Barriers

Years ago, I had my team building out our racks at our new datacenter. I was quite proud of it. It was going to be our first planned from the start build-out of 6 racks, as opposed to the hodge-podge build-out we had done of 5 cabinets we had previously rented. Instead of just cramming in equipment where it would fit, we could plan where every piece would go and where we’d leave room for future expansion. This was in 2001, so it was still during a big Internet boom.

One of the things I had decided on doing early on was color coding cables. Red was for anything in front of the firewall for example.  On the backside, every server had two network cards, one for outgoing traffic (the “front-net”) and the second for traffic between the servers (the “back-net”).  To help distinguish between the two, I had ordered a bunch of green cables for the front-net, since that data was “safe” and green is “safe”, and blue cables for the back-net, both start with “b”. Sure, somewhat silly mnemonics, but they worked.

Until, about a week after we finally completed our datacenter move, not one, but two members of my five person team commented, “oh, they were different colors? I couldn’t tell, I’m colorblind.”

“Doh!”  So much for my nice color-coded system.  It can be fairly easy to overlook barriers when you don’t see them. Sometimes it takes more thought and action on your part. Sometimes it takes asking questions, or observation.

Lately I’ve been trying to look for more barriers that I might not have seen before and looking into what I can do to remove them. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not always successful and I’m still learning. But hopefully we call can.

One area I’ve been focusing on this is in my work for the Capital Area SQL Server User Group. Right now I’m looking at two possible barriers. I say possible because I honestly don’t know if they’re issues or not:

First, I’m trying to find someone who can provide ASL interpretation.  Here’s the thing: we have never had, as far as I know, a deaf person attend one of our events, or even express an interest. Is that because there are no deaf DBAs in the area or because they know if they do attend, they probably will face barriers an person with hearing won’t face?

But, that actually begs the question: if there are no deaf DBAs in the area, why? Perhaps there are deaf people who WANT to become a DBA, but can’t because the barriers that exist well before they even attempt to attend one of our events.  I don’t know, but I hope to explore this issue a bit more.

Another item I’ve started to look into, is whether some sort of child-care services at our SQL Saturday event would help encourage more people to attend. My initial thought is, “it’s Saturday, so ideally a spouse can watch kids” or a similar solution. But, that’s assuming every attendee has a spouse or the extra money to hire a babysitter for an entire day. In other words, it’s making a lot of assumptions.  There’s definitely some major logistical concerns that I have to continue to explore before we can even think about offering it. But I’m also simply trying to figure out if it would make a difference.  Unfortunately, currently for our user group meetings itself, it would not be practical. But even then it may be worth looking into.

On a personal note, I have a friend who had a service dog. She was interested in joining me on a caving trip.  So we actually discussed the logistics of it and determined that it was in fact possible to take her caving with her service dog.  There was some logistics we had to work out and I did have to get permission from the cave owner.  Unfortunately, our scheduling never quite synched up and we had to forego the trip. But the point is, barriers CAN be overcome if one works at them and is willing to be a bit flexible.

Today’s takeaway: What barriers have you looked for and tried to remove? They’re out there, even if you can’t see them.

 

Janus 2 – 2019

“All my life’s a circle” – Harry Chapin

The New Year is now upon us. It’s now January around the world.  For those who don’t know where the name of the month comes from, or why my previous blog post and today’s are named as they are, it comes from the Roman God Janus.  Janus looked backwards and forwards. I thought it was appropriate for posts bracketing the New Year. In addition, the name of the month January is often believed to come from the name of the god, but that appears to be a false etymology.

Yesterday I looked back. Today, I’ll look forward.  I’m not necessarily a fan of New Year’s Resolutions (other than resolving to live one more year, which I’ve been successful at so far every time) so call these goals:

  • Continue to blog at least once a week. Last year I think I missed a week while on vacation, but otherwise I pretty much succeeded.
  • Hit 2000 page views. Last year I hit 1907.  I think I can exceed that this year. Of course I’ll need your help!
  • Continue speaking at SQL Saturdays. I haven’t set my schedule, but I already have 3-5 in mind. I’m not sure I’ll do 6 again, but we’ll see.
    • Expand my “SQL Server for under $200” session
    • Expand my “SQL Server Backups” (perhaps into a full precon)
    • Add one more topic to my list of sessions (see current ones here)
    • Shoot for at least one overseas engagement
  • Shoot for speaking at SQL Summit!
  • Figure out how to get an MVP!
  • Publish at least 3 more articles for Redgate’s Simple Talk
  • Continue to promote and support Women in Tech as well as other minority groups
  • Continue to learn PowerShell
  • Continue to learn about SQL Server on Linux
  • Play with containers, just a bit. This is really a minor goal given all the others I have, but I figure I should learn a little.
  • Pick up at least 1-2 more decent sized customers
  • Continue teaching cave rescue
  • Cave more!
  • Hike more!
  • Bike more!
  • Travel
  • Have fun!

That last goal is important to me. If I’m not enjoying what I’m doing, why do it? Life is too short to hate what you do with life. If you can find a way to enjoy life, do it!

Most of the goals above are SQL related, but that doesn’t mean that’s the major focus of my life. It’s just the place this blog touches upon the most these days.

I have a number of personal goals, but that’s for me and I won’t be sharing here.

In any event, I wish everyone in my biological family, #SQLFamily, Caving family, and other chosen families a wonderful and amazing New Year and hope that the new year brings you peace and happiness.

Janus 1 – 2018

As the year draws to a close, I thought I’d look back on the year a bit.

The goal of this blog has been to give me a place to reflect on the purpose of this blog.  I claim in My Goal Here to want to reflect on how we think and what drives certain decisions. And I suppose at times that’s true. At times it’s to give actual SQL or IT related advice.  But at times, it’s simply an exercise in my ability to put fingers to the keyboard and words on the screen and to be a bit self-indulgent if I’m honest.

My most popular page this  year was a mixture of things: The Streisand Effect. It was a bit of an activism piece about events at my alma mater and a chance to broaden my blog to more readers. But, it did also serve to actually reach one of my primary goals; to reflect on how we think and make decisions; primarily sometimes by trying to tamp down an issue, we only serve to draw more attention to it and to inflame things further.

My second most viewed piece this year was one of several on sexism, especially in the IT industry: Math is hard, Let’s Go Shopping. I still haven’t finished the book mentioned in the post, but it’s on my list to finish. The issue of sexism in my primary industry is one that has grown in importance to me and I expect to write more about it in the coming year and to try to do more about it.

Reviewing my SQL Saturday’s in 2018, I had the honor of speaking at Colorado Springs, or at least trying to, which I wrote about here; SQL Saturday Philadelphia, SQL Saturday Atlanta, SQL Saturday Manchester UK (my first overseas SQL Saturday, where I had a blast!), SQL Saturday Albany, and finally SQL Saturday DC. I also presented at the DC SQL User Group in September.  All great times and I had learned a lot and had a great time meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends.

I put in to speak at SQL Pass Summit, but again didn’t make it. But I still attended and had a great time.

I also was pleased to be asked to write for Redgate’s Simple Talk where I know have two articles published on using PowerShell for SQL: My first and second. I’ll be submitting my third article in coming weeks.

But not everything I did or wrote about was SQL related or even IT related. In late June, 13 people became trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand. This became a world-wide media event that a few weeks later I found myself part of. Besides at least four blog posts of my own that touched upon it, in my role as a regional coordinator of the National Cave Rescue Commission I did close to a half-dozen media engagements, including one for The Takeaway NPR program.

Oh, one more interview I did this past year was with Carlos Chacon and Steve Stedman of SQL Data Partners: it was a podcast I did with them. You can read about my thoughts here and listen to the podcast here. And definitely go to Amazon and buy my book!

Anyway, it’s been a great, and eventful year and I appreciate everyone who has read my blog and even more so to those who have commented on it, shared it, or somehow given me feedback.

I’m looking forward to 2019. I hope you are too.

“So, why are you sitting here?”

I had been anticipating the question and it was a fair question, after all, I was one of two men sitting at the Women in Technology Birds of a Feather table at PASS Summit.  But let me back up a bit.

Last week was the PASS Summit in Seattle, an annual event that I mentioned two weeks ago that I was headed to. There are several thousand people that attend and in order to promote networking, in the massive lunch hall, they have a number of tables set aside for particular topics, i.e. “birds of a feather”. So if there’s a particular topic or interest group you are associated with you, you can sit at such a table and know you’re among like minded friends. For example on Day One I had set at the “Virtual and Local User Group” table.  But today, I found myself at the Women in Technology table.

So why?

Let’s back up even further. I grew up in a small town in the northwest corner of Connecticut. I can’t say my parents were poor, but we probably lived below what many would consider a middle-class lifestyle. However, I was very fortunate to have hard-working parents and grandparents who helped, and more than a bit of privilege.  What do I mean by this? One example comes to mind. A couple of years after college when I was first consulting, I needed a small business loan to cover a project for a client. I literally walked into the local bank and on my word got the loan I needed. Even then I realized I had a bit of privilege going on there.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve listened to more and more testimonies from women and persons of color and continued to realize how for granted I’ve taken many aspects of my life. As a result, I’ve worked to listen to others and try to increase their access to opportunities and gain the same privilege I was simply born with by being a white male.

So why was I there?

The question was not a surprise, since the table host, Kathi Kellenberger had said she wanted to go around the table and ask folks why they were there. fortunately she hadn’t started with me first! This gave me time to think about my answer.

To listen. To listen to two women of color talk about their struggles and efforts to make it into the world of being SQL DBAs. To listen to other women talk about their experiences and to learn from them.

So I gave that and a bit more as my answer and then shut up and listened. It was a great lunch and a great experience.  As my friend, and WIT Virtual Group co-leader (along Kathi) Rie Irish is wont to say, “if women could solve these problems we’d have done so by now. We need your help”.

So to my fellow men out there, I would say, be an ally. Attend the WIT Luncheon (which was the day before) at Pass Summit.  Encourage women to speak at your User Group and at SQL Saturdays, stop others from interrupting them during meetings, amplify their ideas. And sometimes, just shut up and listen. And if you’re involved with SQL Server and PASS and want more information reach out to Rie and Kathi and contact the Virtual Group the manage, Women in Technology.  Trust me, men are welcome as allies.

 

Sharing and Building

I’ve mentioned in the past that I think it’s important to share and give back knowledge.

This week’s blog post will be short (sorry, they can’t all be great works of art.) But first I want to mention an event that just happened. I’m the leader of the local SQL Server User Group: CASSUG. We had our monthly meeting last night and I was grateful that Hilary Cotter was willing and able to drive up from New Jersey to present on Service Broker.

When I arrange for speakers, I always hope my group gets something out of it. Well, last night we had a new member visiting from out of town. So, it’s probably rare he’ll make future meetings. And today, I read from him: “Hilary’s presentation was very informative and interesting. “ and “Now it has piqued my interest and I’ve started a Pluralsight course to learn more.”  To me, that’s success.

At our July meeting we had lightning rounds. Instead of a single presenter, we had four of our local members present on a topic of their choice for about 15 minutes each.  One of them, presented on using XML results in a SQL query to help build an HTML based email. He adopted the idea from I believe this blog post. Twice now in the last month I’ve used it to help clean up emails I had a system sending out. Yesterday, I finally decided to cleanup an old, ugly, hard to read text based email that showed the status of several scheduled jobs we were running overnight.  A few hours later, after some tweaking I now had a beautiful, easy to read email.  Excellent work and all based on an idea I never would have come up with it my colleague had not shared it from his source.

And that leads me to a bit of self-promotion. When I created this blog, my goal was not to have lots of posts around SQL Server. Several months ago, a mentor of mine (I don’t know if she considers herself that, but I do, since she’s the one that planted the seed in my head for my first book: IT Disaster Response: Lessons Learned in the Field) approached me at SQL Saturday Atlanta and mentioned she was now an editor for Red-Gate’s Simple-Talk blog section and asked me if I’d be interested in writing.  I was.

So I’m proud to say that the first of my blog at the Red-Gate Simple-Talk site is up. Go read it. I’m excited. As of today it’s had over 2000 views! Far more than I get here. And there’s more to come.

And here’s the kicker. Just today I had a client say, “Hey, I need to get this data from this SQL 2014 database to a SQL 2008 Database.”  I was able to say, “I’ve got JUST the answer for that!”

Sharing knowledge is a good thing. It makes us all far more capable and smarter.

 

Less than our Best

I’ve mentioned in the past that I participate a lot in SQL Saturday events and also teach cave rescue. These are ways I try to give back to at least two communities I am a member of. I generally take this engagement very seriously; for two reasons.

The first, which is especially true when I teach cave rescue, is that I’m teaching critical skills that may or may not put a life on the line. I can’t go into teaching these activities without being prepared or someone may get injured or even killed.

The second is, that the audience deserves my best. In some cases, they’ve paid good money to attend events I’m talking or teaching at. In all cases, they’re taking some of their valuable time and giving it to me.

All the best SQL Saturday speakers and NCRC instructors I know feel generally the same about their presentations. They want to give their best.

But here’s the ugly truth: Sometimes we’re not on our A game. There could be a variety of reasons:

  • We might be jet-lagged
  • We may have partied a bit too much last night (though for me, this is not an issue, I was never much of a party animal, even when I was younger)
  • You might have lost your power and Internet the day before during the time you were going to practice and found yourself busy cutting up trees
  • A dozen other reasons

You’ll notice one of those became singular. Ayup, that was my excuse. At the SQL Saturday Albany event, due to unforeseen circumstances the day before, the time I had allocated to run through my presentation was spent removing trees from the road, clearing my phone line and trying to track down the cable company.

So, one of my presentations on Saturday was not up to the standard I would have liked it to be. And for that, to my audience, I apologize (and did so during the presentation).

But here’s the thing: the feedback I received was still all extremely positive. In fact the only really non-positive feedback was in fact very constructive criticism that would have been valid even had I been as prepared as I would have liked!

I guess the truth is, sometimes we hold ourselves to a higher standard than the audience does. And I think we should.

PS: a little teaser, if all goes as planned, tomorrow look for something new on Red-Gate’s Simple Talk page.

Math is Hard, Let’s Go Shopping

If I were to ask my readers to take a math test right now, approximately 1/2 would perform worse than if I had used a more neutral title such as “Math Quiz Below”. I’ll let you as a the reader guess which 1/2.

This is a subtle form of priming. Multiple studies have shown that by priming people before taking tests or making decisions, we can influence their outcome. It isn’t quite subliminal advertising, but it can be close.

I’m currently reading Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine and it’s quite the read. I recommend it to my audience here. She goes into the studies showing how priming can impact outcomes and references them in more detail.

Overall, we know that women are less represented in STEM fields, but this lack of representation doesn’t start out this way. Studies show in grade school the interest in STEM by gender is about equal. But over time, there’s less representation of women in most STEM fields and often when they are represented, their positions either carry less weight (not as much advancement) or perceived to carry less weight (ignored, spoken over, etc.) And before anyone comments, “but I know a woman who is a CTO at my company” or similar, keep in mind that those are noteworthy because they are the exceptions, not the norm.

Now, no single solution will solve the problem of women’s representation in STEM. But there are things we can do. First, we need to recognize that the human brain is probably built to be primed for certain responses. But don’t confuse this with saying that we can’t change what we’re primed for or how we respond. And, we can also avoid priming.

One study that is cited by Fine appears to suggest that collecting gender-biased demographic data AFTER a test or survey doesn’t cause a gender based result in the test. In other words, if you simply give a math test and then at the end ask questions like gender, or even to put ones name on it (which can often have a influence on self-perception) it appears to remove the bias towards poorer performance by women.  Similarly if you don’t ask at all.

But, most of us aren’t giving math tests are we?

But we are doing things like looking at resumes, deciding what conferences or seminars to attend, what blogs to read or respond it and how we interact with our coworkers and bosses.

One technique to consider is blind recruitment. Here much if not all demographic data is removed from a resume. This sort of work goes back to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the 1970s. But note, there is some evidence that it’s not the panacea some make it out to be. So proceed with caution.

When attending a conference or seminar, you can do one of a few things. For one, try to read the session descriptions without seeing the name of who is presenting. This can be a bit hard to do and may not quite get the results you want. Or, and I’m going to go out on a limb here because some people find this concept a bit sexist and I don’t have a great deal of data to support it, but…. go based on the names, and select sessions where woman are presenting. Yes, I’m suggesting making a conscious, some would say sexist, choice.

So far I’ve been pleasantly pleased by doing so. Over a year ago at SQL Saturday Chicago 2017 I decided to attend a session by Rie Irish called Let Her Finish: Supporting Women’s Voices from meetings to the board room. I’d like to say I was surprised to find that I was only 1 of 2 men in the room, but I wasn’t. I was a bit disappointed however, since really it was men who needed to hear the talk more than women.  Oh and the other gentleman, was a friend of Rie’s she had invited to attend. And a related tip, when attending such topics, generally, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. But that’s a different blog post for a different time.

Other great talks I’ve heard were Mindy Curnutt‘s talk at SQL Summit 2017 on Imposter Syndrome. Or Deborah Melkin’s Back to the Basics: T-SQL 101 at SQL Saturday Albany 2017. Despite her being a first time speaker and it being a 101 class, it was great and I learned some stuff and ended up inviting her to speak at our local user group in February of this year.

Besides making your fellow DBAs, SQL professionals, IT folks etc feel valuable and appreciated, you’re also showing the event coordinators that their selections were well made. If more people attend more sessions given by women, eventually there will be more women presenting simply because more will be asked to present.

But what if you can’t go?  Encourage others. Rie and her partner Kathi Kellenberger (whom I’m indebted to for encouraging me to write my first book) are the leaders of the PASS WIT (Women in Technology) Virtual Chapter of PASS. Generally before a SQL Saturday they will retweet announcements of the various women speaking. It doesn’t hurt for you to do the same, especially for women that you know and have heard speak.

But what about when there are no women, or they’re poorly represented. Call folks out on it. Within the past year we’ve seen a “Women in Math” poster, which featured no women.  There was a conference in Europe recently (I’m trying to find links) where women were extremely underrepresented. When women AND men finally started to speak out and threaten not to attend or speak, the conference seemingly suddenly found more women qualified to speak.

I’ve heard sometimes that “it’s hard to find women speakers” or “women don’t apply to speak”. The first is a sign of laziness. I can tell you right now, at least in the SQL world, it’s not hard. You just have to look around.  In the second case, there may be some truth to that. Sometimes you have to be more proactive in making sure that women are willing to apply and speak. For my SQL/PASS folks out there, I would suggest reaching to Rie and Kathi and finding out what you can do to help attract speakers to your conference or user group. Also, for example, if you don’t already have women speaking or in visible public positions within your organization, this can discourage women from applying because, rightly or wrongly, you’re giving off a signal that women may not be welcome.

Math may be hard, but it should not be because of gender bias, and we shouldn’t let gender bias, primed or not allow under-representation to occur.

PS – bonus points if anyone can recognize the mountains in the photo at the top.

PPS – Some of the links below may end up outdated but:

And that’s just a small sampling of who is out there!