Please check out my main blog, Obi-Wan Kimberly Is Your Only Hope, where I write about web development and technical management!

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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Just Sayin Blog Archive

Why I’m starting a new blog

Welcome, and thanks for checking out my new blog!

My old blog, Obi-Wan Kimberly Is Your Only Hope, is still online and won’t be going away. The content is all still relevant although the code needs major updating. It’s still on my to-do list and it will happen, eventually.

I’ve been saying for a while that I need to get in the habit of writing more often. I love reading blogs by tech folks that write every day, even when they don’t write about technical topics — Tim Bray writes one of my favorites. If I can make time to read every day, I can make time to write everyday. I know how to form new habits, duh.

I’m starting fresh to free myself of constraints. I’m using a default WordPress theme in order to stop myself from making excuses about design tweaks or code changes. Even though I’m calling the site “People, Process, Technology”, I’m going to allow myself to write about whatever’s on my mind. (I’ll explain why it’s called “People, Process, Technology” soon, though!) In short, this site is a blank notebook for me. You’re welcome to read through it, at your leisure.

Thanks again for stopping by and I hope to see you again soon.

Blog, Interrupted

I started this blog in January of 2010, with the intention of re-contextualizing myself as an authority on career development for web development professionals. My goal was to post weekly about topics that would be relevant for early and mid-career web developers, or for new managers. The first month went decently, I thought: I had a long list of topics I wanted to address, I had a set time for writing (on my train commute), and I got great traffic and decent responses to what I published.

Then things got busy at work, and weekly posts turned into monthly ones. As issues and frustrations crept up at work, more time went by without posting. Without regular practice, constructing coherent opinions was time consuming and, due to what was going on in my day job, I found myself injecting too much cynicism and negativity in to my posts. Still, many readers and colleagues encouraged me to keep at it, and occasionally a post appeared.

Then, in February of 2011, my life changed when a family member became ill and I took on primary care-taking duties. Most of my time was taken up by phone calls to various state and government agencies, doctor’s visits, shopping trips, extra laundry… and what wasn’t taken up with care-taking work was spent trying to chill out. Now, almost exactly two years later, with that family member happily situated in the proper care facility, I have time to myself again. With this time, I’m starting to understand how much I’ve changed, and how much this experience has taught me about myself as a person, but also as a leader, a team member, a technologist, an advocate, an educator, a student — the list goes on and on. I am still me, but my brain has been rewired. And, I think, it’s for the better.

As for the blog, I do intend to continue with it. I still have a long list of topics to write about, and I need the writing practice! But change is constant and time is in limited supply, so I know that the posts won’t be produced quickly. I can’t promise that I will respond to every question I’ve received in the past few years, although I’d like to, since they were all wonderful and important questions I hear many people asking. I do hope that whatever I do write here will impart some knowledge that you, dear reader, find useful or interesting. Thanks for sticking it out with me.

Life Lessons from the Labyrinth

I came upon a labyrinth in the woods.

I considered the labyrinth, and its goal at the center.

There are two ways to the goal:
– follow the path, trust it will get you there, or
– skip the intended process and jump to the center

Wondering what I would get out of trusting the process, I followed the path.

I worried that I was traveling in circles, when I observed an obstacle in my path. I had to duck to avoid hitting tree branches. I kept moving.

I saw myself moving towards the goal, and I was pleased. At one point, I was close enough to touch it, but I did not. I was traveling in a circle but felt momentum pulling me in. I knew I would get there.

Then I took a drastic turn and moved to the outside of the labyrinth. I was far from my goal, and I questioned why the path had diverted me. I was so focused on my anger over being as far from the goal as I was at the start that I neglected to see the tree branches ahead. But I had encountered this obstacle before, and I remembered to duck. But this time I had to be more flexible — there were more branches than before, so I had to bend further and for longer. I could have stopped, abandoned the path. But I kept moving.

Upon exiting the tree branch obstacle, I found myself moving closer to the goal again. I felt a sense of calm — not excitement. I was glad I had been challenged by another obstacle on my path. My commitment to the goal had been tested, my faith in the path had been tested. I knew I would succeed.

I came closer to the goal. I did not think about jumping the path to the goal. I did not even fixate on the goal getting closer. Instead I found myself thinking back on the path that I had traveled, and what I had learned along the way.

And, before I realized it, I had reached the goal. I looked around at the path that had gotten me here, and thanked it. I thanked myself for not abandoning the path.

And then I exited the labyrinth, ready to face the day.

Written June 26, 2011 at Bryn Mawr College

Pausing for a new year reflection

Reflection, by Kimberly Blessing

Since my last real post here, over four months ago, I’ve been asked countless times why I don’t blog more. I’ve received numerous emails from people who’ve thanked me for the advice I’ve offered here, and I can tell from the stats that people are still visiting. Don’t worry — I haven’t given up on the blog, and I get that you’re still interested in what I have to say. To which I can only say, thank you! I will get back to posting soon. But let me update you on some changes in my world.

Last month I transitioned into a new role at CIM: that of senior software architect, focused on web front-end engineering. It’s exciting and it’s scary, as any change is. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into developing my management and leadership skills and changing some bad behaviors, but I don’t think any of that will go to waste in this new role. One becomes a software architect, in part, because of one’s leadership skills, and having experienced managing some of the people I’ll continue to work with only gives me greater insight into their talents and strengths, so I can help them accomplish more. From a technical skills perspective, while I’ve kept up on HTML, CSS, and browsers, there are a whole host of languages and technologies I need to brush up on or get acquainted with. I don’t need to be the expert on everything, but I do need to hold my own in conversations with Java programmers, system administrators, and even other front-end developers. Most importantly, though, I need to buckle down and write more, so that my thoughts, research, ideas, and questions are available both to myself and others. As you, dear reader, can probably tell, sitting down and making myself write out my thoughts is not one of my strengths!

I will also be busy these next few months teaching a web application design and development class at Bryn Mawr College. I first had the opportunity to teach this “recent topics” computer science class at the end of 2008, and it was popular enough that the students asked the department chair to bring me back! I’m honored that every space in the class is full, and I hope to challenge both the students and myself by looking more into creating single web experiences which adapt nicely to the mobile environment. I am still thinking about whether I will re-present or make available the course materials to a broader audience, online.

I’m also preparing to present at some conferences this year and I’m working on a few other projects. I joked, on Twitter, that my theme word for 2011 should be “over-committed” and that’s definitely true. So the mantra I’m repeating to myself is one I recently got in a fortune cookie:

You cannot be anything if you want to be everything.

A good reminder to all of us. Happy new year!

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day 2010

My Ada Lovelace Day post is a two-parter: the first part, recognizing two women who inspired me in math and computing; the second, recognizing Milly Koss, an inspirational and accomplished female computer scientist.

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science. Learn more

Mrs. Smarkola, Miss Herrick, and the Dawn Patrol

Article about The Dawn Patrol From the Grace Park Mini News, an article about Dawn Patrol by yours truly, circa 1985.

I am so fortunate to have been raised in the 80s, during the emergence of the personal computer. My school, Grace Park Elementary, and my teachers were excited about the TRS-80s and Apple IIes in the classroom, and many kids had Commodore 64s at home. Our teachers saw us get excited about learning; we were having fun playing with new toys our parents never had.

Our librarian, Mrs. Smarkola, was one of my most favorite people at school. When I think of her, I always imagine her with a large book in hand, head down, adjusting her glasses, focused on her reading. But I also remember her running the classroom full of typewriters and computers which was across the hall from the library. She’d walk from computer to computer, typing commands, turning them on or off, inserting tapes or disks, making sure each computer had an instruction sheet or book for the next activity. Around the time of fourth grade, a few of those computers moved into the library itself, and the whole school used them to check out and return books — under Mrs. Smarkola’s watchful eye, of course.

My fourth grade teacher, Miss Herrick, was one of those teachers that all of the kids in school were afraid of. Kids talked about her being “hard” and “mean” — but when I got in to her classroom, I was in heaven. You see, Miss Herrick loved math. I loved math. We were a perfect match! She frequently gave us math quizzes with long division problems, which I always aimed to complete first — because the first to finish got to “play” on the computer we had in the classroom. I’d guess that I spent more time on that computer than anyone else, and I think I was also the classroom “computer aide,” to help other students with it. (BTW, to this day, I love doing long division in my head when I’m bored.)

So many of us kids at Grace Park were interested in computers and learning, that our awesome principal, Dr. Joseph Fleischut, authorized a program called “Dawn Patrol” which was run by Mrs. Smarkola and Miss Herrick. For kids who signed up and got to school about 30 minutes before the opening bell, it was a time to use the computers, typewriters, and library. As you may have guessed, I signed up nearly every day. It may have been during Dawn Patrol that I programmed a TRS-80 CoCo 2 to play the harmony to “Yesterday” by The Beatles, so that it could accompany me as I played the melody on the flute. (When I got to perform at the district concert with the computer, it choked under the hot lights of the stage, sadly.) It also may have been there that I first attempted to program a Joshua-like AI from WarGames. I definitely spent time playing the Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego games there, as well as being questioned by Eliza. But what I remember with the greatest certainty (and the utmost thanks!) were the ways in which Mrs. Smarkola and Miss Herrick (and Dr. Fly, too) encouraged me, nurtured my passion for math, computers, reading, and learning, and always praised me for my accomplishments — key factors which recent studies say are crucial to getting more women in to STEM.

Adele Mildred (Milly) Koss

Milly Koss and Me I was introduced to Milly Koss in September 2006 when a historical marker was placed at the site of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation.

Milly Koss “had a distinguished career of more than 47 years in all phases of computer technology, implementation and management, including applications design and development, software/hardware selection, database technologies and computer security.” Her name is known to some — but not enough, in my opinion.

Milly was raised in Philadelphia and attended the selective Philadelphia High School for Girls. She earned a scholarship to attend the University of Pennsylvania in 1946, at a time when schools were primarily giving spots to veterans. She graduated in 1950 with a degree in mathematics. In the early days of computing, women were seen as ideal computer programmers due to their “patience, persistence, and a capacity for detail.” Of course, in order for a woman to get one of these jobs, she had to have a degree in math and not be married. Milly Koss qualified on the first point, but not on the second: she was engaged. The first company she interviewed with rejected her for this reason.

Fortunately, she was in the right place — Philadelphia was home to the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and, from the way Milly describes it, I imagine it to be a workplace much like any modern internet company — except that 40% of their programmers were women. Milly interviewed with Dr. John Mauchly, who she described as being very nice, flexible, and open. He gave her a wonderful, exciting, creative job — working with the UNIVAC.

Milly worked with Grace Hopper and was responsible for developing Editing Generator, a problem-oriented language for computer-generated reports, in 1952. Milly was interested in what “computers could do for programmers… how it could help programmers program.” She also worked on sort routines for years, which she calls “the quintessential program for machines.” She reminds us that today we should be grateful for that early work in automated programming, interpreters, assemblers, and compilers.

By the way, much of this she did while working part-time and remotely! According to Milly, when informed about her pregnancy, Grace Hopper told her to “take it home” — meaning, the work. Milly would go in to the office one or two days a week, otherwise working from her dining room table. In an interview with Kathy Kleiman (who is the driving force behind the ENIAC Programmers Project), Milly said:

“What’s funny about that period, I’m not sure who my boss was. This was such an unstructured environment… Once I had a child they let me continue to work the way I wanted to. I inferred from that I was of value to them. Nobody lets you work that way unless they are getting value. I got increases. I got paid fairly well. Eckert & Mauchly was pretty good that way… There were no models, they didn’t care how you worked. There were no preconceived notions as to the way you could contribute. You did not have to be in the office…. We did not have huge management teams. We did incredibly new and exciting things and nobody had a problem.”

Milly later went to work for Burroughs Corporation, Philco, and Control Data Corporation, and Raytheon. At Burroughs and Philco she continued her flexible work schedule and would send her work in by mail! At CDC, she worked with early graphics algorithms and interfaces including light pens. Then Milly moved to Harvard University, where says she finally started feeling the hierarchy and loss of flexibility. She spent 27 years at Harvard, in multiple roles. She applied data management expertise to applications for the school and led an R&D effort to develop one of the first data warehouses, the Information Utility. She served as Associate Director of the Office for Information Technology and as the Information Security Officer for the university.

Milly retired in 1994. In 1997, she received a Pioneer Award at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. In 2000, she received the Ada August Lovelace Award from the Association for Women in Computing. With her many years of contributions to the field, I’m sure she also inspired many people — women and men alike.

Additional Resources