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Trolling the #24HoP

Dec 10, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Database, Speaking, WIT  //  10 Comments

I knew it would happen.  As I blogged previously, SQLPASS is hosting a 24 Hours of PASS event in March and is using this event to honour Women in IT (WIT) by having 24 sessions given solely by female data professionals.

Having worked on WIT committees, programs and events for more than two decades (I was a national spokesperson for WIT here in Canada for two years), I knew that someone (and there will be more) would eventually anonymously complain that this one event should not be run with only female speakers.  Trolls must post anonymously because they don’t want to contribute to the discussion; they just want to make a good thing look bad.  This is my letter to Anonymous (an infrastructure DBA).


Hi Anonymous –

You forgot to mention the creepier one that most anonymous trolls give:

"What about the lack of overweight, old, ugly, grumpy white guys in the Supermodel profession?"

It’s a classic.  It is the most common response I get in letters to the editor, live events and articles from anonymous posters.  If you are going to go for it, please go all the way. 

This witty questions does not contribute to the discussion of diversity in any profession because it makes a huge leap of logic: that there is some physical trait in females that should keep them out of the IT profession.  That is flat out wrong. 

By the way, there are people who are concerned about the lack of diversity in the nursing profession. I support all kinds of programs that want to address real issues of diversity in all professions. 

The reason society should be concerned about diversity isn’t about making the numbers somehow magically match demographics of the full population, it is that we should investigate the reasons why certain professions aren’t diverse as the full populations and make corrective action to ensure that silly obstacles aren’t there. The most successful WIT programs focus on ensuring that young women understand the opportunities available to them and remove roadblocks they might have to considering a career in IT.

Much research has shown that young women don’t consider IT (and other STEM) careers because they:

  1. Don’t even know what the career is about and therefore think it is all about grumpy evil-doing nerds working alone in a dark basement drinking Jolt Cola and typing all day. Think of the Wayne Knight character in Jurassic Park.
  2. Hear from grumpy people that women aren’t smart enough to work in IT.
  3. Don’t realize soon enough that they should have taken more math and science during their schooling and therefore can’t get in to certain programs of study, even though they have the aptitude to work in IT
  4. Think that Computer Science programs are the only career path into IT
  5. Read computer science program “marketing” materials, which most programs fail miserably at creating, and think “wow, what a boring technical wasteland”.
  6. Think that IT is only about programming…alone, in a dark basement, typing all day. GOTO point 1.

But let’s focus on one of the main reasons (I presume) why SQLPASS wants to hold an event featuring WIT.  The reasons that most women give for not submitting abstracts for speaking:

  1. Much more often than men, they don’t think that they are enough of an expert to give a presentation.
  2. Much more often than men, they think there are so many "celebrities" in the field that the shouldn’t even bother submitting.
  3. Much more likely than men they are more likely to feel that they are an "imposter" in the field and therefore shouldn’t even try to speak at an event.
  4. They have so many more outside-of-work responsibilities that traveling a ways to speak and attend a conference is a significant roadblock to participating.
  5. More often than men, they believe that they should be specifically invited to speak rather than just nominate themselves.
  6. They are more likely to worry about the catch-22 of doing anything new: you shouldn’t do it until you have more experience doing it.
  7. They think that no one will attend a session they give because they haven’t written a book (see point 4), they don’t travel the world giving presentations, or that someone else has already given a presentation on that topic.

I talk to many women who have wonderful thoughts, observations, scripts, data models, ideas, opinions, and other knowledge to share but won’t even consider submitting an abstract. Most of the time they give one or all of the reasons above.  Please ensure that you understand all those “more often” words in the above list.

The idea of featuring only females during 24 Hours of PASS isn’t going to solve all these problems, but it can go a long way to getting more women to present because it takes away some of the obstacles that many female IT professionals give as reasons to not even try.  With more women presenting at this one event, we will most likely have more women presenting at other events during the year.  You may not want that, but I want that if the reason women aren’t submitting is because they’ve never been encouraged enough to submit an abstract or to gain speaking experience.

Should SQLPASS bend to address those issues?  I think they should not have to do so, but often all it takes is a slight change in how women are recruited to make a real difference.  Personally, I’d like to figuratively whack all these women on the side of the head like Cher did on Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck: “Snap out of it”. Sometimes, though, helping people realize their potential is one of the most wonderful thing we can do for them.

Yes, I realize for the one event, some presenters will be excluded.  For this one event.  I would love to have a professional, insightful conversation about whether or not the one shift in a variable is acceptable, desirable, laughable, or even hurtful.  But we can’t have those conversations when one posts anonymously in short bursts of accusations.  It really doesn’t help the conversation at all.


 

I’d love to hear opinions on this, but in a way that advances the conversation.

Data Chicks, We Need You! Call for Speakers

Dec 9, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Professional Development, Speaking, WIT  //  3 Comments

imageThe call for speakers has gone out for 24 Hours of PASS, a virtual conference of the Professional Association for SQL Server.  But this isn’t an ordinary call for speakers.  PASS is going to do something extraordinary: in honour of Women’s History Month, only female speakers will be be presenting.

Normally I’m not a fan of any special accommodations or “help” for female workers: quotas, waiving of requirements, etc.  I sometimes think that those sorts of programs send the wrong message, too.  But in this case, I’m a huge fan of what PASS wants to do here. There are plenty of qualified women to speak on these topics, but usually the problem is that women tend not to submit to speak, for a variety of reasons.

24 Hours of PASS To Celebrate Women’s History Month

By Thomas LaRock
Mark your calendars! The next 24 Hours of PASS event is taking place March 15 and 16. We are sticking to the two day format with 12 sessions presented each day.

Since March is also Women’s History month we’ll be carrying that theme through to the online event. As a result we plan to feature 24 prominent female speakers during the course of the event with session content as always, focused on SQL Server.

If you have an abstract in mind or have suggestions for specific speakers or topics, send us an email at 24hours@sqlpass.org. Deadline for abstract submission (max 250 words with a 125 word bio) is January 14.

You can read Tom’s blog post about how and why he came up with the idea of a female-only event.

I welcome this special event for a few reasons:

  1. PASS is doing something to recognize the vast amount of knowledge women in technology
  2. Choosing to promote the wonderful female speakers out there during Women’s History Month (which also includes International Women’s Day and Ada Lovelace Day) is a great way to honour and recognize all the good work that millions of women do in IT around the world.
  3. Encouraging female speakers is the best way to build a pool of qualified speakers for other events like SQL Saturdays, SQLRally, PASS Summit, Enterprise Data World, DAMA Chapters, etc.
  4. I believe that this one event will do more to encourage more women to speak at events that all the encouraging e-mails and blog posts could ever accomplish.

While this is a PASS event, not every presentation will be just about SQL Server code.  I typically give my Database Design Contentious Issues presentation at in-person events and one of my database design-related presentations for virtual events.  They might include SQL Server content, but they aren’t just about the DBMSs.  If you have a presentation that you’ve given at a DAMA event, there’s a good chance you can present it at a PASS event.

So I need you to help:

  1. If you are a female and work with data, please put together an abstract and submit it.  Now.  I’d love it if they had 300 abstracts to choose from.
  2. If you aren’t female, please personally ask one of your female co-workers to submit an abstract.  Do it now…it will only take a couple of minutes.
  3. Please retweet this post, post to Facebook and LinkedIn about this amazing opportunity to highlight female IT professionals.  Let’s show the world what #WIT has to offer.

I am excited about this event – I can’t wait to see it unfold. Please help us by getting the word out.  Let’s make something happen.

Webcast Recording Available: Why Be Normal? CA ERwin Modeling User Group

Dec 8, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Data Modeling, Database, Social Networking, Speaking  //  No Comments

As I blogged last week, I participated in a webcast on social networking for data management professionals.  That webcast was recorded and is now available for viewing.

https://www305.livemeeting.com/cc/cai/view?id=C9336C&role=attend&pw=cP}3%22PW4Q

Handouts of the slides I presented on the cost, benefits and risks of social networking are also available.

Handouts for OEMUG / CA Global Modeling User Group Why Be Normal Webcast

If you are reading my blog and on any of these social networks, I’d love to friend/follow/link to you. My contact information for those services are in the handouts. If you do send me a request, please mention that you are a blog reader, attended an event I presented at, or where we met.

Presentation Handouts for SQLSaturday NYC and DC

Dec 7, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Data Modeling, Database, Speaking  //  1 Comment

I’ve uploaded handouts for my Database Design Contentious Issues presentations for SQLSat59 (New York City) and SQLSat61 (Washington, DC).

Both audiences were Contentious, which is just perfect for this presentation.

Handouts Database Design Contentious Issues – New York 2010

Handouts Database Design Contentious Issues – DC 2010

As a reminder, if you attended these sessions, please take a moment and leave a testimonial/ration at www.speakerrate.com/karenlopez.  It helps me and event planners.  Please help us participate in more of these events.

I’m a Rockstar Blogger…Bloggess…Blogmistress…Bloggette?

Dec 6, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Social Networking  //  2 Comments

image

I was excited to see that I’ve been recognized as a Rockstar Blogger by Thomas LaRock (blog | @SQLRockstar) at the tempdb level (entry level).  Tempdb is a SQL Server system database and all of Tom’s rockstar bloggers are awarded a level based on these system databases.

As a TempDB level blogger, I fit this profile:

The tempdb group has the bloggers that I want to recognize for doing good work. However, they are also the group of bloggers that could most easily fall off and never been seen again, just like a temp table. There is no line separating names in this group, because they are all equally eligible for promotion or relegation back into my general RSS feeds.

Read more: http://thomaslarock.com/rankings-faq/

It is a great honour to be listed with all the bloggers on Tom’s list.  You should check out Tom’s blog, plus the others he has listed.  I recommend all of them as well.

Happy Reading.

Identity Column Issues and Trade-offs

Dec 1, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Data Modeling, Database, DLBlog  //  4 Comments

This post is based on a post I previously blogged on 30 May 2008…but like most design approaches, it still holds true.

If you’ve heard me present, then you know that one of my primary design mantras is:

Everything is a trade off.  You need to be able to explain, in both business and technical terms, the cost, benefits, and risks associated with every design decision.

If you can’t do that, then you aren’t doing design: you are copying design patterns from other designs and hoping for the best outcome, even if your current design has different requirements and risk tolerances.

I am often told that a database design must have surrogate keys on every table and that “right” way to implement surrogate keys is to use the Identity property in SQL Server (or the RowID in Oracle, or the Identity property in DB2).  These sorts of features of modern DBMSs do vary from vendor to vendor, so the cost, benefit, and risk associated with each varies by version and by vendor.  Most IT pros I speak with don’t realize that.

Many people I speak with assume, incorrectly, that Identity Property = Surrogate Key = Primary Key= Unique Index but this is not true. It is important for database designers to understand the differences between these concepts.

Nigel Rivett has written a great article over at Simple-talk.com about SQL Server’s identity property and some of the interesting “features” of this incrementing function:

Note: An identity column is not guaranteed to be unique nor consecutive. You should always place a unique index on an identity column if your system requires uniqueness.

Note: The next value is the step added to the current seed; not one more than the max value in the table, or even the step from the last or maximum value.

I’m guessing that 6+ out of 10 of experienced SQL Server designers and developers are not clear on these two gotchas.  Other DBMSs have technical issues as well.  When I’m questioned on why I don’t just slap on an identity property, call it a PK an move on to the next change request, I usually start asking questions:

  • Will the application need to assume that the values are always sequential?  What if the sequence is missing a few steps?  Will that break the code?
  • Will the Identity column value be displayed anywhere outside the database, such as on a report or on a screen?
  • Will the users be confused if a sequence is missing or if they “restart” in the middle of an order?
  • Will the Identity column value be used outside this database? How?  Where?
  • What are our plans for dealing with rows that exceed the maximum number of identity values (in some versions of DB2, identity values maxed out at 32k or so)?

Identity properties can be useful, but as in every design decision, there are uses that are appropriate and uses that are not — it all comes down to cost, benefit, and risk.

Twitter: How Has It Made You Better at Your Job?

Nov 29, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Social Networking  //  4 Comments

One of the issues I struggle with in getting people to understand why I tweet is demonstrating the value of engaging with others to people who haven’t engaged on Twitter.  Yes, it’s a Catch-22

I have read that the majority of the people who sign up for Twitter (and other social networks) create an account, post something like “I have an account”, the sit back and wait for all the magic to come their way.  But these networks don’t work that way.  The benefits I’ve realized  don’t happen because I broadcast a message but because I’ve had very brief conversations with smart people like you from all over the world. 

Yes, I do tend to post some personal items like the pictures of odd or funny things I’ve seen in my day, but for the most part I’m on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for professional reasons.  Sure, I appreciate the parking space that Noel and Tamara donated to me, the collection of postal packages that Yanni and John provided and a nice spot to sleep this week at Erin’s place, but those came because I had already engaged with these people prior to asking for help.

Located between snippets of fun are my DB2, SQL Server, WordPress and a myriad of other technical questions and answers I received from the Twitterverse.  Sometimes from existing contacts and sometimes from strangers.

Before the network of networks I could have done my best to interpret vague documentation, called the tool vendor, called one person who I think worked with these technologies, or found a forum and posted my question.  I still do those, but 9 times out of 10 an answer comes back from a social network long before these other resources had time to respond.

My ability to reach out to ask if anyone is using feature X of product Z, to ask for opinions of the best way to accomplish Y or if anyone knows the best place to get a dead car fixed(Chicago, 2010) has helped my clients and me respond faster, with better answers than ever before.

What have you told not-yet-ready-for-prime-time people about why they should be blogging, Tweeting, posting to Facebook, etc. for their professional lives?  What would be the best way to demonstrate the resources available to them?

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