Remembering Karate

The first college course I took at Portland Community College (PCC) was karate. I had good reasons. I was a beautiful, young girl walking dangerous streets every night.

Holly Justice moves to OregonThis dangerous walk was not by accident. It was part of my career plans. Throughout high school I studied English, typing, stenography, bookkeeping, and participated in a work-study program to become a secretary. The week I finished high school, I moved to Oregon to be with my boyfriend. I had a place to live with him and his family, but wanted to work quickly to support myself. His parents had two teens, a daughter and son, to worry about.

Following my career plan, I started working any jobs I could land in the secretarial field to support myself. My money went to buy food, clothes, save for our own place, pay medical and dental bills, and make payments on our first car.

Within a year, I landed my dream job as a real secretary to two executives at a real estate investment firm in downtown Portland, Oregon. I wanted to work in Portland for my career, not the atmosphere. Portland was a gritty city.  Portland was not the mini-Manhattan it is today with good restaurants, trendy bars, beautiful hotels, and fancy shops on every corner. We had major urban blight. Pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers lived downtown in low-rent motels, lingered on street corners, and actively worked their trade every day and night.

Like myself, plenty of business people worked in downtown Portland, but few stayed to shop or eat in the evening. In fact, there was no place to hang out in the evening as most services shut down. Each night I walked a long 15 blocks to meet up with my future father-in-law, as he was my carpool ride home to our country house in Aurora, Oregon. I was constantly being followed by pimps who called out directly “hey baby” or much scarier silent sinister types.

PCC offered a physical education class in karate after work, the perfect antidote. My “sister” and I signed up together, and bought the required white belt outfits. We quickly discovered this outfit wasn’t really designed for women, so we used safety pins to hold the top part together. Both of uss-l300karateoutfit were very fit from daily running, hiking or playing tennis together, weighing in at around 110 pounds each. We arrived the first day to find we were the only women in the class. So naturally, the instructor made us sparring partners.

Karate was fun and challenging. It built our physical strength, and gave both of us a great aerobic workout. It taught us mental strength and agility. The 12-week class was based on defense against attacks, from behind, from the front, being punched, kicked, and so on. The instructor drilled into everyone to block, twist, defend yourself fast in one or two key blows, then run. Plus karate was credit class. It still counts on my transcript today as my physical education credit towards my degree.

Yes, that first college class in karate was life-changing. Even the first week, I walked my commute in those dangerous streets a new brave woman, knowing if I needed to, I could “block, kick, punch and run”.

Inspired by Dr. Pat Selinger

I was inspired last month by a volunteer writing project, a history speech for PDXWIT.org on Dr. Pat Selinger, a true pioneer who changed the future for relational database work in her very first job at IBM over 40 years ago. Plus in recent years she has paid it forward in mentoring since that was the key to her success.

“What I think mentoring does for people is to bring a third view, an experienced practical view, and it gives people a sense that they do have choices and that they have much more control over the directions of their careers than they think they have.”

I agree. I think highly of my mentors who helped me launch my tech career and pay it forward often.

Nerdy, Brave, and Imperfect

I applaud speeches and efforts like this one to encourage women to enter the tech field and stay there. This mentoring work is part of my life every day.

This TED talk struck a chord with me about my own actions in being brave and imperfect. I remember my own hesitation 21 years ago to try a difficult challenge, to move from business user training to technical training. I remember my mentor’s support and encouragement.

I took the challenge with my mentor’s help. I learned I could have good days in tech, and bad days with unresolved problems. In 1998, I worked my first overnight session and fixed a critical problem just in time for FedEx to pick up the cases of laptops. It was on time, but it wasn’t perfect. The problem popped up again a few weeks later. I remember trying on my own in troubleshooting, reaching out for help, educated guesses, reaching out again, and solving big problems with the right people and perseverance.

The big moment when I learned and taught my first MCSE course on Networking Essentials was an eye-opener. With my mentor at my side, I started to see myself as a limitless person and a nerd. I became brave and curious. I haven’t stopped since.

Today, being brave and imperfect means many things to me. Trying out new tools, creating projects, and sharing the results quickly. Imperfect means accepting you have done your best, and releasing your work when the time is right. So much better than waiting, questioning, revising, and questioning yourself until you missed the opportunity, and the things you created are no longer relevant. One can always learn and revise later!

Being brave means being true to my gut instincts about following the work I will enjoy, because that work makes me jump out of bed and eager to start my day.

I apply for jobs when I think the fit is right, and I meet most of the qualifications, not 100% of them. I know job descriptions can be incomplete or inflated to super-star levels based on past performers, or left untouched for years with tools and practices no longer in use.

In today’s world, so many people are quick to judge others based on external values and rules. I am told to hide my age, hide my valuable experiences, to write my resume a certain way, and to not be truthful in order to make it past automated screening systems, corporate recruiters, and hiring managers.

However, I disagree. It is what I think about myself, my life-long learning, my skills, my successes, my interest in nerdy work, and my passion for sharing knowledge that matters. I am the sum of many experiences over 24 years working in creative, innovative, software-oriented jobs that I wanted to do.  I don’t leave my career to chance. I have worked hard, often for years, to prepare for and land each job that brought me incredible insights and experiences.  I have followed my heart to do what I love to do. So, now I’m looking for my next adventure. I’m a nerd, brave, and imperfect.

Do you have an Instructional Design Portfolio?

Job hunting is never easy for an experienced instructional designer. Our work is often proprietary,  confidential, restricted, and hidden from public view.  What we deliver frequently belongs to our employers.

On the flip side, potential employers expect us to be constantly adding tools, networking, and building a strong portfolio of work samples. Instructional designers help people learn. So we should be constantly learning and showing our value.

Today, a public portfolio of instructional design work is expected by most employers. Many job applications will ask for your public-facing website. College programs help their students build portfolios before they graduate with their instructional design certificate. Contract work is on the rise. As a contractor, one must maintain one’s own business, and a portfolio is how you sell yourself.   

Build your portfolio while you are employed. Don’t wait. Invest in yourself.

I’m speaking from my own experience. Over a four-year period, I spent one year hunting for jobs and building portfolio while unemployed. It wasn’t easy. Experts like Tom Kuhlmann back me up. In 2012, I heard him make this point to over 100 instructional designers in a workshop. Tom is passionate on this topic. Do it while you have a job.  

Not enough time? Think of portfolio work as a series of small projects, a 10-hour project in two weeks or a 30-hour project within a month. Then look at your weekly workload. In a 50-hour week, can you set aside 10% of your time (5 hours) to work on your portfolio and learn something new? If you have a boss and an organization that expects you to learn, you may be able to work with them to align your portfolio work with your development goals.  

Still not convinced? There are positive benefits.

By building a portfolio, you will be able to test out your ideas, alter them and refine your portfolio to highlight what you do best. You can learn new skills or new tools, and you may discover a new path to follow. You can try fresh ideas on the public with little risk, because you are offering something to the world for free. You can see where you stand with your peers, and work on your gaps or weaknesses. You can set up your personal computing devices with your favorite tools and do projects you would not normally do at work.

Plus, your current employer benefits from your learning whether you make them aware of it or not. Learning new skills and tools makes you a better employee, and more desirable within your organization.

A portfolio can make you feel more confident about your future. Opportunity knocks at unexpected times. Jobs and organizations change rapidly. With a portfolio, you will be ready to open the door to your next job tomorrow, next year, or when HR calls the meeting for another layoff.

A portfolio can help you see yourself in a new light. We often see ourselves and our work in the context of the organization and team. If the team and organization reward us, we feel satisfied and competent. If they do not, we feel discouraged and unmotivated. Through your portfolio, you may find another way to belong, bump up your self-esteem, and achieve self-actualization (quoting Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

Along the journey, you will find surprises. I was surprised when my first SlideShare post attracted 300 people on Halloween night. When I tried my YouTube pie-making video, I learned about the challenges of being on camera. It was fun, the pie was good, and my family and friends enjoyed it. When I shared my instructional design work with peer groups, I realized I knew more than I thought I did. I am absolutely amazed that over 15,000 people have viewed one small 2014 project Leadership Sources of Power on SlideShare.net with very little self-promotion.

The best part about building a portfolio is that it belongs to you. You invest in yourself. Investing in yourself is the path to build earning potential and a strong financial future no matter what happens with the economy. You are a good investment in uncertain times.

Where to start? I know. It is like a blank piece of paper staring at you. Do you create a webinar, video, an e-learning course, podcast, blog, or build a game or lab? What content do you use? Which tool do you use? Where do you share it?

In this series, I’m going to share tips in a three-phase workshop about getting started with your portfolio:

  1. Research: Look for portfolio examples and ideas that appeal to you.  
  2. Produce: Plan and create your own project.
  3. Share: Publish and share your work; solicit and respond to feedback.

Each one of us is unique and different. We are all traveling different directions. So I won’t tell you exactly what to do. Instead, I will share my experiences to help you brainstorm, and get started with your own ideas. That way you can form your own path and direction.

Next, I will write more on the topic of Research, that is, how to seek portfolio examples. and ideas that appeal to you.  

Women in Technology: Find Your Mentor and Move Ahead

As women working in technology, the road ahead is not always smooth. It’s like riding a mountain bike on a rough trail. Why take on that project? Why learn that tool? See or download the following SlideShare presentation with tips on finding a mentor to guide your ride.

Link to Find Your Mentor on Slideshare.net

Content by Holly Justice; Graphics by Patrick Coan, Guild of Build.

Find Your Mentor and Move Ahead

Holly Justice: Thoughts on Advancing the Careers of Women in Technology
The road we travel as women working in technology is not always going be a smooth ride. It’s like riding a mountain bike on a rough trail.

Riding the mountain bike trail of technology work.

Graphic by Patrick Coan, Guild of Build

Let’s build our endurance by finding and using mentors along the way!

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