Setting up my #Sessionize profile, and speaking opportunities — #DataSaturday

The other day, I wrote about how Data Saturday — the successor to SQL Saturday — was making use of Sessionize for event applications and scheduling. In order to take advantage of the technology, not to mention future opportunities to speak, I took the time to work on my Sessionize profile.

It turned out to be a lot of work — much more than I expected. I already had my bio and my presentation descriptions within the application, but I discovered a number of other features that, I believe, will present me with additional opportunities to speak.

First, while Sessionize keeps track of events to which you apply through its application, I discovered that it also has the ability to enter external events not scheduled through Sessionize. Even the header on the external events page says, “Organizers love to see your talk history” (and I agree). So, I went through my presentations page to enter all my previous speaking engagements that I did not schedule through Sessionize.

Did I mention that it was a lot of work? I started speaking regularly in 2015. In that time (until now), I’ve spoken at 26 SQL Saturdays, two PASS Summits, seven in-person user group meetings, three professional development virtual meetings, and a podcast. Granted, I know people who’ve spoken at more events than I have, but still, that’s a lot of speaking engagements. I added them to my external events, including descriptions and web links (where applicable — since PASS.org is no longer active, I linked the SQL Saturday pages to the schedule PDFs that I downloaded several weeks ago, and a few other links to any YouTube presentation links I had available).

I also discovered that Sessionize has an option called “discover events” — a feature that allows you to discover potential speaking opportunities. I had gone through the Data Saturdays site to apply to speak at (virtual) events in Redmond and LA, but when I saw the “discover events” option, I got curious.

As it turned out, in order to use this option, I had to fill out sections for areas of expertise and topics, so I filled them out as best I could. Once I did so, I was able to view (and apply to) potential events. In addition to the two Data Saturday events, I also applied to the VTTA Tech Conference and Techorama 2021. (And Sessionize says that I still have an active application to speak at Albany Code Camp, where I’d applied last year, but the event was wiped out by the pandemic.) I think I have a decent shot at the Vermont tech conference, and I have my doubts about being accepted to Techorama, but I figure, you never know until you try.

So far, I do like the Sessionize application. It does a good job of keeping track of my profile and my speaking engagements, and it could potentially open up more speaking opportunities. I’ll admit that I felt some trepidation after PASS (and SQL Saturday) ceased to exist. I wanted to continue speaking at events, and I wasn’t sure how to approach it once the SQL Saturday window closed. We’ll see what speaking opportunities open up with this application.

What’s your (tag)line?

Let’s say you’re an ad exec making a commercial. You’ve been tasked with coming up with a great tagline (and maybe a slogan) for a product. What would it be?

Or, to get to the point of this article — I mentioned earlier about marketing yourself. What would your tagline be?

For me, personally, it’s taken many years, but I think I’ve finally figured mine out: “My job is to make other people’s jobs easier.”

Let’s back up a bit. How did we get here?

There have been many great taglines in the history of advertising. Whenever you hear one of these, a specific product immediately comes to mind.

  • Think Different
  • Just Do It
  • Got Milk?
  • America Runs On Dunkin’

Each of these taglines immediately invokes the product they represent: Apple, Nike, California Milk Processor Board (and eventually, the entire dairy industry), and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Through my past several months of job hunting, it occurred to me that my career could best be summed up by what I did at one of my previous jobs. When I worked for a server infrastructure department, my job was to provide information to the server team in order for them to efficiently do their jobs. The department was a support team. My job was to support the support team.

It occurred to me that that was a good summary of my career, and a description of what I do best. I’m passionate about supplying my coworkers with whatever accurate information they need to do what they need to do, usually through documentation (although I use other means as well — it’s good to have database experience). This has created a mindset, as well as a degree of assertiveness, whenever I go into interviews.

So, my tagline is, “My job is to make other people’s jobs easier.”

What’s yours?

Reinventing the #resume (again) #JobHunt

I had a conversation today with a recruiter — technically, it was an interview, but the way we spoke, it was more of a conversation between an agent (her) and a client (me) — who gave me some advice regarding my resume. I came away from the conversation with a few insights, and I’d like to share those insights here. This is not the first time I’ve written about resumes. I continually learn something new about them.

We left the conversation with her giving me a homework assignment: revamp my resume to incorporate what we had discussed.

Probably the biggest takeaway was to rethink how I was presenting my resume. I shouldn’t have the mindset of a job seeker telling prospective employers to hire me. Rather, I needed to approach it as a marketer. I’m marketing a product. The product I’m marketing is me.

This mindset is important. When you’re trying to present yourself to an employer, you feel a need to impress them with your extensive experience, everything you’ve done, and the many reasons why the employer should hire you. But if you’re marketing yourself, the thought process shifts. Instead, you’re advertising yourself and your skills. “Hire me! Here’s why!” She told me that it’s okay to not put everything on your resume — not lie, mind you, but rather, not throw in the kitchen sink when putting your resume together. Just highlight the important selling points. If they want to know more, they can refer to your LinkedIn profile — and maybe even call you in for an interview (which, of course, is the purpose of a resume).

I found this to be profound, because this is a point that I espouse as a technical writer, and yet I don’t practice what I preach when it comes to my resume. I am a believer in not necessarily including everything on a document. And yet it never occurred to me to apply my own technical writing skills to my own resume. Don’t try to provide every little detail. If they’re interested, they’ll ask for more (and if they want more, they can look at my LinkedIn profile).

I mentioned ageism as a concern, and a possible reason as to why I haven’t had a job nibble in seven months. (I believe ageism exists in the job hunt; it is illegal, but is nearly impossible to prove.) In the same vein of not needing to include everything, one of the takeaways was to only list positions for the past ten or so years. One of my concerns was that my experience before 2009 would likely reveal my age, but at the same time, it was all professionally relevant, and I didn’t want to leave it off. She suggested an idea that had never occurred to me: list the jobs (employer and title), but leave off the dates. Just say “here’s where I worked before 2009.” Again, if an employer wants to know more about those positions, check out my LinkedIn.

As an afterthought, after I’d removed the dates from the older positions, I still had a potential age identifier on my resume: my educational experience included my dates of graduation. Sure enough, in my latest resume revamp, my graduation dates will be removed. Employers just need to know I have a Masters degree; they don’t have to know when I got it.

The recruiter also asked me another question: what accomplishment at each position are you proudest of? I have to admit that that was a good question. She said that it was a question that should be asked for every listed position, and the answer for each was something that should be included on the resume.

I was told, be your own client. Market yourself. When it comes to marketing yourself, you’re your own blind spot. Only when it was pointed out to me did I know that the blind spot was even there.

#PASSSummit2020 part 3: My second full day #PASSSummit #PASSVirtualSummit

As I write this, I have the Day 2 Keynote about SQL Ecosystem and Innovation on in the background, but I’m not paying a lot of attention to it. There’s a lot of technical information that goes beyond my scope of knowledge and interest. And that’s okay. I might not be paying a lot of attention, but I have no doubt that there are others who are hanging on to every word.

I slept late this morning (which, unfortunately, with my current state of unemployment, is a bad habit I’ve fallen into, and is one I need to address). Unfortunately, I missed some sessions because of it (indicated by the activity on my Twitter feed). The good thing about PASS Virtual Summit is that many of these sessions are recorded, and I’ll be able to access any sessions that interest me but am unable to attend. (Even when I am present for sessions, a number of interesting sessions often run concurrently, so this phenomena is not uncommon.)

I sat in on a panel discussion this morning about building your brand. I figured it would be a good one for me, with trying to do things with my LLC while looking for new employment. It was more a Q&A session than a presentation, but there were many good questions asked, the panelists had some good answers, and I ended up getting a lot out of it.

As I mentioned yesterday, I moderated the Introverts Birds Of a Feather session. There were a few people on the session, and we had some really good discussion.

I think one thing that is worth emphasizing is that one of the biggest reasons why I attend events such as PASS Summit and SQL Saturday is the networking. Professional networking is important for building relationships with colleagues (for those of you who are not regular readers, I even have an entire presentation I do about professional networking, and I’ve written literally hundreds of ‘blog articles about networking.) However, I’ve also made lots of friends through my involvement with PASS, and these events represent opportunities for #SQLFamily to get together. I miss these people dearly, and I relish any opportunity I can get to get together with these people.

For the second year in a row, I will be monitoring the Storytelling & Visualization Birds Of A Feather table!

PASS Virtual Summit offers plenty of opportunities to network virtually. Tonight at 6:00 pm (EST), I will be monitoring another Birds of a Feather networking room; this time, it will be the Storytelling & Visualization room. (Note: this is the same table I monitored at last year’s PASS Summit!) If you’re around and online, feel free to stop by and chat me up!

There are some other sessions this afternoon that interest me, including some lightning talks that I might try to attend (hi, Steve Jones!). And of course, tomorrow (the last day of PASS Summit), it will be my turn to present!

See you around Summit!

Bad web forms — how to drive people away from your site

I’ve come across my share of bad design, and I’m sure you have as well. I’ve especially come across some egregious examples as a job applicant.

I came across one that particularly set me off. While poking around Indeed, I found a technical writer position for GitLab that interested me. Of course, most people who work in IT are familiar with GitLab, so they have a reputation. I read through the description, and it sounded interesting, so I clicked the button to “apply on company site.”

The subsequent link took me to this page.

The page talks about the technical writer roles and responsibilities. It talks about the hiring process, it includes a salary calculator, and it even talks about benefits, including stock options.

Nowhere on the page was there any link to actually apply for the position!!!

If you don’t believe me, check out the link and see for yourself. No wonder why they need technical writers. I understand and appreciate GitHub’s reputation in the IT community, but this page is seriously making me question whether or not I really want to work for them.

GitHub is far from being the only offender. I came across another page that, even after they asked me to upload my resume, it still asked me to manually input my work experience. (Even worse, these were required fields; there was no way around this. What if you’re a student with no work experience?) After I hit Submit, it came back and told me there were errors. It had cleared out all the dates I’d entered (I had entered months and years), and it insisted that I entered days. Seriously, raise your hand if you actually remember what day you started or ended a job from years ago. I have enough trouble just remembering the month or year. It made me question how well their automated formatting really worked (if it worked at all). Once I filled those in (with the best guesses for days), it told me there was another error. I clicked the message, expecting it to show me where the error was. Nope. It just told me there was an error. I had to search the entire page to figure out what it was complaining about.

I’ve come across too many forms like this during my job hunt. I also remember coming across some very badly designed forms years ago from previous job hunts — some that were so badly designed that they discouraged me from applying for the jobs.

I’ve talked about making documentation easier for the end user, and this is far from the only article I’ve written about how bad design is a detriment to anyone who needs to follow instructions. UX/UI needs to be as painless as possible for the end user. If you’re a vendor, bad design can drive away customers. If you’re an employer, you run the risk of discouraging qualified applicants.

Like good documentation, good form design needs to be well-thought-out and well-designed. Don’t be the organization that lost customers because your forms were too arduous to use.

Social media: should I stay or should I go?

I don’t think I have to mention just how prevalent social media is these days. If you’re reading this ‘blog, most likely you’re engaged in some form of social media. Terms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are a regular part of daily life these days. It’s gotten to the point that these terms have become verbs (e.g. “Facebook it”). Even I’ll tell people that “the best way to get a hold of me is on Facebook,” and I’m the first to admit that I generally can’t go a day without checking my Facebook app on my phone.

In these times of divisiveness, security concerns, and ‘bots, I’ve also seen a number of friends say, “I’m closing my Facebook account” or “I’m shutting down my LinkedIn.” I’m often saddened by these, because one of my main reasons for maintaining Facebook (which I’ll expand upon in a moment) is to easily keep in touch with friends and family. Any time a friend says that (s)he is shutting down his or her account is a contact that I lose. It doesn’t mean that (s)he is no longer a friend; it just means that it’s a little more difficult to keep in touch with that person.

However, a lot of people are (understandably) turned off by the negativity and political discourse that are pervasive on social media. People have written articles about how much better their lives have become after shutting down social media. I completely understand how people are disillusioned by what they see on social media.

So I get it when people ask this question about social media: should I stay or should I go?

I’ll give the standard DBA answer*: “it depends.”

(*For those who don’t understand the reference, the widespread joke among data professionals and IT people is “it depends” is the standard response when they are asked just about any question.)

Not satisfied with that answer? Let me expand on it.

I don’t think I need to get into why people want to leave social media; there are too many obvious examples of that out in the wild (and maybe a few not-so-obvious examples, such as data security and privacy, and the “need” — a very stupid reason, in my opinion — to maintain social status). People are getting stressed out over these issues. I certainly understand why people want to leave social media, and I won’t decry them for it. So instead, I’ll talk about some reasons why you might want to stay.

Like just about anything else, social media is a tool, a piece of software developed for a purpose. Mostly, that purpose is communication. People have been talking about the shrinking world for years. Social media contributes to the world shrinking even further.

I mentioned earlier that I maintain my Facebook account so that I can easily stay in touch with friends and family. It is the primary reason why I first joined Facebook, and it is why, even despite all the issues that come with it, I maintain my account today. Humans are social animals, and more often than not, humans need to maintain social contact with one another, especially so these days with the COVID-19 pandemic. I enjoy talking to people and keeping in touch with friends, so for me, personally, these reasons outweigh all the problems and tribulations that come with Facebook, and maintaining my account is worthwhile.

Some people seem to think they have to maintain some level of status on social media, like trying to compete in some type of popularity contest. Personally, I think this is one of the biggest bullshit reasons to be on social media. I could not care less about how popular I am. I’ll post about personal news that’s happening in my life, something on my mind that I want to get off my chest, ask a question about an issue I can’t seem to solve on my own, or occasionally express an opinion (although I do try to avoid anything having to do with politics; personally, I despise politics passionately). If you’re on social media to maintain social standing, I think you’re on it for the wrong reason. (Trying to sell yourself is a different matter; I’ll get into that shortly.) If I don’t care about my social standing (and I don’t), then I don’t have to concern myself with maintaining it on social media.

That is why I want to be on social media. However, I also think there are reasons why you should be on social media.

Love it or hate it, social media is prevalent in our society today, and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. Because so many people use social media, it’s probably the single largest and most effective communication device in the world.

I think you have to be on social media if you’re at all serious about any of the following: marketing, networking, sales, job hunting, problem solving, news and information (not the fake kind, but I digress), running a business, customer service, recruiting, and maybe a lot of other things I haven’t thought about — essentially, anything that involves communication on a large scale. Most business sites that sell products or services include links to “like us on (insert your favorite social medium here).” Many job applications include a form field for your LinkedIn profile, a sign that they take it seriously. Organizations such as PASS make extensive use of media such as Twitter to communicate with their members. I’ve also written before about online networking; I won’t rehash that here.

One of the big complaints I often hear is that people are sick of being bombarded with ads and politics. Facebook (and other media, I’m sure) does include tools to suppress things you don’t want to see; for example, there are tools to “hide” or “block all from (name of account).” There are a number of such tools available. I won’t get into them right now, but I will say that using them has made my online experience much more palatable.

So should you maintain a social media presence or not? These are the reasons why, despite their issues, I continue to do so. Social media are communication tools. How — and whether you decide — to use them is completely up to you.

My company logo on a shirt

I was poking around VistaPrint‘s website the other day (this is the site I use to make my business cards). Of course, with any business that sells promotional items, I was greeted with the proverbial “try your logo on this product” popup window.

One of the items that came up was shirt designs. I decided to have some fun with it, and came up with the design that you see above.

I thought it came out pretty well! I decided to order two shirts, one for my wife and one for myself. I plan to wear it whenever I go to the gym and whenever I attend networking events, or events where I’m presenting, such as SQL Saturday.

If you like this shirt, you can order one, too; just click this link! I’m not getting any money for shirt sales. My payment is you walking around advertising my business!

Alas, I don’t yet have a large marketing budget where I can buy a hundred shirts and give them out for free. Hopefully I’ll get to that point, but I’m not quite there yet.

Selling your business on LinkedIn

Yesterday, I got into a conversation with a friend of mine who told me that he disagreed with me about my LinkedIn networking practices. He, like me, has his own business. He told me why he disagreed with me, and what he told me was very intriguing.

I’ve been using LinkedIn primarily as a networking tool, and I continue to use it as such. That said, LinkedIn can be used for a number of purposes, including one that hadn’t occurred to me — and that reason was why my friend disagreed with me.

“As a small business,” he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I don’t have a lot of money to spend on things like marketing and advertising. I read what you wrote about not connecting with someone because she was into sales and you’re not. The thing is, when you own a business, by default, you’re a sales person. It’s great that you’re networking on LinkedIn, but how much are you going to sell to your existing network? You shouldn’t just be connecting with people you already know. What you should be doing is selling your business to people you don’t know. LinkedIn is, essentially, a free advertising tool.”

He definitely has a point. When I was working for an employer, I used LinkedIn primarily as a networking tool, but that narrative changed when I became a business owner. Before, I was looking to maintain contacts as a source of “hive mind” knowledge, public speaking opportunities, and potential job leads in the event that I lost my job (which, I did). Now that I own my own business, I also need to generate leads for my business. LinkedIn can help me do that.

So to my friend, if you’re reading this (which he probably is — he did say that he reads my ‘blog), thank you for that insight. I’ve long said that networking is about building relationships, which it still is. Those relationships also extend to selling your business as well.

Networking your business

As I come up on two months of my LLC being in business, I’m learning a lot of things as I go along. A lot of it is the boring administrative stuff that comes with running your own business. But another thing I’m finding out is how critical it is to network when running your own business.

As of today, I currently have two clients, and I’m hoping to pick up some more. What’s important is how I got those clients. I got them both by networking. One was a friend with whom I worked at a previous job, while the other was introduced to me through a mutual friend. To me, this drives home the point of just how critical networking can be if you’re running your own business.

I started looking into business networking resources, and came across this article. Of course, the article lists groups such as BNI (which, I understand, is a very good group; however, I’m not sure if I’m ready to pay the steep membership fee just yet. Maybe at some point down the road, when I’m better established). It also lists groups that didn’t occur to me, such as the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and Kiwanis. I also found a link for local Meetup groups (this link lists groups local to me here in the Albany, NY area; you might want to check similar groups for where you’re located). I am going to make it a point to look into these resources and see if I can tap into them.

I also spoke to a friend who also has his own consulting business about possibly establishing some kind of relationship that would be mutually beneficial to both of our businesses. While neither of us had work for the other, we agreed that some kind of business relationship could be beneficial for both of us. We might look into something later down the line.

Of course, there are the other resources that I’ve been preaching all along, such as user groups and conferences.

I’ve written before about how important networking is for an individual’s career. I’m also discovering that networking is important for business as well. It might very well be key for keeping your business afloat.

The power of a single, simple presentation — oh, the places you can go!

This morning, my Facebook memories feed told me that I did a presentation at my local user group five years ago today (this isn’t the first time I’ve written about this). I did a presentation about how to speak the language of technology to those who don’t understand it.

Little did I know at the time that that simple little presentation would end up taking me places.

I had applied to speak at our local SQL Saturday using that presentation, and I wanted to use our user group meeting as a trial run. That evening, I learned a few things about myself.

  • I enjoyed public speaking and presenting.
  • I was good at it (or so I was told).
  • I have a passion for teaching. This was not news to me, but my experience reinforced that passion.

Not only was that presentation accepted for our local SQL Saturday, I have since given that presentation eleven times — including at PASS Summit, and most recently, at a SQL Saturday this past February, just before the COVID-19 crisis hit.

Since I did my presentation at my local user group five years ago, I’ve spoken at a total of twenty-three (and counting) SQL Saturdays, seven in-person user group meetings (including one that was not local), three online virtual user group presentations, a podcast, and PASS Summit. I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel and to make friends because of my experiences!

And those are just my speaking engagements. I’ve also had some other things that have happened, indirectly, because of that presentation.

  • I started a ‘blog about professional development topics (this very ‘blog that you’re reading right now).
  • I’ve gotten a better sense of my own professional skill sets and gained more confidence in them.
  • I’ve started my own business, something that I previously never thought I would ever do.
  • Even though I lost my job, I have much more confidence in my own abilities and career prospects.
  • My professional network has become much stronger.

I credit all of this to that one, simple presentation that I gave at a user group meeting five years ago today.

So consider joining a user group and doing a presentation. You never know where it could lead.