Category: PASS Summit

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!

My PASS Summit Abstract Feedback

I wasn’t selected to speak at the PASS Summit this year. One of my talks was selected as an alternate, but I’m not holding out hope it will move up. Update: My session got bumped from alternate to scheduled. See here for more information. 

While I am a bit disappointed, I’m ok with it.  I delivered a general session and a lightning talk at PASS Summit 2014, then took a year off and didn’t submit anything in 2015. But I was on the abstract review committee last year and this year.  It’s interesting to see how abstracts are ranked and feedback is provided. I have a few quick thoughts on not being chosen:

  1. Congrats to everyone who was chosen! I am happy for you, and I hope you enjoy the experience.
  2. My career and my confidence as a speaker are just fine. If my perception of my career/speaking success rested solely/mostly on being selected to a single conference, I would probably need to re-evaluate my goals and priorities. I have learned a lot this year, and I’ve had some fun speaking opportunities so I’m satisfied with my accomplishments in the first half of 2016.
  3. Although my attendance at PASS Summit 2016 is TBD, part of me is happy that if I do get to attend, I will do so without having to worry about speaking. It’s nice to enjoy the company of others and stay out late without stressing over last-minute tweaks to demos or being tired while speaking.

I think it’s helpful for me to see others’ abstracts that were submitted and the feedback they received, so I’m sharing mine. It can be difficult to tell sometimes if you are missing something or if it was just luck/circumstances (there happened to be an abnormal amount of good abstracts on your same topic, etc.). While I can’t talk about the program committee or the criteria we used for judging abstracts, I will point out that if you look at the feedback you will see some common themes that may provide guidance for future abstract submissions.

I’ve listed the abstracts I submitted below along with the feedback they received as well as my thoughts.

Help! Someone Got Slowly Changing Dimensions in my Tabular Model! (Not Chosen)

Category: General Session
Track: BI Platform Architecture, Development & Administration
Topic: SSAS – Advanced Tips and Tricks
Level: 300
Session Abstract: Many developers shy away from slowly changing dimensions that capture history because they seem complicated, but they can be useful and worth the effort. We often need to see what an entity looked like at the time of an event rather than its current attributes; e.g., a customer’s marital status, address, and age at the time of purchase is useful for analyzing buying patterns. Having this historical view makes our analytics more accurate and useful. Many people can figure out how to add slowly changing dimensions to our SQL Server database. But what do we do when we get to our SSAS Tabular Model? It’s not quite as easy as trading the surrogate key for the natural key in your formulas. We’ll examine the mechanics of Type 2/6 slowly changing dimensions implemented in SQL Server. Then we’ll discuss good practices for adding slowly changing dimensions to the tabular model. Finally, we’ll review common DAX formulas and see how we should alter them to accommodate slowly changing dimensions.
Prerequisites: Basic familiarity with the idea of slowly changing dimensions, understanding of Tabular SSAS) and common DAX calculations.

  • Define and explain the types of slowly changing dimensions
  • Provide tips on how to optimize loading of a type 2 or 6 slowly changing dimension
  • Demonstrate common calculations and how to change them to make them work with a type 2 or 6 slowly changing dimension
  • Sounds like it could be a good session but the abstract seemed all over the place. Hard to follow.
  • abstract seems to ramble. grammatical anomalies. punctuation misuse.
  • Fantastic topic, and extremely well-constructed abstract!
  • Well written abstract, sold me in easily. Seems to be on level. Clear goals.
  • Nice abstract with clear goals and outlines.
  • Abstract OK. Learning goals a bit roughly defined – could be more precise in this narrow topic.
  • Good abstract. Could be an interesting session to attendees.

My thoughts: There are some conflicting reviews, which is to be expected from a diverse group of reviewers. One of the reviewers seems to be extremely picky about grammar. I have reviewed the abstract, and I still do not see any grammatical issues. I am rather picky about grammar myself, but I think the goal of reviewing grammar in abstracts is to ensure that the abstract will be easily understood by attendees. As long as the abstract sounds professional and appropriately communicates what the session is about, tiny grammar issues and preferences don’t matter.

How to Care for Your Type 2 Slowly Changing Dimension (Not Chosen)

Category: Lightning Talk
Track: BI Platform Architecture, Development & Administration
Topic: SSIS – Building and Deploying Solutions
Level: 200
Session Abstract: Your type 2 slowly changing dimension (SCD2) needs love and proper care. Don’t over complicate your relationship with your SCD2, but also don’t let it feel unappreciated. Be straightforward and set ETL expectations appropriately. Be accepting if your type 2 slowly changing dimension decides he wants to be a type 6. This talk will help you understand your SCD2 and how to provide for him using SQL Server Data Tools and SSIS.
Prerequisites: High-level grasp of type 2 dimensions used to capture effective dated historical attributes. SSIS dev expertise to understand design patterns.

  • Define a type 2 slowly changing dimension and how it works
  • Show example table DDL for a Type 2 slowly changing dimension
  • Show an example SSIS package with a good design pattern for loading a type 2 slowly changing dimension
  • can this really be covered in 10 minutes?
  • Misalignment in abstract, learning goals and level
  • Cute abstract. Title matches the abstract well; goals well defined and aligned. Would be a good lightning talk; level might be better suited for level 100
  • Really good abstract for a lightning talk. Sounds like a topic that a good amount of people and sounds like something I would enjoy attending.
  • Abstract is well written and easy to understand.
  • Good topic but not sure about whether the subject matter can effectively be presented in the time allotted.
  • Very focused topic – great for a lightning talk. Very good prerequisites and goals. The abstract is entertaining yet clear.
  • Well written abstract, on level
  • Well written and to the point.

My thoughts: I had fun writing this abstract, and I look forward to delivering this talk somewhere else. There seems to be some debate about whether slowly changing dimensions are a 100-level topic for SSIS. I think they are not. Whoever wrote that probably underestimates their own knowledge and has forgotten what SSIS basics at the 100 level are like. I think it would be a challenge to deliver in 10 minutes, and that is very valid feedback. I would have liked to try it though. Lightning talks are tough. They require a lot of editing and practice to pack useful, interesting, and coherent info into 10 minutes.

Overcoming Chartaphobia with Power BI (Alternate)

Category: General Session
Track: BI Information Delivery
Topic: Power BI
Level: 100
Session Abstract: Do reports in your organization consist mostly of giant tables of data? Perhaps you have gotten as far as adding KPI indicators 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.
Prerequisites: Interest in data viz and/or Power BI

  • Understand the right questions to ask when preparing to create a data viz solution
  • Explain 4 tips for effective data viz design
  • Demonstrate effective data viz design in a Power BI report and dashboard
  • Well written abstract and concise goals. I’m not sure if this will be of great interest
  • Don’t care for the data “viz” usage. This should be spelled out to visualization.
  • Whilst I get why the title might have chartaphobia in it – it still didn’t sound right. It’s not an actual word. The abstract is good, it does tell me that I may have charts but they’re “hideous and disgusting”. This didn’t sound nice and might turn some audience members away. The topic of Power BI is a good topic, the delivery just needs some work for a 100 level – explain earlier in the abstract how Power BI will make the charts better or exist at all.
  • Abstract: The level would be 200 Objective: I would like to attend this session.
  • I would’ve liked the goals to be a little more thorough.

My thoughts: I can’t imagine anyone being confused by the use of the word viz, but it can be a good rule of thumb not to include abbreviations or at least explain them. The comment about “chartaphobia” not being a real word made me laugh, but perhaps it doesn’t work well with an international audience. I would have put it in quotes, but I knew Orator tool we use doesn’t display those characters correctly. We all use different tactics to create catchy titles. I didn’t coin that phrase, but I think we all understand it isn’t a “real” word. I give this talk at SQL Saturdays and user groups and it goes over very well, so I’m not worried about the content of the session.

Building an Effective ETL Framework in SQL Server (Not Chosen)

Category: General Session
Track: BI Platform Architecture, Development & Administration
Topic: BIML
Level: 300
Session Abstract: An effective ETL framework helps you start and complete SSIS projects faster, employ reusable design patterns, and be consistent across packages and projects, lowering the learning curve for junior developers and your support team. Biml (Business Intelligence Markup Language) automates your SSIS design patterns and eliminates the manual repetition of solving familiar problems and making the same update over and over in similar packages. In this session, we’ll discuss and identify SSIS design patterns, learn how to create and automate them using BIML, and then see a demo of a package execution framework built using BIML.
Prerequisites: Basic proficiency in SSIS. Ability to read/understand XML and C# is helpful but not at all required.

  • Provide a basic overview of BimlScript, how it works, and syntax for creating SSIS packages
  • Understand the usefulness of SSIS design patterns, identify common patterns, and practice abstracting details from a package to understand the pattern
  • Create a master package with an easily extensible execution framework, using BIML
  • Sounds like a good session.
  • Basic and 300 don’t coincide. Need to decide is it an advanced topic or not.
  • nice abstract
  • Good topic. More detail in the abstract about what will be covered would be helpful – include more of what was listed in the goals. Based on the abstract, the level seems too high, but it seems right based on the goals.
  • Seems like a lvl 200 session. Not the most interesting BIML abstract I’ve read.
  • Not sure I can identify the level 300 material in the abstract. Would recommend as level 200. Great story line and an important topic to teach; design patterns.
  • Well-developed outline and goals with details. The title may be clearer by adding BIML in it.
  • Good but average abstract. Could be an interesting session to some attendees.

My thoughts: This wasn’t my most inspired abstract writing. I agree it probably was more of a 200-level session than 300. I marked it as such because this session requires you to put all the pieces together and understand architecture more than just how to write Biml to make it do stuff.  In previous years there was no Biml track, so this year’s chosen abstracts will help me gauge how to write for this topic next year. I’m sure this session will continue to evolve as I deliver it more, and maybe I’ll come up with a better title and description.

Who needs SSAS when you have SQL? (Not Chosen)

Category: General Session
Track: BI Platform Architecture, Development & Administration
Topic: SSAS – Building and Deploying Solutions
Level: 200
Session Abstract: Analysis Services may seem foreign or unnecessary for SQL and .NET developers. However, it can offer many advantages for reporting and data exploration, even with the SQL engine’s latest indexing and in-memory analytics capabilities. In this session, we will cover useful features of SSAS and discuss conditions where it is beneficial. Next we’ll compare the two types of Analysis Services databases (Multidimensional and Tabular) and identify requirements that should influence your decision of which type is right for your solution. Then we will explore common ways to retrieve data and browse your SSAS database, such as Power BI and Excel, reporting tools like SSRS, and custom .NET applications.
Prerequisites: Basic familiarity with data warehousing, interest in learning more about SSAS

  • Identify the conditions in which SSAS is preferable to using just the SQL Engine
  • Explain the differences between SSAS multidimensional and tabular
  • Demonstrate various ways of browsing and querying an SSAS model
  • Title a bit misleading. Was expecting a SSAS bashing, but pleasantly surprised with the meat of the abstract. Learning goals in line with level and abstract.
  • concise engaging abstract
  • Demo percentage seems low for such a topic but, overall, looks like a good session.
  • Good abstract. Sounds like a good session.
  • The idea presented in the introduction would be a good session, but it seems like the abstract strays from that path and into a general discussion of how to use SSAS. The abstract is well-constructed otherwise, and it effectively conveys the goals stated. The title seems to present the opposite viewpoint of the introduction to the abstract.
  • Well outlined abstract but if it had more demo, it would sound more interesting and persuasive.
  • Interesting and descriptive abstract. Seems to match level and topic.

My thoughts: This was some of the most helpful feedback I received. I don’t remember exactly what percent I said was demo, but the session could probably be redesigned to include more demos. And I have given this session before and received feedback that they felt the title was misleading. I will consider renaming the session in the future.

I’m speaking at PASS Summit 2014

PASS Summit 2014 Speaking Badge_250x250I’m pleased and honored to say that I will be speaking at PASS Summit 2014 November 4 – 7 in Seattle. I will be presenting one general session and one lightning session.  I’m excited to be an attendee and a speaker at the world’s largest gathering of SQL Server and BI professionals. I hope you can attend my sessions, described below.

Choose Your Mapping Adventure: Visualizing Your Geospatial Data

BI Information Delivery, general session

You have geospatial data and you know that plotting it on a map will help deliver insights. Or maybe you just keep hearing “geospatial” as one of the current BI buzzwords and you want to be informed about your options when you get to it. The Microsoft BI stack provides several options for visualizing location data. But, how do you know which tool will best serve your purpose, or what factors are even important in making this decision?

In this session, we’ll identify factors to consider when deciding which tool to use to visualize your data in maps such as system/software requirements, internet connectivity requirements, availability and type of location data, required level of technical understanding, and more.

We’ll also explore the requirements and features of maps in Power Map, Power View, Reporting Services, and the Bing Maps add-in for Excel. You’ll leave this session knowing your options for creating maps and confident in your ability to choose the best path/tool within Excel and SQL Server.

Why Data Visualization Matters for All Data Professionals

BI Information Delivery, lightning talk

As a data professional, there is a good chance that you will have to visually represent data for coworkers, clients, or even just yourself. Understanding how our eyes and brains interpret visual information can help you present data in a way that is both effective in communicating your message and visually appealing.

In this session, we’ll look at some neuropsychology concepts and data visualization best practices, then discuss some simple ways to employ them to help you professionally communicate a message with data. Whether you present database performance information, financial forecasts, or marketing campaign results, these tips will help you minimize distractions and impress busy colleagues with your data communication skills.

If you haven’t registered for PASS Summit yet, there’s still time. The cost of the full conference is $1895 if you register by September 26. Use the KC Server Server User Group discount code USNCS25 to get $150 off of registration and support our local user group.  There is also a discount code for the PASS Business Analytics Virtual Chapter for $150 off: VCSUM04. I hope to see you there!