Pass Board of Directors

As you’ve no doubt heard or read, the call for nominations for the PASS Board of Directors is open until September 3.  If you’re active in the community, have leadership skills, and are committed to growing the SQL Server community, a position on the board may be right for you.  Terms are 2 years in length and do require some travel, mostly to Seattle.  It does require commitment, but you’d have the opportunity to shape the future of the PASS organization and the SQL Server communities that are a part of PASS.  If you’re up for the challenge, I’d encourage you to submit your name for consideration.

I’ve spent some time talking to Andy Warren, a current board member, and he’s encouraged me to run for the board.  I am very excited about the possibility of being a part of the PASS leadership, and do plan to make a run for the board – just not this year.  I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now, on the home front (a baby due in October and a possible move to a new home) and in my profession (job uncertainly due to my company being bought out).  I’m certain that I could make a worthwhile contribution as a PASS board member, but as this is a huge responsibility, I have to insure that other goings-on in my life will not keep me from giving 100% to that effort.  I don’t think this is the year for that.  (I know, excuses, excuses…)

I’m looking forward to seeing who is selected by the nominating committee.  Those who I would like to see have either already self-nominated, have said they aren’t interested this year, or recently went to work for Microsoft (I won’t mention any names on that last one).

[Cross-posted from SQL Server Central]

A New Identity

Well, perhaps not a whole new identity, just a consolidation of multiple facets of my online persona.  For several years now, I’ve maintained a personal website (www.timmitchell.net) and a professional website (www.bucketofbits.com).  The personal site, an old Community Server install, consisted of a neglected personal blog and a few family pictures, but sadly had been untouched for nearly a year.  On the BucketOfBits.com website, I had published links to my recent blog posts and downloads from my presentations.

So, to simplify administration and to consolidate my online footprint, I’ve decided to merge both sites under the TimMitchell.net domain.  This site will be a (mostly) professional site: I’ve imported the professional content and links from BucketOfBits, and I’m cross-posting my SQLServerCentral blog there as well.  For the content that is purely personal, including pictures of the kids and some random thoughts that have nothing to do with SQL Server/technology/career, I’ll maintain my “personal” identity on Facebook, which I’ve found is better suited for that purpose. 

I reviewed several different platforms, including the Mojo Portal, DotNetNuke, and WordPress for this consolidation project, and decided to roll out BlogEngine.net, a C#/SQL Server blogging platform.  It was easy to deploy, is relatively simple to configure or re-engineer, and supports multiple themes for when I get tired of the same old layout.  It supports cross posting of blogs, and the setup to cross post my SSC blog over to this new site was very easy.  Thanks to fellow Dallas-area SQL guy Lee Everest for giving me some pointers on this platform.  The visual layout is as plain-vanilla as it gets, so I may spice it up with a new theme once the dust has settled. 

As always, feedback is welcome.  Let me know if you find any problems or have suggestions.

[Cross-posted from SQL Server Central]

The Netbook: 40 Days In

I wrote last month about purchasing a new Toshiba netbook to supplement my mobile computing arsenal.  Forty days later, I’m still quite happy with the purchase, and have gotten as much out of this unit as I had hoped.

My biggest surprise was battery life.  It was rated at 9 hours of runtime, which I assumed was a theoretical spec and not accurate in everyday use.  I haven’t run it straight through from a full charge to full discharge, but my testing indicates that my battery life is at least 9 hours of runtime.

The performance is more than adequate, and apart from some occasional heavy disk I/O, I haven’t run into any problems.  I had installed the SQL Server management tools on it immediately, but didn’t install the SQL Server engine until earlier today.  I ran the install, which took about 45 minutes, and even with SQL Server and Integration Services running, I’ve found no performance problems so far.

I have changed my mobile habits since buying this device.  I used to carry my big laptop only where I thought I might need it, and left it at home for casual trips.  These days I’ve almost always got the netbook in tow; it’s easy to carry and handy to have for when I find myself with some unexpected downtime while out and about.  Even a trip to the doctor or a haircut offers 20 or 30 minutes of waiting, and I can now use my netbook to turn the downtime into productive time.

If you’re a mobile professional, I highly recommend that you consider purchasing a netbook.  At this rate, mine will have literally paid for itself in billable time by the end of the year, not to mention the immeasurable convenience it offers.

[Cross-posted from SQL Server Central]

SQL Lunch

Baton Rouge SQL Server group leader and recent SQL Saturday host Patrick LeBlanc is putting together a new learning series.  Starting in September, the SQL Lunch series will commence, providing brief (30 minutes or so) online presentations on various SQL Server-related topics. 

I am currently scheduled to present at the SQL Lunch on October 12th.  I’ll be discussing ways to provide end-user reporting capability using SQL Server Report Builder 2.0 and SQL Server Reporting Services 2008. 

More details, including the full schedule and connection information, will be forthcoming shortly.

[Cross-posted from SQL Server Central]

Don’t Use USE (in SSIS, at least)

I ran into a situation this week that brought to light a subtle syntactical error I’d made in creating an SSIS package.  I’ve got a client that has given me access to their development server to create some complex extraction queries, which will eventually be rolled into SSIS packages.  Since I’m working with read-only access and cannot create stored procedures during the development phase, I’m running these queries in an ad-hoc manner.

So, the queries are built and returning a reasonable set of data.  I copy the entire text of the queries into a series of OleDB Data Sources in SSIS, and run my newly created package.  The execution takes only seconds, which, considering the volume of data I’m moving, tells me something has gone wrong.  The package had completed successfully, but the destination files were all empty.  I tested the queries in SSMS again and confirmed the results, but the same query returns no results in SSIS.

The cause of this was a simple but subtle oversight.  When I copied the query text into the command window in the OleDB Data Source, I had inadvertently also copied the USE [DATABASE_NAME] declaration included in each query.  The inclusion of the USE [DATABASE_NAME] statement caused each data source to fire without error, but returned no rows from the source.

It is important to note that this *should* be a rare problem, since stored procedures are preferable to maintaining complex queries outside the database.  If you have the appropriate permissions and organizational authority to wrap your logic into SPROCs, by all means do so.

So the takeaway is that if you find yourself copying an SQL statement directly into the query window of a data source, make sure you remove any USE [DATABASE_NAME] directives.  Failing to do so can create a bug in your package that is easily overlooked.

[Edited to add SPROC disclaimer 8/23]

[Cross-posted from SQL Server Central]

NTSSUG Meeting on Thursday: Brian Knight

The North Texas SQL Server User Group (NTSSUG) monthly meeting will be held this Thursday, August 20th, at the Microsoft campus in Irving.  The speaker for the evening will be my friend Brian Knight, a well-known author, co-founder of SQLServerCentral.com, and principal of Pragmatic Works.  He’ll be presenting “Introduction to SQL Server Analysis Services”.  If you’re able to make it on Thursday night, you won’t be disappointed – Brian is an excellent speaker and a heckuva nice guy.  As always, admission is free, and dinner (usually pizza) and soft drinks will be provided. 

FYI, I’ll be a little late to the meeting due to a family commitment, but I will be there.  See you on Thursday!

SSIS Documentation suggestions on Microsoft Connect

For SSIS developers, the need for proper documentation is crucial.  However, the built-in object for documentation, the annotation, is difficult to use.  It doesn’t wrap text, doesn’t support varying font styles in a single instance, and doesn’t offer spell checking.  Further, all annotations are “at large” and are not attached to a particular object – they are associated with a specific task or component only by the location in which you place them.

If you’re like me and would like to see improvements to the SSIS annotation tool, consider visiting Microsoft Connect and offering your vote and feedback on a couple of items:

Connect Item 483132 – Suggestion to improve the SSIS annotation tool by adding rich-text capability.  I added this item this morning.

Connect Item 216927 – Suggestion to allow linking of annotation to a specific object (task, component, etc.).  This one has been out there for a while but only has a few votes.

SSIS Documentation suggestions on Microsoft Connect

For SSIS developers, the need for proper documentation is crucial.  However, the built-in object for documentation, the annotation, is difficult to use.  It doesn’t wrap text, doesn’t support varying font styles in a single instance, and doesn’t offer spell checking.  Further, all annotations are “at large” and are not attached to a particular object – they are associated with a specific task or component only by the location in which you place them.

If you’re like me and would like to see improvements to the SSIS annotation tool, consider visiting Microsoft Connect and offering your vote and feedback on a couple of items:

Connect Item 483132 – Suggestion to improve the SSIS annotation tool by adding rich-text capability.  I added this item this morning.

Connect Item 216927 – Suggestion to allow linking of annotation to a specific object (task, component, etc.).  This one has been out there for a while but only has a few votes.

Getting Into the Biz, Part 2

In a previous blog post, I began writing about how one might start a career as a database professional, and agreed to share my own experience in doing so.  Since every person and every situation is different, I don’t declare my experience to be a recipe for success, but I’m happy to share it in hopes that someone can learn from what I’ve done.

I started my IT career as a PC technician.  After working in underpaying jobs most of my life, I was determined to change my situation for the better.  In high school I had shown promise in dealing with computers, so I decided to make a go of it.  At the time, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do except that I would be working “with computers”.  I took a PC repair course at a local community college, did some free PC work for anyone who would let me touch their machine, and finally took and passed the CompTIA A+ certification exam.  Fortunately for me, this was in the boom of the late 1990s, so my sparse qualifications led me to a job as a Field Service Engineer for a technical services company in Dallas.  It’s tough to earn a living this way, but doing on-site services exposes one to a wide variety of systems and lots of challenges.

Because of the breadth of experience I gained as an FSE, I headed down the natural path of becoming a systems administrator.  My next job found me working for a school district as a systems technician, and I was responsible for everything from desktop support to deploying servers and administering Active Directory.  I was fortunate to have a good network administrator to work with, and he allowed me to help with some things that I was frankly not qualified to at the time, but because I was willing to learn, he was willing to teach.

At that point, I was making decent money at a very secure job, but I really wanted to move further up the food chain.  The people above me were happy in what they were doing, and it was unlikely that I would move up to Systems Administrator in that organization.  I explored some other options, including programming (mostly C#, with a little VB, Perl, and C++ mixed in) for automation and reporting.  However, as luck would have it, my company bought their first SQL Server as part of an application to replace our antiquated service ticket tracking system.  Since we didn’t have a DBA on staff, I volunteered to administer our lone SQL Server installation.  It was a very small (less than 250mb) database, but allowed me to learn a little about SQL Server.  More importantly, that one installation of SQL Server helped me to discover my passion and ability for RDBMS development and administration.

I was pretty clueless about SQL Server at the beginning, and barely knew enough to do backups and restores.  I was fortunate to find some online resources, particularly SQL Server Central, early on, and spent a lot of time reading articles and taking advantage of the discussion forums.  It can’t be said enough that you shouldn’t reinvent the wheel, and that includes not re-solving a problem that someone else has already solved.  I used what I learned through work, the available online resources, and my own experimentation during my own time to expand my knowledge of RDBMS systems in general and SQL Server in particular.

It was about that same time that I decided to return to college and complete my Bachelor’s Degree.  On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked if a college degree is essential for success as a DBA or a technical professional in general.  My answer is that you can absolutely be successful without a four-year degree, but there are opportunities that can only be accessed with a Bachelor’s Degree or better.  In my situation, the degree didn’t help me get into the business, but it definitely pushed my career to the next level.

As I learned more, I inherited more SQL Servers to administer.  Because I could speak with some level of knowledge about the product, I was brought into discussions with vendors and consultants any time SQL Server was discussed, and because of my company’s in-house knowledge of SQL Server (namely, me), we took on more SQL Server-based applications.  As a bonus, my experience in system adminstration and programming were often useful as a SQL Server professional.  Again, just being willing to spend time to learn something new directly led to this growth in my career.

Fast forward through a half-dozen years, a job change, two promotions and a Bachelor’s Degree.  It took several years before I was confident in my own abilities to reference myself as “the SQL Server guy”, and each year I learn even more.  I’m now working for a midsize hospital and oversee over 40 SQL Server instances, hundreds of databases, and one direct report team member.  In addition, I have hung out the shingle and am doing database and business intelligence consulting on the side.

That’s my story – again, I don’t paint this as a blueprint for success, but it did work out well for me.

In my final post in this series, I’ll publish a discrete list of career best practices for becoming a DBA, or taking your current database career to the next level.

SQL Saturday Baton Rouge – Session Evaluations

I received my evaluation summary from the SQL Saturday event in Baton Rouge earlier this month.  This was the first event in which I did more than just one session (and back-to-back sessions at that), and I’d just gotten over the flu as well, so I was a little nervous about how I’d present, but all told it worked out well.  I’d like to see the “Average” column empty with respect to session content, but was glad to see the majority of instructor ratings in the “Excellent” column.  I was fortunate to have Steve Jones in my scripting session, and he’s planning to send me a few notes on things I can do to improve.

 

Session Title: SSIS: Beyond the Basics

 

Poor

Average

Good

Excellent

Session overall:

       

How easy was the Session to understand?

 

1

7

17

Was the content suited to your requirements?

 

1

7

17

Were the topics covered in sufficient detail?

 

1

5

20

Would you recommend this Session to others?

 

1

7

15

Overall rating of the Session?

 

1

5

18

 

 

Poor

Average

Good

Excellent

Instructor:

       

Ability to provide real world experience?

   

4

23

Ability to respond appropriately to questions?

   

5

20

How well prepared was the instructor?

   

5

20

Knowledge of subject matter?

   

3

20

Presentation abilities?

 

1

3

20

Overall rating of instructor?

   

4

20

 

Summary Comments

More basic than expected.
Excellent “Food for Thought”.
Awesome Presentation!
Great Session! Strong voice with good diction.
Great to listen to in an after lunch session.
Tim was an excellent speaker.
Brought up useful concepts that we need to try. Finally a really great session!!
Great session and Demos.

 

 

Session Title: SSIS Scripting

 

 

Poor

Average

Good

Excellent

Session overall:

       

How easy was the Session to understand?

   

14

 

Was the content suited to your requirements?

 

1

16

 

Were the topics covered in sufficient detail?

   

16

 

Would you recommend this Session to others?

   

13

 

Overall rating of the Session?

   

15

 

 

 

Poor

Average

Good

Excellent

Instructor:

       

Ability to provide real world experience?

   

9

15

Ability to respond appropriately to questions?

 

1

9

13

How well prepared was the instructor?

   

8

17

Knowledge of subject matter?

   

8

15

Presentation abilities?

   

10

14

Overall rating of instructor?

   

10

14

 

Summary Comments

The presentation is kind of long.
I’m definitely a beginner but even I was able to understand his presentation.
Very informative.
Great information.