Some thoughts of your typical data shepherd / data plumber / data dance teacher sort of person.
The email telling me that I had been selected to speak was to say the least a surprise. My session “Soft Skills for Success” had been accepted for Data in Devon 2019. Yes I am very excited about the opportunity to speak in Exeter. My last time in Exeter was a school holiday many years ago, so the opportunity to return that beautiful part of the country is wonderful surprise.
It might seem a little strange that I was surprised that my session was accepted. However, I have been submitting sessions for a while now, most of which have been unsuccessful. This pattern is much like the one I experienced when I decided to moved careers into IT a couple of years ago and I was applying for IT roles. One of the lessons I learned during that time is that you are going to fail more than you succeed. So it pays to keep trying and mostly importantly learn from each failure and success. The current lesson I am learning is all about abstracts, how can I improve them? make them better? As I know if one strategy does not work, then I need review it, make a small change, then try the changed strategy, till I find the one that works, so that’s what I am doing with my submission abstracts.
To be invited to speak is to my mind an honour and a privilege. Why? People who I see as peers and who I respect have reviewed and considered the abstract that I have submitted, then invited me to speak. They are also putting their faith in me that on the day I will be there and will deliver a session which people will want to see / listen to / learn something from. When I get there on the day, yes, no doubt I will be nervous, worried, and have checked everything at least twice. Before the getting to the room on the day, I will have rehearsed the session, reviewed it been through it more than once. Just now I am working on tweaks to the session just for Data In Devon, if you want to know more you will have to attend the session.
The topic “Soft Skills for Success” is something that I am passionate about. So, I will be giving it my all. Like many projects that I work on, what people see is the final, smallest part of the project. Beforehand there will be a lot of unseen hard work to make it look good. The prize is worth the price, which is to be invited to speak to my peers about a topic that I am passionate about.
Forgive me whilst I indulge in some nostalgia first. Whilst at SQL Bits 2016, I finally made the decision to start a SQL user group in Glasgow. If I remember correctly Craig Porteous attend the infamous SQL Bits party and met a gentleman dressed as a Wookie (William Durkin). Now Glasgow has a growing SQL server user group (thanks to a dedicated hard working team). Not only that we just had our second SQL conference! (Yes SQL Bits has lot to answer for ;->)
SQLGLA was a fantastic event it has left me with some wonderful feelings. This blog post is part thank you to those involved, also just to express some of my feelings / experiences of the event.
Craig Porteous, Louise Paterson and I are the people who organised this year's event. I felt we were a team (this is a theme, by the way). Each of us contributed to the success of the event, in a different way. The success of the event was not down a single person in my opinion. It was about us all coming together to make it a success. Craig did put a lot of work into making the event what it was.
There are few words to express my gratitude about our team of volunteers. As an organizing team, we have all volunteered before so we knew what is expected of volunteers. There was a lovely mix of those who have done it before and few who have never done any volunteering. What a team though, they all worked really hard. Speaking personally, I am so proud of them, they made this event for me. Not once did I have to worry about if something was done or not being done. They just made it happen. Whilst I have said this before I cannot thank them enough for being such an amazing team, they exceeded all my expectations.
Last year thanks to William Durkin we had such an amazing lineup, and yet this year lineup was even better! A few days before the event I was looking through the list. It would be a fair comment to say I was blown away by the quality of those who choose to speak at our event. The feedback that I have heard so far the attendees also agree 🙂 Looking the depth of experience and knowledge that was shared, was to me awe inspiring. Whats even better is they all came to Scotland to share their knowledge and expertise with us.
It’s a phrase that I've seen often on social media, these are not just words it's something that can be seen and experienced in real life. To experience it is very humbling and gratifying. A few weeks before the event I was contacted by Chris Taylor (@SQLGeordie) one of the speakers. The speakers had decided they wanted to get something for Craig & Karen Porteous who are expecting their second child. It was my privilege and honor to present the gift on their behalf. Hopefully, Craig will forgive me one day for gate-crashing the closing presentation to present the gift? As Craig knew nothing about this gift.
To make the event something that little different we wanted to find a design for the t-shirts that was rather special. Having worked with Emily Chappell over the years on various projects, her quirky designs and sense of style really works for me. So I suggested we should ask Emily for a design for the t-shirts. The first design was not what we wanted. So next we all got together in a coffee shop at lunchtime. We had a chat did some brainstorming, Emily then sent back a design which we all loved (see picture below). Personally, I’ve never been to a technical conference where they sold the t-shirts :-)
First there are few housekeeping duties to take care, which we are just finishing off just now. Followed by some discussions to see what will be the next step 🙂 All I can safely say is keep looking there will be some exciting news soon....
There is saying “if you want to change some things in your life, you have to change somethings in your life”. So this blog post is part of me changing something in my life. Whilst I might think its a good idea to publicly commit to something then work towards that goal, this is not something that I have done for before. So here goes. Yes this was inspired by the T-SQL Tuesday topic in December 2018, which I mis-read the date for :-)
BIML - this just seems to have so much potential, finding myself writing more and more SSIS packages that have patterns, now's the time to learn more and do more.
My preferred method is video training. This means I am in control of the tempo, if I have 5 mins then can watch a video (or part of). On the other hand if I have not grasped something it is possible to repeat it till I get it. One course on Microsoft Virtual Academy (https://mva.microsoft.com/) about the use of the APPLY keyword I had watch several before grasping the concept. At the moment Udemy is working well for me, just make sure you wait till the one of the regular sales.
In person events is something which has been of massive benefit for me. My first visit to SQL Bits was without doubt a career and life changer. Having the opportunity to hear from so many fantastic amazing speakers is a wonderful. Then there is the networking that is another story, even for a confirmed introvert like me!
Books are still a part of my learning. Recently I have found myself reading more using electronic books. There is difference between a physical book and an electronic book. The later is easier for to take my library with me. So it doesn't matter if the book is at home or work.
Teach - the go to person regarding SQL server in my company is me. At the moment I am writing some lessons to teach what I know about SQL Server and related skills. This encourages me to make sure that anything I am teaching that I have a through understanding of the topic.
Blog - writing posts has been patchy, so this is my commitment to write at least one blog post per month. This year I refuse to allow impostor syndrome to put me off (no excuses).
Submit sessions - on this subject, time to take my own advice / encouragement to speak about what I know, My success is built on those who have taken the time to speak and teach, and I want to give back.
Stack-overflow - having attempted to answer some questions previously with varying degrees of success. Rather than waiting, now the strategy is chasing down questions that I can answer / contribute Who knows chances are that it is myself who will learn more than anyone else :-)
Attend another conference - SQL Bits has been and will be the highlight of my technical year (SQL Geek Christmas / New Year). In 2018 my minimum commitment is to attend at least one other event. If possible as a speaker, volunteer, or at least as an attendee.
Soft skills - ask my partner she will tell you these could do with some work. As a self concession introvert, its not easy to work with people. Recently small achievements mean that it inspires me to learn and work harder.
#SQLGLA 2018 - the Glasgow SQL server user group ran, their first event (2107). This was an amazing learning adventure, so we are getting bigger, watch out Glasgow.
Now that I have committed these goals time to go and start making them happen. Expect a summary in, December 2018.
What's so hard about making mistakes for me? The embarrassment of it, maybe I did not know something, or yes that thing that I did well, yes, I did know better. It's not easy for me to admit mistakes. Just ask my long-suffering partner (thank goodness, she does not read my blog!). Yes, I do like to be right and do it the right way. Admitting that I was wrong, or did something stupid, takes it out of me, it's not easy.
Hopefully, in my professional life, I am a little better at dealing with my mistakes. A few years ago, one of my jobs was with a large consultancy company. I was the person responsible for producing reports for the service desk. From time to time there were errors with the reports that I was responsible for producing. During that time, I developed a strategy which I still use to deal with mistakes.
1) Take responsibility
It's not easy to put your hand to say you have made a mistake. On the other hand, how to do you learn from mistakes? For me, part of growing is learning to take the bad with the good. Also personally speaking I have more respect for someone who has what it takes to say when they have made a mistake. Even if you have not made the mistake you find, then take make it your responsibility to fix that mistake. If I do this then my primary focus is to get the issue resolved and move on. Finger pointing or the blaming someone is not part of this.
2) Find the challenge
What when wrong? How did it happen? Be able to explain what happened, in simple non-technical language that anyone can understand. Also be confident that you can explain in technical terms to your peers.
3) Fix it
Get your hands dirty, get involved in fixing the issue. Help find a solution to rectify the challenge or work with the people fixing the challenge if you can. For me, I have and do still learn so much just from fixing mistakes.
4) Prevent it!
Better to have a fence at the cliff edge than a hospital at the bottom. What will stop it happening the mistake happening again? An extra check of something, a checklist of things to do in the same situation.
Is there something I missed, do you have a different strategy. Maybe you disagree? Let me know, every day is school day for me :-)
I've been working with my current company for over two years now. During that time, on my own initiative, I decided to review the BI market to see what tool(s) that the company should be looking at adopting. There are quite a few restrictions, data privacy, our clients are very cautious about their data. So must be an on-premise server and yes I have asked lots of questions about this. Also, our clients are mostly non-profit or charities, the budget is a massive consideration.
PowerBI has been my tool of choice for reporting. It is used for a POC (proof of concept) project reporting service desk incidents to our clients. It is fantastic we had a Pro account, we shared the reports with our clients. We loved it, the clients loved it. During the next two years, I invested time, energy, effort, working on other POC projects. At the same time showing the relevant directors why we should look at Power BI for future development. The deal breaker was an on-prem server, no negotiation on that point. The start of 2017 exciting news, on-premise server was coming Which version would get it, how much would it cost, could we use it. Answers from Microsoft, zero, zilch, nada, nothing, brick wall impression.
So we waited and waited and waited. Then, Power BI premium. By the time I had digested the news, it felt like someone had kicked me black and blue. There is no point in even approaching our Managing Director with a minimum of £3k per month for this project. Our budget is not even in the same country, let alone same ballpark. Next, our sharing reports with other free accounts using Power BI Pro, at least for some of our client has gone. Now have it, now you don't.
Your company might be a large enterprise, then these costs are reasonable, we are not a large enterprise. So in essence over two years investment of my time down the drain, time to start again. Now I am in the process of contacting clients for the POC project to show them how to access the reports, as the can no longer use their own Power BI accounts. Disappointed would be a mild word to use to describe my feelings.
Very recently Tableau announced a price change. Long story short, my line manager saw the new pricing structure, complete with on-premise server, per user cost of $35 per month, PowerBI cannot compete with that deal. What will happen now is my company most likely to become a Tableau customer, Microsoft's loss. The tools released at the data summit (June 2017) now places PowerBI toe to toe with Tableau. Sadly I believe that Power BI will likely loose in the long run due to the pricing currently in place. Whilst I understand the business logic and reasoning pursuing this model. Microsoft has also demonstrated very clearly they do not understand the market in the way that Tableau seems to, which is reflected in their pricing structure. Great for me, another toolset to add to my CV. As I see it, Tableau leaves PowerBI dead in the water for customers like my company. There is NO competition, Tableau has this market to themselves. Which is bad news for me as a customer.
Microsoft has got it right before, yes I will stand up, shout, cheerlead, and applaud when they do get it right. As my tweet to James Phillps / Power BI team expressed. When Microsoft get it wrong I need to be just as vocal, and I believe they have got it wrong, with the pricing in a big way, at least from where I am standing. Yes I will continue to let people know about PowerBI, it not be with the same enthusiasm, that makes me sad :-(
Last but not least a more personal public apology to Chris Web (@Technitrain) was on the end of my rant via Twitter regarding pricing, sorry Chris, my bad.
Whilst nothing can beat experience having a certificate can also improve the chances when looking for a new job. If an interviewer is looking at two evenly matched candidates, one without a certificate one with a certificate. Personally speaking, if l was the person making the decision then the person with the certificate would the one whom l would recommend getting the job. By studying and passing the exam the candidate has demonstrated, initiative, self-motivation, and a genuine desire for technology. At least that's my opinion. In one case l know of a colleague whom l work with, who said one the reasons they were offered a job was due to the fact that had studied and passed two exams, which were relevant to the role they applied for.
Craig Porteous spoke to some recruiters he knows and asked them some questions about their view of certification. So these thoughts are directly from those who make hiring decisions.
What weight do you put on certifications when hiring?
1) A lot. With two otherwise comparable candidates, the one with certifications wins in my mind.
2) A lot, think it shows that candidates are focused in developing their career.
3) For a technical role I see it as essential
Do you encourage the pursuit of certifications by your team?
Do you see any downsides/negative aspects to certifications?
1) No, none at all.
2) Some of the accreditation's could be more hands on focused.
3) Cost (retaining skilled up workers)
With staff who have completed certifications, do you see any differences in working practice etc to those who haven’t?
1) Yes. People working towards certifications are more engaged with technology and tend to apply their learning in the work environment, sharing their knowledge and improving the overall team dynamic leading to improved productivity.
2) It really depends on the individual so don’t think it’s a fair comparison. Better way to look at it is how doing accreditations adds value to that person in regards technical ability and confidence.
3) Last example was a infrastructure type. Stuck him on a sccm course. A,month later our sccm world upgraded. A year later he left and now heads up sccm at dell secure works in the US . For me a benefit – I get a sccm upgrade from a capable engineer. They get a badge they can use to get their career upgraded. Win win.
One reason l have heard for not doing any certification is the cost. My personal point of view on this is that l am investing in myself. If l learn a new skill gain or learn some new techniques. Yes, the company l am working for will benefit which is excellent news for them. If l choose to move to another role with a different company, then those skills transfer with me. Those skills l have invested both my time and (more importantly very often) my money in they are mine. So my choice is to invest in myself as l believe that the return on investment (ROI) is excellent.
So you have decided to study for certification, what resources are there available? The following list is just suggestions, based on largely on my experience and some others.
If you are planning to take the data platform exams then l would strongly suggest investing in the books for the relevant exam. For example, this one is for the 70-461 exam. The book covers all the topics that could be questioned in the exam. There is an accompanying CD has an electronic copy of the book and practice exam questions. One series of books which I used whilst studying for 70-461 exam Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012/14 was series titled 2 Joes. The purpose of the books is to take a complete beginner through all the skills required to pass the exam. Personally l found this is the best explanation of how to query xml data using TSQL. They where for me worth the investment.
CBT Nuggets - an excellent resource, the videos l viewed for my 70-462 exam were really helpful. As part of the training package l signed up for included exam questions which l also found where excellent. More expensive that other sites, you have access to all the courses. Really worth considering if want to maximize your study time.
Udemy - with this provider you purchase one course at a time which allows you "lifetime access" to the course. When the courses are on sale, the prices are low. The quality of the courses can vary, so have a look a the reviews on the course before purchasing. Personally, l found the 70-463 covered the basics well, on the other hand, it did not go into sufficient detail for the exam questions.
Pluralsight - this is a well know training site (ok l have heard the name in quite a few place) there are lists of videos for specific certifications. The quaility of the courses l have watched were of a very high quality.
Microsoft Virtual Academy - its Free, which is not always a recommendation. That said the quality of the courses that l have viewed have been excellent. For the exams search for jump start videos, which are a really good jumping off point to start your studying. So excellent hints and tips in the videos from people who passed and training people for the exams.
SQL Bits - apart from being one of the best SQL conferences in Europe. The organizers have given back to the SQL community by recording some of the sessions and making the available for FREE on their website. To find what you are looking for might take a bit of searching, most topics will have at least one video on them.
YouTube - there are a lot of videos uploaded on a wide variety of topics. There will be some searching to find the topic you are looking. On the downside the quality of content is variable. Ranging from the excellent to the not so good.
Blog posts - again this will require some searching. It has in my experience, been worth the time and energy required. One author whilst studying for the 70-463 exam blogged about what she was learning as they went along.
Passing the exams
What is required to pass the exams? Practice and lots of it! One of the keys that are borne out by other people who passed the exams is the practice exams. These exam questions will not be exactly like the exam questions. What they will do is get in the way of thinking when doing the exams. Reading exam questions to see the question, examining multiple choice questions for the correct answer. Best way to get practice is to get hold of practice exam questions and take the exam. There are a number of providers which will allow you to purchase them, MeasureUp, CBTNuggets and others. They will not be exactly the same as the exam questions you take when you go into the exam room. On the other hand they will give you practice at answering the questions. If you pay attention to the score at the end of the practice exam you will also be able to see where you need to improve.
The questions are designed quite deliberately to test your knowledge, well you would not want them to be too easy ? This article from Pluralsight has some excellent examples of the format of the type of question you will be answering in the exam. If you are really interested in how the question are constructed and methodology behind them, this video from Pluralsight has an interview with someone who designs the exams.
All that remains to say if you have decided to study for a certification, good luck and happy studying.
Following one my most epic failures which l shared with someone, who understood. He gave me a card with this quote
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
It’s not easy to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and keep going. That’s what makes some people that little bit different....
Continuing Professional Development
Having worked with a number architects (they that design building) companies l have been made aware of the concept of Continuing Professional Development. In that any qualified architect is expected to learn and refine their skills for as long as they are a practising architect.
Another big part of the conference is the sponsors, they have stands set up in the main part of the conference. Yes they are their to sell their products, on the other hand they are very generous and have many have prizes to give away. Entering the competitions to win prizes can be as simple as giving your email address, others you might have to work for. Such playing a racing car or sail boat simulator, these are geeks what do you expect ! Some of the sponsors have technical evangelists who are there to speak all of whom in my opinion are worth going to just for their sessions alone. Next how often do you get to meet with representatives from Microsoft and ask them questions face to face.?
Fun and Games
There's even more fun to be had. So far l have only attended two SQL Bit conferences. The evening parties are well something to be experienced, the best way to put it is that these are dreamed up by geeks and attended by geeks. Both of these groups of people know how to have a good time. Also if you visit the sponsors you might just come away with tokens, for free drink, at the parties. Need l say more?
The last question that occurs to me is why do l go? Personally and ultimately l want to be the best possible person doing my job. To provide my customers with the best possible service l can offer. To achieve that will take time, energy, and sacrifices. Part of that will be paying my way these conferences till l can convince my manager to pay for at least part of them. Until then l will go to learn and develop, then one day return and speak myself to starting paying back my technical debt.