2012 Community Profiles

Check out our 2012 interviews with some of the most dedicated volunteers in the PASS community. Have a volunteer you'd like to see profiled? Contact us today!

Andrey KorshikovPam Shaw | Charley Hanania | Jen Stirrup | Jody Roberts | Bill Lescher | Felipe Ferreira | Jason and Sarah Strate | Julie Koesmarno | Niko Neugebauer | Amy Lewis


November 2012: Amy Lewis

The bundle of energy that is Amy Lewis – a 2012 PASSion Award Honorable Mention – is charged up about the future of the DW/BI Virtual Chapter, her Arizona SQL Server Users Group, and SQLSaturday Phoenix and has one word for women starting out in the database world.
 
Tell us about your life with SQL Server – how did you get started, what are you doing now, and what excites you in the data world?
I started as an Ingres DBA in 1995 and then moved into a developer/DBA role with SQL Server in 1998 (on SQL Server 6.5) and never looked back – at Ingres that is. :) In 2006, I redirected my focus to business intelligence and analytics on the SQL Server Business Intelligence suite of technologies (SSIS, SSAS, and SSRS). I’m currently a Senior Consultant with Statera, helping clients in the Phoenix, AZ, area leverage their data to make sound business decisions with BI.

What excites me most about the data world is how data has become more and more readily available to everyone at blazing speeds. With self-Service BI, big data, xVelocity technology, and the vast array of mobile devices, data is literally at one’s fingertips and delivered in more visual formats.

You’re co-chair of the PASS DW/BI Virtual Chapter, which has grown into a premier VC with multiple meetings per month by top speakers, involving volunteers from the UK, New Zealand, and other locations, and continuing attendance growth. What would you like to see for the VC in 2013?
Our Virtual Chapter took to heart the PASS mission of community and global growth this past year and worked hard to branch out and make our group truly a “global” VC. I need to thank all the volunteers and speakers in Australia and New Zealand, Brazil, Italy, the UK, and the US for volunteering their time to make this happen.

I would like to see our VC and others grow further globally by not only having speakers from around the globe, but also by empowering volunteers from these nations to help coordinate, recruit speakers, and host sessions in their various time zones. We are also planning to partner with PASS’s language-based VCs to have joint sessions in other languages. 

Fresh off co-managing the successful program for PASS Summit 2012, what was the most rewarding part of the experience? How about the most challenging?
The most rewarding part of co-managing programs for PASS Summit this year was working on such a great team! The communication and total cooperation from everyone on the team made this such a fun group of people to work with throughout the year.

The most challenging part of programs is selecting a set number of sessions per track from such a great number and selection of abstracts.

As the new coordinator for the Arizona SQL Server Users Group, what are the top three things on your to-do list? What was your first user group meeting like and what kept you coming back?
I had the honor and pleasure of attending the Chapter Leaders meeting at Summit this year and learned a ton of great tips and tricks and lessons learned from Chapter Leaders around the world. My top three to-do list items include: 1) Establishing a volunteer board for the Chapter, 2) Using some of the cool new features on sqlpass.org for Chapter Leaders, including the Events module, and finally and most importantly 3) Building a strong sense of “SQLFamily” in the Arizona area. We may even host a SQL Karaoke in Phoenix! ;-)

I started attending the Arizona SQL Server Users Group back in 1998 and mostly sat and watched as local speakers gave great sessions. Yes, those that know me know I am not a quiet one, but back then, I was trying so hard to absorb as much technical content as I could that I didn’t see the real benefit of networking with others. After having our user group do a “Speed Networking” session last year (Thank you, Summit 2011 and Don Gabor!), we are a much more interactive group.  
 
As a passionate advocate for Women in Technology, what advice would you give young women starting out in the database field?
I think I can sum up my advice in one word: CONNECT!!! Reach out to your SQLFamily. There are so many resources available to continue growing and evolving your passions and career into whatever you want to make it. The best part of being in the SQL Server community is the true sense of community and the vast number of wonderful people from around the world who provide help (tweets to #sqlhelp, blogs, local and Virtual Chapters) and free resources (articles, blogs, webinars, videos, etc).

What did you learn (good or bad) from leading this year’s Phoenix SQLSaturday that your team is going to implement for next year’s event?
I had a blast this year coordinating the Phoenix SQLSaturday. I believe this year’s event helped bring our SQL Server community in the Phoenix area back to life. The thing I learned most was to build and empower a core team of volunteers/coordinators, as detailed on the SQLSaturday Wiki site. They felt empowered in each of their roles and leveraged all of the great information for their areas from the SQLSaturday Wiki. This team, along with our Regional Mentor Phil Robinson and Community Evangelist Karla Landrum at PASS HQ, made our SQLSaturday a great success!  
 
As a 2012 PASSion Award Honorable Mention winner, what’s next on your list for volunteering with PASS?
It was truly an honor to receive the 2012 PASSion Award Honorable Mention. I love PASS and feel I got an award for just hanging out and working with my SQL family. 

My goals for volunteering with PASS in 2013 would be to continue to grow our local Arizona SQL Server User Group, help coordinate another Phoenix SQLSaturday (shameless plug: #193 on April 27!), strengthen our DW/BI Virtual Chapter, and hopefully help out again with the Summit 2013 Program Team. I’m also contemplating running for the PASS Board of Directors next year… stay tuned. :)

Tell us a little about what you like to do when you're not working or focused on SQL Server or the database community.
I love being a Mom. After years of infertility, God blessed my husband and I with two wonderful kids (a 7-year-old boy and 2 ½-year-old girl). We are a very active family, so we enjoy spending time with family and friends playing sports, fishing, hiking, camping, going to movies, and worshiping in church. And I like playing cards at a weekly Mom’s Night Out!  

What are you reading now in the technical space? How about outside the tech world?
In the technical space, I am reading articles and blogs on big data and mobile BI. Outside the technical world: “Bringing Up Boys” by Dr. James Dobson and “Games to Play with Two Year Olds” by Jackie Silberg. 

What does community mean to you?
Community to me is a diverse group of people who share a passion for something they do and come together to learn how to do that thing better. By continually working and learning together, they build and develop trust and friendships that can last a lifetime.

 

October 2012: Niko Neugebauer

The SQL community is more than a passion for SQL Server MVP, PASS Regional Mentor, and Portuguese SQL Server User Group leader Niko Neugebauer – starting next week, it will be his full-time job.

Tell us about your life with SQL Server – how did you get started, what have you been doing most recently, and what excites you in the data world?
I started playing with SQL Server 2000 around the time of its release, with a main focus on software development. But I really began working with it in 2005 when I got some more serious projects based on SQL Server 2000 and then started experimenting with beta versions of SQL Server 2005. I’ve spent the past couple of years strictly focused on SQL Server, working the past 7 months as a Senior DBA consulting with an international bank based in Lisbon, Portugal.

The most exciting thing for me at the moment is business analytics, because extracting more value and information from data is exactly what every business wants from IT.

As leader of the SQLPort PASS Chapter, tell us about your user group and what you would like to see for its future. Do you remember what it was like attending your first user group meeting?
Right now, SQLPort has around 760 members, with a typical meeting drawing about 30 people. We meet at the Microsoft Portugal headquarters, and I can’t thank Microsoft Portugal enough for the support they’ve provided for every opportunity that we organize for the community.

We send a monthly newsletter to our members, in addition to special announcements when there are SQL or BI events in Portugal and surrounding areas. Every SQL Server and BI topic has its own following in our membership, but we are definitely noting more interest in Azure SQL Database and BI lately. That is why we launched a new PASS Chapter this week – Business Intelligence Technical User Group Association (BITUGA) – which is focused purely on BI.

I attended my first user group meeting some time in 1999 or 2000 – I don’t remember exactly. But I remember my first SQLPort meeting perfectly. It was in May of 2010, we had 42 attendees, and everyone was so excited about the direction of the user group and all the SQL professionals we could help support. Looking back, I feel deeply satisfied with all we’ve managed to achieve. I have an amazing team, and volunteers like Paulo Borges and Paulo Matos have made so many things possible – without them, there would not be such a great SQL Server community in Portugal.

You’re also a PASS Regional Mentor for Western Europe. What Frequently Asked Questions do you see from people who are trying to grow and improve their user groups or start new groups in their area?
The most common questions I get are: 1) How do I start a new chapter? and 2) How do we attract new speakers? I’ve also talked to a lot to people about how to organize SQLSaturdays, and I try to explain that even with very limited resources, you can still organize amazing events that will help local community members improve their SQL Server knowledge and establish professional and personal connections.

As the future of SQL Server training becomes more focused on specialized educational topics, I see connections between PASS Chapters growing – something Regional Mentors around the world can really help foster. PASS is a global organization, and active communications and sharing of best practices among chapters can help each user group and community reach new milestones.

Looking back on SQLSaturday #115 in Portugal earlier this year, what were your favorite moments in organizing the event? How many SQLSaturdays did you attend this year?
The first SQLSaturday in Portugal was #78, and it was the very first SQLSaturday outside of North America. Since then, we have managed to double attendance from about 100 to nearly 200. My favorite part of this year’s event was seeing people enjoy so many great sessions and speakers and connect with each other, building true friendships. Besides our Portugal SQLSaturday, I have attended SQLSaturdays this year in Redmond (#108), Shanghai (#148), Cambridge (#162), and Munich (#170).

What are you reading now in the technical space? How about outside the tech world?
I am currently reading Pro SQL Azure by Scott Klein and Herve Rogero. With such fast growth in Azure SQL Database technology, the information can quickly get a bit out of date, so I am really looking forward to a new edition. The last book I read outside of IT was Drive by Daniel Pink, which I finished a couple of months ago. It’s a great book on motivation principles, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

As a SQL Server MVP, what are you most excited about in SQL Server 2012?
The most exciting things about SQL Server 2012 for me are Availability Groups, Columnstore Indexes, and Power View. Together, they bring such great enterprise-level enhancements and innovations to an already strong product, and I can’t wait to dive deeper into those technologies at PASS Summit.

Tell us a little about where you live, your family, and what you like to do when you're not working or focused on SQL Server or the database community.
I live in the most beautiful country on planet Earth – Portugal. I live right on the outskirts of Lisbon, and I love spending time with my wife and two children: my 3-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter. I don't have much free time when I’m not working with SQL Server or in the database community, so I prefer spending every moment I can with them.

I’m truly fortunate that my wife is extremely supportive of all my activities – she even attended part of our last SQLSaturday. I love playing with my son; I have learned so much about life and about myself from him – his transparency and affection are some of the most precious things I have in life. And although at the moment my daughter teaches me mostly about the value of patience :), one of the things that makes me excited about the future is seeing her grow into a person who is going to change and shape the future of the world.

Next week, you will be joining the PASS HQ team as a full-time Community Evangelist, working alongside Karla Landrum. What are you most looking forward to in your new role?
Helping SQL Server communities around the world grow stronger, closer to each other, and closer to PASS. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences in helping develop our local community from a single person in March of 2010 to over 750 in October of 2012. I also love helping organizers get their own SQLSaturdays off the ground and improve their events year after year, based on best practices from so many other organizers as well as my own lessons learned. And I’m excited about working with Chapter Leaders around the world to share their successes and what I’ve learned with SQLPort and support local user groups. I can’t wait to start! 

What does "community" mean to you?
Everything. We live in communities because we are social animals and need that connection with our fellow beings. Helping communities grow is such a rewarding task because we can achieve so much more together than alone. We live on a relatively small planet, but we are still quite disconnected from each other. By helping people connect with each other and share knowledge, ideas, successes, and even failures, we can build a stronger SQL Server community – and a better world.
 

September 2012: Julie Koesmarno

Who knew 12-year-old Julie Koesmarno, fiddling around with Lotus 1-2-3, would grow into a SQL Server and BI consultant, community speaker, and proponent of coding standards, Power View, and the #SQLFamily?

Tell us about your life with SQL Server – how did you get started, what are you doing now, and what excites you in the data world?
I’ve been lucky in that I unintentionally started learning about data and databases when I was 12. I started with Lotus 1-2-3, dBaseIII+, and Microsoft Access and Excel, then worked with Oracle and MySQL, eventually getting into SQL Server in my first full-time job. Out of all of them, SQL Server has always been my favourite, and I started using SQL Server on a daily basis when I landed my first database developer role. Looking back, it seemed like my path to SQL Server was planned, but it really wasn’t. All I knew back when I was 12 was that data could help businesses, like my parents’, grow.

I currently work as a consultant in the SQL Server and BI space. My most recent project includes implementing a data warehouse/BI solution using SQL Server 2012 and delivering Pivot Table and Power View reports with a Tabular Model back end. What excites me these days is when I’m architecting a data solution, integrating all different data sources and converting them to meaningful information that helps organisations understand how they are performing and how they can do better.

With seven Microsoft certifications in your pocket, what tips do you have for fellow SQL Server pros preparing for exams this fall (including those Microsoft is offering at PASS Summit)?
For each exam, Microsoft Learning’s website has a “Skills Measured” section that lists areas that will be examined. I highly recommend using this as a checklist to prepare for the exam.

The exam is meant to test both your knowledge and experience, and even though you may know a topic really well, carefully read the questions so you don’t misinterpret what’s being asked. And remember, Microsoft offers a Second Shot program, which lets you retake an exam for free.

It’s great that all Microsoft MCP exams will be available at a 50% discount at PASS Summit – all the more reason to come and join us in Seattle! The testing room, practice exams, and exam crams will be open Sunday, Nov. 4, through Friday, Nov. 9, so there are plenty of opportunities for everyone to fit an exam or two into their schedule and at a great price.

You’re a professed fan of Power View – why should database pros care about it?
Although it’s still in its early stages, Power View has shown huge potential for providing beautiful and interactive data visualisations, as well as meaningful, analytics with minimum effort. With Power View integration in Excel 2013, this will be an affordable and a popular tool for self-service BI. When I showed a client the Power View map I generated using their existing leads and customer data, I received great feedback. They can now use geographic information that they haven’t tapped into before, and they want to put it in place as soon as Office 2013 becomes available.

Drawing on your years of BI experience, what’s something SQL Server pros do that drives you crazy?
I’m a big advocate for coding standards, unit testing, and release management systems. I start “twitching” whenever I see badly formatted or unstructured code. I try to persuade others to follow some coding standard. From my experience, it helps increase developer productivity as you navigate through complex logic for debugging and maintenance.

You’re active in the SQL Twitter community. In 140-characters or less, why should SQL Server pros be part of their local user group?
#sqlpass user groups are the best road to learning & building your professional network. Our dedication & passion for #SQL is infectious!

As an alumni volunteer for the PASS Summit First-Timers Program, what three top tips do you have for people attending their first Summit in November?
Keep healthy by eating right, hydrating, and getting some exercise. The worst thing you can do is get sick at Summit and miss out on all the fun – or not be able to start putting what you learned into practice the week after.

It’s also important to have a set of goals for what you want out of Summit. What areas do you want to learn more about? What specific questions do you want to ask the SQLCAT folks? Do you want to meet someone new every day at lunch? Write down your goals, and go for it!

PASS Summit is great for learning new things and for expanding your professional network. There are plenty of fun parties and networking activities – SQLRun, SQLKaraoke, the Photowalk - so be sure to join us. I might even organise SQLYoga if anyone is interested.

What are you reading now in the technical space? How about outside the tech world?
I love good design and visualisation. I keep going back to Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few to remind myself of effective communication through visualisation. I’m currently reading A Song of Ice and Fire, in the absence of the Game of Thrones TV series. I think the TV series is superb, which has made me curious about the novels.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to do when you're not focused on SQL Server or the database community.
I’ve lived in Sydney, Australia, for 5 years now. Before that, when I first moved to Australia, I lived in a much smaller city, Canberra, where my elder brother and sister currently live. My parents live in Indonesia, and my eldest sister and her family live in the UK. So my brother, sisters, and I all have different accents! :)

I like taking photos (I held an exhibition once), dancing, and practicing yoga/body balance. These activities help me clear my mind and stay focused. Aside from that, I’m quite bad at playing video games, but I’m trying to get better. Every year, my husband and I do a marathon session on the Xbox/PS3. I usually pick simple games like the Lego Harry Potter series or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.

What's a favorite tech session you've seen recently? How about the favorite presentation you've given?
Patrick LeBlanc’s SQL Lunch session on Power View in Excel 2013 is a must for those who are exploring self-service BI for small to medium-sized companies. Patrick summarised the essential things to know about delivering an affordable BI solution using the upcoming Excel 2013. He has a great way of explaining things, and he’s always entertaining.

My favourite presentation I’ve delivered is DirectQuery vs. InMemory in Tabular Model. I learned so much from both researching the technologies and implementing the solution in the real world. I’m really excited about the Tabular Model and hope that the presentation helps others understand and start adopting this new technology soon.

What does community mean to you?
A good friend of mine, Victor Isakov, recommended that I start participating in the SQL community. I was a little shy at first because I thought I couldn’t possibly be part of such an elite group that included so many knowledgeable people. But I’m glad I listened to Victor and ignored my qualms. I’ve learned so much from others in the PASS community, not only on the technical side but also on professional and social levels. It’s not an exclusive group, like I first thought. Instead, it’s an amazingly inclusive and accessible, dedicated, smart, warm, and friendly community. And most of all, it is a family – a #SQLFamily. We grow together and continually share our passion for SQL and life. So if you are new to the family, we’d like to welcome you. Say “Hi” to us on Twitter (#sqlfamily or #sqlpass), and join your local user group and the PASS Virtual Chapters you’re interested in – we’re everywhere!


August 2012: Jason and Sarah Strate

PASS Regional Mentor, SQL Server MVP, and SQLKaraoke buff Jason Strate is contagious. Hang around him long enough, and you’ll catch his passion for the SQL Server community. Just ask his wife, Sarah.

Jason, tell us about your life with SQL Server – how did you get started, what are you doing now, and what excites you in the data world? Sarah, what do you do in the world of work and how did you get roped into this fine community?
Jason: I started as a data entry temp for a credit card processing department at a local bank. This eventually led to work on an Access database, which first brought me into the IT world. When it came time to upgrade the Access database to SQL Server, the task fell on my plate somehow, and I was suddenly a SQL Server developer.  It was really a series of fortunate events. 

These days, I am most focused on helping clients bring their data platforms to the next level. I’ve been doing this through assessments, performance review engagements, and client mentoring. Basically, I’m using my experiences to help clients and their DBAs work on things they may miss or lack the time to address. This has been something I’ve been passionate about for a while. To be effective against hundreds of databases and vast expanses of data, increasing all the time, we need to scale our skills.

Sarah: I am a preschool teacher for one of the school districts here in Minnesota. I started going to SQLSaturdays with Jason in 2010 just to tag along and see some new cities. As I met more and more of the people at events, I was hooked on the community. Luckily, they quickly adopted me in and treat me like I’m one of their own!

You both led a Big Brother/Sister team for last year’s PASS Summit First-Timers Program, and Sarah, you’re helping organize this year’s activities. Why should new attendees get involved?
Sarah:
Last year, we ended up having a huge team of first timers since there were two of us leading the group. We had glowsticks for each of them, just as something fun to help our group stand out a bit. One of the things I felt people got out of the First Timers’ program last year, was that it gave them an opportunity to meet other people who were also there for the first time. It helped them connect with us and each other in a fun way. Before the event, there were many blogs, webcasts, and emails from team leaders that were directed at first-time attendees, so people coming to Summit had an idea of what to expect from this awesome event. I think it took some of the intimidation out of coming to such a large conference.

Jason: For many people in our community, myself included, walking up to complete strangers is a fairly onerous task. Personally, if I go somewhere where don’t know anyone, I might sit in the corner and watch for a while before finding a way to join in a conversation. We’re in IT – being a bit introverted is to be expected. 

The First Timers Program is a good way to help bridge the natural shyness that comes with our careers. By meeting a few old timers, the first timers have a connection to others at the conference – someone they can reach out to for questions – and an opportunity to see that people are quite approachable and pretty much just like them. As a result of participating in the First Timers Programs, some of our members came with us to karaoke every night. They got a chance just to connect with people they might not otherwise have met for a couple of Summits. And it gave them a jump start on networking – they knew they weren’t alone, and they had other people they could talk to.

Jason, you’re (in)famous for your musical PASS Summit Registration pleas - like this one. And as devotees of PASS’s SQLKaraoke culture, what can getting up in front of your peers and belting out “Blue” teach us about life in the database world?
Jason:
Yes, “Blue” sadly seems to be everyone’s favorite… SQLKaraoke gives us an opportunity to see that things can just happen. When you see me up there belting out “Blue,” it’s definitely not what you’re expecting, unless you’ve seen it before. Events like this help us all loosen up, and we definitely enjoy ourselves. Also, with SQLKaraoke, being good as a DBA doesn’t apply, success and fame here are based on your willingness to jump on the stage.

Sarah: I know this was more directed at Jason, but since I also attend #SQLKaraoke (how can I not), I thought I’d respond as well. Karaoke is a great way for people to get together to hang out in a really non-formal setting. It’s not just about the karaoke; it’s really about getting together with friends and soon-to-be new friends. People get to know each other, talk, ask questions of other people, maybe make a fool of themselves on stage, and just have a good time.

Jason, drawing on your experience with performance tuning, what’s something that lots of SQL Server pros do that drives you crazy? Sarah, what drives you crazy about living with someone so focused on performance tuning?
Jason: It drives me crazy when people either stop upgrading their skills or over-upgrade them. SQL Server behavior and the right way to do things change over time. We need to always be looking at our approach and making sure we change with the times. Use the new tools that are there instead of using overly clever processes from the past, just because that’s what worked. On the other hand, don’t over-upgrade and latch onto the new-new thing and make that your mantra. In the same vein, that can force you to be overly clever in your approach, and you end up causing more problems than you solve.

Sarah: Given his experience with performance tuning, Jason tends to like things in an order. Trying to maintain that order sometimes proves difficult. The late nights can be rough for me, too. I’m not as much a night-owl as he is, and sometimes I stay up later than I should, just to hang out with him. Or we get on a roll being silly with PASS videos or something, and the next day I wish I had gone to bed much earlier.

What are you both reading now - in the technical/work space and beyond?
Jason:
Right now, I’m reading Securing SQL Server by Denny Cherry. I’ve also been reading the Barsoom series and just finished the fourth book. The books are significantly better than the John Carter movie. This year, I’ve really gotten back into leisurely reading.

Sarah: I’m currently reading the third Sherlock Holmes book. I have a really hard time reading two books at once, so I try to alternate between “professional” and “casual” books. This summer, I read all for fun. Time to get back into some professional books, now that the school year is starting again.

You’re both passionate about user groups and active on Twitter (@StrateSQL and @Dancem0m). In 140-characters or less, why should SQL Server pros be part of their local user group?
Jason: Whether at a user group or through Twitter, networking is absolutely the best asset that you will find for #SQLServer skills & your career.

Sarah: User groups are great for connecting with other professionals and getting training that you might not otherwise be able to. Go #sqlpass!

What are the secrets to a great SQLSaturday?
Jason:
Speed PASS is critical. Of course, some things won’t go as planned, so you need to roll with the punches. One of the most important things is to pay attention to where sponsors are being placed and what their expectations are. Sponsors are investing quite a bit in the SQLSaturday events, and they need to see a good ROI to continue to justify that investment. Reminding attendees to give a few minutes to each of the sponsors definitely helps. Lastly, while SQLSaturdays are often put together by a committee of people, make sure that the volunteers are empowered to make decisions – not everything needs to be based on a consensus.

Sarah: I could go on and on with this one, but I’ll try to keep it short. First, having an entire team working together makes the event go much more smoothly. When everyone on the committee knows what’s going on, they are more prepared to answer questions from sponsors and attendees. Also, make sure you have good signage. Make sure they know how to get to your event, and where they need to go once they are there. Schedules of the day included in the pre-event information attendees get (and then sticking to that schedule) reduces frustration for everyone. Really, it comes down to communication between volunteers/committee members, speakers, sponsors, and attendees.

Tell us a little about what you like to do when you're not focused on SQL Server or the database community.
Jason:
The list is a bit short - mainly hang out with my boys, read, jet ski, mow the lawn, and play video games.

Sarah: I like to dance. In the past, I have done hip hop, and more recently tap. I also enjoy scrapbooking and being outdoors.

You are both instructors/coaches in your own spaces – Jason as SQL Server MVP, speaker, and PASS Regional Mentor and Sarah as a teacher and volunteer. What is the best advice you ever received about how to share your experiences and knowledge and help others learn?

Sarah: Being open to constructive criticism from others and not taking it personally has been very helpful advice for me. There will always be some who love what you do no matter what, and there will be some who don’t. Oh, well. This can be reduced some by trying to appeal to various learning styles, but for the most part, just share what you know, and let your passion for it show through. Your excitement will be contagious, and others will want to learn everything you know.

Jason: Things will go wrong in your presentations – you need to just roll with it. Of course, don’t type during demos; it’s asking for trouble. If you do type in demos, tell people they shouldn’t type first so that it isn’t your fault for typing. Be passionate about what you teach. And have a backup plan… always have a backup plan.

What does community mean to you?
Sarah:
What I love about this community is that people are generally very accepting of each other. They are also not afraid to debate each other on SQL-related topics without it getting in the way of their friendships. This is a rare community in that not only are they very well connected with each other through social media, they make a point to get together as often as possible. If you look at SQLSaturdays as an example, many people are traveling all over the country just to spend time with each other. The free training and time with friends is worth the travel expense. They also cheer each other on in ways that may or may not even be work related. There are runners virtually training for their next race together, there are people supporting each others’ fundraising efforts, there are people cheering each other on (or competing with each other) in efforts to lose weight or meet fitness goals. It’s just a great group of people who love to help each other out.

Jason: The PASS Community is really the family and network of experts that I tap into to build and further my career. When I look at where my career has taken me, so much of it is because of the audience I’ve found in the SQL Server community. People seem to enjoy what I write in books and blogs, which encourages me to do more. Looking at my friendships, it’s interesting to me that so many of the people I talk to on a regular basis are not local and are people that I met at various SQL Server events and online through twitter and other SQL Server communities. When it comes to the PASS Summit, every year it feels like the end of summer vacation, when I get a chance to see all of my friends again.
 

July 2012: Felipe Ferreira

Skydiver and SQL Server MVP Felipe Ferreira, Director of Operations and Mentor at SolidQ Brazil, compares working with SQL Server to jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet.

Tell us about your life with SQL Server – how did you get started, what are you doing now, and what excites you in the data world?
I didn’t really choose SQL Server – SQL Server chose me. I used to work in a big telecom company as a developer, and our team was the only one using Microsoft technologies. Because I had experience as a network administrator, the team gave me the wonderful task of keeping all our servers running and answering calls during the night to fix things. One of those servers was a SQL Server database, the only one that was still a mystery to me. So one day, I went to the bookstore and bought all the SQL Server books they had. Suddenly, I was in love.

Today, I work as a Director of Operations for SolidQ in Brazil, trying to split my time between meetings and the technical work. I’m focused on Business Intelligence – that is what most excites me most in the data world. It is fantastic when I can help my customers find meaning from the huge amount of data they have and, with that information, plan the next steps and find new ways to be successful. It’s awesome.

As leader of PASS’s fast-growing Brazil Virtual Chapter, how would you describe the technical landscape in Brazil right now? What opportunities and challenges do you and your SQL Server colleagues face in connecting across such a large country?
I see two primary challenges in my country today. One is its size. Brazil is a huge country, and we have a lot of good people who live outside the big cities and who deserve the opportunity to learn and improve their skills. This is the main reason we started the Brazil Virtual Chapter – to give people the chance to learn and grow, wherever they live.

The second challenge is the same one that user groups everywhere have: a read-only mentality in the community. We have a lot of people who come to meetings, events, and so on as listeners but who don’t interact by sharing their opinions and problems.

Brazil is growing really fast. This year, we will have over 65,000 students finishing college and starting to work in the IT field. But the poor quality of most universities and the requirements of today’s IT market creates the need for all these students to continue learning what the new technologies can offer them and how to use them correctly. We have a lot of room to grow.

You are a skydiver – what can jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet teach us about life in the database world?
Skydiving is a very secure sport, but it doesn’t accept failures. Before you get in the airplane, you need to prepare yourself and your mind for every possible situation you could face and how to react to each one. In case of a problem, you need to stay calm and do exactly what you have trained for. You usually don’t have second chances, so while you need to keep calm, you also need to react quickly. And you especially need to have a high avaliability plan (your spare parachute) and to make sure it will work if you need it.

Sounds a lot like the database world, doesn’t it? Databases don’t accept failures. We are working with one of a company’s most important assets: their information. We can’t take a chance of losing that data. We also need high avaliability and disaster recovery plans, and we need to test both well to guarantee they will work. In case of an emergency, we need to stay calm and do exactly what we have been trained to do, following our plan and bringing everything online as fast as possible. So while skydiving and databases are totally different worlds, skydiving helps me achieve the calm that I need to have in extreme situations with SQL Server.

Drawing on your experience with database modeling and development, what’s something that some SQL Server pros do that drives you crazy? How about one easy thing they should be doing but many aren’t?
Ah, I could write on book on this question. :) One of the common problems I face when working with Business Intelligence is the fact that a lot of development shops want to create an application that works in every database, and to do that, they believe they can’t use ANY funcionality of the database. That means I have a lot of customers out there that don’t even have foreign keys on their databases.

I’m OK with creating applications that work on multiple databases, but you really don’t need to kill data consistency and put the entire system at risk while doing it. You can just follow the ANSI rules, which most database vendors implement. I’ve lost count of how many times I have had to explain to a customer that they have been making decisions on wrong data for the past 10 years because of data consistency problems.

What are you reading now in the technical space? How about outside the tech world?
I just started reading the new book Professional Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services, co-authored by my SolidQ colleague Paul Turley. Outside the technical space... is there such a thing? Outside the IT world, I am reading a book from Jake Bernstein, a well known market analyst, called Stock Market Strategies that Work. Not really a non-technical book, but it’s the best I’ve got for now.

You are active on Twitter (@SQLBoy) and LinkedIn. What would you tell fellow PASS and SQL Server community members about the value of social media?
Social networking is one of the best things that’s ever happened to the database community. Today through social media sites, we have the opportunity to talk to the top experts in our industry, share our knowledge, and help each other – wherever we’re locatedin the world. You can really see this interaction with the #SQLHelp hashtag on Twitter, where people all over the world are asking for help with their problems and a lot of people are answering those questions and spreading their know-how. It’s an invaluable tool, and I encourage everyone in the SQL Server space to learn how to effectively use social media to build their knowledge and networks and improve their skills.

As a SQL Server MVP, what are you most excited about in the new SQL Server 2012 release? What would you most like to see improved about SQL Server?
The two most exciting SQL Server 2012 features for me are xVelocity (columnstore indexes) and Power View. XVelocity can improve the speed of the typical queries we have in data warehouses up to 10 times. This is a huge advance in the product, and we are able to win all competitions against other database vendors using this new feature.

As for Power View, Microsoft always had a huge gap in the data visualization toolset compared to BI competitors, but it is now trying to close this gap and deliver a seamless experience to the end user. Every single user I show Power View to loves it and wants to implement it right away. And this is the same area where I want to see even more improvements – we’re still missing some basic functionality on the product such as gauge charts. So I expect to see more investment coming not only on this tool, but in the overall data visualization space.

Tell us a little about what you like to do when you're not focused on SQL Server or the database community?
I am just a normal guy who likes jumping of airplanes – doesn’t everybody? :) I don’t have much free time nowadays, but flying is my second passion. So I spend a lot of time at the skydiving base.

I also like to spend time on cool ideas with my friends. The latest one we are working on is RemindTV. It’s not easy to keep up with all the good TV shows you have in the US, so we built this web application that lets you follow your favorite TV shows to get reminders a few hours or a day in advance so that you don’t miss them. You can check it out at www.remindtv.com.

You are a frequent speaker at Microsoft and community events – what is your best advice for new speakers or those wanting to take their presentation skills to a new level?
Take the first step! I know a lot of very knowledgeable database people who have a lot to share, but they have stage fright and don’t want to risk being embarrassed.

For new speakers, my only advice is: Take the chance. You have nothing to lose. Everyone in the audience wants to see you succeed and have a good presentation that they can learn from. So just take the chance, and start sharing your ideas. After that, you can improve your skills with experience and find the presentation techniques that work best for you. But you have to start first.

What does community mean to you?
#SQLFamily. I don’t know who started this Twitter hashtag, but it represents exactly what I feel about the SQL Server community. It really works like a huge family, where people want to help each other and see others being successful. Of course, we have our dramas too, like all families. But it is something amazing to be a part of. I’d love to see this feeling and passion in other areas – wouldn’t it be great if politicians could learn this from us?


June 2012: Bill Lescher

Rumor has it, Bill Lescher just stepped down as leader of the Chicago SQL Server User Group after missing only two meetings in 10 years. Was it for more time on his Harley, or to follow the KISS tour this summer?

Tell us about your life with SQL Server – how did you get started, what are you doing now, and what excites you in the data world?
I was a double business major at Illinois State University, and I took an elective in which we had to build a graphics program by the end of the semester using QuickBasic. I built a little KISS concert, and I was hooked for life. In my first job out of college, I was programming with COBOL and eventually VB4/5. After 5 years, thanks to a great mentor, I became a DBA working on DB2 and SQL Server 6.5. While it was fun to create applications as a programmer, sometimes helping those end users adapt to change was not very rewarding. The thought of becoming a DBA sounded like being Batman of the IT world… keeping the machine running from the shadows.

Within a couple of years, I moved on to another large company and was soon working solely on SQL Server. I was part of a small sub-team managing over 600 instances. Now I work for a much smaller company, so my traditional DBA role has really broadened. I spent the first 17 years of my career in the financial industry, and it’s been an exciting change these last 2 years to be working in retail (mostly e-commerce). What excites me most about the data world is problem solving and solution sharing, and those are most enjoyable when you have great people around you. I’ve been pretty fortunate to be surrounded by excellent people in the IT shops I’ve been in and in the SQL Server community.

You just stepped down as leader of the Chicago PASS Chapter after 10 years. Rumor has it that in that time, you only missed two meetings. What memories and achievements are you taking with you?
Well, I was fortunate enough to have a great liaison, Ross LoForte at our local Microsoft office, who was able to run the meetings that I did miss. Our group has been very lucky to have fantastic support from a number of local Microsoft people over the years.

I think the memories I’ll cherish most are all those moments of gratitude members have expressed at every meeting. I love every one of those friendly “hello’s” on the way into a meeting, and all of the “thank you’s” on the way out. It’s also fun when I run into fellow members at the Summit, SQLSaturdays, airports, and who knows where else.

I’m going to miss not only helping coordinate all of the great education, but also helping people get hooked up with new jobs after being out of work for a while. It’s been interesting to watch vendors start up and blossom, and more than one have told me they really do make sales off of sponsoring and presenting at meetings.

What advice do you have for other Chapter Leaders – some of whom may be just starting out or struggling with attendance, finding speakers, and so on?
I’ve written some lengthy documents over the years to help new groups get started, but I would mostly boil it down to keeping things simple. In the early years, we experimented with alternating locations, hosting webcasts, and other things. But in the end, we made the best use of our resources and made the most people happy by sticking to a simple, consistent plan.

I think it also helps to be really honest up front with sponsors and speakers to avoid lots of unnecessary back-and-forth communication. Every once in a great while, I’ve had to explain that while I’m happy to help promote a product or business, I’m a volunteer trying to help facilitate some education and networking. The vast majority of the time, though, these situations are win-win, and everyone is cool from the get-go. I will also add that I’ve been very spoiled being in such a large, attractive market for speakers and sponsors. And it’s a huge help to have someone at the local Microsoft Technology Center steering sponsors our way.

You served as a moderator at 24 Hours of PASS a few times. It’s such a popular community event – what makes it special for you?
24 HOP is so impressive to me because of the turnout we get from all over the world, and the fact that people are really engaged. It’s always fun as moderator to try to answer the questions as they fly in to help lessen the burden on the speaker at the end.

My favorite moment was when a speaker was experiencing some technical difficulties. I was sitting there on my webcam waiting for the session to start, and the first question pops up: “Is that a Batman magnet?” I was totally caught off guard, and then it dawned on me that my fridge was in the background of my webcam. I think I had a couple more questions about my kitchen, and then members from the user group who knew me started commenting on how I looked on camera. The whole thing was really funny, and it was actually pretty nice that people were being goofy with me rather than expressing frustration at the late start.

What are you reading now in the technical space? How about outside the tech world?
As for work-related books, I read Jim Collins’ Good to Great and am now into Built to Last. The president of our company asked all the managers to read them, and they have some solid gems for any organization. Professional Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Administration by Ross, Adam Jorgensen, Brian Knight, and Steven Wort will be my next tech book.

Other than that, I have City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago next up on my Kindle, and I’m going through Game of Thrones withdrawal hoping George R.R. Martin doesn’t take another million years for the next book.

You represented the local PASS community as host of the Chicago leg of the SQL Server 2012 Special Ops Tour this spring and served in the PASS booth at the Virtual Launch event – what do you tell SQL Server folks who may not know about PASS?
I try to emphasize the free educational sessions at user group meetings and the free membership to PASS. I find that most people are surprised by all of this free goodness, and then I push them over the top by mentioning pizza and raffle prizes at the meetings. I end the discussion by praising PASS Summit and the community in general. I’m such a big believer in the Summit, and I preach its greatness at every opportunity. I’ll never forget my first Summit, back when we could still fit in a hotel – the Adams Mark in Denver in 2002 (rescheduled from 2001). It was amazing being surrounded by all those people who spent most of their waking hours doing the same things I did.

What are you most excited about in the new SQL Server 2012 release? What would you most like to see improved about SQL Server?
I’m most excited about the Always On technology, because I’m dying to be able to read the database mirror! SQL Server’s strength has always been in the tools (much like the rest of Microsoft), and I think we’re due for a little more syncing up between the developers and the DBAs in Redmond. I’m still flying high from IntelliSense and other great features in SSMS, but it would be nice if Microsoft could circle back and beef up the interface for Profiler, for example. I dream of a day when I don’t have to convert so many data types so often in SSIS. A better diagramming tool and a schema-compare tool would also be nice (if they’re not already in SQL Server 2012).

Your twitter profile (@blescher) reads, “Harley, Blackhawks, KISS, and President of the Chicago SQL Server User Group.” Care to expand on the first three items?
I’ve been riding motorcycles since 2007, and my Harley-Davidson Street Glide is my prized possession. I was a season ticketholder for a bunch of years and am still a huge Chicago Blackhawks (ice hockey) fan. There are few things I love more than jumping on my bicycle to hit the dirt trails with loud music blaring in my ears. KISS is my favorite band, and I love the whole rock spectrum. I will be one of the many seeing “The Tour” with KISS and Motley Crue this summer. I’m the oldest of 5 kids, and I’m very close to my family. I live to be an uncle and spoil my nieces and nephews.

If you’re going to PASS Summit 2012, what sessions are grabbing you right now?
I am going to Summit, but I haven’t had time yet to peruse the full list of sessions. I did see that Brent Ozar’s gang will be well represented, and I’m excited to see their sessions. Amongst the usual rock star speakers, I try to always catch Louis Davidson. Not only does he nail many of the same DBA beliefs I have, he’s hilarious! Database design is so critical, and Louis fights the good fight to keep it at the forefront.

I really need to get in gear and start presenting again. I used to teach entry-level classes at Allstate for developers. I had hours to go through the basics of backups, execution plans, and all kinds of things. Not only do I love teaching, but I learned so much from putting those slides together. Plus, I had fun throwing out candy to those who could answer my questions.

What does community mean to you?
Community to me means people selflessly helping each other out and sharing good times. I think most of us in the SQL community just plain enjoy helping people, especially because we all know that sinking feeling when you’re stuck on something and feel all alone. Our community is so special that I don’t remember the last time I encountered a knowledge hoarder. I love that #SQLFamily Twitter hashtag, because we really are a caring group that likes to be there for each other. I’m so proud of our community for helping develop these amazing technologists, who then turn around and help raise up the next person.


May 2012: Jody Roberts

PASS Regional Mentor for the Middle East and Africa – and huge soccer fan – Jody Roberts wants to see a SQL Server user group in each of his 73 countries. His strategy? Teamwork.

Tell us about your life with SQL Server – how did you get started, what are you doing now, and what excites you in the data world?
Ironically, I did an Oracle course and couldn't get a job as a DBA. So I picked up a SQL book and started reading and playing with the software, and I haven't looked back since. I’m currently Principal Architect at Pragmatic Works Cape Town and focus primarily on SQL Server disaster recovery/high availability, architecture, and optimization. This spring, I’m doing a SQL Server 2012 Roadshow in South Africa, and I’m excited that Microsoft has produced a product that will change the way organizations look at data.

As PASS Regional Mentor for the Middle East & Africa, what is your vision for SQL Server pros and PASS members in the region?
My vision for the MEA region is to help set up a SQL Server user group in each country. There are 56 countries in Africa and 17 in the Middle East. Since I have been appointed RM for the region, we have grown to 10 active UGs, and with the help of like-minded individuals, we can grow it to more. One of the challenges is finding those like-minded people, as Microsoft doesn’t have representation in every country on the continent. Currently I am relying a lot on word of mouth and also investigating other ways to reach the masses.

There are loads of opportunities in the region, as a lot of the first-world countries are beginning to invest in the IT industry. So it is great news that the number of IT jobs in the region has increased; we now need to focus on getting the right people in the right positions. And PASS offers excellent opportunities for continued training and making the connections people need to develop their careers.

You’re a huge soccer fan – what can soccer teach us about life in the database world?
Yes, I am a huge fan of the Spurs, based in North London, England. I think soccer teaches us about the power of teamwork. If we all would work together, we could create self-sustaining systems. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, which leads to too much overtime and stressed-out employees. We in the database world can all learn to be better team players.

Drawing on your years of experience with high availability and disaster recovery, what’s something DBAs do that drives you crazy? How about one easy thing they should be doing but many aren’t?
It’s frustrating to see the lack of planning and DBAs not taking the time to educate themselves about even the basics of availability and DR. I have been in situations where the DBA doing the DR didn't even know where to start and didn’t have any documentation. The easiest thing you can do is to document the environment – if you haven’t already, begin today!

What are you reading now in the technical space? How about outside the tech world?
At the moment, I’m reading anything and everything I can about SQL Server 2012. And outside of that, I am reading loads of legendary footballer Bobby Robson's biography.

You’re part of the leadership committee for SQLCape – what’s the coolest meeting the user group has done?
The coolest meeting for me was our very first one. SQLCape was formed in April 2010 by Toufiq Abrahams, Lee Greene, Sune de Vos, Connie Oberholster, and myself. And we had our first UG meeting in May 2010. We had double the attendance we expected – 40 people instead of 20 – and seeing all those interested folks inspired us to continue organizing more SQL events. As an attendee, I always value the knowledge I gain from each user group meeting – I never leave without having learned something new.

What are you most excited about in the new SQL Server 2012 release?
I love the new AlwaysOn high availability feature. And as part of the current SQL 2012 roadshow, I really enjoy showing people how easy it is to configure.

Tell us a little about what you like to do when you're not working or focused on SQL Server or the database community.
I am married, and we have two very entertaining kids, ages 5 and 6. I enjoy spending my free time with them and friends. I also enjoy braaing (BBQing) once a week – sometimes twice a week if my wife lets me.

What’s a favorite tech session you've seen recently?
My recent favorite session was Brian Knight’s SSIS presentation at this spring’s SQLSaturday #123 Western Cape. He had great demos and performance-tuning tips, digging into some less common, more advanced options, which I really enjoyed. 

What does community mean to you?
The SQL Server community means a lot to me as it gives us a voice about the direction of SQL Server and allows us to help Microsoft build a more robust product. Through community, we can also help each other learn how to improve our SQL Server environments, which is a big bonus. It really goes back to teamwork and the idea of pulling together for the greater good and greater outcomes.


April 2012: Jen Stirrup

BI consultant Jen Stirrup – the first person in her extended family and poor area of Scotland to get a degree – combines her passion for technology and people in a career that makes a difference. And she’s got a challenge for you. 

Tell us about your life with SQL Server – how did you get started, what are you doing now, and what excites you in the data world?
I believe you get one shot at life, and you have to give it your best. I was brought up in a very poor area of Scotland. I knew I didn't want to live my life without options and opportunities, and I have a tendency to think you make your own luck. I'm a statistical anomaly: I was the first person in my extended family to get a degree. I was one of the only people in my area to go to school beyond age 16 and earn a degree. I worked part-time and never stopped pushing myself, since I knew the alternative was to go back to living a life without choices, finances, or opportunities.

I worked hard at school, went to University in Glasgow, Scotland, and then studied computer science in Paris. It opened my eyes. I could see that there was a whole world out there, full of people to meet and cherish.

I pursued a career in SQL Server because I never wanted to stop learning. It was a way for me to combine a passion for technical subjects, whilst engaging with people. I realised that I could have a career where I could both learn and contribute. I wanted to live a life “well-lived” and to travel, meet like-minded people, and have experiences that were far away from the girl I was, living poor in Scotland.

I got started with SQL Server when some of my first Artificial Intelligence consultancy role involved work in SQL Server and Oracle. I found I enjoyed digging around for data and applying my findings to make businesses produce better decisions. I also found I could help people. Recently, one female customer was in tears because she was so grateful: The work I'd done in merging her data together saved her 1 hour of “copying and pasting” a day. That meant she could spend an hour a day more with her children, rather than working late every day. Business Intelligence appeals so much because you can have this type of rewarding positive impact on people's family and home lives. Plus, I have the pleasure of working with my business partner, long-time MVP Allan Mitchell (@AllanSQLIS), who is also an active member of the community and quietly supportive of my Women in Technology work.

You have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s in both Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science – how do those backgrounds inform your work with data visualization? (And remind us again, why do you hate pie charts? :)
I think my background in Psychology and Artificial Intelligence means I can look at problems from different perspectives. It informs my perspective from the business angle, as well as from the technical angle. And it helps me evaluate options when visualising data, since it has a scientific and cognitive aspect as well as a technical, data-oriented, detailed view.

As for pie charts, I don't hate them. They have a use – it’s just that they are often overused. :) Did you know the French word for a “pie chart” is a Camembert?

You’re a passionate cheerleader for Women in Technology – what advice would you give young women wanting to get into the field? How about tips for male managers?
I don't like to see discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. I believe the Women in Technology movement is important because we do talk about these “People in Technology” issues. As Dr. Seuss wrote: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the one who'll decide where you'll go. Oh, the places you'll go." This is such an inspirational quote for me because it says people should be allowed to determine their future. I'm not saying every woman should go into IT; instead, I believe people should be allowed opportunities and choices on how they live their lives, without blunt or overt discrimination on the basis of physical characteristics, preferences, or beliefs.

If I had a daughter, my advice to her would be this: Be the best you can be, at whatever you decide to do. Don't let the fact that you're a girl put you off – and don't let it be an excuse for not doing well at something. Be superlative. The respect that you deserve from other people? Give it back, wholeheartedly, to everyone without reservation or hesitation. Your skills and integrity will speak for themselves.

To a male manager, I'd say: Let people prove themselves, support them in their role, and don't discourage. Harness that enthusiasm and help direct it, regardless of the individual’s characteristics or beliefs. Let them surprise you.

You encourage IT pros to put BI in the hands of business users. Despite the movement toward more self-service BI, do some database folks still struggle with that?
I do see database pros struggling with the concept of self-service BI in their desire to protect the data. Essentially, in their guardianship and stewardship of the data and the systems, they believe that excluding users is probably the best way to keep everything safe and secure. The data belongs to the business, however. A compromise needs to be reached, and we are still finding answers.

What are you reading now in the technical space? How about outside the tech world?
In the technical field, I am reading The Windows Azure Handbook, Volume 1. Outside of tech work, I love military history and spy thrillers, and I'm enjoying John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

You help run the SQLHerts user group in England and are an enthusiastic PASS supporter and volunteer. Why do you take the time, make the effort? What are data pros who aren’t involved in a user group missing out on?
I volunteer with PASS because I admire what the organization is trying to achieve in Europe. I support PASS’s mission wholeheartedly, and I want to be part of the story. I think PASS has a role in Europe in building a SQL family and centralising and supporting SQL people at all levels. I think this involves ensuring that there is an equality about inclusion.

I don't believe in the SQL celebrity idea: In other words, I think community leaders and MVPs should be accessible and approachable. I've enjoyed my year as an MVP, but I sometimes worry that the label means that people may hesitate to come up and speak to me. I believe the MVP status is about helping anybody and everybody, wherever they happen to be, in their learning journey. I'd like to take this opportunity to say that, as an MVP, I am privileged to have a label that says “community” and that folks shouldn't be shy of stopping for a chat or asking questions.

I'm actually a very shy person myself, and being a volunteer gives me a common ground to interact with people. A few years ago, I attended SQLBits 3 and hardly spoke to anyone. I then attended SQLBits 4, and was lucky enough to meet Simon Sabin (@simon_sabin) and Andrew Fryer (@deepfat), and they immediately made me feel welcome. I'd like to reach out to people in the same way.

My motto is this: Knowledge is no fun unless you share it out. PASS helps disseminate knowledge, with a healthy dose of fun. If you don't attend user groups or SQLSaturdays, that is what you’re missing out on!

As a SQL Server MVP, what would you most like to see improved about SQL Server? What are you most excited about in the new SQL Server 2012 release?
I am most excited about Power View and how it opens up SQL Server for everyone. However, I would like to see more functionality in Power View – the ability to fine-tune palettes, for example.

Tell us a little about what you like to do when you're not working or focused on SQL Server or the database community.
Apart from Matthew, my very lively and beautiful 6-year-old, I don't have any hobbies other than going to cross-train and lift weights at the gym. My life is all SQL and community, and I am happy with that – I have made my home there.

Speaking as a frequent speaker yourself – SQLBits, PASS Summit, SQLRally, SQLSaturdays, 24 Hours of PASS, local user groups... – what’s a favorite tech session you've seen recently? How about the favorite presentation you've given?
My favourite tech session would have to be the PASS Summit 2011 session by Kasper de Jonge and Carl Rabeler on Power View. PASS Summit is the highlight of my SQL year in the US, and I'd recommend readers attend if at all possible. I have fond #SQLfamily memories, as well as so much knowledge from the sessions – it is a great experience.

Of my own presentations, my favourite is my Summit 2011 session on data visualisation. The US and international audience asked great questions and were extremely welcoming. In fact, they were all-round awesome, and it was the audience that made my day special. I'd like to thank every one of them for attending and giving me such a memorable lifetime experience.

What does community mean to you?
There are many people in my SQL family whom I cherish, and I look forward to continuing to meet new SQL family members. However, there are also lonely people in the SQL Server community. I see people by themselves, who turn up at user groups and don't talk to anyone. I was that person once, but I took a chance, and I'm so glad I did.

Let's set ourselves a community challenge: Go and speak to someone who is by themselves. I do this at *every* user group. It takes guts, and sometimes I'm not welcome, but at least I've tried. Just introduce yourself, ask their name and if they are enjoying the event, and ask what they do with SQL Server. It doesn't take much. That's how I start, with those three neutral questions to break the ice. Who knows who you might be encouraging? There's nothing wrong in giving people a break sometimes, or a chance. That's why I love PASS so much: It helps you to do just that – build a community of friends who help one another. 
 

March 2012: Charley Hanania

Who knew a schoolboy’s chance meeting with a DBA in a hallway would lead to SQL Server MVP and PASSion awards, leadership of the Swiss user group and in European events, and a lifetime of service to the SQL Server community?

Tell us about your day job working with SQL Server and the path you took to get there.
I’m a Principal Consultant in our small consultancy team, which allows me to generalise. I work with clients day-to-day on a wide range of projects, including architecture design for software projects backed onto SQL Server and Windows Server, development of database objects for applications, platform engineering, performance tuning, disaster recovery... You name it, if it has something to do with SQL Server, I’ll have worked on it.

How’d I get here? Well, I blame my dad. I went to his offices when I was 15 for a week of work experience through school. It was a large enterprise, and although he’s in Finance, IT systems were integral to them running efficiently. He was showing me around when a guy walked out of the Server Room and we were introduced. After he walked away, my father whispers to me, “You know who that guy is? He’s a Database Administrator, and he earns $150 an hour!” Neither he nor I knew what a DBA was at the time, but it left an impression.

Years later, I entered the Computer Science program at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, and took the opportunity to take on extra database subjects. I enjoyed them, and when we looked for jobs in our third year for industrial experience, I applied for database, programming, and infrastructure roles. I was accepted in all of them, but the database role at a leading financial institution was the one I took on. I started as a Junior Database Help-desk Technician, then led the team, and moved into another role in the organisation, focused on maintaining and developing the database systems for the whole organisation. Soon enough, I led that team too, on a great set of projects and systems.

Since then, it’s been mostly consulting roles, except for a few positions when I led database teams at banks, and consulting is still what I’m doing. The diversity of work and the challenge of difficult projects keep me going. Consulting lets me focus on the technical rather than the political needs of projects I work on.

As a PASS Regional Mentor, leader of the Swiss PASS Chapter, and an active community events organizer, what does "community" mean to you?
Community for me stems from my experiences growing up at church. We lived in an environment where we used our technical and social skills and experience to help drive community projects there, as well as to help in leading communities forward to better futures through training and mentoring. As such, the term community runs deeply within me, and I’ve tried to build the same sort of environment wherever I’ve been – from the user groups I was involved in in Sydney, to the Swiss PASS Chapter and Technical Community Events that we’re actively organising and contributing to in Europe.

Community is the sharing of experiences and skills to help each other benefit, interact without the worry of prejudice or conflict of interests, and have fun while doing it and enjoying the interactions.
 
In 2009, you won PASS's most prestigious honor, the PASSion Award. How did you first become involved with PASS, and what are your recommendations for someone who wants to volunteer with their local chapter or beyond?
I got involved with PASS while in Switzerland, running a Database Special Interest Group (SIG) under the SwissITPro user group banner. We were approached about transforming the SIG into a PASS Chapter so that members could be connected with a global group, which could prove positive from a collaborative perspective. Microsoft Switzerland also encouraged us to become a PASS Chapter, we did, and we haven’t looked back!

From there, I attended my first PASS Summit in Denver as a Chapter Leader and was introduced to many other community leaders and contributors such as fellow Chapter Leaders in Europe Christoph Stotz and Andre Kamman. We decided at the conference to try to host a conference in Europe that was owned by PASS and run by volunteers, hoping that the collaborations and synergies would help unite European communities and professionals and strengthen ties and communities in the region.

As we did at the time, anyone thinking about collaborating and contributing to community projects should approach a PASS Chapter member or leader or even Microsoft in their region to discuss the options and opportunities. PASS members are a pretty rare breed, and they’re generally open to ideas and offers to help.

You're also a Microsoft SQL Server MVP. What are your favorite features in SQL Server? How about something you would like to see changed or improved?
After working on alternative database platforms, there’s so much to love about SQL Server. The ease in which the product components can be leveraged in an application to provide a rich and near seamless enterprise offering is incredible. T-SQL is rich and getting more powerful every release. The availability and recoverability of the product is the best bar none for a relational database management system. Improvements I’d like to see are mostly in the areas of its extensibility and integration through the Entity Framework and PowerShell, and the maturing of the Azure offering over time.

What are the biggest challenges chapters are facing today? How about biggest opportunities for your chapter?
Biggest challenge? Encouraging communities to interact, collaborate, and grow. Biggest opportunity? We’re organising a large SQL Server event in Switzerland this year. Through it, we’re expecting that 500+ database folk will have the opportunity to learn from the best in the business and establish networks and friendships that they’ll be able to draw upon in the coming years.

What are some highlights of the Swiss PASS Chapter that you're proud of?
It has grown from about 20 members in one city to close to 250 members in two active monthly meetings in Zurich and Geneva. Some of the members also took up offers of focused mentoring and help in getting certified, and succeeded. It’s great to see people engaged and open to challenging themselves.

You're working on organizing some community events later this year - can you tell us about them?
We have the monthly user group meetings that are free and held at hotels in Geneva and Zurich, of course. But the highlight of the year is going to be the conference we just named “PASS Database Days,” which is modelled on the European PASS Conference I’ve contributed to over the years. Lara Lucentini, Christian Robert, Sara Michiel, and Björn Klotz are but a few of the people we’re collaborating with, challenging ourselves to have a high quality conference, with 500 attendees for a 2-day main event, as well as pre-conference workshops the day before for a deep and technically rich training experience. We’re hoping to grow the chapter and community and establish an event that will grow year to year and become a regular calendar entry for database-focused people in Switzerland and its neighbours.

From your experience with the PASS European Conference and other events, what makes a successful event in our community?
Two things: Technical content and attendee experience. If you can host an event that people enjoy attending for its educational content as well as the opportunity to connect and relate to other professionals who are engaged in the same areas and resolving the same issues, then it’s fun enough and rewarding enough to attend – and enjoyable enough to look forward to the next year around.

If SQL Server and IT didn't exist, what would you see yourself doing?
Something in the medical industry. Nothing compares to the gift of being given the opportunity to help people in times of need.

Living in beautiful Zurich, what do you like to do when you're not focused on SQL Server or the database community?
Spending time at church and with the family, definitely. I’ve got a wonderful wife, Mary, who puts up with far more than she deserves :), and two incredible boys, James and Luke, who I wish I could spend all day and every day with. When we can, we take small breaks and enjoy the Swiss countryside and mountains on hikes and bike rides – and once I complete my sailing course, hopefully on the lakes as well. Switzerland is too beautiful to stay cooped up at home, and thankfully we love the outdoors.
 

February 2012: Pam Shaw

Tampa Bay SQL User Group leader Pam Shaw still remembers her first user-group meeting ever – the one that got her hooked on the SQL Server community. Then she fell head-over-heels for SQLSaturdays, and weekends for this BI and reporting expert will never be the same.

Tell us about your life with SQL Server – how did you get started, what are you doing now, and what do you enjoy most about your current position?
I have been a developer a long time. I started on Commodore Business models, moved to RPG II on a System 36 and then into the world of PCs as a Foxhound. My focus was always getting the most out of the data to better serve my clients.

After 13 years, Fox was starting to be the red-headed step child. So when I was offered the option to move to the Web team to do reports, I jumped. The front end was VB-generated HTML, but the back end was SQL Server 7.0. Once the report engine was complete, it was more about the data than anything else. I was in heaven. I was able to manipulate the data and generate reports that made my clients happy. A couple of years later, we converted all of this to Reporting Services, and I have been hooked ever since.

About 4 years ago, I was a casualty of a buyout, and my life was changed. I have been consulting since then. Most of my roles focus on reporting, but I enjoy all aspects of the BI world. It is about the data. We spend so many resources collecting and protecting the data. It seems that BI is how we can actually make use of the data we have been serving.

As president of the Tampa Bay SQL User Group, how would you describe the value of user groups to someone new to them? Do you remember what it was like attending your first user group meeting?
My first user group meeting sold me forever. I was in need of help. Our reports were running slowly, and the topic that night was Determinant Functions by Jeff Garbus. It turned our project around and saved the day. Not every meeting will be an "ah-hah,” but there are very few that I do not take away something helpful from.

The biggest takeaway, though, are the connections. The users who get the most out of the user groups are those who do more than show up, listen, and leave. They see the focus as the presentation. But the real focus is the people. It’s not only about what you get – but what you can give.

What are some of the coolest meeting features or events the Tampa Bay group has put together? What are your biggest challenges or something you would like to see for the future of the group?
Some of our better meetings have been impromptu because a speaker fell through or could not be found. These are the meetings where the members tend to interact more with one another. I also get a kick out of members who step up and speak for the first time. I always learn something new because of the fresh perspective. I fondly remember the first presentation Jorge Segarra (blog | Twitter ) gave many years ago during a short session.

Our meetings after the meetings at the local watering hole are the glue that binds the group. It is where the relationships are built and strong connections are made within the community.

As for challenges, Tampa Bay is a large geographic area. Our meeting location is by no means central, which has made attendance from the other side of the bay spotty. I am working toward multiple meetings to allow everyone a fair shot at attending. But currently, finding speakers has been the challenge. Unfortunately, since my expertise is BI and the group's focus is not BI, I usually cannot fill in as the speaker.

You were the first person to give SQLSaturdays a try after Andy Warren's launch event. How many SQLSaturdays have you organized or participated in, and what keeps you coming back for more?
I am currently working on my fifth SQLSaturday in Tampa. I also attended or spoke at most of the early Florida SQLSaturdays. The last couple of years have been full of challenges when it comes to timing of events, so I have been missing more than I have been able to attend. Still, I love the connections I am able to make at the events. There are so many cool people in the community, and a SQLSaturday is a good way of meeting a large number of people. They are like mini PASS Summits without the jet lag at the end. What's more, they offer a great learning opportunity. You never know what twist a new speaker will bring to a topic you thought you knew very well.

SQLSaturday #110 Tampa is just around the corner on March 10 – what are you most looking forward to at the event?
I am stoked at the number of speakers new to me this year. I have quite a few speakers traveling from out of town. I also have two great speakers leading full-day pre-cons on March 9: Eddie Wuerch will be leading “The DBA Skills Upgrade Toolkit,” and Bill Pearson is leading “Getting Started with PowerPivot & Other Microsoft BI Topics.” For only $99 per person, the pre-cons are a real bargain.

What are you reading now in the technical space? How about outside the tech world?
I am slowly making my way through Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance as I start to work toward my first certification. I tend to use technical books as reference material , so this is one of my first technical reads. I am more of a hands-on person.

I am currently listening my way back through Asimov's Foundation Series as I take road trips. I recently finished The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, which I read to be able to better communicate with my 15-year-old son.

What would you most like to see improved about SQL Server? What are you most excited about in the new SQL Server 2012 release?
My husband would spout that I want to see data-driven column widths on reports – it was a sore spot for a long time. But really I would like to see some more advances in the reporting realm. SQL Server 2012 has number of these, which has me excited to dig in. I am hoping for time to play after SQLSaturday is on the books. I am looking forward to playing with the Big Data options that 2012 offers. I think several of the new features could really benefit some of my clients.

Tell us a little about where you live, your family, and what you like to do when you're not working or focused on SQL Server or the database community.
I live about half an hour north of Tampa with my husband of almost 21 years (who is my high school sweet heart) and my soon-to-be 16-year-old son. Both my boys are black belts in Shotokan karate. They participate on the tournament team, so I spend a lot of weekends at karate competitions. My son is also learning to drive, so my prayer life has kicked into overdrive.

My de-stressing time is spent making jewelry. It is like the joy of seeing a report I have created come into being when I finish a new jewelry piece. I work with beads for the most part and put my hand to a number of styles and methods. I am never at a loss for a gift to give a friend.

What's a favorite tech session you've seen recently? How about the favorite presentation you've given?
My favorite session this past Summit was by Jessica Moss (blog | Twitter) on managing your report server. It gave me a number of ideas about how to better help my clients as I leave them for my next assignment.

My first SQLSaturday presentation was “Tips and Tricks for Reporting Services.” It has to be my favorite because it has grown with me over the years – migrating from 2005 to 2008. It is the session that usually gets me connected to those trying their hand at reporting. However, I am retiring it for the most part. I am in the process of working up its predecessor, “How to Take the Scary out of Monster Reports.” I was honored to be selected to present it at SQLSaturday #111 Atlanta in April.

What does "community" mean to you?
Community is like the second family you get to choose. SQL people welcome everyone. I was so stoked to see the welcome given to the first-time attendees at Summit this year. When I find myself beating my head against the wall with a technical issue, I know I can reach out and, at the very least, be offered a direction to look for the solution. I've watched this group pool resources to assist someone down on their luck or health. There are so many times where encouragement from the group has made the difference between a rotten day and a stellar day. I encourage all who have not stumbled into the community to find your way in. It is a wonderful place to be.
 

January 2012: Andrey Korshikov

Thanks to the enthusiasm and hard work of Andrey Korshikov, the first Russian-language 24 Hours of PASS will debut April 12. And if this community builder has his way, Russia and nearby countries will soon be seeing many more user groups for SQL Server and BI pros. 

Tell us how you work with SQL Server and what path you took to your current position.
I graduated from the Department of Applied Mathematics at Kuban State University in 1998, and my specialization has been in computer programming. I have worked with Microsoft technologies since 2002, including SQL Server 2000 and the .NET Framework. I received my Microsoft Certified Trainer certification in 2005, and now as a freelancer, I work as an independent specialist on Microsoft SQL Server and Business Intelligence.

What led you to organize the first Russian-language 24 Hours of PASS event?
The vision for the Russian version of 24 Hours of PASS is to give more people the opportunity to gain access to quality SQL Server information for free and wherever they are located. I have learned so much as an attendee at user group meetings and conferences, and have been fortunate to share my own experience and knowledge as a frequent speaker. Last year, I organized the Microsoft BI Technical Conference 2011, South Russia, and learned a lot about creating successful events. I have also enjoyed attending previous 24 Hours of PASS events, and I wanted to bring the same conference to life for the Russian-speaking audience.

What are your goals for the Russian 24HOP, and do you have any particular focus for the sessions?
We are looking forward to a well-attended 24 Hours of PASS, with top speakers and high-quality technical content. Industry experts and Microsoft employees are involved in the event, and we want to give listeners interesting technical material that is not available in blogs and articles.

Tell us a little about the SQL Server community in Russia - what are the key opportunities and challenges community leaders face in bringing together database professionals for learning and networking across your large country?
Unfortunately, Russia currently has only four user groups focusing on SQL Server and BI. We still have the MCP-club communities, which unite IT Pro experts; you can find them at http://ineta.ru. But I would like to see more communities for database professionals who work with SQL Server. There is a great demand for information and connecting with other DBAs and developers.

We are such a young community and still in the early stages of organizing that finding a variety of speakers can be a challenge. If anyone reading this interview is interested in speaking at meetings or conferences or helping organize user groups, I would be very happy to get acquainted with them – just send me a note on Twitter at @andreykorshikov.

How did you first become involved with user groups and PASS?
I lead the Krasnodar SQL Server and BI user group, which we founded in autumn 2010 and which became a PASS Chapter in February 2011. We typically have 15 to 20 people attend our meetings. I am also working to organize new PASS Chapters both in Russia and in nearby countries. Through user groups, we can learn so much from each other, sharing our problems and how we have solved them, and really support each other in the community.

What are the most popular session topics at your user group meetings right now?
Information about new features coming in SQL Server 2012 and how to best use SQL Server now are the most interesting to our attendees. At future meetings, we will be focusing on performance, indexing, undocumented features in SQL Server, data mining, SQL Azure, and more.

You are also a Microsoft SQL Server MVP. What SQL Server features are you most interested in today?
Every year, SQL Server becomes more popular in Russia. It is used in both large companies and small and performs well across all industries. I spend most of my time developing and administering databases and creating BI solutions for clients. I see a lot of opportunity for businesses to gain value with self-service BI, and I plan to speak and teach more about PowerPivot and Power View this year.

You have a number of Microsoft certifications, including the MCT, MCITP, MCPD, MCSD .NET, and MCDBA. How important are certifications in Russia?
I initially passed the examinations for many of the certificates under older versions of SQL Server and the .NET Framework, and as an MCT, I am obliged to continue those certifications. But even if there were no such requirement, I would keep up with the new exams because I like to ensure I stay current with the technology. The certifications also help provide an independent way for my clients to feel confident about my abilities and knowledge.

What do you like to do in your free time when you're not focused on SQL Server or the database community?
I am married and have two sons. So in my free time, I love to spend time with them, as well as read and skate. I was born and still live in Krasnodar, a town in the south of Russia, near the Black Sea. It is more than 200 years old and received its name after the Great October Revolution. You can translate the name as “red gift”; but earlier, the word “red” meant “beautiful,” so I like to think that the name of our city means “beautiful gift.”