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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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.

Diversifying your skill sets

Years ago, I remember reading a Wall Street Journal interview with Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams who said something to the effect of, “the way to be successful is to know as much as you can about as many different things as you can.” The article came out sometime in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find that article, and I’m unable to find it online, so you’ll just have to take me at my word — for what that’s worth.

For whatever reason, that sentiment has always stuck with me, and is evident in many activities in which I’m involved. In my musical endeavors, I play four different instruments (piano, clarinet, mallet percussion, and saxophone), and my music tastes run a fairly wide range (classical, jazz, adult contemporary, progressive/classic rock). As I’ve often written before, I am involved with CrossFit, which involves multiple movements and workouts; workouts are varied and are almost never performed twice in a row. As a baseball fan, I’ve always been appreciative of “utility” players such as Ben Zobrist who can play different positions in the infield and the outfield, allowing him to be plugged into nearly any lineup and reducing the need for multiple bench players.

This mindset has also manifested itself within my professional endeavors as well. I’ve practically made an entire career out of adapting to my environment, and a major reason for that is because I am capable of holding my own (if not being an expert) in a number of different areas. My main professional strength may be my technical writing and documentation, but it is not my only skill set. I am also capable of tasks that include (among other things) SQL Server, T-SQL scripting, object-oriented programming, UX/UI, and scripting on both the client and server sides, just to name a few. Granted, I’m not necessarily an expert in many of these skills — indeed, I sometimes describe myself as “knowing enough to be dangerous” — but in most cases, I’m able to hold my own. Maybe a better description for myself is “knows enough to be able to get it done.”

Such a diverse skill set has proven to be invaluable. Throughout my career, I’ve been able to comfortably handle a wide variety of tasks (the infamous “other duties as assigned”). It’s allowed me opportunities that I likely wouldn’t have otherwise had. I recently was assigned responsibility for a small but significant database role — a role I was assigned because I have SQL experience. Having these diverse skills have allowed me to adapt to my changing work environment.

Additionally, different skill sets are rarely, if ever, segregated; rather, they compliment each other. Cross-pollination between skills is nearly universal. A developer often needs to connect his or her application to a data source, in which case a background in databases is invaluable. The ability to communicate often helps a technologist to help an end user — a point that I often make in my presentation about talking to “non-techies.” In my experience with documentation and technical writing, I’ve found that my background with coding and databases has been invaluable for my documentation projects.

So to the aspiring career professional who asks me where (s)he should focus his or her skills, my response is… don’t. Although it might be okay to focus on an area of expertise, don’t ignore other skill sets. It will enrich your background, and your career will be all the better for it.

Earth Day

I understand that today is Earth Day. So happy Earth Day!

I am not a tree hugger per se. Having said that, I do try to do my part. I do my best to minimize how often I use single-use plastic bags (and honestly, IMHO, plastic grocery bags are one of the worst things ever invented). Every time I go grocery shopping, I either use my reusable bags (assuming I remember them) or ask for paper. I would be hypocritical if I said I don’t use plastic bags at all, because I occasionally do, but I, for one, would not be saddened to see them disappear altogether. I try not to use plastic straws (again, like single-use plastic bags, I do use them once in a while, but I try to minimize their use, and likewise, I wouldn’t mind seeing plastic straws disappear, either). I recycle whatever I can; indeed, on most trash days, our recycling bin often contains more than our garbage bin. I’ve tried to take other steps as well; when my wife and I built our house, I made it a point to get a tankless water heater and to check EnergyStar ratings on all our appliances.

In other words, when it comes to the environment, I am not perfect. I try to do what I can, but I still have plenty of room for improvement.

I’ll spare you from a lecture about global warming, trash, or unsustainability; that’s not what this is about. I’ll leave it to you to do your homework about increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, industry releasing pollutants, or whales ingesting pounds of plastic. Rather, I’m looking to raise awareness that we can — and must — do better. A lot of people don’t think that what they do makes a difference. The thing is, little things all add up. If we each do our part, we’ll come out okay.

I’d like to see people take an extra step today to celebrate Earth day — maybe something as simple as using one less plastic bag or plastic straw, or something as elaborate as taking part in a neighborhood cleanup. But these efforts shouldn’t be limited to just one day a year. Every day should be Earth Day.

There’s a first for everything

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Lao Tzu

Take a moment and think about your career — where you are now, how far you’ve progressed, and so on. Do you like where you are?

Okay. Now, if you do like where you are, take a moment and think about how you got there. How did you get your start? When was the first time you did (insert the first time you did something to advance your career here)?

For whatever reason (don’t ask me why; I don’t know), I started thinking about first steps in my career. I especially thought about my involvement with SQL Saturday and the steps I took to get here. I’ve written before about how I got my start with SQL Saturday. There were several “first” steps that I took to get to this point. There was my first idea for a presentation. I wanted to take it for a test-drive, so to speak, so I first presented it at a user group meeting. That led me to my first submission to a SQL Saturday event. I enjoyed it so much that it prompted me to submit to my first SQL Saturday out-of-state. I knew almost nobody at this event, so this was stepping out of my comfort zone. (I’ve since become friends with many people I met at this event!) And as they say, the rest is history. That was more than three years ago. I’m still submitting, and now, I’m even getting asked to speak at other events. I’m pretty happy with where this endeavor has taken me so far, but I’m still in the middle of this journey.

First steps don’t just apply to your career. They apply to everything you want to accomplish in life. For example, I’ve been doing CrossFit for over four years now. I’ve come a long way in that time, but there are still a lot of things to accomplish. I wouldn’t be where I am had I not taken that first step into that gym one day.

I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old quote: “there’s a first time for everything.” I’ve taken countless first steps to get to where I am now, and I’m still going. I probably won’t stop taking them until I’m six feet under.

So where do you want to be in your career, or, for that matter, your life? Do you like where you are? What first steps are you going to take to get there? Wherever it is that you want to be, the only way to get there is if you take that first step.

Make goals, not resolutions

My previous post got me thinking about setting goals. I mentioned in my previous article that I hate setting New Year’s “resolutions.” I didn’t want to get into why in that article.

Well, in this article, I want to get into exactly why.

How many of you have made New Year’s resolutions? How many of you made them in years past? How many resolutions did you keep?

If I had to guess, probably not many, if any.

This is why I hate resolutions. They’re almost guaranteed to fail. Case in point: for those of you who go to a gym and work out, how packed is the gym in January? In all likelihood, it’s packed with people who resolved to go to the gym and work out this year.

Now, how many of these people are still at the gym by the end of the year? Or by July? Or even April?

I gave up making resolutions a long time ago. All I was doing was breaking promises to myself. And every time I did so, I just ended up disappointing myself.

Don’t set resolutions. Instead, set goals. If you want to do something to better yourself, setting goals is far superior to making resolutions.

Goals are measurable. Let’s say you make a resolution to lose weight and go to the gym. That’s awfully vague, isn’t it? That can mean almost anything. Let’s say you join a gym on January 1, do one workout, and never go again. You might say you broke your resolution. But did you really? You went once. That counts, doesn’t it?

However, let’s say you set a goal to lose ten pounds by the end of the year. Now you have something to shoot for, and it’s something that can be measured. You can keep track of how much weight you lose until you reach your goal, and you can measure aspects (calories, number of workouts, etc.) that will help you get there.

A goal is a target. In addition to being measurable, a goal gives you something toward which you can aim. You might hit it. You might not. Either way, you gave it a shot. Resolutions, on the other hand, are almost always doomed to fail.

If you miss your goal, that’s okay. When you break a resolution, you feel like you failed. It brings you down. It un-motivates you. However, if you miss a goal, it’s not the end of the world. You can either try again, or reset your goal toward something more manageable.

Speaking of being more manageable…

Goals are adjustable. If you find that a goal is unattainable, you can adjust it so it’s more attainable. And once you reach a goal, you can reset a higher goal, which will make you even better.

Goals can be set any time. Ever make a resolution in July? I didn’t think so. However, you don’t have to wait until the new year to set a goal. You can set them any time you want.

(There are probably a bunch of other reasons that aren’t coming to me right now.)

Personally, I’ve set a few small goals. For one thing, I don’t have much arm strength, so I struggle with any workout routine that involves supporting my own weight with my arms — pull-ups, rope climbs, handstands, etc. I set a goal of doing at least one real pull-up by the end of the year. Also, my home is, admittedly, a cluttered mess (it looks like it belongs on an episode of Hoarders). I told my wife that I would set a goal of decluttering a room at a time — the kitchen within a few weeks, the living room a few weeks after that, and so on.

There are a number of others I’d like to set as well, but I haven’t yet gotten around to setting them. As I go along, I’ll figure out what I need to accomplish, set my goals, and take steps to reach them. Again, I can set goals any time I want. I don’t have to wait until next year.

So what do you want to accomplish? What steps will you take to reach them? Whatever they are, you will be more likely to succeed by setting goals rather than making resolutions and empty promises to yourself.

Welcome to 2019

Well, here we are. It’s the new year. Hope you folks had a great holiday season! Personally, mine was quiet; the only significant thing of note was that I followed my alma mater down to their bowl game. (I had the opportunity to attend the game, so I took it. As I previously wrote, once in a while, you gotta say “what the heck!”)

So each new year represents a new start — a clean slate, if you will. There’s a reason why so many people make “resolutions” (and a reason why so many of them are broken — I won’t get into why; that’s not what this article is about). For me, it’s about setting goals (I refuse to call them “resolutions”) and getting some kind of idea as to what I want to accomplish throughout the year.

There are a number of things I want to accomplish, although I’m still trying to figure out what some of them are. One of my CrossFit coaches asked me not long ago, “what are your goals for this year?” I told him that there were a number of general things I wanted to accomplish, but I hadn’t yet identified anything specific. A goal needs to be measurable. For example, “I want to lose weight” is vague and not measurable, whereas “I want to lose ten pounds by the end of February” is something specific, measurable, and trackable. Going back to my coach’s question, I haven’t yet taken the time to hammer out measurable goals that I want to accomplish (being able to do an actual pull-up by the end of the year comes to mind), but it’s something that I definitely want to do.

Since my ‘blog articles revolve mostly around professional development topics, it would behoove me to write about some things that, professionally, I would like to accomplish this year. So, without further ado…

I’m hoping to be speaking at a number of SQL Saturday events this year. I’ve already applied to a few, and am hoping to hear back soon as to whether or not I’ve been picked to speak.

As of today, I’ve applied to the following events, and am waiting to hear back as to whether or not I’m presenting at them.

Additionally, the events listed below are not yet live (they’re listed as “save the date”), but I intend to apply to them once they are.

  • May 18: Rochester, NY
  • July 20: Albany, NY (my hometown SQL Saturday — I’ll be here regardless of whether or not I’m picked to speak)
  • October 5: Pittsburgh, PA

I’m also confirmed to speak at the New England SQL User Group in February.

I’ve also set a goal of speaking at an event where it is not feasible for me to drive. All SQL Saturdays I’ve attended so far have been within reasonable driving distance from my home in Troy, NY. So far, Pittsburgh is the farthest I’ve driven (eight hours) for a SQL Saturday. Virginia Beach might equal or surpass it. I told my wife that Virginia Beach would make for a nice trip, and I suggested that we make a long weekend — a mini-vacation — out of it. So in all likelihood, I’ll probably attend that event regardless of whether or not I’m picked to speak.

I told myself that I would submit presentations to PASS Summit this year. (For those of you unfamiliar with PASS Summit, I’ve heard it described as “the Super Bowl of SQL Saturdays.”) Because of the steep attendance fee, probably the only way I’d attend is if I’m picked to speak. (Some people are able to have their employers foot the bill for this trip; alas, I am not one of them.) Submissions are highly competitive, and as someone who presents primarily about professional development topics, I’m slightly pessimistic about my chances of getting picked to speak. But, I won’t know unless I try. If, by some chance, I am picked to speak, it would definitely satisfy my goal of speaking at an event to which it wouldn’t be feasible to drive.

This year will also represent a possible milestone with my employment. Since July of 2017, I’ve been working as a contractor, and the contract expires this coming summer. I’ll likely have a couple of options: get hired by the client company (which, I think, is the most likely scenario), or look for another opportunity with the contractor. (There’s also the possibility that I’ll seek new employment, but as of now, I don’t intend to go that route.) There are pros and cons to each decision. I have an idea of what I think I’ll end up doing, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

On a related note, I told myself that I wanted to take on more professional responsibilities. I took that step this week when I announced during a meeting that I was willing to pick up the ball on a large documentation project. This is a recent development, and it’s just getting going, but I suspect that big things could potentially be on the horizon.

So what goals and expectations do you have for the new year? Whatever they are, I hope they come to fruition.