May 262015

It’s getting to be about that time of year again. Bees are buzzing, Summer’s nearly here (at least in the northern hemisphere), and PASS Summit 2015 session selections will probably be announced soon. I don’t know this for sure; I’m not part of the speaker selection process this year, but based on the dates the notification emails went out the past few years:

  • 2014: June 24
  • 2013: May 17
  • 2012: June 6
  • 2011: June 15

I’m guessing it will be in the next few weeks.

As always, questions come up when notifications are sent out. While I can’t even come close to having all the answers, there are a few questions I’ve always wanted to share my thoughts on. In previous years I didn’t feel it was appropriate to add my two cents in because I was part of the process, but this year I’m not. The following thoughts are my own opinion and nothing more.

Why didn’t I get picked?

In the past, the “reasons” sent out in speaker selection notification emails were extremely vague. They’ve gotten better recently, but before that you would see such extremely descriptive statements as: “poor quality abstract” and nothing more.  Whatever the explanation, I tend to lump reasons for not getting picked into one of two groups:

Your abstract wasn’t good. There’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that some submissions are lacking in quality. I’ve seen plenty of abstracts that were incomplete when submitted, or full of factual or grammatical errors. I detailed a lot of these issues in my previous post. Even if you have great content, errors like these are hard to survive. Fortunately, the quality of your abstract is something you have complete control over. Proofread. Over and over. And when you get tired of proofreading it, have someone else look at it – maybe 2 or 3 people. PASS even offered confidential abstract evaluation this year, and hopefully they will continue to do so in the future. An abstract, much like a résumé, can never be proofread too many times or by too many people.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, please realize that most abstracts are good. Of all the abstracts I read over the past few years, maybe 10% fell into the category I just mentioned. The vast majority of rejections occur not because an abstract isn’t good, but because someone else’s abstract was better. Maybe they had a little something extra in their wording or explanation that resonated with the abstract review team. Perhaps their session included an additional topic that will make it appeal to a wider audience. Whatever the reason, it’s something that’s out of your hands. I liken it to getting dumped by someone and having them say “it’s not you, it’s me.” You can’t force someone to like your abstract (or you, for that matter.)

This is a tough group to be in; you don’t have any control over making sure your abstract is liked more than someone else’s that you can’t see. Actually – scratch that – you CAN see them. While the call for speakers is open, you can read all the abstracts that have been submitted. You’d probably be doing yourself a favor by checking submissions on similar topics and seeing if there’s any changes you’d like to make to your abstract based on what else is out there. You’ll still have zero control over whether or not the abstract reviewers like it, but at least you can say you tried everything there was to try. I think this is completely fair; the list of submissions is out there for everyone to see, and others are free to read your topics and adjust theirs accordingly as well. Unless you don’t submit your abstract until the last possible second so others can’t see it ahead of time, which seems to be occurring more and more frequently the past few years. It can be argued that many who do this are clearly gaming the system, but it’s their right to do so. They are still abiding by the rules (the deadline), and if they want to sneak submissions in right under the wire, there’s nothing that says they can’t. While I think it’s unfortunate that things have gotten to be like this, it’s still fair in my mind.

Why don’t I have comments?

While working as an abstract reviewer in previous years, the instructions were to give as many comments as possible. Comments are a wonderful thing. In theory, they can help everyone improve their submissions for the next time around, except when they can’t. If an abstract has obvious errors, those are easy to comment on. If I think you could have worded something a little better, I’m more than happy to comment on that as well. If I have any constructive criticism at all, you’ll see it in a comment.

But what if I read your abstract and I think it’s perfect? It’s well-written, easy to understand, and the topic is so compelling that I’m looking forward to attending your session. I write all these things down as comments. It turns out all the other abstract reviewers feel the same way and write similar comments. But then that abstract doesn’t end up getting selected, perhaps because someone else’s was better. Now you have a rejection with a side of comments saying how awesome your abstract was, and that doesn’t help you out at all.

From what I’ve heard, some reviewers will leave no comments if they liked an abstract and found nothing wrong with it. But that doesn’t help you improve, which is why we’re submitting sessions to begin with, right? I’ve always tried really hard to find something to comment on in every abstract I review. No abstract is perfect – there’s always room for improvement.

How can I improve for next year?

This one’s simple. Don’t give up! Keep trying. Submit for local user groups and SQL Saturdays while you continue to hone your skills. Many speakers try for years before they get an abstract accepted for PASS Summit. I tried unsuccessfully 3 or 4 times before I was accepted. The only way to ensure you’ll never speak at Summit is to give up and stop submitting abstracts.

What if I have more questions?

This one’s easy too. Don’t ask me – ask the people who really know what’s going on! It just so happens that PASS is hosting a Town Hall meeting tomorrow, 27 May, at 8:00 PM (UTC) and the topic is the PASS Summit selection process. You can register to attend by clicking here and be sure to bring your questions. I will definitely be there and am looking forward to it. Hope to see you there!

Dec 052014

Two weeks ago I decided to kick off the holiday season by asking people to write about what they were thankful for. I was very fortunate to get three great responses, which I am happy to share in no particular order (which just so happens to be the order I received them in).

Chris Yates (@YatesSQL) says that after attending PASS Summit 2014 he had the epiphany that the people make all the difference in our community, and encourages us all to take a moment and thank someone who has helped us along the way. I couldn’t agree more, Chris. We all have at least one person (probably many more!) who has mentored us in some way – we should let them know how grateful we are!

Mickey Stuewe (@SQLMickey) starts off by saying “I’m thankful for a lot and not appreciative of enough.” Not only is she thankful for her nutritionist, her husband, and the SQL Community, but also for how fortunate she has been. Mickey mentions that she’s heard many sobering stories of how some of us got to where we are today the hard way, and I know I have as well. She also writes that she is going to thank some specific people privately, and encourages the rest of us to do the same. That actually sounds like a really good idea – I just may do that myself!

Cathrine Wilhelmsen (@cathrinew) is thankful for her family, friends, coworkers, and her SQL family. She’s also thankful that she’s in a position to be able to help others, has good health, an excellent job, and many other things. She sums it up perfectly by saying “I’m thankful I have so many things to be thankful for.” Cathrine does an excellent job of pointing out that a lot of our blessings are things we probably take for granted a little more than we should.

And then there’s my post, which you’re free to read either by scrolling down or clicking here. I’m grateful for a lot of things, but one thing I forgot to mention is that I’m thankful for Chris, Mickey, and Cathrine taking the time out of their busy schedules to participate in this post. Thanks a bunch! And I hope all my readers enjoy the rest of the holiday season.

Nov 262014

I’m also grateful for my grandma’s homemade gravy

Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote about what I was thankful for in response to Jason Strate’s post asking about it. Now, 4 years later, I am hosting a redux, and your contributions are very welcome!

In looking back on the past year, I feel like I have an incredible amount of blessings in my life. While there are far too many to count, here are some that really stand out:

Michelle: Everyone deserves to have someone in their life who loves and supports them no matter what. To be able to marry that person is the icing on the cake. Michelle encourages me to follow my dreams, no matter how crazy they are. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in crime, or in life.

My Health: When people (such as my grandmother) make comments like “at least you have your health” I used to snicker on the inside. Now, at my ripe old age, I’m starting to understand what that really means. Not only is being ill miserable, but it can get incredibly expensive, especially here in the U.S. I’m very glad that I and my family still have our health.

My Job and My Team: Sure I’ve griped in the past, but it’s still called “work” for a reason, no matter how pleasant it can be. All in all I have a wonderful work environment that’s full of amazing, intelligent people. On top of that, my employer sees the value in training and conferences, and supports the fact that I enjoy presenting and sharing my knowledge with others. I really feel like I’ve hit the job jackpot.

The SQL Community: The old saying goes that if you want to get better at something, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. I like to make the addendum that those people who are smarter you should also be willing to share their knowledge. At this point, I’m describing the SQL community, and I’ve benefited tremendously in terms of knowledge, contacts, and friendships over the past few years. I’m afraid to think what my career would be like right now if not for all you wonderful people.

This Blog: I’m grateful for the fact that I can write and that others out there are willing to read it and provide feedback. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing 4 1/2 years and 149 posts ago (this one is my 150th!) but a huge thanks to all of you who have been along for the ride!

My Home: We have a nice house in a decent location, and on top of that we also have indoor plumbing and sewers. Lots of people in the World don’t have this. Sometimes the little things make a huge difference (especially when a middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom doesn’t involve shoes or a flashlight.) What’s not to be grateful for here?

My Parents: I’m extremely fortunate to have grown up in a home with both of my parents, who gave up absolutely every iota of their pre-kid lives to make sure my brother and I never went without anything. They encouraged us, taught us, and gave us a kick in the pants (or two!) when necessary. I’d like to think we’ve both made them proud.

So that’s what I’m thankful for this year. If you’d like to contribute to my blog party, post something by Sunday 30 November and link back to the original post. (If you could post a link in the comments section that would be even better!) I’ll write a summary of all them and get them posted next week.

A very Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers who celebrate it!



Nov 172014

Freedom_From_WantIt’s almost Thanksgiving time here in the United States – that wonderful holiday where families and friends gather to share a meal and give thanks for all our many immaterial blessings. (And then for maximum irony, we head out the following day to battle each other in stores for heavily-discounted electronics while avoiding being trampled to death.)

One common tradition is to go around the table on Thanksgiving and have each person say what they’re thankful for. To gather all our #sqlfamily and friends around a dinner table would be an immense undertaking (and the buffet line would be super long). Instead, let’s do it blog-style. Jason Strate did this a few years ago with great results, and the community has changed a lot since then. I think it’s time for a reboot, and I’m happy to host.

So what are you thankful for? Your family? The wonderful people in your life? Your sweet new smartphone? The fact that you deep fried a turkey last year and didn’t burn your house down? There are no wrong answers. Whatever you’d like to share, write a blog post about it and link back to this one, much like T-SQL Tuesday. (And if you want to help me out even more, please leave a link to it in the comments!) Whatever I see by Sunday 30 November I’ll cover in a recap post.


Jan 232014

Pro Tip: If you’re a recruiter and sending out mass emails about positions you’re trying to fill, do yourself a favor and make sure you’re not accidentally including other things, like a letter of reprimand from your boss. The names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent, but here’s the email I received yesterday:

My name is Frank Schlawmeyer and I am a Sr. Executive Recruiter for B.O. Associates, a premier search firm representing major clients in the Chicago area. I discovered your information while sourcing for an opportunity we have as a SQL Server DBA for a major e-commerce company in the Chicagoland area. This is a full-time permanent DBA role and requires experience as both an operational / production DBA and must have experience with T-SQL.

Your background is impressive and I would appreciate an opportunity to speak with you regarding your work history in relation to this role. If you are interested, please send me an updated copy of your resume. I can be reached via telephone at <redacted> or via email at <redacted>. If you are not interested, please feel free to forward this information on to anyone that you feel may be a fit.

For your reference here is a link to the job description: <redacted>

Thank you in advance for your time and I am looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Frank Schlawmeyer
Sr. Executive Recruiter
B.O. Associates

Looks like a pretty standard recruiter email. But wait, there’s more! I’m so glad I scrolled down because I found this gem:

From: Otto Oberkuchen
To: Frank Schlawmeyer
Subject: calls?


You have 2 submittals that were done yesterday yet only 5 calls so far today. It is extremely hard for me to manage the others and push them on calls when they see a senior person like yourself getting away with that. It would be different if you were making tons of placements but without that it makes it tough. Any thought on how I should reply when they ask that? Don’t make it a topic of discussion out there either. This is going to be a year of “No Excuses And All Successes”!! Thanks

Otto Oberkuchen
B.O. Associates

Ouch. “No Excuses and All Successes” sounds like an incredibly understanding and flexible management methodology to me. I’m sure it’s working out great for them, especially since this isn’t the first time I’ve had an interesting encounter with this particular agency. I’ll be sure to add this company to my list of places I hope to work someday, right after an apiary. (And if you know me, you know I will run away if I even think there’s a stinging insect nearby.)

Sadly, this also isn’t the first time I’ve received emails I shouldn’t have seen. A little proofreading could have gone a long way here – it takes only a few seconds to give an email a once-over before sending it. I’ve worked that step into my routine to help avoid situations just like this one.

Help Frank Out

I really do feel for Frank, and he did say “If you are not interested, please feel free to forward this information on to anyone that you feel may be a fit.” So, if you’re interested in this position, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to get you in touch with Frank.

Maybe he can fill this position and have one more success (and one less excuse) to take back to Otto!