Rock Stars, Normal People, and You

I’m just like you, except I’m from your future.  Lemme rewind a few years and explain.

My Job Search Five Years Ago

Not as Happy as I Look

2005 – Not as Happy as I Look

In 2005, I was working from home doing database administration, coding, and Classic ASP.  I absolutely loved my coworkers, but I was burned out, and the company was in rough financial shape.  They’d missed a couple of paychecks, and I decided I needed to make a change.

After months of careful searching, I went to work for a consulting company because I had this idyllic image of consultants; I saw them as the best of the best, hired guns who were called in when the situation was really dire.  At my company, we’d had a couple of situations where we’d cried out, “We’re in over our heads!  Bring in the consultants!”  People in suits rolled in with briefcases, asked questions, and gave us answers that sounded pretty good at the time.  I naively thought I’d be working with an elite squad of gurus who could help me take my skills to the next level.  Data warehouse project in dire need of T-SQL skills?  I’m in – sign me up.  The client’s BI team had been building the data warehouse for the last two years.  Two months before it was set to go live, they all simultaneously quit, leaving no documentation behind.

Consulting wasn’t quite what I’d expected.

My instructions were to report to the client’s office, share a cubicle with my fellow consultants, don’t touch anything, don’t talk to the client, and look busy.  My whole purpose on the payroll was to bill hours.  The project plan called for a DBA, therefore the company could bill for DBA hours without me really doing anything.  My salary was less than the company’s billable rate, so I made money for them just by sitting there, and of course they wanted me to sit there for a lot more than 40 hours per week.

I had to bite my tongue while my project manager made one horrendous design decision after another.  (“Let’s store both the natural and surrogate keys in the fact tables, and index all combinations of both of them.”)  The manager made Dilbert’s boss look brilliant – and friendly to boot.  This guy scowled at us openly, insulted us in front of the client, and began setting us up for failure.  He didn’t expect us to finish on time, so he told the client and the consulting company that he’d been stuck with incompetent employees, and surely he could fix everything given a few months and much smarter staff.

We delivered on time thanks to two factors:

  • A hurricane closed the client’s office for a couple of weeks, buying us time
  • We threw out everything the manager did, and rewrote the whole thing from scratch in the last 3 weeks

When we crossed the finish line, I thought the worst was over, and we’d be off to another project.  Not so much – it turned out the client was happy with our work, so they extended our contracts and wanted us to build more features.  Since I was generating money, the consulting company refused to move me to another project.

Calgon, Take Me Away

I’d screwed up, and I wanted out.  Bad.  So I started looking for jobs somewhere else, and …

I couldn’t find anything.

I got turned down again and again.  No college degree.  Not enough experience.  Too much experience.  No clustering experience.  No replication experience.  When I finally found a gig, I took it out of desperation because I was so miserable with Manager From Hell.  Things were so bad, I took a job where a dozen people worked in a 20×20 room in school-style desks with barely enough space for a keyboard and mouse.  If anybody needed help (or a good time), they could reach out their arms in any direction and touch a coworker.

At the last minute (literally the day before I was supposed to show up for work), the client made me an offer instead.  I was overjoyed, because the client’s staff were some of the coolest people I knew.  Unfortunately, the salary wasn’t really fair.  The HR department knew they had me in a corner, and they had all the bargaining power.  I made a counteroffer, they didn’t accept, and I signed on with their original offer.

Taking that offer, underpaid or not, was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  I loved that job, I loved my coworkers, and I couldn’t have asked for a better manager.  The money worked itself out over time as I proved myself, but I was lucky.  It’s very rare that a company will say, “You’re worth more than we expected, and we’d like to reward you for that.”

Finding The Community

Drinking Alone in Denver

Drinking Alone in Denver

In 2007, the company sent me to my first PASS Summit where I had a weeklong Eureka moment.  I was stunned that so many people had the same job, same needs, and same challenges as me.  I sat through sessions, looked up at the presenters, and thought to myself, “I could do that.”  I’m comfortable in front of crowds, I’ve done internal training for years, and I’d learned a lot of nasty lessons about IT.  I heard attendees asking very junior-level questions and said to myself, “Self, there are people here that could use your help.”

At that Summit, nobody knew who I was.  I’d been blogging for years, but I didn’t really promote myself.  I just wrote about stuff that interested me, like my Perfmon tutorial, how to use VSS for SQL Server source control, and SQL Server’s “in recovery” database icon.  Some of those posts were hits, but the vast majority sank into obscurity.

In November 2007, I made conscious decisions to:

  • Start working hard on my blog
  • Start doing presentations at my user group
  • Get way, way outside of my comfort zone and work with non-IT people

Each Saturday & Sunday morning, before Erika woke up, I spent 4-6 hours writing posts, crafting presentations, and talking to vendors.  I built up a great working relationship with the marketing folks at Quest, and I wrote a few things for them like the Top 10 Things DBAs Need to Know About Storage and the Top 10 Things DBAs Didn’t Know LiteSpeed Can Do.  Sense a theme with the titles?  That’s because I was reading more about marketing, and marketing folks know that people love top ten lists.

Doing this stuff took time out of my personal life, but I was determined to make an investment in my career.  I didn’t want to have another really crappy job search, bouncing from headhunter to headhunter, having to re-prove that I wasn’t an idiot and that I was worth money.

My Job Search Two Years Ago

I would still be working for that same company today (and I still consult for them), but we had to move cities.  In early 2008, Erika was offered an air traffic controller position in Houston, and the government hiring process is notoriously fickle.  If you turn down a city, you might not get an offer again for years.  Working in ATC was a lifelong dream for her, and her dreams are my dreams, so we moved.  Unfortunately, my employer didn’t allow telecommuting, but they were gracious enough to let me telecommute until I found a new position.

After getting burned with the consulting gig, I looked long and hard for the perfect job.  It had only been a few months since I’d decided to focus on marketing, so those efforts hadn’t paid off yet.  Nobody knew who I was, and nobody was calling me with job offers.  I had my blog URL on my resume, but nobody ever said they’d read it.  I asked all the toughest interview questions, and I eventually found a production DBA job that looked perfect.  I liked the managers, the responsibilities, the pay, the hours, everything.  I thought I’d be there for ten years or more.  I knew myself well enough to know I didn’t want to go into management, and this company would let me be a pure database guy for life.  They’d had really bad turnover in the DBA team, but it sounded like people were just getting experience and then going on to bigger jobs, so that didn’t concern me.

The very first day on the job, I knew I’d made a horrible mistake.  At this very, very successful financial company, the staff had 14″ CRT monitors, 3-4 year old laptops with 1GB memory, and no pagers. If one of your servers went bump in the night, the only way you found out was when you came in the next morning.  They didn’t even have coffee or water.  If you wanted something to drink, you had to hoof it down the elevators and go to Starbucks.  You’d better hope none of your servers had problems during that time, either, because your coworkers didn’t have a way to reach you aside from your personal cell phone.

After three weeks of shocking revelations about how the basics weren’t in place, I went to my managers and laid out my concerns.  I basically said, “There’s no way I can succeed here, and I can see why people are leaving.  I know how big this company is, and I know you can’t turn this ship around quickly, so I’m going to bail before both of us get invested in this.”  The company wasn’t happy, but they understood.

The headhunter went ballistic.  She summoned me to her office building for a meeting with her manager.  I was as mellow as I could be given the circumstances – when they asked if I wanted anything to drink, I said, “Yes, could I get a bottle of water?  I’m going to work after this, and they don’t have anything to drink, so that’d really help out a lot.”  They laughed, easing the tension, but they still beat the hell out of me.  They threatened me, said I’d be blacklisted and I’d never work in this business again.  They said the only way they’d help me find work was if I tendered my resignation immediately, which I did – and then they gave me the old, “We’ll call you, don’t call us.”

No Job, No Prospects – But Blogging Came Through

I’d only recently moved back to Houston at that point, and I had no local network whatsoever.  I hustled harder than I’ve ever hustled before.

I happened to have a whitepaper in progress at Quest, so I mentioned to them, “Hey, don’t publish that for 2-3 weeks.  It says I work for ___, but by the time it hits the press, I’m going to have another employer.  If you can hold off, I’ll give you the new company name.”

Unbelievably, they said, “Wanna come work for us?”  Do developers love cursors?  Hell yeah!  They didn’t technically have an open job position, but in the backs of their minds, they’d wanted to create something for a community evangelist type of person.  The only way I got this job was because:

  • I worked hard on my blog
  • I did a presentation every couple of months (either at local user groups or for vendor webcasts)
  • I actively reached out to users trying to help
  • I actively reached out to vendors to help them too
Caroline Collective Grand Opening

Caroline Collective Grand Opening

I was nowhere, nowhere near anything you’d call a “rock star” in the SQL Server world.  Quest just saw a future in me and placed a bet on it.  They weren’t betting on my SQL Server skills – they were betting that I’d continue working hard on my communications skills.  I didn’t need to learn new ways of putting indexes on tables, for example; I needed to figure out better ways to teach other people how to do it.  I was already good at helping people individually, but I needed to get better at scaling.  I had to find out how to reach more people with less work.

I started by hanging out with a totally different crowd of people.  I started coworking at the Caroline Collective in Houston, a space for freelancers of all sorts.  The time I spent there taught me more about marketing, small business, and communications than I could possibly explain.  Coworking teaches you soft skills by osmosis; you’re constantly around people doing cool things outside of your specialty, and you can’t help but pick up new ideas and techniques.  I realized that I needed to pay closer attention to what non-SQL people were doing, and apply that stuff to my own work.

Bustin’ My Hump: PASS Summit 2008

Preparing for the 2008 PASS Summit, I submitted abstracts, and – they were turned down.  Doh!  I kept presenting, doing webcasts for Quest, going to user groups, and polishing my delivery.  In Seattle, some presenter didn’t show up at the last minute, and Kevin Kline asked if I’d be willing to present in their place.  I jumped – no, I leaped – at the chance.  I did my first PASS Summit presentation!  I believe that was the best way to do a presentation, too, because I wasn’t nervous during the run-up to the Summit.  I just jumped in at the last minute, did a presentation I knew well, and nothing caught fire.

I also worked hard to improve my blogging by modeling it after blogs I admired.  When I attended the Summit keynotes, I liveblogged them the same way Engadget liveblogs Apple keynotes.  I figured if I was a reader, I would want that kind of minute-by-minute coverage, and nobody else was doing it.  It was hard work, and I didn’t get to enjoy the keynote the same way other attendees did, but I was doing a service to PASS, my readers, and thereby to Quest too.

I attended Jimmy May’s presentation on partition alignment and loved it. Douglas Chrystall (a SQL guru at Quest) and I approached Jimmy afterward, talked to him, and thanked him for his excellent session.

Becoming a Rock Star: 2009-2010

Months later, when Jimmy was approached to write a storage chapter for a book, he said he didn’t have time – but he recommended me.  Next thing you know, I had my name on a book.  That would never have happened if I hadn’t gone to the Summit and approached people I admired.

When the PASS 2009 call for abstracts came out, I submitted a few, and I got accepted.  At the Summit, I got my first autograph request, and it wasn’t even my book!  Later, I made the Best of PASS list.  I promptly fell out of my chair.

I went to the Microsoft Certified Master program, and I laughed when one of the other candidates asked, “Why do all the instructors know you?”  I joked that I’m huge on MySpace, but the reality is that they don’t know me because I’m good with databases or I’m so darned attractive.  They know me because I communicate – I’ve got a blog, I’m on Twitter, and I reach out to interact with people all the time.  That’s all.  Nothing more.

Every month, I get at least 3-4 job offers from strangers.  They all read something like, “We love your blog and your videos, we love your personality, and we can tell that you’ve got the knowledge to solve our problems.  Will you work for us?”  It’s an awesome position to be in, and as a result, my weekends are chock full o’ consulting work.  I’m able to set my rates because we both know I can solve their problems quickly.

You Can Do It. We Can Help.

Working on My Soft Skills

Working on My Soft Skills

Three years ago, nobody knew who I was, and I had to struggle to make it to the top of the resume pile.  I bet you feel that way right now too.  I bet you worry about whether or not you could find another job.  I know a lot of you talk to me about looking for another job or the interview process, because you’re not happy where you’re at.  You’re dealing with miserable managers or coworkers, too much work, or a crappy environment.  You look at “rock star” people as different somehow, like we were born with silver spoons in our mouths.

You already have the technical skills you need to get a better job.

You just need to build the soft skills.

On Allen Kinsel’s blog post about PASS speaker evaluations, a comment from Jay Taylor made me stop to think, and prompted this entire blog post:

“At a recent programming event I attended, a SQL speaker spent the first five minutes telling us that he would never have applied to speak had he known that Rock Star 1 and Rock Star 2 and Rock Star 3 were going to be speaking at the same event. Yet after he unburdened himself of hero worship and personal inadequacy and so forth, he gave one of the best presentations I’ve seen – coherent structure, strong examples, understandable metaphors.”

He’s completely right.  Personally, I still suffer from issues of hero worship and personal inadequacy.  The night before SQL Server events, there’s usually a speaker dinner event packed full of really smart people.  I look around the room and think, “Wow, I’d love to know what he knows, and I sure wish I could do what she does.”  It just never ends – you always look up to people you admire, and you always think they’re somehow different.  The reality is that the people you admire are writing, presenting, and webcasting because they want to help you.  They don’t just want to help you technically – they want to help you personally, too.

There’s not a competition in the SQL Server world to be the biggest rock star.  Paul Randal isn’t hoarding DBCC knowledge to keep it from you.  Itzik Ben Gan isn’t keeping his T-SQL tricks under a mattress.  I’m not shielding my monitor so you don’t figure out my l33t blogging skillz.  The people you see as rock stars aren’t trying to hog the mike – they’re trying to teach you to sing, and we take huge pride in seeing more people succeed.

Right now, you could write or present about something you learned the hard way, and people would think you’re a rock star.  But you’re still struggling to get a better job, a better speaking slot, or a speaking slot period, right?  You think that Other People are the ones who get book offers, or Other People are the ones who get paid to speak.  You’re wrong.

Stop thinking you’re inadequate, and start working on the things that are really holding you back.  You, too, can be a rock star a lot faster than you think, and all of us onstage are trying to bring you up with us.

How to Get Started

Become a Presenter, Change Your Life – Kendra Little explains why there’s no obvious ROI, but instead shares what you actually get.

Who’s Your Target Audience? – Don’t try to write the kind of session you want to attend. Followup: How to Pick Topics.

How to Write a Conference Abstract – Your goal isn’t to get everybody in. It’s to keep the wrong people out.

How to Deliver a Killer Technical Presentation – My start-to-finish post with tons of tips.

What Makes a Good Conference Session? – Does every session require a packed room? Demos? Slides?

How to Rehearse a Presentation – It’s not just about standing in front of a mirror or memorizing your lines.

Dealing with Presentation Criticism – Know the keys to getting useful feedback and what to do with it.

Choosing a Presentation Tool – There’s more than just PowerPoint and demos.

How to Get Readers to Pay Attention – Your abstract needs to hit ’em hard.

The Presenter’s Bill of Rights – Spoiler: you don’t have any. Everything you expect to find will break. Followup: Check Your Room Size.

51 Questions About Your Conference Submission – What pain is bringing the attendee to this session? How are they going to relieve that pain when they get back to the office? If a teacher graded your presentation, would you get an A?

Virtualization and SAN Basics for DBAs Webcast Today

At 11AM Eastern, I’m giving a free webcast on Virtualization and SAN Basics for SQL Server database administrators.  Here’s a few links for attendees:

By the end of the day, the archive will be available here – at the bottom of the page, next to our race car book, there will be a link that says View Recording.  Click it.  Become smarter.

How to Make Readers Forget About You

Yesterday I blogged about how to get readers to pay attention, but not everybody wants that.  Some people yearn to be forgotten, to be ignored, and disappear into the ether.

Don’t offer an RSS feed or email subscriptions. If someone happens to stumble upon your content, don’t give them an easy way to find out about new things you post.  If your site software offers RSS subscriptions automatically, you can still work around it by repeatedly editing the same page or post, and gradually adding on content to it without triggering a new article.  Hardly anybody will think to revisit the same page manually to check for updates.

Invisible Content Too

Invisible Content Too

Bury the good content below unrelated text. Don’t follow the lead of sites like Engadget that put their newest featured content right up at the top of the page with a sexy, shiny picture – that will lead to frantic excitement about your new content.  To be forgettable, bury the new stuff in the smallest print possible at the bottom of a page that never changes.  You want people to take a glance at a page and immediately think nothing has changed since the dawn of HTML.

Don’t allow comments, or don’t respond to them. When content is really thought-provoking, people want a place to leave their newfound thoughts.  They want to start a discussion with you, the author, and get your opinions.  Engaging with your readers only serves to bring them back for more – avoid this at all costs.  Bonus points for making your post seem like a dead page that no one is maintaining anymore.

Don’t make your content searchable. You can use robots.txt rules to make sure search engines don’t find your stuff, but if you’re really sharp, you can make some worthless content public while making the really valuable stuff – like your writings – invisible.  Here’s the trick: put the content in PDFs that can only be seen after users log in.  Presto!  Unsearchable by Google.

Require login to read, then redirect users elsewhere. Tell users that they have to log in to read your best content.  They’ll click on the link, and odds are, they’ll either forget their password or have to create a new account.  After they log in, redirect them to your site’s home page, thereby ensuring they’ll have a tough time returning to whatever content they were originally trying to read.

Think nobody would be so crazy as to follow every single one of these steps?  You’re wrong – I know one particular page that follows every one of these guidelines perfectly, and I bet some of you know who it is.  I’ll give a $40 Amazon gift certificate to the first person who guesses it correctly in the comments.  And of course I buried this juicy little contest way down in the small print…

Listen Up! I’m on the Virtumania Podcast

Pause that Lady Gaga for a minute and head over to Virtumania.  It’s a casual, hour-long conversation podcast that usually focuses on virtualization and storage.  This week, I’m along for the ride with:

We discussed SQL 2008 R2’s new DAC Pack, why I think you shouldn’t cluster virtual SQL Servers, and why you should virtualize your SQL Server 2000 boxes.  Head on over to listen!

How to Get Readers to Pay Attention

Whether you’re submitting a session abstract or writing a blog post, you gotta get your readers to stay focused.

Write an awesome, straightforward title. Like it or not, people judge books by the cover.  When you’re writing a presentation abstract or a blog post, the title is your cover.  Sweat it.

Blog Post Announcement

Blog Post Announcement

Hit hard with the first sentence. Show ’em that you’re not just good with titles, but that the rest of your stuff might be catchy too.  If you’ve got your blog set up to automatically post new entries to Twitter, this matters even more because the first few words of your post are usually copied into the announcement tweet.  I’ve reworked entire blog posts to make them flow better from a more appealing first sentence.

Tell them something they already know. Unfortunately there’s a bunch of bozos out there who copy/paste material to “create” their own stuff without really understanding it.  Let the reader in on a secret that they learned the hard way, like why disk queue length metrics are meaningless on a SAN, and they’ll believe you know your stuff.  The trick is doing this as fast as possible in as few words as possible.

Drop hints about what they don’t know – yet. Give them just a clue about a few things they don’t know to pique their interest.

Make them laugh. The person on the other side of the screen has been slogging through a bunch of dry, boring material.  They’re in desperate need of a laugh.  This one’s especially hard to achieve for session abstracts, but nobody said this was going to be easy.

Check for grammar & spelling errors. I know, your chat room buddies say your spelling is fine, and your fourteen year old cousin is jealous of your text messaging skills, but you’re gonna have to kick it up a notch.  It’s one thing to use slang like “gonna,” but it’s another thing to screw up the basics.  This is especially important when you’re submitting sessions for conferences.  If you can’t type when you’re not under pressure, the abstract selection people will guess there’s no way you can speak under pressure.

Take one thing off before you leave the house. Fashion icon Coco Chanel instructed women to check the mirror before they left the house, and then take one thing off.  Keep your clothes on, but edit your material down, as Jeremiah Peschka recently wrote in his Act of Writing post.

Update: define your audience. Clearly define the prerequisites that readers need to have before they digest your content.  If you’re writing for a person who’s been working with 2-3 years of SSIS experience who works with packages full time, say that.  If you’re writing for a person who is more familiar with UPS packages, say that.  Otherwise, when your readers give you feedback, they’ll complain that your material was way too junior or senior level.

PASS Summit Survey Results

The good news is that the people have spoken.

The bad news is there were less than 200 people involved.  I’m hesitant to read too much into a survey with such a small sampling of a big audience, but hey, it’s what we’ve got.  The PASS 2010 Summit survey results are out, and a few things struck me as interesting in the results.

Question 4 asks if they’re going to attend the 2010 Summit in Seattle, and I’ve simplified the answers a little by lumping them together:

I’m cheating a little there because I lumped some answers together.  Roughly 16% of the survey responses are from people who are not attending.

If you want to increase attendance, you can’t just focus on the people who are ready to hand over the check.  You want to examine the responses differently.  You have to satisfy the people who are ready to fork over their cash, because you don’t want to lose their business, but you have to listen differently to the people who tell you they’re not coming.  See, these folks were willing to take the time (a LOT of time, I might add, because this survey was ridiculously long) to tell you what they’re looking for in a Summit.  This is why it takes a long time and a lot of labor to analyze results like this, and why I admire the PASS volunteers for putting so much time into listening to the community.

Question 7 asks who you’re very interested in hearing speak, and I’ve reorganized the bejeezus out of this answer.  The question asked how interested you were to hear each type of speaker, and I only took the scores from people who marked “Very Interested,” not “Somewhat Interested” or below.  I want the kinds of sessions people really get excited about, and the results were:

A whopping 92% said they were very interested in real world speakers.  Second place went to “Established Industry Speakers,” which I would take to mean trainers and authors.  Less than half of the responses had such an excited response to any Microsoft presenters.

And who are these “real world speakers”?  They’re YOU.  If you’ve been thinking nobody wants to hear you speak at PASS, you’re wrong.  Now would be an excellent time to register for Chuck Heinzelman’s presentation on creating a winning abstract.  It’s completely free, and 92% of your peers are very interested in hearing what you have to say.

By the way, the next time PASS tells you how desperate people are to hear Microsoft presenters, remind them of the magic number: 92% real world. Community is number one.  We’re here for each other first, and everybody else comes second.  Further evidence can be found in question 12, which asks why people come to the Summit.  Access to Microsoft employees ranked lower than education, networking, and access to experts.

Question 2 asks “What job description best describes your main job responsibilities?” With that kind of wording, you might expect to be only able to pick a single answer, but no.  Attendees were allowed to pick multiple responses, so they add up to more than 100%.  This is what happens when you let database people design the user interface, ha ha ho ho…put the stick down, people.

The majority of attendees are DBAs and developers, and if you include architects, that’s almost 75% of the responses.  Unfortunately, the armchair statistician in me wants to throw out this answer because I can imagine there’s people out there who marked both DBA and developer, whereas no architect would ever check more than one box for that question, because they understand how this question was supposed to work.  I kid.  Architects don’t understand that stuff either.

Anyway, my point is that with such a majority of DBA/developer types, you might draw the conclusion that the majority of the training should be focused on the SQL Server engine (not BI).

Question 39 would seem to answer that, but the question wording doesn’t support decisionmaking.  Question 39 asks if you want to give your opinion about BI topics, and 43% said no.  You can’t take that to mean 43% of the attendees don’t want to attend BI presentations, though, because for each BI topic, some people voted that no, they weren’t interested in that topic too.  The only way to interpret this is to say that at least 43% of attendees don’t want to hear about any BI whatsoever, and above that, some percentage of people aren’t interested in various BI topics.  You can’t say that 57% of attendees want to hear about BI.

Question 21 asks what subtracks you’d like to see, and I gotta confess that I’m a little surprised by some of the answers:

  • Performance Tuning – 78% very interested, 2% say no.  Wow.  Looks like I’ll be submitting tuning sessions this year.
  • DBA 101 – 26% very interested, 38% say no.  I always wonder what the mix of experience is.  26% sounds low, but turn it into a ratio, and it means that 1 of every 4 attendees would like to see basic-level courses.
  • SharePoint – 22% very interested, 41% say no.  I would have guessed this number would have been a lot higher given the SQL 2008 R2 release with PowerPivot and all the sexy BI stuff built with SharePoint.

Question 24 asks what DBA sessions you’d like to see, and one of the answers stunned me.  29% of DBA responses said they were very interested in a session on Backup Compression.

Are you kidding me?

You check the box and it goes.  End of story.  How the hell do you make a one hour session out of this?!?  Are you people just checking boxes because you like the SQL feature or something?  Mark my words, somebody’s going to do at least one session on it, and they’re not going to get good speaker feedback because the topic is so damn boring.  As a speaker, you gotta do a good job of picking topics.  Just because people want to hear about something doesn’t mean you should do a presentation on that, because you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Even funnier, Backup Compression outranked Transparent Data Encryption, Filestream, and Spatial Data, all of which require more forethought and planning than compression.  If I was the product manager for those last three features, I’d be dunking my head in the toilet right now, because that’s just depressing.

Question 16 asks if PASS should offer longer sessions, but less of them with more details:

As a presenter, I’d love to see a few deeper-dive sessions.  I wouldn’t make all of them longer, but just say one long session per day – perhaps the first session after lunch.  People are moving slow then anyway, and it takes them more time to get up to speed.

I’d also like to see “lightning talks” – a 30-minute block at the beginning of the day, right after the keynote, where 6 presenters talk rapid-fire for 5 minutes each.  Let them “sell” attendees on why their presentation is so good.  And maybe lop off some time on the keynotes, because those haven’t moved nearly fast enough.  (Especially the all-marketing ones – dear Lord, those are bad.)

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in that survey, and if you’re thinking about submitting abstracts for the PASS Summit, you should dig through there.  Keep an open mind about the stuff you know versus the stuff you think people want to hear.  I never would have submitted a social media session last year if Jason Massie hadn’t suggested it, but we ended up in the top 5 ratings for the Professional Development track.  Now, looking at the survey results, I think I’ll submit another one this year, but this time I’ll focus on marketing yourself and technical presentations.

Side note – want to stick charts like this in your blog posts no matter what blog software you use?  Check out, a slick little GUI front end for Google Charts.  Google Charts takes a simple URL and turns it into a chart.  So when I put this HTML code into my blog post:

<img src=”×200&amp;cht=p3&amp;chtt=Press Your Luck&amp;chd=s:9Z&amp;chco=bbbbbb&amp;chxl=0:|Big Money|No Whammies|&amp;chxt=x”/>

You see this:

Spiffy, free, and works anywhere.  Enjoy!

Two New Syndicated Bloggers at SQLServerPedia

We’re up to a staggering 54 syndicated blogs at SQLServerPedia from 57 bloggers!  (We’ve got a couple of husband-and-wife blogging teams and a pair of friends sharing a blog.)  Here’s the new guys this week:

Jason Brimhall (Blog@SQLRnnr)

Jason works primarily with SQL 2000 and SQL 2005, performance tuning queries and then implementing SSIS solutions as the business requires. He’s also starting to delve into SSRS. He has supported clients hosting over 1 million users per day and has been responsible for turning a database that was a sore eye for the company into a talking point of high performance. Jason has been blogging since the start of 2010.  Some of his recent blog posts include:

  • Stepping Stone Certification – Jason’s advocating an independent certification between the MCITP (seen as too easy to pass) and the MCM (seen as too expensive & hard).  I agree on the need, but I don’t think it’s practical for the community to take on.  They’re talking about review boards, which instantly inflates the price tag by a *lot*.  It’s nice to think volunteers will accomplish the review board part, but it’s not practical in the real world.  Say you’ve got 1,000 people per year who want to go in front of the review board for 1 hour each, and you need 3 people on the review board.  Now schedule it all, and throw in retakes.  Riiight.  I love watching this discussion though.
  • What’s Taking Up Space? – Jason moved all the objects out of his primary filegroup, and then couldn’t understand what was still taking up space.  I remember being in this exact situation myself, and I didn’t solve it anywhere NEAR as well as Jason did!
  • Capturing IP Addresses of Logins – Ever want to find out who’s using a shared SQL authentication login?

Valentino Vranken (Blog)

Valentino Vranken is a Senior SQL Server Consultant working for Ordina, Belgium (Europe). When he started his career over ten years ago he was developing applications using C++ and SQL Server 7.0. Over the years he gathered experience using various programming languages to manipulate data in SQL Server databases. Nowadays his focus is more on Business Intelligence implementations, still using SQL Server. Valentino is a MCP with currently two MCTS certifications on SQL Server 2008. Besides writing articles and blogging, he’s active on forums and recently he has also become a core member of the Belgian SQL Server User Group.  Some of his recent posts are:

These guys are putting out some great work, and I’m excited to start reading their stuff!

#SQLR2 Launch Goofs

When I lose my MVP status, we’ll all look back on this blog post and understand why.  I just can’t help myself though – Microsoft has made some real head-shaking decisions over the last couple of weeks.

Sorta-Kinda-Announced-But-Not-Really – At UK Tech Days, Microsoft staff announced a release date of May 21st. No press releases came out for days, and then we got an invite to a press conference on 4/21. This led to a lot of guessing and second-guessing about whether maybe the date was incorrectly given (April 21 or May 21?), and then…

Surprise! The Bits Were Available – Vidas Matelis scooped Microsoft when he announced on Twitter that the R2 evaluation download page was live.  He’d been reading the SQL Performance blog on MSDN and decided he’d try it.  Further digging suggests that the R2 Express Edition is ready now.

Vidas Matelis, Scoopmeister

Vidas Matelis, Scoopmeister

Odd “Launch” Labeling – If you can’t download the software for production use, it’s not a launch.

Period.  Full stop.

The SQL Server team has a particularly hard time understanding this.  In 2008, they “launched” SQL Server 2008 in February – but they admitted you wouldn’t actually be able to download it for months.  This time around, the “launch” is is 4/21, but all you can download is an evaluation version.  They’re getting better, but still not good enough.

No MSDN or TechNet Downloads – The public gets to download an evaluation version free, but those of us who actually paid money for MSDN access or Enterprise Agreements can’t download it until May 3rd.  I could understand if we’d all been given a Release Candidate version to bang on, but…

No Widely-Released RC – The last bits most people saw were a November Community Preview.  Microsoft has historically delivered multiple CTPs, then a final Release Candidate, and then given the Release to Manufacturing go-ahead.

I work in marketing for a software company, and I know how hard it can be to coordinate a global launch.  Software isn’t always ready when the marketing team’s campaign is ready, and the dates of events like PASS Europe aren’t going to change.  But seriously, Microsoft, you can do better.

Video: Top 10 Mistakes That Won’t Scale

I wish I could be at the PASS Europe Summit this week, but since I can’t, I’ve recorded my presentation.  I’ll be giving this live via LiveMeeting too at the Summit, answering questions over video if PASS is able to get a working camera set up.  I salute the heroic efforts of PASS volunteers Charley Hanania and Oliver Engels, who are working with the speakers to get everything coordinated.  Fantastic work.

The first 5-10 seconds are just the slide to make it easier for the live presentation to get started, so hang in there.

If, like Depeche Mode, you just can’t get enough, here’s some more training goodies:

What Skill Should I Learn Next?

Last week I posted a picture on Twitter of the two books I’m reviewing right now: Tom LaRock’s DBA Survivor and Bert Scalzo’s Introduction to Oracle.  They’re both 100-level books.  People didn’t seem to question the former (perhaps because Tom’s a friend of mine) but I got a lot of comments about the latter.  Why on earth would I start picking up Oracle, especially after becoming a Microsoft Certified Master in SQL Server?

Books I'm Reading

Books I'm Reading

Over the last ~20 years, I’ve reinvented myself a few times.  My “Managing People Sucks” post talked about the decisions I made along the way.  I’ve tried hotel management, network administration, programming, virtualization administration, SAN administration, and database administration.  I’ve learned more and more about myself each time, and I like to think I’m building speed.

I like to think of myself as a carpenter, and each skillset I’ve picked up has given me another tool in my mental shop.  I’m able to work with more and more complex projects over the years.

Whenever I choose to pick up a new tool, I look at it in relation to the other tools I’ve already got, and in relation to the types of projects I want to accomplish down the road.  When I got the chance to pick up virtualization, I grabbed it, because I believe all SQL Servers will be virtual in one way or another down the road.  I chose to pursue SAN administration for similar reasons.  These two skills enhanced my toolbox well.

So how do I go about picking the next tool?

Should I pick up Business Intelligence? I firmly believe in the power of BI to justify suitcases of cash and armies of resources.  The problem is that it’s not a tool that fits well with the rest of the tools in my mental shop.  It doesn’t smoothly and directly extend the knowledge I already have.  It’s like a woodworker who wants to buy a plasma cutter – the plasma cutter will only come in handy when he decides to work with metal.  The rest of his tools don’t work with metal.  He might be able to build some projects that have both wood and metal, or switch to metal, but it’s not quite that good of a fit.

Should I pick up Parallel Data Warehouse Edition? This new niche version of SQL Server is BI-focused, but the engine itself is a very close match for my skillset.  It combines high-end hardware, storage, and SQL Server to deliver decisionmaking information.  I like its future odds, but it’s not really mainstream.  I’ve been trying to extend my skills in a way that let me help more people outside of databases – for example, virtualization and storage were above-and-beyond SQL Server, wide-ranging appeal stuff.  PDWE plays to a very small audience.

Should I pick up Oracle? Companies that have SQL Server often have Oracle too.  Oracle runs on SANs and in virtualization, and it would extend my audience.  Almost every skillset I have applies to Oracle, with one big exception – big Oracle shops don’t run it on Windows.  I would need to pick up Linux skills to really be effective as an Oracle DBA.  Oracle’s a great investment for my career, though – it’s a solid database with a great future.  Even if the cloud emerges as a roaring success for private, secure data warehouses, you can bet your bottom dollar that Larry Ellison will figure out a way to take that dollar.

Should I pick up NoSQL? Stop laughing, dammit.  It really does have the potential to solve problems, and it makes for a surprisingly natural extension to SQL Server.  When someone needs transactional integrity at the cost of some scalability, I can help them with SQL Server.  When they’re willing to deal with eventual consistency in order to get crazy fast scalability, I can go the NoSQL route.  The challenge is that the tooling sucks – the databases are being compiled as we speak, so forget about nice GUI tools to help you learn.  Time to bust out the programming.  They don’t live on Windows either, so now we’re talking about picking up multiple skillsets simultaneously.  This is one of those cases where I don’t have quite enough other tools to really know how to use this one yet.

So should I revisit coding? I gave it up around 2002-2003 when I realized I would have to keep relearning languages every few years as new ones came into style.  C# looks like it’s got staying power, and Windows Azure means I can develop C# apps that scale.  Ruby on Rails calls to me for its ease of use, and people I respect are using it to build cool stuff.  The drawback is that you wouldn’t normally build a Ruby app to interface with SQL Server, so that loses a little appeal.  It might take me quite a while to get good at C#.  (No, I’m not learning PowerShell – if I can’t build web apps with it, it’s not as sexy to me.)

Should I dive deeper into social media? I’ve had some success with blogs and Twitter, and I do technically work in the marketing department.  Quest is willing to let me jump around into other departments and help them with social media.  This might actually be the toughest challenge out of all of ’em, and it doesn’t leverage any of my technical skills.  It’s attractive to me because it’s new and shiny and different.

Should I hone my writing and storytelling? I’d like to think I’m okay at these, but not great.  I could directly leverage the rest of my skills right away.  I think I know a lot of things I haven’t passed on to others yet, and maybe I could do it in a more effective way.  I’m not convinced that this is a good long-term investment, though, because frankly writing and storytelling doesn’t pay well.  Note that you’re reading this blog for free.  Think about your very favorite blog and how good it is – and yep, it’s free too.  There’s a reason I don’t run ads here – they don’t pay jack.  I make more in an hour of consulting than I do on a month of ads.

So should I focus on training & consulting? I love helping people fix problems and teaching them new tricks.  Maybe I should just stop the skill train here for a while and coast.  There’s something to be said for making money, and Quest is generous enough to let me consult and train on the side.  That’s one heck of an opportunity.

I don’t have the right answer yet, but I’ve resolved to spend the next couple of months dabbling in different areas to find out.  I’ll play with Ruby on Rails, Oracle, NoSQL, and a few other things to figure things out.  My recent Twitter e-book was a part of that – I wanted to throw something social-media-ish against the wall just to get it out of my system.