This is the third and last in a series of interviews with speakers presenting at the SQLServerCentral.com track at SQL Server Connections in November 2010. This interview is with SQL Server MVP Allen White (blog | Twitter).
Tell us about yourself Allen.
After starting out as a theatre major, I got an Associate’s Degree in Data Processing in the mid-70s, and became a programmer. (COBOL, punched cards, all that old-guy stuff.) I wore multiple hats, developer, administrator (both Windows and Unix), even a salesman at one point. (I’d played Harold Hill in The Music Man and my company thought I’d be a good salesman.) In the early 90s I discovered relational databases, and through the 90s I transitioned to being a DBA. In 2003 I got a job where my boss believed in training, and sent me to conferences, where I met lots of great people. I also started working with Microsoft on certification, and I started writing. I was awarded the SQL Server MVP in 2007, and got my Bachelor’s Degree from Baldwin-Wallace College in 2008. I’ve been consulting and training since; teaching classes in North America and Europe, and helping companies implement solutions to improve their businesses.
What have you had published?
I’ve published articles on SQLServerCentral.com and Simple-Talk.com, focused on automating database management using SMO and PowerShell. My early articles used VB.NET for examples, but many DBAs don’t have access to Visual Studio, so I switched my focus to PowerShell, with great success.
Where do you blog?
My blog is at sqlblog.com/blogs/allen_white/default.aspx. I started blogging in 2006 at SQLJunkies, then moved to SQLBlog.com in 2007. It’s been a great way to share my discoveries, both to save other DBA’s time, and to document how I solved a problem, so I can reference it again later. Many of the comments I have received have helped me learn better ways to solve problems as well.
What advice can you give to DBAs about writing?
Thinking about what you should write about is the best way to keep from writing – it stops you cold. When you discover something, write it in a journal or blog as though you’re telling your partner/boss/etc. Then publish it, so you have a place to go when you run across something similar again.
Tell us a little about your speaking experience.
When I started working as a DBA in a company in 2003, I saw a lot of consistent “bad behaviors” among our developers, so in early 2004 I put together a presentation on “good behaviors” and finished with a demonstration on SQL Injection, which many of our company’s websites were exposed to. This was an eye-opener for my audience, and I really enjoyed doing the presentation. I continued creating presentations for the developers and started giving them to my local users group. In 2006 I submitted my first presentation to PASS and it was accepted, and I’ve presented since at SQL Connections, TechEd and at many SQL Saturdays as well.
What advice do you have for DBAs who want to begin making public presentations?
Remember that the people in the audience are not there to criticize you; they’re there to learn from you. But you have to make it interesting, and keep it interesting. They want facts, but not bullet lists of facts. Show them the problem, explain why it’s a problem, and then show them the solution. If you enjoy yourself while giving the presentation, and are enthusiastic about the solution, then they will be too.
How do you keep up with your SQL Server continuing education?
Between SQLServerCentral.com’s daily email, blog sites, and the private MVP forum; I’m kept pretty up-to-date on things. It all started with the daily email from SQLServerCentral.com. From that I learned about PASS, where I met lots of great people and learned the best places to get more information. From there came TechEd and SQL Connections, and so on.
What is your favorite SQL Server Book?
SQL Server MVP Deep Dives. I was an author of one chapter, but it has so many different chapters on so many different aspects of SQL Server, that if I’m in an area where I have no experience, there’s probably a chapter on it there, and from there I know where to continue my research.
Why should DBAs consider taking part in the SQL Server Community?
In most IT departments there are many developers who can bounce ideas off each other, but unless your company is relatively large, there’s a good chance you’re the only DBA. Being part of the greater SQL Server community–either through user groups, forums, Twitter (#sqlhelp) or other means–gives you the opportunity to bounce ideas off others who’ve gone down the same road you’re traveling. Join a local users group, or start one if there isn’t one already. Start reading the questions people ask in the forums and figure out if the answers others are giving are correct. You’ll learn an amazing amount about SQL Server, and you’ll get to know some really great people who have a lot in common with you.
What are some of the key characteristics that you feel differentiate between a “good” and “exceptional DBAs”?
An exceptional DBA automates everything possible to focus on problems that need real attention, teaches his “customers” (the developers and users) the best way to access data for performance, and keeps the “business” needs of the company ahead of everything else.
What are some of the biggest challenges for DBAs in the immediate future?
I often tell people that while most applications usually last about five years, data is forever. With the technology changes that are upon us, there’s even more impetus to tie applications and data together, but that may not serve the long-term business interests of the company as well, so keeping focus on how to maintain quality data for the long-term is (to me) the biggest challenge for the DBA.
What advice would you give to a person who is considering becoming a DBA?
I would ask how well they handle being “that guy” – the person who says no, when everyone else wants the answer to be yes. The person who crosses every I and dots every T. (A little humor.) Being “checklist-oriented” is really high on the list as well.
What do you consider one of the most useful, but underrated features of SQL Server?
Service Broker is probably the best, must underutilized feature in SQL Server. Introduced in SQL Server 2005, it provides asynchronous messaging so both “sides” of a communication don’t have to always be running. When the receiving side of the communication comes up, it gets the messages, so it just works. I’ve used it for synchronizing web-facing data with an internal OLTP application, and for ETL triggers in building data wareho
What feature do you think is missing from SQL Server and you would like to see in a future version?
The most important feature missing from SQL Server to me is the fact that the full set of ANSI windowing functions aren’t implemented. If the Microsoft SQL Server development team could do this, they could save companies hundreds of hours of development time currently wasted producing the kinds of reports businesses rely upon.
When you are not working, what do you like to do for fun?
My two biggest activities are running and theatre. I’ve got a goal to run a full marathon (26.2 miles) in every state in the U.S., and I’m currently halfway there. The running community is much like the SQL Server community, and I truly enjoy my time with runners. I’ve been active in community theatre since 1977, and directed my last show in May. I enjoy performing, but directing allows me much more creative control, and when the audience laughs, cries, and applauds, it’s extremely rewarding.
If you were not a DBA, and could choose the perfect job, what would it be?
I’d love to teach at the college level. Buck Woody and I had a fun conversation about that at TechEd. I love seeing people “get it” when I’m teaching a class, and when it’s a college environment, there’s time to explain things in detail, where sometimes in business training it can be an overload of facts in too short of a time period.
Briefly describe the two sessions you will be presenting at the SQLServerCentral.com track at SQL Server Connections in November.
Both of my presentations focus on PowerShell, of course. Managing SQL Server System and Performance Data with PowerShell covers the process of maintaining a server inventory and performance data on your servers using PowerShell scripts, and will help you manage your environment with reports we’ll build in the session. While SQL Server 2008 introduced Policy-Based Management, it can be tedious to manage, so my session on Automating Policy-Based Management Using PowerShell will help you by building PowerShell scripts you can use to implement and regularly evaluate your environment so it remains clean and efficient.