What PASS Has Meant to Me and My Career

On the eve of leaving for my first PASS Summit, I wanted to talk a little bit about what the SQL Server community has meant to me and my career. In my older roles at Wyeth, I was largely an Oracle DBA, but I had always dabbled in SQL Server since the beginning of my career. The position I was hired into at Synthes would require me to learn a lot more about SQL Server, since their environment was mostly SQL. So, I decided to start going to the Philadelphia SQL Server User Group meeting in the area (if your reading this from Philly–go to the website and sign up for the next meeting), and around the same time, I got involved with twitter, and found Brent Ozar (blog|twitter), which eventually led me into the much broader SQL community.

I submitted my first presentation that fall, to IOUG (Oracle’s version of PASS), and my first major presentation was at their conference in April. In the meantime, I had done a couple of presentations at our SQL group, and more importantly I was learning a ton more about the platform. Various code camps, videos at SSWUG, SQL Saturday’s and a SQL Rally later, I’m fairly confident in my speaking skills, and a few of you actually read my blog. Unfortunately, I’m not presenting at the PASS Summit this year, because around the time for submissions, I didn’t know I was going to be going.

One refrain I see tossed about, is that it really doesn’t matter if a person has 10 years of experience, if that person has the same year of experience 10 times. Getting involved in the community can really help you avoid that rut–you will be exposed to a wide variety of presentations on topics you might not have seen before, and if you make the leap to presenting, you’ll dig far deeper into topics than you might have ordinarily in your job,

So how does this tie back to my career? As the SAP project I was on  really started to suck (and I really figured this out while talking to colleagues at SQL Rally), I started looking for a new role, and I started talking to a couple of companies about DBA roles. It really helps the interview process, when you can respond to a question with, “oh I have an article about that on my blog” or “I did a presentation on that”, really helps.

So a big thank you to those who make up the community, your dedication and hard work has made a much better technologist (not just DBA) than I was three years ago.

Lastly, and the really great thing, is my new role (which is really awesome!) basically happened because of my speaking and blogging work I had done. Get out to a user group meeting, or a SQL Saturday! Stay active in the community, and see you at PASS!

Meme Monday

This Meme Monday is hosted by Tom Larock (blog|twitter) and the subject is the worst way you have ever been asked for help.

Well my last project had some nightmarish moments, like getting called at midnight for a minor problem, or having a 2 am conference call.

But one developer really took the cake with the question-“the database is slow”. After looking at wait stats and finding nothing (it turned out to be a network/app issue-too many round trips), I gave the instance more memory. And wrote back saying I thought it was an app problem.

His response-“did you increase the performance in the database yet?”

Time for Change

As some of you may have seen on my LinkedIn profile, I recently made a job change. This as always was a hard decision, as I really liked the folks I was working with at my old company and getting to work in Europe (Switzerland) was a great career experience.  Here’s a little bit of background.

Last December, my company was in the midst of a big hiring spree for our global SAP implementation–it was a big project, and it was obviously where most of our IT resources were going to be going for the next several years. It also meant leaving my comfort zone–databases, to be the Infrastructure lead for the project. I decided to do it–the ERP experience would be great, and my backup plan was that I would continue presenting on SQL, I could always go back to being a DBA.

The project kicked off in February, and one of key early decisions was to outsource the hosting of the Infrastructure–this would, in theory make my job easier, as it would limit me to connectivity, and relationship management activities. However, things didn’t work out well with the hosting (the vendor was awful, and we weren’t much better), so in April, when we were coming up against some project deadlines, I jetted off to Switzerland to build the development and sandbox environments with my consultant. The Swiss had some excess hardware, and the plan was for this to be a temporary environment until we got the hosting worked out–it wasn’t, and the VMs we built then, laid the groundwork for development.

From my perspective, this was good and bad at the same time. It tested every part of my technical skills, I did SQL, Oracle, Windows, Linux, VMWare and a bit of SAN. I even was fairly involved in the network and remote access pieces of the project. The bad side of this, was my team hadn’t expanded–it was two of us, and we were beginning to get overwhelmed with requests, both from the development team and the project management stuff I was having to do. (A common week was 6 hours of meetings a day, all while trying to work). After Switzerland (pt 1), I took a few days to go speak at SQL Rally, and relax a bit.

One interesting tidbit I didn’t mention, was that during my trip to Switzerland, it was announced that my company was being acquired by a much larger health care firm. I think I would be safe, but that’s always a big place for concern.

I was talking with some really smart folks John Sterrett (blog|twitter), Kevin Kline (blog|twitter), and Jen McCown (blog|twitter) at Rally, and they suggested I start looking for another role. I only applied to two jobs, and I heard back from both of them–one of them was at a very prominent company in the Philadelphia area, where a couple of my Microsoft friends had worked. I interviewed there in late May–everything went great, the process took forever, but their HR recruiting did an excellent job of staying touch with me, and letting me know that they were still interested.

The project progressed, things only got crazier. SAP has a crazy number of modules, each which have their own inter and cross dependencies, additionally there are a decent number of ancillary systems that also require support. I’m looking at you Business Objects Data Services.  So needless to say free time was at a premium. May-July consisted of a lot of 60 hour weeks–we finally decided to dump the hosting guys, and do it ourselves, so the end of July had another trip to Switzerland (this  would be our vacation for the year, it was fun), this time to build the QA environment.

The day before I left for Switzerland (and SQL Saturday Wheeling), I got a call from the big company I had interviewed with, with a great offer, pending a drug test (I passed, woo hoo!) . While, I was in Switzerland, I began hearing rumors that the SAP project may be cancelled, as the company is trying to save cash in advance of the merger. This along with a couple of other things that happened in the US during that trip, lead me to accept the offer. I do have to thank Erin Stellato (blog|twitter) and Karen Lopez (blog|twitter) for helping me with advice during that trip. Thanks ladies!!!

So, the epilogue of this story is that two days after I started my new role, the project was cancelled, and everyone was reassigned into either their old roles or something else. I felt pretty awful for my colleagues, but like I said on twitter, I felt like I hit the lottery.

Now, that I’m in a different role, you should see some more blogs here. Later this week, I’ll talk about how the community can help your career!

unSQL Friday–Lessons Learned while Presenting

Jen McCown (blog|twitter) has organized a great topic for this unSQL Friday–lessons learned while presenting. Like she mentioned in her post–these don’t necessarily have to be tragedies, just things you’ve picked up along the way while presenting.

Fortunately, in my few years of doing technical presentations, I’ve never had a major demo failure, or a laptop crap out, but I have picked up some tips and hints along the way. So here goes:

  1. PowerPoint presentation mode, for the win. This is feature in PowerPoint that allows you to have your slides up on the monitor, while looking at your presentation notes and timer on your monitor. I kind of use it like a mini-teleprompter. The one pain point of this is, it does make a bit harder to go in and out of demos, but I feel like that headache is easier than dealing with 10 pages of 16 point speech notes.
  2. Get a presentation mouse. I use a Microsoft presentation mouse, that I was able to buy off of eBay for about $20. It has a timer, which is a nice feature that I like to use. The presentation mouse allows me to move around the room, which leads me to my next point.
  3. Engage, engage, engage the audience. Some of the best presenters I’ve seen do this the best, but try to plan a couple of points in your presentation where you can engage the audience. In my recent SQL Azure presentation, I sent an Azure Reporting Services report to an audience member who had a Windows Phone 7. It breaks up the monotony of a technical presentation, and helps keep people from falling asleep–I’m looking at you guy in row 3.

One last note, based on some feedback I received from SQL Rally, it’s generally not the speakers responsibility for how comfortable the chairs and the room are. If you have a problem with the room please see the conference organizers, please use the evaluation form to comment on me, so I can improve my talks in the future.

If you are reading this, and you are not a regular presenter, but would like to get in on the act, talk to your local user group, they are always on the lookout for speakers, and many organize special events where first time speakers can talk for 10-15 minutes.

The Top 5 Things I learned during my MBA program.

This post originated one night when John Sterrett (blog|twitter) was asking for a good place to find salary information. I was able to quickly refer him to O*Net, a government database of job descriptions, and extensive salary info based on IRS return data. I mentioned that it was one of the top five things I learned about during my MBA program.

I’d like to just add while I don’t know if it’s totally a worthwhile endeavor, I really enjoyed going to business school. My company at the time paid for most of it, so I took advantage of that benefit. It was a great opportunity to network with a bunch of really smart people, and change the way I looked at a lot of things in business and IT.

John mentioned that he hoped to learn about the rest of my top 5–I had to step back and think about what those were. So here goes my attempt at classifying them.

1) O*Net — As I mentioned before this is a Federal website, that shows both salary information and detailed job descriptions for all professions. Need a job description for a DBA? It’s here. I’ve used this before when our HR org didn’t put together a job description of my liking.

2) HR–I learned how HR works, how to work with them to hire good people. I learned the legal process behind the review process, and the performance review process in general. I also began to understand that in really successful companies, HR is used as strategic asset, and not just a gatekeeper and processor of information. There are other better writings on this, but it’s a good topic to study further on. I also learned that the best way to get hired, is to avoid going to HR, and network your way to the hiring manager.

3) Managing Your Career–Tom LaRock (blog|twitter) wrote a book on this, but one of the key bits of wisdom I picked up in my second take at college was that you and only you are responsible for your career. Your manager probably doesn’t care, as he/she is focused on their own job.

4) Statistics–Or the class where I really learned how to use Excel. I had some vague knowledge of statistics, but a management statistics class gave me knowledge of confidence intervals, how statistics get used in business situations. And despite what some say, marketing is more than liquor and guessing, you can use statistics to model and focus in on a target audience.

5) Don’t murder anyone. As much as I wish it did, this has nothing to do with a product liability class. Unfortunately, one of my classmates, who I witnessed having a liaison with another student on a class trip to France, is on trial was convicted for the murder of his wife. Last month I got to have thewonderful experience of testifying in the case. That sucked, what really puts in perspective is he was a fairly normal guy, with some priorities a little out of whack. I don’t intend this to be one of those “it can happen to anyone things”, but it does really make you think.

So I’ve covered salary, HR, career, stats, and felonies. There were many other interesting things I learned about including a great class on Organization Culture and a series of very interesting Supply Chain classes, but overall these were my top 5 takeaways.

Well, that and I hope I never have to testify in a criminal matter ever again.

SQL Saturday Boston Links from Presentation

Allan Hirt Pro SQL Server 2008 Failover Clustering

Paul Randal—White Paper on HA Solutions in SQL 2008

Also, in answer to the question–if you lose your private heartbeat network, in 2008 the cluster will revert to using the public network, so no outage will happen. If you lose the public network (which is your general network) you have bigger problem.

SQL Saturday #71 — Boston

I’m presenting at 10:15 AM Saturday, at SQL Saturday in Boston, on “Building Your First SQL Cluster”. I really love presenting this topic–if you want to learn about high availability and disaster recovery concepts, and how they apply to SQL Server.I will cover clustering concepts and hardware requirements.  Additionally, I will go over who in your organization needs to involved in this process, and what infrastructure components you need to plan to have in place.

After this session, you will be ready to try your hand at clustering. I’ll post the slides here when I’m done.