PASS Summit Call For Speakers Is Open

The call for speakers is open for the 2011 PASS Summit, being held in Seattle this year Oct 11-14. It’s your chance to be a star, go to the big show, etc, etc. Seriously, it’s a lot of fun to present to a paying audience, and it looks great on your resume. Of course, the competition is fierce, to say the least. Here are my tips on making the most of your attempt to be a speaker this year (I’m not on the selection committee, so these are my suggestions):

  • Choose your topics carefully. Look at the schedule from last year, and identify a niche that you know well and that wasn’t covered by someone else. Hard to do? Maybe, but remember that people pay to see the speakers,so the selection team is going to go with topics that will really interest attendees,and they will tend to go with speakers who have been there and done that.
  • Spend a lot of time on the title and the abstract. Make sure…make sure…that the title matches the abstract. Easy to go through some iterations and wind up with a mismatch that someone else will notice in a minute. Good titles matter. I’m opposed to overly cute titles, but some humor and sense of fun may work for you.
  • Make sure that someone considering your session understand what they will learn and how it can be applied. Does it mean everything has be real world? No, but in general I’d bet real world how-to wins over academics most of the time. People attend to learn, to take skills back. You’re not just presenting, you’re teaching. Tell them what you’re going to teach and make it relevant.

The other tip I have is too late to change, and that is pay your dues. Go to chapters, user groups, Code Camps, and SQLSaturday and practice. Give that presentation until you’re sick of it, and in the process develop the poise you need to handle the stress – and to prove the experience that attendees want to hear about.

The deadline is May 5th, so you’ve got a little time to think, make the most of it, and good luck!

SQLRally 2011 Update

Can it really be less than 30 days to the first SQLRally? As I look back it seems like a very long journey and now that we’re close, the remaining time seems to be going by very quickly. I met with Jack Corbett on Friday to review the volunteer list and discuss plans for the sessions we have planned on Thursday after the regular day ends, the ones Jack has branded as Overdrive. Then I spent the rest of Friday afternoon reviewing options for some after hours events. We’ll publish full details later this week, but it looks like it will be something along the lines of this:

  • Tuesday evening – very informal and inexpensive meet up for those that want to get together
  • Wed evening – drinks and appetizer option for those that want to attend (buy your own), followed by miniature golf. Both designed to get you out of the hotel into the Florida weather and connecting with other SQL professionals
  • Thurs evening – a meet up at nearby Old Town, which is hard to describe, part county fair, part amusement park, part knick knack shops. They have, among other things, a first class go cart track and a mechanical bull. I’m envisioning some great video from that!

These are all voluntary and designed to be similar but scaled down to the kinds of activities we have at the PASS Summit. If you’re attending and want to do other things – absolutely! After hours is your time. But if you want to meet some new people and have some low key fun, we’re trying to provide an easy way to do that.

Want to host your own get together? You can always put together a group for dinner,or you can set up something and announce it on the site (after the regularly scheduled stuff of course). If you’re staying for the weekend you might consider heading to the Kennedy Space Center,taking an airboat ride (real Florida), or for some simple geek fun, head north about 30 minutes to Skycraft to see an amazing collection of surplus, well, everything!

I’ll be on site at hotel around 1:30 pm on the 10th helping to organize and stuff bags and whatever else, and I’ll be at all the after hours events. I hope to see you at one (or all) of them.

Don’t forget that after April 30th the price increases for the last time to the list price of $399. Save the $50 by registering this week!

Join Me at SQLSaturday #74 in Jacksonville

SQLSaturday #74! I’ll be doing my presentation on professional development at 9 am on April 30th, and then I’ll be there the rest of the day learning and meeting some new people. It’s at the same location as in previous years, the University of North Florida. Great location, great parking. If you’re near Jacksonville hope you’ll attend, it’s well worth a Saturday.

Identity Columns Aren’t Automatically Primary Keys

Identity columns (automatically incrementing numbers) are fairly common in SQL Server, having the merit of simplicity and pretty good performance. As such they are often used as primary keys, and that’s fine too (unless you subscribe to natural keys at all costs). But, they aren’t automatically primary keys. If you want it to be the primary key, make it the key.

Why?

Without a primary key there is no guarantee that the column will remain unique. It’s entirely possible – if unlikely – that someone will update one of those nice simple integers and in the process create a duplicate, or perhaps null out one of them, causing some mild chaos.

My advice? Don’t mix the two concepts. Every table gets a primary key declared. If you want it to be an identity, a guid, or a natural key, that’s fine, but it’s a detail. Define the key, you’ll save yourself some pain later on.

Oracle & SQL Server, And a DBA is a DBA

I recently spent some time tutoring two Oracle DBA’s on SQL Server so that they would be able to do some crossover work with their SQL Server team. I think a smart move on the part of their employer to invest in the training, as a DBA is a DBA. They know the concepts, they just need to understand the differences and the quirks. It’s not the first time I’ve done this kind of tutoring, and it’s always interesting. I’m not an Oracle guy at all, so the teaching is a shared experience – I show them how to do a task, they correlate to their world, we talk through the differences.

What I’ve heard every time I do this is that SQL Server is fairly easy to learn and fairly intuitive, and they think it’s an easier transition than going from SQL Server to Oracle. From what I’ve seen I agree, and I don’t see that as a knock on either product. Both platforms have grown and evolved, but underneath they have different philosophies, and who is to say one is more right than the other?

Here’s one example we talked about, partitions. I consider the implementation of partitioning at the engine level to be very elegant in SQL Server,though I still wish the UI would evolve a little faster to support things like rolling partitions. If you’ve used partitions you know that they are basically invisible to the end user/query writer,you query the table and the optimizer figures out the rest. From what I gather in Oracle they have a deeper ability to address the partition directly. I don’t know if  that is good or bad, better or worse, but I’ve never found it to be a limiting factor in the work I do.

Interesting too is that these discussions are never macho ‘my product is better than your product’ talks, it’s a good discussion of how things work and how to achieve goals, because at the end of the day we solve very similar problems.

The Mentoring Experiment

Today Steve Jones & I are launching a new project called The Mentoring Experiment, an attempt to see if we can promote and accelerate mentoring. We’re starting with a focus on SQL Server professionals because we have a strong network and we know the business, but we definitely have interest in seeing if it could go beyond SQL, or even beyond technology.

Want to learn more? Read my launch post and peruse the rest of the site, and then we we hope you will fill out an application if you’d like some help in finding a mentor. It promises to be an interesting project and an interesting experiment!

Join Me

Screen sharing type collaboration is a common need. Mostly I use LiveMeeting, but it does require the other person to install the LM software and then you send the invitation. I was looking for something easier to install/set up, and ran across Join.Me from Logmein. It works on PC’s, iPhone, and Android, and it’s a dream to set up. No registration, just start a session.

The free version doesn’t have the bells and whistles of LiveMeeting (they do have a Pro version that comes closer), but it’s, well, free. Take a look, you might find it useful here and there.

Thinking on Culture

Over the past few years I’ve grown to believe that few things have a greater impact on the success of a business than it’s culture. I’ve seen good cultures and bad, cultures that were hyper-reactive and some that were deliberate, some that were people friendly and some that were not, and all kinds of variations in between.

Culture isn’t as easy as saying “we will be this”. Sometimes it starts with that, but there’s more to it. Culture is something perceived by individuals. As a consultant I have a different view of the culture than the employees. Managers may think they’ve set one culture when the team really sees it as something else.

Culture is defined by what you do. Walking the walk versus talking the talk.

Think your culture is healthy? Write down what you think it is, then do an anonymous survey of your team to see if they agree. You might be surprised at how many different ways things can be perceived, and realize how hard it is to build a culture without building a cult.