by Michelle Malcher, Oracle Ace Director and OTNWIT member
Being part of the Oracle OpenWorld OTN Women in Technology (OTNWIT) panel was fun as we talked about education and technologies we work with. The focus was not on education for women’s issues or struggles in the workplace, but rather we shared how we became technologists and education on the opportunities in technology. The panel provided another chance to continue the discussions in the hallways and other presentations about the experiences I have working with databases and security. So, this blog might not necessarily be directly about WIT, but more about me being a WIT because of my experiences and background as a woman in technology. This does give me a different perspective to add to the conversation as someone coming from a different environment or dealing with different options can provide a unique viewpoint. It is about inclusion.
Being able to discuss technology and my passion, data security, is extremely enjoyable in an environment like Oracle OpenWorld. Some of the different approaches or viewpoints might not be something that I would ever consider in my environment, but that doesn’t mean that I should dismiss the comment or advice. There will always be someone telling me not to do something the way I am doing it. So, how do I respond to someone telling me that is the wrong way? I ask questions. There has to be a reason for their perspective. I want to understand. I might not agree with their reason which is completely acceptable, but why do they have that perspective?
In all my years as a data professional and technologist, I have seen many environments, some similar and others completely different--even, borderline weird. Each environment has raised questions. Like: "Why in the world is this configured this way that is so wrong?" "What was going on here?" Or even, "Are they insane and not even applying common sense?" Well, if I went into every environment with those blunt questions or jumped to the conclusion that these people "...shouldn’t be touching database systems..." I could miss out on a couple of things. First, I'd miss the opportunity to understand different ways of thinking and viewing the problem. Secondly, I wouldn't get the chance to appreciate that environments are different for a reason, whether due to how they were installed or the experience and resulting decisions of those managing it. Finally, I wouldn't get to build a team and relationships. Ignoring input from others would minimize the growth and development of the environment.
How does this environment and technology example apply to having a different opinion? Technology has answers, solutions with right and wrong ways of doing it, right? Definitely not. There are several ways to solve a problem, and one of the first decisions on the path to solving a problem is choosing how to dismiss opinions and options or accept them. It really does come down to understanding why, and not only understanding why from the other side but being prepared to explain why from my point of view and experience. The discussion might persuade me to take a completely different path, to accept a change or to stick with the way I was planning on doing it. Imagine a team or group of people being able to feel comfortable having these discussions and whether their ideas are considered or dismissed, being willing to continue to participate and come back for more discussions. This is the goal of my interactions: to achieve this spirit of inclusion.
Here are helpful steps to foster inclusion --whether it's in projects, technology assessments or personal points of view:
- Seek to understand; ask why and other questions. (This is not my original idea, but from Steven Covey’s Habits of Highly Effect People)
- Realize that the other person has different experiences, views, maybe even culture that will influence their opinions and suggestions and respect their contribution.
- Be prepared to respectfully explain my opinions, suggestions and passions, but realize that I have different views, experiences and cultures or focus areas, like security, that will influence my input.
- Decide to accept, dismiss or change. If the discussion was seeking to understand, all of the parties involved will feel respected and part of the communication. The decision will be respected even if it is just accepted that there is disagreement or dismissed.
- Review and verify the decision. This sounds like testing, which it is. Does it work this way, and follow up to see if any thoughts have changed or what other opportunities are there.
I guess I use that last step with everything, and it is how I learn. It also gives me a chance to work with others and have a reason to follow up for any changes, adjustments or confirming we're on the same path. Oracle OpenWorld was a great opportunity to build my network with others from different environments, parts of the world and perspectives. The privilege of being on panels, presenting and being willing to have conversations allowed me to learn and grow. Respectfully acknowledging opinions and beliefs of others, (and realize that I have those as well) allowed me to be successful in having some great life and technology discussions that have already benefited my daily work life.
Michelle Malcher is a Senior Security Architect at Extreme Scale Solutions and is a well-known volunteer leader in security and database communities. Her deep technical expertise, from database to cloud appliances, as well as her senior level contributions as a speaker, author, Oracle ACE Director and customer advisory board participant have aided many corporations across architecture and risk assessment, purchasing, and installation, and ongoing systems oversight.