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Something New Learned (T-SQL Tuesday #60)

T-SQL TuesdayT-SQL Tuesday #60 is hosted by Chris Yates (@YatesSQL) and is about sharing something new you’ve learned recently.

For the past five years I’ve worked as a data warehouse and business intelligence developer. My job is all about providing high-quality data, visualizations, and make sure end users have the right data and reports to do their jobs. I don’t have to worry about performance tuning down to milliseconds, I don’t need to know anything about hardware, and administrators take care of backups and security. I don’t have to or need to know any of these things to do my job, and that is exactly why I want to learn about them.

I’ve spent five years learning and there is still so much more to learn about business intelligence. However, this year I’ve started attending sessions on topics I know close to nothing about, and it really is making me a better developer.

At SQLSaturday #337 Oregon I attended a session by Argenis Fernandez on Securing Your SQL Server Instance Without Changing Any Code. In theory it’s not relevant for me at all, and I have to admit that I hadn’t even heard about some of the things presented before that session. But do you know what I had heard about? Vendor software that requires SA accounts to run. And what did I learn? Rename the SA account, create a new account named SA, and voila! The vendor software can now use the “SA account” that you’re in total control of. It might be 101 material for many, but for me it was something new and useful.

At Redgate SQL in the City I attended another security session by Bob Pusateri, this time about Passive Security for Hostile Environments. Again, something that in theory was not really relevant for me, but it was probably the session I learned the most from! I knew about triggers, auditing and extended events, but it was the first time I saw a demo of event notifications. It was really useful to see the features compared and learn more about when they should and shouldn’t be used.

While I still feel like I have so much more to learn, I also realized that I actually know quite a lot that I can teach to others. And so do you! Share something you’ve learned recently, something you’ve known for ages, or something you think “everyone knows”. There’s always someone out there like me who will learn something from you :)

SQL Server Heroes (T-SQL Tuesday #59)

T-SQL TuesdayWhat day is it? It’s T-SQL Tuesday again! T-SQL Tuesday #59 is hosted by Tracy McKibben (@RealSQLGuy). Did you know that October 14th is also Ada Lovelace Day? I didn’t know that until I read about this month’s T-SQL Tuesday topic: your heroes. Who do I admire, who inspires me, who do I strive to be like?

Volunteers. The thousands of people who spend their free time organizing events, writing blogs and helping strangers. I remember watching the PASS Summit 2013 introduction video where they counted the volunteer hours and they just kept counting and counting and counting… and counting. 500000+ volunteer hours! Five hundred thousand plus hours! I was shocked. That was the first time I realized that PASS and the SQL Server community was more than just a technical conference.

Thank you, volunteers. All of you. Whether you’re a PASS board of directors member, a blogger, a SQLSaturday room attendant, a superstar speaker or a user group administrator, you’re my heroes in the SQL Server community. Without you, there would be no events, no free training, no community. Thank you for inspiring me to be a volunteer as well.

#SQLFamily – Pay It Forward (T-SQL Tuesday #57)

T-SQL TuesdayT-SQL Tuesday #57 is hosted by Jeffrey Verheul (@DevJef) and the topic is #SQLFamily. This is a topic close to my heart and even while writing this I’m all excited to read other stories. I can go on for ages about #SQLFamily, but I’ve decided to focus on one thing: paying it forward.

One year ago I had never heard about #SQLFamily and I didn’t even know the SQL community existed. I knew people wrote blogs and forum posts, I knew some taught classes and others published books, but I was your average employee: I did my job, learned what I had to learn to do my job well, and searched online to find solutions and better ways to do things.

Then I went to PASS Summit 2013 and the experience turned my life upside-down.

What happened? People welcomed me with open arms. They invited me to join them at #SQLKaraoke, introduced me to their friends, told me stories about SQLSaturdays and taught me about the community. They didn’t tell me about #SQLFamily, they were #SQLFamily. Even before I went back home to Norway I decided that I would do whatever I could to bring the SQL community to Norway.

This is an excerpt from the blog post I wrote after PASS Summit 2013: “I hope to attend and volunteer at a SQLSaturday, maybe even help organize one in Oslo. I hope to share my new knowledge with my co-workers and help improve our solutions at work. I hope to learn even more and get to know my new connections better. Maybe I’ll even make my own presentation and be a first-time speaker some day!”

In the ten months since I wrote that, I’ve become a board member of SQL Server User Group Norway, I’ve volunteered at SQLSaturday Copenhagen, I’ve done a SQLHangout video, I’m organizing the first SQLSaturday in Norway, and for the first time I’ll speak in another country at SQLSaturday Portugal. I’ve met so many wonderful people and I’m looking forward to getting to know even more. It’s hard to believe it all started when #SQLFamily members spent a couple of minutes saying “hi” to me. So little, yet so much! The last ten months have been a whirlwind, and I’ve enjoyed every single moment of it.

I’m so thankful for everything I’ve experienced this year. Paying it forward and helping my local community has given me something meaningful to do every day, and because I have so many amazing memories I’m now even more determined to keep paying it forward, and to give back. I’ve experienced first-hand how something someone might not even think of, like a friendly smile and a “join us”, can mean to someone else.

If I can pay it forward to just one first-timer at PASS Summit 2014, to welcome someone to the #SQLFamily… it will be worth the whole trip.

Pay it forward. You can change someone’s life :)

Stop assuming wrongly and start assuming responsibility (T-SQL Tuesday #56)

T-SQL TuesdayT-SQL Tuesday #56 is hosted by Dev Nambi (@DevNambi) and the topic is assumptions: Your assignment for this month is to write about a big assumption you encounter at work, one that people are uncomfortable talking about. Every team has an elephant in the room. What happens if these big guesses aren’t true?

Stop assuming wrongly
“If you make an assumption, you suppose that something is true, sometimes wrongly.”

We’ve all assumed wrongly at some point. While it’s not always a big deal, sometimes the result can be disastrous. I’ve accidentally deleted all the weekly data in our production data warehouse because I assumed wrongly. (Thank goodness my assumption that we had working backups was correct!)

Most of the time I’m not aware that I make assumptions until something goes wrong, like when I realized I had deleted all that data. That’s when I stop and ask myself why I didn’t ask more questions, why I didn’t do more research, why I didn’t triple-check the logic?

The answer to why I assume wrongly is usually time. In the world of business intelligence there are just not enough hours in a day. When a business user asks for new data or a new report, their answer to “when do you need it?” is usually “yesterday”. We all want to deliver as much as possible in the shortest amount of time, which often leads to everyone making some kind of assumption without actually being aware of it. Business users assume IT knows all the business rules (“that’s supposed to be a negative amount”), IT assumes the business users have specified all requirements in detail (“that’s not in the requirements”), and we don’t take the time to sit down and go through it together.

Which leads me to my next point:

Start assuming responsibility
“If someone assumes responsibility, they begin to have responsibility.”

We need to take our time to collaborate, to ask those questions, to do that research and to triple-check that logic. Don’t assume that everyone else knows what you know, but share your knowledge. Don’t just assume that things work, but see how you can improve them. Work together.

I’ll start with me and make this a goal for me at work :)

Interviews as Learning Experiences (T-SQL Tuesday #54)

T-SQL TuesdayT-SQL Tuesday #54 is hosted by Boris Hristov (@brshristov) and is all about interviews and hiring.

I have a confession to make: Once in a while I say yes to interviews, not because I’m actually looking for new opportunities, but because they’re both fun and challenging.

For me, it’s a great way to learn and grow. I haven’t walked out of a single interview without having learned something new about myself, a technology or the industry I work in.

Going to interviews forces me out of my comfort zone and makes me feel stressed, nervous and a little scared. Sometimes I get questions that I don’t immediately know the answer to and I get flustered. Sometimes I knock over water glasses or burn my hands on hot coffee and make a complete fool of myself. But every time I go to interviews I get a little better at small talk, calming my nerves, thinking on my feet, handling unexpected situations, structuring my thoughts and formulating answers.

It’s a great opportunity to reflect upon my own situation and where I want to be in a year or two. It gives me a peek into what skills are needed and wanted right now, and if it’s a technical interview I quickly find out which skills I need to improve.

My best interview happened early in my career, it was just supposed to be a first introduction interview for a junior developer position. Halfway through the interview I mentioned that I like to challenge myself to learn from the experience, and the interviewer promptly decided to follow up on that statement: “What would you do if we gave you a challenge right now?” (I couldn’t really say no, could I?)

The challenge was to skip right into the second, technical interview without preparing. I had to look at a screen capture of a website and explain the HTML and CSS I would use to replicate it, I had to draw data models and SQL queries on a whiteboard, and I had to guess my way through some JavaScript – and it was fun. I left the interview feeling proud, not because I did well (I forgot important things and made mistakes), but because I was thrown into a new situation and handled it better than I had feared.

The opposite experience was when I was still a student and had a series of speed interviews in one day. They lasted ten minutes and you had three minutes to introduce yourself, three minutes to listen to the company introduction, and the rest of the time to ask questions. The first speed interviews went really well. I grew more confident and didn’t feel like a complete nervous wreck anymore, but as I approached the next table and saw three very serious men in suits stare at me I could feel my palms getting sweaty again. Thankfully they never noticed that, because none of them even wanted to shake my hand. They told me to sit down, grabbed their pens and stared at me in silence. I took that as my cue to introduce myself and spent the next three minutes telling them about my background and why I had applied. When my three minutes were up they looked at each other, looked at me, looked at each other and finally said: “You know that there are mostly men working in this industry, right? How are you going to handle that?”

My jaw dropped to the floor. Inexperienced and flustered, I answered as best as I could that I was used to working and studying with guys and that it had never even been an issue before. They looked at each other again, sighed, looked at me and said: “Well, we don’t have any more questions, so you can just go.” What? I looked at my watch and saw that we still had more than five minutes left, but it was so uncomfortable to sit there that it was better to leave early. So I got up, utterly embarrassed, and zigzagged my way out of the room trying to ignore the stares from everyone still in the middle of their speed interviews.

It is by far the worst “interview” I have ever been to. I felt small and ashamed, but it was also when I promised myself that I would look at each interview as a learning experience. It also made me bring my “I’ll show them!” attitude to the next interview – and that next interview got me my first job :)