When is “good enough” good enough?

If there’s one thing that I struggle with (and I’ll bet the house that I am not alone), it’s determining when something I’m working on is at a point where it’s “good enough for government work” (as the saying goes). Whenever I work on anything — whether it’s a work task or an extracurricular project — I always want to put in my best effort. As my personal mantra often goes, always put in your best effort — I don’t care if you clean toilets for a living. Ideally, my goal is perfection every time.

The problem is, perfection is an unrealistic standard. I’ve written about this before, and I still believe it. We’re human, after all, and a big part of being human is that we are rarely, if ever, perfect. I’ve often said that perfection as a goal is okay, but perfection as a standard is unacceptable. Sure, every once in a while, a bowler will bowl a 300 game, or a baseball pitcher will pitch a perfect game, but neither can be expected to do so every time out. Setting perfection as a standard is impossible, and anyone who sets perfection as a standard really needs to rethink their priorities.

For me, this is a constant struggle. I want to do the best job possible every time. However, there are often factors that work against me: deadlines, schedules, task management, work load, lack of knowledge or experience, fatigue, and so on. Additionally, my work often coincides with something else; a teammate is often counting on my part in order for him or her to proceed with their task. We don’t work in a vacuum; we’re often part of a team, and we need to work together. This is true even if you’re an individual contractor; your customer often expects to see results.

So how do you measure when something is “good enough?” This is often subjective and hard to answer, but I’ll take a crack at it.

I’ll use one of my favorite (and oft used) examples: baseball. As I mentioned above, a pitcher isn’t perfect every time. He’ll often give up a few hits and walks. He might even give up home runs on occasion. But was his performance good enough for his team to win? A play-by-play announcer will sometimes say, “he didn’t have his best stuff tonight, but he kept his team in the game, and it was good enough to get his team the win.”

So with that, I’ll often use measures like these: did my team get the win? Did my teammate (or customer) get what (s)he needed from me in order to do what they needed? Did my efforts meet the requirements? Did my teammate accept my results? Did my efforts get the job done? And, most importantly to me, did I give it my best effort, given any impediments (time constraints, fatigue, degree of difficulty, experience — or lack of — with the task, etc.) that might be in my way?

If I’m able to answer yes to questions like these, then in all likelihood, I can say yes, my efforts were good enough.

Tools are not documentation

I’ve been running into an issue that I’m not sure how to get around — mostly because it’s somewhat political, and I don’t like to play the political game — and it’s frustrating. Because the issue is work-related, I am intentionally skimping on the details, but I’ll give you the gist of what I’m dealing with.

I’m trying to document a procedure for engineers to obtain temporary administrative access. In order to do so, the engineer needs to fill out a form to request the access. I’m trying to write about how to find and complete the form.

I spoke to the form’s owner (this is where the political part comes in). I explained what I was doing. However, he keeps insisting: “it doesn’t have to be documented, because the form is the documentation.”

He showed me a screen shot of text on the form that explains how the particular request works. The text made a lot of sense, and it would have been ideal to fulfill at least part (if not most) of my needs. I decided that I would create a reference to it. So I looked around the form for it… and could not find it anywhere.

He finally told me that “you had to click a specific button on the form to view the text.”

How was I (or anyone) supposed to know that? (Answer: you couldn’t.) Just by that alone, he contradicted his statement that the form is documentation. (It isn’t.) I wrote about this earlier; he is under the (potentially) dangerous assumption that everything on it is obvious. (Disclosure: the form in question is exactly the same one that I wrote about in the previous article.) He keeps insisting that the form is the documentation. But in spite of that, he gets frustrated that his department continually fields questions about how to do things that could be handled by the form — if it was properly documented. if the form actually was the documentation, it violates a major principle of technical writing: documentation is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it doesn’t work.

Now, I will mention that I like the guy. He’s personable and pleasant, and I do enjoy talking to him. But he is stubbornly clinging to his belief that his tool is the documentation. I try to explain to him that it isn’t, but he won’t have it. And I have to admit that I’m not sure how to handle it.

I pinged the project manager to get her thoughts on how to handle this (I’m still waiting to hear back from her as I write this). She has a better rapport with this person than I do, so she might have some insight as to how to handle this. Nevertheless, I think this is another case where you need to keep an open mind to improve a product, and realize that tools are not necessarily obvious in how to use them. Even a hammer can do more than just drive a nail.

#DataSaturdays #13 Minnesota — I’m speaking! #SQLSaturday

My speaker train continues to roll! I was informed yesterday that I’ve been selected to speak at Data Saturday #13, Minnesota on October 16!

I’ll be doing my presentation about how to speak the language of technology to those who don’t understand it.

Again, this is a virtual event; I will not be traveling to Minnesota. Use the link above to register for this free online event. Hope to see you there!

When information is removed (or, Never Assume It’s Obvious, Part 2)

I have an app for my local convenience store that I use to purchase various items, including, among other things, gasoline. On my way home this afternoon, I decided I needed to put gas in my car and stopped at the store to do so.

To use my app to buy gas, I need to input the store number (usually not a big deal — it automatically detects my store location, and does a good job of it) and the pump number. I opened the app to input the pump number, then looked at the pump for the number… and looked, and looked.

Hey, what happened to the pump number?

I looked at the pump. The number was nowhere to be found. Upon closer inspection, I saw a clean square area on the pump — where the sticker identifying the pump number was once located.

I looked at the other pumps. Same thing. No identifying numbers on the pump. At this point, I had spent several minutes trying to figure this out, and I was starting to get irritated.

I finally noticed it. The only place where you could find the pump number was on the sign above the pump (similar to the picture above).

Let’s be honest, people. How many of you would’ve thought to look UP to find the number, and not on the pump itself?

The app has a feature that allows me to send feedback. I finished filling my tank, got in my car, and used the app to send a very irate message. I’m not going to lie. I was (and still am, as I write this) very irritated. There is absolutely no way that it should’ve taken me several minutes to figure out the pump number.

Additionally, the stickers didn’t just have the pump numbers; they also had the store number. I mentioned that the app does a good job of identifying what store I’m shopping, but what if it isn’t working for whatever reason? (Note: I’ve had that happen before.) Also, it serves the purpose of confirming that the store number that appears on the app is correct.

I’m hoping that the store was looking to upgrade the stickers on the pump, but of course, I didn’t (and still don’t) know if this was the case. In the meantime, the fact that they removed information from the pump made it more difficult for me to do what I needed. What I feel, however, is that whomever made the decision to remove the numbers — a horrible decision, in my honest opinion — decided that the numbers on the signs above the pumps were enough, so the numbers on the pumps themselves were no longer necessary.

I wrote earlier to never assume that anything is obvious. This doesn’t just apply to documentation; it applies to everyday objects as well. Not including this critical information someplace where it can easily be seen (numbers on the sign above the pump does NOT count as “easily seen”) is a blatant example of information ignorance and horrible design.

September CASSUG Monthly Meeting #Networking @CASSUG_Albany

Our September meeting will again be online. NOTE: you MUST RSVP to this Meetup at https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL-Server-User-Group/events/280614945/ to view the Zoom URL!

Our September speaker is Kathi Kellenberger!

Topic: What is DevOps and Why Should DBAs Care?

Our online meeting schedule is as follows:

  • 6:00: General chat, discussion, and announcements
  • 6:30: Presentation

We usually wrap up between 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM.

Please RSVP to this Meetup using the link above, then use the online event URL to join (note: you MUST RSVP for the URL to be visible). We will send out a meeting password as we get closer to the event.

Thanks to our sponsor, Datto, for making this event possible!

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 8/30/2021) #ProfessionalDevelopment #TechCon21 #PASSDataCommunitySummit #DataSaturday #SQLSaturday #Networking #SQLFamily

Now that I have a couple of confirmed speaking engagements, I figured that this was a good time to update my upcoming speaking schedule!

Confirmed

These engagements are confirmed. I don’t have exact dates or times for either of these (and I might not for a little while); all I know is that these events are confirmed, and I am definitely speaking at them!

Note: these are both virtual events. To the best of my knowledge, they are both free to attend (well, I know PASS Data Summit is, anyway), so check the links for more information and to register.

All my presentations (so far) are professional development sessions, so feel free to register for these, regardless of whether you’re a techie or not. Don’t let the “technology” conferences scare you!

Still waiting to hear

I’ve submitted to speak here, but as of right now, I don’t yet know whether or not I’ve been picked to speak.

So, that’s my speaking schedule so far. These are all virtual conferences; I don’t yet have any in-person ones scheduled. Hope to see you at a conference sometime soon!

Getting my music heard

As some of you may know, when I’m not coming up with ideas for professional development ‘blogs, I’m a musician on the side. I’m a classically-trained pianist, and I also play the clarinet, saxophone, and mallet percussion instruments as well. I perform in a large symphonic concert band, I accompany a local church choir, I play in a wind quintet, and earlier this year, I joined a local classic rock band.

In addition to all that, I’m also a songwriter. I started writing when I was in high school, wrote for several years, recorded a few things (and had a few friends help me with the vocals — singing is one of the musical tasks that I don’t pretend I can do), stopped writing for several more years (life happened), and only relatively recently started getting back into it again.

If you’re interested in hearing my music, you can go to my artist’s page here.

During the past year of the COVID pandemic, I reworked my recordings. I had my MIDI sequences that I had stowed away and recorded all the instrumental tracks. I had to get somewhat creative with the vocals (like I said, I can’t sing worth a damn), so I poked around some online sites where you can upload songs and extract vocals from them (here are a few that I tried: Splitter.AI, Vocali.se, Vocal Remover and Isolation, Acapella Extractor). I took my “crappy” demos that I’d created years ago and used these sites to extract the vocal parts from them. The extracted vocals weren’t great — there was still a lot of noise on them that I couldn’t clear — but for my purposes (at the time), they did the job, and I was happy with the results. When I applied the extracted vocals to my instrumentals, I thought they sounded pretty good. I’m sure music professionals who are better at mixing and mastering than I am can hear the lousy quality, but to those who don’t have discerning ears, you hardly notice them.

I took my computer recording studio and went to work polishing my recordings. I kept remixing and editing them, and with each subsequent edit, I felt that I was getting better and better at it — to the point that I told other music friends that if they ever wanted to do any multitrack work, let me know.

What I’m not good at doing is mastering. Mastering music recordings is an art and a skill in which I don’t have the expertise. After all, I don’t do this for a living, and I consider myself merely a hobbyist. Nevertheless, I did the best I could given my limited skill set and what I learned from doing this on my own. While my recordings aren’t mastered (and likely won’t be, unless I can re-record the vocal parts), I created the best-quality music recordings I could on my own.

I managed to get them to the point where I was happy with the results. Granted, they’re not commercial-grade recordings, but I gladly and happily listen to them.

I decided to take the next step and distribute my recordings (even though they’re not mastered). I figured, I’m sure there are other hobbyists in the same boat who likely do the same thing, so I had nothing to lose. I came across a couple of articles about creating my own album (including this and that), and came across a music distribution service called DistroKid, which was highly recommended by several articles that I read. Once I got my recordings to the point that I was happy with distributing them, I signed up for a DistroKid account and uploaded my album.

That was about a week ago. Last I checked, my album is now available on iTunes/Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music! And there are more to come, I’m sure; these are only the first ones! (And, of course, you can always listen to my stuff on my Soundclick site!)

Let me say this again. I consider myself a hobbyist, not a professional. Yes, I know my recordings are not mastered and probably not professional-quality. I work hard at what I do, and while I’m not the best at it, I’ve gotten considerably better. For all the trolls out there, save me your diatribe about how these don’t sound professional and are not the best quality recordings.

That said, I’m a hobbyist who takes his hobby seriously, and is highly passionate about it — enough that I am willing to spend time and money on it. That said, I believe that my music is good music, and it deserves to be heard, which is why I did what I did. Honestly, I really don’t give a crap if I never sell a single album. The entire point of this exercise is to get my material out there and heard, and earn some measure of respect for myself as a musician and songwriter who is extremely passionate about his craft.

Never assume it’s obvious

When I was in college, I remember a professor who seemed fond of saying “it’s intuitively obvious.” I don’t remember a lot from that professor (other than that he was a good professor and a good man), but I vaguely remember my classmates making fun of that line, partially because he used it often, and partially because it often was not “intuitively obvious.”

How many of you remember way back when the “this beverage is hot” warning labels started appearing on coffee cups? Many of us (myself included) ridiculed it, responding with, “duh!” But of course, there is usually a good reason behind the story. Now the hot beverage warning label is ubiquitous on nearly all hot beverage cups, and most of us don’t give it a second thought.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I worked on a project. I won’t go into the details (I don’t like to share details of an in-house work project), so I’ll give you the high-altitude view of it. I’ve been trying to solve a problem where multiple people are asking IT Support for assistance, and IT Support is overwhelmed by requests. IT Support does have a website where many of these questions can be answered, but it seems that people either don’t know it exists or don’t know enough to look for the answers there.

I went poking through the website. It did seem to have the tools necessary to answer many questions, as well as resolve a few issues I’m working on. It then occurred to me — the very fact that I was poking around the site to figure out how it worked. In other words, it wasn’t entirely obvious as to how to get the answers from the site. It occurred to me that what was missing was a user guide for the site. I’ve been pitching it to several people, as I believe it’s a good idea, and I think it will resolve a number of problems. Nevertheless, I’ve gotten a little bit of pushback, along the lines of, “of course it’s obvious how to use it,” and “we have links everywhere that explains how it works.” (Also, IT Support, as just about any department, tends to get somewhat protective — understandably so — of its assets and material.)

So if it’s so obvious, then why are you getting overwhelmed with questions?

As a technical writer, “never assume it’s obvious” is one of my biggest mantras, and I think it should be for anyone involved with technical communication, UX/UI design, teaching, or documentation. Simple instructions can often be overlooked (how many times do I have to say that reading is work?!?), and people from other cultures may not always understand the language or context that you’re writing, so that’s something else to consider.

Never, ever, assume anything is obvious — because more often than not, it isn’t.

#PASSDataCommunitySummit — I’m speaking! #PASSSummit #SQLSaturday #DataSaturday #SQLFamily

And now that it’s been made public, I can announce this! (I’ve actually known about it for a week, but haven’t been allowed to announce it until now!)

I have been selected to speak at PASS Data Community Summit!

For those who’ve been following along, PASS Data Community Summit is the successor to PASS Summit, the worldwide conference for data professionals! It has been described as “the Super Bowl of SQL/Data Saturday” (I, personally, have described it as being “the All-Star Game of SQL Saturday“)! This is the third straight year that I will be speaking at this conference. Being selected just once is an honor. Being selected twice is amazing! Being selected three times? I suppose that makes me a star!

I will be doing my presentation about joblessness and unemployment, titled: “I lost my job! Now what?!?” This talk is geared toward people who are out of work and seeking employment; however, if you’re a student trying to break into the professional ranks, or even if you’re looking to make a change, you can get something out of this presentation as well!

PASS Data Community Summit is online, and it’s free! All you need to do is register! Go to their website to register!

I am excited to be speaking at this conference again, and I hope to see you there (virtually, of course)!

You don’t have to be in a management position to be a leader

For years, I used to think that in order for me to become a leader, I would need to land a management position of some type. Indeed, for a long time, our culture taught us that you needed to obtain some kind of leadership or management position in order to be a leader. So I strived for climbing the corporate ladder, trying to get myself into the upper ranks and getting into a position where I could be the one calling most (but not necessarily all) of the shots. I even contemplated pursuing an MBA (and, to a small extent, I am still entertaining the idea).

Now that I’m older (and, hopefully, wiser), I no longer have such ambitions. At this point in my career, I am happy where I am, management position be damned. Climbing the corporate ladder is no longer a priority for me (that said, if such an opportunity arises, it doesn’t necessarily mean I would turn it down, but it would depend on the opportunity). If I ever haven an opportunity to be promoted, that’d be great, but it is no longer a priority for me, and if it never happens, I won’t lose sleep over it.

This seems to correspond with a change in my mindset as I advance in my career (and my age). When I was younger and more brash, I wanted to be the center of attention, the rock star. But now that I’m older and have some more experience under my belt, being the rock star is no longer a priority.

What I discovered is that I very much get just as much of a high by helping someone else become the rock star. I frequently take part in mentoring opportunities — through my alma mater, my fraternity, my job, or my extracurricular activities. Whenever I see someone struggling with something, and if I am able to assist (which I’m not always able to do), I’ll offer my advice or my hand. And I get a great deal of satisfaction whenever the light bulb goes off in my student’s or mentee’s head, and (s)he suddenly says, “oh, NOW I get it!”

I was reminded of this last Saturday when I spoke at Data Geeks Saturday. I signed into the virtual room in which I was doing my own presentation, and I caught the tail end of Mark Runyon‘s presentation titled “Elevating Your Career into IT Leadership.” I had seen his presentation before — it was either at PASS Summit or another SQL Saturday — I don’t remember which — but one of the takeaways was that there are many ways to become a leader, and it doesn’t necessarily involve becoming a manager.

There are many ways to be a leader. Be a mentor or a teacher. Volunteer to take the reigns whenever an opportunity arises. If you see someone struggling, help him or her out. Leadership takes many forms. You don’t necessarily have to climb the ladder to attain it.