ReadyRoll and Octopus Deploy Webinar

I’ll be hosting a webinar next week, Thursday, July 28, with Daniel Nolan (t) (founder of ReadyRoll and fellow Redgate employee) and Damian Brady (b | t) of Octopus Deploy.

We’ll be talking deployment, with demos to show you how to work with ReadyRoll for your deployment and then how to build a package to be automatically deployed though Octopus Deploy. Both are great products that I enjoy working with.

Register today if you’re interested in seeing how migration based development and deployment works with ReadyRoll and Octopus Deploy.

MeasureUp 2016

I’m heading down to Austin next weekend for MeasureUp 2016. This is a Microsoft stack conference that looks to help people build custom business software.  There are over 20 sessions, most of them devoted to .NET topics. I think I’m more excited to be in some nice company and have the chance to sit in on some interesting talks.

I’ve got the one database talk, Bringing DevOps to the Database. I’ll be looking at some of the ways in which we can change database development to be more agile, to fit in more with the way that most application developers build code.

This builds on work I’ve done in the past, as well as a lot of work that Redgate has done across the last 4-5 years.

If you’re in the Austin area, and you develop software, maybe you want to come down on Saturday for the event. It’s low cost, and the chance to meet with other software developers (and get out of the heat).

Register today for MeasureUp 2016 and come shake my hand.

Choosing Content for the Summit

This is a series of posts on the PASS Summit and SQL Saturdays. I’m outlining some thoughts here, sometimes for the first time, but on topics that I think make better events. These are opinions and thoughts, not mandates or demands. I’ve written on choosing speakers and debuting content.

Update: added a comment from another set of feedback

Tl;dr: We need to review and examine comments made on abstracts as a community and a professional organization. Ultimately the program committee has a tough job, but I think we can better prepare people to both critically review abstracts and choose great content that makes the Summit an incredible event.

As the PASS Summit selections were released in June, a few of the speakers posted their submissions and the comments they received from the program committee. I think this is great, and I’d really encourage every speaker to do this. Whether you were selected or not, this is good data to better understand how the committee works and how sessions get evaluated.

This will change year to year, as committee members change. It’s good to understand the viewpoints this year, along with the results. Debate and discussion is good here, and will help shape the views of new volunteers in the future, so I’d encourage it.

In fact, if speakers want to publish on their blogs and send links, I’ll compile a list. Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

Not a big list. I don’t have anything because I didn’t submit this year.

But I’m getting distracted. What I wanted to talk about is…

How Should We Choose Content?

It’s always interested to hear various people involved in the process at events talk about this. For the most part it comes across like the strategy many business people employ. They think a little, make a guess, and hope it works well.

If anyone tells you they know what people want to see, then go look at the rooms at the event and see how well the audience matches up with the size of the room. There are plenty of mistakes that showcase themselves with too few, or too many, people in a room.

And how could they know? When the schedule is picked, no one really has much of an idea on who is actually attending. Most of the registrations will come as the event gets closer. In addition, we’re all fickle and subject to the changing requirements and demands of our jobs. We might think PowerBI is a joke (or incredibly necessary) right now, but our view could change 180 degrees by October.

There isn’t a perfect system. And I’m not saying that I think the program committee did a bad job. On the contrary, it’s a hard, thankless job, and someone will always complain about the process. My intention isn’t to do that, but rather discuss what is good feedback and what isn’t.

I hope the volunteers next year are better prepared and have some idea of how attendees and speakers view their thoughts. I also hope we publish better guidelines, both for reviewers to better choose sessions, but also for attendee comment. I’d like to know what attendees actually want to see or what they think is a good session.

Lastly, for reviewers, you need to pick sessions for the attendees. I know  many of you are attendees, but there are many, many more attendees that you need to consider. It’s easy to get trapped into picking what you like, which may not make a great conference schedule.

The reason I think this is important is that none of us necessarily has great skills as a critic, which is what reviewers do here. Many of us learned about how to examine writing in school and provide an analysis. Those skills wane, and should be both practiced and critiqued.

Comments on Comments

You can read the various posts above and look at comment, but I have a few thoughts on what items were added to the abstracts.

Note, this section is long, and I’ve mixed up comments from the various people that published items above.

Comments I Like

“Goals align w/ abstract description. Demonstration of Brent Ozar tools is a must for all SQL Administrators. Topic: Interesting for attendees and would gain an audience. Title reflects content.Interesting session for those seeking performance solutions. Objective: Level and prerequisites match goals. Material matches subject and could be presented in 75 minutes.”Excellent feedback and detailed. I like the disclosure and notes about how the abstract/goals/title relate.

“The outline seems well developed. The outline seems to clearly describe the contents of the presentation. The topic and goals should be compelling to attendees. The topic appears to be timely, new and relevant. There appears to be a reasonable amount of live demonstrations in relation to the topic being presented. The topic and goals appear to deliver an appropriate amount of material for the time allotted.” – Again, good feedback with detail that shows the reviewer thought through this and attempted to clarify what they saw.

“Whilst I get why the title might have chartaphobia in it – it still didn’t sound right. It’s not an actual word. The abstract is good, it does tell me that I may have charts but they’re “hideous and disgusting”. This didn’t sound nice and might turn some audience members away. The topic of Power BI is a good topic, the delivery just needs some work for a 100 level – explain earlier in the abstract how Power BI will make the charts better or exist at all.” – I like this feedback. It’s detailed with pointers to why the reviewer drew conclusions.

“Well written outline with clear goals and an outline that lets the attendee know exactly what will be achieved from the session. The topic is one that I think appeals to any data professional who has …” – This is good feedback. The goals match the abstract and inform the attendee. Why is the topic good? There’s more, but I left it off.

“Basic and 300 don’t coincide. Need to decide is it an advanced topic or not.” – This is a good comment that explains why this abstract needs work.

“I like the Shakespearean twist to the abstract, but I feel like it is really lacking in content to let an attendee know what they would really be coming into (outside of learning about whether to get certified or not).” – A good list of what is wrong. I agree. There isn’t quite enough to entice someone and let them know what’s coming. It’s not bad, but could be better.

Comments I Don’t Like

“…should be 200 level – the title sounds like a deep dive, not entry level.” – OK, so not entry level, but deep dive is 200? Levels are somewhat silly, but clearly we have a typo (meant 300/400) or a big mismatch in what 200 is. Maybe we need better guidelines on what 100/200/300/400/500 are?

“detailed but not compelling” – I really dislike very general comments like this. Why isn’t this compelling? Is it that you don’t like the topic? You know it already? I’ve made comments like this (for abstracts and in VCS), and this is decidedly unhelpful. As a reviewer, stop and think about what you don’t like and express that. If you can’t, you need to work on that skill.

Personally, I feel this is more suited to an SQL Saturday”What? I’ve given quite a few sessions at a SQL Saturday that I’ve delivered at PASS. Same for sessions I’ve seen. Who thinks we do better or worse sessions at one event or the other?

“Also session has no indicated real examples!” – I thought this was funny because the abstract mentions volunteering, speaking, blogging, and organizing events. What “real” examples are needed?

“Abstract is a bit rough but good enough to capture attention, describe the topic, and provides reasons why someone should attend.” – I like the detail, but what does “rough” mean? I have my impression, but I’d rather see this articulated as “difficult to read and understand the content” or “the formatting is offputting.” Note, this is why we should have some re-review and perhaps copy edit of sessions accepted. At least let the author fix things.

“Very focused topic – great for a lightning talk. Very good prerequisites and goals. The abstract is entertaining yet clear.” – Good comments, but not great. What does “good” mean? The pre-reqs should match the goals, is that what happened?

A two-fer here: These are two comments:

  • Well written abstract, but it doesn’t appear appealing with only 25% demo and no real examples
  • This seems like the right length to really kick start learning R.

OK, is length the amount of material or something else? I don’t like that word, but we have two reviewers with what seems to be opposite views. I tend to agree with the first one, there need to be examples and for this, 25% seems low. But I think we should debate when comments are vastly different and someone should perhaps think about more training or declining a repeat volunteer request.

A seven-fer:

  • Sounds like it could be a good session but the abstract seemed all over the place. Hard to follow.
  • abstract seems to ramble. grammatical anomalies. punctuation misuse.
  • Fantastic topic, and extremely well-constructed abstract!
  • Well written abstract, sold me in easily. Seems to be on level. Clear goals.
  • Nice abstract with clear goals and outlines.
  • Abstract OK. Learning goals a bit roughly defined – could be more precise in this narrow topic.
  • Good abstract. Could be an interesting session to attendees.

This means that we don’t have reviewers that are on similar pages. I am unclear how people could view this so vastly differently. The group of people that wrote these comments need to have a root cause analysis of what happened here. Or this needs to be a case study for next year’s reviewers.

Note, I’ll say that I think the abstract did get off track and a little unfocused in explaining what will be covered. A few grammar mistakes I forgive, but it also needs some tightening with fewer words and more focus on what’s covered.

“Only issue is the second sentence reads a little oddly.” – I agree with this one, but if you’re going to make this comment, expand. Why? Help someone better understand this tangled mess of a language we call English.

“Abstract targeted at Mgr/Team Lead. Unfortunately this is not the typical audience at PASS Summit.”What’s the typical audience? Do we not look to have some atypical or niche sessions. This is a place that I wish reviewers would remember that not everyone goes to every session. There will be 15 or so sessions at any given time. Niche topics are OK.

“level too low” – For a 100 jumpstart session with no pre-reqs. Again, why?

“If there is a prerequisite, the session level should be 200 (instead of 100).” – OK, if this is a guideline for speakers, fine, but reviewers don’t get to make things up. I couldn’t find anything about this on the PASS site. The rest of the comment did ask for more details, which I do like.

“Abstract is ok, with a few wording and grammar choices that could be improved/changed to make reading easier” –  I’m torn here. I think writing and grammar are important, and if the speaker makes mistakes here, they may do so in their Powerpoint and distract from the presentation. However, this process is also competitive and time sensitive, so minor issues I’d overlook and perhaps even have the speaker (or committee) correct for the event.

Old topic for BIML. Need to add some new features.” – Stop this. What you learned isn’t what others know. We have people at all levels, so don’t program for your level. At worst, there should be guidelines about how many topics at a level for each area. Without that, don’t make these comments. This person, in my opinion, is a poor reviewer and critic.

“Demo percentage seems low for such a topic but, overall, looks like a good session” – Do we have guidelines for how much demo per topic or type of session? If not, then DO NOT use this as your evaluation criteria. If we do, where is it?

“topic is interesting but not really “hot” or “latest”.” – The rest of the comment is good, but here I’m confused. What does hot or latest matter? Are we trying to be hot or latest with all sessions? If not, and I’d say not, then why the comment?

“goals not compelling” – Again, why not. What makes something compelling? Or at least describe what isn’t compelling to you, or for the audience.

“can this really be covered in 10 minutes?” – First, who are you that you question the speaker’s ability here. Especially if you don’t know if this is Joe Developer or Stacia Misner. Don’t make these comments if you haven’t seen the session. If you have, disclose that. If you think there is too much content for the time, note that, but I think this is too subjective a comment. Your (the reviewer’s) learning or teaching ability is not being evaluated here.

“Abstract: not compelling attendees. Topic: goals are very low, I don’t think this session is interesting” – I realize that reviewers might be rushed, but this is poor. Not compelling attendees? What does that mean? It’s a comment that doesn’t help, and by the way, I disagree. The second part of this also isn’t detailed. What is too low? I’d disagree. The goals list things that are specific, and certainly not what I’d call too basic. The last item shows the reviewer’s thoughts, which should be low weighted. This is about what a percentage of the attendees will want. Not all of them, some of them.

“This is more related to dba track rather than prodev. Also is survival really career development? Many would say that working 15 years as a lone dba could equate to failure in some peoples eye’s and I would struggle to want to see this session based upon info provided.” – I’m surprised this got through the review process from Lance and Mindy. I know they read a lot of comments, but this one is unprofessional and rude. The first part and the last partial sentence are fair. Those are opinions, though I think this is easily a pro-dev topic. The second sentence shows how many reviewers see the world very narrowly. I think the abstract was on balancing workload and life, which is professional development. My opinion here. However noting the someone is a failure for working the same job 15 years is ridiculous. The lone DBA is a company decision, not an individual one, but apart from the grammar errors, this one shows a person that is quite myopic on what a successful career looks like. I wouldn’t have this person back reviewing abstracts.

“Dinking the abstract rating for identifying information.” – I. Hate. This.

Honestly, I think this is a jealousy or pet peeve for a few people over, well, I’ll say it, Brent Ozar’s marketing. He does it well, better than most people and this comment/attitude is crap. Go look at all the marketing for all conferences. They mention the speaker’s names. Speakers attract attendees. If we don’t care about the speakers, why do we have this page? If you want a speaker independent review, then blank out the names, but don’t ding abstracts for this.



Final Thoughts

This is a subjective process. I am glad at least three people review the abstracts because any one person might not like the topic/speaker, have a bad day, not be interested in the topic, etc.

For the record, I’m no better and have to constantly remind myself as I choose content and edit articles that it’s not my opinion. I have to think more broadly and put myself in the position of the beginner, the intermediate person, the expert DBA that’s getting into R, the person that wants to delve deeply into a topic.

Really I want this to be discussed and debated on a few levels. What guidelines should reviewers use, and what feedback helps speakers. I would like to see a better program that helps build a better event overall. Again, we all could use skills in evaluating sessions better, so make this more public and let’s ensure those that volunteer have better guidelines on how to examine abstracts.

Lastly, I think judging based on levels is silly. We can’t agree on this, so if you think the level is too high or low, that can be adjusted. Make a comment this should be XX and let’s have speakers edit this before the schedule is released.The same thing for minor spelling or grammar, or phrasing. Let’s remember we have a lot of non-English speakers, and correct some of these items rather than just saying a native English speaker would deliver a better session.

Let’s remember, writing != speaking.

Come to IT/Dev Connections–July Sale

You can register for IT/Dev Connections in October and save this weekend with the July Sale. Use code: JULYSALE.

I’ll be speaking, though I’m not sure which sessions will be chosen. This year the conference is going to be on Oct 10-13 in Las Vegas at the Aria, which is a great hotel and centrally located on the strip. It’s also got great conference wi-fi, which is still amazing to me.

The event is a great way to get exposure to a bunch of technologies, with Visual Studio, SQL Server, ASP.NET, C#, Azure, Exchange, and more being covered. I find myself taking advantage of the time to get some sessions in on non-SQL Server topics, learning things I might not otherwise get exposure to. The All Access pass also allows you to get online access to sessions and take a pre-con.

If you’re looking for some intense learning, and you wear a lot of hats, check out IT/DevConnections as a possible way to learn a few things this fall.

SQL Nexus

I was lucky enough to be accepted to speak at SQL Nexus in Copenhagen and I attended the event a few weeks ago. This is the new Nordic SQL conference that seems to be replacing the SQL Rally. I’d never been to Denmark, but the trip was easy, and I had no problem getting from the airport to the area downtown where the event was held. Surprisingly (for me) everyone I met spoke English, which was nice, considering I didn’t even know how to pronounce many words, including the train station I was trying to get to.

Being on the water, the speaker dinner was appropriate and quite enjoyable. I’ve had some good ones, but I think this was the best of them all.

Photo May 02, 12 16 50 PM

The event was held in a movie theater, which I think is very interesting. The spaces were large, theater style room with big screens. Our computers were hooked to the projectors, which worked well. You can see the keynote in the IMAX room below.

Photo May 03, 8 59 10 AM

The keynote was interesting, from Joseph Sirosh (Microsoft) and Troels Peterson (physicist at the Neils Bohr Institute). The same keynote from Joseph was at SQL Bits, but I don’t think Dr. Peterson went over to the UK. I want to write on Joseph’s a little later, so I’ll just take a few moments and show some highlights of how data is managed at the Cern Hadron collider.

Dr. Peterson works with the ATLAS detector. He had a few nice stats on the hardware.

Photo May 03, 10 24 59 AM

If you do some math here, you’ll see that when they run the detector and conduct an experiment they produce a lot of data. In fact, this was the next slide:

Photo May 03, 10 34 21 AM

That’s serious data. It was interesting that he said that’s an unmanageable amount of data. In fact, they need sensors to make decisions on the raw data because they can’t even use computers to analyze this level of information. However, they do have computers. In fact, they have:

  • 1127 racks
  • 10,070 servers
  • 17, 259 processors
  • 90, 948 cores
  • 75,718 disks
  • 113, 852 TiB raw disk
  • 312 TiB of memory capacity.
  • 120 tape drives
  • 52000 tape catridges
  • 75 PiB data on tape.

In all their analysis, searching for the secrets of the universe, they’ve learned a lot and gotten better at finding anomalies and problems with data. They know all their data is flawed, so they must use algorithms to try and find the data they can rely on in the entire lake of bits that is captured and stored. They use a lot of machine learning to comb through data.

In fact, he said their research actually showed that there was a reason certain data was altered in line with the phase of the moon. In fact, Dr. Peterson said that they determined that the length of the collider tunnel actually lengthened by 1mm because of the moon.

There were lots of other interesting SQL Server 2016 talks, including the ones you’d expect on machine learning, R, one on IoT (a bit of a wreck of a talk) and a great one showing MitM and other attacks against a SQL Server from a Linux machine.

The event was two days long. I spoke on encryption and security changes in SQL Server 2016 that went well. I’ll do some writing on my demos, showing more Always Encrypted, RLS, Dynamic Data Masking, and more.

The theater was right next to the river, with a nice walkway. A few of us were able to run alongside in the morning. Plenty of people walked or biked along the river each day, and the weather was amazing.

Photo May 03, 10 04 04 AM

I think this was a really nice conference, at a good cost for those of you in Europe. If you can get to Copenhagen, it might be worth the two (or three days with a pre-con) to try SQL Nexus next year. I’m hoping they do the event again next year and I’d certainly like to go if I can.

Pensacola in June–SQL Saturday #491

One June 5, I’ll be back in Pensacola, FL for SQL Saturday #491. It’s been a few years since there was a conference in the area, and I’m excited to go back. I really like the area, and am looking forward to visiting for a few days.

I’ll be presenting my dive into Always Encrypted in SQL Server 2016. I presented this in Phoenix recently and the session was well received. I like this feature, but there are some caveats and gotchas, as well as various items you should consider before making the decision to implement it. Hopefully I’ll see a few of you there and you’ll enjoy the talk.

However if you’re nearby, there are pre-conference sessions on both Thursday and Friday that you can attend. Both are inexpensive training and the chance for you to quickly improve some data skills.

There are lots of great sessions from other speakers, and Pensacola is a great place to spend a weekend. Lovely beaches, not too large, not too expensive, and a beautiful area in June. If you’re anywhere from Houston to Florida to Tennessee, consider combining a little learning with a vacation on the gulf coast.

Off to SQL Nexus

This week begins my two city, two conference journey across the Atlantic. I arrive in Copenhagen today, after traveling overnight from Denver. I wrote this before leaving, knowing that I’ll likely be a bit worn out as I make my way from Denver to Washington D.C. to London to Copenhagen.

This is the most relaxing part of my trip, with a day to adjust in a new country before the SQL Nexus conference starts tomorrow. I’m looking forward to getting some coffee and exploring the city.

Tomorrow is a conference day, hanging out and learning a bit before I speak on Wednesday morning. I’ll be talking about SQL Server 2016 Encryption, and I expect that if SQL Server 2016 hasn’t RTM’d by this time, it will either Tuesday am at SQL Nexus or Friday am at SQL Bits. I could be wrong, but as I write this, I expect those are the likely dates.

I’m looking forward to Nexus, which has lots of SQL 2016 content scheduled. I just hope all the sessions are in English Winking smile

SQL Saturday #492–Phoenix

It’s almost time for SQL Saturday #492 this weekend in Phoenix. I haven’t been there in a few years, but I’m heading back for a quick trip to the desert.

I’ve got two sessions scheduled this weekend, and if you’re attending, I’ve love to see you at one of my sessions:

The event has grown quite a bit, with 13 tracks. I’m hoping a lot of people in the Phoenix area are coming out for a free, exciting SQL Server conference.

SQL Nexus in Copenhagen

The Nordic SQLNexus conference is taking place in Copenhagen on May 2-4. I’ve never been to the event, or the country, but I was accepted to speak, so I embark on another multi-city, multi day trip.

SQLNexus has quite a lineup, and I suspect a few of these people will be travling alongside me, in Copenhagen at the beginning of the week and Liverpool at the end.

  • Joseph Sirosh, Microsoft Vice President
  • Troils Peterson, Professor of Particle Physics at the Niels Bohr Institute
  • Allan Hirt
  • Itzik Ben Gan
  • Denny Cherry
  • and more

I’m looking forward to the event, and if you want to come to a SQL Server conference packed with content, think about making your way to Denmark on May 2-4, 2016.

Hopefully I’ll see some of you there.