Category Archives: Take this Job…

The personal blog is an important, under-respected art form.

I just got around to reading Anil’s recent post on 15 lessons from 15 years of blogging. Poignant, since I’ve been thinking about what to do with this site.

I’ve been blogging for over 10(!) years, with a few defunct blogger and livejournal accounts before that. The blogosphere has changed a lot since then, but my favourites are still the few personal blogs that exist without a strict adherence to a commercial niche.

I wasn’t sure there was still a place for a personal blog with no theme, direction, beautiful photos or commercial model. And then I realized I was a fucking idiot; there isn’t a rule book.

So, before I delve too far into Anil’s point 9 (Meta-writing about a blog is generally super boring), a few things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:

  1. Feminism (in tech, and in general). About 8 years ago I held a job in tech where I was – as is typical – one of only a handful of women in the company. One day I was chatting with the (male) CEO about how to get buy-in from a male colleague, and the CEO said “do you ever think some of the difficulties are because you’re a woman?” I was totally shocked, and blurted out something affirmative (because I agreed, but thought I was crazy for thinking so). And then the company pivoted, and I was laid-off about 3 days later, so never got a chance to follow up. That, and other head-smacking stories rattle around my head a lot while I watch the news on all the new-wave feminism.
  2. Working Parenthood. Closely related to the feminism thing, I spend a lot of time thinking about the day-to-day minutiae of being a full-time working mom (because let’s face it – it’s different for dads) and how to strike the right balance. A thing I’ve noticed is that I have orders of guilt: the worst is when I’ve truly disappointed Isaac (which has only happened once), but a close second is when situations come up where I feel like I am not showing the world that I care about being a good mom. Example: talking about life-changing/affirming moments with (all male) colleagues, the dads in the room all cited the births of their children. I did not. Not because I am callous, but because “the birth” frankly left me a bit shell-shocked, and was just one moment on a long continuum of becoming a mom. Of course my justification came in a moment of l’esprit de l’escalier, so I never articulated that in the moment. And so I retrospectively worry/feel guilty about appearing a cold, uncaring parent. And I do not like it.
  3. The first Tiny Christmas. This will be our third Christmas living in the UK, and the first when we won’t return to Canada. We were sick of the high prices for flights, and the large chunk of time it took out of our holiday allowances, when we’d like to travel to other destinations. I am looking forward to the opportunity to start a brand new set of traditions that are about just the three of us, but I am also a bit nervous that it won’t feel “right” or “real” to celebrate what’s normally such a family-centric holiday for us, without any family around. But you never know until you try? I guess?


How much does brand affinity matter?

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 

I saw a post the other day about a bad airline experience, and how it tied into a bad email experience. The point the author was making: don’t send promotional emails to someone you’ve just made very unhappy – hit pause on their marketing preferences for a little while. This is very possible with modern marketing technology, so why isn’t it being done?

Not long after that, I came across the new Virgin America safety video:


And was surprised by my own reaction. I my chest swelled and my eyes teared up a bit. I thought about flying Virgin, and what that means to me. 

We flew Virgin when relocating to the UK. Their brand is tied up with a whole slew of emotions, and we had an amazingly positive experience at a very stressful time, from the check-in person who didn’t charge us for extra baggage to the amazing in-flight staff who were awesome to us and Isaac.

Even hearing tales of woe from friends who’ve had bad experiences on Virgin hasn’t changed that.

Conversely, I have had horrible experiences with United, and mediocre experiences with everyone else.

But what, exactly, does that change? I still book air travel based on:

  1. Price
  2. Points (though I don’t fly enough these days for a loyalty program to sway me much)
  3. (the aforementioned things being equal – which they never are) Experience.

The author of the first article I linked to also doesn’t seem to be likely to change her behaviour based on their shoddy email. She might think less of the airline, but she’ll still give them her business.

I can’t blame her – I do the same.

So why, then, does she think they should change their email practice?

Care & Feeding

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 

Now that I’ve been back at work full time for about six months (time flies!), we’re really feeling the pressure at home when it comes to managing the rest of life.

Weekends end up jam packed with cleaning, errands, laundry and prepping/batch cooking so meals never take more than 30 minutes to get on the table during the week. It makes the weekday grind really feel like a grind.

Also, feeling like we hardly have any time to go out and do things or see people outside taking care of our basic family needs (because we’re scrambling to play catch-up every weekend) is really isolating. Which is funny to me, because I thought getting back into the working world would be exactly the opposite. Turns out, not so much.

So, it’s time to hire some help. And it was really hard to figure out exactly what – but I seem to have it narrowed down to two options.

Option 1: Mother’s Helper

Putting aside the irritatingly gendered job name (that’s what it’s advertised as here), this would be someone who could come in a few afternoons a week. The function isn’t primarily cleaning, or childcare, instead it’s a role for picking up whatever needs doing at that time – basically all the things you haven’t gotten around to – as well as being able to make or start some meals, and do babysitting, picking kids up from nursery or school, etc.

Option 2: Au Pair

The house we’re in right now has a bunch of space we’re not really using; a full guest room with ensuite, plus a decently-sized office. We certainly have the space to put an Au Pair, if we wanted to have one, and still have room for the very occasional guests we get. And after learning a bit more about what they do, it seems like we could expect the same light housework, laundry, cooking, childcare as with a Mother’s Helper, but for a lot more hours, plus babysitting a couple evenings a week (which we’ve really been missing).

What would you do?

So here, gentle reader, is where I ask if you’ve used either a Mother’s Helper or an Au Pair before, and what your thoughts are? The costs, for us, would be about even.

My biggest hesitations are that for the Mother’s Helper, I’m not sure much having someone only on certain days would work with our chaotic lives. But with the Au Pair, I don’t know how much I want another person living in the house (I feel like it’d be 80% fun and lovely, 20% stressful – would that be worth it?).

Any experiences to share?

How to be a Business Grownup: Rules for Autoresponders

In all the ways people can be a competent business grownup (h/t Darren), I think the most abused are communication channels. It’s like we haven’t gotten over the fact that there are Magic! Machines! that we communicate through, and we let our amazement at technology take up the parts of our brain we would otherwise use for communication competence and common courtesy.

The latest thorn in my side is the email autoresponder. It used to be that the worst offense was someone forgetting to turn theirs off after a vacation. But now, thanks to Tim Ferris (maybe? he’s at least the earliest adopter/proponent of this inane practice that I’m aware of), every self-important so-and-so who thinks they’re anybody is setting up a pingback that tells you all the reasons you are not important enough for a personal response. At least not right away, probably not ever.

If you’re not entirely sure what I’m talking about, it’s the practice of someone setting up an automated response in their email system, to reply to every incoming message with a litany of excuses and redirections.


I happened across this piece from Fast Company today, where the featured Very Important Business Grownups share how they use their autoresponders, and what kind of Very Important Business Activities are keeping them from managing their email, as they try to keep it real, man, and not abandon the little people. All while reminding the little people of their Very Importance.

This, business grownups, is not how you ‘set expectations.’

Unless the expectation you are trying to set is that you are so fragile and insecure that you can’t possibly believe the world can function without a response from you – of any kind – for a few minutes/hours/days. Or that the vast majority of the people who email you are so incompetent that they couldn’t possibly get a response/find some information/connect with you or someone else in your company by any other means, ever.

As I mentioned, this has always been a bit of a bugbear. (aside: you can generally tell how much something annoys me by how much my vocabulary resembles an octogenarian curmudgeon) But I find it especially grating after reading this piece about Jeff Bezos and his ‘question mark’ emails. That’s right. The head of Amazon has a very public email address, and encourages customers to bring issues to his attention, without regard to the amount of useless/misdirected/spammy email he must receive.

And I am pretty sure Jeff Bezos doesn’t have an autoresponder telling people where they can find the feedback link on Amazon’s page, or the company directory, or submit speaking requests, or just to apologize for being a Very Important Business Grownup, or Maybe I’m just Playing With My Dog/Kid, So I Might Take a Few Days to Get Back to you, OK?

I bet he does, however, have some executive assistants monitoring his inbox, ensuring the garbage gets deleted, the mis-routed get redirected, and the things Mr. Bezos needs and wants to see get in front of his eyes in a timely manner. And the ignorable, ignored.

And this, Very Important Business People, is how you manage your email. By setting up your systems and resources so that the people you purportedly care about are treated like people.

If everyone who emails you is really having that much trouble figuring out how to connect with you, or who to contact from your company, maybe add some info to your website (or on your card, or some of the other hojillion places you share your email). The fact that you are this much of a keystone to your organisation is worrying. Don’t you have a competent team? A succession plan?

If you want to stop getting meaningless emails from every Tom, Dick, and Harry, maybe stop replying to them all – via autoresponder or actual email response. Every reply you send teaches them that your personal email is a viable source for that type of information.

If you think giving instant responses to email is unrealistic, then stop doing it. Patience is a virtue. And anyone who truly needs an immediate reply will probably figure out how to get it. Without the links or other contact info you’re firing back. Anyone who doesn’t, will somehow get on with their lives, shocking as that may seem.

And since you can’t talk about Fast Company without some reference to the Church of Steve, Jobs was famous for his email responses – their curtness second only to their rarity. I’m pretty sure nobody doubted his Very Importance.

So, the rules:

When is it ok to use an email autoreponder?

When you are away from the office and not replying to any email communication for an extended period (days/weeks/months – whatever is outside normal absence/delay in your world). Note I said ‘any communication’ – you are letting people know you can’t be contacted right now, not announcing your usual delay in responding.

You may even include details for who to contact in your absence, if there is a particular person handling your urgent issues while you’re incommunicado.

But what about (insert any other excuse here)?



Update: Of course, not long after posting this, I received an email autoresponse. Except, it didn’t instantly fill me with rage. Why not? It was a business email. When someone submits a sales inquiry, it’s definitely good practice to let that person know their question did not disappear into the ether, and set an expectation for when a salesperson will get back to them.

My rant is solely applied to the world of personal emails (or emails sent to a specific person at a business). They are the email equivalent of the twitter auto-DM. Ain’t nobody got time for that.  

Uneven Footing

I am really quite excited to see the resurgence of feminism in the mass consciousness.

I’ve actually been meaning to write more about my nebulous thoughts and experiences around it, but this other thing has been eating at me a bit, so I thought I’d throw it out there and see if I can drum up any discussion, because frankly, I’m stymied.

How do I negotiate prioritising and “leaning-in” to my career in the context of doing what’s best for our family?

At the core of it, Neil’s salary is over 100% higher than mine. This is due to a number of things; but primarily because of a higher overall salary for the work he does compared to what I do, and a more direct career path for him (he’s been doing the same thing for a while, marching steadily upward, while I flitted around and dabbled).

But, while he would never boast about this himself, he also owes a huge amount of credit for his earnings and career success to the fact that he works really, really hard. He goes in early most days. He stays late when he needs to. He isn’t a doormat or a workaholic, but genuinely believes in what he is doing, really enjoys doing it, and works hard to deliver excellent work, all of the time.

His pride, drive, and passion are core to what I love most about him.

And before we had a kid, these rarely presented any challenges. He worked late, I worked late, we sorted it out and fended for ourselves when we had to.

Introducing the tiny human has meant we have also had to introduce a lot more compromise. Generally we’re pretty good at making things work, and Neil really is very involved in the mechanics of making sure we’re all fed, clothed, and reasonably clean. He’s got time booked out in his calendar where he won’t take late meetings because I have commitments. But occasionally, we both need to extend our work days, and we need to make a choice about which one of us has to lean toward the family more than toward our jobs.

So how do you choose who’s going to ‘take one for the team’ this time?

Prioritising Neil’s work means ensuring he can continue to earn the income our family needs to keep existing (we can not live on my salary alone).

But I worry.

I worry that I am going to lose opportunities to increase my own career progression and financial contribution to our family (not to mention my own personal goals and hopes and dreams), by not being able to lean in as hard.

I worry that by taking on the bulk of the household responsibilities, so Neil can continue to thrive and grow in his role as our primary breadwinner, I am spreading myself thin enough that my outside-the-home-work ends up relegated to the position of ‘job’ rather than career.

I worry that by ‘betting on the short-game’ we are losing out on the potential of the long-game, but at the same time, that a focus on the long-game for future unknowns in my career may bite us in terms of opportunities for Neil that could very concretely impact our family now.

None of this is about parenting, or time with Isaac, which I’m really very happy with. Heck, if my salary were higher, I’d consider introducing a maid/nanny/mother’s helper/au pair/household manager into our lives, to make the choices a little less stark.

(Or is the right bet a financial hit to have those resources, so we can start making more time-choices now, in the hopes that it pays off in the future? – see, I can play this game all day.)

My in-person life is pretty much devoid of working couples without massive salaries who make this work.

I know a lot of families with two average incomes, who work to live and rarely exceed the 9-5:30 boundaries. I know many who live on one income, with someone staying at home to manage the household. I know a few where there is one ‘main breadwinner’ income-earner, and the other who has ‘just a job’ and generally makes most of the work-sacrifices to take care of the family. And then there are the Sandberg-esque examples, of two people who already have huge careers before kids come along, where hiring extra help is, financially, a no-brainer.

Maybe you are or you know someone, like me, somewhere in the middle?

Is there anyone out there who has any more of this figured out than I do?

Buckling Down

Thing I am struggling with at work: Focus.

After spending the vast majority of the past 2 years chasing after a tiny human with the attention span of a goldfish, I am now noticing that my ability to focus for more than about 40 minutes at a time in a work setting (or any setting, really) seriously stunted.

Example: I used to be able to get through a novel in one sitting, start to finish, if I didn’t have any interruptions. Now, I have trouble reading a book for more than about 30 minutes.

And it’s not entirely down to distractions. I have tried turning them all off. It helps to a degree, but if I get close to an hour without an interruption, my brain will shift all on its own, and go looking for one.

The ability to do rapid task-switching is definitely an asset in my particular job, when I’ve got many projects on the go, but I also need to be able to dig into bigger things and roll with them for a few hours. The balance is currently all off.

Do you have any favourite brain-stretching exercises for your think-muscle, when you’re trying to get to a place of focus and flow? My future efficiency thanks you.

How much to bring to the office

My first job out of university, I ended up managing a team who brought everything to work. Their joys, their sorrows, their dreams, their drama – so, so much drama (we employed a few underemployed actors; make of that what you will). They loved the fact that they felt like their colleagues were counselors and confidantes.

I hated it.

For a long time, I operated under a model of ‘there are things you do/share/say at work, and things that are for the rest of life, and NEVER THE TWO SHALL MEET.’ As I grew as a person, and a professional, those lines have become a bit fuzzier.

I still believe work is a time for working, and there is a certain level of discretion and decorum that should be kept. And I am still annoyed at and generally uncomfortable around those for whom that line seems to be nonexistent.

But I have also experienced the benefit of becoming friends with colleagues, and making an effort to get to know them as whole people (and letting them get to know me as a person), rather than a series of roles and duties between 9-5.

And then there is the issue of Leaning In, a la Sheryl Sandberg. Of being a professional woman, with a child, who does great work during the day, but also leaves at promptly 5:30pm for those sacred dinner/bedtime hours.

It is more terrifying than I expected.

The company I work at has a pretty young culture. Nobody else on my immediate team has kids. If I had to guess, I’d say 80% of the staff are under 30. I am not always the first to arrive (though I’m generally in early), but I’m almost always the first to leave.

Considering I haven’t yet built up a reputation at this company of hard work and competence (outside of what they think I’m like via the interview process), I definitely feel an internal struggle about putting such firm boundaries around my in-office work time, when I don’t feel that most people here do.

I don’t see any evidence that this would be a workplace in which I’d be penalized or discriminated against, either overtly or systemically, but when it comes down to it, I’m not sure if that’s because it’s got a women/family-positive culture, or because with the company demographics, it hasn’t really been tested yet.

So I struggle with how much to share.

I try to be matter-of-fact (without being one of those ‘sancti-mommies’) about leaving on time, because we have pretty strict schedule needs for pick-up & dinner. To talk about the fun & joy of kids when, rather than just complaining (which seems to be a more culturally-acceptable stance). And to balance that with talking about work and personal non-kid/family things.

I try, strange as it may sound, to act more like a dad. Dads at work get to talk about their kids without someone assuming they should be at home cooking or cleaning or caring. I act with the assumption that moms should be able to do the same.

It sounds simple, but I still get a pang, every time I mention a kid thing. Is it ok? have I undermined my professional impression? Do they think I’m less dedicated? Do they think I am not only a mediocre worker, but a mediocre mum as well, and therefore a total failure as a person?

I certainly didn’t think that of former colleagues, and have no evidence it’s happening now. I’m hoping the worry about this is all just my own brain, manifesting anxieties that could be largely irrelevant.

But maybe, just maybe, finding the balance, and forging this path will mean that someone who walks it behind me won’t have those anxieties at all.

So I embrace the discomfort, and lean in a little harder.

Me & my picnic buddy
Weekends are for Picnics