No cold calls!!!

This is something that is one of my biggest pet peeves. I’ve written about this before. Because it keeps happening, I’m writing about this again.

I often get requests to connect from people I don’t know. I will only connect with people with whom I have some kind of established relationship. It’s so bad that I put this note prominently at the top of my LinkedIn profile.

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.

I especially hold a strong contempt for spam recruiters. For starters, I once had a bad experience with a spam recruiter. There are also many documented cases about spam recruiters being bad for professional development. And their queries are often downright insulting to me. They make absolutely no attempt to get to know me or what I want; all they do is look for buzzwords in my LinkedIn profile or resume. Any connect request I receive from a recruiter I’ve never heard of gets deleted immediately.

Granted, just because I don’t know you doesn’t mean I won’t connect with you. However, you need to give me a reason as to why I should connect with you. It doesn’t have to be much — even something as simple as, “I enjoyed (meeting/talking/listening/whatever) to you at (user group/activity/party/whatever). Can we connect?” is enough for me to at least acknowledge you.

There are a number of people who think that just because we have friends or groups in common that they can just connect with me. The fact is, if I don’t know who you are, and you don’t tell me how we’re connected, I will not connect with you. Just because we’re part of the same user group doesn’t mean I will connect with you. Several user groups and activities I’m in often have numbers of people whom I don’t know. You need to tell me we’re in the same user group. Do not make me have to work to figure out who you are.

I am very particular about this, especially in this day and age of identity theft and data security. It’s one thing to be asked a favor, but it’s quite another to be taken advantage of. There is a difference.

Networking is about relationships. Tell me what our relationship is, and I’ll be happy to connect with you, even if I don’t know you. But if you send me an unsolicited connect request with absolutely no indication as to how we’re connected, chances are I will delete or ignore your request. Don’t send me a cold-call connect request with no explanation as to how we’re connected and expect me to connect with you.

When does a request for info become spam?

I recently saw a post in a Facebook group that I manage for a user group to which I belong. She was brand-new to the group, having joined just hours (maybe even minutes) before she posted.

She turned out to be a recruiter. I won’t say too much about her because her firm is one with which I have a very good relationship. That said, I’d never heard of her, which made me wonder how new she was.

It also made me question her motives for joining the group. It’s one thing if she joined to become an active member of the group or to network, with which I have no problem, but it’s quite another if her sole reason for joining is to post online job solicitations — something with which I take issue. Since she seems new, I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt. I sent her a PM, explained my relationship with her firm, and asked if I could assist.

It made me think: when do job solicitations become spam?

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about recruiter spam, and, of course, I’ve written extensively about networking. Those of you who are inundated with recruiter emails or postings know how downright aggravating it gets. Unless we’re actively looking for a new position, we have no time or patience for responding to the deluge of messages about which we couldn’t care less. And it’s only once in a great while where we come across one that looks interesting enough to look into it further. And for those of you who think these things are harmless, I once had a bad experience with a spam recruiter.

I do give leeway if the message is from a recruiter or firm that I know. As I’ve written before, it’s about relationships and trust. If a recruiter that I know asks me if I know someone with a certain set of skills, I would be happy to refer someone to him or her, and I’ll be more likely to take their job search requests more seriously. But if the recruiter is someone I don’t know who cold-calls me asking for a referral, what do you think the chances are that I would give one? In all likelihood, slim to none.

So in my mind, the difference between a referral and spam is the relationship. If the person who posted that request already had a preexisting relationship with our group, I’d be happy to see the post. But that she posted nearly immediately after joining the Facebook group has me questioning her motives. Establish yourself before you go looking for favors.

Postscript: As I was winding up this article, the recruiter to whom I sent the PM responded to me, and in doing so, dropped the name of someone I know. I now trust her a bit more, and I feel a little more comfortable with her posting.

The view from another side

In the movie Dead Poet’s Society, there’s a scene in which the teacher, John Keating (played by the late Robin Williams) stands on his desk, making the point of how important it is to see things from another perspective.

I was reminded of this when I sat in on Mike Hayes‘ online presentation, “Blogging Rebooted.” Mike gave a very good presentation, as he always does, and he even gave me lots of props. (Mike, if you’re reading this, thanks for all the kudos! I will reciprocate when I do mine!) If you missed his presentation, a recording of it is available online. Go check it out!

Whenever I attend SQL Saturday (or any other conference, for that matter), I regularly make it a point to attend sessions that are similar to mine. I need to see how other presenters view whatever it is that I’m viewing.

Looking at the same thing from another angle is important for multiple reasons. It gives me a bigger picture of what I saw to begin with. It might give me ideas that didn’t occur to me. If another presenter touches upon the same points I make in my own presentation, it validates my own ideas. If (s)he offers points that are contrary to my own, it makes me reexamine my own view to ensure what I think is correct, or to make any adjustments.

In any case, I usually end up improving my own presentations and viewpoints, sometimes vastly.

So if you’re building a case, an argument, a presentation, or any other situation where you’re expressing your own viewpoint, also consider how it looks from another view. You’ll end up strengthening your own case in the process.

The extracurricular resume

For those of you reading this who work in some type of professional position, how many of you have a resume? I’m guessing that at least 98% of you (if not more) would have your hands raised.

Now, for those of you who are very active in some extracurricular activity (just for context, that activity for me, personally, happens to be music) — and by “very,” I mean you dedicate large amounts of time, money, energy, and resources to it, as though it was another job (even if you’re not making money off of it) — how many of you maintain an extracurricular resume?

I didn’t think about this until recently. This past winter, I music-directed a local show production. One person I met in the production told me he was looking for a music director, and said he wanted me to do it. I hemmed and hawed about it a bit (and I still am — those of you who’ve done theater shows know that it sucks up ALL your free time). He did tell me that the board of directors asked for my resume so they could get a look at my background.

Until this came up, it never occurred to me that I should have a resume outside of my professional life. Immediately, I started coming up with questions. How would it differ from my professional resume? What should it look like? How should I organize it? What should I include?

In any case, I have an idea in the back of my head as to how I’m going to put it together (and I do intend to put one together). Music is an activity that I take very seriously, and I do look for opportunities to do something with it, even though I don’t do it for a living. So it makes sense for me to have one. Besides, if I do decide someday to leave my professional life behind and make music my career, who knows?

So if you have some activity outside your professional career that you pursue seriously, consider putting together an extracurricular resume. You never know what opportunities could come from it.

Another year down, another year coming

As I write this, it’s fewer than forty-eight hours until the new year, which, I figure, is just a good a time as any to review the past year, and look forward to the next.

Because I focus my ‘blog about professional development and technical communication, let’s start there. How about a run-down of my speaking engagements this year?

It looks like I’ve had a busy speaking year. While compiling this list, it also made me think about other events around my calendar.

So, those are some of what I did in 2019. What do I have coming up in 2020?

As of today, I have two confirmed speaking dates.

Also, as of today, I’ve submitted presentations to the following events.

I also intend to apply to speak at Boston on October 3. As of today, this event page is not yet live. I am also contemplating applying to speak at PASS Summit in Houston and SQL Saturday in Virginia Beach.

2019 was a busy year, and it appears that I will not be slowing down in 2020.

Happy New Year, all! I’ll catch you on the other side!

Choosing which #SQLSaturday to submit

I saw an interesting (and amusing) tweet from Matt Cushing about applying to three SQL Saturdays in February and questioning his own sanity. Matt, I could’ve told you that you’re insane! 😉

All kidding aside, it did get me thinking: how do I select the SQL Saturdays to which I apply to speak? If you’re a new speaker, this might be a question that you’re considering.

For those of you who may be new to my ‘blog, I’m a regular SQL Saturday speaker. I’ve been speaking at SQL Saturday since 2015. I’ve written before about what to expect at a SQL Saturday, and I’ve even written about some of my experiences traveling to SQL Saturday. So I figured I’d write a primer as to what I consider when selecting where to submit my presentations.

Before I do, however, I should lay out a disclosure. I present at SQL Saturday completely on my own. And by this, I mean on my own time and on my own dime. I don’t do this for pay, and my employer does not dictate what events I attend or where I speak. I do this because I love doing it (and it doesn’t look bad on a resume, either). All schedules are my own schedules, and all expenses come out of my own pocket. My employer does not reimburse me for my trips (some speakers have their companies pay for their trips, but I do not have that luxury). This plays a huge factor into my planning, as you’ll read about below.

Will it break the bank?

Since I mention that I do this on my own dime, I’ll start there.

Cost is a huge factor whenever I consider where to submit. Traveling gets expensive (and traveling also incurs other issues, which I’ll talk about in a minute). The easier it is for me to get to an event, the cheaper it is for me to get there. I apply to nearly all SQL Saturday events that are within easy (about a few hours) driving (or, for NYC, commuting) distance from my home in Troy, NY. I have yet to apply to an event (other than PASS Summit) where I have to fly. There is good reason for that. Flying is neither cheap, nor convenient.

Of course, I apply to speak at Albany every year. It takes me all of twenty minutes to drive from my home to the UAlbany campus, where the event is held. It’s my hometown event, and it’s sponsored by my local user group, of which I’m a member. I am not paying for a hotel, and my trip expenses are no more than my normal commute to work. Other than nominal expenses, I pay nearly nothing to attend this event.

I attend New York City pretty much every year, regardless of whether I’m speaking or not. It’s an easy trip — doable in a day, in fact. Amtrak goes directly from Albany right into midtown Manhattan, making it a very easy trip. If I do need to stay overnight, my siblings live in the City, so I have a place to stay. Or, I might splurge a little for a hotel. New York isn’t the cheapest city to visit, but if you look hard enough, deals can be had.

Boston — straight shot down I-90 for me, roughly a three-hour drive. And while Boston area hotels aren’t necessarily cheap, I can find lodging that won’t break the bank.

I did apply to speak at Chicago this coming year. I created a theoretical itinerary and realized that I could make it work. If I’m accepted, it would represent my first SQL Saturday where it wasn’t feasible for me to drive there.

There are a number of other examples, but at this point, you can see where I’m going with it. Finances will often dictate whether or not I can attend an event. However, finances alone aren’t the only factor. There are other things I need to consider, such as…

How easy is it for me to get there?

One event that I’ve never attended — and would like to — is Cleveland. With its relative proximity to New York State, you’d think that Cleveland would be an easy one for me to attend.

It isn’t.

For starters, Cleveland, for me, is roughly an eight-hour drive… in good weather. Now consider: Cleveland holds their event in February. Imagine trying to make that drive in unpredictable, snowy, winter weather. Maybe I could get lucky and get good weather on a drive out that way, but it’s a crapshoot and not guaranteed.

Okay. Amtrak goes to Cleveland. How about hopping the train?

The Lake Shore Limited, which travels between Boston/NYC and Chicago, makes a stop in Cleveland. Is it a direct line from Albany? Yes. Is it convenient…?

That would be a big no. The train arrives in Cleveland at 3:30 AM. As for the return trip, it departs at 5:50 AM. Either way, it would make for a very inconvenient itinerary.

That pretty much leaves flying. In years past, this would also not have been an option. Flights from ALB to CLE have been expensive and inconvenient. Additionally, there are no direct flights between the two cities. I did look up a theoretical flight for SQL Saturday #930 and found a roundtrip flight as low as $218. I’d have to fly through Detroit to do it.

Maybe I could’ve applied to speak in Cleveland and flown out. But I didn’t want to deal with the hassle.

One of these years, I might be able to make Cleveland work. That day hasn’t yet arrived.

Is the travel convenience (or inconvenience, as the case may be) worth it for a short weekend trip? That’s up to you to decide, but it is another major factor that I consider when I think about submitting to an event.

Does it fit my schedule?

Another event that has interested me is Pittsburgh. I spoke at Pittsburgh in 2016, and it was an enjoyable event; in fact, I’ve been wanting to return ever since. It’s a long drive for me, about eight hours. At the time, it was the farthest that I’d ever traveled for a SQL Saturday (that has since been surpassed by Virginia Beach).

I decided that eight hours is a long time to spend in a car, so I’d prefer not to drive there. It turns out that I can get Amtrak to Pittsburgh, and the schedule works for me. On top of that, I have a friend who lives there, so I’d probably have a place to crash. Pittsburgh is a long trip for me, but it’s one that I can make work.

So why haven’t I been back? Mostly, it’s been because of scheduling issues. One year, I withdrew from Pittsburgh because it was separated by only a week from another SQL Saturday where I was accepted to speak, and I decided that traveling on back-to-back weekends was a bit much. This past year, I’d fully intended to apply… and New York scheduled theirs for the same day. Other years, I’ve had a number of things come up on my calendar that have interfered with the event.

I’ve withdrawn from or didn’t submit to other events because of schedule conflicts. As much as I’d like to submit to every event that’s within a couple of hours from me, it doesn’t always work out.

If I was able, I’d apply to as many SQL Saturday events as possible. However, there’s also something to be said about work/life balance… and maintaining your own sanity.

Summary

So if you’re a road warrior, you like to keep a busy schedule, have deep pockets, or have an employer who will fund your trips, a lot of these issues might not affect you. But for other SQL Saturday speakers (like me), we do this on our own time and our own dime. These are the things I consider whenever I decide whether or not to apply to speak at a SQL Saturday. Whether or not you can handle the issues that come with getting to an event is up to you.

'Tis the season

I was looking at my calendar, and realized that Christmas is in less than two weeks. Dates in calendar are closer than they appear.

I was thinking about the holiday season this year and about what I’m doing. Alas, it appears that my Christmas will be somewhat subdued this year. This is the first Christmas since I was married that my father-in-law will not be around. My wife informed me that she will likely be working on Christmas day (such is life when you work for a newspaper). And I’ve told some people not to go nuts in terms of getting me presents. I’m at the age where I can pretty much buy whatever I want or need on my own, and asking for holiday gifts isn’t as meaningful as it was as when I was a kid. (That said, I do intend to get gifts for my siblings and my wife — not sure what, yet — and I also intend to spoil my niece and nephews.) In terms of a Christmas “gift” for myself, I told my wife that I’d like a vacation for both of us — where and when are to be determined. I have no shortage of places that I’d like to go. And it will likely not happen around Christmas. It might not happen until the summer.

This isn’t to say I’m doing nothing to recognize the holidays. I’m currently music-directing and accompanying a holiday community theater musical. My symphonic band performed their holiday concert earlier this week. I made a reservation for next week for a holiday happy-hour get-together for my work group. And speaking of work, my office will close (as it typically does) for a week around Christmas. It seems that my gift to myself is that my schedule will quiet down for about the next month. I’ve had quite the busy year, and I can certainly use the downtime.

So however you spend your holiday — whatever holiday it may be, whether it’s Christmas, Hannukah, Festivus, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, or whatever — I hope it’s enjoyable.