What's so hard about making mistakes for me? The embarrassment of it, maybe I did not know something, or yes that thing that I did well, yes, I did know better. It's not easy for me to admit mistakes. Just ask my long-suffering partner (thank goodness, she does not read my blog!). Yes, I do like to be right and do it the right way. Admitting that I was wrong, or did something stupid, takes it out of me, it's not easy.
Hopefully, in my professional life, I am a little better at dealing with my mistakes. A few years ago, one of my jobs was with a large consultancy company. I was the person responsible for producing reports for the service desk. From time to time there were errors with the reports that I was responsible for producing. During that time, I developed a strategy which I still use to deal with mistakes.
1) Take responsibility
It's not easy to put your hand to say you have made a mistake. On the other hand, how to do you learn from mistakes? For me, part of growing is learning to take the bad with the good. Also personally speaking I have more respect for someone who has what it takes to say when they have made a mistake. Even if you have not made the mistake you find, then take make it your responsibility to fix that mistake. If I do this then my primary focus is to get the issue resolved and move on. Finger pointing or the blaming someone is not part of this.
2) Find the challenge
What when wrong? How did it happen? Be able to explain what happened, in simple non-technical language that anyone can understand. Also be confident that you can explain in technical terms to your peers.
3) Fix it
Get your hands dirty, get involved in fixing the issue. Help find a solution to rectify the challenge or work with the people fixing the challenge if you can. For me, I have and do still learn so much just from fixing mistakes.
4) Prevent it!
Better to have a fence at the cliff edge than a hospital at the bottom. What will stop it happening the mistake happening again? An extra check of something, a checklist of things to do in the same situation.
Is there something I missed, do you have a different strategy. Maybe you disagree? Let me know, every day is school day for me :-)
We all communicate with each other, some more than most, in our house if my partner is not talking to me there is something wrong. It's not usual for the misunderstanding to be something I might have said (or done). Communicating with each other verbally is something that we learn to do from an early age. We learn what words mean, their power, what they can do for us, what to say, and what not to say.
There have been times I have had the pleasure of going to the local garage and speaking to the mechanic regarding whatever challenge is with the car. The mechanic would explain the issue to me, using words which I have to say that wished I understood. It is entirely possible that there is a "big end" in our car just do not ask me where it is or what it does. Or that the timing belt is very important to make the engine run properly.
Every industry, profession, hobby, has their own language. This often makes it easy for professionals to communicate with each other often in a form of shorthand which can sound foreign to someone else even if they speak the same language. Working in the IT industry this is something I am very aware of. If someone asks me what I do for a job what do I say? I might say that I am a BI professional, working primarily with the MS SQL server stack, sometimes using SSIS, and SSRS. I write a variety of CRUD scripts in TSQL and I do some query optimisation. If the person asking is not an IT professional who works in my specific area of expertise, most of my explanation would have sounded like I had spoken in a different language.
What I now say is my job involves three things, data shepherding, data grooming, and data dressage. I might expand a little on these to explain that l move data from one place to another ensuring none of the data gets lost as we move it. Some of the data might need to be polished or groomed to fit in its new home. Then I train data to perform and dance in a way that others can understand it better. What I try to do is use words which people who are do not work with databases can understand and relate to.
When I speak to clients one thing I try to remember is to use words that anyone can understand. If I introduce technical concepts or acronyms in the conversation I will try to make time to explain them. Or use analogies that are simple and easy to understand. This is not an easy thing to do, it is our job to make IT simple and easy to use. There might be lots of complicated moving parts behind the scenes. Like a car, we have a simple dashboard, underneath are lots of complicated moving parts that just work. The hard work of maintaining and fixing those parts I happily leave to the experts.
Personally, I see our job is to make our customers task as simple as it can be. We should present challenges, technical details in a language our customers can easily understand. As Einstein is quoted as saying “make everything as simple as possible but no simpler”. One excellent example of this is by Brent Ozar when explaining implications of RTO & RPO here -> https://www.brentozar.com/archive/2014/05/new-high-availability-planning-worksheet/. The worksheet sets out the terms in language everyone can understand, even better by drawing attention to the targets, so everyone knows what to expect.
Is this easy, or simple? No, it is not. Having said that which expert do you feel most comfortable with? would happily go back to time and again? The one that speaks to you in words and terms you can easily understand. Or one that uses language and words that are sometimes not easy to follow or understand? The choice for me is easy and simple, which is why I work that little bit hard to make it as easy as possible for my customers to understand me.
This post is just some reflections on my experience on speaking, as part of the newcomer track at SQL Grillen 2018
Pre SQL Grillen
This is the first part of this post is written on Tuesday 19th June 2018 only 3 days to go before the session. My current feelings are rather to say the least nervous. Added to that is a considerable feeling of imposter syndrome. At this time my thoughts and feelings are these -:
Rehearsals - without a doubt, going over the presentation multiple times has helped so much more than anticipated. Whilst at this point the words that are going to be used have been repeated many times. They are in my mind. As each slide comes up, there is little doubt in my mind what I'm going to say or how.
Less is more - the amount of material that came out of my research into the topic, not all of it has made it into the presentation. So, what made it in is just what is required to get my point across. Which has upsides and downsides. It should make the session better, more focused, and if people ask questions after the session then other examples and illustrations will spring to mind. On the downside there is part of me that feels like my audience is not getting all that I want to get across. Then again there are only 60 mins which is more than enough for most people.
Imposter Syndrome - not sure what can be said about this. It seems natural, there are many presenters who feel the same. Right now, the best strategy seems to be to focus on the presentation. The goal of the presentation to help one person take one thing away from the session. Who that person is at this moment I do not know. So if just one person takes one thing away that I will count as a win. That person might just be me, which is also good.
Mentor - SQL Grillen, did an awesome job with the new comer's track. Assigning each person, a mentor, for me, I was very luck and have been assigned Cathrine Wilhelmsen as my mentor. Her insights and attention to detail was invaluable in so many ways. Cathrine made excellent suggestions and helped me to see the presentation from the point of view of a non-native English speaker's. Most importantly just generally very encouraging :->
Post SQL Grillen
Phew! OMG! That was soooo scary! Can I try that again?
Back in Sunny Glasgow. Now looking to see what lessons I can learn, and other thoughts spring into my mind.
Bunny in the headlights - It's easy to forget that as a speaker that I felt front and centre. That is to say, everyone can see you and knows you're a speaker, thats how I saw it. Even better or worse, each of the new speakers was given an orange apron to wear. The other speakers had different colours. For me, it was a strange feeling not in a bad way, more that I am usually part of the audience. On reflection its not a bad thing, all part of the learning experience.
Rehearsals – This really worked for me I was able to sit at the speaker's table check my equipment worked, run over my presentation quickly and that was me ready to go. Doing so many rehearsals (and not having any demos) meant for me that I knew what I was going to say and all the notes I needed were on the slide deck. Sitting at the speaker's desk was scary, with so many people who I have seen speak before. At least I was able to make it to a session before I was due to present. Which allowed me to relax and listen to the awesome trio of Rob Sewell (@sqldbawithbeard), Chrissy LeMaire (@cl) and Cláudio Silva (@ClaudioESSilva) talk about the new dbaChecks module.
The Presentation - nervous? YES! Waiting for the session to start was the worst part. Having seen some advice from Brent Ozar I had some music playing (that only I could hear) only thing was I had to resist dancing around. Knowing the presentation allowed me to concentrate on other things.
Audience – making sure I spoke to the whole audience front row to back, both sides, making eye contact with everyone, looking at their body language, to see if my points hit home
Pace - at some points my pace was a little faster than should be, I felt able to vary according to the material and audience reactions.
Body language - both my own to ensure I got points across. More importantly the body language of the audience. Was the audience looking at the slide, or looking at me, did they react how I expected?
The Audience - Think about this afterwards, there were so many more people than I would have even dared hoped for. My guess was about 30 people, some of the people I recognized, my colleagues from Scotland, Craig Porteous, Paul Broadwith, and of course Cathrine :->, and Grant Fritchey aka "The Scary Dba" (yes really!). Somethings seemed to work really well, like the acronyms game, and my alternative job description, yes you had to be there to get the point.
Feedback - for me this was the hardest part. The best that I had expected something like "Meh".
What I did not expect was people saying how well I had done. Grant Fritchey who attended my session, congratulated me on my presentation, even tweeting about as well. Then Alexander Arvidsson also congratulated me on the presentation, his kind and encouraging words can be found in this blog post. Catherine was very generous with her compliments and encouraged me to review the feedback, which was complimentary and insightful.
Finishing - needs more rehearsing, so that the presentation finishes on more of a high, at least from my point of view.
Timing – instead of using a stopwatch, I used a countdown timer. At several points, I was trying to see how much time had elapsed. As my notes had time elapsed at key points. The countdown timer did not make it easier for me to see the time elapsed.
Hard work – Over the years I have been fortunate enough to see many people speak who make it look so easy. Having done it now, its like a swan look they look graceful and elegant as it glides across the water's surface. Yet hidden away underneath the water are the webbed feet working really hard all the time. That’s my experience of presenting, making it look easy requires a lot of hard work, which remains unseen, the way is should be.
Last point is to thank the SQL Grillen team. William Durkin, who does an amazing job of making everyone feel welcome. Ben Weissman for creating and picking the speakers for the newcomers track. There are as l know so many more in the SQL Grillen team, thank you to all.
There are some ideas which are being considered. Where, when and what who knows, watch this space.
Following one my most epic failures which l shared with someone, who understood. He gave me a card with this quote
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
It’s not easy to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and keep going. That’s what makes some people that little bit different....
The tweet says to me that , changing your self-talk can make a difference.
More than once I have considered speaking about this and some other topics, hopefully I will submit a session with them in it to a conference one day soon…..
When I speak in my sessions, I have one goal. It is clear and that goal is what I focus on when preparing and then delivering my sessions. That one person will hear what I say and that it helps just one person. That is the goal of this post that one person will be helped even just realising it’s not just you that feels that way. Also that you have the power to change.
Someone was reading one of my previous blog posts and noted a mistake. I was very thankful that the person had taken time to let me know. Whilst pondering this it got me thinking about managing my strengths and weaknesses. There is a saying develop your strengths and manage your weaknesses. The first step is to identify your strengths and weakness. Let me list a few of them below;
Written English - yes, it's ironic that I choose to spend time writing a blog, given that my spelking and grammar is one of my weakness. Disciplining myself to write a blog forces me to use the tools that I have to help me manage that weakness. Tools such as a spell checker is a heaven-sent tool. There is another tool called Grammarly, which is a combination of a spelling and grammar checker. This tool makes an excellent crutch :-)
Social skills - despite starting and helping to run the Glasgow SQL server user group. My soft skills are not my strength. It would be fair to say, social interactions are those which I find the most challenging. One T-shirt slogan 'I like to party (and by party I mean read books)' I can identify with. One approach I take to manage this weakness is to read books quite literally, and so I have read quite a few books on soft/social skills. These have taught me a few strategies and techniques I use in everyday life.
Finding solutions - it's what I do, give me a challenge and I will find a solution. During an interview for a role, and an issue was raised regarding getting reports emailed automatically to managers. The company had tried various solutions none of which worked, over a period of a couple of years. The solution took me over 6 months, involved some VBA, a spreadsheet, and an SSIS package. I was able to deliver a solution which worked. The solution was not pretty or elegant, that said it met the specification and most important delivered with the constraints that required to work within. Many months after leaving the company it was a delightful pleasure to hear my solution was still in place being used.
Having taken time to recognize my weaknesses and strengths that was the first step for me to improve. This blog post will have been read and then re-read. Passed by someone with better grammar and spelling than myself before publishing. This is my way of managing that weakness. On the other hand, my strengths will have been used in other ways. These strengths and weakness are a part of who I am. They can help me make a positive and unique contribution. Learning to work with them is what makes me just that little bit better each day.
The email telling me that I had been selected to speak was to say the least a surprise. My session “Soft Skills for Success” had been accepted for Data in Devon 2019. Yes I am very excited about the opportunity to speak in Exeter. My last time in Exeter was a school holiday many years ago, so the opportunity to return that beautiful part of the country is wonderful surprise.
It might seem a little strange that I was surprised that my session was accepted. However, I have been submitting sessions for a while now, most of which have been unsuccessful. This pattern is much like the one I experienced when I decided to moved careers into IT a couple of years ago and I was applying for IT roles. One of the lessons I learned during that time is that you are going to fail more than you succeed. So it pays to keep trying and mostly importantly learn from each failure and success. The current lesson I am learning is all about abstracts, how can I improve them? make them better? As I know if one strategy does not work, then I need review it, make a small change, then try the changed strategy, till I find the one that works, so that’s what I am doing with my submission abstracts.
To be invited to speak is to my mind an honour and a privilege. Why? People who I see as peers and who I respect have reviewed and considered the abstract that I have submitted, then invited me to speak. They are also putting their faith in me that on the day I will be there and will deliver a session which people will want to see / listen to / learn something from. When I get there on the day, yes, no doubt I will be nervous, worried, and have checked everything at least twice. Before the getting to the room on the day, I will have rehearsed the session, reviewed it been through it more than once. Just now I am working on tweaks to the session just for Data In Devon, if you want to know more you will have to attend the session.
The topic “Soft Skills for Success” is something that I am passionate about. So, I will be giving it my all. Like many projects that I work on, what people see is the final, smallest part of the project. Beforehand there will be a lot of unseen hard work to make it look good. The prize is worth the price, which is to be invited to speak to my peers about a topic that I am passionate about.