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.

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I grew in SPSS expertise, again on a Mac.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Jen’s Pass Diary: Reflections and a plea for help for the ‘little guy’.

This blog does not represent PASS. Here, I discuss a few threads:

  • PASS HQ Meeting
  • A plea for help for SQLSaturday Edinburgh along with some SQLBits commentary
  • A plea for the little guy – my thoughts on Business Analytics and Business Intelligence
  • and a well wish to someone dear to me
  • PASS HQ Meeting

I have attended another Board meeting in Vancouver this week. It was split into two parts: a main Board meeting, and then separate ‘side sessions’ with key HQ team members.

What’s it like at PASS HQ? Well, they have a friendly office dog who is always looking for cuddles and tidbits! Pets aside, the team work incredibly hard. As a consultant, I walk into customer sites a lot, and I can say that the sense of ‘sqlfamily’ and community is felt throughout the team there, in the same way as community members also show a spirit of community. I really enjoyed my few days there, and I’d like to thank the team for their warm Canadian welcome and their ongoing support.

What happened at the PASS Board meeting? Well, lots was discussed, and you should await your PASS Connector newsletters, and your BA newsletters, for more information. All I can say for now, is that there is a *lot* of news coming and I hope that the community will appreciate it.

  • A plea for help for SQLSaturday Edinburgh along with some SQLBits commentary

I’m running SQLSaturday Edinburgh Business Intelligence Edition on 13th of June and I desperately need volunteers! If you’d like to register for the event, please register here. If you can help, please email me at jen.stirrup@datarelish.com Activities include: registration desk, room monitoring, PASS sponsor desk. I’m glad to say that I have a few volunteers, and I will thank them specifically after the event has occurred. So watch this space.

The SQLBits committee have decided to hold a team meeting on the same day as SQLSaturday Edinburgh. I’m as excited as anyone else about any SQL Server community news coming from the SQLBits team. However, this does mean I have lost some key volunteers who are headed to the SQLBits community team day, rather than come to SQLSaturday Edinburgh. I can totally understand their decision: SQLBits has ‘sex appeal’ and it is a much bigger event. SQLBits is a fantastic event, which I’ve been glad to be part of as a speaker and support it in different ways (more below).

In comparison, my SQLSaturday is a small event, so much so, that nobody realised the clash in dates when they organised their team meeting. I’m not part of the Committee – although I have volunteered to help them in this capacity for a long time – so I was not aware of this clash. I wish them all the best, but it does mean that I’m down some great experienced volunteers, and I am appealing to the tech community for help, assistance and love in trying to make sure that SQLSaturday Edinburgh Business Intelligence goes well operationally on the day for the SQLSaturday Edinburgh organising committee of one person – me! It does serve a real community need in Scotland. Not everyone attends SQLBits – England can seem as far away to Scottish people, as Scotland is to a lot of English people. The event is an unusual mix of rural locals, some of whom will travel for hours via boats from the isles. On the other hand, we get delegates flying in for the BI and BA angle, who come in from all over Europe. I am working hard, in term of my PASS Board activities, in doing things for the European community in particular, and the fledgling BI and BA community here in Europe and in the US via the PASS Business Analytics Conference which I helped to lead.

I am a Committee of one person for SQLSaturday Edinburgh – there is no failover here – and I hope that people will help, but until I ask for help, I’m not going to get any. So here we are! I hope that any potential volunteers will be as excited about this community as I am. Every little helps, as they say, so if you could help with small things like room monitoring or on the PASS booth, that would be fantastic.

  • A plea for the little guy – my thoughts on Business Analytics and Business Intelligence

I believe I am doing some ground-breaking work in doing Business Analytics and Business Intelligence dedicated events in Edinburgh (and London! – more news later!). We are trying something new this year. I have recruited cross product group MVPs and speakers from C#, Access, Visio, SharePoint and Excel as well as SQL Server and Azure. The underlying focus is on BA / BI but I am emphasising the ‘practical’ aspect of data by reaching out to different product groups, with the common theme being data. CRM, for example, is rich in data even if it isn’t traditional SQL Server BI. It’s a BI / BA event so that immediately cuts out DBA oriented content. I believe that the DBA audience is well served in the UK, with SQLBits, SQLRelay so I am not worried about this community missing out. I am worried about the ‘little guy’ who needs to nail data together, and find the promised insights from data and Big Data that Cx level executives are expecting. These Big Data promises need to be delivered by someone, and that person needs training, education, and a community for them to ‘learn, share and connect’. I am trying to work towards that globally as part of PASS, and particularly here in Europe. You will see more news about this from PASS official channels and I will keep it for that – for now, just know that I am bursting to share news!

Again, it is a risk to try this, but I think we will offer enough range within the topics to expand the audience, particularly since we are not actively seeking DBA content. We’re simply expanding in a different, data platform direction.

I hope that this blog isn’t perceived as a complaint about SQLBits or the team- it isn’t. It’s just that SQLSaturday Edinburgh is right down to the wire, and I only found out about this issue a few weeks ago. So I am getting desperate for volunteers and I wasn’t going to share this news at all, however, my efforts to turn up volunteers haven’t been met so I’m hoping for help for this ‘little guy’ too!

What will I do if I don’t get volunteers? I have the option to hire a delegate management package from the SQLSaturday Edinburgh venue. All will not be lost, but I didn’t budget for this emergency measure when I planned SQLSaturday Edinburgh. If I am stuck, I will do this, but obviously community events are run on a very tight budget and I am hoping to avoid this measure.

  • and a well wish to someone dear to me

I am, and have been, a long-term SQLBits supporter since SQLBits 2. I continue to wish them all the best in all that they do. Also, as my previous business partner is part of the SQLBits committee, I indirectly supported the event in terms of time off, my speaking, DitBits and so on, to help to make it happen. I was glad to do that, I don’t regret it for a minute. Here, please note that I wish Allan Mitchell the best wishes for his future ventures and adventures, and I wish this for him from the bottom of my heart.

My Kibana presentation slide deck from SQLBits

Here are the slides from my first SQLBits XIV session at the Excel in London, March 2015.

I presented with Allan Mitchell on the topic of ElasticSearch and Kibana. I did the Kibana section and talked around the topic of data visualisation, and the slides are here. I whizzed through these first, before giving a demo. I’ll post up the SQLBits video as soon as I have it.

Jen’s Diary: A belated Review of my first year on the Board

Disclaimer: I am not officially talking for PASS here. These are my own opinions.

I’m a year into my tenure on the Board of Directors for PASS. What have I done, and what have I learned?

The Skinny:

  • Set up new VCs
  • Supported other VCs with speakers, Microsoft ‘go to’ contacts, I created a Pathway for people who needed help with their VCs
  • Helped to run two VCs as a VC Leader or Co-Leader – Business Intelligence, Excel BI, and Data Science
  • I helped with two User Groups, and run a third as the leader
  • I ran two SQLSaturdays and planned a third for this year
  • I spoke at a ton of events all over Europe and the US: Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Portugal, France, Budapest (Hungary), Darmstadt (Germany), Vienna. I also spoke at User Groups around the UK, SQLSaturday Exeter, SQLSaturday Edinburgh, SQLBits.
  • I also delivered a lot of VC sessions, and you can see those over at the PASS Business Intelligence YouTube channel.
  • I helped with the PASS Business Analytics Conference, eventually inheriting the Portfolio from the awesome Denise McInerny. I’m now in the driving seat, and I love this challenge!

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The Full Fat version!

Virtual Chapters – I drove through opening up some new VCs in:

Data Science, which is getting a logo as we speak! I’m second in command to Mark Tabladillo for this one.

Excel BI which I now run

High Availability and Disaster Recovery – see, I’m not just all about the BAs. All about the BAs… get it? No? ok.

In-Memory VC which is run by Niko Neugebauer and Ami Levin

I also rebooted some VCs, so:

Azure VC was rebranded as Cloud

Oracle VC was eagerly adopted by Mark Broadbent

Professional Development was rebooted and led by Neil Hambly and Matan Yungtan

I also supported Global Growth by helping the following VCs get up and running:

Global French – this is a real gift of a VC and if you speak French, it is well worth a look. It isn’t just covering France: it covers Canada too, and French speaking Africa. They are a great team and deserve to be congratulated!

Global Chinese – these guys are taking off and they are doing brilliantly.

Global Spanish – I wish I knew what the Spanish word for ‘awesome’ is. These guys are awesome! They deliver VC sessions on a weekly basis. That’s right – weekly. They are so community spirited and they share their expertise.

I’ve helped the other VCs with things like getting speakers. I’ve managed to get some of them a ‘go to’ contact in Microsoft, so that they have someone to speak to, in order to get expert help, Microsoft speakers and so on. That program is still ongoing.

I identified that VC leaders sometimes need help with learning to use GoToWebinar and so on. I produced a pathway series that was aimed at helping people with tips and tricks. It was well attended and I hope it helped people. Here is the first segment of the Pathway here.

What else did I do?

I delivered SQLSaturday Edinburgh and SQLSaturday London Business Analytics edition. It’s unusual for someone to organize two SQLSats in the same year, but hey,it was fun! Each event combined hundreds of attendees in total, and I helped to provide a lot of training hours to a lot of people.

I also kicked off SQLSaturday Edinburgh 2015, which is a work in progress. I’m pleased that I have quit a few registrations already and I haven’t really done any advertising yet. It’s in June so there is plenty of time.

I also run the Hertfordshire SQL Server user Group, I help support Neil Hambly (President) as second-in-command for the London user Group, and I help run Hampshire SQL Server user Group whilst the current owner is on maternity leave.

And I’ve been spending a massive amount of time on the PASS Business Analytics Conference. Wow, this has been a lot of work but I think that the emerging data professional community will love what we are doing. It’s a real break from PASS Summit and from previous editions of the PASS BA Conference. Look at our announced speakers so far and I have got serious Imposter Syndrome when I speak to them. They are simply amazing, knowledgeable, accessible and authoritative, and expert at what they do. The great thing about helping to lead a conference is that I get to help choose, as part of a team, whom I’d like to see speak, so I (very selfishly) contacted the best people I came across as experts in analytics, whether it was through in-person events, conferences, thought leaders on Twitter, influencers on LinkedIn and so on. And we are lucky they are coming along! here are a few examples:

Chandoo – making you awesome at Excel

Dean Abbot – Data Mining and Predictive Analytics Expert

Jordan Goldmeier – Excel guru and decision maker thought leader. Data Visualisation expert, Excel MVP

James Taylor – CEO of Decision Management Solution, an authority on Decision Management and the effective use of business rules and predictive analytics

James Kobielus – Big Data Evangelist at IBM.

Rob Collie and Avi Singh of PowerPivotPro – yes, these two are a great team!

There are a whole ton of great speakers being announced, so why don’t you head over and take a look?

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To summarise, I’ve worked hard and I hope people can see the value in what I do. I know I haven’t attained perfection – which I am humble enough to admit.

Thank you for the friends who have stayed with me on this journey.

Thank you to the PASS Board membes who serve alongside me. They continue to inspire me, and overwhelm me sometimes with just how smart they are.

Thank you to Judy and the rest of the PASS team at PASS HQ. They are all individually amazing, and together they are an fantastic team. I rely on their insights and wisdom. And here they are!

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Here is hoping for a great 2015!

The Data Analysts Toolkit Day 5: How do R and Power BI fit together?

How do R and Power BI fit together?

Technically, it is about munging data around between R and Excel and the Power BI components. 
You can use RODBC to connect to data between R and SQL Server, or R and Excel. Alternatively you can import data in.
Why else might you use R?

  • Pivot Tables are not always enough
  • Scaling Data (ScaleR)
  • R is very good at static data visualisation but Power BI and Excel are very good at dynamic data visualisation
  • You want to double check your results or do further analysis
They complement one another; they do not replace one another.
You may have heard my story about one organisation calculating the median incorrectly. 
The truth is, people don’t often check their data. I help design data warehouses all the time, and I don’t always hear people talk about reconciliation. I do hear about people racking up SSAS and diving straight in.
Just because something works technically, does not mean it is correct.
Upworthy and Facebook use R. A lot. So why not you? It is achievable.
Why R, and not some other package?
  • R most widely used data analysis software – used by 2M + data scientist, statisticians and analysts
  • Most powerful statistical programming language
  • used with RStudio, it can help you for the purposes of productivity
  • Create beautiful and unique data visualisations – as seen in New York Times, Twitter and Flowing Data
  • Thriving open-source community – leading edge of analytics research
  • Fills the talent gap – new graduates prefer R.
  • It’s fun!
Excel is used by an estimated 1.3 billion people on the planet. That sounds really impressive, until you think that many people are often using it wrong!
R just helps you to do that double check, the sanity check, to see if your data is correct.

What do you need for my SQLBits R and PowerBI session? Nothing!

What do you need for my SQLBits R and PowerBI session? Nothing! 
I am not expecting people to have installed anything in advance, hence I have made no requests for the event. I will cover it during the session. Usually people never do it in advance because they are hassled in work, trying to clear their desks before getting training.
When I’ve held this course before, only about a third of people joined in as i went along. The others were happy to take notes and watch demos. Sometimes people are not given laptops out of the office. I run the course with this in mind. People learn in different ways.
R has its own inbuilt data sets so you will not require any preparation in advance, in terms of the data or the software. We will be looking at a wide range of things. I will make the R scripts available to you on the day as well.
The SQLBits wifi should be good; and if it not, then I have everything on USBs.
I hope that helps and that you enjoy your day, if you are attending.

Steampunk SQLBits tshirt follow up

Firstly I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who reads this blog. I was totally overwhelmed by the number of people who got in touch, from every part of the world.

I am really sorry but I simply could not buy everyone a tshirt. There were simply too many requests and I do feel bad about it. The design is below and if you fancy ordering and paying for your own, please visit www.clothes2order.com and you can choose your own tshirt.

The link is below:
Purchase my design on Clothes2order.com!

and here is the picture:

I chose pink for women and olive for gentlemen. If I didn’t email you back to offer you a tshirt, I have missed your mail in amongst the traffic and I am sorry about that.
Enjoy! If you do order one, please send me a photo of yourself in it and I will post it up. I’d love to see it!