Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Techie Timeline

In my career (of >32 years) in the information technology industry, I’ve had a front row seat witnessing the amazing evolution of computing technology.  I've also had an opportunity the lead the transformation with computing technology on many occasions.  Below are just a few reflections of my time from the 1980s to now (2016) - my techie timeline.
  • I've connected a telephone handset to a computer coupler to "dial in" to connect to the mainframe computer remotely to work.
  • At Texas A&M University, I had the opportunity to flip switches on a historical computer to perform a single arithmetic operation.
  • I have punched cards, waiting in line for the card reader and then the program code compile and execution.
  • I’ve stood in line at Texas A&M University computer centers during “happy hour” (or worked after midnight, a privilege for grad students) in order to use the computer for free. 
  • I learned 14 computer programming languages to be surprised that I'd need 5 more in my job.
  • I taught high school math and FORTRAN programming to university undergrad engineers, but later managed training in my company's US data centers and helped define the job roles, skills requirements, and skill development activities for >60K managed operations personnel globally.
  • A big  factor in my first job selection was the assignment of my "own" computer
  • I've supported software that ran in many operating systems (e.g., MVS, DOS, VTAM, TCAM, VSAM, CICS) and the early PCs (e.g., the IBM XT, the IBM AT).
  • I've helped develop and supported software products that shipped on floppy disks.
  • My Mom insists on keeping the PCJr that I bought for her, with the sidecars attached to provide 256K in memory.
  • I developed online computer-assisted instructional systems before anyone thought of Coursera.
  • I created early expert systems before anyone thought of Watson.
  • I supported paper-based employee opinion surveys, reading completed paper questionnaires through the Scantron, validating open-end comments manually entered on the computer, and maintaining JCL and code to print millions of pages of reports to deliver to managers.  
  • I lead a project to move from paper-based surveys to online surveys in the US in my company,  eventually supporting survey servers and questionnaires on 36 mainframe computers. This work led to my dissertation topic (nonresponse and response effects in online organizational surveys) and (eventually) to a face-to-face interview at corporate headquarters with the company's CIO to win my former job role as  research manager for the Global Employee IT Satisfaction Survey (for 10 years). 
  • As a research project manager, I've paid consultants hundreds of thousands of dollars to manually code and to analyze open-end survey comments over a decade. However, I won an internal innovation competition that came with funding to enable me to use text analytics software to eliminate manual coding, reducing the categorization from several weeks to less than an hour.  I now regularly use the software to perform data mining, data cleaning, and identification of insights within multiple types of data (e.g., survey responses, employee social media posts, public social media posts, "jam" or crowdsourcing application posts, online search terms, chat transcripts). 
It's been an amazing journey -- I'm looking forward to enjoying the next eras.

(Image credit:  forrestercomputing.wikispaces.com) 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Caution - A new adventure ahead, with many choices

During our lives, we regularly make decisions around multiple priorities, having to choose among many competing priorities,  from the demands of the work, the career, health, and family.   It's very tough achieving the complex work-life balance.  I'm at a crossroad in life -- where's the road is totally open and there are multiple paths for selection.   I've done my time at work, achieving the point in my career that I can choose to walk away on my own terms.  Although change can be scary, I'm really excited for the future.   I think there are lots of opportunities within the field of analytics (e.g., text analytics, data mining), hopefully on short-term projects or those that can be done part-time.  And, I hope to return to the classroom, where I began, to share my knowledge, experiences, and expertise in global survey research management, analytics, data mining, text analysis, social media analytics, etc.   However, I look forward to making my health, family, friends, and service a higher priority in my life.  As they say, the ball's in my court -- I get to choose the time to work and where I'll put my focus.  A new adventure is ahead -- with lots of choices.  

Women working in technology

I've spent over 32 years working in the information technology field.  I love this picture of the ENIAC, one of the earliest computers, because it features two women.  Two women influential to my success really stand out when I see this picture.   When I was at Texas A&M working on my Masters degree, I had the pleasure of studying and working with Dr Sallie Sheppard.  She actually was in the first graduating class of women at Texas A&M University.   It was great meeting her for lunch some 12 or so years later when I attended a university recruiting event there for my employer.  She has been a great role model to me.  I'm also proud to have worked under Dr Cathleen Norris at the University of North Texas.  She was also amazing in helping me to successfully jump through all those challenging hoops in the completion of my dissertation to attain my PhD. 

The paths for women working in technology have not always been smooth.  Even in my own career, I can recall many instances that should not have occurred:
  • One interviewer should not have told me that he hesitated to hire me, fearing that I'd eventually "disappear" from work on maternity leave 
  • Another interviewer should not have told me that the job would be very rough -- and wondered if I could handle it -- because the last thing all the men wanted back at the office was for him to hire a "the b-word" (yes, he said it)   
  • I was fortunate to start my career at a company in a department with numerous, young, bright, professional women in technology.  However, within 3 years I transferred to a department of more "seasoned" IT professionals.  It seemed to be a constant battle initially to get challenging assignments that actually used my programming skills.  One of the first assignments from my team leader was the entry of the entire team's timecards into the system, plus logging online their project data from paper forms each member was required to complete weekly.  
  • In the early days of my career, there was a strict dress code (e.g., suits and ties for men, skirts and  jackets for women).   One manager kept extra ties in his office for the day that any staff member thought a tie would not be necessary (e.g., when packing boxes in preparation for a move).  That manager also struggled with the thought of women wearing slacks / dress pants in the office (even a "pant suit" with a matching jacket).   I recall a very long list of items - the criteria for approved business casual attire for the two women in the department.  I don't recall every item on the list, but the slacks could not be cotton, could not have a cuff, the seams must be inside (not out), must be dry-clean only, etc.  At first I was annoyed, but then amused when I looked around and none of my male peers met all the criteria.  I simply asked the manager to walk us through the building and to show us examples of the proper attire so that we could comply.  As we wandered down each hall, it became very obvious to him that none of his male employees could meet the criteria that he demanded of us.  It eventually worked out.  
  • We still hear that women make less than men who perform the same job.   It would be hard to prove (or disprove) that in my job -- where the salaries are "secret" and no one discloses them.  However, one day I was saddened on a day that I eagerly anticipated a nice raise for work well done -- to be told that the increase could only be given to either me or a male peer.  The manager then told me that he chose to give the raise to the male peer, specifically because he was married with  children.  That was his only reason that I did not get an increase that year.  
I hate to say this, but women often don't make it easy for other women in their jobs.  I suppose that it is not specific to the IT industry.   I guess some are the original "mean girls" in school that grow up and go to work.  Some seem to travel through their careers "as a clan" supporting each other's successes.  However, I've witnessed some horrible behavior by women that should not have occurred, including claiming another woman's (remote and initially unaware) job when a new manager was assigned at the site, providing an informal "Thanks!" award to a peer for great work and then immediately telling the manager that she'd like the peer to be removed from the project due to performance, a woman exec trying to coerce (and later punish) a female employee for not falsely recommending her proposal to her manager that was clearly unsupported by research, stealing intellectual property and passing another woman's work as her own, and convincing her employee to give her the "free" speaker's conference ticket and then being a no-show and refusing to cover the employee's cost to attend, to name a few.  Some probably still think that they "got away with it" without anyone noticing.    Each situation presented an opportunity to rise above their demonstrated bad behavior and to grow...and to succeed despite their actions.   There's a popular book on leadership (Lions Don't Need to Roar) -- personally, I'm glad to be leaving the lion's den after over 32 years.