Folks Who Have Made a Difference – Authors and Avatars

T_SQL_Tuesday

About

This is a post for T-SQL Tuesday #96 and it is about “…the opportunity to give a shout-out to people (well-known or otherwise) who have made a meaningful contribution to your life in the world of data.” It is being hosted by Ewald Cress aka @sqlOnIce Thanks Ewald!

What is An Antilibrary?

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/26/umberto-eco-antilibrary-oliver-burkeman

So just so you know, my antilibrary is vast. I wish I had the money and time to buy books and to read them all while knowing that I am only scratching the surface of what I am able to learn about.

Softpro Books

Softpro Books was a one of a kind of a brick and mortar store.

It ONLY carried tech books. But only the latest versions. If you wanted something that was 2 or 3 years old, chances were they no longer carried it. They could probably order for it you if you really needed it.

I bought so many books from that store that I literally have hundreds of bookmarks from them.

I used to joke with the store’s owner, Jim Treitman, that I should probably go ahead and deposit some of my payroll check into the store every month.

I would daily check their RSS feed for new releases, especially as it related to SQL Server.

“Softpro Books, this is Jim, how can I help you?”
“Hey Jim, it’s Todd.”
“Oh, hi Todd, what’s up?”
“Say I just saw XYZ came out. Do you have a copy?”
“Let me check… Yes, I do. You want me to set one aside for you?”
“Yes, please. I’ll swing by after work to pick it up.”
“No problem. See you then. Bye!”

Had this conversion hundreds (!) of times over the years.

From a personal touch to a knowledgable staff they were awesome. The smell of coffee, National Public Radio playing in the background and a store full of candy. To me it was a slice of Heaven. And at times when several people were in the store we would share ideas or help solve each others technical problems.

But alas, they couldn’t hold out against two major forces: Amazon.com and the decline of technical books.

They knew the writing was on the wall about loosing out to Amazon but so did a lot of other small bookstores. The fact that they lasted until May 2014 was incredible to me.

The second part was a bit more troubling. In an age of technology why did it seem like less tech books were getting published than before?

There just isn’t much money to be made being a tech author plus it is an insane amout of work. I doubt ANY tech author will ever make it on to either Amazon’s or the New York Times bestseller list. Blogs and on-line documentation are the main written sources now. Things change too fast today- by the time the book is published parts of it will already be out of date. Plus something else happens- it becomes a drag on the author.

Yes, I said that.

Some authors just want to write a book and be done with it. They don’t want to be held hostage to it to keep it up-to-date as versions change. Or keeping the code compatible with different versions of the software. Or responding to technical errors or adding errata that got missed or overlooked.

One of our local computer retailers, Micro Center, has nearly stopped carrying books altogether. They too used to have rows and rows of computer books. But not anymore.

Plus have you seen the Teenage Vampire Romance section in Barnes and Noble lately??? It is bigger than the data books section. Bookstores will only carry what sells.

Jim started his own Battery Giant franchise store in Denver, Colorado in June 2014 after closing his Softpro Books store. The battery for my indoor garage opener recently died and so I had a chance to give him some business and catch up. Great guy.

My SQL Bookshelf and my Heroes – The SQL Authors

And now a reveal. I started working with SQL Server 7.0 back in 1998 and became an accidental database administrator (DBA) full-time in 1999. I was a scared to death introvert and books became my friends.

[I KNOW BOOKS ARE INANIMATE OBJECTS. I DO NOT HEAR THEIR VOICES. IT IS AN ANALOGY. AND THIS IS MY BLOG POST. NOW GET OFF MY LAWN.]

So I began hoarding books. Just kidding. Well, maybe. I did begin however buying and reading A LOT of SQL books. Slinging code, working through the examples. I became a self-taught DBA. Yes, I DO have many other books too and might share them at another time but these are just the SQL ones I wanted to highlight for this post.

I began to even feel at times that I was having a conversation with the author(s) as I read their work. Some had a super dry tone, others sounded like they were in the room with me.

Over the years when an author whose book I had was going to be in town, I made an effort to bring my copy for them to sign. User groups, SQL Saturday events and the PASS summit.

This is for a personal collection. I doubt any of these will every bring top dollar on eBay for being signed by the author(s). The MVP book signing was great as I had a chance to get several authors to sign it. More on that story in a moment.

And I have some titles on my shelf at my office as opposed to my basement as well.

There are generally three reasons I buy books:
1. I am working on a current project and need to absorb the information quickly.
2. I want to do a deep dive on a subject and want to understand it thoroughly top to bottom.
3. I want to have a general understanding about something so I will skim the pages and maybe read it cover to cover.

One thing I personally cannot stand is getting blind-sided by something obvious that I could have read about in a book. Yes, that is an introvert fear of mine.

Punking Jen McCown

At the 2011 PASS summit, @JenniferMcCown was a new author. I was in line to get her signature in addition to several of the other MVP authors too for the recent book SQL Server Deep Dives Volume 2. I had bumped into her and her husband Sean earlier in the day. Sean just happened to be walking by, saw me in line and said, hey, let’s play a trick on Jen. Let me sign something on her page of the book. Which he did and is the last image above.

And so when I got up to Jen, she opens the book to her page, and you should have seen the look on her face. Someone else had already signed it! Sean and I and others had a good laugh.

Why Should We Become Authors

Please understand I have never published a book. So some of the following advice are just my thoughts.

1. Ask to be a technical reviewer- or as a second set of eyeballs. READ everything and work ALL of the code examples. Test for various versions of both the database engine and SQL Server Management Studio. Provide feedback and suggestions.

2. Ask to refresh an older version of the book. Several titles that I have are now out of date and have not been refreshed either in print or electronically.

3. Create a new book. If I had to chose right now, I would pick either SQL Server Migrations and Upgrades or Multi-Terabyte SQL Server Administration.

These authors which I have read over the years are my heroes. THEY inspire me to apply what they have learned and shared in print form. Without them, I doubt I would be where I am today.

Like I said before, they are NOT in it for the money. They have their reasons why they publish and I am forever grateful for those who put in the hard work to become an author.

Sci-Fi and VR Reference

For those who don’t know me, I am into virtual reality (VR). I own several headsets: Oculus DK1, DK2, Rift, and (2) Gear VR headset which use my mobile phone. I also am into Unreal Engine 4 from Epic Games and have built several demonstrations and have even given SQL presentations using that video game engine. While what I have done has been pretty simple to date, things are about to go to a whole new level 🙂

The Diamond Age has a concept in it known as a ractor. This ractor is a human actor but their voice and movements have been altered into an avatar which interacts with a young girl. The ractor grows up with the girl as she becomes an adult.

What is interesting is that the ractor(s) use technology that is encrypted and the ractor is both anonymous and yet trusted. But this is a sci-fi book, one I highly recommend reading.

SQL Membership and Some PASS Numbers

Based on some informal conversations, I discovered the following. The number of members of the site SQLServerCentral is about two million. The number of people registered as PASS members is about 250,000. The number of people who can physically and financially attend the PASS summit is ~5,000.

So for people to stay connected, learn and share compared to Summit is tiny. Yes, there are user groups, SQL Saturday events, PASS virtual chapters, etc. but there is no personal interaction available for people, especially if they are financially or physically unable to attend.

Twitter and Slack channels notwithstanding, those are still written communication and not social vehicles that I am about to describe.

20 Years of Books – The Next 20 Years

I am one to make some bold predictions.

Facebook Spaces is now in beta. When it hits, it will seem cartoony, nothing more than, “Hey everybody, look at me and my supercool avatar! Let’s go look at a YouTube I just found! Then you can watch me paint something silly! Then how about we watch a movie together and make our own Mystery Science Theater 3000!”

What is going to happen when authors can meet their readers in virtual reality? What is going to happen when authors can share fantastic Quillustrations instead of whiteboard sessions in VR? Or how about using Bigscreen to collaborate with friends instead of a GoToMeeting?

Heh, what is going to happen to the virtual chapters of PASS when they become VR chapters?

I can see the time coming where vetted SQL Server professionals can reach out and host either hands-on or presentation sessions to connect to people who normally might not be able to attend in-person events. Same for remote hands for troubleshooting.

Personally I know of some folks who are on the neurodiversity spectrum. Think about autism for example. They can have a hard time trying to communicate with people let alone hold down a job. Imagine if the tech of VR and the selfless service of the SQL community can bring these people into the SQL family with patience and understanding.

In Closing

The last ~20 years I have been into books and seeking out the voices of authors. What will the next ~20 years look like with connecting to people and voices from places that I might not have ever heard from?

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I Don’t Care Who You Are

T_SQL_Tuesday

Disclaimer

This is a story about a SQL Server database administrator (DBA) I hired many years ago. I am no longer with that company and names have been changed. Except mine 🙂

About

This is also a post for T-SQL Tuesday #93 and the series is called Interview Patterns & Anti-Patterns and it is hosted by Kendra Little. Thanks Kendra!

Interview Process

At this particular office, we had a need for a full-time DBA. One of our datacenters was also nearby.

My process was to get candidates from recruiters, conduct phone screens, and if they sounded like a good candidate, to bring them in and conduct a two-part interview. Part 1 would just be talking- background, resume items, war stories, SQL knowledge and wisdom. Part 2 would be hands-on technical. I would spin my laptop around and with SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) launched, have them tell me about the instance it was connected to. I would then ask a series of questions to demonstrate their level of hands-on technical chops. From there if they did well, they would come back in later and meet the rest of the IT team and then a final decision would be made as to extend an offer to hire them or pass.

Enter Stage Right

I had been through a lot of candidates via phone screen and had some come in for an in-person interview. Some people talked a good game but then bombed on the technical hands-on part. I think I made several people nervous when I said, “Don’t screw anything up, this is a production server you are connected to.” While that was true, I really wasn’t trying to scare them but it does show a certain level of confidence and maturity when you can keep your cool. DBA(s) need to be able to handle pressure, stress, being tired and still be able to function in a cool, calm, and collected manner.

Agent 003 was waiting for me at the reception desk to the IT area. I got there, reached out to shake his hand and he smiled and grabbed me with his left hand and gave it a solid shake. I looked down and noticed he didn’t have a right arm- he had a prosthetic.

Now the job description listed the usual be able to lift 70 lbs stuff but I was more interested in his brain and skills and not in his physical abilities.

I began to think about how is he going to type on my laptop? Do I need to get him a full-sized keyboard? Any other assistance devices? It had never occurred to me that I need to be able to accommodate somebody like this. Surprise! He typed just as fast as I did but with only one hand.

Agent 003 passed with flying colors both parts of the interview, met the crew, offered him a job, and he accepted!

Personal Observation

I don’t care who you are. Can you do the job? I don’t care if you are a reformed, one-eyed, one-horn, flying purple people eater https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Purple_People_Eater, provided of course that people are friends, not food.

Maybe sometime in the future when the kids have graduated college and I can go back to school full-time I want to work on career 2.0 – becoming a neuroscientist. So I enjoy reading about the mind and the brain. For example, one book that I read (The Brain That Changes Itself) http://amzn.to/2hGtmp7 and he’s also recently published another one on the same subject of neuroplasticity- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity

Up until ~30 years ago, scientists believed our brains are hard-wired at a certain age and that the brain does not significantly change after that. Well, sometimes scientists are dead wrong. So I knew that Agent 003’s brain, besides being an awesome DBA, was able to cope and adapt to probably anything the job might require of him. The human brain is an amazing machine and it is capable of re-wiring itself in new and sometime marvelous ways.

The other point I want to make is that all of us are getting old. It will not be too long before we are wheeling around in Ferrari wheelchairs or exoskeletons or some other contraption. As long as we have our brains intact and can communicate with the world, we can perform useful work. I’ll talk about my vision for teleoperation/telerobotics and drones another time.

So I don’t care who you are, what you look like, etc.- my only concern is can you do the job.

Hired and Dinner

Shortly after Agent 003 accepted the job, I returned to go over job responsibilities, daily tasks, future projects, expectations and the like and I took him out to dinner.

We went to Texas de Brazil, an incredible Brazilian steak house. This is not a place for vegetarians 🙂

So we are enjoying our cornucopia of lots of different kinds of tasty meats when Agent 003 says, “Todd, you are probably wondering about my right arm.”

“Well, yes I am. I figured you would bring it up at some point.”

“My father was very religious growing up and he caught me masterbaiting.”

I kicked back in my seat, rolled my head back and just busted out laughing, really loud. I felt all kinds of eyeballs on me from the other patrons but I didn’t care. That was the best deadpan delivery I had ever heard.

If I remember right, he worked on an offshore oil rig and his arm got caught in a chain. They couldn’t get him to proper medical attention immediately and he ended up losing his arm 😦

We enjoyed the rest of the night and he was one of the best DBA(s) I have ever known. His sense of humor, technical chops, working with difficult people were second to none.

So in closing, just focus on people’s brains and skills that pay the bills. I don’t care who you are or what you look like. Can you do the job?

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Hard to Admit Academic Failures- Here Is Mine

The original post which inspired myself and others to respond: https://ozar.me/2017/06/i-failed-13-college-courses/

And now, an expanded version of my response.

My academic career began in the mid-70’s. Some of my earliest memories of TV reporters were of Walter Cronkite wearing his horn-rimmed glasses and talking about the Vietnam War.

At that time, the Space Race had become routine too. It seemed like nobody cared about the relative and regular miracle of access to space. I grew up wanting to be an astronaut/scientist. But I had a fear of Math.

My dad was an engineer at the time so I grew up watching him explain things in terms that I could understand and building stuff together.

An aside, my grandfather (his dad) was the coolest person I knew. Grandpa had a Caterpillar D4 bulldozer, ’56 Ford Dump truck, machine shop (I love the smell of a machine shop to this day), welding equipment, other tools & equipment and a host of semi-finished/unfinished projects.

He had the largest hands of a human you had ever seen. He dropped out of school in the 8th grade and had to start working to support his family. With his hands.

Even to this day I will never forget his immortal words, “Todd, once you get your smarts, no one can take them away from you.”

Grandpa and Grandma (and my dad and his sister too) grew up from folks who faced the Great Depression, also known as The Greatest Generation.

For this post, I just want to focus on some of my academic exploits. But I also want folks to have some kind of context of who I am and where I came from.

I was identified as gifted and talented (GT) I think in the 4th grade. I took my first in-person IQ test at that time. This guy had a stopwatch and he asked all kinds of questions. I did the best that I could.

I got into a GT program at a public school at that time. It was intense, lots of experiences and lots of reading.

Later we had to move and that kind of threw a wrench into things. By the time I reached high school (HS), I was still really smart but had NO study skills.

So I coasted through HS and graduated with Honors. I remember but don’t have a picture handy of my 18th birthday cake. It actually said “UT or Bust”.

Went to UT at Austin… Then the wheels feel off. I partied too much. And it cost me dearly. Sometime I will get my transcript from that time but I got a few F’s that first semester.

Second semester, I was really in bad shape. And then even more bad news. During Spring Break, I went back home and my parents and I had decided that college was becoming a huge waste of money and I was not doing what I needed to be doing.

So I needed to drop all of my classes. UNFORTUNATELY!!! The last day to drop classes w/o a GPA hit was the day BEFORE Spring Break. So I went into the office, begged and pleaded but was told their hands were tied.

I was going to get 5 F’s for that semester. If any of you want to compute your freshman cumulative GPA for 5 courses with 0.0 for a semester, go ahead.

I was mentally crushed. There was no hope for me to EVER return back to college with that milestone around my neck. I had let down my parents, myself, and all hopes and dreams of being the first grandkid to get a college degree.

My grandparents were disappointed with me. Not one of their grandkids had ever gone to a major college and here I was, their first best chance, and I blew it.

After my health began to slowly return, I applied for whatever jobs I could do. I began pumping gas at a full-service gas station. Remember full-service gas stations??? Yes, I’m old.

My habits were hard to shake off and I fell into a group of “friends” who loved to party too. I got fired from that job. Shortly thereafter I began working at Discount Tire.

Let me say this- I LOVE Discount Tire. I love the smell of tires. It is the smell of money and of hard, back-breaking work. So I began my blue-collar career in earnest.

After a while, I began to put 2 + 2 together. I knew some folks in the late 80’s making over $150k/year managing a high-traffic store. But if one got stuck with a low-volume store as a store manager, well then you just had to deal with it.

Anyway, I started going to church again and taking college classes at night. I hated taking classes after work. I smelled like a tire with a fresh coat of Right Guard and colonge. So embarassed.

Started to get some good grades and decided I didn’t want to change tires the rest of my life. So I talked to Mom and Dad about moving back in (I had moved out a while ago into my own apartment) and wanted to go back to school full-time and finish what I had started.

“As long as there is no partying. And if you get any bad grades? You’re done and you are out of here. Understand?”, “Yes Sir!”

So with a chip on my shoulder, I moved from Plano back to Houston and went to the Admissions Office at the University of Houston (UH). Now, understand when I was in High School, folks would kinda look down on UH as “that” school you could ALWAYS go to if one couldn’t get into a better school.

The admissions counselor pulled up my transcript from UT and Richardson (in Dallas) and gave me the grim news. “I’m sorry Mr. Kleinhans, but you do not meet the minimum requirement for admission to UH.”

I’m like, “WHAT??? That UT thing was FIVE years ago! I’ve grown up and I know and respect the value of time and money!”

“The numbers are the numbers. You can take some classes at Houstom Community College (HCC) and pull up your GPA. Once you can do that, we’ll talk again. In about 1.5 years if things go well for you.”

I quit my full-time, decent paying job and moved back in with Mom and Dad for this??? I sucked in my pride, picked up my chip, and started the slow climb out of GPA Hell.

Good news was that I was able to continue working for a local Discount Tire store so I changed tires all through school and paid my way through.

Went to HCC for 1.5 years (where I did great at Math. What is fear? False Evidence Appearing Real) and then applied and got accepted to UH. I was so excited! Sad news- my Grandfather died during my first semester at UH. I was devastated. For a few weeks, I was unable to think straight. His death hit me really hard.

During all of this I had met my future wife and without her I don’t think I could have made it. She is STILL my best friend and the only reason I didn’t just drop out from school and stick with something I knew- grind away changing tires.

Finally got a BBA in Marketing from UH. I just wish I didn’t have a nagging fear of math as that prevented me from enrolling in any computer science classes. Dumb on my part.

Got married, bounced around a few jobs, moved to Colorado, bought a house, started a family, joined the U.S. Navy Reserve when I turned 30, and began working on a Master’s degree. Finally finished in 2003 with a Masters of Information Systems from the University of Colorado at Denver (dang, that’s a lot of words 🙂 and that story is another tale of trials and tribulations.

And here we are today! I am now looking to transitioning from being a database adminstrator to a data scientist. Wiser and WAY more mature now and I have no fear of math anymore 🙂

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