Last week at the PASS Summit, I presented a half-day session: The 500-Level Guide to Career Internals. I used a cool new trick to accept private/silent questions live via the web, but…due to a technical difficulty <cough>I’m an idiot</cough>, I didn’t see the questions on my iPad. So here they are, along with answers:
“I’m the first DBA my company has hired. How do you respect the DBA role so that I don’t have to fight developers about data management issues?”
DBAs are kinda like law enforcement: we’re here to protect and to serve.
There are laws around data. Sometimes they’re actual laws written by the government, but sometimes they’re written by end users, or by the folks who sign the checks for the data.
We don’t get to make the laws – we only get to enforce them.
So if we believe a law (real or made-up) is being violated, we have to define that law, and track down the people who wrote it. Say your developers are storing numbers as strings, for example. There’s no legal law against that, but the business users would probably be up in arms if they saw a demo of how math doesn’t work well. You go track down the people who should care about that thing, explain the issue to them, and let them talk directly to the developers.
If no one else but you believes it’s a problem, that either means it’s not a problem to the business, OR you’re not doing a good enough job of communicating the risks you see. Sometimes it’s the former, and we need to be okay with that.
“What are some examples of the tough questions you ask to screen prospective employers?”
Check out my post on questions to ask before you take a consulting job.
“How much you make last year?”
On paper, about 3x my best year as a DBA.
In reality, when you’re growing a small business, you have to leave a lot of profit inside the company when you’re making investments on the future. I get taxed on profits even if I don’t get paid for them. The last 12 months have been crazy because the company bought out Jeremiah & Kendra’s shares, and then we made a lot of investments trying to scale the consulting company, which failed miserably, and then I had to lay off half the company. Frankly, I’m happy I can still pay my rent, let alone still retain ownership of the business, but I’ve got a lot more work to do.
“What’s the best way to find part-time contract remote work?”
The challenge with part-time contract remote work is that you’re going up against the Upwork crowd – people who live in spectacularly inexpensive locations. Unless you can get down to $25-$40/hour, you can’t compete with remote strangers.
If you live in an expensive part of the world (US, Western Europe) then the best way to find financially viable part-time work is to use the blogging/presenting/webcasting techniques we discussed in the class, and then the work tracks you down.
if blogging how often do you need to do it? If you haven’t posted anything in a long time does that hurt you?
Once you have a really solid online presence and reputation, your blogging could coast to a stop altogether. Examples include Erland Sommarskog, Kalen Delaney, and Itzik Ben Gan, all of whom post monthly at best – but they can still pack a room, and you don’t see them hungry for work.
If you’re not Erland, Kalen, or Itzik, buckle up and get to work.
“For presentations, you are forgetting to mention Virtual Chapters. We are always needing speakers.”
The problem with PASS’s virtual chapters is that it’s really, really hard to find the past material. Think like a student: if you were looking for SQL Server virtualization training, and you went to Google, what would you type in?
If a speaker’s goal is to build a solid online reputation within a year, they have to focus on where the audience can find them, fast. PASS has consistently struggled with search engine optimization, and I don’t see that getting better.
“How do you recommend proceeding for those who work for companies that may not look kindly on us rocking the boat / generating inbound marketing? Blogging/etc is going to turn heads.”
You have to make the binary light-switch decision: either you’re someday going to leave your current company, or you’re never going to leave them.
If you’re never going to leave them (and I do know some people who’ve spent a lifetime at a company!), then you’re fine.
If you’re even sitting in a session like this, though, looking for a better career, then you’re gonna have to stand up at some point and cross over into another boat. That means you’re gonna rock your current one. Buckle up and get to work, fast. You want to rock the boat for as short a time as possible, which means being super-prolific with very good work, quickly.
“Will your slides be available at some point?”
Yep, in Slideshare now.
“How do you develop your online presence when you really hate writing. To me writing is a chore akin to cleaning the bathroom.”
In theory, you could just do presentations instead. I don’t see a lot of people succeed at that, though – it’s hard to build a top-notch presentation without writing some of the content out.
If you don’t like writing or presenting, then you want outbound marketing (aka advertising.) Get out your credit card and buy ads on Google pointing to your resume. Is that going to work? Of course not.
This was really a big point of the presentation: if you don’t want to write or present, that’s okay – just get a regular full time job, and be happy with that. (I wanted to show how much work is really involved in building a brand.)
“I still get 90+ visits and 100+ views per week on a blog I haven’t posted new content to since 2014 (mostly to 2 particular posts). Am I missing an opportunity here? :-)”
Yeah, look at Google Analytics to see the keywords that are bringing people to that blog post. If they’re something that you like to work on, then write more posts about that topic, or expand the older posts.
“If a person wants to start to blog, should we use our name in the title … eg: brentozar.com or a catchy name… sqlauthority? For instance, before I picked a twitter name, I looked around and a lot of people were SQL something, so I took the name @sqlselect.”
I would highly, highly recommend using your own name. Your interests will change over time – your name won’t. (If you’re worried about marriage, keep your maiden name – Erika did.)
“How does one personally blog about topics that require work resources? How can you do screenshots/etc? Should one have SQL Instances and whatnot on personal boxes?”
Whenever possible, build your material from your own resources in your personal lab, at home in a VM, or up in the cloud. Avoid using company resources, especially for scripts and screenshots. Companies often frown on their data being public.
Having said that, talk to your company’s legal team and marketing team, and they may actually WANT you to open source stuff and write about it. (StackOverflow and Google come to mind.)
“I just started my career and find multiple disciplines interesting. Was it a challenge for you to choose a specialization knowing you’re giving up on other career paths?”
No, because I want to retire. I don’t live to work – I work to live. As soon as I can accumulate the resources that I need in order to retire comfortably and take care of the people I love, I’m done.
As Lori Edwards told me once, never forget that the people you work for are waiting for you at home.
“I would like to begin doing small contractor work with customers in US (or other time zones thats off from Europe). What are my options to get in touch with customers?”
It’s really tough because as soon as you go after remote work (especially with language, time zone, and legal barriers), you’re going up against people who live in the least expensive parts of the world.
Rather than reaching out and entering that competition, sit back and build a phenomenal online presence. Then, customers look at it and say, “We need help with ____, and this person seems to be the most-qualified person anywhere – I keep running across their blog posts and presentations on the topic. Get them on the phone.” At that point, your location matters a lot less.
“You touched on subject of specialization a little. Should we concentrate on a niche or broad array of technologies? Or look at something newer tech out there.”
Check out the book Blue Ocean Strategy. The basic idea is that you wanna go where there’s less competitors. Initially for me, for example, that space was performance tuning virtual SQL Server.
The more technologies you try to know, the less deep you can go. If a customer needs shallow help with something, you’ve got a bajillion competitors, which means a low rate.
“How best to juggle career building with being a new parent?”
This calendar slide really helped me be realistic with what I can do in any given week:
Start by filling in your sleep hours, then the time you want to spend with your family, then your current job. Ideally, you also fill in personal recharging time, doing things that rejuvenate you.
This calendar will change over time. It certainly changed for me once I became the only partner at the company, and then it changed again when we went through the layoffs, and as family health issues pop up.
One of my favorite posts comes from a different industry: real writers. Read Juggling Writing AND a Job?… Figure It the %$&* Out. The summary is that if you want it enough, you’ll figure out what you’re going to cut out of your life in order to get what you want. There’s a reason Elon Musk has been through so many divorces.
“Whats the process to contact venders and ask them to present sessions?”
Contact them and ask to present sessions. Look at their web site to find the marketing folks, or read their press releases and look for the contact addresses there. If you go to a conference, go to their booth and talk to ’em. (The marketing people are at the booth, and they’re different from the sales people.)
“You mention 1-2 hours to prep a lighting talk. That’s not correct. A good lightning talk takes way more time. And a bad lightning talk will hurt instead of help your personal brand.”
It’s important to remember it in context of this slide:
You need to write the blog posts first, remember, and cover your topic really well there. You’ve gotta crawl before you try to tap dance. If you skip the crawling step, then yes, you’re going to have a miserable time writing a good lightning talk.
“How do you build a personal brand that includes consulting without freaking out your current employer?”
End every blog post and presentation with this cool trick.