Category Archives: People and Opinions

Editorials and rants, advice, interviews, letters, community and more.

DBAs: learn and network with PASS

I wrote an email to a group of PASS Summit first timers, and then realized this is good information for the world at large. This week’s first timer theme is “Tips for getting involved in the PASS community. Local Groups, Virtual Groups, SQLSaturdays, Twitter, Slack, volunteering and so on.”

  • I have mentioned, I think, that you should get on Twitter and start following speakers and authors and suchlike. That’s point one. I don’t use Slack, so someone else can educate me on the matter.
  • You very likely have a local user group near you, that can be of good value. Find out here.
  • There are regular, free talks online through the PASS virtual groups.
  • I’ve volunteered at an event or two, and it can be fun. More on volunteer stuff here.

Get involved, at least a little

I don’t personally think you have to do all of the above, plus speak, plus run around to half a dozen SQL Saturdays every year…but if it’s your thing, do it! Otherwise it is a good idea to pick up something through the rest of the year.

I’ve been around the techie circles, and for some reason the SQL Server techies tend to be the friendliest and most involved. Even when I was working for the Microsoft support lines, I was surprised to find that ours (SQL) was the absolute chillest group.

Networking…what does that mean?

Also: I’ve always found the term “networking” to be odd and vague. There’s a reason for that: it covers a lot of ground. Networking really does mean getting to know people, getting in contact with people, and (ergh I’m going to say the phrase) building relationships, both for their own sake, and with the possibility in mind that one of you could do the other person some good. That might mean an introduction somewhere, or finding out about a new resource, getting the answer to a question, or a lead on a new job.

In short: get yourself involved, somewhere. It does a body good.

That thing you want to do? Do the thing.

I had a great time today talking to a guy at SQL Saturday Baton Rouge (great event, by the way)! He said, more or less:

I’m thinking about the next step in my career. I want to do more – maybe a blog, newsletter, videos, something. But I’m worried about…

And he mentioned several things keeping him from starting. Would it pay off? Will it be worth it? Could he keep up with it? Would he end up embarrassing himself?

Is it worth it? Will it pay off?

Is it worth putting in the time to build a brand, or create content? Is it worth it to spend all that time?

Well here’s the thing: you might have a specific end game, like brand building to get into consulting. Or you might just have a general idea, like “advancing your career”. Think about what doing the thing will get you:

  • Creating content, like recorded sessions or blogs, will teach you a ton about what you do and don’t know.  You don’t know a topic until you teach it.
  • It will also give you a reference. I go back and read my own blogs on a regular basis, to relearn something I’ve forgotten.
  • It will get you some recognition and familiarity in the technology sphere, which can lead to all kinds of inspiration and opportunity. After five years of being the MidnightDBAs, Sean and I occasionally walked into interviews and had to answer zero questions.

Are you going to make a full career off a blog? No, you won’t. But there are other advantages.

Can I keep up with it?

Committing to a blog, or public speaking, or whatever is indeed a commitment. But you can adjust that however you like. Some examples:

I have a blog, and I’ve read that you should really post once a week to build a following. This is probably good advice, but I won’t keep up with it. I post whenever I feel like it, and after (something like) 10 years of blogging, my following is just fine.

Sean and I have done a weekly webshow for eight years. EIGHT YEARS. That’s longer than I’ve done almost anything else in life. How have we done it? Very low standards, seriously. We pick topics we like to talk about, we keep it in a format we like, and we post when we feel like.  Could we get more of an audience if we had high production values and writers? Sure. Do I care? Not really. (And by the way, we’re starting to put all of the recorded episodes on our YouTube channel. Podcasting it was too much of a pain.)

What about getting embarrassed?

Okay, so the whole idea of brand building is to get a lot of people to know who you are. And that does happen – we’ve had some great things come out of people knowing who the MidnightDBAs are.

And, I’ve struggled with the embarrassment thing. What if I post something stupid? What if I get called out?  Well, I have, and I have. You live. People forget it way sooner than you do.

And! Even if you’re well branded, well known, and screw up? Fully 3/4 of the people you ever meet will have heard of you*. That’s right! Super successful, famous SQL people aren’t known by the majority of the people at a conference. There’s a certain amount of comfort in anonymity, and you’ll still have it.

Of course, be sure to post corrections when you do screw up, but don’t worry about it too terribly much (so long as it’s a “once in a while thing”).

In any case, that thing you want to do? You should probably go do the thing. And tell me about it, because I’d like to take a look.

Happy days,
Jen

 

*I seriously cannot believe how few people know who some of the smartest and most famous people in the industry are, e.g. Kalen Delaney, Adam Machanic.

There’s no substitute for mentoring

There’s no substitute for mentoring.

We’ve heard it before, and in various ways, but I think we tend to largely ignore it. Americans, at least, aren’t used to a mentor system, and we’re not in the habit of asking for mentors.

But mentors can be great. You can stop them mid-sentence and say, “wait, I don’t know that term at all”. You can ask them to explain the same concept a different way. They can spot where you’re going off the rails, and correct you. I’m a big fan of video tutorials and written materials, but again: there’s no substitute for mentoring.

So, a few quick notes:

  • Having trouble learning a thing? Ask someone in your office, or on Twitter, or at a SQL Saturday, to spend some time explaining it to you. Ask for resources.
  • Want to get started with a new subject? Ask your company to pay for a few hours of an industry expert’s time. Start with a Microsoft Certified Master (MCM), or get a recommendation from your local user group.
  • You won’t always hear “yes”. Some people don’t have the time, some aren’t comfortable teaching, and so on. It’s okay. Get a few “no” responses, and always remember to ask, “Who might be a good resource, then?”
  • A mentor can be long term, sure. But a mentor can just be someone you learn a subject from, for a short time, or even a single setting!

Go and get yourself a mentor!