2012 vs 2016

June 25th, 2016

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2012

It’s Thursday, July 19th 2012.

That evening after sunset there will be a fire garden installation at the National Theatre, to celebrate the arrival of the Olympic Torch in London. My friends and I plan to check it out, cause pyrotechnics (do I need to say more?). Since it’s lovely weather, we agree to meetup earlier that evening at the Southbank and have dinner somewhere around there.

Now up until this day I think we all felt slightly cynical about the Olympics. In the past few months there have been constant subtle reminders that this is going to happen, but to us it’s mostly materialized as station closures, roadworks and other disruptions to our daily lives. There’s this wary acceptance that ‘yes, this is going to happen’, but it’s mainly going to throw the city into turmoil and be an annoying thing that we’ll need to deal with while we continue with our day-to-day. The Olympics are an event that we Londoners need to weather, not enjoy.

That evening those feelings disappear.

The moment I emerge from the underground tube station at Waterloo, I can sense that the city feels different. Just walking through the buzz and busyness of the Southbank you can tell that the cynicism has been replaced with this feeling of anticipation and hopefulness. Everywhere around me people are laughing, random strangers are enjoying conversations and there’s a general vibe that everyone is waiting with bated breath to see what happens next.

The air is full of not just excitement, but this collective feeling of pride of our city, of our London. The Olympics are coming and we’re going to show the world what it means to be a Londoner, to be a Brit. We’re going to welcome these athletes from all of the world and cheer them all on as they set their records and do amazing feats.

In the weeks that follow, my friends and I get thoroughly swept up in the Olympic spirit. We manage to get tickets to several of the actual events, watching various sports up close – and when we can’t get tickets, we attend the fringe events at the parks and Olympic Houses. Everywhere you go the city is cheering on the triumphs of the world.

This is our city and our city is celebrating.

2016

It’s Friday, June 24th 2016.

That evening after work, friends of mine have pre-organized a meetup in the pub, jokingly mentioning the chances of needing a drink that evening. It’s been in my calendar for a few days, but I casually dismiss it as a fun moment to meetup with friends, not expecting that maybe I might actually need a drink that evening.

Now up until this point I think we all felt worried that Brexit could happen. It’s not until I wake up that morning and see that the result is LEAVE that it truly sinks in that today is a turning point.

Walking through London that morning – it feels like a city in mourning, with people expressing their grief in different ways. My trip on the tube, while never a very social experience, seems full of much more solemn quietness than usual. While catching up with friends and colleagues at the conference where I’m at that day, I can see the panic and defeat in their eyes. My entire Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of finger-pointing and blame and distrust, tons of voices lamenting the fact that we could ever get this far. And at the end of the day, there’s a flurry of people flocking to their closest pubs hoping to drink away the end of the world as they know it.

I’m not going to comment on the politics of this all – there’s still a lot that seems super vague to me. There are much more knowledgeable people than me out there who can explain what might happen and what we can do. I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know what effects this will have on me, on my friends, on my colleagues.

But: I want my city back.

I want that London that we got during the Olympics. A London that is hopeful – a London that can stand strong and show the world that ‘yep, things suck, but we can get through this’. No matter what happens, this entire pointing fingers at each other, blaming this group or that, criticising the things we could have done differently, it’s not helping. If we keep looking back and bemoaning the things that could have been, we’ll wallow in the world of ‘What-If’ and never make a difference.

We’ve had our day of mourning.

What’s next?

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.

MrRobot

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.