May 2013 Spotlight: Jorge Segarra

From accidental DBA to SQL Server MVP, author, teacher, and community leader, Jorge Segarra – you may know him better as “SQLChicken” – has a passion for learning, #sqlfamily, and great food.

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 the world of data today?
I’m currently a Senior DBA consultant with Pragmatic Works. My path to SQL Server has been an interesting one, to say the least. Ironically enough, I hated my database class in college. When I graduated, my first job was as a desktop technician. In that role, I became the backup SQL Server DBA, mostly because I took that class and we had used SQL Server. It also helped that the SQL Server in that particular shop was only one server and we did very basic things with it, so I got a lot of learning opportunities there.

As my career progressed, I moved up to a full system administrator, where I was not only the primary SQL Server DBA but I was also a VMware and general system administrator. Because the shop let me learn and explore as I wanted, I was also armed with networking (CISCO) skills/knowledge, which made me extremely well-rounded in terms of administration.

Fast forward to today, and my diverse background is paying off in spades, as the SQL Server and system administration, virtualization, and networking worlds are blending together more than ever. These skills and understanding of how all of the pieces fit together work beautifully with the rise of Cloud/hybrid architectures that we’ll start seeing more of, so that’s really exciting to watch unfold.

For those who haven’t heard before, what’s the story behind your colorful “SQLChicken” moniker? What’s the value in having a “brand” in the tech community?
Ha, love that story, and I actually briefly summarized it in my first-ever blog post. The branding concept was an interesting one from the start. As I mentioned in my post, I used Brent Ozar’s blog post as a primer to get started. In it, he mentions the pros and cons of branding using your real name versus a “kitschy” name. For me, I feel going with SQLChicken has worked out pretty well. It expresses my goofy sense of humor, obviously you know which tech I’m a part of, and it’s fairly easy to remember. Added bonus: I get to carry around a rubber chicken at events, and it’s only half as weird.

As founder of the free online SQL University – a community blog-based resource for continuing education – what have you learned about training needs in the SQL Server space?
SQL University has been my baby, so to speak, and it’s been mind-blowing watching how the community has really embraced the concept and helped it grow. As I put together SQL University and have taught classes for Pragmatic Works, I’ve learned that there is always a huge market for basics. What’s interesting is when you’ve been in this game for a while, you tend to lose sight of what basics really are.

This really becomes noticeable at conferences when you’re either presenting or just talking with fellow presenters and attendees and what’s “basic” to the folks that have been doing this for 7+ years seems “advanced” to the majority of the attendees. This observation is really what spawned the idea of SQL University, as I attended many SQLSaturdays and noticed there were no presentations or tracks for absolute beginners to SQL Server or databases. That’s the market I was hoping to serve with this project.

From your experience as a former PASS Regional Mentor and longtime member of the Jacksonville (FL) SQL Server User Group, what are some of the greatest benefits/stories coming out of local user groups? How did you get hooked?
My user group/SQL Server community addiction actually started in Tampa. Back when I was the backup DBA, I wanted to learn as much as I could. From frequenting sites like SQLServerCentral.com and different webinar events, I learned about PASS and local user groups. I started attending the local Tampa SQL Server User Group.

At one of the first meetings I attended, Pam Shaw, our group leader, announced that the next meeting would be a “show-and-tell” session for beginner speakers. I jumped at the chance and got hooked. From there, I signed up to speak at my first SQLSaturday, in South Florida, and I’ve been addicted to presenting ever since!

I cannot say enough good things about local user groups and the global SQL Server Community as a whole. It’s unlike any other tech group out there (seriously, you can ask around, others think we pass around a SQL Server-filled Kool-Aid jug of happiness). Connecting with the community can do wonders for you professionally and personally. Even outside of the technical realm, you can see the bond that develops among the “sqlfamily” every day.

You’re an avid blogger, a Twitter (@sqlchicken) fanatic, and active on LinkedIn and Facebook – what has social networking meant to your technical and professional development? What would you tell database pros who aren’t on social media?
Social media has been an absolute critical part of my career trajectory. Whenever I can, I urge folks to use social media (appropriately) to help them. When I was a DBA/system administrator at a local hospital, I was the only SQL Server DBA there, so I had nobody to bounce ideas off or ask questions of. This is where social media excels at connecting us together.

On Twitter, the community adopted the #SQLHelp hashtag to answer any/all SQL Server-related questions. I have learned so from that stream – just reading people’s real-world issues and folks posting fantastic links and resources. What’s also great is the people responding to those questions are the same folks writing the books and software we use day to day.

There are those who would argue that social media is nothing but a distraction, and those people would be correct, to a point. It certainly can be a distraction. I actually blogged about my personal experience with it here. In the end, social media is a tool like anything else. If used properly, it can be a fantastic asset, but if abused it can be pretty bad.

Through your experiences as a SQL Server MVP, book author, presenter at top industry events, and trainer through Pragmatic Works and SQL University, what have you learned about being a good teacher? How has teaching – whether through speaking or writing – made you a better database professional?
I’ve always enjoyed teaching and presenting, so the things I’ve done in my career are an extension of that passion. One of the key things I’ve learned is that the secret to being a great teacher is being a great student. Your effectiveness as a teacher is directly proportional to your willingness to learn a subject.

For example, when I first started blogging and speaking about Policy-Based Management, I didn’t know anything about it. SQL Server 2008 had just come out, and everyone else in the community was blogging and presenting about all the other new stuff. I saw this feature that nobody was really talking much about and decided to learn it and run with it. To properly present and write on the topic, I had to know it first, so I was forced to learn the feature inside and out so that I could prepare myself for any questions. Since I was one of the few who blogged and spoke about the feature, I was approached by Ken Simmons to join him and Colin Stasiuk in writing Pro SQL Server 2008 Policy-Based Management. It’s also worth mentioning that social media is what got me connected to both of those guys in the first place. I believe we knew each other online and wrote a book almost a full year or two before we ever got to meet face to face!

What’s your favorite time-saver at work?
Oh, there are so many must-haves, but here’s a quick list of tools I think every SQL Server professional should have or at least check out: 

What do you like to do when you're not working or focused on the SQL Server community?
I’m a big fan of food. When I lived in Jacksonville, I got addicted to the food truck scene there – as well as finding all the good places to eat. My wife, Jessica, also runs an amazing food blog, which keeps me fat and happy!

“If I weren’t a technologist, I would be…”
Hard to say…  I was born a geek, so I can’t really picture myself doing anything else!

What does community mean to you?
If you couldn’t tell already, community means quite a lot to me. I love being in a community where knowledge is shared so freely and everyone is so willing to jump in and help each other out, both professionally and personally. It’s appropriate that #sqlfamily has become the adopted community tagline, since it truly does feel like an extended family. Joining this amazing community was definitely one of the best decisions I ever made.


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