PASS Summit 2014 Pre-Con Preview: Grant Fritchey

Sept. 15, 2014 – Go inside PASS Summit 2014's full-day pre-conference sessions in this Q&A series with our presenters. In this interview, Grant Fritchey gives us a sneak peak at what to expect from his pre-con, Query Performance Tuning in SQL Server 2014.

Q: If your pre-con had a theme song, what would it be and why?
A:
 "More Human Than Human" by Rob Zombie. I picked this song because I think a lot of people are going to walk out of the session feeling like they’re ready to conquer the world, or at least tune a few queries.

Q: What excites you most about finding and fixing poorly performing queries?
A:
Well, the business answer is that I’m improving the efficiency and reliability of our systems to better supply our customers with access to the information they need to make good decisions. But the nerd answer is that I really enjoy figuring out what’s going wrong and finding ways to improve things.

Q: What's the most surprising statement attendees might hear you say during the pre-con?
A:
I’m going to tell them to not use some of the functionality within SQL Server. Flat out. It’s too dangerous and there are few, if any, requirements for this piece of functionality that are not satisfied elsewhere with zero danger.

Q: What’s the biggest myth around query tuning that you’d like to debunk?
A:
That throwing an index at the query fixes it. The problems most of the time are right there in the code. Yes, indexes are great ways to tune query performance, but adjusting the query itself is frequently the better way.

Q: What still trips you up in mastering SQL Server’s query optimizer?
A:
Figuring out why I’m seeing something unexpected. When you get behavior you didn’t anticipate, there’s seldom a quick and simple solution. I have to dig through the properties in the operators, same as everyone else.

Q: If attendees could start putting into practice just one thing after this pre-con, what would you want that to be?
A:
Maintain your statistics better. I don’t think people realize just how vital they can be to ensuring that your queries run well.

PASS Summit 2014 Pre-Con Preview: Robert Cain, Bradley Ball & Jason Strate

Sept. 15, 2014 – Go inside PASS Summit 2014's full-day pre-conference sessions in this Q&A series with our presenters. We caught up with Robert Cain, Bradley Ball, and Jason Strate to learn more about their pre-con, Zero to Hero with PowerShell and SQL Server.

Q: If your pre-con had a theme song, what would it be and why?
Robert:
 "Can't Stop Rockin'" by ZZ Top, because once you start rocking with PowerShell, you can't stop.
Bradley: "Timber" by Pitbull and Ke$ha. There’s a lot of tasks in the DBA/BI world that PowerShell makes easy. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Jason: "Come Sail Away" by Styx, because as I've told others, the boat for learning PowerShell has sailed, and it's time to get everyone up to speed on it.

Q: Robert, what excites you most about using PowerShell with SQL Server?
A: The incredible diversity of tasks you can automate using PowerShell. Everything from DBA tasks to BI to development can be automated using PowerShell with SQL Server.

Q: Bradley, what's the most surprising statement attendees might hear you say during the pre-con?
A:
Sometimes PowerShell’s a better ETL tool than SSIS.

Q: Jason, what’s the biggest myth around learning PowerShell that you’d like to debunk?
A:
PowerShell isn't for everything. It's a tool for the chest, but it isn't a magical hammer that can take care of everything. Knowing its capabilities will help you use PowerShell where it fits, while providing an understanding of when using it is like cleaning a window with a sledgehammer.

Q: If attendees could start putting into practice just one thing after your pre-con, what would you want that to be?
Robert:
Using PowerShell to explore their SQL Servers to get quick answers to common questions.
Bradley: Making their lives easier by using PowerShell to automate time-consuming tasks.
Jason: It bears repeating: PowerShell is sometimes a better tool for ETL than SSIS.

PASS Summit 2014 Pre-Con Preview: Adam Machanic

Sept. 15, 2014 – Go inside PASS Summit 2014's full-day pre-conference sessions in this Q&A series with our presenters. In this interview, Adam Machanic takes us inside his pre-con, Better Performance Through Parallelism.

Q: If your pre-con had a theme song, what would it be and why?
A: "The Power" by Snap! This pre-con teaches people to take control of performance for large queries and to use techniques that put them in the driver's seat. The query optimizer does not – and cannot – make the right choice every time. If you want ultimate performance, you must take matters into your own hands.

Q: What excites you most about SQL Server’s parallel processing?
A: It's a feature set that is at once both very mature and very much in a growth phase. Parallelism works well, but it doesn't always kick in when it should or work in an optimal fashion. And not many people know how to get it to play nice. As a developer, having a deep understanding of parallelism gives you a huge edge over the competition.

Q: What's the most surprising statement attendees might hear you say during the pre-con?
A:
Columnstore, despite what you may have heard, is not the answer to most of your tough performance challenges. (Even though it might help, sometimes.)

Q: What’s the biggest myth around parallelism and query optimization that you’d like to debunk?
A:
Many people are still confused about what, exactly, this CXPACKET thing *really* means, and what to do about it. At the end of this seminar you will be able to describe CXPACKET very accurately and you will understand its exact implications.

Q: What still trips you up in mastering SQL Server’s parallelism settings?
A:
Sometimes mixed workload scenarios present some interesting challenges. For some of the settings, there is only a single instance-wide configuration knob. That can be tough. But as with everything, there are options.

Q: If attendees could start putting into practice just one thing after this pre-con, what would you want that to be?
A:
Some of my prior seminar attendees have written to tell me that my Parallel APPLY query patten has yielded performance gains of 10 times or greater. It often takes only a few minutes to bolt it on to an existing query, and properly applied, it does truly amazing things. This is why I teach the seminar; I want people to go back to the office and fix their tough performance issues so that they can spend their time building cool new apps instead of messing with the database all day. 

PASS Summit 2014 Pre-Con Preview: Itzik Ben-Gan

Sept. 15, 2014 – Go inside PASS Summit 2014's full-day pre-conference sessions in this Q&A series with our presenters. First up: Itzik Ben-Gan and Mastering T-SQL Querying Fundamentals.

Q: If your pre-con had a theme song, what would it be and why?
A: The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” The seminar will shed light on what correct T-SQL thinking is.

Q: T-SQL was named the most popular programming language in 2013 - what excites you most about it?
A: T-SQL is my native tongue; it’s kind of my language. It’s great to know that many others like what you like. It’s also evidence of the usefulness and practicality of the language.
 
Q: What's the most surprising statement attendees might hear you say about query fundamentals during the pre-con?
A: “Now you know everything there is to know about T-SQL fundamentals.” If I did say it, of course, it would be just a joke. The point is that people often get the wrong impression that the language is simple to master. But the more you learn, the more you realize how deep and non-trivial it is.
 
Q: What’s the biggest T-SQL querying myth that you’d like to debunk?
A: Probably the most common myth has to do with confusing the physical and logical layers, ignoring or being oblivious to the relational model’s physical data independence principal and thinking that the data is organized in certain physical order and that this provides guarantees that the rows will be processed and/or returned in that order. People keep falling into this trap over and over again, including very smart people. Classic examples are queries in table expressions that have TOP and ORDER BY, what people refer to as quirky update, and others.

Q: What still trips you up in mastering logical query processing?
A: The fact that there are so many things that seem unnatural about the language until your learn about logical query processing. When you learn about it, there are so many a-ha moments, and things suddenly start making so much more sense.

Q: If attendees could start putting into practice just one thing after this pre-con, what would you want that to be?
A: I would say mainly that they would start using the language in the correct way, having the right expectations from it, and also knowing what not to expect from it. This is the "big picture" part.

As for an example of something more specific that attendees will be able to use immediately, they will be able to elegantly solve the problem of not being able to refer to column aliases defined in the SELECT clause in the WHERE, GROUP BY, and other expressions in the same SELECT clause. They will be able to do this using a trick that I will show them based on the APPLY operator and the VALUES clause.

Microsoft Jim Gray Systems Lab’s Rimma Nehme Keynoting at PASS Summit 2014

Plus, Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant taking center stage at Women in Technology luncheon


          

Sept. 2, 2014 — Polybase and SQL Server query optimization guru Dr. Rimma Nehme, senior research engineer at the Microsoft Jim Gray Systems Lab, will kick off Day 2 at PASS Summit 2014 in Seattle, WA, Nov. 6, with Black Girls CODE founder Kimberly Bryant headlining the conference’s popular Women in Technology (WIT) luncheon.

Rimma, who has helped prepare Dr. David DeWitt’s celebrated PASS Summit keynotes since 2010, is known for her work on PolyBase, which integrates SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW) with Hadoop, as well as the SQL Server PDW query optimizer, a partial results framework for database systems, an automated partitioning advisor for parallel database systems, and more. With her keynote, “Cloud Databases 101,” Rimma will be taking Summit’s 5,000+ SQL Server and BI professionals deep into the what, why and how of data processing in the cloud.

“It’s an honor to help carry on PASS Summit’s rich tradition of helping SQL Server and BI professionals get the most out of their database environments, and I’m thrilled to be sharing some of the exciting work done in the field around working with data in the cloud.” Rimma says. “When talking about cloud databases, people often mean different things. Some may be referring to a pay-per-use service; others may be speaking about a specific piece of software. In this keynote, we will look under the covers of cloud databases and try to dispel some of the myths.”

WIT luncheon speaker Kimberly Bryant, an electrical engineer working in biotech, was inspired by her daughter in 2011 to launch the non-profit Black Girls CODE (BGC), with the mission of supporting and promoting the underrepresented female and African demographic (25% and 3%, respectively, in 2012) within the technology industry. BGC has grown to 3,000 students across 7 US states as well as in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has received support from many companies both within and outside of the technology industry. Kimberly will be taking questions from the onsite audience and from Twitter during the Nov. 6 live-stream event, hosted by PASS’s WIT Chapter and sponsored by SQL Sentry. 

“The motto of Black Girls CODE is ‘Imagine. Build. Create,’” Kimberly notes. “I can’t wait to share with the PASS WIT and data communities how we can all imagine a world where everyone is given the tools to succeed, and get even more data professionals involved in building ways for everyone to access information and create a new age of women and women of color in technology.”

PASS Summit, organized by and for the SQL Server community, is the largest SQL Server event in the world, delivering 200+ technical sessions, 18 full-day pre-conference sessions, and nonstop networking opportunities with the industry’s top SQL Server and BI experts.

For full details and to register at the discounted rate by Sept. 24, visit http://www.sqlpass.org/summit/2014

Get Out the Vote: September 24-29

Sept. 2, 2014  The wait is almost over! With just 2 weeks until the announcement of the official candidate slate for the PASS Board of Directors 2014 elections, here’s a quick reminder about this year’s campaigning and voting timeline.

The Nomination Committee is currently interviewing and ranking applicants in preparation for the committee’s slate recommendation to the Board for approval. The official slate of candidates for the three seats up for election – one US/Canada regional seat and two open seats – will be announced in the Sept. 17 Connector along with the opening of campaigning.

In addition to their own campaigning activities, each candidate will have his/her own campaign page on the PASS Elections site and will be participating in at least one of two Live Speech/Q&A campaign events Sept. 18 and 19, before voting opens on Sept. 24.

Emails with the voting link will go out at noon PT Wednesday, Sept. 24, to all eligible voters, consisting of PASS members who updated their profile by June 1, 2014. Voting will be open for 5 days, with all completed ballots due by noon PT Monday, Sept. 29. Election results will be announced in the Oct. 1 Connector.

Good luck, again, to all applicants, and we encourage all PASS members to take every opportunity to get to know the candidates before voting. Here’s to a lively and engaging campaign season!

PASS NomCom: Busy Summer of 2014

August 5, 2014  The five-member PASS Nomination Committee (NomCom) has had a busy summer streamlining the application process and timeline for this year’s PASS Board of Directors elections and working on new campaign events to better engage the community and help them get to know the candidates before voting opens.

First up was a detailed review and update of the PASS Board application, which resulted in two focused documents. The PASS Board Elections Overview covers election processes, rules, and requirements, including everything from applicant criteria, recommended qualifications, and references to time commitments, procedures for ranking applicants and awarding seats, and campaign guidelines. With more requirements details and clearer examples all consolidated in the overview, the application itself is now shorter and easier to navigate.

The NomCom also adjusted the elections timeline so that campaigning opens before balloting and to reduce the time between when candidates are notified of elections results and when those results are announced to the community.

Although the NomCom is still working on PASS-hosted campaign events for this elections season, it has announced two official campaign events for Sept. 18 and 19, before ballots go out. These online Live Speech/Q&A events will feature a time slot for each candidate to give opening and closing statements and have an open Q&A session with the community. The events will be hosted via GoToWebinar; GoToWebinar will provide the audio, with each candidate responsible for providing the video portion of the session, which will depend on the candidate’s webcam and bandwidth capabilities.

“Serving on a previous NomCom and being a former Board candidate, I am happy with the changes we’ve been able to make to this year’s processes,” said NomCom member Allen Kinsel. “The streamlining we did on the campaign timelines and changes to the election events should have a great impact on candidates’ ability to execute successful, interesting campaigns – which should also increase voter interest in who is running and what they can do to make PASS a more successful organization.”

Added Erin Stellato, who has served on both the 2013 and 2014 committees: “The highlight for me has been the significant progress we’ve made on what last year's NomCom started. I think that we have improved the application process for candidates, and we are working to give the community an even better opportunity to get to know the candidates prior to elections.”

The NomCom is continuing to work on ranking methods for future elections and streamlining the overall elections process even more. These items will be reviewed post-election so that the NomCom can get a better idea of what can be improved. The current ranking methods will remain in place for this year’s elections, and as in the past, all applicants’ rankings will be posted to the public unless they opt out.

“We’ve identified some tweaks that I think will be good for candidates and voters,” noted NomCom member Andy Warren, “and we know that we need to put more time into a document that explains the ‘why’ of parts of the process to future NomCom members. It’s also a lot of fun to work with a group that is serious, diverse, and open minded, so much so that I think when we finish the work of the NomCom, we should find another project to tackle!”

Hortonworks Takes PASS Partnership to New Level

August 5, 2014 – PASS is excited to welcome Hortonworks as a Gold Level Global Alliance Partner as the company expands its event and program sponsorships into a comprehensive, strategic relationship that supports the worldwide PASS community year-round.

Founded in 2011 by the original architects, builders, and operators of Hadoop, Hortonworks develops, distributes, and supports the only 100% open source distribution of Apache Hadoop explicitly architected, built, and tested for enterprise deployments. The company became an active PASS event sponsor in 2012, drawn by the organization’s dedicated professional community and mission to provide excellence in technical education and networking.

“Understanding data and making the best use of it for your business has never been more important,” says Audrey Ng, Hortonworks Sr. Director, Strategic Alliances. “We’re committed to delivering innovative big data solutions and helping data pros as they transition to a modern data architecture and build the next generation of applications. We’re thrilled to be working more closely with PASS to support this passionate data community.” 

As a Gold Level Global Alliance Partner, Hortonworks is a Gold Sponsor of PASS Summit 2014, will be supporting the PASS Big Data Virtual Chapter as its sponsor, and will be a Silver Sponsor at PASS Business Analytics Conference 2015. The company will also be supporting the entire PASS community through Connector sponsorships, web advertising, and more.

PASS sponsors are a vital part of the community, supporting the organization’s many training and networking opportunities, including free learning events. Through the Global Alliance Program, PASS looks forward to bringing many new opportunities and added value to our community and to our partners. For information about becoming a PASS Global Alliance Partner, please contact Craig Ellis.


 

Virtual Chapters in Flight


July 9, 2014 -- FY2014 has been a huge year for PASS Virtual Chapters (VCs), now encompassing 27 special-interest and global language VCs.

Over 5,000 data professionals have attended at least one of the 160+ webinars that have taken place over the past 12 months, participating in more than 21,000 hours of technical training since July 1, 2013.

A huge thanks goes to all of our VC leads, co-leads, volunteers, and of course, our speakers, who make these free training opportunities possible every month. Remember, if you missed out on a webinar, you can view archived recordings by going to the VC’s individual webpage.

Calling All Speakers
Presenting a VC webinar is a great way to build up your technical speaking experience and share your expertise on your favorite topics. Why not contact one of our VCs to see if they need a speaker for an upcoming webinar? Topic suggestions are always welcome, too. VC leaders are happy to walk you through your first webinar and give you all the help you need to make it a success.

Thinking of Starting a New VC?
We’re always looking for suggestions on new VCs. Right now, on the back of the World Cup excitement, we’re considering a Sports VC that would meet regularly to discuss predictive analytics topics with a sports focus. Think Moneyball, NCAA brackets, and more. If you’re interested in leading, volunteering, or speaking for this VC, please get in touch.

VCs for the Business Analytics Pro
This past year also saw a lot of growth in our Business Analytics-focused VCs, including the addition of the Excel BI VC. The Business Analytics, Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing, and Big Data VCs continue to meet regularly on the latest topics for getting the most out of your data and staying ahead of the curve with best practices and new technology.

VCs Go Global
Our VCs not only span a variety of special-interest technical topics, but we also have leadership and participation around the world. We have VC leaders in most areas of the globe, and this past year has seen nice growth within our Global Language Virtual Chapters; With seven language-based VCs to choose from, you can tune in to learn in Chinese, French, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Many of our special-interest VCs have also instituted additional webinar times to suit data pros in different time zones.

Keeping VCs Growing
In conjunction with our passionate volunteers, we are working hard to revive some older VCs and jump-start new ones to ensure that all groups are providing the best free technical training on a regular basis. We recently welcomed new VC leads to the Business Analytics, Cloud, Global French, and Oracle VCs. If you are interested in serving as a VC lead or co-lead or helping create or moderate webinars, stay in touch with us for upcoming opportunities.
– Jen Stirrup
Director of PASS Virtual Chapters

PASS Summit Session Selection

July 2, 2014 – It’s been exciting to see all the blog posts and tweets from speakers selected for PASS Summit 2014 – especially those who will be presenting at Summit for the first time. It’s also a bittersweet time as we commiserate with those who weren’t selected for this year’s program.

The hardest part of the Program Committee’s monumental task of reviewing, rating, and selecting sessions and speakers is not being able to include all the quality sessions and speakers we want to. This year’s 88-member team of community volunteers worked extremely hard and had to make some difficult choices. As the Program Committee reviews this year’s processes as well as feedback from its members and the community on how to improve and deliver the best possible Summit program, we wanted to share some ideas around the main discussions regarding the 2014 session selection process.

A Great Place to Start Is with Data
As both the SQL Server and Business Intelligence space and the attendance at PASS Summit continue to grow, our program also continues to grow to cover key topics and meet the needs of our community. For PASS Summit 2014, we increased the number of community sessions to 135 (not counting Lightning Talks), nine more than last year, and the number of community pre-conference sessions from 12 to 16. For the 135 session slots, we received a record 943 abstracts from 335 speakers, meaning that from the outset, we would be able to select only about 15% of submissions. (For an overview of the session selection process, please see PASS Summit: Already Setting Records.)

We want PASS Summit to be a showcase of the best and brightest technical experts and compelling speakers – from seasoned experts to rising stars. That means creating a mix of returning and first-time Summit speakers; this year, 26% of our speakers will be new to Summit. Because we continue to see an increase in the number of great session proposals from quality speakers, we will continue to look at ways to increase the number of community speaking slots.

To Publish or Not Publish Ratings
Members of the speaker and abstract review teams separately rate each speaker or session they’re assigned. The Program Managers and myself then use those speaker scores and abstract ratings, as well as topic balance, speaker balance, and skill level considerations, to build a cohesive program. Even a highly-rated session in a particular track might not be selected for the final program if that speaker already has the maximum two general sessions, for example, or to achieve a balanced program in terms of topics and skill levels.

So why not make the ratings public? First, the Program Team doesn’t want to embarrass or discourage anyone whose session received a low rating. Publishing the ratings would also open the door to questions and disagreements about why speakers or sessions received certain ratings – even among sessions that were selected. Although it’s unlikely we will publically share the session ratings, we are continuing to look for ways to improve feedback on why a session wasn’t accepted, some of which we instituted this year (see the next point).

Providing a Feedback Loop
As part of the session review and rating process, each session is typically reviewed by three or more team members. Reviewers are encouraged to provide written comments about the abstract along with a rating. The Program Managers then use the comments and ratings to build the best possible program. Unfortunately, not all the abstracts have comments, and the quality and quantity of the comments vary greatly. Our current tool, Orator, does not have the capability to combine all the comments from the various reviewers into comprehensive feedback for each session. We are looking at how to improve the use of comments in the abstract review process for next year and enhance Orator with better feedback capabilities.
 
If you submitted a session proposal for Summit 2014 and would like the comments from the abstract review team, please email program@sqlpass.org and we will send you the comments that are available for your abstract. Please note that, as stated above, not all abstracts have comments, and the comments are related to the abstract only and not why the session was or wasn’t accepted.

Based on feedback from the community over the past year, we also worked to improve the wording we use in our speaker notification letters for sessions that weren’t selected, as follows, but we currently do not have more specific comments about why a session wasn’t accepted.

Previous Reason  Updated This Year To 
3rd party or vendor specific topic Session deemed too focused on a vendor product
High number of sessions already selected for topic
Popular topic, higher rated session selected
Limited target audience
Less popular topic than others submitted 
Max sessions allocated for track
Allocated number for track filled based on session rating and topic coverage
Speaker has exceeded number of selected sessions    
Speaker has exceeded number of selected sessions - 2 General Sessions max 

We are forming a Program Committee Special Project Team to review and improve the feedback process for future events and are committed to having the changes in place for the PASS Summit 2015 session selection process.

Pre-cons by Board Members
Members of the PASS Board of Directors are also part of the SQL Server and PASS communities and are allowed to submit session abstracts and speak at PASS events, including presenting pre-conference sessions. All sessions proposals – including pre-con proposals submitted by members of the Board – go through the same blind abstract review, in which the abstract reviewers don’t know who submitted the abstract.

In most cases, pre-conference speakers are offered financial compensation for their pre-con sessions. Section VI.14. of the PASS Bylaws state:
“Directors shall not receive any salaries for their services as Directors, but by resolution of the Board of Directors, a fixed sum and/or expenses of attendance, if any, may be allowed for attendance at each regular or special meeting of the Board; provided that nothing herein contained shall be construed to preclude any Director from serving PASS in an educational or speaking capacity and receiving compensation upon approval by a majority vote from the Board of Directors.

Simply put, any member of the Board is eligible to give a pre-con or other session at Summit. They are eligible for compensation if compensation is approved by a majority vote of the Board of Directors. The Board member selected to give a pre-con at Summit 2014 did not request to be compensated, therefore no vote was required. The Executive Committee did discuss the situation prior to announcing pre-con speakers and ensured that all decisions were in compliance with the bylaws and that the Board member would be able to fulfill all his duties during the week.

Changing Session Titles and Abstracts
All session titles and abstracts are reviewed and rated exactly as they are submitted. After the Program Committee has selected the final session list, all titles and abstracts are proofed for accuracy, clarity, grammar, and marketability, and we work with speakers on any requested updates.

Let’s Put It to a Vote?
There’s been some discussion about supplementing the session review/selection process or avoiding it entirely by putting some or all sessions up for community vote. Although it’s an attractive idea, whenever we’ve invited the community to vote on sessions – as with past Lightning Talks or Community Choice sessions – we’ve received extremely low participation, which leads to skewed results. Well-known speakers also have a distinct advantage in a voting scenario, and even in a “blind voting” situation without speaker names, it would be difficult to achieve a balance of topics, speakers, and session levels.

PASS Summit is first and foremost a community conference – built by dedicated community volunteers around open submissions from passionate community members – and we are always open and looking at ways to improve that process. We appreciate your feedback around the session selection process and helping develop new speakers, and we are working to schedule Program Committee office hours at Summit to hear your ideas, as well as talks on such topics as how to write an effective abstract and a good speaker profile – stay tuned for details. In addition, watch for sessions throughout the year on creating successful abstracts, how the Program Committee works, and how sessions are selected.

The Program Team’s work is never done – as soon as sessions are selected, we’re working on PowerPoint reviews, supporting speakers during the event, reviewing attendees’ feedback, and brainstorming ideas for making the next Summit even better. Please keep your feedback coming all year long; email us at program@sqlpass.org.
– Amy Lewis
Director of PASS Programs