Category Archives: 2711

Four speaking engagements coming up

I’m just going to list them…

This Saturday (July 18th), at Code Camp SA. I’m going to be talking about functions in SQL, particularly those that involve BEGIN and END.

At the end of the month, at the ACS Branch Conference. I’m going to be part of a panel discussing Open Source v Closed Source.

In August, I’m going to be speaking at SharePoint Saturday (Adelaide), about the integration of Reporting Services and SharePoint.

In September, I’m going to be a presenting at TechEd Australia, about SQL Azure.

Be nice if there was more of an overlap in topics…

Code Camp hits Adelaide

July 7-8 is the date for Code Camp SA. If you’re superstitious and seven is your lucky number, then it might be worth pointing out that the date is 7/7/7.

It’s being organised by ADNUG, UniSA and the ACS, and you can find a full list of speakers here. I won’t be there, but the Australian SQL Server User Group world is being well represented with David Gardiner, Greg Linwood and Greg Low presenting. It starts bright and early on the Saturday morning, and finishes in the afternoon on Sunday. It should be an excellent time for anyone who can get there.

For all the details, check out that speaker page. It includes information about the location and how to register.

Paul Turner

Paul Turner is an Adelaide guy I know well. He’s been a trainer at Kaz for quite a while, is on the local ACS executive committee with me and has been involved in the local .Net user-group too. He’s had a couple of major lifestyle changes in the last couple of weeks. Most significantly, he’s become a father, but also he’s become a Readifarian (and word is getting out!). All very cool, and Paul is justified in being excited. I think the two changes will work hand-in-hand very nicely, as Readify will probably have him doing a lot of his work from home.

Coffee and Community

It’s amazing how coffee can be conducive to community. Community is about sharing, it’s about developing passion and enthusiasm, it’s about friendship. And coffee is too. The age-old invite – “Let’s do coffee” – is a great way to sit down with someone. It’s cheaper and less formal than lunch, and it doesn’t stop you driving home like beer would.

I think it’s really exciting that the Perth .Net Community of Practice (mainly Nick Randolph, Alastair Waddell and Mitch Wheat) have set up a weekly cafe catch-up. More about it here.

Mauricio Freitas has often written about the group of coffee-drinkers he gathers each week in Wellington, and I know this works. The ACS in Adelaide have a regular Curry SIG. When I was at university, the Christian group I belonged to had a regular hang-out place, to the extent that you could go down there any time and find people you knew. It made the group stronger. I’m sure that if Mauricio could still get work done, he would hang out at the cafe all the time, making it a sort of office.

I sometimes wonder if a community could be built around a shared office space. Could a group of independent consultants (who would normally work from home) set up a shared office space and work from there, letting other people from within the community drop by any time for coffee, etc? Obviously there would need to be times when people would put ‘Do not disturb’ signs up, or disappear into offices for phone-calls to clients, but could an arrangement like this be conducive to both work and community? Could a business benefit from having a community built around it like this? Clearly there would have to be some rules, like “Don’t steal each other’s clients if they come by”, and “Remember there are people working here too” – but could it work?

ACS BEC meeting

Last night I attended my first ACS Branch Executive Committee (SA) meeting. It was certainly quite interesting. Great to meet the other people, even some of those who are stepping down from the committee now (presumably to be replaced by me!).

The new chairman, Reg Coutts seems like a very interesting guy who has great ambition for the ACS to do a better job of all kinds of things. I will enjoy talking to him throughout the year and trying to help goals be scored. The outgoing chair, Brenda Aynsley has a lot of energy, and it will be interesting to see what happens under the new leadership.

One of the things that I found was quite interesting is that the ACS doesn’t seem to have much of a virtual community, and I’d like to see that change. The ACS is fairly unique in the fact that it doesn’t have a commonality amongst its members in the same way that user-groups tend to. User-groups are generally focussed around particular interests, such as SQL Server or Java, or whatever. But the ACS tries to help address things that effect the industry as a whole, which obviously has many different challenges to user-groups, but I think is just as noble – if not more so.

The BEC intranet now has a Wiki (interestingly, the ACS’s IT Architecture SIG has one too, at http://architects.wetpaint.com) to be able to help maintain the content that needs to be shared amongst the committee, and I’m keen to see this grow into other online collaboration tools to help the ACS be far more effective. And even being able to partner with other international equivalents. The ACS ought to be able to use online community to achieve a lot, and hopefully find ways to innovate in this area. 

On learning (Calvin and Hobbes, the ACS and digital natives)

Digital natives learn differently. How do we take advantage of that?

The funny thing is that right away, I’ve written this from an external perspective, when I’m probably in a mixture of both camps. Feel free to consider me in either camp as you read this.

At TechEd Australia this year, the keynote was from Anne Kirah. She talked about the concept of the digital native. That’s someone who has grown up in a technology culture, and therefore thinks differently to someone who has grown up in a non-technology culture and come into it. I was born in late 1974, and I grew up without being surrounded by technology, although at the age of 8 or 9 I got a C64 and started writing code, doing my homework on a computer, thinking about ways to use a computer in better ways, for better purposes. I’ve never really considered myself a geek, because I’m actually far more interested in people (although not how to use people in better ways for better purposes, <insert evil laugh> well, not really). But I do find the cross-over between technology and the rest of the world fascinating. I certainly enjoyed Anne’s talk a lot.

I’m also a fan of learning. If you have read my blog in the past, then you will appreciate that I have done a lot of Microsoft Certifications, I run a user-group, I have a few degrees, I’m generally a big fan of the whole learning experience.

But more than being addicted to learning, I’m very interested in the study of learning. My wife did part of a Bachelor of Teaching, and I really enjoyed having conversations with her about the different things that enabled or hindered a child’s ability to learn. Now, several years later, we have our two sons at a boys’ school, because we appreciate that boys learn very differently to girls, and that teachers seem to be far more able to cater for the boys in the class if there aren’t a bunch of girls in the class, accentuating the differences between the two.

Just as there is a difference between the way that boys learn compared with the way that girls learn, there is a difference between the way that ‘kids these days’ learn. And when I say ‘kids these days’, I largely mean ‘digital natives’.

On Thursday morning, I saw this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip. I apologise if I’m breaking copyright by posting this here – but hopefully you’ll all be inspired by this go and buy a book of C&H – it’s well worth the investment.

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Just like Calvin, digital natives hate the idea of sitting in school. I’m the same, with some differences. I love being in a learning environment. I’m very happy to go to a lecture. But I need to be able to ask questions. If I can’t have the learning experience be more like a conversation, I’m frustrated. People who were at the SQL Code Camp in Wagga Wagga earlier this month will have seen evidence of this.

At the ACS SA Branch AGM on Wednesday night, we heard Dr David Lindley talk about some of what he does in the Professional Development programs that the ACS run. He talked about the fact that the system they find very effective is to have people post opinions on matters, and then once everyone has submitted their ideas, the ideas become public (within the group) and people discuss them. Sounded like a blog to me, but David suggested that the differences are massive because the initial feedback on the post is from an appointed mentor, not the wide community. I really liked his opinions on learning through discussion though. I think the opportunity to learn is primarily through the discussion, rather than through submitting thoughts on a matter and then having them ‘marked’ by a ‘mentor’. I think a mentor should guide learning, but not necessarily teach. But more on this later.

A quick point about blogging. I think there’s a massive benefit to blogging from a learning perspective. When you write your ideas down, they solidify much more in your head. This is partly down to the principle that when you teach someone something, you have to know it so much better, but it’s more just that in writing it down, you see things from a different part of your head to when it was just a thought. But there’s more opportunity to learn from blogs, as I’ll write later.

Many digital natives are finding themselves getting into the IT space without first going through the university system. They grok computers already, and can’t see the relevance of sitting in lectures to learn things that may not be relevant to their careers. Their opinions about learning is based on what they know from school, and it’s just not cutting it (I can make similar arguments for God and the church – you don’t need to get me started on that to be able to quickly see the parallels). If you were to suggest that they enter any kind of formalised learning program, they’d laugh. These people are even against Microsoft Certifications, because they have become so prejudiced against learning because of school.

Let’s address Calvin’s problem first. He wants an environment where he doesn’t have to learn anything. Where there’s no teacher and no other kids. I’m sure when Bill Watterson wrote this strip, he wanted to list every aspect of school. His point would have been “Calvin just doesn’t want to go to school”. But we see elsewhere that Calvin is interested in learning. He asks his dad questions (although his dad doesn’t give him the right answers), and talks about quite deep things with Hobbes (who of course is his imaginary friend).

Perhaps the fact that Calvin’s dad gives him the wrong answers is part of the reasoning behind David’s consideration that the primary feedback should be from a trusted mentor. I offered to be a mentor in David’s program, but apparently I’m too young (I’ll be 32 in early November). More on this later too.

As someone interested in making sure that Calvin is able to learn effectively, we need to find a way of having him learn without being at school. I’m not saying that home-schooling is the answer for kids, I’m just saying that learning cultures are changing and this needs to be addressed.

Paul Stovell is a good friend of mine. In some ways, I mentor him. I learn a lot from him too. He has just turned 20. He will never go to university (he’s actually not opposed to the idea, he just can’t see the relevance). But he’s starting to realise the power of blogging, as he writes in his article at http://www.paulstovell.net/Posts/Post.aspx?postId=b07d1424-ae9a-40e6-881a-d22fc28de646

Paul has found that if he writes on a topic, the community of his peers who read his blog comment on it, tell him where he’s wrong, expand on his ideas, and together, they all learn something. Naturally, this being open to the entire internet, there is a risk of people writing rubbish. But the opinions that Paul values more than the others are the ones to which he pays the most attention (and typically, these people are slightly more experienced than him, but within a similar culture, rather than being people who are necessarily older and wiser – useful mentors, but perhaps not the types of people who would be a traditional choice of mentor). Of course, by writing in the public domain, you also have the opportunity to release your thoughts to the people who are the experts in the field, and this then present an even bigger opportunity for mentoring.

So Paul has a way of learning without going to school. Of course, it’s a learning environment that he’s driving himself, but Paul could just as easily become part of a learning environment that was slightly more structured, in that it suggested discussing particular points.

This is more like what David is doing. He facilitates discussions about the topics, guiding people in what they need to be learning.

You see, IT present the opportunity to allow people to learn in a manner which suits them. I think David could take it much further again, but there is a risk that fall into the trap that many home-schooling parents find themselves in – that much of the syllabus can get missed.

Developing a learning culture for digital natives (which would include many of the highly skilled people in IT) is a massive challenge. I love that the ACS is trying to find ways to address this, and if I can help them develop their ideas, then I will do so. Microsoft Learning are also trying to address it, with a move towards e-learning, away from instructor-led courses.

The biggest opportunity here is that the IT Industry is full of people who have been digital natives longer than anyone else. I don’t mean people in their 50s, I mean people in their 20s and 30s. If we can work out how to teach these people (including myself), then perhaps the rest of the education industry can see what we are doing and apply the same to non-IT learning. Kids learn history by playing computer games already, but there needs to be more to it than that, so that they realise they are learning and can start to love the learning process.

The fact is that digital natives won’t do school. But they still want to learn. If we want to be a part of that, we need to reinvent school. The burden is on us, because traditional learning cultures have hurt education significantly.

PS: This doesn’t cover anything about assessment, such as the concept of MS Certification exams – that’s a whole nother topic as well.

What’s wrong with IT?

To a large degree, it's the perception of experience. The IT industry has so many things wrong with it. It tends to be 'governed' (I don't know of a better word for what I mean there, 'run' would be wrong) by people in their 50s. It's also full of Cowboys and Indians (and I don't mean 'people from India' here, I mean 'people who will work for a pittance'), and this means that some degree of governance is actually quite important.

My blog post about "How they know you know" really is a much bigger factor than assessing a candidate or helping your CV stand out from the rest. If you consider the insurance agency who need to work out how much professional indemnity to cover people for, then that helps to start consider the size of the problem. If someone's going to trust their critical data (or processes) to you (or a company for that matter), they need to be quite sure that you're not going to break everything.

If there was a boom in the health industry like the .com boom of the late 90s, you'd see hospitals popping up everywhere, full of people who had no clues about what they were doing. But would you go to any of them? No of course not… you wouldn't dream of letting someone operate on you if they didn't have the proper credentials. And yet we in the IT industry perform surgery on people's businesses on a daily basis.

The ACS is really great in that it is trying to govern the industry in some way, but in many other ways, I think they need shaking up a bit. The ACS encourages Professional Development (which is often sorely missing in professionals). They encourage community (they sponsor several special interest groups). They are active in campaigning to government and other industries of the virtues of IT. All great things, which a younger crowd might not do. But that's part of the problem. The people that run the ACS typically aren't the younger crowd.

I don't want to come across as ageist here. These people have learned a lot over their years in the industry, and really have a lot to give. They are probably the ideal crowd to be doing this type of thing. But if the perception of them is that they are irrelevant, don't understand the later generations (let alone their technologies), and are just 'governing' for the sake of it, then half the battle is lost already. And if any of this is actually true, then that's even worse.

And of course, if they are perceived this way from within the IT industry, then our industry is already a house divided against itself, and it's got no chance. Law, Accountancy, and all the other professional industries are united. They ALL get the relevant certifications and hold them dear. That makes them stronger. A lot stronger. As industries they are far more united than IT. IT can't even agree between "pro-Microsoft" and "anti-Microsoft", but that's a whole nother post.

Is the ACS the right conduit for this stuff? Well, I think probably. Who else would you pick?

And if you consider that the ACS is the right conduit, then you have to get involved, to help them change the way they're perceived, and to help them achieve their goals, which ultimately help all of us in IT.

ACS SA Branch Committee

I've been nominated for the ACS SA Branch Committee. I've been a member of the ACS for a few months now – a Senior Member even. But it hasn't really meant a lot so far. As I want to be an influencer, particularly in regards to promoting IT in Adelaide (it's where I live, and I figure that if I can help develop IT as an industry here, then that's good for both me and anyone else who lives here), I had toyed with the idea of joining the committee. Nominations close this Friday, and after checking with Roslyn about the extra night out per month (my time feels quite limited already, but I think this is worth the investment), I agreed to let myself be nominated.

It doesn't mean I'm on the committee yet though. There may be more people putting their hands up than there are spots available, in which case it will come down to a vote. I'll keep you posted.