Monday, January 27, 2014

How to Handle Winking

Winking in my generation has seemingly become something that lives solely in the world of digital communications. I send out tons of winking emoticons to clarify that I am expressing sarcasm, like:

And my friends (and coworkers) send me winking emails, texts, and instant messages back. But in real life, my age mates exclusively wink if they are flirting or making some sort of sexual advance. Even when flirting, live winks are still a dying art form. 

So you can understand that when I was at a new site, and my 64 year old client winked at me when he announced that I was on the teleconference line, I was totally thrown off of my game. Little did I know that that wink was only one of an avalanche of winks that would define my time there. 

The security guard winked at me when I had to take off my shoes for the metal detector, strangers winked at me after saying "Hello" as we passed each other in the hallway, co-workers winked at me when they teased me, and even bartenders after work winked at me when I sat down. One time two men I didn't know were walking in front of me poking fun at each other. After making a particularly sarcastic comment, one of them turned around to me and gave me a big wink. I didn't even know he knew I was there. I actually stopped walking for a split second because it knocked me so much off-kilter. 

I really didn't know what to do about it.
In fact, while I was in this town, I was winked at over five times a day. It was as if I'd stumbled across one of those Amazonian tribes who are so out of contact with the rest of the world that they have their own distinct culture where winking is still a thing. After having spent years in a wink-less world, this left me kind of stunned. Only men were winking at me, and the first few winks made me wonder if this behavior was some kind of very confusing and misplaced flirting from men older than my father. But I quickly realized that in this microcosm, men dole out winks for all sorts of non-flirting reasons- like just acknowledging that they see you.

The frequency of the winking still left me reaching for how I was expected to react. I mean, what am I supposed to do after a wink? Wink back? The last time I live winked at somebody was probably as a child, when my parents goaded me into an exaggerated wink for their entertainment. My winking muscles had atrophied from years of disuse, and any attempt at returning a wink looks more like a painful face spasm than anything else.

Or maybe I was just supposed to smile?  Or laugh? Or look very serious? Or maybe I was supposed to catch the wink like a kiss that's been blown to you and put it in my pocket? Whatever I was supposed to do I just ended up standing there mouth agape as I searched for the appropriate reaction, and I'm quite certain that was not it. 

I've settled now on the fact that I can just give a warm smile back to show that I have received a wink. But, I'm sure I'll forget that ten years from now, or whenever the next time it is that I stumble upon a high density winking area like that. 



PS. When was the last time somebody winked at you?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Most Efficient Work Makeup Ever!

Many of you may have heard statistics about how wearing makeup at work paves the road to success. Whether or not this should be the case is a topic for a future blog post. Studies show that women see a benefit of wearing professional makeup to work, and yet some engineers have avoided makeup their whole life and don't know where to start. I've come across multiple young women who simply never learned how to apply basic makeup and either are too afraid to know where to begin, or end up applying colors that look more like a clown than an engineer. Even when they find the right colors, the styles can eat up so much time that it seems impossible to incorporate into their daily routine.

Since I'm an engineer at heart, something about spending a half an hour doing my makeup every morning seems very inefficient. So I've come up with a scheme that you can do in under 5 minutes, with just your hand (or the tool of your choice), and in any location (your car, the work bathroom, wherever). I don't pretend to be a makeup artist so it's not exactly a model grade style, but it is clean, natural, professional, and fast. I would include photos, but that would kind of defeat the anonymity of this blog- so some drawings will have to do. If you've ever applied makeup before, this is may not be helpful. But if you don't know where to start, then here are some makeup basics!

Step 1: Apply a Primer

I am incredibly hard on my makeup at work. Hours of looking at the screen mean that I unintentionally end up rubbing my eyes, and extreme temperature causes my eyes to water and makes most makeup run. Without applying a primer, I end up at the end of the work day with my makeup smudged around my face like a raccoon instead of where I carefully placed it that morning. 

Apply the primer to your eyelid where you will be applying makeup. It isn't actually purple, I pick a clear color normally and purple was just the easiest way to show it. 

Step 2: Apply First Color Eye Shadow


Apply a light neutral color of eye shadow on  your eyelid starting at the inside corner of your eye, and about 75% of the way to the outside corner. You can do this with your finger, or with an applicator (my mother told me to remind you that you should wash your hands before touching your eyes). If you have a darker complexion, you can apply this across your entire lid so the next color will pop a little more.

But Vanessa, how do I pick a color? I recommend going to a nearby makeup store, find a makeup artist whose makeup you like, and ask her to help you pick some natural colors that match your skin tone.You can also get a kit with a variety of neutral colors, and experiment on your own. You can use something with a little shimmer, as long as it isn't heinous.

Step 3: Apply Second Color Eye Shadow

Use a different finger or brush, or the other side of an applicator to apply a darker but still neutral color of eye shadow (you don't want the colors to mix into a single muddy color). Starting as shown on the picture, bring the eye shadow close to the corner of your eye. I mix it up between keeping this in a solid line, or bringing the darker shadow in the crease of my lid. 

Step 4: Blend 

Blend the line between the two colors of eye shadow with a third brush, finger, etc. with small strokes towards the darker section. Then blend the outside of the dark color so that there isn't a stark line where your eye shadow ends.

Step 5: Apply Eyeliner

Apply eyeliner to your upper lid. You can continue just past your eye and sweep up slightly at the corner. If you are having problems applying it, lift your head up slightly so you are looking down towards the mirror. This helps your eyelids lay a little flatter and the eyeliner will apply smoothly.  If you haven't applied eyeliner before just take some time, and continue to apply and take off until you get the feel of it or your eyes become too irritated. 

Step 6: Apply Mascara

The best trick I know of is to put the brush at the base of your eyelashes, and wiggle it from side to side a couple of times before bringing it up. This helps separate the eyelashes a little and creates a fuller look.

Step 7: Clean up Mistakes

When you do your makeup quickly, stray marks around are totally normal. Use a damp towel, or makeup remover pad to clean up any stray makeup, especially under your eyes. You'd be surprised how this can turn a terrible mess into beautiful makeup!

Step 8: Apply Lip-Something

I say a "lip-something" because there are several totally legitimate options here. Choose to apply a lipstick, or tinted chap-stick that matches your natural coloring at this point. If you are looking for tips for how to pick a color, a lot of people are calling this My Lips But Better (MLBB). You can also choose a regular chap-stick to provide moisture and bring out your natural beauty. Avoid sparkles and lip gloss as these will make you look more like a pre-teen than a responsible young woman.

And that's all! It seems like a lot of steps, but compared to calculus and matrix algebra this is very easy. Let me know how you like this, or if you have any makeup tricks of your own!



Monday, January 13, 2014

On Holding Doors

It seems that almost everyone in the western world has a strong opinion on who should hold a door open. Most of the men I work with will say that the man should always hold the door open. They say it is chivalry, and a kindness for which I should be grateful. And they are confused by the fact that the "young generation" has so many "feminists" who don't believe in this practice.

"Woman are different than men," one client reminded me as he shook his finger to accentuate the important parts of his monologue. "And I trained my sons so that they would never let you near a door without rushing to open it. It's only right."

And I do understand much of the time it is intended to be a kindness. When the fellow right in front of me holds the door open for me, I thank him and move on. If the lady in front of me holds the door, I have the same exact response. The problem with this "kindness" is when others will not accept the same.

I was walking through a snowstorm, with the wind howling as I leaned forward and willed myself towards the engineering building. I saw a man was just three paces behind me still in the midst the billowing snow, so I held it open the door as I waited for him to go in. He stopped and gestured for me to go first. I was standing behind the door, freezing my ass off, and gestured that I was already holding the door and he should just go inside. He gestured again for me to go, because I am a woman and my holding the door is compromising his idea of chivalry. I gesture again for him to go, because I was standing behind the door and it was impractical for me to go first. We did this in a snowstorm for minutes like children - children who were both probably getting frostbite. I finally gave up and went inside, severely annoyed.

If it is a kindness and not some sign that women are less than their male counterparts, than why can I not hold the door open when it is convenient to do so? And even when somebody walks through a door that I've held open, I find they often snicker, as if it is ridiculous that I would do the same thing they do for others. Pointing out that I am a woman by insisting that I not hold a door makes me feel uncomfortable in a field where my gender makes me an outsider.

So, I have compiled this helpful flow chart of when I think you should hold the door open, and when it is not reasonable to do so.

Note that at no point does this chart take into account the gender of the person holding the door nor the person for which the door is being held. And unless you see being a woman as being "physically unable to open a door", then there should be no difference in how you treat the two groups, especially in a workplace.

What are your thoughts? Is there any rational reason why women should not hold the door for men?



Monday, January 6, 2014

Advice From an Ex-Boss

Guess what? Sometimes, bosses quit too.

You've heard talk of this happening before, but you always thought it was just a rumor like engineering students who have a social life or job recruiters who don't ask for your GPA. But this is totally real, we promise.

And, sit down for this part (in case you are walking while reading this blog, which is a super dangerous habit anyways): when bosses quit, they sometimes will give you actual feedback.

For those of you who have had performance reviews, you know that through all of the confusion and stress you rarely feel like you've emerged with facts that help you improve yourself as an employee. With all of the politics going on, the fear of confrontation, and the limited interaction with employees, many bosses just give you a big "keep up the good work!" instead of pointing out one of the numerous things you feel you could improve. But when a boss quits, they can give you feedback without fear of political whiplash.

Anyways, this isn't just a hypothetical situation. Ruby and I have both recently experienced our bosses quitting. Although we work for different companies, we both received some of the same interesting advice from them on the way out. So we've decided to compile it and share it with you here.

Don't Work Too Hard 

We've all heard this advice a hundred times before in a number of cliche idioms:
  • "Maintain a good work-life balance." 
  • "Work hard, play hard." 
  • "Don't burn yourself out." 
But this isn't just some generic cliche. This is the very person who was supposed to squeeze every drop of work out of you telling you that sometimes deadlines aren't the most important thing in the world. Though your boss will leave with all the cheer and not directly say a bad word about the work, environment, or company, you know: giving it 110% all day, every day was enough to push them out of the company. They lost their passion; they fell out of lust with the job, the science, the company, and the product. By making it their whole life, they made it a prison, which they had to break free from in order to find some joy in life. 

So what do you do when you hear this from your ex-boss? Keep an eye on your time at work and keep a finger on the pulse of your passion. It is okay to have busy days or even busy weeks. However, if you are spending months at a time in a routine which doesn't even give you enough time to sleep between getting home from work and going back, then you're doing it wrong. That is when you need to put your foot down, and show your bosses that evidence of the 80+ hours you've been working every week, and take some time off to sing with the birds snow, make a twinkle-twinkle-little-star centerpiece, write a post for your favorite blog, or something else. 

We find that when you take breaks appropriately (even if they're still ridiculously nerdy, engineering-related breaks), we end up much more motivated and happy at work. And a happy worker may not work harder, but they do work better. 

Fight for projects you are passionate about. 

"Fight for projects you are passionate about, not just ones your management is passionate about." We've actually gotten this advice from both ex-coworkers and ex-bosses. And we kind of like the advice. This isn't to say that you should deny working on projects with high management priorities. Those projects might even excite you in their own quirky ways. But it's different if you're working on a project that you've built from scratch. It's different for a project that you've had to advocate for. It's different for a project which you had an intellectually gladiatorial to battle to the death in order to get budget approval.

The projects you are passionate about are the ones you will enjoy the most.
Therefore, the projects you are passionate about are the ones that you will devote the most time to.
Therefore, the projects you are passionate about are the ones that will be the most innovative.
Therefore, the projects you are passionate about are the ones that will be the most successful.
Therefore, the projects you are passionate about are the ones that you will have the most pride in upon completion.
Therefore, the projects you are passionate about are the ones that will be the best for you.

This is meant in a totally non-ironic way. If you like your project, days will fly by!
But your positive experience isn't the only thing that will benefit. Your projects of passion will be most fruitful to your company and will be the most fruitful to your career. So fight for projects you are passionate about.

Stand up to your bosses. 

The exact advice we got was, "Don't be afraid to stand up to your bosses when they are wrong." This was especially interesting since we have had our fair share of disagreements with management regarding ethics, training, projects, time management, etc.

The point was that it is your duty as en engineer to tell people you won't turn over documentation by a deadline if it is a piece of crap, since in the long term, that would lose customers. Not that we have ever signed documents we didn't believe in, but they had probably sensed some of our past discomforts and wanted us to know that the management knew that we did the right thing (even if it was kind of annoying). Note that this advice distinctly doesn't mean you should escalate interactions to knock-down, drag-out fights because you don't like your cube location. Rather you should speak up more often when you are given impossible deadlines (which is frequently), to ensure a high quality product.

Keep up the good work.

"Keep working as hard as you always do; it doesn't go unnoticed." This advice is almost completely at odds with the first bit of advice, but the last bit makes it equally haunting. Who, pray tell, is noticing? Was it just my boss who is now leaving without telling anyone how I worked my ass off? Or is there some big brother who is looking over my shoulder and saying to other big brothers, "Oh that Vanessa, she is a hard worker." If so, this happens in the mysterious confines of their offices, without any seeming impact on my day to day life. Regardless, it is a little cryptic.

Beyond the enigma of the statement, though, is the obviousness of the advice itself. Of course you will continue to work hard. After all, you (like us) are a workaholic and perfectionist. In fact, we're beginning to think that's the definition of a good engineer. So while it's kinda cryptic and leaves us confused, once again, it's pretty much advice we're going to follow to a T.

Do it for your resume. 

"Stick it out until you are a supervisor; it will look good on your resume." This was the single most dark, and honest piece of advice we received. In all honesty, we'd considered leaving our positions for a variety of reasons, and this comment implied that they knew that we were in a tough spot. And yet, they recommended that we stay anyways. It's hard to tell if this was some sort of foreshadowing that they actually felt that we are supervisor material, or if there was some other reason we should stick around for a year. But either way, they acknowledge that we don't belong here for very long.

Hopefully, these pieces of advice have given you some food for thought. Keep in mind, like any advice, they are the opinion of only two individuals and should not be adopted blindly. But interestingly, it was the same advice that two people in different fields, at different companies, with different pressures both gave us. So perhaps there is a little bit of truth.


Vanessa and Ruby

PS. What is the best advice you've ever gotten from a boss?