The Top 10 Developer Mistakes That Won’t Scale

SQL Server

Microsoft records TechEd sessions, and you can watch the recording of mine.  Here’s the abstract:

You’ve heard it before: “It worked fine on my machine, but the users say it’s too slow.” Don’t blame the developers: they’re using SQL Server features that look great on paper, but in reality, they won’t scale up to production loads. Learn to recognize these common mistakes before they go into production and be armed with alternatives.

Feedback From The Attendees

Here’s some of the comments I got from presenting it at TechEd:

“All developers should be forced to see this.”

“One of the interesting session attended. Quite humorous too. Well done.”

“Wonderful. Good info wrapped up into a nice package that was easy to understand.”

“The speaker made this one very enjoyable.”

So far so good – but then here’s a rough one:

“I would suggest that Brent not make blatant political references during his presentation. He compared the intellect of Albert Einstein to President George Bush. Also, other pictures included a person with clown makeup on holding a gun to his head. Maybe he thinks these are funny, but I really don’t… Inappropriate for a professional environment.”

Handling this kind of feedback is part of being a presenter.  It would be easy for me to call this person a stick in the mud and disregard their opinion, but that’s not the right thing to do here. I want to reach as many people as possible, teaching things while having fun.  My slides made this person so angry that they stewed in their chair throughout my session, then promptly went over to the feedback computers and banged out an eval.  I don’t care about the evaluation scores – but I do care about reaching more people.

Jar Jar at Work
Too Subtle?

To do the right thing, I have to stop and ask myself, “How did the audience react when I showed those slides?”  Nobody really reacted to the clown, so I need to pull that image out and swap it with something funnier or more appropriate.  No sense in aggravating audience members if I’m not gaining anything.  (I examine most of my photos that way – for example, the duct tape on the airplane window on the TempDB slide didn’t elicit so much as a chuckle, so that one comes out and either gets replaced with another photo or none at all.)

The Einstein vs Bush slides, on the other hand, made the audience erupt in raucous laughter.  Most of the audience doesn’t know that I’m a Republican, so I could ease the pain for the hard-core guys by saying something like, “I’m allowed to make fun of Dubya because I’m a Republican myself.”  That statement would generate negative comments for another reason, so that doesn’t work either.  I need to find someone that is universally recognized as less-than-brilliant – preferably someone who isn’t well-loved, so that when I show their picture, nobody gets pissed off.

  • Paris Hilton – might get interpreted as sexist, so no go.
  • Me – pictured doing something really stupid.  Usually I’m quick to jump in as a self-deprecating punch line, but because this is so early in the slide deck and I just got done touting my credentials, I don’t think it’d flow very well.
  • Fictional character – ahh, now, here we go.  I thought about the Three Stooges, but that might not play everywhere.  Maybe Vanilla Ice.  The only tough part about using fictional characters is that it’s sometimes harder to find Creative Commons-licensed pictures to use, but I’ll figure this out.

Feedback From Other Presenters

I was lucky enough to have a few other presenters in the audience, and I asked for their feedback individually.  They gave me feedback on how to craft my message better and how to interact more smoothly with the audience.

I still have to work on repeating questions from the audience, and I need to avoid belittling someone with a controversial opinion.  I cringe when I listen to the way I handled the Heap Heckler at about 50 minutes in:

  • HH: “I get great performance from heaps, and *I* speak from experience.”
  • BGO: “You’re experienced and I’m not?  What?  Call me when you’re up here.” (referring to him being in the audience and me being on the podium)

Ouch.  Not good enough.  It felt good at the time to zing somebody, but that’s not how I want to treat audience members.  Thankfully he came up to me after the presentation and we hugged it out.  He admitted he only used it for staging tables (which makes perfect sense) and I paid him off with Starbucks gift cards.

A presenter’s work is never done.  This is why it’s so important to do your presentations at progressively larger sessions – I’d done this particular presentation at local user groups, the SSWUG Virtual Conference, and finally in front of 204 live meatbags at TechEd.  Even now, I’m still honing this presentation and working on my delivery.

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29 Comments. Leave new

  • So *that’s* what you sound like.

    Thanx for the download. i listened at 2x speed via VLC.

    I tried listening to you in the background, that didn’t work. But it was a half-hour well spent.

  • Mike Tamlyn
    June 15, 2010 8:49 am

    Re: Bush. If you’re going to go for a slightly edgy style, in a group that includes people with rods up the rods up their butts, someone is going to get offended. Personally, I think it came off great.

    The key, I believe, is that you weren’t relying on your relatively funny jokes. You had great content that was easy to digest.

    Now the clown at the verge of suicide…man, that was creepy.

    • I thought the clown was hilarious. I thought the Bush thing was in bad taste. I don’t like jokes that rely on insults.

      • Yeah, it’s an interesting challenge. I don’t want to rely on insults either – I want to illustrate the difference between people who can do amazing things with any feature of SQL Server, and then the rest of us. I need to convey that quickly and visually so that the audience puts themselves in the latter category. A couple of people on Twitter suggested using Homer Simpson as the second person, and I like that approach.

        • Suggestions, sugesstions…

          Good Guy: Buck Woody
          Bad Guy: Buck Woody Bobble Head

          Good Guy: Superman
          Bad Guy: Clark Kent (80s movie version)

          Good Guy: Bill Gates
          Bad Guy: Mr. Bill

          Good Guy: Steven Feurstein
          Bad Guy: Brent Ozar

          • Minor correction. Replace Steve Feurstein with Itzik Ben-Gan. Got to get the right database… 🙂

          • Heh, nice. About Buck Woody, the problem is that it’s a visual joke, and the majority of the audience won’t recognize Buck by sight. (I present a lot at local user groups who’ve never been to the PASS Summit or TechEd.) Superman’s not bad, but the problem with Clark Kent is that you know he IS powerful – just not at that moment. I don’t think it’d elicit any laughs. Bill Gates and Mr. Bill – now that’s got some funny potential.

          • Glad ya liked the idea. 🙂

      • Marc Scheuner
        August 30, 2012 2:23 am

        >> I don’t like jokes that rely on insults.

        I agree – but c’mon – this is Dubya BUSH !! 🙂

  • Mark Dalley
    June 15, 2010 9:44 am

    The higher one’s profile, the more careful one must be with one’s words.

    As a good Republican, maybe you could have asked George Bush for his view on your depiction of him ahead of time ;). If he had OK’ed it, you would have a good answer ready, and GB’s street cred might have shot up as well, as a man of humour…

    Whatever happens, don’t let ’em stifle your sense of humour. We’d all miss it!

  • Thanks for the thoughtful post. I am just starting out as a new speaker and reading this is very helpful.

    • Happened on this post via the recent post linking back to it…funny to note this comment…guess we all get our start at some point!

      And I would agree on eschewing the political, for the same reason that you avoid cracks related to religion…people just take it much too seriously to allow joking about in a broadcast-to-the-public type venue. Granted, may be a heaven-sent punchline for large IT project jokes, but still, best avoid that minefield.

  • Stop telling people not to use v1 features. If everyone stops using them they won’t ever get to v2. Or I might have to be the one to break ground, and I would prefer other people do it. 😉

  • Brent, i have not seen this presentation but I normally like your jokes. And i do know lots of people who don’t like generally jokes thrown in into a technical presentation, yes including Buck Woody’s. My boss actually walked out of two of Buck’s presentations and said if he wanted to go for a stand up comedy he could but not at a technical conference. I believe the very diverse nature of technical audience makes it pretty hard to pick the right joke. I’d request please if possible to do remember that alone, that more than often you are not speaking to an audience of pure bred americans. I do remember this great technical speaker at PASS who had a republican wall paper and many immigrants including me felt somewhat odd to keep looking at it while he was presenting. Please only try to stay politically neutral while talking to us and remember sensitivities in this regard that is all. Thank you.

  • Perhaps Homer Simpson is a good replacement for Bush. Doh!

  • See, here’s the thing that I don’t get. From what I recall (and I just rewatched that segment) you never once called Bush an idiot. You used him as a representation of the average developer as compared to Einstein as the advanced developers. Although
    Bush’s intelligence wasn’t be praised, you weren’t exactly calling him an idiot either. Any negative connotations are in the listener’s heads.

  • Christian Hasker
    June 16, 2010 11:30 am

    I say that you have everyone submit to a sense of humor test before entering each of your sessions. Those that fail are denied entrance. Or of course you could just steer clear of trying to be funny in general.

  • you’re a Republican?!? Where’s my eval form?? (joke. love the blog)

  • I think humor is hard to do well, some better at it than others. Doesn’t work well for me, so I don’t try it much. As an attendee when it works I like it, when it doesn’t – the session is just annoying.

    Kudos to showing some missteps AND trying to learn from them!

  • Excellent!
    A must watch for for Developers and DBAs.

  • Brent,

    I’m a SQL Server rookie — thrust into the deep end, because I’m the one who volunteered to dig into the performance issues we were having! — and I found your presentation to be very informative.

    Why, you ask? I’ve seen a dozen presentations that discouraged certain behavior — but didn’t take the time to: a) explain why the behavior was bad, or b) offer alternatives.

    You did BOTH. Thank you for that, and for the sample SQL queries — I’m already using a few of them to review index usage on one of my servers.

    (FYI, I used to put a database on an IOMega cartridge drive, attached to an old 486, with a shared folder — and made the developers access the data that way! If they could make the app responsive with THAT setup, the production app would FLY, and it worked.)

    • Thanks, glad you liked the presentation! I definitely didn’t want to do a generic “best practices” presentation – for me, it’s so important to explain WHY things are a best practice, and show how to work around them. IOMega, ouch…

  • Peter Headland
    June 25, 2010 2:46 pm

    For smart vs average, consider animals. You could do Einstein vs. a chimp – OK the average developer is smarter than a chimp, but it’s meant to be humorous – about how we all *feel* sometimes. Or maybe a donkey vs a thoroughbred. Just avoid dogs and pigs, for cultural/religious reasons.

    FWIW, many of the other suggestions would be meaningless to me as a non-American.

    • Peter – thanks for the suggestion, but chimps have negative connotations here in America. There are people who use slang terms like “monkey” to poke fun at certain demographics, and that’s not acceptable here. It’s so tough being funny globally without hurting someone’s feelings!

  • Re: I need to find someone that is universally recognized as less-than-brilliant – preferably someone who isn’t well-loved, so that when I show their picture, nobody gets pissed off.

    I don’t know if he’s universally known, but if you can use Larry from, that could work. His reputation is based on being less-than-brilliant, but I can’t say he’s politically correct 100% of the time either.

    I guess it at least gets you out of the republican vs. democrat side of things, and gets him more exposure which I’m guessing he likes, so maybe a win-win?

    • Greg – unfortunately, no, Larry definitely isn’t universally known. He isn’t even widely enough known in the US for me to use, let alone abroad. Interesting thought though. Perhaps Mr. Bean or another comic…

  • Do you have a transcript of this presentation?


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