What Do You Want Your Professional Association to Be?

I wanted to write a post about the things I think PASS does well and are foundational to the future with or without the PASS organization. Before I address that however, I want to speak to an ethical matter related to the new PASS Pro service offering. Every year for PASS Summit, speakers sign an agreement (which if you sign, print it out—they don’t email you a copy, nor can you access prior year’s agreements in the speaker portal) that includes giving PASS the right to the recording of your session. This has always been there, so that PASS could sell online or USB access to session recordings. A few years ago, PASS started selling this access to people who didn’t attend the PASS Summit, which I was fine with—the context of that is still the conference.

With the PASS Pro offering, PASS took all of the sessions that community and Microsoft speakers did in Summit 2019 and bundled it as part of a paywalled offering. Speakers were not asked for their permission to reuse this content as part of a for-profit subscription model, nor were they compensated. Which in both cases is probably legal? However, I strongly question the ethics of this—when a community event morphs into a paid service, most speakers (myself included) want a cut of take, which is only fair as it’s a lot of work to speak at a conference. PASS will say that “all of this money is going back to the community”, which is frankly bullshit. First, the platform they are hosting PASS Pro on is not free, and then there is whatever C&C is charging PASS for this project, which is likely significant. As I’ve mentioned before, the community typically sees about 5% of PASS’ revenue, and the revenue numbers for PASS Pro make that an absolute pittance, while potentially alienating community members. This makes me think hard about speaking at future PASS events.

Stop Bitching, What Did You Really Want to Write About?

The SQL Server community has been part of my life for last 12 plus years—its why I have my current job, have most of my professional network, and why I’ve spoken all over the world. PASS motto is “Connect, Share, Learn” and I think it is a good one and should be the goal of any community organizations.  Let’s talk about the things that make up that community:

  • Conferences
  • SQL Saturday Events
  • Virtual Chapters
  • User Groups
PASS Summit 2011, First Timers Event

Conferences

Having a centralized community organization like PASS has some benefits. The biggest benefit is the ability to have PASS Summit, which is a mostly independent community organized conference that allows us to have a deep dive on Microsoft Data Platform (sorry to use a marketing phrase, but it’s a good description of what the topics covered are) over a week’s time. If you haven’t attended a vendor conference like Microsoft Ignite, it’s a very different experience compared to PASS Summit. The sessions are more marketing driven, and while you have excellent access to Microsoft engineering staff, you aren’t going to have precons on deep dives into topics like high availability and query optimization, and you won’t see nearly as many community speakers offering real-world perspective.

Having a big conference is a good thing, and it’s something PASS has done fairly well and would be a major loss if PASS were to fail. Running a big conference is expensive and hard, and would likely only happen with vendor support, or over the period of several years from a smaller conference. This is a US centric view, as SQLBits and Data Platform Summit in India have been running pretty large scale conferences for several years. However,

SQL Saturday Events

SQL Saturdays are awesome—they provide a great starting point for a new speaker. There’s even less pressure than a user group, because your attendees are typically divided between a few tracks. I also have a fondness in my heart for them, as they are where I grew my career and gained organization skills by running a successful event for several years. However, they don’t need PASS to be a success. PASS in recent years has deemphasized SQL Saturday because of a flawed notion that they were cannibalizing Summit attendance (this may be true on the margins, to which I would say, make Summit better). While having a centralized infrastructure for these events is nice, the website is an absolute trainwreck, and should probably be refactored. Numerous SQL Saturdays in Europe have become independent events, without issue—sites like Sessionize make it really easy to run an event. I foresee a little bit of a lull, but these events can run well without a centralized org—just look at Code Camp.

User Groups

Even moreso than SQL Saturdays I do not see the loss of a centralized org having any impact on user group meetings. In recent years, the only service PASS has offered user groups is web hosting (and some funding tied to Summit discount codes, a program which has gotten more limited over time). User Groups, by their nature are fairly independent entities. I look forward to speaking at any UG post covid—having free pizza and meeting a bunch of data pros is always a good time.

Virtual Chapters

As you may have noted in reading my blog, I tend to be cynical about PASS C&C. However, in researching for this post, I noted that (as of Monday) PASS Virtual Chapters have provided 173 hours of free training in 2020. Gathering data is a bit arduous, so I didn’t capture previous year’s data, but I was really impressed at the amount of training in one place. There are other virtual events (especially this year) but having a central place and organization is real benefit to an organization.

What Does All of This Mean?

This means PASS’ core competencies are running Summit, and Virtual Chapters. (wow, I feel like that was the most MBA thing I’ve ever written). Any organization going forward needs to have those structures in place. Summit provides a revenue source, that can allow everything else to proceed.  It also means trying to provide a paid online training and certification service lies outside of its competencies and shouldn’t continue.

However, the challenge PASS faces (and is ultimately tied to its survival) is that Summit is not going to have the same level of revenue for at least the next two years, and expenses haven’t dropped significantly. In recent years I’ve heard a common refrain from board members—PASS Summit was “too big for a small event management company, and not big enough for a large event company”. Since PASS Summit is going to be smaller at least in the medium term, perhaps now is the time for change to save the organization.

I’d welcome comments on anything I missed or your thoughts on what your most meaningful community experiences have been.

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T-SQL Tuesday #128: Let’s Talk About Your Incident Reports

TSQL2SDAY Logo

Hello T-SQL Tuesday Readers! I’m sorry for being really late in getting this post out this week.

So! A couple of weeks ago, for this month’s topic, I asked everyone to post about something that broke or went wrong, and what it took to fix it. Last week, fourteen of you responded with your stories of woe so we could all learn from your incidents and recoveries in a constructive way, like pilots do. Here’s the recap of those posts, in the order that they came in.

What Everyone Had to Say

First, is Rob Farley with, “That time the warehouse figures didn’t match“… heh, I feel like I’ve heard this one before. But it turns out, no! this is new and awesome. Rob talks about a fundamental rule he has when loading data into a data warehouse: “protect the base table.” This is his first step in ensuring that data in the DW is correct, and as anyone who does DW or BI work knows–that is always the most important thing, because if trust in the data coming out of the reporting system is lost, it can be pretty hard to get it back.

John McCormack has “Optimising a slow stored procedure” next. John walks through his process of tuning up a stored procedure he had gotten an after-hours call about being slow enough that things were breaking. He’s got a good tip in here if you use SentryOne’s Plan Explorer, too. AND, there’s an added bonus of including something that I find frustrating when it happens. Basically: “This web page is usually really slow and the users were frustrated about it, but nobody ever told me!” Y’all! Tell us (IT, support, whoever) when you’re not happy, we’re usually happy to fix things to make your life easier!

Richard Swinbank talks about that time he unintentionally set a trap for himself in “Default fault.” Changing the default database for your login in SQL Server when you’re the DBA is all fine until you decommission that database! Richard includes great steps for digging yourself out of this hole with sqlcmd if you’ve “locked yourself out” of the instance when using SSMS.

Eitan Blumin’s post about a mis-behaving set of Azure VMs has a good surprise twist in it. This post struck me as a little hilarious, both because of the 32 hours bit, but also because I/we had just been talking about fullscan statistics update in our internal corpchat this week. I like fullscan stats in general, when they can be pulled off and are helpful (think non-uniform data distribution), but when they take down your AG, that’s, uh, bad. Don’t do that. Eitan also includes a nice set of takeaways at the end of the post.

SQL Cyclist/Kevin3NF I think wins the prize this month for having the longest contribution. Turns out, he has an ongoing series of blog posts of real-life stories along these lines, which include seven posts about fun goings-on that fit into this topic.

Next is Jason Brimhall with “Disappearing Data Files“… Jason shares a pet peeve of mine, which is having to fix the same thing over and over again. When that happens, it’s good that one at least has/knows the fix, I guess…. Anyway, Jason goes into using Extended Events as an audit tool to detect changes to tempdb files to help track down the root cause for a “recurring fix”, and reiterates that sometimes those root causes are hard to track down, and the best place to put yourself in for those situations is to be ready the next time.

Deborah Melkin says, “I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve joined the party.” Ohh, I’m pretty sure it’s not as long as it has been for me… Debora doesn’t have a specific break/fix story, but talks about how experiences and dealing with problems over time makes it easier to address new problems as they come up. This is the core lesson (lesson? Process?) I’m wanting everyone to get this month, so I appreciate this perspective!

Hugo Kornelis has my favorite post of the month. If you’re the type who doesn’t read all of the T-SQL Tuesday posts and waits for the recap to find the one or two that look the most interesting, make sure this one is on your list. It’s short and to the point, and contains a fantastic lesson. Two, really, although one isn’t explicitly mentioned as a lesson. This one is the fact that if there’s something you do on a regular or reoccurring basis, you should have that process written down. Think of it like a checklist (flying reference ahoy!). But what Hugo makes clear is that even if you’re doing something different that you don’t have a process for, but is adjacent to that process, it’s still a good idea to reference that process. Just read Hugo’s post, it’s easier than listening to me 🙂

I felt bad just reading Aaron Bertrand’s post. Just, go read it. Promise. Take his advice.

Lisa Bohm brings us what I think is a heartwarming story about what transparency and honesty can bring to even professional relationships. Lisa tells us about how this worked out for her while working for an ISV when things went bad on a Friday night (it’s always a Friday night). In addition to the honesty part, she had another takeaway that we can all do better at sometimes: Shut up and start listening.

Next up is STEVE JONES, the one that got me into this damn mess in the first place. He at least takes ownership of that in the post, heh. Steve’s speaking my language here with “And too few companies share their learnings publicly.” …This is a crab of mine, as well, and I think a lot of IT shops would make fewer bone-headed mistakes if everyone was more willing to share what they’ve learned, NTSB-style. I understand why things are the way they are, and all, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Anyway, Steve has many encouraging words for learning from others in the first place, and how he has been fortunate enough to be able to work with people who have helped him build better systems. I always appreciate Steve’s writing, and this post is no exception.

Glenn Berry wrote about a place where I think we’ve all been–it boils down to not RTFM 🙂 But also, it involves building PCs, which maybe most of us used to do, but hardly any do anymore. I still do, but only once every, like, eight years, so… This was funny, because as Glenn walked through how he got here, I saw right where this was going; I mean, with four disks to hook up, I would have gone right for that nice quad of stand-offs, too! I mean, why split the cables up between two places when you could just do one! Yeah. Uh-huh. Yep. Glenn’s main takeaway is, basically read the documentation, which is always a good idea. As someone who really likes writing it (I’m aware of how broken I am), I also know how little this happens in practice.

Todd Kleinhans talks about Letting it Fail. This is true–sometimes things have to break to get the right peoples’ attention, or to show just how bad a situation could get. Todd has a story about just one of these situations. I don’t think any of us like things getting to that point, but sometimes there aren’t other options. Todd also has a good final takeway, about “doing nothing” being a valid option to a situation, and it really is. May not lead to a good outcome, but it is an option!

Tracy Boggiano starts out with a line that is a big “been there, done that” for me: “One fateful night while I was not on call, I got a call around 3:30 AM.” Ahh yes. You’re not on-call, but you wind up on the horn with Ops, anyway. Tracy’s story has some good head-shaking items in it, which is about how I expect a story that starts like this to end. Tracy has a good line towards the end: “Everything from the network, to the server hardware, to the database creates the system and working as a team is the only way to make sure things are configured to perform and not fail.” Ain’t that the truth…

And finally, my man Andy Yun talks about Presentation Disasters. Andy comes through here with probably the most aviation-related lesson of all: Paranoia Pays Off. Yessssss! Always have a Plan B–plus C and D if possible–so when things go pear-shaped, you already have a plan. Andy was presenting at GroupBy back in May, when his headset died. But he was ready! Good lesson for all and everything here, not just those of us slinging TSQL or flying airplanes.

And that’s it! This was the first time I’ve hosted T-SQL Tuesday, and I want to thank everyone who shared their stories with us this week!

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T-SQL Tuesday #128: Learn From Others

Pilots do something that a lot of non-pilots will find fairly weird if not outright horrifying: We read accident (“crash”) reports. Some of us spend a lot of time reading accident reports, actually. Officially “Accident Reports”, these are put out by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) after investigation into a crash or an “incident.” In addition to aviation-related reports, there are highway and railroad reports, and even hazardous materials incidents.

Reports come in two flavors, a “preliminary” report, and ultimately, a “final” report after the investigation has completed. The final reports includes such items as conclusions and the probable cause of the accident or incident. To make life easier, they also include a Recommendations section, which, well, includes recommendations for how to keep this type of accident from happening in the future. These tend to be regulatory in nature, as they are geared towards the FAA.

The search form for aviation reports is here–https://www.ntsb.gov/_layouts/ntsb.aviation/index.aspx–if you’re, uh, thinking you want to get into this sort of thing.

Why do pilots do this? The rationale is pretty simple: To learn from the mistakes of others. Or, to learn how a bad day was kept from becoming a worse day after something broke.

What Does This Have to Do With SQL Server?

Great question. Besides the fact that I think piloting airplanes and DBA-ing are the same job, just with different scenery,  I wish we had this kind of transparency in the IT world when things went wrong. When a corporation has a big security incident, we’re likely not to hear a lot of details publicly about what went wrong and what was done to mitigate similar attacks in the future. This kind of information could help everyone. This is one of the things that cloud providers do quite a bit better: When something breaks, we get good information on what happened, why, and what’s going to be done about it. Of course, this is done because public cloud providers basically have to–if things went down a lot and we never heard why, that provider probably wouldn’t have a lot of customers for very long.

This brings me to T-SQL Tuesday.

Tell me (us all, obviously) about something recently that broke or went wrong, and what it took to fix it. Of course, the intent here would be for this to be SQL Server-related, but it doesn’t have to be. We can all learn from something going wrong in infrastructure-land, or how there was a loophole in some business process that turned around and bit somebody’s arm. It doesn’t even have to be all that recent–maybe you’ve got a really good story about modem banks catching on fire and that’s how you found out the fire suppression system hadn’t been inspected in years. Just spitballin’ here. If you’ve got an incident whose resolution can help someone else avoid the same problem in the future or improve a policy as a preventative measure, let us hear about it.

The Rules

Here are the rules as set out for the T-SQL Tuesday blog party.

  1. Your post should be published on Tuesday, 14 July, 2020 between midnight and 11:59:59 UTC/GMT/ZULU
  2. Include the T-SQL Tuesday logo in your post
  3. Link back to this invitation (usually done through the logo)
    (this will get syndicated, so link back to the original on airbornegeek.com, please)
  4. Include a comment on the invitation post or a trackback link
  5. Enjoy the chance to be creative and share some knowledge.

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Working from Home Effectively

Some of us have been lucky enough to have  already been working from home (WFH) prior to the world events.  This has allowed most of us the ability to easily ready  our homes fit our needs of family members whom now must also work from home  For those that have suddenly been thrusted over the past weeks into the working from home lifestyle, here are some tips that I’ve learned over the last 2.5 years being home 100% of the time.   I blogged about this a few years ago when I started with Denny Cherry & Associates Consulting so some of these are updates.

Keep a Schedule & Routine

This is still probably one of the most important aspects of working from home.  Prior to coming into the WFH realm I worked a normal 8-5 job. It required me to be in the office before 8, so I decided when I switched I would keep to the same schedule. I continue to wake up at the same time and report to my desk at the same time ready to tackle the day every day.  Now, depending on what I have going on, it’s nice to be able  to wake up earlier  (like 5:30AM) so that I have some extra time to focus on things.   If I have my sons with me (for those that might be co-parenting), that also allows me to focus without having to tend to their needs. My advice is to keep whatever schedule best works for you and your employer.  Thankfully, my employer allows me to set my own schedule and manage my own time which is helpful.  Having that flexibility makes things easier on me as a work from home employee.

Beyond keeping a consistent schedule, keep a consistent routine as well.  As I mentioned, I get up about the same time.  While I *could* wear pajamas or whatever I wanted to work, I choose not to.  I get up, get showered, shave, brush teeth, etc and get fully dressed so that I’m ready for the day.  I find this makes me more productive. Once ready, I go downstairs for my coffee and usually for some breakfast.  Sometimes I’ll take food to my desk but usually I sit at my kitchen table and watch the world wake up while I enjoy my first cup of coffee.  Then it’s time to go to the “office”.  Warning the commute can be horrible so watch out for traffic jams (kids or pets) in the hallways and stairwell.  13 seconds later, I’m at my desk ready to get started.  Once there, I’ll start on any daily tasks that I need to get done and then continue on any project work I might have on my plate.

Fast forward to lunch. It’s a 50/50 chance that I’ll eat lunch at my desk.  Some days I do, others I don’t.  It’s important to take breaks away from your desk as it’s really easy to get sucked into working all the time.  My advice is to make sure to take a break for lunch and try to disconnect as much as possible.  Some days, for me, I’ll make lunch and play Xbox (Titan Fall 2), or  go for a walk, or just read a book while eating.

Come evening time, I wrap things up somewhere between 4-5PM.   Some days it’s later and some days it’s earlier usually because of kid responsibilities.  Some Due to the nature of my job some evenings I must work later due to time zones and sometimes even on the weekends due to system availability.  I recognize that it is all part of the job, however, I’m able to find a balance that works for me while maintain any responsibilities I might have.

Workspace

When I joined with Denny Cherry & Associates Consulting (DCAC), I invested some cash into my workspace.  I tend to like a clean and clutter free desk, so I invested in a good quality standing desk from Uplift Desk.  I started out with 2-27” monitors and operated with that for quite a long time.  Within the past 6 months I further invested in an additional 27” monitor so now I have three.  I have found that having three monitors (actually 4 if I used the laptop itself) allows me to have a better workflow in my daily tasks.  You might have to play with configurations or ideas, but don’t be afraid to invest (if you can) in things that help you work from home.

Of course, you can invest a lot of money into your workspace.  I know people have to walls of monitors, expensive desk chairs, extreme web camera setups, and the list goes on.  Do what you can to make it your space.  At times I’ll even work on my secondary machine standing at my kitchen bar because it works.  You don’t have to drop a ton of money and there are ways to make it work with minimal amounts of money.

Here I am just using a laptop tray that I bought off of Amazon to allow me to have a “mobile standing point” on just about any flat surface.  I find that mixing up my location from time to time help to get my mind focused on the task at hand.

Communications

Maintaining communication with your colleagues as well as your family is important, especially during this time of chaos. Without it the self-isolation feeling can be overwhelming. For me this means I check up on my family (they all live at least 6 hours away) on a semi-weekly basis to ensure that they are healthy and are doing as best as possible. Having peace of mind that they are doing well helps me better focus on work, and keeps me from getting distracted by worrying about them. Thankfully with my work I am able to take breaks and have a phone conversation, or I’ll even have a video call with them via Skype or FaceTime.

Beyond just family, make sure to have open dialogs with your managers on your status.  If you are struggling with things, let them know.  They cannot help resolve any issues if they don’t know they even exist.  I have a check-in with Denny once or twice a month just to see how things are going.  Now, at DCAC, we chat constantly via Teams.  During the day, evenings, weekends, or even holidays usually someone on the team is talking.  This makes is much easier to have some interaction and feel connected to the team.

Distractions

Working from home comes with a whole new set of distractions, namely the television.  I have found that, thankfully, the television remains off during my working time (I have a TV in my office) and I can count on one hand the number of times it’s been on while I’m working.  When I first started working from home, I had a real feeling that TV would be a huge distraction for me.  Turns out that wasn’t my distraction.  My distraction normally is the internet.  Twitter, social media, blogs, news, etc.  For me, it can be a quicksand place to get lost in and the next thing you know 3 hours have gone by.

Here are some things I use to help keep those in check:

  • Focus Assist – For Windows users, try the Focus assist. You can adjust the focus to only show certain alerts or none.  This helps me to block out any unwanted alerts for a period.  I don’t know if Apple products have something similar.
  • Internet Traffic – For Chrome (or Edge) users – StayFocusd will provide allotment of time to browse certain websites, like YouTube for example. Once you have burned through you allotted amount of time, it blocks that site until the next day.  Of course, there are way around this, but it helps to keep you in check.
  • Set Do Not Disturb (DND) – These days we are inundated with communication tools. Slack, Teams, Skype, Hangouts, pick one.   If you need time to focus, don’t be afraid to set your status on all these tools to “Do Not Disturb”.  This will let your teammates know to not bug you or just send you an email.  Respect that DND and don’t answer things unless they are critical.  I’ll even set my iPhone to DND so that I won’t get text messages or phone calls during that time.
  • Close Your Email –Really, it is ok to close your email client and not have it open. There have been studies done about the amount of time that gets wasted when you address an email and try to resume what you were focused on.  It’ll be Okay to close your email, trust me.  The messages will be there for when you get back to it.  If it’s an emergency most likely the person will call you and then you can handle it.

Summary

The way in which you work has probably shifted.  It takes time to adapt and get used to the new “normal.  I know that was the case when I shifted to working from home 100% of the time.  Now that you’ve been working from home for a bit, what has been your experience so far?  What distractions do you have to contend with and how do you handle them?  Let me know by leaving comments!

© 2020, John Morehouse. All rights reserved.

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