A tale of two LinkedIn requests

Over the weekend (specifically, while I was at SQL Saturday Philadelphia), I received two different LinkedIn connect requests. The two requests were polar opposites, and I thought they were worthwhile writing about in this article.

As a technical professional, I often receive “cold-call” connect requests or emails. I am very wary and picky about with whom I connect; indeed, I’ve written before about spam recruiters. The problem has become so pervasive that I included this note at the top of my LinkedIn profile summary: “If you want to connect with me, please indicate how we’re connected; otherwise, I will ignore or delete your request. I do NOT accept unsolicited connect requests from people I don’t know.”

In my networking presentation, I include a section on “how to break the ice” — that is, how to initiate a networking contact with someone you don’t know. The two requests I received were perfect case studies as to what to do — and what NOT to do.

I’ll start with the one that describes what not to do. I received a “cold-call” connect request from someone who sent me the following note. Keep in mind that I do not know this person.

“I’m always looking to build my network with great people and would be delighted to have you in my network. I hope you’ll consider connecting!”

(name withheld)

If you’ve attended my presentation, or if you’ve downloaded or perused my PowerPoint slides, you’ll know that I include a section of what not to do. This person’s email checked off one of the boxes in that category: brown-nosing/sucking up/kissing up. The message was canned, impersonal, and insincere. Not only that, but she gave absolutely no indication as to how we’re connected or if we have any kind of (business) relationship. She gave me absolutely no reason for me to connect with her. “Wanting to build my network with great people” is NOT a reason for me to connect with you!!! Not only did she not give me a reason to connect, the tone of her message insulted my intelligence. This message is a perfect example of how NOT to establish a networking contact.

(And in case you’re wondering, I deleted this person’s request immediately.)

On the other side of the coin, I received this message from someone who attended my SQL Saturday presentation this past weekend. Again, I did not know this person. However…

“I really enjoyed your presentation on technical writing at SQL Saturday today! The tie challenge was a really interesting way to get the point across. I’d like to stay in touch and maybe pick your brain about tech writing again at some point in the future.”

(name also withheld)

(Note: the “tie challenge” refers to a demo in my presentation. If you haven’t seen my presentation, I’m not telling you what it is. You’ll have to attend to find out! 🙂 )

To the person who wrote this email (if you’re reading this): nice job! The message was sincere, complimentary (“I enjoyed the presentation”), referred to specific things (so I knew she attended my presentation; therefore, we have a connection of some type), and asked to potentially continue a conversation (“maybe pick your brain”). This is a perfect example as to how to initiate contact and break the ice. I was happy to connect with this person, and I did.

(P.S. I might use your message as an example the next time I give my networking presentation!)

If you want to establish a networking contact, you need to be sincere and give the person a reason to connect. Make the person feel valued. This applies to any networking situation, regardless of whether it’s face-to-face or online. Following this guideline will ensure that your networking efforts are much more successful.

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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.

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.

The bane of unsolicited recruiters

If you are a technology professional, chances are you’ve received the emails.  They usually look something like this:

To: Ray_Kim@MyEmail.com*
From: SomeRecruiterIveNeverHeardOf@somecompany.com
Subject: [Some job that doesn’t interest me] located in [some place where I’m not willing to relocate]

Dear job seeker:

I trust you are having a pleasant day!

I came across your profile, and I believe you are a perfect fit for our exciting job opportunity!  We have a position for [some position about which I couldn’t care less] located in [some place where I’m not willing to move].

If you think you are an ideal candidate for this exciting position, please call me immediately at (800) 555-1212!

(* My actual email address is suppressed for reasons I think are obvious.)

To me, these emails are no different from the email spam I receive that says I need to respond to claim $1,000,000 from a bank in Nigeria.  I’ll make this clear: spam is a major pet peeve of mine, and is something I hate passionately.

I came across this link that perfectly sums up why I hate these recruitment tactics.  I recently performed a Google search on “recruiting spam” — and the number of links I saw was overwhelming.

Among other things, I found a link by my friend, James Serra, who wrote this article about low-rate recruiters.  I also recently saw one of his SQL Saturday presentations where he talks about enhancing your career.  (It is an excellent presentation; I recommend it highly.)

In his presentation, James talks about taking risks, and he told stories about how he pulled up stakes to seek lucrative opportunities elsewhere.  Personally, I am not willing to pull up my roots and relocate (having said that, you are not me), but I do understand what he means by taking risks, especially calculated ones.  You need to take risks to get ahead, and you need to step out of your comfort zone.  (This is outside the scope of this article, and is another topic for another time.)

However, it’s one thing for opportunity (where you’d take a risk) to present itself.  It is quite another when a “get rich scheme” crosses your inbox.

I once had a bad experience with a spam recruiter.  He set me up on an interview.  When I asked the company with which I was interviewing, he would only say it was “an insurance company.”  He did not reveal much in the way of information.  I only found out where I was interviewing only hours before I was supposed to interview.  It ended up being for a company where I was not interested in working.  After that experience, I told myself that not only was I never going to work with that recruiter again, I also would never again accept any unsolicited recruiter requests.

A good ethical recruiter will take the time to get to know you, gauge your career interests, get an idea of where you want to go, and respect what you want to do.  A spam recruiter could not care less about any of this.  All they want to do is make a buck, and they are willing to exploit you to do it.

I recently responded to a recruiter in which I apologized for my harsh response.  Like so many unsolicited recruiting emails, he pitched a position outside my geographic interests that did not interest me.  After I responded, he wrote me back to apologize, and he was sincere in his response.  I had made numerous attempts to unsubscribe from his list, to no avail (a fact that I mentioned in my email to him).  He mentioned that he had looked into it, confirmed that there was an issue, and made efforts to correct it.  His efforts actually swayed me.  I wrote back to apologize and to say that I was willing to work with him.  (Legitimate recruiters, take note; efforts like this go a long way.)

(Disclosure: I am not, I repeat, not, actively seeking new employment; I’m happy in my current position.  However, I would also be remiss if I did not consider opportunities that could potentially represent a step up.  See my paragraph above about taking calculated risks.)

Swimming in the candidate pool can be an interesting, exciting, and even rewarding experience.  Just be aware that, within that pool, you might be swimming with sharks.

Who owns the email?

A while back, one of my work colleagues asked a very interesting question.

“When we send out an email, who owns the copyright?  Is it the owners of the data (i.e. individual clients), or is it the owners of the email (i.e. our employer)?”

He continued to lay out the scenario: “Send it to Client 1. Employee at Client 1 leaks the contents of the email; (our company) has to then cede coypright (sic) to the report so that they can distribute it internall?” (sic)

His final comment: “Imagine if (other companies) did that: ‘You wrote this with Office 365, Microsoft Owns (sic) the copyright'”

That’s a good question.  It’s one to which I don’t have an answer.  To be honest, I don’t have the knowledge or background to be able to answer it.  (Maybe someone who understands legal procedure or copyright law can answer it better than I can; if so, please feel free to comment.)  But I do think it’s an important one, nevertheless.

Email is probably one of the least secure forms of electronic communication.  It is often said that email should be treated like postcards, where anyone and everyone who touches it can read it.  It’s something I always keep in mind whenever I send email.  I refuse to send critical data (passwords, PHI, financial data, etc.) over email.  If I do have a need to send critical data, I’ll look for a way to do it securely, whether it’s data encryption, secure channels, direct messaging (which may not entirely be secure), or even face-to-face communication.  Data security is a big deal (too big to cover in just a single article), and each news item about data breaches becomes a bigger focus (as of this article, the Facebook data scandal is one of the biggest and most recent; sadly, I do not believe that this will be the biggest, nor the last, such breach).

If someone told me that I had to answer this question (and mind you, this is my opinion; do NOT quote me or state this as fact), the original author (or any data content copyright holder) owns any copyrights.  If I sent a song lyric over email, whomever it was that wrote the lyric would own that copyright, but I would own anything that I wrote (that is, something that came from my head — intellectual property — and not from someone else).  The purpose of a copyright, after all, is to protect intellectual property.  However, given email’s open and unsecure nature, original thoughts posted to an email should probably be considered to be public domain.  (That said, if an email sender cites some data source, has he or she committed a copyright violation?  I won’t take the time to discuss that now, but that might be another topic for another time.)

Despite email’s security concerns, it is still a useful tool, and is pretty much ubiquitous throughout our daily lives.  So long as we keep in mind that it isn’t secure, and we can keep our communication habits in context, it is a technology that will likely not disappear anytime soon.