March: In Review

Photo by Uriel Soberanes on Unsplash

Public Speaking:

  • Gave a Toastmasters speeches on Accessibility (a topic I am passionate about and which I am going to focus on more in the future).
  • Gave two lightning talks at concat() (Sharing Is Caring and Keep Your Sanity with Time Management)
  • Organised a Speech Contest at Toastmasters. It was a great fun despite all the ever-changing circumstances!
  • I was informed that I will speak at two tech conferences this summer. I am really excited about this!

Courses:

I finished Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning course (Whoohooo)

I attended an IoT Workshop. It was a great fun!

Books:

I finished reading:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick M. Lencioni

I am currently reading:

The One-Hour Business Plan: The Simple and Practical Way to Start Anything New by John McAdam

 

January: In Review

Photo by Nathan Wolfe on Unsplash

Public Speaking:

  • Gave two Toastmasters speeches (Cultural Differences and What is Truth?).
  • Gave a Tech Talk on Kubernetes and Service Mesh.
  • Gave a short presentation on Vue.js (pros and cons) and as a result, it is now in the ASSESS section of Zalando’s Tech Radar.

Courses:

I have done 4 weeks of Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning course

 

Books I read:

KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America 2017

 

I was lucky to attend KubeCon + CloudNativeCon in Austin in December, 2017. What a conference! The size of the event was overwhelming. Over 4000 attendees came to Austin to learn about the latest development in the Kubernetes and Cloud Native world.

 

I arrived the day before the conference and had the opportunity to attend an Istio Workshop. 2018 is supposed to be the year of the service mesh. Exciting times! In the evening I saw the lightning talks which were truly inspirational. Especially, Nikhita Raghunat’s talk on How to Contribute to Kubernetes.

 

Then the conference began. One of my highlights was the Opening Keynote by Kelsey Hightower where he did an amazing live demo. Probably, the best demo I have seen to date. I attended a lot of interesting presentations during the conference. One of the best I saw was 101 Ways to Crash Your Cluster by Marius Grigoriu and Emmanuel Gomez.

 

I also enjoyed the sponsor booth crawl where I got the chance to learn so much about the Kubernetes ecosystem and the amazing products which are being developed.

 

Words fail to express how inspired I was after the conference. On my flight back home I read my signed copy of Cloud Native Infrastructure by Justin Garrison, and Kris Nova. I was so hungry for aditional knowledge that I spent my Christmas vacation reading Kubernetes: Up and Running, a great book by Brendan Burns, Kelsey Hightower, and Joe Beda.

 

My main takeaway from the conference was how important it is to give back to the community. Since I left Austin I have been thinking about what I could do to give back to the community. Recently I gave a talk about Kubernetes and Service Mesh. Next month I will give a Kubernetes 101 talk at Women Techmakers Berlin. I am really happy to be able to give back and inspire more people to learn about Kubernetes.

Cultural Differences

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It is late in the evening. Eight hours or so before the ball of energy, a.k.a. my three-year-old son Luke, wakes up. I do not have the privilege to decide on my wake-up time anymore. Going to sleep starts to seem like a pretty good idea. I ask my South-African-born husband Brian if he is going to bed as well. He answers “I will come just now”. I go to bed. An hour later he has still not come to bed. This happens over and over again. It is so frustrating to me. Why is he lying to me? He could just say that he wants to stay up late. One day he shows me a video about South Africa. A woman explains the difference between just now, now-now and right now. It turns out just now means any time after now. Literally any time. Could even be three months later.

 

Cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings. How often do you say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ by just nodding or shaking your head? We actually do it more often than we think. In my opinion, it has something to do with the fact that kids first learn to use gestures and then learn to speak. The fact that in most countries a nod means ‘Yes’ and in Bulgaria it means ‘No’ can definitely lead to misunderstandings. My husband Brian lived in Bulgaria for six months. His first Bulgarian phrase learned was “Govorish li angliiski?”. He would ask shop attendants if they spoke English and they would nod enthusiastically and say “Ne”. This left my husband confused and somewhat frustrated as he could not tell if the person he has asked could or could not speak English. The bottom line is, do not rely on gestures alone. Gestures might mean something completely different to a foreigner.

 

Cultural differences can be really peculiar. I spent a couple of years in Denmark. I can talk for hours about the peculiarities of the Danes. One thing that stands out vividly in my mind is how you can find unattended prams with young babies in them standing outside homes in the middle of winter. The parents warm and happy inside their homes, while their beloved daughter or son is napping in front of the building. You might find it weird but for them, it is completely normal. They even believe that this is what people do everywhere. After all fresh air helps you sleep better. I tried it with my son, it did not work. Apparently, it only works if you are a Danish child. The bottom line is people find it difficult to say what is peculiar about their own culture. What they do is quite normal amongst them.

 

Cultural differences make the world an interesting place. Imagine if everywhere you went everything was identical, people had the same traditions, or ate the same food. I know there are people who could eat the same food every single day. But what is the point in traveling if you expect to find the things you have at home? Let’s take rice, for example. Something as simple as rice can be prepared in various ways. Think about the creamy Italian risotto, or the taste of the nourishing and vibrant seaside Spanish paella, or the explosion of flavors in the Indian biryani, or the ultimate comfort food – the Korean bibimbap, which literally means mixed rice. Same same but different. The bottom line is cultural differences bring variety and make our world more diverse and interesting.  

 

Cultural differences are a tangible reality. We live in a world where intercultural awareness becomes more and more important. We travel more as traveling has become affordable in recent years. There is lots of migration due to different economic, political, and lifestyle reasons. In some places, it is quite normal to work with people from different countries. Take my team, for example. I work at a team of around 20-30 people. We have people from over ten different nationalities. Ultimately, it is your choice whether you find cultural differences a pain or frustrating or you find them interesting. I personally find them fascinating.

Trust and Respect – the Secret of Great Teams

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There is something that has been bugging me for some time now. Why do some teams work better than others? Operating in some sort of team is the norm and yet I cannot recall having any lessons on how to be a good team player. We are somehow expected to figure it out ourselves as if it was something very easy. But if it was so easy why do we have so many dysfunctional teams, broken relationships, frustration? We, humans, are complicated and teams are even more complicated but I believe there are some simple steps we can take to become better team players. I will focus on work-related situations but the underlying principles can be applied to any context.

A study, undertaken by the People Analytics Lab in Google, found that in high performing teams team members spoke roughly the same time during meetings. The team did great when everyone got a chance to speak. How can we use this information to help our team become a better team? Simple. Observe the dynamics. Is everyone speaking and sharing their opinion? Is anyone being left out? Include the people who are not talking much, ask for their opinion, encourage them to speak. This is a simple advice that I try to follow. At a recent meeting, a couple of people were dominating the discussion and one of my quieter colleagues could not get a chance to share her opinion. I noticed this and I said: I think that Mahim wants to say something, let’s see what she thinks about this… So that is something simple that you can do: Include the people who are not talking much, ask for their opinion, encourage them to speak.

Another trait demonstrated by great teams was that team members had high social sensitivity for each other. They were able to tell when someone was feeling upset or content. In other words, they had a high level of social awareness. What can you do to improve your social awareness? Get to know the people you work with. Learn to observe. Learn to listen without judgment. I will go even one step further because in my opinion observing and assuming can cause troubles. Replace the assumptions with curiosity. If you think that you already know how the other person is feeling or what they are thinking, then you are not ready to have a conversation. It would be better if you adopted a learning mindset and asked questions. After all, you do not have all the facts. Just share your observations and ask the person how they are actually feeling. You could say something like ‘Hey, I noticed that you are not very talkative today, is everything alright?’. It’s that simple, observe and ask questions and get to know your colleagues.

The most important precondition for having a high performing team is psychological safety. This means that everyone feels safe to speak up and nobody is afraid that they will be embarrassed or rejected for voicing their opinion. Think how you respond when someone voices up an opinion that differs from yours? Do you acknowledge their perspective? Or do you try to win as if it was a zero-sum game and just rush in saying ‘You are wrong’? The truth is that it is not a zero-sum game. Each perspective is just as valid and there is not a single truth. We need to learn to listen to understand as opposed to listen to respond. This is something that I am currently working on and one thing that helps me is remembering that the other person is a human just like me and that they have beliefs, perspectives, and opinions, just like me. And they want to feel respected, appreciated and competent, just like me. Recognizing these deeper needs promotes positive language and behaviors. And it helps me shift from the I am right attitude to the thank you for bringing in your perspective attitude.

In a nutshell, a great team is a group of people who trust and respect each other. To be a great team member you just need to trust and respect the people you work with. At the end of the day, your teammates are people just like you and they want to feel respected, appreciated and competent, just like you.

Tame Stage Fright Using Emotional Intelligence

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Do you remember the first time you had to speak before an audience? Or the last time? Were you afraid or nervous? You are not alone. Around 10% of the population are terrified even by the thought of public speaking. Another 10% love speaking in front of a huge crowd. The rest of the population are somewhere in the middle, they get butterflies, they get anxious but they still come to every Toastmasters meeting because they know that practice makes perfect.

 

The fear of public speaking we experience is adrenaline-based and we can learn to cope with it. We just need to improve our Emotional intelligence because this is what determines how we respond to our emotions.

 

Emotional intelligence is a huge topic and I would like to focus on only 2 aspects of it: self-awareness and self-management.

 

  • Self-awareness is the ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and understand your tendencies across different situations.
  • Self-management, on the other hand, is the ability to use your self-awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and direct your behavior positively.

 

So how can we apply self-awareness and self-management to tame our public speaking fears?

 

The first step is to determine what emotions we are experiencing at the time. Sometimes this is not so easy, there are many people who find it very difficult to determine or admit to how they feel. Be mindful and remember that there are no good or bad emotions. It is fine to say that you are feeling nervous. Probably it is not a good idea to say it when you come on stage, though!

 

The second step is to understand what we tend to do in such situations. Some people will go in front of the crowd and will speak very fast just to get it over with as soon as possible. Some people will get happy-feet and will just keep on moving aimlessly… like I did during my first speech. Some people will get very rigid: no gestures, no facial expression, no emotions. If you find it difficult to determine what you are likely to do in a situation where you are nervous, ask people who know you for insights. Or ask some of your audience for feedback after your talk. Being aware of these tendencies is already a great help. If you know that you tend to speak fast, you can focus on improving this and try to keep a normal pace. If you know that you tend to move too much, you can work on that and allow yourself to be comfortable.

 

The last step is to put self-management into action. Self-management has a lot to do with finding something good in any situation. How can we improve our self-management so that we can direct our behaviour positively? We just need to change our perspective.

 

One mistake that some people make is to think that they are nervous because they are not good enough at public speaking. “If I was better I would not be so nervous”. On the one hand, this is correct, the more experienced we are, the more confident and less nervous we are. On the other hand, if we think rationally we can see that public speaking is just about standing and speaking, everyone can do this. Even a 2-year-old child can do that and if you don’t, believe me, I invite you to take a ride on the U-Bahn with my son. Yes, everyone can do it and you can do it as well. And just remember that fear is adrenaline-triggered. And adrenaline is released to prepare your body for important situations where you need to react fast and give the best of yourself.

 

So next time before you go on stage take a moment to evaluate how you feel. Think about what you tend to do in situations that make you nervous and focus on improving your reaction and finally just tell yourself “I am feeling nervous because adrenaline was released so that I can do a great job today!”.

 

Народни танци в Копенхаген

Получавам много запитвания за групата по народни танци в Копенхаген. Тя все още съществува, казва се Дилмана, репетиции има веднъж седмично, обикновено в неделя. За повече информация може да посетите фейсбук страницата им.

Non-profit и има ли почва у нас

Последните няколко месеца от престоя в Копенхаген работих като доброволец в едно кафене на Младежкия Червен Кръст. Интересното е, че това си е съвсем нормален бизнес с единствената разлика, че 99% от хората, които работят там са доброволци и всички печалби отиват за дейностите на Младежкия Червен Кръст. В Копенхаген доколкото ми е известно има 5 такива кафенета, които са на различни неправителствени организации:

Ако сте в Копенхаген и имата свободно време сега имате още една идея как да го оползотворите. Ще се запознаете със страшно много хора и ще направите едно добро дело… въпреки че нямам добро мнение за благотворителността, защото тя не само, че не разрешава проблема, ами точно обратното, но това е друга тема.
В тези кафенета реално може да работи всеки, както казах 99% от хората там са доброволци. Т.е. на случайни хора се гласува огромно доверие. Бях се замислила защо подобен бизнес не съществува в България и моята логика беше, че в България е изключение човек да работи на непълен работен ден, изключено е студент да разчита на стипендията си, за да се издържа, т.е. никой не би имал възможност или по-скоро желание да отдели част от свободното си време за нещо такова. Малко наивно обяснение… И така един ден обсъждах този въпрос с едно момиче от Румъния, което е изпратено от не-помня-коя европейска доброволческа пограма за 6 месеца във въпросното кафене където се подвизавах и аз. Тя всъщност имаше доста по-добро обяснение, а именно, че при нас никой не би се доверил на случайни хора. Вярно е, че винаги имаме едно наум, много се съмняваме и във всяка добра инициатива можем да намерим нещо лошо. Кога ли ще започнем да си вярваме повече…?