Two Wonderful Girls. One Day At A Time…

Archive for December, 2014

Thank You Stephen Colbert

Two days after we got home from hospital with Iris, Comedy Central started a new show with Stephen Colbert from the Daily Show. Much like with our newborn child, I was excited though not sure what to expect. And again, much like Iris, the first couple of years were OK, but still something I was trying to figure out. Where the Daily Show was a host of correspondents, Colbert was just one guy. Doesn’t that get old? So I only watched the show occasionally for the first 2-3 years.

And then I had open heart surgery.

I’ll never forget being in a hospital bed the day after the surgery and being miserable. I was completely immobile, bored out of my mind, and feeling incredibly sorry for myself. I mean, how could I be so unlucky? It happened at the worst time. My company was in the middle of acquisition talks. Cherise was pregnant with Robyn while her dad had just passed only two months earlier. It didn’t help that I had a lot of idle time to feel sorry for myself. I wasn’t supposed to do work, so no laptop or internet. I had a book, but I was in no mood to read. I tried listening to music, but that did no good. I flipped through all the channels on TV, but I really wasn’t excited about soap operas or the latest Jerry Springer. Going channel after channel, I think I was starting to annoy the other patient with whom I shared a room. I finally found Comedy Central and I saw an episode of Daily Show was just finishing up, so I watched the “Moment of Zen”. And then came Colbert and I had nothing better to do but watch.

And it changed everything.

I laughed harder in those 30 minutes than in the previous three weeks. I laughed so hard that it actually hurt my sternum where the surgeon had cracked me open to operate, but I couldn’t stop. By the end of the episode, you couldn’t take the smile off my face. For the rest of that day, any time I started to feel down, I’d remember a part of the show and start cracking up. I even watched it again when they aired a repeat–and it was even funnier the second time around. There’s something so life-affirming about laughter that I snapped out of whatever funk I was in. Forget feeling sorry for myself. I was alive. Alive to see my daughter grow up. Alive to see Robyn be born. And alive to feel the pleasure and pain that comes from life. “Laughter is the best medicine” may be the oldest cliche in the book, but for one day, I finally understood what that expression meant. The nurses insisted I take Vicodin or Oxycontin, but I took Colbert instead.

And so, for the last six years, I’ve made it a point to watch Colbert as he just got funnier and funnier. I kept a few episodes stored away on Tivo for those days that were a little tougher and I needed a dose of his bizarre, yet brilliant, humor. Rollerblading with Bryan Cranston to Daft Punk. Impromptu singing with Harry Belafonte. Gently eviscerating Mary Matalin. Sparring with Bill O’Reilly. Feuding with Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien. Using Michael Stipe of REM as his Ed MacMahon/Elf on a Shelf. Leg wrestling with congressional representatives. Trying to pronounce Munchma Quci. I went to the rally in DC. I watched the Christmas specials. I won’t go as far as to say he saved my life, but he certainly made it that much sweeter. When it was announced that he’d be taking over the Late Show on CBS, I knew what that meant. The constant in my life that’s been around as long as my first-born would no longer be there. Perhaps that’s why I felt an extra twinge of emotion when watching the finale last night. I spent the last three years working for a set of TV networks with the expectation that well-done entertainment can have a profound effect on individuals. I don’t think anyone in entertainment has had a more profound effect on my life than Stephen Colbert.

And so to Stephen Colbert, the bufoonish character who truly made TV worth watching, I will miss you more than you can imagine. And to Stephen Colbert, the ultra-talented actor who will succeed the legend that is David Letterman, I assure you I will watch you wherever you go and be eternally grateful for the gift you gave me that afternoon in a hospital bed six years ago and the laughter you’ve given me since.

The Next Generation of Female Engineers + Entrepreneurs

Back in October, I was asked to be a judge for the Women’s Startup Weekend in San Francisco.  It’s an event where participants get to spend 48 hours coming up with a business concept. At the end of the weekend, the ideas are judged and teams are awarded prizes. This specific weekend was for women and most of the businesses were designed around software. Given the lack of women in engineering & entrepreneurship, events like this are so critical as opportunities for women to showcase their entrepreneurial capabilities. I was so excited that I brought Iris along to watch and learn. Before the judging started, I was asked to say a few words. Given I had already started thinking about a blog post about women in engineering, I decided to take my blog idea and turn it into a speech. And, of course, now, I decided to turn that speech back into a blog post. Below is a close transcription of the speech (after some introductory comments) based on notes beforehand and then I tried to capture what I had said afterwards. It pretty much captures a lot of why I do what I do as a father, especially as it relates to teaching the girls and exposing them to critical experiences that will hopefully inspire them to great heights…

So I’d like to talk little bit about the fact that this is a woman’s event. And while I do have a woman’s name, as you can tell, I’m clearly not a woman. So what do I have to offer to this conversation? Well as I thought about what I was going to say today, I thought back to the evolution of my opinion of women in technology. And while I’d like to think I was always somewhat advanced, the truth is I went through certain evolution

When I was 26, I was certainly fine with women in engineering but I didn’t give much thought to how they were perceived or what it took to be a woman in engineering. If they were around, great. Who wouldn’t want a woman there? But I never imagined that they faced a different path than I did. It was then that I met this amazing beautiful woman who absolutely swept me off my feet. She was more beautiful on the inside than outside and, boy, she was smart. In fact, she was a Stanford Electrical Engineering major! But she left engineering to go in to non-profit, working as a VISTA volunteer and then stayed on with a career in affordable housing. While engineering’s loss was non-profit’s gain and I was even more proud of what she accomplished, I was still curious about why she left engineering. We’d eventually get married and, over the next few years, I would periodically ask questions and learn more and more about what happened. It was through her that I began to understand the biases the permeate a woman’s path in engineering. My wife had the perfect upbringing for an engineer. Her father was a true engineer, graduating from Berkeley with a technical mind greater than practically any I’d ever seen. Her brother also studied engineering at Penn and both of them encouraged her throughout her life to consider engineering as a special kind of work. Although she went to Stanford, she faced some of the challenges that all women face, and her internships exposed her some of the biases that she never quite forgot. Primarily, the dismissiveness of narrow-minded individuals that put limits any female who dared be an engineer. Through these stories, I realized that if I wasn’t part of the solution, I was part of the problem. I needed to find ways to be a bigger part of it, to support women in engineering. Encouraging them. Hiring them. Promoting them. I developed an empathy that I still have to this day.

But things really changed when I was 34 and I became a father for the first time to a daughter. Now, the way I had written the script, I was supposed to have two boys. So suddenly, having a girl changed everything. What a girl she was, in fact she’s sitting right over there in the front row. That’s Iris, my best friend and one of the loves of my life along with her mother and her sister Robyn. I couldn’t be more proud of her and she shows all the engineering acumen you can imagine. She loves to tinker, she loves to play, and she keeps coming up with great experiments and business ideas. In fact, two years ago for her science project, she learned about how a cell phone works. She took it apart and could explain all of it. Last year, she built an Arduino circuit the made the world smartest light. It had an alarm and motion sensors. Yeah, I can’t quite believe it either. She’s only in the fourth grade and I can only imagine what’s next. And you should see her sister. In fact, I joke with them that they remind me of Jobs and Woz. Iris over there is Jobs, and her sister in definitely a Woz. And now, I’ve made it my mission to make sure that they get every chance to be an engineer. But I’ve come to realize that it takes a village to raise an entrepreneur and an engineer. I can only do so much, when they get to the world, what will become of them? What should be encouraged or discouraged? That’s why she’s here tonight, I’m so excited to show her that there are wonderful women entrepreneurs and engineers that will set the stage for what she’s going to do. Seeing talented women bringing ideas to life is such a wonderful thing for her. We need success stories and we need to recognize those success stories. We need to use them as inspiration for the future women engineers. And we need to celebrate those accomplishments. So as you present, understand that you won’t just be vying for prizes and finishing first. You’ll also be inspiring the next generation of female entrepreneurs. And for that, I thank you very much…

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