How to Hire a Millennial: Tips for GenX’ers and Other Bewildered Souls

MILLENNIALS (1)

(Spoiler alert for the overly sensitive: This was published on April 1st.)

In reality, probably far, far too much has been written lately about the generation that we here in the US of A not-so-fondly refer to as “Millennials.”

In particular, the theme of  Oh Those Darned Millennials in the Workplace has been one that’s clearly trended in those stodgy publications that only the “old” people read, such as The New York Times.

But to be fair, Millennials truly are more than just a generation of 20-somethings who believe that drum circles, ride sharing, and kale chips can save the planet from its own self-destruction — they’re actually the first generation ever to have completely grown up with the Information Superhighway AND the self-esteem movement started by those wacky ex-hippie Baby Boomers, aka the Me Generation.

And that is truly a heady combination.

For the children of those immediate-gratification-seeking-Woodstock-going-peace-loving hippie Me-generation parents require very special care and handling in workplace situations, but especially during the critical hiring process.

For we Gen X’ers who have been faced with hiring Millennials for our respective workplaces, this combination can be quite daunting.

We nostalgic GenX simpletons still recall a time when one used something called a library to do term paper research with paper books (rather than just buying the paper off the internet), which I believe is the modern equivalent of having had to take covered wagons to school in a blizzard while barefoot or something my dad rattled on about whenever I asked him for money to buy designer jeans in high school.

But again, but my old-person brain digresses. How to hire a Millennial, that’s the theme here.

Below you will find a simple but handy list of Millennial Hiring Tips that will make your hiring process go as smoothly as any not-real-butter product they made us eat in the ‘80s as part of school lunch. Good luck, bae!

I realize that this one may be a difficult one to get your independent adult brain around, given that your parents probably cruelly forced you to attend your first high school job “interview” at McDonald’s ALL BY YOURSELF.

But this generation was raised differently, people.

For example: Robert Downey Jr. is now Iron Man, not a strung out teen from a Bret Easton Ellis novel.

And by “differently”, I mean that they’ve allowed (tolerated? been held captive by?) their parents to be overly involved in every aspect of their young lives, through college and now on the job market, and quite possibly into their 30s and 40s.  (Why pull the warm, comfy, controlling helicopter parent plug out ever?) 

So just do your best to be polite when Parker’s mom answers any job interview question you pose to him.

And of course, you can assume all job references for the candidate will be provided by family members. (No one knows Parker and Petal better than their Nana!!)

Tip #2: Emphasize a flexible working environment.

In the past, and even to this day, many entry-level jobs had such brutally inflexible requirements as “start times” and “8-hour days.”

These jobs may even have applied severe penalties to those employees who failed to show up by the start time and / or to remain in the job to complete the 8-hour days.

GenX’ers —Be smart here.

Know that this practice of requiring your Millennial employee to actually be in the office by a specific time and to remain there for a specific period is considered both barbaric and old-school and also may curtail their freedom to save the world one Etsy project at a time.

And if you can’t do away with such job requirements altogether, for example, if you’re running a business that has posted public business hours and takes people in for such antiquated things as scheduled appointments, just refrain from mentioning such harsh workplace conditions during the interview.  

You don’t want to scare any great candidates away too soon, so tread carefully with any actual “job requirements.”

And be flexible. If they want to bring their pet llama to work, let them. It’s probably certified as a service animal anyway.

Tip #3:  Play up your office snacks, toys, and other “perks.”

While your crusty old Greatest Generation parents may have told you that it was YOUR task in a job interview to convince an employer of YOUR VALUE to THEM, know that that is simply not the case with Millennials.

In fact, not only is the onus on YOU as the employer to convince the Millennial job candidate that YOU and worthy of THEM as an employee, it’s equally important to rosey-up that picture by mentioning all the great perks that you offer them as part of the employment package.

And I’m not talking about the old stalwarts like health insurance and paid vacation (know that Mom will ask about those on Petal and Parker’s behalves).

You really need to play up the other awesome-sauce benefits you offer – an onsite macrobiotic vegan chef, a certified Kundalini yogi complete with sitar band, an office bowling alley made of recycled materials — you just offer whatever you can to be competitive.  

Oh, and bean bag chairs and a ping-pong table are SOOO early ‘Oughts, btw. Just sayin’.

Tip #4: Know the hip-ster lingo. 

If you really want to convince your Millennial candidate that your company is the one that’s worthy of their energy and yet-as-proven talents, you have to demonstrate that you are up on the current trends.

So use the right lingo. I realize you think “bae” is the Danish word for “poop” (because it is and the Urban Dictionary confirms it), but it also is a very handy term of endearment used by the youthful ones whose grammar education hailed from from Hooked on Phonics.

And also “woke.” You need to be WAY woke, bae.

It’s amazeballs to just do you in this world.

Which is just another extremely-grammatically-incorrect way to say you need to be more awake and aware of what’s happening in the world. (But not awake and aware of what’s happening in the musty grammar textbooks, apparently.)

Tip #5:  Recognize that their presence IS their contribution. 

If there was a single most important tip on this already-super-helpful list, it’s this last one.

Millennials add value to an organization just by being there.

No, really. Stop laughing. It’s totes true!

By choosing you and your company, they have instantly increased your product appeal, your business efficiency, your profit margins, and your viability in the market.

Because if there’s one thing that their generation learned from their Self-Esteem-Movement-driven parents, it was that EVERYONE wins by just showing up.

Skills and talents are completely overrated; it only takes presence to get a trophy or a gold star.

And everyone’s opinion should count. No matter how half-baked and ill-informed it is, you should spend your business days listening to every mumbled lingo-laden gem that your Millennial will offer. (Because that’s what Mom and Dad have always done for Parker and Petal. And you are now part of the parenting ecosystem.)

I truly hope this little checklist will ease any stress and strife you’ve had in hiring Millennials. And I also hope you realize that the above has probably been said about every generation’s 20-somethings since the dawn of….well, 20-somethings.

Archaeologists have even found early cave drawings that indicate the older generations’ frustration and bewilderment about what the kids were doing.

Really.

Oh, and happy April Fool’s Day! 

5 Reasons I Wish I Had Found Yoga Sooner

Well, this blog is about life in Silicon Valley, and one thing you’ll find here is plenty of non-traditional sports activities like yoga. Over the last few years, I have evolved from being yoga-ignorant to a yoga dabbler and now a true yogi. Here’s what I wish I had known about yoga decades earlier.

  1. Yoga makes you really strong.

I always thought of yoga as a bunch of people sitting in a dark room saying, “ommmmm.” Yep, you do that once in a while. But you spend a lot of time building power in your core muscles. I’m almost as strong as I ever have been before, or at least since I quit gymnastics some time during the Ronald Reagan presidency. And this strength has helped me with many other activities (like lifting kids up off a ski slope or lugging stuff out of Costco).

  1. Yoga takes an approach to movement that works for lots of different sports.

Drishti, or focused gaze, controls balance and channels how you use your muscles. My skiing and even my swimming have gotten better with it. And even my work benefits from yoga’s practice of how to avoid distractions.

  1. Yoga reminds you to focus on one little thing at a time.

Many yoga classes ask you set an intention for the class. Your intention could be on a physical aspect of your practice or just something that you wish to concentrate on more. By setting an intention, I can really see the progress I’m making in that particular area. I used to do this in my dance classes as well. I need to learn how to do it in other parts of my life!

  1. Yoga doesn’t treat pain as a cost of playing.

I have reached the point in my life where I’m paying for my past sports with “no pain, no gain” mantras. In yoga, have made a lot of progress by focusing on what’s realistic for me and not on pushing it at any cost. Strangely, I never really thought of progress being so easy! And with its emphasis on the individual, it doesn’t matter if the person next to you is more flexible or more seasoned: Yoga helps you turn your attention inward to your own body.

  1. Yoga provides a reboot for the brain.

Yoga isn’t the only sport that I do that can rid me of the endless distractions of being a high tech marketer and mom. But it is a very effective one. It’s amazing how an hour can fly by without me noticing and how just a couple of minutes in Savasana (corpse pose) makes me feel as fresh as if I had a one-hour nap! In fact, I have learned that you can take a few minutes of meditation in the carpool line or while stuck in traffic on 101… (Shhh! It is not texting and driving.)

If you haven’t tried yoga before, there’s no time like the present to start practicing. Most of us were not fortunate enough to find it first, but the good news is that a yoga practice can stay in your life for a long, long time.

Interview with Marketplace Co-Host Molly Wood Part II

TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio

Molly Wood is a recognized technology expert who appears on national media regularly. She has has built a strong brand with humor and sarcasm mixed with genuine and often outraged consumer advocacy. With more than 100,000 Twitter followers and more than 500,000 followers on Google Plus, Molly has a loyal and engaged fan base, and communicates with them regularly.

Molly is a host and senior tech correspondent at Marketplace, the public radio show produced and distributed by American Public Media.

Previously, she was a personal technology columnist for the New York Times, where she wrote in print and online about the trends and technologies that are changing the daily lives of real people, and produced a video series to drive the point home.

Prior to the Times, Molly was an executive editor at CNET, where she created, hosted and served as executive producer of Always On with Molly Wood, a broadcast-quality technology reviews and news show. She also authored the always controversial Molly Rants column at CNET News, for which she was a 2012 National Magazine Award finalist for commentary.

Molly is an online media pioneer: she co-created and hosted CNET’s flagship podcast, Buzz Out Loud, which was one of the first well-known tech podcasts on the web. She also created and hosted the Buzz Report, a tech news show that debuted in 2005 and was, for a time, the web’s longest-running weekly video series. Molly has done almost all forms of media, from print to books to magazines to wire services to video, TV and radio.

In the second installment of my interview with Molly, we follow her through her move to the New York Times and land with her in her current position at Marketplace.

Molly Wood Correspondent

Molly Wood: Tech Correspondent and Co-Host of Marketplace

EZ: During my stalking I mean research, I remember looking at your blog and noting that the second to last post is “I’M GOING TO THE NEW YORK TIMES!”  and then the very next post is “I’M GOING TO MARKETPLACE!”

MW: (Laughing) I don’t blog very often.

EZ: I was so curious about what you had done in the time that you were there that I took a look at your NYT webpage and saw that you had done a considerable number of videos.  Was your presence with The Times mainly on line or were you contributing to other forms of media within that company?

MW: My main work was to write a weekly tech column for The Times and it had a video series that went along with it.   It was a weekly series for most of my time there and then it moved to every other week just because…I don’t think The Times had any idea how hard that was.  It was technically a 1200 word column that had to be reported to New York Times standards every week….(she breathes out audibly) That was a really hard job.

EZ: How did you end up getting to Marketplace?

MW: That was a wonderful series of happy events.  I had been doing a weekly appearance on Marketplace Tech Report for…ever, like 6 years or something and the host of that show sent me a job listing that was for a Back Up Host and Correspondent. And I thought, “Well that sounds lovely but it’s in LA and there’s no way they’re going to pay me as much as I want”…and the host went back and acted as a bit of an advocate for me.   I also wanted to leave the New York Times but I wasn’t going to jump to just any old thing.  I mean….It’s the Times!  Every second that you’re there is better for your career even though it was not the right job for me or the right culture.   The move took a really long time and when I met the VP of Marketplace we just had such a great rapport and….it’s such a great show and it matches the personality that I think I have!  It’s just irreverent and clever and they prize being smart above everything else.  It was just such a great fit.  It was also just an AMAZING opportunity for me because after doing tech for 15 years…after doing any specific niche thing for a long time, it’s really hard to pivot out of that at your same level. This was a unique opportunity for me to stay in tech but on TOP of that, and for an equal amount of time, to be the back up host.   So, when I’m hosting the show, whether it’s the Morning Report or the Weekend Show, I’m doing economics and finance and global politics and that is such a rare, phenomenal opportunity that will just make me so much more well-rounded….Plus I love radio.

EZ: I love radio too.  I have to admit, NPR is the only station I listen to.

MW: Really?  What do you do doing pledge week?!

EZ: (Sheepishly)…..I pledge?

MW: (Laughing)  Good answer!

EZ: In fact, I think I have to re-up my membership….Going back to the blog that you maintain, I was digging around and came across a post that I found fascinating.  It was entitled “Mad Molly and Adam Curry.”

MW: Oh right….maintain is a strong word.  That post was intended to be the announcement of what I was going to do after abruptly quitting CNET to do…nothing at all.  It was basically “I’m going to do this show with Adam! NOPE I’m going to the New York Times!  OOHHH I’m going to Marketplace!”

EZ: What struck me about the Mad Molly post was that it was so vulnerable and raw in that you and Adam got into a fairly heated argument about a comment that he made that you found to be sexist.  You chose to call him out on it in a public forum.  However, you did it in a way that wasn’t mean or aggressive, you presented it as “these are our differences and I don’t agree with your position and we’re going to bring it up.”  You said something really great along the lines of “It’s honoring our differences which helps us become better at doing better work.”  I’m paraphrasing of course, but I found it amazing that you decided to post about it and I wondered how often you had to deal with those moments in span of your career. I imagine that in the field of journalism, as with any other field of work, one may run up against things like gender stereotyping and discrimination.  How often did you run into situations like that and how did that particular interaction change the way you handled those conflicts afterwards?

MW: That incident was terrifying to me because that was the first time I’d ever thrown down as a feminist in public.  That was always a conversation that I just kind of avoided because…..it just seemed like a loser.  The internet is not really a place for discourse, it is not a place for nuance, or subtlety or understanding.  It is a place for black and white, for abuse and for absolutism when it comes to the “rightness” of the people in question.  Also, tech tends to lend itself to a certain personality that has to be right all the time.  I’m trying not to generalize too much, but there are a bunch of guys in tech who tend to think they are right about everything.   It really is, sort of an engineer’s perspective.   Engineers are fact driven people who come up with roads and plumbing systems and the standards for science that keep us all from crashing into each other.  It’s important stuff that engineers have done throughout history.  It doesn’t mean they are right about everything, but a lot of them tend to believe that they are.   I also believe that tech can be the great equalizer.  I mean, I know that there are fans of mine out there with whom I would agree about nothing else but tech….

…..NOTHING! (We both chuckle)

EZ: ZERO THINGS!

MW: ZERO THINGS!  But there they are, and we can have an open and respectful conversation about technology as long as we don’t talk about anything else.  And that’s great! That’s actually great because we are all humans who are entitled to our own opinions and we are all using the same technology.

So, that was a big moment for me because I engaged in this social issue in that forum and it was on the cusp of me doing a show with Adam where it felt like I HAD to have that conversation with him.   It ended up being a big part of the reason I didn’t do the show with him.   I had known the guy a while and it was a pattern I had seen before.  I just was not comfortable with that.

In terms of my career, I think when you are young, unless you are out and out harassed which….arguably happened..for sure…there is a point where your young enough that you don’t even realize that it’s happened until somebody calls you and asks “Uhm…this person has been fired and I wanted to know if they ever did anything inappropriate…”and you think…”Oh, he did give me that weird back rub that one time and I told him to “back off,” which turns out was not ok!” There’s that stuff, right?  But when you’re young and new, you’re all low level and you don’t realize until you start hitting a wall when you start to go “Oh, Huh!  I’m hitting a wall!  Oh!  This is what institutionalize discrimination looks like!  I see it now!” I think every woman gets to a point where she sees that happen.  It’s empirically true.  The evidence is all around us and journalism is CERTAINLY not immune and the tech world obviously has the worst track record ever.  I would certainly be lying if I said I hadn’t encountered it.

EZ:  I’ve found it to be true as well, when one is young, you don’t necessarily see it.  It may be happening all around you but you are so dead set on your goals that you don’t notice it until, by no reasonable means, can you move forward.

MW: It’s just perspective. Age is just a series of experiences, right?  I can’t tell you how many times that I would go to a conference and I’m with a man whose role is..who knows what his role is..but another man comes up and ignores me and starts a conversation with him, and then realizes that I’m a tech columnist for the New York Times or I have my own show on CNET, but they have treated me as though I’m the PR person or the handler for the guy.  THAT happens over and over and over and over.  At first, I characterized my struggle as “being taken seriously”  because I did a funny show and that despite having been cited in amicus briefs by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in lawsuits about net neutrality against the federal government, people just saw me as a girl who breaks stuff.  Even though I created, executive produced and wrote the whole show.  That was ultimately why I wanted to go back to writing and why I left the New York Times because I didn’t just want to do video.  I don’t want to be talent.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be talent, but it became more about perception.  If you’re blond and you put on makeup and you make jokes about stuff, you must not be that smart.  Don’t get me wrong!  I’m in an awesome place!  But everybody runs into it in one way or another.

EZ: It just underscores the weird, insidious, systematic nature of discrimination in the whole thing.   That we don’t really even notice it at first…

MW:  I’ve done it!  I have done it! I have done the thing and I can give you an example.  I did a presentation in Madrid for the global marketing agency for Samsung.  They told me that it was really exciting because the head of marketing for Samsung Americas is going to be there.  So I’m giving this presentation and I’m looking at these people, and see this row of four Korean people in front of me and I start looking at these two guys while I’m presenting and I’m thinking “Ok, this is the person I need to impress.”  It turned out the head of marketing is the woman sitting next to them.  I did it.  I had assumed. I had made that ingrained social assumption that it wasn’t the woman.

EZ: That must have been such a weird feeling when you understood what had just happened.

MW: Yep!  It was…yeah… no.  Wow.  I also know that I’m not a victim!  It’s a systematic societal entity.  It’s an unconscious bias and we all have it, even against each other.

EZ: I’ve found myself in similar situations where I’ve subconsciously made an assumption or behaved in a way that was incongruent to my beliefs.  It’s a horrific feeling when you realize what’s happening.  It’s ultimately that empathy that strikes out and makes you think “Who are you!?  Why are you doing this?  You would never want to be treated in this manner, so why are you doing this?”

MW: In that moment, I probably made her feel exactly the same way that some guy had made me feel at a conference when he addressed the man that I was with instead of me.  I felt like a total A-hole.

EZ: That’s rough.

MW: But I feel like it’s really important to acknowledge.

EZ: It’s self awareness! We have to understand how we are behaving and how we are perceiving and what assumptions we are making before we can actually see what needs to be changed.

MW: Yeah, in that way I’m glad that it happened and I’m glad I was aware of it so that I could use it as a teaching moment.

EZ: I’m curious to know, I know you really enjoy working at Marketplace, if there was a job that would make you say “I could do this job for the rest of my life until I die,” what would that be?

MW: In a way that’s how I feel about radio, so I hope that I don’t suck at it.   I hope to have other careers.  I’m excited to branch out of tech and try economics and finance.  When I was taking a journalism class in high school I wanted to be a foreign correspondent.  I thought that that would be the shit!  I also took french because, for a time, I wanted to be a translator for the UN.  In high school we had to write an obituary for ourselves in our journalism class, which is a REALLY intense exercise and I wrote this obituary that says that I was killed during a demonstration as a foreign correspondent in some faraway land.

EZ: That’s so intense!

MW: I know!  I look at that now and I’m like, “What the…?” and at the time it just came out.  I was like “There I was at the Arab Spring and I was tragically shot on the steps of the capitol building.”

But really, how cool would that be, if when my son goes away to college, I become a foreign correspondent at the age of 60?  I couldn’t do it for the rest of my life, but I think there is so much more.  I just love news  in all its forms and I love the change that comes along with it.  I think, and this is very much informed by being a single mom, but also believing that one has to own one’s own life. Your company doesn’t love you back. They will fire you eventually if they feel the need to.  It has to be a partnership and not a sacrifice.   So, my goal ultimately is to own my own time.

EZ: That’s an amazing goal.

MW:  It’s a pretty simple one.

EZ:  It’s simple but not easy.

MW: Especially because I’m not that entrepreneurial. Aside from enjoying setting up my own little empire within a structure. I do like to hack my companies, that’s for sure.

Be sure to catch Molly in the morning or afternoon on Marketplace at American Public Media and NPR.  She’s one of my personal heroines and hope she makes your list too.

Minkey and Company Travel to Rome – (where the Minkey was 10 years ago)

(Editor’s note: The Minkey is currently traveling and could not get the creative juices flowing to come up with a more relevant post for the Sil Tales site – this will have to do for now)

A year ago there was a trip to Italy, specifically Rome and this is an account of our first day there:

We arrived in Rome early on Sunday morning which meant we needed to keep ourselves awake for at least another 12 hours or so. Some of us were in better shape than others and over the course of the day people started to drop like flies…

Our villa is smack-dab in the middle of everything. I kid you not. We are within 20-30 minutes of all the major sights in the centro. Initially we decided it was best to keep moving and find some food.

Our first tourist area was the Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps where we were immediately taken in by the man ‘giving’ away roses. The roses turned out to not be free (hello dumb tourist ladies). We made a second mistake when we decided to have Prosecco with lunch …(fabulous but kind of put things further into slow motion). Jetlag and Prosecco don’t mix. It was also hot. The sun here beats down mercilessly and cooks you fairly quickly. The Minkey wore her hat and continues to wear her hat, it keeps her more sane.

Third stop was the Pantheon. This took some getting to via the Piazza Colonna where it was hot, and then past another interesting building with Roman columns incorporated into the walls, where it was hot, and then at long last into the Piazza blah blah (sunstroke moment), where it was hot, with the sun rays beaming down to illuminate this spectacular ancient building. It is still intact, approximately 2,000 years later! Even late in the day on Sunday this place was packed with people many of them unwashed (I know, we are supposed to be accepting of all cultures, including their bathing habits, but still). Anyway, we admired the architecture which includes a free-standing dome as wide as it is tall with a circular opening cut out at the top letting in light. That is the only lighting in the place. Fabulous. We lost Julie at the Pantheon blisters and heat had taken their toll. The rest of the herd kept moving forward.

pantheon_2014          pantheon_painting_2014         pantheon_dome_2014

I’ve mentioned that it was warm (once or twice), so we ducked into the church of San Luigi dei Francesi where there is a Caravaggio or two in one of the chapels. I went to every single chapel. In reality, I shuffled to every single chapel in the place before landing on the very last one that had the Caravaggio. At this point, Yvette was falling asleep on her feet – literally. Sooooo, we attempted to provide her with address and directions which she could not type into her phone, as she kept conking out. Now the herd decided to walk Yvette back to the villa.

Wendy, Alaina and Minkey decide they must keep moving and will head to the grocery store. Our rental property people told us there was a new grocery store down the street. We imagined a large marketplace complete with large signage. Ha. We walked around for a while baking in the sun, before we had to sit down on a window ledge and use the google to look for the stinking store. Which was literally across the street from us. Jetlag is cruel, people. We had looked into this store and thought it was a small tabac or something but no, once you get in there and turn the corner, it is actually much larger! Bah.

And now everyone is starting to melt as the lack of sleep really starts to affect your brain. We are American after all and ended up sitting outside in the Campo Marzio area enjoying some pizza … which hit the spot. Finally pseudo day one came to an end ….

Hard Problems

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Several months ago I was serendipitously seated next to Tara Lemmey on a flight home from London to San Francisco. Somewhere over the Atlantic we got to talking about technology, career paths, management, and life. When I asked for her advice on my own next steps, she offered me a guiding principle which has stuck with me ever since.

“Go solve the hard problems,” she said, “everything else will sort itself out.”

Certainly there is no shortage of “hard problems” in our world, but it has been trickier than I imaged to find one to help “solve”. I started to have a series of discussions with everyone and anyone from whom I could steal advice. I was looking for hard problems that resonated with me and a specific opportunity that aligned my passions, skill sets, and career aspirations. I came up with a list: Healthcare, energy, government, education.

San Francisco has a hot job market and is hiring product managers like gangbusters. I’m both lucky and privileged enough to have obtained a skill set and network that afforded me many choices when it came to a next career move. Unfortunately, few of the obvious job opportunities fell into the “hard problem” bucket. Many of my mentors or advisers, who so generously lent me career advice, were encouraging me to pay my dues, gain more experience, or in some way seek prestigious titles or financially sound roles on traditional career paths.

Against all of this well meaning and sound advice, I found myself creating reasons to turn down director titles, lucrative stock options, or opportunities at red-hot-sexy startups. Who am I? I feel crazy! Who am I to turn this down? Has my ego gotten out of control? My boyfriend can attest to many a stressful evening debating details with myself, fighting impostor syndrome, and becoming pre-occupied with trying to understand why I was uncomfortable accepting these opportunities. Certainly I have plenty to learn about people and general management–and these were great ways for me to accelerate that growth. Despite my best efforts to understand the “why”, I was left with the simple gut feeling that something wasn’t clicking. The opportunities were getting easier and easier to turn down. I kept thinking that I didn’t want to spend my life just optimizing bottom lines for large fortune 500 companies.

I wanted to be on a team solving a “hard problem.” Tara’s advice kept banging around in my head. These weren’t hard problems.

With some persistence and luck, I was offered an opportunity in the Watson division at IBM. Consistently, the advice I was getting was some version of “Watson is occasionally a really great career accelerator, but also an uncertain vortex where it’s very hard to be successful and many get chewed up and spit out – I don’t want that to happen to you”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement to accept the position. A lateral move to a team where I had no connections. No one to say “Oh yeah – I know them – they are great.”

Something in my voice had changed when I talked about the Watson job with friends and family. My eyes glimmered with the potential of the technology, and the opportunity to get in on the ground floor and help shape the market. Maybe this was a hard problem.

“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on!” Sheryl Sandberg

Last week, on my first day getting up to speed, I joined a roadmap meeting for what was about to become my product–Watson Vision. “Holy crap I’m out of my league!” is all I was thinking. The team members’ resumes humbled me with their long list of accomplishments and contributions to the cognitive computing, image recognition, and artificial intelligence communities. I continued thinking to myself “I’m supposed to be figuring out the strategy, technical priorities, and business model? I barely understand how it works.”

I have a lot to learn.

“Watson” technology is named for IBM’s founder, Thomas J Watson. Watson encouraged his team to “go ahead and make mistakes, make all you can. Because, remember that’s where you’ll find success–on the far side of failure.” I, am going to make mistakes as I take on this new challenge–but what day one taught me, was that in no uncertain terms – I found a hard problem.

While I have no idea how to solve this hard problem, I’m delighted and excited to be privileged enough to be tasked with figuring it out. Which of the world’s problems can we solve with this technology? How do we build, package, and sell cognitive image recognition technology to sectors like healthcare, retail, aerospace, finance, and security? Facial recognition has many applications: it creepily impinges on privacy; it powerfully detects cancer diagnoses automatically; and importantly drives insights from weather patterns.

There seems to be no limit to how cognitive vision technology could impact different industries and everyday lives. Balancing privacy interests, helping shape near term product offerings, and navigating executional realities is going to keep me busy. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could automatically diagnose abnormalities in x-rays, instantly find lost ships and aircraft, and unite families when disaster strikes?

Hard problems? You bet! Thanks, Tara–I think I found one.

I’ve decided to jump on the rocket ship and see if I can lend a hand.

Halloween Costumes Inspired by the Digital Age

Growing up, I would plan my Halloween costume out for over a month. Building it would take several afternoons, and I always found joy to parade it around at night with my friends. Back then, my ideas were inspired by the classic movies or TV shows that shaped my world. My friends and I would go trick-or-treating throughout our neighborhood, carrying plastic pumpkins full of candy, dressed up as ghosts, witches, mummies, pirates, clowns, and the such. My coolest costume that I designed was in 8th grade, when I made a one-piece Gumby outfit, inspired by Eddie Murphy’s Saturday Night Live skit. “Yo, I’m Gumby!”

Today, being a mom, and having exactly 10 days before Halloween, I am feverishly working with my kids to pull their outfits together. But, their dream outfits inspiration source is nothing like mine… my kids want costumes about characters that are found on YouTube, from a video game, or are completely CG. Glimpsing through Pinterest, this internet inspiration becomes more obvious, that even lazy, grown up costumes consist of a t-shirt with the inscription: “404: Costume Not Found.”

According to my very accurate sources (my 9 and 6 year old kids) there is a new Halloween costume hierarchy for 2015. Old people (over 30 years old), you may need to ask Siri what these actually look like.  And by all means, if you are the one serving candy this year, and a bright-eyed, squatty purple monster comes to the door, do not ask what it is.  Just say “That’s better looking than what’s on the internet!”

Hottest Costume Trends for 2015

  • Leading YouTube stars (think PewDiePie who made $12M in pretax money in 2015 – so don’t laugh too hard at kids idolizing him.) My 9 year old is going to be Nyan Cat, who’s annoying song has had over 125 million views.
  • Any BYOC Roblox Player (that’s Build Your Own Character, which my 6 year old can show you how to do this). Move over Minecraft, Roblox is the 2015 hit for 8 – 14 year olds. Think it’s not sticking, check out the Roblox pizza parlor game that has over 50 million plays.
  • Everything Star Wars. With heavy anticipation of the next sequel and the now adults who were dressed up as Luke Skywalker in the 80’s, will ensure that every child considers participating in the legendary story. Thanks to the Disney franchising mastery, you can turn any baby into Yoda, and any adult into a storm trooper.
  • Any adorable CG characters from Home, Inside Out, or The Minions Movie. All it takes is face paint, some silly outfits easily found at the local clothes recycling stores, and a few good lines from the movies.
  • Retro video game characters, thanks to the movie Pixels. Likely you will see an entire family dressed up as Pacman, Pinky, Blinky, Inky and Clyde.
  • Zombies are undeniably the scariest costumes you’ll see, thanks to the countless video games, Netflix series and movies like Warm Bodies that make zombies likable. But get ready to spend lots of time preparing every gash and wound.
  • Day of the Dead skeletons. Walking around showing a skull mask and a femur is not enough. Get ready for a 2 hour face painting session and a corset that restricts breathing as this is likely the hottest and scariest combination look.
  • Pixelated Outfits. Perhaps my favorite tech influenced costume. Instead of appearing naked, wearing a pixelated outfit making you PG friendly really shows how our society self-moderates on the web. Besides, these are so much more imaginative than the full green suits popular a few years back.

If you have other digital age inspired costume ideas, please add them to the comments!

My So Called Life—Day Job or Dating

“My So-Called Life” was a 1990s TV show that showcased a bastion of teen angst.  Many of the shows plots focused on Claire Dane’s character, Angela crushing on heartthrob Jordan Catalano. In the new world of single adults, does this type of angsty behavior still happen? Does anyone have time for it?

18z8n5rf74zw8jpgI have dated a lot. Sometimes I love dating and sometimes I hate it. To be honest, I’ve been on a dating hiatus for a while now.  It just seems like so much work and I put so much energy into my work day that I just want to be quiet when I go home at night.

I had a revelation this week. I think my day job is sucking up all my personal dating juice. Who knew that B2B Marketing and dating have so much in common? I don’t know why I didn’t see this before. It seems pretty obvious.

Here are a few things you have to do for both:

  1. Communicate authentically. Don’t try and be something you’re not. People see right through that. It’s one of those kindergarten lessons that stay with you for life. It’s the worst to meet someone in person that oversells themselves on a dating profile. Same is true in marketing.  Don’t oversell your features or promise things that aren’t in your product domain.
  2. Build relationships. You have to meet people and then get to know them. Building relationships often gives you insights that you wouldn’t see by just basing decisions on a first impression. Sometimes it takes awhile to see who a person is. Sometimes it takes awhile to see what product is like.  If you build a relationship by adding value to that person’s world and listen to what they are looking for, it’s likely they’ll come around.
  3. Find a channel that worksNot all avenues are equal. Find the best path to leads. Optimize and limit the areas that don’t work. It sounds cold, but you might be a Tinder or Hinder person in the digital dating world. Match.com and EHarmony might be too time consuming for you. Find the channel that works best for your personal habits.  Same is true in B2B marketing. We’re constantly optimizing digital channels to find leads that meet the needs of our sales teams.
  4. Setup qualifications. It’s important to know what you are looking for so you can make sure you are moving in the right direction. Also note that it’s Ok if  your criteria changes over time. (Do I really have to expand on this? I think I’ll skip it.)
  5. Leverage your network. I think every daytime TV host has done a show on this topic. Who are your brand or personal influencers? Can they help connect you to people that are qualified targets?  I don’t expect Oprah to walk out and say “here’s a boyfriend for you.. and a boyfriend for you.. and a boyfriend for you” but a hint or a direct question to the right person may put you in the path of exactly the person you are looking for.  The same is true for your company or product. (Is Oprah not a contextual reference anymore?)🙂

So what’s a girl to do? How do you save some energy for your personal brand when it’s part of your start-up day job? Suggestions and adult Jared Leto substitutes welcome.