Browsing articles tagged with " Professionalism"

What a Woman Wants: Will Computer Science Programs Step Up?

Sep 18, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, WIT  //  9 Comments

For more than a decade I’ve worked on teams that accredit college and university programs in computer science, information systems, and technology.  For the most part the criteria we use for computer science programs has been traditional: algorithms, programming, math, software engineering, components and architectures, models of computation, analysis of algorithms, fundamentals of program specification and verification, computational complexity, automata, etc.  There are requirements for humanities and other subjects, but it is rare to see programs remain unaccredited if they were missing them.  A sample set of criteria can be found on the CIPS website.

One of the things that annoyed me during computer science accreditation visits were the all too common references to women not being able to succeed in CS programs.  When I’d ask why, I was usually given one of these types of answers:

  1. Women are incapable of thinking of complex topics
  2. Women just don’t want to learn computer science
  3. Women don’t want to study in programs where they are outnumbered
  4. We’d have to dumb down the programs too much (see point 1).

It took all my might to simply record their responses and not fight it out.  I figured their answers might be a reflection of their program administration and management than of the women they are running out of their programs.  For instance, a computer science program chair told me directly that if he had to dumb down his program enough to get women to stay, "no one would be able to log in".  Tell me what sort of rewarding student experiences the females in his classes have on a daily basis?

Applied vs. Research Programs in Computing

One of the issues computer science programs have is managing the fact that they often exist as a research program but many students are more interested in studying computing at an applied level.  In other professions, applied means just that – learning to apply sciences in a practical, real world environment.  Other professions produce professionals just that way: lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers. For the most part, they study in applied programs.  But in the research world, applied is the equivalent of dumbed down. So many computer science programs are designed to produce researchers even though the vast majority of students are there not to become researchers, but practitioners.  And yet most women are drawn to professions where they can see a direct link to studying and working on projects that will change the world.

I was thinking about this while speaking on the #SQLSat157 San Diego WIT panel this past weekend. When I got home, I found this great interview with Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College: Q&A What Women Want in the Communications of the ACM.  One of the questions was exactly what I experienced when choosing a program of study all those years ago:

You’ve talked before about the importance of teaching practical applications from the start, rather than waiting until students have mastered the building blocks.

We know from research that for women and minorities, the attraction of computer science is what you can do with it. It doesn’t mean they are not interested in complexity theory or other esoteric parts of the field, it just means that that tends to be the driving motivation. And in our experience, it’s not like women take one course or go to the Hopper conference and say, "I want to be a computer science major." It’s more like, you take one course or go to the Hopper conference, and you take the next course. And then you take the course after that, and by then you’ve taken three courses and you’re going, "Oh, I’m actually good at this, and it gets me summer jobs. Maybe I should be a CS major."

The curmudgeon computer science chair and his colleagues also had thoughts on programs that shifted their marketing and delivery, but not their content, to appeal more to women and minorities: it was cheating.  As an IT professional, I say "Let’s cheat, then".  Let’s ensure that computers science and other technology programs can step up their game to be more appealing.  As a business person and someone who interviews candidates for jobs, I want to see people who understand theory AND application of it all.  Cost, benefit , risk and all.  Saving the world.  Making a difference.

Information systems and technology programs are generally applied programs of study.  However, we tend to see them as lesser siblings of computer science.  Maybe we shouldn’t, especially as employers for organizations that don’t directly hire researchers.

Step Up

Do we need theoretical, research-only computer science programs?  ABSOLUTELY!  But we also need IT professionals who can fit solutions into a corporate environment.  One that can’t just think in terms of theory.  And I want a more diverse, educated workforce available to hire from.  Not just for the numbers, but because we get better solutions.  But in order to get this, our programs of study need to step up.

Career Success in Turbulent Times: Join Me Today 1PM ET for #PASSProfDev VC Webinar

Sep 22, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Professional Development, Social Networking, Speaking  //  No Comments

HeadshotTwoGradientThis afternoon I’m presenting at the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) Professional Development virtual chapter.  My topic today is about how to ensure that you are doing the right things now to support job and project search efforts when you need them.  Join me at 1PM EDT

 

 

 

A workshop on issues and ideas that today’s data professionals can do to build their careers and networking skills with other data management professionals.

Workshop topics will include:
• Demonstrating your expertise
• Building a portfolio of your success stories
• Getting others to sell your skills and business value
• Building & extending your data management skill set
• 10 Steps to highlighting you and your work

Bring your thoughts, ideas, and experiences.

As a virtual presentation, I’ll be relying heavily on Q&A from the audience, as well as input from Twitter to ensure that this is the most interactive it can be.  Please join us as we talk about how we as a profession can best ensure that we are all working and our projects have the right resources to be successful.

The hashtag to use during this talk is #PASSProfDev

A recording of the presentation should be available on 24 Sept 2011 at http://prof-dev.sqlpass.org/ .

We had great interaction for a Live Meeting. Great job, everyone.

Are You Turbo Encabulating Your Presentations?

Jul 26, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data Modeling, Professional Development, Speaking  //  1 Comment

I presented half of a training course a while ago and the other presenter was really big on keeping to the agenda and the times allotted to each topic.  I’m a stickler for ending on time, so I respect that.  However, the presenter was so committed to the plan that he at several points refused to answer questions from the audience, even when the questions were about the meaning of an acronym or one of the many buzzwords sprinkled throughout his slides and narrative.  At one point a woman in the audience insisted that he define the terms on one slide.  He cut her off and suggested that she get some outside training on the topic.  I was shocked.  These attendees were new to the topics.  There were no prerequisites to the one day course.  If this had been a one hour session at a conference, I could see wanted to defer some questions in the name of time. However, this was an on-site training course for a single corporation.  There were big bucks being charged and outcomes were expected in return.  This presenter, by insisting that he get through the material whether or not the attendees were understanding what he was saying, was not doing his job.

I thought of him as I was in the process of migrating posts from our previous blog and came across this video on the Turbo Encabulator.

 

The Turbo Encabulator – Is this what you sound like?

 

Thank goodness he was responsible for only 4 hours of presenting just like our man in the video.  By the time I got up to do my part, the audience was in a fairly unfriendly mood.  I had to work hard at establishing some trust with the group to ensure them that my role for the final 4 hours was to ensure that they understood what they were supposed to understand.  I encouraged questions, altered timelines when more explanations were needed and responded with ad hoc examples when the slides weren’t good enough to get the point across.  And you know what?  I ended on time and managed to cover all the material in my part of the agenda.  That’s because I had allocated time in my plan to take questions, go back over material and to test audience members to ensure that we were ready to move on to the next topic.

I work really hard when I present to business users to avoid the normal IT bafflegab / dujamakicey lingo, but I know that we all struggle with this.

When I present at groups like DAMA (dama.org), I sometimes get feedback that I’ve used a term, such as ERD or LDM that might not be clearly understood by everyone in the crowd.  This is a tough call, as I want to make some assumptions about the audience at DAMA meetings so as to balance time allotted against the desire to deliver content that is useful for data architects.  It’s very painful to have a presenter speak at a DAMA or IRMAC meeting and have him spend half the time explaining what a database is and what a data model is.

So while I do encourage attendees to ask if I use a term or concept that is unfamiliar to them, most won’t ask.  Remember to watch your turbo encabulators when collaborating with others.  We are all guilty of this.   I actively encourage audience members to ask questions during my presentations just so I know whether or not I’m being clear.  If you are a presenter who does not allow any questions, you need to assume that everyone in the room has an equal understanding of the terms and implications of what you are covering or you need to allocate time to explain more, talk less.  In a training course I believe there is no excuse for not taking questions at all during the course.

Some tips on ensuring you aren’t Mr. Turbo Encabulator:

  1. Review your slides for TLAs and buzzwords.  Prepare a glossary for them if you don’t want to define them.
  2. Find a way to assess the make up of your audience.  Either poll the attendees before you speak or ask the organizers who will be attending. It’s always better to poll the audience, though.
  3. Tailor your presentation (not necessarily your slides) to the audience.
  4. Don’t try to give the same exact presentation every time to every audience.  They are different.
  5. Don’t be condescending when you explain something that you think everyone should know.  Even if everyone should know it.
  6. Allocate time for questions. Not just at the end, either.
  7. When in doubt, offer a definition of a term.
  8. Learn how to be happy-perky when you ask that one guy who is bogging down the presentation with questions/comments to save them for after the session.
  9. Keep track of frequently asked questions. Consider adding explanations to your slides.
  10. Thank the audience for asking questions.  Nothing says the audience is not that in to you if they don’t ask questions.

Thanks to @ldbjorh for the link to this video.

This post contains some content from an earlier post dated 4 Nov 2009.

2 Days Left to Let #SQLPASS Know What Sessions You Want (And You Like Us, Right?)

May 18, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Data Modeling, Database, Professional Development, Speaking  //  No Comments

The organizers of the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) have opened up abstract voting for the PASS Summit, being held in Seattle, 11-14 October.  There are a gazillion amazing sessions that were submitted, but you can help direct which ones get picked to be included in the Summit program by voting on the session proposals you prefer.  Voting closes on 20 May 2011. 

RobDrysdaleSQLSatRob and I have both submitted sessions.  Rob has submitted a Professional Development topic:

Getting What You Deserve: 7 Steps to Gain Respect in Your Organization [100]
Session Category: Regular Session (75 minutes)
Session Track: Professional Development
Speaker(s): Rob Drysdale

Too often we hear people complaining that they don’t get respect in their organizations or that they aren’t involved in projects when they should be. It seems like our organizations don’t understand what we do, why it’s necessary and the overall value that we can bring to the organization. On the flip side, they are ready to blame us for all the problems. This session will provide the audience with insight into why this lack of respect exists, how we got here and how we can change it.

I’m biased, but I really like this presentation because Rob is giving it from the point of view of a business user and an IT professional. He has stories about his experiences working on both sides of the table: as a subject matter expert (SME) and a project manager and business analyst. He knows what works in getting resources from the business budget, how to get quality time with a SME, and what DEFINITELY not to say if you need the business organization to do something to make your projects better.

You need to hear what he has to share. Go vote now.  I’ll wait until you come back…..


 

KarenBarbiesPresentingI was invited to submit spotlight sessions due to good feedback scores for both my 24 Hours of PASS and my session at last year’s Summit.  For the summit invite I could submit any session, so I submitted my favourite one, Database Design Contentious Issues.  I have been giving this presentation for almost 15 years and guess what? We are all still a contentious bunch of data professionals.

Database Design Contentious Issues – The Debate [200]
Session Category: Spotlight Session (90 minutes, Invitation only)
Session Track: Application and Database Development
Speaker(s): Karen Lopez

A highly interactive and popular session where attendees evaluate the options and best practices of common and advanced design issues, such as:

* Natural vs. Surrogate keys,

* Varchar(1) and other Varying datatypes,

* Identity Properties,

* Naming Standards: Useful or Crazy?,

* NULL vs. NOT NULL,

…and others.

This is a physical interactive, irreverent and funny approach to topics we data professionals work with every day.

Bring your votes, your contentions, and your opinions. They will be rewarded.

(This is the fun  presentation with all the sticky notes and voting)


Five Physical Database Design Blunders and How to Avoid Them [200]


Session Category: Spotlight Session (90 minutes, Invitation only)
Session Track: Application and Database Development
Speaker(s): Karen Lopez
What’s going on in your physical data models and databases? Who actually decides what goes into the database design? How do you choose your primary keys? How do you implement them? Are GUIDs bad, good or "it depends"? Are your datatypes the right ones for the data? How can you measure the cost, benefits and risks of any design recommendation? Are there universally good design practices? Universally bad design practices?
In this presentation we discuss five physical database design mistakes that cost you dearly: performance snags, development delays, bugs, and professional respect. Data professionals are often tasked to prepare physical data models, yet these skills usually overlap those of other team members and this overlap can lead to contention, confusion, and complacency.
In this presentation, you’ll learn about the five blunders, how to find them as well as many tips on how to avoid them. You learn how to talk about and defend your design recommendations and how to ensure that you have the information to demonstrate they are the right designs for your project.
Bring your armor, snark and humor. Blunders can be fun no matter how bad they are.

Because that last session was invited as being one of the top presenters at the March 2011 24Hours of PASS, I have a guaranteed spot on the summit.  I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.  Of course, the Database Design Contentious Issues presentation is my absolute favourite presentation to give, I’d love to have it picked. It’s also the only presentation I have that MUST be given in person – not webinar friendly.  A tough but very happy spot to be in.

Cats Give Warnings Before It Gets Bloody

Feb 23, 2011   //   by Rob Drysdale   //   Blog, Data, Fun, Professional Development  //  3 Comments

Annie

What do you think of this picture of Annie?  Doesn’t she look cute?  She’s such a tiny cat and looks so innocent that you think you can pick her up and pet her and she’ll be all sweet and nice.  She can be nice and sweet, but she can also be nasty and bite and scratch.  The funny thing is, she turns from nice to nasty really fast.  You can be petting her and thinking everything’s fine, but all of a sudden she’ll turn and hiss and lash out to scratch.  For those that don’t know her and just try and pet her they are surprised when she turns and they aren’t expecting it.  For those of us that know her and have experienced it, we know what the signs are and can see her starting to turn.  It’s in her eyes and the way she holds her head, but if you haven’t seen it before you may not recognize it.

Last week I wrote a blog post called What It Feels Like To Be The Cat and I talked about a specific example of feeling like a cat when you’re in meetings.  In my example, the project team was surprised when I finally did “lash out” in a meeting, but they shouldn’t have been.  Just like Annie does, we all show signs when we are not happy, not engaged, ready to run, or ready to lash out.  We just have to look for the signs.  In Karen’s recent post Herding Cats The Hard Way, she talks about situations where you can be causing your users or project team to act like a cat and want to lash out, but sometimes it happens no matter what you do.  But I think that if we see the signs, we can change our actions and it can keep things from getting too bloody.

I’ll give an example of how this can happen.  Let’s say you’re invited to a normal status meeting where everything seems to have been going fine and it’s a clear agenda of things to discuss.  Now suppose that someone has found some problem that wasn’t on the agenda and it relates to your (or your team’s) work and they bring it up.  Your first reaction internally is an adrenalin rush and you get defensive.  Most of us won’t “lash out” in that meeting as a first response, but if it keeps getting discussed and we’re pushed into a corner it could happen.  But if the others in the meeting are paying attention they can see it coming and defuse the situation.  Think about it, has this ever happened to you? What was your reaction? Did you feel like the cat and want to lash out or run away and hide?

You’re actions and what you do and say are important in your interaction with people.  You can’t deliver the same message the same way with everyone and you have to watch and pay attention to the other person so you can see when their attitude is changing.    If you don’t pay attention, you could be surprised and a bit bloody.

Changing Tools? Here’s Some Free Advice That’s Paid For

Feb 11, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development  //  2 Comments

imageIs your project suffering?  Are people struggling with their current toolset?  If they haven’t had training in the tool ("I’ve been modeling for 40 years; I don’t need training" or "There’s documentation; I’ll read it someday"), changing tools isn’t going to help solve the problem.

If your process is broken, if your resources are lacking training in the tool, let me do the math for you:

New Tool +
Broken Process +
Lack of Training =
________________

Old Problem with a New Notation

 

I should also mention that switching tools to try to fix a process, people, or training problem will lead to:

  • Project delays
  • Increased project risk
  • Increased budgets
  • Decreased productivity
  • Decreased confidence in IT
  • Decreased team morale

If you don’t fix your process, people, or training issues, all the tools in the world aren’t going to provide benefits you think you are going to get.

You are most welcome.

Are We Too Unfair to Gen Y Team Mates?

Nov 24, 2010   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Generations, Professional Development  //  10 Comments

Brent Green, author of Marketing to Boomers, has a blog entry that analyzes (or is it attacks) a 60 Minutes segment on Generation Y in the workplace.  His entry, Boomer Bosses, Generation Y Employees, is scathing in its response:

A representative Safer observation:

“Faced with new employees who want to roll into work with their iPods and flip flops around noon, but still be CEO by Friday, companies are realizing that the era of the buttoned down exec happy to have a job is as dead as the three-Martini lunch.”

This flip of a journalistic middle finger at a young generation is not new. Boomers were often criticized during their ascendance into adulthood, when the young, determined and idealistic were hell-bent on changing the nation’s social realities. (As well documented by Professor Leonard Steinhorn, that determination eventually helped the nation become far more socially and economically inclusive for women, for racial minorities and for people thought as odd when compared to the narrow strictures of 1950’s value consensus.)

I have actually seen the “roll into work with their iPods and flip flops around noon, but still be CEO by Friday” attitude with my team members.  My perception on this attitude is that if there is anyone slammed by this it is the Boomer society that raised these workers.  So while Green believes that expressing such fatigue at a generation that has different social norms than the previous generation is a commentary on that generation, I believe it is a commentary on the previous generation.

Flip flops?  I hate them at work — not because they are casual, but because they are annoyingly noisy.  They remind me of dorm days, listening to other students make their way to the communal showers.  Now dorm rooms have private ensuites, so I’m betting flip flops are worn everywhere other than the shower.  I’m showing my Boomer age by saying that I will always feel these items of apparel belong at home, at the beach, and never anywhere else.   I’m just a crusty old Boomer, I guess.

Rolling in around noon?  Did that Gen Y worker spend 4 hours on a phone call to India starting at midnight?  Did he stay up until 11 PM working on a new set of code?  Or was he in the World of Warcraft form the time he left work until 15 minutes before his noon arrival?  We don’t know and it could be any or all of those options.  What I do know is that manager who want to judge productivity solely by a 9 to 5 clock will stop getting all that extra work time out of Gen Yers (and Boomers) if they stick to such a poor measure of effort and accomplishment.

However, that Gen Yer may have had a 9:30 AM meeting with a Boomer business user who waited until 9:45 before giving up and vowing to never agree to meet the Gen Yer again.  The Boomer did this because the Gen Y worker expected to be forgiven for not showing up because she had a good reason.  She didn’t think to call to let the Boomer know that he wasn’t going to make it because she sent a text message to the Boomer instead.  But the Boomer had (politely) turned off his cell phone for the meeting.  A mis-match of communication methods led by a generational difference in expectations.

Wanting to be CEO by Friday?  Maybe a week from Friday.  This is the one thing that I’m going peg on the Boomer society.  Not Mr. Rogers.  If Mr. Rogers was able to skew the outlook of an entire generation, world wide, then it is a sad commentary on the parents that allowed a TV character to form the entire foundation of their kids outlook on work, life, and getting ahead.  Yes, Fred Rogers said that “you are special”, but parents should have been saying that, too, with the proper context of how the world actually works.  If millions of kids had only Fred and Mr. Speedy Delivery to form their tiny minds, why is that the kids’ fault?  Or a Boomer Boss’s fault to judge the appropriateness of this generation’s workplace behaviours?

It’s not wrong for Boomer Bosses to observe this generation’s differing approaches to work or even to personally be annoyed by it.  What is wrong is for us to try to force our outdated view of the world onto people living and inheriting the world we made for them.  That’s where the outrage ought to be focused.

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