Women In Technology Event at Nordic SQLPass – MIT as well as WIT

The SQLPass Nordic team organisers have decided to hold a ‘Women In Technology’ lunch at the SQLPass event in Stockholm next month. It is being held on the first day of the conference on 8th November. As  a female speaker at the event, I was asked if I would like to participate. I was pleased to receive the invitation but this left me in a quandary. This blog is aimed at describing my quandary, what I decided to do and why, and to receive your feedback on my decision.
I have previously blogged before about my reluctance to be involved with ‘Women in Technology’ events. Specifically, I believe that the way forward for women in technology is integration into the wider technological community, not separation. My roadmap for integration would involve an emphasis on skills and achievements, rather than an emphasis on biological characteristics or a perceived socialisation based on gender construction. My emphasis on skills and achievements would include these benefits by males and by females, and those who are trans-sexual or even androgynous. My quandary is that I would like to help people in my beloved SQL community, but without an emphasis on helping a particular subset of the community i.e. women.
With WIT events, I am concerned that they nurture an implicit assumption that ‘we women are over here, you men are over there’. By marking women out as different, is this really progress? Where does it leave individual choices or inclinations within a wider context? Ideally, it shouldn’t make any difference whether someone is male, female, both or neither. By marking a group as distinctive, it’s not clear that the goal of integration will ever be attained. This is the main reason that WIT events do not sit comfortably with me.
Ultimately, I have decided to help at the Nordic WIT event – my first one – since it gives me a platform to support a growing SQL community in Europe, whilst ensuring that men will also be invited to participate equally with women. Fundamentally, I believe in MIT as well as WIT. I see this event as a way in which I can serve the community. I believe that positive discrimination is still discrimination against somebody, and I do not like the idea of MIT being excluded. 
I am also hoping that this activity will somehow support the growing Nordic community – friendships made, support given, and technical knowledge shared. I think that the SQLPass team have got it right by ensuring that MIT are also welcomed to the event. It is excellent that there is an event which is focused on the social aspects of the conference, rather than technical only. Therefore I am happy to be involved since it should be about equality of opportunity and knowledge sharing, regardless of whether the event is male or female participants. 
By helping women – and men – who approach me as part of the community, I hope to be able to do my bit to reach community members at an individual level. However, I would like to be able to help people in the community without the WIT badge. I don’t want to be perceived to be a feminist. Instead, I want to be able to support male and female community members who reach out for help and support, whether it is technical or otherwise.
I recognise that, as a woman, I probably have experiences that I can use in order to help other women at an individual level. For example, issues surrounding pregnancy in the workplace, or how to handle customers or clients who ask you out. The WIT badge will allow me to be approachable by individuals who just need to bounce ideas around, or pointed in the right direction, or just to chat about their experiences. I hope I can achieve the balance of offering support in these areas whilst also trying to ensure that I don’t alienate the MIT. I also need to try and balance my activities so that I don’t alienate the WIT who believe passionately that women play a distinctive role, that is a good thing, and that it should be promoted and celebrated. I appreciate and respect their right to have differing perspectives from me, particularly over the WIT issue since it can be emotive.
To summarise, it’s all about balance and people, and I am not sure that I’ve cracked the way forward yet. My main concern is that SQLPass Nordic is a great success,particularly given the huge effort that’s gone into organising it. There are a lot of stellar speakers and I think it will be a memorable event which I’m hugely privileged to participate in. I’m hoping that the WIT lunch will cement friendships and provide an open forum for an exchange of ideas within a welcoming framework, regardless of whether the attendees are male or female.
I look forward to your comments!
Jen x

Windows Azure Marketplace – what data sources would you like to see?

During my presentations at SQLBits, SQLRelay and other UK User Group meetings, I have been dismayed by the lack of awareness of the Windows Azure Marketplace. This blog aims to explore some of the reasons that this may be happening, and I’d also like to canvass you, dear reader, so you can highlight the data sources that you would like to have in the Datamarket.
First of all, the Windows Azure Datamarket is not to be confused with the Datamarket, which is a company based in Iceland which sounds similar. The Windows Azure Datamarket is a broad reaching collection of subscription-based data services, including applications and a variety of data for consumers and businesses to utilise. It is available in 26 countries, as at the time of writing in October 2011. It is a marketplace in the sense that it is possible to purchase and sell data and applications. The types of data available include financial, property, geographical data, retail data and even fun sports data. The data from the Windows Azure Marketplace can be consumed by Excel, Tableau and Visual Studio.
One intention of the Windows Azure Marketplace is that it will support business analysts everywhere, in their quest for clean, up-to-date data. I believe it is potentially a very powerful source of data for enterprises. For example, by provisioning clean, “looked after”, up-to-date datasets, it can reduce the amount of effort in looking after external data. In other words, companies who already ‘clean up’ external data sets might look to the Windows Azure Marketplace in order to see if there are existing datasets that could be rented. It’s the old problem of ‘outsource or internal spend’ – but at least it is good to have options to explore.
So, given the potential for the Windows Azure Marketplace as a potential data store, why the lack of awareness or uptake? Out of my recent travels to various User Groups, SQLBits and so on, hardly anybody had heard of it, never mind actually used it in production.  I am guessing that one reason for this is that the data stores aren’t plentiful with UK-focused datastores.  My research showed that there were a number of UK data sources available. These included:
In other words, not very many sources! My search was hampered for the fact that the search string must contain at least three characters. Therefore, if you are searching for ‘UK’ then you are stuffed! I am guessing that the uptake isn’t very strong since the UK-focused data needs to be grown. In my opinion, I guess that this will happen over time.  Since there is an Excel add-in for the Marketplace, the route to uptake of this service is clear. I think that this will take time, and it is potentially a very powerful tool for analysts and researchers.
Hence this blog: I am wondering what UK data sources you would like to see? Here is my list of free data sources that I’d love to see on the Marketplace as a one-stop-shop for data requirements:
The Guardian Datastore – basically anything that they produce. Love it!
UK Census data – since the next Census is out soon in the UK, it would be particularly relevant to have this information
The Data Archive – Social Sciences and Humanities data for the UK. Not as esoteric as they might sound since they also discuss the future of data sources. This is a reflective data store, and I’d recommend that you take a look at it.
Health and Safety Executive Data – Risk Control, Public health and comparison with other European countries
Heidi – I have never been able to access this, but it is available to Education planners. 
The Treasury also offer UK data on finance and key financial indicators
The Bank of England offers a wealth of financial data, focused on the UK
Office for National Statistics – data on agriculture, children, economy, government, travel… you name it!
If you can think of any other data sources you would like to see on the Windows Azure Datamarket, then please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you and you’d also satisfy my never-ending thirst for more data sources!

Office365 Getting rid of Custom Theme Images in External Sites

If you are using Office365, you probably want ‘quick and easy’ wins in order to make your external site look better. At Copper Blue Consulting, we use Office365 for our email, web hosting and our Sharepoint activity. The current blog series will look at some of our findings which we’ve used in order to improve the appearance of our Office365 site.
I know that the Copper Blue site needs some love and attention, and now that SQLBits, SQLRelay and SQLPass is out of the way, I hope that I can start to make our corporate website look, well, corporate.
First thing on the list was to get rid of the theme header logo on the top right hand side. These are automatically added when you select a theme in Sharepoint.  If you’ve set up an external website in Sharepoint, then the configuration items are quite clearly laid out in the ribbons. Here is an example here:

Themes in Office365 1

We can see that none of the themes are blank, but each has a little picture somewhere. On the Copper Blue site, I just want a plain header with a logo. Nothing more, nothing less. How do we achieve this?

When we open up the Site in Sharepoint Designer, we notice that there are custom images in the Office365 structure. I wasn’t able to delete these. However, I was able to amend the file. Therefore, I navigated to the offending image and clicked on ‘Edit File’. You can see the structure in the following image:

Themes in Office365 3

Since I couldn’t delete the image, I decided instead to simply blank it out. Here is the editor for changing the image:

Themes in Office365 4

On the right hand side, you can change the brightness. I simply made it pure white, so that it matched the header of the site. I know that this is a ‘fudge’ but it gave me a quick easy win in terms of getting rid of the annoying logo, that didn’t sit with the rest of the branding.
If anyone has other ideas on how to do this, I’d be glad to hear them. In the meantime, more adventures of Office365 will appear as I move the Copper Blue site from being very Sharepoint looking, to something that’s much more customisable. If you want to see the end result, then please do look up the Copper Blue website to have a look!

Mobile Business Intelligence – Try it out!

Thank you to everyone who attended my SQLBits ‘Mobile Business Intelligence in Action’ session recently. If you are interested to try out Mobile Business Intelligence on your iPad or mobile device, here are the links below:

Jedi Knight Actuals of UK Census 2001 Dashboard 
Jedi Knights Percentage of UK Census 2001 Dashboard
AdventureWorks Sales by Geography Dashboard
AdventureWorks Actuals Sales
AdventureWorks Analysis Dashboard

I haven’t tried this on every browser and every device, so I would be very interested in your feedback.
I look forward to hearing from you. Please leave a comment below, or email me at jenstirrup [at] jenstirrup.com