The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 25: Taking the “distancing” out of “social distancing” #COVID19

Before I get into this article, I want to make one thing extremely clear. This article has NOTHING to do with circumventing pandemic protocols or ignoring the advice of Dr. Fauci, the CDC, the WHO, or any other medical professionals. That is NOT what I’m about to write. Please, please, PLEASE keep wearing your mask, get your COVID shots, and maintain physical social distancing. Above all, be safe.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me get into what prompted this article.

Earlier today, this random thought popped into my head. I posted it to my Facebook, and I want to share it with all of you as well.

I’m sitting here thinking that possibly the thing I miss most during the pandemic is simply the ability to go out and have a drink with a friend.

Granted, the part about “having a drink” is irrelevant. I say that as a catch-all for going out for a beer, wine, coffee, soda, lunch, dinner, dessert, watching a ballgame, going to a movie, and so on. (I could also say “hanging out in your friend’s living room;” it’s within the same spirit of what I’m writing about, but it’s in a private, not public setting, which people are likely doing, anyway — hopefully, COVID-safely. But I digress.)

I don’t know whether the fact that today is St. Patrick’s Day had anything to do with this thought, but what did prompt it was an urge — and a basic desire — to pick up the phone, call a friend, and tell him or her, “let’s meet up at (some favorite local hangout) this Friday night*.”

(*Before any of my local friends take me up on this, be advised that Syracuse plays San Diego State on Friday night, so my attention will likely be focused on the TV.)

Raise your hand if you miss getting together with friends — and I’m not talking about virtually over Zoom. Yeah, me too. The last in-person social event I remember attending was the after-party for SQL Saturday out in Rochester in February of last year. Since the pandemic began, I’ve had almost no in-person interaction with any of my friends, other than my wife (I’ve had a few, but they’re few and far-between). I would love to get together with friends to talk hours on end about world events, music, sports, family, or even about absolutely nothing. Don’t get me wrong; I love my wife, but there’s something to be said for sharing your thoughts, news, and feelings with someone whom you’re not sharing your lockdown experience 24-7 over a forum other than Zoom. Humans are mostly social animals, and interaction with other humans is therapeutic, even if you’re introverted.

(And if you do consider yourself to be introverted, don’t feel obligated to talk. Just being there is very helpful, too.)

Every now and then, I’ll get on the phone with a friend of mine, and we’ll talk for hours — sometimes, about nothing more than random thoughts that pop into our heads (if he’s reading this, you know who you are). We’re the kind of guys who can spend hours talking about “absolutely nothing.” Regardless of what we talk about, I find our conversations to be therapeutic, and I feel like a lot of stress has dissipated, even if I do have something on my mind.

So, if you’re able to do so COVID-safely, take time to hook up with your BFF. You might find the experience to be rewarding and stress-relieving, especially during this time of pandemic and social distancing.

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.

Remember the past, embrace what’s next

“Don’t hang on; nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky; it slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy…”

Kansas, Dust In The Wind

“Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway; movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by…”

Jim Croce, I Got A Name

When I was in grad school, I wrote a quote for a paper I wrote. My professor loved it, and I’ve used it plenty of times since then. “Ben Franklin had it wrong,” I wrote (or something like that). “There are not two sure things, but three: death, taxes, and change.”

What made me think of this is a Facebook meme that made its rounds over the weekend. Valentine’s Day was this weekend, and a meme with the hashtag #ValentinesDayChallenge was going around. I figured it was fun and harmless (as far as I know, I didn’t include any security info that could be hacked), so I participated.

I still look my answers over, even a couple of days later, and it makes me smile. My wife and I have had some fun times during our years together, and I certainly hope they continue. We’ve done a lot of things that I would love to relive. But, of course, that’s impossible. That time has passed, and we need to confront whatever is ahead.

The fact is, we cannot move backwards in time, and we can only deal with what’s in front of us. What’s done is done. If it was something good, you reflect on it. If it was bad, you learn from it and move on. Unfortunately, too many people (and I’ll admit falling into this trap myself on occasion) don’t understand this. They don’t just want to remember the past; they want to live there. But the fact is, time marches on, and change happens. Those who continue to try living in the past are doomed to fail.

Memories are a wonderful thing — as a song lyric once lamented, they’re “sweetened through the ages just like wine.” It’s okay to remember and reflect on them. But it’s not okay to dwell on them. Memories belong to the past. You can only control the future. Don’t try to go back to what’s already happened. Instead, create new memories that you’ll enjoy reflecting upon once they’re done.

Setting up my #Sessionize profile, and speaking opportunities — #DataSaturday

The other day, I wrote about how Data Saturday — the successor to SQL Saturday — was making use of Sessionize for event applications and scheduling. In order to take advantage of the technology, not to mention future opportunities to speak, I took the time to work on my Sessionize profile.

It turned out to be a lot of work — much more than I expected. I already had my bio and my presentation descriptions within the application, but I discovered a number of other features that, I believe, will present me with additional opportunities to speak.

First, while Sessionize keeps track of events to which you apply through its application, I discovered that it also has the ability to enter external events not scheduled through Sessionize. Even the header on the external events page says, “Organizers love to see your talk history” (and I agree). So, I went through my presentations page to enter all my previous speaking engagements that I did not schedule through Sessionize.

Did I mention that it was a lot of work? I started speaking regularly in 2015. In that time (until now), I’ve spoken at 26 SQL Saturdays, two PASS Summits, seven in-person user group meetings, three professional development virtual meetings, and a podcast. Granted, I know people who’ve spoken at more events than I have, but still, that’s a lot of speaking engagements. I added them to my external events, including descriptions and web links (where applicable — since PASS.org is no longer active, I linked the SQL Saturday pages to the schedule PDFs that I downloaded several weeks ago, and a few other links to any YouTube presentation links I had available).

I also discovered that Sessionize has an option called “discover events” — a feature that allows you to discover potential speaking opportunities. I had gone through the Data Saturdays site to apply to speak at (virtual) events in Redmond and LA, but when I saw the “discover events” option, I got curious.

As it turned out, in order to use this option, I had to fill out sections for areas of expertise and topics, so I filled them out as best I could. Once I did so, I was able to view (and apply to) potential events. In addition to the two Data Saturday events, I also applied to the VTTA Tech Conference and Techorama 2021. (And Sessionize says that I still have an active application to speak at Albany Code Camp, where I’d applied last year, but the event was wiped out by the pandemic.) I think I have a decent shot at the Vermont tech conference, and I have my doubts about being accepted to Techorama, but I figure, you never know until you try.

So far, I do like the Sessionize application. It does a good job of keeping track of my profile and my speaking engagements, and it could potentially open up more speaking opportunities. I’ll admit that I felt some trepidation after PASS (and SQL Saturday) ceased to exist. I wanted to continue speaking at events, and I wasn’t sure how to approach it once the SQL Saturday window closed. We’ll see what speaking opportunities open up with this application.

#DataSaturday

After the demise of PASS, a common question among data enthusiasts and PASS members was, “what happens with SQL Saturday?” SQL Saturday was backed by PASS, and as such, when PASS disappeared, so did SQL Saturday.

Enter Data Saturdays, the successor to SQL Saturday. As I write this, the first Data Saturday is in progress, in Guatemala (virtually, of course).

I’ve applied to speak at the first Data Saturday in the US (so far), event #5 in Redmond, WA on April 17. I submitted three sessions: my presentations on ‘blogging, job hunting, and networking.

When I submitted my sessions, I was a little surprised to see my information come up in the speaker’s profile. My initial thought was that they had exported and imported my profile and presentation info from the PASS.org site, but I don’t think this is the case. Data Saturday uses Sessionize to coordinate events, and as it turned out, I already had a Sessionize profile; I had created it last year for Albany Code Camp, where I had applied to speak last year; of course, the event was wiped out due to COVID. I did notice, on my Sessionize profile, that my submissions are in evaluation for Albany Code Camp on September 25, so I’m assuming that that event is rescheduled for that date.

We’ll see if I’m picked to speak for the Redmond event. There are a number of additional Data Saturday events listed as well; I haven’t yet decided what other events I’ll apply to speak. Even though the events are virtual (for now), they still require some work, and I’m wary of spreading myself too thin, despite my desire to speak at more events.

In any case, I’m looking forward to participating in this next endeavor. I’m looking forward to contributing toward these conferences, and, as always, I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with my #SQLFamily friends.

Archiving my talks, part 3: PASS Summit — #PASS

With the imminent demise of PASS, I figured I should take Steve Jones‘ advice and archive my presentation links.

I spoke at PASS Summit in 2019 (in Seattle) and 2020 (virtually). Naturally, I wanted to get as much as I could from my sessions from those two events.

Unfortunately, it appears that the pages from 2019 are no more. Even the pass.org/summit/2019 URL goes to the 2020 Virtual Summit page, not 2019. So, unfortunately, it appears that many (not all — see below) references to PASS Summit 2019 are lost forever.

However, it appears that the 2020 PASS Virtual Summit page appears to still be active (until next week), so I figured I should grab whatever I could from my presentation.

Alas, getting material from the PASS Summit page is not as straightforward as from the SQL Saturday pages. Unlike the SQL Saturday pages, I did not see a “create PDF” option for the schedule. I did grab screen captures for both my speaker’s description page and my presentation session page (as seen below).

My 2020 PASS Summit speaker’s page
My 2020 PASS Summit session page

I mentioned that just about all references to 2019 PASS Summit appear to be gone. One thing I did manage to download from 2019 was my session recording. Like my virtual group recordings, I took my recording and uploaded it to my personal YouTube. You can view my 2019 PASS Summit presentation here.

I did not do the same with my 2020 presentation. As I mentioned, I ended up having technical issues with my presentation, so I elected not to download it. (Steve Jones suggested that I re-record it and upload it to the PASS Summit site, but that was before PASS announced they were shutting down. I don’t see the point of doing it now.)

At the moment, I believe that takes care of most of my speaking archive. (There’s also the links to my in-person user group talks, but those are archived on Meetup, and are controlled by individual user groups, not PASS, so they’re not as urgent.) I’ll keep poking around to make sure I haven’t missed anything,.

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.

Archiving my talks, part 2: Presentation videos — #PASS

With the imminent demise of PASS, I figured I should take Steve Jones‘ advice and archive my presentation links.

I’ve done a few presentations for the PASS Professional Development Virtual Group. Of those presentations, two of them were recorded to the group’s YouTube channel.

Because the channel lives on YouTube and not PASS, I have no idea whether or not it will disappear when PASS does. Nevertheless, I decided I didn’t want to find out. Better to be safe.

I downloaded the two recordings that I did for the PASS virtual group and reuploaded them to my own personal YouTube channel. Even if PASS decides to drop the channel, the videos will continue to live on my own channel.

So, at the moment, I currently have three PASS-related presentations on my personal YouTube channel.

Links to these videos are also available on my presentations page. Note that my Professional Development Virtual Group presentations still point to the PASS YouTube channel videos, but if PASS decides to drop the channel, I’ll change the links to point to the videos on my own channel, where they’ll live indefinitely.

Archiving my talks, part 1: #SQLSaturday schedule PDFs — #PASS

With the imminent demise of PASS, I figured I should take Steve Jones‘ advice and archive my presentation links.

For this round, I went through all the SQL Saturday events where I spoke and downloaded the schedules. Each SQL Saturday schedule has a link to save it to PDF (there is an “Export to PDF” link at the bottom of each schedule).

I saved the PDFs to my ‘blog media and created links to them. You can download these schedules by going to my presentation schedule and clicking any link labeled “schedule PDF.”

For now, I’m only concerned with links hosted on PASS websites, such as SQL Saturday and PASS Summit (which I’ll do for the next round). I’m not as concerned (yet) with Meetup, YouTube, or podcasts I’ve done that are not hosted on PASS websites. I’ll update these links as I go along.

Reinventing the #resume (again) #JobHunt

I had a conversation today with a recruiter — technically, it was an interview, but the way we spoke, it was more of a conversation between an agent (her) and a client (me) — who gave me some advice regarding my resume. I came away from the conversation with a few insights, and I’d like to share those insights here. This is not the first time I’ve written about resumes. I continually learn something new about them.

We left the conversation with her giving me a homework assignment: revamp my resume to incorporate what we had discussed.

Probably the biggest takeaway was to rethink how I was presenting my resume. I shouldn’t have the mindset of a job seeker telling prospective employers to hire me. Rather, I needed to approach it as a marketer. I’m marketing a product. The product I’m marketing is me.

This mindset is important. When you’re trying to present yourself to an employer, you feel a need to impress them with your extensive experience, everything you’ve done, and the many reasons why the employer should hire you. But if you’re marketing yourself, the thought process shifts. Instead, you’re advertising yourself and your skills. “Hire me! Here’s why!” She told me that it’s okay to not put everything on your resume — not lie, mind you, but rather, not throw in the kitchen sink when putting your resume together. Just highlight the important selling points. If they want to know more, they can refer to your LinkedIn profile — and maybe even call you in for an interview (which, of course, is the purpose of a resume).

I found this to be profound, because this is a point that I espouse as a technical writer, and yet I don’t practice what I preach when it comes to my resume. I am a believer in not necessarily including everything on a document. And yet it never occurred to me to apply my own technical writing skills to my own resume. Don’t try to provide every little detail. If they’re interested, they’ll ask for more (and if they want more, they can look at my LinkedIn profile).

I mentioned ageism as a concern, and a possible reason as to why I haven’t had a job nibble in seven months. (I believe ageism exists in the job hunt; it is illegal, but is nearly impossible to prove.) In the same vein of not needing to include everything, one of the takeaways was to only list positions for the past ten or so years. One of my concerns was that my experience before 2009 would likely reveal my age, but at the same time, it was all professionally relevant, and I didn’t want to leave it off. She suggested an idea that had never occurred to me: list the jobs (employer and title), but leave off the dates. Just say “here’s where I worked before 2009.” Again, if an employer wants to know more about those positions, check out my LinkedIn.

As an afterthought, after I’d removed the dates from the older positions, I still had a potential age identifier on my resume: my educational experience included my dates of graduation. Sure enough, in my latest resume revamp, my graduation dates will be removed. Employers just need to know I have a Masters degree; they don’t have to know when I got it.

The recruiter also asked me another question: what accomplishment at each position are you proudest of? I have to admit that that was a good question. She said that it was a question that should be asked for every listed position, and the answer for each was something that should be included on the resume.

I was told, be your own client. Market yourself. When it comes to marketing yourself, you’re your own blind spot. Only when it was pointed out to me did I know that the blind spot was even there.