Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Yes, It IS Big News

It's interesting watching the comments fly about Microsoft purchasing a stake in Facebook... and now just a couple days later, Google announcing OpenSocial. Despite some cynics, I contend that this is a big deal.

Social networking technology is finally catching up to a pent-up demand to satisfy the desire to connect with other people, despite living in a harried and fractured world. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and others have each addressed part of that need while at the same time, segmenting our lives further by remaining as entirely separate silos.

I'm not alone in feeling like it's crazy-making to keep up profiles across several different networks... or to choose to focus on just one or two to the exclusion of others.

People of all demographics want to feel connected. The younger folks, the young at heart, people who want to stay connected with them, and people who don't want to be left behind while the hiring game changes, all want to use technology to do this. That's a pretty sizeable group of people when you start to add it all up.

Most importantly, these people want social networking to make life easier and better, not harder, and the technology is finally beginning to catch up to that.

Of course, it mostly starts out with forging virtual connections with people we already know and care about in real life. As that capability matures, however, there is the capacity to learn more about each other than we often learn IRL, and to learn more about people we didn't even know before. So yes, these kinds of moves by the giants of the industry definitely could have an impact on quality of life and understanding fellow humans.

More than a decade ago, back when most of the folks I knew didn't even know what the internet was (including many of the geeks I worked with), and only a handful were just starting to get the idea about email, and the best form of electronic connectedness most of us had was through electronic bulletin boards of which only a handful were connected to each other... Way back then, Howard Rheingold wrote The Virtual Community, and it really spoke to me. I tried speaking to him too, but that didn't really go anywhere at the time.

Between then and now, the Internet became more widely accessible (and I only had to suffer through ten years' or so worth of withdrawal, after leaving school), started to offer more to the average person, and connecting electronically has become second nature to most of us. Between then and now, I and about 150 other women and some of their partners came together through the internet in support of one another throughout the duration of our pregancies - and our group was just one of many.

Though I can't speak to the others, I can say that our group is still going strong nearly a dozen years later, and I'm sure that between us, we can name every one of the people who was ever part of our clan (plus most of their kids and partners and a lot of other relevant details about their lives), even if they're not still an integral part of our thriving community today.

We're very close-knit and the connection we share electronically has been a real important part of our day-to-day support through pregnancy, child-rearing, trying to being good partners in our relationships and how we show up in life and work in the broadest possible terms. We help each other maintain sanity, offer differing points of view for consideration, celebrate successes and provide plenty of {{virtual hugs}} during times of grief and challenge.

If you want an example of how people can use virtual communities to improve quality of life and understanding of fellow human beings, just ask me about the November Moms of '96. And make sure you have a lot of time to stay and get the answer.

How will this new wave of technology-aided and abetted community shake out? I'm not all that sure yet - but I can tell you that I'm mostly excited about it. The news of the past week makes a lot of new things possible. That's great news for those of us with social networking on the brain. It's also great news for Startup Weekend participants or anyone else tapping into the value of community on the web.

In the meantime it's probably a good idea to go back and read some of Howard's thoughts on the downside of virtual communities - while the examples are perhaps dated, he accurately predicted a lot of what we've seen since his original writing of it all and the risks that haven't already been realized are still out there. It's probably a good idea to spend at least some time thinking about how to mitigate those risks and to keep thinking about how to realize the full potential of this notion of a virtual community that complements, not replaces, the real thing.

You probably have thoughts on the matter. I'd love to hear stories, predictions, concerns - whatever. Send them to me at and help design the future.

What does community mean to me and how do I express that in my life and work?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Solving Puzzles and Mysteries

I love solving puzzles. Can't stand to sit on mysteries. That probably has a lot to do with how I got into Tech Support in the first place. When I started seeing the wild photos of the Mukilteo ferry running through the "sort of big" windstorm last week, my first question was - where did those come from?

Actually that was the second question. Let's just say I've had forwarded to me more than my share of fake, totally or mostly untrue stuff over the years.

Anyway, I'd have gone digging for the source of the photos except I got sidetracked playing NotPr0n. I can't even blame Brad. All he did was link to the guy who used NotPron as a metaphoric term. As I said, I can't stand to just sit on mysteries and the sentence just didn't make sense without knowing more about notpron... so I just had to go check it out.

Fortunately, while I was feeding my new-found addiction, someone else dug up the story on the ferry in the windstorm. And of course the original ferry photos are even more impressive than what I'd seen already. Thanks CitizenRain for spreading the word!

Don't send me any more puzzles, riddles, mysteries or fake internet junk - I don't need any of it, even the stuff I like. If you feel like talking privately about notpron levels 1-12, I'm here for you and can be reached at

What could I use less of in my life?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sometimes You're the Windshield...

Here's what I know today - there's a lot I don't really know. Especially when it comes to the real state of the tech economy. Tech sector job reports in Seattle look good. And supposedly IT salaries are at an "all-time" high.

On the other hand, other market sectors are experiencing a downturn and there is significant debate over the actual health of an average tech worker's salary. On the other other hand, the Pacific Northwest (the Eastside in particular) is experiencing a construction boom and IT is cited as a major economic driver for the foreseeable future.

That kind of activity is usually a good sign though there are serious concerns looming on the horizon too.

The best I can tell, is it's all a very personal experience - you might be in the group that's doing really well, or you might one of those who is (still) struggling for any number of reasons. Some geeks struggle to find entry-level work. Then there is the matter of salaries that have been pushed lower in the skill-areas where the competition is for jobs, not talent. Some local tech workers are simply feeling the pinch of housing prices that remain high, despite national trends.

Regardless of where you are personally, the smart ones recognize that it's all a cycle - we have ups and downs all the time. If we're not in a down, it's wise to prepare for one. And for anyone hanging on through a lull, it's probably also worth considering that the landscape may have changed altogether, requiring a whole new mind-set and whole new set of skills.

When I started this blog, circumstances were grim all the way around for the tech sector, and hence the title. Even though the situation isn't that bleak today, things are not uniformly wonderful either. This means to me that it's still worth looking for the gems that make success a little easier - no matter where you feel you are on the success spectrum.

One such gem - use a time of downturn to try new ideas. Soaring Mountain Enterprises was founded exactly under such premises. It was no more risky for me back then to start my own business than it was to try to find full-time work as a manager and I'm glad I made that choice.

Another idea worth considering - if you happen to be one of the many who were hit hard by the bludgeoned tech economy and are still struggling, know that help exists. For instance, HopeLink serves north and east King County, providing a variety of services to help homeless and low income individuals and families become self-sufficient.

My feeling about HopeLink and other similar organizations is that if you don't need their services yourself, then there is probably some way you can get involved with them to help other people who do. When the system works as it's meant to, there are people who are unashamed to use the services available to them until they are self-sufficient... and then they turn around once they're on their feet again and support the ability of these organizations to continue to serve others.

Chris Gardner - the inspiration behind the movie Pursuit of Happyness (not to be confused with technology-oriented Christopher Gardner), and a real class act - is one of these 'full-circle' guys.

Gardner spoke at the Hopelink annual fundraiser luncheon recently. Many of our homeless are actually working families. Think of how many geeks and other employees in the tech sector who have been layed off over the years and how difficult it has been at times to find work - especially during the bust years. It occurs to me that even today, we could easily be working alongside someone who is homeless.

That notion - though probably without the geek spin on it - apparently hit home with people attending the luncheon. And I'm proud to say that together, we raised more than $1M - the highest amount ever for this organization.

Two things struck me, though, about the amount raised. First, given that the 2006 amount raised was $800,000, Gardner's $10,000 challenge contribution was a key to making the million dollar mark. Perhaps just as important, though, was that we only just barely cleared that number. The total was actually $1,001,200. Put in perspective, that means that just one table of $250 donations made the difference between hitting this important milestone and just missing it.

Of course, in the case of HopeLink, more donations are always needed. As Gardner put it, if homeless people are largely unnoticed by society, then the working homeless are downright invisible - primarily because they look and act much the same as the rest of their co-workers and typically aren't out by the road with cardboard signs.

My guess is that in the world of high tech, where periods of high salaries have pushed home prices skyward at the same time that lay-offs are common and people are more often than ever before working under contract without benefits, that there are more techies who are homeless (or at least struggling to not become so) than we realize.

So I'll reiterate - if you don't need the sorts of services provided by Hopelink or other similar organizations, seriously consider helping others who do by donating or volunteering.

If you have stories or words of wisdom about suviving a downturn, send them to me at and maybe that will help someone else somehow.

What changes do I want to make if this is an overall change in landscape as opposed to a simple up and down cycle?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Geeks and Goals

Okay, how many geeks out there are willing to admit to using MS Project or Basecamp or some such professional application to track and manage their personal goals? Be honest!

If you thought you might want something that seems a little more, well... personal, you might want to check out Zeenami, the new Seattle-based website that's just been made available as a public beta. I always love trying new things if I think they might be helpful and I'm just starting to play around with it. Already I can see there are two areas in particular that my clients might appreciate.

One is the personal assessments area of the kind that I use regularly in my coaching. There's a life fulfillment survey and a sort of mini-Myers-Briggs that even provides the option of letting other people tell you what they notice about your personality. What you can do with these sure beats my own hacked-together Excel spreadsheet versions by a significant margin.

In fact, I might as well toss my home-grown tools altogether and let Zeenami take over. It's far more professional-looking than I'm ever going to take the time to make them. And you don't even have to register to access the assessments, which is nice.

The other area is the goal tracker templates, and to use those you do have to register. I still like Llamagraphics LifeBalance for managing my life overall, and I recognize that plenty of people simply want something to track their progress on a handful of goals. Zeenami can work great for that and I'm already starting to build some templates of my own to share with clients and others. I'll let you know when I've got something you can use.

Of course, I can hear some folks out there protesting any sort of tracking whatsoever. I know, it feels too much like micromanaging, sometimes. Think about it, though - we track progress and milestones for projects at work as a way of monitoring progress, making sure progress happens - and that it happens in alignment with the intended goal.

How is what we want out of life any different from that or less deserving?

I'm curious about whether you track goals or not and how well that works for you. Send me your opinions at and let me know what sorts of tools you favor for making sure (the right) things happen in your life.

What do I want to make happen in the next 90 days?