My life hasn’t been “normal” by any means.
I didn’t have a childhood – had to grow up fast.
I started working at a young age of nine, helping my family run a 24-hour convenience store.
I didn’t have the typical college experience – I worked two jobs to put myself through school.
I started a company a couple of years later that was later acquired in 2011.
Comparing my path against my friends since has been the most ordinary my life has been. I have a 9 to 5 job with health insurance, a stable paycheck, and co-workers who have become like a second family. Despite running Girl Develop It and everything else I’m involved in, I have more free time than ever – something that had been unattainable to me for decades. Things generally seem good.
But for months something hasn’t felt right, like a stubborn itch that won’t go away. All I’ve known my whole life is hard work. I’ve struggled to attain everything I’ve achieved.
And you know what? I’m damn tired. Burned out. Exhausted.
I used to quote the mantra “work hard now, play hard later” to justify my work ethic. Fuck that motto right in la culata. I want to go back in time and slap myself silly every time I uttered that sentence. During a recent trip to Costa Rica, I saw how people work to live, coveting relationships with family and friends over the daily grind. I realized that wanderlust and more meaningful relationships are what I want during this stage of my life. To put my career on the back burner for a change and discover who I am without my laptop.
It leads to the reason I’m traveling. I don’t do anything half-way, which is why it’s for a prolonged duration. I will be flying into Quito, Ecuador on May 30th where I’ll stay with a host family while immersing myself in the Spanish language and culture for the first 6 weeks. I move on to Colombia, maybe Venezuela, head down to Brazil, then Argentina and loop back around to Chile and Peru, where I’ll return right before Thanksgiving. I have an idea of where I want to go and what I want to do, but I haven’t made specific plans besides booking a trek on the Inca trail. It’s a solo trip, I don’t know a single person, and I’m hoping family and friends will visit along the way.
My life’s path has been restrictive due to circumstances beyond my control and for the first time in my life, I have the personal and financial freedom to steer away and do what I CHOOSE rather than the limited scope I have been given. I’m looking forward to traveling towards undefined destinations and letting things happen as they may.
When I come back, I plan to tackle the Middle East and then who knows what else. All I do know is that it won’t be following the status quo.
P.S. Recommended reading: “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” – A nurse outlines profound, common themes she witnesses among her ailing patients. The first two ring truest for me.
Many companies offer tuition reimbursement but employees rarely take advantage of it, either because they don’t know it’s available or they’re not sure of how to approach it. Becoming a valuable asset by strengthening or building new skills is a win-win for employees and employers alike. In this post, I’ll share tips and strategies to start the conversation and close the deal.
I approached my boss about taking a design class at University of the Arts during our site redesign last year. I made it clear aesthetics wasn’t my strong suit and it would help me do a better job with the project and others coming up. Coupled with the steps I outline below, my request was granted and I was able to take the $545 eight-week class for free.
I’ve brought up the concept to a few Girl Develop It members. Our classes are $10 to $14 an hour and it should be an easy win to ask for compensation. So far, every member that has tried has been successful. For those that are a little apprehensive, the process is similar to a negotiation. It requires pre-planning to prepare and negate any issues that may appear.
Step 1: Have a plan
- Align it with a project and lead with the interests of the company. Your chance of success will increase if your proposal is framed in terms of benefits to your coworkers or your company.
- Demonstrate how your new skills will increase productivity and revenue. In my case, I mentioned our project pipeline and how improving my design skills will help us when we create new tools, redo our mailings, revamp other elements and so on.
- Show studies of how it will impact the company in a positive way. These two links from NBER and eHow explain how tuition reimbursement attracts new talent, increases loyalty, reduces turnover, creates advancement opportunities, and improves productivity. No one can argue with stats!
Step 2: Anticipate problems that may arise
- Reassure her or him you will not leave right afterwards. It’s a valid concern and you can offer to sign a contract if necessary (and if you’re comfortable with the idea).
- Let them know it won’t impact your time at work. The last thing an employer wants to do is sign off on something that will take you away from your responsibilities, regardless of the long-time benefits. Look for options that allow you to attend night or weekend classes.
- Guarantee a good grade. My company’s policy required I pay for the class upfront and my level of reimbursement directly correlated with my grade. A “B” or higher provided me with the full compensation while a “C” would give me half. A lower grade would mean I would NOT be reimbursed. It’s a fair policy as it ensures employees are taking the course seriously despite not paying out of pocket.
- Offer to train other employees. As an added side-benefit, you can also suggest teaching other employees your newfound abilities to save money & to help them boost their talent.
When the answer is “No”
- Offer to split the cost. When it’s clear the answer is no and you really want to attend a class, suggest dividing the bill before you pull out your check or credit card.
- Don’t give up. If the answer is still no, try again in a few months when the right opportunity arises. You’ve already won because you’ve showed initiative and your boss will file this away mentally for your next performance.
It doesn’t have to be a long or nerve-wracking conversation. Bring it up during a status meeting or when the right moment presents itself. The more you focus on the benefits and advantages it’ll provide to your employer, the more successful you’ll likely be. What do you really have to lose?
As an individual, here are some ways you can help:
- Volunteer: Every meetup requires setup of some kind – whether it’s setting up the space, picking up refreshments, or coordinating with the space host – the list goes on. On top of planning the event itself, the organizers are usually tasked with these logistical tasks. Get involved by sending group organizers an email or a tweet offering your help. It may mean showing up a few minutes early or staying a few minutes late, but it’ll make a big difference. At Girl Develop It for example, we’re always looking for teacher assistants (TA’s) to answer questions and reinforce what our students are learning. A well-organized event is usually a result of the volunteers, and it’s a job that makes for a great experience.
- Lead a session: Sign up to lead a talk about a topic you’ve just learned or something you’re passionate about. You don’t have to be an expert. We’ve found the best teachers are those who have practical experience in the industry, have a specific skillset, and can impart real world experiences and industry best practices to the students. If you’re not comfortable with public speaking, look out for “lightning talks” – five-minute talks – to begin. Getting up in front of a crowd of people is the best way to become a better presenter. What is in your repertoire that you can share?
- Host a project or hack night: We all need to make time to learn something new or dedicate time to a project we may be procrastinating on. At GDI, we hold project nights for our students to practice the new skills they’ve just learned. Typically, they’re at a cafe with free WiFi like Chapterhouse or Good Karma. You can help by taking the initiative to suggest a Meetup to your group (a lot of groups on meetup.com let you do that directly), garner interest, and meet to go through something that interests you, study with a group of people, or develop something. It’s also a great way to make new friends. Company sponsorships provide more incentives to groups by allowing them to subsidize their costs, streamline signups and of course, host affordable events.
As a company, here are some ways you can help:
- Volunteer your space: We’ve had a lot of great spaces for our workshops, such as Indyhall and WHYY, but we are always looking for more to increase our options for hosting classes. Do you have a conference room you don’t use weeknights? A training room set up with a projector? Let the tech community know by leaving a comment or contacting those that are relevant to your interests.
- Sponsor food: This is an easy one. Pick up the tab for pizza and drinks or send a check for a specific amount. Many groups allow 5 to 10 minutes for the sponsor to speak about their company or a position they want to fill. It’s the best way to grab the attention of a bunch of developers in one room.
- Make a donation to a group or event: Send the group organizer an email letting them you would be interested in sponsoring their next event. We usually have to track down companies to do this – anything you can do to make it easier would be vastly appreciated. Speaking of, we have to plug GDI’s brand new Scholarship Fund that helps unemployed women attend our programming classes.
Finally, tech groups can help other tech groups!
- Promote each other’s events: Notice another event that your members may be interested in? Tweet it, share it on Facebook or even better – email your group about it. We’re not competing against each other; let’s spread the love.
- Collaborate on sessions: Throw a joint-event or happy hour (something we want to do more of). Think of some ways you can work together to reach a bigger audience and host better events. After all, two groups can be better than one…or something like that!
For the last two years, I’ve been following Chris Guillebeau’s Annual Review outline to reflect on the past year. I make a list of what went well and what could have been better, then I compare it with my notes from the previous year. Without hesitation, 2012 has been the absolute best year of my life. I’ve grown tremendously, achieved consequential milestones, and accomplished some really neat things if I do say so myself. I didn’t realize just how much until I wrote it all down. When I’m an old, wrinkly grandma, I imagine it’ll fun to reminisce and tell my grandkids about what a geek I used to be. Hopefully they’ll think I’m the cooler than I really am. While I’ll keep the full review to myself, I’ll share some of the fabulous things that made this year so exceptional:
- I moved into my very own apartment for the first time. Twenty-eight years after living at home (As embarrassing as it is, it was a great decision as it made it easier to put myself through school and start a business with lower costs), a one-month stint at an ex’s and eight hellish months with a roommate, I made a home in a cozy studio in Center City, Philadelphia.
- I turned 30. Related, I’m really an adult! I don’t know why but sometimes I still have to remind myself of that.
- I mentored and spoke at many events including Lean Philly, WordPress Philly, IgnitePhilly, Startup Weekend, Temple University, and other tech meetups.
- I helped organize the first Women in Tech Summit in Philadelphia to great success.
- I finally became a U.S. citizen after 22 years! The link will say much more than I can in this short summary.
- I became a foodie. If you talk to old friends or family, they will tell you I had a particularly selective palate. Once I started making money, that went out the window. I now loooove sushi, I’ve had caviar, quail’s egg, beef tongue, bone marrow and other things I can’t think of at the moment that I never would have tried. I think my brain chose this interim picky mentality to lessen the blow of how destitute I was. At least that’s what I’m telling myself!
- I ran the Broad Street run. From the encouragement of my coworkers (4 out of 6 of us did this), I shocked myself by agreeing to do this. While I could have trained better and I hurt my knee during the last two miles (I kept going because I didn’t want to stop which was a bad idea), I’m glad I pushed myself. Will I do it again this year? HELL. NO. Forget about it.
- I made some really good close friends. I’ve always preferred a few intimate friends to a large number of acquaintances and it’s difficult for me to let someone in. A special shout-out to Lisa Burgess who I absolutely adore.
- I went to more concerts – Blue October, Fun., M83, Foster & the People, Florence and the Machine to name those I remember at the moment.
- I got my motorcycle permit! The obvious goal for this year – get a bike! Also, learn how to ride one. Probably in the reverse order.
- I learned to code enough to call myself a front-end developer and created my first site. Thanks Girl Develop It (GDI)!
- I worked my first full year at NetLine. I couldn’t ask for better coworkers. And yay to health insurance and stable pay checks. Who knew how glorious the two would be? I went to a REAL dentist the other day, not the Temple Dentistry Clinic where incompetent students work on your teeth for five times as long for a reduced rate. (Do you sense a little bitterness there, because I totally meant it that way. I hate that place!).
- Thanks to my new citizenship status, I voted in my first election and even better, the candidate I selected was the victor.
- Again, because of my citizenship status, I was able to get my U.S. passport and travel on my first International trip to Costa Rica.
- …where I bungee-jumped! This deserves its own bullet. It was windy, foggy and raining, the ideal setting for someone who doesn’t normally participate in thrill-seeking activities (/end sarcasm and the tram was swaying side to side as we descended into the middle of the rain forest. I looked at my guide like he had two heads, “we’re really going through with this in THIS weather?” He had to count down to 5 three times, peel my fingers from the railing and push me over (Okay, not really). In short while I’m glad I had the experience, I’ll never, and I mean NEVER EVER EVER, do this again.
- I got Lasik surgery. After 15 years of being legally blind (maybe I’m exaggerating a little but it sure felt like it), I still wake up from time to time, pause, and marvel at the wonders of science.
- I donated to more charities than all my adult years combined. My go-to one at the moment: Prajwala India which helps stop sex trafficking in India. The recent horrific gang rape of the 23-year-old student who died a week ago opened my eyes to the horrors women experience there. I’m hoping the woman who runs the organization will get back to me about letting GDI Philly redo their site (fingers crossed). If you’re inclined to help, the donation page can be hard to find so I’m linking to it here.
- Girl Develop It Philly hit some great milestones. Note: there are two links there.
- I assisted TechGirlz in raising money to help spread awareness of the fun of technology to middle-school girls. One day, I may write a blog post about how I was able to raise $2k in an hour from Twitter by capitalizing on a hot news item.
- I supplemented my income in various ways. From blogging, AirBnb, GDI and my full-time job, I was busy working all the angles.
- Girl Develop It and 123LinkIt received a lot of press mentions, including TechnicallyPhilly, Flying Kite, WHYY, NPR & the front page of the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer (woot, woot!).
I can’t wait to have enough of a collection of these reviews that I’ll be able to look back and reminisce about how far I’ve come. Five years ago, I had outrageous dreams about hitting it big while working at my first partnership where I was earning just under $20,000 a year. Ten years prior, I was slaving away at two under-the-table jobs to put myself through school. It’s humbling to reflect at how things have progressed. I can’t wait to move forward even more this year.
Before I end this post, I have to take a moment and say thank you to all the wonderful people who have had an impact on my life – I extend my gracious gratitude and wish you all a happy 2013!
I started this blog in April of 2011 and made it a point to post regularly, no matter how busy I got. Somehow that changed last year. Publishing new posts became sporadic and I only updated my blog for 5 months of the year. This is something I’ll be refocusing in the new year. Even with the low volume, a couple of posts really took off on Hacker News and BlogHer, with the first three receiving the bulk of the traffic. The top five blog posts of 2012 are:
- Marketing 101 for Developers – I spent about 8 hours in this post outlining a step-by-step approach on how to approach marketing a product or business. While I geared it towards technical people more, it can apply to anyone who wants a methodology to follow.
- Living the American Dream – I love this post as it came from the heart and was easiest I’ve ever written. I took some time to recount the road my family has taken since we migrated to Pennsylvania, including immigration obstacles that caused a 22-year-old wait for me to gain my citizenship.
- Finding Interns in Philadelphia – A repeat of last year, this gathered a list of internship opportunities for local universities including who to contact.
- 10 Years Ago - This is also a repeat of last year and I’m surprised to see it here. It’s a story of my life and how I got to where I am today.
I enjoy reading blogs much more than writing them and you can view which ones I follow on the sidebar to the right. Enjoy browsing!
P.S. You can take a look at last year’s list here.