Category Archives: Professional Development

I’ve been awarded my first MVP award

You’ve got mail!

This afternoon during a typical afternoon working on fixing a client’s database design, I received an email that I never expected to receive:

For the non-German readers, this is an email from Microsoft saying that I have been awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award. The award is a recognition of work in the community which is based on other people in the community nominating people for the award. Read up on the MVP award on the dedicated website.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

I have been part of the SQL Server community for a few years now, starting back in 2013 with my first session at SQL Sat 196 in Exeter. This continued to multiple SQLSaturday events and other tech events around Europe and also at the PASS Summit in 2016. In the mean time, I setup a SQL Server user group in my quiet corner of Germany and also a cool little event called SQLGrillen

However, all of this would never have come to pass without the cajoling and wrangling of a few very important people.

  • André Kamman (b | t) – friend, mentor and now business partner
  • Mladen Prajdić (t) – friend, mentor and creator of the excellent SSMS Toolspack
  • Marco Blasio (t) – friend, mentor and crazy Italian in Ireland 🙂

These three were instrumental in getting me to begin engaging in the community, especially as a speaker at events. Without their pressure support, I would never have taken those first steps. Thanks gents!

  • Jonathan Allen (t) – friend, mentor, former minion colleague
  • Annette Allen (t) – friend, mentor, inspiration for community work

Jonathan and Annette are in fact, as the organizers of SQLSat Exeter, the original enablers of getting me hooked on community stuff. It is fully their fault that I began speaking by giving me a platform to start my speaking career.

  • Karla Landrum (t) – friend, mentor and fantastic all-round gal.

Karla was/is just amazing. She is best known as the face of PASS at SQLSaturdays around the world until she stepped down last year. She helped me so much in the background, tirelessly listening to my questions. She provided me with invaluable insights and inspiration in everything to do with the community.

One common theme here is that I count each of these people as friends first. For me at least, this is why I do what I do. I get to spend time with friends, talking about things I am passionate about and try to get others excited about it too. What’s not to love?!

However, being awarded anything is nice and I don’t deny it is a good feeling to receive “official” recognition for what I have done.

Now the real work begins

I now hope to use the access to extra information and resources to help even more people who want to be successful with SQL Server. With the speed that the tools and tech coming out of Redmond, there will be plenty of things for me to keep up with.

So for now, I’ll say thanks for the award and well wishes and I hope to see you at an event somewhere soon!

You didn’t know that?! But that’s so obvious!

Rant-mode activated

Today I noticed a tweet from Andrew Prewski (@DBAFromTheCold)

Loving all the passive aggressive comments about my article on SQL on linux, keep ’em coming!

Andrew’s tweet piqued my interest and I went to look at his blog-post “Killing databases in SQL Server on Linux“. In the post, Andrew investigates how files are handled inside Linux, in particular how database files are handled. Go and read it, it is really interesting and a possible eye-opener for anyone who has no experience with Linux.

Now, the reason for this rant is the comments that came through from people who do have experience with Linux/Unix (go and read those too). Many of them boil down to basically scoffing at how Andrew didn’t know that Linux handles files differently to Windows and has done for years/decades. The tone of these comments were aimed to belittle Andrew for not knowing about this behaviour.

This pisses me off!

Maybe I’m just having a bad day or something, but it seems wrong to me that someone who is trying to learn should be made to feel in any way stupid for exploring something. It seems even wronger for this sort of behaviour to come from an area of the IT world which generally prides itself with the idea of “hacking”. The whole premise of taking a technology that you don’t understand and prodding, poking, dissembling and rebuilding – that is the “way of the hacker”, or at least how I have always understood it.

I for one hope that Andrew won’t be deterred by this shitty behaviour and also would hope that anyone reading this would think twice about how they respond to a similar situation. Everyone starts out at zero, not even Linus Torvalds was born being able to code.

Please remember: Don’t be condescending. Offer tips, advice or references to help, not ridicule.

My fifth (and simultaneously my first) PASS Summit

The PASS Summit is something special. It is the largest gathering of SQL Server aficionados on the planet. With attendance reported at over 4000 people each year, that is one biiig pile of SQL Server geeks!

As the PASS Summit is held in the USA, it is quite special to be able to attend for me (and many other non-US based people). I was lucky in having employers that were happy to send me on an all expenses trip to Seattle for the past few years (I skipped the Charlotte-based Summit to make sure my buddy and former co-worker @Fatherjack got to go). Attending has allowed me to learn plenty about SQL Server, but to also make some life-altering connections with people that I would probably never have otherwise met.

The first life-altering connections cajoled me into speaking at SQLSaturdays: my good friends André Kamman, Mladen Prajdić and Marco Blasio. They convinced me over many beers and steaks that speaking was the next step on my journey. This culminated in my submitting my very first session to SQLSaturday Exeter 2013 entitled “Replication: What, How and Why“. While nerve-wracking, it was one of the best career moves I have ever made. Since then I have spoken at numerous SQLSaturdays and other events around Europe and met a ton of people. My speaking career hit a couple of high notes recently, I was a contestant in last year’s Speaker Idol at PASS Summit 2015 (losing in the finals to David Maxwell) and also delivering both a standard session as well as a pre-con at SQLBits XV.

However, back to the title of this post. This was both my fifth and also my first PASS Summit. It was my first, because it was the first time I have delivered a full-length session at PASS Summit. I had submitted session in previous years, but failed to be chosen for varying reasons.

This year was different! I received confirmation that one of my three submitted sessions had been chosen…… Replication: What, How and Why! To say I was surprised is an understatement. After multiple years of not being chosen, I had received a positive response. On top of that, the session that started my speaking career had been chosen. This was quite unexpected, although in previous years when PASS had surveyed attendees on what subjects they would like to see more of, Replication was regularly in the top ten.

So I dusted off the session and made some much needed updates to the flow of the session and attempted to make the content clearer. I was surprised to find that I was able to rattle off the outline of the session pretty much from memory when practicing at home. The tweaks I made allowed me to run a full 75 minutes instead of a “normal” 60 like at most events.

I was assigned an afternoon session slot on the Thursday of PASS Summit. This means I would be in the middle of the conference, straight after lunch. Going by past experience at other events, this means that pretty much all attendees are still around (unlike Friday afternoon sessions, where many take an afternoon flight home), but as it is after lunch, some people struggle to stay awake! With that in mind, I tried to keep the audience engaged with questions and interaction. This is a great way of making sure that wandering minds are re-engaged and gives me something to focus my nervous energy on.

When I stepped into the session room I was more nervous than usual – the sessions are recorded and the room looked like it had seating for about 300 people! This is larger than most events and I assumed the room would be mostly empty. Replication is a niche subject/feature and I have had between 20 and 50 attendees in this session at other events. You can imagine my surprise when I saw about 60 people already in the room. I immediately took some photo evidence Smile

OMG_1OMG_2

Please bear in mind that this was 20 minutes before my session should start, so I made sure that my title slide was visible to the entire room.

replication

This didn’t scare anyone off, on the contrary, the room continued to fill. I was officially shocked/concerned and took more photos to prove to myself after the session, that I wasn’t dreaming. I went out of the main entrance to check that the signage for the room was right (it was) and the room attendant told me she had counted 220 people into the room with 5 minutes before kick-of!

ZOMG1ZOMG2

I proceeded to deliver the session to a packed room, only a few seats remained empty with a number of people standing at the back of the room too. The session went great, with some fantastic questions from the audience – directing my explanations deeper where possible and ensuring people took the information they needed. I ended my session on time and fielded questions from about 20-30 people at the edge of the stage and then in the hallway afterwards. There are a lot of people using replication in ways that neither I nor (I’m sure) Microsoft had ever dreamed of. It was also great to hear that the SQLClinic, run by Microsoft, had a chalk-talk about replication and there were mentions of replication potentially receiving some more attention by the dev team in Redmond (about time if you ask me!).

The next few hours after my session were a blur of adrenaline. Even a week later, it is hard to believe that my first session at PASS could go so well (as far as I could assess). Now I need to wait for the session feedback and see what I can do to improve. According to some of my attendees, a deeper dive or extended session on replication is something for me to think about submitting next year.

All in all I can say that my fifth PASS Summit was great fun – I saw some new things, met some new people and enjoyed Seattle (again).

As for my first PASS Summit: fantastic. I never expected this “old” session to be such fun to present, or to be so well attended. I look forward to next year to see if I will be able to present a new session.

PS: If you attended my session, please fill in the feedback (or write a comment here). That is what helps me to improve my sessions and my presenting in general.

Thanks for reading and see you around.

I’m on the Radio! SQL Server Radio

As the title states, I appeared on a recent episode of SQL Server Radio. This is a regular podcast focused, as the name suggests, on SQL Server. The two hosts; Matan Yungman and Guy Glantser have fun talking about their experiences with SQL Server from past and present projects in their careers and company (Madeira Data Solutions).

I’ve known Matan Yungman ( b | t ) for a while now. We met on Twitter and then in real life at one of the many conferences we were both present at (I think it was SQLBits, but I could be mistaken [UPDATE: It was at SQL Server Days in Belgium]). I then met Guy Glantser ( b | t ) through Matan and we have chatted a few times about different things around our lives with SQL Server. These chats recently culminated in an invitation to join them on their show to talk about my career with SQL Server and the journey I have taken so far.

We spent about half an hour talking about all sorts of things, to quote the show notes:


 

Specifically, we talk about:

  • His way for becoming an independent consultant
  • How to price yourself by value and not by time
  • SQL Server Replication tips
  • Tips for upgrading SQL Server with minimal downtime
  • What is the meaning of 5 nines and how much technical and financial investments it requires
  • When and how to use DNS aliases with your SQL Servers
  • Dynamic Data Masking use cases
  • Linked Servers performance tips

 

The interview was fun and I would love to be invited on the show again, Guy and Matan are really good hosts and made me feel at home.

If you haven’t heard any of their episodes, I highly recommend you do. This will give you a relevant topic to listen to while working or commuting, which isn’t dry and boring, bur rather a fun chat about (mostly) relevant topics.

I hope you enjoy it.

Growing a community is not easy……

…… But it is a lot of fun!

Last Friday I put on a small community event in my home town (#SQLGrillen). It was no SQLSaturday, with just four sessions and only 2 months preparation time, but it was a lot of fun!

Why would you do this? Why for free?!

I’ve heard those two questions a lot recently in the run up to the event itself, but also over the last year since founding the Emsland SQL Server User Group.

It seems to confuse people greatly that I would want to spend my private/personal time on “work”. I have wondered if this is a regional bias (I live in a quite rural part of Germany), or maybe a cultural one (many people I have met in Germany strictly separate work from private life). If the cultural reasoning holds true, then it would explain some of the difficulties of getting attendees for the user group. Either way, I don’t consider it to be “work”. Of course there is an overlap, it is a SQL Server user group and I work with SQL Server. However, I find the social aspect of a user group/event to be almost as important as the technical side. I probably enjoy exchanging ideas/war stories with fellow data professionals more than the technical content – somehow, even though I’m an awkward geek, the human interaction is the source of greater fulfillment.

Why would I do this for free? Why do people run marathons? Why do they join various other clubs in their spare time? Do they get paid to do this volunteer work? I think this goes back to the work/private life separation thing and people not understanding how I can mix the two.

Why would I not do this?

I have made some great friends and had some fantastic experiences as part of the community and hope to “infect” other people with the community virus. I also gained a lot in my career through the things I have learned (that I would never have been able to see in my normal work day) and have gained so many connections that I now don’t need to really look for new opportunities. If I wanted to swap jobs, I just need to explore the ones that get sent my way on a daily basis.

I am not that good that people want to hire me all the time, but being out there in the community makes me visible to companies/recruiters like nothing else.

We want you!

I realise that I am preaching to the choir when writing here (if you are reading a blog on SQL Server, you are already investing time that 99% of others don’t), but I’d still like to suggest that you get yourself involved in the community somehow. There are a wide range of tasks that User Groups, Events or Associations have that need doing and are too much for their current members/helpers to achieve. Even if you don’t want to speak, there is plenty of opportunity to get involved in another way.

So please, for the altruistic side of you, or for the “get ahead in my career” side of you; get in touch with your local User Group or Association and see if you can help out in some way. You will not regret it, I assure you.

P.S. Thanks to Rob Sewell ( b | t ) for the reminder: A few places for you to start would be finding your local PASS Chapter, or if there isn’t one where you are, there are also the Virtual Chapters.

Your presentation design matters more than you think

….. So give the design the attention it deserves!

I have been speaking/presenting at events around Europe for a few years now and have learned a lot about the art of speaking: Repeating questions back to the audience, surpressing “um” and “err” sounds, making eye contact with the audience etc. These are all well communicated best-practices across all industries when it comes to presenting information to both small and large audiences.

Something that is less written and talked about is the style or design of the supporting content.

Many people think of a presentation and the dreaded

  • Death
  • by
  • Bulletpoint
  • presentation

We’ve all been in one of those presentations before, unfortunately this happens more often than it should. The most regular (ab)users of this presentation method are our bosses/managers, who may be great managers but can be the worst presenters out there! Basically throwing up walls of text in PowerPoint and reading the words back to the audience.

After initially falling into this trap (though not quite as text-book fail as just outlined), I have tried to change my presentation style to engage the audience more and use PowerPoint for what it should be used; a support tool for the ideas I am trying to communicate, rather than a display for the content itself. The idea being, the viewer should see the slide and listen to me speaking and merge the two sources of input into their own understanding of the topic. When the audience member reviews the slides at a later date, they should be able to recall the topic and their ideas and continue to benefit from the session.

While trying out these ideas, I have searched online for inspiration and spoke with friends/colleagues about how they approach their presentations. This included some great discussions with Boris Hristov ( b | t ) and Cathrine Wilhelmsen ( b | t ) at the SQLKonferenz 2015 in Darmstadt, Germany. They gave me some ideas to help simplify my slide content and generally improve my presentations and make them more useful for the audience.

After these discussions, Boris obviously saw an opportunity to explore the area of presentation design as a service (I claim the trademark on PDaaS!). If you have ever seen Boris present, you will agree with me that Boris is the perfect person to tackle this idea. His presentations are so clear and to the point, that it seems obvious that he should offer his skills to people and companies that want to stand out from the crowd when presenting. He has proved this with his excellent Pluralsight course on the topic of presentation design.

Boris’ new venture is called 356labs and is focused purely on designing top-notch presentations and training people in presentation design, so that they can produce their own high quality content. Go and take a look at the portfolio page and you will see what I’m talking about. Boris has an eye for presentation design, which takes some complex topics and provides simplistic supporting slides that allow the viewer to concentrate on the topic at hand. So if you are looking for mentoring or training on presentation skills, be sure that 356labs with its top rated international speakers will be able to help you out.

I’m looking forward to what Boris has in store with 356labs and am sure that a lot of people will benefit from the service and advice he has to offer.

Good luck Boris!

1 Year Emsland SQL User Group

Moin Moin!

Unser User Group feiert 1 Jahr mit einem Sondertreffen:

Am 04.09.2015 ab 15:00 Uhr finden insgesamt 4 Sessions statt. Es sind 4 Auswärtssprecher am Start die zu unterschiedlichen Themen vortragen werden.

Die Sessions werden gerade festgelegt, aber der Termin steht schon fest. Schaut euch die Details an und meldet euch mit dem unten stehenden Button an!

Eventbrite - Emsland SQL Server User Group: SQLGrillen

Wir freuen uns auf euch!!

P.S. Gebt das bitte weiter, wir wollen so viele Leute da haben wie möglich, danke!