Opinion: Are red-haired DBAs unwilling to learn?

I've seen a lot of discussion lately about diversity and inclusion, and rightly so. It's incredibly important. But there are two points that I want to draw attention to. The first is that language matters. And the second is that we shouldn't be generalizing about people, based upon either their physical characteristics, or their race, religion, sexual preferences, etc.

Language that singles out people based on these things is regularly called out. But one that's often missed is age.

I was disappointed the other day to hear one of my friends who is normally a champion for diversity and inclusion, saying:

Quite a significant number of older DBAs I've met just think what they don't know is not their job to learn.

Regardless of how you react to that sentence, ask yourself how you would have reacted to any of these instead:

Quite a significant number of female DBAs I've met just think what they don't know is not their job to learn.

Quite a significant number of Christian DBAs I've met just think what they don't know is not their job to learn.

Quite a significant number of gay DBAs I've met just think what they don't know is not their job to learn.

Quite a significant number of red-haired DBAs I've met just think what they don't know is not their job to learn.

Anyone saying those things would rightly be shouted down. The person's characteristics, beliefs, preferences, etc. have NOTHING to do with their interest in learning. I have many older friends who are always at the cutting edge of modern technologies, and have a thirst to learn. Conversely, I have many younger friends who see a job as a means to getting some money and will put as little effort as possible into their own development.

The person's attitude is the issue here, not their age, no more than it's their gender, sexual preference, religion, or hair color.

When I started in IT, the entire industry was very young. Computer Science degrees in their current form either didn't exist or were extremely rare. The majority of people who entered the industry then were career starters, and they were young. But they aren't now. So while IT has always seemed a "young" industry, it's not now. In IT, we now have a big spread of ages.

Sadly though, ageism is still rampant in our society and seems to be one of the remaining forms of discrimination. And of course the final sentence was:

All old white men, of course.

Opinion: The best apps tolerate user mistakes

Over the years, I've been noticing which apps users love and which ones they don't like, or even hate. And I've decided that one of the biggest indicators of this is about how well they tolerate mistakes by users.

Users tend to learn to use apps in three ways:

  • They watch or read some instructional material (this is actually the least common)
  • Someone else shows them how to use the app (this is really common)
  • They just experiment with the app (this is actually the most common)

How well do your apps allow people to experiment?

  • Can a user click to enter part of an app without consequences?
  • If a user starts to create something, can they opt out at the last moment?
  • If they did create/change/delete something, can they undo it?
  • Can they truly undo the action, not just reverse it with a compensating action? (i.e. can they make it like they never did it in the first place?)

I see new users who are terrified of using applications, and time and again, it's they are actually terrified of "messing something up" or "doing something by mistake". In either case, they're worried that they can't fix what they did. (And in come companies, they're going to be blamed for doing it).

How do your applications rate on this basis?

Opinion: Banks, Governments, Councils – please stop aiding identity theft

I don't know if it's an Australian "thing" but whenever I'm setting up new financial or government accounts, these organizations insist on actually sending things to our street address.

Given how rampant identity theft has become in many places, this is just not sensible.

Awesome image by Mathyas Kurmann

Take a look at letterboxes that people have on local streets, and please try to convince me how sending anything there, is in any way safer than sending it to a post office box.

Post Office Boxes

I know that in some countries, post office boxes are a bit anonymous. That's not the case here in Australia. You have to take a lot of steps to prove who you are when setting one up.

What post office boxes are, is far, far safer than street letterboxes.

There have been countless examples of mail being stolen from letterboxes. Apartment complexes are even worse. Often there are a bunch of them in a place that isn't too visible, and they're often broken into. Even breaking into them isn't all that necessary as I often see mail just sticking out of letterboxes.

And the situation is far worse for people who travel regularly. Do you want your mail being collected in a post office box, or have ever-increasing amounts of it sticking out of a letterbox? (At least many of us have good neighbours who will help with this).

Please don't force us to send mail to a letterbox in our street, when we have a perfectly good post office box!

One final even-worse scenario

I have to close by adding one of my even-worse scenarios that I see banks doing. When we call a bank to tell them we've changed address, often they send details of the address change to the previous address!

Yes, that's the one where we don't live any more.






Opinion: RIP Microsoft Professional Program

Three years back, with much fanfare at a partner conference, Microsoft announced the Microsoft Professional Degree program. It was going to be a set of courses that you could take that would lead to one of their professional degrees.

Now here in Australia, you can't just call something a degree, and I'm guessing that's the same in the USA, so I wasn't surprised when I noticed soon after I started with it, that the name had changed to the Microsoft Professional Program (MPP), and they'd dropped the "degree" word.

The first program available was for Data Science. It required you to complete 11 courses. Each course restarted every three months, and had an exam and certificate at the end. Importantly, to complete a program, you also had to complete a practical course, called the capstone project.

I loved these programs, and I completed four of them: Data Science, AI, Big Data, and DevOps.

It's not all roses

The program retirement was announced the other day. You can't enrol after next month, and you must complete everything before December.

Many people are part way through the program, have paid to certify previous exams, and are now unable to complete before the deadline. That's really not fair to them. A nice touch would have been to at least refund their exam certification costs if they're part way through a program.

And more importantly, what does it really mean for those that have invested time, money, and effort in the programs? I don't know but I'd almost bet that within a year, it'll be hard to even find any trace of the entire program ever existing.

What I don't love is the way that Microsoft has constant churn in these types of things. For things like certification that require substantial commitments to pursue, this type of churn is just not appropriate.

I wish it was the first time that many of us have been down this same path but sadly, it's not. (#MCM4Life)

Microsoft's offerings around learning have been really messy and jumbled for a very long time. The move to refocus learning around Microsoft Learn is a good move. I just wish they'd learn how to make these types of changes and consolidations without leaving their biggest supporters feeling abandoned (again).

Why I liked the MPP

I really liked the format of the MPP for a number of reasons:

  • You could take any of the courses for free (this meets the goal of the product groups who just want to get the information out there widely and without the friction of cost). Initially, that also included the exams.
  • You could pay for a certified exam. The courses were done in conjunction with edX and they would check out who you were. (i.e. government issued photo ID, etc.) If you wanted the certification, you needed to pay to certify all the relevant exams.
  • The content was not just Microsoft content. For example, the initial statistics course was actually a course from Columbia University. Some of the content was taught by DataCamp (who I'm not happy with after their data breach), and by a prof from Norway. This gave the material a wider context.
  • There was often a choice in the content. For Data Science, you could use either R or Python in each required course. For AI, there was a choice of areas of AI to work in: Speech, Vision, etc.
  • The work could be done in your own time, and fitted in amongst other activities as you had free time.

Tracks were expanding

Eventually, there were many tracks:

  • Data Science
  • AI
  • Big Data
  • DevOps
  • IoT
  • Data Analysis
  • Cybersecurity
  • Entry Level Software Development
  • IT Support

Thanks is due

Naturally, like with most things, the quality varied across the courses. But overall, I liked the effort that had been put into the classes.

A hearty thank you to anyone who was involved in creating these courses and their associated materials!

Awesome image by Pete Pedroza

For Posterity

Like a friend of mine and fellow MVP, Thomas LaRock, said in a recent post, I have no idea what really happens to the certifications that were achieved in the program. As I mentioned, I suspect they have suddenly been massively devalued. And as Thomas did, I include my course certificates for posterity.


Opinion: Don't call me and then ask me to identify myself

I continued to be stunned at how banks don't get security.

Had a call just now from a sales guy from the my bank. It's annoying enough that they call at night, but I really don't like it when they want to confirm who you are before they can talk to you.

Told him, Sorry, can't do. Have no idea who you are.

Why would I tell personal details to some guy who just calls out of the blue, claiming to be from my bank?

He said "you don't want to continue with the call then?", so I said "I'm guessing that's a no then". Invariably, it's just a marketing arm of the bank that's trying to sell you something or some service anyway.

I also had the same thing with a credit card company. They call me then say Before I continue, I'll need to confirm who you are".

I don't think so. You rang me.

Now the credit card company must be getting told this a lot, because they then followed up with You can see from the number that we called from that it's us.

I told them how easy it is to spoof a phone number, and told them that I'd received a phishing attack just the day before, that appeared to have come from Australia Post, and merged right in with previous texts from them.

I'm not sure what the right answer is for outbound marketing from banks and financial institutions, but I'm guessing that over time, they're going to get fewer and fewer responses to this type of approach.

Fix: curl complains that HTTP protocol is not supported in libcurl (same for HTTPS)

I'm writing this post more to remind myself next time I run into the same problem, but hopefully it'll help someone else too.

curl is a useful utility but the Windows version of it certainly has some quirks. Often though, that leads to error messages that aren't helpful at all.

I kept running into an error where it complained that HTTPS protocol was not supported in libcurl. When I tried HTTP, I saw the same error.

That started me on a journey trying to find the issue, and there are lots of articles that tell you that you need a version that was compiled with those protocols.

But of course, that's not the real issue. The problem is that the Windows version doesn't cope with single quotes like the other versions do. It wants double quotes.

Hope that helps someone sometime.

Ever wondered about Camtasia and/or Snagit?

I'm an unashamed fan of TechSmith and it's products. In particular, SnagIt and Camtasia.

Whenever I'm asked for a list of products that I wouldn't want to live without, SnagIt is near the top of that list. I use it all day, every day. I've tried a number of screen capture programs over the years, and I've watched people struggle to do simple things, just to avoid buying a commercial application. Don't be that person. Use the right tool.

As for Camtasia, once again it's one of my favorite products. We use it constantly for creating videos for our online training site http://training.sqldownunder.com.  Once again, I've tried free options like OBS and many others. Camtasia just works. It's not worth my time messing around with something else just because they others were free.

The reason for the post today though is to call out that they've got a series of intro webinars happening. If you don't know why you should be using these apps, check out the webinars here.


Opinion: Don't bludgeon your customers with surveys

For better or worse, I spend a lot of time in hotels, airline flights, dealing with many suppliers, etc. What's become really common now, is that a few days later, they're sending me a survey asking me how they did.

Now I'm sure that they're just trying to follow some best practice to make sure they're delivering what was expected, but lately, I'm finding many of the surveys really quite annoying. I'd like to suggest some simple rules to avoid that.

First Rule: Don't pester or nag

If I don't complete your survey in the time that you'd hoped, please don't keep chasing me for it. If I decide to complete it, I'll do it when I have the time and inclination. And if I decide not to complete it at all, don't bug me about it.

Second Rule: Keep it short

If I do decide to click into your survey, I'm happy for you to ask four or five questions on a single page. That's it. No more.

If I open your survey, and on page one it says that it should take no more than 10 to 15 minutes to complete, sorry, I'm not completing it. What exactly do you assume your customers spend their days doing? I've seen surveys for flights waste more of my billable time than the flight cost. Don't do this.

Third Rule: Survey site must be fast

Make really, really sure your survey website works and is fast. Can't tell you how often I've gone to complete a survey and abandoned it because I'm tired of waiting for the survey engine to get to the point.

Fourth Rule: Get the survey tested

Get someone who speaks clear English to proof-read your survey. It needs to have questions that are straightforward to answer. And the tooling needs to work. Don't ask me a question with four answers unless they are the only answers that could possibly exist. Don't ask me to select all that apply, and then just give me a radio button, etc. etc.

If you keep to these simple rules, you'll probably get a much higher completion rate on your surveys.

Opinion: Data ingestion and opposites

In a previous post, I discussed the way that adjectives have been replacing adverbs, and pondered about what had happened to "ly". For example:

Drive Safe

rather than:

Drive Safely

I had quite a bit of feedback on this, both on and offline. Language discussions are always busy. But another similar trend came up in a discussion that I recently took part in.

A friend asked that if you used the term:

Data Ingestion

was the opposite:

Data Exgestion

Now I know that most words that change an in to an opposite usually use e and not ex. For example ingress and egress (rather than exgress). This means that it would be more likely to be:

Data Egestion

Given that Ingestion normally refers more to food than anything else, it's hardly suprising that Egestion typically refers to what comes out of a backside, so it's probably not a great option, at least in common usage 🙂

Others suggested that the terms:

Data Import

Data Export

should just be used instead. While I agree, it's interesting to note that the above terms are often used as nouns. And that got me wondering about when we started using verbs as nouns.

I never hear anyone talk about a Data Ingest, as though it's a "thing", only about Data Ingestion an an act. But we talk about performing a Data Import, and treating it as both an action, and the act of performing the action, yet I rarely hear anyone say Data Importation when they are discussing the action.

Language is curious.

So what is the best opposite for Data Ingestion or is the term best avoided in the first place?


Opinion: Whatever happened to "ly" ?

In recent years, there's an odd trend that I've been noticing. Adverbs seem to be getting replaced by adjectives, and at an increasingly fast rate. I see signs that say things like this:

Drive Safe

Now when I was at school, we'd have been given a hard time for writing that. We'd have been told in no uncertain terms that it should have been:

Drive Safely

I was trying to work out if it was more of a US-based thing. I see it far more often in US-based writing, yet it's also happening in the UK, Australia, and others as well.

Puzzled by this, I was starting to wonder if it was just me, and, more importantly:

Whatever happened to "ly" ?

Turns out that I'm not alone in wondering this. This Quora discussion asked Why have so many people stopped using adverbs and instead use adjectives, such as "quick" instead of "quickly"?

The article argues that it's part of a very long-term trend, and that you notice it more as you age, and as you visit other places and come across other dialects.

More concerning(ly), this article asks: Is it poor style to use adverbs ending in "ly" in formal writing? Some commenting on the article make a more curious claim: Some grammarians consider "ly" ending adverbs as bad style in formal writing.

Now I don't see specific evidence to support that, and one person commented that it was primarily advice for sci-fi writers.

A recent article in the Guardian asks:  Where have all the adverbs gone? And how did they go?

The author says: Meanwhile, in everyday parlance in America, people are quite happy to do things "real quick". I hope that doesn't catch on here. There's plenty of time to bother saying "really quickly". 

At least it appears that I'm not the only one that's wondering where "ly" went. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.