Thursday, June 19, 2014

DO put your daughter on the internet Ms Worth

Two odd things this week; I've been asked to talk as part of Women in Engineering day, and I ended up with someone on one of my e-safety course feeling so aware of the risks that they felt they should close their social networking presences. I feel bad about both, but not really for different reasons. Both have to do with gender, visibility, and the difficulty of pressing out into the unknown.

Disclaimer; I am a woman, but I'm not an engineer. Lots of my friends are software engineers, or work in data and systems and web. My background is web and communications, not web and development. But there are many ways in which you can't really separate the content from the medium/function and in common with many others who started work as web something-or-other I have over the years drifted techwards, fuelled by a desire to help make things work better. I have also found myself acting as translator and advocate for back-room systems and it was in this spirit I polled my friends and rolled their opinions into a short talk on being a woman in ITC and engineering.

 Not ready yet, but here are three points, by way of a sneak preview:

  1. The sort of person you are is more important than whether you are or are not a woman when it comes to entering the ICT/engineering field. However, it will have an effect on your career because of the attitudes of other people you will meet professionally. How this goes will depend on your workplace, but it can go very well (also badly).
  2. Having social and professional contacts within the field and having the confidence and entitlement to exploit them fully really mattered. Jobs (not all jobs, but many, and many that were important in the careers described) were gained through parents, partners, friends, social contacts. Everyone does it; don't fear it.
  3. Although you may well get paid less than male colleagues, and suffer more hassle and harassment (though you might not) you will still earn more and more regularly and more steadily than most, all for a job you (pretty much) enjoy, working with people you (pretty much) get along with.
Digested down still further, this says; "Don't fear going somewhere new, even when it attracts problems. Use your social contacts, don't fear them. Don't worry about doing worse than other people, as long as you're doing well enough, it doesn't matter."

Which was very, very close to the arguments I was making for keeping your social networking presence.

Friday, June 13, 2014

don't blink during the database stand-off

A lot of us dream of the database. The one great database that will take all of the data from our tiny scrappy datastores, match fields, cross-validate and deduplicate and place our data into the rich promised land of absolute knowledge that drifts in front of our eyes like a mirage, perpetually two and half minutes into the future. That's my vision, I suppose; a single person-orientated record, that follows them from record creation, through time and eventually into the archive like an obedient electronic shadow, plus an information layer over the world, that provides administration points for that record, mapping and pinning and attaching them in the spaghetti junction tangle of their official environment.

Anyone looking at that thinking, that's Facebook and there's Google, that's fine as long as the world you live in is permitted to be partial, optional and mostly centred around relationships and buying things. Not that their data isn't often much better than ours. But I digress.

Across the room, there is a different vision. A series of people who share this vision are explaining it over to an assembled group of people who have suddenly been swept up into this vision. The vision includes a variety of things but one of them is a datastore. Would it not be better if all the datastores were just one? Think of the savings and the improvements to the service!

Across the room from the people with the vision sit the operational managers and asset holders. They have a variety of systems, all of which are in use and fulfilling a non-optional service. They may not be the best systems (all large systems have a tendency to stay jammed into first working configurations) but they work, within tolerance, and they do a variety of things. 

There is a brief moment of silence. Into it, a single sentence falls: I wonder if we're really talking about more than one system here.