Future Decoded – I’m speaking on machine Learning

20 Oct 1024x600-Speaker-briancox


I’m speaking at Future Decoded, at the same event as Professor Brian Cox, Sir Nigel Shadbolt (Co-founder & Chairman, ODI Open Data Institute), Or Arbel, (CEO, Yo), Michael Taylor (IT Director, Lotus F1 Team), Kenji Takeda, Microsoft Research, and my good friends Chris Webb and James Rowland-Jones

To Register, here’s the link http://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/about/future-decoded-techday



Virtual Chapter Leadership Pathway Padawan – Part 1 of the Pathway

8 Oct

Virtual Chapter Leadership Pathway Padawan – Part 1 of the Pathway. In this video, we cover:

An introduction to GoToWebinar where the Control Panel is shown live throughout

A series of webinar preparation checklists

How to set up a webinar using GTW

Do’s and Don’ts over your webinar


Jen’s Diary: Figuring it out this week, the Rubik’s Cube of data

7 Oct

“Knowing a great deal is not the same as being smart; intelligence is not information alone but also judgment, the manner in which information is collected and used.” Carl Sagan

The endless cycle of idea and action,

Endless invention, endless experiment,

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;

Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries

Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.

The Rock, TS Eliot

As you will know from the official PASS post from PASS President Thomas LaRock, PASS are looking to build a bigger umbrella for the data professional. This week, as well as a bunch of VC stuff, I’ve been looking at PASS BA conference.

As always, I do not speak for PASS and these are purely my personal thoughts. If you want to comment, provide feedback or criticise, even, then this should be directed towards me. I’m happy to answer any questions as soon as I am able. My email is jen.stirrup@copper-blue.com so fire away.

Why did I volunteer to help with PASS BA? Why do I care and why do I spend my time on it? For those of you do know the Insights program, I come up as a blue/green person. Basically this means that I’m detailed and I care, and I reflect before I act. The downside is that it looks like I’m not doing anything because I’m chewing over the facts. To others, this is probably quite frustrating because there’s no visible output. However, once I’ve come to what I believe is the correct conclusion, I act because the facts and the data give me confidence to act. This blog is to help folks to see what I’m chewing on, and to help remove the assumption that I don’t care and I’m not doing anything. I’m looking at the data, so I know I’m doing the right things – just not quickly because it’s worth taking the time.

I think it’s important to have a data-based, fact based look at the business analytics sphere generally. What does the industry say about where the industry is going? What does the data say? We can then look at how PASS fits in with this direction (in my personal opinion, note).

Data is part of the endless cycle of invention, but to do that, we have to look at its many faces. The trends in the industry are changing. For example, IDC recently estimated that our digital universe will double every two years.  IDC also estimates that by 2020, as much as 33% of the digital universe will contain information that might be valuable if analyzed, compared with 25% today. That’s a lot of data, and where is it coming from? People. Data touches our every day; in fact, research by Fusion IO shows we touch 9 databases each day before breakfast.

The face of data is also changing. FICO’s research shows that unstructured data represents 80% of all data today. And the amount of unstructured data is expected to continue growing by 80% annually – from social media, email, customer service calls, even imagery. Data promises to solve many problems, but it’s not always clear how the data buried in unstructured and structured data can directly improve predictions and decisions. Also, people need data that they can understand, and perhaps even turn it into data visualisations, then into decisions, and then into more questions. This is a never ending cycle

Businesses will start to look to use their data by analysing both structured and unstructured data. This doesn’t mean that structured data is going away. It is still valuable. It is a vital piece of the data jigsaw, a side of the Rubik’s cube of data. However, where are the people that are going to service this skill? Dell predicts that the business analyst role will increase by 22% by the year 2020. There’s a skill shortage, right there, and it is going to get worse. SAS have already said that  the skills shortage is the biggest problem in analytics right now. Excel is a big part of that story since it is the third most popular button in BI tools. I love this post of Rob Collie’s on this topic, and I believe it’s true, based on my own BI consulting experience.

Are people interested in analytics enough to build a career on it? Well, some of these people are already coming to PASS for this information; they’ve seen PASS help their DBA and BI folks, and they’re joining in the fun too.  Closer to PASS, I’m running SQLSaturday London BA Edition with fantastic help by Bob Phillips and I can say that the event wouldn’t have its current shape if it wasn’t for Bob’s input, and I’d like to thank him here for his support, and his courage in telling me what I need to know, rather than what I’d like to hear – I need that!. Due to this, I’ve seen the PASS London BA was oversubscribed a few weeks ago and the waiting list is still growing. the new Excel BI VC led by the (frankly amazing!) Jen Underwood is growing at a rate and has attendances which compete with more established VCs – and Jen’s only been running it for a few months. She’s done an amazing job in meeting a clear need for Excel information, and they’re voting with their feet by taking the time to participate in the Excel sessions. The next VC session is with Mr Excel – Bill Jelen – and I recommend that you register for Bill Jelen’s session sooner rather than later. The BA VC is steadily growing in numbers and Dan English and Paras Doshi won the Outstanding Volunteer Award for September for their efforts in the BA VC, and their ground-breaking work for getting a very professional YouTube site up. The BI VC, under the leadership of Julie Koesmarno ( also frankly amazing! ) has seen an increase of thousands of members this year alone. The other VCs are following suit and we are reaching new PASS community and audience members all the time. The data is there, and I look forward to sharing these incredible achievements with the VC Leaders at PASS Summit first – after all, they are the ones who make the magic happen – and then we will have more details on the growth overall. All I will say for now is that the VC leaders and co-leaders are a fantastic success story in educating people globally and we should all heart the VCs for their passion in making that happen.

If anyone can find any evidence to suggest that we aren’t experiencing a growth in data, or in our need to analyse it, I would be glad to see it so please feel free to post it as a comment below. I haven’t been able to find any. If, based on the evidence, we assume that there is a growing need to analyse data, and a growing need for a skill set to match, where does PASS fit in to all this? What ties it all together?


In my own opinion, I see ‘data’ as the ‘connective tissue’ that binds together. With respect to the Carl Sagan quote enough, I see a parallel with data. It’s not enough to have a lot of data, a ton of data, protected. Collecting it isn’t enough. It needs to be used and loved, in my opinion. I don’t like unloved data. To get intelligence, we need judgement, and we get the judgement from the facts and data. However, we can arrive to better, data-based judgements once we’ve had the opportunity to analyse and process the data.

Normally when I organise an event like PASS SQLSaturday Edinburgh or London, or I have helped out at SQLRelay or SQLSanta, you have a headline in your head – Who is the audience? For an event like SQLRelay or SQLSanta, this is fairly straightforward. You might say, well,  40% DBA, 40% BI, 40% BA, for example. However, defining a ‘business analyst’ is hard, and I can see this in the data that I have for SQLSaturday London. It isn’t easy to do broad brushstrokes on an audience like this, because only some of them well call themselves ‘business analyst’ or ‘data analyst’. The reason for this is that they tend to define themselves by knowledge or business domain rather than by technology. This is more intangible and difficult to measure and define. So you tend to see job titles like ‘economist’ or ‘accountant’ or ‘finance analyst’ or something like that. This isn’t the neat 40/40/20 split we saw before, but it is tied with the data. Data binds us.

Why might someone need someone like this on the team? What do they contribute? There are many reasons, business reasons, why you might want to do that. You need someone to keep asking and answering those data questions to keep up with your competitors, and understand what your business should do and what it is not doing. Businesses need keep an eye on efficiency. The business analyst uses data analysis to come up with ideas for boosting profits or reducing expenses or finding insights or suggesting actions – or all of these, and that’s just a start. Your business analyst may not have hard technical skills, but he or she should be able to understand the technology well enough to communicate and negotiate with company leaders/business influencers. They may not call themselves a business analyst. Basically, it’s the person in your organisation who uses data and works with data to make a decision. If you’re a DBA, they probably bug you for data.

It’s my hope that PASS supports the data professional, whether they are engine focused or Power View users or decision makers who get their SQL data in Excel, and need to make data go faster, secure data, guard, sanitise, integrate, disaster-proof, recover, manage, share data, visualise data, munge it, model it, make decisions and insights on the data. We need to do stuff with data. As David McCandless said, data is the new soil. I think he probably meant it as something to be ‘mined’ but I see it data as something to sift, with lumps, pebbles and sharp bits to remove and worms to avoid. This data may not even be useful. But we won’t know until we till it.

I see the community as a ‘Rubik’s cube’ of skill sets; different faces, distinct but connected by the same thing. It’s my hope that PASS has the flexibility to be a true champion for the spectrum of data community folks, and can give people in data a ‘voice’.  In becoming encouraging engagement and dialogue from different perspectives, PASS can help people on either side of the data ‘coin’ or perhaps different sides of the data ‘Rubik’s Cube’, but merging together to constitute a interdependent whole.  We hear a lot of about the IT and business disconnect, and sometimes communication and a common ‘canvas’ for understanding can make people’s lives so much easier. That, of course, applies to many things.

So where does the engine-focused DBA fit into all this? Well, the analysts, the data ‘janitors’ couldn’t do their jobs without the DBA or the ‘data guardians’ who protect the data, regardless of whether it is in SQL Server or Hadoop, for example.

The world is moving on to include data that is not rectangular in shape, and includes data from sensors, devices and so on. With it, we’re going to need the skill set to do something with the non-rectangular data. This doesn’t mean that rectangular data isn’t important and organisations wouldn’t function without it. However, the world of data is moving, and it is moving fast. In my opinion, PASS is uniquely placed to help build the skills for the new world of data, Data 2.0. It doesn’t mean that there won’t build a future for rectangular data as well; it hasn’t stopped being important.

For me personally, I want to give a voice and a home for the folks who have to do stuff with the data. Data is hard. It’s really hard to know where to begin with all this rectangular data, never mind the non-rectangular data. I speak to DBAs regularly who say that they are the DBA in their office, but they sometimes get asked to do something with the data because they’re the SQL Server expert in the office. Sometimes bosses don’t understand that SQL Server is made up of lots of different bits with different functions. For me, SQL Server 2012 was actually a shift whereby business users were included in the world of SQL Server for the first time. I see it as a spectrum which fits across the business, and there’s a place for everyone. By encompassing this, it accommodates the people who are DBAs-with-Accidental-BI skills, opens up the doors for people to reskill into the cloud if their company requires it, and go into the foray of dealing with non-rectangular as well as rectangular data if they wish.

My life experiences have taught me that there is nothing worse in the world than having no options. It’s one reason that I advocate diversity in technology: it gives people the opportunity to have a ‘home’. In the same way, my personal hope is that PASS can help people to see options in their careers by offering education about different things, as well as the option to become more specialized and expert at what they already do. We have to start somewhere, and the data helps us to take a start. In the words of Mary Poppins, well-begun is half-done, and looking at the data is a well-begun start.

Again, I do not represent PASS and these are simply my personal thoughts. Please feel free to email me at jen.stirrup@copper-blue.com and I will be pleased to answer. Alternatively, please feel free to leave a comment.

Jen’s Diary: Figuring it out – Virtual Chapter Pathways

28 Sep
Ok. Here goes.

Disclaimer: I don’t speak on behalf of PASS, only the Exec Committee can do that.

I want to thank everyone, just from myself, for all their patience and support for the past week. You know who you all are, and I wanted to say thank you to folks, too many to list here, who have helped me personally.

Here’s one way I’m giving back: a webinar series where you can drop by and ask questions. The focus will be on Virtual Chapters. We have an agenda to go through, but I’m happy to take questions on other things as well. I’m no Oracle (pun intended, sorry!) and I don’t speak on behalf of PASS. I’m accessible at these webinars (link to register below), and also during PASS Summit, to serve the community where possible.

Virtual Chapter Leaders Pathway

On 9th September, I wrote to all of the VC leaders to announce a ‘Virtual Chapter Leaders Pathway’, which would involve separate training sessions, held by myself. The email was below.
In the meantime, I have been collating feedback and it has also been fairly busy recently as many of you are aware.

Regarding the Virtual Chapters, we rely on GoToWebinar, the PASS websites and YouTube to deliver our Virtual Chapter sessions to the community worldwide.

I had identified that people needed help with these technologies, hence I am devising the Virtual Chapter Pathway. There was a slight delay from 9th September because I have collated feedback, and I need to priories which queries and issues to tackle and in which order.

This isn’t a small task to arrange all of this training, and deliver it myself – however I believed it was the right thing to do, and I was happy to devote my time to it, and invest my effort to do it well.

Note that I will be building on existing PASS HQ materials to do this. I’d like to thank and recognise their efforts in helping the community. Each and every one of them have been outstanding. You can find their resources page here, if you are a PASS VC or CL.

 You can see from the email below that I also offered to work with people in-person. Remember I will have travelled thousands of miles to attend Summit, and I’m spending time helping VC leads at the CZ during PASS Summit rather than socialising, or simply wandering around in Seattle in the US as a tourist or a visitor to the United States. People have taken up the offer of help and I am really glad to deliver it, because my primary reason for being there is to help you guys in the community, and I work hard at it.

If there are any VC issues, I am happy to hear about them but I can’t do anything about it until you tell me, so please feel free to get in touch. My email is jen.stirrup@sqlpass.org It’s what I’m here for, so please don’t hesitate to ask questions or just drop by to the session. I need to work out the schedule, and I will post that up in due course.

Here is a note of the plan to date.

Note that these sessions are open to anybody, not just PASS Virtual Chapter leaders and co-leaders. I am happy to bring people along the journey as well.

We will have four sessions – subject to change, depending on user feedback.

Please click on the link to register.

Virtual Chapter Padawan – GoToWebinar

Virtual Chapter Jedi – GoToWebinar

Virtual Chapter Pathway – Managing Your Chapter website

Virtual Chapter Pathway – Soft Skills for VC Leadership

Other actions:

I understand that some of the VCs sometimes have problems in getting speakers. To help here, I’m going to try and get an MVP or a Microsoft ‘go-to’ contact for each VC to see if we can get people from Microsoft speaking for the Virtual Chapters.

I understand that VCs grow and you need more volunteers. If this is the case, please let me know. I have a ‘waiting list’ of people who want to be VC leads and co-leads, and I might be able to get you some help.

The sessions will go up on YouTube at a later date.

The email to the VC leads went out on 9th Sept, and the text follows here:

Hello Virtual Chapter leaders and co-leaders,
I can see everyone’s enthusiasm and pride in the Virtual Chapter program that you provide to the SQL Server community, and I wanted to say ‘thank you’ from me for all that you do. I love looking at the PASS website and seeing all of the sessions on the front page, and every time I do, I’m grateful and awed for all that you do for the ‘sqlfamily’.
To help everyone, I’m going to put a ‘VC Leadership Training Pathway’ in place to help people out. I am going to try to address your issues and queries in a live webinar series, which you’ll be invited to, and I will also record for sharing and future reference. I’d also like to share ideas on promoting your VC through social media such as Facebook pages, YouTube and so on.
So, if you have niggles about GTW, or the website, then please let me know and I will try to make sure that they are covered. I’d also like to share ideas on promoting your VC through social media such as Facebook pages, YouTube and so on.​

To help me to help you, could you please let me have any ‘pain points’, issues or queries that you have with GoToWebinar, the websites and so on? I will compile a list, and we will try and go through them.
I will also arrange some time for going through any issues individually at the Community Zone at PASS Summit. I will also be there at defined times so I can help you out in-person.

PASS Elections 2014: my personal thoughts

24 Sep
  • I am not endorsing any particular candidate
  • I will not endorse any particular candidate
  • I’ve written this out in the order of the NomCom ranking
  • I wasn’t asked by anyone to write anything
  • I don’t represent PASS by writing this blog. Or any other blog, for that matter.
  • This is purely my personal opinion and you can take it or leave it, but thank you for reading anyway!
  • This is simply the world view from ‘Planet Jennifer’.


Firstly, I want to wholeheartedly thank all the candidates for standing. I think that you should, too. They are all incredibly talented people who want to give extra to their community.

Secondly, please use your vote. Be part of the community. As we saw last year, every vote counts and it doesn’t take much to make a difference.

Next, I’m writing this blog to draw attention to what I see as the most positive things about the candidates.

Each candidate has different viewpoints and emphases, but they all have the following characteristics: they are community-oriented, helpful, smart, and they all want to serve PASS. It is not an easy role and it is hard work. They are brave individuals who are putting themselves forward to do a hard role, and they should be thanked for that by everyone who makes use of the PASS offerings. Simply for taking the risk and putting themselves out there to help, they each deserve a pat on the back.

In the order of the NomCom rankings, here are some real positives about the individuals involved:

James Rowland-Jones – James has been the voice of the sponsor. To do this, he has successfully leveraged his insights from this role which he’s held at SQLBits for some time now, plus the financial responsibilities of running his own business. This is stuff that the community doesn’t see, and I’d like to highlight here that this is unseen work that is vital. I like the fact that James is willing to choose whatever he sees needs to be done, rather than selecting his input based on whether it is going to obtain visibility.

Sri Sridharan is the voice of the volunteer. Sri stands for volunteers taking a big role in shaping the organization. This means looking after existing volunteers, and growing the new generation of volunteers who want to adopt leadership roles in our community. This is across the community: SQLSaturday, SQLRally, Chapters and so on. The Volunteer portfolio is wide-reaching and touches many volunteers. Sri’s message is to transform the culture of the organization to be more feedback- and community-driven. He has a vision building on the work he’s done so far, focusing on the volunteers, who are the ‘lifeblood’ of the organization.

Wendy Pastrick is, for me, the voice of the DBA. She is an energetic volunteer who has done every single PASS Volunteer role I can think of! She was a past winner of the PASSion Award, and she is the current holder of the Chapter portfolio.  Wendy is very passionate about PASS’s core mission to “connect, share and learn.” Wendy wants to reach out to younger potential members of the community, for example, by building a bridge from higher education institutions to PASS. There is an untapped resource in bringing college and secondary education students into the PASS fold. It would be extremely beneficial for young WIT to be encouraged by being introduced to PASS community role models early in their career, since research has shown that young women can be encouraged by having older female mentors and role models. Wendy has also seen PASS grow to embrace Business Intelligence as part of its offering to help sqlfamily to connect, learn and share.

Like Wendy, Grant Fritchey is, for me, the voice of the DBA. I think Grant’s focus is on general growth across all portfolios; enabling existing portfolios to continue to focus on building the excellent education which PASS are renowned for. Grant has been a prolific and solid community contributor for almost a decade now and has been an MVP for six years. Grant has served in a lot of different PASS roles.

Truthfully, I would be eager and happy to serve my second year alongside all of these candidates. I can tell you that being on the Board is consuming of time, and energy. You end up doing a lot of unseen work that perhaps doesn’t come across that we do work incredibly hard. I’m not even sure how to explain a lot of this stuff to Microsoft team who work with the MVPs, and often I don’t even remember what I did, just that I was busy!

I’ve no doubt that  these individuals are solid and robust enough for the journey, and it is a journey to cherish and to be valued because you can really help people to ‘connect, learn and share’ and that is a responsibility. They all bring something different to the table for the community, and that’s something that uniquely reflects our diverse community that we hope to serve as well as we can.

Comments below, or by email to jen.stirrup@copper-blue.com


Counting is Easy, Measuring is Hard! Dashboard Design

13 Sep

Jen’s Diary, figuring it out this week

20 Aug
He started keeping a journal – had been, in fact, secretly doing so for some time: the furtive act of a deranged person (Philip Dick, Valis).
What  have I been up to this week? There’s lots of activity been happening at Jen Towers, as usual. That, plus I have a stinking, miserable cold so please feel free to send me a remote hug! I’m writing this in my dressing gown and drinking Lemsip.
As before, I don’t officially speak for PASS but I can see that people were reading the last installment, so I thought I’d write another. So it’s your fault really!
This Friday 22nd August, I will be doing a twitter ‘Ask Jen’ online session again, which is specifically aimed at European time zones and for the good SQL Server SQLFamily in Cape Town, Dubai and so on, for example. Check out the time zone here.  I got some good questions last time, and I thought I’d repeat the exercise. I cannot guarantee that I will be able to answer everything but I will try.

 Those of you who have read your Connector this week will have seen Adam Jorgensen’s discussion about the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget. Ever since I joined the Board last January, we have all been doing a lot of work on getting the budget right. My specific area is the Virtual Chapters, and I have spent a lot of time discussing it with my ever-patient HQ Counterpart (Thank you Lana!). The focus was on growth, and I’m really excited about the Virtual Chapters. For the purposes of transparency, you can see the actual budget for the Virtual Chapters here on page 13.   The VC focus was very much on growth; with the news recently that we gave over 21,000 hours of training material last year to the community – for free – I hope that this helps to see how worthwhile the Virtual Chapters are to SQLfamily around the world. If you haven’t signed up for one, why not join today? http://www.sqlpass.org/PASSChapters/VirtualChapters.aspxEven now, for the VCs, I am starting to think about how we can make the process easier for next time, and taking away points to help us to learn. I’m very grateful to the Finance team, Adam and the others who took time to explain the budgeting process.
From the Board perspective, I’ve spent a few hours on the phone this week but I’m not complaining. The PASS HQ and Board members and other volunteers always leave me with that feeling of ‘oh man, I wish I’d thought of that!’ They are truly a bunch of very smart people and I learn something every day. In fact, I’d go right into Imposter Syndrome only I’m not sure I’m smart enough for that.
What have we talked about for a few hours, I hear you ask? Well, it wasn’t one single call, fortunately! I had meetings to talk about exciting things for Summit and PASS BA Conference. I’m sorry for the teaser but everyone works really hard, so I won’t steal anyone’s thunder since it wouldn’t be fair. All I’ll just say that you need to keep reading your Connector emails for news.


I have had another week of trying to wrap my head around activities in 28 Virtual Chapters. This week, my focus has been on trying to see what I can do to help Virtual Chapters that need new volunteers since they are growing so fast. If anyone is interested in being part of the Virtual Chapter story, please do get in touch. Why volunteer for the VCs? Well, it means that you reach people globally by offering community education. I love holding my user groups since I love in-person events. However, virtual events mean that you help that person at their desk, working away, who isn’t able for any reason to attend virtual events. For example, I’m a mom, and I find it really hard to attend user groups unless I book a babysitter well in advance (and I do). However, I can be part of the virtual chapters at any point because I don’t need to leave my house. It is huge to be able to have hundreds of people online, participating in learning. I love that buzz!


I’ve also been working with the team, evaluating some new ideas for a couple of Virtual Chapters. I love people’s ideas and people in the community are so smart. If you have any ideas, please do get in touch. We have a very informal process. Firstly, we have to make sure that the new idea isn’t close to any existing, established Virtual Chapters. This would mean splitting the audience, and there is no need to do that. We don’t tend to split out technologies very much, but we did split out the Excel BI Virtual Chapter based on a need for Excel information. This particular VC isn’t aimed at people who have SQL Server backgrounds. Instead, it is aimed at people who use Excel in work every day, regardless of the data source. 

More locally, I’m working with community legend Neil Hambly on next week’s London PASS Chapter user group. We are trying out a new idea of having a ‘theme’, so we are having a Special Edition on Performance. Neil is a seasoned presenter, and he will be presenting on waits. After that, we will have Ash presenting on demystifying flash memory for the SQL Server DBA. I think that both sessions will help people who care about SQL Server performance, and I’ve always wanted to know more about the using flash as opposed to other technologies. It promises to be a good one.


Enjoy your day J



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