TSQL Tuesday #102: Giving Back

T-SQL Tuesday LogoThis TSQL Tuesday comes to us from Riley Major (b | t), He asks us in what ways we can give back to the SQL Community. He suggests blogging, speaking, answering questions, mentoring, or if we have done some of those already, to discuss what motivated us to contribute.

I knew of the helpfulness of the SQL Community from way back in the old USENET days when that was the best way to get help. Some users would download all of the headers and a good portion of information for offline use during their commutes on a train and spend that time reading and responding to others. SQLServerCentral.com popped up during this time period and was a great free to use resource to share information and articles.  The early days of Twitter saw the #sqlhelp hashtag pop up as a way to ping the community for ideas, with several keeping an eye on it and responding.

I learned quite a bit from the regulars on USENET. Jamie Thomson blogged about SSIS and Database Projects, which helped me to overcome some hurdles. We still have people who share regularly – SQL Skills and Brent Ozar’s team both provide regular writings to teach and inform others, even while maintaining a consulting business. Grant Fritchey has now taken to vlogging to share information.  Red-Gate provides a pretty good online newsletter. When attending SQL events, the attendees are often more than willing to share their advice and experiences.  I haven’t seen this level of sharing in many other tech communities.  I’ve had some great co-workers over the years who shared their knowledge to train others and grow/challenge the people around them. They’ve also been great to bounce ideas off of over the years.

I knew I wanted to give back early. I’ve learned from others and can share what I know to help new people grow their skills or not have to learn by making mistakes I’ve already made. I try to keep up with the SQL Community on Slack and answer questions that fall within my strengths. I’ve put together a guide on using SSDT some time ago. It’s old, but the information is largely still relevant.  I still blog as I discover something that could be helpful to others. I also try to contribute on StackOverflow in the DB Project/SSDT category. (I’ve found my response time for the TSQL tag is often too slow to help out too much.)

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be presenting at SQL Saturday Dallas 2018. My topic will be “Getting Your DB Schema Under Control with SSDT”. I have learned quite a bit about DB Projects over the years and the idea of getting your databases into some sort of version control is a passion of mine. I’ve dealt with trying to recreate changes over the years and it’s always been painful trying to handle changes to DB Objects. If you’re planning to go and this is of interest to you, feel free to check out my session in Slot #2. I plan to make the slides and code available after the session is over for anyone who wants to follow along.

Not related to SQL, I also try to serve the church community with my technical knowledge. I’m not a full-time person for that area, but have learned quite a bit over the years and have a passion for helping the local church use technology effectively for their mission. I know my strengths well enough to be able to contribute and advise. I’ve run a couple of tech support workshops to help people clean up their PCs or do basic hardware upgrades that they’d otherwise pay the Geek Squad $$$ to perform. I know that I’ve acquired these skills over the years for a reason, so giving back just makes sense.

I want to close with an encouragement to anyone who happens to read this. You may be just starting out or an old pro. Regardless, you probably know something that nobody else does. Write up your experiences and share them. Check out some of the tech support sites such as stackoverflow or ask.sqlservercentral.com and read up on some of the questions. Answer where you can contribute.  If speaking in public is something you can do, volunteer for a local SQL User Group meetup or meeting or consider presenting for a Virtual Chapter.  Learn a bit about presenting and watch some good presenters to grow those skills.  But don’t just take in all of that information and never share it. You’ll grow as you grow others.

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T-SQL Tuesday #99 : Singing and Music

T-SQL TuesdayThis month’s T-SQL Tuesday is hosted by Aaron Bertrand (b/t), and he offers as a topic what he calls Dealer’s Choice. We can either share something about which we’re passionate outside of the world of SQL Server or we can discuss a T-SQL bad habit. I’m choosing the former.

I’ll start with singing and music. I grew up in a musical family. My grandmother played organ at her church for decades. She started when she was in her teens and kept going for a long time. imageShe also gave private piano and organ lessons. She directed children and adult choirs along the way. All of her children are musical in some way. My mom played cello and piano and sang soprano for quite some time. We lived next door to my grandmother in an old (1700’s) duplex home so I was over there regularly to play around on the piano, color, sneak a cookie or other treat, or just to visit. Along the way, I got free piano lessons until I eventually switched over to clarinet and saxophone.

I played clarinet as my primary through HS and added Alto Sax for our school’s jazz band. I never made the State band, though part of that was because I tended to not work as hard at my music as I should have. I had quite a bit of talent to handle first chair in our school band with little effort and was not very disciplined to practice harder for outside auditions. I knew music wasn’t going to be my career even then, but still enjoyed playing. Our band did pretty well at band competitions and it wasn’t until I left that I realized how many talented and gifted players we actually had in that small school. I miss playing in that band, but I don’t miss the q-tips we wore during marching season.

Once I got to college, I continued to play clarinet in the Wind Ensemble for fun. However, I was introduced to Barbershop style harmony during my time. One member dragged me along to a local chapter meeting and I was hooked. I love the tight harmonies, the a capella style, the “old songs” and the new ones done in that style. I hadn’t actually done much singing since about age 10, but found I had a pretty good voice for singing the “Lead” part (2nd Tenor) in Barbershop. That’s stuck ever since and I’ve joined a local chapter everywhere I’ve lived.  When I travel, I try to visit the local chapters to join them.

VM_6 1200w.jpgI currently sing with the Vocal Majority, a 160 voice men’s chorus in the DFW, TX area. We sing more than just Barbershop, branching out to show tunes, pop tunes, and other styles. The chorus has won the gold medal at the annual Barbershop Harmony Society conventions 12 times. I was there for 3 of those. You can see some of our videos on YouTube.

imageI’ve helped out by singing in pick-up quartets to deliver Valentines and currently help run the attendance app for meetings (developed by another member, but it runs on a SQL Server backend).

The bass is 5’26” – and has almost resorted to making cards to hand out with that information. He’s a great guy all around and enjoyed going into the high schools.  The number of students trying to snap selfies with him as he walked down the halls was pretty amusing.

During the week, I sing in my local church choir. I find that a great use of the skills and talents I’ve been given. I appreciate that we are encouraged to be worship leaders, not just performers or people singing on a stage. The church encourages musicians of all types and ages, and has a worship orchestra for members who want to play instruments. If I weren’t singing, I’d pull out my clarinet to join them. My oldest is able to sing along with the student choir. The little ones are encouraged to sing and play instruments from a young age. I’m glad that they get to enjoy that and are trained by people who love music.

T-SQL Tuesday #97 – Learning Goals for 2018

T-SQL-Tuesday-LogoThis month’s T-SQL Tuesday is brought to us by Mala Mahadevan.  Mala has challenged us to set some goals for our own learning in 2018. This could be learning to improve our social skills, technical skills, or perhaps some other area of our lives.  The challenge is to be intentional about our learning by answering three questions:

  1. What do you want to learn? (specific skills and talents)
  2. How and when do you want to learn? (methods of learning and timeline on learning)
  3. How do you plan to improve on what you learned? (Putting it to use at work/blogging/speaking)

I know that I’ve wound down the year with some time to learn new skills, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes because the end of the year has allowed a little more freedom to pursue that time to learn. One year I taught myself enough Python to script out some tasks that were giving me huge amounts of trouble at work. I figured out how to talk to SQL Server, manipulate files, call out to command line utilities, and enable some easier re-use of the code so it could be parameterized for similar uses with different customers. This was back when PowerShell was still just hinted at by MS and their only options were VBScript, Batch files, or some 3rd party option.  Had this come a couple of years later, I’d likely have tried to do the same in PowerShell.

What Do I Want to Learn?

In 2018, I can see a couple of areas that I’d like to grow in.

  • Biml – I see quite a bit of work coming soon that will have me working on similar SSIS packages that will require tweaks and adjustments. I really don’t want to repeat some of the fun of “adjust a UNION ALL” transform and click through the package to adjust the rest of it. If I can get enough Biml under my belt to even start to automate this or reduce my work, it will be a win. We’re looking at doing ETL from one source to many databases as well to support Power BI. I can see Biml being a powerful tool to help with that.
  • Power BI – What can I say? Data Visualization is big and MS has been investing heavily in Power BI. It’s what our customers want and what we’re planning to use to enable them to see all sorts of interesting data. I need to keep up with what MS is doing here and be able to support loading and querying the data so we can present it to our customers. I still plan to leave the “make pretty” work to those who are more talented than I in that area.
  • PowerShell – With more of my work going to Azure SQL, I really need to ramp up my PS skills. I’ve primarily worked as a DB Developer – TSQL, SSIS, SSAS, some SSRS, and design. PowerShell hasn’t been a high priority there because, apart from deploying those things, I don’t really have a need for it day to day.  With Azure SQL in the mix, if I want to query all of our databases, I no longer have the ability to use something like “sp_msforeachdb” or run a cross-database query. I need to connect to each DB separately, run my code, then connect to the next.  Knowing more PowerShell will help me quite a bit to handle those repeated tasks.

How and when do I want to learn?

Now for more details. This is where things get harder to plan, but where a plan is most needed.

Biml – my main starting point here will be to get through the Biml Book that was just released by APress.  I’ve already started reading through this and have worked with Biml before, though not to the extent of others. I’m aware of its capabilities and know that it would help me greatly. I will need to ramp up some C# skills to be able to make more effective use of my code, but even without that I can help make packages that are easier to tweak.  My plan here is to get through about one chapter per week.  I’ll then take that knowledge and rewrite some of our existing SSIS packages into BIML code.  Any new ETL tasks that come up I’ll try to generate them in Biml so I can materialize packages that are easier to change as needed.
Goal: Able to handle simple-medium level complexity tasks in Biml by June 2018

Power BI – My biggest gains here will be through better understanding of DAX and the Tabular model. I’ve followed the PowerPivot Pro team, regularly read the writings of Russo and Ferrari, follow Adam Saxton’s “Guy In A Cube” videos, and try to keep up with the PowerBI User Groups.  However, I’ll need to take some time to really go through a good Power BI book or course. I plan to use Pluralsight, EdX, and any decent books that I can find to get me beyond the beginner stage for DAX and Tabular data.  This is an ongoing area for me. My goal is to be able to design optimized data structures and answer some more complex questions, especially when it comes to comparing data over similar periods
Goal: Complete the EdX PowerBI course by March 2018. Complete one book on Tabular/DAX by end of 2018.

PowerShell – I’ve gone down this road before. In the early PS days, almost all of the books/articles dealt with administration of Windows domains/services with very little about SQL Server. Even the SQLPS module got little love and community alternatives sprang up. That’s a little different now. My first priority will be connecting to Azure SQL Databases to run queries – especially ones that need to run against a list of databases. After that, I’ll move on to things like deploying and building SSDT Projects, capturing the scripts/builds for later replay and such. There are more tasks for DB Developers now with automated releases, builds, CI/CD, and a plethora of tools that weren’t around 10 years ago.  I can take advantage of books and the SQL Community’s contributions to learn more about PS.
Goal: Complete at least one PS book by the end of 2018. Write a couple of scripts or modules to run SQL against a list of databases/instances/servers in Azure SQL by June 2018 at the latest.

How Do I Plan To Use These Skills?

Most of these will be applied directly to my current job. BIML to build SSIS packages and make them easier to generate – ideally moving towards a metadata-driven framework that I’ve seen others use.  PowerBI will be used to visualize data about all sorts of things – SSIS, performance, customer data/metrics.  I’ll use PowerShell to help me run SQL scripts against multiple databases. I’ve had a need for this for a while and it’s just going to grow when using Azure SQL. I’ll also use it to help me build and deploy database changes to those databases.

TSQL Tuesday #96: Folks Who Have Made a Difference

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This month’s T-SQL Tuesday, hosted by ewald, touches on the people who have made a positive difference in our journeys in the SQL Server world. Please pardon if you’re reading this and feel left out – that’s not my intention. There are so many people who’ve made a difference for me along the way that it’s hard to list them all.

My first shout-out goes to the folk I worked with way back when I was just starting out. I worked for a company just coming out of start-up mode with SQL Server 4.21a.  The first time I heard of “sequel” server had me scratching my head until I saw the posters around for “SQL” Server. I was given an opportunity to learn, mostly through BOL, SQL Server and become an MCSE through much studying and some horrible exams. I discovered that I kind of liked this database thing and learned more, got better at my TSQL, and learned where to ask questions from the people who were really involved in the product.

I owe a huge debt to the folk who regularly participated in the old “microsoft.sqlserver” USENET groups. I could search through those posts for people with similar problems to what I was trying to solve, or just interesting questions. I would find out pretty quickly about major bugs (anyone remember SQL 6.5 SP2 and SP4?).  Regulars there such as Joe Celko, Steve Jones, Andy Warren, Andy Leonard, and Jamie Thomson would all respond pretty quickly and often provide additional food for thought.  I could follow along with people wanting to argue with Mr. Celko about proper ANSI SQL – usually good for some amusement. I could learn some interesting tips for making DTS jump through the hoops necessary to move data around.  One thing I learned from those USENET groups is they were vastly different from other tech groups at the time. If I asked a question in those forums, I got a real response – not just a terse “RTM and go away” that I saw so often in other forums. I knew that the SQL Community was much more welcoming than other groups at the time and that was quite attractive.

I have to give a shout-out to co-workers along the way who challenged me and let me bounce ideas off of them, as well as for sharing a laugh when the situation didn’t really call for laughing. Jeff Rush, Mark Hill, Nick Floyd, and many of the people from Fellowship Tech, several along the way from First City/Drive/Santander, and many at my current gig at Healthwise.  I appreciate the desire to follow through, think of new ways to solve problems, and do all sorts of cool things along the way to increase our efficiency by spending less time on “keeping the lights on”. As an admitted “lazy DBA”, I can definitely appreciate time spent doing meaningful work instead of busywork.

The people in the SQL Community – many of whom I have not met face to face, but chat with in the Slack forums.  There are just too many to mention here, but I appreciate the regulars who share a joke, a neat way of doing things, ask questions that make me think, or answer questions I have because they’ve been there already.  If you’re in the Slack community – you’re likely in this group. Thank you. I appreciate you all taking part not just in general chit-chat, which is fun, but in helping everyone grow in their skills.

The folk in the PASS Prayers group. As a Christian, it’s great to have a group of people who will pray for each other. Yes, we have that in our local communities, but it’s great to have a group of people who share the same types of career and can join together with a bit more understanding about our day-to-day struggles. It’s also great to meet up with them when I actually get to attend the Summit.  Thanks to Mike Walsh and others for getting us all together.

I know there are groups that I’m leaving out and that’s because there are so many people who’ve been helpful in this journey. Thanks for taking the time to walk with me or guide me. I hope that I can provide that same assistance to others along the way.  And a hat-tip to Ewald Cress for a timely TSQL Tuesday Topic.