The Kardashian Approach to Becoming an IT Celebrity

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 4 Comments

So you want to be “Internet Famous” in the IT community, but you don’t want to spend your mornings and weekends slaving away on the work I described in my last post? I’ve got good news – there’s an easier way.

Think About Celebrities You “Know”

If you’re like me, you watch television, and you’d count some/many/most of the people on TV as celebrities, for various values of celebrity. For example, I was walking down a New Orleans street after dark once and saw Josh Harris, now skipper of the Cornelia Marie, a crab boat on the show Deadliest Catch. He had a woman on each arm, a big grin on his face, and gave me a nice polite nod when he saw the look of recognition on my face.

You need to understand that I don’t look at faces.

I take Ernie for multiple walks a day down some of the busiest streets in Chicago, and I have a total lack of situational awareness. I don’t scan faces looking for people I recognize. But my wacko brain somehow caught Josh in my peripheral vision and zoned in on him. Nobody else on the street was paying him any mind, and there wasn’t a spotlight. I just unconsciously picked his face out and realized it was The Josh Harris.

To me, in my oddball little world, Josh Harris is somewhat of a celebrity because he’s been in my living room for hours, spending quality time with me and my family.

How Facial Recognition Works

For people to recognize you, they need to see your face and hear your name.

Go back and read that again. Say it out loud. Here, I’ll help drive the point home:

See what I mean? That video makes a world of difference if you want to recognize me by my face, my mannerisms, my tone of voice.

You’re going to have to do that, and you’re going to have to do it as often as possible.

But Doing Webcasts and Videos Usually Means Writing Content.

See, this is the part that sucks. I do technical webcasts and videos all the time, and I can tell you that it easily takes 4-8 hours of work – minimum – for each hour of technical content I build. Last week’s post on being Internet Famous for technical content explained how much work that is, and how much time it takes from your limited personal schedule.

When you tack on the work it takes to build videos, produce them, get them out onto the web, SEO them for great distribution, and more, you’re talking about dozens and dozens of hours per week.

If you don’t have that kind of time, that’s where Kim Kardashian, Josh Harris, and Oprah come in.

Getting Out There Without Writing Content

My Deadliest Catch audition tape was rejected when they saw my mom had taped my name to my life vest.

My Deadliest Catch audition tape was rejected when they saw my mom had taped my name to my life vest.

Kim Kardashian lives a glamorous life that millions of people find interesting. She and her family have a TV crew follow them around to film their adventures. She doesn’t write content – her life itself is the content.

Josh Harris and the other Bering Sea fishermen have a similar deal, but it’s less about vapid celebrity and more about following them around at work. People love tuning in to watch their struggles and triumphs. Now here, the tables turn a little – there’s more captains and fishermen, and they’re not going to all become millionaires from that TV contract. They’ll be famous, but they’re still going to have to work their day jobs.

Think that’s irrelevant to the technical community? I bet not – I bet a well-produced weekly video show about the life of a very interesting technical team would be a smash hit in the technical community. No, they’re not going to get a contract from E! TV, but they’d garner a huge following of geeks pretty quickly. I’d watch a weekly show about what happens behind the scenes at Stack Exchange, for example. The challenge is that there’s a huge investment required to make something like this work – a film crew, editing, screening for NDA content, and putting it all up online.

The Easier Way for Individuals: Show Hosts

All over the world, people tune in to talk shows every week. Step back and think about the broader definition of talk show:

  • Bill O’Reilly
  • Howard Stern
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • The View
  • Talking head news shows

There are dozens of examples in all kinds of different formats, but they all share something in common: the host(s) bring in someone else to cover a technical issue while the host bounces questions off them. The host puts themselves in the audience’s frame of mind, asks questions the audience would ask, and often recaps his own personal feelings with the audience afterwards.

There’s still a lot of work involved – inviting the guests, coordinating the topics, recording the show, producing it afterwards, putting it up on the web, and so on. This work is reasonably easy to outsource as the show grows, though, because this work is logistical rather than deeply technical. You don’t have to hire a SQL Server genius to do it – as opposed to trying to scale getting your video out there with technical content, which would require subcontracting the technical writing out to someone else.

It might be tempting to start an audio-only podcast, but those are not going to get you facial recognition. Could you pick Matan Yungman, Greg Low, or Richard Campbell out of a lineup? Odds are, no – but those guys run the SQL Server Radio podcast, SQL Down Under podcast, and .NET Rocks podcast respectively. Nothing against podcasts, but if you want to be recognized when you step into a conference, an audio podcast isn’t going to cut it.

This market is completely wide open in the database world, and it’s mostly open in all of IT for that matter. You’re not going to get rich doing it, but if your goal is to be Internet Famous with a minimum of spare time, here’s your sign. Get your face, voice, and name out there.

Wanna Run for #SQLPASS Board? Better Read the Rules.

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 37 Comments

The rules this year are clearer than ever, and that’s awesome.

But you’d better actually read them (warning: Word docx), because there’s a few doozies like this one:

“All campaigning must promote PASS in a positive manner. Campaigning that breaks the stated rules or brings PASS into disrepute may be challenged by any PASS member.”

Keep in mind that you’ll be running against PASS Board of Director members up for re-election. You can’t say anything negative about them or the choices the organization made while they were in office.

You probably think what you’re saying is fine, but remember that “any PASS member” – any one of the delicate flowers who scream that the community is dying – can say you’re bringing PASS into disrepute.

Now imagine running for your company’s DBA position, looking at a server that hasn’t been backed up, has security holes, and is running on 2007 hardware. Now before you start interviewing, you’re told:

“All interviewing must promote our existing SQL Server in a positive manner. Campaigning that brings the last DBA into disrepute may not be tolerated.”

Would you really want to go to work there?

Update: How This Rule Changed from 2013

Former Board of Directors member Allen Kinsel (Blog@AllenKinsel) – found last year’s election docs in the Internet Wayback Machine. Here’s the relevant section:

“All campaigning must promote PASS in a positive manner. Campaigning that transgresses the stated rules or brings PASS into disrepute may be challenged by any Board members, Committee members, or Chapter leaders. Complaints may be reported to the Chair of the Nominations Committee or to Governance at HQ.”

Before, only a few folks could raise concerns, but now anybody in the community can blow the whistle and say you’re bringing PASS into disrepute. I wonder why that change was made? (Not being funny here, just seriously wondering.)

What If You Want to Be “Internet Famous?”

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 8 Comments

There’s a lot of reasons to blog, present, and build a brand – get a better job, change careers, raise your billable rate – but what if you just want to be known by name amongst the community?

I was chatting with a blogger about how to be successful, and the first step was defining what success meant to him. One of his goals was to be recognized when he walked into a conference – but he didn’t want to “be famous for being famous,” like a Kardashian kind of thing.

I know some of you are going to cringe, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and let’s think through how to accomplish that with the minimum amount of effort required. (I don’t even think it’s wrong to want to be the Kardashians of the SQL Server community, but I’ll save a recipe for that as another blog post.)

Understanding Your Available Time

Sit down with a weekly calendar and literally block out time for:

  • Your job
  • Commuting
  • Meals
  • Spouse and family
  • Exercise
  • Unwinding (TV, games, drinking, betting on horses)
  • Learning (reading blogs, RSS, Stack Exchange)
  • Sleep
  • And finally, writing/sharing/marketing

I’ve actually done this with a real calendar, and my times for writing here at are 6AM-7AM weekdays, 6AM-8AM weekends. That gives me 9 hours per week as an absolute max – but that’s only a max. Some days I sleep in, and I miss my time, and I’m fine with that – but I can’t take time out of other categories to make up for it. I’ve got priorities between these categories, and personal writing/sharing/marketing is at the very bottom of the list.

If you’re young and single, you might move that priority higher, or take things out of other categories. The point here is to get a real, honest answer about the number of hours per week you’re going to be able to put into getting Internet Famous.

And that’s usually a reality check. If you’ve only got 4-8 hours per week to do this, and you expect to manage a blog and write original content for it, you’re not going to be putting out one solid post per week, and you’re just not going to be Internet Famous for technical knowledge. You can indeed take the Kardashian approach (seriously, it’s not a bad one) in 4-8 hours per week, and I’ll talk about that in another post.

Understand Your Target Audience Options

Let’s put SQL Server users into four levels – the specifics don’t matter, but I’m just trying to polish the difference between juniors and seniors:

Level 1: people who know what SQL Server is, and rely on it every day to get their job done. They may have even been working with it for years. However, they’ve spent less than a couple hundred hours in SQL Server Management Studio or PowerShell managing the plumbing of SQL Server. They get data in and out of the database, but for the most part, their SQL Server just takes care of itself.

Level 2: people who have spent 200-1,000 hours managing SQL Server, getting their hands dirty with the plumbing. It may not be their primary job, though – think about a sysadmin in a company with hundreds of servers, and a few of them happen to be important SQL Servers.

Level 3: people who have spent thousands of hours managing SQL Server, and have mentored other people (be it junior DBAs via private in-company training or the public via blogging/presenting) on how to do these tasks.

Level 4: Microsoft Certified Masters, or what we call un-certified Masters – people who have Master-level experience, but just never got the chance to pass the test.

There’s more Level 1 people than Level 4.

A lot more.

And if you want to be Internet Famous in 8-16 hours per week of work, you can’t afford to target multiple audiences. Hell, you probably can’t even target just Level 4 by itself because of the way they learn.

Understand How Your Audience Learns

Most Level 1 and 2 people are reactive. They stumble upon a problem, hit Google, and read the first good-looking result. Some Level 1 & 2 folks will catch the bug and start proactively learning, but it’s the exception rather than the rule – they’re just trying to get by.

Most Level 3 and 4 people take the time to proactively learn in their spare time. They read blogs and books, watch videos, and attend conferences. They follow people as much as they follow topics.

The great news is that if you want to reach Level 1 and 2 people, you just need to rank well in Google for the topics you choose. (More on choosing topics in a minute.) They’ll see you pop up in their search results a few times, and if your web site is constructed right (start with the book ProBlogger), they’ll subscribe to you and see you as a trusted partner.

On the other hand, if you want to become “Internet Famous” in the Level 3 & 4 audience, you’re going to have to teach them something they don’t already know, and you’re going to have to surface in their circles. Most proactive learners don’t seek out new blogs to follow, and when they use search engines, they tend to stick with results from sites they already know.

Getting “Internet Famous” in the Level 3 & 4 audience means competing with consultants and evangelists who can already spend 24-32 hours per week doing R&D, and in the case of evangelists, get paid to share their knowledge about it. The audience can only follow so many personalities, so getting them to pay attention to you takes a crazy amount of unpaid work.

Understand What Your Audience Does

Think of job descriptions as a similar pyramid. There’s a gazillion developers, less accidental DBAs, less production DBAs. Look around your office to get a feel for the mix, and for every third party app you use, think about all their developers. It’s not that the people at the top of the pyramid are somehow better – they’re not, and I have a world of respect for good developers because that job is WAY harder than database administration. My point is that there’s much fewer career-oriented production DBAs.

Pick your audience’s job and their level, and then get to know a few real-life examples. Think about your own personal network, and make a list of people who match that profile. Take them out to lunch and talk to them about how many hours a week they do various tasks, what tasks are the most challenging, and which ones they hate the most.

Understand Their Pain and The Easiest Solution

Pick exactly one task that:

  • Is done by the largest audience possible
  • Ideally, is challenging for Level 1 & 2 people
  • Preferably, that they do very often or consumes a lot of time when they do it, or that they avoid doing it altogether because it’s painful
  • And that they might Google for a solution instead of just struggle through it

Solve it clearly and elegantly.

The solution could be:

Given your available time, make a project plan to get to your minimum viable product as described in The Lean Startup, and put the hammer down.

If along the way, you realize that becoming Internet Famous for technical work isn’t going to work out for you, that’s okay. There’s the Kardashian approach, and I’ll talk about that next. (Seriously, stop making that face.)

This Year’s YouTube, Web, and Twitter Analytics

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 10 Comments

Every year, Microsoft MVPs have to fill out some paperwork describing what they did on their summer vacation. Each time I do this, the numbers boggle my mind, so I’m sharing some of the fun ones with you data junkies. (These numbers aren’t necessarily the ones I use on my community contribution forms because they reflect things the whole company is doing, not just me.)

YouTube Channel Stats

We record our weekly webcasts and post them up on our YouTube channel. You people continue to watch them in crazy numbers:

YouTube Channel Stats

YouTube Channel Stats

That’s 49,452 hours of video watching time – more than double our numbers from last year. That’s insane. It’s not like we’re even trying to do videos to get more hits – we’re just talking about SQL Server stuff we like to talk about.

I had to laugh that our “Dislikes” number has tripled (from 23 last year). Out of 423,868 views, I’m actually kinda surprised we only got 67 dislikes. Can’t please all of the people all of the time, but pleasing 99.98% seems pretty good. (Hey, we’ve got three nines.)

The “subscribers” number is only over the last 365 days – we’re currently at 5,714 subscribers, which is pretty amazing to me because I don’t even subscribe to YouTube channels. I just search for individual videos and watch ‘em. There’s clearly a big audience out there that likes to subscribe to this stuff.

The “Total Estimated Earnings: $0.00″ is genius – YouTube is owned by Google, and they’re basically taunting you right from the dashboard. “Hey, come put Google ads on your videos, and you could be making real money.” Well, yeah, sure, but then people would stop subscribing, because few people want to see SQL Server training with ads slapped all over it.

DBAreactions Statistics

My goofy little side project continues to rock on. I try to sneak in a lot of educational material in here to inject learning in fun ways. Seems to be working. I have no idea what my end goal is with this thing. When I first pulled this up, I was a little disconcerted by the downward trend:

DBAreactions Analytics

DBAreactions Analytics

But holy cow, it’s still up double from last year’s launch – 397,171 sessions?!? That’s about a thousand per day. And 95,591 users?!? There’s A HUNDRED THOUSAND PEOPLE who like our goofy database jokes? Wow. My mind, it is boggled.

Where are these people coming from?

DBAreactions Referrals Analytics

DBAreactions Referrals Analytics

Most come from the @DBAreactions Twitter account, but a surprising number come from Facebook. How is this even happening? People are sharing reactions on Facebook, with links back to Wow.

And Feedly? So evidently I’m not the only person who uses Feedly to stay on top of my favorite sites (it’s a great replacement for Google Reader) but wow.

But the one that really makes me chuckle is Somebody must have written a bot to automatically fetch the most recent DBAreactions and post them into the chat rooms. Analytics

In 2014, I resolved to publish one solid post every Tuesday. (Some Tuesdays, like this one, are less solid than others.) I’ve always seen myself as a journalist for the SQL Server community, and I started treating my personal blog as my journalism project again. I don’t write for metrics, but it’s interesting that readers appear to appreciate the work I’m putting into it: Analytics Analytics

I’m happy with that growth curve, but anytime I need a sense of perspective, I look at the annual analytics for

Two commas. Wow.

Two commas. Wow.

Uh, yeah. is a fun side project, but …yeah.

Twitter Analytics

I never looked at this stuff before, but hey, as long as we’re poking around in data, let’s hit Twitter Analytics for @BrentO:

Tweet Activity

Tweet Activity

I have no idea what this means, but I recently started using Buffer to selectively share some of my favorite posts from over time. I’ve got a huuuuge bookmark collection of things I find inspiring, stuff I go back and re-read later. Figured I’d start dribbling those out to the public periodically too. People seem to like it – those tweets actually get MORE engagements than my actual stream-of-consciousness tweets. Go figure.

Followers are trending up:

You. Follow me.

You. Follow me.

Cool. And the people who follow me are interested in databases, programming, and comedy:

You and I have a lot in common.

You and I have a lot in common.

And it’s not exactly a metric, but what have I been talking about lately? Tweet Topic Explorer is a neat little tool that grabs your recent tweets and busts you for overusing phrases:

Tweet Topic Explorer for @BrentO

Tweet Topic Explorer for @BrentO

I laugh a lot. That sums up this year pretty well.

What Does It All Mean?

This isn’t about shoegazing or bragging. It’s about inspiring you and showing you a way forward.

Building a following is like making a snowball. It’s easy to pack a small snowball quickly. It’s a little harder to roll a snowball uphill and multiply it. It’s relatively easy to roll a snowball downhill, but it can get away from you and go into directions you don’t expect. This isn’t rocket science, but you do have to put some manual work into it. Even when the snowball is rolling downhill – and your network starts growing on its own once you hit a certain mass – you have to curate it.

A big audience means you can launch big projects. When we ran a 30% off sale last month to celebrate the launch of our 2015 training classes, we sold tens of thousands of dollars of training videos in the span of a few days. We won’t go to Pat Flynn levels of detail in describing where our revenue comes from, but this stuff really does work. The challenge is that unless you put a lot of work into improving your conversion rate (the percentage of people willing to hand you money), you’re going to have a tough time making a living.

Next time, I’ll talk about building a brand just for the sake of growing a big audience.

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