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.

The #SQLSaturday All-Star Game #PASSSummit

After my surprise selection for PASS Summit, I went poking around the speakers list. I’m pleased to see that a number of good #SQLFamily friends that I’ve made throughout my years as a SQL Saturday speaker were selected. I’m also awed that my name and photo are listed along with a number of SQL rock stars in the industry.

It prompted me to tweet this.

As people who know me are aware, I am a huge baseball fan. I’ve often heard people refer to PASS Summit as being “the Super Bowl of SQL Saturdays.” Looking at the speakers list (and being the baseball fan that I am), I equate it more as being the “SQL Saturday All-Star Game.”

People such as Bob Ward, Steve Jones, and Grant Fritchey (yes, you, Steve and Grant!) represent the big hitters. They are Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mickey Mantle, people who are perennial SQL stars and are pretty much shoo-ins for being selected to Summit year after year. (And I’m sure that if my friends Steve and Grant are reading this, they might give me an “aw shucks!” for equating them with Junior and The Mick!) On the other hand, people like me are more like Willie Randolph or Kent Hrbek — players who had solid careers and made an occasional All-Star game now and then, but weren’t necessarily household names outside of their home teams’ markets.

When I gave my first SQL Saturday presentation, never did I think that it would end up getting me to PASS Summit!

I’ve seen interviews with ballplayers who talked about how humbled they were about being selected to play in the All-Star Game. Having been selected to speak at PASS Summit for the second time, I understand how they feel. I am awed and humbled with being associated alongside some of the great players in the business.

#PASSSummit 2020 — I’m speaking after all!!! #SQLFamily

This evening, I received a very pleasant surprise!

After not making the cut for the initial list of speakers, and with the state of my finances being directly related to my current employment situation (or lack of), I had resigned myself to the fact that attending PASS Summit 2020 was likely not in my cards for this year.

That changed this evening! I will be speaking at this year’s PASS Summit after all! I received an email from PASS asking if I would present my session on ‘blogging! I am thrilled and excited that I will be a PASS Summit speaker for the second year in a row!

With the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Summit is being held virtually, so I don’t have to worry about making travel plans for Houston, TX (which is where PASS Summit 2020 was supposed to be held). Instead, I will be presenting — and attending — from the comfort of my own home office.

To be selected to speak at PASS Summit just once is a great honor. To be able to do it twice (or more) is downright amazing. I’ve had a number of #SQLFamily friends who’ve spoken at multiple PASS Summits, and I’m amazed (and humbled) that I am now in their company!

I’ll see you at virtual PASS Summit in November!

#SQLSaturday #961 Albany — TOMORROW! July 25 #SQLSat961 #SQLSatAlbany

IMPORTANT!  If you are attending SQL Saturday, you MUST register on the SQL Saturday website (NOT Meetup or Facebook) at https://www.sqlsaturday.com/961!

This is a reminder that tomorrow, July 25, CASSUG will host Albany SQL Saturday for the seventh time!  And for the first time, Albany SQL Saturday is going virtual!

We will have a full day of great presentations that cover a variety of topics that include, but aren’t limited to, business intelligence, data science, database development, data architecture, and professional development!

We will also have our usual wrap-up and raffles at the end of the day!

To register, go to https://www.sqlsaturday.com/961.  It is important that you register at this site; RSVPs to Meetup or Facebook do not register you for SQL Saturday!!!

SQL Saturday is always a good time!  We hope to see you (virtually) on Saturday, July 25!

#PASSSummit 2020 #SQLFamily

It’s that time of year, when aspiring PASS speakers find out whether or not they’re speaking at PASS Summit. I was fortunate to be selected to speak last year, and I had the time of my life! If you want to read more about it, check out my synopsis of it from last year!

I got the official email notification yesterday (and now that the list is up, I can say it publicly). Alas, I was not selected this year. Oh well. C’est la vie.

That said, I was (and still am) excited about being selected last year. To be selected to speak at PASS Summit just once is a great honor and a nice feather in my cap. To be selected again would be a bonus. And although I wasn’t selected this year, it won’t preclude me from applying again for next year… and the next… and the next.

Unfortunately, given my current employment — and subsequently, my financial — situation, it is highly unlikely that I will be able to attend this year’s Summit, even if COVID-19 has forced it to a virtual event. Although the fact that the event is virtual means prices are reduced, they are still too high for me to attend (unless, between now and then, I land a job and my new employer would be willing to pay my registration fee — note to any future employer who might be reading this: here is a letter that makes the case as to why it would be good to send me to PASS Summit! Note that this link downloads an MS Word document). “Virtual” does not mean “free;” there are a number of expenses that still need to be paid, even for an online event. My friend Monica Rathbun wrote a nice article about what it financially takes to put on a PASS Summit, even a virtual one.

I went through the speakers list, and I was happy to see that a number of my #SQLFamily friends were selected to speak! Congrats to all of you who were chosen!

And although I might not be able to attend this year, if you’re able to get to a PASS Summit, I highly suggest you do so! You’ll learn a lot, and it’s a great time!

Coming up July 25 (a week from Saturday): #SQLSaturday #961, Albany #SQLSatAlb #SQLSatAlbany #SQLSat961

On July 25, a week from Saturday, CASSUG will host SQL Saturday #961, Albany! This is a daylong conference covering a variety of data, technical, and professional topics! And this year, we are going virtual, so you don’t have to be in Albany to attend!

To register for the event, and for more information, go to our SQL Saturday website!

And oh yes, did I mention that I’m speaking? I will be doing my presentation on networking!

SQL Saturday is always a good time, and the Albany event, which is near and dear to my heart, is one of my favorite events of the year. I’ll see you, virtually, a week from Saturday!

Notes are not documentation

Since I speak frequently at SQL Saturday, much of my audience is usually made up of data professionals. So whenever I do my presentation about technical writing or talking to non-technical people, I always ask the following question: do you understand the difference between data and information?

For those of you who don’t understand what I’m saying, let me elaborate. The terms data and information are not, I repeat, not interchangeable. Data refers to the collection of statistics, facts, and figures that are gathered through observation, research, and log captures. Information, on the other hand, is an interpretation of that data. Its creation involves analyzing the data, interpreting it, drawing conclusions from it, and presenting it in a way that can be understood by others. To put it another way, data refers to the raw materials, while information is the “finished” product.

(We could also get into a discussion that talks about how bias is introduced when data is analyzed and interpreted by humans, all of whom have some measure of preconceived bias, no matter how small, about the data they’re researching, but it goes beyond the scope of this article, and I won’t get into that now. That is another topic for another day.)

Once I establish that distinction, that’s when I go into what I believe is an important point about written communication: there is a difference between notes and documentation.

I believe this distinction is critical, and is often overlooked by people trying to write documentation. (One of the biggest things that disparaged one of my previous employers was that they did not understand — or worse, did not care about — that difference.) How many times have you been frustrated whenever you’ve asked for documentation about something, and the person you asked pointed you to something like a loose collection of seemingly-meaningless and disorganized scribbled notes that are kept in a three-ring binder? (Okay, maybe they’re kept digitally these days, not in a binder, but humor me, here.)

Granted, notes are important. They are thoughts in someone’s head that are expressed in written form. They are often important concepts that are jotted down so they can be remembered later. Those notes can come in many forms. How many of the best ideas, for example, started out as notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin?

However, more often than not, notes are only meaningful to the person who wrote them. Notes are mnemonics. They are not conveying information to a wide audience. In all likelihood, most people who read notes will not understand what they mean. Only the person writing the notes (or, if they’re jotted down during a meeting, the people attending the meeting) will understand what the notes are.

Documentation, however, is an interpretation of those notes. Documentation is notes that are presented in a way so that they can be understood by a wider audience. This is what professional communicators, such as technical writers, do. They’re in the business of taking loose data, such as notes, and making it meaningful.

Let me say it again for emphasis: notes are not documentation. To go back to my data and information analogy, data is to information what notes are to documentation. Notes are the raw material, but documentation is what makes the notes meaningful.

Ghostwriting — the art of writing for someone else

One of the new projects I’ve taken on is ghostwriting ‘blog articles for one of my clients. While I have plenty of technical writing experience — where I take a topic or application that isn’t mine and try to write about it — ghostwriting is an entirely new experience for me. Not only is it something new for me to tackle, I’m finding the experience to be interesting, and even fun!

My client maintains a ‘blog as part of his website, and by his own admission, isn’t a prolific writer — which is where I (along with one or two others) come in. I’ve only done a couple of articles for my client so far, but I’m learning a few things as I go along.

  • Keep in mind that it isn’t your article. One thing I need to remember is that even though I’m the one doing the writing, I’m not the one doing the “writing.” Essentially, I’m taking someone else’s thoughts and putting them into an article. (Sounds a lot like technical writing, no?) While I’m putting these thoughts and ideas into words, they are not my thoughts. The intellectual property belongs to my client, not me. As such, I consider the article as being my client’s property.

    I recognize that this can be a potentially slippery slope; by that same token, it could be argued that technical writing could belong to the subject matter expert (SME), not the person writing the documentation. I won’t talk about that here; first, this goes beyond my expertise (maybe someone who knows more about intellectual property law than I do can address this better than I can), and second, this discussion goes beyond the scope of this article.

    As far as I’m concerned, the client has the final say about the article. It’s possible that my client might give me credit for writing it, but that’s up to him. I’m just taking his thoughts and putting them into words.

    Speaking of writing someone else’s thoughts…
  • Writing what someone else is thinking is hard to do! Most people understand how difficult it is to understand another person’s thoughts; after all, that’s what communication is all about. I’m sure most communication professionals are familiar with the Shannon-Weaver communication model. For the benefit of those who aren’t, here’s a quick synopsis: a sender sends a message to a receiver. However, noise breaks down the transmission (note: the noise may not be literally “noise”), so when the receiver receives the message, it is never 100% accurate (and it never will be; the noise is always there. It’s like a mathematical graph; the line approaches, but will never reach, 100%). The receiver sends feedback to the sender (during feedback, the sender and receiver roles are reversed — the feedback becomes the new message), who uses it to adjust the message, and the cycle begins again.

    That communication model becomes magnified when ghostwriting an article because what the receiver — in this case, the ghostwriter — is feeding back to the sender is much, much more precise. A ghostwriter is trying to write on behalf of the client, and the client wants to make sure that what is being written is (1) accurate, and (2) maintains a voice that the client likes. In all likelihood, the client and the ghostwriter will go through several iterations of edits and adjustments.

    This reminds me of another thought…
  • I fully expect that what I write will be changed. Never get too attached to anything that you’re ghostwriting. Any time that I ghostwrite a work, I fully expect it to be different by the time my client and I are finished with it. As adjustments are made between me and my client, what we end up producing may look completely different from what I originally wrote.
  • You’re writing for someone else — but still be yourself. Even though I’m writing someone else’s thoughts, I never think about whether or not my writing “sounds” like the person for whom I’m writing. Thinking about writing in another person’s voice stifles my work and is a huge distraction that destroys my productivity. I write whatever comes naturally to me, and only through the editing process do I start worrying about the article’s voice, when the client starts adjusting the article to his or her liking.

    This thought brings to mind a quote from one of my favorite movies.

“No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”

William Forrester (played by Sean Connery), Finding Forrester
  • I’m learning new things! I’ve written before that one of the best ways to learn something is to write about it. Any time that you write about a topic, you end up learning about that topic — sometimes to the point of becoming an SME! Ghostwriting is no different. As I’m writing for my client, I’m learning new things and gaining new perspectives that hadn’t previously occurred to me.
  • I’m gaining new writing experience. I think this might be one of the biggest benefits of ghostwriting. Not only am I gaining additional writing experience, I’m also learning how to do so from another person’s viewpoint. As I mention above, I’m learning new things. I’m also learning how to be a better communicator, as it sharpens my communication skills as I continually feed back with my client. And it also teaches me how to look at things from a different point of view, which is what ghostwriting forces me to do.

I’m discovering that ghostwriting is a rewarding experience. It’s a great way to gain writing experience, and it ultimately makes me a better writer, a better worker, and a better person.

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.

2020 Albany #SQLSaturday is virtual, and I’m on the schedule! July 25 #SQLSat961 #SQLSatAlbany @CASSUG_Albany

The schedule for my hometown SQL Saturday is out, and I’m on it! I will be doing one of my favorite presentations: my session on networking!

Albany SQL Saturday is going virtual this year. It will be held on July 25 via an online forum to be determined (connection information will be released as we get closer to the date).

To ensure that you receive information about this event, register on the website.

We’ll see you online in July!