Harnessing Fear: Lessons From a 3 Year Old

Our own thoughts (and fears) are often the biggest obstacle to taking action and pursuing our dreams. How do we fight the enemy with outposts in our heads?

I’m four,” came first (she’s barely three). Then, “I’m a big girl.

My nieces live in Australia so I don’t see them often enough, but even with the lapse of a year, there was no forgetting this personality. “I can barely contain her,” my sister declares. She’s always spiriting off, running around as if she owns the place, talking to strangers as if they were old chums.

It’s not just being three and the fearlessness that comes with not knowing any better. Her older sister Anna at that age was much more cautious and deliberate. But Mila is “the bold one.”

We spent the afternoon at the Griffith Park Observatory, lost in the world of stars, planets, comets and galaxies, tracing the earth’s elliptical path around the sun, watching the phases of the moon overhead, and playing on loop the sun’s fiery atomic reactions. A perfect afternoon as defined by an aunt who wants to imbibe her nieces with an early as possible interest in the sciences and to encourage the questioning of the hows and whys of the universe’s underpinnings.

The pony rides, the final event of the park excursion, was the most anticipated part of the day. We just barely made it to the stables before closing time. Anna promptly hopped on her pony and was whisked off along with several other kids. But Mila, on closer approach, stopped short. All excitement dissipated, and I felt a sudden grasp of my hand.


When I asked her if she wanted to go on the pony, her reply was a soft, “Can I just wait here a little bit?” So we waited. After a lap of watching the other kids, I asked her again. The reply was the same, “Can I just wait here a little bit?” the fierce grip on my hand intact.

Frustrated, my thoughts ran, she’s going to regret it, what can I possibly say to convince her, the place is closing, I don’t have much time here…but the little hand in mind stayed firm. It seemed as if today the fear of the pony was much bigger than the desire to ride the pony.


What it is that makes some of us stop cold and freeze when we encounter fear — no matter how strong our original yearnings — while others can easily move past theirs, sometimes even be energized by it?

Fear is a natural reaction, healthy even, a triggered response to an immediate stimulus. The autonomic nervous system prepares the body to stop and flee, if necessary, from clear and present danger [Insert any lion/bear/tiger encounter in the woods reference here].

But that same autonomic “fight or flight” feedback is triggered even when the fear is irrational, when the only danger is what’s in our heads and the emotional state we’ve created. No tiger is going to attack us at the office when we ask for a raise or that coveted job that is about to open up. Yet, the threatening thoughts of fear, amplified by its accompanying emotions of worry, doubt, shame, and failure, paralyze us from taking action.

The more we continue to give in to these outposts in our head that whisper “Stop. Danger,” sometimes, albeit, oh so rationally –

there’s no budget right now; they just hired a new guy; I don’t know enough about ‘x’ yet; I don’t have an MBA; I’m just not a public speaker

– the more these beliefs settle in as absolute truths.

The avoidance and negative self-talk serve to further intensify the debilitating fear.  So we undermine ourselves, engage in self-sabotage or dull the desire of that which we once sought so fiercely.

We know the fear isn’t magically going to go away by wistful thinking. Are we then doomed to always respond this way to “scary” situations?

Redrawing our mind’s dominant reaction blueprint

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face.

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

So if that natural tendency towards avoidance isn’t the answer, is the trick to overcoming fear direct confrontation? [Cue vision: prototypical ‘courageous’ knight charging forward.] If yes, then why is it that sometimes confronting fear seems to strengthen it, and it fights back, like facing a bully who’s three times bigger?

Because courage isn’t about being fearless. As the saying goes “a person who lives without any fear, is destined for a short life.” Rather, the first step of courage is to recognize and feel the fear and then move through it. 

For the most part, fear isn’t a hard fact, it’s a feeling.  

Sometime in the past as a learned response, we created our fears. They, thus, offer something valuable to teach us about ourselves, if we take the time to work through our limiting beliefs and then source where those fears came from; lessons we just might miss if we try to violently hack at them with sharpened swords.

We realize that the fear isn’t some outside bugaboo, but instead, is an intimate small part of us, frightened that if we take Action A, something or someone might possibly hurt us (again) at some indeterminate time in the future. And we won’t be able to cope. Or we are going to suffer. We’ve built these fears as protective coping mechanisms to feel safe. Only now they aren’t shielding or helping us but blocking our path to pursuing new dreams.

“The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility…once you have met it and lived through it, you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before.”

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Rather than avoiding fear (goodbye, procrastination!) or attacking it headlong, we can choose to invite fear in, like an old acquaintance. We acknowledge its presence, interact with it, and let it sit on our shoulder for a little while until it finds its bearings.

Paradoxically, the antidote to fear is taking action, calculated action, and learning to navigate the tension between the two. Moving into the feelings the fear is provoking as we take action and using them to create a “safer” space by becoming more grounded, focused and prepared actually rebuilds the neurons in our brains. This act of purposeful movement reprograms, over time, the learned behaviors and responses our minds have become used to.

So when you next encounter that giant specter of fear mounting its head, step back and stop for a moment.

Acknowledge the fear, and let yourself imagine all the possible scenarios.

What am I afraid of? What’s the worst that can happen? How real are those possibilities?

Filter out the most plausible risky outcomes and work to mitigate them.


The secret behind most successful leaders and entrepreneurs is neither fearful risk aversion nor excessive fearless risk taking but, rather, risk management—taking strategic risks, after a thorough as possible assessment of the landscape.

So crunch those numbers, tinker with the algorithms, gather market intelligence, create a rough business model, sketch out your UVP, give yourself room & willingness to pivot; do whatever you need to do to manage the real risk involved in starting that business, asking for that raise or pitching yourself.

We may not always conquer the object of our fear but in moving towards deliberate action, we don’t allow fear to conquer us.


After a third, “Can I just wait here a little bit?” I sighed silently. From behind the fence where we observers were cordoned off, she watched her sister ride the second lap. Her head perked up as a toddler (“a baby“) got on the next pony and slowly ambled by. No ponies were bucking, the world was calm.

One of the attendants asked Mila if she wanted to come around the fence and pet the pony. The final coup de grâce, she let go of my hand. The next thing I knew, she was riding, her face a triumphant mixture of joy and accomplishment; my own, no doubt, a mirror reflection.


All images copyrighted  © 2019 – All rights reserved.

5 Professional Organizations Women in Tech Should Consider Joining

Everyone wants to be part of the in-crowd. As a technology geek, you may have spent high school or maybe even college outside the popular kids table. Or, you had the science club or computer club to hang out with and share stories. In the professional world, we still need groups to help us along our career paths, broaden our horizons, and just make like-minded friends. As a woman in tech, finding other women to share our particular geekiness is incredibly wonderful. And, if we can learn new skills, grow professionally, and boost our businesses along the way, well, that’s great, too. With that in mind, here’s the low down on five national organizations for women in technology.


Association for Women in Computing (WIC)

Who’s it for: Women in the computing professions such as programmers, system analysts, technical writers, Internet specialists, trainers, and consultants.

How to join: You may join any one of the local chapters nationwide or become an independent member by filling out an application online. Independent membership is for professionals in the U.S and abroad who cannot physically attend chapter meetings. Alternately, any five individuals in a particular area can apply to form a local chapter.

Benefits: Career growth through volunteer and leadership activities, networking, and mentoring. Local chapters hold monthly meetings that include dinner with guest speakers and workshops. Job listings, career planning, skill enhancement and scholarships are some of the other benefits.

Cost: Local chapters’ dues vary by chapter but range from $35 to $100 per year. The average is $61. Annual dues for Independent Members is $25.


Women in Technology International (WITI)

Who’s it for: WITI boasts itself as the “leading global business organization for women in technology.” It is for women who consider technology central to their businesses, careers, and professions. WITI encourages men to join as well.

Benefits: They include networking events nationwide, professional development, mentorships, opportunities to establish your personal brand, monthly webinars, teleclasses, and speaking opportunities.

How to join: You can sign up online.

Costs: WITI offers Individual, Small Business, Corporate, and student memberships. An individual yearly membership is $250. Student yearly memberships are $50.


IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE)

Who it’s for: Women in engineering, computer sciences and information technology, physical sciences, biological and medical sciences, mathematics, technical communications, education, management, and law and policy. IEEE WIE touts itself as “the largest international professional organization dedicated to promoting women engineers and scientists.”

Benefits: The mission of IEEE WIE is to facilitate the global recruitment and retention of women in technical disciplines. Benefits include career resources, awards/recognition, continuing education, access to the IEEE WIE electronic membership directory, a monthly electronic newsletter, and award-winning Women in Engineering magazine. There are also local networking events through WIE affinity groups.

How to join: You must be an IEEE Member to join WIE. Professional IEEE memberships in the U.S. are $197 annually. IEEE student memberships in the U.S. are $32.00 annually.

Cost: The WIE membership dues is $25 annually, but free to students.

Society of Women Engineers

Society of Women Engineers (SWE)
Who it’s for: For women and men in the engineering professions including computer software and hardware engineering.

Benefits: Networking, educational development, awards & scholarships, the SWE Magazine, monthly newsletter, online communities, webinars, podcasts, online career center, and outreach; Affinity groups for African-American, Latina, LGBT, Native American, and IRIS (Internationals Residing in the States). Members develop leadership skills by publishing articles, presenting technical papers, leading workshops and seminars.

How to Join: Fill out an application online or by pdf.

Cost: Professional member ship is $100 annually. Collegiate Membership is a one-time payment of $50 that can be renewed every year you’re in college for no cost.

Women Entrepreneurs

Women Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology (WEST)

Who it’s for: Women and men involved in science, engineering, and technology.

Benefits: Networking, mentorships, workshops and panels including advice about career advancement, alternate career options, professional skill building, and entrepreneurial thinking. WEST offers encouragement and recognition of women’s achievement in science, technology and entrepreneurial enterprises.

How to Join: You can join online.

Cost: Individual one year memberships are $95.

With such variety, perhaps you’ll find one of these organizations will be the perfect fit for you. (Or, maybe even more than one.) Remember, it’s never to early to start making those important professional contacts.


Main image credit: Stockvault.net; all trademarks and logos are the property of their respective owners.

Does Hollywood Influence Women in Tech Careers?

The other day I was talking to my teenage neighbor; a petite blonde teen, very excited about her upcoming senior year in high school and the classes she would be taking. Just one more year of high school and she would be going to college. When I asked her what she planned to study in college, she told me that she wanted to study forensic science. Curious, I asked her why she had chosen that particular field of science. “Oh, because I love CSI. I think working in forensics would be so cool.”

Her answer did not surprise me. Since I’ve been writing about the lack of women and minorities in STEM careers, particularly computer science, I’ve heard of the so-called “CSI effect.” This television show has not only influenced jurors expectations of scientific evidence presented in criminal trials , but has also been credited with the increased enrollment in programs training forensic scientist helping to turn a once male dominated career into a predominately female one.

According to a 2010 study by Marshall University’s Forensic Program, based on answers given by current female forensic science students and recent graduates, many of the women “ knew they wanted to enter forensic science before they started college and were influenced by popular forensic television shows and fiction.” Just like my neighbor these young women decided long before choosing a college that they wanted to work in forensic science despite the fact that the salary range for a Crime Scene Investigator is $27,683 – $52,471.   Compare that to the salary range of a Software Engineer at $53,873 – $108,150.  One would think that the salary alone would make women flock to a career in the computer sciences.  Apparently Hollywood has a much larger influence on career choice.   A 2013 study conducted by the Gena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media found that over half the women depicted working in STEM careers on television shows were in the medical field as forensic pathologists or medical examiners.

Perhaps what we need to entice more women into careers in computer technology is more depictions of women in those careers on television? With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the women depicted working in technology currently on television.

Penelope GarciaPenelope Garcia (Criminal Minds, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior) portrayed by Kristen Vangsness.   Ms. Garcia is number one on my list as well she should be. She is a free-spirit with a unique sense of style. She loves pink and famously submitted her resume for her job in the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) on pink stationary. She is a woman that gets the job done and I would argue the most important member of the BAU team. A former hacker, Analyst Garcia, got her job by illegally hacking into FBI equipment (not a recommended application process). There is not a computer she can’t hack or a suspect she can’t trace. Without her, the agents of the BAU team wouldn’t catch any of the truly psycho criminals they pursue.

Raven csi-cyberRaven Ramirez (CSI: Cyber) portrayed by Hayley Kiyoko.  Yes, CSI has a Cyber division. Ramirez is a black hat hacker  (I’m seeing a pattern here) who now uses her powers for good as an FBI analyst helping to solve cyber-related crimes. A bit of trivia: The actress who plays Ramirez also played the original crime solving computer geek, Velma, in two Scooby-Doo movies on the Cartoon Network.

NellNell Jones (NCIS: Los Angeles) portrayed by Renee Felice Smith.  Ms. Jones is an NCIS analyst and assistant to technical operator and intelligence analyst, Eric Beale. Unlike the previous two, she was not a hacker, but became part of the team after getting an Ivy League degree. Besides being a great analyst, she is an expert on South America, has a proficiency in foreign languages (Spanish and Arabic) and can handle a gun. With her short pixie haircut, she reminds me of a red-headed Velma from Scooby Doo.

RootSamantha ‘Root’ Groves (Person of Interest) portrayed by Amy Acker. This series is set in the future where a computer known as The Machine collects and analyzes data that predicts terrorist attacks. Root, a former computer hacker (yes, again), is the human interface for The Machine. Oh, and she used to be a contract killer. It’s Hollywood. A computer geek cannot just be a geek.

Charlie-bradbury-spnCharlene ‘Charlie’ Bradbury (Supernatural) portrayed by Felicia Day. Speaking of geeks.  A former IT expert for Richard Roman Enterprises, fantasy lover and LARPing queen, Charlie, becomes Dean and Sam’s go-to person for all their computer hacking needs. Unfortunately, the character was killed off this season.

abbyAbigail ‘Abby’ Sciuto (NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles) portrayed by Pauley Perrette. Okay, so this is a controversial one. Ms. Sciuto has been credited with inspiring a generation of women to pursue forensic science. However, besides being a Forensic Analyst for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and a happy Goth, Ms. Sciuto, specializes in digital forensics; one of the fastest growing fields today. (Remember the attack on Sony Picture Studios?) So, that makes her a computer techie even if she can’t thwart a cyber-attack against her own computer as demonstrated in this hilarious clip from the show.  (Ah, Hollywood.)

Of note is that only one of these characters represents minority women. There are currently a couple of portrayals of African-American men in tech positions on television, but none of African-American women. And, although two of these characters have Latino surnames, none of the characters are portrayed by Latinos. Perhaps next season’s crop of shows will include at least one African-American female techie. I would love to see another no-nonsense female computer scientist like 24’s Chloe O’Brian in future television offerings.  Maybe she could be African-American or Latina.

What female tech character would you like to see on television?  Are there any that I missed?

Cover Image by Eva Luedin

Book Review: The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christenson

In 2011, Forbes aptly called world famous Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen “one of the most influential business theorists of the last 50 years.” Christensen’s book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” perfectly exemplifies why he deserves such lofty praise. In “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, Christensen puts forth a theory that demystifies the seemingly inexplicable failures of some of the world’s most well-managed, exceptional companies.

The theory of disruptive innovation is that disruptive innovations—innovations that improve products or services in ways unanticipated by existing markets—swiftly move upmarket and displace companies at the forefront of their respective industries. Christensen notes that paradoxically, the reasons for these companies’ success are the very reasons for their downfalls. “Precisely because these firms listened to their customers, invested aggressively in new technologies that would provide their customers more and better products of the sort they wanted, and because they carefully studied market trends and systematically allocated investment capital to innovations that promised the best returns, they lost their positions of leadership,” he writes.

Christensen poses a flawless, revolutionary solution to this paradox. He explains with precision that evaluating and addressing customers’ articulated needs worked against these companies in the face of disruptive innovations because the speed of technological advancement outpaces the rate of progress expected, desired, and even comprehended by markets. As a result of customers’ failure to understand and envision the utility of disruptive technologies, established companies reliant on comprehensive market research are led to the faulty conclusion that disruptive innovations are unworthy of their time and resources. Entrant firms then come onto the scene, building emerging markets for disruptive technologies and superseding leading companies that were wholly unprepared for the meteoric market shifts that such technologies precipitate. Christensen conscientiously establishes the soundness of these propositions. He demonstrates their internal validity by applying his failure framework to the disk drive industry in excruciating detail, and he proves that his framework is externally valid when he uses it to explain the histories of industries with remarkably different characteristics than those of the disk drive industry. The theoretical strength of Christensen’s work can be largely attributed to his airtight logic and the broad validity of his arguments.

In addition to identifying a previously unrealized problem faced by leading companies, Christensen proposes actionable ways for managers to confront it. He names five laws of disruptive technology strong enough that “managers who ignore or fight them are nearly powerless to pilot their companies through a disruptive technology storm.” His book teaches managers how to harness these forces and successfully overcome the challenges created by disruptive innovations. And perhaps the greatest strength of Christensen’s work is its inclusion of advice so shrewd and insightful that managers who read it will be equipped to not only survive a turbulent disruptive technology storm, but also see a rainbow.

5 Reasons to Head to a Tech Conference

Spring and summer tech conferences are just around the corner. Here’s why you should consider looking for a tech conference near you.

1. New Ideas, New Inspiration

Whether you’re still in school or an experienced computer scientist, there’s always something new to learn. Tech conferences are great places to share ideas and get inspired. At a tech conference last year, I learned about the origins of the game Portal and also heard a great talk about approaches to innovation. Chances are that you’ll walk away with renewed purpose, a new project in mind or a new subject that you’d like to research.

2. Build Your Network

Networking is easier than ever with the help of sites like LinkedIn. You can use LinkedIn to expand your connections, but it’s great to meet like-minded students and professionals in computer science at a conference too. Some conferences have built-in networking sessions, so always check the conference agenda and make sure you bring your business cards. It’s nice if you have a networking goal in mind (ex. “I want to meet people who can tell me more about cyber security” or “I want to learn how to volunteer my time to a computer science related cause”), but also remember to keep an open mind and embrace learning opportunities in all their forms.

3. Represent Your Organization

If you’re a student, you can represent your school and possibly your school’s computer science club. At local conferences, younger students may look up to you to learn about your experiences and consider attending your school in the future. You can also exchange ideas with fellow students about computer science related activities and events. Professionals can represent their company in its best light and meet potential recruits, business partners or clients.

4. Stay Current

Conferences often have specialized sessions or lightning rounds of discussion topics. These are great ways to stay up to date on what the latest tools, challenges and breakthroughs are in a particular area. It’s a good idea to have a pen and notepad handy for any keywords you might want to remember for later. You can view these sessions as networking opportunities as well – chat with the person sitting next to you, ask a question if the moment is available, or talk to the speaker after the session.

5. Jobs and Internships

Finally, anyone looking for a job or internship has much to gain by attending a tech conference. The conference may have a career fair, in which case you can make use of the time to talk with companies, ask questions and hand out your resume. If you know certain companies will be at the career fair, take the time to do your research beforehand so that you can show how and why you’re interested in a particular company. The conference may also offer resume reviews, mock interviews or advice sessions on finding a job or internship. Don’t overlook the influence of a great conversation though: while you’re networking, mention if you’re looking for a job or internship.  The person you are talking to may not be able to offer you a position, but they might be able to point you in the right direction.

Here in the Portland metro area, the Northwest Regional Women in Computing conference and the ACT-W Portland conference will be held in mid-April, and scholarship applications to the attend the Grace Hopper Celebration are due on April 15th.

Interested in going to a tech conference but not sure about all the crowds and high energy? Rest assured that it’s not just you! Check out An Introvert’s Guide to Tech Conferences.

Image by Donna Cleveland (modified).

The Legacy of Grace Hopper

How much do you know about Grace Hopper? In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are some discussion questions to accompany The Queen of Code, a short 15 minute documentary released earlier this year by Gillian Jacobs.

  • What did you know about Grace Hopper before watching the documentary?
  • After watching the documentary, what surprised you most?

“I’ve driven a large number of people at least partially nuts. After all, insisting on talking to computers in plain English was a totally ridiculous idea and you couldn’t do that. Except it worked.” – Grace Hopper

  • Have you had a similar experience where someone thought your idea was totally ridiculous? What happened? What are some constructive ways to approach these kinds of situations?

“Even though she was a trailblazer, she never admitted that a trail needed to be blazed. She was very interesting in that respect.” – Kathleen Williams, Grace Hopper Biographer

  • How would you describe a trailblazer? To what extent should trailblazers advocate for others to follow in their stead?
  • How do you feel about having or needing role models to look up to?

“She’s like an Edison…like a Turing…and yet Hopper isn’t in those names in the history books and it needs to be and that’s one of the things we can fix.” – Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer of the United States

  • Who are the most famous people in technology that you have learned about? What are some ways we might help others learn about people like Grace Hopper and the ENIAC women?

“One phrase I’ve always disliked is that awful one: “But we’ve always done it that way.” That’s why I kept that backward clock in my office.” – Grace Hopper

  • What is one way that you can incorporate your own “backward clock” into your life?

Image by miss karen.

What Programming Teaches Us About Failure

Most programmers will tell you that they did not write a working program – or even a working function – on their first try. It often takes multiple attempts and revisions before reaching success. What do I mean by success? There are multiple ways of looking at success too, but today let’s talk about failure.

We tend to celebrate successes and sweep failures under the rug. As programmers,  we should examine failures more closely.

Squashing the Bugs

What do you do when you hit ‘build’ and your program has errors, or when your program runs but it’s buggy? Some people might bang their heads, feel frustrated or angry, and not care as much about trying to solve the problem. Others might be still frustrated but even more determined to smooth out all the wrinkles. Fixing bugs teaches us that it takes perseverance to pinpoint a problem and find a good solution. Mistakes along the way become an expected part of the problem-solving process.

Proactive Programming

You know how your program works and how to properly use it. Another person might not. Testing our programs and proactively coding against possible user errors helps the program run properly – it is also a valuable exercise in empathy. Preventing program failures partly means learning to imagine the ways that many different people might approach the program. In doing so, it is easier to create something that other people will find enjoyable to use.

Adopting a Growth Mindset

Think about something you do well. After a few months of programming, concepts like for loops probably seem like no big deal, but they probably weren’t as easy the first time. Learning to program involves making countless mistakes and learning from them along the way. Over time, we develop logic skills and knowledge that helps us learn more quickly. That knowledge was very likely acquired rather than a result of inborn talent. Programming is an example of how we benefit by embracing failures as challenges waiting to be solved, by approaching unfamiliar topics as something to yet be learned, and by seeing perseverance and effort as the keys to mastery.

Image by Bernard Goldbach

For more information about the Growth Mindset, see this video and other works by Stanford professor Carol Dweck.

Taking Your Coding to the Next Level

You’ve done the Hour of Code and Codecademy, or maybe you’ve taken a couple formal intro classes. Now what? Here are some great resources for staying sharp and taking your coding to the next level.

Code School

Pros: Code School offers fun-themed, polished instruction videos and exercises for Ruby, JavaScript, HTML/CSS, iOS, Git and electives like using the Google Drive API. The developers at Code School are constantly rolling out new content covering topics like Angular.js, Node.js and Express.js. These courses assume you have a basic understanding of the programming language at hand.

Cons: The iOS path has a course on Objective-C but not Swift, though the developers have blogged about Swift and it seems they’ve got a course in the works. If you’re not looking to learn about web technologies, however, this site won’t be very useful to you.

Cost: $29/mo individual subscription


Pros: Treehouse is track-based like Code School, but offers additional topics like Android development, PHP, Python, WordPress and even a track on how to start a business.

Cons: If you want access to industry talks, interviews and workshops, you’ll need a Pro account at double the cost of a basic subscription.

Cost: $25/mo individual basic subscription


Pros: If you’re interested in more than just web technologies, PluralSight probably has you covered with its 3500+ courses. There are some learning paths but the site is largely geared toward current professionals who might be preparing for a specific certificate or who need to learn a very specific topic. Here you’ll find videos on .NET, C#, databases, SQL, and methodology-based courses like agile and unit-testing.

Cons: There’s much less hand-holding on PluralSight, so it’s probably useful if you have an intermediate-level understanding of programming basics and/or are very self-directed. PluralSight videos aim to teach you what you need to know without fancier things like themed learning paths.

Cost: $29/mo individual basic subscription ($49/mo subscription for access to exercises, pre-/post-assessments and certificates)


Pros: TopCoder posts challenges in the major areas of design, development and data science for programmers to compete to come up with the best solution. This is a great place to show off your skills, potentially win prizes and get noticed by companies. Some companies use this site as part of their technical interview.

Cons: TopCoder doesn’t have courses to explicitly teach you skills. Rather, you can learn by taking on a challenge and doing your own research about the topic.

Cost: Free!


Pros: HackerRank easily lets you practice coding (from late beginner skills onwards) in over 30 programming languages. This is a great place to sharpen your skills in algorithms, artificial intelligence or functional programming. HackerRank consists mostly of exercises but has some tutorials like Linux Shell/Bash and Python. The farther up you move in the ranks by completing challenges, the more you could also get noticed by companies. Some companies use this site as part of their technical interview.

Cons: For the most part, HackerRank is more about completing challenges and teaching yourself something along the way. Let StackOverflow be your friendly companion; the forums specific to each challenge have some handy tips, too.

Cost: Free!



Why do I list having to teach yourself without formal video tutorials as a con? I wrote this guide with the beginner/intermediate programmer in mind – someone who probably considers themselves a student and isn’t used to the fact that ‘learning by doing’ can also mean solving a challenge by looking up lots of bits and pieces on the internet whenever you need it. You won’t have all the information you need all in one place: I think this is a good thing and more representative of what it’s like to be a programmer on the job. If you’re not used to taking the initiative to find a new tool or feature of a particular programming language, sites like TopCoder and HackerRank can make you feel like you have little direction. If you feel this way, I encourage you to dive in with the mindset that you now have more freedom to choose your direction and how you find new things to learn.

Happy coding!

Image by Alexander Scheffelaar Klots

Productivity Tool Review: Todoist

To-do lists are a smart way to stay organized and be more productive. While traditional pad and paper may work well enough for some, Todoist is the best digital tool I’ve come across. I’ve been using Todoist regularly for the past six months and here’s why I can’t live without it.

Intuitive Planning

Todoist tasks are viewable by default based on what is due ‘Today’ and what is due in the ‘Next 7 Days’. When specifying due dates, Todoist understands what you mean by ‘every day’, ‘tomorrow’, ‘next wednesday’ and ‘every other day’. It also correctly interprets multiple day/date formats (so you can type ‘Wed’ if you’re too rushed to write ‘Wednesday’) and includes a pop-up calendar so that you can choose a date if that’s more convenient. Rescheduling tasks is easy with default options to postpone a task until the next day or the start of the next week. Bulk rescheduling is quick and works well in both the mobile and web versions.

Options for Organizing

Todoist helps you prioritize by offering four color-coded levels of prioritization. Tasks assigned a specific priority leads your to-do list to be automatically sorted from most to least important (priority labels are only overridden if there is a time associated with the task, such as ‘Pick up the mail today at 3pm’). Each project and task can be broken down into several indented sub-projects and sub-tasks if needed. The free version allows you to sort tasks by project and labels, while the premium version allows you to make the labels color-coded.

Screenshot by Alexandrea Beh
Screenshot by Alexandrea Beh

Effective Searching and Filtering

One of the best parts of Todoist is how well natural language processing has been integrated into the service: typing ‘3 days’ into the search pulls up the tasks for the next 3 days only, easily customizing the task view. You can also search by date (in the same variety of ways that Todoist understands setting a due date) and you can search by priority. Upgrading to Premium allows you to search using boolean operators (more on that later) and by task keyword (useful if you forgot when something was due and you don’t want to sort through dozens or hundreds of tasks to find the entry).

Cross-Platform and Cross-App Integration

Todoist is accessible on the web but also syncs through plugins and apps for Android phones, Android tablets, Windows, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Amazon devices, Chrome, Firefox, Gmail, Outlook, Thunderbird, and Postbox. I mainly use the web  and Android phone version, and am happy to say that syncing works well and that the Android app has great functionality. Some of the app’s best features are a widget with a customizable task view, ability to check off tasks or reschedule tasks through the widget without launching the app, and the ability to quickly add one or multiple tasks (through the notification bar) without leaving whatever app you’re currently in. For even more productivity magic, Todoist integrates with services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, IFTTT, and Zapier.

Shortcuts – A Programmer’s Dream

Screenshot by Alexandrea Beh
Screenshot by Alexandrea Beh

The Todoist UI is very sleek, fairly minimalist, and easy to work with for those who don’t want to learn complicated commands. There are options, however, that make the programmer part of me very, very happy. Within the free version, you can save long links and create an elegant-looking task with the format ‘webaddress (Task name)’ so that only the task name appears, but the text has been hyperlinked, making it easy to go to the saved website. In the web version, using ‘!!1’ at the end of creating a new task will mark the task with Priority 1, saving you a couple mouse clicks. The Premium version allows you to search tasks and filter using boolean operators: using ‘today & priority 1’, the AND operator, shows you tasks that are both due today and are top priorities while ‘today | priority 1’, the OR operator, shows you anything either due today or due at any time but labelled with priority 1. It’s not the functionality of the Linux command line, but for a productivity tool I’m more than satisfied.

Is Premium Worth It?

I recently upgraded to Todoist Premium (a year’s subscription is $29) and mostly enjoy the enhanced search and filtering options, as well as the ability to easily add emails as tasks. I feel that most people can get a lot out of the free version without ever needing to upgrade, although the Premium version has more color-coding options and more than doubles the number of projects you can have at one time (from 80 to 200 projects, each with up to 200 tasks in the Premium version instead of 150).

What Can’t Todoist Do?

For one, Todoist is definitely not your virtual personal assistant (it can integrate with Google Now though). It won’t try to be smart and anticipate what you want to know unless you’ve set up integrations for that kind of functionality. I would recommend that if you are looking to use a highly functional yet customizable task-tracker, especially one that works well across multiple platforms, then give Todoist a try!

Disclaimer: This post is in no way sponsored by Todoist.

Retrieve Deleted Items From Exchange Server

This post is based off of the assumption that your exchange server holds old emails for an entire month. Below are the directions to retrieve old emails off of the server in Outlook 2010.

1. Open up outlook.

2. Click on the folder you would like to restore deleted items to. For this example, I will be using my inbox.

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3. Click on the folder tab.

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4. Click on the icon with the label “Recover Deleted Items”.

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5. Select the deleted messages you would like to recover from the recover deleted items pop up window.

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6. After selecting your messages, click on the recover deleted items icon (see image below).

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7. Now look through the folder you selected to verify these messages have been restored. If successful, then you should be able to find them with ease.

Header image by Nikita Kashner

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