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.
Full 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.
I 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.
My 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.
I 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.
I grew in SPSS expertise, again on a Mac.
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.
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.
Customers 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.
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?
I 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.
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!