It’s been a pleasure speaking to groups around North Dakota this past week, in part because I was asked a lot of intelligent questions, which really forced me to think about the answers.
One young woman asked how I maintained a positive attitude when times were difficult, when my husband died, when there is a seeming unending pile of work to do, when my children are heading in what I think is the wrong direction.
The answer is that I try every day to wake up grateful, and it really is pretty easy if you are realistic and honest about your situation.
Read any history book – and not ancient history, either – about people breaking the film of ice on the pan of water IN THEIR HOUSE, as they started their day, to wash clothes or make coffee.
Even today, people wake up sleeping under bridges, on the ground in refugee camps. I’ve lived in old houses where the wind blows through cracks in the winter.
North Dakota is cold and for almost the entire history of the world there wasn’t much anyone could do about it. Yes, people discovered fire, hunted, had deer skins, tipis. However, it was nothing like the last few days when I woke up every morning, warm and comfortable, in well-insulated houses, on soft mattresses under a pile of quilts.
Being at Minot State University reminded me of my own graduate school days at the University of Minnesota. They had tunnels under the campus, connecting buildings, for which I was extremely grateful because I was a broke, graduate student and I didn’t have enough money to buy a lot of warm clothes. Any time I had to go outside between buildings, I was SO cold.
These days, buying long underwear, gloves, warm coats, is something I don’t even give a thought. If I need it, I get it. Half the clothes I didn’t even buy – my daughters gave me sweaters and coats for Christmas or because they had more than they could use.
Maybe you think it’s silly to wake up grateful that I have warm clothes and a soft bed in a warm house, but I think it’s objective. There was a point in my life when I had neither. Most of the people who ever lived on this earth had nowhere near the level of comfort that I wake up to every day. If they (or me, decades ago), could be magically picked up and dropped into my life, their first thought on waking up would be,
“Oh my God, this is amazing!”
After laying in bed with that thought for a few minutes, I get out of bed.
Years ago, a friend of mine was in college and had an old, beat up car that leaked oil on to the street where it was parked, which, for some reason annoyed her elderly neighbor. When we returned from a trip overseas competing for the U.S., there was a notice on her car – the neighbor had reported the car as abandoned and we got home just in time to stop the city from towing it away. As a joke, the coach got her a bumper sticker that read, “This is not an abandoned vehicle.”
It’s almost two weeks since I last posted. Contrary to appearances, this is not an abandoned blog!
I just this minute – hurray, tap-dancing – submitted a grant I’ve been working on for the past two weeks.
While writing the grant this week, I’ve been in North Dakota, first giving a presentation on Using Native American Culture to Increase Math Performance. You can see a bit of it that was shown on the local TV station here.
After meeting lots of students at Minot State, we headed over to the Minot Job Corps and I met with students and faculty, talking about our games, starting a company and life in general.
On to New Town, on the Fort Berthold Reservation where I met with the staff and students from the Boys and Girls Club, again, gave demonstrations of our games, and threw a judo demonstration in along with it.
Along there somewhere, I finished the final report on our Dakota Math project that once again found significant improvement in performance of students who played our games, hired two more employees, signed another consulting contract, had way too many meetings and squashed a few bugs in the games.
Tomorrow, I head home to Santa Monica, for two weeks, until I head out to Fort Totten, ND. In the meantime, I’m back to blogging. Did you miss me?
Many years ago, I was walking through the exhibits at the county fair with my late husband (he was alive then, that’s why he was able to walk with me) and I lamented,
Look at those quilts. My grandmother makes quilts. Look at those crocheted tablecloths. My other grandmother crochets. Look at me – what do I make?
My wonderful husband turned to me and said in his good-old-boy, country accent,
Money. That’s what you make that your grandmothers didn’t make. You make money, darlin’.
Everyone is posting pictures of the cute Halloween costumes their mom made for them or that they made for their children. I never made a Halloween costume in my life, but here is a copy of some code I finished last weekend that makes a graph with different types of pastries. Another function I wrote (not shown here) changes it from Spanish to English. If you get it correct, it takes you to another problem that does bar graphs with actual bars.
I didn’t make a costume but I did make money from working on this project which The Spoiled One can use to buy whatever costume she likes.
Funny how a random sight can jog a memory, like today when I was walking around the neighborhood, taking a break from the marathon push to get our newest game out the door.
It was November 11, 1985. I was about eight months pregnant, and about two months into my doctoral program at the University of California. I came home to a surprise – 11 dozen tropical flowers on my doorstep. I called my still relatively new husband at work. Nope, he hadn’t sent them.
It wasn’t my birthday. It wasn’t our anniversary. It was too early for Christmas.
A couple of days later, I got a call from my sister. She had sent them to commemorate the one-year anniversary of me winning the world championships. She couldn’t believe I hadn’t remembered.
In the year since, I had married, moved to a new city, gotten pregnant, quit my job as an engineer, started a new job as a middle school math teacher and started on my Ph.D.
That day, at the world championships, winning seemed the most important thing in life.
A few months before, I had been in Europe. I competed at the British Open and placed third. Then, I went to the Tournoi d’Orleans and placed fifth. Not only was it the only time I had represented my country and come home empty-handed, but I hurt my knee, again, in London and tore something in my thumb in France. These were not little injuries, either. I’d had surgery on that knee less than two months prior. By the time I was 50, I needed a total knee replacement. My thumb doesn’t really work. I’ve been putting off surgery on that for years because, I mean, who really needs two thumbs and I’m busy.
So, two career-ending injuries, a loss and in pain. I had a layover in St. Louis where I was supposed to meet up with my sister. I cried all the way across the Atlantic but thought, at least I’ll see my sister. I got to St. Louis, called her house and she wasn’t home. She’d forgotten I was coming. Cell phones were 20 years in the future. Did I mention that I was in the middle of getting divorced and in a custody fight?
I got back on the plane, flew to Los Angeles, couldn’t remember where I had parked two weeks ago, limped around the airport parking lot for half an hour carrying my luggage (roller bags weren’t a thing yet), finally, found my car and drove home. I’d lost, no one loved me and I didn’t know if I’d be able to compete ever again. It was the worst day of my life.
I hadn’t thought of that day in the past twenty-five years. You’d think it would make me depressed to remember that, but it actually made me smile at how naive I was in my twenties. There have certainly been worse days than that. I lost that custody battle – temporarily. My new husband died when I was in my thirties.
Now THAT should make me depressed, certainly. Oddly, it doesn’t.
What it all reminded me is that you get over things – or you should. My same sister laughed at me, in a friendly way, when I told her I was going to school to get a doctorate. She said,
You just accomplished something that would be most people’s goal for a lifetime and now you go and set another one.
That’s as it should be. As The Spoiled One brilliantly advised me one day when I was frustrated trying to solve some programming problem:
Life is long, Mom. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.
So, my thought for the day is this:
Whether you think today is the worst day of your life or the best day of your life, if you keep going, it will get better.
Feel smarter after reading this blog? Want to be even smarter? Check out what I do on my day job – adventure games that teach math and Native American history. Buy for yourself or donate for a child or school.
Your mileage may vary, your life may vary, but there are a few lessons worth learning . As a public service, I have decided to share with you things I thought I knew but was initially wrong about.
- Your children don’t actually consider you a person until they are nearly 30 (if ever).
Many years ago, when teaching adolescent psychology, I remember the textbook author saying that most people really don’t consider their parents as people until they are in their thirties. At the time, my children were very young, and I thought that was just a ludicrous statement. Now, I’m pretty sure that he was right. I can’t tell you the number of young adults I have seen treating their parents in ways that they would never treat anyone else. Doubt me? Consider an adult in his/ her twenties whose parent is paying part (or all) of their rent. I know plenty of people in this situation, some are employed but ‘want to live somewhere nicer’ than they can afford. Others want to ‘follow my dream’. Those same young adults would never expect their friend, boss or co-worker to pay their rent – because, well, why the hell would another person who doesn’t live with you support you? Maybe that other adult (your parent) has a dream to travel the world or open a knitting school or spend all their money on cheap women and expensive whiskey.
(For those who wonder if this is personal, I would like to note that all of my children are self-supporting except for the one in high school, and I have no interest in spending my money on cheap women – or knitting schools. I do like expensive whiskey.)
Speaking of personal, though, lesson number one was brought home to me recently when I was complaining to The Perfect Jennifer about something stupid and unimportant, like having to walk down to the bank to deposit a check. I apologized for rambling on and made a comment about being a complainer and she corrected me,
“No, Mom, really you’re not. You never complain about the things like having to take care of three kids by yourself after Dad died, while starting a company at the same time. I’ll bet that was hard. It sounds really hard.”
She was 29.
This is the first time any of my children actually acknowledged that it was difficult for me, too. I have to say, that made my day. It WAS hard. A friend of mine lost her father when she was in high school, and she was telling me that it wasn’t until she was in her forties and had her own children in high school that she thought about all of the things her husband does and how hard it would be to take care of everything without him.
My point isn’t that their father’s death wasn’t unbelievably hard on the children, nor that I expected them to feel sorry for me when they were little kids. It is simply this, as children, everyone sees their parents primarily in terms of fulfilling their own needs, basically in terms of how they can use them. Children see the world as centered around them.
We often don’t consider our parents as actual adult humans with their own feelings, aspirations, difficulties, strengths and weaknesses until we become adults ourselves. Sometimes, not even then.
—– Want to learn even more ?
Play yourself, buy it for your children (however they think about you!)
Let’s get this out right up front – I have no question that there is discrimination in the tech industry. I gave an hour-long talk on this very subject at MIT a couple of weeks ago, where I pointed out that everyone’s first draft of pretty much everything is crap – your first game, first database – and some people we give encouragement and other people we give up on.
That’s not my point here. My point is that sometimes we are our own barriers by not applying to positions. Let me give you two examples.
First, as I wrote on my 7 Generation Games blog earlier, we reject disproportionately more male applicants for positions but yet our last four hires have all been men. This may change with the current positions (read on to find out why).
For the six positions we have advertised over the last couple of years, the application pool has looked like this:
We had one woman apply for the previous internship position we advertised, and we ended up hiring a male. If you look at this table, the odds of a woman being hired – 1 in 3, are greater than the odds of a man being hired, 1 in 5.5 . Yet, we hired twice as many men as women.
Why is that? Because more men apply. More unqualified men apply, which explains our higher rejection rate. If we explicitly state, “Must work in office five days a week”, we will get men (but no women) applying who live in, say, Sweden, and want to know if maybe that is negotiable (no.)
We have also recently filled 3 positions, and will soon fill two more, without advertising. In one of those cases, the person (male) contacted us and convinced us that he could do great work. All four of the other positions were filled by personal contacts. We called people we knew who were knowledgeable in the field and asked for recommendations.
We happen to know a lot of people who are Hispanic and Native American, so 3 of those positions ended up going to extremely well-qualified people from those groups. The one woman we hired out of those five positions was actually recommended by my 82-year-old mother who said,
“Your cousin, Jean, is a graphic artist, you should check out her work.”
As you can see from the photo of the 6-foot banner she made for us, she does do good work.
I see two factors at work here:
- Women are less likely to nominate themselves. While men will apply even if their meeting the qualifications seems to be a stretch (or a delusion), women are less likely to do so. I don’t know why. Fear of rejection?
- People are recommended by their networks and women seem to be less plugged into those networks. This is also true of minorities. We make no special effort to recruit Hispanic or Native American employees but since that is a lot of who we know, it is a lot of who THEY know and hence a lot of our referrals.
How do you increase your proportion of female applicants? You are going to laugh at this because it is the simplest thing ever. This time around, I wrote a blog post and tweets that specifically encouraged females to apply. And it worked! Well, maybe you would have predicted that, but not me. I would never have guessed.
Do you really want to hire Latino graphic artists or software developers? Come to the next Latino Tech meetup. Bonus: the food is awesome.
My point, which you may have now despaired of me having, is that affirmative action is a good thing on both sides. By affirmative action I mean being pro-active. If you are from an under-represented group, APPLY. Invite yourself to the dance. If you are an employer, reach out. It could be as easy as having a margarita during Hispanic Heritage Month or writing a blog post.
In both cases, you might be surprised how little effort yields big results.
Don’t forget to buy our games and play them. Fun! Plus, they’ll make you smarter.
I’m just sitting here in Boston airport waiting to catch the bus to Rhode Island. For some reason, the WordPress app on my iPad doesn’t want to upload the images I downloaded from my phone. This is the sort of thing I would often get upset about. I also have several emails to answer already and it’s not even 5 am at home.Landing here is a bit of travel down Memory Lane because my daughter, Ronda, lived here for a few years while training for the Olympics and my other daughter, Maria, lived here with her for family for a few years, right after she had her first child.
Coming back to places always makes me reflect on what has happened in the time intervening. Life has been a rush lately – startup incubator, doing a seed round, making games, hiring – all of the things that go into moving from being a small business to a big one in a short period of time.
Everyone I know spends a lot of time worrying. When Ronda lived here, she was unhappy being away from home but convinced in her own mind that she needed to be here to develop further in judo. She did improve a lot, but did she really need to stay as long as she did? Who knows? When Maria lived here, they bought their first house, which they liked a lot, but then her husband decided to change jobs and they moved in rapid succession to Silicon Valley and then to Santa Monica (Silicon Beach). She worried a lot about how they were going to pay the bills and find a house big enough for three kids. As for me, I worried about all of my kids all the time, about Jenn living in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the country, and trying to find a job with a history degree.
So … what happened? Well, Ronda went into mixed martial arts and movies, Maria and her husband started two businesses between them, Maria and Ronda wrote a book that has been on the New York Times bestseller list for weeks, Jenn got a teaching credential and masters degree from USC, got a job, married and moved into a house in the valley. Just as a random fact, Julia was on the Homecoming Court for her high school yesterday.
So, what did I worry about and what good did it do?
I want everything to be perfect all of the time. I do. This may explain some of my successes, but it also results in not being nearly as happy and relaxed as I could be.
Why CAN’T everything be perfect all of the time?
When I was about 10 years old, I asked my grandmother this exact question. She stopped cleaning the house and answered me very seriously.
Do you know what you get when the sun shines all of the time? A desert. There is a saying, ‘Into every life a little rain must fall.’ If you don’t have bad times, you won’t appreciate the good ones.
That’s definitely true for me. When I was younger, I had to make weight for judo tournaments, and that sometimes meant going without eating for a couple of days before weigh-ins. Ice cream has never tasted as good as it did right after weighing in. One reason I appreciate sleeping until 10 am – or I did before we started ramping up 7 Generation Games – is that there were years when I was going to school full-time and working full-time or working 3 jobs when my husband was sick and I had a family to support, that I never got enough sleep. So, just getting 8 hours sleep is something I appreciate every time it happens (and I assume will appreciate even more when I get back to the point where I can do it again).
It’s also true, that just like my grandmother pointed out that the rain makes the flowers grow, the stresses and difficulties make us better and stronger. Ronda learned judo, Jenn learned history, Maria learned marketing and I have learned more about financing and scaling up than I thought possible in such a short period of time.
Quit looking at what you haven’t got and start looking at where you’re going.
That, my dears, is the secret to happiness.
Do you really need to document everything?
Those who say that there is no such thing as a stupid question might be reconsidering their position right about now. Of course we need to document everything!
Perhaps my reluctance stems from my hatred of technical writers. If you are a tech writer and are a decent human being, the next time we are at the same event, please come up and introduce yourself. I would like to see what you look like. All of the technical writers I ever knew well were evil, which made me suspicious of the rest of you. I should also note here that if you respond to this by posting hateful comments you will have only reinforced the stereotype of tech writers = evil.
Supposedly, tech writers are hired because of their ability to communicate well, which makes me wonder why they insist on making such insulting comments as:
I translate what the programmers wrote into English so the normal people can understand it.
I take what the engineers say and put it into complete sentences.
Everyone knows that software engineers can’t communicate with other humans.
Hey, tech writers, you do know we’re standing right here and we can hear you, right?
Animosity toward an entire semi-profession aside, I caught myself wondering how much documentation was really necessary. I was looking through some code I had written months before, which, I have to confess had almost no comments in the code and no documentation anywhere outside of the code. Even though I hadn’t looked at it in four months (there was a comment with the date created!), I found it pretty easy to read and got to thinking that perhaps documentation was over-sold by literature majors who couldn’t find jobs.
Then, an uncharacteristic burst of rationality overtook me and I realized that our company is growing. The code was pretty clear to me because I’m fairly familiar with the canvas tag and using canvas for graphics. The program used two libraries with which I’m familiar – jquery and a library for making charts. There were 50 other ways the program was easy for me to read because I wrote it using what was easy and familiar for me. However, we’re a growing company, and as The Invisible Developer reminded me, whether it happens kicking and screaming or I go quietly, the handwriting is on the wall and I’m going to be doing less coding and more CEO’ing.
I know that if HE were to have taken the same program, there would be much swearing going on upstairs right now.
So, yes, documentation appears to be more necessary than originally believed.
Is the solution for me to go through and document everything? Sigh. If only I had infinite time.
What I think might work and be a good idea for a new employee is to have him or her start off with reading some of the code and documenting it. That would be a good way to get familiar with what we are doing before diving into a project. It would also be a good way for us to verify if that person understands what is going on in a particular piece of code.
Or, one might say that was a lazy way for me to get out of writing documentation – if one were a tech writer.
My ISP is currently not allowing me to upload or insert image files. Show your sympathy for me by buying games. The games will make you smarter, amuse you and enable me to afford a better host. Everyone wins!
Start-ups are all about buzzwords – innovation! disrupt! billion!
We’re going to disrupt the something something something with our innovation that will bring us a billion dollars! Hurray! VCs , give me money!
We’re part of the Boom Startup Ed Tech accelerator for twelve rapid-fire weeks. Three weeks in, much disruption has occurred. We’ve moved over to Amazon Web Services, which gives us less down time and more opportunity for scaling up quickly in response to a rapidly rising number of users. It also meant we had to move over our mailboxes. Our method of counting website visits changed to require a minimal time on the site to be counted, eliminating webcrawlers (which don’t buy stuff) and only counting humans (who do buy stuff). That’s good, but it shows a drop in our site visits.
We moved the databases over the weekend to minimize inconvenience for our users, but there was still a period of more than 12 hours when people could not play our games because they could not access the server that maintains the game state.
The advice from the mentors was to focus on school sales as opposed to selling to individuals. That’s reasonable – in one school, 200 – 1,000 students might play our games. School sales will increase revenue and users much faster than individual sales.
It’s a great idea to focus on schools but during the first week of school, teachers and administrators are too busy to hear about your new software. So, our consumer sales are down because we are spending more time meeting with school personnel and our school sales aren’t up yet.
In preparation for raising investor funds, we’ve been asked to research and prepare a lot of documents. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask what the Total Available Market is for adventure games that teach math, social studies and English. It’s reasonable to ask how many students are at the grade levels that we intend to address. There are a lot of other questions we should be able to answer, including cost of acquiring customers, whether activities like this blog, twitter or events like tweet-ups pay off. We should be collecting and analyzing data on number of new users and active users.
However, doing all of that takes time away from contacting schools and telling them how wonderful our games are. One of the mentors suggested we should be making 100 contacts a week with educators. which is very reasonable. It comes out to about 7 a day from Maria and I each. How are schools going to know about us if we don’t call, email or visit them personally? From spam in their mailboxes? I doubt that.
Everything requested sounds like a good idea, and, in fact, is a good idea. The problem is finding time for all of these good ideas plus making the games and analyzing data coming in to demonstrate the games’ effectiveness.
We’re working more hours than ever. Maria missed her daughter’s first day of school. I missed my daughter’s first two soccer tournaments of the year. I’m writing this post today while watching her team play.
No matter how many soccer games or first days of school we miss or hours earlier we get up, there are not enough hours in the day to do everything. We will work it out, persevere and power through. Disruption always sounds a lot better when it’s happening to someone else.
Speaking of schools – if you know a teacher, principal or school administrator looking for games that make you smarter and have the data to prove it, send them my way: email@example.com
I certainly understand how you could think that all CEOs are rude and all investors are assholes but it’s really not quite that simple.
This occurred to me today as for the 4th (or was it 5th?) time in a row, I told someone talking to me that I had to go because I had a meeting. It wasn’t one long-winded person, either. Basically, every person I talked to today, I eventually hung up on to go do something else.
There were plenty of emails I didn’t return, calls I didn’t answer, copies of receipts I did not send, letters I didn’t mail and requests for meetings I turned down.
“No, I’m very sorry. I cannot speak at your conference.”
“No, I can’t speak to your students about careers in the game industry. Perhaps someone else in our office can attend.”
My first meeting was at 7:30 am. It’s now 11:30 pm and I just realized I owed someone copyright forms from a month ago but in the intervening month I’ve been in North Dakota, Brazil, San Jose, Salt Lake City and back home again. So, they are getting scanned and submitted now.
Building a product and simultaneously building a company is hard work. Here is my schedule for tomorrow:
- Fix bug in path after first math challenge in Forgotten Trail
- Write summary of bonus level for Keith to code
- Attend meeting on investor reporting
- Write contract for data analyst
- Finish pages for teaching lowest common denominator
- Draft financial model for meeting on Thursday
… and a whole lot more.
It’s not that I don’t think the person asking for the meeting, receipts or information in their email is important, but there is not enough of me to go around. I think it will always be like this. Time management has nothing to do with it. The better you get in your profession, the more people want a piece of you. You will have to turn some down and put others off.
What about investors? They have it pretty soft, though, right? Why are they such jerks to people? The truth is, they aren’t really, although it might seem that way. Let me explain
The fact is that many investors were at one time CEO, CTO, CMO or some other C involved in building a company. They put in years of getting up at 7:30 am and going to bed at midnight so when you come waltzing in with “a dream and a team” saying you are going to have 40% of an $8 billion market within 18 months, they mentally file you in the folder of “wasting my time”.
Because they know what it takes to be successful, they are going to ask you a lot of questions about everything from market size to sales strategy to cash flow analysis. They also aren’t going to give you a lot of time to answer and if you don’t have the answers they often will dismiss you out of hand.
That doesn’t mean they’re jerks so much as realists, and laboring under the same time crunch they were as C- whatever- O . Imagine if you had several million dollars to invest, the number of people who would be trying to get in to pitch their idea to you. Maybe you are still doing some of whatever made you that millions of dollars in the first place.
Yes, I am sure there are some CEOs and investors out there who are arrogant jerks, but a lot more are just trying to fit into the hours in the day the accomplishments that make you want to take up more of their time than they have available to give you.