Browsing articles in "Reviews"

It’s Reorg Season…

Dec 18, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Careers, Professional Development, Reviews, Snark  //  9 Comments

If you work in a large organization, you probably have been through a number of reorganizations. You know how this works: your management chain changes, people get new titles, and maybe, if you are lucky a few people get laid off. A good example are DBAs–they are a regular choice for reorganization, as they are frequently moved from Infrastructure to Applications groups or vice versa.

So how does this happen? It’s usually a several phase process, which starts with a new high level executive (usually the CIO or perhaps in larger organizations a Senior Vice President). He or she brings in a team of overpaid consultants (no, not consultants that fix problems—these tend to be big 5 organizational consultants who haven’t actually worked in IT). And the new CIO, if your karma is really dented, will bring along a new team of direct reports to help him get his quarterly bonuses.

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Then, the project gets a really cool, exciting sounding name.

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So The Parabola Project usually starts in late summer, just after vacation season. You may notice strange requests for information from your manager, also you may hear undercurrents about the latest hot methodologies (Agile, ITIL, Scrum). Around Thanksgiving, the rumors will really kick into overdrive. “The whole IT org is getting outsourced to Moldovia”, or “The reason why Senior Director X left for BjgReallyCoolNewTech, Inc. is that he was going to lose his job in the reorg”, are some examples of the types of rumors you will hear. Then eventually in early December, just before everyone leaves for Christmas, a new organization will be announced, there will be grumblings, and your IT organization will continue to have the same problems it had before. Only now the problems will be even more complex due to the recent organizational changes and for two months people will be way less productive because they don’t know what they are supposed to be doing.

So why do we do this? Companies lose a ton of productivity and pay consulting firms into the millions of dollars for what amounts to rotating the tires on your car. I feel like it’s a twofold process that relates to poor management.

  1. Managers/Directors/VPs get bored in their day to day roles and want to make change happen
  2. The same group of middle managers doesn’t want to address people problems, so they try to solve them using process
  3. Calling something new (Special Knowledge Efficiency Workgroup will somehow make ineffective people, processes or technologies work better.
  4. Reorg activity can take the focus of poorly performing projects as well as provide a great project slippage justification

Technology, Process and People

IT is a three-legged stool consist technology, process and people. You can mitigate some technology problems with people, and technology can be used to replace people (computers are more consistent than humans). Where it gets challenging is when companies try to fix people problems with process. Once in a while a reorg can help foster collaboration within an organization. I’ve been through one such reorg where functions were split into a global/regional/local model, which was really effective in fostering process standardization and opening communication channels. However, when people who or can’t do their jobs, changing the reporting structure won’t turn them into superstars. Instead, the constant cycle of reorgs annoys and drives away your good employees. The mediocre employees who are happy just to have jobs, will stay since they have fewer options. So what can you do when the inevitable reorg happens?

  • Have a really solid internal network—it will let you know if you are being impacted well ahead of the reorg, which leads to…
  • Always have your resume/CV up to date, if the reorg puts you in a less favorable position, it may be time to move
  • Having a strong external network is also critical in helping plan your next moves

As long as there are companies there will be reorgs—middle managers need to keep themselves occupied. The best way to deal with this as an employee is to keep yourself extremely employable—keep your skills and network up to date, and you will always have a lot of employment options. If you have career options, you won’t need to sweat a reorg, and if the reorg really sucks, vote with your feet.

First Day of Work Karen: What I Would Tell Her #mememonday

May 7, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Careers, Professional Development, Reviews  //  2 Comments

It’s time for another Meme Monday, as assigned by Tom LaRock (blog |@sqlrockstar ). In his post, he asks us to write about:

If you could go back in time and meet yourself on Day One of your IT career, what advice would you give?

What a great question.  I’ve previously blogged about What I Would Tell my 16 Year-old Self .  All good stuff there.  Especially about the hot rollers.

But what would I say to Karen Lopez, brand new Senior Systems Analyst (yes, that was my first job title)?  There a bunch of small stuff that really turns out to be big stuff later:

  • Skip the Full Day Voice Mail Training.  Sure, it was mandatory, but the guys only had to do a half-day version of it.  Insist you don’t know need a full day.  Set the direction for how the team sees your role on the project from the start.
  • Don’t let that clerk at the Passport Office talk you into bad data quality: alphabetizing your names on your passport.  That one decision is going to impact you more than you can ever imagine.  But you will get some great data quality presentation material out of it.
  • Respect your boss, but don’t let him manage your career.  My first boss started on the same day I did.  He wasn’t a twenty-something, though.  He had retired from the US Army the day before and had come to work for the defense consulting company I worked at.  To manage projects for the US Army.  Funny how that works.  He brought with him his military bearing…and his need to be in command of everything, even the technical design of the application we were building.  Even though he was an accountant and had no technical experience or training. 

    He and I didn’t really look at life the same way, but he was my boss.  I let him manage my professional development plan, my training, my assignments much more than I should have.  He wasn’t a good fan of female engineers, either.  So our non-technical tester was the guy who did all the demos and presentations, even though he really could answer any of the technical questions he received.

    Karen, that boss should not have been able to set your path, only guide it.

  • Don’t try to explain everything that caused a bug or a mistake in a deliverableJust fix it and fix the problem that led to it.  Nobody really cares why it happened unless the think you are going to do it again.  Fix it, learn from it, move on.   Don’t make your mistakes stand out more than anyone else does.  Be honest, but don’t broadcast them.
  • Never accept the first offer.  I can’t tell you, Karen, how many times you are in a negotiation and don’t even realize it.  The earlier you realize this, the better off you will be.  Think your boss is doing you a big favor by sending you on a local one day course?  Sure, she is.  But she’s sending Chad on a full week of bootcamp training because he asked for that instead.  Think you are fortunate because you are getting a 5% raise? You are, but Chad got 10% because he negotiated it.
  • You will make great friends at work.  But they are your colleagues first.   Save the details of your life for friends outside work.
  • No one cares what shoes you are wearing…as long as you can keep up the sprint with everyone else.  Wearing impractical shoes is going to slow you down. That’s literal and figurative advice.  See, double the value.

I think First Day of Work Karen did okay over the years. She got to work at all three branches of the US government during her first job.  She played volleyball on the Mall.  And she learned a lot about voice mail, a bleeding edge technology then.  But there were more important things to learn along the way.

Professional Development: What Would You Tell Your 16-Year-Old Self?

Jul 19, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Careers, Professional Development, Reviews  //  9 Comments

Karen at 17yo

I recently read a column in the Toronto Star by Lorraine Sommerfeld (Twitter | Blog).  Lorraine writes about finding a picture of herself when when she was 16 years old.  From High School Picture is Worth A 1,000 Words to Me, she muses:

I can’t help but think how many things she doesn’t know. Would I tell her that her first love will be killed by a drunk driver in just a few short months? No, I wouldn’t tell her that. Pain is rarely better, even with a preamble.

Would I tell her she isn’t going to be a lawyer? Another no, I suspect. Life has a way of unfurling as it should, and good things are often replaced by better ones for reasons that are larger than our present vision. Life with no surprises isn’t much of a life.

This got me thinking (and Tweeting) about what advice I’d give my 16-year-old self.    In this post  I’m going to focus on the professional advice I’d give beta Karen.

  1. When mentors you trust practically push you into your bosses office to ask for a raise, GO ASK FOR THE RAISE.  One of the most costly lessons I learned early in my career was that managers rarely hand out sufficient pay increases to people who never ask for them.  They take that non-demanded money and give it to he (usually) guys who ask the boss for a raise almost every month.  It’s easier that way.  Women almost never ask for raises.  It’s not how we think about our role in business, unfortunately.  Very unfortunately.  We women (and men) who fail to ask for raise could be leaving $1-2 million dollars on the table during the span of our career.  Remember how compounding works in loans?  Well, it also works with income.  In that one mistaken thought of "I’m already making tons of money" I left about $30,000 on the table I later found out. In today’s dollars that is $60,000.  That’s just what they were going to bump up my salary by if I had asked.  If I had pushed for more I would have gotten even more.  Forget the cannoli; ask for the raise. 
  2. When someone tries to engage you in a negative way, the only way to win is to not be negative in return.  I’m still learning this message, but the more I practice it, the more it becomes more natural…and the better it feels.  I tend to get all riled up when someone accuses me of cheating, of being unfair, or being overly sales-oriented.  In fact, I’m so anti-cheating/unfair/salesy that I often miss good opportunities just so that I can stay far on the safe side of those issues.  When people throw aspersions at me I want to go full steam ahead, seek revenge and aim to spread damage far and wide.  But the few times I’ve done that, I’ve always lost out. Always.  I had a great mentor (see point one) who I swear would help someone sort the items in his wallet if he were mugged.  He was very patient.  People thought he was weak, but he was probably the most powerful person in the office. He held that power because he was fair when things got difficult.  He never raised his voice.  He never sought revenge.  It isn’t about always turning the other cheek; it’s about recognizing that we can’t advance a project together when people are at war with each other.  By responding with a BFG 9000, even when it is entirely justified, you’re going to lose.
  3. "Nobody will ever remember what [you] wore, but they will forever remember how [you] made them feel". That quote comes from Lorraine’s article as well. It is related to point two above, but it also applies in neutral or even good situations.  I’ve seen people doing a great job be harmed by people who want to be rude or insulting just for the fun of it.  In fact, this happened in a discussion post just this week on LinkedIn.  Somehow the Internet brings out the trolls and spoilers due to the physical distance between parties.  Feeding the trolls just gives them more power and makes them bigger. It’s what they feed on. Don’t feed the trolls.

    I remember a project manager on one of my early projects.  She was not a nice person and we often disagreed on how our work should be completed.  We didn’t argue, but her assignments were not in my normal toolset: "cut 50 tables out of the database ", "don’t use diagrams where a 1,000 words will work" and "we need more defects in the system so we can get follow-on work". She also had a problem with anyone smiling at work.  If you’ve read my works, you probably know that I don’t exactly have a reputation for being sunny and cheerful.  Snark is my normal mode.  But this project manager consistently wrote to my bosses about my violation of her rules of no smiling at work.  Our clients smiled and it was painful not to return the smile.  My bosses offered the best advice they could: "try not to smile in front of her".  She was a terror to work with.  She insulted workers on a regular basis.  I could not name one single thing she wore. Not one.  But I remember how she treated people.

  4. Some of your best teachers will be people who work against you.  That contractor who hired you to be a team leader for corn detasseling but turned demoted you (and cut your pay) when all the other girls quit ("I can’t have a girl supervising boys; it’s not right")? He taught you that you are going to run into environments where people think that women are less than men.  When you quit rather than take the insult, you set yourself up for understanding that you don’t have to take the type of fertilizer that some people think is perfectly fine to dish out.  You will survive, even if you quit a job.  Even if you have to do that more than once.  Life is too short to spend time in an environment that you don’t enjoy at least most of the time.  
  5. Ditch the hot rollers.  Your hair is frizzy.  Work with it.  Wear more hats. Life is too short to spend it in curlers.

What are the things that you’d tell your childhood self?  I saw some great funny ones on Twitter, but I’d really like to hear what you seriously would have liked to have known back then.  We’re using #2My16yoSelf on Twitter and in other blog posts.

Field Testing Agloves in The Big Apple

Nov 24, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Reviews, Travel  //  3 Comments

This past weekend I had a great opportunity to use my new Agloves in the field, as I was speaking at SQL Saturday #59 in New York City.  I love visiting New York, but it always seems that we visit during a cold spell.  The first time Rob and I visited together the wind chill was about –15 and the cold wind tunnel effect of all those tall buildings made it feel as if the weather was going to suck the life right out of us.

My initial review talks about the quality and content of these gloves, but I hadn’t had a chance to use them in the field prior to this week. 

What I remember most about our previous trips to New York is trying to take photos in that bone chilling weather, but having to:

  1. remove my gloves
  2. swap my gloves for my phone in my purse
  3. wait for my phone to start up
  4. enter my phone password
  5. open the camera app
  6. wait for the camera to focus
  7. help the camera focus and choose the right lighting by clicking on the screen
  8. click on the screen button to take the picture

…and trying to do all that with creeping numbness in my fingers which just made all that take longer.

While it wasn’t quite that cold in NYC for this trip (it was around 38-40 degrees at the coldest), it was still chilly enough that I was happy to have my Agloves and to be able to use my iPhone and iPad without ever having to remove my gloves.

Rockefeller Center

30 Rock 

 

You can see from the pictures above that while we were visiting Rockefeller Center I could take my time to compose a photo.  The lighting was tricky there because it was cloudy and the statue of Prometheus was behind scaffolding, so I had to keep setting the lighting and focus properly.  Being able to keep my gloves on also meant that I was able to take many more photos than I did the last time.

As the day went on, we walked to most of the regular tourist stops in Manhattan.  It was starting to get dark and much cooler by the time we got to Macy’s in Herald Square.  More tricky lighting in that the Macy’s windows displays had projection, glass reflections, dimmed lighting and animation.

Macys WindowHere I’m taking a photo of one of vignettes of the “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” story.  Again, I had time to work on the composition, lighting and focus.

One of the other benefits that I hadn’t considered when I first purchased these gloves was that I didn’t have to know if the device I was using used the type of technology that required a capacitive touch technology to work.  Not all touch screens require this, so regular gloves could work…or they might not….  But I didn’t have to know, I could could keep my gloves on either way.

I didn’t realize how many touch screen devices that weren’t mine I used on a typical trip, but here are some of them:

ATM machine

An ATM machine

 

Best Buy Vending Machine  A vending machine

 

A vending machine in the subway. A vending machine in the subway.

I’m betting that most of these last devices, including the ones in the taxis, were not capacitive.  I loved the fact, though, that I didn’t have to know either way; I could leave my gloves on and interact with all these machines without getting cold.  I have to admit, too, that my inner germaphobe loved that I wasn’t using my bare hands to touch these screens.  This was a special bonus.

I’ll be posting some of the pictures we took in New York while we were there so that you can see the results of our having time to compose better photos.

I also checked, just for fun, and the gloves do work on the Xbox 360 controls (on button, DVD eject button) which won’t work with regular gloves.  Not sure if I’m ever going to wear them while playing, but I just had to know.

Finally, while the temperature did not dip down below freezing, I found the Agloves to be warm, unlike acrylic gloves, and breathable.  They aren’t overly thick, so I was able to tweet and send mail during our walk through NYC, all while keeping warm.

Overall I’d say our field test was a success.

From previous tweets, it sounds like Agloves is going to run a Black Friday special of some sort.  You can follow them or search for their Twitter ID to find out what specials they have in mind.

Agloves: Great Gift for the Twitter Addicted

Nov 17, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Reviews, Travel  //  5 Comments

Last year while waiting for the Olympic Torch to pass by I was wearing my patriotic Vancouver 2010 giant red mittens.  There was a sea of these red mittens lining the street and it was wonderful…until I had to take my mittens off to to use my phone to capture pictures or to tweet. The windchill that day was about –20 and I was seriously in danger of getting frost bite.

While shopping one day I found a pair of gloves that I thought were the solution.  I called these my “Twitter gloves” even though I think they were called ‘texting gloves”. They were regular gloves that you could fold back the index finger and thumb from, but this still meant that my fingers were exposed to the elements. 

My friend Bryan snapped a pic of these gloves in action in Chicago when I was working there.  Those tips actually fold back and button down, but that was a pain, so I just left them flying out.  These gloves were cheap: I think I found them at Target.

Foldback fingers Twitter Gloves.

Now I was only in danger of frostbite for 4 out of 10 digits.

 

image I recently ordered 3 pairs of Agloves from agloves.com.  These sliver-thread-infused gloves let you use touch screen devices without having to remove your gloves, use fingerless gloves, or use the foldback gloves like the ones above.  Get the name?  Agloves – with Ag being the symbol for silver.

I’ve just now tried them on two devices, my iPhone and iPad.  They actually work, although I have to press a bit harder than I’m used to.  It’s only slightly more, so I don’t believe it’s going to be a problem.  Hitting the right keys in portrait mode on my iPhone took a little bit more concentration, but again, it won’t be a problem.

Agloves in use

Using Agloves iPhone

These gloves work with capacitive touch screens due to the silver threads, which you can see clearly in the iPhone photo above.  They are soft.  The attached tag says they are Made in the US and of the following materials:

60% Polyester

29% Nylon

7% Silver nylon

3% Spandex

1% Acrylic

One of the things I did not like about my previous gloves is that they were 100% Acrylic, which I don’t like the feel of. 

There are currently two sizes available. I have small hands, so I ordered the S/M version and I got a M/L size for Rob. Both seem to fit, but I get better accuracy out of the S/M, with goes along with their recommendation that these have a snug fit.

Agloves are washable; in fact, they claim that washing them make them work better.  They feel warm to wear, unlike my previous set of acrylic gloves.  I hope to post a future review when I’ve done more field testing.  I’m thinking my trip to NYC coming up might be the perfect field test.

My other targeted use is for running.  I use running apps like MapMyRun, Nike+, etc. and when I have running gloves on it’s difficult to use the book controls, runner controls, or even to get a time/distance update from these apps.  And since theses gloves are made with runner-friendly materials (Anything But Cotton), they will work well.

Agloves offers a very generous return period of 90 days in case they don’t work for you.  The current price of these gloves is a very affordable $17.99 USD.  I’m betting these will be in high demand for the upcoming gift season; I recommend you order now.

Oh, and I also wanted to thank the folks at Aglove for having very, very reasonable shipping rates to Canada.  We are nice people, but we hate being ripped off for postage and handling.

Gift Me Baby One More Time: A Nifty Idea

Nov 17, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Fun, Reviews  //  1 Comment

A few weeks ago I was tweeting about my regular use of GoToMeeting.  Nearly all my projects for the last few years have been with geographically dispersed teams and being able to collaborate on documents, models and other artefacts in real time has been a vast improvement over conference calls where someone says “at the bottom of page 42”…”oh, you’ve printed on A4? I don’t know what page it would be then”…etc.

So the folks at GoToMeeting noticed that I tend to talk about tweet about their product, so they sent me a gift via twitgift.me (twitgift on Twitter).  What was unique about this gift was that they just sent it to my Twitter ID, @datachick, instead of ordering something to be sent to my address.  Their order sent a tweet to me that they had sent me a gift and twitgift contacted me also via Twitter to ask for my contact information so that they could send the gift to me. 

Tweet Gift Notice

Tweet Accepted gift

 Tweet Shipping Notice

In fact, the mailing label had just @datachick on it.

Tweet Shipping Label @datachickThe first obstacle for me for claiming my gift was that right now twitgift only ships to US addresses. I could have directed the gift to another address (regifting FTW!), but I really wanted to see how this all worked out.  So I provided the address of our friends Yanni and John and the delivered it to me when we were in Seattle for SQLPASS. Did I tell you what great friends they are?

In the tradition of unboxing blog posts, I bring you the twitgift…

Outside box

Packed in cotton balls, playing up the clouds/birds theme.  There was also confetti and stickers.  A gift within a gift…

Inside Box The inner box contained chocolate chip cookies, wrapped two by two.

Gift goodies cookies, confetti, stickersCookies and stickers, again, FTW.

As of the time of this writing, twitgift.me offers only the cookies as a gift, but they are hoping to expand to other merchant items. Their FAQ also says that they hope to expand to other countries soon.

I did not and do not receive any compensation for this post…other than the gift from GoToMeeting.  I chose to write about this post as a thank you for the thank you gift* to help a new Twitter-related service that I believe has a great idea.  I guess technically I did get something, but not for writing this post.  Got it?

If I ever do write a sponsored tweet or blog post, I will definitely let you know, right up front.

Do you have Twitter friends you’d like to send an affordable gift to?  Now you know how to do that without the creepy “where do you live” question to someone you only know through Twitter.

* I’m told that giving a thank you for a thank you means you (a metathankyou) end up in an infinite loop, so I won’t do that. But thanks….

Book Review – Viral Data in SOA: An Enterprise Pandemic

Nov 4, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, Reviews  //  1 Comment

image Neal Fishman’s Viral Data in SOA: An Enterprise Pandemic makes a timely comparison of data quality issues to viral pandemics.  In this flu season, the H1N1 virus is a top news item

 

I was recently sent a review copy of Neal Fishman’s Viral Data in SOA: An Enterprise Pandemic by the publisher, IBM Press/Pearson PLC.  As a former Amazon.com Top 700 Reviewer, I get many texts for review, some within my area of expertise and others that are so far off my target and areas of interest that I rarely have time to read them.

Fishman’s work is outstanding. This book is fun to read, makes a great analogy, and includes great quotes for use in your next should-we-take-care-of-our-data-better debate.

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