What a Great Weekend

Posted: April 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

SQL Saturday #297

 

On April 12th we had the 3rd SQL Saturday hosted in Colorado Springs, Co. The event meet and exceeded all of our goals, our goals may not line up with some of the other SQL Server Saturday traditional goals you may have heard of. We share similar goals of reaching the community and providing quality SQL Server based education for little or no cost. However, we get a bit more specific. We want to magnify the importance of networking within the community and this year in particular, we were hoping if the attendees were presented with an opportunity to give back to the community they would respond. The SQL Saturday Attendees responded with a statement that even exceeded the wildest imagination of the organizers.

The Food Drive

When touring potential facilities we found that our number one choice had a food bank that shared space in the facility. We saw this as an opportunity for the SQL Server Community to give back to the community that was hosting this event. The plan was to ask speakers, attendees and sponsors to donate food items for the food bank. We had two sponsors that offered us two SWAG gifts that were so above and beyond anything we had hoped for. Xtivia was fast to react and donated an Autographed AC-DC guitar, Dell was also quick to respond with a new Dell tablet. We had a Valorem Consulting that was not sponsors donate a gift card we well. We even had support from SQL Server Users Groups in neighboring cities show support with donations. We even had people ship us food to donate because they could not be at the event.

End Result? Early and conservative numbers shared with me from the Westside Cares food pantry show over 1000 pounds of food donated. That is a hard number to get a hold of, so we have attempted to put this into easier to understand numbers.

There was so much food, it will be spread across four food banks in Colorado Springs.

This is an average of 5 pounds of food per attendee.

The weight is equivalent to 4,000 quarter pound cheese burgers.

I hope to post a blog in the near future about the Food Drive specifically. I think if we as organizers give the attendees an opportunity to give back into the communities that we live and work that we can make great events even better. I just don’t think there is enough that I can say about how well this went.

What happened to the Guitar?

Remember our goal was to help show attendees the importance of networking? We had an attendee who works at a local office supply store. She is close to 22 years old and is working at the same time attending a local college to get a degree in either database technology or networking technology. This young lady showed one of our attendees a level of customer service that ended with an invite to the SQL Saturday. She came to the event looking to network with others who work with SQL Server and learn about the certification tests. This young lady was the winner of the Guitar. My personal hope is that she received a lot more than just a guitar; I hope she left with connections that can help her all the way thought her career, from learning about SQL Server to getting her first Full Time DBA job to retirement.

Who do we need to thank?

Attendees – What an outstanding response to the food drive.

Speakers – Most of the speakers travel to these events all around the world at their cost. They don’t get reimbursed or sponsored for these trips. They simply want to give back to the community and improve their speaking skills.

Sponsors – The end result is that the events cost a lot of money to put on. There are adjustments that we can make if we don’t have a good budget but the support from our sponsors help pay for: the facility, lunch, giveaways, cleanup, projectors, coffee, afternoon snacks and so many other costs. Without the sponsors this event just would not have been the same.

PASS – One of the reasons we can have an event like this is the support we receive from PASS. Not only do they provide us with a website, but countless management tools that removes some of the tasks that each SQL Saturday has to do. This year we were lucky to have PASS’s Karla Landrum and her husband come out to help us. They were a huge part in the success of our event.

What we did well.

The food drive – I am sure there are things that we could have done differently to make the food drive better, but honestly I just don’t think there is any argument that 1000 pounds of food is anything but an awesome response.

Speaker Dinner – Our SQL Saturday had been fortunate enough to have a Data Realized as a top sponsor; they have been with us for all of the SQL Saturdays that Colorado Springs has hosted. What they contribute to the event cannot be thanked enough. This year not only did they provide backpacks for each attendee, but they also wanted to host the speaker dinner. When we were talking about what to do for the speaker dinner we wanted to make sure that our speakers had an evening that gave everyone there exposure to our local area. Data Realized wanted to make sure it was nice, and showed that we really do appreciate all the speakers do for us.

We ended up at a local restaurant and theater called the Iron Springs Chateau. The facility did a great job hosting us. The 50 year old restaurant was a great choice for a venue and the melodrama we saw was a lot of fun for everyone.

Our Venue – Our event was at a 100 year old facility that started life and an elementary school. For the cost of the facility in comparison to what we received in addition to the staff that was happy to help us

Set up and tear down – I cannot say enough about all the volunteers. We had 2 hours to set up before we had to head over to the speaker dinner and the facility was closing for the night. There were a number of very strategic items that had to occur at this time, and we were worried that not everything would be completed in time. I was shocked when we were doing setting up an hour early. If you are looking into hosting a SQL Saturday, I cannot urge you enough to work closely with all the volunteers.

 

I was recently having a discussion with a client and they were looking for recommendations on how to handle a common security issue with SQL Server. Here is there situation, they have a number of applications that connect to the database, and security was implemented by using Windows Authentication. The application required read and write access directly to the tables so this required that each of the users had direct read/write access to each of the tables in the database (starting to feel uneasy yet). It didn’t take long before people were connecting directly to the database to start making changes outside the application, or pull reports of their own. Even if the data was not sensitive, and it was… making changes outside the application created all sorts of problems.

Then answer was pretty simple and came in the form of application roles.

Access can be granted to the individual users either by each account or as a group. The permissions can be limited to allow for log on only. Once that has been completed the application role can be created using the Create Application Role syntax. Permissions can be granted accordingly to the application role that allow for the direct table access.

When this is done and someone logs on via the application the application can issue the sp_setapprole and that connection can now use the elevated permissions. If the user were to try to connect to the database without the application role the elevated permissions are not there unless they have the password for the app role and set that role for that connection.

So in other words the application becomes only access method to the data as long as permissions are not granted elsewhere to the individuals user account. This is a great way to take advantage of everything that AS has to offer in the way of account and permissions management without having to worry about opening the database up.

 

SQL Saturdays are all about giving back and if you have been to a SQL Saturday I hope you have seen that first hand. This year at SQL Saturday #297 in Colorado Springs, Co. we want to emphasize this as much as we can. We are doing this by organizing a food drive, the idea for the food drive came to the leaders as we were touring the facility where we could host the SQL Saturday this year. As we were talking this over with our many long time supporting vendors we received overwhelming positive reactions. So positive in fact most of the sponsors this year are going well above and beyond the traditional SWAG donations. For example, as of right now we are planning on how to give away an autographed, AC-DC guitar with certificate of authenticity, also in the potential SWAG gifts we may have a MSDN subscription. We have many items that will be in the SWAG giveaway, and if you consider we only have enough room for 200 attendees this makes an individuals chances pretty good at taking home some sort of give-away.

What we are asking is that when you come to the event on April 12th that you bring with you food items that you would like to donate the more items that you bring the better your odds are in taking home one of these awesome SWAG items. We will soon be sending everyone who is signed up more details on individuals can participate in our food drive. You don’t have to bring any food items to be registered for the giveaways and there will be opportunities to participate in our Data-Rodeo for additional chances to win. Why a Data-Rodeo you ask? This year’s theme in going to be centered around the old west, our event will be taking place in a historical building that is over 100 years old, in the heart of the oldest part of town.

What we really hope everyone sees is the benefits in coming to a SQL Saturday, if not this one any SQL Saturday that you can get to. If you haven’t been to an event before the quick run-down is this:

  • There is a free day of training (sometimes you may be asked to donate $10.00 for lunch to help cover the cost).
  • This is a great opportunity to network with people who work with SQL Server or people who want to hire SQL Server Professionals.
  • This is a way to get involved with moving your career down a path to speak at National events.
  • You can visit the vendors and ask them questions about their products, in an environment where they don’t expect you to make a decision right there.
  • Get free SWAG.
  • And now give back to the community.

SQL Saturdays are all about giving, sure the primary goal for an attendee is to learn as much as you can without having to pay or travel to a conference. These are the some of the same speakers that will speak at many of the national events you hear about. So why is it about giving?

These speakers often pay their own way to get to the event; they donate time they could be spending with their family. Not just the time to travel to the event and the time at the event, but consider all the work that goes into prepping for an event like this. I know, I have spoken at many of these.

The vendors sponsor these events and without them we could not pay for the venue, or the food, or the many costs associated with the event that you never realize until you put one of these together. Even the name tags have a cost around them. If it were not for the vendors, I am pretty sure we would not be having 5% of the SQL Saturdays that we do.

The volunteers put in more hours that I can explain, this is my third SQL Saturday that I have organized, and it takes a lot of time to make sure that something goes off without a hitch. The volunteers do this with nothing more than a promise of a free lunch. There are people that work behind the scenes that may never even make it to the event, people at PASS who help us plan, and host the website.

I really hope you come to the SQL Saturday 297 that we are putting together for you. Donate food if you can, help with the cost of lunch a little, but most of all we want you to come, learn and enjoy networking with SQL Server Professionals. You don’t even need experience with SQL Server to join the event; everyone is welcome as long as you want to learn about SQL Server.

 

 

How is a Salary is Determined?

Posted: February 18, 2014 in Career

Years ago I found myself in a very sticky situation. The worst part; I understood why, but I still didn’t think it was right.

I was managing a small DBA group that had a total of 6 headcount. I was fortunate that I didn’t have a lot of turnover and honestly I was surprised because the company provided a less then optimal working environment. I had a position come open and I started the process of hiring a new DBA. After a number of interviews it was obvious there were a large number of candidates looking for work at that time. The person that I ended up extending an offer to, and employed was someone who in my mind is an ideal candidate, we will call him Bob. He didn’t disappoint at all.

A year later I was in the same situation, however when I started the interview process this time I determined there were very few candidates that I could draw from. I ended up finding someone who at the time I thought would be a good fit for the team we will call him John. I made the offer and John accepted. In the long run I don’t think the position was a good match for John but that is a different story for a different time. Now this is where things get a little crazy. Bob was hired at one rate let’s say $20.00 an hour, and John was hired at $25.00 an hour. Both of them were going for the same job description and received the same benefits yet the Salary was quite different.

The company I was working for didn’t let me determine the salary of an employee. The way it was determined was that I given a range of what I could afford in my department budget and I was often instructed to try to stay in the middle of that range. When I hired Bob the range was $15.00 to $22.00, yet when I hired John the range was $25.00 to $30.00 an hour. Here is where the questions started, and today many years later I have had the opportunity to discuss this in an interview format with different HR directors, the information posted here comes from 3 different interviews. None of the individuals wanted to be identified however I can tell you that:

  • One is from the government agency with near 200 employees
  • One is from a non-profit with near 500 employees
  • One is from a for profit company with well over 5000 employees

What surprised me the most is that no matter how different the hiring organizations are the answers are really not different in how they determine what salaries are offered to potential employees. I wanted to focus on three questions in particular; I have listed them here with a summary on how they were answered:

  1. How do companies determine a salary range when they are trying to fill open head count?

    The general answer here is a company makes a determination if they are going to pay at market rates often a decision is made to pay slightly higher or slightly lower than market. Once that decision is made they research the market and then determine the spread, the average is determined and then adjustments are made. When researching for the market variables such as cost of living allowances are taken into consideration (It costs more to live in Southern California then it does in Colorado). For example in Feb of 2014 a salary range for Colorado Springs, Colorado is shown below.


    The Median or average is $95k a year (National average was $107k) for a Data Architect 3 or a senior level data architect as explained in the description. Companies then make adjustments based on if they want to pay slightly above or below this average, as you can see 50% of the salaries fall between $83k and $107k. This chart was supplied by Salary.com. Other sources used to determine Salaries include:

  • Indeed.com
  • PayScale
  • Career Journal.com
  • JobStart.com

End result, I was not too surprised at what the decision makers were telling me. Granted I did find the 50% range from $83k to $107k a lot wider than I had anticipated.

  1. How does a non-profit organization such as a government organization or a religious organization determine a salary range?

    Now here is where I was surprised. To be honest I am not sure that my research had enough input points to be considered a set of valuable statistics. The answers I received pointed to using the same methodology as for-profit organizations. My experience when looking at these non-profits does not reflect that. My own opinion derived from discussions with people who are employed at non-profits or interviews with non-profits is they generally pay about 70% to 80% of average. Reflecting back to one specific discussion on salary while I was being interviewed for a position, a local religious non-profit explained the away the delta by discussing the benefits in the nature of the work itself (much could be debated on this).

  2. How much does a job title impact the salary range?

    One note about the question with titles, and this one may just be me and my experience. I have always argued that a title should reflect your job description accurately. At one point in my career I was told titles mean nothing, and my title would not be adjusted. I have found this is often a problem for a number of reasons. Many companies have a max salary for a job title, for example if you had a title of a Jr. DBA your ceiling or salary cap would be lower if you were a mid-level DBA. From a general view that makes a bit of since, if you were a Jr DBA before you can move to the next salary bracket you should display the skills of a more seasoned professional. This argument doesn’t hold much water in many situations. When I asked the questions to the panel the answer I received was very clear and uniformed. Title does matter, not only does that title matter but the tasks associated with it matter.

Remember Bob and John? In my situation Bob the employee that was making less money than the new hire found out that John was making more money than he was. I have to admit that was one of the hardest days at that role in the company. I had to have a discussion with Bob and explain the market had changed and that the amount of money other people were making was no reflection on him. As much as I understand why the fact remained that if I was Bob, and found out that someone who was just hired was making more than what I was all depending on the market when I was hired I would be a little sore as well.

I tried to do the right thing and bring Bob up to the level that John was making, even a little more. The end result was the damage was done.

 

 

 

How We Pick Where We Live

Posted: February 5, 2014 in Full Time Camper

It has been a while since I have posted anything about being a full-timer. So I figure it is time for a post. In case you’re new to this post a full-timer is someone who lives in their RV full time. This winter I am cheating a little bit. I am still at the same campground we call this home, however we have moved into a cabin for the winter. To give you a quick lay of the land this is where we are now. I know it is pretty difficult to see but my rig is circled in blue. Our home is a 40 foot Alpine 3555 RL. It weighs about 15,000 pounds and that is important to know when I want to move it from place A to place B. For more specific information on how we got to where we are now, you can check out this post.

In that post I was curious as to what questions people had about my lifestyle, one of the most often asked questions is, “How do we pick where we live”?

So the obvious place to start is the requirements, there are the nice things to have and then there are the things that are required.

  • The first requirement is internet and phone connection. If I can’t bring in a phone line then I need to make sure I have cell phone connection these are the basic for me to continue to work.
  • There has to be an opportunity for my wife to work at or near by. She likes to work outside and loves the lifestyle. She enjoys working, so this is super important.
  • Another really important aspect to us is that it is out in the wilderness. Anything that is outside of town, and away from people. At the same time I need to be within a couple hours of a major airport.
  • For me it is important there is an aspect to where we live where I can work part time. Now I work security and host during the weekends and nights when needed. I consider it a type of therapy. This gives me the chance to get out and work with and help people that I normally don’t get to meet.
  • Another key feature for me when it comes to where we live is the wildlife that is around. For those people who know me, I love bears, and so does my wife. Not everywhere we have been has had bears. When we were in the desert in California I became really fond of owls as well. Here is one of my bear friends I took a picture of last spring/summer. He was not too happy with me and showed me.

So I guess the bigger question is how we find these jobs/places to live. There are a couple ways we do this. Where we are during the summer is our home. So we always will come back here. We love this place. One of the sites we use is http://workamper.com/ . They list our resume and have job postings there. We found a great place we were supposed to be at this winter however some health issues stopped the trip this winter. Another place is http://koa.com/ but you have to be really careful on this site. Most KOA campgrounds are not destination resorts. What this means is they are located along a major highway and really the resorts are there for people who need a place to camp as they travel from one location to another. With that being said, we did have the opportunity to meet one of the owners of the nicest KOA I have ever seen last spring, if we ever went somewhere else during the summer this would be at the top of the list. This resort is a destination resort http://koa.com/campgrounds/williams/ because it is so close to the Grand Canyon. If you look on the website and it looks familiar it is because it was on the TV show Undercover Boss. Like I said we had a chance to meet one of the owners. This guy was awesome and you could tell he really loved his place. I cannot recommend it enough.

There are a number of ways to find resorts, but once we have identified ones that meet the criteria or minimum recommendations we do one more bit of research. We look to see if we can find a review on it. The biggest sight out there now with the best reviews is called RVParkReview.com it’s not the best site in the world, but the reviews are spot on most of the time.

So I hope you enjoyed the post, if you have a question about this full time life style let me know. I can tell you the one thing I use to ask people was if they regretted the decision to live this way. Most often the answer is the same, the only regret they have is that they didn’t do it sooner.

Security

Posted: February 3, 2014 in Database Security

I was surprised again last night by another news report that yet another company has joined the long list of companies whom have had data compromised. The short list of companies includes names that many of us know. I even know people personally who have gone out and canceled credit cards just to decrease the odds they will be impacted. What surprises me the most is how companies are reacting or not reacting to the recent security breaches. I hope that there are many companies looking at the list and are terrified they are next. Each time I hear of a new security breach I can’t help but to think of a couple key points.

Are we seeing just the smash and grab jobs? Consider this, say you owned a large retail store, let’s say one that sells just about everything under the sun. If you had 300,000 products in your store, would you notice if 4 or 5 went missing? What if of those 300,000 products 3,000 of them were televisions? Would you notice 4 or 5 T.V.’s missing? Chances are you wouldn’t, and if you did, how long would it take you to discover them missing? Now what if those T.V.’s were magic T.V.’s, the kind that you could copy? If someone made a copy of the T.V. and walked out the door would you, the store owner, ever know? I ask these questions because it appears to me that no one notices data is missing until large groups of data are compromised. One could argue that the large numbers come from data that is at risk and that it may not have been lost at all. There was a movie a number of years ago, I think it was Swordfish or something like it. Anyway, the way the thief would get away with the crime was to take just small amounts of money from many people, rather than a large amount from a few. The idea is that an individual may not miss a penny or two, but when removed from millions of transactions the pennies are well worth it. If we are only hearing about the smash and grabs on the news, how much is happening we don’t know about?

Security is a Puzzle. A few years ago I had to pass a security certification for a position I was in with the US government. One of the principle points I learned was that, as a whole, security is a puzzle. To someone who wants the data on the other side, the security we have in place is nothing more than an elaborate puzzle they need to get through. If you were a hacker, what information do you need to know to start? Sure you need the skills that it requires, but there is more. What if I were a cat burglar? If I wanted to bypass an alarm system at the museum, wouldn’t it help if I knew what kind of alarm it was? If I know the maker of the alarm, would the model number help me? Each piece of information that I have as a cat burglar is one more variable I can remove and, as I remove variables, the puzzle solution becomes just that much easier. We have to identify all the places where we are giving the keys to the bad guys. To log on to a system you need at least a couple pieces of information, a user account and a password. Is the user account on the screen, is the password on a sticky note? When you go to a web page and there is an error in the code, does it tell you the company is running mysql, or that the web server is apache?

Take a look around, how can you help remove the pieces of the puzzles your organization is willing to share?

Experience Comes from Mistakes

Posted: January 27, 2014 in Career

In my opinion the big difference between a Database Administrator (DBA) and a Senior Database Administrator (Sr. DBA), comes down to experience, sounds simple enough right? If we explore that a little deeper, wouldn’t it be easy enough to base the differences on knowledge? A Sr. DBA would have a wider knowledge base to draw from as they face every day challenges, otherwise said as someone who has an extensive amount of time spent studying and learning quite a bit about SQL Server combined with opportunities to work with the product. Knowledge comes from many sources, in my experience I gain the most knowledge from making mistakes. As an example, I learned quite a bit about relationships when I purchased race day tickets for my wife’s birthday I had even purchased tickets to sit and eat lunch with my favorite driver. This was lesson was reinforced when the year after I bought her the vacuum cleaner she had mentioned she wanted.

All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes. – Winston Churchill

When I reflect to my first full time IT position, I often think about the lesson I learned about troubleshooting issues. I had just completed a week long class on how to install the Windows OS (NT 4.0) and how to create a new domain where I could then add the entire collection of PC’s. The class was great and I was confidant in my skills, because I had eventually completed all the lab work in the class. My confidence quickly faded over the next week (including the weekend) with each reinstall of the Domain Controller simply because each attempt resulted with errors stating the workstations could not find the domain. The biggest blow to my self-confidence came when I realized all my issues were resolved when I determined I should start with the basics and power on the network switch.

At first I consider the mistake a lesson in how that network switch worked, but today I realize the true lesson learned was all about troubleshooting and more importantly the importance of learning from the mistakes I have made. Everyone has different learning experiences, I often wonder about the mistakes other database professionals have made and what they have learned from them. There are many people I respect in the SQL Server Community, and I can see a true value in learning from them. If they have the time available, I would love to hear about the lessons they have learned:

Paul Randal

Andy Leonard

John Morehouse

If you have had an experience that you are willing to share I would love to read about it, and share it with others. Please post on it and let me know so I can share it with my network.