Data is an Echo of You

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Data is an Echo of You

How will I be remembered? How much of what I do, and how I do it, will carry an invisible description of who I am? More importantly, how did an old database get me thinking about all this stuff?

I was tasked with bringing an old Microsoft Access database into the 21st century. This database had been the heart of a business for almost two decades. But for the last 6 years it had sat mostly unused.

Moving a Windows based database over to Mac is not super simple. It is not the hardest thing in the world either. It did force me to abandon my compulsion to “fix” everything.

Because the data was now accessed very infrequently there was no need to bring it up to todays standards, structure wise. It was not going to be an active part of the business.

I used an application called MDB ACCDB Viewer, available through the Apple App Store for $19. This gave me easy access to the Access database’s tables. I then exported the tables I needed in CSV format.

FileMaker edit layout mode

From there I used FileMaker to recreate the database, at least the parts I needed. Linking the tables and building the layouts and the scripts was nothing special. I did have a bit of a struggle with a printing script, but thats a story for another time.

FileMaker table relation graph

Once the Filemaker database was finished I had to test it. I did all kinds of searching and filtering of the data. I had to return to the old data a few times to grab some more tables to make the new system a bit more flushed out.

When you filter through orders going as far back as 1998 you can see people. In the beginning the orders were very detailed, every box was ticked, every data field was populated. Then there was a gradual change.

As I moved through the files, traveling forward in time, I could see someone else was entering orders. They were far less detailed orientated. The orders and customer information became far less descriptive.

Data Entry Decay?

Like watching a tire coming apart as a truck speeds down a highway, I could see the inevitable. The change to the next person entering data was abrupt. A new style, not as bad as the last but not as good as the first.

It was clear there was an attempt made to be thorough and complete. By looking at the orders and the notes sections I got the sense of someone struggling. Is it even possible to get a sense of a person’s day to day life simply by how they entered data?

As I went through my testing the years flew past. Sales data of good months and bad months, good seasons and bad seasons seemed compressed into waves I could almost hear, like a far off beach.

I began to have feelings of hostility towards the people that did a very poor job of entering data. It complicated the task of testing the database. I could not simply test the system, I had to verify poor results as either a structure problem or inaccurate data entry.

Is it the Data, Or is it Me?

At one point I was convinced my new system was fatally flawed. Then I realized I was testing a section of the data that was populated by someone who clearly didn’t like their job. It would be fair to say, whoever they were, they went out of their way to do a poor job.

This got me thinking about how I will be judged in the future. My previous careers left no chance of people in the future critiquing my work. Driving a truck is a “in the moment” type of a thing. You can’t look back, thirty years from now and review, in detail how 18 yards of concrete was delivered. (Spoiler - it was delivered expertly)

Working in the digital field I do work that could easily still be around, in some form or another 30, 50, maybe 70 years from now. It is not just people who work in the I.T. field either. Stuff on Facebook and YouTube could be here for many life times.

As I approached the current time-line, in my database testing, I softened by attitude towards the people who worked in the old system. I was struck by how much of a person could to be imprinted into such a cold medium as a database.

A Thought for the Future

There is no way for me to tell those people I felt their echo, a small vibration of their existence recorded in an obscure data entry system. And I wonder if anything I do today will be felt by someone decades from now.

I hope that if someone in the future is struggling with something I have worked on, or with, that they can feel my desire to do it correctly. It would be nice if they could tell I liked what I did, and I tried to do it with care.

Or maybe this was all in my head. Maybe it is just a database, a collection of numbers and letters in little boxes that can’t record anything about its user. But, I hope not.

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