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DBA Survivor: Learning how to rock out with databases

When we get a “SQL book” handed to us, it’s usually to solve a specific technical problem. Maybe you need to understand how to write a PIVOT statement, read a query plan, set up a fail over cluster, or automate something with power shell. It’s a rare occasion when we come across a book that steps back from the daily tactical struggles and gives us a strategic view of what it takes to be a DBA and where to start when thrown in to the shark infested waters of corporate database administration.

Arriving with only a little bit of fanfare (and maybe a 2-3 angel choir) is DBA Survivor by notable #sqlfamily member, Tom LaRock(b|t). It’s advertised by Tom as the book he wishes someone had handed to him when he first became “the DBA”. A fresh approach to career development, the book finds a nice middle ground between purely technical guides and the generic career success compilations. Sure, there’s some technical sections that talk about about Dynamic Management Views, performance metrics, and backups, but the real meat is the “fuzzy” bits, such as instruction on defining daily check lists, writing Service Level Agreements, handling the work/life balance, and getting involved in the community.

While I enjoyed the entire book (all 171 pages!), several key parts stuck out for me. First is the discussion about Mr. Right versus Mr. Right Now. We’ve all seen the superheroes on our teams, the guys who drop everything to fix a problem (but don’t always fix it the right way). A former boss of mine called these folks “White Knights” or, as Tom labels them, “Mr. Right Now”. Contrast this with “Mr. Right”, who is rarely seen because when he’s on the case, things don’t break. He’s the DBA that’s proactive about attacking problems before they become crises, and when things do break he fixes them such that things don’t break again. To often we get caught up in the moment, trying to put out the immediate fires, that we lose sight of the long term. I’m glad that Tom takes the time to delineate between these two roles and emphasizes that, while we need to be Mr. Right Now sometimes, our goal needs to be Mr. Right.

Secondly, it’s nice to see a database book that instructs you about the importance of disconnecting from work. We’ve all been there: 60+ hour weeks, all-nighters, the on-call shifts from hell. The IT industry can run people ragged and burn the tech love right out of them if they’re not careful. I’m glad that Tom includes a chapter on maintaining that balance between your job and your life, because this is another area that so often gets lost in the moment. Steve Jones(b|t) often talks about life being to short to work a job you don’t enjoy, and this is very much an extension of that philosophy. You can be a great DBA and not work yourself to the bone, it’s just a matter of understanding when you should put the Blackberry down.

Finally, it should be no surprise that Tom has a chapter on community. I’ll wager most of you reading this already understand the benefits of the PASS organizations and local user groups, but many folks picking this book up may not. By including a discussion on connecting through user groups and professional organizations, Tom offers the new DBA an avenue towards excellence. I’ve seen the benefits of PASS and keep catching myself saying “If I had only gotten in to this years ago….” If I had read Tom’s book then, I probably would have.

Now many folks probably think this is just a book for the junior DBA, for someone who’s just getting started, but I know this book has value for data professionals of all levels. This book is not a detailed guide or roadmap for solving specific problems, but a series of highway sign posts to get people headed in the right direction. Maybe you are a fresh DBA, looking to get in to the industry or just survive your first week on the job. Or maybe you’re like me, a career DBA who is looking to refocus my career and looking for that “big picture view”. No matter how you got here, DBA Survivor is an excellent starting point for the rest of your database career.

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!

In the land of Jazz and Meat

I’ve been on the SQL Saturday kick lately.  Truly, these are great events that really tell you what the SQL community is all about, even more so than the Summit.  This time I was at SQL Saturday Kansas City, getting my community involvement on.  The best thing about these events is you get to interact with folks who are getting their first taste of the SQL community, which gets me really excited to share and enjoy.

I was tapped to present on two sessions, my SQL Server Security session (which I’ve done several times now) and my new Query Plan Primer session, where I do a basic rundown of reading query plans and some of the operators we can find within.  Both went well, though I’ve got my presentations lined up to be ~60 minutes each and the KC folks slotted the sessions to be 75 minutes.  This worked out well becuase I got into some good Q & A time with the audience in the remaining time.

I’m getting more and more comfortable with the whole presentation thing. It’s a ton of fun and really stretches my learning.  As I’ve told many people, the act of building a presentation really drives you, getting you to study up on the subject matter.  Open Q & A time is also a bonus, because while you can read all that material and build a nice little presentation, having 30 people quiz you on it is even better because it forces you to think about the subject from different angles.

I also attended a couple sessions that were good.  But it worked in Dev! with the illustrious Randy Knight(b|t) was great fun.  Randy’s a heck of a speaker and was able to express some of the cardinal development sins we find in our production environments in a straightforward, understandable way.  His presentation is that kind that needs to be given at any shop with a serious developer presence.  I caught a solid powershell session by Mike Lynn(t) that was a good introduction to the fundamentals of the language.  Finally, I learned about service broker from Sanil Mhatre(b|t).  Service broker is one of those cool solutions that has a lot to offer, but it’s hard to find the right problem for it to solve.

The KC group did a solid job with the event, from a comfortable speaker dinner, to an excellent event venue, and wrapped it all up with smooth exection.  Shout outs to Bill Graziano(b|t), Bill Fellows(b|t), Kris Nessa(b|t), Andy Cross, and everyone I couldn’t remember.  You guys have got this <<redacted>> DOWN.  I’ll definitely try to be out for next year.

A month of #sqlawesomesauce

Woof.  Can’t believe I got through October.  No, scratch that.  I can’t believe I scheduled so MUCH for October.  Really, I should know better, but when life hands you a plate of coolness, you dive in with both hands.  Yeah, we’ve all had those times when we go a little overboard on the things we like and end up paying for it, but is it ever not worth it???

So what happened?  Well, I had two SQL events this month that I thoroughly enjoyed.  In reverse order, I did two presentations and enjoyed awesome barbecue at SQL Saturday 101.  But before that, I made it to the SQL PASS Summit.  There’s no way I can properly convey how much fun this all was, but I’ll give you guys the quick hits as best I can.  I’m going to break the wrap ups into a two parter, just because I talk to much to assault you with THAT wall of text.

Climbing the Summit

So I finally made it.  The PASS Summit.  The big hoop-de-doo.  Was it worth it?  HELLS YES.  By the end, I was felt like my brain and body had been put through a meat grinder, but I knew more and was ready to do more when I got back to my job on Monday.

Before we start talking about the details, I want to impress upon you almost how overwhelming the summit is.  There’s so much going on that if/when you go, you’re going to be running non-stop for the hours you are awake.  Starting at breakfast, then the key notes, then the sessions, then the lunch, then more sessions, then the after parties…..woof.  It’s crazier than an unhappy on-call week.  But believe me when I say it’s absolutely worthwhile.


Tagging along with the previous comment, you may look at the schedule and want to attend something in each time slot,but it ain’t gonna happen.  There’s to much other stuff going on outside of the presentations for you to make everything.  I tried to make about 75% of the time slots.  The highlights were:

  • Internals of TempDB with Bob Ward – This session about broke my brain, but it was a good pain.  Bob really drilled into what goes on in TempDB.  While the information may not have a direct impact on my day to day work, it was still plenty valuable.
  • Bug or Feature with Itzik Ben-Gan – Man, Ben-Gan is an AWESOME speaker.  Funny, clear, and concise.  I hope he does a pre-con next year because I absolutely want to hear him for more than just an hour.  This particular session was a good insight in to how T-SQL is interpreted by the engine and covers a lot of those odd situations you might see with odd code.
  • Are you a linchpin? with the superstars – This was a panel discussion on professional development by all the big names:  LaRock, Ozar, Misner, and others.  It was a nice back and forth discussion about taking charge of your career.  I especially liked Kevin Kline commenting on “what adjectives do you want people to describe you with”, which got me thinking about many things.  More on that later.

The biggest problem with the sessions is that there are so many great ones to choose from, so you’ll definitely want to get the DVDs after all is said and done.  Pick the ones you REALLY want to go to and make sure you leave some downtime in between.


This was mostly a disappointment for me.  The first day’s keynote was a big letdown with product announcements.  I know everyone was hoping for a concrete Denali (now 2012) release date, and unfortunately when that didn’t come everything else seemed weak.  Some of the Hadoop stuff was mildly interesting, but I would have been a lot more interested if I had first seen the Dewitt keynote which really explained just what the big deal with Hadoop was.  Much of the BI/reporting stuff was lost on me.  So much so that I decided to sleep in a little the next day and skip the Thursday keynote.

Friday was a different story.  I had been hearing everyone talk about how awesome Dewitt was and I was looking forward to it, but I was also wondering if anything could live up to the hype.  Fear not, gentle reader, it lived up and then some.  Dewitt spoke on Big Data, explaining NoSQL databases and how they matched up to the traditional relational database systems.  Overall, it was very enlightening.  I went in sort of knowing what NoSQL was, I came out having no questions about it.  Very eye opening and I would recommend the keynote to anyone wondering what NoSQL was and how it does its work.


The parties and socializing were mostly hit with a couple misses.  On Monday, the event at Lowell’s was a great start to the week because I was able to reconnect with many of my SQL friends nationwide.  Tuesday was a mix, because the first timers stuff was very well done.  The organizers really went out of their way to welcome in the new class.  I got to meet many of my personal SQL heroes, mostly through random chance.  Of course, what I love about the SQL community is that every person was so approachable.  I’ve yet to encounter elitism at any event.

Wednesday night and Thursday night was nothing truly official, just hanging out with different groups of folks.  There were only a couple real regrets:

  •  Not getting out to hang with the SQL Karaoke crowd.
  •  Not shooting better pool at the Tap House.
  •  To many friends to hang out with, not enough time.

Odds and Ends

Here’s a few random hits from the week of what worked and didn’t work:

  • Using a tablet for notes as opposed to paper or a PC was a big win.  Lugging a PC would have been a big hassle and the tablet really gave me good consolidation of my notes electronically.
  •  Bring business cards!  I didn’t hand out that many, but they are a huge networking tool!
  •  Next year, I need to leave on Saturday.  Leaving Friday night was a drag socially and physically.
  •  Make sure to plan a day ahead of the conference to do some touristy things.  Seattle is a great town, get a chance to experience some of it and don’t wrap everything up in the conference.

Maybe size is everything!

I just want to get this across:  The summit is huge!  Just like it can’t be described in one or even two blog posts, it’s almost more than one person can attend.  It’s enriching and a great experience, but you really have to pace yourself and realize that you’re not going to be able to get to everything.  And that’s fine, because everything you do go to will benefit you in some way.

Oh, and one last thing.  I know a lot of people struggle with paying for this and trying to talk their companies into sending them.  I have the same problem.  In fact, so much so that I sent myself.  That’s right, I was totally self funded.  That meant I had to be careful on some stuff and not go to pre-cons like I wanted to, but trust me when I say I got my money’s worth.  I want my company to send me since it’s to their benefit as well, but when everything is said and done, this is another investment in my career that I am happy and willing to make.

See you next year!

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!