Browsing articles from "February, 2013"

Office Hours with Datachick–UPDATED

Feb 27, 2013   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Events  //  3 Comments


UPDATE: I’m working on some changes to how we do office hours.  I’ve had a lot of Friday fun talking to a diverse group of people abut data-related issues, challenges, wins and losses.  But now it’s time to reflect on how I can make the best use of this hour or whether the term “office hours” is meaningful. 

I suspect it means I need to do some more prep and have a guided set of topics prepared before each office hours. Or it might mean that a webinar format isn’t the best format to use. I’m open for ideas. But until then, I’ve cancelled the meeting (if you signed up via a calendar invite).   I’ll post again when I’m ready to start this or something like it up again.

Enjoy your Fridays.  I’m always on Twitter if you want to talk data to me.




Late last year I put Office Hours on hold while I worked on some other things.  But now I’m able to start them  up again.  They may not be every week, but my goal is to have them when I can also invite others to provide their input to the discussion.  Think of them as a “special guest star”.   Not all of them will have special guests, but I’m hoping to have a few join us.

What are Office Hours?

I’m drawing from an academic practice of educators publishing set times when students could stop by to get help from an instructor on a more direct basis than in a classroom.  However, my intention isn’t for this to be an Instructor/Student dynamic, but more of a professional information sharing opportunity to talk shop outside the bounds of our regular projects.

There is no presentation or agenda set by me.  It’s all set by the attendees, sort of like an unconference call.

I see this as the types of conversations that happen during breaks at user group / DAMA meetings or at the end of a webinar.  Not all work, but primarily about topics we share an interest in.  I also see this as a type of tertulia, which is a conversation by a group of people with a share interest.

This is open to anyone and everyone who would like to be part of a virtual meeting of data professionals where there is no set agenda.

Please enter your real name or Twitter ID when joining the meeting. It helps us connect better, which is why we are having these meetings.

What Office Hours are Not

The intention isn’t for us to provide 45 minutes of free consulting to solve a detailed data modeling problem for one person.  That’s what we do for a living. It also isn’t quite the bar discussion after a user group meeting where all topics are available.  However, I might be on a beverage break at the same time and so could you.  So think about the same sort of topics, approaches, and conventions you’d normally follow in the break room at work or over breakfast at a your local DAMA meeting.

This isn’t a user group meeting with a presentation or agenda.  Perhaps it is an “unmeeting” of sort.  You don’t have to join at the starting time, nor do you have stay all the way through.   If you want to bring your Barbie, GI Joe, or Wayne Gretzky action figure, please do so.

We are using a version of Go To Meeting that allows for 15 participants at a time.  That means that our group will be small at any point in time. I think that matches what my intent is.  It also means that we can share screens/applications and that you can use a computer headset or dial in to to talk.

If you’d like a meeting invite for you calendar, e-mail me Karen @ (remove those spaces).  You can also leave a comment here with a valid e-mail address so that I can send you the meeting invite.

So lets give this a try.  I’d love to hear your questions, comments, thoughts on DATA.  We talk about issues, challenges, funny stories, and whatever is going on in the news about data.


Office Hours Starting  1 March 2013

Due to my travel schedule, I may miss a few Fridays.  Check out my Twitter stream on Fridays to find out.

If you are in an office environment with lots of background noise, please manage your own muting: Don’t Be That Guy. Also, it is good form not to use a speaker phone on a conference call.  This applies to all conference calls.

The Logistics

1. Please join my meeting.

2. Use your microphone and speakers (VoIP) – a headset is recommended. Or, call in using your telephone.

Canada: +1 (647) 497-9391

Australia: +61 2 8355 1040

Austria: +43 (0) 7 2088 1399

Belgium: +32 (0) 38 08 1855

Netherlands: +31 (0) 708 912 514

New Zealand: +64 (0) 9 909 7882

Sweden: +46 (0) 852 503 498

Switzerland: +41 (0) 435 0167 07

United Kingdom: +44 (0) 203 535 0624

United States: +1 (646) 982-0002

Access Code: 269-989-161


Audio PIN: Shown after joining the meeting

Meeting ID: 269-989-161


You can dial in or use your computer to hear the audio and speak – whatever works for you.  The audio pin isn’t required, but it is helpful if you dial in and give the pin so that we can tell who is talking.

Bring a Bag…

Feb 27, 2013   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Careers, Professional Development  //  13 Comments

A couple of months ago I talked about Project Parabola – It’s Reorg Season.  The project is basically concluded, and not surprisingly, resulted in a small number of layoffs. In a really sad situation an employee walked over to my cube and asked if I had a plastic bag or a box—at first I thought he was joking, but then quickly realized he wasn’t joking. I have to say: watching this was really painful, and frankly, his manager should had a box ready for all of his stuff. That was particularly crappy.

As part of Project Parabola, a small number of employees were let go—they got a basic severance package of a week of salary for each year they worked for the company, along with their vacation pay. Additionally, they get the use of an outplacement service, (I’ll talk more about this later). So how can you prepare for a layoff?

  • Always be looking—never stop looking for jobs. Your company doesn’t care about you (seriously no box?) so why should you be loyal to them? I’m not implying you should job hop—but talk to human traffickers recruiters (I love the good ones, I really do), and see what’s going on. By all means, if you see something that looks interesting to you, wrangle your way into an interview for it.
  • Keep your resume/CVs up to date and tailor them to the specific job description you are applying for. Notice that I have used plural forms there?  Yes, it’s fine to have resumes tailored to specific types of jobs.  In fact, it’s a good thing.
  • Network with others NOW, not when you need a job. By networking, I don’t mean handing out business cards. I mean building relationships with people. You don’t have be BFFs, but you do need to know people well enough to ask them for a favour, later.
  • Join user groups and participate in them. Attend some meetings. Most user group meetings are free. Take advantage of that.  My mantra is NetworkToGetWork.  Remember that.
  • Participate in social media, even if you can do it only on a limited basis. Your reach is so much larger there. Still do local, in-person networking, but don’t ignore the virtual opportunities.
  • Update LinkedIn—make sure your skills and profile are up to date. Don’t wait to do this when you need it. Do it now. In fact, in my presentations on Career Management for Data Professionals, I tell people to set a reminder to update their profile monthly. Not only does this keep your profile up to date, it notifies people in your network that something has changed. That gets your name in front of them on a regular basis. Regular updates also have the benefit of not signalling your boss that you might be looking for a job.
  • Help people now, not when you need help. In addition to building a network you should have a reputation of helping others. I don’t mean just offering to help, but spending time to give others advice, write a helpful blog post, answer an email or to give someone a ride to a SQL Saturday or DAMA event.  Note: I may have had assistance in writing this post.  Thank you, anonymous helper. If you ever need a job, you are on my list of people to help.
  • Read up on negotiation methods. Don’t wait until you need those skills. Get them now. Practice them. You’ll need them even during a layoff.  In fact, you should know what to do when you get a lay off notice a  head of time.  Your rights and obligations vary by jurisdiction, but generally you don’t have to sign or agree to anything right then and there, even if they tell you that you do.
  • Have two month’s salary in savings—severance and unemployment will help, but having a nice cushion is very good. I know this one is really difficult. But having a cushion allows you and your family to choose better options.

One other thing to remember—you are going to lose all computer access. This means your files and contacts will be gone. Make sure you keep copies of your contacts and any scripts or tools that you would like to retain, at least the ones you are allowed to take with you. Be sure you keep your personal files and contacts separate from your corporates ones.


The Good News

Depending on what your data source is the unemployment rate for database professionals is between 1-3%. The US Government defines full employment at 3%, so that means it won’t take you very long to find a new job. The one thing I recommend highly is leveraging the outplacement services you’ll get as part of your severance package. Those folks are professionals and can help you write a really good resume. Aside from that some other things you should do are:

  • Leverage your network. Let folks in your user group and personal network know that you are looking for a new gig (I’m assuming you are in a user group if you are reading this—if you aren’t, you should be). The best jobs frequently never make it to a formal posting. This is where all that user grouping, social media work fun, blogging, and generally being a great resource to others is going to pay off, in a big way.
  • Update LinkedIn. Yes, I said above to do this regularly. You still need to do that.  But right now you need to let that network know you are looking for a job.  Do not under any circumstances change your title to Unemployed or something weak like that.  Change your title to the type of job you are looking for (and are qualified for).   This is the time to leverage your networks, so your networking profiles need to reflect the fact that you are looking for a new project.
  • Take the downtime to rest, exercise and learn new skills. Is there a new database feature you’ve been wanting to play with, but couldn’t implement at your old job? Now is the time to learn it.

More Advice on Job Hunting and Layoffs

I’ve blogged about this topic before; you might find these posts helpful, too:

First Day of Work Karen: What I Would Tell Her
Looking for a Job? Some Free Advice That’s Paid For

Do you have a blog post with career advice?  If you leave a comment here on my blog, you can choose that post to share it, too.  Share the love.

My Lessons on Layoffs

I’ve been around a while (I’m not old; I’m experienced), and I know a lot of this stuff, but “Do you have a bag” was still a surprise to me. There weren’t many rumours of layoffs out of Parabola, so even though the total number was small, it was more eye opening. The number one thing I learned yesterday though, was to bring a bag, a plastic trash bag, and keep it in my desk, because MassiveMegaGlobalMegaCorpTM probably doesn’t care enough about you to give you a box to put your belongings in.

Let’s Talk Data Modeling, Privacy, Data Breaches and the Role of Data Architects 28 Feb

Tomorrow, Thursday 28 February at 2;00PM EST, I’ll be moderating a panel of expert data modelers as part of my Big Challenges in Data Modeling Series at .  In this month’s webinar, we’ll be debating the role of data architects in how we can best support business processes related to data privacy, data security and compliance.  We’ll start by talking about recent data breaches and privacy issues.

One of the more contentious debates I have on projects is whether or not data modelers and architects should even have a role in these processes.

Joining me for this month’s panel are:

  • Eva Smith ( @datadeva | blog ) Director of Information Technology at Edmonds Community College (EdCC) where she oversees college IT functions and serves on the IT Commission for the Washington State Community and Technical College system.  Eva also volunteers for DAMA, International on the Editorial Board for the Data Management Body of Knowledge (DMBOK) Version 1, and as DAMA-I liaison to the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP).
  • Loretta Mahon Smith( @silverdata ) is currently the IBM Global Business Services, Business Analytics & Optimization Lead for the Data Modeling Center of Excellence. She has an extensive background in the financial services industry and is also a long time DAMA volunteer.
  • Peggy Schlesinger is a well-respected Master Enterprise Architect with Intel Corporation with a long history in Master Data Management.  She is currently working on the Semantic Definition for the enterprise to improve and accelerate Business Intelligence, and is moving the environment toward Self-Service Business Intelligence.
  • YOU

As always, our last panelist is YOU! Unlike many webinars, we run these as highly-interactive events.  We have a formal Q&A for when you want to ask a question of the panel, but we also have a peer-to-peer chat open so that you can discuss what you hearing in real time.  We try to keep track of what’s going on in the chat so that we can comment and address the points being raised there.  I love this feature and hope you will join us to be part of this event.

If you have a topic or question you’d like us to address, leave a comment below and we’ll try to work it in.

Also, if you are unable to make the webinar, you can register now anyway and listen to the recording later.  So get registered now.

What Are You For?

Feb 25, 2013   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Database, NoSQL, Snark  //  2 Comments

NoSQL started out as meaning “No SQL” as in “No Relational Databases”.  It represented a movement to replace RDMBSs like SQL Server, DB2, Oracle, MySQL and Sybase.  Over time, the more adept architects realized that there’s a place for both relational and non-relational technologies. However, NoSQL was a brand at this point, so like KFC, they redefined this as meaning “Not Only SQL”.  This has been a nice turn of events, but it’s still a branding issue.

I believe the NoSQL community needs a new name – a new brand – to say what the community stands for.  In fact, I was on a closing panel at NoSQL Now! that discussed this need.  We didn’t really come up with an answer, but the general consensus was saying you aren’t isn’t nearly as helpful as saying what you are.

So what are those solutions that aren’t relational?  DocBlobGraphEVA?

5 Naughty and Nice Ways to Love Your Data

Feb 14, 2013   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Data Governance, Data Modeling  //  1 Comment


It’s Valentine’s Day evening in North America.  I’m guessing that means that you and a loved one are waiting for a table at your favourite ChiBeeFridayGardenTM.  Hopefully you’re not sitting in a crowded bar drinking sugary sweet margaritas that never came anywhere near a lime or real tequila.  But if you are, that also means you’re probably munching on some free chips and salsa.  Bueno.

As you know, I’m a data advocate…a data evangelist, even.  That means I want you to take care of your sweet snookums of data that you’ve entered into a commitment to love, honour and obey until the end of time.  Or at least until that next recruiter call comes.

So while working flying across Canada in my cubicle in the sky, I came up with these 5 tips for ensuring that your data feels loved, safe and warm.

1. Try some constraints.  I’m tired of seeing systems with no foreign key (FK) constraints or indexes on the data.  Vendors are especially straight-laced with their “we do all that enforcement in the application” answers as to why they don’t want to constrain their data.  That’s a subject of a future post. However, too many database designs lack even the most basic data quality rules.  There’s a whole lot of things we data professionals know about what makes for good (or good enough data).  Enforcing those rules as close as possible to the data is the best way to protect to that data.  To make it feel loved because it’s safe.

2. Be free. Don’t worry about backups.  What? No backups? No, that’s not what I said.  Don’t worry about backups; worry about restores.  You can have a perfect backup strategy in place and still not be able to restore because you’ve never tested that critical part of the process.  Sure, to restore there has to be a backup first, but too many people set that up and don’t realize that there’s another process out there deleting the backups, or destroying the tapes, or worse.  While you are at it, make sure you are monitoring the backups to see if they are actually working. Regular (and hopefully automated) restore testing will quickly point out failures in the backup and the restore strategy.

3. Put your data on a pedestal. I support systems with data that is more than a hundred years old. Over those decades, that data has been passed around between databases, systems, spreadsheets…well, you know how that works. Every professional who put their hands on that data had an opportunity to nurture it or to turn it into the broken, barely human data crying in a relation’s arms. There are certain data practices that make data less usable, less accurate and less strong. That weakness in the data translates in a general weakness in the entire system. That then translates into business weaknesses. Data last much longer than code. If you are optimizing database designs for the code, you may be harming it in a way that it can never love you back. Love it even on fast and agile projects.  Just enough design doesn’t mean no design; it means just enough to love it right.

4. Get familiar your data. Almost to the point of stalking it. You need to not only understand the structure of a database, but also what data is in it.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone reverse engineer table and column names, then use only that information to analyze what data is contained in the database.  Big mistake.  Want to be surprised?  Go look at a bunch of columns called Notes or Description or Address Line 4 and see what you find.  I’d bet you a bag of naughty candy hearts that you’re going to find a brand new set of data that few people knew was held in that database.  You might even find credit card data, tax identifiers or insulting customer comments buried there.  I’ve seen all of that.   Data profiling is something you need to do for the life of a data structure.  Misuse of data structures happens more often than you think.

5. Cozy up with your team members. If you are data modeling or designing databases and you aren’t physically next to the people working with those designs, you’re missing out on a hundred opportunities a day to answer their questions, overhear their debates about the difference between Department and Division and generally not providing support for the project you delivered to them.  What? Those people work thousands of miles away?  You need to build a long distance relationships via Skype or GoToMeeting with these people.  You might even need to answer their questions in the middle of the night.  Just like in real life relationships.  The key is to send a message of availability and wiliness to help.  I’m pretty sure I’d better stop this analogy here, but you know what I mean.  You say your boss pulls you off a project as soon as version one of the data model is done and puts you on another one right away?  Well, there’s a name for that type of a boss.  I’ll stop here, too.

Your data really isn’t your data.  It belongs to your business users and some of it to customers.  When you don’t love your data enough, it knows.  And others will know, too.  So spend some time tomorrow ensuring that your data is loved, safe and warm.  It will do the same for you and your team.

Groan: Victims of Data Breach Receive Letters Intended for Others

Feb 11, 2013   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Data Breach  //  5 Comments


I’ve blogged about this data breach before: Federal Department Bans Use of Portable Devices (YAFF).  To add insult to the injury, a “printer error” has led to recipients of notifications about the breach receiving letters intended for other victims.

The federal government is blaming a printing error for the fact that some student loan recipients who received letters to say their personal information had gone missing along with a portable hard drive also got letters addressed to someone else.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada revealed last month that a hard drive containing the personal information of some 583,000 Canadians had gone missing. The data included social insurance numbers and dates of birth of people who had received student loans between 2002 and 2006.

via Victims of student loan data breach get letters addressed to others | CTV News.

Sure, these sorts of errors do happen, especially when using automated printing and envelope stuffing equipment. I’ve got to say, though, that the timing on this error is more than … difficult.  I’m wondering if the IT teams are being blamed here, or just the outsourcing company that provides mailing services.

#CSATweetup Trip Prep Fun #spacestache

Feb 4, 2013   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Fun, Snark, Space  //  No Comments


Because everyone needs more moustache in their lives, right? 

I can’t wait to visit with Commander Hadfield via the International Space Station this Thursday at the Canadian Space Agency Day in the Life of Chris Hadfield CSATweetup.  There’s even a phone call with William Shatner.  We’ll also hear from CSA scientists and investigators and Astronaut Jeremy Hansen (@astro_jeremy)

There may be photos and tweets.  Set your filters to stun.

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