Hey you guys! I’m doing a bit of traveling this month, saying opinions and the like. If you live in or around the San Diego or Saint John regions, then my friend, you are in luck!
- Data Science Innovation Summit. San Diego, CA. Feb 18
- Big Data Congress II. Saint John, New Brunswick. Feb 24 & 25
- Seattle Marketing Analytics Meet-up. Seattle, WA. Mar 18
In San Diego my co-worker David and I are going to share some of the work coming out of the Nordstrom Data Lab. At the Big Data Congress I’ll be giving a quick survey of real-time data in the domain of retail (and why I’m a skeptic of the fad) in a little ditty I like to call “Real-time, real talk.” I’ll of course be getting some mileage out of those slides with a repeat performance of “Real-time, real talk" in my own town, #12man. Those marketing people do it right, y’all. Real talk.
I’m not a fan of Christmas, and I’m glad it’s over. What I do like about this time of year (besides peppermint mochas, amiright?!) is that it’s the only time one can openly engage in melancholy introspection without being written off as a depressed narcissist. So strap in folks, I’m ‘bout to let ‘er rip!
2013 has been a big year for me. Why, this time last year I had just finished up my PhD, accepted my first job as a software engineer at BigDoor and was frantically packing for a cross-country move from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Seattle, Washington. Shortly after arriving in Seattle I was approached with the opportunity to become the first data scientist in the Nordstrom Data Lab, an offer I promptly accepted. Working in the lab has been outrageously rewarding. We’ve gotten a lot of our work onto nordstrom.com, and I’ve had the opportunity to speak at events like the Strata conference in NYC.
All of this seems very far from academia, where I spent the previous decade of my life. Since my freshmen year at Case I knew I wanted to be a professor and I wanted to spend my life doing scientific research (the reason that didn’t happen is another story). I never thought I’d end up working for a huge fashion retailer, and unfortunately my occupational network was pretty limited to academic circles. During the year I’ve made an effort to meet people and establish myself in the larger technology community. I’m doing that through speaking and meet-ups, but mostly it’s through Twitter.
You guys, I’m all about women in technology—how could I not be? I have an expertly curated Twitter-roll to make sure that any time I step into a bathroom stall I’m empowered to bust up the old boy’s club with my skills that both figuratively and literally pay the bills. Or at least that’s how I used to feel in, I don’t know, like April? Since that time I’ve found that the hyper-awareness that is the inevitable result of being constantly exposed to technology commentary that is in some way ‘sexist’ or sexually charged is actually making me neurotic, and is negatively effecting my, like vibe, man. It’s mentally and physically exhausting to be constantly aware that you could be a victim of discrimination right this second. To always be wondering if the thing you just said is coming off as confident or arrogant, or about why you even have to think about whether you’re being perceived in a way that is distinct from others, or whether you’re letting yourself get ripped-off in life and at work, etc., is all-consuming and destructive.
People who do stupid, sexist shit are trolls who distract us from the issues that we ought to be discussing. Are we seriously talking about whether the use of the phrase ‘guys’ is harmful to the one woman on the dev team? This is the definition of white. people. problems. This is the kind of drivel we can discuss after there’s more than one lady on your dev team. Paul Graham says ladies only like start-ups because they sell Bonne Bell lip-gloss now? Who the hell is Paul Graham? He doesn’t pay my salary, he didn’t create my curriculum, and he does not decide if I get paid parental leave or have to quit my job. This is the level of dialog that would have gotten me all fired up when I was 20, but it’s so short-sighted and to the periphery of real issues that matter in the labor-market and labor-culture.
I am completely convinced that the most effective way to achieve labor-market equality is to insure that women don’t leave their jobs prematurely so that they can attain positions that enable them to influence company culture and policy. The fact that paid parental leave is virtually unheard of in the United States is a non-ambiguous example of real, systematic sexism and we’re not talking about it because we’re busy being mad that someone was mean on Hacker News.
In the discussion of sexism in technology we often talk about “technical entitlement,” that sense of entitlement often associated with someone who’s been doing something for a very long time and has thus, presumably, developed a deep expertise (not like this concept is unique to brogramming—if you run into a musician who’s been playing since they were three, I promise they’ll let you know it). It’s interesting, and perhaps ironic, that feminist-technologists (coined it here first, folks!) who are increasingly empowered via social media and a tightly-connected community, are ourselves so entitled. We imbue the attitude that our experiences with sexism are unique to our industry, and are so outraged by every slight. But most of us haven’t put in the time and, at least in my case, have overemphasized negativity in the community rather than focus on all the positivity.
So my new year’s resolutions this year are to, you know, lose some weight, drink less, exercise more, etc. etc. But the resolution that I will keep is to pursue everything with focus and not let anybody derail this train. Haters gon hate, but we’re all in control of our reactions, and the only way to kill a troll is with utter lack of interest.
Lately I’ve been obsessed with start-ups, thinking of start-ups, talking about start-ups, making plans for starting a start-up. You know, start-ups. Certainly much of this behavior is triggered by my environs. Seattle is full of sweet-ass start-ups and virtually everyone I know’s spent some time — if fleeting — with a start-up. The other part of the trend is me. I have to be passionate to stay motivated, and I crave the intensity of going all-in on a belief in the success of an idea.
The last time I felt this way, or spent this much mental energy on developing hair-brained schemes, was when I was in a band. Developing material for new music was a constant challenge, and I always struggled with the belief that songwriting should be the product of inspiration. That outlook seems natural, because how could someone write something moving and passionate if not from a wild burst of raw inspiration? But it’s also a frustrating outlook because it means you generate zero content when you’re not feeling ‘inspired’ (and who can control that?), and puts the practitioner a bit at the mercy of fate to find inspiration. I found that I became a significantly more productive songwriter when I began each day with a 10 minute writing session. After a week or so of these sessions, starting out with a blank page and no inspiration wasn’t so bad. In the absence of inspiration I could at least form concepts, some of which turned out to be inspirational.
There is nothing new under the sun, and I’ve been similarly struggling to develop ideas in domains that I don’t find particularly inspiring, i.e. anything that’s not biology, women’s rights, art or beer. On my walk home I wondered if I could be passionate about something I don’t find inspiring. I decided that I could, for the right idea. Passion doesn’t have to be the product of inspiration, it can be the reaction to a really good idea.
If you know me, you know that I love me some strong coffee, particularly Americanos. God, I love it. I want one right now…anyhow people (typically just my mom and Big Baby Bryan) always tell me that I drink too much coffee. ”That’s why you can’t sleep,” they say. Or “that’s why you’re buggin’ out.” And in reply I typically say something along the lines of “No, I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough!” or “I can stop anytime I want, I just don’t want to!” Well, this week was an opportune time to prove that I can, in fact, quit anytime I want. Although, if we’re being completely honest here, it was mostly a matter of luck. Uncle Brian hosted a killer party with Baby Ketten Karaoke last Saturday and we didn’t leave until 4am, so by the time I woke up on Sunday it was too late to drink coffee. Then Bossman Gowans, my primary enabler/pusher, was out of the office for most of the week so it was relatively easy to avoid temptation. So anyway, last week was an experiment to discover if I am even capable of fully functioning as a human without several Americanos a day.
The answer is “yeah, I guess…kind of” and I’ve made a few interesting observations along the way. The first is that most herbal teas taste like straight garbage (see sad face above. Photo credit: Elissa Brown). Second, I felt like I’m slept a loooot more. Bryan, who’s been off caffeine for months, commented that he was surprised that I wasn’t more fatigued, but that is easily explained by my going to bed at 9:30 and waking up at 7:30. Weirdly, my dreams were unusually vivid and memorable and I felt like I tossed and turned a lot more than I used to. Wednesday night, I swear I was having a dream in which I snapped my finger, dropped the mic and said “PEACE I’M OUT!” only to find that I had woken myself, hand still in air and actually did snap my finger and drop the mic!
I’ve been wearing this silly Jawbone UP band for months and can actually measure whether I slept more, slept better, and slept more better. It turns out that my during my hellish, caffeine free week I did appear to have a slightly higher proportion of deep sleep to total sleep, and deep sleep is good I guess. Jawbone also provides a measure of “sleep quality” that ranges from 0 to 100 and is based on…something. I also had higher average sleep quality while I was off caffeine. Even cooler, my typical number of nightly awakenings was higher while off caffeine, a result consistent with my feeling that my body was more restless during sleep.
So, with some preliminary data suggesting that perhaps being off the caffeine is better for my sleep and thus better for my health, am I going to keep it up? Uh, no. In fact the only thing keeping me going last week was the prospect that I could slam a bunch of Americanos on Monday (which I promptly did). For me, I love everything about drinking coffee—the flavor, the ritual, the Ladies of Ladro, but I do have a greater appreciation for the effects it has on my body and also of the value of personal data collection. If only Jawbone could measure my pure joy every morning when that sweet, sweet coffee hits my lips.
This week a ton of awesome things happened. First, my paper “Network motifs provide signatures that characterize metabolism” was officially accepted for publication! You can read it in the advanced section of the Molecular BioSystems online journal.
Second, I accepted a position at BigDoor, a Seattle-based tech start-up that gamifies websites to increase user engagement. I’m now a software engineer focusing on all things data. I’m puuuumped to get started and thrilled to reach the happy conclusion of my 6 month job search. Hopefully no future job search will be quite as grueling.
But enough about me! Big Baby Bryan accepted a postdoc at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He’ll be continuing his infectious disease modeling research, but now in the domain of reproductive health. Of course I’m welling up with pride at the thought of him contributing to vaginosis research. Lets put this pest to rest, am I right ladies?!
I’m done! I officially turned in my dissertation to Rackham today so I am officially official, scientifically speaking.
I thought I’d share with you an excerpt from page iii:
Thank you to the people, academic and otherwise, who made it possible for me to complete my PhD studies and research. Specifically, Conner Sandefur served as a mentor, therapist and friend throughout graduate school, and was constantly supportive during my career search. Likewise, many thanks to Ethan Obie Romero-Severson, Grant Meadors, Ian Spicknall, Meghan O’Grady Milbrath and Bryan Mayer (Collectively known as The Edit Club) for the Oxford commas, tense corrections, and many, many beers. I am also indebted to Tanya Salyers, Brian Beck, Dave Ziegler, and Chris Hesse for the career advice.
My research was made possible with the financial, academic and mentoring support I received from my two advisors Chuck Burant and Santiago Schnell. Thank you both for hanging in there through the ups and downs of my thesis projects. Yu Chen and Nina Lin provided 60 metabolic network reconstructions that were essential to my third chapter, and for that I am grateful. Thanks are also in order for those who contributed to the creation of this handy LATEX template. You guys saved me a lot of stress.
Above all, I absolutely could not have completed my PhD without the love and devotion of my partner, Bryan Mayer and my mother, Caryl Carver (Mamakita). Countless nights of debugging and trouble-shooting would have been insurmountable trials if not for Bryan’s patience. Likewise, my mother was always a source of emotional support and encouragement. Thank you all for your kindness and patience during my thesis work.