Chalkboard at the Office

This is something I saw recently, a large chalkboard – like the kind they used to have in schools – on a hallway at a client. People come by and write notes. I’ve seen a countdown to the holidays, reminders to work together, things about upcoming games, and more. Occasionally someone comes by and erases everything and it starts again.

It’s interesting, a way for people to have a voice, be social, have some fun, and all for a department that is all about technology. It’s a bit of culture I like, one that I’ll look for places to use.

Notes from SQLSaturday #85

I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon after the event, thinking about the event and what I want to share with you:

  • The speaker party started with a down pour, forcing us into a too small back room that still worked. Great evening conversations.
  • We used the built-in SpeedPASS for the first time. For those that printed them it worked very well. We’ve got some work to do to smooth the way for those that forget to print, but even that line went at a good pace. Thanks again to Pam Shaw and Team Tampa for thinking of this and sharing the idea.
  • The speaker gift this year was an apron with the SQLSat #85 logo and the “chefs” name embroidered. A big hit at the party.
  • Volunteers were in lime green tshirts – easy to spot!
  • Lunch was BBQ, served buffet style. We avoided this in previous years as we worried about the logistics, but the team made it look easy. Four tables set up with garlic bread, coleslaw, baked beans, chicken, and pork, plus another table for vegetarians. I don’t think anyone waited more than couple minutes. All served by the speaker chefs who seemed to be having a very good time!
  • My only ‘watch out for next time item’, don’t put donuts next to a sunlit window in Florida or you’ll have a chocolate mess!
  • We changed building this year and that went smoothly,which astounds me a bit. Experience pays off,the team mapped what worked before to new location and it worked well.
  • The new building doesn’t have a balcony so I was expecting to end the ‘throw the prizes from the 2nd floor’ tradition, but there was another building near by that had one, so we moved over there for the end of day, and they invited me to help once again with the prize toss – always a good time!

On a related note, for me there was one part that was missing this year, my friend Jack Corbett. Jack moved back home to New England this year, the right move for him, but we missed him – the first SQLSaturday in Orlando without him.

I sent a private note to them, but I want to publicly thank Shawn McGehee, Karla Landrum, Brad Ball, and Kendal Van Dyke for making it happen this year, with very little help from me. Being able to survive a leadership transitions is huge and while I’m sure it wasn’t easy, they made it look that way. Nicely done team!

What Will Be The Shared Experience at Summit 2011?

Last year it was the Tina Turner impersonator. Was it last year or the year before where the servers spun up to the point it sounded like they would take off?

I thought the Tina Turner experience was the first one that really stuck. It was one of those “I was there when” moments. I wish we were trying for that this year. I suppose it would be easy to do some riff on Tina Turner (and I don’t know if they will), but that seems…lazy.

Can shared experiences be contrived? Should they? Or should we just capture them if and when they happen?

What Should I Carry in My Laptop Bag

I have a tendency to carry more than I need, the equivalent of the Batman Utility Belt. I just went through and did some pruning, tried to get back to the basics:

  • Laptop. My E6500 for now. Love the machine, wish it was lighter. Looking with awe at the ultrabooks coming out, debating how much horsepower I really need. Probably less than I think I do.
  • Charger for the laptop. Wish it was smaller and lighter.
  • Business cards in the leather holder from SQLSaturday #21, plus extras
  • Earbud headphones
  • Laptop cable lock. Cheap one from Belkin, works ok. I don’t use often, but hate to not have it.
  • USB cable with micro/mini option. Use to charge my phone and bluetooth headset.
  • 110V USB adapter. Just added this one, so I can use the same USB cable above. Like the pivot feature.
  • 8G Flash Drive. It’s tied to the bag with a small lanyard, trying to lose fewer of them.
  • Notepad
  • Extra pen
  • Aspirin and assorted vitamins in a small bottle

All packed in my Maxpedition bag, which so far is living up to the branding of being hard use gear!

For trips I usually also have a book and some magazines, and a bottle of water. I’ve debated adding a 110V splitter plug,sometimes power at airports is hard to find,but mostly I’ve gotten by and hate to add one more thing.

Anything I’m missing? What should I remove?

PASS Update #65 (Officers, September Meeting)

I wanted to start with a follow up to my last post about the officer elections and the concerns about having two officers from the same company. The question came in about whether having two from the same company increased the risk, and I want to try to answer that.

  • The first risk is fraud. I believe that having two carries no more weight than one. Officers are empowered to sign contracts, speaker for PASS in an official capacity, so if one should go rogue there is no need for an accomplice.
  • The second risk is influence. Would having two from the same company increase the influence they have on the Board? This is a harder question. At a Board meeting the answer is no. The by-laws allow two and within a Board of 14 or so having two from the same company (which we do from Microsoft, CA, and SolidQ) is manageable. At an Exec meeting (officers plus HQ) it’s entirely different though, there it is much easier to influence direction because they are the ones in the room (on the call).

In the end I worry less about fraud. You know how crazy putting controls in place can be, we have some and perhaps need more, but we’re slow enough to respond as it is without just reacting. I’d like to see us bring an outside consultant in to evaluate the fraud risk, not just for the officers, but for HQ as well. I worry more about influence. Influence is subtle, and rarely evil,but it does happen. The question is,do the things they influence matter?

To me it only matters if it is something the Board doesn’t see, eventually. Imagine that we have two officers who decide to grant their company very favorable pricing on exhibit space at the Summit. The Board sees the totals and news about deals, but we don’t look at the terms of each one. Even if we did, would we know it was unfair? Maybe it’s a package, a multi-year deal, or includes other portions that would justify the discount.

In the end what I care about, and what I suspect you care about, is that money PASS accrues is used for good, and definitely not used to benefit Board members. I think the one control we should add is some sort of annual disclosure about any money paid/reimbursed to Board members with a short narrative.

Changing topics, I wasn’t able to attend the September 2011 Board meeting. We’ve moved the meeting to 10am, the best compromise we could find on time as it means HQ (on the west coast) are on the call at 7am and for our European friends it’s towards the end of the day. 10 am is a hard time for me to get away (we normally met at 12:30) and I don’t have a solution yet. Since I couldn’t attend I proxied my vote to Neil Buchwalter from CA, a friend, and one whose judgment I trust and values are similar to my own.

The main topic of the meeting was to resolve an issue that had been ongoing for a couple weeks. Back in August we voted to appoint three international members in a non-voting status. A couple weeks after the vote Raoul Iilyes would be working for SolidQ, and that threw us into a discussion of whether that would require us to vote for an exception to the clause in the by-laws that limits us to two from any one company (there is a provision for a 3rd, but 3 is the hard cap).

The final analysis is that since they are advisors and not directors, it doesn’t require an exception. We wanted Raoul because he’s been deeply involved in the SQLRally in Sweden, and he has just joined SolidQ. Neil (and I by proxy) supported this decision. It’s a hard call. Raoul accepted our invitation in good faith, and I’m sure that we didn’t ask or remind him about the 2 per company thing, we hadn’t figured out if it would apply or not. I believe here the good outweighs the harm, and from what I say had we taken the vote to grant the exception it would have been approved.

That said, it’s revealed – again – just how hard governing is, how much language matters. Here it is:

“The Board may also choose to appoint any number of non-voting advisors to the Board by a majority vote for a period of up to one year each. Such advisors may have full access to all Board communications and may also be invited to Board meetings.”

The whole point of advisors is influence. It requires a majority vote so I have no concerns there, but the amount of access is a concern. If you’re at the Board table on an ongoing basis we will treat you as a peer. That’s hugely different than a consultant that might come in for a couple hours of discussion or to make a report. They can – by design – exert a lot of influence.

Should the two per company rule apply to these advisors? I don’t know. I feel like the intent of the change (in which I participated) was to reassure the members that there was no hidden cabal, and to keep PASS safe for future generations from undue influence. Following that thinking, I think it should apply to anyone seated at the table on a recurring basis.

It’s been a long, somewhat painful discussion, and while I wish it had been cleaner, it was a great discussion to have, and to see it reflected in the minutes (due in the next week or so, please do read them).

No Drama

Someone I worked with recently on the server side of the business had that to say about SQL Server compared to Oracle. His perception as a guy that is on the fringe if not the middle of performance problems is that SQL Server doesn’t need much in the way of care and feeding.

It’s not that simple of course, SQL Server does need it’s share of attention, but in practice for most environments it’s remarkably stable when you get out of ‘change the app’ mode and just let things run. Does Oracle need more? That seems to be the perception, but I’m not an Oracle guy, so maybe it’s just that – perception.

MS marketing team, if you decide to use “no drama” send me an email so I can connect with the guy who thought of it!

Conflict Resolution

More than once I’ve run into situations where I’m working with two people/groups that don’t get along. Especially as a manager or consultant its easy to wind up between two factions that can’t get along for reasons often lost to history. Telling them to ‘work it out’ rarely works. If they could, they would have done so already.

Some of this is just human nature. We’ve got our own goals, our own world view, and sometimes other people just don’t share our view. We can compromise, or we can say no, no more compromise.

Short of hiring Dr. Phil, it can’t always be fixed either. So how do you get work done?

My technique is to wait until something hits that critical point. Wait for a log jam, incident, whatever, and then get them in a room. Make them both say publicly what they’ve avoided saying, get the issue in the open. There’s going to be some tension, but you can leave the room with a commitment from both sides to do whatever you need to finish the task or project.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to fix things. Sometimes explaining why the other acts or sees things a certain way can be an eye opener. Sometimes it will make no difference. You can’t fix all things. Fix what you can,get agreements on the rest,and call it a day. Sometimes that’s all there is.

Dreaming

It’s easy to get so busy with life you forget to dream, at least for me. Most of us have dreams, ranging from winning the lottery to having kids to the vacation to Tahiti. Some dreams are practical, such as paying off your mortgage. Some are less practical or even unlikely.

Fulfilling dreams requires a plan, or luck. Or both!

Some dreams take some time to shape though. For the past few years I’ve been dreaming of a founding a non-profit. I don’t know what it will be yet, I’m still in search of the intersection between a problem that needs solving and one that I want to solve. How do you plan when you don’t have a firm vision of the final goal?

My answer has been to work on acquiring skills and experience that will help me when I do see the goal clearly. What happens if the goal never gels? At worst I’ll have spent time learning and growing in ways that I know will help me (and already have). What skills might I need? Fund raising, working with volunteers, learning how a board of directors works, networking, all of those should come in handy. I won’t say I’ve mastered those, but I’ve made progress.

It’s ok to dream without a plan. At some point the dream will call to you so loudly that you’ll build a plan, or maybe it’s enough to just have the dream.