The Next Generation

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a caver. I mention this when I speak as part of a dad joke, that as a caver, I really do know a certain body part from a hole in the ground. I won’t say it makes me unique, there are literally 1000s of cavers in the US and even more around the world.

Like any group of people, not all cavers are the same. Some love long expeditions where they may spend a week or more underground, mapping new caves and plumbing their depths. Others may go in to study the geology or search for fossils. Some are studying the biosphere within caves. I have a lot of respect for those folks. Me, I like to take beginners caving. I also like to teach cave rescue and to talk about it.

And I think my role in taking new folks caving can be as important as what many of my fellow cavers do. Yes, it means I often go into the same caves over and over again, and that may sound boring, but honestly, it’s generally not. I often get to see the cave again through new eyes.

What brought on this post was the fact that I had the opportunity to take a friend and her twins caving for a second time. The wonder and excitement that their 6 year old eyes brought to the cave was wonderful. Passages I took as boring and mundane they saw as exciting and exhilarating. Their enjoyment was a breath of fresh air.

I’m a member of the National Speleological Society  I support the NSS because it supports cavers. But, I have a nit to pick with some (certainly not all) of my fellow members.

Let me preface by saying that caves can be rare and unique areas. While they can appear to be solid, non-changing areas made of stone, they can be dynamic places and the presence of humans can easily have a dramatic, negative impact.  For example, people hiking a mountain don’t have an impact on it simply by breathing near the mountain (they can certainly have other impacts). But, bringing enough people into a cave can have a dramatic impact on fungal and bacterial growth simply due to the amount of moisture they bring into the cave with them. They can also bring fungi and bacteria into a cave that may not have been there before.

In addition, many once beautiful caves have been destroyed by treasure collectors who have broken off cave formations such as stalactites and stalagmites. Once removed, it can be hundreds of years or more before they’ll reform. Even touching a forming one can alter its formation.

As a result of this, I’ve seen a movement that appears to be growing of both gating caves and of not sharing the location of caves. While cavers have often always been a bit protective of cave locations, the perception, at least to me, is that we’ve become more so. We’re reluctant to share the caving experience because we’re afraid “too many people will come and ruin the cave.” And there’s probably some truth to that.

But, while I certainly favor protecting our caves, I think if we’re too protective, we end up risking losing the next generation of cavers.  And the NSS enrollment numbers suggest this may be happening.

So, I personally prefer to take beginners caving. Many will attempt to go anyway, so I’d rather they learn proper caving techniques and cave conservation.  I encourage others to do the same. Take the time to introduce others to this wonderful activity, and teach them how to do it correctly.  And fortunately for every caver that seems to have the attitude of not wanting to “let” novices into caves, there seem to be two cavers that are willing to take novices caving. So, I remain optimistic.

I’ve thought about this also as I look at the presentations some of my fellow #SQLFamily members and realized I do the same there. Many will have great presentations on complex topics and ideas. They’re great presentations. And I respect them for it and admittedly, I’m sometimes jealous of their knowledge and skills. Myself, I seem to prefer teaching more introductory topics. I think continuing to bring new folks into the world of SQL Server and into SQL Saturday and PASS Summit are important. In fact our speaker this coming Monday is Matt Cushing. He’ll be speaking about Networking 101.

To close, I think in any world, but particularly in the two I inhabit, caving and SQL, it takes all types, those who dive deep into the subject and those who take other paths. I don’t think one path is necessarily better than another. The only ones I have an issue with those are those who take the attitude that novices aren’t welcome. You don’t necessarily have to be the person welcoming novices, but don’t be the one that discourages them either. We need to build the next generation.  And that’s my take away for the week.

Busy Weekend Volunteering

As I mentioned previously, I was on vacation for about 10 days and got back to Albany very early Wednesday morning (or late Tuesday night depending on how one looks at it.) And once back from vacation I had to jump right back into two other events I had previously put on my schedule. This meant I didn’t have much time to catch up on work or sleep. But it was worth it.

A confluence of events meant that I ended up being double booked this past weekend. The first event was some special cave rescue training called a Small Party Assisted Rescue (SPAR) class. This was a 3 day class, Friday through Sunday. However, in addition, students had the chance to show up Thursday night in order to test on their skills before participating.  I was both an instructor for this class as well as the site and course organizer. My second event was SQL Saturday Albany, which I had been selected to speak at. I’m also the User Group coordinator that sponsors this event. This double booking meant that I couldn’t instruct at the SPAR on Saturday. I do want to note that at both events there were a number of other volunteers, and some were doing even more work than I was.

Between these two events, it meant I was getting about 6 hours of sleep a night plus putting in a lot of driving. It was a long, tiring, essentially 3.5 day weekend starting on Thursday. Additionally the jet-lag made it seem even longer.

Why do I mention all this? Because, both events are very important to me and cover two large areas of my life. I’ve previously written about some of my SQL Saturday experiences and SQL Pass experiences.  This is part of my professional life. I feel very strongly about volunteering and speaking at these SQL events. I enjoy running our local Capital Area SQL Server User Group (CASSUG) for the same reason. I’m a better DBA because of the shared experiences of my fellow speakers. I’ve written about this previously here and elsewhere in this blog. I hope I’ve helped others.

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Deborah Melkin discusses normalized vs. star schemas.

On the other side, as my slide deck often points out, I’m a caver. More critically I’m the Northeastern Regional Coordinator for the National Cave Rescue Commission. I’ve had the privilege of teaching 100s of people how to perform cave rescue, been a media resource during the 2018 Thai rescue, and have spoken and written on the subject. I am by no means an expert, I’m always learning, as are all my fellow instructors. But, we all are not only willing, but want to spend the time and money and effort to teach others. We are passionate about it.  I don’t mean this lightly. For this particular SPAR, while about 1/2 the instructors lived within 2 hours of the event and it was an easy drive, the rest either drove 5-8 hours, or spent all day flying on standby to get here or to get home. None were reimbursed for any of their expenses and in fact had to pay for linens if they wanted them.  They also had to take 2 days or more days off of work to come to New York.

Next summer, I will be the course coordinator for our 2020 National Weeklong here in New York State. This will bring close to 100 people to New York for a week of 14 hour days of teaching and learning cave rescue techniques. Fortunately, I will have a LOT of help organizing this event. But again, all the instructors and staff are volunteers who will travel at their own expense to be here and help teach.

So I spent my weekend volunteering, because I’m passionate about it. How was your weekend?

 

Redemption

About a year ago I wrote this post: And so it Happened… about my first (and so far only) time I ended up with an empty room at a SQL Saturday. I’ve run into a few other speakers who have had the same experience, so that soothed the bruised ego a bit, but it still left a bit of a mark.

As a result, I set a goal of redeeming myself this year again at the Colorado Springs SQL Saturday. I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to exceed my turnout from last year.  So, I submitted several topics for them to select from and waited. Finally the day came, and I found that I had been selected to speak. There was only one problem. The topic in question was one that while I had submitted, and had a good outline for, I had not actually fully developed into a presentation and was a bit nervous about:
The very Model of a Modern Day Database. I thought it would be a good topic, I just had to develop it.  And of course like any good procrastinator I kept putting off the work. I mean I was making progress, but, well it was slow.

Fortunately, by Friday the 5th, I had run through a complete form of it and had worked out pretty much all the tweaks I wanted and had practiced it a few times to an empty room, you know, just in case of a repeat of last year. Seriously though, I do several run-throughs to make sure I get the timing right and I pretty much know what I was going to say. I’ll let readers in on a little secret, some of the parts of my presentations that look like they’re improvised or impromptu comments or replies, are often rehearsed.

So I felt pretty good going into Saturday.  Then, looking at the schedule, it struck me that my topic was on the System Databases, one of which is known as the TempDB (to my non-SQL readers, that’s a fairly critical database SQL Server uses as sort of a scratch pad) and that a session before lunch (mine was scheduled after lunch) was by Kalen Delany and was an entire hour on just the TempDB. I first heard Kalen speak at SQL Connections conference back in 2005 or so in Orlando and had read a few of her books. To say that she’s well known in the SQL Community and highly respected might be an understatement. Now the impostor syndrome was really starting to kick in! What could little ol’ me say about the TempDB in 15 minutes that would interest people after listening to her?

But then I realized, our topics had a slightly different focus, and while some of our advice was similar (put your TempDB on FAST drives), I covered things in a different way and there would still be something of interest to my attendees. And, it is not a competition after all. Honestly, my goal whenever I teach any topic is to reach at least one student or attendee. If I can get one person to walk away and say, “I learned something” or “That was worth it” I feel like I’ve won. This happened during a week-long cave rescue training course once. On the first day in the field I showed a student a fairly simple but not entirely obvious way to rig a rope. After explaining it to her she looked at me and said, “that’s worth the price of the course right there!”.  I glowed and joked I could now take the rest of the week off; I had achieved my goal.

Anyway, after lunch I was prepared. Lunch was scheduled for 12:30-1:45 and I was in the classroom by 1:40, all setup waiting for folks to show up. And sure enough two people showed up. I was happy. Perhaps not ecstatic, but at least happy I had an audience.  And then two more people showed up, put down their stuff and asked, “mind if we leave this here, we’ll be back.”  I said it was fine, but was a bit confused since the clock was saying 1:44 and I was wondering where they’d be going just before my session started.

But hey, four people, that was four more than last year, even if two weren’t in the room and one of the others admitted they weren’t really a DBA and wasn’t sure if the class was applicable to what they wanted to learn.

At that point, one of the original pair started to shuffle her papers and looked up and said, “you know, it’s weird, the schedule has a 15 minute break between lunch and the first afternoon session. This is supposed to start at 2:00 PM”  I looked and she was right.  As far as I can tell, when the organizers laid out the sessions, they put a 15 minute break between them, and simply did the same for after lunch. This explained why the second pair of people had left with the intent to come back. They wanted good seats for the 2:00 PM start.

Sure enough, by 2:00 PM the room was fairly full and I was off and running. I was in a smaller room than Kalen’s presentation, where she had 40 or more, I had perhaps a dozen. But I was happy and content. And, once it was over, both the room monitor and myself reminded folks to give feedback and this audience was great at that.

A word on feedback. The forms at SQL Saturdays tend to be fairly standard and I think I speak for most presenters when I say, that while it can be gratifying to get all 5s on the top of the form, it’s also kind of useless. But, when folks actually take time at the bottom of the form to give actual written feedback, that’s quite gratifying. This audience gave great written feedback.

I also appreciate feedback in person. At least one person came up afterwards to say, “That was really great, I bet you could do an hour on each System Database.”  So perhaps, I will do an hour presentation on the TempDB someday!

So, I feel redeemed. Due to a variety of reasons it’s unlikely I’ll bid to speak at Colorado Springs next  year, but I’d highly recommend it for anyone in the area. And, if you’re afraid that some other presenter might overshadow you because they’re better known or their topic is similar to yours, don’t despair. Seriously, there’s enough knowledge to go around and enough interest.

 

Janus 1 – 2018

As the year draws to a close, I thought I’d look back on the year a bit.

The goal of this blog has been to give me a place to reflect on the purpose of this blog.  I claim in My Goal Here to want to reflect on how we think and what drives certain decisions. And I suppose at times that’s true. At times it’s to give actual SQL or IT related advice.  But at times, it’s simply an exercise in my ability to put fingers to the keyboard and words on the screen and to be a bit self-indulgent if I’m honest.

My most popular page this  year was a mixture of things: The Streisand Effect. It was a bit of an activism piece about events at my alma mater and a chance to broaden my blog to more readers. But, it did also serve to actually reach one of my primary goals; to reflect on how we think and make decisions; primarily sometimes by trying to tamp down an issue, we only serve to draw more attention to it and to inflame things further.

My second most viewed piece this year was one of several on sexism, especially in the IT industry: Math is hard, Let’s Go Shopping. I still haven’t finished the book mentioned in the post, but it’s on my list to finish. The issue of sexism in my primary industry is one that has grown in importance to me and I expect to write more about it in the coming year and to try to do more about it.

Reviewing my SQL Saturday’s in 2018, I had the honor of speaking at Colorado Springs, or at least trying to, which I wrote about here; SQL Saturday Philadelphia, SQL Saturday Atlanta, SQL Saturday Manchester UK (my first overseas SQL Saturday, where I had a blast!), SQL Saturday Albany, and finally SQL Saturday DC. I also presented at the DC SQL User Group in September.  All great times and I had learned a lot and had a great time meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends.

I put in to speak at SQL Pass Summit, but again didn’t make it. But I still attended and had a great time.

I also was pleased to be asked to write for Redgate’s Simple Talk where I know have two articles published on using PowerShell for SQL: My first and second. I’ll be submitting my third article in coming weeks.

But not everything I did or wrote about was SQL related or even IT related. In late June, 13 people became trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand. This became a world-wide media event that a few weeks later I found myself part of. Besides at least four blog posts of my own that touched upon it, in my role as a regional coordinator of the National Cave Rescue Commission I did close to a half-dozen media engagements, including one for The Takeaway NPR program.

Oh, one more interview I did this past year was with Carlos Chacon and Steve Stedman of SQL Data Partners: it was a podcast I did with them. You can read about my thoughts here and listen to the podcast here. And definitely go to Amazon and buy my book!

Anyway, it’s been a great, and eventful year and I appreciate everyone who has read my blog and even more so to those who have commented on it, shared it, or somehow given me feedback.

I’m looking forward to 2019. I hope you are too.

“So, why are you sitting here?”

I had been anticipating the question and it was a fair question, after all, I was one of two men sitting at the Women in Technology Birds of a Feather table at PASS Summit.  But let me back up a bit.

Last week was the PASS Summit in Seattle, an annual event that I mentioned two weeks ago that I was headed to. There are several thousand people that attend and in order to promote networking, in the massive lunch hall, they have a number of tables set aside for particular topics, i.e. “birds of a feather”. So if there’s a particular topic or interest group you are associated with you, you can sit at such a table and know you’re among like minded friends. For example on Day One I had set at the “Virtual and Local User Group” table.  But today, I found myself at the Women in Technology table.

So why?

Let’s back up even further. I grew up in a small town in the northwest corner of Connecticut. I can’t say my parents were poor, but we probably lived below what many would consider a middle-class lifestyle. However, I was very fortunate to have hard-working parents and grandparents who helped, and more than a bit of privilege.  What do I mean by this? One example comes to mind. A couple of years after college when I was first consulting, I needed a small business loan to cover a project for a client. I literally walked into the local bank and on my word got the loan I needed. Even then I realized I had a bit of privilege going on there.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve listened to more and more testimonies from women and persons of color and continued to realize how for granted I’ve taken many aspects of my life. As a result, I’ve worked to listen to others and try to increase their access to opportunities and gain the same privilege I was simply born with by being a white male.

So why was I there?

The question was not a surprise, since the table host, Kathi Kellenberger had said she wanted to go around the table and ask folks why they were there. fortunately she hadn’t started with me first! This gave me time to think about my answer.

To listen. To listen to two women of color talk about their struggles and efforts to make it into the world of being SQL DBAs. To listen to other women talk about their experiences and to learn from them.

So I gave that and a bit more as my answer and then shut up and listened. It was a great lunch and a great experience.  As my friend, and WIT Virtual Group co-leader (along Kathi) Rie Irish is wont to say, “if women could solve these problems we’d have done so by now. We need your help”.

So to my fellow men out there, I would say, be an ally. Attend the WIT Luncheon (which was the day before) at Pass Summit.  Encourage women to speak at your User Group and at SQL Saturdays, stop others from interrupting them during meetings, amplify their ideas. And sometimes, just shut up and listen. And if you’re involved with SQL Server and PASS and want more information reach out to Rie and Kathi and contact the Virtual Group the manage, Women in Technology.  Trust me, men are welcome as allies.

 

SQL Pass 2018

Next week I’m off to the SQL Pass conference in Seattle.  This will be my 4th peregrination to Seattle in 4 years. This has become an annual trip for me. There’s one very obvious reason for going and then a 2nd also important reason.  SQL Pass is one of the top events for folks who work with SQL Server. It’s a 3 day conference (plus up to 2 days of pre-con events, including at least one meeting I’ll be attending as our local group leader) full of technical sessions covering a wide range of topics related to SQL Server and related technologies.

Four years ago, when I first attended, I was a newbie and wasn’t sure what to expect. My father had recently passed and I wasn’t entirely sure I still wanted to make the trip. But tickets had been bought and the price to attend been paid, so I decided to go. One of the first (perhaps the first) session I attended, was a session by Kathi Kellenberger on how to get published as an author. I had for years toyed with an idea for a book and I figured it couldn’t hurt to attend and perhaps learn something. Her session was quite helpful and I approached her afterwards for more input and she introduced me to one of the editors at Apress. I pitched my idea and a few months later, the contracts were signed.  All I had to do now was actually write the thing.  So, I ended up writing IT Disaster Response: Lessons Learned in the Field. (btw, I do obviously recommend it, it covers IT disasters, plane crashes and cave rescues. It’s not your standard cut and dry boring book on disasters.)

A friend of mine who owns a book shop once said, “anyone can write a book, it’s harder actually publish a book.” I had now done both. It was a bit bittersweet because my dad had been an English major and had always wanted to write a book and be published. Now, admittedly, he wanted to write fiction, which I think is far harder, and in his day, the idea of “print on demand” like what Apress tends to do, didn’t really exist.  And to be honest, at the end of the day, as Kathi warned me, if I was in it for the money, I’d be better off in terms of hours spent, getting a job at McDonald’s.

But, I digress. That book ended up being my first foray into actually getting paid to write.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post I’ve now contributed to Red Gate’s Simple Talk program with my post on an Intro to PowerShell. And my second post has been submitted and accepted and hopefully is going up in a few weeks or so.

So, to say my first PASS event changed my live would probably be accurate.

Beyond that one session four years ago, I’ve attended many other sessions and learned a wealth of knowledge and leveraged that in my job and in finding speakers for my local SQL Server User Group which I now lead. One of my favorite speakers I had in the last year was Bob Ward who did a remote presentation for us about SQL Server on Linux. And this despite me being a Patriots fan and him being a *cough* Cowboys fan.

So again, I look forward to seeing a lot of my #sqlfamily out in Seattle next week. But I still won’t be doing karaoke, sorry Aunt Kathi!

But I also mentioned a second reason for visiting: my non-sqlfamily, what I might call my #rocfamily.  The Rensselaer Outing Club has a number of alumns who all live in the area and we’ve started a yearly tradition of getting together for take-out Thai food at the house I stay in. ROC in its own way changed my life, among other things, teaching me how to be a leader and an effective decision maker.

In addition to all my fellow ROCcers, there’s at least one from my days on sci.space.* on Usenet (where I can still be found btw) and a few other friends I’ve made over the years. I’m quite looking forward to seeing them all.

So see you all next week in Seattle!

And so it Happened…

New Faces

Last year I made a decision to try to do at least one SQL Saturday outside my “normal” geographic region; which basically encompasses down to Washington DC and out to Rochester NY and Boston. I’ve spoken at a number of SQL Saturdays in this area. I’ve enjoyed all of them. And generally I’ve drawn a decent audience, with a few exceptions.

But, one of the problems of doing that is you keep seeing the same speakers over and over. And while we’ve got a great crowd of speakers, I wanted to hear from speakers I might not normally hear from. Also, unless you’re constantly creating new content (which you should for a multitude of reasons), after awhile your possible audience has heard everything you have to say.

So last year, I put a bid in for SQL Saturday Chicago and was very pleased to be accepted. I had a great time staying with some friends in the area and also a great time at the Speakers Dinner and After Party as well as at the event itself. I met a number of speakers I had not met before and heard a few speaker that I had not previously heard. And, I had a fresh new audience who seemed to really enjoy my topic on “Tips that have saved my Bacon.”

Colorado Springs

So this year, I had a choice of places to put in bids for. I selected Colorado Springs and was pleasantly surprised to find they’d accepted me.  Since I’ve got a friend in the area, that cut down on costs considerably.  It was a win win.

I had a great time at the Speakers Dinner on Friday night and met more speakers that I had not previous met. A quick shout out to @toddkleinhans and Cyndi Johnson and @DBAKevlar among others. It was great. We talked a bit about using VR to navigate a query, about reprogramming our brains and more.

I was excited for the next day. Sure, it was last session of the day, but I showed up early so I could hang out in the Speakers’ Lounge, see some of the other sessions, and hang with my friends, the MidnightDBAs, Sean and Jenn McCown.

Then it happened

As a speaker you have a lot of fears; the slide deck crashing, your computer applying updates in the middle of your talk (it happens!) and more. But I think the one that perhaps you don’t necessarily dread the most, but you’re most disappointed by, is when…. no one shows up! Catherine Wilhelmsen has a great blog post about this and I have to agree with pretty much everything she says.

All I can say is… “it happens”. I know it’s happened to other speakers, many who I have a great deal of respect for and think are a tier above me in terms of their talks.

Sometimes it’s just luck of the draw. Sometimes, as I suspect played a role here, it’s the end of the day, a number of folks have gone home already and ALL the sessions have lower numbers than ones earlier in the day. It could be the organizers misjudged the topics the audience wanted. It could be my title or description just didn’t entice folks (I suspect this is part of the issue with a different talk I gave, where I got too cutesy with the title. I’ve changed the title and updated the description and I’m scheduled to present it again at another SQL Saturday. So at least the organizers there think it’ll draw folks.)

But overall, yeah, it’s frustrating, but a single talk doesn’t make or break me as a speaker. It happens and we move on.

Conclusion

It was still worth coming out to SQL Saturday Colorado Springs and I don’t regret it. I’m grateful to the organizers that gave me the opportunity.  So thanks.

Oh and one more thing I noticed while going back through notes for this blog entry: SQL Saturday Chicago 2017 was event 600, Colorado Springs 2018 was 700. That’s 100 in a year, almost 2 a week. And I was asked to speak at (including Chicago) 6 of them I believe. That’s a pretty good percentage.

I’m content.

That said come see me next month at SQL Saturday Philadelphia! I’m not sure what time I’m scheduled for yet, but I’ll be speaking on “So you want to Present: Tips and Tricks of the Trade”. And yes, I will talk about when people don’t show up. That’s assuming I have an audience 🙂