Archiving my talks, part 2: Presentation videos — #PASS

With the imminent demise of PASS, I figured I should take Steve Jones‘ advice and archive my presentation links.

I’ve done a few presentations for the PASS Professional Development Virtual Group. Of those presentations, two of them were recorded to the group’s YouTube channel.

Because the channel lives on YouTube and not PASS, I have no idea whether or not it will disappear when PASS does. Nevertheless, I decided I didn’t want to find out. Better to be safe.

I downloaded the two recordings that I did for the PASS virtual group and reuploaded them to my own personal YouTube channel. Even if PASS decides to drop the channel, the videos will continue to live on my own channel.

So, at the moment, I currently have three PASS-related presentations on my personal YouTube channel.

Links to these videos are also available on my presentations page. Note that my Professional Development Virtual Group presentations still point to the PASS YouTube channel videos, but if PASS decides to drop the channel, I’ll change the links to point to the videos on my own channel, where they’ll live indefinitely.

Archiving my talks, part 1: #SQLSaturday schedule PDFs — #PASS

With the imminent demise of PASS, I figured I should take Steve Jones‘ advice and archive my presentation links.

For this round, I went through all the SQL Saturday events where I spoke and downloaded the schedules. Each SQL Saturday schedule has a link to save it to PDF (there is an “Export to PDF” link at the bottom of each schedule).

I saved the PDFs to my ‘blog media and created links to them. You can download these schedules by going to my presentation schedule and clicking any link labeled “schedule PDF.”

For now, I’m only concerned with links hosted on PASS websites, such as SQL Saturday and PASS Summit (which I’ll do for the next round). I’m not as concerned (yet) with Meetup, YouTube, or podcasts I’ve done that are not hosted on PASS websites. I’ll update these links as I go along.

Requiem for #PASS — #SQLFamily

Many data professionals, myself included, are shocked and saddened by the announcement that PASS will cease operation on January 15, 2021. I’m sure that a large number of data ‘bloggers will be posting their thoughts regarding PASS’s announcement; this is only one of many such articles, I’m sure.

I know that PASS has been under a great deal of scrutiny by its members, and even I, myself, have been critical of PASS in the past. Three members of the board of directors resigned within the past few weeks, and the organization had been consulting with legal experts regarding its future.

I’ve always taken great pains to be apolitical (it’s one of my most, if not the most, hated topics to discuss). I don’t know much about any of PASS’s inner workings or governance, and quite frankly, I don’t want to know. I’m sure there’s a lot they could’ve done better, but I’ve never been privy to it. (Indeed, one frequent criticism I’ve heard has been their transparency — or lack of.)

As someone who has been a member of PASS for some time (since attending my very first SQL Saturday in New York City in 2010), I would prefer to talk about everything that PASS has given me. So I wanted to take some time to reflect on the things that PASS has done to enhance my professional career.

When I attended my first SQL Saturday (#39 in New York City back in 2010), I knew right away that I wanted to be involved and contribute to the community. The question was, how? I remember looking around at other attendees at the Microsoft office (back then, it was held next to Radio City, not at the Times Square location like it is now) and saying to myself, “these people probably know more about SQL Server than I do. What can I contribute to this organization?”

On that same trip, I met Dan Bowlin on the train heading down to the City. Along with Joe Barth, the three of us founded the Albany SQL user group. Through my association with that group, I also met Greg Moore and Ed Pollack; the three of us currently maintain the group’s leadership team. Since those humble beginnings, our user group has remained strong. We hold our own when compared to user groups in larger cities; indeed, we frequently say that we “punch above our weight.” And although Dan and Joe moved out of the area several years ago, I still remain friends with them to this day.

One evening, during one of our user group meetings, I had a thought: I’ve been adept at talking the language of technology to people who don’t understand it. Would that make for a good presentation? As that meeting progressed, I jotted some notes down; by the end of the meeting, I had enough fodder for an entire presentation. I ran my idea past a few people, including Greg and Ed. They all told me, that was a great idea! Run with it!

That idea became my very first presentation, which I first presented in 2015. Since then, I’ve presented that session at several SQL Saturdays and at PASS Summit.

I wrote previously about what happened after that first presentation. I discovered that I enjoyed presenting and attending events such as SQL Saturday. Additionally, I also noticed some subtle changes to my professional development. I found that I was passively getting better at what I did. I gained more confidence in my abilities, I became more assertive, and I was increasingly being recognized for the things I did. I even remember one manager telling me, “we recognize what you’re doing with all these conferences where you’re speaking; keep up the good work!”

I now have several presentations that I do. I have presented at numerous SQL Saturdays, PASS Summit, and a number of user groups, both in-person and virtual. I even did a podcast!

It wasn’t all about professional development. I made a number of friends through my involvement with PASS and SQL Saturday — people I likely wouldn’t have otherwise met, and whom I love dearly. In addition to my association with PASS, I’ve connected with these people through Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. These people have become a part of my life, and I am as close to these people as I am to any of my family or circles of friends. And because of this, my professional network is stronger than ever.

I love to travel. I wish I could do more of it (usually, lack of time or money — and these days, the pandemic — keeps me from doing more of it). I’ve written before about my SQL Saturday (and other PASS) travels. These speaking opportunities gave me chances to visit places I don’t normally get to see, not to mention that they got me out of Dodge for a little while.

I attribute all of this as things that PASS has given me.

I’ve been thinking about whether or not it would be feasible to resurrect PASS. In addition to PASS, I am also a member of STC. Unlike PASS, STC charges dues to its members (using a tiered structure — the amount of dues you pay depends on your tier). Conceptually, STC is very similar to PASS; they are a professional organization that represents a specific profession (PASS represents data professionals; STC represents technical communicators). STC also does a number of things that PASS did not do; they have publications that they publish regularly, for example. If PASS is able to reorganize, I’m wondering if they’d be open to restructuring using a model such as STC. Of course, I suspect one of the reasons why PASS was popular was that they didn’t charge dues. If PASS is to be solvent, that might be something to consider.

I think it’s important for professionals in any field to have an organization such as PASS. They provide opportunities for networking, guidance, reference, and development that wouldn’t otherwise exist anywhere else. What PASS has done for my career and professional development is incalculable. The demise of PASS represents a big, big loss. I sincerely hope that PASS is able to come back in some way, shape, or form, and be stronger than ever in doing so.

#SQLSaturday Minnesota — the debrief #SQLSat1017 #SQLSatMN

I don’t think I have to tell anyone what a crazy year 2020 has been (and I won’t belabor the point). As such, many of us have had their fill of Zoom meetings and virtual conferences. I’ve heard a lot from people, myself included, about their dealings with pandemic fatigue and how burned out they are by virtual conferences.

And then, along came Minnesota SQL Saturday.

Before today, I’d spoken at or attended four virtual PASS events: SQL Saturdays in Albany, Memphis, and Montreal, and PASS Summit. In spite of the challenges faced with putting on virtual events — uncharted territory for all of us — the events went about as well as they could. There were glitches and lessons learned, but for the most part, they went about as well as virtual conferences — being put on for the first time — could go.

Minnesota, however, raised the bar. The event went through a great deal of thought and planning, and it showed. This is not a slight against other events, as we were all breaking new ground in putting together virtual events; rather, Minnesota demonstrated a better way to do it.

I’ll start with Friday night. At many of the in-person SQL Saturday events where I’ve spoken, organizers put together a speaker’s dinner on Friday night. In lieu of that, Minnesota organized a Zoom session allowing speakers to get to know the organizers and other speakers (Memphis did the same thing). In addition, however, Minnesota also organized a test run using GoToMeeting sessions (the virtual meeting application of choice by PASS) to make sure that speakers could test their sessions and get comfortable with presenting online. Although I’d previously presented via GoToMeeting before, I found that this went a long way with helping me to get comfortable with the technology, the session, and knowing what to expect.

Additionally, throughout the day for SQL Saturday, the Minnesota crew set up a separate chat application using Discord (an application that I understand is popular with gamers). Through this application, speakers and attendees had an avenue through which they could mingle and chat using different channels. They had channels set up for each meeting room, as well as a “lunch room” (where people could converse during lunch) and a speaker’s channel (roughly the equivalent of a speaker room). I don’t remember all the channels they had set up — I do remember channels called #jobs and #hallway — but I thought using this application was a great move.

One of the things that is sorely missing from virtual SQL Saturdays is the ability to randomly converse and chat. At in-person events, one of the best parts is to randomly bump into #SQLFamily and chat about a variety of subjects, or randomly start chatting about session topics in the hallway, or whatever. Networking is a huge part of SQL Saturday. By nature, that dynamic is nearly impossible to duplicate at a virtual event. Of course, no virtual event can ever duplicate the things you’d experience at an in-person event. But by employing a technology such as Discord, they managed to fill that gap quite nicely.

I also liked that room moderators introduced speakers and topics. They all included slides to start each session, which also included reminders to solicit the sponsors, their local user group, and various other standard announcements. The format was similar to PASS virtual groups, where the group moderator would start with the intro before the speaker went into his or her presentation.

Overall, Minnesota did a great job with their virtual SQL Saturday. Bravo! They demonstrated that a virtual event could still be exciting and fun, and not the same old virtual event that everyone else does. Granted, I’m looking forward to when we can start attending in-person events again. But by employing out-of-the-box ideas like these, virtual events don’t have to be the same old, same old log-into-a-virtual-room events that we’ve become accustomed to experiencing.

What’s your (tag)line?

Let’s say you’re an ad exec making a commercial. You’ve been tasked with coming up with a great tagline (and maybe a slogan) for a product. What would it be?

Or, to get to the point of this article — I mentioned earlier about marketing yourself. What would your tagline be?

For me, personally, it’s taken many years, but I think I’ve finally figured mine out: “My job is to make other people’s jobs easier.”

Let’s back up a bit. How did we get here?

There have been many great taglines in the history of advertising. Whenever you hear one of these, a specific product immediately comes to mind.

  • Think Different
  • Just Do It
  • Got Milk?
  • America Runs On Dunkin’

Each of these taglines immediately invokes the product they represent: Apple, Nike, California Milk Processor Board (and eventually, the entire dairy industry), and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Through my past several months of job hunting, it occurred to me that my career could best be summed up by what I did at one of my previous jobs. When I worked for a server infrastructure department, my job was to provide information to the server team in order for them to efficiently do their jobs. The department was a support team. My job was to support the support team.

It occurred to me that that was a good summary of my career, and a description of what I do best. I’m passionate about supplying my coworkers with whatever accurate information they need to do what they need to do, usually through documentation (although I use other means as well — it’s good to have database experience). This has created a mindset, as well as a degree of assertiveness, whenever I go into interviews.

So, my tagline is, “My job is to make other people’s jobs easier.”

What’s yours?

Reminder: I’m speaking at #SQLSaturday this weekend #SQLSat1017

This is a reminder that I will be speaking at virtual SQL Saturday #1017 (Minnesota) this Saturday, December 12.

A vast number of people, myself included, are looking for work. I will do my presentation titled “I lost my job! Now what?!?” this Saturday. I will discuss topics that include, among other things, dealing with the emotional impact, resumes, interviewing, and things you can do to hold yourself over during this period of uncertainty.

Hope to see you virtually this Saturday!

Talking about salary #JobHunt

It’s probably one of the most (if not the most) difficult and awkward subjects to broach during a job interview. And yet it will inevitably come up at some point in every hiring process.

How much do you want to get paid?

For me, this is always a sticky subject during the interview process. I even said during a recent interview, “that’s always a loaded question” (I’ll confess that I use this line often during interviews when the subject of salary comes up). To her credit, the interviewer laughed at that. It ended up making a nice ice-breaker, because she then proceeded to tell me the salary range. I never even had to tell her what I was looking for. It was way above what I was going to ask. If I’m offered this position, I would have absolutely no problem with the salary offer!

When it comes to the topic of salary during a job interview, I’m old school: never, ever, bring up salary unless the prospective employer brings it up first (after which it’s okay to discuss it). That is one ironclad rule of interviewing that I always follow: always let the interviewer be the first one to bring up the subject of salary. I’ve written before that I think selling what you have to offer is the better way for you to conduct an interview.

Here’s why I think salary discussion is difficult: when doing your homework for a prospective employer, you can learn as much as you can about their culture, history, products, customers, environment, and so on. But unless it’s listed somewhere in the job listing, it’s often difficult to get a read on how much a job is willing to offer. If the amount you give them is too high, you might disqualify yourself as a candidate. If it’s too low, they might not think highly of your skill set. Also, especially during these days during the pandemic, if you’re interviewing for a remote or work-at-home job, it’s difficult to get an idea of what to ask based on where you live. Salary tends to be a moving target, and it’s one that’s tough to hit, at least for me.

So how do you approach the topic of salary? I don’t know whether or not this is the ideal way to do it, but this is what I do, and it seems to work for me.

I’ll usually start by discussing what I was making at my last job. In my mind, it establishes a starting point and gives me an idea of where to go from there. In all likelihood, I’ll need to make adjustments.

I also have a minimum that I would consider. (Make sure you have both hourly and annual salary numbers.) If my low number is potentially high for the prospective employer, I make sure to emphasize that I am negotiable. I am not an aggressive person by nature, so I, personally, have difficulty with making a highball offer, even though some people advise that I should do so. I do think you need to have an idea of your minimum. I’ve seen many job listings that I’ve outright rejected because the salaries they listed were well below my minimum (I do say I’m negotiable, but the jobs I reject are ones that go well below my negotiable limits). I’ve also been rejected as a candidate because my asking price (even my minimum) was too high. (To this latter point, if the employer is not willing to make that investment in you, is that place the best fit for you, anyway?)

The prospective employer also factors into my salary negotiation. I would love to work in, say, academia, but those jobs tend to pay less. Some private sector and contractor jobs will go higher. Where I’m applying often factors into my own expectation when it comes to salary.

So this is how I, personally, approach the subject of salary. Is it the best way? I have no idea. Is there a better way? Maybe.

If you have a better way, please feel free to comment below.

Reinventing the #resume (again) #JobHunt

I had a conversation today with a recruiter — technically, it was an interview, but the way we spoke, it was more of a conversation between an agent (her) and a client (me) — who gave me some advice regarding my resume. I came away from the conversation with a few insights, and I’d like to share those insights here. This is not the first time I’ve written about resumes. I continually learn something new about them.

We left the conversation with her giving me a homework assignment: revamp my resume to incorporate what we had discussed.

Probably the biggest takeaway was to rethink how I was presenting my resume. I shouldn’t have the mindset of a job seeker telling prospective employers to hire me. Rather, I needed to approach it as a marketer. I’m marketing a product. The product I’m marketing is me.

This mindset is important. When you’re trying to present yourself to an employer, you feel a need to impress them with your extensive experience, everything you’ve done, and the many reasons why the employer should hire you. But if you’re marketing yourself, the thought process shifts. Instead, you’re advertising yourself and your skills. “Hire me! Here’s why!” She told me that it’s okay to not put everything on your resume — not lie, mind you, but rather, not throw in the kitchen sink when putting your resume together. Just highlight the important selling points. If they want to know more, they can refer to your LinkedIn profile — and maybe even call you in for an interview (which, of course, is the purpose of a resume).

I found this to be profound, because this is a point that I espouse as a technical writer, and yet I don’t practice what I preach when it comes to my resume. I am a believer in not necessarily including everything on a document. And yet it never occurred to me to apply my own technical writing skills to my own resume. Don’t try to provide every little detail. If they’re interested, they’ll ask for more (and if they want more, they can look at my LinkedIn profile).

I mentioned ageism as a concern, and a possible reason as to why I haven’t had a job nibble in seven months. (I believe ageism exists in the job hunt; it is illegal, but is nearly impossible to prove.) In the same vein of not needing to include everything, one of the takeaways was to only list positions for the past ten or so years. One of my concerns was that my experience before 2009 would likely reveal my age, but at the same time, it was all professionally relevant, and I didn’t want to leave it off. She suggested an idea that had never occurred to me: list the jobs (employer and title), but leave off the dates. Just say “here’s where I worked before 2009.” Again, if an employer wants to know more about those positions, check out my LinkedIn.

As an afterthought, after I’d removed the dates from the older positions, I still had a potential age identifier on my resume: my educational experience included my dates of graduation. Sure enough, in my latest resume revamp, my graduation dates will be removed. Employers just need to know I have a Masters degree; they don’t have to know when I got it.

The recruiter also asked me another question: what accomplishment at each position are you proudest of? I have to admit that that was a good question. She said that it was a question that should be asked for every listed position, and the answer for each was something that should be included on the resume.

I was told, be your own client. Market yourself. When it comes to marketing yourself, you’re your own blind spot. Only when it was pointed out to me did I know that the blind spot was even there.

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 12/1/2020) #SQLSaturday

I received an email this morning about an upcoming speaking engagement, so I figured it was time to update my list.

I received word this morning that I will be speaking at Minnesota virtual SQL Saturday on December 12. I will be doing my job hunt presentation (which reminds me: I still need to update my slides).

Anyone can register for SQL Saturday, and it’s free to do so. (And you don’t even have to be a techno-geek to attend!) Go to the site to register for this event.

Hope to see you online on December 12!

Fixing the worst online job application

Earlier, I wrote about what may be one of the worst online job applications I’ve ever experienced (I’d suggest reading that article first; otherwise, this one might not make sense). It got me thinking: what if I had an opportunity to fix this horror show of an experience?

Here’s what I would do.

My first instinct would be to shut down this monstrosity of a system. However, it likely wouldn’t be a good idea to shut down what might be the only means for an applicant to contact the human resources department. That said, this system is so badly designed that it’s likely to deter anyone trying to apply for positions, anyway. That gives me two options: either leave it as is, or implement a simple temporary replacement. Personally, I wouldn’t want anyone else to experience the horror show that I experienced, so I would opt for a simple replacement. The simplest option would be “send your resume, cover letter, and the position to which you want to apply to <such and such email address>.” Or, if I wanted to kick it up slightly, I’d make it a simple form: name, email, and a place to upload your resume.

If I opted for the form option, that would preclude some back-end mechanism to handle it. The simplest option would be to take that form data and put it together into an email that would format it, attach the resume, and send it to an email address. Of course, this opens another can of worms. First, there’s the matter of security. Who knows what viruses or Trojan horses are lurking in an attachment? Most forms like these ask for specific file types — usually a Word doc or a PDF — so I’d only allow those formats. I would also make sure that all security and antivirus functions are up-to-date; if a message does include a virus, at least it can be caught at the email application level, and it would be a matter of the cybersecurity team to investigate it further.

Once the temporary option is in place, and the horrendous system is shut down, I’d look into whether it’d be better to implement a new system out of the box, or roll my own.

Let’s start with rolling my own. I’d likely look into something using a SQL Server or Azure back-end (probably the latter, since everyone seems to be moving to the cloud, although that would require some brushing up on my part, since I don’t have a lot of cloud development experience). I’d probably put together a .NET front-end. Security, of course, would be a major issue to address, since we’d be dealing with applicant data. I would make sure that applicant data can be saved and pulled whenever an applicant applies for positions, eliminating the need for the applicant to continually re-entering his or her information, other than his or her login information. Again, the point is to make it easier, not harder, to apply for positions.

That said, there are a number of turnkey options that might be able to do the job better than I can. ICIMS is a popular SaaS product used by a number of employers. I would also look into other CMS systems that might exist. Other than ICIMS, I’m not sure of other applicant systems that can do what is required, but I don’t doubt that other systems exist that can maintain applicant data quite well. In this case, I’d switch my role from that of a developer to one of an analyst or consultant; what steps would I take to implement such a system? It would depend on the system and the environment.

Regardless of what system is used and how it’s implemented, any of these solutions would be better than the disaster of an application that I experienced.