Networking for introverts

I’m sure that many of my friends would describe me as being outgoing, and even outspoken. I’ve spoken at a number of SQL Saturdays, and (as a musician), I’ve performed in front of audiences (I’ve long since lost my fear of performing int front of a crowd).

So it might surprise some of you when I say that I can sometimes be an introvert.

It mostly depends on the situation. When I’m doing a presentation, I’m expected to be doing the talking, and I can hold my own. When I’m discussing a topic that I enjoy, such as baseball, college sports, music, movies, or CrossFit, I can talk your ear off. When I’m among friends, I can converse for hours.

However, I wasn’t always like this, and there are times when I can revert back. When I’m in a room full of people that I don’t know, I can just as easily be the person sitting off the in the corner all by himself. In years past, especially during my adolescent years (and even for a few years after college), I had trouble with mingling with people and breaking the ice.

So for those of you who consider yourselves introverts, I feel your pain. I get it.

I also want to tell you that if you want to network but have trouble doing so, there’s hope. If you’re shy or introverted, it is possible for you to network with other people.

Let me start by saying something that you probably don’t want to hear: it will likely take some effort on your part. I realize that that can be a scary thing, and it will likely make you uncomfortable. Experiencing some discomfort is a part of growing and making yourself better. As I’ve written before, getting ahead will take some degree of discomfort.

That said, you don’t have to fear being uncomfortable. You don’t have to dive headfirst into the pool without learning how to swim. The process (as any) can be done in a number of small steps.

Let’s start by talking about initiating contact — breaking the ice. This is probably the most difficult — and scariest — part of networking. Once you’ve broken the ice, the rest goes downhill. But it’s easier said than done. So how do you start the conversation?

I’ll start with one of the simplest ways: say “hi!” It might not seem like much, but by using this simple little word, you’ve just broken the ice. You’ve initiated contact. Once you’ve said that, you can build from it and connect. Some suggestions for following up: “How are you?”, “How do you like this event?”, “What do you do?”, “Where are you from?”, and so on.

I do want to point something out regarding these followup statements. You might notice that they all end with a question mark. They ask questions geared at getting to know the other person. If you show interest in the other person, chances are that (s)he will be more likely to engage you. Dale Carnegie (of How To Win Friends and Influence People fame) had a great many quotes about how to engage people. Many of them involve showing interest in the other person.

That said, be careful not to be too personal, deep, or overbearing. Instead of making other people interested, you might end up driving them away. Bear in mind that we’re not talking about how to pick up people of the opposite sex (or the same sex, if that’s what you’re into) at a bar; we’re talking about professional networking. Granted, these approaches will likely work in social situations, but that’s not the point of this article.

Finding some type of common ground to talk about will likely go a long way. If you’re attending some kind of event (SQL Saturday, a class, your kid’s concert or Little League game, etc.), discussing the event in front of you is a natural place to start. If you’re attending the same event, chances are that you’re there for similar reasons, so that makes for something of mutual interest to discuss.

I often find that a fun or neutral topic makes good fodder for conversation. (Note: “neutral” is a key word — more about that in a moment.) For example, I’m a sports fan, and although not everyone is into sports, I usually find that sports is one of the most universally beloved topics that people like to talk about. Whether you’re into baseball, football, basketball, soccer, cricket, rugby, or underwater hockey (yes, that really is a thing — I looked), sports is usually a good, somewhat neutral topic to discuss. Even if the other person is an opposing fan, it could make for fun conversation. I’m a Yankee fan, and I get into the best conversations with Red Sox fans.

I said that “neutral” is a key word. There are some hot-button topics that are verboten and should not be broached. Probably the number one topic to avoid is politics (race and religion are likely a close second). Personally, I absolutely despise politics, and will not talk about them. If you want a sure-fire way to get me aggravated, start talking politics with me. A conversation about politics will drive me away and make me want to avoid you, not engage you. There are some subjects that make me say “get the hell away from me,” and that’s at the top of my list. You’ve been warned. (And, for the record, if you really must know where I stand, I’m a registered Democrat, and I consider myself a left-leaning moderate.)

Bottom line: if a topic is controversial, stay away from it. Don’t even bring it up.

I’ve talked about things you can do to break the ice. But what about a few ways for someone to break the ice with you?

How about clothing? I wrote an article a while back that talks about how what you wear can initiate networking. I often wear T-shirts, sweatshirts, and caps that depict my favorite sports teams, interests, fraternity, and my alma mater. I’ve sometimes been called a “walking billboard.” But in many cases, it’s enough to encourage conversation. Your own clothing can often be a conversation piece.

Being cognizant of your body language can also be helpful. Your own actions often speak louder than what you actually say. Be mindful of smiling, crossing your arms, or making eye contact. Sometimes, it could be the difference between initiating a networking contact and remaining a fly on the wall.

These days, even if you’re uncomfortable with meeting people face-to-face, you have the option of networking online. With the advent of social media, even introverted people can often break the ice online.

And as I previously wrote, it’s also helpful to have business cards with you, ready to be handed out.

So if you feel socially awkward and are uncomfortable with networking, be aware that you are capable of joining the conversation. It might take a little time and practice, but even people who are shy or introverted are capable of networking.

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When does “making it pretty” become “bad design”?

Within the past week, I came across a couple of examples where designers, in an attempt to make something “aesthetically pleasing” ended up creating a bad design.

Image result for Sloan EBV-304-A SOLIS Water Closet Electronic Single Button
In the dimly-lit stall, I couldn’t see the graphic to flush.

The first example, strangely enough, came from a public toilet (don’t worry, I won’t go TMI on you). The flush mechanism was similar to what you see here. It was dark in the toilet stall, so I couldn’t see the little graphic of the finger pressing the button (that you can see clearly in this picture). It looked like one of those auto-flush mechanisms, so I expected it to flush when I stood up. It didn’t. I tried pressing the top of the mechanism and waving my hand in front of it. No dice. It wasn’t until I found the little button along the front edge that I finally got the thing to work. I don’t know how long it took me to figure that out, but I’ll estimate that it took me somewhere between fifteen and thirty seconds — far longer than it should’ve taken me to figure out how to flush a toilet.

How do I get water out of this thing?

The second example happened recently at a friend’s house. The photo you see here is the ice and water dispenser on his refrigerator. I put my water bottle underneath, and naturally, ice came out of it. I then tried to get water. How do I do that? I looked for a button to toggle between ice and water, but couldn’t find one. My friend told me to press the button above the ice dispenser. I pressed the top panel with my finger, expecting my bottle to fill with water. Much to my surprise (and my chagrin), water came out not from under the button and into my bottle, but rather above the panel I was pressing, splashing water onto my hand. Apparently, what I was supposed to do was press the upper panel with my water bottle so that it would dispense into my bottle.

To the people who designed these things: how was I supposed to know that?!?

These are more examples of what I consider to be bad design. It seems like artisans are making more of an effort to make products visually appealing. But in their efforts to make things “pretty,” they’re ignoring making them functional.

Years ago, I remember seeing signs in a local park — “park here,” “keep off the grass,” etc. (I tried to find pictures of them, but have been unsuccessful.) Whomever made the signs went through great efforts to make them look pretty — the person used wood and tree-themed graphics to dress them up and make them look “rustic.” However, the person concentrated so much on making the signs “pretty” that (s)he completely ignored making them readable! The signs were impossible to read. You could not tell what they said. Thankfully, the signs have long since been replaced, and personally, I think the sign-maker should have been fired.

And if you think bad design isn’t a big deal, let me point out that bad interface design has been a factor in some fatal plane crashes, as well as some other major disasters.

People might argue that, “well, of course they’re functional! You just have to know how they work!” Therein lies the rub: you have to know how they work. Making something functional isn’t just a matter of making something that works; it needs to be obvious as to how it works! This is one of my major pet peeves when it comes to design. As someone once said, good design is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it isn’t any good.

Getting ready to speak at my first PASS Summit

I’m speaking at my very first PASS Summit this year!

I intend to ‘blog about my experience with my first PASS Summit. Hopefully, my exploits will help others who, like me, are also preparing for the first PASS Summit. This represents the first of those articles.

As I write this, PASS Summit is still four months away. Nevertheless, preparations are in full swing. My flight and AirBnB reservations for Seattle are already set. It’s been a while since I was last in Seattle (I think my last trip was in 2005). Seattle is one of my favorite west coast cities to visit, and I always look forward to trips out to the Pacific Northwest. My only regret about this trip is that baseball season will be over by then, so I won’t be able to catch a Mariners game while I’m there.

I do not intend to rent a car for this trip. To be honest, I’m becoming more and more paranoid about driving a car I don’t own in a metropolitan area with which I’m only vaguely familiar. I did rent a car for SQL Saturday in Washington, and driving around the Beltway was a harrowing experience; during that trip, I became very concerned about returning my rental car with a dent. So for PASS Summit, I intend to rely on public transportation; all my stops — Sea-Tac Airport, my AirBnB, and the Convention Center — are all along the light rail line. If I need a car, I’ll bum a ride off someone, or I’ll contact Uber or Lyft.

Prep work for the event itself on my end is also rolling as well. I’ve gotten emails from PASS about what I need to do to get ready. I’ve registered as a speaker, and I put my presentation into a new PowerPoint template supplied by PASS (and in doing so, I think I made my presentation even better — a lot of the changes will likely end up going into my regular slides). They’re supposed to review my slides, so I’m waiting for them to get back to me as to what changes (if any) I need to make. There are some things about my prep I’m not allowed to discuss — per PASS rules, I’m not allowed to discuss some things until they’ve announced it first — so, alas, I can’t talk about all my prep work.

Last night, I was at Ed Pollack‘s house, helping to prep for this weekend’s SQL Saturday. Knowing that Ed has experience speaking at PASS Summit (he’ll be speaking at his fourth this year), I asked him what I should expect. He told me to “expect at least one question that you can’t answer” during my presentation — maybe something impossible to answer, something I don’t know, or even something that has nothing to do with my presentation. He also told me that PASS Summit would be very busy — apparently there are many activities around PASS Summit that take place. I have friends and family either in or near Seattle; we’ll see how much of a chance I’ll have to get together with them.

I also figure that Matt Cushing‘s advice will likely come into play here. A good chunk of his presentation revolves around activities at PASS Summit. I guess I’ll find out in November how much of it comes into play!

Another thing on my mind is room setups. Although I’ve spoken at many SQL Saturdays, even the largest room in which I’ve spoken pales in comparison to the rooms at PASS Summit. I’m not necessarily nervous about speaking in front of a large crowd — I lost my sense of stage fright a long time ago — as much as I am curious as to how it’s going to work. It’s not something I’ll need to be concerned about until I’m closer to the date, but it is, nevertheless, something that’s on my mind.

I did a Google search for “what to expect at PASS Summit” and came across some interesting links. Some of those links are below (admittedly, I’m listing these for my own reference).

It’s still four months to PASS Summit, but a number of things are already in motion. I’ll be writing more about my experiences as we get closer to November!

Ransomware and DevOps

Another post by Steve Jones that I think is really important…

Voice of the DBA

Ransomware.

A scary topic and one attack that is apparently more common than I suspected. Before you go further, if you haven’t restored a database backup in the last month, stop and go verify your DR plan works. That’s one of the overconfident issues facing lots of government and businesses. While this might not help your entire organization, at least you’ll have some confidence in your process and that you can recover a database.

This is a great article from Ars Technica and worth reading: A take of two cities: Why ransomware will just get worse. I’d recommend you read it and think about a few things. First, do you have insurance because things (or substitute your own word here) happen? Second, have you really tested a DR plan for some sort of software issue like this? You might think about a way to restore systems in an air-gapped…

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July 20 — SQL Saturday, Albany, NY

On Saturday, July 20 (one week from tomorrow), the Capital Area SQL Server User Group (CASSUG) will host SQL Saturday for the sixth time in Albany, NY!

For those of you who are not regular readers of my ‘blog, SQL Saturday is a daylong conference centered mostly (but not entirely) around data topics related to SQL Server. It’s also a great networking event, and an opportunity to hook up with a number of data professionals! Check out the schedule to see what sessions interest you!

And yes, I am presenting, too! I will do a brand-new presentation about ‘blogging, as well as a lightning talk about business cards! I always look forward to doing presentations in my own backyard!

Additionally, there are three pre-con sessions on Friday, July 19. Unlike SQL Saturday, these sessions are not free, but they provide quality daylong training for specific topics at a decent price. Information about these pre-cons can also be found on the web site!

For more information and to register for the event, visit our website! Upstate New York is a great place to visit during the summertime! Hope to see you there!

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 7/11/2019)

I’ve had several speaking schedule updates since my last update, so I figured another update was in order.

Here are upcoming speaking engagements for which I am confirmed.

I’ve applied to speak at this event, but I am not yet confirmed.

So it appears that I’m going to be busy the next few months. Hopefully, I’ll see you at an event near you!

Learning to Stop Being a Hero

Steve Jones posted what I think is a good read, and I wanted to share.

Voice of the DBA

A few weeks ago I re-published a piece on whether we might be giving too much of ourselves for our employers. At the time I was on holiday with my family and since this was a popular piece years ago, I decided to run it again. I was surprised at the response, with quite a few individuals writing about their experiences in their current positions.

A good friend of mine read the editorial and then sent me a link to a post by Paul Cunningham that looks at the IT hero. This talks about some of the ways in which we put ourselves out as employees. It’s a good read, and it’s certainly something to think about when you look for a new job. When I talk about finding a dream job, I’m not talking about a specific job or career path, but rather, what’s the right fit…

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