Category: Professional Development

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?

Fundamentals.

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.

Aug 21 2014

Silliness for an Important Cause

I don’t mind saying that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, scares me. A degenerative disease that takes away the minds ability to control the body, leaving the mind intact… words fail me. Add to that the fact that there is no known cure, and that there are at least 30,000 people suffering from this, just in the US, something has to be done. You can give money over at the ALS Association. Please do.

Oh, and Aaron Bertrand of SQL Sentry asked me to come over to his house to take part in the ice bucket challenge. Here are the results.

Please donate for this important cause.

If you see Kevin Kline, Steve Jones or Thomas LaRock, help them mix their ice bucket.

Aug 20 2014

The Red Gate Way…

SitCAs companies go, Red Gate is a little different. That is readily apparent in our tools and the philosophy behind them, ingeniously simple. But, we do a lot of other things too. There’s the Simple-Talk web site where we publish serious articles on all aspects of development and database administration across platforms and programming languages. There’s SQL Server Central, the single largest SQL Server community on the planet. There’s Ask SQL Server where you can get direct answers to your direct questions about SQL Server. If all that’s not enough, there are all the books, which we give away for free, on, again, all aspects of programming and database administration. But, we like to do more, so we also bring you training, the Red Gate way, at the SQL in the City events.

We’ve got two more SQL in the City events coming up soon. First, we’re back in London again on Friday, October 24, 2014. This event is one of my favorites, every year. We’re bringing in MVPs like Steve Jones, Ike Ellis, Brian Randell and others, all to teach you about SQL Server, but we’re doing it the Red Gate way. So please, register for this event. I’ll see you there and we can share a frothy beverage (it’s Red Gate).

Next, I’m thrilled to say that we’re going to be in Seattle on Monday, November 3, 2014. That’s right, just before the PASS Summit. If you wanted a reason to get out to Seattle early, here it is. We’re bringing a lot of the same crew from the London event over to Seattle. You’ll be able to experience what the London people did and more. This is SQL Server training done right, that is the Red Gate Way. Let’s get together and talk and share a frothy beverage in the States. It’s a free event, but there’s limited room, so please register now.

These are unique and popular events. We pull out all the stops to make them fun, special, educational, useful, helpful, doggone it, good. Please, come out, talk to me, talk to the Red Gate team, help influence the tools that you use every day, and learn about SQL Server.

Aug 19 2014

Getting the Word Out

A discussion that I’ve frequently had with organizers of SQL Saturday events, our own people here at Red Gate, authors, MVPs, pretty much anyone interested enough to listen for a few minutes, is summed up by “How do we get the word out about the opportunities that the SQL Server community offers?” The question always comes down to, how do we reach people? We tweet. There’s a Facebook page. Discussions are hosted on LinkedIn. Emails are sent out to various distribution lists. Advertising is done on SQL Server Central (with over one million registrants, what else do you have to do?). And yet, at events, I’ll ask, who has heard of PASS and will only get a 50% positive response. Heck, I’ll never forget that at the Charlotte SQL in the City event last fall, when I asked the audience, about 200 people, who was not aware that a few blocks away there were 3,000 people gathered to learn about SQL Server, about 1/3 of the audience did NOT know about the event occurring in their flipping back yard. In short, the communication means we’ve been using, don’t work. What to do? How do we reach those people who just aren’t getting the word?

Here’s a suggestion. Talk to people. No, not online. In person. Here’s a survey from an event, DevOpDays MSP, that asked people, how did you get here. The overwhelming answer is word of mouth. So, how do we get the word out? We need to talk to people. I know you’ve mentioned the community to your co-worker or your friend, but it’s time to do it again. Talk to them. Let them know about the upcoming SQL Saturday or user group meeting. Tell them about Connections and how great your learning opportunities are there. And, here’s the new wrinkle, ask them to pass the word on to some people that they know as well. Look at that survey. Over 50% get the good news by word of mouth. So let’s start leveraging that.

Aug 01 2014

Speaker of the Month: August 2014

Speaker of the Month is now officially one year old.

I went back and reread my first post. The goals were for a relentlessly positive experience. Reading back through the twelve posts, I feel like I hit that mark pretty well. Yes, I’ve always pointed out places where improvements can be made, but I think I’ve done it in a constructive and positive manner. Plus, I’m picking your session (if you get picked), as the best session that I saw that month, which is pretty darned positive in and of itself. I also promised it would be random and arbitrary. Mission accomplished.

I’ve considered wrapping this up. I did it for a year, just to see what the response would be. I didn’t have much more of a goal in mind than trying to help out both attendees and speakers by pointing out what I thought were some awesome sessions. Maybe pointing out some places where people could improve would be helpful. Since I’ve been blessed with getting to present a lot, the implication is, I know what I’m doing and maybe I could share some of that knowledge with others. Done. Does it really need to continue? The feedback you get on most blogs and most blog posts is largely a null set. You toss the information out there, it sinks into the pond, the ripples quickly fade. You don’t have a clue if the blog and the posts are helping or not. I’ve received some feedback on this, but, it’s actually been mixed. I’ve had people tell me because I’m pointing out areas of improvement that I’m not being positive, that I’m in fact being mean. Which… I really don’t know where to go on that. If I just say, “It’s awesome” and walk away, is this useful? Is it helpful? Is it constructive? Will it make a positive difference to the person I’m praising? Heck, will it do anything for anyone except the person I’m praising? I’d say no.

I’m going to go with the thought that this matters, even if it is only to the people who get picked. But I think that hearing from someone, anyone, what works in a session and what doesn’t could be useful to those who are just getting started. So, assuming it makes a small, positive, difference, I’ll keep the Speaker of the Month award going for one more year.

Speaker of the Month for August 2014 is someone I just recently had the chance to meet. We had exchanged a number of emails on a topic that I knew nothing about, so I was utterly unhelpful to them. But, by explaining the problem to me, they figured out their own solution, and then turned that into a presentation. Wow! That alone is amazing. Then I saw the presentation and was blown away. My Speaker of the Month is Derek Stanley and his presentation Remove the Linked Server 2 Hop Limitation by Implementing Kerberos from SQL Saturday #302, Albany.

This is absolutely not a topic I’m familiar with or good at. I know I’ve run into the situation a couple of times. Explanations for exactly what was happening kind of pinged off my head. After sitting through Derek’s session, I have a better understanding of the problem and, I have a bunch of great solutions (that I couldn’t implement if you threatened me with torture, I just don’t know systems that well). Derek presented everything in a very clear fashion. He walked us through the problem space so we could understand what it was he was fixing, then he walked us through a bunch of different solutions. His explanations were good, but his demos really made the presentation shine. They were great. Demos can frequently be summed up as “look, I can make this work” but they don’t always teach. Derek’s were so clear and pointed that even I could understand how his solutions were working (still couldn’t replicate them). He put the presentation together really well, told a clear, concise, useful story in a way that made it easy to understand. The presentation was absolutely a win.

Areas I’d like to see improved are fairly slim. I think, my opinion, the slides were too wordy.  I get the “slides are documentation” school of thought. I just don’t agree with it. That one may be a throwaway. The one area that sometimes got a little confusing was caused by naming the servers VM1, VM2, etc. I think some clearer names that somehow help illustrate the points might help the demos along some. One more word: Zoomit.

In short, it was a good presentation with great demos. If you get the chance to see this one, I strongly recommend it. Derek, submit this to more events. If you’re organizing an event, accept this session. It’s good, you’ll be happy.

Derek, get a blog. Here are some articles he wrote for SQL Server Central. Here’s his LinkedIn profile.

Jul 21 2014

Victims of Success

I took part in the PASS Summit 2014 selection committee this year because I was really curious about seeing how the sausage gets made. I’ve seen how actual sausage gets made and I still eat sausage.  Despite a few hiccups and communication issues, internal and external, I think the selection process for the Summit went really well this year. But, there was still some controversy. Being a naturally pushy person, I got involved in the controversy, for good or ill, and subsequently have had conversations with many people about the selection process (which, reiterating, I think went extremely well overall). But, the one thing that kept coming up over and over was a simple question:

How come I/PersonX didn’t get picked?

The easy answer is because you/PersonX had a horrible abstract. But you know what, in probably most cases, that’s not true. Good abstracts by good people didn’t get selected, so what the heck? I think the more complex answer does not go back to the selection committee or the selection criteria or the selection process. Do I think some improvements are possible there? Yes, and I’m putting my foot where my mouth is (or something) and joining the committees to try to make some tweaks to the system to make it better (and really, we need tweaks, I want to repeat, risking ad naseum, the process went well and worked great and I’m happy I took part and I think the outcome is pretty darned good). No, the real problem lies elsewhere, SQL Saturdays.

I’m not saying SQL Saturdays are themselves a problem. What I’m saying is that PASS took on the whole SQL Saturday concept for several reasons, one of which was for it to act as a farm team for speakers. This will be my 10th Summit. Looking back to 10 years ago, while I really loved the event, oh good god have the speakers improved. I remember sitting in sessions with people who were mumbling through their presentations so much that, even with a microphone, you couldn’t hear half of what they said. Slide decks that consisted of 8-12 pages of text (yes, worse than Paul Randal’s slides, kidding, don’t hit me Paul). Speakers who really, clearly, didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. It was kind of rocky back then. I learned my second year that you had to talk to people to find out, not just which sessions sounded good, but which speakers were going to present those sessions well enough that it would be worthwhile. Why were there so many weak presenters? Well, because there was almost nothing between speaking at local user groups and speaking at Summit (I made the leap that way). There were a few code camps around, a couple of other major events, various schools and technical courses, and Summit. I don’t know how the old abstract/speaker review process worked (and I apologize to whoever read my first abstract because I know now just how horrific it was and I’m so sorry I wasted your time), but I’m pretty sure they were desperate to get enough submissions that sounded coherent with a speaker attached that probably could get the job done. Not any more.

Now, people are getting lots of opportunities to present at SQL Saturday events all over the world. And it’s working. We’re growing speakers. We’re growing good speakers. Don’t believe me? Then you go to two or three events in a month, sit through 8-12 sessions, mostly by newer people, not Brent Ozar, not Denny Cherry, not Kim Tripp, and you review them, each, individually, then go back and try to pick the best one. Oh yeah, there’s going to be a few dogs in the bunch, but overall, you’re going to find a great bunch of presentations by a great bunch of speakers. Our farm system is working and working well. But there’s a catch.

Because we have upped the bar pretty radically on all the introductory level speakers (and if you’re thinking about presenting, don’t let that slow you down, everyone starts at zero and goes up), that means the competition at the top (and yes, I do consider the Summit the top in many ways, not all, see SQLBits) is becoming and more and more fierce. That means, my abstracts probably need quite a bit more polish than they’re getting (and so do yours) because there are a whole slew of speakers coming up that are writing killer abstracts. That means I need to really be concerned about the evaluations (despite the fact that I get dinged because the stage is low, the room is hot/cold, lunch didn’t have good vegetarian choices, England left the Cup early, all outside my control) because there are new speakers that are knocking it out of the park. In short, you/I/PersonX didn’t get picked because the competition has heated up in a major way.

In short, a sub-section of the community, defined by those who wish to speak, are victims of the success of the farm team system as represented by SQL Saturday. On the one hand, that sucks because I now need to work harder than ever on my abstracts, on the other, we’re going to see very few instances of really bad presentations at Summit. We’ve improved the brand and the community. It’s a good thing.