Age Impostor Syndrome

This past weekend I was at another successful SQL Saturday. It was, as always, great to see so many of my fellow speakers and friends.

I was perhaps a bit more nervous than usual for this SQL Saturday because I was giving a new technical talk and my demo wasn’t working like I wanted and I hadn’t done as many run-thrus as I like to do.  But it was well received and people seemed to really like it. (For those interested, it was a demo of running SQL Server for under $200, including licensing and hardware!)

During a conversation this weekend I used the expression that I might grow old, but I don’t have to grow up. But I’ve realized it’s more complicated than that.

  • In the past week I’ve completed my 51st orbit of the Sun while still breathing
  • I’m preparing to cook dinner for a bunch of college students this weekend
  • I’ve been working with two recent college graduates on a couple of projects
  • I’m consulting on a new project and using my years of experience to guide it in the right direction
  • My son is completing his first semester at college and coming home this week
  • Apparently received praise (this is second hand) for work I’ve done in a volunteer community

Physically at times I sometimes feel my age, and there certain facts that suggest I really as old as I am; but mentally, I often actually forget I’m as old as I am. I wonder, “why do folks think so highly of me, I’m just a young kid trying to figure my way out in the world.”  Then I realize, I’m not that young kid at his first programming job, trying to figure out how to create a make file.  I’m a middle-aged man who has decades of experience in my various fields of expertise.  People look to me, the way I look to my mentors because they expect me to have the answers! (And fortunately, they’re actually sometimes right.) Sometimes too I’ll be engaging with people my own age and they treat me as equals and I get excited that they’re treating someone half their age with such respect. Then I remember, “but wait I AM their age.”  Or people half my age act as if they’re looking up to me and I want to say, “but I’m no different than you” but then remember, “Oh wait, I do have that many more years of experience.”

So, there’s still a bit of me thinking I’m an impostor. I really don’t know as much as people seem to think I do.  Or that I’m not as old as I really am. Can one even be an age impostor?  Not really, I mean age is a pretty objective fact. But the truth is, I don’t feel my age, and for that I’m grateful.

I’ll continue getting older, but I simply won’t grow up any faster than I have to.

One final request from this wizened old boy, make sure to subscribe if you haven’t!  And speak a little louder so I can hear you.

 

 

“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.

 

Family

Over the weekend on my Twitter feed I saw some tweets about #SQLFamily taking the #SQLTrain up to Seattle for the PASS Conference I’m at this week. It made me reflective.  As some of you may know, I grew up in a train station (no trains though) and have always loved trains. And the ride from Portland to Seattle is one I’ve wanted to make because of the scenery.

But I want to write more about family. Family can mean so many things. It can be your blood family, but it can be those you choose to associate with, or that chose you.  Both have their value and place.

In my blood family, my daughter, as a tradition, has started to take me to see the latest Star Wars film when it comes out. This has led to some amazing moments, such as in 2015 when I got to see through her eyes, the excitement I felt at a similar age of “a new Star Wars movie“.

Unlike some, I loved The Last Jedi, for many reasons. Yes, it had some weak moments, but I think it was a great movie. And it makes me think about family. Something I alluded to in the post linked above. Kylo had his blood family. He had parents that loved him, an Uncle that care for him. But, he rejected all that, trying to find more.  Ultimately, at the end of The Last Jedi we realize, before he does, that he’s utterly alone; that he has rejected everyone in the Universe that cared for him or tried to care for him.

Rey on the other hand, learns just the opposite. Many fans were upset to learn she’s not a Skywalker or a Kenobi or anyone famous. Her parents literally are nobody. She is, in the ultimate sense of the word, an orphan, without family. Or so she thinks. At the end of TLJ, it becomes clear, she is part of a family that has chosen HER, not because of blood, but because of who she is. And she has chosen them.

I am fortunate to have many families. I have my blood family, ones that I hold near and dear. I am fortunate to have them and have such great ones.

I have my #SQLFamily, which is a diverse group of people who all share one passion: SQL Server. It’s a bit nuts at times and we’re all different, but it’s a great group of people for that chosen field. I’m not sure they’re my ride or die family, but I’ll take them!

I have certain friends I consider a family. These are my ride or die family, the ones I would drop anything for if called and asked. I’m visiting some now in Seattle while here for the PASS Summit.

While here, I’ll be visiting yet another eclectic family, my ROC Family: folks who I have shared many adventures with as members of the Rensselaer Outing Club.  We all share a common set of experiences and it binds us.

And finally today, election day, I think of a different family: one that I’m perhaps a distaff member of, but that is my friends and associates who are members of the LGBTQTI+ (and if I’ve left off any letters its through oversight not for lack of caring) community.  They’ve invited me into their homes, to their birthday parties, weddings and more. Today I think about them because for many, today is about more than tax reform, or foreign policy, it’s about in some cases, whether or not their government will support and protect them, or possibly even try to define them out of existence.  So I’m going to again break one of my own rules (what are rules for if not to be broken) and say, if you haven’t voted today, do so. And if you do so, think beyond simply your taxes, your religion and your other views and remember, we are all members of various families and elections can and do have consequences.

I love my families, all of them, in different ways and I hope you all are members of families that love and care. Not every family is of blood nor should it be nor does it need to be.

 

SQL Pass 2018

Next week I’m off to the SQL Pass conference in Seattle.  This will be my 4th peregrination to Seattle in 4 years. This has become an annual trip for me. There’s one very obvious reason for going and then a 2nd also important reason.  SQL Pass is one of the top events for folks who work with SQL Server. It’s a 3 day conference (plus up to 2 days of pre-con events, including at least one meeting I’ll be attending as our local group leader) full of technical sessions covering a wide range of topics related to SQL Server and related technologies.

Four years ago, when I first attended, I was a newbie and wasn’t sure what to expect. My father had recently passed and I wasn’t entirely sure I still wanted to make the trip. But tickets had been bought and the price to attend been paid, so I decided to go. One of the first (perhaps the first) session I attended, was a session by Kathi Kellenberger on how to get published as an author. I had for years toyed with an idea for a book and I figured it couldn’t hurt to attend and perhaps learn something. Her session was quite helpful and I approached her afterwards for more input and she introduced me to one of the editors at Apress. I pitched my idea and a few months later, the contracts were signed.  All I had to do now was actually write the thing.  So, I ended up writing IT Disaster Response: Lessons Learned in the Field. (btw, I do obviously recommend it, it covers IT disasters, plane crashes and cave rescues. It’s not your standard cut and dry boring book on disasters.)

A friend of mine who owns a book shop once said, “anyone can write a book, it’s harder actually publish a book.” I had now done both. It was a bit bittersweet because my dad had been an English major and had always wanted to write a book and be published. Now, admittedly, he wanted to write fiction, which I think is far harder, and in his day, the idea of “print on demand” like what Apress tends to do, didn’t really exist.  And to be honest, at the end of the day, as Kathi warned me, if I was in it for the money, I’d be better off in terms of hours spent, getting a job at McDonald’s.

But, I digress. That book ended up being my first foray into actually getting paid to write.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post I’ve now contributed to Red Gate’s Simple Talk program with my post on an Intro to PowerShell. And my second post has been submitted and accepted and hopefully is going up in a few weeks or so.

So, to say my first PASS event changed my live would probably be accurate.

Beyond that one session four years ago, I’ve attended many other sessions and learned a wealth of knowledge and leveraged that in my job and in finding speakers for my local SQL Server User Group which I now lead. One of my favorite speakers I had in the last year was Bob Ward who did a remote presentation for us about SQL Server on Linux. And this despite me being a Patriots fan and him being a *cough* Cowboys fan.

So again, I look forward to seeing a lot of my #sqlfamily out in Seattle next week. But I still won’t be doing karaoke, sorry Aunt Kathi!

But I also mentioned a second reason for visiting: my non-sqlfamily, what I might call my #rocfamily.  The Rensselaer Outing Club has a number of alumns who all live in the area and we’ve started a yearly tradition of getting together for take-out Thai food at the house I stay in. ROC in its own way changed my life, among other things, teaching me how to be a leader and an effective decision maker.

In addition to all my fellow ROCcers, there’s at least one from my days on sci.space.* on Usenet (where I can still be found btw) and a few other friends I’ve made over the years. I’m quite looking forward to seeing them all.

So see you all next week in Seattle!

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!