People Aren’t Highly Available

People Aren’t Highly Available

I had a great opportunity to present two sessions at #SQLSatJax (SQL Saturday Jacksonville for those who don’t hashtag) on Saturday, May 14. Both of my sessions talked about high availability as it relates to both on-premises SQL Server and all varieties of Azure SQL. Jeff Taylor (t) and his team did a fantastic job and it was wonderful to be at an event with so many familiar faces but, even better, many new ones! I enjoyed both of my sessions, received some complimentary and constructive feedback, and learned things from the hallway/outdoor courtyard conversations as well.

In fact, it is conversations like those at past events that led me to put a slight twist in at the end of both of my sessions. Make no mistake, both of these sessions (“HA/DR Fails and Fun: I Broke It So You Don’t Have To” and “This Is Fine: Firefighting for the DBA”) are technical. Topics covered run the gamut from Always On Availability Groups to replication, from fault domains in Azure to other gaps in the cloud’s “magic” and how to fill those to keep your data and applications highly available. We delved into rev.io‘s cloud migration journey and how making the decision to migrate to the cloud (as we have) can play into the evolving high availability and disaster recovery needs of an organization.

The twist I added, though, was some slides and discussion at the end of each session about the mental toll that being on-call and responsible for highly available environments can take on the individuals and teams involved in supporting them. I speak from personal experience here. I have triggered personal medical issues because of this. I have left jobs because of this. I have made mistakes that could have cost a company money had our customer decided to punish us (thankfully, they did not).

As I was preparing these sessions in late 2021, it occurred to me that, in all of the Azure SQL/SQL Server high availability sessions I have presented over the years, it never occurred to me to counsel people about the personal toll that it can take. I am glad I started doing this in Jacksonville and look forward to presenting these sessions at other events. They triggered some wonderful post-session discussions about ways to deal with the stress of positions like this and I look forward to having those in-person and virtually as the year goes on.

I write this sitting at the airport waiting to leave on a much-needed vacation. I’m grateful to work at an organization like rev.io with leaders in technology who understand that people need to rest and recharge and I look forward to doing just that. If you find that your current role (and the technical leadership there) isn’t prioritizing your wellbeing, my DMs are open @sqlatspeed or you can email me at matt@sqlatspeed.com. I’m happy to chat about some tips and tricks that have helped me through the years or make connections via #sqlfamily to help find you a new opportunity. Be well – remember that you are not highly available even if you think you are.

T-SQL Tuesday 148: Just Keep Swimming

T-SQL Tuesday 148: Just Keep Swimming

Thanks to Rie Merritt (b | t) for the idea behind this edition of T-SQL Tuesday. The official title is “Advice on Running a User Group”. I do lead the Lexington (Kentucky, USA) Data Technology Group (t) so, in theory, I have some advice to offer on how to run a user group that will be coming up on its fifth anniversary this fall, right?

The truth is that I don’t have any tips that are guaranteed to get you more attendees, more and better sponsors, or a fantastic blend of local and well-known speakers. All those things are good and, based on the posts from earlier today (I’m getting this in just under the gun), there are many people with excellent tips and tricks to offer in these areas. Please be sure to read all of the posts this month to learn all the useful information being shared by fellow members of #sqlfamily.

My advice is simple and I have the one and only Bob Ward (t) to thank for this bit of advice, although he is likely only realizing this if/when he finds out about this post. I do not recall the specific SQL Saturday (it may have been Atlanta or Dallas?) but I was in the speaker room with a few folks talking about the schedule that day. We were all lightly joking about who would and wouldn’t have people in their session because some of us were up against “SQL famous” people. Bob overheard us and said, in a friendly way, something along the lines of “if you’ve helped one person today, you’ve done a good thing”. That may not be an exact quote given that I can’t remember the specific event, but that was the gist and it has stuck with me.

When COVID-19 impacted the world it threw many, many things into disarray. Many people lost family, we lost #sqlfamily (bless you @GarethSwan, for the impact you had on me and so many others), and the rhythm of data community events that we had come to know vanished. Organizers, speakers, and volunteers lost some or all motivation to assist with events, user groups, conferences, etc. This hit me hard and affected many others as well. Much appreciation to all who shared those struggles publicly.

But, through all of this, those somewhat off-handed words that Bob offered in that speaker room in days gone by have continually popped up in my brain. If you’ve seen me helping out, it’s because of those words. If you see me at SQLBits this week, it’s largely because of those words (and somewhat because my wife thought I should leave the house sometimes!). As a wise fish in a movie once said, just keep swimming. Keep doing good. Keep helping people. Whatever your role in a user group is, do it as well as you can. If you’ve helped one person, you’ve done a good thing. It’s good advice for your day, your life, and your interactions with #sqlfamily. Thanks to each of you for everything you do and feel free to reach out if you’d like to chat. Thanks for reading.

Data Platform Discovery Day Is Back!

Data Platform Discovery Day Is Back!

We are very happy to announce that Data Platform Discovery Day is back! We were pleased to receive a lot of positive feedback about the first edition in late April 2020 and are thrilled to be able to present its second edition on September 21, 2021.

Based on the feedback from our first edition, we have made some changes that we are excited to share. First, we will have a single day event with six 45-minute sessions spread across US and EU timezones. We are calling these “anchor” sessions as we’d like them to be on key data platform topics for people early in their data journey. We are also hoping that these sessions may help guide the panel discussions that follow.

That’s right, we have added six panel discussions to this year’s event! At both in-person and virtual events it’s likely not a coincidence that some of the highest rated sessions feedback-wise are panel discussions. They’re more free-flowing, often more welcoming to questions, and present the opportunity to hear from diverse perspectives as well.

With this second edition of Data Platform Discovery Day, we want to not only welcome and encourage people on their data career journey but we also want to present them the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives on a variety of topics. Panel discussions also give people the opportunity to speak when they’re perhaps not comfortable with the prospect of being the sole focus of attention as a presenter for an hour. We want to hear from them as well!

Does this sound like a great event to attend? Head over to https://dataplatformdiscoveryday.com/ and register!

Would you like to submit a session to be one of our six “anchor sessions”? The Call for Speakers is accessible here: https://sessionize.com/data-platform-discovery-day-2021/.

Finally, would you like to volunteer to be on one of our six panel discussions? Check out the panel descriptions here (DPDD 2021 panel descriptions) and, if you see one or more in which you’d like to participate, go to the Call for Speakers page, submit a “session” using the name of the panel you’d like to be a part of, and use the abstract field to tell us why you’d love to share your perspective on that topic with the community.

We can’t wait! Hope to see you there is some form or fashion and, most importantly, please spread the word to friends and colleagues early in their career journey.

Migrating SQL Server to the Cloud: Start Slowly

Migrating SQL Server to the Cloud: Start Slowly

Contrary to popular opinion, migrating your SQL Server data to the cloud does not begin when the weather turns colder and your servers take off and fly south for the winter. (Apologies – that will be the first and hopefully last lame joke in this blog!) This migration journey truly starts when the decision is made to migrate your data. As data professionals, we should be a part of that decision but, if we’re not, it is incumbent on us to understand the factors that went into that decision so we best position the migration project for success.

My intention is for this blog series to walk you through every step of the migration process, from the initial decision all the way to validating the success of the migration. I’m also hoping that by publishing the first one I’m publicly committing myself to the entire series – check back in a few months to see if that turned out to be correct or not!

Given my experience as a consultant, there seem to be three main motivating factors for executives/managers to commit to migrating SQL Server data to the cloud: 1) Perceived cost savings, 2) reducing CapEx by shutting datacenters, and 3) wanting to hop on a current trend. It is critical for the data professionals who will be involved in the move to understand which of those factors drove the decision because it may change our goals for the migration and the design decisions that drive us towards those goals. Before we get into the tech and the tools of the migration process, we need to understand the politics that brought us to this point.

We will examine each of these three motivating factors in depth in future blogs, but for the today’s initial installment of this series I’ll leave you with straightforward (and hopefully simple) advice. Resist the urge to dive directly into the tech and tools of the migration at the very start. Start slowly (it’s counter-intuitive, I know). Ask questions about the decision-making process, listen to the answers thoughtfully, and record some goals for the project. Review those goals throughout the project to ensure that the technical decisions you are making are driving you towards those goals.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave comments below or contact me via Twitter (@sqlatspeed) or LinkedIn if you have questions or want to chat about this post in more depth. Have a great day!

Why I Am Running for PASS Board

Simply put, becoming involved in PASS events and the broader organization itself has changed my personal and professional life for the better in a massive way. I want this organization, and the community it represents, to be around for many years so it can provide to others the same opportunities that it provided to me. This year and this pandemic have presented massive, but not insurmountable, challenges to this organization and its future. I want to be a part of channeling everyone’s clear passion for the this community into clear-eyed and clearly communicated decisions that will put PASS on a firm footing for years to come. Connecting, sharing, and learning has never been more important. Let us do what we can to ensure that PASS is here to serve the community for years to come.

If you’ve arrived here from my campaign website on PASS.org, you’ll likely recognize that as my campaign platform statement. I’d like to expound on that, my background in this organization, and a bit more.

Before becoming aware of PASS Summit sometime in 2012, and attending my first Summit in 2013, I thought my life was a DBA would be an endless search of Google and Bing searches in pursuit of a solution for whatever our latest fire alarm issue was about. I didn’t know that there was a community out there to help, and I was intensely shy by nature, so that lack of awareness on my part was infinitely more comfortable for me. That said, we had encountered some difficult issues in our Always On Availability Group implementations and I read a blog mentioning the Microsoft Clinic at PASS Summit 2013. I told my boss that I needed to be there to discuss our list of issues with the engineers and, thankfully, he approved me for the trip. Not only were our issues resolved in the clinic, but my eyes were opened to an entire community of data professionals from different parts of the data platform world and different parts of the real world as well. My first Summit experience honestly blew my mind even though I stuck with the experienced introvert plan of never talking to anybody other than the folks at the clinic and never sharing a table with anybody at every meal. My curiosity had definitely been piqued.

From there, contacts I made at the next PASS Summit (where I actually talked to some people) led me to make some additional contacts at a SQL Saturday that led to me getting a job in consulting. My consulting job mandated that I present a webinar or a live session once a quarter to maintain visibility of the company and myself. Despite my occasional stutter and intense fear of public speaking, I started building sessions to present at virtual and in-person events. As those sessions improved in cohesion and quality, doors were opened to speak at events of many different sizes in different regions of the country and, eventually, all over the world. I was also awarded as a Microsoft Data Platform MVP in 2018 – something not even in the realm of possibility for me when I first became involved in PASS.

I owe nearly all of my professional success, my friendships around the world, and my ability to help mentor and elevate others in this community to PASS and its members. I want it to survive and thrive and I want to be part of the solution so we can, collectively, elevate so many others. Thank you for reading and, if offered, I appreciate your support and vote in the PASS Board elections.

Data Platform Discovery Day – How To Help

Data Platform Discovery Day – How To Help

Stuart Moore (@napalmgram on Twitter) and I are proud to announce the first edition of Data Platform Discovery Day, happening for US-based timezones on April 29 and European timezones on April 30. What is it, you are likely asking?

Data Platform Discovery Day is a one-day virtual conference intended for folks looking to make a career change or data platform beginners wishing to expand their skill sets into areas beyond the one in which they work currently. It is a grassroots, community-driven day where well-regarded speakers will be presenting introductory, 100-level sessions on topics across the Microsoft Data Platform. Whether your interest lies in database performance, data visualization, or data development we intend to have material across the spectrum that helps you expand your burgeoning skill sets or introduces you to your new career in data for the first time.

We’re currently looking for speakers for the US and EU events so please visit the main link at https://dataplatformdiscoveryday.com/. We’re also looking for a few session moderators as well – feel free to reach out to Stuart or myself (@sqlatspeed) directly if you’d like to help with that.

Above all, stay home, stay safe, and we’ll speak to you virtually at the end of the month.

Gift Received: The Bravery of Vulnerability (T-SQL Tuesday #121)

Gift Received: The Bravery of Vulnerability (T-SQL Tuesday #121)

Thanks to Mala Mahadevan (b | t) for this wonderful T-SQL Tuesday topic for December: Gifts Received For This Year. While I started a new job this year (as an Architect for Insight Digital Innovation) that I am very thankful for and is a direct result of community involvement, that’s not the 2019 gift that I wish to commemorate. That said, it’s awesome to read the volume of posts from people whose professional lives progressed this year!

My post for this T-SQL Tuesday, the 121st edition, will be simple and to the point. The biggest gift that I’ve received this year is the emotional, personal bravery that’s been on display in our community this year. That’s certainly not new to 2019 but it’s been especially meaningful to me during this year. There are a number of stereotypical descriptions about data professional and data-curious folks but, in a year where I’ve struggled with some personal issues, it’s been absolutely inspiring to see how some prominent people within the Microsoft data platform community have put themselves out there publicly.

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Whether it’s a blog delving into personal issues, or a tweet displaying some vulnerability, or professional development sessions at community events that are deeply personal, I feel incredibly fortunate to have a small part in a community with people willing to speak openly about the personal issues that may (or may not) affect their professional lives. When you are fairly reserved, as I am, seeing other people call attention to issues that you are also dealing with is a greater gift than a free book, t-shirt, or some new bit of technical knowledge.

On this note, I want to call special attention to two sessions at SQL Saturday Charlotte (which happened this past Saturday, December 7, 2019) that helped a lot of people. Tracy Boggiano (b | t) spoke about “Mental Illness in Tech” and how it may be more common than you think and Donna Ellis Wilson (t) spoke about how “Failure Needs To Be An Option” and the lessons you can learn from it. These sessions helped some people who will tweet, blog, etc. about how it helped them but, more importantly, it helped other people who will never acknowledge how much these sessions met them where they were at and helped them through issues in their own life.

For 2019, I am thankful for Donna, Tracy, and many others who take the time to sympathize, empathize, and speak to fellow members of our community about their own struggles. The bravery of vulnerability is not an easy thing to execute and/or embrace, but the folks in our community that are doing it are an asset to us all. If you’re celebrating a holiday during this season, I hope you find it restful and relaxing. Cheers!

Racing Toward SQL Saturday Charlotte

Racing Toward SQL Saturday Charlotte

You knew I couldn’t start a blog post about speaking in Charlotte without a racing picture, right? I wanted to take a minute over this holiday weekend to remind my readers, especially those in the southeastern US, that SQL Saturday Charlotte is closing in on us. The 2019 edition of #SQLSatCLT is on Saturday, December 7. This year’s edition also sees us at a new venue – the Cone Center on the campus of UNC Charlotte. The most exciting part of this year’s venue is that speakers and participants no longer run the risk of being attacked by violent geese (😁), as this helpful warning sign alerted us to a couple years ago!

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I’m excited to be presenting my Azure Cognitive Services and Azure Logic Apps session (with a bit of Power BI) entitled “Feelings Quantified: Scoring, Storing, and Exploring Social Media Sentiment”. I really enjoy presenting this session and it’s my hope that it opens people’s eyes to the many cool and valuable things data professionals can do that may not be pure data work. Things like Cognitive Services can bring more value to a company’s data by helping it generate actionable insights and we’ll talk about that in this session. We’ll also talk a little bit of soccer as well, as it was a soccer podcast that actually got me into the world of Cognitive Services and Logic Apps.

Enough about me – I hope to see you at SQL Saturday Charlotte. The registration link is here and I’ll see you there on Saturday, December 7th!

T-SQL Tuesday #119: I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

T-SQL Tuesday #119: I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Alex Yates (b | t) is hosting this T-SQL Tuesday (the 119th edition) and has given us a broad and interesting topic to work with this month. Alex has asked us to write about something in our IT career about which we’ve changed our mind. Several topics, both technical and non-technical, ran through my mind but I landed on something that’s quite a bit more personal and open than I’m inclined to be.

My path to a career in IT began as a Computer Information Systems major at Clemson University (go Tigers!). While the CIS program provided me an excellent computer science education, nearly all of the work in the program was individual development projects. This was fine for me because I was, as nearly all 18-year-olds are, sure that I was going to be a rock star developer and that I didn’t need help or assistance from anyone. My early CS grades were a clear indication that I was not nearly as smart as I thought I was, of course!

Nevertheless, as I began my professional career as a general IT person I was working on a lot of solo projects and, despite my GPA, still believing that I was pretty darn smart and didn’t need help from anybody. It wasn’t until I got into application support for a company in Greenville, SC – and was part of a strong team – that I realized what I had been missing.

What I had been missing was two-fold: 1) you learn much more much faster when you’re surrounded by smart people and 2) at some point in your life you will need the support of a team/community for professional and personal challenges that you will face. I was not wired to understand this at first, but with the benefit of hindsight and experience I’ve realized the value of making connections outside of yourself.

I’m wired to be shy. I’m an introvert. I used to stutter (and still do once in a while). For a long time, making connections to other people in social settings ranked just above “playing in traffic” on the list of things I wanted to do. My educational career and early professional career kept me in my individual comfort zone. As I started to progress in my career and was forced to be part of a team, though, I realized how much more information I was gathering when working as part of a group. As my career led me to data platform consulting, I began to realize how important it was to have a group of friends and a network with diverse interests and pursuits within the data community. I’ve learned a tremendous amount connecting with people far smarter than I am and I’d like to think I’ve helped some folks along the way as well.

My journey and my advice above is probably not earth-shattering and probably not unique with the community. What has been earth-shattering and unexpected, at least from my point of view, is the help I’ve received from the community that I never expected to get. As a few of my readers know, I’ve definitely struggled with my mental health over the last couple of years. Left to my own devices, I likely would have crawled into a figurative hole, tried to grind out enough work to not get fired, and done my best to maintain that status quo, such as it is/was.

However, I’ve been fortunate enough to make some friends within the Microsoft data platform community that were there for me to listen, to relate, to empathize, and to encourage. I am 100% not built to accept that kind of help but I am grateful for it and, truthfully, it has been essential. Obviously, like any community, our community has its share of bad apples and I’m not minimizing the negative experiences I know some folks have had. I do want to share, though, the positive experiences that I’ve had breaking out of my comfort zone on a personal level and working to make those connections.

Simply put, I’ve gotten by with a little help from my friends. Involving myself, personally and professionally, in this community represents a complete 180 degree mindset change from younger me but I’m thankful for it. I’d encourage you to also involve yourself in community initiatives and events at a level where you are comfortable and I sincerely hope your experiences are as positive as mine. Click here to link back to Alex’s original post – thanks for reading mine!

 

#DPS10: My Travels to India Inspired Me

#DPS10: My Travels to India Inspired Me

I set a personal goal for 2019 to push my boundaries travel-wise. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to speak at SQL Saturdays and data-related conferences in and around Europe over the past couple of years and, for 2019, I wanted to expand my travels to somewhere beyond North America and Europe. To that end, I was honored to be selected by the Data Platform Geeks team to present two regular sessions and a chalk talk at this year’s Data Platform Summit (known by its #DPS10 hashtag). I also appreciate the diversity of the topics, as I presented on high availability in Azure, Cognitive Services, and Azure Logic Apps.

As you may have noted, my motivation for speaking at this conference was fairly selfish. I’ve always wanted to travel to India and it’s always good to present to and meet with people within the Microsoft data platform community. That said, as soon as I arrived at #DPS10, I felt immediately grateful for the opportunity to be there and participate in the event. The enthusiasm of everyone involved, from pickup at the airport to the keynote to the sessions, was overwhelming. I’ve certainly had professional and personal challenges over the last year and change, and those can take a toll on you, but I was instantly invigorated by how motivated everyone involved in the conference was to expand their knowledge of all the areas of the Microsoft data platform.

Honestly, I’ve struggled to find the words for how positive an experience this was (thus the blog happens nearly 3 weeks after I returned). Simply put, the team behind Data Platform Summit does a first-class job making speakers feel welcome and engaging attendees. If you get the chance to participate in future Data Platform Summits in, don’t hesitate to accept that opportunity. I certainly hope to be back someday and hopefully I’ll see you there!