Remembering My Family’s Ada Lovelace, Aunt Nancy


A picture of my Aunt Nancy in 2015This year for Ada Lovelace Day, I want to share my Aunt Nancy with you. A year ago on this day, I was preparing to head to Huntsville, AL to attend her memorial service. I had been unable to attend her husband’s memorial earlier in the year and I wasn’t going to miss saying good bye to her.

It started, as it always does in the South, with all of us gathering for BBQ on the outskirts of Huntsville. Like all good BBQ joints, Greenbrier Restaurant is not fancy. However, it does serve great BBQ. What was even better was reconnecting with extended family, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades.

The reason is that my Aunt Nancy is my mother’s aunt. We spent so much of my time growing-up in Navy towns that when it came time to see family, we barely had time to see grandparents and great-grandparents, much less the extended family. We primarily saw aunts, uncles, and cousins at family events.

Like Aunt Nancy’s memorial.

So as everyone entered Greenbrier Restaurant, there were introductions, “My how you’ve grown!” and people calling me by my father’s name at least once. We all shared the highlights of the last 20 years except those at the “grandkids” table. They all caught up on the last few months.

I sat with the older generation for a few reasons. The first was because as the oldest cousin of two oldest cousins, I wanted to sit with the other Gen Xers. The second was because I wanted to hear more stories.

But we’ll get to some of those. The largest outcome was planning our trip to the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center the next day.

I Didn’t Know Huntsville Had Tall Buildings

One of the two Saturn V rockets in Huntsville, this one outside showing off it's massive height. Notice the "short" treesThat was my thought as we drove into town that day. What I was seeing rising out of the horizon was a Saturn V rocket. Those are big. When you see it on its side in Cape Canaveral, you don’t fully appreciate how tall it is. You definitely think it is big but you have trouble picturing its true height until you see it standing upright.

And Aunt Nancy’s husband, John, was on the engineering team that built the guidance system for the rocket.

An Auburn engineer, he had moved up to Huntsville in 1960 as NASA was just getting started. He moved there with Nancy who left behind her engineering job to move and focus on the family that was just beginning with my cousin Ann.

I got to here many stories as we wandered around the Rocket Center with Nancy and John’s kids and grandkids. I heard about Nancy and John meeting in Auburn while she was the lone woman in Auburn’s Electrical Engineering program. John was attracted to her because, he claims, she understood quadratic equations. As apocryphal as that is, John definitely appreciated how smart Nancy was. This was a good thing because she was not one to hide her capabilities.

They got married in 1952 and after college, Nancy got a job as an draftsman. I’m intentionally calling the role draftsman. This is because at one point, she was discussing becoming a senior draftsman and she was told it wasn’t going to happen.

She could not, and would not, be promoted.

The reason? She was a woman. Of course, they all had faith in her ability. However, they knew that the men would never take direction from her. You see, they didn’t want to promote her into a position where she would be setup to fail. It wasn’t her, it was them. The other draftsmen.

An Example To Us All

Nancy went on to have a more hands-on engineering position elsewhere but in 1960, when John had the opportunity to join NASA, leaving behind her “career” wasn’t as hard of a choice as it should have been.My mom (who has a PhD in biochemistry) and I at the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center

Nancy went on to have a long and wonderful life. She has four kids including three daughters. Two are working as engineers today, one for Boeing and the other for Lockheed Martin. They are all amazing women and their mother, as well as the rest of the family, is proud of what they have accomplished in their lives. What they have achieved is, in no small part, due to the encouragement, love, and support from Aunt Nancy who set the example for them and our entire family, including my mom and Aunt Jackie.

Of course she did much more. She and John dove into amateur radio. In fact, when I mentioned this to an old neighbor, her recalled talking to her. They both kept learning, taking classes at the University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH). She instilled her love of reading and for continuing education that is clearly evident among her kids and grandkids.

She Is Missed

My Aunt Nancys drafting kit is impressive and comfortingMy Aunt Nancy is missed. This past August, I went to visit her oldest daughter in Seattle. There she showed my Aunt Nancy’s drafting kit from Auburn, back when it was still officially Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API). It was an amazing thing to hold in my hands. While in Seattle, the two of us went through Aunt Nancy’s genealogy research. Her research was thorough and well documented. Here attention to detail from her engineering days served her well throughout life.

Every chance I get, I remind my kids about their Aunt Nancy and Uncle John. I want to remind them that math, engineering, and the other STEM fields are not only an option for them, it is part of their heritage. They don’t have to follow in those footsteps, but opting-out needs to be by their choice.

And while the world my Aunt Nancy is much more forgiving for women technologists, it isn’t fixed yet. We have a pipeline of women entering different STEM fields. We need to fix the world in which we work so that that the Nancy’s of this world don’t abandon the field because it is just easier to do something else.

Book Review: Switch


Picture of the cover of "Switch" by Chip Heath and Dan HeathI’ve been reading a lot of history instead of industry books lately. I finally decided to pick up an industry book and grabbed Switch off of my pile. I received a copy of it years ago at some event and had been meaning to read it. Recently, several people have mentioned it on Twitter and I took that as a sign that I should finally read it.

I’m glad that I did.

Written by Chip and Dan Heath, Switch covers the ins-and-outs of change management. Having practiced change management as part of projects for 20 years, I saw a lot of truth in this book. The way the authors break it down into core components to help you identify what you can do to help change people’s behavior is well thought out.

The quick summary: if you work on digital transformation projects or any information project where people have to change their everyday routine, I highly recommend this book. Even if you have done change management in the past, this book will help you take a more structured approach to achieving change.

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Data, Content, Information, and Records Management


Information Coalition's initial view on the relationship between data, content, information, records, knowledge, and documentsThere are so many terms for the things that we manage everyday. Most people’s understanding of them are remnants of what was learned as we each entered the industry. This understanding has been expanded by how we use it in our daily life. The Information Coalition is working on their InfoBok that seeks to finally define these disciplines.

Recently, I was part of a twitter discussion with several people, primarily hailing from the web side of the content management world. It has been many years since I made the argument that the world of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) should include the Web Content Management (WCM) space. The worlds turned out to be connected but distinct. The uses of the word “content” and how it relates to information is evidence of that difference.

I thought I would take time to better share my thoughts where there were more than 280 characters to frame my thoughts. Hopefully, this will stir some more discussions.

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Book Review: The Right Way to Select Technology


The book, "The Right Way to Select Technology"This review is a long time in coming. I finished this book a while back but every time I would sit down to write the review a new crisis would emerge. I feel bad because Tony Byrne and Jarrod Gingras are two industry friends that I’ve known since my earliest days of writing the Word of Pie.

The Right Way To Select Technology describes a comprehensive approach to choosing technology products. It is in-depth and will do one of several things for you:

  • Make you realize how little you know about selecting technology
  • Convince you that you probably should hire help in running the selection process
  • Show you how you can make wiser technology decisions

I fell into the final group. I’ve been doing this for years across a range of products and additional skill development is always welcome. While no process will give you a 100% success rate, the components described by Tony and Jarrod will get you a lot closer to that magic number.

Before I go into detail, here’s the nitty-gritty takeaway: If you advise clients on technology selections, read this book. If you are running a technology selection for your company, get this book. If it is your first selection process, read it, hire help, and make sure the people you hire have read the book.

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Information Governance Can Limit Data Breaches But That Isn’t The Answer


 

Spocks Brain is Gone, the ultimate in data theftYou may have noticed that there has been a large amount of data and information leaking out into the universe lately. Between people not protecting information, breaking rules around information, or your classic data breach, our personal information is out there, without us, more than ever.

The one thing I hear after every breach is the call for better Information Governance or Records Management. As Don Lueders, whom I respect, put it,

So called ‘data breaches’ are thefts of information and, as such, they are first and foremost a traditional records management problem.  Until organizations understand this and include records management as a critical component of their long term cybersecurity strategy, data breaches – and the disastrous consequences they bring – will continue unabated.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, this is a false sense of security. Disposing of records will not keep you out of the headlines. It will only give you a false sense of security.

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Book Review: Designing Connected Content


Designing Connected ContentTwo book reviews in a row? Yep. As I said in my last review, I’m reading non-fiction a lot more now and I have a backlog of industry books to read. One of the authors of this book, Carrie Hane, is a good friend. I watched her work on Designing Connect Content for pretty much all of 2017. I was very excited to finally get my copy.

For years, Carrie and her co-author, Mike Atherton, have been talking about Designing Future Friendly Content. In the web world this means using a structured content model so that the management of the content is not tightly coupled with the presentation layer. As design trends change, your content and underlying website structure doesn’t have to. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, you are looking at a headless Content Management System (CMS) supporting one or more presentation layers (web, mobile, Alexa…).

They finally took the time to write a book on the topic. It was time well spent.

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Book Review: Web Content Management


Web Content Management by Deane BarkerA long time ago, Deane Barker swung through DC on business and I was lucky enough to have breakfast with him. Even luckier, he gave me a copy of the book he had recently published through O’Reilly, Web Content Management. After nearly two years, during which I read very few non-fiction books, I picked it up and gave it a read.

I’m glad that I did.

I am not going to profess having learned a ton about Web Content Management (WCM) from reading Deane’s book. After all, I have been doing this whole content management thing for a while. However, it was great to read a collection of wisdom from Deane’s decades of experience focused in this domain. Deane is an excellent write and his practical (and witty) use of footnotes really conveys what is involved when you tackle a WCM project.

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