Category: misc.

How and why we decided to move to London

How and why we decided to move to London

My husband and I recently decided to move from Seattle to London. This comes as a surprise to us, as well as to many of our friends and family members. You see, even though London is a fantastic city with a much more global presence than Seattle, we’ve been quite happy with our very established lives and careers and home in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. As we disclose this plan, I often joke that we’ve been at 51% and 49% yes about the decision until very recently.

So why and how did we decide to take on such a big change? I figured walking through our thinking could be helpful to others who are deciding whether or not to make a similarly large life transition. Here’s a peek into the reasons behind both our excitement and our reluctance, and the strategic steps we both took to research the change and reassure ourselves that it was the right move for our family.

While this isn’t meant to be a dissertation on privilege, I will be repeatedly reminding readers of the privileges that allow us to make this decision easily. I think it’s important to explicitly recognize this, because these privileges are not available to everyone and will factor heavily in the decisions you’re able to easily make for yourself and your families. It would be foolish to assume everyone is in the same position as us, and disingenuous to advise someone in a very different position to make a similarly drastic life decision with the same considerations as us given different life circumstances.

Why did we decide to move?

Before I get to the “how did you make this decision”, I figured I’d tackle the “why,” even though they’re often interrelated. I hope externalizing these thought processes differently can be helpful to different audiences. We definitely had to solve for “why” before moving on to “how” in terms of our own thinking process.

FOMO hindsight

A huge factor in committing to this move is not wanting to look back and ask ourselves “what if we’d taken that leap?” We live relatively unruffled lives in Seattle, in a comfortable easy bubble. We own a nice home and manage to pay for it with manageable ease thanks to our two tech incomes. We can afford to Amazon Prime whatever sudden whim we think might make our lives easier. We drive two cars even though we could try harder to ride public transportation, because the local incentives and infrastructure make it simpler and easier to do so.

Moving to a busy and global and fast-paced proper city like London, with the rest of Europe at our doorstep and the rest of the world a bit more plugged in, just felt like too cool an opportunity to pass up (both for ourselves and as parents who want our kids to have interesting life experiences). We felt like we wanted to ensure that we all had that life experience, because we’d look back and be disappointed in ourselves for not taking this leap if we didn’t just go for it. The excitement and opportunity potential outweighed the scariness and disruption for us (even if just barely!)


When we flew out to London just to investigate the move, I was immediately refreshed to be in an area with different cultures, different racial groups, different languages, different cuisines and smells and accents–it was incredibly eye opening as to how comparatively homogeneous our corner of Seattle feels by comparison. I don’t want to overly fetishize the concept of diversity as some sort of commodity, as so many fellow privileged white folks do and as I know I can be guilty of. At the same time, I’m acutely aware of having grown up in an extreme bubble of well-meaning whiteness, English-speaking-ness a certain type of upper class yet hippie yet affluent American-ness that’s quietly embarrassed about its lack of actual diversity of thought or influences or experiences, and I want to give our family the chance to break away from that.

I was raised in an affluent and largely white suburb of Seattle, where there were TONS of “Think Globally, Act Locally” bumper stickers and, later, far too many of those ugly “Coexist” ones. But how much did we actually coexist? There were a handful of largely secular Jewish families in my community and friend group. I think I had one mixed-race half-black high school pal, of the total of two black kids in my high school class. There were perhaps three or four Taiwanese and Mexican kids, and no south Asian kids I remember. This is in a class of over THREE HUNDRED students. Yeah… We were NOT a diverse culture, though we may have prided ourselves on values that would accept and celebrate any hypothetical diversity our white asses encountered.

I learned foreign languages not because they were a deeply ingrained part of my community, but because they increased my perceived academic and professional capital as a privileged white student. I studied abroad and traveled to various other areas, but I mostly visited western Europe where perspectives (and structures of systemic racism) are far closer to the America I grew up in than they are different or challenging.

Even though I think my community did a relatively decent job of raising me with values that celebrate and respect cultural and racial diversity, living in a vacuum fundamentally limits your understanding of the world. I inherited a million tiny biases from my upbringing, and I see it now as an adult trying to unlearn so much about privilege, class, systemic structures of inequity… it’s a lot to undo.

While there’s no perfect way for us to parent our child, we know that we can expose Storm to a world of different types of people in a major city like London. He’ll also have quicker, easier access to other parts of the globe and to other communities than his own white secular parents. Providing a more enriching environment with broader opportunities for understanding and human connection across the race, culture, and class boundaries we were raised with ourselves felt important to us. It felt like a way for us to live some of the values we theoretically espouse but rarely put into action in our Seattle microcosm. That’s not to say we won’t have to try to break those barriers in London too, but my hope and impression is that we won’t have to reach as hard to do so.


We are moving from a very expensive part of the USA to one of the MOST expensive parts of the WORLD. We’re also moving with only one secure salary, as I have yet to find a London-based job. Why would we take such an enormous financial risk? Frankly, because we can afford to.

We both have an enormous amount of white privilege, which has granted us many opportunities that will make us attractive to employers all over the world. Growing up, I traveled extensively and lived abroad in high school, during college, and after college. This isn’t something I would have been able to pull off without a lifetime of white privilege helping me out (along with a bias for international living from my English-then-Canadian-then-American mother). I also have the privilege of dual citizenship and Grant has the privilege of a fully sponsored visa, not to mention we have a paid relocation package from his future employer.

We can trust that our whiteness and the advantages it has afforded us will make for a smoother transition than many people would be able to make. We trust that our charm, social ease, educational background, career experience, and language opportunities will be sufficient to eventually smooth over any anti-American bias we encounter abroad. We wouldn’t be so at ease about this without the systemic advantages afforded to us all by whiteness and structures that disproportionately advantage white, native English speaking people like ourselves.

The “undo” button

Realistically, we probably won’t hate London. I’m half English, carry dual citizenship, and have lots of extended family across England. My husband and I have always loved the UK when we’ve visited and have been charmed by the architecture, character, accents, rolling green hills dotted with sheep, functional public transportation, you name it. But even if we somehow still hate living there, we are privileged enough to be able to “undo” this decision if we need to.

We are being relocated at no cost by my husband’s new employer, who head-hunted him for this role. The company also sponsored any visas our family needed, is covering our temporary housing, and pairs us with a relocation specialist to help us find a great London home and placement in daycare for our child. While we would have to pay back relocation costs if we were to leave before a year is up, we are certain we can make it that long in the unlikely event that this is ends up being a terrible life choice for our family, and we are confident it won’t end up being so terrible that we want to leave that quickly. We can rent out our home in Seattle for a decent price that allows us to cover our mortgage and at least some maintenance/property management costs, so we have somewhere to come back to if we decide to return to Seattle after a few years.

We were able to make this transition to one of the most expensive cities in the world because there are many structures in place that make it much easier for us than for many people who might want to live in London (or make any kind of big move).

Community tradeoffs

While we’re very sad to leave our friends and family members in the Seattle area, we landed on the decision to move anyway for a couple factors.

  • If we ever decided to relocate to England permanently, we could probably talk my English mother into making the jump too. In the meantime, we hope to encourage her and my father to visit a few times and video chat a whole lot more.
  • While we would have been devastated to leave our friend community some years ago, we just don’t see pals as often as we used to now that we are parents. When we do see friends, it’s our most kid-loving and/or kid-connected pals who make the cut, and it’s never as often or as focused or as grown-up or as unencumbered or as carefree as it used to be. Friendships take a bit of a backseat especially during early parenting years, so it felt like a surprisingly manageable time to leave friendships behind since they’ve already been “on hold” since our child erupted onto the scene and fundamentally changed how we spend our time outside of work.
  • Digital connection helps so much! It’s way easier to stay in touch online than it used to be, even though it still requires effort (just a different kind).
  • Our East Coast family isn’t that much farther away! We have tons of folks in the DC area we already don’t get to visit as much as we’d like with a toddler in tow. While it’s a couple hours longer to fly from there to London than it is to fly from there to Seattle, it’s a manageable difference (with an admittedly larger mental gulf to traverse. Somehow needing a passport makes it feel disproportionately farther away.) We hope to visit more and convince them to do so as well, and we hope London is an attractive lure to entice this change.
  • Again, privilege. We are sure we can afford to do things like buy iPhones/find good data plans for elderly relatives/start up a travel costs slush fund/etc. to facilitate easier visits.
  • New connection opportunities. A pal who recently relocated to London mentioned that she’s had a number of friends visit her in London who had lost touch when she lived in other cities. Something about being in a massive wonderful global hub makes people find an excuse to come connect with you! We are hoping this is true for us too. (Drop us a line if you want to visit!)

How did we make this huge decision?

I think the tactical actions we took helped us arrive at a clear decision. I hope writing out this methodology is helpful to others considering big life changes, even though I know not all of these tactics are accessible to everyone.

Scope things out in person

My husband received an offer before we had ever met the team he’d be working with in person, or even found out what the project he’d be working on was. (This is relatively unusual for the video game industry, and moreso for a creative position such as his.) So our first step was insisting on both of us flying out to meet the team, get a feel for everyone in person, sign NDAs to learn about the project, and revisit London for several days with a lens of relocation and not just tourism. Thankfully, this was a natural part of the process for his future employer as well, but not every opportunity will make this option available. While our son fell ill and I therefore delayed my trip by a couple days, we had the luck of him getting well enough to leave with a sitter, and the privilege of being able to afford a trusted sitter who could stay with him for a few nights for our first ever absence from him.

I can’t stress enough how important this “scoping tour” was. When I moved to Mexico City after college, I couldn’t afford to do this. When I went to college on the East Coast after being raised in Seattle almost all my life, I didn’t take the time to do this (and definitely should have, as we did have the privilege to do this in my household if we had made it a priority). When I studied abroad in Barcelona, I had previously been to Madrid for a shorter study trip but had never scoped out the city of Barcelona before. Heck, when I went on a brief community service trip to Nicaragua with my high school, the organizers prepared me for months (also a great privilege) but I’d never actually been anywhere with such a gap in standard of living compared to what I was accustomed to. Being able to check out the opportunity we were evaluating is huge, huge, HUGE. Plenty of people are stuck with interviewing via Skype and then discovering to their unpleasant surprise that they aren’t actually excited by the climate/city/neighborhood/commute/etc. they moved to.

Being able to get a glimpse of the city you’re moving to, reconnecting with contacts that might become your new community, getting a feel for the transportation infrastructure and restaurant options and everything–this is all an invaluable part of choosing to make a big international move. This isn’t something that everyone can afford to do, and we were grateful that my husband’s future employer largely footed the bill for both myself and him. (We were also privileged enough to pay out of pocket for expensive last-minute flight changes as well as an additional night in a hotel beyond their contracted limit for interviewees.)

Evaluate your worst-case scenario

As someone who had had both good (Barcelona; privileged study abroad program at fancy university) and bad (Mexico City; broke post-college post-breakup desperation job) international living experiences, I knew that things with this move had the potential to be soul-crushingly depressing. However, we assessed where we were at in life, with a stable happy marriage in which we are (barf, I know) truly each other’s favorite person to hang out with, a healthy well-adjusted child who would handle the change well, and for whom we could easily find child care without requiring any special needs. My husband and I are also both good connectors who forge new relationships easily when we actually try, and I personally excel at figuring out how to leverage my network (more on that in a bit) and unearth friendly and helpful contacts in a new place thanks to this digitally connected area.

All this meant that we ultimately didn’t see a terrible worst-case scenario with this move. Even if Grant hated his new job (unlikely), he’s well-connected in the industry and would be able to find other opportunities, whether back in Seattle or somewhere else (since we would have already done the big move thing once and had kind of gotten over that initial resistance). Even if I didn’t find work in London (unlikely) I could potentially spend a couple years at home with our kiddo until we qualified for the UK’s government-assisted childcare programs, and though I strongly prefer parenthood when I’m working full time and loving what I spend my days doing, I’d survive a couple years of stay at home parenthood if I were forced into it. Yes, it’s possible I might even learn to like it. :)

We also had a decent community, unlike when I moved anywhere else. I have family in England and we have quite a few social and professional connections. No matter how things went, we figured we could proactively connect with friends and family in and around London and make sure we weren’t too isolated or culture shocked or depressed. Making it one year or more would be manageable, and we’d always have our home to come back to in Seattle if things didn’t work out as we hoped.

Leverage your network

When we started considering this move, we immediately put out feelers to three groups of people:

  • The internet. Plenty of stuff we wanted to know was researchable online via expat guide sites or Facebook groups.
  • My extended family in London. I wanted to float the idea of living there to the folks I was closest to, both emotionally and eventually geographically, to put out feelers for how it would be to live closer to them. Everyone was warm and encouraging and enthusiastic–which is what I expected, but it never hurts to confirm!
  • Our existing social and professional network in London, plus our friends-of-friends network. We pinged the handful of pals we had there, but I also asked everyone I knew to connect us to folks they thought we should meet, whether for friend stuff or professional stuff or parent stuff. Even though I wouldn’t say we have a robust group of bosom buddies awaiting us in London, I definitely have a list of people I hope to invite to our eventual housewarming party. :)
  • Everyone I know who’s done a massive international move. I asked folks who have dealt with this kind of transition what they wished they’d known, how they made their decisions, what they did and didn’t regret, etc. I asked things from the compulsively practical to the deeply emotional to the embarrassingly financial, and got a ton of responses that helped me guide my decision. (In case you’d find the specifics helpful, I’ll detail those here:)
    • Would we earn way less money in London? Overall yes, but for many people quality of life would outweigh it. This depends heavily on your values, but we were told to prepare for a rough financial impact and make sure to consult with tax folks to avoid weird double-taxation issues. (We determined we would survive the financial hit but did a lot of homework to minimize it. Again, privilege.)
    • Would I happily find work there? Probably, but be careful of West Coast tech companies with London offices that expect you to work a West Coast schedule. (This fits the description of many jobs I’m applying to, so it was helpful unsolicited advice!) Interview closely for this kind of culture detail to figure out what balance of weirdly-timed calls you’d find acceptable given where you’re at in your life. While this was specific to the Microsoft roles I was investigating at the time, it seems like good advice for anyone in a similar position.
    • What should we bring vs. get rid of?
      • Ditch literally all small appliances; don’t bother with transformer type converters. All the appliances will eventually die faster than they would have otherwise, and your’e better off just selling them and buying new stuff. Lots of expat groups facilitate this so it’s not a huge deal.
      • Lamps, however, it turns out may be fine as long as you use the right UK bulbs so you don’t overdo it on the wattage with a mere plug adapter; no need to even pay for rewiring. (Lots of conflicting info on this one; the key for safety really is to not exceed wattage.)
      • Plan to downsize to a US Queen/UK King bed at largest, and bring any sheets that fit said mattress because you’ll pay loads of tax within the UK and the bed sizes are ever so slightly different in that they are all a bit shorter in the UK than the US. (Sad for our tall asses, but worth knowing ahead of time; we bought a new US Queen mattress to eek out every inch even in a downsize. Definitely wouldn’t have done that without research.)
      • Only bring your nicest furniture that can turn around tight corners.
    • Could we deal with the transportation? Yes – online grocery stuff is more robust there, and people might Uber or Car2Go for the occasional trip but train service is great and worth it (though expensive and necessary to budget for). Traffic is awful and it’s likely not worth getting a car even if you end up with somewhere reliable to park it (also unlikely).

Turn up your extroversion (even if it hurts)

Whenever I take a Myers-Briggs type personality test, I fall right between the E for Extrovert and the I for Introvert, usually leaning ever so slightly more I. This surprises nearly everyone who knows me, since I tend to turn on the social vibe when I’m in a social setting, but I actually need a lot of down time to feel recharged and un-harried (I suspect this has a lot to do with growing up as an only child very accustomed to plenty of solitude and personal space).

Despite my preference to kind of retreat and cozy up with my family, I knew I’d need to turn on my social charm and savvy in order to establish a new community in London. So I’m currently being far more brazen than is comfortable about asking people for London introductions, and once I actually get there, I’ll probably have to be far more social than is comfortable when it comes to making good on various vague offers to grab a drink or a coffee sometime.

This means pushing myself–enduring the guilt of making my husband tackle bedtime for our kid solo (which we rarely foist on one another–parenting is a lot more tolerable with a buddy) in order to meet up for that pint with someone I only know from the internet. It means doing the mental and logistical work of finding childcare, and then paying for it, just so that I can grab lunch with an old Microsoft contact who moved to London in case it ends up being a fruitful professional or personal connection. It means turning all those little “mostly just for politeness” pseudo-invitations into actual dates, by doing the work of following up and suggesting times and locations that are convenient to the other person rather than myself. This is all exhausting, extroverted work–but I know it’s what will be required of me if we want to maintain a healthy happy social life and mental health balance in the long run of our London tenure.

(So yeah, if you’re in London and I know you, please consider pushing me to get the drink or offering to come to me instead, haha–I’ll be bending over backwards accommodating others in order to finagle as many get-togethers as I can, so I’ll very much welcome the change!) <–See, this is brazen and a bit socially uncomfortable and certainly feels quite un-British, but I’m putting it out there anyway. :)

Plan to let go a little

You may see from this blog post that I’m a bit of a planner, perhaps unkindly called a ‘control freak’ and more professionally described as ‘risk averse’ with a penchant for ‘forecasting all outcomes’ and ‘developing contingency options’ and other resume-speak. The biggest stresses for me in this transition were around realizing that we simply couldn’t do everything ahead of time.

It’s harder to find a job from another country than when you’re on the ground and can meet people in person in the correct time zone. So even though we both would have been much comforted by my securing a London-based employment offer before we moved there, that simply didn’t pan out and I had to trust that it would work out in the long run somehow.

We can’t downsize all our furniture and “stuff” right away because we don’t want to sit on the floor in a dark living room for too long. :) We aren’t ditching certain possessions until the bitter stressful end, even though it’ll make our exit more hectic, because it’s worth it to sleep soundly on our normal bed for X more weeks and it’s worth keeping a sense of normalcy in our home for ourselves and our little one as long as we possibly can.

We can’t go apartment-hunting ahead of time because the London market moves quickly enough that anything we found would be snapped up well before we were able to see it in person (a must for my final decision). We can’t seek daycare placement for Storm because we want to make sure we know where we’re living and don’t have a massive daycare commute. Some details just HAVE to wait, not just until we get there, but until we get there, settle into temporary housing, get over jetlag, schedule apartment visiting days, investigate childcare to make said days easier, vet said potential child carer and related commutes, and finally commit to either taking a toddler with us to look at apartments or trusting a little-known stranger with said toddler.

We couldn’t give specific notice at work, daycare, to our friends and family, etc. until my husband and Storm had their visas approved, which could be forecasted but not perfectly predicted ahead of time. We couldn’t see off everyone we wanted to see off because our lives only fit in so much (and there is now a massive snowstorm forecasted on the day of our harried final sendoff party). We couldn’t fix up every little house thing to make our home into the perfect rental because we couldn’t predict what would make future tenants willing to pay what we hope to get per month.

Not being able to predict or plan is tough, but in many ways, this feels like the giant “product launch” that is parenting, haha. We could amass baby-specific supplies when I was pregnant, and ask other parents for advice, and carve out as much in our life as we could that might help facilitate an easy transition into parenthood. But nothing TRULY prepared us for the reality shift that came when our kid entered the world. Many things have stayed surprisingly similar, many things have been completely upended, and nothing is quite how I expected or feared or planned. So on some level, that’s London, too–I guess we’ll see what awaits!

Seek the silver linings

No matter how ridiculous they seem, it can be nice to make some mental lists of the silver lining parts of a big transition, so you can pull back and look at the big picture even when you’re mired in stressful details and doubts. Here are some of ours:

  • Storm will probably develop a cute accent. :)
  • Now that I’ve gotten skilled at interior design over the course of our eight years of home ownership, I’m much better equipped to select a great rental dwelling and make it look fantastic. It helps that we’re getting rid of much of the furniture we owned anyway and starting from scratch, since I’ve learned that fitting your former furniture to your new abode is often not as successful as you’d like.
  • While I’m not a huge fan of paring down belongings for the sake of it, I admit that we have a tendency towards clutter and maximalism. Being forced into getting rid of a lot of things is as refreshing as it is exhausting to deal with.
  • We will have so many more travel opportunities! We can see parts of Europe that we’ve only dreamed about because we weren’t previously willing to deal with the nine-hour flights just to get there. We can pop away for bank holiday weekends and the like on very cheap and quick flights.
  • Our kids will learn to be resilient in different ways, such as handling themselves on public transit and said airline flights and on having to walk to the park instead of drive.
  • Maybe I’ll somehow finally score that perfect vintage Burberry trench in a charity shop somewhere.
  • I’ll get to use my multilingual skills much more often than in Seattle.
  • I’ll have an excuse to learn a whole new set of nursery rhymes to sing to my kid. :)
  • We’ll have an exit path if the US erupts in political flames, assuming Britain doesn’t.
  • We’ll now be more open to the idea of living outside of Seattle if a cool career opportunity arises in another city/country, which is healthier for our long-term career prospects.
  • I’ll look back and be glad our family took on this challenge, even if it’s tough at the time.

There you have it! What big challenging decision are you trying to make for yourself? I’d love to hear if you found this helpful!

An image of our son Storm between illustrations of Seattle's Space Needle and London's Big Ben and London Eye landmarks

My AltConf 2016 talk: Sell Out and Save the World!

My AltConf 2016 talk: Sell Out and Save the World!

Woohoo! I’m so excited! Last year I spoke at AltConf in San Francisco during Apple’s WWDC week. I’m really proud of the talk I gave—I had refined it a bunch, tested it in front of different audiences, and poured a lot of my soul into it. (And yes, a lot of emojis.)

It’s a little bit about how to feel OK having a corporate job. It’s a little bit about diversity in tech. It’s a little bit about why online dating sucks. If any of that sounds interesting to you, please watch it!

(And feel free to let me know what you think, but you know, be gentle with your constructive criticism. I’ve literally never given a talk at a conference before.) <3!

Sell Out and Save the World – AltConf 2016 (best viewed on a bigger screen so you can follow the slides. And none of the videos or animations play in this slide processing, but if you’re DYING to see the Taylor Swift Apple Music ad, go here.)

My top Grace Hopper session takeaways

My top Grace Hopper session takeaways

I just wrote up a trip report for my team at Microsoft, highlighting at least one takeaway from each session I attended at Grace Hopper 2016. It occurs to me that I should share that with the rest of the world, too. Here they are!


  • “Growth and comfort never coexist.” –Ginni Rometty, Chairwoman, President and CEO of IBM during the Day One keynote.
    • This stuck with me; feels profound as we attempt to shift to a growth mindset as a company. Time to embrace discomfort. :)
  • Solitude matters to think creatively; all of us are in too many meetings! From Susan Cain’s talk on the Quiet Revolution.
    • We need to carve out alone time when we’re thinking big (especially for those who are more introverted). I know I’ll be blocking out time on my calendar to get into the right brain space for certain projects moving forward.
    • Some other impactful points from this talk!
      • Introverts should speak up early in meetings to make sure they’re heard.
      • Brainstorming works better alone as opposed to a group activity.
  • Lead the meeting if you need to make sure you get recognition. From an Intuit panel about women’s career development.
    • If you’re concerned that you’re not getting seen for the work you’re doing, take charge and set the meeting yourself and guide it through. It’s a guaranteed way to be seen and also drive progress/outcome.
  • Everyone benefits from accessible design. From a powerful Microsoft panel on inclusive design.
    • If you’ve ever dictated into your phone, pulled luggage through a curb cutout, or walked through an automatic door, you’ve benefitted from accessibility designs. When we design inclusively, it makes things better for ALL users.
  • “We need to make technology cool for girls to study.–Rebecca Minkoff, Tech-Thinking Fashion Designer, from a panel on closing the gender gap in STEM.
    • This immediately made me think of IoT and the enormous opportunity we have to do cool work that centers and celebrates women enjoying technology.
  • Email your manager and say “I’m moving forward with X on Y date unless I hear otherwise from you.” From a panel about women negotiating.
    • Instead of waiting for express permission, sometimes it’s best to just propose what you think needs to happen and make it happen. That way your initiative doesn’t get stuck in waiting-for-permission purgatory or email delay, and you can show what you’re capable of without red tape holding you back.
    • Of course, you need to make clear that your manager has the opportunity to weigh in, but that’s where setting clear dates and expectations in your email comes in.
    • Do this immediately after every interesting hallway or coffee machine discussion with your manager; that way you can deliver on those chats instead of just having them fade away (and then revisit the evidence of your bias for action come review time.)
  • Influence isn’t about you or your rising titles; helping other people is what grows your influence. From a panel about the Art & Science of Influence Management.
    • Great point that makes it less about the self and more about the team/company/project!
  • Line length in a slide should never be more than 13-15 words.
    • Enough said! :)


And for what it’s worth, some of the most engaging connections I had were from randomly putting myself out there. This was a scary tweet to post (and I actually only connected with people that I chatted up in person), but I consistently find it worth it to do stuff like this!

After Grace Hopper

After Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper Celebration was a fantastic experience. I learned so much and met so many fascinating people, and when you get in that conference groove mindset you really connect! There’s something about a female-centric space that’s so special and supportive in its energy–it’s something I realize now that I didn’t fully appreciate while I was attending Bryn Mawr for my undergraduate. But I get it now. (And it’s what we work to provide in App Camp for Girls.)

The highlight of the conference was probably the networking. Not because I felt the need to go out of my way and meet people, but because the person-to-person discussions I ended up having were often more profound and relevant than even the most helpful sessions. There’s something about connecting with people in a more intimate number (introvert alert!) that’s far more satisfying than a killer 1:many lecture.

I also have to laugh at how many times someone proclaimed that I was “PMing” something throughout the trip. Sometimes it was chaos in a busy bathroom with no toilet paper in one stall* or a clear meal plan during the lunch rush**. It reminds me why I really am a great hire for the role I’m in, and why I’m always a natural MC even if it exhausts me internally. I can just turn on the “get shit done” mode and, well, get shit done, even in a large group that’s a challenge to wrangle. A young new PM hire at Microsoft told me she aspires to PM things as effectively as I did at one lunch break, which I consider a great compliment!

On that note, It’s been gratifying to move into an era of my career when I can start to mentor other women in tech. I’m not sure when that transition happened, exactly, but I suddenly (?) feel like I’ve got this fountain of guidance that a) other, mostly younger women seek, and b) actually provides them real value. I don’t mean to devalue my own worth by seeming so surprised, but I guess I’ve felt for so many years that I myself was seeking answers, that it’s gratifying to notice when I now seem to be experienced enough to provide them in this context. Hooray for aging!

Ooh, that reminds me: let’s have some props!

  • Props to the gal who pushed back on a panelist who had claimed she was “dating herself” by saying how many years she’d been in an industry. The attendee at the Q&A mic said “please don’t feel like that’s something you ever need to apologize for; we’re all here because of your wisdom and experience!” Hell yes.
  • Props to the stamina of everyone who worked booth duty on that expo floor. That shit is exhausting.
  • Props to all the event staff, janitorial–that was a LOT y’all were dealing with.
  • Props to the men who were graceful about many of their bathrooms becoming gender-neutral bathrooms this week. That can be a jarring transition and I appreciate that you didn’t make a fuss. (We all know it’s rare for you to feel that particular type of marginalization, but I still have empathy for ya because again, we 15k women are a lot to deal with when you’re accustomed to being the most represented group!)
  • Props to the gal who knew I was craving one of those free ice cream bars and went and got me (and several others) one once we had secured our seats at a busy session! So thoughtful and sweet (har har not like that).
  • Props to all the interesting note-takers! I loved seeing how people visually and verbally represented the info we were drinking up all week.
  • Props to the bartenders. I hope enough people tipped really well to make it worth your massive efforts.
  • Props to Peggy for letting me store my luggage in her hotel room <3
  • Props to everyone who rolled with it when I roped them into impromptu networking, conversations, drinks, meals, Ubers, etc. Some great connections happened from my forced situational extroversion, but I know it can catch you off guard when a tall blonde lady yells at you to come fill this four-top or whatever. Thanks for rolling with the punches; I hope it enriched your conference experience as that was always the intention; I know it enriched mine.
  • Props again to Microsoft for sending me, as well as 800+ other women, and for sponsoring so many activities within the conference. I’m continually impressed, thrilled, and grateful to work for this kind of employer. (And this is my personal blog so I’m ignoring your style guide handling of the Oxford comma, haha. Take that!)
  • Props to the oxford comma ;)

A few non-props:

  • To the gal who mistook me for pregnant on the very first day: we both know that was kind of shitty. But I’ve put my foot in my mouth that very same way with other women, and it sucked and I felt terrible about it like forever. You probably still feel terrible about it, or did for a while. In case you have been carrying it around, it’s OK. I’m over it now. You have my permission to let it go, as long as you try to remember not to do it again, and I will too. :)
  • To the event staff we were all pushy and frustrated with at the Toyota Center: I’m sorry some of us were rude (myself included) in our moments of frustration. It’s not a fair excuse, but we were a horde of logic-driven beings being confronted by illogical constraints, which I realize you had no authority to escape. We shouldn’t have been rude even though it’s OK for us to be pushy/ask for what we need/question things that seem like they need questioning. There’s a line in how this sort of thing is done, and a lot of nuance around gendered behavior, but some of us were snappier than we probably needed to be and I felt and still feel bad. I know you were just doing your job. I’m sorry.
  • To the staff at so many hotels, restaurants, and bars near the conference: I got the feeling y’all weren’t quite prepared for the volume and intensity of GHC attendees this year. I really hope that changes in future years; it’s a killer opportunity to really bring it and show what the hospitality and service industries can do even in times of chaos, especially when you’re charging premium rates and doing great business. I strongly encourage you to bring on more staff during this conference if it’s held in Houston again so you aren’t stretched noticeably thin by the sudden influx of guests with needs and appetites. We’ll appreciate it, and we’ll all tip well especially when our generous employers are footing the bill.
  • To Donald Trump, you’re a terrible human and I get physical anxiety every time I see your face or hear you begin to talk because I’ve been conditioned to expect the fucking worst which you consistently deliver. The only way I was able to stomach your hateful bullshit during that last debate was to surround myself with powerful women and drink and eat candy and deride your constant misogyny and malevolence together. I look forward to your impending self-immolation. You are one of the rare humans who makes me truly wish harm upon another human because it’s clear you’ll eagerly cause harm to so many more if you’re given even a drop of power.

A closing note:

Are you wondering how you can capture this energy and be part of the wonder that is Grace Hopper? Here are some actionable steps!

  • If you’re a manager, support women who want to go to GHC, and work to get them sponsored to attend by your company. If that’s not possible, at least support them attending on their own and/or streaming the talks, and be supportive of their other commitments taking a backseat while they soak up the learning and empowerment.
  • If someone on your team comes back from GHC and surprises you with bolder questions or pushy seeming negotiations, roll with it. Don’t punish them or poke fun at them. Let them try out their newly learned skills, and respect them for it, and listen to what they have to say!
  • Consider attending yourself. We had over one thousand male allies in this year’s audience. It can be humbling and intimidating to suddenly become a minority if you’re a man in tech, but it’s a great firsthand experience at empathy and your eyes will be opened to a whole world you didn’t know about regarding the challenges women face in the workplace, the sheer number of amazing talented female technologists, and the many permutations of what an engineer (or PM, or designer, etc.) actually looks like. Or talks like. Or thinks like. You should totally come.
  • Get involved! Volunteer at a local nonprofit that helps get women into tech! Ask your local community what you can do to help more actively! Sponsor programs and students that are tied to diversity initiatives! Make connections with programs that can feed diverse talent into your organization! Make a commitment to working harder at improving your company’s diversity! Read other blog posts with other opinions about what you can do to help! The ideas and suggestions are out there if you make it a priority to find them.

Thanks for reading! <3


* Take the countertop Kleenex box and stick it in the stall that’s missing toilet paper.
** Scan OpenTable for nearby locations and your desired reservation time, accounting for travel time including conference congestion. Book a reservation (4-6 is the largest that will usually still allow you to find quick options) so you don’t end up slammed during the lunch rush with no food options for an hour. Claim your space using technology!

Before Grace Hopper

Before Grace Hopper

I’m on my way to Grace Hopper right now, which I’ve never been to before. My employer is actually paying to send me. Paying for my hotel and my flight (and the Wi-Fi which allows me to write this post) and paying me for the time I spend enriching myself here.

I’m so honored and privileged to work for a company that actually invests in me as an employee, that sees me as an asset, that wants to grow me so I can flourish for them. Maybe it’s a sign of not having found the right career direction before, or not being picky enough with my prior employers and positions, or me successfully escaping impostor syndrome or maximizing my networking, or me needing time to grow into the seasoned pro that is finally an obvious hire at a big tech company like Microsoft.* Whatever the cocktail of reasons is, I’ll take it!

I’ll get to connect with colleagues from App Camp for Girls, and from my current and past jobs. I’ll connect with fellow Bryn Mawr graduates who have pursued careers in tech. I’ll meet new people and compliment a thousand cute smartwatch bands and sensible but snappy pairs of shoes. I’ll take on loads of swag I don’t really need and regret it later, and give away fewer of my beautifully letterpressed business cards than I hoped because nobody wants to carry around more *stuff*. I’ll get buttons caught on my lanyard; I’ll snag my necklace with my badge; I’ll get blisters and sweat and my brain and heart and contacts will be completely full. I’ll lose literally every pen I bring including the one I swipe from the hotel. I’ll take notes in three different apps and only collate them on the plane home when I re-read Liz’s blog post and type up my own post-conference post.

I’ll chat freely, comfortable that this audience won’t judge uptalk or complain about the word “just” or dole out creepy-toned compliments or judge my bubbly effervescence as technical incompetence, because I’ll be surrounded by my peers who deal with that all the time, and by allies who know that sexism in tech is a problem and are determined to find a way to improve this culture.

I’ll learn about new technologies and ways of thinking. I’ll have “aha” moments when I realize something someone said makes me see the solution to a problem I didn’t know I was solving for, or makes me realize I’m asking the wrong questions to get the answers I need. I’ll write my first few lines of code since App Camp. I’ll have a deeper appreciation for the roles my colleagues perform, and I’ll brainstorm ways for us to work better together. I’ll learn to automate something I previously did manually. I’ll focus on eradicating some habit that’s been holding me back in my meetings or my slide decks. I’ll hit that “connect” button SO many times on LinkedIn. I’ll forget to change my Twitter display name back to its usual form for like a week. And I’ll have a freaking BLAST.

I love conferences! Eeeeee!


*Yes, I shamelessly put in the Careers section link. No, I’m not kidding. At least throw your hat in the ring; this place is amazing! :)

Let’s all cry at conferences

Let’s all cry at conferences

I just got back from xoxofest; I almost immediately set upon writing this piece on Medium.

… I cried a lot. And so did a lot of other people I know there. And we were all sorta embarrassed/ashamed. Which is weird, if you think about it, because if it’s common enough that lots of us did it, why isn’t it more normalized?

Give it a read and/or recommend if you like. It seems like it has legs, because a lot of people really resonated with what I said—I’m quite a bit prouder of this than most of my work that ends up going modestly viral, because this one feels more meaningful and emotional and less, you know, retail based or silly tech humor based.

Oh, and if you’re a Twitter-like person, maybe you feel like RTing it instead? I don’t know. Do whatever you want. I had fun writing it.

Here are a few after-the-fact notes and questions:

  1. Most people got that my parenthetical in the above tweet was totally a deliberate parody of shitty clickbaity article headlines from sites like Upworthy etc., but two guys replied being like “ew, no way will I touch that icky clickbaity link.” I like to think I had actually conveyed the parody pretty well, by deliberately frontloading the actual thing the article was about before listing the joke headline, and also stripping capitalization which is counter to my usual Serious Person Style Guide vibe (which only people who know me and pay attention to that sort of thing would pick up on). But what do you think? Given character limits, are there any tricks you flippant-yet-serious writers would have employed to more clearly convey that that parenthetical was satire/a joke? Would you just kill it? Would you worry about people misinterpreting it, or trust that those who got it were more your people anyway, or what? I’m genuinely curious now.
  2. I thought about including a header image in the post, but I didn’t really feel like it needed one, and I dislike the modern blog trend of having to come up with images when most of what I actually want to convey can be done via text, and I wasn’t sure about copyright issues if I used the amazing HBO show Enlightened’s cover art with Laura Dern, so I didn’t go that route, and I didn’t want to have to spend a stock photo credit on a post since I generally use those for my business only, and I seriously considered trying to find a pic of me crying but then I was like “I’d have to stage it to get that full mascara-runny effect and that seems like too much work” so I didn’t, but then all my social media preview tools pulled this image from my bio, and that’s kind of the opposite of a crying lady so it felt like a weird unintended juxtaposition to me, and only some sites let you strip out the image preview in a native link preview, and hey for once Facebook is doing something better than all the other sites, and anyway how would you fellow blogger types have handled THAT mouthful? ;)
  3. I also thought about posting it here and cross-posting it to Medium, because I’m big on personal blogs and putting my weight behind something that I run and control as opposed to throwing in with whatever the new trendy outlet is, but I actually really love the blogging experience on Medium and I love the way comments/footnotes work and I struggle to replicate that on my own WordPress-based site and I tend to do a bunch of little fine-tuney edits all over the place and I didn’t want to have to keep track of them in two places so I just posted the whole thing there instead and linked to it here, but now these numbered things have become weighty enough that they’re sort of worth exploring (I think?) and I’ve bifurcated this very blog post experience from the far more visible Medium one and maybe that’s a mistake? Guess what…. can you guess? I’m also curious how you’d handle THAT.

OK, done now. Bye for now, Internet!

NSBrief and Watchscreen

NSBrief and Watchscreen

Back in June, I was interviewed by Saul Mora on NSBrief Podcast, talking about app development and whatnot despite having very little voice left after a busy WWDC week! Give it a listen here.

And earlier today, I was featured on Mark D. Mill’s “Watchscreen” series, talking about how I use my Apple Watch. You can peruse that here.

Happy geeking!



Here's my not-particularly-well-organized Watch screen.

My red and gold Edition review

My red and gold Edition review

I recently purchased an Edition in red and gold. Given that this was an expensive item, I wanted to review it thoroughly in case it helps anyone else make this purchase decision.


My Edition came in time for me to bring it to WWDC, but it cut it a little close. It would have been nice to see a more specific delivery date, or for the package to have been delivered closer to when I ordered it. But I know Apple is big on pre-hyping stuff and I heard there were supply constraints with this model.

I saw a couple other people wearing this and other Edition models throughout the week, so I’m glad it worked out for us all to receive this product in time to show it off.


The packaging was VERY disappointing compared to most Apple products. I can’t believe it. I had also ordered an Apple Watch Sport on launch day, and that product came with an incredible unboxing experience.

This Edition was just packed in a basic foam bubble pack, leaving much to be desired. They really dropped the ball here. The one upside is that I felt no guilt or concern about immediately recycling the packaging, and I definitely didn’t feel the need to Periscope opening it this time.

Gold quality

I had heard rumors about some special thing where the gold is mixed with ceramic to make it more durable. That doesn’t seem to have helped in this case. The gold part puckers and pulls over some parts but not others, making it look inconsistent and cheaper than an Edition-level product should look, in my opinion. It also stretches more over the uppert part of the bezel than the lower part. This may just be how any version would work on my body, but it’s a bummer.

I bought this item to showcase my poor financial judgment and be part of an elite club, but also to look *good*, you know? The gold should look better than the steel or sport options and I’m not sure it was worth the extra money.

Red quality

The red is slightly different than in photos; a little more blue and a little less orange. I’m mostly okay with this, but it made it hard to match other accesories like a lipstick ahead of time. (I’m obsessive and like matching things.) An exact Pantone value would have been awesome, but I know Apple didn’t do that for their Sport bands either so I’m not that surprised, I’d just appreciate that much more attention to detail in the future. It’s not like I’m going to file a radar or anything though.

However, my main disappointment comes with the way the red part wears over time. When I first put it on, it seemed too long and too short. That continues to be the case, with the largest women’s size possible. I’m disappointed that it wouldn’t fit my female colleagues, but I’m even more disappointed that a) it got even shorter after I attempted to clean it, and b) it got a bit tougher instead of getting softer the way most leather products do over time. It definitely felt like the overall size and shape were designed by men for men without much thought to female wearers.

Overall purchase decision

Despite these shortcomings, I’m happy with my red and gold Edition. I got lots of compliments, knowing nods, and “Nice Edition” head nods during the week of WWDC. Marco and Casey from ATP even commented on it. Athough shelling out for an Edition was an extravagance, I think it was worth it. I would probably purchase a red and gold Edition again if a new model were offered, especially if there were improvments in the design or ordering process.

Oh, and I saw a few people complaining on Twitter about how stupid you’d have to be to spend money on an Edition, but I’m pretty sure they’re just jealous.

apple watch


(And hey, when I’m not trolling you with gag reviews, I’m helping people figure out online dating and modern love in general. If this intrigues you, maybe you should subscribe to my blog, podcast, or newsletter!)

(And oh yeah, go donate to the App Camp for Girls Indiegogo Campaign! I will add some sort of unofficial hand-drawn-or-written personal thank-you perk if you donate more than $100 based on this blog post call to action right here. Honor system. Make me proud, nerds.)



Intellectually, I’m not a huge fan of new year’s resolutions—heck, I’m not even sure about how you capitalize and punctuate the phrase. :) I like to think that the time of year shouldn’t have a massive impact on deciding to make improvements in your life, you know?

But I’m in a weird spot this year. My part-time tech writing contract comes to a close at the end of January, which means I’ll be circling back to working on The Heartographer full time. I’m launching a few new products and initiatives soon that just happen to be coming out in Q1 2015. And I have a medical procedure coming up in March that will go much more smoothly if I can get a better handle on my physical health in advance.

For me, January 2015 will end up being a time to spark change and transition, whether I meant it that way or not. And while the philosophy of “make improvements independent of the new year” is a sound one, I never actually implement changes. Like, ever.

Discipline and follow-through have long been huge weaknesses for me. But as I prep for business and life shifts over the next year, it’s increasingly important that I get a better handle on the part of me that resists working hard to effect positive change in my life. It’s time to start actually trying instead of pooh-poohing the whole idea.

On La Dolce Vita, Paloma Contreras shared a few thoughts about how to make 2015 the best year yet. First on the list was setting intentions instead of resolutions. This totally jibes with me—on the one hand, I’d love to not give myself wiggle room to bail on what I set out to do, but I’m self-aware enough to know that the whole fear of failure thing would make me drop all my firm resolutions as soon as the going gets tough.

So, in the spirit of actually following through with some intentions, even if the outcome isn’t as drastic or simple as I’m hoping, I’ll share with y’all some of my intentions for the new year and beyond.


I’ve been wanting to get savvy with photo and graphic software for ages, so I can better self-help when I need to create a quick visual asset for my business or one of my many sites. I’ve made my poor husband (who is a video game designer, NOT a graphic designer) create and modify SO MANY business cards, ad graphics, logos, header images, you name it.

Photoshop is top of the list in terms of learning to create my own stuff, but OmniGraffle is next, as well as learning a bit more about actually manipulating a camera to take better pictures.

And this may sound frivolous, but I’d like to get the hang of applying false eyelashes. I’ve read how-to guides online and grilled every makeup artist who’s ever applied them for me, but I think what I need more than anything is a few extra pairs and some dedicated time to practice.

Falsies (I swear they’re called that) make a huge visual impact in the videos I produce! Of course they’re fun in social settings too, but I really mainly wear them for business. God, how weird and boring is that? You’d think I was a burlesque dancer or something! :)


I’m working on an iPhone app with Brandon, who does 99.9999% of the actual coding. While he’s helplful in teaching me some stuff, I can only have a certain impact in how much progress we make—but if I stay motivated, ask questions, meet regularly with him, and generally keep the marketing and production balls rolling, we tend to do more actual coding work too. I’d love to see a working app prototype on my device by the end of this year, even if we don’t actually get a smoothly tested version for sale on that timeline.

I’ve been writing a book since 2009, for Frey’s sake, but I finally started making true progress this fall after applying a sort of GTD-like system to the project. I’d like to either get that book fully self-published this year, or have a firm deal with a traditional publisher.

I’m launching some video courses soon, which have been in the works since last summer. I expect those to ship in Q1 of this year, yay!

I’m also FINALLY launching a podcast soon. If everything goes as planned, it’ll be out in time for Valentine’s Day. Woohoo!

I’m also launching another blog at some time this year, which will be a more personal but specific venture. I’ll post here when it goes live.


What a douchey word, right? But I need to make it a greater focus in 2015 and beyond. I spent the first seven whole years of my business under-charging, partly because I love what I do but also because I wanted my focus to be on great service and customer experience instead of great profit. But I’ve grown up and come to learn that those things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s OK to make a decent living doing something you love.

Now that I’ve laid that foundation, I need to have a firmer focus on monetization with every single business decision I make. Heck, even that new personal blog I mentioned is going to have ads, something I’ve kept off my other sites for the most part. The advent of sponsored content makes this so much more OK for me—I’ve seen poorly integrated sponsorships as well as amazing ones, and I’m confident I can find a way to make good money on a blog and still provide unquestionable value to readers. I’ve never ever tried making a blog profitable before, but this year I’m going to make it a focus and at least see how it goes.


We need to lose weight. Especially me. We’ve needed this for a while, but it’s particularly urgent as I have a surgery type thing in March that will go better if I’ve lost even ten pounds.

The problem, in many ways, is that my weight is HAPPY weight. I met the love of my life, found a love of video games, and have been slowly getting fatter as I enjoy sitting around doing stuff I enjoy with someone I adore. The only times I’ve ever drastically dropped in weight were both when I was living abroad, isolated, and terribly ill to the point of hospitalization. NOT a good association, you know?

We also need to limit our expenses. We’ve never made or stuck to a budget; we barely even try. But as we plan for our future, it’s more and more crucial that we not overspend. We’ve kept our heads above water and been delightfully debt-free or close to it except (now) our house, but we don’t really save and plan ahead.

I’d like to have a fund for home décor splurges, as well as unexpected repair projects. I’d like it to be no big deal when we’re confronted with astounding hospital bills from unexpected medical issues. I’d like to save up for vacations we don’t even know we want to take yet. But I need to get much more serious about seeing this desire through. Now’s as good a time to start as any.


I have a ridiculously massive wardrobe, and yet I tend to get stuck wearing the same 5% of my clothes over and over again. That sort of makes sense to a point, since they’re items I love and feel great in, but it’s a bit silly and limiting. I also want to “shop” from my previous wardrobe by trying on stuff that I haven’t been able to fit into in ages—weight loss will give me a guaranteed shopping spree.

I have tons of craft supplies for cool projects that we just finally started unearthing when we cleaned out our basement. I’m excited to, say, check my Artsy Drawer (or Dresser) before I drive my ass all the way to Michael’s.

I feel the same about home décor and hardware—sometimes, we already have the right curtain rod that would look fine in a given room if I could just set my hands on it. I’m hoping that our Giant Basement Cleanse will assist.

Oh, and I love skincare and makeup, but I barely use most of my cool products. (For someone with an entire blog about this stuff, you’d be amazed how many nights I go to sleep without washing my face and then wake up annoyed that I have irritated skin.) I always want to spend more time and energy with my fun grooming products, because they really have an impact on how I look and therefore how I feel about myself. Why the hell am I just letting them expire under the sink? Let this year involve more masques and whatnot. And eyeliner. Use it or lose it.


So yeah, that’s my summary. What are YOU resolutish about this year?



I have hardcore tennis elbow. I’ve spent a couple grand accommodating this. Maybe you can learn from my ergonomic expenditures.

My ergonomic backstory

In 2008, the job market was not so hot. I had worked my first ever tech contract, which felt kind of terrifying to me since I was basically guaranteeing future unemployment by taking a short-term (but career-advancing) role. The recession hit, my contract ended, it predictably took forever to find re-employment, and so I took an interim job in a chiropractic clinic that needed someone bilingual to help out. Big mistake!

When I started hooking patients into their traction weights, I suffered a very bad repetitive stress injury that left me with permanent chronic tendinitis (tennis elbow) in both arms. Multiple courses of physical therapy haven’t helped the issue. My RSI constantly gets flared up whenever I use keyboards, mice, touch screens, game controllers, and a whole host of other real-world objects now, and increased flare-ups have spread the pain and injury from my hands to my shoulders and back. It’s difficult to manage because of how severe and sudden the injury was, and how many regular activities (all tech usage plus brushing hair and teeth, pouring water jugs, carrying groceries, shifting gears, etc.) can flare it right back up again.

However, the upside is that the pain has given me license to spring for any ergonomic upgrades that I need to keep it manageable. I hope these annotations on my various ergonomic purchases over the years are helpful to those of you who are considering a more ergonomic workstation. Some purchases have definitely been more worthwhile than others!

Sit/stand desk

I’ve got a GeekDesk v2, which is no longer offered but is similar-ish to the v3. I got the smaller frame size with the relatively larger desktop size, which no longer seems to be an option, but was in between the small and large sizes that are currently offered. My frame is silvers and my desktop is black. I’m mostly happy with it, but I might do more research and make a different purchase today if I got a do-over.

My main complaint is the desktop surface itself. I recommend getting your own desktop, or covering their laminate one in a material that doesn’t so readily accept water and finger oil marks. I see my clients surreptitiously scrubbing to remove marks all the time, I and I feel bad! I want to tell them not to worry and that it happens all the time on my side too, but I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. This probably seems silly, but if you have even a drop of obsessive tendencies (or design snobbery) in you, I urge you to procure your own desktop. GeekDesk marks do scrub out with the right cleaner, but it’s annoying to have to do that more often than actual cleanliness concerns would dictate.

Also note that if you screw or clamp anything into your GeekDesk, you need to make sure its thickness is acceptable—it’s too thin for a lot of hardware, so I’ve had to get special screws or jury-rig a spacer in some clamps. Furthermore, GeekDesk is a little dicey when it comes to weight management and overall stability compared to some of its competitors. I’ve tightened the frame every few months (hang on to that allen wrench), but I worry about all the weight I currently have on it. I don’t think I’d be able to add a giant second external monitor, for example.

Lastly, the GeekDesk doesn’t have any memory presets for height. This isn’t wildly important if your desk is pushed against a wall where you can make a little mark or something, but my desk floats in the middle of the room so I don’t have that option. I kinda wish there were a few presets even though I mostly get by just going by what feels best. I don’t love having to press two buttons to lift and lower it, either—I get that it’s a safety mechanism, but I’d like to be able to one-hand it.

Oh, and I’m not a treadmill desk person, but if I wanted to be I don’t think the GeekDesk would be tall enough for me (I’m 5’11”). Unless you got really fancy and set your treadmill into your floor, the height of the treadmill would make the tallest possible position of the GeekDesk too short to comfortably type while maintaining a good monitor height, even with a pretty darn tall monitor arm. Granted, I haven’t actually tested this setup, but my sense from the height presets I currently use is that it wouldn’t work out. (I generally max out the desk’s height when I’m standing at it, with my keyboard tray in a low position.)

The GeekDesk was the right price point at the time I made the purchase, but I’d consider getting a different brand if I were in the market for a sit/stand desk today.  At the very least, I’d say do more research than I did; there are far more options available today as standing desks gain popularity.

Monitor arm and accessories

I’ve got my 13″ MacBook Pro and external monitor in an ESI dual monitor holder and laptop tray. I love the arm 90% of the time, but it’s just barely too short for my desired ergonomic viewing angle and FaceTime webcam height. (I’m 5’11” with a fairly long torso; a monitor with an integrated webcam at the top would help with the latter point.) Test and measure to make sure the arm you get goes as high or low as you need, especially if you’re tall and/or you use an adjustable height desk. Mine definitely doesn’t have enough flexibility for my preferences; I could also use some monitor pitch tilting which it doesn’t offer. Some brands allow for a setup that let you buy a separate “raiser” piece; even if you don’t spring for that at the beginning, it’s a nice option to have if you discover you need more flexibility.

I strongly dislike my ESI laptop tray. The knobs on the bottom are insanely difficult to adjust, and the tray only slides small enough to snugly fit a 15″ laptop. The rubberized strips don’t actually hold a smaller laptop in place, so I have to jam something in there (currently two decks of cards) to space my 13″ laptop farther up in order to get an acceptable FaceTime camera height for video chats. (Vain, but come on; that’s how I spend 80% of my client interaction time. No one needs to see me with nine chins while we talk.)

If I were to make this purchase over again, I’d find something that was better compatible with my smaller hardware, but that still used a VESA bracket. (Note that the Humanscale laptop trays use their own proprietary latching system, while ESI uses the more standard VESA bracket system. I think other brands do the proprietary connector thing too; double check the connection hardware before you purchase.) Some better cord disguising in the laptop tray also wouldn’t hurt.

When I was researching monitor arms, I found that Ergotron arms are often way cheaper, but ultimately inferior. After reading reviews and checking measurements and weight limits, I determined that they weren’t right for my needs. But I pinned a zillion of them on my ergonomics board, in case you find that data helpful. I found it very helpful to check out monitor arms in person, though, as the overall build quality becomes much more apparent with a floor model you can move and swivel.

My ESI monitor arm system works well enough with my desk thickness, but just barely. You may actually need shims or spacers if you have  a very slim desk surface, which may end up looking ugly or compromising stability. These arms add a ton of weight, which may be a problem for some hydraulic sit/stand desks. And lastly, my model doesn’t handle super-huge heavy monitors like the older 27″ iMac, or possibly the Thunderbolt Display (much to my dismay). Check the weight limits of your desk itself as well as each arm of any monitor support systems before you get too deep into designing your setup.

Keyboad tray

I modded my GeekDesk with a custom ISE brand pull-out keyboard tray wide enough for a left and right mouse as well as a keyboard. (Because it’s custom there’s no retail link for it, but I purchased it and had it further customized at Keeney’s Office Supplies.)

My tray, while very wide, is just narrow enough that I need to get numpadless keyboard models in order to comfortably mouse both left and right. (These are a good idea anyway for proper ergonomics.) Most keyboard trays aren’t wide enough for dual mousing, but most users don’t need them to be. If you’re pro numpad; you may want to look for a model that has a separate mousing tray attached. Just be careful to minimize the distance your dominant hand has to travel to reach the mouse—I find that keyboard trays with a dedicated mouse platform often place the mouse way too far from the keyboard for my comfort.

Commence maximum type muffling!
<tray:width = 100%>

A huge advantage of the keyboard tray is greater flexibility with sit/stand setups. I opted for a tray with fairly complex swiveling and pivoting features that allow for different heights as well as depths and angles. This is better for keeping a neutral wrist position (especially when standing), as well as for compensating for the relatively low height of almost all monitor arms. You want your keyboard fairly low and your monitor fairly high (if you’re me and/or tall or slouchy), but sometimes you want a different height when you’re sitting than standing. I recommend springing for a more robust tray that gives you more options. I actually see that ISE makes a dedicated sit/stand desk version now, though I get by just fine with my less swoopy version.

If you opt for a dedicated keyboard tray, especially if you’re pairing a tray with an adjustable desk, I recommend finding a local office supply shop that can cut and/or otherwise customize things for you. You should also measure like crazy. The crossbar on GeekDesks is so far forward that it blocks a full keyboard tray brace installation. (I don’t really know the proper name for the piece I’m calling a brace, but it’s the long metal track that you screw directly into the desktop to mount the tray.) It’s really nice to test all the movements out anyway, so it’s worth the effort of finding an in-person shop.

You’ll also need to possibly use different hardware than what comes with your tray, depending on the thickness of your desk. If you cut down your brace length, I recommend finding or drilling more spots for screws to compensate for any brace length removed, just to make sure it’s very well attached to your desk. Can’t be too careful with super heavy and expensive equipment, ya know?

Oh, here’s my only real annoyance with the ISE tray: the whole thing is super high quality solid and HEAVY hardware, but then the little plastic doo-hickey that acts as a stopper is cheap and flimsy. (Not crazy about the fact that the stopper is a few millimeters taller than my GeekDesk is thick, either!) So when I adjust my tray a little too aggressively, especially when pulling it forward, a) the little ISE thing falls out, and b) sometimes the entire tray piece pops out of its track. I have to immediately stop whatever I’m doing, lift the heavy tray, and guide it carefully back into place.

The connection to hold the plastic thing also wears out with frequent removal and replacement, so the issue only becomes more pronounced over time. This is a problem I’ve been meaning to solve with creativity and possibly glue, but it’s an annoying design flaw that will probably irritate the sort of person who is interested in this blog post.

Keyboard and mouse

On that keyboard tray is an Evoluent vertical mouse, a Matias Laptop Pro keyboard, and a cheap Logitech wireless mouse on the left. Here is more detail on those, plus notes from my extensive keyboard research.

Evoluent vertical mouse

This mouse has totally sucky drivers, but good ergonomics in the hardware itself and good enough mouse functionality. It definitely takes a while to get used to, and isn’t great for activities like PC gaming where you need to have super fast response times. But it gets the job done, there are craploads of buttons if you’re a custom button person, and definitely reduces carpal tunnel type wrist strain. That isn’t my primary ergonomic concern, so it still sometimes hurts to use this mouse when my tennis elbow is flared up—which is why I keep a left hand mouse too.

I haven’t tried Evoluent’s wireless or Bluetooth vertical mice, but I’d like to upgrade to the latter eventually to free up a USB slot. However, their software is so crappy (half the button bindings don’t work at all in Windows 8.1, and they sometimes mysteriously reset themselves on any OS) that I’m reluctant to trust that the wireless models have successful Bluetooth or even proprietary wireless connectivity. If I ever bought one of these, I’d do so from a shop to which I could return easily if necessary.

Note that Evoluent does make a Mac-specific version of their mice, although I find that the PC one works fine on Mac (and actually works better on Mac than PC if you’re rocking a recent Windows OS). The company also makes right- and left-handed versions,  and  small and large sizes. I haven’t tried the left or small options in person, but I find the large to be perfect and can’t imagine that the small would be an improvement. (I mouse with my right hand dominantly, but have learned to mouse left to better manage my RSI. I don’t think I could fairly evaluate a dedicated left-handed mouse, though.)

One note of Evoluent ownership is that you should probably keep a cheap “guest mouse” available if anyone else uses your computer, like, ever. People unfamiliar with the Vertical Mouse tend to find it very intimidating. A cheap wireless Logitech that you can swap out does the job. (The Logitech I use for left-handed mousing is unremarkable and doesn’t merit elaboration here, except that I find symmetrical designs easier to manage with my non-dominant hand.)

I like that the Evoluent Vertical Mouse doesn’t need a dedicated mouse pad. It does just fine on bare surfaces, which I can’t say for Logitech or even some pricey dedicated gaming mice.

Matias Laptop Pro keyboard

The Laptop Pro was a stopgap solution for me—I needed a new keyboard FAST, ideally mechanical, ideally somewhat portable, and ideally a split ergonomic layout with some tenting options for comfort. The Laptop Pro really only checked the mechanical box; I intend to upgrade again eventually.

This thing is not as quiet as Matias advertises, so it’s just as clacky and distracting on mic as a deliberately noisy Das Keyboard. At least to my ear. Maybe you don’t mind that? Great!

The Laptop Pro is deceptively thick, heavy, and awkward to travel with. So while it has a smaller footprint than most keyboards, it isn’t actually a good portable keyboard at all (an Apple Bluetooth would be far superior, and neither offers any protection of the keys). I also sometimes have trouble with the Bluetooth connectivity even when it’s right in front of the target machine, but it’s hard to isolate the issue there.

That said, the battery life is amazing, and the fully powered charging ports are pretty darn cool too. It’s a very solid piece of hardware that feels well constructed. I’ve  had poor experiences with Matias’s customer support, but you probably won’t need it. I’ve always been able to solve wonky connectivity issues by just trying over and over again, unpairing and repairing, etc.

As I mentioned, though, I strongly prefer a split ergonomic layout, so I’ll probably pick up the Matias Ergo Pro when it finally releases. However, the ship date for this has changed four times since this spring, so if you’re desperate for ergonomic relief, you may not be able to wait. (That was the reason I sprung for the Laptop Pro even though it didn’t meet all of my needs.)

For a non-split keyboard with no tenting, I find the Laptop Pro astoundingly comfortable, and I do feel like I got my money’s worth. I can see it being a fantastic piece of hardware for people with less picky ergonomic needs than my own!

Other ergonomic keyboard options

Here are my conclusions on the other keyboards I’ve considered and rejected, in case you find those helpful:

Mechanical vs. not—I had been meaning to try a mechanical keyboard for years, and the folks at finally got me to take the plunge. I’m completely sold and ruined for any membrane or rubber dome switch keyboard ever again. Not into the Apple-style ones, either, whatever those are called.

I found this link helpful in learning about which type of switches I like (Cherry MX Brown was my conclusion, although the Matias I eventually went with has its own proprietary switch type that’s similar in feel to the Cherry MX Brown). There’s also this Lifehacker piece, if you prefer hacking life over just reading web pages. And I learned a ton from even though I ultimately wound up purchasing elsewhere. They have GREAT options if your needs aren’t quite as picky and specific as mine; I’m still bummed I couldn’t pick up one of their cool backlit options!

Truly Ergonomic Keyboard—This keyboard was intriguing, but there were too many complaints about customer service to make me trust they’d handle a return well. The lack of tenting concerned me, because a tented keyboard I had tested while working at Amazon was far more comfortable, and I found their justification for no tenting pretty weak. More importantly, the special keyboard layout just seemed like too much to demand of users. I knew I’d be switching back and forth between this and a standard keyboard layout, which slows down my otherwise awesome typing speed. I also already have several international keyboard layouts kicking around in my brain, plus Mac and PC Ctrl vs. Cmd issues. I didn’t think I wanted to take on yet another one just because this one company said I should (with no tenting). :)

Goldtouch Go! Bluetooth—For the longest time this thing was incompatible with MacBooks (WHAT?!) yet worked with other Bluetooth hardware like iPhones, PCs, and Android phones. This made no sense to me, but a number of enraged Amazon reviews convinced me it was true. So I got on their mailing list and periodically harassed them every few months for over a year waiting for the updated version, only to eventually realize that I shouldn’t be trying so hard to snag a basic membrane keyboard anyway.

Well, GoldTouch never did email me when the redesign launched as promised , but they appear to have gone live with the fully Mac-compatible version. You can check that out and let me know if you like it. Its superior portability enticed me, even though it doesn’t seem as good for everyday typing. The folded-up factor seemed like a big help for travel, and the pseudo-tenting is a better ergonomic position than most travel keyboards offer. I may eventually get one of these if I end up doing loads more travel down the road, because it seems like the easiest to slip into my purse with an iPad Mini or even an iPhone.

Kinesis Advantage—this keyboard has different models ranging from expensive and complicated to really expensive and really complicated with foot pedals and everything. I’ve met people who swear by them, and I’ve tested them out for short periods of time, but the large space in between the two hands never felt like an advantage (hey-o!) to me. The expense and immense learning burden didn’t help, either. Definitely buy, borrow, or rent one of these from a place you can return it to if you give it a solid try and it doesn’t work for you. That said, bear in mind that anything that requires this drastic a relearning should get a lengthy trial period. I don’t feel that I gave it a full try, but I’m OK with that. I don’t believe it would fit on most keyboard trays because it’s quite deep compared to even most curved/split ergonomic keyboards.

Kinesis Freestyle + Ascent—The Kinesis Freestyle is another beloved ergonomic keyboard, but I found two major problems with it. 1) It’s got rubber dome switches instead of the vastly springier mechanical which I find way more comfortable. 2) It’s only comfortable with the Ascent hardware piece, which drastically increases the price and is just SO MUCH hardware. The Ascent also doesn’t fit well in some settings, such as in the distance between a keyboard tray and the top of a desk. All in all, it was just too much futzing and money for not a comfortable enough experience, at least for me. But I do find the Ascent’s tenting mechanism to be the most comfortable and versatile I’ve ever experienced in terms of hand/arm/wrist positioning. If this existed with mechanical key switches, and I had a few hundred extra bucks to blow, I might go back to this someday.

Chair and mat

Many ergonomic office shops sell dedicated standing desk mats, but I find those to be too hard on my feet. (It probably doesn’t help that I like to work barefoot or in socks/slippers.) I prefer my cushier Wellness Mat, which I stole from our kitchen sink area. My sense is that if you stand all the time, the firmer mats from an office store are better, but if you switch it up a ton like I do, or you’re just a shoe-hating hippie, a softer mat is your friend. See if you can test it out and return it if it doesn’t work for you.

When I elect to sit, I now use a HAG Capisco. This is the best task chair I’ve ever found for my needs, but it sure is weird! It’s made by a Danish company, and the idea is to promote “active sitting” which essentially means moving your ass around a lot.

You'd think it would be annoying to have the casters right on top of the mat, but it doesn't bug me. (Much.)
You’d think it would be annoying to have the casters right on top of the mat, but it doesn’t bug me. (Much.)

The seat contains a saddle-like lump in the middle that forces you to keep your legs apart, which can be tricky in a narrow skirt but I don’t tend to wear those. It also allows you to turn it around and sit backwards, leaning your torso forward on the back and armrests. I really like this option for longer phone calls when I don’t need to do much typing, but I can finagle typing in this position too if I need it which is nice.

I do still sometimes get weird issues in this chair, as with any chair—if I get super focused on a task for too long without shifting positions, I’m prone to some weird part of me falling asleep or feeling pinched. (But I’m not at a very healthy weight for my frame, so this tends to happen in any task chair.) I do find that the lumbar support plus saddle lump help me move around quite a bit, and the various pieces adjust just enough to help me switch up my positioning for good support.

There are a few options—you can elect to get a flat seat, but that removes the primary benefit so I wouldn’t recommend that route. You can also add on a headrest, footrest, foot ring, and different heights of pneumatic lift. I got the tallest lift in case I ever want to use it as a standing desk “perch”—not something I tend to do now, but I like the option. And I got the footring because when I tested it out in the store, that was the most comfortable at any height, but I’m finding that I don’t use it at all when sitting at a normal low height, only when I “perch” at my standing height which is very rare for me. It’s also very easy to add on later so maybe skip it in your initial purchase and see if you want to upgrade later. The headrest I would skip; I find it cumbersome and it doesn’t let you stretch out backwards or sit in the seat backwards. But generally, find a local showroom that lets you test out all the components before you spend.

Oh, another great thing about this chair is that it comes with many custom upholstery options, including several leathers and wool or hemp fabrics that are SO much more attractive than your average Corporate Polyester Bullshit Fabric. I got mine done in this bright red wool, which my cat and I both adore. You can’t tell a huge difference online, but the softer fashion-derived textile makes it read as a much less office-y chair in person, in my opinion.

Microphones and telephones

When I’m recording audio for a podcast, I use the Rode Podcaster in a boom and shock mount. It mostly stays out of the way during my day-to-day work, and I can pull it over to get right up close during audio sessions. The boom and shock are integral for me, but the boom arm I got as a kit from B&H Video is inferior (the arm slips all the time on my GeekDesk, and I’d like an easy-to-rig external pop filter, as I’ve noticed I kinda need it) so I wish I’d just bought this kit instead for less money. Either way, a boom arm is super helpful for allowing me to maintain a comfortable position while I’m recording, which sometimes takes ages. Even if you don’t get a boom for sound reasons, you’ll want to get one for ergonomic reasons so you don’t crane your neck in an awkward mic-kissing position for what can easily be two hours with prep and wrap-up. This is especially true if you type and/or reference materials on the screen while you’re recording.

Oh, and if you spend a long time on land line phone calls like it’s 1997 (I sure do), get a decent hands-free headset. I got this AT&T headset which works fine with my Panasonic cordless phone even though Panasonic claims it won’t. LIES. This thing works with Skype and Microsoft Lync too, although not FaceTime I don’t think (haven’t tried). Don’t be the idiot who gets a neck crick because you cradle the phone between your ear and shoulder!

And of course, for you old-school phone people, remember to put your phone close enough to your arms to minimize ergonomic strain. If you’re like me, you use the thing more than your brain admits, so be realistic about your phone frequency to distance calculations. :)

My weird office constraints

I use my home office for writing, recording, remote video conferencing, and in-person meetings with clients. While the bulk of my clientele is now remote, I see enough folks on site that I feel the need to keep my space attractive, professional, and functional for that purpose.

Because of this, and also because of the general layout of my office, my GeekDesk floats in the middle of the room, facing the door to my office. That can make cable management and disguising much more difficult than if I had a wall to help hide things. It’s still better for me this way, but it means that cords and cables can be kind of nightmarish.

So pretty, but for all those cords!
Pretty enough office, but for all those cords!

It also means that I have to kind of awkwardly swivel my monitors in order to see what I need while keeping a chunk of my desk clear to have line of sight with my in-person clients. (Not that I’m, like, casting ranged spells or anything, haha. But I want to be able to actually look at them instead of having a giant display blocking eye contact.)

I have to balance these client-friendly setup factors with my own ability to write and record comfortably the rest of the time. This is not a common set of constraints, but I’m listing my needs in case it helps anyone else figure out the right setup for their own office. For the most part, I spend enough energy beautifying the other elements in my office (cool wall color/art, nice rug, pretty objects displayed in bookshelves) that I think my on-site clients are forgiving of my existing cable and monitor ugliness. But it’s still something I’m always seeking to improve. Let me know if you’ve successfully solved these sorts of problems in a similar setup!

See? I'm distracting you with pretty-ish bookshelves.
See? I’m distracting you with pretty-ish bookshelves and of course cat pictures.

Where to buy ergonomic stuff

Whenever possible, I order my stuff from Fully (formerly Ergo Depot), which has showrooms in Portland and San Francisco. I can’t recommend them enough—shockingly great prices, no tax, free shipping, helpful employees who give great customer service, well stocked showrooms where you can play and test, and good return policies on non-custom stuff. They don’t give me a cent to shill for them, but it’s rare that I recommend a company this enthusiastically. Go give them your money.

ErgoDepot has the most complete upholstery options I’ve seen for the HAG Capisco, too. They’ll also send you swatches for free, though be warned those can take a while. Wherever you are, definitely find a place like this to try out the bigger-ticket items like desks and chairs, and possibly monitor arms too. Those you really don’t want to purchase sight unseen.

As for keyboard trays, as I mentioned, you’ll likely have to mod them out to fit your desk so you should buy them from a shop you can visit in person. Keeney’s was that shop for me, but if you’re not in my area, don’t be afraid to call around the more corporate-driven office supply operations to find a place with the right selection and ability to customize. It can be hard to find what you need in a consumer-facing office supply store, but you can even call tech companies in your area and ask them who does ergonomic assessments and/or provides office furniture, and go from there.

Keyboards and mice I’ve bought online, but I’m often torn between sites like Amazon and Newegg that have better pricing and shipping, and original manufacturer sites that are guaranteed to have the correct version of a product. When possible, I check the SKU and the critical reviews and their dates on Amazon/Newegg to see how likely it is that I’ll get burned by being sent the wrong product. But usually, if it’s the site or seller’s fault, you can get a return processed with no shipping fee, it just might slow you down a bit.

For this level of ergonomic wizardry, don’t even bother with normal office supply stores like Staples, Office Depot/Max, etc. They don’t stock a high enough quality level or a large enough selection with deep enough customization to be worth your time. Find the dedicated, nerdy shop nearest you that sells sit/stand desks, and ask them for resources if they don’t stock everything you need.

I think that about covers everything I have to weigh in about ergonomic equipment. What did I miss? Got any questions I can answer? I wish you all comfortable and healthy tech usage!