Remembering Molly

I’m saddened to hear of Molly Holzschlag’s passing yesterday. Molly’s contributions to the web are innumerable. She more than earned her Fairy Godmother of the Web moniker.

But my memories of Molly are more personal. I didn’t get to spend much time with Molly, but the moments I did spend with her changed my life.

The first time I met Molly was at a WebVisions after party. I was an attendee. Molly was a rockstar.

Despite the difference, Molly treated me as a peer. She showed interest in and riffed on an idea I had. It was the first time I felt like I might have something interesting to contribute to the greater web. That conversation energized me.

The second time I met Molly was at Web 2.0 in San Francisco. I was still early in my speaking career. Molly remained a rockstar. She was the only other speaker I knew so I sought her out. I doubt she remembered me, but she welcomed me into her circle.

And her circle included several people who worked on browsers including on Internet Explorer during the tumultuous web standards period. For the first time, I heard insider accounts of the politics that defined web standards and whether or not a given company would adhere to those standards. This experience made me realize it was possible for individuals like me to contribute to web standards.

One story in particular stood out, but I fear I may get some of the details wrong. Much of the resistance from Microsoft when it came to web standards we due to one individual. That individual challenged Molly during one of the meetings that the Web Standards Project (WaSP) had with Microsoft. So Molly reached out to Bill Gates who had previously promised Molly and the rest of WaSP that Microsoft would cooperate.

The group laughed as they recalled this individual—the one who had blocked so much progress—had to step out to take a call from Bill Gates himself. They said they could hear Bill Gates yelling on the phone. Things changed after that day.

Think of all the time and effort lost dealing with Internet Explorer incompatibility mostly because of this one individual. One person can change the world, but not always for the better.

Molly is the counterpoint of course. She was one individual who made the world a significantly better place. Molly was a whirlwind that couldn’t be stopped and swept up all of those around her in it. We went along willingly.

My best memory of Molly is my most treasured. We skipped an afternoon of sessions at Web 2.0 and visited an art exhibit at the The Contemporary Jewish Museum. We talked about the web, her career, our shared love of challah, her family, and her extended web family. That afternoon remains one of my fondest memories from all of my conference experiences.

To this day, I can’t remember how or why we ended up at the museum. Why was I the lucky one who got to spend an unforgettable afternoon with the the Molly Holzschlag? I was no one significant. I barely knew her.

But that’s what made Molly amazing. She made everyone feel like they were someone. She touched my life and so many others.

Thank you Molly. You will be missed.

Why I Like Public Speaking

People are often surprised to find out that I’m introverted because I seek opportunities for public speaking. Why would an introvert like public speaking?

There are a few reasons including my appreciation for great oratory; the fact that public speaking is easier for me than chit chat; and it provides a forum to share ideas that I’m enthusiastic about.

The main reason I like public speaking is because I have little fear of it. I know public speaking is one of the top fears for most people. It used to be one of my top fears before I ran for student government in high school.

At my high school, there was a large assembly during which all of the candidates for office were given time slots to campaign for votes. I prepared a heartfelt speech about what I believed student government needed to do and how I would make sure it did it.

As I stood backstage worried about my speech, my apprehension quickly turned into terror. I watched each candidate get on stage and perform skits, sing, dance or simply act silly do make the audience laugh.

This wasn’t an election. It was a talent show!

I realized there was no way this didn’t end in humiliation. If I decided not to go on stage, everyone would know, and I would be harassed endlessly. If I went on stage, I was going to make a fool out of myself, and be harassed endlessly.

Guessing that I was screwed either way, I went on stage.

It was awful. See I made the worst mistake possible in high school. I took something seriously and was earnest. I was mocked, heckled, and a few people even threw things before teachers stopped them.

Thankfully, it was a short speech. But it didn’t end there. I was teased mercilessly on the bus ride home and the following day.

But then two amazing things happened.

First, I had some students who had never talked to me before tell me that they loved my speech and that my speech was the only one that was worth it for them. Second, within a few days, people stopped teasing me, and I had survived.

I was still gun-shy about public speaking for some time, but when I had the opportunity to do give a speech in college, I found that I had little apprehension. The reality is that nothing can happen to me on stage now that would be worse that the embarrassment I experienced in high school. And I survived that.

So now public speaking is enjoyable. I insist on being prepared and knowing my material well. I stress endlessly about making sure the presentation is perfect and that I’m telling a good story. But once I step on stage, I have confidence that nothing can happen to me that will top my high school experience.

After I left the high school’s auditorium, I didn’t want to face the world ever again. Now, I’m incredibly thankful I had that experience.

Randy Pausch Last Lecture

I missed this lecture when it made the rounds in Fall, but I was still incredibly moved and inspired by the presentation. I watched it again with Dana last night. I highly recommend watching the video.

Quick background: Randy Pausch is a professor at Carnegie Mellon in their computer science department. He’s been very influential in the field. He was also recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. He refuses to live his live in despair and his lecture is funny and uplighting.

The lecture is a little over an hour, but much better than anything you’ll find on tv.