That Time of Year

sqlsat287_web  It’s that time of year again.  What time is that, may you ask?  SQL Saturday season, that’s what time of year it is.  MadPASS, FoxPASS and a  bunch of other volunteers are putting the finishing touches on Wisconsin’s only SQL Saturday, to be held this upcoming Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Madison, WI.  This is our third time hosting a SQL Saturday, and we’ve grown greatly since the first one in 2012.  We are at capacity with 350 registrants, and a waiting list of more than 30.  This is also the first year we have pre-cons!  Jes Borland  and Ted Kruger are hosting a pre-con about tuning your SQL Servers to perform better, David Klee is giving his talk on SQL Server virtualization best practices, and Dan English is hosting one on Self Service BI.

Me?  I’ll be presenting “You’re the DBA.  NOW What?” again.  A 100 level checklist of what to look for when you’re suddenly thrust into the role of Database Administrator.  We’ll cover files, configuration, disaster recovery, indexes, encryption, and a whole lot more.   The first time I ever presented this, or anything, for that matter, to a group larger than a user group meeting was last year’s Madison’s SQL Saturday (you can read about that, if you want, here).  Since then I’ve given it to many other SQL Saturdays.  It remains well received, I think, because I try to keep it simple for those who are just starting out.

I’m looking forward to this one, as I do all of them.  It is great to meet up with people I see far too seldom.  It’s a great day of free learning from the experts.  These speakers spend their own money, time, and talent to help make us all better at what we do.

Quoting Flounder from Animal House  – “This is going to be great!!”

See you this Saturday.

 

 

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Another SQL Saturday in the books

sqlsat256_web

This past weekend I attended yet another SQL Saturday, this time in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  I took my show on the road, as it were, because once again I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the speakers.  I wasn’t able to make it to the PASS summit this year, and I was looking forward to seeing some friends and colleagues again, even if it was at a smaller venue.

I forgot about the one hour time difference between Wisconsin and Michigan, and realized on Friday that if I didn’t leave right that second I’d be late for the speakers dinner.  Even with the late start, I felt I had plenty of time to make the trip.  Hitting downtown Chicago at 2:00 pm didn’t seem like it would be an issue.  I didn’t count on the 35 mile construction project (45 mph zone) between Rockford and Elgin, Illinois, nor did I count on a fatal crash on the northbound Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago, closing that completely, and bringing the southbound Dan Ryan to a standstill for about 45 minutes.  Add to that pouring rain in Indiana and Michigan, and I finally made it to my hotel about 5 minutes before the dinner was supposed to start.

The speakers dinner was awesome.  I got to chat with Joe Fleming for a good long time, and met Stacia Misner for the first time.  I also met up with the usual suspects Josh Fennessy, Allen White, Tim Ford, Frank GillBrian Davis, and Tamera Clark, among others.  Hope Foley wouldn’t join us until Saturday morning.

I loved this event.  It was one of my favorites.  A great crowd, and another full room for my session.  People asked some great questions, and I must be getting better or doing something right, because the reviews from my session were wonderful.  The lunch was a taco bar and it was amazing.  One very pleasant surprise was the appearance of Gareth Swanepoel.  From Jacksonville, Florida by way of South Africa, Gareth is in Green Bay these next couple of weeks on a consulting gig.  He drove six hours to Kalamazoo this weekend just for the heck of it, not to attend anything, but just to say “hi” and help out if any help was needed.

I sat in on a couple sessions.  Brian’s session on automated installs was interesting.  I might have to check that out in more detail to see if we can start standardizing some environments at some of my clients.  Allen White’s session on BIML and PowerShell started out as a complete foreign language to me, but by the end of his session it was all coming together, and now I can’t wait to start playing with this sort of technology.  I can see it playing a role in some of the ETL work I have to do for my main client.  What I got most, though, out of Allen’s session is that everyone has something to offer.  He encouraged everyone to give speaking a try.

The after party was also a lot of fun.  I didn’t sing any karaoke (if I am ever caught doing so, someone please take my car keys away from me), but it was still a good time.  Talked a bit with Aaron Bertrand and got to know him better.  I also talked to Josh a bit, and he gave me a great idea on my next session.  I’ve done a short talk on SSIS before, and now have some ideas on how to expand this one into a full one hour session.

Back at my hotel Saturday night (nice studio suite at the Residence Inn), I set the coffee maker to start at 6:30 because I wanted to get an early start back to Madison.  I didn’t reset the time on  it though.  So, because of the daylight savings time, the coffee actually went off at 5:30.  I tried to sleep through it, but couldn’t.  By then the clock on my phone said 6:15, which was 7:15 the day previous, 5:15 back home in the Central time zone, and who knows what the clock in my truck said.  So, having no real clue what the time really was, I just said to heck with it all and got up, got ready, and headed out.  I ended up pulling into my driveway right around 11:00 in the morning.  Or noon.  I’m still not sure.

Anyway, it was a great event.  Like I said, one of my favorites of all of them that I’ve attended.   Thank  you to Josh Fennessy for organizing it.  And thank you to all of the volunteers – Tim, Tim’s wife Amy, Joe Fleming, and everyone else.  Without the volunteers none of these events could happen.

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SQL Saturdays

As I sit this evening, sipping a Spotted Cow, watching the Twitter stream of all my friends at the PASS Summit, I wish I was with them. The PASS Summit is always a great time, I’ve been to the last four, but it was not in the cards for me this year.  Even if it was, my workload right now is such that I’d probably be doing more work than attending any of the sessions.

I had submitted a session for the conference in hopes of speaking there for the first time, but it was not selected. The reason? I don’t have enough speaking experience. Fair enough. I’m relatively new to the whole speaking thing, and when I had submitted my abstract I had only spoken at one SQL Saturday and a couple local user group meetings.

With that being the case, I made the decision to submit my session “You’re the DBA, Now What?” to a lot of the local SQL Saturday events in the Midwest.  I’ve been lucky enough to have been selected to a few of them.   Madison, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Kalamazoo so far.  I think I’ve submitted to a couple others, but I forget, and I haven’t heard from anyone else that I’ve been turned down or selected. 

I was a first time speaker at the Madison SQL Saturday – I blogged about that one before.  This past summer I drove to St. Louis and gave the presentation to another large crowd.  Minneapolis was this past weekend, and I got a lot of questions, which was good.  It helped fill the entire one hour and fifteen minute time slot.  Kalamazoo will be in November, and I am looking forward to seeing some good friends there. 

After this round is over, I will probably shelve this presentation for a while.  I’ve got the next one in mind, I just have to start on it.  I’m thinking the title will be “You’ve been the DBA for awhile, Now What?”  My first presentation was a 100 level course, mostly for beginners and newbies, and this next one will be geared more towards the mid-level DBA.  This should be fun to put together.

 

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SS Minnow

boat  Very soon I will post something about SQL Server.  I promise.  I’ve got a couple ideas I’m tossing around in my head, and they will be put to paper (electronic paper, I guess) in the near future.  But, for now, another personal story.

Early Sunday afternoon (May 19th) was just beautiful in Madison.  Slight breeze, sunny, low 80s.  Perfect day for a boat ride.  I called up a couple friends and we made the standard arrangements:  Suzi and I bring the beverages, guests bring the food.  Most of the time we just sit out in the middle of the lake, talking, or listening to the radio.  Sometimes we go through the locks at Tenney Park and laze on down the river to Lake Monona, feeding the ducks as we motor on through the no wake zone.  Yesterday Lake Mendota was a little choppy, so we decided to head down to Lake Monona.  When we got to Monona we were surprised that that lake was even rougher than Mendota.  That’s usually not the case.  So, we turned around and headed back up the Yahara River to go through the locks and get back onto Lake Mendota.

Mendota actually calmed down a bit by the time we got there.  We buzzed the south shore, looking at the new Edgewater Hotel construction next to my former workplace National Guardian Life.  Next we headed to the UW Student Union to see all the recent graduates getting their pictures taken.  I then motored full out over to the west side of the lake to view some of the nicer homes and to look at the boat ramp in Marshall Park.  Once we got there we saw that the sky way off to the west was getting a bit darker.  There were a few more clouds overhead as well, and my friend looked at the radar on his phone.  There was a green and red blob to the southwest of us, and the weather channels were predicting it would move south of Madison.  We looked up at the sky and noticed that it was getting a lot darker, and decided to head back to Warner Park (east side of the lake, about a 15 minute journey full throttle) where I had launched the boat.  Just as we were starting back the wind picked up quite a bit, and there were white caps forming on the waves.

It was at this point I stopped the boat and said “Life jackets.  Everyone.  Now.”  No one even tried to argue.  By the time we got the life jackets on the lake had turned black, with 5 foot swells and what I estimate was a 40 – 50 mph wind.  My boat is a little 18 foot runabout, and it was getting tossed quite a bit.  We were taking on an awful lot of water as well, both from the now pouring rain and the waves crashing over the bow and the sides.

After what seemed like an hour – it was probably only 20 minutes – we made it back to the boat launch.  Everyone was drenched and freezing cold, given that the lake temperature was only about 57 degrees.  We had to wait to get the boat out of the water, as there were 4 boats in front of us.  Everyone on the docks pitched in and helped everyone else.  A few people disregarded their own personal safety and jumped in the water to help hold the boats and get them to where they could be tied to the pier until the trailers were in place.   After our boat was safely on the trailer, we went and helped the last boat get tied up.

By the time we got home, 5 minutes later, the sun was shining, the rain had stopped.  I took my friends back to their car in downtown Madison, and as we passed Lake Mendota we noticed that it was as smooth as glass again.

Quite the adventure, not one I want to repeat anytime soon.  We really had no advanced warning of the storm – it just popped up out of nowhere.  But, we’re safe, dry, warm, and ready to go out on the boat again, as long as it’s nice and sunny out.

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SQL Saturday #206 Wrap-up

Saturday, April 6th, 241 people gathered at the Madison College (formerly Madison Area Technical College) campus for a free day of learning of everything SQL Server.  Many friends whom I hadn’t seen since the PASS summit or longer attended, presented, and volunteered.  And, as usual, I met some new friends.  Oh, and I was a presenter!

My presentation was titled “You’re THE DBA.  Now What?”  I tried to focus on a checklist of things to look for if you’re an accidental DBA thrust into the role of “the database guy”, or if you’re an experienced DBA walking into a new job or environment. It was based on my own experiences of leaving one job for another, and what I found when I walked into Day 1.  I had given this presentation twice before; once at the FoxPASS monthly meeting in Appleton, WI, in early March, and again at the MadPASS meeting at the end of March.  Each time it seemed to be generally well received, and I was expecting perhaps a couple dozen people to show up for the SQL Saturday presentation.  I mean, my time slot was the same as popular speakers such as Ted Krueger, Allen White, and Mike Donnelly and others.  I wasn’t expecting a full room.  After all, it was my very first SQL Saturday presentation.  Who wants to hear from the new guy when you have other talented speakers to listen to?

Ten minutes before my presentation was to begin I followed the advice of Eddie Wuerch and went to the rest room and grabbed a bottle of water.  He wouldn’t give this advice until the very last session of the day, but I must have caught his vibe or something and took care of those two things that could make for a rough presentation on my part.  When I returned I was amazed that people were actually bringing in chairs from the lobby to sit it on my talk.  The room was overflowing!  Nothing flips your stomach upside down more than getting ready to talk to a standing room only crowd.

Because a) it was a large crowd, and b) it was my first time presenting in front of a rather large crowd, I think I could have done better.  There were some things that I slipped up on, and other things that I would have done differently, but all in all people seemed to enjoy it.  The evaluation feedback comments are great, both the positive comments and those that were critical.  I did have a couple people thank me and say that this was exactly what they needed, that they could go back into the office and make their SQL Server environments better.  I guess if I helped at least one person, the talk was a success.  I do need to give a special thank you to Eric Selje, who gave me some great advice later on at the after-party on how to improve my presentation.  Eric realizes that I am new to this sort of thing, and the things he told me I took to heart and I will definitely be able to make my presentation better because of his advice.  After all, I have submitted this session for the annual PASS conference, where if I am lucky enough to be selected as a presenter I will be speaking in front of an even larger crowd.

After my presentation I got to be a room monitor for the rest of the day.  This allowed me to sit in on sessions given by Jes Borland and Ted Krueger, Ed Leighton-Dick, and Eddie Wuerch.  Jes and Ted talked about the joys and the downfalls of consulting, Ed talked about how to get more involved in the SQL community, and Eddie had a great presentation on how to give a technical presentation.  I will definitely be incorporating some of Eddie’s teachings in my future talks.  After all, I was there to learn too.

That evening many of us went to the Ale Asylum for some beer and pizza.  We eventually made our way to The Brass Ring, and around 11:00 we called it an evening.   It is so rewarding to be part of a group that cares so much for each other, and even though we may only see each other a few times a year, we act as though we were together just yesterday, laughing, hugging, and telling stories.  Aside from family, I can’t think of a greater group of people.  But we are sort of our own family, the SQL community, and it’s always great to get together.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a huge THANK YOU to Gina Meronek.  Her organizational skills and passion were what made SQL Saturday #206 run like clockwork.  Several volunteers helped out, I wish I could have helped more, but collaborative efforts of many people helped make SQL Saturday #206 in Madison a huge success.  My thanks to you all.  I can’t wait for next year.

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New Opportunities – or, how I lost a job and came out better for it

Antigua 207  It’s been quite a while since my last blog post, due in part earlier because I had nothing of any importance to say, and lately because I’ve been too darn busy.  So, on this rare quiet weekend afternoon, I thought I’d touch base again.

About a year ago I had decided to look for another job.  My job as a DBA with a life insurance company wasn’t going anywhere, and I thought I had done just about all I could do for them.  After a few interviews at various places, I found a local utility company that was interested in me.   The interview process with them took a long time; I think I started the process in May 2012 and didn’t actually get hired as a contract employee until August.  The plan was to work contract for three to six months, and then be hired as a permanent employee.  There were two other contractors there with me, and eventually we’d all become permanent employees.

I should have seen the warning signs during the drawn-out interview process.  This company moves painfully slow on everything.    I mean, they’re still not using SSIS because their Security department hasn’t determined if it’s “safe” yet.  It became clear to me early on that what I was doing was not what was promised.  The DBAs were essentially relegated to pushing development code into production.  We sat there for days not doing anything, because 1) there was nothing to do, and 2) the department heads wouldn’t let us implement any of our ideas for improving the various environments.

Still, in mid December, they wanted to interview me again for a permanent position.  I was told it was just a formality.  So, I sat with HR again.  Same interviewer, same questions.  I’m not sure I answered them the same, but that didn’t matter.  I was told I’d hear something by the end of the week, certainly before Christmas.  Well, Christmas and the new year came and went, and I had heard nothing.  Niether had my two co-workers.  I inquired as to the status, and they said there’s just a lot of “process” to go through.  Then, on Tuesday, January 22nd, I received an email from HR asking for my references.  Now, the three DBAs, myself and my two co-workers, were continually being praised by our superiors (why, I don’t know, we didn’t do anything) and the developers.  We did manage to improve the promotion time of the developer code, and for that they were very grateful.

I waited a day to respond, and then I replied with my references, but I also stated that I thought they were unecessary since everyone had seen our work for almost a half a year now.  That was Wednesday, January 23rd.  On Friday, January 25th, after work, I got a call from my recruiter.  He informed me that my contract had been cancelled, and that he’d go in Monday to clean out my desk.  I was floored.  Apparently you can’t argue with HR.  Anyway, even though it came as a surprise, I wasn’t terribly disappointed.  I didn’t like it there.  I was a little worried though, since I still supply the health insurance for my daughter, and I wasn’t looking forward to paying the COBRA rates while collecting unemployment.

So, that Friday night I went on Twitter and announced that I was an unemployed DBA looking for work.  Jes Borland (blog | twitter) saw my tweet and re-tweeted it.  Chris Cammers (blog | twitter) saw the re-tweet and sent me a message to check out his company, as they were looking for an ETL developer.  I checked it out, and sent them a resume.  This was Sunday, January 27th.

Monday morning I got a call from one of the managing partners of Resource Management Professionals.  Would I be available that evening for a phone interview?  I said of course.  So, that evening I talked with the two managing partners for over an hour.  Larry Overstreet (twitter), one of the partners, asked if he could meet me for coffee Tuesday morning.   Again, I said of course.  So, we met for coffee and talked for another hour.  Larry then told me that he was going to be traveling the rest of the day and it may be a few days before they got back to me.  I said that was fine.  At 9:30 Larry called me and said that David Fields (the other partner) may want to talk to me sooner than a few days.  I thought, OK, I can do another interview.  These guys seemed knowledgeable, nice, and we seemed to get along OK during the talks.  At 12:30 that day (Tuesday January 29th) David called me and offered me a position as a Business Intelligence Consultant, and oh, by the way, how soon can you get to Arkansas, because that’s where your client is.

By now my head was spinning.  I talked to David for quite a while, and it didn’t take much arm twisting for me to accept.  The next Monday I was on an airplane to Fayetteville, Arkansas.  I spent a week down there learning about my client, and the job that they’ve entrusted me with.  Needless to say this is a massive project, one that will keep me busy for at least the rest of the year.

RMP is basically a business intelligence company, using SQL Server, .NET, and Qlikview.  I specialize in SSIS and writing stored procedures to move massive amounts of data from an old dBase system to SQL Server 2008 R2.  I let others worry about the .NET and Qlikview stuff.  And, because I am a DBA at heart, they’re thinking about adding DBA consulting to their list of services.  I meet with another client next week for a little database tuning.

The upside?  The pay is good, I love doing what I do, I work with a great group of people, the benefits are good, and, aside from going into the Milwaukee office a few times a month, I get to work from home.  That has been the biggest adjustment, not getting distracted with all the “home” stuff and put in a good days work.  I just head to my little home office, and the dogs think I’ve left for the day and they sleep until I come up for lunch.

The downside?  Sometimes I have a hard time deciding whether to wear the gray slippers or the blue slippers to work.  :-)

To sum up, if I can wrap this up in one main idea, it’s that the SQL Server community on Twitter is second to none.  I love you guys.  I get to read and learn from some great bloggers, and I get to chat with so many of you whom I consider my friends.  Plus, without you, all of you, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  Thank you.

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On My Way at Last

Image  It’s been a few months since I’ve written anything about my ongoing fitness regimen.  It’s well known that I had shoulder surgery back in May 2012, and the recovery process took a lot longer than I thought it would.  The surgeon told me a year, and I didn’t believe him.  Well, turns out he was right.  It’s probably going to take a year before I am 100% back to normal.  Having said that, though, I’m feeling stronger every day (apologies to the band Chicago), and I’m on my way at last (more apologies to the group Rush.  This little quote comes from their latest album “Clockwork Angels”, of which they give an awesome performance in concert).

My rehab was excruciatingly slow after my surgery.  Stretching with bands and trying to lift a five pound dumbbell was pure agony.  I kept at it, gradually increasing the weights as the weeks and months progressed.   Since my weight lifting routine was extremely curtailed by my healing shoulder, I started doing more cardio.  Less than two weeks after my surgery I ran a 5K.  I almost died (figuratively).  I knew I had to do something more.

I started running.  I had started running many times in the past, but the routine never lasted more than a couple weeks.  I was more determined this time.  Walk/runs for a mile to start, working on running only for a mile at a time.  In September I signed up for a YMCA challenge to do a whole triathlon over the course of the month.  I didn’t quite make it, but I did manage to crank out 20 miles with the running shoes.

I bought new, expensive running shoes about a month ago.  This is one time I’m glad I spent a lot of money.  These new shoes are awesome, and I ended up running two 5Ks in November – one at the PASS conference in Seattle through #sqlrun, and the annual Berbee Derby on Thanksgiving day.  I’ve kept track, and since June 1st I have run almost 60 miles.  It pales in comparison to some of you more seasoned runners, but for me this is a major accomplishment.

My strength is probably 90% back to normal.  Ever since my surgery I haven’t been able to perform bench press on the flat bench (I was bench pressing 245 for reps before my surgery) , but because of a different angle I was able to do an incline bench press.  I was never good at this exercise because it’s a totally different balance and feel.  Through persistence and because it was the only type of bench press I could do, I was slowly able to increase the weight I use on this exercise.  Last night I put up 190 pounds for a couple reps – far more than I’ve ever been able to before.  I then tried the flat bench.  Prior to last night anytime I tried the flat bench with just the barbell (45 pounds) I would get a very tight pinch in my insicion scar.  Last night I put up 135 pounds for 10 reps before the twinge kicked in.  The weight felt so light.  It felt good,  So, I’ll slowly keep working that back into my workout in hopes of becoming stronger than ever.

In addition to all this, I continue to improve on my swimming.  I finally got the stroke and the breathing down, but it’s a whole different exercise than running, so the cardio for swimming still needs a lot of work.

I’m feeling better than I ever have in my life, and there is still a long way to go.  But, as Geddy Lee sings in the song Caravan (Clockwork Angels), “I’m on my way at last.”

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