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Confidence: “It’s about being the little engine — I think I can”

“It isn’t about winning or being the best. It’s about being the little engine — I think I can”.

After reading The Confidence Code, by Katty Kat & Claire Shipman, I’ve come to realize even more how important it is to have a regular meditation practice and to include self-compassion in the mix more often. Read more


Is the Lack of Women in STEM about Individual Choices?

A response to Juliet de Baubigny’s post “The Tech Sector Needs More Women; Here’s How You Can Make It Happen.” in Forbes.

As an advocate for women in technology, I was drawn to the promise of a recent Forbes article called “The Tech Sector Needs More Women; Here’s How You Can Make It Happen.” After reading Juliet de Baubigny’s post, I came away troubled with her reasoning for women being missing in the tech field.

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Got Confidence

Reflections from Dreamforce: I’ve Got Confidence in Me!

It’s the last day of DreamForce and as I wander around Moscone with husband and daughter in tow, I reflected on the week that came before. My mind travels back to a specific incident that occurred while at DreamForce that really brought home the difference between women and men. And that difference is confidence.

I had decided to take the Developer Certification (I’ve already been certified as a System Administrator).

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What Doesn't Kill Us

What doesn’t kill us…

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.

Getting It

Getting It

Years ago, I owned a business called Hopper Business Solutions. I named it in honor of a spitfire math wiz, Naval Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. (Thanks to Admiral Hopper, we have the phrase “buggy software” and the COBAL programming language.)

Hopper was my inspiration while a Computer Science major at Michigan State University. I was one of only a handful of women in the program, and I found it helpful to have a model to look up to. I wish she could have been more than inspiration. I wish she could have been my mentor. Fortunately, I found Geri Larkin.

I met Geri in my early years as a business owner. We met when she taught a business marketing class. I don’t recall the title of the class, but I do remember Geri was dressed in a sharp suit, had great credentials, and made a profound impression on me. We took an immediate liking to each other – she taught me the ins and outs of running my own business, and I extolled the future of this wacky thing called the Internet. I still have the book she wrote back then: “Woman to Woman: Street Smarts for Women Entrepreneurs,” it was very helpful then and still is today.

Over the years, Geri and I kept in touch. I would visit her in Ann Arbor, and she and I would have coffee or lunch when she came to Grand Rapids. She sent me copies of her latest books, and tried to help me get published, (which failed, but hey, we tried). I was so impressed with Geri, that I was blogging about her and one of her books, “Bad Hair Days” before blogs were fashionable.

Geri never set out to mentor me; it just came about. Through her actions, delivery and thoughts she touched me in very profound ways. Through her activities and connection with me throughout those years, she modeled and showed me what living an authentic life is all about. She has taught me about mindfulness and compassion without asking me to attend a single class.

Then, as often happens, we lost touch, until I discovered that Geri had given up her business as a high-powered management consultant to enter a Buddhist seminary where she was ordained, and then had started a temple in Detroit, Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple. Talk about a career change! Needless to say, I decided to attend a retreat at the temple. We greeted each other with a wordless hug, and the years fell away as the feeling of connection immediately resumed. It was amazing to see this once larger than life management consultant silently leading us through meditation. It was poignant and lovely.

Afterwards, she showed me the temple, her simple room, her beautiful artwork, and the neighborhood that surrounds it all. We laughed, talked, and shared memories; then, all too soon, it was time for me to leave. As I got into my car, she said to me, “You know what to do, and will do the right things.” Her confidence in me (something I was sorely lacking at the time) revealed her – and myself – in a new light: We were simply women trying to make sense of our lives. And during all those years when I placed her on a pedestal, the truth was this: She and I were more alike than I ever realized, but by believing more in her than in myself, I had prevented me from seeing my full potential.

This got me reminiscing about the time when Geri hired me to help her understand the potential of the Internet that was bursting into business scene. I remember thinking, “Why is she working with me, she could hire the best? Why me? Why is she listening to my ideas and taking them to heart?” But now I get it. Geri saw something in me that I hadn’t yet seen in myself. And by placing her confidence in me, she allowed my confidence to grow.

Now that we have reconnected, I get cards and letters from her. Even though I don’t see her as often as I would like, I count her as once of my closest friends. When Zola was born, Geri sent her a book, “Drink Juice, Stay Loose,” an adorable book for kids. Another time she sent me her book, “Building a Business the Buddhist Way.” Inside the cover she wrote, “Dear Ashima, because you’ll get this! Love, Geri Larkin.”

Thank you Geri, for “getting me” long before I did. 
Women in Tech?

Where are the pink programmers?

I’m departing from my traditional posts about Database Sherpa and the work around the process, because lately I’ve been stumbling across articles like The Worrying Consequences of the Wikipedia Gender Gap and Inside Silicon Valley’s Gender Gap. They bring back old memories and new worries.

For those friends who know me well, you know that this is an issue near and dear to my heart. My first love was programming, in large part to my education at Michigan State University and my dear friend Pat Draper, who constantly supported and encouraged my pursue of a degree in Computer Science.

I know that most of my female friends are not going to run out and become programmers or pursue a degree in Computer Science. While it would have made me very happy if the majority of my class was female, rather than male, when I graduated in 1991, I am also realistic in understanding that not every field is for every person. I could go on and on about the lack of women in the field of computer science and specifically the lack of programmers, but I won’t bore you with that. Now, onto my new worry.

It has to do with the article about the Wikipedia Gender Gap. In a nutshell, a disturbing study discovered that only 13% of Wikipedia’s editors are women! And here’s the rub: There is no logical reason for this. Wikipedia editors aren’t required to go to school for years and study. They don’t need a computer science degree. All they need to do is put the information out there, edit inaccuracies and add information. It’s fairly easy. Nothing to fear. But yet, we see a huge gender gap.

And here’s another fact. More men than women are creating and running companies whose products are aimed at women. See this fascinating article about the rise of pink color businessmen.

This ALARMS me and really, frankly, scares me to death. If we aren’t at the table (or the keyboard), we won’t have our voices heard.

So, my call to action for my sisters:

  1. Become an editor for Wikipedia.
  2. Learn how ANY technology works — and then make something better.
  3. Learn the statistics of women representations in leadership, government…
  4. Don’t blame men. Don’t blame the media. Accept responsibility and do something. ANYTHING.
  5. Support your sisters in their hard work. Make them dinner, give them a shoulder…. whatever it takes to help them  and us  bridge the gender gap.
Get involved and change the direction we’re headed. Please, if not for me, then for our daughters: the future generation of women!
Be Nice!

Compassion… pass it on!

Today was an amazing and thought filled day… I say this because I saw two totally different movies that moved me in a way I didn’t think was possible. Let me try to explain in writing (I’m much better at talking, I wish I could talk my way through a blog)….

I was invited to watch Miss Representation with a group of women, all in high school, and discuss the movie. I don’t often get asked by young people to engage, so this was an opportunity I wasn’t go to let pass by. Also, I’ve been wanting to see this movie. These women are part of a group called Young Women for Change, a program that is run through the Michigan Women’s Foundation.

Let me also mention the other movie, The Lorax. We went as a family and this was Zola’s (my daughter) first time at a movie theater. It was exciting yet nerve wracking as I wasn’t entirely sure how she would behave in the movie, she’s only three. Also, although I know The Lorax, I was really expecting to be bored and focused more on her, especially after reading some of the comments from various critics. When will I ever learn to ignore the critics?!

After coming home from The Lorax, I found something gnawing at me… like I needed to write down my thoughts, but what were the thoughts? I wasn’t entirely sure…. but I felt like a something was bubbling deep inside of me and had to be unleashed. I had to find a way to share that with all of you. Something has happened to me…. deep, powerful and profound. So, this blog post was started…. I’m still unsure how it will end, so let’s see what happens.

Miss Representation took me on a journey through the dark side of how women are represented or the lack of women’s true representation in government, media, technology, etc…. things that really impact us all. The Lorax took me on a different journey, one where we misuse our natural and wonderful resources. Yes, one was more like a documentary and the other a “cartoon”, but both had strong messages and made me feel inspired and also entirely overwhelmed.

Although the journeys were quite different, both movies were very inspiring. And, my head kept coming back to the fact that they were similar. Not just in the length of the movies, or the fact that they had themes or that they were telling stories. Something else was smacking me across the face in each journey. The part that had me feeling inspired. But, I couldn’t figure out what it was. What was that thing smacking me?!

So, I stood in that feeling and breathed. I sat in silence and dark and just breathed. I breathed in the comments made by the young women after the Miss Representation. I breathed in my notes from Miss Representation. I breathed in my daughter’s comments after The Lorax. I breathed in the conversation David and I had on the drive home after The Lorax. I breathed it all in…. my thoughts blended together with my breath. My breath took my thoughts around the earth and back. And, what came back to me was a loud sound of a single word… COMPASSION.

I was shocked. I expected to hear GREED or EVIL or something negative, but instead, I hear the beautiful word.. COMPASSION.

I rumble through the notes in my head…Compassion? Seriously?! Universe, please help me make sense of this word… compassion. Why is this the word you serve me… let me see if I can break it down for myself here with you as my companion.

I’m not sure I saw much compassion for women in Miss Representation? The stats were alarming.

  • 78% of girls hate their bodies by the age of 15
  • 65% of girls have an eating disorder
  • Women are 56% of the population yet only hold 17% of position in Congress (less now that Olympia Snowe isn’t running again) and 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs

So, where the heck do that word come in? Why compassion? The movie presented some thought on why these stats were our reality. Why women were struggling so much at so many levels. Why men saw women as objects to be obtained and why women accepted it. But, compassion? Ummm… Wow. Not what I expected to hear in my head.

The Lorax. Was that a compassionate movie? What happens?

SPOILER ALERT, if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie and want to be surprised, stop reading.

Well, an individual called an once-ler found an amazing tree (Truffula) with beautiful tuffs that allowed him to make a “thneed”. People buy the thneeds like crazy. He can’t keep up and begins to cut down trees (although he promised The Lorax he would never cut down a tree). His business ends because he cuts down the last tree and cannot make anymore thneeds.

Compassion? Where?

But wait, there is more to both of the stories….

I left out the part in The Lorax where Ted, a young man living in Thneed, goes looking for a tree and the once-ler. He finds him, asked for a tree and instead hears the story. He returns to the once-ler, now an old man, living alone with nothing at all but his sad thoughts, to continue to hear the story of The Lorax and the Truffula trees despite the obstacles in his way. He is finally given a seed by the once-ler and is told “unless he does something, nothing will ever change”. And, he does…. he plants the seed and hopes it will change the world. He has deep compassion for the once-ler and his fellow human beings. He also believes that he can change the way of the future.

With Miss Representation, I found compassion in the women who sat around the table with me. These women, they were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G and will be great leader,s for which I cannot wait! One actually said “we need to get everyone to see this movie, it needs to be broadcast everywhere. Men and women both need to see this movie!” She felt compelled to show it to everyone because she believed that if they saw it, they would surely be changed for the better. She showed deep compassion for those around her being able and willing to change.

It’s just like in The Lorax as the young boy believes that if he can get a tree to grow then everyone will love trees. Once they see that tree, it will change everything. If we can get this movie to everyone, this will surely change everything.

I know, it’s idealist.
I know that we, jaded adults see things differently. Our hard knocks make it hard to see it any other way. Our lens have been fogged up.

But, for an instant, in my breath, I was taken to another place. I feel my lens has been wiped clean. I felt like I had arrived in a place of DEEP, heartfelt compassion. One with breathtaking views and beautiful scenery.


So while we adults all continue to complain about the state of our country and the fact that we’re losing good people in government (see Olympia Snowe). While we continue to argue over what is at play here: greed, ego, power, anger, hatred, etc.


I ask you to make this pledge with me. Show everyone around you compassion. Even those you disagree with. Those you agree with. Those you dislike intensely. Those who make you life horrible. Those who make your life easy. Bring compassion back to the mainstream.

I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not. We’ll fail and fall and make mistakes, but then we should get right back up, dust ourselves off and try again.

We need to take a lesson from all the young people with their idealist, fog-less glasses because in the end…


I leave you with the quote at the end of The Lorax that made me cry and smile at the same time…

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Quote by Dr. Seuss in The Lorax

Beginning again…

Being a yogi, we learn that we are constantly beginning again, thus, I begin again this blog. My musing will be focused on databases, yoga, women in technology and general thoughts about society.

So… with that, I bring you my first post for the year and hope to post on a regular basis (note, I didn’t give a time frame here, so I don’t box myself in…. ah the beauty of yoga).

Our lives have taken a sharp turn, and it’s wonderful. A new being in our lives fills us with joy and much work. I’ve decided to begin a new chapter as full-time parent and part-time database consultant. As you might know, my focus has been with and working primarily with nonprofit organizations. My goal is to teach rather than do the work for the organization, thus building the organization’s capacity to continue to maintain and manage their own database. I would say that mostly it has been a success, by mostly I mean that sometimes I find myself going back to the place of “doing the work” rather than “teaching how to do” primarily because it’s easier for me and the person doing the work at the organization. I do catch myself, which is good, and put it back on them to finish it up.

It’s been at least two years since I have begun this work and there are a few things that keep popping up to me over and over again. These are some of those issues/things that have come up:

  1. Turn over of staff: This has probably been the most challenging issue to deal with in this teaching model. I have been of the mindset of teaching two staff at the organization (thus one is a back up for the other), but have found on a couple occasions that both individuals leave the organization, leaving a gaping hole! I’ve had one organization actually say to me that they wished I had built it for them and then they could just have come back to me. Oh well, I guess the point is that 2 in 20 isn’t bad. But turn over is an issue that I need to address somehow…. I’m still mulling this over. I’ll get back to you later on this one, but I’m open to any suggestions you might have.
  2. Understanding process: On more than one occasion, I have asked someone who works at the organization how they manage a process (whether it be intake of clients or managing events or accepting donations) and I get this blank stare and sigh. For example, when asking the person who manages events, “how do you do it?” I get the big sigh and then a stream of consciousness on how they do it. Nothing solid, a lot of ums, ahs and such. There process is called “by the seat of their pants”. This is always a sign of problems for success with a database, BUT, there is always a solution. When this happens, I usually have them diagram the process for me (usually a handwritten flow chart or steps) with a detailed explanation (where I can asks tons of questions). This does get us closer to understanding their “stream of babble”. And, in the process, they are helping their organization to document and clarify processes. I love this part of the design phase! It’s so… so… neat and tidy. I think database people like neat and tidy (although we often get curve balls, but that’s another story for another day).
  3. Focus: In this education model, I’ve found that many individuals wander into other territories. What started out as a volunteer database ends up being a volunteer, donor and client management database. Which isn’t a bad thing, in the long run, but NOT TO START. It’s important to focus in the beginning because of the learning and doing process. Since I am a yogi, this is an important learning for me and for my friends learning with me. I always try to bring them back to the focus and remind them that the other pieces will be waiting along the sides. But, to stay focused on this for now… until you are ready to move on. And, you’ll know when that time has come. But, during this beginning phase, focus.
  4. Time: As a young yogi, I always believe there is more time, but I forget about roadblocks that might come up (such as other work, a special event, illness, etc.) thus I ALWAYS underestimate the time it takes to get through the beginning stages of learning. I am learning. I am getting better at this. After all, it’s not a perfect science and we all (come on, you know you do this too) guesstimate the time.

So, these are some of the key things I have learned since beginning this journey in combining my yoga practice with database development. I am so excited to continue this path and hope you will join me on my journey!

Introduction to the Women’s Technology Consortium

In 2000 the Nokomis Foundation founded the Women’s Technology Consortium (WTC) with the focus of helping partner nonprofit organizations improve their use of technology because they found a large number of nonprofit organizations serving women and girls were using outdates software and hardware and having difficulty managing and maintaining equipment. The WTC is comprised of ten organizations serving women and girls in West Michigan. The original purpose was three-fold: provide members access to technological information, advice, techniques and training provided by both peers and an outside tech advisory panel; leverage the power of aggregated purchasing of hardware/software and contracted services; and create a web site highlighting activities of the consortium members.

The Nokomis Foundation was able to achieve the first of these three original purposes. Since 2000 the Nokomis Foundation has provided financial support to the WTC members with an average grant of $6,500 and the facility and facilitation for the WTC to meet on a monthly basis to discuss technology and exchange ideas. As noted by a WTC member being involved in the WTC is like “being a part of the team. Knowing I have 12-15 people I can email or meet with and ask questions. In this community, I don’t think I could have built that support system.” The value of the WTC goes well beyond the funding, although that cannot be overlooked. Another WTC member said “I don’t think we’d be keeping up with our equipment rotation, keeping them from becoming obsolete” and was not alone in that opinion. Most members said they felt that being a part of the WTC helped them to not only keep up with the technology, but to begin to see the value in having technology in their organizations as noted by another member “we’ve gotten to a point where we have been up to date and have been keeping up to date long enough so that it is like part of what we do so we wouldn’t think of not doing it. I just don’t think we would have gotten to that point that quickly at all without the help of Nokomis.”


The Nokomis Foundation, by its own request for proposal (RFP) guidelines (see Nokomis Request for Proposal), provides funding for: contract services related to technology; database or website design; expanded e-mail and Internet access; hardware, including printers and other peripheral equipment; networking; software; telephone systems; and training . The RFP also requires answers to questions: organizational and contact information, IT budget information, commitment to the WTC through individual participation and board support, and current technology plan.

Organization Demographics

The WTC is comprised of ten nonprofit organizations of which eight were included in the research. One organization was entirely excluded from the research as they are a funding organization; two other organizations are excluded from parts of the research and as such are noted in the areas in which they are excluded.

WTC organizations are located in Michigan, and although the initial goal of Nokomis Foundation was to work with organizations in West Michigan (defined as Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan Counties), there is one organization located in Petoskey (Emmet County).

Target/Sample Population


Participation in the study was voluntary, but strongly encouraged by the Nokomis Foundation, so individuals were highly motivated to engage in the research process through to completion. The individuals interviewed comprised of a single executive level staff such as Chief Operating Officer, Chief Executive Officer, President, Executive Director and Assistant Director. These staff members were all female and have worked at their organizations for 10 or more years each having a deep working knowledge of the organization.


Data Collection

Three methods of data collection were used: face to face interviews (see Interview Instrument), emailed survey (see Survey Instrument) and review of request for proposals (RFP) and response narratives since 2000 (see Organizational Overviews).


Reviewing the RFPs and response narratives began the data collection process. The researcher spent time organizing and creating overviews for each organization (see Organizational Overviews).

Face to face interviews were conducted by the researcher with questions (see Interview Instrument) and the organization’s overview (see Organizational Overviews) were sent prior to interview allowing interviewee an opportunity for preparation. Interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed by researcher with each session lasting about two hours. Some organizations required two visits while others were completed in just one.

Emailed survey closely mirrored the 1999 survey sent to a larger group of nonprofits only omitting questions related to year 2000. All surveys were returned to the researcher and included in the results for all nine organizations (these results included the organization which was unable to participate due to illness).