The case for non-local user groups

Ever buy something online, then become inundated by emails from that vendor? Of course you do.

I’ve attended numerous out-of-town events, mainly SQL Saturdays, and every once in a while, a user group (I spoke at one earlier this year). Of course, once I was subscribed to their mailing lists, I’d start getting email from them.

I used to unsubscribe from some of these lists (why, for example, should I maintain a mailing for the Pittsburgh user group when it’s an eight-hour drive away). But it occurred to me not long ago that maintaining these mailings might be a good idea (in fact, I might even re-subscribe to some of these mailing lists).

I’ve extolled the benefits of getting involved with your local user groups. But why would you want to bother with groups that aren’t local? Well, here are some reasons to do so.

  • You receive news about activities in that area. Of all SQL Saturdays I’ve attended, I’ve probably attended New York City‘s the most, going all the way back to 2010 (long before I became a speaker). I travel to NYC fairly often (well okay, maybe more like once in a while — not as often as I used to, but still often enough to know my way around), so events in the City (as we upstate New Yorkers refer to it) tend to interest me. Maintaining contact with the NYC user group (and others) provides me with information regarding activities in the area.
  • It’s a form of networking. Staying connected with non-local user groups expands your reach. You’ll get news and announcements from the remote group, and in turn, maintain contacts with people involved with it.
  • You can get an idea about how other groups operate. I’m heavily involved with my local user group, so I have a pretty good idea as to its inner workings. Seeing what other groups do gives us ideas that we might like to implement within our own group.
  • Are you relocating? If you’re looking for opportunities beyond your area, a user group in your location of interest may be a good place to start. You can connect with people who know the area, and you can get information regarding job opportunities, where to live, and so on.
  • If you happen to be in the neighborhood… If you’re visiting a particular location, and the user group local to that area is meeting while you’re there, why not attend? You’ll get all the benefits that I listed above (and maybe some others that didn’t occur to me). If you’re a speaker, maybe they’ll even schedule you to speak while you’re in town.

While you might not be able to attend events for a user group that is not geographically local to you, it doesn’t necessarily preclude being involved with them. Just because a user group is not nearby doesn’t mean you can’t get involved with it.

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Monthly CASSUG Meeting — August 2019

Greetings, data enthusiasts!

This is a reminder that our August CASSUG meeting will take place on Monday, August 12, 5:30 pm, in the Datto (formerly Autotask) cafeteria!

Our August speaker is Matt Cushing!  He will do his presentation: “Networking 101: Getting Ready for a SQL Event!”  For additional information and to RSVP, view our Meetup event at https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL-Server-User-Group/events/260380158/

Also, don’t forget NY Tech Loop’s Night at the Ballpark on Tuesday, August 6!  Go to https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL-Server-User-Group/events/263584142/ for more information and instructions for purchasing tickets!

Thanks to our sponsors, Datto/Autotask, Capital Tech Search, and CommerceHub for making this event possible!

Hope to see you there!

Win a 3-day registration to PASS Summit 2019!

Have you ever been to PASS Summit?  If not, would you like to attend?

Let PASS know how attending PASS Summit 2019 would make a positive impact in your life by August 23, 2019 for your chance to receive a complimentary 3-day registration AND exclusive access to activities that will ensure a career defining experience!

For more information and to enter, go to this link: https://www.pass.org/summit/2019/Attend/AllAccess.aspx

Good luck!

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.

Ranting my frustration about connect requests

This article may seem to go against one of the things that I preach in my ‘blogging presentation, and that is to avoid frustrated rants and “getting it out of your system.” Maybe I should be a little more specific. One should avoid mindless rants in which you angrily spew your passions without any thoughts, and in which you say things that you’ll later regret.

Yes, this article is a rant. However, it is not without thought, and there is a purpose to this post.

As many of my regular followers (both of you) are likely aware, I write and present primarily on professional development topics. I’m not as technically sharp as I once was, but I still contribute to groups such as PASS and SQL Saturday in the form of “soft” topics that are of interest to industry professionals. I’ve started using this analogy during my presentation introductions: “when it comes to my relationship with PASS and SQL Saturday, I’m the professor at MIT who teaches English Lit.”

Among other things — and if you follow my ‘blog and my presentations, you probably already know this — I write a lot about networking. These days, networking is the lifeblood of one’s career path.

However, there is a difference between networking and connecting. Therein lies the heart of my rant. I’ve written before about people who don’t give a crap about actual networking, as well as spam recruiters.

I still get connect requests from these people, and it frustrates me to no end. So with that…

<Rant>
  • If I don’t know who you are, tell me how we’re connected!!! I get a lot of LinkedIn requests from people whom I don’t know from Adam. Some might be people I’ve met from my user group or at a SQL Saturday, but if I’m not friends with you, I didn’t invite you to connect, I don’t interact with you on a semi-regular basis, or we don’t have some kind of common relationship (more on that below), chances are that I’m not going to know or remember who you are. I do NOT connect with random strangers that I don’t know. If you tell me how we’re connected, then I will be happy to connect with you. But if you send me a cold-connect request with no explanation whatsoever — or worse, send me a message where you kiss my ass without explaining how we’re connected (I’ve had that happen before) — then there is about a 98% chance* that I will delete your request. (And if you try to kiss up to me, insult my intelligence, or try to sell me something, that shoots all the way up to 100%.)

    (*If I recognize where you’re from, then there’s a slight chance that I might at least retain the request, not delete it altogether. But if I don’t know you, I still won’t connect until you tell me who you are. Don’t make me have to work to figure out who you are.)
  • I am NOT in a contest to see if I can get the most connections. So you have 3000+ connections. That’s great. But if you ask me for a recommendation, will I know anything about you? Networking is about relationships. If I need a favor (for example, let’s say I lose my job and am looking for a new one), are you willing to help me out? Or are you looking for something for me and are not willing to give anything back? If the answer no to the first question and yes to the latter, then don’t even bother with me.
  • We don’t have to be friends. We just need to have something in common. I don’t expect to be buddies with all my networking connections. Many of these people I will likely not recognize if I bumped into them on the street. Some might even be people with whom I have some kind of conflict. But if we’re both members of the same “family” (e.g. my alma mater, my fraternity, my gym, #SQLFamily, etc.), then I’m more likely to connect with you. If we’re friends, great, but having a networking relationship with acquaintances is okay.

And I have a special rant regarding spam recruiters. I hate spam recruiters passionately. (I once had a bad experience with a spam recruiter — if you really want to hear more about it, I talk about it in the link.) They give legitimate recruiters a bad name. All of the above bullet points about connecting apply, along with these points.

  • I will NOT relocate. If you try to sell me a position that requires me to move, consider your message deleted immediately. I have a home and a life. I have roots where I am, and I will NOT pull them up unless I desperately have to do so. I will NOT even look at any message that tells me about a job in someplace I’ve never heard of or located hundreds of miles from where I live. Every time I see a message like that in my inbox, it goes straight into the trash. I won’t even bother reading what it says.
  • Don’t even bother contacting me about sales or help desk call positions. Although I’m open-minded enough that I’d look into nearly any job depending on the circumstances, there are some positions in which I have absolutely zero interest. I have no interest at all in any type of sales associate or help desk call* position, and I state that very clearly in my LinkedIn overview. (There are a number of other positions as well, but those are the ones about which I get the most emails.) I don’t even know what on my resume says that I have any kind of interest in either position.

    (*I might consider a position that involves managing or supporting a help desk, but again, it depends on the circumstances.)
  • No growth? No dice. I’m always looking to grow. That doesn’t necessarily mean climbing the ladder (although it could mean that). It means improving myself, learning new skills, and possibly even furthering my education. If you don’t offer that, chances are that I won’t budge.

Having gotten that out of my system, I do have some points for legitimate recruiters (some of whom are my friends).

  • I am not actively looking for a position (at least not as of this article), but I do look passively. If something that looks interesting drops in my lap, I’d be stupid to at least not look into it. And if it’s something that works for me — whether it’s an increase in salary or an upward move — then who knows?
  • No, I won’t relocate, but… I do enjoy traveling, so I give bonus points for a position in which I get to do some traveling. Also, I would consider a position where I can work from home full-time, even if the prospective employer is located hundreds of miles away.
</Rant>

Okay. That’s out of my system. I feel better now.

SQL Saturday #855, Albany — the debrief

This past weekend, we (the CASSUG user group) hosted our sixth SQL Saturday. I’ve attended dozens of SQL Saturdays, but the ones that we hold in my own backyard are always the most special to me. This is one of my favorite events of the entire year, and I look forward to it each summer.

At the speaker’s dinner on Friday night!

I’ll start by talking about my own presentations, which took place in the afternoon (I was scheduled for the last two time slots of the day). My first talk was a lightning talk about business cards. (If you want to know about what I presented, check out my ‘blog article — it pretty much outlines what I talked about.) Mine was one of seven talks, along with talks by Bryan Cafferky, Andy Yun, Deborah Melkin, Michelle Gutzait, Taiob Ali, and Paresh Motiwala. Besides my own talk, I was able to catch the first five talks (unfortunately, I had to leave to prepare for my presentation, so I missed Paresh’s — but that’s okay, because he gives a terrible talk, anyway*), and I can tell you that every one of them was an awesome presentation. I loved every single one of them.

(*ed note: I’m kidding, Paresh! You know I love you!)

I get ready to do my presentation

All kidding aside… immediately after the lightning talks session, I had my own full-length presentation to do. I debuted a brand-new presentation about ‘blogging. For the most part, it went well, but it isn’t perfect. I did get a couple of comments back saying that they were expecting more about the career aspect of ‘blogging. Apparently, they were looking for a direct link between ‘blogging and career. The idea of my presentation is that ‘blogging can enhance your professional profile and well-being, but apparently, that didn’t come across in my presentation. I’m scheduled to give this talk again in Providence next month, so I’ll have to figure out what tweaks I need to make between now and then.

Other than that, I attended two other sessions: Matt Cushing’s networking presentation, and Thomas Grohser’s interviewing presentation. I’ve attended both presentations before, and they are both great sessions; if you ever have a chance to attend either presentation, I recommended them highly! Tom asked me to attend his; when I attended his previous sessions, he liked my questions and commentary so much that he asked me to come back to ask the same questions and make the same comments — for the benefit of others in attendance. For Matt’s session, it was more a matter of personal pride. He has given the presentation (I think it’s been) six times, and I have been to all six! It’ll be seven for seven next month; he’s coming back to Albany to give his presentation at our user group meeting!

SQL Saturday isn’t possible without the help of volunteers!

I had to skip out on the second round of sessions to pick up more ice (which was especially critical, since it was the hottest day of the year so far). I didn’t just speak at Albany SQL Saturday; I also served as a volunteer. As I’ve written before, SQL Saturday is an all-volunteer event, and they wouldn’t be possible without all the volunteers who do the behind-the-scenes dirty work, such as setting up, manning the registration tables, making coffee, cleaning up, assembling attendee bags, and all the little things that help make the event go (such as picking up more ice for the coolers). Volunteers are the unsung heroes of SQL Saturday, so if you ever attend an event, make sure that you show them your appreciation!

A few of us went out for ice cream after the speaker’s dinner!

There were many other aspects of SQL Saturday that made it fun — and are among the many reasons why it is one of my favorite events of the year! I didn’t even mention the speaker’s dinner on Friday night, the after-party on Saturday after it was all over, and the great time I had with many friends whom I often only get to see at these events!

SQL Saturday is a lot of hard work and effort, but it is well worth it! It isn’t just about the data sessions and free training; it’s also about networking, talking to vendors, making friends, and having fun! If you ever get to a SQL Saturday near you, I highly recommend it!