Archive

Archive for November, 2012

The Pen and Paper in the Digital Age of Social Media

November 18, 2012 2 comments

I wanted to start this blog post with a reference to a TED Talk by Hannah Brencher about love letters to strangers.


In an earlier blog post, I talked about my experience with working on a large SharePoint 2010 upgrade and migration project for a Fortune 500 company. I’ve told people stories about why the project became very successful despite the different challenges and difficulties that we encountered along the way. The secret lies in the great and wonderful people I’ve worked with – from the project manager, the engineers and even the application testers. The project has given me he opportunity to establish meaningful relationships with those involved.

Several weeks after the project went live, I was having a conversation with the project manager about the way we manage our relationships and dialogues we have with the people that matter to us. She mentioned the fact that even after celebrating her birthday just a few days ago, most of the greetings that she received were all in digital format – text messages, emails, Facebook messages, etc. The conversation concluded with the fact that greeting cards have now joined the ranks of dinosaurs and the Dodo bird on being extinct. I have to admit that while I like sending hand-written notes and letters to people, I save the reader the agony of reading my hand writing. I still remember the gruelling writing exercises that I had to go thru in grade school just to improve my hand writing – write, scribble, erase, write, and so the cycle goes. And while most people say that practice makes perfect, I just couldn’t get my hand writing right. I can’t even read my own hand writing sometimes that I always resort to typing my notes after meetings so I could legibly read and recall the ideas I wrote.

A few weeks ago, I sent the project manager and one of the application testers books that I think would be valuable to them.  Dr. John Maxwell’s book  – Everyone Communicates Few Connect  – was the latest book that I have read from the author and decided to send a copy to the project manager. For the application tester,  sent a copy of the SharePoint 2010 branding book because I believe that the book would be very helpful in her day-to-day job. Included with the book was a hand-written note thanking them for their contribution to the success of the project and described how the book would help them improve their productivity at work. I think I’ve scribbled on a few sheets of paper before finally tucking one inside the envelope and headed over the post office. I was more concerned about the recipients having a hard time reading my handwriting than the impact that it would have in their lives.

In today’s digital age where social media has taken over our modes communication, it’s so easy to take for granted the value of  inter-personal relationship. It still amazes me how people in the workplace would send an email response to a colleague that’s a few cubicles away rather than take a few steps and have a face-to-face conversation. Oh, those lovely email threads spanning multiple responses when it could have been made even clear with a phone call. Social media and the digital age only thrives because they leverage on the most important ingredient in the marketplace : PEOPLE. We humans desire to feel special and important. We love receiving feedback for the work that we do and long to be connected with the people that matter to us. That’s why people flock to Facebook and Twitter. We want to join conversations, share our uniqueness and simply feel validated. And that’s why I feel that the pen-and-paper approach of connecting with people will never go out of style.

After coming back from the PASS Community Summit in Seattle, I received a hand-written card from the project manager thanking me for the wonderful gift. She was also a big fan of Dr. John Maxwell and his books. But what really struck me was how she related the story of the application tester who received the other book. The gift came at a time when she felt really discouraged and was starting to believe that her work in the company didn’t matter. The book and the hand-written note from me made in impact in her life: it validated her value. It didn’t just make her day, it literally ignited her to become excited again with the work that she does. Most importantly, I’ve gained another level of appreciation for the hand-written letters that I send out, knowing that they do have an impact on the lives of the recipients. I’ll still make sure that they’re legible before I send them out.

Question: Have you been encouraged recently by a hand-written note? When was the last time you sent out one? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Advertisements

PASS Summit and The Value Of Building A Community

November 13, 2012 1 comment

Photo courtesy of Sheryl’s Boys

I’m a community person. I’ve built my career around the value of communities. It all started when I was in high school and wanted to raise funds that will help the student community by improving our sports facility. We wanted to host a dance party within the school premises and invite students to participate. When the school didn’t approve of our proposal, I was disappointed. So disappointed that I gathered all of my close friends and proposed the idea of running the party outside of the school premises but within the jurisdiction of the local community for safety reasons. We had a noble goal (help the students in our school,) a business plan (host a dance party to raise funds,) and a handful of volunteers (my close friends.) I guess everyone was passionate about the idea that it started spreading throughout the different schools within our community. Soon, everybody was asking us how they can participate. We’ve expanded our fund raising efforts to include other schools in the project. It was a success and the rest was history. We won the hearts of the school administration staff that they let us do another fundraising project for the next year. I’ll never forget that experience.

Last week, the SQL Server community was all hyped up on Twitter and other social networking sites talking about the PASS Community Summit. This happens to be the world’s largest and most intensive technical training conference for SQL Server and BI professionals. There were some major announcements made last week which are considered highlights of the event. If you ask attendees, new and old, about why they made the investment in attending the event, you will get different responses. But there’s one constant theme that resonates among the different responses: PEOPLE. Communities are social units built by people for people. Seth Godin talks about building Tribes, Brian Allain talks about how community wins, social networking sites have become successful because of the idea of communities.  Successful businesses know how to build and leverage communities. In fact, many would agree with me on this that, Microsoft has leveraged the SQL Server community to build the product to what it is today. But setting aside the marketing and business aspects of building and/or being a part of a community, the real value comes from meeting some of our basic human needs – RCGC:

  1. Relationships. Along the corridors of the conference center, I see people giving hugs and high fives. Who would ever think that these are a bunch of geeks hammering on their keyboards solving the toughest SQL Server problems? But they connect on a personal level, telling stories about the travels they’ve made, the previous events that they have attended, the next one that they will go to, the parties that they need to attend, etc. I’ve given and received hugs myself throughout the week. One that really stood out for me was meeting up (and hugging) a good friend of mine – a former SQL Server MVP – who joined the Microsoft SQL Server Integration Services team back in 2008. It’s like a family reunion since I haven’t seen him for more than 4 years.
  2. Comfort. During a conversation I had with a database administrator in a large gaming company last week, he mentioned about feeling one with the community. Back at work, he felt like he was all alone and that no one understood nor appreciated what he was doing. Being around and talking to people who share the same passion as he has made him feel secure, knowing that there are others who feel the same pain that he feels, enjoying the same successes that he experiences and speaking the same language. He immediately blended in even though it was his first time attending the conference.
  3. Growth. We all came to the conference knowing that we will learn something new – whether by attending sessions or simply joining a conversation. I asked questions about the next version of SQL Server and the recently released Microsoft HDInsight. I’ve learned a thing or two about deploying SQL Server using PowerShell and a little bit of PowerView on Excel. We all desire growth in more than one aspect of our lives. The event provided an opportunity for growth for those of us who made the investment.
  4. Contribution. One speaker commented on the fact that he feels the satisfaction of seeing people’s face light up when he talks about a solution or feature that will help solve their problems. I got a kick out of the experience myself when people I don’t know approached and thanked me last week for the articles I’ve written on MSSQLTips.com. We are wired to have a desire to contribute and make the world a better place. Most of the community leaders I know have been doing this – volunteering and speaking at events – for decades and they still feel that they need to do more. My hats are off to the wonderful people in the SQL Server community that made the PASS Community Summit 2012 a successful one – from volunteers, speakers, chapter leaders, the members of the board, etc.

Being a part of a community meets our basic human needs. But it certainly goes beyond that. I’ve gotten contracts and  job offers in the past from people in the community. In fact, the community has definitely helped me grow my career in one way or another. But let’s leave the topic about the business value of building and/or being a part of a community for a future blog post.

Question: Fill in the blank. “The one thing I love the most about the SQL Server community is _______ ?” You can leave a comment by clicking here.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

UPDATE: I realized that the T-SQL Tuesday theme for this month is all about the SQL Server Community and is being hosted by Chris Yates (BlogTwitter) so I decided to join the conversation.