Tell us about yourself.
I’m the editor of SQLServerCentral.com, which is a position I’ve held for over 8 years. I started writing articles as a DBA to help other people and to share the knowledge I’d been given by so many other great authors over the years, and it has turned into an amazing job. Prior to that, I was a DBA for almost a decade, working with SQL Server v4.2, 6.5, 7.0, and 2000. I am a Microsoft MVP and enjoy working with data, mostly from the administration and management side of the DBA job.
What have you had published?
I write a daily editorial at SQLServerCentral.com now, but I’ve written a number of articles on SQL Server, which have been published at SQLServerCentral.com, as well as SQL Server magazine. You can see the list of my work here: http://www.sqlservercentral.com/Authors/Articles/Steve_Jones/3/
Where do you blog?
I maintain my own site at http://voiceofthedba.com/, which is syndicated to SQLServerCentral.com. I try to include a mix of SQL Server and career-based writing, with the occasional foray into something else I enjoy, like cars or snowboarding.
What advice can you give to DBAs about writing?
There are two main things I would say. The first is to make sure you have someone proof your work, especially as you get started. The impressions you make from writing will impact the way people deal with you. Whether it’s on your blog or in an email you send at work, communication skills are important, so learn to do it better. The second thing would be to focus on one topic. All too often I see submissions from authors that are rambling across many topics, which may be related, but aren’t the central theme of their work. Learn to focus on one topic at a time and write about that. The writing technique taught in school to use a topic sentence applies here and is useful. Write that sentence and then make sure all the paragraphs that follow support it.
Tell us a little about your speaking experience?
I fell into speaking as an evolution of my writing. I wrote a piece with Brian Knight, a point/counterpoint that we submitted to the PASS Summit as a session and wound up speaking. I was a little nervous at first, but once the debate started, it was exciting. Since then I’ve presented at a number of user groups, as well as SQL Saturday events, which I really enjoy.
I was honored to be asked to give a keynote at SQL Saturday #28 in Baton Rouge and thoroughly enjoyed that, and I will give a few more of those keynotes in 2011.
What advice do you have for DBAs who want to begin making public presentations?
The first thing I’d say is that anyone can give a good presentation. You don’t have to pick an amazing topic that impresses MVPs. Pick something you’ve worked on, some problem you’ve solved, and then try to explain the details in 45 minutes. Practice your delivery and timing a few times, and if you can, run a mock presentation in front of a friend. That will get you good feedback.
I’d also say that there will always be someone in the room that knows more than you, so don’t worry about that. There will be people attending that haven’t dealt with your topic, and talk to them. Let your eyes roam around the room, talk to different people as you deliver your information.
Leave time for questions, and don’t worry about filling every second of time. If you end 10 minutes early, no one will complain.
If you’re nervous about talking for that long, ask your local user group if you can do a 15-20 minute talk on one small thing. You might be surprised how easy that is.
How do you keep up with your SQL Server continuing education?
It’s harder for me than most speakers because I don’t have a job that forces me to work with SQL Server every day. I have to make an effort to read a lot about the changes in SQL Server, and then consciously work on features. I often use questions asked in forums as a basis for testing out a solution or trying out some new feature.
I think the key these days is to constantly make time in your life, at least once a week, to read an article, or skim some blogs. There’s no excuse not to spend a little time on your career regularly these days, especially with the pace of change that Microsoft seems determined to push on us, and with all the free information on the Internet. That’s one of the reasons I started the Database Weekly newsletter. If you’re busy, skim it once a week, and look for something you can learn in 5-10 minutes.
What are your favorite SQL Server events to attend, and why?
I’ve been lucky to attend so many events in my life. I used to love the PASS Summit for me, mainly because I would see so many friends that I communicated with on a regular basis. Now I see many of those same people at SQL Saturday events throughout the year, and they Summit has gotten to be more work than fun for me. This last year I’ve had fun at SQL Server Connections, mostly because of the locations. Vegas is fun to walk around and people watch , and Orlando is a great place to sit by the pool and relax for a few hours. However, I think that Baton Rouge has been my favorite SQL Saturday. I don’t mind the heat, it’s a great crowd of organizers, and tons of people (> 400) attend. Plus I like running around University Lake. 2011 will be my third event there. Pensacola is a close second, with my daughter having attended that event twice with me.
What is your favorite SQL Server book?
It used to be Inside SQL Server, but now that the series has expanded to multiple books, it’s not really one book. However there are great authors in there and some amazing information. Grant Fritchey’s SQL Server Execution Plans book is definitely one of my favorites, as that’s a topic that I enjoyed learning about.
Why should DBAs consider taking part in the SQL Server community?
There are two reasons. The first is networking. We have a great, close community of people that are willing to help each other out, and are very friendly for the most part. Spending time getting to know a few people is a great way of making friends, its fun, and potentially could help you grow your career in the future. I talk a lot about this in my branding talk, which I give at many events.
The second reason is to give back. We all typically learn a lot from other people, whether it’s in person or through something like a blog or book. As you become more skilled, I think you ought to consider taking some of your knowledge and helping to educate the next generation of SQL Server professionals.
What suggestions do you have for DBAs on how to become a more involved in the SQL Server community?
Go to events, either as an attendee or volunteer, and say "hello" to someone. Ask them what they do, and get to know a few people. It’s a great skill to develop, and it can make conferences or user groups a lot more fun to attend. If you would like to share your knowledge, start a blog first, and if you enjoy that, then consider writing an article. SQLServerCentral.com is always looking to help new authors publish something. I’d also suggest you consider answering some questions online. We have very active forums at SQLServerCentral.com, but there are also places like MSDN, where other technology people are looking for help in doing their jobs.
What are some of the key characteristics that you feel differentiate between “good” and “exceptional” DBAs?
I think good DBAs keep the systems running and functioning at a high level. Exceptional DBAs improve the systems constantly.
What are some of the biggest challenges for DBAs in the immediate future?
I would say security is going to be a constant and difficult challenge. All of the changes with cloud computing, new enhancements to databases, and the interconnections between relational platforms, and perhaps warehouses, or even NoSQL systems, all require security. It’s a low priority and an afterthought for many people until something goes wrong. Then it’s very difficult to retro-fit back into a system, even though it may be mandated.
Think about security early, and learn to implement good security, without impacting the convenience of making data easily available.
What advice would you give to a person who is considering becoming a DBA?
To me a DBA is more an administrative role, so you ought to be someone that is comfortable with the tedious and sometimes boring nature of managing and administering systems. If you come from a system administration background, that’s easy; but if you’re a developer, really think about whether you want to take a job that often requires less creativity, or a different kind of creativity.
In terms of the job, I think that every DBA must think in sets. Not only in terms of T-SQL and data sets (union, joins, etc.), but also in terms of handling sets of servers, or instances, or tables. The idea of working with a group of widgets is almost fundamental to SQL Server, and databases in general.
What do you consider one of the most useful, but underrated features of SQL Server?
Service Broker. I love the idea of asynchronous processing, but so many people seem to avoid building it into their systems, or even thinking about it. It’s a little complex and cumbersome now, but I think some better tooling from Microsoft, and better patterns, would make this very easy to build into many systems.
Remember, asynchronous processing doesn’t mean long delays. It could be microseconds after you have submitted a message to the queue.
What you are not working, what do you do for fun?
One of the things I’m known for is running. I run every day and my employer, Red Gate Software, sent me a pair of new shoes to commemorate 1000 days of running in a row.
I have 3 kids, and spend a lot of time with them in sports (karate, volleyball, tennis) and Scouts (boy and girl). I try to snowboard 20+ days a year and I love reading, usually getting through 50+ books a year.
I also have a lovely wife who convinced me to live on a ranch outside of Denver. That allows me the opportunity to regularly carry bales of hay, fill water troughs, and shovel presents from the horses into buckets.
If you were not a DBA, and could choose the perfect job, what would it be?
Well, I’m more of a writer now, so that would be it. If I moved away from SQL Server.com, I’d love to make a living writing fiction. If I couldn’t write, I’d go back to working with SQL Server as a DBA 😉
Briefly describe the sessions that you will be presenting at the SQLServerCentral.com track at SQL Server Connections.
My session is “Preparation for SQL Server Disaster”. It showcases how a DBA can be ready for any problems that might occur in their SQL Server environment. Attendees will learn how to develop a well thought out backup and recovery solution, taking into account the needs of clients and the employer. Attendees will see demos on backup schedules, restore techniques for full and partial databases, and an easy way for regularly running DBCC to check for corruption.