PASS Summit 2017 – a personal angle

It’s THAT season again, and although I couldn’t attend last year, I have made it to Seattle despite the best efforts of aeroplane fuel pump bugs. That is a good start.

So what’s the week about for me? Let’s see.

Firstly, I am hoping to meet you. I mean, if you got as far as reading the third paragraph of one of my blog posts, we’re practically family.

If you’re anything like me, you actually don’t function well in crowds, and you long for the comfort of an invisibility cloak. I’d like to think I have gotten better at talking to strangers over the years, and I don’t worry that much anymore when I make the effort and get met with awkward silence. Move on, Ewald, it wasn’t meant to be.

On the upside, while I regularly curse myself for sucking at names and faces, I have occasionally been pleased by recognising people I talked to before, and realising they are drawing a blank. It’s fine, those are the times when I award myself brownie points.

The intersection of SQL and a union

Seattle has a special place in my heart already. In the last season I worked in the cruise industry, we were doing an Alaskan itinerary based from here, and I have fond memories of spending homeport days by raiding the Barnes and Noble in Pine Street before devouring the spoils in a convenient Starbucks.

More significantly, the day Amy and I started that contract was also the day I plucked up the courage to propose to her. Since this week is both school holiday and our wedding anniversary, there is more-or-less inevitably a family holiday intertwined with Summit.

The Big Learn

When all is said and done, there will always remain things to say and do, and sometimes we just have to do as someone says. To that end, I’ll be attending Brent Ozar and Erik Darling’s precon “Expert Performance Tuning for SQL Server 2016 & 2017” on Tuesday.

I’m no DBA, but it always helps us to try and think like DBAs, or at least learn to empathise with them while they lovingly whip us into submission. And yes, I have huge gaps in my knowledge of recent features, so I am expecting to learn a good headful from these very intelligent and engaging speakers.

Remaining with the subject of pleasurable punishment, I am guaranteed to be jostling for a seat in Bob Ward’s notoriously high-bandwidth half-day session “Inside SQL Server 2017 on Linux”. Expect me to be drooling into my nascent Linux beard by the end.

For the rest, I hope to meet my target of two or three sessions on subjects I’m completely but guiltily unfamiliar with – I’m sure we all have our own skeletons in the closet there. Pad it with a few sessions where you think you kind of know the basics, so it’s not quite so punishing. Sprinkle a few more on subjects you’re comfortable with, but you just want to enjoy the speaker’s individual angle, and before you know it, the week is over.

This is old news, but I am going to repeat a classic mantra for my own sake: We need to make the most of the human interaction on offer. You can always catch up on technical content later, but it’s often a trusted network of peers who will signpost you to such content.

Go forth. Harvest yourself some low-hanging peers. And have fun.

TSQL Tuesday #93: The buzzword arms race


This month, T-SQL Tuesday, the monthly blog party started by Adam Machanic back in 2009 (!), is hosted by Kendra Little (b | t). Kendra’s choice of topic is Interviewing Patterns & Anti-Patterns, a “soft” subject I’d normally shy away from. But darn it, I’m going to play along for a paltry few paragraphs.

Out of the comfort zone

I guess I’m a classic geek who patiently takes the time to engage with code, but have my blind spots on the soft skills side. Be that as it may, some years ago I had to sit in to help with the technical side of a job interview. I prepared a list of straightforward and not-so-straightforward questions, and felt prepared to push only as hard as was sensible for the candidate, and to let him lead into his own comfort zone if required.

Things started out okay. I asked questions, we embroidered on his answers, and he came across as pretty confident. But I found myself straining to really follow some of his explanations. Not his command of language, but simply whether he was sure what he was talking about.

As I started working harder to parse his explanations, I think it turned into an arms race. Whether by devious design or an unfortunate style of communication, he came into focus as somebody experienced at constructing sentences which sound superficially impressive, while avoiding clear statements. So my manner probably got a bit more aggressive as I tried to poke holes in his answers, and his buzzword emission frequency increased in response.

In the end, I wasn’t convinced by him at all. But I can’t honestly say I would have been able to make a fair comparison between him and someone else by that point. Thing is, I was turned off by the defensive mechanism that didn’t allow him ever to say “I’m not sure” or “Not my area of expertise”, and the slickness of his technique smelled of bull to me.

Maybe that approach is a great survival mechanism for some people, and maybe they only play that overconfidence card in interviews, rather than on the job. Perhaps I handled him really badly – if I played it better, he wouldn’t be on that defensive footing, and he would have come across as a better candidate.

Oh well, it’s back to reading the subtext in source code for me.