Category: Professional Development

Nov 05 2015

Speaker of the Month for November 2015

A great benefit that I get with my job is that I get to travel all over the place to see people present. This means I can expand out beyond my own country to see good speakers. That’s the case this month. My Speaker of the Month, with all the glory it entails, is Rob Sewell and his session “Using PowerBI With My DBA Database” delivered at SQL Relay Cardiff.

Rob delivered a very interesting, useful and entertaining session. It was all about how to gather data about your databases and their behavior and then put it into different types of reports in order to be proactive about stuff within your managed environment. I loved the way he put his slides together, the graphics and the lack of bullet points. His presentation style was awesome. He used Zoomit well enough (more on that in a moment). Some of his comments were fun too, “Sing Merry Christmas backwards” was one of my favorites. I also liked how, despite showing us a great set of scripts, he said, right out, “If you run these scripts without testing, it’s your fault.” Excellent stuff. I also appreciate his practical advice on setting up this type of monitoring, “Do what you need to do.” It was just an excellent presentation.

I talked to Rob about the one piece of advice I had for him. He asked repeatedly if we could see, and then would zoom in. He was clearly concerned, and did a good job. But after he asked a couple of times, I thought he should just assume that things were in fact a little hard to see and should just zoom. It’s a safe assumption a lot of the time. Nothing wrong with asking, but if you ask more than once, you have your answer.

This session was very useful. I strongly recommend it and Rob.


Oct 22 2015



I’m at least one of the people who yelled Zoomit during a keynote at PASS Summit.

I want to take a moment and explain why I did it and why it was wrong.

I was frustrated. I’m watching a presentation on a HUGE screen, from about mid-way in the room and the presenter is earnestly showing off a cool new feature of SQL Server in about 3 point font and saying “… As you can see …”.

No. No I couldn’t. After a little while of staring at the blur on the screen and hearing the person say I could see this or see that, I popped. I was interested. I was paying attention. I really and truly wanted to see what was on the screen and I honestly could not. So, I yelled at the stage.

I was wrong.

The person on stage probably didn’t have Zoomit installed. Nor did they know how to use it. They probably also didn’t know that Windows has a magnification utility built in (don’t like it, but it’s there). My yelling didn’t help them at all to discover this information. Further, it probably made them even more nervous. Neither of these improved the experience for anyone in the audience. Finally, it was unprofessional behavior. That’s the important one.

What should I have done? Find a positive solution. Get a hold of someone, anyone, from PASS, from Microsoft, and let them know that we can’t see. Nothing is going to get fixed at the moment, but the feedback has to be delivered. It can just be delivered in a way that’s helpful, not hurtful. Write a blog post? Sure, but try to make it a positive and helpful one. Tweet about it at the time? Yeah, why not? Just make the tweets informative as opposed to negative. Communicate the necessary information (and yeah, it was necessary) in a way that does two things 1) It gets heard and 2) It provides help to those who need it.

I seem to frequently serve as a negative example. “Don’t do what I’ve done. It hurts” is a repetitive message I deliver. Please remember. PASS Summit is a blast. It is. The event has changed my life in a positive way and I’ve grown to truly love the giving community that built and continues to improve the PASS organization. So don’t do what I’ve done. Have fun at PASS, yes. SQUEE and hug your friends. Wear a kilt. Go to the parties and imbibe. Just remember, through it all, you’re still expected to behave as a professional. Don’t follow my bad example. Instead, build on the positive aspects of PASS and the community in a positive fashion.

See you next week!

Oct 02 2015

Speaker of the Month: October 2015

Working on my third year of “Speaker of the Month” posts now. The good news, I haven’t run out of people to award it to. Most months, if I’ve been able to go to a community event or two, I have three or four candidates.  Same this month.

Speaker of the Month for October 2015 is Rob Volk and his presentation, Revenge: THE SQL, at SQL Saturday Las Vegas.

What can I say about this presentation? Let me start by saying that you never, ever want to make Rob angry. Next, I think Rob needs a hobby that will help him turn his mind away from EVIL. Next, Rob has to be one of the smarter people that I know. Next, Rob is very funny. Oh yeah, and there was a presentation about all sorts of evil things you can do with SQL Server and SQL Server Management Studio. Rob’s delivery is excellent. Actually, I wish we had recorded that session for several reasons. It was good. More than that though, Rob had a room full of MVPs and presenters and… well, we kind of went after him. It was like it didn’t matter. He worked it right into his presentation and went through everything. I learned tons of stuff, much of it not necessarily useful for my production servers. All the things Rob presented did give you great illustrations about some of the internal workings of SSMS, SQL Server and Robs twisted imagination.

The only critique I can offer Rob is that he has so much material to deliver that he might want to trim it just a little. We drilled down on a couple of questions which seriously impacted how much he could get out. Is having too much material a really bad thing? Not necessarily. You just want to make sure that you hit the most important stuff and that you have time to reemphasize what the most important stuff is. That’s it though. It really was a masters class on how to do sessions right.

Thanks, Rob. Oh, and by the way, stay away from my machine.

Sep 04 2015

Speaker of the Month: September 2015

Feast or famine.

The last several months I just haven’t seen that many speakers, let alone that many community speakers. Then, in the last month, I’ve seen a ton. Contests being what they are though, someone has to win. To everyone I saw speak at SQL Saturday Oklahoma City and SQL Saturday Omaha who doesn’t see their name here, apologies. I saw great presentations this month. The winner though is Ryan Adams (b|t) and his presentation: Backup and Restore Tips and Tricks.

Ryan started off great, walking around the room, looking people in the eye has he talked and using the slides as a guide, not reading from them at all. He had a bunch of slides that visualized different aspects of backup and restore. I really loved the one on restoring to a point in time. I really liked how he approached the topic as a beginners guide, reassuring them that yes, maintenance plans were OK, probably not a final stopping point in your process, but a great place to start. He had a bunch of excellent demos that highlighted all his points really well. I also loved how he explained the use of STANDBY in backups. It’s one of those things that I know, but I always forget to use well. I’m going to try to incorporate it better because of Ryan’s explanations and demos.

Ryan and I discussed a few places where I thought he could improve. He never read from his slides, but he had a tendency to face away from the audience while talking so that he could use the slides as reference. While I don’t think you have to stand there staring at the audience the whole time you present, you shouldn’t look away from them too long. I also thought the fonts were small on the slides. Yeah, I’m getting old, but that doesn’t mean I should just be kicked to the curb. Make those fonts bigger. Other than that, it was a very professional and informative presentation.

I strongly recommend you track down where Ryan is speaking next. He knows what he’s doing and is absolutely worth listening to. Thanks for the great presentation Ryan.

Aug 11 2015

Leadership: A Name and A Principle

I’m actively working to put together the leadership course that I talked about here and here. No, not full time. I still have to pay the bills with real work. But progress is going forward. I have an initial name and the principle around which we’re going to do this thing:

The Data Community Leadership Program will deliver a world-class platform designed to teach technology and thought leadership through direct training and mentoring in order to better grow and develop new leaders within our community.

Watch this space for more about the Data Community Leadership Program.

Also, this is going to be community driven and run (eventually). Feel free to provide feedback on the name and the principle.

Jul 28 2015

Grant’s Fly-by-night Leadership Course – The Plan

  1. Get a better name
  2. Define my personal goals for the course

I won’t be sharing these with you. I may share them with my Inner Circle (defined below). I’m thinking this is a 2-3 year commitment I’m making. I need to have my own set of measurements to ensure that this will be worth the time and effort that I’m putting into it.

  1. Define a set of principles and goals for the course

I want this course to have meaningful aim. It’s not, absolutely not, about management. Management and Leadership are two different things. This is about being a leader. It must have a purpose. The goals defined here, and like everything else, subject to change over time, will set the tone for each of the other choices. Here’s another place where I may lean heavily on the Inner Circle

  1. Create a first draft course agenda

At least initially, I’m just going to sketch out some topics that I want to cover. These include things like: setting goals (SMART goals), setting up methods of review, problem solving, institutional vs. personal power, coaching & mentoring, setting a vision, running a user group/meetup/?, other stuff. I’ll break them into a series of classes and/or articles and/or readings (yeah, this will be work for the people who take it on, tough). The classroom material will have to be generated. Some articles may have to be generated. I’m going to try to find some subject matter experts for some of this, just to get started.

This agenda, as I stated in my initial ramble, will include two very distinct and important points. First, it is going to be oriented towards volunteering. I believe that a very substantial aspect of leadership is helping people, leadership through service. With that in mind, even if this never gets associated with an organization such as PASS, we’re going to be bringing in some subjects that are, at the very least, PASS related. It’s an excellent structure in which to perform volunteer work within a technical sphere. I’m going to use it. Second, there will be tasks that must be completed. You will define these tasks based on the principles and goals of the course

  1. Get volunteers

Four sets of volunteers needed:

Set 1: Inner-Circle
These will be people that I’m going to contact directly that I know have a background in teaching about leadership, mentoring and volunteering. I’ll be using them to help me vet the agenda and the classes I hope to teach as well as support me through the process of picking the mentors who will guide the first group of people doing this.

Set 2: Subject Matter Experts
There are people out there that know more than I do about, well, everything. So for the classroom material and written material that we need to generate, I’m going to call for volunteers. It will be based on the agenda of the course, and I’m going to exercise editorial control (no biggie since I’m a marshmallow of an editor, I made need to take lessons from Tony). But it’s an opportunity for people to share their knowledge. Developed courses are going to become the property of this entity, whatever it is, because it’s the course that has to be the focus, not any one class. With permission, I think I’ll let classes be taught in other venues. I want to share this knowledge, plus the full experience is from the next set of volunteers.

Set 3: Mentors
Ideally, this group will only ever be drawn from attendees of this course (similar to how Wood Badge works). However, we find ourselves in a chicken/egg situation. So, I’m going to try to get 3-6 people who are prepped to be mentors, but who will also be taking the course at the same time (and possibly giving it in part, nothing to say there’s no cross-over between the first three groups of volunteers)

Set 4: Attendees
AKA, rhesus monkeys. We need someone to experiment on. I’m imagining between 9 and 18 people, three for each mentor. Each class will be the same, a group of three for each mentor and only a few mentors. Many more than that and we’re going to spending way too much time sweating personnel management and this is going to be hard enough as it is. These are people who want to step up. They want to become better leaders in their community, their company, or, best of all, both. Also, this first set have to be people who are going to commit to two things. First, they’ll do the course. I’m assuming that’s a requirement for everyone going forward. Second, they’ll help us build the course. We need volunteers who, right out of the gate, are going to be willing to provide actionable feedback (another thing we’ll teach) so that Class #2 is better.

With the exception of the Inner-Circle, I’m going to call for volunteers in a separate blog post, a little farther down the track. I’m not ready at this point to start the process of evaluating people’s CV to determine if they’re a fit for Sets 2-4. So, adding it up, 2-3 in the Inner Circle, 3-4 SMEs, 3-6 Mentors, and 9-18 monkeys, uh, I mean attendees (and yeah, my humor will have to be turned WAY down for this), we’re looking at, assuming zero overlap, 31 people. Woof! I hope there’s lots of overlap. But each course will only be this big. I want it to be a intimate experience.

  1. Pick the tools

Powerpoint. There, done.

OK, slightly more complicated. We’ll need to set up a place for discussions to take place, lots of discussions. I’m leaning towards Slack for the discussions. I’ll probably set up a task list in Trello. I’ll also need to beg borrow or steal a place to host the meetings online, but only for, max, 31 people. I’m not sure about this one. Suggestions are welcome. I think we’ll also need to have a permanent presence on the web. It’ll be a place to describe the course, but also to advertise those who accomplished everything to arrive at their… award? certificate? tramp stamp? (I know, my humor…)

  1. Legal?

I’m serious about the copyright. For this course to be something people will put on their resume, and yeah, that’s one of my own goals, there I leaked, it needs to be a Thing. For it to be a Thing, the information and delivery needs to be regulated through a pretty rigidly defined method with little deviation. Other than that, do I need legal to set up a general course? I’m not sure. This will be non-profit, so maybe a structure will have to be established once any kind of cash transactions get involved (and at least for the first course, it’s going to be free). Any advice here would be useful.

There. That’s the initial outline. Please, don’t start volunteering for anything yet. However, if you see any glaring holes in the start of this, please let me know. I will continue to post back here regularly as things progress.

Jul 13 2015

How Do You Know You’re Good At Your Job?

You’ve been working as a DBA for X number of years. How do you know you’re good at it? Heck, you’ve been doing any sort of job for a while. How can you measure whether or not you’re competent?

The single best measure isn’t how much work you do, your accomplishments, the number of databases designed, whatever measure you have. That’s not it. The real measure, the one that counts, how do you perform when everything goes south? When that server goes offline or that database develops corruption or that SSIS package fails or, heck, you get a request to fix something that’s broken, even non-technical stuff like an incorrect W-2 form (fighting this battle currently)? Did you run around like your hair was on fire? Did you sit there stunned into immobility? Did you incorrectly read and interpret the requests and send a new copy of the same, uncorrected, W-2 form (again)?

Or, did you sigh, roll up your sleeves, spit on your hands, and get the problem fixed?

If you did that last thing, you’re good at your job.

Let’s face it, just about anyone can set up a server, install SQL Server, set up backups and then sit there monitoring them for the next five years. The test is not the day-to-day functions. The test is the abnormal, the broken, the wrong. I know people who’ve never had to fix a W-2 form, uh, I mean, a corrupt database. They’ll say, “Yeah, never happened, so I haven’t really looked at what to do about it.”

Oh boy.

Jul 03 2015

Speaker of the Month: June 2015

With my travel schedule, I don’t always get out to events where I can see a community speaker. Sometimes, I just see pros. That’s the case this month. Instead of skipping the month entirely, which feels wrong, I’ve decided to do a special award.

Speaker of the Month for June 2015 are all the speakers (except me) on SQL Cruise Mediterranean 2015.

I’ve said it before and I don’t mind repeating myself, SQL Cruise changes people’s careers. There are a lot of reasons for this. The number one reason is all the work that Tim & Amy Ford do to put together the cruise, create the itinerary, ensure plenty of structured and unstructured time on the boat to ensure intense interaction, and all the rest of the stuff that they do. The second reason is the people that they get to staff the event as Technical Leads. These really are some of the smarter, knowledgeable, and most importantly, friendly and approachable, people in the industry. Look at the list: Stacia Misner, Andrew Kelly, Argenis Fernandez, Aaron Bertrand. Want to learn about BI? Done. Interested in hard core system tuning? Done. Want to know how to properly write your T-SQL? Done & Done. Most importantly, want to sit down on a couch, hand Aaron/Argenis/Andrew/Stacia a drink and have a nice long chat about ways to improve processes at your work, how to get started blogging, how to make the next jump in your career path and get answers to these questions from people who know what they’re talking about? Seriously and thoroughly done. Let’s not dismiss other Technical Leads from other cruises which includes: David Klee (flat out one of the single smartest AND nicest people you’ll meet), Jes Borland (probably the single fiercest community advocate going, plus a bundle of unbridled energy and intense knowledge), Kevin Kline (I’m not worthy), and Jeff Lehmann (let’s talk cross-platform knowledge as well as process and experience).

All these people working within the structure that Tim & Amy have created have more than earned Speaker of the Month. These are the people you want to learn from and they teach the knowledge you need.

Bad news is, next month won’t have any community people either. After that, back on the regular community speaker track.

Jun 30 2015

Leadership Training Possibility

I know a few people in the SQL Server community who have been involved in Scouting. A couple of them have taken or helped lead Scoutings leadership training program known as Wood Badge. It’s an amazing program. I won’t even attempt to tell you what Wood Badge has done for me and what it does for Scouting. Suffice to say, Wood Badge helped to make me a better person and in return, I helped make Scouting better.

What’s this have to do with SQL Server? Not much really. But, what does it have to do with you and your career? Tons.

It was pointed out to me that there’s an Oracle users group that actually runs a leadership program. You can read about it here.

It strikes me that, maybe this is something we in the SQL Community ought to have. I’m posting this to see what kind of interest there is, if any. So if you regularly just read this blog and never post, sorry, today is the day it’ll really matter if you respond. So please, read through my general thoughts and let me know what you think.

First up, this needs to cover generic leadership principals such as vision, planning, communication, goals and measures and all the rest. It’s not about management. It’s about leadership. These are different and will be differentiated. This also has to have available some mentors, people who volunteer to monitor & guide attendees through the process. There will probably also be volunteers leading the classes, possibly independent of the list of mentors, we’ll see. Additional training would be on, well, easier to say what it won’t be on. It won’t be on speaking, technical stuff of any kind, or any company or technology. Instead, it would be about leading, maybe community building, running a user group, setting up and running an event, that sort of thing. It’s not going to be a single class. It’s going to take time. Let’s say, somewhere between 6 months to a year of commitment to the leadership courses (done remotely, anything else is too insane for me to consider managing) and then another 6 months committed to delivering on your project(s). And yes, this means that there will be an expected amount of work to be delivered as part of the whole thing. I’m not suggesting holding a class and then printing out certificates. I’m suggesting something similar to Wood Badge, something that you would be proud to put on your resume, something you’d be clamoring to help out with after you complete it. One more thought, it would be best if we could get an organization to back it. Barring that, we’d need to create an organization to back it. There would probably have to be a charge for this, and not a trivial one either (I haven’t thought it through, but let’s say more than $500, less than $5000, figure it out as needed). It won’t be open to anyone. I suppose an open call for application, but since it requires commitment, it might be invite only. Something to talk about. It needs a name.

This is not a course outline or an abstract. It’s really just a stream of thoughts to act as the starting point towards building a structure. My question to you is, what’s the interest? Please post. If I get my usual three responses, I’ll just write this off as an idea that won’t fly and move on.

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!