September 2013 Spotlight: John Morehouse

As a PASS Outstanding Volunteer for August, John Morehouse – aka @SqlRUs – talks about finding great training in small communities like Omaha, how SQLSaturday helps, and a lesson he learned as a volunteer firefighter: “We’re always rookies.”

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?
My real life with SQL Server started in mid-2006. I was working as a “jack of all trades” (as many of us probably did) for a consulting firm in Omaha, NE, and realized that I needed to pick a discipline and focus specifically on that. At that point, I had interests in a wide range of technologies but really enjoyed working with SQL Server, and given that I don't see databases going away any time soon, I thought it would be a great path to head down.

My employer at the time wasn't able to get me into a position that would allow me to focus on SQL Server, so I left the company and joined Sogeti (two floors down from my previous employer) and became a full-time SQL Server consultant in January 2007. I spent a little over 3.5 years doing projects around Omaha, one of which was for my current employer, Farm Credit Services of America. After that project was completed, I realized that the culture at Farm Credit Services of America was a really good fit for what I wanted in an employer, so when I was able, I applied and obtained a database developer position within the company in July 2010. It was a great position with a great team, but my true passion was database architecture and administration, so when a position opened up on the production team earlier this year, I put my name in the hat. I got the job and transitioned into the production support role in April 2013 and have loved every second of it. 

Right now, I'm working on a new SQL Server 2012 implementation while helping maintain the current environment. We usually have a slew of sidebar projects in the works, so my days are different day by day depending on what might be in flight.  

I’m excited about the advancements and new technologies coming with SQL Server 2014. Since I'm an OLTP DBA, I'm very interested in the In-Memory features and seeing if they will help in our environment. We are also just starting out with an EDW, and I think that the read/write columnstore indexes will make an entrance into the environment as well. 

As one of the leaders of the Omaha SQL/BI User Group, what are you seeing as the biggest educational needs and technical challenges among your members?
One of the biggest challenges here in Omaha is that to get top-notch training, you have to leave the city, which is probably true for SQL Server pros in a number of smaller communities. Of course, if you have to leave the city, there's a higher cost, and a lot of employers don’t want to invest that much in training. I think that is why our SQLSaturday events do well, because it's an avenue for great training at a low cost without a ton of traveling. As far as educational needs and interests among our members, I think they are across the board, from business intelligence to deep engine tuning, which makes it somewhat difficult to balance meeting content. But we manage. :)

What’s on your must-learn/must-do list for PASS Summit 2013 in Charlotte next month?
This will be my third time at PASS Summit, and I absolutely love it – not only for the learning, but even more so for the networking and collaboration. I plan on meeting as many new people as possible. On the sessions side, I’ll be attending Paul Randal’s Monday pre-con on “Practical Disaster Recovery Techniques,” and I’m not missing Bob Ward’s half-day session on “Inside SQL Server 2012 Memory.” I’ll also be soaking in some ETL with Erin Welker’s “A Systematic Approach to ETL Performance Tuning,” learning about “Automating in the Cloud” with Matt Velic, and taking a “Data Internals Deep Dive” with Bradley Ball. “Skewed Data, Poor Cardinality Estimates & Plans Gone Bad” covers one of those areas I always need improvement in, plus you can’t go wrong with Kimberly Tripp presenting it.

This will also be my first Summit in a city other than Seattle, so I'm going to try to find some time to explore Charlotte and see what it has to offer.

As a volunteer firefighter, what lessons have you been able to take from that role to your life as a DBA?
When I started out as a volunteer firefighter, one of my assistant chiefs pulled me aside one evening and told me, "We're always rookies – no one fire is the same as another.” I’ve found this advice useful in both worlds. On the fire side, it has helped keep me safe in that I’m always watching for the unknown. It helps keep me mentally sharp on the fire ground. This also holds true in the database realm. While you might be getting the same error, I would bet something is different – different server, different customers involved, different mindset. I always remind myself that I'm just a rookie and that I can always do better. 

It also helps remind me that we are human. Everybody makes mistakes (everybody's a rookie, right?), but the important thing is to learn from them and move on. Some mistakes are harder than others, but the sun will rise tomorrow, and life will go on.   

What’s your philosophy for getting the most from social media as a technology professional?
I'm a firm believer that getting ahead in life isn't always about what you know, but also who you know. Social media helps you cultivate relationships from around the world that wouldn't otherwise happen. I'm probably most fond of Twitter, although I do have some #sqlfamily members on Facebook. 

Twitter can be a huge benefit to your employer as well; if you use the #sqlhelp hashtag, you can quickly solve real-world issues with the help of the community. It's a good feeling to go to your management and tell them you just saved the company money by being able to have a conversation in 140 characters or less. Why wouldn't you use it to get help from awesome folks such as Brent Ozar, Paul Randal, Robert Davis, and countless others? 

If you're able to use social media during the day at work, however, it can be a time suck, and you have to be disciplined enough to break away, plain and simple. I tend to have Twitter up in the background, and I've just gotten in the habit of checking it when I've got some down time between queries or projects.

You’ve organized SQLSaturday Omaha and traveled across the country speaking at SQLSaturday events in California, Florida, Colorado, New York, and more. What would you tell someone who’s never been to a SQLSaturday?
In today's world and these economic times, I'd emphatically say, "Go!" Go to, find a location that works for you, and go. For $10 (if you want to buy lunch), you get access to some of the world's best SQL Server speakers. Go and talk to the speakers, meet new people, have lunch, and learn something new.

Do your career a favor, and spend a single Saturday investing in yourself as a DBA. Paul Randal recently wrote a blog post, and the very last line sums up how I feel about SQLSaturday: "Don’t give up learning – it’s always worth it." While Paul is talking about the retirement of the MCM program, the thought holds true for any type of learning. It also reminds me that knowledge is something that you can't take away. You can't make me "unlearn" something, and once I have that knowledge, it's mine to use as I see fit. Knowledge is power, and SQLSaturday events definitely give you the knowledge.

What’s your favorite time-saver or gadget at work?
Honestly, my favorite time-saver is the template explorer. That's probably really cheesy and not that flashy, but if I do the same thing more than twice, I try to automate or script things out to handle it. And then it goes into the template explorer so that I can easily find it.

What do you like to do when you're not working or focused on the SQL Server community?
I have two sons, 3 years old and 7 months old, so I spend a lot of time chasing after them. I also do home improvement projects, and living in a 113-year-old house, there are plenty of those to tackle! 

“If I weren’t a technologist, I would be…”
Either a truck driver or a health physicist. I've always loved big trucks (hence a love for driving fire trucks), and when I was in college, I had a serious interest in health physics. It turns out technology was a better fit.

What does community mean to you?
This is one of the toughest questions to answer. I've seen it float around the blog-o-sphere a couple of times, and every time I think that I'm going to blog about it, the words escape me, but I'll give it a go. I think that community – whether it's your local neighborhood, a technical user group, or whatever else you define as a community – is about serving in some capacity. It means serving your fellow community members to further enhance their life experience. When someone is part of my community, I'll do just about anything I can to help out. I think this notion of serving your community is why I enjoy being a volunteer firefighter as well as a PASS Chapter Leader. In both cases, I get to serve communities that are very close to me. In any community, serving is a humbling experience, and I think that it helps us to stay rooted with what matters in life.

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