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Life Lessons from SQLSaturdayABQ – Including one from Bugs Bunny


SQLSaturdayABQ

So it’s been a couple of weeks – but SQL Saturday ABQ has finally simmered long enough for me to write about it. I learned so much about so many things down there, and am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to share not only a meal and some learning with professional colleagues, but also reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

The trip down was great – I found out that putting my phone into Airplane Mode seemed to put some pretty cool Airplanes into pictures of an already gorgeous landscape.

I learned the Albuquerque is at 5,000 feet, and for someone used to living at sea level, I learned to appreciate the simple things in life, like, say, air.

(On our second day there the wonderful friend we were staying with took us up to the Sandia Peak Tramway. She and my wife enjoyed the gift shop at the lower elevations while I, still getting used to the 5,000 foot elevation,  went up another 5000 feet on the tram.

No, no oxygen masks fell out of the sky, but I could definitely feel all 10,378 feet of altitude there.

After I got back down, we explored some more, stopped at some lower elevations, and got a little perspective on the mountains for a little further north,

We stopped in a little town called Bernalillo and saw the Coronado Historic Site (above), and could hear the Rio Grande River gurgling down below. It was so different from what we have here in Washington – one could easily say it’s ugly and brown, but that would be missing the point – it’s got a beauty all its own, and needs to be looked at with different eyes.

As for the sessions with SQL Saturday itself…

I learned things about PowerShell in the session from Mike Fal ( b | t ) that made me want to get my hands dirty and try to find problems we’re struggling with in our environments that could be solved with a little PowerShell, and he proved that yes, you can indeed type in a demo, and then promptly demo’d why not to do it. J I loved the examples he gave, and the fact that he stuck with “learn the concepts, don’t freak about the code” – in large part because, just like in Field of Dreams (if you build it, they will come), with PowerShell, if you learn the concepts, the code will follow. You just have to understand what you want to do first – and that happens with the concepts. I’ve learned that if you give someone a problem first, and then give them a pile of tools, they’ll figure stuff out, and you’ll see creative juices flowing as they start thinking about new ways to solve old problems. It’s kind of fun to watch, and more fun to be part of.

I didn’t take any pictures of Jason Horner’s (b|t) session, but I enjoyed his presentation very much, which was full of demos and examples of databases much bigger than the ones I handle. As I recall, there were 4 (FOUR) MCM’s in the room… We were walking on hallowed ground there – and just that level of conversation, questions, and knowledge was fun to be around. I look forward to seeing more of his presentations, and applying what I learned there.

John Morehouse’s ( b | t ) session on social media had an interesting cross section of people in it – some quite experienced who are used to it, but always looking for new things to learn, and some who were absolutely new to the game and had never, ever used it.

John talked about how it can benefit you professionally, how easy it is to blur the lines between personal and professional, and how to do your best to keep them separate if needed. He made a very valid point that no matter where you are, you’re an ambassador for your company – so “think first, then post” along with the idea that once you hit send, it’s out there. Know your company’s policies on social media. That’s a huge thing. Even if you think it’s a private message, the wrong screenshots in the wrong places can be embarrassing for a long time. We also had a live demo of twitter, and how to do everything from getting a question answered with #sqlhelp, to getting a job via social media.

And I learned a lot – I got better doing my presentation on “Life Lessons in Communication” for the second time – and finally getting the butterflies in my stomach to at least fly in formation. I learned a lot from my audience, and had something totally off script pop into my head during the presentation – with the simple sentence of, “Are you solving the problem? Or managing it?” I realized I learned as much from my own presentation and audience as they did from me. Oh – and lessons are everywhere. You don’t even have to look hard. You just have to pay attention.

It was a lot of fun.

Many, many thanks to Meredith ( b | t ) and crew for getting everything together, and for the absolutely wonderful speaker’s dinner the night before. (what was that smokey salsa-y stuff on the chips? that was amazing!)

What came next was a time that can only be described as a slice of heaven.

Any of you in the IT industry know that the whole work/life balance thing is something that has to be managed very, very deliberately.  The cost of not managing it can be ridiculously high.

And so, for the next few days, I was able to spend that precious thing called time chatting with my wife and our friend, getting incredible amounts of fuzz therapy from two wonderful dogs, and just spending time away from the computer.  I allowed myself the time to absorb some of the lessons I’d learned at SQLSaturdayABQ, and then, as I watched some of the hot air balloons drift by, I realized that not all of the lessons I learned there had to do with SQL… a lot simply had to do with life. Some of them are still simmering, but all of them will end up in a story sooner or later.

Again – thanks to…

…all who attended the presentation (Jason had said I couldn’t start until he was there – I had the pre-presentation butterflies and was quietly hoping for him to be late – but he was there in the front row when I got there – so there was no backing out at all :-) –

…to Avanade for giving me the time off to go do this, and

…to our wonderful friend for sharing her lovely home and hospitality with us, and last but most certainly not least

…to my family for their patience and faith in me as I worked through it.

There are many more lessons out there to be learned, and as I find them, I’ll do my best to share them.

Oh, here’s just one:

You know how Bugs Bunny always says, “I knew I should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque!“?

I now know why he couldn’t do that.  🙂

Take care out there, folks…

Tom

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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T-SQL Tuesday #60– Something New Learned


 

So – as I write this, it’s the Monday evening after Summit

Emotions are still fresh, but my mind still trying to double-clutch its way back to thinking about how to apply all the things I’ve learned and I’ve been struggling to find words to answer the question asked for this one, but I think it was narrowed down to one tweet that we’ll get to in a moment.

Like many of you, while I work around a lot of people, and work with people, most of the work I do is fairly solitary. I don’t often get a chance to learn with or just relax and chat with folks outside of work who are fighting the same battles, have similar goals, and are struggling with similar  issues.

I’d been working quite a few overtime hours, plus getting ready for my first presentation in a long time for SQLSaturday 337, so I was a little frazzled coming into Summit14, and was, frankly, looking forward to what I’ve taken to calling “Summer camp for Geeks”.

Take the best thing you can remember from any summer camp you’ve ever been to. (For me, regardless of the camp, it’s the camaraderie – so let’s go with that).

Take that camaraderie – and add to it the concept of a support group. Oh, for those who haven’t been part of a support group, let’s just go to our old friend Wikipedia, which states, in part:

In a support group, members provide each other with various types of help, usually nonprofessional and nonmaterial, for a particular shared, usually burdensome, characteristic. Members with the same issues can come together for sharing coping strategies, to feel more empowered and for a sense of community. The help may take the form of providing and evaluating relevant information, relating personal experiences, listening to and accepting others’ experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks.

Wait – let’s look at those last two sentences again one at a time…

“Members with the same issues can come together for sharing coping strategies, to feel more empowered and for a sense of community.”

Uh – yeah – there’s 5,000 of us from all over the planet, most of us working in pretty solitary kinds of positions, where it’s often hard to talk about the issues we’re facing, often because we’re the only ones in the company facing them. Interestingly, we’re often introverts, which means at some level, we’re okay with the whole “working by ourselves” thing. But it is nice to know you’re not the only one out there trying to invent this particular wheel, or shove this particular boulder up a hill… Again… (see Sisyphus). That brings us to the second of the two sentences:

“The help may take the form of providing and evaluating relevant information, relating personal experiences, listening to and accepting others’ experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks.”

Just read that again… I know, it’s likely the third time… Right – then look at the picture of the community zone below from the tweet by Neil Hambly (B|T)

I was just stunned at the simplicity of Neil’s comment, “This what #sqlhelp is like in the flesh Many folks just in the community zone waiting to help others”

Just from this shot, I see Kevin Kline (B|T) chatting with someone on the floor on the left. Wendy Pastrick (B|T) is chatting with someone about dead center. I think that might be Grant Fritchey (B|T) there in one of the blue shirts in the background. I know for sure there was at least one SQUEEEE! (B|T) there. 😉

I know there are other folks I didn’t get a chance to meet or can’t recognize in this shot – but I was in the same spot that Neil was when he took that picture and saw the same thing.

And heard the same thing.

And it was people simply wanting to help others who were going down the same path. People would come to that blue carpet and be welcomed in. They’d reach out for help, and there was someone in there, reaching back. Understand, there were folks just starting their careers in there mixed right in with folks who were pillars of the SQL community, there were beginners, MVP’s, and MCM’s, and all were reaching out to each other to help.

That help took all forms. Sometimes, someone just needed to talk something out. Other times, it was a deep conversation. Often there was laughter, and what became known as #sqlhugs as those of us who’d emailed or tweeted with others for years finally got to meet them face to face. In the shot, you see people talking with each other, you see people on their laptops while on support calls during the conference itself (it was obvious on some, you could hear one side of the conversation, “…Okay, now click ‘next’…”)

And for some, just like Neil said, it was #sqlhelp in the flesh.

If you’re not familiar with the #sqlhelp hashtag – click on that one on the left there – it’ll take you to the post Brent Ozar (B|T) put out on his blog to explain how it works, with the opening line: “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.”

And at summit – sqlhelp wasn’t just something we typed.

We got to see some of the people behind it (that’s be all of us)

We got to meet them.

And we got to experience that camaraderie of summer camp and the warm embrace of a support group.

We got to hear the laughter behind an LOL as someone got a joke, or got to actually see, talk to, and listen to the folks behind it.

And over time, what became clear to me is that while I’ve used #sqlhelp in the past and monitor it in the present, #sqlhelp isn’t just some search engine that spits out answers like ones and zeroes. . It’s real people, with real experience (and real questions), again, some just starting out, some, like I said, pillars of the community, but who all take or make the time to get an answer for you, and then, often, check back with you to make sure you got it.

#sqlhelp is folks who care, folks who’ve reached forward to others in their careers and are now reaching back to help those who need it.

That’s one thing I learned at Summit this year. Not just in my head, but in my heart.

And in case no one’s said it out loud, it’s appreciated.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Coffee Grinders, Wisdom, and PASS


I’ve been at the SQL Pass Summit in Seattle this week, and I can honestly feel my head expanding from all the incredible information and knowledge being shoved in there by so many people who have worked so hard to put their presentations together, to share their experiences, their knowledge, and their mistakes.

And the other morning, as I was idly waiting for the hot water dripping through the coffee maker to become something useful, it got me thinking, about how often that has happened in my life, someone sharing hard earned wisdom that saved me from having to learn from my own mistakes.

I kept watching the coffee maker for a bit, then started to see the pieces come together.

See, not only is the PASS Summit in Seattle, I live in Seattle.  Coffee is more than just a ritual here, it is one of the basic food groups.  It is as necessary as, say, air, and that morning, I was about to clean out the coffee grinder when I heard my Oma (German for Grandma) stop me.

The thing is, she’s been gone from this earth, to live on in our memories, for over 30 years.  Why would she be stopping me? –

And then I remembered.

When I was little, she had a very similar coffee grinder (a Braun 220 volt one that you could wrap the cord around), and she ground the coffee the same way I do.  Fill the grinder about halfway with coffee beans, put the lid on, mash down on the button, wait until the rattle turns into a hiss, and you’re done.  Then – if it was her, she’d unplug the coffee grinder, then spoon out a measured amount of coffee into the coffee pot, if it’s me I just dump it into the filter I’ve put into the coffee maker.

But it’s what she said, in that southern German Swabian dialect I grew up hearing, as she unplugged it that stopped me.  “Also domme Leut’ däen d’r draht in d’r Steckdose bleiba lassa.” (roughly translated: „Dumb people leave it plugged in.”) – and I just took it to be a bit of gray haired wisdom that I didn’t quite understand until years later.

See, that wisdom was pretty simple: Don’t do stupid things.

In fact, it seems that her advice could have been used about 40 years later… See, it seems that a small coffee company here in Seattle had a coffee grinder made that really wasn’t too different from the one Oma had way back when.  It turns out that several people (some of them smart in some ways) managed to actually injure themselves by getting (or putting) their fingers into this little machine.  One that’s designed to take small things and make them into much smaller things.  Apparently the coffee grinders turned on while they were trying to clean them, and that advice about unplugging… a machine… that’s (let me repeat this) designed to take small objects and make them smaller… to keep it from turning on could have been quite useful. But my Oma wasn’t around to give that kind of advice, and as a result, the advice wasn’t heeded, and the company recalled over half a million of the things.

And that wouldn’t have happened if they’d been unplugged.

After I’d thought about Oma, (having unplugged the coffee grinder and put it away) I had another thought, this time about something that happened with Opa (German for Grampa) a few weeks later, having nothing at all to do with coffee.

See, growing up in Germany when I did, the towns and cities still had more than just a touch of a medieval feel to them, what with the cobblestone streets, and some towns still snug inside the walls that were designed to keep the inhabitants in, and any attackers out.  It had been this way for centuries. People were inside the walls, all the agriculture was on the outside, and one day, I went with Opa to one of the gardens that had been in the family for generations, where there were plum trees and potatoes, cabbage and cauliflower, beans and broccoli.

But to get to the garden, we had to walk through a long, narrow orchard, and the only thing Opa had to cut the grass that grew there among the trees with was a scythe, so it didn’t get cut often, and was about waist high on me.  I didn’t really care, and was having fun running through it when I noticed Opa was gone.  He was short but not that short, so I hunted a bit and found he’d crossed over the fence into the neighbor’s orchard, which, as I recall, had horses on it occasionally, and the grass there was much shorter as a result.  It really surprised me, as it was some work to get over the fence and he was over 80 years old at the time, so it was counterintuitive to even think of him going over the fence to walk down along the fence only to have to come back, and I was young and didn’t care about doing something as simple as walking efficiently (on the other side, where experience had told Opa that it was easier).  I just cared about doing it, even if it wasn’t efficient.  In fact, I asked him why he was over there, and he invited me to come over and join him, saying, in that Swabian dialect, “S’isch leichter zom laufa auf dära seite.”  (“It’s easier to walk on this side.”)

I didn’t go over there, being full of spit and vinegar (or the German equivalent) , as it were, and he didn’t push it and let me run like a young maniac through the tall grass on one side of the fence while he walked sedately over the short grass on the other side.

And it got me thinking…

Again.

There was something about that gray hair of theirs.

It symbolized wisdom.

Oma didn’t stick her fingers into the coffee grinder without unplugging it first.

That kept her from losing bits and pieces of her fingers in the grinder.

Opa did walk on the right side, where it was easier.

That was where he didn’t have to waste energy he needed for working in the garden on something as mundane as getting there.

So those were some pretty non-technical examples, but you can easily translate those into all the technical things you do, whether that’s making sure you don’t do the IT equivalent of sticking your fingers in a coffee grinder, or making sure you do the IT equivalent of taking the time to walk down the path on the other side of the fence.

While you’re here – take the opportunities you have and learn from those who have gone before, and who have done stupid things (and learned how to fix them) because you won’t live long enough to make all the stupid mistakes there are to make.

Take the opportunities, some of which you only have here at PASS.  Learn from those who have gone before, and who have done wise things, because you won’t live long enough to learn all the wise things yourself.

Look around you at the PASS Summit, both when you’re between sessions and especially at lunch.

See, most people here with some gray hair (figuratively or literally) didn’t get to be that way in this industry by being stupid.  Pay attention to the things they do. The things they do are often the result of hard won wisdom.

You’ve heard that wisdom (or, good judgment) comes from experience.

Of course, experience often comes from bad judgment.

So when you see a person who looks like they’ve been around awhile here at PASS, pay attention, not only to what they do, but also pay attention to the things they don’t do.

And don’t be afraid to ask them why.

You might learn something.

Oh, and if you’re still in the industry when you find that first little gray hair of your own sprouting, and you see a wide eyed up and coming DBA looking at you as if you’re the fount of all knowledge, shyly asking some advice on something, just to say they heard it from you, remember what it was like when you were thirsty for all that knowledge, and treat that request with  the respect and humility it deserves, because once that happens, it’s definitely time to give back to the community that helped make you who you are.

Take care –

Tom

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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