SQL Saturday Boston: I’m Speaking!

It feels like SQL Saturday Albany just wrapped up, but I have another announcement to make. I am proud to announce that I have been selected to speak at SQL Saturday Boston on September 14th, 2019. I will be presenting “Keys to a Healthy Relationship with SQL Server” at 11:15 AM.

Continue reading “SQL Saturday Boston: I’m Speaking!”

SQL Saturday Albany Slides & Demo Code

Thanks to everyone who came out to see dbatools for the Uninitiated at SQL Saturday Albany on July 20th, 2019. I had a lot of fun sharing dbatools with you and hope you’re ready to start exploring on your own!

The slides and demo scripts are available in my GitHub repository.

If you have any questions about the session, please feel free to contact me via:

Tips for Attending a SQL Saturday

Matt (blog | twitter) is preparing for his first SQL Saturday presentation next weekend in Washington, DC. He’s asked:

I wanted to get an idea of some good, bad, and surprise experiences that people had at everything from a SQL Server User Group meeting to PASS Summit. Things you found out right before, during or even after that you were glad you did or wish you did.

Random Thoughts

SQL Saturdays are similar to PASS Summit, but much smaller in scope and budget. Most SQL Saturdays have a twitter hashtag; follow it before the event so you can get an idea of who’s attending and make plans to meet some of those people.

If your SQL Saturday has an after-party, it’s usually not heavily attended as people tend to want to get home to their families (unlike Summit, where you’re already away from home). But I definitely encourage you to go if there is one! You might even find yourself invited to an after-after-party.

I can’t say I’ve had a bad experience at a SQL Saturday, although I have sat in on a session or two that didn’t really grab my interest the way I’d hoped. And unlike PASS Summit, it’s really hard to gracefully exit the smaller rooms at SQL Saturday mid-session if you decide it’s not really for you.

The biggest surprise to me after my first couple events was the inspiration that I had coming out of the event. After each event, I have new ideas for projects, changes to make at work, blog posts, and ways to give back to the community.

Other Tips

  • Volunteer! If you don’t sign up before the event, talk to the folks at the registration/check-in desk and ask if they need any help. Every session needs a room monitor – just someone to get a headcount, help the speaker with timing (if they want), find help for A/V issues, pass out and collect session evaluations. You’re going to be in the room anyway. This is a great way to meet both organizers and speakers – folks who are active in the community.
  • If there aren’t any sessions in a timeslot that grab your attention, skip it and read the next two items.
  • Network with your fellow attendees. These are folks who live and work in your area. They may become your next job lead, or your next new hire.
  • Talk to the sponsors! Make sure you thank them for sponsoring. If there are sponsors whose products you currently use, ask them questions about making the most of those products. Just don’t monopolize their time; they need to talk to new people as well to justify their sponsorship dollars. I’ve been known to hang out at the SentryOne booth on more than one occasion. I’m just a very satisfied customer and love talking with them about how I’m using their products.
  • If you find a session particularly engaging or relevant to your interests, catch the speaker when the session is over and say “this is really interesting and I can see myself using it this way, can we talk later?” Ask if you can connect on LinkedIn; follow them on Twitter.
  • Attend the after-party (if there is one)! It’s a great way to connect with organizers, speakers, and volunteers after the stress of the day has passed. It’s a smaller, quieter environment and easier to have a longer conversation.

After SQL Saturday

Remember those people you met on Saturday? Keep that conversation going. Make contact on LinkedIn or Twitter. Do they have a blog? Follow it! For example, I met Matt at PASS Summit 2017 and we haven’t seen each other since. But we talk regularly on Twitter and we follow each others’ blogs. If you’re meeting more local people (which will happen at SQL Saturday), catch up at the next user group meeting, or arrange lunch sometime.

Processing SQL Saturday Raffle Tickets with PowerShell

Every year, I spend the Sunday after SQL Saturday Rochester scanning & processing raffle tickets for our wonderful sponsors. Here’s how the system works:

  • Attendees get tickets (one ticket per sponsor) with their name, the sponsors name, and a QR code on them
  • The QR codes represents a URI, unique to the combination of event, attendee and sponsor.
  • Attendees drop their tickets in a box to enter the sponsor’s raffle prize drawing
  • When the URI from the QR code is accessed, it registers in the SQL Saturday system
  • Organizers run a report for each sponsor that includes the contact info of all attendees who dropped off a raffle ticket, then email the report to the sponsor

It works pretty well, but the hangup is that most QR scanners will open your web browser (or prompt you to open it) to the URL on each scan. For 150+ tickets, this takes a long time. Every year, I lament “oh, how I wish I could just scan these, collect the URLs into a nicely formatted file, and script this whole thing”.

Finally, this year, I found a way to do it with my iPhone, MacBook Pro & PowerShell. Here’s what I did:

  1. Get Beep for iOS.
  2. Scan the tickets. This app is really fast, it may scan before you even realize it. I just stacked them up, pointed the phone at the pile, and as the app beeped (to tell me it had scanned successfully), I tossed the ticket to the side.
  3. When done, tap the file box icon in the upper-right corner
  4. Tap the Share icon
  5. Save the file out to a CSV on iCloud (you can email it if you like, but iCloud is a little easier for me)
  6. On the Mac, open up Terminal and navigate to /Users/YOURNAME/Library/Mobile Documents/com~apple~CloudDocs
  7. Fire up PowerShell (I installed it via HomeBrew with brew install powershell and start it by running pwsh).
  8. Run the following one-liner:

This bit of PowerShell:

  • Imports the CSV file and forces column names (as the file doesn’t include them) of my choosing
  • Extracts the unique URIs from the data
  • Loops through all the URIs and invokes a web request to each one of them

It’s the same process I’ve used in the past, just much faster because I’m not pausing after each scan to load a URI in my web browser.

With nearly 300 raffle and attendance tickets scanned, this zipped through all of them in less than 90 seconds. Best of all, I could start it and walk away to do something else. Doing it this way made my SQL Saturday “closeout” process a little less stressful.

Appearance: SQL Data Partners Podcast

A couple weeks ago Carlos L. Cachon (b|t) put out a call on Twitter looking for SQL Saturday organizers to join him on the SQL Data Partners Podcast. When I signed on to record, I learned that Chris Hyde (b|t) and Eugene Meindinger (b|t) were joining us. I’ve met and spoken with all three previously, so it was easy talking to everyone and I thought the conversation flowed well.

Check out SQL Data Partners Podcast Episode 126: SQLSaturday Edition.

SQL Saturday Returns to Rochester!

I am very happy to announce that SQL Saturday returns to Rochester, NY on March 24, 2018. This is the Flour/Flower City’s seventh SQL Saturday and SQL Saturday #723 overall. This is a little earlier than in years past due to the scheduling of other SQL Saturdays as well as the availability of our venue and key people, and I can’t wait to see how this change works out.

SQL Saturday is a free one-day event for anyone working with the Microsoft data platform. Whether you’re a DBA, developer, work in PowerBI, work with people who spend their day with data, on-premises or in the cloud, or are just curious about it, this is the event for you.

The Call for Speakers is open now through Tuesday, January 23rd. Get your sessions submitted today!

SQL Saturday Returns to Rochester!

The Rochester, NY chapter of PASS is holding our 6th annual SQL Saturday on April 29th, 2017! As always, RIT is hosting our event on campus.

SQL Saturday is a free day of training centered on the Microsoft Data Platform. Volunteer speakers come from all over the country (and sometimes beyond) to share their knowledge with attendees. There are sessions available for professionals of all skill levels, whether you’re just starting to learn about databases or a seasoned veteran, in addition to valuable professional development guidance.
Why should you attend?

The Rochester, NY chapter of PASS is holding our 6th annual SQL Saturday on April 29th, 2017! As always, RIT is hosting our event on campus.

SQL Saturday is a free day of training centered on the Microsoft Data Platform. Volunteer speakers come from all over the country (and sometimes beyond) to share their knowledge with attendees. There are sessions available for professionals of all skill levels, whether you’re just starting to learn about databases or a seasoned veteran, in addition to valuable professional development guidance.

Why should you attend?

  • Free training from renowned experts
  • Network with other professionals in the field
  • Check out new products and services from our sponsors

Do you work for a company that offers products or services that would be of interest to developers, data professionals or system administrators? Please consider sponsoring our event! We offer several sponsorship plans and if you don’t see something that quite works for you, let us know and we’ll discuss a custom sponsorship plan.

Why sponsor?

  • Get face time with data professionals in our local community
  • Learn about the topics that are front of mind for developers and DBAs
  • SQL Saturday attendees and presenters are people who are taking time out of their weekend to grow their professional skills and networks. They are leaders and decision makers. They are the people you want in your organization and advising their management teams about infrastructure, architecture and software purchasing decisions

Our call for speakers is open through March 7th, 2017. Don’t let a lack of speaking experience stop you! You’ve got lots of time to rehearse and many SQL Saturday speakers have spoken first at SQL Saturday Rochester.

Follow #SQLSatROC  on Twitter and join us in April!

Getting Over It or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Speaking

Consider this the outtakes from my previous post about speaking at SQL Saturday.

It took a while for me to build up the courage to finally get up in the front of a room at SQL Saturday. As I mentioned in my prior post, I did quite a bit of studying of other peoples’ sessions, read peoples’ studies of other peoples’ sessions (Grant Fritchey’s “Speaker of the Month” series) and talked to a few people at the speakers’ dinner. Here are a few of the key things I learned which put me more at ease.

Everyone gets a little nervous

Feeling a little twinge of nerves is completely normal, even for seasoned speakers. Those feelings are what keep you on your toes. Get “comfortable”, get complacent, and you’ll probably overlook something.

Your audience is there for you

If you’ve only ever spoken previously in a classroom setting or making a pitch at work, SQL Saturday is very different. In those other scenarios, you have a mandated audience. People are there because they have to be there. They don’t really care much about you or what you have to say. At SQL Saturday, your audience is has opted into your session. They’re there because you have something they want. They’re receptive. They’re giving you their time and attention.

It’s OK to unwind after you speak

I don’t mean you should run out of the room as soon as you’ve finished the last slide. People may have questions they want to ask you. But if you need to go to the speaker’s room for a bit to decompress and unwind afterwards, it’s OK.

You’ll never finish the slide deck

I completely redid one slide on Thursday night, and was still fiddling with a few others Saturday morning. Just don’t tell people that you were working on it right up until the last moment; as long as what you say matches up with what’s on the screen, they don’t have to know.

It’s only SQL Saturday

That’s not meant to diminish SQL Saturday at all. But you’re not hosting the Oscars. If something goes wrong, it’s not happening live on TV with 50 million people (including your parents and kids) watching. You aren’t a paid professional speaker – you’re just there to share with people. People will give you some slack if you aren’t perfect.

It’s important to look at the feedback you get (attendees: please fill out those evals!). Reflecting on what went well is just as important as looking for areas of improvement.

What went well

  • I hit all but one of the points I wanted to hit. The one I missed wasn’t critical.
  • I didn’t run short on time. I think I paced myself pretty well, and took a sip of water when I felt I needed to slow myself down.
  • All my demos & equipment worked. My demos depended upon Azure, and RIT (our hosts) made major improvements to their guest network since last year.
  • I picked up a Logitech R400 remote so I wasn’t tethered to the podium for changing slides. I’m a “fidgety” kind of person, so in addition to achieving that goal, it gave my hands something to do without attracting attention
  • I didn’t spontaneously combust

What I need to work on

  • People want demos, not talk and slides. I’m already working on trimming the deck down to give myself more time to show and explain code.
  • I had trouble reading the audience. This is something I have trouble with elsewhere as well. Maybe I need to pick up a book on body language.
  • Most of my attempts at levity fell flat. I knew I was rolling the dice and while I didn’t roll snake eyes, I didn’t roll a 7 or 11 either. I also had one obscure reference which I knew only one person in the building would be likely to pick up on, but he wasn’t in the room. That one didn’t hurt me, but had I been able to find the image I really wanted, it would have worked better.
  • I didn’t move around as much as I wanted or expected to. I thought I was going to make more use of the notes I’d written in PowerPoint but to read them, I would have had to stay too close to the podium. Next time, fewer notes & more moving around.

I’m looking forward to working on that last point. I was disappointed with how few demos I had for my session, and that feeling was backed up by some of the feedback I got. Next time, it’ll be better.

I’m not sure when the next time will be. Unfortunately, the SQL Saturdays that are close enough for me to get to interfere with other obligations on my calendar.

I Spoke at SQLSat (and I Liked It)

That is the first and last Katy Perry reference you will find on this blog or anywhere else in my life.

Last weekend I spoke at the 4th edition of my “home” SQL Saturday, SQL Saturday #383. This was the end of a path that started four years ago, and the beginning of an exciting new one.

About four years ago, I was introduced to PASS. It didn’t take long for people to start talking to me about public speaking. I went to my first-ever SQL Saturday, and kept thinking to myself “I could never do that.” Then I was given the opportunity to attend PASS Summit 2012 and was hooked on the PASS community – SQL Family. I stepped onto the floor at the convention center and felt comfortable immediately. I think my exact words when I called home that evening were “I’m home. I found my people.” Mid-Summit, in a 10-minute conversation with a chapter leader, I was told “you should speak at one of my user group meetings.”

But I have nothing to talk about. I’m terrified of public speaking. I’ve only ever done it in a classroom, in college or high school and I hated it. It terrified me. And I’m not an expert on anything. Well…maybe. Someday. A long time from now.

Time passed. I got involved with my local PASS chapter, got heavily involved with our annual SQL Saturday events, and got to know (or at least meet) more people in the SQL Server community. And I kept hearing the question “so when are you going to start speaking?”

But I have nothing to talk about. I’m not a speaker. I don’t have the polish that all these people on stage at Summit or in the front of the room at SQL Saturday have. I’m not even a DBA!

In 2014, one of my professional development goals at work was to give at least two presentations. I pretty much didn’t have a choice now, I had to get up in front of a crowd. So I wrote & delivered two sessions:

  • An introduction to PowerShell. Adoption of PowerShell had been slow in my office and I wanted to demonstrate how it could benefit the entire IT department. This wasn’t targeted at any particular job role; I was addressing the whole department.
  • A demo of SQL Sentry Performance Advisor & Event Monitor. We’ve been using this software for a few years now and I’ve spent quite a bit of time getting comfortable with these two portions of it, mostly in the course of figuring out why our systems were running poorly.

I was starting to get a bit more relaxed about talking in front of people. But this was a comfortable environment – I knew everyone in the room. That summer, I attended Mark Vaillancourt’s (b | t) session DANGER! The Art and Science of Presenting at SQL Saturday Albany, looking to fill in some gaps and figure out how to put myself at ease in less familiar territory.

Well, maybe I can put together a beginner-level session.

In February 2015, I attended SQL Saturday Cleveland. One of my goals for the day was to catch beginner-level sessions. I wanted to study the type and depth of the material, as well as how it was presented. Late in the day I had my breakthrough moment. The room was completely packed and the crowd was hanging on the presenter’s every word. I finally had a grasp of how to tailor a topic to a “beginner” audience.

I don’t have to put on a flashy show with 20 different advanced features and techniques. There’s room for the basics because there are always people who are new to this stuff and they want sessions too!

That same month, we needed a a speaker for our chapter meeting and rather than find someone to do a remote presentation, I decided to dust off my PowerShell talk from work, retool it for a DBA crowd, and go for it. It went pretty well, and the next week I took the plunge. I wrote up an abstract and submitted for SQL Saturday.

Pressing this button is one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done. Deep breath…go.

At the chapter meeting, I’d gone over 90 minutes with my slides and demos. At SQL Saturday, I’d only have 60. I had my work cut out for me. I spent April tweaking and tuning my slide deck, honing my demos. I felt like I had a pretty solid setup. The Sunday before SQL Saturday, I sent myself to the basement and started rehearsing my presentation. I went 48 minutes. Without demos or questions from an audience (proving that cats don’t care about PowerShell).

Hard stop at 60 minutes. What can I cut? Where did I waste time? Am I speaking too slowly?

Every night that week I was in the basement, running through my presentation and demos. I got myself to 55 minutes for the whole package.

That’ll have to do. If I get questions mid-session, I’ll just drop a demo or two to make up the time.

I arrived home from the speaker dinner Friday night and did one last run through my deck. I had just redone one of my big slides Thursday night. Friday was a terrible run, but it was getting late. I had 38 minutes on the slides themselves.

Saturday morning, I awoke at 6 and my brain was already in overdrive; on a scale of one to ten, I was at an eleven. I fired up my Azure VMs so they’d be ready well ahead of time and hit the road for RIT. I found my room (I was speaking in the first slot) and got myself set up. I wanted to check and re-check everything. I was not about to let a technical problem take me down.

That settled, I milled around a bit and as 8:15 arrived, I found myself escalating from 11 to 15. People started filtering into the room and I tried to chat with them a bit as I’d read about doing so in Grant Fritchey’s (b | t) most recent Speaker of the Month post. That helped calm me down a bit.

8:30. Showtime. Breathe.

I feel like I fumbled a little bit on my intro (before I even got off my title slide), but by the time I hit my 3rd slide, a calm fell over me. I got out of my head and cruised through the material. It seemed like it was going smoother than any of my rehearsals. I wasn’t relying on my written notes. I got a couple chuckles out of the audience before I reached my demos. As I returned to the keyboard, I glanced at the clock.

What? 9:00? I burned through my slides in 30 minutes and I’d planned for close to 40. Am I speaking that quickly? Did I stumble that much when I practiced?

Fortunately, I’d set up my demos in preparation for such an event. I had a set of “must do” demos, and then a bunch of alternates which I could bring in to fill some time. I got through my demos, answered the lone question I was asked, and wrapped up right on time.

As people filtered out of the room and I started packing up, an enormous weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was done. I survived. And scanning through the feedback, it looked like I did an OK job. Reading through it later, I saw a few notes that meshed with things I was thinking during the session, and I will definitely take into consideration for the next time.

Yes, the next time. I’m doing this again. I’m hooked.