Although I should not be, I am surprised by the response. We are part of an awesome and enduring Community. There were 35 responses to this month’s T-SQL Tuesday!
35 responses. 3 first-timers (welcome!). 3 female, 32 male. The first reply was from Greg Dodd. The last reply was from Chris LaGreca.
Every. Single. Post. deserves a read. Our community is filled with passionate writers. Enjoy!
To The Posts!
Hugo Kornelis built and maintains the Execution Plan Reference because it’s not there. (You are welcome for the ear worm, good sir…). Doug Purnell enjoys helping and sharing with others, and he is also looking to cook more and spend more time on photography. Chris Voss is candid about being on the autism spectrum and volunteering with Autism Society of North Carolina. He enjoys working in healthcare because “it’s an industry where the concern is the betterment of other humans’ lives.” Steve Jones enjoys having the time to give back by speaking, writing, and teaching; helping others in both paying it forward and paying it back. Eugene Meidinger leaves me hanging regarding ex-girlfriends in the section titled “Brothers and ex-girlfriends,” and waxes philosophical with “why not becomes much more of a why.”
Three individuals indicated this was their first time participating in T-SQL Tuesday – welcome! They were Greg Dodd, a fellow former VB coder whose “why” is that he enjoys solving problems; Jason Howie, a friend of Allen White who shares Allens’ interests in music whose “why” is seeking an ensemble into which he can fit; and Michał Poręba, whom no one is paying to be a cave diver. Welcome to T-SQL Tuesday! We have cake (not really).
Lisa Bohn likes making a positive difference while working for someone she respects. Cathrine Wilhelmsen just so happened to become a Business Intelligence consultant. She loves using all her skills, helping people, and giving back to our community. Because I continue to learn from Cathrine, I am grateful. Glenda Gable likes helping others while settling into a career she really loves.
Andy Yun is a giver who enjoys helping others. Jason Brimhall‘s “why’s” are challenges posed by SQL Server performance issues and his passions for solving technical challenges, learning, speaking, and writing. Wayne Sheffield says he likes efficiency and is lazy, which drives him to automate as much as possible. James McGillivray garners a sense of purpose from a job that allows him to be creative, logical, extroverted, and inquisitive, all at the same time. Jess Pomfret started her blog with a T-SQL Tuesday post. She loves a good challenge and desires to keep learning and growing.
Chris LeGreca loves technology, challenges, the creative process, and data – but deep down he’s a nerd who does this for fun. Rob Farley believes better data facilitates better decisions and strives to make his customer’s best a little better. Kevin Chant enjoys learning, SQL Server Community volunteering, answering #sqlhelp questions, and serving charities.
Rich Brenner loves SQL Server and the community that surrounds it. Drew Skwiers-Koballa‘s “why” is “the positive impact I can have on the company I work for, the careers of my teammates, and others in the technology communities.” Matthew McGiffen is motivated by his belief that there’s always a better way. Kenneth Fisher provides for his family but, in the end, loves what he does and enjoys several aspects of his career.
I enjoy math. I noticed a pattern learning math, perhaps you experienced something similar. I found arithmetic an exercise in memory. I have a good memory (well, I had a good memory…) so memorizing a bunch of rules was no big deal.
When I learned algebra, arithmetic made more sense. In addition to the memorized rules, I saw why the rules existed. I understood the rules better as a result.
This pattern held all through my math education. I understood algebra better once I learned geometry. I understood geometry better once I learned trigonometry. I understood trigonometry better once I learned single-variable calculus.
An Axiom (for me)
I notice a similar pattern applies to my career (or careers, as the case may be). I’ve served in many roles:
Soldier (part-time in the Virginia Army National Guard)
Manufacturing automation integrator
The similar pattern manifests itself in this manner: I’ve enjoyed the position – and more success in the position – when I had a reason to do the work; some reason other than a paycheck. In some cases, I had multiple “why’s” beyond remuneration. For example, I join the Virginia Army National Guard to learn electronics and serve my country – to especially protect everyone’s right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. I may not agree with what people say, but I was (and still am) willing to fight and die to preserve the right of US citizens to say whatever they want.
As a result, I enjoyed serving in the National Guard (for the most part). I learned more. I learned better, I think, because I enjoyed serving.
Entrepreneurship can be challenging. I believe one needs a “why” – or perhaps several “why’s” to remain an entrepreneur. The “why” cannot simply be money. Money isn’t inconsequential, mind you, but I believe the best “why’s” are less tangible.
Passion plays a major role for me. When business isn’t going well or when business is going too well, a couple intangible “why’s” – passions for both entrepreneurship and the kind of work I am blessed to do – inspire me to keep a steady hand on the tiller.
Also, entrepreneurship affords more and different ways to serve people. Am I saying one must be an entrepreneur to serve others? Nope. Flexibility with time, though, facilitates opportunities that may not otherwise be possible, or as possible.
What is Your “Why?”
That’s the question this month: Why do you do what you do?
In just a few short weeks I am attending the PASS Summit 2018 in Seattle. Whenever I attend an event like the Summit or SQL Saturday I attempt to attend presentations of interest to me. I love learning new stuff!
Good and Less-Good
Most of the presentations I attend are good. Some are really good. They are delivered by talented technologists who are also gifted orators. This is an important distinction because:
Technology and communication are entirely different skills.
I’ve watched gifted presenters misrepresent the facts about technology. I’ve watched gifted technologists fumble demos and stumble over words.
If I have to choose one over the other, I choose great technologists over great presenters. I do so without reservation or hesitation. Is it good to have both? Goodness yes! But – this is important – we don’t always get what we want.
Some Examples of Less-Good
There are categories of bad presentations and bad presenters. Three leap to mind:
Someone who does not know the topic
Someone who is not a good presenter
Someone who is offensive
Presenters Who Do Not Know What They Are Talking About
I wrote recently about a complaint I see leveled at myself and others from time to time: “You do not know what you are doing.” I confess, sometimes that’s a valid complaint about me. While you might find the previous statement an example of humility (or false humility), I prefer to be in the state of not knowing what I am doing. Why? Because it’s an opportunity to learn and I love to learn.
That said, there’s a time and place for everything – including learning. When presenting a class or at a conference for which attendees or their employers paid good money, I strive to share what I have already learned, not what I am learning. Attendees of a free event, even, are paying with their time. So again, I strive for excellence in presentations at free events.
My lovely bride, Christy, attends on average one of my presentations per year. Early on she shared this advice, “Andy, no one likes to watch you troubleshoot.” As an engineer I didn’t even think about it. If something was broken, it needed to be fixed. Period. Pronto. If that meant dropping everything else – in front of a paying audience, even – so be it. Christy’s advice helped me become a better presenter.
I redesigned my talks to be demo-fault-tolerant. I changed my thinking about my presentations so that I am now more mentally prepared for demos to fail. I had something to say, always; I am aware not only that demos will fail. I am prepared for them to fail.
This preparation served me well when, in March 2018 at SQL Saturday Chicago, a drive on my laptop failed just before delivering a presentation that is 90% demos. What did I do? I talked through the demos. A friend approached me afterwards and said, “You looked ready for that!” I was ready for it. Nonetheless I responded (truthfully), “Thank you. I’m going to go sit down for an hour.” Even though I was prepared, it was exhausting.
I can hear you thinking, “Wait, Andy. Your second item above is ‘Someone who is not a good presenter.’ You titled this corresponding section ‘Good Engineers.’ What gives?” I’m glad you asked.
I am an engineer. If you’ve read my bio you see the word “engineer” there.
I consider this a warning.
Are all good engineers bad communicators? Nope. Many – perhaps most – are, though. Take that last sentence. If English is not your first language I owe you an apology. If English is your first language, I owe you two apologies. It makes perfect sense to me, but any editor who saw that sentence in a manuscript would be compelled to add a comment; correct the sentence; or print the document, take it out back, and physically burn that sentence off the page.
Technology – or engineering – is a skill. Communication is a skill. Technology and communication are different skills.
As I stated earlier, I don’t care if the presenter is a bad communicator. There is at least one exception to this rule that I will cover next. But for the most part, I can learn from good technologists who stink at communication. I can learn from good technologists who are brilliant communicators but are having a bad day. How do I know I can learn from these people? Because I have, and do, almost every week.
And so do you.
You may not like the presenter. You may not enjoy the presentation. But do you learn? Yep. You do.
An Aside: I Hate Abstract-Writing Contests
I’ve organized community events in the past. I don’t do very much work on community events these days, although I serve as a mascot on a couple leadership committees because of my past adventures in similar endeavors. Occasionally – rarely, I would say – I offer some tidbit that helps. My role these days is mostly to encourage leaders who are on the verge of burnout.
Selecting speakers is an engine of loss. It’s bad when there are more submissions than slots. The effects are amplified if the event is popular. Speaker selection is a fantastic mechanism to irritate and isolate people. For years, in some cases. Everyone who submits believes their submission should be accepted. Otherwise, why submit in the first place? No one likes to hear, “No.” Everyone likes to hear, “Yes.”
I am the same as every other speaker in this regard. I may be worse than most, even.
Peeves make lousy pets. Knowing this doesn’t stop me from nurturing a handful of pet peeves. One of my pet peeves is speaker selection based solely on the marketing value of the written abstract. I label this practice an “abstract-writing contest” and I believe it is one bane of a successful technical conference.
If you read that last paragraph and began composing a comment that includes a paraphrase of, “Then what would you have us do, Andy? Pick lousy abstracts?!” I feel for you. But I cannot quite reach you. </RedneckSnark>
My response is, “No. I would have you consider more than merely the abstract. And specifically more than its perceived ‘Marketing value.'” Mix things up a bit. Add some variety. Consider the popularity of the speaker’s blog or previous presentations, maybe. Again, there are exceptions (one of which I will address shortly). But here’s my point in a nutshell:
All good presenters deliver good presentations. Not all good presenters write good abstracts.
Something must take precedence, some attribute must win. If you are organizing an event and / or selecting speakers, you probably don’t have the option of selecting great presenters who will deliver great sessions and who are awesome at writing persuasive marketing abstracts.
Should all presenters strive to write better abstracts? Goodness yes. But unless you’re planning MSIgnite or Build or ReInvent or a TedX, you’re probably not going to be in the position to choose among the great presenters with great abstract-writing skills. Even if this is so, you’re not always going to get it right. They don’t! I’ve been to enough global conferences and seen enough bad presentations to know.
So presenters, strive to write better abstracts. And selectors, select some presenters who submit poorly-written abstracts. For goodness’ sake: If spelling errors bug you, correct the spelling before you publish anything. That’s not even hard.
I am of two minds as I begin this section. Here’s why:
There are things I find offensive that, for me, go beyond the pale, crossing the border between acceptable and unacceptable in a public forum meant to convey knowledge to attendees.
There are things I find offensive that I will tolerate in order to gain the knowledge I seek.
Stepping into a conference session, I sometimes do not know what to expect. I may be unfamiliar with the speaker. Perhaps their speaking style is abrasive, or abrasive in my opinion.
Perhaps the speaker uses excessive profanity. I can hear you thinking, “Who gets to define excessive, Andy?” The attendees get to define excessive. As an attendee, I get to define excessive.
I read about a presentation a few years ago where the speaker created a pornographic demonstration. Many in attendance found the presentation offensive, most found it unprofessional. I hope the speaker – obviously a talented technologist – learned from this mistake.
These are examples of the first type of offense, those I believe are unacceptable.
Perhaps the speaker mentions politics in jest and I disagree with their politics, so I feel belittled when those surrounding me in the room laugh at the joke. I may feel they’re laughing at me. They are certainly laughing at people like me.
Perhaps the speaker jokes about the less-sophisticated in our culture. I’ve heard the term “hick” and “redneck” bandied about, for example – terms with which I personally identify. I have people in Appalachia, from whence my family comes. “Trailer trash” was a term I heard years ago in a presentation. My teenage years were spent living in a mobile home. In a trailer.
Do these references offend me? They do.
Do I tolerate these offenses? I do.
You may read that last section and think something along the lines of, “Well, they must not offend you that much if you tolerate them, Andy.” To which I respond, “That’s not your call.” You do not get to make such an assertion. You lack the ability to see inside my mind and inside my heart, so you cannot accurately render judgment as to what goes on there. Further, you do not dictate how I think or choose to respond, publicly or privately. You do not have that right of imposition; not over me.
These are examples of the second type of offense; those I choose to tolerate.
“How should we then live?” is a question posed by theologian, philosopher, and pastor Francis A. Schaeffer – it’s the title of one of his books. It’s a fair question – especially in an age that considers outrage a virtue. here are, I believe, some truths:
Offense can be intended. Offense can be unintended. Regardless of the motive of the offender, offense must be taken in order for the offended to be, well, offended.
I believe motive counts.
Does motive excuse the offender then? Not completely, in my opinion. That said, unintended offense deserves a more mitigated response than intended offense – again, in my humble opinion.
i write this as someone who has offended others unintentionally. I write this as someone who has been offended intentionally and unintentionally.
When I have offended others, I most often apologized. I’ve learned the earlier the apology is offered, the better. I’ve failed – sometimes for years – to apologize for some offenses I’ve caused. This is partially due to ignorance on my part – me not realizing until later that I owed someone an apology. Sometimes I’ve just been stubborn (a virtue for an engineer… which is one reason I warn people that I am an engineer…).
I will likely offend people in the future. Offending people is not my goal and certainly not my intention.
I will most likely offend when trying to make a joke – as others have offended me while trying to make a joke. This has happened to me in the past. It’s cost me relationships, both professionally and personally.
In these cases, I bear the loss and I am profoundly sorry.
Please read and understand this: There are principles – and a Person – in which (and in Whom) I believe. I value my faith more than I eschew offense. My weak, flawed, and hypocritical following of Christ will offend a handful of people, some of whom also follow Christ. Knowing this does not deter, defer, or lessen my beliefs or my commitment thereto. If this offends you, you will have to decide how you respond. If my faith offends you, I believe you will have to also respond at least once more in the future. So if my faith offends you, I pray (and I never say or write the words “I pray” without actually praying) that you take care in your current response.
Be nice. We all have bad days. I know I do. It seems like I get interrupted about 1,000 times more when I’m busy than when I’m not busy. Why is that? Is it some vast universal conspiracy to rob me of productive work? Is it all in my head?
I am not sure.
One thing I am sure of, though, is that it ultimately comes down to me. I read this years ago and it stuck:
If the Comic Sans font bothers you, please reread the message.
I Am Here to Help™
I get a bunch of messages from recruiters. Many of them via LinkedIn. Most of the communication follows a similar pattern:
I receive a Connection Request from someone with “recruiter” or “personnel” or “people” in their title.
I accept. Why? I like people. I’m just that kind of guy.
I get a message – usually within 24 hours – that reads in part something like the following: “I came across your profile searching for someone to fill a position for a ______. I think you may be a good fit for the position. If you are not interested, please share with any qualified individual in your network.” This is sometimes followed by a promise of referral recompense, though I’ve never – not once, to date – ever been compensated for recommending someone.
Back in my Linchpin People days, I actually did a little recruiting. I’m not entirely sure, but I think I made more money per hour doing recruiting than I have ever made – period. I mean, I didn’t do it for the money (and I don’t recommend people for referral compensation, I was just pointing that out…). I was actually trying to help a friend, or customer, or both out of a jam.
In short, IT recruiting pays well. So I understand why recruiters behave they way they sometimes do.
There was a time when I would have done almost anything to have recruiters reaching out to me almost daily. It wasn’t that long ago, actually – just a couple decades. I remember begging recruiters to just give me a chance! I knew I could do the work. I could learn anything and I have a strong work ethic. I knew I would succeed. But…
I Lacked Experience
Most recruiters who contact me these days do so via LinkedIn following the communications pattern I shared earlier.
I don’t mind. I used to mind, but I no longer do.
“Why Don’t You Mind, Andy?”
I’m glad you asked! That’s an excellent question.
There are actually several reasons. Please allow me to share one of them. Last year Enterprise Data & Analytics was hired to help a team deliver medical-related data integration with SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS). The customer succeeded with our help and all was well with the world. But there was this one twist that bears mentioning:
We were hired by a company for which I worked years ago. And my boss used to report to me.
“It’s a good thing you weren’t a jerk to that person, huh, Andy?”
Almost. That sentence has an extra five words in it. There at the end.
Don’t get me wrong. It is good I wasn’t a jerk to that person. It’s better that I wasn’t a jerk to anyone – well, almost anyone – at that place of business. Why?
Because you never know.
Back to the Recruiters…
So… here we are communicating with people whose specialty and experience currently lies with hiring IT professionals… and you decided it’s a good idea to “teach them a thing or two?”
Really? One question: Have you thought that one through?
Are you never going to need to change jobs again? Ever? Are you going to leave the IT field when you do? If so, is it possible – even remotely – that you might encounter even one of the recruiters with whom you interact on LinkedIn?
One Way to Respond
How do I respond? I have this note saved as a text file. It takes about 15 seconds to find, open, copy, paste, and edit:
Have an SSIS or Biml or ADF question? Stop by our booth! Want to grab a selfie with me or Nick? Stop by our booth! Want me to autograph your book? Stop by our booth! Need some consulting or training help? Stop by our booth!
I’m so excited about this – I can hardly wait. We’ll have more information about specific dates and times when I will be manning the booth in coming weeks.
Presenting Faster SSIS
At the time of this writing, the session schedule has not yet been published. PASS has published a general schedule. Keep checking for details!
I am looking forward to the PASS Summit 2018. I hope to see you there.
My chief concern is the scalar nature of the selections (the “Naked Scalar”). As I pointed out in both posts, I’ve been delivering presentations to the SQL Server Community for more than a decade and I’ve never – not even once – delivered a presentation that was strictly Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced; or Level 100, 200, 300, 400, or 500.
That said, I really like the definitions for PASS Tracks. Click that link and read through them. PASS did a good job distinguishing different types of helpful presentations and defining tracks.
As a data person, I get the logic behind the scalar values. Scalars are easier to store and way easier to search.
My post about presentation levels was inspired more by feedback from attendees who shared they thought my session level was incorrect – that it should have been higher or lower (I’ve actually received both complaints – that the session level was advertised as too high and too low for the same delivery of the same presentation…).
As an engineer, I’d like more accuracy:
I’m not sure sharing more accurately would improve the conference attendee experience. Sharing more than a scalar – at least like the chart above – would increase the costs of printed material. It would require more engagement on the part of the attendee and more detail – and management – on the part of the presenter. Why management? My presentations evolve over time (I like to think they get better but I am biased…)
Would it be worth the investment? I think probably not.
So, while I continue to loathe the Naked Scalar wherever I encounter it, perhaps a scalar is the best solution after all.
I will continue to place these charts in my presentations and share them at the beginning of my session, in case someone thinks the presentation will cover more of one topic they wish to learn about. In this way, people have enough information – early enough in the presentation – to vote with their feet and attend a different presentation.
What do I mean by “just helped?” I mean, what if – when you saw (or read or heard about) someone that needs help – you helped?
“I can’t afford to help, Andy.”
Are you sure about that? If you read a tweet from someone who’s struggling at work with a technical issue, do you know something about the technology? Might you offer some suggestion? Do you know someone who might be able to help or offer a suggestion? Can you offer a retweet? Can you direct this person to a website or a forum?
What if it’s a different kind of help someone needs?
“What if someone is asking for money and I have none to spare?” At the risk of sounding trite or even harsh, are you sure you can’t spare $5? $5 doesn’t seem like a lot. And maybe, for some people in some circumstances, it’s not a lot – at least all by itself. But what happens if you donate $5 to someone’s cause and then let people know about the cause? What if they tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and they… And then what if each friend donates $5? Before you know it, the need is met; or maybe even exceeded.
I am willing to concede you may not have $5 to spare (there have been times in my life when such was the case). Then what? Perhaps you could offer moral support. Maybe send a direct message or an email. Let the person know you are thinking about them. If you are a person of faith, perhaps pray for them and, perhaps, let them know you are praying for them. A little encouragement goes a long way.
I enjoy the privilege and honor of participating in the SQL Server Community alongside many who read this blog. And I know from past experience that some reading this post will make the switch from consumers-only in our community to sharers and consumers one day.
For my part, I consume more than I contribute. I am thankful to the many folks who contribute with their blog posts, tweets, social media posts, YouTube videos, podcasts, and other media. I enjoy personal interaction most of all and have thoroughly enjoyed conversations with folks in the community at SQL Saturdays!
I learn way more than I teach.
Beyond the SQL Server Community
Many in the SQL Server Community serve their local communities in civil capacities. Some volunteer as first-responders and fire-fighters, for example. I know one person who serves on the local school board. Several are active in churches, charities, and religious organizations; and many dedicate time to local schools and/or alternative educational activities such as homeschool organizations.
I’m honored to be part of this community and to serve alongside all of you every day. We in the SQL Server Community participate in an awesome community!
Why I Stopped Contributing to the Stack Overflow Conversation
I use Stack Overflow to find answers to coding questions. I searched for me (site:stackoverflow.com “Andy Leonard”) and found some hits though I’m sure not all of them refer to me personally.
I posted a few answers to SSIS questions early on. I write conversationally on message boards, answering the author as much as addressing their question. On forums of all kinds (including this blog), I typically start an answer with “Hi <author name>.”
My answers were edited to remove my greeting to the author of the original post. Although I cannot locate an example, I seem to recall one editor explaining to me something like “replying to individuals is not permitted.”
I understand we come from all different walks of life; that some of us, for example, were raised in New York City while others were brought up on farms in rural Virginia. Having traveled to New York City for the first time about 10 years ago, I understand the culture shock that accompanies such a transition. One example: I learned to not speak to people I do not personally – already – know. Not even to say “Good morning.”
Where I was raised (and still in my corner of Prince Edward County outside of Farmville Virginia), it’s rude to not speak to people. If you can’t speak because you’e driving by, you wave at people. It’s an affront to not speak to people. Not speaking is akin to denying they’re even people. Telling me I cannot say “Hi” to people in writing, on a site that exists to help people just didn’t seem right.
I tried again later to answer questions at Stack Overflow. I typed “Hi <author name>” every time and then deleted it before I hit the Reply button. This sufficed for a while, but I still felt like I was being rude.
I Have a Problem
You may have read all that (in between eye-rolls of epic proportion), thinking the whole time: “Andy, you have a problem.”
You are correct and I hereby agree with you.
I, in fact, have several problems. This is merely one of them. People, though, are package deals. You don’t get to converse with, or learn from, or teach pieces of people. You interact – all the time every time – with the full person.
² If you’re shaking your head thinking, “not me,” I’d encourage you to take these implicit bias tests, specifically the Race IAT and the Gender-Career IAT. If you’re like me, they’re going to hurt.
I support the effort to reduce implicit bias – at Stack Overflow and everywhere. I believe Jay when he writes earlier that it bothered him personally when some complained that they felt left out.
Jay, I felt left out.
Eventually, typing and then deleting my greeting to the person asking the question proved… well, just too awkward for me to continue.
So I stopped answering questions at Stack Overflow.
Did Stack Overflow go under without my answers to SSIS and Biml questions? Goodness, no! They’ve managed just fine without me and will continue to do so.
I encourage you to disagree – and even share your disagreement in the comments. I think you’re awesome. I don’t agree with you about everything and I don’t expect you to agree with me about everything.
We’re different. And that’s ok.
People editing your greetings from an answer on a help forum may not bother you at all.
I don’t mind catching black snakes with my bare hands – though I usually wear work gloves because reptiles stink – and taking them out of my house when they come inside, but it may totally bother you. (Cogent because I think I hear one wriggling in the attic as I type this post…)
I’m ok with you being you. I’m actually more than ok with it. I’m even ok with you disagreeing with me on this and anything else.
I wrote this because I like the Stack Overflow website. I like the help I receive from the answers I find there. Stack Overflow seems genuinely concerned with ways to improve the site. Maybe (probably) my discomfort with editing my greeting doesn’t rise higher than #3 on the list of things to change at Stack Overflow. I’m not sure and I’m ok if my little post is ignored, not seen, or if nothing changes in the Stack Overflow editing processes and practices. Promise.
As I stated previously, Stack Overflow will not go under without my answers to SSIS and Biml questions and I’ll keep getting answers from Stack Overflow.
I just wish I felt comfortable giving back.
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