It’s always seemed to me that a resume is supposed to say something about how you came to be who you are, but it never really does. This format might get closer. I’m also feeling immense gratitude for my current work, so it seems like a great time to finally do my own. There’s nothing worse than writing a resume when you actually need a job.
Science fairs in high school were supposed to teach me about science, but I’m convinced I was good at them because I liked putting information together and presenting it. I also like managing the different pieces of putting it all together. Being an alternate to the International Science and Engineering Fair gave a girl from rural Ohio a little confidence and a rare chance to travel (not to mention a killer tour of the Johnson Space Center).
As an intern for the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, I earned that astronomy was not a good career path for me. I’m grateful for that, even though it was painful and confusing at the time.
1989 and again in 1998
Gigi Tackno saw something in me as a rep doing technical support for WordStar and promoted me to a supervisor. This was when California companies outsourced to cheaper labor in Indiana instead of India. We did things like walk customers through two-floppy installs of WordStart for IBM computers that didn’t have hard drives. Gigi taught me how to write performance evaluations (hilariously), and made me understand that you didn’t have to take yourself so seriously while doing serious work.
Then she hired me into a new gig with Verio web hosting years later. (That was the first of three times a boss ever hired me back into a new company, a theme I’m proud of but gets hidden in regular resumes.) Gigi always gave me a chance to grow and my first insights that the rules I thought we were playing by were only “real” in my imagination.
“You can’t just NOT fire someone because you don’t feel like it.” I told her once, when we were reviewing a group of hires nearing the end of their probationary period.
“Yes I can,” she replied. She was able to take complete authority.
She also patiently mentored me as I bumbled through every people-managing mistake in the book.
There’s a saying “don’t go fishing off the company dock”, but…oops. I would be remiss not to mention my ex-husband, Steve Miller, who had a profound affect on my career. Long before we got together as a couple in 1996, Steve showed me how to volunteer for the biggest problem in the company (tech support at WordStar again, on printer drivers). Learning how to report bugs to programmers without unintentionally sounding accusatory is an underrated job school. Steve also became a reason for me to move to the Bay Area years later, which was a huge part of everything to come.
Career-wise, the dark years. I worked for software companies, government contractors (in a regional BLS office), and a web hosting company. I had tech support, sales, and sysadmin type roles. There were some good experiences and great people, but mostly I learned about bureaucracies, fiefdoms, and how a system that was strong enough could suck in and beat down someone who otherwise was more counterculturally inclined.
In these jobs I learned to be grateful for the good gigs.
Landing at O’Reilly Media — and what later became Maker Media — was an incredible stroke of luck. I applied for a web editor position even though I wasn’t qualified for it, but it happened that they also needed a web producer, and my resume got passed along.
Nancy Abila taught me a ton about real project management (like actually getting it done. Revolutionary!). She also advocated for me with HR and in our work with other departments (I’d been in so many sick organizations by then, it surprised me to have a manager back me up). Nancy is a total badass and I still see her as a model I strive for in many ways.
I have so much gratitude for the chance to work with Dale Dougherty that it could be an entire post of its own. Dale’s got it all: vision, execution of vision, and a whole lotta heart. As part of the MAKE team, I got to be participate on the program committee for the first Maker Faire—my desk in the office was next to Dale’s, and I remember him in the weeks leading up to the event, sitting down in the afternoons and picking up the phone and making call after call to makers, vendors, and others to make everything happen.
I’d sit there overhearing his side of the conversation to someone and realize that they had no clue as to who Dale Dougherty was…he’d just have a friendly conversation about what they needed (or thought they needed). They weren’t the kind of details a C-level person usually deals with, but there was so much decision-making needed in those details at the time, it was the only way this was going to happen — we were in totally new territory. To me it was an incredible lesson in humility as a quality of leadership.
I was increasingly unhappy in the kind of work I was doing at the time (I didn’t want to get more technical, and that’s what seemed to be required), and wanted to move into a different type of role. Unlike other situations, where I would just stick it out resentfully until I could land another job, I had a series of conversations with Dale about it. I decided to leave without having another job. It was the right decision (perhaps for the wrong reasons), but being able to discuss it without being fearful about being fired was a gift that came from my ability to trust my boss completely.
Working at O’Reilly in general was a huge opportunity. I got to attend the first Foo Camp and the first Sci Foo. I got to work through a large web properties overhaul we did with Adaptive Path. I got to be in an environment of intense curiosity populated by super smart people. I felt totally supported to explore my own interests in things like citizen science, zen meditation, and productivity hacks (I was a huge GTD/43 Folders fangirl). I got to go to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s first Citizen Science conference, not thru work directly but because of the related web site I was building outside of my job. Everyone at O’Reilly seemed to have a lively interest in activities beyond work, and often the edges mingled in interesting ways. That felt encouraged.
You can’t throw a rock in the landscape of interesting startups without hitting a Goo (Graduate of O’Reilly). Working with interesting people is the best and working there was a supreme privilege.
2002 (to present)
This was concurrent with O’Reilly, but is important—Allen Fish runs an incredibly subversive program known as Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. On the surface, I became a volunteer hawk watcher, a citizen science gig I still do every fall. In truth, it’s an ecopsychology program that opened a door (or rabbit hole) to me getting healthy in ways you’ll never see on any resume. You’ll notice a lot of upheaval and personal growth in what follows…the pivot point was hawk watch.
After leaving MAKE, I pursued an interest in permaculture. This is the sort of side-trip I think everyone should make in their career. It turned my life upside-down in ways that weren’t always easy, but necessary for me to grow. I didn’t end up becoming a real paid permaculture designer, but it’s helped me understand my values. Profound gratitude to Penny Livingston Stark and Brock Dolman, my permaculture design teachers, and to James Stark and Christopher Kuntsch for the mind-blowing Ecology of Leadership program.
If you have any opportunity to hear any of these people speak, formally or informally, take it. If you’re in the Bay Area, you should register and go on a tour of Commonweal Garden.
2009 — Bodega Goat Ranch
This is where I became a goat milker and lived in a beloved glorified tent for two years. The indominatible Patty Karlin took a chance on me—a woman with a head full of permaculture, a broken heart, and NO experience with livestock beyond backyard chickens—and gave me the experience of a lifetime to get inside the world of sustainable agriculture and local food. I adored my way of life there, but I could also see that it was not a viable career path for me.
Before and during my time at the ranch, I had another stroke of luck: Tony Stubblebine, a co-worker from O’Reilly, founded a company called CrowdVine and needed some part-time help. I wasn’t crazy about going back to tech, but it paid the bills that being a ranch hand couldn’t cover. I was surprised to learn, though, that there was a place for at least some of the editorial work I’d wanted to do at MAKE…the subject matter was different, but doing a mixture of account management and support was a good outlet for writing and organizing information, and figuring out how to get things done across functions and even companies.
What I may be most grateful for, however, was seeing that you could build a company in a completely different way. We were all remote and worked in a Basecamp chat room. Oh god. That chat room was so great. Jay Laney and Andrew Koumarianos were a big part of why I loved that experience. All three (Tony, Jay and Andrew) were super smart, super funny, super kind.
I wanted to go to Mongolia, so I decided to see if Peace Corps could send me there. They couldn’t (I didn’t have the skills they needed for Mongolia, and you couldn’t pick your country assignment back then), but by the time I figured that out, I was sold on the idea. That’s how I ended up on a plane to Ghana to work with cashew farming families as an agriculture develoment volunteer for 26 months.
You won’t find them on any social media channels, but Stephen Sah Kwame (my counterpart) and Matthew Sah Kwado (the co-op manager), in the photo here, gave me the opportunity to work on real grassroots projects.
With them, I learned how to write grants, manage budgets, make progress despite incredible bureaucracies spanning three governments, and organize cooperatives. They taught me far more than I taught them. Together we increased the capacity of the cooperative’s production line by 100%, established two new farmers co-ops (one for beekeeping, and one a woman’s soapmaking group), built a school building, and got started on a building for a local clinic. Along the way, I came to question just about everything that I thought was true about farming, international development, Africa…and myself .
There is nothing like the Peace Corps experience to build your confidence, resiliency, and sense of gratitude.
There is not a day that passes that I don’t think about Kabile. From it, I learned that what matters, for me, is not the definition of my job, or even so much what I do. It’s that the work that matters.
If you had to pick a country that is Mongolia’s opposite, Ghana would be a good choice. There’s a lot to be said for walking the path in front of you rather than the path you think you want to be on.
When my two years of Peace Corps service were up, I turned down the chance to stay in Ghana in a couple of different capacities and returned to the US.
Luckily for me, Tony had started another company by this time: Coach.me (then Lift). Tony is another person who I could write an entire gratitude post about, but I’ll stick to the basics here: at Coach.me, I’m most grateful for being able to:
- Do work that matters. We help people change their lives.
- Develop as a writer, particularly having my naive notions of copywriting/advertising as “evil” completely blown apart.
- Work with more amazing people.
- Do a variety of work where I’m expected to stretch my skills in ways that keep me in a growth mindset.
Since working with Coach.me is an ongoing part of my life, I’m looking forward to more opportunities to express gratitude for it.