Typically, when I return home from a conference I am so physically and mentally exhausted that I need at least a week to recover. This year, my return from Dreamforce, the annual Salesforce conference, left me with a different feeling. While I was still physically and mentally exhausted, I didn’t need a week to recover. In reality, I felt more alive and invigorated than ever, even after a full week of meetings, interactions and late nights.
When I first started my Salesforce.com journey, I knew next to nothing about databases. I grew up in the digital age, so I certainly know my way around a computer, but I’ve never been crazy about them. I prefer my social to be unmediated, whenever possible. Read more
Any one who knows me (or reads this blog) knows my first business was called Hopper Business Solutions. Although Hopper was much more controlled, it had less focus. My journey with Database Sherpa has been a little different from Hopper. But, I wouldn’t be where I am with Database Sherpa if it had not been for Hopper, so I am grateful for past experiences.
But, I’m not going to write about the past. Instead, I want to talk about something that’s different this time around; both in the way I operate the business and how I function as a business owner. It’s this: it takes a family to grow and build a business.
Although the initial idea was born in my head, it was not without a lot of input from my Sherpa partner, Veronica Beck. And while neither of us can exactly remember what she said or did, it made a huge impression – enough of an impression to drive me to create a mission, a vision and values that are quite different from most businesses. And the difference is this: instead of putting compassion off to the side, we’ve made it the heart of Database Sherpa. It is one of our core values!
Veronica created this beautiful diagram to show the importance of compassion to our business:
Equally important are clients. They give me an opportunity to experiment with new ideas and methods. They give feedback freely and encourage this work. For example, while learning about a new product for importing data called Apsona. I suggested to the client that we try it out during our importing trek. The client was amendable so, we learned Apsona together. Consequently, my other clients will benefit from my co-learning experience. Clients who are willing to experiment and learn with me are the main reason Database Sherpa continues and thrives. They allow us to keep moving forward.
Now others are embracing our “compassion-centric” model. Freya Bradford, the newest Database Sherpa team member is a client-turned-Sherpa who is helping define the business logic model and outcomes to measure (yes, we want to measure our work), as well as encouraging the work to go farther and broader. She would love to see this model and process scale broadly because her vision is big and so is her heart.
And another addition, Mary Davis, is also encouraged by this work and has gotten herself involved. Mary is tightening up our documentation and organizing it to make it accessible to other consulting companies wishing to transform their business into a more Sherpa-like practice.
In comparison, during my Hopper years I was a total control freak. I didn’t trust others to do the work. Now, I honor the gifts, time and love that each person brings. Instead of dictating rank and position, I let each of them define their role and allow the definition to be written by them. I love it! It’s so free form and wonderful. It’s like a true family.
I know that part of this transformation is because of my age, but it’s also because of the teachings of Hopper. I learned how tiring being controlling could be. I learned that it’s much better and wiser to let things be and to let go of the feeling of having to “own it all”. That each of us owns a piece of this wonderful model and process. That through this hard work together, we create a family and community of like minded individuals who desire to see things done in a new and different way.
I am so grateful to everyone who continues to support, nurture and love Database Sherpa. I know that without all the support, things would still move forward, but I must say, it would not be nearly as fun!
After writing the last post about my mentor Geri Larkin and watching the PBS documentary “Makers: Women Who Make America,” I started to think about my own past and how my journey led me to this place with this business.
I won’t go all the way back to childhood, just back to college and my decision to pursue a degree in Computer Science. One friend, Pat Draper, was instrumental in that decision. He had Sherpa’ed me through challenging terrain and was often my confidante regarding my frustration. Pat introduced me to my initial role model, Grace Hopper, and then many other female programmers. I think he realized the terrain would be rough, but he was always there for me.
Once I began taking programming classes outside of Lyman Briggs (a college within the college at Michigan State University), I hit my first bump in the road in the computer lab. Time spent using the computer terminals was limited, and the mother of all rules was this: “No saving a terminal for yourself or someone else with coats and backpacks.”
One day, I was working late in the lab and had to leave to go to the bathroom. The lab was EMPTY save myself. I left and came back to find a professor sitting at my computer. My backpack and jacket were thrown on the floor.
Needless to say, it took me a few moments to take in the situation and then ask him, “What happened? Why is all my stuff on the floor and why are you using my computer?” He just pointed at the sign and said, “You can’t save a computer.” I replied, “But there are all these computers available, I just had to go the bathroom, why would you do that?” His exact words to me were this, “I can’t help if you women take so long in the bathroom!” He never turned to look at me. He never apologized. I left the computer lab crying. Welcome to computer science.
I wish I could tell you that this was my only experience of sexism I faced at MSU. But I would be lying. Although many of my peers were supportive, many faculty were not. Without going into all the details, I will tell you this: I was specifically told that computer science was not a field for women, and I didn’t belong. Needless to say, I was thrilled when MSU finally hired a female faculty member, Dr. Betty Cheng! Between Dr. Cheng and my friend, Yolanda who was working on her Master’s in Computer Science, I was able to voice my concerns and keep my spirits up in the face of constant belittling.
Unfortunately, sexism followed me into the working world. Here is one of my ‘favorite’ stories. One employer had a dress code: Women must wear suits with skirts and nylons. Heels were acceptable, but not too high. Here’s the problem: There were times I had to crawl underneath desks to configure wiring, network desktops, connect printers, etc. Very hard to do in heels and a skirt and maintain your dignity. So I wore pants. Guess what happened? I was reprimanded and told to wear a skirt. When I explained why I needed to wear pants, a meeting was called to discuss the dress code. The solution? If a woman needed to wear pants, she had to change into a matching skirt before coming into the office. As long as I purchased a three-piece (jacket, pants and skirt) ensemble, I was following the code.
You’ve heard the statistic: For every dollar a man makes, a woman is paid 78-cents to do the same job. I experienced this first-hand in another job when I discovered a newly hired male colleague was being paid about $10K more. Of course I confronted the higher-ups. Their response? “You shouldn’t know these things. The person who told you could be fired. But we won’t, as long as you keep your mouth shut.” So, I did.
Then I thought I had landed my dream job. Touted as an extremely progressive company, this organization had even won an award for having a female-friendly workplace. And for a while, it was a great place to work — until I got married. At team meetings, the department leader would ask me when I was getting pregnant, or if I were performing my “wifely duties.” Of course I was shocked and embarrassed, but laughed it off, until a co-worker told me his behavior wasn’t acceptable. So, in private, I asked him to please stop the comments. His response: “Oh, you’re one of those girls, you can’t take it!” and the teasing and inappropriate questions only increased. As a last resort, I made an appointment with the new head of HR, who just happened to be a woman.
I scheduled the meeting and made my mental list of what I wanted to say. I wanted to talk with her, woman-to-woman, and share my experiences in the workplace. I wanted some guidance as to what I should do. And I was positive she would reprimand the department leader and make him stop his offensive behavior. I was nearly at my wit’s end. I was excited. I was nervous. But I was certain she could set things right. And I’ll never forget what she said: “Ashima, I’m sorry you’re experiencing this, but you’re in a man’s world and you have to get used to little comments like this from time to time.”
I was speechless and stunned. I left her office with little breath and a heavy heart. I cried. Had dinner with a friend. We held hands and cried. We cried for all the women in the workplace past, current and future who had — or will — experience such blatant sexism.
There’s a saying: What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. And after watching “Makers” and recalling these past experiences, I realized that collectively, they made me who I am today. My determination to prove the naysayers wrong has made me a strong person and better programmer and a stellar business owner. But I couldn’t have done it without Pat, (along with Rich, Mike, Donna, Paula and more people than I can name in one blog post.) I cannot thank them enough for their unwavering support.
I am doubtful that sexism will end but I am hopeful that the “makers” of tomorrow will continue to fight for equality for everyone, man or woman. And if ever I encounter the unacceptable behaviors I recounted in this blog, I will do everything in my power to make it right.
I’ve embarked on a Gifts of Gratitude tour which has allowed me to spend time with my wonderful friends and supporters of Database Sherpa. It’s given me a change to talk to them about the future of Database Sherpa and to give gratitude to them for helping me on this path. I’m so grateful to all those that support and encourage the growth of Database Sherpa.
During this tour, I’ve been reflecting on what I have learned:
- People love to share stories of success and triumph. It’s a joy to listen and learn from them. My favorite story during this tour was the one with a client who has found an amazing intern who has helped immensely with their database. This intern has transformed into a leader of the system, getting cues and ideas from others. This was exciting news and I plan to meet this intern soon!
- Individuals want you to succeed. Everyone I have met has wished me luck, has hopes for the best for me, and encouraged me to continue this work. No one said that they were not receiving any benefit from the coaching and support I provided. Most were asking how they could help me further my work. How wonderful!
- Ideas are everywhere. My clients have so many ideas of what Database Sherpa could be and more that it could offer. I was astounded by the marvelous ideas and concepts presented to me. Now, to digest them all!
I want to thank all of the individuals and organizations that have helped to make Database Sherpa such a successful business. I appreciate your dedication to me and it drives me to continue to do this work!
This week we’ve kicked off our Gifts of Gratitude tour to build a community of Sherpas. This is a fun tour, where I get to have lunch, coffee, breakfast and chat with super cool individuals who have started to build their own communities.
So, what is this all about? Well, I’ll give you a taste, but if you’re want to learn more, you are going to have to have a conversation with me over coffee or tea.
At Database Sherpa, we recognize that many organizations fight with their database more than necessary. Others miss good information just because data is trapped in bad software or old spreadsheets. We are on a mission to help organizations find peace with their data.
We achieve this peace using a process unlike anything data management has seen before. We are more guide than taskmaster, more teacher than consultant. Our unique approach means we are building a community of people committed to compassionate database management. Together, we are proving that databases can have a heart!
We are looking for people to join us. Our journey to Database Sherpa is not paved with big marketing campaigns. It has always been sustained by people like you, who share our values, and more often than not, have experienced our approach firsthand. Together, you create a community of Sherpas by sharing the principles that guide your database practice and referring future clients.
If you want to learn more about how it works, please, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to have a conversation!