Dec 05 2011

Resolutions: Outcome

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about my upcoming plans for the year in response to a question asked by Jen McCown (flat out, one of my favorite people, blog|twitter). It was supposed to be about resolutions, but I just don’t make those. I make plans.

Here we are, close to a year later (11 months). How did the plans work out?

The first one, hinted at the time, was to start a new job. Well, that’s done and it’s going swimmingly, thank you very much. The job has turned out to be harder than I thought it was going to be. I travel more than I thought I was going to travel (although we’re keeping it within the limits we agreed to, I love my new company). Frankly, I’m concerned that I’m doing a good enough job, pretty much all the time. But, I love it. Thank you, everyone at Red Gate Software.

Next one was setting up the home office. I’ve got that done too. It proved to be quite difficult, but with lots of help from Glen Berry (blog|twitter) and several other people on Twitter and elsewhere, I finally have a functional set of systems. Currently I have three computers, my glorious Lenovo W510 laptop (sporting lots and lots of flair), a POS Dell desktop (which, as soon as it crashes & burns again, I’m replacing), and a nifty little HP Proliant MicroServer that I’ve named Bob. I even have a little Iomega raid array. I’ve learned how to set up AD and have these things humming along well enough. I’m able to set up tests and get done what I need to get done for my job. I won’t lie. It’s been a pain in the bottom having to set it all up myself. I’m still spoiled from working at a large corporation where I didn’t have to sweat this stuff, but I’ve managed to get done what was needed. I learned how to set up virtuals and I’ve been using a couple of them for most of the last year while working with SQL Server 2012. Trivial stuff for a lot of you, but a leap forward for me.

Then I promised to drill down on a new set of tools. Once again, referring to my glorious job at Red Gate. Man, I had no idea those guys worked so hard. They are releasing new software and new functionality constantly. I can’t keep up. I love it. I rate this goal only about 1/2 accomplished and I think I could have done a somewhat better job at it. I’m going to try to improve on this in the coming year.

The last one, writing more… Unfortunately, I accomplished this one all too well. I did rewrite the execution plans book , but we’re looking at rewriting it again (some structural needs and to capture 2012 stuff). I’m close to half way through rewriting my performance tuning book . That one slowed down because I took on another project, SQL Server in a Month of Lunches, which I’m also about 1/2 way through. Oops. If you’re counting at home, that’s three books this year. Not good. Oh, and did I mention I wrote a chapter for the MVP Deep Dives II? And, I’m maintaining my chapters in Beginning SQL Server Administration (2 of 3 done as I write this). Yeah, five (5) books this year… no, no, no. Stop. That’s on top of all the new articles for my most excellent job, maintaining this blog, starting another blog… Yeah, writing successful. Don’t do it again.

On the whole, I’d say I accomplished what I set out to accomplish on 3 of the 4 goals. The incomplete one, getting better with Red Gate tools, is going to be ongoing anyway, but I still need to improve.

Oh, and by the way, thanks for reading this blog over the last year.

Nov 07 2011

Meme Monday: SQL Family

Tom LaRock’s (blog|twitter) question this month: What does #sqlfamily mean to me?

Wow…

Geez Tom, couldn’t you ask a hard question for once?

Hmmm…

Just saying #sqlfamily and a whole series of images of people flashes through my head. And those images are accompanied by all sorts of fun, amazing, interesting situations. And you know what, they’re all very positive. I don’t have flashes of people I dislike or bitter acrimony or really strange relationships. In short, maybe it’s not a family.

I have a huge, complex, and very extended real-life family. When I compare that to my #sqlfamily, parts of the real family don’t shine quite so bright as that #sqlfamily does (parts, of course, shine brighter, I love my family). The #sqlfamily is impressive.

I get so much from my #sqlfamily. I’ve received technical knowledge, friendship, technical help, emotional support, job advice, camaraderie, career advice, hugs (@sqlchicken’s are worth pursuing), jobs … in fact, I’ve gotten everything I could ever want from my #sqlfamily except help packing up and moving and I don’t doubt for a second I could get that if I needed it. Then there was that time, at the place, with the person, and none of us talk about that one, but you know all know what I mean.

In fact, I get so much from my #sqlfamily that I’m constantly worried that I’m not giving enough back. So, I try hard to be there. If someone asks for help, on anything, I try to provide it. If I can’t, as sometimes happens, I explain why and I tell them when I will be able to help later. I put myself out for my #sqlfamily because I think they deserve it. I feel like I know all these great people and they put up with having me around so I try to be as good as they are (and consistently fall short). It’s a daunting and wonderful place to be.

What does #sqlfamily mean to me? Pretty much everything. I’m just flat out a different, better, person than I would have been without them.

Nov 07 2011

Book Review: Guerilla Leader, T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt

As part of my commitment to read and review 12 books in an effort to be active in my own personal development, a commitment made on the SQL Cruise back in June, I’ve completed another book, Guerrilla Leader: T. E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt by James J. Schneider.

This was not the book I was scheduled to read. I’m still reading it, but, frankly, it’s boring. This book came to my attention, a history book that is also an exploration of leadership, and I got excited. I’ve long been a student of history and I’ve had a fascination for World War I for a long time. I have over twenty books on the subject that I’ve read. So the chance to combine reading about a subject that I already enjoy with a subject that I’m trying hard to improve on was too much to avoid.

I won’t discuss the history in James J. Schneider’s book here because it isn’t appropriate to this blog. I will point out that I got a sense that he was rushing through bits and pieces of it in an effort to get to the points he wanted to make about leadership and I thought that the rush detracted from the book, just a little.

But the leadership sections of the chapters were very good. I think the use of the story of an actual person attempting to take charge of something as wild as the desert revolt provided an excellent prop for making points about leadership in general. Each chapter ended with a discussion about the things that Lawrence learned, mistakes he made, and things he got right, all in, and around, leadership. I found it instructive and useful, but not really useful enough. I think two more chapters, one outlining the major points of leadership that the book was going to explore at the beginning, and another summarizing the points at the end would have made for a more complete book. As it was, you got the sense that the author wanted to mainly write the history, and the leadership stuff was a hook. If that’s the case, then the history was processed too quickly and the leadership stuff could have been reduced.

I’m walking away from the book with things to think about, which is the main point of a personal development book, at least I think so. I wouldn’t say I have any tasks to add to my list from reading this book, but I do have a few more insights in what it means to be a leader, how difficult, yet important, communication is, and that leadership is not about titles.

This is my October book, slightly delayed because of all the travel. You’ll see another post shortly with yet another book for November. That will make this  #5 and the next will be #6 for my year.

Sep 26 2011

Book Review: Smarter, Faster, Cheaper

In my continuing quest to not get personal visits from Buck Woody (blog|twitter) I’m making sure that I make good on my commitment to read 12 personal development books in 12 months. We’re up to #4 (again demonstrating the degree of fear that Buck can put in a person) and the book is Smarter, Faster, Cheaper: Non-Boring, Fluff-Free Strategies for Marketing and Promoting Your Business by David Siteman Garland (blog|twitter).

The extended title on the book covers what it’s about quite well. David Garland is considered one of the top marketers these days and he seems to follow the processes laid out in his book. I say this because I received a tweet from him after I tweeted that I’d finished reading the book. One of the processes laid out is to set up search routines to keep an eye out for your name, your companies name, your book’s name, and go to where those things are being posted and respond, in person.

I can sum up a huge part of the book in those last two words, in person. He’s very much about the concept that what you’re selling is not a widget, but yourself and that the more and better you sell yourself, the more and better your widgets will sell. The focus of the book is on marketing and selling, which is good, that’s what I expected and wanted. I’m just still having trouble wrapping my brain around the fact that I’m in sales & marketing. But, the good news, for me anyway, is that David Garland’s idea of sales is to generate useful content. Wait, what was that? You mean writing books, blog posts, articles, recording videos and presenting online & at user groups is sales & marketing? Sweet! I’m in favor.

The point is, you have to move away from the ideas of marketing the old way, buying commercial time on TV and move into using the intertubes to do your marketing. That marketing is done by becoming a trusted advisor, or as Seth Godin has it, a linchpin. You do that by generating material, like this blog, and handing it out for free. You take part in discussions in forums, twitter, whatever, and grow yourself into a trusted resource THEN, you carefully sell. I’m sold. Of course, I’ve been sold. I got this message a year ago, right before I changed my career path. The book goes on to discuss various mechanisms of engagement and production you can use to build up that material which will turn you into a trusted resource. There’s a lot of great advice about how to manage your online presence, how to overcome fear (of failure, success, what have you), produce video, and probably most importantly, building a community. The book is all about building out a community of people that you help and who in turn help you. A real community, not just a bunch of readers or viewers, but an interactive group of individuals. Again, I’m in favor.

Unusual enough for a modern book, he has an Index. In fact, he has a good index. When I saw that I had to check to see if I was reading one of my history books or a technical book. No one puts indexes in books any more (apart from historians & geeks). Excellent.

So that’s what the book is all about, how did it affect me, personally? I have to say, I’m a bit… meh, about it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a very well written book and I believe in what David Garland is pushing here. I think he’s 100% correct and I think the book would be very useful to others. Unfortunately, I’ve read several of Seth Godin’s books and I’ve been pursuing this line of approach already, so… while the book reinforced the things I know, the approach I’m taken, the beliefs I’m working under, it didn’t add a lot to them. But I think the fault here is the reader, not the book. However, I still found it useful, if for nothing else the reinforcement that I’m at least striving in the right direction (which is very nice to have).

I did find the chapter on reputation, “Your Reputation in the Transparent World We Live In” … scary and useful. I’m sure that doesn’t sound good, but it is. I’ve made several adjustments to how and what I do online over the last year and I suspect I’ll be making a few more changes based on this. I’m just nervous about going too far and becoming boring (right, right… more boring).

Anyway, on to the next book, Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself by Daniel H. Pink.

Aug 29 2011

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

I’ve finished my 3rd book as part of my year long commitment to read and review professional/personal development books. I read one of my favorite authors this time, Seth Godin and his book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us .

I’ve either been very smart or very lucky in my choice of books. I’ve enjoyed all three. But this one was better than the other two. Then again, this is my third Seth Godin book, I think I’m predisposed to enjoying his writing.

The core idea behind the book is predicated on two facts. First, humans tend to congregate, we’re social critters. Second, you can take the lead of your tribe. Easy stuff, right? Wrong. It’s complicated and weird and hard. The book doesn’t even remotely suggest otherwise. This is not a “do these three things and you’ll be famous, rich, and have lots of attractive people draped across your body” kind of books. No. This book is about work. Work at home, work at work, work in the community… defined how you want to to be. Working to take the lead to decide on a direction and do the things necessary to go there, but most importantly, to take your tribe with you, assuming they want to go.

It’s a great and fun read. It’s filled with stories from real life and movies, whatever and wherever, to illustrate the points that Seth Godin wants to illustrate. Some of it is wonderful, such as “Leadership Is Not Management” or “Stability Is An Illusion.” Other parts are frankly off putting, talking about failure and the fear of it, something that we all deal with all the time… or maybe that’s just me. He really covers a lot of material that I found incredibly useful because I’m trying to be one of those leaders (and why I’m motivated to do that was at least partially answered by the last book).

I find that some of the book is just going to be difficult for me to really make use of. He talks about doing things that others are not. Frankly, I’m just not there. I try to be imaginative, but I think I’m generally a bit dull (which is fine, competent, dull & employed is just fine). Other parts were inspiring and I think I can use them. For example, we live in an age where you really can just start doing things with little cost to entry. I’m reading this book at the same time as Google+ is getting started. There is this thing called Hangouts in G+. While reading the book and looking at the functionality of G+ I realized that, maybe, Hangouts were a way to build community, chat, help people, consult, something… I’m still not 100% sure. But, because I was reading the book. I started hosting hangouts. I’ve hosted 5 or 6 at this point and I’ve attended another 5 or 6 hosted by others. I posted about my experience with Hangouts too. All because I was reading this book and realized I might be able to do something here in relation to my “tribe.”

In short, it’s a great read, I think I’m going to get useful information out of the book. I think I already have. Plus, I get a kick out of the idea of being a heretic. Now I just need to find out what I should be a heretic about.

Next book is all about marketing: Smarter, Faster, Cheaper: Non-Boring, Fluff-Free Strategies for Marketing and Promoting Your Business

Jul 26 2011

Strengths Finder 2.0

I’ve made the commitment to read and review 12 books over 12 months as a part of continuous personal development. This is my second book.

While this is a book review, the first thin you need to know is that the Strengths Finder 2.0 book is actually just a written, in-depth, support document for the test that you take on the StrengthsFinder web site.The core idea to the test and the book is to identify your strengths and work on them instead of spending all kinds of time trying to fix your weaknesses. If you just think about it a little bit, it makes sense that you can spend days and weeks trying to improve in an area where you are not terribly strong while improvement in areas where you are already strong will come to you, fast & furious.

The book is broken down into two parts, an introduction that goes over the concepts and science behind finding your strengths, and a huge section that defines all the various strengths identified in the test. Between reading the first and second section, you’re supposed to take the test.

The book is really interesting to read. The first section brings out a number of interesting facts from different areas of psychological research that seem… accurate. I’ve read some psychology types of books where so much of the “science” reads like so much feel-good claptrap. This is not one of those. There are discussions about the fact that you still have weaknesses and blind spots that you’ll need to take into account, even as you work on your strengths.

My test came out with the following strengths:

  • Achiever
  • Input
  • Self-Assurance
  • Learner
  • Significance

Personally, reading through the descriptions, I think it shows an accurate test (and Mrs. Scary sure thought it was accurate). With these results and the book in hand, you can start to set goals to change how you work and perform in life. You’ll have a description of what each of these words means, and more importantly, a list of ideas for how you can apply them to start trying for improvement. Better still, the book has a section on each strength called “Working With Others Who Have…” for each strength so you can understand how better to deal with others.

At least that’s the theory as laid out by the book. I do find this all very useful. I appreciate the insights into what makes me more motivated. It works. Unfortunately, I haven’t also incorporated a regular review of these goals into my workload and I think to fully realize the results that needs to happen. Also, a psychological test I went through with my previous employer emphasized that knowing yourself is important, but that knowing others and figuring out how best to communicate with them (note, not adjusting yourself, just your message, you can do this and stick to your strengths) is the best way to improve your working relationships. Because of that, I feel like I only have half the tools I need. Yeah, I can make guesses at what other people might be (and sometimes it’s obvious), but not knowing, it is possible to still mess up the communication.

Overall, a great read, good information, extremely useful, but still not quite enough for what it sets out to do, at least in my opinion. However, I am going to try to focus on this on a regular basis (daily) so that I can start to use what I’ve learned and learn more (after all, I’m a Learner).

Jun 13 2011

Time for a Little PD

No, PD doesn’t stand for PowerShell Development. It stands for Professional Development. Sharks either swim or die (and yes, I know that’s not 100% accurate, but I need a hook on which to hang this lesson). Knowledge workers either develop more knowledge or become buggy whip manufacturers. It’s that simple. Keep moving/learning or die/become obsolete. I’m voting for continuing to learn.

In keeping with this, during SQL Cruise Alaska (I’ll be posting more on my thoughts about the trip), I was privileged to sit through Buck Woody’s (blog|twitter) presentations on “Three C’s on the High Seas.” Buck is a great teacher and not at all afraid to hand out homework, which he did before and during the cruise. Confession time, I did fail to do one pre-cruise assignment and Buck marked my grades down accordingly. I think I’m going to get a gentleman’s C on this one (which would make it “Four C’s” but I digress). One assignment was to give yourself a measurable goal of reading twelve (12) books on professional development related to your goals over the next year. I will read the following books and post short reviews about them:

Presentations in Action by Jerry Weissman: 80 memorable presentation lessons from the masters. I’m always looking to improve my presentations, so any help I can get is worth investigating.

Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath: Basically, learn your strengths and start to work them. This was supposed to be part of my pre-cruise homework. I’ll hand it in late and take the hit.

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth Godin: Innovation by building a tribe of people that support that innovation. Plus, I just like reading Seth Godin books.

Smarter, Faster, Cheaper: Non-Boring, Fluff-Free Strategies for Marketing and Promoting Your Business by David Siteman Garland: Entrepreneurial approaches to marketing. Technically I’m not technical any more. I’m a marketing wonk. Might as well learn about the job.

Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself by Daniel H. Pink: Shifting working patterns in the new business models operating these days. Sounds good to someone who lives in the US and works for a company in England.

Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky’s Concise Guide to Finding Technical Talent: How to find good developers. I still think of myself as a developer, so I might as well try to be a good one. One way is to understand how they’re recognized and emulate that behavior.

Moving Applications to the Cloud on the Microsoft Azure Platform by Eugenio Pace, et al: Yeah, it’s on Buck’s list and it looked interesting. I’m convinced that we need to pursue knowledge of SQL Azure and understand how to work with it as part of keeping our jobs.

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything: Not sure I buy it, but since I’m so involved with the SQL Server community, might as well try to understand how they work.

The Long Tail: Again, trying to understand my new job within our changing world.

The Cloud At Your Service: I’m All In. Of course defining what I’m all in for is a different matter entirely.

The Wuffie Factor: Got this one from Tom LaRock’s (blog|twitter) reading list. He has some good stuff.

That’s my list. Watch for the blogged reviews. I do reserve the right to change my mind on my reading list, so don’t come back on me in 6 months complaining that I didn’t read the book I said I was going to.

Your turn.