I spoke with my father, a board certified neonatologist who has been caring for critically sick babies for more than three decades, about leading during stressful moments. I’ve always been impressed by his ability to keep a cool head during stressful situations, and I’ve always tried to emulate that ability.

Content warning: contains discussion of neonatal and pediatric mortality

A large, darkly lit room with many glowing machines. Several doctors and nurses are visible.
A large, darkly lit room with many glowing machines. Several doctors and nurses are visible.
NICU at night by Brad Greenlee

For those who don’t know you, what’s your experience working in crises?

I run intensive care units (ICUs). ICUs are decentralized in that nobody has everybody else’s skillset. …

Inspired by a conversation with Tricia Wang.

Working with a researcher for the first time can be really intimidating. They have so many degrees! They know so much! They’re so opinionated. It’s just so much easier to work your designers and developers…

Or maybe you’re not exactly intimidated — you just don’t know how to fit these folks into your workflow. You consult researchers sometimes, and you’re not on bad terms, but you feel like your relationship could be so much better. It’s just never quite clicked.

This is something that a lot of PMs struggle with. We all get a solid introduction to working with developers, and most of us work closely with designers as well. Researchers are a little different; not all of us have worked in an organization that had a formal research discipline. And the organizations we’ve been in that did hire researchers often had very few of them, so we didn’t get to spend much time with them. …

One of the side effects of working in a matrixed consulting organization is a pronounced lack of permanent teams. It varies a bit — there are long-running projects at 18F that may as well be permanently staffed — but I am rarely teamed up with folks I’ve worked with before. It forces me to stay on my A game when kicking off projects.

I’ve built up my approach to project leadership over the years, from organizing classmates in college to corralling Awesome Foundation volunteers to heading up formal product development teams. …

I’ve always wanted to build things that outlast me. That impulse grew into a series of habits that grew into a way of working.

Part I: College

I spent about a year and a half working on large autonomous vehicles in my undergraduate robotics lab, under the supervision of a professor whose CV included time as the VP of Engineering at iRobot and a stint as a director in Disney’s Imagineering arm¹. He told me that I was the best project manager he’d ever had. …

Type A individuals [are] rude, ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving “workaholics.” They push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.

[…]

Type B individuals [are] a contrast to those of Type A. Type B personality, by definition, are noted to live at lower stress levels. They typically work steadily, and may enjoy achievement, although they have a greater tendency to disregard physical or mental stress when they do not achieve. …

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Original photo by Claudio Alvarado Solari

This is a three part series on period tracking, co-authored with Daniel Epstein, based on a study we completed at the University of Washington. Part 1 explains our research and discusses why and how people track their periods. Part 2 is a discussion about how we can use this information to design better period tracking tools. Part 3 is an exploration of what it’s like to study women’s health as a male researcher.

In our last post, we talked about what we learned about how and why people track their period. In this post we’re going to discuss how people feel about the period tracking apps that they’ve used. …

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Original photo by Max Charping

This is a three part series on period tracking, co-authored with Daniel Epstein, based on a study we completed at the University of Washington. Part 1 explains our research and discusses why and how people track their periods. Part 2 is a discussion about how we can use this information to design better period tracking tools. Part 3 is an exploration of what it’s like to study women’s health as a male researcher.

Tracking information about yourself is an increasingly important part of American life. People all over the country track their lives, from counting how many steps they take each day to writing down what they eat to recording all of their finances. …

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The United States government is Yet Another Iceberg.

I’ve been an employee of the United States Government for a quarter of a year now (1/8 of my 2-year term with 18F), and it’s been a fascinating adventure. There have been plenty of opportunities to apply what I learned about building great software at Microsoft, and lots of new lessons as well.

The government is gigantic

Did you know that nearly 3 million people work for the US federal government? Because I sure didn’t — I learned it while working on a short project with the Office of Personnel Management, the agency that serves as HR for the entire government.

My view of the government was laughably incomplete: I thought of the government only in terms of Congress and the President. Sure, I was vaguely aware of high-profile agencies like the FBI and EPA and US Postal Service, but I never really internalized them as being part of the government. …

I love indie games. I really enjoyed Papers, Please and Gone Home. I grew up on Pokémon and Kirby and most of what Blizzard released in the 90s. And I’ve beaten Spelunky, widely recognized as one of the more difficult platformers of our time.

Spelunky is pretty respectable, I guess. How about the secret ending?

I’ve beaten the secret ending a few dozen times.

How about a million dollar run?

I have two, actually.

And an eggplant run?

Well, no. I haven’t done that. Almost nobody has done that!

So, you can’t prove that you’re a real gamer.

Comics and graphic novels are such a great storytelling medium. I really like the art and use of light in Frank Miller’s stuff. The Sandman series was just wild and imaginative and gripping. Bryan Lee O’Malley’s art style is great, even if I’m not always sympathetic to his characters. And Persepolis and Maus were such a powerful way to open people up to new perspectives. …

If you follow pop-psychology at all you’ve probably stumbled across the concept of grit, popularized by UPenn psychology professor and TED speaker Angela Duckworth. She describes grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. Others might describe it more simply as “stubbornness”.

Anyone who has spent time with me knows that I can be very… persistent. When yet another article about grit started making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, I bit the bullet and took the online assessment of grit linked in the article.

Surprising absolutely nobody, I scored pretty high.

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My grit score: 4.90 out of 5.0, higher than 99% of the American population according to Angela Duckworth’s website.

As much as it’s nice to have an online quiz tell you that you possess a quality correlated with success, I started to think about the day-to-day experience of being really gritty. Some of it is pretty painful and arbitrary, and most of it is baffling to my family and friends. …

About

Nikki Lee

Designer, engineer, maker-of-things. Product manager building a better government at 18F.

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