The Year So Far

Today happens to be the last day of the month and the last day of the quarter. And according to my calendar, it’s the 4th Blursberyday of the month of Holiecouw.

I decided to take a look back at my first post of the year: 2020 in Preview. Wow, a lot has changed in a scant three months. I mentioned I was reading Station Eleven. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world after a world-wide flu pandemic. Little did I know at the time I’d be living that reality a scant 3 months later. Ok, this is not nearly as bad as in the book, but it does give on pause to think. We are living in a time of upheaval and it will be interesting to see how this current pandemic changes social structures for coming years.

I wanted to speak at SQL Saturdays. Well, almost every one I’ve put in for or was planning on putting in for has been cancelled or delayed. So much for that goal. On the other hand, members of the #SQLFamily have been holding Friday afternoon (and other times) Zoom hangouts as sort of a morale boost. So I’ve actually gotten to know a number of my fellow DBAs and fellow speakers, so that’s better.

Fortunately, I’m still working. As a consultant, you realize every meal may be your last meal, so you keep working at it and hoping more meals are coming your way. So far my biggest client shows no sign of slowing down, nor does my second largest client. I’ve been fortunate, I know a number of folks across many industries who have been hit with a temporary or even permanent job loss. This is going to be hard for many.

But, I’ve also been taking the time to do more webinars. Last week I sat in on a Redgate webinar on the state of DevOps that was quite informative. The next day, Kendra Little (also of Redgate) gave the WIT webinar and also talked about DevOps. Both were quite informative and I learned a lot. I look forward to the upcoming Redgate Streamed event.

I’ve been using git more and more. I started using it integrated with Visual Studio about two years ago I think. But, after seeing my son working on a project where he was using it at the command line, I decided it was time to start to do that and now for one client that’s my de facto way of checking in and out changes I’ve been making to the PowerShell scripts I write for them. Next up, more version control for the SQL Scripts. I’ve already written a small deploy script I use to deploy scripts and changes and more importantly to log them. So while that client hasn’t really adopted DevOps, I’m doing my part for my small corner of work.

My next goal is probably starting to learn how to use Docker more. Cathrine Wilhemson’s blog post on that has convinced me it’s time.

And I finally finished binge-watching Haven.

So, the last few weeks haven’t been exactly what I planned for, and the upcoming months won’t be what I planned on either, but it hasn’t been a terrible time. What about you?

P.S. While out biking the other day, a thought dawned on me. Many post-apocalyptic books (such as Station Eleven) have characters using cars, but more like carts, either pulling them themselves or with horses because once the gas runs out, you can’t make more. But I got wondering how having a large number of electric vehicles would play out in such a world. Yes, much of the infrastructure would be gone, but even if you had to carry panels with you (much like Mark Watney in The Martian) you could probably be far more mobile. Hmm…

Follow-up to last week

As a blogger, often I find myself tracking the number of page views a particular post gets as a measure of success. If I post something and it gets 20 page views and the next week I post something and that gets 100 pages views, one can sort of claim that the second post was 5 times more successful.

But the reality is, that’s probably really only a measure of popularity. One of my most popular posts was about some ongoing issues at RPI. But, I’m not entirely sure that popularity is a measure of success. In fact I’d argue that it’s often a misused metric.

What I actually prefer to know, but is often far harder to measure, is the impact a post or lesson has. I mentioned in an earlier post about how a single part of a lesson during a cave rescue class made a big impact.

So, this gets me to last week’s blog post. In terms of popularity it was rather humdrum. It didn’t stand out much in terms of the number of views it received and I was initially afraid that perhaps no one was reading it. (Yes, as a blogger, I have do have enough of an ego to hope people read my posts).

But, then something strange happened. I started getting comments and feedback, both here and other social media. Most of it was public, but some was sent privately and I’ll respect the privacy of those who sent it. And the feedback was generally supportive and informative and in several cases from women I know and whose opinion and feedback I value.  To them, I want to say Thank You. It is gratifying to know my post was read and had an apparently positive feedback.

I’m going to end this week’s quick blog with the name of a book that I’m reading this year. Yes, I say “this year” for a reason. Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World by Rachel Swaby. Each chapter is a quick read and it helps highlight the fact that women have been changing the world even when we didn’t know it. Some names I’ve recognized: Virginia Apgar for example. Most, like Mary Putnam Jacobi are new to me, but fascinating reads. I’m trying to read one bio a week, hence why it’ll take a year to read. I look forward to reading about Rosalind Franklin for example, a woman that I’d say was pretty much cheated out of a Nobel Prize.

So, in closing, thank you to who commented and gave me feedback. I value it and learn from it. And it makes writing my blog worth it to me.

Oh, and I have to comment on last week’s header photo. I picked it because it was a subtle example of poor design, anyone sitting at that spot on the bench risked having the latch slam into their legs. But I also picked it because I took it before one of the hockey games my wife plays in. She’s the one playing hockey. I’m just the guy opening and closing the door as they get on/off the ice.

I don’t see a problem…

Today is the 3rd day of Women’s History Month here in the US and today is Super Tuesday and we have a bunch of older white men and a two women vying for the Democratic ticket.

And yet, I started my reading with a response on a blog of fellow #SQLFamily member, Monica Rathbun that comes down to “I don’t see a problem, therefore it’s your fault and you should change what you’re doing.”

So I want to go back and talk a bit about privilege. But before that I want to talk a bit about my childhood.  I was fortunate in many ways growing up; a good grammar school, the ability to attend a very good high school and fortunately I got into a great college. That said, my family was never rich and I know at times either of my parents were carefully counting pennies. So in some ways I was privileged in others, not so much.

But that’s not the form of privilege that really mattered.  The privileges I was born with were more intangible and can’t be measured by a bank account or resume. They’re more subtle. But today I want to talk about a specific ones: being a man. This is a circumstance of birth. It would apply no matter where I was born in the US and regardless of my economic situation.

What exactly does this mean? For one, it means I don’t recall thinking much about it until college. Yes, I knew about feminism and discrimination before then. My mother was a divorced woman in the ’70s running her own business. She was (and is) someone I am proud of. But in general, discrimination was something I read about, not something I knew.

But then there was the time I was sitting in the backyard of a college girlfriend’s sorority house talking with her and a friend of ours. Our college, RPI, had a ratio of 5 men for every woman that attended, so again, I knew there were problems. But, I didn’t realize what privilege meant until the friend mentioned that she always submitted her papers to her professors with just her first initial and last name.  I was a bit confused. She explained to me that she found she received better grades when her professors didn’t know it was a woman submitting the papers. I was taken aback. Sure, I knew RPI’s ratio was problematic, but I had always assumed that once a woman got into RPI, that for the most part, she was judged on her merit, not her name. I was clearly wrong. (And honestly, even that’s not quite accurate about not being aware. I had a friend who had dropped out of the architecture program 5 years previous, in part because of a sexist professor).

Now, it would have been easy, even trivial to say, “Nah, you’re just imagining it.” I mean I had never seen it happen. I only had her word to take for it after all, compared to my entire life experience of not seeing it.  Well actually I had her and my girlfriend’s word for it since she chimed in too. I choose to believe them. I also, by the way, started to do the same thing with my papers at times. I’m not sure how much thought I really gave it, but I’m pretty sure I figured the more semi-anonymous papers submitted, the harder it would be for professors in general to catch on that perhaps it was women doing it.

Now, I’m sure some readers (and I’m betting mostly the men) are saying, “yeah right” and since most of my readers are geeks, they’re probably thinking, “show me the data.”  That is somewhat fair. So let’s take a look at a shift in orchestras in the US. Up until 1970, the top 5 major symphonies in the US were predominately male with over 95% of the positions held by men. Now, I’m not an expert in music, but I suspect that women like music as much as men. So, obviously something was going on here.  At some point in the 1970s and 80s, most major symphonies made a minor, but very important change: they put the musician behind a screen during the audition. Now the judges knew nothing about the performer and could only judge them on their music. A surprising thing happened. The number women selected for symphonies increased. Removing the ability for bias at an early stage helped close the gender gap.

So, can I prove my friend’s assertion that removing her female sounding first name helped her grades? No. But can I believe it? Yes! Can I believe she and my girlfriend were victims of bias? Certainly.

So let me go back to Monica’s blog. First of all, if you haven’t read it, please do. In fact, given the choice between reading hers and reading mine, read hers. She’s talking from her personal experience. I’m only speaking as a reflection of that. I also want to add that my hope (and goal) here is not to usurp her voice or the voice of any other members of my #SQLFamily, but ideally to bring them to the forefront.

But for a minute, back to my privilege.  I want to mention a few things that my privilege has allowed me to ignore, often without realizing it.

  • I’ve never wondered, “did they select me to speak because I’m a man?”
  • While yes, at SQL Saturdays I’ve tried to dress professionally, I’ve never given thought to “will someone find this too sexy?” or “will someone tell me I should dress a bit sexier.”
  • No one has ever told me, “you should smile more, you’re more handsome that way.”
  • I’ve never once been concerned with if my technical abilities were being judged on the size of certain body parts.
  • I have never thought, “will that person hit on me after I’m done talking?”
  • I’ve never had a woman monologuing during the Q&A instead of actually asking me a question about my presentation.

These may seem like silly things and you may think I’m making them up, but I can assure you that if you ask the women around you, they’ve experienced at least some of these, if not all of them.

Now like Monica, I’m going to present a few good points. I’m very fortunate to be a member of two great communities, #SQLFamily and the National Cave Rescue Commission. However, let me reiterate that neither are perfect. Sexism and bias exist in both communities and I’ve seen it first hand. But I’ve also seen a lot of efforts in both to recognize folks based on their skills, not their genders.

But we can get better. And here I’m going to talk mostly to the men reading this, in part because I think we have to do a lot of lifting.

For example, I’ve caught fellow attendees at SQL Saturdays doing that monologuing thing. If you don’t know what I mean, try this experiment the next time you’re at a SQL Saturday (or honestly any conference, but this is probably more true at technical ones).  Go to an equal number of speakers who identify as male and female and sit in back. Then start to note what happens during questions. While not universally true, in my experience, when it’s a man presenting, most of the questions are actual questions and typically on topic. But, often when it’s a woman presenting, the “question” is often a monologue of sorts. Yes, often it’s in support of the presentation’s topic, but it’s generally the questioner talking about themselves, not them trying to enrich their knowledge by learning from the speaker.

Learn from your mistakes, don’t double-down. I’m going to call-out Rick here on Monica’s post who doubled-down. Not only did he dismiss Randolph’s response, he tossed in a diminutive of Randolph’s name. Now I’ve met Randolph at Summit and Randolph’s a cool person. But even if I didn’t know Randolph, I wouldn’t use a diminutive of their name without their permission.

Recently, I replied to a tweet of a friend mine who is active in the WIT community.  I thought I was being supportive, but her DM to me was basically, “WTF Greg?” My initial response was equally tone deaf. But, she took the time to explain to me why she found my response to her tweet problematic. Now sure, sometimes it’s a blow to ones ego, “but I thought I was being supportive!” But when the person you’re trying to support says they don’t find it supportive, don’t dismiss them and don’t go off in a huff. Accept the fact that they didn’t find support from your efforts. Take it as an opportunity to apologize and to grow. And think of it this way. They had a choice. They could have ignored you completely, or called you out in public and possibly shamed you, or take the time to pull you aside and educate you.  I’m grateful she took her time for the last option.

Almost finally, if you’re reading this and still thinking that gender bias isn’t an issue, or you’re thinking, “but none of the women I know have mentioned this to me” stop and think about it. Maybe they have and you’ve been oblivious or ignored their experiences. Or, and this is perhaps worse, they haven’t mentioned it to you at all. If not, you might want to wonder why.

Finally, as I’ve said, I don’t like to call myself an ally. I’m honored when others consider me such and I strive to me such. But, as I noted before, I’ll make mistakes. I can’t promise to be perfect, I can only promise to try my best and to try to learn from the experience of the great women around me.

P.S. If you do dismiss the experiences of my colleagues, in #SQLFamily or NCRC, please don’t bother attending my talks or discussions.

P.P.S If I ever fail, call me out. I’m continually striving to be a better person.

Hampton Roads User Group Recap

I’ve talked about how I think it’s important to be part of the #sqlfamily community and how I enjoy talking and giving back. Last week was another example of this. Much earlier this year (it might have even been at Pass Summit last year) I convinced Monica Rathbun to do a quid pro quo. I’d speak at her user group in Virginia Beach if she’d come to upstate NY to speak at my user group. I’d seen Monica speak and knew she would be a great speaker for my group. Fortunately, despite seeing me speak, she apparently felt I’d be good enough for her group.  Seriously though it was a good deal.

My original plan had been to drive down Wednesday, address her group, stay at an AirBnB on the beach and then spend a few nights in the Washington DC area visiting with some friends.  Unfortunately, less than a week before I was ready to head down, my DC plans fell through. This radically changed my travel plans and I scrambled to make various plans to make the trip a practical one and one that wouldn’t break my budget. One of the unfortunate facts of being as consultant is that I don’t have an employer that can cover travel expenses. On the other hand, I often have a lot more flexibility in when and how I travel.

I ended up taking the train to Wilmington Delaware and getting a rental car from there. This allowed the most flexibility, was second in time to flying, and overall the least stressful. I love taking the train because I can sleep (which I did on the Albany to NYC segment) and get work done (which I did on the NYC-Wilmington segment, working on a future article for Redgate Simple-Talk and reviewing my talk) Unfortunately, due to a missed turn, some slow traffic due to the rain and then the rain in general, rather than showing up at 5:30 like I had hoped, I was in the door at 6:15 or so. This gave me time for a single chicken wing before I launched into my talk.

I had been monitoring the Meet-up page to see how many people were expected and at my last count it was 8. I was comfortable with that. I was hoping for more, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.  Imagine my surprise when I walked in and there were closer to 20 people there. Honestly, a great turnout! But, between running late, the usual hardware issues of getting my laptop and the monitor talking, and not being able to get one last run through of a 10 minute section of my talk, I’ve got to say I was a bit flustered.

I love to teach. But I would be lying if I said I don’t love it when I see or hear a student have what I call that “Aha moment!” This is that moment when you explain or demonstrate something and you can see the look in their eyes or the tone in their voice when something just clicks. It might be a small thing to you, but for them you’ve just rocked their world.

A number of years ago while teaching the Level 2 cave rescue class in Colorado, we were doing an instructor lead evolution. During these, the instructors take the lead and guide the students through the problem. It’s usually the first real new teaching experience of the week-long class, before that it’s mostly review. In this case I had a single student working with me and we were charged with setting up two lines to be used as a safety and for another purpose.  I told her to grab a single rope and a carabiner. She looked at me questioning because she knew we needed to have two lines rigged. I then showed her the tree I had selected and told her to basically double the rope, tie what’s known as a high strength tie-off using the middle of the rope, clip it in with the carabiner and toss both ends down. Then the aha moment, “wow, I’d never thought of that. That’s worth the price of the class right there.” I’ve got to say I was proud. My job was done, 2nd day of teaching. I could take the week off. Of course I didn’t.

This time around, I was talking about the Model Database and how most DBAs completely ignore it and overlook it. I was demonstrating how when you put objects in it or change various options in it (such as from Simple Logging to Full Logging) any new databases will pick up those objects or options (unless you override the options using a script.)  As I was bending over the keyboard to type the next demo I heard it, someone in the middle of the classroom suddenly said, “Woah…” and you could tell their world had just been expanded. That alone made the entire 36 hours (including travel time, sleeping etc) of the trip worth it. I knew someone had learned something. I live for those moments.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy getting paid as a consultant, but honestly, I speak on SQL Server topics and teach cave rescue for those aha moments, for knowing that I’ve just expanded someone else’s world a bit.

Oh that, and in this case, the free wings!

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Tasty wings at Hampton Roads SQL Server User Group

Just a reminder, I will be at the 2019 PASS Summit in Seattle and look forward to meeting with anyone who wants. My Twitter handle is @stridergdm and I often hang out with the folks at MinionWare (they’ve got a comfortable couch) and will be attending the Birds of the Feather luncheon (undecided where I’ll be sitting) and the Women in Technology Luncheon.

And I’m hoping for my nest article on PowerShell for Redgate’s Simple-Talk to be submitted before then!

 

NY ComicCon

Last week I talked about Kids These Days. This past weekend I went with my daughter to NY ComicCon. It was a late 8th grade graduation present she had requested. Due to me messing things up last year, we missed our chance to go, so I made up for it this year. And it was well worth it, for a couple of reasons. I want to focus on two, one topical and one personal. The topical first.

The topic is in the above photograph.  I apologize for it being blurry, “I’m a DBA Jim, not a photographer.”  But I took it for a reason. This was the panel for a talk titled: Join the Resistance! (Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker). It was an interesting panel that talked about the books they wrote that cover the time between The Last Jedi to this December’s The Rise of Skywalker. But partway through listening, something dawned on me about the panel.  Can you figure out what I realized?

It’s there in the picture, but if not, let me list the panelists: authors Rebecca Roanhorse, Justina Ireland, Kevin Shinick, Ethan Sacks, Delilah S. Dawson, audiobook narrator Marc Thompson and moderator Ashley Eckstein.

What strikes you about that list of names? Now compare that to the panels you see at a number of tech events such as various SQL events. Note what it’s not. This is NOT a MANEL!

Science Fiction has for far too long been treated as the domain of boys and then later men. Marketing for decades often focused on boys. It was assumed that every boy wanted to be Han Solo or Luke Skywalker or Captain Kirk.  Women in shows and books were often only there as props for the male characters to react to. Granted, this statement isn’t 100% true, even Princess Leia had some meat to her character in the original Star Wars (back before it was episode IV or A New Hope.) Even then though, she served the role set out in much of mythology as the princess in distress to be rescued. Fortunately her role and the role of women in Star Wars was greatly expanded over the series, to the point now where Rey is our hero.

Ahsoka Tano in triplicate!

Ahsoka Tano in triplicate!

And this panel shows exactly how equitable the Star Wars universe has become. The moderator was Ahsley Eckstein, who voices the character Ahsoka Tano in various animated Star Wars series. Three of the authors on the panel were women. In other words, women were well represented.

Think about this when planning your tech event such as SQL Saturday. Do you have equal representation? “But wait Greg, there’s just not that women doing SQL! I only had 3 women apply to talk and 30 men!” I’m going to give you some advice. Ask for more women. Talk to those three, see if they know anyone who might want to speak, but was too nervous to put in a submission. Talk to Kathi Kellenberger and Rie Irish of the PASS Virtual Group Women in Technology.  Yes, there may not be as many women in tech as men, but I can guarantee that there’s more than you think and that it won’t change without encouragement and representation. If you as a guy get invited to speak on a panel, make sure there’s diversity. Turn down opportunities if it looks like it’s going to be a manel. Call out your fellow community members if they’re engaging in sexist behavior. It’s not always comfortable,especially if it’s a friend or a co-worker, but it needs to be done. Do your part.

If ComicCon can have an equitable panel in regards to Star Wars, you can do the same in regards to SQL or other tech panels.

Now for the personal:

Live Long and Prospoer

Autograph and picture with two amazing women, Nichelle Nichols and my daughter Rebecca.

Two amazing women: Nichelle Nichols is an amazing woman and helped represent African Americans on television in the 1960s and helped inspire people like Whoopi Goldberg and Mae Jemison. And as for my daughter, her future and journey is in front of her.  I will admit to basically being speechless in front of such an icon and here I am, still three days later grinning ear to ear thinking “I was in the presence of Uhura!”

(BTW, for those who recognize it, that’s a 1st edition Star Fleet Technical Manual with her signature. It also contains the signature of George Takei and James Doohan.)

 

“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.

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.