Interview Sarah Blow – Girly Geekdom Founder

Here is an interview with Sarah Blow, community manager of the famous twitter startup TweetMeMe which is very popular to bloggers and founder of Girly Geek Dinners – a community effort to promote women in areas of technology and sciences.

Sarah tweets under the name Girly Geek while I tweet under the name Dude of Data, so I met her by chance on the Twitter.

Here is the interview-

1) Describe your career in science from high school to your present position.

That could take a while…. High School for me was split into Middle School for 2 years where Science was dull but practical and Secondary School where Science was a lot of fun and I set the table on fire in the chemistry lesson… My Chemistry teacher always reminds me how incendiary I am! and High School was up north for my A levels where I didn’t choose science subjects as I really wasn’t sure about the science teachers there. However at the last school I did an AS in computer science and it was my teacher there that recommended I considered a career in the technology industry. Originally I was considering law. As a young child I wanted to study law and go to Cambridge. As I grew up I guess things changed, I loved playing with my Commadore 64 and was good with databases etc so my natural progression was to Computer Science.

I didn’t study A Level maths so my options were somewhat limited however I got my first choice University placement at Manchester University (UMIST as it was then). Whilst there I won a scholarship to do my Masters of Enterprise in Computer Science and then went onto my first job as a Software Engineer at Cardinal Health. Then I started the Girl Geek Dinners and decided a change was in order in terms of my career as I found I was good at the community aspect of engaging people with technology. So I looked around for a while and then moved to my current position as Community Manager at TweetMeme.

B) What are the challenges and complexities in managing the community for Tweetmeme

TweetMeme has over 150 million buttons across hundreds of thousands of websites around the world crossing language, location, content management systems and server farms. As such it is my role to ensure those buttons are installed and working as the users require. That’s a LOT of users and a LOT of buttons to look after. I also support the developers that help to create the plugins for the different content management platforms and those using our API. The complexities of all this are the different languages, implementations, levels of understanding of code and template editing as well as the conversational language translations. In my case I speak and can understand French, some German, some Spanish and some Italian. However Google Translate is my friend!

I also communicate with the press and news services, put announcements up on our blog site, and create the support documentation found in our help area and on our forums. When users feedback comments and suggestions I also represent them and their views within technical meetings and in the design decision process. So really my role is incredibly varied and covers a real range of things.

2) Why are there so few women in science compared to other fields- even though it is quite a lucrative profession.

I think there are many barriers from when you grow up and what your parents expect you to do as a career, through to career advice at schools through to what options you choose at GCSE and what maths paper you do (higher or lower) as these do have a big impact on what doors you leave open or close. I also believe personal choice and interest areas have a lot to do with what you consider as a potential career option. Many people just don’t consider computing as a career these days as computers are fundamental to all jobs.

When you look at what jobs you considered as a young child did you aspire to be the next Bill Gates or was it more likely a fighter pilot, fireman or something similarly heroic. Many females look to nursing/ doctor roles as their heroic roles or law where they can put baddies behind bars. Many look to vetinary sciences or forensic science too.

What you aren’t told as a child is where there are heroic jobs in the real world that can lead you to do wonderful things and yet still be able to make money and have fun!

3) Describe your work at GirlyGeekdom on promoting women geeks. ( or women in science careers)

This question mentions specifically the GirlyGeekdom site http://girlygeekdom.com which was a blog site that I created a few years ago after starting Girl Geek Dinners where I could create and bring together interesting geeky content to inspire others to use, play with and enjoy. I wanted to create a fun and energetic environment where anyone male or female could feel like they were in a little geeky world. Which is where the name of the site GirlyGeekdom came from. The promotion of women geeks is only part of what we do on the site but it does bring together issues from around the world and hopefully move beyond that to bring sensible conclusions and a route forward. One thing I didn’t want the site to be was a list of complaints and issues with no attempt at finding solutions.

To help encourage more females into the industry we let them know about awards and intiatives that identify great female role models. We interview interesting people from the tech industry when we come across them and place them into our inspire series of video’s. We also have regular competitions supported by industry sponsors to get young people interacting with our site. We have both serious and non-serious content and we have a range of volunteer writers from around the world submitting great inspirational articles.

4) What are some tools you can recommend for getting un interested students interested in science careers.

One of the great recent tools to get young people interested in science based careers is to mix some of the things they already love doing with science. So for example recently I was introduced to the Manga Guide series which is basically a merge of manga stories with scientific based content in a fun non-science based story approach. This sort of thing is great for getting those who haven’t considered science as fun to look at it in a different way but still with the opportunity to learn more about it!

Other tools include advice on how to work your way through the University Clearing process, including all the links to useful sites recommended by the UK govornment etc. If you don’t get your first choices for uni, then why you should consider computer science or similar subjects as a suitable alternative!

5) How important is work life balance for you? What do you do to de stress.

Work life balance is very important to me and I get a LOT of requests on my time regarding both GirlyGeekdom, Girl Geek Dinners, my day job, friends, family and my hobbies. As such I have to tread a very fine balancing act to ensure that I meet expectations in all of those areas. A large part of doing that is actually to set reasonable expectations with each group of people with regard to my time and availability. I’m actually very lucky as my work isn’t too far from home and as such I do get to spend time there.

I work for a start up company called TweetMeme as their Community Manager so I’m on the internet daily looking after their community. I also do a lot of things outside of that. I tend to rest at lunchtime and take the breaks that I need. I don’t tend to work through every break I get as I’ve tried that in the past and that just tires me out. Instead I tend to time box things. So work is generally my standard office hours. I use my phone for emails on the go and tend to keep up with those then and when I’m at home cooking my tea! (Multi tasking works well!) I keep weekends free for friends and family as much as I can and evenings are a combination of GirlyGeekdom, Girl Geek Dinners, social events for work and spending time with family or relaxing.

In terms of what I do to de-stress… I do a range of things. I’m a member of a really nice gym which has some beautiful swimming pools which I love! So you’ll find me in the gym or the pool if it’s been a particularly crazy week. Or alternatively enjoying a good film at home or a good book and some relaxing music. Then at the weekends you’ll find me doing the more fun stuff that takes time to do! So I’m into rock climbing, white water kayaking, kite surfing and diving. In the summer I also get back into my roller blading!

6) Can we expect a Girly Geekdom in United States. What about a book?

In terms of a GirlyGeekdom in the US… well if someone from the US wants to write on the site they are always welcome, they just need to ask. We already have Girl Geek Dinners out there in 9 different locations, so there’s nothing to stop more of them happening. I’d love to do a Girl Geek conference which may well be called GirlyGeekdom but I don’t think that will be 2010… but it could be a 2011 possibility! As for a book! That’s an interesting question. I’ve considered it but right now I don’t have the time to write one, so if I did then it would probably be a combination of blog posts and ideas or the how to guide on GIrl Geek Dinners.

About SARAH-

Contacts who are into the new media space can contact her through Twitter or via LinkedIn. For those who are into the more traditional channels of communication then you can contact Sarah via e-mail. A more detailed perspective is given on her blog here.

Interview Evan Levy Baseline Consulting

Here is an interview with Evan Levy, founder of one of the best and most practical business consultancy Baseline Consulting. The lower the bull-shit the better the consultant ( forgive my ….) Read here why Baseline’s frank and fast technology acumen have made it a rising star in the this fast growing field.

Businesses realize that there’s more to information delivery than just distributing reports; companies rely on data analysis to support operational decision making.- Evan Levy

Ajay- Describe your career in science and technology.

Evan Levy- My formal “science and technology career” started during college. I received degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Duke University. While in school, I had several programming jobs both on and off campus: a systems integration team within a large government contractor; a research study within the Psychology Department; and the university Computation Center. After graduation, I worked at a database computer startup (Teradata) for several years beforeco-founding Baseline Consulting. I’ve been here 18 years.

Ajay- How would help solve the problem of chronic technology worker shortage in the United States?.

Evan- I think the “technology worker shortage” in the US is a problem with multiple facets. I don’t think it can be addressed simply by “throwing bodies” at the problem. I tend to view IT as two distinct areas: processing operations and information delivery. Processing operations includes the development and maintenance of all of the operational computing platforms (applications, mainframes, servers, desktop systems, processing infrastructure, etc.) Information delivery focuses on a company’s data and the associated integration and analytical infrastructure (data integration, analysis tools, processing platforms, etc.)

There’s been a fundamental shift in operational systems development over the past 15 years. The belief that most companies had unique, specialized business processes requiring custom developed applications proved unrealistic. The costs, resources, and long timelines associated with these activities weren’t practical in today’s business environment. Most companies have been willing to shift to “packaged applications” that allowed them to evaluate and trade business process customization for time. This has caused skills within development teams to change dramatically; the need for business process and data analysis skills has exploded.

The growth and adoption of business analysis as a core business capability has also changed the approach to technology development. The time of distributing standard reports across the company in the weekly or monthly format simply isn’t sufficient any more. Businesses realize that there’s more to information delivery than just distributing reports; companies rely on data analysis to support operational decision making. Detailed data analysis and exception reporting isn’t a luxury, it’s become part of the core business functions required by most companies. This has caused business users to become much more sophisticated in data analysis – and it has caused a need for IT to expand their focus from simply providing applications to having to provide detailed data to business users.

I think these two changes have caused a significant shift in the “technology worker shortage”. I don’t think we’re living in the time where the application is the key business asset for companies. I think folk are beginning to realize that the key asset is data. The only way to address the backlog in applications is to fundamentally shift how we approach the problem. Our users are learning to solve their problems with desktop tools; we need to be able to deliver detailed data to them in a more efficient manner.

The only way to address this challenge is for the technology worker to become educated on their users’ business practices and methods. I don’t think throwing thousands of programmers at the issue will solve the current problem. I think we need to capitalize on the skills that already exist within our user communities and position IT resources to make them more self sufficient. I don’t think there’s any short cut to building and maintaining operational applications; programmers will always be needed for that. However, in the growth area of business and data analysis, I think we need to take an entirely different tact. We need to make users more self-sufficient with data.

Ajay- Unemployment in the United States is now touching 10 % yet millions of jobs that went overseas remain there. How good or bad has the technology sector been affected by offshoring compared to other sectors.

Evan- I’m no economist, so I’m afraid I can’t offer much of an opinion regarding the impact of offshoring technology jobs. I do know that in business, there will always be a desire to build and deliver products in as cost-efficient a manner as possible. We’ve seen numerous industries expand through offshoring and outsourcing. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the technology industry is maturing in much the same manner as every other industry. We all expect companies to stay competitive through managing costs; offshoring and outsourcing is an accepted practice.

I think the impact to offshoring and outsourcing will continue to impact the technology sector. We continue to see companies reevaluate their technology investments. As some technologies mature, evolve, and become commodities, I suspect we’ll continue to see jobs associated with those technologies to be outsourcd.

I think the challenge to those of us that work within the technology industry is to continually invest and grow our skills. As any industry matures, the products transition from being specialized to commodities. Look at the internet and web applications and tools. Prior to 2000, building even a simple website proved expensive and resource intensive. Today, most anyone with fundamental pc skills can build their own website. This industry has collapsed in size – but many continue in that space because they’ve grown and expanded their skills. A look at the sophistication of today’s websites reflects this shift.

Ajay- What data solutions would you recommend for the United States government to better channel its stimulus spending.

Evan- I actually think the government has taken an interesting approach with some aspects of the current stimulus spending. I can’t remember when it was possible for any of us to quickly determine where and how federal money was distributed. Today, there are several websites that provide detailed information identifying individual projects and their related funding levels. I wish this type of detailed data was made available for federal spending related to Hurricane Katrina, or the activities in Iraq or Afghanistan. It would provide clarity to where our tax dollars go and raise visibility to the inappropriate distribution of funds.

It think it would be valuable that any and all government spending to be made available to the public in a simple online manner.

Ajay- Do you think Business Intelligence is a male dominated sector. If so, why?

Evan- I’m not sure BI is any more male-dominated than any other IT area. But I’ll say one thing: we need more women in IT. It’s not about gender-specific skills or even about unique talents. It’s just about balance and perspective. Some of my best friends are women! Seriously, I think women do bring some cultural and knowledge assets to the table that just make the overall environment better for everyone. The women who work for me are so exceptional that I should probably be working for them.

When it comes to BI, Cindi Howson—a BI thought leader in her own right and someone who knows a LOT about the vendor space—wrote a great blog post about women in BI. It mentions my partner Jill, whom you interviewed a few months ago. Jill and Cindi are only two of a stellar group of women in BI. (I’d call them “BI babes” but I’d be seriously hurt if I did that.) But I think Cindi’s blog says it all.

Ajay- What do you for relaxing? How important are hobbies and family life for busy career professionals.

Evan- I’m a strong believer in the balance of work and play. My colleagues and staff at Baseline work hard with our clients. Many of our client projects require time and travel flexibility that doesn’t align with the traditional 9—5 world. It’s important for individuals to spend time with their friends and families – to enjoy the things that are outside of their jobs. Personally I spend my time volunteering with the YMCA. It’s a life-long cause for me, and the source of many of my best friendships.

Ajay-  What are your views on mis-selling in consulting- selling something which you are not really an expert of. Does this happen in your opinion in BI.

Evan- That’s a pretty interesting question. I’m sure we all know about situations where an aggressive sales person made impractical promises to address business challenges and established unrealistic expectations. Individuals are driven by their company’s incentive system. I find that when a company rewards its team members on client satisfaction and project success (instead of simply the numbers), mis-selling rarely occurs. I often recommend that our clients ask their suppliers how their sales people and client teams are rewarded. We often see those questions in RFPs.

Most of the consulting problems we see aren’t related to aggressive selling, but simply a gap between the requirements and the solution. While this sounds trite – we often find that the solution providers don’t fully understand the problem they are solving. Whether it’s because the problem wasn’t well understood (by the solution provider) or well analyzed and described (by the prospect) is sometimes impossible to determine; it’s usually a combination of both.

Preventing (or limiting) these surprises is very doable; short-term and small deliverables, frequent and thorough project reviews, and measureable acceptance criteria is a good place to start.

I’ll be the first to admit that at Baseline, we’re much better at delivery than we are at sales. This means that we don’t chase deals, but when we get them we deliver. We like to delight our clients. And our consultants really know their stuff. Because of that we have great client references, for which we’re grateful.

Biography

Evan Levy is a partner and co-founder of Baseline Consulting. Evan has spent his career leading both practitioners and executives in delivering a range of IT solutions. In addition to his executive management responsibilities at Baseline, he regularly oversees high-profile systems integration projects for key clients such as Charles Schwab, Verizon, State of Michigan, and CheckFree.

Evan also advises software vendors in the areas of product planning, and continues to counsel the executive and investment communities in applying advanced technologies to key business initiatives. Evan has been known to shave off his beard on a bet. He can whistle most of the songs in the Sesame Street oeuvre, has a thing for silicone kitchen implements, and helped design the data warehouse at one of those superstores that is inevitably coming to a neighborhood near you.

Author

Evan writes frequently for leading industry publications, focusing on the financial payback of IT investments, architectural best practices, and data integration alternatives. He is a regular online contributor to DMReview.com and SearchDataManagement.com.

Evan is also co-author of the book, Customer Data Integration (John Wiley and Sons, 2006), which describes the business breakthroughs achieved with integrated customer data, and explains how to make CDI work. Evan also writes a regular blog for Baseline http://www.evanjlevy.com/

Industry Leader

Evan has been a thought leader at major industry and vendor conferences, including the American Marketing Association, DAMA International, MDM Summit, MDM Insight, and TechTarget conferences. He is a faculty member of TDWI and delivers regular presentations on data integration alternatives. Recent seminars have focused on the application of emerging technologies and use cases for master data management and data integration solutions.

Baseline Consulting, an acknowledged leader in information design and deployment, helps companies enhance the value of their enterprise data, improve business performance, and achieve self-sufficiency in managing data as a corporate asset. Baseline provides business consulting and technical implementation services in four practice areas: Data Warehousing, Data Integration, Business Analytics, and Data Governance. Founded in 1991 and headquartered in Los Angeles, California, Baseline changes how companies leverage information. To learn more, visit Baseline’s website at www.baseline-consulting.com.