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The DBA Team Wants You!

We’re looking for a few good DBAs. Actually, we’re looking for a few DBAs that wouldn’t mind sharing some of their human frailty and submitting the worst day they had as a DBA. Grant and I will be judging the entries and we’ll pick one to be the theme for our Christmas edition of the DBA Team.

Don’t worry, we won’t make you ride a horse, but we’d like to feature you by name as we “enhance” your story with a few small additions. Perhaps you’ll be driving a fancy car, or be dressed to the nines. We might even have you performing a stunt or two.

It won’t be pretty, probably not too flattering, but it should be fun. I haven’t heard if we will give out prizes to the top entries, but the winner will be relaxing Not Only SQL style in the sun, with a free ticket to SQL Cruise 2015.

This contest should be some fun, and all it takes to enter is a little humility, a recognition of your mistakes, and a good sense of humor. If you’ve had a bad day, enter your submission and cross your fingers. And if you haven’t clicked through any of the links, you might want to. They make this editorial much more interesting.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 1.7MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn. feed

The Voice of the DBA podcast features music by Everyday Jones. No relation, but I stumbled on to them and really like the music.

Prepping for 2015

It’s important that you regularly work on your career to continue to grow, and these days, ensure that you can find a job. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, an electrician, a banker, or a technologist, the world seems to be regularly changing many of our jobs. Whether we need to deepen our current skills or learn a few new related ones, I think it’s just prudent to continue to develop yourself as a professional.

I think it’s fun as well when you can learn a new skill or two.

I ran across a post that talks about the top skills that will be in demand in 2015. There are 9 items, and while you should take this information with a grain of salt, it is an interesting list in a few ways. I would guess it’s fairly representative of those areas that recruiters are having a hard time finding people, so while your SQL Server, C#, Javascript, etc. skills are still valuable, adding one or more of these might help you feel a bit more confident you could get a new job if you needed one in 2015.

PowerShell is the first skill listed, and I think it’s important. If you work in the Unix world, you probably already know how to script in one of the shells, and for Windows people, PowerShell is the equivalent. Whether you manage one server or 100, this can help you more consistently handle your environment. For SQL Server people, there are some very handy uses for Powershell, especially for file type operations or DR, so I think it’s worth learning.

Many of the other skills like cloud computering, O365 and Google Apps, compliance, mobile, are more buzzword driven, but that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable skills. Managers hire people and write checks, and if they think some of these areas are worth implementing projects in, they’ll be jobs available.

The last item listed is soft skills, and if you had to pick one area to work on, this would be the one I’d recommend for most of you. Soft skills translate to any company and any position. They are more and more important these days as scarcity of jobs mean that employers have choices, and when all your candidates have similar technical skills, the things that stand out are the people that communicate better, act as team players and can build bonds with others.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.7MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.


The 2014 Apple keynote was today, with the announcement of the iPhone 6 and iWatch taking center stage. I was excited, with an aging iPhone 4S that needs to be replaced. I tuned in, expecting to watch the announcements while taking care of some busywork on the other monitor.

At first I saw this screen (though at about 20 minutes beforehand)


About 10 minutes before the event, the countdown switched, and noted that my browser (Firefox) wasn’t supported. I almost switched to Chrome, but then saw the fine print. I wasn’t thinking and didn’t take a picture as I ran to grab my iPad, but Karen Lopez posted an “altered” version of the Apple page.


Fair enough. Apple doesn’t have to broadcast to everyone and I get that they want to let their iPhone/iPad/iTouch/Mac users see it live. The keynote was available about 30 minutes after the end for everyone, so no big deal.

In fact, in the scheme of my life, not being able to watch live wasn’t a big deal. I can catch the “showmanship” an hour later.

However I was surprised when my iPad kept showing a test screen from the broadcast truck. When it connected, it was sputtering and halting, even when a speed test showed me getting 20+MBps at the device.

I did manage to watch a little, with a Chinese translation overlaid on the sound, at a higher volume than the speaker for me. Slightly annoying, but I could deal with it.

About 15 minutes in, things started crashing, with Safari on my iOS 7 iPad and iPhone crashing. The iPhone would start Safari and connect to the Apple home page and show this:

Photo Sep 09, 12 49 36 PM

The iPad connected a few times and showed this:

Photo Sep 09, 12 49 26 PM

I gave up, going on with my day, knowing I could watch it later. However that brings up the question.

Did Apple test in Production?

By this I mean, did they actually test the broadcast of this event today, with the live event, or did they test things last week on a copy of what this environment would look like? Did they actually run through the same settings for broadcast that they would do today?

I do suspect they did some testing, and certainly it’s possible that many, many more people than they expected tuned in. They may have been overwhelmed, and that’s understandable. I doubt anyone has any good way to determine what capacity to plan for, other than to just guess. This event might have been larger than the Super Bowl, World Cup, etc.

Or maybe Apple didn’t want to bother scaling to a capacity beyond some xx% of Apple device owners.

Any of those is fine with me, and I can understand someone deciding to spend $yyy on this, though I’d argue it was a mistake since this is a great chance for an amazing amount of publicity and hype for their products.

However there are certainly other problems that I question the level and detail devoted to testing. The overlay of foreign languages means that someone hadn’t configured their audio correctly, and more importantly, no one was monitoring to stop the problems quickly. The problems with the stream meeting devices might have been capacity, but crashing the browser? Either there’s a major QuickTime issue, or the encoding was broken in some way (perhaps again, by capacity).

This is a shot at Microsoft as well, but I thought Tim Ford’s summary was spot on:


We talk about thorough testing on a copy of production. A real, scale, same sized version. Few of us do it, but certainly some do, especially those with big budgets. Apple has big budgets, so I suspect that their testing was cut short, or someone assumed things would work the same way they had in the last keynote, which went off without a hitch for me.

Complacency, coarse attention to detail, poor quality control and monitoring seemed to be in play today. None of which as a good thing.

Perhaps Apple was testing in production.


Estimating the time it takes to build a piece of software is quite a difficult task. As many of us have seen over the years, most estimates can wildly differ from the actual time it takes to complete a project. There are lots of reasons for this, but I was surprised to find this post explaining some of the problems in a very interesting way.

I realize that many software projects are very different in scale and scope, but I hadn’t ever considered the spectrum to be quite as wide as explained in the post. Just as in other industries, there are times that your software project needs to create its own technologies and techniques in order to be successful. While software might not be as complex as curing a disease, it might not be that far off at times.

However it’s not just that the body of knowledge about software development techniques is so vast, it’s also the problem that each of us might have a very limited amount of knowledge about building specific types of projects. What might seem simple and easy to some developers feels complex to others. A simple example I’ll give you is with version control. I know version control isn’t the same as building software, but it’s a tool that many developers use.

I think version control is fairly trivial to implement and use. It can be a pain to use with T-SQL code and scripts without some tooling, but it’s easy to learn how to use a version control system (VCS). However as I’ve spent two years talking about version control at various events to lots of people, and I still meet lots of people and organizations that see a VCS as an impediment to getting work done. Hint, it’s not.

I think we share so much knowledge in the SQL Server community, but it still seems that we don’t seem to be educating people as well as I’d like, and as quickly as I’d hoped. Our Stairway Series were designed to try and organize information, but I’m sure there are other, better ways to do so. I’m open to suggestions, and other efforts to help raise the level of knowledge for SQL Server professionals. I’d like to find ways to help people learn more, write higher quality code, at a faster pace.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.8MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn. feed

The Voice of the DBA podcast features music by Everyday Jones. No relation, but I stumbled on to them and really like the music.

T-SQL Tuesday #58–Passwords

It’s the second Tuesday of the month, time for T-SQL Tuesday again. This time the invitation to participate comes from Sebastian Meine (@sqlity, blog) with the topic of passwords. It’s a great topic, especially as security concerns are growing regularly.

I would encourage anyone that looks to build their brand, and further their career to write a post for T-SQL Tuesday. It’s easy, just look for the invitation and then publish on the second Tuesday of the month.  Be sure to follow the #tsql2sday tag on Twitter.

You can even go back and write about previous topics, and share your own thoughts and insight. I keep a list of previous topics here: T-SQL Tuesday Topics.

SysAdmin Passwords

I’ve tried to maintain strong passwords for years. I used to have a formula, similar to Bruce Schneier, where I’d use a sentence to build a password. However a few years back I went to Password Safe, and have been using that on Windows, OSX, iOS, and Android, with Dropbox keeping my password safes in sync. I let Pasword Safe generate my passwords, 12 characters), with random digits and I use this to stick passwords into systems.

I use a different password for every system, which has been fine for me. It’s slightly annoying to unlock the safes on a mobile device, but I like the idea that a compromised password on one system doesn’t affect any others.

Years ago, I worked as a DBA and we managed a large number of systems. One of our mandates was that administrative passwords would be changed every 30 days. That was fine for the people running the systems, but changing the administrator password for hundreds of Windows hosts was an issue. We grouped servers (IIS servers, Exchange servers, etc), to make it easier for each administrator to manage the systems, but it was still a challenge to create passwords for each group every 30 days.

I introduced Password Safe, and simplified things. We let the application generate passwords for each group, stored them in the safe, and used a script that took the group and password as parameters to change all the systems passwords. This was still time consuming, but it provided for a limited window to crack a password, allowed us to use longer passwords, and we could also retrieve them when we needed to administer a particular system.

Note that this was just for administrator passwords. We had a separate scheme for service accounts, which was to randomly create a long, 15+ character, password that was used to start the service, but was never stored. Similar to many applications, we couldn’t recover the service account passwords. If we needed one, we changed it, and sent a note to the security group whose event log scanners would note the change.

I know that strong passwords don’t necessarily solve our security issues with hackers and social engineering, but I do think this is the lowest bar you can tolerate. If “sa” and blank, or “sa” and “password”, or “system” and “manager” (for the Oracle folks) work on your database, you deserve to be fired. There’s no excuse for not picking a strong password for privileged accounts.

The BBQ Crawl at SQL Saturday #300

This weekend is SQL Saturday #300 in Kansas City. I’ll be traveling Friday for the event, hoping to arrive in time to go on the pre-event barbeque crawl that the organizers set up every year. It’s hard to believe it’s been 4 years since I was last in KC. I still have, and often wear the shirt I got from SQL Saturday #53 when I travel and was surprised to note recently that it’s a 4 year old shirt. How time flies.

Kansas City is a neat city, and the event is a lot of fun in a very unique setting. An old river casino, converted to a training center. I still remember driving up and being unsure if it was the right place, and then enjoying the view inside.

This week I’ll be talking about Continuous Integration for Databases, so if you’re in the area and have time Saturday, then register and come by,

The Real Scary DBAs

I ran into someone recently that told me they were scared at their job. This person had built a number of ETL jobs to move data around between systems. They were trained as a developer, but had a little experience, got sucked into working with SQL Server, and had made a career without really considering themselves a DBA. They seemed a bit bewildered that they hadn’t messed up the data in any of their employer’s systems.

I’ve met quite a few people like that, who seem amazed to be trusted to accomplish the work they do on a regular basis. It’s good that many people can go through a career in SQL Server and successfully accomplish the things their employer needs done. However there’s no shortage of “scary DBAs” out there that are in over their heads and do cause damage to data and systems.

I see questions at SQLServerCentral on a regular basis that scare me. Not because the question is particularly hard, but because the person asking the question seems to be trusted with way more responsibility than they are capable of handling. I’m glad they’re asking questions, but often the additional questions they ask, or the lack of understanding they display about the answers have me worried. It’s not that these people are stupid, but often they don’t have the experience to do the job they’re assigned.

All of us have things to learn. Many of us continue to learn on the job, often as we’re getting work done. I think that’s a valid way of going through your technology career and I hope most of you continue to improve your skills on a regular basis. However there are quite a few people that have little aptitude for their chosen field, learn the barest minimum to get by, and often implement code and configurations without understanding what they are doing.

Those are the really scary DBAs and I’m amazed that so many of them are trusted by their employers to actively manage organizational data.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.2MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn. feed

The Voice of the DBA podcast features music by Everyday Jones. No relation, but I stumbled on to them and really like the music.

Better Presentations–Fonts

This is part of a series of tips for speakers to make your presentations better.

Please, please, please, learn how to set up your machine to look good on screen.

I saw Brent Ozar write a few notes on how to make your presentations better recently. This was primarily for the people presenting at the PASS Summit, with a few specifics to that event. Buck Woody also had a mini rant about sizing the fonts on your laptop.

Both are worth reading. The visual display of your work can overcome some poor speaking habits. Likewise, great speaking performances overcome some poor visual displays. Having both fail means your presentation may fail.

Note by failure, I mean that the attendees don’t like the talk and lose out on information because they’re bothered by the way your session appears. This could be at a conference, a SQL Saturday, or a lunch and learn at work.

Increase Fonts

To move on from Buck’s post, change the defaults in SSMS. Paul Randal has a nice post on configuring SSMS. Read it and try it.

I go for 14 point fonts, but note that you need to set Text and Grid results separately and restart SSMS. Do this before you walk in front of people.

It’s easy to do in SSMS. Click the Tools and then Options menu items. You’ll get a dialog like this, and on the left, under Environment, there’s a Fonts and Colors selection. Click it.


The top drop down on the right controls the section of SSMS. Query Windows are the Text Editor items. Below this, I have a font (Consolas) and a size (14). Below that on the left I have the various items in the Text Editor I can change fonts for. There are so many settings that this could be a weeklong project.

I usually just change the “Plain Text” to 14. I don’t’ worry about the others, but if you use other items in your presentation (like line numbers), change them.

If you select the top drop down, you’ll see this


These are the other places you can change fonts. The two I want to point out (I use them) are the Grid Results about 2/3 of the way down and Text Results a few below that. Change both of these font sizes, though you’ll have to restart SSMS.

If you make these changes, your attendees might not thank you, but they’ll be less likely to complain. Even in the largest rooms, 14 points seems to reach to the back of the room. And if it doesn’t, learn to zoom.

Silicon Valley is a different world

I spent the last couple days at Flowcon 2014, a conference that is bringing people together to talk about growing their organizations with continuous delivery and design, and lean product development.

It does some of that, but it wasn’t what I expected. The attendees for the most part were people that already believe in continuous delivery, in lean principles for their organization, and in flow. If you don’t know what flow is, read the Phoenix Project, Martin Fowler, and other lean, agile methodology books. It’s a concept from labor and manufacturing, with the idea that we can increase the rate at which we get work done.

I believe in it, it’s a tenet of DevOps, and I think it works well. The conference features people from Netflix, Nordstrom, Etsy, Thoughtworks, and other companies that are already using these ideas. They believe, and they are looking for ways to better smooth out their own groups.

However they also have ideas about rapidly changing and adaptive groups and organizations, which isn’t where most of us work. Far, far too many people are still stuck performing waterfall work, or even waterfall-like work.

It’s also a world where people are looking for startup ideas, looking to move quickly and build something new. It’s a world that’s quite unlike my own. While there’s a buzz and energy from many people, it also feels somewhat shallow and hollow from some that are searching for riches. It’s also a bubble of thought that is so far away from most of my experiences, that it feels sheltered and idealistic.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting, and there is a passion some of these people have for their craft that’s inspiring. I’m just not sure it’s a place I’d want to be every week.

However I do wish more and more people would look to better develop software. If we are to improve as an industry, I think many of the ideas and techniques that are invading the software development world related to flow need to be adopted.

Off to Flowcon 2014

With all of the work on a deployment pipeline and Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (CD) I’ve worked on, I thought it would be instructive to go see how the software developers build their product better. A few months ago I noticed that FlowCon 2014 was coming to San Francisco. It’s a short, easy trip for me, a 2 day conference, and I thought it would be a good chance to interact with the Thoughtworks people, as well as others.

So I booked the trip. Even though I travel enough, I rarely go for me, and this is a good chance for me to learn. I leave this afternoon, no commitments, no presentations, just the chance for me to learn a bit.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how people are really making software happen faster, and at a higher quality level than in the past. I’ve read a few books in preparation for this, and it’s been interesting. The first one I really liked, though it has a lot to absorb. The second two were ok.


Continuous Delivery – Worth the read.


Refactoring Databases – Not bad, and certainly this gives some ideas for the challenges of database changes.


Recipes for Continuous Database Integration – Meh


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