Enhancing First-Timers’ Summit Experience

I attended my first PASS Summit in 2004. Why did I go? Because of two words: professional association. I wanted to grow my professional skills as a DBA, and I knew that meant more than just technical knowledge. I knew I needed to join a network of like-minded individuals where we could learn and grow together.

The first morning there I met Pat Wright (blog | @SQLAsylum). Well, more like he met me, as he lumbered over and sat down at my table during breakfast. We ended up attending Kimberly Tripp’s (blog | @KimberlyLTripp) pre-conference seminar together and met Allen Kinsel (blog | @sqlinsaneo) there. The three of us hung out together all week, sharing meals and talking about our shops. We came to the Summit knowing nobody but were fortunate to have met each other. We left the Summit and stayed in touch, returning the next year, and every year since.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that many of our first-time attendees arrive at the Summit knowing nobody. They meet no one, they eat alone, they leave, and we don't see them again. How do I know this? Because every year, we have roughly 800 people at our Summit for the first time. If those 800 came back every year, we would be over 7,000 attendees by now.

Clearly, we need to improve our customer retention. That's what led me to think about putting together an Orientation Committee (OC) to help first-time attendees get connected, share experiences, and learn from each other. I believe this will translate into more repeat attendees, which will result in more knowledge, more sharing, and better growth opportunities for everyone.

We launched the orientation program for first-time Summit attendees last year at PASS Summit, and we are doing it again this year. That means we need Summit alumni to volunteer to serve as "Big Brothers/Sisters" for a group of new members – and we need new attendees to sign up to participate.

We are thinking most groups will have about 9 people (8 newbies and 1 alumni). The Big Brothers/Sisters will help the first-timers feel welcome, introduce them around, help facilitate discussions, answer questions, etc. The alumni volunteers will be in contact with their assigned group well ahead of Summit and ideally will arrange a meeting with their group before the Welcome Reception. In case that is not possible, we are going to reserve a room at the Convention Center so that all Big Brothers/Sisters can meet with their groups just prior to the Welcome Reception

If you are interested in serving as a Big Brother/Sister, drop us an email at OC_DL@sqlpass.org. And if you are attending the Summit for the first time and want to participate in the program, I encourage you to sign up – just email newcomer@sqlpass.org. Watch for updates on Twitter as we finalize the details, and participate in the discussion by using the #sqlpass #firsttimers hashtags.

See you in Seattle!
-- Thomas LaRock

Upcoming 24 Hours of PASS

We are four weeks away from the next 24 Hours of PASS event, and the registrations continue to mount. I have participated in all four 24 HoP to date and each one holds a special memory for me. But when all is said and done this coming event has the potential to be my favorite of the bunch.

Past 24 HoP events have been focused on giving viewers a preview of PASS Summit content. The event last Spring was focused on SQL 2008 R2. This event is not a preview. Instead it is simply full of SQL-goodness and I can't wait for it to get started. I'll register, and likely watch, all 24 sessions so it would be hard for me to pick a few favorites that I want to see next month. But here goes anyway:

SQL SERVER PERFORMANCE TOOLS (Cindy Gross)

Tools for troubleshooting performance issues. Best practices around troubleshooting methodology, SQLDiag/PSSDiag, SQL Nexus, Profiler/Trace, and PerfMon. Narrow down a performance problem & focus on where to spend your time.

T-SQL CODE SINS: THE WORST THINGS WE DO TO CODE AND WHY (Jen McCown)

"Code sins" are those things we do to our code that make stored procedures wish they’d never been created. Learn common code sins that make it difficult to read, support, run and extend.

T-SQL AWESOMENESS: 3 WAYS TO WRITE COOL SQL (Audrey Hammonds)

There are some truly awesome ways to make your data do just what you need it to do, while improving performance and/or readability. Come learn new-school ways to expand your T-SQL repertoire.

INDEX INTERNALS FOR MERE MORTALS (Michelle Ufford)

This in-depth session covers the internals of indexes including index filtering and partitioning. Walk away with a better understanding of indexes, which is helpful when designing and tuning databases.

If you haven't taken a moment to visit the 24 HoP website and register, what are you waiting for?

PASS Summit 2013

[cross-posted from Thomas LaRock's blog at thomaslarock.com]

As some of you are aware, the PASS Summit for 2013 does not yet have a home. We have already sent out an RFP to roughly 15 cities. At the most recent PASS Board meeting we narrowed the list of cities down to five. I am not able to name those cities at this time, as we have asked those five cities to prepare their final  numbers for us to review. We expect to have those numbers in about a month or so at which time the Board will call for a vote and we will select a city.

Even though this decision is weeks away I have been spending a good amount of time trying to figure out what would be the deciding factors for me to support a Summit in one city versus another. My short list is as follows:

  • Microsoft support (in terms of employee attendance, not in terms of sponsor dollars)
  • Location to a safe, walkable downtown (ideal for networking and socializing)
  • Easily navigable conference center (you don’t need to walk for 20 minutes to get from one end to the other)
  • Affordable hotels
  • Affordable dining
  • Airport hub (need to minimize travel for all attendees)
  • Length of travel time to and from Summit

Those are the ones that immediately come to mind. Please let me know if you feel there is something else to consider, I am certain I am forgetting something.

In addition to the list of considerations I also need to weigh the importance of each. So, which would have more weight, affordable hotels or Microsoft support? Maybe being a downtown is better than having affordable dining? I don’t know I have the answers. But I do know that the more people I talk with the more I find that everyone has a different focus. Some people want a city like Seattle strictly because of Microsoft being there in full force, while others are tired of traveling to Seattle every year (myself included).

It is not an easy decision for us to make and I wanted people to know and understand it is on our minds now, well in advance of the decision. If you want to provide feedback in the comments below, please do.

 

Grab Your Seat

[cross-posted from Thomas LaRock's blog at thomaslarock.com]

 

I could not have said this better myself:

http://weblogs.sqlteam.com/denisem/archive/2011/01/04/a-seat-at-the-24-hours-of-pass-table.aspx 

Denise was able to summarize everything we are trying to accomplish with the next 24 HOP event. If you have not yet submitted your abstract you should consider doing so, and before the deadline of next Friday.

 

I Need More Women

[cross-posted from Thomas LaRock's blog at thomaslarock.com]

While sitting at the WIT lunch during the PASS 2010 Summit it was mentioned that the percentage of woman MVPs overall was less than the percentage of WIT in general. With my thinking cap engaged I had a crazy idea: why not do the next 24 Hours of PASS and feature only women speakers, and do it in March ( which also happens to be women’s history month). I turned to the person sitting next to me on my right and asked a simple question: “Do you think I should do this?” That person was Jen McCown (blog | @midnightdba) who said “yes”, then paused to reflect, and then said “HELL, yes”.

I then went about engaging various members of the SQL Community to get some feedback on the idea. After about two weeks we had an outline for the next 24 HoP event and there was much rejoicing. But we have some other work to do first.

The current 24HoP structure doesn’t work anymore, it just isn’t transparent enough. Even as I put together the last event I knew that changes needed to be made. So here is what I would like to see done.

The call for abstracts has gone out already. (If you have an abstract in mind or have suggestions for specific speakers or topics, send us an email at 24hours@sqlpass.org. Deadline for abstract submission (max 250 words with a 125 word bio) is January 14.) That part was easy. The next part is not as easy: how do we get the Community involved in selecting the sessions and speakers?

Right now the 24 HoP Committee is actively working on how to implement this change. My current idea is to use UserVoice and have voting open for about a week after the deadline for abstracts is complete. What I would like to do is find a way to have people vote once for a list of speakers (with no mention of abstracts) and also for a list of abstracts (without knowing which speaker submitted the abstract). I feel that by doing so we would have an idea of not only who the Community wants to see speak, but what they want to hear. We would tally the two lists and come up with 28 speakers (24 and 4 alternates).

I will be the first to admit that I have no idea if this is the best way to get the Community Choice done, but it is the only idea we have on the table right now. And it is also the reason I am writing this blog post: if you have suggestions, please send them along. Drop us a note at 24hours@sqlpass.org and tell us your suggestion. The 24 HoP Committee will be spending the next four weeks trying to find a way to let the Community decide the sessions for the next 24 HoP and we don’t pretend to think we have all the right answers.

 

 

Mr. LaRock Goes To Washington

[cross-posted from Thomas LaRock's blog at thomaslarock.com]

Well, technically I think we would just call it Virginia, but I am speaking this weekend at SQL Saturday #61. My talk is ‘Performance Tuning Made Easy’ and you can read a little bit more about it here.

I am always trying to find ways to help people who are new to MSSQL to understand the basics and give them a solid foundation to build upon. Performance tuning is hard for a lot of people because there is little to no structure put around the idea of performance tuning. My talk helps to give some structure where none previously existed.

I even spend some time going over a process to help anyone (newbies and veterans) have some structure when trying to tune a particular query. I borrow the SQL Diagramming method from Dan Tow and summarize that into a 12-step process. Why 12 steps? Because every other program I have entered has 12 steps so it just seemed natural. In my mind I wanted to create a process that anyone, no matter how many years of experience, could follow and have the end result be a step in the right direction. I’ll give you the rundown:

  1. List all tables in the query (what??? I don’t start by examining an execution plan? NO! you need some details first in order to be efficient in your tuning process)
  2. Gather rowcounts for each table (yeah, you’ll need this. I see people who dive into execution plans only to come back later to ask ‘how many rows in that table anyway?’, so do yourself a favor and get the info first)
  3. Find all filters (get info on the JOIN and WHERE clause of the query, list out the columns used)
  4. Calculate the selectivity (remember the rowcounts? good. now using the info from the filters, figure out how many rows are being returned from each table. So if we have an orders table with 12,000 orders but we filter to only want 3,000 of those orders, then our selectivity is 3,000/12,000 or 0.25)
  5. Gather info on any additional columns used (look in the SELECT clause for this)
  6. Gather info on existing keys and indexes (some newbies may not have any idea about this stuff but now is the time to learn. Dive in and make certain you are aware what exists currently)
  7. Examine the execution plan (finally! go ahead and run the query and examine the execution plan, use SET STATISTICS IO ON and SET STATISTICS TIME ON as well, you’ll want those numbers)
  8. Record your results from step 7 (otherwise how would you ever know if things are getting better?)
  9. Adjust the indexes for tables with the lowest selectivity first (by ‘lowest’ I mean the tables that are closest to zero from the calculation in step 4)
  10. Rerun the query and examine the results and execution plans
  11. Rinse, lather, repeat on each table in increasing order by selectivity
  12. Continue onward, reducing your logical and physical reads (you can focus on logical reads, ideally you wouldn’t have any physical reads. now is a good time to remind you that this is simply a process to help people get some structure around performance tuning, it isn’t meant to be something that is infallible for each and every query in existence)
  13. And now for the disclaimer: WARNING! ADDING ADDITIONAL INDEXES IS NOT ALWAYS THE RIGHT THING TO DO!

That’s right, you need to examine the other DUI (Deletes, Updates, Inserts) statements that are hitting those same tables. If you are working with tables that have lots of modifications being done then adding the additional indexes could hurt performance in other areas. Oh, sure, your query may run better, but you would have hosed someone else. And while I have come across MANY developers that don’t care about anyone else except their own performance I am here to tell you as a DBA it is your job to stand up and make certain that you help maintain a performance balance for all users, not just one user and one query.

I hope to see you this Saturday!
 

Upcoming Changes to 24 Hours of PASS

[cross-posted from Thomas LaRock's blog at thomaslarock.com]

Last week I told you that I would let you in on what changes we have in mind for the 24 Hours of PASS event. Well, today is your lucky day!

At the PASS 2010 Summit I was asked by our President, Rushabh Mehta, to focus on the 24 HoP event for the first part of 2011. This event has become so popular that it is now a dedicated portfolio for a PASS Director at large (namely, me!) Rushabh and I sat down to talk about where the event is heading and we both agreed on where it needs to go.

Last year I realized we needed to make changes but was not able to get them implemented in time. Before our next event I want to make certain we get a few things rolling. First, lets talk about the four areas that needs to be re-thought:

  • Platform – do we stay with LiveMeeting, or go with a different platform for the event? A new platform means we would have to incur some costs.
  • Format – do we go back to one day and 24 hours, or stay with the 2×12 format?
  • Speaker selection – this needs to be done as a community choice, no question, and I have some ideas.
  • Sponsors/ads – in addition to selling some title sponsors we need to think about selling slots to vendors (“this hour sponsored by Confio” sounds nice)

Rushabh and I also agreed that the event itself needs to be driven by the Community and less than from a BoD member. To that end I am putting together a committee of three trusted people to help ensure we can transition the 24 HoP into the hands of the Community. My selections for the committee were based upon their proximity to myself last week, combined with their current country of origin. So, for Europe I asked Charlie Hanania, for North America I asked Jorge Segarra, and for Australia I asked Rob Farley. All three have agreed to serve. It is my hope that once we get through the four items listed above we will be in good shape to announce the theme for the next 24 HoP event.

Just to be clear, the committee will be leading the event. My role will be to help steer them through the next year and two events and for future BoD members to provide oversight only. It is very important to me that this event be placed into the hands of some respected Community members, as that will ensure it continues to be a successful vehicle for spreading the good word of PASS in the future.

 

 

2010 PASS Summit Preview

[cross-posted from Thomas LaRock's blog - http://thomaslarock.com/2010/10/2010-pass-summit-preview/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+SQLRockstar+(SQLRockstar))

It’s time for another PASS Summit preview and that can mean only one thing: movie quotes! This time we are going with ‘Back to School’ starring Rodney Dangerfield and in a supporting role a mostly sober Robert Downey, Jr. Why that movie? Because whenever I head off to a conference such as the PASS Summit I always feel like I am heading back to school, so this movie selection just seemed to make the most sense.

As Fergie says: “Let’s get it started.“

“Please, try to understand. I don’t have the background for this. I mean, the high school I went to, they asked a kid to prove the law of gravity, he threw the teacher out the window!”

At my first Summit I was overwhelmed by the content. Everything seemed to be a 500 level talk. I was over my head and I knew it. I also knew that if I wanted to get better as a database professional then I needed to start swimming and soak up all the information that I could. As the years went by the feeling that everything was at the 500 level went away. There are only a few moments during a Summit where I feel that I am way out of my element (anything on XML, for example). The Summit has content for everyone at every level making it the perfect place for you to learn something new no matter what your background may be. Yes, even database developers are welcome, along with Sharepoint and BI folk.

“Don’t you ever read? Read. Who has time? I see the movie. I’m in and out in two hours.”

Every year at PASS there is a bookstore. And every year I would look at the books and try to pick a few that I thought would be good for me to have. At the start the trouble was knowing which one was more valuable than another. Once I started learning who-was-who in the SQL Community it got a little easier to know which books I wanted. But it was also quite interesting when I started to realize that I knew the authors. And this year marks the very first PASS Summit that will have a book written by me! I have no idea if it will be on that table or not, but I do expect it to be at the Apress booth and I do know that we will have some copies at the Confio booth as well.

“The toy division has come up with a new doll idea to go along with our children’s clothing line. We call them Melon Patch Kids. Now, the competition exploits the notion that their dolls are orphans. The Melon Patch Kids are not orphans… they’re abandoned! We think it’s a winner.”

This one is dead on perfect for all the half baked ideas that Microsoft gives us from time to time. English Query anyone? But as much as we may shake our head about such things we should all take a step back and think about what failure really means. I appreciate all the hard work that goes into SQL Server, even into the stuff that may not work as well as we would like. And I truly enjoy the fact that Microsoft is filled with people that care enough to listen to our feedback at events such as the PASS Summit.

Building a product that works for everyone is not easy. Next time you see someone that works on the SQL team you should do them a favor and thank them for some aspect of the product that you enjoy. At the very least, thank them for one thing before you complain about the ten things you don’t like.

“Bring us a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until somebody passes out. And then bring one every ten minutes.”

Two words: SQL Karaoke. And if that isn’t enough for you, there is a couch in the men’s room. You’re welcome.

“Actually, I’d like to join you, but I have class tonight. Oh, how ’bout tomorrow night? I have class then, too. I’ll tell you what, then. Why don’t you call me some time when you have no class?”

This quote is for all of the learning that goes on, day and night, at the PASS Summit. And here is a PASS Summit Pro Tip: sometimes the best learning happens outside of the actual sessions. It can happen in a hallway, or the speaker ready room, or on a couch outside of the registration area. The fact is that when geeks like us get together at some point we discuss geek stuff. And before you know it someone has a whiteboard and four or five people are standing around learning and discussing something they weren’t planning on talking about just five minutes ago. At my first Summit I was in every session I could. Last year I was in three sessions and came away thinking it was the best Summit ever.

Besides, I know I can watch them all on a DVD later anyway. So don’t be afraid to talk with a few friends about a particular topic or obstacle you are trying to overcome. You will be surprised at how quickly you will be able to find an answer, even without a whiteboard.

“Good teacher. He really seems to care. About what I have no idea.”

No doubt this quote applies to the one and only Buck Woody. If you have never attended one of his presentations then make this your first time. He is the Don Rickles of PASS, except not as good looking. Buck is also the most interesting DBA in the World. Don’t believe me? You can watch the video for yourself. Trust me, no matter what your skill level you can always learn something new from Buck Woody. This year Buck is presenting a session on database testing and also a post-con seminar on Sharepoint for the DBA.

“The answer is…[the answer hits him]… 4?”

So many times we hear the answer “it depends” with regards to technology and specifically with database performance. There are many variables involved and so many layers of abstractions that are only getting more complex with every passing year. If you want to keep up to date with everything then you need to be having conversations with a lot of different people. What better place to do that than the PASS Summit? If you come to the Summit with any question at all I can assure you that you can find an answer at the Summit. I used to be amazed at how much people knew about so many different things and I have come to realize that they don’t always have a deep understanding, they have simply been around long enough to have been exposed to a lot of different things. You get such exposure at places like the PASS Summit.

“When’s our first class? Uh, we got Economics tomorrow at 11 o’clock. 11 o’clock? No good. I got a massage 11 o’clock. Tell ‘em to make it 2 o’clock. No, dad. Uh, you don’t get it. They’re not gonna re-schedule the classes around your massage. All right, 11 o’clock, but I’m gonna talk to that Dean. I mean, these classes could be a REAL inconvenience.”

There is so much to do during the day (and night) that it is very hard to set your schedule. These past few years I have felt pulled in many different directions and last year I was expected to be in three places at the same time. I never look at the session schedule until the day of, I just like the idea of making a game day decision when it comes to sessions. If I tried to plan out every minute of my day at the Summit I would go crazy. At the Summit I need to just “go with the flow”. If something interesting comes my way at the last minute I want to be able to change plans quickly and without remorse.

“Hi, I’m Kurt Vonnegut. I’m looking for Thornton Melon.”

When Jason Melon opens the door to see Kurt Vonnegut he is star struck. That;s the same feeling I get whenever I go to a PASS Summit. Just check out the list of people that are coming this year. Now go to your bookshelf, grab a book about databases, look at the author’s name, and see if you find it in that list. Chances are you will. All the stars come out at the PASS Summit, it truly is like Summer Camp for database professionals. And there is no doubt in my mind that this Summit will be the best Summit ever.

“With the shape I’m in you could donate my body to science fiction.”

That is a good way to describe how I feel after being up for over 100 hours during the seven days. I typically don’t sleep very well when traveling anyway, but at the PASS Summit I don’t sleep because I am always with so many interesting people that I only get to see a few times a year at most.

 

PASS O.C. Update

 [cross-posted from http://thomaslarock.com/2010/10/pass-o-c-update/ in case you missed it - Admin]

As the PASS Summit approaches I am getting excited about our efforts to help first time Summit attendees. This year we will have two new additions to our list of Summit events. First up is the new attendee orientation session, which will take place for 30 minutes prior to the Welcome Reception. We will do our best to give all first time Summit attendees an idea on what to expect over the next few days and some tips and tricks to maximize their time. Hopefully they will get to make a few new friends while there and at the Welcome Reception as well.

The second event is the PASS O.C. itself. This is the program where we are going to have some volunteers donate their time to be a “Big Brother/Sister” to a new attendee. We have a limited number of volunteers so we will not be able to provide this service for all new attendees. But for a chosen few they will be given the opportunity to formally meet and greet other new attendees as well. The idea is simple: assign 8-10 first timers to an O.C. member, have the O.C. member initiate a dialogue with the individuals in the group as well as their group as a whole, arrange to meet with them prior to the Welcome Reception (if possible), and do their best to ensure that those 8-10 people are never, ever, ever alone during the Summit.

I want people to have the same type of Summit experience that I do: it’s like Band Camp but for professional geeks.

PASS Community Energy

I have always thought that I enjoyed Summer the most. The sunshine, trips to the beach, lobsters stuffed with bacon, and long bike rides. But as I get older (and supposedly wiser) I am coming to realize that Fall may be the most enjoyable season. Perfect temperatures, things are still green, plenty of sunshine, football starts, the kids go back to school and of course the 24 Hours of PASS Summit Preview. What’s not to love about all of that?

We’ve done three 24 Hours of PASS events in the past thirteen months. While some may point to the great content as the number one takeaway that they get from the events, I would point to something else entirely.

Energy.

Every time I attend a PASS Summit I come away energized. Even if I have been awake for 80 hours or more, when the PASS Summit is over I always feel energized. I feel as if I can take on any project or problem because I know that if I run into any roadblocks then I can quickly reconnect with my peers and ask for help.

And I get the same feeling after interacting with the community during the 24 Hours of PASS. Not only do I get the great content from 24 sessions (or 28, as was the case this time), but I get the opportunity to connect with people in each of those sessions. And those connections grow over time, I get to meet people in real life at the PASS Summit or a PASS SQL Saturday, we talk more and we find ways to help each other.

For me, that is what PASS is all about, the ability to help database professional get connected with one another. And I love being able to help make that happen.
See you at the Summit.
 

Thomas LaRock

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