Your Profession: Does your Volunteer Experience Really Matter?

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Recently Dan Rex, the CEO of Toastmasters International, announced that the TI Board of Directors had decided to institute new District officer titles that, among other reasons, would “Create a parallel between district leadership and leadership in the corporate and volunteer sectors.” Basically, the idea is to help volunteers easily explain to current and potential employers what knowledge, skills and abilities they were likely to have acquired by participating in these roles.

All very nice and mostly window-dressing, insofar as many members have thought.

The real question is, does your volunteer experience actually prepare you for paid work? Does your volunteer experience really matter?

Recently, I sat down with George Marshall, whose online Toastmaster Tools are used by members around the globe. I asked him that very question, and here is what he said.

During my year as Toastmasters Area Governor, I became very interested in the big differences in club quality, and as I gathered data about each of my clubs to try to help them, I realized that the information I wanted was sometimes hard to gather in useful form. I learned a lot that year about downloading the reports and doing my own analysis in spreadsheets.

After a while, I decided to automate the more time-consuming tasks. I started working on what eventually became the Tools for Toastmasters website, summarizing some of the reports in real-time. After a year or so, I realized that the data would be more useful if it were in a database, which I knew nothing about. But I sat out to learn how, and with the help of mentors, within a year or so, the core of today’s site was in place, with built-in summaries and analysis of several types of Toastmaster data.

I have learned a lot about databases with this project, some of which I have been able to apply to our business. [Freemont Web Solutions].

Susan Ellsworth

Say Pequod


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Standing by Whose Values?

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

What kind of organization(s) do you belong to? Several years ago, I belonged to the American Library Association, a professional and educational non-profit organization organized along the lines of the interests and support of its membership. In 1974, its membership was just over 34,000. That year, the ALA council ratified a resolution supporting ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.  A 1977 resolution called for future conferences to be held only in states that had ratified the ERA, beginning with the 1981 Annual Conference. This was no small decision for the ALA, since its headquarters was–and still is–in Illinois, a State that had not ratified the ERA. ALA members and the council were essentially putting their money where the best interests of its membership were. More accurately, they had decided not to put their money where their interests were not supported. (1)

Now I belong to another 501(c)(3) educational organization. This organization’s bylaws say that

This corporation shall not discriminate, in the conduct of its programs and activities,
against any person on the basis of age (except those persons under 18 years of age),
race, color, creed, gender, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, or physical or
mental disability, so long as the individual, through his or her own effort, is able to
participate in the program or activity. 

This organization has scheduled its August 2014 International Convention in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As of this year, Human Rights Watch reported that In violation of international standards against discrimination, Malaysian leaders continue to denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak gave speeches in June and July 2012 in which he asserted that the activities of LGBT people do not “have a place in the country.”

On March 28, the Guardian ran a story by Kate Hodal which said

A government-backed musical in Malaysia that aims to warn young people about the perils of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) in this Muslim-majority country has sparked controversy over its “state-sponsored bigotry” and potential to incite hatred.

Asmara Songsang (Abnormal Desire) follows the lives of three LGBT friends who throw loud parties, take drugs and have casual sex, thereby incurring the wrath of their religious neighbours, who attempt to reintroduce them to the teachings of  Islam. Those who repent are spared, while those who don’t are killed in a lightning storm.  

While not itself discriminating against members of the LGBT community, the organization has invited its membership to spend money in a country that violates international standards of discrimination—one of which is directly related to sexual orientation.  It has also committed to put its money —and the money of its membership—where one of its own bylaws speaks to a different value.

(1) Cassell, Kay Ann. “ALA and the ERA,” American Libraries, December 1982. p. 690.

Susan Ellsworth

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An Open Letter to Malala Yousufzai

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Dear Malala,
We at Pequod Systems hear you loud and clear. And we were deeply moved by your recent speech at the  U.N. Youth Assembly in New York City. We look forward to the day there is a documentary about your efforts to encourage the education of all girls, women and children. While we  are blessed to be in a country where women are not shot for trying to get an education, we have also been around long enough to have watched a dramatic change in the numbers of girls and women being encouraged to enter technical fields as technicians rather than as secretaries. 

Malala, as a young girl, I was encouraged only to be a secretary to someone who would be far more intelligent than I was assumed to be. Enter my  husband and first computing mentor Grant. He knew I have a mind of my own and gently encouraged me to learn to use his first computer—an Apple II+.  Later, he bought a server on which I managed a database created by my second mentor, Ed Fox.

Ed taught me one of the best lessons I would ever learn about data management: Where does the data come from, who will benefit by its use, and what is your plan for managing it when your first plan does not exactly work the way you thought it would?

David Rorabaugh was my third computing mentor.  David had no truck with those who minimized women for any reason, and was a visionary who understood and talked about the future of Windows. He was a Certified NetWare Engineer when I was on a government contract with him. Eventually we both were taking—and passing—the same professional examinations and comparing notes with each other.

Today, while the number of women computer technicians is still significantly lower than the number of men in the field, I believe there has been a generational attitude shift among younger men about women and computing. A Google search shows a lot of articles about women in computing. Most encouraging (to me, at least) there is a Philadelphia-based Network of Women in Computer Technology which focuses on mentoring young girls who might want to enter the field.

Malala, keep speaking out as you did on your birthday. In some parts of the world, women are making progress. In others, we still need an army of your friends who believe in supporting the education of all women, girls and children just as you do. Thank you for your inspirational example.

Susan Ellsworth

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Graduation—-what’s Next?

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Tomorrow I will be attending my niece’s graduation party. I live close to a university campus with a sports arena so large and popular that graduation ceremonies seem to start earlier year after year.   All excitement and fun.


Apart from all the student debt that will come crashing down on these students, I do wonder about the practical, hands-on work experiences that today’s graduates in the computing field bring to future employers. My own Alma Mater with its “Fearless Ideas” campaign and Cal Ripkin Jr. urging its 2013 graduates to keep a positive attitude have me wondering if the waiter at the local Applebee’s was really a computer sciences major in disguise and who was unable to find related part-time off-campus work.  

For what it’s worth, here’s a fearless idea: Provide tax incentives for businesses that revive meaningful apprenticeships for tomorrow’s computing professionals. Instead of paying  those apprentices directly, those businesses would deposit earned compensation directly into an account which automatically pays down a percentage of that apprentice’s student loan debt. Provide meaningful incentives for colleges and universities to give academic credit to those computer sciences apprentices who demonstrate that they have learned new, valuable and related skill sets. No credit for “life skills” learned in the “School of Hard Knocks.” Just for proven business and computing skills learned on the job. Period.


Your thoughts welcome.


Susan Ellsworth

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LinkedIn Customer Service: You could learn from a Toastmaster I Knew

Several years ago when I was new to the Toastmasters International organization, I complained to a fellow member about an Area Governor who seemed to be completely out of touch with the half dozen clubs he was supposed to be serving. My friend, a wise and experienced member, said “Well, you can always learn from a bad example what NOT to do.”

Over the past three months, LinkedIn has provided a great example of what not to do. LinkedIn appears to have abandoned providing technical support for those who use it. Its announcement that “As of January 31, 2013, the LinkedIn Answers feature will be retired from LinkedIn. We’ll be focusing our efforts on the development of new and more engaging ways to share and discuss professional topics across LinkedIn. In the meantime, you can still pose questions and facilitate professional discussions through other popular LinkedIn channels including LinkedIn Polls, Groups, or status updates.” has not exactly won friends and favorably influenced people.

The LinkedIn data export utility has not worked as illustrated for over two months. In what used to be a help forum, there are comments such as “this screw-your-customer policy needs to be changed.” and “I did try to call the corporate office, but you no longer get a human. Such arrogance. I did manage to send an email to a supposed support contact, but, not surprisingly, have received no reply. We’re all just left hanging.”  The cockles of my heart were not warmed one bit when, after sending a message asking for help, I received an automated message with a trouble ticket number.

I am reminded of the late Charles M. Schulz character Lucy, who just won’t listen to anyone other than herself. His March 2, 1985 strip says it all.



For a social media platform in which users have posted blog after blog and post after post talking about listening to one’s customers, it’s pretty sad to see a major player in the social media world turning a deaf ear even to its paying customers. LinkedIn has provided a great example of what NOT to do.

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How Embarrassing!

Do you — or a friend—have a name that others just seem unwilling or unable to pronounce or spell correctly? We do.
There was a time when we thought that of course everyone would be able to say PEQUOD Systems. But no, cold-caller after cold-caller mangles our name, and it comes out as “Prequad.” Advertiser after adveretiser mis-spells our name as PRQUOD or PREQUAD or PREQUOD.

Over this past weekend, while I was observing the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s 17th Annual Marathon reading of Herman Melville’s MOBY DICK, I decided it was time to take action. This will be my first annual blog about how we pronounce our name.

It’s about time I did so. Last year, I participated as a team member of my Toastmasters Club in a high performance leadership project whose objective was to get all our multi-cultural members learning to say each other’s names as we all wanted those names to be said. Our group leader chose to implement a version of the International Phonetic Alphabet as a tool with which to educate the 25+ members of the club. He also recorded individual members saying their own names, so that we could later on download and listen to those recordings.

Our club is not alone. There are multi-cultural Toastmasters International clubs around the globe where one can find members who come from a wide diversity of backgrounds all sitting in the same meeting. And we said so in a letter to the President of Toastmasters International at the time.

Having said all that, and often having said that the real value of being a Toastmaster is when one is outside meeting walls, I must stand up here and say: PEQUOD rhymes with PEA QUAD. Can you please say PEQUOD?


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Teamwork and Leadership are great…and how are they Rewarded?

 Linda Finkle’s newsletter from the Incedo Group is the exception to my general practice of hardly ever reading every newsletter I receive. Her November 8 “Generate the Power” about corporate team-building landed in my inbox just about the same time as a lead from NIMBLE did. In a strange quirk of coincidence, I’ve been in an online discussion about teamwork and leadership.  And recently I’ve been working with two small and delightful Toastmasters teams.

One of Finkle’s key points about corporate team-building is that “teams can’t function well if everyone is the same personality type or of like mind on everything. You need a mix of the right technical skills and the right interpersonal skills for a team to jell and work together successfully. ”  She’s absolutely right. Furthermore, she points out that “”When individuals on a team enjoy working together, corporate team-building is the natural outcome. It isn’t something you have to create. As in all relationships, the members will have little spats, disagreements and challenges, and that’s healthy. They will also most often work through these problems without intervention on the part of management. That’s what makes a strong team.” And she’s right about that, too.

What does that have to do with NIMBLE, the simple, affordable Social Relationship manager? One of NIMBLE’s core values relates directly to working with teams. Last month, an iconic note to partners opened with the sentence “Nimble is a lot more fun and productive when you invite more team members to nurture and grow business relationships as a team. ”  There is a congenial shared LinkedIn Nimble Partners group to which even the founders of Nimble contribute answers to questions posed by partners.

My favorite global life-time learning organization Toastmasters International encourages teamwork by promoting annual change of local leadership roles. A lively official LinkedIn Toastmasters Members group with 28,500 politely discusses virtually every aspect of our organization and its programming. That includes building teams.

Yet in the paid day-job world, how is teamwork rewarded? When is the last time you and your team evaluated yourselves *as a team* ? To what extent is your compensation based on how effectively your team works together? Rather scary, wouldn’t you say? The simple truth is most of us succeed at doing those things for which we are rewarded, and it makes sense to reward teams that work well together.  That’s my thought for the day and I’m sticking with it.



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Beating the Social Media Bafflegab

Susan EllsworthI receive newsletters from a wide variety of organizations touting themselves as experts in social media. The ones I generally delete without reading include a title phrase like must read.  Recently, I received one that included in its preview text a suggestion that the organization producing the article completely understood a social media concept that I had never seen before (and have not seen anywhere since.) Furthermore, the teaser text suggested that what they were publishing was part of “best practices.”

Intrigued, I clicked to download the article. There was nothing new I had not seen before. Furthermore, it had been published back in 2009.  Really? Yes, really.

It’s time to look at criteria for credibility in social media.

Does the source cite actual statistical studies of its claims conducted by a completely independent source? Where is the online “Consumer Reports” aggregator of statistical studies reports in social media? A recent Google search for such a service came up pretty dry in that regard. If there actually are statistical studies included, who is the audience for whom the study was written? To put it differently, can you understand what is being said? Or are you looking at a lot of bafflegab intersperced with code words recently invented by (and defined by) the source?

While checking research is a daunting task, you can beat at least some of the bafflegab. There actually are some dictionaries and glossaries of social media terms. Here are some.

A-Z of social media.


Pam Dyer. “Social Media from A to Z: A Glossary”

Socialbrite. Social media glossary 

…and there are others that Google will serve up for you every day of the week. You can beat at least some of the bafflegab. Go for it!

Susan Ellsworth


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Spokeo gets an “Unlike”

Susan EllsworthA while back, a very good friend said
“Just because some website could be built doesn’t mean it should. TAKE NOTE: There is a site called that is a new online USA phone book w/ personal information: everything from pics you’ve posted on Facebook or web (depending on privacy settings), your approx credit score, home value, income, age.

Today most websites declare that they do not release your personal data without asking. Spokeo does just the opposite: It collects data about you from wherever it can find it, compiles it and offers it for sale at $4.95 a month if you sign up for three months or $3.95 a month if you sign up for six months. All without a word to you.

Thumbs Down

Here is how to get your personal data removed from SPOKEO.

Go to (DO NOT LOG IN.) That’s for the people who want to sell your data.

Enter your first and last name in the dialog box below the word “spokeo” and above the “Not your grandma’s phone book” tagline. Click the green Search button.

A map of the United States will appear. To the left of the map, you will see a list of States in which people with your name appears.

Click on the appropriate State. (There may be several people with your name in your State.)

A list of cities and/or towns will appear. Click on the appropriate jurisdiction.

A listing showing your sex, approximate age, abbreviated home phone number, abbreviated eMail address, abbreviated current street address, city and State, a clickable list of family members, and a list of Marital Status, Occupation and Education with the clickable notation of “See Available Results” comes up.

Below that is a map showing the history of places you have lived. Further down is a map showing homes in your neighborhood and presumably their estimated worth.

Once you are confident that you are the person Spokeo has listed, look slightly above the website itself. You will see the website URL where your information is referred to. For example:”

Capture the whole URL of your profile.
Go to

The PRIVACY page will come up. Scroll down.

Copy and paste the URL of your profile in the first dialog box.
Enter your eMail address in the second dialog box.
Enter the  captcha letters you see into the third dialog box.

You should receive an eMail from Spokeo to confirm that you want to have your listing removed.
To complete the removal process, click on the new URL (included in the eMail to you) or paste it into your browser.

Press [return] and you are done….but only if Spokeo had only one listing for you. If  Spokeo had more than one listing for you, you will have to repeat this process for each listing Spokeo has for you. Happy de-listing!

Get out of Spokeo

Susan Ellsworth


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Of Teeth and Technology

Susan EllsworthSeveral years ago, I was visiting family members in Pittsburgh. One evening, my upper left jaw began to bother me–seriously. I took an over-the-counter pain killer and thought no more about it. But by the next morning, I was in horrible pain.

The trip home was a nightmare. At the time, I did not have a regular dentist, and had not seen one for many years. I arrived home late in the afternoon. As luck would have it, an ad for a dentist was in the stack of mail that had accumulated while I was out of town. I called the number on the ad. It was a wrong number. In desperation, I called the emergency number for a different dentist listed in the phone book and got an appointment for the next morning. Long story short, I lost a molar because I had not paid attention to my teeth. Not long thereafter, I went through more expensive dental surgery. Lesson learned: Take care of my teeth!

Recently, two different customers we had not heard from in over a year called us in a panic. Each had a serious problem with a server. One of them had not backed up user data in over a year and a half. Both of them had tuned out our repeated generous offers of remote monitoring of their systems. In each case, monitoring of systems had been sporadic and questionable at best.  In one case, the business owner had been raised on the philosophy that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He had applied that philosophy to the systems he had invested in and was ultimately responsible for. So now he had a downed server, which translated to downtime for himself and his staff.  Ultimately, he ended up purchasing a new server and new workstations. All of which could have been a lot less painful for everyone had he had regular checkups through regular remote monitoring of his systems.

Watching 24 x 7 x 365

All of which, good friends, is why your teeth are like your technology: ignore them and they will go away.

Cheers, all!


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