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Thanks, Emma.

This is a post about gratitude…
… and doing hard stuff.

Last week I left my position as Software Engineer at Emma, Inc.

I joined Emma at the beginning of 2016 as a member of their support team. Now, if you know me as a developer, you might wonder: does she mean dev support? Nope. Support — answering the phone and pulling emails out of the queue.

When I interviewed with Emma’s visionary VP of Engineering, I asked to start in Support. He shared how he’d been on the front line in a past life, and how it was a meaningful part of his journey. We connected, because we both care about creating opportunities to feel connected, learn something useful, and provide value.

I also shared how, after six months, I’d want to move to engineering. My goal would be to take what I learned–the extensive product knowledge paired with a crystal clear sense of user experience–and use it to enhance and drive my work as a developer. Having developed close relationships with colleagues across sales, services, and operations, I’d work transparently to strengthen our connection and sense of shared destiny.

I am endlessly thankful that that’s exactly what I got to do.

Good people made my journey possible, and to them I offer thanks:

  • Jason, VP of Engineering, who creates and guards Emma’s inimitable engineering culture
  • Clint, CEO, who I could listen to all day
  • Sarah M., who believed in me as a self-taught “woman in tech”
  • Kyle, my fearless and peerless Director of Support
  • Scott, the Yoda of Client Experience
  • Jean, my compassionate first engineering manager
  • Seth, my model of servant leadership
  • Jason Myers, for welcoming me as a first-time conference speaker at PyTennessee 2015, and for introducing me to the good and special people of Emmarica

I was lucky to get to work on an astonishingly high-performing and close-knit engineering team. We solved interesting problems, delivered real value, and liked each other enough that we played D&D/went on hikes/shared meals after work. Thank you Sarah S., Jackson, Parker, Megan, Kris, Lance, Evan, Adam, Josh C., Josh M., Scot, and Courey. And to all others — thank you. You made a difference.

This was a post about gratitude, and about doing hard stuff — because as much as anything, I want my life to be defined by both.

And on that note… very exciting news about what’s next, coming tomorrow!

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This is the beginning, February 2016

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Remember PokemonGo? July 2016

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That’s a conference room, October 2016

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We had a lot of fun, December 2016

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Letter from the CEO in honor of the anniversary of my hire date, February 2017

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Marketing United with Jackson, April 2017

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Mississippi Mud Cookies

You know that family member who makes that one dish that’s always perfect? The thing everybody requests, season after season?

In my family, it was my grandmother, with her ooey-gooey Mississippi Mud cake. She’d make it for only very special occasions, and how did my family crow for it! A layer of thick chocolate cake covered with marshmallows, chocolate chips, walnuts, drenched in a divinity-sweet cocoa topping? Why, you’d’a crowed, too.

My grandmother, who we called Mawmaw, passed away last fall. To my knowledge she didn’t leave a recipe behind, but I think I came pretty close with these cookies.

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Mawmaw’s Wide-as-the-Mississippi Mud Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup best-quality, fair-trade cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 generous tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vanilla or plain almondmilk (can use soy if you have nut allergies)
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup apple sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon chocolate extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup Dandies mini marshmallows, plus extra for decorating
  • Baking sheets with parchment paper
    • I used a greased Silpat, here, but that’s unnecessary unless you have one. I was simply out of parchment paper.

Directions

In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer, combine almond milk, flax seeds, canola oil, apple sauce, sugar, vanilla, and chocolate extract. Mix thoroughly until smooth.

In another bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Use a dry whisk to aerate the mixture after sifting.

Pour dry into wet and combine well.

Add chocolate chips, walnuts, and mini marshmallows. Stir well.

Drop big spoonfuls of cookies on the sheet, leaving an inch or two of space between them. They will spread! You’ll be able to get about six cookies on an 18″ x 13″ half sheet. Dot with additional marshmallows.

Bake a sheet at a time for 10 minutes at 350. Let cool on baking sheet, on rack, for a few minutes before removing to rack to complete cooling.

Kitchen notes

If you love to bake, I recommend leveling up in the following ways:

  • Equipment. Head on over to a Restaurant Supply Store (or Webstaurant Store, if you don’t have one local) and buy:
    • 2 stainless steel 18″ x 13″ half sheet pans
    • 2 16″ x 24″ full size footed cooling racks
      • I’ve had mine for over a decade, used commercially as well as at home, and they still cook like I just got them.
  • Ingredients.
    • The best-quality, fair-trade, organic cocoa powder you can find. One, because you don’t want to use chocolate produced by slave labor. And two, you can truly taste a difference. Real cocoa is deeper, cleaner, more purely chocolate. I’ll say more on this in another post, but yes, home bakers, I can always tell when you used Hershey’s.
    • Chocolate extract. My little secret for brownies, chocolate frosting, and the like is a half a teaspoon of chocolate extract, added along with the vanilla. You’ll be surprised at the flavor boost.
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Summer greens

Do you associate greens like collards, mustard, and kale with cooler weather? For a long time, I did. I leave my collards simmering on the stove for hours, steam cozying up the kitchen and doubling as a heating bill hero. I like to serve them alongside hearty casseroles and cornbread. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve heard brassicas taste best after bitten by a frost.

Just as Cookie Monster remains unconvinced that cookies are a sometimes food, so do I that we should confine greens to the bookends of the year. Let’s have greens in the summertime, too!

Here’s a light, colorful recipe that incorporates familiar summer flavors and gets us out of that hot kitchen fast.

Savory mustard greens with peppers and pintos

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 16oz bag washed and chopped of Mustard Greens* (I used Nature’s Greens)
  • 1 large red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, or a combination, chopped
  • 2 cups double-strength vegetable broth (this stuff is amazing!)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup cooked pinto beans, drained, and rinsed (canned is fine!)
  • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • juice of half a lemon

Instructions

  • Heat a large soup pot on medium/medium-high and add oil
  • Add onions and sauté 5-7 minutes, til soft, stirring often
  • Add garlic, sauté 30 seconds
  • Add peppers, sauté 1 minute
  • Pour in broth and bring to a strong simmer (just short of boiling)
  • Pour bag of mustard greens on top.
    • Note: Pot will be very full. It’s okay. Just put the lid on and leave at medium heat for 5-6 minutes. The greens will cook down to less than half their original volume.
  • Toss pintos on top. Stir thoroughly.
  • Let cook, covered, 10 minutes.
  • Season with pepper and sugar. Stir thoroughly.
  • Let cook two more minutes, simmering.
  • Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice. Stir well again. Serve!

Cool story: A serving of mustard greens has 180% of your daily vitamin A, 100% of your vitamin C, and 530% of your vitamin K. 😎

*You could also use collards, but I would recommend chopping them up a bit more finely before adding them to the pot, and simmering longer. Kale would work fine, too.

 

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PyTennessee 2017

Hey y’all!

I’m back at PyTennessee for my third year!

PyTennessee, a regional Python conference, is special to me because it’s where I got my start speaking at tech conferences. In 2015, I was invited to give a talk on my experience learning to code and teaching others to cook, and sharing that very journey on this here blog. A year later I was invited back to give a keynote.

This year I’ll be talking about making the transition from a customer-facing Support team to an engineering role. In From Support to Engineering: Bridging the gap and growing together, I’ll share how working in customer support helps you grow empathy, communication skills, and the ability to troubleshoot. Transitioning to engineering gives you an opportunity to translate that empathy, communication, and troubleshooting.

To “bridge the gap”, I’ve got advice for both sides. In Support, how do you hire (or become) someone the rest of your engineering team can get excited about? I’ll give advice about developing a transition plan that honors the important work done on the customer side while supporting an individual’s longer-term career goals.

And in engineering? Attitude, as they so often say, is everything. I’ll share how elevating support and customer-facing roles in your organization benefits everyone, and give you some tips towards redefining pairing relationships and promoting transparency.

I’m speaking at 11am in Room 100, and I’m looking forward to seeing you!

Check out the rest of the great schedule here.

Now, for a quick FAQ – I have not yet heard if talks will be recorded, but if you’re curious, definitely follow PyTennessee on Twitter for updates.

See you soon!

 

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A few things I loved about DjangoCon

DjangoCon wrapped about a week ago. As an organizer, attendee, speaker, and community member, I wanted to take a few moments to share some of the things I loved about this year’s event.

Emceeing and session chairing 13 (!!) awesome sessions

As an organizer, I worked on bringing our docs up to speed this year so that the tasks of session chairing and session running were more clear for volunteers. I also had the privilege of emceeing thirteen terrific sessions!

It’s so hard to choose, but if I had to recommend a few I’d gladly watch again, I’d go with:

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Readability Counts” by Trey Hunner. Description here. Follow Trey on Twitter. I’ll add the video link when it’s published!

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The impact of women learning to code in developing countries: benefits and challenges” by Aisha Bello and Ibrahim Diop. Description here. Follow Aisha and Ibrahim on Twitter. I’ll add the video link when it’s published!

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Frog and Toad Learn About Django Security” by Philip James. Read the description here. Follow Philip on Twitter. Video “Safe-ish by Default” from DjangoCon Europe here.

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“Just Enough Typography” by Joni Trythall. Description here. Follow Joni on Twitter. Here are her Top 10 Typography Tips.

Making history & inspiring women at the FIRST Django Girls Philly workshop

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Becca, one of the organizers of Django Girls Philly, invited me to speak at their opening. I shared a shortened version of my “Bake the Cookies, Wear the Dress” talk which was originally given at ELA Conf last November and requested for OSCON and PyCon this year. It emerged out of remarks I made at the first Django Girls Atlanta workshop. Briefly, I share the story of how a major setback prompted me to get serious about learning to code, and how I experienced tragedy but chose to learn from it, move on, and grow into the developer I am today.

Organizers Becca, Clare, and Laura let me know that the women in attendance enjoyed the talk and were pumped to start coding after hearing from me and the others who kicked off the session!

I also gave a talk to close out the two-day workshop. “So you’ve done the workshop, hooray! But: where to next?”

I offered a few suggestions, from staying in touch with the community on Twitter to digging in with the official Django tutorial, Al Sweigart’s Automate the Boring Stuff with Python, and Michael Kennedy‘s (of Talk Python) “Python Jumpstart By Building 10 Apps“.

I also emphasized the importance of continuing to use git and track work with GitHub. If you need a refresher on how to do that, I recommend Daniele’s “Don’t Be Afraid to Commit” workshop. Finally, since folks loved Terian’s lightning talk about bots, I recommended her build-a-bot tutorial online.

Here are the slides from my closing talk, with resources.

Lightning talks

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Lightning talks were run by the amazing Kojo, who invited everyone in the community to participate and emphasized that: 1) lightning talks are a great way to get comfortable in front of audiences (true!), and 2) lightning talks can be up to five minutes but don’t have to be five minutes. Each day we had a full slate of entertaining, enlightening talks. Entertaining? Russell Keith-Magee literally sang and danced his talk for us:

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To the tune of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General”, of course! Miss it in person? Here’s the recording!

I also gave two lightning talks. On Monday I kicked off lightning talks with an invitation to the community: rise to the challenge and meet an ambitious fundraising goal of $30,000 to Django Project by the end of sprints. I shared a bit about the work Tim and I do for Django Project and encouraged folks to speak with their teams about becoming corporate members.

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Full slides (and more Pokemon) from that talk here. I am thrilled to report that throughout the week we received $4,000 new dollars in corporate memberships, several solid leads for new corporate membership, $1000+ in private memberships, and we continued our JetBrains PyCharm partnership, which, when the final numbers are announced, will be big.

I also gave a talk on Wednesday explaining the “Your Django Story” interview series for the Django Girls blog and inviting anyone who is a woman or knows a woman to tell their story for our blog. We still need folks!

Please email me at story@djangogirls.org to start the conversation. Anna Schneider, CTO of wattTime, gave one of the most beloved (yet still highly technical!) talks at DjangoCon this year, and she got her start with Your Django Story:

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Slides for the Your Django Story talk here.

Working with a fabulous organizing team

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As co-chairs Lacey and Jeff humbly emphasized, DjangoCon was a team effort! Though I focused on updating docs, running sessions, and providing on-site support, I was proud to work with such a committed, dynamic, and kind group of folks to make it happen. For more about the community, check out my pal Saron’s Medium post: “That time I went to DjangoCon and fell in love with the community“.

On that note,

Meeting folks for the first time!

Oh, you know, just Tom Christie... the creator of Django REST framework...

Oh, you know, just Tom Christie… the creator of Django REST framework…

One of the great things about open source is that you get to work with people all over the world. You’ll email back and forth, build things together, occasionally Skype, but never have met in person. Until you do. And then, it’s magic.

This year I was thrilled to get to meet some folks for the first time, including Aisha, Ibrahim, Emily Karungi, and Tom Christie! I also got to spend some quality time with my dear friend Žan, who mentored me on my first real open-source project AND brought me beautiful pumpkin seed oil from Slovenia! Baptiste, Ola Sendecka, Ola Sitarska, Lucie, Erik and so many others were also in town… it was a party.

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Big special thanks to co-organizer Tim Allen, who not only ran the heck out of the conference and gave an amazing talk, but also hosted me in his home. I couldn’t have done it without you, Tim!

And, of course:

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 10.41.17 AMIt just so happened that DjangoCon coincided with the intense cultural phenomenon called PokemonGo.

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Ahem, what we were talking about?

Oh yeah: DjangoCon. It was great. Something something Eevee framework. #teaminstinct

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Recommended talks

Yesterday I gave the closing keynote at PyTennessee. In it, I referred to eleven great talks that informed my own work. Without the honesty, bravery, and authenticity of these folks, my talk would not have been what it was.

If you can make the time, I highly recommend the following presentations:

Thanks for your important work!

PS: I’m not sure my PyTennessee talk was recorded, but you can watch a much shorter, earlier, and more light-hearted version of some of the ideas covered here, or catch me at PyCon or OSCON (Austin) this year. ❤

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CodeNewbies

Today I’m thrilled and honored to be this week’s featured guest on Saron Yitbarek’s CodeNewbies podcast. Listen here! I talk about my journey learning to code as I transition from working as a chef, and I share two personal, painful stories that served as significant turning points in my journey.

Saron and I met at ELA Conf in November, where she gave the inspiring keynote “Punching Your Feelings In The Face” about her journey learning to code and becoming more assertive. You can watch her talk on YouTube here. It starts at 4:00.

The point of the weekly CodeNewbies podcast is to talk with people about their coding journey in hopes of helping listeners with theirs. The podcast is just one feature of Saron’s incredibly supportive CodeNewbies project and network, which includes a blog, a weekly Twitter chat (Wednesday at 9pm), even local meetups. I was introduced to CodeNewbies by my awesome friend Kojo, who spoke at DjangoCon US in 2015. And at last week’s PyLadies meetup, I had Atlanta’s CodeNewbies organizer Kim Crayton give one of our most inspiring and powerful talks ever, on effective mentorship.

Saron invited me to speak with her CodeNewbies audience because she enjoyed my talk at ELA Conf, Bake the Cookies, Wear the Dress: Bringing Confident Authenticity to Your Tech Talk. (It’s also the one that Lacey referenced and found so helpful for her PyLadiesRemote workshop, Your First Conference Proposal. (Watch the video of Lacey’s talk here.) You can watch my talk here on YouTube – it’s only about 20 minutes!

I gave that talk because when I was getting ready to give my first talk at PyTennessee in February 2015, I received some really bad advice about how I should do it. Advice so bad, it almost kept me from even giving the talk – which, if you’ve followed my journey since a year ago, you know would have prevented a million other wonderful things from happening on my journey with code.

I gave the talk to inspire folks to give talks and lead with confident authenticity, to connect with your audience in a deeper way, and to encourage people – especially newbies – who might need a little more help getting started.

It’s also helpful to draw on your past experience for powerful analogies, and empathy, to your current challenge. As Saron and I discuss, before I started learning to code, I was a personal chef. Cooking was something I became an expert at over time and with effort applied.

But when I decided I wanted to shift gears and learn how to code, I was incredibly nervous. I reminded myself that if I had managed to learn this other skill, and become quite good at it, maybe there are lessons from that journey that I could apply to this new challenge.

Critically, this attempt came at a crossroads in my life. As I explain starting at around 6:00 minutes in, I committed myself to learning to code in the midst of an extremely difficult breakup of a nearly six-year relationship with someone I absolutely adored.

My quiet, personal shorthand for it was that I wasn’t just Learning Python the Hard Way, I was learning it the extra, super, mega, actually-the-hardest way.

With Saron, I talk about how I worked through that incredibly challenging time and, after a period of intense grieving, used it as the foundation to recommit to myself.

It was a turning point where I realised, in my journey to code, that I had been sinking a lot of my time and love and effort into somebody else’s goals. This was an opportunity to reverse that; I could start sinking time and energy and love into my own path.

And this is really common for women – we’re more likely to assume roles as caretakers for children, partners, aging parents, and so on. We end up putting the needs of others before us; we put our own goals on hold. This was a common theme I heard from attendees of my Django Girls workshop.

Listening to myself on the podcast, I remembered that when my ex broke up with me, he wrote me an incredibly heart-felt letter and he said exactly this. It was so hard to read that letter, but it contained so much wisdom. Even though he ultimately decided he couldn’t be with me any more, he watched me for six years pour myself into others, and desperately wanted me to do that for myself. In his letter, he asked me to. He knew.

In the year and a half since it happened, I went on to speak at conferences, travel Europe solo, meet so many amazing new, close friends, and dig deeper into Python and Django. I’m giving my first keynote this week at PyTennessee, the conference where I got my start.

Wearing a “power dress” and #cookieselfie-ing, I’ve challenged myself in ways I never thought possible, and importantly, instead of having one important developer stand by me in support, I have found myself surrounded by an entire *community* of caring, talented people.

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Thank you listening, and thank you for being there.