From 13 to 3: Lessons I’ve learned

April 3rd, 2018

Yesterday was my last day at IBM after 13.5 years. While it’s hard to believe I have spent my entire professional career in one company, the different roles and opportunities that have been afforded me make it seem like I’ve worked in at least 5 different places. Not to mention, I grew up while at IBM: I started as a new grad, living with her parents; now I am a wife and mother living in a house with the family I have built.

For what it’s worth, I feel like I’m a kid pretending to be an adult every single day.

I have spent the past weeks reflecting on the key things I’ve learned so far in my career that I know will serve me well moving forward. I hope by putting it in writing I can share it with a wider audience (though I’m not sure who reads this). And even if I’m the only reader, this exercise will help me to remember what I’ve learned to be true, and carry these lessons forward in my next adventure.

So, with that I give you my top Three lessons learned over Thirteen years:

Lesson 1: A job fit is as important as the work you are doing

I quit after my first 6 months at IBM. I was miserable. I had amazing technical challenges to work on, independently evaluating a new IBM technology and how it could be applied to my product area. In theory, the challenge and independence was exactly what I wanted. But I was desperately unhappy. I decided that the problem was me – obviously, I was incompetent and destined for failure and bad at work.

At that time IBM had both a career coach and a career directions workshop that helped me understand the role I was in was not a good fit for me and my values. To start, I needed to be working with other people, communicating, and having an impact I could see. I was not the problem! I needed a role that was a better fit.

I quit (which ended up being a leave of absence) and when I return I explained what I needed from my next role. I moved to the first Agile team in my area, and piloted something called Scrum. What followed were my most fun years at IBM, working on a high visibility project closely with a small team who I loved. I presented at conferences on Scrum, became a Scrum Master (Mistress?), then Product Owner, and helped scale Agile across my organization.

In this new role, which was a great fit for me and my values, I thrived.

Lesson 2: Ask!

This can apply to so many things in my career. I often sit in meetings with a question on the tip of my tongue that I think is so completely obvious that everyone else in the room must know the answer. Then, after the meeting I’ll ask a peer and he’ll (yes, I used he. I work with virtually all men) say “hm, I don’t know. That’s a good question” and then I feel like a dummy for not having asked. I’m working to use the five second rule to ask more of the time.

The other important thing I’ve learned is to ask my managers for promotions, opportunities and recognition. As a new hire I thought that eventually I would be promoted if I waited long enough. Then I found out that managers aren’t like teachers – they’re not just watching their employees, but are super busy too. The book Why Women Don’t Ask is one I was directed to many years ago and has helped me in my career to ask for things and sometimes even get them.

Lesson 3: When you find good people, hang on to them.

I have worked with some amazing people at IBM and will miss them a lot. When you find people you respect, and click with, keep them close. When the going gets tough, it’s great to have people you like working along side you (or at least available to you) that you can laugh with, complain to, and most importantly, learn from. Even if you aren’t on the same team, or even at the same company, your network is very valuable and worth investing time into maintaining.

Bonus lesson 4: Extra curricular activities are still important

I have gotten so much out of my extracurricular activities at work. As a newer employee in particular, they gave me a way to meet people from different areas of the lab and work with them on projects that interested me. For example, I created a “speed dating” event in 2005 to introduce early career employees with more senior mentors. This gave me a chance to develop and use project management skills, and I also got exposed to a lot of senior folks (the mentors!) as I put things together. Extra curriculars can give you the opportunity to grow your skills and your network in a meaningful way for your career. It can also help you get more enjoyment out of work by allowing you to use your energy towards things that excite you, like encouraging Girls and Technology – I’ve stayed involved with EXITE camp since 2003 for that reason 🙂

I could keep going forever. I tried to keep this brief, both the number of points and the explanation. If you want to discuss in more detail, feel free to reach out!

Jewish Wedding 101

June 19th, 2013

yes, jenn is getting married. in four (!!) sleeps. i am uber excited to be having a wedding with lots of friends and family joining me, and realized that while i almost exclusively attend jewish weddings, for some mine will be a first. I haven’t been able to find one site that explains things in a way that satisfies me, so i’m going to pull some information together here so that folks who are interested can read about it before the day.

first, a few basics. the ceremony will start at the time on the invitation so plan to arrive at least 10 minutes before then to get seated. there are no ushers, and really you can sit anywhere you want in the sanctuary. no ushers to guide you, and no groom/bride side in terms of where you sit. i’ll be standing on the right – so sit on the left for better views of me! men, please take a yarmelke to cover your head in the sanctuary – they’re provided for you. you can take it off for the party. and women, you can wear what you like – no modesty concerns if you’re sitting in the sanctuary. and men and women can sit together in case that was something you were wondering! I also got a q about photos – unless the rabbi says otherwise, take as many as you like. but please stay out of the aisle!

now, the serious stuff:

before the chuppah, which is the main ceremony, we’ll be in the badekin with our immediate family. during this warm up event, we sign our civil license and jewish marriage license, called a ketubah. n will also cover my face with a veil at that time – this is a reference to the bible where Jacob ended up marrying Leah instead of Rachel by accident. not that i was planning any sneaky surprises…

our ceremony starts like most ceremonies – with a procession. everyone will come down the aisle to a song called Erev Shel Shoshanim, which translates to Evening of Roses, a hebrew love song that n and I chose. you’ll know when I’m coming because the music will change to a different song, called Al Kol Eleh, which translates to For All these things. It’s not a typical tune for a bride to march to, but it’s my favourite song and i love the words. and it’s my wedding. so yeah.

n will escort me under the chuppah, a canopy that symbolized the new home we’re building. then i’ll circle him seven times. i can’t find one distinct reason for the 7 times, and in fact, some do it 3 or 4. but since i grew up thinking a bride circles seven times that’s what i’ll do. you can look here and here for different rationalizations of the number seven.

after that, the ceremony itself begins. a lot of it will be in hebrew but the rabbi will explain what we’re doing. there’s two short but distinct parts: kiddushin and nissuin.

first, the kiddushin, or betrothal. there will be a few blessings and then we exchange rings. really, only n has to give me a ring, but conservative jews often do a double ring ceremony where i present him one as well. that’s what we’re doing. random fact: the rings have to be plain, without any stones, “just as it is hoped that the marriage will be one of simple beauty.”.

then they’ll read our ketubah, the part of the ceremony that separates the kiddushin from nissuin. it’s read out in aramaic (but there’s also english on the document). n will then hand it to me and it’s mine to keep

during the nissuin, we’ll be blessed with the sheva brachot or seven blessings. the first is over wine, and the next six are marriage themed. i chose a tune i like for the fifth one that’s not as traditional as the others the cantor will sing. also, folks might sing along to the sixth so don’t be surprised. this part is all hebrew but goes quickly.

after that, we’re escorted in front of the ark for a minute – that’s something n’s synagogue does, not law or tradition or anything like that.

finally, n will get to break the glass – since during every jewish celebration we have to remember the destruction of the temple (or people joke it’s the last time the groom gets to put his foot down). when he crushes the glass, everyone will yell mazel tov!. and we’re married!

the whole thing should take about 30 minutes.

n and i won’t be around during cocktail hour because we’ll be in seclusion which is actually required to complete the wedding ceremony. yeah, get your mind out of the gutter. the bride and groom share a few moments alone before we get to party with everyone else.

I think that’s everything. Get ready to dance (maybe your first?) Hora, drink a l’chaim or 6, and have a great time! i can’t wait!

Also, here are the links that I used to help pull this information together where you can read more details:

So, you want a visa for Mozambique, eh?

May 23rd, 2013

I’m going to Mozambique soonish. For my trip, I was told I needed a visa. I was also told that this visa should be acquired prior to arriving in Mozambique. I did what any normal visa seeking person does, which is Google “Mozambique Visa”. Got a lot of weird sites this way, and ended up spending a bunch of time figuring out what I actually needed to do. In an attempt to save fellow Canuks the effort of figuring out what’s legit and what’s not (yes, an embarrassing amount of time and effort was spent on this issue) I decided it was time to come out of hibernation for a quick post.

Now for the useful information:

  • When you Google Mozambique Visa, virtually the whole first page of results is useless (at least at the current time). It’s for embassies in London England, and for third party sites that charge service fees to fill out/send the forms in for you
  • There is no embassy for Mozambique in Canada. You need to work through the Embassy in Washington DC. Here is their Consular Services site
  • When you send in your Visa application, you will need to provide them a return shipping label. Getting this shipping label is surprisingly difficult because shipment is from the US to a Canadian address, and the label is being created in Canada. I went through UPS and they were able to create me the label for around $26. Despite telling us otherwise over the phone, FedEx could not provide me with what was required (they did, however, waste more than an hour of my time).
  • I didn’t find the Visa instructions terribly clear as to whether or not we needed passport photos. We included 2 of them.
  • We paid for three day visa processing (the cheapest possible option). My passport was delivered to the Embassy on a Monday. The following Monday (4 business days if we’re being conservative) it had not been mailed back.
  • I had included a cover letter with my contact information like email and phone number so that if something was wrong they could get hold of me. I did not hear anything from them.
  • We started to call multiple times a day and left voice-mails. We also sent emails. No call or email was returned. On Thursday someone answered a call. We were told that the “system was down” and they’d process the visa once it came up, probably around the end of the month. We told them we needed our passport back ASAP and to please put it in the mail without the Visa. Our names were taken, and we were told they would try and find the passport to mail back. Was delighted our UPS return labels were scanned as picked up on Friday afternoon.
  • My passport arrived Tuesday – with a Visa! And the boy’s arrived today also with a Visa! I guess they managed to get the system up! What a pleasant surprise.

And that’s my little visa adventure.

A few notes:

  1. While the visa is now in my passport, I haven’t used it yet. Fingers crossed they let me into the country!
  2. When I spoke to someone from the Embassy on the phone they said that it’s possible to get a 1 time tourist visa at the airport. Our travel agent had told us to get it before we left Canada. I don’t know what’s correct.
  3. Since the visa site did not say anything about processing multiple passports together, and I was worried about them being separated, we sent each of our passports with its own return envelope/shipping label. The boy’s visa came back with a form in the envelope (mine just had the passport in the envelope) that had fields for # of passports received. So it might be possible to send 1 return shipping label for multiple passports/applications. But I don’t know for sure, just thought it was worth noting.
  4. This is our experience. YMMV. Don’t sue me if things go wrong!

I hope someone finds this post useful – or its helpful to me for my next Mozambique visit 🙂

Miss me?

August 17th, 2011

Yes, it’s been awhile. I’m not radio silent, though. I’m just articulating myself in 140 characters or less.

I will start posting more regularly.

A reply from Kobo

January 4th, 2011

In case any one is curious, here’s the reply I got from Dan Leibu, CTO of Kobo. They’re definitely owning up to the problems which is nice.

Dear Ms. Schachter:

First and foremost, please let me apologize for the poor experiences you have had in upgrading your Kobo Reader. I’m deeply sorry for them and want to assure that this falls well short of my expectation for the quality of Kobo’s products.

The issues you encountered highlight gaps in both our customer communication and QA processes. Thanks to your feedback we have taken immediate action to close these gaps.

More specifically:

§ The initial upgrade included a major upgrade to the Adobe Reader Mobile SDK. This is the library that we use to support reading of Adobe DRM’d content. As part of this upgrade we were forced by Adobe to change the device fingerprint, which in turn required that our users re-authenticate their content. While we knew about this issue, we did not have any means to effectively communicate it to our customers before they upgraded. We are going to ensure that all future upgrades include appropriate messaging.

§ The second upgrade had a software defect that would cause the same issue to some customers including yourself. This defect should have been caught during our QA but it was not due to a gap in our test plans. We have since extended our testing to ensure smooth future upgrades.

In addition to these changes we have also implemented an extensive Beta testing program. As part of the roll out of new versions of the Kobo Reader software, we engage Beta testers to get early customer feedback and to ensure that the software is solid.

We definitely have not forgotten our Original Kobo Reader users – these are the people who made our business. Before the Original Kobo Reader’s success, we were a much smaller player in the ebooks space, and we have our early adopters to thank for propelling us to where we are today. I hope the release of the new features in 1.8, such as Newspapers, rich content, and access to a full dictionary, help to prove that.

We are committed to rolling out new features on our older devices, and if you are interested would love to count you among the ranks of our beta testers for future firmware updates.

If there is anything else that I can do to make up for these failures please let me know.

We are learning as we grow, and we promise to get better as we learn.

Yours sincerely,

Dan Leibu

I also got a reply from the director of Social Media who I had emailed at their request. Her email signature expressly forbade me from sharing her words in any public way, which is why you don’t see it here. That said, her reply was quite frustrating so it’s probably better I didn’t spread that around 🙂

Kobo Update Chaos

December 17th, 2010

If you follow me on Twitter or know me in real life you’ve likely heard that I upgraded to the new version of the Kobo Desktop and eReader software. It was an awful experience that resulted in me resetting my unit to the factory defaults. This was particularly aggravating because the same thing happened the last time I upgraded the unit just a few short weeks ago – I had to call tech support then too and they also made me reset the unit.

It’s unacceptable that Kobo would ship two releases with the same bug – I mean, aren’t these sorts of problem reports what help add test cases to our test suites?

In any case, I wanted to share the letter I sent to Dan Leibu, Kobo’s CTO, and CCed to Mike Serbins, the CEO. I did get a DM back from the Kobo twitter account asking me to email my problem to a certain address. I did that yesterday morning, forwarding the letter below and a short email, and have yet to hear back. I put hard copies of the following note in snail mail yesterday afternoon. I wonder what/if I’ll hear back.

December 16, 2010

Mr. Dan Leibu
364 Richmond St West
Suite 300
Toronto, ON M5V 1X6

Dear Mr. Leibu:

I have been a proud Kobo owner since May 31 when I purchased my first eReader from Chapters. Despite numerous Kindle loving friends, including folks that work for the Kindle team, to me the advantage of the open format and the superior Canadian content made the decision to buy a Kobo an easy one. I received many questions from friends about my Kobo, and blogged a review that has been retweeted by several people, including Michael Tamblyn.

I am compelled to write you this letter because of my recent frustrations with your product. They are causing me to regret my decision and seriously contemplate switching readers to a Kindle. You are losing a big fan and vocal advocate.

Twice in the past 4 weeks I’ve been prompted to upgrade my desktop, and shortly thereafter, the eReader software. The first time I embarked on this without hesitation; the upgrade process in June was straightforward and trouble free, I had no reason to believe this would be any different. During the November upgrade, I followed the directions and after the upgrade completed, ejected the reader and turned it on – none of the books would open including the Kobo purchases and ePubs (both with and without DRM). I was quite upset. After a quick search that determined other folks had the same issue, I phoned customer support. A woman took me through several steps which did not correct the problem, and then had me reset my unit to the factory defaults. I was sorely disappointed to have to reset my entire library, but she told me this was the only way to have my device work.

This week I was excited to hear that the new software was out for the first generation Kobo users. I embarked on the upgrade process with some hesitation given my experience in November, but assumed that this upgrade path would have been tested. After all, this upgrade was targeted for first generation Kobo users, and since numerous people had the same issue as me with the upgrade in November I felt confident that the Kobo team would have ensured that this time around this upgrade path was tested – and worked.

Again, I installed the Desktop software and followed the directions to upgrade the eReader. This time, when I unplugged the Kobo I was able to open my books from the Kobo store, but none of the ePub books would open. I called technical support, and spent an hour on the phone with Borden. He was very patient, and took me through the same steps I had gone through in November – trying things like de-authorizing and reauthorizing the computer and reader in Adobe Digital Editions. None of them worked. He told me the way to fix it was, again, resetting the unit to factory settings. This is an unacceptable resolution to the problem.

I work in software, and understand that bugs happen; however, that the same issue should reoccur in back to back releases is unacceptable. Furthermore, one of the biggest selling points for the Kobo is the ability to read ePubs on the device; this upgrade path is one that is clearly supported and should have been tested. If there was knowledge that it would not work, then that should have been documented and users like myself could choose not to upgrade if the cost of the upgrade outweighed the perceived benefits. This also causes me to question whether the first generation Kobo users are being forgotten as your technical team focuses on the newer devices. That would be a serious mistake: it is us first generation users that are the early adopters and your first advocates.

I trust you will consider this feedback when delivering your next piece of software for the first generation units.

Sincerely yours,


Mike Serbins
cc: Mike Serbins

Moral of the story: I’d strongly caution folks who use Adobe Digital Editions against upgrading their units unless you are prepared to reset to factory settings. I even saw someone on the facebook support page suggest that the factory reset be part of the upgrade install instructions. That’s so not cool.

And I still look forward to traveling with my Kobo and will use it happily (except during takeoff and landing of course). I get to carry 10+ unread books with me! And don’t have to worry about packing space or weight! Wahoo! I just hope I can make up my mind which one to read first so that I actually spend time reading and not just choosing!

Geeking out with my iPhone

December 11th, 2010

Here’s a post about a few iPhone things I would have liked help with upfront.

  • Case! Before I bought an iPhone I picked myself up a case. I’m not the most gentle technology user, and knew I would need a durable one. I read a number of articles about touch iPhone cases and realized there wasn’t just one answer. Baron has an Otterbox on his Blackberry, and after seeing one in person and reading more reviews i realized that was a good way to go. I refused to get the Defender because of it’s belt clip that you cannot remove, so picked up a Commuter from Amazon which was much cheaper than anywhere else. Super happy with my decision – doesn’t add much bulk, and is still quite nice looking. Though I’m sure I’ll be wishing for a less sturdy and more pretty (or kitty!) case eventually.
  • Gmail! I set up my Gmail right away on my phone by adding a new account of type Gmail (duh). But then I noticed that I was not getting push notification of new email. A quick google search turned up an article on the gmail blog about this very issue: Push Gmail for iPhone and Windows Mobile. After I followed these steps to configure my account as an Exchange Server account the syncing worked right away.
  • Calendars & Timezones! I have used Moleskines for years to keep track of life. In 2011 I’m going to try and use Harley exclusively. I created some calendar entries, and then while playing around in the Settings discovered the place to change your timezone (Settings –> Mail, Contacts, Calendar… –> Time Zone Support). When I updated my timezone to Toronto (from Cupertino), the calendar entries I had set on the phone updated themselves – and moved three hours forward. Whoops. So set your Timezone first.
  • Calendars & Syncing There are two different ways to sync your iCal with your iPhone – Sync and CalDav. I keep looking, but haven’t yet found a good explanation on why I would want to use one over the other. Both support multiple calendars. But only CalDav will keep the colours that you have in your google calendar. What I also noticed was when I use Sync for my calendar that is configured the Exchange Server way (see point about Gmail above) I can invite attendees to the invites I create using iCal. I didn’t see a way to do that in iCal when I was using CalDav (though you can always go to the calendar in Safari and invite folks that way). So for now I’m using Sync for both calendar and mail. If I find the need to go OCD and have colour coded calendars, I might switch to CalDav since switching seems pretty seamless.
  • Contacts I turned of Sync off my Google contacts (though notice I can still search them through the Contacts application) since they don’t have phone numbers and I am too lazy to go in and clean up all of that data. I created all of my Contacts in the Mac’s native app on my iMac. hopefully spending the time to go through and make sure I start with clean data should save some headaches later on.

After I’ve had a few days to play and get apps, I’ll definitely make another post with recommendations. Yes, I know I’m late to the party and lots of folks won’t care. But I know I’m googling for these things, and would like some more current posts on getting started with an iPhone 4 now that the community and apps around the iPhone 4 have had a chance to mature!

For you “experienced” folks, I’m looking for suggestions for a good simple To Do List app, and also an alarm clock (since I need a shorter snooze). Any other suggestions welcome!

Kobo + iPhone = Not so slick

December 11th, 2010

I’m pretty disappointed in the Kobo/iPhone integration so far. I was eager to have a few books from my kobo library on my phone, so downloaded the Kobo App the first day I got Harley.

When I launched the app and logged into my account I expected for my books to magically appear on the iPhone – or at least be given the option to synchronize my books with my account. No dice.

Time to put on my geek detective hat and explore. I tried browsing in the library to the book I had already purchased. While it appeared Kobo was prepared to let my buy the book once more, I didn’t see any option for downloading the book.

Being a bit of a nerd (and figuring I could cancel before the transaction went through – or call the customer support line and get them to fix things if anything went wrong) I clicked on the Purchase link to an ebook I already owned.

Well, don’t you know it takes me to Safari, thanks me for purchasing (no opportunity to enter a promo code, confirm the total amount of the purchase after tax or anything!) and then starts downloading the book to my iPhone.

But here’s the thing – ALL of my books started to download to the iPhone. And I still haven’t received a receipt from the Kobo store thanking me for my purchase. So maybe that’s the way to get things going after all!

After the books downloaded I opened one and tried to flip through it. I went to the last chapter (the scrolling bar was pretty neat) but when I got to the last page nothing happened. I couldn’t flip to the next one and the the app is now hanging on that page. I can’t figure out how to even pull up the menus to bring me back to my book list.

I also managed to make the app crash six times. I feel like I’m using beta software

Oh well, at least I can still read on the actual reader. But I’m definitely disappointed Kobo doesn’t seem to live up to their promise of giving me a seamless reading experience on any device.

Update: I’ve managed to get back to the book list. The book I was trying out is still in “Open” state at 100% read. I can’t for the life of me figure out how to get it to “done”.

Meet Harley

December 11th, 2010


No, not the motorcycle in the picture. That’s N’s and I don’t think it has a name (and I don’t really like it – even though I sat on it).

Harley is my iPhone.

It’s about time, eh?


October 24th, 2010

“May her memory be for a blessing.”