The Curious Case of… community

(The Curious Case of… used to be part of our bi-weekly newsletter but we decided to make it a regular blog post instead so it can sometimes be more frequent. It covers something interesting one of us encountered when working with a client, doing some testing, or were asked in a random question from the community.)

(This one’s from both Kimberly and I…)

I think SQL Family is one of the best tech communities out there. It’s inclusive, it’s diverse, it’s tolerant, it’s vibrant, it spans the globe. It’s open to anyone. And you’re part of it if you choose to be.

But is it as welcoming as we like to think? Not to everyone.

With Kimberly’s PASS Community Keynote Survey (some of you completed this from the last newsletter), her subsequent keynote at PASS, and now – additional emails and DMs we’ve both received, we have heard from a few that do not feel as warm and welcomed to our SQL community. I received an interesting email from someone after PASS saying that he felt he was on the outside of SQL Family looking in, and after posting some thoughts on Twitter yesterday evening, I heard from others with similar sentiments.

I suspect there’s a feeling among some people that SQL Family is kind of a cool kids club; a bit of a clique made up of well-known people like us and others and that there’s a high bar to enter and be recognized. I can imagine how that feeling happens. A lot of us well-known speakers know each other well, so we tend to hang out with each other at events and conferences. But we’re only well-known because we teach, speak, blog, tweet a lot. Big deal. We’re just normal people like everyone else, we just happen to be a bit well-known in our tech community. We all put our pants on the same way. We all started with zero knowledge of SQL Server.

But I understand that it can be intimidating walking up to someone well-known to just say hi, or thanks, or ask a question. Especially if there’s a group of us standing or sitting together. And a lot of people in IT are shy, or introverted, or uncomfortable in social situations. I’m a *colossal* introvert, I’m just good at playing an extrovert for a while. Week-long conferences like PASS leave me physically drained.

There’s no entry requirement to being part of SQL Family. If you want to be part of it, you’re part of it. If you feel like that’s not the case, participate. Engage on Twitter. Post a question on #sqlhelp. Write a blog post and publicize it using #sqlserver. Write a comment on someone’s blog post. Go to a user group meeting; more importantly, go regularly! Heck, send me a tweet or an email – I’ll reply. Next time you’re at an event prepare a few ice-breaking questions that you can ask to someone well-known or just say something simple like ‘I just want to say thanks for X’.

It really pains me when I hear that someone was too scared to come up and say hi. I’m very approachable, as are all the other speakers I know, and I make a point to never ignore someone and I always chat to random people at whatever lunch table I sit at. I know others do the same.

Having said that, some of the survey comments are hard to directly address. But, we suspect it’s similar. Possibly introverts that don’t have the desire to interrupt or join a conversation but really want to participate. Here are a few of the comments from the survey along with some direct responses from both of us:

  • Events are great for the extroverts in the community, but there is still introvert shaming out there.
    • Kimberly: I think there are actually quite a few of us out there. I’m pretty social for short amounts of time but I have a hard time looking people in the eye when I speak to them. And, I really prefer SMALLER events. I have a terrible time with parties where I don’t know anyone. I don’t know how you were specifically shamed but I hope that was a truly isolated event. Having said that, maybe online participation (twitter / mastodon / forums) might be the better way for you to feel involved but not have to do things that are out of your comfort level?
  • Great community. Love small conferences, PASS is too big, only went once, back in 2003.
    • Kimberly: Lots of smaller events out there – user groups, SQLSaturday, DataSaturdays, DataGrillen. But, even a big event can be comfortable if you can attend with a colleague or get a few folks from the local user group to meet up!
  • I love the SQL community even though I’m hard of hearing and can’t participate like I’d like to.
    • Kimberly: I know it’s not the norm but I can muddle through some ASL (and I’m sure there are others) but, your best bet is probably online for now, until real-time translators can turn voice to text reliably (actually, I’m not up on this… it’s got to be getting closer and closer!)
  • Not many activities in Europe :-(
    • Kimberly: SQLbits, DataGrillen, local user groups? If there isn’t one where you are – can you create one?
  • It’s hard to attend user groups being a full-time worker and a mom.
    • Kimberly: This is true. Does your usergroup allow remote attendance? That might help you participate more but not in-person every month?
  • Be patient with the new kids. We all began at some beginning too.
    • Kimberly: This is a good point and we all need reminding of this one every so often!
  • #SQLFamily is not as active anymore just like 10 years ago. Let’s get back to the groove!
    • Kimberly: Where do you think this is the case?
    • 10-20 years ago there was a great camaraderie among SQL Server DBA’s. We were all learning together, and improving upon our skills. Now it seems the younger folks are just not as willing to share their knowledge, or they think they are the ‘best’ and don’t recognize all the work we old fogies did to get them there. Eh, guess it’s just time for me to retire.
  • I wish some people would stop with the political tantrums at events. I attend events for networking and learning.
    • Kimberly: I’m probably with you on this one. I do wish that we could keep some technical events limited to only that – the TECH. Religious, political, any personal/strong opinions NOT-RELATED to tech should be diverted to a more appropriate venue.
  • The community needs to remember there are those of us who are somewhat new to this profession and have limited understanding of many of the topics surrounding it, yet do understand the basics. There seems to be a gap between great resources for people who are brand new and those who have been doing this for 15 years, but not so much for those of us in between.
    • Kimberly: I always try to start with basics / fundamentals and then go to the level people are interested. I’d love to know more about where [all of] you feel there are gaps!
  • SQL server community is not very open one.
    • Kimberly: I suspect this can be true. I suspect sometimes it might be a group of people too-friendly forgetting that there are others around (guilty!). Or, something worse. For this, I’m sorry and I suggest you try other avenues. I promise, there are easy-to-get-to-know folks in all communities. But, I can’t speak for everyone.
  • Sometimes I feel alienated in the SQL Community.
    • Kimberly: Again, I hope this is an isolated incident but may I also suggest getting to know people online first (twitter / mastodon / facebook). Not everyone friends everyone on Facebook but twitter / mastodon are open platforms where a lot of SQL folks regularly congregate.

SQL Family is just that – a big family with a common interest. Think of it that way. You have that same interest – that’s all there is to it. But, that also doesn’t mean that you’re going to be hanging out all the time. That happens after you get past the awkward intro phase and really get to know people. Having said that, I’m not necessarily sure if that’s what you should be looking for within the community. However, if you want something more social than technical you can suggest going for coffee or beers after a user group. But don’t forget that not everyone will have the time to do that. It’s actually a difficult problem to address if people are looking for more than what some folks are willing to give. Kimberly and I have found that we like to branch out in a few of our interest areas – diving and photography are two where we’ve also met a lot of our “family.” In all seriousness, I think most folks are willing to discuss tech, be friendly, offer advice, comment on blog posts, Twitter, etc. but whether or not it goes further is going to take an extra spark; this just can’t be forced.

By all means let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Be part of the family! And do let us know if there are specific things you’re looking for or expecting, anonymously or not. We’ll likely do a follow-up post after hearing more from you all.


31 thoughts on “The Curious Case of… community

  1. not SQL related, but I once worked at a company that was growing rapidly. the new people would quickly learn to mimic the lingo, but were afraid to ask what certain acronyms and assumptions really meant. what ended up happening that too many people operated from bad assumptions understandings. As expected, bad things happened because people were not working from a good base.
    Do not be afraid to ask. Anyone who tries to belittle you for not knowing is probably hiding that he doesn’t really know either. The person you ask may be busy, but he may be able to point you in the right direction

    1. Absolutely. Everyone starts with zero knowledge of SQL Server, or anything else in life. There’s no such thing as a stupid question. Belittling someone for asking a question is one of the most despicable and contemptuous things someone can do.

  2. I am one of those that back in the day when I was first going to summits felt on the outside looking in. I kept coming to summits, in addition came to user group meetings. I eventually felt at home. You are right we are all introverts. Some are less introvert then others. I eventually broke out of my comfort zone (with encouragement from others) became a user group leader. Also a user group speaker and sql Saturday speaker. I thank you all for addressing this topic and stepping out of your own comfort zones. And if you are old fogeys then I’m ancient. Thank you Paul and Kimberly for everything you both do. I am smarter because of your sessions, pre cons, and volunteering to speak at user groups.

    For other introverts like me. Volunteer to speak at a user group meeting. If you have worked in this field for any time chances are you know something that I don’t. Share it with others. You’ll find the experience invigorating!!!

    1. Thank you for the kind words! I was terrified the first time I spoke in public (TechEd 2006 in Boston). I still get nervous before the first speaking at an event, and I’ve lost count of how much I’ve presented since 2006. At each event, my first tech slide in my precon or class is how the Engine hangs together so I have five minutes of monologue that I don’t even have to think about. That’s my calm-down trick for myself.

  3. I’m one of the people that got in contact with Paul post-pass. Like many of the folks in our field I’m naturally introverted.
    Speaking to new people, especially groups or in this case people with reputation in the field is hard. I’ve done it, and I sweat, I stammer and even sometimes end up feeling light headed from the stress of it. It’s hard.
    I was reading Twitter, following the #SQLFamily hashtag and I’m not really sure why, but I decided I wanted to do something about my association with it, and maybe make it more inviting for others like me. It was one of Paul’s tweets, so I emailed him and we had a conversation.

    I’m glad I did it. I don’t known if next time I’m in a room with folks if it’ll make a difference, but I can tell you it’s made it easier to participate and interact already.

    It took me years of knowing that this group is out there, and watching from the sidelines, and yeah, feeling left out before I did anything about it.

    Please learn from that.

    Take the plung. Reach out to someone. Post that smart ass reply to a thread, or that handy snippet sitting on your clipboard.

    I can’t tell you it’ll work as well as this time, but I can tell you all about what happens if you hold off.

  4. This resonates with me in a lot of ways. I have a followed a lot of folks for a long time silently and really only a couple have I gotten close enough to where my name is remembered the next time I see them. Some I have established good relationships with. There was a period of time when I felt bad about not being in the “cool kids club”, but ultimately I put on my big boy pants to come to a few conclusions that really came back to things I needed to do, not them. If others are honest with themselves, perhaps they may come to some of the same:

    1) The “club” may be perceived as such because they are the ones that have carried a large share of the load and whose contributions have stood the test of time since the inception of SQL Server, and PASS. We are largely still in the same generation of those that started it all so it only makes sense that there would be more close relationships within them.

    As far as inclusivity, I personally have been well received with anyone that I have talked to within the community, with the exception of one person some time back that will remain nameless. If I have asked questions, I have either been answered on the spot or welcomed to reach out to them directly via email. There have been a few times I was astounded that the speaker was actually offering to correspond to me individually via email to make sure I understood what they were saying. Do not be afraid…

    2) You get remembered by doing things that are memorable. I know, speaking for myself, that I have not contributed enough on a large scale (anything I have done has been mostly local/regional). I hope to change that. But I can’t sit here and wonder why people don’t know who I am when I am not letting my voice be heard. There are many that likely have a lot to offer that do not share as much as they could. All of the high visibility folks suggest and urge people that haven’t shared before to do so. It isn’t like the opportunities are not there.

    3) I can’t stand large groups and I am an extreme introvert. Frankly, the only way I can handle them from a social perspective is to imbibe copiously to drown out the noise and focus on a couple conversations that I can listen to. I typically end up not talking. I have struggled with it for a long time. This year at the summit is the first year I forced myself to attend every gathering that was accessible to me. I had a personal policy before I came though: Make ONE quality contact per day, and make a plan for how that contact was going to impact me AFTER the conference. If crowds don’t work for you, then don’t work the crowd. Try to find one person you gel with and learn more about them. Then do it again the next day. Leaving the conference with 3-5 quality contacts is better than saying hello to 30-40 whose names neither of you will remember after closing time that night. This applies at local and regional events too!

    The theme here is simple though. The community is for everyone that also wants to be for the community. There is no “club”, only groups of those that established relationships through continued work and lifelong interactions. These same relationships are waiting in the wings for anyone else that is willing to step up, tear down their personal boundaries and comfort zones, and be known through interaction/contribution.

    1. Wise words Bryan. There’s no club, there’s only community. The long-time speakers just know each other well and sometimes don’t see each often so naturally gravitate towards each other at events. Did you make your goal of quality contacts this year at PASS?

      1. I did. This was one of the best Summits I have had. I have some goals set for the next year as a result and look forward to working toward them.

        1. Excellent – glad to hear it. This was also one of my favorites, both because of how long it had been since in-person and because of how much fun we had together on stage in our precons, sessions, and keynote. Making people laugh with our banter is so great.

  5. Paul and Kim, I am an old timer with sqlfamily. My first introduction w/community was at PASS Summit 2005 (I had attended 2 summits before this but didn’t know anyone,yet). At this summit I met Rushabh Mehta,who was friendly and convinced me to start a user group where I live.I am introvert and wasn’t too sure,but with he was convinced that it would be a good thing to do.I started my user group in 2005 and started attending every summit thereafter.I am a brown-skinned immigrant,so my friends’ circle was small and limited to Rushabh,Kevin Kline,Kathi K,and few random other folks. For years, only these people would say ‘hi’ to me at the summit. It was a prominently white clique otherwise, the post event parties and the board/volunteer groups were almost entirely white who kept to themselves mostly. I didn’t feel like I belonged, they didn’t care if I did. Then came IE 1.I found you both to be kind, amiable,well traveled and well educated folks. Paul’s observations on India, which he shared with me were amazing and considerate. I felt at home instantly. I also met some really nice people at your event-Kendra,Vicky,Daniel,Randolph and others who were kind and welcoming.There has been no looking back after – but coming to the reasons – we need awareness around racism and other forms of unconscious discrimination. These are not ‘political tantrums’. We need them to avoid people having the same experiences as I did and take years to feel like they belong. Race-based cliques are a reality and sadly still exist. Things are getting better, though – there are more poc in the community and awareness is a lot better today. Thank you both for what you do in this regard too, just by being friendly you’ve helped, a lot more than you know!!

    1. Well thank you for the kind words Mala! I didn’t know about your early experiences with the community, that’s sad to hear. Yes, I’m sure unconscious discrimination is there. If I did have of that in me in my early years, it was completely killed by working at Microsoft. In the dev team I ran there was one white American, one Georgian (the country), three Chinese, four Indians (from different parts of the subcontinent), but only one dev was a woman. Hopefully these issues will continue to improve, especially as the speaker base itself becomes a lot more diverse.

  6. Nice note, Kimberly and Paul! It sure can be intimidating to approach a group of people. Plus, Paul, you’re pretty tall. I, too, am one of those (occasionally) extroverted introverts. At conferences like PASS Summit, I would take things a step further by reaching out to those wearing the “First Timer” ribbon or someone standing alone looking a bit awkward. Then I’d find a group and break into a conversation to introduce them. It’s uncomfortable for me, too, but it’s worth it knowing I’ve helped a few people. Sometimes we have to go the extra mile.

    1. Yes, I think my size can be intimidating too. The only person I saw at PASS this year bigger than me was ChuckH lol! And yes, if I see a First Timer badge on someone I’m talking to or in our group I always make a point of saying ‘First Timer – excellent!’ To try to help them feel valued at the conference.

  7. When I started my career SQL Server 6.5 was new. DB choices were few and mostly expensive proprietary platforms beyond the budget for out of hours study. I feel DBAs coalesced around a small number of trusted sources of truth.
    Today there are so many DB Platforms, all runnable on home equipment and vast information resources openly available. I feel that the market had diversified so much that the community as a focal point has become blurred.
    I feel that Rosetta stone articles should become more popular. For example, joins in SQL, joins using Linux and/or Spark and/or Python etc. Things that were considered part of DBA stuff is now called “Data Engineering”. Yes I still use SQL but I have to mix and match it with loads of other stuff too

  8. I understand this feeling! After all, I work in psychiatry. I was a member of the SQL community speaking at the big events as well as local events. Did a lot of blogging, too. I changed careers and now work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner and nursing school faculty. I speak on topics in psychiatry at conferences. Before speaking, I mingle in the audience introducing myself as the speaker. I ask people what interests them and why they are attending. If you don’t know what to say to a speaker or book author, here’s my professional advice: Start with hello. Just wing it from there.

  9. I first attended PASS Summit in 2002. I went for a number of years just taking in the knowledge that was being passed on. In those days they had lunch tables based on location and I was always surprised when I found somebody else from my city Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In 2008 a local PASS chapter was started, and I joined and have been Communications Director ever since.

    I started to sign up to be a Summit buddy and helped many first timers to understand how Summit worked. I started to understand #SQLFamily more at the Charlotte 2014 Summit. I really got to understand it when myself and my wife, Joan, went on the 2016 Caribbean SQLCruise and made many friends.

    At PASS Summit I will always challenge a first timer what they expected to get out of Summit and thank them for attending (I did it 2 weeks ago too).

    I was thankful when I was challenged to join in the Team Hugo experience as I had met Hugo in Portland and SQLTrain in 2018.

    I am forever grateful for #SQLFamily.

    1. Very cool. Summit Buddies were/are a great idea. There’s so much going on that I imagine it can be daunting for a first timer who doesn’t know anyone else there. The Charlotte Summit was such a blast!

  10. Interesting subject to discuss Paul. It’s hard. When I first started out I read and read. The early .Net summits and Microsoft PDC events were some of the weeks of my life where I spoke the fewest words. A SQL Saturday in Raleigh NC, I made a quiet comment to myself about something the speaker was saying and the guy next to me leaned over and with a few words helped me grok what I was thinking out loud. Turns out he was Ed Wilson of PoSH fame. The next session I found my voice and started asking lots of questions. For those just starting out, my suggestion is to be open and try. You never know where or when a mental break through will occur or who will be the person sitting next to you who might lean over to help.

  11. I was at PASS as a speaker, but had decided in advance to try harder to socialize, being an introvert myself. And it felt intimidating. I’m not great at that sort of thing. I walked past several conversations, not wanting to interrupt, and sometimes I was able turn around and engage.

    I ended up having conversations with a dozen or so well known people in our community. I had some virtual contact in the past with several of them, and none with the others. All of them were positive and encouraging and happy to share some advice.
    I spoke with Brent Ozar for like 20 minutes about consulting, and I had never said a syllable to him before. I was hovering outside the edge of one group, and Kimberly Tripp waved me in like we were old friends. I had moderated a session for Denny Cherry early on, and spoke with him for half an hour on Friday.

    I was also really surprised to hear how many of the well known people in our community said they were also introverts. So, what we, who feel like we are on the outside, may see as clique-ish behavior is probably other introverts doing what I’d expect; tracking toward other people they already know.

    But never once did anyone turn me away.

    I say this not to diminish anyone’s experience, but to say that how we perceive people from the outside may not be accurate.

    1. I’m very glad you had a good experience. It was cool to meet you and a bunch of other prior mentees! (At least I think I remember meeting you, the week was a blur!) Yes, people don’t realize that a lot of us who are known well are also introverts and are making an effort at events. Definitely a two-way street sometimes.

  12. As kind of a shirt-tail relative of the SQL Family I saw some of the isolation people were talking about. I ran some early ask the experts type forums at Microsoft events where speakers were supposed to be available for attendees to ask questions. The experts tended to sit together at one table to talk and it was pretty intimidating for an attendee to break in with a question. I spent my time finding people who looked curious and connecting them with people I pried out of the cool kid’s table. My best memory was a total DB newbe who spent a half hour with Jim Gray learning how to stucture his database. I went to PASS as an attendee a couple times and it was easy to see why some people were intimidated. The long-time speakers would sit in the front of sessions and talk to the presenter before and after the session. I saw people coming to the front after the session who stood around and then gave up because the speaker was busy talking to his friends. Of course there were some speakers who spent a lot of time answering questions and making people feel comfortable enough to ask but not all. I don’t know where I’m going with this except to point out that if the SQL Family is interested in growing the community they need to go out of their way to be welcoming and inclusive.

    1. Hey Roger – it’s been a *long* time since we worked together on the SQL team (Roger was the PM for Service Broker when I worked with him). I hope you’re doing well! Wow that newbie lucked in with Jim (RIP). I think things have improved a lot over the last 15 years, but definitely room for progress on the side of speakers and attendees. Cheers Roger!

  13. I have seen shy people at the events. I’ve been that person too believe it or not.

    To help those new and or shy people, I challenge all the SQL Family members to take time at the social events to find someone standing by themselves and introduce yourself and spend some time with them right there.

    At the opening event on one of the summits, I took some time to do that. I found someone standing against the wall looking at all the attendees. I introduced myself and spoke to him for a bit. I then asked if there was someone he wanted to meet, and there was. So I took the opportunity to introduce them. He was thrilled.

    The second thing I’ve done to help new people, is have everyone stand up before one of my sessions would start and introduce themselves to two people they were sitting near. It made me so happy seeing people network.

    I think PASS should also bring back mentors. I loved mine and I loved being one the following year. It helps provide that small group to those who want to have a small group to get to know.

    The bottom lines, is we need to help break down that invisible barrier. Many of you did it for me 10 years ago and I’m still thankful for it.

  14. Let my start by thanking Kimberly for the DataGrillen shout-out! (i assume, that also implies we will get to see you at our 2024 event? :)

    I think – as you’ve pointed out in parts – one of the challenges, SQLFamily has is to get across, what it really is.

    It’s like a family. Mostly great people but also the occasional creepy uncle that nobody wants to invite for thanksgiving.

    It also means you kind of need to be adopted to become a part of it – which is easier than in most families because you kind of “ask for it”. However, with our field also being traditionally introverts… Many new faces at events miss out on that (because they don’t overcome their fear of self-inviting them to conversations) – and thats why they never return.

    This is where we need to do better. By inviting people, not just including those that actively ask. For example by reaching out to people even before an event that you may have noticed on Twitter and tell them to make sure to say ‘hello’ but there are many other ways of making it easier to show people that we’re all a friendly bunch of people (well, most of us, mostly) and that they are not bothering by introducing themselves but just the opposite.

  15. The community is what its always been – a group of folks with shared interest with an extremely low bar for entry to participate in with an extremely high (and/or completely random) bar to be socially plugged in. Participation is easy – show up, attend events, interact on social media, etc. The social aspect, you’re either a speaker (and thus part of the “in crowd”) or you happen to meet that one random person that tries to include you (which was the story of my Summit 2022).

    I had a super-longwinded post with all sorts of not-so-deep thoughts and personal experiences of being on the receiving end of that social exclusion/isolation, but really it boils down to: life is still just high school. Shared interests draw people into friendships, certain interests are deemed “cooler” than others, and social stratification kicks in (both real and perceived). Piercing well established social circles is extremely difficult, especially when there’s a perception that one needs a certain level of “what they do” to break through. The message (anyone can be involved) and the experience (major social inclusion barriers) don’t match, so one or the other should change. No easy fix, especially when dealing with folks’ social perception of what’s going on.

  16. Can I be part of the cool kids? Lol. You two and the whole SQLskills team have done so much in this community. Thank you.

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