T-SQL Tuesday #122: Impostor Syndrome

T-SQL Tuesday #122: Impostor Syndrome

Time for another of those pieces that upon reading the subject, I had something to say.

This month’s topic comes from Jon Shaulis (b|g). Impostor syndrome is hard to bypass no matter your level of skill. I’ve been mindful of impostor syndrome as I have become more experienced and found myself in senior roles. I dealt with it unwittingly early in my career when I first got out of college. I currently deal with it as I’ve gradually waded into the speaker circuit and put a renewed focus on the blog.

The number of instances with impostor syndrome is countless; I am not sure the ranking of bouts versus others in the community, and there’s no real database to quantify this among people in the SQL Community, and tech in general. Naming all these moments would be difficult. For my take on the topic, I’m going to focus on two specific instances in my career as examples, at different points in life.

On the job when I started

My first permanent post-college gig was as an e-commerce analyst, where at least 40% of the job was glorified data entry. I got a chance to do some coding in SQL Server later into the gig (about one decade ago). Around this time, I learned that the two semesters of SQL coding or working with Access were only scratching the surface. Then I made it into a true data analyst job in 2011, after somehow showing the potential to do good things. I got to work with strong data analysts and developers, having moments where I fumbled around at first. One day, I had an SSIS package that I had taken responsibility for, but I had not accounted for a file name change, and was taking too many manual steps. It turns out a foreach loop was necessary, yet I was trying to force something that others in the company knew how to solve already. Having learned some SSIS basics, and being able to run those basic packages, but not knowing how to utilize the product in full, I was already an impostor, right?

Curing this bout: This is where I learned how important it was to learn stuff in my free time. I read up some more on not just foreach loop containers, but also all of SSIS to gain greater understanding of the product. I also finally checked out a fundamentals book by an author that I had not known of yet…and by the end of 2012, I discovered the existence of a group called TriPASS, and how it was part of a worldwide organization.

On the job today

Fast forward to 2019. I recently had the help of a fellow developer to tune a stored procedure to help with some timeout issues. We had stacked two CTE previously, and turned it into a temporary table. If I had to pick between temporary tables and table variables, my default preference has been table variables. I had asked him why this was a temporary table, and he had a great explanation, also demonstrated in the execution plan. He’s quite good at the performance aspect, and references the same SQL community resource that I will; it’s easy for me to take his explanations.

When I checked in my code for deployment, the DBA did ask about the temporary table use. I noted that my colleague had explained it well, but I could not repeat it. DBA approved it, yet also noted that as the lead, I should be able to explain the solution as well. Definitely an impostor moment, as “it depends” is a blanket term, but this was a specific instance.

Curing this bout: It was rather simple. I went back to the other developer to ask for a more thorough explanation, one which I could write down directly in the code. I then made a note about comparing execution plans. We can definitely learn from each other on the job, but we also need to see it in practice if we work with people outside of our teams or companies. Sort of like solving issues with #sqlhelp.

Sounds like I learned from each experience, so what does this mean?

I learned to embrace impostor syndrome by remembering that as long as we learn when we don’t know how to do something, we won’t be impostors anymore. We’re in an industry where it is important to keep learning, so we need to find what interests us, along with what we should know for our current roles or technologies we aspire to master. As it’s been mentioned multiple times over, we have to invest in ourselves in order to not be impostors. I’ve only started to figure out ways to be consistent with the investment and returns on it.

Tying the post back to this SQL Server community, and its major focus on sharing knowledge through writing and presentations, my realization was that I was afraid to speak because everyone knew more than me. If I tried to do the same, I would be exposed as someone who doesn’t belong. That could not be farther from the truth. If we teach others, we can have the confidence in what we are discussing, yet encourage the feedback from others in our blog posts or presentations. If there is a question I am unsure of, I have traded business cards and attempted to figure it out afterwards. Sometimes running through a talk at a user group can allow for someone with a good deal of knowledge to provide constructive feedback, and that person will not consider me an impostor just because I didn’t get more advanced or approached the topic differently.

Even those we look up to as “experts” have their moments of self-doubt, as not everyone arrives at the same solution. A novice in a particular area, or even someone with experience who was ignorant to a new way of solving a problem, is not an impostor, especially if the person stays humble and keeps learning.

Impostor syndrome can come at me; I’ll conquer it with competency.

Here is 2020. Let’s Blog Again.

Well, 2019 was a ridiculously busy year, and I definitely did not blog as a result. Granted, nothing else beats getting to celebrate your legal union to your significant other in front of many friends and family, so 2019 was already a winner. After spending time with family this Christmas, I am motivated to write a post and try to pick this up.

Stuff happened

I already covered the biggest event of the year: getting married this April and claiming a Trophy Wife (it’s a pun). We threw a ridiculous party at an old mill in Pittsboro to celebrate. We spent plenty of time with one another since then, continuing to figure out how to properly balance our lives for our friends who see us as a package unit, and for ourselves, likely over craft beers.

At the start of the year, a new job happened. I did not expect to leave for a new company after just under 1.5 years at my last two gigs. This transition came from a state of paranoia concerning layoffs after an org change, combined with the chance the work with Azure and to write some serious code again. The biggest smack to reality at this gig has been realizing that there was a lot I never figured out about proper source control. Took me a bit to figure out how to make the process more streamlined from a SQL developer standpoint.

I was even more engaged in the SQL Server Community than ever. Three talks given at related events, and two of those were new subjects which I want to write about on the site. Managed to hit my new talk and new group goals. Plus, it was great to return to PASS Summit for the first time since 2016.

I stayed involved with our ASNC Human Rights Committee, this time being promoted to Vice Chair at the beginning of 2019. The duties for plan reviews and site visits increased, but it’s a civic duty that I still enjoy.

My running stats took a hit this year. Not quite 1100 miles, and no personal bests to speak of, though I did hit my race restrictions. I felt a bit of a burnout, but began to pick things up after a strong performance at the Richmond Half without consistent training. Shout out to Orangetheory, though, for helping me with the cross training.

Yet…

Somehow I find myself in these identity crisis moments as the new year hits. Do you ever ask yourself what your role is supposed to be? Concerned that what you want to do is not favorable to others because it doesn’t fit what you perceive to be their image of you? Not sure if the things you wanted to do are actually things you wanted to do, and not because everyone hypes them up?

This may sound generic and rehashed, but I’m still figuring out that I can do all the things I want to do, while balancing interpersonal relationships. Often I think there is a way I’m supposed to act in front of certain audiences, and never want anyone to get too close to me because my interests are diverse…and not interesting to other people beyond certain sects (the tech one, the running one, the music one, the B-movies one, etc). I still like my bubble, and the last few years it has been deflating as I start focusing on certain groups and individuals. I am learning that the don’t expect you to be only devoted to what they want.

On the contrary from the individual, I do get concerned in my groups that there is a cult mentality (the hype part). We focus a lot on “looking to speak at our event” even more than attendance in my professional circles. We should focus on cultivating new people who can share knowledge, and I’m thankful for the help I received on my rise, but it makes me question if we are trying to get all our friends to come to our events, and forgetting how to advertise it for attendees. I want to ensure that we are helping ourselves get ahead, and that we aren’t a hype machine where it is merely a few “experts” who can speak on popular topics. Thankfully, I’ve had some moments in the last year which proved that these groups are like an online family. It’s expected to be a real thing.

It’s okay to want to belong with a group or person that will accept you. Your identity is whatever you want it to be. No good person will ever decide who you should or should not be; they just want to be a part of your life in some way, and you can allow them to be part of it by being the active one in the relationship (romantic, professional, friend). A group may get comfortable with its members, and have some people who are really close, but no respectable group will look down on someone who isn’t in “the club.” I associate with the individuals and groups that I do by choice, and while perception is important to me still, there is no “role” to play.

I had a lot to say there.

Image result for that was a lot gif

Continuing on…

So What About 2020?

I don’t like resolutions, but I do have goals. Some are still developing, including an entire post on technical skills I learned and hope to learn. In the meantime, below are some goals for running and technical posting.

  • Run 1300 miles: I’m not jumping to 1500 yet, but figure I can at least hit this mark. This will be helped by running Key West Half Marathon later this month, and Raleigh Half Marathon in February.
  • Hit at least two personal bests at races: This also carries over from 2019, but this time I am making it more flexible. I am hoping to hit the half PR at the aforementioned Raleigh Half. It’s a Sir Walter event, which is about attracting the elites.
  • One technical blog post every two months: Everyone has blogged on everything, right? Well, as it’s been addressed before, there are different takes on topics. I’m going through my notes and stacks of post drafts to figure out what I can address. A good bet is to turn the presentations into blog form as well.
  • Get together a Python post or presentation: I do enjoy Python, but use it very sporadically. I have toyed with Pandas a bit, but want to use the ML Services in SQL Server to get these together, without ripping anyone else’s talks off.
    • Now that I have the record collection database, I can do some data analysis there…or I can do some data analysis for races as I have wanted to a while back.
    • I guess this means I need to move on a personal GitHub for projects. Thank you Community Slack.
  • Take one weekend per quarter for a getaway with wifey: We see our friends a lot, but don’t always get the alone time we need, and still have more parks in NC to explore. We want to use this time to disconnect and see what there is to offer in driving distance.

Let’s bring on 2020. I’m still the same version of myself looking to get better, and hopefully you are too.

The TRY Microsession: A T-SQL Tuesday Follow Up

Warning: contains expletives

Last month, I gave the talk first referenced in last month’s Tuesday blog festival, concerning conversion functions with TRY. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous about giving my first presentation to a professional organization, even as a 101-level lightning talk. I was concerned about my own abilities on that stage, being around a mix of developers who may not have been privy to TRY_CAST, TRY_CONVERT, or TRY_PARSE (oof), and people who know this already and were curious as to how I would fare on stage. For the latter group, it was like presenting a class project to the professors in my department. So how do I think it turned out?

It was a success, and not only based on feedback from others. It was a good chance to understand what is required of speaking and how I could break the ice with others who knew generally what I did, but wasn’t sure what I knew about.

With this in mind, I learned some lessons from the presentation.

  • Always bring cables, and backup cables. I did bring my work laptop as a backup computer when I had update issues with my affectionately-nicknamed “Shitty Toshiba”, but the HDMI connection is not the most modern…and I never thought to bring the cables for it. So we had a misadventure where I had to open my script on another computer. Originally, I had UPDATE and INSERT statements included, but I couldn’t risk that WideWorldImporters was in its original condition. Maybe the cables would have allowed me to continue with more than SELECT.
  • Even when carrying a note card, don’t go too off topic just to show you aren’t reading from the card. I’m not the most concise person, so it was easy for me to elaborate more than needed.
  • Know your room setup. This was my first chapter meeting since summer, and the meetings moved to a new office building of which I was unfamiliar.

There were also a few positives to take away.

  • Since I had to use a backup computer, one which I did not have WideWorldImporters as it was my work databases only, I was able to rely on agnostic SELECT statements to show the functions in action. It was the biggest key to recovery.
  • I kept a sense of calm despite the cable issue, and despite deep down thinking “they don’t think I’m prepared…fuck” while taking longer than necessary to set up. To take something in stride would not rattle my audience or allow me to come off nervous; I can be very expressive, so it did take some work to remain confident that a backup solution was in the works.
  • I was confident that I knew the basics of the subject, while not trying to act like I knew everything on the subject. There was a moment early on where I said I was a developer and immediately ducked, explaining next that I “didn’t want the DBAs to throw things at me. Wait until after.” Got a good laugh.
  • You know how I said I elaborated more than needed? I didn’t elaborate too much, as the two rehearsals of my talk seemed to keep me relatively constrained, even with my audibles.

The next phase? The submission for a Saturday event…a full-length presentation. Now here’s my chance to take advantage of the help that came from this forum! Thanks to everyone, especially Andy, for giving a platform for us noobs to join the speaker chapter.

How Often Do We (or Will I) Hiatus?

So I’ve been on a hiatus for over a month, because life got in my way…more so I got in my own way. Adjustments to a new job, a lot of travel, and some other house matters. Plus, I’m realizing that there are a lot of steps that go into putting coherent thoughts into a technical blog. I’m asking some questions now about code formats, and what are the best tags…and I also have someone to proofread.

So I’m hoping to get a fresher post this week, but I can’t be sure if I’ll have long breaks like many of us on the interwebs. Time will tell, as I hope to keep this site interesting.

The First Post (or as WordPress likes to say, “Hello world!”)

Everyone needs their introductory (or re-introductory) blog post when entering the sphere. So this one is no different. I see many great professionals and advocates on here with some well-developed websites, with some great advice and random musings for others to check out. I have asked myself many times, “what can I share with the world, and maybe use a blog to ask others their thoughts?” Plus, how do I brand myself?

Well, it was time to do something about it. I decided to start a full-blown website. I could discuss life on the autism spectrum and share my observations dealing with all things structured query language, and how I solved some problems in my professional dealings (along with hearing about even better solutions in the comments). So I hope to post regularly with some topics that will interest both of my key audiences and their subsets.

I’m still figuring out exactly how to combine a standard blog with a professional repository, and how to actually do a good website. So this will probably change over time, but I still hope that those of you database professionals (there is a natural SQL Server bias) or autism spectrum parents and self-advocates will get something from here.

Welcome to my part of this world.