Building a community of women who work in technology – hosted by Betsy Speare, Jennifer Marsman & Helene Love Snell

Archive for the ‘Finding Balance between work and life’ Category

Why I Hate Email

“Gasp” will be the response of approximately 300 of my coworkers with whom I spent 7 years with building Exchange 5.0, 5.5, 2000, and 2003. Honestly, I’m feeling a little nervous about posting this one – mostly because it seems sort of heretical after all that email work we did for which I am immensely proud. And, before you read this post, be warned – it’s not my most politically correct post, which is sort of pitiful because it is a blog related to diversity. Anyway – there’s a section in here that is funny – funny like the movie Hangover is funny. So, there’s my confession and your warning. Hope I won’t be burned at the stake. Now you can find out WHY I HATE EMAIL!

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Microsoft Windows Server, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer (total 3 now – getting eggs)!

I’ve been threatening to write “Why I hate email” for a while– but really, I use email in all the ways I hate it. So, I thought I would start by discussing…

…Satisfying things about email:

  1. RTFM (where M=MAIL): At work, a chest beating bully indignantly declares “YOU did not tell ANYONE about that!” You don’t even have to answer because someone else says – “RTFM.” On your behalf! THAT is the best.
  2. The one line question: You have a simple, 1 line question. You put that question in the subject line. The respondent replies within 1 minute with a simple one line response. I LOVE THAT. No chit chat, no manners, just Q AND then A.
  3. I can’t remember what I said: But I said it in email. It’s there in black and white and I can refer to it. Great for dates and commitments.
  4. Meeting Requests: electronic sharing of calendars is a beautiful thing if you insist on having more events/meetings than you can keep track of. My Dad would have been disgusted at the ridiculous complexity of my life that requires a calendar like this, but that’s another blog topic. #3 is probably related to this.
  5. Makes the world smaller: there was a time when email was the premier tool for communicating quickly and cheaply around the developed sections of the world. Now there are a lot more, but important to keep that in mind in the benefits.
  6. Forwarding: seriously – is there anything better than when someone makes a hilarious statement or has a great email alias and you can then forward it to your co-worker in a meeting and you are both laughing and trying not to snort? A real example I recieved: “…At least it isn’t the guy I used to know … named takeshi – last name was something like tanuda – alias he was given was takeshit. Almost as good as dong wan kim (who got dongwank) or …”

Zach’s story: Zach is 14 and he grew up next door to me. He’s recently started playing the drums and I was viewing his latest school concert on his Mom’s phone. I asked him to email me his concert schedule. His answer: “I don’t do email. I text or Facebook.” Ok, I now get what the rest of the email technology community has understood for a long time. Email is going to die.

Zach & Alison Wulfman, with my daughter Livvy… the night of the email convo…

I imagined a life without email. I thought about all the crap I have to deal with in email. The never ending days old email threads that never give quite enough context anywhere at the top and require you either read the whole thing or start another thread begging for a summary. The rude “RTFM” attitude (oops), the expectation that email actually replaces human interaction and the communication that never stops! . Ick. Life without email would be AWESOME.

Since it was on my mind, I began noticing that email was never referred to in a positive way. My co-worker, Kenneth, admitted that he had been “using email too long” and just tried to avoid it now. I personally banned laptops in a number of “warteam (now called shiproom, more PC)” so people would pay attention. Ironically (and this really is irony John), that was in the Exchange team. Some people got mad.

Now, here’s the opposite. A great friend of mine, CJ Corbett has recently begun working at Providence Hospital. A faith based organization, they start each meeting with 1 minute of quiet reflection time to leave behind other topics and get focused on the subject at hand. Then sometimes, they have a prayer or short parable to illustrate what they are trying to accomplish. I’m guessing no one is forwarding jokes or reading email in that meeting. Sounds nice.

My brother, Jamie, works at Google. He told me that at Google, people commonly reply to a long email with TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read). Now – that makes sense – I might start that in my group. Of course, I might get RTFM as a response.

Anyway – bottom line is that mail might be more efficient, but it’s not more fun. People are fun (unless they aren’t – I guess you could make an argument in some cases that email was better than talking to some people, but I digress from my fundamental view of life). If we are using email to increase the number of topics & people that we can communicate TO because it’s more efficient, I wonder if we are losing track of what matters in human terms, and that the is the RESPONSE, not the reply.

What I’m going to try:

  1. I’d like to listen and talk to more people and read less email.
  2. I would actually like to read more comprehensive documents (with a good summary) and quit wasting time hitting delete and scanning for valid information (Sinofsky has some good thoughts on this, but now I can’t find the post… might be an internal only one).
  3. I’ll keep using email as a calendar and notes to myself system.
  4. I’d like to quit getting the “RTFM” look, so I’m going to quit giving it.
  5. I’d like to say: I enjoy learning about what my colleagues are doing. I’m not deluged with minutia
  6. Play around with the new tools more – I keep getting pointed to

So I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to change my expectations of email and see how people respond. I won’t be perfect, because it’s a hard habit to break – but this stuff is evolving quickly and we need to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Actually – I’m excited to see where we end up. People like Zach just have an expectation that instant communication is lightweight, convenient and on his terms. You can see the pieces coming together – texting, facebook, twitter, pintrist – it’s time for email to really evolve. Can’t wait.

And I heard a woman say…

This week’s blog post is the perfect post for the first of the year – inspirational for both men and women.  I keep threatening to write the “why I hate email” blog post but you were saved once again by a much better topic.  I suspect you’ll see a lot more of  guest blogger Stacey Sargent on this forum – I already can’t wait to see what she writes for us next!

BTW, don’t miss the big blog improvements this week – we’ve got facebook and twitter buttons! Whoo hoo!

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Microsoft Windows Server, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer (up two chickens, now laying eggs – thanks to the Macleod’s).

Guest Blogger – Stacey Sargent.  This awesome post is all you need to know (oh, and there’s more at the bottom about her…)

Last fall I had the opportunity to attend two women’s conferences in a row. The first was the Grace Hopper’s Celebration of Women in Computing in Atlanta, and the second was the Women’s International Network (W.I.N.) Global Leadership Conference in Paris.

There was one message that resonated from both experiences.  It seemed to follow me where ever I went, hanging there like a brilliant star in the forefront of my mind.  I couldn’t ignore it.  At first, I felt the message might be shining just so I personally could see it and learn from it.

What I realize now is that everyone needs to hear this message – especially women.  Women who thirst for more in their life.  Women who aspire.  Women who want something challenging AND meaningful.

The message was articulated precisely by Pascale Dumas, of HP France, at W.I.N.  When asked what she would do differently if she had to do it all again, she answered simply (with a beautiful French accent of course), “I would take more risks.”

I would take more risks.

And then I watched two different panel discussions, each containing successful women leaders who echoed the same message.

I would take more risks.

For me, it translated into the present tense: take more risks.  Now.  Period.  End of sentence.  No caveats.  No additions.  No stipulations.

Take more risks.  NOW.

With this new bright star message in my mind, it is now illuminating everything and I see the need for it everywhere.  Opportunities to take more risk.  Openings to define what risk might be for me.  New ways to look at what taking risk gains for me or what is truly at stake if it goes awry (usually what might go wrong is less than I imagine).  And I can see it in all of the women I work with – their struggle to have the self-confidence to take risks. .

In a recent interview at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit, Ginni Rometty, the new (and first female) CEO of IBM, talked about the importance of self-confidence in taking risks.

“Really early in my career, I can remember being offered a big job. And I can remember [my] reaction to the person who offered it to me. I right away said, ‘You know what? I’m not ready for this job. I need more time, I need more experience and then I could really do it well.’

So I said to him, ‘I need to go home and think about it.’

I went home that night and told my husband, and I’ve been married 32 years now, and he’s just sitting there. As I’m telling him about this, he just looked at me and said, ‘Do you think a man would have ever answered that question that way?’

……What [that] taught me was you have to be very confident even though you’re so self-critical inside about what it is you may or may not know. And that, to me, leads to taking risks.”

I believe taking risks is an important life lesson that we all must continue to learn and practice.  To practice self-confidence even when we have doubts.  To lean in and take more risks, and see what happens.

I have been practicing this art (not science) of taking risks more frequently and here are a few things I have learned:

  • I am very often much more      successful than I think I will be (read this as “don’t believe everything      you think”).
  • When I take the risk, something of      value ALWAYS comes out of it.  Aligned      with  what Rometty said, this is      when I learn the most and gain valuable experiences.
  • Taking risks doesn’t get      easy.  It is getting a bit more      manageable, but I have accepted that it will NEVER be easy or simple.
  • Having support through my friends,      family and colleagues helps me bear the challenge of taking risks.  But it only works when I SHARE it with      them and talk to them about what I am trying to do. The icing on the cake      is they are all there cheering for me regardless of result.
  • It pays off.  By taking risks I’ve had higher and higher      degrees of accomplishment (my definition of accomplishment, not anyone      else’s definition).
  • It can have an exponential effect      in many ways.  More risk taking      (with both success and survival) leads me to take even more risk.
  • I now have real data that shows my      success rate and the reality of what being unsuccessful feels like.  I’ve learned that I survive the risks      that don’t turn out well.  I might      be disappointed or sad, but that doesn’t last forever.
  • A critical component is to      PRACTICE my self-confidence (more on that in a future article!).

In my leadership and development work, which I do predominantly with women in technical companies, I see the challenges in building self-confidence and taking risks.  It can be a battleground.  But I have also witnessed a large number of women who continue to learn, grow, and RISK.  What a privilege to be part of the tribe of women who forge this path every day.

Best of success (which means, best wishes in your learning)!

“Growth and comfort do not co-exist.” ~Ginny Rometty

Stacey Sargent is the founder and principal at Connect Growth and Development, a leadership and people development company that works with individuals, teams and organizations helping them create definitions of authentic success that can be leveraged to gain more satisfying and fully-connected results. Stacey has a passion for working with women who aspire to combine achievement and meaning in their work and life. She works with clients and groups at Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia and more offering long term growth programs, workshops, facilitation and coaching. Clients value Stacey’s ability to bring a supportive yet challenging nature, an approachable manner, to ask right questions and bring focus to what really matters. The company tagline, “WHAT REALLY MATTERS” is Stacey’s focal point for bringing her passion and support to her clients, in the places and ways that matter. She can be reached at or at

What do you want to miss? Finding Balance with Amy Barzdukas, Microsoft GM

I love this post from Amy because  her experience is universal for anyone with passionate interests outside of work – men and women.  For women in technology, however, the balance can be extra tough – especially when competing with peers who may have a stay at home partner – Amy gives great ideas about how to strike the right “balance.”  As a side note, we can’t miss recognizing the Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Trio of Women for Championing Gender Equality &  Peace-Building – INSPIRATIONAL!  Have a great day! 

To follow the Women in Technology Blog – go to

– Betsy Speare


REDMOND_amyrob_LThumbAmy Barzdukas, Microsoft GM

Work-life balance – how do you do it? I get asked about this more than almost any other topic. My “a-ha!” moment came about 6 years ago. Up until then, my work-life balance was nonexistent because my work was my life. Evenings, weekends . . . I prioritized work over everything else and lived with my cellphone nearby, ready to answer any call, whenever it arrived. A planned hour at the office on Saturday morning easily became a full day as the inbox and potential work items expanded to fill all available time. I excelled at work, but was so wrapped up that friends and relationships got lost along the way.

Then my now-husband Gytis entered the scene, in a complete family pack with 3 children. It was 0 to 60 into a world of carpools, practices, games, curriculum nights, field trips, and making dinner. (Kids can’t meet you at the bar at Seastar for a late meal, it turns out.) Early on we were reviewing the upcoming weekend’s activities: softball, baseball, soccer, I don’t remember all the events that needed attending, but it was full. I noted I had a presentation due on Monday, was planning to hit the office on Saturday. Gytis turned to me and asked, “Okay, so what do you want to miss?”

Wow. “What do I want to miss?” That question (my husband always asks me to note that it was delivered matter-of-factly, not with malice) changed my weekend and my life, forcing me to consider the tradeoffs and putting the notion of “balance” in high relief. In that moment, what was more important? We talked at length – I didn’t want to “miss” anything the kids were doing, so we agreed that he handle dinner on Sunday night, while I would work on my deck. Much to my surprise, I finished my deck: instead of going to the office and doing that and 20 other things random things, I focused on the work that was important, and got it done.

Finding balance is all about establishing priorities and sticking to them. “Balance” implies some sort of universal scale; in fact, it’s a highly personal one. You (and only you) have to decide what balance means to you based on the criteria you have for what you want to miss. Even harder, you have to set and maintain the boundaries that enable you to have that particular balance – and decide when and how you’ll make exceptions.

I should also add that this is not a perfect science. Even after my epiphany, I still work hard to get it right – and I have had plenty of “learning moments” along the way. For example, I used to teach Pilates two nights a week. I loved it – but it meant leaving work promptly, teaching for a few hours, then rushing home to do dinner/family/etc PLUS catch up on whatever happened at work because I left promptly. Which means everyone got a little cheated: fulltime job, Pilates clients, family. I had to regretfully put that part of my life on hold for now, because I really can’t do it all. Recently I missed a key meeting to prioritize a volleyball match that on balance could have been missed (it wasn’t a “first” or “last” match of the season, nor a playoff) and had to really scramble to reassert my voice and team because I wasn’t there.

I got a few things right, though. I made the time to travel to China with step-daughter as a parent chaperone, and that’s a memory that will live with us both for the rest of our lives. I missed some important work items but I’d make that trade-off again in a heartbeat. I deliberately changed roles to keep work negativity from oozing back into the rest of my life and to make it easier to assert my boundaries. And I’ve learned to be more honest with myself and those around me so that we are working on the same set of assumptions. Don’t expect me at that meeting; don’t look for me at curriculum night.

So my advice:

  1. Think about what you “want to miss” – this can help you strengthen your focus, delegation skills, partnership, and management if you do it well.
  2. Don’t overpromise. To your work colleagues, to your family, or yourself. That’s where regret and guilt come in.
  3. You own setting and sticking to your boundaries. Easy to say, which is why there is #4…
  4. It isn’t easy and anyone who says so is lying.

So, let me know… how you handle balance?  Use the comments!

Amy Barzdukas

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