Befriending Dragons

Intersectional Coaching Journeys: Reframe, Unblock, Move Forward

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Where are the Women in Technology? #BoiseWIT

Where are the Women in Technology?

The Event

This year’s Boise Code Camp has an exciting new panel session: “Where are the Women in Technology?” We have a great lineup of women who will help us all understand why women in tech matter to your bottom line. The panel invites everyone of any gender to attend and learn more about how we can all help make our businesses more productive, our work culture more pleasant, and our employees and coworkers happier. The session is sponsored by “Girl Develop It! Boise”.RosieInTechWIT

Saturday, March 21 at 140p at the BSU Special Events Center

How does it impact you and your business when women are underrepresented in your tech department? Women are interested, why aren’t they working in IT? Why is the number of women in IT decreasing? What can you personally do about it? Why should you care? We can all help make our businesses more productive, our work culture more pleasant, and our employees and coworkers happier. Sponsored by “Girl Develop It – Boise”.

Why Should Idahoans Care?

We frequently hear how Idaho wants to be seen as a top tech destination. We want to attract new startups as well as existing businesses. Women are an untapped resource that can help make that happen. When women join boards and hold decision making positions in businesses, those businesses tend to outperform businesses with fewer women. Having a pipeline of women techies coming out of our local universities and a workforce with a high percentage of techie women can help attract high tech businesses. Tech businesses historically have a big focus on diverse workforces since over the years they’ve seen the benefits of having a multitude of perspectives when developing new products and services. Women are leading adopters of new products and services, it just makes sense to have women adding a female viewpoint to the decision making process IdahoMapas those products and services are chosen and built.

While tech businesses value women, they still see women exiting the field at much higher rates than men. Take game development as an example. Sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment are worse in the areas of tech that traditionally are even more overwhelmingly male than most – like video game development. While nearly half of women who play games are women, many games are marketed with ads that emphasize women as sex objects and few games have female avatars to choose from. When female characters or avatars are present in a game they generally have a much more limited range of body types with an emphasis on highly sexualized looks. Again, that is usually attributed to the fact that most of the people who write and market games are men – they never even question what they are doing, it’s just accepted. There is an unproven assumption that women will play “boy games” but men won’t play “girl games”. Female gamers like panelist and IT veteran Jane Miceli are asked “are you really a girl?” when they play well and score high in an online game. When more women are hired into gaming companies/divisions the products change. More non-sexualized female characters appear. Games begin to have more layers to them, more ways of interacting. And then more people buy those games. That’s good for business.

When women are mentored, encouraged, and valued at work they help drive better business decisions.

The Panelists

Our panelists include three women representing a range of IT career stages. Kelsey Suyehira is a BSU senior with a math degree who has returned to school to get a degree in computer science. She is currently president of the Association for Computing Machinery Women’s group, a club that supports the recruitment and retention of women in computer science on campus. Suyehira is joined on the panel by Marianna Budnikova, a professional hacker at the locally owned MetaGeek. In addition to her passion for machine learning and genetic algorithms, which were the basis of her Master’s thesis, Budnikova loves to develop iOS and Android apps. Rounding out the techies on the panel is Jane Miceli. Miceli is a 15 year veteran of the IT industry and a SCRUM Master with a Master’s degree in computer science. She is an avid supporter of tech education and ongoing volunteering on the Idaho Technology Council’s Education Committee, Boise School District’s First Robotics Team 2122, the annual Boise Code Camp conference. Miceli is also managing director for Girls In Tech Boise. All three women show their leadership skills in the Boise chapter of Girl Develop It – a nonprofit that offers affordable technology classes to women through introductory classes such as Python, HTML, and Hadoop. These female tech leaders will talk about their personal experiences with being a woman in tech.

The panel is rounded out by two BSU gender studies lecturers. Carrie Semmelroth lectures on early and special education and gender topics at BSU. Semmelroth spends much of her time on data analysis in her department which gives her an interesting perspective on the intersection of gender and technology. Representative Melissa Wintrow is an educator, trainer, and leadership consultant who lectures on gender studies. Wintrow has been elected to represent District 19 in the Idaho legislature. Semmelroth and Wintrow will bring their perspectives as leaders and educators to help us understand how we can each have a positive impact at work.GirlDevelopItBoise

Panel moderator Cindy Gross is a long time IT veteran with a passion for changing the way businesses do business, whether that’s through adoption of new technologies such as Hadoop or by increasing diversity in the workplace. Gross looks forward to a great hour of discussion on a range of Women in Tech topics that take us from a view of today’s reality to concrete, real-world actions that each of us can take to attract and retain more women in technology. The panel invites live tweeters to use the hashtag #BoiseWIT when discussing the session.

Social Media

Hashtags: #STEM #WIT #PASSWIT #BoiseWIT @GirlDevelopIt #BoiseCodeCamp



Taking Flight a.k.a. The Data Dragon’s Life After Microsoft

Cross-posted (with slightly worse formatting) from

Taking flight like Toothless from How to Train Your DragonLife is a journey – we can choose to fly through it with our wings spread to catch and channel the winds, or we can let the winds pummel us to the ground. I choose to take flight, enjoy the journey, and land on my feet. Then take off again. Even when the flight happens because of an unexpected push from the nice, comfy nest, it’s possible to spread our wings and take off in the direction we choose. Especially when you’ve decided you’re a Data Dragon. Yes, that’s me. Cindy the Data Dragon.

Wha...? Huh? Wha…? Huh?

What am I talking about? One of those life changing events that sneaks up on you sometimes.

Last Thursday I got a very unexpected call and I got to experience hearing the words “you’ve been laid off” for the first time ever. It was effective the same day, at least as far as job elimination. I am a Microsoft employee until September 15, my options are wide open after that.

I could choose to sit around and feel sorry for myself, ask countless “why me” and “why now” questions. What I did instead is remember that I am likely in a far better position than many of the other 13,000 people laid off the same day. And remember that now I don’t have to wonder and worry about the remaining Microsoft layoffs that are expected. And remember that this opens up many wonderful opportunities. And remember all the friends, co-workers, and customers who instantly offered support (thanks Sean, Terry, and Linda for the coffee followed by the much stronger drink and the rest of you for all the calls, emails, and IMs). And thank those same folks for the job leads, introductions, and recommendations on LinkedIn that immediately started pouring in – keep them coming! The Data Dragon chooses to concentrate on the good things, dive into making sense of things, and move on to new and better things. (Yes, Murshed, I again referred to myself in the 3rd person).

So now what?

I am going camping this week, I plan to make time for getting out of town again for a few days or weeks before the end of September (SLC ComicCon anyone?), and I am going to get my beautiful back yard back under control and add more colorful things growing in it. I am going to take my time finding the right Big Data job, not just any job.

Connect with me on Skype (, follow me on Twitter (SQLCindy | Cindygross), and send pics of you toasting the Data Dragon and her beautiful future!

Don’t stand in my way, the Data Dragon is taking flight and looking forward to all the wonderful things in my future!

Green-eyed Data Dragons like me never stay down long!

Green-eyed Data Dragons like me never stay down long!

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Interview with Julie Strauss–Microsoft BI WIT

clip_image002Julie Strauss is a very accomplished and respected Senior PM at Microsoft. Her current role is technical assistant for Microsoft Data Platform Group (DPG) Corporate Vice President Quentin Clark. She has been the public face of Microsoft BI at conferences and helps deliver great technical content and data stories to the public. Julie loves to help others so she has shared some background on herself and some great business advice that could be helpful to others seeking to improve their success.

Julie saw a job posting for the support team in Microsoft Norway (at the time Great Plains) looking for an individual willing to learn the ins and outs of the Microsoft BI products. She was excited that the posting indicated a willingness to learn was more important than previous knowledge of the particular Microsoft product. This was how and why Julie came here – she loves the technology and the data driven parts of the business and finds them fascinating.

Julie has a notable role with a wide range of responsibilities. The majority of her time is spent working on strategic projects to meet the goals of the team at the DPG Vice President level. Projects can vary in nature and cover everything from exploratory and technical projects to organizational projects. She gets to work with many areas of the business and enjoys interactions across the org. In addition to these internal facing responsibilities Julie also manages a set of customer and partner engagements for the business. Overall this role has provided Julie with an amazing learning opportunity. She gets to widen her scope while maintaining her data and BI focus and also use her years of experience from responsibilities ranging through sales, marketing, support, engineering, program management and people management. She merged these experiences into a role as technical assistant that utilizes some aspects of all those areas. Throughout her career she has chosen new jobs that allowed her to stretch and grow with a significant amount of change. But throughout it all she kept one core thing the same – her focus on BI and data. This mix of old and new in each role helps her cultivate new skills while leveraging what she already knows and expanding her influence. Within Microsoft there are many opportunities, something Julie feels is unique in the corporate world, and we can all find a way to shine and grow here.

imageJulie has an extensive network she finds invaluable in navigating all that opportunity. Her network lets her know about new opportunities and the network members also influence decision makers. She emphasizes that your reputation is everything – your network carries that reputation to others. In a strong network everyone is contributing to each other’s success. She has a large network though at any given point in time she is only actively interacting with a few people.

In addition to a network of contacts, Julie has closer relationships with a smaller group of people as both a mentor and a mentee. When Julie made the decision to move from marketing to engineering she leveraged her close mentoring relationship with Donald Farmer. Donald knew Julie and her work ethic and was willing to take a chance on Julie’s ability to succeed even though on paper it wasn’t an obvious fit. She stresses the importance of having semi-formal mentoring relationships with people at various levels. She asks various mentors for advice with experiences, projects, and specific interactions. Julie contributes back as a mentor to others – this keeps her coaching skills active. Julie observed that while she doesn’t treat her mentees differently based on their gender they tend to bucket themselves. More often than not women ask how to handle a specific situation or how to become more efficient or appear more confident. On the other hand men are more likely to ask task oriented questions such as how to make a specific change or how to write a better spec. She enjoys helping with both types of questions. Some of her mentees and mentors are people she already knew and some are people she grew to know only after the mentor-mentee relationship started.

imageI asked Julie what advice she feels is most important to her success that would be helpful to others in the organization. In addition to networking and mentors, she offered these pearls of wisdom:

  • Be willing to take risks and take on new challenges. She has few regrets because she goes after what she wants. She does wonder if having no regrets at all means she didn’t stretch enough. You have to find your own balance.
  • Be true to who you are – how people see you, your brand, should reflect the real you. For Julie it has been very important to never compromise on being true to herself. Julie’s brand is “Give me a challenge and I will work my butt off to get it done, being creative as needed, bringing in people who will make it work.”
  • Never be a victim. Women are strong.
  • Pick something concrete to improve upon and just do it. For example, Julie was ranked as the lowest presenter at a conference. She decided to become a top 10 presenter – she achieved that goal and grew to truly enjoy presenting along the way.
  • Find work you love. Julie finds data fascinating because it is very tangible and with BI you control how it leads to insights, learnings, and possibilities. She loves how data and BI let you use your own imagination and set your own boundaries.
  • State your needs and get buy-in. For example you might tell your manager that you want a promotion and lay out your plan to get there. Then you ask “Is this realistically going to get me to my goal”? Make sure your manager understands your value and gives you feedback, then follow through on the actions with appropriately timed check-ins on whether you are still on track.

Over the years Julie has lived in Denmark, Norway, the UK, and the US. She is always looking for new challenges whether it’s how to succeed in a new country or job or taking on a demanding project. Whatever she does she is working hard and getting things done. Follow her advice – build your network, find a mentor or two, be clear on expectations, and always be true to who you are.

I want to thank Julie for sharing herself and her ideas with us – it can be tough to open up but Julie did a stellar job!


Witty WIT Speakers needed for 24 Hours of PASS – March 2011

SQL PASS is planning another 24 Hours of PASS (24HOP). It will be March 15-16, 2011. Since that is during Women’s History month all the speakers will be women. So if you’re a Woman in Tech (WIT) and know something about SQL or how Windows or storage affects SQL this is a great opportunity!


Email your abstract to by Jan 14, 2011. No more than 250 words for the abstract itself plus 125 words for your bio.


So what is 24HOP? The format has changed a bit over time, but currently it consists of 12 hours of back to back one hour sessions about SQL Server held two days in a row. Each session is delivered by a different speaker and the topics vary quite a bit but all relate to understanding SQL Server. This is all done over Live Meeting so you can attend from your desk, and the sessions are made available for viewing later if you can’t attend them all live. Ideally the sessions will have time at the end for questions, so you don’t need a full hour of slides and/or demos.


So why should you submit an abstract? Here are a few good reasons: Community involvement, including speaking, is one of the things that can help qualify you for nomination for SQL MVP. A speaking engagement is a great item to put on your review or resume. And by speaking at smaller events like 24HOP it becomes easier to get your abstracts selected at bigger, more competitive events such as SQL PASS.


I look forward to seeing all of you speaking at 24HOP, your local user groups, and SQL PASS!


More SQL Women and WIT discussions:

·         Why So Few?

·         Data Chicks, We Need You! Call for Speakers

·         Trolling the #24HoP

·         24HOP Needs Women

·         I Need More Women

·         Women in Technology – Why Does it Matter?

·         The Next 24 Hours of PASS Event: Announcement and Call for Presenters

·         The Next 24 Hours of PASS

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Women in Technology – Why Does it Matter?


Women in Technology – Why Does it Matter?


The yearly SQL PASS summit is always one of my favorite times of year. It’s a week packed full of great technical content and many networking opportunities. Not to mention the parties and fun. J And of course the #sqlkilts. One of the highlights of the #sqlpass conference is the Women in Technology (WIT) Luncheon. This year quite a few men (and a couple of women) wore kilts that day and several of those wore shirts designed by @MidnightDBA saying “I’m supporting Women in Tech. What are YOU doing? (Plus, I look hot in a skirt)”. They came with the rest of us to hear a panel that discussed topics such as how women influence innovation, how women affect the bottom line, and why high tech jobs benefit women. Many audience members participated with comments and questions. I was so inspired by the day that I am taking some of the key points and summarizing them.


This year we had a great panel of speakers:

Billie Jo Murray, General Manager, SQL Central Services, Microsoft

Nora Denzel, Senior Vice President and General Manager – Employee Management Solutions, Intuit

Michelle Ufford, Senior SQL Server DBA,

Denise McInerney, Staff Database Administrator, Intuit

Stacia Misner, Principal, Data Inspirations


The number of men in the audience at the WIT luncheon continues to grow each year, as more people realize that supporting women in tech takes support from both men and women and that everyone benefits from the diversity. As Nora said: “Welcome to the women, and also welcome to the men, and also welcome to the men in skirts”. The number of women in technical jobs is decreasing at a faster rate than in other occupations, and the percentage of computer science graduates who are women is plummeting. Going forward it will be harder and harder for companies to recruit women into technical jobs. There doesn’t seem to be a good explanation for why this is happening. There are plenty of hypotheses but so far there doesn’t seem be consensus on the causes and more importantly on what to do about it.


So why do we care? Why does it matter how many women there are in tech? Why do we need a special group, time, or event just for WIT? There were many good points given about this during the lunch, both from the panel and from the audience. As Nora and Michelle both pointed out, at a high level diversity helps teams deliver a better product and fosters innovation. When you have people from different backgrounds, they approach the problem/product/issue in varying ways. The more approaches you have during the development phase and the broader the base for feedback, the more innovative and useful the end product is. This isn’t just some people sitting around a room and complaining; studies have borne this out. Gender is only one aspect of diversity, but it’s an important one. As the panel said, diversity is a means to an end. Diversity done right attracts great talent, leads to higher ROI, and makes the workplace healthier. Diverse companies are more likely to be voted a great place to work and that higher morale can translate to a better bottom line. Denise shared a great quote from Bill Gates. BillG was giving a speech in Saudi Arabia to an audience segregated by gender. There was a question to BillG about whether Saudi Arabia could become a top competitive economy by 2010. His answer: “…if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get too close to the top.”


Women (yes, stereotypically and not across the board) tend to approach tech projects differently than men. Often they take the perspective that technology’s purpose is to help others and therefore they think of projects in those terms. Teams shaped by stereotypically male dominated thinking often take an approach of fixing a problem or using something just because it’s “cool”. Both approaches have their place, and when they’re combined the innovation can explode (hopefully in a good way).


So what incentives are there for women to take a tech job and stay in the tech industry? I would argue that it’s a fun career, but what else is enticing? How about money and financial security? Tech jobs tend to pay well in general. The gender wage gap tends to be lower in the tech industry, so for the same job there’s a higher chance a woman will be paid as much as a man with the same skills. As Denise said, with the increased financial security from a tech job, a woman has greater control over all aspects of her life. From another perspective, as women in tech we are “thought workers”. That means we are valued for how smart we are, for our brains. In the tech world we can compete on the basis of our ideas. Despite the constant media message about women having to always compete for who looks the best, see who can dumb themselves down the most, and avoid math and science, in the tech world we can shine based on our merits.


If it’s such a great career path for women, why aren’t there more women here? I already mentioned the rapidly decreasing percentage of women with computer science degrees, though I have heard that in other countries that may not be the case. But why don’t women apply for tech jobs? Is it the geek image? A lack of desire to work around all that testosterone all the time? The media-fed feeling that women just aren’t good at math, science, and the “hard stuff”? The lack of glamour or perception of long hours? A feeling that we won’t fit in? Again, there is no consensus on why. If we could figure that out, maybe it would be easier to solve the problem. As Jimmy May said, “she-geeks are cool”, and we need to communicate that to women.


For women already in the tech arena, how do we approach our jobs? There seemed to be wide agreement that as women we are much more likely to seek perfection of an idea before we present it. We aren’t as likely to speak up at meetings if we don’t feel we are 100% prepared. We need to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s ok to make mistakes or to say “I’ll have to get back to you”. As Billie Jo said, women need to “sit at the table”. This applies both literally and figuratively. She talked about attending large meetings with so many attendees that there were chairs lining the walls as well as around the table. And who does she see sitting in the chairs “out of the way” around the edges instead of at the table? Women. Take a seat at the table, say something even if it’s not brilliant, and be an active participant. Despite the common perception of many women, we don’t have to know everything and do everything to be good at our jobs. Don’t wait for perfection before acting; step in and become a participant. The example was given that if a job application has ten requirements a women with “only” nine qualifications will not apply, but a man with only one qualification is likely to submit an application. That’s a bit exaggerated but does show a gender gap that many of us can identify with. Get over it! Move on and become a player in the tech game!


Now we’re all convinced that we need to have WIT. And we also know women aren’t getting many computer science degrees. So who do we recruit? How about math or physics majors? Billie Jo expressed an appreciation for music majors because the way their minds work is similar to what is needed in a tech environment. I know very successful techies with degrees in such seemingly unrelated fields as English. So don’t limit your search to the typical candidates. If something isn’t a true, absolute requirement, word the job description so it’s clearly a “nice to have” and you may see more women apply. Try to find the essence of what you’re looking for and include that description instead of some example of how someone else typified that essence. And remember that a broad background in college and life is very helpful. Billie Jo pointed out that her experience is that women tend to have a broader background in their coursework. This makes them more flexible and often makes it easier for them to fit in and advance at work. Stacia made the point that we need to look at people in the business world, especially for business intelligence type work. Don’t think of tech vs. non-tech. If IT people rely on a business person who consistently takes the real world requirements and makes them understandable to a techie, maybe they are a candidate for an IT job. Look beyond the normal and expected and you may be surprised who you find.


Life/Work balance always seems to come up when we talk about WIT. It’s not only women who need this balance, but for some reason we seem to be the ones who visibly seek it. This is a discussion for another time, but one important point an audience member made is to ask your family for help. It’s ok to tell your spouse that you’re going to SQL PASS next year and it’s the partner/spouse’s responsibility to look after the kids that week. It’s ok to ask them to do some extra housework while you prepare the presentation you’re going to give at your local user group (or at SQL PASS!). You support them and they feel good when they get to return that support. So ask for support from your friends and family and don’t feel bad about it!


So what can each of us do to support and encourage WIT? Some of the ideas suggested include:

·         Watch the lunch panel here: PASS Summit 2010 Women in Technology Live Streaming Panel Discussion

·         Don’t wait to be perfect or have perfect knowledge before you act.

·         Mentor women who would make good SQL MVPs or SQL MCMs (BJ offered to help!).

·         Don’t put up with a lack of WIT support at your company.

·         Be a peer mentor (to a man or woman) and seek out a peer mentor (man or woman).

·         Nominate qualified WIT peers for the MVP program.

·         As a WIT: submit an abstract for a conference, offer to speak at a user group or code camp, get involved in public/visible ways.

·         Have 1:1 conversations about tech, WIT, and/or diversity with people you can influence.

·         Thank the WIT in your life, starting with the SQL PASS WIT planning team!



#passwit search!/search/%23passwit

#passwit search

Main WIT page at SQLPASS!/sqlpass!/pass_wit