When the unexpected happens

So the other day I went into work and got laid off. On the up side, I was home by noon. On the down side, it sucked as it was unexpected.

Looking for work can be both grueling and exhilarating. The possibilities can be endless! Where do I want to go next? What do I want to do now? Should I start up my own business again and look for consulting contracts? Should I stick to full time and target companies I’d love to work at? Maybe I should start something totally new. There can be excitement in the unknown. But then there are the days when the phone is silent and the inbox is still. That can be quite scary.

No one ever said that life was guaranteed to be predictable and it’s easy to get totally side swiped when something like a job loss comes your way. It can be tempting to slide into a rut of unproductive self-pitying Netflix bingeing when you don’t know how long the break will be. I haven’t figured out how to see into the future, so here are my tips for staying positive and productive when the rug gets pulled out from underneath you for an indeterminate period of time:

  1. Make a list. The afternoon I was laid off, I installed a To Do app on my phone called On it I started listing things that I wanted to accomplish. Not all of them were job hunting related – some of them were things that I needed to do but hadn’t had the time to get around to doing, like get my passport renewed. It was helpful, especially in the first few days, to be able to cross off at least one or two things from my list every day.
  2. Call 5 people and set up coffee dates. Make at least 3 of them people you know in hiring positions at companies you might like to work for. They may not have a job that’s currently open but it’s a good opportunity to talk about what you’re looking for and what their biggest gaps/pains are to see if there are any possible connections to be made. You never know when a discussion over coffee will lead to a job down the road. One of the 5 should also be a good friend you can just unload to.
  3. Pick a project or a hobby to work on. It could be something new you’ve always wanted to do or something you’re in the middle of but never had the time to dedicate to. For me, I’m working on painting the roof of one of my boys’ bedroom ceiling. It’s painted the same colour as the wall except for the center where there is a big Minecraft-like hole through the roof and the sky with clouds can be seen. I love painting so this is a good relaxing, get-to-my-happy-place activity that keeps me grounded and sets my mind at ease.
  4. Organize something. It could be your office, your pantry, the playroom, your closet or all of the above. There is a certain satisfaction from creating organization from chaos that helps a person feel like they do have their life under a bit of control after all.

Do you have any other tips to share that I’ve missed here?

If you’re free for a coffee, I’ve got some time to spare these days. And if you know of anyone looking for help building their Microsoft practice, taking their relationship with Microsoft to the next level, evangelising their product or project internally or externally, or generating demand with current or new customers, please pass along my name. I’d love to connect with a Microsoft partner looking for help in any or all of these areas.

My LinkedIn profile can be found at

Getting organized in a digital age

I’ve always been a visual learner. Couple that with a diminished capacity to remember anything other than which son likes cheese and which prefers vanilla yogurt over blueberry, and I tend to forget anything that I haven’t written down. Hearing it isn’t enough, I need to see the words to take it in. Better yet, see the words and visualize the scenario or object in my head – then it’s in the vault.

For years I carried around paper notebooks of various sizes and shapes. These helped me remember things, although having to flip through them to refer back to the details I had written was always bothersome. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I left Microsoft and started my new job with Compugen that I fully embraced a digital solution. Sure, I had dabbled in OneNote while at Microsoft but I never gotten into it for my own personal day to day work.

However, in my new role I attend a lot of meetings. A *lot* of meetings. Many of these are customer meetings and so I quickly adopted OneNote as my go to tool for keeping track of who attended, which customer it was about and the salient points for later recall. And from there, I started adding to and organizing my digital notebook into something that makes sense and works really well for me.

So now I’m a OneNote junkie who can’t function without it. I live in it every day. However, whenever I’ve espoused the wonders of OneNote to others in the past, I’ve always been aware that there are free tools like Evernote that do an ok job too. They may not be as feature rich as OneNote, but hey they’re free – that’s hard to compete with. Until now!

This week, Microsoft made a few exciting announcements:

  1. OneNote is now a free download – yay!
  2. OneNote is now available for the Mac. So now it doesn’t matter if you are on a PC, Mac, Windows tablet, Windows phone, iPad, iPhone, Android or using a web browser. You can use OneNote and each device will always be in sync.
  3. There is a cloud API for OneNote which means that OneNote apps can be created in the cloud, compared to add-ins which are installed and used locally on each OneNote installation.

If you’re looking to try it out or you’re already using OneNote and would like some ideas of how to use it better, I’ll share how I do it. This may not be the best method for everyone but it definately keeps me sane.

I keep one notebook for work and one for personal activities (vacation planning, shopping lists, volunteer work, etc.) and save both to OneDrive so that I can access them from anywhere. I’ve organized my work one by types of meetings – customer meetings, 1:1 meetings with my manager, meetings with partners, etc., and activities – event notes, blog ideas, etc. Below is a screen shot of my Compugen notebook opened to the Blog tab, where I jot down and develop ideas to write about on the corporate blog (click for larger image).

Screenshot of my OneNote workbook

Along the right hand side are the titles of each idea, but also there is a Submitted page, with several blog idea pages as subpages under it.  I can show or hide subpages as needed. On my customer tab (which I can’t post here for obvious reasons!), this allows me to have a main page for each customer with sub-pages organized by date underneath for each meeting or conversation about that customer.

One more thing I have to show you. For any free form folks reading this, OneNote also works great with a stylus. Here is an example of an intense brainstorming team meeting I participated in. As most doodlers know, far from being distracting, doodling can help focus concentration and increase retention so every once in a while, I break out my stylus and go to town!

OneNote Doodle

Any other OneNote aficionados out there that would like to share how they use it? I’d love to hear your methods, tips or tricks.

Living without Lync: No Thanks!

[Cross-posted from the Compugen ITbuzz blog]

I’ve been working out of a home office for the past 10 years and although it may not be for everyone, I’d have a hard time going back to being in an office every day. While there are both merits and pitfalls to telecommuting, there is one tool I couldn’t do it without: Lync.

I have to admit, I have a certain bias here. After all, I did just come from 6 years of working at Microsoft where Lync is baked into the company’s corporate culture. When I was interviewing for my current role, I was happy to discover that Compugen is also heavily dependent on Lync and use it to embrace a flexible work place for employees. It weighed nicely in the “Pro” column when considering my options.

Why Lync? Implemented right, it’s more than just a teleconferencing application. For example, it integrates with Exchange, SharePoint and other applications to show presence. When I open up an email or shared document, I can see who is offline (gray dot), busy (red dot), away (yellow dot) or available (green dot) and I can click on the person’s name to email, IM or call them right from my computer.

Presence information in Outlook

Because I’m not physically near my colleagues, being able to see who is available and being able to have multiple ways to easily contact and communicate with them is critical. I don’t want to miss opportunities to have quick chats with a colleague on an issue or ping someone with an idea simply because I’m not in the office around the water cooler.

Through federation, I have similar visibility into the online status of customers, partners and others using federated Lync. With Lync 2013, federation extends to customers, partners, etc who use Skype as well. Even though I’m sitting by myself in my home office, I’m totally connected to all the people that I need to be in order to be productive and effective. All without the daily commute.

Federated contacts in Lync

To be optimally effective on any conferencing software, it helps to have good hardware. In fact, ineffective hardware can be a big barrier to adoption and can make telecommuting very frustrating. I had the opportunity to speak to Jabra, Plantronics and Polycom at the recent Lync Conference in Toronto and each of them have solid Lync optimized options for whatever environment you’re working in.

There are hundreds of hardware options on the market. Here are my two personal favs:

  1. For in my home office, I like to use what I call my Jabra hockey puck. The Jabra SPEAK is optimized for Lync and all I have to do is plug it in to my notebook’s USB port. The call quality is great and people don’t realize that I’m calling through my computer without using a headset. Because it’s a speaker phone, I can get up and stretch without being tethered to my computer or worrying about my glasses or hair getting in the way of an earpiece.clip_image003
  2. For the days when I do go into the office or I’m working from a coffee shop, train, airport or other shared workspace I have been using a Plantronics Voyager Pro Bluetooth headset which I’ve absolutely loved. I’ve never felt like I needed to raise my voice any higher than normal, it’s pretty discreet and it fits over my ear well. However, I was given the latest version, the Voyager Legend, at the Lync Conference and I’m pretty excited to try it out.clip_image004

It looks much like my old headset but with a few key improvements. The volume and power buttons are easier to work with and it comes with this great little case that has a rechargeable battery to charge the headset when it’s stored there. How cool is that!clip_image005

So how do you like to work when you’re on the road and mobile? What are your favourite tools? Post a comment below – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What not to do when deploying Windows 7


My first real blogging experience started when I joined Microsoft back in 2007. It was such a scary experience to post something so publically to such a large ready-made audience! I worried about being profound enough, smart enough, witty enough and died a little inside each time I discovered too late that I’d made a spelling or grammar mistake.

Fast-forward to today and I’m happy to say that I’m blogging again on a corporate blog. I worry a lot less and enjoy it a lot more now than I did then! It feels good to be able to stretch my creative writing muscle.

Below is my first post from the Compugen blog, ITbuzz. The first of many more to come! Enjoy.


[Cross-posted from the Compugen ITbuzz blog]

April 8, 2014 is coming up fast. Too fast for many IT shops. That’s the date when Windows XP extended support ends and Microsoft will stop updating the OS. Many organizations are finding themselves in a bit of a time crunch to complete their desktop deployments before time runs out.

Windows XP will not suddenly stop working on April 9. It’ll still boot, it’ll still run applications, and it’ll still connect to the Internet. But it won’t get any more security updates and when hackers find and exploit holes and bugs in the OS, XP users and their IT support folk will have no avenue of recourse to patch the OS. It’s a very vulnerable situation that businesses and organizations don’t want to find themselves in.

Having spoken to many IT folks lately who are getting started or are in the midst of their deployment, here are my 5 things not to do for a successful and timely client OS rollout:

  1. Ignore the size and scope of the project before starting. Let’s just add to the project as things come up. So don’t assess hardware so upgrades can be planned. Maybe an Office upgrade should happen at the same time. How hard could that be since the OS is being updated anyway? Let’s ignore the fact that the company uses macros and depends on Access databases which will need to be tested. April 8, 2014 isn’t a hard stop date anyway right? We’ve got lots of time for extras.
  2. Forget about doing a thorough assessment of your applications. Does it really matter that there are 5 versions of Adobe Reader on the floor, that the 3 different graphics packages could be consolidated down to one and that no one uses QuoteRUs although it’s installed on 50% of the desktops? Let’s just inventory the environment and test everything because we have lots of time and money to do so. Or let’s just assume we know what people are using and only test and remediate those applications to save time and money. Of course people may not be very productive after the rollout if we guess wrong but how bad could it be?
  3. Don’t consider who owns the applications. While the business unit may champion the use of some applications, we can save time by doing our own testing of the applicaiton. Regardless of whether we understand how people use the applications or what the business unit really needs we can decide if an application can, should and will be moved to the new environment. Consulting with the business just means more delays and we’re on a time crunch!
  4. Don’t put together a detailed project plan. Gantt charts are scary. Need I say more?
  5. Don’t worry about having solid technical leadership. Microsoft is pulling support and our executives are behind the project and expecting timely results. We’re experts on our IT systems so we’ll figure it out even though we haven’t done a rollout this extensive or invasive to our business since moving to XP 10 years ago. Let’s get ‘er done.

Now I must say our customers are pretty astute when approaching a project of this magnitude. But despite that, in just about every conversation I have there are always things that come out that weren’t considered. That’s why our customers love working us – we’ve got the knowledge and expertise that they need to be successful and we make them look good.

For more information about Compugen’s Windows 7 Acceleration Services, check out the deck that my boss, Joe Addison, and I presented at a recent event. Let me know if you want to know more or are interested in one of our workshops or assessments.

Moving on to new adventures

I can’t believe it’s already 2 weeks into the new year! I had a great time over the holidays visiting with family and spending time with the 2 special little 4 year olds in my life. I would like to say I got to visit with a lot of friends, too, but I had to bow out of most social gatherings due to being sick *sad tuba*. Luckily with some good drugs, I’m now healthy again!

However, what made the holidays particularly relaxing is that I accepted a job offer in December with Compugen, one of Canada’s largest, privately-owned IT services providers and PC systems integrators. I’ll be working in technical pre-sales focusing on Microsoft technologies. I’m pretty excited about starting this next phase of my career, but before jumping in, I decided to take a bit of a break to recharge and have delayed my start date until February. So until then, my days are filled with home projects, school and day-care drop offs and pick ups and relaxing.

However, I’m not slacking off entirely! I’ll be presenting on Windows Server 2012 at the Waterloo Wellington IT Pro user group on January 28 and if you’re in the area, I hope you’ll join me! For more information and to sign up, visit the website at

Life after Microsoft

I’ve had the privilege to work with some amazing people at Microsoft. It’s a company that attracts top notch people who are passionate about technology and I’m grateful for the experiences and opportunities I’ve had over the past 6 years. However, nothing lasts forever and a number of changes within the company have meant that me and Microsoft are no longer a good fit.

It’s now been over a week since I entered the Microsoft office for the last time as an employee. I’ve been fairly quiet on my social networks since then, being totally selfish and taking time for me and my family. It’s been refreshing to have time to bake with the boys, cook a few real meals that didn’t involve frozen fish sticks, work out and read for pleasure. All the stresses and pressures, particularly from the past few months, have rapidly dissipated.

The first day post-Microsoft, my feelings alternated between excitement and panic. I’d be totally jazzed planning what might come next and then get this gut-wrenching feeling of terror that my career was over. However, by day 2, the grapevine had done it’s work and people started contacting me. Some simply to find out what happened, to express their feelings and to establish a connection. Others to inquire about next steps in my career now that I am available.

I feel I have a unique opportunity – time to think about where I want to go next and plan accordingly without the distraction of a job or the pressure of looking while being secretive. I’ve got some great experience under my belt with a solid technical background complemented by sound presentation and communication skills along with good connections within the IT community. I’ll be seeking a technical sales role, however, I also realize there may be a role within company I haven’t thought of that would be a good fit. I mean, who would of thought there would be such a thing as an IT Pro Evangelist? I certainly didn’t before I joined the team at Microsoft.

For those wanting to know how to reach me, my personal email address is [UPDATED EMAIL]

Confessions of a public speaker

23-02-2012 2-21-31 PM

I speak to audiences all across Canada as part of my job as an evangelist with Microsoft. I talk to large groups and small groups, to IT managers, to students. I speak about IT strategy, about careers in IT, and most importantly, about the nuts and bolts of Microsoft technology.

It was one of the reasons that I took the job – I wanted to have the opportunity to grow my public speaking skills. It wasn’t something I had done much before joining Microsoft but I thought I might be good at it. And apparently I’m not that bad, if the comments I get and the event evaluations are to be believed.

But it terrifies me each time.

Yup. That’s right. For a few days prior to every speaking engagement, particularly if I’m speaking on a new topic or using a new deck, I feel the anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I give my husband a heads up that I’m starting to feel edgy and he knows to cut me some extra slack until the event is over. He understands that if he pokes my buttons while I’m in that state, I just might explode.

I wonder each time if it’s worth it. Am I in the right job, if one of the main components of it gives me such grief? Perhaps not, but I’m too stubborn to give up because of it. Smile

I’m much better than I was when I first started at managing the pre-presentation anxiety. I’ve learned certain techniques to lessen my anxiety, to relax, and to help me do my best but not care so deeply about perfection that it paralyzes me.

Having just completed 3 more speaking engagements over the last 4 weeks including a 6 hour technical workshop, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned for those of you have always wanted to have a public voice but have been afraid to try or those who are experienced speakers but face similar challenges to my own:

1. Practice out loud. Say the words out loud and you’ll find yourself better prepared to tell your stories with clarity in front of your audience. Find a mirror or a willing spouse, imagine your audience in front of you and go through your presentation from start to finish. Then do it again and again. I set up my notebook with a secondary monitor so that I can practise using a similar setup to having a projector in the room. And I sit in my office and talk out loud to myself like a crazy woman. This is the single most important thing you can do to ease your fears. That’s why it’s at the top of my list.

2. Remember that that the audience wants you to succeed. The people sitting in the audience are not cheering for your failure. In fact, since they took time out of their schedules to come and listen to you, they are rooting for you to succeed. If you stumble or mess up, smile, make a joke and carry on. You’ll find them smiling along with you. That happened to me recently. I messed up. So I looked out at the group in front of me and smiled. They smiled back encouragingly (or at least enough did!), I made a joke, several more laughed and we carried on. A good thing comes out of a not-so-great situation.

3. Own the room. On the day of the event, as soon as I arrive at the venue and it’s too late to worry anymore, the anxiety is replaced by a sense of purpose. I get there early, set up my equipment, and chat with the audience as they come in. I’m cool and confident. I own that room, that stage. Be early and make sure the room is set up as you want it. Greet people as they come in and get to know them a bit. Your audience will seem much less intimidating when you’re up on stage if there are a couple of familiar faces in the crowd.

4. Just do it. In front of the audience, I fall into a cadence and rhythm. It’s a comfortable place to be but a place I’ve only been able to find through experience. After the talk is over, there’s a sense of euphoria. In fact, the post-presentation rush is somewhat addictive. It’s when all my cares seem to be gone and all is right again with the world. But you have to do it to get that experience. You’ll fail to succeed at 100% of the things you don’t try.

Not just another brick in the wall

I was asked the other day if I ever feel at a disadvantage because I’m a women in tech. If I ever feel like I’m dismissed or challenged because of my gender. My answer: not any more.

When I first started my career, it did feel a bit odd being the girl in a room full of guys. Working in IT, providing technical support for a software company of 300 employees where the average age was 30, I would often get hit on as I worked on a colleague’s computer to fix the network adapter or figure out a mail client problem. I put a picture of my nephews on my desk so that people would think I was married with kids. Smile

Later in my career, working as a consultant and coming in from the outside to help an IT department with a particular project or problem it was not unusual to get challenged. However any outsider needed to prove themselves and didn’t matter if you were male or female. But sometimes I did feel that I got challenged a bit more thoroughly than my male counterparts. Some of the guys didn’t seem quite able to get their heads around this girl coming in knowing more about something then they did. These were usually the guys that would start spewing technical jargon trying to trip you up.

And then there was the time when I was at a technology showcase for HP or Toshiba or Compaq or one of the big hardware manufacturers. I was with the VP of Business Development for the consulting company I worked for. I started asking one of the hardware guys some questions and he turned and answered to the VP. He answered all my questions but he did it as if the VP had asked them! It was very bizarre.

Now I don’t know if times have just changed or if I just work in a more enlightened environment or if a more mature woman doesn’t face the same discrimination that a younger women does in this industry, but I don’t notice the same attitudes today. It also could be that I’ve grown accustomed to the environment. I no longer notice that I’m the only woman in the room until I’m at a conference and there’s no line-up for the woman’s washroom.

One thing I do know is that it’s not such a bad thing to be the one that’s different. People remember your name. They remember your work. You will get recognized.

My advice to anyone who is in an environment where you feel different – embrace it and turn it from a disadvantage to an advantage. If you’re going to be recognizable anyway, make sure that you and your work stand out in a good way.


Learning super secret stuff


I’m at TechReady all this week – an internal conference for Microsoft employees in Seattle, Washington – where I’m learning all sorts of cool stuff. I could tell you about it…but then I’d have to kill you. Or I’d get fired.

The technology sessions are really interesting but to be honest, the best part of coming here are the connections and the things I learn from my fellow colleagues. I can learn the technology other ways but I can’t have the impromptu conversations and chats over drinks without being here in person.

Every year I wonder if it’s going to be worth it – I hate leaving my family and I’m here for 9 days, the longest I’m away from them in consecutive days during the year. But then I get here and start talking to people and the ideas start flowing and the creativity and collaboration starts. It’s a beautiful thing.

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