Where I’ve been and where I’m going

In 2018 I did a lot of things.

Well, what I mean is: everyone did a lot of things. From a purely technical and social perspective, you can read about all the things I did and places I went by checking out my timeline. Those were all great things; I had a good time, I spent time with good people, and I got to share a lot. I had some really big news, and I had some tender moments, too.

As the year comes to a close, though, I think I’m ready to share some things I didn’t get blog about in depth yet. Here’s all the other stuff I got into this year. Most of it is not technical, but its a list of things I accomplished, and I’m proud of all of it.

I traveled back to my favorite place on earth

Two years ago, I went on the best trip of my life. I spoke at SQL Saturday Oslo, and when it was all said and done, I had traveled by train across most of Scandinavia, visited parts of Belgium and France, and wound up in England. It was an epic trip for a lot of reasons, but looking back, the time I spent in Norway was some of the best I ever had. Even before I left, I vowed I wanted to come back.

And in 2018, I got my chance. I submitted to SQL Saturday Oslo this year and I was so fortunate to be chosen again. This time, I didn’t bother booking any other travel outside of Norway, and instead focused on spending time in the city of Oslo: finding cool places to eat and drink, seeing some sights I didn’t get to see last time, and bringing along a much better camera. I even managed to drop in for a workout at a local CrossFit gym in Oslo, too, which was pretty radical to work out at.

Having been there twice now… I can’t wait to go back again. It’s not just the event and the city I like visiting; I’ve gotten to be pretty good friends quite a few people in that neck of the world, too. They mean a lot to me and I’m so thankful I’ve gotten to know them. I hope they understand just in how high regard I hold them. They bust their butts to make their SQL Saturday event the best around, and it shows. Beyond all that though, they’re all amazing people and I love spending time with them.

I got bored…

About midway through 2018, I hit a wall.

I was doing my Senior DBA stuff, and knocking out a few projects, but once those wrapped up, I found myself with less than a full plate of work to do. Things became kind of steady-state, and I wound up spending most of my time in break/fix and working ticket queues for things like permission and production data fixes. That’s important stuff, I’m not trying to imply it isn’t, but it isn’t what gets me out of bed in the morning excited and ready to work. Meanwhile, there were lots of exciting projects at work in the data space, but I wasn’t a part of them.

So I didn’t what you shouldn’t do: I sulked.

Work became boring and tedious. I felt like I was in a dead-end place and I needed to find something else. Fortunately, I work where people really genuinely care, so after I got over myself and talked it out with my manager, we worked it all out. It was decided that I would be splitting my time between some DBA work, and some exciting and new (to the company): a big machine learning and analytics project.

… and then I got really not bored

And just like that, I joined a project team that was just getting off the ground. Literally overnight, my workload changed: I went from writing T-SQL and working with relational data to working with much, much larger datasets. I had to get up to speed on new tooling, like writing production-level Python, and getting more and more comfortable with Azure, specifically Azure Databricks. I was writing notebooks, working with the REST APIs, and also helping apply some DevOps processes to this new project team by leading the way with automation and deployments.

It was all pretty overwhelming, but I was back in my element, and loving my job more than ever. I felt like I was helping pioneer some new and exciting technology for our company, while also learning a bunch of really handy new skills. I’m not saying I’m a Data Scientist, nor do I want to be, but the act of implementing these ML models, data pipelines, and stitching everything together is extremely fascinating to me. I’m extremely lucky to have a place to work that helps you find your niche, and challenges you to be your best. I can’t wait to share some of the things I’ve learned (and things I am still learning) with all of you, once I finish up what that looks like and how I want to do it.

As we get ready to head into 2019, we have successfully launched phase one of our project, and we’re just now taking on phase 2 which will be a much larger scope. We’re making a big impact on how we do business, and I’ve got a place in the trenches, where I love being.

I got to be part of a book project

My good friend Mala reached out to me and said she was putting together a new book called “Data Professionals at Work” and that she wanted me to be a part of it. The book itself launched in the last quarter of 2018 and after seeing all the other really notable people who got to be in it… I feel pretty humbled to have been asked. It was a pretty rad process, too: Mala developed a set of interview questions she’d guide the participants in and since the focus of the book wasn’t purely technical, everyone got to talk about their jobs, as well their passions, hobbies, and advice to others.

Which made this kind of a challenge for me. In fact, it took a couple interviews for me to get everything in the chapter down somewhat coherently. The thing of it is: I’m not good talking about myself, and I’m even worse at giving advice. People have asked me on occasion about what might be the best career move for them, or if what worked for me might work for them. That’s such a tough question for me to answer; everyone’s situation is different and I can’t say that I always made the best decisions for me, either. That’s not to say I hate being asked questions like this; by all means if I can help someone, I will. I just feel pretty unprepared to give good, solid advice.

So when it came time for my chapter to firm up, I just talked about the one rule I try to follow, all the time, in almost everything I do whether it’s work or personal. It hasn’t really let me down yet. The rest of the chapter is a fun read too, and I got to talk about HASSP and a few other things. If you haven’t picked up this book yet, it’s available online and in hard and soft copies. In fact, after reading through the other chapters of the book I can tell you that my chapter isn’t the reason you should pick it up. Mala did such a great job selecting some truly gifted people to be a part of this, and you won’t want to miss out on some really good stories and advice from some amazing people. Seriously, just look at that chapter list.

I went back to Mac

Oh so meta!

My Dell XPS 15 served me incredibly well for almost two years, and it showed almost no sign of slowing down. However, my new roles and responsibilities are increasingly cloudy and cross-platform so when my responsibilities changed, I took it as a chance to start fresh. I took my work laptop and formatted it with a desktop version of Ubuntu. I was surprised how easily it was to transition to the OS, since I’d been messing about in the Linux space for a few years already for some lab experiments and work-related stuff. I love that I can install things like PowerShell, Azure Data Studio, and Visual Studio Code, natively, and it all “just works.” In fact, all of my PowerShell automation that I wrote was doing on PSCore on my Linux machine, and outside of a few strange behaviors with TLS on Linux vs. Windows that I had to fix, my module I authored worked great on both machines.

Still, it wasn’t perfect, especially in the Office 365 space. Since our main mail service is still Exchange, this can be problematic. There are some workable solutions like Hiri or Thunderbird, but they’re still a little buggy and not at all as intuitive as good old Outlook.

The experiment was positive though, so I took it as a sign that I was ready to (almost*) ditch Windows completely. No offense to Windows; it’s not that I’m not a fan. I love Windows 10, and I still have my main desktop at home that I use for things like development and gaming and such.

Instead, I went (back) to Mac.

I grew up using Apple computers at home and in school; my parents were both teachers, so the computers we had at home were the computers they had at school. We had IIc’s, a IIGS, some Mac LC’s, and even some PowerBooks. I wrote book reports in AppleWorks, saved them to our “massive” HD20 external hard disk, and printed them out on an ImageWriter II. Sure, I couldn’t play all the cool games my friends who had Commodores and PCs had, but I could get REAL good at Number Munchers over summer break and come back and dominate in the coming school year.

I’d been on the fence about going back to a MacBook Pro for a year or so now, but when the last go-round had some keyboard issues, I was hesitant. Plus, since I give some presentations that utilize VMs and memory management in OS X can be a little trickier, I needed to make sure I could get a model that would meet my needs. Finally, Apple got with the program and started offering laptops with 32GB of RAM, which is right where I need my laptops to be. Sure, the price can be a little eye-watering but when you consider the quality of the hardware it kind of makes sense (kind of).

I’m almost 2 months into using a Mac full time at work now and I haven’t hit any major issues. Thanks to the magic of Kerberos I can use native applications on our domain for AD authentication, and I can use a proper version of Outlook. Oh and my good friend is loaning me a 5K (yes, 5K not 4K) LG display that is like… whoa.

Still, there’s occasions where I still need a native Windows application, like for SSMS or other, company-specific software. Thankfully, I have a dedicated work VM I can remote into for just such occasions. So far though, it feels so good to be back using a Mac. No regrets so far, and I look forward to using it in my upcoming 2019 presentations (especially my newer ones).

I “went pro”

Earlier this year I wrote about offering up a training course as part of Brent Ozar’s guest instructor program. This was unlike anything I’ve done before for a few reasons, but one really big one: this was the first time I was going to be paid to present.

I was at a lot of conferences, both physically and virtually, in 2018, but it’s always (mostly) on my own dime and time. Some conference organizers will help you with travel expenses, but I’ve never been outright paid for my time and knowledge. Which is what made this project extra stressful: no one ever wants to give a bad presentation, but the fact that people were paying actual real, hard-earned money for some training that I was being asked to provide was super stressful, and I felt like I really had to step it up. Think about it: if you tank a local user group presentation, hey, your attendees still probably got a free meal out of it, right? This was different: people were literally betting their money on what I was going to offer was going to pay them back in terms of new skills and knowledge.

I had to spend more time planning and coming up with this two-day presentation more than any other talk I’ve given. It’s not enough to know the material; you have to be able to react to questions, move at the pace of your audience and constantly adjust on the fly. Oh, and doing it all remotely? It’s even harder since you can’t judge reactions in person.

Stepping it up also included making sure I could properly produce a decent webcast. So, not only did I invest a lot of time prepping the material and demos and labs, but I also took it as a chance to really up my home presentation game. I got some proper lights, a bigger monitor, a nice webcam, good headphones, and a new USB audio interface for recording. I don’t believe in style over substance, but appearances do matter for stuff like this.

Watching Dad work…

Truth be told, I was terrified. Fortunately, I had a really good support network here in terms of Brent’s time. He helped me develop the pace, gave me excellent feedback, and helped market the hell out of the classes. We did three of them in 2018 to really good reviews, and I think at the end of the day the students really enjoyed themselves. We have one final class in early 2019 (which we still have a handful of seats for), and then Brent is ending his guest instructor program. It was a heck of a ride and I appreciate Brent giving me the opportunities he has. I’m going to miss working with him as closely.

Rob during the precon in Oslo. Man, he’s so good at this.

I also got to teach my first pre-conference this year, and I got to do it by learning from one of the best, Mr. Rob Sewell. He invited me along to help him present a PowerShell precon at SQL Saturday Oslo. I was very nervous, because not only had I not done a precon before, but I had never even co-presented before. Rob, though, is a pure professional and helped me through it. We had a heck of a good time. Thanks, Rob.

I melted a lot of plastic

My Prusa i3 Mk3 build in progress…

What’s the person with too many hobbies need? Another hobby, of course. I decided to dip my toes into 3D printing, and after some research I decided to pick up a Prusa i3 MK3, straight from the Czech Republic. Better yet, I bought the printer kit that I had to build and test myself. Once it arrived, I spent the better part of a weekend building it, and a few stressful steps aside, it was a great experience. And the printer has been fun to use too.

Recently, I’ve been using it to prototype some small electronic projects I’ve been working on, and also pimping out my board games with some custom pieces and inserts. It’s also been fun to learn about how these printers work, and how to work with different materials. I haven’t done much of my own 3D modeling but I’m getting better at it. If you see me this year some place, don’t be surprised if I’m decked out in custom-printed gear.

If you’ve ever had a desire to check it out, the market for printers is pretty saturated so it pays to really do your reading on it, but the technology is pretty mature, and even fun.

I started moving better

In 2018 I also broke a lot of personal fitness goals. Through Friendship Fitness I got a lot stronger, but what I’m most proud of is how much better I’m moving in terms of mobility and gymnastics ability. I’ve gotten very comfortable upside down and being able to kick up into handstands, and I’ve even managed to pull off my first sets of handstand push-ups. Not only that, but I’ve gotten pretty good on the bars and rings, too, developing a lot of pulling power. I can rip out big sets of toes to bars and pull-ups, and I’ve managed a couple chest to bars in there, too. I couldn’t do it with the generous coaching staff, especially Jenny who helps me get better each time I step in the door (and helps me stay level-headed when I’m outside the gym, too).

I got closer to people

I envy people who can easily thrive in social situations. I’m not uncomfortable in them, but I don’t like huge crowds for long, extended periods of time. Which is why at things like speaker dinners or group outings, I don’t tend to linger. It isn’t a reflection on the people involved, it’s just I think sometimes people confuse solitude with loneliness.

I’ve also never been one to have a huge circle of friends (or… any friends, really). So this year, I made an effort to make some really close ones. And I feel I was successful; I definitely came to rely on and enjoy the company of some very special people in different communities, and even on different continents. I won’t go into specifics or name anyone, but I feel they know who they are and believe me: I value them so very much. They’ve helped me in a multitude of ways, from giving me pep-talks in bars in Norway, to twitter DMs, treating me to fancy dinners, and even a few Slack messages. I feel I’m very lucky to have the circle of people I do in my life, and I’m glad I got to foster those connections this year.

So what about 2019?

These personal milestones are going to make 2018 hard to beat, but I’m optimistic that 2019 will be a fruitful and adventurous year. I already have some really cool engagements lined up, and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn more about Azure Databricks and eventually start sharing what I’ve learned. I also want to continue to maintain the friendships I’ve made along the way.

I know your year and goals may have different than mine, but regardless of what they were, I sincerely wish all of you the best for the rest of this year, and a healthy and happy 2019.

And finally: thank you for reading and following along. I look forward to what’s the come, and I hope you stay tuned for what I have to share. If my current timeline holds, I’ll have some very exciting news not long into the new year.

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