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Conferences and the Etiquette of Meeting New People November 25, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Perceptions.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

One of the reasons I like user group conferences is meeting new people in my “area” – these people at the conference not only like technology and probably some of the same technology I do but, as they are at a conference, are probably inclined to learn stuff, meet people and maybe share ideas. I’m not actually very good face-to-face socially with people I do not know, so I like to tilt things in my favour if I can!

But sometimes you have odd experiences.

I was at a conference a couple of years back that was not in the UK. I was loving it as I was meeting some people I knew electronically but never met and others who I had only met when they visited UK conferences – but most people I had no real connection to, so I was a bit quiet (yes, loud-mouthed, always-comments-in-talks me was quiet), especially as it was the first day. I was late for the lunch event, I don’t remember why, but it was a little unusual for being a sit-down meal and there was to be some meet-the-expert tables and I wanted to be able to identify some people I knew by name and never met. The big signs on tables would be a bit of a help there.

As I came in I saw half the tables were full and most of my friends were already on a full table. I wandered over to a half-full table and as I sat down I said “Hello, I’m Martin Widlake, How you doing?” or whatever to the half-dozen guys there. They all looked at me. A couple nodded or said “hi” but one said “We’ve got other friends turning up soon”. Hmm, that was code for “sod off”, I think.

I turned on the full English Accent so they could tell I was not from around those parts. “That’s nice – always good to have friends when you are at a conference….especially one where you don’t know many people?”. Some smiled, they all understood my mild reprimand. Mr Friendly who had mentioned all his other friends did not smile though. After this opening “chat” no one else really said anything more to me.

The Starter turned up and the guys all spoke to each other – and ignored me. Some other lone gun wandered up and asked me if he could sit next to me – “Sure, feel free – I’m Martin Widlake, I’m from the UK”. He introduced himself and sat down. Mr Friendly piped up “There are more people joining us at this table, I’m not sure there is gonna be room”. Some of his already-present friends had the decency to look a bit apologetic and I simply said “Well, it’s pretty full on all the tables now – and he’s got his starter” as the waitress put down a plate. And I pointedly started talking to the new chap.

Main turns up and so do a couple of late members for Mr Friendly’s group, who sat down at the remaining spare seats. “I told you” he said “you might have to move”.

I’m losing my patience a bit now. “Well they can sit somewhere else I’m sure, seeing as they are late.”

Mr Friendly is getting angry “I warned you when you sat down – when the others turn up, you’ll move”.

“I won’t move, this is my seat. I’m staying here”.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” demands Mr Friendly. Oh, thank you, I think to myself. I’m so going to enjoy this….

“Well, I did introduce myself when I arrived and….” pointing to the large sign with ‘Martin Widlake’ on it above the table “there is a large reminder of my name just there”. I paused a couple of seconds before adding “So this is my seat and my table and I’m kind of obliged to stay here, whether you want to talk to me or not”.

Maybe I could have handled the situation better from the start and stressed that the reason why I was staying was I was supposed to sit at my table. But I was smarting a little from the fact that no one apparently wanted to come to my table and talk to me. Maybe not surprising, as I don’t think I had done a presentation at the conference at that point – but my massive ego was already bruised.

So what about the etiquette of meeting people at conferences? It was just a title for a story I felt like telling…

However, there are a couple of things I do want to mention about the etiquette of meeting people at conferences. If you do not know many people there – just talk to people. People you don’t know. Just make a few observational or open comments, nothing to direct – “This queue for the coffee is a bit long”, “Have you seen any good/bad presentations yet?”, “what do you think about ansii join syntax” (OK, last one is a bad suggestion). Most people will respond and those that do not are probably just very nervous – more nervous than you! – and almost no one will be like Mr Friendly above. And if they are like Mr Friendly, where there are a few hundred other people you can go and try the odd comment on to see if you get a response.

At the social events you can see dozens and dozens of people just at the side or wandering around, not speaking to anyone. If you are one of them, few people are likely to come up to you and start a conversation (I’ve tried approaching the odd lone person but I stopped when I got Seriously Stalked at one of the UKOUG conferences). But if you go talk to other people, most of us will respond. And if someone does respond – Don’t stalk them!!! – have a conversation and then, having found it is possible, go and try some other people. The next day, if you see the people who responded last night, go and have a small chat again. But Don’t stalk them!!!.

Finally, talk to the presenters. We are actually the easy targets and not the hard ones. Those of us who present tend to be attention seekers so we are happy for you to come up and chat. And if you pretend you liked our talks we will certainly warm to you, so it’s an easy opening. However, it’s not like we are pop-stars or TV celebrities, we are just average people and you can come and chat to us (actually, I feel the same about pop-stars and TV celebrities, I don’t get easily star-struck but I know a lot of people do, even over Oracle Names).

But Don’t stalk them!!!.

And if someone insists on joining you at a table that has a name above it – listen carefully when they introduce themselves…

Why is “Dave Unknown” Trying to Social Media With Me? November 21, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, off-topic.
Tags: , ,
7 comments

I know some people share my opinion on this and others totally disagree – but I fail to appreciate why people I have never met, spoken with or care about want to Social Media with me. If we have not met but there is a high probability we share unusual interests then OK, perhaps – but the fact that we both can spell Oracle or know what a gene is does not count as unusual shared interests. Maybe I am just too old to “get it” or just too grumpy to appreciate their efforts.

I’m not the biggest fan of Social Media but I don’t actively dislike it either. I mean, I’m blogging so that means I have some appreciation for it. I have a Twitter account and sometimes I Twit. But not a lot. I don’t have time or inclination to log on every day and see what people have seen that they think is funny/odd/outrageous/titillating on the web, which airport they are currently being bored in or what publication/talk/blog post of theirs they want to big up. Or what cereal they have just eaten {really? Some of you think this would interest anyone?} But occasionally I hang out there and swap twit twaddle and follow links and maybe even put up my own links to my fabulous blog utterings. But I don’t follow people I don’t in some way know or have a reason to be interested in {and I don’t include seeing them on TV as my being interested in them – I followed a couple of people on twitter early on that I thought would be interesting, based on their Popular Culture output. And very quickly decided I’d stand a better chance of continuing to like them if I was not being informed of all the dross that crossed their minds when they had not rehearsed their material}.

For me, the main Social Media thing that baffles and slightly annoys me is LinkedIn Wannabes. Why are you contacting me if I don’t know you and you don’t know me? I don’t know 7.039 billion people. OK, you know some Oracle – so do probably 0.7039 million people (wow, what a worrying thought) that I also don’t know. It’s not personal that I have no interest in being LinkedIn with you, it’s the opposite. I impersonally don’t feel a need to link with you.

Do I want to link in with Dave in Denver CO, USA who is a Java developer? I’ve nothing against you, Dave, but I’m highly unlikely to meet you and we probably have little to talk about, especially as I almost never communicate with people via LinkedIn {and I don’t know anyone who does really communicate via LinkedIn}. I struggle to keep up with people I have met in the flesh or I absolutely know I have shared interests with, so random LinkedIn Wannabes, no chance. If I met you in person I’d probably like to have a chat and I might even buy you a beer, and perhaps we would become friends and I’d welcome your LinkedIn invite with open keyboard. But frankly, until you’re drinking that Carlsberg I just got from the bar for you, you are one in 7.039 billion unknown people to me.

So am I being unfriendly? Well, when I get a LinkedIn request I almost always check out the person. Is it someone I have worked with or met at a conference and it might be nice to maintain some sort of vague contact with? Occasionally it is. Once it a blue moon it turns out to be someone I actually know (or know of) quite well and I feel daft that I did not recognise them. Sometimes it is someone I don’t know but they know 15 people I do (hopefully mostly the ones I like  :-) ) and I can see they share strong work interests with me.  I link in. But most of the time I don’t know them and *they have over 500 contacts*. 

Over 500 contacts? Really? Really? And you know all these people? No, you don’t Dave. You are just collecting stamps. I’m as important to you as that. So now, though I know nothing much about you, I know I am unimportant to you, I’m just a stamp. I definitely do NOT want to be LinkedIn with you.

Occasionally it is worse. I’m not a stamp, I’m a little bit of potential collateral, a maybe-bit-of-income for them. The person is a recruitment consultant or a salesperson or a company representative who has figured out that for every 200 hundred people they bother they get a lead. So they contact thousands of us. Well, you can really stuff your invite up where the sun does not shine.

But most of the time it is stamp collecting. This seems very common with our South Asian friends. I don’t know why, maybe it is a cultural thing, maybe the universities there tell their students that this is a good way to progress (I can’t see that it is but I’m happy to be corrected if I am wrong), I don’t know – but 75% of LinkedIn invites I get from people with 500+ contacts are from that part of the world.

I’ve noticed one key thing about LinkedIn stamp collecting (or potential-collateral) invites – none of them have bothered to change the standard invite text.

Hi M

I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinedIn

- Dave Unknown

Hint – if you really want to link with me, change the text to something, anything and I mean *anything* else. Try

Oi, Martin

I’ve met you and you smell of fish and your jokes are pathetic. Link in to me else I will throw things at you next time you present

- Dave Unknown

That’ll get my attention.

What kicked of this diatribe by me? It was when we got the below at work:linkedin_who

 

It really tickled me. This person is so desperately stamp collecting that they are trying to link to Admin in Technical Services. Of course I removed names to protect the guilty but, really, Ramzan “the import/export professional” – I think you should take a bit more care in your stamp collecting efforts.

Friday Philosophy – Is Dave Productive? November 7, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Management.
Tags: , , , ,
4 comments

How do I know if Dave is doing his job properly? If I am his (or her*) manager, what techniques can I use to ensure I am getting my pound of flesh out of this worker drone in return for the exorbitant salary my company puts into said drone’s bank account each month?

Well, as a start there is my last Friday Philosophy all about deduction of work profile via auditory analysis of input devices (ie how fast is Dave typing) :-) I have to say, the response to that topic has been very good, I’ve had a few chats with people about it and got some interesting comments on the blog article itself. My blog hits went Ping :-)

However, I have a confession to make. I have a “history” in respect of keyboards and management of staff. Maybe one of my old colleagues will comment to confirm this, but I used to regularly walk into an office full of “my people” and bark “Type faster you B*****ds! I don’t care what it is you are doing, I just want to see those fingers flying over the keyboard!”. They all knew to ignore me, this was just one example of my pathetic sense of humour. In some ways, I was never a very good manager as I was just a bit too juvenile, irreverent and non-managerial.

I was being ironic and they knew it. I had no time for many of the Management Easy Options you so often come across in organisations that are used to apparently help ensure the staff are working hard. What do I mean by Management Easy Options? I’ll cover a few.

 

You have to be at your desk for at least 8 hours.

At Your Desk. Because if you are at your desk you are working of course. And if you are not at your desk, you are not working. Hours at the desk apparently equate to productivity. So a Management Easy Option is to insist all your staff are seen to be in the office and at their desk for as long as, and preferably longer, than the average time across all staff. And that is partly why in dysfunctional companies staff are in the office so long. As if lots of managers want to demonstrate that they are “good managers” by having their staff “productive” at their desks, their staff will be there longer than average…which pushes up the average…so they keep the staff there longer… *sigh*

I could spend a few pages on the academic and psychological studies that disprove the above nonsense about 8 hours of productive work – but we all know it is nonsense anyway. We talk about it at lunch or in the pub. If you are stuck at your desk longer than you can concentrate, you do other stuff that is hard to distinguish from work. Or you do poor work. WE ALL KNOW THIS so why does this myth about hours-at-desk continue? What happens to some manager’s brains such that they start managing and soon stop knowing this?!?

As a self employed worker in the London IT market, I often get given a contract to sign that specifies I must do a professional working day:- that “consists of 8 hours minimum each day”. For the last 5 or 6 years I have always crossed out that clause or altered it to say “8 hours maximum” or replaced it with what I feel should be the real clause, which is:

A professional working day, which is to, on average across a week,  match or exceed the requirements of my manager for a day’s productivity.

If I am being asked to work a Professional Working Day then to me that means I have to achieve a day’s worth of benefit to the company for each day paid to me. If that takes me 8 hours or 6 or 9 or whatever is immaterial. As a Professional I will on average, each day, keep my manager happy that I am worth employing. If that involves 6 hours of extra work one day between 8pm and 2am, fine. But do not expect 8 hours the next day. If my manager is not happy, then you ask me to go and I will go. It really is as simple as that.

{honesty forces me to admit that at present, for the first time in years, I have that 40 hour clause in place. Because I am doing a role for a friend, and I did not want to cause a fuss by objecting to the clause. But if management ever refer to the clause, my friend knows I will simply thank management for their time to date – and I’ll be going now}.

I drifted into my own world there, but the point I really wanted to make is that hours spent at the desk in no way indicate if the job is being done. We all know that, all the managers know that (well, they will if they are any good). Some people can be at their desk 10 hours a day and, frankly, it would help the company if they were not! Other people are at their desk but spend a huge slice of the time on the web or Instant Messaging or *cough* writing blogs.

 

You have to be in the office.

If you are at home, you will be goofing off.
So what does the above say about the manager if that is their opinion? If you are at home, you would goof off, so therefore your staff will? Of course working from home has other considerations, such as it is only possible if your role allows you to spend some days not physically doing things in the office (pressing reset buttons on boxes? Making tea for the team?) and you are in the office enough to maintain and make proper bridges with your colleagues. I also think working from home is a privilege to earn and not a right, as some people really are incapable of working from home. I had a role a while back where when one chap was “working from home” he was actually doing all sorts of things – but his smartphone was set up to fake an online presence. He was incapable of working from home.

But in IT there really is not a need for many of us to spend all that time and unpleasantness commuting and some tasks really are done more efficiently if people can’t keep coming up to your desk and demanding their personal priorities really are your priorities too (which usually equates to they are in it up to their necks and you can dig them out).

 

Enforce a Clean Desk policy.

Now, there are things that should not ever be left on your desk. Financial information, personal information (like people’s CVs or annual reviews), management information (salary reviews, plans to axe 22% of the workforce, stuff like that) but I have no time at all for the argument that a clean desk looks more professional. It does not look more professional, that is just weaselly, lying balls. It looks more like someone has implemented a draconian clean desk policy and any sign of the desk occupants being human is of no consideration.

If you walk into an office with 300 utterly clean desks, it looks like a soul-less, bitter and degrading place to work slave.

You walk into an office and you see pictures of offspring & partners, little toys (not my thing but some people like to have the gonk their boy/girlfriend gave them) and that’s just fine.

Yeah, if Malcolm has a pile of 237 Diet Coke cans in a pyramid on his desk that is not so hot, but as a manager it is your job to go tell Malcolm to recycle those damn cans. And for those of us who work in Clean Desk environments, we all know we spend a few minutes each morning pulling stuff out of our pedestals and a few minutes each evening chucking it all back in there. Great use of time, oh management clean desk police. So the Management Easy Option is to make everyone remove all signs of humanity and *also* waste time moving all useful things off your desk each evening and drag them out each morning, rather than occasionally check what people leave on their desk and, when Cherry has left details of the latest dodgy plan to hide details from the FDA on her desk, give her a seriously hard talking to.

In one job I did not have desk pedestal, I had a locker – “Over There” at the other side of the office where my first allotted desk was. It took two or three trips each morning and end of the day to sort out my stuff and keep my desk “clean”. At least I docked it off the 8 hour day…

 

So having moaned about a few of these Easy Management Options that, in my opinion, are detrimental – how do you ensure Dave is Productive? Now, this is a complex and challenging idea and I am not sure some managers will understand it. But, the way you can tell if Dave is productive is that…

He Does His Job.

He completes the tasks assigned to him in the time frame that is reasonable or informs you of the reasons why the tasks are taking longer. If Dave’s role includes scooping up issues and solving them autonomously, you know Dave is doing his job as the end users are not screaming at you. In fact, if as a manger you are barely aware of Dave existing, either he is doing his job exceedingly well or you employed him to do a non-existent job (so more fool you). The bottom line is that, as Dave’s manager, your job is to to aid Dave do his job, overcome obstacle and track that his tasks are done.. ie be a proper manager, not rule by Easy Management Options.

Bottom line, to get back to my first paragraph or two, it matters not one jot how fast Dave types. If (s)he is in the office for the meetings and any core hours needed, fine. So long as a member of staff is not doing things that negatively impact their ability to do their job or those around them to do theirs, there are few blanket rules that help. All those Easy Management Options simply exist to cover the backsides of poor managers and satisfy the desire for control that comes from HR and upper management. Neither of which *Ever* abide by the rules they lay down on others.

Break free! Type slowly! Put a picture of Debbie Harry on your desk. Work from home and Go Crazy spending an hour in the afternoon combing the dog. Just make sure you do your job. In my book, that makes you worth your pay. Is it really so hard to manage people in that way?!?

(*) I have yet to meet a lady called Dave, but Dave is simply my generic name for someone working in IT. No real Dave is implied. But both sexes are.

Friday Philosophy – Is Dave Working? October 17, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,
19 comments

Is Dave across the desk from you working at the moment? Or is he goofing off? You can’t see his screen but I reckon you can make a fair stab at what he is up to, without recourse to any sort of IT monitoring systems at all. How?

How fast is Dave typing?

If Dave is typing fast, he is almost certainly not working. He’s goofing. There are very few things you can do when you work in IT where you type fast – and especially not type fast for more than a few seconds. If Dave is typing fast he is almost certainly emailing a mate or instant-messaging Sandra in the development team. If Dave is typing fast, pausing for a few seconds and then typing fast again, he is *certainly* conversing electronically with a friend. This will be 100% corroborated if he smiles, sniggers, smirks, laughs or just glances around furtively.

Longer periods of typing (say a minute or two) and then pausing for a similar time then Dave is probably working, say documenting something or writing a work-related email {or,perhaps a blog post – *cough*} . The clinchers here that indicate work is being done are (a) he will not be smiling or showing any signs of happiness and (b) there will be bursts of “tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch” where the delete key is being pounded to remove an offending line or block of text. {People in IT always seem to delete text by repeatedly hitting the delete key. Higher forms of life, like secretarial staff, are more likely to select the text and hit the delete key once. Or, even, the first character of what they are going to type next. Why do those of us in IT just pound the delete key?!?}.

I hope the people around me have not noticed I am less miserable than usual, else they will know I have stopped documenting and I am now blogging…

Fast key tapping but in an oddly “monotone” way (the same key or keys over and over again) and a fixed stare and maybe the odd bit of bobbing the head or ducking – Dave is playing a game. Naughty Dave. Huge amounts of mouse woggling will also be evidence of game playing. That or doing graphical database design – but who does any design work these days….?

Any periods of fast typing for more than seven seconds are a sure indicator that no coding is being done. The seven second ceiling is a scientific fact, derived from 25 years of coding and goofing off :-). I have only ever known one person who can write code fast without pauses and he was a very odd chap indeed. A very, very good programmer though.

So, if Dave is staring fixedly at the screen, typing for a few seconds (probably slowly), pausing for a minute and frowning/muttering/swearing, he’s coding. Probably. He could be Googling for a new blue-ray play or something – googling for stuff you want to buy and coding seem to have the same sort of typing pattern and even the same air of general annoyance and confusion, with the very occasional “whoop” of success.

I think you can make a pretty accurate guess about whether someone is working or goofing, and even what type of working or goofing they are doing, purely from the sound of the keys and the facial expression.

I love the “techie” bits in films where the designated nerd sits down at the keyboard and goes “tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap” at high speed and windows of data pop up and scroll up the screen at 30 lines a second or images flash by quicker than you can follow. They never delete anything they type, no typoes occur, they never have to check the correct flag or format for a command. And they never. Ever. Ever. Use the space key.Those thumbs never clatter the big bar, the fingers just bounce up and down on the main keys as though they were playing a rather odd piano.

You check next time the techie nerd bit on a film comes up. (S)he will not use the space key at all. Even if spaces appear on the text on the screen :-)

So, any fast typing and any sign of happiness and Dave is probably goofing. Both together and he certainly is. And if you never hear the space bar rattle, Dave is in a film.

Friday Philosophy – Why is my Manager a Moron? June 20, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour.
Tags: , ,
3 comments

We’ve all been there. We are trying to do our job, get the work done, fix people’s problems and make the systems we work on better. But our manager is a Moron. How can we do what needs to be done with that idiot in charge? How did they get to be the manager?

Why is my manager a Moron?

The simple answer is that he/she probably is not a moron at all. But you have to blame someone for things not being the way they are:

  • You could lay some of the blame with your co-workers (especially Richard, Richard’s are almost always pretty useless :-) ) but you are all in this together, right?
  • The clients/customers are idiots of course, we all know that, but those problems are usually more to do with identifying what needs doing (and the clients should be handled by that idiot in charge).
  • You could blame the people below you but you might not be in a position to do that (see later).
  • You certainly can’t blame yourself can you?
  • So that leaves the moron manager.

There are of course managers who are poor managers, and even some who really are not that clever and should never have been put in charge. They get there due to a number of reasons such as being in an organisation where you get promoted just for having been around for a certain length of time or because they play golf with the right people or have had carnal relationships with their superiors…. But many people become managers because they were simply the best out of a limited choice or they simply did not run away quickly enough.

And of course, there are good managers.

On thing I have become aware of over the years is that the loudest and most persistent critics of managers tend to be those who have never managed anyone or anything themselves. I came across one chaps a few years back who was constantly complaining about his manager, his manager’s manager, his previous manager. They were all stupid, they all had no idea about the job, all of them were lazy. I asked him how many managers he’s had “Dozens! And they were ALL Idiots! All of them!”. Guess what. He had never been a manager of anyone or anything. And was unlikely to ever be a manager as all the current managers (a) disliked the complaining little sod and (b) knew he would be a nightmare manager, let alone a moron one.

Now that I’m old and bitter, I tend to be a lot less critical of managers, especially if they are at a level or below where I’ve managed at any point (I’ve managed teams, projects, managers of teams and, for a little while, a chain of 3 levels down – so senior middle manager I guess). The reason for my leniency is I have some understanding of what being a middle manager does to you.

  • You get told stuff that is not to be passed on and decisions are made for reasons not to be divulged. Which only makes you wonder what stuff and reasons are being kept from you by the management layer above you…
  • You are told to lie to your staff about things. Which only makes you wonder which of the things *you* are being told are lies.
  • You have to make decisions about limited resources and opportunities – I can only give one person a promotion so do I promote the best person or the one who will complain the loudest if passed over? I wonder if I should shout louder to my manager about my salary?
  • About the only time your minions come and see you it is to complain, tell you stuff is wrong, let you know that they want time off at short notice for {spurious reason that is actually they have a new girlfriend and a terribly strong need to spend a week with them in a tent in the Lake District}.
  • You can see ways you could improve things but it is blocked by your manager, who is a Moron.

The bottom line is your manager is probably acting like a Moron – as they are too stressed out by being a middle manager to function properly any more and are constantly being sniped at by you, telling everyone (s)he is a Moron.

Yep, it really is your fault.

So stop complaining, do your job, give them some slack, stop slagging them off and take your manager to the pub for a pint, they need it. And if they are still a moron in the pub then, sorry, you’ve got one of the real Morons.

Friday Philosophy – Network to Work or Work to Network? December 20, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Private Life.
Tags: , , , ,
11 comments

A couple of months ago my friend Big Dave Roberts blogged about the benefits of networking – as in social/business networking as opposed to using hairy string to connect bits of IT kit together – after we had met for a drink in Birmingham.

His point was that, though he had made a positive effort to network more to help his career (along with several other steps) networking had not in fact, as far as he could tell, helped his career. But he still did it because of the other benefits – meeting diverse people with different experiences and ideas and enjoying it.

By the way, I really do dislike the use of the word “Networking” in the social/business context as it smacks of PR/Sales type people just developing more contacts in order to make more money out of them, somewhat akin to milking cows. IE, in a totally self-centered manner where they really don’t give a hoot about the people they are fawning to. This is what business networking is anyway, isn’t it? I mean, do people really play golf for enjoyment?!? Or just to schmooze and get the contract or a promotion? :-) {Apologies to Carol and Rob, I know you really do enjoy golf. Oh and Neil. I think I just lost some friends…}.

I also made a decision way back in about 2002 to meet more people and build better links in the community. I was having to design some very large databases and there was not a lot of information out there about doing so as most people building VLDBS would not or could not talk about them officially. Then when I went self-employed again in 2007 I once more made a conscious effort to promote myself and network more, in order to help me get more work (in exactly the way I don’t like PR/Sales people doing it!).

I can’t say it helped me much either time. For one thing, despite the presenting and blogging and London Oracle Beers, I’m rather poor in the social skills area. I can come across as a bit of an idiot to my friends, who only let me off as they are friends. I actually find it a little hard to keep a conversation going with someone I do not already know, I can end up either being silent or I just come out with a random and never-ending stream of rubbish. For another, I just can’t fake sincerity. I could never be an actor. If I am not enjoying talking to someone I think it is obvious to them and I fall flat on my face. I can’t make myself laugh at someone’s anecdotes if, to me, they just are not entertaining. And I certainly can’t pretend to like someone who just isn’t someone I get on with. I can manage to be civil to them and work with them but I just can’t make myself spend any social time with them if I don’t have to. I’ll just invent dead Grandmother’s funerals to escape – see, I can’t even come up with convincing reasons to avoid networking with people who I don’t mesh with.

So I stopped networking. I just couldn’t do it.

I am now in the situation where I am aiming to only do only consultancy work and recruitment consultants are useless at getting you short-term consultancy work. Well, most of them are just useless at being human beings, but not many companies go to them to fill short-term needs and the agencies would make less money than they would spend filling the position. So if this is going to pan out for me, I need to get my work from my contacts, my network. Hell, I surely need to start Networking like some sort of crazed PR madman!

Well, I am not. I know it is just not in my nature and I am poor at it.

Something odd struck me about 4 years ago. I realised that half my work was coming about via friends. And when I was getting work via agencies, it seemed that either a friend had mentioned my name to the agent or the person interviewing me knew a friend of mine. Not someone I had networked with, but a proper friend, someone I would go out of my way to share a beer with or a coffee.

What I am going to do is what Big Dave and I have both ended up doing. I am just going to socialise more, for the primary reason of just wanting to socialise. A big part of the presenting and going to conferences is, for me, simply about meeting friends and having some fun. The London Beers is totally about that. I’ve discovered that despite me having no memory for names, an ability to insult people without trying and at times a total lack of comprehension of what is going on in other peoples’ heads, I actually enjoy meeting people. Well, most people. And Dave? I think having more friends does indeed lead to more work, but it takes a long time to pay dividends. Longer than most people (well, I) can fake it for via Networking, and the other benefits are more significant and immediate than the financial ones.

In fact, when my wife and I were talking about my “retiring” and she was asking me what I wanted to do over the next few years, one of them was to keep going to conferences and presenting. But that costs money. “So how are you going to pay for that Martin?” she asked – ” I’m not going back to work to pay for you to swan off to conferences and drink and discuss bloody block buffer latch chains and enjoy yourself!”. Well, I am still going to try and do this mythical consultancy work. Our agreement is that I can go to conferences if I earn enough to pay for it.

So, I am not networking to work. I am working to network.

And in fact the title of this blog is a lie. I am working to socialise. In my experience, for me, Networking fails. I hate Networking. I can’t Network. I can just about manage having some friends. Like Big Dave, Networking has not really got me any work, but being more sociable has allowed me to meet some very nice and/or interesting people and has led to *some* work.

So get out there and socialise more, it’s great. Just don’t Network and don’t play bloody golf.

Time for Bed, said Zebedee November 15, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life, Uncategorized.
Tags: , ,
6 comments

Zebedee has just boinged onto my TV screen on his big-spring lower body and told us all that it is “time for bed”. I concur Zebedee. Good night everyone!

zebedee

For those of you who are not of UK origin and of “a certain age”, Zebedee was a character on the BBC Children’s TV Program The Magic Roundabout. At the end of the program (5 minutes of oddly surreal kids entertainment) more often than not Zebedee would arrive (if not already present as part of the narrative arc) and announce “Time for Bed” and that would be the end of the program. I won’t go into the rest of the details but for those of us who grew up with it, Dougal, Florence, Brian, Zebedee and Ermintrude the cow were large in our childhood. Dylan though was odd… {for anyone wanting a nostalgia trip, try this episode}

Well, for me it is “Time for Bed” children. I started working in IT almost exactly 24 years ago on the 13th November 1989, arriving wearing my new (cheap) suit with (shiny) briefcase clutched in my hand at a (tatty) office block in Bristol owned by the NHS. It housed their regional computer department for the South West of England.
And on the 15th November 2013, I will exit a much plusher office, no suit on, no briefcase, and I will go home and, for many complex reasons, I will “retire”. This does not mean I will stop working in IT and it *may* result in me being a more regular blogger and more of a teacher than I have been for 2 years, but let’s just see, Boys and Girls.

What it does mean is I am stopping doing the 2 hour commute into and out of London every day, wasting my life. It means I am not signing up for 6 months on a single project on the basis of a couple of 30 minute interviews. I am also not signing up for 4 weeks and then finding it becomes six months – as when that happens it is *always* 6 months of misery trying to undo the work of a dedicated hoard of hopeful but under-skilled youngsters being forced to do a job they lack the training for by people who should not be allowed anywhere near management positions (as they see “management” as a way to gauge their importance, polish their egos and garner more cash – rather than as a role that should encompass “nurturing, developing, admonishing and making the most of your team(s)”.). It means I won’t have to play by corporate rules any more, which is good as I am finding it harder and harder and harder to do that without coming home and being really quite mean to my cat, and she does not deserve that as she is friendly and quite forgiving really. Neither does my wife deserve it, but if I am mean to her, she punches me.

What I do hope will happen is that, after a couple of months to get a few things sorted, I will continue to get the odd call I seem to get about once a month where someone would like me to just help out with a specific problem. Occasionally I have been able to say “yes” and it has been interesting and enjoyable, but usually I have been in the middle of one of the situations that resulted in my rant above and have had to say no. If I do get the calls, it will be great. I would like to earn enough so I can still do the conferences and present and meet people and talk about interesting problems and drink beer. If not, I have a lot of other things I want to have a crack at.

So I am not sure what awaits me now. But I am “retired”. I have calculated that from now to my demise I can afford to buy a tin of beans every day until I die. Plus some bread, so beans on toast is possible. That is enough. I did not retire 9 months ago (as was my original plan) so, as a result, now I can afford once a week to buy a very cheap bottle of wine. Something better than Blue Nun. If I get more work, I could step up to beans and cheese on toast. Hmmmm!

A loss from the UK User Community – Graham Gilbert July 17, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions, Private Life, UKOUG.
Tags: , , ,
4 comments

Last week, as part of organising the AIM and Database Server joint UKOUG SIG tomorrow {which I should have blogged about but just never got around to}, I was made aware of the fact that a man called Graham Gilbert died back in April.

Anyone who has anything to do with the RDBMS parts of the UK Oracle User Group probably knows Graham as he ran the RDBMS SIG for years and years and years. For the rest of you, you missed out as Graham was a Jewel. I can’t say he was a close friend, after all I was not aware he had died, but I was saddened by it – and that is unusual as I am particularly sanguine (callous?) when if comes to death. {For example, on hearing about the death of my own father, who I did actually like and get on with, my immediate and on-going response was “damn, that’s inconvenient”}.

I was saddened as Graham was one of those rare beasts – a person who helped, encouraged and supported people. Everyone who met him seems to have liked him. {If you DID meet him and not like him – I don’t want to talk to you, OK?!} In fact, when I got the first hint of Graham having died, I got in touch with some mutual friends and asked if they had heard anything. The response was a consistent “No – but let me know as Graham … (various citations about how he had encouraged, helped or been kind to them)” followed.

You can see this if you look at {and I really hope this works} this section in the UKOUG 50th Anniversary edition. I could not put better what Patrick Hurley said about Graham gently encouraging people to be part of the community.

As I have said, I did not know Graham well, but I did share a few pints with him after RDBMS SIGs on a couple of occasions. On one such occasion we were discussing the fact that he had run the RDBMS SIG for so long – I was thinking of stepping down from the SIG I was running but no one was showing signs of stepping up if I did. Graham gave a gentle sigh and observed that “many people would like to help – but the day job or the effort or a lack of confidence gets in the way. You just have to encourage them.” So why had he been the RDBMS SIG chair for so long? “Well, I would rather not, but it just seems to fall to me. It needs doing and it is not really a burden, I just don’t want to be seen as making it my empire. I can ask people to present but not take on the whole thing!”. My quotes will be inaccurate but that was the gist of it. He encouraged people to advance themselves or take part but seemed reluctant to burden anyone. I wonder now if he ended up running it for so long as he was just so damned good at it and we wanted to keep him? I bought him a pint (I nearly had to argue with him on that one) as he was being so nice to me and encouraged me to keep doing my SIG so long as punters turned up.

Graham, for me, epitomises the User Group mentality. We help one another and we do it as we want to, well, help each other. I’ve met a fair few ….arseholes… who do user group stuff for the CV or to get recognition or some other personal gain. You can quickly spot them as they want the label but do very little for it, or do loads for 6 months and then drop out the picture when they realise it is not giving them that immediate reward they wanted. I don’t like those people, it’s like people who do stuff for charity and then thrust it down your throat. They did it for themselves, not the recipient. Thankfully I know many people who do the user group stuff because they “just want to help” and many of them never present (as presenting is not their thing) or blog or crow. They just help. I must try and be more appreciative of them.

Well, Graham did his bit quietly and consistently for years and years, because he wanted to help. He helped a lot of us. A round of drinks will be bought tomorrow after the SIG in his honour. It’s the least we can do – and I mean the least.

Why Present (UKOUG TEBS 2012) November 27, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Presenting.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

The annual UK Oracle User Group Technical and E-Business Suite conference is fast approaching and rather than just say “hey everyone, I’m going to present at a conference” I thought I would say why I present at conferences (and SIGs (and any opportunity I get) ).

The UKOUG TEBS conference is the one that is, in my eyes, the UKOUG conference. It covers E-business suite and the core database stuff – DBA-type things and developer-type things. The things I am interested in. You can see the details and agenda via this link. If you would like to see someone else’s view of this year’s conference, from a delegate’s perspective, check out this post by my friend Big Dave Roberts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ve personally got more out of the UKOUG TEBS conference than when I have been lucky enough to go to Oracle Open World. For me, I want to see user stories and opinions as well as the Oracle company line – and user groups give far more of that. UKOUG is the biggest and most encompassing of the European conferences, but check out and attend your local user groups if you are not based in the UK (or are in Scotland) – I’ve been to a couple now and all have been good.
{Oh, I should add, I am not presenting at the main TEBS conference, for the first time that I’ve made it there in…10 years! I’m presenting on the OakTable Sunday. I get to fully enjoy the whole 3 days of TEBS this year, as a normal punter!}

So why do I present?

First up, I am lucky that presenting does not scare me. Oh, I get nervous before I start and I worry about my material and doing a decent job of it, but I never feel sick or faint before starting(*). I’ve got some good friends who know as much or more about database technology than I and, in a social situation, they will let fourth with eloquence and passion about some topic. Usually in a pub. But the idea of formally presenting fills them with the heebie-jeebies if not the screaming abdabs. Or, when they get up to talk, they morph from erudite and eloquent {ie they speak clearly, concisely and interestingly) into stuttering, uncomfortable rabbits caught in the lights. And they quickly drop back from it. It’s a real shame as they have a lot to say. Actually, it is a blessing as it leaves space open for me :-)

Secondly, I want to be noticed. There, I’ve said it. I’m pretty sure that 75%+ of the regular speakers at conference want to be noticed and that is a factor in why we do it. Oh, of course, we can wrap it up as “marketing your skills” or “maintaining a presences” but that’s fluff. We want you to see us talk and we want you to like what you see. Well, not the physical aspect of it, that would be weird, but we want you to either think we know what we are talking about or enjoy listening to us prattle on. We want to be appreciated. That’s not so noble, huh? But true.

As a sub-topic to “I want to be noticed” let’s deal with getting work. For me personally, speaking has never got me a job. Asking around friends and contacts most people are the same in that Presenting does not get most of us any work. Maybe it’s a factor when I get interviewed but no one has once come up to me after a talk and said “can you come to our site and be paid a vast sum of money to solve this problem”. I’d love you to be the first, though…

Third, and this may seem noble – or corny or self-worthy – but I talk because I want to teach. I want you to have in your head the knowledge I have in mine, preferably with less pain and anguish than it took me to get it in mine. I love teaching people stuff. It is a common trait to the OakTable network. We teach and we demonstrate why we think what we think. Usually. I can’t decide if I prefer making something that is broken work or teaching people more. Those two are why I do what I do. Frankly I gave up on making a “significant difference” years ago, I’ll stick to making lots of insignificant differences.

Fourth, I get to meet people. It’s taken a while as, except in small groups, I am not great at being sociable. That might seem odd given I said I like to be noticed, but I don’t like to be noticed as a fool and for reasons I will side-step, I’m not too great at judging how I am coming across. Plus I cannot remember names or faces, which is tricky sometimes. Actually, a lot of actors are not “social people”, for some they act because they can’t “do” people. Anyway, presenting has opened doors to me by meeting other presenters who know their stuff, non-presenters who know their stuff and, generally, people. Most of whom have been nice.

Fifth, and this is quite rare. I get asked. If you ask me to present the chances are I will say “ohh, yes please!!!!” We are back to my second point about being noticed, aren’t we? Caveat. If you ask me to present and you live thousands of miles from the UK, as I have no employer to fund my demands for limousines and four-star hotels, I might have to say no. Unless you buy me a LOT of beer.

That is why I present. You probably now expect me to say something to encourage you to present but, mehh, if you want to, just do it. If you don’t, don’t do it. It’s not for everyone. Except you over there. Yes, you know who you are. You need to present more. :-)

(*) I confess, when I do a talk that is aiming to be funny, I get very nervous. When I do my “disasters” talk I can get very nervous as the whole idea is that people will be amused. If I get the feel of the talk wrong I can look preachy or obnoxious or bitter or daft or all four and more. But it is still the talk I most enjoy giving.

Friday Philosophy – The Importance of Context November 23, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

A couple of weeks ago I was making my way through the office. As I came towards the end of the large, open-plan room I became aware that there was someone following behind me so, on passing through the door I held it briefly for the person behind me {there was no where else they could be going}, turned left and through the next door – and again held it and this time looked behind me to see if the person was still going the same way as I. The lady behind gave me the strangest look.

The strange look was reasonable – the door I’d just held for her was the one into the gentleman’s bathroom. *sigh*

I was doing the correct thing, I was attempting to be helpful to a fellow person, I was in fact being very polite. But because I had utterly failed to consider the context, there is now a lady who works on the same floor as I who considers me, at best, as strange. At worst she thinks I am very strange – and more than a little creepy. I fear the latter given her reaction when she saw me in the kitchen area recently and turned around. {By the way, if anyone can think of a good way I can clear this up I’d appreciate it. After all, I can’t exactly go up to her and say “sorry about holding the door to the gents for you the other day, I did not realise you were a woman”}.

My point is that you can do what you believe is the right thing but, because you are not thinking of the context or are unaware of the full situation, you end up giving utterly the wrong impression. I had a work situation like this a while back.

Without going into too much detail, I was working with a client on a data warehouse project. The Oracle database bulk-processed large quantities of data, did classic big-data queries and was sitting on some fairly expensive hardware with dedicated storage and the intention of implementing Dataguard. One of the issues they had was with a subsidiary part of the system that created a very large number of small transactions, lots of updates. High volume OLTP on a DW setup. It was hammering the storage and eating up all the available IO. The data for this subsidiary system was transient, no need to protect it.
I realised that the hardware was not correct for this subsidiary system and it needed no archived redo. Archiving redo is an all or nothing situation for an Oracle instance. So happy that I had worked out what to do I proposed {with a smile} moving the subsidiary system to it’s own database on it’s own hardware.
When I said this to the client, their response was a stony look and the comment “We’ve just spent a fortune on this platform……”. Having dug my hole I proceeded to jump right in there “It’s OK, what I am proposing is only about 5, 7 thousand pounds of kit – nothing compared to what you spent already!”. The client now got very, very annoyed indeed.

You see, the context is that they had been sold a system that was very expensive – it was to do a demanding job. They had been getting poor performance with the system and that is partly why I was there. They also did not really understand the technical nuances well (at least, not the chaps I was talking to) and they did not appreciate why I said what I did. From their perspective, this smiling loon was suggesting that a system costing 2-3% of what they had spent on their data warehouse platform was going to be able to do the processing that the expensive system could not. Either they had spent waaay too much, this new “expert” was an idiot or else I was lying to them. And they did not like any of those options.

Looking back it is clear I should have been more aware of how they would receive what I said. I’ve done this before {several times}, bounded into a situation like a wide-eyed puppy and gone “Look! We can just do that!” without considering things like upsetting the guy who had suggested the original solution, or making the on-site expert look stupid or blowing away a salesman’s pitch. Or that I have missed a glaring and valid reason why they can’t “just do that”.

I suspect that a few people would say “no, you just tell them the way it is and if they don’t like it or you upset someone then tough”. Well, maybe, but not if you want to be there to help fix the next problem. Also, I know I am not great at appreciating the context sometimes. That is part of why I will never run a company or be a senior manager, I lack the skills to judge the impact of what I propose or say sometimes, in my rush to be helpful. I am slowly learning to just hold back on ideas though and to run things past friends or colleagues with more “whole picture” skills first though. I might be rubbish at it but I can learn I am rubbish at it.

In the case of the situation above, the expensive system was correct for what they wanted to do – and maybe not quite expensive enough. I was suggesting a slightly unusual fix for a specific problem and I should have been more laboured in explaining the problem and more circumspect in leading them to the solution. I should have taken more time.

I should have checked who was following me and where I was going before I held the door open.

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