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SQLSaturday #21 – Orlando: Recap

I’d like to preface my recap with a huge thanks to Kendal Van Dyke (Blog | Twitter) for being such a gracious host and letting me stay with him last weekend for the event. Kendal is a great guy, DBA and father and I really appreciated his invitation.

My SQLSaturday adventure started Friday as I left work and headed to Orlando to make it to the speaker’s dinner. I swung by Kendal’s house so we could head out there together. On a complete side-note, the city of Celebration really is quite the charming little town. It’s like driving straight on to the set of The Stepford Wives, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on what you make of that! The speaker’s dinner was held at a restaurant/bar about 40 minutes north so Kendal and I had some nice one-on-one geek talk about work, life and all the madness fun stuff going on with the PASS elections last week.

The speaker’s dinner was great, I got to meet some new folks like fellow SQL Twit (and co-author) Ken Simmons (Blog | Twitter), Regional PASS mentor and all-around awesome human being Andy Leonard (Blog | Twitter) as well as got to have some quality geek time with the rest of the speakers. Sitting down with fellow geeks and talking shop is always a fantastic time and I highly recommend you take advantage of it any time you get. I got to take advantage of a similar situation the next day which I’ll get to in a bit. After the dinner Kendal and I went back to his place and like anyone who has presented can attest to we both stayed up late tweaking and completing our slide decks in preparation for the next day.

The next morning Kendal and I arrived at the event and due to some miscommunication with signage we got into the wrong parking lot but thankfully Kendal remembered the right place to be from a  previous event there so we finally parked in correct lot. The check-in process was pretty smooth but the only thing I’d have to ding Jack/Andy for is the placement of vendor tables in that opening hallway. The doorway to and from that vendor hallway was really crammed and made it a bit of a hassle to get to/from but I can’t ding them too bad as you can tell it was placed there out of necessity since we didn’t have a large open space like a cafeteria to take advantage of. To counter my ding I should give kudos to the very large maps provided on the walls throughout the event that showed where each classroom was. I thought this was a FANTASTIC idea and was especially helpful when last-minute room changes were made. Some other great stuff that happened prior to sessions starting I got to meet another fellow SQL tweep Gareth Swann (Blog | Twitter)!

[NOTE: All presentation materials can be downloaded at the event page SQLSaturday website, go to Schedule and click on sessions to get slidedecks/code samples)

The first session I attended was Andy Leonard’s session on Database Design. As was mentioned by Jonathan Kehayias (Blog | Twitter) this session was standing room only after the small group of people who made it in after the room change confusion. Andy is a knowledgeable, personable and funny speaker and I was very surprised to discover this was his first time presenting at a SQLSaturday event. I really enjoyed the style in which he presented code examples. The first sample of code was the easy way which many take. It’s easy, and it works. The next code sample would be a better way to do it and finally he showed the “best” (or best compared to other samples) in how to code. Some examples of what makes code “better” is making re-executable SQL code. For example wrap your code with IF EXISTS checks so that if the code were run again it can fail gracefully or at least skip unnecessary code executions. Some other nuggets were that Andy likes to save the output from his script executions, which he referred to as deployment artifacts, and archives them for documentation purposes. Something really nice I took away from this is that I finally got an explanation of what that sqlcommand button/mode does in SSMS. This mode allows you to (amongst other things) chain scripts together so if you have several deployment scripts you can launch them all from within a single script file in order. Another very cool thing I took away from this presentation is Andy talking about how he read a paper from NASA regarding their code deployment/development process entitled “They Write the Right Stuff”. In it they describe how NASA actually looks to tweaking processes before they look to tweaking code to ensure quality and Andy had some very good insights as to how to carry that over to the SQL world. If you get a chance to chat with Andy or attend one of his sessions I HIGHLY recommend it! One last funny thing to come out of this session was Jonathan Kehayias keeping track of how long it took for him to answer a question with “it depends”. I believe Andy clocked in at somewhere near the 20 minute mark.

The second time slot was time for me to present my Policy Based Management talk. I had about a dozen folks in attendance including Aaron Nelson (Blog | Twitter), Ken Simmons, and Bonnie Allard from the Spacecoast SQL Server User Group. I attempted to broadcast the session via LiveMeeting (big thanks to Jeremiah Peschka for providing me with that) but alas it didn’t work because 1) I’d never done it before so after the fact I realized I broadcasted only webcam with no sound and no screen shared out and 2) Internet connection at the venue was spotty so I wasn’t even sure if connection didn’t drop during event. Overall I think the talk went ok, nothing blew up too badly but I did learn some valuable lessons thanks to feedback from those in attendance. I think from here on out I am going to break up the PBM into two presentations: One intro and basic overview and second more demo heavy and advanced tips/tricks. There really is just so much stuff in it that it is very hard to try and cram everything into an hour session and not forget something or rush. Hopefully if Ken can make it down to SQLSaturday Tampa in January we can do this two-part session together (and maybe even at PASS 2010? Hehe). On a side note this is the second SQLSaturday I’ve presented this talk and the number of those coming out were about a dozen while other sessions I’ve attended were pretty much full houses. So I ask this question to you, all five of you who read this the general audience: Does Policy Based Management simply not interest you or rather Does PBM seem like to much of a “niche” topic that you feel you can’t/won’t be using? I’d be very curious to know how people view this very powerful tool. It really is not that hard to implement/use and can be extremely useful for developers and DBA’s alike. Please leave your thoughts in comments below or if you’d rather email me directly at jorge<at>sqlchicken<dot>com.

Immediately following my session, in the same room, was Ken Simmons presenting on Automating Routine Maintenance. I thought this presentation was very well done and presented some really good things to think about and implement as a DBA. The ever SQL-omniscient Brent Ozar (Blog | Twitter) even got some credits in regards to the different images used in Ken’s slide deck which were funny and appropriate (gotta love car analogies). Ken covered some great stuff such as covering what a fail-safe operator was and how it differentiated from a regular operator in SQL Server (hint: fail-safe operator is written to system registry, rest are kept in msdb). This was cool as I didn’t know exactly what the fail-safe operator was or why it was there! Now that I know I’ll be implementing it in my systems back home. Some other important topics he touched on were performing DBCC checks on your databases and what some of the check options are and why you should be using them. Same goes with traceflags. He also covered statistics in databases and he had a really awesome analogy for this one that involved driving home. He likened SQL Stats to someone driving to and from work everyday. After awhile you know which route to take and which route is fastest so that’s the one you always take. But what if one day there’s construction and you need to detour from your usual route for a week? Well when this happens you need to update your mental stats as to which route you need to take in order to get to your destination fastest. The database engine works in a similar fashion. Again, car analogies FTW! For the record it took Ken almost 50 minutes before he dropped the “it depends” bomb.

Lunch was a bit of whirlwind for me since I pretty much just had time to grab my box lunch, eat and head over to my room for my mini presentation on Twitter and SQL Server. I rather liked this session as it just felt more laid-back than the PBM talk and with only 15 minutes to fill there wasn’t as much pressure. The presentation was aimed more towards those who have not used Twitter due to being hesitant on finding a useful value to the tool as opposed to finding out what Miley Cyrus had for breakfast. I gave a few examples of how Twitter has helped me personally at work, the best example being getting direct help from Paul Randal (Blog | Twitter) when I had a database corruption issue. Thanks to the relationships cultivated on Twitter with the rest of the SQL Commmunity I think I have added more value to both my organization and myself as I can always reach out to others and get help on topics I’m not necessarily comfortable or familiar with (read also: SSRS and SSIS). In addition to just reaching out for help I can stay up to date on latest happenings in the SQL Community as well as training opportunities such as free webcasts, events and blog posts that help me learn more about my specialty. If I sound like I’ve drank some sort of Kool-Aid it’s because I really can’t say enough how great Twitter has been in connecting to the SQL Community. If you haven’t tried it yet I highly suggest you give it a shot. If you need a list of folks to follow on Twitter then head over to SQLServerpedia as they have a nice collection of folks already on the Twitter bandwagon. Make sure to drop me a line at http://twitter.com/sqlchicken .

At this point my intention was to head over to Kevin Kline’s End to End Troubleshooting session but as I was walking to the room I noticed a few guys sitting around the pavement chatting. What caught my eye was WHO it was since it was a couple of folks I hadn’t met yet and was really anxious to. The sidewalk gang consisted of Andy Leonard, Jonathan Kehayias, Buck Woody (Blog | Twitter), Joe Webb (Blog | Twitter), Joe Healy (Blog | Twitter) and (eventually) Ken Simmons. Despite all the great content available at the event I thought the hour spent with these guys (yup, ended up missing the session, sorry Kevin!) was invaluable. How often do you get to sit around a group of guys of that caliber and hear their thoughts on SQL Server and, as was the case in this particular conversation, get some inside stories from the world of Microsoft! This wraps back to the whole “social networking” aspect of one’s career and I highly encourage everyone to take advantage of opportunities when presented. In this case I weighed my options: Can I download Kevin’s slide deck or catch another similar session online? Yes and probably. Am I going to get another opportunity to get face to face time like this outside of going to PASS Summit? Probably not. If you attend a SQLSaturday event (or any event rather) and you see someone you’d like to talk to then go introduce yourself! Heck, even milling around and simply listening to two or three top guys discussing shop-talk together can bring all sorts of new information into your world. I guarantee you that those “big name guys” are just as excited to meet you as you are to meet them. If you’re going to PASS this year and want to learn or practice networking skills I highly recommend you sign up for Don Gabor’s pre-conference session on Networking to Build Business Contacts. After our “sidewalk session” was done we started heading to our next classroom destinations when another impromptu networking opportunity presented itself with none other than Joe Celko (Blog)! I just got to spend a few minutes with Joe but man that guy is so ridiculously smart and personable I was blown away! I had heard how nice of a guy he really is as opposed to his evil cantankerous online alter-ego but Joe really is a great guy. He talked about the future of SQL a bit and how indexes may actually no longer be necessary thanks to something about hashing (again this guy is way out of my league in SQL-smarts so I’m probably butchering his words). So after all of this networking practice it was only right that my next session was to go see Andy Warren (Blog | Twitter) present on Social and Not So Social Networking for the DBA!

Again, this was another standing-room only session and for good reason. Andy is a fantastic speaker and its almost like he’s a wisdom machine that just produces knowledge nuggets every time he speaks and you can quote me on that one. I showed up a little late due to my social activities from before so I didn’t realize (until I saw Jonathan Kehayias’ tweets) that Andy had projector issues so he was “working without a net” so to speak. I’ve attended this session before by Andy but it’s always interesting to see which way the conversation goes as the presentation is almost a forum in the way Andy prods the audience for their thoughts and views and goes from there. What I love about Andy’s speaking (and him in general) is that he has a definite viewpoint on things that are quite often different than mainstream views are and he forces you to really think about stuff. For instance it wasn’t until after then event was over that Andy delivered his first, and highly-anticipated, tweet! Did he just create an account that day? Nope, he actually created it months ago when another fellow SQL Tweep convinced him to create an account but Andy refused to jump in and start tweeting unless he could see a real returnable value from said technology or tool. This is something important for all of us to really think about before we just start jumping on-board trends. Jonathan was tweeting some great Andy quotes throughout the session and you can see some of those over at Jon’s SQLSaturday recap post.

The last session I attended was Joe Celko’s “Celko on SQL” session. Since I regrettably won’t be able to make it to PASS Summit this year, and I wasn’t sure the next time Celko was going to be down around my neck of the woods, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. The session consisted of Joe basically going back through the history of the SQL ANSI Standard (for those of you who don’t know, Joe is on the ANSI board, yes that board that met for 3 days to come to the conclusion that its pronounced S-Q-L not “sequel”) and all the fun things that came out of it and why some things behave the way they do. He had different slide decks based on topics such as the JOINs which we delved into a bit. This session didn’t have any code samples to take away or best practices to implement but its always interesting to see the history of your product and the minds behind said product. Special thanks to the Central Florida Oracle User Group for pitching in to bring Joe to SQLSaturday. Here’s another pitch for PASS but there’s plenty of opportunities like this at PASS Summit where you can talk directly to the folks that write the code that run the queries you bless/curse on a daily basis. So if you’d like a reason to give to your boss to attend, there’s a pretty good one right there.

The day wrapped up as all SQLSaturdays do with the distribution of SWAG to the masses. Andy Warren was chucking stuff left and right from the balcony to the people whose number he called out below which made for an entertaining way to wrap up the day. Huge thanks and congratulations goes out to Jack Corbett (Blog | Twitter), Andy Warren and their dedicated volunteers for putting on such a great event. Events like these and the people I meet energize me and reaffirm how much I love what I do and how much I love the community I’m a part of because of it.

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  • Andy Warren

    Jorge, thanks for the kind review! On the sponsor area, it was there by design, sorta. One thing we aim for is that the sponsor area should be in the center of traffic flow and ideally confined enough to generate some “buzz”. The area at the college isn’t optimal, but the only alternative was to put them outside – which isn’t great because of wind blowing, chance of it being cold, etc. I’ll talk to Jack and see if we can come with some ideas for maybe using other spaces they have. They give us great support and I’d hate to move, but I have to admit yearning for larger rooms and a larger common area…kinda like we had for SQLSaturday#1!

  • http://sqlchicken.blogspot.com Jorge Segarra

    Yup I figured that was the case. Thanks again for a great event Andy, can’t wait to have you guys over in Tampa for SQLSaturday in January!

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  • http://www.devfish.net Joe Healy

    Video and my trip report here, nice panoramic stitch photo of your session – http://www.devfish.net/FullBlogItemView.aspx?BlogId=713

    • http://sqlchicken.com Jorge Segarra

      Cool, thanks Joe! Great pics.

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      Umm Redgate?