SQLBits 2022 – London

SQLBits 2022 – London

I went to SQLBits 2022 last week, returning with feelings of joy, inspiration, a cold and a swollen ankle!

Here follows a long rambling essay about my experiences, peppered with a collection of random photos from random people.

I learned loads at SQLBits, from a technical perspective, I picked up a lot of knowledge but I also learned more about my new team, met some great people, and had fun. It also helped me to adjust to “normal” life.

The last two years have been tough from health, worry, and isolation perspectives, but there have been positives too. Remote working has allowed for greater diversity, mobility, and choice both for employer and employee.

Let’s start with a few positives:

My son started lockdown working from home, but then found another role closer to where he wanted to be and he was able to move out. Sorry if that sounds callous.  Both of us were extremely grateful to his first “proper” employer for giving him a chance to get started in IT, he needed to move on, both from his work life and also his home life. Remote working made the transition so much easier and he in enjoying his new role, and living in his own space.

When I came to think it’s time for me to move on myself, I was able to interview for roles a bit further away too.

Since I changed jobs in January, I now work at Linnworks, an eCommerce solution provider providing Inventory and Warehouse management. The office is a long way from my home but the role is 100% remote. This wouldn’t have happened before the Pandemic. I live in South Wales, and while there is a thriving BI and Finance scene here, remote working opened my eyes to so many more opportunities.

Health – over the course of the year, I normally catch the odd cold from people coughing and sneezing, mainly in the office with the Air Conditioning doing its best to spread it around. This has been far reduced through lockdown, with the main opportunity for germs being my little girl bringing them home from school.

SQLBits was so much easier to attend this time. It was a simple question – “do you want to go to SQLBits, and what sessions would you like to attend?”. So much simpler than previous years of putting together proposals, trying to explain why I should go or indeed being blocked “for having too much fun at the Party the previous year” (yes, that happened). In the past, I had often settled for attending the free day on Saturday (obviously getting there for the Party the night before).

This year was different – my team were supportive, they knew SQLBits, and they also saw it as an opportunity for us to get together as a team and bond.

I had met Raul (SQLDoubleG) before – we both presented a Lightning Talk at a previous SQLBits. Beatriz I had only spoke with online. Whilst we were all together online every day, it was great to share the same physical space, eat, drink and talk together. We got over the “Nigel, you are tall” thing quickly – I’m used to that. This type of time helps to build a team. I only feel a little sad that we didn’t get a photo of the three of us, but I’m sure we’ll get one soon enough.

Learning

The first two days, I spent in front of Brent Ozar and Erik Darling. Both provided good sessions but it’s worth noting that they also gave away access to some (BrentO) or all of their training (Erik) videos to go into the subjects in more depth. Things like this are much appreciated.

Seeing trainers perform live is so much easier than watching videos, and you can ask questions too – as Bea and Raul took full advantage of at their session on AWS with John Martin.

The other days had a whole host of sessions, some 50 minutes and some 20. For the most part, this worked but I did experience one or two where someone tried to cram a 50 minute session into 20 minutes, or indeed one that didn’t have enough material for 10 minutes and finished early. I spoke to the “crammer” as he had clearly spent a lot of time working on the presentation and hopefully (if he takes my advice) we’ll be able to hear it in full on an upcoming Podcast.

As for the short 20 minutes then that was a shame as I’m sure I wasn’t alone in having 20 minute sessions rejected through the selection process.

My role is changing – DBA to Data Engineer so there were a number of really useful sessions talking about those differences, Site Reliability, along with SQL Server on Linux and a little AWS. I’m hoping that we see more AWS sessions in the future – I know that Microsoft is a major sponsor of SQLBits but they also seem to be accommodating too. As for SQL Server on Linux, it was really interesting to hear a statistic from Buck Woody about the percentage of SQL Servers on Linux within Azure. I can’t find my notes at the moment but it surprised me.

Soft skills sessions were good too, for example “Stuff I learned working for Denny Cherry” was good, especially as Denny was in the audience. Lots about imposter syndrome and dealing with awesome people on your team – should come in handy I thought! I had my next session planned on the (not mentioned yet) excellent App and on my way, I bumped into Raul who was volunteering and monitoring a SQL Server 2022 introduction. I froze, then went to my original choice, then dropped out 10 minutes later when the session wasn’t what I thought. The intro to SQL Server 2022 was good 🙂

Food

The food at SQLBits was pretty good, for a conference. Breakfast rolls and pastries, with lunch served in individual tubs. They looked like they were made of polystyrene but I think that they were bamboo. There was a big push on making the packaging eco friendly, with bamboo plates for breakfast and loads of recycling points. The staff were so attentive too – put an empty plate down and it was gone immediately!

The Eco credentials were extended too by Microsoft offering to plant a tree for every 10 session feedback forms completed. I did my bit.

Great idea to offer gluten-free and vegan options for breakfast. I’m not too much of a fan of brioche rolls, nor regular sausage so the options were great.

Plenty of snacks through the day too, although no fruit, which was a bit odd. Maybe they don’t have that in London.

Culture

I took the opportunity to come up a day early to take in a show at the London Palladium on the Sunday night, and also to visit Covent Garden before moving on to the eXcel center. This was nice – many of the speakers talk about arriving early to take in the sights when they visit, so why not do it yourself! My learning from these activities is that people in London really don’t give directions – even if you are just around the corner from where you want to go. Back home, ask for directions and you pretty much get someone’s life story and a cup of tea included. To be fair, my new colleagues haven’t asked where I went, so I guess it’s a cultural thing.

Running

The SQLBits Arcade Run, organised by Michael Robson was great fun on Wednesday night. I was only expecting there to be a couple of other people (according to sign-ups to the Strava group, and if it’s not on Strava…) We were running the London eXcel parkrun route (5K), people being free to walk or run as they fancied. started as a pack, had a few breakaways at the front and certainly a sprint finish by many, channelling their inner Rocky as people ran up the steps. Unfortunately, by the following morning I was nursing a swollen ankle. I put this down to having walked from the hotel in the morning, coming back for the run and then later again to grab a burger at the board game night, my steps topped 20K for the second day in three days. There was another SQLBits Arcade Run, at 06:00 on the Friday morning but I gave that a miss. To be fair, even if I wasn’t injured then I was keeping my energy for the evening’s activities.

The run gave a great opportunity to chat with other people, and I spent some time chatting with David Wiseman about DBADash, the Open Source Monitoring tool that he has developed. I will certainly be taking a look at that in the future.

New Contacts

I met some wonderful new contacts during the week, they know who they are.

As well as meeting new people, it was good to catch up with someone I listen to every week – Eugene Meidinger from the SQL Data Partners Podcast.

I’ll also mention the “Traffic light lady”, Leo “Chris” Redgate and his friends and the Danish contingent who were all so kind.

The Speakers

At conferences, it’s just so good to have the opportunity to see people perform live and perhaps even meet them, either to ask a question or just to say hi!

I took the opportunity to ask Patrick LeBlanc to record a personalised “Yooooo” for my son, who’s recently been put in charge of PowerBI at the company that he joined last year.

I was careful to give people space and respect space / being prepared to wear a mask if getting closer in the same way as when talking with others.

Teamwork

This largely worked well, from the cheesy interactions between Buck Woody and Bob Ward to the more natural talents of Gethyn Ellis and David Postlethwaite, often two are better than one. I want to do something like this in the future.

Diversity

There was a big focus on diversity and inclusion this year with additional discussion panels but moreover allowing everyone to be treated as equal and no one feeling left behind. The quiet rooms were a great idea, in the week and at the party as it recognised the fact that people can become overwhelmed, especially after a few years of lockdown.

Submitted Sessions

I submitted a few sessions for SQLBits this year but sadly the abstracts clearly weren’t up to being picked. I will re-double my efforts for next year and a few other events too.

An Interview

I visited the Venturi recruitment stand as a friend told me that they’d probably like to see me. A ten minute ensued and I’m currently waiting to see how it turns out – no doubt I’ll share the result when I get it!

Freebies

Conferences wouldn’t be complete with free stuff. I’ve written about this before, and there’s always a little ceremony where each child picks what they want. This year’s highlights were the Gameboy from Microsoft, the coffee mug from Avanade, Erik’s MAXDOP shirts, and the Redgate socks/facemask combo (probably the best I’ve seen). Socks were also a feature from Advancing Analytics and FullData, albeit a bit on the small side. Even Bob Ward was giving away and signing copies of his book.

Perhaps an oddity was the sticker from Solarwinds – I kind of get what they mean, but would you… Really?

I tried something different this year – I took something for one of the Sponsors as they had been so kind in providing an almost exclusive T-Shirt and even managed to find some for some people that I’d told about it. When I was told originally that I was extremely lucky to get a shirt, I hadn’t realised that they weren’t giving them to everyone! Anyway, a packet of Welsh Cakes went down well, and my son immediately picked the shirt from the “freebies pile” when I got home “because it looked like a 21 Pilots shirt”, whatever that means.

When it come to closing my suitcase, I had to sit on it. I thought that this sort of thing only happened in 80s comedies but believe me, it’s a thing! I like to think that it’s because I packed so much stuff, including three pairs of footwear.

Party

As always, the Friday night party was great fun. I think my outfit was ahem original and I like to think that while I had my facemask on, nobody knew who it was.

I didn’t play any of the arcade games, having spent too much time playing them as a child. The familiar chirps and whistles were good to hear though and great to see others having a good time.

Actually, I did have one go on “Dance Dance Revolution” at the party, but then since I was dressed for the occasion then it was only polite.

Again, everything was well worked out with a top class entertainment company (Sneaky Experiences) looking after the task of keeping hundreds of people busy and entertained, with plenty of dancing, human “space invaders” (no, not that type), arcade games

Plenty of great costumes, dancing and people having a good time.

Fundraising

The timing of the Conference was just a few weeks into the despicable Russian invasion of Ukraine. This was recognised at SQLBits with some excellent fundraising activities. These ranged from previous SQLBits merchandise being sold off to raise funds to speakers donating their fees to the cause. I even heard rumours of a “dance-off” taking place between Bob Duffy (ProData) and Justin Langford (COEO), each putting down £500 with the proceeds being donated to the British Red Cross. Excellent stuff.

The Volunteers

The SQLBits volunteers and committee continue to impress and amaze me with the quality of their work and dedication to producing such a top-quality event. It’s just amazing that they organise their own accommodation, and get there at least an hour before the rest of us every day! Thank you! I keep saying that I will volunteer one year, but the accommodation bit always gets me – maybe one day it’ll be closer to home!

Gratitude

I feel extremely grateful to so many people:

  • SQLBits, the committee and volunteers for making it happen
  • The Sponsors for providing funding and introducing me to new ideas and products
  • My employer, Linnworks for sending me
  • My colleagues, Beatriz and Raul for spending time with me
  • Friends, new and old, notably Katy

Highlights

A top friend asked what were my highlights of the week.

After spending a little time thinking about it, how about these:

  • In-person learning again, being able to ask questions and discuss sessions with others
  • Meeting my new colleagues in-person and getting to know them better
  • Getting together with real people again, dancing at the party with complete anonymity
  • Oh, and the bit with the giant lipstick and the glitter cannons. That was awesome!

Thank you everyone at SQLBits, I had a blast!

Nigel. March 2022

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