Fortunately/Unfortunately: Work Edition

The last few weeks have been tough. It really started around the my epic PII fail, followed by Benji’s having a fever for six days and the attendant canceling of his much-anticipated California trip. This necessitated my taking some extra time off work, and the timing proved unfortunate: I had a release this Thursday, the 22nd, and quite a lot of documentation to write for that. The result was that I worked from home on Monday, which was a holiday (although I also got in a delightfully sunny bike ride, too), and followed that start off with three days of super long workdays.

Meanwhile, I’m very thankful that Benji got much better, because this week was also midwinter break. Since he got better, both grandmas split the week up, for which we were most grateful. On Wednesday, my Uncle Gerard flew up from San Francisco and he’s spent the last few days hanging out with Mom and Benji while I worked.

Boy did I work: Wednesday I got in at 6:20 and left a little before 6:00, a much longer day than usual. Thursday… we’ll get to it.

Uncle Gerard commented that he hadn’t seen snow falling from the sky for at least seven or eight years, but he got to see it twice in the four days he was here. Wednesday night it snowed a tiny bit and then froze. It was just enough precipitation to ice everything over. That’s where our fortunately/unfortunately starts.

  • Unfortunately, it snowed Wednesday night and overnight the temperatures got into the low 20s, guaranteeing that everything froze solid.
  • Fortunately, snow is pretty, and there wasn’t that much of it.
  • Unfortunately, I can’t ride to the bus when ice coats the entire road.
  • Fortunately, Ian and Benji were able to drop me off at the bus on Thursday morning.
  • Unfortunately, I forgot my bike lights and my work badge.
  • Fortunately, I remembered my wallet and ORCA card and my lunch.
  • Unfortunately, forgetting my badge meant I also couldn’t get into the usual secure bike parking; and to access my office, you have to swipe a card on the elevator, so I couldn’t go directly to my office.
  • Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with a coworker who was already in the office, and he agreed to meet me in the lobby and do the elevator card-swiping for me.
  • Unfortunately, when I got to my office, a security guard stopped me in the lobby and said I couldn’t take my bike in the main elevators because it was for business people not bikes.
  • Fortunately, he said I could take the freight elevator.
  • Unfortunately, I didn’t know where that was, and when he described it, it was clearly going to take a lot of extra time.
  • Also unfortunately, when I got down there, I was feeling so overwhelmed after everything that when the security guard in the loading dock asked “Do you do this regularly?” I yelled at him, “NO *&^!!@#^&&^%%##@, I DON’T!” –and then proceeded to explain, not at all calmly, about forgetting my badge.
  • Fortunately, the security guard was really kind and calm, and told me where to go from there and wrote me a pass to ride the elevator.
  • Unfortunately, between me and the elevator was a door that was held closed with all the suction of the entire Columbia Center–I couldn’t open it while holding my bike.
  • Fortunately, another guy came along and opened the door for me. Also fortunately, the freight elevator was waiting and there was a guy inside (!) whose whole job it was to punch in what floor you’re going to and then write down what company you work for on a pad of paper.
  • Unfortunately I had an infinite amount of work to get through before the afternoon and I was still feeling extremely unsettled and had a hard time getting down to work.
  • Fortunately, I eventually got through all the stuff I had to finish, although it took all day.
  • Unfortunately, that meant that we started our deploy later in the day than we wanted, and building took a long time because of all the changes. The result was that we weren’t able to start actually checking live pages until very late in the afternoon.
  • Also unfortunately, I had a little over 70 pages to check. This isn’t just a quick skim for many of them to look for minor things like updating a screenshot. This time I deployed a lot of entirely new pages, which involves comprehensively checking every link to make sure each one really goes to the right place.
  • And, most unfortunately, due to some things I don’t want to get into right now, I have to do everything twice. Literally. We are maintaining two different Help Centers right now, and that means every bit of work I do in one has to be done in the other, and then I have to check extra-carefully to make sure they both match. That means my 70 pages to check was actually 140 pages.
  • Fortunately, the manager of the e-Learning group was hanging around to check some video stuff, and while he waited, he helped check some of my links. It was super helpful and he caught a number of places I’d made minor formatting mistakes, so hooray!
  • Also fortunately, my work buys dinner for everyone who has to hang around late for the release. I got tofu pad Thai, which was delicious. I love Thai food.
  • Unfortunately, by the time I finished, it was 6:40 pm and the last 311 bus comes at 6:45.
  • Fortunately, my bike was parked next to my cube, so I grabbed it and zipped downstairs (in the regular elevator) and out the lobby to the street ASAP.
  • Unfortunately, when I got to the bus stop, there was no bus.
  • Fortunately, I checked the bus app and found the bus was scheduled to arrive right then. I looked up and there was a 311! I jumped on it in a flurry.
  • Unfortunately, the bus turned down a different way from the 311, and I realized it was a 312X. I hadn’t noticed the last wrong digit.
  • Fortunately, the 312X goes to Bothell, and I had my bike, so I figured I’d just ride the couple miles back home. It was pretty cold, but the streets in Seattle were clear and dry, so I figured the ice and snow would be gone.
  • Unfortunately, this particular 312X ends in Kenmore, not Bothell, several miles farther from home than I was expecting.
  • Fortunately, I had my bike and I knew how to get home. And fortunately I had my helmet equipped with a headlight and small taillight, so I could see and (somewhat) be seen.
  • Unfortunately, the way home involved the bike path, which was shady and cold all day, meaning it had long patches of ice and snow that I had to slowly and cautiously creep across. It took me 22 minutes to ride just under 5 miles, including having to get off and slip my way on foot across some unavoidable and wide patches of ice.
  • Fortunately, I got home safely (albeit miserably), just a little before 8:00 pm and immediately went to bed. Benji was spending the night at Mom and Dad’s house, for which I was deeply thankful.

And, most of all, fortunately I’d already cleared working from home with my boss. So I got to work from home on Friday, and I still put in 10 hours of work, mostly fixing minor defects and then checking them.

I’m looking forward to a new week.


When Benji takes a spelling test and misses one spelling word, he says he’s failed. When he tries to draw a picture and makes a mistake, he crumples up the entire sheet, no matter how long he’s spent on it up to that point, and throws it away. When he does something that requires a consequence, when the consequence is done, he sometimes says he should have more consequence because it makes him feel better. When I told him, “Nobody’s perfect,” he said, “But we can get really close.

In short: Our kid is a budding perfectionist. This worries me, because I know very well the pain and suffering that comes from expecting perfection from yourself.

On Thursday evening, while Benji spent the night at my parents’ house, Ian and I spent some time talking about our strategy for what to say or do when these episodes arise. I hope we can help Benji learn to accept his imperfections before he spends an entire school career, let alone the rest of his life, seeking after an impossible standard.

So you know how people use the word “ironic” wrong constantly? Well, I’ve got a case of real irony for y’all.

On work nights when Benji does a sleepover somewhere else, I usually get up at my normal time and catch a very early bus. Think 5:50 am. I get to work about 6:20 am, a commute about 50% faster than when I catch the 7:15 bus. I like getting to work that early because it’s quiet (there’s actually one other lady there, who also takes that same bus) and I can get a lot done in the couple hours before the majority of people arrive.

That’s what I did Friday morning. Unfortunately, I had some technical slowdowns (you can’t rush those Microsoft updates), but just about the time I was getting ready to actually start doing some work, my boss called my cell phone. It was about 7:00.

Long story short, the release notes I wrote that we deployed to production the previous night contained a screenshot that included personally identifying information (PII)–in this case, most of several account numbers, client names, and transaction information. This information appeared in a sample screenshot I’d taken from the technical specifications written by the Project Manager.

Well, &*&^#*%$#@. That’s what I call a big mistake.

In fact, it’s close to the worst thing I, personally, could do in my current job capacity.

It came to our attention because the firm whose client data that was saw it and flipped their lid. Understandable. This information went to… well, pretty much everyone in management at the company. The Managing Director of our division was already talking to my boss, who’s the VP of User Education, and my boss was now calling me.

Delightful. Now the Managing Director, who presumably didn’t know I existed before today, not only knows I exist but knows I really screwed up bad.

My boss had already logged on and deleted the screenshot from the server, so anyone opening the release notes would just see a broken picture icon rather than the image. There then followed a very long period of first me, then my senior technical writer coworker, then my boss scrambling around trying to solve some related issues.

I won’t get into any more of the details, but I got to really decide: What do I do when I make a mistake? Because that’s exactly what we’ve been wanting to help Benji deal with, and now I get to apply that very stuff in a grownup situation.

What did I do?

  1. I went into a little phone booth room and cried. A lot. Because it was only 7:15 am, and nobody else was around. Although, I’ll be honest, I cried again later after my boss talked with me. That wasn’t the funnest experience I’ve had. I tried to be normal the rest of the day, but I wasn’t. It was tough to work. But I did keep reminding myself that it was a mistake, my value doesn’t change because of it.
  2. I ate, even though I didn’t feel like it.
  3. I did what I could to fix the mistake. Which wasn’t much.
  4. I will not make that mistake again. I imagine that next week we’ll have a meeting to talk about how we, as a writing team, can change our processes to catch these kinds of mistakes in the future.
  5. I went to bed at 7:15 pm.

Ultimately, I don’t feel I did a great job with my response. But I’m going to let the guilt, shame, and recriminations go and keep doing my job to the best of my ability.

Continue reading “Fail”

Joke Board

One of the things I’ve been doing at work, besides working, is running the Joke Board. This started out as a totally random thing: We had a small white board, and it tended to be propped up in a high-traffic area in our section. We would sometimes use it to share food with a note like “Please enjoy these homemade cookies!” Like this:
Joke Board: Lemon Bars

One day I had a joke that I thought was funny, so I wrote it on the white board to share with people walking by. Several people, walking by, read it and chuckled, or at least shook their heads as they walked away. I started writing jokes up on the board every few days, maybe two or three jokes a week.
Joke Board: Tearable

I’ve been doing this for several months, and people like it. I know because occasionally with a really good joke, I’d see people taking pictures with their phones, presumably to share with friends. Sometimes people would write up an alternative answer if they came up with a good one, or leave other comments (one time someone gave a +1 to an answer, an amusingly analog version of a digital kudos). A few times other people have even put up their own jokes:

What do you call a bear that’s gotten stuck in the rain? A drizzly bear. OR, alternative answer offered: A drown bear.
Why are there no knock knock jokes about America? Because freedom rings.

Several people have told me that they bring the jokes home and share them with family members. I know that I inflict these jokes on my biking buddies, eliciting many groans of dismay (but I know it’s happy dismay). At least two people have told me they specifically walk by every day to check the joke board for the next joke. And of course at work I see many people pause, read the joke, and walk away shaking their heads–the ultimate sign of a successful joke.

All my jokes are either puns or dad jokes. There’s not enough room to write an elaborate joke; they really have to be one-liners or a question and answer. Thanks to the Internet, I have ample jokes to keep the board going, but I now have more pressure than ever to find good jokes!

So we were humming along happily for a while, and the joke board was getting its own following.

Then, oh no! A new guy got hired and chose to sit in the empty spot occupied by the Joke Board. But when God closes a door, He opens a window (or so I’ve heard), so I took the opportunity to have the Joke Board officially hung up on the wall near our area.
Joke Board is hung up

Joke Board: Chicken coop
By the way, getting the board hung up was no joke. I had to contact our receptionist and I asked him to put in a work order with the building management company. They sent a handyman with his little cart of hooks and screws and a level, and this guy hung it up. Alas, he hung it slightly off-center from where we asked, but oh well, now it’s up and it’s official!

I was out sick for a couple days last week, and when I got back there was a new joke up. One of my team members had written a new one, and they told me that they’d even had another joke up in the interim, which elicited several participatory alternative punchlines.

Here’s today’s joke board, which I got so many laughs from–first the pun itself, and then at least half a dozen times watching other people read and react to the pun. It’s truly priceless.
Joke Board: Dyed a little inside

I’m about to do my six-month employee assessment. One of the questions is: “What are some of your accomplishments from the last 6 months?” I’m absolutely putting the joke board in that list.

At Work

I haven’t mentioned my job recently, and that’s partly because it’s been going pretty swimmingly. I like my team, I like my boss, and I really like my actual duties. It’s as close to the perfect job as I could imagine.

The last couple weeks, we had something happen that, at first, shook my trust in the company. I was afraid that it would turn out that my company was less scrupulous than I thought. But, just as I was feeling really disappointed, my boss showed some real integrity and completely redeemed the situation (from my perspective). I was deeply impressed at the way my boss ultimately handled the whole situation.

I mention this because it made an impression on me. I talked with my boss about my concerns, and he listened and took action. This may be the first time I have ever had that happen at a job. Having my voice listened to and respected made a huge impact.

So, it remains true: I feel like I have landed at my perfect job. I’m thankful every day to have the opportunity to do it. Most of all,  I’m deeply grateful that we went out on a limb and decided for me to apply when I saw the job opening last fall. 

Now, if only I could get a desk away from where everyone who walks by can see my screens…


Gracious speech is like clover honey —
Good taste to the soul, quick energy for the body.
-Proverbs 16:24

I have to celebrate this occasion: I started at work January 23. Yesterday, April 7, we published my first release notes, written entirely from scratch by me. This is a big deal because release notes are one of the projects we have with a hard and fast deadline, and they can be a lot of work.

Many companies’ release notes look like this:

  1. Add new wizz to the existing functionality.
  2. Improve gadget to expand functionality.
  3. New feature: doohickey now lets you do another thing.

    And that’s pretty much it. Easy enough to pound out in an hour.

     Our release notes, on the other hand, are fairly detailed documents that include a compelling “sell” of the feature followed by screenshots and a brief description of how to use it/where to find it. To write a release note for one user story, I:

    1. Review the technical specifications, which describe how the feature should work.
    2. Go into the test product environment and try out the new feature, playing around until I have an idea of how it works.
    3. Write an outline of why and how, along with questions for the PM.
    4. Meet with the PMs individually and review all their features, ask questions, understand the feature.
    5. Write a draft of the release notes and send it to the PM to ensure it accurately reflects how the feature works. Lots of screenshots, lots of “I have a quick question.”
    6. Write more, edit more. Repeat several times.
    7. Find out the are several new stories I didn’t know about and the release notes draft is due in two days!
    8. Send out draft for review by entire technical team and upper management. Don’t sleep that night at all.
    9. Over the next week, get comments back. Hound PMs for comments on their stories and incorporate changes. Pray I didn’t make any technical errors.
    10. Receive copy edits from other writers and incorporate edits.
    11. Publish release notes to production about 5 pm and stay late at work to check everything went out correctly.
    12. WHEW! Now all I have to do is update the Help Center content with the actual new information in the next two weeks. That has to be done before the release, which is always two weeks after these notes go out.

    As you can imagine, after all this, these notes get pretty comprehensive. I’ve seen times when release note content served as the verbatim foundation for the Help Center topic.

    This was my first release writing the notes entirely on my own, and I had 13 stories to master before writing. My boss warned me that I might get overwhelmed and if I needed him to pick up some of the work, he could step in. I told him I thought I could handle it, and I’m glad I have it a shot, because now I did the entire thing on my own and I feel really proud of myself!

    Now I have two weeks of crunch time updating Help Center and trying to finish up another project I’ve been writing on the side. I may be offline for done of that time.

    I made lemon bars with Meyer lemons to celebrate. I would have liked lemon meringue pie, but alas, didn’t have time to make one. But I’ll take lemon bars and the sweet, sweet taste of success.

    Biking and Working

    I haven’t mentioned biking lately. When I started at Tamarac, I worried about fitting biking in with a full time job and time with my family.

    Biking helps keep me calm and grounded, as well as healthy and fit; it’s where I have friendships forged by shared (self-inflicted, to be sure) suffering, and I push myself mentally and physically. It brings me a deep satisfaction that I don’t find anywhere else and is one of the foundations of how I think of myself.

    In short, biking is very important to me. Before I took the job, Ian and I spent a good amount of time strategizing how to allow me to get in the biking I need while balancing Ian’s mental health time and my family time.

    It’s been two and a half months, and I think we’re finding a balance that works for now: During the week, I commute home by bike three days. I follow a training plan I put together to do intervals or other targeted riding, so it’s not just the same slogging along every time. On the weekend, I ride on Saturday, making sure to get home before Benji gets up from nap at 3:30 pm.

    When I commute, I normally ride my pink bike. I built it up as a commuter bike almost 10 years ago (disc brakes before it was cool!) and it continues to serve me beautifully in that capacity.
    Snowy Pink Bike

    Now, some of my biking buddies assert that bike weight doesn’t matter. They say it’s all about the motor (how strong your legs are), and that a slightly lighter bike doesn’t make much difference in how fast you go, especially over flats. I’ve ridden my pink commuter bike 20+ times on this route now, and I set myself a goal of averaging 18 mph on my commute consistently. When I started riding, I averaged 15 to 15.5 mph when riding steadily, a heart rate of in the 150s.

    I’ve been following my training plan, including taking rest or cross-training days and riding in heart rate zones that feel pretty easy, and working hard on my Saturday rides.

    Last Monday, riding alone on my pink bike with probably a bit of a tailwind, I averaged 16.6 mph.

    I had a kind of side-wind that may have at times been a tailwind or other times been more of a headwind. It’s a little hard to say if that helped or hindered me. But that seems pretty indicative of my commuting pace at the moment. On the long, flat Burke Gilman/Sammamish River Trail section, I averaged about 17.2 mph.

    But on Friday, I took the fast bike to work (this is my view as I approach the bus stop by my office; that’s my fast bike on the front of the bus).
    Fast Bike, Slow Bus
    I normally don’t even ride on Fridays, resting my legs for a big Saturday ride. But the weather got to over 55 degrees and not raining — how could I resist? For the first time I tried taking my fast bike on a commute. I left all nonessentials at work, including a set of clothes I now have to bring back home, and carried the essentials in a small backpack.

    While I’m sure it’s true that slight differences in weight may not matter, what I can say is that I averaged 18 mph on my fast bike, keeping my heart rate in the same zones as I normally on my steady commuting days. On the flat section, I averaged 19.1 mph, almost 2 mph faster than my regular commuter bike. And that was with some notable wind, most of it not in my favor.

    That bike is faster in so many ways, it’s hard to say if weight definitively made a difference. Whatever the case, I’m willing to keep calling my Cannondale “the fast bike.”

    I hoped to ride it this weekend, but yet again, nasty weather precluded that. My pink bike has gotten a lot of miles this winter, what with having the rainiest winter ever. On Saturday I had to be home in time to go to a friend’s wedding, so Dad kindly started our ride an hour earlier than usual. With that start time, we spent the first hour riding in rain. My feet soaked through and I couldn’t feel my toes. You’d think I’d be better at this whole thing after all the practice I’ve had this year…

    Anyway, despite the rain, three other people besides me and Dad showed up.

    I embarrassed myself by being a complete wimp, and I wasn’t able to hold the pace when everyone started riding into the mid-20 mph range. The very things that make that pink bike a wonderful commuter — the weight, the rack, the fenders, the heavy-duty tires and wheels, its very frame durability — all drag me down on a ride like that.

    Plus, later that day, I also found out that it’s not my favorite time of month… and that seems to always make it harder to ride. I read in my Bicycling for Women book that blood doesn’t transport oxygen as well at some times of a woman’s cycle. One of the things I struggled with yesterday was just feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath, or that I was breathing really hard for my level of effort. Perhaps that’s partly the deal.

    Anyway, that’s biking right now. I think it’s going well; we’ll just keep figuring things out as our needs evolve.

    Work: Week 7

    I just looked at the calendar and counted: I’ve been at my job for 7 weeks already. Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess, because it feels like just yesterday we started this crazy adventure.

    On the other hand, it’s been long enough that we’ve started finding the routine that works for all of us to do what needs doing while staying sane. Benji and I spend his first hour up together, and I make sure to get some of his prep stuff done so Ian doesn’t have to. While we’re hanging, Ian gets ready for his day. I leave the house at 7:15, and get home any time between 6:00 and 6:30, unless I have to stay late.

    This unfortunate occurrence will happen more and more frequently over the next month, I expect, as we approach April 20, the next release date. I have several hard deadlines between now and then. My boss told me “We kind of tried to let you know in the interview that this job is really stressful.”

    I’m not feeling stressed out yet. Maybe that’s ignorance, and I should start stressing, like when I did my first bike race and I really had no idea what was going on and whether I was safe or not. But I keep checking with my boss and coworker to make sure I’m doing the right things, and so far it seems like I’m on top of everything.

    The way the job works is the developers make features based on things called User Stories. We, the writers, find out which User Stories will be going out at the next release. We research the stories, reading the technical specs and trying out the features in the test environment, so we have an idea of how the new feature works. Then we meet with the people in charge of each User Story (Project Managers, PMs) and interview them about their User Stories. Then we write Release Notes, which describe not only the mechanics of the new feature, but emphasize the “Why,” as my boss puts it. We have to really sell the feature, making it sounding exciting and worthwhile.

    Release notes are my first deadline. This is a big deal, because it’s the first time my writing goes out to the senior management and all the PMs for review. I have to hand-deliver a hard copy of the release notes to the president of the company for him to read (!).

    After I get release notes written, I go into the Help Center and edit or add pages to cover details of the new features. I have two weeks to do this from the time the release notes go out to the time the actual release happens. Many features don’t require a ton of new writing, but rather expanding or modifying existing content. Unfortunately a lot of changes to the look require new screenshots, which are difficult to find and take some time to replace. But some of the changes will require me to write entirely new pages, and that takes time, too.

    As I mentioned, I’m not feeling stressed. So far I’ve certainly felt time pressure, and the need to focus and work diligently. As far as I can tell, I’ve not yet fallen behind, and if anything I’m a little ahead of where I need to be.

    Unfortunately, I do have an entirely separate, unrelated project that’s quite big and going to take a substantial amount of time, and that’s going to come due right around the end of April, too. Time to engage in some serious time management.

    I’m not sure how much blog writing I’ll do as we approach this release, and I don’t know what having a job writing will do as far as my desire to write recreationally. We’ll just have to see. Lately on my bus rides I’ve enjoyed reading Wonder Woman comics on Hoopla or library books on my phone Kindle app. But I’ve had this blog so long, it’s not going away. I’ll just update more or less. We shall simply see what the future holds. As always.