Melissa is the Co-Executive Director of Ladies Learning Code. She's passionate about creating opportunities for women and youth to become passionate builders - not just consumers - of technology.
Tell me about what you do?
My role in Ladies Learning Code is Co-Executive Director and I was part of the founding team for both Ladies Learning Code and Hacker-You. I’m responsible for the day-to-day operations, it’s a lot of the non-fun stuff, but some really cool stuff too. So there’s managing our chapters, managing our programs, managing our finances, accounting, fundraising is a huge component of what I do as well and that leads into the cool stuff. So the other half of my job is really around strategy and strategic partnerships and figuring out where we need to be as an organization tomorrow, next year, or in 10 years.
I spend a lot of time working with our awesome partners: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Telus, whoever it is. Figuring out what things we can partner on; what are the things we need to be doing; where does this organization fit into this larger eco-system? So I would say half my day is on the phone, on a call, or in a meeting; and then half my day is in Eventbrite, trying to figure out what we need to do to get the next event launched. It’s probably really indicative of how big we are, there’s only three of us full-time so you wear a lot of hats. Myself personally, I really like producing stuff, I like the feeling of getting things done so I feel like I’m always going to be involved in the event execution to some extent since I find that stuff so awesome, but more and more I high-level manage things, which is important too, but not always as gratifying in some ways.
Being a small team and having a number of different responsibilities, how do you go about deciding what and when you’re going to focus your time on something?
I use a lot of tools to keep things organized. I’m a big Basecamp user. Anytime an idea pops in my head, or a thing I want to focus on, I put it in there immediately and I assign it to myself at some arbitrary date. Another thing that we, as an organization do, is Monday morning, first thing, either an email update or occasionally we’ll do a team update where you list what your main objectives or accomplishments were last week, what are the things you need to get done, and what were your roadblocks. Sharing that with everybody, or even just putting that list together every single Sunday night, forces me to think about what I got done relative to what I was saying I was going to get done last week. ‘Cause it’ll constantly change and every day will be different but knowing what that major milestone you’re working towards and constantly having that stuff top of mind is how I’m able to prioritize in addition to all these different tools that I use. Every week, I make this list, and I do that personally and professionally actually. I figure out what I need to accomplish in my personal life this week and what I need to accomplish professionally and then it’s this kind of rebalancing every day to figure out what needs to get done and chunking time in your calendar and doing everything you can to make sure you get to it.
Out of everything you’re doing, what do you find most rewarding?
Producing stuff and seeing the impact is definitely the most rewarding part of things. I talk to a lot of different partners and sponsors and although we’re a small team, people are surprised to know that I go to a lot of the workshops that we run. I work 5 days and I’ll still pop by on a Saturday for a half-day or a full-day, and people wonder why. There’s a couple reasons, but the big one is that workshops is what we do. I am most excited when I see a group of people at a workshop getting pumped about technology. So making myself present at those things is the most gratifying and although I maybe don’t touch it as much as I used to, I still put myself in a spot to do that.
So, let's say I know I have to get through a huge grant proposal. Well, I’ll set up shop next to the workshop so I still get the energy of the workshop, I get excited about why we’re doing this, and then I’ll buckle down next door working on something. So that’s important, and the most rewarding thing is seeing this stuff in action. I find you can so easily distance yourself on the days and the weeks that I don’t get involved with that stuff, you lose sight of what you’re doing and then the moment you’re back in a workshop, it’s like ‘Yeah, this is why we do what we do’. You can see the smiles on people’s faces and those ‘a ha’ moments that are the most rewarding.
On the flipside of that, what do you find right now in your role to be the most challenging?
Oh my goodness… It changes all the time. Today, asking me that, it’s probably fundraising. Not-for-profit and for-profit organizations have the same challenges but it's about figuring out how are we going to keep this ship afloat and what are the ways to do that. Not all money is equal, in my mind, and trying to figure out what are the most important things to work towards and chase after; how do you make your organization more sustainable; how do you do things with less while also compensating everyone fairly for the stuff that you do? How do we do awesome stuff but in the confines of the world that runs on money?
What are some of the tools you use regularly in your role?
I use some new tools and I updated tools along the way but there's also that comfort in the tools that you started out using. For a long time, I was marking emails in my inbox as a To-Do list - that's just what I had learned to do. Now we've sort of moved the organization, and myself personally, into Basecamp. I think that one thing when you have so much to do and so much buried stuff, the one thing I've learned personally, and I guess professionally, is that you don't have the mental capacity to keep all that stuff straight. So I rely heavily on things that remind me I have to do things. So Basecamp, calendar invites - we use Slack as a communication channel. I would say between Basecamp and calendar invites, those are the major, major tools that I'm using. Making sure I use them to their full benefit, so creating a To-Do list isn't enough. I need to have a date and I need to have an alert and it's going to remind me and then I'll put something in there and I'll just kind of erase it from my conscious mind and then I'm reminded in two weeks time that I need to do it.
People ask me a lot - how do you manage all of this stuff and even before I did Ladies Learning Code full-time, I actually worked two jobs. I had Ladies Learning Code and I worked full-time and I had a part-time job, so I was doing a lot of stuff and the only way that I kept it straight was because of that and this idea that writing it somewhere, whatever tool you use, frees up that mental space so that you can do the stuff you need to and know that you're not going to miss it. I use Evernote as well for To-Dos occasionally. But I find just going that extra step and having the ability, whatever tool you're using, to notify yourself of stuff and have that constant reminder is the most important thing. I find you can get too busy some days even to just look at your to-do list. You need to be re-notified that you need to do that basically.