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Keep your (digital) motor running…

Wow, it’s 2021 already? Geez, I know I haven’t written here in a while, but it was longer than I thought. I did start a post at the beginning of the year, but then decided not to publish it because it’s an idea that I can use for a presentation instead, so I’m going to hold off on that one. 

But it’s been a crazy year or so, hasn’t it? I realized that I really need to get back to posting on here when I can (which is rarely, but still…). So much has changed in the last year or so both personally and professionally, and I really should jot down my thoughts now and then. 

So, in looking at some drafts I started but didn’t complete, the words below were from almost exactly a year ago to the day that I started it, and yet it seems more timely now.

It has occurred to me that with many people working from home–sometimes on their own laptop instead of one received at their employer’s, that ensuring that everything is running well starts to become a priority.

I’ve discovered in my years of working from home that keeping my laptop in tip-top shape is as important as ensuring you do your oil changes and tune-ups on your car on a regular basis. When I got my first car, I didn’t know about regular oil changes. It was so long ago, that my car was the kind that didn’t have a reminder light that went on when it was getting close to the time to have it changed that I messed up the car pretty badly and killed my first car. My current car has that reminder light for me now, and it’s still in very good condition with almost 154,000 miles on it.

I found that with my laptop, I could get the same “gunking up of the system” from cluttered data files, internet file junk, old registry files messing things up, and a slew of other issues.

Based on that, I have a few suggestions to keep your laptop or desktop humming along for better efficiency. I am not sponsored or paid by any of these tools–I wish I was! I’d be a rich woman! But these are the ones that I found to be the best that I run regularly to help keep my laptop humming along:

Windows Update (free): If you have a Windows machine, it really is worth keeping up with all the updates for Office, Windows, and the security updates that Windows provides. I don’t have a Mac, but if they have something like that for your Mac, you should it too, since it’s free. If you also use Office or Adobe Creative Cloud, make sure you do your regular updates on those as well. 

MalwareBytes: This is the best product for ensuring that nasty malware isn’t creeping in. You can get it for free, but it won’t check your machine unless you run the program. It’s worth getting the paid version as it will automatically check for you at least once a day.

DriverEasy: Again, worth getting the paid version. This one doesn’t automatically check for you, but if you run it at least once a week on your own, you are guaranteed to have the latest drivers for your machine, and that can help immensely as well.

System Mechanic : Another one that is worth every last penny that you pay for it. It checks your registries and cleans them up, optimizes your memory, cleans out internet and other browser junk, has anti-virus measures…it does so much!

Another periodic thing to do–it’s tedious, but worth it if you have a Windows machine (can’t speak to Macs) is to open your Device Manager, and go through every single driver to update. While Driver Easy usually catches about 90+% of them, sometimes it misses a few, and the only way to know is if you go through each one, right-click to get a menu, and update driver, using the web to find any updates. It’s caught a couple that were missed. Also don’t forget to check and make sure your BIOS is up to date–you can check with your manufacturer support site for that driver. 

Keeping your laptop in good condition will help its longevity and keep it running smoothly and quickly. If you use tools like these to keep your laptop running, then when there is a problem, you can usually know that it’s a fluke rather than something that could’ve been avoided. I still get those flukes now and then, but first thing I do is make sure everything is up to date and all drivers are up to date. That’s usually the main culprit. 

What kind of tricks or tools do you find helpful in keeping your laptop running well? Share in the comments below. 

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TechCommGeekMom’s 2013 Year in Review

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TechCommGeekMom visits Multnomah Falls during her Lavacon/Adobe Day 2013 visit to the Portland, OR area.

Okay, I’ll admit this is going to be a slightly self-indulgent (and slightly long) blog post. I read something recently that said that there shouldn’t be so much “self-promotion” in promoting your blog. This has always been a blog that not only encourages community, but it also tracks my own journey through technical communications, for better or worse. Taking the time to do the year-end review of what’s gone on in the past year is a good exercise for anyone.

At first, I thought my year wasn’t all that great, meaning that it wasn’t exciting. I hadn’t achieved some things that I wanted to do; I did not fulfill all my tech comm resolutions for the year. But as I looked through photos of the past year on my mobile devices to come up with something to put in this blog post, I realized that a LOT of good things still happened this year.

The year started off with a bang, as I was finally working full-time after a year of unemployment.  The new job ended up being a good opportunity. I get to work from home, I’m being paid well (a lot better than I ever had before), and it’s doing something that comes naturally to me–content management. I have had the chance to use my UX and web design abilities during this position, too. Things have gone well enough that my contract has been extended for another year.  I know that there’s a good chance that later in 2014, the company I’m contracted to will be switching CMS software, so it’ll be an opportunity to learn a new system and flex those content management muscles. I’m looking forward to it! It’s been a long time since I had a job that I truly enjoyed and feel appreciated for what I do. In past positions, I would offer my suggestions and advice based on what I had learned from my social media connections, graduate school courses, conferences, and personal experience, and I’d be ignored. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t take my suggestion if there’s something valid that will discount it, but using the excuse of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s what the end user is used to, so why change it?” doesn’t cut it for me. There’s always a better way. This was the first position that actually gave me a chance to use my voice and makes some executive decisions that would benefit the end user. My manager supports my decisions 99% of the time, so that’s been a huge load off my shoulders. Stress has not been a major issue with this job, and I know I’m fortunate to have made this employment connection.

Having a job, and a good job at that, would make for a good year. But there’s been more.

2013 was the year that I started to go out on the public speaking circuit. It started with my first conference presentation at the STC-PMC Conference in March, followed by two webinars this past fall. Three presentations might not sound like a lot, but considering that I have only presented to my tech comm peers twice beforehand (my capstone presentation at grad school and an Adobe Webinar that Maxwell Hoffmann helped me with immensely in 2012), and all these presentations were STC-related, I figure that’s a pretty good feather to add to my cap.  I’ve been told that the presentations were well-received, and I have gotten some good feedback, so I consider that a big success.

I also added an additional writing credential to my repetoire.  I started writing a by-line for the STC Notebook blog that started out as a column as a newcomer for the 2013 STC Summit. That column has now turned into a regular monthly column for the STC Notebook called Villegas Views. Again, I feel like I’ve received some good feedback on my writing there, so that’s another success.

I attended three conferences this year, namely the STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference, the STC Summit, and Lavacon (although I was only at Lavacon for a day–hey, I still need to write about that! I’ll try to get to that soon!).  The biggest one, of course, was the Summit, which was mindblowing for me. I loved being able to travel, considering I work from home day in and day out. (I’m not complaining, but it was a welcome change of scenery.) Actually, all the conferences were wonderful and overwhelming at the same time, and that sense of feeling somewhere that I belonged was never more evident than when I attended these events. I’m SO glad I did, and that leads me to the last thing that I found to be the greatest part of this year.

While I had started to develop some professional connections in 2012 through social media and through my first visit to Adobe Day at Lavacon in 2012, both social media and these conferences enabled me to expand my professional connections exponentially. However, it became more than just professional connections.  I’ve ended up making some fantastic friends along the way.  I know most people don’t think of me as being shy or introverted, but I actually am. I’m horribly awkward socially , and I know it.  Social media helped with the introductions, for sure. A few in-person introductions have helped as well. I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many times again, but I have found that technical communicators to be one of the most friendly and inviting groups of people I’ve ever met. I have appreciated every person who introduced himself or herself to me in person when knowing me from my blog or a social media connection. I’ve appreciated the friendships that have developed over time from these connections. I’ve loved having some of these friendships with those who are industry leaders develop into mentorships as well. When one of those supportive mentors encourage me or tell me how proud they are of my accomplishments, I want to cry tears of joy. (Heck, I’m crying tears of joy just writing this!) For so long, I’ve felt like an outsider, so to have my professional peers look to me as an equal and show me constant support and encouragment is a huge boost that I’ve needed for years.

This blog has grown, too. The numbers aren’t done for the year yet as I write this, but I’ve added a lot more readers and had more response to TechCommGeekMom in 2013 than in 2012. I’m sure I’ll be doing more celebrating when the blog hits its second “birthday” in March, but for the calendar year, it’s been great. I know I haven’t always been able to keep up with this blog as much as I liked during this year, but I feel like the efforts that were made to grow and expand have been supported by the tech comm community.

So, thanks to all of you for reading my posts either here, on the STC Notebook, or in social media. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and share ideas with me. Thanks for continually teaching me more about technical communication, and helping me to expand my mind and my understanding of this profession, and teaching me how I can continue to grow in this profession.

2014 is already shaping up to be an exciting year as well. I will be attending three conferences before the year is halfway done, of which I’ll be presenting at two of them, I believe. I know, for sure, that one of the conferences I’ll be presenting at is the STC Summit 2014! That’s a big deal to me. I mean, think about it–only out of grad school two years, and already presenting at the annual Summit? Not too shabby, I would think.  I’ll be continuing to write here at TechCommGeekMom, and I’ll still be writing my by-line for STC Notebook, and I’m hoping that there will be some more opportunities to do presentations either in-person or in webinars.

2013 has been quite the year for me…time will tell how 2014 will be!

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Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? (NOT a tribute to The Clash)

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Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!
Photo courtesy of TechCrunch

During this past week, Yahoo has made headlines with its new ban on work-at-home scenarios for employees. It raised a lot of hullabaloo, especially for working parents. According to an article on Mashable.com on 26 February 2013,

The move, as described in a company-wide memo leaked to Kara Swisher at AllThingsD, is intended to boost “collaboration and communication” at the Internet company by requiring all employees to physically report to one of Yahoo’s locations….a source [says] that there are a “huge number” of remote workers in customer service, marketing and engineering, many of whom “weren’t productive.” For Mayer, the new rule will either force these workers to work in the office, which the company believes will help productivity, or force them to quit, which will help the company cut costs.

Part of this also included reducing maternity leave to two weeks instead of the standard six to eight weeks most companies permit. Mashable.com followed up with an article on 27 February in which Yahoo offered “no comment” but added that

…several anonymous employees said Yahoo’s move to abolish telecommuting indicates that Marissa Mayer, who became company CEO last July, is “in crisis mode.”…Work ethic at Yahoo has deteriorated over time, and the new policy allows management to better monitor and inspire people at the office, the employees revealed. What’s more, it’s seen as beneficial if less productive staff chose to leave because of the policy, they added. Indeed, some workers have abused the work-at-home option to the point that they’ve founded startups while being on Yahoo’s payroll, the employees said.

Even in crisis mode, is this the right thing to do?

This is where the Geek Mom part of me, rather than my Tech Comm side, needs to speak up. I can understand both sides, as I’ve been on both sides. It boils down to the work ethic of each employee, and so a blanket policy shouldn’t be made, but done on an individual basis. Slackers, move on. Productive workers, carry on.

I was fortunate that when my son was born, my husband and I could afford to allow me to be a stay-at-home mom for a few years. It was a good thing too, because within a year or so, we first started noticing the symptoms of what we now know is my son’s high-functioning autism, although at that point, we were lead to believe his issues were not related to autism. Even then, I had to get him involved in kiddie gyms, music programs, speech, behavioral and occupational therapy during those years to try to help with his symptoms. Could I have worked full-time during those years, even at home? I doubt it. I did a little home-based business when he was a toddler, and started working a part-time job once my son started school that worked with his school schedule, but I didn’t go back to work full-time until my son was in first grade, when my part-time job went full-time. For me, that was the right decision, and as I said, I was lucky I could afford to do it at the time. My son needed me more than any corporation, and I knew that I could not give any corporation the full-attention it needed due to my son’s needs.

I think about my sister and my sister-in-law who are also working moms. Both of them had babies in the last year, and had full maternity weeks off. Unlike me, they both went back to work after their maternity leaves–which is fine. That’s pretty much the norm these days–what I did was probably more the exception than the rule. But I also know what they had to go through in the adjustment of going back to work after six to eight weeks. If Marissa Mayer and her HR department think that two weeks for maternity leave is enough, then none of them are parents and are crazy. Doesn’t federal law, namely the Family Leave Act, counteract that? I remember that I didn’t even feel ready for anything for about the same amount of time as a normal maternity leave (and I wasn’t on leave!) when I had my son. It was about six to eight weeks after my son’s normal birth that I felt that I could get around better, and was my old self again, as well as feel that I had any kind of routine with my baby–and I didn’t have to go back to a full-time job at that point!

Now, several years later, I’m still working full-time, but I am now working from home. I still have to make occasional trips to the home office (located an hour and a half or so from my house) now and then, but it’s just that–now and then. I work from home 90-95% of the time. I still have email conversations and phone calls from the company, and I just work on my projects in the quiet of my own home office. I do use my time the same way I would if I were in a typical corporate office. I keep fairly regular business hours during the day, and my bottom doesn’t get out of this seat unless it’s for bathroom or lunch breaks. I have had occasions where I have had doctor’s appointments and such, but I try to schedule them for my lunch hour or before or after work hours, just like anyone else, or I make up the time by staying later or making up the hours later. It’s totally an honor system, and even my boss has implied that as long as I get the work done completely and in a timely manner, how I organize my time is my business. Even so, I try to be honorable and respect that this is a job that I could easily be doing in an office as well, and so I try to run my day the same way. My son goes to after-school childcare like any other kid in the afternoons so that I can keep normal, albeit flexible, business hours (I tend to work from about 8:30-4:30).

I can easily see how others could abuse this privilege, but in this case, I blame Yahoo for not keeping closer tabs on it if they felt they had to reign everyone in. It seems like a ghastly way to save money if it’s meant to wean out those work-at-home employees who are slackers and let them quit instead of just firing them. This way, not only does Yahoo save money with less workers, but inducing “voluntary” layoffs by means of people quitting means that Yahoo doesn’t have to pay for unemployment insurance. They only pay unemployment if workers are officially laid off or fired. Sneaky, don’t you think?  Seems a little dirty-handed, if you ask me.

It comes down to the work ethic of individuals. If someone is on the payroll and not doing their job by not delivering what they are assigned to do, then it’s a problem. If these work-at-home employees have  little to show for the hours they claim to be working, and are out of touch, then they should be let go. They are abusing the privilege of being able to work at home. As I mentioned, it is truly an honor system that needs to be checked. I’m sure that I’m checked as I go along. How am I using my time? Am I delivering what’s expected of me for the hours that I claim I’m working? Am I available to my co-workers when I’m at home, and do I respond to them appropriately and in an appropriate time frame during business hours? Do I make sure, given that I do live within a reasonable proximity of the office to go in now and then, to actually GO to the office for some face-to-face meetings? Absolutely. In fact, I think the next meeting I have at the office is one which I requested a face-to-face rather than a conference call. I treat this job like any other, but there are others that do not.

The root of all this comes down to productivity. All of us can’t be work horses that dedicate their lives solely to career like Marissa Mayer. That’s just not life–we have families, whether they include children, partners, parents or friends that we need to spend time with and care for them as they would care for you. Life is more than a job as well. Many people have hobbies and interests like sports, crafts or travel, and time is needed for that. There needs to be time for a LIFE, but not at the expense of not having a job.

My job and my career role are important to me, and I respect the position that I’ve been given. I am fortunate to have a work-at-home job that allows me to have a great, productive job that utilizes my technical communications skills while being able to save time and money on commuting so that I can be available if my family needs me. I can work from home if my son is sick or has a day off from school. He’s much more independent now than he was when he was younger, so working from home is easier to do now. (He’s 11 years old now, so he doesn’t need quite so much attention.) It’s actually less stressful, because I don’t have to make excuses for how I have to leave to go get him in the middle of the day if he gets sick. I can easily make up the work from home later. He just plays video games and play while I work. I’ve been fortunate in the past that if I had a need to work from home instead of being in the office, I could. I did my best not to abuse that privilege, and I think I succeeded.

I think Yahoo needs to seriously rethink its position. I understand what it’s trying to do, but it’s going about it all wrong. Work-at-home can be cost-effective, and can be collaborative with the right employees. Weed out the ineffective employees and get the right people in who would greatly appreciate and honor the opportunity, and then things will pick up. Instead of bringing employees together, this is a divisive move than a uniting one.