SQL Saturday #813 (BI Edition), Boston, MA — I’m speaking!

I just got the official word! I will be speaking at SQL Saturday #813 (BI edition), Boston (actually, Burlington), MA on March 30! This is my first scheduled SQL Saturday presentation for 2019!

I will do my presentation on talking tech-speak to non-technical people!

This will make three times (all in the same building, no less!) that I’ve spoken here since this past September. The first was for SQL Saturday #797, and the second will be in two weeks for the New England SQL Server User Group.

Hope to see people there — either in a couple of weeks, or at the end of March!

Speaking in Burlington, MA, Feb. 13

Image result for new england sql server user group

On February 13 (two weeks from today), I will be speaking at the New England SQL User Group meeting (assuming it doesn’t snow)! I will be giving my presentation: “Tech Writing for Techies: A Primer.”

Documentation tends to be, as I put it, “the Rodney Dangerfield of technical professions.” It’s important, and everyone knows it’s important, but nobody wants to do it. In my presentation, I talk about possible reasons why that is, and what can be done to encourage people to write more.

For more information, go to the Meetup link. Hope to see you there!

There’s a first for everything

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Lao Tzu

Take a moment and think about your career — where you are now, how far you’ve progressed, and so on. Do you like where you are?

Okay. Now, if you do like where you are, take a moment and think about how you got there. How did you get your start? When was the first time you did (insert the first time you did something to advance your career here)?

For whatever reason (don’t ask me why; I don’t know), I started thinking about first steps in my career. I especially thought about my involvement with SQL Saturday and the steps I took to get here. I’ve written before about how I got my start with SQL Saturday. There were several “first” steps that I took to get to this point. There was my first idea for a presentation. I wanted to take it for a test-drive, so to speak, so I first presented it at a user group meeting. That led me to my first submission to a SQL Saturday event. I enjoyed it so much that it prompted me to submit to my first SQL Saturday out-of-state. I knew almost nobody at this event, so this was stepping out of my comfort zone. (I’ve since become friends with many people I met at this event!) And as they say, the rest is history. That was more than three years ago. I’m still submitting, and now, I’m even getting asked to speak at other events. I’m pretty happy with where this endeavor has taken me so far, but I’m still in the middle of this journey.

First steps don’t just apply to your career. They apply to everything you want to accomplish in life. For example, I’ve been doing CrossFit for over four years now. I’ve come a long way in that time, but there are still a lot of things to accomplish. I wouldn’t be where I am had I not taken that first step into that gym one day.

I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old quote: “there’s a first time for everything.” I’ve taken countless first steps to get to where I am now, and I’m still going. I probably won’t stop taking them until I’m six feet under.

So where do you want to be in your career, or, for that matter, your life? Do you like where you are? What first steps are you going to take to get there? Wherever it is that you want to be, the only way to get there is if you take that first step.

The perfect workspace

My client office is in the process of redesigning and rebuilding the office space. The old environment was the traditional “cubicle farm,” along with individual offices used by managers. The new environment — still a work in progress — eliminates the cubicles and utilizes a more open office environment. Each worker who is not a director will have a desk — and not much more.

I have mixed feelings about the new setup. For over a year, space has been an issue; there had been talk about moving to a larger office. The new setup maximizes the use of space. The office spaces have a sleek, modern new look; it looks like a brand-new workspace (which it is), and the new furnishings appear comfortable and attractive. A part of me looks forward to relocating to a clean and shiny new desk. At the same time, it also leaves something to be desired; privacy is non-existent, I have no place to hang my jacket (I do NOT like putting it on the back of my chair), and seeing that many of us participate in virtual meetings through our computers, it could potentially get noisy.

Throughout my professional career, I’ve had a variety of workspaces. In my first job out of college, I didn’t even have a desk of my own; my “workspace” was a data center. Granted, I didn’t do a lot of “sitting at a desk” at that job; much of what I did involved roaming around the data center. Nevertheless, I wasn’t too happy that I didn’t have a space that I could call my own. My next job (and for many jobs afterward), I had my own cubicle. I once had an office (that I shared with another guy) with its own window and door. (I even bought a small dorm-sized cube refrigerator that we shared.) Other times, I worked (as I do now) in an open shared office space. And every once in a while when the need arises (daytime appointment, illness, bad weather, etc.), I’ll work at home in my own living room, sitting in my recliner with the TV on, my laptop, and (sometimes) Bernard — our tuxedo cat and my co-worker for that day — in front of me.

I wrote in an earlier article that I believe a comfortable workspace is important. (For the sake of context, “comfortable” means “I feel good in my workspace,” as opposed to “I love my job.”) Most of my waking hours during a typical week, I am in my workspace; for all intents and purposes, it is my home away from home. If I spend so much time at my workspace, I want it to be comfortable.

What makes a perfect workspace? It depends on the person. Personally, I like having multiple large monitors, a comfortable adjustable chair (that I always adjust to its highest position), a place to hang my coat (again, NOT on the back of my chair), some type of climate control (I usually prefer it cooler, so I usually have a small fan at my desk), a little space where I can put my wife’s picture on my desk and a Syracuse pennant on the wall, and a little bit of privacy while still maintaining some face time with my co-workers. Even those requirements have changed over the years; at one point or another, I would’ve wanted a door that closed, a window with a view, and a place where I could put a small refrigerator. As time passed, those features became less important to me.

No workspace will ever be “perfect.” No matter how comfortable you make your work environment, there will always be some kind of flaw. Nevertheless, it should be a place where you’re comfortable while being productive. Consider it your “home” when you’re at work — because that’s essentially what it is.

Explain it to me like I’m a five-year-old

As my department’s de facto technical writer, I spend most of my time working on document-related projects. One of the things I’ve been working on is a glossary of terms. Among other things, I’ve been trying to come up with a “dictionary”-type definition of the term “management entity.”

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find an adequate definition anywhere. I did a Google search, and the results were, to put it mildly, disappointing. I also tried the glossary in our application. Here’s how it reads:

A Management Entity (ME) is used by Capital (sic*) entities for Tax (sic*) and Financial Statement (sic*) purposes. Capital entities are matrix organizations with multiple businesses reporting in a legal entity, the ME represents that business’ activity in that legal entity.

(*Misuse of capitalization — ugh!!!)

This “definition” (and I use that word loosely) is nothing short of atrocious. I refer back to an article I wrote a while back about bad and useless definitions. This is one such useless definition. This blurb explains what (a “capital entity”) uses a management entity. It explains what it represents in relation to a capital entity. It explains the attributes of a management entity. It even explains what a “capital entity” is. But it never explains what a management entity actually is!!!

Explaining the attributes of a word is not the same as defining a word! I can tell you that a car has four wheels. That is not the same as explaining what a car is!!!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is a major writing pet peeve of mine.

I’ve mentioned before that you need to know your audience when you write. Since I’m working on a glossary, I assume that my audience doesn’t know much about the terminology about which I’m writing. When I tried looking up the definition for “management entity,” I kept finding references that either didn’t completely define the term or obfuscated it in legalese. The writers assume you know all about the topic. If I’m looking up a definition, then I likely don’t know about it. If I’m a beginner in a topic, I have a demand: explain it to me like I’m a five-year-old.

Unfortunately, this tends to be a failure when it comes to people trying to explain technical terms. To be fair, this is a skill that not everyone has (I previously wrote about how difficult it is to simplify concepts, and I even have an entire SQL Saturday presentation in which I talk about talking to non-techies). It takes time to develop that skill. The problem I have is when an SME (subject matter expert) tries to explain a concept, and when the audience doesn’t get it, the SME’s attitude is one of, “what are you, stupid?”

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, we are stupid. We have no idea what you’re talking about.

Last night, Andy Mallon spoke at our user group meeting. He spoke about data compression. As part of his presentation, he provided an example using a common index out of a cookbook. He showed how the index would be changed if data compression was applied to it. The example provided a clear picture of the concept, and it allowed me to better grasp what he was presenting. That, to me, is a great example of making it simple!

If you’re trying to explain a concept, the worst thing you can do is dance around a definition or obfuscate it in terminology that only you and your cohorts can understand. Explain it to me like I know nothing about it — because more often than not, I don’t.

SQL Saturday #855 Albany announced!

The Capital Area SQL Server User Group (CASSUG) is pleased to announce that, for the sixth time, we will host SQL Saturday #855, Albany on July 20!

For additional information, to register for the event, or to submit a presentation, click the link above!

I’ve already submitted presentations, but I will be there, regardless of whether or not I’m picked to speak!

Hope to see you there!

Monthly CASSUG meeting — January 2019

Starting with this ‘blog post, I’m beginning a new habit. Since I’m responsible for communications for my SQL user group (CASSUG — “Capital Area SQL Server User Group”), I will start announcing monthly meetings here in my ‘blog. This is my first such entry for this year.

Our next meeting — our first of the new year — is on Monday, January 14. Andy Mallon will give his presentation titled “Demystifying Data Compression.”

For more information and to RSVP, go to our Meetup link!

Hope to see you there!

Make goals, not resolutions

My previous post got me thinking about setting goals. I mentioned in my previous article that I hate setting New Year’s “resolutions.” I didn’t want to get into why in that article.

Well, in this article, I want to get into exactly why.

How many of you have made New Year’s resolutions? How many of you made them in years past? How many resolutions did you keep?

If I had to guess, probably not many, if any.

This is why I hate resolutions. They’re almost guaranteed to fail. Case in point: for those of you who go to a gym and work out, how packed is the gym in January? In all likelihood, it’s packed with people who resolved to go to the gym and work out this year.

Now, how many of these people are still at the gym by the end of the year? Or by July? Or even April?

I gave up making resolutions a long time ago. All I was doing was breaking promises to myself. And every time I did so, I just ended up disappointing myself.

Don’t set resolutions. Instead, set goals. If you want to do something to better yourself, setting goals is far superior to making resolutions.

Goals are measurable. Let’s say you make a resolution to lose weight and go to the gym. That’s awfully vague, isn’t it? That can mean almost anything. Let’s say you join a gym on January 1, do one workout, and never go again. You might say you broke your resolution. But did you really? You went once. That counts, doesn’t it?

However, let’s say you set a goal to lose ten pounds by the end of the year. Now you have something to shoot for, and it’s something that can be measured. You can keep track of how much weight you lose until you reach your goal, and you can measure aspects (calories, number of workouts, etc.) that will help you get there.

A goal is a target. In addition to being measurable, a goal gives you something toward which you can aim. You might hit it. You might not. Either way, you gave it a shot. Resolutions, on the other hand, are almost always doomed to fail.

If you miss your goal, that’s okay. When you break a resolution, you feel like you failed. It brings you down. It un-motivates you. However, if you miss a goal, it’s not the end of the world. You can either try again, or reset your goal toward something more manageable.

Speaking of being more manageable…

Goals are adjustable. If you find that a goal is unattainable, you can adjust it so it’s more attainable. And once you reach a goal, you can reset a higher goal, which will make you even better.

Goals can be set any time. Ever make a resolution in July? I didn’t think so. However, you don’t have to wait until the new year to set a goal. You can set them any time you want.

(There are probably a bunch of other reasons that aren’t coming to me right now.)

Personally, I’ve set a few small goals. For one thing, I don’t have much arm strength, so I struggle with any workout routine that involves supporting my own weight with my arms — pull-ups, rope climbs, handstands, etc. I set a goal of doing at least one real pull-up by the end of the year. Also, my home is, admittedly, a cluttered mess (it looks like it belongs on an episode of Hoarders). I told my wife that I would set a goal of decluttering a room at a time — the kitchen within a few weeks, the living room a few weeks after that, and so on.

There are a number of others I’d like to set as well, but I haven’t yet gotten around to setting them. As I go along, I’ll figure out what I need to accomplish, set my goals, and take steps to reach them. Again, I can set goals any time I want. I don’t have to wait until next year.

So what do you want to accomplish? What steps will you take to reach them? Whatever they are, you will be more likely to succeed by setting goals rather than making resolutions and empty promises to yourself.

Welcome to 2019

Well, here we are. It’s the new year. Hope you folks had a great holiday season! Personally, mine was quiet; the only significant thing of note was that I followed my alma mater down to their bowl game. (I had the opportunity to attend the game, so I took it. As I previously wrote, once in a while, you gotta say “what the heck!”)

So each new year represents a new start — a clean slate, if you will. There’s a reason why so many people make “resolutions” (and a reason why so many of them are broken — I won’t get into why; that’s not what this article is about). For me, it’s about setting goals (I refuse to call them “resolutions”) and getting some kind of idea as to what I want to accomplish throughout the year.

There are a number of things I want to accomplish, although I’m still trying to figure out what some of them are. One of my CrossFit coaches asked me not long ago, “what are your goals for this year?” I told him that there were a number of general things I wanted to accomplish, but I hadn’t yet identified anything specific. A goal needs to be measurable. For example, “I want to lose weight” is vague and not measurable, whereas “I want to lose ten pounds by the end of February” is something specific, measurable, and trackable. Going back to my coach’s question, I haven’t yet taken the time to hammer out measurable goals that I want to accomplish (being able to do an actual pull-up by the end of the year comes to mind), but it’s something that I definitely want to do.

Since my ‘blog articles revolve mostly around professional development topics, it would behoove me to write about some things that, professionally, I would like to accomplish this year. So, without further ado…

I’m hoping to be speaking at a number of SQL Saturday events this year. I’ve already applied to a few, and am hoping to hear back soon as to whether or not I’ve been picked to speak.

As of today, I’ve applied to the following events, and am waiting to hear back as to whether or not I’m presenting at them.

Additionally, the events listed below are not yet live (they’re listed as “save the date”), but I intend to apply to them once they are.

  • May 18: Rochester, NY
  • July 20: Albany, NY (my hometown SQL Saturday — I’ll be here regardless of whether or not I’m picked to speak)
  • October 5: Pittsburgh, PA

I’m also confirmed to speak at the New England SQL User Group in February.

I’ve also set a goal of speaking at an event where it is not feasible for me to drive. All SQL Saturdays I’ve attended so far have been within reasonable driving distance from my home in Troy, NY. So far, Pittsburgh is the farthest I’ve driven (eight hours) for a SQL Saturday. Virginia Beach might equal or surpass it. I told my wife that Virginia Beach would make for a nice trip, and I suggested that we make a long weekend — a mini-vacation — out of it. So in all likelihood, I’ll probably attend that event regardless of whether or not I’m picked to speak.

I told myself that I would submit presentations to PASS Summit this year. (For those of you unfamiliar with PASS Summit, I’ve heard it described as “the Super Bowl of SQL Saturdays.”) Because of the steep attendance fee, probably the only way I’d attend is if I’m picked to speak. (Some people are able to have their employers foot the bill for this trip; alas, I am not one of them.) Submissions are highly competitive, and as someone who presents primarily about professional development topics, I’m slightly pessimistic about my chances of getting picked to speak. But, I won’t know unless I try. If, by some chance, I am picked to speak, it would definitely satisfy my goal of speaking at an event to which it wouldn’t be feasible to drive.

This year will also represent a possible milestone with my employment. Since July of 2017, I’ve been working as a contractor, and the contract expires this coming summer. I’ll likely have a couple of options: get hired by the client company (which, I think, is the most likely scenario), or look for another opportunity with the contractor. (There’s also the possibility that I’ll seek new employment, but as of now, I don’t intend to go that route.) There are pros and cons to each decision. I have an idea of what I think I’ll end up doing, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

On a related note, I told myself that I wanted to take on more professional responsibilities. I took that step this week when I announced during a meeting that I was willing to pick up the ball on a large documentation project. This is a recent development, and it’s just getting going, but I suspect that big things could potentially be on the horizon.

So what goals and expectations do you have for the new year? Whatever they are, I hope they come to fruition.