Lack of language command doesn’t have to be an impediment to presenting

As someone who is a child of immigrants, I understand and appreciate the travails of anyone who is new to this country and struggles with the English language. Indeed, English can be a very screwy language, with a plethora of archaic rules such as “i before e” and so on. I remember my Korean mother telling me about how Korean is grammatically perfect; every rule is followed to the letter (no pun intended), and there is no “i before e” or anything like that. I got a better idea of this when I tried to teach myself Korean. (I’ll confess that I’ve gotten busy, and I haven’t kept on top of this as I’d like. I’ll have to pick this up again at some point.)

I’ve learned about the structure of the Korean language, but I have not learned enough to be able to carry a conversation or read signs. As such, I have absolutely no command of the language. So I respect anyone who is not a native English speaker, but learns enough to be able to come to this country and be able to have a comprehensible conversation. That ability requires a great deal of work and practice, and to be able to go to a foreign country and speak the language of its inhabitants is a tremendous achievement.

That said, a common statement among my friends and colleagues from foreign countries is that because English is not their native language, it is an impediment for them to do technical (or any) presentations. More often than not, it isn’t external feedback or reactions that keep them from presenting, but rather a self-perception that because they aren’t native English speakers, they aren’t able to present technical concepts to English speakers.

To those people, I want to tell them (hence, the reason for this ‘blog article): nothing can be farther from the truth. On the contrary, I fully encourage you to present.

Now, I was born and raised in New York State. English is my native language. I like to think that I have a pretty good command of the language, and I will confess to being a bit of a grammar snob (I’ll often joke that I’m one of those people who’s silently correcting your grammar!). Granted, I don’t pretend to be perfect, but I think I can hold my own. I will often say (and I do often say this in my presentations) that command of your native language makes it easier to present concepts when it comes to technical communication.

However, while language command is helpful for presenting topics, it isn’t a requirement. Some of the best speakers I’ve met on the SQL Saturday circuit have been people whose first language is not English. The list includes some very good friends of mine whom I’ve met through SQL Saturday, including Slava Murygin, Taiob Ali, Michelle Gutzait, Paresh Motiwala, Cecelia Brusatori, and Thomas Grohser, among others. They are all excellent speakers whom I highly recommend, and the fact that they speak with accents that may be foreign to many Americans doesn’t keep them from presenting technical topics or being group leaders.

Even if you’re an English speaker who never got the hang of diagramming sentences or knowing the difference between their, they’re, and there, it should not deter you from presenting important topics. And if you are self-aware about your lack of language command, don’t be afraid to ask for help or feedback from someone who does have a good grasp of language.

So if you have a topic to present, but you’re not a native speaker, go ahead and present, anyway! If your topic is profound, interesting, important, etc., the material will often speak for itself. Lack of language command is not an impediment for presenting.

When is “good enough” good enough?

If there’s one thing that I struggle with (and I’ll bet the house that I am not alone), it’s determining when something I’m working on is at a point where it’s “good enough for government work” (as the saying goes). Whenever I work on anything — whether it’s a work task or an extracurricular project — I always want to put in my best effort. As my personal mantra often goes, always put in your best effort — I don’t care if you clean toilets for a living. Ideally, my goal is perfection every time.

The problem is, perfection is an unrealistic standard. I’ve written about this before, and I still believe it. We’re human, after all, and a big part of being human is that we are rarely, if ever, perfect. I’ve often said that perfection as a goal is okay, but perfection as a standard is unacceptable. Sure, every once in a while, a bowler will bowl a 300 game, or a baseball pitcher will pitch a perfect game, but neither can be expected to do so every time out. Setting perfection as a standard is impossible, and anyone who sets perfection as a standard really needs to rethink their priorities.

For me, this is a constant struggle. I want to do the best job possible every time. However, there are often factors that work against me: deadlines, schedules, task management, work load, lack of knowledge or experience, fatigue, and so on. Additionally, my work often coincides with something else; a teammate is often counting on my part in order for him or her to proceed with their task. We don’t work in a vacuum; we’re often part of a team, and we need to work together. This is true even if you’re an individual contractor; your customer often expects to see results.

So how do you measure when something is “good enough?” This is often subjective and hard to answer, but I’ll take a crack at it.

I’ll use one of my favorite (and oft used) examples: baseball. As I mentioned above, a pitcher isn’t perfect every time. He’ll often give up a few hits and walks. He might even give up home runs on occasion. But was his performance good enough for his team to win? A play-by-play announcer will sometimes say, “he didn’t have his best stuff tonight, but he kept his team in the game, and it was good enough to get his team the win.”

So with that, I’ll often use measures like these: did my team get the win? Did my teammate (or customer) get what (s)he needed from me in order to do what they needed? Did my efforts meet the requirements? Did my teammate accept my results? Did my efforts get the job done? And, most importantly to me, did I give it my best effort, given any impediments (time constraints, fatigue, degree of difficulty, experience — or lack of — with the task, etc.) that might be in my way?

If I’m able to answer yes to questions like these, then in all likelihood, I can say yes, my efforts were good enough.

Getting my music heard

As some of you may know, when I’m not coming up with ideas for professional development ‘blogs, I’m a musician on the side. I’m a classically-trained pianist, and I also play the clarinet, saxophone, and mallet percussion instruments as well. I perform in a large symphonic concert band, I accompany a local church choir, I play in a wind quintet, and earlier this year, I joined a local classic rock band.

In addition to all that, I’m also a songwriter. I started writing when I was in high school, wrote for several years, recorded a few things (and had a few friends help me with the vocals — singing is one of the musical tasks that I don’t pretend I can do), stopped writing for several more years (life happened), and only relatively recently started getting back into it again.

If you’re interested in hearing my music, you can go to my artist’s page here.

During the past year of the COVID pandemic, I reworked my recordings. I had my MIDI sequences that I had stowed away and recorded all the instrumental tracks. I had to get somewhat creative with the vocals (like I said, I can’t sing worth a damn), so I poked around some online sites where you can upload songs and extract vocals from them (here are a few that I tried: Splitter.AI, Vocali.se, Vocal Remover and Isolation, Acapella Extractor). I took my “crappy” demos that I’d created years ago and used these sites to extract the vocal parts from them. The extracted vocals weren’t great — there was still a lot of noise on them that I couldn’t clear — but for my purposes (at the time), they did the job, and I was happy with the results. When I applied the extracted vocals to my instrumentals, I thought they sounded pretty good. I’m sure music professionals who are better at mixing and mastering than I am can hear the lousy quality, but to those who don’t have discerning ears, you hardly notice them.

I took my computer recording studio and went to work polishing my recordings. I kept remixing and editing them, and with each subsequent edit, I felt that I was getting better and better at it — to the point that I told other music friends that if they ever wanted to do any multitrack work, let me know.

What I’m not good at doing is mastering. Mastering music recordings is an art and a skill in which I don’t have the expertise. After all, I don’t do this for a living, and I consider myself merely a hobbyist. Nevertheless, I did the best I could given my limited skill set and what I learned from doing this on my own. While my recordings aren’t mastered (and likely won’t be, unless I can re-record the vocal parts), I created the best-quality music recordings I could on my own.

I managed to get them to the point where I was happy with the results. Granted, they’re not commercial-grade recordings, but I gladly and happily listen to them.

I decided to take the next step and distribute my recordings (even though they’re not mastered). I figured, I’m sure there are other hobbyists in the same boat who likely do the same thing, so I had nothing to lose. I came across a couple of articles about creating my own album (including this and that), and came across a music distribution service called DistroKid, which was highly recommended by several articles that I read. Once I got my recordings to the point that I was happy with distributing them, I signed up for a DistroKid account and uploaded my album.

That was about a week ago. Last I checked, my album is now available on iTunes/Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music! And there are more to come, I’m sure; these are only the first ones! (And, of course, you can always listen to my stuff on my Soundclick site!)

Let me say this again. I consider myself a hobbyist, not a professional. Yes, I know my recordings are not mastered and probably not professional-quality. I work hard at what I do, and while I’m not the best at it, I’ve gotten considerably better. For all the trolls out there, save me your diatribe about how these don’t sound professional and are not the best quality recordings.

That said, I’m a hobbyist who takes his hobby seriously, and is highly passionate about it — enough that I am willing to spend time and money on it. That said, I believe that my music is good music, and it deserves to be heard, which is why I did what I did. Honestly, I really don’t give a crap if I never sell a single album. The entire point of this exercise is to get my material out there and heard, and earn some measure of respect for myself as a musician and songwriter who is extremely passionate about his craft.

You don’t have to be in a management position to be a leader

For years, I used to think that in order for me to become a leader, I would need to land a management position of some type. Indeed, for a long time, our culture taught us that you needed to obtain some kind of leadership or management position in order to be a leader. So I strived for climbing the corporate ladder, trying to get myself into the upper ranks and getting into a position where I could be the one calling most (but not necessarily all) of the shots. I even contemplated pursuing an MBA (and, to a small extent, I am still entertaining the idea).

Now that I’m older (and, hopefully, wiser), I no longer have such ambitions. At this point in my career, I am happy where I am, management position be damned. Climbing the corporate ladder is no longer a priority for me (that said, if such an opportunity arises, it doesn’t necessarily mean I would turn it down, but it would depend on the opportunity). If I ever haven an opportunity to be promoted, that’d be great, but it is no longer a priority for me, and if it never happens, I won’t lose sleep over it.

This seems to correspond with a change in my mindset as I advance in my career (and my age). When I was younger and more brash, I wanted to be the center of attention, the rock star. But now that I’m older and have some more experience under my belt, being the rock star is no longer a priority.

What I discovered is that I very much get just as much of a high by helping someone else become the rock star. I frequently take part in mentoring opportunities — through my alma mater, my fraternity, my job, or my extracurricular activities. Whenever I see someone struggling with something, and if I am able to assist (which I’m not always able to do), I’ll offer my advice or my hand. And I get a great deal of satisfaction whenever the light bulb goes off in my student’s or mentee’s head, and (s)he suddenly says, “oh, NOW I get it!”

I was reminded of this last Saturday when I spoke at Data Geeks Saturday. I signed into the virtual room in which I was doing my own presentation, and I caught the tail end of Mark Runyon‘s presentation titled “Elevating Your Career into IT Leadership.” I had seen his presentation before — it was either at PASS Summit or another SQL Saturday — I don’t remember which — but one of the takeaways was that there are many ways to become a leader, and it doesn’t necessarily involve becoming a manager.

There are many ways to be a leader. Be a mentor or a teacher. Volunteer to take the reigns whenever an opportunity arises. If you see someone struggling, help him or her out. Leadership takes many forms. You don’t necessarily have to climb the ladder to attain it.

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 8/6/2021) #DataGeeksSaturday #ProfessionalDevelopment #DataSaturday #SQLSaturday #TechCon21

I figured this was a good time to post an update of my upcoming speaking engagements…

Confirmed

I will definitely be speaking at the following events.

Still waiting to hear

I’ve submitted to these events, but I’m still waiting to hear whether or not I’ve been picked to speak (so if you’re expecting to hear me at these events, don’t book them just yet).

  • Some CASSUG meeting in 2022, TBD — I told Greg that I was available to speak, and I haven’t spoken at our local user group in a while, so I figured I was due. Stay tuned!

I present on professional development topics for various conferences. Hope to see you at one soon!

It’s not them, it’s you #Documentation #ClearCommunication

A friend of mine (you know who you are) posted this to his Facebook this morning. Ostensibly, it’s in response to the growing controversy about the New York State governor (I won’t go there; that’s not what this is about, and I still despise politics), but my friend’s post was so compelling that I thought it was worth sharing.

As a professional communicator, I can’t tell you how many times someone either delivered a talk or a document and became frustrated when (s)he didn’t understand why his or her message did not get conveyed. Granted, in some cases, it might be that the sender is not a native speaker of the language and doesn’t know it well enough to convey his or her message. For those people, I’ll cut them some slack.

However, I am continually frustrated by people who insist that (s)he wrote a great document, only to find that what (s)he wrote was so obfuscated by detail, technical jargon, lack of organization, an avalanche of information, poor command of language, lack of understanding about design, or other reasons. This is the kind of thing that keeps me employed as a technical writer.

I’ve written many times before that it’s often the sender’s responsibility to ensure the message is clear. For example, I’ve come across too many instances (and I still continue to) in which a technician, writing a document, keeps insisting on including every little piece of detail in his or her document. And I continue to pound into people’s heads that reading is work!!!

So to my friend who posted this this morning, all I’ll say is, thank you for supporting my passion and my mission. This is exactly what drives me to do SQL Saturday and Data Saturday talks. And I’ll continue doing so until people get the message.

Reminder: I’m speaking this Saturday, August 7 #DGS2021 #SqlSatSoFLa #Networking #softskills #relationships #professionaldevelopment #DataDriven #SouthFlorida #learning

Wow, is it August already?

I’m speaking this Saturday, August 7, at Data Geeks Saturday! I will be doing my Networking 101 presentation at 11:45 am (EDT) in the Flux Capacitor room. Come and get 1.21 gigawatts of networking information! (See what I did there?)

And if that wasn’t enough, as an added bonus, the South Florida Data Geeks are also hosting a networking clinic in the afternoon (there is a Networking Room set up for this)! Come to my session to learn how to network, then attend the clinic to put them into practice!

Come out (virtually!) for a day of networking and learning about a variety of data topics from some great speakers! Hope to see you this Saturday!

Networking for introverts

This morning, I thought about writing an article about how introverts can network… and realized that I’d already written one. So as such, I’m reblogging a “blast from the past.”

Welcome to Ray Kim's 'blog

I’m sure that many of my friends would describe me as being outgoing, and even outspoken. I’ve spoken at a number of SQL Saturdays, and (as a musician), I’ve performed in front of audiences (I’ve long since lost my fear of performing int front of a crowd).

So it might surprise some of you when I say that I can sometimes be an introvert.

It mostly depends on the situation. When I’m doing a presentation, I’m expected to be doing the talking, and I can hold my own. When I’m discussing a topic that I enjoy, such as baseball, college sports, music, movies, or CrossFit, I can talk your ear off. When I’m among friends, I can converse for hours.

However, I wasn’t always like this, and there are times when I can revert back. When I’m in a room full of people that I don’t know, I can…

View original post 1,038 more words

Enemies and adversaries

I stumbled across this article today. I won’t get into the politics behind it (those of you who know me know how much I despise politics), but I wanted to write about it because of a quote by one of the perpetrators I read in the article — one that I found to be extremely disturbing.

The quote: “We need to hit the enemy in the mouth.”

When one political side — any side — refers to the other as “the enemy,” we have a major problem.

Most of the time, when I use the word “enemy” (and I’ll admit that I might use it occasionally), I use it tongue-in-cheek. As a sports fan, I’ll sometimes jokingly refer to our archrival as “the enemy.” But I also keep things in context. At the end of the day, it’s still just a game.

That wasn’t the case here. The perpetrators used it maliciously, with intent to harm. It became a matter of life and death. This is how wars and armed standoffs happen.

I do remember one point during the presidential elections in 1996, when Bob Dole talked about his contentious campaign against Bill Clinton, when Dole said, “we are adversaries. We are not enemies.”

Like everyone else, I have my own perspective of the world. As such, I have my own biases. I’m a registered Democrat, yet I have many friends — including many whom I love dearly — who are Republican. Heck, I’m a Yankee fan whose wife is a Red Sox fan. I was born and raised in the US, yet I embrace cultural differences; indeed, I have an appreciation for environments, traditions, mores, and foods that are not my own. I encourage people to send me good karma, to pray for me, to send me a Mazeltov or a Barakallahu fiikum (I hope I used that context correctly), or whatever best wishes their culture or tradition dictates. Not only would I not be offended, I’m actually flattered that you would think enough of me that you would offer me best wishes from the standpoint of your own culture.

Conflict is everywhere. We as humans will never completely agree with everyone else (nor should we). Conflict is important; it allows us to see things more critically, and it’s an important source of feedback. By using conflict productively, anything and everything we do gets better.

However, if we start thinking about the other side — whatever the “other side” is — as the “enemy,” then we’ve just crossed the line. We reach the point where we are intolerant of other opinions and viewpoints — enough that we’d be willing to cause harm to the others with differing views. And in my mind, that is unacceptable.

Everyone sees things differently. While I think it might be too much to ask to embrace opposing views, at least understand the perspective from the other side. When we understand views from the other side, we can hammer out our differences and come to a better resolution.