Let’s Talk about Failure

Tell me about a time you failed. What’s your biggest weakness? Talk about a time when your project didn’t go well.

These questions — and those like them — are often tricky. When we are interviewing, we are scared to reveal too much about our downsides. But the failure isn’t about you being imperfect. The hiring manager already knows you’re not perfect. You’re human, after all, and will make mistakes.

The only people who haven’t made mistakes are those who never try anything outside of their comfort zone.

An analogy here is helpful.

My family was checking in for a trail ride, while on vacation. The ranch hand asked us to rate our horseback riding experience levels. Our oldest son claimed to be an intermediate rider. While he’s only 13, his traditional summer camps have given him ample opportunity to ride. The ranch hand asked one simple follow-up question, “Have you ever fallen off a horse?” Nick laughed and said, “Oh, yeah!” By this simple admission of failure — of falling off and getting back on — he established himself as someone who just might be an intermediate level rider. You see, those who have never fallen off a horse clearly haven’t ridden much.

Don’t worry about admitting failure. Claim your mistakes and failures as evidence of great deeds tried and lessons learned.

Here’s how to answer.

Step 1: Choose something meaningful. The interview process is about getting to know you. Pick a time when something actually went wrong and something that was actually your fault.

Step 2: Talk about how you discovered your mistake. You’re demonstrating your techniques for both self-awareness and the monitoring of your work.

Step 3: Talk about the recovery. How you respond to failure and fix problems is essential. Failure will happen from time to time. You should demonstrate your ability to address the immediate issues and move forward.

Step 4: Talk about what you learned. Henry Ford wrote, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” Describe what you learned about your industry, about leadership, about yourself and what you now do differently as a result of your mistake.

If you ride enough, you will fall off. You don’t need to be embarrassed about falling. Just keep riding!

Reflections from Grace Hopper Celebration

Last week I had the honor and privilege of speaking at the Grace Hopper Celebration. This year was my first year presenting, and first year attending. I emerged tired and inspired. My three key reflections are: 

  1. GHC stands for Grace Hopper Celebration. While GHC can be confused with a conference, the “C” stands for Celebration, not for Conference. The difference is importance since it really set the tone for a fun, celebratory atmosphere. Watching so many awards for various achievements was inspiring all by itself.
  2. Melinda Gates shared in her keynote that many paths lead into technology. In addition to the many paths into tech, we have many places to end up in tech. The breath and diversity of companies at the Career Fair was truly stunning. Everyone from Neiman Marcus and Macy’s to traditional tech like Microsoft, Apple, Google to emerging Twitch and some companies that are just starting out. Plus universities were recruiting these top minds. And most surprising to me where the stolid companies who are so heavily reliant on tech to perform their own digital transformation to be relevant in the 21st-century. The US Federal Reserve System and my beloved United States Navy. All these organizations are seeking these great, capable, technical experts to help their organizations move into the future. 
  3. The diversity of all this diversity proved that we as individuals do not succeed. When we succeed, it is always as a team. We succeed together. There’s room for all of us, various places for us to be 

In conclusion, I left the Grace Hopper Celebration with a renewed sense of pride in Microsoft and in my sisters in technology.


Getting Better by Getting Bored

When was the last time you were bored? When was the last time you lay on the grass, imaging dragons and bunnies in the clouds? When was the last time you let your mind wander without a pre-determined destination? Sat alone in silence? Daydream?

In our modern era, busyness is considered by some to be a badge of honor, or an addiction, and we are too busy to read to our children or to take vacations. Why would we even want to be bored? We feel the pressure to squeeze every productive moment from our day.

Except that we’re not being productive. We’re being busy.

When we get bored, we meet ourselves in the silence. And when we know ourselves, we know what success looks like for us. And then we can create that success and leave everything else behind.

In 2014, researchers discovered that boredom drove creativity even more than relaxation.

Find time to day to let your mind wander. Turn off the radio in the car. Leave your phone at home while you walk the dog.

Enjoy your boredom!




Following Your Heart into Success

Like many veterans, I put on my first uniform as a teenager. My last job interview was at the pizza parlor next to my high school. In the Navy, my career path was handed to me, my jobs were given to me, the result of a Byzantine, bureaucratic process. My voice mattered very little in what I would be doing next.

During transition, the world was open to me. That’s exciting! The world is a great, big place and the options were wide, and varied. I could become anything I wanted. I could teach Shakespeare at a small mid-western college, be a country music DJ in Tennessee, I could do anything!

The possibilities were endless and overwhelming. And I was scared. I was scared that I wouldn’t get a job, scared that I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills, scared that I wouldn’t — that I couldn’t — be successful as a civilian. Fear entered my heart.

So, I took the first job that was offered that paid well. Fear ruled my heart. And it was a disaster. The company was a complete mismatch. The job was awful, and my boss lied to me. I didn’t even realize that there were people out there who would do that. He lied to me, and I left.

This next time, I took a job that I enjoyed, a job that I looked forward to every day. Well, maybe not every day — let’s say, most days. Success followed.

You can be successful too. Don’t be like me. Don’t let fear rule your heart, and force you to take a job because of the paycheck.

If you follow your heart, follow your passions, don’t give into the fear, you will be happy in your life and success will follow success.

And once you’ve landed, you need to turn around and bring your buddies along. We do this as a habit in the military. We don’t leave people behind.  When you reach your success, turn around and help those shipmates and battle buddies who follow you.


They Nearly Got Me

The training comes every year, and every year we go through it. Phishing, spear-phishing, malware, Trojans, ransomware, viruses, worms, click-bait. The adversary is out there and they are good. So we go through training. And me, I’m a certified IT Security professional. I have a degree in Information Assurance, for goodness sakes!

And still. Today, they nearly got me. Continue reading “They Nearly Got Me”

Waze is why I’m not afraid of SkyNet

Where am I going?

Waze is one of my favorite apps. Last year, I was visiting Phoenix and meeting some friends at a local pub. They had given me a name, and not an address. No problem, I’ll just enter the name into Waze. The first (and only!) choice presented to me was a pub in England. Turns out, I got the name wrong. Waze had access to a number of things about me. It knew that I wasn’t near home. It knew the local time. It knew that I had gone to a hotel the night before and left there in the morning. In short, it knew that I was on a trip.

What it couldn’t figure out was that I wanted to go to a local pub rather than a pub in England.

Artificial intelligence has a way to go (sorry, couldn’t resist) before it crosses over into Skynet-like activity.

As a young girl, my mother took me to an academic conference on artificial intelligence. These were the early days of AI. We were just started to work on the definition of what AI meant. One of the presenters described an AI medical system that could analyze symptoms and present a diagnosis. After multiple demonstrations of this amazing capability, the doctor was bored. And it struck him. One working definition of a true AI would be one that could get bored.

It’s as good as any definition I’ve heard. Although I would be happy if my map could simply figure out that I wanted a beer more than a plane flight.

Headlines, Marines, Airmen, Trains, Sheep and Bystanders

Herding dog in a pasture in the mountains. Carpathians

The headline could have been much different. The headlines have been much different. Gun attack kills 12, or  Horrified passengers witnessed brutal slaying, or — oh, no, you don’t need to see more. You know. Whether the motive is criminal or terrorist, the enemy is at the gates. Today, the headline is as scary and infinitely less tragic. Three Wounded, Shooting on Train Averted, and President thanks ‘heroes’ who overpowered gunman.

The short version of events is this: Americans (initial reports said Marines, see postscript for thoughts about the differences between the services — they were Airmen) overheard the gunman loading his weapon in the restroom. They confronted him when he emerged and subdued him.

Why did they attack him when the people on the train in DC, less than two months ago, did nothing? Examining the difference between the two incidents is important and instructs us in our values and our culture. The people on the DC Metro cowered in a corner, afraid for themselves and their family. They felt powerless and therefore they were powerless.

Continue reading “Headlines, Marines, Airmen, Trains, Sheep and Bystanders”