An Unexpected Service Gotcha

Recently I was participating in a round of storage rearranging with a client (aka the storage dance) which consisted of temporarily moving the log files to a different drive and verifying the original drive was empty, then handing it over to the network team to remove that drive, add space to the data drive, and then add back a new log drive, followed by me moving the logs back to the log drive.

Not hard work. Ahead of time I reduced the size of the logs so that the copy over and back would take less time, reviewed my list, and made sure we had backup on yet another drive, just in case. Simple though the change was, it was on the server, one that had to be working by 1 am, so I had about a 3 1/2 hour cushion just in case, but the expected outage was an hour.

The work went smoothly. Moved the logs,restarted the service (I’m conservative),the disk change went smoothly, move it all back, and then rebooted (yes, I’m conservative – I want to know I can do a cold start). Starting checking while I resized the logs back up to a decent size, and found one critical service had not started. Hit start, it failed. Fun. Looked in the event log, fairly unhelpful error about FTP not being started. I knew that the service moved files so I suspected it was an internal error and not another service, started looking for clues.

Didn’t take long to get to the config file on disk, and at the end, way way down, was a setting called “running” and it was set to No. Thanks, right? But there was a comment in the file that said it was normally only changed by the application. At that point it made sense, the service had thrown an error due to the database being detached, and rather than continue to poll and throw errors had disabled itself via a configuration file. Not a bad idea, though I’d call it – in hindsight – not fully baked. Adding a line to the event log explaining the action would have made this easy to diagnose, as would an email explaining the same. I set running to Yes and hit start on the service, success!

In hindsight I goofed by stopping the service and not disabling it. Without that error we would have been clean in 45 minutes, instead it was another 15 minutes checking and looking to figure things out. I don’t know that I should have anticipated this particular problem, I would just expect the service to fail and quit, or fail and keep failing.

For all that it wasn’t a stressful event for me. I had changed very few things and knew what they were, I had a machine in development that I could check the configuration if needed, and I had the luxury of time. Time to figure it out, time to call support if needed.

One more reminder that even the simplest changes can have unexpected consequences.

SQLSaturday #85 in Orlando!

It’s that time of year again, actually a little earlier than in previous years as we’ll be holding our fifth annual event this year on September, 24, 2011, at Seminole State College in Lake Mary, FL. We’re moving to a new building this year as well, the Partnership Center. It’s a brand new building, larger and nicer classrooms, but spread across multiple floors. That means the ‘first year’ jitters for us, trying to think about traffic flow and signage more than we have in years past when we had a proven setup.

I’ll be a volunteer and coach this year, Shawn McGehee will be leading the event (he is also the new oPASS President), and we’ll have Kendal Van Dyke on the team ,plus I’m sure a few more volunteers as well. It’s good to see someone new taking over the event,keeping it going and keeping it vibrant.

Hard to believe it’s #85. It was just about four years ago I started work on #1!

Survival Mode & Dodging Burn Out

One of the benefits of experience is that you can see problems coming, that doesn’t mean you have enough experience to avoid the problem altogether! That’s been the case for me over the past 6 months or so. I elected to make some changes in my work life at the same time I had serious volunteer commitments (SQLRally, ERC, SQLSaturday) and I knew back then it was going to be a struggle, and that I needed to set a goal to work towards, a point where I would be able to step back and recharge.

I let everyone know that I was under pressure, and in February talked to Rushabh about transferring ownership of my PASS projects on June 1st. A lot of that was due to being tired, some of it was frustration at how parts of our system work, part of it that I’ve long known that if you want to survive change the best way is to change often. In particular for SQLSaturday that change of oversight has to happen at some point, better for it to happen while I’m still near by.

Having that goal to work toward was all that kept me going some weeks. For a while I had PASS calls five days a week. You think, how hard can it be to do an hour call, or even five one hour calls? But it adds up. There is preparation time,time trying to follow up,and it just adds up. I trimmed some goals and cut some corners (reduced blogging was just one of them) and just kept going.

I’ve finished up my obligations on SQLRally Orlando, finished up on the ERC (election review committee), and hopefully by the time this goes live will have written up the last of the sprints for updates to the SQLSaturday web sites.

My goal now is to largely do nothing but my day job for the next two months. I’ll have a couple of mentoring calls as part of The Mentoring Experiment, I’ll write more because it’s both relaxing and conducive to thinking, and that will be about it. I’ve got some ideas about what I want to do when I return to action in August, but I’ll let these sit for a bit before deciding.

Of course doing nothing isn’t easy. It’s going to take some time to get back to the point of working a 40 hour week and having it feel normal. I’ll no doubt be tempted by ideas and projects and calls from friends, but I’m going to do my best to be resolute and stick to my goal.

Did I avoid burn out? Maybe not entirely, but I managed the stress better than I have n the past at least, and that’s a step in the right direction. Should I have done less and not had to take a break? That’s a harder call, with no clear answer. The book answer is probably to do less, but in life sometimes you make sacrifices to accomplish goals, and I’m ok with that.

Looking Back at SQLRally Orlando

It’s been almost two weeks since we wrapped up our first SQLRally, and in some ways it hasn’t quite sunk in that it’s done, and done successfully. It was a long project, one that started with the PASS Board of Directors wanting to do more to serve our members, especially those on the East coast. It was also a chance to fill in what I saw as a gap in our event framework in terms of size and price. Looking deeper, it was also the event we needed to give our speakers a clear path – though no guarantees – to becoming a Summit level speaker.

We started with an idea. No name, no logo, just the idea of roughly splitting the difference between SQLSaturday and the PASS Summit. Easy to say, a bit harder to do. What things make a difference? Is it the cost, or the number of speakers, or the number of attendees, or something else? Or all of the above? We discussed and argued and finally drew up a list that helped drive the rest of the decisions we would have to make. Picking a name was hard,and then we needed a logo. All of that just to get to the point of working on the event!

Once we got going we realized,slowly and painfully, that we as an organization wasn’t prepared to market more than one event at once. We were used to being ‘on message’ about the PASS Summit and we struggled to work SQLRally into the message calendar, and we delayed speaker selection as part of that as well. Hard lessons, but healthy ones, and ones that I believe will help to redefine PASS.

Eventually things started to move along more smoothly. For months we did a call every other week, then about three months out we moved to weekly calls. Some weeks it was a challenge to be up for another call, but the calls kept us moving, especially with the distributed team we had in place. Having PASS HQ involved definitely made it easier to keep things moving, and really paid off in the area of logistics, it was nice to not worry about tables, chairs, meals, and all the rest.

Looking back I realize that the time that Jack Corbett, and Kendal Van Dyke, and myself (and most of our volunteers as well) spent learning lessons at SQLSaturday made all the difference. We understood most of the challenges and had a good idea of what we wanted to accomplish. This really hit home for me during the event. I was participating in an on-site Board meeting and left it to Jack and Kendal to manage things, and while I was eager for breaks to go walk around and check on things, I knew that they would make it work. It reaffirmed for me that SQLSaturday is more than just a local event, it’s training our next generation of leaders.

For me the event was just about perfect. The side by side rooms made for a relaxed and convenient event. Instead of minutes spent walking, it was spent talking. I saw people sitting outside in the Florida sun eating their box lunch – just like we do at SQLSaturday Orlando, taking a break to relax and recharge. The after hours events went well. In particular the party at Buffalo Wild Wings was a huge success. There is magic when you get enough of our community in the same room for a while and I saw it again here. Lots and lots of conversations and introductions and laughing. Community at it’s best.

We didn’t get it perfect, but we did pretty good. We took minutes at every meeting and did everything we could think to do to help define the formula so that the second one in the US (in Nashville or Dallas or Denver) can put more energy into the fun stuff (though there will still be plenty of work!). I’m glad I got the chance to build something new, and I’m glad that so many of you attended and had a good time. It was a long journey, but the good ones always are.

Doing Good Isn’t Easy Some Days

A few weeks back I was on a short trip with my family and as some trips go, it had been mildly chaotic getting out of the house, with the crest of the chaos being the moment when we had been on the road close to an hour and I realized – you’ll appreciate this – that my laptop bag was still on the couch. Could have been worse and I tried to take it in stride, turning around to go back for it and mentally adjusting a schedule which luckily wasn’t fixed in stone.

After picking up the laptop bag and being on the road for an hour or so we stopped at McDonalds for a bathroom break and some iced tea. If you’ve traveled with kids you know what it’s like when it’s a combination of them being more than ready to get out of car, more than ready to get into McDonalds, and not being too good at remembering to look both ways in a busy parking lot.

We were just getting out when a woman came up to us asking for directions. Kids tugging on my leg, I explained that we didn’t know the area and started to head inside, and then stopped. I motioned for my wife to grab the kids while I tried to help this person find her way. Not sure why I stopped, maybe because she looked so frazzled. Not sure why I didn’t think to stop sooner, just distracted with life. As I’m trying to find the address on my phone she was sharing her story about being new in town and trying a new route home and so on.

I found the address and the route looked easy enough, about 3 miles and two turns. I showed her the map and pointed to the first turn, explaining that it wasn’t far at all. The McDonalds was at an exit on I-95,you could see the interstate and the overpass she would be taking from where we were standing. She looked at the map,listened, and replied that she just didn’t feel comfortable crossing back over I-95.

I was, as you might expect, taken aback. I tried to explain again that she was very close, but she just shook her head. So I wished her luck and went inside to catch up with family.

Afterward I thought about it, first on the strangeness of not wanting to accept the directions, and then later thinking that I had just not assessed the situation well. Maybe I had mapped it wrong somehow. Maybe she was just afraid of getting more lost. Maybe. But my guess is that she was really lost and needed more than directions and I wasn’t expecting that. I could have led her to the address, or had her call someone, and I didn’t. Should I have? I know in hindsight I wished I had done more.

I try to do good where I can. The hard part about doing good is that it’s easy to feel like you haven’t done enough. I try to remember that I do what I can and that’s better than nothing. Still, I wonder what it’s like from her perspective. Did I help any at all, or just make an already bad day a little bit worse?

The 2013 PASS Summit Goes to Charlotte

Just in case you didn’t catch the news yesterday on Twitter, the PASS blog, or via the PASS Connector, we announced that the 2013 Summit will be held in Charlotte, NC. It’s a decision that has been a couple years in the making, with the final discussions beginning early this year with an appraisal of various potential sites to look at things like overall venue cost, availability of near by ‘after hours’ places, and the layout of the rooms.

We looked at a number of cities during this process and scored each city in a number of categories. It’s an attempt to make it objective, and it definite helped to be able to compare costs side by side. Comparing things like after hours is much, much harder. Our goal was to do the scoring and then use that to reduce the field to two, at which point PASS HQ would go back to those two cities and do additional research and dig into the pricing details.

The top two scoring cities were Dallas and Charlotte. Orlando was on the list but further down, and while I think (being entirely biased) that we could have a great event here,the favorable scores for those two cities were hard to argue with. PASS HQ did the research and gave us another deeper comparison,and while it was close, the costs for the facility and food were substantially cheaper in Charlotte. For me it was that plus a feeling that if we were going to move, we should move as far East as we could. There were tradeoffs in the decision. For example, Charlotte only has one facility that could hold all of our attendees for a nearby but offsite event. There is no right answer, you look at the options and pick the one that seems best. I think my only regret is I wish we had picked a city without a large Microsoft presence (they have CSS centers in Charlotte and Dallas) so we could test the ‘worst case’ situation, but that’s a small thing in the scheme of things.

It took a while for the Board to get to the point of making the decision to move. It’s not a simple decision, lots and lots of factors to consider, few of which can be quantified and few of which can be mitigated in a definite way. Still, in the end we made the decision to invest in change, and I think that will keep the organization healthy in ways that go far beyond just 2013.

This is also the first time that we’ve announced the Summit location more than a year in advance. Obviously the 2012 Summit will be in Seattle, and then Charlotte in 2013. The fear has been that attendees would skip a year if they knew that the following year would be in a better location. I think that fear is valid but minimal, and I’d bet it all washes out in the end. It’s also nice to have the ‘big announcement’ at the end of each Summit, but this was such a change that we felt it was time to set a new pattern, one I hope the Board maintains in years ahead.

In fact we’re already looking at plans for 2014 and 2015 and 2016, and we’ll probably decide on those in the new few months. We may delay announcing some of those for a bit, maybe the ‘big announcement’ this year will be the 2014 location, or maybe we’ll do it a different way. For those wondering, as our event gets bigger it’s  harder to find space to hold the event and competition gets intense for the space, not uncommon for people to book space five years out – especially for the events that always move to a different city each year.

I think the Board did a decent job of evaluating the cities and picking one for 2013, but I don’t believe we would have considered moving if so many of you had not voiced opinions both for and against. Leading is hard because whose opinion do you take? What do you do when there is an even split? How do you weigh the risks of moving against the wishes of some percentage of members? It’s not easy and it takes time, time that can be frustrating when you’re one of the ones hoping for change, but often change does take time and persistence.

So after a lot of discussion we’ve made a decision, now there are two things to do. One is to make 2013 astonishingly successful so that there is no future fear about changing cities every second or third year. The other is for those of you who have been so engaged on this issue to stay engaged. Look at the organization and think about other ways it could serve all the members better (more bluntly, not just how it could be better for you), and start talking to each other and the Board about the next change you want to see.

Updated SQLSaturday Advisory Council

About a year and a half ago we put together the first advisory council consisting of Andy Leonard, Kevin Kline, Kalen Delaney, and Buck Woody, aimed at giving us a sounding board as we worked on ideas to grow the event format beyond the south east. Of course things change in unexpected ways, and not long after that we were able to move SQLSaturday under the PASS umbrella. Since then the Advisory Council has been a concept on hold while we worked on getting the working details of setting up an event handled and all the other stuff that goes with what was essentially an acquisition.

Last November we held a meeting of key SQLSaturday leaders and volunteers (our “Round Table”) and that worked well. It was good to get everyone in the same room, share ideas and concerns, and it let everyone see that deciding what to do isn’t always easy when you have a passionate group of 3o or 40 or 50 volunteers with various points of view.

Over the last couple weeks we’ve deployed a number of bug fixes and minor features to the SQLSaturday site including an updated Advisory Council page. Rather than try to have an election or selection process what we’re doing is including the event lead from each SQLSaturday in the past 18 months. We’ll be reaching out to them a few times a year for feedback on ideas and using their input to make sure that we continue to steer the brand in a direction that is healthy. Of course, we’ll continue to solicit and accept input from anyone that participates in SQLSaturday.

Part of this is also about doing more to recognize the efforts of event leaders. Leading a SQLSaturday is a tremendous effort and not without its stresses, but it brings an incredible value to local communities. It’s easy to show up an event and enjoy it without really understanding all the work and thought that goes into making it happen.

SQLRally Nordic

With all the talk about SQLRally Orlando you may have missed that we’ve got another SQLRally event in the pipeline – SQLRally Nordic! It’s being held Nov 8-9, 2011 at the Aronsborg Conference Center in Sweden. It’s our second SQLRally, and our first outside the US. We’ve got a great team running it including Sanna Segerström, Johan Åhlén, and Raoul Illyés, plus Craig from PASS HQ and Mark Sousa from the PASS Board of Directors.

I’ve included the event logo below. The event team asked for some leeway on the logo and presented this idea, which I think has a nice regional flavor without diverging too far from the base logo.

I won’t be attending, Sweden being a little further away than I like to travel, but I’m hoping you will go, combine some learning with a vacation, a nice adventure!

Notes from SQLRally Orlando–Part 3

Our last day went well, even extremely well. By day 2 (or day 3 if you attended a seminar) everyone knows where everything is at and it all just flows well. It was a busy day for me, several meetings about SQLRally 2012 and a lot of conversations with people I don’t see often enough, busy enough that I never sat down for lunch.

I spent a lot of time asking people what they thought, everyone positive and pleased. Even the list of suggestions for changes for next time was tiny – a reminder about breakfast being provided (or not) and  maybe not require the raffle winners to be present to win. I also had a lot of people tell me that they thought we absolutely hit our mark of creating an event that fell between SQLSaturday and the PASS Summit.

I tried to think (and ask) what was it that made it good? My thought is that it’s a combination of all of these:

  • The price point was affordable, even the seminars were a great value
  • The hotel. SQLSaturday is by it’s nature grass roots and the locations reflect that, we held the SQLRally at a very nice hotel meeting space and it made the event seem professional.
  • Less walking. There was less walking because we had four rooms literally side by side, and the sponsor area was 75 feet past that, and lunch was just around the corner from there. It’s not about the exercise involved, it’s the time. Being able to just walk to the next room in 30 steps leaves a whole lot more time to slow down and talk, and I saw a lot of that, in the rooms and outside the rooms.

Funny that all of that doesn’t seem like much in many ways,but many people described the event as intimate or comfortable. I don’t think that reflects badly on our other event formats,it’s just an area of difference – and one that I was thrilled to see work out.

One of things we tried this time was doing the ‘closing ceremonies/raffle’ at 4 pm instead of after the last session as we typically do at SQLSaturday. We had almost all of the attendees gather outside in the pleasant Florida sun for about 20 minutes while Jack Corbett, Kendal Van Dyke, Mark Ginnebaugh, and myself ran through a quick list of items – thanking everyone for attending and especially the speakers for their contribution, announcing SQLRally Nordic (Sweden!) for this fall, taking a minute for Mark to speak to them about PASS Chapters, and then finally back to Jack to raffle off some great prizes.

The last sessions of the day went well, and then we had people remaining around the registration area for another hour just talking. Some groups formed to go for dinner and various things, but no formal After Hours for Friday – by Friday you’re either tired or have met people that you want to spent time with.

A lot of people contributed to this event in ways large and small, and I hope they all know that they made a difference. In particular I want to publicly thank Jack Corbett and Kendal Van Dyke for their help. I couldn’t have done it without their help and they did a great job. PASS HQ played a big role in this as well, with Craig Ellis hosting our bi-weekly and then weekly calls that kept a very large team of volunteers in sync and on schedule.

As I’m writing this Saturday morning out by the pool at the hotel it’s nice to be able to look back on a very long journey and see that it’s done. PASS HQ will be sending out a survey to the attendees, I’m about to write some notes for the Connector, and I need to send some thank you emails, so for me today is the day I get to mark this one as completed, and completed successfully.

Notes from SQLRally Orlando–Part 2

Everything went well on Thursday. No major delays at check-in was a good start, and everything going according to plan. We had one speaker cancellation, but we had a reserve list and Jack Corbett was able to pick a speaker to fill the gap easily. Everything has just been…smooth. Nice when it goes that way.

The Overdrive sessions that we added to the end of the day were moderately attended, would have liked to see a bigger crowd (probably 100-150 was what we had) but I suspect for many the combination of it being a long day and wanting to get out to enjoy Florida was enough to pull them in other directions. The sessions went well, and I have to say I’m looking forward to Kendal Van Dyke writing up notes on the networking (speed dating) event,,).

Our After Hours event for the day was a visit to Old Town, part bar scene and part carnival. I roamed for a while with Allen Kinsel and Mark Ginnebaugh, winding up with a crowd of 50+ at Cool Catz restaurant sitting outside in typically gorgeous weather in May here in Orlando. I took a break for an hour to take my kids on the carnival rides, then back to catch up with Sri Sridharan over a sandwich, and finally checked in with the gang at sqlkaraoke for a few minutes before calling it a day.

A good day, one more to go!