Engineers gonna engineer

“What ees ‘wee-jeet?'”

A few years ago, I went to a training about how to become a product manager. It was for engineers and I was one of the very few non-engineers in the room, but my boss wanted me to go because all the product managers I supported were going and he wanted me to speak their language.

We broke into teams to do an exercise – to take an assigned persona and figure out what she might care about and how to convert the product technical attributes into benefits that would appeal to her.

Our persona was John, a VP of sales.

(Yes I know I used “she” – I use “she” as my default pronoun these days.)

That was all the information we had. We were supposed to make up the rest.

Making stuff up is stressful for engineers, as it requires operating in ambiguity.

Most of the team wanted to figure out who John was and what John’s company made.

“College graduate?” they asked.


I nodded as I noted their comments, thinking to myself that none of that was really relevant. But when one is on a team and one is not the boss of the team, one tends to go along, especially when it’s a team of strangers.

“How old is he?” they asked.

We agreed that as a VP, he was at least in his early 40s.

Bob looked at his phone and said, “We have only ten minutes to finish.”

“Let’s figure out what John’s concerns are,” I suggested. “Sales pipeline? Conversion rates? Data quality? None of those have anything to do with the product.”

No! “What does the company make?” they wanted to know.

“I don’t think John’s product really matters,” I said.

Bob, the other non engineer on my team, nodded in agreement.

But another person on the team said, “iPhones!”

A second person said, “No, software!”

I tried again. “I don’t think it really matters! John’s concerns are about the process!”

Bob agreed. “It doesn’t matter what the company makes. All sales VPs have similar issues, regardless of what they are selling.”

The team fell silent.

Bob and I tried to explain about Big Picture Thinking to engineers.

No insult to engineers. Mr T is an engineer. His ability to focus on and resolve the tiny details means we almost never have to pay repairpeople, including the Microwave Replacement Project of July 2014 Over Which We Nearly Divorced.

If there is a discrepancy in a bill, he will find it and resolve it. He plans all of our amazing trips, including finding the best airline deals, finding the hotels and making reservations, planning the in-country transportation, and in general, doing every single bit of the kind of work I hate so that all I have to do is follow him on our adventures.

We have engineers to thank for airplanes that fly without crashing and for other machines that don’t kill us.

Engineers do great work!

But – the Big Picture – abstract thinking – is not their favorite thing.

Bob and I tried again to explain that no matter what John is selling, he faces issues common to all sales VPs. Things like, “Are my people seeing enough prospects? How many prospects turn into customers? What does my sales pipeline even look like? Do I have a clear view of who is in which stage? What is our online presence? Is it effective?”

We finally convinced them that we did not have to define the product to understand John’s concerns.

We finally convinced them that we did not have to nail down every single little detail to solve this problem.

We finally convinced them that we should be figuring out what John cares about as opposed to his background and the company’s products.

Exhale. Bob and I exhaled.

“But -” asked one engineer. “What do they make?”

Bob and I stared at him. Hadn’t we just gone through all this?

The engineer stared back.

“Widgets,” Bob answered wearily. “Widgets. They make widgets.”

The French Canadian on our team – the handsome guy with the two-day stubble and a light-blue scarf looped jauntily around his neck in that European way where you fold the scarf in half and then pull the two loose ends through the loop, the guy who spent every break standing just outside the doors smoking, leaned forward, frowned, and asked, “But – what ees ‘wee-jeet?'”

We – did not complete the exercise before time was up.

But then, neither did any of the other teams.


“Governing while female”

Madame senator/Dr inventor of something amazing/Ms CEO – How do you balance your career with your family responsibilities?

I have a college friend who is a state-level elected official.

She won’t join any groups on facebook because she knows she will be hassled by strangers.

She gets hate email to her work email address.

Lat month, she had to figure out how to tell the public about an accident her little girl had – the girl fell and broke her ankle. Most of us don’t need to share that kind of information with strangers, but if you’re a a woman in politics, it’s required.

When Jim Sensenbrenner’s wife had a stroke, I don’t think he made a public statement about it. Nobody asks the men what’s going on in their home lives.

But if a woman has any degree of distraction – well, she owes us an explanation!

Actually, it’s probably more preventive – if a woman is distracted, her opponents are going to tear her apart.

So my friend put out a statement about her kid, although she tried to be as vague as possible. It’s personal. It’s her child. Her child is not part of this.

But because my friend had to miss a public event – when your child has just broken her ankle, you are not going to leave her alone at home so you can cut a ribbon, she had to give a reason that would be good enough.

That’s not even the story I want to tell here. I don’t think any of you are surprised that the expectations of women are completely different from the expectations of men.

Here’s the real story:

My friend did all of this – and also made a speech on the floor of the legislature and walked in a 4th of July parade – while working in an emergency biopsy.


She went for her regular mammogram and her doc was concerned enough that she said BIOPSY NOW TODAY THIS MINUTE.

She gave a speech while not only worrying about her little girl but also wondering if she had breast cancer.

I am going to say that again: She gave a speech on the floor of the legislature while she was waiting for the results of an emergency biopsy.

“Why didn’t she just tell people?” Mr T asked. “How could she do all of that without breaking down?”

He asked that sincerely.

Because if a man – an elected official – shared that kind of personal information, nobody would say, “See? That’s why men are unfit for public office! They get so distracted by family and personal issues!”

But if a woman shares that information – well, that’s why women aren’t fit to hold office. If a woman gets emotional – btw, anger is an emotion but when men express anger, they are “passionate,” not “too emotional” – then she is wrong. If a man shares intimate health information, he’s brave. If a woman does it, she’s oversharing and this is why women should not be in public office.

Midwestern nice

Sometimes a peach is just a peach

Is this just a midwestern thing? I find it – odd.

I have, more than once, given something – in this case, a dozen peaches from the case we bought from the Tree-Ripe folks – to a friend only to be asked how much they owe me.

Nothing! I answer.

No, really, they insist, how much?

It’s – a gift, I say, while thinking, Isn’t it obvious that an unprompted delivery of an item is not considered a shared expense but a gift?

I didn’t ask them beforehand if they wanted to split getting a case of peaches.

I didn’t ask, “Would you like to buy some peaches from me?”

I showed up at their front doors with a dozen peaches.

I had mentioned the peaches to them before, when I told them about the peach truck and how great the peaches were, and when Mr T got ours, we thought, That’s a lot of peaches we can share some.

So they asked me how much money they owed me and I said nothing no really I mean nothing.

I guess they wanted to be sure that they were not offending me and that they had not misunderstood the previous conversation – but here’s what I want to know: Has anyone ever answered, “That will be ten dollars” to a question like that?

Britney, I’m sorry

I’m ready to start taking names

When I first started writing this post, it was before all the news about Britney and her conservatorship.

All I can think of when I read those stories is how you don’t hear about men being treated that way and about how history doesn’t change.

Isn’t this how women – inconvenient women – have always been treated?

Witches. Whores. Crazy.


When women don’t agree with the men, the men need to get them in line.

When women challenge men, men need to get the women in line.

That, by the way, is what Mr T’s father told him to do to me when I challenged him once. I mostly kept my mouth shut around Mr T’s dad because he punished any challenge to his jerkiness by taking it out on Mr T’s mom, but one time, Father in Law, FIL for short because I don’t want to waste time thinking of a name for him (also – have you noticed how most of the women in the Bible don’t have names? Does that make you as angry as it makes me?)

Anyhow, FIL had said something to my lovely niece and FIL was wrong and I was tired of it and I challenged him and – well, it ended with FIL calling Mr T into his bedroom to tell Mr T to – yes – GET ME IN LINE.

Which Mr T laughed when he told me the story because Mr T and I?

We are aligned on the fact that his dad was a jerk. Now, six years after his parents’ death, we are even more aligned but WOW HAVE I GOTTEN OFF TOPIC.


I apologize to Britney Spears.

To Monica Lewinsky.

To Jessica Simpson.

To Katherine Heigl.

To Shannon Dougherty.

To any woman who has been mocked and derided in public because she is “difficult.” Or doesn’t conform.

Or, like Britney, who was clearly troubled and needed help and we – I – I cannot speak for the rest of you, but I did this. I did this and I am ashamed. I laughed at her and I mocked her. I mocked her as she shaved her head, even though I knew that when women cut off their own hair, it’s a sign of distress.

I absorbed the story that these women were not doing it right and deserved the way they were being treated.

They were challenging the status quo!

And we can’t have that, can we?

I was going along with the story as I was seeing it instead of thinking for myself and wondering why Britney and Katherine and Shannon and Jessica and Monica and any disagreeable woman might be labeled as such.

If you stand up for yourself – if you counter the prevailing narrative, you will be shot down.

I am sorry that I didn’t defend my fellow women. But I will defend them now.

It IS about the #@%#& pockets

And about sex discrimination. Did I mention sex discrimination? SEX DISCRIMINATION

A lovely afternoon at the ballpark, right?

Thirty minutes before we left the house for a baseball game – the first one we have gone to in – wow, I can’t even remember in how long, but since the Before Times, Mr T said something about he didn’t think I could take a purse into the ballpark.

Which – who would make such a stupid rule?

I checked the website.

A purse is allowed – a single-compartment bag 9x5x2.

Which is a size that I, owner of many purses, do not own.

And I had no intention of spending the next 30 minutes trying to buy one. I mean, where would I even start? There’s a Walgreen’s two blocks from my house, but does Walgreen’s sell purses?

I had wanted to wear a sleeveless dress because

  1. It’s comfortable and my new rule is “No clothes that hurt”
  2. It was warm so I wanted sleeveless
  3. See Number 1.

But – the dress had no pockets.

Without pockets, where do I put my

  1. Phone
  2. Glasses case
  3. Migraine med
  4. Handkerchief
  5. Emergency chocolate
  6. Wallet
  7. All the other stuff I don’t even think about that lives in my purse and that goes with me when I leave the house?

All you women are laughing because you know the real question is, “Even with pockets, where do I put these things?”

Which indeed was the case.

I changed my clothes plans to jeans (ick – clothes that hurt and too hot for the weather) and tried to find places for my stuff.

The glasses case, the chocolate, and the wallet had to stay home.

The phone fits only about one third of the way into my front pocket. It fits better into my back pocket, but still only about halfway, meaning it would be easy to steal, so it has to go in the front.

Test putting your phone into the pockets of a man’s jeans.


Now are you angry?


It gets better.

When I had to go to the bathroom, I couldn’t leave my phone in my pocket, either the front or the back.




Mr T said, “I think you might have a legitimate case of sex discrimination.”

I think he might be right.