Browsing articles from "March, 2012"

#FailFriday meme: I Was Young and Didn’t Know Any Better

Mar 29, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, Snark  //  2 Comments

2010-06-21 13.09.28For 24 Hours of PASS I moderated a panel of SQL Server experts on mistakes they made: I Was Young and I Didn’t Know Any Better.

So I’m inviting everyone, including my panelists, to share a mistake they made, how they recovered from it, and the tips they want to share on making things right after making a mistake.

While this is a #FailFriday meme, you can take your time to put your post together – post it anytime in the next week.  I will summarize all the posts here.

For this week, you should write about mistakes you made because you were inexperienced.  We’ll have a new #FailFriday about other type of fails next month.

No need to do anything special for linking.  If you want to appear in the summary, use the hashtag #FAILFriday or leave your link in the comments.  My post coming up when I get to the next airport.

I Was Young and Didn’t Know Any Better #24HOP Panel

Mar 20, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, Speaking  //  1 Comment

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I’m moderating a panel for 24 Hours of PASS on the topic of making mistakes…and how to recover from them.  

Our session is at 2 PM EDT, 21 March.

I Was Young and Didn’t Know Any Better

I have an all-star panel:

Grant Fritchey ( blog | @gfritchey )

Tim Ford ( blog | @sqlagentman )

Stacia Misner ( blog | @staciamisner )

Tracy McKibben ( blog | @realsqlguy )

Mike Walsh ( blog | @mike_walsh )

Each of us will be telling about times we messed things up, then how we recovered from those mistakes.  We’ll also be taking questions

It’s free to register for the panel and all the other 24HOP events.  

We’ve all been there: Something went wrong and mistakes were made. We identified the problem, corrected it, and took steps to ensure that the same type of mistake wouldn’t happen again. But what about the times when we took actions that we knew at the time we were going to regret? Did we really make failure a greater option on our project?

This group of SQL Server professionals will talk about times they messed up—even when they should have known better—and how they have changed their approaches to getting stuff done with fewer mistakes. We will also cover 5 tips on dealing with the organizational politics of making mistakes.

Session takeaways:

• Get lessons learned about how to respond to mistakes and errors made while working with databases and data
• Learn tips and techniques for ensuring fewer mistakes
• Identify 5 [too many to count] tips for dealing with the politics of mistakes

Grab this Free eBook on What’s New in SQL Server 2012 (288 pages)

Mar 19, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Database, SQL Server  //  No Comments

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Ross Mistry (site | @RossMistry) and Stacia Misner (blog |@StaciaMisner) have written Introducing SQL Server 2012, a 288 page eBook and it’s free for download.  It’s currently available only as a PDF, but according to the publisher, .mobi and EPUB version will be available by 23 March. 

Ross covers the newest features and enhancements on the database administration side while Stacia describes what’s new with business intelligence, data quality, master data, analysis services, integration services and reporting services.

Once you get the book, you’re going to want to get your hands on the pre-release (RTM) version of SQL Server 2012.

So head over to http://www.microsoft.com/sqlserver/en/us/default.aspx , download the RTM of SQL Server 2012  and get started.  You should also check out the demos from the SQL Server 2012 Virtual Launch site for overviews of some of the newest features. 

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Ethics.Data.Gov – Where Open Data is Taking Us

Mar 15, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Data Visualization, Open Data  //  No Comments

I came across this video via Twitter from my friend Jim Hendler (blog | @jahendler).  It’s a walkthrough by US Deputy Chief Technology Officer Chris Vein of http://ethics.data.gov

Walkthrough of Ethics.Data.Gov

 

This website brings together key open data sets such as White House visitors,lobbying, campaign donations, etc. As the URL shows, it’s a sub site of the over all US open data project, http://data.gov.  You can see in the image below the datasets that comprise the Ethics data site:

Ethics.data.gov datasets list

The data is available for download and the website offers some nifty ways of working with, visualizing, and embedding the data. For instance, I’ve embedded the White House Visitor data right here. Go ahead, do some searching or filtering, right here.

Powered by Socrata

 

You can change the column order by using the Manage button:

Show and hide columns

You can set up some fairly decent filters (is, contains, etc.) on the columns, too.  Here are the visitors named Karen Lopez:

Filter Columns

That’s not me.  (I seem to recall that I am mayor of the Lincoln Bedroom on Foursquare, though.) This is the problem with trying to use something like First Name and Last Name as a primary key.  My data does show up in the Federal Campaign donations list, though.  Only one donation…my other donation was returned to me because "Canadians can’t donate to US campaigns".  Unfortunately for that candidate, they assumed that I was Canadian based on my residency, not my citizenship.  They lost the money, but the other campaign got to keep my money.  The entire world is one big data modeling problem, I tell ya.  Get your semantics and your syntax right and you can take over the world.  Or at least the US.

The real power in open data is being able to find correlations.  As Deputy CTO Vein mentions, one could match up the data from the White House visitors, lobbyists and campaign donations to see if you find any matches.  That’s not bad, it’s just more information.  This is tough to pull off with any certainty, though, due to that dang primary key issue I mentioned above.  What might help this? URIs.  Or some other way of uniquely identifying people and organizations.

To cross match data, you’ll need to use one of the Export methods of using the API (Socrata ) or download the data to your own tools.

Data is available for download in these formats:

Download As

You can also discuss the datasets right on the site (registration required).  There are only 7 datasets that are part of this ethics website, but the data stewards are eager to find out what datasets you’d like to see added.  I’d also like to hear what data you think should be part of an ethics website focused on data. I’m thinking:

  • Expenditures that required extra approval/oversight
  • Travel data (who went where an why)

Some of the criticism that I’ve heard about data.gov is that there are too few datasets or that so much more could be provided.  I’ve even heard complaints about money being spent on this service.  As Tony Clement, Canadian MP and President of the Treasury Board (site | @tonyclementCPC ) said recently about the Canadian open data initiatives: open data is about transparency.  We can’t wait until we have all the data, in a perfect format, to share it.  He also mentioned that open data is saving the Canadian Government in significantly reduced costs for Freedom of Information Access requests.  Think about it.  What open data will become is self-serve FOIA.  No waiting around for someone to spend weeks or months to find some data, then thousands of dollars to prepare and provide it.

I’m also hoping that the move to open data will allow government data architects to influence good data management practices.  Exposing the data to sunshine is going to allow us, the people who fund the data collection and processing, to point out where the data is poor quality.  The usability and ability to integrate data sets is going to be key in making it useful.

I’m thinking that I’d like to use some of these sets and others from data.gov for some upcoming demos.

And They Wonder Why There are no Women Working There…

Mar 14, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, Snark, WIT  //  19 Comments

Red stapler fom Office Space

I know I work in a man’s world.  Women make up a small percentage of technology professionals, but I’d like to see that changed.   Rob recently came across this report from the Ontario Labour Relations Board about a dismissed elevator company worker who had appealed his case to the board.  One of his defenses was that his behaviour was acceptable because there were no women working on the job site and therefore his behaviour should have been okay. In other words: it was a man’s world.

Wait until you read about the behaviour…Okay I should tell you to swallow that swig of coffee and put your mug down, first.

The responding party dismissed the grievor from employment when a video posted on the internet showing the grievor with his genitals exposed and his scrotum being stapled to a 4 x 4 wooden plank came to its attention.

 

Did that get your attention?  It did mine. I’d like to hope that it wouldn’t have been just females who thought that this act was inappropriate for the workplace.  In fact, the outcome of the hearing reaffirmed the dismissal and the behaviour was deemed to violate the company’s workplace harassment policy.  Think about that.  A guy who was stapling himself was harassing others.

Boys Will Be Boys?

Part of the former-employee’s defense was that the lunchroom where this happened was an "all male environment" and that this sort of thing happened on the show Jackass…basically that boys will boys.  This reminded me of a recent article from Business Week about the new trend for companies to recruit and hire Brogrammers.  These are anti-geek, all-male teams of programmers who like to "bro down and crush code".  I guess because that is "better" than being a geek.  I left a comment on that article in case you are interested in reading my opinion about companies who want to recruit only brogrammers.

But back to our elevator guy…

Some of the other wonderful things that took place in this broworker environment:

One individual (not the grievor) was offered $60 gathered from the people in the room if he ate the spoiled food.  He did and received the $60.  The grievor explained that someone watching what had taken place said after the money was paid, “what are you going to do to top that next week?”

The following week, the grievor suggested to the individual who had eaten the spoiled food that he would collect money from the group if that individual chewed off the grievor’s rotten toenail.  Some $75 was collected from about the same number of people.  When that individual chewed off the grievor’s rotten toenail, the $75 was paid to him.

Again, you’d think that gender had nothing to do with whether or not this behaviour was acceptable, but it was a part of the defense to state that this sort of thing happens when guys get together.  In fact, it turns out this might not have been issue until someone posted a recording of the stapling to the Internet.

There was no evidence that any one who witnessed the incident first hand was offended by the grievor’s conduct, the applicant pointed out.  To the contrary, both the grievor and others were cheering.  It was only after the video was posted on the internet that the grievor’s conduct became an issue and the grievor was not only not responsible for circulating the video so widely, he had sought to have it removed.

One of my favourite findings:

I agree with the grievor; exposing his genitals and permitting his scrotum to be stapled to a wooden board was not only inappropriate behaviour, it demonstrated a great deal of stupidity.

And in case you are worried about whether or not you need to update your organization’s workplace policies:

In my view, any reasonable employee would recognize that exposing one’s genitals and having one’s scrotum stapled to a 4×4 wooden board on the employer’s premises and permitting that conduct to be recorded on a video is patently unacceptable in almost any workplace particularly when the employer of the employees involved can be easily identified.  An employer, in my view, need not establish and promulgate a policy prohibiting that kind of behaviour.

I’ve also been in workplaces where there is a lot of harassment going on.  It’s always a tough decision as to whether I should just say "boys will be boys", to ask people to stop, to leave the room, or to escalate the issue.  I think I’ve only ever once escalated an issue and it just about killed me to do so.  But someone else was being bullied and she nor I could get the bullies to stop.  In the end, she had to leave and find a job elsewhere.  It’s tough to be the person who feels a workplace has become hostile. 

Lessons Learned

What I learned from this case:

  • Your team members will have a huge range of opinions about what they think is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t.
  • You are bound to cross that line or witness that line being crossed at some point in your career…or even many times.
  • Sometimes speaking up isn’t about complaining…it’s about stopping something stupid from hurting everyone.
  • Just because no one has reported you now, doesn’t mean someone isn’t going to report you in the future.
  • Your activities in The Office matter because they reflect on the reputation of the company.
  • If there’s a camera around, the pictures and the video will end up on the internet.  Act accordingly.
  • I’m going to bring my own stapler to work from now on.

I’m wondering, though, where the team crossed the line, in your opinion.  Was it at the eating of rotten food?  The toenail thing? And was the behaviour more acceptable because there were no women in the room?  I really want to know what you think.

I’m glad the Board felt is behaviour was unacceptable even though there were no women around. It’s difficult find the balance between "it’s all fun and games here" and "until someone gets hurt".  But I think I’m really clear on this point: staplers are for paper only.

TSQL Tuesday: Generalist or Specialist? I Say Both #TSQL2sDay

Mar 13, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, Project Management  //  3 Comments

TSQL2sDay150x150

My friend Argenis Fernandez (blog | @DBArgenis) is the host of this TSQL Tuesday and he’s chosen the topic of Jack of All Trades, Master of None.  This is one of my favourite discussions about the IT industry.  My interest stems from the Agile Manifesto that says:

 

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

 

This one statement, which sounds wonderful to me, is often interpreted to mean:

 

Agile teams must be made up of generalists: no specialists allowed.

 

Another interpretation is that anyone on the team must be able to do any job on the project. Most rational agile teams don’t take that extreme interpretation.  Or at least they never repeat that mistake more than a couple of times.  They learn that having people who understand things at more than a surface level will make work go faster and with less rework. 

Specialists vs. Generalists…or is is Specialists vs. Speed?

This is a very strong belief of one prominent Agilisto who is extremely vocal about this principle.   His articles and post are full scathing attacks on people who specialize.  Sure, he allows people to have a couple of specializations just for fun, but he’s clear that specialists impede the speed of a project, hold back production and generally lead to diva princesses, his name for me when I appear in debates with him.  There’s also a prominent consultancy that tells clients that no one with the words "analyst, audit, architect, administrator" will be allowed to speak to anyone on the project –teams must be just business users and team members (developers).  This consultancy is also adamant that only a developer and a clerk be able to decide on requirements and implementation issues. 

I’ve been on those projects.  We ended up with the clerk and the generalist designing and implementing a brand new way of doing accounting, with a brand new chart of accounts.  Just for one project.  They couldn’t get into QA testing because their solution was not going to pass audit, integration, security or generally accepted accounting practices reviews.  But dang, they sure did it fast.  And their new way of doing accounting led to inaccurate accounts, but that didn’t matter.  They were fast. However, they were sent back to do it all over again.  It was painful for everyone.

These are the types of things an architect, auditor, administrator and analyst would have slowed them down with by pointing out gaps in their solution.  But dang, they sure did it fast.

Over Specialization and Over Generalization

I do recognize that people can be over-specialized. You see those people all over…if you ask a question, their answer always involves the same solution or tool.  They can’t see any other way of doing something than what they know. I also know people who are fabulous at many, many things on my projects. But in my opinion, the all generalist meme really translates to:

 

Our team needs to be staffed with people who are specialists in everything.

 

Think about that for a few seconds.  What would that mean, just on your current project? Someone who knows these topics at a professional level: database, network, security, design, data, storage, development, coding, planning, estimation, capacity planning, estimation, UX, reporting, analytics, scalability, reliability, availability, quality, testing, compliance, legislation, localization, globalization, privacy, accessibility for people with disabilities, reporting, methodology, development environments.

imageNow insert the words for all the technologies used on an enterprise system.  All of them.  We need professional level people to work with all of them.  Note that professional doesn’t mean expert; it means someone who can get something done with minimal supervision. 

Then insert all the words for all the activities your entire enterprise does.  Do you have a few hundred words? A few thousand? Imagine trying to hire someone who meets all those criteria at the professional level?  Even if you could find that person, which I don’t believe you can, how much are you going to have to pay her?  Does your company have enough spare zeros hanging around to do that?  [tweet quote] What are they going to do when they need 100 more people, just like that?

Why I Hire Specialists who Make Great Generalists

So what does this mean?  I want to hire people who have a broad understanding of IT development. I want them to have a good literacy-level understand of most the things we do and use.  If they don’t have that knowledge, then they need to be able to pick it up as we go.  But I need specialists.  I don’t have time on my projects to train and mentor someone one who is going to build the database on the difference between foreign keys, alternate keys, surrogate keys, primary keys and Florida Keys.  Now if someone else on the team wants to know that, I’m happy to point to resources where they can find that out. However, my database designer needs to be able to work under minimal supervision to be able to do that.  In fact, I’d prefer that they know how implement in it in our specific technology.   They should be able to rely on external resources, but they shouldn’t have to sit at their desks with a (virtual) book open before them showing them how to do every step.  That’s a recipe for disaster. It will take longer and be more error prone.

Be Both a Specialist and a Generalist

How can you do that? By ensuring that your professional development plan (you have one, don’t you?) includes activities that strengthen both your specializations and your overall technical and non-technical skills.  That means you read about things outside your specialization.  You actually sit through a DAMA meeting or a SQLSaturday session that isn’t part of your "today job".  You expand the depth and breadth of your knowledge.  Heck you even attend a session on professional development.  Then you make sure you plan gets executed, even if it means paying for your own training or getting up early on a Saturday to attend free training at a SQLSaturday.  Maybe it means starting up a series of brown bag lunches at your company, where every group takes turn presenting 20 minutes on their favourite topic for other groups.

If you are a data architect, it means learning more about process modeling, database implementations and development tools in your shop.  If you are a DBA, it means learning more about data modeling and data compliance.  If you are a developer, it means you learn more about all of the above.  It’s up to you.  You need to take care of both your inner generalist and inner specialists.

Generalists are great…in general.  You can’t master everything, no matter what people tell you.  But your specialization won’t be much value if you can’t apply that knowledge within the context of the overall project.  You need to be both.

This is Why I #WIT …And Why You Should, Too.

Mar 8, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, WIT  //  7 Comments
Karen SQLPASS WIT Panel 2011

Karen SQLPASS WIT Panel 2011 (Photo credit: John Robel)

It’s International Women’s Day.  Yes, we get one day a year to celebrate our ladyhood.  Or something like that.

I used to snicker at meetings, classes and events focused on Women in Technology (WIT).  The thought of sitting around in a room full of women complaining about how hard it is to work in a man’s world did not appeal to me.  To think of rallying around a cause for pay equity drove me crazy because I had never met a woman who had ever asked for a raise.  I still have met only 2 who have told me they have done this.  I thought that WIT issues were only about man-hating and failing to ask for what we deserved.  Then an amazing thing happened.  I was asked to serve as a national spokesperson for the CIPS Women in Technology program.  I really didn’t want to do it, but agreed because I wanted to help.

Why was it amazing? Because I found out that most WIT initiatives aren’t about male-bashing and waiting for someone to make our lives better.  One specific cause that made me "get it" was the fact that girls who are interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) don’t pursue studies in these areas because we, society, are constantly throwing obstacles in front of them.  That got me going.  I had experienced the same things:

  • A high school guidance counsellor who told me that I did not want to pursue a career in a man’s field.  That I would be lonely amongst all those guys and never feel at home.  Wow.  Was she wrong.
  • A series of really terrible math teachers.  And by terrible, I mean a couple who were very vocal about a female’s inability to succeed at math…high school math.   Teachers who were also coaches who really didn’t want girls in their classes.
  • Family members who didn’t really want me to study science.  My grandmother told me it would be better to marry an engineer than to be one.  So I did both.
  • Messages from all around me that pretty was better than smart.  That pink is the only colour for girls.  That boys do fun things and girls take care of them.

So in my time as WIT spokesperson, I was able to see that we have a huge problem in society that the majority of the population is being discouraged from studying STEM and pursuing STEM-related careers.  Sure, no one should be forced into these careers, but it makes me mad to see smart, highly-capable girls being steered away from professionally and financially rewarding jobs.

 

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Research

Recently the Girl Scout Research Institute released a report, Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  In the executive summary, they outline their findings:

 

These findings, we believe, will lead to more comprehensive solutions to the underrepresentation of women in the STEM
workforce. We found that:

  • Seventy-four percent of high school girls across the country are interested in the fields and subjects of STEM.
  • Girls are interested in the process of learning, asking questions, and problem solving.
  • Girls want to help people and make a difference in the world.
  • Girls who are interested in STEM are high achievers who have supportive adult networks and are exposed to STEM fields.
  • Girls who are interested in STEM fields are actually interested in many subjects and career opportunities—STEM is just one area of interest among many.
  • Perceived gender barriers are still high for girls and may help explain why STEM fields aren’t their top career choices.
  • African American and Hispanic girls have high interest in STEM, high confidence, and a strong work ethic, but have fewer supports, less exposure, and lower academic achievement than Caucasian girls.

This research can help to change the discussion on girls and STEM by offering a much needed
strength-based perspective focusing on what contexts are most supportive for girls. We hope
this research helps to take the conversation to the next level by focusing on how to use girls’
interests to cultivate career plans for them in STEM fields.

So girls do have an interest in the subject, they do want to work in these fields, but something stops them.  That’s what I talk about on WIT panels.  The number one question I get from people opposed to WIT programs is "why should we force girls into something they aren’t interested in"  The answer: we shouldn’t.  But research like the GSRI report shows that many girls who say they aren’t interested don’t have a clear image of what our careers are like.  Others have an interest, but don’t believe they can or don’t believe they should. This is a huge problem for the IT industry and for the economy.  More than half of our workforce is female, but things are getting in the way of them preparing for, entering and staying in the IT field.  I want to motivate those of us in the IT profession to actively do something to remove these obstacles, one misconception at a time.

You Can Help

You have the power to do that.  Talk to the young women in your family.  Tell them how great it is that you still have a job and your company is still trying to fill open positions.  Tell them about work you do that is making a difference in other people’s lives.  Talk to their parents about how important it is that they ensure their girls have a great math teacher or tutor.  Ask your local user group, DAMA Chapter or SQLSaturday why they didn’t have a WIT panel.  Volunteer to be on a WIT panel — yes, even you men. If your local user group doesn’t allow men on the WIT panels or events, ask them why they think this is only a female issue.  Start people talking about why they think WIT is an issue or not. Then share the facts with them.  Volunteer to speak at your schools.  Take a girl to a museum.  Let your daughter shop in the "boys" toy aisle, too.  Speak out when someone says that giving girls career options is forcing them to be less female.  Talk to people about this post.  Leave a comment.  Share it.  Get people thinking about the WIT issue as a problem for all of us.

You can make a difference.  One person at a time.  Do it.

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