Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Autism and Information Technology: Answering a Blog Challenge (Plus, Why I Like Data)

I have done a terrible job blogging over the last calendar year, like a majority of the population. The motivation to write on a topic I have a lot to say about has been limited, to say the least. I only have sparse thoughts and unfinished drafts. Maybe I'll be doing a work project, or I'll be distracted by my Twitter and Facebook feeds...or even the brain-numbing Buzzfeed list on occasion. A neurotypical ability, too, but considering our attention spans, this struggle is very real for the Aspie. Squirrel.

Then came four days ago, where I spotted #SQLNewBloggerChallenge on my Twitter feed. I often use my Twitter for both advocacy and professional networking, so it's not surprising how this would come up. Blogger Ed Leighton-Dick posed a new challenge to professionals like myself to blog regularly, and many members of the SQL Server and other IT communities began writing new blogs or dusting off old ones. As he said in his entry:

And what if you’re an experienced blogger? No problem – everyone’s welcome to join the challenge. Join in yourself (maybe to get back into the habit after a hiatus), or offer encouragement or ideas to those of us in the challenge. The more, the merrier!

So now I've decided to answer the challenge. Since we can write on any topic we want, I'm obviously going to stick with this one, and even helping to speak to readers of an Autism spectrum blog on what SQL is...and what the world of data means to someone like you or me. First in a series of posts.

As many an introductory article can tell you, SQL stands for Structured Query Language. It is the main language for relational database systems. All the rows and columns you see when looking at electronic tables? Plenty of them used SQL in the background, or some variation on it. Its another development language, in essence.

So why would I start working with databases over the course of my post-college life? Well, data was always fascinating. I particularly had an obsession love of various sports and movie box office statistics. Then I'd start putting these into Microsoft Works forms (you know, before Excel and Access). I played with this information all the time back when we had the old Windows 98 machine at my parents' house. I was curious as to what went behind these.

I eventually majored in Information Systems during college, considering my potential aptitude for computer work (an entry on coding will be coming this month). One of my stronger courses was Database Appications, and eventually my first "big boy" job at Comcast involved e-commerce data inputs and analysis. So I was able to write a lot of queries, to say the least. It was cool work, seeing the end products show up. There's also a great logical component that I preferred to, say, application development. The latter does require some creativity that isn't always my strong suit, while the former really divides information into rows and columns, and then can be organized by others in complex report formats. Look up OLAP and you'll understand more of what I do for a living.

Data is fascinating because it's the numbers and logic; I'm curious as to how everyone uses them. I know how I used it all the time. It's something which fits my aptitude as a person on the spectrum in that I tend to look at everything on a linear level. Not saying I'm the best report developer or integration engineer due to this factor, but it allows me to fare better at this versus a position in, for instance, marketing. A lot of things I say come back to some piece of information, which I may repeat many times.

You know, this challenge is going to be quite fun. I have three more related topics I'll be doing this month, as part of my effort to blog more regularly. To finish up, here's a line Brent Ozar (a very notable professional in my line of career) used to promote the challenge. Though I may not be following his exact format, this rings true:

Pick a topic you already know well, something that you believe is completely boring to you, something you think everybody already knows. You’re wrong.

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