Winners Named in 'Best Thing I Learned at PASS Summit' Contest
Inspirational 'You Can' Entry Takes Grand Prize
In a field of outstanding submissions, Grant Fritchey's inspirational “You Can” entry captured both the spirit of PASS Summit and the real-life benefits of participating in the conference, winning the grand prize in the “Best Thing I Learned at PASS Summit” contest.
Judges lauded Grant's positive, can-do message—from gaining the technical skills you need to meeting valuable business contacts to sharing your own knowledge and experience—as "empowering." They also pointed to the other winning entries as strong examples of how what you learn at PASS Summit, and who you meet and learn from, can result in immediate solutions and long-term career and personal benefits.
PASS received fantastic response to the contest, which asked past PASS Summit attendees to share the most valuable technical tip, advice, process, product, or other benefit they had gained from the conference. Judges rated all submissions on the basis of ROI, technical merit, originality, creativity, and relevance to the contest topic.
As his prize, Grant selected 4 free nights hotel at PASS Summit 2009. Second-prize winners Robert Cook, Brian Bowlby, and Joe Webb receive free pre/post-conference seminar registration. And a full set of PASS Summit 2008 session recording DVDs goes to each of the third-prize winners: Simon Doubt, Cristin Flick, Elizabeth Priddy, Sheila Hankel, Mark Johnson, Chuck Lathrope, and Charles Hawkins.
I’ve received a lot from the PASS conference. I’ve attended technical sessions that blew my socks off and made me twitch in my seat, fighting the urge to start writing T-SQL code immediately. I don’t think any of that is the best thing I learned at PASS. No, the best thing I learned at PASS is summed up in a single phrase, “You can.”
My first Summit, I ventured out of the hotel room and met people volunteering with PASS. They were having fun. I asked if I could join in. "You can—just volunteer." I volunteered and began to meet people online. The next Summit, I met more people, names, people I had learned from. I asked them, "Can I hang out with you?" "You can—pull up a chair." I started learning more, directly from the source. I began building a network of people who helped me and who I could help.
I began to use “you can” myself. I was asked if I wanted to write a book. "You can." I tried submitting abstracts to speak at PASS. “You can’t” was the first answer, but “you can” came the following year.
Go to the PASS Summit. You can meet the people you’ve learned from. You can build a network of fellow database professionals. You can learn from technical sessions. You can volunteer to make PASS an even better community. You can submit an abstract to share knowledge that’s unique to you. You can.
How do you boil down five separate, five-day Summits into one specific thing? You don’t. The best thing I learned at PASS Summit, is that PASS Summit rocks! You are introduced to new technologies and features, best practice tips and tricks, valuable business contacts, and industry experts who are willing to help. And it happens on every single day of the Summit!
My first Summit, I took sessions on XML and was able to solve a performance issue occurring at my company by developing a type of batch UPSERT using XML. My first Summit, I was taught a query analyzer performance tuning tip: If you place all statements in a single window separated by GO statements and then look at the Actual Execution Plan, you get the percentage of each query’s cost relative to the batch. My first Summit, I got a business card from a Microsoft developer on the full-text indexing team who was a great resource during a product design that occurred long after the Summit ended. My first Summit, I received direct one-on-one attention from a consultant in solving a locking issue that had been a long-standing problem at my company—at a rate of $0/hr!
The best thing you should know about PASS Summit is that you need to attend every year or be willing to watch the rest of the SQL Server community "PASS" you by.
It’s Monday morning again, and I am sitting here going over my SSRS reports that oversee the couple hundred MS SQL Server instances we administer. Looks like the MS SQL Servers are doing well. Just a couple of minor disk issues we have to clean up. I remember a few years ago when my team would spend half of the day frantically logging on every server we administered and making sure everything looked okay in between Help desk calls and putting out fires from servers we had not been able to check.
It is amazing that in these times of corporate cutbacks and personnel layoffs that my job is much easier and much more satisfying than it has ever been. But I know where the turning point came. In several of the 2007 PASS conference sessions, I was introduced to the power of SSRS and Powershell. SSRS was an application development tool, I thought. How could this tool help a production DBA. After seeing how we could monitor our instances with built-in MS SQL Server tools and implementing them, my team’s life became much easier. Now we email the status of our databases every morning with only information we feel is important. Plus, we have not incurred any additional cost to the company with third-party monitoring tools. Instead of worrying about just maintaining our MS SQL Servers, we spend time figuring out how to give more benefit to our customers.
I vividly remember my first Summit experience. I was sitting with a couple of hundred other people in a session. The speaker was an established industry expert and author. I had a couple of his books on my shelf at home, and I was eager to hear him in person. He was doing a great job when someone asked a question. It was obvious he didn’t know the answer–that’s okay, no one knows everything. He handled it well. Just then, another SQL legend in the audience stood up and gave the answer. As that person finished, a Product Manager for SQL Server stood up and provided even more insight for the future direction of SQL Server.
I remember sliding down in my seat thinking, “There’s no way I’ll ever speak at a conference like this. So, I’ve got to find another way to volunteer for PASS.”
I did. I became a chapter manager, then ran for and was elected to the Board of Directors, and eventually became the Executive Vice President of Finance for PASS. During my 9 years of volunteerism (6 years on the Board), PASS afforded me many opportunities to do things that I would not have had a chance to do otherwise as a self-employed database consultant—far too many to list! And for that, I’m very thankful.
So what did I learn? Some call it the Law of the Harvest. The more you put in, the more you tend to get back. The more you give, the more you receive. And oddly enough, since that first experience, I’ve given more than 50 sessions at conferences throughout North America and Europe.
At the 2008 PASS conference in Seattle, I learned that a DBA’s most valuable resource is the SQL Server community. The engagement of the community at PASS transformed my problems to projects and my tools to solutions.
At the time, I had been a DBA for a year and was the first at my company. One of the many new projects in front of me had SSIS written all over it, but my skills in that area where nil, or should I say, NULL.
I signed up for Brian Knight’s SSIS class and came away with what I needed: a wealth of material and the tools to launch my project. Brian’s energy and enthusiasm were motivation to get it done. Several hours of work at the hotel that night propelled my project from idea to development.
I unintentionally sat at a Microsoft table the next day at breakfast. The folks couldn’t have been more approachable and encouraging when I told them about my project. Someone suggested I visit the Microsoft Tech Pavilion, where I met David Noor, a software engineer whose help launched me over several more hurdles. My project was coming to life.
Impromptu sessions with peers at PASS, and follow-ups online at SCC.com, helped bring my project to production. My superiors at work couldn’t have been more impressed that I had accomplished so much in such a short time-frame, at such a low cost.
PASS and the energy, encouragement, and education from its community are undoubtedly the most valuable tools that a DBA could have.
Last year was my first at the PASS Summit. Meeting new people was a bonus to the tips, tricks, and insight I gained. My favorite session was Capturing and Analyzing File & Wait Stats with Andrew Kelly.
Having used fn_virtualfilestats and sys.dm_io_virtual_file_stats before, my expertise was limited to "this number good" or "this number bad." Like many DBAs, a few skimmed forum posts and articles were my formal education to diagnosing bottlenecks. Kelly's session opened my eyes to the importance of recognizing the difference between filestats and waitstats. Performance tuning with this basic understanding helped me focus on key areas of contention, rather than only some stats that looked "bad." Is this a problem with the disk? Concurrent activity? Parallel threads? I learned tips like what processes can screw up numbers, pinpointing high I/O activity, users read or write wait times—information I can use to find resolutions faster than ever. As an operational DBA, this allows me more time for preventative rather than reactive maintenance.
I put into practice what I learned almost immediately. I now have great little pearls (aka notes) so I don't have to scour the Internet for clarification every time. Kelly presented everything in a clear, organized, logical fashion that I never had the time or energy to compile myself. The best thing I learned at PASS? Live, well-presented information from an MVP is worth a thousand Google searches. November can't come soon enough!
I’ve been an analyst for about 8 years and have only been an application developer for a year and a half. As a “newbie,” I figure I have a lot to learn, but surprisingly, one of the best tips I received during SQL PASS 2008 came during a discussion on performance-tuning dimensions for Analysis Services.
I’d been stuck on a problem with a calculated measure for a cube that I’d recently developed and had poured over the forums for advice: try x-formula, try y-formula, try Mosha’s latest… All were improvements—10 minutes then 5 minutes then 1 minute to retrieve the calculation from the cube—but none was fast enough (I needed it within 5 seconds). I brought this challenge to the presenter at SQL PASS, and he told me that sometimes you have to do it the old-fashioned, hard way. He told me not to get hung up on the latest trends but to instead think about the problem. I ended up doing part of the calculation in the ETL, and now the cube calculation takes less than 1 second! I’d spent over a month working on a solution, and his simple reminder put me back on the right track and the issue was fixed 2 days after SQL PASS.
Attending PASS assisted me in a number of invaluable ways.
I learned how to improve the performance of our SQL Server environment. The in-depth technical sessions helped me gain new strategies (understanding DBCC, SQL Server internals, SSIS gotchas, performance tuning) that stabilized our databases, minimized outages, and increased its uptime.
I also felt so much accomplishment in teaching and sharing what I learned. By having a training session, I shared best practices and knowledge to my team of fellow DBAs (from my team and other teams) and developers. The session had been very useful to my peers in understanding SQL Server issues, debunking myths, and learning past mistakes. I'm not an accountant (and I don't want to be one), but my training session saved the company a lot of money in training dollars.
I met and learned from the best of the best—top SQL Server experts. It saved me time and time away from supporting our environment. It's equivalent to attending numerous training classes (where you can get stuck with a bad teacher) and reading a bunch of expensive books.
It made me want to be a better DBA.
The best thing I learned at PASS was last November during a session by Paul Randal titled “Corruption Survival Techniques.” Paul explained the proper steps and some tips and tricks on how to deal with database corruption.
My company sells a software product to clinics and hospitals around the country. The application uses a SQL Server database to store patient demographic and clinical data. Because of HIPAA and the wide variety of back-end hardware and IT support, the database backup and maintenance is the responsibility of the individual hospitals and clinics.
In March, we received a call from a clinic that had had a hardware failure. They replaced the hardware and tried to attach the database file but could not attach it because there was corruption. Their IT staff had tried what they could and finally called us to see if there was anything we could do to help. I recommended they restore their most recent backup. They said they thought the database had been backed up, but when they checked, they found it had never been backed up. This database contained patient data covering several years.
Thanks to what I learned from Paul, I was able to get the database attached and ran DBCC CHECKDB. From the results of the CHECKDB, I found the corruption was isolated to non-clustered indexes and one table that contained log data. We recovered all patient-related data, and they now have a proper maintenance plan in place. The customer was extremely grateful.
I attended my first PASS Summit in 2006 and remember the experience as one that shaped my career as a DBA. I was new to SQL 2005, and my company tasked me with security and performance.
I remember meeting SQL MVP Erland Sommarskog in one of the all-day pre-con security sessions asking some very good questions about the new security features in SQL 2005 to one of the Microsoft developers who wrote much of the security for SQL 2005. There is nothing like learning real-time with a dialog between a MVP and the developer who wrote the tool. This experience helped me to secure our Web hosting environment.
We had just migrated to SQL 2005 and were seeing blocking on a SPID labeled -4. So I asked Bob Ward, who happened to be manning the CSS area. The question even stumped him, but not for long with his resources back at Microsoft. He gave me his email and said he would look into it. After a short email dialog, he found that TEMPDB was having contention problems, so we increased the number of files and upgraded to the latest cumulative patch, and all was good.
Nothing like getting tons of information to help you with your job, getting free support help from CSS, and meeting tons of people in your line of work struggling with the exact same thing as you!
I’ve attended many outstanding PASS Summits over the years. As I’ve attended PASS Summits, I’ve found that it helps me to focus in on something that I know I’m going to want to be doing in the next year.
Historically, I’ve almost always attended DBA track sessions, since that was the primary focus of my work. The 2008 conference was different. I knew that my company was going to put a big push on Business Intelligence in the upcoming years. So, I took the plunge into the BI track. I wasn’t disappointed. Over and over again this year, I’ve constantly referenced back to BI track presentations that I attended—and added a few new ones through the Summit presentation pack (if you attend a Summit but don’t purchase the DVD pack, you are missing fully half the value).
For a few examples, the Kimball Group’s (they wrote the book in BI!) Warren Thornthwaite’s presentation on “Putting the Business in Business Intelligence” was an invaluable presentation on how to systematically go through the process of teasing out the business requirements of your application from the stakeholders and future users of the application.
We are moving from Infomaker to Reporting Services. Paul Truly of Hitachi Consulting gave a wonderful presentation on architecting reports where he advocated making your reports into “super reports.” This architecting hint will save us loads on maintenance going forward.
PASS is truly a great conference where I go to “open brain, pour in knowledge.” See you there!