Monday, December 26, 2011

Setting a Networking Goal

I believe in networking, and think it is worth some effort to network with other professionals in your area. It’s not a guaranteed way of improving your career, but I think over time you will end up becoming a better professional over time if you network with others.

In order to build and maintain a network, you have to put forth an effort regularly. My suggestion is that you set some networking goals for yourself that you can achieve, and that don’t create a large burden on the rest of your life.

I have one friend whose goal is to meet three new people at each event. He makes it a point to introduce himself to new people and find three people to have a five minute conversation with each time he attends an event.

It’s close to the end of the year, and you ought to be thinking about your goals for the new year. What do you want to accomplish, how do you want to grow? When you set some professional goals for 2012, think about including a networking goal or two. Build a short plan that you can review before your next user group meeting, happy hour, conference, whatever, and make it a point to strengthen a bond, or build a new one when you go.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Goals for 2012

As we get close to the end of the year, what are your career goals for 2012? Hopefully you are setting some that will motivate you and help you grow your career in the new year.

If you had goals for 2011, you ought to start by reviewing those goals and noting your progress. Did you accomplish them all? If you did, then were they too easy, or did you make a strong effort to accomplish them.

If you didn’t accomplish them, why not? Were they too ambitious or too hard? Did you run out of time, change focus, or just get too busy? It’s entirely possible that any or all of those occurred, since they might not have been good goals for you.

In either case, re-assess what you want to accomplish for 2012. you can aim for more or less than in 2011. You can lay back in 2011 if you need the time off, or charge forward harder, but make a serious effort to re-examine your professional life and take charge of your career.

Monday, December 12, 2011

People Lie to You

It’s true, people lie to you.

It’s hard to get an honest assessment out of the people closest to you. They often don’t want to say anything bad, or tell you that they view you poorly. Your family and close friend don’t provide the honest assessment you might need about your professional brand or work.

However people you don’t know very well will lie as well, and you can’t necessarily trust their opinions precisely because you don’t know them very well.

How can you get an honest assessment? You have to work at it. Ask someone you trust, but someone that is strong enough to disagree with you. Tell them you really need an honest opinion from them on something you’ve done, and that you expect there is room for improvement.

Hopefully you have a few of these friends or family that can help you improve the way you present yourself in a professional setting.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Branding Yourself - PASS Presentation

I guess I did well, with 67 people in the talk and 39 feedback surveys. The average was between 4-5 for all categories, but some great comments for a few of the questions:

Did you learn what you expected to learn?


How would you rate the Speaker’s presentation skills? (1 - Very Poor, 2 - Poor, 3 - Average, 4 - Good, 5 - Excellent)

  • Steve is an excellent speaker. He repeats audience questions!

What will you take away from this session?

  • Update my resume! Get blogging more.
  • A LOT

This is definitely one of my favorite talks. If you’d like to see it, let me know, or let the organizers know for your next event.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Test

When I was a young man, I was given some great advice. Before I post anything, send an email, write a letter, etc., stop and think about the content. If the content appeared on the front page of the Washington Post the next day, would I be OK with it.

That was the “Washington Post” test, but today it’s the “Kid Test”, or the “Mom Test”. I write a lot, but I think I ought to be able to look my kids, or my Mom, in the face and explain what I wrote.

Before you send an email, post a blog, or do anything that could be permanent on the Internet, stop for a minute and apply the test. Will you have a problem with what you wrote? If you have any doubt, don’t post it, and get a second opinion from a friend.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tips for Networking at Events

Geared for a conference, and made for the Business of Software 2011, this short video gives you some good ideas for networking.

Tips for networking from an 8 year old

Monday, November 14, 2011

Q: Everyone has already written about X, why should I?

I think I get asked this question quite often from people that start blogging, and I’ve tried to cover it in the presentation.

The purpose of your blog, for most of you, is to showcase your skills. It builds your brand and shows that you understand whatever you do in your career.

In the SQL Server world, it doesn’t matter if Books Online, twelve people at Microsoft and 1,452 other people have written about backing up a transaction log, it’s important that you show that you have the skills to make a transaction log backup.

The same thing occurs, whether you’re a CEO, a developer, a plumber, or in any other field. It’s important that I know you have the skills I need.

As a sidebar, if I found a plumber, handyman, electrician, etc. that blogged about their projects and experiences, I’d be much, much more likely to hire them. Why? It’s due diligence for me. Hint to tradesman: Get your spouse or kids to blog about your job if you don’t want to. It will help.

Don’t overthink blog posts. Write about what you’ve learned, or done, or accomplished. No matter how trivial you think it is, it’s important that you showcase those skills.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Resume Advice from Lifehacker

Not sure I agree with all of it, but there are a few interesting tips here at Lifehacker on making your resume more modern.

I do think typefaces and the display of your resume matter. Look at it from a distance to ensure it's not too crowded.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Where do I tweet? My personal account or a separate one?

This is something I’ve been asked about blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. My advice is that you ought to keep a professional brand out there for yourself.

I have two accounts, one for me personally (@way0utwest) and then one for my site (@SQLServerCentrl). The company site definitely gets less time from me than my personal account. I rarely sign on to the company account away from my PC, so it’s hard to maintain.

I’m not sure I’d want a separate account for Twitter for me as a programmer, because it could be hard to maintain, and hard to manage. It would be easy to tweet something from the wrong account.

What I would do is keep my business social media separate from my personal media. Twitter is a blend for me, since I have mostly business friends on there. It evolved that way, and while I post some family/kid things, I do try to remember that the audience is technical people.

For Facebook, and my personal blog, I have set those to be family items. I might cross post to/from this site, but it’s about me, not my work. I have kicked off my Facebook friends that I don’t know personally well, so it’s now a personal site.

LinkedIn is completely business. I don’t connect with friends there, unless we have a business purpose.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Get Inspired - SQL Inspire 2011 New York

Coming up next week is the SQL Inspire 2011 event in New York City. It’s an event with a number of SQL Server community speakers that are here to inspire you in your career, your life, and with SQL Server. The talks cover a variety of topics, and they look interesting. I am very excited to attend the event, and give my talk as well.

The event is from SQL People, the brainchild of Andy Leonard and Brian Moran, designed to build a stronger community by having us inspire each other. This event is based on the TED events, which are inspirational and informative talks that look to explore new ideas in a variety of topic areas. I have loved watching many of the talks, and while I’m not sure I’m up to the same level of presenting as many of these people, I’m going to try.

Please come if you are in New York on the 12th of November. It will be a lot of fun, and hopefully a very motivational event.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Document Your Day

You should be documenting your day, your week, your month, on a regular basis. Take a few minutes when you accomplish something and make a blog entry. This is a great way for you to keep track of what you’ve accomplished during the year, and be ready to talk about it in an interview, or in a performance review.

You don’t have to publically blog this. You can use Word, emacs, Live Writer, text files, whatever works, but, keep track of it. Read through it when you need it and summarize your accomplishments for the quarter or year. This is also something you consult every quarter when you touch your resume.

And when you get ready for that review, read Kendra Little’s post on asking for a raise.

Monday, October 24, 2011

It’s Your Career

It’s your career. It’s something you have to take ownership of and work on. I know that life is busy, and training budgets are tight. That’s one reason we started SQL Saturday; it’s a way to bring a training event and a conference experience to many people.


I posted this tweet almost a year ago, seeing Brent in a class somewhere, learning and taking notes during some session. It was in humor, but I’m a little serious here. We all have more to learn, and while you don’t need to cram it all in this year, you should be taking advantage of your user group, local events, conferences, classes, even reading something in a newsletter on a regular basis.

Many of us are out here to help. I’ve spoken at 12 events this year, 10 of them free, and will be at another free event this week (SQL in the City - LA). However, you’ve got to make the effort to improve yourself. I , and many others, will try to help you, teach you, but you’ve got to do some work yourself.

Pace yourself, learn at a reasonable rate given the other responsibilities in your life, but don’t ignore this aspect of your career.

PS - If you’re in the LA area, there’s still time to register for SQL in the City and get a free day of training. I’ll also be at DevConnections next week and SQLInspire the week after that.

cross posted at The Voice of the DBA blog.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Meet Someone New This Week

Meet someone new in your career this week. Wherever you are, go make it a point to either meet a new person, or learn a new thing about someone that you work with, near, or is in the same field.

I'll be at the PASS Summit this week in Seattle, and one of the things that I make it a point to do when I try to meet new people there. It's easier for me since so many people want to meet me and will come up and say hi, but I do try to stop and say hi when I'm in an elevator or on one of the long escalators in the Washington State Convention Center. Or in line, or at lunch.

Just say "hi, I'm Steve" and ask when they do, or why there came to the event. Or at work, ask someone what they did this weekend, or what they'll do next weekend.

Build or maintain your network this week. It doesn't have to be a daily or weekly thing, but make it a point every month to touch part of your network or grow it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Long Road

I gave a keynote talk recently called The Long Road, where I talked about the journey of your career and how you might not end up in the place you expect to be, but that's OK. Modify your career goals as you go.

Networking to Build Business Contacts

The more I learn about building a better career, and the more I talk to people that get new jobs or have success in business, the more I believe that networking is one of the most important things you can do for your career. It just seems to work better, be more reliable, and more effective than any other career improvement strategy. Even blogging, which I think really helps, isn't as effective as having someone that's willing to recommend you.
I never really knew how to go about networking, but a few years ago I attended Don Gabor's seminar at the PASS Summit and it was well worth my money. I learned a lot and have practiced some of his techniques since then. I've even purchased a few of his books, which contain even more information on how to better network and work with others.
If you're attending the 2011 PASS Summit, you can see Don's Networking to Build Business Contacts seminar on Tuesday, Oct 11, from 3-5pm. It doesn't interfere with the other pre-cons, and if you're going to be in town, take this seminar. You will learn some practical tips and exercises you can use to build more contacts, grow your network, and hopefully use it to advance your career at some point. Even if you don't need a job, at some point you will and the time to build a network is before you need it. If you've already registered, call PASS to add this seminar to your registration, or do it on site.
Don has become a friend over the last few years, and was helpful in working on The Mentoring Experiment with me. I find him very insightful and experienced in the world of business and interpersonal interactions and a very interesting person. If you get the chance to sit and talk with Don, take it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The PASS 2011 Summit

I haven't posted awhile, with this being a busy conference time and I've been working on a few other presentations. I need to get back to posting here, and I have a few drafts in progress, just lacking some time.

I'll be delivering a version of this talk at the 2011 PASS Summit, titling it Branding Yourself for a Dream Job: The Modern Resume.

It's the same talk, or nearly the same, but a different title based on some feedback from various people that were turned off by the idea of "working on their resume."

We will see how it goes, but I would welcome feedback if you are attending the event.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Back Up Your Resume

Don’t make a second copy, though it does make sense for you to keep a second copy of your resume on a separate system. Losing that data would not be good.

However for this post, what I really mean is that you need to be able to talk about the various things you’ve posted on your resume.


It’s all Fair Game

If you wrote that you consolidated server instances to save the company $100,000, you should expect to be asked any of these questions:

  • How did you know you saved $100k?
  • How many servers were consolidated?
  • What happened to the old hardware?
  • How did you decide which servers to consolidate?
  • Did performance suffer? How do you know?

Open ended questions, and not necessarily easy to answer on the spur of the moment if you don’t have stories prepped.

Anything you have on your resume is fair game, so take a few minutes before any interview to review your resume and be ready to talk about anything on it.


Build Detailed Stories

At each job, you should have something you are proud of and can tell a story about. These are the chances that you have to build a bond, show some depth to yourself, your career, and your skills.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Why you need to write

I love writing. At least now I do. When I was in high school and college, I hated it. However over time I’ve learned to enjoy it, express myself, unload things, and teach people things.

I ran across this post recently from Jason Baptiste on Why Every Entrepreneur Should Write. It talks about the reasons that a person starting their own company might gain from sharing their thoughts and ideas with others, especially about their company.

But it works for employees too.

A lot of the same benefits will  come to you as a worker if you write, especially if you consider yourself to be your own company. You are selling your skills as a service to an employer, and while you shouldn’t have the accounts receivables hassle, you should consider any job a temporary arrangement, an open-ended contract from which you might move on at any time and will move on at some point.

Writing builds skills, it teaches you things, and more importantly, it builds a brand that can help you get that next interview, or even job.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What’s a good sample resume?

I typically don’t include samples in my presentation for one simple reason: I don’t want everyone to copy the sample and start using them.

My philosophy is that you ought to tell your story, make yourself stand out, which means that you should pick and choose from others, but do your own research.

Recently I saw the crew at Brent Ozar PLF post their own sample resumes. While I’m not sure you should copy their formats, I’ll say that Kendra Little’s resume stood out the most to me. It contains essentially a advertisement/cover letter as the first page for Kendra herself. It’s written in plain language with a question that a hiring manager might want to ask and then some details from her career. To me this stands out and it’s one that I bet would get a lot of calls on.

I didn’t love the others, but there are some things you can take from them, which might work for you.

In terms of other samples, ask your friends for theirs, especially the ones that have been successful. Look at what stands out, and ask them what questions they were asked about their resume.

Experience on my Resume

What would I write today, or what’s on my resume? I’ll include an item from one of my last few jobs with a few variations.

Operations DBA - JD Edwards - The JD Edwards SQL Server infrastructure consisted of hundreds of instances that were managed on a daily basis by myself and another DBA. I worked with and coached our team to implement standards across the servers to allow us to proactively monitor the systems. I introduced automated monitoring that went beyond the Patrol software we had purchased, and assisted us in troubleshooting issues. We automated much of our daily work to meet ISO 9001 standards, freeing our time to work with individual clients to help improve the performance of their systems.

It doesn’t say much in terms of details, but this gives an overview of my job, and seems impressive. However I can tailor this for specifics that might help for some jobs

Operations DBA - JD Edwards - to manage several hundred instances of SQL Server with two DBAs, I introduced a standardization and continuous improvement process. I developed scripting solutions to automate the monitoring and baselining of our servers that proactively allowed us to seek out clients and let them know of potential problems and solutions before tickets were raised. We regularly examined servers for consolidation potential to save on hardware refreshes and achieve more efficient use of hardware. We constantly received new instance requests, but less than 2/3 of those required new hardware thanks to these efforts.

Another version that emphasizes costs more and gives a number. I could talk to this in an interview in terms of the process and metrics for measuring the savings.

One more approach:

Server Consolidation - At JD Edwards, each new instance request was examined and the load compared with existing instances using our automated performance monitoring and baseline system. We were able to reduce new purchases of hardware by a third. We were also able to use this system to combine underutilized systems together and free up additional hardware for test and development systems. At Peoplesoft, I managed teams that migrated our large financial and ERP systems from Oracle to DB2, consolidating hardware in a virtualized system at the same time.

ISO 9001 /SOX Compliance - By building a set of processes for daily administration at JD Edwards, we complied with the requirements needed to maintain our ISO certification and meet SOX audits. To simplify this system and allow two people to manage several hundred instances, we developed automated daily reports that could be logged for documentation purposes, and also reduce the need to check each instance. Our reports included checks for backups, job completion, critical errors raised, and uptime to meet our requirements.

Here I’ve taken a different approach to showing my experience by looking at skills instead of jobs. If I were taking another job at a large company who would appreciate these skills, I might take this approach to catch their eye and just list each job at the bottom of my resume.

Tailor Your Resume

The key thing is to show the person that will spend 30 seconds on your resume that you have something to offer. In that sense, think about putting down the skills and experience that will meet their needs, and do it in a way that makes them think it’s worth spending 30 seconds looking at your resume.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Don't Wait to Start Blogging

I'm borrowing the title from Brian Kelley, who wrote a post by the same name. The essence of his post is that you need to start blogging if you want to blog. If you want to make this part of your brand, or part of your career, you just need to start. Don't wait for the perfect ideas, or the perfect formatting or blog software, or anything else. As Nike says....

Just Do It.

I think that's the best advice, and you ought to start. As I wrote last week, you can get started quickly, in 5 minutes, and then go from there.

One last thing I'd say again is to get feedback on your writing early. Maybe privately, maybe by pointing some people at your entries, but get someone to help you learn to write better. Learn to convey your thoughts in a way that is clear to other people. It's not that hard, but there are lots of rookie mistakes that you make early on. Getting feedback will help you fix most of those small errors and allow you to write in a way that is clear to your readers over time.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Five Minute Guide to Starting a Blog

I was asked recently for some advice on starting a blog, so here’s a five minute guide:

  1. Download Live Writer from Microsoft for authoring your posts.
  2. Set a reminder in your calendar once a week to write for 30 minutes.
  3. Get Evernote, a moleskin, or use Live Writer to make notes when you come upon a problem you have solved, or you’ve learned something new. This can be a link, a paragraph, or maybe a sentence. Get in the habit of making notes.
  4. Save your posts as drafts. When you get ten complete posts, which means proofed and checked (preferably by a friend or spouse), note how long it took you to write ten posts.
  5. Set up a blog at Wordpress, Blogger, or Typepad. Any of them will do.
  6. Schedule your posts out at the pace it took to write them. If you wrote 10 in 10 weeks, schedule one a week. If you wrote 10 in 20 weeks. schedule one every other week.
  7. Keep writing, and keep publishing.

That’s it, and it’s simple, but it won’t build a good blog. You have to do that work yourself, but pace yourself and build a blog that you can sustain.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why Bother with the Effort?

Is it worth your time to build a better brand, and allow yourself the chance for more opportunities in life? After all, that's what this brand building stuff is about. It's not here to ensure you make a million dollars or ensure you are famous. My goal with this blog and the presentation is to give you ideas and ways to make yourself stand out slightly from the rest of the people in your industry and help you to get the interview at the place you want to work. A better brand should give you more opportunities, hopefully in the areas in which you want to work.

I think it's definitely worth it, and this image says it all:

You want to have the best life for you, which is a very personal, yet elusive thing. A better brand in your industry will help you with this.

The important thing is to make sure that you don't spend too much time on career, branding, or work and make sure you enjoy life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Test

When I was starting out in my career, I had a friend that was a bit of a mentor and helped me to make fewer mistakes in my career. He gave me this one piece of advice, and it has served me well over the years.

He told me that before I sent an email, or wrote a memo, or posted something publicly, I should give it the "Washington Post test". This was back in the days of newspapers in my native Virginia. The test was this: if what I had written appeared in the Washington Post the next day, would I have a problem with that?

Today I use a modified version of the test, where I think about what my Mom or my kids would think about what I posted, or wrote. or even said. It doesn't work quite as well for speaking, but it does work for writing. If there is something you blog, or post, or write, inside of work or outside of it, stop and review it. If you have any doubt that what you wrote might make a poor impression, then don't post it.

It's simple. If you have any doubts, don't to it.

Or get it reviewed. Have a friend, your wife, your boss, or someone else look over your work before you post it. Get their opinion and revise your work.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Show People What You’ve Done

This is a good article worth reading: Why the New Guy Can’t Code. It’s a little heavy handed, but it makes sense and there’s one great quote: don’t interview anyone who hasn’t accomplished anything. Ever.

I think we are starting to see this, with all the research that hiring managers and HR people can do online about applicants. If you don’t have some body of work, some evidence that you have the skills needed for the job, why bother with the interview?

Blogging, building a project, having some volunteer projects or applications you’ve built on the side can bring some depth and color to your application, and it gives you the chance to let the interviewer know about your accomplishments when they are considering calling you.

It removes some level of doubt that you might not be a good fit, and it gives you the chance to make a positive first impression early. That’s half the battle of finding your dream job.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Better Writing from Hemingway

These are five rules for writing from Ernest Hemingway, which I like and recommend for use in your communications. Definitely try to incorporate them into your writing, especially being short and positive.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Soft skills are important to MBAs

Business schools are starting to understand that those soft skills are important to succeed in business. It’s a response to various companies interviewing and hiring based on strong soft skills, which seem to become more important all the time.

Work on your soft skills if you want to advance in management at all. It might be more important than an MBA.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Networking and Connections

This quote says it all:


It’s from an article on the 9/11 memorial and how an algorithm was used to inscribe the names in particular places.

That could easily be applied to your career as well. The connections you have, with people that know you, respect you, like your work, like you, etc. are the most important things you have.

Your skills matter, but the skills help build those connections.

Learn to network.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Get Your Manager Involved

I’ve always tried to make sure that I kept my manager informed of things I thought were important. However I hadn’t thought of getting them to attend local events with me.

This blog from Roy Ernest has an interesting idea, invite them to you user group. They’ll learn more about SQL Server, see your contributions, and maybe sponsor you to attend a conference.

A good idea, and worth trying if you have a manager that’s at all interested in the technology and you have some sessions that aren’t too complex.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why Build a Brand?

Why should you go to the trouble to start blogging, speaking, answering questions or anything else. What’s the point?

I’ve written a little before about this. When you build a brand, it helps you to stand out from others. You become more noticeable, and more likely to get the interview. You allow a potential employer to do some due diligence before they call you for an interview, which gives them more confidence you are the right person for the job.

And that if they call you, knowing your brand, the job is more likely what you want to do. Your brand lets people know what your skills are, what talents you have, and what you might want to do in life.

Working on your own brand also forces you to think about what you want from your career, or in your career, and it helps you to become better. Working on a better brand means getting better at your career in some way. Whether you blog, speak, or do anything else, you have to learn the topic well enough to teach it.

You are building an online brand with everything you do online, and many people in technology are regularly building that brand, so take advantage of it, put a little more effort in and get into the top ten percent of people in your field.

Remember that a brand can have a downside, so use your own version of “The Test” before doing anything online.

And don’t forget that just because you have a great job your branding doesn’t matter. It can still be useful, even if you don’t want a new job.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Leadership in the digital world

Leadership can be a challenge, especially as we move to a more remote, digital world. However it can be done, and this video shows a touch of how someone is doing so in the Army, a place where leaders are very important.

It's humorous and worth watching, but near the end you get a good sense of the challenges involved in working with people across distances in a digital way.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Have Multiple Resumes

I was asked a question recently about how to present yourself if you are changing careers. If you have been a technology worker for years and just got your MBA and are looking to move into management, how do you show this on your resume?
It’s easy: multiple resumes.
It’s the same advice I give if you are considering two different types of jobs in your search. I have used this successfully for years, and I the only downside is the time it takes to make a separate resume.
Each resume should be tailored towards a particular position, highlighting those skills that are applicable to that job. A few examples will help explain this.
Becoming a manager
Suppose that you have always worked in subordinate positions in companies and now want to try management. Hopefully you have had some taste of this, practicing in informal managerial roles or unofficial settings. Perhaps as some type of team lead.
When you examine your resume, the work you did to build some piece of software, or erect the frame of a house, or re-wire a circuit isn’t really important. In fact, it can be a detriment because there are many managers that transition into the role and cannot let their old work go. They try to do it all themselves and fail.
Instead, you ought to highlight those unofficial things you have done. Perhaps you helped coordinate work for other people and finish a project on time. Maybe you prepared the material to help your previous manager finish the budget. Your “manager” resume ought to highlight these accomplishments and show that you have some skills, even without much experience, in this position.
Changing Fields
Suppose you have been a software developer for years and now want to try being a database administrator. I was in this very position, and tackled this exact problem with a DBA resume that was different from my developer resume.
One of the things I had done was work on the upgrade of the servers and I listed that as something I had accomplished. I worked with another DBA on performance tuning, and I listed a few things I had done, noting that I had done them under the supervision of a senior DBA. It doesn’t make me look like the most qualified person, but it does show I have some knowledge, and I wasn’t bumbling or fumbling around on my own. I had a teacher.
I talked to those things in the interviews I got, and even mentioned them in a couple cover letters. I talked about my software development experience, as it related to the database, not as it solved the problem. My knowledge in solving problems was an aside, or afterthought, but the things I learned about databases while working with data in my application were what I highlighted.
Limit the Number
I know some people might have many resumes, even some specific ones for certain companies. I tried this at one point, but I am not sure it is worth the effort in maintaining them. At most, I might have three resumes right now: DBA, manager, and writer. In the past writer would have been developer or sysadmin, but I only put out resumes for jobs I want to do, and then only the top 2 or 3 positions I’d take.
Life is short. Enjoy it, including your work.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

SQL Saturday #63 - The Modern Resume

I gave this presentation last weekend in Dallas, and it was well received. A quiet crowd, but overall a good talk for me. I had to rush a touch with only an hour to go, and the last part I went through quickly.

I had a couple of interesting questions on resumes. One was how to highlight your skills when you are looking to change jobs. So if you are a programmer and want to be a manager, what do you do? After all, the resume you last used to get a programming job might not make you look like a great candidate as a manager. Multiple resumes can help you here, but don't go crazy. Stick with 2 or 3.

The other question came from a student, of which there were quite a few in the audience. How do you highlight skills without experience. It's hard, but you should have something that leads you to consider this field. Did you have coursework? projects? Interesting articles you've read that inspired you? Showcase what relevant experience you have, no matter how small it might seem, and try to show some passion, some excitement to get the job.

The next presentation for me will be at SQL Saturday #77 in Pensacola on June 4, where I'll have a couple other technical presentations to go with this one.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

SQL Saturday #63 PPT

The PowerPoint deck from my presentation is here if you want it

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tips for Speaking

I've read a few books on speaking, and looked to get feedback from people on what I can do better in my talks. I've learned things, and I think I've improved over time, but there are always ways to get better. I've considered Toastmasters, but time is precious for me right now and that's a night that I can't spare in the coming months. However I do want to get there at some point and have some practice talks.

Recently I saw a great post at The Goal Keeping DBA, from Brian Kelley called Tip on Speaking (and Writing) Well – The Key Idea. It's actually based on a Toastmasters article that Brian has distilled down. He has some great advice on speaking, or writing, and it's worth reading.

It's also similar to the advice I often give authors as an editor. Focus on something and do that well.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Getting Started with Online Networking - Go Slow

An online social networking community is really like any community in the real world. It has it’s own rules, it’s own tempo, etiquette, and even a rhythm to how it works.

If you walk into a room of people you don’t know and start making comments, annoying people, handing your business card to everyone, or any other disruptive action, chances are you are going to turn most people off. It’s no different in the online world.

The first thing you ought to do is observe what happens in your network, or on the site you are using. Learn how other people react to each other, how they talk, and get a feel for what is appropriate and what is not.

Once you have observed a bit, start slow. Don’t post a dozen questions or thoughts. Post something and see if you get some interaction with people. Ask a question or comment on someone else’s post and slowly start to build a rapport with others.

Just like making a friend in the real world takes time, it takes time online as well. Don’t force it, and don’t rush in. Let the relationships evolve over time and you’ll have a strong network.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Building Your Network Online

As part of a networking series, I wanted to give you some advice for how to add people to your network online.

Find Friends

I wrote a Getting Started Networking piece awhile back, and it was based on moving your offline network, the real world people you know, to the online medium. It’s a quick way to get started and find people you know.

Note: Don’t start pestering people with tons of requests for them to join your networking site. Start by searching for people you know and then getting connected, friending them, or whatever the term is on your site to link yourself with them.

Find Colleagues

It helps to align yourself, and build bonds with people in your field. Search out your particular career field or profession and find people that do similar jobs. Try to connect with them somehow. Either let them know you are interested in knowing more people in this field, or ask them a question. Develop and ice breaker with them by adding a comment or question that shows you are interested in what they do or know.

Another alternative is to start meeting people in other places. It could be online at some other site, like a forum or discussion board. It could be offline at some event, but participate in the medium, and once you start to know people, ask them if they have a LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. profile.

Join Groups

Many social networking sites have some concept of groups. Facebook has groups and pages you can “like”. LinkedIn has a variety of groups. Twitter has friends and even lists you can look over.

Find some of these that seem to be appropriate for your career and join them. Over time, as you participate in the discussions, you’ll build relationships, and add these people to your network online.

Use Business Cards

Don’t forget that the offline world is a great place to build connections. When you’re out, especially a professional events, and you meet someone, ask them for their online networking links. Ask if you can send them an invite to be part of their network. You won’t get a ton of these, but a network is something you build over time.

Make this Repeatable

The important thing is to regularly work on your network and expand it. When I was early in my career, this sounded like work, like something a salesman constantly does. They do, but you don’t have to attack it in the same manner.

At some point, networking should be easy. It’s a regular habit that you get into, spending a little time after an event, or periodically online, adding people to your network. Reaching out, and forging relationships.

It’s really no different than what we often tell our kids. Just say hi and make friends. That’s all networking really is.

Networking - Build Your Network

A great post by a friend, Allen White, on how and why to build a personal network. Worth the read: Build Your Personal Network

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Rocky Mountain Tech Trifecta v3.0 Keynote

I had the main room keynote at the recent Rocky Mountain Tech Trifecta v3.0 in Denver. Jeff Certain & Ben Hoelting had the beginner track keynote, and I was sorry I missed that. I would have liked to see them talk.
However I had enough stress with my own keynote, especially with this being the first time my wife has seen me speak. Despite all my talks over the years, she’s never managed to get to one, usually because of some scheduling issue. My kids have all seen me, and even been on stage, but not her. So she came down, sat in the front row, and had me stressed.
I forgot to record it, which I regret, but here’s the text of the talk. I’ve included the slides in the places where I showed them on screen.

Welcome to the Rocky Mountain Tech Trifecta v3.0. This is my third year attending and I am very happy to see this event doing well and even growing.  This year there are some new technologies and tracks, like the beginner track where you can get a goo grounding in some technology that you may never have experienced, or don't get the chance ton use at work.
My name is Steve Jones and I started my career, like many of you, by working in a technical field, learning new types of software, and moving from company to company across about ten years. In that time I have watched technology grow and expand in my life, especially this "Internet thing".
One of the most amazing things is how the Internet has now grown from a useful tool in colleges to an essential part of our lives. When I was in college, the Internet was this private network between colleges and the government. We had limited email, only able to contact a few people I knew. There were discussions in newsgroups on Usenet, with only about 500 groups, and there was the barest beginning of the world wide web. I still remember the http protocol being introduced and using Lynx, a text browser, to navigate from page to page on the World Wide Web. I started communicating with 300 baud modems, and I used to watch characters paint across the screen on my computer, getting a page of data in a minute.
Today email is the primary way I contact millions of people and there are tens of thousands of newsgroups and probably just as many forums.  One thing that really stands out for me in technology is how I've gone from phones with dials and cords
to  this shiny new iPhone that I love, at least now that it's on the Verizon network.
Now my phone downloads a hundred times that much data almost anywhere in the country in a fraction of the time and I use my phone much more often for data transfer than I use it for voice.
As my career advanced I learned one very interesting thing. I could advance in my field, find better jobs, and grow my salary, just by working on my skills. This is probably true in many other fields, but it seems that the pace of change in technology and the constant influx of new products to work with means we can do this faster than in other fields. We truly have the ability to dramatically affect our careers for the better with a little effort on our part.
This is no different than the advancement that
or any other professional can achieve by learning more about their craft and improving their skills. Unlike those other fields, I think we are a little closer to a meritocracy in technology. In those jobs your "connections" and network seem to matter a bit more than your skills. Those connections are still important in technology, but not nearly as much. If you demonstrate some skill and talent, it can make up for the lack of connections in many cases. At least up to a point.
Today I want to talk to you about your career, and professional development. Ely Lucas organized this event and when he asked me to do this keynote, he told me two things.  One was that I needed to fill 60 minutes, and the other was that I should talk about professional development. Don't worry, I won't keep you here for 60 whole minutes. I'll leave  you a few more minutes to go get a cup of coffee or find a restroom before the first session, but I do hope I leave you with some good reasons to continue to work on your own professional development after today. Or maybe even inspire you to motivate others back at your job to do the same.
During my career, I have learned that taking control of my career, and taking responsibility for my career, has allowed me to find better jobs, advance to more senior positions, and make more money at my jobs  than I would ever have thought possible.  It took me many years to realize that, but now it seems that each month more and more technical professionals are realizing that there is value in making professional development a regular habit. They are also asking for help in doing so. That's one of the reasons that so many of us are here today at the Tech Trifecta. We are here to work on our careers.
Four years ago, my business partner and I started a free event called SQL Saturday. Its a one day free training event format for SQL Server professionals and there have been over 60 events in the last four years, with more scheduled all across the country this year. As these events have matured, its been interesting to see that more and more of these events include some Professional Development talks, sometimes having 2 or 3 sessions during the day. I suspect before long we will even see a professional development track.
A few weeks ago, SQL Saturday #66 took place in Colorado Springs. One of the great things that Chris Shaw organized at that event were dedicated networking exercises. There was time scheduled in between the various technical sessions and it was used to help people meet and network with other data professionals in an organized fashion. Not only were they learning technical information that day, but they were also building their network and working on their soft skills. It was fun for everyone, and inspiring to me to see people not only taking a Saturday away from their families to learn something technical, but also willing to work on those other skills that could help them improve their career.
It's great that so many of you are doing the same thing here today, taking a Saturday out of your life to come down here and learn something.  You could be skiing,
relaxing with your family,
working around the house,
or doing any number of other things
that would be a break from your job. But you're here, and you ought to be proud of the fact that you are here, making an effort to improve yourself.
Why spend time on professional development? After all you are already here today, on a Saturday, trying to learn something. That's great, but in a time when so many employers are not making any contribution to your career, I think you ought to be making a dedicated and organized plan for working on your career. I've got three reasons for you that I'm going to talk about and hopefully convince you that it's worth the effort. These reasons are employment, freedom, and purpose, and I'm going to talk about what I mean with each one of them.
imageMy son bought a science fiction book recently called The Unincorporated Man. It's a science fiction book about the future, and the story follows a cryogenically frozen billionaire who wakes up to find that the world has changed. He was frozen in a world like ours and awakens 300 years in the future to a world where everyone in the future is incorporated. At birth each person is incorporated, and just like in business today, the corporation of each person is divided up into shares.  These "shares" are owned partially by you, partially by your parents, partially by the government and, here is the kicker, often by investors. You usually sell shares to pay for education or to borrow money, and then those investors that own your shares have a say in how you live. Your salary pays your dividends and your value is based on how the world perceives your performance. Those investors might force you to take jobs you don't like, limit your vacation, or something else in an effort to increase your value, and hence, their return. People end up spending much of their lives working  to try and "buy back" enough of their shares to become free. Once you can own 51% of yourself, you are essentially free and in control of your own life. It's a great read, and a fascinating potential future. It's also a little scary.
When I talk about employment, I want you to think of your employment as you working for your own corporation. Unlike in the book, however, you own all your own shares. This means that you are the person that your corporation ultimately has to answer to. If that's the case, then do you, as a shareholder, think your corporation is being run the way you want it? Is it performing as well as it can? Is it making the decisions that will allow it to be more successful in the future?
Right now all of you should really be considering yourself as running your own corporation that employs you. In today's world, you really are working for yourself, and selling your services to your employer. Your skills are your products, and your salary is your revenue.
Some of you might get lucky enough to contract with one employer for your career, but the majority of us won't. The majority of us will end up working for a variety of companies during the course of our lives. Our "corporation" will subcontract to many other companies over its life.
We might be loyal to the company that is paying us, just as we might be loyal to Safeway or King Soopers for our groceries or to any other business for their products. As long as we feel we are getting a fair business transaction, we will be loyal. But when it is not a good deal for both sides, then we ought to be able to take our business elsewhere. If you have the same attitude with your job, then you can more objectively view the business deal with your employer, and look to take your business elsewhere when the value for your services isn't there.
And if we consider ourselves self employed, then shouldn't we be working to make sure that we make the "deals" that are best for our own corporation? Shouldn't we be trying to grow our corporation and increase the revenue we get for our products? Or make our products better? Shouldn't we be doing business with the companies that we want to do business with?
When you interview, you are making a pitch for the company to buy your services, and your skills. Just like a salesman visiting your company selling any other product. You ought to view it that way, and also take the attitude that you need to interview the company to be sure it's the place you want to work. Make sure it's the company that you want to do business with. You want your decision to take a job to be a win-win situation.
You might need a job, and need to take one quickly, but you should try not to put yourself in this position. When one side is desperate in a transaction, they get taken advantage of. that's how bad business deals get done between corporations, and it's also how people end up in crappy jobs.
If you spend time working on your career, improving your skills, and taking the responsibility to ensure that you are building a better product, and a better career, you will have more choices in where you work, and what you do. Hopefully you also minimize, or even eliminate, the time you spend without a job. And hopefully you have the chance to pick and choose the work that interests you most.

You will have more opportunities, and that's all we can really ask for in a free market. The opportunity for us to do business with who we want.
Finding better employment, by your definition of what that means, is the first reason you should spend time on professional development.


We live in a free country, with certain inalienable rights listed in our Declaration of Independence
and guaranteed by the US Constitution.
Free speech, freedom of religion and more. In a capitalist society, as we have in the US, we also have the freedom to choose to study what interests us, pick a trade, and then pursue it. We can also careers change at any time, or even move to live in another part of the world.  We can choose to start our own business if we like, or even stop working if we can afford it.  We have a lot of freedom with regards to how we choose to earn a living, and while there are some rules and regulations about how you go about practicing some crafts, those are mostly built around ensuring that someone cannot misrepresent themselves about their qualifications.
Medical doctors are licensed to that know they have had some amount of training in their specialty and passed some basic competency tests. No guarantees they will make you feel better, but at least you know they have some training.
As I mentioned earlier, technology is very close to a meritocracy. Your skills in many ways will define what work you get to do, what projects you are assigned, and who is willing to hire you. The better your skills, the better the job, the more complex the work, and the higher the pay. I know we always seem to find people that don't seem to be qualified working in technology, but that’s OK. To me that's an opportunity that person to learn and grow, or for someone that is more skilled to get that job.

Professional development time is mostly your own time. Your employer might fund some efforts that he or she finds valuable for your position. You might get SAN training, or a class on the next version of Exchange from your employer, and that's fine. However your PD time is your own, and you should spend it learning about one of two things.
Learn what will advance you in your career field, or
Learn about the field you would like to move into
You have the freedom to choose how you spend your Professional Development time, and the time you spend on Professional Development gives you the freedom to move further into your field, or move into a different field. The freedom you have in choosing how to spend your Professional Development time lets you follow your heart. You have the opportunity to learn about anything that interests you, inside of your field or outside of it.  You have the freedom to look for work for another company.
The older I get, the more valuable freedom is to me. I realize that Life is short, and I don't want to spend my life working on a career, or in a job, that I don't enjoy. 
Note: At this point, I deviated from the script. I told people that it’s rare that you get the chance to be on stage, giving a talk with loved ones in the audience and so I took a moment to recognize my wife in the audience and thank her for all the support that she’s given me in my career. She got a nice round of applause.
My wife works in the mobility/cellular phone industry right now, but she really wants to train horses for a living.  In the short term, which might be the next few years, she's a little "stuck" in her current job. However we spend time and money every year improving her skills, and I support her in doing the "professional development" she needs to do in order to be a horse trainer some day. I know she'll get there at some point, and I am sure she'll be ready for her next career with all the work and training she is doing now.
Ten years ago, I started a publishing business. I was a database guy and technical writer, but I wanted to grow my career, get better jobs, raises, become better known in my field and earn some extra money. That grew into a full time job, and has allowed me the freedom to work from home, and set my own schedule. I ski over 20 days a year, often during the work week. I spend a lot of time with my kids, taking them to and picking them up from school. I had the freedom to direct my business as I saw fit, and also, more importantly, turn down deals that I didn't like.
I spent a lot of my PD time over the years at night, on weekends, like my wife does now, building skills for a side business. Along the way that work helped me get better jobs and eventually gave me more freedom in my life than I ever imagined.
You can earn your own freedom as well. Just make the effort.

Purpose is an interesting notion.  I read about this in the book Drive and at first didn't seem to think this had a place in business, or in managing's one career. After all, purpose typically seems to be reserved for  those people serving a higher power, 
or working at a non-profit organization or towards some "greater good" in the world.
This used to conjure up images of idealists to me, people working for Greenpeace
or the Sierra Club.
Not to denigrate those organizations, which the work they find to be important, but I used to think that purpose mattered to those people for whom the profit motive is not a big consideration. 
People like monks copying books in ancient times,
the police or firemen working for low pay,
or even the people working at the local food bank for little or no salary.
These were the people that were working towards a purpose in life.
However now I'm not sure that's true.  As I have thought about this more and more, I was convinced that most people need to feel that their work has some purpose in order for them to really enjoy the work.
Why do you look for a new job? Sometimes it's money, but studies have shown that when people look for a new job it's often because there is usually something missing in their current job. They don't like the people, or don't feel challenged. There is some root cause other than money that causes people to look for a change. However there's another cause that often comes up. People don't think that their work matters, or doesn't have a "purpose". They don't feel that their efforts are appreciated by some wider group of people.  They feel their work is the digital equivalent of someone carrying a clipboard around all day without actually accomplishing anything.
There are definitely times I have felt that way, and wondered if I was just pushing bits around the wires without making any kind of difference at my company. I'm sure many of you feel that way as well, and to me, that's a sign that I am either not working on something that matters to me, and the company doesn't value my work. It doesn't really matter which one it is missing, because this is a sign to me that I need to think about making a change in my life.
I would argue it's the same for most of you. You need to feel useful with a purpose or you won't enjoy your job. Purpose can be as simple as ensuring your servers run with a high uptime, or you have built a useful process at work. It can be building software that millions of people use, or maybe just a web page you created for your Mom. Purpose is something you define in your career in the way that gives your work some meaning.
That purpose will also change over time as You will grow and change, even evolve as you grow up and go through your career. The things that are important at 16 will not be important to you are 22. And those things Will not be important at 28, 40, or 65.
At 16, where you need any job just to earn money for gas or to pay for dinner on a date,  you take any job. You don't really consider this a career, but you never know what will happen.
At 22, after you've made some investment you starting a career, after college, a stint in the military, or just having worked for a few years, you want to get a job that earns more money, but also starts to develop a career.
At 28, you'll have some experience, maybe starting a family, and you might look at a different kind of job than you 22. Maybe you want more money, but maybe you also want better hours. Perhaps you have a child, or three, and your priorities change.
At 40, you might be reconsidering your choice of career. 
A midlife crisis isn't always about your choice of spouse. There are many people that start to rethink the work they have chosen to do in their life.  I'd like to think that no one is so invested or trapped by their career at 40 that they can't change, especially in technology. If you make an effort to work on the career you want, whether that's in your field or not, you can look to move into a new area. Hopefully at this age you have learned enough about yourself to make a better decision about what might provide you not only with a paycheck, but also a purpose that is important to you.
At 60, you might find purpose is becoming even more important as the  knowledge of your mortality sinks in.
It might be the birth of grand kids that remind you that your own children are adults.
It might be the loss of friends, or even idols,
at an earlier than expected age. Purpose often becomes even more important as you get older, with less of a need for a high paycheck, a lot of life ahead, and less responsibilities to your immediate family. This is the time when many people find they have a desire to give back to their world,
their community, which has helped them get through life to this point.
At any age, at any time in your life when you find your priorities changing, you will often find that you are looking for something else in your life. It's a new chapter in your life when a new purpose becomes important to you. That doesn't have to be some higher purpose that serves mankind. It could be that higher purpose, but it could also be satisfaction from helping your company build better products and earning more revenue. It can be the effort you make to help someone else you work with, making their job better, easier, or more enjoyable. It could be the change that makes your life better for you. Whatever it is, having purpose makes your work more enjoyable, and often more meaningful and it's up to you to find what gives you that purpose.
The opportunities and chances for you to pursue your purpose are sometimes the result of luck, but often they are the result of hard work.  That hard work is the professional development that you do inside, and outside, of the job that pays you.
Professional Development
There is no formula for professional development that I can give you to spell out exactly what steps to take, in what order, and how often. No book can give you a recipe, or a process, or a checklist that tells you how to grow your career. It's different for everyone and just like parenting, it's a skill you learn as you go along.
The advice I can give you to help you build your own plan is simple: do more of what works, and less of what doesn't.
Try to develop the skills in the areas that interest you, or will help you advance your career in some way. Pick the challenges that you find interesting, work on the problems that you think make a difference. Choose the things that have a positive impact on finding the job, gaining the freedom, or fulfilling the purpose that is important to you.
Make sure you tackle your professional development at a pace that suits your life at that time. That pace will change throughout your life, growing and shrinking as the other parts of your life become more or less important. Remember, we work to live, we don't live to work.
If you can do more Professional Development this year, do it. If you need to do less, then do less. If you want to stay in your field, learn how to get better at your craft. If you want to move to another field, spend time building your skills in that area. You get to set the schedule that works for you.
Make a plan and work on it, but don't be afraid to change that plan, and don't be afraid to question your decisions periodically. Don't change every week or month, but a few times a year question yourself. Enlist the advice and opinions of your trusted friends and family. Consider their opinions and then make, or modify, your plans.
Life is short, too short to do the things you don't enjoy. However life should also be long and enjoyable. You ought to be investing in yourself for the future, finding the time to build the career that allows you to enjoy your time on this planet.
Thank you for listening, and thanks for coming to the Rocky Mountain Tech Trifecta, v3. Enjoy your day, and I hope you learn something to move you forward in your career.
Steve Jones