Reminder: come hear me speak (x3) in NYC #SQLSat912 #SQLSaturday

Image result for times square nyc

This is a reminder that on Saturday, October 5 (a week from tomorrow, as I write this), I will be speaking at SQL Saturday #912 in New York City — not once, not twice, but three times!

I will be doing the following three presentations.

  • Tech Writing for Techies: A Primer — Documentation is a critical but disrespected process. Learn why tech writing is important and what your organization can do to encourage it.

SQL Saturday is always a good time, and the New York City event is one of my favorite ones to attend! Go to their site to register for the event, and come check out my presentations — three times!

The Whistle-Blower Knows How to Write

(Photo source: The New York Times)

By now, I’m sure many of you have heard all about the bombshell that has hit the American political establishment. Yes, I have my own political opinions as to what’s happening. But I won’t express them here. That is not why I am writing this article.

I felt compelled to write this after reading this article (whose title I shamelessly stole for this article) in the New York Times. The author, Jane Rosenzweig, is a college writing instructor. Rather than analyze the politics of the situation, she instead scrutinizes the whistle-blower’s writing itself. And what she says is exactly the reason why I preach what I do at SQL Saturday.

Go ahead and read Ms. Rosenzweig’s article. It’s a pretty good read.

I will admit to a couple of things: (1) I am a self-admitted grammar snob, and (2) I am not a grammatically perfect writer. I was never an English major, and I’m sure much of my writing would likely make many writing instructors cringe. I’m admittedly liberal with a number of grammar rules, such as ending sentences with a preposition (which I do from time to time). That said, I know the differences between “your” and “you’re” and “too,” “to,” and “two.” I am an unabashed and unashamed defender of the Oxford comma (on this, I have a very strong opinion; I believe not using it is incorrect). And I still believe that anyone who says “irregardless” should be strung up by his or her fingernails.

In any case, I do consider myself a fairly strong (though not perfect) writer. It’s why I have a job. And its importance is why I preach about the importance of communication. Communication is critical in any endeavor. You needn’t look further than the example put forth by the anonymous whistle-blower.

A picture is worth (writing) a thousand words

On a recent project in which I was documenting an application, I found myself hitting yet another case of technical writer’s block. I sat in front of the screen, staring at the application — sometimes, for hours — and came to the realization that all I was doing was blankly staring at the screen. I tried different techniques to stir up ideas as to how to tackle writing the documentation, but no matter what I tried, the words just wouldn’t come. Even just trying to figure out a document structure — never mind actually trying to describe the application — was proving to be elusive.

It was at that point where I decided to give up on trying to write a description of the application functions and turned my attention to grabbing screen captures. I went through the application’s menu structure, built a document heading hierarchy based on it, and started working on the application images I’d just captured. I took the time to clean up the images, including altering them to eliminate any client or user data (replacing them with “dummy” data), and formatting them for my document. Once I was satisfied with the result, I inserted it into the document, proceeded to the next screen capture, and repeated the process.

A funny thing happened during this process. First, I found that my document was expanding in content. Granted, it was mostly graphics, but it was, nonetheless, content. Second, I’m finding it easier to come up with ideas for descriptions and text content. Third, I’m no longer blankly staring at my screen; I’m finding that I’m actually productive. Finally, I’m finding myself having fun with the process!

This is not the first time that I’ve performed this process while writing a document. Indeed, I’ve often worked on documents in which I found myself in a writing rut, shifted gears to work on graphics, and discovered the spark that I needed to write the text.

It’s an age-old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Most often, this phrase is geared toward the perspective of the reader. However, what is not as appreciated is that this cliché is applicable to the document developer as well. If ever you find yourself in a writing rut, try working on the graphics. It might just be enough to spark ideas and get you out of the rut.

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 9/24/2019)

As of today, here’s my updated list of upcoming speaking events.

I am confirmed to be speaking at the following events.

I’ve applied to speak at Boston BI SQL Saturday on March 28, 2020; unfortunately, it appears that I will need to withdraw from this event, as I have a conflict with that date. 😦

There are a few SQL Saturday events listed as save-the-date but are not yet live. Once they become live, I intend to submit to them. They include the following events.

  • February 29, 2020: Rochester, NY
  • May 2, 2020: Philadelphia, PA
  • June 13, 2020: Virginia Beach, VA (I’m admittedly on the fence about this one; Virginia Beach is a long way for me to travel!)

Come check out SQL Saturday and PASS Summit. They are wonderful learning and networking events for data professionals. I hope to be speaking at one near you sometime soon!

PASS Summit — Buddy program, activities, ‘n stuff

As I prepare to speak at my first PASS Summit, I continue to keep tabs on activities, programs, news, and announcements as they come up.

One such program to which I applied is the PASS Summit Buddy Program. The idea is that first-time attendees (like myself) are assigned a “buddy” whom you can contact so that you aren’t isolated and overwhelmed (well, I expect I will be, anyway) during your first PASS Summit experience. Last week, I received an email saying that I have been assigned a buddy. I emailed him last week to introduce myself and to break the ice. As of this article, I have yet to hear back from him. I’m not concerned; for all I know, he’s busy with stuff and hasn’t had a chance to acknowledge my email, if he’s even seen it. For what it’s worth, I have my own fish to fry as well. Nevertheless, I look forward to hearing back from him.

I went poking around the activities page and noticed that some new things were now on it. One new thing that wasn’t there the last time I visited was a breakfasts page — actually, sponsor sessions in which they serve breakfast. I might consider attending; from what I’ve been told, sponsor breakfasts are an opportunity to get an actual hot breakfast at Summit! I also noticed a new luncheon as well, something else that might also be worth checking out.

Of course, what’s a conference without attending sessions? I went through the list of sessions and marked off those that interest me (it includes a function to mark “favorite” sessions). Of course, I made sure that I marked off my own session. I think it’d behoove me to make sure that I attended my own session!

I decided to splurge on a polo shirt from the PASS Stuff page. I can always use more polo shirts.

I also came across another new link: next year’s PASS Summit! It will not be in Seattle next year; it will be in Houston, TX, November 10-13! I’ve only been to Houston once (for my friends’ wedding, many years ago), and as I remember, it was a fun city to visit! I also have several friends who live in and around Houston (to my Houston friends reading this, take note!). I might need to consider applying to speak at PASS Summit next year. We’ll see how it goes!

As I write this, it occurred to me that I leave for PASS Summit in only eight weeks from today! It’s getting closer, and I’m looking forward to the experience!

I “speak” Oracle. Can I go to SQL Saturday?

I’ve been involved with SQL Saturday for a while — since 2010, to be exact — and have worked with SQL Server for even longer than that. However, I currently work in an Oracle environment. This likely begs the question: if I work in Oracle, is SQL Saturday still worth my while?

The short answer: yes, absolutely!

The longer answer: there is more to SQL Saturday than just SQL Server.

Although Oracle and SQL Server are different platforms, they are both relational databases. Granted, there are differences between the two — having worked with SQL Server for so long, I’m still trying to grasp some of the concepts of Oracle. However, many of the concepts between the two relational databases are the same. Both databases share the same SQL language — albeit with some differences (akin to, say, differences between American and British English). Table structures are largely the same (again, there are differences, but they share enough similarities that knowing one allows you to grasp the other).

While differences persist between the two environments, cross-pollination between them is not necessarily a bad thing. Understanding their differences can often lead to a better understanding as to how they work.

On top of that, SQL Saturday is more than just the technologies. Speakers, myself included, present on a variety of topics that aren’t limited to just SQL Server. A number of speakers present on BI topics (some SQL Saturdays, in fact, are BI-specific; look for any event labeled “BI Edition”). Other topics include strategy, architecture, disaster recovery, and professional development. (As I’ve stated time and again, my own presentations are all professional development talks; they have nothing to do with SQL Server.)

And SQL Saturday isn’t just about attending presentations and learning. SQL Saturday is a huge opportunity for networking, which is essential for surviving today’s professional market. I’ve written and presented extensively about the importance of networking. A number of other people have also presented on the importance of networking; for PASS events, I highly recommend Matt Cushing‘s presentation about getting ready for a SQL event!

And if that’s not enough, SQL Saturday is just plain fun! I always have a blast at every event I attend!

So even if you work with Oracle, or NoSQL, or Access, or whatever your database of choice, SQL Saturday likely has something for you. Find an event near you, and come join us in the community!

Soft Skills: Controlling your career

I came across this article on SSC by David Poole titled “Soft Skills: Controlling your career.” It spoke to me in a big way, as it pretty much sums up my career in a nutshell. It’s a good read, and I encourage you to go click the link.

I’ve said before that I’ve made an entire career out of adapting to my environment. Soft skills are the key to being able to adapt.

All of my SQL Saturday presentations revolve around soft skills. I’ve been asked before about why I speak at SQL Saturday, when my talks don’t talk about data topics. The fact is, soft skills are important. You can know everything there is to know about data storage systems, recursive structures, or nuclear physics, but often, soft skills are ultimately what sets you apart.