Thursday, February 23, 2012

Moving my virtual home

Head on over to for all future writing. This blog will stay up as long as Blogger keeps the lights on, but everything here has been transported over to the new site, so don't worry - I have backups!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Autolanding your patch(es) to Try via Bugzilla

We're ready for a soft release of the first step in our very experimental autolanding system. Experimental meaning: we reserve the right to pull the plug, take it down for tweaks, and some information may be lost when bugs arise.  You can check the if the autoland system is up and running by going to

This is the Try branch only portion of what will become a system to automate and more easily manage multiple branch landings.  Marc Jessome, our returning Release Engineering intern, and myself have this as a Q1 goal.  There are several issues to be resolved with this system and the link above will keep you appraised of what the goals and known issues are. We will be working hard over the next two months to make this a secure, reliable system for landing patches with minimal developer time spent pulling, pushing, and watching tbpl.  The hope is that it will also become a useful tool for Release Coordinators to track that a fix lands across several branches as needed.  Future features will include a bugzilla extension to securely interact with this system and remove the need for whiteboard tag changes and a RESTful API so the whole process could be initiated through the command line.  We appreciate constructive feedback but please hold off on scope creep suggestions :) 

Here's how it works right now:
  1. Attach patches to your bug Note: if you (the attacher) do not have permission to push to Try, get an r+ from someone who does
  2. Use this documentation to determine the appropriate whiteboard tag and enter it in the bug so our autolanding poller will pick up on your request
  3. The autoland system, which tracks all bugs with autolanding requests, will queue up your patchset and then pull it from the queue, apply the list of patches in your bug (or those in the whiteboard tag) to a clean pull of mozilla-central tip, commit each patch as the patch author, and finally push to try as Autoland User
  4. A comment will be posted in your bug with the results (hopefully successful) of the push attempt, and the whiteboard tag will read [autoland-in-queue]
  5. After all builds complete, their results get posted back to your bug (just like with the current '--post-to-bugzilla Bug #' flag in trychooser) and the [autoland-in-queue] whiteboard tag will be removed
There is a threshold on how many bugs the autoland system will push and track at a given time.  We are curious to learn about usage and load on this system so please give it a try and inform us of any issues in IRC: #build or #developers channels are the best places to find myself (lsblakk) or Marc (mjessome) and chat us up about this initiative.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Growing the company, structuring volunteerism: My response to David Eave's community lifecyle audit

Last Wednesday David Eaves presented the results of the multi-tiered contributor lifecycle audit (watch the video).  A few points really grabbed my attention and as someone with a background in arts & education non-profits I feel the need to share my experiences alongside my reactions to this talk.

David pointed out that as we are growing, we can hire people to solve problems, so what exactly do we need volunteers for? Survey results showed that contributors often don't feel their contributions had much impact on the project and that as our paid staff pool grows in size, there is less clarity about what exactly a volunteer's importance is to the critical path of Mozilla's mission.  I wish we had this data prior to the 1+ year push to releasing Firefox 4.  My hand-waving hypothesis would be that as we were cramming to get a product out the door we forgot to be leaders of volunteers and instead unconsciously pushed them aside so that things could get done on a schedule.  It was a stressful time, but now that we've moved on to regular, rapid releases perhaps we paid staff can all take a step back and really assess how we incorporate the work of volunteers into our individual areas.

For many Augusts I have worked at a women's music festival in the woods of Michigan and at that festival there is a kitchen that has pumped out 3 vegetarian meals a day for 5 days to 4000-8000 attendees depending on the year.  This festival relies on a core group of 'workers' who are in fact volunteers but let's pretend that group of 500-600 people is like the paid staff of Mozilla.  The main kitchen work crew gets about 30 workers to run the kitchen.  You might think to yourself "but 30 people cannot produce enough food for 4000-8000 women" and you'd be very right.  The way it works is that all attendees of the festival are asked to do two 4 hour workshifts during the week they attend the festival.  The majority of workshifts center around the main kitchen and creating the meals which range from burrito night to pasta putanesca to nutloaf (a vegetarian version of meatloaf). All these meals involve preparation of pounds upon pounds of vegetables as well as cooking of pasta, beans, sauce.  Did I mention this was all in the woods, over a massive firepit?  Yup, so 30 women are in charge of making that entire process work and they do so by wrangling hundreds of volunteers per day into shifts around each meal and constantly leading and dividing up the work so it can be done by many hands yet results in one huge meal - 3 times a day!

So let's go back to people who are volunteering not feeling clear about how Mozilla works and whether their time and effort has impact.  How can we make sure that the smallest task makes that person feel like they've contributed?  Some areas of Mozilla do this very well to name a few; AMO, SUMO, QA, and Personas. These teams manage tons of volunteers and have tasks with measurable outcomes (tests run, filing bugs, approving an add-on, answering a question in the knowledge base, shrinking the queue of pending Persona submissions) and sometimes they can use scoreboards or themed days to get volunteers mildly competitive for the respect of their peers and accomplish larger goals in a short burst. I'd encourage people interested in having volunteers participate in their team's work think about how to make sure their volunteers have tools to measure their impact from the get-go.  In Release Engineering I would measure the number of bugs that we have yet to fix, many of them labelled "simple" or "old".  If I had volunteers doing RelEng work I could keep track of their progress and post reports (as blog posts) of who fixed what when and how as the number of bugs shrank.

Another interesting result from the survey: older folks (34-55!) aren't on-ramping as much as younger ones. At first I wondered how much of this was about access to the muscle memory of being a student.  I think it's fair to assume that many students/youth can have a lot more time to contribute to projects like Mozilla as certain adult responsibilities may not be required of them yet. Over the past week though, I have started to visualize another take on this. In the arts & social justice organizations I have been involved with there have been plenty of adult volunteers but those organizations have a different need for volunteers. The music festival I mentioned would not happen if it wasn't for volunteers.  The fact that the volunteers want the community of the festival to exist for them every year becomes the carrot drawing women of all ages to come to the woods of Michigan and build a music festival every year.  People quit jobs, take unpaid leave, and make plenty of other sacrifices of their time to participate in creating this community. The thanks for this 2-4 weeks of donated work is an amazing live/work experience camping with 5000 women on private land, having workshops, parties, and dances all in a very natural, safe, and ad-free environment and watching incredible performances all day and night for 5 days. 

In a different example, let's look at a the Toronto International Film Festival.  Volunteers have to make it through the rigorous screening and application process in order to 'get' to volunteer for the festival. They are rewarded with behind-the-scenes access to the festival, sometimes a quick run in with a movie star, and free tickets to festival screenings.  The festival shows entirely world-premiere films so this is a huge deal for a volunteer.  Several films will see theatrical releases after the festival but seeing the premiere, often with the star in attendance and with a director Q&A post-screening really sweetens the experience. The volunteers also get thanked before every screening with a cute trailer from the sponsor for the volunteer program and there's always a fantastic party post-festival as the final thank you. 

At Mozilla we do thank our volunteers with tshirts and sometimes bringing them to summits, MozCamps, or other parties. For older volunteers though, I wonder if that's enough.  What does it take to get someone in the 34-55 range to donate their time?  I'm really interested in this one since I fall in that demographic as well.  For me, I need the time donated to do at least one of the following things:
  • be social, meeting new people in the community I chose to volunteer in is a big part of why I'd do it in the first place
  • provide a networking opportunity (similar to above, but might apply to folks on the job market a bit more accurately)
  • get me free access to an event I wouldn't attend if it wasn't
  • be something my friends are also doing so we are visiting with each other while doing something interesting
  • be for a very good cause so I feel good just helping that cause regardless of the tasks I perform
Let's look at that last one.  The good cause is certainly in the eye of the beholder but I can honestly say that sometimes I have no idea why I would want to encourage a friend who volunteers for hospice care, homeless shelters, AIDS awareness, or other non-profits where the staff is small and the operating budget miniscule to come and contribute to Mozilla.  In the circles I travel in outside of my job Mozilla seems right up there with Google, Apple, and of course Microsoft.  Sure, a lot of people don't know we're a non-profit. I tell people that all the time and while it's of interest to them, it doesn't generate an "Oh! Can I volunteer there then?" kind of response.  We compare ourselves sometimes to the Red Cross or Boy Scouts - large organizations with volunteer bases - but I think we should start to re-think ourselves more like the film festival or the music festival.  We pay competitive salaries to our employees, we throw amazing events, and we don't have to write grant applications every year to the government (like in Canada) or to private funds (like in the US) to ensure we can keep operating on a shoestring budget.  So even though Mozilla is a GREAT cause, I don't think that's the bait for the on-ramping of volunteers - especially non-students and people in the 34-55 age range.

What's going to encourage 34-55 year olds to engage with Mozilla?  In my opinion it's going to happen with targeted events where they can do something in a few hours that leaves them feeling connected and fulfilled and even better if it makes something in their life easier.  A while back, in Toronto, we did a day of service and set up an info table at the local library so people could come and ask anything about Firefox and even though by some ironic twist the library's internet died we still had an amazing day just conversing with people and answering questions about Firefox, the web, security, and even general computing questions.  According to David "having good experiences in the project helps one to want to find others and pull them in" and "age and gender have no impact on the willingness to on-ramp, but the longer you volunteer with Mozilla, the less you on-ramp".  My approach with trying to on-ramp then, in light of this, would be to look at getting a lot out of that short interaction. Help someone help themselves on their computer. Teach them a few keyboard shortcuts or how to install an add-on that helps them do what they already do faster and with more confidence.  Then encourage them to come back and teach someone else what they learned.  This can spread like a pyramid scheme and it's no longer about getting a single volunteer to stick around for a long time, it's just about having a good experience and carrying that forward. Potential volunteers can be motivated by the mission and/or by practical considerations it's important to remember both have tremendous value to the Mozilla project.  I think it's important to encourage 34-55 year olds by believing it's OK for a contributor to do a one-off in a few hours as long as they walk away happy.

In conclusion of this very long post, I want to circle back to measuring. If we are going to make community a core part of what we do then we need to measure it we currently do not have an institution-wide measurement of contributions, volunteer performance cannot be evaluated, there is no structure for including volunteer engagement during strategic or operational planning.  Until we require Directors to create annual and quarterly goals that include measurable goals around volunteer growth, retention, participation, and effectiveness we will only see people (like myself) trying to do this "off the corner of their desks" which means it's not a part of your paid work and thus less likely to be sustainable and effective. The Toronto International Film Festival is a great example of what we could do here.  They have paid staff who organize the volunteers each year. They have a clear path for volunteers to follow to be accepted - training sessions are mandatory.  Each year returning volunteers are given roles depending on performance from previous years.  The record kept of each volunteer's performance allows paid staff to request certain volunteers for specific tasks based on that information and a volunteer's history with the organization.  Teams of volunteers will sometimes have "Captains" who are also volunteers but with more experience and they are thus given more responsibility.  Each area of Mozilla that can accommodate volunteers should keep an eye out for their current or potential "Captains". David also suggested that, while we avoid it, we should really look head on at guidelines for when to rely on volunteers and when to not - this seems to fly in the face of open source "free for all" mentality but if we compare ourselves to other non-profits like TIFF there is proof that having some structure for volunteers allows staff and teams to develop stronger relationships and the work gets done smoothly, which was really the point all along.

Don't forget to throw them fabulous parties, share with the world the importance and impact of their contributions, and remember you can never thank a volunteer too much.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

OccupediA - Women Contributing to Wikipedia (the first of many such events)

Last Thursday night about 8 women arrived at Noisebridge to learn how to contribute to Wikipedia.  Several things led to this gathering:
  • An article in the New York Times back in October drew attention to the lack of women contributors to the Wikipedia knowledge base and that got me thinking.  
  • Having organized other spontaneous "women get together and learn stuff" events I figured I could take the same approach to Wikipedia contributing, get some women together to create accounts, generate content, learn how to stop vandalism and see what would stick.  
  • Recent participation in activism around the Occupy Wall Street movement also inspired me to try and reach out to communities I am in who are not as technical, to encourage people to come first with knowledge and interest in topics Wikipedia could benefit from and let the tech come second. 
  • A month ago Elsa and I were talking casually about all the the above mentioned things and we decided to just go for it and pick a date, throw it up on the Noisebridge (local SF hackerspace) calendar, and see what we could make happen.
We took over a small makeshift classroom space at the back of Noisebridge. It had one lamp as the primary source of light because the fluorescent holders above were missing their tubes.  A man was near the back working on a dress for fashion school, several other hackers were up front working on their various projects.  Noisebridge was a wonderful place to have this event. It feels like anything is possible in a space like that.

I was happy with the turn out - we had a mix of artists, educators, and tech workers. Also as a bonus one of the attendees, my coworker Boriss, was a seasoned Wikipedia contributor who was able to really detail the ins and outs of the different levels of participation.  I can't stress enough how amazing it was to have her and her knowledge there because there are lots of misconceptions about Wikipedia (I definitely had some) and her first-hand knowledge was inspiring to me.

So the beginning of the meetup went well enough, and as you might expect.  We introduced ourselves, talked about why we had come to the event and what we were hoping to get out of it. We started in on learning how to set up an account if one didn't already exist and we looked at discussion/history/edit and other basic navigations of Wikipedia space.  There were a lot of questions about what belongs in Wikipedia, neutral tone, citations.  The conversations were lively and I found them quite enjoyable.

Here's what I didn't expect: Getting folks interested and excited about Wikipedia becomes REALLY HARD in practice.  Unlike learning Python where the participants can hammer out some code on their own computers in minutes and feel accomplished, there is a lot more complexity to Wikipedia.  There is a lot of confusion about their UI, their purpose, who can do what and when. Very quickly it seemed that the women who had come to the event feared adding anything new to the knowledge base and they were also incredibly intimidated by the UI of the site. It wasn't even clear enough how one would create a new article when none existed.

From this event I learned a lot about organizing and about the intentions of future events like this and I did a little braindumping while we were meeting so I could remember to list them later in this very post.

Things that would help newcomers:
  • Having a "new to wikipedia" moniker next to their nickname for the first N activities on the site (we have this on our Mozilla bugzilla) so that hopefully older and wiser participants would be extra nice to them
  • Find a way to make some of the simpler tasks that help Wikipedia (typos, reverting vandalism, categorizing articles) into a game that a new arrival could play that would start easy and then move more toward the real-life workflow of working on Wikipedia - as a way to warm them to the UI
  • Encourage newcomer to write a straight-up article and have a place for these things to be dumped for inpection/linkage/categorization and otherwise Wikipedia-fying the knowledge dump.  My partner is an English professor and can certainly write good content for Wikipedia but everything about the site is intimidating. There should be a page where she could copy/paste or upload a document of her article and then let people who know wiki syntax and the other requirements an article needs come along and finish it up
  • Make it way easier to find the "adopt a user" program that I hear exists but no one would know to find that from the Wikipedia home page

I will continue to organize these events, perhaps once a month. More reports as they happen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Want more women in Open Source? Donate to Ada Initiative today!

Short version: If you love women, or even like them just a bit, go right now and donate to the Ada Initiative to show the women in your life that you value their contributions past, present, and future to the wonderful world of Open Source. I'm going to make a donation in my grandmother's name this year and I know she'll be happy to have supported such a valuable project.

Long Version

I love Open Source.

When it first came to my attention, in the first year of my degree in software development at Seneca College, I knew we'd be a good fit.  There's something about the spirit of Open Source that instantly clicked with my existing guerilla activist sensibilities.  The way that you just take what you want and make it happen.  That you create and give away. That you work with other passionate people to make cracks in the surfaces of monopolies that only want you to be able to do things through their (usually financially) gated communities.  It reminded me of how I had approached being a filmmaker - taking $50 of Super 8 film and developing it myself in 16L bucket in a dark bathroom then submitting the results to a prestigious film festival and being accepted.  Having my work shown alongside films with budgets bigger than the cost of a house was an amazing experience and taught me that not everything has to be polished to be valued.

Open Source is like that to me, the diamond in the rough.

While I was working on my degree I of course noticed (and was not surprised by) the lack of women in my classes.  I was surprised when I started to get involved in Open Source to discover that there were less women in FOSS than in proprietary software companies. That seriously BLEW MY MIND.  I mean, if Unlocking the Clubhouse is to believed (and it is very thorough research) then technical women want to do work that is meaningful and helps people.  Why that sounds a lot like Open Source doesn't it?  So why aren't there more women in Open Source?  I'll let you Google that question to your hearts content, there's a lot written on the subject and so much more could be.  The point though is that the Ada Initiative is a new project that is here to take on that very question through ACTION.  They will DO things to get more women in Open Source.  Women don't have to be dragged into FOSS kicking and screaming.  Trust me, after seeing the overflowing wait list for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing's FOSS day, there are a ton of talented and smart women interested and able to do work in Open Source.  We (all of us who have already drank the Kool-Aid) need to help them get integrated and feel comfortable staying in FOSS. 

When I first met my future team at Mozilla in April of 2008 there was a woman on my team (!) and she self-identified herself to me as a feminist within the first 5 minutes we were together.  As someone who was coming in as a student with zero experience in professional tech workplaces I was so thrilled to have an immediate feeling of relief, trusting that if she was respected there I would be too.  She also introduced me to wonderful internet properties such as GeekFeminism and Sociological Images both of which helped me start connecting with other feminists in tech fields.  Almost three years later I am starting to feel like I've been successful in building the community in FOSS around me that I want to be a part of.  It's a wonderful mix of the talented people I work with at Mozilla, the folks I'm working on planning the next Dare 2B Digital with, the programmers I organize PyStar workshops with, the Women Who Code, the Women 2.0, and of course - The Ada Initiative.

I'll leave you with their own words about why you should go straight to the donation page:
We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished already.  Since our founding in
early 2011, we helped over 30 conferences and organizations adopt an
anti-harassment policy, organized the first AdaCamp unconference,
provided free consulting on high-profile sexist incidents, wrote and
taught two workshops on supporting women in open tech/culture, and ran
two surveys, among other things.

We need your help to achieve our upcoming goals.  The Ada Initiative
is funded entirely by donations.  Without your financial support, the
Ada Initiative will have to shut down in early 2012.

Your donations will fund upcoming projects like: Ada’s Advice, a
comprehensive guide to resources for helping women in open
tech/culture, Ada’s Careers, a career development community, and First
Patch Week, where we help women create and submit their first open
source patch.  You can learn more about how the Ada Initiative is
organized and operated on our web site and blog:

Whether or not you can donate yourself, you can help us by spreading
the word about our fundraising drive.  Please tell your friends about
our important work.  Email, blog, add our donation button to your web
site, and tweet.  Here’s how:

You don’t have to stand on the sidelines any longer.  You can help
women in open technology and culture, starting today.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My First Startup Weekend: Women 2.0 Startup Weekend

On November 18th, 2011 I jumped into the deep end of the Bay Area startup culture I have been lurking on the periphery of for the past two years of living here. After going to my first Geek Girl Dinner at Microsoft a month ago, and preparing to talk about women in open source at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, it seemed very much up my alley to sign up for the Women 2.0 Startup Weekend held in SF at The Hatchery.  Originally Angie had asked me to be one of the mentors which, while incredibly flattering, seemed beyond my current skill set.  I do always have ideas for new projects/apps though and I've been trying to get even more full on development experience under my belt so it seemed like a deal to get to spend 54 hours working on a startup idea for $50.

I love the immersion-as-classroom experience, btw.  I made my first Super 8 film in 1999 at G.I.F.T.S under similar conditions where I lived with my other new-to-filmmaking cohort in a couple of trailers-turned-bunkhouses over on the beautiful island of Galiano and for one week we did nothing but eat, sleep, and breathe guerrilla filmmaking.  We shot, hand-developed, transferred, and then edited our work, cranking out an entire short film in just one week.  I left that experience filled with confidence that I could make a movie a week for the rest of my life!*
What I was hoping for out of my first Startup Weekend was an up-to-your-armpits code-a-thon and what I got was...very much NOT that. Here's what I got out of Women 2.0 Startup Weekend instead:

Pitching 101
Some people had come prepared.  They had read an email I missed, knew what was supposed to be in a pitch, perhaps even had some code or a site name or some idea of what they would need to take the next step into their imagined company.  I had none of these things.  I had 2 ideas, one of which had occurred to me the week before on a bike ride.  I jotted down my ideas quickly and 'pitched' them to a couple of women I knew from other local events (like my CodeChix pal, Vicki).  Both of my ideas seemed to get people interested and with the help of a few very kind listeners, I chose which one I would officially pitch and worked on naming the imaginary app as well as figuring out what salient points I wanted to get across.  It seemed wise to me to get into the early round of pitchers, little did I know that there would be about 67 pitches.  I was #6 and so it took a long time to get to the point of being able to move about the room chatting people up, which I am sometimes not so good at

What I did: I pitched it, was too shy to really reach out to strangers and try to woo them to my idea, I hid my sign for a while only taking it out when people asked me about it, I got 7 sticky-note 'votes' for it (which was amazing to me), but I already knew that I would not be working on this project over the weekend and I was shopping around for a team that I would be excited to spend my next 54 hours with.
What I will do next time: Work more on my pitch ahead of time, have a clear idea of WHO I would like to join me, go around the room and find people who match those roles, have more research about my 'market' ready to help with the business side of things.
What I wish Startup Weekend organizers could improve: Help people match up by roles - so have all the designers go to one corner, all the marketing folks, all the developers, etc.  Give us a visual of who's there looking to do what so that we can more easily go around and network.  It seems less efficient to me that I would have to go chat up 10 people and perhaps discover that none of them are a match for what I'd be seeking. Even putting this info on people nametags would help - especially for folks who have multiple skills they want to highlight.

A Team is Formed

The eliminations were happening and I already knew I was going to put my idea aside for another time, so I had to figure out where I would lend my energy for the 54 hours to come.  I'd been interested in a project called Safe Steps whose goal was to help independent women set a timer on their travel to ensure safe arrival at their expected destination. I spoke briefly with the woman who pitched it, and I had already learned from a conversation with a volunteer that the pitcher was a seasoned pro at marketing.  I felt like I would learn a lot in that team but I was still checking around for other ideas.  In the chaos of the eliminations I ended up behind a pillar with 4 people (one is a coworker at Mozilla) and two of them I had met briefly when they accosted me, they were looking for people who could program in C (and though I did it in school 4 years ago, I was not about to claim any proficiency). I asked if they had found what they were looking for and inquired about what they were planning.  Judy explained her pitch about doing an educational project with the Kinect to teach language to children. I have experience teaching technology to both youth and adults, so working on anything that helps make educational materials accessible to all types of learners, as well as the possibility of doing hands-on Kinect-hacking for the first time, was all it took to sweep me up into this team that was bouncing off the walls and repeating those magic words: "Kinect" and "education".

Team Roles
We had 54 hours to come up with a demo of our 'company' for a panel of judges to evaluate based on marketability, creativity, and feasibility so when we got our workspace assigned to us at 9:30pm that Friday night we went straight to work. Introductions all around, describing our experience and what drew us to the project, came first and then we divided up into the technical team: James and I, and the Business/Strategy/Research team: Judy, Elsa, and Jen.

Our technical idea seemed simple at first - Grab the Kinect motion data and send it to Processing.js so users could interact with a language learning flashcard game that was one of many 'decks' our 'platform' would support. The initial deck would be a simple game with a bear where the bear calls out a verb, enacts it, then waits for the user to imitate both the motion and the word.  I really did go into this thinking that was simple.  Am I crazy?  Turns out none of that was within our reach in a 54 hour period. The challenges are too many to list completely but here's a few: both James and I were completely new to Kinect-hacking. While open source Kinect hacks exist there were lots of library conflicts, documentation gaps, and finicky installations that led to failure on several frameworks we were trying and build on. I could get the Depth.js example to work in Chrome for a second (but never again for unknown reasons), but couldn't compile the native google plugin from the depth.js project so couldn't write new code for the extension. I couldn't build the OpenNI Sample-NiUserTracker after altering it to add a network tunnel so that it would report data to a node.js server (though I'm happy to have now touched Node.js even just a bit!). By Saturday late evening we had nothing to show except an intimate knowledge of library linking errors and compile failure messages.  There still isn't a ton of material online about how to work with the Kinect data in a usable way.  This actually gets me excited for future projects but at this point in Startup Weekend, we had to get ourselves a demo for Sunday's judging.

We decided to move on to the Kinect SDK that Microsoft provides, we installed Visual Studio 2008 Express and an open source gesture recognition library which allowed us to capture a movement and assign it to a saved gesture namespace.   In the end, our demo was created in a few hours by James using those tools (and a bit of C#) while I came up with some very quick animations objects and put together our landing page.

Needless to say, the weekend was nowhere near being a code-a-thon.  It was surprising to me how long it took to try and get a development environment setup and what I take away from this experience is that when the time comes to work on my own idea, if I bring it to a Startup Weekend, I should have the beginnings of an implementation already and have settled on a framework to build on that I am familiar with so that I can spend more time being creative about the idea and less time fiddling with configurations and installations of unfamiliar code.

Oh ya, but we won!
I should mention that the whole time we were having our ups and downs with the technical side Judy, Elsa, and Jen worked hard at analyzing all the angles of language learning by doing.  I listened in at one point on a very helpful discussion with Cindy Alvarez who asked great questions about "what next?". Sure, verbs and kids are easy and lots of language-learning stops there - how would we push the envelope and take people to other levels?  We had lots of mentors come by, and all of them poked and prodded at the research and story-shaping that the business end of the team was doing. At the end of the weekend our team won first place with a demo that had very little custom code in it, but I think we did well because we told a great story and had an extremely well thought out marketing strategy. When our demo was complete the judges were silent at first.  Finally one of them asked the question we had prepared for "so, after learning verb with bears- what next?" to which I answered that we could build a platform for AI interactions in WebGL 3D space with the Kinect.  Yes, I like to promise technology that doesn't really exist yet.  It sure is exciting to imagine it though.

Some final thoughts
Startup Weekend, to me, felt a lot more like a school project than 'real life'.  This is most likely due to the fact that I have a really great full time job right now and am looking at startup ideas mostly as learning and hobby and not necessarily something I would do for money for a few more years (at least). All the reading I have done about startups gets me thinking that I would likely go the way of bootstrapping and working on my scalable project in my spare time instead of trying to get a big VC investment and leave a steady job for the unknown. In terms of working during the weekend there are lots of ways to fall down rabbit holes and lose focus when you are working on something that is completely new. I love getting to learn about new technologies but there was this time pressure that kept us coming back to a general goal of having something to show at the Sunday evening presentations. The Startup Weekend environment isn't one for coding/development efficiency. It's distracting to have other people and their ideas/surveys/questions coming around a lot and to be working out in the open with your entire team instead of under noise-cancelling headphones as I normally do.  It's not bad, it's just not a focused environment and it's good to know that for next time.  I think it would help me set my expectations differently.  It was important for me to learn that the goal of Startup Weekend is not necessarily to have a working application at the end but to have a really well thought out idea and story about your company's goal.
Speaking of story, come on out to TEDx Women next week where Elsa from Words With Bears will be presenting ours! Most importantly,  I want to say that Words With Bears was a great team to work with. I heard stories of teams falling apart or losing team members, none of that touched us at all. We started strong and we ended strong. We're continuing to stay in touch and aim to develop this idea into something bigger. 

* This is not what ended up happening, but I will always carry with me the knowledge that with little else than enthusiasm, a couple of rolls of film, and willing friends, a tremendous amount of creative output is possible in a short time with no budget.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New to IRC? Never tried it?

Do you shy away from IRC because it seems daunting, complicated, or completely foreign to you? A pretty large chunk of the Mozilla online community lives and breathes in IRC so I encourage you to come give it a(nother) try. I recently updated to help get you started. Hit me up with any questions here or find me as lsblakk in IRC :)

I'll re-visit the instructions soon to write about screen & irssi to keep a perpetual connection going in an attempt to make that option more accessible to folks who might feel it's too technical.