The Song is Over

So the past few weeks I’ve been writing about PASS in general and about Summit. And now like several of my fellow #SQLFamily members who have already blogged, such as Deb Melkin and Andy Levy, I’ve decided to post a post-Summit post.

First Impressions

Virtual Summit was better than I expected it to be. Let me actually correct that a bit, it was much better than I expected. Now, it was not as great as in person, but my fear was virtually it would completely lack any semblance of the social interaction that makes Summit such a great experience. And while the social interaction was greatly diminished, it was still there and that made it a great experience. I will add that Twitter really helped here, both with the #SQLFamily and #PASSSummit hashtags.

My Sessions

I was honored to have the opportunity to speak at two sessions this year. This is a grand total of two more than I’ve ever had given before. Initially I had been selected to give a session on PowerShell for DBA Beginners. I was a bit disappointed to learn it would be a prerecorded session, but took that in stride. I was very curious how it would work. More on that in a bit. A few weeks before Summit I was asked to take part in another session, this time a live panel session All About PowerShell Panel Discussion. I immediately said yes. And then was later reminded by my wife I’d be out of the house taking her to an appointment and back. This was going to complicate things. But I didn’t want to say no, in part because I felt honored to be among such great luminaries: Hamish WatsonBrandon LeachRob SewellBen Miller. So, I decided I’d do it from my car in the parking lot. And since this would be live I was really excited for that, since I had been looking forward to the real-time interactions. The only other drawback was the timing. It was an 8:00 AM EST session on Wednesday, which meant it was one of the first sessions of Summit, and it would be live, so if there were opportunities for things to go wrong, this would be it. Other than Hamish being up at I think about 1:00 AM his time and a wee bit sleep deprived (or as he put it, the entire world now was on Hamish Standard Time) it went really well. He did a great job of moderating and we had a very good turnout and a number of good questions from the audience. I’ve written about PowerShell quite a bit in my blog and for Redgate and feel very strongly that every DBA needs to have some experience with it, so this was a great opportunity for all of us to evangelize a bit. I was really happy with the this session and can’t wait for the recording to be available. It left me in a very energized state for my session at 2:00 PM the same day.

I had realized several days before my 2:00 PM session that there was a benefit of having it prerecorded. I didn’t have the normal butterflies I have before presenting. It was done. I couldn’t change it. I went into it very relaxed. That said, I did make one change to my normal desktop setup. I added a monitor.

Multitasking at Summit for the win!

The upper monitor is generally my TV but has a HDMI input so I added that to my usual setup. This allowed me to have the ARS window up there so I could see questions and comments and answer them or moderate as needed. The lower left is the video chat window. Though in theory this was only needed during the live Q&A session at the end of my session, I opened it right at the beginning and was able to chat and share with others. You can see my accidental selfie in it. The rightmost monitor showed my presentation as attendees would see it.

After chatting with some other presenters I realized most did not go full-bore like I did and just did one window, generally the ARS window, or maybe the ARS window and their presentation muted in another. For me, the setup above worked well and I’d use it again. I’m used to multi-tasking like this and it worked really well. While I couldn’t modify the presentation itself on the fly in response to audience input, I could interact with the audience in a way I hadn’t previously.

One drawback of the system was while my presentation was on, I had no idea how many were actually “attending” it. Before it started the window with the link to it showed 143 people as “attendees” but I have no idea how many actually ended up viewing, but I’ve got to say even a 1/3rd of that number would have been a win for me. I was VERY happy with those numbers. Also the questions I got during the session and during the video chat Q&A after and then via email really pleased me. It seems like I met my goal of generating interest among people was a success.

Another drawback I realized half-way through (due to a mistake on my part of trying something) was that if you came into the session late, you started at the beginning, not at the same point in time as everyone who had started at the start of the session. While later on I think this is ok, I think during the session presentation times, folks should come into “where the session is at that time”. For me, it meant I had to figure out where most of my attendees were at that point in the session.

After I was done I realized, “that was it. My work is done, the rest is just fun now.”

Other Sessions and Events

I found myself, despite work interfering attending probably as many sessions as I might have at an in person Summit. These included Rob Sewell‘s session on Notebooks, PowerShell, and Excel Automation and LGBTQ+ and Pass Local Groups Birds of Feather sessions on Wednesday.

On Thursday I started with Bob Ward‘s Inside Waits, Latches, and Spinlocks Returns (which is so information rich, but at 8:00 AM EST? Really? And what’s worse, is he makes it seem just so natural), part of Erin Stellato‘s Query Store Best Practices and part of the Diversity in Data Panel Discussion: For the Professional Woman, Itzik Ben-Gan’s Workarounds for T-SQL Restrictions and Limitations which again blew me away with how powerful SQL can be in the right hands.

On Friday I moved on to Brand Leach’s SQL Server Configuration And Deployment With Powershell DSC which gave me some great ideas I hope to implement someday. After lunch I caught Ben Miller’s Getting Started with PowerShell as a DBA (I always like to see how others present on similar topics, gives me ideas to compare and contrast and while we had similar topics, very different approaches and I’d recommend people view both). I finished the day and basically the Summit with Panel Discussion: Consulting 101 – Help Us to Help You. Despite being a consultant for many years, I’m always looking for new tips (and new clients, hint hint)

I also attended several of the keynotes and was especially blown away by the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Keynote by Bärí A. Williams. I would HIGHLY recommend watching that when you get a chance if you didn’t watch it before.

So That Was Summit

So technically that was Summit. I learned a lot and had a great time. But, I have to talk about some of the drawbacks and disappointments.

For the vendors, I think Summit was a bust. This is unfortunate. I think it’s just harder to do it this way. One thing I noticed is that some vendors advertised “one on one” video chats. I avoided them because I didn’t want to tie up precious resources just being sociable (I don’t have much vendor needs these days). But it turns out in at least one case it was really a 1:Many relationship and the vendor would have welcomed more folks just stopping by. I think that’s on the vendors for not being clear enough in their own descriptions. But that said, even with that change, I think an issue with “stopping by a booth” is there’s more pressure to make it solely productive and not about being social. I don’t know how to change that. I’ll also admit I quickly gave up on trying to collect my points or whatever it was like I would stamps at the in person event. I was told this was more straightforward on the mobile app, but I had no desire to download that, especially since I was attending from my desktop. That said, I think in general vendors struggle with making virtual events worth their time and money. That last one is important because it’s what makes PASS possible. So, perhaps it’s still worth showing a vendor some love and mention you saw their name at Summit.

Overall, I’d say I think the prerecorded sessions and the ARS/Video chat stuff went better than I had hoped for. I’d probably do it again if I had to. I really only had two issues. For the prerecorded sessions there was no way to “pop” it out or expand the presentation screen. You were forced to have he Chat/Comment sidebar at all times. This took up precious screen space. For some reason on the live sessions you had this ability. This should have been made available on the prerecorded sessions. Also, it appeared the session window did not scale. i.e. if you had a monitor with higher resolution, it simply kept a certain mount of space around the presentation itself. Overall, the session window did NOT take good use of screen real-estate. This was compounded by the fact that some presenters (me included) did not make their fonts large enough. On my screen when I was recording, the size was great, but once in the presentation window, for many nearly unreadable. I know at least one person left my session because of that. I’ll own up to the fact I should have better headed the recommendations and probably gone overboard on font size, but the fact that screen real estate was so poorly used only exacerbated the situation.

I was disappointed in the turn-out for the two Birds of a Feather sessions I attended. I think the timing was rough, especially for folks on the East coast and perhaps Central timezones. Honestly, I think the Birds of a Feather and some of the other social times should have had FAR wider windows of time, perhaps from lunch until dinner or past. Take advantage of the fact that folks are in different timezones to get more moderators. I know I’d have attended more Birds of a Feather sessions had they been available at times other than when I was making dinner (or eating my salad).

That aside, the one issue that quite honestly angered me and I felt there was no excuse for was the horrible closed-captioning. When I first heard about it I was excited because I’m a firm believer in accessibility. All speakers were told we had to have our sessions recorded early enough so that closed-captioning could be applied. Given the time frame I had wrongly assumed this included time for a Mark I human brain review. It was VERY apparent that the closed captioning was purely automated and had not been reviewed. Some of the errors were comical, apparently at one point I was talking about T-CPU and not T-SQL, and another presenter was creepily talking about skin. Other errors made the presentation at times seem senseless. I had more than one person comment that the real-time capabilities of PowerPoint did a better job in their experience. Pretty much every speaker I spoke with had similar complaints. So, in conclusion I’ll say, I’m not sure the point of having stuff in so early when current realtime tools from other vendors can already do a better job. If you have two weeks to review the closed-captioning, I highly recommend outsourcing it to a human to review. Or somehow give speakers the ability to touch it up (if that was a possibility neither I nor any other speaker I spoke to was aware of it, and it was not on our speaker checklist on the dashboard). Honestly, not only do I think there was no excuse for the poor quality, I think it did an actual disservice to any hearing impaired people trying to attend.

Finally

By the time you read this, it’s probably too late, but if you haven’t VOTE OR YOUR PASS BOARD if you’re eligible. I’ll be blunt, we’re at a crossroads with PASS and we may not have it a year from now. But no matter what happens, if you’re eligible to vote and failed to do so, I really don’t want to hear you kvetching about the future of PASS.

And while it’s too late to register for Summit, if you have already, remember, you get access to ALL the sessions for the next 12 months. Take advantage of that!

Almost There

The important election season is here. No, I’m not a week off or 4 years ahead of my time. I’m not talking about the recent US election, I’m talking about one that is upon us in PASS.

In the past few weeks I’ve blogged about my speaker preparation timelines here and here. Tomorrow morning, the pedal hits the metal and I’m doing a live panel discussion on PowerShell with some great panelists. And then in the afternoon my pre-recorded session on PowerShell for DBA Beginners will be broadcast with me doing a live Q&A afterwards. I hope you can join me for both.

Over the past few months I’ve been promoting the SQL PASS Virtual Summit. I’ve tried to get as many folks to sign up as I can, but honestly, I’m not sure I made much of a difference. Most of the folks I know had already made up their minds. But I didn’t stop. I even was promoting it at my User Group last night. And I’ll say now, it’s still not too late to sign up if you want.

I truly do think that PASS Summit is one of the great things our community does.

But…

Yes, there had to be a but here. I’m not happy, and from the blogs, tweets, and private comments about I’ve heard, neither are a lot of a other people. We have to be honest. COVID and going virtual has hurt PASS in several ways, but very much financially. There may not BE a PASS in the future if things don’t change. Some folks want to put the blame at the feet of C&C, the organization PASS pays to manage its daily affairs. Others put their blame elsewhere. There are many recriminations and attempts at casting blame. I don’t want to dwell on that, other than to say often I think it’s misplaced and can be hurtful.

Let me start by saying that I don’t think anyone, on the board, at C&C, or otherwise is acting in bad faith or ill will. I know many of the people involved and I truly think they’re good people who mean well.

But, that said, I think things have to change. Initially I thought about running for the board, but honestly, didn’t have the time to do the research and background gathering I wanted to before I could submit my application to the nomination committee. I reached out to several of my peers and colleagues for their thoughts and received a lot of useful feedback. But the long and short is, I’m not running. Perhaps next year. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t help effect change. Nor does it mean you can’t either.

We can effect change by voting for who we want on the PASS Board for next year. The list is here at the bottom. Steve Jones also has a quick blog listing them and other links. Rather than reproduce what he wrote, use the link above.

Just like in the US elections, I think it behooves oneself to participate as fully as possible and that means doing your research on candidates and actually voting. I’m not going to make recommendations here. In part because I still have to do the first part and do more research. But I can say this much, though I’m not running this year, I am certainly voting this year. PASS is very valuable to me and I want to see it be the best organization it can be and to do that, I think it needs to change and I hope to see it change for the better.

So, I’ve promoted Summit, I’ve prepared my presentations, I’ve kept my User Group informed. And shortly I will do the last bit for this year, and vote. I hope you do to next year.

And in closing, I’m going to steal a line generally said at Passover: Next year in Seattle! In the original it’s a call for hope to meet again in Jerusalem and in that spirit I truly hope to be among my friends and family next year in person, be it Seattle, Houston, or another city.

Speaker’s Timeline Part II

This is a follow-up to my first part. But before I dig into it, I want to thank all the readers who check in on my post last week. I had the best week ever in blogging. And I’ll admit, while my ego was pleased with the numbers, I think what really warmed me heart was the number of my fellow #SQLFamily members who retweeted, shared, or gave positive comments about it. Thanks.

So, back to my speaking timeline. On November 11th I’m giving my presentation on PowerShell for DBA Beginners at 2:00 PM EST. I’d be thrilled if you joined me.

So, last time I wrote about this, I had ended with what my next steps would be.

October 20th around 10:00 PM EDT

Upload final version of slide deck. Yes, I could probably improve upon it (and looking back now, there’s 1-2 slides I’d probably like to fix, but oh well).

October 20th – 10:44 PM EDT

Confirmation email: slides were received. Excellent!

October 21st – Midday

One more run through. Basically nail it at right around 0:58. But now really worried, what happens if I finish early before the live Q&A? Will there be 2 minutes of dead air?

October 22nd-24th

Do nothing. I deserve a break. Right? Right?

October 25th – Late Afternoon

Record my presentation with Zoom. It’s acceptable, but I made a mistake or two. Worst case, if I run out of time, I can use this, but honestly, I want a redo. But, like a good dba, I basically have a contingency plan in place in case I don’t get time to do a redo.

October 26th – Morning

Decide to use OBS to record, in part so I can include a window of me talking. I think it’ll be a bit more personal and interactive than simply having slides and a demo with a faceless voice talking.

October 26th – Morning 30 minutes later

What was I thinking? Why go through all this trouble. This is more work than I want to deal with today.

October 26th – Morning 45 minutes later

Ok, this just might work! I’ve figured out how to get the overlay the way I want, but gave up on green-screening me against a background, but that’s ok because the thumbnail video is small enough my background is not distracting.

October 26th – Morning 1:00:08 later

This recording is nearly perfect. I think it ran over by about 8 seconds, but if they cut that, it won’t hurt anything. Honestly, I’d ilke one more try, but I can’t stand the thought of listening to my own voice one more time.

October 26th – Late afternoon

Wait until the kids are done with school Zooms and my wife has no more meetings to start the upload.

October 26th – an hour later

Hmm, seems stuck. Do I wait or start over?

October 27th – an hour and 5 minutes later

PASS Virtual Summit 2020 – ‘Upload Video’ Upload Confirmation email arrives.

Excellent!

October 27th – an hour and 6 minutes later

Tweet about it!

Since Then

Several of my #SQLFamily members admit, some publicly, some in private that they missed the deadlines or at least feel better that they’re running as late as me. I feel for them and I’m glad that my timeline and tweets made them feel better about their own timelines.

Up until I had finally submitted my video, I had put off watching any other presenters talk about PowerShell. But now that I’ve submitted my video, I’ve decided to relax that rule and watch at least one other presentation on an introduction to PowerShell and start to think, “why didn’t I bring that up? Hmm, he’s got a good point there. Hmm, I should have covered that.” I start to have doubts about whether my presentation will hit the mark. But fortunately, upon further reflection I realize the other presenter took a different tack than I did and mine has a focus he doesn’t. Someone watching both will actually get useful information from each of these. Now I’m feeling better. In fact, feeling great because I think this is the way it should be, multiple paths to the same end point that can broaden your horizons. And given the time limitations there’s only so much any presenter can cover in a limited amount of time.

That said, I realize that Rob Sewell is doing a full-day pre-con called Introduction to PowerShell. I’m curious what he’ll cover and both am jealous he has a full-day to do this and thankful I didn’t have to come up with a full-day’s worth of slides and scripts! That said, I know this will be a great one, so highly recommend you attend. I’ve seen Rob present at lest once before and it was great.

October 28th – 6:40 PM EDT

Get an email from Audrey at Pass Summit asking if I want to be part of a part of a live Q&A panel with Rob Sewell, Hamish Watson, Brandon Leach, and Ben Miller at 8:00 AM on the 11th. I have to think about this? There’s some big names on that panel and they want lil’ ol’ me?

October 28th – 6:41 PM EDT

Reply, “Hell yeah!”

October 29th – Over the course of the day

Folks at PASS realize the world is round and that we all live in different timezones and 8:00 AM may not be the best time for folks living Down-Under. Of course their first suggestion for a new time is even worse. Finally Hamish steps in, declares the entire world is in the Hamish Time Zone and that the original time is fine and he’ll let FutureHamish deal with the lack of sleep. Fair enough!

October 31st – Morning

My wife reminds me I’ll be out of the house at 8:00 AM on the 11th. I start to panic, but decide, “I can do it from the car with my cell phone.” So this is going to happen!

November 2nd – 2:00 PM

Tech check with Zoom and all to make sure things will work for next week. Learn a little more about how the recorded session will work. Still nervous for the “live from the car” presentation, but do the tech with the cell phone as my uplink and it works.

It’s getting real.

Today – November 3rd

It’s election day and just over a week from my presentations. I’m excited. I’ve made it clear to work I won’t be available at all on the 11th and not much on the other days. This is going to be a summit unlike any other. I’ going to have to remind myself to actually “attend” it.

And now, finish up a few things and go vote.

I’m voting today for my kids and my friends and my family, blood or chosen. I’ll be voting for the future and for hope.

Voting and Apple Pie – Two American Traditions!

What’s My Lane?

Yesterday a fellow #SQLFamily member, Brent Ozar tweeted about how someone objected to some content in his latest email he sends out to subscribers. Based on the response, I’m guessing it was this email.

Now, let me back up and in full disclosure say I’ve met Brent once or twice, sat in on a SQLSaturday session of his and one User Group meeting where he presented, but don’t know him well. We’ve never sat down and had a beer or discussed DBA topics together. And, in fairness, my blog on a good day probably gets 1/1000th the reads his blog will get on a bad day. He’s what some might call “a big name” in the industry. He’s an expert on SQL Server and well worth reading for that reason alone. I can’t guess how many people read his blog or newsletter, but I can say it has influence.

And so, someone felt that him writing about something other than how to build an index, or why not to use an update in a trigger was him straying from his lane and he should stick with data related topics. He’s already responded in some tweets and I presume elsewhere but I figured it was a good topic for me to blog about.

As long-time readers know, I don’t write just about SQL or PowerShell, but I also write about cave rescue or marshmallows or Safety (one of my more popular pages strangely). In other words I have an eclectic array of topics. But I also have some themes and I’ve written about (not) being an ally, or gender factors in giving blood. There are others, but the general point is I sometimes also write about social issues I think that are important. I think I’d be hard pressed to say what my lane is here; perhaps it’s more like a curvy mountain road?

But let’s go back to the person who told Brent he should stay in his lane. What lane did that reader refer to? I’m presuming it’s a narrow lane of “topics related to databases”. But, I think that person is wrong and I fully support Brent’s “straying from his lane.” Why? Because of power and privilege.

I’m going to go out on a limb (though I suspect it’s not a very far one) and state that I suspect Brent and I share much of the same privileges simply by being born the gender we are and skin color we have. There are other aspects we probably share.

These innate privileges give us power. And sometimes we are consciously aware of that power and other times unconsciously blind to it. Having the power and privilege itself isn’t an issue. It’s how it’s used that is important.

For example, all too often, I forget that I’m more likely to be taken seriously when I talk about a technical topic than some of my fellow DBAs, simply because of my gender and/or skin color. I can be unconscious to that power and privilege or I can work to be conscious of it. And by being conscious I can try to improve the situation for my fellow DBAs who don’t have my innate privileges.

I can be ignorant of that fact that no one questions my marriage and be oblivious to how some had to wait for the Supreme Court to recognize the validity of their love for their partners. Or, I can be aware of that and support my LGBTQI brethren in being allowed to live with who they choose and to marry them if I wish. This shapes my political opinions and who I will vote for. For example, I won’t vote for someone that I think will act to take away same sex marriage or will enact legislation that hurts such folks.

But there’s also more conscious forms of power. Simply being aware is not enough. Making room for others to be heard is a positive use of power. This is what Brent did and I fully support it. But, he didn’t simply make room, he provided the metaphorical microphone and the loudspeakers. If you didn’t look at the link above, look now. You’ll note that Brent didn’t write the email in question, but rather he gave space to a fellow DBA, Andy Mallon. This wasn’t an accident, this wasn’t Brent being lazy and not wanting to write an email, this was a conscious choice. This is using his power as a well known DBA and “big name in the industry” as well as his privileges to give a voice to others. (Please note, Andy’s a friend of mine, I’ve spoken with him at SQL Saturdays and he’s no slouch, but as far as I know he doesn’t have the audience that Brent has.)

I can support that use of power and if it’s “straying from his lane” so be it!

That said, as I wrote in my article in giving blood, as DBAs, we can NOT simply divorce ourselves from social issues. It’s not as simple as “well I just write SELECT statements and create tables.” The very data we record encodes social standards. When we make gender a bit field, we’re enshrining a very binary view of gender that does not reflect the lived lives of those around us. When we make fields that say Husband or Wife, rather than Spouse 1/Spouse 2, we are saying that only a certain form of marriage is valid (And for that matter, why stop at Spouse 2, why not make it a separate table for the day when someone walks in and claims to have more than one spouse.)

In other words, even if Brent had never strayed from writing about SQL Server, his lane would properly include social issues. Data isn’t nor should it be completely separate from social issues.

And I’ll toss out a few URLs here:

P.S. for those who read my post last week, I’m happy to say I got my slide deck and recording uploaded for presentation at PASS Virtual Summit 2020: PowerShell for DBA Beginners! So join me on Nov 11th at 2:00 PM! And use code LGDISIIK3 and save $50!

A Speaker’s Timeline

This post will be short, for reasons that are hopefully obvious by the end.

Sometime in February

Hmm, I should put together some ideas to submit to present to SQL Summit in Houston (not Dallas as Mistress SQL pointed out to me) this year.

March 16th

An update, the call for speakers has been postponed. Darn.

March 23rd

Call for speakers is finally open!

March 30th

Submit 3 possible topics.

April 1st

Approach a fellow speaker about a possible joint session, but after discussion, decide not to go ahead with the idea.

June 3rd

Get an update, Summit will be virtual this year. Thankfully I didn’t book any tickets or hotel rooms in Dallas.

July 20th 6:49 PM EDT

Woohoo! I got the email! One of my submissions got selected to present!

July 20th 6:50 PM EDT

Crap, now I actually have to write the entire thing!

July 20th 6:51 PM EDT

Wait, and it’s going to be virtual too. That’s going to make it a bit more of a challenge to present. But I’m up to it!

Sometime in August

I really should get started. Hmm, here’s one of the scripts I want to present.

But honestly, I’m preparing to teach a bunch of cavers and medical students cave rescue, I need to concentrate on that first.

September 5th

I just biked over 100 miles. I’m certainly not working on my presentation THIS weekend.

Later in September

Ok, now I’m going to sit down and really work through this. Here’s a basic outline.

October 1st

Oh wait, it’s going to be virtual AND I have to prerecord it? How is that supposed to work? I had better read up at the speaker portal!

October 2nd

Huh, ok, that sorta makes sense, upload the slides, do a recording, but I still don’t get how it’ll work with a presentation like mine with lots of demos. Well I’ll figure it out.

October 6th around 11 PM EDT

Well the PowerPoint template deck they provided looks pretty slick. I should start prepping my slides.

October 6th, approximately 5 minutes later

There, got the first slide done. Of course it’s only my name and pronouns, etc. But it’s a start.

Oh and the 2nd slide is done, but that’s simply the default PASS slide talking about chapters, SQL Saturday etc, so technically I didn’t do anything there.

I’ll start working on the closing slides.

October 7th, sometime after midnight

Ok, about 5 slides done. I’ll like to myself and say I’ve made great progress!

October 9th, approximately 10:00 PM EDT

Ok, I’ll at least start writing out the scripts I need.

October 9th, 20 minutes later

What the bloody hell? Why is this script failing? I’ve got to present this. If I can’t get this script working how is anyone going to believe that I know PowerShell, let alone actually use it.

October 9th, 5 minutes later

Well, damn, that was an embarrassing mistake, just had the , in the wrong place

October 10th around 9:00 PM EDT

Hmm, to properly demo this, I really need to run against 3-4 SQL Servers and I really don’t want to spin up a bunch of VMS and I can’t use my development one, too much proprietary data there.

I know, NOW is a perfect time to start to learn to use Docker! Why not? And besides Cathrine Wilhemsen has a great post on it. I’ll simply follow that.

2 hours and 1 reboot later

Hey, would you look at that? I’ve actually got a docker container running SQL. This is awesome!

Another minute later

But why can’t I actually connect? What network is it on? Why did I decide docker was easier? Why did I even submit this proposal? What the heck am I doing here? What is the meaning of life?

5 more minutes

That’s it, I’m going to bed.

October 11th, late night

Oh, I get it it now, I didn’t setup a full separate network, it’s bridged and that’s why it’s showing 0.0.0.0. I just need to change the port and I’m good to go!

A minute later

This is pretty awesome. Not what I’d do for a production setup, but definitely works for my demos. Now if I were really smart, I’d also setup persistent storage and the like, but this is good enough. And honestly now, setup a loop, increment a variable and bam, I’ve got 4 instances of SQL running in docker, 2 are 2017 and 2 are 2019. This is really incredible. I’m proud of myself.

Oh and even better, I’m doing all this in a PowerShell script, so I can actually make it PART of my presentation!

October 12th 2:26 PM EDT

Send off an email to the Program folks at PASS asking about how the recording stuff works with demos. Eagerly awaiting a reply.

October 15th, another late night

Yes, there’s a theme here, much of my work is being done late at night. It seems to work for me. But dang that deadline is getting closer!

October 16th, late night, again

Watched some Schitt$ Creek with the family. “Why didn’t we start watching this sooner? It’s hilarious! But I need to work on my presentation some more.”

Get all the PowerShell scripts basically done. I’m happy with it, need to work on my speaking script some.

October 19th 3:00 PM EDT

Get off the phone with a fellow Cave Rescue expert. Just before I get off, I mention my upcoming virtual, prerecorded session I have to finish. He says, “Oh, you know I just did 2-3 of those for a rescue conference, exact same format. It worked out really well. I can send you some details and feedback.”

I find that reassuring.

Also recheck email, still no answer from the folks at PASS on my questions about demos, etc.

October 19th, guess what time

I’ve finished everything, even updated the slides and scripts a bit more. I’m a bit worried I’m going to run too long, but decide to do my first of several practice run throughs.

Do my first full run through. Stop and correct a few mistakes or rough edges here and there. I’m not too worried if I run over now since I know I’ve artificially added some time.

October 19th, 42 minutes later

I get done, look at the PowerPoint timer: 42 minutes. “CRAP! I need this to be 60 minutes!” I’m not too worried, I can add more, but I’m not sure where and I don’t want to simply add fluff for the sake of fluff. I need to give this some thought.

Later on October 19th

Talking to a friend of mine who among other things has a background in adult education. She doesn’t know SQL or PowerShell, but she’s a good sounding board and she’s going to sit through my next run-through, not so much for the technical details but to give feedback on the flow and perhaps suggestions on where I may be making too many assumptions on what my listeners will know.

October 20th Early Morning

It’s a Tuesday, time to blog. As always I face that question, what should I blog about?

“I know, I’ll blog about how I’m getting my presentation together and the deadline is fast approaching. I can’t be the only speaker that often finds themselves up against the deadline and panicking.”

Next 36 hours

Add a bit more content and run through it 2-3 more time and then… RECORD! (technically it looks like I have until the 26th to upload my recording, but I want to get done early).

Conclusion

The above may or may not be a wholly accurate timeline or description of the process I’ve gone through trying to get my presentation ready for Pass Virtual Summit. I may have elided a few details and over-hyped a few others, but in general it’s close to true and accurate. Despite my always best intentions, I find myself often working up close to the deadline for submissions. Since for Summit they want NEW presentations, I can’t simply dust-off one of my previous presentations and use that, so there’s definitely more work involved here.

And honestly up until I learned it was going to be prerecorded, I thought I’d have most of October to work on it. The deadline to get the slides and recordings submitted sort of threw my original timeline for working on it in the dumpster so I’m actually a bit further behind than I expected to be.

On the other hand, I really did learn to use Docker and I think that’s valuable and I am making that part of my presentation. And, when all is said and done, I think I’ll be happy with it. I think though like any good speaker, I’ll look back and think “well next time, I’ll have to improve this or that.” There’s always room for improvement. I’m not keen on giving it prerecorded. I value the instantaneous feedback I get from the audience. So that will be different. But I at least can elicit questions during the presentation and there’s a life Q&A afterwards. But, I’ll still be nervous.

I’m in awe of speakers who get their presentations all prepped and prepared months in advance, but I suspect there’s a number out there like me, that don’t operate that way. And I suspect there’s a few who are even more nervous than I thinking, “OMG, am I the only one in this spot?” Nope, you’re not. Or rather, “Please let me know I’m not the only one!”

See you all at Summit, at least virtually!

And in the meantime there’s another possible deadline coming up I need to think about…

#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.

Caving and SQL

Longtime readers know that I spend a lot of my time talking about and teaching caving, more specifically cave rescue, and SQL Server, more specifically the operations side. While in some ways they are very different, there are areas where they overlap. In fact I wrote a book taking lessons from both, and airplane crashes to talk about IT Disaster Management.

Last week is a week where both had an overlap. One of the grottoes in the NSS (think like a SQL User Group) sponsored a talk on Diversity and Inclusion in the caving community. The next day, SQL Pass had a virtual panel on the exact same subject.

Welcoming

Let me start with saying that one thing I appreciate about both communities is that they will welcome pretty much anyone. You show up and ask to be involved and someone will generally point you in the right direction.  In fact several years ago, I heard an Oracle DBA mention how different the SQL community was from his Oracle experience, and how welcoming and sharing we could be.

This is true in the caving community. I recall an incident decades ago where someone from out of town called up a caving friend he found in the NSS memberhsip manual and said, “hey, I hear you go caving every Friday, can I join you?” The answer was of course yes.  I know I can go many places in this country, look up a caver and instantly be pointed to a great restaurant, some great caves and even possibly some crash space to sleep.

So let’s be clear, BOTH communities are very welcoming.

And I hear that a lot when the topic of diversity and inclusion comes along. “Oh we welcome anyone. They just have to ask.”

But…

Well, there’s two issues there and they’re similar in both communities. The less obvious one is that often anyone is welcome, but after that, there’s barriers, some obvious, some less so. Newcomers start to hear the subtle comments, the subtle behaviors. For example, in caving, modesty is often not a big deal. After crawling out of a wet muddy hole, you may think nothing of tearing off your clothes in the parking lot and changing. Perhaps you’re standing behind a car door but that’s about it. It’s second nature, it’s not big deal. But imagine now that you’re the only woman in that group. Sure, you were welcomed into the fold and had a blast caving, how comfortable are you with this sudden lack of modesty? Or you’re a man, but come from a cultural or religious background where modesty is a high premium?

In the SQL world, no one is getting naked in the datacenters (I hope). But, it can be subtle things there too. “Hey dudes, you all want to go out for drinks?” Now many folks will argue, “dudes is gender neutral”. And I think in most cases it’s INTENDED to be. But, turn around and ask them, “are you attracted to dudes?” and suddenly you see there is still a gender attached.  There’s other behaviors to. There’s the classic case of when a manager switched email signatures with one of his reports and how the attitudes of the customers changed, simply based on whose signature was on the email.

So yes, both groups definitely can WELCOME new folks and folks outside of the majority, but do the folks they welcome remain welcomed? From talking to people who aren’t in the majority, the answer I often get is “not much.”

An Interlude

“But Greg, I know….” insert BIPOC or woman or other member of a minority.  “They’re a great DBA” or “They’re a great caver! Really active in the community.”  And you’re right. But you’re also seeing the survivorship bias. In some cases, they did find themselves in a more welcoming space that continued to be welcoming. In some cases you’re seeing the ones who forged on anyway. But think about it, half our population is made up of women. Why aren’t 1/2 our DBAs?  In fact, the number of women in IT is declining! And if you consider the number of women in high school or college who express an interest in IT and compare it to those in in their 30s, you’ll find the number drops. Women are welcome, until they’re not.

In the caving community during an on-line discussion where people of color were speaking up about the barriers they faced, one person, a white male basically said, “there’s no racism in caving, we’ll welcome anyone.”  A POC pointed out that “as a black man in the South, trust me, I do NOT feel safe walking through a field to a cave.”  The white man continued to say, “sure, but there’s no racism in caving” completely dismissing the other responder’s concerns.

There’s Still More…

The final point I want to make however is that “we welcome people” is a necessary, but not sufficient step. Yes, I will say pretty much every caver I know will welcome anyone who shows an interest. But that’s not enough. For one thing, for many communities, simply enjoying the outdoors is something that’s not a large part of their cultural.  This may mean that they’re not even aware that caving is a possibility. Or that even if it is, they may not know how to reach out and find someone to take them caving.

Even if they overcome that hurdle, while caving can be done on the cheap, there is still the matter of getting some clothing, a helmet, some lights. There’s the matter of getting TO the cave.

In the SQL world, yes anyone is welcome to a SQL Saturday, but what if they don’t have a car? Is mass transit an option? What if they are hearing impaired? (I’ve tried unsuccessfully 2 years in a row to try to provide an ASL interpreter for our local SQL Saturday. I’m going to keep trying). What if they’re a single parent? During the work week they may have school and daycare options, but that may not be possible for a SQL Saturday or even an afterhours event. I even had something pointed out to me, during my talk on how to present, that someone in the audience had not realized up until I mentioned it, that I was using a laser pointer. Why? Because they were colorblind and never saw the red dot. It was something that I, a non-colorblind person had never even considered. And now I wonder, how many other colorblind folks had the same issue, but never said anything?

In Conclusion

It’s easy and honestly tempting to say, “hey, we welcome anyone” and think that’s all there is to it. The truth is, it takes a LOT more than that. If nothing else, if you’re like me, an older, cis-het white male, take the time to sit in on various diversity panels and LISTEN. If you’re invited to ask questions or participate, do so, but in a way that acknowledges your position. Try not to project your experiences on to another. Only once have I avoided a field to get to a cave, because the farmer kept his bull there. But I should not project MY lack of fear about crossing a field onto members of the community who HAVE experienced that.

Listen for barriers and work to remove them. Believe others when they mention a barrier. They may not be barriers for you, but they are for others. When you can, try to remove them BEFORE others bring them up. Don’t assume a barrier doesn’t exist because no one mentions it. Don’t say, “is it ok if I use a red laser pointer?” because you’re now putting a colorblind person on the spot and singling them out. That will discourage them. For example find a “software” pointer (on my list of things to do) that will highlight items directly on the screen. This also works great for large rooms where there may be multiple projection screens in use.

If caving, don’t just assume, “oh folks know how to find us” reach out to community groups and ask them if they’re interested and offer to help. (note I did try this this year, but never heard back and because of the impact of Covid, am waiting until next year to try again.)

Don’t take offense. Unless someone says, “hey, Greg, you know you do…” they’re not talking about you specifically, but about an entire system. And no one is expecting you to personally fix the entire system, but simply to work to improve it where you can. It’s a team effort. That said, maybe you do get called out. I had a friend call me out on a tweet I made. She did so privately. And she did so because, she knew I’d listen. I appreciated that. She recognized I was human and I make mistakes and that given the chance, I’ll listen and learn. How can one take offense at that? I saw it has a sign of caring.

Finally realize, none of us are perfect, but we can always strive to do better.

So, today give some thought about how you can not only claim your community, whatever it may be, is welcoming, but what efforts you can make to ensure it is.

 

On a separate note, check out my latest writing for Red-Gate, part II on Parameters in PowerShell.

SQL Saturday Albany 2020

So, another SQL Saturday Albany is in the books. First, I want to thank Ed Pollack and his crew for doing a great job with a changing and challenging landscape.  While I handle the day to day and monthly operations of the Capital Area SQL Server User Group, Ed handles the planning and operations of the SQL Saturday event. While the event itself is only 1 day of the year, I suspect he has the harder job!

This year of course planning was complicated by the fact that the event had to become a virtual event. However, it’s a bit ironic we went virtual because in many ways, the Capital District of NY is probably one of the safer places in the country to have an in-person event. That said, virtual was still by far the right decision.

Lessons Learned

Since more and more SQL Saturdays will be virtual for the foreseeable future, I wanted to take the opportunity to pass on some lessons I learned and some thoughts I have about making them even more successful. Just like the #SQLFamily in general passing on knowledge about SQL Server, I wanted to pass on knowledge learned here.

For Presenters

The topic I presented on was So you want to Present: Tips and Tricks of the Trade. I think it’s important to nurture the next generation of speakers. Over the years I was given a great deal of encouragement and advice from the speakers who came before me and I feel it’s important to pass that on. Normally I give this presentation in person. One of the pieces of advice I really stress in it is to practice beforehand. I take that to heart. I knew going into this SQL Saturday that presenting this remotely would create new challenges. For example, on one slide I talk about moving around on the stage. That doesn’t really apply to virtual presentations. On the other hand, when presenting them in person, I generally don’t have to worry about a “green-screen”. (Turns out for this one I didn’t either, more on that in a moment.)

So I decided to make sure I did a remote run through of this presentation with a friend of mine. I can’t tell you how valuable that was. I found that slides I thought were fine when I practiced by myself didn’t work well when presented remotely. I found that the lack of feedback inhibited me at points (I actually do mention this in the original slide deck). With her feedback, I altered about a 1/2 dozen slides and ended up adding 3-4 more. I think this made for a much better and more cohesive presentation.

Tip #1: Practice your virtual presentation at least once with a remote audience

They don’t have to know the topic or honestly, even have an interest in it. In fact I’d argue it might help if they don’t, this means they can focus more on the delivery and any technical issues than the content itself. Even if you’ve given the talk 100 times in front of a live audience, doing it remotely is different enough that you need feedback.

Tip #2: Know your presentation tool

This one actually came back to bite me and I’m going to have another tip on this later. I did my practice run via Zoom, because that’s what I normally use. I’m used to the built-in Chroma Key (aka green-screen) feature and know how to turn it on and off and to play with it. It turns out that GotoWebinar handles it differently and I didn’t even think about it until I got to that part of my presentation and realized I had never turned it on, and had no idea how to! This meant that this part of my talk didn’t go as well as planned.

Tip #3: Have a friend watch the actual presentation

I actually lucked out here, both my kids got up early (well for them, considering it was a weekend) and watched me present. I’m actually glad I didn’t realize this until the very end or else I might have been more self-conscious. That said, even though I had followed Tip #1 above, they were able to give me more feedback. For example, (and this relates to Tip #2), the demo I did using Prezi was choppy and not great. In addition, my Magnify Screen example that apparently worked in Zoom, did not work in GotoWebinar! This feedback was useful. But even more so, if someone you know and trust is watching in real-time, they can give real-time feedback such as issues with bandwidth, volume levels, etc.

Tip #4: Revise your presentation

Unless your presentation was developed exclusively to be done remotely, I can guarantee that it probably need some changes to make it work better remotely. For example, since most folks will be watching from their computer or phone, you actually may NOT need to magnify the screen such as you would in a live presentation with folks sitting in the back of the room. During another speaker’s presentation, I realized they could have dialed back the magnification they had enabled in SSMS and it would have still been very readable and also presented more information.

You also can’t effectively use a laser pointer to highlight items on the slide-deck.

You might need to add a few slides to better explain a point, or even remove some since they’re no longer relevant. But in general, you can’t just shift and lift a live presentation to become a remote one and have it be as good.

Tip #5: Know your physical setup

This is actually a problem I see at times with in-person presentations, but it’s even more true with virtual ones and it ties to Tip #2 above. If you have multiple screens, understand which one will be shown by the presentation tool. Most, if not all, let you select which screen or even which window is being shared. This can be very important. If you choose to share a particular program window (say PowerPoint) and then try to switch to another window (say SSMS) your audience may not see the new window. Or, and this is very common, if you run PowerPoint in presenter mode where you have the presented slides on one screen, and your thumbnails and notes on another, make sure you know which screen is being shared. I did get this right with GotoWebinar (in part because I knew to look for it) but it wasn’t obvious at first how to do this.

In addition, decide where to put your webcam! If you’re sharing your face (and I’m a fan of it, I think it makes it easier for others to connect to you as a presenter) understand which screen you’ll be looking at the most, otherwise your audience may get an awkward looking view of you always looking off to another screen. And, if you can, try to make “eye contact” through the camera from time to time. In addition, be aware, and this is an issue I’m still trying to address, that you may have glare coming off of your glasses. For example, I need to wear reading glasses at my computer, and even after adjusting the lighting in the room, it became apparent, that the brightness of my screens alone was causing a glare problem. I’ll be working on this!

Also be aware of what may be in the background of your camera. You don’t want to have any embarrassing items showing up on your webcam!

For Organizers

Tip #6: Provide access to the presentation tool a week beforehand

Now, this is partly on me. I didn’t think to ask Ed if I could log into one of the GotoWebinar channels beforehand, I should have. But I’ll go a step further. A lesson I think we learned is that as an organizer, make sure presenters can log in before the big day and that they can practice with the tool. This allows them to learn all the controls before they go live. For example, I didn’t realize until 10 minutes was left in my presentation how to see who the attendees were. At first I could only see folks who had been designated as a panelist or moderator, so I was annoyed I couldn’t see who was simply attending. Finally I realized what I thought was simply a label was in fact a tab I could click on. Had I played with the actual tool earlier in the week I’d have known this far sooner.  So organizers, if you can, arrange time for presenters to log in days before the event.

Tip #7: Have plenty of “Operators”

Every tool may call them by different names but ensure that you have enough folks in each “room” or “channel” who can do things like mute/unmute people, who can ensure the presenter can be heard, etc. When I started my presentation, there was some hitch and there was no one around initially to unmute me. While I considered doing my presentation via interpretive dance or via mime, I decided to not to. Ed was able to jump in and solve the problem. I ended up losing about 10 minutes of time due to this glitch.

Tip #8: Train your “Operators”

This goes back to the two previous tips, make sure your operators have training before the big day. Setup an hour a week before and have them all log in and practice how to unmute or mute presenters, how to pass control to the next operator, etc. Also, you may want to give them a script to read at the start and end of each session. “Good morning. Thank you for signing in. The presenter for this session will be John Doe and he will be talking about parameter sniffing in SQL Server. If you have a question, please enter it in the Q&A window and I will make sure the presenter is aware of it. This session is/isn’t being recorded.” At the end a closing item like, “Thank you for attending. Please remember to join us in Room #1 at 4:45 for the raffle and also when this session ends, there will be a quick feedback survey. Please take the time to fill it out.”

Tip #9: If you can, have a feedback mechanism

While people often don’t fill out the written feedback forms at a SQL Saturday, when they do, they can often be valuable. Try to recreate this for virtual ones.

Tip #10Have a speaker’s channel

I hadn’t given this much thought until I was talking to a fellow speaker, Rie Irish later, and remarked how I missed the interaction with my fellow speakers. She was the one who suggested a speaker’s “channel” or “room” would be a good idea and I have to agree. A private room where speakers can log in, chat with each other, reach out to operators or organizers strikes me as a great idea. I’d highly suggest it.

Tip #11: Have a general open channel

Call this the “hallway” channel if you want, but try to recreate the hallway experience where folks can simply chat with each other. SQL Saturday is very much a social event, so try to leverage that! Let everyone chat together just like they would at an in-person SQL Saturday event.

For Attendees

Tip #12: Use social media

As a speaker or organizer, I love to see folks talking about my talk or event on Twitter and Facebook. Please, share the enthusiasm. Let others know what you’re doing and share your thoughts! This is actually a tip for everyone, but there’s far more attendees than organizers/speakers, so you can do the most!

Tip #13: Ask questions, provide feedback

Every platform used for remote presentations offers some sort of Q&A or feedback. Please, use this. As a virtual speaker, it’s impossible to know if my points are coming across. I want/welcome questions and feedback, both during and after. As great as my talks are, or at least I think they are, it’s impossible to tell without feedback if they’re making an impact. That said, let me apologize right now, if during my talk you tried to ask a question or give feedback, because of my lack of familiarity with the tool and not having the planned operator in the room, I may have missed it.

Tip #14: Attend!

Yes, this sounds obvious, but hey, without you, we’re just talking into a microphone! Just because we can’t be together in person doesn’t mean we should stop learning! Take advantage of this time to attend as many virtual events as you can! With so many being virtual, you can pick ones out of your timezone for example to better fit your schedule, or in different parts of the world! Being physically close is no longer a requirement!

In Closing

Again, I want to reiterate that Ed and his team did a bang-up job with our SQL Saturday and I had a blast and everyone I spoke to had a great time. But of course, doing events virtually is still a new thing and we’re learning. So this is an opportunity to take the lessons from a great event and make yours even better!

I had a really positive experience presenting virtually and look forward to my PASS Summit presentation and an encouraged to put in for more virtual SQL Saturdays after this.

In addition, I’d love to hear what tips you might add.

A Summit To Remember

There’s been a lot of talk about the 2020 PASS Summit and how the impact of making it virtual this year. I’ve even previously written about it. I’ll be clear, I would prefer an in-person summit. But that said, I think having it virtual does provide for some fascinating and interesting possibilities and I look forward to seeing how they’re handled.  It will certainly be different being able to watch a session at a later time as a default option. And my understanding is that session schedules will no longer be constrained by the timezone the Summit is being held in.

That said, I also have to admit a certain bias here. I’ve wanted to speak at Summit for a couple of years now and have been turned down twice in the past two years. This year I was hoping again to speak, but alas, I procrastinated a bit too long and literally missed the original window to submit by a few hours.

Note I said original window. Because the Summit was moved to a virtual Summit the decision was made to re-open the call for speakers. This time I took advantage of that 2nd chance and submitted a bid.

And I’m so glad I did. Because if you didn’t have a reason to attend summit before, you do now! You get to hear me talk about PowerShell! So, I’ll admit to getting an unexpected benefit out of the move to a Virtual Summit.

I still recall one of my first attempts to use PowerShell at a client site, about 8 years ago. It did not go well. The security policy wouldn’t let me do what I wanted and the available knowledge on the Internet was sparse. Basically I wanted to loop through a list of servers and see if they had SQL Server installed. I eventually gave up on that project.

Since then though, I’ve been drawn to PowerShell and have come to love it. Now, when you hear a DBA talk about PowerShell, they will almost always mention dbatools. I want to go on record right now, I think it’s a GREAT addition, but I rarely use it. Not because there’s anything wrong with it, but mostly because my current usage is a bit different than what it provides. I do talk about it a bit here though.

For the talk I’ll be presenting, my plan is to start with a real simple PowerShell Script and slowly build on it until it’s a useful script for deploying SQL Scripts to multiple servers. For anyone who has read my articles at Red-Gate, much of this will be familiar territory, but I hope to cover in 75 minutes what I cover in 3-4 articles.

Checking this morning, I noticed that I’m among good company, and it’s humbling to see it, when it comes to speaking about PowerShell.

So, I hope you “come” and see me present on PowerShell at SQL Summit 2020. I’ll be in New York, where will you be?

Giving Blood and Pride Month

I gave blood yesterday. It got me thinking. First, let me show a few screenshots:

male blood donor shot 1

7 Male Donor #1 screen shot

female blood donor shot 1

Female Donor #1 screen shot

Let me interject here I’m using the terms Male and Female based on the criteria I selected in the American Red Cross’s Fast Pass screen. More on why I make that distinction further on. But first two more screen shots.

female blood donor shot 2

Pregnancy question highlighted for female

male blood donor shot 2

No pregnancy question for males

Now, on the face of it, this second set of questions especially almost seems to make sense: I mean if I answered Male early on in the questionnaire, why by asked about a pregnancy? But what I’m asked at the beginning is about my gender, not my actual child-bearing capability. Let me quote from Merriam-Webster:

2-b: the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex

Or from the World Health Organization:

Gender refers to the roles, behaviours, activities, attributes and opportunities that any society considers appropriate for girls and boys, and women and men. Gender interacts with, but is different from, the binary categories of biological sex.

Who can be pregnant?

So above, really what the Red Cross is asking isn’t about my gender, but really my ability to be pregnant. Now, this is a valid medical concern. There are risks they want to avoid in regards to pregnant women, or recently pregnant women giving blood. So their ultimate goal isn’t the problem, but their initial assumption might be. A trans-man might still be able to get pregnant, and a trans-woman might be incapable of getting pregnant (as well as a cis-woman might be incapable.) And this is why I had the caveat above about using the terms male and female. I’m using the terms provided which may not be the most accurate.

Assumptions on risk factors

The first set of images is a problematic in another way: it is making assumptions about risk factors. Now, I think we can all agree that keeping blood borne pathogens such as HIV out of the blood supply is a good one. And yes, while donated blood is tested, it can be even safer if people who know they are HIV or at risk for it can potentially self-select themselves out of the donation process.

But…

Let me show the actual question:

Male Male 3 month contact question

Question 21, for Men

This is an improvement over the older restrictions that were at one year and at one point “any time since 1977”. Think about that. If a man had had sex with another man in 1986, but consistently tested negative for HIV/AIDS for the following 30+ years, they could not give blood under previous rules. By the way, I will make a note here that these rules are NOT set by the American Red Cross, but rather by the FDA. So don’t get too angry at the Red Cross for this.

The argument for a 3 month window apparently was based on the fact that HIV tests now are good enough that they can pick up viral particles after that window (i.e. at say 2 months, you may be infected, but the tests may not detect it.)

Based on the CDC information I found today, in 2018, male-to-male sexual contact resulted in 24,933 new infections. The 2nd highest category was heterosexual contact (note the CDC page doesn’t seem to specify the word sexual there.) So yes, statistically it appears male-male sexual contact is a high-risk category.

But…

I know a number of gay and bisexual men. I don’t inquire about their sexual habits. However, a number are either married or appear to be in monogamous relationships. This means if they want to give blood and not lie on the forms, they have to be celibate for at least 3 months at a time!  But hey if you’re a straight guy and had sex with 4 different women in the last week, no problem, as long as you didn’t pay any of them for sex! I’ll add that more than one gay man I know wants to give blood and based on their actual behavior are in a low risk category, but can’t because of the above question.

Why do I bring all this up at the end of Pride Month and what, if anything does it have to do with database design (something I do try to actually write about from time to time)?

As a cis-het male (assigned at birth and still fits me) it’s easy to be oblivious to the problematic nature of the questions on such an innocuous and arguably well-intended  form. The FDA has certain mandates that the Red Cross (and other blood donation agencies) must follow. And I think the mandates are often well-intended. But, there are probably better ways of approaching the goals, in the examples given above, of helping to rule out higher-risk donations. I’ll be honest, I’m not always sure the best way.  To some extent, it might be as simple as rewording the question. In others, it might be necessary to redesign the database to better reflect the realities of gender and sex, after all bits are cheap.

But I want to tie this into something I’ve said before: diversity in hiring is critical and I think we in the data world need to be aware of this. There are several reasons, but I want to focus on one for now.

Our Databases Model the World as We Know It.

The way we build databases is an attempt to model the world. If we are only aware of two genders, we will build our databases to reflect this. But sometimes we have to stop and ask, “do we even need to ask that question?” For one thing, we potentially add the issue of having to deal with Personally Identifiable Information that we don’t really need.  For another, we can make assumptions: “Oh they’re male, they can’t get pregnant so this drug won’t be an issue.”

Now, I’m fortunate enough to have a number of friends who fall into various places on the LGBTQIA+ (and constantly growing collection of letters) panoply and the more I listen, the more complexity I see in the world and how we record it.

This is not to say that you must go out instantly and hire 20 different DBAs, each representing a different identity. That’s obviously not practical. But, I suspect if your staff is made up of cis-het men, your data models may be suffering and you may not even be aware of it!

So, listen to others when they talk about their experiences, do research, get to know more people with experiences and genders and sexualities different from yours. You’ll learn something and you also might build databases. But more importantly, you’ll get to know some great people and become a better person yourself. Trust me on that.