Big Numbers

What had me reflecting on numbers was an article in the Financial Times (Conduit of Contention if you can find it) that talked about the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, which settles all the equity trades on American exchanges. According to the article the DTC settled 1.48 quadrillion dollars in transactions last year, the equivalent of the US GDP every three days.

I can’t even picture that much money!

It sounds like fun to manage that kind of volume in the abstract. In practice, maybe not so much fun. I would assume a very risk averse approach to change, and the results of a mistake could be astounding.

Tom Clancy included a programmer that put in code to destroy the data of the DTC in one of his novels, Debt of Honor. All transactions lost for a period of days. Total chaos. The fix? Pretend the transactions never occurred. There was no way to prove they did, so the fix was to just treat those ‘bad days’ as the equivalent of a bad dream. A strategy that still gets used in business occasionally!

Do You Work for #1?

Someone recently asked me if I would work for a company if I didn’t believe in their products or services (to the point that I would consider them the best). It’s an interesting question because it reflects the trade offs many of us make when selecting jobs, and there is no one “right” point of view in that regard.

Should we all try to work for #1 in whatever space? There is nothing wrong with that, everyone wants to play on a winning team. But it’s not the only way to win. The team that won the World Series last year probably won’t win this year. Avis had it right, that #2 tries harder.

As I think back over the jobs I’ve held, I did most of them because they offered me the job. I needed work, I applied for positions, if they offered something at as reasonable salary I took it. I filtered jobs up front by not applying for ones that I didn’t think were a good fit, maybe because of driving distance or the company reputation or the published salary range. Rarely I would filter out a position post interview if I just didn’t have a good feeling about the culture (after a one hour interview even).

Not all of them were industry leaders, maybe one of them was a thought leader. Most were average in products and delivery. Some I stayed at for years, for a couple it was only a few weeks. The deciding factor wasn’t whether I liked their product, it was mostly whether they treated me well and paid what I considered a fair wage.

Today I take work based on the challenge it offers, how far I have to drive,how much it pays,the people I will work with, the overall culture. Money is always good, it’s what I need to take care of family, but once that amount is sufficient then I almost always decided based on culture and challenge. Sometimes I work for less than I think I’m worth just to take on a particular challenge or to join for a while a particular culture.

Maybe that answers the question. For me, it is just not the right question. For me, today, culture is perhaps the most interesting reason to work for someone, even over challenge. Next year maybe the most important thing will be money, or benefits, or being on a winning team.

It’s also a reminder to me that others pick jobs for different reasons than my own, and that’s ok too.

Projects – Win Early

Project plans should try to plan for some unknowns. For large projects they include known risks, vacation time, maybe even the loss of a key person or a parallel business crisis. For smaller projects it’s just x percent of slack time that can be used as needed. You do what you can up front, adjust course as needed. Standard stuff in our profession, at least in theory.

My stance when it comes to projects it is “win early”. That means push hard today, try to get to and conquer the unknowns as soon as possible. It’s not the easiest strategy to implement – it can lead to pressure and urgency just for the sake of it. The goal is to not get complacent, not to get caught up in committee meetings, to try to make decisions now, or at least tomorrow, to deal with risks sooner rather than later.

My Schedule for The Remainder of 2011

Just a few notes about things I’m doing over the next few months:

  • July 30 – Attending SQLSaturday Birmingham. I went to their first one and had to skip last year, great to have time to go back to see one of my favorite SQL groups
  • Aug 13 – Making my annual trek to South Florida for SQLSaturday. It’s two for one, we have a PASS Board meeting on Thurs/Fri, then many of us will be staying for the event.
  • Sep 24- I’ll be speaking and helping out with lunch at our own SQLSaturday here in Orlando. Not being the key organizer this year means I’ll get to spend more time meeting local attendees (not that I won’t miss having a hand in everything now and then!)
  • Oct 9-14. I’m planning to arrive on Sunday for the start of the PASS Summit, and with luck will be flying home late on Friday night. Steve & I will be repeating the networking party that we did last year, this time on Monday night, more on that soon, but it will be 6:30 – 9 pm on Oct 10th. I’m presenting one session during the week and on a panel discussion hosted by Brian Moran as well.
  • Nov 1-3. I’ll be presenting at SQL Connections for the first time as part of the SQLServerCentral track. Due to many other commitments I won’t be able to be there the entire week, but looking forward to seeing how Connections has evolved, it’s been a while since I attended.
  • Nov 5th. I’ll be speaking at the SQLSaturday BI Edition in Tampa, which also means a mini-holiday with family and probably a burger at the Green Iguana.
  • Dec TBA – my only plans are to attend if I can the xmas parties of oPASS and MagicPASS.

As I look at that list I’m doing better ok on sticking to my goal of one (and only one) event per month. I think for next year I’m going to try to pay more attention to the post Summit schedule, need time after the Summit to recharge and catch up at work.

Trusts Are Transitive

If you’ve done networking in the MS world you know about the trust options between domains, and one of the nice features of Windows Server are transitive trusts. If A trusts B and B trusts C, then A trusts C. Technical stuff, but I want to talk about the other kind of network, the people kind.

It’s one of the things that might be obvious, but for most people I don’t think they get the value of trust and how it transfers. For example, last year I had someone that I knew call me asking for some help with a project. He had a good idea of my skills, interests, and personality, and thought it would be a good fit. That he thought I would be a good fit in turn interested me, and so I took at a look at some work that I would have not have otherwise.

He set up the meeting – call it an interview, but not the average interview,because there were no technical questions. The questions were about interacting with teams and dealing with constraints,clearly things that mattered to them as much as the technical skills. My friend had vouched for my skills and that good enough for them. The worst that could happen (and which indeed would be bad all around) was that my friend was wrong.

It wasn’t patronage, my friend wasn’t the hiring manager or even on that team, though he did interact with the team. What he had, accrued over several years, was trust he had heard within the company. That makes him the “”B” in the A trusts B trusts C equation.

The results were more interesting. I was coming in to fix some serious problems, and I was replacing a person that had been brought in on a true temporary basis to fill the tap while they looked for someone that could be there for a longer period. We overlapped by two weeks, and on his last day he asked if I had worked with the company before. Why? Because from the first day I had a line at my cube, people explaining problems and asking questions. Why the line? My friend told them that I would help them. Because of that I was instantly connected in a way that the temp (no doubt with equal skills) never was. All because of trust, or a connection if you prefer.

My catch phrase for this is that “good people know good people”. Be trustworthy and it can open some amazing doors.

Knowing Someone Makes a Difference-Part 2

How long does it take you to get comfortable at a new job. How long to figure out who is who, find someone people to have lunch with, and feel like you’re fitting in? Consultants do better at this that employees simply because they go into new situations a lot more often, but also because they aren’t there for the long term and they are (in theory!) coming in as an expert to handle a particular problem or two, so they get access to the people that care about those problems.

For those of us that keep a full time job, it can be months to feel like you’ve gotten acclimated. Maybe less if you’re really outgoing, maybe more if you’re really introverted, or land with the team that is all introverts. It can be a long time, and being human, it’s not a fun time. It’s good to get to the point where we can stop trying to figure out who has an agenda, who does the work, who will speak truth to power,and more. Then we’re part of the culture and life gets a lot simpler.

The timeline changes dramatically if you know someone. Then you’ve got a mentor and a connector. I’m amazed at the difference this makes,and it doesn’t have to be a high level person for it to happen. Obviously the more trusted and valued they are by the organization the more it helps, but even knowing ‘just’ a DBA or developer reduces that time span from month or weeks to weeks or days.

We don’t always get the option to take a job where we know someone. The bigger your network though the more likely you get the option, and the reward is more than just the next job. Something to think on when you’re deciding whether or not to build your network.

Knowing Someone Makes a Difference-Part 1

I’ve put a lot more emphasis on networking in the last few years and I’ve always considered it an investment, the kind of investment that you think will pay off but has no guarantee. It’s not a certificate of deposit type investment.

Does it pay off? How often does knowing someone make a difference? As I think back to when I started in IT in 1998 every job and almost every consulting engagement was a result of someone I knew, or a referral from someone I knew. All except the first one!

In practice we all prefer a known to an unknown. For someone wanting help having any kind of positive recommendation puts you in the running for the job. When it comes to accepting a new position or assignment most of would much rather proceed when we have a ‘thumbs-up’ from someone that is already working there.

That might explain my track record. I like to know what I’m getting into, so I’m biased towards recommendations. It’s one of the ways I reduce risk.

There’s another benefit as well, and I’ll cover that tomorrow.

A Big Milestone-SQLSaturday #100

Just announced yesterday, SQLSaturday #100 will be held in Brazil on November 26, 2011. Just a little over four years since we started the planning for #1 in Orlando, it seems like both a long time and not very long at all. A lot of people have volunteered a lot of time to get to #100, and I think often about the impact they have had on our profession and our community. A thank you hardly seems enough, but to all of you that contribute to SQLSaturday, thank you!

PASS Update #60

I’ve written a lot here, but for June & July (and part of August) I’m trying to just keep the ship moving (my part of it at least) while I recharge. I still manage to have a few things going on, so here is the 60th update on my efforts as I hit 2.5 years on the Board.

Elections. Just in case nothing has been published by the time you read this I wanted to let you know that we don’t expect to open the call for nominations until at least August 1st, and it may be a week or two later. The ERC didn’t return recommendations to the Board until May, and then Bill Graziano had some work to do following that. Combined with other things on the schedule and everything else, it was technically possible to start and finish the election prior to the Summit, but just barely. Last week we voted to go with a slower pace to increase the chances that the election went well. I was I think the lone vote for pushing forward and deprioritizing other things go get it done, I think having incoming Board members at the Summit as incoming Board members is incredibly valuable. Taking the slower route is safer and probably wiser overall, and I’m ok with the decision to do that.

Note: Just a reminder, if you know someone that would do well on the Board, encourage them! A quick email telling them that would be a valuable service to the community and a wonderful gift to them as well.

Budget.  As I write this we’re still working on the FY 2012 budget that should have been done by June 30th. Due to various things we got a late start and now we’re in revision #10 of the budget. I don’t like the budget process, I never feel like I can do enough to make sure we’re spending our money wisely. The idea is that each board member oversees a segment and reviews that,and then we mush it together and start cutting stuff until we get to a revenue neutral point. Good in theory,not so much in practice. Just managing the question/answer/resolution gets to be a mess, this year we have a word doc with all the notes so at least we can see if everything was answered. We’ve still not taken the important step of allocating IT time to portfolios or particular projects, it’s just one lump of IT time. That doesn’t work well for most organizations and it doesn’t – in my view – work well for us. I’m hoping we can do this after we get the budget done as it is largely an administrative change.

SQLRally 2012. We haven’t appointed anyone to take this over for 2012 on the Board (I asked to have it reassigned to balance my workload) so I try to check in on it. We’re still trying to finalize the venue and date, it looks like early May right now (in Dallas).

SQLSaturday. Karla Landrum has joined PASS as one of community people and I’m thrilled to have her on the team. Karla gets community because she has lived it. We’ll give her two weeks to get settled and then we should see some good stuff happening! I’m not sure of the final workload split at HQ, but Karla will be doing a lot of work coaching new events and will be going out to many of them as well, with a focus on new cities.

My focus has been on IT improvements and some marketing stuff. The IT stuff is coming along nicely. Nothing earth shaking, but we’ve done a lot of fixes and adds across the board, things that will smooth out the experience. We’re also expecting to deploy a graphics makeover by the end of August. I’ve pushed it toward the end of our current dev cycle so that if we ran out of time, we’d get the features done before the looks. The good news is that I was able to get another three months of development time for FY 2012, and we’ll be using some of that immediately. With just a little luck we’ll have all of our current list complete and deployed by end of August. That’s not to say we’ve done it all, or satisfied everyone, but I think you’ll see them as positive improvements. We’ll be meeting at the Summit in November to talk about the next steps in development (at the SQLSaturday Round Table). Tools aren’t the only thing, but they matter a lot.

On the marketing side I’ve asked our marketing person to look at making some of our standard documents such as the sponsor plan look better – font, colors, etc, and to build some standard templates for event flyers. More to do here, and while I’m not always a fan of marketing teams, there are places where expert help makes a difference, so we’ll see. Send me ideas too!

Governance. I haven’t gotten as much done here as I had hoped. I’ve been doing some reading and I’m waiting on some documents from HQ (tax filing, audit statement, etc), and I’ve been making some notes about some of the challenges we seem to keep hitting – capturing knowledge, and building simple and repeatable processes. Perhaps I’m over confident, but I believe I understand the scope of the problems, which is a good step in finding solutions. It’s not that easy of course, but there are real gains to be made here, if we can reach consensus on the Board.

Android Game: Slice-It

The eternal challenge with games, and free/cheap software in general, is knowing what’s out there, especially since you don’t always know what you’d find useful! For illogical reasons I’m a lot more willing to take a chance on stuff on my phone that I would on my laptop – maybe a sense (true or not) that there is better app separation on the phone. Maybe it’s just because I have kids!

I thought I’d mention Slice-It here, one of a few games I installed on my Droid X for my kids to play.  It’s a simple yet demanding logic game. You’re presented with a shape, then asked to cut the shape into a specified number of pieces using a specified number of pencils (lines/cuts). In the beginning as long as you get the number of slices correct you continue, once you go a ways they want the slices to all be the same size more or less.

The image below (from their site) shows you an example. The goal is to cut the circle into 8 slices using 3 pencils. An easy one to solve, it’s the standard pizza cut. Don’t be fooled by how easy this one is!

Screenshot of Slice it ! Andorid  Game

It’s free, and it’s worked well so far. A nice change of pace, and I think a good game for kids, encourage them to think about logic and symmetry.