Friend of Redgate 2015

Friend of of Redgate 2015Yay! I’m very happy to be accepted into the Friend of Redgate program in 2015 :)

As a Friend of Redgate I get to use and review their tools and provide feedback directly to the development and product teams. I might also get the opportunity to speak about and/or publish articles about their tools and how we use them to solve our problems at work.

I’ve been using the Redgate tools for years, and I love how they interact with and give back to the community. Not only do they host free SQL in the City events, they also support a lot of user groups and SQLSaturdays and publish books you can download for free. They listen to your suggestions and always have a smile on their face :) I’m very excited to see how I can help this year.

My hope and goal is to provide some good feedback on how we use their tools in a data warehouse environment, and get some help in return to learn how we can be even more efficient. There are many areas in my department we can improve, and I hope we can use the Redgate tools to streamline our deployment process and automate testing – things we struggle with in a complex environment where so many things depend on each other. I also hope I can help others by sharing our experiences by speaking or publishing blog posts or articles. This will be an exciting year!

Preparing for and taking exam 70-461 (Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012)

One of my goals is to become a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Business Intelligence. It has taken me a lot longer than I thought it would and I’m not there yet, but I’m one step closer to my goal: I’ve passed the 70-461 exam (Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012).

Preparing for the exam
My plan was to work my way through each chapter in the Training Kit book. I read each chapter and answered the quick check questions, lesson review questions, and case scenarios out loud to myself. I did all the exercises, but none of the suggested practices. Instead, I tried to use what I had learned at work. For example, I rewrote some of our queries to use the new window functions, and it was easier to understand how FOR XML worked when I queried data I was already familiar with.

The practice tests that came with the book were generally completely useless and not even close to the actual exam. The only thing they were useful for was to identify which topics I still had to work on. For example, there were a couple of questions about transaction isolation levels that made me realize I didn’t know the topic well enough, so I looked it up online and read more about it there.

I completed the Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases Jump Start on Microsoft Virtual Academy and I watched these prep videos:

Finally, I went through the list of skills measured and made sure that I felt comfortable with everything mentioned there.

However, the main preparation for this exam has no doubt been working with SQL Server every day for years. I already felt very comfortable with most of the skills measured, so I focused on learning the things I don’t do every day such as the new SQL Server 2012 features (we still used SQL Server 2008 R2 when I took the exam), XML, transactions, triggers, functions and cursors.

Taking the exam
I tried taking the exam online twice without getting past the check-in process. (You can read about that in my other blog post.) The third attempt was at an on-site test center. The staff was very friendly, professional and walked me through all the rules and details – all in all a very pleasant experience. You also get to use a whiteboard on-site in case you want to write or draw something, you can’t do that if you take the exam online.

The exam itself consisted of 42 questions. Some were simple questions with one correct answer, some were multiple-choice, some were drag-and-drop where you had to choose a certain number of code snippets and place them in the correct order, and some were questions where you had to type the answer. On the questions where you had to type the answer you could click a button to check the syntax so you don’t have to worry about typos. The different kinds of questions made the exam a lot more interesting. As soon as you end your exam you will see your score and if you pass or fail.

I probably spent way more time preparing for this exam than I had to, but I really wanted to take this opportunity to learn as much as I could.

Good luck on your exam! :)

I will not try to take a Microsoft Online Proctored exam again

At least, I will not try to take a Microsoft Online Proctored exam again until they fix or change their exam software.

When I heard about Microsoft Online Proctored exams and found out they were available in Norway, I knew I wanted to try it. Taking an exam online would allow me to schedule it during the weekend without having to take time off work or travel an extra 2-3 hours in one day.

Reviews of the exam process were both good and bad. Some had technical difficulties and had to reschedule, some had technical difficulties and failed their exam, while others had no problems at all and were very happy. The first thing I did was to make sure that I passed the system requirements and the system tests. I found out that I couldn’t use my Surface Pro 3 because the camera did not take a clear picture of my ID. However, I could use my work laptop, and both system tests worked just fine.

I scheduled my exam, and on the day of the exam I made sure I reread all the fine prints three times. I cleared my entire office area and removed all items except my laptop. I made sure I wore clothes that would easily allow me to roll up my sleeves and turn out my pockets. I tied my hair in a ponytail so they could see that I didn’t have any devices in my ears. I was even careful not to drink too much during the day because bathroom breaks are not allowed.

As soon as it was time for my exam, I logged on and launched the application. It required an update before I could launch it, then it checked my microphone, my camera and my speakers, no problems. Then I had to take a picture of myself, and I took a headshot. After taking a picture you need to confirm that the picture is in fact a headshot. I clicked “yes” and nothing happened. The “next” button was disabled and I couldn’t click it. I clicked “yes” again and it returned to the screen where I had to take a picture. I took another picture, clicked “yes”, and nothing happened. I clicked “no”, and it returned to the screen where I had to take a picture. I tried clicking back and forth through the microphone, camera and speaker checks, took yet another picture, and still nothing.

Since I couldn’t get it to work, and I had turned off my phone so I wouldn’t be disturbed during the exam, I opened the Pearson Live Chat and explained my problem. It took about five minutes before a man replied. He asked if I could see the headshot on my screen. I said yes, and explained what I saw on my screen. It took another couple of minutes and then he asked if there was another button. I said that I could see the yes/no buttons and the back/next buttons. It took another couple of minutes and then he asked what happened when I clicked the “no” button. I said that it returned to the screen where I had to take a picture. I asked if it was safe to relaunch the application because my initial 15 minutes set aside for the check-in process had already passed. He confirmed that I still had 11 minutes to complete the check-in process, and I tried to relaunch the application.

Relaunching the application didn’t help. Updating Adobe Air didn’t help. I was still stuck on the screen trying to accept the picture I had taken. After another five minutes, he told me that he had created an incident report and that I had to call a Reservation Specialist the following day. I triple-checked that I would be able to reschedule my exam, he confirmed and left the chat.

On the following day I called the Reservation Specialist. He looked at the incident report and told me that they had not been able to investigate the issue yet. The Reservation Specialist could not reschedule my exam until they had investigated the issue, but they would call me back within two days when they had looked into it. Later that day I received an email that my exam had been cancelled, that the exam fee had been refunded and that I could reschedule my exam.

I tried the system tests again a few days later, and I got stuck on the same part where I had to take a picture. I tried it on my Surface Pro 3 running Windows 8, I tried it on my work laptop running Windows 7, I tried it on my old Windows 7 computer and I even asked my sister if she could try for me. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling Adobe Flash, Adobe Air and the Exam software on all systems. I tried on a wired and wireless connections. I closed and uninstalled programs that might interfere, but I kept getting stuck on taking a picture. I contacted customer support again, was told to send an e-mail with screen shots, and that I just had to wait for my scheduled exam. He told me “Please try at your scheduled time and check. It should work at that time.”

It didn’t work the last time at my scheduled exam time, why would it suddenly work this time? Finally I decided not to trust customer support, cancelled my scheduled Online Proctored exam, and rescheduled at a test center. Trying to get it to work for two weeks was just not worth it.

Speaking at SQLSaturday #372 Exeter

SQLSaturday #372 ExeterAhoy SQL mateys! SQLSaturday be comin’ back t’ Exeter on April 25th. Get ready fer an amazin’ day ‘o learnin’!

I’ll present Biml for Beginners: Generating SSIS packages with BimlScript, an introduction session for SSIS developers who are new to Biml. It’s even more fun to see that Rasmus Reinholdt (@RasmusReinholdt) will present his Building a meta-driven near realtime ETL solution with BIML and SSIS right after my session. How cool is that? If you’re new to Biml you can start with my introduction session and move on to a more advanced session :D

If the regular sessions aren’t enough learning for you, register for one of the pre-cons on the April 24th training day:
SQL Server: An Introduction – William Durkin (@sql_williamd)
Understanding SSIS internals and performance tuning – David Peter Hansen (@DPHansen)
R: from analysis to integration – Steph Locke (@SteffLocke)
Optimising Reporting Services for MDX Data Sources – Bob Duffy (@bob_duffy)
WASD-A Journey from Zero to be Hero – Tobiasz Koprowski (@KoprowskiT)
How to give your SQL Server a health check in four easy steps – John Martin (@SQLServerMonkey)
Hands On SQL Server Troubleshooting – André Kamman (@AndreKamman)
Performance Troubleshooting for the (Accidental) DBA – Mark Pryce-Maher (@tsqltidy) / Richard Douglas (@SQLRich)

Hope to see you there! :)

Tribal Awards 2014 – Best New Community Voice!

I won! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

And huge congratulations to Andy, Ginger, Oz and Luan for being nominated, you all deserved it! :)

Winning the 2014 Tribal Award for Best New Community Voice means more to me than I can explain. 2014 was a difficult year for me personally, but it was also an amazing year where I discovered how much I love being involved in the SQL community. We organized the first SQLSaturday in Oslo, restarted SQL Server User Group Norway, I started volunteering and speaking at events, and I received the PASS Outstanding Volunteer Award.

2014 ended on a high when I found out I was nominated for a Tribal Award, and actually winning… Well, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start 2015! :) I’m so happy, so honored, so proud, and so thankful. I went “SQUEEEEE!” and then I cried a bit. Now I have a huge smile on my face and I’m even more motivated than ever to do what I can for the SQL community in 2015. Let’s do this! 2015 is going to be a fantastic year :)

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