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December, 2011:

Preparing for 2012 (part 3)

If you missed the earlier installments, check out part 1 and/or part 2.

Getting Proactive

SQL Server is a large product and it’s getting bigger every day. Within it we have engine performance, query tuning, encryption, disaster recovery, report writing, data analysis, ETL processing…the list is a lot like the Energizer Bunny in how long it is. Trying to know all of that is pretty much impossible, so the database administrators who truly excel in the field become experts on a certain area of SQL Server and rely on their SQL family to help with the areas they may not know so well.

It’s hard to do, because in our jobs we’re usually only one of a couple folks who do what we’re do and we are expected to handle whatever gets thrown at us. I typically have to touch 4-5 distinctly different areas of our discipline just to fight the fires of the day. Like all fires, they need to be solved quickly. I can’t spend a lot of focused time learning about those different areas, because the system can’t be down or running slowly.

This, of course, ends up being a very reactive approach to learning. We only learn what we need in order to solve the problem at hand, then move on to the next one. Even then, we usually don’t learn much, just copy a script or grab a job, verify that it won’t break anything, then implement and get going. It’s continually preached (rightfully so!) that managing our databases in a reactive fashion is a recipe for disasters, all-nighters, and RGE’s, why do we think it would be any different with our education?

The challenge to myself is to stop being reactive in my learning. While it’s cool to be like a sponge in a sink, soaking up whatever is available, I’m only able to scratch the surface of whatever happens to be the topic du jour. To do that I need to take a discipline within SQL Server, focus on it, and make it my own.

Focus, Daniel-san!

Unfortunately, there’s no crane kick or leg sweep that is the magic key to my DBA success. Any number of areas would be valuable, I just have to pick one. My decision, which really only came to me in the last month, is to focus on SQL Server monitoring. The reasons are simple:

  1. In order to have the most stable environment, you need to know what’s going on in your environment. To do this, you need established baselines and systems to monitor your environment.
  2. To stop problems before they become serious, you need to have systems in place to watch for issues and deviance in your operations.
  3. You can’t start corrective action, such as adding hardware resources or query tuning, without first understanding the problem. Proper monitoring will give you the signposts to indicate what your problem is.
  4. If you want to impress the boss, the easiest way is to create reports and display the data on your environment and how it is changing. While I tend to think that doing your job well is the best way to impress the boss, your boss may not always understand how good of a job your doing unless you show him the data.

Over the next year, much of this blog will be about researching and implementing monitoring. It will include planning elements such as service level agreements (SLAs), third party monitoring tools, and reporting queries, along with other items as I come across them. Hopefully it will become more than just my brain dump area, but it might not. Either way, you should be able to follow along with the solutions and methodologies I develop and learn along with me.

Look out 2012, it’s gonna be a wild ride!

Planning for success in 2012 (part 2)

If you missed part 1, you can head over here.


In 2011, I jumped in to the presentation gig with both feet and found that I really liked it. If you’re an avid blog reader, you’ve probably heard the benefits of presentations ad infinitum. So instead of talking about those, let’s talk about why I like them so much.

First off, it’s a chance for me to study up on something I find really cool. I find databases and some of the topics in SQL Server to be really neat, most likely because I’m a geek. It’s stuff I want to learn about anyway, but since there’s a definite end point (giving the presentation), it helps me put some structure around learning an aspect of SQL Server.

Secondly, I like to talk. I’ve actually been offered criticism that I talk to much, but I figure that’s something I can work on and it’s easier to overcome chattiness than a reluctance to speak. And it’s more than just talking towards an audience in a presentation, I’ve found the best experiences I’ve had giving presentations are when there’s a good Q & A period at the end of a presentation.

Thirdly, people are genuinely appreciative of my efforts. I’ve written and talked at great length about how giving the SQL Community is, but one of the reasons it is so giving is because it’s also very thankful for the knowledge we share. I’ve received numerous compliments and “thank yous” for the sessions I’ve done, which really makes me feel good about the work I’ve been doing.

I want to continue speaking, so for the upcoming year, my second set of goals will be focused on presenting, with the following specifics:

  • Speak at 4 SQL Saturdays. Now, I’ve already got a jump on this because I’ll be speaking at SQL Saturday #104 in Colorado Springs, giving a new presentation on SQL Server partitioning.
  • Speak at SQL Rally – Dallas. Granted, this means I have to be selected, but I will be at least trying. I will submit my sessions by the end of the month and cross my fingers.

No, submitting for the PASS Summit this year is not one of my goals. I still might, but I’ll let that unfold. There’s some other items in the works, plus the nice thing about going to an event where you’re not a speaker means you can just be at the event. That’s what I liked about the 2011 summit, is I was able to experience it without worrying about obligations.

4-5 speaking engagements for the year may not seem much, but I’m finding out that speaking at user groups and SQL Saturdays can quickly beget other opportunities. By setting this goal, I establish a bar for myself, but also plenty of room on my plate for other things. In fact, I actually already have a couple things lined up already that I’m very excited about and will talk more about soon. But while I want goals that push me, I don’t want to overload myself and burn out.

Stay tuned, one more goals post coming soon!

P.S. If you can make it, we’d love to see you at SQL Saturday #104. I’ll be giving this presentation:

Eating the Elephant: SQL Server Table Partitioning – Is your table fat? Do you need to manage a table that has billions of rows within it and are overwhelmed by index rebuilds that take more than 12 hours? SQL Server’s table partitioning gives the DBA the tools to manage this beast and support very large tables in a way where index management and data retrieval does not become unwieldy. This presentation will take you step by step through choosing an appropriate partitioning key, setting up the partitioning on the table, and finally maintaining the partitions.

It will be a great time and an awesome way to kick off your SQL career in 2012!

Getting ready for 2012 (the year, not the version)

So with the new year just around the corner, I wanted to take a bit to take what I have gotten out of 2011 and use it to figure out where I’m going in 2012. While not to bore you with the details, 2011 was an explosion of career development, with the following highlights:

  • Regular user group attendance
  • Blogging (if somewhat ireggularly)
  • 6 Presentations given (3 at local user group meetings, 2 at SQL Saturdays, 1 internal)
  • Attending the PASS Summit
  • New job!

This has been good stuff and very fulfilling, but it’s felt a little about throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. While that works for a bit, it can wear you out quickly, so now it’s time for me to sit down and refine my focus a little more. After giving it some thought, I’ve found three general things (for lack of a better description) that I want to emphasize in the next year to drive my career even more than what I’ve done in the past year. I’m going to break these posts up over the next two weeks so that I’m not writing a novel, but I’m really excited about this next phase of my career that the new year will bring.


When I went to the Summit, I sat in on a session with some “big names” talking about becoming a linchpin at your job. There was lots of great material out of the session, but the thing that really kind of stuck with me was something Kevin Kline talked about, and that’s what adjectives you want to be used when others talk about you. I’ve been thinking about this ever since, trying to decide what I want those to be. It’s hard, because we want to be all sorts of great things, but the cliché holds true: You can’t be all things to all people.

So now that I’ve had almost two months to think about it, I’ve come up with four words that describe want I want to be. Some of these already describe me, but some I need to work on. But in no particular order:

  • Smart – This is the easy one and something we all want to be. However, this just isn’t about knowing stuff, but also about knowing how to do stuff. A comment I’ve heard about me at work is that if someone comes to me with a problem and I don’t know it, I know how to get the answer. People know they can rely on me to answer their questions and help them with their problems.
  • Creative – It’s one thing to know stuff, it’s another thing to do something with it. Sure, we can all create log backups, design replication strategies, or performance tune queries, but not everything fits in the magic flowchart of all answers. Almost every company does something different, and as data professionals our challenge is to take the various bits of knowledge we have and craft them into elegant, repeatable solutions.
  • Reliable – I want my co-workers and customers to know that they can depend on me. This is a little different than being the go-to-guy or “Mr. Fixit”, as I don’t want to be the superhero that people always look for to save them from their data problems. As Tom LaRock describes in his book, I want to be Mr. Right, not Mr. Right Now. (If this doesn’t make sense, read his book. Really.)
  • Professional – This is one that I feel like I struggle with. I want to improve how the people around me see me from a professional sense. For many years, I was that guy who just wanted to sit at his desk and write code, to be left alone by the outside world. That’s a very career limiting goal, honestly. If you dress and act like you want to be left alone and not noticed, you will be left alone and not noticed. I do want my managers to notice me, I want my coworkers and customers to respect me, I want to rise above. This quantifies into a lot of little things, like dressing a little nicer, making sure I show up to meetings on time, taking on some additional projects.

These adjectives, more or less, form the core principles for my career. No matter what, this is who I want to be. Everything else in my career will build on this, and while I’ll be far from the perfect DBA, those around me will know what the can expect from me and what kind of resource I will be.

Watch for part two in a couple of days!