I’ve been building Confluence pages as my initial projects for my (still-relatively) new employer. I’ve been building landing pages, coming up with designs and layouts as I go along.
For a couple of these pages, I wanted to come up with graphics — not just to be aesthetically pleasing, but also to give each page an identity. That way, someone visiting them can quickly and easily discern that that’s the employee resources page, or the architecture team page, or whatever page it is.
I’ve said before — and this is something that I preach as a technical communicator — that reading is work. It takes effort to read a piece of text and to comprehend it. If I’m writing a step-by-step guide, my rule of thumb is, if a step takes longer than a few seconds to understand, it has failed and must be rewritten.
Have you ever read a long piece of text (that isn’t a book you’re reading for fun) and realized how mentally tired you felt after reading it? For that matter, do you even want to read such a long piece of text? There’s a reason why people never read terms and conditions that come with applications. Take a look at all that black text, and tell me if you really want to read through it.
On that same note, it’s been often said — and it’s true — that a picture is worth a thousand words. A graphic will often convey information that’s often difficult to put into words.
Some logos are so recognizable that they are iconic: Apple, Coca Cola, Nike, Amazon, and the list goes on. If you come across a web page with one of these logos, you’ll almost instantly recognize what the page is about.
Even when I write these ‘blog articles, I try to choose graphics that are illustrative of what I’m writing.
That’s what I’m after with these Confluence pages that I’m building (they’re internal to the company, so I’m somewhat hesitant about showing them off). An employee can take a quick look at the page and know that (s)he is in the right place.
Granted, heading graphics aren’t always appropriate for every document (resumes, anyone?). However, if they’re used effectively, they can add a lot to a document and maybe even make it easier to read. Good graphics aren’t always about making something pretty; it can sometimes, in and of itself, convey a message.
This morning, I’ll be sitting in on a 10:00 webinar by some company called 36Software. I have no idea what the webinar is about, and since I’ll be working during the webinar, I’ll be sitting in my home office working on documentation with the webinar on in the background.
Why am I sitting in on this webinar? The title of it says it all: “36Software Wants to Send you to STC Summit 2022 in Chicago!”
I joined (or, more accurately, rejoined) STC last year. I had been a member years ago when I was working as a full-time technical writer, but I moved on to other things, and I let my membership lapse. Last year, during my unemployment and my search for technical writer positions, I decided it was worth it to rejoin. It’s an organization that can help me with my endeavors, and, I figured, it looks good on my resume.
What held me up from doing so for so long is that, unlike PASS membership, STC is not free. The lowest-tiered annual membership level is somewhere in the ballpark of around $200, and I wasn’t sure if it was worth the investment. Now that I am, once again, a full-time technical writer, I decided that it was. (I was also awarded a grant that allowed me to cover the cost.) Now that I’m working again (and in a field directly related to the organization), I have little trepidation about paying the $200 annual membership dues.
But, back to the webinar. I’ll admit that sitting in on this webinar isn’t really something that’s high on my priority list for the day, but as the saying goes, nothing in life is free. And so-called “free stuff” is no exception. There are all types of things that say they’re “free,” but there’s always some kind of trade-off. When they say “free,” they are usually talking about money. Usually, you end up paying in other ways, and not necessarily with money.
STC Summit is an event that I would love to attend. I’ve attended PASS Summit twice, and I found it to be a great experience. I think STC Summit would be similar. However, there are costs involved: the registration fee, airfare, and accommodations being the biggest ones. These are not cheap, and they usually preclude people, myself included, from attending.
I had said that the only way I’d be able to attend PASS Summit was if I was selected to speak at one. Lo and behold, it happened! Being selected to speak waived the registration fee, and I was able to attend! Of course, it wasn’t entirely “free” — I was put to work, after all, by serving as a speaker!
Those of you who attend SQL Saturday know about the sponsors and vendors, all of whom are integral to user groups and conferences such as SQL Saturday. They’ll have their booths set up, advertising their products and services. They’ll have door prizes — expensive electronic toys such as Xboxes, free software, gift cards, etc. — that they’ll raffle off at the end of the event. Of course, there’s a catch: in order to be eligible for prizes, you need to submit your name and email to each vendor, after which you’ll be inundated with emails from that vendor.
It’s been said that “free” isn’t “free.” Sure, you might not be paying for something with money, but money isn’t always used to pay for things. Are you willing to pay a cost in terms of your time or your email? It often depends on the product and the cost. I often am unable to pay for a product I’d like out of my bank account, but I’m sometimes willing to pay with my time or my bandwidth. Hey, for an opportunity to attend a conference whose registration fee will likely cost over a thousand dollars, sure, I’ll take an hour to sit in on a webinar.
Many data professionals, myself included, were saddened back in January when PASS ceased operations. As I’ve mentioned before, PASS provided me with many professional opportunities that I didn’t think were possible. It enhanced my career and provided me with countless networking opportunities. I made many friends during my association with PASS that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. Believe me, #SQLFamily is a real thing!
Redgate picked up the ball that had been carried by PASS. They have been hard at work resurrecting the community that PASS had built.
The new SQL Saturday site includes links to all the previous SQL Saturday events that were hosted by PASS. I was happy to see that all the previous events appear to be listed. With that, I plan to update my old presentation links to point to the newly-listed (old-listed?) events. (I see a lot of work ahead of me!)
One question I have is what will happen between SQL Saturday and Data Saturday? Will they remain two different entities, or will they merge? I am not privy to that level of administration, so I have no idea.
The new SQL Saturday and PASS Data Community Summit links still need work, but I’m happy that Redgate has been putting in the work to restructure the brand and the community. Great work, Redgate! Bravo! I am very much looking forward to seeing how Redgate proceeds with the updated community.
Edit/correction: as it turns out, there is actually a board, of which Steve Jones is a part, that actually does the work on the new SQL Saturday initiative. While Redgate sponsors it (their branding is all over it), it’s the board that actually does the work. Nice job, board!
As some of you might be aware, I’m the person who handles communications and branding for the Albany local SQL user group. As such, I’m responsible for sending out group announcements, updating the calendar of events, and maintaining whatever social media resources we might have.
Last week, I was preparing the announcements material for our April meeting, and in doing so, I took a long look at our “logo” (seen here on the right). There were many things that I found amiss. First, the logo, which we had had for several years — I’ve lost track of how long — was unwieldy and no longer representative of our group. Second, it used the PASS branding (and the REALLY OLD branding at that), which needed to be removed since PASS ceased operations in January. Finally, it was not dynamic — we were using it universally as a logo and an icon, and it really did not function well as such. I spoke to Greg and Ed, our user group’s co-admins, and got their blessing to come up with a new logo for our group. (Besides, I needed the design practice!)
I sat down and tinkered with some ideas. I tried out some fonts and visual schemes. Ideally, I wanted to incorporate some specific design elements: New York State, something representative of the Albany Capital Region where we’re located, a technical-looking font, and the universally-recognized (at least to data professionals) database icon. I wasn’t sure what kind of color scheme I wanted to use, but as it turned out, I started out using blue and gold for the fonts (which, unofficially, are considered to be New York State’s colors), decided that I liked them, and stuck with them.
My initial idea was to superimpose the user group acronym (CASSUG) over the outline of New York State; those are the designs you see here to the right. I tried a couple of different fonts, including one (which you see in the second image) that included NASA in the font name. (I decided that I liked the other font better.) I positioned the database icon over where Albany is located, which would satisfy my requirement of representing the Capital Region.
While I was generally happy with the results, I also wanted to take another approach. I downloaded a line drawing image of the Albany skyline and placed the CASSUG text logo underneath it. I liked the idea and decided to run with it; however, I needed to find another image, as the skyline image I used could potentially have violated copyright restrictions (I did not post it here for exactly that reason). I had to find another image, but I was unable to find one that I liked. I decided that the only way I could come up with a suitable skyline outline image was for me to create my own.
I opened MS Paint and hand-drew a simple representation of the skyline. I decided to represent four local landmark structures in the drawing (and anyone local to the Capital District knows that one of those structures had to be The Egg — it is the one landmark building that instantly identifies the Albany skyline, just as much as The Pyramid identifies Memphis, the Carrier Dome identifies Syracuse, or the Space Needle identifies Seattle).
I thought the outline came out fairly well, but I had to make sure that I did it justice, so I posted it to my Facebook and asked local friends if they could identify the buildings. (If you’re looking at the logo at the top of the page, the buildings represent, from left to right, the Corning Tower, the Egg, the State Capitol, and the Smith building.) The outline was not to scale and it wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t have to be; it just needed to be recognizable. Everyone correctly identified The Egg, and most people were able to correctly identify at least two of the four structures. That people recognized the skyline told me that I had done my job.
I placed the CASSUG acronym and accompanying text underneath the skyline outline. I wanted to make sure the acronym was spelled out for the benefit of those who wanted to know the acronym’s meaning. As a final design idea, I took the New York State outline, placed it to the right of the acronym, and superimposed the database icon on top of it.
The end result is the image that you see at the very top of this article.
I ran my ideas past the user group members, and people overwhelmingly said they liked the Albany skyline image.
I like how the image came out. I intentionally created a relatively large image (2830 x 1250px); you can create smaller images from a big one, but you can’t create big images from a small one. The image is versatile; for example, if we need a banner, we can use the acronym and text without the skyline; if we need a thumbnail, we can use the icon over NYS, and so on. I started updating our Meetup page with the new design, and I’ll incorporate it into other materials as well.
What do you think about my rebranding effort? Like it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments below.
Yesterday, a good friend of mine texted me, asking me to send him my resume. This particular friend works for a major nationwide consulting firm. I won’t say which firm, but I will say that it’s a household name. In his position, he is often in a position to hire, and he is well-connected.
After reviewing my resume, he texted me back again, saying “let’s talk. I have some ideas that might make your resume even better, and I want to make sure those changes are implemented before I pass your resume along. Do you have time to talk tomorrow?”
I got off the phone with him a little while ago, and what he had to say was eye-opening — and in our conversation, I managed to improve my resume even more.
His advice (and I’m paraphrasing here): “what projects are you the most proud of? As a hiring manager, that’s something that stands out to me. Your work experience looks good, but everything you mention is general day-to-day activities. You don’t really list much in terms of a specific project you worked on. For example, something like ‘I designed such-and-such app that helped people do their work more efficiently by whatever-it-did-to-help-them, saving the company millions of dollars’ is something that would stand out to me. What are you the most proud of? Make sure you highlight that in your resume.”
I did raise a concern. I told him, yes, there is a project that immediately pops into my head, but it goes back many years; in fact, it’s a project I worked on for a company that goes outside of the past ten years. He told me, “that doesn’t matter” (he also relayed to me a project that he was proud of that took place over twenty years ago). “I’m proud of that, and I still include that in my profile.”
I had my resume file open in front of me during our conversation. While we were talking, editing ideas started forming in the back of my head.
His suggestion was to include these projects in my work experience, but I decided to leave that section alone. Instead, I decided to rewrite the Career Summary section of my resume. I wanted to do it this way for a couple of reasons: one, this appears at the top of my resume and would be the first thing that prospective employers read, and two, rewriting the Work Experience listings would have been a lot of work, and could have potentially resulted in document restructuring issues.
In terms of projects in which I take pride, I immediately wanted to mention a server inventory database that I built years ago; whenever anyone asks me about a professional project of which I am the most proud, this is the one that I always think of immediately. I also wanted to mention my involvement with recovery efforts after 9/11 (my Disaster Documents presentation is based on this experience), so I included that on the list as well. I also wanted to include a project that was much more recent, so I included a user guide that I wrote from scratch, including developing the Word template for it (additionally, I wanted to highlight that it was for a SaaS application). Finally, I also wanted to make mention of a project in which I learned about MVC concepts (unlike the other projects, this one does appear in my Work Experience section).
There were also a few other things I wanted to do with my Career Summary section. A while back, I came up with my own personal tagline, but it did not appear in my resume. I wanted to make sure it was included. Additionally, whenever I submitted my resume, I was finding that I was experiencing confusion on the part of prospective employers. I was (and still am) targeting primarily technical writer positions, and I was often questioned, “with all this technical experience, why are you targeting tech writing jobs?” I wanted to restructure it in such a way to explain that I was drawing upon tech writing as a strength, without sacrificing the fact that I had a technical background.
Before I made my edits, the Career Summary section of my resume looked like this.
When all was said and done, this is how it came out.
Additionally, I had to make changes to other sections of my resume, entirely for formatting purposes. I wanted to ensure that it would fit on two pages. I consolidated a few sections of information that, while helpful, I didn’t think would be as important.
I made the changes, updated my resume files (Word and PDF), and resent it to my friend. As of this article, I’m still waiting to get his feedback (he texted me to say he was busy, but would look when he had the chance), but personally, I like the way these changes came out.
(Edit: I heard back from my friend; his advice was to keep the accomplishments to one line each. In his words, “make it punchier.”)
You don’t necessarily have to do this within your Career Summary section; this was how I decided to approach it. If you can incorporate these highlights into your work experience listings, then by all means, do so.
I want to mention one thing when adding “proud accomplishments” to your resume. There is a fine line between talking about accomplishments you’re proud of and bragging about things to stroke your ego. Keep in mind that the purpose of a resume is to get you a job interview. Talking about projects you did that made a difference can help with that effort. Bragging about things you did (or didn’t do) will not. Nobody cares about your ego; they care about what value you can bring to their organization.
So what are your thoughts on these changes? Feel free to comment on them, especially if you’re a recruiter or a hiring manager.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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 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.