How Much We Know

Last night I had the privilege of introducing Grant Fritchey  as our speaker to our local user group. He works for Redgate who was a sponsor. The topic was on 10 Steps Towards Global Data Compliance.  Between that and a discussion I had with several members during the informal food portion of our meeting I was reminded me of something that’s been on my mind for awhile.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve worked with SQL Server since the 4.21a days. In other words, I’ve worked with SQL Server for a very long time. As a result, I recall when SQL Server was just a database engine. There was a lot to it, but I think it was safe to say that one could justifiably consider themselves an expert in it with a sufficient amount of effort. And as a DBA, our jobs were fairly simple: tune a query here, setup an index update job there, do a restore from backups once in awhile. It wasn’t hard but there was definitely enough to keep a DBA busy.

But, things have changed.  Yes, I still get called upon to tune a query now and then. Perhaps I making sure stats are updated instead of rerunning an index rebuild, and I still get called upon to restore a database now and then. But, now my job includes so much more. Yesterday I was writing a PowerShell script for a client. This script calls an SFTP server, downloads a file, unzips it and then calls a DTSX package to load it into the database.  So now I’m expected to know enough PowerShell to get around. I need to know enough SSIS to write some simple ETL packages. And the reason I was rewriting the PowerShell script was to make it more robust and easier to deploy so that when I build out the DR box for this client, I can more easily drop it in place and maintain it going forward.  Oh, did I mention that we’re looking at setting up an Availability Group using an asynchronous replica in a different data center? And I should mention before we even build that out, I need to consult with the VMWare team to get a couple of quick and dirty VMs setup so I can do some testing.

And that was just Monday.  Today with another client I need to check out the latest build of their application, deploy a new stored procedure, and go over testing it with their main user. Oh, and call another potential client about some possible work with them. And tomorrow, I’ll be putting the finishing touches on another PowerShell article.

So what does this have to do with last night’s meeting on Global Data Compliance? Grant made a point that in a sense Data Compliance (global or otherwise) is a business problem. But guess who will get charged with solving it, or at least portions of it?  Us DBAs.

As I started out saying, years ago it was relatively easy to be an expert in SQL Server. It was basically a single product and the lines tended to be fairly distinct and well drawn between it and other work. Today though, it’s no longer just a database engine. Microsoft correctly calls it a data platform.  Even PASS has gone from being an acronym for Professional Association of SQL Server to simply PASS.

Oh, there are still definitely experts in specific areas of of the Microsoft Data Platform, but I’d say they’re probably more rare now than before.  Many of us are generalists.

I mentioned above too that I’d probably be more likely to update stats than an index these days.  And while I still deal with backups, even just the change to having compression has made that less onerous as I worry less about disk space, network speed and the like. In many ways, the more mundane tasks of SQL Server have become automated or at least simpler and take up less of my time. But that’s not a problem for me, I’m busier than ever.

So, long gone are the days where knowing how to install SQL Server and run a few queries is sufficient. If one wants to work in the data platform, one has to up their game. And personally, I think that’s a good thing. What do you think? How has your job changed over the past decade or more. I’d love to hear your input.

A Good Guy

I wrote previously about the dangers of calling yourself an ally. Two completely unrelated incidents in the last week reminded me of that post. Both on their own are rather small items, but I think worth considering.

The first basically happened to a friend at a recent rally in NYC to support the Jewish community. Apparently a young non-Jewish woman accosted an elderly Jewish immigrant at the march for comments he had made about the goal or purpose of the rally. Or to put it another way, a non-Jewish person was telling a Jewish person that the way he was expressing his support for Judaism was wrong. Let that sink in for a minute. Now, to be fair, as a my Jewish friend commented, the young woman’s comments weren’t necessarily technically wrong, but they were out of place.

In the second incident, I replied to a comment a friend had made on Twitter. In reaction she sent me a pair of emojis that equated to, “seriously?” I was confused at first because my tweet had been intended to agree with and support her observation. However, because, as she put it, “I was one of the good guys” she wanted to explain how my reply could be perceived as a form of mansplaining. She realized I hadn’t intentionally tried to overshadow her comments or to be rude. She would have had no problem calling me out in public had that been the case. Instead, she took the time to privately explain to me why what I had done was problematic. I ended up, despite her saying it was unnecessary, removing my tweet because I was no longer comfortable with it. I realized were better ways of I could have replied.

The point of my two examples isn’t to say that the young woman was a bad person, or to self-flagellate myself. The point is that even as a ally, one will make mistakes. This is in part because by not being an actual part of the group in question, one can’t fully internalize what it means to be part of that group and how comments and actions will impact members of that group. But, one can ideally still listen and learn. I appreciate that my friend took the time to explain to me why my tweet was problematic. She was under no obligation to do so. But I appreciate it.

That said, two other quick items: I want to toss a shout out to the South Florida BI SQL Saturday. One can’t go 100% based on names as to how one identifies, but the organizers have tweeted about how they managed to have a 50/50 balance of men and women presenting. It is definitely possible to do this folks.

Finally, a shoutout for my latest Redgate article on Comments and More in PowerShell. This was a fun one to write. I hope you enjoy it.

 

2020 in Preview

Ok, time for the obligatory dad joke: I can’t see what’s coming in the next year, I genuinely do not have 20/20 vision!

But I suppose my vision looking back was better. So I will try to prognosticate for the coming year and set some goals. I said last year I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, but I suppose I may have to reassess that claim as this is the second year in a row I’ve gone out on a limb and set goals, and what are goals if not a form of a resolution?

  • I’m going to continue to blog at least once a week. While I hope my readers get something out of it, I also blog for my own personal reasons: it helps me keep my writing and creative juices flowing. If years ago you told me I would have written a book and was blogging I’d have laughed and not believed it. I also would have wondered what blogging was!
  • Related to that, I will continue to writing for Red-Gate. This is a bit different from my blogging. It’s far more technical in nature which requires more effort. Since I’ve set aside an hour a week (and in fact my calendar just reminded me it was time for that hour) I’ve found I’ve been more productive. It’s in part why I wrote 5 articles last year and got 4 published. All so far have been on PowerShell. Generally my approach as been either, “here is a problem I had at a client and how I solved it with PowerShell” or lately it’s been a bit more of “hey, here’s a challenge, let’s see how to do it in PowerShell.” The best example of this last year was my article on using PowerShell to create a countdown timer with a GUI. It’s perhaps not the most productive way to do it, I think other languages and approaches would be easier, but it was a fun challenge and I learned a lot.
  • Extended Events! Or as Grant Fritchey would say #TeamExEvents! I’m a proud member and my goal is to learn more about them and to write more about them this year. It’s just a question of how much. But I’m a convert and a definite fan!
  • Read more blogs on a regular basis. I sporadically read Grant’s and also Monica Rathbun’s and would recommend both. I also sometimes read Cathrine Wilhemsen’s and she’s recently been on a tear with her guide to Azure Data Factories. I’ll admit I haven’t worked with it, but 25 posts in 25 days is an incredible feat and she’s great and knowledgeable on the topic, so I can highly recommend it in any event. I also want to add a few non-technical blogs to the mix. We’ll see.
  • Keep speaking at SQL Saturdays. I have yet to put in for any, but I will. Perhaps I’ll be visiting a city near you!
  • Create a couple of new topics to speak on. I’ve suggested a collaboration with someone and now I have to get off my butt and put together notes and see if they’re still willing to speak with lil’ ol’ me.
  • Speak at SQL Summit. This is an ongoing goal. Someday I’ll achieve it.
  • Have a successful NCRC Weeklong Cave Rescue Seminar here in NY. I’m the site coordinator for it this  year. I’ve got a great team backing me up, but as they say, the “Buck Stops Here”.  Registration is looking great, but until I get hit my goals, I’ll be stressing.
  • Read more! – I received several books for the holidays, including:
    • The Power Broker, I biography of Robert Moses
    • Station Eleven, a fiction  book (and if you’re the one that recommended it to me, please remind me who you are so I can thank you.)
    • Headstrong, 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World

And finally some rather generic goals

  • Love more!
  • Cave more!
  • Hike more!
  • Bike more!
  • Travel!
  • Vote the bastard out!
  • Have fun!

And I’ll conclude with one more dad joke because… that’s the way I roll!

When does a joke become a dad joke?

When it becomes a-parent.

Hey, don’t blame me if you groaned. I warned you it was coming!

Have a great New Year!

52

52 is an interesting number.  It’s the number of weeks in the year. It’s the number of cards in a deck. It’s a number of Earths in the DC Multiverse. It’s an untouchable number, something I just learned. It’s the atomic number of tellurium. In fact it has a number of interesting trivia associated with it according to Wikipedia: 52.

It also just happens to be the number of times I’ve been around the Sun, though strictly speaking that depends if you’re counting sidereal or the tropical year and the fact that I was born at night. But I think we’re close enough.

And it just so happens my birthday falls on the day I usually blog. So rather than something technical (though if I can get permission from a client, I may have something fun and technical soon) I thought I’d post some reflections and thoughts.

For me birthdays are both interesting and boring. I’m glad I’ve reached another milestone. But honestly, after age 25 when my car insurance rates went down, I haven’t given individual birthdays much thought. That’s not strictly true, I sometimes think about the fact that I’ve passed the point where statistically I’m looking at fewer days ahead of me than behind me.

I grew up in a small town, Falls Village CT, and parts of me never have left it. When I stop to daydream, my thoughts take me to the town green where we often played, or the woods behind my dad’s house, or the sand quarry behind the depot I grew up in. It was a safe and quiet life. I watched the world move from bell-bottoms to Reagan power ties.

While just a teenager, I and friends ran not one, but two Monopoly marathons to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The first year we played for 100 hours (in teams) and the second 150 hours. I was and am still quite proud of the organization that took and the money we raised.

Since then I’ve done a lot.  I got thinking about that last night at the Capital Area SQL Server User Group meeting. I’m proud to lead this group.  I really enjoy, as I’ve noted before, giving back to the community that has helped me so much.

I’m proud to be a Regional Coordinator for the National Cave Rescue Commission. I can literally say the work the NCRC does saves lives. It’s an honor and humbling when folks come up to me and tell me how their training has made a difference in the lives.

I’m proud of much of what I’ve done in as my avocations and vocations, even if at times I’m often a victim of imposter syndrome. There’s still many times when someone will ask me a question and my first thought is, “why are they asking me, I’m just a kid and… oh wait… no I am the expert here and I’m far from being a kid.”  This is especially true when people I look up turn around and ask me for advice.  This happens a lot in the SQL world.

I’m very proud of my family, especially my son and daughter who are growing up to be wonderful adults, capable of critical and deep thinking. They will make an impact on the world and I don’t think as a parent I could want for anything more.

And of course proud of my wife, but I can’t take credit there, she’s a wonderful person in her own right. I just married well.

One common thread I’ve realized in my life that I enjoy is teaching and sharing my knowledge. I also, as anyone knows me, love a good debate.  Bring your facts to the table. Teach me something, change my mind, or be willing to have yours changed. I still recall a debate I had with someone once about a detail of the Constitution. She made one claim, I made another. We finally settled it by finding a copy of the text and realizing who was right. Afterwards there was no rancor or hurt. We both had appreciated the intellectual exercise and the correction of fact.  But even opinions can at times be changed. At Summit I had two pieces of white chocolate from New Zealand. They changed my mind about white chocolate! I enjoyed them.

People often ask me what I want for my birthday and the truth is, I rarely want material things. Honestly, unless it’s a new Tesla (and NOT the truck) I can and will probably buy it for myself.

But here goes:

  • Another 52 years – hey, why not? We’re making medical breakthroughs, and it’s possible I’m wrong and I’ve got more days ahead of me than behind me. Right now, I’d love that.
  • Learn something – challenge yourself in the next year to learn a new skill or a new topic. Don’t get stuck doing the same things all the time.  Earlier this year I finally took the time to start learning about Extended Events. Who knows what I’ll learn in this coming year.
  • Teach someone something – everyone one of you has a skill someone else doesn’t. Share.
  • Related to that: if you’re a caver, or have a friend or family member who is a caver, get them to take the 2020 National Cave Rescue Seminar.
  • Have a friendly debate with someone. Realize it’s not about winning or losing, but an exchange of ideas. Bring your facts to the table and recognize your opinions. Be open-minded.  Be prepared to say, “You know what, you’re right, I was wrong.” This is not losing a debate.  And be prepared to acknowledge someone saying the above to you. Accept the words graciously, don’t lord it over them. This is not about winning a debate.
  • Be kind.  If nothing else in the coming year, be kind.

And that’s it for turning 52.

P.S. Unrelated, but check out my latest article at Redgate’s Simple-talk: Building a Countdown Timer with PowerShell

Caving along the Great Divide

The title is a rife on a favorite folk song of mine, “Railroading on the Great Divide”, apparently first made famous by the amazing Carter Family. In this case, the Great Divide is a feature of a local cave known as Knox Cave in the town of Knox NY.

So, what do you get when you take 2 Canadians, a number of students who are just starting in college and a pair of cavers who have been caving for over 50 years each, two medical students, a fire chief, and a mixture of other people and toss them into a classroom and then a cave? You get an excellent teaching and learning experience.

I again had the privilege of working with a great group of people teaching a 2 day class on cave rescue. On the first day we test the students patience by seeing how many Powerpoint slides they can sit through. If they successfully survive that, we then unlock the doors to the classroom and let them outside. We then do some patient packaging and patient movement.  We end the day with a large quantity of food.

Often I’ll spend the Saturday night at the fire house (our typical location for these classes) but this time I had to head home. On the way one of my fellow instructors texted me to let me know that the student who was staying with her had not arrived at her house. We started to worry.  About an hour later the missing caver had shown up. Turns out she and several other students had decided to take advantage of a baseball backstop and practice their SRT skills and spend some time teaching each other. Even after a long day of teaching, the students were still eager to share their skills with each other.

On Sunday, we spend less than 1/2 an hour in the classroom, essentially just enough time to grab some breakfast and handle some housekeeping chores. We then start a practice rescue. In this case it was at nearby Knox Cave. While the students had known that the practice would be at Knox, they had no idea what the actual would actually involve.  So when the first group showed up, including the local fire chief who was also part of our training, they sprang into action. The reporting party told them that two cavers were in the cave. Both were at the Great Divide, one with a broken leg, the other taking care of the injured caver.

Very quickly the students found the the injured caver but quickly learned that no plan survives the first encounter with reality; the non-injured caver had wandered off and they had to go find her.  The apparently simple rescue had now become a search problem.

After a few missteps, the students found the missing caver and assisted her to the surface. And shortly later the injured caver was also brought to the surface.  It was a successful practice.

At the end of the weekend, instead of 22 students with very little if any cave rescue experience (including at least one student who had never been in a wild cave before) we now had 22 students who had gained a bit of experience and I would actually trust to call if a real rescue was called. From the reports I got back, everyone had fun and more than one person is now very eager to take our weeklong class next year!

For me, it was a long weekend with not enough sleep, but I ended it more energized than I started it. This is typical when I teach courses like this. It’s because I love the aha moment students often have when they’re learning, and this weekend was full of those.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by great groups of people over the years and I must say my cave rescue family is among the best, and I’m proud to welcome even more members to that family.

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my latest article at Redgate’s Simple Talk: How to Use Parameters in PowerShell

Thoughts on Writing

“I also did the copy edit. If it looks good to you, then I can get it published ASAP!”

This is an excerpt from an email I received yesterday. It was probably my favorite email of the week. It means another article of mine will be published at Red-Gate. I’m quite proud of this and once it is published I’ll be updating my page on published articles.

Let me be clear, while I appreciate getting paid for the Red-Gate articles and for the book I wrote, the truth is, I write for more than the money.

I write because I enjoy it. Getting paid sometimes is a bonus. Knowing that others may gain something from my writings is another bonus.

Just about two years ago I decided to go from writing for this blog on an occasional or “as inspiration” hit me basis to a weekly basis. This has had two impacts. I think I have fewer truly inspired posts, but overall I think my (and have been told, but you can judge for yourself) writing has improved. It’s like pretty much any activity, the more you do it, the better you get at it. And it has paid off, literally. I don’t get paid to write this blog, but it indirectly lead to my writing gig for Red-Gate.  So I guess it’s been worth it.

I’m still nowhere near close to giving up programming and writing full-time, but it would be a fun idea to explore. Right now though my writing gives me that little extra “fun money”.  I’m content with that.

Writing also brings me closer to my father. He was an English major at UConn and as such when he graduated became a carpenter. He had bills to pay after all! Some of my earliest memories of him are him sitting in his office trying to write. Based on what I know of him, I suspect he was trying to write the next Great American Novel.  Sadly that was never to be. That said, in the garage below my office I have all his notebooks with all his handwritten stories. Someday I plan on trying to decipher his handwriting to see what it is he did write.

In terms of non-fiction however, I do have some knowledge. He was for many years a stringer for some of the local newspapers and I remember him calling in articles he had written on a variety of topics, including coverage of the local media sensation, the trial of Peter Reilly who was charged with the brutal murder of his mother. Later my father covered the retrial of Mr. Reilly, after it was shown his initial confession was coerced and there were other issues were found with the trial.  He covered more than that, but was the biggest story he covered.

He never had a book published, which I know was a dream of his. I finally did get a book published, unfortunately after he died. That said, in fairness, I think a technical book, especially in today’s climate is a bit easier than the fiction book he was shooting for.

One writing tip I took from Stephen King (and others to be fair) is to set aside a time each week to simply write.  On my calendar I have a period set aside every Tuesday to write this blog. It’s a constant reminder that I need to make time to write. More recently I added a similar block on Wednesdays to write for Red-Gate.  It doesn’t mean I’m always successful during those times or that I only write during those times, but it forces me to set aside some time to write. And the end result is, I write more. And it’s been good.

That said, I think my next goal is to write a non-technical book, whether it’ll be a work of fiction or non-fiction remains to be seen. I may need to put that on the schedule now.

So, that’s my writing for this week!

 

Old Dogs and New Tricks

One problem with writing a weekly blog is sometimes you get the same idea in your head and realize you’re about to repeat yourself. I want to write about learning new stuff and started to repeat stuff I said here. I suppose I could just put a pointer to that and be done but… nah.

Several ideas prompted this week’s theme for this blog, the most recent being Grant Fritchey’s blog on using Extended Events. He makes some good points and I want to add my own thoughts.

I’ll start by admitting I still often use Profiler. I know it. It’s “easy”.  Well, no, not really. A better description would be “It’s familiar”. Truth is, I’ve often found the interface a bit clunky and I have to do more steps than I want to narrow down to trace exactly what I want.

But, about two weeks ago, one of my clients had an issue with a run-away query that expanded their tempdb to about 400GB before it rolled back. We wrote it off as a fluke; until it happened again the next day.  Now we had a pattern. I decided that we needed to monitor the server about the same time the next day to see if it would occur again. Now, of course one can sit there and run queries like sp_whoisactive, but I wanted more.  Profiler might work, but I figured it was time for this old dog to learn, or at least practice new tricks. I’ll admit, I basically googled for what I wanted, but I quickly found a trace I could modify and run for my needs.  30 minutes later and I had a nice extended event setup and monitoring the tempdb.

Now, as fate would have it, that run-away query hasn’t shown up since then, so in a sense the trace hasn’t fulfilled it’s goal. But, it’s lightweight enough that I’ve decided to leave it. And, the results are easily accessible to others if I’m out of town.

In the past year or so, it’s really hit me how much my role as a DBA or IT professional has really changed from two or more decades ago. There’s stuff that I do now that wasn’t possible then and there’s stuff then that I would do that I don’t worry about now or can’t even do (who out there recalls the ability to setup SQL Server database “files” on raw partitions for the speed boost?)

Over two decades ago I wrote a fairly impressive batch file that could install a client’s application on the proper drive. It used a lot of commands most people weren’t even aware of in the batch language (this was DOS, so not even as good as what CMD in Windows NT and above gives us).  Nowadays, I’d use PowerShell.

My original programming was in Fortran. Nowadays, I tend to sling code in VB.Net or C#.

It’s ok at times to fall back on what’s familiar. Often it can be faster and easier for a single project. But in the long-term, one really needs to learn what’s new and apply what one can.

My advice, pick a new technology or skill, and use it, even if for one project.  I’m not going to be an expert in Extended Events anytime soon, but now at least I can say, I’ve used it.  I’m far from an expert in PowerShell, but I’ve now been paid for 3 (and soon 4) articles on using it.

If this old dog can learn a new trick so can you.

And, listen to music you didn’t grow up on. As much as I love to listen to the music I’m familiar with while working, I often branch out. Yes, I’ve been known to listen to some Taylor Swift and Charlie XCX. And yesterday was a bit of Imagine Dragons and Meute. Two very different styles of music, but still a good listen.

What new trick will you learn this month?