The Datachix Blog











{March 8, 2011}   SQL University –We Could Be Heroines…. Not Just For One Day

Hi All, Julie here.  Welcome to day 2 of Women In Technology week here at SQL University.  Thanks to Jorge for sponsoring this topic again.  Jes Borland (Blog: Twitter) has gotten us off to a great start.  Tomorrow will be my blogging partner Audrey Hammonds (Blog | Twitter).  Thursday’s Professor will be Jen McCown (Blog | Twitter) and Friday’s will be Wendy Pastrick (Blog | Twitter).

It has proven to be a hard writing task for me.  On the one hand, there does still seem to be a problem with a lack of women going into I.T.   I have listened to women tell me some pretty horrific stories of workplace malfeisance, and in addition to other factors which may have caused the mistreatment, gender did seem to play a role.   And when you miss an opportunity or get squeezed out of an environment you want to be a part of, that sucks.  It hurts financially.  It wounds.

But on the other hand, in my experience, the trials and tribulations I have encountered as a result of being a female in I.T. have been entirely surmountable and minor.  This may not have been the case for me a generation ago.  For that I count my blessings.  And my saying that does not for a minute mean that my attitude is “oh you girls, stop complaining” or “I don’t believe you”.  But my point is that I do not approach the gender gaps in technology with feminist rage, nor do most of my female coworkers.   Really the most common attitude I encounter from people around this issue is bewilderment.  We can’t understand why more women don’t want to go into a field which we find very rewarding.  So for now, I am simply interested in getting the word out that careers in I.T. are great.  I love my job and I want to help and encourage anyone (male or female) else who may be interested in this field to pursue it to the best of his/her ability.   I want people to know one of my favorite things about I.T., which is that it is still largely a meritocracy, where ability  and hard work will get you very far.

As you read this week’s entries, you will find that rarely do Database people arrive at this career via a direct path.  I have a bachelor’s degree in Theatre.   I basically had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up when I entered college.  I was (and still am) a bit of a weirdo and I met some theatre folks and it just clicked for me.  I spent four years smoking, dressing in black and dramatically living a bohemian stereotype.  I hadn’t  asked myself the tough questions like:  Do you want to live in New York or LA (the answer was no).  Would you like to be able to feed your children? (um, yeah).  Would you gladly take a tampax commercial to pay your bills (Gosh that would kind of bother me, not that I ever got that far, mind you, commercials in the Acting business represent stellar success).  No, quite honestly, it was a poor decision.

At least I had my brains to fall back on.  (I’m not sure if I’m kidding ) Previous to college, I had been a hard core honors student.  I made it through two semesters of calculus; I did all the AP classes.  Armed with my theatre degree , I found a job as a secretary.  Good times.  These are the days where I encountered the most “issues” with being a female in the workplace.  Myself and one of the guys for whom I served as a secretary re-enacted some brilliant Benny Hill type chase scenes as he literally would wait for opportunities to chase me around the desk, trying to steal a kiss.  To this day when I see Administrative Professional’s day on a calendar, I throw up a little in my mouth.

But what that job did afford me once I had a stern talk with “Benny” was an opportunity to work with Crystal Reports, which is very “Relational”.  I was drawn to working with it, and I loved playing with the ER diagrams inside of it.  Memories from my childhood reappeared.  I started formulating a plan for a career change.  Now I have to talk about my dad.

My dad and I were both born in Erie, Pennsylvania.  If you don’t where that is, that’s fine.  I’ll tell you that it is a smaller, less prosperous, Detroit like place in between Cleveland and Buffalo along Lake Erie.  My father didn’t go to college.  He worked in factories when I was a child.  But he was very smart and tenacious.  He read popular mechanics and was fascinated with computers.  In 1979, he decided it would be worth it to sell his motorcycle and buy a TRS 80 Personal Computer from Radio Shack.  After learning Basic (Basic Basic), he started his own company briefly, selling and programming machines called OSI’s.   His business did not succeed, but he gained enough knowledge to get another programming job if he was willing to relocate to South Carolina.  This year he will retire after more than 30 years as a programmer.

My father is a bit more traditional when it comes to gender defined work.  He honestly would not have been thrilled had I wanted to be a cop, or a paramedic, but he never batted an eye at the idea of me following in his footsteps to being a programmer.  His attempts to teach me himself failed miserably at the time (I just couldn’t get excited about black screens and dos prompts at the age of 12).  But he did tell me once when I was young “You have the mind of a programmer, you would do great in this field, plus you have common sense and you wouldn’t believe how  many people don’t.”  And at the age of 28, burnt out on the arts and disillusioned with being an administrative professional, I finally remembered his words.

I got a job as an Instructor at a local computer learning center.  I insisted on being the Microsoft Access instructor (I was not permitted to teach SQL Server), instead of Word and Excel, because I knew databases were what I wanted to learn, and I wanted to learn them as quickly as I could and get a job working with data.After that gig, I worked for many years in the Legal Collections industry as an EDI person.  I was using MS Access and MySQL.

After a few years of this I again looked around to see what I needed to learn in order to keep my career momentum going.  I made the decision to pay for my own SQL Server training and got certified in SQL Server 2000.

I had a hard time finding a job in SQL Server with no SQL Server experience.  This was in 2001, right after the “dot bomb”. Finally (read years later) I got a job working with SQL Server as an entry level database developer.  So long had passed between getting the certification and that day that I almost called and canceled the interview that morning.  I had reached the bottom of my confidence in my ability to ever get a job working with SQL Server or to be able to do it quite honestly.  Now I have to talk about Mark Fugel.

Mark Fugel hired me for my first SQL Server job.  He is a larger than life, Mario looking fellow from New Jersey with decades of experience, tons of heart and a stunning sense of humor.  He was my boss and mentor.  Our company had an application which was continually adding clients.  Each client had to be implemented by manually adding its metadata into a SQL Server database.  It was a perfect job to learn transact sql in and out.   As I said, my confidence was close to shot, but Mark believed in me.  He knew I was green, but he always told me “I knew you were smart when I interviewed you, and that is half the battle”.  I started to thrive with SQL Server.  Later I became the “data feeds” person there, working first with DTS and then SSIS.  My career was back on track.

Mark Fugel left the company and was replaced by…Audrey Hammonds whom I have to talk about last.

When Audrey joined my company my heart sang.  Finally there was someone with whom I shared a lot of common traits and demographics and who was doing what I wanted to do.  She mentored and advocated for me constantly.  She insisted on two licenses for ER Studio so I could learn data modeling.  She convinced me that I was not a junior DBA anymore.  She assured me that I was very good at ETL’s and I trusted her experience; so I believed it too.  She was my hero and still is.

Conclusion , Assignments, Advice

Advice:

If you want to work in information technology, don’t be stopped by anything or anyone other than your own decision.  Learn all that you can.  Find a mentor.  If you are in a bad working environment, learn what you can from it, try and stay at least one year for your resume’s sake and then give feedback with your feet.  Next time be more vigilant about the company culture you may be entering.   Ask to meet with as many folks from your prospective company as possible.  People are the culture of an organization.  If you can’t imagine yourself working comfortably with each person you meet, it may be a bad fit.  Ask around.

I want to reiterate Jes’ request:  Mentor.  Mentor someone who wants to grow.  This may even involve helping someone realize he/she has potential.  I try and tell anyone with a brain and a modicum of interest:  “Database development is a rewarding career, you should pursue this.

Assignments:

Take the time to come up with an age appropriate elevator talk for various age groups about what you do for a living.  Use these talks where appropriate—family gatherings, drives in the car, dinner time.  Let the kids (your kids, any kid) know there are more career options than teacher, doctor, lawyer, fireman, police office and astronaut.  Don’t force feed it to them, but lay a foundation.  It may not seem like it, but they will remember when they are older:  I know I did.  Here was how I related what I do to my (then) 8 year old son:

Mommy takes care of information.  You know how we like to look at websites with toys on them?  “yes”

You know how we can go to the ToysRUs website and type in “Halo Warthog” and all the Halo trucks show up?  “yes”

That is because all of that information about the toy, its price, its name is kept in something called a “database”.  Mommy builds databases. The way you can look for “Mata Nui” and we can find out how much he costs at ToysRUs, mommy does that for other companies.  “Do you make a lot of money?”

Enough to buy you Mata Nui right?“Right”

*** Extra Credit

Visit the National Center for Women In Technology’s website here to find out some research based reasons why a lack of Women in Technology affects everyone.  This site also has great resources to help you get busy mentoring, including a downloadable Outreach in a Box Kit.  The kit includes a pre-made powerpoint presentation with enticing info to get middle school aged girls excited about IT.  I would encourage anyone with a daughter to download it and show it to her.

Stream the documentary Top Secret Rosies from NetFlix.  I watched this true story of young female mathematicians in preparation for this week.  These gals went to top secret locations and worked on ballistics trajectories during World War II.  Towards the end of the war, some of them even got to work on the ENIAC.  What struck me more than anything as I watched the interviews with these women was that they recalled the years of hard work as very fulfilling and filled with happiness.  As a group they suffered terrible slights; the importance of their work was overlooked, but the viewer only learns of this from interviews with the academics who’ve studied the project.

Conclusion:

I love what I do.  I realize that it is not possible for my young children to understand what I do.  It is too abstract for them right now.  But I can teach them critical thinking and I can plant the seeds of interest enough so that when they are entering the world and they encounter their first computerized business process, they will start to put it together that this is what mommy did for living and she liked it.  And maybe they will like it too.  And even if they didn’t major in Computer Science, they will have the confidence in their intelligence, talent and drive to know that they can do it too.

Please leave a comment with your thoughts!




Wow, what a great story! I have a 17 year old daughter whom I can’t get interested in a IT career at all. You’d think with both parents as geeks she would have at least a passing interest in IT, but no. I’m afraid her older brother sucked all the geekiness out of the family gene pool. My daughter would rather go “save the environment”.

Well, maybe, when she is 28, she’ll be tired of eating ramen noodles so she can “save the environment. Then she just might be interested in a tech career.



Julie Smith

Yup Diane, in the words of Judy Tenuta “It could happen” :) Thanks for reading!

One more thing–I can’t imagine saving the environment won’t involve IT on some level. Research, data, finding solutions, etc!



[...] am I? I’m a Woman. And I work in ITMarch 8th, 2011I read two awesome posts here and here, about Women in IT this week as part of SQL University (which is an awesome resources), written by [...]



Julie Smith

Great post Yanni!



Great post and I LOVED how you related what you did to your kid. Also thanks for that Outreach Kit link, very cool stuff that I didn’t realize was out there. Make sure to mention that on the webcast next week ;-)



[...]  It may not seem like it, but they will remember when they are older:  I know I did.” – We Could Be Heroines…. Not Just For One Day, Julie Smith “What I do care about is making sure that every single person, boy or girl, never [...]



Brandie Tarvin says:

Beautiful blog post. Glad to know I’m not the only IT girl out there with a theatre degree! And nice examples of how to get the discussion started.



Julie Smith

Thanks Brandie. I have read your blog and seen that you still keep your toes in the creative waters so to speak with your writing. That is wonderful! Hope to meet you someday. We can dramatize some critical component of DB Administration, maybe with puppets?



Brandie Tarvin says:

I would so love to do that. It would be fun. @=)



[...] SQL University has a whole week of series about Women in IT that dedicated to just that (Jes, Julie, Audrey, Jen and Wendy – thanks for awesome posts!) and we all know that back then, the [...]



Hey Julie, very interesting post – it’s always nice to hear someone’s path into the industry.

I also used to be a secretary in my younger days – bonus is I can still type almost 90 words per minute! (Which makes my coworkers jealous, heh heh.)

Your mention of Crystal & Access both resonate w/ me too. While I was job hopping in my 20s trying to figure out why I was bored being an accountant (duh, it’s accounting)…I lucked out & had a coworker who taught me things like Excel macros & how to import data into a GL. Although it took me a while to graduate to SQL Server and the IT Dept, with Excel and Access another geek was born!

Thanks for sharing your story.

Melissa



Julie Smith

Thanks for reading–Crystal and Access are indeed good “gateway” drugs for SQL Server.

:)



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