What’s Your Area of Expertise?

I ran across a great quote that made me laugh, but also struck me as being quite true. The quote is from Scott Curie’s post on the PASS Summit Speaker’s Contract and goes like this: “You would laugh at a lawyer who tried to build their own data warehouse, so why would you try to write your own legal agreement?” Having used lawyers for a few contracts, I am well aware that I’m not remotely qualified to putting together a detailed contract. I know if I need a business agreement, I need to either use a lawyer, or make it really simple. “I’ll cut your grass and you’ll give me $25” is probably the last well written contract I wrote.

We all have strengths and useful skills, things we are really good at performing. We often improve those skills over time and may develop some level of expertise in our field. However, even if we were the best T-SQL coder in the world, or the hands-down, acknowledged world-renowned expert on replication, that wouldn’t mean that we necessarily had any skill in some other area of the SQL Server platform, such as Integration Services. We might know something, we could learn, and certainly be competent quickly, but would a company that had a mission critical, multi-TB import or export of data want us to patch their ETL process today? Probably not.

Usually when we have a problem with a specific technology, we want someone that knows that technology well to guide us or do the work. The same thing is true in business. If an inventory specialist questions the way some system works, or a financial guru wonders about the calculations in an application, we should defer to them and ensure that we can explain how the code works, double checking the accuracy. After all, specifications could contain bugs as easily as code, and an expert in the end user of software might have a better idea of whether a system is working properly than the developer.

We should remember that when we venture outside of our own area of specialization. Many technology professionals are quite intelligent, but they aren’t going to be experts in all problem domains, and they shouldn’t present themselves as such.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.6MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.

The Coffee Routine

My daughter had a birthday recently, and one of the things she asked for as a present was a French Press. She loves coffee and is willing to wake up 15 minutes early each day to grind beans and make a nice cup of coffee each morning before high school. This has been a routine for her this past year, one that has generated requests for me to return home from my trips with new coffees for her.

In a chat with Andy Warren recently, he mentioned that his new company has a few different coffee machines, with different choices available for employees. Some simple machines, some French Press, and other ways that employees can get their morning coffee fix. This is a small perk, but one that often goes a long way in the technology world as many developers I know aren’t morning people. They appreciate getting coffee provided by their workplace.

This is in contrast to the situations I encountered early in my career. Back then there was no Starbucks available during my commutes, in fact, with few choices for coffee shops. I started in a large company where each department was in charge of their own coffee. We pooled money together to buy a cheap Mr. Coffee (replacing it ever year or so) and each of us contributed to fund to buy a large tin of Maxwell House every few weeks. I’m sure quite a few of you couldn’t imagine that scenario: cheap, bad coffee every day. In other companies, the same Mr. Coffee was provided, along with the buckets of ground coffee. After a decade and a half in this business, I finally worked at a company where we had a better machine.

I was thinking about this on my recent trip to the Redgate office( after a quick stop in Copenhagen where I was instructed to be sure to get a bag of coffee for my daughter). The Redgate coffee machines (4 of them) are all located on the ground floor, in the atrium. This means that anyone wanting a cup gets to leave their desk, or make a trip before a meeting, to the open area. Lots of conversations start here, and certainly there are interactions between departments that might not otherwise occur. Plus, we have great machines, as you can see in my video.

Despite the hassles, I visit the machines a bit too often while I’m there. At least 4 or 5 times a day, which means it’s probably good I’m not in the office full time. Now if I could only get them to put soy milk in one of the machines…

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 3.0MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.

The Lighter Side–Morning at the Redgate Office

I was chatting recently with someone about the coffee machines at Redgate Software. We have 4 of them, all located in the downstairs lobby, which provide a way for people to take a break from their desk or between meetings, and wander down for a cup.

They are great machines, and I show some video recently to share with a few friends,

I visit this machine often when I’m in the office, going between lattes and black coffee throughout the day.

High DPI Test

On my new machine, running at a high DPI, I have some DPI issues.

2016-03-17 11_52_25-Settings

One is that I can’t seem to change the font for Open Live Writer. I see this:

2016-03-17 11_52_56-High DPI Test - Open Live Writer

Which isn’t what I want. This is a test to see how things render on the web when posted.

The Dangers of Algorithms

I ran across an interesting piece in Wired recently that talks about algorithms and the power they hold in the modern world. I don’t think it’s a great piece, and it starts to mix code, data, algorithms and other aspects of modern software in a way that seems disjointed to someone that works on software. I think there is come confusion about how data and software differ.

I don’t deny that there are potential negative impacts of the ways in which we process data. Certainly we have bugs in software that cause issues, but we also end up with implementations of specifications that may not quite match up with the expectations of our clients. Even in simple applications, if I’m not constantly interacting with a client in a detailed way, I find that the software can operate in a subtlety different manner than others expect. Of course, there are certainly people that deliberately program systems to intentionally help, or hurt, others, but I think we have just as many issues from small communication mistakes. That’s one reason why DevOps, CI/CD, and frequent releases are valuable. We get feedback quicker on the implementaiton of the design.

Does it make sense to disclose algorithms? Make source code available for examination? I definitely think there are intellectual property issues to consider, but when there are legal challenges or arbitration, I would expect that the actual code of a system can be examined. We definitely need to ensure that code examined in these cases is not part of the public record. However there needs to be open examination in such a way that the groups involved, and perhaps even other interested parties, have confidence that the algorithm performs as expected.

This becomes easier in databases, since our code is often easily accessible, but more complex in applications. Many of us realize that subtle changes in application code can cause issues for data, which is part of the reason we like declared referential integrity in our databases. That way we’re not affected if an application makes a mistake in enforcing our data integrity rules.

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. 

A Bit of History

This is a bit off topic, away from the world of databases, but it certainly does touch on the power of computers.

I had a great 2015 holiday season, taking not one, but two vacations. Our family had their annual ski trip to Steamboat Springs, which is always enjoyable. However before Christmas, I took my 17 year old on a birthday trip to Florida. We’ve gotten away from parties and gifts, instead trying to give kids memories.

In this case, we journeyed to Cape Canaveral, spending a few days at the Kennedy Space Center viewing exhibits and going on tours. My son was thrilled to see real rockets, especially the Saturn 5, and also tour one of the launch control rooms. In fact, we could see the countdown clock active for the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on our tour of the Launch Control Center.

That was exciting to see. I’d tried to schedule the trip near a launch but couldn’t get away during the launch dates with school and work commitments. However the day we left, I saw the announcement that the previously TBD SpaceX launch had been scheduled during our trip. After a scrub one night with wind and rain, the launch took place our last night in town.

The official video is better than mine, which I recorded from the Cape Canaveral causeway, about 5-6 miles away. It’s an amazing piece of history. Other than my wedding day and the births of my children, this was the most amazing thing I’d seen, even from a distance. I’m interested in space and technology, but not a big space geek. However I was definitely giddy at seeing this bit of history.

Computing technology has helped us achieve some amazing things, and in conjunction with incredible engineering, as humans, we’ve managed to accomplish some amazing feats with rockets and space travel. I look forward to seeing what will happen across the next few decades as more companies and countries tackle new challenges in space.

And if you ever have any doubt about the power of the computers we use, it appears the Falcon rocket uses x86 processors, like so many of us.

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.

The End of 2015

I’m off on vacation, so I won’t be able to respond, but I decided to take a few minutes and look back at 2015 before leaving for the year.

This was a year that seems to have been marked by lots of data loss and breaches. Certainly these were on my mind as I worked on the SQL in the City keynote, but as I’ve been following Troy Hunt, it seems that every week or two he’s uploading more data to HaveIBeenPwned.com. We had some larger ones, with tens or hundreds of millions of account records released. Despite all the press from the Sony hack over a year ago, it seems that few companies have bothered to update their security. In fact, it seems that until they’re hacked, no one bothers to fix fundamental security issues in their systems. Perhaps some companies are doing so in the background, and aren’t being attacked, but I’m not so sure.

We didn’t have any SQL Server releases this year, but we had lots of news, and an unexpected Service Pack. Service Pack 3 for SQL Server 2012 appeared out of the blue for me. I hadn’t seen much news on it, and had given up on bothering Microsoft about new SPs for versions. Perhaps they’ll continue to build these yearly for supported versions, which is what I hope, but we will see. It does seem that Cumulative Updates have been appearing regularly, with relatively few issues in them, but I’m still wary of using those as the main patching mechanism for critical servers.

We did have a lot of growth in the SQL Server space, with many features being announced and starting to take shape. If you’re looking to get up to speed, check out our collection of Learning SQL Server 2016 topics, where we try to keep a growing collection of links to help you learn.  I am excited to see some of the growth of SQL Server to include newer features that people want in their data platform. I’m also glad that things like Stretch Database can be used to help manage the ever growing amount of data we have. Of course, encryption is big on my list, and Always Encrypted is something I am hoping gets lots of adoption.

We’ve also seen Microsoft really pushing the envelope in terms of data analysis. There is a constant set of articles and blogs written about data scientists, and some of us are moving to learn more about how to better analyze data. Microsoft continues to help, with their forays into Machine Learning, the expansion of the Power set of products (Power BI, Power Query, Power View, Power Pivot, etc.), R language integration, and more. I suspect that more and more of us will get the chance to play with some interesting data analysis tools if we want to. Even if you don’t use those to help your business, I have already seen these tools being used to perform index analysis, DBA monitoring, and more. I’d urge you to let your imagination run wild and see what things you might build.

It does also seem that more companies are starting to realize that their data and its integrity and management are important. Data professionals are becoming more valued, but the skills required are growing. There are more and more services and tools to help us manage systems that I do think the simple DBA that administers backups and security is really on the decline. At some point, our employers will demand more.

It’s been a good year, and I look forward to 2016. If there are things you want us to help you learn about, leave a comment here, and I’ll review them when I get back from vacation. Have a safe, Happy New Year, and I’ll see you in 2016.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 3.9MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.

A Few Days Off in Space Country

The new Star Wars film opens today, and while I won’t see it then, perhaps I’ll get to it early next week in the shadow of the US space program.

My middle son is in his last year of high school before he goes off to college and as his birthday present in 2015, I’m taking him down to Florida and Cape Canaveral for 4 days. We leave early tommorrow, not returning to Denver until late Tuesday.

A couple days of vacation for me, and hopefully some memories for my son. He was there a long time ago, at 2, so he doesn’t remember much. However he’s interested in flight and space, and looking to study aeronautical engineering in college, so this is a treat for him. In fact, when we were talking about where to take him, his eyes lit up when I suggested this trip.

It will be an interesting trip, with the chance to visit the Kennedy Space Center, meet an astronaut, and study some of the history of US space travel in person.

I’m also excited to go. Not that I want to go into space, at least not until they get artificial gravity, but I find the subject fascinating and I felt rushed the last time I visited. It will be nice to be able to spend time and not hurry around as we get the chance to vacation together.

Enjoy your weekend, and I’ll see you briefly next week before I close down for the year.

Playing with Themes

I’m not much of a designer. Indeed, I’m best at just putting up tables and information, not producing visualizations. However I wanted to make the blog look a little better (and SSC, for that matter). As a result, I’ve carved out a few minutes here and there to play with themes for this blog. I haven’t often found one that I liked, but ran across one today that I thought I’d try.

I’ll see how this looks for now. I don’t love that all my sidebar stuff moved to the bottom, but that’s a cleaner look for sure. I may play around with this a bit, and comments are certainly welcome. I’d like to use a few more images in writing as I think they can break up the text, and certainly some of the scrolling images convey interesting thoughts. I’d like to start using some for code as well, showcasing results as wide images.


Standing Desk Update

It’s been a long time since I wrote about my workspace, however I made a change recently. This was the "short term test" situation I set up a couple years ago:

Photo Aug 24, 9 14 19 AM

After just using boxes for a few days, I decided I liked things and got monitor stands. However I left my boxes in place for the keyboard and mouse. Mostly because I wanted a few months of playing with heights.

I actually did experiment, adding and removing books a few times, but mostly I let things languish. I wanted to build my own keyboard stand, but kept finding excuses. I lived with the setup, getting annoyed with no good place to place a mug of coffee or a piece of paper. Precariously balancing my laptop on the books at times.

A few weeks ago I saw some friends on Facebook mention they were getting standing desks. I’d seen Brent Ozar’s desk, but had no desire to spent that kind of $$. I wasn’t even sure I wanted an adjustable one as when I sit, I usually go to a table or couch with my laptop.

Someone recommended a simple desk, which I liked, but wasn’t sure I wanted to ask my boss for $700 for a hand crank desk. However I did spend a few minutes shopping when my daughter asked for a desk for her room. She got a normal desk from Ikea as she’s starting high school and wanted a workspace.

I saw a $400 electric adjustable one, and was tempted, but decided to go for a $40 upgrade for mine. I got a small table, and added it.

Photo Aug 24, 10 43 42 AM

This one isn’t perfect as it’s a touch high. I did add a couple more foam mats and raised myself to a good level, but I’m not sure I love this.

I do, however, like the extra shelf and space for putting a couple mugs down. I usually have two (coffee and water), so this is handy. I also have space for a few pieces of paper if I need to set them down.

I’m not sure if this is a good move. For now I want to leave things alone as I’m not in a hurry and want to be sure I would use an up/down desk. I certainly have some tasks that work better sitting down, like webinars, so I am tempted to get a chair and work here at times.

The one good thing I have going for me is Redgate is good about ergonomics and ensuring a good workspace. I am tempted by the treadmill desks, but I think I’d just as soon just walk away from the desk if I need a break.