Category: Speaking

Shaking Hands and Broken Demos – My First Presentation

Shaking Hands and Broken Demos – My First Presentation

When I got into consulting in late 2015 I was fortunate to have Brad Ball (@sqlballs on Twitter) as my first manager. At the time, our company required their consultants to do at least one presentation (webinar or in-person) per quarter to get the company’s name (and the consultant’s name) out there to help drive business. While I was thrilled to get into consulting, I was terrified to begin public speaking. I stuttered when I was younger (and sometimes as an adult) and that had led me to avoid any remote possibility of having to speak to a room full of people. While I now give a session about that part of my journey, the speaking requirement was terrifying to me at that point in time. Were it not for Brad’s kind and patient guidance as I put together that first session I likely would never have gone through with it and gone to find a different job. I am so glad I did not.

When that first presentation (on Always On Availability Groups in SQL Server) was completed and delivered via company webinar, it then came time to find in-person opportunities to deliver the session. The Louisville, KY user group was a natural first option as I live about an hour east in Lexington. At the time, if memory serves, the user group was run by Chris Yates (@yatessql on Twitter) and John Morehouse (@sqlrus on Twitter). If memory doesn’t serve and I’m wrong about that, it is because of the abject terror I was experiencing as presentation day crept closer! What I’m definitely not wrong about is what Chris and John have given back to the community and, ultimately, how helpful they were to me on presentation day and ever since.

If you are not familiar with Always On Availability Groups, it’s fair to say that demoing them from a laptop is quite complicated. There is a Windows cluster involved, some intricate networking, and a few VMs running SQL Server. In addition, there were some resources that needed to be spun up in a very particular order. I had practiced my demos over and over again and they were working flawlessly. I was still terrified but knew at least the demos would be sound even if I bungled my presentation. I pointed the car west to Louisville and started on my way.

During my presentation, I think I may have broken every rule of public speaking. My hands were shaking so, except for a bit of typing, I gripped the sides of the podium so tightly I’m surprised I didn’t tear them off. I’m pretty sure I looked down at my computer or back at the screen (or both) to see my slides. I don’t think I read them verbatim but my memory of that is blurry to say the least. I knew I could rely on the soundness of my demos but, with all my nerves, I hadn’t spun up the various VMs in the correct order, which broke one of the network links, which broke all my demos. I figured out what I did on the ride home – but that was far too late.

I tell this story to say this to new speakers – I messed up in almost every conceivable way. I broke a lot of “the rules” of public speaking and technical speaking. Were it not for kind people encouraging me and pointing out that people still learned about a topic they didn’t know much about, my speaking career may have ended there. But there are many of us who owe a debt of gratitude to people like Brad, Chris, and John (and so many others in our community). We’re here to help, we’re here to encourage, and we’re walking proof of how getting involved in the data platform community can change your career arc and your life. If you’re interested in speaking, an event like New Stars of Data (run by the incomparable Ben Weissman and William Durkin) is the perfect way to start speaking. If you’re nervous – it’s ok! So many of us are here to help. Happy holidays, readers, and take care of yourself.

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.

#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!

Back to Back at #SQLSatJax

Back to Back at #SQLSatJax

Fresh off a wonderful weekend of #sqlfamily and data community time at Data in Devon in Exeter, England last weekend, I find myself in northeast Florida this weekend as opposed to southwest England. I’ll be presenting two sessions at SQL Saturday Jacksonville and spending a bit of time at the SQL Clinic as well. I was fortunate enough to be selected to speak here last year as well and it’s always fun to fun to come an event for the second year running – plus it allowed me to give this post a title that kinda sorta rhymes!

It means a lot to speak here in Jacksonville for a couple of reasons. Considering that I have never lived in the Jacksonville area, it’s a place that’s been oddly significant at a couple of points in my life. My wife and I went to Ponte Vedra Beach on our honeymoon and spent a wonderful few days in this area. Then, my first job as a data consultant was at Pragmatic Works, which is headquartered in metro Jacksonville. In fact, the first Pragmatic Works holiday party that my wife and I attended gave us a chance to head back for a quick lunch visit to the resort where we honeymooned and take the picture below that shows two things: 1) I have a beautiful and photogenic wife and 2) I am really not very good at taking selfies.

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Anyhow, I am guessing you did not click on this post to see pictures of me, you clicked through to get information on my sessions at SQL Saturday Jacksonville. My first session is at 10:15 in the Gamoor room (4-1705) and it’s entitled Azure-d Availability: Scaling SQL Server to the Cloud. This is a relatively new session of mine but I’ve received some good feedback so I’m looking forward to presenting it here in Florida tomorrow.

My second session is at 12:45 in the Fondor room (51-1209) and, in another bit of Jacksonville-related nostalgia for me, this session began life as the very first webinar and very first SQL Saturday talk that I ever delivered. The session is called Top 5 Tips to Keep Always On AGs Humming and Users HappyĀ and it will help anybody who is learning how to administer Always On Availability Groups or anybody who needs a refresher on some of the ways AGs can bite you if you don’t feed and care for them properly. This session has changed a lot over the years, as I like to think I’ve gotten a little better at this speaking thing, but I’m always a little bit extra excited to deliver this session.

I’ll wrap up my day at the SQL Clinic from 1:45 – 2:15 so feel free to drop by there if you have questions about anything from my sessions or just any SQL Server or Microsoft Data Platform-related questions. I’m really thankful to be a part of this wonderful weekend of friends and #sqlfamily – register here if you’d like to be a part of it!

Downloadable Demos from Data In Devon

Downloadable Demos from Data In Devon

I am honored to be speaking at Data in Devon today presenting my “Where Should My Data Live (and Why)?” session here at the conference in Exeter, England. I’ve created this quick post just to give attendees the opportunity to download the steps for the demos I typically do during a longer session slot. I’ve also included a link to the presentation itself as well. If you’ve arrived at this page, welcome and thanks for attending my session!

Demo Steps

Slides

Speaking of Blogging…Here Is Where I’m Speaking Soon

Speaking of Blogging…Here Is Where I’m Speaking Soon

For the folks that follow my blog and have noticed it’s been a bit quiet around here – apologies. Personally and professionally, the last 3 months or so have been quite a whirlwind but I’m still here and the blog is too. Tomorrow there will be a real live technical post here on the site, but for today I wanted to get a post up noting my next three speaking engagements.

Saturday, March 30 I will be speaking at SQL Saturday Cincinnati. I will be presenting my fairly new session “Azure-d Availability: Scaling SQL Server to the Cloud” and I’m excited to be speaking at one of my local-ish SQL Saturdays. The link to my session is here and the registration button for the event is in upper right corner of that page.

Following that, I’ll be presenting to Midlands PASS in Columbia, SC at 5:30 PM on Tuesday night. I went to college at Clemson so, in some ways, Columbia is a bit like home. If you’re familiar with the Clemson/South Carolina rivalry, however, in some ways it’s not. šŸ™‚ Either way I’m looking forward to speaking to the group about Azure Logic Apps, Azure SQL DB, and sentiment analysis using Azure Cognitive Services as long as they don’t boo me out of there! The session link is here for those interested and in the area.

Finally, I’ll be crossing the Atlantic once again to speak at Data in Devon in the southwest of England. This is the event formerly known as SQL Saturday Exeter and I’m thrilled to be presenting my “Where Should My Data Live (and Why)?” session to an international audience. If you are at all close to the area or fancy a weekend in southwest England with some excellent training (and my session), the registration link is here.

Thanks for reading and I hope I see you at one of these events. Thanks to IDERA Software for making some of this travel possible. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow (March 29th) for my first technical blog in a while.

(Halfway) Around the World in 18 Days

(Halfway) Around the World in 18 Days

Greetings! I’m excited for some of the technical posts that I’m working on, but before I’m able to publish those I wanted to share the details of my speaking schedule for May. I’m incredibly fortunate to have these speaking opportunities, and I’m incredibly excited to share them with you and to share my presentations with the attendees at these events!

My epic May begins this weekend with SQL Saturday Jacksonville on May 5th. I’m looking forward to catching up with some friends in the area, but I’m also looking forward to my first presentation in Florida! I’ll be presenting my “How to Keep Your Database Servers Out of the News” session. I really enjoy this session because it lends itself to a lot of interactivity with the group as we talk through various challenges people have had and the questions those challenges bring to their mind. If you’re attending, I look forward to seeing you and hearing your questions. If you’re not attending, click here to register and I’ll see you there!

The following weekend, on May 12th, I’ll be presenting at SQL Saturday Finland in Helsinki. It is an understatement to say that I’m excited for this one. My wife has requested that I bring Kimi Raikkonen home with me, and while I’m pretty sure she’s going to be disappointed in my failure to do that, I’m thrilled that I’m meeting my goal by speaking there! I set a personal goal to do at least one international presentation in 2018 and I’m incredibly grateful to the organizers of SQL Saturday Finland for selecting my session on “New Features and New Speed in SQL Server 2016 (and 2017) Always On Availability Groups”. I last presented this session at SQL Saturday Cleveland in February and it went really well and seemed to help some folks with challenges they were having, so I’m excited to bring this one to an international audience. If you’d like to register, click here to do that.

Following my presentation in Finland, I’m hopping a quick 3-hour flight to England to present “Feelings Quantified – Ranking Football Clubs By Supporter Sentiment” to Tech Nottingham. I’m thrilled that I was able to work this out with the organizers and they’ve been absolutely wonderful to me as we’ve worked to get this setup. This will be the second time I present on the Azure Logic Apps and Azure SQL DB guts of the Men in Blazers Mood Table I blogged about here in December and the first time it will be to a crowd who calls it football instead of soccer. šŸ™‚ When I arrive in London on 5/13 I’m taking a few hours out, before hopping the train to Nottingham, to catch Tottenham’s (my favorite English football club) final match of the season and final match at Wembley Stadium before moving to their new stadium in the fall, so it’s going to be a soccer-ful/football-ful couple of days! Come On You Spurs! If you’re interested in learning more about this event, information can be found here.

After that journey, I head back stateside for a couple days off in New York City before presenting my “Data To Impress Those That Sign The Checks – Azure Logic Apps, Social Media, and Sentiment Analysis” session at SQL Saturday New York City. This session is the American-ized version of my mood table presentation (less soccer emphasis and slightly more technical focus) so it will be interesting for me to present both versions of this talk a few days apart. Also, it is no exaggeration to say that attending SQL Saturday NYC in 2015 changed the course of my career, so I definitely encourage you to register. Click here to do that. The organizers do a great job with this event, it’s in a great city, and I’m very appreciative of being invited to speak at an event that’s been so significant in my professional growth. I hope to see you there!

Lastly, I wrap up my journey right where I’m sitting as I finish this blog: my home office. IDERA Software has been kind enough to invite me to present a Geek Sync on 5/23 with my “Where Should My Data Live (and Why)?”. This session is great for data professionals in an environment where they’re being encouraged to expand the organization’s data estate to the cloud. It offers several real-world examples of how cloud and on-premises deployments can work together and complement each other. We also go over some pros and cons of the cloud vs. on-premises and dispel some myths as well. I hope to “see” you there. Click here to register and hear my run my mouth for an hour on May 23rd!

I know I keep saying it, but I am grateful to the organizers of all of these events for allowing me to speak to their groups. I can’t wait to meet #sqlfamily from other parts of the world, see places I’ve never been, and hopefully share a little knowledge along the way. Thanks for reading and hope to see you at one of these events!

They Let An Impostor Speak at PASS Summit?

They Let An Impostor Speak at PASS Summit?

Earlier this week the folks at PASS reached out to last year’s speakers asking us to share a story of how speaking at PASS impacted us professionally or personally. The first idea that popped into my head was to blog about how speaking at PASS Summit lends you a bit of unique professional credibility in the SQL Server/Microsoft Data Platform world – because it absolutely does. That said, I figured a lot of folks would blog, tweet, or make videos around exactly that subject and likely handle it more creatively that I would have. So, while speaking at PASS Summit has definitely had a positive impact on me professionally, I decided to blog about what I believe the biggest impact of my speaking at PASS Summit 2017 has been – a weapon I can use to battle impostor syndrome. I saw myself as the impostor I mentioned in the title of this blog.

If you’re unfamiliar with impostor syndrome, it is described (via Wikipedia) as “…a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability toĀ internalizeĀ their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud””. As I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know more and more people in the SQL community over the last few years, I realize that many, if not most, speakers suffer from impostor syndrome. This is true for both first-time speakers and even speakers who would all consider “rockstars” in the community. I remember sitting in a speaker room at a SQL Saturday last year and hearing one of the presenters wonder aloud (as they left the room to give their session) “Is this the day these people figure out I have no idea what I’m talking about?”. I’ve certainly battled this and, while it’s gratifying to realize others struggle with this, that’s not necessarily particular helpful to keeping that “impostor” voice quiet!

When I received the email that I had been selected to speak at PASS Summit 2017 I was sitting with my kids as they finished some homework. They were initially quite alarmed when I screamed and ran down the hallway with my arms in the air. Once I came back to them and explained why I was so excited they looked at me with blank stares for a while until my son said “so people are actually going to pay to hear you talk?”. He was shocked! That was also when it really began to sink in for me what a big deal this was going to be.

While I am always incredibly gratified and humbled when I’m selected to speak at any event, my previous speaking experience has been confined to SQL Saturdays and user groups. Those are wonderful opportunities but, as I often joke at the beginning of my sessions, “you are guaranteed to get your money’s worth from me” because those events are free to attend. If I disappointed an attendee at one of those (and I’m sure I have), I haven’t cost them any money.

While people often describe Summit as a “massive SQL Saturday”, the fact that people were spending their own (or their company’s) hard-earned money to attend ratcheted up the pressure for me. That said, once the talk was complete and I had fielded questions (and some compliments) from the folks that attended, that pressure transformed into some measure of validation. The fact that people spent money to be there and that 60-70 of them took the time to attend and applaud my talk was validating and invigorating to me. Now, when that impostor syndrome voice on my head gets louder, I can remind it that I spoke at PASS Summit. And I hope do it again to keep that voice at bay!

Coast to Coast in the Next 30 Days!

Coast to Coast in the Next 30 Days!

It would be an understatement to say that I’m excited about this month in my SQL community life. While I have multiple submissions out to European conferences in the first half of 2018, this month’s highlights are two confirmed speaking engagements that I have: SQL Saturday Charlotte on October 14th and PASS Summit on November 3rd.

As my previous post mentioned, I used to live just south of Charlotte and haven’t been back in years, so I’m looking forward to seeing some friends in the area along with meeting and reconnecting with more #sqlfamily.

While Charlotte is going to be a great event (and you should definitely register here), the coolest thing to happen this month will be my PASS Summit speaking debut on Friday, November 3 at 11 AM local time. I’m incredibly proud to have been selected to speak at Summit and am looking forward to unveiling new elements and new demos during my “Where Should My Data Live (and Why)?” session.

This session is all about trying to open more traditional database administrator’s eyes to the opportunities that cloud platforms and technologies give them to leverage and extend their existing on-premises implementations and deployments. I look forward to sharing what I know and learning from the crowd about their own experiences so I can improve this talk in the future as I continue to speak and our data professional world continues to evolve. Hope to see you in Eastern time or Pacific time in the next 30 days!

SQL Saturday Charlotte – I’m Speaking!

SQL Saturday Charlotte – I’m Speaking!

I’m excited to announce that I’m speaking at SQL Saturday Charlotte (#683) on Saturday, October 14, 2017! I’ll be speaking on the final time slot of the day and giving a new talk of mine – “Where Should My Data Live (and Why)?”.

I’m really excited about this opportunity for a couple reasons. First, any opportunity to attend a SQL Saturday means I’m guaranteed to learn something, whether it’s a technical fact, a presenting tip, or something else. I think SQL Saturdays are, hands down, the finest free technical training available in the data professional community. Secondly, I used to live near Charlotte (Fort Mill, SC) so that weekend should be a great opportunity to get caught up with both professional colleagues and old friends who call the Charlotte area home. I haven’t been to Charlotte since PASS Summit 2013 – it will be great to get back!

Click here to register – and I can’t wait to see you at SQL Saturday Charlotte on 10/14!