Tuesday, July 29, 2014

start me up

I can't remember the last time I've had to much fun. And learned so much. And made so many new friends so quickly. But that's what happens at Startup Weekend.

If you're like me, you don't run in tech circles. You don't have company CEOs as coffee dates, and you don't spend your free time on Arduino discussion boards. So how is it that I found myself trapped for three days in the basement of a Tech Museum (The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose) with these exact people?

I suppose it started when a friend sent me an email about Startup Weekend Bay Area Makers and I immediately signed up. I didn't think much about what I was signing up for. I only knew the event was local, during the weekend, and focused on making things. I'm a maker, so this would be a good program for me; I do make jewelry, after all.

I arrived at the museum on Friday afternoon with a friend (although I would have gone to the event solo), and from the instant I arrived, every single person I met was friendly.

But the participants were also interesting. And highly educated. And worked in Silicon Valley (with actual silicon). 
And made everything themselves. Which caused me to start to think, "who is going to take me seriously?"

I even had to make my own name tag at check-in

After Startup Weekend check-in (Friday evening), the fun and games began. New potential start-up ideas were pitched by about 1/3 of the participants. The best ideas were chosen by the group (90 participants total) and teams were quickly formed. Since I didn't have a specific idea or product to pitch, I had the flexibility to join any team. I found myself gravitating toward a scientific instrument based team for two reasons. 1. It was science (biology) based. 2. I met two electrical engineers signed up with the project and they were kind, welcoming, and funny. It was an easy decision; I had my group.

Slowly more participants joined the group until we became a team of eight. Eight strangers to be exact. We had a quick introductory meeting before getting down to business. I took a deep breath and looked around the room. Once again, I found myself sitting next to some of the most brilliant engineers, scientists (one of our members has a PhD in physics), and business consultants I'd ever met. And then there was me.

The tech creative process

The business development process

52 hours later, I found myself standing in front of a group of participants, museum goers, and very fancy CEO judges, pitching our final product; a hand-held, portable, low-cost, fluorometer. We presented last (not by our choosing). I was so nervous, I don't remember what the other 11 groups presented. We were the underdogs; the only team to barely pull together a company name in the 13th hour. The only team striving to create a low cost scientific instrument in two days. We were the team quietly operating under the radar, asking for coaching and advice at every turn.

                           From initial concept           to MVP (minimum viable product)

But then we won. The whole event - we were the judges choice and also the fan favorite. For once in my life, this left me completely speechless.


I can't believe how much I have grown these last three days. I know what a flouormeter does (and how it works inside and out). I know that the Spark chip inside our product runs on wifi and uses Arduino. I know that the product has wide ranging commercial use. And I know that I have skills that helped our team win. Plus, I know that I want to work with these people again. Simply put, I know that I met some incredible friends, colleagues, and mentors.

And I know that, at the end of it all, I care about making a difference. And I will continue to dedicate myself to service.

But also hopefully learn how to code.

Interested in joining a Startup Weekend? Check out the website to see if one will be taking place near you: http://startupweekend.org/

Thursday, July 17, 2014


a small digital image or icon used to express an idea, emotion, etc., in electronic communication.
"emoji liven up your text messages with tiny smiley faces"      

The word emoji means “picture letter” in Japanese. But when were these pictures developed? Wasn't it just yesterday I didn't even have a cell phone or computer? According to my lengthy web-based research, "although emoji weren't officially part of the Unicode Standard until 2010, the colorful cartoon symbols have been a major part of Japanese smartphone culture since 1998, when they debuted as a cute software feature on local phones".1 These guys date all the way back to the late 1990s.

What are these annoying little faces, hearts, and animal pictures found in all the text messages, emails, and Facebook posts I see? Why they're emojis, of course. But where did they come from? How did we get from no cellular devices to text messages filled with emojis?

The other day I received a text message from my mother, appropriately (right?) using an emoji.

Am I proud of her? For using an emoji? Not really. Because she is a writer. And because I am a writer. I rely upon the written word to convey message, tone, intention. I have written 20 blog posts in this space and have yet to reply upon the emoji. My mom doesn't need this picture crutch either. I believe she is witty enough to send her love without pictorially kissing me. That's okay, because I do use xx (an emoticon, see explanation below) to send her kisses. 

But it's when someone is trying to convey humor with a jk or lol or even a  that I think "really, that's all you've got?" I wish my texter would come up with some clever wording to express himself. If he did, I'd understand his text was not to be taken seriously. 

So is using an emoji a crutch? Is texting not supposed to be quick, easy, no thoughtfulness in expression techniques needed? I don't know. I suppose the answer is yes. But that only makes me dislike texting, along with the emojis, even more.

I only like emojis for their artistic value. I know this is strange. I don't value the emoji for its ability to wink at me with a cartoon character representation. I enjoy the facial expression that marks the wink.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: what is the difference between an emoticon and an emoji, you ask? Simply put, an emoticon is a symbol made with keypad characters. The ;-) wink I am a fan of (occasionally). 

An emoji, on the other hand, is a cartoon drawing of a face winking, the now present in many of my text messages. And, just in case you are new to the world of emoji, do not worry. There is an Emojipedia, to look up all meanings emoji. You can practice using them thanks to the addition of the emoji language keyboard on smartphones.

http://emojipedia.org/ has emojis for just about everything.

Now that you know what an emoji is, you can feel free to never use one again. No, not seriously. Promoters of emojis (cell phone companies) are pushing the benefits of emojis. "In a time of text messages with 140 or 60 character limits, and emoji being a single character, it could go a long way."2 This makes me sad.


1. http://www.fastcodesign.com/3032434/where-do-emoji-come-from
2. http://www.iemoji.com/articles/where-did-emoji-come-from

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


I have been applying for jobs. And before every job interview, whether initial phone conversation or in-person, I do some company research. In the past, this has typically involved looking at the company's website, reading more in depth about the job opening/qualifications, and taking a cursory glance at the staff member listing.
But recently I have begun to take my interview preparations one step further: I search out the person I am interviewing with. I not only Google the person, find him or her on the company webpage, and check out a LinkedIn profile, but I really look into the person. I find my interviewer on Facebook, read any article written about him or her, search for press releases, and even Google image search for head-shots. I like to know who I'm going to be speaking (and possibly working) with. I have gone so far in my due diligence that once I actually predicted a director would be leaving the company (I was interviewing to be her replacement) to go on to graduate school. When I mentioned this in the interview, she said I was the second person to make that connection. I guess my behavior is pretty normal.

Which is the main point my internet research is beginning to make clear; I will find out about you. When I worked at my former company, I would search for the current addresses of individual donors who had recently moved. Nine times out of ten, I would find the donor's new address, along with how much she paid for her house, the names of her children, and the city she was born in. I know that sounds creepy, but it was all just to send out an annual appeal letter to the correct address. I did develop a reputation among my co-workers for being able to find anyone, though. But that's because it's easy to be found.
And it is now the norm. I remember interviewing roommates years ago. I'd search out each candidate on social media sites. The same thing was true with someone I was going on a date with, or even with simple acquaintances. I now try to limit my internet stalking for job interviews, as I cannot confidently enter into the interview unprepared. But we all know that being given access to someone's complete and legal name is a free pass to search out the person via Google.

I used to think that it was possible and easy to live off the grid. If you don't want someone to find you, stay off the internet; don't join any social media sites and don't give your name to articles/quotations that may be published about you. While I welcome comments on my blog posts, beware of publishing anything with your full name. You never know what I might (and will) find about you.

I just found out that "off the grid" no longer means what I thought it did; "off grid" now refers to the millions of people living locally. Off Grid is one, among many, such website that includes various bloggers giving tips on how to live locally. Except in the state of Florida, where living off grid illegal. All homes must now be connected to a utility grid. This means all residents must be connected to a system and pay into this system. No more hiding in a cabin the woods, or not having a physical address to receive mail and bills. Everyone leaves a footprint. And there are millions of us on the other end, tracking it.

Not to scare you. I only use my internet stalking powers for good. To get to know you before meeting you and trying to convince you to hire/date/live with me. This is completely normal behavior; and actually, almost to be expected. Almost.

So while there is a fine line between cyber-stalking and conducting research, every single job search website lists researching your interviewers by finding bios and social network links as a "must do." Idealist, Monster, and Indeed specifically recommend, "You may find bio pages or press releases that give you insight into their most visible activities at the company. Then look to LinkedIn or do a general Web search to get some more background information about them." That looks like a green light to continue preparing myself in this fashion for upcoming interviews. But perhaps I'll put my default to research everyone mentality aside. And let real life people show me who they are.

To read more about acceptable job interview preparations, check out: http://career-advice.monster.com/job-interview/interview-preparation/interview-company-research/article.aspx