Meet a Microsoft MVP: Martina White

ProfileMartina White is a first year (2014) Canadian SQL Server MVP with a lot of enthusiasm, which is typical of all Microsoft MVPs! She graciously agreed to be interviewed for the WindowsTalk “Meet an MVP” series.

Martina, please tell us a little of your background: where you live, employment, training, your first PC, etc.

I was a bit of geeky girl from the get go.  My best pals in kindergarten were three nerdy boys.  I think two of them ended up being computer programmers.  My first computer was a Vic 20.  I pretty much played ping pong on it.  In grade 10 I took a computer science class and wrote my first program.  We got to take it to University of Waterloo, put it on punch cards and run it through their mainframe.  Super cool! During university I built my own PC from parts, just for fun.
During my first stab at university I took accounting.  I loved numbers and thought accounting would be a good career choice.  <Yawn> I was mistaken!  I went back and redid much of the business degree and this time majored in I.T.  At Ryerson I got a very rounded business and I.T. education in everything from computer networks, programming and database design to communications, accounting and management.  In my final year I got an internship with Corby Distilleries doing basic help desk work in their Toronto office.  I learned that there were two questions which resolved 90% of the issues – is it plugged in? and – is it turned on? <laughs>

As soon as I graduated I was offered a position with Corby’s parent company, Allied Domecq, in Windsor, ON.  I moved to Windsor and very quickly became the resident Cognos expert, building data cubes and reporting systems.  I became so proficient that I moved on to become an independent consultant in Cognos.  I really enjoyed the variety and freedom of consulting.  I got to do interesting work with large clients like Sun Microsystems and Molson beer.  After a number of years I got tired of commuting to the various client locations, so I took a job with Syngenta in Guelph Ontario where I live.  I worked in their I.T. department for 5 years, which is where I moved into the SQL and Oracle database world.  I also got my PMP designation during that time and took a lot of courses in team building and communications, just to round out my skill set.
For the last 7 years I’ve been working for a small consulting firm called UnlimitedViz mainly working in the Microsoft BI stack.

How did you become an MVP, and what were your thoughts when you first heard of getting the award?

I was awarded a SQL MVP less than four months ago.  It was awarded largely on the merit of my blog,, and answering questions in the MS Forums.  I started the blog a few years ago primarily as a diary for myself, of solutions I had worked out and didn’t want to forget.  I blogged the solutions so I could look them up again the next time I needed them.  My blog is getting close to 150,000 visitors per year now, so I guess a lot of people are finding it helpful.  I was really excited to get the award.  Of course I knew I’d been nominated, but wasn’t at all sure I’d get it.  When I won, I immediately posted it on Facebook knowing full well that the majority of my friends and family had no idea of the magnitude of this for me.  What I do is too esoteric for most of them and explaining it to someone often gets a look of consternation before their eyes roll back in their head. It’s one of the reasons I love going to the SQL Pass conference, where I can walk among my own kind for a few days.

Tell us how the technology you work with/develop benefits the end user/enterprise?

What I do directly impacts the user, from requirements gathering to development and deployment.  My business education, PMP and development background puts me in a unique position to straddle both I.T. and the business world.  I love translating user requirements into the best solution.  What a user thinks he wants quite often turns out to be something different.  They get excited by the technology rather than thinking about the actual business need.  I like pointing them in the direction that gets them what they actually need, and then making them aware of what the possibilities will be once the basics are in place, to make the user experience even better than they anticipated.  There are a LOT of large companies out there with expensive systems, where they end up doing huge amounts of unnecessary manual work, usually in Excel.  Once they see how simple it can be to automate much of what they are doing they get really excited.  Suddenly their time gets freed up to do what they are actually trained in, rather than managing monthly spreadmarts for management.

Tell us about the company you work for and your role there:

Where I am now, at UnlimitedViz, I largely do business intelligence development, building data cubes, ETL packages, data warehouses and reporting systems, as well as doing some work in the SharePoint world and some other related peripherals.  I foresee staying with UnlimitedViz for the long term, as I get the best of both the employee and consulting worlds.  I get to work on a huge variety of projects, and work almost exclusively from home.  I love the commute from my kitchen to my upstairs office.  And I really love the work – it’s like solving puzzles all day long.  The team of people I work with are the best.  It’s a team of really smart people, each with his own expertise.  We’re like a family, and at times like frat buddies.  We have a hashtag we use on our internal Yammer network #NoHR.  It’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card for inappropriate comments.  So there is a lot of trust there, and it’s a super fun team to work with.  The goal is to build solid solutions and making the customer happy, not navigate corporate politics.

Downtime: what activities do you like to do away from technology?

Aside from technology I like to spend time with my family.  I have a loving and supportive husband and two boys who are 4 and 7 years old.  We like to watch Doctor Who together as a family, with a big bowl of popcorn.  We have a hot tub, which is the way I like to get outdoors in winter, lol!  I enjoy playing guitar and piano.  I have just started a personal blog,  I read a lot, and have a huge personal interest in making the world, my world, a better place.  It sometimes feels like we have no control over the amount of garbage we create living in a consumer society.  No way to combat the pesticides and mass production of food.  Hormone disrupters in our personal products, plastics and canned goods.  Overuse of antibiotics.  I could on, but I won’t depress you.  The thing is, if we all make small changes we can start to shift the status quo.  I already see that organically grown foods are becoming much more mainstream.  I don’t know that organic is always the best choice, however I do know that I am voting with my dollars for cleaner food and the environment every time I buy it.  I live in a small city, Guelph, which is rather “new hippie”, so this kind of change becomes apparent here a bit ahead of the curve.

6. Bucketlist: (just one or two top ones)

I love to travel, and I’ve always wanted to go to India.  It’s a huge country, and I have no idea where I’d start.  But I love the colours of the clothing, the music, the history, the fact that the cow is worshipped there.  I have met and worked with many Indian people in my life and I find many of them to be so gentle and open.  I’d love to go there and see for myself what makes all these things so, in spite of the widespread poverty.
I’d also love to take my kids to Africa on safari.  I had the privilege of doing so myself a few years ago and found it a truly awe inspiring experience to see wild animals in their own habitat.  I feel a particular love towards the elephants as we had a large herd of them pass slowly by our jeep at sunset for an hour.  They could have crushed us in an instant, but they just looked at us with interest as they slowly passed by, almost within reach.  It’s a moment I will never forget.

Thanks, Martina!