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SQL Rally

SQL Rally 2012: It’s all about the sauce

Consider, for a moment, the Eggs Benedict.  Most breakfasts involve egg, sometimes with toast, sometimes with meat (bacon, sausage, etc.), various combinations.  However, this one signature dish is special because it combines all this and then covers everything in tasty hollandaise sauce.  This unique combination sets the dish apart from your normal breakfast.

Our database careers are similar.  Any of us can get the job done with some basic combination of study, practical experience, and some community involvement.  What sets one path apart from another?  What gives us that extra boost that makes us stand out from our peers, that carries us up to a new level of success?  What, in short, is the hollandaise sauce of our own personal careers, providing that flavor that makes us special and unique?

This week I had the opportunity to attend the second annual SQL Rally.  For those of you following along, I wrote about my experience at SQL Rally Orlando last year and the profound impact it had on me.  This year, it was a little different for a couple reasons, though the impact was no less significant on my work and my professional growth.

First off, I’m now a community “veteran”.  This doesn’t mean I’ve got a special status, but it does mean that it was now my turn to reach out to people who were attending for their first time.  I met many new folks, shared war stories and terrible jokes, and generally spread the infection that is the SQL Family.  This infection strengthens us, since having a good professional network provides us knowledge and opportunity on a logarithmic scale.

Secondly, this year I attended as a speaker.  Instead of just trying to soak it all in, now I had to get up and talk on my own topic.  That was a particular thrill on its own, because while I’ve done several local and regional events now, now I was speaking on a national stage to the largest audience I’ve had to date.  While I haven’t seen the feedback forms yet, I was blown away by the number of people who came up and personally thanked me for presenting.  Because of the encouragement I received from my audience, I’ve gone ahead and submitted to the PASS Summit for 2012.  It wasn’t on my goal sheet for the year, but I see no reason to hold back now.

Finally, these conferences are still primarily about learning, not just networking and speaking.  I still wanted to make time to attend sessions and add advance my own personal learning.  The sessions this year were better than last year and I got a LOT of great knowledge.  On top of that, all the rooms were packed with the exception of the very last slot on Friday.  My focus on administration and internals topics and saw some great sessions on extended events, integration processes, 2012 features (and, yes, Bob Ward pulled out the debugger), and other topics.  I also mixed in a couple development sessions to broaden my experience.  Overall, some great sessions from some top notch talent.

Sure, the Summit is bigger with larger names, but Rally is incredibly valuable on its own.  Since it’s a smaller conference, you can have more direct access to some incredibly smart people.  I had conversations with at least 4 MCMs , a number of other authors and MVPs, and members of the SQL CAT team.  I got guidance on professional development as well as technical problems, without the crush or general busy-ness that comes with the size of the Summit.

I want to reiterate that we can go through our daily work, study the blogs, and go to technical courses.  We’ll still be moderately successful in our professional lives.  Community involvement is what adds that special kick, that extra flavor.  It’s the hollandaise sauce that completes the Eggs Benedict and makes it more than just eggs, an English muffin, and Canadian bacon.  If you want to be that person in your company who makes a difference, who is recognized as being something more than a database administrator or developer, then conferences like these will not only give you the knowledge you need to succeed, but also connect you to the community that drives change and sets the trends.

I want to extend a huge thank you to the NTSSUG guys who made this all possible, like Sri(b|t), Tim(b|t), Ryan(b|t), and Dave(b|t) (as well as many others I KNOW I’m forgetting).  The fact that such a great event is hosted and supported directly by members of the community shows the strength of what PASS is doing.  I can only hope that reading this inspires you to go to your own local user group or attend a SQL Saturday.  Get involved, get connected, because if you aren’t you’re, quite simply, doing it wrong!

Upcoming Presentations

More on the how later, but I wanted to let folks know about some presenting I’ll be doing over the next couple of months. I’m extremely excited for all of this speaking and the opportunities to share with the SQL Server community.

My partitioning presentation, Eating the Elephant, is now slotted for three upcoming events:

  • PASS Virtual Performance Chapter – For those following this group, Jes Borland-Schulz(b|t) did a great presentation on filegroups last week. Partitioning will be a natural follow up to this topic and I’ll be presenting to this group on March 22.
  • PASS Virtual Data Architecture Chapter  – Tom LeBlanc(b|t) asked me to give this presentation in April 19 after we talked at SQL Saturday #104 in Colorado Springs.
  • SQL Rally in Dallas – Seriously, I’m giddy about this. The SQL Community selected me as part of the Community Choice vote and I’ll be giving this presentation sometime during the conference. For those of you interested, I blogged about the first SQL Rally last year. It’s a great event, much cheaper than the Summit, and was a fantastic boost for my career. Even if you don’t come to see my presentation (I forgive you), you really should go.

I’m extremely excited and honored that people want to hear me speak. Presenting is a lot of fun for me and very rewarding, both on a personal and professional level. It’s a vicious cycle, too, because while I’m giving the same presentation three times over the next three months, I’ve already got 2-3 more presentation ideas bubbling around in my head that I plan to give by the end of the year. Stay tuned, 2012 is turning out to be pretty awesome!

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!