PASS Summit 2016: Day 0 & Day 1

Earlier this year, I came upon the opportunity to go to PASS Summit. Some of you who clicked on this link probably know what that is, but I’ll let the about section of the Summit site explain to you what the event is and why it is worthwhile. I had previously gone in 2013 when it was held in Charlotte (easy commute from Raleigh), and having the chance to go back was a no-brainer for myself and my company. At the conference, I get to network with industry professionals/mutual Twitter followers, learn new skills to advance my career, and get advice on problems and possibilities facing my department at my company to allow us to become better. Plus, I can personally thank Redgate for the awesomeness of their SQL Prompt tool, which our BI team actively uses.

Anyway, this is where I start blog recaps.

Day 0 (Monday)

Flight arrived after 5:00 (PDT), so I did not get to pick up my registration badge. I will note that it would be nice if that area was open later on that day like it is on the surrounding days. At first, introverted autistic me was concerned about showing up to events without a badge. I was due to attend a networking dinner hosted by veterans Steve Jones and Andy Warren, where people could converse and meet. I was able to talk with a few professionals, including a group of developers at stamps.com, on what they do and we shared challenges we each face on a broad scale. While I liked how the dinner gave us a chance to sit down, I sometimes hope that there’s more opportunity to move about the dinner area and talk to other tables. When someone speaks to me first and asks about me, it is much easier for me to talk, or if I’m place at a table with others I’m driven to make that conversation. That was advantageous.

After I returned to the hotel to handle a task for my work, and struggling with it (public props to my colleague for figuring it out quickly the next morning), I decided that I might want to talk with others on handling disparate data…while singing karaoke. Thanks to the magic of Twitter, the PASS community is constantly in touch about events, which led me to join many others (both first-timers and community notables) to a Chinese restaurant hosting nightly karaoke. That was more of a chance to have fun and practice “Purple Rain” in front of an audience outside Raleigh-Durham or Philadelphia. I’ve learned that singing a song in front of people who may not know you is a good opening for conversation once the song is done. It’s no secret that I have trouble approaching someone I’ve never spoken with and making small talk with that person, but there were some openings created through the power of singing songs someone else made famous.

A key takeaway professionally that night was simple: as soon as you are stuck on a problem involving data sources, ask someone who is more seasoned with the data on their thought process, and how they became acquainted with the data. If they solve the problem, find out how they did it so you can apply it next time. It can help someone doing work on the analyst side to get better. I admit it’s an area I still need to be more consistent about when trying to play hero.

Day 1 (Tuesday)

I wasn’t signed up for a pre-con because money, so it has really been a day of exploring and also following up on previous work tasks. Let’s just say I saw touristy stuff and took advantage of the #sqlsummit hashtag to meet random others. Again, PASS does a great job utilizing Twitter.

Then we got to the networking dinner. There’s a lot of standing around awkwardly for a person like myself, so this event isn’t necessarily easy. I found that moving around and striking up conversation with someone else who was also by themselves to be an effective way of connecting. I was able to talk to a DBA or three about how their systems worked, and got advice that the system administrator should not be the database administrator. Can’t treat them both the same. I can agree to some extent, but I would think it depends on if the sys admin has been trained as a DBA.

I like the networking dinner for the open and social aspect, but I do wonder if PASS could put together a networking event similar to the first-timers one for people who generally just want to meet other people but have trouble saying the first word. The first-timers one is set up speed dating style, and maybe it could be expanded to others in the future. Though with everything considered, I met plenty of new people by focusing on them directly.

Then came the fun of karaoke, yet again. How we do the connect part. Or reconnect, as I encountered professionals I had not seen in a long time…three years in a few cases.

And that was everything through Tuesday. Days 2-4 will provide even more learning.

Wide World Importers & AdventureWorks – Meet the Senior-Manager Boss

Well, I should first note that I intended to blog more than I have, but was struggling to find the right topics that didn’t involve any ‘woe is me’ complaints struggles. However, then I found inspiration in talking to others about steps when I got started in trying to work on my technical skills in my time away from work (mostly T-SQL and some Python would be covered), and how to cover the basics for a lot of people looking to get started.

One situation I run into more frequently than I previously wanted to admit is being unable to explain the most basic of concepts after I do them. Part of it, as I came to realize, was not allowing myself to practice what I learned outside of the office anymore. By the end of last year, I figured out that I needed to actually use a home database if I was going to perfect my technical chops, let alone speak on a subject in front of an audience where examples are crucial. So my first thought is…what about the constructs of Microsoft’s own sample databases? There’s a new one for 2016, and I had to get it, and post some rudimentary thoughts.

Get the database file, of course

I figured this was a time to trace my steps and add my first database in my shiny new Developer edition instance. So where can you find Wide World Importers? Here it is on the shiny GitHub page. There is both a transaction backup file and an analytical backup file (WideWorldImportersDW-Full.bak). I downloaded both, and moved the extended backup files to my local backup folder. In my case the extension was Microsoft SQL Server\MSSQL13.[instance name]\MSSQL\Backup. My thought is that it’s an easier spot to keep the originals. I read that some folks advised to place it directly in the C: drive, however, and there may be a good reason for me to do so in the future.

So within SQL Server Management Studio, I decided to use the commands rather than the RESTORE DATABASE command. I am not at all DBA level (show compassion for we little developers, peeps), but pretended to be one by asking to restore a database. There are instructions on the Microsoft site, but I’ve got pictures for how I followed along (also because I couldn’t get video to happen).

WWImporters - Restore Database
Yes, the Restore Database command was the droid I was looking for in this particular instance.

Once at the backup screen, I got the database loaded pretty quickly. The key is looking for a file after clicking the Device radio button. Also, the backup folder appeared instantly when I clicked Add and it allowed me to easily choose the database.

WWImporters - Select Device.jpg

Well, hitting okay a bunch of time allowed for a very quick “restore” of a database I never had to start. Then I was able to do the same for the DW/analytical version, and I even put AdventureWorks2014 in there solely to be experimental. Had no problems with a 2014 database brought into a 2016 system, in case some of you were like me some time ago and thought compatibility issues could occur if you don’t set it to 2016 in advance.

I should also note that I used the -full version because I have Developer edition, and -full works on that and everything Enterprise. If you don’t have one of those editions, you’ll need to stick with -standard.

Is Wide World Importers special in any way?

It’s hard for me to say while toying around with the DB so far. The business has changed slightly, including more tables based on delivery locations. However, some of the big differences to me are more about the DB practices and configuration for new SQL Server 2016 features.

I immediately noticed many more system-versioned tables (temporal, maybe?) in this edition. Those are the clocks in the corner of each table. maximized the next level, and there was a history archive. Pretty cool that it’s finally come over this way.

WWImporters - System Version Tables
What’s up with the clocks? Now they can find out where I messed around and I can’t cover my tracks anymore?

Even some of the code itself is more detailed and also slightly different in format, in the way lines are split up. I do still notice cursors, which will show others how to do it…but I wonder if all those folks who convinced me of the badness of cursors would take issue. The views are pretty simplistic to say the least, and may have some use considering they are concentrated to three areas.

The analytical database this time uses dimension, fact, and integration (staging tables) as the prefixes. I think it’s an easier way to teach folks about the data warehouse schema by using these tables. The schema is also set up that way, with fact tables having many a foreign key and the dimensions having identities across the board that link accurately. I even saw a proc called GetLastETLCutoffTime, which gave me ideas that I can bring to my day job for some of what we run during our off hours.

AdventureWorks won’t be updated any more, but it really feels more so like WideWorldImporters is a promotion of sorts, with more integrated features and better key systems. The documentation is about the same, but the data itself is improved. For people using this edition longer than I have, fresh data is a good thing, I’m sure.

Hold up…weren’t you going to mention more about 2016 features?

Oh yeah…those 2016 features. I notice that I haven’t yet tried to stretch the database, but it appears this one is configured so that it can be done. Same goes with R Services, which I’ve only scratched the surface on when using a release candidate.

I’ll have to go into more detail in a second part once I play around with these features, and maybe do a comparison against other public databases that are SQL Server compliant. Always learning, you know.

How Often Do We (or Will I) Hiatus?

So I’ve been on a hiatus for over a month, because life got in my way…more so I got in my own way. Adjustments to a new job, a lot of travel, and some other house matters. Plus, I’m realizing that there are a lot of steps that go into putting coherent thoughts into a technical blog. I’m asking some questions now about code formats, and what are the best tags…and I also have someone to proofread.

So I’m hoping to get a fresher post this week, but I can’t be sure if I’ll have long breaks like many of us on the interwebs. Time will tell, as I hope to keep this site interesting.

Autistic Pride Day

This past Sunday, June 18, was marked Autistic Pride Day. While usually cognizant of these occasions, last month was the first I recalled such a day. The day is a celebration of neurodiversity, and the potential of all people to be contributors to society. As you can guess, we show that we’re proud of our identities, abilities, and communities. One thing I am thankful for as I’ve become older is that my idiosyncratic behaviors and quirks are now seen as second nature, versus when they were ridiculed during my school years. That is probably because our culture has encouraged inclusion recently, making it less of a fight to get others to understand.

At first, I questioned why there is a day for pride among us when we have a month dedicated to acceptance. I doubt that commentators and pundits will start complaining about “the autistic agenda” or something, but considering the amount of people who have revealed their diagnosis I can see why this could be viewed by some skeptics as a fad. However, my thought is that there is a small difference between the intent of each. Autism Awareness Acceptance Month is meant to reach out to others on how we can still be members of society with abilities more so than deficiencies. It’s a time to educate others. Autistic Pride Day, however, is our day; we show the world how we’re proud of how we were born. It’s a time to show off.

Both of these are relatively interchangeable, as we often have to make people aware of the differences between autistics and NTs while highlighting our own abilities in the process. What I reflected on when Sunday came and went was the achievements and the chance to focus on an optimistic view of autism. As I have written before, there is still a great stigma over how we are

In one of the online communities I browse on occasion, I encountered an excellent blog post from spectrum advocate Alyssa Huber about what Autistic Pride Day means, and what it does not mean, which can also apply to the month.

How I see it, it’s a way to humanize autism. It shows that we are not just a cluster of symptoms. It shows that we all have a place in this world. It shows that like everyone else, we have our own unique personalities, perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses, and we should accept each other as humans even if we are different.

As for what it does not mean, The post came up after a derogatory comment In various circles (particularly when it comes to politics), I hear a line from someone such as “everyone gets offended too easily.” Well, there are reasons why we get offended, as this meme on Huber’s post demonstrates.

Autism252520is252520Me252520meme325255B425255D
Though I would argue that the media has rolled back its perpetuation of these talking points. Now the focus is more so on subsets like anti-vaxxers.

What offends me is the ignorance and the stigma.

So how I look at Autistic Pride Day is one where we highlight the accomplishments of those on the spectrum and how they have proven themselves to be just as capable as their NT neighbors. Yes, someone will consider it ‘just another movement,’ but it’s still my movement as a person who still sporadically fights to assimilate, and I want to be a proud part of the movement. I end with a comment from that post explaining what makes this important.

Autistic pride as a movement is very, very meaningful to me. [After the diagnosis] I initially felt so, so alone, almost as if I was now officially on the outside looking in at society. It felt like a label that said ‘I don’t belong here.’ When I started blogging about my autism, however, I discovered a huge community of fellow autistic adults, people like me who were seeking to be understood and accepted by society, and I realized that yes, I do belong here. I belong on this earth, in this society that may not be ready to accept me yet but someday will. I’m determined to insure that this society takes me as who I am, not who it wants me to. I am good, I am valid, I am autistic. And nobody can take that away from me.

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.