Two of a Kind

Here’s one that I haven’t run into before. A colleague scheduled a meeting with someone else in the organization to work through a problem that keeps coming up and seems to be of those problems where everyone wants someone else to do the work. The other person declined the meeting without a comment, no offer of a better time.

My friend was incensed! To need a different time would have been understandable, but to just say “no, I’m not attending” was just blatant disrespect. How dare he! And so on, as he ranted to me some. I listened, being the good supportive friend, while thinking it seemed out of character for the other person. Being wiser than I used to be I offered no advice, just nodded my head a lot, and figured I’d wait to see how it turned out.

It could have ended badly, but it didn’t. The two wound up in my office at the same time about a different topic and part of that discussion was that person #2 had once again gotten an email not intended for him, it was for another person in the organization with the same name! You could see the light bulb go on for my now not incensed friend as he realized he invited the wrong person!

It could have been avoided if the wrong recipient had just dropped a “I think you mean the other guy with the same name” reply. Perhaps it could be avoided by adding something to the names in the address book to help the user realize there was more than one.

And for what its worth, if you decline a meeting,put in a reason – communicate!

Play the Bob Ross Game

I was in a meeting a few weeks ago, deadlines looming and everyone feeling the stress some. We hit a couple minute pause and one of the guys in the room (a serious type most of the time) out of nowhere mentions that he finds watching Bob Ross on TV relaxing.


I couldn’t have been more astounded and amused, what a great facet of character to discover! Since then it’s become the inside joke of the ad hoc team I work with, always a way to add a bit of fun to what can be long meetings.

Fun you ask, how? The challenge is to work a Bob Ross quote or reference into the conversation or meeting minutes. Examples:

  • Can you go through our palette of options?
  • Paint us a picture of your deployment plan
  • Bob Ross to provide a hardware quote for the next meeting (amazing how often no one asks who the heck is Bob Ross)

Somehow I think Bob (a native Floridian even!) would have appreciate that he can still inspire with his quiet calm.

A Thought on Career Decisions

One of the many conversations I had at the PASS Summit was about whether to pursue Direction A or Direction B. Those kinds of decisions tend to come along because of an opening in the organization or because someone makes you an interesting offer? How do you decide?

Money, benefits, hours, commute – all of those matter, and I’ll trust that you can weigh those out as fits your situation. I find many people don’t want to put much weight on the one question that matters; what do YOU want to do? Picture the job title, the work, which one calls to you, excites you? Assuming you can make the rest of the stuff work, that’s the one you do.

What if it’s the wrong direction? So what. You’re not making a 30 year decision. It’s something you can decide again whenever you want to, certainly within a few years. In the interim you’ll be doing something you want to do and that means you’ll like work and you’ll do well at it.

Follow your passion. Easier to say than do, but worth the effort.

Seeing Yourself as Others Do

As life skills go one of the hardest is to see yourself as others do – they apply all kinds of filters and interpretations, and of course we’re often reluctant to let go of our own biases that filter our own vision. It’s easy to get hung up on the negatives or potential negatives and not think about the positives, something my friend Tjay reminded me of with this blog post. He picked some people (including me) and tried to write in a few sentences something positive he felt about them. 

I consider it to be an amazing effort. It takes some time and emotional energy to write what you feel on a personal level, the risk of getting it wrong, of not doing justice to someone you like respect, etc.

I was surprised to be on the list (Tjay knows many people in our world), and more than surprised by his comment about me:

“If you are looking for a quite rock of knowledge that will thoroughly impress you and impress upon you that you need to be a better person, seek out Andy Warren. His quiet way will shock you into the reality of continuous improvement. Listen to him when he talks, and how he talks, and watch others learn from him. He is a giant of a man and you should be humbled to simply learn as much as you can from him.”

I thought “that’s me?”. I’m quite sure if he had left the names out I would not have picked that one as matching to me. I feel like I need to grow into that description. A strange but pleasant experience to see yourself for a moment as someone else does, and one that will resonate with me for a while. Thank you Tjay!

Later in the week I was on a panel that included my friend and occasional mentor Kevin Kline. We were going back and forth on a few topics and we got into branding, Kevin mentioned that he saw me as a “producer” because I get things done. That one was easier to understand,but still interesting (and would it be self serving to confirm that Kevin is indeed a ‘wise man’?).

So many lessons to learn!

PASS Update #66 (All Good Things)

Last week I emailed the Board of Directors my resignation effective December 31st of this year, ending my current term one year early. It’s a decision I’ve been thinking about since May and explaining it could well consume several posts – though I’m not sure it would be that interesting!

I’m no less passionate about the possibilities of what PASS can do (and what can be done with PASS) than I was three years ago. At the same time, the effort required to move things forward has tired me and though I’ve tried to rest and reset, I’m at the point where I dread the amount of effort it takes to get more change done.

I have an almost genetic aversion to quitting, probably to the point of absurdity. I’ve wrestled with how to recast my goals and change the game, but just couldn’t find the right combination that would inspire me to continue. The next best thing might have been to drop back into the role of guarding the gains won so far and supporting the efforts of others to make change happen, but that just didn’t align with how I want to participate, or how I expect you would want me to participate.

It was a tough decision to make, one that took many months to arrive at while I continued to push forward on my projects. I spent time with many friends discussing where I was at and how I might change. In the end I knew that it was time to go and while that may bring short term pain to the organization, I hope over the longer term it means PASS will continue to grow with someone rested and with fresh ideas taking my seat next year.

Leaving the Board doesn’t end my involvement with the community, or with PASS. I’ve got a few projects in mind already, and I’ll be looking for places where my skills and experience can make a difference. I’ve got two months left in my term and I intend to make the most of them, putting more time into the long term vision for SQLSaturday and continuing the work to get the Board to transition to a committee model, plus whatever else I can do in the time that remains. Expect a few more updates from me through the end of the year on the work I do.

Virtual/Adhoc Teams

I’m a fan of virtual teams, times when you pull together people from across many teams to form a team that is focused on a goal. Sometimes they are dedicated to the effort, a lot of times they aren’t – depends on the amount of work needed and all the other competing priorities. Time isn’t the issue though, constraints are always there, it’s really about committing to the effort and the goal.

Getting that commitment is often hard, harder than it should be. Sometimes it’s the person, sometimes there manager. I find that typically 80-90% of the team is engaged, it’s the 1 or 2 people that you struggle to bring in. It’s all well and good to say “everyone has to be committed”, but in practice you end up making do until it’s done, or until something breaks because of the ones that doesn’t want to play for the team. Said differently, look for the ones that don’t want to wear the team jersey.

Every time I see this I wish I had fixed it sooner. Most of the times I knew it was broken (or was going to be), but explaining that in a clear way isn’t easy – it’s all gray,and it’s almost always about the soft skills on all sides. When it does get fixed it’s like the team magically starts to move at a faster and smoother pace.

The lesson here,if there is one, is don’t think it’s just you thinking that things aren’t gelling. Force the issue sooner rather than later. And maybe team jerseys isn’t a bad idea either.

Culture Posters

I work with a client now that had a poster made of the top 10 values for the IT department. For example, one of them talks about IT being a service organization. The posters are everywhere, the values are good, and the values reflect the values of the leader.

Easy enough to make a poster and put up a pretty list. Some will scoff, but it’s really a bet and a contract. You better believe that the first time the leaders don’t live up to a value they will hear about it. It can easily turn into a Dilbert type joke. On the other hand, if you can live up to your values, it’s powerful to say that – to be willing to post them in every hallway, every office.

It’s not a values poster, it’s a culture poster. It shapes the culture every day. Yes, it can start to blend into the background after a while, but it doesn’t disappear.

What might you put on a culture poster for your team? Values? Attitude? What would you want your next possible hire to see about your team when they were waiting for the interview?

Next PASS Summit is Nov 6-9, 2012

After enjoying the entirely reasonable weather in Seattle in October this year we’ll return to our more traditional time frame for the 2012 PASS Summit year on Nov 6-9, 2012, at the Convention Center in Seattle. Super early bird registration runs until Nov 15th of this year – that gets you the Summit for only $999. What you save will pay for a good chunk of your travel. Pitch that savings to the boss. Also remind him/her that the registration is both transferrable and cancellable.

2011 PASS Summit-Report #4

I’m writing this at the Seattle airport on Friday night with a couple hours to relax before the midnight flight home. Overall its been a good week. Nothing major went wrong, met a lot of new people, got to see a lot of old friends. Some things that stand out for me:

  • The weather was nice. I didn’t need a coat and the sun was out. Wow, nice weather in Seattle, who would have thought?
  • Sunday I had lunch with some first timers at Vonn’s – nice to meet new people, nice to make new people feel welcome.
  • The Monday night networking party went incredibly well. We ended up with 180 attending over the three hours we were there. We’ll definitely do it again next year!
  • Tuesday I hosted the annual SQLSaturday Roundtable discussion and it went much better than last year. We’ve made a lot of improvements and while there were many requests for new features, we’re at least at a point where all the key things work.
  • The first timer speed networking event was superb. 900 people in a room talking at once and shifting to a new person every 5 minutes or so. Don Gabor did a wonderful job leading the event. It’s just hard to describe the energy this event generated.
  • Wednesday I did my presentation on professional development plans. It went smoothly, good questions, lots of nice sidebars following it, and I continued to chat with some of the attendees as they found me later in the week. I’m hoping to launch part 2 of this one next year.
  • On Thursday night I went to the Idera party at the Taphouse, a packed room. A great mix of people from first timers to old hands to MVP’s. I didn’t catch his name, but the guy who did the raffle did a terrific job.
  • Friday I hosted the Mentoring table at the Birds of a Feather lunch. Thank you to those that joined me! A terrific exchange of knowledge. Look for more news on mentoring in January.
  • Dr Dewitt did an amazing job talking about NoSQL and Hadoop at the Friday morning keynote. Those casual looking slides didn’t get done in a day! Thanks again to him for joining us,and a reminder of my invitation – if he wants to visit SQLSaturday I’m sure we can work him into the schedule!

I did a lot more than that of course. It was a week to recharge,spending some time with old friends helping me figure out some things I want to do next year, and spending some time helping some new friends figure out what they want to do in their careers.

It was a good week, absolutely worth the time and the trip. For all that I’m ready to be home, eat a home cooked meal and spend time with the family.