Mentoring

Paul Randal has announced that he will mentor six people over a two-month stretch.  The night before he announced this, I had incidentally been watching Jason Alba’s Management 101 and Paul’s Communications:  How to Talk, Write, Present, and Get Ahead! courses on Pluralsight.  Both of these courses covered the idea of mentoring and the importance of finding a good mentor at various points in your career.

I am at one of those points in my career now.  I have spent the past several years establishing my technical chops, and it’s time for me to take the next step.  I can see two different visions of what “the next step” entails.  My first vision is a move into a technical leadership role, running a team.  For most of my career, I’ve been a lone wolf, the only database person around.  At my current position, I am a peer but not really a lead (because we have no database leads, due to the way the organization is structured).  As a result, taking my next step might involve moving to a new company…although I do like where I work, so this might be a tough call.

My second vision is to develop further my voice in the community.  Last year, I presented at three SQL Saturdays, gave a number of local user group talks, and even helped put on the first SQL Saturday in Raleigh since 2010.  This year, my goal is to present at a dozen SQL Saturdays (current stats:  1 down, 2 officially slated, and 9 to go), as well as hosting another SQL Saturday and presenting at various Triangle area events.  I even want to go outside of my comfort zone and looking at user groups tied to other technologies and concepts, like Azure, Hadoop, and analytics.  I may never present at PASS Summit (though do trust that I’ll try…at some point…), but teaching people techniques to help them solve their technical problems is enjoyable and I’d like to develop a reputation as a great teacher.  This means pouring time and energy into building a personal brand and establishing enough trustworthiness within the community that enough people would be willing to spend some of their precious time listening to me.

These visions are not mutually exclusive and I think a mentorship with Paul Randal would help me with both.  I have thought of a few areas in which Paul could provide outstanding guidance, and I’ll list some of them here in bulleted format:

  • I want to work on my presentation skills.  As I watch other presenters, I take mental notes on good (and bad) things they do and try to integrate some of the good things into my own presentations.  I have spent some time reading blog posts about improving presentation skills as well, but being able to ask questions to an outstanding presenter (who happens to be married to an even-better presenter) would not hurt at all.
  • I mentioned above my desire to take the next step with regard to the SQL Server community.  My game plan for this year is to present at more SQL Saturday events, but once I’m presenting across the eastern third of the US and Canada, what’s the next step?  There are definitely steps between SQL Saturdays and TechEd/PASS Summit, but I don’t really have a presenter roadmap.  I’m thinking that getting more active with the virtual user group chapters would be a stepping stone, but I admit that I don’t have a good game plan yet.
  • In addition to presenting in person, I’m thinking about trying to create some shorter-length videos on various topics.  My questions here would occasionally be technical in nature (e.g., recommendations on microphones and editing software), but mostly they would be about the human element.  For example, listening to Paul present at a user group (as he did—remotely—to our Raleigh user group last month), I can pick up some differences in style versus watching his SQLskills or Pluralsight videos.  I’d like to be able to discuss these stylistic differences, improving my understanding of videos as a separate medium from in-person or remote presentations to a live audience.
  • Another avenue I have not really pursued up to this point is writing.  I was fortunate enough to be able to contribute to Tribal SQL back in 2013 and I enjoyed the experience enough that I’d like to continue writing.  I have a few ideas, but I’d love to be able to pick the brain of somebody who earns (some) money writing and ask questions about choosing topics and his writing workflow.
  • Following from my first vision, I would definitely love to discuss how to develop leadership skills.  Leadership is about a lot more than simply understanding the technical details; a lot of it is about managing products under constraints (budget, time, political capital, etc.) and keeping your team members excited and productive.  I have some questions about how to do that, and being able to ask somebody who has run development teams at Microsoft and who currently manages a team of consultants would be fantastic.
  • The last topic I’ll hit here is work/life balance.  I will need to do most of the above on my own time, outside of my day job.  I look at some of the more frenetic members of the SQL Server community and wonder how, exactly, they do it.  In Paul’s case, I see scuba, travel, reading lots and lots of books, blogging, Twitter, work, managing a team of top-shelf consultants, conferences, Pluralsight videos, and giving a lot of presentations.  By contrast, I feel like I’m treading water too many days and I don’t want my home life (i.e., the lovely and talented missus) to suffer as a result of professional improvement.  If there are any techniques or practices I can glean to become more efficient or improve that work/life balance, I absolutely want to know.

These are thoughts I scribbled down while on the tarmac in Cleveland; I think that with a mentorship in place, I could expound upon these themes as well as several more.  To me, a mentor is not someone who tells you where to go, nor even really how to get there, but rather someone who helps you develop the mental tools to figure those things out for yourself.  I know where I want to go and I have some ideas on how to get there, and I believe that getting the guidance of an experienced person at the top of my field could help me considerably in making it to “the next step.”

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