Data Geeks Saturday, August 7 — I’m speaking! #SQLSaturday #DataSaturday

My speaker train continues to roll. I will be speaking at Data Geeks Saturday on August 7. This is another virtual conference, so I will be presenting from my home office (the conference itself is being run by the South Florida Data Geeks).

For the second straight conference, I will be presenting my networking session (the same one that I presented at LA SQL Saturday back in June). So if you missed it in June (or just want to see it again), come join me on August 7!

Go to the Data Geeks Saturday site to register. Note: unlike other events, this conference is not free; there is a charge to attend. The earlier you register, the lower the cost!

Click here to see the full list of speakers and sessions!

Hope to see you on August 7!

The things we do for free stuff

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.

Reminder: I’m speaking this Saturday! #SQLSaturday #DataSaturday #SQLSatLA #Networking

This is a reminder that I will be speaking this upcoming Saturday, June 12!

I am speaking at SQL Saturday Los Angeles. I will do my presentation titled: Networking 101: Building professional relationships.

I am scheduled to present at 4 pm EDT (1 pm PDT). This is a virtual conference, so I will be speaking to you from the comfort of my home office in upstate New York. As much as I’d love to travel to LA, I’m sorry to say that I won’t physically be on the West coast on Saturday! (Perhaps I’ll make it out there at some point — especially now that my new employer is located out there — but it won’t be this weekend!)

Anyone can attend the conference (you don’t have to be a data geek!), but you must register to do so. The event is free! Use their Eventbrite link to register!

Hope to see you (virtually) this Saturday!

I’ve landed!

After 388 days, 557 submitted resumes, and countless rejections, I’m happy to report that I have landed!

I have accepted a position for Insight Global. I will be working remotely as a technical writer for their client, PlutoTV! I start my new gig in a few weeks, depending on how long it will take for them to configure and send me my new work laptop!

I have made no secret about how stressful this job search has been, and I even talk about it in my job hunt presentation. Indeed, an entire calendar year is a long time to be without gainful employment, and it is the longest that I have ever gone without regular work. But I persevered and survived it, and I’m very much looking forward to this new opportunity!

Thanks to all of you who have followed my exploits and supported me!

The right frame of mind is important for your overall health

I’ve been holding off on writing about this, but what happened to me is an important story to tell, and a cautionary tale for others who might be going through the same thing.

The photo you see above is me lying in a hospital bed about a month ago. And I want to tell you how I got there.

I have made no secret about how much the experiences of the past year have stressed me out. When I keep a regular schedule (and when I’m working), I have a routine that I maintain. And as long as I stick to the routine, I tend to do pretty well. If my routine gets upset, that’s when I get into trouble.

Well, the stress that I’ve endured upset my routine. My sleep schedule had been irregular. And I’ve been doing a terrible job of taking care of myself. The pandemic closure, in the early months, shut down gyms, which meant that I stopped going to CrossFit (which had been part of my routine). To make up for it, I started doing a Couch to 5K program. I had been doing pretty well with that program, until about halfway through, I was beset with injuries which also upset my (now new) routine. (The injuries were bad enough that I ended up going to PT to address them.) My extracurricular schedule, also part of my routine, had been disrupted because of the pandemic. I was stressed and overwhelmed. Things that I used to enjoy now suddenly seemed like a chore. To sum it all up, I had stopped taking care of myself.

About a month ago, I started having problems eating. Twice within two weeks, I got sick after eating. After the second time, my wife insisted that I go to the ER. Upon being examined, I was told, “we’re admitting you.”

For the sake of my personal privacy, I won’t say what it was that I had, except that it was not COVID. I will say that I remained in the hospital for a week. I barely ate anything during that week. My only diet was bags of IV solution that they sent through my system.

That was not a pleasant experience. I would not recommend that to anyone.

I have been home from the hospital for almost three weeks. I am slowly (emphasis on slowly) getting back to normal. Even as of this article, although I feel much better than I did, I still have not recovered 100%. My energy level is not what it was, and I get tired easily. And it all came about because I had become overwhelmed and had stopped taking care of myself.

The moral of this story is that your emotional and psychological well-being is just as important as your physical one; in fact, it can directly affect it. Your morale is important; in fact, it’s one of the things that I address in my job hunt presentation.

So take it from me. Take care of your mental well-being, and make sure you’re in the right frame of mind. Do what you need to do to roll with the punches. If you need to occasionally let off steam, do so. Get help if you need to. Get yourself to where you need to be, mentally and psychologically. Once you do that, you’ll be able to take care of yourself. Don’t end up like I did last month, and spend a week in a hospital bed.

What are you proud of? Tooting your own horn on your #resume — #JobHunt

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.

(The Career Summary section of my resume — before)

When all was said and done, this is how it came out.

(The Career Summary section of my resume — after)

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.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 24: Coping with the stress #COVID19

I’m not going to lie. The mental stress of being out of a job (ten months, and counting) is affecting me in many ways. I’ll talk about the mental stress (which is what this article is mostly about) in a minute, but before I get into that, let me talk about something that has been affecting me physically.

Last year, gyms were closed down due to the pandemic. As a result, I wasn’t able to attend CrossFit classes. For me, one of the biggest benefits of CrossFit classes was that it created a routine. I tend to be a creature of habit, and as long as I stick to a routine, I’m generally okay. With the gyms closed due to the pandemic, that routine was broken. I didn’t stay active at home as I would’ve liked (although I did attempt a Couch to 5K program). I started developing issues with my back and my shoulder (which continue even as I write this), enough to require physical therapy. Now, the gyms are back open, but I’ve been dealing with physical issues that prevent me from working out as I’d like. Thankfully, PT seems to be alleviating these issues, and I’m hoping to become active again soon.

That said, the past year has affected me mentally and psychologically, and I’ve fallen into some bad habits. I haven’t been as active with my business as I should be. I’ve been moody, and I seem to have mood swings easily. The constant battle of looking for employment has been extremely taxing and frustrating. A lot of activities that I normally enjoy haven’t been giving me much pleasure as of late.

I could keep going, but the last thing I want to do is write a woe-is-me article where I feel like I’m trying to solicit sympathy. I’m not (at least I don’t think I am, anyway — maybe some of you might disagree, but I digress). Rather, I’m laying out the scenario so that I can write about coping strategies (and I’m writing this for myself as much as any of you who might be in the same boat). In my job hunt presentation, I talk about making sure that you take care of yourself. This article is about practicing what I preach.

Before I started this article, I sat in my home office, thinking about “what should I do to get back on track.” I thought about a number of things, and I’d like to share them with you.

First of all, I revisited one of my hobbies: songwriting. I’ve been working on an idea for a new song, and I opened my notation app to revisit it. I’m finding that doing so is pleasantly distracting; it gets my brain working on something productive. Doing this makes an adjustment to my mental activity which, I believe, will improve my mental and psychological state over the long run.

I was also fortunate enough to be contacted by a friend of mine who said he might have a project for me. We spoke, and I told him I’d look at it. It’s not gainful employment per se, but it’s another productive distraction to get me going again. On that same topic, I also have other projects for my clients that I need to revisit as well.

Other friends have other coping ideas as well. I highly recommend Steve Jones‘ series of articles about daily coping. His suggestions make a lot of sense, and I find that they improve my mood (I’ve even told him as such).

I need to do something physical as well. My doctor recommended that I do a minimum of five minutes of physical activity per day. At the time of the recommendation, I was in serious pain (directly related to the conditions I mentioned at the top of this article) so I wasn’t able to do this right away, but now that they’re somewhat better, I feel like I can partake. I do have an exercise bike; I will be making use of it. Additionally, I will be investing in some resistance bands and PVC pipes (to do pass-throughs).

And, if nothing else, I’m also trying to come up with ideas for ‘blog articles.

You need to take care of yourself before you can take on your responsibilities. These might sound like small moves, but small moves add up. Things like this can reinvigorate yourself and get you back on track. And once they do, you can be productive again.

Dating yourself on your #resume — #JobHunt

I’ve spoken to a number of friends about my frustration regarding the job hunt (going nine [!!!] months — and counting). I’ve wondered, at times, whether one of the reasons why I’ve been constantly rejected is my age.

Ageism — a.k.a. age discrimination — is, of course, illegal. But when it comes to the job hunt, it’s nearly impossible to prove. I’ve spoken with a number of my friends and colleagues who believe that it not only exists, but is prevalent. (Before anyone decries me for this statement, no, I don’t have any facts to back this up; this is merely what has come up in conversation. Maybe someone who knows more about human resources can explain this better than I can.)

In any case, one piece of advice I’ve received is to only include the last ten years of experience on my resume. That’s well and good, except that I have a lot of relevant experience that goes back a lot more than ten years. As a technical writer, I want to keep all my listings consistent. How do I go about keeping these experience listing on my resume without listing dates?

The solution: I divided the work experience on my resume into two sections. Under my Work Experience heading, I listed my experience going back to 2009 (slightly more than ten years, but for my own purposes, it works). The second section uses a heading labeled “Previous Work Experience (before 2009),” under which I list my positions — without dates — that I held before then.

It seems like a good solution for obfuscating older experience dates that might reveal your age. However, also be wary of other parts of your resume that might also indicate how old you might be. For me, personally, that section was my education. Before I revamped my resume, my bachelors and masters degree listings included my years of graduation. Those years were also removed as well. Prospective employers just need to know that I have those degrees; they don’t have to know when I got them.

So, if you’re a job hunter who’s older than, say, 35, hopefully this tip will help you with your job search and combat any ageism that might exist.

Goals for 2021

So, for my first post of 2021, I figured I should list my goals (I refuse to call them “resolutions”) for the new year.

  • First and foremost, above everything else, find new employment. I have been unemployed since May 1. For those of you keeping score, that’s eight months. 67% of my 2020 was spent in unemployment. Getting a new job, for me, is priority number one above everything else.

    I do have a couple of relatively promising leads, but I’m not out of the woods yet. Hopefully, things will be turning around very soon.
  • Do more with my business. In 2020, as a direct result of my losing my job, I started an LLC. I managed to pick up two clients. It’s good experience, but not enough to pay my bills (hence why I’m still looking for employment). I haven’t done a lot with it in the last few months of 2020. I want to devote more time and energy into it in 2021.

    I readily admit that I slacked off on this as the year went on, and I don’t want to let it slip in 2021. I intend to keep this endeavor going, even if I do land new gainful employment.
  • Get back to the gym. COVID-19 kept me from getting into my CrossFit gym more than I would’ve liked, but the pandemic wasn’t my only issue. I developed back and arm issues that kept me from being more active than I wanted to be. Simply getting out of bed without pain is a chore for me right now. Hopefully, I can get back to being as active as I was before the pandemic.

    Speaking of the pandemic…
  • Travel. The pandemic is my biggest (but not the only) roadblock for this goal; my other major roadblock is making sure I have the money to do so (see “find new employment” above). I enjoy traveling, and I wish I could do more of it. Since the pandemic began, I can count on one hand the number of trips I took away from home (trips to the grocery store don’t count).

    Trips for SQL Saturday have satisfied my desire to travel for the past several years, but now that PASS will be no more, I might need to find another outlet for my out-of-town speaking engagements (more on that in a minute). I also told my wife that I want to take a relatively significant vacation somewhere once the pandemic is over. She and I have both encountered a lot of stress this past year, and I think we both need to find a way to relieve it.
  • Find speaking engagements. One thing I’ve discovered about speaking for SQL Saturday is that I enjoy presenting. I’d like to do more. My last in-person speaking engagement was SQL Saturday in Rochester last February. I was also scheduled to speak at SQL Saturday in Chicago (which would’ve been my first SQL Saturday where driving was not feasible), and I had applied to speak at a local code camp. Both of those were wiped out by the pandemic.

    My friend Matt Cushing encouraged me to sign up for the Idera Ace Program, which would provide funding for me to take part in more presentation opportunities (not to mention that it would look good on my resume). Since I first started presenting regularly, all of my in-person speaking engagements (with the exception of 2019 PASS Summit) have been within driving distance of my home in the Albany, NY area. There is a reason for this: traveling costs money. The Idera Ace Program would provide more opportunities for me to speak at nonlocal events (pandemic notwithstanding, of course).
  • Do more house projects. These past several months at home made me realize how much I want to do with my house, and how little I’ve done to attain that goal. (I’m talking about “fun” projects, as opposed to chores.) Money has been a major detriment (again, see “find new employment” above) as well as energy (see “get back to the gym”), but time has not; since I don’t have anywhere to really go, I have no shortage of time on my hands. There’s a long list of projects I’d like to do, such as finish my basement, build a backyard patio and entertainment area, build a porch, and so on. While I don’t necessarily expect to finish these in 2021, I’d like to at least take steps toward those goals.

There are a lot of other things that I’d like to do, but I think this is a good list for now. (I reserve the right to amend it.) In general, I’m hoping for a better year, and 2021 supersedes the dumpster fire that was 2020.

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?