Cars – They Don’t Make ‘em Like They Used To

We just got our first personalized license plate, well my husband did, and asked me after the fact if it was okay. “LASTGAS”. As in this will probably be our last gas-powered car. I don’t necessarily think that in 5 years, roughly when we’re in the market again, electric powered cars will have over-taken the market…but there will certainly be a lot more of them and even more advances made.

Between us, my husband is the one that’s down right giddy over electric cars (rather the Tesla in particular) and perhaps I could be considered more of a fast follower. I’m all for less dependence on foreign oil and treating the environment better. I also don’t think that the needed charging infrastructure is going to be a problem – it’s going to happen. This is just a simple anecdote, but the new Target store by our house has at least 20 parking spots with charging stations, and oh what a nice excuse that would be to shop more than usual.

I should also mention here that we have Google’s driver-less cars on the horizon. It was just a few years ago when I first heard about their side project, and I can clearly remember how skeptical I was, almost incredulous. No way would Americans give up their God-given right to drive. I mean our obsession with how a car makes us “look” had to have begun just a few moments after the Model T went into production. Cars, for the vast majority of people, have never been about getting to from point A to point B. We choose them to represent our personalities or the persona we want to be. Sporty? Get a Subaru Outback or Toyota 4-Runner. Stylish? BMW. SUV on a budget? Get a Cherokee. Got lots of kids? How about the Honda Odyssey. Even if you don’t want a showy car, and you’re the sensible I-don’t-really-care-about-cars type, there is a car for that. (The Camry or Corolla right?)

So what will it say about the state of America when that’s gone, when getting inside a car and shutting the door is now ONLY about getting to Point B? We will have come a long way baby. But I’m not incredulous anymore. I am definitely starting to see how it could happen. I’ve seen so many different industry disruptions happen in the last 10 years than any point of my life and I think that momentum is only going to continue. This may sound like a trivial reason, but our smartphones might be why we all finally accept driver-less cars. How many of you text and drive? I hate it but I’m raising my hand right now. I’m mean we’re all a bunch of multi-tasking maniacs. If there’s any idle moment, like the grocery store line, our mind kicks into gear and says “Oh did that guy ever email me back about so-and-so?” “I better check Facebook to see if Trish had her baby yet!”.

We will no longer feel guilty about that! We can no longer cause road accidents because of that. The reason I love my new commute, which is by ferry, is because my hands are not on a steering wheel – I can do whatever I want…text, read email, read a book, call Mom. One day all that can happen in our personal cars!

Also, I just went on vacation. Driving on vacation sucks because you’re so reliant on a map. Missing a turn becomes a 10 minute mistake. I would have LOVED a driver-less car on vacation, guided by an intelligent mapping system void of emotions and bad short term memory.

When cars become less about your identity and more about getting to Point B, we might also be more open to carpooling. Driver-less cars will be these super computers with wheels, so it’s easy to imagine a Carpool app on your phone (similar to Uber) that picks you up first and then the perfect 1 or 2 others looking to go to the same area. You don’t even need to own the driver-less car, it could be a Zipcar picking everybody up.

One last thought that hit me while writing this – our kids will never own a gas powered car. And it’s even possible they’ll never get a drivers license or drive cars. Today our children don’t recognize a dial tone, in fact my four year old just overheard me say I needed to make a phone call and she asked “What’s a phone call?” I guess FaceTime is more her speed. Our two year old frustratingly tried to pinch and zoom the viewport of our SLR camera. Times are a changin’. And even if I might be incredulous at first, I always come around.

Survival Tools for the Silicon Valley Mom

I’m a working mom, the specific breed of working mom with “young” kids.  Two kids that still need help with EVERY thing – tying shoes, putting on jackets, going potty and pretty please eat your veggies!   It can be overwhelming at times, simply because I need more hours in the day.

But I love my career and I get a ton of satisfaction from working, or I wouldn’t do it.  It just means that I, like other working moms, must find ways to keep it together even if the best case scenario is chaos with a cherry on top.  I have a few key tools that help me survive, but I wondered how other moms around me cope – do they have a secret sauce?  I set out to do some research.

I posted on my mother’s group message board, and then asked 6 of my working mom friends.  I’ll start off by mentioning the things I didn’t hear about, because it was a little surprising.  We live in the mecca of digital and social media, websites and mobile apps like UrbanSitter – where you can find babysitters your nearby Facebook connections have recommended. Or consider Homejoy which makes hiring a housekeeper quick and cheap.  Evernote which organizes your life.  Online grocery delivery. The thousands of productivity and calendaring mobile apps.  Heck, even toddler apps that 100% of the time will turn temper tantrums into peace and quiet (ummm, use sparingly.)

But the number one response was – cutting straight to the chase  – A Supportive Spouse.  Surprise aside I’m very happy with this answer because it means we’re living in more equal times. A working mom’s biggest deficit is personal time – time which allows us to recharge, get fit, feel better mentally, physically and emotionally.  If our partner is willing to take over,  take shifts so to speak, it will allow us to better mothers and employees.

The other life savers they mentioned:
  • Working out – improves our mood. Run faster you won’t hear them crying!
  • Flex time / Empathetic employers (kids get sick a lot, have doctors appointments, dentist appointments, school plays or the nanny cancels on you)
  • Flexible child care.  Work meetings run late, traffic sucks, you know the drill.
  • Date night.  Allows you to get away from the children AND the household stresses, an important combo.
And lastly, these were unique and touching:
  • Learning to “let go”.  There’s no way to be at 100% all of the time, to be the perfect employee, mom and wife.  In the working world that’s why we specialize at some point in our careers.  But you can’t specialize as a working mom – leaving any of them behind would likely cause some issues.
  • Becoming a planner.  Before kids, I scoffed at planning.  But one mother mentioned she:  planned dinners for a week, made lunches the night before, planned date nights way in advance, booked regular Skype calls with Grandparents, set late nights at work, and calendared EVERY single event in case she forget to tell hubby.

So although our number one survival tool is not very digital, techy or “Silicon Valley” at all, it just goes to show that human support and love reign supreme – and no fancy wearable or mobile app can compete with that.

Life Lessons Learned While Job Searching

Currently I’m a full-time job seeker – and it’s possible I’ve read a thousand career advice or job seeking articles recently, even though I didn’t exactly seek them out. They just seem to find me!  Actually I can lay blame, it’s the LinkedIn Homepage.  But there were some really good tidbits that have resonated with me about all aspects of a career…so may I share?
1.  Don’t put life on pause just because your searching. 
Keep making connections, attend conferences, workshops or webinars.  Take those weekend trips, keep in touch with your friends and very, very importantly continue to get exercise.  Window shopping or CrossFit, it all counts.  Exercise, travel, and doing other activities that make you super happy are even more important during this time.  Simply put they improve your spirits, which is key since it’s a time well known to be filled with ups and downs.  Also, being able to share recent happenings in your life while interviewing allows your personality to shine through, part of what the hiring team wants to see.  The worst thing you can do is go in a hole heads-down, spending every waking moment scrubbing the job boards – that will do no one any good.
2.  When leaving a company, don’t burn bridges.
Yes you’ve heard this one, but here’s an add on – go the extra mile by keeping in touch with colleagues (and more than just on LinkedIn.)  Simple gestures will be sure to make them your biggest fans when you need a hand or recommendation down the road.  “Like” their company Facebook updates, send congratulatory notes when they get promotions, mail your old team a case of beer when they have a major project launch.  They may still be at your previous job, but they won’t be forever.  Guaranteed.
3.  Know exactly what you want in your next job – size, location, project specifics.  You certainly don’t see yourself as a fill in the blank employee so make sure you don’t let it happen.  Don’t take the first job offer that comes along for fear of missing out.  Every company you join is a reflection of you, and if things don’t work out you’ll have to “explain away that year” once back on the market.  Look at your resume now – are you proud of that company list?  If the search takes longer than you’d like, have faith … you can surely find a way to make it work by getting creative:  cut back on expenses, take side projects, Task Rabbit, oDesk anyone?  If you have expensive taste in companies, that’s probably a good thing. If you’ve applied to a company you consider a “10”, well at a minimum your enthusiasm and desire will come through in the interview, which is always a win.
4.  OK, so you’re happy in your job – Don’t get complacent.
It’s easy to get complacent, but from time to time remind yourself that You Won’t Be There Forever.  Ask yourself what you’d want to show a future prospective employer.   A great updated portfolio?   Expertise in a new area?   To have attended that amazing conference?   If so, make sure you’re going after those things all along the way.  While job searching full time, I’ve picked up writing for my design blog again, and tweeting more professionally – but really it’s something I should have been doing even while working.  These things do take a time commitment which is easy to brush off when you’re in a job with a demanding schedule.  But it’s your life so make sure you’re focusing on long term career goals as much as short term.
In case you’re curious, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says on average that workers tend to stay in the same position for about 4.4 years.  With millennials, it’s almost half that – 2.3 years per job on average.  And I don’t even want to imagine what it will be like for my 4 year old one day…a single year for each job?  If that turns out to be true, then for her sake I hope health insurance switches and 401k rollovers become way more simplified!  But this topic is starting to sound like a new blog post…
Happy hunting! Whether its now or in 4.4 years.

Making the Jump

There are many jumps one could make!  The jump to marriage, parenthood, to faith, getting in shape, becoming a vegetarian.  But the jump I’m looking to make is moving from a “doer” role to a “leader” role.  I have a lot of years of work experience under my belt, and design is my arena, my passion, my forte.  User experience design to be exact.  I’ve always thought of UX (and most design jobs) as doer roles, and was content with that idea.  But I’ve had a wake up call and I’m ready to take that leap – and land a “Lead” or “Senior” or “Manager” role.

Some career paths have clear job title progressions, and I suppose UX is no different.  But title might not be the question here, instead it’s more like “how” do I get there?  And maybe you’re wondering why I call this a leap.  In my situation, the job title I seek may not reflect my number of years in the industry because I’ve done some role shifting.  [Sharing some history here…]  About 2 years ago I accepted a lateral move into the Product Management team, and then a year later once again, into a Site Optimization and A/B testing role.  During those periods I pivoted on the UX skills (knowing they are complementary!)  but it meant I spent less time on full blown design – less time actually designing things that could go into a portfolio.

My good friend Andrew tells me “Don’t worry about your marketability!  You have soft skills that naturally come with years of experience.”  Hmmm okay, might be true.  (Hopefully true!)  And maybe it sounds like I’m searching for a job.  You’re definitely onto me.  But I can’t help but feel like I’m going to have to do this the hard way.

I’m left with some questions:

  • I’ve never managed anyone, should I make that my #1 goal next?
  • Are leadership roles more about skillset / experience or if you’ve managed people?
  • Would working at a startup be my solution?  (giggle, no but really)

The next opportunity I land should make this path clearer for me, and moving forward is the only way to figure this out / make it happen.   But I would love your feedback: was there a clear “jump” period for you – did you have unique challenges?

Long Commutes are Normal Here, Right?

I drive minimum one hour each way to my office on a good day, and an hour AND A HALF on a bad day.  But I’m not the only one.  Some have it worse, and that’s probably what keeps me sane about it all.  I think the Bay area provides a blessing (and a curse) by having this very long corridor of job opportunities … basically from San Francisco 50 miles all the way down to San Jose.  Oh and let’s not forget opportunities in the East Bay, which if you’re unlucky enough could have you crossing two bridges or something.  My current 90 minute commute is sort of my fault because we just bought a house in Marin County, and silly me, I work in San Mateo (those not from around these parts, that’s 34 miles.)  With 7 of those miles being smack dab through the middle of San Francisco on a Boulevard with No Name…er…No Timed Lights.  In case this is sounding too complain-y, let me say I do get to cross the Golden Gate Bridge every day which has allowed for some amazing sunrises, and my favorite part of the evening commute … watching tourists take selfies with that old orange icon.  They’re just so elated to be there it’s kind of infectious for a few moments.

Image courtesy of Unknown (brave) photographer –

So before I went and added insult to injury, my previous San Francisco address was a 45 – 60 minute commute.  Seriously how have I endured this for 4 years?   (Let’s just say I’ve had a lot of life changing events during that  period, for example, having my two children, and certainly not enough energy to rock the boat. )  But you know, I won’t have this commute forever, so I just see it as a temporary annoyance.
For commuters who drive, there’s another downside to our plight – wasted time.  I’m quite jealous of my husband who gets 45 min on his choice of bus OR ferry and can fire 50 work emails off like nobody’s business. He can get work done. Or he can call his parents and catch up.  Or surf perezhilton.com.  What I’m trying to say is it’s a lot more “useful” free time.

If my years of commuting have taught me anything, it’s how to keep myself entertained and make the most of it.  So here, do let me share:

  • Spotify or Pandora playing in the car – just go ahead and sign up for the paid membership, it’s worth it
    • Pandora also has a Comedy station – you heard that right – guaranteed to wash away all commuting blues.
  • Swell App – It’s like Pandora for Podcasts.  Brilliant!
  • Audio Books, or even the monthly buffet at Audible.com
  • Learn-a-Language Audio Programs.
  • Call your Mom.
  • Check email at stop lights (I know, I know this is really bending that hand’s free law)
  • Book phone calls (Daycare interviews, utility bill questions, booking oil changes, hair appointments, you get the point.)
  • On really horrible traffic days, just pull over and get a coffee.  Getting out of the car does wonders for the psyche.
  • If you can exercise just before, super bonus; Or on a smaller scale just park far away from the entrance.
  • Find your really old music, have college flash backs

One last mention for the commute home: stewing on your day.  There’s been many a time where I talked myself silly about something that ticked me off at work.  Although I might look ridiculous to other drivers (they think I’m on a phone call, right?)  I’ve come to some great realizations while I stew.  And sometimes I’m able to turn lemons into lemonade.  This mulling over time would almost be impossible to have at home; my home, a place that when I need to use the bathroom usually ends up with a child crying on the other side of the door for Mommy.

So I use my powers of positivity to get me through my commute….yes that’s my secret.  That and sometimes a little Daniel Tosh on that comedy station.