SQL Saturday Virginia Beach — I’m speaking June 8!

I just found out today that I will be speaking at SQL Saturday #839, Virginia Beach on June 8!

I will be doing my presentation about the role of documentation in disaster recovery!

I’ll post about this event again as we get closer to the date. See you there in early June!

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SQL Saturday Boston BI — this Saturday, March 30

This coming Saturday, March 30, I will be speaking at SQL Saturday #813, Buston (BI Edition)! This is my first SQL Saturday for 2019, and it will be the third time since last September that I will be speaking in the Microsoft facility in Burlington, MA!

I will be doing my presentation on how to talk to non-techies, called “Whacha just say? Talking technology to non-technical people.”

SQL Saturday is always a great time! It’s a great opportunity for free training, and it’s also a great networking event — you have an opportunity to meet a number of SQL Server and other data industry experts, as well as a chance to meet other peers within your profession!

Hope to see you in Burlington this Saturday!

Developing an introductory presentation to SQL Server

So far, all of my SQL Saturday presentations have been professional development talks — “soft topics,” as they’re often described. I don’t present about technical topics, but I do present topics that are of interest to technology (and perhaps other) professionals.

This is not to say that I don’t have technical skills. I do have a background in development and databases, but as I often introduce myself during my SQL Saturday presentations, I probably fall under the category of “knows enough SQL to be dangerous.” I am neither a SQL expert nor an MVP. While I am knowledgeable about SQL Server, I likely won’t be doing any presentations about power BI, data compression, or data security anytime soon.

I can, however, discuss rudimentary topics about SQL Server that might be of interest to people who are just getting started with SQL Server. When I first started my ‘blog, I wrote some articles about how to get started with SQL Server. As my ‘blog (and my professional life) has evolved, I’ve been moving more toward the soft topics about which I’m more knowledgeable and tend to present, and away from the hardcore technological topics.

An idea that has been in the back of my mind for some time is to develop presentations geared toward people who are just getting started with SQL Server and even databases in general. This idea is not new; I’ve toyed with it for a while, and only lack of time has kept me from developing it further.

One observation I’ve made during my frequent trips to SQL Saturday events is that many of the presentations are geared more toward “seasoned” SQL personnel; that is, people who already have some background knowledge of SQL Server and its workings. They are all very good topics, but for a person who is just getting started, they can be overwhelming — as is often described, a proverbial “drink from a firehose.”

There does seem to be a market for this idea. I’ve spoken to Grant Fritchey a few times about my idea, and he has encouraged me to pursue it. One thing that was mentioned to me was that part of the reason why many SQL Saturday presentations tend to be more advanced is that the presenters themselves are fairly advanced. A lot of them are SQL experts and MVPs, and are presenting topics at a much higher level from where a SQL beginner would need to start. It would be akin to asking a college professor to teach kindergarten.

Grant even suggested that I make these presentations into an entire precon — as there is way too much material to cover in a single SQL Saturday presentation. This is an idea that intrigues me, and it’s something that I’m interested in developing. It’s just a matter of me taking the time to sit down and putting it together.

I have a few reasons for writing this article. Among them are a form of self-encouragement to pursue this endeavor and a forum to list some of my thoughts. On the latter, I wanted to list a few topic ideas listed so that I can refer to and develop it as I go along.

Some of the topics I would cover would likely include the following.

  • A general high-level introduction to SQL Server and databases in general
  • Basics of T-SQL
  • An introduction to relational tables
  • Basics of data normalization
  • An introduction to database applications

I’m sure there are some other topics that haven’t occurred to me. If you have any suggestions, feel free to list them below in the comments.

This is an idea that has been kicking around my head for at least a few years. Maybe sometime, I’ll actually sit down and start working on it. Hopefully, that sometime will be soon.

No events near you? Try a virtual group — or start your own!

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in on a webinar by Matt Cushing called Networking 102: Getting Ready for a SQL Event. (It was originally named “Networking 101,” but I guess he didn’t want it to conflict with mine! 🙂 ) This is actually the same session that I attended at Washington, DC SQL Saturday, and Matt does a great job! He even acknowledged me during his presentation today — thanks for the shout-out, Matt! If you ever have a chance to attend his session at a SQL Saturday, I highly recommend it!

Matt also mentioned, at the end of his virtual presentation, that it was a different experience. I concur — when I did my own a couple of weeks ago, I had to make some adjustments. I won’t get into that now — that’s another article for another time.

Watching his online presentation — and thinking back to my own from a couple of weeks ago — reminded me about the difficulty of attending events. I always encourage people to attend events such as SQL Saturday and a local user group. However, not everyone is able to do so. Maybe there isn’t a user group or event near you, or maybe an event you want to attend conflicts with something else on your calendar. Having grown up in the rural Catskills, I can understand how difficult it can be to attend some events, and I’ve had to pass on attending several events because of schedule conflicts.

Fortunately, for people in those situations, there are options.

First, since I started writing this article about a webinar, look into joining a virtual user group. PASS has a number of virtual groups available to join. I am a member of the Professional Development Virtual Group; as someone who does professional development presentations, I look into attending online presentations by this group; I’ve even done one myself, and I hope that I’m able to do more. Other virtual groups are available; do a Google search and see what groups might interest you.

Of course, there are some disadvantages to virtual groups. Because you’re generally only interacting with the presenter, networking and face-to-face interaction is impossible, so it’s difficult to connect with other people.

If you are in an area that doesn’t have a local user group that interests you, why not start one? The Albany SQL group started out with me meeting Dan Bowlin aboard a train while heading to a SQL Saturday in 2010. Since then, our group has grown in number (I’m not sure exactly how many, but last I checked, we’ve been sending emails to around 300-something people) with meetings each month, we have members who are actively involved with PASS and SQL Saturday, and we even host our own SQL Saturday each year. If you find that people in your geographic area share a common interest, consider starting a user group.

If your involvement with user or special interest groups is limited, either by time or geography, consider either joining a virtual group or starting your own user group. Those constraints shouldn’t leave you out of the loop.

Don’t forget to edit your system messages

One of my current work projects is a administrative guide for our application. After a recent status meeting, one of the developers sent me a list of validation error messages that might appear during data imports. I was asked to make sure the validation messages were included with the documentation.

While going through the validation messages, I noticed that they were filled with grammatical, capitalization, and spelling errors. I asked the developer if he wanted me to edit the messages, to which he responded, “yes, please!”

People don’t think about checking output messages for correctness during application development. It is often a part of applications that is overlooked. For what it’s worth, I, myself, didn’t even think about it until I was asked about these validations. Nevertheless, reviewing and editing output messages is probably a pretty good idea.

For one thing, and I’ve stated this before, good writing reflects upon your organization. Well-written documentation can be indicative that a company cares enough about their product and their reputation that they make the effort to produce quality documentation as well. Well-written system messages indicate that you care enough to address even the little things.

Well-written error messages can also ensure better application usage and UX. A good output message can direct an end user to properly use the application or make any needed adjustments. Messages that are confusing, misleading, badly-written, or ambiguous could potentially result in things like application misuse, corrupted data, accidental security breaches, and user frustration.

Ensure your application development review and testing also includes a review of your system messages. It may be a small thing, but it could potentially address a number of issues. As someone once said, it’s the little things that count.

College is important… but so are trades

My wife and I built (well, okay, not literally) our house in which we’re currently living. While it was under construction, I went to visit the site roughly every other day. I wanted to check on progress and make sure there weren’t any issues. Besides that, I enjoyed watching the structure go up.

I remember at one point talking to one of the house builders. I commended him and his workers. I remember mentioning something about how fun the work looked, and how much I was learning by watching the process. I also recall thinking about how fun it could be to build houses for a living.

This morning, I stumbled across this article that talked about the stigma of choosing trade school over college. It made me think about current career mindsets, enough to the point where I felt compelled to write this article.

How many stories have you heard where a person went to work in a white-collar profession, decided that (s)he didn’t enjoy it, and changed careers? I’m a fan of Food Network shows such as Beat Bobby Flay, and I often hear stories from aspiring chefs who’ve said things like “I worked on Wall Street for years, didn’t like it, realized that my real passion was cooking, and became a chef.”

There are countless stories of people who were pushed (often by their parents) toward careers that they didn’t want. (Disclosure: I, myself, was one of them, but that story goes outside the scope of this one; that might be another story for another time, if I ever feel compelled to write it. All I’ll say for now is that I eventually made it work, and I’m much happier for having done so.)

We need doctors, engineers, writers, architects, and teachers. These are professionals that require college degrees. We also need framers, linespeople, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, mechanics, food service workers, and construction workers. These professions might not require college degrees, but they are skilled workers, and they are just as important.

The German education system includes the Gymnasium, which is akin to our standard college preparatory high school. However, for people not looking to attend college, people have the option of attending a Hauptschule or a Realschule. High school programs in the US most often act as preparation for college, and those people who do so are perceived as being successful. Here in New York state, BOCES programs serve a similar purpose to hauptschules and realschules in that they provide education services, including vocational education, to students who struggle with the college prep route.

Just because people don’t pursue the traditional college route doesn’t make them unskilled. I’ve watched plumbers, electricians, and welders at work, and I can tell you that I couldn’t do a lot of what they do. I’m not saying that I’m not capable of it; I’m just saying that I don’t have the skill sets that they worked hard to have, just as much as I have the skill sets that I have.

Chris Bell, one of my friends on the SQL Saturday circuit, once gave me a great piece of advice. He told me, “the definition of an expert is someone who knows something that you don’t.” I’ve never forgotten that tidbit.

So why is there such a stigma attached to people who pursue the vo-tech route? I’m not an expert, but if I ventured a guess, I’d say that people tend to look down on those who aren’t as skilled in various aspects — people who tend to pursue vocational education. But maybe some people just don’t want to go the college route.

Not everyone is cut out for college. Maybe some people aren’t interested in pursuing a degree. Maybe some people feel their skills are better suited elsewhere. Maybe some people have a learning disability that prevents them from academic pursuits, but have other skills in which they can be employed. Whatever the reason, there should be no shame in pursuing vocational training. People should pursue careers that suit them — and if they’re happy in their chosen professions, then we’re all better off for it.

Monthly CASSUG meeting — March 2019

Greetings, data enthusiasts!

This is a reminder that our March CASSUG meeting will take place on Monday, March 11, 5:30 pm, in the Datto (formerly Autotask) cafeteria!

Our guest speaker is George Walters! His talk is about security features from SQL 2005 through 2017!

For more information, and to RSVP, go to our Meetup link at http://meetu.ps/e/FWkSv/7fcp0/f

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