Looking Back

This is a reblog of a post from my friend, Steve Jones. He touches on a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and one that I strongly believe is crucially important.

Nearly all of my SQL Saturday presentations have revolved around documentation and technical communication. Technology may have changed over the years, but the importance of documentation has not. I strongly believe that documentation is getting to the point where it is being dangerously ignored, something that we, as technical professionals, cannot afford to do.

Voice of the DBA

Someone sent me this post on 40 years of programming. It’s a read that laments a few things and complains about many others. Most of the thoughts are opinions, and as such, you may or may not see validity in them. I suspect most of you, like me, see some things are mostly true and some as just false. Since I’ve been in this business for nearly 30 years, many of the comments bring back memories and thoughts about my career as well.

One of the things I do lament is the declining quality of documentation. I’ve seen the volume and detail decline over the years. I wouldn’t want to go back to paper, but I would like to see better examples and more complete examination of the ins and outs of the various functions and features. Far too often I find that there are examples, explanations, or behaviors…

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My hometown SQL Saturday: Albany, NY, July 29

My local SQL user group is hosting SQL Saturday on July 29, a week from this Saturday!

I will be speaking; I will be giving my presentation on documentation.  There are also a number of other presentations that people might find of interest.

When I attended SQL Saturday in New York City a couple of months ago, I sat in on Lisa Margerum’s session on networking.  It is an excellent session, and I recommend it highly.

A number of my friends are also presenting, including Greg Moore, Thomas Grohser, George Walters, John Miner, and Ed Pollack.  They always give good presentations, and I recommend them highly.  Check out the schedule for more details.

Hope to see you there!

 

SQL Saturday #638, Philadelphia

This coming Saturday, June 3, I will be speaking at SQL Saturday #638, Philadelphia (okay, it’s actually in a town called Whitpain Township, not Philadelphia, but that’s what they call the event, so…)!

I will be giving the following two presentations:

  • Tech Writing for Techies: A Primer — Documentation is one of the most critical, yet most blatantly ignored and disrespected tasks when it comes to technology. Businesses and technical professionals ignore documentation at their own risk. This session discusses what tech writing and documentation is about and why it’s critical for business. It also explores possible reasons for why it’s ignored, how documentation can be improved, and how “non-writers” can contribute to the process.
  • Disaster Documents: The role of documentation in disaster recovery — I was an employee of a company that had an office in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Prior to that infamous date, I had written several departmental documents that ended up being critical to our recovery. In this presentation, I provide a narrative of what happened in the weeks following 9/11, and how documentation played a role in getting the organization back on its feet.

    While other disaster recovery presentations talk about strategies, plans, and techniques, this presentation focuses on the documentation itself. We will discuss the documents we had and how they were used in our recovery. We will also discuss what documents we didn’t have, and how they could have made the process better.

Hope to see you there!

SQL Saturday #545, Pittsburgh

I’ll be speaking in Pittsburgh this Saturday, October 1.  Hope to see you there!

Two days until SQL Saturday in Albany!

Hear ye, hear ye!  This Saturday — that’s two days from today — the Capital Area SQL Server User Group will be hosting SQL Saturday #513 at the University at Albany!  The event is free (there is a nominal fee for lunch), and anyone, whether you’re new to SQL Server or are a seasoned database veteran, is welcome to come!  (Just make sure you register!)

I’ll be giving a presentation about how to talk to non-technical people.  Come and check it out!

Want to know what SQL Saturday is about?  Check out my ‘blog post from Monday, where I talk about my path to becoming a SQL Saturday speaker!

Hope to see you there!

Mark your calendar: SQL Saturday #513, Albany, July 30

The calendar for SQL Saturday #513, Albany, NY is out.

And I’m on it!

I’ll be giving my presentation, “Whacha just say?  Talking technology to non-technical people.”  This is the same presentation I gave in Albany last year, and I’ve made some improvements since then.  I’ve also given this presentation a couple more times since last year, and have gotten great reviews for it!

Hope to see you there!

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!