SQL Server Discovery Day, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Hacking

So I’ve really slacked on blogging since starting my own website. My thought was with my own domain that I would do this more. I have a lot of partial drafts right now that are eager for publication.Well, hopefully I have motivating myself merely by typing that.

Moving on…

This past Saturday, I took part in a SQL Server 2016 Discovery Day in Raleigh-Durham, to learn about the new features in this year’s edition in a hands-on environment with some of the PASS data available to the public. It was a pretty solid way to spend a really hot weekend afternoon, geeking out over bells and whistles and data we don’t always get to access. First, our chapter leader (or as Kevin refers to himself, Grand Poobah) gave a presentation concerning all of the new features that made the 2016 edition the best one yet for all of us who spend a ton of time working within the Microsoft stack. I particularly looked forward to putting with the Transaction Performance Analysis Overview into action, along with checking out R Services. The second presentation was one on columnstore indexes delivered by MVP Rick Heiges (fun fact…he’s related to a former president of my alma mater, which is how we first made acquaintance some time ago). Indexes aren’t my strong suit, so I can only say that he showed us how this index focus will make it easier for folks like me to improve in that facet. Then it was time to form teams and start hacking it.

PowerBI Graphic
In five hours, and with about ten hours worth of PowerBI under my belt, look what I made in school today.

We were given some really dirty data sets (IMO, at least) and would use these to create analyses on geographical locations on SQL Saturday and Summit attendees, and correlations between the topics presented and virtual chapter membership. Our group (Team Cheetah) had a diverse background from database engineers to report writers. We really focused strongly on the PowerBI aspect, and finding ways to clean up some of the data related to tracks and zip codes/addresses. After the fact, I realized on my part that I could have used more columnstore index feature, but I’m guessing that the leaders liked my decision to use lookup tables to make the above graphic work. I think I got a bit excited explaining how we found that topics presented within an 18-24 month span were the most frequent of Summit presentations in the next year, going on…and on…and on about the dashboards and the graphic types. After the fact, our team found more we could have done with the hours we had, but considering the rookie status we felt alright with what we would present and be judged on (use of new features, dashboards, analysis, etc). So maybe we would get points for utilizing the presentation and talking about the muddied data we had. Plus, the engineers were good at the geospatial aspect and cleansing.

Well, our team won the contest, with gift cards as prizes, so obviously that was a cool feather in the cap.

I will say that an exercise like this was rather interesting and cool, but I’m wondering what we could do for the PASS Community if we were to take this on for longer than an afternoon. If we had a team with BI Developers (like myself), ETL and data quality experts, analysts, and data scientists, then we could have some very useful information for trending. That may be the ultimate goal of this exercise, but it can become a stepping stone for a true hacking session.

Plus, this is an opportunity for a lot of the members of our local chapter to try their hand at civic hacking…myself included. One of my recent goals/fascinations has been civic hacking. The opportunity to take public data and improve a community using this information. In the Triangle alone we have many open data events, including CityCamp and Datapalooza. I’ve had a chance to sit in on some of the ideas and even add an idea in there, but a hackathon is something I’d like to try in full. Today gave me an idea on how it may work in a controlled environment, and what I could improve on when presenting findings. I would love to see more of this happen, and knowing that the community can have its own members help out with the solutions to make things better. Then, in turn, we can go out and use open data to help our communities.

…and then, I can write more blog entries.

Human Rights to Me

I mentioned in my introduction that I have involvement in the autism spectrum community, and we are in the midst of Autism Awareness Month, so I should address one thing briefly.

One of the things I do on the spectrum involves the Autism Society of North Carolina’s Human Rights Committee. I’m one of the two self-advocates on this committee, bringing my own perspectives to cases where assistance is needed. I get to visit homes in the area to check on how the residents are being handled and engaged with, so there are no concerns.

As you can guess, I’m not at liberty to discuss cases, but I will mention that the individuals I work with tend to not be high-functioning, which makes for an interesting challenge. At times I have to go back and think about when I was five or so, when I had more behavior issues. When I was presented with this opportunity, it stemmed back to my experiences in Philadelphia working with children who were higher on the spectrum, last going back to 2011. I think back to when I was 4 or 5, and there was concern that I would end up another Rain Man, if you will. I would be smart enough to potentially go for a college education, but my social and life skills dragged slightly. I had to go through two years in special education (kindergarten and first grade) before being mainstreamed into standard elementary school the next year. Eventually I stopped needing an IEP as well. Made it relatively far, all things considered.

This time it is mostly older individuals who are still working on their basic life skills. I get to ensure that they are not treated as “subhuman” and that all standards involving medication and restraints are within legal reason, or even needed at all. Sometimes we don’t need it, and as a self-advocate, I always think it’s in the methods of teaching social mores that we are helped. However, I’m allowed the chance to figure out what is best with all ranges of the spectrum.

This is the first time in about four years that I truly felt I was making a difference in the autism spectrum community. Our hope is that those who need care in North Carolina in any way will be taken care of as they should, and can grow as people. It’s also part of why I believe autism awareness can go a step further, as autism acceptance. That’s another post later this month 😉

The First Post (or as WordPress likes to say, “Hello world!”)

Everyone needs their introductory (or re-introductory) blog post when entering the sphere. So this one is no different. I see many great professionals and advocates on here with some well-developed websites, with some great advice and random musings for others to check out. I have asked myself many times, “what can I share with the world, and maybe use a blog to ask others their thoughts?” Plus, how do I brand myself?

Well, it was time to do something about it. I decided to start a full-blown website. I could discuss life on the autism spectrum and share my observations dealing with all things structured query language, and how I solved some problems in my professional dealings (along with hearing about even better solutions in the comments). So I hope to post regularly with some topics that will interest both of my key audiences and their subsets.

I’m still figuring out exactly how to combine a standard blog with a professional repository, and how to actually do a good website. So this will probably change over time, but I still hope that those of you database professionals (there is a natural SQL Server bias) or autism spectrum parents and self-advocates will get something from here.

Welcome to my part of this world.