Learnings and Takeaways from my #Diversity and Inclusion Unconference at Microsoft Ignite #MSIgnite

On Thursday 27th September, I held an Unconference at Microsoft Ignite which was aimed at Diversity and Inclusion. I was incredibly lucky to be supported by the Diversity and Inclusion initiative by Microsoft, who have put it at front-and-centre of everything that they do. Although it is only one event, I was told that my event had the highest proportion of male attendees at the event. I had 80 people turn up in the end, and I was too busy facilitating the conference to take a note for myself but I was pleased that everyone turned out to join us. I want to say thank you to everyone who attended.

Introducing Collaboration through an Unconference

The Unconference really means that people can engage, connect and share themselves rather than having a speaker talk to them. It’s collaborative and energetic, with a free-form fluid style. There are lots of different ways to implement it, and you can find more information on how to prepare an Unconference for yourself here.

Diversity and Inclusion Unconference

To encourage participation, I didn’t want to use a traditional top-down lecture session and I wanted to have a collaborative, open, honest and innovative event that meant people would have a great time meeting other attendees, plus engage with each other. Ignite is a large event at 30,000 people and it is very easy to get lost, and not talk to anyone all week. Unconferences are a more relevant, engaging, and interactive event format.

It also means that there is room for the introvert, the extrovert, or for people who don’t feel that they have got anything to say. Feeling ‘idealess’ is horrible and it’s important for people to learn about diversity, so I wanted to create a space for people who felt awkward about contributing as well as those who were happy to take centre stage. Ultimately, I wanted people to feel as if they could be themselves.

How did I do it? Here are some practical takeaways for you to try at your own events. I learned from Jackson Katz, a prominent Diversity speaker who gives a message which resonates strongly with me. I have put Jackson Katz’ Ted Talk here because he gives very strong messages about gender violence. As a survivor, it was initially very important to me that a gentleman spoke out, because people will listen to him in a way that they won’t listen to me, and I’d like to thank Jackson Katz for his work. Katz posits that the language of diversity can mean that white men get erased from a conversation that fundamentally includes them, too.

Diversity can be perceived as a women’s issue that some good men help out with. We need to change that.

Diversity impacts everyone and it is the only thing that we have in common. By focusing on women, it can mean that men get an excuse not to listen. The gentlemen who take the excuse not to listen are the ones that we want to reach.

Ensure your Abstract is aimed at Everyone: Not just Women

My title was called: Diversity and Inclusion: Why is it important, and what can we do about it? The abstract went as follows:

For people who want to build careers and manage teams, it is crucial to understand diversity and how it impacts your organization. Increasing the role of women in technology has a direct impact on the women working in hi-tech, but the effects can go far beyond that. How do female tech workers influence innovation and product development? How do men benefit from having more women working in technology? Can the presence of women in tech affect a company’s profit? Join a lively discussion on diversity, and hear proactive steps that individuals and companies can take in order to make diversity and inclusion part of the organizational DNA.

Be Inclusive – and that means men, too

I talked about being proactive, and what we could do. I believed that this language would speak to men and women alike. Speaking with men, they often ask what they can do to help and they want proactive prescriptive steps. They can sometimes feel that they can’t help in any diversity scenario since they don’t know what to do, or how to start. By putting this in the abstract, my intuition was borne out by having so many men turn up by making them feel included. I was helping them by giving them something actionable that they could do, and making diversity accessible through steps and sequences and patterns to follow.

Don’t make it into a Pity Party

Some WIT panels can turn into a pity party where we talk about how terrible everything is, and that’s the only topic on show. I have had some awful experiences and I am not meek in sharing them. However, I don’t feel I need to rail on about it, because that can make people feel that’s all I can talk about when, in fact, I talk about technology and successful projects and solutions instead.  So try to be balanced; Explain why it’s important, but also make sure that the topics cover solutions, too.

Topics we covered

We focused on women in technology, and the conversations naturally moved onto issues of colour, and particularly issues for women of colour. Since it was an Unconference, the topics move along naturally and it was great to see that the attendees took the Unconference idea to heart, and they ran with it. The summary was as follows:

The attendees believed that STEM Programs in schools would help to encourage everyone into science and tech.

At work, we should take a risk in getting to know and work beside people who are outside of our groups. This means right from the recruitment steps, and organizations can ‘screen in’ candidates rather than ‘screen out’ – for example, by giving room and doing a second run through CVs for evidence of soft skills.

We should also give support, and build people up; not tear them down. Women can view each other as competitors, and we need to create a safe culture and honestly support each other. Teach often, and teach early.

Some people suggested books to read, and here are a few. Click on the book to go to Amazon:

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I recommend the Invisible Man since it is incredibly powerful; it is an American classic, actually.

I haven’t read Whistling Vivaldi but it is my Audible audiobook this month.

Things I’d change for next time

I needed a scribe who would take notes for the Unconference. A scribe would have helped to keep note of the ideas.

I would have loved an artist to draw up the ideas as we went. One of my keynotes (held at a private, invite-only industry event held by a partner organization of Data Relish) actually had an artist, and he drew my keynote speech as we went along. It was amazing!

Conclusion

I believe that the Unconference seems to really work for Diversity and Inclusion topics, and the session feedback so far has been awesome. If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment and I’ll be glad to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roundup of Azure #CosmosDB Sessions at #MSIgnite

If you are at Microsoft Ignite this week in Orlando, FL, don’t miss these Azure Cosmos DB database sessions and all the Cosmic Announcements. Here’s a list of the Azure Cosmos DB sessions below. You can find out more details on Azure Cosmos DB sessions over at the Schedule Builder here.

Here’s a great slideshare presentation about Azure Cosmos DB over at SlideShare to help you get started.

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If you can’t make it to Ignite, be sure to watch the keynotes. You can be sure that there are great news and insights coming along, so be sure to watch!

What I’m doing this week at #MSIgnite

I’m delighted to say that I’m doing the Community Reporter role for Microsoft Ignite. This means I get to interview the Microsoft Executive Team, such as Amir Netz, James Phillips and Joseph Sirosh. I have complete stars in my eyes! I don’t often get the chance to speak with them so I’m delighted to get to do that. Also, they are very interesting and they have a lot to say on topics I’m passionate about, so make sure and tune in for those. I’ll release more details about times and how you can watch as soon as I can.

What does a Community Reporter do? During Microsoft Ignite, the Community Reporters will be your go-to’s for live event updates. If you aren’t attending the conference this year, these reporters will be a great way to see what’s happening on-the-ground in Orlando. Check out my content on my blog here and on Twitter and LinkedIn follow me on social to stay up-to-date on all things Microsoft Ignite!

I’d also like to meet some of you so when I get the chance, I’ll tweet out to see if any introverted people fancy sitting at a table with me for breakfast or lunch to talk about all things data.

I am also speaking at Ignite so here are the details:

When? Thursday, September 27 4:30 PM – 5:15 PM
Where? Room W330 West 2 

Artificial intelligence is popularized in fictional films, but the reality is that AI is becoming a part of our daily lives, with virtual assistants like Cortana using the technology to empower productivity and make search easier. What does this mean for organizations that are running the Red Queen’s race not just to win, but to survive in a world where AI is becoming the present and future of technology? How can organizations evolve, adapt, and succeed using AI to stay at the forefront of the competition? What are the potential issues, complications, and benefits that AI could bring to us and our organizations? In this session, we discuss the relevance of AI to organizations, along with the path to success.

 

Microsoft Power BI, Microsoft R and SQL Server are being used to help tackle homelessness in London by providing actionable insights to improve the prevention of homelessness as well as the processes in place to help victims. Join this session to see how Microsoft technologies are helping a data science department to make a difference to the lives of families, by revealing insights into the contributors of homelessness in families in London and the surrounding area. Join this session to understand more about finding stories in data. The case study also demonstrates the practicalities of using Microsoft technologies to help some of the UK’s most vulnerable people using data science for social good.

When? Thursday, September 27 2:15 PM – 3:30 PM
Where? OCCC W222

For people who want to build careers and manage teams, it is crucial to understand diversity and how it impacts your organization. Increasing the role of women in technology has a direct impact on the women working in hi-tech, but the effects can go far beyond that. How do female tech workers influence innovation and product development? How do men benefit from having more women working in technology? Can the presence of women in tech affect a company’s profit? Join a lively discussion on diversity, and hear proactive steps that individuals and companies can take in order to make diversity and inclusion part of the organizational DNA.

One last thing!

Remember to download the Microsoft Ignite app to have your information handy on-the-go!

See you there!

 

 

Why I changed my mind about #PowerApps and became a fan… and why you should, too

This blog post title was initially titled ‘Why I disregarded PowerApps but now I radically changed my mind’. I changed my mind and I now think that PowerApps is a very powerful tool and basically it does a lot of the app form functions that Access does but way better. I get it now and I want to explain how I changed my mind about PowerApps.

PowerApps performs the same function as Access can do: building the business apps you need and extend or customize the apps you already use. Only, PowerApps does it way better because it has the robustness, scalability, security and performance of the Azure cloud with Office365 inbuilt in the app from the start.

In this blog post, I’ll set out where I think PowerApps fits in the business, and why it’s way better than Access. There are plenty of PowerApps templates but I hope that this post will convince you to give it a try.

TL;DR – I care about producing business-friendly solutions that are maintainable, robust, perform well, have potential for scale, and that I can hand off to an IT support team. PowerApps gives me these things. Access does not because it is not always backed up, or placed on a network so people can update it, and it is not always secured properly. So you can think about migrating your Access apps to Power Apps, for example. In this blog post, we will answer the following questions:

  • What can PowerApps do for you?
  • How do you get started with PowerApps?
  • What I’d like to see PowerApps do next

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Any questions, please let me know or get in touch to schedule some time to talk further.

 

What can PowerApps do for you?

PowerApps allows you to design, create, use and share custom business apps with your team and organization. PowerApps installation means that you can use apps that have been shared with you, and it also means that you can create your own apps.

What kind of apps can you create? Intelligent laziness is very important! The automation of tasks means that you can focus on the activities that are more meaningful and add more value to the organization. If you are leading a team, then it means that you and your team can work wherever you happen to be, on any device.

What kind of apps can you create? Many Access forms could be redone in PowerApps since they involve data entry. Here are some examples:

  • Connect apps to your existing data, such as SharePoint, Salesforce, Dropbox, Google Drive and more
  • Create and update customer invoice, receipt and order forms
  • Create Helpdesk apps
  • Create Expense apps

As a BI person, I have spent time curing businesses from cottage industry Access databases and Access forms. Often, in my experience of rescuing Access databases and forms, I find that they proliferate through the business, usually unmonitored, untested properly and aren’t always production ready. They are often built in an ad-hoc fashion. In short, when I find some Access, I perform an internal sigh and I immediately start to mastermind it’s replacement. Access is often a the sticking plaster to solve a genuine business problem and it is quick to produce something quick. As Brent Ozar puts it, Access has Play-Doh factor. Yes, it’s an old post from Brent Ozar ( b ¦ t ) but it is still holding true.

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So when I saw PowerApps at first, my reaction was ‘Oh no, it’s the new Access’. My initial vision was that developers would hate it, and I’d spend my life running around chasing after apps as well as Access to make them production ready.

So here’s what I found:

PowerApps has the IT guardian role built in

PowerApps solves the Access problem of scaleability, robustness and performance. PowerApps is built in Azure as part of Office365 so that means that Azure takes care of these factors for you. For me, this is a massive relief because I care about producing solutions that are maintainable, robust, perform well, have potential for scale, and that I can hand off to an IT support team. When I leave site, I want to leave with a job well done. I don’t intend to be there forever; it’s not what I do. So I like to enable others and bring people on a journey that they can continue without me. So what does PowerApps mean for the small business?

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PowerApps for the Small Business 

PowerApps is robust and secure. If you are using Access or Excel to run your business, then you should consider PowerApps. It provides a much more robust way for small companies to track data and projects than Excel or Word because it is in the cloud so you don’t need to worry about losing or screwing up your Excel spreadsheet of inventory, orders and so on. Also, it means that you can be more confident that your data is secure because it is in the cloud, and not on a USB.

PowerApps is mobile. It is also an easy way to mobilise apps as well. The functionality is built in. This is another big win over Access, in my book. This means that PowerApps has the most value added for tracking your organization in terms of projects, budgets, and growth.

PowerApps lets IT do their job more easily. PowerApps will give your IT people an easier way to manage your business-built apps rather than having them hidden on a laptop somewhere. PowerApps lets IT do their job, of being the guardian of the data and the IT function. It’s easy to maintain, which is idea for the organic business user turned power user turned ad-hoc techie. The idea of creating databases and trying to maintain them seems like an unnecessary use of resources; however, for small businesses, PowerApps creates a database for you so you can focus on what you need to do for your organization: managing growth and delivering success.

PowerApps has Play-Doh factor but in a good way. Creating apps in PowerApps allows a business to customize its own apps, thereby streamlining business processes. For example, you can use it to track crucial business information for each customer, including contact information, addresses, order information, invoices, and payments. Since it is in the Azure cloud, team members can access and update it, so the information can stay current and secured. Since the frm is a central idea to Power Apps, this helps small businesses ensure that employees enter data accurately and consistently so your data is cleaner at source.

How do you get started with PowerApps?

At a high level, here are the steps:

  • Choose from professionally designed templates to start quickly
  • Start with a blank canvas, and customize to suit your needs
  • Add business logic and intelligence using the power of Excel-like expressions
  • Create interactive visuals and media to build unique, professional apps

PowerApps is an easy jump for the BI Developer who already knows DAX. To create more custom apps, PowerApps has some object-oriented ‘formula’ that you can change, configure and set. It also has intellisense so you are guided to program correctly.

PowerApps is constantly being updated. For information about what’s new in this release, please see this topic: https://aka.ms/powerapps-releasenotes