The SQL Yearbook

Earlier this year, Jen McCown announced that she was embarking on a project that she called “the SQL Yearbook.”  I decided, what the heck, and told her I’d take part.

A little while ago, I got an email from her saying that the project is finished!  (Per her instructions, I also want to make sure I attribute it properly, so here it is: “SQL Yearbook 2018” by Jennifer McCown of MinionWare is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.)

If you click either PDF link, my profile shows up on page 19.  (Really, it’s the same one I use for my SQL Saturday speaker’s profile.)

I have a number of friends and associates who are featured throughout this yearbook, primarily through my association with my local SQL user group, my dealings with SSC, and my experiences with SQL Saturday.

Hope you enjoy it!

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The craft of online business networking

I recently had a friend text me to say she was looking for new employment, and wanted to know if I had any ideas.  I gave her my thoughts, mentioned some resources (I even dropped a name), and told her that she should network on LinkedIn and Facebook.  She told me that she was rarely, if ever, on LinkedIn, and the idea of using Facebook for professional networking had never occurred to her.

What she told me prompted me to write this article.

A couple of things that she said struck me.  First, despite the fact that she wanted to find new employment and was interested in getting connected, she almost never used LinkedIn.  Second, the idea of professional networking on Facebook never occurred to her.

I will mention that my friend in question is my age (we went to high school together) and is not as technically savvy as I am.  Although many people of my generation have largely embraced technology and social media, it’s not unusual or uncommon to find people who haven’t.  Nevertheless, in my position, I take using online communication for granted, so it surprised me that someone would not even think about using a tool such as LinkedIn or Facebook for her job search.

My thought was, Facebook is a highly popular application that connects large numbers of people.  How does someone not know to network through Facebook?  I’m not talking about how to network on Facebook, but rather just the simple fact that you can network on Facebook.

I should reiterate that I have personal experience with this; I got my current job through a Facebook contact.

I am a big believer that, in this day and age of social media, networking online is absolutely critical for surviving in today’s professional market.  A lot of business is conducted through email and text messages; indeed, applications such as Slack have become highly prevalent in business.  Even in one of my previous jobs, Skype was used extensively for work-related purposes.  I have even seen job applications that ask for your LinkedIn account, an indication that businesses take it seriously.

With the use of electronic media in business so prevalent, and with the popularity of social networks such as Facebook, it makes sense that online networking is critical for professional survival.

With that, here are some of my thoughts in regard to online networking.  This is not a comprehensive list; indeed, there may be a number of things I might be leaving out.  By all means, I encourage you to dig deeper into this (which you should be doing, anyway) and check out what others have to say about online networking.

One thing I should note: I talk mainly about LinkedIn, Facebook, and ‘blogs because those are the forums with which I am the most familiar.  This is not to discount other forms of social media (e.g. Google+, Twitter, etc.); if you use other platforms, then by all means, knock yourself out.

Online networking is still networking.  Think about what networking is.  It is a phenomenon where a person establishes a relationship — for purposes of this topic, a professional relationship — with another person.  Networking is a two-way street; the relationship is mutually beneficial to both parties.

When I was in college (which predates the internet — yes, I’m old!), we talked with people online using a system called the BITNET.  I actually made a number of friends by talking to them over BITNET; in fact, I am still friends with several of them to this day.

Networking online does not change the nature of what networking is.  Tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook are exactly that: tools.  They are used to facilitate networking, and if used properly, they can help foster and nurture those relationships.

Online networking expands your reach.  I maintain my Facebook account so I can keep family and friends in the loop as to what’s going on in my life.  Many of these people are located all around the country, and even around the world; I even have friends as far away as Sweden, Israel, and Pakistan.

I’ve written before about how involvement in local user groups is a good thing.  It is, but one limitation of it is geography; your reach goes as far as people live from the group site.  Online networking has no such limitation.  Maintaining an online presence means you can network with people anywhere.

Additionally, an online presence doesn’t just expand your network geographically; it can also expand it numerically as well.  Online networking ensures that you will be seen by more people than those with whom you would contact either face-to-face or over the phone.

Networking — whether it’s online or real life — takes time.  If you’ve been involved in some kind of relationship — whether it’s friendship, romantic, or professional — you know that it takes time to establish.

This is also the case with online (or any) networking.  Just because you’ve created a LinkedIn account and connected with, say, five different people does not mean you have an online networking presence.  Establishing a good network takes time — sometimes months, possibly even years.  If you’re looking for a job today, you can’t just start a LinkedIn account now, connect to a few people, and suddenly have an interview tomorrow.  It doesn’t work that way.  Networking is a long-term investment of time and effort.

You can join groups in Facebook and LinkedIn.  How many and what kinds of groups are you connected to on Facebook and LinkedIn?  Did it ever occur to you that those groups represent people who have similar interests to you?  This sounds familiar.  I think there’s a term for that.  I think it’s called…  let me think…  networking!

Online groups are not that different from physical user groups (okay, maybe you have to get your own coffee and snacks).  If you’re involved with an online group, you are already connected to a bunch of people who have the same interests that you do!

Network with people you know.  I get plenty of connect requests from people I don’t know.  Some of them are spam recruiters.  I make it clear on my LinkedIn summary that I only connect with people I know, and if they tell me how we’re connected or where we’ve met, then I’d be more likely to connect.  But if someone just sends me a request to connect, and I have no clue as to whom (s)he is, the request will likely end up in the trash.

Case in point: not long ago, someone who I didn’t know asked to connect.  However, he also included a note that he was the editor for the podcast I did a while back.  Ah, okay!  We have a connection!  I was happy to connect with him.

Remember, networking is a two-way street.  If someone connecting with you is looking to get something from you but is not willing to do anything in return, that is not networking; that is someone taking advantage of you.  If you don’t trust the other person, don’t connect with him or her.

Keep your information up-to-date.  You can pretty much keep your entire resume on LinkedIn (and Facebook as well, although it isn’t really used for that purpose).  I find it much easier to maintain my information and accomplishments on LinkedIn than I do constantly having to update my resume.  Additionally, when I do need to update my resume, I can use my LinkedIn information as a reference.

However, it’s not just a matter of your resume information.  It makes a good resource for my next point, which is…

What you know matters.  There is a reason why I maintain this ‘blog and include links to it on both my Facebook and LinkedIn.  I’m letting people know about what I think, what I’m learning, what I’m working on, and so on.  This is all stuff that (hopefully) is valuable to other people, not to mention that it looks good on a resume.

People can look at your LinkedIn profile and get an idea of what you know.  How often have recruiters found you by looking at your profile?  If you post what you know, it can help with connecting to other professionals.

Post about your accomplishments!  You just got a promotion because you figured out a complex problem!  You just got a full ride to Harvard!  You won your robotics competition!  Congratulations!  These are accomplishments that people like to hear about, and it’s possible that they might help land your next big thing.  Go ahead and post about them on LinkedIn, Facebook, or your ‘blog.  Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn!

The hive mind is a useful thing.  How many times have you posted on Facebook, “hey hive mind, I need your help on…”?  Did it ever occur to you that the same problem-solving tactic can be used professionally as well?  Your network is a source of knowledge.  It’s entirely possible that someone, somewhere, might have an answer to your problem.

How many times have to posted to a forum such as SQLServerCentral, 4GuysFromRolla, or StackOverflow looking for an answer to a problem?  You’re posting your issue to a wide audience, hoping that someone will have an answer.  An online network is useful in serving that purpose.

Above all, be yourself.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I shouldn’t try to be someone I’m not.  I’ve written before about how difficult it is to keep up with current trends.  Maybe it’s time to reinvent yourself.  Figure out who you are and stick with it.  Don’t waste your time trying to build up your online persona into someone you’re not.

Even online, etiquette matters.  People are more likely to networking with people they like.  Maintaining good etiquette goes a long way in accomplishing that.

There are some things you shouldn’t post online.  Do you really want the entire world, much less, professional contacts, to know all about the multi-keg drunk fest you had with your buddies?  What about the sordid details of the night that you had with the girl or guy you picked up the other night?  Granted, these are extreme examples, but nevertheless, there are some things I wouldn’t even want to share with my best friends, much less, business contacts.  This should be common sense, but it’s amazing (and not in a good way) how many people don’t think about this.

As I stated before, it’s entirely possible that your next manager or business contact could be one of your Facebook friends.  While it’s probably safe to post pictures of your vacation, your kids, or your cats, there are some things that you just shouldn’t post online.

While we’re on the subject of inappropriate things online…

There are pitfalls.  As much as I extol the virtues of online networking, it is not perfect, either.  Data security can be an issue.  There are spammers looking to scam you or make a fast buck.  People establish fake accounts for questionable purposes.  In this day and age of “fake” news, misinformation can spread like wildfire.

Despite the pitfalls that can come with online networking, they should not discourage you from establishing an online presence.  Used wisely and intelligently, online networking can enhance your career.

If you want to be more effective with professional networking, especially in this electronic interconnected age, you need to be able to do it online.  Making use of social media can go a long way in extending your networking reach.

The importance of maintaining a LinkedIn account

My own presentation and a lightning talk by Paresh Motiwala from our SQL Saturday this past July got me thinking about my own LinkedIn account.  I’ve been going through the activities feed fairly regularly, making sure my ‘blog articles are posted, getting an idea of how many people see (much less, actually read) my articles, and to get occasional updates as to what my contacts are doing.  But it also occurred to me that it’s been a while since I did a full-fledged inventory of my own LinkedIn account.  I’ve written before about the importance of maintaining documentation, and my own LinkedIn profile is no exception.

Why inventory my LinkedIn account?  To answer this, I suppose I should explain why I have a LinkedIn account at all.

I’ll admit that I’m usually a lot more active on LinkedIn if I’m looking for a job.  I don’t know the statistics as to how people use LinkedIn, but it wouldn’t surprise me if job hunting is the number one reason.  Nevertheless, I try to check my LinkedIn fairly regularly, regardless of whether or not I’m looking for new employment.

I should note that, as of this article, I am not actively looking for employment.  That said, I still think it’s important to maintain my LinkedIn account.

Probably my biggest reason for maintaining a LinkedIn account is networking.  I’ve written before about the importance of networking in your professional lifetime.  I have an entire presentation about networking.  LinkedIn provides a tool for maintaining my networking contacts and staying in touch with them.  I’ve often said that one of my main reasons for maintaining my Facebook account is to keep in touch with family and friends, and to keep them up to date with whatever is happening in my life.  LinkedIn mostly serves the same purpose, with the primary difference being that the context is professional, not personal.

If you’re job hunting, a LinkedIn account is invaluable (I would even go as far as to say it’s necessary).  I came across an article (on LinkedIn, of course!) that stated about 85% of jobs were filled through networking.  I can personally attest to this; the person who hired me for my current job is connected to me through both Facebook and LinkedIn.

If you’re not convinced that LinkedIn is necessary for effective job hunting, imagine this scenario.  You’re a hiring manager who’s looking to fill one position, and is looking over two nearly identical resumes.  Both people are qualified for the position.  You decide that you want to know more about them.  You see that one has a LinkedIn profile.  The other does not.  Guess which one will have the advantage.

I’ve seen job applications that ask for your LinkedIn profile URL.  That tells me that employers take LinkedIn pretty seriously.

I said earlier that I am currently not actively seeking new employment.  However, I didn’t mention anything about passively looking.  Although I am content in my current position, I would be remiss if I didn’t keep my eyes and ears open for my next big thing, whether it’s a step up in my position or my salary.

I attended a SQL Saturday presentation by my friend, James Serra, about how to build your career.  One of the takeaways from his presentation was not to get comfortable if you want to get ahead — a point that prompted me to write about it in another ‘blog article.  Granted, I enjoy what I do, and I’m sure I could remain in my position for some time, but I’d be crazy to pass up an opportunity that represents a major step up and is right up my alley.

So, I started going through my own LinkedIn profile.  First, I went through my contacts to make sure it was up-to-date.  I started by going through the last SQL Saturday schedule, looking through the speaker profiles to see who else had LinkedIn accounts (those who have one are noted by a LinkedIn icon under their names), and checking to make sure I was connected to them.  I should note that I did not do this with all the speakers, but mainly the ones I know reasonably well and with whom I feel comfortable connecting.

Going through the “People you may know” feature, I was surprised to find a number of people whom I know but was not already connected on LinkedIn.  I sent them invitations to connect with me.  As of this article, about ten of them have accepted my invitation within the past week.  More will be coming, I’m sure.

I also looked at my own summary and realized that it’s not really a “summary” — that is, it should be a list of highlights and fairly easy to read.  I have some ideas in my head as to how to rewrite it; I have not yet done so as of this article.  Nevertheless, my personal professional summary will definitely get some tweaking sometime in the days ahead.

Whenever I assemble a new presentation, I make sure that it is listed under my Publications section.  It indicates that I am active with my presentations.  Demonstrating that you are doing something to enhance your background (in this case, staying active with my SQL Saturday presentations) is always a good thing.

I also solicit recommendations from people.  Maintaining recommendations on your LinkedIn enhances your profile.  And I make it a point to reciprocate when someone leaves me a recommendation.  This is a key point of networking; networking is a two-way street.  If someone does you a favor, make sure you do the same.

Maintaining LinkedIn is critical for your professional career.  I only talked about a few reasons for maintaining your account; there are many more that I didn’t mention.  (Out of curiosity, I Google-searched “reasons to maintain linkedin account” and a number of links showed up.)  In this day and age where maintaining an online presence is nearly expected, LinkedIn might make the difference in advancing your career.

One year

One year ago today, I started my ‘blog.  Happy anniversary to me!

“I lost my job. Now what?!?”

Before any of my friends panic, no, I didn’t actually lose my job (at least not at the time of this article); this is just what I’m using for the title.

Having said that, here’s a little background for what prompted me to write this. A few weeks ago, I saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine. She was (understandably) flustered because her husband had lost his job.  I wanted to help them (and others) out, so I began jotting down my thoughts for this article.  Ironically, I had a Facebook “on this day” memory come up on the very same day that I started jotting down my notes for this article; it turned out that on that day four years ago, I was laid off from a job as well.

Losing your job is always a scary proposition. Very few people (that I know of) wants to be unemployed.  There’s a great deal of uncertainty.  Questions enter your mind; among others: “how long will I be out of work?”  “How will I pay the bills?”  “How will I get by?”

Having been there and done that, I empathize with people who find themselves jobless.  For those of you who find themselves in such a situation, here are some tidbits that helped me through these tough times.

  • Above everything else, control your emotions.  When you lose your job, your emotions run wild.  Most likely, you (understandably) get scared, depressed, angry, frustrated, and so on.  The worst thing you can do is lose control of yourself.  If you need to do so, find a safe way to blow off steam and keep your feelings in check.  It isn’t healthy to keep those emotions bottled up, but at the same time, it is absolutely critical that you keep your head on your shoulders.  Find a healthy way to get those feelings out of your system, but don’t let those feelings control you.
  • Keep a positive attitude.  It is very easy to get down on yourself when you lose a job.  Strangely, the last time I lost my job, I actually felt invigorated.  I looked at it as an opportunity.  It wasn’t so much that I’d lost my employment as much as I was being offered a chance to try something new.  I wrote a while back that a positive attitude can be a powerful thing.  Rather than dwelling in what was, focus on what might be.
  • Take advantage of your free time.  A friend of mine who’d lost his job at one point told me that he took advantage of his suddenly-acquired free time to spend time with his family, play golf, and do things he didn’t have time to do because he was at work.  While he did focus efforts on his job hunt, he also made it a point to balance his time between searching for a job and having fun — which brings me to another thought…
  • Looking for a job is a full-time job.  Back in the good-old “answering help wanted newspaper ad” days, quantity was quality (there might be some recruiters who disagree with me on this, but I digress).  I am, admittedly, old school, so a part of me still subscribes to this mindset.  There were job hunts where I averaged about ten applications a day.  There’s also doing your homework — researching companies and potential employers, sizing them (and yourself — again, more on that in a minute) up, getting addresses, making phone calls, polishing your resume and your cover letters, and so on.  That makes for a lot of time and effort, and it will tire you out.  Make the time for your job hunt endeavors — but don’t forget to balance your life as well.
  • Find something to hold you over.  No, flipping burgers isn’t sexy, but it’s a source of income.  Even minimum wage is better than, say, zero (and it might also be better than unemployment benefits, which, in my experience, usually pays squat).  There is no shame in taking a temp job to hold you over until you land on your feet again.
  • Get involved, and keep yourself busy.  Number one, it’ll get your mind off your situation.  Number two, it’s a chance for you to network (again, I’ll expand on that in a bit).  Number three, you might learn something new that would make you marketable.  For more thoughts on getting involved, check out my article on getting involved with user groups, as well as an article I wrote about using your skill set for speaking at conferences.
  • Be honest with yourself.  When I started getting down on myself about my job situation, I asked myself a few questions, including: “where do my strengths lie,” “what am I capable of doing,” and “what do I really want to do?”  I identified my own skill sets and my interests; this, in turn, helped me identify positions for which I was qualified, as well as developing my own professional persona that helped me with interview skills.
  • Be creative.  As part of my job search, as well as a tool for networking, I created business cards for myself.  However, these were no ordinary business cards.  I remembered a scene in Mr. Baseball where Tom Selleck’s character learned that Japanese businessmen networked by exchanging business cards.  He gave them his baseball card.  That got me thinking: “Business card…  baseball card…” and I put the two together.  The result is what you see in the picture below.
    raysbizcardpic
    My networking business card

    The picture is a souvenir photo I got on a trip to Cooperstown (they dressed you up in the uniform of your choice and took your picture with a stadium backdrop).  I took that photo and made it into the business card you see above.  The back side has my contact information, and inside (it’s a folded card) contains a mini-resume with my career information.  I always get great reactions from people when I hand these out; someone even once said to me, “if I was in a position to hire, I’d hire you right now just because of this card!”  People will remember you, and it makes a great conversation piece.

    You don’t have to come up with a baseball-business card (hey, my idea, darn it!), but by all means, tap into your creativity to get yourself noticed!

  • Network, network, network!  Did I mention that you should network?  These days, networking is probably the best way to find a job.  Someone who knows of a job opening can probably tell you about it long before the open position becomes public knowledge.  That extra time could very well be your foot in the door.
  • Take advantage of available resources.  In this day and age of communication, you have no excuse not to make use of social media.  LinkedIn is specifically designed for professionals, and many online resources (including and especially job-hunt and networking resources) ask if you have a LinkedIn account.  If you’re looking, you can’t afford not to have an account.  While Facebook isn’t specifically geared toward professional networking, it is still another resource you can tap.
  • Don’t limit yourself.  Would you consider moving or taking a job outside your geographic area?  Would you consider working from home?  What about a different line of work?  Would you work part-time, odd hours, or a contract position?  If you’re in a jobless situation, you may very well need to keep your options open.

These are just some of my thoughts regarding surviving a jobless situation.  Did I miss anything, or do you disagree with any of my thoughts?  Feel free to comment below.

Why I ‘blog (or, “Variations on a Theme by Serra”)

In my first ‘blog post, I mentioned that I had numerous reasons for starting a ‘blog.  I’d like to expand upon that here.

I should mention that this is not my first effort at writing a ‘blog.  I also had another ‘blog on Livejournal.  However, that account mostly served a purpose that’s currently (and better) served by Facebook.  (I purposely exclude links to my old Livejournal account.)  After I started my Facebook account, my Livejournal account was mostly ignored.  Once I had new reasons for starting this ‘blog (that I write about below), I decided that it was time to put my Livejournal account to bed for good.

(If you’re looking for links to my Facebook account from my ‘blog, don’t bother.  I purposely don’t include them.  My Facebook account and my ‘blog serve two different purposes, akin to separating my personal life from my work.  I do, however, have links to my LinkedIn profile; that is more outward-facing and publicly shared.)

I met James Serra at SQL Saturday #526 in Rochester.  He has an excellent ‘blog post titled “Enhance your career by blogging!”  Many of the reasons he cites are exactly the same reasons why I started this ‘blog.  He is one of the big influences that prompted me to start my ‘blog.  In this article, I take his ideas and expand upon them, using them to explain why I ‘blog.

I listen to a lot of classical music.  One of my favorite works is Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  In that piece, Rachmaninoff takes a theme written by Niccolò Paganini and creates his own spin on it by writing his variations based on that theme.  In this article, I suppose you could say that James is Paganini, and I’m Rachmaninoff.

I’m a stickler for documentation.  I have a Master’s degree in technical communication, and I have professional experience as a technical writer.  Technical writing and documentation are among the most essential, yet most underutilized and disrespected, functions within most organizations.  (I have a SQL Saturday presentation that addresses exactly this issue; additionally, I will address this topic in a future ‘blog article, but this goes outside the scope of what I’m writing about here.)  ‘Blogging provides a forum for me to document my thoughts and ideas.

I’ll start with the very first bullet point that James writes in his post:

“I can document solutions I encounter for future use.  Sort of my own personal Google”

Above all, this is probably one of the top (if not the top) reasons why I started my ‘blog.  I frequently look up online references to help me with my work.  Among some of my favorites: SQLServerCentral, 4GuysFromRolla, StackOverflow, MSDN, W3Schools, etc.  Having this information readily at hand is like having my own online library.  If you walk into someone’s office (or cubicle), you might see a bookshelf containing books related to that person’s job.  Maintaining my ‘blog serves that same purpose.

Stealing a few more of James’ bullet points:

“I enjoy sharing knowledge”

“It helps as a consultant when I can use my blog as a solution to a customer’s problem”

“I use it as a replacement for client documentation.  They want you to document a solution, a work-around, etc.  Don’t just write-up something in an email or Word doc…blog it!”

James lists these as separate bullet points, but they all have an idea in common: what I write on my ‘blog helps other people.  Not only does my ‘blog serve as a reference for myself, but what I write is helpful to others as well.  If what I write helps other people, then I’ve made a productive — and satisfying — contribution.

Moving right along . . .

“It helps me to remember the things I blog about better because I am researching it and writing it”

How often have you come up with a thought, told yourself, “I’ll remember this; no problem,” become distracted with other tasks, then completely forgot about your thought?

As I write this, I have eight (and counting) ‘blog drafts sitting in my queue.  Whenever a thought comes to me, I’ll go to my drafts and write my thoughts down.  One of my life philosophies that I’ve developed over time includes this one: if I’m thinking of something, either (1) take care of it right away, or (2) write it down.  I have a lot of ideas in my head that deserve (I think) to be heard.  A lot of my drafts are merely scratch notes or ideas for articles yet to be written.  When I was researching the tech writing/documentation presentation I mentioned earlier, I came across this quote (that I included in my presentation slides): “If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.”  In George Orwell’s 1984, O’Brien destroys a document, then promptly tells Winston Smith, “I do not remember it.”  Documentation preserves thoughts.  If your thought isn’t written down, you risk losing it forever.

“I learn new technology by blogging about it.  The best way to learn is by teaching, especially when I don’t know enough about a topic”

One thing I learned from my experience as a technical writer is that I learn a lot about something when I write about it, sometimes to the point that I become a subject matter expert.  When you write about a particular subject, you need to learn about that subject in order to document it.  Writing about something helps you retain that information in your memory.

“To raise my personal brand”

“It’s a way for recruiters to find you”

“To prove to clients I know my stuff”

“It’s a way to become ‘known'”

While this is more a minor reason that I ‘blog, I readily admit that a part of me hopes that ‘blogging and presenting will eventually lead to bigger things.  Right now, it’s too soon to know whether or not my ‘blogging experience leads to a higher salary or significant advancements in my career.  But you never know.  Whether or not ‘blogging leads to bigger and better things remains to be seen.  We’ll see what happens down the road.

I’ll also mention something that James doesn’t talk about in his article.  One of my reasons for ‘blogging has to do with my involvement with SQL Saturday.  I gave my first SQL Saturday presentation in 2015, and have come up with additional presentations since then.  While my presentations seem to work well by themselves, I found that they could be made even more effective with additional information to supplement them.  That’s where my ‘blog comes in.  Much of what I write can be used either to support my presentations, or the material in my presentations can be used as fodder for future articles.  The ‘blog provides the vehicle that allows that to happen.

Are those enough reasons?  Maybe, by this point, I’ve inspired you to create your own ‘blog the same way that James inspired me.  Best of luck in your ‘blogging endeavor!