Tag Archives: Public Speaking

The REAL value of attending SQLRally

(This post was written primarily whilst travelling back from SQLRally and subsequently edited, amended and added to where necessary before publishing)

I’m currently sat here at Orlando Airport and I am able to reflect a little bit whilst waiting to board my plane back to the U.K. after having spent the last 5 days of preparation, learning and socialising at SQLRally and I need to ask myself “was it worth the expense?”. I’m not too sure how many attendees or indeed speakers were from Europe but I am pretty sure I was one of a very small number and therefore the cost to myself was indeed far more than it would have cost for the majority of the attendees. It is therefore important that I look at the return on investment of not just my attending the event, but also of me speaking. One key thing to remember about going to conferences, is that the knowledge retained is usually very little of what you have actually heard but hopefully with the efforts of the presenters, the materials provided will help to reinforce the important parts of this knowledge. It is true that I went to some excellent presentations but was sadly unable to attend many of them due to the amount of work I felt I needed to do on the preparation of my own session since I was really not quite happy where I was at. This particular point is a key take home for me, and I *must* now ensure that I am far more prepared going forward. Unfortunately due to working commitments, family and other events it is sometimes easier said than done.

So learning for me in terms of sessions was restricted, but I have to admit to learning lots of new stuff towards my “prep” although most of this material was unfortunately not used but *will* hopefully be mentally retained. Strictly speaking, from a knowledge perspective, the biggest benefit to myself was understanding some key areas that I need to learn more about, and knowing this about yourself is fantastic value in itself -as long as I can go on to do something about it. From a socialising perspective I again missed out on all of the outside events in the evenings again purely down to the fact I needed to work! From a financial angle I have paid out what has come to a rather large bill, not helped by the fact that I thought I wouldn’t need a hire car and ended up seemingly living in a Taxi …and they really weren’t that cheap 😦 .

The tree of knowledge needs sturdy roots

So if you are reading this, you really must by now be wondering what on earth was the REAL value of attending SQLRally for me and I can tell you straight away without any hesitation …PEOPLE. Usually during events (if you are lucky) you will meet one or more people who from that point you will remain friendly and supportive with for your dying days in IT. If you are lucky to do this then now try and think of a value you would place on that kind of support network.

Sometimes of course you might just meet someone in passing and it is really at the next event that you cement this friendship, but the point therefore is that you really don’t know when something is going to happen. Considering the fact that I have been restricted this time from a socialising perspective, I have really been very lucky in that I have helped to nurture several relationships that I hope over time they can be mutually beneficial from not just a social level but also from a technical level.

So I ask myself again for one last time, “SQLRally…was it REALLY worth it?” and the answer is a resounding “OH YEAH!”

SQLBits 8 – finis!

Nearly two weeks has passed after another SQLBits and what another fabulous event. After an incredibly early morning train journey down to Brighton for the excellent Thursday training session with Thomas Kejser and an enjoyable time presenting my “SQL Server Clustering for Dummies” session I am well and truly back down to earth with a thump.

Personal highs for me were :-

  1. Finally getting to meet Allan Hirt and not only that but I had a Geo-Cluster debate with him in the speaker room 🙂
  2. Meeting a few of the new first time SQLBits speakers -in particular Atul Thakor (blog|twitter) who I had a very long chat with in the speaker room and on the morning before his presentation. He had run into lots of problems with his laptop and demos prior to his session -which can strike the best of us, but managed to keep his wits about him an plow onto success when he finally came to present. What a top guy, and look forward to meeting him again in a User Group or another conference.
  3. Recognizing some audience members in my Clustering for Dummies session from my SQLBits 7 session. I ran into a couple of them later on and said a big thanks for the support, gave them my personal email and very much hope they do drop me a mail sometime to say hello.
  4. Bumping into some old faces…people I’ve met in Seattle, previous UK conferences and User Groups and old colleagues. A special big-up to Judith Kinsella who made the effort to come to my presentation (which threw me when I saw her in the audience), although she keeps telling me that I remind her of John Peel and just can’t take me seriously 🙂 🙂
  5. Being able to enjoy the experience a little more, due to familiarity of proceedings. Anyone who presents at a major conference for the first time will tell you that it is all a bit of a daze, stressful and is a big unknown what you have let yourself in for. This time I knew what to expect, what I was doing and what I needed to do.
  6. Seeing some great presentations.
  7. Excellent weather!

In full flow!

With all the good things going on their were a few disappointments, such as :-

  1. Not being able to spend a drunken Friday evening celebrating due to my early morning (8.10!) session. Actually this was probably for the best, and although I am a bit grumpy in the morning I felt perfectly relaxed (probably too tired to get nervous).
  2. Spending hardly any time with my SQL friends! I did at least manage to catch up with them from time to time in the speaker room so that was nice to have a couple of chats.
  3. Not going to as many sessions as I intended. I don’t know if every speaker is the same but due to the huge amount of time and preparation (and worrying) that goes into a brief 60 minute period I find it quite odd when it is all over. Sometimes, all I want to do is let your head clear for a little while and that is exactly what I did. I dropped my stuff off and met up with a friend for some excellent Eggs Benedict and strong black coffee in lovely sunshine outside of a Cafe in the posh end of Brighton.
  4. Getting a little too plastered on the Thursday night. When you are waking up with a massive hangover you have probably gone too far the night before …and yes people I probably had. The only success from all this was the fact that I’d felt myself feeling rather ill and stop drinking alcohol, otherwise I hate to think how I would have felt the next day.

Always very flattering to be asked more questions…

To summarize though, another fabulous event and I can’t wait to see where the next one will be. My personal preference is for it to be held in Edinburgh, although I would have liked that one to be during Summer months. So perhaps the favorite right now would be Bristol which should be a little warmer than the rest of the country around that time.

Roll-on SQLBits 9!

Visit to the Microsoft Business Intelligence Seminar 2011

Last week I visited Microsoft for the Microsoft Business Intelligence Seminar presentation given by  Rafal Lukawiecki (Twitter|Blog). I must say that I found this one of the most valuable full day presentations that I have watched in a VERY long time for many different reasons. It is probably fair to say that I have probably not engaged BI as much as I probably should have over the last few years, since I have been focused on many other things. However it was plain to see that much of Rafal’s vision for the future of BI in IT was a very real possibility and as such is a compelling reason for me to re-engage. Certainly since the introduction of SQL 2000 Analysis Services, I am impressed by the pace in which the technology has matured.

I recently mentioned having visited this session to SQL Developer and Powershell guru James Boother (Twitter|Blog) who expressed his regret as missing this fantastic event and I promised to publish my notes for the day on my blog.

Therefore after putting my notes through my own process of data-cleansing, hoping you may find them of use in some way. Please remember that for some of the notes it may not always be explicitly obvious as to their intent, but hopefully most of them will be and I’ve taken a little effort to make them so. Secondly some of the notes from what I understand may not be public domain so please bear that in mind, because things discussed may change in the future. Finally remember that the notes may contain inaccuracies due to several factors. Firstly I am not perfect (shock horror!) and secondly it is very difficult to capture expended accurate notes during a flowing presentation -since I don’t do shorthand.

If you were at the event, please let me know of any inaccuracies. I hope you find them of use…

Please click here to access the presentation notes or access through the Enlightenment menu.

SQLBits 7 the forgotten photos part 2

dazed and confused – my normal condition

Well SQLBits 8 voting has now ended so perhaps it is a good time to publish the second and final post of the series. I wonder if any of my sessions will get selected this time? One of my submitted sessions is the same one that has made it to the reserve list for the first ever SQLRally in Orlando and although slightly disappointed at just making the reserve list I was very proud that out of all the reserve sessions I came joint top (I took 38% of the vote in my category). The winner of that category is the well known Edwin Sarmiento (blog|twitter) and he is an absolutely smashing chap so I’m nothing but pleased for him.

Not too long ago I posted “SQLBits 7 the forgotten photos part 1” which told you about day 0 and 1 of my trip to York. Before I move on to day 2 and 3, the “SQL wizard”, DBA -or is that Project Manager Steve? (in joke) Steve Hindmarsh (blog|twitter) has sent me a further picture so that I may humiliate myself with it. OK well it is not quite that bad, but I think you can tell from the expression on my face that drinking has begun. I think the hardest thing about being a DBA is all the drinking that seems to be required and I am sure that by the time I retire my liver will be shot to pieces.

Anyway swiftly moving on to the paid for Friday and Free Saturday sessions…

One of the first sessions I attended was given by Maciej Pilecki (blog|twitter) who presented “Lies Dammed Lies and Statistics – Making the most out of SQL Server Statistics” and the thing I remember most about this session was the problems he had to endure with the audio visual equipment and the good humour in which he dealt with it. Most importantly once it was fixed, he went on to present a fabulous session which I have now had the pleasure of watching over again via the SQLBits videos. My voice even pops up right at the end when I ask whether SQL Server takes the opportunity to update its index stats whenever a table scan is performed -quite a neat idea if you ask me 🙂 …and the answer? Well listen and find out!

Maciej Pilecki

Having reviewed the sessions on offer at SQLBits before the event, I have to confess that I hadn’t intended on visiting any of Buck Woody’s (blog|twitter) ones. Alongside most of his presentations there were usually at least two other presentations that I felt were more beneficial. Up to this point I only knew Buck Woody via his blog and twitter and so although I knew that technically he would be very good I had no idea what to expect. Then something happened on the Friday morning to change my plan. Whilst I and a few other attendees were sitting down together drinking coffee before proceedings for the day, Buck walked up to us asked us how we were doing and started to chat to us about the event, SQL Server and Cloud Computing. Even more importantly he sounded as though he was interested in what we had to say! It turns out too that he used to live where I currently do here in the UK – hows that for coincidence!

Buck was so a charming, charismatic and funny that I thought his sessions would be not only informative but also entertaining too. And boy, did I get this right! As you can see in the photo from his session below, his first slide “Please do not LICK the Screen.” was an indication of things to come. Brad McGehee (blog|twitter) was sat just behind us and Buck was really having a good laugh at his expense (in a nice way) which was so funny to listen to and whilst everyone rolled around with laughter there were some really strong points made along the lines of how safe and recoverable is your data. I particularly liked it when he stressed points and said things like “are you sure…..really?……are you really sure?!”

This presentation “Creating a business continuity plan” is a must see for your Business streams to watch and ensure that their IT management is enforcing policies and plans to protect your data and ultimately your business itself – and not just saying they are doing something, or just as bad, implementing a poor plan which will only ever truly get tested in a disaster scenario. Sometimes I could cry when I see things occurring outside of my control which I know will end up being a disaster in months or years to come, and however much I try to change the mindset it is not always possible to bend the unbend-able arm, and some companies really have to wake up and smell the coffee *sigh*. I am set on implementing another Eastern (Zen) technique very soon to overcome the issues that I face, but more on that another time :).

I know Buck’s response to me would be that the failure is mine because I have not succeeded in presenting a convincing argument to force change in those places. I am sure to some degree he is right and I am even more sure that if anyone could, it is him.

Buck Woody

As well as Buck, this year I have got to know SQLServerPedia’s editor in chief Iain Kick (blog|twitter) and also had the pleasure of meeting Brent Ozar (blog|twitter) on a few brief occasions too. Lets also not forget Kevin Kline (blog|twitter), who although I have not had the pleasure of meeting, have accidentally ignored over another breakfast table whilst saying hello to Iain (ooops sorry Kevin I really didn’t recognise you!) – I think Iain found this quite funny though :).

Anyway, imagine if all four of those people could be put in the same room at the same time and you would have “Weird, Deformed and Grotesque Horror Stories from the World of IT by Iain Kick, Kevin Kline et al“. It was a very funny presentation and most enjoyable. I really enjoyed all of the Quest sessions at SQLBits and will definitely attend them again at future events.

Quest – Buck, Kevin, Iain, Brent

We then move onto quite an exciting occasion and it was the gathering of SQLCAT (blog|twitter) for “SQLCAT Open Panel“. Observant readers might also spot Buck Woody on the panel (holding the microphone). Essentially the session revolved around the theme of “we are not going to tell you what is coming in Denali, but say what you would want, and we will tell you if you are going to be happy”. During this presentation I had mixed emotions, I went from being very excited at times and having moments of disappointment. I believe there have been a couple of missed opportunitys in Denali. The first is the lack of an Oracle style RAC implementation and the second is the lack of imagination that has gone into Tempdb database architecture in the future roadmap of SQL Server. At some point in the future I shall discuss these in more detail. Still overall Denali sounded (and is) an awesome prospect.

SQLCAT Open Panel …and Buck Woody!

I was a little unsure about attending the following session but since you hear very little discussed these days on SQL Injection, I felt it was my DBA duty to attend Kevin Kline’s “Understanding and Preventing SQL Injection Attacks” and I was very pleased that I did. The presentation was very well done and some of the injection techniques that Kevin discussed really gave me food for thought. I wonder how many databases and servers are still exposed to these risks …I would guess a VERY high percentage. Look into the eye of the dragon and ….despair!

Kevin Kline

And finally it is time for one last visit to Quest’s session “SQL Server expert lunchtime quiz major myths about Microsoft SQL Server” with guest appearances from Brent Ozar and Buck Woody (Buck gets everywhere!). In this session it was more of a fun Q&A where the audience was posed with questions about whether a “myth” was fact or fiction. I was surprised at how many of these I knew, but of course with all the changes through the versions of SQL Server it was no surprise that even the panel got some of these wrong. In these last three photos we can see Kevin clapping somebody winning a prize of some description, the two lovely Quest ladies handing out candy and finally Brent getting rather excited!

Quest – Iain, Kevin, Buck and Brent

The lovely Quest Ladies

Quest – Iain, Kevin, Buck and Brent (excited!)

Well that’s the end of my SQLBits 7 forgotten photos, unfortunately I didn’t have any photos of my presentation I gave on the Saturday, but it is readily available from the SQLBits website if you haven’t already taken a peek. If I get to come to SQLBits 8 I sincerely hope you drop by and say hello, or even better still, enjoy a beer with me in the evening. Roll on Brighton!

SQLRally, just proud to be in there with you

What did I submit?

Several months ago, I submitted two sessions to SQLRally with great enthusiasm as detailed in this post. The first “The Great High Availability Hustle” I had been thinking about for a very long time and is hopefully going to fill a void that has existed for too long. As a DBA, if you are not already using Clustering I guarantee that you will be, sooner or later. SQL 2008 finally gave us true HA product for the Enterprise and I believe SQL High Availability is going to start gaining traction and market share over the coming months and years. But there is a problem with this. I believe that probably nearly every DBA that has become competent with SQL Clustering will at one point have had a baptism of fire with the technology.

Its that situation where you are presented with something that you have no real idea about, but still have to administrate anyway and KNOW if you make one wrong move you could take it all down without the knowledge or skills to bring it back up. I briefly discussed this subject in my post “Mr. Fumble Fingers” and encourage you to take a read if you are about to be put in charge of a SQL Cluster and seriously start thinking about what resources you need to ask your boss for in order to protect your business systems’ uptime.

So the void I refer to, which I hope to address, is to provide a session that gives a very good introduction to an experienced DBA so that they can feel comfortable with SQL Server Clustering, but more importantly make them aware of any skills or technologies that they might need to address in order to maintain High Availability. If you think this session might be for you then please cast your vote I will definitely need every one I can get!

My second session “Orders of magnitude: Scale-Out your SQL Server Data” is a subject that also I don’t hear talked about often with SQL Server very much. Surely if you can’t scale out then SQL isn’t really an Enterprise database is it? Well I think it’s very true that possibly the first thing we might think of doing should we see a bottleneck as SQL DBAs is to Scale-Up where possible and this mindset has been established I believe from our rather limited earlier editions, but does this mean scaling out is not possible? Secondly when is a Scale-Up also a Scale-Out? I’m hoping to look into this subject and also delve a little into various possibilities not often talked about. One of SQL Server’s main competitors -Oracle always offers up Real Application Clusters as the reason why Oracle is far superior to SQL, but I have a lot of trouble deciding whether this is a High Availability solution or a Scale-Out solution. I’m personally undecided and although Microsoft’s offerings are not perfect I believe it is easier to draw a distinction. This presentation is going to consume a lot of my time putting together, but I’m hoping it will be worth it, and again if it sounds like something that you wish to listen to then please don’t forget …I need your votes.

All the session details can be found here my two can be found in the HA/DR section.

Why should you vote for me?

My answer to this is fairly simple. If you feel as though you will learn something from what I am proposing then please vote, but if not you really shouldn’t. Please don’t misunderstand me, I *really* want your vote, but what I want is not important. The only thing that is important when you visit SQL Rally is that you will learn everything that you needed to learn and get a maximum return for your time. I would love to be there, but not at the expense of you missing out on something else you would rather hear. However …if you believe I can offer something, let me suggest a few other reasons why I think it would be good for me to present.

I can offer something slightly different. During my I.T. career I have put my hand to an awful lot of different things and believe this “rounded” outlook allows me to think outside the box.

I am a bit like you. I probably come from a similar background (albeit in the U.K), have probably experienced similar employers and managers – some very good and some very poor, and I understand that we all can’t implement Parallel Data Warehouses to meet our growing business desire for ever faster reporting solutions. In other words I will try and propose real world solutions to real world problems.

I want to help. For some reason I get satisfaction in knowing that through my advice or guidance, I have helped in some way. I don’t really know what the psychological reason is for my desire to help, I am sure there is one, but I really do and hope I can. I always try to answer emails, tweets and the like all the time, so I promise that if you do have any follow up questions or simply just want to keep in touch then I am definitely open to that. I have learnt that collectively we are exponentially stronger than if we are on our own, so lets connect!

I will work hard. I don’t want to pretend that putting material together for presentations is easy, in fact (for me at least) it is quite difficult and time-consuming since a lot of background reading and effort is required in order to produce something worthy of communicating to someone else. What I can definitely promise is that I will work very hard trying to produce some good content for you in the hope that you might find it useful.

So in conclusion, I would really love to have your votes and see you over at SQL Rally, it would be a big honour for me but there are some absolutely fantastic submissions and even better speakers. I have had the pleasure of meeting a few of you already -or even hearing you speak live, so I am humbled just getting to the voting stage.

I’m just proud to be in there with you!

Excited about SQLRally 2011

I am very pleased/ proud to announce that I have submitted 2 abstracts for presentations to SQLRally and should I be chosen they will be given in Orlando, Florida between May 11th to May 13th. For those of you not already aware, SQLRally is a little bit like a mini SQL PASS Summit and enables people from the East Coast of America to visit an event closer to them should they have not been able to attend the PASS Summit due to the distance and cost restrictions. It has been devised to fill the gap between SQL Saturday events and more can be found by visiting this url http://www.sqlpass.org/sqlrally/2011/About.aspx I believe it is going to be a great success. Should I be chosen to present at SQLRally, which will be a tall order given the very strong competition it will be only my second time going to a SQL Event in the States (PASS 2010 was my first) it will be my very first visit to the East Coast.

I am under no illusions though, and getting chosen will be very hard and would be a big honor, but I personally feel I have got some great material to show and think (and hope) that you would feel the same way too. For now I am going to keep my abstracts under wraps since I may (in some form) submit these also to SQLBits 8 in the UK, which is probably very similar to SQLRally in many respects and will take place (I believe) about a month beforehand. Should I get chosen for that too, then this will only serve in helping refine them further. I am actually quite excited about putting them together since there will be a couple of areas that I will need investigate further that I currently have not had enough reason to do so to date. Secondly I find some of those areas that I am going to cover in the presentations extremely interesting and are key to have a successful environment.

Finally, talking about SQLBits I was very pleased to see the other day some of the last conference’s session videos are going live, in particular my one 🙂 . It had been my first ever presentation to a public only audience and although there is perhaps room for improvements to become a Brent Ozar type of speaker (if that could ever be possible) I am actually fairly pleased with it. I remember also having a stinking cold which was why the night before I chose an early night over the Speaker’s Dinner and although this was disappointing to miss I believe I made the right decision. Strangely I didn’t really get nervous through the whole process from preparation to delivery and really enjoyed the whole experience although it was put together from a lot of very hard work.

Anyway if you would like to check out my SQLBits 7 presentation titled “Thinking outside the Box. Learning a little about a lot.” then I hope you enjoy it and learn something. You will also find more reference material for this presentation within this blog via the SQLBits menu option.

Wish me luck and I sincerely hope to see you hopefully at both SQLBits 8 and SQLRally.

NxtGenUG Guerrilla tactics review

Last night I attended the NxtGenUG meeting in Cambridge for my first time to see Peter Marriott blog|twitter give his presentation Guerrilla tactics – Performance Testing MS SQL Server Applications and I very much enjoyed myself. I also expected to bump into Guy Smith Ferrier blog|twitter but sadly he could not make it and was called at short notice to present in Birmingham. Both presenters I had previously met during my recent visit to Microsoft in Reading and was very much looking forward to this event.

When presenting SQL Server content aimed to a mostly non-SQL DBA audience (in this case developers) it is always a difficult thing to do when you might also have a few DBAs present (such as myself). The problem is essentially providing content that will be understood and relevant to the developer, but still providing content that will be either new or good refresher information for the DBA.

Presentation tip: Target your content for your audience, and teach them something new

I think Peter got this balance exactly right, I had a few ideas from the presentation for things to look into and I sincerely look forward at some point in the future to seeing this presentation aimed purely for the DBA; deep dive style (if you will). Some of my collegues (dotnet developers) learnt some useful stuff and are already thinking about getting their grubby little paws on my SQL Servers for analysis. Seriously guys you need to buy me a few drinks first 🙂 .

Presentation tip: Leave them wanting more

One thing I find myself doing now is analysing the style of the presenter, not just the content that is being delivered. There is a lot of things you can learn from doing this and use it to your advantage to improve your own presentation skills. It is easier as a member of the audience to appreciate what you liked or disliked about the delivery and make a mental note of these things. Being able to adopt these things within your own delivery is very very difficult and can feel very unnatural since you have developed your own “style” over the course of your life and breaking bad habits is hard. However the more you pratice the more you can make a difference.

So what of Peter’s delivery? I found Peter to be a very natural speaker, very clear, fluent and engaging. The presentation demos themselves elaborated further upon what was being discussed -in other words rubber stamped the discussion.

Presentation tip: Ensure your demos serve a purpose

Particulary impressive was when the Activity Monitor decided to throw a wobbly and not do what it should (displaying stats). Rather than get flustered, Peter calmly turned this into a “thing to watch out for”. He stated that sometimes load can be so great that even the monitoring tools will struggle, and true to form moments later an error message gave confirmation of this.

Presentation tip: If something goes wrong with your demos, don’t panic

So next time you are passing through Cambridge and happen to notice that there is a NxtGenUG meeting, I thoroughly recommend you paying a visit. Should you happen to see Peter presenting elsewhere and you want an informative and enjoyable session then make sure you drop in and don’t forget to say hello.