Ever come up with a great topic about which to write an article? Do you have something on your mind that you want to get out of your system? Did you just learn something new and profound? Or is there some topic about which you don’t know but are trying to learn? Did you pick up some useful tidbit that you want to set aside for later use? Did you come across something you want to share?
I could keep going with this, but I’d rather not write a rambling paragraph that will eventually bore you; besides, I think you have the idea. I’d guess that one of the most common questions when trying to write a ‘blog is, “what do I write about?”
For me, personally, a lot of my ideas just pop into my head (including for this very article that you’re reading right now). If I think the idea is profound enough that it might help other people, I’ll start writing about it. Other times, I’ll come up with some idea, jot it down in a post, and save it for later. I have 100+ such draft articles; whether or not they ever see the light of day remains to be seen.
There are a number of things to consider when coming up with draft article ideas (and I dedicate several slides to this very topic in my ‘blogging presentation). If you’re trying to come up with things to write about, here are some thoughts that might help get you going.
What’s on my mind? It might sound obvious, but a lot of my ‘blog article ideas come from random thoughts that just happen to pop into my head. They’ll come from random sources — something I’m working on, something I’m watching, reading, or listening to, a question that someone asks, and so on. Every now and then, they’re thoughts that I think might help someone out. That can make great article fodder, so make sure you at least make a note of it. It happens more often that you might think; I’ve surprised myself at the number of ‘blog articles I’ve written that started as just random thoughts in my head.
I know something you don’t know — and I’m willing to share!Chris Bell, one of my friends on the SQL Saturday speakers circuit, once told me something profound, and it’s something I haven’t forgotten. He said, “an expert is someone who knows something that you don’t.”
I’ve been a working professional for a long time now (I won’t say how long!), and I’ve learned a lot in my experience. I think I have some knowledge in at least a few subjects, and what I think can potentially help other people. Helping other people is one of my great passions, and if something that I know helps someone else, then I’ve accomplished something.
I just learned something new! Some people seem to have a misconception that you need to be an expert at something to write a ‘blog. Wrong! If you’re learning something new, keeping an online journal about what you learn is one of the best reasons to maintain a ‘blog! You’ll be able to see for yourself just how much you learn. Additionally, if you’re actively seeking new employment, it shows potential employers that you’re learning something, and that you have the ability to learn. Not only that, it shows off your expertise in terms of what you’ve learned. That’s something that hiring managers like to see!
I don’t want to forget this. Let me write it down. One of those people you could help is yourself. Matt Cushing tells a story in his networking presentation about the time he was trying to solve a problem, and he found the answer to it… in his own ‘blog! He had written an article about the very thing he was trying to solve, and found the answer in his article that he had forgotten about!
As Matt says in his presentation, “a ‘blog can serve as your own personal Google.” A ‘blog can serve as scratch notes to yourself, and it might even help others in the process.
Bring people in. Don’t drive them away. You want people to read your ‘blog, don’t you? Like anyone else, I have thoughts and opinions about a lot of things, but I won’t ‘blog about a lot of them. I generally avoid any topic that’s divisive. You will almost never, if ever, see me discuss politics or religion on my ‘blog (I despise talking about politics, anyway). If I want to talk about religion, I’ll go to church. If I want to learn about politics, I’ll read The New York Times. Unless your ‘blog is specifically about those hot-button topics, they are more likely to drive people away than bring them in. I will not touch them on my ‘blog.
Avoid posting anything that is overly-sensitive or qualifies as “TMI,” unless it’s relevant to your topic. People generally don’t want to hear about your last trip to your gastroenterologist. Stuff like that isn’t typically what ‘bloggers write about. However, if some anecdote comes out of it — “my appointment taught me a lesson that applies to my professional life,” for example — maybe then, it’d be appropriate to write about it. However, be careful about it — make sure that what you write is appropriate for your audience. Nobody wants to read the details of your last trip to the bathroom while you had the bad case of diarrhea.
It’s okay to go off-topic once in a while. At the time of this article, Steve Jones of SSC is taking a sabbatical from his job (a nice little perk that he has available to him). During his time away from work, he has been ‘blogging about his daily exploits, which include skiing, learning to play guitar, and working around his ranch. I’ve been enjoying his posts, and I even told him that I was living vicariously through his posts.
I’ll occasionally post an article that has nothing to do with my job, technical communication, or professional development. I’ll sometimes write about my extracurricular activities — my music endeavors (I play four different instruments), my workouts (I am an active Crossfitter), and so on. If you maintain a ‘blog about professional topics, it’s okay to post something off-topic now and then. It shows you have other interests, and it shows that you have a life outside of work. It shows that you’re human.
There are numerous other ways to generate ideas for ‘blog fodder. Feel free to comment below with your favorites. Hopefully, these thoughts are enough to help you get your own ‘blog going.
On Tuesday, January 21, at noon (US Eastern Standard Time), I will be doing my presentation titled “Blogging for Success: Advancing your career by blogging.”
If you’re interested in starting a ‘blog, I’ll talk about my own experience with ‘blogging and lessons I’ve learned along the way. Some topics I’ll discuss include how I got started, ‘blogging platforms, and subject matter.
For more information and to register for the event, use this link.
The other night, I got a phone call from a friend of mine. Among other things, he told me about some of his frustration about not being able to get more customers for his independent consulting venture that he’s been trying to get off the ground for a year or so.
I gave him a suggestion: “Start a ‘blog.”
He gave me concerns that it was going to take too long and take up too much of his time. I told him, it won’t take as much time as you’re thinking.
Honestly, the part about a ‘blog that likely takes the longest is getting it set up. Once your ‘blog is up and running, it doesn’t take much to maintain it.
There are no hard or fast rules as to how much time you should invest in your ‘blog. I told my friend, you can maintain it in as little as ten minutes every other week. Of course, the more you post to a ‘blog, the more expose you’ll get. How much time you invest into your ‘blog is up to you. As Tom Lehrer once said, “life is like a sewer — what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.”
I did provide him some of the benefits of ‘blogging, but I won’t rehash them here; instead, here are a few other articles I’ve written that describe some of the benefits of ‘blogging.
If you’re looking to promote yourself or for increased exposure. consider starting a ‘blog. It doesn’t require a lot of time, and the return on investment could pay large dividends. You never know where it could lead.
A week ago last Saturday, just before noontime, I returned home to Albany after departing Seattle the night before, and traveling across the country on a redeye flight. To say I was tired was an understatement; indeed, after my wife picked me up at the airport and brought me home, I went straight upstairs to the bedroom and just slept all day. Even a day after I arrived home, I was still not completely recovered from my trip. I spent a couple of hours going through almost 300 emails and getting caught up in general. It took me a while to get caught up, if I ever got there at all.
I had every intention of live-blogging my PASS Summit trip, but it didn’t happen. I had wanted to ‘blog about my experience each day of the trip. As it turned out, I never even touched my laptop. I ended up not needing it at all (and that includes for my presentation, which I’ll talk about below). On top of that, I was so busy during the week that I never had the chance to sit down and ‘blog like I wanted to. Instead, I’ll write about my trip exploits in one article. Warning: I expect that this will end up being a long article, so bear with me!
Day 1: Tuesday, Nov. 5
My alarm woke me up at 3:30 am Eastern time (time zones are important to note in this writeup) so that I could catch a 5:30 flight to Baltimore. Upon arriving in Baltimore, I found myself an in-airport diner where I had myself breakfast, then proceeded to the gate to wait for my flight to Seattle. I had a four hour layover in Baltimore, so I had plenty of time to kill!
While waiting at the gate, I bumped into my first #SQLFamily for the trip. Andy Leonard ended up being on the same flight! We had a nice conversation, and when the time came to board, Andy said he would save me a seat. Sure enough, I found him at the back of the plane, and he had indeed saved me a spot. I took the aisle seat; I figured that six hours was a long time to spend inside an airplane, and I might want to get up and walk around a bit.
The middle seat ended up being taken by another PASS Summit attendee: Mike, from Akron, OH (last name withheld for privacy reasons). The three of us had a wonderful conversation as we flew to Seattle.
Our flight arrived a little after 2 pm Pacific time. It would have arrived even earlier, except the Southwest pilot executed a go-around on our landing attempt. I think he mentioned something about being too close to the flight ahead of us (wake turbulence is not a fun thing, especially on a landing). It was my first experience with an aborted landing, so it was interesting to feel the jets power up and see the flaps retract on our initial landing attempt. The second attempt was more successful.
I had planned all along to not rent a car and make use of public transportation for this trip, so I made my way to the light rail and rode to the Columbia City stop, where I checked into my AirBnB. After taking a few minutes to introduce myself to my host and drop off my bags, I reboarded the light rail and made my way to Westlake Station in downtown Seattle, only a few blocks from the convention center.
Of course, getting off a transit line in any city can be disorienting, even more so in a city with which you’re not completely familiar. I exited Westlake Station at the opposite end (as I would find out later) from where I should have exited. It took me several minutes (and Google Maps on my phone) before I finally figured out which way I was going. After walking a few blocks longer than I should have, I finally found the convention center.
I made my way upstairs, and ran into another friend: Andy Levy. Having just arrived at the convention center for the first time, Andy took me over to the registration area, where I picked up my badge and started getting myself situated. I also picked up a couple of items that came with my association as a PASS Summit speaker: a hoodie jacket and a polo shirt.
As I walked around the facility, I was stopped by a few different people. I wrote before about how your clothing can be a conversation piece. I made it a point to wear my fraternity hat, as I promised I would. Two people identified themselves to me as members of my fraternity. Another told me that he was from Syracuse (the city, not the university). More examples of clothing as networking in action!
Andy said to me that one of the things about PASS Summit was that “it takes you fifteen minutes to walk fifty feet.” If you’re involved with SQL Saturday (like I am), PASS Summit is, essentially, a great big reunion. Even within my first hour at the conference, I’d already bumped into several people whom I knew. Andy’s words were true; within a short time, I already came across a number of friends I knew from my SQL Saturday involvement!
My first event was the first-timer’s event. That was an interesting experience; it was a large room, and the seats were arranged in groups of six. We were all encouraged to interact with each other and introduce ourselves. We were treated to a few talks from some PASS volunteers, including, among others, my friend, Matt Cushing, who gave a shortened version of his Networking 101 talk. (I just can’t get away from your talk, can I, Matt! 🙂 ) There was even a trivia quiz that matched up our groups of six as teams. The winning team received tickets to one of the game nights. Alas, we didn’t win. Oh well.
The second event of the evening was the welcome reception. After PASS president Grant Fritchey kicked off the reception, it was essentially one great big party! There were multiple drink stations and tables of food, and large crowds of people everywhere. The event was overwhelming — and I say this in a good way! I thoroughly enjoyed myself! I reconnected with a number of friends of mine from the SQL Saturday speaking circuit, and met a number of new ones as well!
One of the new people I met was Anthony, my designated SQL buddy. The idea of the SQL buddy program is for first-time PASS Summit attendees to have a “buddy” with whom they can connect so they’re not overwhelmed by the large crowds of strangers attending. I think it’s a great program, but I have to admit that it probably wasn’t completely applicable for me, because, even despite that this was my first PASS Summit, I wasn’t a stranger, either, since I knew dozens of people attending the event. As it turned out, the few minutes I spent with Anthony was my only contact with him during the week. I had wanted to talk to him even more during the week, but I lost him at the welcome reception, and didn’t reconnect with him again. (I am going to make it a point to drop him a line later!)
I left the event to attend another one, a volunteer party for PASS Summit volunteers. This event was invitation-only; only Summit volunteers were allowed to attend. I’m not sure whether it was my association as a PASS speaker or my willingness to help with the event, but in any case, I did receive an invitation to attend the party. It was held in a bar called SPIN, a ping-pong-themed bar. The venue was pretty cool; I wish we had one of these back home! (Their website says there’s a couple of locations in New York City, which are probably the closest ones to me.) I conversed with a number of people, and had a great time!
I would’ve enjoyed it even more, but by this time, the fact that I had been awake twenty hours was catching up with me. I decided to call it a night and head back to my AirBnB. If the rest of the week was going to be anything like this first day, I was going to be in for a long and tiring, but exciting, week!
Day 2: Wednesday, Nov. 6
My alarm went off around 5:30 — granted, that’s 5:30 Pacific time, and my body was still living on the East Coast, so it wasn’t that much of a problem. I showered, dressed, and caught the light rail to the convention center.
The first order of business was breakfast. I had signed up for a vendor breakfast, and went straight to the conference room. I filled up on my share of breakfast sandwiches, juice, and coffee. I’ll be the first to admit that I signed up primarily for the breakfast, not for the vendor talk. That said, vendor sessions are an integral part of just about any conference; as sponsors, their input and support are invaluable.
I decided to skip the keynote and took the time to explore the convention center. With everything that was going on, I figured it would be my best chance to get some downtime. I located my room where I would be speaking on Friday and got myself a sense of what was where.
At 10:15, I attended the session titled “Becoming a Technical Leader,” presented by Denise McInerney and Kellyn Pot’Vin-Gorman. I had previously crossed paths with Kellyn at Boston BI SQL Saturday (and likely some others — I’d seen her name before), but as far as I knew, I’d never met Denise (at least not that I remembered). They emphasized communication throughout their session, a topic close to my heart. Overall, it was an excellent presentation.
I had a variety of reasons for choosing sessions to attend. One of the big ones was to advance my own career. I will likely not be doing what I’m currently doing forever, so I wanted to attend sessions that I could use to improve my own professional standing.
With that in mind, I also attended a session called “Build Your Brand with Technical Writing,” presented by my friend, Kathi Kellenberger. She focused on tips and advice for getting published. I’ve had a couple of articles published before (my article on the history of major-league baseball in Troy comes to mind), but writing a book is a bucket list item of mine. I picked up some good pointers from her presentation. I did speak with Kathi, and she suggested that she might have some opportunities for me to write! I might just take her up on it!
For the last session, I decided to take in round 1 of Speaker Idol. For those not familiar with Speaker Idol, it’s an opportunity for people to give a quick presentation — within a span of five minutes. The presentation is judged by a panel, and the winner moves on to the final round. The grand prize is a guaranteed speaker’s slot in next year’s PASS Summit!
Last year’s winner was Rob Volk, who did a presentation of being “the very model of a SQL Server DBA.” (Imagine him singing to the tune of “I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major-General,” and you’ll get the idea.) Click the link and check out his winning presentation. Trust me on this!
There were a number of vendor-sponsored events that evening, but I hadn’t registered for them. I ended up having drinks in a hotel bar with another friend from my SQL Saturday travels, Slava Murygin. We spent a few hours chatting and having drinks before deciding to call it a night.
Two great days down!
Day 3: Thursday, Nov. 7
Another day, another vendor breakfast. The spread was a little more substantial this time: scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries, and so on. If you’re interested in having a fulfilling breakfast at PASS Summit, I definitely recommend signing up for vendor-sponsored breakfasts! And it also helps if the vendor is doing a talk that interests you!
I started my day of sessions by attending “Making the Leap to Management” by Chris Yates and Adam Jorgensen. Honestly, I’m on the fence as to how interested I am in pursuing a career that involves management. Nevertheless, it is a possibility as I advance further in my career, and a sense of what I could potentially get into is never a bad thing. I did find it interesting that good communication was a common thread throughout the session. I’ve always been a big believer that the vast majority of the world’s problems can be solved by improving communication, and this session seemed to validate that belief.
I attended “Successfully Communicating with Your Customers” after lunch. Denise McInerney gave this talk, and I saw a lot of similarities between her presentation and what I do with some of mine — enough to the point that I told her, after she was finished: “you could do my presentation.” I sent her a LinkedIn connect request and asked if we could stay in touch so we could compare notes.
Right after the presentation, the vendors did their prize drawings. If you’ve ever attended a SQL Saturday, it’s the same concept as the vendor prize drawings at the end of the day (the only difference was that they held it in the middle of the conference): you submit your ticket, and maybe your name is drawn for a prize. You need to be present to win. No, I didn’t win anything on this day. C’est la vie.
I attended another sponsor reception that evening at The Tap House Grill. It was billed as “a chance to meet and network with people outside of the conference.” Among others, I met Janice Gerbrandt, who, along with my friend, Paresh Motiwala (who did not attend Summit this year), lead the PASS Professional Development virtual group. I had previously been acquainted with Janice when I did my virtual presentation on networking back in May; now, I finally met her in person for the first time. During the week, I met a number of people whom I’ve only gotten to know through emails and online correspondence, including most of the staff at PASS.
I also bumped into my friend, George Walters. He was not attending Summit, but he was in town for work-related reasons, and decided to crash the party. It was nevertheless good to see yet another familiar face in a somewhat-strange town!
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay out too late. Since I was presenting the next day — not to mention leaving town — I had to go back to my AirBnB and pack my things, as well as get some rest so I could do my presentation the next morning!
Day 4: Friday, Nov. 8
At last, it was my day to speak! My presentation was scheduled for the first time slot of the day, at 8 am.
I checked out of my AirBnB before 6 am and made my way, with my luggage, to the convention center. For the last day of the conference, PASS had a baggage check set up, and I made use of it. I checked my bags and went off to find myself breakfast.
Unlike the previous two days, there was no vendor breakfast that morning, so I had breakfast at a hotel restaurant right across the street. Up to that point, nearly every meal I’d had was provided by some PASS or vendor event, so this breakfast was the first meal since I’d arrived in Seattle that I paid out of my own pocket. After finishing breakfast, I went up to my conference room to prepare for my presentation.
As I mentioned earlier, I did not touch my laptop at all during this trip, including for my presentation. Each presentation room included a laptop that was already connected to a projector. All I needed was my presentation on a USB stick. I also used my own presentation clicker. (That said, I kept my laptop nearby anyway, in case a problem came up with the equipment that was supplied. Always have a backup plan.)
The presentation went well! It really wasn’t all that different from my experience with doing SQL Saturday presentations. The audience was larger, it was more geographically diverse, and because it was being recorded, I had the use of microphones. I passed it around when attendees had questions; that way, their questions could be captured as part of the session recording. People I spoke to later told me that they enjoyed my session, and I did a good presentation!
And after it was over, I could honestly refer to myself as a PASS Summit speaker! Achievement unlocked!
One disappointment about my presentation was that it conflicted with round 3 of Speaker Idol. It was especially disappointing, because two of my friends were participating in this round: Slava Murygin and Deborah Melkin. While I never got the chance to see Slava present, I would later get to see Deborah!
I hooked up with Andy Levy so we could go to the exhibitor booths. RDX gave out what was widely thought to be the best (and definitely the most popular) vendor swag: Minecraft swords! We had tried to get them the day before, but they had run out. We were told that they would have twenty more at the beginning of the day, and if we wanted one, we would have to be one of the first twenty. Indeed, Andy and I were number one and two in line when the vendor fair opened for the day!
I had volunteered to man a Birds of a Feather lunch table. These special-interest tables allowed people to congregate and discuss a common area of interest during lunch. As someone with writing, UX/UI, and design experience, I ended up moderating the Storytelling & Visualization lunch table.
Since the entire CASSUG (Albany user group) leadership team — myself, Greg Moore, and Ed Pollack — was at PASS Summit, I decided that we needed to take a photo of the three of us. Our local user group was well-represented in Seattle that week!
We took our photo at the PASS Community Zone. I spent a lot of time there during the week. It was a good place to congregate, meet people and network, and relax (there were beanbag chairs around the area). It was also a good place for me to recharge — literally. There were outlets set up around the zone, where I could plug my phone in to let it recharge. I spoke to a number of people and made some new networking contacts there throughout the week.
I did make it to the final round of Speaker Idol. As it turned out, I did not miss Deborah’s presentation, as she was one of the finalists. And wouldn’t you know, she ended up winning the entire thing! She was the Speaker Idol winner for 2019! She now has a guaranteed speaker slot for next year’s PASS Summit in Houston! Congrats, Deb!
By this time, PASS Summit was beginning to wind down. There was still another slot of sessions going on, but I didn’t attend. PASS Summit is an exciting, but tiring, experience. I learned that I needed to be picky about what sessions I attended, because trying to attend them all is impossible. I took some time to get myself organized, making sure that my stuff was together, packed, and ready to bring home. The Minecraft sword I’d obtained earlier in the day wouldn’t fit in my carry-on luggage (and it wouldn’t have surprised me if TSA flagged it while going through security). There was a FedEx office on the ground floor of the convention center, and I took advantage of it, shipping my new toy, along with a few other swag items, home. They’d be sitting on my doorstep later in the week.
At this point, a number of people were making arrangements for final dinners and plans before venturing home. Apparently, there was a tradition for a number of #SQLFamily to get dinner at the Crab Pot at the end of PASS Summit. Greg had invited me to accompany him to a small private party with Rensselaer alumni in west Seattle, which is what I elected to do. Unfortunately, because of issues with ordering dinner, I had to settle for taking a couple of hours to reconnect with some old friends before getting a Lyft to the airport and catching my cross-country redeye flight home.
There’s a number of things I left out of my commentary; most of it is superfluous. Besides, I didn’t want to feel like I was rambling, not to mention that I’ve been sitting on this article for over a week.
PASS Summit was everything I’d been told and I expected: exciting, overwhelming, tiring, and fun! I had an absolute blast during my week in Seattle! I would attend every year if I could. Unfortunately, there are mitigating circumstances that prevent me from attending more often (the biggest being the registration fee; unlike SQL Saturday, PASS Summit is not free to attend. Since I’m doing this on my own dime — my company does not pay me to go — my resource to attend are limited. I was able to attend because I was selected to speak, so my fee was waived). That said, should an opportunity for me to attend ever comes up, I will not hesitate to go again!
I will definitely submit my presentations to speak at PASS Summit again. Hopefully, I’ll be selected again! And hopefully, you’ll be able to experience the same excitement and learning experience that I did at PASS Summit!
It is now less than twenty-four hours before I depart for Seattle and PASS Summit!
I still need to pack. From my quick little poll from last week, it looks like I’ll wear my fraternity hat, and I’ll pack lots of orange shirts! And don’t worry, Yankees haters; my baseball jersey is staying home.
Last week, I got an email from Southwest, saying that my flight plans have changed. I was originally supposed to depart at 6:20 am, flying from Albany (ALB) to Chicago (MDW) to Seattle (SEA). Instead, my flight leaves at 5:30 am and going through Baltimore (BWI) instead of Chicago-Midway. And if the earlier hour wasn’t enough, I now have a four-hour layover in Baltimore. Ugh. At least I’ll have plenty of time to grab breakfast and relax before my flight to Seattle. Note to self: bring a book to read (or something to do) while waiting for four hours in an airport.
Other than that, travel prep continues. By this time tomorrow, I’ll be on my way to the West Coast!
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?
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.