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PASS Summit and MVP Summit 2015

I’m currently sitting in Seattle-Tacoma airport waiting for BA048 to take me home, and coming to terms with what an amazing couple of weeks I’ve been fortunate to have.

The PASS Summit

SummitBadgeI had the honour of being selected to speak at the PASS Summit last week, the biggest SQL Server conference in the World, with I believe in the region of 5,500 attendees. I’ve been a regular speaker at lots of the European events (SQL Bits, SQL Relay, SQL Saturday, SQL Server Days, user groups, etc.) for years and I love speaking at them all. But this was different. The sheer scale of it, the enthusiasm and interaction of the audience, the chance to visit Seattle for the first time, and the parties. Wow the parties. It’s going to take me some time to sober up after this.

IMG_4960If you want to get a feel for the size, this is a photo of the keynote on day 1. It’s big.

What’s important to note is that during the day the focus is on learning, and there are a very large number of sessions to choose from. At night it’s a chance to network, to meet old friends and new, to talk shop but also to get to know people better. Don’t underestimate the value in going to the parties

summitpartying

My session went very well, with some great feedback and questions from the audience, thanks to all those that came and were part of my first Summit talk. I hope you left with a renewed love for MDX, and I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as I did – I had a blast!

The MVP Summit

On October 1st, something awesome happened – I was made a SQL Server MVP. Having spent my professional life looking up to and learning from the amazing group of MVPs we have in the UK and worldwide, it was a thrilling, humbling and daunting prospect to be invited to join their lofty ranks. I’ve been meaning to blog about it since then but haven’t been able to articulate or even understand what this actually means, apart from a cool blue badge.

MVPBuzzAll of that changed this week at the MVP Summit in Redmond. As I was already heading out to Seattle for the PASS Summit, it was easy to extend my stay by a week, and boy am I glad that I did.

I can’t talk about the technical content due to NDAs etc., but I will do my best to describe what it’s like.

Do you remember the first time you met a SQL Superstar? I do, it was at SQL Bits and I bumped into Jamie Thompson of SSIS guru fame. I didn’t even recognise him as he didn’t resemble his twitter profile pic at the time, but after a short chat I carried on up the stairs with a huge grin on my face, only to walk into a room with Allan Mitchell, Simon Sabin and countless others. I sat there for a while just soaking it all up.

Walking into the MVP Summit this week brought it all back, a thousand times over. I’m sat in a room next to Ola Hallengren, Paul Randel, Kimberly Tripp, Stacia Misner, Itzik Ben-gan, Brent Ozar, JRJ, Kevin Kline (and the list goes on and on and on). Listening to the likes of Joseph Sirosh, Shawn Bice, Mark Souza, etc. – the decision makers of the whole data platform. Then technical sessions from the likes of Michael Rys (U-SQL inventor) and Kasper de Jonge (SSAS), etc.. Not only are they presenting, but they’re asking; asking for input, asking for feedback, asking for details of what we see in the field, what we need in the product suite. I really felt that the whole team opened up and wanted a two way discussion. There’s a reason that SQL Server now tops the Gartner magic quadrant, and listening to these folks talk it’s easy to understand why; their vision and passion is inspiring.

IMG_5085And then, yes, more beers in the evening to continue the discussions.

More discussions on the product suite, discussions on sport, life, beer, cars, etc. etc. Getting to know each other better, whilst continuously learning. More and more learning.

I have to say a huge thank you to the whole product team for giving us so much time, and putting up with all our questions. It was an invaluable experience that I’ll never forget.

Also a big thanks to the other MVPs at the summit for being so welcoming. Especially Chris Testa-O’Neill, for being my guide for the week and helping it feel less daunting!

IMG_5072But the biggest thank you must go to Jennifer Moser for coordinating and planning it all so well. Not just the summit, but the activities around it; the scheduling, the transport, the pub crawl, access to the product group, and of course the inaugural MVPs Vs Microsoft American Football match.

Yes that’s right. On the Saturday before the summit, we braved the elements and headed to a local sports field for a game of flag football. Or at least ‘intentional’ flag football, but Mark Souza’s two broken ribs (and Simon Sabin’s subsequent reallocation to the Access MVP programme) are evidence that it was not entirely as contact-less as it should have been!

Mark’s team well and truly beat us, but we put up a valiant fight. Secretly we think that Mark had employed a few college football pros onto the SQL Server team just for this match. I couldn’t walk for a few days after, but we all had an awesome time.

What next?

My brain is well and truly fried. I need time to digest it all, and then I’ll be writing a few blog posts about what I can share.

But for now I’m just hoping to get some much needed sleep on the overnight flight back to Heathrow, and really looking forward to seeing my wife, Hollie, who has been amazing in supporting me and enabling me to get out here. Thanks Hol x.

So how would I sum it all up? I’m tired, drained, jet-lagged, brain-fried, hungover and my feet are falling off. But I loved every second of it.

Frog-Blog-Out

New Azure User Group in Birmingham

AzureBhamLogoWe’re launching a new Azure user group in Birmingham, UK! The first session is on Thursday 16th April, 6.30pm at the MAC (Midlands Art Centre) next to Edgbaston Cricket Ground.

The first session will feature two of the most prominent Azure MVPs in the UK; Richard Conway (Blog | Twitter) and Andy Cross (Blog | Twitter).

With Cloud based solutions becoming ever more prevalent, focusing on providing free Azure training and information for the local technical community is critical to the growth and skill base in the area.

It will run alongside the existing SQL Server User Group, and will follow a similar format; casual and informal, with two x 1 hour presentations from technical experts, and a light snack and time for networking in the middle.

The SQL Server User Group will run in odd months, with the Azure group running in Even months.

A huge thank you to Richard and Andy, for not only speaking at our first event, but also for helping get the group up and running.

For further details, or to register, check out:

Birmingham Azure User Group

Birmingham SQL Server User Group

 

Why you should start presenting at conferences

Have you presented a session at a user group or a conference? No? then read on to find out why you need to change that.

Many of the readers of this blog will be active members of the SQL Server community, reading/writing blogs themselves, going to conferences or user groups, partitipating in webinars, etc. We’re fortunate in the UK to have the most active SQL Server community in the World. Yes there are physically more user groups and conferences in the US, but per capita the UK had over twice as many SQL Server conferences as the US last year. So if you’re in the UK you don’t have any excuse to get involved. That doesn’t mean the rest of the world misses out – There were 85 SQL Saturdays around the world in 2013, half of those were outside the US. And then there are user groups, other conferences and webinars etc.

Attending these events is one thing, and will without question help your career through increased knowledge but also networking (the who’s who of SQL Server are all at these events).

But to really benefit the most you need to consider speaking.

“Speaking?!?” I hear you cry, “No chance” – followed by a number of excuses:

  • Speaking is only for the experts, I don’t know enough
  • It’s far too scary – I couldn’t stand up and talk in front of 500 people for an hour
  • Why would anyone select me to speak? No-one knows me
  • What if I was asked a question I couldn’t answer? I’d look stupid, they’d laugh me off the stage
  • Why should I bother, I wouldn’t get anything from it

Ok, so let me work through these one by one

Speaking is only for the experts, I don’t know enough

*Wrong*

Yes the top experts in the world come and speak at conferences, but not everyone wants to have their brain fried by a Brent Ozar, or be dazzled by system internals from MVPs and MCMs. Some people want to learn the basics. Conferences always feature a selection of levels from 100 through 500 (‘introduction’ through to ‘WTF?!’). If no-one presented the basic beginners introduction to topics, how would anyone start to learn new skills?

There will ALWAYS be people that know more than you, but conversely there will ALWAYS be people who know less than you about a particular topic.

Therefore even if you’re not an expert, your experience will be of interest to someone, and you could help them learn.

It’s far too scary – I couldn’t stand up and talk in front of 500 people for an hour

*Yes – I get that*

You’re absolutely on the money here, it is scary. In the same way diving off the 10m board at your local swimming baths is pretty terrifying. At first. Your first go on a roller coaster was a little daunting. But you loved it right?

The rest of the community is here to help you here. You wouldn’t dive straight off the 10m board would you? You’d start on the 1m, then work up to 3m, then 5m before trying the big one.

It’s the same with speaking. Start off doing an informal talk to 10-20 people at your local user group, or doing a 2-5 minute lightning talk at a bigger event. Use those to find your feet and get used to being on stage. Use these to refine material, get constructive feedback, and improve your slides, demos and patter.

Before you know it you’ll be desperate to get on the big stage!

Why would anyone select me to speak? No-one knows me

*Because you’re different*

When trying to select speakers for an event, it’s great to have new faces, new topics, or even new perspectives on old topics – it adds variety to the line-up. In your work, you’ve picked up different skills than someone else in a different job using the same tools – so your personal experience is new to an audience, they haven’t heard about the problems that YOU have solved and how YOU solved them. Your personal experience is what makes you different, and interesting.

It’s also handy if you’ve presented the session before to a test audience – it will give the selectors confidence that you can do it. See earlier point about practising at a user group… Being an active part of the user group scene is a good way of getting to know conference organisers, and of course other like minded people in your area – always good for networking.

What if I was asked a question I couldn’t answer? I’d look stupid, they’d laugh me off the stage

*Wrong*

Yes there’s a good chance there will be someone in the audience who knows more than you about a specific topic, or who asks a question that you can’t answer. But the SQL community is a VERY friendly place. We’re all there to learn, not to humiliate you on stage. If you don’t know the answer to a question just be honest; say I’m sorry I don’t know the answer to that, but let me look into it afterwards and I’ll get back to you. That then feeds back into your own knowledge, and you can incorporate the answer into your slides for the next time you give the talk.

No-one will mind if you don’t know the answer – you will NOT be laughed off stage!

Why should I bother, I wouldn’t get anything from it

*Wrong*

This is actually why I started to think about writing this post. I was watching a SciShow YouTube video (presented by the awesome Hank Green) which talked about how you learn more when you teach than by just reading/revising/etc. (If you watch the video, the segment starts at 1:49). It’s based on research from Washington University, which found that you can learn something up to 25-50% better when you’re planning on teaching the material to someone else.

This really struck a chord with me. One of the reasons that I write this blog and present at conferences is that it helps me learn. If I find a new and interesting item or topic I read about it, I investigate it and play around. If time allows I then write a blog, if the blog gains traction then I turn it into a talk. This process helps me focus on the topic, and helps structure my own investigation and learning. Every time I present on a topic I get feedback and questions, this then helps me learn even more by investigating the answers to those questions – it’s a great learning cycle.

In the processes it helps other learn, and everyone wins. Smashing.

Going back to the second point, yes I found it a little daunting at first. It took me a few user group talks to find my rhythm, but when I got selected for my first talk at SQLBits I was ready, and I got such an immense buzz from it – and I haven’t looked back since.

Conclusion

If you don’t currently attend SQL community events (in fact, not just SQL – any tech!) then get involved.

If you attend but don’t speak – do give it some serious thought – you may just surprise yourself!

If you don’t know where to look for community activities, here are some starting points for you:

UK

  • UK SQL Server User Groups – in your local town/city, every month or two, 3 hours in an evening, free.
  • SQL Relay – full day SQL conferences, touring the UK annually (8 events in October 13-31 2014), free.
  • SQLBits – 3 day mega conference in the UK annually, paid/free

WorldWide

  • SQL Saturday – 2 day local conferences, all over the world, paid/free
  • PASS – Professional Association of SQL Server, SQL user groups worldwide, free
  • PASS Summit – the largest SQL conference in the world – in the US, paid

 

Frog-Blog-Out

SQL Relay Interview

A while back Richard Douglas interviewed me regarding my role as Chair of the SQL Relay 2013 conferences.

You can read the resulting interview here!

There’s only two weeks to go before the Relay starts in Glasgow, before travelling onto Leeds, Birmingham, Norwich, Cardiff, Reading and London. There are some spaces left at a few of the events, but register quick to make sure you don’t miss out! We’ve got Microsoft’s SQL Server Product Manager presenting the keynote, and Microsoft technical evangelists from the USA and UK presenting sessions, as well as a host of World renowned MVPs and authors.

See the list of SQL Relay events, and registration links, here

SQL Relay 2013

SQL Relay 2013 is only a month away!SQL Relay 2013

If you’ve not signed up yet to SQL Relay 2013 then you’d better get in there quick, as 2 of the 8 events are already full…

What is SQL Relay?

A series of 8 SQL Server conferences around the UK, held between 17th June and 27th June. They are FREE to attend (thanks to the generous sponsors!), and each contains a full day of technical talks covering different aspects of SQL Server.

Who’s speaking?

Numerous experts from Microsoft (from the UK and the USA), and more SQL Server MVPs and renowned authors than you can shake a large stick at! These include Kevin Kline, Grant Fritchey, Scott Klein, Andrew Fryer, Jen Stirrup, Chris Webb and loads more. If you don’t know who these people are, then you need to come along and find out! By all means bring any of their books for a personal signing 🙂

The Microsoft SQL Server Product Managers in the UK are presenting the keynote at each event.

Where are they?

All over the UK. Find your nearest event here:

SQL Relay 2013 Map

Event Schedule
Details Date Register
Glasgow Monday 17th June 2013 Register
Leeds Tuesday 18th June 2013 Register
Birmingham Wednesday 19th June 2013 Register
Norwich Thursday 20th June 2013 Register
Cardiff Monday 24th June 2013 Register
Southampton Tuesday 25th June 2013 Register
Reading Wednesday 26th June 2013 Register
London Thursday 27th June 2013 Register

How do you register?

Using the links above!

Where do you find out more?

You can check out photos and details of last year’s Relay events at www.SQLRelay.co.uk

Or click on the link above for each venue to check out the line-up and to register

 

Database Management PhD survey

If you’re involved in database management, can you spare 20 minutes to complete a survey?

Victoria Holt is studying for her PhD, and would very much appreciate it if you could help her out with her survey.

Go on… Fill it in whilst you have a break over a cup of tea & a mince pie…

Full in the survey here

On behalf of Victoria, thanks

Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock

(Image courtesy of GraphJam.com)

I want to share with you some genius level work by Phil Quinn (blog | twitter), who is furthering the boundaries of SQL Server.

 

Phil has taken the spatial drawing code from an earlier Frog-blog and used it to create a fully functional Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock game, just using the power of SQL Server. Not even the brightest boffins at Microsoft could ever have imagined that SQL Server would be able to provide such an awesome service to the World.

 

Check out Phil’s post and download the query here

 

If you want to hear Phil speak, he’s doing a talk for SQL Midlands on 22nd November in Birmingham. His talk will be on using XML in SQL Server, but I’m hoping that we’ll also be treated to a bit of Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock action…

 

 

Frog-Blog-Out

Still time to register for SQL Saturday 162 in Cambridge

Just a quick reminder, if you haven’t registered already then get yourself to the SQL Saturday website and register for the UK’s first ever SQL Saturday, in Cambridge on Sept 8th 2012.

The presenter/session line-up is awesome – check out the schedule here. I’ll be presenting a talk at 3:50pm on a better way to load data warehouse dimensions.

I’m also proud to say that Purple Frog are sponsoring the event.

There aren’t many spaces left, so what are you waiting for?!

Speaking at SQL Saturday 162 in Cambridge

SQL Saturday 162I’m thrilled to have been selected to speak at the UK’s first SQL Saturday event – A big thank you to the organisers, I’ll already buzzing about it!

SQL Saturday #162 is being held in the fabulous city of Cambridge, with two days of awesome content.

Pre-Con Training Day: Friday 7th September 2012

Free SQL Saturday: Saturday 8th September 2012

Full details on the SQL Saturday website here.

I’ll be reviving my talk discussing my MSc thesis, discussing the performance of loading data warehouse dimensions using SSIS, specifically how you can use the T-SQL Merge statement to automate and improve the speed of development and execution. Have a look through my recent blog posts for more information!

It’s going to be an awesome event, hope to see you there!!!

SQLBits X Video available

SQLBits X Video Now available

The video of my talk at SQLBits X is now available on the SQLBits website here. The talk was focused on presenting the results of my MSc Business Intelligence dissertation, comparing the performance of different methods of using SSIS to load data warehouse dimensions, specifically type 2 SCDs.

The talk also covers a comparison of the performance between traditional hard disks and solid state storage systems such as Fusion IO.

I then present a method of using the T-SQL Merge statement to automate a significant part of the ETL process.

You can find the code behind the demos on various recent Frog-Blog posts, and there is more to come, so look back soon!

 

PASS BI Virtual Chapter Talk

For those that would rather hear the talk presented live, or want to ask any questions, please join me at a repeat of this talk over Live Meeting for the PASS BI Virtual Chapter on Thursday 28th June, at 5pm UK time, 12pm EDT (US). You can find the details on the PASS BI chapter website here

The Frog Blog

I'm Alex Whittles.

I specialise in designing and implementing SQL Server business intelligence solutions, and this is my blog! Just a collection of thoughts, techniques and ramblings on SQL Server, Cubes, Data Warehouses, MDX, DAX and whatever else comes to mind.

Data Platform MVP

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