How to burn down your house while frying a turkey

Linda.  I have lots more photos of this assignment including horizontals if you need it for the web.  Just make contact with me.  Ed will only show you 5 photos so I have  to really edit it down.  It’s an odd query, yes, but in preparation to write this post I actually typed the above phrase into my browser.  No, I’m certainly not looking to burn down my house.  In fact, wait here while I clear my search history, just in case.

For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re planning to fry a turkey over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  Think about the research you’d do: What type of equipment will I need? How much oil should I buy?  How big should the turkey be?  How long should I cook it? All valid queries that should be answered before taking on the task of dropping a frozen bird into boiling oil.  But are those the only questions you should ask?  Talk to anyone about the dangers of frying a turkey, even those who have never done it, and they’ll tell stories about a brother-in-law, or a coworker, or some guy on YouTube who set ablaze the family homestead in a misguided effort to cook Thanksgiving dinner.

Statistically, it may seem like a silly question to ask.  What are the odds that frying this turkey will set my house on fire?  All in all, probably pretty low.  But it does happen – and if it does, the consequences can be disastrous.  So, when taking on this task – especially for the first time – asking questions (What factors make it more likely that this turkey fry will turn into a huge bonfire?) that can help reduce the risk seems like a good investment.

Be a data pessimist

If you’ve met me in person, you probably remember me as a glass-half-full guy.  But when it comes to data management, I’m a full-on pessimist.  Any data I get is crap until proven otherwise.  Every data load process will fail at some point.  And, given enough time and iterations, even a simple data movement operation can take down an entire organization.  It’s the turkey burning down the house.  Yes, the odds of a single data process wreaking havoc on the organization is very, very low, but the impact if realized is very, very high.  High enough that it’s worth asking those questions.  What part of this process could wreck our financial reporting?  What factors make this more likely to happen?  How can we mitigate those factors?

For the record, I don’t suggest that we all wear tin-foil hats and prepare for space aliens to corrupt our data.  However, there are lots of unlikely-yet-realistic scenarios in almost any process.  Think about your most rock-solid data operation right now.  What potential edge cases could harm your data infrastructure?  Sometimes it’s the things that might seem harmless:

  • Is it possible that we could run two separate loads of the exact same data at the same time?
  • What if a process extracts data from a file that is still being written to (by a separate process)?
  • What if a well-meaning staff member loads a properly formatted but inaccurate data file to the source directory?

Others, while even less likely, could lead to a real mess:

  • Is it possible for my data load process to be purposefully executed with inaccurate or corrupt data?
  • Could some situation exist within my ETL process that would allow essential rows of data to simply be lost, silently and without errors?
  • Do I have any processes that could make unaudited changes to my financial records?

Each potential scenario would have to be evaluated to determine the cost to prevent the issue versus the likelihood of realization and the impact if realized.

Fortunately, most of the data problems we deal with are not as catastrophic as igniting one’s home with a fried turkey on Thanksgiving.  However, as data professionals, our first responsibility is to protect the data.  We must always pay attention to data risk to ensure that we don’t allow data issues to take the house down.

Join me in DC for a full day of Biml

I’m excited to announce that my Linchpin People colleague Reeves Smith and I will be delivering a full day Biml preconference seminar the day before the upcoming SQL Saturday in Washington, DC.  This seminar, entitled “Getting Started with Biml”, will introduce attendees to the awesomeness of Business Intelligence Markup Language (Biml). 

In this course, we’ll cover the basics of Biml syntax, show how to use BimlScript to make package creation even more dynamic, and will demonstrate lots of design patterns through numerous demos.

Registration is now open for this course.  Lunch will be provided.  We hope to see you there!

SQL PASS 2014 Summit Diary – Day 6

Today is the last official day of the PASS Summit.  The sessions will wrap up at the end of the day, and we’ll all go our separate ways and resume our semi-normal lives.  Having delivered my presentation yesterday, my official PASS duties are over, and I’m planning to spend the day taking in a few sessions and networking.

IMG_694808:15am: No keynote today, so the sessions are starting first thing in the morning.  I’m sitting in on a Power BI session delivered by my friend Adam Saxton.  He’s an excellent and knowledgeable presenter, and I always enjoy attending his presentations.  For Power BI, this has been one piece of the Microsoft BI stack that I have largely ignored due to the fact that it runs exclusively in the cloud.  However, I’d like to get up to speed on the cloud BI offerings – even though the on-premises solutions will continue to represent the overwhelming majority of business intelligence initiatives (in terms of data volume as well as Microsoft revenue), I expect to be fluent in all of the Microsoft BI offerings, whether “earthed” or cloud-based.

11:00am: After stopping by the Linchpin booth again, I sit down in the PASS Community Zone.  And by sit down, I mean that I collapse, exhausted, into one of the bean bags.  I spent some time chatting with Pat Wright, Doug Purnell, and others, and met up with Julie Smith and Brian Davis to talk about a project we’re working on together (more on that later).

11:45am: Lunch.  Today is the Birds of a Feather lunch, in which each table is assigned a particular SQL Server-related topic for discussion.  I headed over with my Colorado buddies Russ Thomas and Matt Scardino to the DQS/MDS table, at which only two other folks were sitting (one of whom worked for Microsoft).  We had a nice chat about DQS and data quality in general.  I have to admit a bit of frustration with the lack of updates in DQS in the last release of SQL Server.  I still firmly believe that the core of DQS is solid and would be heavily used if only the deficiencies in the interface (or the absence of a publicly documented API) were addressed.

02:45pm: I don’t know why, but I want to take a certification exam.  The PASS Summit organizers have arranged for an onsite testing center, and they are offering half price for exams this week for attendees of the summit.  I registered for the 70-463 DW exam, and after sweating through the MDS and column store questions, I squeaked through the exam with a passing score.  I’m not a huge advocate for Microsoft certification exams – I find that many of the questions asked are not relevant in real-world scenarios, they are too easy to cheat, and I’m still very skeptical of Microsoft’s commitment to the education track as a whole after they abruptly and mercilessly killed the MCM program (via email, under cover of darkness on a holiday weekend, no less) – so I’m likely not jumping back into a full-blown pursuit of Microsoft certification any time soon.  Still, it was somewhat satisfying to take and pass the test without prep.

04:00pm: Back in the community zone.  Lots of folks saying their good-byes, others who are staying the night are making plans for later in the evening.  For me?  I’ve been craving some seafood from the Crab Pot all week, and I find 6 willing participants to join me.  I’m also planning a return trip to the Seattle Underground Tour.  For the record, I love having this community zone, and I particularly dig it right here on the walkway – it’s a visible, high-traffic location, and it’s been full of people every time I’ve come by.

06:30pm: An all-out assault on the crab population has commenced.  And by the way, our group of 6 became 12, which became 15, which became 20-something (and still growing).  Our poor waiter is frazzled.  I told him we’ll be back next October, in case he wants to take that week off.

image08:00pm: Seattle Underground tour.  I did this a couple of years ago with a smaller group, and it was a lot of fun.  This year, we’ve got 15 or so PASS Summit attendees here, and we get a really good tour guide this time.

09:45pm: My friend from down under, Rob Farley, turns 40 today, and about a hundred of us stop by his birthday party.

10:30pm: This may be the earliest I have ever retired on the last night of any summit.  I’m just exhausted.  I do some minimal packing and prep for tomorrow morning and crash for the evening.

Apart from any last-minute goodbyes at the airport tomorrow, the SQL PASS 2014 Summit is over for me.  Without a doubt, this was the best, most fulfilling, most thoroughly exhausting summit experience I’ve had in my seven years of attendance.  I’m sad to be leaving, but couldn’t feel more satisfied.

SQL PASS Summit 2014 Diary – Days 3-5

The last two days have been an absolute blur.  As I first posted this week, I had planned to blog daily about my goings-on, but I’ve been running nonstop – all good things, fortunately – but it interrupted my plans to blog every day.

Day 3: Tuesday

08:00am: Headed back to the MVP Summit.  Rain again.

06:00pm: Back in Seattle, and off to the BI Over Beers event with my friends from Varigence.

10:30pm: More karaoke at the event sponsored by Denny Cherry and SIOS.  Lots of fun, but it’s really loud and crowded (or perhaps I’m getting old).  I take some pictures, including a few incriminating mechanical bull snapshots, and head back to the hotel.  Surprisingly in bed by midnight again.

Day 4: Wednesday

08:15am: Today is the first full day of the SQL PASS Summit.  It’s keynote time.  Usually the first-day keynote is marketing heavy, and that is the case for today.  There are several interesting demos, including one from PIer 1 in which they are mapping store traffic areas using the Kinect (yes, the XBox gaming interface) to detect which areas of their stores are most heavily trafficked.

10:30am: I’m sitting in Ryan Adams’ session on AlwaysOn.  This is a bit outside my area of expertise, so it’s good to see some of this administrative stuff.

11:45pm: Lunch with the Microsoft executives.  I love how open they are to chatting with community influencers.

12:30pm: Hanging out at the Linchpin People booth in the exhibitor area. Lots of great conversations with friends and passersby.

06:00pm: It’s time for the exhibitor reception.  We are getting lots of folks at the Linchpin booth!  Looking forward to seeing these folks at our party later tonight.

08:00pm: Linchpin People party at the Rhein Haus.  We’re hanging out with about 150 of our closest friends, learning to play bocce ball.  It was great seeing some folks I know and meeting some new ones.

12:15pm: Back at the room, exhausted.

Day 5: Thursday

08:00am: Arrived in the keynote room a bit early.  A much smaller crowd than yesterday. Sadly, I fear that the marketing presentation yesterday may have scared away some of the attendees, but today is likely the content they really came to hear.

10:00am: Dr. Rimma Nehme is one of the best speakers I’ve heard at a PASS Summit, ever.  She’s done a great job of laying out the cloud offerings and how they might fit into a larger data ecosystem.

10:30am: Hanging out at the Linchpin booth, thinking through my session for this afternoon.

11:15am: I found the speaker lounge (not to be confused with the speaker ready room).  We have an actual fire pit in here.  And snacks.

01:30pm: My presentation entitled “Building Bullet-Resistant SSIS Packages”. Wow, what a crowd!  Rough guess, 325 people including those sitting and standing in the back of the room.  Thanks everyone for coming and for staying awake and engaged (which I know can be difficult right after lunch Smile).

02:45pm: And my official work at the PASS Summit is officially done.  Now time to enjoy some sessions and networking.  First thing: Meet up with my friend Phil to talk through a Biml problem he’s having.

04:45pm: On my way to a session and I run into one of the guys from Pluralsight.  They’ve been doing some cool things lately, and I’m considering partnering with them to do some online content.

06:00pm: I missed lunch today due to my presentation. Grabbing a quick bite with my friend Rafael Salas.

07:00pm: Stopping by the attendee party at the EMP Museum.  I was here two years ago for that year’s attendee party, but I ended up chatting with a bunch of folks and never even made it past the lobby.  This year I took a little time to explore the museum.  I particularly enjoyed the shrine to Nirvana.

09:30pm: A half-hour of actual downtime in my hotel room, before heading out to meet some friends.

12:45am: Exhausted but happy.  What a great day.

Tomorrow is the last day of the summit.  Normally, I’m ready for some quiet me-time by the end of the week, but this year I’m very much looking forward to networking as much as possible before I leave on Saturday.

PASS Summit 2014 Diary – Day 2

It’s another beautiful day in Seattle. And by beautiful, I mean overcast and threatening rain.  Today will be mostly consumed by the MVP Summit, with some fun stuff scheduled for later in the day.  At 6pm today, I’m headed back to the Tap House for BI Over Beers, a gathering of business intelligence professionals sponsored by Varigence.

08:00am: On the bus to the MVP Summit.

rain08:30am: Hey look, it’s raining.

08:40am: Hey look, I’m standing in the rain.

05:30pm: MVP Summit finished up for the day, and we’re headed back to Seattle for several events tonight.  Lots of traffic so it’s a slow ride, but I’m getting to catch up with Aaron Nelson.

06:15pm: I’m attending the BI Over Beers event hosted by my friends at Varigence.  We’re in the large billiard room at the Tap House, with a good crowd of 100 or so folks.

IMG_690108:00pm: Stopping by the Yardhouse to attend the networking event organized by Steve Jones and Andy Warren. Not a huge group here, but they had to change locations at the last minute due to some logistical issues.  Also learned that Andy Warren has had to skip the summit this year, so I’ll definitely miss seeing him this week.

09:30pm: A small group of us have arranged to meet up at the Monkey Pub in Seattle.  It’s a relatively small place, with just a few other locals in addition to the 15 or so SQL folks in our group.  Delight of the evening: Brian and Penny Moran entertaining us with Jimmy Buffet songs.  Twitter reports that there is another SQL Karaoke event over at Bush Garden, though I have to admit that I’m enjoying this low-key group tonight.

12:30am: The SQL Karaoke party breaks up and everyone heads back to their hotels.  Most of us have early activities in the morning, so it’s a race to squeeze in as much sleep as possible.  (And thanks to Argenis Fernandez for the ride back to the hotel)

Tomorrow is my last day at the MVP Summit this week, with the rest of the week reserved for PASS Summit activities.  Tomorrow night’s big event is the PASS welcome reception, followed by the karaoke event (yes, another one) organized by Denny Cherry.

PASS Summit 2014 Diary – Day 1

Today is the first day of official activities for the week.  The PASS Summit hasn’t yet started, but I’ll be spending the day at the MVP Summit, surrounded by a few hundred people much smarter than I am.  The details of the MVP Summit are all covered under NDA, so today’s update will be brief.

IMG_688206:00am: I woke up and saw that the clock read 7:00am.  After a brief moment of panic, I realized that I hadn’t slept through my alarm, but had simply neglected to change the alarm clock in the hotel room.  For once, I’m happy about the whole DST time change.

07:15am: Breakfast at the top of the Hilton.  There’s a great view from the 29th floor, with a  panoramic look over the sound (and the picture to the right doesn’t really do it justice).

08:00am: Headed to the MVP summit.

09:00pm: After the MVP Summit activities, I’m back in Seattle to drop my stuff off and meet up with some folks.  I found my friend Keith Tate wandering around in the Sheraton lobby, and we all wandered over to Tap House.  There’s already a sizeable group of folks here.

09:45pm: I still suck at playing pool.

10:15pm: Found my friend and fellow Texan Jim Murphy.  He tells me about how his business is going while I make fun of his oversized fruity drink.  I also got to catch up with Paul Waters, Phil Helmer, and others.

11:30pm: For the second day in a row, and against all odds, I’m headed back to the hotel before midnight.  After a quick stop at the front desk – I left my card key in the room and had to get a replacement.

Tomorrow is another long day, though I expect to be back in Seattle earlier in the day.  I’m looking forward to catching up with folks at two different events (at the same time, of course) tomorrow, followed by a smaller gathering with a few friends.  More tomorrow….

PASS Summit 2014 Diary – Day 0

This week, I’m attending two different summit events in the Seattle area.  On Sunday through Tuesday, I’ll be participating in the Microsoft MVP Summit in Bellevue, Washington.  For the remainder of the week, I’ll be attending and presenting at the PASS Summit in Seattle.  Although there is much I won’t be sharing (especially at the beginning of the week), I’m going to blog each day to share my travel tales and any non-NDA information I can.

Today is Day 0, the day on which I’m traveling from Dallas to Seattle and getting checked into my hotel.  There aren’t any official summit events taking place today, but I expect there will be plenty of goings-on to discuss.

06:45am: The day gets started with a text from my friend Ryan Adams.  He’s my ride to the airport, and he’s just pulled up out front.  My body reminds me that it’s quite early.  I’ve just come back yesterday from a trip to visit a client on the east coast, and couple the time difference with a short night of sleep and I’m still quite groggy.  First stop: coffee.

IMG_687009:30am: After a brief delay, I’m onboard.  There’s a dog barking. On the plane.  This could be a long flight.

10:30am: The dog finally stopped barking.  I reminded myself that the thing I’m most excited about, even more than the excellent technical sessions, is the fact that I’ll be spending the next week with scores of treasured friends and colleagues.  This inspired me to crank out a new blog post: Five people you should meet at the PASS Summit.

11:30am: Arrived at SEATAC and met up with Reeves Smith, where he, Ryan, and me took the train back to downtown Seattle.

02:00pm: After dropping stuff off at the hotel, we’re meeting up with Carlos Bossy, one of my favorite Denver people, and decide to get some lunch at Lowell’s in the Pike Place Market.

IMG_687903:00pm: Back at the Sheraton, we bump into Rob Farley and chat with him for a while.  We learn that he has a twin brother, which is both delightful and frightening.

05:30pm: It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in town for six hours and I’m only just now making it to the Tap House.  Hanging out with Mark Vaillancourt, Kerry Tyler, Tamera Clark, Brad Ball, and others.

07:15pm: Lots more SQL folks are arriving at Tap House.  A game of billiards has erupted.  There’s talk of SQL Karaoke later.

09:15pm: And SQL Karaoke has begun.  It’s a crowded house here at Bush Garden, with a big birthday party, a smaller but louder bachelorette party, and various Saturday night people.

10:30pm: Fatigue sets in all of a sudden, and I’m headed back to the room (and for the first time in #sqlkaraoke history, I’m the first person to leave).  This must be the earliest I’ve retired to my room at a summit week since the infamous PASS Summit of 2005.  I’m looking forward to a decent night of sleep and a great day tomorrow at the MVP Summit.

Five people you should meet at the PASS Summit

imageAs I write this, I’m airborne and on my way to Seattle for the summit week (the Microsoft MVP Summit, followed by the PASS Summit).  I was struck with the notion – and not for the first time – that I’m not really looking forward to these events for the technical content as much as I’m looking forward to networking and reconnecting with my fellow SQLFamily members.  If you are planning to be at either or both of these, I strongly encourage you to make it a priority to meet people and get to know them.  This should be at least as important, if not moreso, than attending sessions.

If all goes well, I’m going to meet up with dozens of people – some of whom I’ll be meeting for the first time.  If you’re new to the SQL community, there may be lots of new names and faces to meet.  If you’re in that group, I want to share with you five folks whom I know that you should make an effort to meet while at the PASS Summit:

Argenis Fernandez: He’s one of my favorite people in the SQL Server community.  He’s an MCM, MVP, and a former Microsoftie, so his depth and breadth of knowledge is clear.  However, he’s also one of the nicest, most interesting folks you’ll meet there.  When you meet him for the first time, don’t be surprised if he wraps you up in a big ol’ bear hug.

Tom LaRock: Tom is the president of the PASS organization, and someone I’m glad to call my friend.  He’s an incredibly smart guy with a talent for getting things done.  But above that, he’s a very approachable, personable guy who really listens when you’re talking.  Tom is a good guy to know for a lot of reasons, and if you introduce yourself to him you’ll be glad you did.

Allen White: Allen is one of the friendliest folks you’ll meet in the SQL community.  He’s also one of the most versatile people in the industry, with a great deal of knowledge in database engine, business intelligence, Biml, and many other diverse topics.  If you want an honest opinion on something, ask Allen – he’ll give you a polite but fair and accurate assessment.  Allen is also a runner, but you’d better be in shape if you intend to keep up with him.

Stacia Misner: Of the various business intelligence practitioners you should know, Stacia is near the top.  I’ve known her for several years and always enjoy chatting with her.  She’s wicked smart, but goes out of her way to share what she knows.  Meeting Stacia often comes with a bonus, as you may also get to meet Dean Varga, her fiancé and also a new member of the SQL community.

Scott Currie: Scott is easily one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.  He’s the CEO of Varigence, the company that makes Biml (and my affection for that tool is well known).  But apart from that, he’s a very insightful guy, one whose opinion I would trust on just about any matter, technical or nontechnical.

By no means should this be considered a comprehensive list of people whom you should meet; winnowing this list to just five people was quite difficult.  These are just five of literally scores of outstanding people in the SQL community who would be happy to say hello to you at the Summit.

It’s That Time Again

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

No, not the end-of-year festival of repetitive music, overeating, and trampling on other people to find that perfect gift.  No, it’s time again for the PASS Summit, the annual gathering of SQL Server and data professionals from around the world.  The event, which is run by the organization formerly known as the Professional Association for SQL Server, will be held at it usual home base of Seattle this year.  For a lot of reasons I like the concept of moving the Summit every few years, but my favorite location is still Seattle.  It feels like a second home.

There are a lot of things happening this year that I’m excited about.  First of all, the MVP Summit is being held the same week.  Although this makes for a tight schedule, I like doing both summits in rapid succession so I can have just one full week of downtime rather than two partial weeks (which usually become a week each, after travel and such).  I suspect that this even more convenient for my overseas friends, for whom the travel time for a single trip can easily exceed the time spent at a summit.  Making one trip instead of two is far easier.

I’m also excited to be presenting a session on one of my favorite topics: building robust SSIS packages. On Thursday afternoon, I’ll deliver a talk entitled Building Bullet-Resistant SSIS Packages.  If you’re working with SSIS (or working in data integration using any tool), I hope you’ll stop by this session.

In addition, my Linchpin People cohorts and I will again be hosting a booth in the vendor area.  Please do stop by and see us and let’s chat about data integration, data quality, or the complexities of the infield fly rule.  We’re also hosting a party at the Rein Haus on Wednesday night (want to come to the party? Ping me via my contact page).  Linchpin has a strong presence at the summit this year, and I’m excited about meeting many of you that I’ve chatted with this year.

Personally, I’m simply excited about getting together with my SQL Family.  We’ve got a great thing going here, and it truly is the highlight of my year to get together with you all, many of whom are as treasured as my biological family.  Truthfully, I could just skip the sessions and visit with you all, and I would consider my week complete.

One last word: If you’re attending the summit for the first time, or if you’ve attended before but still consider yourself an outsider, please learn from my experience and don’t do what I did during the Summit of 2005.  Go up and introduce yourself to people.  If you recognize someone from their Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn photo, by all means go up and say hello.  The SQL community is very welcoming, and most everyone will be glad to say hello and chat with you.  It’s a great opportunity to build your network and make new friends.

Lunch with someone new

shakeI met up for lunch with a good friend and former coworker today, and among the topics of discussion was how we as professionals often neglect personal relationships when work and life get busy.  I’ve found that to be especially true since I started working from home last year.  I don’t miss a lot about working in an office setting, but I do long for the days of hallway conversations and working lunches with colleagues. When working in isolation, it can be easy to get into cocoon-mode, shutting out the rest of the world – to the detriment of interpersonal skills and relationships.  Through my work as a professional presenter, I get to talk to a lot of people, but more often than not I’m talking to them in a group setting with little one-on-one interaction.  While the former is useful for building a list of contacts, it doesn’t do much to truly build relationships.

Five years ago, in January of 2009, I set a goal for myself to have lunch or drinks with someone new – not necessarily a stranger, but someone with whom I had not spent any one-on-one face time – on a monthly basis.  I exceeded that goal in a big way.  And I don’t think it’s an accident that 2009 and 2010 were two of the biggest growth years of my career. I didn’t land any work directly as a result of those relationships – in fact, several of the people with whom I met weren’t business associates but personal acquaintances. For me, the bigger benefit was to get out of my comfort zone and get to know more people on a personal basis, whether or not I saw a direct career benefit to meeting with them.  I firmly believe that, five years later, I’m still seeing benefits of getting out of that comfort zone.  And just as importantly, I had a lot of fun!

So I’m going to rekindle this goal.  Since it’s not January, I don’t have to call this a New Year’s resolution, but I’m going to commit to share a meal or drinks with someone new at least once a month (including this month) for the remainder of this year.  I’ll hope that I exceed the goal as I did in 2009.

If you’re not regularly spending face time with peers and acquaintances, I would encourage you to give it a try.  Go out for coffee with someone you meet at a professional event.  Have lunch with an acquaintance.  Even if it’s uncomfortable for you – no, especially if it’s uncomfortable for you – it can pay big dividends in the long run.