Heading graphics: it’s not just about good looks

I’ve been building Confluence pages as my initial projects for my (still-relatively) new employer. I’ve been building landing pages, coming up with designs and layouts as I go along.

For a couple of these pages, I wanted to come up with graphics — not just to be aesthetically pleasing, but also to give each page an identity. That way, someone visiting them can quickly and easily discern that that’s the employee resources page, or the architecture team page, or whatever page it is.

I’ve said before — and this is something that I preach as a technical communicator — that reading is work. It takes effort to read a piece of text and to comprehend it. If I’m writing a step-by-step guide, my rule of thumb is, if a step takes longer than a few seconds to understand, it has failed and must be rewritten.

Have you ever read a long piece of text (that isn’t a book you’re reading for fun) and realized how mentally tired you felt after reading it? For that matter, do you even want to read such a long piece of text? There’s a reason why people never read terms and conditions that come with applications. Take a look at all that black text, and tell me if you really want to read through it.

On that same note, it’s been often said — and it’s true — that a picture is worth a thousand words. A graphic will often convey information that’s often difficult to put into words.

Some logos are so recognizable that they are iconic: Apple, Coca Cola, Nike, Amazon, and the list goes on. If you come across a web page with one of these logos, you’ll almost instantly recognize what the page is about.

Even when I write these ‘blog articles, I try to choose graphics that are illustrative of what I’m writing.

That’s what I’m after with these Confluence pages that I’m building (they’re internal to the company, so I’m somewhat hesitant about showing them off). An employee can take a quick look at the page and know that (s)he is in the right place.

Granted, heading graphics aren’t always appropriate for every document (resumes, anyone?). However, if they’re used effectively, they can add a lot to a document and maybe even make it easier to read. Good graphics aren’t always about making something pretty; it can sometimes, in and of itself, convey a message.

Archiving my talks, part 1: #SQLSaturday schedule PDFs — #PASS

With the imminent demise of PASS, I figured I should take Steve Jones‘ advice and archive my presentation links.

For this round, I went through all the SQL Saturday events where I spoke and downloaded the schedules. Each SQL Saturday schedule has a link to save it to PDF (there is an “Export to PDF” link at the bottom of each schedule).

I saved the PDFs to my ‘blog media and created links to them. You can download these schedules by going to my presentation schedule and clicking any link labeled “schedule PDF.”

For now, I’m only concerned with links hosted on PASS websites, such as SQL Saturday and PASS Summit (which I’ll do for the next round). I’m not as concerned (yet) with Meetup, YouTube, or podcasts I’ve done that are not hosted on PASS websites. I’ll update these links as I go along.

#PASSSummit2020 part 4: The final day #PASSSummit #PASSVirtualSummit

Well, it’s Friday. Today is my third — and last — day of PASS Summit 2020.

I’ll start right off the bat with why this day is important for me, personally: today is my day to present. The funny thing is, I’m not really presenting. PASS is using my prerecorded session that I put together before PASS Summit 2020 even kicked off. So during my session, I get to kick back and watch myself present. However, I do still need to be online to answer any questions that come up during the session.

I’m actually not looking forward to the experience. One of the predominant comments I’ve seen on my Twitter feed has been that coming from other speakers about how uncomfortable they are seeing themselves speak. I am no exception; I hate listening to my own presentation; it is very awkward and surreal. Honestly, I would feel much more comfortable doing my presentation live. But, this is how PASS chose to do it (and I understand their reasons for doing so), so I’ll just have to deal.

Otherwise, looking at the schedule, it looks like it will be a quiet day. I don’t see a lot of networking sessions on the schedule; although I will try to drop in on any that catch my interest. My networking room moderation commitments are all finished, so I’m not obligated to sit in on any more rooms. I do see a session on the schedule by Peter Shore that interests me, so I might try to attend that. I did see a few others that interest me as well, but unfortunately, they either conflict with or run too close to my own, so I’ll likely skip those today and catch the recordings of them some other time.

I will likely try to catch today’s keynote, which is about diversity and inclusion. That is an important topic these days, so I’ll make it a point to tune in at noon.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about anything that happened since my last article from yesterday. I sat in on Christine Assaf’s presentation. Christine and I met earlier this year at a SQL Saturday, and we struck up a good rapport, so I made where that I attended he presentation. I was also assigned a Birds of a Feather networking room last night, so I made sure that I monitored it. Only one person showed up, but we struck up a good conversation. One thing that came out of it was that he hooked me up with his employer’s HR person, to whom I sent a message (I received a response from her, but haven’t yet read it). I’ll admit that I’m not expecting a lot from it, because they are located in Iowa, and looking at the website, it doesn’t look like there are a lot of remote opportunities, but I figure, you never know. It’s worth a shot.

So, we’ll see how the final day goes. It’s been a fun experience, but I still vastly prefer attending in-person. I miss being able to share a handshake or a hug with my #SQLFamily friends. I’ll likely wind this series up with a final debrief article, once PASS Summit 2020 is over. Stay tuned.

#PASSSummit2020 part 1: Planning out the week #PASSSummit #PASSVirtualSummit

I decided that I would do what I had intended to do last year, but didn’t: live ‘blog my PASS Summit experience. So this is my first “official” article in which I write about my activities for PASS Summit 2020. These articles will be tagged in my categories as #PASSSummit2020.

When I went to PASS Summit in Seattle last year, I had every intention of ‘blogging about my activities throughout the week. As it turned out, that didn’t happen. For one thing, my laptop largely stayed at my AirBnB, where I spent very little time except to sleep. It turned out that I didn’t need it for PASS Summit (not even for my own presentation). Second, I was running all around the event, and I doubted that I would’ve been able to find the time to sit down and ‘blog (that said, now that I’ve attended one, I now know what to expect). Third, by the time I did return “home” to my AirBnB, I found that I was too tired to ‘blog.

PASS Summit 2020 is a different story. The fact that this is a virtual event and not on-location in a foreign (to me) city changes things, making it easier to ‘blog. For starters, I’m writing this from my home office, rather than in an AirBnB or a conference room in a strange town. And since I don’t have to worry about getting to a convention center or trying to get around an unfamiliar city, it makes for easier logistics on my part.

So the first order of business, other than registering that I’ve “arrived” (which I did last week), is to plan out my schedule. PASS was nice enough to supply attendees with a “home” event dashboard that you can customize.

This evening, I will be moderating the Mozart music-themed networking bubble.

I started last week by adding events to which I had committed to my schedule: my own presentation (I’d certainly better not miss that!!!), and a few networking events that I’d committed to moderating. Tonight, I signed up to moderate the Mozart music-themed networking bubble. With my background as a classically-trained musician, I figured it made sense for me to sign up. (Besides, there wasn’t a Kansas bubble available!) I also signed up to volunteer at a couple of Birds of a Feather “tables” — tomorrow, I’ll be manning the Introverts table, and I’ll be at the Storytelling & Visualization table on Thursday.

As I write this, I’m going through the rest of the schedule, trying to figure out what other sessions I want to attend. (As of right now, my schedule for Wednesday is largely full; I still need to figure out Thursday and Friday — my own presentation notwithstanding.) Granted, it’s a virtual conference, and I can come and go to sessions as I please (not that I can’t do that at an in-person conference, but I don’t have to worry about leaving my home office), but I am still a conference attendee (unlike SQL Saturday, PASS Summit is not free — granted, as a speaker, my PASS Summit admittance is comped, but still…), it’s always good to learn things, and I need to take advantage of everything that PASS Summit has to offer.

So, I’m taking the time to plan out my week at PASS Summit. I’m looking forward to a good week of learning and online networking. Hope to see you (virtually) this week!

A busy week of #PASS events #PASSSummit #PASSVirtualSummit #PASSSummit2020

This will be a busy week for me.

Tonight at 6:00 pm (EST), my local SQL user group is hosting our monthly meeting. Use the Meetup link to RSVP (note: you must RSVP for the Zoom meeting link to be viewable). If you need the Zoom password, please send us a message.

The rest of the week? PASS Summit is happening!

It should be an exciting week, and it appears that I have a few things on my schedule. There are a few networking events in which I’ll be taking part. (Unfortunately, I don’t think you can get to the links without registering first.) First, there is what they call the “music-themed networking bubble.” I will be in the Mozart bubble on Tuesday evening! Also, like last year, I will be hosting a couple of “Birds Of A Feather.” Last year, these were themed lunch tables, but since we’re online, these will be themed networking events. Wednesday evening, I will be in the Introverts session, and Thursday evening, I will be in the Storytelling & Visualization session.

And, of course, on Friday, I will be doing my presentation! Now, I understand that they will be using my prerecorded presentation, so I might not necessarily be live; however, I will be online to answer any questions that come up.

And my schedule is still being developed, so we’ll see how this goes!

This should be a fun week. Hope to see you online!

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.

“Your opinion matters…” Helping people by sharing your experiences

My wife and I have an anniversary coming up, so I started planning a getaway trip to celebrate. (Because of the pandemic, we decided to keep the trip short — only one night, and we’re not venturing very far — only about an hour’s drive from our home.) While I was making my travel plans, I started poking around my own TripAdvisor profile. I had posted a few reviews, and I thought I’d post a few more. I figured my experiences and opinions could help other people looking for travel information, and it’s entirely possible that, by the time you’re finished reading this article, I’ll have written a few more reviews.

One of the biggest reasons why I started my ‘blog was so that I could write about my own experiences for the purpose of helping people. Helping other people is one of my great passions, and while I can’t always help physically or financially, I can help by providing information. It’s what I do professionally, and it’s what drives me as a professional technical communicator.

However, you don’t have to be a professional technical communicator to help provide information. There are countless forums out there, covering nearly an endless number of topics, in which you are able to provide your feedback. You’re probably tired of hearing automated support lines that say “your feedback is important to us.” But feedback is important. Feedback is data. Whatever feedback you provide helps to make products and services better.

How often had you looked something up (e.g. an answer to a technical problem, a hotel review, suggested driving directions, etc.) and became frustrated because you weren’t able to find any information? If you’re an application (or any type of IT) developer, have you ever been frustrated because you asked for feedback about your product, and no one would give it to you? That feedback would’ve been valuable in debugging and improving your product. This is why QA testing is a big deal, and is usually a critical step in development life cycles.

This isn’t limited to just IT professionals. It applies to just about anything in which information is involved. If, for example, you were making travel plans and wanted information about a destination, have you ever been interested in, say, a bed and breakfast, but you couldn’t find much information about it, and no one had written any reviews about it? Those reviews would have gone a long way in providing information about that place.

A lot of us brush off the messages that say “your opinion matters.” The thing is, it really does. Don’t be afraid to express your opinion or to provide feedback. What you say can help someone make a better decision, help improve a product, or possibly change the course of someone’s business for the better.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and write a few more TripAdvisor reviews…

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.

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.

#PASSSummit 2020 — I’m speaking after all!!! #SQLFamily

This evening, I received a very pleasant surprise!

After not making the cut for the initial list of speakers, and with the state of my finances being directly related to my current employment situation (or lack of), I had resigned myself to the fact that attending PASS Summit 2020 was likely not in my cards for this year.

That changed this evening! I will be speaking at this year’s PASS Summit after all! I received an email from PASS asking if I would present my session on ‘blogging! I am thrilled and excited that I will be a PASS Summit speaker for the second year in a row!

With the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Summit is being held virtually, so I don’t have to worry about making travel plans for Houston, TX (which is where PASS Summit 2020 was supposed to be held). Instead, I will be presenting — and attending — from the comfort of my own home office.

To be selected to speak at PASS Summit just once is a great honor. To be able to do it twice (or more) is downright amazing. I’ve had a number of #SQLFamily friends who’ve spoken at multiple PASS Summits, and I’m amazed (and humbled) that I am now in their company!

I’ll see you at virtual PASS Summit in November!