A spoonful at a time: Dealing with the Imposter Syndrome with Spoon Theory

My friend Julie Holmes posted about a great article on the Imposter Syndrome recently. I’ve decided to share one aspect of how I am working to manage and improve myself professionally. I’m a work in progress, for sure, with a few sticking plasters in place.

What is Imposter Syndrome? Most people describe it as a feeling of being fraudulent; you’ll never be as good as other people think that you are. Mine is slightly different. It has occurred to me that I’m muddling along, trying new things before other people, and that’s why I run into issues.

“Don’t be the first to do something. Be second.” – David Bowie

For my version of Imposter Syndrome, I experience this as having two streams of thought. One thought talks about the things I need to do; my MIT (Most Important Tasks) list (not a ToDo list, which is like a wishlist!) – thank you Gordon Tredgold for that inspiration. The other stream is almost like a film script, and the working title is: you’ll never be good enough. Fear is writing that script, and it means that your decisions are inspired by fear rather than data or evidence. Fear is limiting, so how do you find some sort of even keel?

e0d1c789d2ac0f8d85e29d3d642b7bd1I am learning to tame my rampant inner imposter syndrome with a variation of spoon theory. If you haven’t read this article about spoon theory, I suggest you do that first. It’s by Christine Miserandino in 2003 in her essay “The Spoon Theory” on her blog But You Don’t Look Sick.
I’ve decided that I have only so many ‘spoons’ (or insert other nouns!) to give out during the day, on things that I care about. If it is worth a spoon, then I can write it down on my mind sweeper journal as part of my Bullet Journal efforts at productivity. For more ideas on that, head over to the wonderful Boho Berry‘s site.
So when I hear something imposterish – usually within about five seconds wakening up, when I start to think of all the things I need to do – I have started to ask myself if that thought is really worth a spoon or not. It’s a conscious effort to ‘undo’ the train of thought, but I’ve found that this trick is helping me to re-evaluate my train of thought before it goes charging through the day.
I’m brought down to earth enough, as it is.

Recently I got a LinkedIn invitation from someone who has never spoken to me in person. However, what they probably don’t even remember is that they wrote a personal series of criticisms about me,  in one of my presentations during my early career. Honestly, it nearly finished my speaking career because I didn’t think I could ever get back up on the stage again. I was flattened.

Speakers take feedback forms enormously seriously. I received the feedback, and contacted the event organisers to apologise profusely that they had received all of this commentary.  The writer had put a lot of effort into it, and it was about a page.

The event organisers pointed out to me that the rest of my comments had been excellent, I was well above average and they would be pleased to received submissions in the future. I was hugely relieved. There were two takeaway points here: I hadn’t noted the good feedback I had received, just the scorching paragraphs which were not constructive. Secondly, it showed me that, no matter how much you try, you can’t please everyone. There was nothing in the scorching feedback that I could take away and I could not do anything constructive with it at all. So, I started to grow a thicker skin, and I got back up on the stage. Initially, I had kept the feedback in a Word document on my desktop for six months – just to remind me, how close I came to nearly giving everything up. I didn’t accept the LinkedIn invite, because I don’t know them, and I didn’t want to open a door of communication to invite further comments – I’d seen enough already.

I did read the feedback again and I realised that I give myself enough criticism, without absorbing other people’s as well. It was time to grow more skin, and then I grasped onto the spoon idea.
If you think I’m crazy, that’s ok 🙂 I’ve been greatly inspired by Jim Carrey, recently, of all people – his thoughts on motivation, and his life experiences are shared with such humility, honesty and love for the human race that I’ve seen behind the persona. Jim Carrey talks about finding peace and letting go of our inner critic; and if you can watch his insightful YouTube videos, you’ll take a lot from them, I’m sure. I strongly suspect that he will never see this, but if he does, thank you, dear man, from this playful heart.
But it is helping me to be more confident and spend my ‘mental space’ more productively on the things that deserve it.

I hope that helps someone – if you have Imposter Syndrome, grab yourself some mental spoons and spoon your way through it. It won’t go away, but it will help you to be easier on yourself.

maxresdefault

Is the MVP Program becoming less technical?

Alt Title: how did you get to be an MVP, Jen Stirrup?

The skinny answer: I think it’s changed to reflect the times. It’s Microsoft’s Award to give or take away at any point. I am going to have some fun here, and I’d like you to join me.

zx81Full fat: Something I’ve heard occasionally, is the following question: Isn’t the MVP Program becoming less technical?  Certainly, the criticism that I’m not technical has been levied at me quite often. I’m not worried: I am going to let karma sort that out, but in the meantime, I’m going to talk about me for a little bit, and stick to the facts. You decide. I’ll comment at the end, and you can comment, too.

Early career

bill_gates_tandy2000I taught myself to program in BASIC when I was eight years old, on a ZX81 computer which my uncle fixed. My uncle Jim fixed stuff from Tandy (Radio Shack) for a living, and the little ZX81 was considered too sickly to be resuscitated.

 

 

frontcvrMy uncle and my dad had another go at giving it some life, and lo and behold, the ZX81 was reborn and I adopted it. I got a cassette player and loaded games carefully. I learned to program. I LOVED it. Forget Malory Towers and all that Enid Blyton stuff, I read the ZX81 manual cover to cover and I talked a lot about sixteen fingered martians at school.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nobody talked back to me. Let’s put it plainly, I was one weird eight year old girl.

So, I rocked high school, becoming the first girl school Latin prize winner, winning the Business Studies prize. I was happy but pretty lonely. I went on to do an additional Latin class at school; that’s how much fun I was.

9b1453d9467dabd86da830c4bb22279dI went to Glasgow University, my alma mater, and it changed my life for the better. I had friends who loved knowledge as much as I did. They now sing for Belle and Sebastian and they rock, quite literally. Go and listen.

So, life moved on and I rocked Psychology; I became an expert in Psyscope  which I learned to program psychology experiments on a Mac.

psyscope-picture

I grew in SPSS expertise, again on a Mac.

300px-spss_statistics_screenshot

Artificial Intelligence career

I moved to France where I studied Artificial Intelligence in a joint effort between the L’université Pierre et Marie Curie – UPMC and Aberdeen University in Scotland.

upmc-2

Then I decided to pay back my debt to society and actually do some work.

I started off my career as an Artificial Intelligence Consultant, delivering natural language processing solutions for what is now the Brightware Natural Language Processor that belongs to Oracle. Then, I moved into intelligent call handling as a Cisco engineer focused on the Cisco Intelligent Call Manager, which is now Cisco Unified Intelligent Contact Management, and my focus was on the Enterprise Edition. I learned about networks, racks, data centers and implemented early VoIP. So, if you have listened to an IVR for Vodafone, that may well have been implemented by me. Sorry about that.

Oh, and these were very male dominated. #JustSaying

As a pregnant woman visiting the Cisco offices, the Cisco receptionists ran after me all day, super excited. I don’t think they’d seen a pregnant Cisco engineer very often. There were no queues for the loo. Just as well. My unborn son chose that particular conference to stamp on my bladder all day.

Business Intelligence career

As an artificial intelligence consultant, I was used to pulling around a lot of data, and coding in Artificial Intelligence languages (which require a lot of memory management, BTW). I used Prolog, Art Enterprise which is a proprietary edition which is a lot like LISP. As an aside, Emacs was for softies, and that was about as visual as it got.

I was the Oracle guru in my office, having learned it before it had a GUI that required 32-bit screen drivers. I didn’t have a screen with 32-bit drivers, so I did it it notepad, yass! Tnsnames.ora, people. Eventually I got screens with drivers, and lo and behold, I used the Oracle GUI for the first time.

71mye27mpplCustomers started to use SQL Server so I learned that; version 6.5, people. This edition has a foreword by Professor Jim Gray.

So, I learned SQL, MDX, then DAX.

Excel. Tableau. PerformancePoint. SharePoint. Sybase. Azure.

And I just kept going. I started talking about tech. I was already used to explaining difficult AI concepts to business users, and decision makers, so I decided to go on the speaking circuit. And I spoke everywhere; so far, I have presented in four of the seven continents.

And now life is full circle. Artificial Intelligence is cool again, and I have lived through an entire IT lifecycle. It has so much potential, as it did then, but now we have shiny stuff too. I was introduced to IoT. I have used my existing skill sets to morph into new things: so, my knowledge of SQL helped me to pick up Azure Streaming Analytics. Then, I had to learn about coding again to understand why some Event Hub stuff, a smell I’d inherited, was not working as expected, and learn about it to help get it to meet the requirements and it was fixed. Some things never change; badly commented code with spelling mistakes isn’t confidence inspiring now, as it wasn’t when I started my early career, nearly twenty years ago. Truth is, I can do all sorts of things where I have to do it, and I’ve got ownership of the problem. And I share my expertise here, online or in person, and at events. I also organise events; PASS Business Analytics, and SQLSaturday Edinburgh, London Power BI Days and I am a co-organiser of the London Power BI User Group.

mvpbanner

What is an MVP, anyway?

What is an MVP? According to Microsoft, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals, or MVPs, are technology experts who passionately share their knowledge with the community. They are always on the “bleeding edge” and have an unstoppable urge to get their hands on new, exciting technologies. They have very deep knowledge of Microsoft products and services, while also being able to bring together diverse platforms, products and solutions, to solve real world problems. MVPs are driven by their passion, community spirit and their quest for knowledge. Above all and in addition to their amazing technical abilities, MVPs are always willing to help others – that’s what sets them apart.

So, back the original point:

  • Is the MVP Program becoming less technical?
  • Alt Title: how did you get to be an MVP, Jen Stirrup?

Is the MVP Program becoming less technical?

netscape9logoI think that the MVP program, nearly quarter of a century old now, is changing to reflect the industry. We no longer use Emacs or vi. LISP was originally specified in 1958, and it is the second-oldest high-level programming language in widespread use today. Only Fortran is older, by one year.  Netscape Navigator is still around, but you’d be crazy to stick with it.

 

How did you get to be an MVP, Jen Stirrup?

You are reading the blog of a woman who has failed many times to get any success at all.

The ability for someone to pull you down with the comment ‘Well, you’re not technical’ or however it is wrapped up in a ‘posy’, it sideswipes all of these achievements. I have heard this many times before, and I did have many failures to get there. I think what the underlying statement really means is the following statement: ‘I am technical because I stated that you are not. I decide.

Now, I’ve been an MVP for six years. I still hear this coming up, and it doesn’t matter how many postgraduate degrees I get in Artificial Intelligence which I did in French, people; or related disciplines such Cognitive Science at Birmingham University under the tutelage of Professor Aaron Sloman (yes, him! It was my absolute privilege to do my postgraduate work with him) and so on, or the fact that I’ve been delivering technical projects worldwide since 1998.

When I look at my career trajectory, I can see that I do some of these things stated on the MVP award, and I emphasise different things at different points.So, over the rest of the year, I am speaking at SatRDay Budapest, Microsoft Ignite, Creativity+Science, PASS Summit, Live 360 (get your discount here!). Over the course of 2016, I have travelled to India twice to hold Azure Architecture courses, and I spoke at SQL Server Geeks (fantastic conference!), PASS Business Analytics (which I spearheaded as part of the PASS Board, holding the Business Analytics Portfolio), Future Decoded and SQLBits .

I do bring together diverse platforms; one of my projects is up on the BBC website. Super proud! I’m also spearheading Thought Leadership podcasts for PASS because I believe that there is a nexus between IT and the business, and PASS can bridge that need. It’s a manifestation of what I’m doing for my day job at Data Relish Ltd, much of which is NDA but I can express my knowledge through spearheading this initiative. So I do help people via my blog, online content, speaking, webinars, and being on the PASS Board.

I think that the beauty of the MVP program is its variety. It has room for the nerdy coder as well as me, and it gives the nerdy coder the opportunity to contribute, as well as me, too. Nowadays, I work with others to produce Digital Transformation programs which look at everything from a future vision to generating business cases, costings, and working with infrastructure people to see how the technology will hang together at a very detailed level. I can go up to the birds eye level, or swoop down to the detail. This can include Big Data one day, or writing MDX the next. I love the challenge and the variety, and it suits me incredibly well.

Yes, but is it less technical than it used to be?

It depends (sorry! MVP Answer alert!) on what you mean by technical.  I think it’s easy for people to say that because I don’t regularly write code, that I am not technical, and to be dismissive of my achievements. I can write code, and I do. I just choose not to do it on a daily basis. I like the challenge of taking a whole estate, and seeing the transformation throughout the whole business. These changes affect people, process, technology and data.

I love seeing Big Results with Big Data and Little Data

Regardless of whether I will remain an MVP or not, I will cherish the time that I have been given this Award. I love my work and I love what I do.  I wonder if it is a zero sum game; and eventually, my time will be up and it will be someone else’s chance. The program will survive without me, and I will go on to love what I do and live life as an MVP alumni.

screenshot2013-02-03at12-32-11pm

What’s next for me? Well, I have got a place to do my MBA, and I am hiring someone to help me to take over some commitments whilst I drop some things to do that. I will write more about that later, but, for now, salve!

13781793_10208505893779406_2416445218874381871_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jen’s PASS Diary: Two Pillars for Leadership

As always, I don’t represent PASS. Here are my two pillars:

Say Thank You.

The number one item is to say ‘Thank You’ to people for their efforts, even if you don’t like what they did. They are on a path; and so are you. Saying Thank You is the glue to healthy communities, particularly on social media.  The duties of gratitude are perhaps the most sacred of those which the beneficent virtues prescribe to us. (18th Century Scottish economist and philosopher, Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759)

Empirical science agrees: gratitude, even a simple “thank you”, is a basis of leadership; without it, you can’t lead effectively. People will remember that they didn’t get a Thank You. I hear this often from volunteers, unfortunately, and it’s fairly universal across geographies and events, both within and outside of SQLFamily. Say it, and mean it. I don’t hold to Machiavelli’s maxim, written in the 16th Century: It is better to be feared than loved.

Expect criticism, both justified and unjustified.

I’ve taken a lot from John Donne’s 17th Century poem, the Prohibition. Here is an excerpt:

Take heed of hating me,
Or too much triumph in the victory ;
Not that I shall be mine own officer,
And hate with hate again retaliate ;
But thou wilt lose the style of conqueror,
If I, thy conquest, perish by thy hate.
Then, lest my being nothing lessen thee,
If thou hate me, take heed of hating me.

Donne was a metaphysical poet and you can take from this poem what you will.

One aspect for me is being isolated; outside a circle of friends, family, community, whatever you want to call it. When people criticise, occasionally, what they can actually mean is: I said that you were x, and that means that I must be, by definition, y. Example: you’re not a team player (because I said this, this must mean that I am a team player), you are not good at a particular thing (because I said this, that must mean that I am good at it). This means that they have the ‘style of conqueror’ because I give them something to point at, and therefore, I serve a purpose. When you recast criticism into these terms, suddenly, it becomes much less meaningful and what you realise is that you need to stay true to yourself, and not ‘hate with hate retaliate’. Really, it’s not worth it. The real trick is to work out whether it’s valid criticism or not, and look at the motivation.

So, what have I been working on?

I pulled two nighters, to try and pull together a draft strategy for PASS Business Analytics. At 43 years old, I thought that my days of working right through the night were over; well, they are not. I don’t believe that anyone else does this, particularly not for a volunteer role, and I thought I’d point it out here to show the level of commitment I have to the community.

Now that we are not doing a full PASS Business Analytics Conference in 2017, people must be wondering what we are doing next, and what the strategy is? Well, I am trying my best to define it and we will release when we have agreed and signed it off. This is going to take some time, unfortunately. Business Analytics touches all parts of PASS: finance, marketing, and the other Portfolios will also have input. We will also need to have an eye on things globally.  I’m also working on a few other things. I am doing Thought Leadership podcasts and if you want to give me a podcast, then please get in touch!

I am assisting some of the sponsors at the moment; I won’t say whom, at this point. Basically, I want them to have a good experience of dealing with PASS, and me personally of course, so I am trying to juggle to make sure that everything works out well for them. I am not a great fan of the word ‘sponsor’ – personally, I prefer ‘Partner’. It feels more equitable.

Given that I have a good pillar and a bad pillar of Leadership, and this is a ton of hard work, why am I doing it? Well, it really is lonely at the top, even if you don’t see that you are at the top of anything at all, others do, and that’s when it starts.

Truth is, I have learned a lot of lessons, certainly more than just two! and I’m left with very few real friends. Now, the thing is, when you realise that you have really nobody left, then it actually gives you a certain freedom and a latitude. That realisation is a gift. Along with that gift, I’ve come to withstand criticism a lot better, but it’s also made me determined that I will not ‘hate with hate again retaliate’. People’s actions speak for themselves, and I don’t need to say a single word about it. I will just continue to try to do good things, and hopefully you will join me on the way.

I think that you put into it, what you get out of it. It’s not all bad. I have met some wonderful people who continue to shine a light out. To them, I say Thank You. Some people have got Thank Yous coming their way, and I will let them know that they are heartfelt.

With leadership, you have to stick true to yourself because, actually, it’s the only way to be. I think that these two pillars feed into that, for me. What do you think?

I keep this diary so that you come on a journey with me, and I wonder if you’d reach the same conclusions? I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Love,

Jen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jen’s PASS Diary: A week in the life of a PASS Non Executive Director

As always, I don’t officially represent PASS here. As you will know, this week the application opens to be on the Board of Directors for PASS. I’ve held my post for two and a half years, and I am not up for election this time. If anyone has any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I also help run the London Power BI User Group, where I am responsible for the sponsors and I help recruit and manage speakers.

If you are considering the role of PASS Director, I thought you might be interested in what a typical week looks like, for a PASS Director.

First things first; please don’t think that the role involves kudos.With PASS, you aren’t building your own empire, but you are building an empire for the community as a whole. This can mean putting PASS first, and putting the team before yourself. If you are doing it because you think it will help build a business, then you need to rethink that. As an independent consultant based in Europe, I have had no business at all from being a PASS Board Director. PASS are still fairly nascent in Europe, and organisations over here don’t seem very interested in that part of my life; they are mainly concerned if I can deliver for them whilst having this commitment.

I certainly do not feel that I have kudos from it, at all. If you have an ’email signature’ career strategy whereby your objective which is led by having more and more titles on your email signature, I can see that the role might be attractive. However, I personally don’t see any kudos from the role itself and I think that I get kudos and thanks for the things that people can see; events, speaking sessions, books, webinars and podcasts. If your career strategy is led by titles, then I think you overstate the importance of hierarchical roles and job titles; people are more interested in what they can hold in their hands, and see, as a consequence of what you do.

So what about the stuff I do, that you can’t see?

I have had three evenings this week, used up with PASS Meetings: Monday, one with the BA team, Thursday, with the Exec, and Friday (Today) I will have another meeting with one of the PASS Summit Sponsors over one of their activities at PASS Summit 2016.  I am going to try and squeeze in a fourth meeting with another PASS HQ member tonight as well, but that has to be confirmed.

I say ‘tonight’ because PASS are based out in the PST timezone, and I am based in London so they are eight hours behind me. So basically, the PASS ‘day’ starts at 5pm for me. I try to hold my meetings from 8pm onwards (12pm PST) because I usually have to travel home, and this can mean problems in participating effectively over Skype. I also try to get ‘family time’ in the early evening and I try to carve out this time so that my family don’t lose out.

Note that this doesn’t include the work I do outside of these meetings:

  • setting up Thought Leadership podcasts for PASS BA
  • creating a BA strategy
  • setting up a PASS BA Advisory board and interacting with the potential members for that
  • preparing for the sponsor Skype meeting on Friday.

It’s a lot of work and it’s stuff that people can’t see, which is why I mention it here.

What am I working on?

200px-strategy_concept-svgA Business Analytics strategy document that outlines where I think PASS should go. This is particularly important now that we are not having a PASS Business Analytics conference in 2017. What does this involve, in terms of skill set?

Defining a strategy is based on knowing:

  • where your organisation is today
  • where you want it to be
  • how you want to get there

The risk of not changing and improving can be as significant as the risks which may affect your plans to develop and grow an organisation. I take after one of Steve Jobs’ Crazy Ones; this is a risk in itself. Although I will never achieve as much as the Crazy Ones in the video, these are the crazy attitudes that I bring with me; the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

There is a lot of ‘noise’ in the data world, and I am particularly concerned with trying to ensure that PASS continues to change and move ahead in terms of efficiency, reputation and meeting the PASS Goals of disseminating high quality community education in data. It is an important exercise since it forms the blueprint of the strategy. To do this, I need to  learn lessons and appreciate what factors may influence the likely success in delivering your goals and success for PASS. This is what forms the basis of my thinking for BA.

Defining a strategy is a process, and this is one key area where a PASS Director adds value to the organisation. The objective of the process is to pull together the activities of the various areas of PASS that touchpoint BA, so that it is in a good spot to achieve its organisational objectives. Once the strategy is in place, it will help to specify how PASS organises to incorporate BA, set objectives and point community and team members towards those objectives through a commonly held vision.

traditional-vennYou’ll notice that this isn’t a technical skill; this is all people and process. As a Business Intelligence professional, I think about the people and the process, too. I’ve said before that Business Intelligence is often change management in disguise, and part of defining a strategy is that change management necessarily follows. I lean towards a more agile delivery, and I am working with PASS right now to point the ship towards a more agile delivery where the BA Strategy definition and process is concerned. It’s not enough just to be agile; you have to pay attention to people and process, too, and it can be more difficult when the people are volunteers who don’t need to do anything that you ask of them. It’s a sensitive balancing act.

To achieve this well, the execution process needs to be separated from the creative process of generating the strategy. As a ‘doer’, it can be hard to excise yourself from the execution and it is tempting to do that, because you see short term results. However, I am focused on long-term results, and strategy definition is a longer-term process that looks further into the distance, and has the objective of pointing the organisation towards that vision.

To summarise,  hope that gives some insight into what I have been doing this week. Any questions, let me know!

 

 

 

Jen’s PASS Diary: BA Portfolio thoughts, please

As always, this isn’t an official PASS blog post, but one of my braindumps.

In a nutshell, I want to pick community brains. Don’t think analytics isn’t relevant to you, if you’re a DBA: without DBAs, there is no Data Science or Business Analytics. Your input is valuable.

You will have seen the latest blog post from PASS about the strategic direction of PASS Business Analytics conference. If not here, are a few key takeaway quotes:

“The heart of the plan moving forward is community growth, with a focus on expanding outreach to increase visibility, by strengthening local groups, and broadening the scope of our analytics community globally.”

“Business Analytics is a natural extension for PASS. We are committed to helping data professionals connect, share, and learn, whether they work in IT or in the business. We are very excited about the opportunities ahead and look forward to the continued growth and success in the area of Business Analytics.”

I’ve put together a plan of how that might shape up, but I need your help and ideas so that I can do the best job that I can.  for the people who put their faith in me when they voted for me to be on the PASS Board. You’ll see from the post that more than 25,000 PASS members from around the world identifying a professional interest in BA so that’s a lot of people to serve, so that they can connect, learn and share.

I still believe that the industry has got to the point where organisations are either crossing the Rubicon, or sitting on the Acheron where it comes to analytics and making the most of their data.

So tell me: what would you like to see, preferably with an emphasis on something ‘actionable’ that I can deliver? How can I best help you? What do you think would work? Wouldn’t work?

I’ll be releasing a vlog which outlines some of my thoughts and perspectives, in the near future. It will be my first attempt at a vlog and I’ll be happy for any tips too, so I can make that successful.

Here are some contact details:

email: jen.stirrup@datarelish.com

comments box below

twitter: @jenstirrup

LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/jenstirrup to connect

Now, I used to offer to do phone calls and GoToMeeting meetings. However, as many of you will know, I have had to close my Skype account and change my phone number due to various threats, which I reported to the police at the time. Note that these were not vague phone calls: at their height, I was receiving threatening phone calls at a rate of one every two minutes from a variety of phone numbers, day and night across timezones. Some people clearly have a lot of time on their hands. Although that has stopped, mainly because I have changed my details, I am reluctant to hand out these details.

If you’d like to talk, then you can contact me personally so that I go through a process to ‘verify’ you if I don’t know you, and then we will try to arrange something. I am sorry about the extra hoops but I need to protect myself as well as try to help people in the community.

Thank you again; I do appreciate it. I am humble enough to recognise that there is more brain power out there than simply mine. I can’t do everything myself, and I need help to ‘scale’. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

Jen

13781793_10208505893779406_2416445218874381871_n

Red hair and a teapot dress!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jen’s PASS Diary: The Happy Prince and the Swallow

tumblr_n1tk0vugdz1tnqouoo1_500

Picture Credit: checanty

Oscar Wilde was well known for his writing for adults, but he’s probably less well known for his excellent children’s writing, too. He tackles strong themes, and they are well worth the read for adults as well as children. In one short story, The Happy Prince, Wilde writes a rather sad tale about a statue of a Happy Prince, who is somewhat misnamed because he’s never really known true happiness. In the tale, there is a swallow who was left behind after his flock flew off to Egypt. Saddened by what he saw around him, The Happy Prince tasked the swallow with giving everyone the jewels of himself, until, eventually, there was only the basic iron left. The swallow flies around, giving out the precious stones in the statue, but eventually dies, breaking the Happy Prince’s heart. There’s more to it than that, and it’s a sad tale, and for various reasons it has always been special to me.

I think that being on the PASS Board is a bit like being both the Happy Prince and the Swallow. Like everyone, I have talents, experience and wisdom in some areas, and not others. I happen to try to use my talents, small as they are, for the benefit of SQLFamily. I have won both of my PASS elections outright as the winner with the most votes. This means that SQLFamily gave me a position, but also a mandate to try and help the community via PASS. I am a volunteer and I try my best, and I give my ‘jewels’ away for free where I think they are best needing to be spent, and I am also the messenger that takes them there.

It’s a lot of work, however, inside the tent. I’d like to explain a little about how much effort I put in normally. Since I’m in Europe, attending PASS calls means that I’m on the phone late in the evenings. If I have a few calls a week, then that takes out a few of my evenings. It all adds up, and anyone in IT knows it’s not just about the meeting, there is work outside of that as well. If I was based in the US, I’d take the calls during my working day; however, it’s a different story when you have your evenings taken out. I’m just putting that here so people understand that being on the Board, from this part of the world, is actually a huge commitment and this is my third year of doing it. Fortunately I am single so it’s not impacting time with a spouse, although it does impact my newly-found Netflix addiction.

What am I working on? A few things:

There’s a difference between PASS BA the event, and PASS BA the strategy. Both require a lot of work. Vision is ‘why’, strategy is ‘what’, and execution is ‘how’. The strategy is a follow on from a vision, a mission statement of where PASS would like to go. This diagram might help, and I sit along all three of these elements:

vse-leadership-management-474x234

 

Credit: Goulston Group‘s image.

The PASS Mission Statement has to translate into a strategy, which then translates into execution plans. Execution is crucial, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for a strategy. A strategy is all about making a decision about where to play, and the way to play. A strategy tackles more fundamental questions:

  1. What organisation should PASS be?
  2. How does this add value to PASS?
  3. Who are the target audience for the PASS BA proposition?
  4. What are your value propositions for the BA audience?
  5. What capabilities are essential to adding value to the PASS BA organisation, and differentiating their value proposition?

In future blog posts, I will try to speak to each of these questions from my input as the PASS Business Analytics portfolio holder. A strategy provides a foundation for decision-making. It’s a garden for growth and where to cut costs, and determining priorities. The strategy gives a signpost and a guide to prevent drift, or scope creep. Personally, I have never seen scope ‘creep’ – it usually gallops! So there is a lot to think about, as I try to help PASS continue to be successful, and move forward to further success.

A strategy is particularly critical in volatile environments, and there is none more volatile than the world of data at the moment. You just need to see the Apache top level projects at the moment. Apache Spark is à la mode, but now there is also Apache Flink and Apache Arrow to consider, which also play in some of Spark’s space. Also, you could consider Apache Apex which is designed to improve the performance and speed of big data components that work together as part of a larger system. How would an architect decide, and put these bits together?

I am continuing to make sure that my voice is heard and I’ve already made the following points:

  • Strategy – I have been working a lot on the PASS BA strategy. More details on this will be ongoing, but here are some details which I’ve previously posted. I’m supporting the team as we move forward to tell our story, and that’s involved a lot of research and teamwork. Thank you Teresa C for your help 🙂
  • PASS are working on the BA Marathon, as promised in the last blog post. I’ve been having input on that.
  • I’ve raised the question of greater engagement and activity outside of the US. I’ve sent through my thoughts and ideas, and hopefully that will lead into more growth in that area, through strategy and execution. This is crucial; growing PASS will mean greater support and engagement outside of the US. My EMEA seat is supposed to give the ‘voice’ outside of the US to the rest of the Board, and I’ve already made these points on a number of occasion. In my own capacity, I spoke at SQLSaturday Vienna, SQLBits and I’m speaking at SQLSaturday Paris and SQLSaturday Dublin in June. I’m also speaking at Digital Pragmatism: Delivering Real World Improvements in Mental Health. I also spoke at Microsoft TechDays, a UK event.
  • Also, I’m supporting SQL Server Geeks in my own capacity and I’m delivering a precon for the team out there in India to help support their wonderful event and community. How much do I believe in the SQL Server Geeks event? I have 100% faith in the team out there – and SQL Server Geeks is going to be the highlight of my year.I’m delighted to see the growth in the community there. Amit Bansal, Manohar Punna and the team are doing a wonderful job. Pinal Dave runs a wonderful blog out of India. These are only a few people in that part of the world who are doing wonderful things, and they all contribute to make the Data Platform world better, both in person and online.

So, that’s a roundup. As always, please feel free to get in touch at jen.stirrup@sqlpass.org

 

 

 

 

 

Jen’s PASS Diary: once more unto the breach

“Never allow carping critics to deter you from success. Instead, silence them with it.”

― Christian Baloga

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

– Winston Churchill

Well, what have I been up to, since my last post? Note: I don’t represent PASS here. This is a brain dump of my own thoughts.

Briefly, I’ve suffered a series of malicious problems over the Internet. Like many other tech women, I just put up with it. I’ve reported it to the police and I’ve been talking to them over the past ten days or so, and the matter is now proceeding through that process. Since it’s now a Police matter, I won’t go into details. I will simply say that I’ve changed most of my contact details now and I’ll set up a dedicated blog email address so that people can still contact me. Details to follow.

I’ve been distracted, to say the least. It’s been suggested to me that I should step down from various community activities, including the MVP Program. However, I am not going to do that. I think it sends out the wrong signal, which is that these people/person (I still don’t know who it is) will win in the end. So, whilst I’m clinging on with my fingernails, I am still clinging on and I am not going away any time soon.

I’ve served on the Board of PASS for the last two years, and I’ve been an MVP for five years now in my own right. I’m one of only four female MVPs in Europe, although we are all Data Platform now. I’ve written my own book all by myself – not just a chapter or so! And I run my own one woman band small business.

I’m happy just to be part of the crowd for as long as it lasts. It won’t last forever and one day, it will end. I’ve met some great people along the way, learned languages In foreign countries, lost friends who weren’t friends, travelled to more places than I ever dreamed of seeing and I’ve achieved more than a wee lassie from Kilmarnock could ever have hoped for. These problems have made me down but not out. Life has thrown so much at me already and there is a truth in the saying, that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

Regarding PASS, I’m not going to let down the 1.2k plus people who voted for me, and I won both elections outright – twice, once in 2013 and once in 2015. That was a huge mark of faith in me and it’s a lot to live up to, and I don’t want to let people down. I know full well there are areas I could do better and I am trying. I am also very aware that there are people who don’t like me or what I’m doing. But that isn’t everyone and there are still people standing behind me and beside me who believe in the community things I am trying to do. However distractions like this do not help, but, despite this, I have still managed to keep my phone commitments to PASS this week leading up to Christmas plus keep on top of things BA. I’m excited to be part of the team and I feel I’m working with people who are friends as well as team colleagues and I don’t want to lose that.

I will continue to send all problems on to the right police process. I have the “courage to continue” and I want to thank everyone who has been in touch over the past week or so, with their support. I’ve commented previously about the kindness of strangers and how nice people can be sometimes, even if they don’t really know me at all. also, to the kind hearts from SQLFamily – too many to mention! – but I think I’ve been in touch to thank everyone personally by now. Usually, I’d name people who had helped me, but I’ve turned a bit paranoid about mentioning names in case they get some problems, too. A rather bad halo effect 😦

hopefully the next post will be more cheerful!

jen

x