Three years a ‘blogger — what a long, strange trip it’s been

As of this Friday, I will have been writing my ‘blog for three years. Happy anniversary to me, I suppose!

I originally started my ‘blog to supplement my SQL Saturday presentations, but since then, it’s taken on a life of its own. I’ve written about a number of topics, mostly about professional development. I’ve dabbled a bit in some technical topics such as SQL Server and BI. I’ve even written about networking and the job hunt. As a professional technical communicator, I write a lot about technical writing and communication. Every now and then, I’ll write about something that has nothing to do with professional topics, but might be of interest to professionals, anyway. I write about whatever’s on my mind. In a way, I think of my ‘blog as my own online diary, except that instead of writing a personal journal where the only people who’d see it are myself and anyone who comes across it after I’m dead, I’m writing it for the entire online world to see.

I think a ‘blog can be a good experience for anyone looking to advance his or her career. Indeed, I have a presentation in the works about exactly this topic. As of this article, it’s still a work in progress. I haven’t done much more than create a PowerPoint template and put a few thoughts into it, but I have already submitted it for SQL Saturdays in Albany and Providence. We’ll see if it gets any bites, and hopefully, I’ll be presenting it at a SQL Saturday near you!

(Note: if you’re a ‘blogger, and would like to contribute something about your experience to the presentation, please feel free to mention something in the comments. Maybe I’ll use it in my presentation! Don’t worry, I’ll make sure I give you credit!)

I have some more thoughts about ‘blogging, including things I’ve learned and tips for people who are looking to get started with ‘blogging, but I’ll save those thoughts for another time. (These are all things that I intend to cover in my presentation.) For now, I’ll just say that it’s been a fun three years, and I hope to keep going for many more!

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My first road race — the debrief

Well, I survived my first road race! Wondering how I did? Here’s my official results! Hey, I didn’t get lost, and I didn’t finish last!

And as I write this, my hamstrings are still saying some nasty things to me!

I was hoping to maintain at least a slow jog throughout the race, but that went out the window as soon as I hit the first big hill. The course ended up being more difficult than I expected. (I’ve driven through that area dozens of times. It doesn’t seem too bad in a car! It’s a lot different when you’re on foot!) I tried to jog where I could, but mostly, I walked. I did try at least to maintain a brisk walk, although that didn’t always happen, either. One piece of advice that my CrossFit coach gave me beforehand was, “just keep moving. Don’t stop.”

I did have to stop a couple of times to retie my shoes, but aside from that, I pretty much heeded that advice. I didn’t stop!

One of my favorite moments happened in the middle of the park. A kid had a hand-drawn sign with a Super Mario Mushroom Power-Up and a caption that said “Hit sign to power up!” I don’t know how many people used that to push themselves, but for me, it worked! I touched the sign and broke into a jog — albeit briefly.

A little past the halfway point, one of my friends from the office came up alongside me, and we pretty much did a steady walk together for the remainder of the course, all the way to the finish line.

There were a couple of down moments yesterday. After the race, I parked in a pay lot, didn’t pay, and got towed. (I did manage to get my car back.) Also, they ran out of T-shirts in my size. I was disappointed about not getting a shirt! But nevertheless, it was a good time! It was a beautiful day out — temps were cool and comfortable, and it was sunny. And in addition to my co-workers, I saw several friends at the event. I met my co-workers at a bar after the race (it was while I was here when my car was towed). We ate and drank, and I spoke to a number of people from my office whom I usually don’t talk to!

All in all, it was a good time. I have to admit that I had fun yesterday! Has it changed how I feel about running? Well… not yet. Will I do this event again? Well… more than likely!

Talk to me again next year!

Networking: it’s all about relationships

My last article got me thinking — what and why is networking? What’s it about? How is it supposed to work? It occurred to me that the person who sent me that first LinkedIn request (to which I refer in my previous article) doesn’t get it. She has no clue about what networking is, why it is, and how it works. Networking is not about just saying “I have X number of connections.” “Connecting” is not the same as “networking.” You may have a large number of LinkedIn connections. But are you really networking?

Networking is about building and nurturing relationships — for our purposes, building professional relationships. (I mention “professional” since it’s the main focus here, although solid social relationships often come out of them as well — and they, in turn, strengthen the business relationship. How often do you go out with your coworkers for lunch, a cup of coffee, a drink after work, a ballgame, or — in some rare cases — even a date?) Often, these relationships take time to develop. The stronger the relationship is, the stronger the network is. Subsequently, a good network takes time to develop, often weeks or months, and sometimes even as long as several years.

Granted, the relationship isn’t always social, and many people in a network may be (at best) more acquaintances than friends. There are many people in my network with whom I’ll likely never share so much as a cup of water at the watercooler — and that’s okay. What matters is that the connection is valuable and bidirectional. A network connection is mutually beneficial. I might need a favor from some person, and (s)he might someday need one from me. As long as two people are willing to assist each other in some way, shape, or form — it could be as minor as providing a small piece of advice, or as major as hiring that person for a six-figure executive position — if both sides benefit from the relationship, that is a network.

So how does one establish a network? I’ve touched on this a number of times. I talk about it extensively in my networking presentation. I highly recommend Matt Cushing‘s presentation about networking at a PASS/SQL event. (Amusing side note: as of this article, Matt has given his presentation four times — and I’ve attended all four! I’ll likely make it five-for-five when we hook up again in Virginia Beach. I jokingly told him that he can just start referring to me as “his prop.”) In my previous article, I mention how I connected with the person who sent me the second LinkedIn request I received that weekend. I wrote about how to establish a network online. I also wrote earlier about how common connections can benefit people.

And I’ve mentioned this many times before, but it bears repeating: the person who hired me for my current job is one of my Facebook friends.

Just because you’re “connected” to someone doesn’t mean you have a network. Networking is about relationships, whether they’re casual acquaintances or close friends. The stronger those relationships are, the stronger your network will be. How you nurture those relationships determines how strong your network is. And if you establish a strong network, chances are that you’ll go far in your professional endeavors, whatever they may be.

Monthly CASSUG meeting — May 2019

Greetings, data enthusiasts!

This is a reminder that our May CASSUG meeting will take place on Monday, May 13, 5:30 pm, in the Datto (formerly Autotask) cafeteria!

Our guest speaker is Mike Jones! His talk is entitled: “Using Pure ActiveCluster for SQL High Availability.”

For more information, and to RSVP, go to our Meetup link at http://meetu.ps/e/GBP2c/7fcp0/f

Thanks to our sponsors, Datto/Autotask, Capital Tech Search, and CommerceHub for making this event possible!

A tale of two LinkedIn requests

Over the weekend (specifically, while I was at SQL Saturday Philadelphia), I received two different LinkedIn connect requests. The two requests were polar opposites, and I thought they were worthwhile writing about in this article.

As a technical professional, I often receive “cold-call” connect requests or emails. I am very wary and picky about with whom I connect; indeed, I’ve written before about spam recruiters. The problem has become so pervasive that I included this note at the top of my LinkedIn profile summary: “If you want to connect with me, please indicate how we’re connected; otherwise, I will ignore or delete your request. I do NOT accept unsolicited connect requests from people I don’t know.”

In my networking presentation, I include a section on “how to break the ice” — that is, how to initiate a networking contact with someone you don’t know. The two requests I received were perfect case studies as to what to do — and what NOT to do.

I’ll start with the one that describes what not to do. I received a “cold-call” connect request from someone who sent me the following note. Keep in mind that I do not know this person.

“I’m always looking to build my network with great people and would be delighted to have you in my network. I hope you’ll consider connecting!”

(name withheld)

If you’ve attended my presentation, or if you’ve downloaded or perused my PowerPoint slides, you’ll know that I include a section of what not to do. This person’s email checked off one of the boxes in that category: brown-nosing/sucking up/kissing up. The message was canned, impersonal, and insincere. Not only that, but she gave absolutely no indication as to how we’re connected or if we have any kind of (business) relationship. She gave me absolutely no reason for me to connect with her. “Wanting to build my network with great people” is NOT a reason for me to connect with you!!! Not only did she not give me a reason to connect, the tone of her message insulted my intelligence. This message is a perfect example of how NOT to establish a networking contact.

(And in case you’re wondering, I deleted this person’s request immediately.)

On the other side of the coin, I received this message from someone who attended my SQL Saturday presentation this past weekend. Again, I did not know this person. However…

“I really enjoyed your presentation on technical writing at SQL Saturday today! The tie challenge was a really interesting way to get the point across. I’d like to stay in touch and maybe pick your brain about tech writing again at some point in the future.”

(name also withheld)

(Note: the “tie challenge” refers to a demo in my presentation. If you haven’t seen my presentation, I’m not telling you what it is. You’ll have to attend to find out! 🙂 )

To the person who wrote this email (if you’re reading this): nice job! The message was sincere, complimentary (“I enjoyed the presentation”), referred to specific things (so I knew she attended my presentation; therefore, we have a connection of some type), and asked to potentially continue a conversation (“maybe pick your brain”). This is a perfect example as to how to initiate contact and break the ice. I was happy to connect with this person, and I did.

(P.S. I might use your message as an example the next time I give my networking presentation!)

If you want to establish a networking contact, you need to be sincere and give the person a reason to connect. Make the person feel valued. This applies to any networking situation, regardless of whether it’s face-to-face or online. Following this guideline will ensure that your networking efforts are much more successful.

Pursuing postgraduate education, part 2

“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

Satchel Paige

“Moving me down the highway, rolling me down the highway, moving ahead so life won’t pass me by…”

Jim Croce

Only a couple of days after posting about pursuing additional education, some interesting things have come up.

In my previous article, I mentioned that my biggest stumbling block was financial, with schedule being the second biggest blocker. I may have discovered a solution to both issues. I did a little homework on Western Governors University. I had heard of WGU before — I have a friend who’s an alum — but I dismissed it, thinking it was a for-profit enterprise. (I’ll also confess that the possibility of it being a diploma mill also crossed my mind, but knowing my friend, who wouldn’t waste his time with that kind of scam, dispelled those thoughts.) As it turns out, WGU, is not-for-profit, accredited, and is 100% online. It’s a learn-at-your-own-pace program, and the price tag is affordable. I’m looking into possibly pursuing an MS in IT Management. I submitted a form saying that I was interested in more information, and I set up a phone appointment to speak with an enrollment counselor next week. We’ll see how it goes!

I also thought about other reasons as to why I want to do this.

For one thing, I feel like I need a new challenge. I wrote before about stepping out of your comfort zone to move ahead. Although this program is affordable and at my own pace, it nonetheless would still tax my financial and schedule resources. Additionally, despite all that I’ve accomplished professionally up to this point, I still feel that I am capable of accomplishing more. Not only would the degree itself fulfill that, but the potential return on investment includes opening more career doors.

Second, there’s a matter of keeping myself professionally relevant. I’ve written many times before that I’ve made an entire career out of adapting to my environment. As technology, job requirements, and our own skill sets change, so must we change along with them. Eugene Meidinger has written and presented about how difficult, if not impossible, it is to keep up with technology. As I come to terms with my own skill sets, I realize that I need to adapt in order to make myself more professionally valuable.

People often wonder what they need to do in order to get ahead, or at least maintain status quo. However you do it, I suppose the answer is to just keep moving.

Pursuing postgraduate education

I’m on a mailing list for the Albany Business Review, and I get correspondence from them regularly. This morning, I received an email from them advertising an advanced certificate program in data and analytics from Siena College. It got my attention, and I filled out the form link, saying that I was interested in more information.

Ever since I completed my Master’s degree, I’ve toyed with the idea of pursuing another postgraduate credential. I’m confident that I have the aptitude to pursue further education, but my main impediment is financial — advanced education these days is not cheap. There’s also a matter of life getting in the way as well, although given the right circumstances and the right program — a number of degrees can be completed online these days — I think I could juggle it and make it work. So at the moment, the biggest thing stopping me is trying to figure out how to pay for it.

I completed my Master’s degree in 1998. Back when I was in grad school, I discovered a few things about myself. Among them:

  • I love learning.
  • I love the academic environment.
  • I believe in education.
  • I love helping other people learn.

At one point, I remember taking a study break while sitting in the library at RPI, looking around at my surroundings, and saying to myself, “wow, it took a while, but I’ve finally become the academic bookworm my parents have wanted me to become.” I enjoy the academic environment so much that I’ve come to the realization that, given the opportunity, my top preferred industry in which I want to work is academia. I have no qualms about the career path that I’m currently following, but my only regret is that I did not come to this realization much sooner; I would’ve taken the steps — which would’ve been much easier when I was younger — to pursue a career in academia. Now that I’m older, that career path — though not impossible — is more difficult to attain.

I suppose it’d be fair to ask me why I’m considering another credential, whether it’s another Master’s, an advanced certificate, or even a Ph.D. Do I need another degree? Probably not. I seem to be doing pretty well with the accreditations that I have now. So why even think about it? Well, there are a few reasons.

As I stated earlier, I love to learn. In my opinion, there is no such thing as too much education, regardless of whether or not you have a piece of paper to show for it. Education is about much more than a credential; it’s about knowledge and learning, something that can’t be taken for granted, especially living in this era of fake news. And I’m always learning; I always will be. It’s impossible for anyone to know everything, so there’s always something new to learn.

In addition to a love of learning, I’ve also discovered that I have a passion for helping other people succeed — and that often occurs in the form of teaching. It’s why I’m so passionate about my SQL Saturday presentations. It’s one of the reasons why I continue with this ‘blog. At one point years ago, I was out of work and started a part-time teaching gig to hold me over. I enjoyed it so much that I continued to do it even after I landed a full-time job. Someone once said that life is not a competition; everyone should be able to succeed. I’m one of those people who believes that, and I’ll do whatever I can to make sure that people do succeed.

I’ll admit to having thought about what I would do if I ever decided to change careers. Every time, it’s always come back to teaching others. It was one of the main reasons why I took on that part-time teaching position way back when. It’s why I continue to speak at SQL Saturday and other presentation opportunities that present themselves. It’s why I continue to write this ‘blog. Another credential would likely go a long way in accomplishing that goal.

And if nothing else, another academic credential is another goal to shoot for, not to mention that it’ll look good on my resume — and on my home office wall.

So we’ll see if I ever decide to ante up and go for the additional credential. If it ever happens, it should be a fun time, and it’ll be yet another notch in my list of accomplishments in my life journey.