#DataSaturday

After the demise of PASS, a common question among data enthusiasts and PASS members was, “what happens with SQL Saturday?” SQL Saturday was backed by PASS, and as such, when PASS disappeared, so did SQL Saturday.

Enter Data Saturdays, the successor to SQL Saturday. As I write this, the first Data Saturday is in progress, in Guatemala (virtually, of course).

I’ve applied to speak at the first Data Saturday in the US (so far), event #5 in Redmond, WA on April 17. I submitted three sessions: my presentations on ‘blogging, job hunting, and networking.

When I submitted my sessions, I was a little surprised to see my information come up in the speaker’s profile. My initial thought was that they had exported and imported my profile and presentation info from the PASS.org site, but I don’t think this is the case. Data Saturday uses Sessionize to coordinate events, and as it turned out, I already had a Sessionize profile; I had created it last year for Albany Code Camp, where I had applied to speak last year; of course, the event was wiped out due to COVID. I did notice, on my Sessionize profile, that my submissions are in evaluation for Albany Code Camp on September 25, so I’m assuming that that event is rescheduled for that date.

We’ll see if I’m picked to speak for the Redmond event. There are a number of additional Data Saturday events listed as well; I haven’t yet decided what other events I’ll apply to speak. Even though the events are virtual (for now), they still require some work, and I’m wary of spreading myself too thin, despite my desire to speak at more events.

In any case, I’m looking forward to participating in this next endeavor. I’m looking forward to contributing toward these conferences, and, as always, I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with my #SQLFamily friends.

Goals for 2021

So, for my first post of 2021, I figured I should list my goals (I refuse to call them “resolutions”) for the new year.

  • First and foremost, above everything else, find new employment. I have been unemployed since May 1. For those of you keeping score, that’s eight months. 67% of my 2020 was spent in unemployment. Getting a new job, for me, is priority number one above everything else.

    I do have a couple of relatively promising leads, but I’m not out of the woods yet. Hopefully, things will be turning around very soon.
  • Do more with my business. In 2020, as a direct result of my losing my job, I started an LLC. I managed to pick up two clients. It’s good experience, but not enough to pay my bills (hence why I’m still looking for employment). I haven’t done a lot with it in the last few months of 2020. I want to devote more time and energy into it in 2021.

    I readily admit that I slacked off on this as the year went on, and I don’t want to let it slip in 2021. I intend to keep this endeavor going, even if I do land new gainful employment.
  • Get back to the gym. COVID-19 kept me from getting into my CrossFit gym more than I would’ve liked, but the pandemic wasn’t my only issue. I developed back and arm issues that kept me from being more active than I wanted to be. Simply getting out of bed without pain is a chore for me right now. Hopefully, I can get back to being as active as I was before the pandemic.

    Speaking of the pandemic…
  • Travel. The pandemic is my biggest (but not the only) roadblock for this goal; my other major roadblock is making sure I have the money to do so (see “find new employment” above). I enjoy traveling, and I wish I could do more of it. Since the pandemic began, I can count on one hand the number of trips I took away from home (trips to the grocery store don’t count).

    Trips for SQL Saturday have satisfied my desire to travel for the past several years, but now that PASS will be no more, I might need to find another outlet for my out-of-town speaking engagements (more on that in a minute). I also told my wife that I want to take a relatively significant vacation somewhere once the pandemic is over. She and I have both encountered a lot of stress this past year, and I think we both need to find a way to relieve it.
  • Find speaking engagements. One thing I’ve discovered about speaking for SQL Saturday is that I enjoy presenting. I’d like to do more. My last in-person speaking engagement was SQL Saturday in Rochester last February. I was also scheduled to speak at SQL Saturday in Chicago (which would’ve been my first SQL Saturday where driving was not feasible), and I had applied to speak at a local code camp. Both of those were wiped out by the pandemic.

    My friend Matt Cushing encouraged me to sign up for the Idera Ace Program, which would provide funding for me to take part in more presentation opportunities (not to mention that it would look good on my resume). Since I first started presenting regularly, all of my in-person speaking engagements (with the exception of 2019 PASS Summit) have been within driving distance of my home in the Albany, NY area. There is a reason for this: traveling costs money. The Idera Ace Program would provide more opportunities for me to speak at nonlocal events (pandemic notwithstanding, of course).
  • Do more house projects. These past several months at home made me realize how much I want to do with my house, and how little I’ve done to attain that goal. (I’m talking about “fun” projects, as opposed to chores.) Money has been a major detriment (again, see “find new employment” above) as well as energy (see “get back to the gym”), but time has not; since I don’t have anywhere to really go, I have no shortage of time on my hands. There’s a long list of projects I’d like to do, such as finish my basement, build a backyard patio and entertainment area, build a porch, and so on. While I don’t necessarily expect to finish these in 2021, I’d like to at least take steps toward those goals.

There are a lot of other things that I’d like to do, but I think this is a good list for now. (I reserve the right to amend it.) In general, I’m hoping for a better year, and 2021 supersedes the dumpster fire that was 2020.

Requiem for #PASS — #SQLFamily

Many data professionals, myself included, are shocked and saddened by the announcement that PASS will cease operation on January 15, 2021. I’m sure that a large number of data ‘bloggers will be posting their thoughts regarding PASS’s announcement; this is only one of many such articles, I’m sure.

I know that PASS has been under a great deal of scrutiny by its members, and even I, myself, have been critical of PASS in the past. Three members of the board of directors resigned within the past few weeks, and the organization had been consulting with legal experts regarding its future.

I’ve always taken great pains to be apolitical (it’s one of my most, if not the most, hated topics to discuss). I don’t know much about any of PASS’s inner workings or governance, and quite frankly, I don’t want to know. I’m sure there’s a lot they could’ve done better, but I’ve never been privy to it. (Indeed, one frequent criticism I’ve heard has been their transparency — or lack of.)

As someone who has been a member of PASS for some time (since attending my very first SQL Saturday in New York City in 2010), I would prefer to talk about everything that PASS has given me. So I wanted to take some time to reflect on the things that PASS has done to enhance my professional career.

When I attended my first SQL Saturday (#39 in New York City back in 2010), I knew right away that I wanted to be involved and contribute to the community. The question was, how? I remember looking around at other attendees at the Microsoft office (back then, it was held next to Radio City, not at the Times Square location like it is now) and saying to myself, “these people probably know more about SQL Server than I do. What can I contribute to this organization?”

On that same trip, I met Dan Bowlin on the train heading down to the City. Along with Joe Barth, the three of us founded the Albany SQL user group. Through my association with that group, I also met Greg Moore and Ed Pollack; the three of us currently maintain the group’s leadership team. Since those humble beginnings, our user group has remained strong. We hold our own when compared to user groups in larger cities; indeed, we frequently say that we “punch above our weight.” And although Dan and Joe moved out of the area several years ago, I still remain friends with them to this day.

One evening, during one of our user group meetings, I had a thought: I’ve been adept at talking the language of technology to people who don’t understand it. Would that make for a good presentation? As that meeting progressed, I jotted some notes down; by the end of the meeting, I had enough fodder for an entire presentation. I ran my idea past a few people, including Greg and Ed. They all told me, that was a great idea! Run with it!

That idea became my very first presentation, which I first presented in 2015. Since then, I’ve presented that session at several SQL Saturdays and at PASS Summit.

I wrote previously about what happened after that first presentation. I discovered that I enjoyed presenting and attending events such as SQL Saturday. Additionally, I also noticed some subtle changes to my professional development. I found that I was passively getting better at what I did. I gained more confidence in my abilities, I became more assertive, and I was increasingly being recognized for the things I did. I even remember one manager telling me, “we recognize what you’re doing with all these conferences where you’re speaking; keep up the good work!”

I now have several presentations that I do. I have presented at numerous SQL Saturdays, PASS Summit, and a number of user groups, both in-person and virtual. I even did a podcast!

It wasn’t all about professional development. I made a number of friends through my involvement with PASS and SQL Saturday — people I likely wouldn’t have otherwise met, and whom I love dearly. In addition to my association with PASS, I’ve connected with these people through Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. These people have become a part of my life, and I am as close to these people as I am to any of my family or circles of friends. And because of this, my professional network is stronger than ever.

I love to travel. I wish I could do more of it (usually, lack of time or money — and these days, the pandemic — keeps me from doing more of it). I’ve written before about my SQL Saturday (and other PASS) travels. These speaking opportunities gave me chances to visit places I don’t normally get to see, not to mention that they got me out of Dodge for a little while.

I attribute all of this as things that PASS has given me.

I’ve been thinking about whether or not it would be feasible to resurrect PASS. In addition to PASS, I am also a member of STC. Unlike PASS, STC charges dues to its members (using a tiered structure — the amount of dues you pay depends on your tier). Conceptually, STC is very similar to PASS; they are a professional organization that represents a specific profession (PASS represents data professionals; STC represents technical communicators). STC also does a number of things that PASS did not do; they have publications that they publish regularly, for example. If PASS is able to reorganize, I’m wondering if they’d be open to restructuring using a model such as STC. Of course, I suspect one of the reasons why PASS was popular was that they didn’t charge dues. If PASS is to be solvent, that might be something to consider.

I think it’s important for professionals in any field to have an organization such as PASS. They provide opportunities for networking, guidance, reference, and development that wouldn’t otherwise exist anywhere else. What PASS has done for my career and professional development is incalculable. The demise of PASS represents a big, big loss. I sincerely hope that PASS is able to come back in some way, shape, or form, and be stronger than ever in doing so.

#SQLSaturday Minnesota — the debrief #SQLSat1017 #SQLSatMN

I don’t think I have to tell anyone what a crazy year 2020 has been (and I won’t belabor the point). As such, many of us have had their fill of Zoom meetings and virtual conferences. I’ve heard a lot from people, myself included, about their dealings with pandemic fatigue and how burned out they are by virtual conferences.

And then, along came Minnesota SQL Saturday.

Before today, I’d spoken at or attended four virtual PASS events: SQL Saturdays in Albany, Memphis, and Montreal, and PASS Summit. In spite of the challenges faced with putting on virtual events — uncharted territory for all of us — the events went about as well as they could. There were glitches and lessons learned, but for the most part, they went about as well as virtual conferences — being put on for the first time — could go.

Minnesota, however, raised the bar. The event went through a great deal of thought and planning, and it showed. This is not a slight against other events, as we were all breaking new ground in putting together virtual events; rather, Minnesota demonstrated a better way to do it.

I’ll start with Friday night. At many of the in-person SQL Saturday events where I’ve spoken, organizers put together a speaker’s dinner on Friday night. In lieu of that, Minnesota organized a Zoom session allowing speakers to get to know the organizers and other speakers (Memphis did the same thing). In addition, however, Minnesota also organized a test run using GoToMeeting sessions (the virtual meeting application of choice by PASS) to make sure that speakers could test their sessions and get comfortable with presenting online. Although I’d previously presented via GoToMeeting before, I found that this went a long way with helping me to get comfortable with the technology, the session, and knowing what to expect.

Additionally, throughout the day for SQL Saturday, the Minnesota crew set up a separate chat application using Discord (an application that I understand is popular with gamers). Through this application, speakers and attendees had an avenue through which they could mingle and chat using different channels. They had channels set up for each meeting room, as well as a “lunch room” (where people could converse during lunch) and a speaker’s channel (roughly the equivalent of a speaker room). I don’t remember all the channels they had set up — I do remember channels called #jobs and #hallway — but I thought using this application was a great move.

One of the things that is sorely missing from virtual SQL Saturdays is the ability to randomly converse and chat. At in-person events, one of the best parts is to randomly bump into #SQLFamily and chat about a variety of subjects, or randomly start chatting about session topics in the hallway, or whatever. Networking is a huge part of SQL Saturday. By nature, that dynamic is nearly impossible to duplicate at a virtual event. Of course, no virtual event can ever duplicate the things you’d experience at an in-person event. But by employing a technology such as Discord, they managed to fill that gap quite nicely.

I also liked that room moderators introduced speakers and topics. They all included slides to start each session, which also included reminders to solicit the sponsors, their local user group, and various other standard announcements. The format was similar to PASS virtual groups, where the group moderator would start with the intro before the speaker went into his or her presentation.

Overall, Minnesota did a great job with their virtual SQL Saturday. Bravo! They demonstrated that a virtual event could still be exciting and fun, and not the same old virtual event that everyone else does. Granted, I’m looking forward to when we can start attending in-person events again. But by employing out-of-the-box ideas like these, virtual events don’t have to be the same old, same old log-into-a-virtual-room events that we’ve become accustomed to experiencing.

#PASSSummit2020 part 5: The debrief #PASSSummit #PASSVirtualSummit

(Ed. Note: I had intended to get this out last week, but a family emergency prevented me from doing so, so this article is a week later than I’d wanted to post.)

Now that I’ve had the weekend to recover from a busy PASS Summit 2020 week, I can write about my thoughts and impressions.

Overall, I thought PASS did a good job with holding a virtual PASS Summit under trying pandemic circumstances. These are, after all, trying times, and we have to play the cards that we’re dealt. That said, there were some glitches.

I’ll start with my own presentation. I had prerecorded my session, per instructions from PASS. My initial impression was that I would do my presentation live, and the recorded session would serve as a backup in case I ran into any problems with my presentation. That turned out not to be the case. PASS used my prerecorded presentation. I was, however, required to stand by to field any questions from attendees.

So, before the appointed time, I logged in and opened a chat window. My friend Andy Levy was kind enough to join me in the video chat room, and we chatted about a variety of topics while we waited.

The appointed time arrived, so I started my video. I found that it was impossible to monitor the chat rooms to field questions and to watch the video at the same time, so I turned off the video; after all, I had no pressing need to watch my own prerecorded presentation — or so I thought. I found out, much to my chagrin, that a number of slides had no audio to go with it.

This was a big disappointment. My first instinct was to point the finger at PASS and tell them, “your technology didn’t work,” but that would’ve been disingenuous on my part. When I prerecorded my session a while back, I went back and did a quick listen of each section I recorded to make sure it was okay. When I was finished, I watched some of the presentation, but not all, and that was my mistake. I probably should’ve watched the entire presentation to make sure it was okay, but I didn’t. That was a mistake on my part to which I will own up. That said, it’s my understanding that there were a number of other presentations that also had audio problems (in fact, I tried to sit in on one that had issues, and they ended up rescheduling it — for a time that I couldn’t attend), so I’m guessing that it might not have entirely been on me.

I did post to the chat that I was available in the chat room for any questions, and a few attendees took me up on it. We ended up having a great discussion (and Andy, who also has his own ‘blog, was great with answering some questions and contributing to the conversation). In that sense, we ended up making lemonade out of the technical lemons.

That said, I haven’t yet looked at the feedback, and I don’t look forward to doing so.

A few of my friends also wrote their impressions of PASS Virtual Summit. I haven’t yet had a chance to read them, but I’m posting them here, both for you to peruse and for my own reference.

With that, here are a few of my quick thoughts regarding PASS Virtual Summit 2020.

As I mentioned earlier, these are trying times, and PASS did a decent job with Summit, given the cards they were dealt. The pandemic has affected them, as well as many of the rest of us (as of this article, I’m still looking for a job — it’s been over six months now), and PASS is dealing with those effects. As critical as I — and others — might be of PASS, I want them to survive, and I sincerely hope that they’re still around when we emerge from the other side of this pandemic.

I was not particularly fond of their decision to make use of mostly prerecorded sessions. I would have much preferred to have done my session live. PASS’s concern was with potential technical glitches with live sessions, so their thinking was that a prerecorded session would alleviate that situation. In fact, the opposite happened. The prerecorded session was the glitch, and I never had a problem with my live connection. While I understand why PASS decided to do it that way, I found the decision to be somewhat questionable.

(And if anyone reading this would like to see my presentation, I did this same presentation for the Professional Development Virtual Group back in January. You can view the recording of my January presentation here.)

Overall, I did enjoy PASS Virtual Summit, but as anyone who has attended PASS Summit or other virtual events can attest, the experience just isn’t the same. For me, a huge part of the appeal of events like these is the opportunity to network and to connect with my friends whom I don’t get to see that frequently. To their credit, PASS made accommodations with networking events and channels, but there’s only so much you can do, and only so many people you can see, with online channels. There’s something to be said about randomly bumping into one of your friends while walking down the hall.

Another big part is the travel. I love to travel, and I wish I could do more of it (pandemic aside, usually the lack of time or lack of money keeps me from traveling more). I enjoyed visiting Seattle last year, one of my favorite west coast cities to visit. This year’s Summit would’ve been in Houston, a city I’ve only visited once before.

Overall, I enjoyed PASS Virtual Summit, but it was not without its faults. Hopefully, PASS can take the feedback and lessons learned from this event, and use it to create a truly spectacular experience the next time around. Hopefully, the pandemic will be over for the next time, but these days, you can never tell.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 23: Learning songs in a new language #COVID19

Before I get into this article, I need to direct you to a few other articles that I wrote, all of which are directly relevant to what I’m about to write. You will likely not understand some of the references in this article unless you read these other ones first (or are friends with me on Facebook, in which case you can skip these). Give them a read (or at the very least, skim through them), then come back to this one. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Back yet? Okay…

This morning, a friend of mine PM’ed me with this: “it would be epic to see LOTD in Korean.”

I sent him back this reply: “challenge accepted!”

So, I looked up K-Pop songs, and I came across this video. I will freely admit that what caught my eye was the artist’s name (take a look!). I listened to the song, and as it turned out, it’s a really pretty ballad that’s relatively close to my own writing style. I might end up buying some CDs (yes, I still prefer buying CDs, even if I do rip everything to iTunes) from this artist.

I ended up using the first four lines for my Lyric Of The Day (and I’m posting this mostly for my own reference and learning purposes).

"나를 사랑하는 법은 어렵지 않아요
지금 모습 그대로 나를 꼭 안아주세요
우리 나중에는 어떻게 될진 몰라도
정해지지 않아서 그게 나는 좋아요..."
-- Roy Kim, "Only Then"

(If you’re dying to know what this says, here it is in Google Translate. And if you want to hear it, check out the video.)

I was never a fan of pop dance songs. When I first heard K-Pop songs and saw related videos, my initial impression was that K-Pop songs were primarily pop dance songs, so I haven’t given the genre a lot of thought. This video that I found changed my mind.

It got me thinking: what would it take to write a song that’s not in my native English? There is some precedent for this; probably the most famous example is Ritchie Valens singing “La Bamba.” It would be a challenge for me; I’m still learning Korean (although I’ll admit that I haven’t been pursuing it as aggressively lately), and I’m far from being able to read it quickly or being able to carry on a conversation. Nevertheless, the idea is intriguing, and one that I’m considering.

This idea is making me consider several things. First, it’s encouraging me to get back into my Korean language lessons. Second, it’s making me want to revisit my songwriting and MIDI recording endeavors. Third, it’s inspiring me to break many bad habits directly related to pandemic fatigue.

And, if nothing else, it’s sparked an interest in K-Pop with me. I guess I’m going to have to go buy some K-Pop CDs.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 22: How TV could make this world a better place #COVID19

TRANSPLANT — Season: 1 — Pictured: (l-r) Torri Higginson as Claire Malone, John Hannah as Jed Bishop, Hamza Haq as Bashir Hamed, Jim Watson as Theo Hunter, Laurence Leboeuf as Magalie Leblanc, Ayiah Issa as June Curtis — (Photo by: Fabrice Gaetan/Sphere Media/NBC)

When I was in high school, my friends and I were into M*A*S*H — so much so that we nicknamed ourselves after M*A*S*H characters (my best friend and I used to argue over which one of us was Hawkeye or B.J.), and we tried to outdo each other any time the local radio station asked M*A*S*H trivia questions. Even to this day, any time I come across a M*A*S*H rerun on TV, I just have to turn the channel to it.

One of the things I appreciated about M*A*S*H was that it wasn’t afraid to take on social issues. Several episodes took on hot-button topics, such as racism, alcoholism, politics, religion, and so on. It made for some interesting episodes, and I think they made the show all the better.

Lately, I’ve gotten hooked on a new medical drama, Transplant. It seems like the US prime time network market is saturated with medical dramas, but a couple of things make Transplant different. First, the main character and protagonist, Dr. Bashir “Bash” Hamed (played by Hamza Haq) is a Syrian refugee, which makes for some interesting plot lines, including his struggles as he adapts to life in a new country. Speaking of which, this leads me to another thing that makes this show unique. The country in question is not the United States. The setting for Transplant is a hospital emergency room in Toronto, Canada. While NBC has the US broadcast rights to the show, it is not produced by NBC; it’s actually produced by Canadian station CTV. That the show takes place in Canada is apparent in a few subtle ways; in the pilot episode, a police officer wore a Canadian flag pin on his uniform, the CN Tower is visible in a few establishment shots, and in one scene, a doctor taking a patient’s temperature mentioned that it was 37 degrees, rather than the 98.6 that we Yanks are accustomed to hearing.

It also occurred to me that this may be the first show on a major prime-time network where the main character is Muslim. In these times of social issues, Islamophobia, racial equality, and Black Lives Matter, that is a big deal.

Dr. Bash (as I call him) is a very likable character. As a doctor, he is obligated to ensure his patients’ welfare, and he displays compassion and humanity toward his patients. As a big brother to his little sister, Amira, he is the father figure that they are missing in their lives (their parents died in the Syrian Civil War). As a friend to his colleagues at the fictional York Memorial Hospital, he displays caring and empathy for his coworkers.

He is the doctor I would want treating me if I had to go to the hospital.

There is a stereotype about Muslims in the US that paints them as extremists and fanatics. Dr. Bash breaks that stereotype, which is why I think this show is important. I have friends who are Muslim, and I empathize with them when they are portrayed as radical terrorists. Dr. Bash shows that he is not a radical; rather, he is human, with human emotions, feelings, and faults.

Many dramas (movies, not just TV) seem to have the power to raise awareness about issues. Dances With Wolves, for example, broke the stereotype of Native Americans as being “savages.” Likewise, Emergency! (another favorite TV show of mine when I was a kid) is credited as contributing toward the establishment of EMT services across the country.

TV shows, done right, have the power to change the world. If characters, issues, and situations are portrayed properly on prime-time, this world could be a much better place.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 21: 안녕하세요. 저는 김레몬입니다 #COVID19

In case you don’t read Korean Hangul, here’s what I wrote above.

“Hello. I am Raymond Kim.”

Phonetically, it would sound like this.

“Annyeonghaseo. Jeo-neun Gimrehmon-imnida.”

At this point, you’re probably wondering what this is all about. Why am I introducing myself in Korean?

Well, this is another COVID-19 pandemic project undertaking. For whatever reason, last night I decided that I needed to reconnect with my ancestral culture. Don’t ask me what prompted me to pursue this, because, quite frankly, I have no idea. (It might have something to do with me poking around TripAdvisor the other day.) What I can tell you is that this is something I’ve been meaning to pursue for a long, long time. Despite being Korean-American and growing up in a Korean household, I never learned the language. My late grandmother, who spoke almost no English, tried to teach me when I was young, but I never quite grasped it. I had a hard time with it. It probably didn’t help that, because she didn’t speak English, she couldn’t explain to me what she was trying to teach me.

Other than my family, my other source of the Korean language came from watching M*A*S*H reruns.

Last night, I found a Korean language learning program online, and decided to check it out. I signed up for an account and started my latest learning endeavor.

I stayed up past my bedtime — until 1 am.

I discovered that Hangul (the Korean written alphabet) is amazingly easy to learn. If you look at Korean characters and get intimidated, don’t be. The way they are structured is actually very simple, and once you grasp the concept, it’s not bad.

Basically, it’s just these concepts.

  • Every character is a syllable.
  • Every character is structured around a block.
  • Each character block is made up of at least one consonant and one vowel. They may have another consonant, and there’s something (I’m still learning about this) that involves double-consonants and double-vowels, but every character is required to have at least a consonant and a vowel.

I think there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s what I’ve learned so far. In one of my lessons from last night, I learned the Korean vowels. I’m drilling myself to remember what they are phonetically (I’m having a little trouble distinguishing between the vowels ㅗ and ㅓ), but so far, I’m enjoying the learning process and am having a lot of fun with it!

Earlier during the pandemic, I decided I would teach myself French. I haven’t stopped that endeavor, but I have slacked off on it. I think I learned more in one night learning Korean than I did in one week of learning French. I’m having a lot of fun with it, I’m finding it easy to learn, and I feel like I’m connecting to my ancestral roots.

Let’s see how much of this I can learn. Hopefully, before long, 나는 한국어로 말할 것이다!*

(*Okay, I used Google Translate for that last bit. Sorry to disappoint you. I’m working on it!)

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 20: Work hard, play hard #COVID19

I think it’s pretty safe to say that many of us are suffering from pandemic fatigue. I know I sure am. I’ve written a few times about my job search frustrations, and quite frankly, it’s wearing on me. I’ve mentioned in my job hunt presentation (which I’ll be presenting on October 3 </ShamelessPlug>) that looking for a job is, itself, a full-time job. It easily occupies most, if not all, of your working day. And it can be very wearing… not to mention stressful — and frustrating.

With that, I’ve been turning to my activities to keep myself sane. Now that New York State has allowed gyms to reopen, I’ve been going to CrossFit classes (whenever my schedule and my aching back/shoulder allows it). I’ve also tried to stay on top of professional endeavors; last Monday, I attended a very good user group meeting in which Mindy Curnutt talked about spatial data. (I had no idea that you could do stuff like that in SQL Server!) And I’m looking into other ways to keep on top of my professional skill sets; I’ll be speaking at (and attending) Memphis virtual SQL Saturday two weeks from this Saturday, as well as virtual PASS Summit in November.

However, staying on top of skill sets isn’t just limited to professional endeavors; they apply to my extracurricular activities as well. I mentioned earlier that I’d gotten back into songwriting and music recording again. While this is primarily a hobby and not something I do professionally, it is, nevertheless, a hobby that I take very seriously — to the point that I treat it as though I do it professionally. I’ve invested time and money into equipment and software. I’ve attended songwriting workshops in the past, and I’ve even spent time in professional recording studios. And I’ve started looking around on Google for courses in audio engineering and multitrack recording; while I’ve learned a lot working on this on my own, I realize that there’s also a lot I don’t know, and while I’ve gotten better at my craft, I also recognize that there’s a lot of room for improvement.

If you have an activity that you’re passionate about doing, I think it’s just as important to work just as hard at it as you would your profession. You’ll sharpen your skill sets in a number of ways — even your extracurricular activities can often benefit you professionally. And you’ll also gain a greater deal of satisfaction and appreciation for your art — whatever art that may be.

The appeal of working for a virtual company

This morning, I had an online interview for a virtual company. For personal and privacy reasons, I won’t talk about the company or the interview (other than it went well), but one takeaway from it was that it seems very much like an organization where I’d like to work.

If I do land this job, it would not be my first experience working for a virtual company. I previously worked for a place that had no brick-and-mortar office location. I left that job after a few months for reasons that were unrelated to the virtual office structure.

I will say that during my time at that company, I saw — and still see — the appeal of working for a virtual company, something that is much more relevant now, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For starters, there’s the commute. When I was working my previous job (and before the pandemic), I’d get in my car and drive fifteen minutes to get to my office. In a work-at-home situation, my commute is the distance from my bedroom downstairs to my home office — which generally takes all of thirty seconds. Additionally, that’s less wear and tear on my car, and less gas that I need to use. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to put gas in my car during the pandemic.

The job for which I interviewed is a full-time position that requires me to put in forty hours a week — but they are a flexible forty hours. This position would give me the ability to adapt my schedule around my activities.

While I like the camaraderie that comes with working with people in a brick-and-mortar office, one of the great appeals for this position is that I would be working with a globally distributed and geopolitically-diverse team located in several different countries. As someone who enjoys watching shows on The Travel Channel and Food Network, the idea of working with such a diverse group of people is especially appealing. I enjoy experiencing different cultures, and the prospect of working with different people from around the world appeals to me. While I will likely not meet these people in-person, and while they are not a substitute for physical presence, current technologies such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams do make up for some of the lack of contact.

And although I never had the opportunity to physically shake hands with my coworkers from my previous virtual position, I did make a number of friends with a number of them. Several of them are still connected with me on LinkedIn and Facebook to this day.

Additionally, while I would be working for a new company, I would already go into it being familiar and comfortable with my surroundings. There is no concern about getting comfortable with a new desk, learning the layout of your office, knowing where the bathroom is located, or trying to figure out where to go for lunch.

To be sure, remote work is not perfect, and there are several things I do miss about working in an office — for example, the ability to go out to lunch with my coworkers or go out for a drink with them after work. However, despite the fact that this company has no brick-and-mortar location, I’m finding that there are many aspects of this potential employer that appeal to me. I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of working for this company.

During this period of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to work from home is essential. Some people argue that virtual companies are the wave of the future. Regardless of how you feel about the work-at-home environment, there is something to be said about working for a virtual company.