SQL Saturday 30 – Richmond VA

This weekend, I’ll be headed for the east coast to speak at the SQL Saturday in Richmond, VA on Saturday.  I’ll be presenting my session on SSIS package configurations and expressions as part of the BI track.  As of last week, the event registration was cut off because they’d reached maximum capacity – more proof that the SQL Saturday movement continues to grow!  I think this franchise will continue to benefit the SQL Server community for years to come, and has even inspired similar events (SharePoint Saturday among them).

For those who can’t attend and are interested in my presentation, I’m going to try to do a Camtasia recording of it, something I’ve never done successfully for a live presentation.

Apart from the event itself, I’m looking forward to catching up with some friends and colleagues, including Andy Leonard, Patrick LeBlanc, and Jessica Moss, among others.

So if you make it to this event on Saturday, please stop by my session and say hello.  Hope to see you there!

We Are Microsoft (GiveCamp Dallas)

Last weekend (January 15-17) found me at the third annual GiveCamp Dallas event, known locally as We Are Microsoft.  This event pairs developers and other technical professionals with charities who are long on need but short on funds for technology.  Most if not all of the projects are web-based, and represented a wide variety of organizations and needs.

This is my third year to have participated, but my first where I wasn’t part of a single team – I had a schedule conflict that originally kept me from registering, but after my schedule was cleared for the weekend, registration was already closed.  Since I got in so late, I was assigned to the “Flying Committee”, a small group who went from group to group to help fill in the gaps.  The past two years was a good opportunity to get to know some new people very well, since you end up spending 40+ hours working shoulder-to-shoulder with a small group; this time I met a lot of people, but didn’t really get that foxhole experience of years past.  Still, it was good to help out where I could, and I got to catch up with a few people I worked with last year, including Jay Smith, Todd Stone, and others.  I was also happy to see fellow NTSSUG member Trevor Barkhouse there, since the last 2 years found us short of database people.

If you’ve never done a GiveCamp, I encourage you to check out an event in your area, or organize your own.  It’s a good experience, and more importantly, a great cause.

Three Things

So for the latest database geek meme, Paul Randal started this thing off and tagged Tom LaRock, who enlisted Grant Fritchey, who finally tagged me.   This one simply asks, “What 3 things or events brought you to where you are today?”

 

The Eyes

Thick-glasses

Barely a year out of high school, I was working full time in retail and occasionally attending classes at the local community college.  Through my job I had befriended a local Marine Corps recruiter, SSgt. Tennant.  Doing what recruiters do best, he saw a young man who could use a little direction and discipline, and invited me to lunch to discuss my future.  After a few months of meetings with the staff sergeant, I was convinced that I was to be a United States Marine.  I would enlist and become an MP, pursuing a dream (up to that point, anyway) to be a police officer.

SSgt. Tennant was on vacation on the weekend I was to make it official, so another recruiter drove me to the enlistment station in Dallas, where I underwent a battery of physical exams, blood tests, urine tests, aptitude tests, hearing tests, and a variety of other procedures.  At the end of the second day, we had reached the point of no return – I was called into the CO’s office to put my name on the big contract.  I brought up the specifics of what I would do as a Marine, citing my intention to work as a military police officer, but it was then discovered that my poor eyesight, although corrected to 20/20, would disqualify me from serving as an MP.  I was invited to still join up, but in a different MOS (method of service).

Now in retrospect, had SSgt. Tennant been there to counsel me, I probably would have still enlisted.  But there I was, young and naive, surrounded by strangers and incredibly disappointed that my well-laid plan was not to be.  I spent a couple of hours by myself in the enlistment station, pondering whether to join up or walk away and regroup.  In the end, I chose the latter.  Was it the right choice?  I must have asked myself that a hundred times since.  Whatever the answer, it’s clear that the choice I made helped get me to where I am today.

 

The Boast

calledshot Twelve years ago, I had a friend who was searching for a new career.  He wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do, and he decided to explore a couple of different options, including taking some vocational training.  Our local community college offered a computer repair course, essentially a CompTIA A+ prep course, and he seemed to enjoy learning the basics about computer hardware and software and such. 

At the end of the course, he took the A+ test and unfortunately did not pass.  I remember bragging that I had always been a computer whiz in high school and would probably excel at such an endeavor, and certainly would have passed the certification exam on the first try.  My embellished tales of brainpower and academic prowess must have reached the maximum BS threshold, and I received a good old-fashioned southern put-up-or-shut-up.  Not to be bested by a challenge, I scraped up the $500 to take the computer maintenance course – and for the record, I did excel in the course, and I did pass both A+ exams on my first try.  More importantly, the bit of experience I gained through the course and exam prep led directly to my first technical job – it wasn’t glamorous, mostly installing white box computers and deploying Ghost images, but it was the foothold I needed to get started in the business.

 

The Notebook

notebook No, not the sappy chick flick.  Back in the early 2000s (Is that really what we’re going to call the first 10 years of this millennium? Bah.), I was working as part of a 3-person IT team supporting the entire technical infrastructure for a 10-campus, 6000-student school district.  We didn’t even have a ticket tracking system of our own, instead relying on the antiquated system used by our building maintenance department, and because we didn’t own enough licenses for our IT staff to directly access their ticketing system, I had to rely on printed reports to administer our workflow.  We could only open or close tickets by submitting hard-copies of the request forms, and it often took weeks for the maintenance secretary to open or close an IT ticket in the database.

I started keeping these reports and written forms in a three-ring binder that we dubbed The Notebook.  Twice a week I would print out a list of the “current” (yuk yuk) list of tickets, and had a rubber stamp that I would mark those that had been completed but not yet marked as such in the database.  Also stored in The Notebook were copies of the hand-written requests awaiting data entry.  The system worked, but was a time sink; I would often spend 15% or more of my time just keeping up with workflow issues, not to mention the wasted time and opportunity cost for the entire team for lack of having the right information at hand.

So I began quietly keeping track of wasted hours, as well as researching ticket tracking software packages.  I found a package that was affordable and relatively easy to administer, and, with an armload of research data, presented to my boss a software solution to the problem of The Notebook.  After much convincing, my request was fulfilled, with one stipulation: that I learn enough about SQL Server to maintain the back end and create a few reports.  It wasn’t long before that one SQL Server installation helped me find my true calling, and it slowly changed over from a secondary duty to a full time career.  And the rest is history.

 

So, to keep this little meme going, I’ll tag the following:

Aaron Bertrand (there’s likely to be an amusing story there)

Kendal Van Dyke (those Florida guys can always tell a good story)

Lee Everest (a fellow Dallas-area guy, and I’m curious to know how he got started)

I’m also going to tag Kevin Kline – I know he’s already been tagged, but he was missed during the last meme and was taking it pretty hard.

LEFT(), or Left Out?

So the question came up earlier today about the RIGHT() and LEFT() functions in the SSIS expression language.  Like the Transact-SQL functions, one might assume that these functions would exist in SSIS expression language to snatch a specified subset of a string.  That assumption would be only half right.

Don’t go digging for a LEFT() function in the expression language, because it ain’t there.  The RIGHT() function does indeed retrieve a specified number of characters, but strangely enough, there’s no corresponding LEFT() function:

left

 

Even though this is a pain for those just learning the expression language syntax, there are a couple of easy workarounds: One could simply use the SUBSTRING() function, with the second parameter – the starting point in the string – set to 1, which yields the same result.  If you want to get really crafty, you could use the RIGHT() combined with the REVERSE() function to simulate the behavior expected.

There’s already a Microsoft Connect item for this issue, and it’s planned to be fixed in a future version.

PASS DBA Virtual Chapter Presentation

I got the opportunity to present to the PASS DBA Virtual Chapter today, discussing the properties and practical uses of SSIS expressions and package configurations.  Thanks to Greg Larsen and the other members of this virtual chapter for allowing me to present.  We had a good turnout, about 40 people, which is not bad for a lunchtime presentation.

I’ve published the code samples and slide deck if you’re interested; these can be downloaded here.  The LiveMeeting session was recorded, and should be published on the PASS website soon.

Webcast Tomorrow – Dynamic SSIS: Using Expressions and Configurations

Join me tomorrow at 1:00pm CST as I present “Dynamic SSIS: Using Expressions and Configurations” for the PASS DBA virtual chapter:

In this session, we’ll review the use of expressions and configurations that can help make your SSIS packages more dynamic and flexible. We’ll cover the basics of the SSIS expression language and will demonstrate some practical uses, and will discuss using package configurations to abstract hard-coded package settings into external resources for maximum flexibility. 

To join the LiveMeeting: https://www.livemeeting.com/cc/usergroups/join?id=75P98G&role=attend

Goals for 2010

So I’d planned to already have this done and published before the new year rolled around, but life got in the way…  and I mean that in a good way!  I’ve said this before but it bears mentioning again that creating and sharing a list of goals helps to serve as a reminder and a means of accountability for meeting those goals.

So here’s my list for the upcoming year:

Speaking.  I hit a home run with this goal last year, exceeding my goal by 3x.  So for this year, I’m going to set my goal at 10 speaking engagements for the year.  I’ve already got a head start on this, having booked 2 for this month alone with the possibility of a third.

Blogging. I was a bit short of my goal of 104 posts (2 per week) for last year, so I’m going to set that same goal for next year.  One item to work on is to get better at scheduling posts to maintain consistency and avoid peaks and valleys.

Writing Articles: Totally blew it on this goal last year.  I’m going to set a goal of 3 technical articles for this year, which is less ambitious than my goal for last year but is reasonable considering the anticipated busy year.

Training Videos: I’ve done several training videos over at SQLShare.com (formerly Jumpstart TV), and had planned to do many more last year but only completed a handful.  Since these videos are short and narrow in scope, there’s no reason I can’t record 10 of these short videos by the end of the year.

Do More of The Work I Like: This is a less quantifiable goal, and I admit that I’ve borrowed this from Chip Camden, an independent software engineer who frequently blogs about career topics, consulting life, etc.  With this goal, my aim is to “work myself out of a job” for those tasks that I’m less excited about, so I can focus on delivering better business value based on my strengths and areas of passion.

Find 2 People to Mentor: I’ve got several unofficial, casual mentors – and some of them don’t even realize it!  By my definition, a mentor is someone who altruistically shares his/her knowledge with someone else and takes an interest in that person’s career.  It doesn’t have to be a formal relationship, nor does it require exclusivity from either party.  My intent here is to identify a couple of positive individuals who are long on passion and drive and are looking to move to the next step on the career ladder.  I don’t hold myself out to be a career counselor, but I’ve come up through the trenches and would expect that there are some folks who could benefit from my experiences, both bad and good.

It’s my intention to make a realistic evaluation of my progress periodically throughout the year so I don’t end up trying to cram a year’s worth of goals in to the last quarter.  I’ll post back on my blog as I progress.

Board Election for the North Texas SQL Server User Group

The new year is less than 24 hours old and I’ve already been blessed with two different honors.  I shared earlier this morning that I received word of my selection as a Microsoft SQL Server MVP for 2010.  Just four hours later, I was notified that I have been elected to the board of the North Texas SQL Server User Group.  I am humbled and honored by both distinctions, and I look forward to continuing my service to the community in both capacities

I’m a Microsoft MVP!

I received a notification e-mail earlier this morning that I’ve been selected as a Microsoft SQL Server MVP for 2010!  I’m both surprised and honored by this distinction.  This is my first MVP award, so I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but one thing is for certain – I’m in good company.  The SQL Server community just rocks.

Thanks to the MVP team and to those who nominated me for this award.