Friendship

I am an IT professional, and the more of us I meet, the more I understand how hard it is for us to make friends.

There is the automatic “keep to ones self” that many of us struggle with. This struggle is one that I’ve mostly overcome, but in a loud room with lots of people I will naturally gravitate towards the back and away from the center.

There is the lack of trust that is almost trained into us. What is the users real issue? Did they do something wrong? What’s the real goal of this project and the project owner? Why do users always lie?

It is rare that I find a friend, a friend that I can trust to tell my really awful thoughts to, and they share back the ones that are just as bad as mine. Thank you Gill for being that friend for the past 10 years, while I don’t know what tomorrow holds, I do treasure that friendship that we’ve cemented. You will always have a special space inside my “Friendship Hall of Fame”.

Be well.

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Comcast – Home Internet Bandwidth Limits

Recently I noticed a new charge on my Comcast bill.  “Data Overages, billed at 10 dollars for every additional 50 gigabytes used.”  Or language to that effect.   I’ve been on the internet for a long time, our first family modem was a 300 baud, that made those wonderful screeching noises as it connected me to a new world.

Back at the beginning of the internet (CompuServ and AOL), there were usage charges.  The billing model for these early services was that you paid your monthly fee to have an account, and you also paid a certain amount of money for hour / minute / second that you were connected to their servers.  There wasn’t yet a tremendous amount of content out there on the internet, but I still managed to spend hours checking out Gopher, and engaging in conversations with people all over the world (#Undernet4Ever).

I remember the day when we got service that allowed for unlimited connection times.  This was revolutionary!  I could surf 24 hours a day 7 days a week and my family wouldn’t be put into the poor house (Just ignore those long distance bills if you could please). Now seeing the bill from Comcast I’m having a strange deja vu.  Are we back in 1995? Ultimately this decision by Comcast is a consequence of shrinking competition.   This coupled with the push to remove “Internet Neutrality” really makes me wonder how the freedom that I remember waking up to many years ago with “Unlimited Bandwidth” will be passed on to future generations, while our government continues to grant more and more power to these massive Telecommunication companies. I hope I’m wrong.  Comcast used to be my favorite internet provider (since Mindspring went away).   I hope that this data limitation in their customer’s homes is a short lived experiment that they’re trying, or my monthly subscription to them will come to and end.

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Lessons I need to Learn

This past week I received my first annual performance review in many years.  The negative feedback that I received during the course of the review wasn’t a surprise, its the same feedback that I’ve received review after review throughout my life.   I’m memorializing these items in an effort to assist me to remember them, as in order to continue to move forward in my career I have to overcome them. 

  1. Interpersonal Relationships:  I tend to come off as distant and somewhat cold in work situations.   It isn’t that I don’t care, its that I care more about the task at hand while discussing work, then I do about who is delivering the information to me.
  2. Condescension:   In keeping with the interpersonal relationships theme above, this is another thing that I struggle with.  When I talk to someone, I’m brusque, and to the point.   This often times comes across as condescending, intellectually I understand that this is people’s perception, emotionally I don’t understand how anyone could think I was condescending.  I whole heartily believe that I have things to learn from everyone.
  3. Ask questions but don’t debate — there is a fine line between debate, and asking questions to help gain understanding.  I am often guilty of asking questions to “test” the other person’s resolve, and their firmness of opinion.

The single biggest suggestion I received from my manager and friend, was to make sure that I take the time to understand the difference between leadership and management.   The difference between control and influence.

I’ve spent the past day reading, and trying to understand what it is about me that makes other’s feel that way, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I still don’t completely understand the why, but I do understand more about how to overcome the deficiencies that were pointed out to me.

  • ABL – Always be listening.  I listen, but I listen usually to the point that I understand where the person is going with a given statement, and then focus on how I should respond, sometimes summarizing what I think they’re saying before they even finish.  I have to stop this.  In a world where I’m seeking to gain influence, and not control listening to how people say things, is almost as important as what they’re saying.   
  • Share Tasks — I tend to give assignments and tasks, without always communicating the bigger picture, and where the rest of my thoughts are with how the task or assignment fits into the bigger picture.   While I will not always be able to share the entire bigger picture, everyone understanding where they fit into the cycle and how their input helps against that larger picture draws them into the team, and makes them feel a part of something larger.
  • Celebrate Accomplishments — Something I need to get better with.  I tend to not celebrate the completion of a milestone, or a project because there is always something next.  To me the completion is as much of a celebration as I need.   Most people aren’t like that, most people need recognition of their accomplishments. 
  • Take Blame — Truthfully I think this is something I’m already fairly good at, but I put too much of a joking spin on it when I say that “Everything is my fault” to the team.  In order to get better, I need to remember that laughter when taking blame isn’t seen as appropriate.   Fault doesn’t matter in the heat of the moment, we must worry about a fix when something goes wrong, and address the responsibility issues as a followup.

 

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Sql Saturday 111 – Wrapup

This past weekend I attended Sql Saturday 111 in Atlanta.

Sql Saturdays are an event concept created by PASS (Professional Association of SQL Server) and feature free training throughout the country with a wide range of topics, and sessions focused from the absolute beginner through “expert”. I always walk away from these events learning something, its not always what I intended to learn, but I always learn something.

The event is broken into a variety of 60 – 75 min long sessions. This year had 5 session slots, with up to 10 sessions per slot. I managed to make it to 4 of the 5 sessions, and spent one just chatting about life / work in the lobby for that other time slot.

The first session that I attended was Brian Kelley’s – Being the Swiss Army Knife of DB Pros: While I didn’t learn anything directly related to SQL Server, it helped remind me not to lose sight of the other skill sets that I’ve acquired in my career, the most important of which is being able to understand that it’s a business, and ultimately it’s all about the bottom line. These are skill sets that have value, even if I primary identify myself as someone in a Data role.

Next up I was scheduled to proctor Jim Christopher’s – Powershell Modules you should know about. I saw Jim speak last year on Powershell, and was glad that I got the chance to see him again, in addition to being very knowledgeable about Powershell, Jim’s a great guy to grab a beer with at the after party. Jim walked through the basics of Import-Module, and highlighted some modules that he uses on a day to day basis. By far the coolest one he showed was one that he has in Alpha currently “SeeShell”, the purpose of this Module is to work with Data, and to assist with an easy way to create a visual representation of the data. The demo’s didn’t go flawlessly, but they showed some pretty cool promise once the “features” are all worked out.

Next up — Lunch! I sat in on a brief talk about RedGate’s Sql Server monitor product while I ate, but mostly I did that to have an opportunity to see Grant Fritchey speak as I hadn’t had the opportunity to see him speak in person previously. After I finished I wandered around, and headed up early for my next session. This one I volunteered to proctor for — to make sure I could get a seat.

Adam Machanic’s – Query Tuning Mastery: Manhandling Parallelism: I’ve heard of Adam’s sessions involving Query tuning, especially coming out of PASS 2011 and the precon that he did there, and was really looking forward to getting a chance to sit in on one of his sessions. It was everything that I’d been led to expect from one of his sessions, very detailed and the time it must have taken to figure out that on result 6401 behavior changed vs 6400. Just an awesome session — I’m planning on downloading his demo’s and playing with them as time allows, no doubt. The only downside to Adam’s session was having to proctor it; as proctors we were given strict instructions to not allow any standing attendees, so I was forced to turn away several people from attending — I know one of them looked like he wanted to eat my liver when I wouldn’t let him in.

Next up — I took a break, I didn’t go to a session in this time slot, instead I wandered around and talked with a variety of people. This is actually an area that I need to work on — being ok with walking up to people and striking up a conversation. I’m getting better, and the approachability of people hanging out in the lobby made it easier.

Final session arrived and it was time to proctor again. Wow — I proctored three sessions — almost getting to the point of “work”. This time I was proctoring for Vicky Harp’s – Introduction to Common Table Expressions. I truly entered this presentation not expecting to get any knowledge out of it — I’ve used CTE’s for a variety of reporting uses in the past, but am very cautious in their application. I have to say that I DID learn something about CTE’s in her presentation. I had never considered using Multiple-Nested CTE’s in the past, but I learned that you can. Don’t think I’ll ever put that into production code anywhere, but it might help with an adhoc report request.

Overall I had a great time, and got to hang out with / meet several cool new people. To the organizers of the event — another job well done.

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Pass Summit 2011 — A First Timer’s Experiences

It’s the Monday after PASS, and my level of exhaustion has finally dropped to a level where I’m coherent(somewhat) to put together a summary of my experiences. I had originally intended to do a day by day summary of PASS, but somehow just couldn’t seem to find the time, so this is it all wrapped up into one two giant entries.

I’ll save everyone from a moment by moment recollection of the events of the week and just highlight the best parts.

Monday

  • Went Standby on an earlier flight to get there. Made the standby list as the LAST passenger on the plane.
  • Checked in to Silver Cloud Hotel – Stadium.
  • Met @Jgardener04 checking into same hotel
  • Checked in for PASS — got my virgin, er First Timer badge
  • Met a slew of people in the entry hall, too many to mention, everyone was very welcoming.
  • Attended the Networking event at Lowell’s. This was probably the best meal I had all week, a Salmon Filet with a lemon butter sauce. DELISH!

Tuesday

  • Went for a Run – Got 3 miles in, mostly because I was “Dared” to.
  • No Precon for me this year – hoping for next year.
  • Explored Downtown Seattle – Checked out several parks, a few stores and generally walked A LOT.
  • Headed back to the convention center at lunch, found a few people to go get Lunch with – An MVP and two PASS Chapter Leaders.
  • Headed to the Newbie Welcome Reception. This was awesome, and a highlight of the conference, the speed networking event, plus the red carpet treatment were just fantastic.

Wednesday

  • First Day of Classes!
    • Bad Plan, Sit! with Gail Shaw.

      Enjoyed Gail’s session tremendously, and really learned a lot about some basic Query Plan generation issues, and why sometimes they’re great, and sometimes not. Variability is the bane of us all.

    • Reporting Services 201: From Basic to WOW! with Jes Schultz Borland

      First let me just say that Jes’ energy seems to be nearly limitless. Her ability to be enthusiastic is just awesome, and a sharp contrast to my normal “mellow” attitude. That being said, I came to this session to learn a bit more about Reporting Services. The image concept and how to apply it to lists was very cool. Some good stuff here that I hope to take away and use down the road. Currently I only have a few reports published, but need to get some more out there in the near future.

    • Lightning Talks with Multiple Speakers

      This Lightning talk was one I was a bit fascinated with going into the experience. A series of speakers all with only a few moments to speak on their subject — how would it work — would it be educational, or just rushed? Of the sessions that I went to, this one was (obviously) least deep in content, but provided some great entertainment, and some factoids of knowledge that are interesting to know. Had the moment of PASS that just made me feel awful for a speaker, as Andy Leonard’s slide deck was corrupted and 90% of the impact of his presentation was lost due to this corruption.

  • After the lightning talks, I bounced around for a bit, and ended up hanging out with some people over by Tully’s Coffee rather than attend a session. I know I should be better at remembering these things, but not sure who it was that I was hanging out with at this point

  • Dinner this evening was the QuizBowl event, which I enjoyed. Not a ton to say here, other than Rob Farley is one of the most entertaining individuals I’ve ever met.

I retired for the night shortly after hitting Quizbowl, it had been a long day, and wanted to get some sleep in, I was really feeling the East to West time change and just went back to crash.

Think I’ll end this here — I’ll finish up with Thursday and Friday tomorrow (lets see what I can remember).

Thanks for reading!

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Sql Pass – Recap For Manager’s to Show ROI

First let me start off this email thanking you both for the opportunity to attend this year, I learned so much, and learned just how much more there is to learn on this subject.

The immediate benefits that I have from this learning experience are:

  1. Performance Tuning: This has been an area I’ve been working hard at over the past year, but struggled with definite ways to identify issues, and quickly identify issues.
    • I attended multiple sessions on Performance Tuning, and have 3 or 4 new concepts that will help with identifying and pinpointing the areas inside a query that need to be tuned.
  2. Baseline Monitoring: As administrators both me and my co-worker work with a “If it isn’t broke …” type mentality most of the time. The problem being, if it isn’t broken we don’t know how it’s running. Base lining our system’s performance will give us more accurate data to make decisions about:
    • Overall server utilization
    • Heath of Services

    With better data, we’ll be able to make more informed decisions about Hardware Purchases / Cloud Service Offerings etc.

  3. Network of Acquaintances to Ask: As the only “data guy” here, I’ve often come across problems that have taken me hours of research / trial and error to fix. I feel like after the time I spent with several people this week I can ask an occasional question to get clarification without being an intrusion. This in and off itself has tremendous value.

Longer term, the need for enhanced data security involving Encryption of Backups, Encryption of Data Transmission over unsecure Network Connections, Tighter Access Control to Applications and Data are all subjects that I spent some time discussing. One of my pet projects for several years has been to change our Connection String login credentials between the RFC Application and the Database, while at the same time eliminating the old SA type connectivity. With what I learned about SQL Security, I have every confidence that Lee and I will be able to pull this off with a coming release.

Finally, in our Strategy session for next year, one of the questions left out there, that I didn’t conclusively answer was “What do you want to do next year?”. The amount that I learned and the people who I connected with this past time, definitely have me wanting to going back to this session. With that in mind, they are offering an Early bird special for next years that includes two full day sessions (Topics TBD) as well as the 3 days of Conference sessions for only $1395, approximately the same price that we paid this year, without the 2 full day sessions – this price is available until November 15th, so we definitely have some time to decide before we jump on that price. For reference I have included the Full day Classes offered at this year’s Summit below, I would expect to have a similar offering of classes in next year’s conference.

Again – Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to attend. If you have any questions about my time there – just let me know!
Sincerely,
Michael Essen

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Sql Saturday 89 – Session One (9am)

A continuation of my blog from yesterday regarding Sql Saturday 89.
The first session that I decided to attend was Database Makeover: Renovate your Data Model given by Audrey Hammonds (Twitter:@Datachix2). This session focused on how to Identify, Prioritize, Plan and Sell the need to fix an inherited data model (Or one you made a mistake on). The take aways that I took from this were:

  • Having Multiple Implicit or Explicit Data type conversions in a query may indicate you have the data type of a column wrong. Immediately I thought of a table that I’ve made this mistake in. While all of the data is an Integer (Area Codes), I use the column as a string 99% of the time. I’ve already (2 days in) started to formulate how to change this. Fortunately it’s in a very low level lookup table, so the change shouldn’t take a great amount of work.
  • Store Data once, and refer to it. This one isn’t one that I’m “guilty” of (At least not often), but its always nice to hear that the things that you preach, other’s believe in! Sometimes being the only database guy in a company full of “Do it fast”, instead of always “Do it right” makes you the lone voice of “Hey! This isn’t optimal”.
  • Data Storage and laws impacting how it’s stored. This one is a bit outside of my day to day thought process, usually I store the data in the most efficient format for later retrieval, going to have to do some serious research, and try and figure out how the different states that we do business in, might impact our liability here. We have a strategy meeting to plan out 2012 coming up in a few weeks, this will definitely be on the Agenda.
  • After you Refactor your tables – trust yourself and remove the old columns that you “don’t need” anymore. This is something there is opportunity in for me. Well to be honest with both myself, and you; I SUCK at this part. I’ll refactor the tables, get the storage up and functioning, move all the places that point to that data, but then be too scared to drop the columns. No Longer. As of this weekend that changes. Get rid of them if you don’t need them!
  • Abstracting the developer / users from caring WHERE the data is stored. This is a big one for me, and one that I’ve been working on getting better at over the last 6 months. We all preach communication, and openness, but sometimes it’s better to just “fix” something, make all the needed changes and move on. As long as all of the Development teams object calls continue to function in exactly the same way (or better), does it matter where the data is stored?
  • Admittedly I was a bit nervous about attending my first SQL Saturday, all of my SQL Server knowledge is self taught, and learned through extensive effort on my part, as well as a lot of logical thought processes. Leaving my first session I was much less nervous, I knew more then some people in the room, less then others, and more importantly I left the first session knowing just a bit more then when I entered.

    Overall – A great start to the day, a little learning, a bit more self confidence. On to the next session!

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