Category Archives: Professional Life

Arisia 2016 Schedule

I am quite active at Arisia this year (even in comparison with previous years)!

B&w photo of Crystal wearing goggles in Finland

Crystal can wear a pair of goggles like a pro, yo!

Friday at 5:30 pm in Marina 1

Friday at 7 pm in Faneuil

Saturday at 4 pm in Marina 4

Saturday at 5:30 pm in Burroughs

Saturday at 9 pm in Room 666
WORLDCON 75 PARTY!!! (open to all Arisia attendees)

Sunday at 4 pm & Monday at 11:30 am in Independence Room (both sessions)


Friday at 5:30 pm in Marina 1
“Although not (as of yet) connected to the rest of the TV DC Universe, the new Supergirl show is both a hit, and a blast to watch. We’ll talk about the first half-season of the show, what it means to have a positive female hero on the small screen as a headliner, and how the creators are reinterpreting a familiar mythos through an amazing new lens. We’ll also discuss the verve Melissa Benoist brings to the title role, and the dual roles played so well by Laura Benanti.”
My co-panelists are Adam LipkinSharon Sbarsky, Gordon Linzner, and Cassandra Lease.
I have already warned them about how much prep I’ve done for this panel. It may be EPIC. I may pull out various feelings about feminism and liking imperfect things. I imprinted heavily on the 80s Supergirl movie when I was a child. Seriously.

Friday at 7 pm in Faneuil
“Cixin Liu’s _The Three-Body Problem_, translated by Ken Liu, won the Hugo for Best Novel. Clarkesworld’s recent foray into translating Chinese SF has brought some well deserved attention to the vibrant body of stories in that country. Haikasoru has made a name for itself translating works from Japanese, and has recently published SF stories translated from Spanish. What possibilities do we see in translation of other cultures’ SF? How might this change the landscape of the genre?”
I’m moderating this panel, with Ken LiuJohn Chu, Sarah Weintraub, and Morgan Crooks.
I plan to bring in plenty of stories the Finns have been telling me about SFF translation work, and we shall plumb the depths of what’s out there and what’s coming up in translation. Likely this conversation will include some structural racism of the genre. Good times, I promise you!

Saturday at 4 pm in Marina 4
“This panel will discuss etiquette for friends of authors and other creators. How do we support their endeavors without going broke or feeling obligated to attend every signing. What do we do when we don’t like their creations and are asked (or feel it’s expected) to give a reaction?”
I’m moderating this panel, with participants Timothy Goyette, Kourtney Heintz, Deborah Kaminski, and Archangel Beth.
This is a panel where I will confess all of my sins that are on-topic, so I half hope none of my friends show up … but actually, I promise to give practical as well as funny advice on this topic, as well as address some of the more sensitive aspects of the question. What is friendship, when money becomes involved? This is another aspect of that question.

Saturday at 5:30 pm in Burroughs
“Recent novels such as *The Three Body Problem*, *The Grace of Kings*, and *Throne of the Crescent Moon* join other works that challenge the cultural assumptions behind mainstream (American and English) science fiction and fantasy. How are these genres being reimagined beyond just making the space cowboys swear in Mandarin?”
John Chu is moderating this one, with Max Gladstone, Kiini Ibura Salaam, and John Scalzi on the panel.
This panel is going to be amazing, and you should come to all of my panels, but this one especially. I love Firefly, and we’re totally going to address Firefly’s racism. Also, I have some book recommendations you all want to get in on! I know where to find all the cool books doing the awesome shit.

Saturday at 9 pm in Room 666
WORLDCON 75 PARTY!!! (open to all Arisia attendees)
We shall offer some Finnish delights (which are totally different from Turkish delight), and some prizes! Some books! Some music! It’ll be great. Come visit us in Room 666, where apparently we still can’t get past the impression that we’ll nickname the Helsinki Worldcon something evil. 😉

I’m also going to be offering TWO FREE WORKSHOPS to address Impostor Syndrome at Arisia.

Sunday at 4 pm & Monday at 11:30 am
Location: Independence Room (both sessions)

“Impostor Syndrome: the feeling that you aren’t really qualified for the work you are doing and will be discovered as a fraud. Many women, People of Color, QUILTBAG persons, and others from marginalized groups deal with this feeling, especially when they’ve been socialized to value other’s opinions of their work above their own. This workshop includes practical methods of addressing one’s own Impostor Syndrome as well as suggestions for how to improve one’s community. Limit 15 (due to room size).”

This workshop is usually given at a cost of $200 per person (or a company pays for their employees to take the workshop). In 2016, I’ve pledged to offer 12 workshops for free to nonprofits, and these sessions are toward that pledge. I care about the Arisia, Inc. community and want to help make fandom a better place. This is one way I’m working toward those goals.

After taking my workshop, participants have reported higher productivity on projects, improved self-esteem, and better capacity to deal with the negative messages society sends so many of us. I love giving this workshop, and want as many people as possible to take it. I hope to see many of you there this weekend!

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Filed under Fandom, Personal, Professional Life, Worldcon

Thoughts on Hiring Processes (aka Starting/Building a Team)

I’ve long been fascinated by team dynamics, on paid and volunteer teams.  This week, I read an article that made me think more about the hiring pipeline and methods I utilized at a previous position, and I decided to brush it up a bit, while I’m at it.  A couple of people have asked me about hiring and team building recently.  Seems like it’d be good to have a blog post to point them at.  😉

I was reading a NY Times article titled “Why Some Teams are Smarter Than Others.”  I take issue with the title, a little — what we think of as “smart” differs dramatically around the world, and is highly context-dependent.  The author of the article pulls the term from the referenced studies, though, basically.  They wrote, “On average, the groups that did well on one task did well on the others, too. In other words, some teams were simply smarter than others.”  Doing well on a task is not the same thing as having higher intelligence, in my opinion.

At any rate, this NYT article discussed two study findings that were of interest to me about group dynamics and what makes for a productive, effective team.  The first study referenced found that there were 3 characteristics of a more productive team: higher collaboration (teams not being dominated by one or two louder voices), higher scores on a test that essentially measures empathy, and higher number of women (a group of people who tend to score higher on aforementioned empathy scales).  The second study referenced in the NYT article followed up with analysis of online versus face-to-face “group effectiveness” (aka team cohesion), and found that “the most important ingredients for a smart team remained constant regardless of its mode of interaction: members who communicated a lot, participated equally and possessed good emotion-reading skills.”  The obvious question then becomes, how do you build a team that functions this way?


Well, I know what that reminds me of!  A few years ago, I sat down to chat with my friend Dan, and he gave me the three best employment requirements I’ve ever heard: CLEVER, COMPETENT, and KIND.  These are required characteristics of anyone I’d like to call a colleague, whether it’s a paid position or volunteer work.  I’ve used these requirements ever since that conversation, and I’m profoundly grateful to Dan for laying it all out for me so simply.

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Filed under Organizational Health, Personal, Professional Life

Onboarding Processes that Work

In organizations (professional or volunteer), you hope that you’re gaining members to help add to the awesome efforts going into your goal, right?  This means that you need to have a way of adding people to your organization that gives them the basic info everyone needs to know, and preferably delivers some of it in a fun format that enables people to enjoy learning about the new people they’re working with and the efforts you’re coordinating together.  This is a process called “onboarding.”

According to Wikipedia,

“Research has demonstrated that these socialization [onboarding] techniques lead to positive outcomes for new employees such as higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment, and reduction in stress and intent to quit.  These outcomes are particularly important to an organization looking to retain a competitive advantage in an increasingly mobile and globalized workforce.”

It is really easy to do this poorly.  It is (sadly) uncommon to do it well.

I want to give a quick shout-out to Runkeeper, however.  My partner is just joining their team, and he’s overjoyed to discover that their onboarding includes a map of the office with everyone’s desk labeled, and a scavenger hunt list of unique facts about each colleague.  By the end of his first week, he intends to know who has a dog named Yaz and who has a fondness for ice luge!

On the Helsinki in 2017 team, we are still ironing out this process, as I’m sure most organizations are.  Now I really want to write a scavenger hunt for our next larger staff meeting, though — particularly as we are such a geographically spread team, internationally.

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Filed under Helsinki, Organizational Health, Professional Life

“Would you eat a kitten for this job?”

For my job at Luminoso Technologies, I was on a panel the other day at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, and I think it deserves a post.  The panel topic was interviewing and hiring perspectives.  Comedy gold occurred, as well as serious work on an important topic.  😉

The purpose of the panel was two-fold, from my perspective.  We wanted to help educate and prepare the students for interviewing with potential employers.  These students spent last week interviewing for six-month internships, in fact. They ran through 30-minute segments of rapid-fire questions and tried to show themselves in their best possible light while still accurately representing who they are with honesty and humility (one hopes).  Goal number one was to prepare the students for that experience.

The second goal of the panel, for me, was to differentiate Luminoso as an employer from the other companies represented on the panel.  On the one hand, that wasn’t hard.  Compare Luminoso, a startup, with established companies such as Lindt Chocolate, State Street, Raytheon, and Harvard Pilgrim Health?  We were different, all right!

I didn’t want the differentiator to be my youth or Luminoso’s, though.  I wanted the differentiation to be about Luminoso as a fun place to work, where people can expect to be on their toes and enjoy the challenge.

How does one encapsulate the essential culture of a startup?  All startups have some characteristics in common.  Running things close to the wire, sometimes by the seat of your pants, is common.  Having a flexible work schedule and a collaborative-but-fast-paced environment are also frequently the case in startup companies.

What’s the essential culture of Luminoso?  We’re a wacky bunch.  We have fun.  We like solving puzzles.  We face unexpected questions all the time, and want our employees to be ready for the unexpected.  Also, we want our employees to be fun and pleasant to work with.   We’ve got a team of 20 people as of this week.  We’re a 3-year-old company with a 100% retention rate.  We do this by hiring people who are clever, competent, and kind.  We hire people we think we’d collaborate well with, who’ll be nice colleagues even if things get hectic and stressed.

So on this panel about interviewing and hiring, I had a great opportunity to highlight Luminoso in a way that would be a big differentiation.  It was a bit of a risk, but I decided it was worth it.  The panelists were asked what their favorite interview question is, and after answering that question, I also told the kitten story.

What’s my favorite interview question?  My favorite interview question is to ask someone what your superpower is.  Not what superpower you’d choose if you could fly or be invisible or run at lightning speed.  What superpower do you already have?  What makes you a great and awesome and unique person?  This isn’t in the usual arsenal of interview questions (or at least, not phrased this way), and it often surprises people (particularly if they don’t follow me on social media).  So it’s also my tendency to offer to tell people what my superpower is, to give them time to think.

My favorite story about an interview question, though, requires more explanation.  Thanks to the indulgence of my co-panelists and the moderator, I told the following story, as well as answering the initial question:

Earlier on in Luminoso’s history, we were interviewing a candidate who had very close personal friendships with some of the cofounders.  She was a very good potential fit for the job, but due to these personal ties, I wanted to be really sure that we made the right choice in whether or not we hired her.  If we chose to bring her on board but personal relationships meant that communications went awry, that would be really detrimental for the company.  If we chose not to bring her on board after an extensive interview process, that could have at least short-term impact on some very established friendships, which would be challenging for the cofounders in question, and possibly cause resentment about the choice made.  So it was a little tricky.

In order to balance out the risks, I decided to have the candidate meet with every single member of the company at the time, and give everyone the opportunity to talk extensively.  It’s possible I went overboard, in my caution.  In addition, we hadn’t yet done sufficient interviewing to have the established patterns we have now.  People were less certain of what questions they wanted to ask applicants in order to know if candidates would be a good fit, here.

So there came a point in the conversation between this candidate and some of the developers where they ran out of steam and weren’t sure what to say next.  Let it never be said that Luminoso employees won’t make something interesting happen when given an opportunity!

One of the developers leaned in, and with a very serious expression, asked the most curveball question I think has ever been uttered during an interview.

“To get this job, would you eat a kitten?”

This is, far as I can tell, a ceramic ketchup bottle with a ceramic kitten head peeking out.

This is the result of a very quick Google image search on “kitten ketchup.” I’m both bemused and horrified.

At the Northeastern panel, the audience erupted in both laughter and awkward looks.  It’s a pretty offputting thought once you think about it, right?  Obviously, there’s a right answer (not to eat the kitten, lest you be uncertain).  And yet, there’s something funny about the fact that it’s been asked, and everyone seems to have a slightly different answers when we tell this story.  Some have asked if kittens are kosher.  Some have stated an allergy.  Some have asked if it’s a question of survival.  Some have simply stated, “no.”  (One answered, “yes,” but the longer explanation was that there are survival situations in which they can imagine needing to eat a kitten, therefore they can’t answer definitively in the negative.)

I was trying to differentiate Luminoso as being a company where the unexpected question is the one we’re often asked, and I explicitly said as much on the panel.  At the time, I could only hope that the right kind of applicants would be attracted by our fun-loving nature.  We were definitely different!  The question was, were we different in a way that drew more people to us?

Long story short, I got home that evening to another 15 applicants for our internship, in addition to the 15 we’d previously had.  The kitten story was the talk of Northeastern’s MBA school for at least a week, or so I’m told.  Several students who weren’t actually interested in a marketing internship still reached out to connect on LinkedIn and other media.  The kitten story was a small risk, but one that paid off for us, at least so far as I can discern.

And now you know the kitten story, too!

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February 13, 2014 · 9:40 pm