When it’s appropriate to use fake data (no, really!!!)

It isn’t uncommon for me to include data examples whenever I’m writing documentation. I’ve written before about how good examples will enhance documentation.

Let me make one thing clear. I am not talking about using data or statistics in and of itself to back up any assertions that I make. Rather, I am talking about illustrating a concept that just happens to include data as part of the picture. In this scenario, the illustration is the important part; the data itself is irrelevant. In other words, the information within the data isn’t the example; the data is the example. Take a moment to let that sink in, then read on. Once you grasp that, you’ll understand the point of this article.

I need to strike a type of balance as to what kind of examples I use. Since I work in a multi-client data application environment, I need to take extra steps to ensure that any data examples I use are client agnostic. Clients should not see — nor is it appropriate to use — data examples that are specific to, or identifies, a client.

There’s also a matter of data security. I needn’t explain how big of a deal data security is these days. We are governed by laws such as HIPAA, GDPR, and a number of other data protection laws. Lawsuits and criminal charges have come about because of the unauthorized release of data.

For me, being mindful of what data I use for examples is a part of my daily professional life. Whenever I need data examples, I’ll go through the data to make sure that I’m not using any live or customer data. If I don’t have any other source, I’ll make sure I alter the data to make it appear generic and untraceable, sometimes even going as far as to alter screen captures pixel by pixel to change the data. I’ll often go through great pains to ensure the data I display is agnostic.

I remember a situation years ago when a person asking a question on the SQLServerCentral forums posted live data as an example. I called him out on it, telling him, “you just broke the law.” He insisted that it wasn’t a big deal because he “mixed up names so they didn’t match the data.” I, along with other forum posters, kept trying to tell him that what he was doing was illegal and unethical, and to cease and desist, but he just didn’t get it. Eventually, one of the system moderators removed his post. I don’t know what happened to the original poster, but it wouldn’t surprise me if, at a minimum, he lost his job over that post.

Whenever I need to display data examples, there are a number of sources I’ll employ to generate the data that I need.

  • Data sources that are public domain or publically available — Data that is considered public domain is pretty much fair game. Baseball (and other sports) statistics come to mind off the top of my head.
  • Roll your own — I’ll often make up names (e.g. John Doe, Wile E. Coyote, etc.) and data wherever I need to do so. As an added bonus, I often have fun while I’m doing it!

Are there any other examples I missed? If you have any others, feel free to comment below.

So if you’re writing documentation in which you’re using an illustration that includes data, be mindful of the data in your illustration. Don’t be the person who is inadvertently responsible for a data breach in your organization because you exposed live data in your illustration.

Advertisements

PASS Summit — Networking and Events

Andy Levy wrote another article about networking and events at PASS Summit. I’m posting this link for my own reference, and those of you who are attending PASS Summit will find this helpful as well!

Why candidates fail the job interview

At the moment, my work group is looking to hire a couple of new Oracle DBAs. My colleague, who is doing the interviewing, regaled us with stories about the people he interviewed. He extended at least one offer; whether or not the candidate accepts remains to be seen.

His stories reminded me of a SQL Saturday presentation by my friend, Thomas Grohser, entitled “Why candidates fail the job interview in the first minute.” The link sends you to a YouTube video of the session he did for the professional development virtual group. I haven’t yet looked at the video, but I have attended his session live and in-person at previous SQL Saturdays. If you are able to spare an hour, take a look at Thomas’ presentation. He gives a very good presentation, as he always does.

I have a few thoughts that, hopefully, will help you if you’re looking to go to a job interview. Again, I didn’t watch the video, so I’m not sure whether or not Thomas covered these points in his virtual presentation, but he did touch on them whenever I attended his live presentations, and I thought they were worth pointing out.

  • If you do NOT ask any questions, consider your interview blown. I overheard my colleague mention that he asked one of his candidates, “do you have any questions,” and he responded with, “Nope!”

    In the back of my mind, I said to myself, “he just disqualified himself. Please tell me you’re not extending him an offer.”

    Seriously. It is absolutely critical that you ask questions at an interview. If you do NOT ask any questions, then you just failed the interview.

    A candidate who asks questions indicates that (s)he is interested in the position and the organization. Keep in mind that you’re interviewing the company just as much as the company is interviewing you. Interviewing is a two-way street. You need to make sure that the position is the right fit for you.

    If you don’t ask questions, it’s an indication that you aren’t interested. Worse, it also signals that you aren’t taking the interview seriously. Why would a company want to hire you if you’re not serious about the interview?

    Bottom line: never, EVER, NOT ask questions at an interview!!!
  • It’s important to ask the right questions. Make sure that, when you do ask questions, ask the right ones. You should frame your questions in such a way that it shows you’re interested in the company.

    You shouldn’t ask questions about salary, benefits, etc. unless the interviewer brings it up. The company doesn’t want an employee who is self-centered. Instead, ask questions that show that you want to be a team player. A common one that I’ve asked when I’ve interviewed is, “what are the organization’s biggest challenges, and what can I do to help you out?”

    Whenever I’ve interviewed, I’ve always prepared at least two or three questions (sometimes more, depending on the interview) to ask in advance. I’ll ask questions about their system environment and their competition. I’ve even asked questions about their workplace dynamic — a question as simple as, “what do you guys like to do for lunch?” can sometimes be revealing about their workplace atmosphere.

    I highly recommend books titled Best Questions to Ask On Your Interview (I’ve seen these books in various titles — 200 Best Questions, 300, etc.). Get them from Amazon, check them out from your local library, or whatever works for you.
  • It’s okay not to know everything. I recently saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine who interviewed a candidate who didn’t know about what (s)he was being asked, and said so. My friend commented that it was refreshing that a candidate just admitted that (s)he didn’t know the answer, rather than try to BS his or her way through the interview.

    We’re human. We don’t have unlimited data storage that we can query on a whim. As such, you’re not going to know the answer to every interview question thrown at you.

    One of the worst things you can do is try to BS your way through every question thrown at you. More often than not, a good interviewer who knows what (s)he’s doing will see through it. That will not reflect well on you during an interview.

    Thomas admits that he will ask the candidate questions that either don’t have a correct answer or have ambiguous answers. (The question itself might even be ambiguous.) He isn’t looking to see if you know the facts; rather, he is looking to see how you answer the question. Answering “here’s how I would find the answer” or “I don’t know, but this is what I think” is often enough to satisfactorily answer the question.
  • Respect the interview. Make sure you’re showered, cleaned up, and properly dressed. Make sure you show up on time (even better, show up early — fifteen to thirty minutes early should suffice). Come prepared. If you’re late or unable to show up, contact them immediately and let them know. Say “please” and “thank you.” Use a firm handshake.

    In short, respect the interview. Not doing so conveys a message that you’re not taking it seriously, which causes the interviewer to question whether or not you really want the job. If you don’t take the interview seriously, chances are that the job offer will go to the candidate who does.

Hopefully, these tips will help you nail the interview. They might not guarantee that you’ll land the position, but they’ll definitely increase your chances of doing so.

Good luck at your interview.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

As the old saying goes, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!”

I wrote a while back that the symphonic concert band I play in will be performing at Carnegie Hall on Veterans Day! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and yet another bucket list item for me. The chance to play on the stage at Carnegie Hall is beyond my wildest dreams!

As it turns out, it also takes money! We’re looking to raise funds to offset costs for the trip. We set up a GoFundMe page for the opportunity. If you are able to do so, please consider contributing a few bucks for us to take this trip!

Thanks for your support!

PASS Summit — Preparing for PASS Summit 2019 – Logistics & Survival

My friend, Andy Levy, wrote a ‘blog article in which he provides survival tips for PASS Summit. I found it to be a pretty good read, and I wanted to make sure that I linked to it for my own (and your) reference!

A trip to New York City for #SQLSaturday #SQLSat912

(Photo source: britannica.com)

As I promised in my previous article, here is the article that details my trip to SQL Saturday #912!

Early last year, I wrote about my trip to SQL Saturday #714, Philadelphia. That was an enjoyable trip (well, they all are), and I enjoyed writing that article. With my trip to SQL Saturday #912 in New York City, I thought it’d be a fun exercise to write another one. I figured it’d be a fun piece for people who’ve never traveled to a SQL Saturday, not to mention people who’ve never been to New York City.

So, come along with me as we take another trip!

The planning

Being the trip planner that I am, I mapped out my plans for this trip a while back. Plans for this trip have actually been in the works for months.

Planning began back in May, when I submitted my presentations. For planning purposes, whenever I submit presentations to any event, I assume that I’ll be selected to speak, even before I find out whether or not my submissions are accepted. As soon as I submit, my plans for whatever event I apply are pretty well written into my calendar, unless either (1) I end up not getting chosen for the event, or (2) some conflict that I can’t get out of comes up for the same date.

Ordinarily, I don’t firm up my travel plans until I know for sure that I’m selected to speak, but this time around, there were a couple of twists. First of all, I saw Thomas Grohser, one of the event’s organizers, at SQL Saturday in Albany in July. He told me that I was going to be speaking in NYC. Granted, Thomas is a friend, but nevertheless, it was still not an official selection. I wanted to make sure that I had the official selection email before I started booking my train and my hotel room.

In early August — still before I received the official acceptance notification — I got an email from Amtrak (I’m a Guest Rewards member) that included fare specials. I discovered a round-trip fare from Albany to Penn Station that was too good to pass up. Unfortunately, the deal had an expiration date, so I had to act fast. I decided to pull the trigger on it. Okay. I had a train reservation. Now I was committed to the trip, regardless of whether I was chosen to speak or not. It wasn’t a big deal; I regularly attend SQL Saturday in New York, regardless of whether or not I’m speaking.

I selected an early afternoon train to New York. I wanted to leave myself time to make the speaker’s dinner, if they had one. As it turned out, that would not be the case, as I’ll explain later on.

Now that my train was reserved, I needed to find a place to stay. My two siblings both have places down in The City, and my sister has repeatedly told me that I can use her place in Brooklyn. While I’m appreciative of the offer, I also wanted to stay someplace closer to the Microsoft office in Manhattan, preferably within walking distance, where SQL Saturday takes place. Of course, as anyone who has traveled to New York City can attest, inexpensive places to stay in midtown Manhattan are nearly non-existent. It also didn’t help that the office was located near one of the world’s biggest tourist traps. (I usually try avoiding it, but that was impossible for this trip.) I checked a variety of places, including a few on AirBnB and a few places that were farther away but near subway lines. I found a few places that had potential, but kept looking.

I hit the jackpot when I tried Hotwire. They advertised a deal where I could stay at an (unnamed) midtown hotel for $109. It promised that I would be booked at one of three hotels, which they listed. The actual hotel would be revealed after I booked. I looked at their locations, decided I could live with them, and decided to take the chance. I ended up getting booked at the Sheraton New York Times Square. The final damage was $173 after taxes and fees — granted, more than the advertised $109, but still a steal for a Sheraton in midtown Manhattan near Times Square!

At some point — I’m not quite sure when — I looked at my own speaker’s profile, and noticed that three of my submissions were now listed as “Regular Session,” not “Submitted Regular Session.” This is usually a pretty good indication that I’ve been selected to speak, although it still isn’t official yet. I was surprised, however, that three of them were listed. I figured, either (1) it was a mistake, (2) they were still working on the schedule, or (3) I was going to be one very busy boy on October 5!

In August, I got an email from Thomas Grohser. It was no mistake. Indeed, I had been selected to give three presentations! Thomas asked me, “let me know if this is too much or not.”

I sent him back a two word reply: “challenge accepted!”

So things were in place. Travel plans were set, and I was definitely speaking. I went about my business, awaiting the first weekend in October to arrive.

A funny thing happened along the way. I’m a big Yankee fan. The Yankees ended up winning the American League Eastern Division. At some point, I looked at the dates for the Yankees’ first two playoff games: October 4 and 5 in New York.

Hey, I was going to be in New York on October 4 and 5!

I looked into getting tickets for ALDS Game 1. They definitely weren’t cheap, but they weren’t so expensive that they would break the bank, either. The only thing that made me hesitate was that no game time was announced. If it was an early afternoon game, there was no way that I’d be able to make it. When they announced that it was a 7 pm game time, I pulled the trigger and bought myself a ticket! I’ve been going to ballgames for years, but I’ve never been to a playoff game before, and attending a postseason game has been on my bucket list for a long time. A weekend that was already going to be fun had just become more exciting!

At this point, all the plans were set. I only had to wait for October 4 to arrive.

The trip

Friday, October 4 arrived. My wife dropped me off at Albany-Rensselaer train station around 12:30. Other than the fact that my train, which was supposed to depart at 1:05, was about twenty minutes late, the train ride to Penn Station was uneventful. I arrived in New York around 4:00.

I took the E subway to my hotel. Upon exiting the subway, I had my first (pleasant) surprise of the trip. While I was at the street level, looking for my hotel, someone said hi to me. I was surprised to see that it was Michelle Gutzait, one of the SQL Saturday speakers, and her boyfriend! We spoke briefly. She was speaking at our user group in November, and said she was looking forward to speaking. They were looking for a theater for a show they were seeing that night, while I was looking for my hotel.

Randomly bumping into Michelle on the street turned out to be the first of numerous surprises on this trip.

I found my hotel, dropped off my bags, and proceeded up to the Bronx.

Image may contain: Raymond J Kim, stadium
Here I am, attending my first-ever postseason playoff game!

Now, I’ve been a baseball fan since I was around 12 or 13. I grew up rooting for the Yankees. I’ve attended numerous regular season games, more than I can remember. However, despite all those years going to regular season ballgames, I have never been to a postseason playoff game. It’s something that’s been on my bucket list for quite some time. When I saw that the Yankees’ first two playoff games were at home at the same time I was in the City for this trip, I jumped on the opportunity and bought myself a ticket for Friday night.

No photo description available.
My scorecard from the game

Friends told me that it was a different atmosphere from a regular season game, and it did not disappoint. The atmosphere was electric, and the crowd was loud — much more than a regular season game. Fans hung on to nearly every pitch during the first seven innings. By the time the seventh inning rolled around, the Yankees had scored ten runs and held nearly an insurmountable lead. I stuck it out until the end of the game and hopped the subway back to my hotel. I did stop to get a couple of slices of pizza on my way back (I can’t pass up genuine New York-style pizza!). It was well after midnight by the time I got back to my room, and around 1 am by the time I went to bed.

SQL Saturday

My alarm went off at 6. After hitting my snooze button a couple of times, I got up around 6:20. I rolled out of bed, showered, dressed, checked out of the hotel, and proceeded to Ellen’s Stardust Diner for breakfast.

Image may contain: 4 people
At Ellen’s Stardust Diner, it’s about the singing wait staff!

This was the second time that I had gone to breakfast at Stardust; the first was when I spoke at NYC SQL Saturday last year. Now, I’ll say that the food at Stardust is good, but not great. If I picked a place to eat based on the food alone, Stardust would not be my first choice. However, I love Ellen’s Stardust Diner. It isn’t about the food; it’s about the experience. Stardust is known for their singing wait staff, and they put on a good show!

Amusing note: my waiter was named Kansas. Kansas is my favorite band! I told him as much, and he told me he was so named because they were also his parents’ favorite band! I hoped that he (or someone else) could sing a Kansas song before I finished my breakfast, but it wasn’t to be.

I could’ve sat there all morning and listened to the wait staff sing (and I told Kansas this), but alas, my first presentation was at 9:00. I wanted to get to Microsoft as soon as I could so I could prepare. Upon finishing my breakfast, I proceeded to the Microsoft building and SQL Saturday.

I arrived at the Microsoft Times Square office, directly across the street from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, around 8:15, and came across several #SQLFamily friends, including, among others, John Miner, Matt Cushing, Taiob Ali, Michelle Gutzait, George Walters, James Phillips, Thomas Grohser, Steve Simon, Kathi Kellenberger, Kevin Feasel, Alex Grinberg, James Serra, and Chris Seferlis. (I hope I didn’t leave anyone out!)

Image may contain: people sitting, screen and indoor
Me doing one of my three presentations

I wrote earlier about my presentations, so I won’t rehash them here. I will say that the combination of doing three presentations, combined with waking up at 6 am after having gone to bed at 1 am made for a long and tiring day! After lunch, for the sake of my own sanity, I decided not to attend any more sessions until I presented my own. There were some couches outside the speaker’s room, so I attempted to take a power nap — a plan that was thwarted by a security guard who kicked me awake (literally — he kicked the couch I was on) and told me, “you can’t do that here.” Sheesh.

At one point during the day, Matt hilariously sent this tweet. I got a good laugh out of this!

My trip of fun surprises continued at the end of the day during the conference closing session and raffle drawings. I was sitting in the front row. James Phillips, one of the co-organizers, was running the raffle. Since I was in the front row, he had me pick one of the winners. I stuck my hand in the bowl with the tickets, mixed them up, pulled one out, and gave it to James.

Mind you, I did not look at the ticket. Upon seeing the ticket, James shook his head and said, “I don’t believe it.”

He showed me the ticket. It had my name on it. I had pulled my own ticket! I’d won a Bluetooth speaker!

After SQL Saturday was over, I proceeded to 32nd Street, where Koreatown is located. It’s one of my favorite neighborhoods in Manhattan. As a Korean-American, I feel somewhat obligated to visit this place now and then, but as one who was born in New York State, I also feel at home when I come to this place to visit. I picked out a Korean BBQ place — one where I’d never been before — and had myself an excellent meal.

While I was waiting to be seated, a gentleman who had seen my shirt came up to me and introduced himself as a fellow Syracuse University alum. Yet another example where my clothing became a conversation piece! We spent about ten minutes talking about our alma mater before we were finally seated.

I had purposely scheduled a late train back home so that I could enjoy dinner while I was in Manhattan. After dinner, I walked the block west to Penn Station so I could catch my train.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Randi Stracher Moore, people smiling, people sitting and screen
Yet another surprise on this trip; I ran into Greg Moore and his daughter on the train heading home!

Upon boarding the train and finding myself a seat, I heard a familiar voice say, “boy, they’ll let anybody on this train!” I turned around and saw Greg Moore sitting a couple of seats back. Yet another surprise on this trip!

Although Greg is very active in the SQL Server community, he did not attend SQL Saturday. Instead, he attended ComicCon with his daughter. (Greg wrote a nice ‘blog article about their ComicCon experience; you can read it here.) I moved back to sit across from them, but we didn’t converse much (if at all) during the ride; we were all pretty tired, and we planned to sleep on the train ride home. No matter; I see Greg often enough, anyway. (I’ll see him next week at our next user group meeting.)

I didn’t sleep well on the train; no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get comfortable. My wife picked me up at the station, and I arrived home sometime after midnight.

Epilogue

Despite getting very little sleep, I had an absolute blast on this trip!

Mind you, I always have fun every time I go to a SQL Saturday, but I especially have a blast whenever I travel to New York City. It was an opportunity to get together with #SQLFamily, it was an opportunity to network, I got to practice my presentation skills (again), and as an added bonus, I got to attend a postseason baseball game! I absolutely love taking this trip, and I hope to do this again for NYC SQL Saturday again next year!

This is my last scheduled SQL Saturday for 2019. I don’t have any more SQL Saturdays lined up — I applied to speak at Boston BI SQL Saturday, but I will likely withdraw because of a conflict. There are “save-the-dates” listed for Rochester, Philadelphia, and Boston (non-BI) set for next year, and I intend to apply for them once they go live. (I might also apply to Virginia Beach as well; we’ll see.) And, of course, our Albany group usually has our SQL Saturday at the end of July.

My next scheduled presentation is in Seattle for PASS Summit, which is in four weeks (!!!). I’ll ‘blog about my PASS Summit experience as I go along. Hope to see you in Seattle!

Thanks for taking this trip with me — we’ll see you later from the road!

Monthly CASSUG Meeting — October 2019

Greetings, data enthusiasts!

Our October speaker is Tracy Boggiano! She will present her topic titled “Intro to Query Store.”  For additional information and to RSVP, go to our Meetup event page at https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL-Server-User-Group/events/264527908/

Thanks to our sponsors, Datto, Capital Tech Search, and CommerceHub, for making this event possible!

Hope to see you there!