Pursuing postgraduate education

I’m on a mailing list for the Albany Business Review, and I get correspondence from them regularly. This morning, I received an email from them advertising an advanced certificate program in data and analytics from Siena College. It got my attention, and I filled out the form link, saying that I was interested in more information.

Ever since I completed my Master’s degree, I’ve toyed with the idea of pursuing another postgraduate credential. I’m confident that I have the aptitude to pursue further education, but my main impediment is financial — advanced education these days is not cheap. There’s also a matter of life getting in the way as well, although given the right circumstances and the right program — a number of degrees can be completed online these days — I think I could juggle it and make it work. So at the moment, the biggest thing stopping me is trying to figure out how to pay for it.

I completed my Master’s degree in 1998. Back when I was in grad school, I discovered a few things about myself. Among them:

  • I love learning.
  • I love the academic environment.
  • I believe in education.
  • I love helping other people learn.

At one point, I remember taking a study break while sitting in the library at RPI, looking around at my surroundings, and saying to myself, “wow, it took a while, but I’ve finally become the academic bookworm my parents have wanted me to become.” I enjoy the academic environment so much that I’ve come to the realization that, given the opportunity, my top preferred industry in which I want to work is academia. I have no qualms about the career path that I’m currently following, but my only regret is that I did not come to this realization much sooner; I would’ve taken the steps — which would’ve been much easier when I was younger — to pursue a career in academia. Now that I’m older, that career path — though not impossible — is more difficult to attain.

I suppose it’d be fair to ask me why I’m considering another credential, whether it’s another Master’s, an advanced certificate, or even a Ph.D. Do I need another degree? Probably not. I seem to be doing pretty well with the accreditations that I have now. So why even think about it? Well, there are a few reasons.

As I stated earlier, I love to learn. In my opinion, there is no such thing as too much education, regardless of whether or not you have a piece of paper to show for it. Education is about much more than a credential; it’s about knowledge and learning, something that can’t be taken for granted, especially living in this era of fake news. And I’m always learning; I always will be. It’s impossible for anyone to know everything, so there’s always something new to learn.

In addition to a love of learning, I’ve also discovered that I have a passion for helping other people succeed — and that often occurs in the form of teaching. It’s why I’m so passionate about my SQL Saturday presentations. It’s one of the reasons why I continue with this ‘blog. At one point years ago, I was out of work and started a part-time teaching gig to hold me over. I enjoyed it so much that I continued to do it even after I landed a full-time job. Someone once said that life is not a competition; everyone should be able to succeed. I’m one of those people who believes that, and I’ll do whatever I can to make sure that people do succeed.

I’ll admit to having thought about what I would do if I ever decided to change careers. Every time, it’s always come back to teaching others. It was one of the main reasons why I took on that part-time teaching position way back when. It’s why I continue to speak at SQL Saturday and other presentation opportunities that present themselves. It’s why I continue to write this ‘blog. Another credential would likely go a long way in accomplishing that goal.

And if nothing else, another academic credential is another goal to shoot for, not to mention that it’ll look good on my resume — and on my home office wall.

So we’ll see if I ever decide to ante up and go for the additional credential. If it ever happens, it should be a fun time, and it’ll be yet another notch in my list of accomplishments in my life journey.

Give Hugs

Another article reblog today, this time by Steve Jones

Voice of the DBA

Tomorrow I fly away again. Next week is our first 2019 SQL in the City Summit and I need a couple days to adjust to the time and prep, hence the trip starting tomorrow to get to the UK by Sunday. I’ll ensure that I say good bye to my wife and kids, and give them hugs before I go. I’ve done this dozens of times, and things always work out well. I’ll be back Wednesday and more hugs will ensue.
I don’t usually worry about travel, or really any major issues affecting my family. They do happen, and we’ve had our share of ER visits because of something, but I don’t worry about the potential issues. I do, however, appreciate every day I get with family as I have seen tragedy befall others. I have had too many friends die in their 40s to not respect the wonderful life…

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SQL Saturday #835, Philadelphia — 5/4/19 (a week from this Saturday)

I just received an email from the organizers of SQL Saturday #835, saying that I should ‘blog about the upcoming event. Okay, I will oblige!

This is the fourth consecutive year that I am speaking at Philadelphia SQL Saturday, and they’ve all been fun experiences! (Last year, I even wrote an article in which I documented my trip!)

This year, I will be doing my presentation on tech writing and documentation.

Image result for chewbacca
Chewie says, “May the 4th be with you at SQL Saturday!”

And… because this year’s Philadelphia SQL Saturday falls on May 4, attendees are encouraged to wear their favorite Star Wars garb. Yes, I intend to participate. No, I’m not saying how. You’ll just have to wait until May 4 to find out!

So if you’re interested in databases, data science, technology, professional development, or just want to hang out with a bunch of computer geeks, and you’re in southeastern Pennsylvania or southern New Jersey a week from Saturday, go register on their site, and we’ll see you there. May the fourth be with you!

Diversifying your skill sets

Years ago, I remember reading a Wall Street Journal interview with Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams who said something to the effect of, “the way to be successful is to know as much as you can about as many different things as you can.” The article came out sometime in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find that article, and I’m unable to find it online, so you’ll just have to take me at my word — for what that’s worth.

For whatever reason, that sentiment has always stuck with me, and is evident in many activities in which I’m involved. In my musical endeavors, I play four different instruments (piano, clarinet, mallet percussion, and saxophone), and my music tastes run a fairly wide range (classical, jazz, adult contemporary, progressive/classic rock). As I’ve often written before, I am involved with CrossFit, which involves multiple movements and workouts; workouts are varied and are almost never performed twice in a row. As a baseball fan, I’ve always been appreciative of “utility” players such as Ben Zobrist who can play different positions in the infield and the outfield, allowing him to be plugged into nearly any lineup and reducing the need for multiple bench players.

This mindset has also manifested itself within my professional endeavors as well. I’ve practically made an entire career out of adapting to my environment, and a major reason for that is because I am capable of holding my own (if not being an expert) in a number of different areas. My main professional strength may be my technical writing and documentation, but it is not my only skill set. I am also capable of tasks that include (among other things) SQL Server, T-SQL scripting, object-oriented programming, UX/UI, and scripting on both the client and server sides, just to name a few. Granted, I’m not necessarily an expert in many of these skills — indeed, I sometimes describe myself as “knowing enough to be dangerous” — but in most cases, I’m able to hold my own. Maybe a better description for myself is “knows enough to be able to get it done.”

Such a diverse skill set has proven to be invaluable. Throughout my career, I’ve been able to comfortably handle a wide variety of tasks (the infamous “other duties as assigned”). It’s allowed me opportunities that I likely wouldn’t have otherwise had. I recently was assigned responsibility for a small but significant database role — a role I was assigned because I have SQL experience. Having these diverse skills have allowed me to adapt to my changing work environment.

Additionally, different skill sets are rarely, if ever, segregated; rather, they compliment each other. Cross-pollination between skills is nearly universal. A developer often needs to connect his or her application to a data source, in which case a background in databases is invaluable. The ability to communicate often helps a technologist to help an end user — a point that I often make in my presentation about talking to “non-techies.” In my experience with documentation and technical writing, I’ve found that my background with coding and databases has been invaluable for my documentation projects.

So to the aspiring career professional who asks me where (s)he should focus his or her skills, my response is… don’t. Although it might be okay to focus on an area of expertise, don’t ignore other skill sets. It will enrich your background, and your career will be all the better for it.

Security: Close isn’t good enough!

I am reblogging an article written by my friend, Greg Moore. Hopefully, we all have our data locked down, but I felt that what he wrote was important enough that it was worth passing along.

greenmountainsoftware

I was going to write about something else and just happened to see a tweet from Grant Fritchey that prompted a change in topics.

I’ve written in the past about good and bad password and security polices. And yes, often bad security can be worse than no security, but generally no security is the worst option of all.

Grant’s comment reminded me of two incidents I’ve been involved with over the years that didn’t end well for others.

In the first case, during the first dot-com bubble, I was asked to partake in the due diligence of a company we were looking to acquire. I expected to spend a lot of time on the project, but literally spent about 30 minutes before I sent an email saying it wasn’t worth going further.

Like all dot-com companies, they had a website. That is after all, sort of a requirement to…

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Earth Day

I understand that today is Earth Day. So happy Earth Day!

I am not a tree hugger per se. Having said that, I do try to do my part. I do my best to minimize how often I use single-use plastic bags (and honestly, IMHO, plastic grocery bags are one of the worst things ever invented). Every time I go grocery shopping, I either use my reusable bags (assuming I remember them) or ask for paper. I would be hypocritical if I said I don’t use plastic bags at all, because I occasionally do, but I, for one, would not be saddened to see them disappear altogether. I try not to use plastic straws (again, like single-use plastic bags, I do use them once in a while, but I try to minimize their use, and likewise, I wouldn’t mind seeing plastic straws disappear, either). I recycle whatever I can; indeed, on most trash days, our recycling bin often contains more than our garbage bin. I’ve tried to take other steps as well; when my wife and I built our house, I made it a point to get a tankless water heater and to check EnergyStar ratings on all our appliances.

In other words, when it comes to the environment, I am not perfect. I try to do what I can, but I still have plenty of room for improvement.

I’ll spare you from a lecture about global warming, trash, or unsustainability; that’s not what this is about. I’ll leave it to you to do your homework about increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, industry releasing pollutants, or whales ingesting pounds of plastic. Rather, I’m looking to raise awareness that we can — and must — do better. A lot of people don’t think that what they do makes a difference. The thing is, little things all add up. If we each do our part, we’ll come out okay.

I’d like to see people take an extra step today to celebrate Earth day — maybe something as simple as using one less plastic bag or plastic straw, or something as elaborate as taking part in a neighborhood cleanup. But these efforts shouldn’t be limited to just one day a year. Every day should be Earth Day.

Symphonic/concert band performance, 4/27/19

For those of you who are interested in seeing me do something other than a SQL Saturday presentation, the concert band in which I perform will be performing at the Association of Concert Bands (ACB) Convention in northern New Jersey on Saturday, April 27!

We will be performing at 3:00 at the Woodcliff Lake Hilton in Woodcliff Lake, NJ.

This is an opportunity to catch me in an environment that involves my biggest extracurricular activity outside of my work. Come on out and catch a good concert!

Hope to see you a week from Saturday!

I network. What’s your superpower?

I had some things happen just within the past week that reminded me about the power of networking, and just how well-connected I actually am.

At my CrossFit gym last week, one member of the racquetball club (which occupies the same building as the CrossFit gym) and whom I knew from a previous job, told me he might be looking to move on. I told him to connect with me over LinkedIn, which he did.

The other day, another friend from another former job also told me he was looking, and was wondering if I knew anyone whom he could contact about opportunities. I told him to email me his resume, along with an email and phone number where he wouldn’t mind being contacted by recruiters, and a quick description of the position he was seeking. I took his information and submitted a referral to several recruiters I know, most of whom said they would reach out to him.

And last night, I was contacted by my fraternity chapter, telling me that one of their recent graduates was looking into a technology career, and was wondering if I had any insights. We connected and chatted via email, and I told him to connect with me on both LinkedIn and Facebook. Additionally, about a month ago, I signed up for a mentoring program, also organized by my fraternity, and I was assigned a pledge (I believe the politically-correct term they’re using these days is “membership candidate” — sorry, I’m old school) as my mentee. A little while ago as I was writing this, I made arrangements to meet with both of them tomorrow afternoon, so I’ll be taking a quick day trip out to Syracuse tomorrow. (As an added bonus, tomorrow is Syracuse’s Spring Game, which gives me another reason to make the trip.)

(I have a number of other experiences involving mentoring and paying it forward that I’ve been meaning to write up in a yet-to-be-written ‘blog article, but I haven’t yet gotten around to it. Stay tuned.)

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s four different people connected to me through three different ways (well, four if you count that one of those contacts is connected through both my gym and a former job). That represents just a small fraction of my network. My network extends a lot further than that (last I checked, I had more than five hundred LinkedIn connections), which enables me to connect these people with many more.

Networking is a powerful tool when it comes to advancing your career. Whether you’re looking to make a move, learn something new, or improve your standing, you need to actively network. You never know where it might lead.

Attending SQL Saturday? Why you need to register

You say you’re attending SQL Saturday? Great! If you’re looking to learn more about SQL Server, data topics, BI, professional development, or just want to network with database and technical professionals, it’s a great event where you can do exactly that.

But make sure you register.

While it may sometimes be possible to just show up at a SQL Saturday and register as a walk-in, I would absolutely advise against it. I’ve had friends tell me that they were interested in attending, but ended up getting shut out because they didn’t register.

I’m writing this article to make sure you don’t make that mistake.

First of all, the number of people who can attend a SQL Saturday varies, largely because of the size of the venue. When we host SQL Saturday here in Albany, we might be able to afford some leeway because we hold it in a large venue. The rooms we use are large university lecture halls that are capable of accommodating fairly big crowds. However, not all places have that luxury. Some locations use smaller venues. For example, SQL Saturdays in the Boston area have been held at Microsoft’s office in Burlington, MA, which tends to be a smaller venue. (This is largely because Microsoft offers their space for little or no cost — and other sites around the Boston area can be quite expensive. Remember: SQL Saturday is an all-volunteer event.) It is not unusual for Boston-area SQL Saturday events to end up with a large waiting list — sometimes numbering more than a hundred.

Sometimes, capacity is lowered not just because of the facility but by the number of tracks and sessions that are offered. Events outside the United States — Montréal, for example — sometimes offer only a few tracks and about a dozen sessions. A smaller SQL Saturday will likely accommodate a smaller crowd.

Building security is often a factor. Whenever I’ve attended SQL Saturday events in New York City, I’ve had to bring along a picture ID, and in some cases, I would have a temporary building access badge issued to me, because the event was held in a secure facility. Registering puts you on a security list that allows you facility access.

Additionally, when you register, you receive an admission packet called a SpeedPASS. The SpeedPASS consists of a name tag that acts as your badge, your admission ticket, your lunch ticket, and raffle tickets for the event sponsors. Registering guarantees that your SpeedPASS will be ready for you when you arrive.

There’s also a matter of event planning. When you register for SQL Saturday, it provides planners with an RSVP and a count of how many people are attending the event. That gives organizers a count to plan for lunch, session planning, and organizing the event.

Additional information about attending a SQL Saturday can be found here. I also have a ‘blog article I wrote a while back about what to expect at a SQL Saturday.

So if you want to attend a SQL Saturday, go to their website, find an event that you want to attend, and register through the event link.

And do it sooner than later. Don’t get shut out.

My first road race

A while back, I wrote that to be successful, you need to step out of your comfort zone.

I just stepped out of it in a big way.

I just registered for my very first road race: the 2019 CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge. I have never run any kind of registered road race* before. This will be my first.

(*I have, however, participated in a registered bicycle tour before. But I feel a lot more comfortable about my bike riding than I do my running.)

I will say that running and I have never really gotten along. It is not, I repeat, not one of my favorite physical activities.

I’ve been active in CrossFit since 2015. I’ve made big strides since I started. Although I still have a lot of things that I need to improve, I can do a lot of things now that I couldn’t when I first started.

And as it turns out, one of the things upon which I’ve improved is running. One particular coach tends to push me pretty hard (in a good way). Whenever a 5K run has come up in a CrossFit WOD, I’ve toyed with scaling it down to a shorter distance. It was this particular coach who said to me, “nope, you’re not scaling it. You’re running the full 5K!”

And it’s for that reason why I feel I’m capable of participating in this event.

Granted, I use air-quotes when I say “run.” It’ll probably be more like some jogging, some walking, and some stumbling. (And this event is longer than 5K; it’s actually 3.5 miles.)

If you want to get better, you need to step out of your comfort zone. I’d say that this definitely qualifies.

For reference, my best 5K time is 50:18. We’ll see how this goes. Wish me luck.