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Women in Technology

Women in Technology (yes, Clippy is a woman, too)

We recently got the following question for Kendra and Jes in the Brent Ozar Unlimited® mailbox:

Six months ago I stumbled into the IT world. Do you have any advice for someone (a woman) starting off in the IT industry, specially someone without a computer science degree? I really enjoy working with databases and data. I would love to one day be a Database Administrator and get into business intelligence.

JES SAYS…

There has been a lot written about women in technology – positive and negative. I’m happy to say that my experience as a woman in technology has been incredible. The SQL Server community has been accepting, helpful, and nurturing. If anyone, man or woman, came to me, asking how to succeed, I’d give them this advice.

Ask questions. Constantly learn. There is no such thing as too much knowledge. The most successful people I know in IT – not just the SQL Server world – are lifelong learners. They read books and blogs, attend user group meetings and conferences, and learn new programming languages in their spare time. Build your own computers. Know how to set up a network. You don’t have to be an expert at every facet of technology, but knowing enough to talk to other people in “their” language will go a long way.

Speaking of user groups…find the closest user group, and attend it regularly. Don’t have one nearby? Start one, or join a virtual user group (like those at http://www.sqlpass.org/PASSChapters/VirtualChapters.aspx). Not only will you learn about things you may not be exposed to at work, you’ll have a chance to build a network. I can’t tell you the number of questions I’ve gotten answered through this channel, or the number of people I know that have gotten new (better!) jobs this way.

Never, ever be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but I can find the answer.” People will respect you far more if you are honest. Don’t try to be a know-it-all. If you haven’t dealt with a particular technology or situation before, acknowledge that, make note of what the person is asking for, and research it later. You’ll learn something new, and you won’t get caught giving bad – or wrong – answers.

Don’t think, “I’ll never know as much as him/her.” Yes, there are some people in IT that started building computers or robots or software before they could drive a car. Instead of thinking that you will never know as much as they do, remind yourself how many years of experience they have – and how they can help you. Ask to pick their brains. Ask them what books they read or what tools they use. Learn from them.

Most of all, don’t fall victim to the so-called “impostor syndrome”. Someone always appears smarter, faster, more organized, more accomplished, less stressed, or hasn’t spilled coffee all over herself yet today. Don’t let that invalidate where you started from and what you have accomplished. Keeping a blog – even if it’s private – that you can go back and reference over the years is a great way to value yourself. I know I’ve seen a dramatic change in my writing over five years, from both a technical and editorial perspective.

Good luck! Being in IT – and especially the SQL Server field – is exciting and rewarding.

KENDRA SAYS…

Remind yourself that you’re qualified to be a DBA. You mention that you don’t have a computer science degree. Great news: that’s not required. There’s no degree or certification that is the Official DBA Training Program or Proving Ground.

I had a period where I felt I wasn’t “legitimately a DBA” because I also worked with some C# and drove some non-SQL software development processes. But I was doing some really cool things with SQL Server administration, too. I should have felt awesome about being a DBA, regardless of my job title.

Never feel that your background or your current job have to fit a specific mold for you to be a “real” DBA. There is no mold!

Remind yourself that you are designing your own career as you go. Just like there’s no set educational and certification “solution” to end up with all the right skills, job progression for DBAs is usually not linear. It’s a rare person who starts with a “Junior DBA” job title and works their way up to “Mid Level DBA” and then “Senior DBA”.

Instead, most people these days struggle to find the right training, the right mentor, and discover if they want to specialize (Virtualization? Performance Tuning? Data modeling?), be a generalist, or dive off into uncharted waters (Hadoop? Different Platforms? Business Intelligence?). There are many paths, and there are new paths all the time.

Expect to repeatedly redefine your interests and redesign your career. Make sure that every six months you have a conversation with your manager about what kind of work makes you excited, and where you’d like to be in a year or two.

Remind yourself that you do great stuff: and write it down. For a few years, I had a formal review process where I was regularly required to write out my accomplishments. And you know what? That was great for me! Each item on the list seemed small, but when I put it all together it gave me a new view of myself.

This may be difficult, but it’s worth it. Keeping track of the great things you do boosts your confidence and makes you ready when opportunity comes around.

GET INSPIRED

Is this advice only for women? Heck no! Sometimes it’s just nice to ask advice from someone who’s part of a group you also identify with and hear their perspective.

Want to learn more about how to build a great career working with data? Hop on over to Brent’s classic post, “Rock Stars, Normal People, and You.”

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  1. Even though I’ve worked in IT for a few years I still consider myself a newcomer because there is so much to learn. This post has great advice for everyone!

    I only really discovered the SQL community last year, and my life has changed quite a bit since then. If I could add one thing to this post it would be to be active in the community. Join your local user group, attend SQLSaturdays, join conversations on Twitter, volunteer, blog, and if possible attend the larger conferences like PASS Summit or SQLBits. Not only will you learn something new every day, but you’ll meet wonderful people, and I’m sure there are many out there who will learn something from you as well :)

  2. Regarding Imposter syndrome and the lack of a degree. I’ve felt imposter syndrome, but never from my lack of a degree. I am happy and proud to be working in an somewhat unregulated industry. I encourage anyone who doesn’t have a degree and like the idea of IT work to become a dev or a dba or a network engineer. We solve quantifiable problems, and often work on specific tasks alone that are part of a puzzle. When you feel imposter syndrome you can point at certain lines of code configuration states, closed trouble tickets, etc.

    Try to do stuff for the IT community. Something that you can point to between jobs. COntribute to open source projects, or not quite open source things like sp_blitz. You can talk about your professional accomplishments on your resume. However, its actually nice to point at something on github and say I did this in exactly this way. One way imposter syndrome can strike is if you read blogs by people like Brent, Jes, Kendra, Paul, Hanselman, etc and say “I’ve done nothing for the community.” Then one day when you least expect it you find out someone actually uses that thing you wrote on github, or you are able to submit a 1 line fix to sp_blitz. Then you can say to yourself “I’ll never eat enough french dips to be Brent Ozar, or drink enough Coffee to be Jes Borland but every time someone wants to save the output of sp_blitz to a temp table, I helped enable that.”

  3. I got into IT in late 2008 with zero exposure to professional IT work. I became responsible for an app that sat on top of SQL Server. Here I am six years later working as a DBA. It feels like there are a TON of things I barely know anything about because I have not had long term exposure to Windows Server or enterprise networks.

    So, yes, I feel like an imposter quite a bit, but the people around me have reminded me of what has been stated in this post in a couple of different ways. Everyone starts somewhere. I just saw a post from Paul Randal on Brent’s “Rock Star” article indicating that he knew zero about SQL Server when he started in 1999. It has been great to look back at where I was in 2008 and see the progress.

    Getting on Twitter to discuss SQL topics or trying to answer questions on MSDN or other places has taught me things. I find a topic that I might know something about but then I have to do a little research to answer the question or contribute to the discussion. Another thing I would encourage people to do is read blogs like this one and others. Find a training site and pay for access if need be. There is great video content available from people who are doing the stuff.

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