GHC 2012: How to Influence without Authority, and Why It’s Important

These are some notes and thoughts from one of the sessions that I attended at Grace Hopper this year.

Dictionary definition of Influence. – The capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.

Inherently, you don’t need authority to influence.

What do you need to be able to influence?

– Relationships – Get out into the hallways and meet people… Learn what their goals are and figure out how you can help them advance those goals. Do your job well and build a reputation for yourself.

– Trust. Takes time to build, very easy to break.  You get this by doing what you say and saying what you do. Be consist in your approach to things.  Reciprocity is important. Give as much as you ask. Takes time. Not a one off thing you try to achieve.

How do you influence?

Become good at summarizing, be concise, make sure your ideas are based in fact. Consider your audience. Change the length and depth of your data depending on who your talking to.

What’s in it for them? If people find nuggets of their ideas in your plan, they will want to be bought in to it.

Ask questions. Ask short questions, give people a chance to tell you what they think. Make an emotional connection and find out shared values. Ask open questions, avoid leading questions, not yes/no questions.

Now i’ve always had a bit of an issue with session’s on how to influence people. We had one when I first start at ThoughtWorks at TWU. I’ve always thought there is a very fine line between influencing someone and just plain manipulating them. In my rose-tinted world I hope that you don’t need to consciously try to influence people if you are leading by example and have everyone’s best interest’s at heart. If you are genuine and achieve great things, it will change the way people around you act.

Thankfully someone in the audience asked just this question: How do you make sure you’re not coming across as being manipulative?

Avoid one sided conversations.  Present your idea and ask for feedback.  Focus on what is in it for them.  Respect “No.”, but try again.  Make sure that you are “perceived as trustworthy”. (<- shouldn’t you just BE trustworthy?!)

What do you do when you are dealing with someone who ‘needs’ to feel like they have that authority over you?

Make friends with people who are friends with them and ask their advice. Ask how can I talk to them in a way that they will listen to? Make sure you are advancing them in their goals as well. “Their ego is their teddy bear and don’t take their teddy bear away from them”.

As long as you don’t care who gets the credit you can go along way.

 How to influence what you are working remotely?

Try to meet at least once. Phone and Skype become easier once you have met face to face. Talk about non work stuff to create a personal connection. Get into a conference call 15 mins early and chat, make it known that that’s what you do.

For more notes on the session see here

GHC2012: Nora Denzel’s Keynote – Tips for staying in your technical career

Go and watch her whole keynote speech here. It’s well worth it, and much better than I could ever attempt to summarise!

See here for Nora’s bio and some of the quotes from her keynote.

Nora’s keynote was funny and inspiring. She’s a great speaker. As well as talking about her own journey she focused on issues of diversity and also retention of women in IT.  Mentioning that once you have got women into IT, you have to work just as hard to keep them there.

Nora talked about her top 5 tips for a long career in the technical industry.

  1.  Your attitude…. Your career is an obstacle course not a path. Obstacles are put in your career not to kick you out– but to see how bad you really want it. Things don’t happen ‘TO’ you in your career, they happen ‘FOR’ you. You are not victim of these obstacles. Don’t run away. You shouldn’t be scared, this gives you tools to deal with things.
  2. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable…. Tech is always changing, you will always feel like you have no idea about something. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable. It’s about how fast you can learn. If you are comfortable all of the time, you are not growing. Comfortable OR growth.
  3. Act as if…. Fill in the blank. Act as if you are confident… Act as if you are a good speaker…. etc. Nora gave a great example of how she met the first lady to go into space. She strutted confidently onto the space shuttle, but when Nora asked her if she was scare, she responded that yes, she was terrified. I knew how the systems worked and all the possibilities of what could happen! What is courage? Master your fear. Easier to act into a new way of thinking than to think into a new way if acting.
  4. Control your career PR agent. YOU! You are your own agent. Be careful about what you say back to a compliment. Say thank you and then stop. Don’t qualify all the things you were terrified about or didn’t do right. Always tell the truth but just not so much of it. Shorten your press release. If you don’t have confidence in yourself how can we have confidence in you.
  5. Maintain your village. People that support you. Have a network that you nurture. It is not what you know or who you know, it is who knows what you know!

You have the chance to change the world. To work on things that will change peoples lives.

Grace Hopper ‘ A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships were built for. Sail out to sea, and do new things.’ @ndenzel #ghc12

GHC 2012: The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2012

This years Grace Hopper Celebration of women in computing was held in Baltimore, in the US.

I once again got the chance to go and it’s always an amazing event. This year was the biggest ever at nearly 3700 attendees, made up from students, academia, industry and some military.

It was a very busy year for ThoughtWorks there too, each year our presence gets bigger and this year we did a tonne of interviews and assessments. Hopefully we’ll find some great women.

As always the dance party was my favorite part. Not just because I love dancing, which I do, but because it epitomises everything great about this event. The exhibiting has finished so we can all relax, the organizers can relax, you have well over a thousand people dancing like no one is watching, celebrating being who they are. So many smiles, many new friends have been made. And just a great electric, energized, and optimistic atmosphere. I love hearing first time attendees overflowing with excitement and drive as they tell me what an amazing experience it was for them.

I didn’t get to attend as many sessions as I would of liked but I did manage Nora Denzel’s keynote and a sessions called How to Influence Without Authority. See follow up blog posts.

Next year will be in Minneapolis, and I’ll be taking a break from the conference as i’ll be busy getting married over that time!

GHC 2011: Feedback from “What if we could alter the perception of the Software Developer”

Giving and receiving feedback is something that I think is so important if you want to improve and get better. I am also a bit of a positive affirmation person. I can be so critical at myself that sometimes I lose sight of what is going well. I have to make a real effort to remember what i’m doing well as well as what I can do better.

One of the great/scary aspects of being a presenter at a conference, is Twitter. Getting live feedback (or looking at it after the fact) is so powerful. I asked for feedback at the beginning of my talk and was so happy to see some of the responses. Here’s an example of some that I saved.

Twitter Feedback

I also just spotted the impact report compiled from the survey’s taken by attendees of The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2011.

You can find it here:

I was really chuffed to get a couple of mentions in highlights sections.

First one up was from the lady that I mentioned in my post I literally hunted down this woman during the party on the last night to thank her for what she did for me without even realizing. Always let people know and thank them if they make an affect on you.

Tell people that you appreciate them

The next great bit of information was the ranking that people gave about the sessions they attended. Mine got a 4.30 which I’m pretty pleased with. The  lowest of the “top six” sessions was 4.48 so not too far off at all.

Ranking from my session

The last mention was of the format that I used for my panel. There was lots of great feedback on it from Twitter and also it seems it left an impact in the survey findings too. If only we’d had more than an hour. Definitely will have to repeat the format for next year!

Presentation Format

How I wrote my conference session proposal

Having never submitted anything to conference before this year, I was more than a little bit lost when it came to knowing where to start. I thought I would share how I went from idea to proposal in an attempt to encourage people to give it a go. You never know what might come of it.

This post does come with the disclaimer that this is the first and only proposal I’ve ever written/had accepted, and I don’t claim to be an expert in proposal writing in any way. Also I’m sharing the details of my submission so that I can help others write their own. Please don’t take advantage and use my submission as your own.

I will be showing the steps that I went through to create my bird of a feather session “What if we could alter the perception of the “Software Developer”?” that I did at this years Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

  • Know your conference.
    • I had attended GHC the previous year and so had a good feeling of the type of content and topics that fit in well, the energy and personality of the conference, and kind of people that attend.
    • I spent a lot of time going through the survey findings from the previous year to see which sessions worked well and which didn’t. Also paid particular attention to the ideas that people wanted to see for this year.
    • Figure out what formats there are for the sessions. For example my talk worked great as a Birds of Feather, but probably would’ve been hard to sell for a main session. Also I felt it was an easier way to get a foot in the door for someone who has never spoken before.
    • Most conferences have a theme. Make sure your submission fits!
  • Find out when to submit and how.
    • Know how long you have. This years Request for Participation closed 8 months before the actual conference.
    • There are often different formats of submissions for the different kinds of sessions.
  • Find a topic you are passionate about
    • You won’t sell anyone if your passion for the topic doesn’t shine through in the submission.

Alright, so I have something I want to talk about and I think I have something that will work for this conference, where do I start?!

  • Brainstorm.  A friend who’s talked at many conferences, tipped me off to the technique of creating a mind map as a starting point. I put the main topic in the center and then crammed all my ideas in around the edge. It was surprisingly easy once I got started. 
  • Use others as a sounding board. I formed a small group of women in my company who were all interested in submitting, and we used this weekly call as “safe” place to bounce around ideas. More on this in another post. We all pitched our ideas in a few sentences and gave each other feedback. This was mine:
  • Next step, merge the desired format of your proposal, your mind map, your pitch, and the feedback.
    • Part 2 – Write headers for each of the required sections.


(Working) What if we could change how women view what it’s like to be a developer in Industry

a brief description of the topic

a description of the expected audience

a description of the format of the BOF

and a summary of the qualifications of the session leader(s).

    • Create a paragraph overview of the key points.
    • Start filling in the details!
    • Get as much feedback as possible from different kinds of people. Try to also get people that know nothing about your topic, does it make sense? Can they understand what its about? Iterate through over and over again until you feel confident in your proposal. This is what I ended up with.
  • Submit and fingers crossed!

One of the great things about this submission process is that you get feedback from the people that reviewed your proposal. I’m not sure if this is normal or not. Mine was reviewed by three people, two who loved it and one not so much! I took this feedback into account when I create my actual session content.

I was honored to be picked to run my session at this years Grace Hopper and strongly encourage you to have a go next year!

Being a speaker at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

I have just returned from a very hectic week at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing which was held this year, in Portland, OR, and I am still on a high from being a speaker there.

As a first time conference speaker, I was honored that they accepted my proposal for a birds of a feather session “What if… we could alter the perception of the “Software Developer”?”.  More on how I submitted in a later blogpost. I found out that I had been accepted back in May, actually on my birthday! When I read the “Congratulations, you have been accepted…” email, I was so excited and proud of myself, I was literally jumping around my hotel room, whilst my boyfriend watched on waiting for my to realize what I had signed myself up for. Sure enough within minutes I was succumbed by dread. Now I have to actually write this thing, stand up in front of hundreds of people and not make an idiot of myself, I thought out loud.

What definitely helped was the couple of practice runs I did beforehand. The first one I did on my client site, I was pretty nervous. The audience was mixed, some developers as well as other members of the team. I thought it went well. Got a couple of good pieces of useful feedback like “Anne that whole section where you talk about yourself breaks up the flow of the talk”. Noted. Swiftly removed.

Two weeks before GHC I then did another practice talk but this time in my home ThoughtWorks office in Chicago. We had a bunch of candidates in that day and it was a Friday so there was a pretty large crowd. I knew they would be a supportive crowd so I definitely had a little less of the nerves. The new format worked well and it was the first time I got to really practice the fishbowl section of my talk.

The format of my talk was 15min of me introducing the topic and then 35-40mins of facilitated brainstorming. I invited members of the audience to come out to the front to discuss and share, always leaving 1 of the 6 chairs open so that someone else could join the conversation, causing someone else then to leave. My aim was for this to be a “safer” environment than just asking question at the microphone, also for an ever-changing panel.

I got some great feedback that the talk was fun, and interesting and also that I should remember to breathe. What normally took me 15mins to talk though I was done in under 10. Noted. Get one of the TWers in the audience to give me a secret signal when I’m going to fast.

I won’t lie I was nervous and very quiet (very unusual for me) for the whole of GHC leading up to my talk, which was the last session of the whole thing. Thoughts of “Does anyone even feel the same way?”, “Am I imagining that this is a topic that people are interested in”, “What if no one gets up to talk?”, “What if no one comes?” “What if thousands of people come?!” were definitely rattling round in my head.

While I was telling people about my talk whilst in Portland, I was amazed that people responded with “Ah yes, I had that one circled to go to!”. Blimy.

I was even freaking out about what to wear. (Such a girl…) Advice….Power dress.

Time for my session. I left the previous one where our CTO Rebecca was talking. She always does such a great job. Always blown away by how what she says makes complete and utter sense. At this point I won’t lie, I was petrified.

I have to mention the amazing support I had from my co-workers. In particular Cassie, a great friend of mine. She visited the room I would be speaking in earlier in the week with me. My co-workers were prepared to get up on the stage and get the conversation started, they were trying to keep my calm… they had great words of encouragement and were smiling up at me as I got onto the stage.

At this point something weird happened. I was overcome by a sense of complete calmness, no shaking, no nerves, nothing. I’m guessing my years at school in choirs and in drama on stage helped. I looked out at the 112 people watching me. Here goes I thought.

I was blown away by the response to my talk. You know how they say, you should find someone in the audience who you can keep looking back to for reassurance, well there was a lovely lady that I didn’t know sat a few rows back that was that person for me. As I looked out at the crowd they were laughing, they were leaning forward in their chairs, engaged and enthusiastic. No one left…. In my head I was thinking “Oh wow this is working….”. When time came for audience participation people were literally running to get up on stage. Amazing.

I wish I could put into words the feeling I had after getting down of that stage. People were waiting to talk to me. To tell me that I had inspired them, that I was a great speaker and it was great topic. I had a strange moment where I was hugging everyone who came up to talk to me. I was inundated with Twitter messages from people I had never met. My normal self-deprecating self was gone for a good few hours, infact it may still be gone. It was a HUGE adrenalin rush, and I’m so glad I did it. My friends I think were just as relieved as I was about how well it went.

So. I tell you this ‘warts and all’ story, and no doubt am revealing too many trade secrets, in a hope that next year, you too are brave enough to submit something and hopefully get accepted to GHC 2012. The experience was unforgettable.