My Personal Journey

My Personal Journey

Did I get away with murder?

As readers of my blog know, I have had a high pressure career while being married to a man who also has a career, and raising two children. That’s the backdrop to something my father said to me last weekend which stopped me in my tracks.

Talking about a woman we know whose husband is divorcing her, my father said “Well you got away with murder!”

Wow. Talk about judgement from your Dad. Now it’s important to note my father is absolutely one of the good guys. He’s always been very supportive of my career and proud of my accomplishments, but even he carries the unconscious bias about women working.

When I was a new CEO, working hard, with two young children, my parents would often say “poor Bret” – feeling sorry for my husband that I was not taking enough care of him. They would feel bad for me that I was working so hard, and my mother many times said she wondered if she had done the right thing raising my sister and I to be so independent because the result was that we had stressful careers. I know she’d do it all over again because she believed strongly in women’s equality and I learned to ignore all the comments eventually because I knew they understood really. But when my father said I got away with murder I had to think again.

What exactly did I get away with? Staying married. Being in a partnership with a great guy. Raising two amazing children who are now powerful, fully functioning adults who I adore, and who adore me? Keeping my health despite a few trip ups along the way? Finding amazing young women to partner with in raising our children? Choosing to work with like-minded business partners in my own companies? Having a handful of friends to lean on when my schedule got too crazy? Raising dogs and cats together in peace?


And yet I know I have been silently judged by many people far more seriously than my father’s quip. Men in the workplace asking me if I would come back to work after my pregnancy, asking why was I working with young children at home. Asking me if I feel guilty, asking me what my husband thinks about my working, asking me if I could manage both children and my career. I have experiences a mile long – I could write a book but it wouldn’t change anything.

Maybe I did get away with murder. But maybe not. Maybe I lead a rich and rewarding life surrounded by great people who help and support me, and whom I help and support back. And, after a good debate last weekend, my father says he agrees with me.


My Personal Journey

The Queen… and my mother

A little something to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II being the longest reigning English monarch today.

Here she is with my Grandfather, Sir Ambrose Flux Dundas, visiting the Isle of Man where he was Lieutenant Governor early on in her reign.

But just as importantly – there is my lovely mother, so young and pretty (on the right), greeting Prince Philip with my Grandmother, Lady Mary Dundas.

We still have the agenda for her visit, plus the table seating plan and the menu. Mummy sat with the Queen and used to tell us she had beautiful table manners, except that she would squash peas onto her fork. That, however, did not make it OK for us to do the same!

My Personal Journey

On turning Fifty Five – Am I halfway there yet?

Turning 50 five years ago seemed like a big deal at the time. When I wrote the post Fifty is Just a Number Isn’t It?  in July 2010 I was musing on the minefield that the fifties looked like to me, and the challenges of aging, without having a clue what was actually going to happen and what it was going to feel like.

Now, turning 55, navigating my way through the minefield, I find myself wondering if I am halfway there – and if so halfway to what?

Maybe it’s halfway to 40 from 50. After all, the internet tells me “60 is the new 40”. Life expectancy is going up, we’re healthier than we have ever been, and so why should you not be running your first marathon at 60? Retirement age is going up and so there is no reason not to enjoy working until your late 60s now.

It’s more than halfway to the end, I think. When I plug my age and habits in to various life expectancy tools like Deadline and Living to 100 the answer always comes out the same… 92. So in that case I’m 59% of the way there, just a little more than half way. And of course these tools all tell me the same thing. Reduce stress, exercise more, and drink less. Hah!

Maybe it’s halfway to acceptance. Accepting the death of my loved ones. No, I don’t think I’ll ever accept that. Accepting the tragedy of a loved one who wants to die, but she has Alzheimers and keeps on living and is miserable. Managing the strain that puts on my husband and our marriage. Definitely striving for acceptance on that one and gradually getting there.

I hope it’s halfway through my marriage. If the online tools (which are worth what I paid for them which was zero) are right and I live to 92 I will be married for 70 years (since Bret is an athlete I believe he will live longer than me). We’ve been married 33 years so we are not even halfway! Of course he may think about that and say “yikes, time for a new wife!” but here’s hoping not. We’ve built a happy life together and while we are as different as chalk and cheese it works and we love each other.

It’s all the way to having adult children. Wow, what a joy that is! Charming, lovely adults who are delightful to be around and finally do dishes and cook. Hopefully it’s still a way to grandchildren though! I hope we’re waiting another 10 years for that pleasure.

I’m always halfway to being the perfect weight and physical fitness. I suspect that is a road I’ll travel forever. Although I do get fitter every year because every year I care more about being healthy.

And it’s definitely halfway to true friendship. My friendships have gone through stages of pleasure, competition, shared challenges (little kids, work), craziness (going to extremes to escape) but, at 55, they are moving into a phase of deep trust. Time has taught me that I have a very few real friends, but they are marvelous. They are accepting, supportive, and joyful even at the worst of times. They just get better with age.

And I’m grateful for all of it. Every day above the dirt is a good day.

This year’s milestone celebration:
a dinner party in our garden with friends, wine and fabulous food!


My Personal Journey

When Uber Made Me Think About Terrorism

Uber and terrorism. Not two things I would have thought about together until today.

Under normal circumstances I’m a happy, relatively frequent, Uber user. I grab taxis for short trips around NY but when I know my ride is going to be 10 minutes or more I’ll whip out the app and make the request. The car shocks are usually better and I am less likely to arrive at my destination green to the gills than I do from riding with the average New York cabbie.

So today started out as a normal Uber experience headed to JFK Airport. Make the request, 5 minute wait, the driver arrives… but he’s very young… maybe I should have stopped and thought then. A few blocks driving down a crowded NY street and my driver pulls over and turns off the engine. He then said he needed to go and get money from his brother for the toll. He got out, took his phone but left the car keys and took off out of sight.

Now I am a polite customer. I tip well and often chat amiably with my drivers. I want to support them making a living.

But when the driver leaves how long is a polite period to wait for him to come back? Will he come back? It’s coming up to July 4, the terror risk is high, the SWAT teams are already on the NY streets, and here I am sitting in an abandoned car at a busy intersection! And it’s an SUV so lots of room to pack explosives. Of course my brain went into analysis mode – an interesting problem I think – Jack Bauer would know what to do. Stay, go, call 911, find and dismantle the bomb with my nailfile? A few seconds into my internal debate and I decided if the car was going to explode I probably couldn’t get away anyway, and it would be a quick death, so I decided to give the kid 5 minutes.

But I couldn’t just sit there, so I tweeted the question
and got a prompt answer from Uber support

That didn’t help! Despite trying every screen I could not see where to send Support in-app in the Uber app. Clearly a usability issue in a crisis!

At 4 minutes I got smart and decided English politeness be damned… and got out of the car. I lifted my case out of the trunk and began walking determinedly away – towards my driver running back with a $20 bill. He begged me to get back in and clearly I’m a sucker.

Needless to say, when we got to JFK I gave him a piece of my mind in no uncertain terms. Leaving your passenger alone in the car for 5 minutes was very uncool.

Reflecting back, the whole experience will make me think twice about using Uber again. My driver was not the person registered with Uber but in the traffic melee getting to the car I didn’t stop to check that it was the same guy. His car was the right color but looking back on it now, not the right type. But I was not used to being concerned about my safety so I did not think to check carefully. Silly really. There are enough Uber assault cases now that I should. And why do I assume it’s safe to get into an unlicensed stranger’s car in New York during a terrorism alert?

The bottom line is my experience changes my view of the Uber brand and the service. Do I really want to use a service where now I feel I have to check the details when the driver arrives before I get in the car? Though it’s clearly easy for the driver to not be the driver Uber has on file. And do I want the stress of refusing the car if it’s not the right driver with the unleasantness that could go with it? Probably not. Until the next time I can’t get a cab.

My Personal Journey

Kindle or Paper? The pros and cons of my ongoing dilemma

Books are magical. They take me into other worlds, and increasingly into the mysteries of the past, in a way that transports me and consumes my mind. But I find I am facing a dilemma – digital or paper? ephemeral or tactile?When I say digital I am talking about the Kindle – but both the actual Amazon kindle device and the Kindle app on my iPad and iPhone. I switch back and forth – the Kindle device when outside in the sun, the iPad when on a plane.

Back and forth… the pros and cons:

+      Digital has the weight advantage. In my suitcase, or in my briefcase, I can “carry” the 4-5 books I have on the go at any point in time in one device. I need to travel with my iPad for work, and to catch up on TV shows, and of course I always have my iPhone. But then, if I am traveling on vacation where I will be in the sun I end up taking all three devices…

–       Paper has the memory advantage. I’m relieved to learn this is not just for me (I assumed it was because I learned to read with paper books) – and now we know that “Reading in print helps with comprehension” brilliantly described here. It’s the tactile experience, the thickness and feel of the book as you progress through, the ability to flip back a few pages to remind yourself. We are, in the end, tactile beings. I find I have a really hard time remembering the details I read electronically. I can remember from a paper book – I remember the visual of the information on the page – and I can also retain when I listen (I love Audible). But not when reading on a screen.

+      In line reference makes the digital experience richer. Because I read 100% history books I am always wanting to look up references: locations, the etymology of words, people… and when reading a paper book I find myself picking up my phone to find reference information. When reading on my iPad I can find the reference in line.

–      Paper books don’t have email in them. A big challenge with the iPad is my email is live. It’s too tempting to quickly check, even when on vacation or trying to relax on a long flight. This is an advantage of the Kindle device on a beach. But I still have to make myself leave my phone in my beach bag and not take it out!

–      Paper books are more relaxing. I can read a paper book all day. 9am to 7pm no problem (if I can step off the work grid for that long – a much bigger challenge). Any electronic device, in the end, is tiring to read. Especially late at night.

So in the end I am giving in. I’ll end up buying both paper and electronic for the books I want to travel with, but I find my reading pleasure is in my old fashioned books, especially hardback copies. And, as you can see here, my stack is totally fascinating – or if you’re one of my kids “that’s boring Mom – you’re obsessed!”

My Personal Journey

Christmas Book Recommendation: From the Holy Mountain

Asked for a recommendation for holiday book guide I sent in:

“From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East” by William Dalrymple

Recommended by: Penny Herscher, president and chief executive of FirstRain.

Why it’s a must-read:“William
Dalrymple’s evocative descriptions of his journey give a profound
context for the rapid changes happening in the Middle East today. This
area was the cradle and center of Orthodox Christianity for the last
1,700 years, and it changed little for most of that time until the
dramatic political shifts of the last few decades. The growing
intolerance between religions in the region is destroying Christian
communities that have lasted more than a thousand years. This book,
combined with the recent news coming out of Syria, deeply changed my
thinking about the cultural loss and tragedy occurring in the Levant

Glad to see some of my other favorite books like The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, and Stiletto Network by my friend Pam Ryckman are also on the list!

My Personal Journey

It’s All About Me! at Defrag 2014

Broomfield, CO – on a cold morning in November… I was invited to be a keynote speaker at Defrag 2014 which is a terrific conference of interesting ideas, and even more interesting people.

Personalization is such a key aspect of creating a great experience for our users that I took the tack of total selfishness – It’s All About Me! This is what creates the magic for our users. When FirstRain can ask you just a few questions, and then read your mind, it’s an enchanting experience.

Here’s my presentation:

Loved the tweet stream following my presentation – on Storify here:

Leadership, My Personal Journey

Me in the New York Times: What Parents Can Teach A CEO

When the New York Times said they wanted to interview me for the CEO Corner I had a series of reactions:”Wow – that’s great!! Fantastic exposure for FirstRain!”

“OMG – what will I say? What if I sound like an idiot?”

“Help! What will I wear?”

Classic girl. Worried about what I’ll wear and what other people will think. Yes, even 54 year old CEOs have the same thoughts you probably have if you are female. But in the end, I’m very pleased with the result… and I wore my favorite dress.

Penny Herscher of FirstRain: What Parents Can Teach a CEO

My Personal Journey

Appreciating my freedom of speech in Turkey where Twitter is now banned

There’s a lot written about “social selling” in tech these days, and how to use Twitter to engage your prospect, but this week we are all seeing just how trivial a use of Twitter this is in comparison to the power it can have on a global scale.

I flew from New Delhi to Istanbul a few days ago and as I flew the PM of Turkey,  Mr Erdogan, shut down Twitter in Turkey. I was in the air, reading the news on line (36,000 ft up) on Turkish Airlines as he put this decision into action. My plane at this point was somewhere over the Caspian Sea and the signal was pinging through a groundstation in Georgia (according to my analysis with Google maps at that moment) and so I could still see the Tweet stream almost up until landing in Istanbul.

And as I watched the hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey soared! (check it out with Twitter search)

 My view coming in to land…

Original and thought provoking art appeared within minutes as the suppression unleashed creativity. And of course most users figured out how to get around the ban using a direct DNS and texting – even spray painting the instructions on how to bypass the block on walls so everyone can see.

By Sunday the government had blocked Google DNS directly but the internet is too pervasive and flexible to shut down quickly, as Turkey’s government is finding out. The tech-savvy are working around the ban with VPN and anonymizing sites like Tor.

But why? What’s really behind all this? I’ve heard as many reasons as people I ask, and I am asking everyone I meet. One of the wonderful things about Turkey is how open and friendly the people are, and they speak their minds. With elections coming up in 6 days it’s probably a mix of all the reasons we are hearing — corruption, mobilizing the rural conservatives to vote, creating tension to show power — and above all a desire for control to try to change the outcome of the election.

The US dept of state has called this “21st century book burning” but in Turkey this is a case of history repeating itself (telegraph was the equivalent in the Turkish war of independence). Sadly, the actions of the government will set back Turkey’s bid to join the EU, which would be good for both Turkey and the EU on many levels.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right. It’s something we take for granted in the US and sitting in a remote mountain village of rural Turkey this morning I am acutely conscious of how precious that right, and the freedom to speak my mind is. I am choosing not to use VPN to access Twitter today, but I cannot imagine living in a world every day where I had to worry about my actions on line and whether I am taking political and personal risk when I express myself.

My heart goes out to the people of Turkey who want to be free, and live in the modern world in a high functioning democracy. Their press is still free but their country is divided. I hope and pray they navigate through the next few weeks and months safely — and still free.

The newspaper our first morning
My Personal Journey

The Biggest Little Industry You’ve Never Heard of Turns Fifty

Posted on the HuffingtonPost earlier

Chips touch every aspect of our lives. You use chips in your car, in
your phone, in your TV, in your fridge, when you play a video game, when
you text, Skype or blog, in the bar code reader at the grocery
checkout, when you take a photo, as your luggage is routed through an
airport — any time you use electronics today you are using chips.

Now I am not talking about potato chips, I’m talking about
semiconductors — integrated circuits. Those small, intricate pieces of
silicon, doped with chemicals in factories in the U.S. and Taiwan, that
use logic and memory to take action for you. To shoot the zombie, or
control the brakes on your car. To route your phone call to your mother,
or tell the government what you just said on Facebook.

The semiconductor industry is a $300B industry, dominated by global giants like Intel, Samsung, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm, and it’s an industry where the complexity of its products doubles every two years. It costs billions of dollars
to build the factories where the chips are built and millions of
dollars to make the first one of a new design, all so that the chip in
your phone or your car can be cleverer than a mainframe computer was a
few years ago, but only cost a few cents.

None of this would be possible without the computer scientists and
physicists who work in the industry that makes these complex designs
possible. That industry is Electronic Design Automation — EDA — and it
is celebrating its fiftieth birthday this week at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

When the first integrated circuit was designed at TI by Kilby in 1959
design was done by hand. But once the idea was out, a new industry
emerged creating sophisticated software programs running on computers to
help humans create more and more complex designs.

Today integrated circuits are less than 1 square inch in size but are
three-dimensional and have many, many miles of metal interconnect on
them, where every line of metal carries a signal like a wire in your
house, but is thinner than a fraction of a human hair. They can perform
millions of operations per second and store the Encyclopedia Britannica
in your fingertip. And a human mind could not fathom the complexity of
these chips without software programs to control the design and
simulation of the chip before it’s built.

The EDA industry is the group of companies, and brilliant people, who
make the amazing computer brains in the devices we take for granted
every day possible. They build software to model how to turn analog
signals — like your voice — into digital bits. They build simulators
that use physics and maths to model Maxwell’s equations and predict how
electricity is going to move through different materials, at different
speeds. They simulate the memory cells that store data, they predict how
complex logic will work with the different inputs you give it. The
chips being built now have features so small that you can’t use light to
expose them any more (the process is a lot like the old photographic
process) so they use math to adjust how the light will behave and
compensate. It’s rocket science built into software.

But despite being such a profound building block of our modern
electronics, EDA is a relatively small industry. With revenue of $7B,
the industry is dominated by two California Bay Area companies: Synopsys
and Cadence, who work alongside many small, highly innovative
specialist companies to solve the hard design problems (and yes, the
small companies get bought up by the big companies over time). The
industry is small because the number of companies than can actually
afford to design chips is low even though we all use more electronics
every year. But it’s a healthy industry where the leading companies are
growing and generate strong operating margins and where new startups
emerge every year.

And it employs the brightest engineers. Graduates with EECS degrees
(electrical engineering and computer science) from colleges like
Berkeley and Stanford and MIT walk the halls. The executives are all
engineers too because the pace of change of the chip technology is so
fast you need to be able to talk with your customers about what they
need in the language of technology.

Men or women, they’re mostly a nerdy bunch. But tonight, at a banquet to raise money
for the Computer History Museum, they’ll be dressed up and celebrating
their love of one of the most fascinating technical areas you can choose
to work in. And next time your phone, or your camera, or your TV makes
you gasp in wonder think about the software nerds in California who
design the tools, that design the chips, that make your device magical.