Stacey Mulcahy is a technical evangelist with Microsoft for Windows 8. Prior, she was the Lead Developer working with a variety of technologies at Big Spaceship, a digital agency based out of Brooklyn, NY.
She has worked at Teknision and Fuel Industries in Ottawa, Canada, and IQ Interactive in Atlanta in a variety of technical roles.
A technical editor and instructor, Stacey enjoys sharing her love for her work in interactive development. She considers her lack of verbal filter and extreme candor just a small part of her charm.
Just over three years ago, I moved to NYC. I needed a change. I had an opportunity. I took it. I had no idea what I was doing. I knew my decision went against everything people thought I should be doing at my age — I should be settling down — and I had. I owned a house that I sold to find myself in a small 1-bedroom apt.
It wasn’t easy. I moved to a huge city that could be overwhelming at times. You come to be assaulted — assaulted by the smells, the movement, the passion.
I had no friends. I worked. I had work friends, but I had no friends outside of that circle. I spent 6 months acquiring a deep and intimate understanding of what it meant to be lonely. I did everything alone — because I didn’t know how to ask for help. I embraced it. I learned how to be okay with having dinner by myself, grabbing a drink by myself, wandering a museum by myself.
Maybe NYC taught me how to be an introvert for that initial short period of time. I learned how to be alone, how to be okay with it, and now I need that time to take inventory, to recharge, to reflect.
I learned how to be alone. But I also learned how to ask for help. I found and made friends, some from work and some from other places. Slowly, I learned how to let people in, learned how I could be independent but still need help and depend on others. I learned how to let people in and close at the same time that I began to understand that I wasn’t lonely — that I was just comfortable being alone.
Before, I might have had more people around me, but I let very few of them in close.
I didn’t know what I was doing three years ago when I made the decision to move. I hope I never know what I am doing. I was scared. I was uncomfortable. Familiarity is comforting, but risk perpetuates growth. I’ll take change any day.
Take from this what you will.
A thin line exists between being bored and being boring.
Skills we undervalue
The difference between me just reading something and me respecting what I read is spelling and basic grammar.
If you want your audience to take the time to truly appreciate what you have written, you need to take the time to utilize the spell check feature. Certain mediums and contexts have made us lazy, and we often take some forgivable liberties due to the limitations these mediums impose. This is no excuse for other contexts: email, blog posts, reports, presentations, etc.
When someone reads your writing, spelling and grammar are the difference between them wanting to shake your hand versus them wanting to pat you on the head. A limp fish is still better than a hair tousling, because the former says more about the other person than the latter.
The public domain of procreation
“Do you have any kids?”
“Don’t worry. There is lots of time for you to find someone and start a family still”.
Or another variation:
“I am sure she wouldn’t mind putting in the extra time because she doesn’t have a family”.
What? I mean, what?
I do not have kids. Some might call me barren. Some might call me a spinster. No one calls me a cat lady, not yet, at least not to my face in daylight because they are kind and smart individuals.
Everyone makes the assumption that I want what they want — what society wants. When these things are said, they assume that the only family worth having is one that you spent hours pushing out. People assume I can have what they have. They assume I want what they want. Maybe my parts are completely busted and broken. Maybe I have spent years trying, or spent years trying to adopt. Maybe I am just not interested. Maybe I am more than enough of a child to consider dealing with any more.
The definition of family and having one is too tightly tied to procreation. I have a family. Some are relatives and they are mine whether I like them or not. Some are amazing people that I’ve been lucky to consider good friends. I would do anything for these people. I am there for the good moments and there for the bad. I watch them grow and see myself growing alongside of them.They are my family and I didn’t push them out of anything, I just keep them near to everything.
Nothing is worse than the assumption that I am less than you just because I don’t have what you have or want what you want. Our families might define us, but we need to re-define them.
Hell is a place 30 000 ft up
I hate airplane bathrooms. I avoid them at all costs, ignoring the constant cry for immediate relief from my ever expanding bladder as I shift my weight anxiously from my coveted window seat. Don’t do it. Don’t think about water. Don’t think about a waterfall. Definitely don’t think about the song I made up as a child to taunt my brother in his moments of need: “Listen to the waterfall! Yellow! Yellow!”.
I am not sure what I hate most about them. Maybe it’s the fact that as you walk down the aisle, everyone knows exactly what you are about to do and they are right. You can’t hide it as you begin the parade towards the world’s smallest closet where you must do your business because you are two Bloody Marys in and you know a third is required to handle the kid kicking the back of your seat for the remaining 4 hours.
You check to see if it is occupied. Maybe there is a sign that lights up, maybe it’s a little dial, but you search for that very red indicator to tell you that what you so desperately need is still just out of arms reach. It’s open. The door is like an accordion, you pull it back and it folds into itself. You try to walk in straight on, but realize that won’t work, because, well, you have hips, and oddly enough, so do most adults. You turn sideways and kinda shuffle in, not really sure how you will manage to turn around. You draw your arms in close to your chest, shapeshifting momentarily into a T.Rex with your small arms tucked in, and try to turn around, grazing your ass against the sink, until you find yourself properly turned around.
You go to sit down. You embrace the awkwardness as there is no room to stretch out, a half collapsed lawn chair sitting on a toilet that fits one cheek and one cheek only. You look around and wonder how the hell people accomplish much greater feats in here and sometimes together.
And then the moment arrives.
You must flush.
And this is when it turns from awkward to scary. What happens after is not entirely clear. Where does it go? Does it get saved up for one big epic community dumping where everyone was an equal contributor? And if so, is it possible for it to get full? Would people be denied relief because one person was an overly active contributor? Or is it released over the ocean—into the jetstream in its golden glory?
Where it goes is one thing. How it goes is another. You stand up, you do everything to prepare yourself, to create some distance between you and the toilet. You don’t want to be close to it when you flush, for the fear or getting sucked back into some vortex of dismembered butts by the greedy wet vac is very real and immediate.
Every second in an airplane bathroom is an exercise in epic awkwardness. It turns everything we know and understand about the process on its head. All sense of decorum and grace go out the window in favor of completion. Shoved in a tiny box 30 000 feet in the air, and suddenly success is simply a clean finish.
A few minutes later, you leave. The light goes off, an invitation for the next person to feel like a newly born horse, trying to find their footing as they awkwardly navigate their new parameters. You walk down the aisle happy to have it over, happy that although everyone knows what you were doing, they have no idea how you did it.
Working in tech sometimes feels like this to me. I know the end goal and the process to get there, but I have to work out how to properly execute to realize the former with the latter.
I am always figuring things out, which means I rarely know what the hell I am doing. And this is okay, because knowing where you are going is so much more important than how.
If it isn’t a struggle, it isn’t worth the effort. Just like finding relief in an airplane bathroom.
As an industry, if you watch our own trends, it’s evident that we are constantly trying to find that fine balance between the two polar opposites utility and gratuitousness. In the far corner, we have everyone’s favorite Skip Intro, while in the other the memory of Jakob Nielsen’s 18px blue underlined links forever.
Don’t forget about delight. Delight can be found in a variety of ways — from making the experience a joy to use, to creating something visually stunning and unexpected. It is the moment when someone makes a connection to what you are presenting them, where pleasure is found and lost and rediscovered. It is when you see someone say “oh” — where understanding and pleasure are equally coupled. Usability doesn’t need to be synonymous with boring.
Things need to be simple. Yes. They need to be usable. Definitely. But they also need to be delightful, because an experience bereft of pleasure is one most don’t choose to have more than once.
I like my ice cream vanilla, not my experiences.
Postmortems Are Useless
Few postmortems are truly productive.
A productive postmortem needs to be where you have the hard discussions. The ones that should encourage change. The ones where you talk about what needs to be better as much as you talk about how great it is.
I never understood why people felt the need to have a meeting to hash over a project, well after the project was done. By the time you get to this meeting, you have likely forgotten most of the pain points. And pain points are not always some big huge issue. They are the little things. Little things add up. Little things can make or break something. Little things are what gets forgotten long after they have happened, but they get added to an issue pile that grows and grows and then becomes impossible to discuss because it has lost all context and definition.
What renders a postmortem useless, is timing. Why wait for the end of a project to discuss problems and improvements?
End each week with a little postmortem. Talk about what went right. Talk about what went wrong. Talk about the challenges faced and how to address them differently – and not on the next project, but on this one. Apply your learnings now, rather than saving them up for a rainy day where you still have your rose coloured glasses on and pats on the back are handed out a dime a dozen.
It is not about making you better, as much as it is making the work better. If you do it after the fact, only one thing can benefit from improvement.
When I was 3
Parents tell me there are these character defining moments that you witness in your children. Moments when you get a small glimpse of their very essence, where you start to understand and can conceptualize what type of person this little terror of an offspring might become. My father tells this story, saying that it was at that moment he knew who I was long before I ever would.
It starts like this:
When I was three, I shit my pants.
I graduated at the top of my class in potty training, so to have such a setback in post-diaper progress was distressing and certainly must be symptomatic of something greater, bigger, some inherent flaw anxiously waiting to reveal itself just looming on the horizon. I didn’t have accidents of this sort, or so I was told.
All the neighbourhood kids were playing in the game-off-free zone of the crescent, where we could play kick the can, hide and seek or double dutch freely and without fear of getting hit by a speeding Ford F-150. As the pre-pubescent boys played street hockey, I happily rode my new little red tricycle around the perimeter under the careful eye of my older brother. Soon I was riding with a load of epic proportions slowing down my momentum only momentarily.
Before long, all the other children understood what had happened, and more importantly from where. All the children ran from me, as if it was the Olympic trials for the game of tag where I didn’t know I was it. I don’t blame them for running; I would have bolted too. Crapping my pants was unplanned and undeniably reckless. No one intends to shit their pants, after all.
I should have stopped. Called it quits. Say goodbye and leave the building. But I didn’t.
Fuck it. I kept on riding. And riding. Staying on that same circular path of the asphalt rink’s perimeter, pedaling my tricycle as I navigated behind each of the hockey goals, from one end to the other methodically.
I didn’t give two shits, because I took the only one I had.
I rode and rode while the children kept running away. At some point my brother did the brotherly thing and stopped me.
He dragged me into the garage much like you would tow in a broken down car, slowly backing me up while keeping his arms stretched straight out maintaining whatever distance he could. He ordered me to stay there. Not to move. He had nothing to fear, I wasn’t going anywhere. The diaper shit tsunami had affected my speed and agility, making every moment feel like it was dragging through mud — which I guess it kinda was.
My brother went into the house and found my dad. Walking into the garage, Father immediately pulled his shirt up over his nose. Holding back wave after wave of dry heave, he peeled me from the seat of that red tricycle, doing his best to keep me at arm’s length.
The basement garage door opened to the sound of my mom yelling “How did this happen?”. Perhaps she thought this failure was a reflection on herself. I understand why she was confused — I was so good and so very potty trained.
“She was just too busy being ridiculous”, my dad responded.
A garden hose to my ass and many years later, I finally understand what my father meant by that statement. I understand why he pinpointed that moment as a character defining moment for me. I’m no longer embarrassed when they tell this story.
Take a page from my poop playbook of yesteryears. Be “too busy being ridiculous”. Ridiculously talented, motivated, funny, smart, kind.
You can’t let a little shit stop you.
A New Year
It’s a new year. This year, let’s make our resolutions ones that will benefit all of us. Let this year find us:
Creating less crap
Karma is a boomerang and if we keep creating shit, we can only expect to be stuck polishing it one day too.
Seek clarity in communication. When it comes to words, if the small ones will suffice, don’t unnecessarily opt for the big ones. Let bespoke return to the world of tailoring. Stop talking about responsive design like it’s only about layout.
Give weight to numbers, but listen to users. Analytics might tell us that the beloved full screen modal pop-up works, but human beings tell us otherwise. Numbers can weave one hell of a one-sided tale, if you let them.
Celebrate other people’s successes as you would your own. Click on every ad in a free app, buy every t-shirt, print or book created by your colleagues. Reward these labors of love. Start your own.
Execution > ideas.
Do not let your own fear throw down before you do.
Complaining Less, Acting More
Dial down the negativity. Let us start to weed the phrases “fail” and “you’re doing it wrong” from our vocabulary. Hit unsubscribe to the social shaming and leave it in the schoolyard.
Doing more of what we don’t know, and less of what we do
Aim for expertise, not expert. The moment you have mastered something and are comfortable, you have invited boredom in for a nice cup of tea. The next thing you know, you’re married, dressing alike and complaining about the lack of obligatory sex.
Do not get into bed with boredom.
Challenging the Status Quo
Just because it’s a best practice, doesn’t mean it is the one that works for you. Don’t blindly accept what is considered best or right. We can’t grow and evolve ideas if everyone accepts them as they are.
More Creating, Less Creatives
Put more weight on doing and less on being.
This year, let us be more by doing just a little bit less.