Social media: should I stay or should I go?

I don’t think I have to mention just how prevalent social media is these days. If you’re reading this ‘blog, most likely you’re engaged in some form of social media. Terms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are a regular part of daily life these days. It’s gotten to the point that these terms have become verbs (e.g. “Facebook it”). Even I’ll tell people that “the best way to get a hold of me is on Facebook,” and I’m the first to admit that I generally can’t go a day without checking my Facebook app on my phone.

In these times of divisiveness, security concerns, and ‘bots, I’ve also seen a number of friends say, “I’m closing my Facebook account” or “I’m shutting down my LinkedIn.” I’m often saddened by these, because one of my main reasons for maintaining Facebook (which I’ll expand upon in a moment) is to easily keep in touch with friends and family. Any time a friend says that (s)he is shutting down his or her account is a contact that I lose. It doesn’t mean that (s)he is no longer a friend; it just means that it’s a little more difficult to keep in touch with that person.

However, a lot of people are (understandably) turned off by the negativity and political discourse that are pervasive on social media. People have written articles about how much better their lives have become after shutting down social media. I completely understand how people are disillusioned by what they see on social media.

So I get it when people ask this question about social media: should I stay or should I go?

I’ll give the standard DBA answer*: “it depends.”

(*For those who don’t understand the reference, the widespread joke among data professionals and IT people is “it depends” is the standard response when they are asked just about any question.)

Not satisfied with that answer? Let me expand on it.

I don’t think I need to get into why people want to leave social media; there are too many obvious examples of that out in the wild (and maybe a few not-so-obvious examples, such as data security and privacy, and the “need” — a very stupid reason, in my opinion — to maintain social status). People are getting stressed out over these issues. I certainly understand why people want to leave social media, and I won’t decry them for it. So instead, I’ll talk about some reasons why you might want to stay.

Like just about anything else, social media is a tool, a piece of software developed for a purpose. Mostly, that purpose is communication. People have been talking about the shrinking world for years. Social media contributes to the world shrinking even further.

I mentioned earlier that I maintain my Facebook account so that I can easily stay in touch with friends and family. It is the primary reason why I first joined Facebook, and it is why, even despite all the issues that come with it, I maintain my account today. Humans are social animals, and more often than not, humans need to maintain social contact with one another, especially so these days with the COVID-19 pandemic. I enjoy talking to people and keeping in touch with friends, so for me, personally, these reasons outweigh all the problems and tribulations that come with Facebook, and maintaining my account is worthwhile.

Some people seem to think they have to maintain some level of status on social media, like trying to compete in some type of popularity contest. Personally, I think this is one of the biggest bullshit reasons to be on social media. I could not care less about how popular I am. I’ll post about personal news that’s happening in my life, something on my mind that I want to get off my chest, ask a question about an issue I can’t seem to solve on my own, or occasionally express an opinion (although I do try to avoid anything having to do with politics; personally, I despise politics passionately). If you’re on social media to maintain social standing, I think you’re on it for the wrong reason. (Trying to sell yourself is a different matter; I’ll get into that shortly.) If I don’t care about my social standing (and I don’t), then I don’t have to concern myself with maintaining it on social media.

That is why I want to be on social media. However, I also think there are reasons why you should be on social media.

Love it or hate it, social media is prevalent in our society today, and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. Because so many people use social media, it’s probably the single largest and most effective communication device in the world.

I think you have to be on social media if you’re at all serious about any of the following: marketing, networking, sales, job hunting, problem solving, news and information (not the fake kind, but I digress), running a business, customer service, recruiting, and maybe a lot of other things I haven’t thought about — essentially, anything that involves communication on a large scale. Most business sites that sell products or services include links to “like us on (insert your favorite social medium here).” Many job applications include a form field for your LinkedIn profile, a sign that they take it seriously. Organizations such as PASS make extensive use of media such as Twitter to communicate with their members. I’ve also written before about online networking; I won’t rehash that here.

One of the big complaints I often hear is that people are sick of being bombarded with ads and politics. Facebook (and other media, I’m sure) does include tools to suppress things you don’t want to see; for example, there are tools to “hide” or “block all from (name of account).” There are a number of such tools available. I won’t get into them right now, but I will say that using them has made my online experience much more palatable.

So should you maintain a social media presence or not? These are the reasons why, despite their issues, I continue to do so. Social media are communication tools. How — and whether you decide — to use them is completely up to you.

#TheBestOf… Bringing the world together by telling us about your special world

A wandering mind can be a dangerous thing. 🙂

If you’re a ‘blogger who’s looking for something to write about, read on. Perhaps this will give you an idea.

This afternoon, I was doing a mundane, household chore (specifically, I was washing dishes and doing some cleaning in the kitchen), and whenever I do mundane chores like that, of course, my mind tends to wander. So today, I decided to write about what my mind was wandering about.

I don’t know what sparked this idea — maybe it was because I had Andrew Zimmern’s Delicious Destinations on the TV in the background. First, a little background. As a first (or maybe it’s second — I never know how these things work) generation Korean-American, I tend to appreciate cultural diversity. I love experiencing cultures and traditions that are not my own. I enjoy traveling, and I wish I could do more of it (only the lack of time or money — usually both — and these days, the COVID-19 pandemic — keeps me from doing so). I have friends and family around the world — maybe not as many as other people who’ve traveled more than I have, but nevertheless, I have friends I’ve made either by friends I already knew who have relocated to other countries, people whom I’ve met through my association with SQL Saturday or other PASS-related endeavors, or through work or school.

I also thought about things to bring the world together. I don’t need to tell you how divisive the world is these days. A while back, I wrote an article about bringing the world together. I started thinking of a way to do that.

So with all that said, here’s the idea that my wandering mind cooked up.

Let’s say that you have a friend from a foreign country or culture — one that is not your own — over to your home area for a visit. You want to show him or her the best of what your culture or your home turf has to offer. What do you show or tell him or her?

Personally, I would like to show my friend everything that my home state of New York has to offer — New York City, Niagara Falls, the Finger Lakes, apple picking, the Adirondack wilderness, Buffalo chicken wings, the Baseball Hall of Fame, music, county fairs, festivals, historic sites, etc. There’s a lot here to show off.

So, I’ll write an article now and then (usually whenever the mood strikes me) in which I talk about something — whether it’s a place, an art, a sport, a food, whatever — that is significant to me, and I’d like to show off to a visiting guest. I’ll precede these articles using the hashtag #TheBestOf followed by whatever I’ll write about (e.g. “#TheBestOf… Baseball” or whatever).

Here are some ground rules for this project. The topic — whatever it is — is something special or unique to me that I think a visitor would appreciate. It can not be divisive, disrespectful, or disparaging — partisan politics, for example, is verboten — unless it’s within the context of something historically or culturally significant (e.g. Benedict Arnold’s role in the American Revolution, etc.).

And if you’re a ‘blogger and would like to take part, knock yourself out. The best way to think about this little project is to pretend you’re a travel writer describing your home turf or culture. I would enjoy reading about what makes your world special, and what you’d show off if I came over to visit. If you’d like, feel free to refer to this article for reference or context.

Let’s see how this goes. If you’d like to take part, great. If not, no worries. For all I know, this might be the only article in which you’ll see this hashtag.

Have fun!

The #SQLSaturday All-Star Game #PASSSummit

After my surprise selection for PASS Summit, I went poking around the speakers list. I’m pleased to see that a number of good #SQLFamily friends that I’ve made throughout my years as a SQL Saturday speaker were selected. I’m also awed that my name and photo are listed along with a number of SQL rock stars in the industry.

It prompted me to tweet this.

As people who know me are aware, I am a huge baseball fan. I’ve often heard people refer to PASS Summit as being “the Super Bowl of SQL Saturdays.” Looking at the speakers list (and being the baseball fan that I am), I equate it more as being the “SQL Saturday All-Star Game.”

People such as Bob Ward, Steve Jones, and Grant Fritchey (yes, you, Steve and Grant!) represent the big hitters. They are Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mickey Mantle, people who are perennial SQL stars and are pretty much shoo-ins for being selected to Summit year after year. (And I’m sure that if my friends Steve and Grant are reading this, they might give me an “aw shucks!” for equating them with Junior and The Mick!) On the other hand, people like me are more like Willie Randolph or Kent Hrbek — players who had solid careers and made an occasional All-Star game now and then, but weren’t necessarily household names outside of their home teams’ markets.

When I gave my first SQL Saturday presentation, never did I think that it would end up getting me to PASS Summit!

I’ve seen interviews with ballplayers who talked about how humbled they were about being selected to play in the All-Star Game. Having been selected to speak at PASS Summit for the second time, I understand how they feel. I am awed and humbled with being associated alongside some of the great players in the business.

Putting the “professional” in professional networking

I recently saw a couple of posts that left me shaking my head.

The first was a tweet from a couple of weeks ago. This came from a #SQLFamily person whom I follow on Twitter. I don’t really know her well, but we do have several mutual friends, and I know her by reputation. She posted the following tweet.

And if that wasn’t enough, earlier today, I stumbled across the following post on LinkedIn.

When it comes to professional networking, do people really need to be told not to do this? Apparently, the answer is “yes.”

I specifically mention this in my networking presentation. I dedicate a few slides to talk about how to break the ice — probably the most difficult thing to do when trying to initiate a conversation, especially if you consider yourself introverted. I list dos and don’ts when trying to break the ice, and this qualifies as a don’t.

Professional networking is exactly that — it’s an opportunity to connect with people professionally. It is not an opportunity to pick up members of the opposite sex (or the same sex, if that’s what you’re into). This kind of behavior is unprofessional and immature, and it does not belong in a professional environment — ever.

There are certain manners that need to be upheld when you’re trying to connect with people professionally. Things like this will do more to repulse people from you than connect with them. Save the cheesy pickup lines for the dive bars. Better yet, don’t save them at all.

My #SQLSaturday presentation on networking is viewable online #SQLSatAlbany #SQLSat961

I recorded my SQL Saturday session from this past weekend. If anyone is interested in checking out my presentation titled: “Networking 101: Building Professional Relationships,” it is now viewable online!

If you have an hour to kill, click here to see my presentation!

Impressions of a virtual #SQLSaturday — the debrief #SQLSat961 #SQLSatAlbany

Yesterday, we (our local user group) hosted SQL Saturday for the seventh time. As many of you know, I love SQL Saturday. It’s one of my favorite events to attend, and I credit SQL Saturday for boosting my career in a number of ways. I’ve also made many friends through my involvement with SQL Saturday. I apply to speak at any SQL Saturday event that I am able to attend. My hometown event, hosted by a user group of which I’m a member, is all the more special to me. While I look forward to attending any SQL Saturday, I especially look forward to the ones we host here in Albany, and I very much look forward to next year’s event.

That said, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to hold it virtually this year. While I’ve participated in a number of virtual events (including speaking for a virtual user group a few times), this was my first time speaking at a virtual SQL Saturday. I enjoyed the experience, but it also had a number of pros and cons.

Let’s start with the pros. There’s something to be said about attending a full day of presentations for an online conference from the comfort of your own home office (or your living room, or a bar, or even a beach with a good WiFi connection). Although it was a full day of presentations, I wasn’t necessarily chained to my office chair for the duration; I was free to get up and walk around as I pleased. We set up four different GoToMeeting channel URLs, each one representing a different “room.” Each speaker occupied his or her meeting room at their scheduled times and did their presentations, just as we would for a regular SQL Saturday. As an attendee, I could switch rooms at any time; mostly, it involved leaving a meeting I was in and switching to a different room URL. Like a regular SQL Saturday, there were many good presentations. I would have liked to have attended a lot more, but I promised that I would moderate at least one room, so I largely stuck around a couple of rooms in which I was an organizer or presenter.

Speaking of moderating rooms: I volunteered to moderate the lightning talks. If you’ve never attended a lightning talk, think of it as a “micro-presentation,” only ten minutes long. We had five speakers doing lightning talks for our session. I was assigned as meeting organizer, and I assigned each speaker as presenter when it was his turn to speak. The GoToMeeting controls took a little getting used to — there is a little bit of a learning curve — but once I got the hang of it, I felt comfortable moderating the room channel.

My own presentation also went very well! I’ll admit that I felt a little trepidation going into it. Those of you who attend my presentations know that I like to do interactive presentations. I try to get my audience involved as much as possible. It keeps them engaged, and I like to think that it makes for an interesting presentation. I wasn’t sure how that would work in an online setting, although GoToMeeting does include tools for people to ask questions in a virtual chat function. One aspect of my networking presentation is a part where I allow ten minutes for my audience to do some in-room networking. This is easy to do in a in-person presentation where we’re all physically occupying the same room, but more challenging in an online forum. I ended up asking for a couple of volunteers, unmuting them (allowing them to actually speak in the meeting room), and encouraged them to engage in a networking session while the rest of us listened in. It ended up working remarkably well! If I ever do this session again virtually, I’ll have to keep that in mind!

I also found it interesting that the virtual format meant physical geography was a non-issue. It’s not unusual for people to travel to SQL Saturday (the farthest in-person SQL Saturday events I’ve attended were Pittsburgh and Virginia Beach), but holding this event virtually meant that people could attend and present from almost anywhere. One of the volunteers for my presentation demo was from (I think it was) North Carolina. I’d be curious to know what the geographic attendance was for yesterday’s event.

I also have another thought that has nothing to do with virtual SQL Saturday. One of the presenters was Sarah Patrick, who is currently a college student (her father, David Patrick, is also himself a SQL Saturday presenter). Her presentation was a narrative about setting up a database to perform a specific task. This was the second time I’d seen her presentation; I saw her give the same presentation down in Virginia Beach last year. What I found interesting was Sarah herself — that such a young and bright person was involved in doing presentations for SQL Saturday. I would love to see more young people getting involved. Greg Moore had his entire family involved as volunteers for yesterday’s event. His oldest son is currently a college student majoring in computer science. He helped moderate one of the sessions, and I found myself wondering if he would be interested in being a SQL Saturday speaker. (Greg, if you’re reading this, hint, hint!)

As much as I enjoyed yesterday’s event, it had its cons as well. One of the things I love about SQL Saturday is seeing all the people whom I don’t see on a regular basis. #SQLFamily is a real thing. I missed being able to wander around the event and being able to randomly talk to a John Miner, a Deborah Melkin, or whomever I happen to come across. I dearly love my #SQLFamily friends, and not being able to randomly interact with them was no small thing.

Of course, I’ll also admit that I enjoy good food and drink. For the last few years, our post-event celebration has been held at a local bar. There’s something to be said about enjoying libations along with the camaraderie of your #SQLFamily friends. My wife and I settled for ordering out for Chinese food last night. And, of course, during the course of the event, I had to settle for getting or making my own coffee, snacks, and food.

Overall, I had fun yesterday, I learned a few things, and I would definitely attend another virtual SQL Saturday. That said, it is not the same as attending a SQL Saturday in-person; I vastly prefer physically attending an event. Virtual SQL Saturday was definitely a good experience, but it’s not the same as attending in-person. When the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, I very much look forward to attending SQL Saturday in-person again.

But for the time being, virtual SQL Saturday will have to do.

Don’t overlook your references #JobHunt

This morning, I had a conversation with a friend — a former coworker from a previous job — whom I listed as one of my references. He told me that he had a good conversation with a gentleman with whom I recently interviewed (whether or not I get the job remains to be seen). This friend has been invaluable throughout my job search, and I told him that I would get him a bottle of Scotch to say thank you once I landed.

It got me thinking: when it comes to advice about the job hunt, one topic that is almost never discussed are your references. Nearly every prospective employer asks for them, yet they are almost never mentioned when talking about the job hunt. I’ve read plenty of books and articles, and attended a number of SQL Saturday presentations, that talk about resumes, interview questions, how to dress, and so on. But it occurred to me that not one of them — including my own presentation (and I might need to rectify that) — talks about your references.

So, what should you consider when asking for people to serve as references? Here are my thoughts.

  • Make sure people are willing to serve as references. You want to make sure that you find people who are willing to speak on your behalf. Don’t list people as your references unless they give you their permission to do so. People don’t want to be surprised when one of your potential employers contact them. It’s unprofessional, and it’s just plain impolite.

    Speaking of which, the people I asked to serve as my references did request that I let them know any time that I dropped their names as references. So far, I have honored that request; every time a prospective employer asked me for references, I let my references know so that they wouldn’t be surprised when or if a phone call or email from my prospective employer came.
  • Get your references’ contact information. This might seem obvious, but it isn’t as straightforward as you might think. People might not want to be contacted at their work email, home phone number, and so on. When asking for references, make sure you also ask for an email and phone number where they don’t mind being contacted by a prospective employer.
  • Make sure your references know you well, both personally and professionally. You don’t necessarily have to ask your best friend to serve as a reference, but these people do need to be able to talk about your personality and your work. They need to be answer questions about you when prospective employers contact them. They are an extension of your interview; they need to be able to answer questions on your behalf.
  • Co-workers probably are the best references. There is nothing wrong with asking friends to serve as references, but keep in mind that prospective employers are likely to ask about your work, so they need to know you professionally as well.

    For me, I had a good rapport with my former co-workers, so I had no problem with asking them for references after I was let go from my job. However, if you’re actively working and are looking to move on, you might need to be more discreet. Make sure the people you ask are ones you can trust.

    Speaking of people you can trust…
  • Your references need to be able to provide an honest assessment of you. Your references are like your resume. They give a prospective employer a perspective of your skills and capabilities. It’s often said that you should never lie on your resume. The same holds true of your references.

    My friend asked me to discuss possible answers so that we were “on the same page.” I politely refused his request. I told him that I trusted him, and that I shouldn’t influence what he might say to a potential employer. I wanted him to provide an honest and fair assessment in his own words. If I didn’t trust him to do that, then he probably wasn’t my best pick for a reference.

Your references are often an overlooked part of your job hunt. Make sure you choose them well. They might be the difference between whether or not you get the job.

#PASSSummit 2020 #SQLFamily

It’s that time of year, when aspiring PASS speakers find out whether or not they’re speaking at PASS Summit. I was fortunate to be selected to speak last year, and I had the time of my life! If you want to read more about it, check out my synopsis of it from last year!

I got the official email notification yesterday (and now that the list is up, I can say it publicly). Alas, I was not selected this year. Oh well. C’est la vie.

That said, I was (and still am) excited about being selected last year. To be selected to speak at PASS Summit just once is a great honor and a nice feather in my cap. To be selected again would be a bonus. And although I wasn’t selected this year, it won’t preclude me from applying again for next year… and the next… and the next.

Unfortunately, given my current employment — and subsequently, my financial — situation, it is highly unlikely that I will be able to attend this year’s Summit, even if COVID-19 has forced it to a virtual event. Although the fact that the event is virtual means prices are reduced, they are still too high for me to attend (unless, between now and then, I land a job and my new employer would be willing to pay my registration fee — note to any future employer who might be reading this: here is a letter that makes the case as to why it would be good to send me to PASS Summit! Note that this link downloads an MS Word document). “Virtual” does not mean “free;” there are a number of expenses that still need to be paid, even for an online event. My friend Monica Rathbun wrote a nice article about what it financially takes to put on a PASS Summit, even a virtual one.

I went through the speakers list, and I was happy to see that a number of my #SQLFamily friends were selected to speak! Congrats to all of you who were chosen!

And although I might not be able to attend this year, if you’re able to get to a PASS Summit, I highly suggest you do so! You’ll learn a lot, and it’s a great time!

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 16: Getting a kick in the butt when I need it #COVID19

It’s been a while since I wrote a COVID-19 update, so I think this is Part 16.

This morning, I had a text conversation with a friend who gave me a badly-needed kick in the butt.

A little background information is in order here.

I’m not going to lie. I have been very discouraged by the job hunt (going on nearly three months, now). It seems like every place that I’ve applied has rejected me — to the point that my job hunt morale has taken a big hit. I can count on one hand the number of interviews I’ve had, out of the many dozens (and counting) of applications I’ve submitted. My job situation has been a major source of stress, along with a few other things (that I won’t get into here) that have added to it. The only thing that has kept me going is my LLC. I have a couple of clients that have been keeping me busy, but it’s still not yet enough for me to pay my mortgage. I address acknowledging your own emotions at the beginning of my job hunt presentation, and I, myself, fell into the same trap.

And, of course, I have not been helped by the COVID-19 situation.

My friend — a former co-worker at my previous job — told me, in a nutshell, to get off my duff and get busy again. He reminded me of a few things that, as it turned out, I badly needed to hear: I need to learn new things, I need to keep learning and stay on top of things, I need to keep plugging away, I need to keep working, and possibly the most important reminder: I have the smarts, the talent, and the wherewithal to do great things. Don’t throw that away.

Our conversation reminded me of the many good things I do have going on, and either want to continue doing, or want to restart. My LLC has been a source of professional and educational experience during a time when I badly need it. I’d started a few endeavors during this COVID-19 crisis, including starting my new business, starting a Couch-to-5K program (which has been on-hold lately because of health issues — not COVID-19 related) and teaching myself French. There are some other things that I either started a while ago or in which I’ve been active, but have also fallen by the wayside: teaching myself BI, teaching myself GitHub, and getting back into my music, including my songwriting endeavors. I also want to make sure that I brush up on my development skills that have become rusty over time.

Some people are able to stay strong throughout this crisis (which seems to have no end in sight), while others need an occasional boost. No matter who you are, it’s easy to lose sight of things, and it’s important to have support to keep that going — which includes friends who’ll give you the occasional kick in the butt when you need it. One of the casualties of the COVID-19 crisis is that we’ve been so isolated that we don’t see our friends (other than immediate family within your household) as much as we’d like or need. Your friends are your support system, and good friends will get you back on track when you need it.

So, to my friend with whom I spoke this morning, if you’re reading this, thank you again for that kick in the butt. You likely helped me more than you know.

Selling your business on LinkedIn

Yesterday, I got into a conversation with a friend of mine who told me that he disagreed with me about my LinkedIn networking practices. He, like me, has his own business. He told me why he disagreed with me, and what he told me was very intriguing.

I’ve been using LinkedIn primarily as a networking tool, and I continue to use it as such. That said, LinkedIn can be used for a number of purposes, including one that hadn’t occurred to me — and that reason was why my friend disagreed with me.

“As a small business,” he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I don’t have a lot of money to spend on things like marketing and advertising. I read what you wrote about not connecting with someone because she was into sales and you’re not. The thing is, when you own a business, by default, you’re a sales person. It’s great that you’re networking on LinkedIn, but how much are you going to sell to your existing network? You shouldn’t just be connecting with people you already know. What you should be doing is selling your business to people you don’t know. LinkedIn is, essentially, a free advertising tool.”

He definitely has a point. When I was working for an employer, I used LinkedIn primarily as a networking tool, but that narrative changed when I became a business owner. Before, I was looking to maintain contacts as a source of “hive mind” knowledge, public speaking opportunities, and potential job leads in the event that I lost my job (which, I did). Now that I own my own business, I also need to generate leads for my business. LinkedIn can help me do that.

So to my friend, if you’re reading this (which he probably is — he did say that he reads my ‘blog), thank you for that insight. I’ve long said that networking is about building relationships, which it still is. Those relationships also extend to selling your business as well.