I am NOT Speaking at SQLSaturday #61 in DC

November 24, 2010

That’s right!  I am NOT speaking at SQLSaturday #61 in DC on December 4, 2010.  While that is not really news (I have not spoken at any SQLSaturday except for one), it does begin to make my point.  I considered submitting a session but in the end decided that I would instead go as dedicated volunteer.  I will be there, but as a volunteer first and an attendee second.

I am looking forward to being a part of the behind the scenes action.  I hope to gain a better understanding of what it takes to run a SQLSaturday event.  I am learning quite a bit about what it takes to plan one through my involvement with SharePoint Saturday Virginia Beach.  Perhaps one day I will be able to use all of this experience to help bring a SQLSaturday to Virginia Beach.

So, while I may not be speaking, Andy Leonard, Kendra Little, John Sterret, Jeremiah Peschka, Joel Cochran, and many others are.  SQLSaturday #61 in DC is a can’t miss!


PASS Summit 2010 Orientation Committee

November 23, 2010

I recently returned from the 2010 PASS Summit in Seattle, WA.  One of the many things I did while there was volunteer as a returning attendee to meet and greet a group of first time attendees.  The idea was that, by introducing them to each other, they would meet some folks right away and kick-start the networking which is such a huge part of the Summit.  This came to be known as the PASS Orientation Committee, or OC.

Thomas LaRock, who originally came up with the idea for the OC, recently mentioned an interest in feedback from an OC member.  This post will describe my experience, what I thought worked well, and what could be improved.

Why I Did It

When I read Tom’s blog post describing his idea, I immediately thought it was an excellent one.  As anyone who has taken advantage of this aspect of the PASS Summit can attest, networking is what takes the PASS Summit from a good conference to a can’t miss, amazing experience.  In a world of Live Meeting and GoToMyPC, networking is much of what makes the travel and expense of attending a conference in person a worthy investment.  Anything that can be done to facilitate this for first timers is valuable.  I wished something like it had existed when I first attended the PASS Summit in 2006.

When the call for volunteers came out, I did not hesitate to sign up.  I believed in the idea, but also wanted to put myself in a position to meet 8-10 new people on day one.  Despite having attended two previous PASS Summits and knowing some folks, I was determined to leave this Summit knowing more (mission accomplished, by the way).  I also did not have any other volunteer role at the conference but was looking for one.

What Worked

Based on what I heard from fellow OC members, my response rate from my first timers was average to above average.  Two of my first timers were there on Monday morning.  We were able to have breakfast together and I introduced them to some folks I ran into in the dining area.  One had some confusion over his registration (the dates on his registration had led him to believe that Monday was the first day of the conference and he was not registered for a pre-con).  I was able to help him out a bit as he got settled.

Monday evening was the pre-welcome conference for first timers.  I invited my group to meet me at the fountain on the first floor of the convention center.  I had about four or five show up.  At that time, I saw Grant Fritchey walking around looking for his group.  We decided to merge our groups and proceeded to have a nice meeting there on the first floor.  Everyone was introduced to each other and as speakers, BoD members, and other recognizable names and faces passed by in the hallway, Grant and I would grab them and introduce them to the group.  That was cool.

Then we made our way upstairs to the pre-welcome and welcome receptions.  We stuck as a group for awhile, but eventually broke up into a number of subgroups.  Mission accomplished!  The goal was not to make everyone best friends, but just to introduce them to some folks and hope they latched on to some semblance of a group somehow.  Nobody eats alone (as LaRock put it).  There were a number of folks that I met downstairs that night that I hung out with all week and will continue to correspond with.  Then there were other groups that formed at that same time and place and went off in their own direction.  Beautiful!

What Could Have Been Better

While I had a decent response rate from my first timers, I certainly had bandwidth to accommodate a full roster and ended up with less than half.  This has been said by others, but I agree that an opt-in system would help increase response rates.  Improved participation would, by definition, improve the experience for the first timers by increasing the number of initial contacts they make.

In my opinion, the pre-welcome reception was not necessary.  For my group, all it did was kill the momentum that we had on the first floor.  I understand that there were not enough OC volunteers for every new attendee.  I understand that the reception provided something that all first timers could attend.  From where I stood, however, it just did not work.  Frankly, it was boring.  I think a brief shout-out to the first timers during the actual welcome reception would have been a better use of everyone’s time.

I heard others suggest that a geography-based OC group would be more effective.  I have mixed feelings on that.  Meeting people from your own region is nice in terms of who you might see at an upcoming SQLSaturday event or your local user group.  However, I do not find myself seeking out local contacts in particular as I wander around the Summit and related social activities.  I look for people who are enthusiastic about what we do, enjoy learning, and have a similar outside interest or two (read:  enjoy a nice IPA).

Finally, finding convenient time slots for new ideas at the PASS Summit is not easy (hence BoD Q&A Sessions after the last session on the last day).  Just prior to the welcome reception is certainly the best time for OC groups to gather.  I do think that communicating to those participating when these activities are occurring at the time that they opt-in would help them plan their travel accordingly.  I had a couple folks who could not participate because they had not arrived in Seattle in time.

Conclusion

It may take a couple of tries to get the Orientation Committee concept completely right, but it is already a win and the extra effort will only make it more so.  The PASS Summit vibe is unlike many technical conferences and that is directly attributable to the social, supportive, and enthusiastic qualities of the SQL Server Community.  Anything that can be done to introduce first timers to this sooner rather than later will only serve to help them enjoy the conference more and look at future conferences as opportunities not to be missed.  It is impossible to “geek-out” while you are eating alone.


The Kinetic Serendipity of the Written Word

November 14, 2010

The 2010 PASS North American Summit in Seattle, WA, just recently wrapped up.  In a week filled with a solid stream of top notch technical content and über-networking, the surprise hit that I did not see coming was the 8th Annual Women in Technology (WIT) Luncheon and it gave me an idea.

Why Have a Women in Technology Luncheon?

Time for a bit of a confession.  This was my third time attending the PASS Summit.  There was a WIT Luncheon each of my previous trips but I had yet to attend one.  Frankly, I was a bit skeptical.

I had not planned to attend this year either.  However, as I left my session that morning, I was reminded of the lunch and had a premonition.  I had used the phrase “This is my third PASS Summit” maybe a hundred times in the previous two days.  It was only a matter of time until someone followed with “Cool… so have you ever been to the WIT luncheon?”  I realized that I would hate to have to answer negatively and try to explain why I had not attended.

I also thought of the fact that I had recently implemented an index maintenance script on all of my servers that was written by one of the panelists.  She was kind enough to make that script freely available to the community.  Did I not owe it to her to hear what she had to say?

Finally, I thought, hadn’t I read somewhere that the food at the WIT luncheon was better than what they served to the general conference?  Admittedly, that last one may have been what broke the camel’s back. I decided to give it a go.

Oh, That’s Why!

Each member of the stellar panel brought terrific energy and insight to the discussion.  Denise McInerney, Staff Database Administrator at Intuit, in particular, answered the question “Why have a WIT luncheon?”.  She put it in terms that really hit home with me and did it in a way that shot goose bumps through the audience.

Three of Denise’s points left a significant impression on me.

1.  Financial Independence

A lesson my mother taught me early on in life was that it is important that women have the opportunity to become financially independent.  She taught me that financially independent women are less vulnerable to husbands that mistreat or walk-out on them, become incapacitated, or die prematurely.  My mother is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with a Master’s Degree.  Denise made the point that technology can be a very lucrative field for women and thus enable their financial independence.

2. Self-confidence

Take a step back and analyze US popular culture through the eyes of a pre-teen girl.  Sex and beauty sell and the implied message is often that they are all that matter.  Technology, as Denise pointed out, is a field that values women (and men) for something more:  a desire to learn, a capacity to accomplish, and (aghast) a personality!  Having often lamented the fact that our culture fails to encourage young women and believing that this contributes to many of our problems (e.g., eating disorders, teen pregnancy, depression), I immediately recognized the importance of exposing young women to our industry.

3. Maximizing Available Resources

Any self-respecting capitalist can surely agree to one economic mantra:  our world is made better by making efficient use of our available resources (note: I know it’s not as simple as that, but you get my point).  Denise shared statistics that pointed to disparities that still exist in technical fields and higher education.  If men and women are essentially created equal in their capacity to participate in and/or lead the technical revolution that is driving much of our economy today, it is immediately apparent that much of our resource of potential technical talent and innovation is currently underutilized.

As previously mentioned, Denise made all of these points with a passion and conviction that was absolutely contagious.  The same was true for the entire panel.  The spirit throughout the room was reminiscent of a spiritual revival.  Heads were nodding, hands were clapping, tears were welling, bumps were goosing, and there surely were a number of quiet shouts of “Amen!”.

An Idea

An idea popped into my head while I was there.  What if you could capture the vibe, message, and momentum of this group in the form of a book?  I imagined a collaborative effort somewhat in the model of the wildly successful MVP Deep Dives book.

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Imagine a collection of profiles, anecdotes, advice, and stories targeted to school aged girls who are or might one day become interested in technology.  These girls might not have any visible female technical role models in their life.  Possibly they lack someone in their lives to encourage them to pursue their technical inclinations.  They may be missing a road map that shows them how to get to where they want be from where they are now and therefore may feel their dreams are unrealistic.  Perhaps they have yet to discover technology as a possible career field but are captured by its possibilities, challenges, and potential rewards once they do.

Such a book could potentially solve all of those problems.

Imagine the aunt who works in Silicon Valley sending it to her niece in rural North Carolina as a birthday present.  Or the school teacher who sees a student struggling with her confidence as she embraces a culture that values knowledge and an ability to learn at an age where many still put higher value on brand names and popular music.  Imagine the student in a developing economy who has never even known a woman who has worked outside of the home, yet is studying English or (preferably) has a copy of this book in her native language and through it she is exposed to an entire new world of possibilities.

Armed with this book, a girl would see proof that a world exists that values her passions.  She would see evidence that this field can be quite lucrative. She would see real world examples of real women having real success and be assured that this world is accessible to her regardless of her background.  She would have a of roadmap to get there from where she is now and heroes to inspire her along the way!  Where does she end up going? What does she accomplish in her career that changes the world?  Imagine that on a global scale!

A Community Project

I believe the collaborative model is perfect for this book. Having varied stories and perspectives from a wide variety of authors and backgrounds increases the odds that the reader finds one or more with which they connect.  Each character in this book becomes a potential hero to encourage the reader along her own journey.

Examples of content I could see in this book include a historical portrait of Ada Lovelace penned by the skillful Phil Factor.  Someone like Kalen Delaney might contribute anecdotes of run ins with some of the founders of database technology as we know itKimberly Tripp might add glamorous (or not-so-glamorous) tales of jet setting around the world solving database problems and making the world a safer place for transaction log files with her über-geek husband.

However, not every hero is someone you saw coming.  This book might also include a story from a dad you never heard of and how a shared passion for “geeking out” brought him and his daughter closer than any sport could have.  A poem written by an unknown .NET developer thanking her parents for supporting her technical interests as a child should fit right in.

I know this book would be successful. Why?  For the following three reasons.

  1. The content exists in the form of incredible, inspiring stories lurking within everyone.
  2. The momentum in the SQL Sever Community is palpable.
  3. There are a million ways that a million different girls might come across this book and find inspiration to do something great – kinetic serendipity!

What do you think? Is the SQL Community ready to change the world through a book?  Or am I just jet lagged?


My Top 10 PASS Summit Tips

October 24, 2010

Next month I will attend my third PASS Summit in Seattle.  I previously attended the Summit in 2006 and 2008.  This year I am volunteering as part of the PASS Orientation Committee.  Each member of the Orientation Committee has a group of 8 “first timers” that were randomly assigned to them.  The idea is that we will reach out to these folks, help them get a feel for the conference, and (hopefully) enhance their conference experience by putting them on a path to getting to know other attendees, answering questions they might have, etc.  I thought that the Orientation Committee was a great idea as soon as I read about it.

I am about to reach out to my group to introduce myself and thought it would be nice to have something to point them to before actually meeting them in November.  I decided to write up a top 10 list of Summit tips (some specific to Seattle Summits).  Here they are:

  1. Use the Gray Line Seattle Downtown Airporter to get from the airport to your hotel.  The bus goes from the airport to downtown Seattle and drives around to all of the various hotels.  You just jump out at your hotel.  At $25 round-trip, the price is right.  There is also a good chance that you will bump into a fellow PASS attendee or two on the bus.
  2. Bring your walking shoes and explore downtown Seattle.  I found a nice walking tour guide of the area on an MSDN blog before I went in 2006.
  3. Arrive as early as you the day before the conference starts.  Use that first afternoon to do any tourist type stuff you might want to do while in Seattle.  In my experience, there is not much time or energy for that type of thing once the conference gets going.  The conference days are quite long and draining.  Evening social events will eat up most remaining time and energy.
  4. Talk to the sponsors.  While I cannot vouch for all of them, I have met some very cool folks by way of chatting with the PASS Summit vendors.  In particular, seek out the folks at the Redgate and SQL Sentry booths.
  5. Bring business cards.  Many DBAs do not normally think to bring business cards with them.  However, swapping cards with someone after an interesting chat in the hallway is much, much easier than jotting down contact information on your notebook.  You will very likely meet someone at PASS with whom you want to exchange contact information.
  6. Get on Twitter if you are not already there.  The PASS Summit is huge on Twitter.  Follow the main hash tag #SQLPASS while you are at the conference for news, insights, and entertainment.  If you are new to Twitter and want some tips on how it works, check out Brent Ozar’s free Simple Twitter Book.
  7. Put some thought into which sessions you plan to attend ahead of time.  There are quite a few to choose from at every time slot.  The fifteen minute break between sessions is not the best time to decide where you are headed next.  Take the schedule builder for a spin and narrow your decisions down a bit ahead of time.
  8. When selecting sessions to attend, step out of your comfort zone now and then.  While you certainly want to pick up some information that you can apply to your job as soon as you return, the PASS Summit is also a good opportunity to step outside your particular area of focus (if you have one) and mix it up a bit.
  9. Do your best to keep your focus on the Summit and not the little fires that break out back at your office while you are away.  Neither you nor your employer will see a maximum return on your Summit investment if you are continually missing learning and networking opportunities due to other distractions.
  10. Socialize and network.  For the most part, while you are at the PASS Summit you are surrounded by folks who enjoy working with, learning about, and discussing SQL Server.  That is something many of us don’t find everyday.  Take advantage of it!

Presenting to Hampton Roads SQL Server Users Group, Thursday, April 15

April 14, 2010

I am reviving my “Integration Services in the Real World” presentation from last weekend’s SQLSaturday #30 in Richmond for the Hampton Roads SQL Server Users Group (HRSSUG) this Thursday, April 15, at 6:30 PM.  More details available here.


“Integration Services in the Real World” Slide Deck

April 14, 2010

I want to extend a HUGE “thank you” to everyone who attended my presentation at this weekend’s SQLSaturday #30 in Richmond.  I think I was lucky to be the only one talking about SSIS as the room was packed.  I really appreciated everyone’s attention and participation.  I only noticed one guy in the front fall asleep and I saw the same guy fall asleep in another session later in the day so not bad at all!

To those who stopped on the way out or came up to me later in the day to mention that they enjoyed the presentation, I really cannot say how much that meant to me.  This was my first time stepping out of my comfort zone and giving a presentation.  If one person had said something nice about my presentation, that would have meant the world to me.  The fact that maybe 10 or 15 did was absolutely incredible.  Even the guy who fell asleep gave me a “thumbs up” on the way out.  Maybe he was just looking for someone with a soothing voice and mine sufficed.

I would also like to thank Tim Mitchell (blog | twitter).  At one point, Tim and I were both presenting SSIS topics.  I felt a bit nervous to share the SSIS bill with Tim as he is quite an experienced and polished presenter.  I reached out to Tim both as an opportunity to pick his brain for advice and as an opportunity to network with someone before the conference since I did not expect to know too many folks ahead of time.  Tim was gracious enough to schedule a call with me and spend the better part of an hour answering my questions, giving me pointers, and reassuring me that I was on the right track.  I was disappointed that he was not able to come to the rescheduled event, but look forward to meeting him sometime in the future when our paths cross.  Thanks Tim!

Finally, I would also like to thank Jessica Moss (blog | twitter), one of the conference organizers.  Jessica spent some time talking with me when I ran into her at SharePoint Saturday here in Virginia Beach back in January.  At the time, I was a bit nervous regarding my approach for my presentation.  Jessica was very encouraging.  She reassured me that my plans for the session fit what they were looking for at the conference and that my abstract did a decent job of conveying those plans.  Knowing that a conference organizer and experienced speaker knew exactly what I was planning and was happy with it really boosted my confidence.  Thanks Jessica!

My slide deck is attached to this post.  During the presentation, a request was made for me to make one of my projects available for download.  Not considering this ahead of time was probably the biggest rookie mistake that I made.  I am still considering whether I am going to be able to do this.  I am torn at the moment because the project in question was not strictly a demo in the sense that it did nothing but explain a concept or illustrate a method.  It was a finished product.  It was something my employer paid for me to develop and deliver.  I am going to give this some more thought and will follow-up in another post.

Update:  Here is the link to the deck:  Integration Services in the Real World


SSIS: Catch ExecuteProcess Task Output

March 3, 2010

In my SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) projects, I often use ExecuteProcess tasks for various purposes.  I use them to kick off batch files (often batch files that were created earlier in the project) and command-line utilities such as WinZip and WS_FTP Professional.

However, it recently dawned on me that I had gotten in a very bad habit regarding how I used these tasks.  I never took the time to capture and log the output of the ExecuteProcess task.  This output is often valuable for troubleshooting runtime errors.  Capturing it and logging it is so easy that there really is no excuse not to do so.

All that you need to do to capture the standard output from your process it to assign a string variable to the StandardOutputVariable property of the ExecuteProcessTask.  That’s it.  Then you have the output and can log it as you wish (e.g., pass it to a Script task and use the FireInformation method of the IDTSComponentEvents interface).  While you are at it, do the same for the StandardErrorVariable property of the ExecuteProcessTask.  Now, should you need to troubleshoot an issue with your task, you should have all of the information that you should need.


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