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SQL Saturday #104 – Colorado Springs (#sqlsat104)

If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably saw the posts I made about SQL Rally, the PASS Summit, and a couple SQL Saturdays.  It is the SQL Saturdays, in particular, that really show the strength of the SQL community.  For those unaware, SQL Saturday is a run of regional events, put on by local user group chapters and supported by the Professional Association for SQL Server, that provide a day of free training and networking.  It’s a great chance to connect with others who do what you do, along with learning about how to do your job better.

SQL Saturday #104 in Colorado Springs was a stellar example of what these events offer and ended up being a great way to start off a new year of career development.  Here’s a brief overview of some of what went on:

  • Scheduled networking activities included as part of the presentation tracks:  Many events will only have a dinner or some after party, but I thought it was a nice way to break up the sessions by including games and other opportunities to network with other data professionals.
  • Regional and national speakers on a variety of topics:  I thought the speaker mix was fantastic, with many “big name” speakers such as Karen Lopez(b|t), Grant Fritchey(b|t), and Tom LaRock(b|t) (amongst others), but also the local talent, including: Marc Beacom(b|t), Doug Lane(b|t), Jason Horner(b|t), and…!
  • Professional resume reviews: Face it, job hunting sucks.  We all have to do it sometime and it’s rare that we get a chance for someone who deals with resumes all day to help us with ours.  I think the organizers of #104 scored a coup getting professionals to come in and go over resumes with people.
  • Free precons: Thanks to the sponsors of #104 for helping out with this one.  It was great to spend an entire day learning concentrated SQL info from Glenn Berry(b|t).  I know a lot of other folks benefited from this.  Not many SQL Saturdays can squeeze these in, but I’m glad the Springs folks made it happen.

As for my experience, I had a couple great highlights.  First off, I got to present again, and with a whole new presentation.  It went very well and I got great feedback.  There were also some great sessions that I learned from (have I mentioned how awesome Grant Fritchey is?)  Catching up with those of my SQL family who flew in for the event is always great, because sometimes having friends in other states sucks (and going skiing with these folks was AWESOME!).  Finally, being immersed in the SQL community gives me such a great feeling, both from being able to contribute and all the stuff I learn from it.

If you haven’t ever been to a SQL Saturday, go.  Keep an eye on the website and if there’s an event within easy travel distance, I can’t recommend enough that you get there.  It’s more than learning about SQL Server, it is about getting connected to SQL Server and the people (just like you) who work with it day in and day out.  It is finding out the gotchas and hidden gems within the application that will make your life easier.  It’s about boosting your career, knocking yourself out of that rut, and becoming “the DBA” instead of just a DBA.

I want to thank everyone who made this event possible(such a long list!), but especially Chris Shaw(b|t) and Jeremy Lowell(b|t), the engines that made this awesome event happen.  Keep up the great work!

Performing your presentation

If I asked you when was the last time you went to an awesome rock show or movie, I’m betting that not only do you remember the day, but probably also remember how excited you got. Maybe it was Rush, getting you to move to the beat and sing along with the lyrics, or Captain America, cheering while he took on the Red Skull. I’m sure we all can think back to some artist that got us excited about their art because they put their heart and soul into their performance. Now what if I told you that giving a presentation isn’t really that much different?

For those unaware, I am a musician as well as a database administrator. I studied Bass Trombone performance at the University of Colorado at Boulder and have played in several jazz bands, orchestras, and chamber groups over the years. Sometimes it was a large gathering, other times we probably could have taken the audience in a fight. Every one of these was great, though, because of the rush I got playing music for people and sharing with them some of what I felt when I got to play.

Recently I’ve started doing SQL presentations, trying to build that professional development thing. I’ve enjoyed it and had a reasonable amount of success(well, no one’s thrown rotten fruit at me yet), but it struck me how similar giving a presentation is to a musical performance. I’ve found that just live I’ve tried to share the excitement I feel about music with an people who come to listen to me, when I give a presentation I’ve got the chance to share with people something that I found within SQL Server that’s cool and fun (in a geeky sort of way).

If you look at presentations you have given, I’m sure you can think of the parallels of preparation and practice, both of which take so much of a musicians time. The time spent building slide decks, researching minutiae, and talking in front of a mirror with a stop watch are so very much like a musician studying a score, practicing etudes, and doing breathing exercises. Most of an artist’s life is spent getting ready for that performance. It’s often lost in the mix is done on stage that really brings a song or a show to life.

I want you to think about that last great rock show or movie you went to. You know, the one that had you dancing in the crowd, cheering the hero, or singing along with the band. Musicians find ways to reach out and involve the crowd, so that their audience doesn’t just feel like they’re listening to a show, but that they’re actually a part of it. This is where the magic is, and if you can capture that in your presentation, your success will soar.

“But Mike!” you say, “We’re just talking about the dull stuff. No one’s going to bob their head to query plans, right?” Untrue. After all, the reason we work in this industry, that we participate in the community, and that we present to groups because it’s fun and gets us excited. The folks coming out to these events share that excitement, we just need to tap into that as presenters. It’s this magic quality that I’ve been working on in my own presentation style, so I canengage my audience and break down the wall between me and the people sitting in the room. It’s not easy and I know that there’s a lot that I can still learn here, but these are some of the things I’m trying to do:

  • Lighten the mood. Sure, we’re seeing a lot of dry stuff with databases, but find ways to make it fun. It could be humor or handing out candy for good questions, but try to loosen people up.
  • Get the dialog going. We always expect the audience to ask questions, so it’s uncomfortable when they look at you stone-faced. Typically, people aren’t asking questions because they’re afraid to be the first one. Get past that by asking the audience questions. Once your group realizes that this is a two way conversation, questions will start flowing.
  • Don’t be afraid. After all, people have come to the presentation to hear you. And they’ve come to hear you because they are interested in your topic and you do know what you’re talking about. If you have that confidence, it will project through and engage your audience.

Presenting really is another performing art, and I think if you approach it like an artistic performance, not only will your abilities as a presenter grow, but it will be more fun to boot. It’s hard for me to really put in to words the rush I’ve felt after a great performance, like when I played the Pines of Rome or Count Bubba, but it’s a feeling that can’t be beat. That’s what’s great about presenting, is I have gotten the same rush getting up on stage in front of PASS user’s group. So while most of us can’t shred like Satriani or sing like Tori, we all have the ability to share our passion for SQL Server with people who are just as fired up to learn about it. Revel in that, it’s a feeling to few people get to have.

SQL Saturday #94

First off, I apologize for not posting for a while.  I’ve switched jobs and have been spending the time getting sorted at the new job.  On the one hand, it’s exciting to move into a new environment and learn new things.  However, it’s also been oddly comfortable, since it’s all SQL Server.  Anyway, more on that later.

I found out yesterday that I’ll be presenting at SQL Saturday #94.  Hurrah!  I’m very happy the Salt Lake City folks have given me a chance to present.  Unfortunately, I present opposite to Doug Lane, but at least I won’t have to worry about him heckling me.

For those wondering, I’ll be doing my security presentation again.  For those curious, it’s definitely a beginner presentation, but it was well recieved at all the Colorado groups.  I was even told by a DBA of 20+ years that he got something new out of it.  Hopefully you will to!

Managing and Auditing SQL Server Permissions

When your boss asks you who has access to your databases, do you break out into a cold sweat? Or, instead, are you worried about those other people who might have ‘sa’ access to your server and might be causing trouble on your server? Either way, as DBAs we need to be able to audit our SQL Server security. This presentation will give you a general overview of the different types of roles that you can use to manage access, what they mean, and how we look at the security gremlins hiding under the covers of our databases.

I look forward to seeing you in Salt Lake City!

SQL Rally Orlando 2011

Or, how I got my brain to full tank.

I’m still pretty new to the Professional Association for SQL Server(PASS) and the SQL Server community. It’s been great, attending my local user groups along with a SQL Saturday, but I kept hearing about how great Summit was. When I heard about SQL Rally in Orlando, advertised as a “mini-Summit” that is only 3 days long (with the pre-convention talks) and at a much lower cost, I figured I had a great opportunity to get in on the next level. What followed was one of the best 4 days of my career, where I was able to learn and connect with my SQL Server peers across the country.

What it is!

So SQL Rally was created to fill the gap of training and networking you have between SQL Saturday events and the 5 day PASS Summit. With SQL Saturday, you’d get a dozen or so sessions and a chance to connect with your local peers, something of a shotglass taste of the SQL community. The summit, on the other hand, is where you have over a hundred sessions to chose from and thousands of people to meet from around the world. It’s like getting the firehose turned on and you just hope to get what you can.

This SQL Rally struck a great balance in between the two events. There were close to 50 sessions over two days, along with 4 pre-convention sessions that gave you 7 hour deep dives into a couple different topics. I think the final attendee number came in around 450, which meant that there were plenty of new people to meet, but you knew you’d see them again throughout the week. In fact, by the end of Friday, I would be checking in with one of my new friends every couple of minutes in the halls. Lunch was particularly dangerous, as I would get wrapped up in conversation on my way to getting food or a drink, or talking shop with someone while my sandwich sat untouched in front of me.

In general, it was awesome! :D

It’s time for your session, Mr. Fal

The main function of SQL Rally was to provide training with a myriad of sessions across the Business Intelligence, Database Development, Database Administration, and Professional Development tracks. Won’t get to deep into it, but here were the high points for me:
Gold medal winners:

  • Grant Fritchey’s(b|t) session on Query Tuning was solid gold. I learned an incredible amount about reading and fixing query plans. I also learned that he hates query hints as much as I do! But beyond that, I loved Grant’s enthusiasm (seriously, the man was jumping around about query plans) and his technical knowledge runs deep. To boot, I learned at least 4 things that I can take back to work on Monday and apply.
  • Wes Brown(b|t) is a gem of a man and his session on storage was fan-bloody-tastic. I don’t think I’ve ever learned and laughed so much within the space of an hour and a half. He really dug in to the internals of storage hardware and, while I’ve always had cursory knowledge of some of the info, he really filled in the gaps. Best of all, though, he did it in a way where you weren’t overwhelmed or intimidated. I can’t stress enough that if you get the chance to hear Wes speak, grab hold with both hands and don’t let go.

Silver medal recipients:

  • John Sterrett(b|t) had a great session on Policy Based Management and Central Management Server. While it was fairly technical and had a lot of good information, it did jump around a bit. Everything was worthwhile, but you did have to keep your head on a swivel and John drilled through all the different aspects of PBM/CSM with live demos. Which, by the way, makes him a far braver man than I, since many of the demos were ad hoc responses to questions instead of fully prepared examples. To his credit, they didn’t fail.
  • Jen McCown(b|t) had a great presentation on T-SQL Sins. Most of the material is stuff we all know, like documenting your code, enforcing constraints, and the like. However, half the session was a wonderfully cathartic period where members of the audience shared coding horror stories. We all have the same struggles, but as a community we can work to share the burden of promoting good practices while commiserating against the hurdles or ignorance we face.

Connection=SQL Community; Provider=SQLRALLY

For me, the biggest benefit of this event was the networking. I mean, I know local guys, but I’m a firm believer in that you’re only as strong as your network. We can’t know everything in this business, so if I have friends I can call on for help then I’m that much stronger as a professional.

Plus, ya’ gotta have friends to drink with at SQL Karaoke!

The social events were all pretty good, but essentially boiled down to a SQL happy hour each night. Now, me being a weird style of social butterfly, I would always make sure I wandered around the room to chat with people I had never met before. The result was amazing. I love how the people of the SQL Server community are so open and friendly. I’ve seen it online, with the number of people willing to share scripts and information to help each other out, but in person it’s even more evident as people are just willing to have a good time. It goes back to the commiseration element, where we all know that we share the same struggles and problems day to day.

Some shout outs to my some of my new community friends:

  • Stacia Misner(b|t) tried her best to convert me to a BI Developer during the Rally. Sorry to say to her, but I just don’t get passionate about cubes and MDX queries. Still, Stacia was open and friendly when I walked up at one of the events on Tuesday night and introduced myself. This lead to a lot of fun over the next few days, even though I missed her session (I beg forgiveness!!!).
  • Eric Wisdahl(b|t) ended up being my room mate in one of those “Well, I’ve never met you before, but I don’t think you’ll stab me to death in my sleep” situations. He’s whip-smart and very relaxed (a hoopy frood, you might say), and thanks to him I now know the glory of Chik-fil-a.
  • Jen McCown gifted me with awesome conversation about Wil Wheaton, Battlestar Galactica, and a new hat. I regret that I’ve never caught her DBAs at Midnight podcast, but I will definitely add that to my weekly To-Do list.
  • Garreth Swanepoel(b|t) was just plain awesome. He was volunteering as well as attending, and was always around with a smile and a laugh. I mean, you can’t but help enjoying yourself when Garreth’s in the room. To bad he’s moving in to BI development. (I keed! I keed!)

There were so many more folks I met, so this is by no means an exhaustive list. Everyone I talked with at SQL Rally made me a better professional, in one way or another. The best part of the socialization was that I never felt like there was a “clique” or any sort of elitism. Everyone, from the big names to the folks who were at their first national event (like me!) was open, friendly, and helpful.

That’s a wrap!

SQL Rally was awesome. There’s really no way to put it. I had a great time learning and meeting folks, realizing that there are so many more people like me in this business. The SQL Community is amazingly giving and nothing showed it to me more than this event. If you haven’t gone to anything before, start making your plans for this. The next SQL Rally is in Sweden in November, so that might be a little tough, but I know that PASS is working on hammering out the next US Rally location as we speak. Keep your eyes peeled.

To wrap up, I want to thank Kendal van Dyke(b|t), Andy Warren(b|t), Jack Corbett(b|t), and all the other SQL Rally Organizers. Thanks to the blood, sweat, and tears of these fine people, SQL Rally was a smashing success and got at least one person fired up to do more with and for the SQL Community. Thanks guys and see you all soon!