Meet PASS Board Candidate Brian Moran

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The PASS Board of Directors election starts on October 12th, and we’ve got four really well-qualified candidates to choose from:

You can read their bios at the PASS Candidate List, and they’re good, but I wanted more.  I emailed each of them with a set of interview questions to satisfy my bizarre curiosity.  Today’s response comes from Brian Moran:

First, thanks for volunteering to dedicate your time to the community. What made you decide to run for the Board of Directors this year?

You know that I was a member of the inaugural PASS Board of Directors, right?

PASS launched 10 years ago. I was reading about PASS’s 10 year anniversary and thought “Wow, it doesn’t seem that long ago”. Then I thought that I must be getting old if 10 years didn’t seem that long ago.

I decided it might be fun to serve on the Board again. I use the word fun cautiously. Being a PASS board member is a serious commitment but I’m of the opinion that life is too short to do things that you’re not passionate about and don’t make you happy.

I’ve been working with SQL Server for the past 17 years. Yes, that makes me feel old too. I don’t want to sound corny; but I’m at a point in my career where I feel that I should be investing in the community that has helped shaped my professional existence and success for almost 2 decades. My experiences as a technician, an entrepreneur, and an executive will benefit PASS and the community. I’ll have fun doing it. So I decided to throw my hat into the ring.

Walk us through one of your typical workdays. What do you do?

Solid Quality Mentors (SolidQ) was built from the ground up as a virtual company. We have no dedicated office space anywhere in the USA, although now we do have some offices in other locations around the world. I work from home when I’m not visiting customers. Working from home is both a blessing and a curse. Typically it moves back and forth between those extremes multiple times a day.

I’m married and have two young (getting bigger every day) children. I try very hard to be around for breakfast and to help get them off to school, and I try very hard to stop work around dinner time and spend time with the family at least until the kids get to bed.

What’s my day like in between? It varies a lot. I do a lot of email. Virtual companies don’t have water coolers and conference rooms. We have Mentors and executives in most times zones around the world. I’m often doing email, while IM’ing one or more people, while listening in on a conference call.

I don’t spend as much time with customers as I did a few years ago. But I’m in the process of changing that. I liked playing boss man for a while. I joked with my wife and friends that it was like a grown up version of playing house. I swung a bit too far to the executive side of being an entrepreneur and I’m now swinging back a bit more towards my technical roots.

Among other things my current portfolio at SolidQ includes being the Business Unit Manager for our Relational Technology practice in the USA. That role requires a blend of tactical and strategic decision making. I interact with my peers on the executive teams around the world, our Mentors, our customers, and our partners. Most days it’s a lot of fun. Most days it’s very stressful. Most days I don’t get anywhere near the amount of work done that I had hoped to when I woke up that morning. Did I mention fun? Like I said, life’s too short to do things you don’t like.

Getting back to the curse and blessing of working at home. Sometimes I have to hit mute quick when I’m on an important call and the dog starts barking or the kids start fighting. At other times I feel incredibly blessed that I can take time out during the day to spend some time with my kids or readily go to events at their schools that would be difficult to attend if I had a ‘real job’. I’ve learned over the years that there are a lot of things that I can delegate to other people. I can’t delegate being a good husband or father. I prioritize those jobs on a daily basis even when I’m super busy with other professional responsibilities.

What parts of your day-to-day experience will make you a better Board of Directors candidate than the other candidates?

I’m not comfortable saying that I’ll be better Board Member than the other candidates. I know the other candidates, or at least know of them. All of the candidates are distinguished members of the community and have been very successful. We all have much to offer. The community will be well served by who ever is elected.

I’d prefer to focus on what makes me ‘me’ rather than what makes me better.

Did I mention I’ve been feeling old lately? “40 is the new 30” is my current mantra. I don’t ‘feel’ old (except maybe in the morning when I get out of bed, and definitely after the intense game of flag football I played a few weeks ago when I got stuck blocking a 6’9” 300 pound monster. ) But age does have it’s benefits. I’ve been a database professional for 19 years and I’ve been a SQL Server professional for 17 years. That makes me somewhat of an elder statesmen in the community.

Frankly, there aren’t many people in the world who have been doing SQL Server as long as I have. I moved to OS/2 based SQL Server from UNIX based Sybase and Informix back in the early 90’s when many people thought Microsoft technologies were toys suitable for hobbies and small mom and shop businesses. I always had a different perspective on the cost/benefit/feature set of Microsoft tools and I decided to plant my flag there. The old saying ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ holds true in many areas and oddly enough data management and architecture fits into this category. The technology has evolved in amazing ways over the years. But data is still data. It’s in my blood after 19 years. 19 years of being a data pro gives me incredibly valuable perspective for where our industry has come from and where it needs to go.

I have a few other unique value propositions besides simply being old.

Perhaps most importantly; there aren’t many SQL Server professionals in the world who have the unique mix of large company, small company, technologist, speaker, writer, evangelist, entrepreneur, and business executive that I do. This gives me a varied and well rounded perspective of what the community needs.

I’m rarely accused of being humble and I’m very proud of the fact that I was one of the world’s first SQL Server MVP’s and was able to hold my own among the best of the best SQL Server experts in the world. I loved that part of my life, but I also had visions for other things and have had tremendous fun being an entrepreneur and executive with SolidQ for the past 7 years. I like to joke that we’re the world’s smallest global, multinational company. With 100+ Mentors around the world we’re not exactly tiny but we’re also not Coke or Proctor and Gamble. We do have mentors based on 5 continents and close to 20 countries and we have formal subsidiaries in more than 7 countries. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about strategic thinking over the years above and beyond the technical skills I’ve picked up over 2 decades. I’m confident that this unique blend of experience will help me be a successful advocate for the SQL Server community on the PASS Board.

I’ve heard that the PASS Board of Directors is a time-consuming hobby to say the least, and at this point in our careers, none of us have tons of extra time. What other projects or things do you expect to have to cut back in order to make time for the Board? (I’d just like to give the readers an idea of how tough it is to prioritize things.)

Sleep is over-rated. Plus I can easily cut out at least one meal a day which will of course help me cut down on restroom breaks. Collectively this will free up several hours a day so I’m not too worried. Joking aside; the PASS Board is a serious commitment. I don’t expect to need to cut anything out of my schedule but I’ve given my candidacy careful and deliberate thought and I’m confident that I can invest the time that will be necessary for me to succeed on the Board.

I believe social networking and Web 2.0 tools like Twitter, Facebook, and StackOverflow are changing the way DBAs interact with each other, get training, and solve problems. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

I would have disagreed until pretty recently. For better or worse, I’m OK admitting that I didn’t have a FaceBook page until about 3 weeks ago. My wife has had one for years. I set up a Twitter account just this past week. I had always thought; ‘heck, I’m on the computer all day. Why would I want to spend free time on the computer? I like FaceBook more than I thought I would.

I was on a conference call with SQL Server Magazine last week and a large topic of conversation was about the growing reality that Twitter is becoming a virtual, real-time peer support group for DBA’s and other SQL Pros. I was surprised to hear how valuable Twitter had become. I had always thought of Twitter as a ‘I’m about to eat a sandwich’ sort of waste of time. I’m starting to think that I’ve been wrong.

I was one of the world’s first SQL MVP’s and I earned that status by answering a bunch of questions on Compuserve. Who out there is old enough to remember Compuserve? I felt pretty good if I logged in to support the community 2 or 3 times per day. Tools like twitter are real time. Have a question? Ask it and maybe get an answer in a few seconds or a few minutes. Is that changing the way that DBA’s interact with each other? Absolutely.

I’d like to go on a tangent for a second. Don’t take this the wrong way; but I notice that a few of your questions ask about ‘DBAs’. I’ve heard a rumor that there are some SQL Server professionals out there who aren’t actually DBA’s. BI folks, developers, developers who are tasked with DBA responsibility but don’t think of themselves as DBAs? My past and current experiences in the SQL Server world have required me to pay attention to the varied demographics of people who think of themselves as SQL Server professionals. I’ll work hard on PASS to make sure we support all of those different types of SQL pros.

Do you blog and use social networking tools? Where can DBAs find you online?

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never blogged. Not once. Ever. My excuse is that I wrote the SQL Server Update commentary for about 8 years and had a weekly That’s not quite a daily blog, but it was a lot of work. Especially since I would respond to a large number of reader comments directly. So it was sort of like a blog before blogs had even invented. I eventually got a bit burned out having a weekly deadline. I now write an op-ed piece for SQL Server Update just 1 time per month which is a nice balance for me.

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog and most likely will in the near future. I have a FaceBook page and I’m briancmoran on Twitter.

Do you have any conflicts of interest that may pose a challenge?

Do I have potential conflicts of interest? Sure. SolidQ provides training and this is certainly an area that PASS might consider moving into at some point in the future. Will this pose a challenge? Yes and no. Over my 19 year career I’ve often had to wear many hats at the same time. I was a SQL MVP for about 13 years and a journalist with SQL Server Magazine for 10 of those years. I often got scooped by my journalist peers on SQL Server news that I had known for months or years prior to the scoop hitting the news wires. Why didn’t I write it up? I was under NDA with Microsoft as an MVP. What’s my point? I know how to wear different hats and respect the fiduciary and ethical responsibility of each hat.

SolidQ benefits from a growing and dynamic SQL Server community. PASS benefits from a growing and dynamic SQL Server community. A rising tide lifts all boats. Will there be potential for come competitive overlap creating a potential conflict of interest? Yes, but fundamentally SolidQ and PASS goals are aligned which will make it easy for me to wear my multiple hats and honor the fiduciary and ethical duties that each hat requires.

If PASS put you in charge of increasing new memberships, what specific steps would you take?

I see two main reasons people might not be members of PASS. The first reason is that potential members know about PASS and don’t feel that the value proposition is strong enough to join. PASS is free, so it’s pretty low threshold to demonstrate PASS’s value proposition to become a member. I don’t think this is the core problem. The second main reason people might not be members of PASS is that they might not know about PASS.

I was at a SQL Server user group meeting the other night and spoke for a few minutes trying to drum up support for my candidacy. There were about 35 people there. I asked how many attendees were PASS members. 2 or 3 raised their hands. I then asked how many people knew about PASS. Another 2 or 3 raised their hands. That means that just more than 10% of the attendees had even heard of PASS. I was disappointed but not surprised. It’s my experience that many members of the community, even people active in user groups, don’t always know much about PASS. It’s my experience that many Microsoft employees in the field, whose jobs revolve around the data platform, don’t know much about PASS. This needs to change.

The first step in my strategy to increase PASS membership would be to create an evangelism and brand awareness campaign to make sure that all potential PASS members at least knew about PASS. I’d also make sure that all key Microsoft data platform employees know about PASS and feel that encouraging their customers to join PASS would benefit the interests of Microsoft.

Convincing people to join once they know about it? That’s a relatively easy task since PASS membership is free. But with that said, I’m convinced there are people who know about PASS, know it’s free, and still don’t join. That says something about the way that the PASS value proposition is explained to potential members. Helping potential members understand how and why PASS members can benefit them would be the second prong to my member drive execution plan. Increasing the value proposition would be the 3rd prong of my drive.

Take a look at the PASS home page. There’s no information on the home page that explains why a potential member might want to join. There’s also no mention of the fact that PASS membership is free. I’d start my membership drive by ensuring the PASS home page has a big, bold, impossible to miss section that shouts ‘Here are the value added reasons you should join PASS’. And I’d make sure the home page shouts out that membership is free.

What do you think PASS is doing right to improve the day-to-day lives of database administrators?

First off; remember those SQL Server pros I mentioned above who aren’t DBA’s? Is it OK is I say SQLPro instead of DBA?

I think PASS does a fabulous job in providing the world’s best live SQL Server conference experience. There are other solid events out there; but year by year PASS has been adding more content and value added aspects to the Summit. It outpaces anything else offered IMHO. Education like that provides a lot of value to SQLPros.

I hope no one gets made at me for saying this; but I’m not sure that the vast majority of SQLPro’s think that PASS does day in day out to improve their daily lives. Maybe PASS can offer free concierge services, limo rides, and a butler to SQLPros. That would improve my daily life. Joking aside; I think this is one of the most important areas that PASS should address. Ie, adding value to SQLPros day in day out above and beyond the education and networking offered at the Summit.

What do you think PASS could do better, and how?

In no particular order of importance…

I’ll start with what I mentioned above. PASS needs to be a resource to SQLPros day in day out. I might begin addressing that need by actually asking SQLPros what they might want PASS to do for them.

PASS needs to greatly improve their international footprint.

I’d like to see PASS take a leadership role in providing guidance to leading universities on the types of real world experience that SQL Server professionals need to succeed in the real world.

Like I said above, I believe PASS’s Community Summit is the world’s premiere live conference event. But there is always room for improvement. If more than 100 sessions are good would more than 200 sessions be better? I think so. Are conferences forever destined to be shoe horned into the formulaic pre/post con with 90 minute sessions in between? I think there are ways that PASS could offer deeper, more pervasive educational experiences during the Summit that fall outside this traditional model. I also think that all of the Summit content should be available in an online delivery footprint to all registered Summit attendees at no additional cost. I’d want video, audio, and transcripts of the speaker comments.

I’d like to see PASS make an investment in providing free ‘virtual machine’ environments that SQLPro’s could use to learn new SQL Server technologies. Frankly it’s too darn hard for a relational engine pro to pick up BI skills and vice versa. I think that PASS should be a resource for making this easier. Providing virtual sandboxes for users to play in would be a huge boon to the community.

I’d like to see PASS offer more guidance to SQLPros who are considering moving from a purely technical career to a technical/executive/mgmt career that is focused in the data management space.

That list isn’t comprehensive and like I said it’s not necessarily in order of importance.

Sum up your goals for PASS in 140 characters or less:

Positively impact the daily life of a SQLPro. Positively impact the long term career, financial success, and happiness of a SQLPro.

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