Wanna play fantasy football with a bunch of data geeks?

The fantasy football league I play in is down a player, and we’re looking for someone to join us!

If you’re interested in playing against a group of database geeks, go to the SSC Fantasy Football forum here!

You do NOT have to be a database geek to join us!

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#SQLSaturday #892 Providence — the debrief #SQLSat892 #SQLFamily

I arrived home last night around 9:15, after driving four hours (including an hour-long dinner break) from Providence, RI. As usual, it was another great SQL Saturday! As always, I had a blast! And as always, I was wiped out after it was over! Even as I write this, on this Sunday afternoon, I had intended to take care of some work around the house, and ended up taking a nap instead. C’est la vie.

So as seems to be tradition lately, here’s my most recent writeup of my most recent SQL Saturday.

I’ll start with something I did before I even left on Friday. I was getting my things organized and packed for my trip. While going through my briefcase, I came across my laptop dongle. I told myself, “most places these days use HDMI video inputs for their projectors. I haven’t needed it yet. So I’ll just leave it here.” I tossed it back in my briefcase, and packed my laptop without the dongle.

I didn’t know it yet, but I had just shot myself in the foot. (Read on, McDuff.)

Image may contain: 18 people, including Raymond J Kim, Ed Pollack and Paresh Motiwala, people smiling, people standing, people sitting and indoor
SQL Saturday speakers at dinner (photo courtesy of Paresh Motiwala)

I checked into my B&B (a cute New England cape house in North Kingstown, RI) and headed to the speaker’s dinner. One of the B&B’s co-owners told me that the restaurant was a former train station. It sat by some very active railroad tracks. Not only was I able to see trains as they went by, I could feel them. Several Amtrak, Acela, and MBTA commuter trains passed by during dinner.

Image may contain: 5 people, including Paresh Motiwala and Raymond J Kim, people smiling, people standing
Of course, it isn’t a SQL Saturday unless Paresh and I go out for ice cream!

My session was scheduled for 10:00 on Saturday. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. For starters, I found out that the wrong room was listed on the schedule. I went to an empty room, which surprised me, because I was expecting to walk into the previous session already in progress. It turned out that it was down the hall.

Remember how I said that I shot myself in the foot when I didn’t bring my dongle? Here’s where it raised its ugly head. It turned out that the only projector connections were VGA, which I didn’t have on my laptop. I was not able to find an HDMI adapter. That’s when I resorted to Plan B.

Before every SQL Saturday, I always make it a point to upload my slides to the website. They’re there so that attendees can download them. However, they also serve a secondary purpose: my backup, in case something happens with my laptop. Sure enough, I had to resort to it. I used the desktop computer in the classroom, downloaded my slides, and used that for my presentation. (A thought popped into my head while they were downloading: does the desktop have PowerPoint installed?)

I was angry with myself, because I usually take pride in that I’m always prepared — and on this day, I wasn’t. Note to self: always bring the dongle with you. I made a mistake, and I paid for it by losing ten minutes of my presentation time. I suppose I’ll chalk it up as a learning experience, and remember to pack my dongle for next time.

The presentation otherwise went without a hitch. I did tweak it a bit, per the feedback I received the previous time I’d presented it.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Raymond J Kim, hat and outdoor
I’ve conversed with this gentleman online for years — and finally met him in person for the first time at SQL Saturday!

I was in for a surprise (a pleasant one, this time!) after my presentation. One of the attendees (the gentleman you see in this picture) introduced himself to me after I was done — and when I saw his name tag, I realized immediately who it was! (For privacy reasons, I’m withholding his name.)

I often peruse the forums on SQLServerCentral.com. It’s my go-to forum whenever I have database-related questions. There are a number of people whom I see regularly on the forum, and I interact with them often enough that I consider them friends. The fantasy football league in which I play came from these forums. There is one person with whom I interact regularly on the forums, including fantasy football. He is our league’s defending champion, and as the only two people in the league who have multiple titles, we are rivals. I’ve been conversing with him for year and years. I consider this man a friend.

This weekend, we met face-to-face for the first time! He attended my presentation, and I had no idea that it was him! His attendance totally blew my mind, and it made my day!

Grant Fritchey gave a great presentation about SQL injection. It blew my mind — and not in a good way. Although SQL injection was identified as a security problem in 1997, it still persists as a problem now in 2019. If nothing else, Grant’s presentation reminded me that we still need to be vigilant about fighting code injection, even with all the safeguards we have in place now.

Probably one of my favorite sessions was the last one of the day. Linda Groszyk, who is a relative newcomer to speaking for SQL Saturday, gave a great presentation called Breaking the Social Code: How to be Socially Intelligent at Work. It was a fantastic session about human psychological dynamics that, I think, everyone should be aware of. I was impressed enough by her presentation that I encouraged her to apply to speak at our SQL Saturday in Albany when it rolls around next July, as well as our user group, if she is able to arrange it! (Greg Moore, if you’re reading this, consider this a heads-up!)

Another weekend, another great SQL Saturday in the books! If you are able to make it to one near you, I encourage you to do so!

Mentoring — another way to pay it forward

This morning, I received my annual email from Syracuse University‘s College of Engineering and Computer Science regarding their mentoring program. I have participated in this for the last couple of years, and I have enjoyed it each time. As I’ve written before, paying it forward is a passion of mine, and I always look forward to this opportunity whenever it comes around. When I saw the email, I couldn’t fill the response form out fast enough.

The university suggests a job shadow program, where a student follows you around the workplace for a day during the university’s winter break. For me, a job shadow is unlikely, since I work in a data-secure office (I doubt that a student would really want to watch me sit at a desk all day long, anyway). In lieu of that, I’ve taken students out to dinner for the past couple of years. It gives me an opportunity to converse and network with students in a relaxed atmosphere. I always enjoy these opportunities; not only do I get a chance to share my experience and wisdom (to my friends reading this: don’t laugh!), I also get an opportunity to learn about what is happening at my alma mater through the students’ perspective, not to mention that hearing about students’ experiences is fascinating.

In addition to the job shadow, the department also implemented a new mentoring program this year. The program provides an opportunity for students to interact with alumni who occupy professional positions. It allows for a number of possible activities, including networking, job shadows, mock interviews, resume reviews, and so on.

I have always found this program to be a great experience. If you’re looking for a way to give something back to your professional community, consider being a mentor to those who have less experience than you do, whether it’s through a school program, your workplace, a professional user group, or whatever such opportunity presents itself. You might find it to be a rewarding experience.

Where do I best fit in?

I play the piano for Sunday morning church services.  One particular day earlier this year, the choir director and his family were out, and the choir was shorthanded that day.  The cantor was also not there that morning.  We desperately needed someone to step up, and no one was willing to do it.

This is not to disparage the choir, which is made up of wonderful people; that is not the point.  Rather, it got me thinking: what is my role?

Most of the time, my primary role in this group is as accompanist.  However, I’m also the most musically accomplished person in the group, and as a member of a number of ensembles, I’m also probably the most experienced ensemble musician.  Often, when the choir director is not there, leadership duties often falls to me.  The director has, in the past, asked me to lead rehearsals when he is not there.  So I can probably say that my secondary role is backup choir director.

I regularly think about this when I play in the symphonic band as well.  Where do I fit in?  This is not an existential or philosophical question; rather, it serves a purpose: what is my part supposed to be, and how am I supposed to perform it so that it best serves what is required in the piece?  Band is a team sport, and each member has a role to play so that the group functions as a single unit.

The professional workplace environment is no different.  In any organization, all employees are pieces to a larger puzzle.  Each person serves a purpose (and sometimes, multiple purposes).

During my podcast recording a while back, one of the questions I was asked was, “what’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve gotten?”  My answer was something like, “play to your strengths.”  I’ll admit that, since the recording, I’ve come up with several other answers that I wish I’d given, but it’s that particular answer that I want to discuss in this article.

Let me start with an analogy (as the Yankee fan that I am, I’ll go with another baseball — and more specifically — a Yankees team analogy).  Brett Gardner (outfielder) is known for his baserunning, speed, defense, and gritty play.  Aaron Judge (another outfielder) and Gary Sanchez (catcher) are known for their power hitting and penchant for driving in runs.  DJ LeMahieu (infielder) has a penchant for hitting, getting on base, and playing solid defense.  Likewise, each relief pitcher has his strengths that are used for specific situations.  Each ballplayer on a team has a role to play.  Aaron Boone (manager) utilizes each player as to what they’re capable of doing and when to best make use of their strengths depending on each situation.

Everyone has their strengths and capabilities that add value to an organization.  For me, personally, those strengths include technical communication, writing, and design.  To a smaller extent, I am also capable of database work, object-oriented development, analysis, and design.  But my professional strengths are what enable me to come through in the clutch.  And if they are properly nurtured, they can help improve my other (often, lesser) skills as well.

I remember reading a Wall Street Journal interview with Dilbert creator Scott Adams (it was back in the early 1990s; unfortunately, I have not been able to find a link to the article) in which he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “the best way to be valuable is to learn as much as you can about as many different things as you can.”

A while back, I did a self-assessment of my own skill set, and I made an effort to be honest with myself. While I’ve worked in technology my entire professional career, I discovered that my true strengths weren’t so much in application development — the career path I had been pursuing the entire time — but rather in technical writing and communication.

When I came to that realization, my focus changed. I started moving away from hardcore technical topics and toward subjects geared toward my strengths — technical writing, layout, design, UX/UI, communication, and so on.

This focus manifested itself in my SQL Saturday presentations and my ‘blog articles. While I have enough of a background to maintain a presence within the technical world, my focus is on soft topics that aren’t necessarily technology-related, but are of interest to technical professionals, anyway. Even now, when I do SQL Saturday presentations, I use this analogy to introduce myself: when it comes to my relationship with PASS and SQL Server, “I’m the professor at MIT who teaches English Lit.” This mindset has carried me all the way to a speaking gig at PASS Summit.

Over the course of time, and without even realizing that I was doing it, I’d established my brand. While my official title is still “developer,” this is more of a misnomer (although it can be argued, what am I developing?). I’ve become the technical writing and communications guy. And I’m okay with that.

As I get older and continue to advance in my career, I’ve come to terms with my role and where I best fit on the team. As long as I still play for and contribute to the team, I’m in a good place.

Unite the world

I am usually not one to reblog my own articles, but in light of the events of this past weekend, I thought this was worth a share. What I do know is that I can’t just stand by and say nothing.

Welcome to Ray Kim's 'blog

“Hey you, don’t tell me there’s no hope at all; together we stand; divided, we fall…”
— Pink Floyd, Hey You

“An eye for an eye only makes the world blind.”
— Gandhi

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”
— John Lennon, Imagine

“I have a dream…”
— Martin Luther King Jr.

Just for this one article, I am breaking my silence on all things political.

As is much of the country, I am outraged with what has happening at America’s southern border.  I have my opinions regarding the current administration, and what is happening to our country and around the world.

However, that is not the point of this article.  I am not going to write about my politics, my opinions, or my outrage.  Today, I want to write about something else.

It occurred to me this morning that, more than ever, we…

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Characteristics of good recruiters

I’ve written some articles about spam recruiters. To put it very bluntly, spam recruiters are evil. They do not work for your best interests; they are just looking to make a buck. And it’s a pervasive problem. Do a Google search for “recruiter spam” and take a look at all the hits that come up. Quite frankly, I hate them. I’ve had bad experiences with them. I’ve done plenty of ranting about them. Every time I get an email from a spam recruiter, it goes right into the trash.

“Okay, Ray,” you might say. “We get it. You hate recruiter spam. So what do you think makes a good recruiter?”

That’s a fair question. Let’s talk about that.

I’ll say that I have a number of friends who are recruiters. I have very good relationships with many of them. There are many good recruiters out there who make good networking contacts. I can easily drop them a line to say “what’s up?” Every now and then, they’ll send messages like, “I’m looking to fill such-and-such position. Can you help me out?” If I know someone, I’ll gladly pass names along. If I have a good relationship with a recruiter, I make sure that I maintain it — even if I’m not actively looking for a new position.

So in my mind, here are some of the things that make a good recruiter.

  • A good recruiter takes the time to get to know you. As I wrote before, networking is about relationships. (S)he will sit down with you and ask what you want in an ideal position, how you work, your strengths, what you like, and so on. (S)he will also critique your resume and provide some advice based on what you tell him or her. More often than not, these discussions are more conversational, not necessarily a full-blown interview (although it might not hurt a prospective candidate to treat it as such).

    In my consulting position, I regularly have lunch with my consulting firm contact — who is himself a recruiter — about every couple of months. We’ll discuss a variety of things — how’re things going, what’s going on, etc. I enjoy these conversations that I have with him; they make me feel as though he’s looking out for me — which he is.

    Simply put, a good recruiter looks to establish a relationship with you. You are not just another number to him or her.
  • A good recruiter is honest with you. I’ve had conversations with recruiters who’ve said, “I don’t have anything that’s a good fit for you right now.” That’s okay. If (s)he doesn’t have a position that’s a good match for me, then it is what it is. (S)he will not try to force you into a position that is not a good fit.

    I have a friend — a recruiter — who is brutally honest with her clients. She has given me comments about my resume and job hunt activities in the past that I haven’t necessarily wanted to hear, but when it came down to it, I realized that she was often right. She doesn’t want to steer her clients wrong, and wants to make sure they end up in a good situation. I have some friends who’ve been placed by her, and they all attest that she is a great recruiter.
  • A good recruiter doesn’t spam you. Rather, (s)he’ll ask for favors. I often get emails from my recruiter friends saying something like, “we are looking to fill (insert name of position here). If you’re interested, or if you know someone, please let me know.”

    What’s the difference between this request and a spammer? These emails come from people with whom I have an established relationship. As I’ve written before, networking is bidirectional and symbiotic. They’ve helped me with my job search. In turn, they’re likely looking for a favor from me. Maybe I know someone who can help them. And as I wrote above, they’ve taken the time to get to know me. They know what I look for, and they know the kind of professionals with whom I likely associate. Contrast that to spam recruiters, who send you emails based on keywords that they find in your resume or your LinkedIn profile. A legitimate recruiter is someone with whom you’ve established a measure of trust.

    Speaking of trust…
  • A good recruiter is someone you trust. Can you trust that a recruiter acts in your best interest? Is (s)he someone you feel is reliable? Do you feel comfortable talking to your recruiter? If you’re looking for a position, do you feel that (s)he will place you in the best possible position? Is (s)he open and honest with you? Do you accept his or her feedback?

    If the answer to these is yes, then you have a good recruiter you can trust.

These are some of the characteristics that I feel make a good recruiter (and if you have any more that I’ve left out, feel free to add them below in the comments section). Good recruiters are good people with whom to establish relationships — even if you’re not looking for a job — and may very well be some of the best networking contacts you could have.

Paying it forward

Once upon a time, I wanted to be the rockstar in pretty much anything and everything I did, whether it was my job, my extracurricular activities, or my relationships.  I wanted the glory and the recognition.  More importantly, I wanted to be respected for whatever I did.  In my youth, I thought that demonstrating that I was good at whatever I did was the path to glory.

But now that I’m older, that perspective has changed.  I no longer need (or, sometimes, even want) to be the rockstar.  These days, I get a great deal of satisfaction out of helping someone else become the rockstar. While I still try to perform well in whatever I do, it’s more important to me to help everyone around me be better.

This has become a passion of mine. It’s why I’m so passionate about speaking at SQL Saturday. It’s why I take such an interest in technical communication, writing, training, and mentoring. It’s why I continually encourage people to be better. It’s even one of the major reasons why I maintain my ‘blog. While it’s important to make myself better in whatever I do, I think it’s also equally important to make people around you better as well.

I’ve had a number of opportunities to give something back. For the past couple of years, I’ve taken part in a program by my alma mater, Syracuse University, specifically the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS).  They sponsor a “job shadow” program in which current students are paired with alumni working in various industries. The program typically takes place during winter break, between the fall and spring semesters.

Unfortunately, I work in a data-secure office, so an office shadow tends to be out of the question. (I don’t think students would really be interested in seeing me sit at a desk all day, anyway.)  In lieu of a job shadow, the university suggests other ways to interact with students — over a cup of coffee, lunch, and so on. For the past couple of years, I’ve offered to take students out to dinner. It offers a nice, relaxed atmosphere to chat, not to mention that, since I usually don’t have any commitments after dinner, I’m not constrained by time; I don’t have to worry about being back in the office by a certain time.

I’ve found numerous other ways to pay it forward. During one unemployment stint, I found a part-time position as an instructor at a local business school to hold myself over. I discovered that I enjoyed teaching so much that, even after I found gainful full-time employment, I continued with the teaching job for a few more years. I am heavily involved with my local SQL user group. By giving back to my user group, I can help other people with the same interests. I also wrote a while back about some of my networking activities in which I was able to give back. When you network, you have multiple avenues in which you can pay it forward.

As an old saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Improvement doesn’t just mean making yourself better. It also means making everyone around you better as well. When you help other people succeed, then we all succeed.