It’s a good thing this blog post was written by a man. If it were written by a woman, she would be vilified among every feminist and mom (both stay-at-home and working ones!) circles. But instead, this blog post is lauded among techies, especially ones that think “omg this describes me to a T[-shape]”.

Women have actually already gone through this “full stack” baloney. Remember “Lean In”? “Having it all”? The plight of working moms? We’ve had these debates ad nauseum, and have come to the conclusion that not everyone can or wants to do everything, we shouldn’t speak down on people who can’t do it all, we shouldn’t put those who can do it all on a pedestal, and we shouldn’t force there to be a single “right way” of doing it.

I was just so glad someone wrote a decent response to the “full stack employee” post.

Unfortunately, the continuous pursuit of professional skillsets tends to diminish the boundaries between work and everything else, leaving you with less and less time to actually grow as a human being. – Elea Chang

Maybe that’s why we’re having such a tough time with diversity in tech. We’re asking people to value those who live and breathe work. Sure, loyalty and passion is great, but not at the expense of enjoying the rest of life. We’re spending so much time trying to do everything ourselves that we can’t understand that being human doesn’t mean being completely self-sufficient…it’s more about understanding enough about everything so you can talk and work with others effectively.

There will still be people and companies who only want “full stack employees” because it will be the buzz-phrase of the year, but I disagree that it’s going to be the future of work. I think it will be a detriment, because there will be constant “no, I’m a bigger polymath, I can do this” and “oh yeah? well can you do that?” that I just don’t know when they’ll ever get any work done. Maybe we’ll just put them in a room together with a bunch of new moms and see how that discussion goes. 🙂

Hipster techie: "I'm a true polymath. I do it all...front end, back end, biz dev, DevOps, Agile, scrum, Axure prototypes, Illustrator mocks, Quartz composer, XCode, Android Studio, Social Media, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Medium, marketing, SEO, I can beg VCs for money, build an IKEA bookshelf, buy organic groceries, use an espresso machine, I could probably change a diaper if I had access to a can't be harder than using XCode, can it? I can program the time on any device...I can---" Mom holding two kids: "--Yeah yeah, that's nice...but can you do all that AND MAKE MILK?"

The Full-Stack Employee vs. The Full-Time Mom

These images were originally published last year in my internal IBM blog, but I thought it would be nice to share it externally, after a recent conversation I had with my designer buddy Tracee.

This is the dawn of design at IBM. There is not only a new IBM Design organization, but also a new way of thinking/working spawned by “IBM Design Thinking.” People have been using design thinking methodologies for a long time, but never have we been formally introduced to it inside IBM. Until now.

Design Thinking requires Thinking

This is how many product teams function today:


So how do we get out of this mode of constantly putting band-aids onto our broken products? At some point we have to start back from the beginning.

Design Thinking – Focus on the User

The most important part of IBM Design Thinking in my mind is the “Discover and Envision” phase. We are good at Defining the Mission and Building and Refining, but we need some help in the initial design phases when we’re trying to wrap our heads around what the problem is and how we can solve it. Here is the gist of what that Discover and Envision phase looks like.

Understand. Interview users and let them tell you about their experiences. IBMer: Hi Mr. User...can you tell me about your day and how you use our product? User: Certainly, I usually wake up around 5:30 in the morning, not because I want to, but because I have this cat...Process the information you gathered. IBMer: These sticky note map exercise really help me understand the users and their experience
Explore. Design is an iterative process. Don't expect to get it right the first time. Don't be afraid to throw things away and start over.
Prototype. Prototyping is a way to quickly build out flows or specific interactions to get user feedback to validate that your design is on the right path. User: Wow, I know this isn't the real thing, but it works just enough to give me an idea of how I would feel actually using it!
Evaluate. Strive for constant feedback. Seek criticism over praise. IBMer: Hey Developer, can we build this? Developer: Well, I uh... IBMer: Hey Mr. User, what do you think about this? User: Well, I uh... (Then Evaluate loops back to Explore in an iterative cycle.)

Design Doing – Great works take time!
Those of you who are traditionally schooled designers already know of this process. But in the crunch of releases and conferences and customers, we too often rush through or shove it aside because we don’t have time. If we spend the time doing this up front, we’ll have less problems in the build/refine stage and we won’t run into the issues we see a lot today. Doing great design takes time.

“YOU CANNOT SHORT CIRCUIT THE PATH TO GREATNESS.” – Phil Gilbert, General Manager of IBM Design

I admit I became interested in watching Halt and Catch Fire when I was flipping channels and I caught the guy saying at the beginning of the first episode that he was from IBM. I almost felt like they must have gotten an ex-IBMer as a consultant to make fun of IBM and amplify the blue-suited corporate weenie stereotype of its employees. But aside from that, I actually found the show to be interesting, especially the portrayal of women in technology.

Two of the main characters are a married couple, Gordon and Donna. Their relationship is strained, and is probably a result of Donna being seemingly more successful (and possibly smarter) than Gordon. If it’s one thing I learned from the book Lean In, it’s that in order for a woman to have a successful career and home life, she needs to marry the right man that is going to support her in her career and pick up the slack at home. That’s not happening here. I admit that I chuckled when Donna asks Gordon if he even knows the name of the kids’ pediatrician, or which one is allergic to apricots.


There is usually one primary parent that handles things like  permission slips or arranging doctor visits or summer camp or baking cupcakes for school parties, and it’s usually the woman. Yes, I’m sure there are some men out there that do it, but traditionally, men never had to worry about any of these things, so it doesn’t come naturally for them. I always found it odd that even before kids, while my husband and I both worked full days at an office, I would be the one that would have to leave work thinking about what to make for dinner. Which is kind of ironic, since back in caveman days, the men would bring home dinner. 😛

I’m not sure that such an accurate and painful portrayal of an alpha female at home who also happens to work in a technology field is  going to help the cause to get more young women into technology. Likewise with the other female character, who is a cocky and volatile coding genius. Makes for good tv, but a frustrating reality.


"Ok, I'm ready to lean in now...just a little higher, guys..." says Sheryl Sandberg standing on top of a plank entitled "Everyone you ever met", held up by people like "Your college roommate", "Old boyfriend", "Girl who called you bossy", "7th grade math teacher", "your mom", and "your dad", as she is about to plunge into a pool of "Success", where there is a shark waiting


I never fully understood the problem I had with “Lean In” until I read “Outliers.”

The basic message I got from “Outliers” is that you owe your success to a million different factors (many of which are predetermined to throw you onto a success track). So many women will read “Lean In” and join a “Lean In Circle” and it will basically do nothing for them because they aren’t already pointed in the right direction, or dare I say it, born with the right personality. I understand what Lean In means and why it was written, but it was really hard for me to figure out how to actually apply the lessons she learned through life to my own life. I could only come to the conclusion that I would never end up like Sheryl Sandberg, because I’m nothing like her. I’m also not sure if she realized how much of her success depended on all of the other people behind the scenes that molded her into the kind of person she is today. Even down to the people who called her “bossy” as a little girl (which I’m sure her siblings did).

I was never called “bossy”. I was called a “know-it-all”, which still bothers me to this day (however, I am sort of that…I enjoy pointing out to people when they are wrong, which is exactly what a “know-it-all” is, not necessarily a person that knows everything :P). I grew up learning not to speak up (unless spoken to), which is why I hate talking in meetings today, unless I’m specifically asked a question. I grew up learning not to draw attention to myself, which is why when my juice box exploded in my backpack in 6th grade, covering my books and papers with fruit punch, I ran to the office in shame and asked that someone be called to take me home. I was the youngest of three, so I didn’t have anyone to be “bossy” to, and I coasted through school because all the teachers knew my two genius older sisters and gave me automatic A’s because I was related to them. (Also why I made the tennis team, apparently.)

Somehow, in a different universe, I could be like Sheryl Sandberg, at the top of a big company, if I had only taken the opportunities given to me and done the right things with them. That’s all it’s really about. What were you given in life, and what did you make with it? Not everyone is given the same things to begin with…not everyone is going to start with a clear path to Harvard, or a clear voice that demands to be heard. The fact is, everyone IS given something, and it’s what you choose to do with it that matters. Not everyone is meant to be the next Sheryl Sandberg, and not everyone CAN be.

I applaud her for telling millions of women not to back down, not to settle, not to give up, but we have to let women know that they aren’t failing if they don’t end up being at the top of a company, or if they marry someone for love and not just someone that will let them “Lean In”, or if they do decide that maybe they want to quit working and be a stay-at-home mom. And let’s take control of things, but not by banning words we think are the reason why we aren’t succeeding, because we might one day realize that being called something when we were little helped to shape who we are today.

I remember way back when IBM Connect was called Lotusphere, there would be two big surprises that everyone waited for…who was going to be the guest opening general session speaker, and at which theme park the big party was going to be. Nowadays the guest opening general session speaker is still a surprise, but there are other guest speakers that are advertised to be there, probably to lure people to the conference. Too bad I found out too late that Scott Adams was going to be there this year! It would have been cool to meet him and just chat for a bit about the Hello, Monday comics that I had done for IBM. Luckily for me, I found someone on the inside to help me deliver a present from me on behalf of all IBMers (at least the IBMers that aren’t embarrassed by my work :P).

I hope he sees it! Here it is below:

Panel 1: IBMer: Man! Today's Dilbert is spot on again! Scott Adams must have someone working on the inside. I just know it! Panel 2: Watson: Here is all the internal IBM data I collected for this month, as requested. Scott Adams: Excellent, Watson. Excellent! Panel 3: Watson: Now when will I be featured in your comic strip, as you promised? Scott Adams: Uh...soon...yeah...oops! gotta go! Panel 4: Watson analysis. 96%: He fooled you. 11%: He is in a hurry. 1%: Toronto. Watson: Hmm...

I’ve been wanting to write about my experience as one of those “elusive” female software engineers, but I haven’t actually had that many experiences with discrimination as a female software engineer than I have trying to become a designer-slash-developer. I think part of it is the culture of the company I work for (IBM), and the fact that there isn’t necessarily a lack of women in the company in all sorts of roles. I never feel hyper-aware if I’m the only woman in a meeting, because people I work with don’t really care what gender I am, as long as I can get the job done. Maybe it’s because I work from home and am usually the disembodied voice on speakerphone…but I really think it’s just because IBM is such a large, old company that we’ve been through the women in technology “crisis” since the late 19th century and have pretty much moved forward since then.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading up on the various experiences that other women go through. It’s hard for me to empathize with some though, especially the ones that refer to breaking the stereotype of a hot woman in heels not being able to write code.



I finally read an article today on that sort of addressed some of the concerns I had, but I was expecting it to be titled “I need ugly female software engineers”. 😛 Seriously though, it’s true as the writer says, women are somewhat held to a higher esteem than men. It’s not enough that a woman is just good at what she does, she also has to be good-looking, amiable, and if applicable, an awesome mother. It’s ok if a really smart and successful male software engineer has no social skills, is a poor dresser, and berates people in public forums…they are just seen as “quirky” but “genius”. There is this belief that girls don’t end up in computer science because it’s just not “glamorous” enough, and that we need to show girls that even those that wear makeup and 4-inch heels and mini skirts can be fierce as a programmer. Maybe women out there who are in tech should just keeping doing what they’re doing and be more outward about it, blog more, talk more about it like men more often do, and then it will become a goal of young girls to “be in computer science” rather than to “be a female in computer science.”

It’s natural that people who have a common background tend to stick together and form an immediate bond even if they just met. This is definitely the case with anyone who has ever worked at IBM. The culture at IBM is…special.

howtotellibmersOk, for the most part, people don’t wear suits much, but I do remember there being a dress code at one IBM site where I used to work and there were specific articles of clothing that were allowed/not allowed. Jeans were not allowed. Culottes were ok. I’m serious, the email listed “culottes”.

I want to share an IBM comic that didn’t make the cut but still makes me chuckle. I know that people can take this the wrong way, but I’m not saying that IBMers are bad parents. I know I’m guilty of giving my kid a third bowl of Lucky Charms so she will sit quietly while I’m on a conference call. But there is something funny about taking being an IBMer to the extreme and letting the behaviors leak back into your home life.

So your parent is an IBMer

Let me explain the last panel for non-IBMers in the audience. At the beginning of the year in IBM, everyone writes down a set of goals they plan on achieving by the end of the year, called “Personal Business Commitments”. At the end of the year, managers get together to determine how employees measured up and whether people achieved/met their goals, exceeded their goals, or did not meet their goals. The rating you receive at the end of the year determines how much your bonus is, if you get one at all. Poor little Timmy in the last panel didn’t meet his “Personal Family Commitment” goals. Maybe he wasn’t realistic about his goals. Maybe he didn’t do a good job letting his parents know what he was doing throughout the year to help the family out. Or maybe it’s because he’s relatively new to the team. 😛 Well, at least he didn’t get a sack of coal.


This really hit hard for me the other day when I tweeted about a 16-person conference call I was on and someone I didn’t really know replied and wondered if we worked at the same company. Turns out we did, unfortunately. I’m not saying it’s like this all the time where I work. In fact, you might relate to this even if you worked elsewhere…in corporate America. The sad thing is that I could probably continue to poke fun at conference calls every month and people will still giggle about it.


I never realized how easy it is to patent something, until I started working for IBM. There is a really great program there that rewards employees for patents filed and articles published. It benefits the company because it can keep continuing its reigning championship of “Most Patents Awarded to a Company Ever”, and it benefits you because you get money. Every so often I realize how ridiculous patents really are and I am seriously amazed by the things that actually get patented. I can’t tell if lawyers reading these ideas are seriously interested and believe in the system, or if they laugh all the way to the USPTO with your application.

IBM recently announced its patent leadership is now up to its 20th year in a row. There is an IBM Tumblr with some posts dedicated to the inventive spirit of the company, and you can go there to learn more about it. Or you can stick around here and read my latest IBM internal comic poking fun of some patents that may or may not exist.

Patents IBM may or may not actually be working on

I just can’t resist feeding a little gremlin when it is close to bedtime, if he says something like this:

And after feeding him, I absolutely have to give him more food, if he does this: