11 Things I Should Have Done in 2011

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by Karen Lopez

Rather than write about my accomplishments over the last year, I’m going to write about all the things I should have been working on, but didn’t. I have lots of excuses: not enough hours, not enough days or too many other things to take care of.

These are the types of things that Stephen Covey wrote about in First Things First under the theme of “Big Rocks.”  Basically, if I’d spent just a few minutes every day adding these to my schedule, I would have accomplished more.

If I had just added them to my life, I’d be in a much better position sitting here at the end of 2011. I might even be richer, taller and thinner. Maybe even smarter.

1. Read more about Data

I had all these great intentions to read more about Big Data, Data Quality, Data Modeling, Data Visualizations, Data Science…well, you get the idea. I have a pile of such books next to my desk and filling my iPad. I also have subscriptions to digital libraries to many of them, too. So it wasn’t a lack of access that stopped me.

I also should have been more caught up on reading my RSS feeds of other data bloggers. What’s that you say? There aren’t really that many data bloggers? I agree. Why aren’t you blogging so that I can get better at catching up on reading your thoughts about data, life and the world?

2. Learned more French and Hindi

I have lots of resources right at my fingertips for learning French and not because I live in Canada. Here in Toronto French is way down the list of languages spoken by the general population. In fact, it’s 11th on the list after English, other European and several Asian languages.

Since almost all of the projects I’ve worked on in the last few years involved offshore teams, I’ve also been studying Hindi — not because I have to, but because it has been helpful. Did you know that Hindi uses the same word, kal, for yesterday and tomorrow? That explains a lot about some status updates that didn’t really pan out. I recommend you work this concept into your next status meeting.

I’d also like to learn some Mandarin. I’ve read in several places that if one learns Hindi and Mandarin (and sometimes French and Hindi), one can speak with half the world’s population.

Learning about languages helps me in internationalizing data designs. I know now that there are places in the world where people don’t have middle names, half the population has the same last name or where people only have one name. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Studying other languages and cultures makes my data models better.  While we are on this topic, stop making Postal Code all numeric in your designs.  The rest of the world will thank you.

I should have worked on a Mayan language, given that they are going to bring about the end of the world in late 2012.

3. Run more

Portland Marathon #SQLRunI’ve been an on-and-off runner since embarrassing my middle school track team as an 880 distance runner. Mostly off, I’d say. But a few years ago I decided that I was old enough to not care about how fast I ran and signed up for a few races. This year I ran my second and third half marathons. One of them was with a group of other data professionals, even. My goals for both of them were to just finish upright and smiling. I did, in both races. But I want to start having some time goals and that means training differently. It also means running more and cross training more.  Just like with IT training, I have to train for speed differently than training for completion.

Running has been a good stress-reliever and I certain know that the life of an architect in the fast-paced, agile/SCRUM/anything goes world of what they call system development methods these days leads to a lot of stress. Running is also one of those things that I can do anywhere, even while traveling. I just need a way to fit those giant running shoes in my carry-on bag and I’m set.

I love the gadgets I use when I run: my Garmin GPS watch, my Runmeter app that reads Tweets people are sending me while I run and my fitbit that collects and stores data bout how many steps I took in a day, how far I traveled and how many calories I burned. This helps me measure and monitor my progress and predict future performance. Larry English and his stopwatch would be proud, I hope.

4. Develop a Million Dollar App

It seems that everyone is doing this these days. Even teenagers. If I could just find a way to build an app that ties together data and space together in a way that everyone would want to hand over their hard-earned cash for, then I’d be set. Or I could just write one that lets cats play a game on my iPad. One of those would work and I’m afraid it’s only the cat one.

5. Read the Scriptures

I could probably do with reading all kinds of good books, but here I mean the writings of Codd, Chen, Date and Zachman. I’ve read all these in the past, but I think I may have read too much vendor documentation between then and now. Terminology has been twisted and refactored so much in practice that it pays to go back and read the original theory from time to time. Hear that Microsoft with your “Entity Framework” and Access “database”?

Most of these good works are available at the ACM Library and at Amazon. It’s a much better value to join ACM and sign up for the library subscription that it is to buy them one off at an online bookstore. Also, check out access via corporate subscription services, too.

6. Perfect cloning techniques

Even though I attended many events in 2011 (Enterprise Data World, SQLSaturdays, SQLRally, DAMA Days, PASS Summit, NIEM National Training Event and more), I still missed many of the key data-related conferences like the Semantic Technologies conference that would have exposed me to emerging technologies and best practices. If I could just clone myself I could have been a the many overlapping events that happened in 2011. I think that might have allowed me to complete more of the other items on the list.

7. Install more DBMSs and Technologies

I should have taken the time to play with research the newest versions of SQL Server, DB2, Oracle, MySQL, Postgress, Hadoop, MongoDB, SQL Server Azure and ….well all the 10 million other databases/non-databases out there. Sure, I can’t know them all, but getting hands-on with new tools and features is the best way to understand the Next Big Thing we’ll have to design for. That’s hands-on, working with real, non-trivial problem sets. These technologies are coming to a project near you soon, if they haven’t already. You don’t won’t to be the only one in the room, especially as the data professional, saying “Hadoop? Is that a character from Dr. Seus?”

8. Stalked Astronauts Bought Real Estate in Cocoa Beach

@Astro_Luca, @datachick and @VenusBarbieI actually did do some astronaut stalking this past year. I spent a lot of time in Cocoa Beach, Florida this year, not to mention Cologne, Germany. All these visits were about watching launches of humans and rockets into space…and meeting smart people collecting and using data from beyond Earth’s boundaries.  I think over the year I was fortunate enough to meet more than 25 former and active astronauts, not to mention key members of NASA, CSA, and ESA teams. I even attended, virtually, the NASA IT conference.

Did you know that data.nasa.gov offers more than 1200 data sets for you to use? One of my favorites it the Great Images in NASA (GRIN) data set. Perfect for playing with those new database features in item 5 above.

We are still sending people into space, just not from Florida right now.  Heck, NASA sent 3 more astronauts to the International Space Station just last week.  So while the space coast real estate market is good for buyers right now, there are still unmanned missions launching from there in 2012.  All for collecting massive amounts of data about our world.

 9. Interacted with machines more often, so they know me better when they take over

Sure, I’m known for my love of gadgets. One of my favorites is my Xbox with Kinect. I primarily use it for sports and exercise . And yes, it collects and stores data about my workouts and play.  What I’m most excited about Kinect, though, is the expansion of its controller-less interfaces to other applications.

Imagine zooming in or out or double-clicking to drill down into the metadata of a table without having to use anything but your own hands in front of a projected display of your model. Or laying out your data model by just standing in front of your model and moving the entities with your hands. That’s what I want. When we later find out that Kinect forms a union at Cyberdyne Systems and becomes Skynet, I’ll be ready.

10. Loved My Data More

I think I did a decent job loving the data I was supposed to, but I could have done more. I could have tested more restores of databases (because you don’t really need backups; what you need are restores). I could have done more data profiling to see what data was lurking inside those columns with a name like description or notes. I could have tested my designs more, to ensure that they performed as well as I thought they would and that they could store the data they should have.

11. Kicked my procrastination habit

I’m going to start on this one next. I promise.

Love Your Data

What do all these things have in common? DATA.

Let’s make sure that when we are together again, at the end of 2012 (assuming the Mayans were wrong) that we don’t have a similar long list of regrets. Love Your Data.



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