SQLBits – My Thoughts

Many weeks I struggle with what I plan on writing about, but this post came to me last Thursday or Friday. It was clear to me that I should write about 2022 SQLBits.

Now, the more astute of you are probably thinking, “But Greg, you weren’t there. How can you write about it?”

Well you’re right. I’m not going to write about my experience attending it. Rather I’m going to write about my experience not attending it.

I had applied to speak at SQLBits, but didn’t make the cut this year. That happens. But this time there was more than mixed feelings. Had I been selected, I almost certainly would have tried to find a way to do so in person. However, as many of my readers know, I’m back in school taking classes as prereqs to get into PA school. And frankly, I’m loving it. But it is taking time and focus. This week, March 14-18 is Spring break for my fellow students. But last week I did have classes and I’m not sure I could have taken the time off to fly to the UK. And I’m not sure I would have wanted to; if only because of missing my A&P I lab this week (learning about the bones of the head and spine, including the axis and atlas (C1, C2 vertebrae).

So in a sense, I’m almost grateful that I wasn’t chosen to speak. It solved me the pain of trying to solve the dilemma of do I attend in person or not?

But dang, did I miss people. I saw posts from so many of my #SQLFamily that I was sad I couldn’t see them in person. And then, looking at the calendar, it dawned on me, I’m not entirely sure I can make the PASS Summit this year, again due to classes.

It just drove home how much so many of you have become family and how much I miss so many of you. And in some ways its just the start. As my plans continue, I’ll find myself making the slow transition from the #SQLFamily to hopefully a #PAFamily or whatever community I find there. And while I have often found myself in many communities, for example besides #SQLFamily I’m also heavily involved with the NCRC and plan on continuing my efforts there, I know over time my active involvement in #SQLFamily will slowly diminish. That said, I’m not walking away just yet and will continue to be involved as much as I can, both in presenting when I can and in running my local user group.

But that said, I miss you all. And do look forward to seeing any of you when I can.

And Fun Was Had By All

I want to give shout-outs to Rob Farley, Peter Shore, Deborah Melkin, and Rob Sewell for making the final Capital Area SQL Server User Group meeting of the year a rousing success. And this being T-SQL Tuesday, I’m going to try to very loosely tie this into the topic this month How much do you love meeting in person, where would you like for your next event to take place, and why Costa Rica? as invited by Xavier Morera.

tsqltuesday
T-SQL Tuesday

First, let me get his questions out of the way:

  1. Favorite Conference: The easy answer has been SQL Pass, but honestly, at this point, any where I get to see folks in person!
  2. Best Venue: Ignoring Pass at Seattle, I have to say Manchester UK was nice, simply because it was my first overseas SQL Saturday, or perhaps Virginia Beach SQL Saturday, because Monica Rathbun and her group provided a nice charcuterie board!
  3. Best Presenter: Oh, this is a tough one. I’m going to take a pass. But then cheat and answer below. Sort of.
  4. Next event and why it’ll be Costa Rica: I’m suspecting sort of a bias in this question, but to be honest, I’d love to go. I think 2022 will be a bit too busy for me to visit, but perhaps 2023 or 2024. Maybe I can work in some caving then too!

That all said, I want to get back to my shout-outs above and tie that into this T-SQL Tuesday.

As the coordinator for the Capital Area SQL Server User Group, one of my primary roles, in fact perhaps the most important, is finding speakers to present. I’ve tried over the past few years to have a good variety and to bring some variety. We haven’t really missed a meeting since the pandemic has started, but we have been virtual for well over a year now. This has presented both drawbacks and opportunities. The biggest drawback of course is the lack of actual in-person interaction and the feeling of connectedness that has brought. On a personal note it also means not only have I not gotten out of cooking dinner the night of meetings, but often, I’m juggling getting something together for dinner and getting the session started (though last night my wonderful wife did take care of dinner for me.)

On the flip side, being virtual has allowed me to invite speakers who might not otherwise be willing or able to travel in person to Albany NY and for attendees from across the country to show up. It has also given me the opportunity to experiment a bit more with formats.

Last year, instead of our traditional in-person holiday party format, we did a version of “Bluff the Listener” where I asked various presenters to tell their worst IT/SQL horror stories, but one was lying. It was a success and a lot of fun.

Not wanting to repeat that, this year I decided to ask the above 4 presenters to present lightning rounds. That’s not so bad, except I added a twist. They didn’t get to choose their topics, they were given them: 10 minutes before they were scheduled to present. (And yes, some may I stole this idea from Buck Woody, I’d like to say I was inspired).

I’ll admit I was very nervous about this idea. It seemed a bit gimmicky and it could have been a complete disaster with lesser speakers. Fortunately, all four brought their A-Game.

Rob Farley, presenting from the future, in I believe a public work space, managed to give one of the best talks on column-store indices I’ve seen. Given he had only 10 minutes of prep, I was impressed. His presentation included the use of Powerpoint in sort of a “green screen” mode so he could draw on his screen and we could see what he was drawing.

Peter Shore followed up talking about Tips in Advancing a Career in Data. Again, off-the-cuff with limited prep time, he did very well with this topic. I think in some ways this was almost harder than the more technical topics because you can’t fall back on a demo or graphics.

Deborah Melkin followed, talking about the Best new SQL Server features (2019, 2022, Azure). I had announced previously that the best speaker would be awarded a prize. By I think unanimous declaration, even before Rob Sewell finished out the night with his presentation, the other speakers decided Deborah was the winner. She included some demos in her presentation, which, given the lead time, really impressed folks.

Closing out the evening, Rob Sewell entertained us with a demo of SQL Injection. Not surprisingly, he made use of PowerShell and Notebooks.

As I said, it was an entertaining and educational evening. I purposely set expectations low and made sure folks understood that the entertainment value was as much, if not more important than actual educational value. But I was very pleased with how educational it turned out to be. It was a nice way to end the year and honestly, I think a decent way to get a break from the bad news that seems to have surrounded us lately.

I do have a theory though about why the educational part turned out as well as it did though. In general I’ve always enjoyed lightning talks and I honestly, think they’re among the hardest type of talk to give. Sometimes people promote them as a good introduction to speaking for novice speakers, but I’m not so sure. To give a successful lightning talk, one really has to strip a presentation to the bare essentials and really focus on just one or two key concepts. This can be difficult. But done well I think it really makes those concepts stick.

Now, combine that with topics only being given out 10 minutes in advance, I think that really forces a presenter to focus on key concepts even more. I wouldn’t give an inexperienced presenter a random topic, and even with an experienced presenter, I’d give them a chance to decline a topic if they feel it’s completely outside their wheelhouse. But otherwise, give them a chance to see what they can do. It might surprise you. Heck, it might surprise them.

So, to go back and answer a question from above: Best Presenter… at least last night Deborah Melkin, who if nothing else proved her Google-foo was impressive.

And I think if I can find volunteers, I will definitely try to do an in-person version of this at a future SQL Saturday or Data Saturday or other conference.

Thanks to all who participated and joined us. It was a blast. But honestly, next year, I hope to see you all in person at our holiday party!

Summit Recap

As many of my readers know, last week was the 2021 PASS Data Community Summit hosted by Redgate. In the past I would have travelled to Seattle to attend in person. Last year, due to Covid the Summit became a virtual event. I was a bit disappointed since I had finally been selected to present and was looking forward to doing so in person. I ended up presenting virtually. That alone would have been disappointing enough, but there were other issues and basically the underlying structure that supported PASS and its structure went belly-up and declared bankruptcy.

More Thoughts on Last Year’s Summit

My recap last year was positive but I have to be honest now. I was certainly trying to put a good spin on things. The truth is, I was more frustrated than I originally let on. I’m still not only grossly disappointed by the poor closed-captioning, I’m still a bit offended. I’m as guilty as anyone for probably not being inclusive enough when it comes to things like color-blindness, difficulty of hearing, etc, but to know that the organization had weeks to get good closed-captioning done, and didn’t still offends me.

I was also extremely insulted when weeks before the Summit, User Group leaders were asked to pony up money to attend. A benefit of doing the work of leading a User Group has traditionally been a free ticket to Summit. To have that change weeks or just a few months before Summit, especially one that was going virtual definitely felt like a bait and switch.

This and some behind the scenes factors in regards to PASS had left a bitter taste in my mouth. Then of course we finally got word that PASS as an organization was no more.

There were wails of anguish, and rending of garments, and wearing of sackcloth. (ok, I may be overdramatizing a bit). But I was hopeful. As I stated then, PASS really is the community. It’s the people. And they’re some of the best people I’ve known professionally: #sqlfamily.

This Year’s Summit

So, on to Summit this year. Within months of the demise of the former structure, Redgate announced it was buying the intellectual property associated with PASS. Microsoft in the meantime was rolling out tools to help the user groups. Steve Jones was working on SQL Saturday. Things were looking good. I was hopeful.

Redgate announced the Pass Data Community Summit would happen, albeit virtually. I was excited and looking forward to it. That said, I’ll admit I did not put in to speak this year. I just didn’t have the motivation. This was a mark on me, not on Redgate’s efforts. Redgate also announced that while the precons would cost money, the Summit itself would be free. Last year there was a lot of discussion about charging for a virtual summit and while I defended the concept a bit, because there are still enormous costs associated, I also was not a fan of it, because I knew it would be a hard sell to managers. I think I was proven right there. The very preliminary numbers I heard for attendance this year appear to have FAR outpaced the numbers for last year. I think that’s a good sign.

So, enough rambling, what about Summit this year?

First two criticisms

I common complaint, and one I knew I was guilty of, was it was unclear that for many sessions one was supposed to watch the recorded session first and then attend what was essentially a live Q&A. I know for the first presentation I attended on Wednesday, even the presenter, who was in the Q&A was confused by this. I’ll admit, I never did figure out how to watch the recorded sessions beforehand.

The second was, I didn’t discover the Spatial.Chat system until the 2nd day, and that was only because I am a Friend of Redgate had received a specific email inviting me to a private chat.

Now, partly, I will put the blame for the above two criticisms squarely on myself for probably not reading the emails in enough detail. But, it does seem others had the same issue and perhaps more succinct, clear links or emails might have helped. I honestly don’t know.

The Positives

That said, despite the above criticisms, I really enjoyed Summit and in a huge part because once I learned about the Spatial.chat system and how to use it, I for the first time, felt like I was in a virtual space that closely mimicked real life. The idea of being able to move closer to people to hear them better, or to move away if I wanted to focus on some work but still be “part of the crowd” worked REALLY well. Trying to translate a physical presence into a virtual one is often tough, but I think the Spatial.Chat stuff worked really well. I found myself hanging out there more than anything else.

Since I never did figure out how to watch recorded stuff before the live Q&A, I focused on the actually live sessions and they did NOT disappoint. As usual, while folks talk about how great the social atmosphere is at Summit, the truth is we tell our bosses we go for the technical content and it was topnotch as expected. Once again great content!

I also really enjoyed the Keynotes this year. I’ll admit, because of jetlag and because I’m often up late talking with the college friends whose house I crash at while in Seattle, I am often late to the keynotes (if I make it at all) and sometimes doze off in the large, warm dark room. This year, none of that happened. I was entertained and really enjoyed them. I especially enjoyed Brent Ozar‘s Keynote on Friday and the impact of the Cloud on ones career.

I think this year’s Summit overall felt more positive for a number of reasons. For one, I think many of us are finally hoping to see a light at the end of the Covid Tunnel. For another, I think most of us are far more hopeful about the overall #SQLFamily community and future PASS Summits than we were a year ago. Finally, I think we just all felt the need to socialize again, albeit it virtually.

Redgate has already announced next year’s summit will be in Seattle again next year, but will be a hybrid event. I will be very curious to see how that works, but I can tell you right now I’m already budgeting to attend in person.

  • End note: I am a Friend of Redgate and write for their Simple-Talk blog. That said, in this case Redgate isn’t paying for my thoughts and my thoughts are my own.

Impact and Legacy

One of my favorite movies for many reasons is Dead Poet’s Society. Robin Williams is excellent in this role. Shortly after his death, Apple repurposed a short segment that I’ve always loved where he quotes my favorite poet, Walt Whitman: What will your verse be?

“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” – Walt Whitman.

I’ve been thinking more about my legacy and the legacy of others and this week seemed a good time to muse on that. This is the week that in the past many of us would travel to Seattle (or in years before my time, other cities) and gather at PASS SQL Summit. This year things area bit different, but Pass Data Community Summit is happening, albeit remotely. Though at times like this, I can’t but help think of and riff on a line from the Passover Seder, “Perhaps next year in Seattle.” So in any case #SQLFamily is on my mind. And here’s my thoughts on the impact of some individuals.

Let me start with saying this is FAR from a comprehensive list of the people who have had an impact on me. If I didn’t name you, that’s more an oversight on my part and please don’t take it as a slight. And there’s really very little order to this.

Grant Fritchey – I’m sure I remember my meeting with Grant better than he remembers meeting me (is oft the case when a presenter or instructor teaches so many) but it was at a SQL Saturday in Boston where I first heard him speak, in this case on HIPAA. From there I learned not only more about SQL but about #SQLFamily itself and how important this community truly was.

Rie Irish – I want to say it was a SQL Saturday in Philadelphia, but I could be wrong. I was one of two men in her talk  Let Her Finish: Supporting Women’s Voices in Technology. Turns out the other was a friend she had asked to attend. I still wish more men had attended, it’s still a great topic. Rie has helped me be more aware of diversity issues in this community and called me out at least once or twice when I needed it. She’ll be speaking at my user group in a few months and can’t wait.

Andy Mallon – There’s just something infectious about being around Andy that no matter what my mood makes me want to smile.

Bob Ward – Despite him being a Dallas Cowboys fan, he’s an all-around good guy. More seriously, despite how hard he works for Microsoft, he always takes time out to speak to the community and I’ve been honored to have him speak at my local User Group more than once. And despite the general advice to “not type during a demo” he’s brave enough (or crazy enough) to pull out the debugger and debug SQL Server live!

Kathi Kellenberger aka Aunt Kathi – At my first Summit I attended a talk by her on writing a book. What a long strange trip it’s been since then. I wrote my first book and numerous articles for Redgate since then. And yes, I did say first book. I have ideas for others.

Jen and Sean McGowan – Not only have I spent plenty of time on their coach in their booth at Summit, I still find Sean’s class on regexp usage in SSMS, especially for find and replace to be one of the more useful technical skills I’ve learned that arguably isn’t really T-SQL specific.

Tracy Boggiano – For being their during Covid and for making me more aware of mental health issues. And I’m proud to say I’ve got her first ever signature on a book she co-authored with Grant Fritchey!

David Klee – My go to man on certain subjects who knows more about VMWare tuning than I’ll ever hope, let alone want to know. His current Twitter profile picture is a bit misleading, as it suggests a rather sedate, mild-mannered person, but the reality is there’s a mischievous streak there.

Deborah Melkin – I first saw her speak at our Albany SQL Saturday and was immediately impressed, especially as it was her first SQL Saturday. I immediately cornered her and didn’t so much ask as told her to prepare a topic to present to our user group. She happily obliged. One of the aspects I really like about her presentations is she can take a topic that may appear to be a 100 level topic, but still have something new to teach to experienced DBAs.

Andy Yun – I of course now can’t mention Deborah without bringing up Andy’s name. We first met at a SQL Saturday Chicago where I had a blast. At the time it was my most western SQL Saturday gig (since surpassed by two in Colorado Springs). Always helpful and just fun to be around.

Steve Jones – If nothing else, his Daily Coping Blog posts have been a light in my day (even I only skim them). That said, I honestly, don’t know how he gets time to write so much AND do actual work!

Hamish Watson – Despite being literally half a world away, great fun to be around and has shared his great chocolate me, and for that alone he gets a mention.

There are so many more folks that have had an impact: Monica Rathbun, Chris Bell and Gigi Bell, Andy Levy, John Morehouse, Matt Gordon, Kimberly Tripp, and so many more. If I’ve left a name off, I apologize. Honestly, there are dozens of members of the #SQLFamily that have had an impact on me. The only folks I’m not intentionally naming are folks local to me, simply because I want to focus on the larger, worldwide community as a whole. The folks local to me hopefully already know how important they are.

In years past, I’d be looking forward to seeing many of them in person at Summit, but this year the best I can do is perhaps see them virtually and remember them this way.

You may notice a theme too: the impact hasn’t always been directly database related. While it’s true I’ve learned some great database tips from everyone above, their impact has been larger than that. And all of the above folks are more than simply folks who “work on the Microsoft Data Platform”. They’re folks who have lives outside of that. Some rock-climb, some run up buildings, some love to cook, others love to bake, others love to work on their houses, or love to talk about their dogs or cats. And I care about all of them

They’ve each introduced a verse (or more) into the powerful play of both #SQLFamily and to my life. And I’m eternally grateful. Thank you.

Feeling Older

This is probably far from the last time I’m going to write on the subject, and certainly not as in depth as I plan to someday, but this past week made me feel past my prime.

While in many ways I believe age is just a number, the truth is, it does change us. While I am still very active, such as biking a century ride last year, still caving and teaching cave rescue, the reality is, the body and mind are slowing.

I’ve been working with SQL Server in one form or another since 4.21. I’ve spoken at PASS Summit, I’ve presented at more SQL Saturdays and User Groups than I can remember. I’ve published a book and numerous Red Gate articles and I’ve mentored more than a few people over the decades. I’ve worked at two start-ups (not counting mergers and acquisitions) and been a consultant before, between and after those gigs.

So I think I can safely say I’m comfortable with my credentials.

That said, the past week really made me consider if it was time to hang up my cap, or at least change caps again. I won’t go into details, other than to say a particularly stressful project for one of my clients reached a major milestone. I’m actually just one small cog in a much bigger piece of the project, but it’s a fairly important cog. And, it had issues. Now, I’ll put on my shoulders that a bit was due to issues with my code and some assumptions I had made. Most of the issues actually stemmed at a far higher level and with another consultant agency working on the project. Let’s just say that GIGO still thrives. But some of it I realized was, I was slightly off my game, and I think a bit of brain fog was involved. I don’t know if that was age related, simply a result of being cooped up for well over the last year due to Covid or what.

Regardless, the culmination of all that and other issues, some personal, started to come to a head. By Friday I was seriously wondering how much more I had left in the tank, physically and mentally.

Today I will admit I’m in a better place. The last major piece of code I needed to get working finally succeeded in production last night and the GIGO problems seem to be disappearing.

But that was after a long weekend of introspection about where I’m headed. I am at that age where retirement is no longer some far off nebulous goal, but an actual reality I have to consider. I’ve always known I’ll probably never truly retire; I do enjoy being busy and working too much. However, I have for several years now done the delicate balance between making sure I hit certain target goals for income and actually enjoying my work. Last week that balance was way off. I need to get it back.

This is my long-winded way of saying that for the first time in years, I’m honestly not sure what I’ll be doing a year from now. Perhaps I’ll still be consulting in my current form and enjoying it. Perhaps I’ll go back to a full-time 9-5 gig; I have come to realize, I deeply miss the management side of work. For my two stints as a full-time employee I was a manager and honestly, I loved that. I miss it. Perhaps I’ll be consulting in a very different way going forward. Maybe I’ll invest in real-estate. Perhaps become a vagabond teaching cave rescue across the country (this last one is not as far fetched as it sounds, I am planning on teaching at least 2 if not 3 different classes next year.)

But I think change is coming again. It’s the season.

Take 5 Minutes

This weekend I had the pleasure of moderating Brandon Leach‘s session at Data Saturday Southwest. The topic was “A DBA’s Guide to the Proper Handling of Corruption”. There were some great takeaways and if you get a chance, I recommend you catch it the next time he presents it.

But there was one thing that stood out that he mentioned that I wanted to write about: taking 5 minutes in an emergency. The idea is that sometimes the best thing you can do in an emergency is take 5 minutes. Doing this can save a lot of time and effort down the road.

Now, obviously, there are times when you can’t take 5 minutes. If you’re in an airplane and you lose both engines on takeoff while departing La Guardia, you don’t have 5 minutes. If your office is on fire, I would not suggest taking 5 minutes before deciding to leave the building. But other than the immediate life-threatening emergencies, I’m a huge fan of taking 5 minutes. Or as I’ve put it, “make yourself a cup of tea.” (note I don’t drink tea!) Or have a cookie!

Years ago, when the web was young (and I was younger) I wrote sort of a first-aid quiz web-page. Nothing fancy or formal, just a bunch of questions with hyperlinks to the bottom. It was self-graded. I don’t recall the exact wording of one of the questions but it was something along the lines of “You’re hiking and someone stumbles and breaks their leg, how long should you wait before you run off to get help.” The answer was basically “after you make some tea.”

This came about after hearing a talk from Dr. Frank Hubbell, the founder of SOLO talk about an incident in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where the leader of a Boy Scout troop passed out during breakfast. Immediately two scouts started to run down the trail to get help. While doing so, one slipped and fell off a bridge and broke his leg. Turns out the leader simply had passed out from low blood sugar and once he woke up and had some breakfast was fine. The pour scout with the broken leg though wasn’t quite so fine. If they had waited 5 minutes, the outcome would have been different.

The above is an example of what some call “Go Fever”. Our adrenaline starts pumping and we feel like we have to do something. Sitting still can feel very unnatural. This can happen even when we know rationally it’s NOT an emergency. Years ago during a mock cave rescue training exercise, a student was so pumped up that he started to back up and ran his car into another student’s motorcycle. There was zero reason to rush, and yet he had let go fever hit him.

Taking the extra 5 minutes has a number of benefits. It gives you the opportunity to catch your breath and organize the thoughts in your head. It gives you time to collect more data. It also sometimes gives the situation itself time to resolve.

But, and Brandon touched upon this a bit, and I’ve talked about it in my own talk “Who’s Flying the Plane”, often for this, you need strong support from management. Management obviously wants problems fixed, as quickly as possible. This often means management puts pressure on us IT folks to jump into action. This can lead to bad outcomes. I once had a manager who told my team (without me realizing it at the time) to reboot a SQL Server because it was acting very slowly. This was while I was in the middle of remotely trying to diagnosis it. Not only did this not solve the problem, it made things worse because a rebooting server is exactly 100% not responsive, but even when it comes up, it has to load a lot of pages into cache and will have a slow response after reboot. And in this case, as I was pretty sure would happen, the reboot didn’t solve the problem (we were hitting a flaw in our code that was resulting in huge table scans). While non-fatal, taking an extra 5 minutes would have eliminated that outage and gotten us that much closer to solving the problem.

Brandon also gave a great example of a corrupted index and how easy it can be to solve. If your boss is pressuring you for a solution NOW and you don’t have the opportunity to take those 5 minutes, you might make a poor decision that leads to a larger issue.

My take away for today is three fold:

  1. Be prepared to take 5 minutes in an emergency
  2. Take 5 minutes today, to talk to your manager about taking 5 minutes in an emergency. Let them know NOW that you plan on taking those 5 minutes to calm down, regroup, maybe discuss with others what’s going on and THEN you will respond. This isn’t you being a slacker or ignoring the impact on the business, but you being proactive to ensure you don’t make a hasty decision that has a larger impact. It’s far easier to have this conversation today, than in the middle of a crisis.
  3. If you’re a manager, tell your reports, that you expect them to take 5 minutes in an emergency.

Changing Technologies – T-SQL Tuesday

Select <columns> from Some_Table where Condition=’Some Value’

T-SQL Tuesday Topic

The above statement is pretty much the basis of what started my current career. Of course it actually goes back further than that. I have a Computer Science Degree from RPI. So I’ve done programming, learned hardware and more. I even took an Intro to Databases course while at RPI. I still recall the professor talking about IBM and something called Structured Query Language. The book had a line that went something like “while not the most popular database technology, its use may grow in the future.” Boy did it.

When I first started working with SQL Server, it was 4.21 and for a startup. I had a lot to learn. Back then, a lot was by experience. Sometimes I made mistakes. But I learned.

When I started at that startup, if one could write basic queries and backup and restore a database, one was a half-way decent DBA. Knowing how to tune indices was a definite bonus, as was knowing things like how to set up log-shipping and replication.

Back then, besides experience, I learned new stuff two ways: SQL Server Magazine and the SQL Connections conference. Work paid for both. It was worth it. But honestly, there wasn’t too much to learn. But there also weren’t as nearly as many resources as there were today.

Fast forward 30+ years and here I’ve written a book, worked for several startups, regularly write about databases and database related topics, and often presented at User Groups, SQL Saturdays and at the now defunct PASS Summit. Today as a consultant I regularly touch the SQL Server Query Engine, SSAS, SSRS, SSIS, use PowerShell, write the occasional C# and VB.Net, sometimes do work on a Linux machine or VM and more. A lot has changed.

Obviously the technology has changed. So how have I responded? By doing what I said above. This may sound like a tautology or even circular reasoning but it’s true. When I would go to a SQL Saturday, I’d often attend 3-5 different topics. I’d learn something. But then I started presenting. And that forced me to learn. As much as I may like to think I know about a topic, when I go to present about it, I like to ensure I know even more. This forces me to read white papers, other articles and perhaps attend other sessions.

When I’ve written an article, I’ve often had to do a lot of research for it.

So strangely, I would say a bit part of keeping my skills up to date is not just learning from others, but from teaching. Teaching forces me to keep my skills up.

In summation, I’ve responded by learning from others, but also forcing myself to teach myself before I taught others. It’s a feedback loop. The more technology changes, the more I reach out and learn and the more learn, the more I do outreach.

The impetus for this week’s blog was Andy Leonard’s call for a T-SQL Tuesday topic.

This Post is Free!

Yes, seriously, other than a bit of your time, it will cost you nothing to read this post. And you might gain something from it. That can be a good value.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, one of things I do when I’m not doing SQL Server is perform training for those interested in Cave Rescue. I also sometimes blog about it. I have also mentioned that this year I’m organizing the National Cave Rescue Commission‘s national weeklong training class. In addition, since apparently I’m not enough of a masochist I’m also organizing a regional Level 1 only weeklong training class.

Due to generous contributions the NCRC is able to offer scholarships. For the regional weeklong, we are able to offer 4 scholarships of a value of up to $375 each. This covers 1/2 the cost of training. Applications were due Saturday. Now, we’re hoping for 12-20 students, so this means if everyone applied, they’d have between a 1/3-1/5 chance of getting scholarship. Can you guess how many had applied as of Saturday?

Before I answer that, I’ll note my wife used to work as a financial aid director at a local nursing school. They too sometimes offered scholarships. There was one worth I believe $500 that often went unclaimed. Yes, it required a one page essay to be judged to apply. That one page apparently was too high of a barrier for many folks and as a result sometimes it was never awarded. Quite literally a person could have written. “I would like to apply for the scholarship” as their essay and gotten it.

The same thing happened with our regional scholarships. Out of 11 students so far, none applied. This was literally free money sitting on the table. We have decided to extend the scholarship application process until April 23rd and reminded folks they could apply.

Now, some of the students probably can NOT apply, because they are employees of government agencies that sometimes have rules on what outside funds or gifts can be accepted. This actually increases the odds for the other students. And some may feel that their economic status is good enough that they don’t need to and fear they’d take a scholarship away from someone who has more of a need for it. And that’s a position I can definitely appreciate. But my advice to them, “let the scholarship committee make that decision.” If they determine someone is more needing the money, or your need is not enough, they will let you know. And if they do give you a scholarship and you feel guilty, pay it forward. Donate to the fund later on, or give the money you saved to other causes.

Besides essentially free money at the NCRC, I got thinking about the amount of free training I’ve received in the SQL Server community. Yes, I’ve paid for PASS Summit a few times, but even if I had never gone to that, the amount of knowledge I’ve gained for free over the past several years has been amazing. Between SQL Saturdays and User Group meetings, the body of knowledge I’ve been exposed to has been absolutely amazing.

And yet, I know folks who shun such activities. I’m not talking about folks who say, “I can’t make it this month because it’s my kid’s birthday”. I’m talking about folks who claim they never learn anything. I don’t understand how that’s possible given the HUGE range of topics I’ve seen at SQL Saturdays and oh so many other free events. Some folks seem to think only the paid events are worth it. And while PASS Summit had certain unique advantages, the truth is, you can listen to almost all the presenters at various free events too.

Yes, time is not free, and I recognize that. But overall, it still amazes me at the number of folks who overlook the value of free events, or easy to gain scholarships to events. Don’t turn your nose up at free. It can be valuable.

P.S. – for the parents of college bound kids out there, one thing I did in college which netted me a bit of free money. A few days after the semester began, I’d stop by the financial aid office and ask if there was any unclaimed scholarship money I was eligible for. I never netted much, but I did net a few hundred dollars over the years. For 15 minutes of my time, that’s a pretty decent ROI.

SQL Community

First, I want to thank Rie Irish for giving me cause to blog a second time this week. Normally this time would be sent writing up another article for Redgate (yes Kathi I’ve got one more in the works).

Second, I want to add, that up until now I had decided to refrain from writing about the fall of PASS. I knew eventually I probably would, but some good news last night has accelerated that process.

Last night Rie posted to Twitter an announcement about a new initiative by Microsoft to provide a space and tools for the former PASS User Groups. I was thrilled when I saw this and I’ll explain why.

In the past few days there has been a LOT of efforts put forth by various members of the #SQLFamily to create new spaces for the former members of PASS, both individually, and as groups. I’ll admit, I was both heartened by this, but also a little concerned. I was obviously heartened, because as I knew would happen, the members of #SQLFamily have stepped up and tried to fill various needs. This is a great volunteer community! I want to emphasis that. Even weeks ago when I had suggestions forwarded to me that PASS was about to close shop, I felt that the community would go on.

However, my concern was that it would fracture, that various little domains and fiefdoms would develop. Now, this may not necessarily be the worst thing that could happen. A decentralized community might actually be a good idea. For example if we separate the concept of Saturday events from User groups, that might spur innovation and might encourage new ideas to come forth. But, it might also inhibit things for folks who have organized both if they end up having to maintain two mailing lists, two sites, etc. So it’s a mixed bag. That said, if nothing else had happened, I’d take that over having the community completely falling apart.

And even if nothing else had happened, I know my User Group has speakers scheduled out through May of 2021 (and the only reason I haven’t scheduled beyond that is because I’m hoping by June to know if we can do in-person again and if so when). I know that Monica Rathbun has the Hampton Roads SQL Server User Group scheduled out through all of 2021. This is the case with a number of other User Groups. So, no matter what, User Groups would continue.

And there are still SQL Saturdays in the works, by that name or others. So, the community will continue.

But, as I said, my concern was the community might fracture into fiefdoms.

I think the announcement from Microsoft goes a LONG ways to allaying my fears. Yes, it’s just a press announcement with details to be worked out, but it has several things going for it. The biggest is the name behind it: Microsoft. Let’s be honest, the one thing the #SQLFamily has in common is we all work on the Microsoft Data Platform. So, to me, it makes sense that Microsoft be a central focus. Another is it appears this platform will end up providing a lot of the tools community leaders will need, and all in one place. These two facts should help keep the community from fracturing.

Now, I already know there is going to be one huge objection from some: “But it’s Microsoft, they can dictate what we do! We want something independent like PASS was!”

Well, first let me point out, for all its independence, PASS is no more. So independence is no guarantee of perpetual success.

Secondly, please read the release with an open mind. It’s NOT an attempt to recreate PASS. There’s no talk of a Board of Directors, there’s no talk of a main event. It’s very clear, at this stage what it is: a set of centralized resources to sustain the community. Additionally I’ve spoken further with Rie that has given me further confidence in the plan. We will see more over time how the winds blow, but I am comfortable recommending moving forward with this path. And you know what, if it turns out the Microsoft suddenly wants to take things in another direction, #SQLFamily will again do what it needs to for its members.

So, this is NOT “PASS Version II”. It doesn’t attempt to be. Perhaps PASS Version II will come to pass someday. I sort of hope it does. I look forward to another Summit. But for now, I think this is an excellent step forward. I will end by pulling a quote from the release:

Although Microsoft built SQL Server, it’s clear that the passion and dedication from each of you is what makes it thrive.

And I think this is as true today as it was 2 weeks ago.

#SQLFamily

I’ve mentioned this in the past and thought I’d write something quick about it today. The quick is because I’m lacking time, not because the topic isn’t important or worthy of exposition.

Anyone who has spent much time at any PASS events such as SQL Saturday or Pass Summit has an inkling of what #SQLFamily is.

At its base, it’s a group of professionals who all have SQL Server in common. That might be a start, but it’s hardly a good definition. It’s also:

  • Professional contacts
  • LOTS of people willing to give SQL help when you need to solve a problem
  • Folks that will fact check your blog or post
  • It’s the folks willing to step up for a User Group Meeting talk

And that might be enough, but that’s not all it’s also:

  • Someone who loves bicycling as much or more than me.
  • At least one amateur radio operator (and quite the ham in other ways at times)
  • Several with 3D printers making mask band holders and the like
  • Several that sing karaoke
  • Someone who makes more homemade pizza than I do
  • At least one with cute puppies she’s been known to have on her webinars

But, honestly, it doesn’t end there. In this time of Covid it’s been more.

  • It’s been the folks who I get together with on Friday’s for a long-distance social hour
  • It’s the ones I’ve been able to talk about fears of COVID and schooling and kids
  • It’s been the ones I’ve reached out to to make sure they’re ok
  • It’s been the ones that have checked in on me
  • It’s the folks that write blog posts, sometimes daily, about how to support others

In short it really is a family. We’re not together by blood but we still share our thoughts and feelings and support each other. And you know what, right now I’m extremely grateful for that family.

So to my #SQLFamily, if I haven’t said it enough, thank you for who you are and for being there, especially during this time of Covid. I know I’ve needed it. And I really appreciate it.

And I can’t wait to see you all in person again at some point.

P.S. – if you’re shy or don’t think you’re welcome in the family, don’t worry, you are welcome. Pop in, say hi, or even just reach out to one person and say hi or ask for an introduction.