking about all the things I’ll forget to pack, how I’m going to miss my flights, how the airline will lose my luggage, how my flat will be burgled while I’m away, how the pet sitter will forget to feed my cats, how I’ll get lost and not find my way back to my hotel, how my bag, passport and money will be stolen, how… etc etc. I know most of it is unlikely and won’t happen, but it’s so easy to get trapped in thinking of all the negative that ‘could’ occur.

Understanding, compartmentalising and reflecting

For me, there have been 3 things that have helped a lot with how I deal with anxiety. The first is understanding. Identifying when I’m having a panic attack and understanding why it’s happening and what has triggered it, means I can try to stop my mind from going down the rabbit hole. I find the psychology of emotions fascinating (my master’s thesis was on facial expression recognition), and being able to learn what our brains do when we experience anxiety has helped me a lot (I find a good place to start is Emotional Intelligence from Daniel Goleman).

The second thing is compartmentalising. I’ll always have these parts of my brain that will pipe up at completely the wrong moments and I’ve accepted that they will always be there. I’ve realised though that I don’t always have to listen to them at that moment: I’ll acknowledge they’re there, then mentally shove it in a box and put it aside to open up later. I’ll never completely forget about that box though, and I will always get around to dealing with those thoughts and issues, but I’ll do it at a time when it works for me (rather than say in the middle of the night when I’m trying to sleep).

The third is reflecting. I wrote an entire article about doing personal retrospectives for 12 Devs during Christmas, so won’t go into too much detail here. Reflection for me is sitting down and taking the time just to think about all the things I’ve done and what I could have done differently. It’s a time to open the box with all the thoughts I had and to go through them. The main thing is doing it when it feels right to me – when I feel I have the right type of mind to deal with the issues.

I know these are just the things that I do and I have no idea whether or not they will help anyone else, but it might help just hearing how other people deal with stuff. I also know my version of anxiety isn’t as extreme as it can be for others, yet it will be more than what most people typically encounter. Anxiety is something that I know I need to deal with on a regular basis, and I know it will never fully go away for me. But talking about it, however hard and embarrassing and weird it might be, does help.

I’ve had several conversations in the past few weeks, where people are surprised to find out that I’ve haven’t been doing conference talks for that long. For some reason, most of them assumed that I’d been doing these talks for years and years, and that I’m a massively ‘experienced’ conference speaker. Spoiler alert: I’m not.

It’s only midway 2014 when I told myself I’d try to do a year of not saying ‘no’ to things that scared me, that I started putting myself forward as a conference speaker and started submitting talks to CFPs. That conference “season” I ended up doing Electromagnetic Field, DDD East Anglia, Hackference and Future of Web Apps; those were my first proper conference talks. It’s not that I hadn’t given presentations before that (I had done a handful of lightning talks the year before), but this was the first year that I was speaking at events where people actually paid to attend and see me (among others) speak.

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I realized that even though I hadn’t been doing conference talks before that, I’ve managed to do a ton of different things in the past years to slowly build the skills I now rely on. Public speaking is a BIG SCARY THING (for me it was at least) and if you had told me 10 years ago that I would be doing it on a regular basis and actually enjoy it, I would have called you crazy. So I thought I’d share my experiences about how I got to where I am today. This isn’t going to be a post with clear actions on what to do to become better at public speaking (there’s enough of those out there), rather it’s a collection of thoughts, memories and stuff from me about it all.

To make a cheesy analogy (cause all good posts need a cheesy analogy): giving a conference talk is like jumping off a diving board doing back flips into the pool. Sure, some people might have the guts to just jump off the board and see what happens. Others might do it and be immediately awesome at it. Me though? I had to learn the basics like how to swim not drown and how to dive. Plus I needed to psych myself up to climb that ladder and get on the board in the first place.

The Backstory

I hated public speaking. I knew that I couldn’t get away from giving presentations, but for years I always dreaded having to do them. I don’t remember the number of presentations I had to give at high school and university, but I do remember never liking them and only giving them when given no choice. Whenever we worked in groups, I was completely happy with letting someone else stand in the spotlight and talk about our work.

Everything about talks terrified me: having to speak in front of strangers, having to speak in front of a lot of people, coming up with what you are going to say, making sure what you say is sensible and delivering what you want to say in the best possible way. There are so many aspects to giving a good talk and all of them felt terrifying to me. I was the type of person that already felt uncomfortable with speaking to a random shop assistant when doing groceries, so giving a talk? Yeah. Not. My. Thing.

Attending meetups – how to talk to strangers

In 2007 Cristiano and I moved to London. We didn’t know that many people here, so we started going to meetups, conferences and other tech events. I still remember when I went to my first GirlGeekDinner and being so so awkward at it: standing in the corner, having no idea who to talk to and doubting whether anyone would even want to talk to me.

I’m a massive introvert, so networking, meeting new people, talking to strangers: it doesn’t come naturally to me at all. The more you do it though, the easier it gets. Even now I notice that when I haven’t done a meetup with new people for a few weeks, I need to get back into the right how-to-network mindset, like it’s a muscle I haven’t flexed for a while. Similarly if I’ve done too many events in too short a time, I’ll reach a certain point where I just don’t have the energy anymore to be social and deal with new people. And that’s okay. But you need to build it up, keep at it, and figure out what your own limits are.

BarCamp – you don’t need to be an expert

In that same year I got introduced to the idea of BarCamps, an unconference. Unlike normal conferences, where there are special speakers and a curated schedule announced before the day, with a BarCamp the schedule and sessions are created by all the attendees. Cristiano had been to BarCampLondon2 and we had both gotten tickets to BarCampBrighton later that year. At the time though I didn’t completely understand what a BarCamp was and what it meant I needed to do: only the day before did I realize that I HAD to do a session, which I interpreted as “give a talk” (later on I found out that “doing a session” could also be things like running a discussion or a show-and-tell; it didn’t necessarily have to be a presentation). I couldn’t deal with it: having to give a presentation with less than 24 hours notice? I broke down in tears and refused flat out to do it.

Despite that, the next day I still attended the BarCamp, fully expecting and dreading the disappointment of others when they found out I didn’t want to present. And then I actually went to some sessions… BarCamp is one of the most supportive and useful events that I’ve been to; it’s all about sharing what you know with others, no matter how knowledgeable you are on the subject. BarCamp taught me that everyone has something worth talking about: you don’t need to be an expert to talk about the things that interest you. Besides that, the informality of the event creates a relaxed and fun environment, meaning there’s no pressure to give the “perfect” talk.

From 2007 to 2010 I attended all the BarCamps that I could, attempting to do sessions at all of them. Most weren’t very good or that well prepared (case in point: this video), but despite that I know that people enjoyed them. Plus every single time, I got just that little bit better at speaking in front of people.

That first BarCamp I went to? I ended up making some slides during the overnight and gave a last minute talk on the second day.

Hackdays – how to present in front of a lot of people

The other type of event I started attending around the same time were hackdays (also known as hackathons, although I personally really prefer the term ‘hackday’, but that’s a post for another time). At these you form teams for an entire weekend/24 hours to hack something together. At the end of the 24 hours, everyone gets together to present what they’ve built. And depending on the type of hackday, there are various prizes people can win.

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Hackdays are a great place to try out new stuff and learn new skills. Just like with BarCamps, most people are extremely supportive and willing to help you learn. The first couple of hackdays I went to I ended up forming a team with friends and let them do the presenting. But as I went to more of them, I ended up having more ideas and hacks that I was did on my own. There were several early hackdays though where I didn’t end up presenting what I built, mainly cause I didn’t think my hacks were good enough. Why show how little I got done? Eventually though I realized that didn’t matter: you had an idea which you worked on for an entire weekended and you should show what you have done!

Doing these short pitches is one of the things that got me comfortable with speaking in front of lots of people. You typically only have a 1 or 2 minutes to talk through your idea, meaning you learn to focus on getting your point across quickly.

Writing blog posts – how to tell a story

I admit: not every blog post on this blog is of the highest storytelling quality, but doing this blog for the past 8 years has taught me a couple of things. Firstly, the ability to recognize what makes a good blog post. There’s a little voice in the back of my head constantly going “Wouldn’t that work as a post?” or “What would happen if you combine this idea with that one? New blog post!”. With almost everything I come across a part of me is thinking about how to turn it into a story. And the same applies when considering talks. Not every blog post works as a talk, and not every talk works as a post. But being able to identify there’s a story there that’s worth telling is the same in both cases.

The second thing is the ability of actually telling that story. Throughout the years I’ve slowly learnt what I like and look for in blog posts, and how to apply that to my own posts. The key things I’ve found is understanding who your audience is, why they should be reading your post and what are they taking away from it. From there, you can derive the main structure of your post, framing the story in the right way. I could do an entire post on storytelling alone, but being able to write blog posts and tell a good story has been super useful in creating talks.

The Future

I guess what I’m trying to get at with this post is this: right now you might feel like you’re never ever going to want to willingly give a presentation. There might be different reasons and fears keeping you from doing them. Figuring out exactly what fears you have though means that you can come up with smaller and easier ways to get over them. Scared of talking to people you don’t know? Start going to meetups with friends and try to talk to 1 new person. Scared of talking in front of a lot of people? Try to find something lowkey that allows you to talk in front of a big group.

We need more diverse speakers in our industry. But that also means we need more people and more events to help create those speakers.

So here’s my slightly belated New Year’s Resolution: I want my 2016 to be all about helping others get into public speaking. To start things off, I’m mentoring next Saturday at ScotlandJS’s Diversity Workshop at the FutureLearn offices. If you have a talk idea and what help developing it, sign up and come along! Even if you don’t have an idea or don’t feel like you’re ready to give a talk yet, feel free to come to the event – doing the workshop doesn’t mean you’re committing to giving a talk.

Besides that I’ll be organizing another BarCampLondon this year with Geeks of London. We don’t have a date, a venue or any sponsors yet, but I know how much BarCamp helped me in the past and I think it’s an event our community needs. I’ll also be organizing more Thunderclouds this year to get more people comfortable with and learning how to do lightning talks.

Finally I’d love to hear from all of you! What are the things that you want help with or have questions about? Feel free to reach out on Twitter, send me an email or reply here in the comments.

Giving a talk can be a big scary thing, but maybe if we all pitch in and help out, we can make it not that big and not that scary.

Tags: Events, Geeky