Speakers Are Normal People

The #SQLFamily is amazing, at least I think it is. Like many families, it’s welcoming, supportive, and comforting. It’s also maddening, frustrating, and exacerbating at times. Like most families, or at least the ones I know, it’s not perfect, but it’s what we have and at the end of the day, most of us get along with each other.

It’s also an open group of people. In general, we welcome people with open arms and smiles. Those of us that are more visible or prominent are willing to listen to, help, and support anyone. I was overjoyed during the recent PASS Data Community Summit, where I had the chance to see so many people that I haven’t seen in person in 2-3 years. I met many other interesting people for the first time and enjoyed the experience.

Not everyone feels the same way. I loved seeing Kimberly Tripp and Paul Randal for the first time in years and was honored to share the stage with them for the Community Keynote. I enjoyed the time we spent together, but afterwards Paul wrote about some people not feeling included or welcome.

I understand that feeling. In many ways, much of adult life can mimic teenage years in high school with cliques and pettiness. I won’t pretend that doesn’t happen in the #SQLFamily, but I find it quite minimized, especially compared with many other communities of which I’ve been a part in the past. I haven’t seen the higher profile speakers and leaders in the SQL Community dismiss someone for asking a question or expressing an opinion. I have, however, seen that in other communities.

It can be intimidating to walk up to someone that you don’t know who you might feel is famous or well known. It can be intimidating to just walk up to a group of people who are talking when they appear to know each other. I have that feeling at times even today, so I appreciate feeling like an outsider. In the Summit keynote, I talked about the thrill in meeting Kalen Delaney in 1999 and shaking her hand. I was nervous and intimidated to ask her a question after her presentation. At the time I hadn’t delivered a talk in front of anyone outside of school environments and was a fairly introverted geek. It was hard to step up and make that effort, but I’m glad I did.

As Paul writes, anyone is welcome in the #SQLFamily. Anyone can join. You don’t have to come shake a hand or say hi, but I’m happy when you do. Will we be best friends right away? Probably not. Will we go out to dinner that night? Maybe. I’ve certainly met attendees at events and then had dinner with them. I know plenty of other speakers who have as well.

Many of the people who speak, organize, and write/blog/tweet/etc. in our industry are friends. We do value time with each other, and that can feel like a club, but it’s not. We enjoy seeing each other and want to catch up, like any group of friends. However, we are also welcoming of newcomers, so feel free to introduce yourself.

Ultimately those of us who engage in these highly visible, extroverted acts are often just like the rest of you. We’re a mix of people that are mostly introverted, with a few extroverts thrown in. Some speakers are very smart and talented, some are more like me: we know enough to get the things done that we’re asked to do.  Some of us love to go out and sing karaoke until all hours of the night and others prefer a small dinner or a little tabletop gaming in a quiet environment.

My encouragement to get people to meet others, network, set up events or meetups, and more isn’t to try and convince any of you to join the cool kids club. It’s not to get you to change who you are.

It’s to help you find your tribe. To find your kind of people.

I’d love to greet all of you with a hug at events, call you by name, and go out to dinner with you. I can’t because there isn’t enough time in the day. And quite frankly, I really, really value my alone time. What I want more than anything is for you to be successful, find a great job or career you relish, and for you to enjoy spending time with those you enjoy. Whoever and wherever that is. That takes some effort, but it’s worth the energy involved.

Steve Jones

Listen to the podcast at Libsyn, Stitcher, Spotify, or iTunes.

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Daily Coping 27 Jan 2023

Today’s coping tip is to try something new to get out of your comfort zone.

I did two things here. First, I’ve been participating in a Jan American Cancer Society Challenge and fundraiser. I’m doing this because cancer sucks, and I wanted to help. I rowed in college, but I don’t want to just focus on rowing, so I’ve been trying to fit this into my normal routine.

However, I decided to go longer and make this my exercise for a few days. Part of that is being busy and bad weather, part to change things up. I pushed harder and instead of a 10-12min row, I went 22 and 5k.

Second, I asked my son to cook a recipe. He showed me something he found interesting, which usually results in me asking for the URL and I shop and cook. This time I asked him to make it, which is slightly uncomfortable for me. However, I’ve been extra busy, so I got out of my comfort zone.

I started to add a daily coping tip to the SQL Server Central newsletter and to the Community Circle, which is helping me deal with the issues in the world. I’m adding my responses for each day here. All my coping tips are under this tag.

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Daily Coping 26 Jan 2023

Today’s coping tip is to focus on what’s good, even if today feels tough.

Yesterday was a tough day. I got busy, distracted, had some bad news come up, family needed some care, and I struggled to get work done. On top of that, something I thought would be easy to setup and test for a customer didn’t work at all. I’d made an assumption and my process needs to be redesigned.

I felt like I wasted a day.

However, it wasn’t all bad. I took care of my wife, who had surgery recently. I got her lunch and spent a little time chatting with her. I helped my daughter get a few things done before leaving to return to school. I got the dogs outside for a walk and I found time to exercise.

There were good things, even if it was a tough day.

I started to add a daily coping tip to the SQL Server Central newsletter and to the Community Circle, which is helping me deal with the issues in the world. I’m adding my responses for each day here. All my coping tips are under this tag.

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Losing Track of Data

I saw this article a few months ago, which talks about engineers at Facebook not knowing where their customers’ personal data is stored. The engineers were being questioned in a legal matter, where they were asked to definitively state where all personal PII data for any human was stored by Facebook. Their answer was that they didn’t think anyone in the company would be able to answer that question.

Facebook has been controversial over the years, and plenty of people dislike the way the company conducts business. I noticed no shortage of data people (and many others) commenting on this situation, saying that Facebook should be shut down because they don’t know where data is being stored.

However, I don’t agree. In working with lots of customers, on all aspects of how they handle, process, and manage data, I expect this to be a problem in many organizations. Whether large or small, whether they have few or many software engineers, it is highly possible that there isn’t a good list of where personal data is being stored. As we work with customers to classify data with SQL Data Catalog, that process takes a long time, and very often the system administrators or developers who undertake take the task are unaware of all the places where data is stored.

That’s just in relational databases, ignoring all the Excel spreadsheets, text exports, mail merge operations, and uploads to services for mailing, analysis, or something else. Very often the control of personal data is fragmented among groups, with there being few efforts made to coherently manage a customer’s data.

The world has adopted computing at an incredibly fast pace, often by people with little knowledge or forethought of the implications of gathering and processing data. In many cases, probably most cases, there is no overriding strategy. Just like with applications slapped together quickly, we find data being gathered and stored based on the requirements and demands of business people, with no planning for management or archival, and often not even with any security requirements.

I liked the GDPR as a step forward, asking companies to not only handle data appropriately, but remove it when not needed, not use it without consent, and to be able to keep track and delete it if not necessary. I don’t know that this has been successful, but it has changed handling practices in some organizations. At least in responsible organizations, and many of them have had to track down personal data to delete it. I’m not sure they know where it all is, but I at least assume they know where all of the data about a person is in their various relational stores.

As a technical person, do you know where all data is stored about a customer? Are you sure you know where marketing has been keeping information and what other mailing, analysis, reporting, CRM, etc. systems they’ve put data? Any idea how many copies the operations group keeps? Test systems, QA, UAT, and others? What about test data sets, are they sanitized? Perhaps legal or finance has gotten extracts of data to reconcile their systems.

Tracking down all data can be hard, and I’m not surprised Facebook struggles. I would guess engineers in many organizations would have similar answers.

Steve Jones

Listen to the podcast at Libsyn, Stitcher, Spotify, or iTunes.

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