June 2013 Spotlight: Nabeel Derhem

On the heels of SQLSaturday Riyadh – the first SQLSaturday in the Middle East – co-organizer Nabeel Derhem talks about the state of women in technology in Saudi Arabia, why SQL Server pros shouldn’t ignore the cloud, and what community means to him.

Tell us about your life with SQL Server – what are you doing now, what path did you take to your current position, and what excites you most in today’s world of data?
I've been working with SQL Server since version 7.0. I started as an application developer and a technical instructor, and then specialized in government projects. I've always loved working with databases, and as time passed, I realized I had a talent for solving performance issues by tuning both application code and database scripts. This really helped me advance my career as a consultant at the time and up to my current position as a solutions and database architect. Right now, I'm also enjoying being involved in the cloud and NoSQL worlds, where I see great opportunities in the near future.

As one of the organizers of SQLSaturday Riyadh last month, what stands out most about the Middle East’s first SQLSaturday?
I honestly wasn't expecting such a great event. The entire experience was simply amazing. We had about a dozen dedicated volunteers and more than 200 attendees. Despite all of these great numbers, I would say the best thing was the interactive audience. The #sqlsatRiyadh hashtag was on fire for days after the event, and we were overwhelmed with the great feedback from one of the best crowds we've ever had at a community gathering.

What is the state of women in technology in Saudi Arabia?
A unique set of traditions have made it somewhat difficult for women here in the past to fully show their potential, but this is changing now. Five of our SQLSaturday Riyadh volunteers and about 20% of our attendees were women. Participation by women in IT is pretty solid here, and women consistently make up 15% to 40% of the audience at our local events. It is still in its early stages, but we're also planning for a Women in IT community soon.

You’re a founder of the SQLServerPath community group – now the Saudi Arabia PASS chapter – and a board member of DevLifeStyle. What can members of those communities look forward to this year?
SQLServerPath started with me and Hossam Al-Fraih (blog | Twitter) in a coffee shop with the simple aim of sharing knowledge through online and offline sessions. We then joined PASS as the Saudi chapter, and I have to say it was the best decision we ever made. SQLServerPath is now the biggest SQL Server community in the Gulf region, and we hope to make it bigger and better.

DevLifeStyle is our sister community focusing on application development, mainly with Microsoft technologies. The two communities are frequently involved in joint events, bridging the gap between SQL Server professionals and the application development community in Saudi Arabia.
As an expert in Windows Azure and Azure SQL Database, what is one thing you would like to share with SQL Server pros about cloud technologies?
Many database professionals view cloud technologies, in comparison with on-site hosting, as a trade-off between control (fewer features and less freedom in the cloud) and maintainability (availability and scalability in the cloud). And many tend to dismiss the cloud, since the control part is more important for most of them. While this assessment is somewhat true, it's missing a critical point from the business perspective: The cost of cloud technologies as a whole is a lot cheaper than your typical on-site solution. This is a powerful factor that most IT professionals tend to miss (or ignore), but as we all know, business should drive IT – not the other way around. My advice to all IT professionals who are ignoring the cloud is to reconsider before business forces you to do so.
You’re a frequent speaker in the SQL Server community and will be giving two sessions at PASS Summit in October. What are your keys to giving a successful presentation? What things do you struggle most with as a speaker?
I'm not confident enough in my skills as to give tips about good presentations, but I do respect a speaker who has a good natural flow throughout his/her session. Good presenters make you feel smart for understanding highly complicated subjects, without making you pull your hair out or fall asleep. I try to follow these ideas as best as I can. As for the struggling part, I always have a hard time the first couple of minutes until I finish introducing myself and get into the technical material I’m excited about.

What’s your favorite time-saver/gadget at work?
When it comes to time management, Getting Things Done (GTD) concepts have been a real help to me. GTD in a nutshell is a work-life time-management methodology that helps people get organized by recording tasks externally and getting the recalling part out of the way so you can focus on actions instead. You don’t need specialized tools for GTD, but I've recently discovered a helpful little companion application on my smart phone from dgtale called DGT GTD.
What do you like to do when you're not working or focused on the SQL Server community?
First priority definitely goes to family (parents, a beautiful wife, and my lovely three kids). I can't get enough of traveling and meeting new people from different cultures. I boxed until recently – I had to stop because of an old back injury that got worse over the years – and I'm constantly educating myself in physics, philosophy, psychology, and economics.
“If I weren’t a technologist, I would be…”
Involved in something to do with mathematics, physics, or philosophy. I’ve always loved the physics research field, so I might have ended up a researcher in some university. My dream list includes getting a PhD in Computer Sciences (maybe artificial intelligence and data mining), so I can at least fulfill the research part of the “would be” question. I’m also into philosophy, so I might’ve been a writer – and still may be one day.

What does community mean to you?
Community to me is about sharing, helping, and giving with no desire to get anything in return. It's about feeling happiness and satisfaction for the sole reason of helping someone else reach their goals.

Read more community profiles: 2013 | 2012