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!

Ghostwriting — the art of writing for someone else

One of the new projects I’ve taken on is ghostwriting ‘blog articles for one of my clients. While I have plenty of technical writing experience — where I take a topic or application that isn’t mine and try to write about it — ghostwriting is an entirely new experience for me. Not only is it something new for me to tackle, I’m finding the experience to be interesting, and even fun!

My client maintains a ‘blog as part of his website, and by his own admission, isn’t a prolific writer — which is where I (along with one or two others) come in. I’ve only done a couple of articles for my client so far, but I’m learning a few things as I go along.

  • Keep in mind that it isn’t your article. One thing I need to remember is that even though I’m the one doing the writing, I’m not the one doing the “writing.” Essentially, I’m taking someone else’s thoughts and putting them into an article. (Sounds a lot like technical writing, no?) While I’m putting these thoughts and ideas into words, they are not my thoughts. The intellectual property belongs to my client, not me. As such, I consider the article as being my client’s property.

    I recognize that this can be a potentially slippery slope; by that same token, it could be argued that technical writing could belong to the subject matter expert (SME), not the person writing the documentation. I won’t talk about that here; first, this goes beyond my expertise (maybe someone who knows more about intellectual property law than I do can address this better than I can), and second, this discussion goes beyond the scope of this article.

    As far as I’m concerned, the client has the final say about the article. It’s possible that my client might give me credit for writing it, but that’s up to him. I’m just taking his thoughts and putting them into words.

    Speaking of writing someone else’s thoughts…
  • Writing what someone else is thinking is hard to do! Most people understand how difficult it is to understand another person’s thoughts; after all, that’s what communication is all about. I’m sure most communication professionals are familiar with the Shannon-Weaver communication model. For the benefit of those who aren’t, here’s a quick synopsis: a sender sends a message to a receiver. However, noise breaks down the transmission (note: the noise may not be literally “noise”), so when the receiver receives the message, it is never 100% accurate (and it never will be; the noise is always there. It’s like a mathematical graph; the line approaches, but will never reach, 100%). The receiver sends feedback to the sender (during feedback, the sender and receiver roles are reversed — the feedback becomes the new message), who uses it to adjust the message, and the cycle begins again.

    That communication model becomes magnified when ghostwriting an article because what the receiver — in this case, the ghostwriter — is feeding back to the sender is much, much more precise. A ghostwriter is trying to write on behalf of the client, and the client wants to make sure that what is being written is (1) accurate, and (2) maintains a voice that the client likes. In all likelihood, the client and the ghostwriter will go through several iterations of edits and adjustments.

    This reminds me of another thought…
  • I fully expect that what I write will be changed. Never get too attached to anything that you’re ghostwriting. Any time that I ghostwrite a work, I fully expect it to be different by the time my client and I are finished with it. As adjustments are made between me and my client, what we end up producing may look completely different from what I originally wrote.
  • You’re writing for someone else — but still be yourself. Even though I’m writing someone else’s thoughts, I never think about whether or not my writing “sounds” like the person for whom I’m writing. Thinking about writing in another person’s voice stifles my work and is a huge distraction that destroys my productivity. I write whatever comes naturally to me, and only through the editing process do I start worrying about the article’s voice, when the client starts adjusting the article to his or her liking.

    This thought brings to mind a quote from one of my favorite movies.

“No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”

William Forrester (played by Sean Connery), Finding Forrester
  • I’m learning new things! I’ve written before that one of the best ways to learn something is to write about it. Any time that you write about a topic, you end up learning about that topic — sometimes to the point of becoming an SME! Ghostwriting is no different. As I’m writing for my client, I’m learning new things and gaining new perspectives that hadn’t previously occurred to me.
  • I’m gaining new writing experience. I think this might be one of the biggest benefits of ghostwriting. Not only am I gaining additional writing experience, I’m also learning how to do so from another person’s viewpoint. As I mention above, I’m learning new things. I’m also learning how to be a better communicator, as it sharpens my communication skills as I continually feed back with my client. And it also teaches me how to look at things from a different point of view, which is what ghostwriting forces me to do.

I’m discovering that ghostwriting is a rewarding experience. It’s a great way to gain writing experience, and it ultimately makes me a better writer, a better worker, and a better person.

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.

The power of a single, simple presentation — oh, the places you can go!

This morning, my Facebook memories feed told me that I did a presentation at my local user group five years ago today (this isn’t the first time I’ve written about this). I did a presentation about how to speak the language of technology to those who don’t understand it.

Little did I know at the time that that simple little presentation would end up taking me places.

I had applied to speak at our local SQL Saturday using that presentation, and I wanted to use our user group meeting as a trial run. That evening, I learned a few things about myself.

  • I enjoyed public speaking and presenting.
  • I was good at it (or so I was told).
  • I have a passion for teaching. This was not news to me, but my experience reinforced that passion.

Not only was that presentation accepted for our local SQL Saturday, I have since given that presentation eleven times — including at PASS Summit, and most recently, at a SQL Saturday this past February, just before the COVID-19 crisis hit.

Since I did my presentation at my local user group five years ago, I’ve spoken at a total of twenty-three (and counting) SQL Saturdays, seven in-person user group meetings (including one that was not local), three online virtual user group presentations, a podcast, and PASS Summit. I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel and to make friends because of my experiences!

And those are just my speaking engagements. I’ve also had some other things that have happened, indirectly, because of that presentation.

  • I started a ‘blog about professional development topics (this very ‘blog that you’re reading right now).
  • I’ve gotten a better sense of my own professional skill sets and gained more confidence in them.
  • I’ve started my own business, something that I previously never thought I would ever do.
  • Even though I lost my job, I have much more confidence in my own abilities and career prospects.
  • My professional network has become much stronger.

I credit all of this to that one, simple presentation that I gave at a user group meeting five years ago today.

So consider joining a user group and doing a presentation. You never know where it could lead.

My #JobHunt presentation is online #PASSProfDev @PASS_ProfDev @CASSUG_Albany #SQLFamily #ProfessionalDevelopment

If you missed my job hunt presentation, it is now available on YouTube. Click here to view my presentation!

Additionally, my presentation slides can be downloaded from here!

How to (and how NOT to) connect on #LinkedIn

Lately, it seems like I’ve been getting more and more request to connect on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the go-to social networking tool for connecting with people professionally. Ever since I (1) announced that I was looking for a new job, and (2) announced that I’d started a new LLC, the number of connect requests I’ve been getting has increased.

I had comments on my LinkedIn summary saying that I won’t connect with cold-call LinkedIn requests (and I still won’t, but we’ll get to that in a moment), but I toned the language down after my job hunt kicked into gear.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about LinkedIn connect requests, but people whom I don’t know or have never heard of still persist in connecting with me. I’ve said it before: networking is about relationships. If you’re trying to establish a network (which is what LinkedIn connect requests are about), you need to establish a relationship.

Yet here I am, once again, writing about this topic, because people still don’t get it. So, here are a few tips about how to (and how NOT to) establish a LinkedIn connection with me.

Things that will establish a connection between me and you

  • You’re a friend or colleague whom I know and trust, and I recognize your name immediately, regardless of whether or not you include an accompanying note.
  • You’re someone whom I invited to connect.
  • You’re an acquaintance whom I don’t know well, but you include a note saying “we worked together at such-and-such place,” or “we were classmates in such-and-such school,” or “I was one of your students at place-where-I taught.”
  • I don’t know you at all, but you include a note saying “we met at SQL Saturday,” or “I enjoyed your presentation,” or “we met at such-and-such place,” or “(a mutual connection) said we should hook up,” and so on, and so on, and so on.

    One of the best examples of this was the following note I received after I spoke at a SQL Saturday. Although I didn’t know her at all, I was happy to connect with her.

    “I really enjoyed your presentation on technical writing at SQL Saturday today! The tie challenge was a really interesting way to get the point across. I’d like to stay in touch and maybe pick your brain about tech writing again at some point in the future.”

    One note that I should add: try to be specific about how we’re connected. Mention where we met, which of my presentations you saw, what you liked (or didn’t like) about my presentation, why our mutual friend said we should connect, and so on. For all I know, you might be stalking my profile, just happen to see a connection on it, and say “so-and-so told me to connect.” If you don’t explain why we’re connecting, that’s not going to cut it. I don’t have any tolerance for BS’ers.
  • You’re a legitimate (key word!) recruiter who actually knows and respects what I’m looking for, and doesn’t blindly send me requests for jobs in which I have absolutely no interest. (See below for the opposite of this.)

I want to point out that, except for the first two bullet points, all of these have something in common: that you include a note telling me who you are and how we’re connected. This is key in establishing a connection.

Things that will make me delete your connect request immediately

These types of requests irritate me to no end, and will nearly guarantee that I will delete your connect request.

  • I have no idea who you are, and you do NOT include any note of any kind telling me who you are.
  • Same as above, even if we’re connected in some way (e.g. same user group, same workplace, same activity, etc.). If we’re connected, and I don’t know you well (or at all), don’t just assume I know who you are and how we’re connected! Tell me who you are!!! Don’t make me work to figure it out!!!
  • Including a note, but making no mention about how we’re related. I recently received a connect request from someone asking me if I was looking to hire developers. My business is a single-person LLC (for now), and I am not looking to hire anyone, at least not yet. Maybe several years from now, when I’m pulling in over a half-million dollars worth of assets and have more work than I can handle, then sure, I might look to hire people. But until that happens, please tell me how we’re connected. I felt bad for the poor guy, but he didn’t give me any reason for me to connect with him, other than “I’m looking for a job.”
  • Kissing my ass. This is something that pisses me off to no end. My number one pet peeve is insulting my intelligence. Doing so guarantees that you will end up on my shit list.

    The most egregious example was a connect request I received that said this:

    “I’m always looking to build my network with great people and would be delighted to have you in my network. I hope you’ll consider connecting!”

    Not only did she try to kiss up to me, she insulted my intelligence. I could not delete her connect request fast enough.
  • Try to talk about a relationship that doesn’t exist. I recently received a request that said this:

    “Thanks in advance for connecting. Tons of value in connecting with other sales professionals.”

    Um, did you actually read my LinkedIn profile?!? Name ONE thing in it that says I am, in any way, interested in sales!!! (Here’s a hint: I’M NOT!!!)
  • I make no secret of the fact that I have a deep contempt for spam recruiters. It is well-known by legitimate recruiters and scores of IT professionals that spam recruiters are radioactive and should be treated as such. If you’re a so-called “recruiter” who doesn’t give a damn about your client, doesn’t try to get to know what I want or am looking for, sends me a job in which I have zero interest, tries to send me a cold-call connect request when I don’t know you, have never heard of you, have no idea who you are, and only cares about how much you get paid and not about your client’s well-being, then don’t even bother trying to contact or connect with me.
  • Trying to sell me something, or push something on me that I either don’t want or don’t care about. Again, this is about establishing relationships. It’s a two-way street. If it’s something that’s only for your benefit, then I don’t want anything to do with you.

In a nutshell, if you’re looking to connect with someone over LinkedIn, always include a note that explains your relationship with that person. I guarantee that you will increase your chances that he or she will connect with you, and your networking experience will go much better.

I am #JobHunting again #Networking #SQLFamily

I just got the word this morning. I was informed that my contract will end at the end of the month.

I did not see this coming. I was blindsided by this.

After an almost three-year run, I am, once again, looking for a job. I enjoyed working in this position, and it was a fun ride while it lasted.

So, I wanted to write this article to post a few thoughts.

  • Let me emphasize that I am NOT taking this personally, and I do not have any ill will toward my (soon to be ex-) employer. I know how the game is played. Right now, my main emotion is getting over the shock of being blindsided by this news. Once I’ve had a chance to collect my thoughts (which is the main purpose of this very article), I should be okay. To their credit, my employer and client have reached out to me and offered their willingness to help me out. It is entirely possible that I may remain with the company handling my contract, but we’ll see what happens.
  • The secondary purpose of this article is to shake the networking tree. If anyone knows of anything (per the guidelines below — keep reading), feel free to reach out to me.
  • In terms of what type of position I’m seeking, I’m probably best-suited for a role in business or data analysis, technical writing, or technical training. I’m pretty far removed from my days as a developer, but I will not rule it out.
  • In terms of positions that do not interest me, I have no interest in sales or helpdesk call positions. That said, if necessary, I would be open to any temporary position to hold me over, regardless of whether I’m interested in it or not.
  • I want to remain local to the Albany, NY area. That said, I am open to remote/telecommuting positions (which seems to be just about all tech positions these days).
  • In regards to what industries interest me, I would be willing to work for almost any industry, but the one that interests me the most is academia.
  • If you are connected with me on LinkedIn, please consider writing me a recommendation. If I am able to do so, I will reciprocate. Additionally, please let me know if you’re willing to serve as a reference, and if so, send me your contact information where you would be willing to be contacted by any of my potential employers.

I’ve worked a wonderful position for the past three years, and as I sit to think about it, I realize that I’ve been spoiled during this time. I’m saddened to be leaving this position, but I’m also excited to see what the next chapter of my professional life brings.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 6: Keeping spirits high #COVID19

When I first started posting to Facebook — probably about twelve years ago, give or take — I remember getting up on a gray, blustery Monday morning, and I innocuously posted a song lyric: “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” A week later, I posted another: “Just another manic Monday.” Mainly, they reflected what was on my mind. I posted them sporadically, until some friends of mine told me, “we enjoy when you post those — keep them going!” That started my tradition every morning of posting a “Lyric Of The Day” (which I now abbreviate as “LOTD”). I post them each morning before work (and I generally only post them on a work day). Nine times out of ten, what I post is simply something stuck in my head, but every once in a while, I’ll post something related to a current event or something that’s on my mind.

Every once in a while, I’ll have a morning where nothing comes to me, in which case I’ll post something inane like the lyrics to “Happy Birthday” or “The Wheels On The Bus.” Sometimes, what’s in my head doesn’t have lyrics, in which case I’ll post a YouTube link to the song that’s in my head.

I only do this on my Facebook account; I don’t do this on my ‘blog or on Twitter. If you want to see my daily LOTD, you’ll just have to Facebook-friend me! 🙂

I have a couple of other friends who post a lot of puns. I refer to one of them as “the king of puns,” and the other has taken to posting, during the COVID-19 crisis, what he’s been referring to as the “dad joke of the day.”

Other friends post more serious, inspirational quotes or memes. Some are religious, while others quote famous people throughout history.

Whether it’s music, humor, inspirational quotes, or something else, they all serve the same purpose: raising morale and lifting spirits. These days, with all of us shut in at home, we can use as many morale boosts as we can get, however we get it. I am not blind nor ignorant to the things going on around me; rather, I’m doing what I can to make the world a better place, even if I have to do it virtually.