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New Year Aspirations – Annette Allen – WiT

Thanks for agreeing to do this Annette, with your SQL Saturday event only a few weeks away thing must be really hectic. I really do appreciate your time!

Before we start on the main part of the interview, tell us all a little about yourself.

I’m married to Jonathan Allen (@Fatherjack) and live in Devon, which is a beautiful part of the world.  I split my spare time three ways between being involved in the SQL Community, riding and training show jumpers and being a British Showjumping Course Builder!!   I am also in the process of writing a series of articles on www.simple-talk.com on SSIS aimed at the new user.



How did you start in SQL Server?

When I left college I had no idea what I wanted to do so started working as an office junior.  Whilst there I started trying to computerise everything I could, this was whilst most systems were on mainframes!!  I stayed with my first company for nearly 9 years then realised I wanted to spread my wings a bit.  I ended up being offered a job in a London based law firm who offered to train me in SQL and that’s where it started.  I stayed there for 18 months then decided to move to the South West and was recruited to work for a Cornwall based Not For Profit Organisation and was interviewed by a certain Jonathan Allen and the rest, as they say, is history.


This interview is going to be mainly focusing on Women in Technology in the U.K.  Before we start that though feel free to blatantly plug the event you and your husband Jonathan are running….

Jonathan and I had been thinking of organising an event in the South West and thought a SQL Saturday would be a good way to go.  Following the success of SQL Saturday Cambridge we received permission and off we went.  We have a great line of speakers on Friday 8th March running 5 precon sessions and 28 awesome sessions scheduled for the free day on Saturday 9th March.  There is still limited space available on both days but I’d suggest getting bookings in sooner rather than later.  There is an early bird rate for the precon which ends on 31st January.  Registration for the precon is here http://www.sqlsouthwest.co.uk/sqlsaturday_precon.htm and for the Saturday it’s here http://www.sqlsaturday.com/194/eventhome.aspx.


Have you seen any or experienced any problems working in I.T. during your career?

None, however I think that in some companies women do have a tough time in I.T., I have only ever worked in male dominated environments and sometimes the conversation topics makes me think the men forget that women are around. I was also talking to colleagues about this and one of them said that they recently watched a training video which suggested documentation should be like “explaining something to your wife” if this is the attitude of any of the men then there is work to be done to resolve it.


I’ve worked in an office where I was the only guy and it was brilliant, I was invited to dinner parties and had 3 surrogate mums, it was a weird but enjoyable experience! What actions would you recommend to someone who feels they are being treated unfairly?

It would depend on where the issue is coming from but if your Line Manager is involved then I would recommend going to their Line Manager or your Personnel/HR department whichever you feel is appropriate.  I have been in the fortunate position of never needing it, but I have intervened on a colleague’s behalf and requested the Personnel department take action. To their credit they reacted promptly and resolved the situation.


In the UK I have seen more and more women coming to SQL Server events over the last few years, notably SQLBits have you seen a similar theme at events and within the IT industry?

I have to confess to only really getting involved in the community in the last few years and am always surprised at the low number of women involved.  At SQL Saturday Exeter we have less than 10 women registered out of more than 130 bookings to-date.

We had no submissions from women speakers at SQL Saturday Exeter and I understand that there has only been four UK based women speakers present at SQL Bits, which I think means that some action needs to be taken.


What can be done about encouraging women speakers?

This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently especially since finalising the schedule for SQL Saturday Exeter. I have therefore decided to try to set up a mentoring programme to encourage new speakers both male and female by assigning them a Mentor who can help them get started, point them in the direction of resources available to help and in general be there to support them.  Ideally I hope to put people in touch who live close enough together so that the Mentor can be with the Mentee when they first present, whether that’s a 5 minute lightning talk at a local User Group or a full session at SQL Bits.


What if anything do you think is stopping people from joining our industry?

I don’t know really. As you can see I stumbled into it, however I think if I’d known that this was something that I was quite good at I may have actually followed a career path rather than just seeing where it took me.  The industry is rapidly changing and I find that really exciting.


Do you think things like PASS’s Women in Technology has helped raise awareness?

I’m sure it must help.  It’s International Womens Day on 8th March, which is the day before our SQL Saturday so Jen Stirrup has kindly offered to come and facilitate a lunchtime chat in the Community area on Networking with a bias towards Women in Technology which I hope will prove interesting and popular.


Where should people go to find out more information about this subject if they wish to help?

There are various websites out there for example http://www.womenintechnology.org/ and http://www.witi.com/ and of course PASS have a Women In Technology Virtual Chapter http://wit.sqlpass.org/ where there is continuing discussion and help on the subject.


Finally, what are your ambitions for 2013 both for yourself and for SQL South West?

As far as SQL South West is concerned Jonathan and I would like to continue to increase our membership, we are quite a small user group it has to be said, but one effect of running this SQL Saturday is that we are picking up a few new members. We would also like to encourage our members to start more speaking.  One of our members, Dave Green, has already started this. Dave presented at SQL in the City in 2012 and is presenting at our SQL Saturday, but we hope to start “Lightning Talk” sessions at our User Group to encourage more of our members to stand up and talk.  One of the key things with speaking, that people shouldn’t  forget, is that if there is something that they found interesting or difficult then there is every likelihood that there is someone else who will feel the same and therefore they should talk and present about it.

Personally, I hope to kick start my mentoring programme and have new speakers registered by the end of the year.  I’ve blogged about my plans at http://www.simple-talk.com/blogs/2013/01/28/looking-for-some-women/ For more information and to register go to www.sqlsouthwest.co.uk/mentoring.


Thanks for your time Annette and all the best for SQLSaturday Exeter and the rest of 2013!
You can find out more about Annette at www.SQLSouthWest.co.uk and http://www.simple-talk.com/author/annette-allen-/.

Following this post from a syndicated source and want to read other interviews in the series? The anchor post for this series can be found here.

Richard Douglas

Richard Douglas is a SQL Server Professional working in the UK where he recently worked as a DBA in women's clothing, not literally he hastens to add! He is certified in SQL Server 2008, runs the Maidenhead SQL Server User Group Pass Chapter and is on the organising committee for SQL Relay. In his spare time plays the trumpet in local symphony orchestras.

His online presence includes:


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