A New Beginning


“The only way to walk on water is to step out of the boat – and focus on Jesus.”

I’ve made it official last week on my LinkedIn profile. It’s been interesting to see the different comments I got after my LinkedIn status change. But what’s really exciting is the journey and the story behind it.

I have worked for Pythian since November 2008 – started out as a SQL Server DBA until eventually moving on to become one of their senior principal consultants. They were responsible for helping me and my family migrate from Singapore to Canada. I have had the privilege of working with the smartest and brightest data professionals in my entire career, exposed to some of the most challenging and complex environments and worked on different projects not directly related to SQL Server – Hadoop, SharePoint, System Center, Citrix and VMWare to name a few. I can say that I have been on stable ground in my employment since the day I joined. So, you might ask, “Why leave, then?

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Giving away FREE Access to my SQL Server High Availability and Disaster Recovery Deep Dive Course – Round 2

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Last year, as part of launching my very first online course, I gave away FREE access to my SQL Server High Availability and Disaster Recovery Deep Dive Course. I’m doing it again this year but with a totally different reason. Here’s why.

I’ve been very active in the SQL Server community in one way or another. A lot of people ask me why I do what I do. It all started in late 1999 when, fresh out of college with no one wanting to hire me, a potential customer asked me to write an inventory application for their small business. This might sound really exciting for somebody who would consider this their very first consulting opportunity immediately out of college. This plus considering the fact that my potential customer was willing to pay me any price I would charge them for it. But not for me. You see, I didn’t have a computer science/engineering degree. I even failed my only computer programming course. The only reason I passed the second time I took it was because I asked my best friend to help me write my final project. So, taking this project on was really not a good idea for me. But my then customer really wanted me to do this project for them because they liked me and trust that I would do a great job at it. So, I gave in and that was the beginning of my career in the IT industry. I managed to finish the project in about 6 months and my customer was happy. End of story.

Well, not quite yet. If you read between the lines, you’ll see that I’m not really good at writing code. Heck, I can barely read code at that time. So, how did I manage to finish the project and make my then customer happy? I started learning about how to write code – Visual Basic 4 at that time. I borrowed a book from one of my former classmates and started reading, slowly learning one line of code at a time. This, of course, was before a lot of content was even available on the Internet. But what really got me thru was a young guy named Ken (I don’t even know if this was his real name) who I met in one of the bulletin board system (BBS) that I constantly visit to learn about Visual Basic programming. I would ask questions, he would answer. Patiently. When I didn’t understand a syntax, he would explain further. When a piece of code didn’t work, I would send it over to him and he would look at it, acting as if he was my virtual debugger with an explanation of why I got the error and how to possibly fix it. I spent an average of 16 hours a day on the computer writing code, almost half of that time was with Ken asking questions and following his advice. That was my routine for almost 4 months. And, that’s the reason behind why I was able to finish my project and ended up having a happy customer.

I never got to meet Ken personally. I don’t know where he is from, what he does or if he still writes code. But I’m thankful that I met him virtually on one of the BBS. Since then, I’ve started doing what he did for me – helping online communities by answering questions on forums, presenting at events, mentoring others, etc. I hope I bump into Ken one of these days and personally thank him for what he did for me.

I’m very thankful for communities like that of the SQL Server community. I’ve met folks who have become my friends, extended family members, prayer partners, career advisors, etc. There’s a reason why the #SQLFamily hashtag exists on Twitter.

And this is why I’m doing this again. I owe the SQL Server community big time. And this is my way of saying a big “thank you” to every one who contributes to make this community even better every day.

Udemy

Now, in order to be one of the ten lucky individuals who will receive FREE access to the full course, you must take the following actions:

  1. Leave a comment below. What are the TOP 3 things that you are thankful for about the SQL Server community? Be very specific. If you need to reach out to the folks whom you are thankful for, do it via email or social media and share it with the whole world. That’ll be a great way to put a smile on their face that day.
  2. Fill out my Contact Form. Provide a valid email address that you check on a regular basis. You want to make sure that my email announcement doesn’t end up in your Spam folder.
  3. Share this this blog post via social media.  Use the #SQLHADRRocks hashtag on Twitter, share it on Facebook (I know Facebook now uses hashtags as well,) LinkedIn, Google+, Reddit, and anything else you can think of. Include at least one of the links in your comment below.

On Saturday, 06-Dec-2014, I will be selecting ten (10) lucky individuals based on my evaluation of their submission. If you have been selected, you will receive a personal email from me on 13-Dec-2014. If you didn’t receive any email from me, you can assume that your submission was not selected.

Thanks for reading this blog post. And if you’re in the United States or an American living elsewhere, Happy Thanksgiving!

[UPDATE: 13-Dec-2014] The winners have been chosen. Expect an email from me and enjoy FREE access to the online course.

Installing, Configuring and Managing Windows Server Failover Cluster using PowerShell Series

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Last year, I started writing an article that was supposed to be a series for Installing, Configuring and Managing Windows Server Failover Cluster using Windows PowerShell. The first of the series came out on July 2013 (which ended up being the last article I wrote for the year 2013 on MSSQLTips.com.) Since then, I’ve been involved with more projects on SharePoint and business intelligence (BI) integration that I barely had a chance to work with the SQL Server database engine on a regular basis. But since part 1 of the series is already out there, I figured it’s worth the time and effort to finish it up. So, here it is – the complete series on Installing, Configuring and Managing Windows Server Failover Cluster using Windows PowerShell.

  • Part 1 – from installing the feature to creating the Windows Server Failover Cluster
  • Part 2 – retrieving and changing cluster object properties and adding clustered disks
  • Part 3 – managing permissions, changing parameter values, moving clustered resources and dependencies
  • Part 4 – common cluster troubleshooting tasks

Enjoy!

Two SQL Server Webcasts from MSSQLTips.com

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I’ve done two SQL Server webcasts for my friends at MSSQLTips.com. One is regarding security best practices for deploying SQL Server databases in the cloud. As more and more customers are thinking of deploying databases in the cloud, security is one of their main concerns. In the webcast, I talked about principles and concepts on securing databases in the cloud. You can check out the recording from the MSSQLTips.com website.

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The second one is about networking best practices for SQL Server high availability and disaster recovery. The premise of the webcast is that SQL Server DBAs are now dependent on the things that they have no control over. Knowing what SQL Server depends on for high availability and disaster recovery enabled SBAs to be better prepared to communicate with the other teams to meet their overall objectives. You can check out the recording from the MSSQLTips.com website.

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Even Spiderman Can Use a Bit of Business Intelligence

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When I first heard of the Microsoft PowerBI Demo contest, I figured it would be a great opportunity to explore the business intelligence capabilities of Excel 2013. With the preview of Power Maps and Power Query, I thought it would be fun to play around with these features. Besides, I’ve seen some fancy demos at the last PASS Summit.

Being a story teller and presenter, I can’t help but think of a way to showcase these features without having a story around it. So, while having dinner with my family one day, I told my 11-year-old son (who is into creating stop motion videos) if he might be interested in working on a project with me. I told him about the contest and what it’s about. More importantly, I told him about a story that I already have in mind which I was absolutely sure he’ll love: enter Spiderman. The story revolved around the fact that Spiderman needs to pay his tuition soon but he doesn’t have enough money on his savings. He just got fired from The Daily Bugle so there isn’t really much he could do. However, he can go back to delivering pizza around New York City since he’s done it before. But this time, he needs to be strategic and efficient. He needs to identify which boroughs in New York City has the highest mean household income so that he can focus his efforts on that particular area. He also needs to find out which boroughs have the highest number of complaints and crime incidents for the past few weeks. That way he can avoid bumping into situations where he may need to stop what he was doing just to go on a rescue mission. This is where he starts using his wits and gets working on his computer to search for publicly available New York City data. With the insights he came up with  based on the data he gathered, he sets out to pursue his plans until he hits his first roadblock.

I had fun working on this project with my son (he enjoyed it a lot since he was the one who created the Spiderman scenes). I hope you like the video, too. And if I may ask, can you vote for the video by clicking on this link? The final video is embedded below.

And you can try it out for yourself. Download the Power Maps and Power Query preview on the Microsoft Download Center and enable them on your Excel 2013 workbooks. I bet you’ll have fun the way I did.

Database Configuration for Maximum SharePoint Performance (Video, Slide and PowerShell Script)

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This post is way overdue. Since I’ve been getting a lot of requests about this specific presentation regarding SharePoint databases, I decided to do two things. First, I recorded this presentation for all my attendees to use as a reference. Now, you might be thinking, “If you’ve already recorded your presentation, wouldn’t that affect attendance in your events?” Yes and No. Yes, because those who have seen the video will no longer attend my presentation. For me, this is a great opportunity to help those individuals to plan ahead and maximize their time while attending events. As IT professionals, we’re busy, stuck in our day-to-day work and don’t even have time to look into some of these best practices that need to be applied in our environment. Often times, we are forced into the let’s-do-things-quick-and-fix-it-later corner because of the constant demand for our time. If the drop in attendance in my presentation/events would mean helping those individuals maximize their time, then, I’m all for that. This also includes those who really wanted to attend my presentations but do not have the means to do so (those in different time zones, different countries, no budget, etc.) And the flip side? No, it wouldn’t affect attendance in my events. Everyone who has seen me deliver a presentation can tell you a thing or two about why they’ve decided to attend my presentations even though they’ve already seen me (or the same presentation) at a previous event. I really work hard to prepare my presentations – the proper use of pictures, colors, fonts, and stories all are done with intent – even if it’s the same presentation delivered at a different event. This is my way of saying, “thank you for taking time off your hectic and tight schedule to attend my presentation.” In addition to that, I wanted them to have a resource that they can use as a reference when they go back to work. I want them to become valuable and continue to grow as an IT professional. After all, that’s my primary mission statement.

So, here it is, a video recording of my most requested topic at SharePoint conferences and events – Database Configuration for Maximum SharePoint 2010/2013 Performance

And, you’ve probably seen the corresponding slide deck.


But this is just the first of the two things I mentioned. Here’s the second one. I’ve written a PowerShell script to check the SQL Server instance that you use for your SharePoint databases. This is the PowerShell script that I use when delivering my presentation on Windows PowerShell for the SharePoint Administrators. It’s also the same PowerShell script that I use when I work with customers who request for my services to review and evaluate their SharePoint databases. The script checks for best practices configuration recommended for SharePoint databases – stuff like MAXDOP =1, disabled autoupdate and autocreate statistics, etc. As SQL Server DBAs, we hate some of these configuration. However, these are all documented and supported. Which means they have to be applied to your SQL Server instances and databases used by SharePoint. In addition, I have also included checks that we SQL Server DBAs consider best practices – separation of MDF and LDF files, regular DBCC CHECKDB execution, backup compression enabled, etc. You can download the PowerShell script from here.

Keep in mind that this is not the best way to write PowerShell scripts. I didn’t apply those best practices here so that would probably be my next personal project.

Feel free to use this script as you wish. It has only been tested on default instances of SQL Server 2008 and higher (named instances have not been considered yet) running on Windows Server 2008 and higher. High availability checks like failover clustering, database mirroring and Availability Groups have not been included yet on this version. Comment on the script for bugs and fixes that you want included, keeping in mind that this is specifically for SharePoint databases. Don’t expect any indexing improvements nor identifying the TOP I/O consumers because there is no way for us to modify those queries without breaking your SharePoint support contract (and I am in no way a lawyer to even argue about the contents of the EULA.)

Enjoy.

Preparing for the PASS Summit 2013 – Part 5

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This is part 5 of the series of tips that I’ve prepared for those attending the PASS Summit 2013 in Charlotte, NC. In part 1, I talked about preparation for travel, accommodation and communication.  Part 2 talked about what to bring to the summit. Part 3 walked you thru the preparation before you hit the road. Part 4 talked about networking and scheduling your summit sessions. This blog post outlines what you need to prepare for when you arrive in Charlotte. And don’t think this will be the last one in this series. Feel free to add to the list by posting in the comments section if you can think of anything else.

Arriving at the Summit

With a few more days to go before the summit proper, you’re probably excited to get out of the door and head over to Charlotte. Hold on to the excitement just yet. There’s still a few more things to prepare for before the main conference starts.

Checking in to Your Hotel

Since I come from outside of the US, I have to fill up a US customs declaration form that asks for my address while in the US. Knowing the address of the hotel is one thing but knowing how to get there is another. If you are booked at one of the hotels within the vicinity of the convention center, then, the only thing you need to worry about is how to get to your hotel from the airport and back. There are taxis and buses from the airport that will take you to downtown Charlotte (I talked about Charlotte’s public transport system in a previous blog post.) If you prefer to rent a car, there is a shuttle outside of the Arrivals area that will take you to the rental car complex.  Know how to efficiently get from the airport to your hotel whether via public transport or rental car. If your hotel is a few miles/kilometers away from the convention center, know how to get to and from these venues. I find that this sometimes causes a bit of stress on the first day of being in a new city. Don’t let this ruin a great summit experience. That is why preparation is key.

TIP: If you pay close attention, there will be a lot of conference attendees at the airport. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and introduce yourself. This is a great way to meet new people even before the summit starts. You can even ask if you could join them on their way to the hotel.

Check in to your hotel as soon as you can.  Find out what amenities are available to you. Ask if they have a free shuttle back to the airport on the day of your departure. Do you have free breakfast and Internet access included in your reservation? This is very helpful especially if somebody else made the reservation for you.

Event Registration

Summit registration starts at 5PM on Sunday, 13-October and it goes on from Monday to Friday, from 7AM to 5:30PM. Once you’ve finally settled in to your hotel, head over to the PASS Summit registration booth at the convention center. The registration booth is organized by the first letter of attendees’ last name. You will need to provide proof of identification when you register. Part of the registration will be the event badge with your name, company name and Twitter handle if you’ve provided it in your registration. You will also get a printed schedule and a layout of the convention center. I find the printed schedule helpful for me to circle out the sessions that I plan to attend as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post. Once I finalize the schedule, I key them in on the Guidebook mobile app in my phone. Also, familiarize yourself with the layout of the convention center. Since you’re already there, you might as well walk around with the map to know where you need to go for your chosen sessions.

The registration package also contains some marketing collaterals, raffle entries for some of the vendor events and even your attendee party pass. Vendors are very generous during events like this so make sure you look into your registration package to see what’s in store for you.

Internet Connectivity in your Hotel and at the Convention Center

Can you imagine yourself living 30 years ago when there was no wireless Internet available? Well, you’re not alone. We’ve all become very dependent on the Internet for just about everything. So, when you get to your hotel, check if wireless Internet is available to you. If it is, then, good for you. If not, check the Internet connectivity at the convention center. PASS provides wireless Internet connectivity to all summit attendees. Check the signal and speed after registering for the event. Don’t expect it to be as fast as what you have back home. That’s why you need to check when and where you can get a good signal and speed. If you need to connect to your corporate VPN while at the summit, you need to know where to go and what to expect. There will also be restaurants and stores around the convention center that have wireless Internet available.

I bet by now you’re all too excited to be at the summit. The worst part is having to read all of the Twitter updates from folks who are already there at the venue. Don’t worry. You can catch up all you want once you’re in Charlotte. And once you do get to catch up, you’ll understand what that #SQLFamily hashtag on Twitter is all about.

Preparing for the PASS Summit 2013 – Part 4

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This is part 4 of the series of tips that I’ve prepared for those attending the PASS Summit 2013 in Charlotte, NC. In part 1, I talked about preparation for travel, accommodation and communication.  Part 2 talks about what to bring to the summit. Part 3 walks you thru the preparation before you hit the road. This blog post talks about networking and scheduling your summit sessions. Since it’s already less than a week before the summit, I decided to publish this for those who will be coming to the summit a bit early. Feel free to add to the list by posting in the comments section if you can think of anything else.

Networking before the Event

Networking and meeting people should be a part of your goal as an attendee. As SQL Server professionals, we feel alone sometimes when resolving issues or even implementing a solution. Knowing that there is someone out there who feels the same pain and agony (and sometimes victories) as we do is comforting.

But meeting other SQL Server professionals should not just happen at the event. Social media has opened doors of opportunities to meet people virtually before meeting them in person. Below are some of the tips that you can use to get started.

Connect with the Attendees

Do you remember being asked for your Twitter and LinkedIn profile when you registered for the summit? PASS has dedicated a page to let other attendees know who is coming. Be a white-hat stalker (hey, I do this before jumping in on sales calls.) Check out the Who’s Attending page to find out their Twitter and LinkedIn profile. Find out where they’re from and what their interests are. What are they talking about on Twitter? What is their job role? How long have they been working with SQL Server? These are just some of the things that you need to know to get the conversation started. Also check if your profile is there. If not, make sure you update your profile so people can find out about you.

Introduce yourself early on by joining the conversation on Twitter. Use the #SQLFirstTimers, #Summit13 and #SQLPASS hashtags on Twitter.  By the time you meet them at the summit, it’ll be like an alumni homecoming.

Connect with the Speakers

By now, you’ve probably seen the summit schedule and you have an idea what sessions you’ll be attending. Find out who the speaker will be for that session and learn more about him or her. The more you know about the speaker, the better questions you can ask during or after the session. Better yet, introduce yourself to the speaker even before the summit. Don’t you know that speakers announce their presentation weeks in advance on social media? And they do monitor their followers. They’re thrilled to know that someone is already planning to attend their presentation that they worked hard and prepared for. Interact with them before the summit. Share their tweets or LinkedIn/Facebook updates to your contacts. And, who knows, you might be able to stir up an idea that the speaker can include in their presentation.

Connect with other First Timers

In 2011, PASS introduced the Big Brothers/Sisters program to enhance the experience of first time attendees. I wished that they have done this back in 2007 so I could take advantage of the experiences of a PASS Summit alumni. If this is your first time attending the summit, you will be included in the First Timers program and assigned to a PASS Summit alumni. Don’t be afraid to ask him or her about the other folks in your First Timers group. I know that they are sworn to secrecy with the non-disclosure agreement that they signed but since you will be meeting the other folks in your group anyway at the First Timers Orientation Meeting on 15-Oct-2013, you might as well get to know them in advance. You can all meet up prior to attending the orientation meeting so you can go as a group.

Connect with other Party Goers

I can’t help it, I keep mentioning the parties.

Seriously, when you sign up for the parties, you’ll probably see an EventBrite page for registration. It will list folks you know who are attending as well, depending on the social media settings of the site. Get in touch with them and maybe even arrange how to go to the party venue. If the venue is a few blocks away from the convention center, it wouldn’t hurt having a chat with somebody who speaks T-SQL. You’ll be surprised how those party conversations sometimes end up being a game changer for either your career or your organization. Zappos CEO Tony Hseh takes advantage of party conversations to engage customers and partners with their awesome company culture.

Take Notes

Don’t you wish you’ve got 64GB of memory to store all of the valuable information that you come across with? Apparently, we don’t have memory chips embedded in our brain. That’s why note taking is still a very important skill. I’ve mentioned about bringing business cards at the summit to hand out to the people that you meet. But before you even meet them in person, jot down what you’ve known about them thru their social media profile. It helps drive meaningful conversations. You could write down their hobbies, where they are from, or even their musical inclinations. Trust me when I say that these become the foundation of meaningful relationships that you’ll build at the summit. I hang out with the SQL Server experts who are not only very good at clustering but also enjoy writing music and slapping their bass guitars and keyboards. The stories that you’ll share will become the bond that brings you closer (OK, I better stop right here before I get too emotional.)

Scheduling Session Attendance

Whether you’re a database administrator, a developer or a BI professional, the PASS Summit has something in store for you to learn about SQL Server. Attendees will certainly pick the sessions that they will attend to and schedule accordingly. While most will just pick from the available sessions, keeping these tips in mind will help you maximize your attendance at the summit.

Define Your Goals

It’s probably a cliché since we all have them: New Year’s resolutions, career objectives, personal development, etc. But we can never underestimate the power of having goals. Without them, we’d be like beating against the wind or traveling without a destination. What are your primary reasons for attending the PASS Summit? List them out, maybe just a handful of them to make sure you achieve those goals. Be as specific as you possibly can. If your goal is to learn as much as you can to become a better BI professional who maximizes Excel and Excel Services in SharePoint for information delivery, then plan to attend sessions that help you achieve that goal. Notice how specific I was in defining that goal. It helps me zoom in to what I really need to do to achieve it. Your organization might have a different expectation as to why they want you to attend the summit. Define those as well and make sure that you meet them before going back to work. SQL Server MVP and Microsoft Certified Master Brent Ozar (Twitter | blog) takes this a step further and using this as a ticket to your next summit attendance.

Create a Schedule

The PASS Summit schedule is already available. Based on your defined goals, list out the different sessions that you intend to attend. Prioritize the schedule based on timing and criticality. Timing because there may be sessions that plan to see but are running at the same time. Criticality because you have a pressing production issue that needs to be resolved and attending one particular session can secure you a 5-minute conversation with the speaker to help you address the issue. Better yet, you might want to pay the SQL Server Clinic a visit and have one of the CSS engineers fix it for you. If you have a smartphone, check out the Guidebook mobile application that the PASS Summit team has provided. I’ve already downloaded it on my iPhone and started creating my schedule. It’s a great tool to help schedule your selected sessions and alert you when the next session is about to start.

Plan to Buy the Session Recordings

Let’s admit it. Until human cloning is yet to be invented, you are a limited resource. And you certainly can’t be at all the sessions you want even if you’ve carefully selected or prioritized your list. Make sure you buy the session recordings for future reference. I still view some of the recorded sessions from the 2007 and 2008 summits when I have time (I am still gauging how much I’ve improved in my presentation skills throughout the years) or when a specific session will help me further resolve an issue. While you may not be working with HDInsight in your current job, who’s to say that you won’t next year. Preparation is key and having the session recordings is part of your preparation to become a better SQL Server professional.

Preparing for the PASS Summit 2013 – Part 3

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This is part 3 of the series of tips that I’ve prepared for those attending the PASS Summit 2013 in Charlotte, NC. In part 1, I talked about preparation for travel, accommodation and communication.  Part 2 talks about what to bring to the summit. This blog post talks about what you need to prepare for prior to travelling to the summit. Feel free to add to the list by posting in the comments section if you can think of anything else.

Preparing Before Travelling

For those who travel a lot as part of their job, this comes as second nature. For those who don’t, this is for you (and me, too.)

Travelling to a city you’ve never been to can be both fun and challenging. It’s fun because it opens the door to a lot of learning opportunities, challenging because you need to deal with something new and unfamiliar. If you come from North America, the only challenge you might face when travelling to Charlotte for the PASS Summit is the time zone difference. You speak the same language, drive on the same side of the road, have burger and fries for dinner, etc. I could go on and on to assure you that it’s no different from going on a road trip. Your body clock may throw you off a bit if you’re coming from the west coast because you now have to sleep and wake up a bit earlier than usual. Imagine how it felt like for somebody who comes from the other side of the globe. It took me about 22 hours to get from Singapore to Denver back in 2007. So, whether your time zone is off by 3 hours or 13, these tips will help you prepare before you hit the road.

Get enough sleep, be fit and have a balanced diet

I do my best to get an average of 7.5 hours of sleep a day. That’s because my brain doesn’t function well when I don’t get enough sleep. And, I’ve proven that a lot of times when solving critical issues. In order to really maximize your PASS Summit attendance, your body has to be prepared as well. Get enough sleep the week before you travel. This is the best preparation you could ever make especially if you’re coming from a different time zone. You want to be physically prepared for the changes that you’ll face during the summit.   Plus, remember all those parties I told you about? You’ll have the Welcome Reception, the Annual PASS Virtual Chapter Quiz Bowl, the Exhibitor Reception and the Community Appreciation Party to start with. I haven’t even told you about the SQLKaraoke nights throughout the week and all the other unofficial parties going on that I’m not supposed to talk about. I bet that your earliest time to hit the sack may be at around 10PM every night. If you don’t get enough sleep now, don’t expect to get it during the week of the summit. And, you have to really be intentional about this especially when you’re coming from a different time zone. I knew how it felt like to be half awake the week after my very first summit experience. And that was just because of the time zone difference because I was already in bed as early as 10PM.

Physical exercise is something that a lot of IT professionals don’t get much of. We sit in our desk the whole day to fix issues and fight fires. If we’re lucky, we get to implement cool projects. But that shouldn’t prevent us from keeping ourselves fit. I always say that we are the only person responsible for taking care of ourselves. Get yourself fit and exercise. You don’t need to go to the gym. All you need is determination and willingness to fit (pun intended) this routine in your schedule. Even a 20-minute walk twice a day would be enough. This will help you become a better IT professional overall, not just in preparation for the summit. Oh, and if you want to join your fellow SQL Server professionals do the third ever SQLRun at the summit, sign up here. It’s a fun way to be fit at the summit.

Since I already mentioned about those official and unofficial parties at the summit, expect a lot of junk food pouring along your way. I’m not a big fan of eating out because my wife’s a great cook but you can’t avoid that when you travel. This is especially true at the summit. You will be digging in to a lot of great food and refreshments – alcoholic and not – most of which is definitely junk food for those health-conscious individuals. You might want to load up with a lot of healthy food prior to hitting the road. Now, I’m not saying there won’t be any healthy ones during the parties but they usually don’t go well with alcoholic beverages. All I’m saying is to get yourself ready with a lot of unhealthy food during the summit and make sure you prepare for it. That also means a lot of coffee in the morning to keep you awake during the sessions.

Prepare your personal schedule

You’ll be at the summit for a week at most. You want to learn as much as you can and meet as many people as possible. But that doesn’t mean you’re completely off the radar. As you prepare your summit schedule, be sure to include time to call back home and say “Hi” to your family. Put it in your calendar so you get an alert when it’s about time to make that phone call. You also need to include time to call your colleagues back at the office for updates. They may have a pressing issue that can be resolved by implementing an idea that you’ve just learned from one of the sessions. You might even be able to raise this issue with the Microsoft engineers at the SQL Server CSS Clinic – a free engagement with the Microsoft SQL Server CSS engineers, the very folks who get on the call when you open up a ticket with Microsoft. Or, you may even share the excitement with your team that they would think about attending next year’s summit. This is crucial if you’re coming from a different time zone. You wouldn’t want to be calling your spouse or your colleagues at 9AM when they’re in the west coast. Get it in your calendar so you don’t forget.

Learn how to read maps

In the digital age of Google Maps, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MapQuest (does anyone still use this nowadays?) or other mapping technologies available today, it’s easy to laugh at somebody holding a printed map to find locations and directions. But this has been one of the most important skill that I’ve learned during my years in the army reserve training (I even blogged about its importance.) When your smartphone battery has run out of juice and there’s no electrical outlet in sight, knowing where you are and how to get to where you want to go spell the difference between a sumptuous meal and a chilling walk back at the hotel. Know where your hotel is relative to the convention center. If you’re driving, know where the parking spaces are. If you’ve scheduled attendance to the parties, know where the restaurants are. This will help you schedule which parties to go first. If the venues are completely opposite to one another, measure the distance and the time it takes to go from one party venue to the other.  I’m not really concerned about the weather during the week of the summit so walking to the party venues is not a challenge. However, I’m more concerned about carrying my bag to go to these parties if they are about four to six blocks away from each other.  Also, know the architectural layout of the convention center. If you have scheduled a session that is on the other side of the convention center, be sure you get there in time to get a seat. We had feedback several years ago about the location of the conference halls relative to the banquet halls. Reading the conference center layout is the first thing that I do after I get my registration onsite.

Prepare your party schedule

This is the nth time I’ve mentioned this. It doesn’t mean that I only go to the PASS Summit to attend parties. But I certainly want you to have as much fun as you can possibly have during the summit. And, going to these official and unofficial parties is one way to make sure you do. I’ve listed down some of those that are publicly available. Those that aren’t publicly available, I leave that for you to find out. I’m sure you are aware of the party etiquettes but here are the top three in my list – RSVP, network and D.I.M. (drink in moderation.)   I use the acronym RnD to remind myself of these three things, although the last one doesn’t really apply to me. Still, while these parties are open to public, some of them require that you sign up prior to going. For the official ones that are sanctioned by PASS, you need to show your conference badge and, in some cases, a wrist band as proof of attendance. The unofficial ones do have their own registration sites so be sure to check those out and register if you plan on attending.

Official PASS Summit parties

  • Welcome Reception – Tuesday, 15-Oct 6:30PM to 8:00PM (Convention Center)
  • Annual PASS Virtual Chapter Quiz Bowl – coincides with the Welcome Reception
  • Exhibitor Reception – Wednesday, 16-Oct 6:00PM to 8:00PM (Convention Center)
  • Community Appreciation Party – Thursday, 17-Oct 7:00PM to 10:00PM (NASCAR Hall of Fame)

Un-Official PASS Summit parties (with their registration links)

If you would like to get in on the unofficial parties, be sure to check out their registration links. As I’ve mentioned, there are a lot of those that are by-invitation only and I am not allowed to mention those.

I’m pretty sure you’re excited to attend the much awaited gathering of SQL Server professionals worldwide. You’ve got a few more days to go to prepare.

Preparing for the PASS Summit 2013 – Part 2

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This is part 2 of the series of tips that I’ve prepared for those attending the PASS Summit 2013 in Charlotte, NC. In part 1, I talked about preparation for travel, accommodation and communication.  This blog post talks about what you need to bring to the event. Feel free to add to the list by posting in the comments section if you can think of anything else.


What To Bring

Don’t ever think it is too early to plan what you need to bring to the event. You need to be strategic to make sure that you bring your necessities but not overly packed that you incur charges for your excess baggage.

Gadgets, a laptop, power adapter and possibly transformer

You’re a geek so I know without a shadow of doubt that you’ll carry a laptop.  Besides, I’m sure you’ll sneak in some work in between sessions because you’re sharing the oncall DBA duties with the new hire. If you can, bring the lightest and thinnest laptop you possibly can have. I’m not suggesting that you buy one just for the PASS Summit, although, it doesn’t hurt to do so. But imagine walking around the conference center the whole day with your heavy laptop in your backpack. That’s a quick way to get a back pain. An iPad, Surface, or any Android tablet can be an alternative if you can do your work with those gadgets. I wish I can do that but most of the presentations that I do involve between 5-8 virtual machines for the demos so I can’t just ditch my brick-heavy laptop.

Bring the necessary power adapters that you need for your gadgets. I bet that you’ll be using your smartphone a lot during that week to instantly check emails, the next session, send a quick tweet about that great idea you’ve just learned, or just simply answering phone calls. Your phone charger will be your next best friend throughout that week.

If you are coming from a country that uses voltage other than 110V, you definitely need a step-down transformer to get your gadgets charged. Plan to either bring one with you or check with the nearest RadioShack in Charlotte if they have one available.

TIP: Don’t you know that power strips are a great way to make new friends? Since all attendees are geeks and carry their laptops and gadgets with them, the limited number of power sockets make them a scarce commodity. Bringing one with you to connect your own gadgets and share with others is a great way to be involved in the SQL Server community in a very simple way. That’s the main reason I carry one with me during these events.

The Mighty Pen and Paper

You might think I’m old school because I included the pen and paper. However, a very good friend of mine once said that the faintest ink is more powerful than the sharpest memory. I can’t even read my own handwriting so why am I encouraging you to do so? Studies confirm that the notes that you take with pen and paper helps you retain what you wrote better than typing it on your laptop or tablet. And, yes, the study includes using a stylus being used on tablets but using pen and paper is still better.

Business Cards

What’s the quickest way to recall someone else’s name and contact information? I bet a business card handed over to you is much quicker than you typing on your smart phone (unless you work for one of the sponsors or exhibitors who have those handheld scanners that scan your badges to take your contact details.) You still have several weeks to go before the PASS Summit. Make sure you bring business cards with you that you can easily hand out to people you will meet. You also need make sure that you have the correct information on your business cards, including social media accounts. Your PASS Summit badge will include your Twitter handle if you have provided it in your registration. And, don’t be afraid to ask for others’ business cards. It’s a great networking tool.

Proper Clothing

Charlotte is unlike Seattle during the fall. Weather forecast during the week of the PASS Summit will be between 10 C/49 F to 22 C/72 F. Bring the appropriate clothes for the weather. Keep yourself warm whether you’re outdoors or indoors. Conference room temperature is usually cold due to air conditioning. Pack sweaters and coats for the whole week. Just make sure you have enough space in your luggage to put in those swags that the vendors and sponsors give away during and at the end of the event.

Camera

Take a lot of pictures. Even your phone has a digital camera in it. I bet that you would like to see what Charlotte has to offer before or after the event. Or, maybe even just take a photo of the people you meet at the summit. If you’re not from Charlotte, you’re technically a tourist. And as most travelers usually say, ”Take nothing but pictures leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.” Now, if you’re really into this digital photography thing that you spend a lot of money for those fancy gadgets and lenses, maybe you can hang out with your fellow SQL Server professionals who are into the same thing. Pat Wright (blog | Twitter) started the PASS Summit Photo Walk back in 2010 for photography enthusiasts attending the summit to get together and get geeky with photography. If you’re interested in joining, register at this website. You might also want to check out their Flickr page to see some of the interesting pictures taken during the previous PASS Summit events. I might join depending on whether or not I can squeeze my gear in my luggage.

Extras

I’ve already mentioned the possibility of bringing along extra luggage to squeeze those event swags in. For those in the US, this is as easy as buying a box in the local US Postal Service office and shipping it back home. For us outside of the US, this is easier said than done. Coordinate with your colleagues and friends who are also attending the summit. You can split the swags among you so you can carry them back home. Just be careful not to carry items that are not allowed by the US TSA. I remember Quest Software giving away sticky toys at a past event. Those traveling by plane had to leave them behind.

Carry extra cash (or credit card) if you plan to go sightseeing before or after the summit. For a list of recommended places to visit, check out SQLSentry’s President Greg Gonzales’ blog post about this for more details.
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