Monday, November 21, 2011

My PASS 2011 Experience - Part 3 - The Meat and Potatos of PASS

My PASS 2011 Experience - Wednesday - now things really start getting interesting.

Registration for PASS was an uber-simple process.  I stepped up to the table, reported my name, and within 60 seconds was walking away with my badge (just in case I forgot my name), ribbons (for the badge), and a backpack full of all sorts of geeky goodies (including some promotional material, a lanyard for the badge, a decent pen, and SQL Server Denali 2012 CTP).  I wish the backpack had a small pocket on the front or side (for smaller items and/or boarding passes), but otherwise I absolutely love it (I use it every day to haul my stuff to and from work).

My only hiccup was the ribbons.  I had three ribbons and I wasn't quite sure just what to do with them.  One ribbon indicated I was a First Timer, and the other two were for each of the pre-con sessions I was attending.  It took me a minute (and a question to someone who had done this before) to realize that the ribbons needed to be stacked vertically at the bottom of the badge.  Once that was figured out, I was on my way.  Little did I realize just how much fun people have with these ribbons.  Rob Farley (Blog - @Rob_Farley on Twitter) must have 20 ribbons hanging off his badge.  Kudos to the vendors that offered ribbons for your badge.  A pretty good range of ribbons were available from a few vendors including ribbons that promoted a specific brand or product to ribbons that were just silly or humorous.  I grabbed one from Quest that said "DBA Daddy" (it was quite fitting considering the fact that my daughter lost her first tooth while I was at PASS).

Wednesday, October 12th. 
I headed down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast just after 7am and ran into Thomas LaRock (Website/Blog - @SQLRockstar on Twitter).  He graciously invited me to join him for breakfast.  With him were Tim Ford (Website/Blog@SQLAgentMan on Twitter) and Andy Leonard (Blog@AndyLeonard on Twitter).  I was excited and humbled to be able to hang out with these giants in the SQL community.  I would quickly realize that this was the norm.  The SQL community is all about just that, community.  If you see someone that you look up to in the SQL community, reach out and say "Hi!"  Chances are, you'll wind up having a meaningful conversation and possibly even share a meal with them.  The conversation took an interesting twist at one point when they mentioned that Brad McGehee (@BradMcGehee on Twitter) had a really sweet announcement he was going to make for RedGate at 10:05am.  I made a mental note to be in the vendor hall @ the RedGate booth at that time to find out what all the excitement was about.

The keynote presentation started off with a bang, but quickly fizzled.  The Microsoft announcement that SQL Server Denali would be officially known as SQL Server 2012 was met with thunderous applause.  The concept of big data on Windows (specifically Hadoop) was pretty cool, but the excitement was quickly extinguished by Microsoft's marketing department's use of Excel and text too small for anyone to be able read.  Relating big data to selling frozen yogurt to High School "kids" didn't help (I don't know of anyone in High School who likes to be called or treated like a "kid").  The excitement of the presenters was not felt by the audience and each subsequent "amazing" announcement was met with ever diminishing rounds of polite golf claps.  However, there was one thing that kept me from falling into a deep coma.  Twitter.  Twitter was ablaze with comments on the presentation.  There were a few unprofessional comments made, but overall the stream during the keynote very humorously pointed out the failings of the presentation.  While everyone around me was nodding off, I had to stifle my laughter.

After the keynote I made my way to the vendor hall to catch the big announcement from RedGate.  No WAY!  They're going to send a DBA into space!  Wow, what a chance of a lifetime.  I have since completed all the questions and submitted my bid to be the first DBA in space.  YAY!

I then made my way to a really interesting session "SQL Server Storage Engine - Under the Hood: How SQL Performs I/O" presented by Thomas Grohser (Blog - @TGrohser on Twitter).  BTW, sorry I was late for your session Tom, I was snagging some of the freeze dried ice cream from Red Gate. Tom's session covered detailed explanation of SQL Server I/O and where to look for bottlenecks (I've used this information multiple times at work since PASS).  I found this session to be very insightful and Tom is an excellent speaker.

After lunch I purchased the SQL Server MVP Deep Dives 2 book and then made my way through the book signing line where all the MVP authors signed it.  It was a really cool experience to be able to meet all the people that poured their hearts out to contribute not only to this book, but to the SQL community.

I blew off the afternoon sessions to spend time in the vendor hall.  I made my way around to most of the vendor booths and signed up for a whole host of different vendor prizes.  I've never won any prizes from the many vendor drawings I've participated in the past, but I'll never win anything if I don't enter the contests in the first place.  I felt like a kid in a candy store in the vendor hall.  I spent a good amount of time in Dell's booth looking at blade servers.  I also spent at least an hour in EMC's booth talking about our SAN and they interviewed me for a video blog (my segment starts @ 3:40).  

At 4:30 pm I left the vendor hall and made my way to Brent Ozar's session: BLITZ! The SQL - More One Hour SQL Server Takeovers.  I've already commented on Brent and his sessions before.  This presentation was no different.  He knows his stuff and is passionate about it.  When work isn't completely insane, I try to regularly attend the free Brent Ozar PLF Technology Tuesday Triage web presentations.  BTW, the PLF is short for the other three wonderful folks in his consulting group.  Jeremiah Peschka, Kendra Little, and Tim Ford round out the ranks @ Brent Ozar PLF.  I met the whole crew at PASS and I gotta say, they're some of the best in the business.

Wednesday evening was the Exhibitor Reception in the vendor hall.  The food was fancy, but about the only thing I really liked was the calamari.  I probably would have liked a cheese tray and crackers better, but the food really didn't matter, I was there to spend time with the vendors.  And I did.  Again, kid in a candy store.

I was on the phone with my wife as I left the convention center after the vendor event.  Suddenly, I saw an old college friend that I hadn't seen in 12 years (he used to work as a programmer right next to my wife in the Data Processing department at college).  We chatted a bit and agreed to catch up the next day.  That was just too cool!

Back at the hotel I decided I was really hungry, so I decided to head over to Sullivan's Steakhouse across Union Street from the hotel.  I sat down and ordered a nice dry aged 14 oz NY Strip steak.  My waiter asked me if I was a Star Trek fan and pointed out someone just down the bar from me.  Once I was able to get a clear view of his face I realized it was Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker from Star Trek: The Next Generation - @jonathansfrakes on Twitter).  My waiter indicated that he wasn't sure and that he wasn't allowed to ask.  I responded that he might not be allowed to ask, but there was nothing stopping me.  I wandered over, introduced myself and very politely asked him if he was Jonathan Frakes (obviously he was) and said I was a big fan.  He's working on a new SciFi series and was in town to work with the Seattle Symphony as they were playing the score for the series.  I kept my conversation with him brief as I didn't want to pester him.  He was very nice and he even made it a point to ask my name at the end of our conversation.  Very cool!

At this point I was exhausted and headed back to the hotel to crash for the night.  What a day!  And that was only Wednesday!

Next time I hope to wrap up coverage of the conference and provide some follow-up thoughts.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My PASS 2011 Experience - Part 2 - Pre-con Sessions

My PASS 2011 Experience - the continuing saga.

Pre-conference (pre-con) sessions were available both Monday and Tuesday and I signed up for sessions both days.  These all day (8:30am - 4:30pm), deep-dive sessions, thoroughly immerse you in the subject matter.  I highly recommend twisting the arms of your managers to get them to pay for these additional sessions as they are a fantastic way to really delve into the topics covered.  Personally, I feel that the pre-con sessions held so much value that I got my money's worth (or more specifically my company's money's worth) just from the 2 pre-con sessions alone.  However, there is just too much fun to be had, knowledge to be gained, and people to meet that skipping the main portion conference is just not an option (more on that in my next post).

One recommendation, bring a plug strip with a long cord on it as outlets were at a premium.  I found myself plugging my laptop in on every break (15 minute break mid-morning, 1 hour lunch break, and a 15 minute break mid-afternoon).  This allowed me to have full use of my laptop during the all day sessions (albeit my battery was nearly exhausted by the end of the day).

A beverage recommendation.  When the drinks are available, take advantage of them.  Juices were available at breakfast, water or iced tea were the only drinks available at lunch, and  coffee, tea and soda were available during the mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks.  If you get pretty thirsty like I do, grab 2 or 3 bottles of juice with breakfast or cans of soda on your breaks so that you have enough to drink throughout the day.

Monday, October 10th.  
I woke early on Monday (still on East Coast time) and had breakfast with Aunt Kathi (Kathi Kellenberger - @AuntKathi on Twitter).  Kathi had interviewed me shortly before PASS 2011 as I participated in the First Timers program (that interview can be found here on the PASS Blog).  The First Timers program was absolutely brilliant!  Pure genius!  Being able to talk to Kathi about what to expect during PASS made it much more enjoyable and I was able to take advantage of many opportunities to learn and network that I would have missed if I were going alone.  I also had a very enjoyable time learning more about her history (she started off as a Pharmacist and moved into SQL - talk about a career leap).

After breakfast I went to my first pre-con session: "Virtualization and SAN Basics for DBAs" with Brent Ozar ( @BrentO on Twitter).  I have attended some of Brent's sessions in the past, and he is an excellent presenter.  He knows his stuff, and his enthusiasm and excitement are infectious.  I eagerly anticipated attending this session as we are in the process of migrating to and expanding our VMware and SAN infrastructure.  

Brent Ozar displaying his trademark "Jazz Hands" at SQL Saturday in Chicago
Brent does a really cool thing in his sessions; he offers a chat session for attendees to interact and ask questions.  Periodically he reviews the chat session and answers any questions there.  About an hour into the session, I realized that I had more experience with SAN and Virtualization than I initially realized and I started answering questions in chat.  I think there may have only been one question in chat that I was not able to answer for the remainder of the day.  I was also able to verbally ask quite a few questions about our infrastructure and the challenges we're facing.  It felt great to really be able to participate in this session.  My favorite moment in this session was when Brent said, "Folks, Matt Slocum is not a plant."  

After Brent's awesome session, I went to the Networking dinner at Lowell's on the water front.  Andy Warren and Steve Jones coordinated the dinner and it was a great time to meet people as passionate about SQL as I am.  I left there with several new friends and we made our way over to the Tap House to hang out and chat.  It was a great time to meet more SQL geeks like me, many of whom I have seen online and read their blogs.  After that, Aunt Kathi and quite a few of my new friends headed over to Bush Garden for karaoke, but still being on East Coast time I retired back to the hotel to rest up for my next pre-con session.

Tuesday, October 11th.  
I slept a bit later (starting to get used to West Coast time) and headed to breakfast at the Convention Center. Breakfast left something to be desired.  It was a very nice continental breakfast (fruit, cereal, muffins, bagels, bread, etc...), but I was hoping for something more substantial that included eggs, ham or bacon (really wanted the bacon).  I was able to stock up on a couple bottles of juice and head off to Adam Machanic's session "No More Guessing! An Enlightened Approach to Performance Troubleshooting."

Adam (Blog - @AdamMachanic on Twitter) and I had already been tweeting back and forth a bit on Twitter, so it was cool to be able to chat face-to-face before the session started.  Adam knows his stuff and keeps the material engaging.  I gained precious insight into troubleshooting SQL server performance and I have a whole host of things I need to follow up on after this session.  

Steve Jones snapped this pic of Adam's Performance session (I'm the one in front giving a thumbs-up)
Tuesday evening was the Welcome Reception and quizbowl (sponsored by Dell).  Being my first PASS, I had never witnessed the quizbowl before and I found it very interesting (all the participants were awesome and Rob Farley was especially hilarious).  There was some fierce competition and very humorous responses.  I was able to find enough food at the reception to stem my hunger and retired back to the hotel when things started to wind down (still not quite used to the time zone).

Overall, I learned a lot on Monday and Tuesday.  I really enjoyed the deep-dive into the topics, and meeting a lot of new people.  Friendships were forged in those days that will last a lifetime.

Stay tuned as next time I'll begin coverage of the main conference when things really start to get interesting.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My PASS 2011 Experience - In a word, "WOW!" - Part 1

Part 1 - Introduction

I attended TechEd 2009 in Los Angeles, CA. I thought LA was a good venue, but there were many sessions that there just wasn't any content for a SQL DBA.  However, there is no shortage of things to do in LA, so I was able to take advantage of some of the local sites/attractions (I also made good use of the labs and vendor hall).

In 2010, I attended TechEd in New Orleans.  Not a lot to do in New Orleans other than hit Burbon Street (I don't drink, so aside from listening to some live Jazz artists, it wasn't my cup of tea), but the SQL content overall was much better.  There were several session times that I had multiple sessions to choose from, but most time slots I had only one session that really appealed to me.

Just before TechEd 2010 in New Orleans, I found out about the PASS Summit and I convinced management to send me to PASS Summit 2011.  Wow!  Just ... WOW!  Every single session time slot was jam packed full of delicious sessions.  Most session times I was doing good to narrow it down to only 3 or 4 sessions that I was interested in.

Overall my PASS experience blew me away and I can't wait to go again next year.

The week before PASS I signed up for a Twitter account (@SlocumMatt).  I thought it might help me while @ PASS.  It totally did and I highly recommend to anyone going to PASS to create a Twitter account (if you don't already have one) so you can more easily connect with the SQL community while @ PASS.

Without further ado, I'd like to present to you, My PASS 2011 Experience (Warning, OutputVerboseLevel = 2).

Sunday, October 9th.  
I got up at 3am ET to catch a 5:30am ET flight (and I was very excited the night before, so I only got about 3 hours of sleep).  I had a brief layover in Philly and arrived in Seattle almost 45 minutes early (10am PT).  After collecting my bag from the baggage return, I headed to the train station (attached to airport, very convenient).  Train from the airport to Westlake was inexpensive ($2.75) and took about 40 minutes.  I walked two blocks to the hotel (Sheraton) and got checked in (nice room on the 31st floor).  

Sheraton Hotel (Convention Center is to the right of the hotel)
By this time it was only 11am, so I had almost an entire day to kill.  I walked over to The Cheesecake Factory and had a nice lunch.  Then I caught a movie (Lion King in 3D).  The restaurant and theater were within 1 block of the hotel, so I didn't have to walk far.  The Convention Center was on the next block to the North of the hotel.
Washington State Contention Center
I crashed in the hotel room for a little while and got settled in, then I walked over to the Convention Center just after 5pm and registered for PASS.  I wasn't all that hungry (from travelling and being so tired), so I hit a grocery store and picked up some Baked Lays (they really help settle my stomach) and crashed in the hotel.  I watched some TV and got TweetDeck installed.  About 7pm I was going to go hang out with Aunt Kathi (Kathi Kellenberger - @auntkathi on Twitter), but she wasn't going to get to the hotel until about 8pm and I was just about ready to pass out from lack of sleep (and I was still on ET), so we decided to meet for breakfast the next morning.

Stay tuned for scenes from my next episodes (including pre-con sessions and remaining PASS coverage).