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I am Felienne Hermans, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Felienne Hermans. Felienne is associate professor at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science at Leiden University, where she heads the PERL research group, focused on programming education. 
On Saturdays she teaches children programming in a local community centre. She is one of the organizers of the CurryOn conference, which aims to bridge the gap between industry and academia. 
Felienne was also one of the founders of the Joy of Coding conference, with a similar goal, which she organized for 6 years. Since 2016, she has been a host at SE radio, one of the most popular software engineering podcasts on the web. 
When she is not coding, blogging or teaching, she is probably knitting, running or playing a (board)game.

Felienne is a member of a number of boards:
Scientific council of Netwerk mediawijzer
Kivi IT board
I&I board

Felienne blogs at

Current Job: Associate Professor
Current Location: Leiden University
Current mobile device: iPhone 7
Current computer: Macbook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am associate professor at Leiden university where I head a research group called PERL. Together with one other professor, 2 postdocs and 6 PhD students, I research how to teach programming.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
My iPad with iPad pencil surely is the most important thing that I use for making slides, reading papers and keeping notes. I use Goodnotes that let me search though my digital handwriting which helps me to find everything I need to find. All the rest, I care a lot less about!

What does your workspace setup look like?

Since I have moved close to the university (5 mins by bike), I always work from there. Here’s a picture of my view. If I have to do a bit of email at home, I do it at the kitchen table.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

Prioritize important deep cognitive work, and embrace the chaos. Initially in my tenure track I failed at both these hard. I was constantly putting out small fires leaving me no time to work on a plan, a story of my research. And like I was used to in my PhD, I wanted to get everything on my todo list done. That (unsurprisingly) did not work that well.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

For planning I use Trello & my calendar: In Trello I have a list of things to do, and for real important big tasks like grant proposals, or prepping for lectures I block time in my Google Calendar. To time track I use Timeular.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
Timeular comes which a dicelike thingie (see below) you can flip when timetracking that I use when in the office, although I often also use the app nowadays.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
What a great question! It is hard to say these things about yourself, but one of the things that make me stand out, I think, it my presenting skills. People usually love my talks with lots of humor and hand drawn slides. And giving talks is not just important to spread knowledge (although my best cited paper has 161 citations while my best viewed talk online had 20.000 views so surely public speaking is great for that too!) but I found it has also helped me to shape my research agenda. It is hard, esp. when you are on a tenure-track with teaching and service and all sorts of things to do, to really schedule time to reflect back and make new plans. Giving a talk is a great opportunity to think about where you want to go and how previous papers tie into each other.

What do you listen to when you work?
Usually Dutch Radio 2, a mix of classics from the 60s on and modern pop music. If I really have to concentrate, esp. when I write papers, I listen to the Dire Straits or to Bob Dylan. Deep male voices sooth my writing angst 😀

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
Sand by Hugh Howey. I am not a big sci-fi fan (I am more into thrillers) but I just love all of Howey’s books and this is the only one I had not read before.

I cheat by reading audiobooks that I read while exercising 🙂 That is an easy way to read lots of books. For 2019 I set the aim to read 40 books, and usually if I set a goal for myself, I will simply stick to it (I do not know how but my brain works like that)

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?

I am definitely an introvert, even though I am very outgoing and people might think I am not, but being with people costs me energy. I do not like unexpected meetings because I have to ‘get in the mood’ for meetings and talking to people. If I have a meeting scheduled, I can already get a bit cranky, and I will typically think “blergh, I will have a meeting later”. One of the great things I have do to cope with that is to have all meetings with students in one afternoon. That is very tiring of course, but then I will know up front this day is filled with meetings, and I only have to get ready for it once. Also, this afternoon is always preceded by our weekly group meeting and lunch which do give me lots of energy so that balanced it out nicely.

What’s your sleep routine like?
I am one of those lucky/annoying people that need little sleep. I almost always go to bed around 11 and I wake up at 6.

What’s your work routine like?
I usually get up around 6:30, and then I have breakfast and coffee at home while I read some email or news or do other work-related things, while I watch my tortoise eat his breakfast 🙂 Then I do a 7-minute workout, shower and leave for the office around 8am. It is just a 5 min bike ride so that is easy and nice, except for on Wednesday morning, then I go to Rotterdam by train to teach programming in a high school there. On Friday morning I do a run with one of my graduate students, so I skip the shower, but the rest of the routine is the same. I leave work around 5pm most days, sometimes earlier to go on a run too (often on Mondays and Wednesdays)

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Your students will not be like you. Initially I supervised my students like I wanted to be supervised myself (and like I was supervised), lots of freedom, no fixed meetings because if they need anything, they will ask for it. That worked for some students but clearly not for others.

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