Microsoft: a great place to work

“That is nice work if you can get it, and you can get it, if you try…”

— George and Ira Gershwin

This is the last (for now, unless I come up with anything else — which is entirely possible) article that came out of my experience last weekend with SQL Saturday #814.

After last Saturday’s conference, George Walters and a few of his Microsoft coworkers held a session on what was billed as “Diversity, Inclusion and Careers at Microsoft” (or something to that effect).  Unfortunately, I missed about the first half of the session (I had to run up to the speaker’s room to get my stuff out of there before they locked it up), so I’m unable to comment on the “diversity and inclusion” part.  Speaking as an Asian-American, that’s unfortunate, since it sounded like something that could potentially appeal to me.

I want to emphasize again that I am not actively seeking new employment.  However, I’ll also admit that I do look passively.  If something drops in my lap, or if I come across something that looks interesting, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least look into it.  Besides, George is a friend, and I wanted to at least see what it was about (not to mention make the rounds with my friends before I left the conference).  (And on top of that, they had free pizza!)

From my perspective, it seemed like a Microsoft recruitment pitch (and I say that in a good way).  They discussed opportunities at Microsoft, what was needed to apply, what they looked for, what the work environment was like, and so on.  There were good questions and good discussion among the crowd in attendance, and I even contributed some suggestions of my own.

For me, one of the big takeaways was the description of the work culture.  If you decide you’re not happy with your career direction at Microsoft, they’ll work with you to figure out a path that works for you.  It seems like there’s something for everyone there.  Since I’m at an age where I’m probably closer to retirement than from my college graduation, the idea of finding a good fit appeals to me.  (On the other hand, that thought would probably also appeal to a recent grad as well.)  And I’ll also say that a lot of what the Microsoft reps said didn’t sound too bad, either.

While I’m happy in my current position, it won’t last forever (and besides, things can happen suddenly and unexpectedly — I’ve had that happen before).  So it doesn’t hurt to keep your eyes and ears open.  And when it comes to potential employers, you can probably do worse than Microsoft.

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Collaboration, cooperation, and competition

This is another article based on stuff that I picked up from SQL Saturday #814.  This time, I’ll talk about Matt Cushing’s presentation about networking.

Whenever I’m speaking at a SQL Saturday, I always make it a point to attend sessions that are similar to mine.  At #814, I met Matt Cushing, who was doing a session on networking.  In fact, our presentations had very similar titles; they both started with “Networking 101.”  That very much caught my attention, and once I finished my own (my presentation was in the time slot immediately before his), I went to his room to catch his presentation.

A big reason why I attend presentations similar to mine is that everyone is different, and will therefore present differently.  Other people will have different perspectives of the same topic.  I want to see these other perspectives.  They might have ideas that will help me enhance my own presentations.  Every time I attend a session in which the topic is relevant to my own, I come across something that either never occurred to me, presents an idea in a different way, or reinforces concepts in my own presentations.  These are important, and they help me make my presentations even better.

Matt gave a great presentation!  I found his own self-assessment on his ‘blog.  I found out that it was Matt’s first-ever SQL Saturday presentation.  I had no idea!  He did a great job with it.  (Matt, if you’re reading this, well done!)  I don’t remember all the points from his session (I’ll need to download his presentation slides), but one takeaway was that “competition is good, cooperation is better.”  (This thought inspired the name of this article you’re reading now.)

This concept of cooperation is applicable to countless situations, and SQL Saturday presentations are no exception.  Many presenters refer to other speakers or other presentations; even in my own presentations, I’ll encourage audience members to go check out other presentations that are similar to my own topic.  (Ed. note: I need to make sure I add a reference to Matt’s presentation in my own slides!)  Matt and I joked that we should encourage SQL Saturday organizers to schedule our sessions back-to-back; we even went as far as to say that we should do a joint presentation.  (Matt, I’m game if you are!)

In a way, Matt is a competitor in that we did similar presentations.  However, we were both able to learn and feed off each other, which enables us both to improve; it’s a win-win for both of us.  Competition is a healthy thing; it drives us to do our best.  But when you cooperate with your competition, there’s no telling what you can accomplish.

Dashboard design = UX/UI

This is another article that was borne from my experience at SQL Saturday #814.

When I went to my room to get ready for my first presentation of the day, I walked in on the tail end of Kevin Feasel‘s presentation about dashboard visualization techniques.  I caught about the last ten minutes of his session.

And from those ten minutes, I regret not having sat through his session.

Kevin’s presentation focused on dashboard layout and design.  In the short time in which I saw his last few slides, he showed off his impressions of a badly-designed dashboard, and talked about what not to do.  In other words, he was talking about UX/UI — a subject near and dear to my heart.  It reminded me of the article I wrote about poor design a while back.

I wish I had read through the presentation schedule more clearly.  That was definitely a presentation that I would have liked to have seen.  In my defense, during that time slot, I was sitting in the speaker’s room getting ready to do my own presentation.  But I would have gladly spent that time sitting through a presentation that interests me — and this one definitely qualified.

I’ve attended a number of SQL Saturdays, and I’ve crossed paths with Kevin a few times.  If we’re both attending a SQL Saturday, and Kevin is doing this presentation again, I’ll make sure that I’m there.  I don’t want to miss it a second time.

“So what, exactly, are you doing in IT?”

“Aside from mediocre marks in his freshman literature courses — even MIT wanted people to be literate, but evidently Peter Zimmer didn’t care for poetry — the kid was straight A.” (bold type added for emphasis)

— Excerpt from The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy

As I mentioned before, a lot of things came out of SQL Saturday #814 — enough that I have enough ‘blog article material for at least a few days.  This is the first of those articles.

At the Friday night speaker’s dinner, Eugene Meidinger asked me what I thought was a very good and valid question.  I’m paraphrasing what he said, but he asked me something like this.

“I’ve been reading some of your ‘blog articles.”  (Ed. note: hey, someone reads my ‘blog!)  “Most of your articles don’t have anything to do with SQL.  Do you ever write anything about SQL?  How did you get involved with SQL Saturday?  Are you one of those people who just happened to latch on to SQL or hang out with SQL people?”

The answer is not simple.  This article is my attempt to answer his questions.

To answer his first question, yes, I have written about SQL, but it’s been a while.  For his (or anyone else’s) reference, here are some of the SQL articles that I wrote.

Yes, I do have experience in SQL Server.  However, I am not a SQL MVP, nor do I consider myself a SQL expert.  As I describe myself, “I fall under the category of knowing enough SQL to be dangerous.”  (Or, as I like to think of it, I know enough SQL to be able to do the job.)  Although I don’t know enough to be able to talk about advanced SQL techniques, I can discuss beginner-level SQL topics that can help people just getting started in SQL.  I’ve been meaning to write and present more beginner SQL-related topics, but (primarily) lack of time has kept me from getting them done.

(I’m also at a bit of a disadvantage because I currently work in an Oracle, not a SQL Server, environment.)

I won’t rehash how I got involved with SQL Saturday (I’ve already done that; I’ll leave it to you to check the link and read it for yourself).  I’ll just simply say that, although I don’t talk extensively about SQL topics, I’ve learned that there is still a place for me within an endeavor such as SQL Saturday.

When I first started my ‘blog, I intended for it to supplement my SQL Saturday presentations.  Since then, however, it seems to have taken on a life of its own.  It’s become a forum for me to express my thoughts in a way that they’d be helpful for both myself and for other people, especially anyone pursuing professional careers.

One thing that has come out of these efforts is that, professionally, I’m finding myself more and more.  I’ve had to come to terms with my own level of technological knowledge and expertise.  For years, I’ve been seeking positions in programming and application development.  But a funny thing happened along the way.  I discovered that while I do enjoy coding, I wasn’t passionate about it.  I wasn’t willing to spend late nights and downtime doing more with it or to immerse myself in it.  As soon as I came to that realization, that was when I realized that I should look into something else.

And as soon as I came to that realization, good things started happening for me.  I became happier and more confident in my career direction.  I started getting more and better opportunities.

It also made me realize that, despite all my jokes about being an odd man out because I was “not a SQL expert,” there is still a place for me in SQL Saturday.  No, I may not be presenting SQL or data topics, but I am still making important presentation contributions to the database and IT communities.

Back when I worked at Blue Cross in the late 90s and early 2000s, I fulfilled a role in which I supplied server staff with information they needed to do their jobs.  As I describe it, my job was to “support the support staff.”  It’s only within the last few years that I really appreciate just how important of a role that was.

Ironically, although Eugene asked me the original question, it was one of his own presentations that made me come to this realization.  The increasing difficulty of keeping pace with technological trends contributed to my waning passion about some technological topics.  I mentioned a while back in a podcast that I thought it was important to play to your strengths.  By focusing on something about which you’re really passionate — in my case, it’s technical communication — there’s no telling how far you can go.

So Eugene, if you happen to be reading this, hopefully this answers your questions and gives you a perspective of where I’m coming from.  (Good to see you this past weekend, by the way!)  And for anyone else reading this, hopefully this will inspire you to reflect upon your own interests and skill sets, and provide you with a sense of guidance as you pursue your career interests.

SQL Saturday #814 — the debrief

I had a great time speaking at SQL Saturday in Washington, DC this past weekend!  Chris Bell and his team put on a great event, and it’s one to which I will definitely submit again!

I wanted to write this up quickly for a couple of reasons.  One is to acknowledge the SQL Saturday #814 team for the great job they did!  I also wanted to write this to note a few things that I experienced — enough so that I wanted to ‘blog about them; you will see articles about these this week while they’re fresh in my mind, and I wanted to note them while I was thinking about them.  First, Eugene Meidinger asked me what I thought was a very good and legitimate question.  Second, I walked in on the tail end of a presentation by Kevin Feasel that I definitely wish I had seen.  Third, I sat in on another presentation by Matt Cushing that I thought was very good!  Finally, I sat in on a post-event session by George Walters about job opportunities at Microsoft, which I also found interesting!

I will be addressing these thoughts in upcoming ‘blog articles, so stay tuned!

Email changes and security

When was the last time you changed your phone number?  Let’s say you lived in a house for, say, fifteen years.  In that house, you had a landline phone (yes, young ‘uns, once upon a time, homes had their own phone numbers).  For whatever reason, you had to sell the house, move away to another city, and get a new phone number.  So, you went through the exercise of changing your phone number.

Changing that phone number was sometimes quite a task.  You needed to give your new number to your family and friends.  You needed to update your business contacts and associates.  You set up a forwarding number for people you missed.  And you gave your new number to all your important businesses — your bank, your doctor, your broker, your babysitter, your lawyer, your gym, the people in your book club…

Or did you?  Are you absolutely sure you remembered everyone?

That gives you an idea of something that I’m dealing with now.  I’ve had the same email address for a long time; I’m not exactly sure how long, but it at least dates back to when I was in grad school (which was in the mid to late ’90s).

I was determined to not change my email, but recent circumstances made this a necessity.  For one thing, the ISP behind it used old and clunky technology.  Trying to coordinate it with other devices and tasks (calendars, for example) was a major chore.  For a long time, it was not SSL-secure.  It was not easy to check it remotely; if I wanted to do so, I had to remember to shut off my mail client on my PC at home, or else they would all be downloaded from the server before I had a chance to read them.  The issues got worse more recently; the ISP did not provide an easy way to change my password.  I could either (1) send an email to technical support (in response to this, my exact words were, “no way in HELL am I sending password changes via email!!!”), or (2) call tech support to give them my password change.

The last straw came today.  I was looking for a certain email, but couldn’t find it.  Figuring that it was caught in my spam filter, I logged into it to look for the email.  I didn’t find it, but what I did see were spam messages that included in the subject line…  and I’m repeating this for emphasis: IN THE SUBJECT LINE…  my passwords, clear and exposed.

That did it.  I decided right then and there that I was changing my email, since I couldn’t trust the old one (or the ISP) anymore.  I’ve had a Gmail account for a few years, but I never really used it.  Today, that account became my primary email account.  I’ll still hold on to my old email long enough to make sure everything and everyone is switched over to my new email, at which point I’ll shut down my old account.

I suppose there are several lessons to gain from this exercise.  For one thing (as I’d once written), don’t get comfortable.  I’d gotten comfortable with my old email, and I was determined not to change it.  I paid for that with my peace of mind.  For another, don’t take your personal data security for granted.  Make sure you change your password often (and if your provider doesn’t offer an easy way to do that, then get a new provider).  For yet another, if something can no longer do the job (in this case, no password change mechanism, unable to interface with other applications, difficult to use, etc.), then it’s probably time to get a new one (whatever that “something” is).  And for still another, make sure you keep track of your contacts.

(And I’m sure there are a bunch of others that I can’t think of right now.)

Too many of us (myself included) become lackadaisical when it comes to email and data security.  Don’t take it for granted, or you might wake up one day with your bank account drained and your credit rating slashed.

SQL Saturday #814, Washington, DC — this Saturday

This is a reminder that this coming Saturday, December 8, I will be speaking at SQL Saturday #814!  I will be giving the following two presentations.

  • Whacha just say? Talking technology to non-technical people — This is my original presentation — as in the very first SQL Saturday presentation that I ever did!  I’ll talk about techniques for talking about technology to people who don’t understand it.
  • Networking 101: Building professional relationships — from my oldest presentation to my newest!  This presentation is becoming one of my best sellers!  In this discussion, I’ll talk about the art of business and professional networking.  We’ll even do some networking during our session!  If you have business cards to trade, bring them with you!

SQL Saturday is always a good time!  I’m looking forward to making the trip down to the Beltway this weekend.  Hope to see you there!