Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Lessons from 2017: extreme parenting, playing backup & fleeing the #ThomasFire

Well, we made it. Seriously, there were some touch and go moments last year, if I'm to be honest. As I haven't blogged for six months, and those six months were some of the most emotionally taxing in recent memory, I wanted to give them their due in my end of year reflection.

2017 held some high highs professionally. I learned an incredible amount last year and really pushed myself. But as much as I'd like to focus on my professional achievements this year, it was my personal life that taught me the most.

In August of 2016, I had a bit of a mom-crisis/epiphany. We had acquired our 7th kiddo earlier that year, and with adding Arial to our flock, I was going to have a kid graduating from high school every year for 5 years. Five of our seven kiddos were teenagers and the youngest two are squarely in their preteen years. John told me, "the next five years are going to suck and then our lives will look a lot different." I was pretty confident that the second part of his prediction was inevitable, but after 2017 I can tell you that his first prediction seems to be spot on. I'm sure this is no surprise to any of you, looking in from the outside and thinking, "well duh, having seven kids is hard," but I can tell you that up until 2017 is wasn't THAT bad. We have really good kids, but they unfortunately only have teenage brains and things like consequences or planning or big picture thinking? Non existent. While there are lots of parenting highlights, the biggest being officially adopting Arial, in general, 2017 will be the year I remember that parenting went next level and all I could do was hold on and do my best.

In 2016, John went back to college to get his teaching degree. It's something he had wanted to do since before we met, and even though we knew it would be hard, I pushed him to do it. And it has been hard. But neither one of us could have predicted that because of him going back to school, and taking a job last January running the STEM classes for an after school program, that he would have been hired as a full-time robotics and engineering teacher starting this past fall. Still going to school to get his degree, starting his dream job...John had a good year professionally, and I am learning how to be the supportive, behind the scenes partner in our relationship. It's actually not very comfortable for me, and sometimes I worry that I'm not very good at it, but I'm learning.

All of my work/parenting/spouse balance was thrown over the edge in November when both John and our 11 year old Sallie had surgeries (deviated septum and broken ankle, respectively). Nothing life threatening, but it reinforced for me why I didn't go into nursing. I struggled to balance taking care of my work responsibilities, taking care of my family, and taking care of myself. As we celebrated Thanksgiving and prepared for Christmas, I was looking forward to life getting back to normal. I joked, "no one is allowed to have a medical emergency for the rest of the year."

The Universe accepted my request and raised me the largest wildfire in California history.

At about 9:30 pm on December 6th, we packed our kids and dogs when the Thomas fire evacuation was announced for our house. Earlier that day, knowing that the fire was moving towards us, we had packed our irreplaceables and moved them into a safe storage spot well outside of the evacuation zone. We were fortunate we had enough warning. By the time the evacuation was announced for our house, I was already having trouble breathing from the smoke thanks to my asthmatic lungs. We had heard stories of folks in Ventura who were woken up in the middle of the night to evacuate and we just couldn't imagine wrangling all the kids and dogs if the fires were bearing down on us, so we left that night, confident that we'd be back in a day or two, hoping our home would be spared. As we walked through the house one last time before leaving, we made sure there was nothing remaining that we couldn't replace or live without. It is amazing what the imminent threat of fire does to your prioritization of things.

And here we are in 2018, almost a month later. The fires did not reach our home, but the smoke and ash have left a hazardous grime on everything that requires more cleaning and restoration services than we can do ourselves. Based on current estimations, we are hoping we can move back in by mid January.

The last few months have provided some extreme lessons.

Lessons in friendship. OMG, you really know who will be there for you when you are in the middle of a crisis. I have some amazing, amazing friends. I love them more than they may ever know.

Lessons in letting go. Letting go of "stuff," letting go of expectations. Letting go of needing to know what's going to happen next. With the letting go has come clarity. Clarity of what's important. Clarity of purpose.

That clarity, my purpose, what's important? My family. And that's what 2017 was all about, really. Putting my family first: my spouse's education and career, my kids' well-being, education, and aspirations. I've had to let go of some things in my life that I loved, because right now my focus has to be on this big, crazy family. I love them most of all.

If 2017 is any indication, John was right way back in the summer of 2016 when he said the next five years will suck. Being a parent to this many humans is hard. But it's also amazing and fun and I love the people these kids are turning out to be. One year down, four more to go...

Friday, July 21, 2017

A funny thing happened while I was just doing my job

This week, my employer, D2L Inc., held it's annual users conference Fusion in Las Vegas. One of the main stage keynote sessions is called Solutions Spotlight, and it is focused on the new products and features that we're about to release. The hallmark of the keynote is that we demo new things that aren't live on the product yet, and we demo them live. My role at D2L is Product Management Director for our corporate segment, which basically means I drive strategy across development, marketing, support, and sales to meet the needs of our corporate customers. I was invited to do the portion of the keynote focused on the new corporate features, and while I practiced more for this demo than anything I've ever presented in my life, it was an honor to represent the work of the team at Fusion.

My mom has been asking me for the last year or so if there was a chance for her to see me in action at work. She obviously knows me very well, but she has told me she doesn't get to see "Work Koreen" and so, when our CMO took a picture of me onstage in one of our practice sessions, I posted it up on Facebook and tagged her in it, as well as my husband who was holding down the fort at home and who loves to see me present. So I posted the pic quickly in the minute or two I had to myself that day, thought nothing of it, and spent the rest of the day in customer meetings and more practice sessions.

When I got back to my room late that night and finally had a chance to talk to my husband, he asked me, "Did you see the comments to your post on Facebook?"

I of course had not, as I had been working hard for about 16 hours that day.

This was the first comment on my post:

I know the guy who posted the comment only as an acquaintance. I met him years ago through some learning industry event or another, and we had somehow ended up as Facebook friends. I know that he's retired, I know that I don't agree with his politics but I appreciate that he seems willing to agree to disagree. I know that he likes to make controversial (but I've never thought offensive) statements at times on people's Facebook posts. I know that he often will post complimentary things on my own Facebook posts, about my kids or family, etc. I was surprised by his comment on my picture.

Now, if you remember, I had tagged my mom and my husband in the post. So the first thing they saw after seeing my pic was this comment. My mom was upset. My husband was upset. My sister saw it too and was upset. I mean, it's pretty upsetting, right?

So here's the sad truth. I wasn't actually that upset. It wasn't, to be honest, the worst thing that had been said to me even that day. And over the course of my career in tech and gaming, the most dismissive, sexist, over the top things have been said to me that I think I have become numb to a lot of it.

The obvious sexism rarely bothers me anymore. It's the subtle stuff, the things that happen by well intentioned people, that accumulates and over time suffocates me.

What DID upset me, though, was that my family was upset. My mom doesn't know all of the overt and subtle sexism I have to navigate. My sister hasn't ever worked in tech. My husband has heard my stories, but I don't think he always gets what it's like; he can sympathize but not empathize. And here was a really crude comment that showed them all, more than I intended to, what it's like to be a woman in tech leadership.

Here's where things get pretty amazing. Other friends that I've met through work started commenting on my thread. Some of them copied the comment and posted it on their walls, calling out the bad behavior. Some of them replied back directly to the poster on how inappropriate it was. But the best was when people started posting comments about what I'm like professionally, where they first met me, what they thought of me both personally and professionally, and how I've impacted them and their careers. And my mom, my sister, and my husband got to see all of that, too.

In honesty, I wasn't able to respond to the hundreds of people who reached out to me over the past few days. I hope that this post helps in way of explanation: I was full stop working and connecting with folks at our user's conference, and I'm happy to say that not only did the live demo go off without a hitch, but I didn't fall off the stage or accidentally curse during the demo. I did read all of your incredibly kind words. I was lifted up by the memories of when we first met, and how you've all impacted me and my career as well.

It has crossed my mind that I'm sorry it took such a bad situation to hear all of the incredibly humbling things people said about me, but I am so grateful that I did. In the balance, more happy tears were shed than sad. That's all you can ask for, really.

And the guy who posted the comment? He never responded to any of the subsequent comments and posts. He hasn't deleted the comment. Maybe he was serious, maybe he was trolling us...I don't know.

Last night when I finally got home from the conference, Sallie, my 10 year old daughter, asked me how my trip went. I told her pretty good, and that I had presented that day. She said, I know, I saw the picture of you on that BIG stage. She said, "You're pretty badass, mom."

I think I'll excuse her cursing, just this once.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Great Divide

When I grew up in Michigan, The Great Divide was a college retail apparel store (I hear it's now called "The Split Mitt"?). One side was Blue and Gold (or Blue and Maize, depending on how much of a Michigan purist you are) and on the other was Green and White. One half for Michigan fans, one half for Michigan State (Sorry CMU!). The joke, of course, that many of us knew first hand was that even in families, there were clear delineations in support of your favorite Michigan college team, so much so that you needed to separate them out with a big dividing line that zigzagged through a store to keep your college team purchases from blending together.
Even the ceiling tiles are divided...

When I started this blog, I focused on what it was like to be a female entrepreneur. I wrote about learning and technology and games. Sometimes I wrote about personal stuff, but mainly I kept it professional. A few years ago, however, I started to shift. Work was becoming less of a driver of my personal growth, and my blog reflected how my life had moved from career-first to a big ol' mixtape of personal and professional. Sometimes even political. I started posting my reflections from the services I participated in at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. I started posting about my kids more. About personal accomplishments. Suddenly, my blog was much more about me and not about my work.

I think that's ok. Blogs can be whatever we want them to be. For me, Learning In Tandem has become all of me, and it has been great to have an outlet to reflect and write about my life.

But the more I shared, the more I wondered if I was doing this right. I was no longer just an entrepreneur, but also a technology executive. I was no longer focused solely on games, but on building scalable technology. I was no longer just starting out, but now mentoring and coaching. I had moved in many ways from simply learner to learner and teacher. I find these days I have more to say about how to survive and thrive in the tech industry. Often, I keep these thoughts to myself, as I didn't know if they had a place anymore on this blog. In short, I felt like I was writing for everyone, which ended up with me writing for no one.

Today, I had an epiphany (which, besides wooly mammoth, is my favorite word). And so, I'm starting a new blog, just for my professional writing. It's and starting this week I'll be posting about what it means to be a product manager, and product management strategies, and generally things that reflect what I do all day long in building products and businesses. Maybe there's even a book in there, somewhere. I'm anxious to see how it goes.

As for Learning in Tandem, I'll still be posting here. I'll cross-post things that I think are interesting, but I'm going to reserve this blog for focus on learning, whether personal or professional. This blog has grown up with me for the last 10 years and for those of you who have read along, I'm not going anywhere...just hopefully posting more, now that I have more clarity and focus.

Maybe it's more of a Venn diagram than a Great Divide? Either way, I hope you'll follow me to my new blog if you're interested in what I do, and stick around here at Learning in Tandem if you're interested in who I am.

(I'm totally a Spartan, btw. I can sing you the whole MSU fight song if you'd like. Don't even think of buying me U of M gear). 

Monday, March 13, 2017

When Your Teen Comes Out As Trans

Our family is over 3 years in to our oldest child's coming out as agender, a name for a transgender person who identifies as a subset of non-binary, who doesn't identify as either a boy or a girl. If you ask our oldest kiddo if they are male or female, they would say, "neither." (And, note, they use "they/them" pronouns.) And in the last year, we took in and are in the process of adopting another trans teenager. For a couple cisgender people, my husband and I have had a personal, vested interest in supporting the rights, safety, and happiness of our kids.

In the last several years, we've met lots of other families with trans kiddos of all ages and lots of trans adults. In the last several years, we've also seen trans identities and issues become more visible and more political, in everything from bathroom access, healthcare services, and overall civil rights. We helped found and continue to serve on the board of a local nonprofit focused on serving the needs of transyouth, their families, and the transgender adults in our community. I do training for local educational and community organizations. For a cisgender person, I have learned a lot about the issues that transgender folks of all ages face, and I invest my time (and often my money) in helping advocate for them in every way I can. I try to be the best ally I can be.

Very likely, you don't have a trans kid. Statistically, you don't. So let me try to paint the picture of what being the parent of a trans kid is like.

Imagine you have a teenager who comes to you and says, "the gender you assumed I was is not the gender I am." Suddenly, these things are expected of you, in an instant:

  • Learn what the term transgender means (most cis folks don't learn about this until circumstances prompt our education, unfortunately)
  • Learn what the transgender experience is like
  • Advocate with school staff, healthcare professionals, extracurricular event instructors
  • Be supportive of the challenges your kiddo is facing
  • Use new pronouns
  • Use a new name for your child that you likely didn't choose
  • Navigate the opinions of everyone you meet
  • Navigate the opinions of your family and friends
  • Navigate the emotional response of your partner, if you have one
  • Navigate your own sense of loss, grief for the dreams you had formed for your child, for who you had believed that they were or who they were becoming
  • Navigate and develop new dreams and expectations of who your child really is
  • Face the realities of how your trans kiddo may be treated in the world
  • Try to navigate your deepest fears of violence against your child
  • Try to navigate your deepest fears of violence your child might commit against themselves
  • Come to terms with statistics
  • Learn about blockers, hormones and trans healthcare. Understand and weigh the pros and cons. 
  • Realize how big of a deal bathrooms are for trans folks. Understand why.
In all likelihood, you aren't prepared for any of these things. You probably don't have a community of trans folks who you are already integrated into that you have learned from, seen their struggles, and who you can turn to for advice, or to be role models to your kiddo. 

You will make a million mistakes. You will make a big deal about messing up pronouns and make it all about you and say that it's hard. You will get frustrated that your kid just can't use whatever bathroom they want so you just don't have to think about bathrooms anymore. You will hesitate to talk about your kid with strangers, at work, with friends, sometimes even with family. You will freak out about healthcare and big decisions about things like hormones and surgery that will impact your kids' future choices in having children or that can cause side effects. You will think and maybe even say things like, "It would be so much easier if you were just gay," because, honestly, you are pretty sure it would. You will see Facebook memories and ugly cry at inconvenient times. You will worry about your kid's safety in a way that you never, ever did before. You will look at seemingly benign situations as a threat, or a potential trigger, for your kid. You will worry about their body dysphoria. You will worry about their ability to emotionally deal with all of the things you are having a hard time dealing with, and you're not even trans. 

You will be attacked by your trans kid. Your kid telling you you're not doing it right, not doing it enough, that you can't possibly understand. You will be lumped in with all of the other cis people who just don't get it. Your mistakes as you learn will be held against you. Your feelings and emotions will be dismissed, be seen as hostile and not accepting. You'll be told you're not a good ally. You will be despised as the enemy. All of their anger at the world will be taken out on you. 

You will be attacked by your friends, family, coworkers, and society. You will be told this is your fault. You will be told that you are encouraging this. You will be told that you should just not let your kid be trans. You will be told that your kid is too young to know what their gender is, and that you're a bad parent for encouraging their deviant behavior. You will be insulted by strangers. You may be cut off from your religious community. You will be cut off from people who you love. You will have to cut off people who you love. You will feel alone. You will sometimes be alone. 

And yet, you will fight for your kid. You will find strength that you didn't know you had. You will push yourself to learn faster, for the sake of your kid. You will fight through the tears and your own broken heart. You will know that everything you are doing, you are doing out of love for the perfect person that your kiddo is and who they are becoming. You will work through the grief. You will buy them new clothes. You will compliment them on new hairstyles. You will proactively look for places with gender neutral bathrooms. You will find community resources. You will have awkward conversations with healthcare professionals. You will fight with insurance companies for benefits. You will find therapists who can work with your kid. You will advocate for your kid at school. You will get used to the new pronouns and learn to apologize and move on when you screw up. You will find other parents who have trans kids. You will connect with them in ways you can't explain. You will meet trans adults and will watch them as role models for your kiddo. You will learn about trans rights. You will learn about name changes and gender markers. You'll learn about hormones and what medical interventions are possible for your kiddo, and when. You'll rejoice when you see trans folks successes and grieve when you hear of violence and oppression. 

You will learn to move past the insults. You will embrace you inner mama or papa bear. You will do whatever it takes, anything that it takes, to fight for your kiddo. 

Even after you learn, even after you gain confidence, even after you know in your heart that you and your child are on the right path, you will be attacked. It doesn't end when you evolve. Your kid will still accuse you, other trans folks will still dismiss you, complete strangers will still insult and attack you. Your skin will be thicker, but it will still hurt. 

You will never know what it is to be transgender. But you know what it means to love someone more than you love yourself, fear for someone more than you fear for yourself, fight for someone more than you would fight for yourself. Because you are a parent. And when your kid comes out as trans, you learn in a new way what that means. 

Note: I couldn't have written this three years ago, two years ago, or even last year. If you are in the throes of coming out as a parent of a trans youth, be patient with yourself, brave mamas and brave dads. It is a journey for us, as much as it is a journey for our children. You are not alone. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

On Being a White Cis Woman at the #WomensMarch & Beyond

I keep thinking back to Jack's quote from Lost as I write this: But if we can't live together, we're going to die alone. 

Maybe dying alone is a dramatic outcome, since we're not stranded on an island and based on the attendance of about 3 million people at marches all around the world last Saturday, we are most certainly not alone. But it is true that we are stronger together, and in order to truly "be together," not in the physical sense of marching, but in the ideological sense that we're all standing up for one another, white women have a lot of work to do.

Consider these points:
  • 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump...the MAJORITY of white women. Why?
  • how many women of color did you see at a march wearing a pussy hat, if you attended?
  • what are transwomen supposed to think when participants at the marches are equating anatomy with womanhood?

If these things don't make you pause, then you're not doing the hard work yet. 

And consider this photo:
Photo credit: Angela Peoples @ms_peoples

When I saw this photo online, I made the mistake of reading the comments. Predictably, white women were defensive. I don't know the women in the photo, and for all I know, those white women are active transgender organizers in the Black Lives Matter movement. I have no idea...and the point isn't about those women personally. The point is that while we are donning pink knit hats and posting selfies of ourselves at the march on social media, women of color know that MOST white women voted for a candidate who has bragged about sexual assault, does not acknowledge #BLM, is already threatening women's health by defunding Planned Parenthood, and is threatening the rights of our LGBTQ community. 

White women, we're embarrassing ourselves and undermining our claims of feminism if we ignore that more of us than not support the patriarchy that continues to hold all of us back.

This weekend I also saw an online post from a white woman explaining why she wasn't attending the Women's March (not linking to it here. I don't want to be responsible for promoting it). It was a whole lot of march shaming, culminating in the assertion that we should stop whining about how bad it is in the U.S. and go help women in other countries who have it much worse than us. Not surprisingly, a bunch of white women posted and liked it on Facebook. And I thought, THIS is who we need to understand. White women who voted for Trump, who are shaming those of us who are fighting for equality, who are denying our lived experiences. Just as bad as the white liberal feminists who want credit for showing up but not doing the hard work are the white women who deny that the hard work even needs to be done. 

So for my white cis sisters who attended the march, waving their signs and wearing their pussy hats, here's some work for us to get started on this week. It's not going to be comfortable. As our sisters of color and trans sisters can tell you, it is not easy. But if we are to live together, to work together, to make change together, then we need to be prepared for the fight. This work is going to require more than poster-making or hat-knitting skills. It requires us to examine our innermost biases and beliefs, open ourselves to the experiences of others that are different than our own lived experiences, and then fight to change their experiences even when fighting for them means challenging our own privilege. THAT is the work. 

And for any of the white women who voted for Trump, or who spoke out against those of us who attended the Women's March this weekend, I invite you to do the work, too. We really are all in this together, and it all starts by listening to each other. ALL of each other, not just those who look and think and vote like you.

Let's get started. 

Ask yourself these questions:
  • What would you do if you were harassed at work based on your gender, race, or religion? Would you have the ability to quit your job, or easily find another one? What if you had worked hard your entire career and landed your dream job, only to be harassed at work? What would your options be?
  • What would you do if you were the only breadwinner in your home? How would that change your answer or options to the scenario above?
  • What if you or your child or your partner had a pre-existing medical condition and would lose health insurance and wouldn't be eligible under a new plan if you changed jobs? 
  • How many transgender folks are in your family? Friend circle? Community? Do you know the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity? Do you know what agender, or bigender, or gender fluid mean? Do you know the laws in your state that protect or discriminate against transgender folks?
  • Do you personally know folks who are Muslim? Undocumented? LGBTQ? How many of these folks are in your family, your friend circle, your community? If none, how could you meet them or hear their stories? 
  • Have you ever avoided going to the doctor for routine care because you couldn't afford it? Do you know folks who have? Do you know people for whom free or affordable clinics like Planned Parenthood are their primary source of medical care? What services would you use if you suddenly lost your health care coverage?
  •  Do you have a safety net for health care coverage once you retire if there is no Medicaid or Medicare? What will your options be?
  • Have you ever been prescribed birth control pills for something other than birth control? What other options would you have if you could no longer afford birth control?
  • What would you do if the schools in your local district had such poor student outcomes that families who could afford it all pay to send their kids to private school? What if you couldn't afford private school for your children?
  • Do you have the option financially to stay home? What enables you to have that choice? If you are financially dependent on your partner, what would be the impact of them losing their job, losing their insurance, or simply being passed over for raises or promotions?
  • Have you ever noted in a conversation that you "have a black friend" or "work with a Muslim" etc., to prove you aren't racist?
  • Have you ever said in a conversation, "I'm not racist, but..."?
  • Have you ever said in a conversation, "I'm not racist."?
  • When considering Black Lives Matter, do you more closely identify with those who support, those who oppose, or police officers? If you don't most closely align with supporters, what would it feel like to change your perspective for a week? A month? A year? Could you view this movement through the experiences of a black woman? 
  • Consider how your experiences and opportunities would be different if you were black. Or Muslim. Or born to undocumented parents. Or born with male anatomy but feel very much like a woman. How would your life be different today? What challenges would you face that you don't have to think about today?


Sunday, January 1, 2017

The passing of time, the realization of dreams, the challenge of optimism (happy new year)

Welcome, 2017.

I haven't blogged for 6 months. I've thought about it a lot, planned out posts. I wanted to write about politics, about accomplishments, about failures. I wanted to write about funny things my kids have done, my job, things I have learned.

2016 was a weird year. It was a year that made me fear stating my opinion. It was a year when I attended rallies to support my kids in saying loudly and publicly that Black Lives Matter. It was a year when I saw the ugly face of gender discrimination everywhere I looked. It was a year when I feared for my family. It was a year when I often didn't feel safe writing a blog post, sharing my innermost feelings and thoughts. It was a year that pushed me into being quiet.

It really wasn't the year, I know. It was me. It was me feeling guilty that personally, I wasn't having a terrible year, but the events of the world made it difficult to feel like I had the right to celebrate personal and professional victories. With so much conflict, so much noise, so much fear, I didn't feel like it was ever the time to say the happy things. Or even to voice my own sadness and grief and anger and frustration. After all, I'm just another white liberal cis woman, passing for straight, not the 1% but living in Santa Barbara county, well paid and with health insurance. The best I can hope is to be a good ally and let marginalized voices fill the silence, not mine.

Worse, I started to feel like my eternal optimism, the feeling baked into the core of my being that everything will always work out, was breaking apart. John calls me Pollyanna, but I have been struggling to hold on to that feeling. What if I was wrong? What if things don't always work out as they should?

Every time I went to write a blog post, I stopped myself. Thinking I'd be too angry or too happy or too anything. Thinking that maybe everything I felt or believed was wrong. Thinking that maybe my time for making meaningful observations had passed, if they had ever been meaningful at all.

This morning, when I woke up and welcomed 2017 next to the love of my life, surrounded by dogs and listening to my kids stirring in their rooms, I thought maybe I'd skip the annual new year blog post. I barely wrote anything last year, after all. And looking back, I didn't accomplish even one of my three goals for 2016. Funny. My resolutions clearly have been lacking the resolve. Still, I'm a sucker for traditions. And this is one I think I need, a milestone that needs marking for me. A way for me to reflect and take stock, and then pick myself up and start anew. A way to mark the passing of time and measure progress, a tenet of a good product person, I think. And since my life is in a way the greatest and most important product I manage, I can't shirk my responsibilities in holding my annual retrospective.

So here it is, the annual taking stock. What did 2016 hold?

  • The biggest, best thing: Arial. We brought our 7th kiddo into the brood. She joined our family in May, and she has been a blessing to all of us. I can't imagine our family without her, and I can't wait to officially adopt her this year. 
  • The job I started the year off with was a bust. I probably should have known that joining a startup with a bro-culture would mean that when times got tough, I'd be the first to go. In retrospect, it was a great thing, but man, it sucks in the moment to lose a job. 
  • SBTAN hosted the first annual Trans Day of Visibility event in Santa Barbara. I couldn't be more proud of our community, our trans kids, teens and adults who live bravery. It was an honor to be part of that day, and I'm looking forward to the second annual event this year. 
  • I got a new job that I love. It's challenging and I work with lovely, smart people and I believe in what we're doing. I don't know that you ask for much more than that. 
  • I officially joined the advisory board of a VR company. I am still trying to figure out the perfect mix of immersive tech and learning, and while it's not my full time job, I love staying connected. Who knows what the future holds?
  • I "rebought" my house. When I bought this house 4 years ago, my divorce wasn't finalized and my ex graciously agreed to put his name on the house so I could finalize the purchase. This year I was finally able to buy my house outright, in my name only. I don't know if I can capture here what it felt like to sign the paperwork. If ever there was a metric of success, of me feeling like I have accomplished something in my life financially, it was buying this house this year. 
  • I officially came out as bisexual. This was a surprisingly big deal, since I've only ever had long-term relationships with men, and I'm currently married to a man who is...everything. The truth is I've never been straight, but when I grew up, saying you were bisexual was not something that you did. But my kids have made be brave, and so, yep, the "B" in LGBTQ is me.
  • We hosted an exchange student from Japan who is our honorary 8th kiddo. We miss Yu, and have loved staying in touch with his family in Toba who hosted Jackson after Yu stayed with us. It was an amazing experience.
  • I spoke at my 9th consecutive DevLearn. Professionally, DevLearn has been my favorite annual connection to the industry I love and the people who I've connected with through the years who are now, personally, my lifelong friends. I can't wait to make it 10 years this year!
  • I joined Pantsuit Nation. This is a heartbreaking one, but also my source of hope through what was a bleak year. For every story I heard of hate, discrimination, and marginalization, there were stories shared of love, hope and solidarity. 
  • I lost 15 pounds. It wasn't a resolution to lose weight, but I started on a program in the last few months that helped me lose some weight and lower my blood pressure. And I got a FitBit for Christmas, so I'm thinking that will help continue on with improving my health in the new year. 
  • Not my accomplishment, but John went back to college to get his teaching degree. I honestly couldn't be more proud of him. It makes me so, so happy to see him excited about his future career and doing something he loves. I am living vicariously.
So, I didn't learn to play the ukelele this year. But still, I did some pretty big things that weren't on my list of resolutions. Not a bad year, after all. 

2017, though. And the matter of resolutions. What should I set as my goals for this year?

I've decided to stick to three, keep it simple. I've decided to keep them closely aligned with my life goals. I've decided to not try to set myself up by picking new things to do, but rather to resolve to keep doing the things that are most important to me. So here they are.

Goals for 2017:
  • Adopt Arial. 
  • Do things to improve my health.
  • Smash the patriarchy.
Here's to you and yours for a happy, healthy new year. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

What #PokemonGo means for immersive learning

I, like many of you, spent my weekend hunting for Pokemon while tracking my progress on Nintendo's new Pokemon Go game.

To say it was a revelation was an understatement. And the bigger question: will it lead to a revolution?

For many years now, I've talked about how technology can be used to create immersive experiences, how giving people the sense that they are performing real tasks and receiving real-time feedback is the key to that immersive feeling. I've talked about avatars and virtual worlds and alternate reality games and augmented reality and, recently, virtual reality. I've talked about how biometric data can be used to impact your experience within an environment, and I've talked about how all of these things are converging. I've also talked about the shortage of big design thinking in better leveraging the technology that is currently available to bring together storyline and experiences. Design has been lagging behind technology where immersive learning is concerned. I would tell people to keep their eyes open, because there would be a point where someone figured it out and it would go mainstream.

I'm pretty sure most people thought I was talking about a few years in the future. Turns out, I was talking about this last weekend.

Finally, FINALLY, there is an example of an augmented reality game with characters, avatars, interactive game play with feedback and leveling. And the whole world is, or wants to be, playing.

Our kiddo was working alongside a Meowth
This weekend I spent with my family, walking all over my home town Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. We were finding landmarks we didn't know existed which had been designated as Pokestops. We were exploring new neighborhoods and talking to strangers. We were walking, walking, walking. We were smiling and laughing. We were bemoaning our ridiculous battery life and speculating on our data usage. We were running into friends and chatting. We were teaching each other nuances and strategies in the game. We were laughing when we saw a large group of people wandering around a parking lot, looking for a Koffing we knew was there. I was sending messages to a friend halfway around the world in Milan, Italy, who was experiencing the same server issues we were.

Suddenly, everyone is playing and experiencing immersive learning.

For those of you who haven't played yet, imagine you are a Pokemon trainer (if you don't know what Pokemon are, google it). The world is filled with Pokemon, and you can find them via a phone app, then catch them using Pokeballs that you throw at the Pokemon on your phone screen. You can get more supplies at Pokestops, and train with the Pokemon you've caught at Gyms. All of these locations are populated from data collected over the last several years from another game, Ingress, which is (of course) a product of Google.

I could talk about the social learning implications (this game has no social features, but is an amazingly social game). I could talk about the health benefits, both mental and physical. I could talk about how the game is driving behavior change (my kids keep opting to walk instead of asking for rides...crazy...).

But instead, I want to talk about what Pokemon Go means for the future of learning. Because we finally have a flagship immersive game to build from. Where we go from here, and how we push technology to support our design, is really up to us.

First, let's talk about technology needs.

  • WE NEED BETTER BATTERIES. If we are leveraging our phones for experiences like this, we can't have our batteries last an hour. 
  • Also, WE NEED UNLIMITED DATA. It's well past the point that this should be the case, and the first major company who goes there will get my money, and hopefully yours too, so that the whole market will follow. 
  • We will need data to be able to interact in the world, unless, of course, we have UNIVERSAL WIFI. That would be ok, too.
  • And finally, the device-specific access is a drag. Most of the people we saw playing were adults, not because kids wouldn't want to, but because kids don't have smartphones that they can use to play. MAKE ALL DEVICES CAPABLE OF PLAYING IMMERSIVE GAMES. Photo apps, GPSs, data accessible (with unlimited data, as previously mentioned). Let as many people play as we possibly can. 

What about design?

Honestly, the possibilities are endless for future applications, but let's start with what we could do with Pokemon Go.
Santa Barbara Park Ranger
chatting about the Pokemon in the park

  • Tie Pokemon Go to biometrics. What if you could get certain Pokemon by keeping your heart rate in the ideal range for exercise for 20 minutes? What if you were rewarded for number of steps (not just distance covered, which is how you hatch eggs)? What if you were rewarded for consecutive days of hitting exercise targets? There have to be some easy partnerships to be made with fitness trackers. 
  • Add some social features. My kids already want to trade Pokemon. I'd love to see a way to do that through proximity, rather than some online marketplace. While I've been having great conversations with people I meet while playing, it would be great to have a game mechanism to prompt more interaction. Also, how about adding a way to friend other players you meet? It was great meeting folks all over town, but now there's no way to stay connected. There are already social groups forming outside of the game, why not enable it within the game?
  • Leverage Pokemon Go for medical treatment. If there were enough Pokemon in a hospital or rehabilitation center, patients could collect Pokemon as part of their recovery. Therapists could track distance walked or number of Pokemon caught to help encourage patients to get out in the world and walk. 
  • Pokemon Go as the new marketing angle, both customer and internal-facing. We already saw this with Foursquare, but is there something more to be done here? I would definitely frequent a place that set up a Lure to attract more Pokemon...beyond attracting more customers, could this type of activity work for new hire training? My family was chatting yesterday about what type of Pokemon we might find at our zoo; what if the zoo could strategically place Pokemon?
What are some issues that need to be addressed?
  • Accessibility barriers. Already, my color-blind husband can't see the difference between the blue and purple Pokestops and has to ask me. Can options be included for blind players? Hearing impaired players? Players with physical disabilities? Let's get everyone playing.
  • Technology barriers. Let's not make immersive learning only accessible to the privileged. While desire for immersive experiences might drive buyer behavior toward technologies that can support it, if only high end smart phones can play the experiences and only people who can afford more data can play, we are cutting out major segments of the population based likely on age and socioeconomic status from participating and benefiting. Immersive learning should be available to everyone. 
  • Societal barriers. There has been nervousness already around women playing alone at night, players who are ethnic minorities worrying about accessing Pokemon in particular neighborhoods, and general unease about what a gaming experience that everyone can play everywhere might uncover about our own biases, prejudices, and fears. These are things that already exist, that game play is exposing with heightened visibility. Ironically, it has also been prompting people from all walks of life to start interacting and supporting each other. Maybe there's something to us all just playing a game together that may lessen this barrier. 

But let's end with some larger implications for learning, particularly organizational learning.

  • New hire training: tour facilities with augmented reality or virtual reality. Meet key folks in the organization. See behind the scenes production, or visit HQ virtually. 
  • Skill refinement: once the basics have been taught, present ongoing practice scenarios. Could be internal, customer-facing, or software/equipment training. 
  • Product training: provide the ability to interact with multiple customers and see how the product benefits them differently.
  • Application in context: how do you navigate a real-life complex environment effectively? Think busy retail, insurance adjusters, combat/disaster zones, crime scenes, etc.
  • Don't mind the rattata in my kitchen
  • Just in time geographically relevant support. Have a question in context? What if an app let you access training and tips relevant to where you are?  
And that's just to name a few.

So, to sum up, we need better consumer tech for immersive experiences, we can build on Pokemon Go for even more immersive design examples and applications, we need to be mindful of biases limiting access, and there's a lot of potential for organizations to leverage immersive learning to solve meaningful learning problems. Let's do this, folks!

(Related: Does anyone even use Foursquare anymore? I bet the kids don't even know what that app is...)