Books, Conferences, Microsoft Technologies, Power BI

Let Her Finish: Voices from the Data Platform

This year I had the pleasure of contributing a chapter to a book along with some very special and talented people. That book has now been released and is available on Amazon!  Both a digital and print version are available. My chapter is about data viz in Power BI, combining platform agnostic concepts with practical applications in Power BI.

The other chapters are:

  • Azure Data Catalog by Melody Zacharias (b|t)
  • Biml for Beginners: Script and Automate SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) Development by Cathrine Wilhelmsen (b|t)
  • Care and Feeding of a SQL Server by Jen McCown (b|t)
  • Indexing for Beginners by Kathi Kellenberger (b|t)
  • Creating a Disaster Recovery Plan by Rie Irish (b|t)
  • Using Extended Events to figure out why an application is slow by Mindy Curnutt (b|t)

Special thanks to Rie and Melody for putting this together and for being awesome and inspiring.

We may all be women authors, but this book isn’t about WIT issues. We each got to write about an area of the data platform in which we have expertise.

If you’d like to support us, or are just curious what we have to say, you can pick up a copy on Amazon or purchase a copy at PASS Summit. If you are going to be at PASS Summit, you can also stop by the WIT Happy Hour/book release party on Oct 31 or the panel session on Nov 2.

For more information, check out the website (kindly provided by SentryOne, who sponsored the book).

It’s tough to write a book chapter about a technology that changes every month, but I think the content holds up fairly well a few months after writing it. A few things changed on me (e.g., the Office Store for custom visuals is now App Source, and drillthrough actions exist now), but my approach to data viz in Power BI is still relevant and in use today with several clients. I hope you’ll give it a read and let me know what you think.


Azure Data Factory, Biml, Conferences, SSIS

I’m Speaking at IT/Dev Connections 2017

I’m pleased to say that I am speaking at IT/Dev Connections 2017. This year the conference will be held in San Francisco October 23-26. I had a great experience speaking at IT/Dev Connections in 2015, so I am excited to return again this year.

This conference is special to me because of its focus on providing great content for developers and IT pros – the conference website describes it as the “anti-keynote” conference with no forced marketing content.

I also enjoy it because it is more than just SQL Server/Data Platform (they have tracks for Cloud & Data Center, Enterprise Collaboration, Development & Dev Ops, and Enterprise Mobility and Security), and it’s nice to get out of my comfort zone a bit.

I will deliver two sessions at the conference.

Azure Data Factory in A Nutshell

If you have been wanting to get into Azure Data Factory (ADF) development, join me for this demo-filled overview. In this session, we’ll go over the basic anatomy of an ADF solution. You’ll learn what ADF is and isn’t as we walk through a solution to pull data from an on-premises SQL Server database to a blob storage and then populate and Azure SQL Data Warehouse. You’ll learn tips for creating ADF solutions in Visual Studio, and I’ll show you how to make ADF development less tedious with a free Visual Studio Add-in called Biml Express. You’ll leave with a basic understanding of ADF and a list of tools and skills you’ll want to acquire as you begin your ADF development.

Improve Data Warehouse ETL Delivery with a Patterns-Based Approach

What if I told you that 90% of your data integration development in SQL Server could be automated? In 5 years, you will be “old fashioned” if you are hand coding SSIS packages. Developers with different skill levels and design preferences create databases and SSIS packages however they see fit to get the job done. Documentation is frequently omitted. Maintenance and small enhancements consume too much development time while manual errors and inconsistencies slip through the testing and release process. You can use tools and frameworks to rearrange the development process and alleviate these common problems. The implementation and automation of design patterns leads to improved efficiency and communication. Join me in this session to learn how to use Business Intelligence Markup Language (Biml) and Excel to facilitate metadata-driven SSIS development. I’ll use database schema information plus Excel inputs to implement a small data mart from staging through the dimensional model.

I hope you will join me in San Francisco in October!

Conferences, SQL Saturday

My Thoughts on SQL Saturday #596 – Denver BI

I had the pleasure of attending SQL Saturday Denver – BI this past weekend. They even let me help out a bit with registration and other volunteer tasks. This SQL Saturday was an experiment of sorts to prove out Steve Jones’s idea of slimmer SQL Saturdays. We had two tracks and 80 – 100 attendees. Steve would like to see each city be able to do 4 SQL Saturdays a year (which is currently against the rules), but keep them slim.

I think it’s great that Steve and Carlos put together the event for about $650 (and I heard it would have been close to $300, but they decided to do a speaker dinner to use up some sponsor money). This should show other organizers that their event doesn’t have to be big and expensive to be considered successful. Everyone had a good time and learned new things, and the venue was nice. They worked with a local university to get the space for free, which is much easier to do when you only need three rooms and a hallway. The quality of speakers was still quite high (Peter Meyers, Melissa Coates, Steve Wake, and others).

Part of the slimmer SQL Saturday is that they didn’t provide lunch. But our venue was within walking distance of several places, and it was nice to take a walk and get whatever food I wanted.

My Concerns and Things I’m Still Pondering

Here’s what I didn’t love or what I need more time to consider compared to other SQL Saturdays:

  • A lot of SQL family didn’t attend because they weren’t speaking and didn’t want to take up a spot for someone else who might be attending for the first time or needs the learning opportunities. For me, SQL Saturdays are about learning and community. I missed some of my SQL people. Having slimmer SQL Saturdays also means that the range of topics isn’t as broad, and there may be less incentive for more experienced people to attend (outside of the community aspect) if most/all of your topics are beginner level.
  • The little things matter to me. I ended up printing session evaluations so that speakers could get feedback and making sure people knew they could submit feedback online. Would the event have been fine without evals? Yes. But do some speakers very much want feedback from the audience, especially when trying out new sessions? Yes. If they had warned the speakers ahead of time, the speakers could have grabbed a few trusted people and asked them to attend their talk and provide feedback, making this a non-issue. I think whatever you can do to make things run smoothly and give people a good experience is usually worth it. Evals fall into that for me, but I fully acknowledge that they do not make or break the event.
  • There is still some overhead associated with planning even a small event. You still have to secure a venue, choose speakers and set the schedule, market the event, and spend your Saturday running the event. This is fine, sometimes even fun. I have organized 5 SQL Saturdays, and enjoyed it. But it is still time-consuming, and doing 4 of them a year makes me feel tired just thinking about it. If you can assemble a team of volunteers where 2 – 3 people plan and execute each event and you rotate duties, that sounds reasonable to me. Not every city has such a good team, though. We are more than just SQL people and lives get busy with personal or even other professional stuff. This needs to be something that isn’t overly burdensome for any one person in order to make it work.
  • Someone else made the comment “If we do these quarterly, what’s the difference between this and user group meetings? You would spend about 8 hours a quarter during the week attending meetings or 8 hours in one day attending a slimmed down SQL Saturday.” I can understand that thought process. I think of SQL Saturdays as a special once/twice a year thing. I don’t know that smaller/more frequent SQL Saturdays are better or worse than the norm, just different. I imagine that each city would find their own way to differentiate the value of SQL Saturday vs the user group.

My Takeaways

I hope this helps prove that a small event can be a great event. Do not feel like a failure just because your event doesn’t have 350 attendees or because you couldn’t get shirts and expensive gifts for the speakers and volunteers. I will admit that there was a bit of pressure to be bigger and better each year that I organized SQL Saturday KC, but that was almost entirely self-imposed. This was a good experience to help me really understand what is essential versus what is nice to have. When it comes down to it, having a slim but well planned SQL Saturday is better than not having one at all. That being said, if your SQL Saturday is large and well-funded and making people happy, don’t change a thing. Slimmer SQL Saturdays provide alternatives for events with smaller markets and/or smaller sponsorship availability.

I am now a fan of letting people get their own lunches, if your venue is in a location that can support it. Lunch at SQL Saturday KC was always expensive and took several volunteers to set up (taking money, placing orders, having food delivered and set up, accommodating dietary restrictions). And there were always people who felt like it wasn’t worth the $10/$15 dollars and wanted to complain to us afterward. As an organizer, I like the idea of skipping the headache of lunch and giving people the freedom to go get what they want. Plus it’s nice to take a walk after sitting in sessions all morning.

I love the partnership with University of Denver, not just use of their space. Part of the agreement made in getting the space at no cost for SQL Saturday Denver – BI  was that there would be sessions that were relevant and accessible for some of the students. Although there are more and more higher education programs focused on BI and data science, I still think the opportunity to get applied learning from the “real world” is valuable for them. I hope to see more SQL Saturdays partner with colleges and universities in the future.

I give this slimmer SQL Saturday two thumbs up and think others should consider it an option. Each event organizer should decide what’s important to them and make it happen. But know that you can have a good event for less than $1000 and minimal time spent planning if that is all you have.

Conferences, PASS Summit, Power BI

Update On My PASS Summit Feedback

Back in June, I posted the feedback I received on the abstracts I submitted to PASS Summit 2016. I wasn’t originally selected to speak, but I did have one talk that was selected as an alternate. It turns out that a couple of speakers had to cancel , and I am now speaking at PASS Summit.  PASS contacted me two weeks ago to ask if I could fill in. Luckily, my session that was chosen as an alternate was one that I give frequently at SQL Saturdays so it was feasible to get it ready to present at PASS Summit.

I am excited and honored to be speaking at PASS Summit, but I’m not stressed about it. Part of it is that I’ve only had two weeks to stress, and part of it is that I have quite a bit of experience speaking and I feel confident that I can deliver a decent (if not downright good) session. I’m still updating my presentation and practicing the delivery in preparation for this week, but I feel comfortable with the process of preparing. I’ve spoken at PASS Summit and many other conferences and user groups over the last five years. Over that time I have developed a process for preparing to speak, which includes building and editing the presentation as well as some disaster recovery measures. Once I have checked all the boxes I can feel that I have sufficiently prepared. It doesn’t mean everything will go perfectly, but it helps make sure I haven’t forgotten anything.

There are a couple of things I hope you take away from this.

  1. If you are selected as an alternate, it is a real possibility that you will be added to the schedule. This worked out nicely for me because I was already scheduled to be at PASS Summit and my presentation was already in a fairly finished state. You will definitely never be chosen if you never submit. So if you are interested, throw your hat in the ring next year.
  2. Giving a good presentation (and feeling confident about it) takes practice. If you are just beginning your speaking efforts in the SQL community and you are nervous about it, know that it gets easier (for most people) as you gain more experience. If you enjoy it, keep putting yourself out there. Speaking is something I thoroughly enjoy these days, and I have (mostly) conquered the nerves. Some of that is because I have experienced failures in presentations and the world did not end. Some of that is the result of my presentation prep checklist, which helps me feel prepared.

The downside of the last-minute addition is that I haven’t had as much time to market my session. So if you like Power BI, data visualization, or Kansas City BBQ, and you are attending PASS Summit, I invite you to join me on Friday morning at 8 am in room 3AB. I’m discussing how to apply good data visualization practices in Power BI using data on BBQ restaurants.

Here’s the description for the session I’m presenting:

Overcoming Chartaphobia with Power BI

Do reports in your organization consist mostly of giant tables of data? Perhaps you have gotten as far as adding KPIs or conditional highlighting to the tables. Maybe you have charts, but they are hideous and distracting. Although tables of data presented as reports are commonly found in many organizations, they may be doing you and your users a disservice. We’ll discuss why cognitive psychological studies tell us that graphs and pictures are more effective at communicating trends and comparisons and how to prepare to create good data visualizations. Then we’ll explore how to employ purposeful data viz designs to help users achieve their goal of making informed decisions, using a fun and useful Power BI dashboard. You’ll leave with guidance on how to take boring or unreadable tables of data and turn them into useful and visually appealing reports. 

I hope to see you in my session on Friday!

Biml, Conferences, SSIS

Bimling in the Northeast

I’m expanding my experiences to speak at different SQL Saturdays this year, and I’m very excited to say that I will be speaking at SQLSaturday Boston on March 19th and SQLSaturday Maine on June 4th.

My session at both SQL Saturdays will focus on using BimlScript to create good ETL patterns. SSIS has been around for a while now, but I see people making the same mistakes that are easily resolved. One of the biggest mistakes is simple inconsistency. BimlScript supports consistency, and forces the developer to (when used correctly) recognize patterns and reuse them. This helps us to solve (and share the solution to) known problems, make it easier for junior developers to solve those problems and learn why our solution works, and move on to new and more interesting challenges. And if we find a flaw in our pattern, it’s a quick update to the Biml pattern and regeneration of packages to make the change to all applicable packages.

Everyone involved in creating and supporting your SSIS projects can appreciate consistent design patterns. It makes your patterns more tested (by reuse in multiple situations) and reduces the learning curve for development and support.  BimlScript plus a good ETL framework facilitates quicker start and completion of SSIS projects. As a consultant, I appreciate the consistency when I take over a project (usually, I’m working on phase 2 when someone else built phase 1) and already know how it works. And if the framework is slightly different from what I’m used to (there are valid reasons to build things differently on occasion),  I can look at the Biml from the previous work and easily read what’s going on. Have you ever tried to read the XML code of an SSIS package? It’s ugly. Biml is much easier to read because it doesn’t include position information for the UI and many other attributes that aren’t helpful. And because the code is all on one page, I have less chance of missing a setting that was hiding in the advanced properties somewhere in an existing package.

If you are an SSIS architect and you aren’t familiar with Biml, I urge you to look into it. has a great learning plan to help you get started and become comfortable using Bimlscript.  In my opinion, it is currently the best (and in many cases free!) way to create your SSIS framework and design patterns.

Conferences, SQL Saturday

I’m excited about Kansas City SQL Saturday

It’s that time of year again. School is about to start, the weather is getting even hotter, beer festivals are occurring every weekend, and we are busy planning KC SQL Saturday. This is our sixth year (and my fourth year on the organizing committee), and I must say that I am genuinely excited about some of the changes we are making for this year. If you are in the Kansas City area and haven’t been to a SQL Saturday before, I encourage you to attend this year. Registration is free, and lunch is $15.

New Location and New Sponsor

Kansas City SQL Saturday 2015 will be held on October 3rd at Rockhurst University in Arrupe Hall. This brand new building has wonderfully functional and comfortable classrooms with HD projectors (with HDMI hookups!) as well as a theater that seats 500 people. There are also several areas throughout the building for attendees to sit and chat. Parking should be easy as Rockhurst is opening up a garage for us and there is also street parking available nearby.

We are happy to have Rockhurst as a new sponsor, and we think it is a great fit. The Helzberg School of Management has a new MS in Business Intelligence and Analytics program. The program “takes the data science techniques of statistical modeling, computer science and machine learning, and then adds the implementation, business and strategy skills you need to be successful in a corporate environment.” I’m glad that we have a program like this in KC, and glad to partner with them for SQL Saturday.

Moving SQL Saturday to a location just southeast of the Plaza provides a quicker drive for many local attendees and a better experience for those coming in from out of town.

New Recommended Hotel

Moving to the Westport/Plaza area also means we have improved options for hotels. This year our recommended hotel is the 816 Hotel. See the event news on the SQL Saturday KC site for instructions on how to get the discounted rate. 816 Hotel will provide free shuttle service to and from Rockhurst for SQL Saturday. The wi-fi, breakfast, cocktail hour, parking, and gym access are all included in the price of the room. Be sure to book your room by September 2nd to get our group discount rate.

New After-Party

If you aren’t aware SQLKaraoke is a thing. This year we have the VIP room at OffKey Karaoke reserved from 7 – 9pm for our after-party. This gives everyone time to grab some dinner at one of the many restaurants in Westport and then head over to sing or just enjoy the company. Our room holds up to 50 people, so feel free to join us. We’ve paid for the room, but you will need to take care of your own bar bill. If you are staying at the 816 Hotel, OffKey is just a few blocks away, within easy walking distance.

New Ride

If you are a speaker or guest who is flying in to KC to come to our event, you can now get Uber to take you to and from the airport. With the availability of Uber and the shuttle service from 816 Hotel, it’s possible that our out-of-town guests won’t need a rental car at all. We hope this helps keep costs down and make life easier.

Same Great BBQ

We are still having a delicious BBQ lunch at SQL Saturday, and it will still be supplied by Joe’s Kansas City. Vegetarian options will be available from Eden Alley once again as well. Please be sure to let us know if you have special dietary needs when you register for the event.

Also, we are once again doing a BBQ Crawl on the Friday afternoon before SQL Saturday for the speakers and volunteers. We try to hit up 3 places and get samples of their best dishes. This event is getting rather popular to the point that we had a caravan of 10+ cars roaming KC last year on our BBQ Crawl. This year, our new location makes it easier to plan a route that minimizes travel time and keeps people in the Westport area. Details of locations and times will be announced in September, but we usually start around 1:30 or 2pm. If you are a speaker or volunteer, be sure that you are in town and off of work in time to join us. We will have a speaker dinner later Friday evening, but many of us may be eating lighter since we will have been eating BBQ all afternoon.

It’s Not Too Late

If you think the BBQ Crawl sounds awesome, you still have time to submit a session and become a speaker! In addition to gaining your entrance to the BBQ Crawl and other fun, becoming a speaker sharpens your presentation skills, gives you practice explaining technical concepts, and increases your networking opportunities. For tips on picking a topic and writing and abstract see Devin Knight’s blog series and Adam Machanic’s blog postThe call for speakers closes August 4th. I hope to see you at SQL Saturday Kansas City!


Let’s have a SQL Cruise: BI Edition

Have you heard about SQL Cruise?

If you aren’t familiar with it, SQL Cruise is a great learning and networking opportunity for SQL Server professionals.  It combines the fun of a cruise ship with the fun of hanging out with and learning from SQL people, all for a very reasonable price. Unlike other conferences, you don’t have to fight with other attendees for five minutes of an instructor’s time at the end of his/her session. Youʼre spending the week with those youʼre receiving training from. After class, at breakfast, while snorkeling, youʼre able to not only have them answer questions from their sessions, but youʼre able to spend quality time with them going over real issues youʼre trying to solve back on dry land. You also have fewer distractions while you are at sea, so you can focus on the great training you are receiving and let all that great information sink in without feeling obligated to field calls to your cell phone or constantly check your email. The other benefit is that many of these Technical Leads, are also highly paid consultants back on land; youʼre getting top quality SQL Server consulting for no additional cost.  Training happens while you are at sea.  You are free to live it up when you are in port.

The cost of SQL Cruise depends on the length of the cruise, destinations, time of year, etc. For 2015, the cost of SQL Cruise was $1395 – $1595 plus the cost of the cruise (which can be $100 – $200 per day depending on your room and activity choices). The cruise is through Norwegian Cruise Lines.  For more info about SQL Cruise, visit the website.  You will learn about why you deserve a SQL Cruise, what a typical schedule looks like for the cruise, and other frequently asked questions.

Why am I telling you all this?

SQL Cruise is run by this great guy named Tim Ford (t | b). When I run into Tim at SQL Saturdays I always tell him that I want to go on a SQL Cruise. But SQL Cruise has traditionally been focused on DBA training, and I’m a BI person. Although I do spend some of my time learning about “DBA things”, I would prefer to have some training more focused on the things I care about as a BI person such as dimensional modeling, BIML, SSIS, SSAS/Power Pivot, big data, and data visualization. Tim told me that we could get a SQL Cruise: BI Edition going for 2016 if I could demonstrate some real interest.

I need your help to make SQL Cruise: BI Edition happen!

If you are interested in being a part of SQL Cruise: BI Edition, please take a couple of minutes to complete the survey at the link below.  Or if you aren’t comfortable filling out this survey, go to the SQL Cruise contact page and send Tim a note to indicate your interest to him directly. If you know someone who might be interested, please send them the link to the survey or this blog post. Once I get enough demonstrated interest I will let Tim know and he will help make this happen. I’ll post an update after PASS Summit to share the level of interest indicated and next steps.