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Friday Philosophy – At What Point Can You Claim a Skill? June 26, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Knowledge.
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I’ve just installed Oracle 12C on my laptop {I know, why only now?}. I went for the option to have a Container database with a pluggable database within it. {It is easy and free to install Oracle on your own home machine – so long as it is for personal use only and you are singed up to OTN (which is also free) }.

12C with pluggable databases (PDBs) is a little different to the last few versions of Oracle as it introduces this whole concept of the Container database that holds portions of the data dictionary and, within that, what we used to think of as Oracle instances plugged in underneath it. It is not *quite* like that – but this post is not about the technical aspects of Oracle 12C multitentant databases. And you will see why.

Whenever something I know well has changed more than a bit, I tend to hit this wall of “Whoa! it’s all changed!”. It isn’t all changed, but sometimes some of the fundamentals, the basics are different. For the last 15 years, once I have my database up and running I will have created my test users and some objects within 10 minutes and be playing away. Not this time. How do you create a user in a multi-tenant DB? How do I tell Oracle to create my users in that PDB? Hang on, how do I even check what I called my PDB? My ignorance is huge.

I popped over to Tim Hall’s site, OracleBase and the section on creating users under multi-tenant Oracle, scanned Bryn Llewellyn’s White Paper on it. A few google searches as well and soon I was there. My standard test to make sure the DB is alive, “select sysdate from dual” – only I altered it to show the PDB:

select SYSDATE from Dual

select SYSDATE from Dual

So I am logged into my working PDB on 12C, I have selected sysdate from DUAL, created my new user. I have used Oracle 12C and multitentant.

Next step?

Update CV to claim 12C expert and experience of Multi-tenant Oracle Database

This is of course a joke on my part.

Sadly, some people would actually do this.

It is something that has always annoyed me and often seems rife in the I.T. industry – people claiming skills or even expertise in something they have barely touched, let alone understood. And often about a thousand miles away from any legitimate claim to Expert. I chortle whenever I see a CV from someone with only 2 or 3 years’ experience of Oracle but list 20 areas they are expert in. Before I throw the CV in the bin.

Maybe part of the issue is that I.T. moves so fast and people feel they need to be seen to be on top of the changes to be worth employing or being listened to. Well, it’s nice to be leading edge – for much of my career I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to the latest version of Oracle either as soon as it is out or even before (beta programs). But much more important is to have some integrity. Claiming to be an expert when you are not is incredibly dangerous as anyone who really does know the subject is going to suss you out in no time at all. And you will be exposed as a fraud and a liar. Gaining any respect after that is going to be really hard work, and so it should be.

Sadly, you do get the situation where people get away with this sort of deceit, usually by managing to deceive non-technical management but annoying the real technicians around them. Many of us have suffered from this.

This issue of claiming a skill before you had was very common with Exadata when it came out. Lots of people, it seemed, read the white papers, looked at some blogs and maybe saw a couple of talks – and then started talking to people about Exadata as though they knew it inside out. I actually saw a “professional” presentation like this at a conference, on Exadata, where it was soon clear that the presenter had probably never got as far as “select sysdate from dual;” on an exadata box (not that there is any difference for that statement :-) ). I could not help but interrupt and query a statement that was utterly untrue and at that point the presenter checked his “facts” with a more senior member of his company in the crowd. To his shame, the senior member of staff repeated the error of claiming knowledge he also did not have to back the presenter up. Every time I come across that company now, I think of that.

So when can you claim a skill? If you look at my screen shot you will see that I failed to actually log into my PDB database with my new user – #fail. Of course I can’t claim these skills based on reading some information, seeing some talks and all of an hour’s practical experience.

I think you can only claim a skill once you can tell for sure if someone else also has that skill. Or more significantly, tell when they are claiming a skill they lack. Personally, I tend towards not claiming a skill if I doubt my abilities. Don’t worry, my huge ego balances that British self-doubt quite well :-)

I used to give introductory talks on Exadata as I got so tired of the poor information I saw being given on the subject. Also, all the best talks were soon about the details of smart scans, the storage cells and patching. Not much for newbies. Interestingly, even as an intro talk, most times I did the talk I learnt something new in discussions at or after the talk. But I’ve retired that talk now. Why? Well Exadata has moved forward 2 versions since I last used it and 3 since I used it in anger. I could no longer tell you if something someone claimed for V5 of Exadata was true or not. So I am no longer skilled in Exadata.

Only claim skills you have.
Distrust those who claim skills they lack.
Try to teach those who seek your skills – you will only get better for it.

Friday Philosophy – Make a Team by Letting Them Burn May 29, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Management.
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The title of today’s Friday Philosophy sounds extreme, but it’s true.

Sir John Harvey-JOnes

Sir John Harvey-Jones

Recently, I was watching a TV program about “experts” helping companies turn around. A couple of decades ago the BBC had a program called “The Troubleshooter” where a gentleman called Sir John Harvey-Jones gave companies in trouble advice {the similar idea but without the cheap and tacky elements we have today with making the targets of the program cry and over-emote for good TV}. John just gave solid advice. But one thing that was true in the program back then and is true in the tacky 21st century take on the program is that eventually you have to let the new team make mistakes.

This resonated with me as when I was managing teams it was something I knew I should do – and struggled to allow. A new team and, especially, a new team leader, has to be given space to make mistakes.

I have always found this very hard to watch. When you become a team leader yourself, or a subject matter expert, or the “lead” on anything, you make mistakes. You just do: it’s new to you, you have not done it before and you lack the experience and knowledge to know what works and what does not. If you are lucky you might have a mentor you can talk to or think back on, maybe a team leader you enjoyed working for or an expert you admire. But often it is just you and the new role and a whole green field of requirements into which you can drop your own cow-pats. It is challenging, exciting, frightening, worrying… Looking back, those are the times that have been most demanding in my career and have also been the times I learnt the most.

I would say they were also the best times in my working life (and that would fulfill the usual mythology and story-telling shtick at this point) but that would be a lie. 50% of the time they were, the other 50% of the time I hated it. Am I not supposed to say that? Well, it’s true. Half the time, breaking new ground is not the Star Trek/Friends/Movie-of-the-month feel-good ride to betterment that society sells us it is. Sometimes it is hard work, bruising and sucks. Am I wrong?

So, I know it is not always a nice ride. And, irrespective, I’ve learnt some lessons over the years – and I do not see why people under my tutelage cannot just inherit the lessons I learned painfully without the pain, by me guiding them. I want what is in my head and my experience to be available to you.

What is wrong with that? Well, three things at least.

My way is not your way. I am me, you are you. Ignoring for the minute that I could get things wrong {As if!!! {British ironic humour) }, just because how I handle a situation or my team or a tricky customer interaction works for me, that way may not work for you – as you have a different personality and different strengths. I’m pretty good at dealing with companies that try to rip me off. I face them down and I bloody well let them have it. My wife does not do that, she keeps calm, is passive (in my eyes) and does not point out their stupidity. But she nails them with reasonable logic and calm {but she will go for the throat if reason fails}. We both usually win. She maybe wins more often (please don’t tell her that). We all have to find what works for us as individuals and that varies.

Secondly, though I would like to save you from pain, if you do not make your own decisions and live with them then it was not your work. If you do what I told you to do then it was partly my work. You will know that. What will you do when I am not there? I’m not arguing against seeking advice, that is always (in my book) correct. But if you are in charge of something, you need to BE IN CHARGE so that you learn to know you can (or cannot, let’s be honest) do it. You have to decide if you take any advice, it would be questionable of me dictate you take my advice (though there are times and situations when that would be correct of me). If you succeed because I told you what to do, you have learned a way to handle that situation. If you resolved the problem yourself, you also learned that you can do it. If you mess up, then you learnt a way not to do things and you now have to learn another vital management skill:

To be a good leader you need to accept your mistakes – and sort them out.

That is what I mean about letting the team burn.

The third point, the one I do not like looking at, is that. Well. My way may not be best. Your way might not just be different and better suited to you and your abilities, it might simply be better. If I over-ride a minion when they are not doing it My Way then I am preventing them from learning, I am preventing them from doing it their way, and I am potentially preventing them doing it a better way.

My job as a manager is getting the best out of those I manage. That may include them doing a better job than me. If that is a problem, it is my problem.

This is also true of teaching and mentoring and explaining. If I teach you SQL programming and you become a better SQL programmer than me, I’ll be hurt – How dare you be better than me? I Bloody taught you! I would like to feel that as I get older I can live more comfortably with achieving that aim of someone I teach becoming better than me.

So getting back to the title. If I manage a team leader, I have to let that team leader… lead. I advise, I help, I highlight what I think they missed… And then, if I can over-ride my damned ego, I shut up. I have to risk letting them burn.

If they burn, I try to put out the fire with them.

If they do not burn, they have learnt and will be better.

If they shine, then they have exceeded me and we might be swapping roles one day.

I would like to think that is how I operated at the end of my time managing teams.

Friday Philosophy – Why I Volunteer for User Groups May 22, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Presenting, Private Life, UKOUG.
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I’ve just noticed a new page about me popping up on the UKOUG web site – It’s in the section about volunteer case studies, alongside people like Joel Goodman, Simon Haslam, Carl Dudley, Jason Arneil, Brendan Tierney and others who have been stupid good enough to give time and effort to the UKOUG.
{You can get to the page by going to the UKOUG home page (www.ukoug.org) and clicking the Membership or Member Activities tab and Case Studies & Testimonials under that and finally Volunteer Case Studies. Phew. Or follow the link I gave at the start and click on the other names.}

I’m not sure how long I’ve been up on there but only a couple of days I think.

Anyway, Why DO I volunteer for user groups?

The little bio covers most of it but I thought I would put some words here on my blog too. I volunteer because, fundamentally, I am a socialist (with a small ‘S’) – I feel that we are all better off if we all help each other. I’ve been helped by people in my career (presenting stuff I don’t know, giving advice), I guess I feel that I should return that favor. Many of the people who have (and continue) to help me stand nothing to gain personally by helping me. In fact, one or two have helped me when, strictly speaking, they are helping create a rival for work opportunities. I try to do the same to those around me. I know, it sounds a bit “Disney film teaching the kids to do right” goody-two-shoes, but that is the core of it. And there are some other aspects to it too…

Why do I volunteer for the UKOUG specifically? Because they are THE main user group in my geographic area and provide the most support to the Oracle user community here in the UK. Most of the people involved in the UKOUG are just nice people too. But I also support and volunteer for smaller user groups, mostly by either promoting their meetings, going to them or presenting. I started presenting at the main UKOUG conference back when Dido, Eminem and Christina Aguilera where in their hey-days. I also went to the RDBMS and similar SIGs and before long I was presenting at them and then got sucked into chairing one of them – the Management and Infrastructure SIG. I’ve been slowly sucked in more & more as the years role by.

That has led on to me presenting at other user groups in different countries. Actually, I used to do quite a bit of presenting abroad (mostly the US) around 10 years ago, but that was part of the role I had at the time and my employer paid the bills. No employer to pay the bills now, but then as it is my time I try to make presenting abroad also a chance to have a short holiday, I try to take a day or two one side or the other of the event to look around. And actually, it is nice spending time with other people who present at or attend user group meetings.

Another part of it is I just like presenting. This is not quite so Disney Nice Guy, there is an aspect that is more selfish, that standing up, being listened to and telling people stuff that maybe they don’t know makes me feel better about myself. Better about myself? OK, I’ll let that stand for now but it is more that it makes me feel I am achieving something and having an impact. That I am useful. Fundamentally it is still a desire to help and presenting does not scare me (I know it is scary for a lot of people, but then a lot of people are not scared of heights and I am – it all balances out). But with a slice of “look at me!!!” thrown in.

There are also rewards for the effort. I’ve got to know a lot more people as a result of presenting, blogging (and now tweeting) than I would have had I stayed just one of the audience. For me it has helped me make more friends. As I said above, part of what is now nice about user group meetings for me is meeting friends I’ve made who are also on the speaker circuit and there is inevitable a few drinks in the evening whenever there is a user group. It also gives you more exposure in the community and helps lead to job opportunities – or at least that is the theory. No one has yet offered me a job because they liked my blog post or presentation!

That leads me to the last aspect of volunteering. Some people volunteer primarily for selfish reasons. To get bragging rights, get it on their CV’s, to help them get sales contacts or better jobs. The odd thing is, people who do it for those reasons tend not to last – as volunteering for user groups is a lot of hard work to get those rewards. You can usually spot them as they are the ones who don’t actually do a lot or complain all the time about the coffee being bad (actually, usually the coffee IS bloody terrible) and other things. Don’t get me wrong, some of those rewards do come with the volunteering, but if someone is volunteering primarily to get them, it does not seem to work out for them. Or maybe that is my socialism coming out again :-). Fundamentally, I think volunteering only works if, at the core of it, you want to help other people. Maybe that is why other volunteers are such nice people to hang around with.

Why do you do it? (or not).

Guaranteed Method of Boosting your Oracle Skills May 21, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Knowledge, Perceptions.
Tags: , , ,
5 comments

I can tell you how to be a better Oracle DBA, Developer, Designer, Architect – whatever your flavour of role or aspect of profession, if Oracle tech is part of your working world I can hand you the key to improvement. And it is easy.

I am totally assured(*) I can do this. It will work for every single one of you reading this post (except for you two, you know who you are). And you must send me $100 before I tell you how…

Hell, no you don’t! This is not some bull-droppings selling piece, it is just advice. And some advice aimed directly at myself too.

When did you last read the Oracle Server/Database Concepts manual? You know, that fairly short book (in fact, from 11G it is really short, with links through to other chapters in other books) that explains how Oracle TM (Copyright), actually does stuff? What it can do? It does not go into too many details but rather gives you a brief introduction of each concept and the fundamental “how it works” information.

Thanks to Kevin Fries who pointed out it would be nice if I linked to the online concepts manuals (as he did in his comment):
Here is the online 12C Database Concepts manual.
Here is the online 11GR2 Database Concepts manual for those still with 11GR2.
Here is the online 10GR2 Database Concepts manual for those trapped in the past with 10GR2.

Read it. Read it this week. I am confident that if you read the latest Oracle Database Concepts manual you will be ahead of the game by a massive step.

Oracle 7 instance diagram

Oracle 7 instance diagram

Why am I so sure? Because we forget what Oracle has been able to do for years and we miss new abilities if our day-job has not touched on them since they came in. I think there is a growing move to learning only what you really need to know to get the job done (as we are all so busy) as we know we can search the web for the rest. My friend Neil Chandler came up with a name for it, JIT learning: “Just In Time” learning). Only, you can’t easily search for what you don’t know (or have forgotten) is possible with the tech you use. If you go through the concepts manual you will be reminded of stuff you forgot, things you missed or {and this is key to newbies} gain an outline understanding of what Oracle can do.

I became fascinated with how many people read the concepts manual about a decade ago and started asking a question when I presented on any Oracle topic. “Who has reads the concepts manual for the version of Oracle you mostly work with?”. In the last 10, 12 years the number of hands has decreased from well over 50%. In 2012, at a UK meeting, it hit the bottom of the barrel, no hands whatsoever. Oddly enough, a few weeks later I was in Slovenia (for none-European people, a lovely country bordering Italy and Austria – google it if you need more help) and the same question resulted in 40% of the audience raising a hand. When I was in the US 6 months later, no hands at all again. In the UK and Europe since, no hands or occasionally, one hand – and a few questions usually nailed down that it was a prior version of the manual they had read.

I took some time to ask this question again at a UK user group meeting about 4 months ago (no hands came up of course) and asked “why?”. The consensus was “we know most of what is in the concepts manual, we just need to know what has changed” – with an undercurrent of not having time to read the now-huge set of Oracle manuals. A few people suggested just reading the New Features. This was a crowd who did not know what a table cluster was (“Ha, look at ME! I know what a table cluster is! Hahahahaaaa – OK, no one uses them.”). (British ironic self-depreciation there).

Reading “New Features” is certainly better than nothing but I feel it is not enough as it does not remind us of the established stuff we have forgotten. I am on a bit of a personal Jihad to explain the basics of Oracle to any Newbie who cares to listen and I have to keep checking my facts with the concepts manual and some chosen expert friends (thank you VERY MUCH expert friends) and I keep stumbling over stuff I don’t know, misunderstood or forgot. And I have been an “expert” in Oracle since… Well, before the millennium bug or Android phones or iTunes had been invented. THAT LONG! I know my shit – and some of it is, well…. wrong.

Actually, I have a confession. I have not read the 11g or 12C concepts manual. I told you this advice was aimed at me too.

So, Go Read The Oracle 12C Concepts Manual. Go ON! Go and read it!!!! Oh. Still here? Well, I AM going to read it – as I last read the 10G concepts manual properly. And as part of my current push to present, talk and blog about the basics of Oracle, I will blog what jumps out at me. I know one thing – I will not be quiet any time until August if I follow my own advice, I will be posting blogs left, right and center about what I learn..

I’ll use the tag 12Cbasics.

Let the learning of basics begin.

Oracle 7 or Oracle 8, 1.5 " of pure info

Oracle 7 or Oracle 8, 1.5 ” of pure info

Thanks to Joel Garry for digging his old manuals out the basement and doing this shot for me :-)

(*) it won’t work if you already read the latest concepts manual. But most people have not! Heck, I did not charge for the advice, so sue me if you read it already.

Friday Philosophy – Do Average to Be a Success March 6, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions.
Tags: , , ,
22 comments

A few days ago a friend of mine, helifromfinland, tweeted something that exactly matched the topic that I was thinking of doing my next Friday Philosophy on. Heli said:

I am learning to do things well enough, not always perfect. Even writing that sentence feels so wrong but #babysteps :-D

That made me smile – I know the feeling myself and I know some people for whom it is all-consuming. It is something that I suspect many people who are active in the oracle community struggle with. We all try and do the best we can at all we do.

In our jobs in I.T what is needed most often is not the perfect solution – or even the best solution we can come up with. It is:

The best solution that achieves the requirement within the timeframe allowed.

I think I was lucky in that the principle of “good enough” was explained to me fairly early on – and in an environment where “good enough” is not usually the prescribed wisdom.

I was at college doing my degree. In academia or school you are usually encouraged to strive for perfection, in the aim of doing the best you can. It seems to me that they don’t teach you what the real world wants. I can’t remember the exact details (it’s almost 3 decades ago!) but I was trying to finish a written assignment in genetics and it was deadline day. I hunted down the professor who had assigned the task and asked if I could have a few more days as I wanted to check up some of the latest papers on it in the library {I know, what a terrible swot {definition – see item two here!} I was}. He did not say no, he did not say yes. Instead he took me into his office and asked me a few questions about the topic and what I had written so far. I think he was checking I had done something rather than was just covering up being lazy. He then asked me what the purpose of the assignment was.

???

I started explaining the topic again but he cut me short. It took him a few attempts I think to get to where he was directing me, which was that it was a task to be completed in a time frame, to show I understood the topic. I was not doing original research, I was not trying to prove anything. It was Just A Task. The Prof then explained to me that his wife was not an academic but worked in industry. She had tasks to do in set time frames and others relied on her doing those tasks on time. She had more work to do than she could easily cope with. The Prof asked me “Should she keep asking for more time do them? Should she only do a few tasks to the best of her ability or most of her tasks to a level that everyone was happy with?” I got his point, but surely in academia the aim is always “as good as you can?”. He felt not and I think he was vexed {meaning, “really pissed off”} that many academics see it that way. There are times you need to do the very best you can; to spend the time to prove your theory; to cover off all the alternatives or caveats to your point; to get the lab result that clearly corroborates your point. But most of the time, you are doing tasks. Stop dithering and do them. It’s more pointed in the commercial world but the academic world is fundamentally the same.

I think he left it to me to decide if I was going to hand the assignment in late or not but I can’t remember what I did (I’ve got my notes from back then, I can probably find out! But I’ve decided this post does not need that level of perfection… :-) ).

I think we can all agree that, especially in a work environment where others are dependent on us doing our bit in a timely manner, it is better to do an acceptable job on time than constantly overrun. It is also better to get most {aiming unrealistically for “all”} of your work done rather than failing to do tasks that then impact on others. Of course, what is acceptable is all relative and there is a time/achievement cost-benefit-analysis in moving up the poor-acceptable-good-excellent-perfect spectrum.

Maybe what defines your skill in a role is how far up the poor-acceptable-good-excellent-perfect spectrum you hit on a regular basis.

The problem is that, for some of us, we are like Heli and we absolutely, totally and utterly want to do a very good job on everything we do. This is an idea that our parents, teachers and society do press upon us in our formative years, after all.

Of course, your employer will want you to do six impossible things this morning but most are happy with 4 good things this morning and would prefer that over 2 excellent things by the end of the day and 4 undone.

I can’t say I’ve always stuck to the principal of limiting a task to the effort or time it deserves – I have a natural tendency to try and do too good{no, complete is a better way to put it} a job or else I go the opposite and don’t do the task justice {or even at all!}, so I really empathise with Heli’s tweet. When I first became a contractor I struggled with doing enough average work to keep the client happy, I was just spending too much time on doing the best I could at one or two tasks. In reality, they just wanted lots of stuff done competently. So my Prof had failed to instill the right attitude in me!

One of the nuances of “good enough”, and my point about getting {nearly} all your work done, is that it is almost an impossible thing to achieve. If you get all your tasks done, what happens? Yes, more work comes your way. Especially as our working society has gone in exactly the opposite direction to both what many predicted in the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s and also against what we, the workers, would want. The plan was we would all be working, but working fewer hours and days for similar pay. But as most of us can testify, we seem to be asked to do more and more. It’s a topic for a different day but, basically, we are all screwed by the desire by our employers to get more out of each one of us to maximise profit – more work done by the same number or less people is reducing staff pay in relation to output. The reward for getting all your work done on time is more work will be allocated to you.

Another nuance is one I know I have gone on about before. If you do a job, especially an unpleasant or hard job, very well – what is your reward? You get to do the job for ever. Or you get the next horrible, hard job to do. The reward for exceeding expectations is to set the bar that people will want you to hit ever higher and higher and higher

But you do want some recognition and some promotions.

So, for goodness sake, do just an acceptable-good job of a slightly-more-than-is-reasonable number of tasks and don’t do the next horrible job you are handed beyond expectation. And if you forget yourself and go and do the horrible task well, remember to make an utter mess of the next one – you must stop that expectation bar rising!

The final nuance is perhaps the hardest one, and the one I still struggle with despite someone explaining it to me almost 30 years ago. Some tasks really do need to be at the brilliant end of the spectrum and some are fine at being at the average or even poor end. If your role is as a DBA, your backup/recovery protocols need to be towards the brilliant. You may hope to never need to do disaster recovery but one day you will and if it goes wrong, expect to be fired. However, tuning a batch report to run in under an hour? Usually, you are asked for an ideal run time that the business does not need. Under 2 hours is enough and you have a SHED load of other tasks. No one needs the report in under a minute. You should do an average job, even if your soul dies a little in doing so.

As I mentioned above, as a contractor I initially struggled at times to do lots-of-average-work. As a consultant the requirements and expectations are a little different. You are expected to do excellent, come up with something the regular team has not. It’s nice if it is achieved quickly but heck, hard takes time :-). Average (ie what the regular team would come up with) is NOT acceptable (*NB Not always true). I personally find that the consultant paradigm suits me more, my character and working method is more suited to a slower, more considered approach. I really need to get to be a proper consultant…

So the take home message on how to get on in the working world is:

Be just above average at tasks.

Do 80% of your work but back pedal if you hit 90%.

If you accidentally do a magnificent job, mess up the next one.

Occasionally, only occasionally, let rip and blow them all away with your brilliance.

And please let me know how the above works out for you :-)

***

Quick update – a recent xkcd panel that makes the point well :-)

Friday Philosophy – The Problem of Positive Discrimination? February 27, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Management, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,
18 comments

Have you ever (or are you currently) working in an organisation with any Positive Discrimination policies? Where, for example, there is a stated aim to have 25% of the board as female or 30% of the workforce from ethnic groups that are not of the majority ethnic group in your geographic location? How do you feel about that? Is positive discrimination a good thing or a bad thing? I can’t decide.

{Big Caveat! Before anyone wants to give me the same sort of hassle as a tiny few did recently over a related post, note that I am just wondering aloud and whilst I encourage comments and feedback, I reserve the right to block or delete any comments that I feel are abusive or discriminatory or simply from the unhinged. Just saying. Also I am mostly going to reference women as the aim for positive discrimination, as the blog got really untidy when I swapped between different types of discrimination. I apologise if anyone is offended by that – it is not intended.}

I don’t think I’ve ever been comfortable with the concept of positive discrimination and if I wind back the clock to my early 20’s, back then I was quite angrily dead set against it – on the grounds that it is still discrimination. It seemed to me then that it was a simple yin/yang concept. If discrimination is wrong, it’s wrong and “positive” discrimination is in fact just discrimination against the majority. Wrong is wrong. Stealing is wrong, be it from the poor or the rich or from organisations. All those post-it notes I’ve stolen over the years? Bad Martin.

So what has changed about my opinion? Well, I think that as we all get older we tend to be able to better consider the wider picture and less black/white about most of our philosophies {my personal opinion is that those who don’t modify their opinions in light of more experience and greater thought are, well, not maturing}. I can’t but accept that the business/IT work place as a whole is male-dominated and is riddled with sexism. This does not mean *at all* that all or even most men in business/IT are sexist, but the statistics, studies and countless personal experiences make it clear that the pay, success and respect of women are impacted.
A way to counteract that is to encourage more women to work in IT (or science or whichever area they are under-represented in) and show that they are just as effective in senior positions by tipping the balance in their favor. Positive discrimination is one way of doing that. Is the small evil of this type of discrimination acceptable if it first counteracts and then helps overturn and melt the large evil of the massive inequalities we currently have? Once equality is there (or you are at least approaching it) you drop the little evil of positive discrimination? But how else do you balance the books until the issue has been addressed? My own perception is that sexism and racism at least are reduced from what they were when I first started working, maybe positive discrimination is a significant factor in that? Maybe it is more that society has shifted?

Part of me likes the Women In Technology {try search on hashtag #WIT but you get loads of things that are labelled as “witty” as well} events and discussions such as supported in the Oracle sphere by Kellyn PotVin-Gorman and Debra Lilley amongst others. I much prefer to have a balanced workforce. But when I’ve been to a talk about it or seen online discussions, there often seems to be an element of “we hate men” or “all men are out to put us down” that, frankly, insults me. In fairness I’ve also seen that element questioned or stopped by the female moderators so I know they are aware of the problem of Men Bashing. After all, for reasons I have gone into in a prior post, as a small man I empathise with some of their issues – so to be told all men are the problem is both personally an affront and also… Yes, it’s discrimination. I should not have to feel I need to justify my own non-sexism but I do – My work, hiring and promoting history demonstrates I treat both sexes as equal. If I think you are rubbish at your job, it has nothing to do with how many X chromosomes you have.

I mentioned above “the little evil of positive discrimination” and that is certainly how I see it. I think of it as wrong not just because of the yin/yang simplistic take on right and wrong but because positive discrimination can have negative effects. Forcing a percentage of the workforce or management to be from a specified group means you are potentially not hiring the best candidates or putting the less capable into those positions. If your workforce is 10% female, not at all unusual in IT, then it is unlikely the best candidates for management are 25% female. They might be, it might be that 40% of them are female as they have managed to demonstrate their capabilities and stick with the industry despite any extra challenges faced. But to have a false percentage strikes me as problematic. Another issue is that of perceived unfair advantage or protection. How would any of us feel if we did not get a job or position as someone else got it on the basis of their sex, colour or disability to fulfill a quota? People are often bad tempered enough when they fail to get what they want. Over all, I think positive discrimination leads to a level of unease or resentment in the larger group not being aided. NOTE – I mean on average. I do not mean that everyone (or even most) feels resentment. And those who do vary in how much each individual feels upset by it.

I know a few people, including myself, who have hit big problems when disciplining or even sacking someone who is not a white male. I’ve had HR say to me “we are going to have to be very careful with this as they are {not-white-male}”. I asked the direct question of would this be easier if the person was a white male? – And they said, frankly, yes. It’s hard not to let that get your back up. I’ve seen this make someone I felt was pretty liberal and balanced become quite bigoted. That is positive discrimination being a little evil and having exactly the opposite effect as intended. That HR department was, in my opinion, getting it wrong – but I’ve heard so many similar stories that I feel it is the same in most HR departments across the UK, US and maybe Europe too. I can’t speak about other places.

I know a few women who are also very uncomfortable with positive discrimination as it makes them feel that either they got something not on the basis of their own abilities or others see it that way from looking in.

I’ve occasionally seen the disparity in numbers seen as a positive – I knew a lady at college who loved the fact she was only one of 3 women out of just over a hundred people in her year doing a degree in Computer Science. I was chatting to her {at a Sci-fi society evening, where she was also markedly out-numbered by the opposite sex} about how it must be daunting. She laughed at me in scorn – It was great! She said she stuck out and so got better responses when she asked questions in lectures, she had no trouble getting help off the over-worked tutors as they were keen to be seen to not be discriminatory and, as you mostly “met people” via your course or your societies, she pretty much had her pick of a hundred+ men. That told me.

So all in all, I still do not know if I am for or against positive discrimination. I guess I just wish it was not necessary. If there really was no discrimination, we would not question how many female, black, asian, disabled, short, fat, ginger, protestant people there were doing whatever we do.

{sorry for the lack of humour this week, I just struggled to squeeze it into such a delicate topic}

Friday Philosophy – How Much does Social Media Impact your Career for Real? February 6, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions.
Tags: , , ,
10 comments

Does what you tweet impact your chances of getting that next interview?
Do people check out your Facebook pictures before making you a job offer?
Does my Blog actually have any impact on my career?

We’ve all heard horror stories about people losing their job as a result of a putting something “very unfortunate” on their facebook page, like how they were on holiday/at a sports event when their employer was under the illusion they were off sick, or the more obvious {and pretty stupid} act of denigrating their boss or employer. But how much does general, day-to-day social media impact your career? {“Your” as in you people who come by this blog, mostly professionals in IT. I know it will be different for people trying to get a job in media or….social media :-) }.

Two things recently have made me wonder about this:

  • The first is that I’ve been in or watched a few discussions recently (via social media!) where people are suggesting that their social media output is part of who they are seen as professionally and they make efforts to ensure they give the right impression, or have even sought professional help to improve their social media standing in respect of employment.
  • The second is that I recently was involved in some hiring and I never even thought to look at their social media. Maybe that is just because I’m over {picks an age} 30 and social media is not a massive thing to me. Most of my hiring experience was before the likes of Facebook and though I would check out a blog if it was mentioned on a CV, I would not have thought to check them out.

When I initially thought about that second point I assumed that most people hiring in the world of IT are similarly a bit ancient like myself and maybe not that attuned to social media. But perhaps I am wrong as it’s people similar to me out there on Twitter who have been worrying about such things. Maybe social media is considered by potential employees than I think? I’d like to know what anyone else thinks.

I should add that I don’t see all Social Media as the same when it comes to it’s impact on your career. I think their is Friends Social and Business Social. Something like LinkedIn is aimed fair and square at business and professional activity and is Business Social. You would really expect it to be looked at and, in fact, most people who use it would hope it is! {Mine isn’t, I get about 3 or 4 views a week and only once, 5 or 6 years ago, was I approached via it for a work opportunity}. If you blog about a work topic or tweet as an expert in your field (so your tweets are mostly about your day job, not just the odd reference) and especially if you are doing either under a company banner then, yes, I’d expect that to be taken into account when prospective employment comes up.

Social Media is most people’s twittering, personal Facebook, private blogs, Pinterest and all those dozens of things I know nothing about as I am too old and too antisocial. Do these really have much impact on your career?

I would suggest not, again for two reasons:

  • I don’t think most employers are going to look at your Friends Social Media until they have at least interviewed you, as when you are hiring you barely have enough time to check over the CV’s, let alone research each candidate’s personal history. Once you have interviewed them, then they have become a real person rather than a name and if you do check out their Friends Social Media then you will look at it in light of them being a human being, which is point 2:
  • Unless you are saying things that would make anyone think you are a bit odd or unpleasant, I can’t see that discussions of football, insulting your friends, making double entendra comments or (one of my favorites) pointless drivel about your cat is going to make anyone who you would want to work for worry about you. Some people might put up things that could be offensive to others – but then, if you really do think immigrants are ruining the UK, we are not going to get on so working together is a mistake for both of us. So maybe even stating your strongly held opinions is long-term beneficial as well. Some people take my strong dislike of children as a real reason to not like me very much. Best we don’t spend 8 hours a day, five days a week together. You’ll only bang on about your bloody kids.

What I think is a shame is that I suspect some people {many people?} self-censor themselves on all Social Media due to a concern to always be seen as professional. As good worker material. We all know that almost everyone we work with have unprofessional moments and, in fact, those few who are professional all the time tend to be… staggeringly dull.

So maybe being mindful of your professional standing is totally correct on Business Social Media but a bit of a shame if you let it impact your Friends Social Media.

But remember, on all social media there are limits. There are some things about you, Dave, that you should simply not share. Or at least, only at the pub when we are all too drunk to care.

Friday Philosophy – my Funniest “PC Support” Call in Years December 19, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Private Life.
Tags: , ,
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Those of us who work in IT often find ourselves being called by friends and relatives to help with issues they have with their home computer. No matter what branch of IT we work in, it’s IT {they figure} so of course we can fix their PC problems. It’s like any scientist can probably explain what the Higgs Boson really is and reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.

Mothers and other elderly relatives are probably the most baffling when it comes to such requests, but this week I had a wonderful call-out from one of my neighbours.

The neighour in question is a slightly dotty, jolly posh but well meaning Lady (we live in the cheap house around here, she lives at the other end of things).

“Oh Martin, it’s AWE-full! My computer is full of p3nises and other horrible things!!! Please help me get rid of all the p3nises!!!”

Ahhh… I wonder what sites she’s been looking at…must be a virus or something. “It’s OK Tabitha, I’ll pop down now and have a look for you” I say. “Oh, that is so decent of you, your such a helpful young man!” {Young?!?}

So I tell my wife I’ve off over to Tabitha’s to help her with p3nises – and leave her sniggering on the sofa. When I arrive Tabitha opens the door and exclaims, quite loudly “oh thank you for coming to help me with these p3nises and things!”. Thanks, Tabitha, I’m sure John and Elaine could hear that.

It takes ages to get to the bottom of what her issue is as she is talking non-stop, wandering off track and saying how they must think she’s a man as they want her to buy certain drugs and she keeps describing the p3nises and naked people “doing very rude things” she has seen – and each time I try and do anything on her tablet she’ll suddenly lean over and tap on any icons or links. It’s like a Pavlovian response. This could be the root of all her IT woes…

It turns out her virus scanner is running (I set her up with that), up to date and there seems to be no infection. The problem is simply the spam email she (and we all) get. She has her mail application set to preview and also download any images in the email. And she checks each spam email before deleting each one. I suspect sometimes she checks in detail…

We then have a long and sometimes surreal conversation about why they think she should want to buy viagra, enhancement creams or meet Tanya who is local, fun, vivacious and wants some company. {“Well she sounds like she just wants some friends to me” – “DON’T CLICK ON THAT LINK!!!!”}. At least she knows to never respond to emails about bills, banks, missed messages or vast sums of money – we had that conversation when I helped her sort out the Laptop a year or two back. I did not bring up sex as, well, you don’t talk to nice ladies like Tabitha about sex… Tabitha did ask if she should respond to ask them to just stop sending her these pictures but I assured her it would only get worse if we did. These are not nice people we are dealing with.

We could not sort out better filtering at her mail server end for various reasons so in the end I showed her how to turn off the preview and delete all spam with one click. That mollified her and I was allowed to leave.

There was one small knock-on effect. Now apparently, according to her (other neighbours tell me she has said this) I “am wonderful with p3nises”.

Nice to know.

Thank you for letting me share that one…

If anyone has other tails of enforced PC support which might amuse, please share – T’is the season to be Jolly after all. But please changes names! This is a public blog, Tabitha may never come across my posts but at least she will know she is not called Tabitha.

Conferences and the Etiquette of Meeting New People November 25, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Perceptions.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

One of the reasons I like user group conferences is meeting new people in my “area” – these people at the conference not only like technology and probably some of the same technology I do but, as they are at a conference, are probably inclined to learn stuff, meet people and maybe share ideas. I’m not actually very good face-to-face socially with people I do not know, so I like to tilt things in my favour if I can!

But sometimes you have odd experiences.

I was at a conference a couple of years back that was not in the UK. I was loving it as I was meeting some people I knew electronically but never met and others who I had only met when they visited UK conferences – but most people I had no real connection to, so I was a bit quiet (yes, loud-mouthed, always-comments-in-talks me was quiet), especially as it was the first day. I was late for the lunch event, I don’t remember why, but it was a little unusual for being a sit-down meal and there was to be some meet-the-expert tables and I wanted to be able to identify some people I knew by name and never met. The big signs on tables would be a bit of a help there.

As I came in I saw half the tables were full and most of my friends were already on a full table. I wandered over to a half-full table and as I sat down I said “Hello, I’m Martin Widlake, How you doing?” or whatever to the half-dozen guys there. They all looked at me. A couple nodded or said “hi” but one said “We’ve got other friends turning up soon”. Hmm, that was code for “sod off”, I think.

I turned on the full English Accent so they could tell I was not from around those parts. “That’s nice – always good to have friends when you are at a conference….especially one where you don’t know many people?”. Some smiled, they all understood my mild reprimand. Mr Friendly who had mentioned all his other friends did not smile though. After this opening “chat” no one else really said anything more to me.

The Starter turned up and the guys all spoke to each other – and ignored me. Some other lone gun wandered up and asked me if he could sit next to me – “Sure, feel free – I’m Martin Widlake, I’m from the UK”. He introduced himself and sat down. Mr Friendly piped up “There are more people joining us at this table, I’m not sure there is gonna be room”. Some of his already-present friends had the decency to look a bit apologetic and I simply said “Well, it’s pretty full on all the tables now – and he’s got his starter” as the waitress put down a plate. And I pointedly started talking to the new chap.

Main turns up and so do a couple of late members for Mr Friendly’s group, who sat down at the remaining spare seats. “I told you” he said “you might have to move”.

I’m losing my patience a bit now. “Well they can sit somewhere else I’m sure, seeing as they are late.”

Mr Friendly is getting angry “I warned you when you sat down – when the others turn up, you’ll move”.

“I won’t move, this is my seat. I’m staying here”.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” demands Mr Friendly. Oh, thank you, I think to myself. I’m so going to enjoy this….

“Well, I did introduce myself when I arrived and….” pointing to the large sign with ‘Martin Widlake’ on it above the table “there is a large reminder of my name just there”. I paused a couple of seconds before adding “So this is my seat and my table and I’m kind of obliged to stay here, whether you want to talk to me or not”.

Maybe I could have handled the situation better from the start and stressed that the reason why I was staying was I was supposed to sit at my table. But I was smarting a little from the fact that no one apparently wanted to come to my table and talk to me. Maybe not surprising, as I don’t think I had done a presentation at the conference at that point – but my massive ego was already bruised.

So what about the etiquette of meeting people at conferences? It was just a title for a story I felt like telling…

However, there are a couple of things I do want to mention about the etiquette of meeting people at conferences. If you do not know many people there – just talk to people. People you don’t know. Just make a few observational or open comments, nothing to direct – “This queue for the coffee is a bit long”, “Have you seen any good/bad presentations yet?”, “what do you think about ansii join syntax” (OK, last one is a bad suggestion). Most people will respond and those that do not are probably just very nervous – more nervous than you! – and almost no one will be like Mr Friendly above. And if they are like Mr Friendly, where there are a few hundred other people you can go and try the odd comment on to see if you get a response.

At the social events you can see dozens and dozens of people just at the side or wandering around, not speaking to anyone. If you are one of them, few people are likely to come up to you and start a conversation (I’ve tried approaching the odd lone person but I stopped when I got Seriously Stalked at one of the UKOUG conferences). But if you go talk to other people, most of us will respond. And if someone does respond – Don’t stalk them!!! – have a conversation and then, having found it is possible, go and try some other people. The next day, if you see the people who responded last night, go and have a small chat again. But Don’t stalk them!!!.

Finally, talk to the presenters. We are actually the easy targets and not the hard ones. Those of us who present tend to be attention seekers so we are happy for you to come up and chat. And if you pretend you liked our talks we will certainly warm to you, so it’s an easy opening. However, it’s not like we are pop-stars or TV celebrities, we are just average people and you can come and chat to us (actually, I feel the same about pop-stars and TV celebrities, I don’t get easily star-struck but I know a lot of people do, even over Oracle Names).

But Don’t stalk them!!!.

And if someone insists on joining you at a table that has a name above it – listen carefully when they introduce themselves…

Why is “Dave Unknown” Trying to Social Media With Me? November 21, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, off-topic.
Tags: , ,
10 comments

I know some people share my opinion on this and others totally disagree – but I fail to appreciate why people I have never met, spoken with or care about want to Social Media with me. If we have not met but there is a high probability we share unusual interests then OK, perhaps – but the fact that we both can spell Oracle or know what a gene is does not count as unusual shared interests. Maybe I am just too old to “get it” or just too grumpy to appreciate their efforts.

I’m not the biggest fan of Social Media but I don’t actively dislike it either. I mean, I’m blogging so that means I have some appreciation for it. I have a Twitter account and sometimes I Twit. But not a lot. I don’t have time or inclination to log on every day and see what people have seen that they think is funny/odd/outrageous/titillating on the web, which airport they are currently being bored in or what publication/talk/blog post of theirs they want to big up. Or what cereal they have just eaten {really? Some of you think this would interest anyone?} But occasionally I hang out there and swap twit twaddle and follow links and maybe even put up my own links to my fabulous blog utterings. But I don’t follow people I don’t in some way know or have a reason to be interested in {and I don’t include seeing them on TV as my being interested in them – I followed a couple of people on twitter early on that I thought would be interesting, based on their Popular Culture output. And very quickly decided I’d stand a better chance of continuing to like them if I was not being informed of all the dross that crossed their minds when they had not rehearsed their material}.

For me, the main Social Media thing that baffles and slightly annoys me is LinkedIn Wannabes. Why are you contacting me if I don’t know you and you don’t know me? I don’t know 7.039 billion people. OK, you know some Oracle – so do probably 0.7039 million people (wow, what a worrying thought) that I also don’t know. It’s not personal that I have no interest in being LinkedIn with you, it’s the opposite. I impersonally don’t feel a need to link with you.

Do I want to link in with Dave in Denver CO, USA who is a Java developer? I’ve nothing against you, Dave, but I’m highly unlikely to meet you and we probably have little to talk about, especially as I almost never communicate with people via LinkedIn {and I don’t know anyone who does really communicate via LinkedIn}. I struggle to keep up with people I have met in the flesh or I absolutely know I have shared interests with, so random LinkedIn Wannabes, no chance. If I met you in person I’d probably like to have a chat and I might even buy you a beer, and perhaps we would become friends and I’d welcome your LinkedIn invite with open keyboard. But frankly, until you’re drinking that Carlsberg I just got from the bar for you, you are one in 7.039 billion unknown people to me.

So am I being unfriendly? Well, when I get a LinkedIn request I almost always check out the person. Is it someone I have worked with or met at a conference and it might be nice to maintain some sort of vague contact with? Occasionally it is. Once it a blue moon it turns out to be someone I actually know (or know of) quite well and I feel daft that I did not recognise them. Sometimes it is someone I don’t know but they know 15 people I do (hopefully mostly the ones I like  :-) ) and I can see they share strong work interests with me.  I link in. But most of the time I don’t know them and *they have over 500 contacts*. 

Over 500 contacts? Really? Really? And you know all these people? No, you don’t Dave. You are just collecting stamps. I’m as important to you as that. So now, though I know nothing much about you, I know I am unimportant to you, I’m just a stamp. I definitely do NOT want to be LinkedIn with you.

Occasionally it is worse. I’m not a stamp, I’m a little bit of potential collateral, a maybe-bit-of-income for them. The person is a recruitment consultant or a salesperson or a company representative who has figured out that for every 200 hundred people they bother they get a lead. So they contact thousands of us. Well, you can really stuff your invite up where the sun does not shine.

But most of the time it is stamp collecting. This seems very common with our South Asian friends. I don’t know why, maybe it is a cultural thing, maybe the universities there tell their students that this is a good way to progress (I can’t see that it is but I’m happy to be corrected if I am wrong), I don’t know – but 75% of LinkedIn invites I get from people with 500+ contacts are from that part of the world.

I’ve noticed one key thing about LinkedIn stamp collecting (or potential-collateral) invites – none of them have bothered to change the standard invite text.

Hi M

I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinedIn

– Dave Unknown

Hint – if you really want to link with me, change the text to something, anything and I mean *anything* else. Try

Oi, Martin

I’ve met you and you smell of fish and your jokes are pathetic. Link in to me else I will throw things at you next time you present

– Dave Unknown

That’ll get my attention.

What kicked of this diatribe by me? It was when we got the below at work:linkedin_who

 

It really tickled me. This person is so desperately stamp collecting that they are trying to link to Admin in Technical Services. Of course I removed names to protect the guilty but, really, Ramzan “the import/export professional” – I think you should take a bit more care in your stamp collecting efforts.

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