STEM

Twin Twinterviews

The Twinterview is nothing new.  I did my first one for the @IoDNI back in 2013.  Having a limited number of characters in which to answer a sometimes quite complex question is good discipline.  Many of my readers will already know Susan Hayes Culleton – the Positive Economist.  Susan is a Dublin based entrepreneur, a published author, an accomplished speaker & legendary MC & like me a constant traveller, an investor in teenagers and young people, a fellow IIBN board member and a firm supporter of everything #GlobalIrish

Susan and me 1

Susan Hayes & Mary McKenna at the IoD NI conference in March 2018

Susan & I know many of the same people & over the years have made numerous introductions for each other across the globe BUT apart from occasionally speaking at the same events, we’ve never actually worked on anything together.  I was therefore delighted (and I must admit a tad nervous) when Susan contacted me about being the subject of her September Twinterview.  A lot of people enjoyed this live on Twitter but others have mentioned to us since that they missed it – so here’s the text below where we cover startups, collaboration, business failure, career paths, business mistakes, travel & much more.

SUSAN’s TWINTERVIEW WITH MARY:

SH Q1 – What separates startups from scaleups?

MM A1 #Startups in my eyes are still finding their way, seeking their niche, pivoting, testing the water; #scaleups know where they’re going & have the pedal to the floor. Need different animals at the helm as you move from chaos (fun) into order (boredom?)

SH Q2 – What characteristic(s) do you look for in a business collaborator (in the broadest sense of the word)?

MM A2 Collaboration is always where the magic happens, as many big cos are finding in working now with #startups – BUT – identifying collaborators & partners can be one of the trickiest parts of business & can take you from top of the pile straight into court – honesty is a good start

SH Q3 – What connotations do you associate with the term “business failure”?

MM A3 Many, many good people fail in business; the really good ones see that experience as a stepping stone & have another go better equipped next time around. In Ireland failure is seen as negative; not so much in the US. Success in life is more important

SH Q4 – What did you do differently in your 30s in comparison to your 20s when it came to your career?

MM A4 My career path is straightforward but weird – partied right through my 20s (networking?), went back to school in my 30s & qualified as an accountant (shhh – don’t tell anyone), then started my first business at the age of 43 – have never looked back since

Susan and me palace of west

Networking together in 2016 in the Palace of Westminster with people we met in the queue!

SH Q5 – Tell us about one mistake you avoided.

MM A5 It would be easier to tell you about the hundreds of mistakes I’ve made! The one I’ve chosen might be controversial but it’s electing to #bootstrap as a #startup rather than take investment – getting to your own revenue at lightning speed trumps finance (handouts?) every time

SH Q6 – How can hunger for business success turn from aimless energy to a strategic vision?

MM A6 If you’re serious about starting a business you’ll have measurable goals & one day the talking stops & action starts … you have to pee or get off the pot. Never forget that once you’ve thrown that dice it’s v hard to turn back – weigh up if the #entrepreneur life is really for you

SH Q7 – How do you always maintain relevance?

MM A7 Curiosity helps. The tech world moves at pace. I work hard. I network & read constantly. I’m out & about a lot & meet a lot of people – like a shark – always moving & looking for the next interesting snippet – lol. I can’t imagine being behind the times – it’s what I fear most

SH Q8 – Many people would agree (I’m first on that bus!) that you’re a role model. What’s your gut reaction when you hear that?

MM A8 My shyness makes me squirm but then I remember the importance of women & girls having tangible, real, touchable, available role models – especially in #tech & #STEM – & I carry on doing stuff way outside my comfort zone because we are still few – though our numbers are growing

SH Q9 – You travel LOTS and LOTS and LOTS! How do you keep it interesting?

MM A9 I lead a blessed life with lots of variety. Living on Ireland’s #WildAtlanticWay in #Donegal means everywhere involves travel. People are what interest me – people & opportunities. I only wish someone would invent healthy packed lunches for travelling businesswomen. Travel = writing

SH Q10 I agree with you about the healthy lunches! Salad bars, frozen yogurt shops and artisan producers certainly have improved the situation but yes, it’s difficult to be always good!

Complete this sentence: Work Life Balance is….

MM A10 “Work life balance is … sensible & necessary but grossly overrated. Life is life. If you don’t love your work enough then do us all a favour & do something else” And that’s a wrap for today’s Twinterview folks – I hope you enjoyed it as much as @SusanHayes_ & me 🙂

Susan and me 2

At the IIBN conference in Dublin in November 2017

Anyway – we enjoyed that first one so much that we decided a rematch was in order, this time with me posing the questions to Susan.  We were more in the swing of things second time around & had learned from our mistakes – so for the second one we did a bit of advance advertising and we kept all the questions & answers in a single Twitter thread – which made it a lot easier for latecomers to find & read.  In this second Twinterview we cover when you should say yes or no to offers, the place networking plays in business, how to become a published author, how to be an excellent event MC and what it’s really like to work with your husband.  Here we go.

MARY’S TWINTERVIEW WITH SUSAN:

MM Q1 OK – ready to go – You have a lot of plates spinning Susan – author, entrepreneur, pundit, expert MC & more. What’s your personal elevator pitch in your own words?

SH A1 I’m the “Positive Economist”, a speaker that always focuses on what you CAN do, CEO of @becksearch, our evolving knowledge management business that we started this year and co-founder of @savvyteens focusing on careers, communications and confidence in teenagers.

MM Q2 – With such a varied portfolio & skillset, how do you decide what to say Yes to & what to say No to?

SH A2 Starting off, I said yes to everything (like #SavvyWomen) and that was the right thing to do. Today, I say yes to what I feel that we can do really well. I also say yes to what we can learn a lot from or what can be a great experience for our teams. That’s a #GlobalIrish mindset.

MM Q3 Love it Susan – I say Yes to far too much – next question will be interesting for many of our readers – You sometimes work closely with your husband. What are the pros & cons of doing that?

SH A3 Sincerely, it’s all a pro. I’ve always worked with @ArdleCulleton, even before we were going out together. We can share the highs, the lows, the lessons, the achievements. He is my mentor and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Our Friday board meetings are my fave time of the week.

MM Q4 Ha! I’ve heard tell of the Fri board meetings with @ArdleCulleton manys a time – Some people say they can see the value of #networking but they don’t have time for it. What’s your view on this? (looking forward to this answer!)

SH A4 There is no such thing as “having time” for it. Networking is building relationships, with your clients, stakeholders, staff, influencers, leads etc. It’s what we do as business people all day every day. It’s not just power breakfasts! I’ve learned a lot from how you’ve done it.

MM Q5 And a related #networking question – Do you have any stories about specific amazing things that have come to you from your network that you can share with us?

SH A5 So, SO many! I will never forget my first @IIBN conference where I met you Mary. That one day launched everything we’ve done in the UK, the work I’ve been privileged to do with @dfat and the #GlobalIrish and the #Brexit event I did in #NY with @maryannpierce. It was lifechanging.

MM Q6 The @IIBN conferences are completely unmissable – the next one is 8/9 Nov in Dublin folks (tickets here) – Susan – a lot of people will be wondering about this – How did your first book deal come about?

SH A6 #PositiveEconomics – the economics textbook was a fellow author’s idea and we rang the four publishers about how to get started. We wrote the “Money & Banking” chapter and by that Christmas, we had a contract! Our next one will be out in 2019. (My experience of #blogging helped).

MM Q7 So pleased you mentioned how #blogging benefited you Susan – here’s a related question that will be of interest to anyone out there who’s thinking about trying to get published – Is it worth the time & pain of becoming a bona fide published author?

SH A7 Absolutely. AB-SO-LUTE-LY. In the case of “The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom”, I wrote it as if I was having a good chat with friends and giving #SavvyWomen some advice. Lots of people have commented since that their reading experience has felt like that #DreamComeTrue

MM Q8 I heard @tulster speak about women’s freedom & knowledge of personal finance at 2017’s #Inspirefest – You’re the best all day conference MC I’ve ever seen Susan. Anyone who attends the @IoDNI conf in Belfast will agree. What are your tips for others hoping to improve?

SH A8 Thank you so much Mary! Be interested … in everybody’s story. Listen hard. Your job as an MC is to be the glue that binds the event together, to be a problem solver and to manage the energy in the room. Put those things right at the centre of your focus.

Susan cartoon

Susan caricatured in March 2018 – it’s pretty good!

MM Q9 And no requirement to be able to compose poetry on the spot! Yes – there’s no doubt prep is everything in business & probably life – here’s the next one – Be the best or it’ll do/it’s good enough – which of these approaches are you most a fan of & why?

SH A9 The latter and then the former. You have to learn, test and tweak by trying a product or service out with real people. No hiding behind useless perfection.  You have to get market research and sometimes that comes in the form of rejection.  After that, it HAS to “be the best”.

MM Q10 Hell yeah – also great advice for software developers – I love your practice mentioned in your #TEDx talk of writing down the biggest achievement of your day so that you can easily look back at progress. Where did you come up with the idea & do you still do it yourself?

SH A10 It’s a variation of something I’ve learned from @brianbuffini. Most progress is incremental and unless we enjoy the small things along the way, our levels of resilience to absorb the tough stuff may not last. I always reflect on serendipity and the actions that really mattered.

MM Q11 Ooh – must check out @brianbuffini – I can’t wait to see your answer to this next one – Do you ever procrastinate & if you do, how do you combat it … or if you don’t, what advice would you give to those that do?

SH A11 I used to until I learned about “tagging”. Tag something that you procrastinate about with something you never question. For example, I have a call with @vveurope every Monday at 4pm and then I started tagging that with going to @DCUSportsWellbe . An exercise habit was formed!

MM Q12 No doubt it’s worth investing time in creating good habits! OK Susan – we’re getting thru these well – You’ve achieved an incredible amount for someone who’s still in their early 30s. But do you have any advice that you’d give to the you of 10 years ago?

SH A12 Expect GREAT things to happen. We often worry about what could go wrong, but my Mam responds to this often with “what if it goes right?”. Synchronicity often has wonderful surprises in store. Work on the small steps and be open to the big ones.

MM Q13 Paying attention & being open will always generate rewards – 3 more questions left – What would you like to be doing in 10 years time?

SH A13 I want my mind to be so much further open, my portfolio of business ideas to be so much further advanced, and my network to be so much more diversified than I could possibly have imagined or dreamed today. The hashtags #SavvyWomen #GlobalIrish should mean so much more by then.

MM Q14 I’m glad you mentioned business expansion – would you like to tell us more about your new venture @BeckSearch

Susan Sinead me

Breakfast in the Westbury Dublin last year with Sinead Crowley

SH A14 I’ve been so fortunate to have had breakfast with you and @Scrowley88, chats with @denisemcquaid, invaluable insights from @irelandinnz and the connectivity of @gaaasia. Person-to-person #km accelerates careers & businesses. I’m passionate about making that happen #WatchThisSpace

MM Q15 Watch this Spaces are my favourite! Last question for you is this Susan & I’m sure anyone who knows you will be wondering the same – Do you ever relax & if so what do you choose to do with your free time (business planning doesn’t count – lol)?

SH A15 I do. I really do because “being kind to yourself” is a true competitive advantage. I love spending time with family and friends. I love to read and immerse myself in international cultures. I love simply being alive and being aware and sharing it with @ArdleCulleton!

MM Exactly the answer I expected to receive from you @SusanHayes_ & I knew that @ArdleCulleton would be the recipient of the last words!

Phew – we covered a lot of ground in those 25 questions.  Some priceless little nuggets in that exchange, even if I do say so myself.

I hope you enjoyed participating in our Twinterviews or reading the transcript if you missed them.  If you’d like Susan or I to help you with anything you know where to find us.  Any questions you have – as usual post them up in the comments & we will do our best to answer.  Thanks everyone!

Women and tech – will it take us another 250 years?

I wrote a brief piece on women in tech back in March for the Belfast Technology Conference magazine.  The gist of it was something like this.

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, Self Portrait in a Straw Hat, 1782

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, Self Portrait in a Straw Hat, 1782

As a woman working in technology in noughties Britain I compare myself mentally to a female artist in the 18th century.  I believe we are similar sorts of pioneers in our chosen field.  At that time significant gender bias existed in the art world and women artists encountered difficulties in accessing training, selling their work and in gaining recognition.  Although the Royal College of Art began admitting women in 1837 it was into a special “Female School”, it wasn’t really until the feminist art movement started in the 1960s that women artists became more mainstream. Even now they are paid less than their male counterparts and struggle harder with appropriate recognition.

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun is widely recognised as the most successful female painter of the 18th century.  She became an artist because first her father and then her husband were both painters.  Really it was the only channel available to women at that time.  In the self portrait above she’s having a bit of a tongue in cheek laugh at us – showing us her palette (the tools of her trade) but dressing herself in a completely inappropriate outfit for working in oil paint.  The same woman caused a scandal in the art world of the time by breaking with tradition and releasing a self portrait of herself & her daughter smiling open mouthed (showing their teeth) – imagine!

Many prominent women in tech today are there because of early encouragement by their parents or by an enlightened teacher and this is a story that I hear over and over again when talking to my peers and indeed younger women.

I thought the comparison with the art world back in March was a good one – and then yesterday I was at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London for the Disobedient Objects exhibition and this poster literally stopped me in my tracks.

Guerilla Girls protest at the Met Museum

Guerilla Girls protest at the Met Museum

In case you can’t read it easily, the smaller text on the poster reads “Less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 76% of the nudes are females”.  Hmm.  Maybe the art world hasn’t made that much progress in 250 years after all.

A lot of activity is going on and money is being spent across the world right now to fix the women in tech “issue” and make technology a more mainstream career choice for girls and women. Of course it makes a lot of sense, but let’s not be the generation that allows this process of transformation to drag on for 250 more years!

In this GCSE and A Level results month, encourage the young women you know to pursue exciting, creative and independent careers instead of dashing their dreams and pressurising them to study boring but safe subjects.

I usually stay away from this rather controversial subject but I’ve chosen it as the topic with which to relaunch my blog because the women in tech that I know and work with are all incredible…I just wish there were a few more of us.  As a final point it’s also worth noting that even back in the 18th century, Vigee Le Brun’s portrait commissions commanded a higher price than Gainsborough’s.

As always, your comments on my blog are most welcome and I look forward to seeing what everyone has to say on this topic.

Living legend Buzz Aldrin at Soho House in London…alive, well & talking a lot of sense

Buzz Aldrin speaking at Soho House during the London Olympics

Buzz Aldrin speaking at Soho House during the London Olympics

Here in the middle of London Olympics fever it’s easy for me to identify my favourite moment from the Games & I’m afraid it isn’t sport related.  It was 2 August when my goddaughter Olivia & I went along to Soho House for an audience with Buzz Aldrin – yes that Buzz Aldrin – second man to walk on the moon & one of only 9 human beings still alive who have walked on the surface of our closest space neighbour.  And let’s face it – he’s the one we’re all familiar with as only one decent photograph was taken of poor Neil Armstrong on the moon.

To say we were excited doesn’t even come close.  Walking there I told Olivia the story of watching the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969 as a child.  My sister had already told her the same story many times.  As children we (with tens or even hundreds of millions of others) watched Apollo 11 blast off and felt we were there every step of the way with the 3 astronauts as they sped towards the Moon.

When it was near time to land, we were horrified to find that landing time was way after our bed time but our dad promised us faithfully he would wake us in time to watch it live & he was true to his word.  He woke us up at 3.30am & carried us both downstairs wrapped up in blankets.  It’s something I’ll be eternally grateful to him for as those 8 days still go down as one of the most exciting periods of my life, even now over 40 years later.

I’m lucky enough to meet a lot of unusual & interesting people in the course of my work and life but I never thought I’d get to meet Buzz Aldrin in a million years.  To see him so vibrant & fresh at the age of 82 and with his adventurous spirit intact was a complete joy.  Anyway – enough old chat – here’s some of the interesting (to me anyway!) things he said on the day:

  • When asked why he wore his Omega Speedmaster on the Moon’s surface he said that it had been a personal gift from his government & being a watch man, he elected to strap it onto his wrist.  He did however go on to comment that when on the surface of the moon, the ability to know the local time in Houston, Texas was not that pressing.  He got a bit of a laugh with that comment.
  • On coping with fear he was very clear.  He said that unforeseen events can happen to anyone at any time but especially in combat situations (he was of course a decorated fighter pilot before becoming an astronaut).  His advice (maybe easier said than done for many people) is to stay calm & save your energy for when something happens & you need to do something about it.
  • He constantly reminded us that the Apollo missions had been a team effort involving hundreds of thousands of people all working towards a shared goal.  In terms of the USA putting a man on the moon, the goal was one publicly declared by the leader (JFK) and his specific order was that it was to take place before the end of the decade.  In 1963 everyone thought the goal was impossible but nevertheless “no-one was interested in failing” – what a priceless attitude.
  • His mother’s maiden name was Marion Moon.  I thought that was pretty weird – it isn’t that common a name.
  • He was given exactly the same name as his father at birth – Edwin Eugene Aldrin – and as a result was known as “Junior” when he was a child although his sisters called him Buzz.  He finally formally changed his name to Buzz in 1988 (quite an American thing to do I thought – but loveable – how awful to have the same name as one of your parents).  (I can say that with some authority…)

    Buzz Aldrin wearing his Omega Speedmaster on board Apollo 11

    Buzz Aldrin wearing his Omega Speedmaster on board Apollo 11

  • He’s passionate about STEM & talked about its importance in the school curriculum not once but twice.  He commented how disappointed he is that the US government does not, in his opinion, invest anything like enough money and attention into encouraging young students to study STEM subjects.  It’s the same in the UK.
  • Despite having a degree in aeronautics from MIT he wasn’t accepted onto the space programme the first time he applied as he hadn’t trained as a jet pilot; he persevered & once in the programme, was known to his peers as “Dr Rendezvous” because of his thesis work on “orbital space rendevous”.
  • He was the first astronaut to use his experience as a scuba diver to train underwater; he went on to train others in these techniques (he showed us a recent photograph of him swimming with a whale shark in the Galapagos & advised us not to try this as it’s dangerous – the man’s 82!  He recently visited the site of the Titanic in a French submarine and he’s been to the North Pole in the last couple of years).
  • He wears a ring on his right hand in the shape of a planet and a crescent moon – you can see it in this photo – and check out his tie whilst you’re looking.
  • He was last man to board the command module and says he watched the sun rise as he climbed the gantry on 16 July 1969 and as he climbed, he reflected upon how wonderful his life had been; when he left the Eagle to begin his descent onto the Moon’s surface he closed the hatch over but didn’t shut it completely – I love that.
  • Being an engineer he loves computers (and his iPhone) but said that computers can make us lazy about reading books and he’s nervous that pretty soon a lot of people won’t know even the basics about how things (like cars for example) work.

The last of his quotes that I’ll leave you with is my favourite.  When asked what was the strangest thing he’d seen or felt in space he said “You know, when you’re on the Moon pretty much everything is unusual”.  Love it.

Olivia in the Soho House garden

Olivia in the Soho House garden

Thanks Buzz for being a complete inspiration all of my life and for being better in real life than I dared you would be.  Thanks to Alex Donaldson and Isabella Macpherson of Arts Co for squeezing Olivia & me onto the packed guest list and thanks to Ben Cackett of the Mayor of London’s office for organising such an amazing cultural programme to run in parallel to the London Olympic Games 2012 and for being such a wonderful host over the past two weeks.

Also – if you get an invite to a party at Soho House accept it at once.  It’s the coolest party venue in London and probably in the world.  Olivia & I believe it really is “Through the Looking Glass” & that footman on the front door really is a White Rabbit.  We checked the white flowers everywhere to see if they’d been painted…

Folks – there’s a lot more I didn’t write because it would have made the blog too long but if you ask questions in the comments I’ll do my best to answer them.  Buzz Aldrin answered 15 questions from the audience and he answered them thoughtfully & with considered & coherent lengthy answers plus I have a lot of notes.