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.

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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.

The toxic work environment

I recently had someone tell me about an incident that reminded me about hostile work environments. All I will say is that the person in question is a family member. (I am purposely being vague; she works in a small office, and any additional description or detail could identify her or her employer. All I will reveal is that she was stabbed in the back by a coworker.)

Granted, in a large company, the prudent move would be to talk to your chain of command and possibly even file a complaint with HR. However, this office has fewer than ten employees; I don’t think it even has an HR person. What do you do then?

She told me that she wanted to take the high road and stay in the office to fight this person; as she put it, “I don’t want (this person) to win.” I told her, you need to update your resume. If (this person) causes you that much stress, and your work environment is that toxic, then (this person) has already won.

As vaguely as I’m trying to describe this, I also wanted to write about it because I think it’s a very important point. Toxic work environments are one of the top reasons (if not the top reason) why people leave jobs. I, myself, have left jobs because of abusive managers or coworkers; I remember one position where the CEO was so verbally abusive that I actively pushed my resume and took the first offer I got. I was absolutely miserable working for that person, and I could not leave that place fast enough.

Professionally, one of the worst things you can do is continue working in a toxic work culture. At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s not fun. It brings down your workplace morale, which, in turn, leads to unproductive stress, resentment, and a number of health issues (both physical and mental).

Those of us who are working professionals (that is, excluding full-time students and retirees) spend most of our waking hours at the office. (For those of you who don’t actually work in an “office” — construction workers and professional athletes, for example — for purposes of this article, construction sites and athletic facilities count as your “office.”) My workspace is effectively my home away from home, so I want it to be comfortable as possible. Many workers — myself included — will often decorate their workspaces with a few touches to reflect their personalities; I’ll usually have my wife’s picture on my desk and a Syracuse Orange poster or pennant on the wall. If I’m working on something mundane, I’ll often put on headphones and listen to music, or if the Yankees are playing a rare weekday day game, I’ll tune in and listen to the ballgame while I work.

I’m a big believer that a happy and comfortable worker is a productive worker (this might seem to contradict my earlier article about being comfortable, but that is a completely different context that isn’t applicable here). You don’t want or need anything in the office that brings you down, and you don’t want to be constantly looking over your shoulder.

If a situation arises that disrupts your productive routine, you need to deal with it. If it’s something that can be addressed relatively straightforwardly — say, talking to your supervisor or HR — then take whatever steps are necessary to do so. But if it’s a situation where the workplace culture and environment are infected, then it’s probably time to send out your resume.

Email changes and security

When was the last time you changed your phone number?  Let’s say you lived in a house for, say, fifteen years.  In that house, you had a landline phone (yes, young ‘uns, once upon a time, homes had their own phone numbers).  For whatever reason, you had to sell the house, move away to another city, and get a new phone number.  So, you went through the exercise of changing your phone number.

Changing that phone number was sometimes quite a task.  You needed to give your new number to your family and friends.  You needed to update your business contacts and associates.  You set up a forwarding number for people you missed.  And you gave your new number to all your important businesses — your bank, your doctor, your broker, your babysitter, your lawyer, your gym, the people in your book club…

Or did you?  Are you absolutely sure you remembered everyone?

That gives you an idea of something that I’m dealing with now.  I’ve had the same email address for a long time; I’m not exactly sure how long, but it at least dates back to when I was in grad school (which was in the mid to late ’90s).

I was determined to not change my email, but recent circumstances made this a necessity.  For one thing, the ISP behind it used old and clunky technology.  Trying to coordinate it with other devices and tasks (calendars, for example) was a major chore.  For a long time, it was not SSL-secure.  It was not easy to check it remotely; if I wanted to do so, I had to remember to shut off my mail client on my PC at home, or else they would all be downloaded from the server before I had a chance to read them.  The issues got worse more recently; the ISP did not provide an easy way to change my password.  I could either (1) send an email to technical support (in response to this, my exact words were, “no way in HELL am I sending password changes via email!!!”), or (2) call tech support to give them my password change.

The last straw came today.  I was looking for a certain email, but couldn’t find it.  Figuring that it was caught in my spam filter, I logged into it to look for the email.  I didn’t find it, but what I did see were spam messages that included in the subject line…  and I’m repeating this for emphasis: IN THE SUBJECT LINE…  my passwords, clear and exposed.

That did it.  I decided right then and there that I was changing my email, since I couldn’t trust the old one (or the ISP) anymore.  I’ve had a Gmail account for a few years, but I never really used it.  Today, that account became my primary email account.  I’ll still hold on to my old email long enough to make sure everything and everyone is switched over to my new email, at which point I’ll shut down my old account.

I suppose there are several lessons to gain from this exercise.  For one thing (as I’d once written), don’t get comfortable.  I’d gotten comfortable with my old email, and I was determined not to change it.  I paid for that with my peace of mind.  For another, don’t take your personal data security for granted.  Make sure you change your password often (and if your provider doesn’t offer an easy way to do that, then get a new provider).  For yet another, if something can no longer do the job (in this case, no password change mechanism, unable to interface with other applications, difficult to use, etc.), then it’s probably time to get a new one (whatever that “something” is).  And for still another, make sure you keep track of your contacts.

(And I’m sure there are a bunch of others that I can’t think of right now.)

Too many of us (myself included) become lackadaisical when it comes to email and data security.  Don’t take it for granted, or you might wake up one day with your bank account drained and your credit rating slashed.

Election day

“Can I tell you something; got to tell you one thing if you expect the freedom that you say is yours; prove that you deserve it; help us to preserve it, or being free will just be words and nothing more…”
— Kansas, “Can I Tell You”

I don’t think I can say it any better than the song lyric I quoted above.

Last night, I overheard a coworker say, “I don’t vote.  It doesn’t make any difference.”  And he continued to spew about his views on the world.

I kept silent, but I am not ashamed to say that I wanted to tear him a new a**hole.

People died so I can vote.  That is something I do not take lightly.  For someone to brush it off and disrespect that right like that absolutely incenses me.  I vote every year.  I make sure I vote every year.  And so should you.

The fact is, your vote does matter.  In 2016, the vast majority of the country did not vote — because “it wouldn’t make a difference.”  Had at least half of these people gone to the polls, chances are that the current state of the union would be much different.

Yes, our system is far from perfect.  Yes, our system has flaws.  But the fact is, your vote matters.

Want to change the system?  Vote.

A few words can make a difference

A couple of weeks ago, the Rensselaer Polytechnic (the RPI student newspaper) published a couple of op-eds in regard to the situation at RPI.  (My friend, Greg Moore, wrote a piece a while back related to this issue.)  In response to the op-eds, I decided to respond with my own letter to the editor.

This morning, a friend posted to my Facebook that my letter, to my surprise, was garnering some attention.  I won’t say that it’s gone viral, but apparently, it’s caught a number of eyes.

I should note that my donations haven’t been much.  I was only a graduate student at Rensselaer, not an undergrad, so the social impact on my life wasn’t quite the same, and other financial obligations have kept me from donating more of my money.  That said, I’ve donated in other ways; I’ve been a hockey season ticket holder for many years (going back to my days as a student), I’ve attended various events (sports, cultural, etc.) on campus, and I’ve donated some of my time to the Institute.

Although my donations have been relatively meager, more importantly, I wanted to spread the word that I was no longer supporting RPI, and exactly why I was discontinuing my support.  How much I was contributing isn’t the issue; the issue is that I am stopping contributing.  For the first time in years, I have no intention of setting foot in the Field House for a hockey game during a season.  I wanted to make clear exactly why.  A large number of alumni have announced that they were withholding donations.  I wanted to add to that chorus.  It wasn’t so much how much I was donating; rather, I wanted to add my voice, and hopefully encourage other students and alumni to take action against an administration that I deem to be oppressive.

One of RPI’s marketing catchphrases is, “why not change the world?”  It looks like I’m doing exactly that with my letter.  Don’t underestimate the power of words.  Indeed, with just a few words, you can change the world.