Category: PASS Community Summit

PASS Summit 2015 Speaker Q&A: Michael Fal

July 21, 2015 — Go inside PASS Summit 2015 session in this Q&A series with our presenters. In this interview, Michael Fal takes us inside his general session, “PowerShell and the Art of SQL Server Deployment”.

Q: Who is your favorite super-hero, and which SQL Server or BI super-power do you hope your session will give attendees?

Mike: I've always been a fan of heroes without super powers: iconic comic book personalities like Iron Man and Batman or classic TV characters like MacGuyver and the A-Team. These guys accomplished incredible things with their brains and the tools at their disposal. This is the sort of thing I want to show people with my session, “PowerShell and the Art of SQL Server Deployment”. By leveraging PowerShell, DBAs can do some pretty awesome things—and it doesn't take special knowledge or skills to do it.

Q: What’s your origin story? How did you become interested in working with data, and how did you take that initial interest to the expert level?

Mike: I actually didn't get into technology and databases until several years after college. I originally got my Bachelor of Music Performance from CU Boulder with the intent of being a classical musician. After making a hard decision not to pursue that beyond college, I was working in a warehouse. After showing interest in computers by working with our system administrator, I was given a tech support job in a company that needed me to do a number of things. I gravitated towards databases and managing the company's systems. Fifteen years later, I'm now a Senior DBA at Xero, helping architect our cloud data strategy.

Q: What’s your favorite data solution’s secret power—the biggest strength that most people don’t really know about or use to full advantage

Mike: PowerShell really isn't a "data solution," it's a technology solution. But it's an incredibly powerful one. There are two huge advantages to building automation with PowerShell: working across the computing stack (the OS, SQL Server, the file system, and so on) and the ability to execute across multiple computers in an easy, reliable fashion. This is really appealing to the "lazy DBA," because you can write automation once that executes consistently for any number of systems in your environment.

Q: What about data’s biggest kryptonite or nemesis--the biggest mistake you see data professionals make?

Mike: Fear. Fear of the unknown. You mention PowerShell to a lot of DBAs and there's just not a lot of knowledge around it, so data folks don't really know how to leverage it or what they can use it for. This is why I've focused on speaking and blogging about it, spreading the word about this powerful tool. This becomes its own reward, because when I show it to people who haven't seen it, they're blown away by what can be done.

Q: What still excites you or trips you up in the real world when working with SQL Server or BI?

Mike: There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Although we can make scripts and build processes, it still requires a human brain to break a problem down, mesh it with business logic, and build a complete solution. This is why it's so critical to build out our toolbox. Just as a construction contractor could be building a garage one day and a house the next, we need to be prepared for whatever challenge is given to us. Having flexible, robust tools allows data professionals to better respond to these challenges.

Q: What do you see as the next step after attending your session?

Mike: The goal of my session is to show DBAs how to quickly and reliably deploy SQL Server. When folks walk out of this session, I expect that they will go back to their jobs to refine their own deployment processes for SQL Server, to make them more consistent and reliable. More than that, though, these methods open up new design patterns for managing SQL Server environments, whether they're on premises or in the cloud.

Check out our other Q&As with PASS Summit 2015 speakers.

PASS Summit 2015 Speaker Q&A: Allan Hirt

July 21, 2015 — Go inside PASS Summit 2015 session in this Q&A series with our presenters. In this interview, Allan Hirt takes us inside his Pre-Con, “Advanced SQL Server Availability Architectures and Deployments”.

Q: Who is your favorite super-hero, and which SQL Server or BI super-power do you hope your session will give attendees?

Allan: When I grew up and started collecting comic books, I was more drawn to the DC characters, specifically Batman. He is a guy who is a mere mortal, yet can outwit and has the strength to stand up to people who have powers that could literally crush him. I think that is the challenge a lot of DBAs and IT workers face. We are given some parameters and limitations and have to make magic happen. More often than not, we can. I think we are at our best when we think outside the box.

Q: What’s your origin story? How did you become interested in working with data, and how did you take that initial interest to the expert level?

Allan: During college, I was an intern at SQL Solutions in Burlington, MA; it was bought out by Sybase while I was there. So I started using SQL Server in the pre-Windows days—I even remember helping someone install Windows NT 3.5. My internship was with the QA folks, so testing has and continues to be intrinsic to what I do. But the obvious link from then to now is the fact that I was exposed to relational databases so early. I have always been more interested in the infrastructure side of things, even before my internship (which involved that stuff). But I was lucky in my career path to be exposed to things like clustering fairly early into my career, which clearly had a profound impact on who I am today.

I would say that to become an expert, the key to success is to follow your passion and keep learning. You will hopefully have good mentors along the way. Do not be afraid to fail or make mistakes.

Q: What’s your favorite data solution’s secret power—the biggest strength that most people don’t really know about or use to full advantage?

Allan: The Windows platform has a lot of cool things that are prevalent in the non-SQL Server world, such as Scale Out File Server and Windows’ native ability to use RDMA. Such things could be used for SQL Server but are not. If DBAs understood what lies under the hood a bit more, I think we would see more innovative solutions. I will be talking a bit about those kinds of things throughout my Pre-Conference session, “Advanced SQL Server Availability Architectures and Deployments”.

Q: What about data’s biggest kryptonite or nemesis--the biggest mistake you see data professionals make?

Allan: The two biggest mistakes I see are:

· Not understanding what it is you are implementing. That leads to a lot of assumptions and bad decisions in architecture, which ultimately results in bad solutions.

· Not doing the basics well. You cannot have a good availability solution if you are terrible at, say, backups. If you start from a solid foundation, your chances of succeeding at the more advanced stuff increases significantly.

Q: What still excites you or trips you up in the real world when working with SQL Server or BI?

Allan: There’s plenty that can trip all of us up, expert or not; too many things to list. That said, I think that because SQL Server is such a deep and broad product, there is some aspect of it for nearly anyone who is interested in databases, whether BI or relational. That by no means equates to queries and data itself. Sure, I’ve done a lot of that over the years, but the infrastructure side is a whole other aspect of SQL Server that many people do not dabble in—but is immensely rewarding.

Q: What do you see as the next step after attending your session?

Allan: I truly believe that people learn better by doing than by just seeing slides and demos. As with my Pre-Con session at Summit 2014—which sold out, so don’t wait to register this year; the number of students is capped—everyone will get hands-on experience via lab exercises designed specifically for that day. Each attendee will access, via a browser, their own set of virtual machines (VMs), which simulate a full working environment (domain controller, cluster nodes, and so on). I know many attendees will want to try the labs again and will most likely not have time during Summit to do that, so my plan is to provide access for at least a few days post-Summit so that you can do them again back home.

Check out our other Q&As with PASS Summit 2015 speakers.

Future of PASS Summit: Conference Location Through 2019

July 21, 2015 — The location of future PASS Summit conferences was a topic of discussion at the June 2015 PASS Board of Directors meeting. Currently, we’ve booked the Washington State Convention and Trade Center as the PASS Summit venue through 2018. A time-limited opportunity was presented to us to continue that booking for an additional year—2019—with a decision required by June 15.

In 2013, we moved PASS Summit to Charlotte, North Carolina. Our main intention was to determine whether hosting the conference in a different state would make it more accessible to PASS members who might not have been able to travel to Seattle.

While changing cities at some point in the future isn’t out of the question, the Board noted that staying in Seattle offered two important benefits:
· Extending our venue agreement for the additional year offers significant savings over the length of our multi-year contract with the Convention and Trade Center.
· Holding the conference in Seattle results in a stronger exhibitor presence, particularly in regards to Microsoft. Community members and attendees have greater opportunity to interaction with members of the Microsoft product teams.

Considering these benefits, the Board voted to keep PASS Summit in Seattle for 2019.

PASS Summit 2015 Community Sessions

June 26, 2015--Have you heard the news? We’ve announced the speakers and session lineup for PASS Summit 2015 – and we think it’s the best one yet! Each year, the Program Team has the difficult task of choosing sessions from amongst a wealth of wonderful submissions. I want to tell everyone who submitted this year how much we appreciate the support and dedication of this community.

How We Choose

The program-selection process is a continually fine-tuned process designed to help ensure a fair, objective, and well-balanced program. Program Committee volunteers are assigned to review abstracts, speakers, or PowerPoint decks. Each team has specific duties that help ensure the integrity of our selection process. Scores and ratings are used to determine the top sessions from each track, and we used these to fill the community session slots. We look for a balanced track that contains sessions that represent all the key topics across a variety of skill levels and without a great deal of duplication. We also look for a good mix of both seasoned speakers and new voices. Still have questions about the process, we have a helpful FAQ you page you can refer back to. 

This year, 67 of our volunteers reviewed a total of 886 abstracts. Of those submissions, 20% were chosen for our community sessions, representing 52% of the speakers who submitted. 28% of those speakers will be speaking at PASS Summit for the first time!

Next Steps

Now that the community sessions have been selected, the next step is to open the Microsoft call for speakers. We’ll work with Microsoft to make sure that these submissions complement the community sessions; stay tuned for these sessions to be announced in August.

We’ll also begin constructing learning paths to make it easier for attendees to choose between sessions.  As always, we welcome your feedback on any step of this process.  
Finally, we will work to build the schedule, including partnering with Microsoft and the Program Committee Special Project team of volunteers to utilize data science to predict session attendance and schedule sessions into the appropriate sized rooms and timeslots. You can read more about the success of this additional process last year in Dev Nambi’s blogs: PASS Attendance and Summit Feedback

A Big Thank You 

Once again, thank you to all who submitted—and to all the volunteers who worked so hard these past few months during the selection process, particularly our Program Team Managers Lance Harra, Mindy Curnutt and Angela Henry. 

We can’t wait for you to dive into the lineup for this year’s PASS Summit, the premier event by and for the SQL Server Community. Help us spread the word, and don’t forget to register by July 12 to save $400 on registration—plus contact your Local or Virtual Chapter for an additional $150 savings! See you in Seattle!

– Amy Lewis
PASS Director of Programs


PASS Town Hall Q&A Webcast

June 18, 2015--The second quarterly Town Hall Q&A webcast took place on May 27, with more than 70 people in attendance. Thomas LaRock welcomed the audience and spoke about how the Board is continually looking at facilitating two-way communication within the community and how to contact the Board on the SQL PASS website. Before kicking off the session, Thomas introduced the panel:

    • Denise McInerney: PASS VP, Marketing (and moderator)
    • Amy Lewis: PASS Board Director at Large, Programs
    • Jennifer Moser: PASS Board, Microsoft-related questions
    • Lance Harra: Lead Program Manager, PASS Program Committee

With a focus on the Summit Speaker Selection process, the one-hour long webcast included an overview from myself (Amy Lewis, PASS Board of Director at large, Programs) on the process and timing from this year’s committee along with a considerable number of questions from the attendees for the Program Committee and the Board.

I thanked the panel and the program committee team and then summarized the committee’s processes for speaker selection.

In late January or early February, the Program Committee conducts a Call for Volunteers. Volunteers play a critical role in evaluating abstracts and helping to select community speakers. A total of 70 volunteers work together from mid-March until Summit. After the Call for Speakers closes in mid-March, the volunteers are broken into four teams:

Speaker Review Team: This team of eight volunteers review credentials, experience, and past attendee feedback to qualify speakers. This year, a total of 285 people submitted abstracts for Summit 2015, and the team goes through and rates each possible speaker. After all scores are submitted, the Speaker Review Team provides the Program Managers with the rankings.

Abstract Review Team: This team is tasked with reviewing the 886 abstracts submitted by the 285 potential speakers. Abstracts are reviewed by a minimum of three people. The team is divided into smaller teams for each of the five learning tracks and review accordingly. Feedback is given to every single abstract. The abstract review team first rates the abstract (without any speaker information or speakerID). After the teams have rated all the abstracts, they are tasked with ranking the abstracts for each track and recommending sessions to the Program Development Team.

The Program Committee offers guidance on the need for diversity of topics and speakers. At the outset, each speaker is assigned a speakerID number to maintain anonymity during scoring. Scorers can see whether they have ranked or recommended multiple abstracts from the same speakerID within a particular track, but they don’t know who that speaker is. This provides the team enough visibility to evaluate sessions and speakers for balance.

Program Development Team (Program Managers/Director): From May until the beginning of June, the program is built. The contributing factors include:

    • Rankings and recommendations from the individual teams
    • Topic, speaker, and session level
    • Repeat sessions from prior year
    • Session types (Pre-cons, Lightning talks, Half-day sessions, General sessions, and Labs)
    • Duplicate sessions
    • Depth and breadth of sessions across all tracks

After the Program Development team builds the Program, submitters are notified of their session status and, as of last year, are sent feedback on their abstract. After all submitters are notified, the community sessions are announced publicly by the end of June.

Special Project Team: From July onwards, the Special Project Team looks at the learning paths, predicting room assignment to ensure that rooms are not overcrowded and improving the schedule builder to be useful to both attendees and PASS Summit Operations teams.

Microsoft Sessions: Around early August, the Program Development Team works with Microsoft to understand what it wants to present and to ensure there is no overlap between Microsoft and the community sessions. This partnership has led to a more cohesive program where both the community and Microsoft sessions build upon and complement one another, leading to a fantastic and well-rounded program.

The Program Team is always open to feedback and ways to improve the Selection Process and the PASS Summit Program. We received feedback over the past year, and some of those changes were implemented this year:

    • In the process to review abstracts and the workflows for the team leads, all abstracts across all teams are now reviewed by at least three people.
    • The speaker profile was updated to allow for the submitter to list all their PASS and non-PASS presentation history. We are also working with IT to incorporate a lot of the SQLSaturday, Virtual Chapter, and User Group speaking events. We have been waiting until the rebuild of the SQLSaturday site is completed so that we can incorporate that functionality automatically. We wanted to be sure speakers could do that this year so we have implemented a table where you can add your speaker history. We added the video review, which was a request from the Speaker Review Team, so we can see samples of people speaking.
    • Improvements to the speaker resource page included updating the handbook, adding an FAQ page, and improving the process for the team leads.
    • Finally, the Program Team has improved the communication with the team leads through weekly calls and is working closely with PASS HQ and IT. Marcella and Leeza at PASS HQ were recognized for their support and commitment.

Amy introduced Lance Harra and explained that he has volunteered with the Program Team for 10 years and this year was promoted to Lead Program Manager.  In addition, Mindy Curnutt and Angela Henry have joined the Program Management Team to lead all the Program-related efforts throughout the year.

With an overview of the team and their responsibilities complete, the Q&A commenced with questions from the community. The full recording is available here. Look for more information about the next Q&A on the Board Contact Us page and in the Connector as we head into the next quarter.

Amy Lewis
PASS Board Member, Programs

PASS Programs Team Leverages Data Science for Attendance Predictions and Feedback Rating

December 17, 2014 – This year, Data Scientist and PASS volunteer Dev Nambi joined the Programs team to help with PASS Summit 2014 sessions scheduling and predictive analytics. Over the past month, Dev and the team have been digging into the data from both session attendance and session feedback, and we wanted to share the findings with the community.

In this first year of doing prediction for attendance, we saw a variety of results, including the reduction of overcrowded sessions. Dev details the results and provides a link to the raw dataset in his blog post PASS Summit Attendance and Predictions. With the lessons learned from our debut effort, we will continue to improve on and incorporate prediction models into our Summit scheduling process.

Dev and the team also examined Summit 2014 session evaluations. This year, we saw a 14.8 % return rate of evaluations from attendees, and we’re looking at ways to increase that number. Despite an increased possible margin of error based on the decrease in responses, we appreciate all the session evaluation feedback we received from attendees and are taking key findings into account as we start planning next year’s Summit. To view the correlations and rankings, please see Dev’s analysis in Say Anything! PASS Summit Feedback and Ratings.

A big thank you to Dev for the time and effort he spent analyzing and compiling the attendance prediction and session evaluations data. Thank you also to Summit attendees for using the Schedule Builder to help with attendance predictions and to the entire PASS community for your feedback. Moving forward, PASS Programs will continue assembling, sharing, and using this information and data analysis to help make the Summit experience the best it can be. If you have any comments or input, please don’t hesitate to email program@sqlpass.org.
– Amy Lewis
Director, PASS Programs

PASS Summit 2014 Pre-Con Preview: Brian & Devin Knight

Oct. 16, 2014 – Go inside PASS Summit 2014's full-day pre-conference sessions in this Q&A series with our presenters. We caught up with Brian and Devin Knight for a quick chat about their pre-con, SSIS: Problem, Design, Solution.

Q: If your pre-con had a theme song, what would it be and why?
Devin:
I’d go with Kenny Loggins – “Danger Zone” because it’s an awesome song and so is our pre-con!

Q: What excites you most about working with SQL Server Integration Services?
Brian:
I like the logic problems. Each package you build is like solving a puzzle that has a dozen ways of solving it. 

Q: What's the most surprising statement attendees might hear you say during the pre-con?
Devin: “Okay, now everyone line up for the ceremonial Knight brothers pre-con hug.“

Q: What’s your favorite SSIS transform and why?
Brian:
The Swiss Army knife of any SSIS developer is the Script Transform. When you can’t do something in a native or third-party component, it’s time to whip out a script. We should cover about a dozen different patterns of how to use these in our pre-conference session. 

Q: What still trips you up in the real world when scrubbing duplicate data?
Devin:
Using Regular Expressions to scrub data has always been something that has thrown me, because it feels very unnatural to write coming from a SQL Server background. Luckily, there are plenty of resources such as http://regexlib.com/ to help!

Q: If attendees could start putting into practice just one thing after this pre-con, what would you want that to be?
Devin:
I find that the package restartability section of the pre-con has a lot of content that’s often overlooked but that can be extremely useful for recovering from failed package executions. I think people skip these steps because most people don’t plan for their packages to fail.

Check out our other Q&As with PASS Summit 2014 pre-con speakers.


SQLSaturday at Summit: Q&A Panels, Website Sneak Peek, and More

Oct. 14, 2014  Hello, PASS Community! It seems like it was just a couple months ago that we were meeting up for PASS Summit 2013 – I can’t believe it was actually a year ago. I’m looking forward to seeing you all again in person in Seattle next month.

As part of our Summit agenda, we always dedicate time to meet with our community organizers, including Chapter and Virtual Chapter Leaders, Regional Mentors, and SQLSaturday organizers. As Director of the SQLSaturday portfolio, I wanted to share some of what we’ll be discussing around SQLSaturday on Community Day at Summit, which is Tuesday, Nov. 4, as well as in the Community Zone throughout the week.

Kicking off the annual SQLSaturday Round Table will be a Q&A with the SQLSaturday leadership team, consisting of myself and our passionate Community Evangelists, Karla Landrum and Carmen Buchman. You can review the agenda here, and please bring all your questions and suggestions. We’re following up this year with some activities that go even further in supporting PASS’s mission statement:

Empower data professionals who leverage Microsoft technologies to connect, share, and learn
through networking, knowledge sharing, and peer-based learning.

We'll be hosting a new panel featuring some of our most experienced SQLSaturday organizers from around the world sharing their knowledge and tips and tricks for putting on successful events.

We’ll also be reviewing exciting updates to the SQLSaturday website, coming your way by the end of 2014. Working from your SQLSaturday website wish list – which we’ve cultivated over the past few years – as well as with a Community Focus Group, we’ve taken your feedback and ideas and put a great amount of time and consideration into building a more functional and modern web experience for SQLSaturday organizers and attendees alike. We can’t wait to show off the current version at Summit. You can find a list of all the wish list items that we’re integrating into the next SQLSaturday website here. We’ll also be emailing it along with a full Round Table meeting agenda to all SQLSaturday organizers for review in advance.

In addition, PASS Community Evangelists and SQLSaturday organizers from around the world will be available in the Community Zone Wednesday-Friday to answer all your questions – whether you’re looking for a SQLSaturday to attend or want to learn how to host one yourself. Check out the Community Zone Spotlight schedule to see when to stop by and meet with organizers from your area.

Our team is working hard to make these meetings as informational, transparent, and successful as possible, so we can quickly answer your questions, respond to any issues or concerns, and spend more time discussing how we can improve our future events. As owner of the SQLSaturday portfolio as well as a PASS Director-at-Large, I can’t wait to connect with all our passionate SQLSaturday organizers, volunteers, speakers, and attendees, share what we’re doing today to enhance everyone’s experience, and learn how we can better support SQLSaturday efforts around the world.   

Don’t forget to wear your favorite SQLSaturday shirt Wednesday at Summit, and I’ll see you in Seattle!
– Tim Ford
PASS Director of SQLSaturday


 

PASS Summit 2014 Pre-Con Preview: Allan Hirt

Oct. 7, 2014 – Go inside PASS Summit 2014's full-day pre-conference sessions in this Q&A series with our presenters. We spent a few minutes with Allan Hirt to learn more about what to expect in his pre-con, The A to Z of Availability Groups.

Q: If your pre-con had a theme song, what would it be and why?
Tough choice, but thinking about it, maybe “La Villa Strangiato” by Rush. Besides the obvious if you know me, it’s an instrumental that starts off deceptively simple, but gets really complex and furious at times. I think it’s appropriate. AGs are deceptively simple, but in reality, not at all once you really start looking under the hood.

Q: What excites you most about Availability Groups?
It takes the best bits of a few different things and mashes them into one. That creates certain challenges, but that’s part of the fun.

Q: What's the most surprising statement attendees might hear you say during the pre-con?
If you don’t understand Windows Server failover clusters, you will fail at deploying AGs. 

Q: What’s the biggest myth around AGs that you’d like to debunk?
A secondary replica can be under-powered. That is completely false. 

Q: In the spirit of A-to-Z: What are some first words you’d like to say about AGs? How about a statement to leave attendees with?
First words: The Availability Groups feature is NOT AlwaysOn. AlwaysOn is not a feature.
Last words: Plan your deployments well, and you will be very successful with AGs.

Q: If SQL Server pros could start putting into practice just one thing after this pre-con, what would you want that to be?
I'd like them to understand things like networking, storage, and Windows Server failover clusters so they will have better deployments of AGs.

Check out our other Q&As with PASS Summit 2014 pre-con speakers.


PASS Summit 2014 Pre-Con Preview: Davide Mauri

Oct. 7, 2014 – Go inside PASS Summit 2014's full-day pre-conference sessions in this Q&A series with our presenters. In this Q&A, Davide Mauri gives us a quick look at his pre-con, Agile Data Warehousing: Start to Finish.

Q: If your pre-con had a theme song, what would it be and why?
“One Vision” by Queen. The data warehouse is all about having one, coherent vision of all company data and information.

Q: What interests you most about the Agile approach to data warehouse design, testing, and implementation?
It gives results quickly, and everyone involved in it, from developers to managers, get excited because they start to understand the strategic importance of the data warehouse. As a result of being able to quickly get insights, they start to use it to democratize the information in the company, really changing how decisions are made and ultimately making the process much more efficient and based on “real” data, not just intuition or, worse, suppositions. This is the era of data-driven decisions, and the data warehouse is one of the backbones of that.

Q: What's the most surprising statement attendees might hear you say during the pre-con?
That the only thing that will remain constant is that requirements will always change. I’m quite sure that many will also be surprised to learn that there is no product or model or tool that can make you Agile. Agile is a mindset, and thus the most important thing is to start to think that way. Everything will become natural after that first step.

Q: What’s the biggest myth around the agile process that you’d like to debunk?
I have two: The first myth is that the data warehouse is now obsolete, and with Big Data tools like Hadoop and In-Memory technologies, one can live without it. It’s really an important myth to debunk, because a data warehouse is not only a physical container, but is the place where people expect to find correct data. It’s a sort of metaphysical concept that alone can change how decisions are made within a company. 

The second myth is about tools that enable you to become Agile. As I noted earlier, this is another myth I’ll try to debunk.

Q: What still excites you in the real world when using Agile data warehousing principles?
I love to see the huge impact a good BI/DWH solution has in a company. And I love even more to see the faces of managers used to waiting for weeks or months to have a new business requirement put into production when I tell them, “OK, you’ll have it in a couple of days.” It’s like being a superhero… except they don’t allow me to go to their offices wearing a blue and red spandex suit. :)

Q: If attendees could start putting into practice just one thing after this pre-con, what would you want that to be?
Automation. I’ll show attendees how they can automate up to 66% of data warehouse creation. This really changes the game because it allows you to support frequent changes and move in the direction of becoming Agile.

Check out our other Q&As with PASS Summit 2014 pre-con speakers.