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Our Massive Halloween Trick-or-Treat Blowout

Date: Nov 02, 2015

I think we might have out-nerded ourselves this Halloween.

Our neighborhood does Halloween big. Almost every house has been decorated since the first week of October. A block over, they close off the street for a street party, and one of the houses hosts a family-friendly band that plays until around 10pm. People sit out on their lawns and grill while they're handing out candy. And we've got four churches within a two-block radius - all four of them hosted parties on Halloween afternoon, so afterwards all the kids spilled out into the surrounding neighborhood.


Photo: Andrew Dupont

A post on the local community forum warned that we should expect more than 100 kids. I got at least 15 pounds of candy, and we went through all of it.

But Andrew really took it up a notch. While I was handing out candy, he kept count and showed the results on a scrolling display.

This project was all him, I had nothing to do with it - I just wanted to brag about him a little. He wrote a quick Ruby app and put it up on Heroku.

As the kids came by, we used a browser interface with a few simple buttons to keep a count. And as we updated the total, the display sitting in the window updated with just a few seconds' delay.

The code is all up on GitHub, with a detailed README, if you want to check it out:

https://github.com/savetheclocktower/lametric-trick-or-treaters

Our final tally was 250 trick-or-treaters. At that point we ran out of candy, but the neighborhood had gotten pretty quiet by then anyway.

On a side note, Avengers seemed to be the popular costumes for the night (for both boys AND girls). We also had 11 Elsas, which we counted in a more conventional way.

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What I Learned From DjangoGirls

Date: Oct 13, 2015

In September of this year, in conjunction with DjangoCon 2015, I helped to organize a DjangoGirls event in Austin, TX.

This isn't meant to be a comprehensive overview of the class - many other organizers in other cities have done just that already, and summed up the joys and triumphs of the day better than I could:

I just wanted to talk about a few of the things I learned from running this event.

The first thing I discovered was that the corporate/sponsoring members of our community are very generous. What they get out of it: exposure, and more new developers coming down the pipeline some time in the future. What we get out of it: The chance to support beginning developers on their journey not just once, but twice!

I also learned to appreciate this class for what it is.

When I first heard about DjangoGirls last year, I was skeptical. I've taught beginner Python classes for many years and I know that there's only so much you can impart to a student in a day. Too much, too quickly, can intimidate and send prospective new developers running.

But what you'll see when you host (or coach) one of these events is that finishing is not the point. Some students will walk out with a completed Django app, but not everyone. It is, I still believe, a very ambitious curriculum for a beginner to take on in one day. But finishing the app is not the point.

The point is to start. The point is to dip your toes in, to get familiar with the tools and vocabulary. It's to begin to build something, struggle with wrapping your head around new concepts, encounter and solve some bugs. And to realize that these struggles are normal and surmountable, that bumping up against a problem isn't a disaster - it's an opportunity to learn more.

The women leaving our class back in September all left knowing that they can do it, that they're no more impostors than any of us are.

And thanks to the generous sponsors mentioned above, we'll be giving 40 more students the opportunity to accomplish something new.

On December 12, DjangoGirls ATX will host its second event:

If you're interested in learning (or teaching) and you can be in Austin that weekend, applications are open now:

And if you're not in Austin, get involved wherever you are. Django is being taught to women around the world, and if there's not a class in your area, what are you waiting for?

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Coming Back From Burnout: Video

Date: Sep 20, 2015

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Coming Back From Burnout

Date: Sep 03, 2015

Coming Back From Burnout

I have some bad news. I'm not a self-help guru or a motivational speaker. I don't have any magical solutions. All you're going to hear from me is plain common sense. But if you're here and you're identifying as suffering from burnout, you probably already know what you need to do for yourself. Sometimes you just need to hear it from someone else.

So you're active in a thriving open source community. By definition, you've gotten accustomed to giving your time and energy pretty freely.

Maybe you want to improve your programming skills. Or maybe you want to make new friends. Maybe you're also driven creatively, you're excited about what you're making and all the knowledge we share.

The reasons why we give so much of our time in open source have been dissected and discussed ad nauseum, and that's a topic for another talk, another time. One thing I do know is that everyone I've met in open source is passionate about giving of themselves.

But that passion has to have limits.

What Burnout Looks Like

A few years ago, I had just moved to Austin, started a new job, started a new relationship. I had just begun the Young Coders program (the kids' class we teach at PyCon). I was teaching a lot of beginner Python classes here. I got involved with the local CSTA chapter (Computer Science Teachers of America). I volunteered with a program here through UT Austin that brings technology professionals into public schools to speak and teach. I was doing technical reviewing for some friends who had written Python/Django books. And I had founded the PyLadies chapter here in Austin and was doing a lot of meetups and classes to help that group grow.

So I was stretched to my limits. My relationships were suffering. I started having health problems. I was getting to travel, sure, but only for conferences - I was seeing the world one PyCon or DjangoCon at a time. I was taking time away from my actual job, the one that pays my bills. I wasn't getting to do any of the things I loved outside of programming. And I was starting to dread every meetup and every class. In short, I was hating my big open source life.

It took a couple of years of this before I realized that I had to scale back. I handed PyLadies over to some other very capable women. I cut my teaching schedule dramatically. I stepped back from the organizations I volunteered with. I started saying no to requests for my time. And gradually, things got sane again.

Why Burnout Is Bad For You

Burnout is a result of long-term exhaustion. Most people can handle a busy day once in a while. But when those days turn into weeks and months and years of constantly being spread too thin, the result can feel a lot like depression - you start dreading what you're doing. It becomes hard to get out of bed.

It should surprise no one that burnout leads to terrible performance, but it also takes a serious physical toll. Every time I open up a browser I see a new story about the effects of overwork on the human brain and body. These are just a few I've saved from the past year. (btw, when I post these slides, there will be links, so you can read about these studies more in-depth)

Long work hours linked to 33 percent increase in stroke risk

Long working hours and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data for 603 838 individuals

Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity

Scientists say chronic stress can actually change your brain

The subtext to that Amazon story: We're afraid our work is killing us, and we are right

And when we're trying to juggle our everday jobs, our open source work, and our personal lives, one of the first things that gets sacrificed is sleep. And lack of sleep contributes to even more health issues.

What Sleep Deprivation Does to Your Brain, in One Stunning Infographic

This one from SFist actually refers to a UC Berkeley study, I just loved this sensationalist headline. It got me thinking: is this where flame wars come from? And you all know that XKCD cartoon - "I can't go to sleep! Someone is wrong on the internet!". What if that someone isn't actually wrong ... you just think they are because you haven't gotten any sleep?

UC Berkeley Sleep Study: You Perceive Friends As Enemies When You're Tired

One particular story that caught my eye while I was researching for this talk was this one that NPR did back in May. It's about another recent study conducted by the University of Washington, but one of the examples they cite in the article is the Exxon Valdez crash.

Short On Sleep? You Could Be A Disaster Waiting To Happen

This happened back in 1989, so some of you might not even remember what a huge environmental disaster this was. An oil tanker ran aground off Prince William Sound in Alaska. Some estimates say as many as 38 million gallions of oil were spilled. Hundreds of thousands of animals were killed, including birds, seals, orcas, and sea otters. 26 years later, there are still thousands of gallons of oil in the water and sand, and many of the animal populations still haven't recovered.

The story going around at the time was that the ship's captain was drunk and ran the ship aground. It came out later that the captain was not even at the helm - it was the third mate, and he had been up for almost 24 hours prior to the accident.

How many of you have stayed up that long hacking on a project?

Now imagine your open source project taking a header like that. Giving your most tired self to a project is not good for that project at all. It's the opposite of good. Sometimes you need to step back, refresh your passion for coding, then return when you can give your best energy - everyone will be better off for it.

If you can't do it for you, do it for the sea otters.

How To Step Back and Recover

The easy answer? Start saying 'NO' to things.

If you want to simplify your life, first you'll have to give some careful thought to where you give your energy. What's really important to you? What makes you feel good? What brings you joy? What's actually contributing to your growth?

When I was feeling burned out, I realized that I wanted my time back for doing some of the other things that make my life rich. It took a little soul searching, and in the end the only thing I held onto was Young Coders and teaching kids, because that is what I love best. These days, I limit myself to a focus on teaching, developing curriculum.

Whatever you do, don't compare yourself to other people. We all know someone who seems to have a hand in every project, but you can't judge your own life by what you imagine theirs to be. You don't know how they may be scrambling behind the scenes, or whether or not they're even fulfilled. Keep your focus on what's important to YOU.

Then get ready to practice saying No.

If you're already overloaded and:

Worried that someone might be upset if you say no? Well, they might be, but your self-care is more important. Anyone who doesn't understand that is not worth your time. Trust me. Your mom would agree with me.

And sometimes saying 'NO' just means ... not saying 'YES'.

You don't have to answer every email, you don't have to answer every tweet. Just because you're invited to the conversation doesn't mean you have to contribute to it - sometimes listening in is enough.

This is something I feel really strongly about. An unsolicited email is an ask for a piece of your time that you didn't agree to give. It takes time to craft a considerate answer, and I know it can be a hard thing to get used to, but the truth is that you don't owe anyone anything.

Note that I said "unsolicited" email. If you're leading a project or have agreed to organize an event, then you have implicitly agreed to deal with all those asks. That's something to keep in mind before you commit yourself.

This is not a license to flake - do the things you say you'll do. Just promise less.

And those people who all seem to be doing ALL THE THINGS? One of the things they are really good at is delegating. And that brings me to another point.

Replace Yourself

As a member of an open source community, you are going to be exposed every day to new ideas and projects. And you're going to want to work on all of them.

My best advice to you is to be judicious with your commitments and guard your time carefully.

You don't necessarily have to say NO to all those things.

But you might have to relieve yourself of some other responsibilities BEFORE you accept new ones.

Over the past year, I've talked to a lot of other women who are also tech speakers, found that some are doing as many as 10-15 conferences a year. We're in pretty high demand right now. I get that as a community we're working on diversity and trying to increase the visibility of women programmers, but those women need a break. The same women can't carry the load for all of open source. So MENTOR new women. The first step towards giving yourself a break might be by mentoring and bringing in someone new.

The same thing applies to that code library you've been maintaining for ... how many years? You've been doing it for so long that it's starting to make you hate the language, but you've convinced yourself that no one else can do the job as well as you can.

Well, I have some news for you.

There are lots of developers in our community who want a chance to stretch and grow. And what's become old hat and mechanical to you will be new and exciting for them. Reach out to mailing lists and user groups, find someone you can mentor, then take a deep breath and hand the job over. It'll feel so good.

When you ask for help:

Over the summer, I was at a party, talking with some people who are highly sought-after speakers in a different community, different language altogether. They told me stories of having to lie to organizers about having personal commitments because simply saying 'no thank you' to an invitation to speak was not enough. I've heard stories of organizers getting downright hostile - "Oh, you did X's conference, but not mine?!?"

So if you're organizing a conference or leading a project, don't be that person. Don't lean so hard that you cross that line from 'welcoming and encouraging' into 'pressuring and bullying'. And please, please, don't be mean.

And if you are feeling pressured to participate by someone in the community, push back, politely but firmly. People may not know they've crossed that line unless you tell them.

Say 'YES' To Things

Go outside once in a while - your inbox can wait!

Let go of the things that are weighing you down, and do the things you love.

Finally ...

YOLO

Yes, I know this is one of the most annoying acronyms in the history of humankind, and it's been used to justify a lot of obnoxious behavior. But there's a kernel of truth in there. You only get one life. You owe it to yourself to make the best of it.

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Public Speaking for Nerds

Date: Jul 21, 2015

I was not born with an abundance of natural self-confidence.

I barely spoke to anyone at the first few conferences I attended. Hallway track? Nah.

Naturally, I was an avowed non-presenter for years. I swore that I was too nervous, too shy. I could never do it. I'd leave it to the professionals. (Except that, technically, I am one of those professionals.)

And then, a few years into my involvement with the Python community, I started teaching again (I was a primary school teacher long before I entered the programming world).

Then I gave my first talk at PyCon. And nothing bad happened.

I repeat: Nothing bad happened.

I've still only done one full-fledged conference talk, plus a handful of lightning talks, and I'm about to give my second conference talk at DjangoCon this fall.

So take my advice with a handful of salt. I'm still not an expert speaker. But I no longer fear the possibility. I'm not afraid to submit a proposal if I have a good idea, and I'm actually looking forward to being onstage again.

Why it's scary terrifying

There's nothing wrong with being afraid of public speaking. Appearing before a group of people of any size triggers our fight-or-flight response, and that's natural, normal, and everyone - even the most seasoned speakers - experiences it.

A part of our human brains has evolved over millions of years to respond to being confronted with predators. Our adrenal glands kick into high gear and our heart rate increases, leaving us prepared to fight, or flee if we need to.

That same brain just hasn't realized yet that you'll be standing up in front of a bunch of supportive fellow humans, not a pack of hyenas.

Why it's good for you

Conference speaking has some obvious career benefits - it increases your visibility and helps with networking. When you speak about a topic you know, people with common interests are going to want to get to know you.

But public speaking also gives you a sense of accomplishment. You've faced a challenge that lots of people never attempt. You've conquered a fear. And that can boost your confidence in ways you never imagined.

On to the advice:

So maybe some of the advice I have here will help you, whether you're a first-time speaker or just contemplating becoming one.

  1. Use your crutches, whatever they are.
  2. A slide deck with notes is great, but I also love using hand-written notes on index cards. I glance at them occasionally, enough to keep me on track but not so much that they become a distraction. And it feels good to have something in my hands.

    If you have glasses, wear them - they create a small psychological barrier between you and the audience, without actually being a barrier between you and the audience. (And if it helps you to keep some imaginary distance, remember that it will probably be difficult to see everyone out there anyway.)

    Want to keep a teddy bear with you on stage? Squeeze a stress toy (as long as it doesn't make noise)? Whatever works for you and makes you feel safe. You do you - no one's going to care. In fact, they're all going to be rooting for you.

  3. Know your topic.
  4. It's true that some people can submit a proposal on almost any random thing, then immerse themselves in their topic as they prepare the talk. And maybe someday you and I will be able to do that too. But I wouldn't recommend it until you've got a few speaking experiences under your belt.

    How do you know if you know your subject well enough? If you've been teaching it to other people. If you've been having discussions about it with friends. If you get excited when people ask for your advice about it, or you find yourself answering questions about it in everyday conversation.

    You don't necessarily need to take questions when you give a conference talk, but if you feel like you could, then you've probably got the confidence you need to give the talk in the first place.

  5. Know your community.
  6. If you're feeling nervous, your first conference shouldn't also be your first public speaking experience.

    Participate in a few community events. Get involved with your local user group. (A user group can be a great place to practice a first talk, by the way, and most of them are clamoring for new speakers!)

    Get to know people. When you eventually give a talk, it will feel less terrifying, more like you're just hanging out and telling a story to a group of friends.

And finally ...

In spite of all your preparation, you'll still feel a few moments of anxiety when you hit that stage. Everyone does. Just take a few deep breaths - count them, in fact. Your brain's perception of the threat level will drop, and your body will respond by relaxing and calming.

And keep in mind my two criteria for a successful talk:

  1. I didn't throw up
  2. I didn't die

Anything after that is just icing.

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Our Massive Halloween Trick-or-Treat Blowout

Date: Nov 02, 2015 | Category: Personal

I think we might have out-nerded ourselves this Halloween.

Our neighborhood does Halloween big. Almost every house has been decorated since the first week of October. A block over, they close off the street for a street party, and one of the houses hosts a family-friendly band that plays until ...

Read More

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What I Learned From DjangoGirls

Date: Oct 13, 2015 | Category: Django DjangoCon

In September of this year, in conjunction with DjangoCon 2015, I helped to organize a DjangoGirls event in Austin, TX.

This isn't meant to be a comprehensive overview of the class - many other organizers in other cities have done just that already, and summed up the joys and ...

Read More

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Coming Back From Burnout: Video

Date: Sep 20, 2015 | Category: DjangoCon

Read More

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Coming Back From Burnout

Date: Sep 03, 2015 | Category: DjangoCon

Coming Back From Burnout

I have some bad news. I'm not a self-help guru or a motivational speaker. I don't have any magical solutions. All you're going to hear from me is plain common sense. But if you're here and you're identifying as suffering from burnout, you probably already ...

Read More

Powered by Django

Public Speaking for Nerds

Date: Jul 21, 2015 | Category: DjangoCon Personal PyCon

I was not born with an abundance of natural self-confidence.

I barely spoke to anyone at the first few conferences I attended. Hallway track? Nah.

Naturally, I was an avowed non-presenter for years. I swore that I was too nervous, too shy. I could never do it. I'd leave it ...

Read More

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