Don’t Be This Guy

I have a sad story to tell you.  Sit down and grab a tissue.

It was 10pm on a cool night in September 2005.  Somewhere in Grapevine, Texas, a junior SQL Server professional was sitting alone in a hotel room watching TV.  He was tired but not exhausted, having spent all day learning his trade at the Super Bowl of SQL Server conventions, the annual PASS Summit.  Although he had met a few people, he didn’t really get to know them or try to meet up with anyone the normal conference hours.  He attended a couple of parties, but left early and didn’t get beyond chit-chat with others.

Across town, much fun was being had.  Stories were told, laughs were shared, and personalities bonded.  People went out on a limb and introduced themselves to others they’d never met.  Some people would literally change the trajectories of their careers through the relationships that were built at this conference.  Sadly, the guy in the hotel across town is missing out on all of this.

As the conference wore on, he saw all those people chatting between sessions and at dinner, laughing and getting to know each other, and secretly he wished to be connected to some other professionals.  You see, since he was the only SQL Server professional at his place of employment, he didn’t have a lot of opportunities to talk shop in person with others.  He longed for what they had, but couldn’t find the initiative to start up meaningful conversations with others.

lonely-man As the conference wrapped up at the end of the week, he was appreciative of the technical knowledge he’d be taking home, but couldn’t stop dwelling on the fact that he’d done little networking at this event.  It was almost as if he’d missed out on half of the conference.

The man goes back to his job and reads the blogs of those who also attended the summit.  He begins to think, “I’m no different than those people, I just need to be more assertive.”  He realizes that networking is as big a part of career success as is technical knowledge, and that it’s easier than he’s made it out to be in his mind.  He vows then never to again sit on the sidelines; he promises to himself that he will take full advantage of these functions by getting involved in related events outside the scope of the conference.

The story does have a happy ending.  “That guy” was me, and I did indeed waste a huge networking opportunity four short years ago.  With that lesson in mind, I swore off being the wallflower and now take the initiative to be more assertive at each technical event I attend.  Though I don’t set specific numeric goals, I make it a primary mission to get connected with people, to learn what they do and to share a little about what I do.  I’ve come to learn that getting to know fellow SQL Server professionals at technical conferences is at least as important – and quite possibly even more so – as the technical content.  I can tell you firsthand that the relationships I’ve built since then have led to many opportunities in my career I wouldn’t have otherwise found, and I’ve built some friendships along the way as well.

So the takeaway is, don’t be me – at least the Me In 2005.  Don’t be lonely hotel room guy: use your hotel room for one thing – sleep – and spend the time with others getting to know them.  At next week’s PASS Summit, there are official events scheduled for every night of the conference, along with numerous unofficial events.  There are vendor breakfast presentations, lunchtime meet-and-greets, and various other opportunities to press flesh and get to know your fellow SQL Server professionals.  One of the people you meet could be your next boss, employee, business partner, client, or even a good friend.

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12 Responses to Don’t Be This Guy

  1. DavidStein says:

    Great post Tim. I am so wretchedly envious as I cannot go. Hopefully next year will be my first.

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  3. Brent Ozar says:

    I was that guy in Denver at the PASS Summit 2007. I even TRIED meeting people, but because I was just trying to meet random people in meeting rooms and lunchrooms, it didn’t work well. Geeks can be so antisocial if you cold call ‘em, so to speak. It’s much easier when you meet ‘em in Twitter first.

  4. Steve LaRochelle says:

    Great piece. You should re-post it before any significant conference. Hopefully I’ll get to apply it in 2010.

  5. Keith Ramsey says:

    Tim, Man, I went to high school with you. You of all people were not the antisocial wall flower. But I know where you are going to with this. I’ve been to these "summits" or conventions and I have one coming up next week here in Dallas. Not a bad write up. Remember they all put their pants on the same way you do.. one leg at a time. I’ve ran into some of the same issues. We techno junkies get into our own little area and we try to get to know everything.

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  7. I was that guy in Denver. And I even went with another DBA I knew! I guess we were both that guy. Now I have a bunch of friends I really look forward to seeing every year.

  8. Lee says:

    Tim: Great post. You are doing a super job in the community and are noticeably active both in the areas of contribution and involvement. I’ve been that guy for ten+ years; getting to know you I have realized that I am missing out on all of the fun. I look forward to working with you in the future. Lee Everest

  9. Tim Mitchell says:

    Thanks to all for the comments! If there’s one thing I’ve learned since my 2005 revelation, it’s that it does get easier to meet new people and enjoy networking – the first few steps are the hardest. As time goes on you increase the size of your circle so that more people know you, and you’ll have more introductions through those new acquaintances and fewer cold-call encounters. It’s exciting when the ripples grow large!

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  11. Tim Mitchell says:

    Networking, Newbies, and SQLPASS Networking, Newbies, and SQLPASS

  12. Pingback: Networking at the PASS Summit | Voice of the DBA

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