Category: Professional Development

Jan 28 2015

Oh Look, A Horseless Carriage

Never forget, we’re making buggy whips. And everybody we know drives little buggies and they need our buggy whips. We’ve got a special talent, a unique knowledge set, and it’s fulfilling a defined need. So we’re all set, right?

Well, other than that Stanley Steamer over there. And maybe that Ford. Oh, and there’s a Grant.

I worry about this stuff all the time. I know SQL Server. Before that, back in the day, I worked on Paradox, PAL & OPAL. I learned and programmed in Visual Basic, Java, C# and .Net. I’ve made sure that I’ve explored, let’s see, Hadoop, Mongo, MySQL, and others, structured and unstructured, relational and non, you name it. Why? Because, I want to keep an eye out for the automobiles that are going to ruin my nice little buggy whip manufacturing business. I make money on these buggy whips and that feeds my family.

Now, here’s my current question/thought/worry/thingie… How does business analytics fit into this? Is there a path that I may need to explore that moves me from working primarily within a focused technical sphere to working with PowerWhatever? Is that a path that people take? Or, is that actually leaving the technology path to become primarily business focused? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Yesterday we did Oracle. Today we’re doing SQL Server. Tomorrow we’re working on Hadoop. Next week… Wouldn’t it be data vNext for the data professional? Or is it that the data pro’s path lies, at least what appears to me, outside of a pure technical scope?

I’m not sure. But it’s something I’ve realized I might need to at least explore a little before I dismiss it out of hand. I may sound a little snide or scornful, but I’m not trying to be. I absolutely recognize the size of the analytics market. It’s vast. And, I’m actively concerned. Does this represent a horseless carriage? I am unsure, but I’m also a little nervous. It feels like I would be abandoning technology, to a degree (recognizing that this too requires technical know-how). Technology (buggy whips!) has been my primary driving force, even when I was in the Navy.

But, we all do have to worry about this. You absolutely don’t want to be trying to sell those buggy whips when everyone is buying cars. If you do think the next step is analytics and you’re ready to go down that analytics path, I can help a little. I’ve got a discount code that will get you into the PASS Business Analytics Conference for a reduced rate. Just enter BFFGF when prompted. This very well could be the right choice to avoid the whole buggy whip problem (until the next time, because it’s buggy whips all the way down). Or, if you just want to get your feet wet, check out the BAC Marathon.

In the meantime, I think I’ll explore how this DocumentDB thing is working. I’m just not sure I want to give up on technology to focus primarily on the business just yet. But I’m seriously curious what others think about this. Is analytics the logical next step for the data pro? Is that a horseless carriage?

Jan 09 2015

I Am Grateful For

A while back I wrote about saying “Thank you” to people. Last night I was listening to NPR on my ride home from a great New England SQL Server User Group meeting (yes, I listen to NPR). Two different reports came on during my ride that got me thinking again about my previous blog post. The first talked about how negative emotions directly impact your ability to make rational decisions. They’ve found that people actually spend more money on items when they’re depressed than they do when they’re happy. There’s a bunch of research around it, but I missed where it was published. It was a great discussion. They found that getting yourself into a positive mood directs your focus outwards rather than inwards. One of the best ways to get that positive emotion train running is to think about what you’re grateful for. More specifically who you’re grateful for in your life.

Then, a couple of segments later the author of this book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives
(on my reading list, I’ll get back to you) was on talking about how positive/negative emotions transmit themselves through our social networks, and not just the people next to you, but the people they’re next to and the people they’re next to. Three layers of separation.

I’m not the brightest fellow, but taking my “Thank you” post, in combination with the two segments on NPR, I’ve decided to get off my behind and start a blog series, “I Am Grateful For…” and I’m going to single out someone that I’m personally grateful for and tell you why. Still trying to decide on frequency, but probably one a month for a little while. The purpose is purely selfish. I want to think better, so I’m going for that positive emotion. I want to be in a positive environment, in order to maintain the improvements, so I’m going to spread that positive emotion.

Let’s get started.

I am grateful for Aaron Bertrand (b|t).

I consider Aaron a friend. We’ve known each other quite a few years although I don’t remember where we met exactly (had to have been at an SQL event somewhere). Aaron lives nearby in Rhode Island (and I forgive him for that) so we actually get to see each other occasionally in the real world. I’m ashamed to say that it’s Aaron that usually reaches out for these get-togethers. He’s great that way. He invited me down to his house to help raise money and awareness for ALS. Even though he works for a company in competition with mine, we get along great and he regularly invites me to events his company is putting on. He’s also terribly smart and shares that through his blog all the time, stuff that I learn from and incorporate into what I do (no, I don’t steal it). I appreciate his voice when we get in discussions (you should hear him at an MVP meeting) because he always seems to come at things from such an informed place. Funny enough, he’s one of the meanest Canadians you’ll ever meet, but I think that makes him great too. He takes time away from a very young family to get out to events and share all the stuff he knows on a pretty frequent basis.

Thanks Aaron.

Jan 02 2015

Speaker of the Month: January 2015

I love it that my first post of the new year is going to be Speaker of the Month. I’m really enjoying doing these because I’m getting to attend a lot more sessions at the events I go to in order to get choices. But, please, don’t bug me. If I can attend your session, I will. If I can’t…


Speaker of the Month for January 2015 is William Wolf (b|t) and his session “Common Coding Mistakes and How to Mitigate Them” that was delivered at SQL Saturday DC.

This was a good session. It was informative. I really liked how Bill (I’m going to use that because it’s easier to type and despite looking like the Demon Biker of the Apocalypse, he’s a bigger sweetheart than I am) kept referencing everything back to his own coding experiences. It’s a fantastic way to make a point and make it stick. Further, it lets the audience know where you’re coming from and why any particular point is important to you. Maybe they haven’t seen this problem much, or at all, and don’t think it’s important. But you’ve seen it burn down the house, so bringing your experience out is just a great way to communicate. I also liked how Bill emphasized each of the points he was trying to make. It wasn’t just a series of slides and examples, but he was making a specific point with each and the code reflected that, but Bill emphasized it. He really followed the “this is what I’m going to tell you, now I’m telling you, this is what I told you” model. I also liked how he worked Metallica into the slides. It was a useful and informative session, well delivered.

A few points that I think may help to make the session even better. First, stop using Profiler and trace events. Extended Events are here to stay. Learn them, love them, demo with them. Practice a little more with Zoomit. You used it very well, but every once in a while it sort of surprised you. That’s just practice. Be careful about reading the slides to us, especially when you turn to look at them and read them. Doing that to emphasize a point, cool. Reading for us, not so cool.

Thanks. Great session. It showed a lot of hard work, especially the demos. I was really impressed and enjoyed the session.

Dec 08 2014

Speaker of the Month: December 2014

For the month of November I was at the PASS Summit and Live360, so I didn’t get to find new speakers to see (heck, I didn’t get to see any sessions at Summit this year). But, that didn’t mean I didn’t get to see great speakers. I did (Rimma! Rimma! Rimma!). Live360 had some amazing presentations. I do like the mixed events like Live360 because I enjoy crossing into dev sessions as well as database sessions.

My speaker of the month for December 2014 is Bradley Ball (b|t) and his session “Inside the Query Optimizer

Oh, before I go any further:


Sorry, but Brad had us do that at the start of the session. I figured I’d just carry it on. Anyway, wow. What a great session. Brad’s delivery is just awesome. He’s light and funny, but hits the points he means to hit and hits them well. I really loved the partitioned view example to illustrate simplification within the optimizer. Like I do with most of my speaker of the month sessions, I learned a few things. I also heard things that are driving me to do some research to help further my understanding. That right there should be one of the criterion for what makes a great session. Everything worked. His jokes were funny, but not overwhelming the content. As already noted, the demos supported the content extremely well. It was great.

Improvements… Yeah, a couple, maybe. I loved the way Brad presented, but, it had a feel as if he was speaking really fast. I don’t think he was, or maybe I just heard really fast, but you might try slowing down slightly. Again, more of a feeling than a real criticism. Brad had more scripts and material than he had time for. Like with my last winner, I can’t say this is a problem. But I’ve heard people complain about it. Again, you might try hiding some of the stuff and only pulling it forward as needed.

If you want to learn about the optimizer, come see me speak… kidding! Seriously, you won’t go wrong attending this session. You’ll walk away with a smile on your face (Brad’s funny) and more knowledge in your head. It’s a winner.

Side note: The last two winners are both established speakers who do this all the time and are therefore awesome. Isn’t this supposed to be about helping build up new speakers?


I’ll try to do better. But this will happen sometimes.

Dec 05 2014

Speaker of the Month: November 2014

I have been very remiss in my blogging of late. Apologies.

One thing I haven’t blogged about is Speaker of the Month. I’m behind. So, I’ll be posting two of them over the next few days in order to catch up.

First up, Speaker of the Month for November.

I went to quite a few events in October, but I actually didn’t get to see too many sessions. However, the few I saw were actually quite good. Speaker quality is just going up and up. I finally got to see someone present that I’ve known for years and years, but just never had the opportunity to sit in on a class. Well, I sat in on one, and this is the result. My speaker of the month is Kathi Kellenburger(b) and her presentation, Writing Better T-SQL Queries with Window Functions.

Kathi is just great. If you’ve ever met her in person, she’s this quiet, unassuming woman. She’s like your favorite Aunt, maybe why her nickname is Aunt Kathi. But when she’s presenting, she takes total charge of the room. You know who the presenter is. She spoke without a microphone and I didn’t realize she could project like that, while sitting. The content of the session was great. She mainly worked in the code and through examples, but she had just enough slides that there was some content documentation to guide people through the lessons. Awesome work. Her examples were extremely illustrative of the points she was making about window functions. I picked up a few things and was reminded of several things that weren’t at the front of my brain any more. I loved it.

Everyone can improve a little. While Kathi presented a tour-de-force, I found a couple of things I didn’t like. She had a series of graphics about this guy on set of stairs, that just didn’t work for me. I don’t have a good suggestion on how to improve it, but it just didn’t hammer the point home well for me. Kathi also had more material than she could cover in the time. Now, that’s a mixed bag. I’d say it’s better to have too much material rather than too little. But, I’ve heard people complain that they didn’t get to see X, or Y, or Z, because of time constraints when, in fact, the presenter intended that material as padding in case the session ran short. I guess in order to avoid the complaints, maybe put the padding after the final slide so you can go to it, but only if needed.

However, as you can see, if those are my complaints, one slide graphic didn’t work, and she had too much great material, how amazing was this presentation? Exactly.

This is extremely useful material. I strongly recommend tracking down Kathi and checking out this session if you get the chance.


Oct 12 2014

Navel Gazing

I love negative feedback. Well, not really. I love constructive feedback. I love the feedback that gives me things to think about. Am I presenting the right material? Am I presenting it in the right way? Can I improve? But, in order to get constructive feedback, people have to tell you that something you’re doing, or not doing, isn’t working. That’s frequently taken as negative feedback, but it isn’t. Let’s explore this.

If there’s a feedback form for a session. It says that 1 is bad, 5 is great and you put a 1, or 2, you didn’t like the session. But, if you don’t leave a comment, that’s just negative feedback. If the comment is something along the lines of “You suck.” That again is negative feedback. But, if you say something like “You suck because I don’t like the way you were trying to teach/you had too much humor/your delivery was too dry/your slides were uninformative/all your demos failed” Something. A reason. Then, that’s constructive feedback. The speaker can then evaluate if there is room for improvement in their craft in order to address the needs expressed.

I recently received some feedback from someone who was quite unhappy with my teaching style. Seems I asked the audience too many questions, trying to prompt them to guide me down the path that I was going to take anyway. This person felt that was taking up too much time and assumed a level of knowledge that the audience didn’t have. That’s great feedback. It is something that I do. Instead of just telling you each step I’m going to take, especially in a pre-con, I’ll ask the audience to supply information, but, it’s based on all the things I’ve already taught, so I’m not exactly springing it on people out of the blue. However, I can see where too much of that, too often, or too early, could cause people to not like it. Also, since people will suggest solutions that might not be accurate, they could feel embarrassment from that. Got it.

Thank you anonymous individual who took the time and trouble to tell me why they didn’t like the presentation. I will try to adjust what I do and how I do it based on this good constructive feedback.

Please, take this into consideration when you fill out these eval forms. Heck, if you loved a session, tell the presenter why so they can continue doing the good things.

Oct 09 2014

Speaker of the Month: October 2014

I saw a whole bunch of great sessions last month. I was all over the place from Las Vegas to San Diego and then Antwerp and Utrecht at Connections, two different SQL Saturday events and SQL Server Days. The speakers just seem to keep getting better, making this more difficult. But, I was privileged to see someone’s very first time presenting and he did a great job. My speaker of the month is Enrico van de Laar (LinkedIn, Twitter) and his session No More Waiting – An introduction to SQL Server Wait Statistics.

Let me say up front, I messed up his plans when he asks right at the start “Is there anyone here who doesn’t speak Dutch?” and I was the lonely hand going up in a room of about 70 or so people. But, he bravely soldiered on and gave the presentation in English. And it was a good presentation. He had very good slides. I especially loved the triangle that showed the relationships between the generic types of waits. It really summarized the topic extremely well. His delivery was extremely clear. He used Zoomit appropriately. The demo’s were well constructed and really showed off the points he was driving home. And I was impressed with his approaches. Baselining in order to “know what’s normal” is exactly how I put it. The solution to parallel execution isn’t MAXDOP, but the Cost Threshold. It was an excellent presentation and I loved it. Even more so when you consider it was his very first time presenting.

Nothing is perfect, unfortunately. I talked to Enrico after the session and shared these critiques. First, it was short. He ended about 20 minutes early. Believe me, I know the feeling. I too ran out of material my first time presenting at the PASS Summit and had to spend 15 minutes making stuff up on the spot. We talked about it. Enrico has some great ideas for expanding the session out a bit. He also had some small fonts on a few of the slides, which made things hard to see, especially for old blind guys like me.

It was a very good session, again, doubly so because it was his first time presenting. I was quite blown away by Enrico and his presentation. Nicely done.


Sep 26 2014

Development, Leadership, Age

While I was at the VMWare HQ getting some amazing training a few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to meet a large number of “C” level people from that organization and Pure Storage. In addition, they had multiple development and project management leads come and talk to us. All the attention was nice (but it was the information we were receiving that was truly awesome). But part way through the second day I realized something. I was sitting in Silicon Valley. I was talking to, effectively, the captains of industry and their chief lieutenants. And many, most, of them were at or near my age. Wait a second. I thought the Valley was run by teenagers?

I’m constantly told that older people are getting squeezed out of technology by magazine articles. Yet, most of my friends are well past 30 and none of them is hurting for work. I get it, the plural of anecdote is not data. Yet, the accumulation of anecdotes eventually leads to data. And the indications are, senior positions are held by senior people, and yeah, by senior, I mean “old.” Why is that?

Learning a development language is fairly hard work and requires quite a lot of time, way past your average work day. Most of the time, youngsters are doing this, not older people. So, when you’re looking to hire a hot new developer for the hot new language, are you likely to get the lady who is running kids to the ball park after work, or the lady who doesn’t have kids yet and is living, eating and breathing, SooprC00LanguageX? The latter. But, in a few years, you’re not looking at the newest coolest languages any more. You just want your stuff to work. And maybe the older languages are more stable. Now… who gets hired? That’s right, the lady with the kids and the grey hair. Not only is she GREAT at the language, but she’s not at all flighty, brings a lot of maturity and experience to the table, and can help your project move forward in a major way.

Say what you want about older people not learning computers well (and gods above, you should meet my mother-in-law), there are still plenty out there with agile, flexible minds who also bring steadiness and maturity to the table. Yeah, their middle might be slightly expanded, but they’re pretty clearly up to the job. And, anecdote or not, it seemed clear to me that Silicon Valley companies recognized that.

Sep 09 2014

It’s All Fundamentals

I’m learning how to speak German. Interestingly enough, you don’t start off reading dissertations. Instead, you begin by learning the names of things, Teller for plate, Buch for book. The fundamentals. I’m a third degree black belt in Ken Ryu Kenpo. But you don’t start that, or continue it, by learning complex kata. Instead, you start with how to make a fist, how to hold your hands up in a defensive stance. The fundamentals. I’ve been doing crossfit and Olympic weightlifting for a couple of years now. I’ve been working hard on my clean, standing up tall during the lift, getting my elbows around quick. The fundamentals. Situation after situation, skill set after skill set, you have to get the fundamentals right. And, if you don’t get the fundamentals right, you’re going to find progression extremely difficult.

Which brings us to IT. Let me pick on developers for a moment. You know that ORM tool you want to use? It’s actually a pretty amazing piece of software. Too bad you glossed by all the documentation on how to use it properly, skipped the reams of best practice documentation, and simply took the “Hello World” example to deploy it to production. Because now, that great piece of software is creating serious pain for the company. You skipped the fundamentals. Data pro’s, seriously, you’re asking how to turn off transactions in SQL Server because maintaining the transaction log appropriately is too hard? You have completely skipped the fundamentals. You’re of the opinion that foreign keys are a major performance bottleneck? Fundamentals. You think you can do a scale-out ID/Value data collection scheme in a relational database? Fundamentals.

But none of that is the issue. You want to know what the issue is? PowerPoint templates. Oh my Freya’s Girdle is on fire flipping gods in Valhalla, do you have any idea what a pain in the bottom it is when you have 100+ slides, in a single presentation, that you have to convert to a new template for ConferenceX and the template was constructed wrong? Your fonts go insane, colors dance across the screen like the Bifrost Bridge on an acid trip. And then, when you attempt to fix things by reapplying the template, you find out that oh, noes, we didn’t use the background, we just pasted our graphics on the screen (which takes up 1/2 the real estate forcing your fonts to be so tiny that Buck Woody can’t hear you) so now you’ve got to carefully navigate around extra stinking graphics everywhere, oh, AND, your presentation is now 19 times the size it was before, so your machine is running out of memory to run your demos before you even get the VM started. And then you have to touch each and every slide and adjust them, one at a time. Aren’t we data pros all about set-based processing?


Please, if you’re responsible for a conference, whether you’re running a SQL Saturday event, or you’re the chair for a track at the largest of international venues, do all your speakers a favor. Please, take a set of slides from online somewhere and try to get them to work with your template. If you can’t (assuming those slides aren’t already a hack because of ConferenceY down the street who is even worse than you are), work with your artists or whoever put the templates together to get those templates to work well. Otherwise, you might as well just come out and say that you hate speakers and you’re getting a mighty giggle from the work they’re going to have to do to try to make your hag-ridden nightmare of a template work with the beautiful slides they spent weeks putting together.

Thank you!

Sep 05 2014

Speaker of the Month: September 2014

This month I’m very grateful because I was given the opportunity to present at DevLink in Chattanooga. I got to meet a lot of new people and see presentations by people that just don’t hang around SQL Server specific events. It was great. I’m going to apply next year (depending on scheduling of course) and I’m applying for a lot more development conferences. I still get to see friends present, Louis Davidson, Kevin Boles and Kevin Kline were all there. But I get to see new people. Speaking of which, speaker of the month for September 2014 is Josh Lane (b|t) and his presentation AWS vs. Azure, Which One Is Right for You.

The thing that I found the most amazing about this presentation was how even-handed it was. Josh Lane really went out of his way to find positive (and negative) things to say about both platforms. Because of this, I think anyone really trying to understand which platform to pick, and, more importantly, why they should pick it, walked away with good data. I’m working with Azure regularly and I picked up a few things that I didn’t know. I also liked how he identified lots of commonality between the two platforms. The slides were very simple and clean and well structured. Mr. Lane’s delivery was excellent. He was engaging, handled questions well, and kept things moving. I was really impressed.

The one issue I have with the presentation is that there was really way too much material. He didn’t just rush through the last of it. He skipped right by sections. And those sections looked interesting. I’m pretty sure this was put together for a venue that had more than an hour of time, but I don’t think he would have made it through on a 75 minute schedule either. So, as much as I hate to say it, I’d suggest trimming some material. Going quickly through some doesn’t usually make people too angry, but skipping stuff entirely makes them feel ripped off. But, what a great problem to have. Too much awesome, well delivered material.

Thanks for the session Mr. Lane. I’ll keep an eye out for other material from you in the future.