Where do I best fit in?

I play the piano for Sunday morning church services.  One particular day earlier this year, the choir director and his family were out, and the choir was shorthanded that day.  The cantor was also not there that morning.  We desperately needed someone to step up, and no one was willing to do it.

This is not to disparage the choir, which is made up of wonderful people; that is not the point.  Rather, it got me thinking: what is my role?

Most of the time, my primary role in this group is as accompanist.  However, I’m also the most musically accomplished person in the group, and as a member of a number of ensembles, I’m also probably the most experienced ensemble musician.  Often, when the choir director is not there, leadership duties often falls to me.  The director has, in the past, asked me to lead rehearsals when he is not there.  So I can probably say that my secondary role is backup choir director.

I regularly think about this when I play in the symphonic band as well.  Where do I fit in?  This is not an existential or philosophical question; rather, it serves a purpose: what is my part supposed to be, and how am I supposed to perform it so that it best serves what is required in the piece?  Band is a team sport, and each member has a role to play so that the group functions as a single unit.

The professional workplace environment is no different.  In any organization, all employees are pieces to a larger puzzle.  Each person serves a purpose (and sometimes, multiple purposes).

During my podcast recording a while back, one of the questions I was asked was, “what’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve gotten?”  My answer was something like, “play to your strengths.”  I’ll admit that, since the recording, I’ve come up with several other answers that I wish I’d given, but it’s that particular answer that I want to discuss in this article.

Let me start with an analogy (as the Yankee fan that I am, I’ll go with another baseball — and more specifically — a Yankees team analogy).  Brett Gardner (outfielder) is known for his baserunning, speed, defense, and gritty play.  Aaron Judge (another outfielder) and Gary Sanchez (catcher) are known for their power hitting and penchant for driving in runs.  DJ LeMahieu (infielder) has a penchant for hitting, getting on base, and playing solid defense.  Likewise, each relief pitcher has his strengths that are used for specific situations.  Each ballplayer on a team has a role to play.  Aaron Boone (manager) utilizes each player as to what they’re capable of doing and when to best make use of their strengths depending on each situation.

Everyone has their strengths and capabilities that add value to an organization.  For me, personally, those strengths include technical communication, writing, and design.  To a smaller extent, I am also capable of database work, object-oriented development, analysis, and design.  But my professional strengths are what enable me to come through in the clutch.  And if they are properly nurtured, they can help improve my other (often, lesser) skills as well.

I remember reading a Wall Street Journal interview with Dilbert creator Scott Adams (it was back in the early 1990s; unfortunately, I have not been able to find a link to the article) in which he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “the best way to be valuable is to learn as much as you can about as many different things as you can.”

A while back, I did a self-assessment of my own skill set, and I made an effort to be honest with myself. While I’ve worked in technology my entire professional career, I discovered that my true strengths weren’t so much in application development — the career path I had been pursuing the entire time — but rather in technical writing and communication.

When I came to that realization, my focus changed. I started moving away from hardcore technical topics and toward subjects geared toward my strengths — technical writing, layout, design, UX/UI, communication, and so on.

This focus manifested itself in my SQL Saturday presentations and my ‘blog articles. While I have enough of a background to maintain a presence within the technical world, my focus is on soft topics that aren’t necessarily technology-related, but are of interest to technical professionals, anyway. Even now, when I do SQL Saturday presentations, I use this analogy to introduce myself: when it comes to my relationship with PASS and SQL Server, “I’m the professor at MIT who teaches English Lit.” This mindset has carried me all the way to a speaking gig at PASS Summit.

Over the course of time, and without even realizing that I was doing it, I’d established my brand. While my official title is still “developer,” this is more of a misnomer (although it can be argued, what am I developing?). I’ve become the technical writing and communications guy. And I’m okay with that.

As I get older and continue to advance in my career, I’ve come to terms with my role and where I best fit on the team. As long as I still play for and contribute to the team, I’m in a good place.

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I’m a twit… I mean, I’m on Twitter

Okay, I’m a lemming. I finally caved.

For years, I’ve assiduously avoided Twitter. As I’ve been telling people, “I refuse to twit (sic).” I’ve never felt the need for it, I’ve never felt compelled to join it (to be honest, the hype surrounding it did more to repel me from it than make me want to use it), and I’ve been trying to stay away from it. It was enough that I was already on Facebook (and, for professional reasons, LinkedIn). I didn’t feel any need to join the Twitterverse.

Events over the past few weeks changed that. First, as I announced earlier this month, I was accepted to speak at PASS Summit. Second, I finally succumbed to peer pressure from friends such as Deborah Melkin and Matt Cushing. Third, I wanted to connect with #sqlfamily — which is entirely on Twitter.

Mostly, it was the PASS Summit deal that finally pushed me to do so. Twitter is the medium of choice for a great majority of people involved with PASS and SQL Saturday. Since this is my first PASS Summit, I needed a way to contact people if I needed to do so. And since nearly every speaker there is on Twitter, well…

So, therefore, it is with great trepidation and reluctance that, last week, I finally broke down and created a Twitter account. I’ve been sitting on it for a week, and really only made it publically known this past weekend at Albany SQL Saturday.

I’m still trying to figure out how to use the thing. Deb Melkin mentioned to me this past weekend that there were some hashtags that I should’ve used with my first tweet — at which point, she turned to some of our colleagues and said, “he’ll get the hang of it. We’ll teach him!”

I honestly don’t know how much I’ll be using the thing. I already use Facebook to post about my personal life, and I use my LinkedIn for professional endeavors, so I don’t really feel a need to do either on Twitter. I’ve connected my ‘blog to it, so you’ll see my articles on it whenever I post one. Beyond that, we’ll see.

So if you really feel a need to follow me, my Twitter profile is PianoRayK.

I’ll see you out there in the Twitterverse…

What’s in a (team) name?

Albany once had a CBA (Continental Basketball Association) team, the Albany Patroons. They were a competitive team that had some pretty good history behind it, having produced coaches such as Phil Jackson and Bill Musselman.  I told myself that I had to go catch a game sometime.

It never happened. The very next year (after I proclaimed that I had to go to a game), the team changed their name to the Capital Region Pontiacs, after the local Pontiac dealerships.  The name change turned me off completely. I said to myself, “no way am I supporting that team.” I never made it to a game.

I liked the “Albany Patroons” name.  Wikipedia defines “patroon” as “a landholder with manorial rights to large tracts of land in the 17th century Dutch colony of New Netherland in North America.”  It was reflective of the region’s Dutch heritage, so it was appropriate.  “Capital Region Pontiacs,” on the other hand, pandered to car dealerships.  What does that have to do with Albany?!?  The new name put me off so much that I vowed never to attend a game.  As it turned out, the team ended up moving (or folding — I don’t remember which).  As far as I was concerned, good riddance.

This isn’t the only time that a team turned me off because of a name change.  I stopped rooting for the NY/NJ MetroStars when they became Red Bull New York.  (I now consider myself a fan of NYCFC.)  There was once a hockey team, the Albany Choppers (named after the local Price Chopper chain of supermarkets).  I never felt any affiliation with them.  Albany also had an independent minor league baseball team, the Diamond Dogs, and a hockey team, the River Rats.  To me, those didn’t sound like names worthy of professional sports teams in the Capital Region; rather, they sounded like gimmicks.  Although I went to a few games, I was never enamored with either team simply because of the names.  To this day, I do not have — nor do I have any desire to own — a single piece of Diamond Dogs or River Rats gear.  Today, the Capital District is home to the Tri-City ValleyCats (a single-A New York-Penn League farm team for the Houston Astros) and the Albany Devils (an AHL team affiliated with the New Jersey Devils).  To me, those names sound professional, not gimmicky, and I am more prone to support them.  (As the baseball fan that I am, I do regularly attend ValleyCats games, and I do have a few ValleyCats shirts and baseball caps.)

I don’t know if any statistics exist as to how fans react to team nicknames — whether it’s by attendance, paraphernalia sales, or what have you.  I would be curious as to what they are.  If I had to venture a guess — and that’s all this is — I’d suspect that a team’s name could affect those stats.

So for those of you who are involved with sports marketing, take heed.  What’s in a name?  Possibly everything.