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Catchall for posts.

Tech Job #2

Today marks the end of my third week at my new job (Technical Program Manager – Mobile) @ Pinterest.  It coincides with May Day and a Twitter stream today about #talkpay which was triggered by an article by Lauren Voswinkel over on Model View Culture.  The hashtag comprises of people “outing” their salaries over the years, location, levels of training, job titles, and a variety of other factors.

My participation was as follows:

For people who have also class-jumped or who understand what it’s like to live on social assistance or other low income realities, you will know from the above that it was not easy to leave my first ever well-paying, benefit-having, valued-for-your-knowledge, professional job.  But I did.  I took a leap of faith (and a strong referral) and turned it into my second ever well-paying, benefit-having, valued-for-your-knowledge, professional job.  ALMOST a pattern here…if I could only put aside impostor syndrome for a second and believe that I have transferrable skills and marketable ones to boot.

Anyway, the point of this blog post is to document for myself the differences now that I am in a new job and have gotten a bit of distance from the old one.  It’s important, also, to note that I am now able to reflect on my past 6 years as being a job.

Key areas I want to cover at this stage of being only 3 weeks in are recruiting, onboarding,  and culture. Here we go!

Recruiting

Mozilla got me through an internship and I left said internship with a job offer for when I completed my final year so I never did the all-day panel of interviews or any sort of salary negotiations.  I took what I was offered (because it was AMAZING) and I was quite happy about it.   Being ‘recruited’ by Pinterest was a wonderful experience.  I got to come in for the day and interview with 6 different people from various areas I was going to work with (iOS/Android engineers, product managers, and then a ‘culture fit’ interviewer that was just about the happiest person I’ve ever met).   In retrospect I worried they were easy on me because I was a referred candidate.  At some point I should ask them if that’s the case.  On my end I felt like it was all too easy.  I had some conversations, I asked some questions, I learned a ton about what they were doing and how different teams within the org operated, and then I went home with a nice notebook.  It didn’t feel stressful and shouldn’t interviewing for a job be stressful?  I suspect my experience was more laid back because I was coming from a place of already being employed and so I didn’t really need the job but I was curious about it and was being diligent about ensuring it would be a good fit for what I wanted to try next.  It was. I’ve read a few things about salary negotiations now and so for this job switch I tried out the advice. I’m quite pleased that it worked and felt good to do if only to test out the advice I’ve been giving others over the years but have never gotten to try.  The rest of the process was smooth and everyone had excellent communications – just the right amount of checking in and communicating status.  I appreciated that my Permanent Resident status coming in a week late, pushing out my start date, didn’t cause any problems.

Onboarding

Apples to apples – Pinterest is winning big time here.  At Mozilla new hires are introduced at an all-company meeting and then they are off with their team learning the ropes for their jobs.  We had an onboarding portal (I checked it out last year when my team had a new hire) and it contained some videos and wiki pages, a bit of direction for weekly tasks to accomplish.  While I know that it took a lot of work by some amazing people just to get that much set up, Pinterest is really firing on all cylinders when it comes to integrating people into the company.  They do a 3 week process where in the first week  you and your cohort spend 2 full days together being addressed by various company areas of importance to the larger goals and mission – it’s just the right mix of immersion and indoctrination – meanwhile you’re becoming familiar with, in my case, 17 people who will always be familiar faces to you going forward regardless of the diversity of work areas you’ll be in later on.  They also have 101/bootcamp classes over the next week or two to get folks on the engineering side learning all the tools, data, systems that are currently in place so that you’re not so green when you move into the next stage:  fixing some bugs.  Mozilla should really consider doing this sort of bootcamp, get new engineers to fix bugs from various parts of the code base as a way to learn how the whole picture works before going deep in their assigned areas.  Finally, at the end of your first week you are introduced to the whole company as a cohort and you must speak in front of everyone at the Q&A that happens on Friday afternoons.  At that point you and your cohort have bonded and you design and lead the theme for that week’s happy hour – all these little things give you tangible experiences to reminisce about as you go forward and that means a lot when trying to integrate into a 500+ person org.

Culture

Oh this is the big one, isn’t it?  This is the all-important catch-phrase of the knowledge worker class.  What is the culture? Are you a good culture fit? Here’s the thing:  when I first joined Mozilla the “culture” wasn’t a thing that was being discussed and analyzed yet.  I was excited to be part of a movement, a community, an ethos, and a politic of open-ness/transparency and general things do-goodish on the Web.  Culture as it is currently examined came later than my start date.  It came in the form of starting Homozilla, a mailing list for queer employees and their allies because I was starting to feel isolated not knowing if there were many other people at Mozilla who were also queer.  I was happy when I kicked that initiative off and there were all sorts of people that I never would have pegged as being LGTBQ.  It also came up when a handful of paid and unpaid contributors started highlighting awareness of diversity and inclusive behaviour in Mozilla communities.  I did a lot of work on that issue and put a lot of my ‘extra’ time into trying to drive materials and discussions around how Mozilla could be a strong player in encouraging, retaining, and promoting a welcoming culture.  I also put a lot of time and energy into building out opportunities for Mozilla to be a leader in educating and onboarding new contributors in more varied spaces – LGBTQ youth, lower income, PoC, any community that wanted to learn more about how to develop or integrate tech into their activism and community-building initiatives. Sadly, I don’t know how successful I was because without me driving them, those partnerships are not carrying on.

I’ve only been at Pinterest for 3 weeks but in that time I’ve learned that there is already a queer employees group (yay, I don’t have to create it!), there are already people working on diversity and inclusion at a level that surpasses our fledgling efforts at Mozilla (they have executive-level support and are building out programs and recruiting efforts in measurable ways), and there have been several instances where I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the positivity and open-ness to change/build/grow whatever is needed to support employees.  Example:  I emailed the workplace team about our new building’s plans to have non-gendered washrooms on one of the 3 floors – I asked if that would be possible to have on all floors – and the response was quick, warm, and welcoming of the feedback as well as being clear that having non-gendered washrooms was as much a priority (as build-out would permit) as having mother’s rooms and quiet rooms.  Both of those two things being already in existence in the current space because of there being employee need for them.  The takeaway for me?  I can ask for what I need and be heard and supported in (eventually) getting them.  That’s some great culture, in my opinion.  I wasn’t made to feel weird or out of order for asking for something that is probably always going to be an edge case in the workplace and I really appreciated that.

Wrapping Up

It’s been a whirlwind the last three weeks.  I’ve been getting up to speed with what I’ll be doing and I’ve got 30, 60, and 90 day roadmaps.  I’ve had a great time learning about things I’ve never done before – like iOS releases.  People have been super happy to hand off work to me, and I feel like I’m managing the work I’m taking on as well as having lots of energy for what’s to come – when I’ll have the basics down and can work on creating more ways to add value to a lean, fast-moving company doing very interesting things.  So all this to say that I’m grateful for all the years and roles at Mozilla, the people I’ve learned from, the experiences I’ve had and at the same time I have a ton to look forward to in this new space.

Ascend New Orleans: We need a space!

I’m trying to bring the second pilot of the Ascend Project http://ascendproject.org to New Orleans in February and am looking for a space to hold the program. We have a small budget to rent space but would prefer to find a partnership and/or sponsor if possible to help keep costs low.

The program takes 20 adults who are typically marginalized in technology/open source and offers them a 6 week accelerated learning environment where they build technical skills by contributing to open source – specifically, Mozilla. Ascend provides the laptops, breakfast, lunch, transit & childcare reimbursement, and a daily stipend in order to lift many of the barriers to participation.

Our first pilot completed 6 weeks ago in Portland, OR and it was a great success with 18 participants completing the 6 week course and fixing many bugs in a wide range of Mozilla projects. They have now continued on to internships both inside and outside of Mozilla as well as seeking job opportunities in the tech industry.

To do this again, in New Orleans, Ascend needs a space to hold the classes!

Space requirements are simple:

* Room for 25 people to comfortably work on laptops
* Strong & reliable internet connectivity
* Ability to bring in our own food & beverages

Bonus if the space helps network participants with other tech workers, has projector/whiteboards (though we can bring our own in), or video capability.

Please let me know if you have a connection who can help with getting a space booked for this project and if you have any other leads I can look into, I’d love to hear about them.

Artisanal Contributors

Part 1: Start In Person

Ascend had very few ‘rules’ but there was one which was non-negotiable: it’s an in-person program. We didn’t do distance learning, online coursework, or video-based classes. We did bring in a couple of speakers virtually to speak to the room of 20 participants but the opposite was never true.

This was super important in how we were going to build a strong cohort. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of remote work and global contribution as well as with people working from wherever they are. This was a 6 week intensive program though and in order to build the inter-dependent cohort I was hoping to1, it had to be in person at first. Those cruicial early stages where someone is more likely to ‘disappear’ if things were hard, confusing, or if they couldn’t get someone’s attention to ask a question.

It’s been over 5 years since I graduated from my software development program and over 8 years since I started lurking in IRC channels2 and getting to know Mozillians in digital space first. I wouldn’t have stuck with it, or gotten so deeply involved without my coursework with Dave Humphrey though. That was a once a week class, but it meant the world to be in the same room as other people who were learning and struggling with the same or similar problems. It was an all-important thread connecting what I was trying to do in my self-directed time with actual people who could show more caring about me and my ability to participate.

Even as an experienced open source contributor I can jump into IRC channels for projects I’m trying to work on – most recently dd-wrt for my home server setup – and when I ask a question (with lots of evidence for what I’ve already tried and an awareness of what the manual has to say) I get no response, aka: Crickets. There are a host of reasons, and I know more than a beginner might about what those could be: timezones, family comitments, no one with the expertise currently in the channel, and more. None of that matters when you’re new to this type of environment. Silence is interpreted as a big “GO AWAY YOU DON’T BELONG HERE” despite the best intentions of any community.

In person learning is the best way to counter that. Being able to turn to a colleague or a mentor and say what’s happening helps get you both reassurance that it’s not you, but also someone who can help you get unstuck on what to do next. While you wait for a response, check out this other topic we’re studying. Perhaps you can try other methods of communication too, like in a bug or an email.

Over the course of our first pilot I also discovered that removing myself from the primary workroom the Ascend participants were in helped the cohort to rapidly built up strengths in helping each other first3. The workflow looked more like: have a question/problem, ask a cohort member (or several), if you still can’t figure it out ask on IRC, and if then if you’re still stuck find your course leader. This put me at the end of the escalation path4 and meant that people were learning to rely both on in-person communications as well as IRC but more importantly were building up the muscle of “don’t stop asking for help until you get it” which is really where open source becomes such a great space to work in.

Back to my recent dd-wrt experience, I didn’t hear anything back in IRC and I felt I had exhausted the forums & wikis their community provided. I started asking in other IRC channels where tech-minded people hung out (thanks womenwhohack!) and then I tried yet another search with slightly different terms. In the end I found what I needed in a YouTube tutorial. I hope that sufficiently demonstrates that a combination of tactics are what culminate in an ability to be persistent when learning in open source projects.

Never underestimate the importance of removing isolation for new contributors to a project. In person help, even just at first, can be huge.


  1. Because the ultimate goal of Ascend was to give people skills for long-term contribution and participation and a local cohort of support and fellow learners seemed like a good bet for that to be possible once the barrier-removing help of the 6 week intensive was no longer in place. 
  2. By the way, I’m such a huge fan of IRC that I wrote the tutorial for it at Mozilla in order to help get more non-engineering folks using it, in my perfect world everyone is in IRC all the time with scrollback options and logging. 
  3. Only after the first three weeks when we moved to the more independent work, working on bugs, stage. 
  4. Which is awesome because I was always struggling to keep up with the course creation as we were running it, I didn’t realize that teaching 9-5 was asking for disaster and next time we’ll do 10-4 for the participants to give the mentors pre and post prep time.