I’m going to be a bit more open than I usually am in my blog posts. I think it’s time for a bit of transparency.
Let me start by saying that overall, despite the impact of Covid, the last 15 or so months have not been terrible for me. Far from it. In fact I’ve been very fortunate. So this post isn’t a rant or a series of complaints. It’s really a short reflection.
Last year for example, I biked more than I had in years, and in fact did my first century ride since college. I presented at PASS Summit for the first time, albeit virtually. I got to spend more time with my kids. Fortunately, no one close to me had a serious case of COVID nor died from it (though I had friends and former coworkers who did lose people close to them).
I even managed to organize and pull off a cave rescue training class late last summer. And of course just pulled off another weeklong course this month, and will help with another one in late August.
So overall, it’s been a pretty decent 15 months.
But lately I’ve noticed things aren’t necessarily where I want them to be. My motivation levels have been off. I’ve got at least 3-4 ideas for more articles for Redgate. But, I find myself finding reasons to put off writing them. I’ve got a few other projects that I haven’t made progress on. I need to finish tiling a backsplash in my bathroom, patch a hole in the wall in the downstairs bathroom from when I put in a fan, and a few more.
But honestly, the idea of launching into such projects just makes me go “bleah”.
I think too some of the frustration in my inability to attract new clients like I was hoping to this year has put me into the “bleah” mode, and of course in a vicious cycle caused me to put less effort into attracting new clients.
But, ultimately, I’m writing this post not because I’m looking for sympathy or for comfort, but ironically for the exact opposite reason. I find that often people hide the state of their emotional well-being and put on a happy façade, especially on social media, and as a result everyone goes around thinking that everyone else is doing better than they are themselves doing. So, I’m saying, “hey, I’m doing great, but you know what, there are days when life is ‘bleah’ and it’s ok. And if you’re having such days, or even worse, you’re not alone.”
Postscript: I want to add, if you haven’t, check out Steve Jones blog, he’s been daily posting a bunch of coping suggestions. I don’t read them every day, and I suspect Steve would agree with me that take what works for you and ignore the ones that don’t is the way to go. In part his posts helped inspire this one.
Select <columns> from Some_Table where Condition=’Some Value’
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.
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.
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.
The last week or two of the Twittersphere and blogosphere has left me unsettled. Three members of the PASS Board have resigned in protest: Hamish Watson, Melody Zacharias, Mindy Curnutt. These are three people I’ve had the honor of working with and in Hamish’s case, even sharing the stage (albeit virtual) with. They’re great, hard-working, dedicted people. Rumors are that the Board is consulting with lawyers, presumably to see what is required for an orderly and legal dissolution of PASS as we know it.
Yesterday, a friend posted on my Facebook timeline that she hoped to see me again in a year when I came back out to Seattle for Summit. I had to say, it wasn’t clear there would be a Summit next year.
These things sadden me. Winter, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere is a time of literal darkness, but the situation with PASS, on top of our time of Covid and our bitter partisan divide brings darkness to other parts of my life.
But, I’m reminded of the good things too. Sitting on my kitchen butcherblock are 6 bags of cookies, plus a pile more for ourselves. Tonight is the 6th night of Hanukkah, where again my family and I will gather to light candles to remind ourselves of hope and joy among a dark time millennia ago when evil was vanquished. In a few days, Jupiter and Saturn will be in conjunction and create a single bright “star”. This will happen on the darkest, longest night of the year and then light will start to return and a new year will begin. A vaccine is out and being distributed and hope for 2021 builds.
And last night, I was reminded that PASS itself may be an organization, and I don’t know its future but an organization is made up of the people in it. It’s more than just the founding papers and bylaws and NDAs. To quote Shakespeare, “O brave new world, that has such people in it!”
What exactly do I mean? Well in more normal years, last night would have been our holiday party for the Capital Area SQL Server User Group. This means we would have gathered at a local restaurant, in person and shared stories and memories over food and drink. Months ago it became apparent that this could not happen this year. I struggled with several ideas to do instead. For one, we could have cancelled, but that just seemed too depressing. I could have found yet another remote speaker, but that just seemed boring. I can’t recall exactly where the idea came from, but I decided to do a version of “3 Truths and a Lie”. It turned out to be 4 Truths and a Lie. For those who aren’t familiar with the idea, or who do not listen to NPRs “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me” which has a version they call “Bluff the Listener”, the idea is some number of people (in my case 4) tell a true story, perhaps a bit outlandish. One additional person tells a lie. The others in the group then cast their votes for whose story is made-up. It can be quite fun.
I struggled a bit with who to ask to be guest speakers. I wanted folks that I knew could tell a good tale and that had probably some quite unusual stories. So I reached out and very quickly got back positive responses from everyone I asked. THIS is the #SQLFamily I’ve grown to know and love, always willing to help out and if it involves a good story, all the better. One of them, David Klee was positively giddy with excitement. And then it happened: several of the others had to drop out for personal reasons. They all reached out to me and apologized for having to drop out. I understood. Life happens and I know none of them did so without some anguish. But fear not, I had others to ask and other contacts of mine helped suggest names. Originally I was going to go with 4 total story tellers, but because time was now short, I reached out to at least one extra person to ensure if someone said no, I’d still have enough folks. Amazingly, all the folks I asked said yes. Now I had a total of 5 and that was fine, I decided to run with it. So, besides David, I ended up with Kellyn Pot’Vin-Gorman, Ed Leighton-Dick, Rick Lowe, and Amy Herold all weaving tales; of upgrades that included a Cheshire cat, the coworker who thought you had to sit and watch SQL jobs run to completion before going home, a trigger that would routinely update 63,000 rows, JBwelding USB ports in the name of security, and upgrading a server to something 31% slower for the low low cost of only $4M.
Unfortunately, the actual turnout for my group, despite the sign-ups on Meetup, was about 1/2 of what I had expected, but everyone had a great time. Surprisingly, no one guessed which of the above stories was made up (and I’m not giving it away). But we had plenty of prizes so everyone will be going away with something.
The one thing I went away with, was the confirmation that while I have no idea what the future of PASS is (ok, I have some thoughts, perhaps for another time), I do know that it’s far more than just the organization, it’s really the people, the demonyms of PASS that are the #SQLFamily I’ve come to know and love. In this season of darkness, knowing that there are such people out there fills me with hope.
So thanks to the folks named above and to all my other #SQLFamily members, and fellow CASSUG folks, including Ed Pollack and Ray Kim for your help over the past year.
One a finale note: for my birthday this year, I’ve added a link on my Facebook page to the local foodbank. I already exceeded two early goals and have added a third, stretch goal. Watching a segment on hunger and food drives on The Today Show this morning I am again reminded of how much I have and how lucky my family is. I would ask, if you can, donate, either to your local food bank, to the link on my Facebook page or to a charity of your choice.
Thank you and to all, a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and happy holidays for other holidays that you may celebrate.
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.
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.
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 Watson, Brandon Leach, Rob Sewell, Ben 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.
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.
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.
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!