Speakers Are Normal People

This is a great post by Steve Jones. I have made a lot of great friends through my association with SQL Saturday and PASS. I can tell you firsthand that #SQLFamily is real!

Voice of the DBA

The #SQLFamily is amazing, at least I think it is. Like many families, it’s welcoming, supportive, and comforting. It’s also maddening, frustrating, and exacerbating at times. Like most families, or at least the ones I know, it’s not perfect, but it’s what we have and at the end of the day, most of us get along with each other.

It’s also an open group of people. In general, we welcome people with open arms and smiles. Those of us that are more visible or prominent are willing to listen to, help, and support anyone. I was overjoyed during the recent PASS Data Community Summit, where I had the chance to see so many people that I haven’t seen in person in 2-3 years. I met many other interesting people for the first time and enjoyed the experience.

Not everyone feels the same way. I loved seeing Kimberly Tripp and Paul…

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The zen of the New Year

Why do we celebrate the New Year? All it is, after all, is a turn of a calendar, when December rolls into January. January 1 isn’t much different than December 31. So what’s the big deal?

As I write this, it’s January 3, three days into 2023. I’m glad 2022 is behind me, as it was a very trying year (as I mentioned earlier), and I’m looking forward to what 2023 has in store. I already have two speaking engagements lined up, and I’m sure I’ll have more fairly soon. I’m getting ready to go back to work (even as I write this, I’m getting ready to head into the office), and I feel like it’s a fresh start.

That’s what it’s all about. Any issues you dealt with in the past year is now in the rearview mirror, and you’re starting with a fresh slate, sure as you go to bed at night and wake up refreshed the next day. A new year might not, on reflection, seem like a “new year,” but at the same time, it’s a reawakening from a busy period of time.

So as most of us return to work on this third day of 2023, let’s make it better than last year!

Happy holidays, winding down 2022, and what’s in store next

As I write this, it’s the day after Christmas, 2022. Hopefully, those of you who are reading this had a wonderful holiday season. I hope you had a great Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, or whatever your holiday celebration of choice is! For me, personally, Santa didn’t leave me much, but honestly, the older I get, the less important tangible Christmas gifts get. I got to spend quality time with my wife and my (now-13-year-old — !!!) niece, and that was the best Christmas present I could’ve asked for.

Now that 2022 is almost over, a lot of people spend time reflecting upon the past year, and trying to figure out what the new year will bring. I am no different, and I have to say that it has been a very eventful 2022.

I won’t get too much into it, as I try to avoid writing about things that are too personal in my very public ‘blog, but I will mention that 2022 was a very trying year. I had to deal with family issues this past August, which included one parent’s death and the other parent facing twilight years of life. (As I write this, the latter is still an issue and is ongoing.) Around the same time, we also dealt with the deaths of one of our beloved pets and a couple of friends of mine from college. To say that this made 2022 a very trying year is probably an understatement. All I could think about is a quote from the fourth Indiana Jones movie: “We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away.” Professionally, I lost a job, got another one, and nearly lost the second one (disclosure: I managed to pull myself out, and am still employed there as I write this). I will not get into any details about the second one, except to say that I discovered something very personal about myself, and although it wasn’t directly related to the other personal issues that I just wrote about, those issues did nothing to help my situation.

What I will mention is that my personal issue was the fodder behind the article I wrote about taking care of yourself.

But enough about the crap that I had to deal with in 2022. Let’s talk about the good things that happened.

I did experience a lot of good things this year. Let’s start with my speaking schedule. Although things are still picking up after the pandemic, I did make it to speak at four in-person events this year, including a new one that had nothing to do with PASS, and my fourth consecutive time speaking at PASS Data Community Summit (or its equivalent).

I still shake my head that I’ve spoken at four straight PASS Summits. I don’t consider myself a SQL expert; as I often say, although I do have SQL experience, my knowledge of SQL falls under the category of “knows enough to be dangerous.” But I’ve been picked to speak there four times, so I must be doing something right!

I think the sentiment of speaking at events like these was best summed up by this tweet from a first-time speaker during PASS Summit.

Not all my 2022 successes were professional. I got to play several gigs with my rock band. I spent some time accompanying a local musical. My alma mater’s football team went 7-5 and is heading to a bowl game. And I got to attend countless events that allowed me to connect (or, in some cases, reconnect) with friends and family. While I did deal with a lot of issues in 2022, I’m happy to say that I’m definitely on the upswing.

That brings me to what’s next moving forward. I’ve received word that I’ve been invited to speak at two more events: another WE Local conference, and at STC Summit! I’m especially excited about the latter, because I’ve been a member of STC for a little while, and speaking at STC Summit has been a bucket list item for me. I also saw save-the-date entries for SQL Saturday as well (including one in NYC that my friend, Thomas Grohser told me about when I was in Seattle last month), so there will likely be more opportunities for me to speak as well. There are also numerous opportunities that are crossing my path. I won’t write about them all now, partially because none of them are in stone, but mostly because there are a lot of them, and I don’t remember them all! So I have a lot to look forward to in 2023 and beyond.

So, that pretty much sums up my reflections. I hope to be doing more as my issues are farther in my rearview mirror, and my upswing continues! Stay tuned for my exploits in 2023, and I hope all of you are on a similar track!

#PASSDataCommunitySummit — the last days, and the journey home

Well, on Friday evening, I watched workers take down booths and banners from the Seattle Convention Center, as PASS Data Community Summit 2022 came to an end. The circus had ended, and the tents were coming down.

I flew home Saturday afternoon/evening/night, so I’ve actually been home for a few days (I needed to recover from my trip, and life happens — what can I tell you?), so I’m writing this a few days later than I’d like. Nevertheless, it was fun and exciting, and since I’ve written about the first couple of days of Summit, it’s only fair that I wind it up!

Let me tell you about what happened since I last wrote. I mentioned that I was going to sit in on Kris Gruttemeyer‘s session about being on-call and work-life balance. Quite honestly, I thought his session was the best one that I saw all week. He focused on on-call personnel — as he put it, “being on call sucks. How do we make it suck less?” But in my opinion, his session was for more than people who were on-call. It applied to anyone to has been stressed about their job situation — which means a lot of us, myself included. I think his session is one that can benefit all of us — even those of you who are not technical — so when recordings of the sessions become available, I’ll make sure that I link to it.

I also moderated a session as well. This year’s Summit was actually a hybrid event — that is, it was both online and in-person. A number of sessions were not only being presented live, they were also live-streamed as well, and they required moderators to coordinate questions with the speaker. (Sessions that were not live-streamed did not require a moderator.) So I got to field questions from both online and the live audience, and I also passed along time warnings (per the speaker’s request) as to how much longer he had to speak. It was an interesting experience, and if you ever want to experience a presentation from another angle, it’s one I suggest that people do at least once!

I mentioned two other presentations from the day before. I attended Eugene Meidinger‘s session on dealing with depression. You could tell that this was a deeply personal presentation for Eugene, and I appreciate him presenting it. There is a stigma attached to mental health, yet it’s something that we all have to deal with. I’m of the opinion that all of us should have a mental health primary care provider with whom we should meet regularly, but that’s another conversation for another time.

I also sat in on a session on how to speak to developers. As a technical writer, it was something that immediately caught my eye, but it wasn’t really what I expected. A lot of his talk showed SQL code and explained, “this is what developers expect” or something to that effect. I was hoping to hear more about techniques when DBAs communicate with developers, but that wasn’t what I got, and I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed with the presentation.

My favorite part of Summit is reconnecting with #SQLFamily! I started speaking at SQL Saturday in 2015, and since then, I’ve met a lot of awesome people, many of whom have become some of my closest friends! I even made a few new friends while I was there. When I left, I had a few new contacts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook that I didn’t previously have! The highlights of the last day included getting together for drinks after the event, and having dinner with a large group of people at the Crab Pot! A good time was had by all!

I also forgot to mention a special moment on Thursday night. My cousin and her husband live in Seattle as well, and I made it a point to get together with them. We went for dinner at a place by Salmon Bay. I haven’t seen them in years, and it was great to reconnect with them as well.

I flew home on Saturday afternoon, and arrived back in Albany some time after midnight. After five days, four nights, and an awesome Summit, I was home again.

They said the numbers were down this year; where the 2019 Summit had something like five-thousand attendees, this year’s event had about fifteen-hundred in-person. (I have no idea how many people signed in online.) But in spite of the lower numbers, there was a feeling there that you don’t — and can’t — get from an online event. There’s something about being able to shake someone’s hand, give someone a hug, or having dinner or drinks with friends in-person that just doesn’t happen when you’re online.

I love attending events such as SQL and Data Saturday, but there’s something special about PASS Summit. I already can’t wait to go to the next one!

#PASSDataCommunitySummit — day 1 debrief, and what I look forward to for day 2

Greetings from Summit day 2! This morning, I’m writing from the speaker’s lounge in the Seattle Convention Center, where a number of speakers (myself included) are busy looking at their laptops. I’m not sure what the others are doing — working on their presentations, maybe? — but I know that I’m here writing in my ‘blog and enjoying a few refreshments that are provided for the speakers who partake this room and its resources.

It probably makes sense for me to talk about what went on yesterday. My session was scheduled for the very first time slot of the three days of general sessions — and, unfortunately for me, that turned out to be problematic.

I did my presentation about networking, which happens to be one of my favorite presentations to do. I enjoy giving it, I get my audience involved (there is an opportunity for my audience to do some networking themselves), and I get the impression that my attendees enjoy it as well. A big deal has been made about networking for this event — indeed, I was told that about 40% of the attendees were first-time participants, so I was looking forward to a good turnout for my presentation.

It turned out to be a disappointment. Only five people showed up for my presentation.

I had two things working against me. First, I understand that yesterday’s keynote ran over time. Since my session was at 9:30 (and I intentionally waited five extra minutes, until 9:35, to start to allow stragglers to come in), it likely interfered with my (and others’) session. Second, my room was located in a relatively-new section of the convention center, located right across the street from the main convention center, and the room was a little difficult to find.

Now, let me be clear. It isn’t so much the low turnout in and of itself that disappointed me. I’ve presented to smaller audiences before (the smallest audience I had was two people — heck, I one had a session where nobody showed up). I couldn’t care less about stroking my ego. No, I was more disappointed in the fact that, at an event where networking has been emphasized all throughout up to this point, only five people got to hear my presentation describing how to network — information that I really felt could help many people throughout this event. I felt that I had a really good message to pass along — especially to the first-time attendees — and it only got through to less than 1% of the people who are here. I had seriously expected ten times that number to show up to my presentation. That, to me, was the big disappointment.

However, attendance numbers aside, those who were there said that I gave a really good presentation. And now I can say that I am a four-time PASS Summit speaker!

There was another disappointment before that. I had signed up to attend a vendor’s breakfast. I’m not going to lie; my main (in fact, my only reason) for attending was the word “breakfast.” For a decent breakfast, I’ll spend an hour listening to a vendor’s sales pitch. But it was not to be. When I arrived, there was no food left. Apparently, when they opened the doors, breakfast disappeared very quickly. I was told they were ordering more Egg McMuffins for attendees. Um, no. Lack of planning on your part does not constitute patience on mine (at least not in this case). No food, no sales pitch. I blew off the vendor’s spiel and settled for the continental breakfast they were serving in the dining hall.

But, enough of my disappointments; let’s talk about the good stuff!

After I did my presentation, it turned out that another session that interested me was in the room next door in the next time slot. Blythe Morrow did a presentation called “How to Write a Kickass Anything.” As someone who writes for a living, the session title alone was enough to pique my interested, and she did not disappoint. There was a lot to cover — too much for me to recap — but a couple of takeaways were to come up with your own professional branding (something that I’ve already done), and that “simplicity” and “clarity” are not synonymous. In regards to the latter, for most of my technical writing career, I’ve maintained a principle of KISS. When I told Blythe this, what she told me was along the lines of “making it simple doesn’t necessarily make it clear.” That was a huge takeaway for me, and it’s definitely something I’ll carry with me moving forward.

Getting together with #SQLFamily friends after the first day!

After I did my presentation, I’ve been joking that “now that my commitment to PASS Summit is done, I could technically hop on a plane right now and fly home.” But the thing is, while presentations and learning are a big part of Summit, they aren’t the only things. I’ve often mentioned the importance of #SQLFamily. It’s a real thing. In only a couple of days here, I’ve seen so many friends whom I love dearly and don’t get much of a chance to see, except when we cross paths on the SQL Saturday circuit or at other various events. These people are important to me, and I want to spend as much time with them as I can. Last night, after the day’s sessions were over, I joined friends for some drinks at the hotel across the street, then joined a few more at the Cheesecake Factory (also across the street). My friends are very important to me, so any opportunity I can get to get together with them is cherished!

I spent some time at the exhibitor hall, where the vendors have their booths set up. I’ll admit that I look for booths with good swag and prizes to win, but it’s also important to make sure you support vendors at events like this. They are, after all, a big reason why these events exist. Vendors are big supports of conferences such as PASS Summit and SQL Saturday; without them, many of these events wouldn’t exist.

One of the big booths was Redgate (of course; they’re the ones who are responsible for coordinating Summit), and they did an interesting promo. They handed out these little mini Lego Steves (see the pics below). If you took a Twitter selfie with Lego Steve, you had a chance to win a prize! I took a couple of selfies, including the ones you see below. Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether or not I win, but I thought it was fun to take these pics!

A Lego Steve, along with the contest instructions
Me, Lego Steve, and actual Steve! (Lego Steve is the one I’m holding in my fingers!)

This morning, I woke up at 4 am (local time), before my alarm went off. I got up, showered, dressed, and went to the convention center.

Bob Ward moderates the Microsoft Q&A breakfast

My first order of business was breakfast. I attended the Microsoft vendor breakfast — and yes, this time, there actually was breakfast. I got myself a good breakfast and listened to a Q&A with some Microsoft bigwigs. Bob Ward was the session moderator.

Now, a little explanation is in order. Bob Ward is probably the Elvis Presley of SQL rockstars. He is very well-known throughout the SQL community. He has written books, he has been on the front lines of SQL Server development, and people flock to his presentations when he speaks.

That said, he has one flaw. He’s a Dallas Cowboys fan. He’s such a big fan that he has been known to incorporate the Cowboys into his presentations. In fact, SQL Server 2022 was code-named “Dallas” because of him.

Because of this, I asked for the mic (I was the first to do so), and I asked this question.

“My question is specifically for Bob. What’s the over-under on the number of wins the Cowboys will have this year?”

Yeah, I know, but I had to ask. It got a good chuckle from the crowd!

After the breakfast, I attended the morning keynote, where a number of people from Redgate, including my friends, Steve Jones and Kathi Kellenberger, got to speak! I couldn’t tell you everything they discussed (I couldn’t remember it all if I tried), but Steve did mention (and I’m mostly paraphrasing here) that we are now living in a multi-database platform world, and that isn’t going to go away.

And now, here I sit, writing a ‘blog article. There are a few more sessions I want to attend, and they look like good ones! I’m looking forward to seeing what Day 2 brings!

Hey #SQLFamily, who would be up for a #SQLJamSession? #PASSDataCommunitySummit #Networking #Activities

When I saw Steve Jones at New Jersey SQL Saturday earlier this year, I made him a promise.

Steve knows that I’m into music. He said he wanted to hear me play sometime. I told him, “if you can find me a piano at PASS Summit, I’ll play!”

The other day, Steve posted a ‘blog article about creating a community event at Summit… and on my way home from work this evening, it gave me an idea!

I know I’m not the only musician who’ll be at Summit. I’ve occasionally told Deb Melkin that we should get together and jam sometime. And I know there are other musicians among the throng, whether they sing or play an instrument.

So Steve’s article gave me a thought: who would be up for a SQL jam session?

My thinking is that we find a place with a piano, we gather around it, and we play, sing songs, and just jam the night away! It would be a lot of fun, and it’d be a great way to connect with people!

Of course, there are some logistical challenges to this. First, we need to find a piano — preferably some place where we can enjoy food and beverage along with it. Second, people would need to bring instruments, and I’m not sure that people traveling to Summit are going to want to bring extra luggage with them. I know that I wouldn’t want to bring my sax or my clarinet with me.

But that said, I think it would make for a good time! Maybe someone might want to bring their guitar, or whatever instrument they play! Maybe people would want to sing along! And you don’t need to be an accomplished musician to join in! All ability levels, from beginner to virtuoso, would be welcome and encouraged to join us!

So, who’d be game? If you are, let me know in the comments! If enough people are interested, maybe we can work something out!

And Steve, if you’re reading this, can you help me find a place with a piano that I can play?

Getting social with travel apps

Although I do not live in or near New York City, I’ve been there often enough that I feel comfortable about getting around, knowing where to go, and can often pass myself off as a native. (To my NYC friends: you can stop laughing now!) Friends often ask me for advice about where to go, where to eat, and how to get around. (In regards to the latter: get a MetroCard and ride the subway.)

One thing that I tell first-time visitors to NYC: take a cab ride. Anywhere. It doesn’t matter where you’re going. Why? Because in my frequent trips down to the City, one thing I’ve discovered is that New York cab drivers are great to talk to! They are the best conversationalists. I’ve gotten into the best conversations with NYC cab drivers. Conversations vary; I had one once vent to me about problems with his girlfriend. Another once told me about how, once he became mayor, he was going to ban all traffic from Manhattan and limit it to just pedestrians and bicycles. And I once commented to one driver about his great ability to navigate around the congested streets. I told him something like, “I probably wouldn’t last five minutes in this crap.” His response: “the secret is find a great radio station and just listen to it all day long.” Cab drivers know the lay of the land, they often know places to go, and with their experience with driving people around, they have many great stories to tell.

Okay, so why am I talking about conversations with NYC cab drivers? For one thing, it’s networking. If you consider yourself an introvert, it’s a great way to practice breaking the ice, carrying on a conversation, and meeting people. But it’s also experience with hosts and travel service people when you’re on the go.

I often use AirBnB when I travel; it’s a great lodging alternative when I can’t afford the price of a hotel room. I also make use of Uber and Lyft if I don’t plan to rent a car or if I leave my car at home. (There are a number of similar lodging and transportation apps I use as well, but I won’t list them all; you get the idea.) Nearly every case involves interacting with a host, whether (s)he is ferrying you to your destination or is putting you up for the night. If you’re lucky enough to interact with your host (note: I’m talking mainly about AirBnB; I don’t often rideshare unless I have to), you might find that (s)he will have plenty of local advice for you, as well as some good stories to tell.

Earlier this year, my wife and I spent a weekend out in Boston. We rented an AirBnB, We had a great time drinking coffee on the back deck, watching planes take off and land (Logan Airport was visible from the back deck), and getting to know one of our hosts. It turned out that he was an airline flight attendant (which might partially explain why his house was near the airport). He had some great stories to tell about his job, where he traveled, and how he prepared for another flight. He was great to talk to, and I will make sure I consider his place again the next time I’m out that way!

Remember that when you use a travel app, there are people involved whenever you use it, including people who will end up serving you. It’s an opportunity to expand your network, and you might hear some great stories along the way.

Less than two weeks until #PASSDataCommunitySummit! #PASSSummit #SQLFamily #Networking

November arrived yesterday (where did this year go???), and it only recently occurred to me that I will be in Seattle in less than two weeks, speaking for the fourth time at PASS Data Community Summit (or it’s equivalent)! On Wednesday morning, among the first sessions of Summit, I will be giving one of my favorite presentations: the one on networking. Come check it out!

It still amazes me that I will be going back to speak at this awesome event for the fourth straight year. Whenever I look through the list of speakers — several of whom have become very good friends through my association with events such as SQL Saturday — I continue to be in awe of the fact that my name and face is associated with this amazing group of data professional rock stars. I started speaking on the SQL Saturday circuit in 2015, and if you’d told me back then that I would be speaking at PASS Summit for four straight years, I likely would’ve asked what you were smoking.

And yet, here I am. I don’t consider myself a SQL Server expert — heck, none of my presentations even have anything to do with SQL Server — but nevertheless, I am still contributing to the SQL Server, as well as other technical, communities. I sometimes ask myself if I really belong in this same group of talented data professionals; indeed, I was even once asked how I’m associated with this group. I think that’s a very valid question, and I sometimes ask myself that same question.

But one doesn’t get to speak at PASS Summit four straight years unless you’ve got the goods. I once described PASS Summit as being the SQL Saturday All-Star Game. If you’re picked once, it’s a great honor. If you’re picked more than once, you’re a solid player. Four straight years? Now we’re starting to get into Derek Jeter territory.

Okay, I don’t consider myself the same caliber as Jeter. I’d consider myself more like, say, Ozzie Smith: someone with a long and distinguished career who didn’t hit for a high batting average. He stayed steady and just did his thing. And that’s pretty much what I try to do.

Hope to see you in Seattle in two weeks!

The menial tasks are appreciated

Years ago at a previous job, I once had my manager say to me, “Ray, I have a job that really, really sucks, but someone has to do it, and it needs to get done. You game?”

Without getting too deeply into it (mainly because it’s sufficiently long enough ago that I don’t remember the details, anyway), the task was to clean up a conference room after we’d used it for a celebration. (I don’t remember what it was for, but I do remember that there was food involved.) I told him, “I got it. Don’t worry about it.”

So I went ahead and cleaned up the mess we’d left behind in the conference room. I didn’t fuss, and I didn’t complain. It had to be done, and someone had to take care of it. Not the greatest of tasks, but I can tell you that my coworkers appreciated my effort.

I was reminded of that recently, when I had to work on a task that involved a lot of tedious work. My coworker who assigned me the task understands just how much effort and tedium is involved. She gave me a thank-you and told me something like, “I know how crappy this is. I appreciate you taking care of it.”

The point here is that menial tasks are not sexy, glamorous, or exciting. You might not like them. But people appreciate you a lot more when you can get them done. This reflects well on you, and ultimately can even benefit you. You’re viewed positively as someone who takes care of little things without complaint (although, admittedly, I do crack some jokes about it — e.g. “what year is this? Is it still 2022?” and so on).

Menial tasks don’t necessarily add anything to your resume, but they do add style points to your personality. People will appreciate you for the extra effort. And that’s never a bad thing.

The meaning of #MemorialDayMurph #CrossFit

This morning, I went and did a CrossFit tradition: Murph. Granted, I’m not the best athlete, and I’m not getting any younger (trust me, I’m older than I look), so I scaled it down to what I call a “half-Murph.” Rather than the full mile runs and the total number of reps, I scaled them down to 800m runs and a rep scheme of 50-100-150, rather than the one mile runs and the 100-200-300 reps that are prescribed. And in case you’re wondering, I finished in 34:53.

I’ve done this workout pretty much each Memorial Day since I joined CrossFit (except for the past couple of years due to the pandemic). I feel it’s my way of honoring what Memorial Day is about.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Murph workout, a little background is in order (those of you who are familiar can skip this paragraph). (Feel free to also check out the Wikipedia link above.) Michael Murphy, for whom the workout is named, was a Navy SEAL who died in Afghanistan. The workout that we call Murph was one he used to do before he was killed in action. Every year on Memorial Day, CrossFit affiliates honor his memory by doing the workout that he used to do.

People honor the memory of deceased servicemen in a number of ways, and this is my way of doing so. What better way to honor the deceased on Memorial Day than to perform the workout of one who gave his life.