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Kimberly Blessing Hi, my name is Kimberly Blessing. I'm a computer scientist, Web developer, standards evangelist, feminist, and geek. This is where I write about life, the Web, technology, women's issues, and whatever else comes to mind.

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Career Blog Archive

Managing, Mentoring, and Hiring: Why is it so damn hard?

Think sticker The super-cool Think Brownstone stickers I gave away at BarCamp!

I had the privilege of leading a problem solving discussion at BarCamp Philly this past Saturday. The session was proposed at the last moment (while the first sessions were going on) in response to a few conversations I had over morning coffee — I was amazed to end up in a packed room full of very vocal people! It’s clear our community has a lot to discuss on the topics of management, mentoring, and hiring. Thanks to everyone for participating and making this such an engaging session!

Here are photos of the blackboard notes/mind-map — they’re a bit blurry, but you still make out most of the text and the lines connecting ideas.

  1. Define the Problem “Screen Shots”: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  2. Mentoring focus “Screen Shots”: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

A transcription of all the blackboard notes follows — but I think the big takeaway of the session were the mentoring action steps we identified:

  1. Define mentoring: what are you trying to achieve?
  2. Carve out the time: make it important, protect it, make it part of everyone’s job
  3. Ask: not for mentoring but for information, for input, “how can I help?”
  4. Do things together and make it visible
  5. Express thanks

Before you go through the full notes: I’m serious about getting together again to continue the conversation! Please leave a comment on this blog post, email me, or @/DM me on Twitter so I can be sure you get an invite to the meetup!

Define the problem

  • No mentoring at many places
  • Hard to mentor if you’re not being mentored
    • No managerial/organizational support
      • Do you set aside time for mentoring activities?
  • No one gives a shit when trying to mentor
  • Bidirectional mentoring: [other party] not always interested
  • Finding people / the right people
    • People with potential
    • Headhunters [=] Noise
    • [Many] unqualified candidates
    • Depends on company: hiring for culture, skills, experience?
      • Do we even know what we’re hiring for?
        • Speedy growth
        • Same job title (not description) means different things at different companies
          • Different responsibilities, different expectations (on both sides)
        • As person being hired:
          • Why am I being hired?
          • What am I doing?
          • Is it OK to ask questions?
    • Dilution of credentials
      • PhD [in CS] but can’t code
      • As jobseeker, educationally over-qualified, less job experience
        • Resume format hasn’t changed, how do you present yourself?
          • Cover letter still important!
        • For developers, where is the code portfolio?
    • What is the qualification to get through?
      • Puzzles
      • Quizzes
      • Essays
    • Can someone meet our expectations?
      • [Example: job posting asking for] 10 years of jQuery experience
  • Hiring
    • Tools are shitty and inhibit process
      • Broad job posting not effective
    • Expensive! Job portal posting and lots of asshats apply
    • [Managing/researching applicants]
      • Resumator + LinkedIn
      • Stack Overflow
      • Ranking candidates
        • Bullet Analytics
    • Where to post jobs locally?
      • Technically Philly job board – will have job fair in 2014
      • Local network and community
        • Be an active participant in community so people want to work with/for you
        • Most groups are for senior/advanced people
        • How to go from email to action?
      • How to find junior talent?
        • Campus Philly
        • Drexel Co-Ops (people love them)
  • At this point, we were 15 minutes into our time, so we voted on one area to focus on; the group chose mentoring.

    Focus on Mentoring

  • This is a skill in and of itself!
  • Big difference between mentoring and training
    • What is the hidden curriculum in your organization?
  • Finding time
    • Carve it out
  • Care more!
    • How to make those NOT in this room care more?
      • How do we encourage more soft mentors?
        • Make it a requirement
  • Coaching
    • Helping people express themselves makes them better at what they do
  • Apprenticeship
    • Formal programs
  • Context/structure
    • “Soft” mentoring instead of formal
      • Team collaboration and valuing others’ opinions?
      • Recognition is important
      • How to find a mentor as a junior person?
        • Look for someone who is passionate about what they do
        • Look for someone who is open
        • Show them what you’re working on
        • Ask
          • We aren’t taught to ask good questions
            • Are we hiring people who won’t ask by looking for purple squirrels (super ninja rockstars are self confident)
            • [Nor are we taught] to recognize others, e.g. acknowledge someone in code comments
          • Conversation starters:
            • What’s wrong with this?
            • What am I missing?
            • What have you tried?
    • Some organizations separate mentoring from management
      • [Why?] This introduces BIAS in management process
  • Why is this a corporate expectation? Why don’t kids go out and find [their] own mentors?
  • Manager != Leader, Leader != Manager
    • Being a mentor is a differentiator

Mentoring Action Steps

  1. Define mentoring: what are you trying to achieve?
  2. Carve out the time: make it important, protect it, make it part of everyone’s job
  3. Ask: not for mentoring but for information, for input, “how can I help?”
  4. Do things together and make it visible
  5. Express thanks

Want to become an expert? Study (web) history

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and talking about the past.

I’m at the airport awaiting a flight that will take me to the Line-Mode Browser Hack Days at CERN. CERN, perhaps presently most famous for being the home of the Large Hadron Collider, is also the birthplace of the World Wide Web. More on that in a moment.

Screen shotMy first personal web site, circa 1997

Twenty years ago — What the hell? Where did the time go? — I started college. I arrived at Bryn Mawr College a French major, soon to switch to Romance Languages. My Italian professor assigned us reading on a Web page. I was one of the few people in my dorm to have a computer (and modem! and laser printer!). I had email before I got to college, on both AOL and Prodigy. Bryn Mawr had a gopher space, but no web site — in fact, there were only about 500 web servers up and running at the end of 1993. And yet, that seemingly meaningless introduction changed my life. I took computer science classes. I changed my major to computer science. I started building web sites — heck, I designed and built the first web page to be hosted at For me, that was the start of it all.

And so here we are today. You, reading. Me awaiting my flight to Geneva. To CERN. Holy freaking crap! Understand that, for me, this is akin to visiting Mecca, except I am worshiping ideas, and code, and technology, and the propagation of all those things that has help fuel the evolution of our world into its presently hyper-connected state.

But I must admit that I was surprised, when telling some other web developers about my trip, that they didn’t know about CERN’s relevance to the web. The popular history of the Internet as an American creation dominates, and it has consumed the WWW creation story for some. So I educate and inform, to set things right, to help those whose careers are based on HTTP and HTML understand their domain’s history.

Now, here’s where I get preachy, because I run into scenarios like this — where a web developer will make statements about web-related history that are completely wrong — frequently. “Oh, IE doesn’t support inline-block.” Wrong, it has supported inline-block for a long time, but it couldn’t just be assigned to any old element. (I’ve heard this one a lot lately — perhaps because I’m interviewing and one of the coding problems I give can potentially be solved with inline-block.) “Old browsers don’t support the HTML5 doctype,” is another popular one. Misunderstanding the origin of CSS3 properties, incorrectly attributing computer accessibility to web accessibility, explaining IE compatibility mode based on one or two simple tests rather than reading the documentation — even attesting to a lack of JSON support prior to 5 years ago (?!) — are things I’ve encountered lately.

I admit that I am quite privileged to have, essentially, grown up with the web. I’ve been active with it, as a user and a developer, almost as long as it’s been around. I do fondly remember using both Lynx and Mosaic to not just surf the web, but also test my own sites. I remember “playing around” with CSS to layer text, and trying to get it to work in both Netscape 4 and IE 3.

But I digress — this isn’t about me. This is about getting other web professionals to better understand our field. To be correct in what they say about the past, when trying to educate others. To not make false statements, based on lack of knowledge or direct experience, which lead to wrong assumptions and misinformed decisions about code and architectures.

I realize I sound like a crotchety old geek, complaining about the young whippersnappers who don’t respect their elders. This isn’t the case at all. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many younger people, or just less-experienced people, who have taken the time to learn about the web’s history. (Admittedly, some of those people were required to, when they took my course on web app development.) And just knowing facts about history doesn’t do much good, without analysis or thought of impact, for today or beyond.

Genuine curiosity and a desire to learn all that one can is ultimately what makes an expert. And, truth be told, any real “expert” will be the first to admit that they’re hardly such — they’re still on the quest to become experts, themselves.

So, here I am, about to board my plane, hoping to enrich both my understanding of web history, and yours. Assuming I haven’t entirely turned you off, I hope you’ll follow my travels on Twitter.

Required Reading

Web Developer Job Search: Your Resume

I estimate that I have spent a full work-week, over the course of my career, reviewing web developer resumes. That’s enough time to produce some strong opinions on the topic. Allow me to finally continue the Job Search thread by sharing my advice for creating a top-notch web developer resume.

Resume Format and Structure

Your resume format should work to highlight your strengths. The chronological resume, perhaps the most traditional format, fails in this regard. A functional resume does a much better job of highlighting your experience in a specific role, but most web developers are good at more than one thing. I suggest mixing aspects of the two formats, organizing them in a way that makes sense for you and your strengths — then you’ll have a resume that stands out.

Here are the general sections found in a great web developer resume. With the exception of the first two, the rest can be ordered and/or further broken out according to your needs.

  • Objective: If you’re searching for a job, you ought to know what you’re seeking! Customize your objective, as needed, when replying to job postings. (Note: If you’re not actively seeking a job, but still want to have a resume posted online, it’s okay to omit this section.)
  • Summary of Qualifications: It’s a cheesy headline, perhaps, and all too often the summary is filled with buzzwords — but I have read really compelling summaries that made me want to know more about a candidate. Focus on describing your strengths and what you contribute to an organization.
  • Skills: This is where the keywords and buzzwords will start showing up. That’s okay: you’ll back them up with evidence in the other sections. You can subdivide this section in any number of ways: Technical vs. Soft Skills, Front-End vs. Back-End Skills, Design vs. Development Skills, etc.
  • Professional Accomplishments: Here you can include project accomplishments, awards, public speaking engagements, publishing credits, or descriptions of really awesome things you’ve accomplished. Like the Skills section, you can also break these out separately.
  • Work Experience: If you’ve done any combination of full-time work, freelancing, and volunteering, this is the most generic title you can use for your work history. Some people like to break out their professional experience from other work, but I think that can undermine the importance of having taken on freelance or volunteer work. If you list accomplishments for each job in this section, don’t repeat them elsewhere, and vice versa.
  • Education: I don’t like to see this section missing from a resume. Haven’t gone to college? That’s okay. Be proud of what schooling you have made it through and list it here. Oh, and that includes training programs, conferences — anything you’ve forked out money for that you’ve learned something from!

Required Information

If your resume were to consist of only two things, it should be these:

  • Contact Information: You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but I have seen resumes where developers didn’t list a phone number, email address, or personal web site (more on that below). In my opinion, it’s a waste of space to display your full home address, especially if you are looking to relocate. No one’s going to snail-mail you an invitation to interview, so city and state will suffice. HR will collect the rest of your contact information later.
  • URLs: I wish I could tell you exactly how many of those ~500 resumes didn’t include a single URL… but my gut says that at least half didn’t feature even a personal web site URL. Seriously? If you’re a web developer, you should have some URLs to share. If you’re brand-new to the field, put some of your school projects online. If you’ve only ever done intranet-type work, get permission to copy parts of the code and make it available, or create other projects of your own to demonstrate your skills. If you’re serious about getting a web development job, you need this.

On the flip side, don’t waste space on these bits of information: references (or the phrase, “References available upon request”), GPA, salary requirements, or personal information (except if you have hobbies that would be of interest to another geek and would increase the likelihood of getting invited in for an interview).

Frequently Asked Questions

Does my resume have to fit on to one or two pages? No, I don’t think that it does. However, I think it’s nice if a resume is so well edited and structured that, when printed, it fits to exactly one or two pages (one page if you’re young, recently out of school, or switching careers; otherwise two pages). However, if you truly have so much awesomeness to report, then, by all means, go on! If you’re really that super-duper, I’m sure I’ll want to know all about it.

Does one resume fit all jobs? NO! Don’t be afraid to tweak your resume format or content to the job you’re applying for. In fact, if you have diverse enough skills and interests (design vs. development) you should probably have completely separate resumes for these purposes.

I am graduating soon and don’t have much web development experience. What can I do to beef-up my resume? Use the “Objective” area to make it clear that you’re looking for an entry-level position. Highlight your strengths in the “Summary of Qualifications” area and place the “Education” section next, so it’s clear you’re just coming out of school. List your technical skills, as well as any soft skills that you can support with extra-curricular or volunteer work. If you have been active in a tech community or have attended technical or web conferences, list those.

I’m switching careers. I’ve taken some web design and development courses and done some small projects. How do I reflect all of this in my resume? First, don’t hide the fact that you’re switching careers! Your prior experience, even if in a completely different industry, has (hopefully) taught you how to deal with people and has helped you understand your strengths. Start your resume with an “Objective” statement that spells out your desire to move into web development. Then list your skills, training and experience with the web so far before providing your employment history and other educational details. Highlight any experience that translates across industries, but otherwise keep the non-web details short.

I hope the above helps you create an awesome resume. Remember, your resume (supported with at least one awesome URL) helps get you in the door for an interview, so take some time to craft one that truly reflects you!

If you have questions I haven’t addressed above, I’m happy to accept them in the comments below.

Epic Management Fails

“who’s able here to honestly say ‘I have a great boss’?” two hands raised… 320 persons in the room… Via Daniel Glazman on Twitter

Although I always identify myself as a technologist, I’ve been managing people for a while and that is the primary focus of my full-time work. Managing people is an art, not a science. It’s very hard work, and I didn’t completely understand this before becoming a manager. Honestly, I don’t think most people — even managers — understand how hard of a job this can be.

I think that I’ve become a pretty good manager — with time and experience, with feedback and mentoring. There were times when I wasn’t so great, though. In an attempt at radical honesty (hat tip to Erica O’Grady), here is a list of my epic management fails and what I’ve learned from them.

  • I tried to keep my hands in the code. Somewhere I once heard that coders who become managers and still try to write code only do so because they’re arrogant and they end up sucking at both. While I don’t agree 100% with that statement, I can agree that diverting focus from management responsibilities can have a negative impact on people and projects. As a manager I’ve gotten so deep into code that I’ve trampled on the responsibilities and goals of my direct reports. I’ve also made commitments to deliver production-ready code but then been so distracted by management responsibilities that I caused project deadlines to be missed. While attempting to code for production work isn’t a good idea for managers, I think that coding for practice — to keep one’s skills in shape or to have experience with what the team is working on — is definitely a good thing. A technical manager who can coach a team on both a personal and a technical level is a huge asset.
  • I didn’t prepare for one-on-one meetings. One of the top priorities of a manager is meeting with direct reports on a regular basis to review expectations, set and track progress of goals, provide feedback, and coach for achievement. If you ignore this responsibility as a manager, you’re not doing your job, period.* Over time, I’ve realized that some managers avoid these meetings because they’re not prepared. I’ve certainly made the mistake of meeting with an individual without having an agenda, or without having deliverables ready. Ever had an awkward review with your boss? Chances are, it was awkward because they weren’t prepared. I find that I have to practice difficult conversations before I walk in to a meeting, and I even like to rehearse giving feedback. When I’m nervous about a meeting, I know I’m not prepared. When I realize this, I’ll try to reschedule the meeting or, worst case scenario, I’ll admit to being unprepared and beg forgiveness.

    However, even if you conduct regular one-on-ones, you can do it very poorly. For example, I’ve had managers who’ve spent most of my one-on-one time talking to or emailing other people, just talking the entire time without listening, and even zoning out (staring at the ceiling, a piece of furniture). Other faux-pas include glaring at the person (or eye-rolling, laughing at inappropriate times), only giving negative feedback, never offering assistance, and never asking for feedback.

  • I wanted more (or less or something different) for someone. (more…)

Tips for Women in the Workplace

From the New York Times, The Mismeasure of Woman:

“For the first time, women make up half the work force. The Shriver Report, out just last week, found that mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of families. We have a female speaker of the House and a female secretary of state. Thirty-two women have served as governors. Thirty-eight have served as senators. Four out of eight Ivy League presidents are women. Great news, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, it couldn’t be more spectacularly misleading.”

Sadly, it’s true: making up half of the workforce has not brought women equality in the workplace. American work places are still largely ill-suited for us and our employers do not fully recognize or taking advantage of our talents. What’s more, we’re still far too often demeaned, belittled, and treated as sex objects — usually behind closed doors, but sometimes publicly, too. What must women continue to do to gain equal footing?

In Ten Things Companies — and Women — Can Do To Get Ahead, employers are reminded that a lack of gender diversity in executive and board positions hurts both the company, as well as professional women, and provides some great tips for companies seeking to increase female presence. While all of the tips were good, those which I’d personally recommend, from personal experience, include: (emphasis mine)

  • Make Mentoring a Priority: Research shows that mentoring programs can be powerful tools for advancing the careers of professional women. Every young professional can benefit from having a mentor. But for women in male-dominated corporate environments, the need is even greater. Women with mentors, research finds, are more likely to apply for promotions.
  • Retain Your Best Women: What does it take to keep talented women in your organization? Asking them directly is a good place to start in getting an answer. However, research finds that flexible work hours, generous maternity leave benefits and coaching for women returning to the workforce can make a difference.
  • Measure Your Results: When companies put goals in writing and track their results, things gets done. Companies need to know where they stand and make managers accountable for the level of gender diversity in their organizations.
  • Move Beyond Tokenism: According to McKinsey, companies with three or more women in senior management scored higher on measures of organizational excellence than companies with no women at the top. It is not enough to add a woman here or there. The best performers build a critical mass that gives women the power to have their views heard.

The article also provides some suggestions for women — again, all good tips. Here are the ones I’m always telling other women:

  • Dare to Apply: McKinsey, citing internal research from HP, found that “women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements.” That by itself, if it holds true across the corporate world, could be holding back a lot of talented women.
  • Know What You are Good At: Instead of just focusing on what you are lacking, take time to inventory what you have to offer. Evaluate your potential based on your skills and competencies, not merely the jobs you have held in the past. Many of your skills could be applicable in jobs — or in fields — you have not considered.
  • Know What Success Means to You and Move Toward It: If you want to get somewhere, it helps to know where you are going. In the book “Stepping Out of Line: Lessons for Women Who Want It Their Way…In Life, In Love, and At Work,” author Nell Merlino says: “You have to see it before you can devise a plan to get there.”

Some of the best advice I’ve read lately comes from an unlikely source — Forbes. (They’ve published a number of sexist pieces in the past year or two.) The article states what many people won’t acknowledge, telling women: “Sexism, whatever you call it, hasn’t disappeared. But it’s better to know exactly what you’re up against.” Amongst their list of unwritten rules: (emphasis mine)

  • Men get the benefit of the doubt. Men generally get hired on their promise and women on their demonstrated experience. Men are usually taken at their word, while women get challenged more, required to deliver data and substantiation for their views.
  • You won’t get sufficient feedback. Professional development depends upon rigorous, comprehensive, ongoing feedback. Your (male) boss may not feel comfortable delivering that information to you. You need to be direct in asking for it from him and from other colleagues and team members.
  • Women are rendered invisible until they demonstrate otherwise. If you want to be noticed, you’ve got to offer your ideas, approach a mentor, ask for the assignments, build a network, convey your aspirations and communicate your achievements.

I feel very lucky to have worked with some great women and men in the course of my career who — regardless of whether or not they acknowledged that sexism still exists — proactively mentored me, instructed me, and helped me overcome any roadblocks which could have set me back. Still, I see too many environments in which sexism, however subtle, is part of the status quo and managers and leaders are unprepared (and, sadly, sometimes unwilling) to change their own behaviors, as well as those of their teams. I realize that I make people uncomfortable in raising these issues and pushing to address them. But what others must realize is that I live according to a rule my mother taught me long ago, which is reiterated in the Forbes article by Ann Daly, and which I can’t say often enough to other women: “Don’t let them sabotage your ambitions”.