Support your local artists

A little while ago, a friend of mine from high school sent me a message (along with a link) saying that his band was scheduled to perform a gig pretty much in my own backyard. I added his gig date to my calendar, and I will make the effort to attend.

I have to admit that I really haven’t done enough to go out and attend local concerts and gigs, unless it’s one in which I’m actually performing, and that’s a shame on my part. As a part-time musician myself, I can say firsthand that local musicians (and all artists — not just musicians) take their craft seriously, and they put a lot of time, effort, and soul into what they do. As such, these artists deserve to be recognized for their efforts, whether it’s by purchasing their art, sampling their wares, or attending their concerts and gigs.

Often, whenever my wife and I have an evening free, I’ll often ask her, “you want to do anything tonight?” Most of the time, that involves doing something for dinner. As a sports fan, I’ll sometimes look to see if one of the local teams is playing, and if I’m up for it, I’ll look into getting tickets. But as a musician, I don’t often look for any live music performances that interest me.

Whenever I’m performing, I’ll announce that I have a performance coming up — nearly always on Facebook, but sometimes also on Twitter and here on my ‘blog. I would hope that (at least) my friends would come out to support me and what I do. And whenever my friends tell me they’re performing somewhere, it’s only fair that I reciprocate. Part of it is “professional” courtesy, but mostly, my attendance sends a message that “I support what you do!”

As I get older, I’ve noticed that I’m somewhat less inclined to go out. I used to hit some jazz clubs when I was younger (I love listening to live jazz, among other things), but events like that have lessened as I’ve gotten older. Mostly, after a week of working or free days doing things around the house, by the time a Friday or Saturday evening rolls around, I’m “too tired to go out and do anything.” And that’s a cop-out on my end.

Some people won’t go to a concert unless it’s a big name. Hey, even I’ll admit that whenever my favorite band comes to town, I have to attend. That’s okay. But there’s also likely a number of local artists who also deserve your attention, and a lot of them happen to be pretty good! Not only that, but chances are the price of admission is likely to be a lot less than a ticket to see your favorite nationally-known artist.

Think of it this way — if you like to travel, you’ll likely buy souvenirs that are unique to that area. Sometimes, the wares are pieces of art that are indigenous to wherever you’re visiting. In doing so, you’re supporting lesser-known local artists. So why not do the same in your own hometown?

So whenever I ask my wife (or any friends) if they’re interested in doing something, I’ll make sure I check the local arts calendar to see who’s performing or exhibiting. It makes for good, inexpensive local entertainment, not to mention that you’ll be supporting your local artists, you’ll get a taste of your own local culture, and you’ll likely have a great time in doing so!

(P.S. I put my friend’s gig date in my calendar, and I’ll try to bring some friends along with me!)

#PASSDataCommunitySummit 2021 — the debrief

PASS Data Community Summit 2021 is in the books (the last day was Friday). It was fun, educational, and tiring (as many conferences are). And now that I’ve had the weekend to recover (I think!), I can write up my impressions of the conference.

This year, the conference was entirely virtual — and free! This enabled many people who likely could not attend previous conferences to attend this year, and I believe it was reflected this year; although I don’t know the exact attendance numbers, I believe there were thousands more attendees this year. This morning, I checked my speaker’s portal, and at last count, 124 people had viewed my session. I should note that that figure includes people who watched my session replay, as well as those who attended live, so that number could go up. Speaking of which, if you registered for the Summit, you can continue to watch most session replays for another six months. (I’m not entirely sure what happens after six months; presumably, you won’t be able to see them on the Summit page, but there’s a possibility that they might be viewable on PASS’s YouTube site. And if you happen to check it out, my own Summit intro video is even on the site!)

The committee who organized this year’s Summit did a fantastic job of putting together a successful event! Here are some of my takeaways from this year’s Summit.

  • I have a new favorite online meeting app! Check out Spatial Chat! The PASS Community Zone made use of this technology (and I was told that Redgate uses this application in their office environment as well). Many of us have gotten fatigued by the same-old, same-old Zoom, Google Meet, and other similar applications. Spatial Chat, however, is a game-changer. It simulates the experience of actually being in a room — for example, the closer you are to someone’s avatar, the better you can hear that person — just like standing adjacent (or at a distance) from an actual person. It allows creating separate virtual rooms and customized backgrounds (many people “sat” in “chairs” that made up the background; it also provided a guide for areas within a room where people could congregate).

    I was amazed at the tool’s ability to host a large number of people within simulated virtual rooms without any noticeable degradation in video or audio.

    I even set up my own Spatial Chat using the free version of the app (the free version allows you to create up to three rooms and up to 50 meeting participants). I intend to use this application whenever I have a need to hold an online meeting, or even if I want to hold a “virtual party.” If you’re interested in checking this tool out, go to Spatial Chat’s website, use the free version, invite a few people to join you in a meeting, and take it for a spin!

    Of course, I would much prefer an in-person conference, but this tool made me miss the experience of an in-person event a little less!
  • There were many chances to network! Networking is a big part of any conference. Spatial Chat, along with my presentation, allowed me opportunities to do so (and Spatial Chat made it even easier). My LinkedIn contact list definitely got bigger over the course of this conference!
  • Missed a presentation you wanted to see? Not to worry! You can probably watch it later! I didn’t make it to as many presentations I would’ve liked. That said, it wasn’t too much of an issue. Registered participants can go back to watch whatever sessions they want for up to six months. (I’m not sure what happens after six months; I’m hoping to be able to continue watching them on PASS’s YouTube site, but we’ll see what happens.) There are a number of sessions that interested me, and I intend to go back to check them out later.

    That said, I couldn’t go back to rewatch all the sessions (more on that below).
  • I had a great audience for my presentation! My job hunt presentation is, in my opinion, one of my better presentations, and I feel like it went well — definitely much better than my first two times speaking at Summit. (I guess the third time’s a charm.) I had a number of good (and even interesting) questions, which told me that my audience was engaged and interested.

Of course, like any event, the Summit wasn’t perfect (no event ever is). Here are a few things that I think would’ve made Summit 2021 even better.

  • Spatial Chat should’ve had a room (or two) for the Exhibitor Hall. This was one thing that I found disappointing. As is the case for other large conferences, PASS Data Community Summit had pages for exhibitors and vendors. But in order to get to them, you had to go back to the attendee dashboard and click the links for the Expo Hall. To me, that took away from the experience; it made for additional links to open, and it was another step you had to take.

    In an actual in-person conference, you have to physically walk to the exhibitor hall. Spatial Chat has the ability to simulate that experience, and I was very surprised that a room wasn’t set aside for the vendor exhibition, where people could’ve easily attended and walked in from the Community Zone. I thought this would’ve been a natural setup for exhibitors, and I was very surprised that it was not set up this way.
  • The Community Zone wasn’t “open all night” (or even “open late”). I will confess that I became somewhat addicted to Spatial Chat; it gave me the opportunity to reconnect with #SQLFamily friends whom I don’t often have the opportunity to see. The trouble was that it shut down every night at 6:30 pm EST. In their defense, PASS organizers said they had to do so for legal reasons, ostensibly to ensure that the conference code-of-conduct was enforced. But there were attendees from all over the world and in different time zones, and I’m sure they could’ve gotten more volunteers to stay online so the code-of-conduct rule could be satisfied.

    Speaking of time zones…
  • PASS Data Community Summit was a great event to attend — if you were on the East Coast of the US. In this respect, I was lucky, because I am on the East Coast of the US. The Summit schedule was very conducive for anyone in the Eastern time zone. But if you were in other time zones — especially in other geographic regions such as Europe or Asia, it wasn’t as convenient. I remember talking to at least one person located in Australia, and he mentioned that it was 5 am where he was located. It was nearly impossible for those people to attend many sessions, many of which took place while they were asleep. It also prevented people from interacting with other attendees. Networking, after all, is a major part of conferences.
  • Most sessions are replayable — but not all. I mentioned above that I can go back and rewatch most of the conference sessions that I missed. Most, but not all. There were several Q&A sessions that I found interesting, but unlike other presentations, the Q&A sessions can not be replayed. I realize that you can’t interact with a recorded Q&A session, but in many cases, the discussions that did take place were good dialogue, and I would’ve liked to go back to them, or even check out sessions that I missed.
  • I would’ve liked a better way to engage with my audience. Anyone who’s seen my presentations know that I like to get my audience involved. I like doing interactive presentations. I feel that they keep my audience engaged and interested. When my session was scheduled, it was scheduled as a pre-recorded session (i.e. I recorded my session in advance, my presentation was uploaded, and people would see my recorded session).

    After my experience with last year’s Summit, I found that I had an aversion to pre-recorded sessions. Since my last in-person SQL Saturday, I’ve spoken at many virtual conferences, and have never had a problem with any of them. I know that there’s a concern with problems during a live session, but personally, it’s never happened to me. This is not to say that I’ll never have a problem (hey, it happens!), but I feel comfortable enough with my session that I would much prefer to do it live. I think every session slot should’ve had an option of live or pre-recorded, not just a select few (in fact, I thought at first that that was how it was done, but that turned out to not be the case).

    Additionally, when I did my presentation, I had no direct interaction with my audience. I presented via Zoom while the audience viewed it on another platform, and while my audience could see (and hear) my presentation, there was no direct way for us to interact. People would post questions to a chat, and the session moderator would relay those questions to me. As I said, I prefer interactive sessions. Fortunately, this particular presentation didn’t require a lot of audience interaction, but if I did do one, it likely would’ve been problematic.

Looking at what I just wrote, I realize that I wrote more about issues than what I liked. This is not to take away from this year’s Summit experience. Overall, I thought Summit was very well done, and I’m very glad that I had a chance to participate. A lot of hard work went into putting together the 2021 PASS Data Community Summit. Many kudos to the people who organized Summit this year!

PASS Data Community Summit 2021 exceeded my expectations! I hope that I am able to attend next year’s Summit, which will be a hybrid event. If the 2022 Summit goes as well as the 2021 virtual Summit, it will be a great event!

#PASSDataCommunitySummit, day 1 #SQLFamily

PASS Data Community Summit is here!

I spent my morning getting my online profile and schedules set up, and trying to figure out how this online portal thing works! I’m also working on building my schedule. There are several sessions that interest me, but I need to pick and choose, since some of them conflict.

I also need to make sure that my own session is on the schedule! I don’t want to miss my own presentation!

I’m multitasking as I go through this. I did not take time off from work for the virtual conference (I did block out time to do my own presentation), and I will likely have the Summit sessions on in the background as I work.

I will be floating around the various online community rooms, so if you see me online, feel free to chat me up! I’ve already spoken with Andy Levy and Grant Fritchey this morning, and Steve Jones posted that he would be in the SQL Saturday room, so I will make it a point to visit him as well!

It’s not too late to register, if you want to attend! Just use the above link!

See you around the Summit!

#PASSDataCommunitySummit is here! (And I’m speaking!)

It’s here! PASS Data Community Summit starts today!

This is my third straight year speaking at PASS Data Community Summit (or its equivalent), and I look forward to this event each year! This is an event that has become near and dear to my heart, and I try to attend whenever I have the opportunity.

Today and tomorrow (Nov. 8-9) are the pre-con sessions. Unlike the Wed-Fri conference sessions, there is a fee for attending pre-cons. And while I, personally, am not attending the pre-con sessions, I can tell you that they are led by many world-class speakers. Check out their schedule, and if you see any sessions that interest you, they are well worth your time (and your money) to attend!

The rest of the conference (Nov. 10-12) is free to attend this year! There are a number of great sessions presented by many wonderful speakers! Again, if you see any sessions that interest you, I encourage you to check them out!

And, of course, I need to include a plug for myself! As I mentioned, this is the third straight year that I am speaking for this event. My session is titled: “I lost my job! Now what?!? A survival guide for the unemployed.” If you are out of work (or even if you’re looking for employment), this session offers tips on how to survive a jobless situation. I am scheduled to speak on Thursday at 9:30 am EST. Hope to see you there!

There are also opportunities for networking as well! You can speak with vendors, speakers, and other attendees. I encourage you to check out things like the Community Zone and the Expo Lounge.

It isn’t too late to register for this year’s free online PASS Data Community Summit! Just use the link to register and attend this great conference!

See you at Summit!

A few tips for #networking

Last month, I got an email from my alma mater about a new networking forum that they developed (if you’re a Syracuse University engineering or computer science alumnus or student, check it out). I signed up for it, and I’ve been fairly active on it, posting about some of my own activities and dispensing my thoughts to students asking alumni about career advice.

I have a presentation that I do about networking, and it’s one of my more popular presentations. Indeed, networking is likely one of the most critical business skills to develop in today’s environment, even if you’re not looking for a job.

With that, I wanted to write a few tips for people who are looking to get better at networking.

Learn how to break the ice

Initiating contact is probably one of the most difficult of aspects of networking. But it is not impossible, even if you’re introverted. It might require you stepping out of your comfort zone. However, it doesn’t mean you need to go through great pains or effort to do so. It could be as simple as saying “hi” or smiling at someone. It could involve asking a question. It could be a discussion about your current event. There are a number of different ways to break the ice.

One of those ways to break the ice is…

Your clothes can be a conversation piece

I wear my heart on my sleeve — literally. I commonly wear clothing that’s representative of my sports teams, my alma mater, my fraternity, organizations that are close or important to me, and so on. When I attended PASS Summit in Seattle, a number of people stopped me and told me they were from such-and-such town, or identified themselves as fellow fraternity brothers, or even said “how about those (name of favorite team)?” This all came about because of what I was wearing. Even one of my friends once posted on my Facebook, “Ray is always reppin’!”

If you’re attending an event, be cognizant of what you wear; it can be enough to break the ice.

Any time you interact with someone is a networking opportunity

If you’re looking to interact with people with similar interests, attending events — user group meetings, conferences, etc. — is the most obvious place to do so. But what about places that are not so obvious? Examples include your book club, your gym, your church group, your extracurricular activities, your workplace, and so on.

I’ve had conversations with people in my CrossFit gym and discovered that they work in similar industries to mine. I’ve even gotten them involved in events such as my local user group and PASS Summit.

Bottom line: any time you interact with other people is an opportunity to network.

It doesn’t even have to be in-person. Keep in mind that…

Online networking is still networking

Do you have, say, 100+ friends to whom your connected over Facebook (or your favorite social media of choice)?

Guess what? That’s a network!

I once spoke with a friend about networking, and I suggested tapping into her Facebook feed. It never even occurred to her to use Facebook for that purpose. I said, “why not? You have a bunch of friends with whom you’re connected. They might have leads or information that might be helpful to you professionally. Tap into that!”

I once landed a job through one of my Facebook friends. I posted that my previous employer had let me go, and I was seeking new employment. One of my friends direct-messaged me, saying “I might have something for you. Let’s talk.” We got the ball rolling, and sure enough, I ended up working for my friend!

If you have an established online social network, don’t be afraid to tap into that. Your online network doesn’t have to be strictly social; you can use it for professional purposes as well.

You don’t have to be friends to be networked

Ideally, you’d want to be friends with your networking contacts. The stronger the relationship between you and your contacts, the stronger your network will be.

That said, you don’t have to be buddies with your networking contacts. Being acquainted is just fine. I’ve connected to a number of people whom I probably wouldn’t know if I bumped into them on the street. All that matters is that you’ve established some kind of relationship with the other person.

Speaking of relationships…

“Connected” does NOT mean “networked”

I once had this happen to me after a weekend where I spoke at a SQL Saturday. I won’t rehash the details here; go ahead and read my article.

In my honest opinion, in order to have a network, you need to have some kind of relationship. Networking is a two-way street, where each side can assist the other. It doesn’t have to be anything big; it can be as simple as “so-and-so is looking for a job, and I’m forwarding his/her post as to what (s)he wants,” or even “I saw you’re looking for help with such-and-such; maybe this will help.” To me, “I think you’re cool and I want to connect with you” is NOT a good reason to network. Hey, I like Derek Jeter, but just because I’m following him doesn’t mean he’s part of my network.

Always have a way to continue the conversation

Let’s say you just met someone whom you either admire or can help you professionally. You talk for a while, end with “nice meeting you,” shake hands, and move on.

Did you create a networking contact? My answer is no.

In this scenario, you did not include a way to continue the conversation. In all likelihood, (s)he won’t even remember your name hours after you parted ways. That does nothing to build your network.

There are a number of ways you can do this. A couple of ways I’d recommend are…

Have business cards

I have my own business cards that I use for networking purposes. I used my own creativity in designing them so that they’d be eye-catching, a conversation piece, and a way for me to be remembered. Of course, they also include my contact info so that we can continue our conversation.

In a face-to-face encounter, I consider business cards to be one of the most important networking tools you can have. Why?

Consider this scenario: you’ve just finished a conversation and want to talk later. One of you says, “let me find a piece of paper to write down your email.” However, you have neither a pen or a piece of paper available. Neither of you wants to take the effort to enter the other’s contact info in your phones.

Hmmm. If only there was a way to easily exchange contact info.

Hey! Business cards!

Always have business cards available to distribute. You’ll instantly be able to provide your contact info and continue your conversation.

LinkedIn is your friend

In my honest opinion, if business cards are your most important networking tool, LinkedIn might come in second.

Professionals take LinkedIn seriously. I’ve even seen spaces for LinkedIn addresses on employment applications, which, to me, indicates that businesses take LinkedIn seriously.

A LinkedIn profile does a number of things. Like business cards, it provides a way to continue your conversation. It serves as your online resume. It provides an avenue for you to post about your accomplishments and thoughts. It is an important tool for professionals. In my opinion, if you’re serious about networking, you absolutely must have a LinkedIn account.


These are just a few ways in which you can hone your networking skills; there are many others that I haven’t even touched upon. (You can learn more if you attend my networking presentation! </plug>) We do not live in a vacuum, and no (wo)man is an island. These days, maintaining a strong network is vital for your professional health, and a way to ensure that you will be successful in your career.

November Monthly CASSUG Meeting

Our November meeting will again be online. NOTE: you MUST RSVP to this Meetup at https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL-Server-User-Group/events/281817530/ to view the Zoom URL!

Our November speaker is Pamela Mooney!

Topic: Code Smells – How to Keep Your Code From Stinking

Maybe you’ve had some experience writing SQL, but no one’s ever told you what not to do. Or maybe you’re aware of some bad habits to avoid when writing SQL, but no one has ever shown you why a bad practice can hurt your query – or SQL Server. Perhaps you feel a little more confident with your TSQL, but don’t understand why your queries aren’t running as quickly as you would like.

Bad SQL coding practices are known in the SQL community as “code smells”. We will work with me through five common coding mistakes that can make performance stink. By the time we’re done, you’ll have a better idea of how to freshen up some problem queries.

About Pamela:

Pamela Mooney is a Senior Analyst with NISA Investment Advisors, LLC. he road to IT was a long and winding one for her, but she fell in love with SQL Server and knew that she wanted to be a DBA after her first database class in college. She was fortunate enough to be hired in as a junior DBA straight out of school, and never looked back. She is now a senior DBA who loves to mentor and teach – as well as to continue to learn. A one-time, part-time professional musician and songwriter, she has a medical background and am a passionate history nerd. In my spare time, she likes to hike, bike, read, go to the Ren Faire, write, and talk to you.

Our online meeting schedule is as follows:

  • 6:00: General chat, discussion, and announcements
  • 6:30: Presentation

We usually wrap up between 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM.

Please RSVP to this Meetup, then use the online event URL to join (note: you MUST RSVP for the URL to be visible). We will send out a meeting password as we get closer to the event.
Thanks to our sponsor, Datto, for making this event possible!

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 10/26/2021) #ProfessionalDevelopment #PASSDataCommunitySummit #PASSSummit @SWEtalk #WELocal #Networking #SQLFamily

Since my last speaker’s update, two of my conferences are in the books, one is upcoming in just a couple of weeks (!!!), and a couple of potential new conferences may be upcoming for me.

First, I’ll talk about the two conferences I did.

  • Data Saturday #13, Minnesota: I spoke for this group last year, and it went very well! As virtual conferences go, the Minnesota SQL group does a great job of putting their event together! This year’s conference was no different! A number of tools that they had used last year were also in effect this year (I was happy to see that the Discord account I created primarily for this event still worked!), and it made for a great online conference! Only my personal schedule (I had football tickets for the night before) really kept me from taking full advantage of all this event had to offer. That said, as virtual conferences go, I recommend this one highly!
  • Rocket Mortgage TechCon 2021: When I tried to advertise this event, I found that I had trouble finding a link to allow people to register for it. As it turned out, it was for a good reason: it was a private internal event for Rocket Mortgage employees. Oops! In any case, I delivered my presentation and discovered a very receptive audience! I got a lot of good questions and plenty of interaction (which was somewhat difficult, because people couldn’t message me directly; the only way I was able to read people’s comments was to turn off my slide sharing). And as a result of my presentation, I now have several LinkedIn connections to Rocket Mortgage employees.

With that, here are the upcoming conferences where I’m speaking or have applied.

Confirmed

In two weeks, I will be speaking at PASS Data Community Summit! This is the third consecutive year that I am speaking at PASS Summit or its equivalent! Just being selected to speak at one is an honor, but being selected to speak at three straight is nothing short of amazing!

This year’s Summit is virtual and free to attend (although there is a fee to attend pre-con sessions). All you need to do is to go to the PASS Data Community Summit website and register!

I will be doing my session on joblessness and unemployment titled: “I lost my job! Now what?!?” I will share advice on how to survive a jobless situation, including (but not limited to) dealing with the stress and emotions of unemployment, how to shore up your job search and interview skills, and things you can do to pass the time.

I am scheduled to speak on Thursday, November 11, at 9:30 am Eastern time. Hope to see you then!

Submitted, but not confirmed

I’ve submitted presentations to two events, each of which would be a new one for me if I’m accepted to speak! Please note that I have only submitted to them, but I don’t yet know whether I’m speaking at them or not.

These events are NOT virtual; they are in-person! If I am accepted to any of these events, they would be my first live in-person events since SQL Saturday in Rochester last year!

In addition to these two events, there’s also my local user group:

  • CASSUG user group, Albany, NY: This is my local SQL user group. It’s been a while since I spoke for my hometown user group, and I think I’m due. I’m hoping to get to speak at one of our meetings!

So as of today, this is my upcoming presentation schedule. Hope to see you at an event sometime soon!

User testing is important — for documentation

Any application developer will (and should) tell you how important end user testing is for their product development. It’s an important part of the development lifecycle. Developers need to know if their applications actually work, if they work the way they’re intended, and if their interfaces can actually be used. Without user testing, developers put blind faith in what they produce, and they have to assume that their applications are perfect every time, all the time — which, as we all know, always happens. User testing is critical in ensuring that you create a quality product.

So how often does your documentation go through user testing?

I’ve said many times that document development needs to go through the same steps as application development, and this is one of those steps. It is (sadly) common for documentation to be released without being checked for accuracy or usability. This is another way in which document development gets absolutely no respect, whatsoever.

If you’ve written, say, a set of instructions, one of the best things you can do is to give it to someone to make sure (s)he can follow it. How (s)he follows it readily tells you how well it was (or wasn’t) written, what does and doesn’t work, what adjustments need to be made, and so on.

It may not even entirely be the wording that needs adjustment. How easily did the person find information within the document? Was it there but not easily found? Was it overlooked? User testing not only can determine content accuracy, it can also serve the same purpose as UX/UI in that it can determine how effective object placement and document layout is.

And like application development, user testing your documentation determines what adjustments need to be made before it’s released. Additionally, user testing isn’t just critical for development; it’s important for document maintenance as well. Documentation that hasn’t been adjusted for changed environments makes for inaccurate information. Much of that can be caught through user testing.

I’ve said time and again that document development needs to be treated the same way as application development. User testing is an important step in that life cycle. It determines that your document quality is improved when it is released. Without it, you run the risk of releasing bad, poor quality, or inaccurate documentation.

Keeping documentation simple

In my presentations, I preach that keeping it simple is key to effective technical communication. It takes effort to read (you can write this on my gravestone: reading is work!), and the less you make someone work, the more effective the document will be.

However, keeping things simple is easier said than done. Taking a complex concept and explaining it in simple terms is a skill (and it keeps me employed as a technical writer). So what can you do to simplify concepts?

Well, here’s a few tips that might help you out!

Keep it high level

This particular tip comes with a caveat: “it depends.” (If you’re a DBA, you’ll recognize this as being “the standard DBA answer.”) Among other things, it depends on your target audience, and it depends on the type of document you’re writing.

Consider the audience. If you’re writing for peers, chances are that you’d be okay with including technical jargon or abbreviations that your colleagues will understand. But if you’re writing for managers, other departments, external customers, or anyone who doesn’t understand the technology that you see regularly, chances are that you will need to keep it high level.

Most of these people don’t want to see, and often aren’t interested in, detail. I once had a manager who was fond of saying “don’t tell me how to build the clock; just tell me what time it is!” In other words, just get to the point. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Unfortunately, this is a habit that I see all too often with technologists who feel that they need to include every single little detail. Chances are, it isn’t going to be read. Don’t do it!

It also depends on what kind of document you’re writing. If you’re writing, say, a glossary of terms, a systems administration manual, or a data governance document, then yes, things will need to be spelled out and defined clearly. But if you’re writing a step-by-step guide, a checklist, or a quick-reference manual, things need to be interpreted in a few minutes, possibly even seconds. For example, if I’m writing a step-by-step guide, my rule of thumb is, if an instruction cannot be followed in a few seconds, the instruction has failed, and it must be rewritten.

Good writing matters

I said in my previous article that you don’t necessarily have to have command of a language to be a technical communicator. At the same time, the better command you have of a language, the better your writing will be.

In my documentation presentation, I cite an example of why good grammar matters. Take these two sentences which basically say the same thing, but one is written in active voice, while the other is written in passive voice.

  • The boy mowed the lawn. (Active)
  • The lawn was mowed by the boy. (Passive)

Question: which sentence is easier to read? I’d say the active voice (and I’m sure many English teachers would agree).

There are many more examples, I’m sure, where good grammar makes a difference, makes things clearer, and contributes toward more efficient writing. Bottom line: if you write well, your documentation is better.

Stop saying “PLEASE!!!” (Avoid filler words)

One of my biggest technical writing pet peeves is using “please” in technical documentation. I’ve written about this before. You are NOT asking people for a favor, you are TELLING them to do something! “Please” is a filler word that not only takes up space unnecessarily, it is downright annoying to read.

“Please,” however is not the only filler word to avoid. I don’t have a comprehensive list of words to avoid, but off the top of my head, words such as “like,” “professional,” “extremely,” and so on should be avoided. The more words that are added, the more difficult it becomes to read.

Some other statements may not necessarily be fillers, but they might not add anything, either. My advice: if you’re trying to tighten up a sentence, eliminate unnecessary words. If the sentence reads well without them, leave them out.

Use illustrations and examples

The adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is true! An illustration often describes a concept much better than just words can.

Which of these instructions would you rather follow? Would you rather follow this…

(Source: https://www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/shoes-accessories/tie-necktie)

…or this?

(Source: https://steemit.com/fashion/@ighoboss/style-made-easy-tie-knotting)

Even if I’m looking up an instruction, if it includes an example, I will often refer to the example first, and not even bother with what’s written, unless I have to glean some information from the text.

Use headings

Let me ask a question. If I wrote this ‘blog article without any headings, would you want to read it? You’d likely see lots of black text paragraphs without any idea as to what each one is about. Headings provide an overview of each section and topic. They provide a reference that’s easy for the reader to find what they want. They can even determine how a document is structured. Long story short: headings make a document easier to reference.

Let someone else do it

No, I’m not saying this as a cop-out! We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and for many people, writing and communication might not be a strength. So why not let someone else do the documentation heavy lifting for you?

Even if you’re not the one doing the actual writing, you’re still an important part of the writing process. It’s called being an SME (Subject Matter Expert). You have valuable information that you want to pass along. The writer is your interpreter. The writer will refer to you for information. (S)he will likely be asking you a lot of questions, which very much makes you part of the documentation process. Even a conductor is playing an instrument; (s)he is playing the ensemble that (s)he is directing. Being an SME is the same principle; you’re directing someone to do the actual writing.

Summary

These are only a few suggestions toward making your documentation better. There are many more ideas that I didn’t even touch, and they would likely make this article much longer than it already is.

Good documentation is essential for any business, and can often prevent issues before they arise. Keeping it simple goes a long way in making your documentation efficient and easy to follow.

Lack of language command doesn’t have to be an impediment to presenting

As someone who is a child of immigrants, I understand and appreciate the travails of anyone who is new to this country and struggles with the English language. Indeed, English can be a very screwy language, with a plethora of archaic rules such as “i before e” and so on. I remember my Korean mother telling me about how Korean is grammatically perfect; every rule is followed to the letter (no pun intended), and there is no “i before e” or anything like that. I got a better idea of this when I tried to teach myself Korean. (I’ll confess that I’ve gotten busy, and I haven’t kept on top of this as I’d like. I’ll have to pick this up again at some point.)

I’ve learned about the structure of the Korean language, but I have not learned enough to be able to carry a conversation or read signs. As such, I have absolutely no command of the language. So I respect anyone who is not a native English speaker, but learns enough to be able to come to this country and be able to have a comprehensible conversation. That ability requires a great deal of work and practice, and to be able to go to a foreign country and speak the language of its inhabitants is a tremendous achievement.

That said, a common statement among my friends and colleagues from foreign countries is that because English is not their native language, it is an impediment for them to do technical (or any) presentations. More often than not, it isn’t external feedback or reactions that keep them from presenting, but rather a self-perception that because they aren’t native English speakers, they aren’t able to present technical concepts to English speakers.

To those people, I want to tell them (hence, the reason for this ‘blog article): nothing can be farther from the truth. On the contrary, I fully encourage you to present.

Now, I was born and raised in New York State. English is my native language. I like to think that I have a pretty good command of the language, and I will confess to being a bit of a grammar snob (I’ll often joke that I’m one of those people who’s silently correcting your grammar!). Granted, I don’t pretend to be perfect, but I think I can hold my own. I will often say (and I do often say this in my presentations) that command of your native language makes it easier to present concepts when it comes to technical communication.

However, while language command is helpful for presenting topics, it isn’t a requirement. Some of the best speakers I’ve met on the SQL Saturday circuit have been people whose first language is not English. The list includes some very good friends of mine whom I’ve met through SQL Saturday, including Slava Murygin, Taiob Ali, Michelle Gutzait, Paresh Motiwala, Cecelia Brusatori, and Thomas Grohser, among others. They are all excellent speakers whom I highly recommend, and the fact that they speak with accents that may be foreign to many Americans doesn’t keep them from presenting technical topics or being group leaders.

Even if you’re an English speaker who never got the hang of diagramming sentences or knowing the difference between their, they’re, and there, it should not deter you from presenting important topics. And if you are self-aware about your lack of language command, don’t be afraid to ask for help or feedback from someone who does have a good grasp of language.

So if you have a topic to present, but you’re not a native speaker, go ahead and present, anyway! If your topic is profound, interesting, important, etc., the material will often speak for itself. Lack of language command is not an impediment for presenting.