Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

You might have noticed a little change in the subtitle of our Silicon Valley Tales blog. Four years ago, I invited my friends to write about their experiences in Silicon Valley. After two years, the posts slowed to a crawl. Many of us, including me, had life changes that included relocation. First I moved to Portland, Oregon and now I live New York City. Some of the other authors are traveling the world or living in different states and countries. The booming tech economy is spreading across the globe, and I finally realized it gives us the opportunity to tell new stories.

I’ll start with New York City. Most people move to this little island at the start of their careers. It’s a bit weird to arrive here in the middle, but it’s been a great adventure so far. The hardest thing to get used to isn’t the weather, (although everyone tried to scare the crap out of this West Coaster) it’s the sheer volume of people. 1.6 million people live in the 22 square mile space that makes up the island of Manhattan. Think about doubling the population of San Francisco in half of the space. On top of that, the number of people doubles in any given weekday from employees commuting into work.

I knew I was signing up for a lot of neighbors when I moved, but there have been two times in the last five months where the sheer volume of people just shocked me. The first time, I was trying to find my way to my new office in the morning commute. Yes, I was one of “those people.” I was wandering down the street, phone in hand, trying to use Google Maps. I missed a turn and wanted to course correct. I looked up to make sure I wasn’t going to get run over by stopping my tracks. I was. For sure, I was. There was nowhere to step out of the way of the traffic stream. A block later, I finally navigated into a gap to catch my breath. After I finished having a panic attack, I found my building and walked around the block to get back to the correct set of doors.

Finding the right entry doors in Manhattan is kind of like a game, especially when you take the subway. This is where the second “crowd-experience” happened. When I lived in the Bay Area, I took BART for ten years. Before I left, commuters politely queued for the next train and boarded in an orderly fashion. That doesn’t happen here. Luckily, I only live one express stop away from my office. Every morning, I head down the subway stairs and stand with the rest of the crowd on the platform. Then, we all try and shove in the train the best that we can. As a side note, it’s been interesting to watch the subway crowd size change based on the days of the week, holidays and the weather. One day, right before Christmas, I was standing on the platform. My train pulled up and stopped. The doors opened, and the force of the crowd shoved me into the train. I’m not sure that I even took one step. It was one of the weirdest sensations that I have ever had.

Even with all the people, you can have some amazing experiences in the pockets of quiet. One night I was wandering home pretty late, and it started snowing. It was my first snow experience in New York City, and it was magical. There were maybe five other people in Union Square at the time. I was standing on the sidewalk in heels with no gloves or hat, staring at the sky and smiling like a crazy person. I looked over at a guy who was manning his food cart. He chuckled at me and gave me a thumbs up. That pretty much sums up my New York experience so far. It’s a little crazy. I’m not quite prepared. There are a ton of people, but most of them are pretty great.

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.

JUST IN: “LOL” out, Traditional “Haha” Back In

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According to a new Facebook study, online laughter has devolved from the modern “lol” to a more traditional “haha.”

“As denizens of the Internet will know, laughter is quite common: 15 percent of people included laughter in a post or comment that week,” a Facebook blog post said.

The classic “haha” prevailed, followed by different emoji and the giggling “hehe”; “lol” and variations thereof, meanwhile, were scarce.(Source: http://bit.ly/1DId5EY)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

San Francisco, California (August 10, 2015) — According to a new and completely non-scientifically-validated Facebook study, traditional word-based expressions are making a comeback in the online world.

According to Facebook rep ROTFL_LOL, “Apparently, users of Facebook (“humans”) are finding that their ability to communicate using rudimentary miniature hieroglyphs and bizarre letter sequences is creating a less rich, expressive forms of communication, making us feel more isolated and alone in a digital crowd.

He continued: “We were shocked. I mean, who knew words were more expressive than symbols and letter sequences??”

In case excessive online acronym and emoji usage has caused your language capabilities to atrophy, we’ve compiled a helpful guide to word-based expressions you may run across online so you, too, can participate in a “traditional” conversation.  

1. Emotional Expressions

    • “That’s funny.” Your humorous joke / story / wry observation of modern life made this person feel mirth at your attempts at humor and they are driven to express it. Generally, this delightful feeling is expressed through laughter, but it may also result in the slightly less intense reaction known as a “smile.”
  • “I’m sad.” This person is experiencing emotions that center around sadness, a feeling on the darker side of the emotional spectrum and one that most digital devices cannot actually decode. May occur in response to an event or action, or possibly just because s/he is feeling, well, sad.
  • “I’m having a bad day.” This person had a day that, for some reason, is not going well.
  • “That makes me angry.” This person is experiencing feelings of anger over something that has happened. See also, “That really chaps my hide” and “I’m seeing red” or “WTF??”  (Editor’s note: We apologize for the rogue acronym. It won’t happen again.)
  • “I’m a Happy Camper” This person is one who feels joy and / or elation around a campsite. Also an expression of general happiness.

2. Commands and Exclamations 

  • “Sit down.” Sit the rear end of your body (also known as your behind, booty, or caboose) down onto a chair or similar furniture. Also a statement sarcastically directed at Kanye West when he attempts to pseudo-intellectually rant and ramble during a music concert.
  • “Help!” This person needs assistance of some sort. More specific details to follow but be prepared to react quickly.
  • “Go away!” This person has no interest in interacting with you, now or possibly ever. Best to leave them alone before they throw a digital device at your head.
  • “No really, please just go away.” See above; clearly, this person does not want to interact with you. Ever.
  • “Sigh.” An vocal expression that no words can actually convey; more a sound than a specific word. If this sound is directed at you, it typically means that your audience’s patience has probably been worn thin by A) your excessive use of LOL, OMG, and ROTFL or B) your excessive use of emojis instead of actual words or c) both A and B.

3. Environmental Hazards

  • “Slippery when wet.” The floor may be covered with a liquid substance. Be careful. Also a classic Bon Jovi album from the ‘80s that is still in frequent rotation in New Jersey bars.
  • “Danger” Hopefully self-explanatory. Otherwise, get the HELL out, girl! And be careful on that wet floor.
  • “Charge fully before first use.” A very annoying state that most shiny digital devices show up in. Typically, first use charge takes anywhere from 4 to 234 hours.
  • “Do not use in the bathtub.” If you need a definition of this one…then please, by all means, use it in the bathtub.

Despite any dependence on elementary-school acronyms and the modern equivalent of cave-man scratchings, we believe you, too, can learn show a full range of emotions online using W-O-R-D-S. We hope this simple guide to basic human word-based expressions serves you well in your endeavors.

And if not, we’ll be ROTFL LOL’ing….hahahahahahahahahahaha.

Haha. 🙂

Interview with Marketplace Host and Tech Correspondent Molly Wood

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Molly Wood 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.

I was thrilled to bits when Molly agreed to chat with me.  I’ve known her for a couple of years and have been seeking an excuse to pick her brain about her experience in journalism, especially in the tech sector for just about as long.  This post is the first in a two-part interview project.   There was so much good stuff, I convinced my internal, adolescent editor to grab a beer and chill on the back patio for this one.   Molly would be proud.  Or horrified.

EZ: You’ve covered a myriad of subjects during your career from general news to sports.  How did you end up in tech?

MW: I moved to the Bay Area in 1999. There was, sort of no way NOT to end up in tech, even if you were a journalist.  I quit my job at the AP and moved here, did some temp work and a friend of mine got me a position at a magazine that covered Apple.  It was a MAC Magazine called MAC Home Journal. It was the baby competitor to MAC World.  It’s no longer.  It was a random, “Here’s a journalism job for you!” because I didn’t want to keep working for AP.

EZ: Had you felt like you found your niche at that point? Did you love it?  Or was it more an understanding that this was where all of the stories are?

MW: I’d like to think that there was any sort of conscious decision making going on but it was more like I was living in Omaha working for AP and a friend called and said “I live in Oakland and I need a roommate!  What are YOU doing?”  And I said “I’ll be there in a month!”  The whole thing was just a series of serendipitous events.  I was considering the temp job for the time being and then the magazine job came along.  I took the job because it was writing and I was just lucky enough to like what I was doing.  I don’t remember being super conscious of ever thinking “I like this tech stuff!” Although it did happen when I wrote a review of the iMac DV…..(I blink in stupor at her).. cause this was SO long ago, right?  I don’t even remember what the difference was.  I think it had a DVD drive or something like that.  I remember looking up all these specs and thinking….because it isn’t that dissimilar from sports because it’s specs and  numbers and…it’s all dudes…

EZ:  I never thought of it that way!
MW: It was kind of similar and when I wrote that particular piece I thought “Oh, I LIKE this. That was really fun.”

EZ: How did you take that experience and make more of that work for you?

MW: Again, I don’t think it was as conscious of a decision as it may seem in hindsight.  I didn’t want to stay at the magazine forever.  I mean it was great training.  It got to the point where I was almost writing the entire magazine.  There was a small staff and I…..like to work (she laughs). I played dumb little video games and wrote stories about them.  But I did want to move on eventually and was lucky enough to fall into the world of the internet.  I applied for a copy editing job at Salon.com back in the day which I did not get.  But before I was hired at CNET I remember looking at them and thinking “Okay, well I’ve been doing this tech thing so I can probably get a job there.”  I will say that it didn’t ever occur to me to go back to hard news.  I knew I didn’t like that.  It’s a lot of bad hours, it’s really depressing (she laughs sardonically into her drink) you have to work on Christmas and sometimes your covering a murder on Christmas!  That just was not the kind of life that I thought I wanted.  Also, CNET had good grammar.  It wasn’t totally janky like so many of the things that I encountered on the internet.

EZ: LOLS!  Srsly.

MW: We didn’t have that then.  We had the turkish guy that was in love with you.. . The “I kiss you!” (again, I betray myself with my blank stare)…  It was SUPER early days on the internet. I can’t say that I said to myself “I’m going to embrace this tech thing as a career.”  It was more like, “okay, now I’ve been doing this for a year, so I know what I’m talking about and it seems like that’s what everyone’s doing here.

EZ:  You ended up at CNET for quite a while after that.

MW: I got to CNET as an associate editor covering ISPs and 13 years later I had done just about every other editorial job that they had.  Two great things happened to me while I was at CNET.  One is that I left CNET.  I wasn’t happy with my job at the time and I ended up leaving to do tech book editing at O’Reilly for nine or ten months for the shortest period of time ever.  The second great thing was that I went back to CNET for a better job where I started doing podcasting and video editing and I was a columnist.  So I had a platform!  By the time that I left, I was definitely among their primary talent.

EZ:  After you came back to CNET and established your platform, you developed some super creative ways of challenging the latest and greatest tech innovations that were either JUST about to hit the market or even just in the conceptual stages.  How did you come up with your ideas and continue to create compelling material for your audience?

MW: I think that my approach to journalism was always a little bit 7-On-Your-Side.  I was always the consumer advocate.  It started because I was really into policy and I was forever ranting about net neutrality and digital rights management and even the refusal of studios to digitally distribute music and movies.  It was always from the perspective of the consumer.  From that, my specialty became that experiential approach where I wasn’t trying to me more of an expert, I wasn’t trying to be a tastemaker, I was being a real user.  My approach to technology was always about how it would integrate with my actual life.   I think people just responded to that because it’s practical.  People would tell me that it was just honest.  It wasn’t overly focused on what a particular company was trying to achieve.  It was more like “Well, how does this work for me?”  It made a ton of sense especially coming from CNET.

EZ:  I also feel a large part of your audience and the market, let’s face it, are like me.  I’m a single woman watching your approach to tech as a single mom with a BUSY life.

MW:(gently interjecting)…Also, this part of the market, while big, is not such a huge part of the reviewer base.

EZ: Right!

MW: Which I always felt was guys with nothing but time to figure this stuff out.

EZ: And your approach is so refreshingly unpretentious.   Above all, it looked like so much fun.  In fact, I feel like I almost want to answer this question for you because I think I know what it is, but I’ll ask anyway:  What was the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of testing technology?

MW: (Laughs, knowing exactly to what I am alluding)….I mean, the helicopter jump…. is obviously.. the one.  What was happening at CNET at this time was that I was kind of at the end of the line.  At this point, I had not traditionally done gadget stuff.  I was really more about trends and policy and then CNET was moving in a direction of wanting everything to be much more core to it’s central mission which was reviewing products.  So I decided to create this show.  I was thinking “THIS is it.  This is my moonshot to try to do something that I feel great about that’s going to move my career and my ambition and my interest forward.”  ….cause I like a lot of variety.  So I launched this show that was like a baby startup within CNET. I made a budget for it and basically pitched it and asked for money.  I said “I’m going to need this much money and these are the staff I want to hire, I want to hire totally external people and were going to shoot out in the world!” …and this had not been done before.  I guess I had been there for so long and had done pretty much every job and had built up enough capital that they ended up approving my “moonshot’ budget.  Remember, this was me going for broke.  It was amazing!  So I hired seven people and we just started coming up with crazy cool ways to present tech interactions.   So one of the first ideas we had was to re-create this commercial we’d seen for this HTC phone where some guy jumped out of a helicopter and did a photo shoot, trying to capture this model in mid-air.   And of course we were like “That’s not….that can’t happen.”  At this point I was just trading ideas with a friend who happened to know someone really high-up at Go-Pro.  So we ended up with the Go-Pro stunt team to work with us.

EZ: (agog) ….no way…

MW: The Go-Pro Bomb Squad.  It was amazing…..I mean…IT WAS AMAZING!!!  I mean, here we are with the Go-Pro Bomb Squad and we’ve set up this jump which is out of a helicopter and not a plane which is SUPER unusual for consumer skydiving.  And these guys come in and they are all super tanned and ripped and they’re like (doing her best Keanu Reeves impression) “You’re gonna love jumpin’ out of a helicopter because the sensation of free fall is just SO much more intense!”  Which basically means you’re jumping from a standstill and it’s just (mimes vomiting into her mouth)…it was all I could do not to vomit in mid-air much less take these pictures.  One of the guys dressed up in a unitard and a feather boa and a helmet that my producer made that had feathers all over it, and it’s me and him in a silver unitard and a boa…. and I got the shot!!  And all the Go-Pro guys were like “Dude, that was sweet.”  They were like “We didn’t think you were going to get that shot at all!”  And I was like “Dude, I thought I was gonna barf.”  But that was the first in a series of amazing shows.  For example, I rode on the back of an America’s Cup catamaran, which was one of the COOLEST experiences of my life, followed up shortly by taking a ride on the world’s fastest sailboat, I did a mud-run in Vail at eight thousand feet, where I thought I would die.  I broke an iPad on the streets of Paris (she romanticizes this as if it were a wine and food pairing in a french bistro).

fly

EZ: Tell me about the mind controlled skateboard. Of all the mind-blowing things you’ve done, that kind of took it to another level. By the way, you REALLY need to keep a catalogue.

MW: I really do!  Just all of this amazing stuff that has happened in my life!

EZ: You have done a LOT of stuff in such a relatively short period of time.

MW: I have!  Do you know that Kanye quote? I want to make this my Tinder profile: “My life is dope and I do dope shit.” That’s how I feel about my life.

EZ: Seconded.

MW: So, they had this mind-controlled skateboard, and it’s not a stunt.  It’s actually a mind-controlled skateboard and they had this helmet with a bunch of electrodes which attach all over your skull and it’s this slimy, yucky thing.  But you put on this weird electrode thing and you stand on the skateboard and the electrodes are hooked up to a Window’s tablet that powered the motor and you had to THINK the commands to drive the skateboard.  It was the weirdest thing cause they would say “You can’t think ‘GO.’” If you just think “Go” you aren’t going to go.  You actually have to think about going.  You have to imagine yourself going.  Which is even harder when you want to stop. Because you can’t just think “stop.”  You have to actually imagine yourself stopping and so the focus that it takes for you to imagine yourself stopping for you to stop when you’re headed right into a wall is a whole other level.

EZ: That…..(Not..nope …not any words coming to me).

MW: (Mercifully interjecting) WE LIVE IN THE FUTURE!  THAT THING ACTUALLY EXISTS!!!

EZ: Are they manufacturing this now for the general public?

MW: I don’t think so.  They may be licensing the technology but they aren’t making the skateboard. It’s a company called Chaotic Labs and they are a lab.  But THEY have a cool job.  I mean I have a cool job…but they have a COOL job.

Molly 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 95,000 Twitter followers and more than 500,000 followers on Google Plus, Molly has a loyal and engaged fan base, and communicates with them regularly.

Tune in next time when we dive further in to Molly’s adventures in public media!

Hey Girl

On Being a (Young) Woman in Technology

I woke up at 6am for a call the other day only to open my email and be greeted by a note from a senior sales executive. It opened with a condescending, “Hey girl,” and proceeded to outline how I wasn’t being aggressive enough with bringing a new product to market and that I should call him so we could discuss further.

First time for everything.  I didn’t know if I was more taken aback by being called slow and passive or being addressed as “hey girl”. As is typical for women in the industry, I’ve often been called too aggressive, unduly assertive, or bluntly that I need to work on softening my tone.

Shocker – I wasn’t in a rush to call him. In fact, I never did.  However, I quickly responded to note that in fact it was his team that was causing the delay, and that P.S. – in the future, “Alyssa” worked better than “Hey girl.” This interaction is similar to many I’ve had and unfortunately seems to be the norm amongst my female colleagues.

  • I’ve been called a “Hot ginger,” which would make a “great draw” for a marketing event.
  • I’m referenced as “the mobile girl” more times than I can count.
  • I’ve been asked if I’m going to be late because I might need time “for a mani pedi.”
  • I’ve been told that big opportunities were given to me because they need folks on stage who “aren’t old white men.”
  • I’ve been propositioned by senior staff members – both directly and, on occasion, in writing.
  • I’ve been entirely ignored / talked over / interrupted in technical discussions, seemingly presumed not to have either a valid opinion or any relevant knowledge.

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be a “woman in technology” – I’ve wrestled with a lot of different questions on both the macro and micro levels.  I’ve spoken with my boss, my family, my boyfriend, my therapist, my friends, my colleagues, my executives, attended conferences, and begun thinking critically about my own daily experiences.

A few things I would like to share:

  1. I’m not alone. I’m humbled by women like Sandy Carter, Tara Lemmey, Sheryl Sandberg, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Ellen Pao and many others whom I follow and from whom I try to learn. There are a lot of women who have navigated these waters before me. They put on conferences like the PBWC and WITI. They form groups like Anita Borg, LeanIn and Girls who Code. They host lunches and seminars and try to help elevate others. These have become sources of strength, knowledge and relationships which inspire and humble me.
  2. It is hard. Harder, different, difficult, awkward, and challenging. First step to fixing anything is identifying the problem. One problem is that simply being a woman brings additional barriers, navigation, and hassle towards making a contribution. It is harder to be heard, harder to know what’s appropriate, harder to form relationships, and harder to get ahead.
  3. There are no easy answers. Every situation is nuanced. Depending on my mood, the background, or the lead up, my response to an insensitive  comment varies significantly. Sometimes I smack the person, sometimes I make a joke,  sometimes I launch into a discussion, or sometimes I do nothing. I have never reported anything to an HR department. I don’t know where the line is, and the line seems to change. I look at examples like Elen Pao and wonder if I’ll get support or become the victim of even more jokes and remarks.
  4. I think most people are well-meaning. That doesn’t mean it’s not wrong. I don’t think those who have made a hurtful comment, hit on me, or been inappropriate are ill intentioned. Insensitive yes, but they aren’t trying to be pigs. Maybe I’m young and naïve, but I believe that most people are using phrases as terms of endearment, ways to break the ice, or occasionally even as a compliment.  That doesn’t mean the comments aren’t  hurtful, or damaging. It’s okay to call them out. Acknowledging the damage is the first step in repairing it.

I’ve wondered at times why I am so fixated on the topic – can’t I just add value, work hard, and not think about what gender I am? Why do I care so much?

I realized that what gnaws at me is bigger and more important than just what I am experiencing as a woman. I believe that there is damage being done, and I’m worried that I’m contributing to something negative. Certainly there is a lack of female presence, but there isn’t enough diversity – of any kind. Technology is being built by a group of people who are from a very small – and insular – subset of our society, with limited viewpoints and narrow set of experiences. I believe that the technology we are building as an industry – which is quite literally building the future – is not particularly good – or as good as it could be.

Furthermore, how will I participate in change? What will my contribution be? I struggle with integrating my own sense of self – my character – in the technology world.

I often marinate on teachings from my own Jewish upbringing as well a pivotal moments in history. One of my biggest fears is that I will be a bystander- that I will not participate in the work of making the world a better place.

It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work [of repairing the world], but neither are you at liberty to desist from it. -Pirke Avot (2:21)

I’ve resolved not to be a bystander.  I won’t behave correctly every time – I won’t engage with every comment or person, but I will not be silent. I’m worried there will be negative consequences for me. I’m worried it will make people uncomfortable. I’m worried it may stunt my career advancement, and I’m worried I’ll be wrong.

The only way I know how to move forward is engage and speak up. I do so on a macro level because I think it’s important to have diversity in our workforce, in the work of building the future.  I do so on a micro level because frankly, I’m sick of being the only woman in the room.

For Real? Estate – Part 1: The “No Es Bueno” San Francisco Land Grab

It all started wwhitebagith a plastic bag last winter.

“I think you’ll REALLY like this place over the others we’ve looked at — it’s right in your price range and they’re even willing to wait 3 months for you to start the lease until your other lease is up!”

My commercial broker, Amy, was her usual perky, peppy self as she maneuvered her late model BWW X5 slowly the narrow alleyway that passed for a street near San Francisco’s courthouse / jail complex oBryant and 8th Streets in SoMA.

As we slowly drifted past a motley assortment of buildings in the street, I kept sinking down further into my seat and even contemplated refusing to get out of the car when it stopped at our destination.

The back alley buildings themselves held the businesses one would expect in the neighborhood immediately surrounding the local pokey – bail bondsmen after bail bondsmen, followed by shingle after shingle advertising criminal defense attorneys (“Available 24/7!”). And let’s not forget the tasty side of other sketchy-looking services that cater to the patrons of the court system and jail. Bail_bonds

Amy squeezed her large SUV into a small, cracked driveway next to a pale pink rock-facade 1960s era apartment building; we slid out gingerly onto the broken pavement, looking furtively from side to side for I don’t know what.

Across the driveway, a lean, blonde, very-tanned man greeted us energetically – Charlie, the broker from the “other side”, i.e. the guy who represented the landlord in a commercial rental transaction.

As Charlie thrust a lean, tanned hand toward us, Amy stage-whispered to my partner and me, “It was so nice of him to come out to show this. Most brokers are already done for the week. But he and I go way back and so it’s a favor.”

It was only 10 am. On a Friday.

So it made sense that he would be done for the day….if his clients were vampires.

The property itself was one of the oddest office buildings I’d seen in San Francisco. Badly weathered aluminum siding covered on the upper part of the building above a layer of pastel faux-rocks. A large external cement staircase in the front led up to each of the 6 units, 2 per floor.  They all looked like apartments rather than offices, each featuring a very homey front door with a knocker and a large picture window next to it.

Charlie bounded up the stairs in front of us, casually announcing over his shoulder that all the other tenants were defense attorneys.

Naturally.

And then I saw it.  The bag.

As I lifted up my foot to take my first step onto the staircase, I noticed the small, white, lumpy bag on the ground at the base, with a neatly tied bow — it was a bag that looked grossly familiar to anyone who has ever owned a dog.

I froze, my stomach lurching ever so slightly, and quickly side-eyed my partner, seeking some reassurance that that bag was not what my stomach and nostrils were perceiving.

Without missing a step, he whispered as he passed me and stepped onto the staircase, “Yes, that is exactly what you think it is.”

Our tour of the apartment / office turned out to be just as disheartening as our trip up the staircase. Charlie pleasantly pointed out the features: 3 beige separate (bed)rooms, beige in-suite bathroom, beige kitchen, beige wall to wall carpet, beige linen closets, fire escape access in the back down to the garbage cans….yes, garbage cans. In the back, where garbage goes.

At this point, there was no shaking the apartment-complex feel to it, although when asked, both Charlie and Amy swore it had always been a commercial property. They both gamely attempted to sell the highlights of the space’s 3 bedroom floor plan — more privacy because of the separate rooms, all new kitchen appliances, a shower in the bathroom, large closets for coats….by the end, I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to work there or make a happy home.

But even if the doggie welcome bag hadn’t been there, the office space was simply not at all what we could move our tech product design firm into. As I’d emphasized to Amy many times, our must-have requirements, after price range and square footage, included an office with natural light, and parking, both for me and my staff and for our Silicon Valley clients, many of whom had to drive into San Francisco for business meetings. (But not typically criminal court dates.)

Needless to say, we said our goodbyes to Amy and her services later that day. While I certainly didn’t hold her responsible for the doo-doo bag, I did let her know that we had higher hopes for her meeting our office requirements. But given the commercial real estate market, perhaps I was overly harsh on her on even that front. After all, Amy was only able to show us inventory that was available. And the inventory pickens were indeed slim.

While it was to be the last, tDIAKADI_Fitness_Performance_Life_-_Google_Mapshis wasn’t our first disappointing office visit to San Francisco commercial space within our size and price range. The other visits, while not as notably colorful as the Bail Bondsmen Backalley, all seemed wrought with similarly fatal flaws — one building was a converted warehouse that had a single tiny bathroom per floor of 8 offices.

And then there was the Peruvian startup attempting to run an illegal co-working space out of their offices. Although we were initially excited about their bright, IKEA-decorated sublet, the dreamy deal started falling apart when we started asking several tough, probing questions such as, “Has your landlord actually given you permission to sublet the space?” These were met with a lot of blank stares, and a few “Es bueno, es all bueno, no problem, no worries. Deal?”, which we met with a corresponding, “Nooooo, no es bueno. Noooooo deal.”

I could go on about ore dire properties we viewed, but it just takes me back to the sadder place to recount the weird, cavelike, or just downright depressing office spaces for rent.

Soma_StreatFood

Basically, though, I was starting to believe that we’d be better off pitching a tent in the SoMA Streat Food lot next to the food trucks and turning that into an office space with tasty snacks nearby.

Wondering what happened next? Check out more about my roller-coaster experiences in the San Francisco land grab in Part 2: Why can’t I just work in my car??

 

For Real? Estate – Part 2: Why can’t I just work in my car?

TransamericaBld(To recap just how this all started with a plastic bag of poo, please see Part 1: The “No Es Bueno” San Francisco Land Grab )

The crazy commercial and residential land grab in San Francisco is not new news to anyone who lives in the Bay Area. It was just my personal first brush with how insane it’s all gotten in the run up of the past 6 years since we first took a commercial lease. Ah, those were the salad days of early 2008, where SF office space hovered at “bargain” prices of $30 / square foot

For those of you (well, okay, maybe it’s just me) who find the price-per-square-foot number a little inscrutable — it’s basically the annualized cost per square foot for a rental. So an office space of 10,000 square feet at $30 / square foot will cost your firm a nifty $300,000 to rent for the year.

How little I realized what a bargain those olden days were.

I learned quickly, for when our office lease was about 6 months away from expiring, we started conversation with our current building management team about the potential cost of renewing. I nearly fainted in my chair when I was told that current market for our building and spaces like it was running between $52 and $60 a square foot in our neighborhood

Just based on the sheer 80-100% increase in rent alone, it was becoming clear for our bottom line that we’d need to look around for a new office space.At this point, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I’ve only helped create this quasi-dire office space situation by limiting my search area to the side of San Francisco that is absolutely the most competitive for commercial space currently, thanks to the tech boom. It’s the area known as SoMA (South of Market) combined with a few nearby streets in the Mission district.

While I’ve never been one to be driven by tech trendiness in making business decisions, there are truthfully some solid reasons why tech startup companies flocked to the SoMA area (and it’s not because of the SF Giants home ballpark).

att_parkThe major commuter train transportation hub, otherwise known as Caltrain, comes to rest in the heart of SoMA, which enables numerous non-SF dwellers to commute from as far as San Jose 45 miles away as it travels up through the Silicon Valley and Peninsula corridor. It’s also close-ish to the BART stations lining Market Street as well.  And it features a number of funky, trendy smaller office spaces in unique buildings with lots of light and architectural features, the kind of space that suits both unconventional start ups and also my firm, a design firm with Silicon Valley clients.

In short, for my business, SoMA was and still is best area of San Francisco for an office space.

And yet, despite having run my business successfully in San Francisco for over 9 years, it seems that we, too, were now being priced out of the market (or forced to downgrade significantly).

While I’ll refrain from making any poor-me comparisons to the truly displaced residents, I have to admit that I can feel a few twinges of the frustration of having been based in a place as both a resident and a business owner (the latter activity which created jobs), of paying local taxes, and of generally contributing to the local economy by patronizing other local small businesses.

After contributing productively as such for 9 years, I suddenly found my ability to rent a suitable office in my home city becoming more and more difficult, priced out by small startups whose biggest contribution to the world so far, besides creating a mobile app that let’s them rent the air around their apartment, is that they believe they’re “disrupting disruption” and that they are proudly developing a corporate culture based on “awesome snacks.” (I am not making any of this up, although I may have combined a few startups.)

This whole experience has a distinct quality of what I imagine it would feel like to wake up one morning and find out every apartment in your building was rented at ridiculously high rents to spendthrift 13-year olds; these youngsters were given a wad of cash and no adult supervision. Sure, they might do *alright* for a while, until they spend all their cash on shiny new MacBooks and In-and-Out Burger and Twizzlers and can no longer afford the rent, at which point they flee and leave the mess for someone else to clean up. And your rent’s 45% higher than before and not going down.

But lest you worry – I’m far less likely to protest my commercial situation by throwing rocks at a Google bus, or by picketing the Twitter offices; however, I haven’t ruled out asking those companies to let us sublet for a while…after all, they both have SOOOOO much more room, and we don’t need much space at all and will keep very quiet, I promise.

GoogleBusAnd more importantly, did we find a new space? More on that in another post, but I promise you, this story DOES have a happy ending…stay tuned for this to all be wrapped up neatly with a sparkly bow in Part 3: I do have a Real Estate Fairy Godmother After All…