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.

Content Services Made Possible With AWS

[Originally written for the TeraThink blog. Additional edits have been to clarify context.]

We’ve shared a bit about how we’ve setup a working infrastructure for content services at USCIS. While it hasn’t always been easy, there have been a few key takeaways that have made TeraThink’s efforts successful.

  1. Define business-centric APIs. We currently use Mule as it makes the basics easy and allows for complexity.
  2. Understand, capture, and fully execute the non-functional requirements. User experience drives adoption. Non-functional requirements drives management support and avoids messy incidents.
  3. Architect for, and deploy in, the cloud.

Designing for the cloud seems obvious in today’s IT world. However, I cannot stress how much time and effort has been saved by keeping this in the forefront of our efforts. I’ve been doing enterprise content management (ECM) for decades and I can tell you that using the different cloud capabilities of Amazon Web Services (AWS) has made a huge, positive impact.

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Join TeraThink At Alfresco’s 2019 Government Summit

[Originally published on the TeraThink blog]

Alfresco is bringing their Alfresco Days series of events back to D.C. again on May 23. The 2019 Alfresco Government Summit focuses on generating discussions around leveraging Alfresco as a platform in the cloud. Specifically, as an open source content services platform living in AWS.

TeraThink will be there again this year to talk about how we make content services work using Alfresco in AWS. We have been leveraging the content services platform (CSP) approach to deploying enterprise content management (ECM) for a few years. During that time, we’ve learned a lot of lessons. We will be bringing that expertise to the Application Platform Revolution Panel moderated by Alfresco founder John Newton.

Before the 23rd, I want to take a few minutes to giving you a preview of some of the thoughts we will be sharing.

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Digitally Transform Your Processes and Information Governance Policies

[Originally published on the TeraThink blog]

Looking at these boxes of records in the window you have to wonder if the retention is driven by how much space they have or actual business need.One of the great things about using content services in your digital transformation efforts is the automation a lot of information governance processes. You can link business entities, automate the application of policies, and reduce duplicate content. All of which increases reliability of information and reduces redundancy. The newly digitized processes streamline the work that you do daily, increasing your ability to innovate across your business.

Sounds great, right?

But what about those policies you are applying? Have you thought about what they are doing? Do they reflect the realities of your day-to-day? Now that you are no longer dealing with paper and information silos, you can revisit your records policies that were written years ago.

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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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Building The Next Generation Of Leaders At InfoGovCon 2018

[Originally published on the TeraThink blog]

Kevin Park talks as Annalisa Nash Fernandez, Nick Inglis, and TeraThink's Laurence Hart listen during the closing panel of the InfoGovCon Leadership Summit. Picture by Jim MerrifieldOnce again, I am attending the Information Governance Conference (InfoGovCon) in Providence, Rhode Island. In addition to the excellent content during the main conference, The Information Coalition team added two new components to the agenda, the Leadership Summit and CIO Breakfast.

I was honored to be asked to represent TeraThink and speak at the Leadership Summit. I shared many of personal lessons from my past and stressed the need for fresh leadership in the industry. However, I want to take a moment to share what some of the others discussed during the events. Continue reading

Learning Lessons As We Make Content Services A Reality

[Originally published on the TeraThink blog]

Craft, hand-painted chocolates are the ultimate in user experience.I’ve been speaking a lot about content services of late. At TeraThink, we are a big believer that good content services are a solid foundation for excellent user experience. This is why I’ve been focused on dispelling some of the hype around content services. One of the reasons I, and TeraThink, have been trying to push past the hype is because we are actively using content services to deliver solutions at scale.

Along the way, we’ve been trying to share some of our lessons. James Fintel shared what we’ve learned about building content services agilely using Kanban. What I wanted to share was some of our lessons on the delivery of content services to a government agency.

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Digital Preservation Matters As Our Records, And History, Are Vanishing

[Originally published on the TeraThink blog]

Some 3.5 inch floppy disks from the 80s and 90s. Recognize any?I’ve been seeing an uptick in interest in digital preservation recently. We are a few decades into the digital age and even without the push to digitally transform everything, people are realizing that they have a lot of digital information. I am surrounded by people who are using a digital records system I put in place over a decade ago. This puts that system into the realm of digital preservation. As per AIIM in their 2017 Digital Preservation Market Research:

The capabilities to ensure the readability and usability of digital information that must be retained for longer than 10 years.

I used to think ten years was a long time. It isn’t. People are also realizing that while storing large volumes of electronic documents is easier than paper, you have to take greater care. I have books that are older than 100 years in my house. The only accessible, viable, digital content I have over 25 years old are some music compact discs.

As we create more and more digital information, we need to start thinking more about long-term preservation.

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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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