Book Review: Chasing Daylight

I read Chasing Daylight by Eugene O’Kelly after a reference to it in an audio book. It’s the story of KPMG CEO Eugene O’Kelly, a man that worked his way to the top and worked a lot. A great example was flying to Australia just to sit next to a potential client for 90 minutes on a local flight, and then turn around for the long trip back to the US. Successful, driven, and then his wife notices a droop in his face. Tests and more tests, and he learns he has about 90 days to live.

He leaves his job in a matter of days, and then turns to planning what he wants to do with the rest of the days he has while dealing with chemo and the reality of his impending death. He decides to visit with many of the people that he cared about and that shaped him, taking time to say good bye to each, or at least as many as he could in the time available, saving the final goodbyes for those closest to him. He also decides to write about the experience, and that’s what this book is about.

Most of us would rather not face our own mortality just yet, and certainly it’s true for me. Reading about trying to find ‘perfect moments’ with his wife, spending time with his 14 year old daughter and knowing that he’ll miss so much of her life. It’s hard reading, in the sense that you can’t help but be moved by just how hard all of that would be.

He wrote most of the book, and his wife wrote the final chapter after his death.

It’s worth reading. I try for balance in my own life, and rarely succeed. I like to work, I like to compete, and of course I have to work and compete to do the things I want do for my own family. Yet, it’s easy to just work because, and end up at the end of the road knowing that you could have done other things that would have meant more.

I don’t know that I could have written something like this. It’s deeply personal, but it’s also something that was written while it was happening, and that had to be hard enough to get through.

For me, the one take away wasn’t about trying to find the perfect balance, it was remembering to savor the moments that matter. That is something I can do. It’s worth reading, and I think I’ll probably read it again at some point.

PASS Update #48

It’s the end of November and this will probably be my last update on PASS for the year as things slow down for the holidays. This seems like a good time to update you on ongoing projects and to think about where I’ll be headed next year.

As I look back at 2010 it’s a mixed bag. I started the year with speaker bureau (SB) project, one that I was enthused about, a good project that would have a nice impact on both speakers and chapter leaders. Then I had to change course to manage the adoption of SQLSaturday by PASS and had to put SB on hold. That adoption took a while, and then I also ended owning the initial implementation of SQLRally which pushed SB back again. I kept Rushabh in the loop about the delays, only so much time in the day. In hindsight I wish I had gotten a little further in the beginning and tried to hand off to a volunteer team.

The SQLSaturday transition has been slow and not without some minor pain internally as we worked to divide the work up at HQ and learn how to make it work, but it’s been almost seamless for the event leaders and certainly so for the attendees. My work on this now consists of long term vision, making sure we’re finding the efficiencies where we can, budget, and driving lessons learned back to our event leaders. HQ owns the day to day stuff, from making sure email goes out to coaching first time events to sending out checks at the end of the event. A successful transition, and one that has had a tremendous positive impact on PASS.

SQLRally is of course still in flight, but we’ve been working on it hard since July. There were definitely times prior to the November launch that we were behind the curve, not having a web site ready was one, but the choice was to say nothing until ready, or start talking about it even though not fully prepared. We opted for the latter just to get the news out early enough in 2010 that people could try to get it worked into their 2011 budget requests. At this point we’ve opened registration, completed a community vote to pick the pre-con speakers, and the call for speakers is now open through Dec 15th. Our next real challenge is marketing. We have some ideas and it’ll be fun to see if a true grass roots effort works as well as we hope.

Going into next year I’ll have two projects, SQLSaturday and SQLRally. SQLSaturday I’ve covered already, SQLRally the goal is to have another one in the US in 2012, but also take the event international which brings a whole new set of questions and lessons. PASS is working hard to develop an international strategy and this is part of it, doing some mid size events and finding out what works and what doesn’t. Rushabh and had a long talk at the Summit about where to best use my time, and the result was that the SB project is being transferred to Allen and Jeremiah. Hard to let it go, but it needs to be done, and I’m not likely to find any more time in my weeks.

My other current commitment that will run some months into 2011 is the Election Review Committee (see the web site at http://erc.sqlpass.org). That effort is under way and as a group we’re still working to understand the various view points and problems before we start to work on recommendations. I hope in the end our recommendations will be simple, but getting to them is going to be a lot of work!

It’s easy to think (and for me to make it look like) that I’m just a project manager, and sometimes the doer as well. There is some of that, though I expect to spend less time doing in 2011 and put a lot more time into thinking. It can’t just be throwing ideas on the table and hoping someone grabs them, it’s got to be coming up with ideas and testing them through conversations, and figuring out which ones make sense to work on. There is no shortage of ideas for PASS, but we’re going to have to get better at figuring out which ones we should do. We can’t do them all, and that’s part of the thinking process – should we do it, how can we do it with less time, is there something else that would be of greater benefit?

It’s been a good two years. I’ve learned a lot and helped drive some change, and hoping that I can do more of both in the next two years. I plan to continue writing these update over the next two years, so look for #49 sometime in January!

TechEd 2011

TechEd will be in Atlanta next year, May 16-19, 2011 at the Georgia World Conference Center. I went this year to the one in New Orleans and would like to go again in 2011, though the one wrinkle for me is that it’s the week immediately following SQLRally. I’m expecting SQLRally to be an intense week for me, so I’m not sure whether heading off to TechEd would be a break or one thing too many!

I’m tempted though, Atlanta is an easy flight for me, and lots of people in the area that I know. I submitted two presentations (my first attempt at TechEd), one on Statistics (same as the one I delivered at PASS Summit with a few tweaks) and another on Professional Development Plans, but this one targeted at managers.

As always with these events registration is cheaper if you do it by the end of the year. Of course I’d prefer you came to SQLRally, but if you’re needing a wider set of topics or just can’t bear the thought of a gorgeous spring in Orlando I’ll totally understand!

Android Adventures–Part 2

I’ve been living with my Droid X phone for a couple weeks now. It’s definitely a big change from my Blackberry. As I think about what to you tell about it, it’s hard to separate the phone from the software from the usefulness, but I’ll try to share thoughts on all.

The phone itself seems well made and sturdy. The display is big and terrific. I read reviews that it wasn’t as good as as the iPhone 4 and that may be, but it’s crisp and very usable. The form factor seems fine, it’s a longer display than the iPhone and I like the space, and it’s not heavy, comfortable to hold. Battery life so far has been fine, though GPS does seem to takes it’s toll, but that’s easy enough to turn on and off.

The OS isn’t hard to use, but it does take a little figuring out. For example, to remove a shortcut from the desktop you press and hold, then drag to a garbage can that wasn’t visible until you did the press and hold. There is no “X” button to close windows, in general things keep running in the background and it’s up to the OS to manage them. That’s a little different than Windows on the desktop, where we close things to manage resource consumption.

It’s got the standard how much power left feature, but it also shows what is/has been consuming power, a great way to figure out which apps behave well and which don’t. The Droid X has a desktop of 7 panels, you can easily swipe back and forth and customize as needed, a very nice UI feature.

The application market is integrated and easy to use, and there is a good variety of apps, and many of them are free. I’ve got Angry Birds loaded, PDANet so I can tether to my laptop, Nimbuzz for instant messaging, TweetDeck, K9 Email, and a few more, and still a few that I want to try out.

The single biggest pain point has been email and contacts. I use Outlook, but not connected to an Exchange server. There’s no built-in sync for that, and the free stuff I tried doesn’t work either. Right now I’m on the 14 day trial of CompanionLink which seems to work nicely, though it requires the free DejaOffice tools on the phone. It should not be hard, and should not cost me $40 to get this done! Clearly the emphasis is on driving people to GMail which is seamless, but I don’t want to move, I use Outlook and for now it does what I need done.

I loaded the K9 email app and I like it. I switched over to IMAP after talking about it with Steve Jones, and K9 handled it fine. Outlook though, not so good. It retrieves the mail ok, but it won’t let you direct it to a common inbox or set up a unified view that I could figure out. I don’t need or want two inboxes, so I’m back to POP3. Outlook retrieves messages and deletes them, the phone retrieves them and leaves on the server. Deletes on the phone get mirrored back to the server. Not perfect, but workable, and similar to what I did on the Blackberry.

Built in navigation is good if close to great. Easy to read, turn by turn announcements (that can be muted). A car mode. A places app to find food, gas, coffee near your current location. Lot’s of nice easy to use stuff.

I’ve set up Google Voice with the intent of using that as my “work” number, giving me the ability to hit do not disturb for work while on vacation and still get personal calls. The integration with the phone is elegant, I’ve got it set so that when I dial out I can show the GV number or my personal number. Google Voice voicemail gets transcribed and emailed to me along with an MP3 of the recording.

The voice recognition software is pretty good. I’ve used it a few times for searches and calls, works well.

As I think about it right now, if I could have synced contacts, calendar, and the rest right of the box, I’d have nothing to complain about. Everything works, no crashes, no problems. Battery life remains to be seen, but I’m comfortable that I’ve got to do my part on managing power usage on the fancier apps. It is, after all, more than just a phone. I’ve made a note to revisit my application usage in a month or two to share the winners. For an OS that isn’t that old and on v2, not bad at all.

I’m still curious to try to the Win7 phones. The trick is imaging Win7 on this phone, would I like it? No way to know yet, but there’s definitely an opportunity to make it a lot easier for those of using Outlook than Droid/Android does, and that right there could win them a lot of business.

Don’t Abuse the Use Statement

I ran across this article in Visual Studio Magazine that tracks the source of a missing object to an embedded use statement. It’s not wrong to do that, but maybe it should be! For admin scripts, testing, etc, USE is valuable, but in the dev world it’s far better to solve the problem by adding a synonym to make it all look like it’s local (or a view if you’re stuck on SQL 2000). Interestingly if you live in .Net the error would most likely not have happened. ADO.Net and connection pooling work together well, with the default behavior of a connection being to run sp_resetconnection which should restore the catalog to whatever it was when the connection first opened. It can be overridden, but it’s not obvious, and rarely worth doing except for super high volume situations.

For most of us we’ve long since gone past the point of thinking about Use, and that’s good. For beginners though, as in new to SQL Server beginners, it’s often confusing trying to understand context. In some way the UI fails to make clear that databases are the natural container in a way that Word docs seem to do naturally. It’s hard to remember the things we struggled with in the beginning, we attribute it to the learning curve (true), but we learn to make it work whether it’s clear or not.

I am a Risk Taker

Somewhat of a strange title, but it’s been an interesting journey to understand that I do take risks and to realize that taking risks isn’t bad. I’ll start at the middle of the story. A few months back I let the PASS Board know that I was cancelling a project and calling it a failure (the Standard). Not fun, but the right thing to do at that point. I’m not accustomed to failing, though I believe that failing is in and of itself not a bad thing. My friend Bill Graziano made a comment (well intended and on target) that because I was the risk taker in the group that they expected a few failures, but also more wins. I was taken aback. For me, risk taking was the equivalent of day trading, a lot of risk for a lot of reward, or loss.

Gave me something to think about. As I thought about who I am and the choices I’ve made, I never considered them to be real risks. I took a demotion at one point to get a job I wanted, and I left a stable job to start a new business, but I never felt that I was betting the mortgage. More importantly, and hopefully I can say this without seeming to be arrogant, I was betting on me. I was willing to work hard to make something work, and that willingness to work has allowed me to succeed when others wouldn’t. Not because I was smarter, just willing to work harder. Yet, by the standards of most people, those are risks. Not invest your savings in lotto tickets risk, but risk of at least discomfort if not some financial pain.

Another example of a risk I took is SQLSaturday. When I first started talking about building a national network of events, few thought it would work for all manner of reasons. I didn’t have a detailed study to base it on, just the knowledge that there had been some success around Code Camps and a big vacuum in SQL Server for knowledge sharing at the local level. When you start talking about doing something nationally that is beyond your control there is risk, with the main risk a somewhat visible failure. I couldn’t guarantee success, but I didn’t think it would fail either. In hindsight I’m lucky enough to have a reality that maps pretty closely with the original vision, but some of that is luck. I thought the risk was worth the reward, but I can’t show you the calculation – experience + intuition is all I have, and plenty of days that doesn’t seem like enough!

What I’ve realized is that I’m comfortable with a degree of risk beyond most people, yet to me it rarely feels stressful. I’ve weighed the pros and cons, and then added to that what if any ability I have to tip the balance if needed. I’m also comfortable beyond most with failing. I don’t like to fail, not at all. But I know the difference between failing at something that shouldn’t have failed and something that was on the edge to start with.  For me it’s been an important epiphany, giving me a better view of who I am and reminding me that not everyone.

As a stereotype, we in the data business are not risk takers. We’re pretty risk averse, it’s usually what our business and the potential consequences require. Yet sometimes it feels like we’ve moved from risk averse to risk nothing, and without risk the upside is as limited as the downside. We can’t start taking huge risks at work, but maybe we should take some smaller ones, and just make sure we don’t take too many risks at once. Upgrade one server to SQL 2008 R2 after limited app testing, not all of the servers at once!

On the personal and career side though, I really believe you can’t rise to the top without taking risks and learning to fail. Without those you can’t drive a business forward, and without them you won’t let anyone working for you take any risks either, which tends to drive away the brightest and most creative. Something to think about.

Template for Tracking Professional Development

One of the ideas I mentioned in my presentation on Comprehensive Professional Development was to set up some type of tracking system. It’s important to write down goals for time and money to devote to professional development, and to keep track of how you’re doing towards those goals. I keep thinking that I need to write an app specific to that task (and maybe I will yet), but the key is simplicity. Word doc, blog, Excel spreadsheet, old fashioned paper – whatever fits the way you work is truly good enough for this particular task.

The image below is of a spreadsheet that I took 10 minutes to set up. Not fancy, you might want a different column or two, but it works. I had several requests for the template (no need to reinvent this particular wheel) and I’m glad to share it.

Remember that no one but you need ever see this (much like a food journal), but you might want to show it to a potential employer at some point. Yes, they might see that you just learned something that they think you should have known years ago, but they’ll also see that you’re methodical, managing your career, and working towards goals.

My mantra has been if it matters, measure it. Logging stuff takes time, but it is worth doing. I can’t prove that with a study, just some hard won experience. There are two “tricks” that I’ve found helpful:

  • Put professional development time on the calendar
  • Log your time when you do it

Professional development should be a positive experience, a sense of moving forward. If you perceive it as a burden, you’re – in my view – doing it wrong, doing it too often, or both.

 

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A Plug for SQLSaturday #45 in Louisville

My friend Mala is heading up the 2nd annual SQLSaturday in Louisville, KY, being held next year on January 22, 2011 at the University of Louisville. The final schedule isn’t up yet but the list of submitted sessions looks good, lots of great speakers on the list. Somehow I had a mental image of Louisville being a small town, but it’s not, it’s #42 on the list of metropolitan statistical areas with a population over 2 million! If you live near Louisville or know someone in the business that does, take a minute and remind them about the event.

PASS Update #47–Election Review Committee

As always, this represents my own views, I’m speaking only for me and not the entire PASS Board.

Early last week Joe Webb announced on this blog that he will be the chair of the PASS Election Review Committee (ERC). Read his post for some his thoughts, and then I want to share here some background on why we formed the committee and some of the challenges we face.

We heard clearly from the PASS membership that the 2010 election could have been handled better. As I’ve written previously we did a lot of work following the 2009 election with regards to transparency, but in hindsight we didn’t do enough to fix a more serious problem – a lack of details around the scoring and review process used by the Nomination Committee. We can’t undo the problems we encountered, but we can work on doing better in 2011, and now at least we have a deeper understanding of the core problems that need to be addressed.

It took a bit of time to get things rolling on the ERC. It started with a good discussion within the Board about who should lead it. Not whether we should do a review, that was easily agreed to, but I felt strongly that appointing someone from outside the Board to head the committee would send a strong signal about our intent to do better in 2011. Some on the Board argued that we would be derelict to do that, that we were elected to lead. It’s a fair argument and in general I agree that the Board should lead in almost all cases, but for this I thought it was worth bringing someone in. The compromise was to look at former Board members, and Joe Webb was the most immediate and obvious candidate. He’s still involved in PASS and the SQL community, and he’s been off the Board long enough to be able to let go of ‘this is how we do it’ type thinking. He also has a great reputation, and we wanted someone that would be trusted by the members.

We interviewed Joe, and vice versa, to make sure everyone was comfortable. One big point was to reassure Joe that we neither wanted or expected a rubber stamp of existing policy, we wanted a careful and thoughtful review followed by recommendations that would serve the organization well.

Next we had to pick the committee. How do you pick the committee and avoid an appearance of bias? One thing we knew going in was that we wanted someone from the Board on the committee, but we wanted more of our members. It’s important to have someone from the Board present to look at things from their perspective, they are familiar with the by-laws, the process of changing them, as well as the practical side of how things work in elections and at Board meetings. Joe invited me to join the committee and after some thought (I have a lot on my plate as it is), I decided to accept, as did Bill Graziano. The remaining members were drawn from a pool of candidates generated from the committee that selected Joe, and we did a call with Joe to discuss their attributes and try to come up with a good mix. It’s entirely subjective, but I think it’s a list of people that want PASS to grow and succeed, and that means having good elections. Here is the final list:

We met as a group at the 2010 PASS Summit to discuss process and transparency (largely all will be transparent, but there may be times when we interview someone and we discuss a third person where we may treat things as confidential), and then we met again later in the week to interview Rick Bolesta from the current Board as well as Kevin Kline who served 10 years with PASS. We had hoped to do more, but with the pressure of getting the committee formed and last minute Summit prep we just couldn’t get more into the schedule. Our thought was to do what we could, rather than doing nothing until we were perfectly ready.

Our charter is to review the entire process used to elect members to the Board. That means starting at the announcement that the nominations are open, and all the way through announcing the winners. All of us on the committee have some early thoughts on what we thought went well, or not. Joe identified that those biases might be present, his challenge was not be biased about how we might solve problems. I think that’s fair and realistic, anyone passionate enough to put in the work is going to have some views on the topic, and we can’t expect them to be robots. We want to hear as many ideas as we can, and we’ll come back to discuss some of them as we get closer to ‘maybe’ solutions. Joe will be asking for comments from the community and we’ll be inviting some of those to speak directly to us, beyond that we’ll have to evolve and see what works.

As we work toward a solution we have to find something that is firm yet flexible. For instance, we might implement some crystal clear criteria that ends up eliminating all of the candidates during an election year. What would we do then? We have to explore the edge cases without getting fixated, and realize that the needs may change over the years, but we want to change slowly. We don’t want to have someone be ‘close’ to eligible one year, go and out work hard for a year, and then return to see that the line has been moved.

There’s lot to look at and I’m looking forward to the discussions. I’m hoping we can be critical yet constructive, and in the process unify the vision of what we all consider to be a fair way to elect our members to the Board.

Having a committee doesn’t guarantee a fix or satisfaction, but I hope you’ll appreciate that the Board of Directors has taken action to address concerns, and tried to do so in a way that will be seen as deliberate, open, and fair. If we all do our part and take time to listen to each other, I’m confident we can return some recommendations that will make 2011 a much better election year.

Help Set Recommendations for SSAS Counters in PAL

First, if you haven’t tried PAL yet, I highly recommend downloading it from CodePlex and giving it a try. You start by capturing a set of performance counters (which PAL recommends), then feed it to PAL to analyze against a set of recommendations and then output problem areas flagged as yellow or red depending on the severity. Great tool, great price – free!

During the recent PASS Summit I met Pedro Lopes from Microsoft and he is working on enhancing the recommended values for all the SSAS counters. I’m attaching the spreadsheet he provided, he’s looking for any input you can offer to help him update the recommendations that go into PAL. Send back what you can, and please let any colleagues that work with SSAS know in case they can help too.