SQLSaturday #254 EL Salvador

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The University banner.

On October 5th, I had the opportunity to go to San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, to attend SQLSaturday #254 organized by César Oviedo.  This was the first SQLSaturday in that country and the event has hosted by the Universidad Tecnológica de El Salvador, a private university that offers various degrees–not exclusively technology related.  The university welcomed us with open arms and welcomed us like foreign dignitaries making an official visit.  As the technology sector has been weak in El Salvador, the university was amazed that professionals from outside of country would come on their own dime to speak about technology.  The event was in the national paper and a radio interview was arranged with the school and the organizers.  With schools in Nicaragua and Honduras, the university is considering having events at those locations as well.

Everyone was very excited and the excitement was palpable.  There was a formal introduction with the president of the school and the technology director.  There were several people taking pictures and I hope to put some up soon.

We came to understand the university offers classes 7 days a week, so in addition to our being there, we were able to see some of the other classes going on at the same time.  We had three tracks, down one due to some last-minute changes, and each speaker was asked to give two sessions.  As always, those who attended were exposed to new concepts and ideas and there was an earnest desire to learn.

The food was very good--yucca con chicharones

The food was very good–yucca con chicharones

With Wayne Sheffield’s b|t permission, I modified his Temp Tables–What you need to know session to Spanish and gave my Fair or foul presentation as well.  The sessions were well received and students asked some good questions.  I had modified my presentation to include a game of sorts where I asked the audience their thoughts on certain syntax and put a correct or incorrect image on the screen after they answered.  Before I started setting up, they asked me if they could have my presentation as the room had computers for each student.  I said yes, without thinking and it was not until the second question was answered immediately I knew the ‘game’ was up as they each had my presentation.  :)  One of the words I always have saying is stored procedures (procedimientos almacenados) and the students had a chuckle when I got tongue-tied.

The organizer of the event was César Oviedo t, who is from Costa Rica.  I was impressed that he was able to organize the event remotely and the way everything came together.  The SQL community never ceases to amaze me at their willingness to share and help others.  I hope those who attend and speak will continue to appreciate the efforts required to put on these types of events and will be slow to criticize an organizer. (Especially other speakers)  At the event, I met Adrian Miranda t, Ahias Lopez t, and Jose Redondo t for the first time and they are great folks.  If you get a chance to meet them, don’t pass it up.

It is nice to see the LATAM region growing and I hope to be able to participate in more community events.  See you on the SQL trail.

Organizing SQL Saturday RVA

SQLsat_richmondCroppedThis is a little late in coming; however, I wanted to document my experience planning and putting on a SQLSaturday event.  While officially put on by the Richmond SQL Server Users Group, ‘my’ event took place March 9th, 2013 at the University of Richmond.  The work was challenging and sometimes painful, but I am already thinking about organizing another–even better event next year.

Start with Vision

It is sometimes amazing to think that Andy Warren and company were sitting around one day and said–You know, we ought to put on a free Saturday training event . . . and it spread like wild-fire.  I had attended a handful of user group meetings when I started attending regularly in December of 2011.  It was there I learned about SQLSaturday, although I wouldn’t attend my first until June of 2012 in Philadelphia.  I was impressed with the content and winning a book didn’t hurt my experience.  I started talking with other members of the Richmond user group and there seemed to be enough interest in putting one on, so we jumped in.There would be two main objectives–grow the pool of local speakers by encouraging them to speak and provide a well-organized day of training for the Richmond Community.  We always focused on the latter as it was the big fish to fry, but we tried to circled back to supporting the user group.

Plan the Work, Work the plan

I am unsure how the early adopters managed to pull it off–I am not sure what I would have done without Karla Landrum.  While she won’t find sponsors or ask people to speak at your event, the invaluable experience of being battle tested is so important.  We would bounce ideas off of her and she directed us in what steps to take at certain times and every time we took her advice it was the right decision.  In fact there was one area with the SpeedPass we did NOT take her advice and it bit us in the butt.

Never to early

While doing these every year will reduce the time an organizer/user group needs to put on an event, I am surprised at how many events go up with only 3-4 months notice.  Our event went ‘live’ about 6 months in advance and I thought we needed all of that time to prepare.  Occasionally, we just needed some time for an idea or concept to marinate until we felt comfortable as a group.  Other times, we need time to find someone to assist us with a task.  Starting early also helped in the coordination with the venue.  UofRContinuingStudiesWe were lucky to have a gracious host in the University of Richmond and the School of Continuing Studies; however, this type of event was new to them and we needed time to work out details and ensure we met the requirements of the University.  As I mentioned, I am already thinking about next year and I think by July we will need to start putting together the team if we hold the event in March.

Help is out there

Team RVAThe best compliment I received about the event was “You had lots of people helping and it showed.”  While others have organized an event outside of a user group, my thoughts are you should take it to the user group (assuming there is one) and get buy in from them.  Sure, not everyone will help; however, the leaders normally help or provide input on organizing an event, getting local sponsors, and speakers as they have to do this on a regular basis for the user group.  Also members that have been to a SQL Saturday are normally easy pickings for at least the medium level tasks.  Local business sponsors can help promote the activity as they can show their involvement in the community, so don’t be afraid to approach them with a request to send out an email to their network and put some verbiage on their website.  After a successful event they are eager to help again and hopefully in an increased capacity.

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Volunteer Heroes

I had the privilege of working with a small core team.  Between us we share the load of the largest responsibilities and brought in others for day/week of needs.  Wayne Sheffield b|t and Geoff Johnson b|t were my two biggest supporters.  Many hands make light work and it was no exception with this.  Having a team around you lets you share experiences and increases the number of reviews an idea gets.  While the men represented the core organizing team, I had another team of ladies made up of mostly of spouses that helped with day of needs.  It was impressive to seem them work and immediately resolve issues that came up.

Speaker Dinner and gift

Nothing made me more nervous than the speaker’s dinner and gift.  We had a great line up of A list speakers–and I was scared to death of what they would think.  It didn’t help that someone had volunteered to organize that part and then fell of the face of the planet.  Richmond is a big small city and there are limited spaces for a party of 35 on a Friday evening.  While unintentional, there is also some pressure to come up with an original gift or idea because many of the speakers have been around for a while and each event is publicized about the good and not so good things that happen.  At the end of the day, what makes the SQL community so great is the willingness to help each other and while our dinner had a few issues, everyone enjoyed getting together and talking.  I had heard it before, but the speakers really are there to help out the community and this was my experience.  While they all seemed to enjoy our gift, they truly appreciated the organization of the event, the preparation of the room they were in, and the people in their sessions.

Day of the Event

We did not have a pre-con before the event, so I had taken most of the day Friday to review everything and get the items I needed to bring to the event.  Because we had user group buy in, we had put together all the programs/swag bags the Thursday prior.  Geoff was the volunteer coordinator and had the registration items and Wayne had the speaker items.  I had a van load of kids so it was good that I didn’t have too many items to bring.
We were the first to arrive that day at about 6:30 AM.  The school was such a big help and the tables were already set up so there was minor physical arrangements to make.  We had made assignments beforehand for the coffee pickup, sign posting, and registration needs.  I shouldn’t have been surprised–after all this is the SQL Community, but several people got there soon after me and offered to help.  We soon had people unpacking cars and bringing in needed items.

The rest of the day passed quickly.  We had a few problems with Standby attendees so attending a morning session was out of the question; however, I did take the advice of some other organizers and squeezed in parts of a couple of afternoon sessions.

WIT Forum

WIT Forum

I had my family there and I made my oldest daughter, 10, attend the Women In Technology forum with me during lunch.  It might be a few years before she appreciates it.  :)

It always amazes me how many people stay for the entire day, but I guess that is why we save the prizes for the end.  We had a good assortment of prizes and we are so grateful to the sponsors for helping us to make it happen.

Lessons Learned

SponsorsImageThere are a few areas in which we can improve, but they are dwarfed by the goodwill of the attendees, sponsors, and speakers.  If you are willing to put in the time (and emails) it is a worthy en devour.  Don’t forget about listening to Karla.  Don’t forget to have the coffee there early–even if it means two trips, one of the first rush and one of the rest of the morning.

I am glad I was able to play a small role and I hope to see you on the SQL trail.

My Experience on SQL Cruise

Oh Yeah!

Oh Yeah!

Of the great aspects of the SQL Server community is the willingness of people to share what they know as they discuss resolutions to problems they face.  There are a variety of opportunities to engage these people–blogs, user groups, SQL Saturday, the Summit, and there may be a few I am not aware of; however, I can say that none of them are quite like a SQL Cruise.  I’m glad I found it–SQL Cruise is the real deal.

I did not, at first, consider SQL Cruise to be right work/play model.  I had not been a cruise before and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  My track record shows I tend to do things on the cheap and cruising screamed expensive–at least to my ears.  The price of the training itself was another concern as I would be paying for the training out of my own pocket.  While Tim Ford (blog|twitter) is a recognized name in the community, I hadn’t met him nor had I met the other speakers.  A self-proclaimed people person, I needed a connection and that connection came in the way of Wayne Sheffield (blog|twitter), who attended the Alaska 2012 cruise.  I met Wayne at the Richmond SQL Server users group and had attended several of his SQL Saturday and user group sessions.  Wayne gave it his seal of approval and after my wife and I agreed the numbers would work out, we booked our ticket on the SQL Cruise.

The Cruise

After conference activity area

After conference activity area

As a first time cruiser, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience and would go again.  If I was not part of a conference, a seven day cruise might be a little long; however, there is plenty to choose from to occupy yourself on board.  As a frequent foreign traveler, I enjoyed chatting with the staff about where they were from, what locations we had been to in common, and where they enjoyed going on the Islands.  Everyone was extremely friendly and when I found out they worked 10 hours a day, 7 days a week for 9 months I was super impressed.

Upward and Onward!

Upward and Onward!

Being in the Caribbean was very nice and I had not traveled to that part of the world before.  I was surprised how many Spanish speakers there were on the islands and many had lived and worked on the different islands their whole lives.  Again, one to do things on the cheap, I had purchased a Lonely Planet book beforehand and we went to several local places to get a better feel for life on the island.  On St Thomas of the Virgin Islands, we boarded a local bus and I struck up a conversation with a high school student.  I asked him what he call US citizens from the ‘mainland’–his response: “tourists”.  :)

Beaches in St Maarten

Beaches in St Maarten

Favorite Island treat: French pastries on French side of St Maarten
Favorite Island Activity: Snorkeling on St Johns.
Favorite Island memory: Traveling back to the Cruise Ship with Big Joe, his son and Jason Brimhall (blog|twitter), his wife and my wife.  We had taken local transportation and no one, even me, was sure we were headed the right direction until we could actually see the cruise ship.  We shared the bus with several high schools students.

Chris Bell(blog|Twitter) is detailing his adventures on his site for a better day by day feel.

The Training

Cruise Schedule

Cruise Schedule

You do, after all, sign up for SQL Cruise because of the training and the technical presentations, given in two hour blocks were very good; however, they are what you would expect at any SQL Saturday. I did learn something new in each session and I have a notebook with pages of writing to prove it.  The real value came in less structured settings called office hours.  In those sessions, I would could ask ‘my’ questions to either a single person or the group I happened to be with at the time and get different viewpoints.  We all know there are a million different ways to do the same thing and I personally valued getting different opinions.  In preparation for the cruise, I made a list of some of the areas I was struggling with or needed help with and asked them.  Some were discussed in front of the whole group and I was a little nervous about being labeled a ‘stupid question asker’, but then I realized I was with the SQL community and EVERYONE was willing to help.

Getting my learn on!

Getting my learn on!

Not all of the training is technical in nature.  Most, if not all, of the attendees have been DBAs for 5+ years and like me, have good technical skills.  Many are looking to expand the nature of their work and it was fascinating to discuss the paths they traveled.  For instance, talking with Tim about his experience of going from developer to DBA to then organizing SQL Cruise and talking with Neil Hambly (blog|twitter) about how he got his job with Confio showed me there are multiple ways to find fulfilling work in our field.

(Possible) Favorite Training Moment: The class reaction when Kevin Kline opened the execution plan I submitted for the Execution Plan contest.  The collective grown in the room let me know I wasn’t  going crazy.
(Possible) Favorite lesson learned:  Office Hours discussion on communicating with management.  See Takeaway #4.

The Takeaway

There are lots of little things I took away from the experience.  I have areas I need to improve in, some I knew before the cruise, and I have the following plan based my experience on the cruise.  In no particular order

  1. Become proficient in PowerShell.  This goal is really about being comfortable with the PowerShell language to the point I can begin to administer my environment in it.  I would like to begin collecting server data/stats about the different environments and having that in a central place.  Phase II would be to create my Minion (You should have been there)–a repository of metadata that each system uses to perform admin functions. IE the backup location is in this table and an update to it would affect the next backup job cycle.  I ordered “Learn Windows PowerShell 3 in a Month of Lunches” to start me in this process.
  2. Implement policy based management.  I have been bitten more than once by a ‘standard’ setting that was different on this one server.  There are several ways to implement this; however, I just need to start.
  3. Master the execution plan.  As an attendee, we all received a copy of Grant Fritchey’s “SQL Server Execution Plans” courtesy of Red Gate .  As the winner of the SQL Sentry’s Hairy execution plan contest, I received a copy of SQL Sentry’s Execution Plan explorer Pro.  No specific session focused on this; however, I realize I need to place a little more effort in reading execution plans and now I have some awesome tools to do it with.
  4. Create a management report that allows them to easily see the health of the SQL Server.  This is not the same type of report a DBA would want to see, just the number of executions per second and how long those executions are taking with some history for comparison.  Stretch goal–make it available to the SQL Community in a way users can easily deploy and use.
  5. Go on another SQL Cruise.  I would hop on the Alaska cruise in a minute, but my schedule won’t allow it this year.  I would surely enjoy chatting with Buck Woody and the others, but I will have to take a rain check and check out the 2014 offerings.

As an aside note, I went on the cruise with my wife and she had a great time as well.  If you can swing it, I recommend bringing the spouse along.  Beside the technical sessions, everyone has the opportunity to get together and we enjoyed getting together with the other family members.  My wife now has a few more Facebook friends she might also meet on the SQL trail.  It was a great time and I am glad I had the opportunity to go.  I would recommend it to anyone.

Tim posted some great photos on his site.  Check them out!

SQL in the City

October 8th I attended Red Gate’s SQL in the City event in Boston MA.  I took the train up from Richmond on Sunday and got to Boston on Monday morning.  I was Columbus day and apparently Boston takes that holiday very seriously because there was no on in the streets, even many businesses were closed.  I had not been to Boston before so I enjoyed walking from the train station to the event.

The event itself was lightly attended, but I went for one primary purpose–to meet Steve Jones, Grant Fritchey, and Adam Machanic, one of the guest speakers.  In that respect, it was a neat to be able to have some time to talk with them and introduce myself.  I asked them about SQL Saturday as I am involved in planning on here in Richmond (and hoping Red-gate will sponsor).  Everyone agreed that I was a little crazy for going to Boston, so we agreed and now I get to be remembered as the crazy guy from Richmond.  I guess stranger things have happened.  Another person I was actually super impressed with was Buck Woody.  I have only seen a few videos with him so I didn’t know much about him, but I found him to be one of the most down to earth people.  He was very polite and I found myself wanting to talk more with him.  I am now envious of the folks on the SQL Cruise Alaska as they will have him for  a whole week!

Of course, I can’t forget that I also got to see many of the cool red-gate products.  As a contractor, I can only recommend tools; however, I have used SQL Compare.  I was interested in SQL Prompt, which is not new, but I had not used it and could buy for myself.  The red-gate employees were great and they had a great setup where they could demo products in between sessions.  Lunch was provided and I was able to talk to several employees about their roles in the company and their experiences.

In the end, I thought the event was very good and I enjoyed meeting the good people of Red-gate.  I am evaluating the SQL Prompt tool now and I will purchase after the trial expires.  Hopefully next time, they will have an event in DC–just saying.