Steve Jones, the editor from SQL Server central and I talk about the need to build your own brand and we share a few ideas on how to do that. We talk about Steve’s brand and how he built that over time and some options available to allow you the most opportunities possible. The New York Times said in 2007 Nike spent 678 Million Dollars on advertising–A company almost everyone already knows. What are going to do help establish your brand? This episode is a must have for those looking to kick it up a notch on the opportunity meter.
Transcription: Build Your Personal Brand
Carlos Chacon: Welcome to the SQL Data Partners podcast. My name is Carlos L. Chacon, your host. This is episode six.
Today, I’m super excited to have someone on the show that you probably already know. Steve Jones from SQLServerCentral.com is with us today. Steve is the Editor-in-Chief of SQLServerCentral.com. He started working with SQL Server in 1991, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t called SQL Server at that time.
Today, we’re going to be talking about branding. Steve had a great brand, and I’m super excited that he’s been willing to share a little bit of his time, and thoughts about building a brand. Ultimately, the goal here, or the idea is that you can take some of these branding ideas, put them to use in your own environment, and hopefully, additional opportunities will come your way.
If you like today’s episode, we invite you to give us a rating on iTunes. Give us some of that feedback, and let us know what we’re doing. If there’s something you’d like to hear, you can hit me up at [email protected] or of course I’m on Twitter @Carloslchacon.
If you like these episodes, we invite you to subscribe to our iTunes podcast. We are also now on Stitcher, we’re excited about that and as always, welcome to the show.
Children: SQL Data Partners.[music]
Steve Jones: Thank you, thank you, I’m glad to be here. I still run SQL Server Central. That’s my primary day job. That’s a lot of what I do on a day-to-day basis. I’m always writing and producing the content there. You’ll certainly see me there.I work for Red Gate software as well. They employ me to run SQL Server Central as well as to be an evangelist, which means that they send me around to a variety of events, starting to be all around the world.
It’s mostly in the US but I’m doing more in Europe. I’m at a number of conferences every year and a bunch of SQL Saturdays. As many as I can fit in with busy family life and all the other responsibilities I have at work.
Carlos: Sure, there’s no question that you keep a full schedule there. One of the things we wanted to talk about today was, standing out from the pack, right. Building your own brand.We aren’t necessarily going to talk about getting famous but we do want to talk about some ways that data professionals can present themselves in a little better light with the hope of having some more opportunities come their way.
The reason I wanted to have you on the show, Steve, is because of your own individual brand. You’ve got a great brand and if folks are just starting out and haven’t met you, they’d probably be surprised when they first meet you that one, you’ll be in a Hawaiian shirt and two is that you’ll walk up to them, you’ll extend your hand, and ask them a few questions.
Steve Jones: Yeah, exactly.
Carlos: I think that’s a great brand and I think you might have some ideas for our listeners that they can try to apply to their own brand.
Steve: Absolutely. What you just said here, just introducing yourself, that’s networking. That’s a great way to just meet somebody else and get to know another person in the community. Start to build a little bit of a bond. Maybe make a friend. Maybe make a contact of some sort. That’s one of the things that has helped me over the years.As a young man in high school and college, I was really shy, didn’t know a lot of people. There’s been plenty of times I’ve gone to events for schools, or yearly in my career where I didn’t introduce myself, I kind of just sat in the back, and found that I wasn’t really growing my career as much. There’s always so much you can do, in terms of being just a very smart young man or young woman today.
It’s great to be good at your job, to have a lot of technical skills, but really a lot of hiring, a lot of decisions for promotions, reviews, for bonuses. All these things, they come down to personal context and people liking you.
Just being friendly is a great way to kind of grow your brand a little bit and meet other people. Just walk up to somebody, “How you doing? My name is Steve. What do you do here? Why are you here today? What’s your job? What are you interested in?” Just a couple questions, just like you might if you’re in a party or something else, some other event there. That’s probably the best thing I think you could do for your career these days.
Carlos: I think one of the big misconceptions about networking — particularly maybe five, seven years ago — was that you wanted to do that to advance your own purposes. As you just mentioned, ultimately, it is about extending your network, and you need to find out about what other people are doing. Asking those questions from people just to get a feel. Start that conversation going, and then, potentially down the road, something may happen that may be of your benefit, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be the goal.
Steve: Right. Certainly, you might help somebody else. We have a lot of people in the soup community that are very open, friendly, and willing to help others. Maybe you’ll meet somebody you can help. Or maybe you’ll meet somebody who just can bounce an idea off later. Ask you questions of.I meet people all the time that are good at SSIS, reporting services or DAX, or things that I’m not very good at. When I have questions, there is somebody I can just call on — that I’ve had a conversation with — and say, “Hey, can I ask you a question?”
Carlos: When we talked a little bit about events and we talked about getting to know people. Another thing that I’d like to encourage people to do is to get to know the vendors a little bit more. This is kind of with the eye towards adding that into your network, particularly the product folks, “Hey, what is it that you do and what problems are you trying to solve?”It may be, for example, a Dex vendor. I don’t know if there’s one out there like that. You may have nothing to do, that’s not even on your radar, but the next person that you talk to might have something. To be able to say, “Hey, you know what? I just talked to so and so at this vendor, they might be able to help.”
You’ve provided value to that person and the likelihood of them remembering who you are skyrockets.
Steve: Exactly. Somebody at work might ask you, “Hey, we need to do this thing with Dex. Do you know anything about it?” You go, “You know, I met somebody a few months ago. I’ll ask them. I’ll call them back.” Certainly, getting to know vendors is a good idea because some of us go to work for vendors. Some of us leave vendors and go somewhere else.There might be an opportunity for you to go to work there. Like you said, just answer a question for somebody else or at least have an idea of what could work.
Carlos: Right. I think the idea there tied in with the brand is that you’re creating a brand of being able to provide value, of being knowledgeable about different things. Having that network that people can at least run ideas by you and that they’ll know, “We’re kind of stumped with something. Let’s go ask Steve, see what he thinks.” Right?
Carlos: As we go and we do this, we’re networking. Individual events sometimes is difficult to get to, can be cost prohibitive. Are there other ways to grow that network? Social media, obviously, is one that has exploded here lately and allows us to scale our networking opportunities.
Steve: Absolutely. Yeah, social media’s a great way. There may be groups in your local area. I mean, there’s obviously pass groups, SQL Server user groups in your area, but there are often industry groups as well. For example, in Denver when I first moved here, we had a group called First Tuesday. It was basically a happy hour, restaurant or bar, on the first Tuesday of the month where IT professionals would get together.Everybody from CTO’s to DBA’s and Sys admins would have the chance to have a drink, just meet other people and talk. Certainly there’s those opportunities as well as more formal events that are industry specific. Social networking is a great way, it works the same as an in person event. I know it seems silly and seems like we’re not interacting with people when we’re not doing it face to face, but you could build some great relationships across distance by using Twitter, Facebook, Instant Messaging, even forum places like SQL Service Central or MSDN, the place where people ask questions and answer questions.
You can really build these strong bonds in the same way that we did it 100 years ago, by having pen pals, by writing letters back and forth. Except today we can do it in real time or near real time.
Carlos: One of the things we want to, I guess at least encourage folks, from my standpoint is that you can use social media for many things but we want to convey a professional air, if you will, when we’re trying to build our brand from a data professional perspective, right? I think there are certain social medias like Facebook, for example, I know a couple of people out there that are like, “If you’re going to invite me to your wedding or you think I might invite you to my wedding, then we can connect of Facebook.”Otherwise, we need to go to other mediums to interact in that professional way. Separating the lines, in a sense with, here’s my brand, here’s who I am in social media from a data professional perspective versus here’s my kids and my grandma at the family reunion.
Steve: Exactly. You certainly need to draw some separations. Denny Cherry is a friend of mine. He’s a well known consultant in the US who does a lot of SQL Server work. He is across all social media areas where he posts. Recently, he actually made that separation, where he set up a professional Facebook side for his business and for his career. Then he broke that with his personal Facebook group because he posts his opinions and different ideas on Facebook that aren’t work related.Certainly, you can cross the line, just like at work, when you’re actually in an office, there are some topics religion, politics, things that you don’t necessarily want to get too involved in at work because it’s not necessarily appropriate. You may offend somebody or you may get yourself too worked up and get upset. [laughs] You may say something inappropriate. I always encourage people to think about separating those things out.
For example, my Facebook is completely set to private for only my friends. I don’t share anything out there professionally. I typically don’t connect with professionals on Facebook. It’s typically for family and friends. There is Twitter, and my blog, and Linked In and other places where I do connect with other professionals.
I’m aware of what I post there really reflects on me as a DBA and a SQL Server professional. I don’t necessarily want to post things there or advocate for things that aren’t appropriate for my career.
Carlos: Sure, and ultimately again, we’re talking about that brand, and so you can be a political moderator if that’s what you want to do, but do that in that space.
Carlos: If you’re going to create the social media space to build your brand as a data professional, then the topics and the related information needs to somewhat align with that. Now sure, you go to an event and you post pictures and stuff, that’s all, again, involved with that brand.
Steve: Exactly, we’re all conservative, or liberal, or independent, or something. We all know that but, when I’m trying to decide if you’re the person I call for an interview, or you’re the person I want to hire, I don’t really want to see that because it’s serves no real purpose. It’s as likely to offend me, or upset me, as it is to attract me to you.We want to present a positive, very professional image to potential employers. Recruiters, employers, HR people, hiring managers, somebody that’s going to look at our profile on social media we want them to see somebody that they want to hire, that’s going to fit in that position well.
If you want to be a political commentator, or you have a band, you’re a musician, or something, have a separate Twitter account, a separate Facebook. Just have a different place where you put that stuff.
Carlos: It can be overwhelming, particularly to see some of the other folks in the community who appear to be on social media 24/7…[laughter]
Steve: Yes indeed.
Carlos: They’re posting a lot of stuff out there. I know, I look at it, I’m like, “Wow.” Do we need to be on there all the time? What’s the balance? I’ve been meaning to ask some of these folks that host a lot, how they do that.
Steve: It’s certainly is, it’s amazing sometimes how many tweets, or Facebook posts I see from some people, it’s incredible. Certainly there are some tools that help you post in multiple places, or automate things that can maybe make it look like you’re more active than you are. Really, I look at social media just like I look at other social situations.At the office I may get up and go get a cup of coffee and I have the chance to chat with somebody in the hallway, or in the kitchen, and along the way, or I may catch somebody going in or out of a building and spend a couple of minutes there. That’s really how I treat social media, I try not to be too bogged down in it.
Part of my job as an evangelist is to keep track of it so I certainly do…we have some professional accounts for SQL server central and at Redgate, that are on social media. We monitor those a little more heavily.
For my account I may pop it up and look at it, and I just go on about my day for a while and maybe I take a couple minutes just to see something later, go on about my day. If I’m at an event, or if something is caught my eye that I’m reading, I may post that over there, as well. I try not to…the purpose isn’t to be on social media, the purpose is to be on the actives with other people socially, at your schedule, at your pace, whatever works for you.
I don’t set goals, and in fact I make it a point to turn things off, like I don’t have Twitter up today, it’s just off because I’ve got other things I need to accomplish today. [laughs] and I don’t need a distraction. Just like at work, I might put on headphones and just sit at my desk for a while because I need to actually get something done.
Carlos: Twitter can definitely be a big distraction.
Steve: It can.
Carlos: I also think, just like with the community, we shouldn’t necessarily be reserved in trying to share some other things. If we start building our brand, and start trying to help others, some of that…well, so most of us, particularly myself, there’s nothing that I’m going to share that a lot of other people don’t already know.But there may be other folks in my network that aren’t as familiar with it. Let’s take an example, like high availability. I maybe come up with something about high availability, always on. There’s books on it, there’s people, MVPs that are in that space. However, my network may still benefit from some of those things, so I don’t think we should be nervous, or feel like the content that we’re trying to provide is less valuable. Because again, that building our brand of folks who are willing to share that information, it will be helpful to someone.
Steve: Absolutely, I think one of the things that we don’t realize sometimes is how absolutely huge the world is. It is stunningly large and even something that’s incredibly popular on Twitter, really only makes it to a small fraction of the people that are out there. Because they’re not available at that time, they’re busy looking at something else, they just skip by it because there’s a whole list of other posted things that are there.I completely agree you shouldn’t get too bogged down in the idea that everybody else has seen what you’ve seen. The way that we personalize things these days, the way the software allows us to customize the views means that it’s entirely possible a lot of the people that you know haven’t seen something. Or they may not have seen the exact thing that popped up three seconds ago, but if you post it, it’ll appear there, or if you blog about it, it’s there.
To me, I always recommend people think about, what does this look like when somebody’s looking at me, not just what the world sees. Because potentially, an employer that look at my blog, or looks at my social media timeline, is looking for me to find out information about me. So it’s important that they see something about how I interact with the world, how I think, what my knowledge is. Rather than in the context of what everybody else has done.
Carlos: That’s a great point and again, building that brand. They’ll look at your book of work they can see it in totality. Let’s talk a little about your brand, and actually, as I get into it, it’s quite diverse. We talked about the editor at SQL server central. You’ve got “Database Weekly,” you’re with Redgate Software, you also host another site for “ModernResume.com.”
Carlos: You blog at “Voice of the DBA.” You actually put out some podcasts under that same name, as well.
Carlos: So, @way0utwest, your handle for Twitter perspective, and then your Hawaiian shirts.
Steve: Yes, exactly.[laughter]
Carlos: I went through it and I thought, “Holy cow.” That’s a lot of stuff, sounds like a lot of work. How do you keep that up?
Steve: How do I do that? Sometimes I look at my life and the amount of chaos that’s involved is stunning to me at times. I think I’m really just getting through the week, some weeks.[laughter]
Steve: The Hawaiian shirts are easy. I buy two or three a year, so that builds up over time and then it’s just a question of grabbing a clean one that’s ironed and I put it in the suitcase…[laughter]
Steve: That one’s easy. Some of what I do in that variety is because it’s a little bit of experimentation, it’s a little bit of trying to understand what works and doesn’t work, and it’s a little bit of trying to see how different parts, different areas there may reach different people. So I may get responses, or comments in different places on similar things I’ve posted. Some of it is a little bit of experimentation for me.For somebody that’s building their brand, for the most part it’s just about them. They’re not trying to advocate for anything other than their own career. Whereas, I worked for companies so I’m obviously advocating for them a little bit with the podcasts, and the events, and some of the other things I do.
The reason I have the Voice of the DBA as a blog, as opposed to just having SQL Server Central is I recognize I may not maintain this job forever, or I may want to go to work elsewhere so I want my own brand, my own place where I can have copies of all my work there. Really, I maintain that blog there specifically to build my career, if I actually have to go look for a job at some point that’s the place where I would try to send everybody. My professional career is, kind of, the SQL Server Central stuff and that’s what I do.
Database Weekly was a spin off from there as a way to kind of diversify our business. Fortunately, I don’t have to do that every week. We do about every third or fourth one depending, throughout the year, because that’s Red Gate Project SQL Server central and Database Weekly. I have a staff of people at Red Gate that help me do different pieces, and they do some of that.
The modern resume is a little bit of my volunteering effort. It’s a little bit of trying to give back to people to help them improve their careers. Certainly, I go to some of the SQL Saturdays to advocate for Red Gate, but a half of my go to-ers is really just volunteer effort. For me, taking time out of my life help improve my career because I can talk about different things. For me, it’s a volunteer effort. Try to teach people something, try to go and speak and help somebody else if you get better at SQL Server or their career, or something else.
I tend to do a lot. I’ve been successful. I’ve got a little bit lucky in my career. What I try to get people to do is think about pacing. Certainly there are times of the year where I don’t travel, my family comes first, other things with my kids come first. I have to put work and other things on a little bit of a pause there. Or I have to shift work around to make time for them.
That’s why I encourage everybody else. You’ve got to build your career and it is important, but its got to fit around the rest of your life. You’ve got to remember you have hobbies, you have a family, you have parents or kids or something else. I try to keep in some kind of balance there.
Carlos: You bring up an interesting point there with the volunteering and you mentioned that you do quite a bit of that. How do you think volunteering helps a person build their brand?
Steve: There is a number of things there. But one thing I come back to from a career perspective is that I’ve managed lots of people, in big groups, small groups in different areas of my career. I never want to micromanage somebody. I never want to have them be told to do every little thing. If I ask them to set up a server, I don’t expect to ask them to also set up backups and set up maintenance plans and go ask somebody what security they need, and those other things.I kind of expect them to do a little bit more than I ask them to do. Volunteering is a great way to show that you’re willing to do more than you are asked to do, especially if you volunteer at work. If you volunteer to teach somebody something or to build a utility or do something that helps another group. It’s a great way to A) make your job easier or make somebody else’s job easier, but it shows that you’re willing to do a little bit extra at work.
That’s a valuable skill because so many people are happy to just go do the bare minimum at work. If that’s what you want to do or maybe that’s the place you are in your life, that’s fine. Certainly people get married and divorced, somebody is sick, they have times in their life where they need to just do the bare minimum. If you do that for your entire career, if you do that for decades, you’re just an average person and you’re not necessarily a great employee for me as a manager.
Volunteering is one of those ways to show that you do more. The other thing is volunteering outside of work on top of helping your mental health, because I think that it’s important to give back and help society someway at some point in your life, you also build these skills in terms of just getting things done when you often don’t have good supervision to get requirements or good direction in a volunteer effort.
A lot of times volunteers just say, “I need some stuff done, would you please do it,” and you have to figure it out. Those are great skills and stories that aren’t really appropriate to talk about most of the time, but in terms of your career, those are good places to talk about, “Hey, I am learning these skills or I have done this thing elsewhere.”
Carlos: I think from the volunteering perspective, another benefit is the ability to be around other like-minded people. People who are working towards that goal. They’re trying to break away from the pack, if you will. By doing that, rubbing shoulders with them, getting engaged in the activities that they like, you’ll be able to build your network outside of the domain, outside of your work environment and you never know what kind of…again networking opportunities might arise from that.
Steve: Exactly. There’s a lot of technical opportunities to volunteer, there’s gift camps around the U.S. where you code for charities, you can spend a day or two doing that. Lots of organizations, from churches to non-profits and charities, they need technical help a lot of times and they can’t really pay for it very much. If you’re willing to volunteer an hour a week, two hours a month or something like that can be a great help them and also build some skills for you.
Carlos: Sure. Now, you don’t want to be pessimistic. But I think you feel like you should put a word of warning. Because occasionally, particularly volunteering at work is probably a good example. Every once in a while, the flaming bag of poo is going to come your way and here you’ve just raised your hands. “I’ll take it!” And yes, that will happen, you’ll have to work through that. Every assignment that you take won’t be the CEO…chatting with the CEO or even taking him out to lunch, that kind of thing.
Carlos: But again working through that, showing that you are willing to put in that dedication, that hours. When things then do become important, your manager has something that’s critical to their path, they’re more likely to pick you for the team because they know that you’re willing to put in the effort. If that is successful, the rewards are… big upside.
Steve: It could be a big upside, absolutely. It could be a downside too, the other thing is if you volunteer to do something at work and you’re doing this and all of a sudden it becomes more important, you may get stuck with two jobs.[laughter]
Steve: Yeah, I always say that whenever you’re going to volunteer like that, especially if you’re doing something at work, make sure your manager or somebody knows about it. That they’ve kind of given it a blessing and an approval, even if its tacit. At least they have agreed that you’re going to do something else and they understand where your time is going and what you’re doing.
Carlos: So then that feedback then becomes important. To let them know, “Hey, this task that I’ve been assigned or I’ve volunteered to take, whatever. This is the status, this is where I am at, I may need some help or whatever.”
Steve: Exactly. And then always make sure you kind of document, keep track of this stuff. Like I said, a lot of your volunteer efforts aren’t necessarily going to be appropriate for you to, you know, talk about or blog about something. But there are things you want to keep track of for you or for the next interview that you have. They are good stories and they’re appropriate in those places to talk about that.
Carlos: Sure, exactly. But I think overall consistency then is the key. To consistently kind of be out there, making yourself available. Again, doesn’t have to be 24/7 but doing something on a regular basis.I think about like the MacDonald’s, that’s a big brand. But you’re going to walk into a MacDonald’s in Kansas, in California, or in the Congo. You’re going to know the layout and you’re going to know you’re going to get a big Mac and it’s going to be pretty much the same. I think that’s what folks are looking for from a brand. It’s some consistency and if you’re willing to put in that effort, then you can built that brand. Again, hopefully the opportunities will come your way.
Steve: Right. It’s like I said, it doesn’t have to be a ton of time, maybe you go on Twitter once a week or LinkedIn once a week and you post something or you respond to something. You provide that consistency that Carlos is talking about, just on a regular basis.Again, ultimately at times stop and look at you profile, then pull up your particular profile. Like I go to Twitter and look at Way Out West, I just see kind of what I posted there and how that looks. Or I go to LinkedIn and just kind of look at my status activity because when somebody goes to look at my career, that’s what they look at. Not all the stuff that I’ve done a few minutes here and there. They kind of see it as one group, so I want to show that.
Carlos: Well, thanks Steve. I do appreciate the conversation. I think there has been some valuable information shared.
Steve: My pleasure.
Carlos: Before we let you go, just a couple of standard questions that add a little bit of value to those listeners. One of the things I would like you to talk about is some of the favorite SQL tools. This can be a paid tool or a free tool, whatever. What’s your favorite tool and why do you use it?
Steve: What’s my favorite tool? Right now, in terms of what I do which is a lot of kind of ad hoc just variety of touching things SQL Server, has to be SQL prompt. I worked for Red Gate software, and they make SQL prompt. But it’s one of those tools that’s absolutely incredible for me. Because a lot of times when I’m trying to find out what a parameter is or I’m not sure what the next way to write code is, that comes up very often, pops it up and it’s really handy.I’ve been using this since before Red Gate actually purchased the tool and so it’s amazing to me. It’s quite noticeable when I’m on an instance that doesn’t have prompt installed in magic studio. I don’t love the Microsoft Intellisense. I haven’t tried in 2016, but certainly in previous versions, it was less helpful. No Intellisence is difficult for me at times because I’m expecting things to be here. That’s a tool I use a lot.
Carlos: So we’ve been talking a little bit about branding and I guess I’m wondering if there is a favorite story or experience that you’ve had around branding or the data field that has helped you or can capture why it is that you enjoy what you do.
Steve: Why do I enjoy branding? There are several stories. I certainly have no shortage of stories where somebody has gotten a job through their brand on social media or somewhere else. But one of the things that really helped me early on in my career figure out where the branding matters is my wife. She spent 20 years in high technology, I think she worked for six or seven companies and eight or nice different jobs in those times.But in all that time, she really only had to send out groups of resumes once. She got one job. She is very personable, she’s been good technically at her job. But the efforts that she’s made to always get to know other people, network well, talk about her experiences with the managers, has paid off. In all that time in her career in the 20 years, she was constantly being called by people to say, “Hey. I have a job for you or send me your resume because I have a position that I would like to get you hired for.”
And that worked out great for her and even although she left technology four years ago and started her own business, self-employed, she’s been called every year by people that know her that say, “Hey, would you like to come work for us again?” To me, that’s an example of an amazing brand, maybe an extreme example. But it worked out really well for her and I’ve seen plenty of other people have small levels of success just with some networking and a little bit of social media and then blogging or being good at their job.
Carlos: OK, we have one more question. But before we do that, Steve, we would like to take a second for our listeners to hear about another way they can learn about SQL Server.[commercial break]
Carlos: OK, Steve. For our last question, if you could have one super hero power, what would it be and why would you want it?[laughter]
Steve: One super hero power, I think…I don’t know. I need something to heal my knees and joints right now because I’m getting older.[laughter]
Steve: I’m almost 50 and I’m struggling. So maybe healing, maybe healing is my power right now as I’m almost 50. Actually, I pulled a hamstring yesterday playing baseball, so I’m limping around today. Healing, if I could be a super healer, I think that would be what I want.
Carlos: Well, very good. Thanks again for being on the show, Steve. We do appreciate it. As always compañeros, we’ll see you on SQL trail.