Yesterday a fellow #SQLFamily member, Brent Ozar tweeted about how someone objected to some content in his latest email he sends out to subscribers. Based on the response, I’m guessing it was this email.
Now, let me back up and in full disclosure say I’ve met Brent once or twice, sat in on a SQLSaturday session of his and one User Group meeting where he presented, but don’t know him well. We’ve never sat down and had a beer or discussed DBA topics together. And, in fairness, my blog on a good day probably gets 1/1000th the reads his blog will get on a bad day. He’s what some might call “a big name” in the industry. He’s an expert on SQL Server and well worth reading for that reason alone. I can’t guess how many people read his blog or newsletter, but I can say it has influence.
And so, someone felt that him writing about something other than how to build an index, or why not to use an update in a trigger was him straying from his lane and he should stick with data related topics. He’s already responded in some tweets and I presume elsewhere but I figured it was a good topic for me to blog about.
As long-time readers know, I don’t write just about SQL or PowerShell, but I also write about cave rescue or marshmallows or Safety (one of my more popular pages strangely). In other words I have an eclectic array of topics. But I also have some themes and I’ve written about (not) being an ally, or gender factors in giving blood. There are others, but the general point is I sometimes also write about social issues I think that are important. I think I’d be hard pressed to say what my lane is here; perhaps it’s more like a curvy mountain road?
But let’s go back to the person who told Brent he should stay in his lane. What lane did that reader refer to? I’m presuming it’s a narrow lane of “topics related to databases”. But, I think that person is wrong and I fully support Brent’s “straying from his lane.” Why? Because of power and privilege.
I’m going to go out on a limb (though I suspect it’s not a very far one) and state that I suspect Brent and I share much of the same privileges simply by being born the gender we are and skin color we have. There are other aspects we probably share.
These innate privileges give us power. And sometimes we are consciously aware of that power and other times unconsciously blind to it. Having the power and privilege itself isn’t an issue. It’s how it’s used that is important.
For example, all too often, I forget that I’m more likely to be taken seriously when I talk about a technical topic than some of my fellow DBAs, simply because of my gender and/or skin color. I can be unconscious to that power and privilege or I can work to be conscious of it. And by being conscious I can try to improve the situation for my fellow DBAs who don’t have my innate privileges.
I can be ignorant of that fact that no one questions my marriage and be oblivious to how some had to wait for the Supreme Court to recognize the validity of their love for their partners. Or, I can be aware of that and support my LGBTQI brethren in being allowed to live with who they choose and to marry them if I wish. This shapes my political opinions and who I will vote for. For example, I won’t vote for someone that I think will act to take away same sex marriage or will enact legislation that hurts such folks.
But there’s also more conscious forms of power. Simply being aware is not enough. Making room for others to be heard is a positive use of power. This is what Brent did and I fully support it. But, he didn’t simply make room, he provided the metaphorical microphone and the loudspeakers. If you didn’t look at the link above, look now. You’ll note that Brent didn’t write the email in question, but rather he gave space to a fellow DBA, Andy Mallon. This wasn’t an accident, this wasn’t Brent being lazy and not wanting to write an email, this was a conscious choice. This is using his power as a well known DBA and “big name in the industry” as well as his privileges to give a voice to others. (Please note, Andy’s a friend of mine, I’ve spoken with him at SQL Saturdays and he’s no slouch, but as far as I know he doesn’t have the audience that Brent has.)
I can support that use of power and if it’s “straying from his lane” so be it!
That said, as I wrote in my article in giving blood, as DBAs, we can NOT simply divorce ourselves from social issues. It’s not as simple as “well I just write SELECT statements and create tables.” The very data we record encodes social standards. When we make gender a bit field, we’re enshrining a very binary view of gender that does not reflect the lived lives of those around us. When we make fields that say Husband or Wife, rather than Spouse 1/Spouse 2, we are saying that only a certain form of marriage is valid (And for that matter, why stop at Spouse 2, why not make it a separate table for the day when someone walks in and claims to have more than one spouse.)
In other words, even if Brent had never strayed from writing about SQL Server, his lane would properly include social issues. Data isn’t nor should it be completely separate from social issues.
And I’ll toss out a few URLs here:
- wit.pass.org – Women in Technology Virtual User Group
- www.pass.org/virtualgroup/deivg – Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Virtual User Group
- am2.co – Andy M. Mallon’s blog
P.S. for those who read my post last week, I’m happy to say I got my slide deck and recording uploaded for presentation at PASS Virtual Summit 2020: PowerShell for DBA Beginners! So join me on Nov 11th at 2:00 PM! And use code LGDISIIK3 and save $50!