Great Engineers: Getting AND Keeping them

Building a good team takes work (and thought). In the “Great Engineers: Gotta Catch ‘Em All” panel I arranged for Penguicon 2014, I discussed how to get *and keep* engineers with software development manager Jer Lance and and systems librarian Ranti Junus.


  • Intro:  Is tech hiring like Pokemon (choosing, capturing, training)?  How do you hire *and* hang on to good people?  What do recruiting and retention have to do with each other?  This touched on aspects of a panel I’d put together with Noah Sussman and Jer the previous year on “Ninjas, Brogrammers, and Sparkly Code Princesses“.  The ads you put out influence the pool of applicants, for good and ill.  They better match what you really want, or you may get fast attrition (or possibly worse, people staying but unhappy and de-motivated).
  • “Passion” in the job ad:  This is common to see in ads these days.  Is it inspiring, or is it code for “80-hour work weeks are expected”?
  • “Family”:   Talking about your team being a family may suggest warmth and encouragement, or it may mean your employer will be intrusive, overly inquisitive, and/or the CEO may take things really personally.  Be aware that some prospective candidates may want to keep things on a more professional level.
  • Free Food/Beer/Caffeine:  What do these perks imply about your expected team composition? Are some of them possible turn-offs?
  • Hierarchy versus Holacracy: Threat or Menace — when do formal processes help, and when do they get in the way?

More info


PowerPoint Improv

Description for the upcoming 2016 event:
Volunteer presenters pick a slide deck they’ve never seen before from a list of titles on a variety of topics, and improv a comedic or serious presentation for up to 5 minutes. They don’t have to stick to the slides, as they’re just a prop! Audience members can improv, too, during each Q&A (e.g., ask questions related to this year’s conference theme)! As improvisations accumulate, we can build off each others’ topics and Q&A sessions. Come play with us!

Evolution and notes:

  • Sumana Harihareswara’s explanation and how-to (2007)
  • A few years ago, I read about a “PowerPoint Karaoke” game that intrigued me.  I’d sung and spoken in public, and I’d tried Contact Improv (a dance form), but I’d never tried to improvisationally speak/present material in public (I’m much more comfortable with scripts).  Still, I’d seen and given a fair number of PowerPoint presentations (yes, I’m working on improving my presentation skills), so I thought I might be able to play with this format, the way I’ve learned to play with ingredients in the kitchen.
  • 2013 video of a Sumana-led PowerPoint Karaoke game at a tech conference
  • In 2014, I got together with my friends Phil and Head of Hospitality, Lithie, to run a participatory event at Penguicon which started as “PowerPoint Karaoke”.  8-10 brave souls joined us, but the “karaoke” part scared away some folks who thought they’d actually have to sing.  Still, we had a great time with volunteers talking about the “Deadly Ice Blades” (figure skating slides), Greek Architecture (by someone who actually knew the subject), “Hairball Parmesan” (web design slides), “The Martian Invasion We Foiled” (Gettysburg Address slides), and intersections between these talks.  Audience Q&A adds a lot of fun to these talks, giving incentive to play along with the presenter (and other audience members) instead of just waiting for one’s own turn to present.
  • In 2015 I re-named it to “PowerPoint Improv”.   Many more people attended this time (40? packed room).  We had a very entertaining beginning, as we walked in exactly at the start time and the folks who were hanging around from the previous talk didn’t realize we were the event-runners.  They helpfully tried to start it themselves, and when they asked if anyone had a laptop with any slide decks, we coolly plugged ours in.  Volunteer “Rathbone the Pirate” was a couple minutes into presenting the first deck on Komodo Dragons (he did a great job!) before he got the joke.  :-)  Anyway, we had fun with Chess, Flags of the World, Etsy, The Wright Brothers, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona, and other slide decks.
  • Good slide decks for improv
    • have plenty of images
    • may have some words, but not endless walls of text
    • have about ~10-30 slides (sometimes I just chop some slides out)


Penguicon 2014 Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Flavors

For the record:

  • Cory’s Pure Ginger, for GoH alumni Cory Doctorow
  • GameFace Chocolate, for GoH @gamefacelabs
  • Eva’s Pistachio, for GoH Eva Galperin
  • Vanilla (at least 2 batches)
  • Chocolate soy ice cream starring our Dairy Canary
  • Cinnamon hard cider slushes
  • Hard apple pie
  • Coconut lime habanero rum
  • Maple bacon sorbet
  • Lemon soy
  • Mexican hot chocolate
  • Monster (energy drink) sorbet
  • Orange Creamsicle
  • Red Hat watermelon sorbet
  • Blue Raspberry Crunchberry
  • Chocolate coconut (dairy free)
  • Cinnamon dulce de leche
  • Orange sorbet
  • Thai Iced Tea (pre-soak)
  • Coffee ice cream (Lithie’s favorite — Lithie is our Consuite Coordinator Extraordinaire)
  • Cap’n Crunch (pre-soak)
  •  Cheesecake with strawberry jam
  • Experiments that didn’t quite work:  Mafe Hakke Boro Boro (Ghanaian savory peanut stew), Marzipan (almond extract & marzipan cookie crunch topping), Sage (mash, should have pre-soaked); was popcorn this year?  Way too salty.


Learning With Games: Play and Creation

I’ve been interested in how one can learn by playing games for a long time, probably since college, or at least since reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s novel *Kipper’s Game*.  Reading Brenda Laurel’s The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design may have also influenced my thinking.  Of course gamification concepts have taken off in a big way, especially for commercialization, but also for world change/quests and self-improvement, a la Jane McGonigal‘s Super Better and so on.

I guess it’s finally time for me to write up a presentation I gave several times in 2013 about learning by *creating* games (or at least modifying them).  I gave an internal talk at work, and then “Play Around on GitHub” at Penguicon and “How to Personalize and Play Games on GitHub” at Wiscon.  Unfortunately, one person went on a rant at me about “forking” and firing when I mentioned what I was covering (not during my talk, thank goodness), and I didn’t feel like talking about it for a while.  Then what came later with GitHub’s terrible mis-handling of harassment put a sour taste in my mouth.

However, I still think that tinkering with games is a great way to improve one’s knowledge and practice technical skills.  My talk was inspired by Lukas Blakk’s post on teaching girls HTML5 skills through games.  After I’d worked through his post, I thought maybe I could give a talk encouraging others to try this (learning or teaching it), even though my Git knowledge and GitHub skills at the time were pretty minimal — my point would be that this was an entry point, and I’d be an example myself of that.

  1. I gave my background and talked a little about Lucas’ talk and the simple match game.
  2. I talked about GitHub’s hosting of web games (not just the repositories for web games), and how this makes for fast feedback when learning
  3. I showed my little match game with Penguicon images substituted in for the images from the game I’d forked (it still works!)
  4. I showed my repository which involved simple edits on GitHub (don’t even have to check anything out)
  5. I pointed to the detailed instructions page I’d written to encourage folks to fork and substitute their own images
  6. I talked about how one could learn more about image manipulation (edits, compression), sound (game sounds), CSS, Javascript, HTML5, Git, and other tech matters with just this one game
  7. I pointed to GitHub’s Game Off contest and links for other games to fork and modify for fun and learning.  At the time I was very excited about GitHub, handing out Octocat stickers and whatnot.  Oh well.