Mark Zuckerberg’s Gift to Women



We all know Mark Zuckerberg’s gift to the technology sector; we all have (or had, or will have) Facebook accounts. Social media is a universal connector. With Zuckerberg’s recent announcement that he will take a beautiful, wonderful four month paid paternity leave, he casts into bright light the issues of family and work-life balance in the technical industry in ways that women have hungered for for decades. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Facebook Founder has recently announced that the benefit will extend to all Facebook employees. Facebook has joined companies, many in the technology sector, in expanding parental leave benefits, and including fathers and same-sex partners. Why is this a huge boon for moms, though?

According to the Center for Talent Innovation, women are far more likely than men to leave their jobs in science and technology despite the fact that we all know that jobs in tech – especially in computer science, Zuckerberg’s very wheelhouse (and mine) are projected to grow up to three times faster than other STEM sectors.


By declaring that his family must take a central role in his life in order to create the balance that he seeks in order to succeed, Zuckerberg has sent a shining beacon to every industry – not just tech, although this is significant for us – that such balance is essential. He is doing for men and women what we have only dreamed of in the past.

Now, before you think I am merely shouting for women’s and mothers’ family leave, I know that the U.S. still has great leaps to make in terms of addressing gender equality, and there remains a huge gap in the general gender imbalance in the tech industry at large, but here is where I see his move making a difference:

It may be that very few traditional men will follow his lead, but more women will feel comfortable establishing the primacy of their maternity leaves. But given a little time, men will take the lead. And partners will follow suit. And fewer mothers will feel obliged to behave like the Melissa Mayers of our industry, or at least fewer will feel pressured to do so. We already know that it is important to calibrate our lives to find balance, it’s just that we rarely know how to do so. I don’t want to cast aspersions on Yahoo’s Melissa Mayer, because frankly, shaming one another about our mothering decisions is SO 1990. It’s time we get over that. Enough, already. That’s not what I’m trying to do here.


What I’m trying to do is to say that there is room for everyone at this table. I, for better or worse (I’d like to offer the opinion better here, if only because I now hold not one but two Master’s degrees, and my kids are awesome) jumped off the career track to raise my kids as a SAHM for a decade, and I loved it. During that time, I had a cottage soapmaking business, I ran the PTA, I volunteered tirelessly, and I never missed a school function. My choice. I gave up on a great many things, including stylish clothing and intelligent conversation with adults. What I did after my kids were school-aged is rev up my engines and jump back on the career track, never apologize, and here I am now, in a job I enjoy, fast-tracking myself personally and professionally. Melissa Mayer is choosing to spend fewer than her company’s offered maternity leave and instead heading back to her office a mere two weeks after what will hopefully be an uncomplicated labor and delivery very near the holidays. She is instead opting for what she calls “hard work and thoughtful prioritization.” We can hope for the best. Every family chooses the path that works for them.

Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of You Tube, wrote about this in the Wall Street Journal recently. Her own maternity leave, taken five times, “gave me a broader sense of purpose” and “a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently.”  Another specific benefit of this time that Wojcicki realized is one that Tacy Byham, CEO of Development Designs International pointed out at a fantastic networking event I attended recently (which I’ll have to cover in another post, because this one is getting too long). Wojcicki wrote that maternity leave “helped me understand the specific needs and concerns of mothers, who make most household spending decisions and control more than $2 trillion of purchasing power in the U.S.” Indeed. This is what Byham reiterated at the recent  event we both attended in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago. Women, not the least of whom are employed women, control an awful lot of the spending in this country, and we are smart, informed consumers.

So let’s take a step back and review.

We need more women in STEM fields. Mark Zuckerberg just helped us open a big, giant door. We have examples of women leaders across the country, don’t we? So how did a dude help us out? Well, it’s simple, if you ask me. Twenty-one years ago, when I had my first child, I saw very little opportunity to effectively be both truly dedicated parent and truly dedicated to my job. I still think that there is a give-and-take that I perhaps would not be able to navigate. But I might be able to steer my ship more clearly through those choppy waters if I thought my partner could steer his ship, too. Alas! When parents can function as teams, when families can intertwine in such a way that it truly works – then we can truly work.

That may sound schmaltzy, but it’s true.

In addition to Tacy Byham’s great talk about women as leaders at the Red Chair “Sit With Me” event, I had the pleasure of listening to Debra Lam , the City of Pittsburgh’s Chief Innovation & Performance Officer. Debra was a dynamic speaker, and she really helped with the evening’s conclusion because she just had a baby herself – by “just had” I mean her son was one week old when she spent her evening talking with this group of women in technology. She’s that dedicated. One of her most salient points, though, was that while she is still on maternity leave, and she could have reasonably excused herself from the event that evening, she was able to be with us because she has the full support of her family. There are backup plans. Her family intertwines, and they get it. Her employer gets it. Her community gets it.

The city of Pittsburgh won’t lose a talented, gifted innovative woman in technology because we get it.

So thanks, Mark Zuckerberg, for making the conversation shift just a little bit. Even though we have a very, very long way to go, and these conversations need to trickle into every boardroom and every breakroom and every HR meeting and every hiring decision in America. I feel like you got it started.

You look very different from the guy who just wanted to get a date in the Social Network, that’s for sure.

I wonder what the Winklevoss twins think of you now?



Get Your Umbrella Ready – There’s a Tweetstorm Coming!


 In January 2015, a mere 11 months ago, Twitter’s founder, Jack Dorsey, endorsed the multi-tweet “twitterstorm” as a clever means of rapid-fire marketing. He wrote:


Dorsey also noted that tweetstorming was a pretty brilliant way to maneuver around the 140-character limit, and that it wasn’t the first time that users had built platform features that Twitter designers hadn’t thought of themselves.

In fact, it took Dorsey a series of 17 tweets to talk about his support of Tweetstorming. Charlie Warzel, of Buzzfeed, chimed in quickly with a response that Twitter’s newest trend was totally out of line and “Must Be Stopped.”  Warzel’s reasonable claim? Get a blog.

Dorsey not only lauded the notion of Tweetstorming, but also the introduction of video, photos, and other improvements like direct messaging and a mobile video camera. Many users cheered along with him. Conversing with a group, privately? Hurrah! Capturing and sharing videos right from your Twitter app? Amazing! The Twitter experience can now be full and rich. With just a few taps, you can add new dimensionality to previously flat and non-immersive text-only media.

By July, the concept and term had become popular enough, and had gained enough ground, that Twitter applied to trademark the word, “Tweetstorm.” No lie.

But, wait. What does this have to do with technical writing?tweetstorming

I cannot imagine the things it does NOT have to do with technical writing.

If I am now able to Tweet a set of user steps as a Tweetstorm, steps 1-12, for example in a series as simple as 1/1,1/2, 1/3 and so on so that users can see my Twitter handle and the steps they take, and I can imbed a photo or video along with what they need to do, or even use a screen capture of an on-site step, or a photo of the machine, the shop, the location or the outcome. I have now crossed over in real-time to becoming the most useful tool in the arsenal.

And if I can sit with a developer or support team member and walk-through the issue that a customer is having with the software we have developed, or I can be in the room with my Development Team and a User Experience Designer, a whiteboard and a Product Owner, and live-tweet the whole experience while we develop the documentation, then the medium gets the message.

This particular use of Twitter moves it from social to business and targets my audience with precision heretofore unimagined my Twitter, but that – in eleven short months – could be elegantly applied by businesses like agile software development in a global capacity with full force, especially by teams of document writers who may be located time zones away.

So, Charlie Warzel, while I sympathize that Tweetstorming is indeed not the proper forum for detailing your last evening’s date or repeating the behavior of the passenger next to you on the airplane, I caution that it may be that tech writers will co-opt Twitter in much the same way that thirtysomethings took over Facebook.

Better buy some gtweetstormeraloshes. There could be a heck of a tweetstorm.

Can Software Write This Better than Me?

In my job, Icomputer writer’m expected to use a variety of tools to ensure accuracy, word count, compliance, style – adherence to a host of things that keep me “in line” with the company’s overall design and standards. This causes me to wonder: as part of a team of software developers, could my team design software that automates the process of writing the documentation for their own software with enough accuracy that the documentation specialist goes the way of the dinosaur?

I mean, the whole point of some of my products is to automate processes that human beings used to perform, and to automate them to such a degree of precision that people are hardly required to be cognizant, let alone present, for the actions these programs perform. We’ve designed such reliable systems that banking, health care, military information and community design can count on big data to gather and maintain the necessary materials to run our daily lives, and to store that data, to anticipate problems before the occur, and to rectify those problems with limited human intervention.

When you think, “but this type of automation cannot be applied to writing…writing requires critical thinking and analysis!” You would be correct. But you would be overlooking tools like the lexical analyzer Wordsmith, and the automated writing tool also named Wordsmith. Created by Automated Insights, Wordsmith is the API responsible for turning structured data into prose – it literally takes baseline information and makes an article. Could I be out of a job?

Feed me some data, and I write articles, too, only you have to pay me and occasionally socialize with me. Not so for Wordsmith.

The freakish thing about Wordsmith is its accuracy. I’ve studied a good bit about semantic language interpretation, and in my graduate program at Carnegie Mellon University, I dabbled in software interpretation of language, working with a pretty notable team on designing huge dictionaries of strings of language. The thing is, computers are great at reading – they can read at much faster rates than humans, they can digest huge chunks of information and store that information at infinitely larger capacities than the human brain can and their recall is spectacular. Skeptical? Just watch the amazing Jeopardy matches between IBM’s Watson and you’ll soon see that computing power can be harnessed to cull through the informational equivalent of roughly one million books per second. Humans just can’t keep up. Humans who write can’t touch that.

If computers learn a perfect formula for the Great American Novel, we are doomed.

Something to consider. Let’s try to keep this a secret from my bosses, shall we? My team of very excellent software developers may decide that this is a project worth undertaking, and the next thing you know, it won’t be just data that Wordsmith will be analyzing.

In the meantime, I will rely on the human eye and the need for context clues and interpretation that Wordsmith and Watson lack. I’ll count on the systems of reliability and emotion. I’ll count on what I know. What I learned in that high-functioning graduate analysis: A computer cannot tell the significant difference between these two exchanges:

Scene 1: A funeral home. A somber affair, all is quiet. A man says to a woman:

“Sorry for your loss.”

The appropriate response? She shakes his hand and nods, quietly.

Scene 2: A soccer game. A sunny afternoon. The breeze is blowing gently.

A boy says to a girl:

“Sorry for your loss.”

The appropriate response? She high-fives him and replies, “No sweat! Let’s grab some pizza! Woooo hooo!” As they tumble into a minivan, shouting jubilantly, kicking off their shoes.

No computer can decipher the differences in – “Sorry for your loss.”

Sorry, Wordsmith.

I’m going out for pizza.