My company logo on a shirt

I was poking around VistaPrint‘s website the other day (this is the site I use to make my business cards). Of course, with any business that sells promotional items, I was greeted with the proverbial “try your logo on this product” popup window.

One of the items that came up was shirt designs. I decided to have some fun with it, and came up with the design that you see above.

I thought it came out pretty well! I decided to order two shirts, one for my wife and one for myself. I plan to wear it whenever I go to the gym and whenever I attend networking events, or events where I’m presenting, such as SQL Saturday.

If you like this shirt, you can order one, too; just click this link! I’m not getting any money for shirt sales. My payment is you walking around advertising my business!

Alas, I don’t yet have a large marketing budget where I can buy a hundred shirts and give them out for free. Hopefully I’ll get to that point, but I’m not quite there yet.

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.

Check in on your black friends #BlackLivesMatter

Just this once, I’m addressing a controversial topic. I usually don’t write about these things, but I am deeply troubled by the state of my country and the world, and if, by my words, I have the power to change it, then I’m going to do it. I’m not sure what kind of effect, if any, one ‘blog article will have, but I would regret it even more if I could’ve said or done something to make things better, and I sat by the sideline and did nothing.

In light of everything that has been going on (I won’t get into that here — but by reading this article, you should get a sense of where I stand), I wanted to check in on some of my friends. So this morning, I posted this — a simple question — to my Facebook and Twitter.

To my black friends:

I wanted to check in. How’re you doing?

I was asking this question seriously. I have a number of black and African-American friends. I was concerned about their welfare, and wanted to make sure they were okay. I wanted to know how they were holding up. And especially given the current political climate, I wanted to let them know that, if they needed anything — even if all it was was an ear to bend — I was here for them.

My post was a simple and small gesture, but I wanted to send a clear message to my friends: I’m here for you, and I’m listening. I have your back.

Granted, I’m not a white person (for those of you who haven’t paid attention, I’m Asian-American). Nevertheless, I grew up in a rural and mostly white neighborhood with mostly white friends; subsequently, I’ve adopted white attitudes and mindsets. Even when I was a kid growing up, my parents had to explain this to me; I remember, as a child, being puzzled about why my own skin tone wasn’t as pale as my friends.

I did have a couple of black friends when I was young, and they are still among my best friends to this day. I never thought of them as my black friends (and I still don’t). I thought of them as my friends. Period. End of story. There was never any “black” preceding the word “friends,” and there never will be. Okay, so they looked different. So did I. Big whoop. I never had any problem interacting with them, playing sports or music with them, going to school with them, and so on.

That said, our present society is forcing me to see them as black. And I’m worried about them. The last thing I want is to read their names in the newspapers, hearing that they died for the sole reason of the color of their skin.

I want my black friends to know I’m worried about them. So I asked a simple question: “how’re you doing?”

I think, ultimately, that is how we achieve racial peace. If you’re white, and you have black friends, drop them a line. Ask them: “how’s everything going? Are you okay?” And if something’s on their minds, lend them your ear, just as you would with any other friend. Listen to them. That is what the demonstrations, protests, and riots are about: they have something to say, but nobody is listening.

Let them know you’re listening. If you hear their concerns and are able to do something about it, great. But above all, listen. Let them know that you hear them. And let them know that you have their back.

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.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 14: Learning a new language #COVID19

When the COVID-19 crisis is over, if someone asks you, “what did you do to improve yourself during the crisis,” how will you answer? For me, personally, I’ll be able to say that I started my own business, I started running more, and I did an online presentation. (Hopefully, I’ll also be able to include that I got a new job, I upgraded my laptop, and I got back into music recording again!)

One thing that has been on my bucket list for some time is to learn a new language. I took three years of German in high school (and a semester in college), but I haven’t practiced it in quite some time, and I’ve very rarely had chances to use it. I haven’t had many practical uses for it. On the other hand, when my wife and I went on vacation up to Québec a few years ago, I found myself wishing that I could speak French. (Besides, France is on my bucket list of places I’d like to visit.) Likewise, I like to frequent Koreatown whenever I’m in New York City, and as a Korean-American, I figured that it would make sense for me to learn my own ancestral language. My grandmother tried to teach me while I was growing up, but she spoke almost no English, and it was hard for me to pick up. As I often tell people, my knowledge of Korean comes from what little my grandmother tried to teach me, and from M*A*S*H reruns.

I’ve heard good things about Babbel, so I decided to look there. Unfortunately, Korean is not one of the language options that they offer. However, they do offer a number of others. I figure maybe French and Spanish might be a couple of good ones, and I can brush up on my German. I had also heard about language programs costing hundreds of dollars — another reason why I’d never pursued this earlier — but when I looked at Babbel, I saw that they had monthly subscriptions for reasonable prices.

So, I’m looking into it. Maybe by the time the COVID-19 crisis is over, when someone asks me what I did, I’ll be able to say that “J’ai appris une nouvelle langue.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 13: Running for my life #COVID19

I’ll admit that the COVID-19 crisis has had me fall into some bad habits. This morning, I decided to address one of them.

Since gyms have been shut down due to the crisis, I have fallen off the wagon when it comes to my CrossFit workouts. I’ve been doing a lot of sitting on my duff. Since I work in IT, it’s the nature of the beast and a job hazard. I woke up this morning to a sunny morning (for once — we’ve had a lot of rain, sunny days have been few and far between, and it’s directly affected my mood, not to mention my motivation), and decided to do something.

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It may not be much — I just went around the block a few times — but you gotta start somewhere.

I went to the Couch to 5K website and did a little reading. I’ve toyed with the idea before, but never pulled the trigger on it. For whatever reason, this morning was different. I downloaded the C25K app to my phone, put on my shirt, shorts, and CrossFit shoes, and followed the instructions for Day 1 as I went around the block several times. Day 1 is essentially a 20 minute AMRAP (or maybe EMOM might be more accurate — I’m not sure) that alternates between 90 seconds of walking and 60 seconds of jogging (not including a 5 minute warm-up and cool-down walk at the beginning and end). It sounds pretty easy, but I was still winded by the time I was finished.

Will I keep this up for eight weeks? We’ll see. Right now, the jury’s out. For all I know, I might wake up tomorrow morning and decide that I want to stay in bed. But hey, we all need to start somewhere. Maybe at the very least, when the COVID-19 crisis is over and I’m allowed to go back to my gym, I won’t cringe when the coaches tell me that the WOD is a 5K run.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 10: We’re having a parade! #COVID19

This morning, the local grammar school put on a car parade by its teachers. I took some photos, and I wanted to share! Good things happen in neighborhoods, and I have good neighbors!

First, my neighbors wanted to show their support! The chalk art was by my neighbors across the street. I could also see other people out in front of their houses with balloons and signs to show their support as they drove by.

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Image may contain: tree, house and outdoor
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I figured it was a good excuse to take out my horn, so on a whim, I grabbed it and serenaded the cars as they went by. I figured, what’s a parade without a band!

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Here goes the parade! I guess-timate that there were about a dozen or so cars, maybe more. I only got a few of them because I was busy playing my sax as they drove by!

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Image may contain: cloud, sky and outdoor

Despite the COVID-19, everyone is making the best of the situation. This put a smile on my face today.

Going into business for myself, part 2

Earlier, I wrote about the possibility of going into business for myself. That idea is gaining traction.

This is uncharted territory for me. I’ve thought about being self-employed before, but I lacked the knowledge, motivation, and focus about how to approach it, not to mention that the timing just didn’t feel right. Well, now that I’ve reached a possible crossroad in my professional career, the moment now feels right to attack this.

I will mention that there is a precedent within my own family for this. My parents — who are both now retired — owned their own businesses, as do my siblings. I guess it runs in the family, and now it’s my turn!

Last night, I had a meeting with a friend who’s in the business of consulting small businesses. Her website is here, if you want to check it out; I’m listing it here both (1) for my own reference, and (2) to send referrals her way. Drop Lisa a line, and tell her I sent you!

Per her advice, she told me to hire a CPA. It just so happens that I have a friend who’s a CPA. I have a phone appointment with him later this morning.

I spent yesterday afternoon writing up a business plan. I looked into articles about writing business plans, and came across this. I used this (note: link downloads a Word document) as an example to formulate my own. After running my plan past Lisa and asking for her feedback, she gave me suggestions for improving it. I’m still tweaking it as of this morning.

One question that I had: as an individual business owner, how much can I pay myself from my business? I Googled the question, and as it turns out, the question is not as uncommon as I think.

I’ve started working on a website for my business. It’s currently a work-in-progress; I’ll reveal it once it’s closer to completion.

I even have my first client already lined up! I told my friend (and client-to-be) what I was doing, and he had some advice (he, himself, is also a small business owner) and words of encouragement for me.

I will say that, even though I’m looking into doing this, it’s entirely possible that my endeavor might not be enough to pay my bills (at least not at first). So as I’m pursuing this course, I’m still hunting for new employment.

So, the ball is rolling on my endeavor. If the pieces fall in the right places, it’s entirely possible that my new employer will be… myself!

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 7: Creating my own college football conference #COVID19

One of my admitted addictions is my Xbox 360 and EA Sports NCAA Football 2013. With all of us shut in during the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve had a lot more time on my hands lately, and I’ve been playing football on the Xbox a lot more than I care to admit.

One of the things that NCAA Football 13 allows me to do is align my own conferences. So I decided to have some fun with it.

With conference realignment, we have teams that, geographically, don’t make much sense. West Virginia in the Big Twelve (a conference whose easternmost school was once Missouri)? Seriously? Also, college sports conferences often have their own identity relative to their geography. With no Eastern conference, that identity no longer exists.

When I was a student at Syracuse, there was no eastern football conference (at that time, the Big East was basketball-only). Instead, there were a bunch of eastern independent football programs under the umbrella of the ECAC (not an organized conference) that pretty much played each other every year, so for all intents and purposes, they informally made up their own conference, even though there wasn’t one at the time.

The late Joe Paterno once said that we need to have an all-sport Eastern conference (this was before Penn State joined the Big Ten). I’ve often thought, if we had an Eastern conference, this is how it might have looked. Well, since NCAA Football 13 allows me to align my own conferences, I could make that happen. I decided, why not!

NCAA Football 13 represents the 2012 season, which is the last season of the Big East conference and the year before Syracuse and Pittsburgh joined the ACC. It means that, in this gameplay universe, there would always be a Big East conference, and the American conference doesn’t exist. Additionally, the four-team FBS championship hadn’t yet been implemented, so I’m stuck with the BCS (boo!). It is what it is.

So in setting up my all-Eastern dream superconference, I decided to kick out any non-traditional Eastern football teams (so long, USF) and bring back the old, traditional Eastern independents (hello, Boston College, Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, and West Virginia), as well as pilfering other traditional conference teams and independents (looking at you, Maryland and Notre Dame — in this fantasy world, Maryland leaves the ACC, where they were at the time; in 2012, they hadn’t yet joined the Big Ten — and Notre Dame relinquishes its independence. Hey, before you Golden Domers yell at me, this is my setup, and I can do what I want!). I also kept other Big East teams that weren’t “traditional” — Cincinnati, UConn, and Louisville.

Of course, since I took teams from other conferences, I moved some teams around in order to balance them out. It’s interesting how your own fantasy conference realignment affects the other conferences as well! So, among other things, UCF and USF became ACC schools, Missouri went to the Big Ten, and Texas A&M went back to the Big Twelve. (I might have made some other moves as well, but I don’t remember what they were off the top of my head.)

Including twelve teams allowed me to split my conference into two divisions, along with an end-of-season championship game, so I created Eastern and Western divisions. When all was said and done, my new Big East conference looked like this.

Big East (Eastern Division)

  • Boston College
  • Cincinnati
  • UConn
  • Maryland
  • Rutgers
  • Temple

Big East (Western Division)

  • Louisville
  • Notre Dame
  • Penn State
  • Pittsburgh
  • Syracuse
  • West Virginia

(Note: yes, I know Cincinnati is further west than West Virginia. I wanted to keep as many of the traditional Eastern powers together as much as possible. Hey, my scenario, my rules!)

When all was said and done, here’s what my new “Eastern Football Superconference” looked like!

I also set up cross-division rivals, similar to what the ACC currently has — Syracuse (Atlantic Division) plays Pittsburgh (Coastal Division) every year, and so on. So in this setup, Notre Dame plays Boston College every year and Louisville plays Cincinnati. (I don’t remember what other pairings I had; I think I paired Penn State with Maryland, Pitt with Temple, West Virginia with Rutgers, and Syracuse with UConn.)

(Speaking of which, EA Sports keeps insisting that SU vs. UConn is a major rivalry. As far as I know, that rivalry only existed in basketball, and it wasn’t all that heated, like SU vs. Georgetown. Personally, I have nothing against UConn, except when we play them!)

I set up a championship game played at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. I actually wanted to set it up at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, but unfortunately, NCAA Sports 13 doesn’t offer that as an option, so I tried to pick the most centrally located stadium in a big metro area (so Penn State was out) that was offered by the game.

(Okay, maybe Pittsburgh is more centrally located. The game does allow me to change it at the end of each season. We’ll see.)

It makes for an interesting setup. I keep the geography of the former Eastern independents, and it has its own Eastern identity. If I could imagine what a geographically-sensible college football realignment might have turned out, this is how it might be organized. Oh, what might have been.

By the way, I just finished playing a season in which I took my 14-0 Syracuse team to the national championship.

Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

#CareerAdvice from a friend

My friend Steve Jones posted a couple of career-oriented articles on his ‘blog that caught my attention, and I figured they’d be helpful for people possibly looking to make career adjustments. I thought they were worth passing along.

First, Steve talks about job satisfaction. Is your job or career fulfilling to you? Do you enjoy working a hundred hours a week, or would you rather work fewer hours for less pay but manage to balance your work and your life? While Steve’s article doesn’t necessarily answer those questions outright, it does make you think, and I think a number of people can benefit from his thoughts.

Second, he also mentions an offer by Andy Leonard. In an effort to help those who are recently jobless due to the COVID-19 crisis, he is offering free training to those who have lost their jobs. The courses are about SSIS, and you need to email Andy directly to register for the courses (follow the instructions on his ‘blog article).

In that same spirit, while I don’t have wide course offerings I can give, I can provide a link to my online presentation about ‘blogging that I did back in January. I hope you find it helpful.