“Don’t be so Sensitive”

I’ve mentioned in the past that I have an interest both in the SQL Server world, and the caving world. Often these both overlap in different ways, for example disaster planning and the like.

The other day I was reminded of another way in which they overlap: the ratio of men to women in each activity.  In both areas, though I don’t have firm numbers, far more men participate than women. There are a number of reasons for this, but one I’ll call “the good ol’ boys” attitude. I discussed this in a previous post concerning women in the industry. Recently however I was reminded that sexism continues to be a problem in the caving community. On Facebook, I’m a member of a number of groups with a focus on caving. The other day someone saw fit to post a picture in one of the groups I’m a member of. The picture was of a young woman, in a sports bra and short tights wearing a rock-climbing harness, and holding on to a dangling rope.

Now, there were several problems technically wrong with the picture, including the fact that she was wearing a rock-climbing harness and this was a caving group and the fact that the harness was on backwards.  But, that wasn’t the real problem.  The real issue was, this was that it simply was not appropriate for this group.  Several members posted pointing out that this picture, and pictures like this, objectify women and discourage them from caving.

And then it came, a guy saying, “Don’t be so sensitive.”

In four words, he casually dismissed the concerns and feelings of a large number of his fellow cavers.  He said, without realizing it, “I don’t care how you feel. Your feelings and concerns are not important to me.” In my experience, these are the very same men who then complain there aren’t enough women in caving.

Similar comments included, “Oh, now you’re saying she’s wrong to be proud of her body” or “what’s the matter with a hot body”.  Here the underlying subtext is that anyone who expressed an issue with the photograph in that group was a prude.

I’ve seen similar comments at times in the IT community; “What’s the matter if I call her pretty, she should be proud of that!” “What, DBAs can’t be hot too?”

What some of my fellow cavers and IT professionals fail to understand is that the women in these circles want to be considered by the same standards as their male companions, on their skills and accomplishments, not on what their body looks like.  This does not make them prudes.

Nor, when these same women dress up for a cocktail party, or have a beer, or crack a ribald joke does that make them hypocrites. This is also an important concept for many men to understand. The women I know who cave and are DBAs are just as complex and varied as the men. Some like to dress up, some like to tell off-color jokes in the appropriate setting, some like to smoke a cigar, and often do all the same things that their male compatriots do.  But when it comes to caving or IT, they want to be respected for their skills, not judged for these other attributes.

So, next time you’re about to post a hot sexy photo, or make a comment on a woman’s appearance, ask yourself, “is this the appropriate place for this? Would I do this if it was a hot sexy photo of a man? Would I make the same comment towards a man?” And as a hint, if the name of the group is something like, “Professionals in IT” or “Cavers of the World” the answer is almost certainly “no”. Remember, your fellow cavers and IT professionals are judging you.

The Next Generation

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a caver. I mention this when I speak as part of a dad joke, that as a caver, I really do know a certain body part from a hole in the ground. I won’t say it makes me unique, there are literally 1000s of cavers in the US and even more around the world.

Like any group of people, not all cavers are the same. Some love long expeditions where they may spend a week or more underground, mapping new caves and plumbing their depths. Others may go in to study the geology or search for fossils. Some are studying the biosphere within caves. I have a lot of respect for those folks. Me, I like to take beginners caving. I also like to teach cave rescue and to talk about it.

And I think my role in taking new folks caving can be as important as what many of my fellow cavers do. Yes, it means I often go into the same caves over and over again, and that may sound boring, but honestly, it’s generally not. I often get to see the cave again through new eyes.

What brought on this post was the fact that I had the opportunity to take a friend and her twins caving for a second time. The wonder and excitement that their 6 year old eyes brought to the cave was wonderful. Passages I took as boring and mundane they saw as exciting and exhilarating. Their enjoyment was a breath of fresh air.

I’m a member of the National Speleological Society  I support the NSS because it supports cavers. But, I have a nit to pick with some (certainly not all) of my fellow members.

Let me preface by saying that caves can be rare and unique areas. While they can appear to be solid, non-changing areas made of stone, they can be dynamic places and the presence of humans can easily have a dramatic, negative impact.  For example, people hiking a mountain don’t have an impact on it simply by breathing near the mountain (they can certainly have other impacts). But, bringing enough people into a cave can have a dramatic impact on fungal and bacterial growth simply due to the amount of moisture they bring into the cave with them. They can also bring fungi and bacteria into a cave that may not have been there before.

In addition, many once beautiful caves have been destroyed by treasure collectors who have broken off cave formations such as stalactites and stalagmites. Once removed, it can be hundreds of years or more before they’ll reform. Even touching a forming one can alter its formation.

As a result of this, I’ve seen a movement that appears to be growing of both gating caves and of not sharing the location of caves. While cavers have often always been a bit protective of cave locations, the perception, at least to me, is that we’ve become more so. We’re reluctant to share the caving experience because we’re afraid “too many people will come and ruin the cave.” And there’s probably some truth to that.

But, while I certainly favor protecting our caves, I think if we’re too protective, we end up risking losing the next generation of cavers.  And the NSS enrollment numbers suggest this may be happening.

So, I personally prefer to take beginners caving. Many will attempt to go anyway, so I’d rather they learn proper caving techniques and cave conservation.  I encourage others to do the same. Take the time to introduce others to this wonderful activity, and teach them how to do it correctly.  And fortunately for every caver that seems to have the attitude of not wanting to “let” novices into caves, there seem to be two cavers that are willing to take novices caving. So, I remain optimistic.

I’ve thought about this also as I look at the presentations some of my fellow #SQLFamily members and realized I do the same there. Many will have great presentations on complex topics and ideas. They’re great presentations. And I respect them for it and admittedly, I’m sometimes jealous of their knowledge and skills. Myself, I seem to prefer teaching more introductory topics. I think continuing to bring new folks into the world of SQL Server and into SQL Saturday and PASS Summit are important. In fact our speaker this coming Monday is Matt Cushing. He’ll be speaking about Networking 101.

To close, I think in any world, but particularly in the two I inhabit, caving and SQL, it takes all types, those who dive deep into the subject and those who take other paths. I don’t think one path is necessarily better than another. The only ones I have an issue with those are those who take the attitude that novices aren’t welcome. You don’t necessarily have to be the person welcoming novices, but don’t be the one that discourages them either. We need to build the next generation.  And that’s my take away for the week.

Challenge Accepted!

Monica Rathbun in a recent blog post commented on how hard it is to write a blog post in under 5 minutes and challenged her readers to try to do it.

The only thing I can say is… challenge accepted.

But what to write about?

How about how I write, or rather how an idea gets into a blog post.

I have to admit, some Tuesdays my mind is blank. I sit at the screen, sometimes for 5 minutes or longer and my mind draws a blank. That’s rare. Fortunately, I often, sometime in the previous 6 days or so get an idea in my head and start to think about what I should write on it. It might have been a particular issue at work I had to solve, so I might be focusing on a more technical SQL or PowerShell focused blog.  Or it might be something I’ve seen that amused me.  This means I mull the thoughts over in my head and often have a basic outline before I put fingers to keyboard. The can help me cut down on the time I spent blogging.

I’ve also got about a dozen drafts saved in WordPress where I simply write a few lines of an idea for future posts. These are my saving graces. When I really can’t think of an idea I’ll go back and pull one of those up and finish them, such as this one which lay in draft status for months.

So, looking I think I failed. I think this one took just over 5 minutes. And to save time, I’m ignoring adding a picture, so you get the default. For now.

 

Busy Weekend Volunteering

As I mentioned previously, I was on vacation for about 10 days and got back to Albany very early Wednesday morning (or late Tuesday night depending on how one looks at it.) And once back from vacation I had to jump right back into two other events I had previously put on my schedule. This meant I didn’t have much time to catch up on work or sleep. But it was worth it.

A confluence of events meant that I ended up being double booked this past weekend. The first event was some special cave rescue training called a Small Party Assisted Rescue (SPAR) class. This was a 3 day class, Friday through Sunday. However, in addition, students had the chance to show up Thursday night in order to test on their skills before participating.  I was both an instructor for this class as well as the site and course organizer. My second event was SQL Saturday Albany, which I had been selected to speak at. I’m also the User Group coordinator that sponsors this event. This double booking meant that I couldn’t instruct at the SPAR on Saturday. I do want to note that at both events there were a number of other volunteers, and some were doing even more work than I was.

Between these two events, it meant I was getting about 6 hours of sleep a night plus putting in a lot of driving. It was a long, tiring, essentially 3.5 day weekend starting on Thursday. Additionally the jet-lag made it seem even longer.

Why do I mention all this? Because, both events are very important to me and cover two large areas of my life. I’ve previously written about some of my SQL Saturday experiences and SQL Pass experiences.  This is part of my professional life. I feel very strongly about volunteering and speaking at these SQL events. I enjoy running our local Capital Area SQL Server User Group (CASSUG) for the same reason. I’m a better DBA because of the shared experiences of my fellow speakers. I’ve written about this previously here and elsewhere in this blog. I hope I’ve helped others.

WP_20190720_002

Deborah Melkin discusses normalized vs. star schemas.

On the other side, as my slide deck often points out, I’m a caver. More critically I’m the Northeastern Regional Coordinator for the National Cave Rescue Commission. I’ve had the privilege of teaching 100s of people how to perform cave rescue, been a media resource during the 2018 Thai rescue, and have spoken and written on the subject. I am by no means an expert, I’m always learning, as are all my fellow instructors. But, we all are not only willing, but want to spend the time and money and effort to teach others. We are passionate about it.  I don’t mean this lightly. For this particular SPAR, while about 1/2 the instructors lived within 2 hours of the event and it was an easy drive, the rest either drove 5-8 hours, or spent all day flying on standby to get here or to get home. None were reimbursed for any of their expenses and in fact had to pay for linens if they wanted them.  They also had to take 2 days or more days off of work to come to New York.

Next summer, I will be the course coordinator for our 2020 National Weeklong here in New York State. This will bring close to 100 people to New York for a week of 14 hour days of teaching and learning cave rescue techniques. Fortunately, I will have a LOT of help organizing this event. But again, all the instructors and staff are volunteers who will travel at their own expense to be here and help teach.

So I spent my weekend volunteering, because I’m passionate about it. How was your weekend?

 

Sincerity

There’s an old sales joke about sincerity: If you can fake it, you’ve got it made and can sell anything. I was reminded of this at the SQL Saturday Virginia event. The location was the ECPI campus in Virginia Beach. From talking to Monica Rathbun, the event organizer they were amazing (and more about that in a bit).

But… first a bit of a laugh (at least to me)

Best decision ever made

Best decision they ever made!

I mean I suppose it’s possible both of them had the exact same thought and expressed it in the exact same way, but I think I’d have posted the two posters far enough apart that it didn’t seem so obvious these quotes were probably made up.  It didn’t really come across as sincere. I was amused.

That said, as I understand it, ECPI donated the space for the weekend, setup the tables, took them down and basically did all the site-work that normally SQL Saturday organizers have to do. So kudos for them. Also, at least one professor sent his students down to check us out and gave them extra credit if they went to any of the sessions.

So, in that sense, I will say, I think the folks at ECPI were very sincere in supporting the event and really appreciated it.

But more so, I appreciated what appeared in the speaker room later in the day:

Good eats!

Speaker afternoon snacks

and

More speaker snacks

More speaker snacks

I spoke to the chef who brought them in and apparently ECPI has a culinary school and this was the day of their practicals.

I’ve seen a number of places where food is provided and generally the food staff do an adequate job.  One thing I noticed here was how professional the catering staff were. They wore the typical white jacket of chefs. But, despite being basically a cafeteria across the hall (and the culinary school which was apparently in another building), they acted like this was the Ritz-Carlton and we were buying $75 steaks. Their professionalism and, yes, you knew I was getting here, sincerity in doing their job stood out.

I appreciate it when someone does their job well and sincerely and isn’t just putting in the time.  I recognize we can’t always do that and we have our bad days, but in general, if one can be sincere about their work, I think they should be. It can be obvious when someone doesn’t treat their job seriously or sincerely.

All in all, a great SQL Saturday and I say that sincerely.

 

 

Redemption

About a year ago I wrote this post: And so it Happened… about my first (and so far only) time I ended up with an empty room at a SQL Saturday. I’ve run into a few other speakers who have had the same experience, so that soothed the bruised ego a bit, but it still left a bit of a mark.

As a result, I set a goal of redeeming myself this year again at the Colorado Springs SQL Saturday. I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to exceed my turnout from last year.  So, I submitted several topics for them to select from and waited. Finally the day came, and I found that I had been selected to speak. There was only one problem. The topic in question was one that while I had submitted, and had a good outline for, I had not actually fully developed into a presentation and was a bit nervous about:
The very Model of a Modern Day Database. I thought it would be a good topic, I just had to develop it.  And of course like any good procrastinator I kept putting off the work. I mean I was making progress, but, well it was slow.

Fortunately, by Friday the 5th, I had run through a complete form of it and had worked out pretty much all the tweaks I wanted and had practiced it a few times to an empty room, you know, just in case of a repeat of last year. Seriously though, I do several run-throughs to make sure I get the timing right and I pretty much know what I was going to say. I’ll let readers in on a little secret, some of the parts of my presentations that look like they’re improvised or impromptu comments or replies, are often rehearsed.

So I felt pretty good going into Saturday.  Then, looking at the schedule, it struck me that my topic was on the System Databases, one of which is known as the TempDB (to my non-SQL readers, that’s a fairly critical database SQL Server uses as sort of a scratch pad) and that a session before lunch (mine was scheduled after lunch) was by Kalen Delany and was an entire hour on just the TempDB. I first heard Kalen speak at SQL Connections conference back in 2005 or so in Orlando and had read a few of her books. To say that she’s well known in the SQL Community and highly respected might be an understatement. Now the impostor syndrome was really starting to kick in! What could little ol’ me say about the TempDB in 15 minutes that would interest people after listening to her?

But then I realized, our topics had a slightly different focus, and while some of our advice was similar (put your TempDB on FAST drives), I covered things in a different way and there would still be something of interest to my attendees. And, it is not a competition after all. Honestly, my goal whenever I teach any topic is to reach at least one student or attendee. If I can get one person to walk away and say, “I learned something” or “That was worth it” I feel like I’ve won. This happened during a week-long cave rescue training course once. On the first day in the field I showed a student a fairly simple but not entirely obvious way to rig a rope. After explaining it to her she looked at me and said, “that’s worth the price of the course right there!”.  I glowed and joked I could now take the rest of the week off; I had achieved my goal.

Anyway, after lunch I was prepared. Lunch was scheduled for 12:30-1:45 and I was in the classroom by 1:40, all setup waiting for folks to show up. And sure enough two people showed up. I was happy. Perhaps not ecstatic, but at least happy I had an audience.  And then two more people showed up, put down their stuff and asked, “mind if we leave this here, we’ll be back.”  I said it was fine, but was a bit confused since the clock was saying 1:44 and I was wondering where they’d be going just before my session started.

But hey, four people, that was four more than last year, even if two weren’t in the room and one of the others admitted they weren’t really a DBA and wasn’t sure if the class was applicable to what they wanted to learn.

At that point, one of the original pair started to shuffle her papers and looked up and said, “you know, it’s weird, the schedule has a 15 minute break between lunch and the first afternoon session. This is supposed to start at 2:00 PM”  I looked and she was right.  As far as I can tell, when the organizers laid out the sessions, they put a 15 minute break between them, and simply did the same for after lunch. This explained why the second pair of people had left with the intent to come back. They wanted good seats for the 2:00 PM start.

Sure enough, by 2:00 PM the room was fairly full and I was off and running. I was in a smaller room than Kalen’s presentation, where she had 40 or more, I had perhaps a dozen. But I was happy and content. And, once it was over, both the room monitor and myself reminded folks to give feedback and this audience was great at that.

A word on feedback. The forms at SQL Saturdays tend to be fairly standard and I think I speak for most presenters when I say, that while it can be gratifying to get all 5s on the top of the form, it’s also kind of useless. But, when folks actually take time at the bottom of the form to give actual written feedback, that’s quite gratifying. This audience gave great written feedback.

I also appreciate feedback in person. At least one person came up afterwards to say, “That was really great, I bet you could do an hour on each System Database.”  So perhaps, I will do an hour presentation on the TempDB someday!

So, I feel redeemed. Due to a variety of reasons it’s unlikely I’ll bid to speak at Colorado Springs next  year, but I’d highly recommend it for anyone in the area. And, if you’re afraid that some other presenter might overshadow you because they’re better known or their topic is similar to yours, don’t despair. Seriously, there’s enough knowledge to go around and enough interest.

 

JOBS THAT BEAT THE CARING OUT OF YOU

Let me start by saying this is NOT an April Fool’s Joke. This is a true story.

I do lay the ‘blame’ for this post squarely two members of my #SQLFamily: first on the heels of Grant Fritchey and his post by he same name. He in turn lays blame on Jen McCown’s post by the same name.

I mention elsewhere in my blog I prefer to be intelligiently lazy, so rather than retype, I’ll post the content from a Quora answer I wrote.  Technically I was just a consultant, and after twice getting a late check I made it clear to them that if they stopped paying me on time, I would stop working.  Apparently they liked me enough that a quick call to the CFO would get me a check cut that day.

So with that:

Let me give you an example of a client I once had. When I started with them, people loved working there and they were expanding and successful. So successful the company got bought.

Then… things changed.

Sales people were finding their expense checks weren’t getting paid (more on that later). Did you know, even if you try to explain to the credit card company that it’s a “company card” if it’s in your name and the company doesn’t pay it, you’ll ruin your credit score? Yes, it’s pretty difficult to be a sales person who can’t travel because no one will give you a credit card any more!

Then, to cut costs, an office move was proposed. Quite frankly, had I not been involved as their IT guy, it would have been a disaster for a variety of reasons. Fortunately for them, besides my IT skills, I could read blueprints. It was quite obvious to me that 2 outlets would not serve an office of 20–25 people with computers and printers. It took me nearly kidnapping the CFO on a day he visited and dragging him to the office to make clear how much more work the office needed. They simply assumed, “oh, it’ll have enough power.”

Meanwhile the previous owner had started a new company (in a completely different industry) and was growing and expanding at a furious rate. Also, my wife was a recruiter at another local company (in a different industry also). The only thing all three of these companies had in common was they all were software related, but the fields they served were completely different.

At one point, the top sales person from the failing company left to go get a job a with the new company. Within days the former company sent a cease and desist letter to the new company insisting they stop poaching employees and if they continued, they’d sue the owner for violating the non-compete clause. Now, keep in mind the owner was very much NOT approaching employees of the old company, but even if he were, the non-compete only applied if he had founded a new company in the same industry. he hadn’t. We had a good laugh at the old company.

Now, meanwhile, my wife, while not exactly poaching, knew that almost any offer she made would be accepted since morale was so bad at the old company.

Then… this happened. I was there for the meeting and sat in on it. It’s the closest I’ve come to “beatings will continue until morale improves” ever.

The CFO and CEO came into town for an all-hands meeting. Their goal was to address, among other things, the late employee expense checks issue.

I will say, they had some pretty looking slides. The slides showed things like cash-flow, moving towards profitability and some other items. But the message was quite clear, “We will continue to pay YOUR expense checks as late as possible because it helps our cash flow. And you should be grateful for this.” They very much could NOT understand why employees were furious that their expenses were basically being used as no-interest loans by the company. The rate of exits accelerated after that.

What had been a thriving company became a dying, decaying shell of a company in under a year because of the management.

One Postscript:

One of the developers who left the old company ended up at the new company. He submitted his expense check. He was reasonable, he knew it would probably hit his next pay cycle. He was OK with that. I still recall the look on his face when later that day someone from finance walked in with his expense check. They were under no obligation to turn it around that fast and he certainly wasn’t expecting it. But they did so. They “bought” his loyalty that day by a simple gesture.

So, if people are leaving, trying to force them to stay will backfire. Figure out what you’re doing wrong and fix it.