Befriending Dragons

Turn Scary Into Attainable


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Interview with Julie Strauss–Microsoft BI WIT

clip_image002Julie Strauss is a very accomplished and respected Senior PM at Microsoft. Her current role is technical assistant for Microsoft Data Platform Group (DPG) Corporate Vice President Quentin Clark. She has been the public face of Microsoft BI at conferences and helps deliver great technical content and data stories to the public. Julie loves to help others so she has shared some background on herself and some great business advice that could be helpful to others seeking to improve their success.

Julie saw a job posting for the support team in Microsoft Norway (at the time Great Plains) looking for an individual willing to learn the ins and outs of the Microsoft BI products. She was excited that the posting indicated a willingness to learn was more important than previous knowledge of the particular Microsoft product. This was how and why Julie came here – she loves the technology and the data driven parts of the business and finds them fascinating.

Julie has a notable role with a wide range of responsibilities. The majority of her time is spent working on strategic projects to meet the goals of the team at the DPG Vice President level. Projects can vary in nature and cover everything from exploratory and technical projects to organizational projects. She gets to work with many areas of the business and enjoys interactions across the org. In addition to these internal facing responsibilities Julie also manages a set of customer and partner engagements for the business. Overall this role has provided Julie with an amazing learning opportunity. She gets to widen her scope while maintaining her data and BI focus and also use her years of experience from responsibilities ranging through sales, marketing, support, engineering, program management and people management. She merged these experiences into a role as technical assistant that utilizes some aspects of all those areas. Throughout her career she has chosen new jobs that allowed her to stretch and grow with a significant amount of change. But throughout it all she kept one core thing the same – her focus on BI and data. This mix of old and new in each role helps her cultivate new skills while leveraging what she already knows and expanding her influence. Within Microsoft there are many opportunities, something Julie feels is unique in the corporate world, and we can all find a way to shine and grow here.

imageJulie has an extensive network she finds invaluable in navigating all that opportunity. Her network lets her know about new opportunities and the network members also influence decision makers. She emphasizes that your reputation is everything – your network carries that reputation to others. In a strong network everyone is contributing to each other’s success. She has a large network though at any given point in time she is only actively interacting with a few people.

In addition to a network of contacts, Julie has closer relationships with a smaller group of people as both a mentor and a mentee. When Julie made the decision to move from marketing to engineering she leveraged her close mentoring relationship with Donald Farmer. Donald knew Julie and her work ethic and was willing to take a chance on Julie’s ability to succeed even though on paper it wasn’t an obvious fit. She stresses the importance of having semi-formal mentoring relationships with people at various levels. She asks various mentors for advice with experiences, projects, and specific interactions. Julie contributes back as a mentor to others – this keeps her coaching skills active. Julie observed that while she doesn’t treat her mentees differently based on their gender they tend to bucket themselves. More often than not women ask how to handle a specific situation or how to become more efficient or appear more confident. On the other hand men are more likely to ask task oriented questions such as how to make a specific change or how to write a better spec. She enjoys helping with both types of questions. Some of her mentees and mentors are people she already knew and some are people she grew to know only after the mentor-mentee relationship started.

imageI asked Julie what advice she feels is most important to her success that would be helpful to others in the organization. In addition to networking and mentors, she offered these pearls of wisdom:

  • Be willing to take risks and take on new challenges. She has few regrets because she goes after what she wants. She does wonder if having no regrets at all means she didn’t stretch enough. You have to find your own balance.
  • Be true to who you are – how people see you, your brand, should reflect the real you. For Julie it has been very important to never compromise on being true to herself. Julie’s brand is “Give me a challenge and I will work my butt off to get it done, being creative as needed, bringing in people who will make it work.”
  • Never be a victim. Women are strong.
  • Pick something concrete to improve upon and just do it. For example, Julie was ranked as the lowest presenter at a conference. She decided to become a top 10 presenter – she achieved that goal and grew to truly enjoy presenting along the way.
  • Find work you love. Julie finds data fascinating because it is very tangible and with BI you control how it leads to insights, learnings, and possibilities. She loves how data and BI let you use your own imagination and set your own boundaries.
  • State your needs and get buy-in. For example you might tell your manager that you want a promotion and lay out your plan to get there. Then you ask “Is this realistically going to get me to my goal”? Make sure your manager understands your value and gives you feedback, then follow through on the actions with appropriately timed check-ins on whether you are still on track.

Over the years Julie has lived in Denmark, Norway, the UK, and the US. She is always looking for new challenges whether it’s how to succeed in a new country or job or taking on a demanding project. Whatever she does she is working hard and getting things done. Follow her advice – build your network, find a mentor or two, be clear on expectations, and always be true to who you are.

I want to thank Julie for sharing herself and her ideas with us – it can be tough to open up but Julie did a stellar job!

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Transgender…. Are You Uncomfortable Yet?

I wrote this post for Idaho’s Add the Words blog, I am reposting here to spread the word:

TDORI started this post to ask you to join us at Boise’s Transgender Day of Remembrance 2013. As I thought about how to write about it, what I could say to get people to attend, I realized most people would just dismiss the day and the event as irrelevant to their lives. But it’s not irrelevant to you – it’s all about the type of world we want to live in. It really is an event you, yes YOU, need to attend.

I know, you’re busy. Maybe you’re uncomfortable around people who are different than society has taught us is normal. Maybe you aren’t sure what people will think of you if you go. Most people who attend will not be transgender themselves, we are there to show that we don’t think violence is the answer to feeling uncomfortable around others. Are you really ok with using violence against people in a misguided attempt to make them conform or to make the attackers more comfortable with themselves? Because that’s what this is about – remembering all the people who are beaten, raped, and even killed every year just because their gender identity makes people uncomfortable.

Take a few minutes from your evening on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 to head to the Anne Frank Memorial for Boise’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. The memorial starts at 7p – show that you don’t condone violence by joining us there.
Cindy Gross – Straight Ally and Equal Rights Supporter
#TDOR
GLADD: Transgender Day of Remembrance #TDOR – November 20 http://www.glaad.org/tdor

10 things every Lutheran should know about Transgender Day of Remembrance http://www.reconcilingworks.org/news/news/611-transgender-day-of-rememberance

Link or Tweet this blog post via http://tinyurl.com/mw45x5w


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How To Really Be Aware This October

Thanks to the “I Had Cancer” site for posting my guest blog this week on How To Really Be Aware This October.

Everywhere we turn we hear about “awareness”. That’s great, but what does it mean? Now it is Breast Cancer Awareness month – but awareness of what? What do you do with all this awareness? Will you be more aware at the end of this October than you were last October? What did you learn? And what will you do differently?

Read the rest here.


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Diagnosis – Those First Moments of Breast Cancer

I wrote this Reader’s Opinion for the “Pink Edition” of the Idaho Statesman October 2, 2013 for Breast Cancer Awareness Month:

Do something. Anything. Make the cancer go away. What will I have to endure – will they chop off my breasts, make me ingest toxic drugs, poke me and prod me and stick me with needles and run me through machines? Quick; learn the difference between an MRI and an ultrasound and a mammogram – what does each really do, what does each detect, what kinds of false positives and false negatives might occur with each. This isn’t happening, it’s really a mistake. The test results aren’t really mine. Are they?

Keep Calm and Fight Cancer

Keep Calm and Fight Cancer

Deep breath. Of course it’s my diagnosis. And it’s mine to deal with. I can either panic (been there, done that – just a few seconds ago) and wallow in fear and pain or I can deal with it and move past it. Doesn’t seem like much of a choice, I guess I’ll deal with it.    It.    The breast cancer. I can fight it. I will fight it like a girl – proud and strong. I’ll overcome it. And I did. The cancer is gone. A little lumpectomy – done. A few weeks of radiation just in case there’s a microscopic cancer cell or two left over – coming in a few weeks with few expected side effects. Genetic testing – negative for the common breast and ovarian cancer causing mutations including BRCA. What a relief. I’m cured and I still have breasts that look pretty much like they did before. I’m done. I survived.

I took that fearsome cancer dragon and I turned it into something to live with. I didn’t do it alone. I have a great circle of friends who went with me to the biopsy and doctor appointments and pre-op and post-op…. They sent positive thoughts and showed they cared and they also knew when I just needed to be alone. I have a highly trained surgeon and oncologists and lab techs and nurses and even a nurse navigator assigned by the hospital. I work for a company that provides me with great insurance so I don’t have to worry about paying for all this wonderful medical care and the frequent screenings I will have in the future.

I am so lucky in so many ways. They caught my cancer early, I have wonderful friends, I asked questions and went back for additional screening after the initial false negative, and I have access to medical care many in this country can’t afford – though many more will get the care they need as more and more ObamaCare provisions are enacted.

You too can be lucky – take charge of your own life. Ask questions, take action, and be your own best advocate. Schedule your mammogram. Fight like a girl. Love your friends. Ask questions. Befriend your dragons. Help someone in need. Thank those who help you. Do, be, live, love, grow, change. And never give up.


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Jo Ann Morris is Igniting Women with Courage

Ignite: Inspiring Courageous Leaders - A Book of Thought-Provoking Wisdom and a Manual for Action

Ignite: Inspiring Courageous Leaders – A Book of Thought-Provoking Wisdom and a Manual for Action

Go Lead Idaho sponsored a “meet the author” talk by Jo Ann Morris this week at the Boise WaterCooler. Jo Ann is the author of Ignite: Inspiring Courageous Leaders – A Book of Thought-Provoking Wisdom and a Manual for Action and co-founder of White Men as Full Diversity Partners. She describes herself as a proud radical feminist – I wish more people, men and women, had the courage to say that!

Jo Ann’s book, Ignite, helps you to take your own courageous actions. It has a series of “thought exercises” that each start with a powerful quote. She has suggested questions to ask yourself about each quote and there is room to write down the thoughts and feelings evoked by the quote. The exercises make you really think and help you get in the habit of looking beneath the surface and really digging deep. Then you can use your new insights to take action. Thoughts need to be followed by action to be powerful.

Jo Ann talked about taking charge in many ways. We are all responsible for ourselves. And we all need to help those around us.

  • Don’t spend time being nice – nice is overrated. This doesn’t mean to be deliberately mean, but don’t prioritize being nice or being polite above getting things done or getting what you need.
  • To be successful we need to take risks.
  • Don’t wait – step up and offer your ideas and actions.
  • Demand what you’re worth.
  • Be comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • Choose courage.
  • Be vulnerable to be courageous.
Courage!

Courage!

Courage encompasses four things. It can be manifested when you do one or more of these things:

  • See and speak the truth.
  • Champion an unpopular or risky vision.
  • Persevere.
  • Collaborate with AND rely on others. If you don’t rely on those you collaborate with you aren’t truly collaborating or being truly courageous.

In life we need truth, courage, and risk – they can’t really be separated. Women have the power to change the world. Don’t be “honorary men” – lead the way to a world that has a great combination of “feminine” and “masculine” ways of doing things. Have the courage to be the change!

Step up now – in your every-day life, in relationships, at work – and take charge of your own life. Be courageous, be uncomfortable, and be vulnerable. Stand up for yourself, help others, and be a proud radical feminist!


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Go Lead Idaho – Get in the Game

This past week I attended another great Go Lead Idaho event – A Legacy of Leading. Go Lead Idaho helps women build leadership skills and helps women engage in politics, public advocacy, and public planning. The speakers this week, Marilyn Monroe Fordham and Rose Bowman, are two veterans of being “first”. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how recently and severely women’s work and political options were limited to a small subset of opportunities.

Both speakers talked about being strongly discouraged in the 70s and 80s from choosing challenging, non-secretarial type degrees in college and from applying for jobs that were at the time typically reserved for men. Marilyn talked about staying in a banking job for years trying to break through the glass ceiling of “no women can be bank officers”. She eventually left to start her own business as promotion after promotion passed her by. They didn’t even hide why they wouldn’t consider her – they flatly stated it was because she was a woman. The powers that be also talked about the possibility that she might someday get pregnant as a roadblock to many roles – those were the days when women were expected to quit working as soon as they “showed” their pregnancy. While today few people would come out and say so, and many may think they’re being totally fair when evaluating people, there are countless subtle perceptions and reactions that still keep women from being completely successful.

This doesn’t mean we give up or sit around complaining – we need to stand up for ourselves. Don’t get discouraged, keep things positive, and stay focused on the goal. How other people perceive you matters – but don’t let it define you. And don’t try to do it alone. Ask for help and give help to others. Step up to help with projects – you will learn a lot, make new contacts, and show people what you can do. Even if you’re volunteering or doing something outside the scope of your core job you’re still showing people your skills and giving them a reason to remember you the next time an opportunity arises. Always be ready to help others, especially women who may be looking for a female based network. Help others feel confident and build their own circles.

When you are choosing new projects and opportunities challenge yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others and what they could do with the job, project, or role – think of what you can contribute and be creative about it. Others don’t really know more about how to do it than you do – and what you do know how to do could be exactly what is needed whether it’s typical or not. Stretch yourself and don’t focus at first on the practicalities. Figure out what needs to be done then come up with a plan that combines your needs with the needs of the job or project. Many times the schedules and specifics are much more flexible than they seem at first – ask for what you need.

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to redefine it. Marilyn recounted how she sat on boards with a mix of men and women and there were often 1-2 people who tried to “win” and dominate discussions. However, as she joined boards that were composed of all women she saw a lot more of a focus on solving the problem and collaborating. Over the years the boards she was on became more efficient as they spent less time “playing golf” and instead focused on getting the work done sooner so they could get back to their responsibilities such as families and full time jobs. This wasn’t because of the inherent gender differences but because the women had different goals in mind and focused on them. They stated their needs, got things done, and made the job better.

When Rose ran for US Senate in Idaho in 1972 she was the first woman to do so. People were less likely to give money to a woman and she was running in the primary against the husbands of friends. She got out, made contacts, networked, but still lost the primary. But she was out there, she showed everyone that a woman could run, and she leveraged the contacts she made into appointments to multiple statewide offices. She made a difference. So what was next – what women have run for US Senate since then in Idaho? None. Women haven’t stepped up. We all have our excuses – we’re too busy, we don’t feel we have the skills, or it just seems like too much work. But really – why hasn’t any woman run again in the last 40 years?

You don’t have to start out with a national political office – but start somewhere. Do something new, extend your comfort zone, grow  your network, and get in the game – any game! Go lead Idaho!


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The Princess and the Cancer Pea

The Princess's backyard

The Princess’s backyard

Once upon a time there was a princess in Boise, ID. We know she is a princess because she has so many advantages. She works for a Fortune 50 company that provides excellent health care and whose culture encourages strong support of employees as they go through hard times. She owns a nice house in the foothills that is way bigger than she needs and is great for parties – and since she works from home she feels she can justify the extra space. She has wonderful, extremely supportive friends around the world who will do (have done!) just about anything for her. She gets to speak her mind freely and does often freely share her opinions. She has shoes and bicycles and rafts and coats and boots and clothes and friends for just about any specific activity she likes to do. And when she wants to go on an adventure or buy something nice she just does it. She lives in a city often ranked top 10 for outdoor activities and adventures and can walk or ride into the foothills or along the Boise River a very short distance from her house. The princess is writing this blog on her patio as she looks out on her gorgeous, tree-covered hillside of a backyard. This princess lives a wonderful, charmed life.

So what could go wrong in this perfect, Camelot world?

That little cancer pea…. And thank goodness it was only pea size when they found it! Because this princess has great health care she didn’t hesitate to ask for an MRI and go to the High Risk Breast Clinic after the initial two sets of mammograms plus an ultrasound said that the shadow on the first mammogram wasn’t really anything to worry about. Because the princess knew her insurance would cover just about any reasonable health care advised by a doctor she asked for the expensive genetic testing and spent three hours at the High Risk Breast Clinic talking to a genetic counselor, a surgeon, and an oncologist about her lifetime risk of breast cancer and how her mom’s two breast cancers (the 2nd one was terminal) affected the princess’s own risk. They told her to lose 10 pounds, exercise more, get screened twice a year, and take Tamoxifen. The princess not only lives in a country that can offer the best health care in the world if you can afford it, she is also lucky enough to have a job that gives her the insurance that means she can get that excellent care when she needs it. Because of that high quality of care and her great health care insurance the princess had breast cancer surgery and she is now cured. She won’t even have much scarring and her breast doesn’t really look any different than it did before. How great is that?!

Cancer sizes compared to produce - this princess had a pea sized tumor

Cancer sizes compared to produce – this princess had a pea sized tumor

Because of that great health care plan, when the surgeon suggested that maybe another ultrasound was needed and maybe they should just go ahead and do a biopsy guided by that ultrasound she didn’t hesitate – she had no fear of the testing costs or any difficult decisions based on whether she could afford any suggested future care. And that may have saved her life. At the very least it made the whole cancer thing less scary. If the princess had no insurance or had insurance that was more costly or she couldn’t afford even minor copays and deductibles like so many people in this country they might not have found the cancer until next year’s mammogram. Statistically the tumor might have doubled in size twice in the next year – from .9cm to 3-4cm. It might have gone from totally non-aggressive and incapable of spreading to other parts of her body to something that was about to or already had escaped into her lymph nodes or blood stream. She might have not just breast cancer but also bone cancer or something else hard to cure and painful. But this princess had great health care and she is cured and that is wonderful for her!

Ultrasound images

Ultrasound images

But for many in this country, with the type of insurance so many people in the United States have (or don’t have), they might never have had the 2nd mammogram and biopsy this year and might not have their next mammogram on the advised schedule. So that tumor might have doubled in size again and again and again…. Once you are considered high risk (and the princess was given an estimated 36% lifetime risk of breast cancer – almost triple the norm) you are often put on a schedule to have an MRI then six months later a mammogram then six months later an MRI – rinse and repeat. After her cancer diagnosis this is now a forever-more schedule for the rest of her life unless she decides to have a preventative double mastectomy. But not all insurance will cover that screening MRI. It’s expensive and some insurance carriers will refuse to cover it, especially if you’re only borderline high risk or had a mastectomy (the princess had a lumpectomy). The princess heard that some high risk women save up so they can get an MRI every 3-4 years, paying totally out of their own pocket, and they just can’t afford to get the once a year MRI that their doctor recommends.

While the Affordable Care Act (ACA aka ObamaCare) takes great strides forward because it requires that a screening/preventative mammogram be covered by your insurance for free, it doesn’t require subsequent follow-up care such as a 2nd mammogram in the same year to be free. In her case the princess had to pay several hundred dollars for the 2nd mammogram/first ultrasound and doesn’t yet know the total costs for the second ultrasound, ultrasound-guided biopsy, nurse navigator, surgery, pathology reports, radiation, and follow-up care. But since her maximum out of pocket for any given year is small she has probably already paid every health care expense she will have to pay this year. And how wonderful is that? But how many people in this country have that luxury?

Stand Up for Women's HealthThe Affordable Care Act also means that the princess is guaranteed that her past breast cancer won’t keep her from getting health insurance if she changes jobs in the future. Pre-existing conditions can no longer be used as an excuse for insurance companies to avoid covering the people who may need the insurance the most. There are also state and national laws that prevent health insurance companies and employers from using the results of genetic testing to discriminate against the princess and other Americans in health insurance and employment decisions – but they don’t prevent life insurance discrimination.

For most people health care insurance in general will be cheaper and more comprehensive with the new health care exchanges ObamaCare has created. In some states that really care about their inhabitants Medicaid expansion also covers and subsidizes even more people. So if you don’t have insurance or need better insurance now is the time to do your research and get covered! If you still can’t afford breast cancer screenings and treatment go to your local Planned Parenthood clinic for help. They provide funding for screenings and health care of all kinds for men, women, and children. As a proud board member of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest I encourage you to support women and women’s health care (and men’s too!) by supporting Planned Parenthood!

The princess wants you to think long and hard about your health, your health care, your friends, and your insurance. Fight like a girl at all times! Think about all the wonderful things ObamaCare is doing and will continue to do to improve the overall health of Americans. Make your mammogram appointments and keep them! Encourage your friends to do the same. Get to know your own breasts, how they look and feel at various times of the month, and tell your doctor if anything changes. Think about what your own health and life are worth and be willing to pay for care when needed. Speak up and ask lots of questions – challenge health care providers and insurance companies if needed. Be supportive of your friends and ask them for help when you need it. Don’t fall for pink-washed products and research any charities before you donate to them. Take charge of your life so you too can have a wonderful, charmed life like the princess!Fight Like A Girl - Sister Wives

Read more about the princess on http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/cindygross and http://befriendingdragons.com. She also tweets as CindyGross and SQLCindy.