Sunday, October 11, 2009

SQL Saturday #25 and an Epiphany

I went to SQL Saturday #25 (we’ll shorten it to the Twitter hash #sqlsat25 for the rest of this post to save typing, ok?) this weekend, and I can’t come up with enough superlatives to describe the experience! Engaging, exhilarating, interesting just don’t do it justice. Obviously I enjoyed myself :)

The scariest thing I learned was that I have been wrong. I was talking with someone at work the other day, and told her I was going to #sqlsat25 because I felt I had learned just enough SQL Server stuff in the past two years of self learning to know how much there is to learn. I was dead wrong. I know *nothing* compared to the likes of the speakers present! Wow, it was a great experience!

The event itself was held in Oakwood, Georgia (which is right next to Gainesville, GA, where the event was advertised as happening, which itself is about a 45 minute drive northeast of Atlanta. As I live about three hours south-southwest of Atlanta, this was about a four hour drive, all told, one way. To make matters more fun, I am in Central Time, they in Eastern, so I had to account for that when I woke up at 2:30 AM to get on the road by 3 my time to get there in time for registration, 8 AM their time. Try to figure all that out at three in the morning :)

I got there, though, no problems on the way there or back, and I got to registration with ten minutes to spare, in time to register and enjoy some coffee and donuts before sessions started. Speaking of which, I can only really talk about the sessions I was in, but I heard all the others were great. By the way, I know my pictures are bad – all I had with me was my Blackberry, and I didn’t want to disrupt things taking too many pictures, so I have what I have.

My first session was with Audrey Hammonds (LinkedIn) – The T-SQL Trifecta: Enhancements for Everyone.

Audrey, an extremely smart and knowledgeable lady, discussed Merge, Try... Catch, and Multi-Row Inserts. This was a clearly done, really professional and enlightening presentation. Audrey built a database to demonstrate that had different rock bands and their members as data, to show how updating them (like when Van Halen replaced David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar [Rollback Transaction, please!]) could be done with Multi-Row Inserts, then went on to manipulate the data in other ways with Merge, and showed how to do error handling utilizing Try… Catch. I had never used Merge, or Multi-Row Inserts, and had never even known Try… Catch was available in T-SQL, so I really got some takeaway from this one, meaning when I go back to work Monday I will be re-writing code :)

Next up was with new speaker Neal Waterstreet – SQL Server Backups.

I found out later that this was only Neal’s second speaking presentation, so the following should be taken in context. I was disappointed with this session. Everything Neal said during the presentation was just word for word reading from the slides, and he never once looked up from the laptop screen he was reading to acknowledge anyone was in the room with him. The content was basic, which I guess was the point, but it was mainly, there is this type of backup, there is that type of backup, etc. No examples, demos, code (which I guess there wouldn’t be much for the subject), and he stopped suddenly and asked if there were any questions after 25 minutes in an hour session. Kudos to Trevor Barkhouse, another speaker in the audience, for bringing up points and driving the discussion for the rest of the session. Neal, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry to be brutally honest, but that’s who I am.

I then went to Julie Smith’s session – Cool Tricks to Pull from your SSIS Hat.

Julie must know Audrey, as she was in the audience during Audrey’s session, and their banter seemed to be like they were friends, but Julie is someone else. Funny wouldn’t be the right word. Playful would be closer. Also very smart, also really knows her stuff. I don’t deal much in SSIS besides a couple of tries in BIDS, as my server is 2005 Workgroup, which doesn’t include SSIS, but she made it seem easy! There was great audience participation, and she took it all in stride, even when someone suggested she do something another way, and when she tried she kept messing up a variable name, everybody had a good laugh, most of all Julie. Oh and extra points for the inclusion on her “Gotcha’s” slides the Monty Python Rabbit of Caerbannog, aka the Vorpal Bunny!

After Julie’s session was lunchtime, Southern fare including Pulled Pork and BBQ Chicken, beans and Mac & Cheese, with a good amount of time for Networking. This is something I am bad at, and hope to get better. I am not in the same league with these people and so I feel I don’t have much to add to a conversation, but I did get to sit with Robert Cain (!) for a while at lunch, and hear his thoughts on a few things while talking with the folks at our table.

After I ate, I went into the lecture hall to wait for the next session with Stuart Ainsworth (Blog | Twitter)– The Social DBA. The before the session session was as much fun as the session itself! Stuart had YouTube up on the screen, played the Code Monkey video for us, the Wedding Dance, etc., all the while bantering with the folks in the room while waiting for time to start. FUN!

The session itself consisted of being, or becoming, a Social DBA, discussing things like Twitter and blogging, what sites to find people and information, how to get into the spirit of community within the profession. Really enjoyable, and the hour was too short, there is so much to the subject. The whole idea is what brought me to #sqlsat25 in the first place, as I have started the Twitter and Blog thing just this past year, and it’s how I heard of the conference.

After the rollicking good time with Stuart, I next went to see Robert Cain (Blog | Twitter) presenting on SQL Server Full Text Searching.

This is another subject that had interested me, as I am currently trying to work through this subject. Robert is, to put it bluntly, an Expert. The capital is not a typo! He’s a SQL Server MVP, super professional, and, as I said, I had lunch with him, so I can say firsthand that he’s a nice guy. His presentation was full of clear explanations, useful code demos, and he told us up front everything in his pres was already on his site. Did I say Professional? Did I say Expert? This session was great!

There was a quick afternoon break, then it was All Speakers - Open Discussion! This was supposed to be Development/BI breakout, but the DBA breakout had only about ten people in it, so Stu came in and asked if they could join in, so it was a free-for-all! Great discussions about Cloud Computing, Agile Development vs. Waterfall and SCRUM (these are terms I have never encountered, so I am Googling after posting this), Microsoft Security Essentials came up, along with Visual Studio Data Dude, also things I need to look up. As I said, I know *NOTHING!*

Finally there was the session, Closing Remarks and Giveaway. At every session, we were given Feedback Cards, and, in exchange for filling them out, we got back coupons for a drawing, and this was the drawing. There was a tremendous pile of Swag! Great books, ebooks, t-shirts, all kinds of cool things! After thanking the speakers, and telling us about the after party (which, sadly, I couldn’t attend) they started calling out numbers for people to win prizes. So many people walked out with new books – even I, who never win anything, walked out with a copy of A Developer’s Guide to Data Modeling for SQL Server! Stu’s daughter called the numbers, and she was great, a fun kid to have around.

She was also a volunteer at the event, and I can’t leave this post without saying a big Thank You to all the volunteers! They introduced each speaker, made sure feedback cards and coupons were given out, took care of the food, gave directions, all were tremendously helpful – Thanks All!

In the end, though, as I tweeted on the way out, “All things must come to an end, and so has #sqlsat25. A good time was had by all.”

Thoughts on the way home

I had, as intimated above, a long trip both there and back again, and a lot of time to reflect on the day. (Cue Deep Thoughts background graphics :) I also was listening to an audio book on the trip, and something came up in that that jibed with my thinking enough I had to stop the CD and take a Voice Note Recording, so I wouldn’t lose the thought.

I think I know why SQL Server is such an engaging platform! The part of the audio book that jarred me was talking about left brain and right brain functional hierarchies, and that sparked a thought about SQL Server. Left Brain – Right Brain, SQL Server encompasses both. Left Brain is analytical, so is SQL Server, Right Brain is creative, so are some of the things done with SQL. Left Brain is sequential, see the connection? Right Brain simultaneous – set based, are we getting it yet? There’s probably more, but I am no philosopher. It just seems to me that SQL Server encompasses our full brain, makes us use both halves for us to develop for it and administer it. Maybe that’s why the SQL Server Community is such a great group of people, so engaging, every one of them smart as a whip! They’re not right-brained or left-brained people, they are both sides brained people, people who use their intellect, their humor, their creativity, their passion, people who have found common ground in a software platform.

I tweeted one more thing before I went to bed Saturday night. “20 hours awake, 422 miles driven, it's been a long, exhausting, interesting, gratifying day based around #sqlsat25. When's the next one? :)”


  1. Great write-up and glad you've started blogging and Tweeting. SQLSaturdays really are fantastic events and it's always great to see how people take away the information presented. Kudos to you for travel dedication!

  2. David,

    Thanks for the great writeup; I appreciate you taking the time to come join us, and the time to express your comments about what you experienced. I'm looking forward to next year!

    I do have one comment about Neal; I appreciate your honesty, but in Neal's defense, he had the courage to present (which is uncommon among many technical people). I'm confident that if he reads this, he'll learn from your comments, and do a killer presentation next time. But while he's learning to do that, I'm going to extend a personal challenge to you (and anyone else who reads this blog) to submit something to a SQLSaturday near you :) You learn by doing.

    It was a real pleasure to meet you, and I hope to see you again at an event in the future.


  3. David,

    Thanks for the writeup on the event--I really appreciate the feedback. I too had an absolute blast hanging out with fellow propeller heads yesterday and am also looking forward to the next time!

    I echo the gratitude to Stu , Allison, and Isabel Ainsworth for their Herculean efforts in putting together this fabulous event.

    --Julie Smith

  4. David, thanks for the kudos and for sitting in on my presentation. It was a lot of fun, and I'm glad you feel like you got something out of it. My slides and code will be up on the SQL Saturday site soon, so feel free to pull them down and get in touch with me if you run into questions.

    And remember, we're all learning something new every day. That's why we give up our Saturdays to attend these things. That's at least half the fun, no? Best of luck to you...


  5. I went to the SQL Saturday in Birmingham. My first professional development conference, and had the same experience as you. "*DoH!* What have I've been doing these past years there's sooooo much out there that I didn't have a clue existed!"

    If you're a recent graduate from an undergrad degree and feeling cocky go to one of these meetings, they'll put you in your place and challenge you to work your butt off to get better.

  6. Thank you all for your comments and emails.

    I would like to state here publicly that first, I have taken up Stu on his challenge, and second, that Neal and I are passing emails back and forth. I told him in mine that I joke "I am honest, I lose more friends that way :)" I hope this time my honesty has gained me one.