Book Review: The Yankee Years

The Yankee Years by Joe Torre ($12 @ Amazon) was a gift, and I enjoyed it more than expected. When it first came out there was a lot of hoopla about it being an expose, and while I guess there is some of that, to me it wasn’t the point of the book or the most interesting part of the book.

Imagine taking over managing a team (of DBA’s even) that have been playing at the middle of the pack level, and in very short time taking them to the World Series. Impressive, though certainly only a portion of the credit can go to the manager. But, then imagine that based on those results the fans and the owners don’t just hope for the same performance next year, they expect it, even demand it. That’s pressure, and it’s a lot of what this book is about.

There’s some useful stuff in here for managers, understanding that different people need a different touch, and realizing that in some cases using a back channel to deliver a message accomplishes the goal without the pain that often results when done directly. It’s also interesting to see how much relationships matter, how much good comes from the strong ones, and how much damage results from the weaker ones.

My take on it was that working for the Yankees owners wasn’t fun, and would have required more patience and politics than I could have managed, but the trade off was getting to do things that no other team was doing.

The book was reasonably done, and worth reading if you’re even a casual baseball fan. There are other lessons there, but if you don’t follow baseball you might find them tedious to get to.

Does The Job Matter To You?

Last week I wrote an editorial for SQLServerCentral titled Does The Job Matter To You?, asking how much the type of work mattered – what if you could do something you really wanted to and make the same money?

As usual the comments (90 or so as I write this) are far more interesting than the editorial. I wasn’t patient enough to count the split, but clearly there is a set of us that care deeply about having a job that speaks to us, and another set that is willing to work hard and participate, but just doesn’t bond with their job for lack of a better way to say it.

Looking back, I can see this is one of the friction points I’ve seen on teams. I suspect the vested in work crowd works longer and expects the other set to do the same. Probably not as simple as that, but I think it would be a great Monday morning discussion and I wonder if having that chat might not help everyone understand what motivates the others a little bit better.

PASS Update #33 (SQLSaturday Transfer)

I’ve just finished handing over the source code for all the SQLSaturday related items after finishing up a couple minor bugs in the admin tools. Along with the just completed transfer of the domain, that finishes up all the tasks we had identified to get the hand off done.

The next task is to get a dev environment set up on the PASS servers and get the code into source control, followed by figuring out a method for allowing volunteers to contribute to the code base. As you know that is not glamorous work, but essential to allowing us to continue to adapt as we identify new needs. No timeframe on this yet, have submitted the request for a estimate, and from there it goes into the general project queue.

I also reviewed and cleaned out my idea list for the web sites (FYI, there are three, the public facing one for attendees, one for event owners, one for PASSHQ), and right now it is as follows:

  • Show the event leaders. I wouldn’t mind showing them on the event home page. They do the work, helpful for everyone to know who they are.
  • Add photo/avatar to attendee name badges
  • Add photo/avatar to networking page (from LinkedIn/Twitter/etc)
  • Validate email addresses on sign up (to help prevent duplicate registrations)
  • Volunteer task management. Set up tasks, allow volunteers to browse and choose they wants they want to help with
  • Schedule builder, let attendees identify which sessions they would like to attend
  • Change the payment system to redirect to first, and from there to PayPal, giving the event leader the ability to stop accepting payments

My guess is that other than bug fixes the code will remain static through the end of the year. At the 2010 PASS Summit we’ll have our SQLSaturday Summit, discuss and argue which changes are most important, and then either find volunteers or carve out time from HQ to make those changes early in 2011. Ideally I think we devote a few days each quarter to making improvement.

As I think about where we are today, the biggest place that needs work is documentation, and I’ll be starting to work with volunteers and HQ to figure out how we can get that done, or at least improve what we have.

I’m requesting funding in the 2011 budget to get Blythe, Sanj, and Craig out to at least one SQLSaturday each next year. We need to make sure HQ both sees the impact of these events and gets to enjoy the work that they put into them from the HQ side of things. The main goal I’m proposing for 2011 is a SQLSaturday in every state. We’ll put a map up on and color in a state once an event happens. We’ve got a few states where we don’t have chapters, which I think represents both an obstacle and an opportunity.

Book Review: Currencies That Buy Credibility

I ordered a copy of Currencies That Buy Credibility ($14 @ Amazon) after a comment from author Tom Wanek on Twitter about a post I had written on The Checklist Manifesto. Saw that Tom had a web site and book on marketing, did the impulse buy.

My really short summary is that the book talks about how most promises are perceived as light weight or meaningless, and that businesses that take the risk of making deeper promises also buy credibility at the same time. Lots of interesting examples of it in the book, and it feels like a good analysis. As consumers we’re trained to expect fine print and conditions on everything, the rare business that just makes a simple and direct promise stands out of the crowd easily.

It’s got me thinking more, because I’m deep believer in trust and credibility, and in truth there’s nothing I like better than the kinds of things that stem from living and working that way. When you know you’re good at something, willing to cover the loss or mistake if it happens, why not make sure customers know that?

It’s a small book, only about 150 pages, maybe a 30 minute read. I think my only negative was that I wish it was longer, but in fairness it does a good job of covering a fairly narrow topic. The real value is taking the idea and seeing what you can do with it personally or professionally.

PASS Update #32 (Spring Event & May 2010 Minutes)

If you download the May 2010 minutes of the Board meeting (login required) you’ll see that we devoted an entire meeting to trying to figure out the format of the ‘spring event’. For those of you just joining in the background on that is that we were already lightly discussing doing a new event in the spring, and then following the survey about the Summit location we announced that we would definitely have an event on the East coast. As always these notes are my own thoughts, not the official position of the Board.

From my perspective there are two paths to choose from:

  • Have two annual Summits, call them Summit East/Spring and Summit West/Fall
  • Leave the Summit as “the” event and build a smaller but useful event format for Spring

Having two Summits might actually be a win from a revenue perspective. Initially attendance at each might be slightly lower, but the overall attendance would be higher. From a community perspective my concern is that it divides us even more, people will tend to go to whatever is closest (the whole reason for an East coast event). Running two full Summit size events a year would mean that we would always be in Summit mode, demanding for both HQ and the Board. That’s just a subset of the concerns!

Doing a smaller event also has concerns. It would draw traffic away from the Summit and make less money, but still represent sizable financial risk. It might not attract as many sponsors. It can still be a drain on HQ and the Board to manage.

Early on we decided – right or wrong – not to try the two full Summits, at least in 2011/2012. That left the task of building a model of what the Spring event should look like. The first one discussed was a very Summit like experience, shortened by a day and priced at $999. Several of us on the Board thought that the price was too high (or not high enough), and wanted something much cheaper. As I mentioned in earlier updates I took on the task of building one of those models, what you’ll see described in the minutes as a SuperSQLSaturday, which describes the intent if not the days involved!

I brought in Jack Corbett & Kendal Van Dyke to help me build a proposal for event in Orlando, picking Orlando because I live there of course, but practically it allowed me to leverage the knowledge of the area and the ability to easily visit very hotels without travel cost. What we ended up with is a 2 day, 4 track event planned for Thursday & Friday that will cost somewhere between $299 and $499 – and I’m fighting hard for $299, but we’re still deep in the costing process. We’re also planning a couple pre-cons on Wed. At that price point it’s what I call a ‘no frills’ event with an attendance goal/cap of 500.

There are a couple interesting ideas that go along with this. One is that it’s designed to heavily leverage local user groups and volunteers. Another is that we see it as a way to get people to go to a conference that wouldn’t otherwise go, lowering the price point to get them to see the value and then being able to say, if you think is this is good, go to the Summit! We’re also proposing that each year we accept applications from groups/cities to host the event and pick a new location each year (and obviously cities with successful SQLSaturdays are great candidates).

Lots of good notes in the minutes. At this point we’re investigating the costs of the concept above and I think it likely – but not guaranteed – that this is the model we’ll try in 2011. Lots of unknowns for us, so by starting with a smaller event and lower price point we can deliver great value to our members on the East coast and get some working knowledge and feedback, help us figure out:

  • Did we price it effectively/correctly?
  • Do our attendees get ‘no frills’, or find the lack of them frustrating?
  • Is it an effective venue for sponsors?
  • Is relying on volunteers effective/can we effectively split the workload between HQ and volunteers?
  • Is the community happy with the overall event/concept?

I like this concept (and am biased as I wrote it after all), and I think it fills a nice gap in the event hierarchy. Speakers start out at Chapters, work their work into SQLSaturday, and then they go to “new event”, finally move up to the big leagues, the Summit. Equally we can grow members along the same path, letting them learn the value we provide at our free events and then moving to spend their training budget for our larger and deeper events.

There is just a lot to this, and I can’t do it all justice here, but I hope you’ll get some sense of the options we’re looking at and why I’m in favor of the more or less $299 option. We’ll vote on this before or at the June Board meeting once we have all the costs finalized. We would definitely like to hear what you think, post here, or drop any of us on the Board an email, and we’ll also be monitoring #sqlpass on Twitter.

Preparing for SQLSaturday #49

We’re still in the early stages so the pace is comfortably slow. We’ve got about 30 sessions in already (plenty of room for more), a few people interested in submitting an abstract for our $99 pre-con, and Jack Corbett toiling away on sponsors and marketing.

That gives me time to focus on logistics more. I’m driving up to the site this week to do a formal ‘signage’ plan, deciding exactly where we need signs to make sure people can navigate the somewhat confusing Seminole State College campus, and then I’m going to order some nicer reusable signs and get them into a nice container, this year won’t be the last year we’ll use them!

I’m also going to quickly revisit our recommended hotel. We don’t have that many people staying overnight, but for the ones that do, we want to make sure the hotel is in good shape.

Along with that, I’m going to be selecting the site of the speaker dinner. The last couple times we used Jax Fifth Avenue, but I think we’ll change it up this time and try to find someplace a little quieter.

Nothing exciting yet, but details on the road to a solid SQLSaturday #49.

Unofficial Poll on 2010 PASS Summit Keynote Speaker

I’ve blogged on this before, here and here, and ended up chatting about it on Twitter (see, I do use it sometimes) and Adam Machanic asked about a poll to gauge the interest, so I’ve launched one at Hope you’ll vote!

Don’t know if we can afford one, find one, agree on one – but I still think it would be a marketing coup to bring in a top tier speaker for one of the keynotes.

oPASS June 2010 Meeting Date Change

Normally we meet on the second Tuesday of the month, but in June we’re going to have to push the meeting to June 15th due to our own perfect storm of events. Jack Corbett was already schedule to be out of town that week, and then I totally goofed and decided to attend TechEd, leaving us with no Chapter leader in town for the event.

We debated trying to hand off to someone else in the group, but we haven’t done any planning for that (mistake #2?), so we’re going with the conservative strategy of moving the meeting to the next week. Hope you’ll attend, either in person or via Live Meeting, for an exciting presentation titled Paging DR Availability, You’re Wanted in the Recovery Room by Orlando local Kendal Van Dyke.

oPASS site will get updated later today.

Vote for The Keynote by Dr. DeWitt

You can choose from how query optimization works and why it’s so hard, or how relational engines and MapReduce can work together. Expect that neither will be about writing select queries!

He’s a great speaker, and I’m pleased he is returning this year. That said, I’m still campaigning for Jeremy Clarkson to do one of the keynotes, that would be a nice change of pace!