PASS Summit — Checklists, schedules, and itineraries #PASSSummit

With less than a week until I depart for PASS Summit, I’m starting to think about what I need to prepare for my trip out to the West Coast.

I signed up for, and was accepted, to host a Birds Of A Feather table! On Friday (Nov. 8), I will be facilitating discussion at the Storytelling and Visualization table! If you are into visual presentation of data analytics, come to my table! People who are into UX/UI and design/layout are also encouraged to join me at my table!

Other than clothes for four days (you can still pick my wardrobe before I leave!*), I need to make sure I remember to bring certain items, such as:

  • My presentation clicker
  • Lots of business cards
  • A tie (not to wear, but for my presentation — those of you who’ve been to my presentation know what I’m talking about!)
  • My laptop (for general use, not my presentation — they’re providing a laptop for that)
  • My presentation on a flash drive

Am I forgetting anything?

(*Speaking of picking my wardrobe, I pretty much just threw the poll together. That said, after one day, based on some comments I’ve received, it looks like I’ll be wearing my fraternity hat and lots of orange. And there are a lot of Yankee haters out there!)

So, as of right now, my tentative PASS Summit schedule looks something like this (and I’m posting this mainly for my own reference):

Tuesday, Nov. 5

Wednesday, Nov. 6

(*I am by no means limiting myself to just these sessions; rather, these are the ones that seem to interest me.)

Thursday, Nov. 7

Friday, Nov. 8

There are probably other items on my itinerary that I’m missing, but that’s pretty much the gist of my plans. I reserve the right to change it at my whim! I’ll be keeping an eye on the activities page and the #PASSSummit Twitter feed as I go along.

Only five days until I depart!

PASS Summit — Vote to help me pack for #PASSSummit #sqlfamily

While finishing up my last article, I came across an older article by my friend, Andy Levy, in which he talks about his personal branding — namely, The Hat. I’m going to take a cue from his article, and come up with a branding of my own. I think this is a great strategy; I’ve written before about how your own clothes can be a conversation piece. I hope to use this strategy to be recognized at PASS Summit.

So, I’m going to come up with a wardrobe so that people can recognize me at PASS Summit!

I have to admit, though, that I’m undecided as to what I should do. When it comes to wearing something by which people will identify me, I tend to go by one of three associations: that I’m a big Yankee fan, that I’m a loud and proud Syracuse Orange alumnus, and by my fraternity.

So, I’ll let you decide! What should I pack for Seattle next week?

Should I go with the Yankees jersey?
Image may contain: Raymond J Kim, drink
Shall I display school pride?
Image may contain: one or more people, closeup and outdoor
Or should I wear my fraternity letters?

Your turn! What should I pack next week?

PASS Summit — one week (!!!)

I actually began writing this article a couple of weeks ago. I had every intention of finishing it, but alas, family issues got in the way. With only a week to go until I leave for PASS Summit (at this time next Tuesday, I should be on a flight somewhere between Chicago and Seattle), I figured that I should revisit what I’d started writing. I’m picking this back up where I left off, so I’ll likely do a lot of edits to this article. I apologize for anything I miss (e.g. anything that says “in three weeks”).

Does anyone become paranoid when they make travel plans? Yeah, me too! Every time — without fail! — that I leave for a trip, I always have a feeling like, what did I forget (even despite meticulously planning every little detail)? It isn’t unusual for me to dream the night before a trip that I missed my train or my plane, and wake up the next morning saying, “oh crap!” As I mentioned in a previous article, I plan every little detail whenever I travel. I want to make sure that I’m prepared for nearly anything that a trip tosses at me.

I finally heard back from my PASS buddy, Anthony. (I’m leaving off his last name for privacy reasons.) He hails from northern California, and is a regular attendee of the Sacramento SQL user group. He included a plethora of information and tips about PASS Summit. We traded emails. I’m looking forward to meeting him and shaking his hand.

The fact that he’s affiliated with the Sacramento group means he likely knows the guy who runs my fantasy football league.

Speaking of tips, I’m finding that there’s no shortage of information for preparing for PASS Summit. (Admittedly, these links are for my own reference; some of these articles I haven’t yet read.) My friend Andy Levy wrote a few articles to prep for Summit (here are the links to his first, second, third, and fourth articles). My friend Matt Cushing is involved with a number of activities, including an abbreviated version of his networking presentation and hosting the Thursday games night. (Unfortunately, it’s the night before I’m scheduled to present in the morning, so it’s unlikely that I can attend. Sorry, Matt!) I also saw a recent post from my friend, Steve Jones that looked like it’d be helpful. I’ll take a look at it later when I have a chance!

Only a week to go! I’ll see you in Seattle!

Saying final goodbyes

Yesterday, we laid my father-in-law to rest.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks since he passed away. My wife and her sister have been running around making arrangements, and it all culminated in his funeral service yesterday.

I wanted to do my part to contribute. I made it a point to make sure that I was there for my wife, our family, and anyone else who needed me.

I also wanted to say goodbye to my father-in-law in my own way. I asked if I could play the piano for his service, and my request was accepted. I offered to play for the entire service, but was told to just play for the meditation. My sister-in-law suggested Prayer of St. Francis and I’ll Fly Away for meditation pieces. I decided to cut the latter song, mainly for length reasons, but I also didn’t know it as well as St. Francis.

There was another reason: I wanted to play another song — my way of sending him off. I asked permission to perform it, and was told yes.

The song in question: Dust In The Wind.

I wanted to do something that was a part of me. The song is by my favorite band. It has always been a favorite song of mine, and it has some deep meaning. I’ve told people that I want the song performed at my own funeral; indeed, I intend to include it in my will as one of my final wishes.

It came off well. I put my heart into it. I’ve always been one to put on a show, but this show wasn’t for me; it was for my father-in-law. I had multiple people tell me after the service that I played beautifully, and it was a wonderful tribute.

We will all need to say goodbye to someone someday. When you do so, do it in a way that’s a part of you. That way, it will always be special.

Death and life

“Don’t hang on; nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky; it slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy…”

Kansas, “Dust In The Wind”

I was working on putting together a ‘blog article in which I talk about how PASS Summit is only a few weeks away, my preparations, and other information that would be helpful for attendees.

Unfortunately, sometimes life — or in this case, death — gets in the way.

My father-in-law passed away last Thursday morning.

For the sake of respecting the family’s privacy, I won’t get into any more than that, but needless to say, my life has been upended a bit. With that, my ‘blog will likely be quiet for the remainder of this week, maybe until early next week.

Thanks for understanding, everyone. I’ll be back online soon.

When it’s appropriate to use fake data (no, really!!!)

It isn’t uncommon for me to include data examples whenever I’m writing documentation. I’ve written before about how good examples will enhance documentation.

Let me make one thing clear. I am not talking about using data or statistics in and of itself to back up any assertions that I make. Rather, I am talking about illustrating a concept that just happens to include data as part of the picture. In this scenario, the illustration is the important part; the data itself is irrelevant. In other words, the information within the data isn’t the example; the data is the example. Take a moment to let that sink in, then read on. Once you grasp that, you’ll understand the point of this article.

I need to strike a type of balance as to what kind of examples I use. Since I work in a multi-client data application environment, I need to take extra steps to ensure that any data examples I use are client agnostic. Clients should not see — nor is it appropriate to use — data examples that are specific to, or identifies, a client.

There’s also a matter of data security. I needn’t explain how big of a deal data security is these days. We are governed by laws such as HIPAA, GDPR, and a number of other data protection laws. Lawsuits and criminal charges have come about because of the unauthorized release of data.

For me, being mindful of what data I use for examples is a part of my daily professional life. Whenever I need data examples, I’ll go through the data to make sure that I’m not using any live or customer data. If I don’t have any other source, I’ll make sure I alter the data to make it appear generic and untraceable, sometimes even going as far as to alter screen captures pixel by pixel to change the data. I’ll often go through great pains to ensure the data I display is agnostic.

I remember a situation years ago when a person asking a question on the SQLServerCentral forums posted live data as an example. I called him out on it, telling him, “you just broke the law.” He insisted that it wasn’t a big deal because he “mixed up names so they didn’t match the data.” I, along with other forum posters, kept trying to tell him that what he was doing was illegal and unethical, and to cease and desist, but he just didn’t get it. Eventually, one of the system moderators removed his post. I don’t know what happened to the original poster, but it wouldn’t surprise me if, at a minimum, he lost his job over that post.

Whenever I need to display data examples, there are a number of sources I’ll employ to generate the data that I need.

  • Data sources that are public domain or publically available — Data that is considered public domain is pretty much fair game. Baseball (and other sports) statistics come to mind off the top of my head.
  • Roll your own — I’ll often make up names (e.g. John Doe, Wile E. Coyote, etc.) and data wherever I need to do so. As an added bonus, I often have fun while I’m doing it!

Are there any other examples I missed? If you have any others, feel free to comment below.

So if you’re writing documentation in which you’re using an illustration that includes data, be mindful of the data in your illustration. Don’t be the person who is inadvertently responsible for a data breach in your organization because you exposed live data in your illustration.

Why candidates fail the job interview

At the moment, my work group is looking to hire a couple of new Oracle DBAs. My colleague, who is doing the interviewing, regaled us with stories about the people he interviewed. He extended at least one offer; whether or not the candidate accepts remains to be seen.

His stories reminded me of a SQL Saturday presentation by my friend, Thomas Grohser, entitled “Why candidates fail the job interview in the first minute.” The link sends you to a YouTube video of the session he did for the professional development virtual group. I haven’t yet looked at the video, but I have attended his session live and in-person at previous SQL Saturdays. If you are able to spare an hour, take a look at Thomas’ presentation. He gives a very good presentation, as he always does.

I have a few thoughts that, hopefully, will help you if you’re looking to go to a job interview. Again, I didn’t watch the video, so I’m not sure whether or not Thomas covered these points in his virtual presentation, but he did touch on them whenever I attended his live presentations, and I thought they were worth pointing out.

  • If you do NOT ask any questions, consider your interview blown. I overheard my colleague mention that he asked one of his candidates, “do you have any questions,” and he responded with, “Nope!”

    In the back of my mind, I said to myself, “he just disqualified himself. Please tell me you’re not extending him an offer.”

    Seriously. It is absolutely critical that you ask questions at an interview. If you do NOT ask any questions, then you just failed the interview.

    A candidate who asks questions indicates that (s)he is interested in the position and the organization. Keep in mind that you’re interviewing the company just as much as the company is interviewing you. Interviewing is a two-way street. You need to make sure that the position is the right fit for you.

    If you don’t ask questions, it’s an indication that you aren’t interested. Worse, it also signals that you aren’t taking the interview seriously. Why would a company want to hire you if you’re not serious about the interview?

    Bottom line: never, EVER, NOT ask questions at an interview!!!
  • It’s important to ask the right questions. Make sure that, when you do ask questions, ask the right ones. You should frame your questions in such a way that it shows you’re interested in the company.

    You shouldn’t ask questions about salary, benefits, etc. unless the interviewer brings it up. The company doesn’t want an employee who is self-centered. Instead, ask questions that show that you want to be a team player. A common one that I’ve asked when I’ve interviewed is, “what are the organization’s biggest challenges, and what can I do to help you out?”

    Whenever I’ve interviewed, I’ve always prepared at least two or three questions (sometimes more, depending on the interview) to ask in advance. I’ll ask questions about their system environment and their competition. I’ve even asked questions about their workplace dynamic — a question as simple as, “what do you guys like to do for lunch?” can sometimes be revealing about their workplace atmosphere.

    I highly recommend books titled Best Questions to Ask On Your Interview (I’ve seen these books in various titles — 200 Best Questions, 300, etc.). Get them from Amazon, check them out from your local library, or whatever works for you.
  • It’s okay not to know everything. I recently saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine who interviewed a candidate who didn’t know about what (s)he was being asked, and said so. My friend commented that it was refreshing that a candidate just admitted that (s)he didn’t know the answer, rather than try to BS his or her way through the interview.

    We’re human. We don’t have unlimited data storage that we can query on a whim. As such, you’re not going to know the answer to every interview question thrown at you.

    One of the worst things you can do is try to BS your way through every question thrown at you. More often than not, a good interviewer who knows what (s)he’s doing will see through it. That will not reflect well on you during an interview.

    Thomas admits that he will ask the candidate questions that either don’t have a correct answer or have ambiguous answers. (The question itself might even be ambiguous.) He isn’t looking to see if you know the facts; rather, he is looking to see how you answer the question. Answering “here’s how I would find the answer” or “I don’t know, but this is what I think” is often enough to satisfactorily answer the question.
  • Respect the interview. Make sure you’re showered, cleaned up, and properly dressed. Make sure you show up on time (even better, show up early — fifteen to thirty minutes early should suffice). Come prepared. If you’re late or unable to show up, contact them immediately and let them know. Say “please” and “thank you.” Use a firm handshake.

    In short, respect the interview. Not doing so conveys a message that you’re not taking it seriously, which causes the interviewer to question whether or not you really want the job. If you don’t take the interview seriously, chances are that the job offer will go to the candidate who does.

Hopefully, these tips will help you nail the interview. They might not guarantee that you’ll land the position, but they’ll definitely increase your chances of doing so.

Good luck at your interview.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

As the old saying goes, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!”

I wrote a while back that the symphonic concert band I play in will be performing at Carnegie Hall on Veterans Day! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and yet another bucket list item for me. The chance to play on the stage at Carnegie Hall is beyond my wildest dreams!

As it turns out, it also takes money! We’re looking to raise funds to offset costs for the trip. We set up a GoFundMe page for the opportunity. If you are able to do so, please consider contributing a few bucks for us to take this trip!

Thanks for your support!