Inspirations for Women in Data Management

by Shannon Kempe

This article started at Enterprise Data World 2012 when Karen Lopez was a panelist on the talk, What to Look for at EDW this year – a Guide for Novices and Experts. The question posed to Karen was regarding how she got into data management, and the answer was simply, “I was born this way.” Karen went on to explain it was either her current career or be an astronaut. If you are familiar with Karen or are one of her current 6,310 followers on Twitter, you know that Karen has been invited to be actively involved with NASA press releases and such activities thanks to her tweets. She of course also maintains a blog on such space activities.

Karen went on to explain however, that as a girl, as a woman, she was discouraged from such passions.  Science and math, as explained to her, were not fields for women. And let’s keep in mind that Karen is not a Baby Boomer. She is Gen X. She is from a generation that is supposed to be past the hurdles of the feminist movement. Despite the discouragements however, Karen today is one of the most respected authorities on data management. Not one of the most respected women, one of the most respected authorities.

Inspired by Karen, DATAVERSITY went on to interview a few of the most inspirational women in data management, including Karen. Women who we hope will inspire more women to pursue their passion in data management and who we hope will inspire anyone who has come up against adversity in their careers, whether it is discrimination from sex, race, or any other form of discrimination.

Let’s start with Loretta Mahon Smith. Loretta is an Information Architect who has been in the Data Management industry for 28 years carrying a CDMP and a CBIP, and considers her area of expertise to be Data Architecture and Strategic Data Management.

Loretta’s initial response to an inquiry of being a part of this article was her own short story of adversity:

“I grew up in a small resort/fishing town in south Jersey.  When I was a senior in high school, in September I remember one specific moment of discrimination sitting in my college prep class for math.  There was an incredibly hard question, I knew the answer and put my hand up.  The teacher called on a boy who answered incorrectly.  I looked around the room at the 1/2 dozen young women with our hands up and realized that we all knew the right answer.  He called another boy, and continued to do so until he found one who knew the answer.”

When asked if she considered herself to be a geek in school, her answer was, “Absolutely!” Growing up? “Definitely.” Today? “Yes… a chic geek, but a geek nevertheless. I prefer calling myself a life-long-learner.”

Despite teachers who overlooked the smart girl in the class, Loretta has risen to master one of the industry’s most respected and desired job titles. Read Loretta’s full interview here.

Next, let’s chat with Christine Connors. Christine has a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. Her current job title is Founder and Principle Consultant for TriviumRLG LLC. Christine considers her career specialty to be Unstructured Data, and we at DATAVERSITY agree; so much so, we asked Christine to co-author the first DATAVERSITY research paper, Unstructured Data in the Enterprise, as well as speak at several webinars on the topic.

When asked how she got into the industry, Christine responded:

“The Fates made me do it! In all seriousness several events over a period of four or so years pointed me in this direction. When I was a technical librarian at Raytheon (yes – a real library with books and periodicals and reference questions!) one of the IT directors was tasked with overhauling our intranet search engine. Verity, the vendor, had just created its Intelligent Classifier product and offered it to us for the purpose of improving search through taxonomies and algorithmic classification. Keith, the IT Director in question was very good at networking and giving people work that fit their skills. He approached the librarian in HQ and asked, “Librarians are good with taxonomies, right?” Several of us were loaned to IT part-time to work on the project, and within two years I had transferred to IT. I dug deeper into human and machine processing of data, added deeper knowledge of semantic web technologies and learned about the broad spectrum of capabilities in the information architecture domain.”

When we asked Christine what her biggest challenge she’s faced so far in her career:

“Explaining what I do is the biggest challenge! It’s hard to find the right level to describe what I do. If I “dumb it down” too much I feel that I sound condescending. But I risk losing people or a boring them or scaring them with complexity if I get excited about some detail of the work.”

In an era where Big Data is headlining mainstream media, it is impossible to ignore the importance and need to document, store, and analyze Unstructured Data. Read Christine’s full interview here.

And last, but not least, we wrap up with a few quotes from our original inspiration, Karen Lopez. When asked how long she’s been in the industry and how she got here:

“I have officially stopped counting at twenty years.  All my bio slides now say “20+ years”.  At this point, I’m thinking of starting to count backwards to gain more credibility with my younger team members…

My undergraduate degree is in computer information systems, so I’d say I took a very traditional route.  On Women in Technology panels, I’m sometimes the only female that got here via a direct computing academic path.  I think women are more likely to say they “fell into” the IT profession than men, although many from both sexes come through non-traditional paths.

I specialized in database systems those 20 plus years ago, so maybe I wasn’t that traditional, though.”

Karen has not only gone on to overcome the hurdles put in her way, she has gone on to become an inspiration to young girls looking to get into science and math themselves. Karen created a doll with her own Twitter handle, @data_model, with puns included, which travels with her everywhere to represent the career woman in IT. She states the doll isn’t to inspire young girls as much as be used as a prop to communicate to parents on the importance of supporting their daughters in such endeavors and giving them the right role models. When asked how one gets involved in such a project:

“Well, the first thing to do is to follow her [@data_model] and @VenusBarbie on Twitter, then follow their Facebook page.

But ideally people who want to support Women in Technology would help influence schools, conferences and events to have open discussions about the issue.  Is it an issue we need to address?  What can we do?  What has worked? What hasn’t worked?  I’ve been on enough panels over the years to know that just having people speak from the stage isn’t enough.  The best WIT sessions at events are ones that engage the audience by sharing data on what the issue is and what people think should be done, then having a discussion that includes the audience as to what we can do.  We aren’t actually doing enough.

One of my favorite things to recommend is that audience members go talk to a girl about the great opportunities she can have if she pursues a career in IT or STEM.  A one-on-one conversation.  Not a huge event.  No a one day show. Just a discussion to let a girl know that there’s a spot for her, the jobs are great and pay well, relatively.  That she can change the world and doesn’t have to work alone typing code all day.  Unless she wants to. There are so many opportunities, such a variety of jobs in STEM, that there’s something for everyone.”

@Data_Model was spotted most recently by DATAVERSITY at our NoSQL Now! 2012 Conference with Neo Technology’s own Emil Eifrem.  For more, read Karen’s full interview here.

The homepage of Women in Technology states, “When one woman helps another, amazing things can happen.” We couldn’t agree more. We hope you’ll follow these great women and get involved in inspiring more great women and great people in data management.

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  4 comments for “Inspirations for Women in Data Management

  1. June Beddows
    September 12, 2012 at 9:34 am

    I was born in 1951, and after “O” levels attended a new school for sixth form studies as my family had moved to another town. On meeting the Head in the new school I was asked what I wanted to study for my “A” levels. When I replied that I wished to study Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry attempts were made to discourage me from this choice in favour of more conventional English, History, Geography as girls in this co-educational school did not study Science and Mathematics.
    Luckily I had the confidence to stick to my choice, and did go on to gain the prize for best Mathematics student and results, and equalled the best results achieved in Chemistry and Physics exams too.

    I studied Mathematics at University and went on to work successfully in computing, programming and systems analysis, thoroughly enjoying this work too. Girls can do this work very well, and we are just as capable in Mathematics and Science too.

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