The 2010 PASS North American Summit in Seattle, WA, just recently wrapped up. In a week filled with a solid stream of top notch technical content and über-networking, the surprise hit that I did not see coming was the 8th Annual Women in Technology (WIT) Luncheon and it gave me an idea.
Why Have a Women in Technology Luncheon?
Time for a bit of a confession. This was my third time attending the PASS Summit. There was a WIT Luncheon each of my previous trips but I had yet to attend one. Frankly, I was a bit skeptical.
I had not planned to attend this year either. However, as I left my session that morning, I was reminded of the lunch and had a premonition. I had used the phrase “This is my third PASS Summit” maybe a hundred times in the previous two days. It was only a matter of time until someone followed with “Cool… so have you ever been to the WIT luncheon?” I realized that I would hate to have to answer negatively and try to explain why I had not attended.
I also thought of the fact that I had recently implemented an index maintenance script on all of my servers that was written by one of the panelists. She was kind enough to make that script freely available to the community. Did I not owe it to her to hear what she had to say?
Finally, I thought, hadn’t I read somewhere that the food at the WIT luncheon was better than what they served to the general conference? Admittedly, that last one may have been what broke the camel’s back. I decided to give it a go.
Oh, That’s Why!
Each member of the stellar panel brought terrific energy and insight to the discussion. Denise McInerney, Staff Database Administrator at Intuit, in particular, answered the question “Why have a WIT luncheon?”. She put it in terms that really hit home with me and did it in a way that shot goose bumps through the audience.
Three of Denise’s points left a significant impression on me.
1. Financial Independence
A lesson my mother taught me early on in life was that it is important that women have the opportunity to become financially independent. She taught me that financially independent women are less vulnerable to husbands that mistreat or walk-out on them, become incapacitated, or die prematurely. My mother is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with a Master’s Degree. Denise made the point that technology can be a very lucrative field for women and thus enable their financial independence.
Take a step back and analyze US popular culture through the eyes of a pre-teen girl. Sex and beauty sell and the implied message is often that they are all that matter. Technology, as Denise pointed out, is a field that values women (and men) for something more: a desire to learn, a capacity to accomplish, and (aghast) a personality! Having often lamented the fact that our culture fails to encourage young women and believing that this contributes to many of our problems (e.g., eating disorders, teen pregnancy, depression), I immediately recognized the importance of exposing young women to our industry.
3. Maximizing Available Resources
Any self-respecting capitalist can surely agree to one economic mantra: our world is made better by making efficient use of our available resources (note: I know it’s not as simple as that, but you get my point). Denise shared statistics that pointed to disparities that still exist in technical fields and higher education. If men and women are essentially created equal in their capacity to participate in and/or lead the technical revolution that is driving much of our economy today, it is immediately apparent that much of our resource of potential technical talent and innovation is currently underutilized.
As previously mentioned, Denise made all of these points with a passion and conviction that was absolutely contagious. The same was true for the entire panel. The spirit throughout the room was reminiscent of a spiritual revival. Heads were nodding, hands were clapping, tears were welling, bumps were goosing, and there surely were a number of quiet shouts of “Amen!”.
An idea popped into my head while I was there. What if you could capture the vibe, message, and momentum of this group in the form of a book? I imagined a collaborative effort somewhat in the model of the wildly successful MVP Deep Dives book.
Imagine a collection of profiles, anecdotes, advice, and stories targeted to school aged girls who are or might one day become interested in technology. These girls might not have any visible female technical role models in their life. Possibly they lack someone in their lives to encourage them to pursue their technical inclinations. They may be missing a road map that shows them how to get to where they want be from where they are now and therefore may feel their dreams are unrealistic. Perhaps they have yet to discover technology as a possible career field but are captured by its possibilities, challenges, and potential rewards once they do.
Such a book could potentially solve all of those problems.
Imagine the aunt who works in Silicon Valley sending it to her niece in rural North Carolina as a birthday present. Or the school teacher who sees a student struggling with her confidence as she embraces a culture that values knowledge and an ability to learn at an age where many still put higher value on brand names and popular music. Imagine the student in a developing economy who has never even known a woman who has worked outside of the home, yet is studying English or (preferably) has a copy of this book in her native language and through it she is exposed to an entire new world of possibilities.
Armed with this book, a girl would see proof that a world exists that values her passions. She would see evidence that this field can be quite lucrative. She would see real world examples of real women having real success and be assured that this world is accessible to her regardless of her background. She would have a of roadmap to get there from where she is now and heroes to inspire her along the way! Where does she end up going? What does she accomplish in her career that changes the world? Imagine that on a global scale!
A Community Project
I believe the collaborative model is perfect for this book. Having varied stories and perspectives from a wide variety of authors and backgrounds increases the odds that the reader finds one or more with which they connect. Each character in this book becomes a potential hero to encourage the reader along her own journey.
Examples of content I could see in this book include a historical portrait of Ada Lovelace penned by the skillful Phil Factor. Someone like Kalen Delaney might contribute anecdotes of run ins with some of the founders of database technology as we know it. Kimberly Tripp might add glamorous (or not-so-glamorous) tales of jet setting around the world solving database problems and making the world a safer place for transaction log files with her über-geek husband.
However, not every hero is someone you saw coming. This book might also include a story from a dad you never heard of and how a shared passion for “geeking out” brought him and his daughter closer than any sport could have. A poem written by an unknown .NET developer thanking her parents for supporting her technical interests as a child should fit right in.
I know this book would be successful. Why? For the following three reasons.
- The content exists in the form of incredible, inspiring stories lurking within everyone.
- The momentum in the SQL Sever Community is palpable.
- There are a million ways that a million different girls might come across this book and find inspiration to do something great – kinetic serendipity!
What do you think? Is the SQL Community ready to change the world through a book? Or am I just jet lagged?