Category: Professional Development

May 19 2015

Book Review: Connected

I heard about Connected from a show on NPR (Yes, I listen to NPR, why do people keep saying that?). It was right after another segment talking about how positivity affects your mood and your ability to think and act in a clear fashion. I’ve long been a believer in the ability of your network to impact you, but I really didn’t think about it beyond that. Hearing about the book Connected changed my thinking, so I ran out (meaning, connected to Amazon) and got a copy.

The premise of the book is pretty simple. You have close friends and acquaintances. Your close friends and acquaintances also have friends and acquaintances, that may or may not over lap with yours. Those people also have another set of friends and acquaintances. And here’s the kicker, that third layer, not your friend, or your friend’s friend, but your friends friends friend can affect your daily mood, the amount of exercise you do, whether or not you smoke, your involvement in crime, all sorts of things. The book sets out to prove it. Along the way you also learn about things like why you probably only have somewhere between 3-8 close friends. Why you probably don’t have more than about 100 people that you communicate with regularly (uh, but what about my 7,000+ Twitter followers?). How these are to a degree biological factors hardwired into you. Most interesting of all is how the ripples just fade away at the third layer, over and over again throughout their studies and their testing.

The book was just filled with highly interesting facts about how your network influences you. Also, how you can influence your network. It also matters the type of network that you have. Are you connected to lots of people that aren’t connected to each other, weak ties, or are you connected to lots of people that are all connected to one another, strong ties. Each of these types of networks influences you differently. Your behavior within a network is probably following one of three paths; cooperator, you’re willing to help others, free rider, you’re letting others do the heavy lifting, enforcer, you’re making sure everyone follows the rules. Your behavior is also likely to shift between those roles depending on who you’re interacting with and when.

In short, a fascinating book. I do have a nit to pick with it though. At the end of it all, I have a great set of information about what a strong network would look like. I get a good sense of why I would want to have a strong network. Nothing about how to really get a strong network other than making sure my friends are connected with my friends and that my friends, and as much as possible their friends and their friends, are all on a positive path. Right. I’m sure that’s easy to work out. Guidance around this network thing would have been nice.

My own takeaway, be positive, act positive, strive, earn my Trident every day, and, at least according to Connected, that should go out into my network like ripples in a pond. Further, I should see those same ripples coming back, reinforcing my own approaches.

I have no idea how to measure this. Ha!

May 01 2015

Speaker of the Month: May 2015

I finally got out to some community events last month and got to see a bunch of great speakers. Not that you don’t see great speakers at paid events, you do. It’s just that they’re usually professional speakers and I want to encourage others when I can.

The Speaker of the Month for May 2015 is John Sterrett (b|t) and his presentation Automate Your Daily Checklist With PBM and CMS at SQL Saturday Boston.

The very first thing that impressed me about this presentation was how John entered the room and immediately started interacting with the attendees. You see a lot of speakers hiding behind the lectern, fiddling with cables, nervously sipping water. Not John. He was chatting as he set up, immediately getting control of the room. It’s a great way to start. Then, it was a very informative lecture. He showed how to use Policy Based Management and the Central Management Server together to create really meaningful monitoring and double checks on the servers. It’s a technique I’ve used, so I really enjoyed seeing it presented. Plus, I learned a few things. For example, I hadn’t realized you can run the Best Practices Analyzer from PBM. His slides were clear and informative. A little too much documentation for my taste, but I know some people love that type of deck, so I’m not going to ding people for it. His demos were very clear and illustrative of the points he was making. John handled questions well and liberally and carefully used Zoomit to make everything clear. It was a fantastic presentation that was very well delivered.

A couple of things I wasn’t entirely crazy about. John kept checking the slides on the projected screen. Come to find out, it was because he couldn’t see them on his laptop. OK, I forgive that. While he was pretty good at repeating the questions, a few times he forgot. It’s so easy to do when you’re speaking (guilty). Also, John didn’t have a necessary dongle for connecting his machine. Never assume you’ll have VGA/HDMI because one of them will always be wrong. But that’s it.

John’s presentation manner is a lot like talking to him. He’s real calm, looks you right in the eye, listens carefully to questions and then gives direct answers. It was a real pleasure to watch. I suggest checking out his sessions when he presents next.

Apr 27 2015

Benefits for Some, All or Only a Few

As a member of the PASS Board of Directors I attended the PASS Business Analytics Conference (BAC) recently. You can read more about it here and here (as well as here).

Let me start with an important note: I am voicing my opinion here as an individual, not an official stance of the PASS organization.

There is controversy around the BAC because of a whole bunch of things, but one question in particular bothered me. It was suggested that the people attending the BAC were just consuming the worth or value that other people who paid for the Summit generated. At first, I just dismissed this concept. It stuck in the back of my mind though. Suddenly I realized why.

Yes, the BAC was partly paid for by Summit. The attendees at the BAC were not all people who would have attended Summit. There were, maybe, 1/3, who have attended Summit, are going to attend Summit, or who might attend Summit. That means, a majority will not.

So?

Money from Summit is used to support Chapters. Anyone ever canvassed their attendees at a local user group for who has gone or will go to Summit? I have. Most of the time, far less than 1/3. Do we cut funding for Chapters?

Money from Summit is used to support SQL Saturday. Once again, I’ve canvassed several of these for people who were going to be attending Summit. Again, way less than 1/3. No more funding for SQL Saturday?

How about the Virtual Chapters that money from Summit pays for? How many of those people are attending Summit? I don’t know, but I’d be shocked if it’s 100% or anything close to that. Are we cutting Virtual Chapters?

24 Hours of PASS is also paid for by Summit.

You know, everything that PASS does, whether you like it, and attend it, or not, is paid for by Summit. There are good arguments to be made that we should not be doing the BAC (and arguments that we should). Where the money comes from is absolutely not a part of that argument. Otherwise, we must pull funding from anything and everything that is done by PASS that doesn’t translate to 100% benefits for the people who paid for it, Summit attendees.

I believe that we, the members of PASS, should be open and accepting and willing to try new things, both from a technical perspective and from a personal one. Providing training and community is what we do. Let’s focus on that.

Apr 10 2015

I Am Grateful For

I decided in January that I would write regularly about people that I’m grateful for. Now it’s April. Oops.

The concepts are simple and science based. Positive emotions help your clarity of thought. Further, your moods and actions extend out through your network to the third layer. With that in mind, I want to think more clearly and the most direct path to positive thoughts and emotions being gratitude, I’m attempting to focus and publicize my gratitude by publicly sharing it through these blogs (in short, I’m trying to tune my brain like I would tune a query).

I am grateful for Tim Ford (b|t).

Tim is a great guy. Further, Tim can be patient with thick headed dorks (raising my hand). For example, among all the other stuff Tim does (Board of Directors for PASS, Editor at SQL Mag, Track organizer at Connections), he organizes and runs SQL Cruise. Yeah, yeah, cue the laugh track. You don’t get it. SQL Cruise changes peoples lives. I’ve seen it. Now, first time I went, I had a blast, but, I’m a bit thick, so I didn’t understand everything I was seeing. What I knew was that I didn’t tweet or write a blog post for a week, therefor I must not be doing my job. So, I asked Red Gate to not send me on any more cruises. We skipped them for a while. Last year, with a lot of prodding from Kevin Kline (another person I’m grateful for, but one blog post at a time), I went on the cruise again. Yeah, sun, rum, beaches… Oh, and people doing intense networking, redirecting their careers, going through intense, long form sessions with great speakers (and me)… Whoa! I spent some time talking with Tim and his wife Amy and the light finally dawned. Tim isn’t ONLY finding a way to get a bunch of us out on a boat so we can have fun (yeah, that’s part of it), he’s literally building and engineering opportunities for people to recharge and reset in preparation for radically modifying their career (not their jobs, people after SQL Cruise have careers). And it’s done the same thing for me. I’ve been personally reinvigorated by the work that Tim has done and I’m immensely grateful for that. But it’s not just SQL Cruise. Tim has helped me personally and professionally because he’s just that sort of person. He’s one of a long list of people that I’m regularly gobsmacked are willing to hang out with me.

Thank you Tim.

Apr 03 2015

Speaker of the Month: April 2015

One of my favorite events of the year is the SQL Saturday in Silicon Valley. They’ve had four of them and I’ve gone to three (had to miss last year, scheduling conflict). It’s a fantastic event and Mark Ginnebaugh (b|t) does a great job putting it together. In fact, this year, we got to listen to Ross Mistry and T.K. Rengarajan have a “fireside chat” for the keynote. For those who don’t know, Mr. Rengarajan is just a VP at Microsoft. Yeah, he simply runs the ENTIRE FLIPPING AZURE DATA PLATFORM. That’s all. They had a few demos and showed us unreleased code and new versions of SSMS not yet available publicly (including functionality around Query Store and execution plans, my little heart was going pitter-pat). Anyway, if you missed it, you missed it… So… Speaker of the Month.

I am choosing Vicky Harp (b|t) and her presentation, Care and Feeding of Your System Databases.

This was a very good presentation and Vicky is a very good presenter. She presented without a microphone, even though one was available. Sitting in the back corner, I could hear her very clearly. She made excellent eye contact throughout the presentation. She used her slides as guides for what she was going to talk about. She used Zoomit appropriately and frequently. I learned a couple of things during the presentation. Vicky demonstrated excellent knowledge of the subject matter, fielding every question. Largely, I’d say this was almost a class in how to present properly. And, I think it’s a good choice because system databases are kind of easy to ignore, yet, there’s important stuff there that Vicky addresses well.

Feedback I’d give Vicky, number one, repeat the question. She handled all the questions so well. I mean she really knows her stuff. But, she didn’t repeat the questions and some of the people asking didn’t have booming voices, so despite it being a small room, I was guessing context based on Vicky’s answer (which, was easy since her answers were so good). I also thought some of the examples were overly simplistic. We might have hit more of the material in more depth by skipping a couple of the really simple examples.

I understand Vicky will be recording this for SQL Server World Wide Users Group. Not sure how to get that, but it’s absolutely worth a listen.

Mar 16 2015

How To Speak At SQL Saturday Events

The PASS SQL Saturday events are meant to be a place to grow the pool of speakers, provide a mechanism for the speakers to learn, and fulfill the PASS goals of Connect, Share and Learn. So, you’ve decided you want to start speaking at a SQL Saturday event. Cool. You went to the <Insert Large, Popular, SQL Saturday> event last year, so you submitted this year… and didn’t get accepted. Now what?

First, submit. You won’t get accepted if you don’t try.

SQL Saturday, especially the big, popular ones, may not be the best place to present for your very first time. In fact, with the large ones, you may not get accepted because people who already have a reputation are submitting to those (we all want to talk to big audiences and go to the good venues). So, start smaller. Find your local user group and speak there to get started. Better still, contact the person running the SQL Saturday event. Most of them are also running their local user group, or are associated with it, and most user groups are desperate for speakers. Go and speak at the organizers user group. That’s going to do two things for you. You’ll get some practice in a friendly space, and you’ll get your face and name in front of the SQL Saturday organizer. PASS maintains a list of local user groups that are associated with PASS as Chapters.

Next, go to the SQL Saturday web site. Find the one that you’re thinking of submitting to. Go to the Schedule page. You’ll see a list of people and topics they submitted. At the bottom, there is a place for suggested topics. Sometimes, but not always, you’ll see the stuff there that the organizer wants to see. They’re looking for a session on the VARIANT data type and you’ve written 33 blog posts on VARIANT in the last six months? GOLDEN! Submit under that topic. You can also try contacting the organizer to see what they’re looking for. Ask them, what topics they’re interested in presenting? Now, be sure you actually can present on that topic, but, here’s your in, giving them what they want.

Go to a smaller event. Yeah, presenting at the big event so you can hang out in the speaker room with <Insert Popular Speaker> would be cool. But, it really is hard to get into some of those events because everyone wants to do the same thing. So, start smaller. Some of the events just aren’t drawing lots of big name speakers. Personally, I don’t think that matters at all (people disagree on this topic), but, it’s an opportunity for you. These events need speakers. I know some where they’ve accepted every single session submitted, turning down no one (and I even presented a couple of extra sessions while I was there to help out). So, if you want to speak and, if you drove an extra hour or three you could speak, done.

Finally, your title and abstract do matter. The abstract needs to define a clear problem and solution that you’re going to present. The title… my opinion, let’s have a clear, descriptive title. I intensely dislike the cute and clever titles. Further, I don’t think they help people, especially new people, get accepted. I think they work well for the name speakers because it shows off their personality, and sometimes that’s what people are going for. You’re just getting started, tell us what you’re presenting.

None of this guarantees you get in, but it should all collectively help to get you in front of an audience at SQL Saturday.

Mar 13 2015

Speaker of the Month: February & March 2015

It’s not a question of scheduling. I just haven’t been to lots of community events in the last several months so that I can see community speakers and find one to give an award to. I’ve been trying. So, we’re giving out two awards this month (my blog, my award, my rules). Unfortunately, neither one is going to a full-blown community speaker. Hey, not my fault. I’m trying. Anyway, on with the show.

The first award goes to ALL the speakers on the SQL Cruise. That’s Jes Borland(b|t), Jeff Lehman(L), David Klee(b|t), and Kevin Kline(b|t). Look, I get it, Tim Ford(b|t), the guy who runs SQL Cruise, goes after top speakers (and, somehow I get in too). But, until you’ve watched these people present, in the long form sessions that SQL Cruise offers, you might not have seen these people at their very best. I did. I learned things about Amazon Web Services, VMWare, Automation, and just being a DBA, that I really didn’t know going in. And, I was entertained by witty people. And I was energized by animated, interesting talks on useful topics. Look, the main reason I didn’t pick a Speaker of the Month for February was because I wanted to do this and just didn’t feel like I should. I finally just gave in. So, here you go guys. You win. Amazing stuff. Thank you so much for sharing. And you, dear reader, should try to go on one of these cruises. It’s one of the best learning opportunities you’re going to hit.

The next award goes to Justin Langford(b|t) and his session on Get Started with Troubleshooting SQL Server presented at SQLBits.

This was a very good session. I really liked how Justin delivered the content. Not surprising since he’s an MVP and an MCM. He made good eye contact through the whole presentation. He presented troubleshooting in a way that people should actually follow. I also liked how he presented all the various tools (and seeing them listed out, there are a ton of native tools in SQL Server) and their uses. I learned a few things on some of the tools that I hadn’t worked with much, especially SQL Nexus. It was a great session that I can recommend.

The only thing I might change if I were Justin is that I’d rearrange the order just a little. I’d show the problem and then show the tool that solves it. He kind of approached it the other way around. It still worked great, but I think it would have worked a little better, maybe. But that’s it. It was a very solid session.

Next month, things should get back to normal. I’m hitting a SQL Saturday, so I should be able to track down some community people and get away from all these talented professionals.

Mar 09 2015

Upcoming Events Where We Can Chat

I get around quite a bit.

Next week I’ll be visiting three cities in Germany talking to user groups in Frankfurt, Cologne and Munich on the 17th, 18th, and 19th of March, respectively. Here’s the one link I can find for information. EDIT: Here’s Cologne and here’s Munich.

Next, you can see me at the Redgate DLM Seminar in Silicon Valley on March 27th. It’s a free event and there are a few seats left. Click here to register. The next day I’ll be presenting at Silicon Valley SQL Saturday on March 28th.

After that, I’m staying close to home to get to Boston SQL Saturday on April 18th.

Then, one of the big events this year, I’ll be travelling to my very first PASS Business Analytics Conference in Santa Clara, California, on April 20-22. Analytics is a fast growing aspect of being a data pro. You’re going to need to understand it the way you understand Azure, NoSQL, and all those other technologies that are looming on the horizon and will be changing the DBAs job. Click here to register now. I think I still have a few of my “Friends and Family” discounts left. Enter “BFFGF” when prompted.

Next, it’s off to beautiful Belgium for Techorama, May 12-13. I love visiting that country and I really love that conference.

I’m not done. In June, I’m going to go on SQL Cruise Mediterranean. You do NOT want to miss this. If you’re in Europe wishing you could afford to fly over for the Caribbean trips, now is your shot. A train or a flight down to Barcelona is a lot cheaper. SQL Cruise changes lives. I’m not kidding or exaggerating. It’s very intense training and networking with fantastic people. You’ll come away energized, ready to conquer the world. And there’s rum.

I’m taking July off, but I have a bunch more trips scheduled for late summer and the fall. I’ll post them later.

I live off of questions, so I really do want to meet you at one of these events and have a chat.

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.