Putting it all Together: 2020

Photo by Dmitry Demidov on Pexels.com

Since it’s been months since I’ve written anything – I am steering away from a tech topic today and sharing some personal reflection instead.

2020, as I write this is almost coming to an end THANK GOODNESS. And like most of you I will be glad to see it GONE.

NOTHING was normal or natural about 2020. For my family it started with us putting down our 11 year old Golden Retriever, Charlie, on January 2 for a tumor that had crippled his hind legs and cancer that riddled the rest of his body.

Charlie…summer of 2019 at Betterton Beach

Two months later the whole world turned upside down as COVID-19 and the pandemic made its debut. My job went virtual and my typical daily 45 minute drive every morning switched to telecommuting full time as of 3/13/2020. My husband and I started living full time at our vacation home in Betterton, Maryland, because that’s where we were when the stay-at-home orders hit in March, and we’ve basically been there ever since. A new granddaughter arrived in September. One daughter celebrated her first-year wedding anniversary in early October. My 78 year old mother has not been out of her nursing home even once and we have not been allowed to visit her since March.

The things we typically did in a “normal” year also pivoted. Family dinners changed to family ZOOM calls. Concerts my husband and I had tickets for were postponed. Conferences I am helping to plan or speak at this winter and next summer are shifting to virtual or hybrid. And I thank the universe every day that my children are grown adults and that I’m not trying to do it all and have small children at home as well. To my friends and coworkers that do: I salute you for your patience and fortitude.

The lessons of 2020 that resonate most for me? How wise it was that I left a career in health care 23 years ago – and went from nursing into I.T. I cannot imagine being a nurse right now. How incredibly lucky it was that I bought a condo on a beach I could quarantine in back in 2018, before quarantining was a necessity. How much I love and miss my children and being able to just hug them or share a meal with them. How much I will appreciate being able to go have a glass of wine with a good friend again, at a favorite restaurant. How great it will be to see live music again.

Who has the crystal ball to know what our world is going to look like six months from now? Will it be better? Worse?

I do believe wholeheartedly that we can come out of this stronger. We can join together, embrace our humanity, and lift each other up. We can stop bickering over wearing masks or not wearing masks. We can stop letting politics divide our communities and determine who we love or hate. We can stop the name calling and finger pointing. We can listen for the voices of the people that need the most help and support right now – and offer that help and support.

After all, hasn’t this pandemic shown each and every one of us that when everything else goes away – all we really have in the end is each other?

Three Unplanned, Unplugged Days

Over Labor Day weekend, the husband and I took the dogs and headed to Smedley Park for a quick hike and to allow the dogs to burn off some energy. Husband was minding the backpack, and dropped the water bottle – twice. My iphone was in the backpack for safe keeping.

Just before putting the phone away, I set my Pacer app, GPS mode on so that my virtual coach could tell me how far we had walked. This app has become an invaluable part of my fitness journey. At one point it did occur to me that I was not hearing updates on our distance/progress, but I chalked it up to being out on the woods and perhaps losing signal.

When the dogs looked tired and husband announced he’d had enough, we walked back to the car and I went to pull out my phone so I could check if our steps had been tracked even though the virtual coach was ghosting.


Apparently, while dropping-then-retrieving water bottle, my phone most likely slipped out of the backpack unnoticed by the husband.

We back traced – repeating the steps we had just done – but no luck. Husband called my phone hoping we’d hear it ring – nothing. I assumed at that point someone must have picked it up. The kicker was this was my work-supplied phone and I really didn’t know who needed to be alerted, and when. Being that it was a holiday weekend – I didn’t think I’d be able to reach anyone, and wasn’t even sure how to go about reporting a lost phone to the provider – when it was a phone that I didn’t own – and didn’t know account-owner information, pass-codes, etc.

Losing a phone is not the end of the world. However, in the climate we live in today of cyber-attackers luring behind every bit and byte, I had set up two-factor authentication for almost every aspect of my digital presence in the world. And for that two factor authentication to work – I needed my phone. apple-iphonexs-max-gold

I found myself locked out of almost everything I do, plus I had passwords stored for certain applications that I was not able to access. With the added layer of the two-factor authentication protection – I had basically secured myself out of my own life.

I have come to rely on that flat little bit of metal and glass. Not only for contacts, but for calendaring and appointment reminders, keeping up with social media, checking school work due dates, work deadlines, virtual meetings, fitness tracking – the list goes on and on. While I was unplugged I missed a virtual meeting with one of the non-profits I am volunteering for – a meeting that I requested in the first place – because no meeting reminder, plus no way to authenticate. I had to pull out the laptop for many tasks I’d normally do with the convenience of the phone. However – without the phone to do the authentication for much of what I do – I really was dead in the water – digitally speaking.

There is a happy ending. The next day the “Find my Phone” app alerted me that my phone was indeed still in the park. Husband and I went immediately back to the park, and there was a gentleman with a metal detector in one hand and my phone in the other. It was a huge stroke of luck. I was still out of service until I could go back to work on Tuesday and get the phone reactivated, but the prospect of knowing I’d no longer be cut off from the digital universe I have put myself in was comforting. The three days of non-dinging alerts was as well.

The moral of this story is – husband no longer gets backpack duty during hikes.


Wonderful Wednesdays

Wow – it has been months since I have written anything in this space. My blog is not the only thing that has been “neglected” in these past few very busy months. There are good friends I have not had a chance to see or have canceled plans with at the last minute due to having too much “stuff” to do and being too exhausted to do it. I feel as if I’ve been on the hamster-wheel with no option for jumping off. Thing is, I put myself there. I have only me to blame!

Refresh Time

The best and most exciting thing that has happened since my last post is my husband, Joe retired, and we took a good hard look at how we wanted to spend our newfound time together. He obviously had more than me – and that prompted me to reevaluate what I had been doing – what was sucking up all my time and causing me the most stress? Years ago I read the Marie Kondo Tidying up book – that is now a Netflix sensation – and I decided to apply the Konmari method to declutter my life.

I took Marie’s main premise – What gives me joy? – and began evaluating how I had been spending my time:

  • A lot of volunteering. A LOT. – joyful? Meh. Sometimes.
  • A lot of wishing I had a way to get away – travel – joyful? YES!
  • A lot of scrambling my calendar around to try to make meetings and deadlines – not work-related – joyful? Absolutely not
  • School – I love learning – so YES

I realized, my “to do” list never ever grew shorter. I couldn’t even take an hour to update my blog. Couldn’t relax over drinks with friends without feeling guilty that I was not updating a web page for non-profit number one or sending out a blast email for non-profit number two.

Enter the idea, that came from our ever-innovative CIO at work, of Wonderful Wednesdays This is a two-hour time period, every Wednesday – where we folks that are lucky enough to report to her in ITS, can use that time for personal or professional development. And – it’s Wednesday today – and here I am!

Having just a two hour window a week to be able to relax, take a breath, regroup and reevaluate. What have I discovered? And what have I started to do about it?

I am shaving off the time I have been giving to organizations and people – that do not bring me joy. Slowly, I am wrapping-up commitments to positions held, stepping back, saying “no”, and making room for those things and organizations I truly enjoy being a part of.

Being involved in the non-profit sector has been a tremendous growth experience. And I am not leaving it entirely. I was not elected on to ODTUG’s board of directors, however that left an opening to be placed in the VP role for the Pennsylvania Banner User’s Group. Fate pointed me in that direction, and I am excited to see what the next three years of being part of the PABUG board will bring!

Also – BIG news – Joe and I bit the bullet and bought ourselves a beach-view condo on the Chesapeake Bay at the start of the year. It has ALWAYS been a dream of mine to live on water – and we have made it happen.

So, having my new “get-away” combined with my husband’s new found time as a recent-retiree have been the biggest influencers on my “WTF am I doing with my Time?” epiphany. Wonderful Wednesdays are allowing me to take a breath, and reevaluate what kind of space I want to create for myself and those around me. And it’s looking pretty awesome.



Cast your Vote… for me!


ODTUG through the years… we work hard and play hard!

I stumbled upon ODTUG in the spring of 2103 when I was “Googling” how to do some such thing in SQL and I found the content link to past webinars and the tech search of their content libraries, that was for paid members only. Shortly afterwards I gave myself the gift of membership and have never looked back.

In the five years since joining, I have played many roles at the best user’s group on the planet:

  • Began as an abstract reviewer back in 2015
  • Leadership Program graduate (2nd class) and Program Coordinator (2015)
  • Database Community Contributor
  • Philadelphia Area ODTUG Meetup Host
  • Database Track Lead, Kscope 18 & 19
  • Kscope Community Day Volunteer
  • Presenter,  Kscope 16 & 17

And now I’m asking for your vote to get to the next level – a Board position where I can continue to serve our membership in a more vigorous role. If you were a Kscope 16 attendee, you may have seen my presentation with Chet Justice (@oraclenerd), where we extolled upon the folly that writing bad sql creates. Or you may have stumbled into my co-presentation with Justin Biard (@icodealot) in Chicago at Kcsope17 where we shared our knowledge of Regular Expressions and what they can do to make your life easier. Or perhaps you attended the very first Kscope Newcomer’s Reception, initiated by the fabulous 2015-2016 Leadership Program Class I was privileged to lead that year?

If we have not yet met IRL, please get to know me @HelenJSanders or  LinkedIn, or come by the next Philly Database Meetup introduce yourself, let me know how ODTUG has  influenced you.

I am humbled and grateful for all of the ways ODTUG has allowed me to grow as a leader and as a developer, and will continue to give back to this organization that has done so much for me. If elected I will continue to work hard for all of you. Full ODTUG members can vote here.

Thank you for your consideration!


East Coast Oracle Users Conference

Raleigh, North Carolina is the place to be September 18th and 19th

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be co-presenting this year at the ECO conference in Raleigh, in September. Jeff Smith and I will be volleying back and forth as “Product Manager” vs. “End User” in SQL Developer – You’re Doing it All Wrong! and it’s sure to be an entertaining and informative session!

ECO Keynote presenters this year are Penny Avril, Vice President of Product Management, Oracle Database and Rich Niemiec from  Viscosity North America. Penny will be speaking on how the Oracle DBA role is transitioning as cloud usage expands, and Rich is speaking on current hot topics of innovation, big data and the internet of things.

There are several worthwhile per-conference workshops on Monday, September 17th which include hands-on workshops on Oracle tuning as well as the Oracle Cloud, a session on upgrading to Oracle EBS Applications R12.2.7 and Monday is also APEX Foundations day – where you can get expert advice on all things APEX.

Early registration is going on now until July 27th.


Building a Conference Track


Have you ever attended a professional conference? If so, you probably didn’t think twice about the amount of work that goes into it behind the scenes, where the organizers plan for months to make sure the folks attending are in for a great experience. I have been on both sides of the name-badge, and this time, working on Kscope18 as Database Track Lead has been a rewarding, challenging, incredible learning experience!

For the past few years I have served on the Abstract Review Committee for  ODTUG’s Kscope Database Track, starting back in 2014 for Kscope15, Kscope16 and Kscope17. As an abstract reviewer, responsibilities include looking over what is usually well over 200 conference topic submissions (a.k.a “abstracts”) by hopeful presenters, and scoring them from “great” to “good” to “maybe not so good”, and handing off your votes to the Track Lead. Since Kscope is such a large conference with a focus on Oracle tools and technology, and where “Content is King“, it’s a big responsibility of the Database Track reviewers to make sure the abstracts selected cover a wide-range of interesting and relevant topics to both Oracle database administrators (DBAs) and developers.

This year, I was honored to be asked to lead the track. Under the guidance of Database/Apex Committee Chair, Jorge Rimblas, I gathered our international team of reviewers, who came from all over the globe, including Mexico, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Brazil, and all of the US time zones (Which made scheduling team webex/phone meetings quite interesting!) and we had a short time frame to plow through 220+ submissions this year. The abstracts submitted were soexcellent that it made our job to whittle them down to the number we could actually accept to be sessions in June very difficult; Admittedly, vetting choices from a list of excellent topics is a good problem to have.  The team did a fabulous job and I can’t thank them enough for all of their hard work.

This morning my work as Track Lead culminated in creating the “first pass” of the schedule, for the accepted sessions of the Database Track, which I have passed on to Jorge for his review. This year’s content is fabulous, and the attendees are in for a really, really good conference.

Registration for Kscope18 is open, with an early bird discount until March 29th, saving $300 off of the registration fee. See the tracks for a high-level view of what’s in store, and sign up for Community Service Day and the 5K.

Growing With Google

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I am proud to say that I have been selected as a Grow With Google Scholarship recipient, and am starting with Udacity’s Front End Developer course!

The invitation to apply arrived in my inbox in November, buried within one of the many Women in Tech lists I am subscribed to, and I thought, “Why not?”.

According to the “Welcome” video, there were 100,000 applications received, so I am excited to have made the cut for round one.

The course is online, offered through Udacity. I have taken other courses on Udacity, so I knew the quality of the content and lessons would be worthwhile. They have given us three months to complete the course for this first go round. Students that complete all the course work on time and that are active in the online community will be vetted to see if they are then chosen to go on to complete the full Nano Degree program.

This first level of the program is basic HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jquery,  DOM and the final project will be a Pixel Art Maker created by me, that will encompass all the skills learned (hopefully!) in the program.

The skills I will pick up through the program will be a nice addition to my database, back-end experience.


When “Using the Google” is not Enough

I’ve been a SQL*Plus and SQL Developer user for about 10 years now, and there are still many features, commands, etc. I’m not familiar with. In fact, most days I feel as if I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the tools can do. Lately I’d been feeling that SQLcl was something I should know more about.

I’d watched a couple of online tutorials, read a few blog posts, and saw Galo Balda present on SQLcl at RMOUG last February, so I was becoming more acquainted, but still a little uncertain about what it could do for me.

I reached out to my favorite Senior Principal Product Manager at Oracle, Jeff Smith, to see if he’d be willing to follow up one on of his many offers to do a web-ex with my team and do some virtual training.  He graciously agreed he would, and last week, gave a one hour virtual demo and talk on SQLcl and SQL Dev for myself and a few of my colleagues.

After Jeff’s talk,  I downloaded SQLcl, got to the command prompt, but the screen looked nothing like what I’d seen others do, and I couldn’t figure out how to access the configuration settings. It was time for an intervention.

I reached out to Jeff once more. After a quick 5 minute chat, he steered me in the right direction on how to format SQLcl the way I wanted to – once again saving me hours of “googling” down the wrong path to get a simple answer.

This wasn’t the first time Jeff had answered an SOS call from me– far from it! In fact, our professional relationship began with my reaching out to him on Social Media over three years ago, to help resolve some issue I was having – I don’t remember what the topic was – but I do remember I sent him a message on Twitter, and he came back with the answer for me in about 5 minutes.  One Q&A via Twitter lead to a few more over time, eventually email contact and then attending some of his excellent talks at Kscope15.

Through the years, he’s been a steadfast, reliable technical resource for me who has always been there to answer the tough questions, provide teaching moments, be a mentor, and who I’m now lucky enough to consider a friend.

Google is a life-saver in our daily lives, but sometimes real human interaction is needed to get you over a hurdle. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your product managers for the tools you use. You may even make a new friend.


Tip for Newbies! (Or oldies that just can’t see)

Don’t you hate it when you’re running a REALLY simple script, and you get an Oracle error – and you just can’t see the issue? Like today – I am just running a simple little CREATE TABLE and I keep bombing – and I KNOW it’s something stupid like a missing comma or misplaced parenthesis, but I just couldn’t see where it was.

Error report –
ORA-00907: missing right parenthesis

So I tossed in this:


And when I ran the CREATE script again, setting ECHO on told me where to look:

where it is

And wouldn’t you know it – MISSING COMMA! Not a missing parenthesis – as the error would have you think – but it still points you in the right direction.  Right around line 13 ..but I sure couldn’t see it before even though I looked up and down my lines of code and even have color-coding set on my text editor!


Moral of the story:  ECHO ON can be your BFF on those days when you just can’t see clearly.


Thanks to @thatjeffsmith for pointing out that there is a squiggle line in sql developer that indicates you have a problem nearby:

sqlDevTo the Rescue

I’d probably seen that squiggle a million times and never noticed it before. EVER.

This is what’s great about working in I.T. – you can learn something new everyday, from really smart people.

SAS, R and Saturday Night Learning


I’m not sure I’ll ever be an actual “Data Scientist” … but I’m making my way towards understanding what I need to know by spending my Saturday night delving into some of the basics and intricacies of R vs. SAS.

For example:

What to call your data collection?

Dataset (SAS)

Dataframe (R)

How to view five lines of data from file called “CS1” ?


head(cs1, n=10)

How many rows and columns in CS1? (Observations and variables)



Small, basic, baby steps towards pulling it all together. One day I’ll look back on this post and laugh its simplicity.