MVP Summit 2015 – A Few (Surprising) Lessons Learned

MVP Summit is always an amazing event. This year was no exception.  It’s one part boot camp, one part super-secret secret-telling time, and one part family reunion. Along with that, we get cool swag (like the utterly amazing Data Platform jackets Jennifer Moser hooked us up with this year), interesting conversations, and time with the guys & gals who build the products we’ve bet our careers on. Needless to say, I was happy to be there.

This year was also a little different, and I want to talk about that for a minute. There has been a lot of buzz since Satya Nadella took the helm at Microsoft that things were going to be Different. That product teams were going to align, that they’d be smarter about how they build software, and that they’d move faster than they ever have before. I have to be honest… I thought it was all marketing hype. Until last week.

The very first thing I noticed on Monday morning was that the level of transparency was through the roof. As a person who builds software for a living, I know that we all err on the side of pretending like we have all the answers and that our process is bulletproof. That was not the message from anyone on the Microsoft team last week. While it is always awesome to hear about what’s new on the technical side of things, there was another level of value coming out of the talks. Honesty. A willingness to fail. Engagement that was real. Actual two-way conversations.

One of the things I love to do during presentations is take a lot of notes. Along with the obligatory talking points and feature notes, I like to write down things that are said by the presenters that resonate. I cannot share the exact quotes because of NDA rules, but I have been given permission to share the gist of what I learned.  Because I spend way too much time on Imgur, I’m including memes to illustrate my points.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Failing, and failing fast, gets you to the good stuff.

success kid

Sometimes, you have to admit that you’re doing something totally new and that you might not already be an expert. This is okay. Go learn it, then you can build it.

doge

There’s a lot of new stuff coming at us. Embrace it. It ain’t going away.

kitten hug

Applaud the person who points out that things aren’t on the right track.  She’s the one who is unafraid.  (And as Mr. Herbert taught us, fear is the mind-killer)

penguin cake

Experiment. Try something different. Be willing to fail and then try again. It’s science.

meme by: http://knowyourmeme.com/users/deathbyexile
That’s Neil deGrasse Tyson, y’all

In all seriousness, to hear these kinds of messages coming from the most venerable software development organization in our business was inspiring. It made me feel like going home and taking a few risks. It made me feel like we were all in this together. Data and data management is moving at an insane pace these days. Always changing, always moving forward. Keeping up is overwhelming on a good day. That the experts at Microsoft are saying , “We’re learning right along with you. We’ll get this.”, it is empowering.

My point is, the technical stuff was great. The product positioning information was helpful. But my real takeaway last week was that… well, let me share one little story…

I was in a meeting about a (NDA – sorry, y’all) thing. The presenter threw out some concepts and thoughts about the thing. I raised my hand and said, “I think I have a use case for you. Let me run you through a scenario that one of my clients has.” After I explained what I needed, I asked, “So, how would you solve this problem?”. The response? “I don’t know yet. But I think we can solve it together. Let’s stay in touch and see if we can come up with some good ideas.”

And that’s it right there. I went to a session about a topic where Microsoft didn’t have the answer yet. They still got in front of us and talked about where they were, what their goals were, and what they were doing to move forward. And when we had ideas or real-world problems to solve, they engaged. They asked us for help. Not “help”, as in, “fill out this survey for us; we promise we’ll do something with your feedback”. We were treated as peers and as people on the ground who had real value to add to the conversation. It was a little bit amazing.

And you know what? It’s working. They’re doing more, faster. They’re innovating in a way that big companies aren’t supposed to be able to do. I’m excited about where we’re headed.

So in short, thank you to Microsoft, the MVP Summit organizers, and everyone who makes our experience as MVP’s special. It was an awesome week.

Fail fast, my friends.

–Audrey

On Blogs – Think like a Journalist

Today, I was reading a blog post.  The article was published by a group that I would consider reliable and reputable.  It was on a topic that I have passing familiarity with, and would like to be better at.  I’m not going to name the post nor the topic, because that’s not the point.  Here’s what went down…

1130 Hours: Read post.  Surprised at the absolutes declared in the article.

1135 Hours: Read it again.  Think that either I’ve missed some really basic lessons on this topic, or that maybe the article has provided some less than ideal guidance.

1209 Hours: E-mail a friend who I know is an expert on the subject.  Ask him to read it and let me know if he thinks it is right.

1300 Hours: Get response from generous and patient friend.  His e-mail (which was longer than the blog post) explains in very clear terms that there are problems with not only the guidance that the article provides, but also how some of the fundamental concepts were represented.

1420 Hours: Go find another post on the same topic by another trusted expert.  Read it and confirm for the second time that my original suspicions about the article were correct.

1430 Hours: Pat myself on the back for knowing just enough about the topic to realize that it seemed off in the first place.

1445 Hours: Go back to blog post to write comment that maybe the article could use a second look.  See that someone has already done that.  Decide not to pile on.

Now, I’ve been watching a lot of The Newsroom and House of Cards lately, both of which have characters who are journalists.  I think that reading blog posts, articles, and books is a lot like being a journalist.  One source is not enough.  If you’re hearing something new or something that contradicts what you think you know, don’t take the article at face value.  Go find a second source, and make sure that the second source didn’t use your first source as their source.  (Caveat:  I do have a list of absolutely trusted writers.  But it is my list, and is based on a lot of factors.  Okay, fine.  I’ll share one.  His name rhymes with Tall Candle.)  Also, if you’re finding conflicting advice, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Any writer worth her salt is willing to accept some peer review.

And yes, if you’re wondering, I felt very MacKenzie McHale for all of 3 seconds. 

??????????????????????????? (photo from: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/the-newsroom-2012/images/33579445/title/mackenzie-mchale-photo)

I imagined myself, headset on, shouting, “We’re not going live with this until we confirm a second source!”  Then I remembered that no one but me was consuming this information.  Oh well.

If you’re on the other side of the keyboard and are writing an article you plan to send out into the world, here are a few guidelines to live by:

1) Unless you are 110% sure that your guidance applies 100% of the time, don’t speak in absolutes.  “It depends” is a running joke for a reason.

2) Find someone you trust to tech edit for you.  Heck, find two people.

3) Remember that there are a lot of young database professionals out there who are reading your work in order to figure out how to do their jobs.  Don’t take that lightly.

4) If someone comments on your article and says you’re wrong, engage with them.  They’ve taken the time to read and comment on your work.  Granted, there are trolls out there, but a thoughtful comment demands a thoughtful response.  And keep an open mind.

5) If you’re preaching something that goes against conventional thought, take the time to post links to opposing views.  Help your reader make an informed choice about which advice to follow.

6) Encourage your reader to do their own research with the information you’ve provided.

7) If you discover that you’ve presented bad information, correct the article.  Own it.

All that being said, the proliferation of online resources has made us all better.  Don’t be afraid to put your research and opinions out there.  Just research, verify, and test.  And look for that second source before going live with the scoop. 

Blog on, my friends…

–Audrey

A Giant Thank You, and a Link

First of all, thanks so much to everyone who supported, organized, and attended the Day of Data Warehousing fundraiser yesterday. I am humbled and honored to have had a chance to spend the day with all of you. Couldn’t have asked for a better group to spend a Thursday with!

As promised, here is the link to my slides, demos, databases, and documentation: http://sdrv.ms/16tszZZ

If you have any questions, comments, feedback, or just want to say hi, please get in touch!

Personal E-Mail: audreydhammonds@gmail.com
Work E-Mail: audrey.hammonds@innovativearchitect.com
Twitter: @DataAudrey

Model on, my friends…

–Audrey

Great way to begin 2013! (Hint: it involves a TLA)

Quick, happy announcement… My fellow Datachix, Julie Smith, has received the SQL Server MVP award for 2013!  Also, I’ve been renewed as a SQL Server MVP for 2013.  What does this mean?  Yeah… 100% of the people who blog on this site (all two of us) are MVPs!

mvp

So, Julie, while I am not the first to congratulate you, let me be the first to do it on our blog. 🙂

On a personal note, I am grateful and humbled to be a part of the MVP community for another year.  Having experienced 12 months of the program, I’m honored that Microsoft saw fit to include me for another year.

As a bonus, here’s a picture of Julie being awesome:

Wizard

Rock on, my friend!

–Audrey

p.s. Note to self:  It’s been a while since you blogged about anything, Audrey.  Get your act together and post more often!  (Nodding…)

SQL Saturday 126: I presented DQS Finally! in Indianapolis

Thanks to the folks who came out to see my DQS presentation in Indy this past weekend.  Thanks to Caroline Bailey, Hope Foley, Kyle Neier , Eddie Weurch, and the rest of the Indy crew who put on an excellent event.  Here is my slide deck as promised.  I met many fantastic folks and had a paleolithic good time.

Thoughts on the Latest PASS Fracas…

First, I want to tell you what this post is NOT about. It is not about the PASS BoD. It is not about Sri Sridharan. It’s not about my opinion of the decisions made by the PASS BoD in regards to the two open board positions. Okay, glad we got that out of the way.

Here’s what it is about. Community. Family. Even when we don’t agree with each other.

Let me tell you a story about myself… When I was 13, I played softball. My team took first place in our league, and that meant that we got to compete in the District Tournament. Now, our coach had the option to select 4 players from other teams in our league to supplement our team at the tournament. One of his selections was a first baseman. I was the first baseman for our team. I got benched. I was furious! I thought it was unfair that I lost my spot, when I helped our team win the league. I thought I should be on the field. I even went so far as to write a very strongly worded letter to my coach. (Yeah, I was THAT kid) I was complaining to my mom about the ordeal, and said that I didn’t like the girl who took my position.

Here’s what she said to me: “Honey, let me ask you something. What’s more important to you? That you’re the one on the field or that your team wins? She’s taller than you (important in a first baseman) and has a better bat. Are you going to blame her for your coach’s decision? You need to decide right now who you are. Are you the person who thinks of your team first or yourself first? I expect you to put the team first, and you had better be the loudest, most supportive person on that bench, and be ready to step up whenever you’re needed”.

My mom was never one to mince words. It was a hard lesson to learn as a kid, but a good one. Even though I disagreed with the coach, I stayed on the team. I cheered every play, and was ready to sub in as needed. Guess what? We won the District Tournament. I would have missed out had I quit.

What does this have to do with our latest PASS drama? Well, besides giving me an opportunity to tell you a story about myself, there is a point here. We’re a community, and a family. While we don’t always agree, and sometimes disagree vehemently, we’re still part of the same team.

And here’s my point. We might not all agree with the decisions made by our PASS BoD, but let’s cheer for our players. Let’s give Kendal van Dyke (Blog | Twitter) and James Rowland-Jones (Blog | Twitter) the best possible chance to be successful and effective as appointed board members. Will we hold them to a high standard? Of course. Don’t we always? Will we ask them to do a (mostly) thankless job for no pay? Yes. Will we tell them when we think they’ve made a bad decision? Yes, we’re pretty good at that. But, let’s give them a chance. They didn’t ask to be put in the middle of a controversy. They stepped up and accepted leadership roles within our community. That counts for something. Now, I don’t know James Rowland-Jones, so I can’t speak from experience about him.  But I can only assume that he cares about this community based on what he wrote here. I know Kendal personally, and I know that he’s a kind, hard-working person with honorable motivations.

Should we blindly follow the Board of Directors?  No, of course not.  Should we have an opportunity to vote on the by-laws?  Yes. Should we raise the red flag when we disagree?  Hell yes.  However, should we blame and publicly vilify two community volunteers who got stuck in the middle? Absolutely not.

Let’s all take a deep breath. I’ve done it, and here’s what I asked myself. If I were in Kendal or James’ shoes right now, what’s the one thing I would ask for? The answer I came up with is, “Give me a fair chance to show everyone that I can do right by the community”.

So that’s what I’m doing. Kendal and James – I’m cheering you on. I hope that you work hard and lead us well.

Wait… One more note before I go… Let’s be kind to each other.  The world is tough enough as it is without mean people in it. 

–Audrey