Why I Code

Yesterday, I had a fantastically productive day at work. I had two separate clients with two separate issues, and I had left the office on Wednesday stumped on both.

Come a good night’s sleep, and one of the best dance lessons I had in months, I came in refreshed – and through the power of debugging, solved both issues before lunchtime. Add in a successful site re-launch, I was feeling on top of the world.

In the evening, I was chatting with two of my training partners in the change room at the dojo. One of them remarked how she doesn’t know how I can do what I do. If she had been faced with a similar problem, she’d likely throw the computer out the window.

I’ll share the answer I gave her. I code because I love the challenge. The challenge of keeping up with the ever evolving nature of tech. The challenge of making sure you adhere to the designer’s layouts to a pixel-perfect degree. The challenge of finding a bug in your code, rubbing your hands together, and wanting to squash that bug. There’s always a new challenge, and you cannot become complacent when you sling code around. It’s also why I’m teaching myself React, Angular, and Ruby. I may be a PHP and Javascript developer now, but it’s always fun to learn new things.

That’s why. To me, life without a positive challenge is boring…and who wants a boring life?

2018: Year in Review

As we sit here, on the morning of the last day of 2018, I can’t help but reflect on the year. There were some highlights, and lowlights. I came to terms with my anxiety, and kicked some toxic individuals out of my life. Some friendships grew more distant (and ended naturally), and others closer. Here are some short recaps from the major aspects of my life:

Karate

This was the year I decided to take my training to a new level. As I’m essentially done belt testing for the foreseeable future, I decided to start taking private lessons with my sensei once per month. What a wise decision. He helped me polish off a kata (Kanku Dai) for a return to karate competition, and has taught me a new kata for use in tournaments in 2019 (Gojushiho Sho). I’ve continued to participate in the HITT program (best way to spend a Friday evening), and I am still teaching regularly. The highest honour currently I have at the dojo is being trusted to run coloured belt gradings, if a student cannot make the regularly scheduled test.

Dance

I’ve struggled this year with dance. While I competed in two competitions, and had a lot of fun at said competitions, I did not place well. Yes, there has been improvement in terms of my arm coordination and sharpness, I am still lacking strength in my calves, and ankles in particular. Therefore, I am taking a competition break, until I can build the necessary strength that I can dance in my 2.5″ heels as well as I do in my 1.5″ practice shoes. One major highlight is having the opportunity to take lessons from Aigars Stolcers every couple of months. I’ve had two lessons thus far, and it definitely has helped correct some issues. Still am eternally grateful for the patience Mickey has with me.

Music

After a 4 year break from playing in any ensemble (Suzart pit orchestra), and a 10 year hiatus from a community concert band, I joined the Barrhaven Community Concert Band this September. Smartest decision this fall. Everyone in the band is nice, funny, and even sarcastic at times! Our conductor chooses a mix of pieces that are both challenging, and also on the easier side to play. Tuesday nights are a highlight now, and I’m looking forward to our spring season, especially with the music chosen.

Work

I continue to still be so blessed to work where I do. I had a very stressful summer due to workload (and other factors), but my boss and colleagues have been extremely supportive. I produced some great pages using some Javascript libraries, and have continued to grow in my role as lead developer, and mentoring a colleague who is trying to learn more web development.

Tech Community Involvement

As I continued to slowly complete my WordCamp Deputy Training, I joined the Diversity Outreach Speaking Training working group that is within the Community team. Towards the latter half the year, I got more heavily involved, and became a trainer – running webcam trainings called “Train the Trainer”, so that individuals could learn how to run the Diversity Outreach workshops within their own local WordPress community.

I also managed to carve out time to mentor with Canada Learning Code again, and completed my certification to teach with them. My first workshop is February 2019!

WordCamp Ottawa did not happen this year, but we are all looking forward to having the camp in 2019. I’m speaker wrangler this year, so that is definitely a step higher.

Public Speaking

I spoke at three WordCamps this year, plus a feminist conference. Travelling to both Miami and LA, I brought the Women in WordPress panel to both camps, and per usual, was received quite well. In Montreal, circumstances led to me not being as prepared for my presentation as I wished, but I still had a fantastic time at the camp. The feminist conference, She’s the Change, was definitely a highlight, getting to meet women from all walks of life. (Meeting, and SITTING NEXT TO THE WHOLE TIME, Bif Naked was definitely a treat. Such a down to earth and lovely woman).

TLDR: Overall, it was a good year. However – am I ready for 2019? Hell yes. Bring it on. While I don’t set resolutions, I have goals. Those I will share in the next week or so, so stay tuned!

Finding Balance and Strength

Let's be honest. I'm a very ambitious, goal-driven, motivated individual. If I don't have a goal for a particular task, it's not worth doing for me. This sometimes leads me to bite off more than I can chew.

For the longest time, I was physically active 7 days a week. Yes, seven days. Crazy, right? Two private dance lessons a week, one dance technique class, a ballet class, and four karate classes – including one right before ballet on Tuesdays. However, that started to take a toll – both physically and mentally.

So, after a conversation with someone I trust with my life, and is always bluntly honest with me – I dialed it back. I dropped ballet, went down to one private dance lesson, and took a rest night. Initially two rest nights, but I've dropped that back down to one.

And you know what? It helps. I have been calmer at work. My motivation has been at an all-time high. Slowly, my energy levels are returning to that "Energizer Bunny" level I had when I was training for my 3rd dan a couple of years ago. This will help with my strength training.

"But Miriam, aren't you already physically strong?", I hear you ask. To a point. Yes, I have built a lot of muscle strength from over a decade of karate training. However, it doesn't necessarily translate over to my other passion – ballroom dance. I've hit a plateau there. Through analysis with my teacher (who is also my partner), I need to work on my strength. I need to hit those lines sharper, stay on the balls of my feet longer, and jump higher.

So, it's back to a brick-and-mortor gym for me for weight training. The plan is to go two-three times a week. I've been graciously given some upper body weight tips from my sensei, but I'm totally lost on lower body. If you are reading this, what are your favourite core and lower body strengthening exercises?

So, here's to my new journey of physical strength. I've got another dance competition at the end of June, and I want to show a complete transformation. But for that, I need accountability partners – both in person and online. Who wants to help with that? 

Because, I've learned – I can use all the help I can get.

2018: Off to a strong start!

Well, hi there!

We’re two weeks into 2018, and so far, so good for me. I have been confirmed as a speaker for WordCamp Miami, and I will also be speaking at a local event called She’s the Change. Both of those are in March, so that will be a busy month. The latter event is my first non-WordCamp speaking engagement, so while nervous, I am extremely excited for this opportunity. I’ve also applied to speak at WordCamp London (in England). I’ll find out next month about that – fingers crossed!

Dance continues to excel. In exactly a month, I will be competing at La Classique, one of the most prestigious dance competitions in North America (according to my teacher). This will be my first time dancing a jive competitively, and is potentially my last competition with all closed routines. If all goes well, I will start learning an open paso doble at the end of February. Ballet continues to be fun – and I agreed to be in the senior ballet recital. That should be a hoot.

As for my day job? Fantastic. I now have a small team of freelancers that I manage (with assistance from project managers), and I continue to build my skills out – lately with server administration duties.

So, I’m happy, healthy, and energized. Let’s hope it keeps up, right?

Dancing Queen – or how I learned to do makeup and wear heels

In my last post, I spoke of my first passion, karate. Today, I’ll speak of my newest and more challenging passion, ballroom dance.

Let’s go back to June 2010. I had just earned my first degree black belt, and I wanted to cross-train in something. I was about to go sign up for judo, when my friend and training partner suggested dance. She knew I watched Dancing with the Stars, and she also knew I was single. Her suggestion was that I could learn to dance and perhaps meet someone, all in the same place.

So, I took her up on it. I found a studio that offered beginner group lessons at a time and location that was good for me. Immediately, I enjoyed it, and after about three months in the beginner program, I moved up to the more advanced group classes. While challenging, it was still enjoyable.

I took a break from June 2011-September 2012, as I was in black belt preparation mode. I tried to go back in September 2012, but something wasn’t feeling right. There had been a tango session right before I took my break, and I was fixated on the standard dances, which were not being offered at that time. So, I stopped again, and threw myself into karate.

Flash forward to March 2014. I found myself REALLY missing dance. Like, REALLY. So, I messaged the studio owner, who told me I could join the session currently in progress. My second return to the studio went much better. Perhaps it was the class dynamic, but I found myself liking the latin dances.

I took a break again in the summer to play in the OSSC leagues with my colleagues, but returned to group classes, this time in the most advanced one, that October. I also started taking private lessons the following month, as the studio had a relatively new instructor, who was willing to teach standard. I completed my six lesson package…and signed up for more.

We get to February 2015. My teacher wanted to shift the focus of my lessons from standard to latin. I agreed. I was still doing the group class, plus I had started taking technique classes. The studio owner had casually mentioned something about pro-am competitions to me, and I asked my teacher about it. He said, “why not”, and we set a goal for a November 2016 debut, in the closed bronze division. Which got moved up to November 2015 two weeks later (once I found out the competition was on that year), and then to June 2015 two weeks after that, and the following week, a declaration that I was going to dance in closed silver. Needless to say, I upped my technique class, and busted my ass.

Well, June 2015 comes, the competition happens…and I’m hooked. I learned how to dance in 2.5 inch heels, and didn’t fall over! The atmosphere at the competition was electric. So, I signed up for more. Three more that year. By October, I was doing my own makeup for the competitions (which then translated into makeup for the everyday situation).

The following year, 2016, I slowed it down, and only did one competition. It was still fun, but I was not improving as much as I wanted to.

We come to 2017. By this point, I had been taking private lessons for over 2.5 years. My teacher knows me well by this point. He challenged me to improve in bigger leaps…and I don’t step down from a challenge. I did three competitions this year, and each one, I improved. Leaps and bounds.

After my September competition, we added a jive routine. We (my teacher and I) are strategizing which competitions I should enter – as there’s no point in going to the small ones now. Right now, we are working on my performance and artistry – arms, presentation, that sort of stuff.

I’ve also started some beginner ballet classes, and boy, is it helping with my turnouts in rumba, and the pointing of the foot in jive!

I leave the dance studio now feeling better than when I entered. I have the most amazing dance professional, who treats all his students with respect, and continues to push, motivate, and inspire us. If you had asked me five years ago, if I would be this obsessed with dance, I would have laughed in your face. It was all about karate back then.

But now…it’s all about the dancing. Now, off to dream about my future Paso doble routine. It’s coming…this summer most likely, and I. Am. Pumped.

Holy shit, you do karate? A journey to becoming a sensei

Sitting here, my mind goes to karate, to which I celebrated my ten year training anniversary this summer. I don’t think I ever shared HOW I got into it, and WHY I stay.

Let’s flash back to May 2007. I’m visiting my uncle in Winnipeg, and he’s taking pictures of me as we go around doing our thing. Looking at the pictures, I was NOT happy with how I was looking – and I was starting to creep up in pants size. So, I made a decision on my flight home that I was going to get into shape.

Now, one of the girls I used to work with at Farm Boy had tried to get me to come to a kickboxing class with her. Having moved to Westboro, and she being in Kanata, I didn’t want to sit on the bus for that long. But the idea of kickboxing sounded cool, so I did my research. I found Douvris Martial Arts, which was convieniently located a 15 minute walk from my apartment building – and they had an intro for $20! So I went, did my intro classes, and really enjoyed it.

I have a habit of being early, so when I went to class, I always ended up watching the karate class beforehand. Now, between watching that, and memories of Power Rangers in my pre-teens and teenage years (don’t laugh, I’m a 90s kid), I thought, this looks cool. So, I went up to my kickboxing instructor, and told him I wanted to start karate. That Saturday. I left class with a crisp white gi in my arms.

I showed up on the Saturday, and had my intro class. Now, normally, you get your white belt after two intro classes. For some reason, and to this day, I have never found out why, I got mine after one. ONE! Little me, super out of shape. So, I committed.

Now, it’s not to say it didn’t have it’s ups and downs in the early years. Crying because I couldn’t do a back stance as a white belt, being scared to hit people, things like that. I think, I just wanted to impress people.

Something clicked though around my green belt. I liked this. I was GOOD at this. I had started helping out with the kids classes at this point, so my inner desire to be a teacher was fulfilled. So, I quit the community concert band, walked up to my sensei, and told him, “I’m in. I want to join BBM and get my black belt”. I got my red gi the next week.

Pedal to the metal, and I went crazy with training. Between my own classes, and teaching, I was at the dojo six days at week when I was a blue and brown belt. There was a core group of us, who met up at green belt, that kept advancing up the ranks together. It all climaxed in June 2010, when I tested, and earned, my first degree black belt.

The day after the ceremony, it was back to the dojo. When I was addressed as Sensei for the first time…you can’t forget that warm, bubbly feeling. But then, my sensei made the mistake of saying to our group, “so you have two years until you can test for nidan”. I saw that as a challenge, and well, I don’t back down from challenges.

It was certainly a challenge, as I encountered a job loss and job gain in the middle of black belt preparation season. However, in June 2012, I tested for, and earned my second degree black belt. Content, I thought, this was as high I was going to go in rank, and that’s cool. It was time to just enjoy training.

Which I always did, and concentrated on…until probably September 2015…and an email saying I was eligible to test for sandan. Now, at this time, I had already started competitive latin ballroom dance, so needless to say, it was an interesting year. Again, another job loss and job gain in black belt prep season. But, myself and my training partners did it, and earned our third degree black belts in June 2016. Three of the people who earned their belts with me, were part of that core group, who had tested together since late 2008 for various belts.

But that was over a year ago Miriam, you ask. What’s next, you ask? Well, I continue to train (not as much as before!) to stay in shape, and to keep up my skills. But what I enjoy most is teaching the kids. There’s something about seeing the joy in a little one’s face when they get a technique right, or they win a medal at their first tournament. I can see why my own senseis enjoy teaching so much.

I started to get in shape and to prove something to myself. I continue, because it’s fun, and I can’t imagine life before karate. I don’t think I would have a shred of self-confidence if I hadn’t started…and that’s just not right for me.

#wcnyc in my rearview mirror – #wcnyc straight ahead: A recap of WordCamp NYC 2017

As you may have read before, this is the year of me “spreading my wings”, in terms of increasing my participation and visibility in the WordPress community. Having had such empowering and pleasant experiences this year speaking at both WordCamp Ottawa, and WordCamp Montreal, I went out on a whim, and applied to four other WordCamps. Well, I was accepted to three of them (I was not accepted to US, the biggest WordCamp in North America).

First up, was WordCamp NYC, the weekend of October 21-22.

I flew down on the 20th, as there was a VIP party that evening. Sadly, due to flight delays, I was a bit late (and missed the pizza!), but I still managed to chat and network with other speakers and sponsors. I got to meet two of my panelists, re-introduce myself to a third, and generally unwind after a full day of flying.

The conference started the next day, and I was there bright and early. Walking down Broadway Avenue at 7:30 in the morning on a Saturday…I couldn’t believe how quiet it was! The venue was right by Times Square, so of course, I had to take a selfie on the way.

Day one was filled with lots of great sessions. Lunch was catered by the venue, and, being the pickle fanatic I was, probably stacked my plate half with pickles, and half with salad.

My session, the Women in WordPress panel, was scheduled for the last slot of the day. I was nervous, as it was my first time moderating, rather than just participating and answering questions. Well, I had no need to be nervous. All the panelists were articulate and gave amazing answers to the questions I posed. When we opened it up to the audience for questions…we ran out of time, we had such great interactions! What a great way to wrap up day one.

What was even more amazing, is that the next day, people came up to me the WHOLE DAY, thanking me for holding that session, and how much it meant to them. Well, that just made my month!

There was no afterparty on Saturday, so I ended up finding a burger joint with a attendee from Vermont and his son, who was at the KidsCamp. Black Iron Burger on West 38th. GO. I am still dreaming of that burger two weeks later.

The next day was just as amazing for learning. I have to admit, the session highlight for me was the first one of the day, Pam Aungst’s Intermediate SEO Strategies (and Pam happened to be one of the panelists). She went into depth with optimization techniques, showing sites and tools I had not heard of before. It was probably the session with the most takeaway I was able to bring back to my daily work life.

I ended my fantastic weekend in New York with a Broadway show, Waitress (and a fantastic slide of New York pizza right before). Oh my goodness, so amazing. One of my students at the dojo raved about the show to me, and I can see why she did.

Overall, WordCamp NYC was outstanding. David Parsons and his organizing team put together a fantastic camp, with amazing speakers at a fantastic venue. I am certainly returning next year if my schedule permits me to.

Now, continuing on with the WordCamp goodness, I’ve composed this post on the way to WordCamp Seattle. I’m currently somewhere over western Saskatchewan as I type these exact words – and the post will be going up from the Vancouver Airport.

Did we meet at WordCamp NYC? Or are you attending WordCamp Seattle? If the former, let’s stay in touch – feel free to connect with me on Twitter (@mirigoldman). If the latter, let’s chat this weekend! I’ll be easy to spot – look for the short Canadian in the blue JavaScript dress, and red Converse. The dress is my lucky dress – I’ve worn it to speak at three camps so far…and will continue to do so!

Now…to just stop dreaming of the burger and pizza from New York, and start thinking of the fantastic sushi I’m going to get in Seattle. Because, why not be a foodie tourist alongside of a WordCamp speaker circuit?

So, why web development?

People have asked me many times WHY I chose web development as a career, or why I went into tech in general. Below is my story.

I have always been interested in computers. My father got me playing on them at an earlier age. There’s a picture kicking around at my dad’s place, of me playing on an old Commodore 64 as a toddler, sitting on my father’s lap. I now joke that was my gateway into my career choice.

However, the truth lies in a conversation with a former manager from the grocery store I worked at in college. At the time, I was studying sociology, and was wrapping up my 2nd year. Not knowing what direction I was going to take, I started fretting, and getting emotional. My manager and I had lunch one day, and she suggested that I look into computers, “because of all the websites I’ve been building”. Yes, I had started out on Geocities about 5 years earlier, building out Sailor Moon and Star Trek fan sites. At my whit’s end, I spoke to my dad about it, and we came to an agreement. I would pursue a web development diploma, and attempt to get a job. If I found I didn’t or couldn’t handle the workload, or couldn’t get a job – I would return to the university and finish my sociology degree.

Well, I handled the workload, and I got a co-op position about six weeks after finishing my course. That lead into a six month contract as a junior developer. This was July 2005. Flash forward to August 2017, and I’m still in the industry – working as the sole developer for a boutique digital marketing firm. The longest ‘spell’ of unemployment I have had, was a two month space between jobs. Since then, if I have switched jobs, the timeframe usually was 2-4 weeks (my job search advice posts are here). I love what I do, and the constant mental workout I get when I have to debug, or create a new solution.

With my job, I have been exposed to many different technology platforms, with a heavy emphasis over the past five years on WordPress. In 2013, my boss at the time suggested that I attend my local WordCamp, and pick up some new tricks. I loved the WordCamp, and attended the Ottawa one the following year, and travelled to Montreal in 2015, in the absence of a local one.

2016 rolls around, and the digital team of the company I was working for had a retreat. The senior level managers encouraged the two developers (myself and another guy) to get more involved with the community, and consider speaking. So, I took that to heart, and applied to, and was accepted to speak at WordCamp Ottawa 2016. That was certainly an experience, as I hadn’t done public speaking since I was a 12 year old in a grade six public speaking contest. Consumed by what I now realize is imposter syndrome, I vowed to never speak again, and decided to just help organize the following year.

…that didn’t hold up. Kathryn Presner, whom I’ve been on two panels with now, spoke with me at the after-party, encouraging me to not give up. Shawn Hooper, who was speaker wrangler that year, sent me my feedback, with a note that I didn’t do as bad as I thought, and to reconsider my decision. Also, that fall, I was asked to re-present my talk from the WordCamp at our local WordPress meet-up. Now, of course, I had some technical difficulties with my laptop at the time, so did my whole presentation from memory and no visuals. Well, lo and behold the night went splendidly. That probably was the catalyst.

So, ignoring my 2016 self, I put forth a panel for WordCamp Ottawa 2017. Women in WordPress – I wanted to chat with other women in our community, and hopefully encourage young women, or women new to WordPress, that things aren’t that scary. My friend and co-organizer Christie asked me to be on her panel – one that discussed bridging the gap between developers and designers. Both panels went amazing – especially the Women in WordPress one. The tweets and personal comments I got afterward made my weekend. I also did a quick lightning talk at WordCamp Montreal 2017, which was a beginner’s guide to navigating the plugin repository, and what to look for when installing new ones. It’s hard to gauge reactions to a 15-20 minute talk, but I didn’t see any negative tweets, or received any negative comments after. I felt good, and inspired. The feeling of being able to share my knowledge, and help others – was addicting.

So, I decided to pursue this more. I’ve applied to four other WordCamps with the panel that I did in Ottawa (with different panelists of course), and that’s just for 2017. 2018 I plan on hitting up Western Canada, and applying to Calgary and Winnipeg – fitting in some vacation time to see family, of course. It’s an exciting venture that is forcing me to step out of my comfort zone – and I’ve never been happier with that decision.

I’ve also signed up to be an Outspoken Woman. I’m jumping into the leadership team, and I hope to encourage fellow introverts that public speaking isn’t a scary beast to hide from. There are ways to improve and learn, and while I’m still a relative newbie at it myself, there are others who might be encouraged by my journey…and that alone is worth being a mentor, isn’t it?

She Keeps Going and Going and Going….

My friend Dawn asked me how I got my energy, and motivation to try new things, and take on new projects. That’s a simple, but complicated answer.

First and foremost: SLEEP. I always, always, unless I’m out of town at a conference, get at least 7 hours of sleep. I aim for 9 hours on average. This involves no food or drink (except for water) after a certain time (usually 8pm), and I try to get off my electronics about 30 minutes before I plan on climbing into bed. If I can get a few chapters into a book, that’s a bonus.

Second: nutrition. Yes, I like my beer and wine – but I try to limit it to one drink, and with that, on weekends only (for the most part!). Yes, occasionally I will have a drink mid-week, or more than one – but it’s certainly not the norm. Tied into this is cooking. I LOVE to cook. There’s something so relaxing about it. I tend to limit my carbs, and up the veggies. Red meat and pork is a rarity for me…so mostly if I’m eating meat, it’s ground turkey, chicken, or some sort of fish. Me and salmon are besties. I also avoid fried foods, and load up on my veggies. I’d be happy to post some of my recipes if anyone is interested.

Another aspect of my nutrition is my Isagenix shakes. Now, Isagenix has it’s detractors, but for me, it works. The convienience of having that shake in the morning (with a bit of matcha tea thrown in), and the Isalean protein bars for when I’m on the go – oh, amazing. Tasty too! I’m not going to go into super detail here, but reach out to me if you are curious.

Finally, it’s doing what I love as a form of stress relief. For me, that’s exercise in the form of martial arts and dancing. Between my dance lessons and karate classes, I am active 5 days a week, and usually end up going to my apartment pool for a swim on the sixth. The endorphins from the exericse calm me down, and help me sleep. More sleep equals more energy – and the cycle goes on.

As for motivation? It’s a bit of restlessness. I believe in life long learning, and trying anything that is not harmful at least once. So, that’s how I got into dance and karate, and the WordCamp speaking circuit.