TSQL2sDay – Folks Who Have Made a Difference

tsql2sday

This months TSQL2sDay is an absolute brilliant one hosted by Ewald Cress

the opportunity to give a shout-out to people (well-known or otherwise) who have made a meaningful contribution to your life in the world of data.

Fabulous, fabulous idea Ewald, I heartily approve

Now this is going to be difficult. There are so many wonderful people in the #SQLFamily who are so gracious and generous and willing to share. I am also lucky enough to be part of the PowerShell community which is also equally filled with amazing people. I do not want to write a novel or a massive list of people, I don’t want to risk missing someone out (Ewald, I’m beginning to question whether ‘fabulous’ should become ‘tricky and challenging’ !!)

So after consideration I am only going to talk about 4 wonderful people and the effect they have had on my life, my career and my community involvement but know that I truly appreciate the input that all of the peoples have had and the amazing friendships that I have all over the world. There is no order to this list, these are 4 of the people in equal first with all the other people I haven’t mentioned. This post should really scroll sideways. Interestingly I noticed after writing this that they are in reverse chronological order in my life!

The Hair!

At PASS Summit this year many people came up to me and said “Hey, Beard ……..” The first person who called me that is an amazing inspiring bundle of talented energy called Chrissy LeMaire

Many moons ago, we exchanged messages over social media and email, chatted after a PowerShell Virtual Group presentation and then one day she asked me to join as an organiser for the Virtual Group.

When dbatools was in it’s infancy she asked me to help and since then has given me interesting challenges to overcome from introducing Pester and appveyor to the dbatools development process to creating continuous delivery to our private PowerShell gallery for our summit pre-con forcing me to learn and implement new and cool things. Our shared love of enabling people to do cool things with PowerShell is so much fun to do 🙂

She is so generous and giving of her time and knowledge and has an amazing capability to get things done, whether by herself or by encouraging and supporting others.

We have presented at many conferences together, both SQL and PowerShell and we have the best of times doing so. It is so refreshing to find someone that I am comfortable presenting with and who has the same passion and energy for inspiring people. (It’s also fun to occasionally throw her off her stride mid-presentation (Thank you Cathrine 🙂 )

I am proud to call her my buddy. You are so inspiring Chrissy.

Thank you Ma’am

Amazing Couple

A few months after becoming a DBA I was the only DBA at the company as the others all left for various reasons. I was drowning in work, had no idea what I should be doing. I knew I didn’t have the knowledge and during that time I began to be aware of the SQL community and all the fine resources that it provides.

I then found out about a local user group and emailed the leader Jonathan Allen (He surprised me by reminding of this during our pre-con in Singapore a couple of weeks ago!) Jonathan and his wife Annette run the SQL South West user group and are also members of the SQL Bits committee, Annette is also the regional mentor for the UK. They give an awful amount of time and effort to the SQL Community in the UK. It took a few months before I even had the time to attend a user group and in those early days they both answered my naive questions and passed on so much of their technical knowledge and methodology to me and I soaked it up.

Later on, they invited me to help them to organise SQL Saturday Exeter, encouraged me to speak, gave me fabulous feedback and pointers to improve, encouraged me to volunteer for SQL Bits and have been incredibly supportive. I love them both very much. Neither like having their photo taken so I can’t embarrass them too much.

Next time you see them give them a hug.

Thank you J and A

The First One

Andrew Pruski dbafromthecold and SQL Containers Man

At the time I am talking about he was not a member of the SQL Community although he possessed all of the qualities that describe such a person. Now he is an established blogger and speaker and attender of SQL events.

He is one of the DBA’s who left me on my own!! He is the first SQL DBA I ever worked with. The person who taught me all those important first bits of knowledge about being a SQL DBA. He imparted a great amount of knowledge in a few months with great patience to an eager newbie.

More than that, he showed me that to succeed in IT, you need to do more than just an everyday 9-5, that it requires more time than that. He instilled in me (without realising it) a work ethic and a thirst for doing things right and gaining knowledge that I still have today. He inspired me when I was faced with trying to understand the mountain of knowledge that is SQL Server that it was possible to learn enough. He taught me the importance of testing things, of understanding the impact of the change that is being made. He showed me how to respond in crises and yet was still willing to share and teach during those times.

He has had a greater impact on me than he will ever know and I have told him this privately many times. I will never forgive him for abandoning me all those years ago and yet that is a large part of what made me who I am today. I was forced to have to deal with looking after a large estate by myself and needed to learn to automate fast and he just about left me with the skills to be able to accomplish that.

Massive shout out to you fella. Thank you

All the Others

Seriously, there are so many other people who I wish I could thank.

Every single one of you who blogs or speaks or records webinars that I have watched – thank you.

All of the organisers who ensure that events happen – thank you

All of the volunteers who assist at those events – thank you.

That group of amazing European speakers at the first SQL Saturday Exeter I attended. The cool group, my wife still reminds me of how I came home from that event so inspired by them. How incredibly generous and welcoming they were and how they welcomed me into their group even though I didn’t feel worthy to share their table. They taught me about the lack of egos and humbleness that defines the SQL family. I am proud to call them my friends now. Thank You (You know who you are)

We have a great community, may its ethos continue for a long time.

Presentation Nerves

My previous post on interviews and a number of conversations this year inspired me to write this post. I am lucky enough to have been selected to speak at numerous events over the past few years and I am really lucky because I thoroughly enjoy doing them. The feedback I receive from those sessions has been wonderful and it seems that in general most people really enjoy them.

This leads to some misconceptions though. Recently people have said to me “Oh I am not like you, I get far to nervous to do a session” and also “I am so glad that you get just as nervous as me before presenting I thought it was just me” even though I have blogged about this before. I think it is important for newer speakers as well as more established ones to know that more presenters than you realise get very nervous before they speak.

Many don’t publicise this (which is fine) but I will. I get nervous before I speak. I know that it doesn’t show when I start my presentation but it is there. My stomach does back flips, my hands shake, I forget to bring things to the room. I worry that I will make a catastrophic mistake or that I’ll open my mouth and nothing will come out.

It’s ok. It doesn’t last very long, it’s gone at the moment I start speaking. Other speakers need a few moments into their session before they stop really feeling those nerves but it goes.

Whenever I am involved in a conversation about nerves and presentations on twitter I respond in the same way

I love this quote by Joan Jett (young people link) To me it means that you should be nervous before speaking because that energy will ensure that you give a good presentation. If you get up to do a presentation and you are blasé or complacent about it this will be obvious to your audience and not in a good way.

So what to do?

Practice

You can’t just approach a presentation knowing that you will be nervous and expect it to be ok. You need to have a background of confidence that your presentation will turn out ok.

You need to practice.

You need to practice your presentation.

You need to practice your presentation out loud.

You need to practice your presentation out loud more than once.

You have to get used to hearing your own voice when presenting. It can be off-putting hearing yourself blathering on and you don’t want that to surprise you or interrupt your flow. This will also help with projecting away from your screen and into the room if you practice correctly. Imagine all the people in the room and try to speak in their direction with your head up and not pointing down at the screen.

You also need to practice your timings, so that you know that your session will fit in the allocated time. Make notes of your timings at certain points in your presentation so that when you are presenting your session you can be aware of whether you are still on your expected time. Some people will speak faster in their actual session than the practice and some slower. As you practice and learn you will understand your own rhythm and cadence and be able to alter it if required. This will help you to build that confidence that your presentation will be ok.

More Practice

You need to practice.

You need to practice your demos.

You need to practice your demos more than once.

Being able to reset your demos and run them through will teach you more skills. Using Pester to make sure your environment is in place correctly will help.

Run your demos with your machine set up as it will be for the presentation. If you need to have PowerPoint, SSMS, Visual Studio, Visual Studio Code and three SQL instances running then practice with them all running. You should do this so that your timings when running your demos are the same as when you actual present your session. This is even more important if you are doing a webinar as that software will require some of your machines resources which may slow your demo down.

Knowing that your demos are consistently repeatable and how long they will take will also help to give you the confidence that your presentation will be ok.

Deal with them

If we accept that you will have nerves and that’s not a bad thing you have to be able to deal with them, to use them to make your presentation rock.

This is a distinctly personal thing and I have no idea what will work for you. You will have to try some things and see if they work or not. Recently I found a new way for myself

Normally I like to be in the room I will be presenting in before I do my session as this gives me something that I can listen to, I can see and feel the layout of the room and also usually prepare my laptop with the correct programmes and run Pester to make sure all is as it should be for my demos. In Portugal I was chatting with someone and missed the start of the session and because of the room layout I did not want to disturb the presenter before me. Slava Oks was giving a presentation which I started to watch and it was so mind-melting I completely forgot that I was presenting in the next time slot! Surprisingly, I had almost no time to be nervous and for this time that was a good thing. The fact that I had already opened my presentation and run my Pester tests also helped.

Some speakers like to be amongst the hustle and bustle of a common area. Some like the peace and quiet of a speaker room or work area. Some put their headphones on. Some go outside. Some pace up and down. Some sit quietly. Many sit in a session in the room. Find the one that works for you.

A few deep breaths

Then just before you are giving your presentation take a few deep breathes, reassure yourself that it’s all good and go and be amazing.

Deep breaths will also be useful if you start to feel nervousness overtaking you during your session. Stop, take a deep breath and carry on.

Incidentally, during a presentation in Exeter at my first SQL Saturday I felt decidedly light-headed and as if I was going to pass out. I had literally forgotten to breathe!

What about…… ?

Don’t forget to leave time for questions at the end. Don’t practice to fill all of the allotted time with your presentation. You will need some time for the audience to ask you questions about your presentations.

Having people ask you questions is a good thing. It means that people are engaged in your presentation and interested in what you have shared. Well done, you have achieved what you set out to do and this is some validation

Repeat the question

Repeating the question that you are asked is recommended best practice for presentations but it has another advantage to you. It allows you a little thinking time to organise your thoughts and calm your nerves if needed.

I don’t know

It’s ok to answer a question with I don’t know. Follow up by asking if anyone in the audience can add some value or say I will research that and find out for you come and give me your contact details afterwards.

Feedback

Some events will provide you with feedback from your attendees. You can also ask your friends or other friendly community members for feedback on your session. Use this to improve. Don’t take all the feedback to heart. Look for trends in the data. Don’t let the poor feedback get you down and don’t let the good feedback go to your head (Remember the complacent quote at the top of this post!)

On a side note, whilst providing a score for feedback is useful, what is more useful is some reasoning behind the score. Remember also that the speaker is a human being with feelings. Be kind whilst being constructive.

Your knowledge

Don’t let worry about nerves prevent us from hearing the great knowledge and experience that you have to share. You wont be alone in feeling nervous and you can help yourself to overcome those nerves and get as much out of speaking as I do.

You will find members of the SQL community wiling to help you if you visit the SQL Community Slack you can ask questions in #presentingorspeaking

 

2016 – That was a Year :-)

Its the time of year for reflection and I have had the most amazing 2016, I am blessed that I love what I do so much. I thoroughly enjoy writing and talking and sharing and commenting and supporting and cherishing all the SQL and PowerShell things. I wrote about using Power Bi to display my checkins. I only started this in June and this is where I have been 🙂

swarm

I learnt about Pester and ended the year incorporating it into dbatools and dbareports. I also started using GitHub It is quite surprising to me how much time I now spend using both. I also had to start learning DSC for the client I was working with because as ‘the PowerShell guy’ I was the one who could the easiest. I learnt things and then forgot them causing me to find this Pester post via google later in the year!! (That’s a big reason for blogging by the way)

Early in the year we organised with SQL Saturday Exeter

Helping to organise a SQL Saturday is a lot of fun, especially when you do it with good friends, but choosing sessions is by far the most challenging part of it for me. I could have chosen at least 60 of these sessions and I know people were disappointed not to have been chosen. I was also the first person many saw at SQL Bits in Liverpool manning the front of house and getting asked the best question ever

The Beard says

When you go to an event –  Say thank you to the organisers and volunteers

and a TERRIBLE thing happened – I broke my DBA Team mug

WP_20160223_07_51_03_Pro.jpg

Luckily the fine folk at redgate sorted me out with a replacement from deep in the stores somewhere and gave it to me at SQL Saturday Exeter 🙂 Thank you.

I spoke at the PowerShell Conference Europe and met and made some great friends which lead to me speaking at the PowerShell Monday in Munich and the Dutch PowerShell Usergroup. SQL Saturday Dublin was a blast, its a wonderful city, Manchester had a whole PowerShell Track 🙂 and Cambridge was memorable for the appalling journey as well as the chance to share a stage with Chrissy. PowerShell Conference Asia in the sovereign city-state of Singapore was such a good event and place. Lastly of course was Slovenia with its fantastic Christmas lights and awesome event organisation. I visited some user groups too. Southampton run by my good friends John Martin and Steph Middleton Congratulations to John on his first MVP award yesterday, Cardiff for the Return of the Battle of the Beards with Terry McCann and Tobiasz Koprowski where the projector threw its toys out of the pram and Birmingham in the school hall which was slightly chilly (theres a joke there for some people)

Amazing things happened

We created https://sqlps.io/vote and https://sqlps.io/ssms and https://sqlps.io/powerbi to enable anyone to influence Microsoft and help to improve the PowerShell SQL experience

and lo and behold there was a new sqlserver module 🙂

I was also invited by Aaron and Chrissy to become an officer for the PASS PowerShell Virtual Chapter oh and we made https://sqlps.io/slack to enable people to talk about all things Data Platform – Another addition to my life that I didn’t have at the beginning of the year. I spend a lot of time in there in the #dbatools and #dbareports channels and have made some fantastic friends. Chrissy and I created the SQL Community Collaborative GitHub team and added dbatools and dbareports and even more friendships were born

And that’s the biggest and bestest thing about this year. Some amazing new friends and spending time with all my other friends. I started writing out a list but was terrified I would have missed someone out, so to all my friends

THANK YOU for a brilliant 2016 and 2017 shall be just as good 🙂

Here are a few of my pics from the year with a lot of my friends

 

Spinach and Database Development- SQLSatExeter Keynote

Last weekend, we held our SQL Saturday event in Exeter. It was a brilliant event for many reasons but we were delighted to have a world exclusive keynote video by Phil Factor about Spinach and Database Development. With many thanks to those that made it possible and particularly to Phil Factor I have linked to the video here and also transcribed it. Please watch and read and understand the message

 

 

What has spinach got to do with Database Development?

 

 

Generations of children were fed spinach in preference to more nutritious things, such as cardboard, because of the persistence of bad data.

 

It wasn’t in fact the decimal point error of legend but confusion over the way that iron was measured in the late 19th century data. As a result nutritionists persisted in believing for generations that it was a rich source of iron that the body needs in order to create bloodcells. In fact, the very little iron that there is in spinach isn’t in a form that can be readily absorbed by the body anyway.

 

The consequences of bad data can be dire

 

Guarding the quality of your data is about the most important thing that you as a data professional can do. You may think that performance is important but it would just deliver you the wrong answer faster. Resilience? it would just make it more likely that you’d be able to deliver the wrong answer. Delivery? Yep you got it, the wrong answer quicker.

 

The spinach example is a good one because bad data is hard to detect and can go unnoticed for generations. This is probably because people don’t inspect and challenge data as much as they should. You would have thought it strange that a vegetable like spinach should have fifty times as much iron as any other vegetable but the fact came from a very reputable source so people just shrugged and accepted it

 

We have a touching faith in data,

 

We, as a culture, assume its correct and complete, we like to believe that it’s impossible that either prejudice, bias, criminality or foolishness could affect the result, worse we think that valuable truth can be sifted from any data no matter the source. If there’s enough of it then there must be value in it. It’s like panning for gold dust from a river. The sad truth is that this is a delusion but very common in our society. We are, in our mass culture, in the bronze age rather than the information age struggling with silvery toys imbued with mystical magical powers

 

A good database professional must be unequivocal.

 

Bad data cannot be cleaned in the same way that one can clean mud of a diamond. If data contains bad data then the entire data set must be rejected

 

There’s no such thing as data cleansing.

 

You as a DBA may be asked to take out data that seems absurd such as ages that are negative or ages that are so great that the person couldn’t possibly be alive but then that leaves you in the same dataset, data that is plausible but wrong.

 

Only in very exceptional circumstances when you know precisely why a minority of your data is wrong would you be justified in correcting it.

 

Statistics can help us to make very confident assertions about large datasets if they conform to one of the common distributions but they cannot tell us anything about individual items of data. You can of course remove outliers but in fact outliers are just items of data that don’t conform to your assumptions about the data and the whole point of data analysis is to test your assumptions. By cleaning data, by removing outliers you can prove almost anything scientifically

 

A well designed database is defended in depth at every possible opportunity.

 

Depth is actually an interesting analogy because experience tells us that bad data seems to leak in under pressure, through every crack when the database is working hard. Like you will see in a World War 2 submarine movie, in a well-used OLTP database, we are like the crew, swivelling our eyes in terror savouring the futility of any remediation as ghastly drips run down the walls of our database and wishing we had put in more constraints.

 

In terms of the defence of data, check constraints and foreign key constraints are excellent of course and triggers are good but there are other ways of getting warnings of errors in data such as sudden changes in the distribution of data and other anomalies. One check I like to do is the tourism check where you check your data all the way through back to source, this technique once famously picked up the fact that a famous motor manufacturer was reporting its deceleration figures in yards per second when it should have been metres per second.

 

When you start putting in check constraints you say to yourself, this couldn’t possibly happen. This is the voice of superstition. A famous programmer of the 1970’s took to putting a message in his code saying “this error could never happen” and he put it in places where it couldn’t possibly ever be executed and the funny thing was the more he tested the programme, the more that error appeared on the screen and it is the same with constraints, the more traps you set the more critters you catch and you’re left wondering how on earth all that bad data was getting in

 

Its misleading to go on about the value of the great flood of big data. There’s a strong superstition that data has some sort of intrinsic mystical value all of its own.

 

Unless you can prove that data is correct its valueless because if you trust it you can end up with generations of children compelled to eat spinach for no good reason at all.

PowerShelling SQL Saturday Sessions to the Guidebook app

Following on from my previous post about parsing XML where I used the information from Steve Jones blog post to get information from the SQL Saturday web site I thought that this information and script may be useful for others performing the same task.

  1. Edit – This post was written prior to the updates to the SQL Saturday website over the weekend. When it can back up the script worked perfectly but the website is unavailable at the moment again so I will check and update as needed once it is back.

    We are looking at using the Guidebook app to provide an app for our attendees with all the session details for SQL Saturday Exeter

    The Guidebook admin website requires the data for the sessions in a certain format. You can choose CSV or XLS.

    In the admin portal you can download the template

    down

    which gives an Excel file like this

-excel

 

So now all we need to do is to fill it with data.

I have an Excel Object Snippet which I use to create new Excel Objects when using Powershell to manipulate Excel. Here it is for you. Once you have run the code you will be able to press CTRL + J and be able to choose the New Excel Object Snippet any time.

I needed to change this to open the existing file by using

In the more help tab of the Excel workbook it says

2.     Make sure that your dates are in the following format: MM/DD/YYYY (i.e. 4/21/2011).  If the dates are in any other format, such
as “April 21, 2011” or “3-Mar-2012”, Gears will not be able to import the data and you will receive an error message.
3.     Make sure that your times are in the following format: HH:MM AM/PM (i.e. 2:30 PM, or 11:15 AM). If the times are in any other
format, such as “3:00 p.m.” or “3:00:00 PM”, Gears will not be able to import the data and you will receive an error message.

So we need to do some manipulation of the data we gather. As before I selected the information from the XML as follows

I then looped through the $Talks array and wrote each line to Excel like this

I know that I converted the String to DateTime and then back to a String again but that was the easiest (quickest) way to obtain the correct format for the Excel file

Then to finish save the file and quit Excel

Then you upload the file in the Guidebook admin area
import

wait for the email confirmation and all your sessions are available in the guidebook

sched

I hope that is useful to others. The full script is below

Parsing XML Child Nodes and Converting to DateTime with PowerShell

As part of my organiser role for SQLSaturday Exeter (Training Day Information here and Saturday Information here) I needed to get some schedule information to input into a database.

I had read Steve Jones blog posts on Downloading SQL Saturday Data and followed the steps there to download the data from the SQL Saturday website for our event.

A typical session is held in the XML like this

 

I needed to output the following details – Speaker Name , Room , Start time,Duration and Title

To accomplish this I examined the node for Williams session

I then established that to get the speakers name I had to obtain the value from the child node which I accomplished as follows

This is an easy way to obtain sub(or child) properties within a select in PowerShell and I would recommend that you practice and understand that syntax of @{Name=””; Expression = {} } which will enable you to perform all kinds of manipulation on those objects. You are not just limited to obtaining child properties but can perform calculations as well

I did the same thing to get the room and the start time

I then needed duration and thought that I could use

However that just gave me a blank result so to troubleshoot I ran

Which errored with the (obvious when I thought about it) message

Cannot convert value “4/25/2015 4:10:00 PM” to type “System.Int32”. Error: “Input string was not in a correct format.”
At line:1 char:1
+ $Sessions.event[39].endtime – $sessions.event[39].startTime
+ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
+ CategoryInfo : InvalidArgument: (:) [], RuntimeException
+ FullyQualifiedErrorId : InvalidCastFromStringToInteger

The value was stored as a string

Running

showed me that there was a method called ToDateTime but there is an easier way. By defining the datatype of an object Powershell will convert it for you so the resulting code looks like this

and the resulting entry is finally as I required it. I believe that this will use the regional settings from the installation on the machine that you are using but I have not verified that. If anyone in a different region would like to run this code and check that that is the case I will update the post accordingly

zzCapture

Hopefully you have learnt from this how you can extend select from the pipeline and how defining the datatype can be beneficial. Any questions please comment below

Giving Back – #TSQL2sday

T-SQL Tuesday, which was started by Adam Machanic (blog|twitter) and is now starting its 6th year, is hosted by a different person each month. The host selects the theme, and then the blogging begins. Worldwide, on the second Tuesday of the month (all day, based on GMT time), bloggers attend this party by blogging about the theme. This month it is hosted by Wayne Sheffield blog|twitter and in the spirit of the holiday season it is about giving. This is my post on giving back, in the little ways as well as the bigger ones, how you can give back and why it not only benefits others but also yourself

What’s the SQL Family?

The SQL Family (or SQL community call it what you will) is a fabulous place to be. Full of many wonderful, talented, passionate and generous people. Every method of interaction that you wish for can be found if you look. Ever wanted to know how others do it? or Does this happen in other shops? or I wish I had access to someone who knows about ‘insert new shiny thing here’?

I guess that that is how I joined. I had no peers in my shop. I had no one to turn to to ask questions or get advice. I had no support and I turned to the internet. Now we all know that the internet lies. It is full of accidental and deliberate mistruths, of part information and downright bad advice. You have to be careful where you go and who you trust. I gradually found myself going back to the same resources and from those I found out about PASS and user groups

I am in the UK. I found the list of UK SQL User Groups

You can find more here both local and virtual

User Groups

I found a user group near me and went along to a meeting not knowing what to expect. I found a group of people like me willing to give up their time to learn and share knowledge. A wide range of people from DBAs, Developers, BI Professionals and SysAdmins. Working for International multi regional companies looking after many hundreds of SQL Servers to single sysadmins looking after the whole kit and caboodle and everything in between. A wealth and breadth of knowledge to tap into. You will learn so much not only from the sessions but also the conversation with all these other talented people

Come along.

Simply coming along will bring benefit. Other people will be interested in what you have to say even if you are in week 0 of your first ever job. Your view will still be valued. Everyone can learn from everybody and NO-ONE knows it all.

There will come a point where you will pass on a piece of knowledge or an idea or a way of working and someone will say thank you I didn’t know that. You just gave back. It may even be someone you look up to, someone whose knowledge and experience far outweighs yours whose word you hang on to. That feels good.

You may ask the questions that others thought but didnt ask and boy are they glad you asked the question. You just gave back. It’s something I do often. I ask questions and sometimes I ask questions I know the answer to so that they will be of benefit to the group.

What will you get? More than you can ever put in. Free training, often free pizza, knowledge, advice,guidance, contacts, support, a network of people in your field, notice of job openings, swag, fun, friends, more social events and more and more

The user groups are run by volunteers in their own time out of the goodness of their hearts. They will always need your help. Turn up 5 minutes earlier and help set out the chairs or put out the handouts or assist with the tech. You just gave back. Afterwards before going to the pub clear the tables, help carry the boxes, put the pizza evidence in the bin. You just gave back

SQL Saturdays and other community events

SQL Saturdays are held all over the world most every Saturday You can find more about them here https://www.sqlsaturday.com/ There are also other larger events such as SQL Bits and SQL Relay here in the UK. Everything I wrote about User groups counts here just in a slightly larger scale. You will be able to attend several sessions across many different areas for free on a Saturday

These events are also run by volunteers and they will also need your help. If you can spare some time to help on a registration desk you just gave back. A room monitor to ensure the speaker and delegates have everything they need, the room is tidy and the session runs to time. You just gave back. Putting things out and tidying them away again. You just gave back.

You can become a volunteer by asking the people organising the events if they would like your help. These events will all have twitter feeds and emails and facebook pages and many methods of getting in touch. Contact them and offer your help if you can. You just gave back.

If you fancy taking the next step then you can get involved in organising the events. This is hard work, great fun, a good thing to add to your CV and you just gave back. There are so many areas to get involved organising an event. Premises and technology, speakers and printers, volunteers and sponsors all need co-ordination. Websites,twitter feeds, feedback forms, posters, marketing materials all need designing and producing. There are so many ways in which you will be able to provide value to the event and you just gave back

Oh and whilst I am at it, when you attend an event

Say Thank You to the volunteers. You just gave back.

 Speaking and Blogging

All the events named above need speakers. The bigger events like the SQL Saturdays and the large events like SQL Bits will generally have more established speakers but every user group will need speakers and they will be more likely to accept new speakers and will be very supportive if you say that you are a new speaker. Every speaker had to make their first presentation at some point and they all know how it feels and can provide guidance and advice. You will feel that you don’t have anything to speak about that others will want to hear about. You do. Your experience and your knowledge or how you solved something or created something will be of interest to people. Of course, you need to check with the user group leaders and members if your idea for a presentation is suitable. Like anything you do that is new, researching it and taking advice from people with more experience is always useful. Maybe you can start with a lightning talk. Give it a go. You just gave back.

What do you get back from Speaking and Blogging?

I’ll tell you a secret. The vast majority of my posts ( This is an exception) are written for the benefit of one person. Me.

I write posts to record my learning for myself. To document my knowledge. I use my posts to help me to do my job. I know that I wrote the method of doing something somewhere and this is part of my store of knowledge. I write posts to answer peoples questions so that I have a place to point them to. Occasionally people will email me asking a question and if it requires a detailed response I will write a post and email them to tell them that this is the answer. I often point my work colleagues at my blog when they ask me questions about Azure or Powershell. You could also see your blog as an extension of your CV and use it when job hunting and develop it in that way

I also write posts to expand my knowledge and this is the same for speaking. When I am writing a blog post or a presentation I will read and watch videos and ensure I know more about it. The process of creating that content will improve my own knowledge and work practices and you will find that, as you write your blog posts you will have a deeper knowledge also. When you give your presentations you will learn as you answer questions or find the answer to the question afterwards (It’s ok to do that) that you are improving yourself and your knowledge.You will also be giving back.

Putting your information online will enable people to find it. Sure you can worry about SEO and getting to the top of search pages but you know that sometimes the answer is on the ninth page. What you write will be of benefit to others and by taking the time to post you will be giving back to the community

You can do one, many or all of those and you will be giving back. I hope you do

I will be giving back. You will find me at SQL Bits where I shall be room monitoring and volunteering.

You will find me at SQL Saturday Exeter. I am again one of the fabulous SQL South West team

who are again organising a SQL Saturday in Exeter in the UK on April 24th/25th 2015 You can find out more here http://sqlsouthwest.co.uk/sql-saturday-372/ 

You still have time, if you are quick, to submit a session to speak or present a pre-con at Exeter. Submissions close on 15th December and we would love to have yours

I shall carry on blogging and hopefully present at some user groups again this year. If you see me any where, come up and say hi to me. You just gave back