#SQLSaturday NYC — I’m speaking, I’m speaking, I’m speaking! #SQLSat912

Image result for manhattan skyline

The schedule for SQL Saturday #912 in New York City (Saturday, October 5) was released this morning, and I’m on it — not once, not twice, but three times!

I am scheduled to do the following three (!!!) presentations:

Looking at this schedule brings up a myriad of thoughts for me.

  • I don’t ever remember doing three presentations in a single day at any single event in my life. So I’m venturing into uncharted territory here!
  • Without fail, I absolutely love any SQL Saturday I attend! Also without fail, I am nearly always wiped out at the end of each one. I can only imagine how tired I’m going to be at the end of this one. At least I can sleep on the train ride home!
  • I purposely scheduled a late train home that night after the event so that I can get a decent dinner down in the City. I figure a couple of drinks during dinner might be in order that night!
  • My brother, who lives in Queens, has his birthday a few days before the event. I’m hoping to make it a birthday dinner for him that night!
  • To his credit, Thomas Grohser, who is one of the co-organizers for the event, emailed me asking if I was okay with doing three presentations. I sent him back a two-word reply: “challenge accepted!”
  • I was very happy to see that, as we requested, Matt Cushing and I have our networking sessions (titled Networking 101 and Networking 102, respectively) scheduled back-to-back! Go check out Matt’s session; it’s a good one!
  • If there’s any downside to doing three presentations, it’s that I likely won’t be able to attend other presentations that interest me. I do intend to attend Matt’s session (I need to keep my streak going, after all), and I’ll need to check the schedule to see what other sessions I want to attend (if I can).
  • Of all the SQL Saturdays I’ve ever attended, I’ve attended New York City the most often. For several years, including the first one I ever attended, I only attended NYC SQL Saturday. So for me, being chosen to selected to speak for NYC is special to me.
  • When I spoke here last year, I had an opportunity to get breakfast at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. It was right next to my hotel and right on my way to the Microsoft office (where SQL Saturday NYC is held). I managed to get there early enough to beat the tourist crowd. This year, I am once again staying in a nearby hotel (only a block away from where I stayed last year). I’m hoping to get there for breakfast again. Yes, I know it’s a tourist trap, but the singing wait staff is something else! You need to check it out at least once!

I can probably keep writing more thoughts, but at this point, work beckons! In any case, if you’re interested in attending NYC SQL Saturday on October 5, go to their web site and register for the event!

And come see me present — three times!

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This weekend: SQL Saturday, Providence, RI #sqlsat892

This weekend, I will be traveling out to Providence, RI for SQL Saturday #892! It will take place this Saturday, August 24, at New England Institute of Technology in East Greenwich, RI.

I will be doing my (still-relatively) brand-new presentation about ‘blogging! This is my third time speaking at Providence SQL Saturday, and my first time since December, 2017!

Come on out, check out my presentation (as well as a bunch of other good ones), do some networking, and have fun! See you on Saturday!

References and memorization

I was working on a document, and wanted to toggle the language on MS Word that was used for proofing (I downloaded the template from our UK subsidiary, so it was proofing in UK, not US, English). I couldn’t remember how to do it, so I consulted Google, found my answer, changed the setting, and went along my merry way.

For whatever reason, it got me thinking about Microsoft certification exams (it’s funny how one’s mind works sometimes). It’s been a long time since I took one. What got me thinking was that, when you take a certification exam, you are not allowed to bring any notes or references with you into the testing room (as far as I remember — I’m not sure if that’s still the case now; like I said, it’s been a long time since I took a certification exam).

In this day and age where finding information is as easy as picking up your smartphone, I really believe that memorization is overrated (and, maybe in some cases, even dangerous). I wrote as much a while back, and I still believe that now.

Back when I worked as an adjunct instructor, all my assignments, quizzes, and exams that I gave to students were open-book, open-note. I also told my students that they were allowed to help each other work toward the answers, including during an exam. They were not allowed to outright give each other answers; that constituted cheating and were grounds for failing the exam. Maybe some instructors might scoff at this approach, but my students were very good about adhering to those rules (many of them told me later that they learned more in my class than any other they’d ever taken), and there was a method to my madness.

For one thing, I told my students that the ability to look up and research information was an important skill to have. We, as imperfect human beings, are never going to remember absolutely everything, so to be able to know how find the correct answers is important. Second, when we’re in a working environment, the ability to work together as a team is critical. When you’re working within a team environment, being able to work with others to achieve a common goal is a big deal.

Finally, how many workplaces are going to tell you, “okay, put away all your books and references. You’re going to do this project entirely from memory.” I don’t know about you, but if a manager ever told me to do that, I wouldn’t be able to update and distribute my resume fast enough.

In his SQL Saturday presentation entitled “Why candidates fail the job interview in the first minute,” Thomas Grohser mentions that he does not expect any candidate to be able to know everything. If a candidate says that (s)he “does not know the answer, but here’s how I would go about finding the answer,” then that is a perfectly acceptable answer. More often than not, trying to do everything from memory is a bad and sometimes dangerous approach, and is a bad way of thinking.

We are not perfect. We will never remember everything. And anyone who says that (s)he knows everything is full of crap. Rather than try to brute-force memorize anything and everything, it’s more important to develop skills that teach you how to think and how to find, verify, and process information. If I was a hiring manager, that ability would be vastly more valuable than someone who says that (s)he “knows everything.”

Paying it forward

Once upon a time, I wanted to be the rockstar in pretty much anything and everything I did, whether it was my job, my extracurricular activities, or my relationships.  I wanted the glory and the recognition.  More importantly, I wanted to be respected for whatever I did.  In my youth, I thought that demonstrating that I was good at whatever I did was the path to glory.

But now that I’m older, that perspective has changed.  I no longer need (or, sometimes, even want) to be the rockstar.  These days, I get a great deal of satisfaction out of helping someone else become the rockstar. While I still try to perform well in whatever I do, it’s more important to me to help everyone around me be better.

This has become a passion of mine. It’s why I’m so passionate about speaking at SQL Saturday. It’s why I take such an interest in technical communication, writing, training, and mentoring. It’s why I continually encourage people to be better. It’s even one of the major reasons why I maintain my ‘blog. While it’s important to make myself better in whatever I do, I think it’s also equally important to make people around you better as well.

I’ve had a number of opportunities to give something back. For the past couple of years, I’ve taken part in a program by my alma mater, Syracuse University, specifically the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS).  They sponsor a “job shadow” program in which current students are paired with alumni working in various industries. The program typically takes place during winter break, between the fall and spring semesters.

Unfortunately, I work in a data-secure office, so an office shadow tends to be out of the question. (I don’t think students would really be interested in seeing me sit at a desk all day, anyway.)  In lieu of a job shadow, the university suggests other ways to interact with students — over a cup of coffee, lunch, and so on. For the past couple of years, I’ve offered to take students out to dinner. It offers a nice, relaxed atmosphere to chat, not to mention that, since I usually don’t have any commitments after dinner, I’m not constrained by time; I don’t have to worry about being back in the office by a certain time.

I’ve found numerous other ways to pay it forward. During one unemployment stint, I found a part-time position as an instructor at a local business school to hold myself over. I discovered that I enjoyed teaching so much that, even after I found gainful full-time employment, I continued with the teaching job for a few more years. I am heavily involved with my local SQL user group. By giving back to my user group, I can help other people with the same interests. I also wrote a while back about some of my networking activities in which I was able to give back. When you network, you have multiple avenues in which you can pay it forward.

As an old saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Improvement doesn’t just mean making yourself better. It also means making everyone around you better as well. When you help other people succeed, then we all succeed.

SQL Saturday #855, Albany — the debrief

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

At the speaker’s dinner on Friday night!

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

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

I get ready to do my presentation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When does “making it pretty” become “bad design”?

Within the past week, I came across a couple of examples where designers, in an attempt to make something “aesthetically pleasing” ended up creating a bad design.

Image result for Sloan EBV-304-A SOLIS Water Closet Electronic Single Button
In the dimly-lit stall, I couldn’t see the graphic to flush.

The first example, strangely enough, came from a public toilet (don’t worry, I won’t go TMI on you). The flush mechanism was similar to what you see here. It was dark in the toilet stall, so I couldn’t see the little graphic of the finger pressing the button (that you can see clearly in this picture). It looked like one of those auto-flush mechanisms, so I expected it to flush when I stood up. It didn’t. I tried pressing the top of the mechanism and waving my hand in front of it. No dice. It wasn’t until I found the little button along the front edge that I finally got the thing to work. I don’t know how long it took me to figure that out, but I’ll estimate that it took me somewhere between fifteen and thirty seconds — far longer than it should’ve taken me to figure out how to flush a toilet.

How do I get water out of this thing?

The second example happened recently at a friend’s house. The photo you see here is the ice and water dispenser on his refrigerator. I put my water bottle underneath, and naturally, ice came out of it. I then tried to get water. How do I do that? I looked for a button to toggle between ice and water, but couldn’t find one. My friend told me to press the button above the ice dispenser. I pressed the top panel with my finger, expecting my bottle to fill with water. Much to my surprise (and my chagrin), water came out not from under the button and into my bottle, but rather above the panel I was pressing, splashing water onto my hand. Apparently, what I was supposed to do was press the upper panel with my water bottle so that it would dispense into my bottle.

To the people who designed these things: how was I supposed to know that?!?

These are more examples of what I consider to be bad design. It seems like artisans are making more of an effort to make products visually appealing. But in their efforts to make things “pretty,” they’re ignoring making them functional.

Years ago, I remember seeing signs in a local park — “park here,” “keep off the grass,” etc. (I tried to find pictures of them, but have been unsuccessful.) Whomever made the signs went through great efforts to make them look pretty — the person used wood and tree-themed graphics to dress them up and make them look “rustic.” However, the person concentrated so much on making the signs “pretty” that (s)he completely ignored making them readable! The signs were impossible to read. You could not tell what they said. Thankfully, the signs have long since been replaced, and personally, I think the sign-maker should have been fired.

And if you think bad design isn’t a big deal, let me point out that bad interface design has been a factor in some fatal plane crashes, as well as some other major disasters.

People might argue that, “well, of course they’re functional! You just have to know how they work!” Therein lies the rub: you have to know how they work. Making something functional isn’t just a matter of making something that works; it needs to be obvious as to how it works! This is one of my major pet peeves when it comes to design. As someone once said, good design is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it isn’t any good.

Getting ready to speak at my first PASS Summit

I’m speaking at my very first PASS Summit this year!

I intend to ‘blog about my experience with my first PASS Summit. Hopefully, my exploits will help others who, like me, are also preparing for the first PASS Summit. This represents the first of those articles.

As I write this, PASS Summit is still four months away. Nevertheless, preparations are in full swing. My flight and AirBnB reservations for Seattle are already set. It’s been a while since I was last in Seattle (I think my last trip was in 2005). Seattle is one of my favorite west coast cities to visit, and I always look forward to trips out to the Pacific Northwest. My only regret about this trip is that baseball season will be over by then, so I won’t be able to catch a Mariners game while I’m there.

I do not intend to rent a car for this trip. To be honest, I’m becoming more and more paranoid about driving a car I don’t own in a metropolitan area with which I’m only vaguely familiar. I did rent a car for SQL Saturday in Washington, and driving around the Beltway was a harrowing experience; during that trip, I became very concerned about returning my rental car with a dent. So for PASS Summit, I intend to rely on public transportation; all my stops — Sea-Tac Airport, my AirBnB, and the Convention Center — are all along the light rail line. If I need a car, I’ll bum a ride off someone, or I’ll contact Uber or Lyft.

Prep work for the event itself on my end is also rolling as well. I’ve gotten emails from PASS about what I need to do to get ready. I’ve registered as a speaker, and I put my presentation into a new PowerPoint template supplied by PASS (and in doing so, I think I made my presentation even better — a lot of the changes will likely end up going into my regular slides). They’re supposed to review my slides, so I’m waiting for them to get back to me as to what changes (if any) I need to make. There are some things about my prep I’m not allowed to discuss — per PASS rules, I’m not allowed to discuss some things until they’ve announced it first — so, alas, I can’t talk about all my prep work.

Last night, I was at Ed Pollack‘s house, helping to prep for this weekend’s SQL Saturday. Knowing that Ed has experience speaking at PASS Summit (he’ll be speaking at his fourth this year), I asked him what I should expect. He told me to “expect at least one question that you can’t answer” during my presentation — maybe something impossible to answer, something I don’t know, or even something that has nothing to do with my presentation. He also told me that PASS Summit would be very busy — apparently there are many activities around PASS Summit that take place. I have friends and family either in or near Seattle; we’ll see how much of a chance I’ll have to get together with them.

I also figure that Matt Cushing‘s advice will likely come into play here. A good chunk of his presentation revolves around activities at PASS Summit. I guess I’ll find out in November how much of it comes into play!

Another thing on my mind is room setups. Although I’ve spoken at many SQL Saturdays, even the largest room in which I’ve spoken pales in comparison to the rooms at PASS Summit. I’m not necessarily nervous about speaking in front of a large crowd — I lost my sense of stage fright a long time ago — as much as I am curious as to how it’s going to work. It’s not something I’ll need to be concerned about until I’m closer to the date, but it is, nevertheless, something that’s on my mind.

I did a Google search for “what to expect at PASS Summit” and came across some interesting links. Some of those links are below (admittedly, I’m listing these for my own reference).

It’s still four months to PASS Summit, but a number of things are already in motion. I’ll be writing more about my experiences as we get closer to November!