Interested in helping SQLBits to craft the first ever SQLBits Wikipedia page?

Exciting DitBits news from the SQLBits camp today. 

 We will be hosting a ‘Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon’ which will focus on gathering budding community authors, editors and reviewers together to create the first ever Wikipedia SQLBits page!

I’m looking for photos for the SQLBits photo album, which we will be posting online. Please send your photos, or links to photos, to me at and I promise not to laugh at your old photos if you don’t laugh at mine!

 We will see you in the Community Coffee Corner at 5.30 – 6.30 on Friday 18th July!



Why I refused a session at SQLBits; it’s not about your rank, but your legacy

In martial arts it is not your belt rank that matters but the legacy you leave.” – Grandmaster CK Leow, Founder, Moodukkwan Malaysia
I’ve attended every SQLBits except two: the first one, because I didn’t know about it, and SQLBits 6, because I had been made redundant the previous day and I didn’t feel up to it.
Overall, I have spoken at every SQLBits since SQLBits 7, where I was fortunate enough to be picked to speak at the event in York. Since then, I have spoken in most of Europe and in the United States. I also held a Diversity in Technology event at the last SQLBits, and I am considering doing another event.

I was also lucky enough – and hard working enough! – to be elected on the PASS Board of Directors last year, winning the election outright with a convincing majority. I continue to work really hard on that role, and I will blog separately about what I’ve been doing since a lot of it isn’t ‘visible’ and SQLfamily members probably don’t see it.
I’m fortunate to be holding a precon this year, which is called the DataAnalysts Toolkit. We will look at R and PowerBI for a whole day. What’s best is, I will be giving you hands on labs and notes – if you bring your laptop, that is! I will announce in due course what software you need to install.
I’m holding a Friday session, which is a one-hour version of the precon.
However, I turned down the opportunity to speak on the Saturday. Why?
– I have worked, really, really hard to be a speaker at SQLBits. I am extremely proud to have been chosen, so this was a difficult decision. 
– however, I believe in fairness and the promotion of new speakers. I think that other people should be lucky enough to get a session too. I was concerned that I would be greedy in taking two sessions. There are plenty of people who would like to speak at SQLBits, and I refused, saying that the slot should go to a new speaker who hasn’t done it before.
Sometimes you have to do the right thing for the community, even if it is a wrench for yourself. 
I was lucky to get votes and to be picked, but I do worry about the time when the votes stop and I don’t get picked any more. This is a perfectly natural response. I also don’t go around my friends and family and ask them to vote for me, because that isn’t fair. If I get picked, I want it to be picked on a fair community vote and not because I emailed everyone in my department and asked a boatload of people to vote for me. I’d like to thank everyone who did vote for my session.
At the same time, I think it isn’t about the rank you hold or the number of sessions you give; it is about the legacy you leave behind. So, when I sit in sessions and see people talking about Excel and trellis charts, for example, I remember that I talked about that at SQLBits a few years ago. I was the first to talk about these topics at SQLBits, and I am happy that I trailblazed and now other people are talking about data visualisation as part of other sessions. 

I’m not criticising others who have two sessions, and I am happy for them. My focus is slightly different, particularly since I hold an elected seat on the Board of Directors. I want to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who voted for me, and I hope that this is a visible sign that I am working for the SQLFamily and the technical community.
At the same time, I think it is important to leave a legacy, even if people don’t see it. I don’t know whom they picked instead of me, but by making a sacrifice myself, it does mean that someone new can have the opportunity that I got. 

That said, I look forward to seeing people at my session and you can be assured that I will do my best, as always.

Announcing DiTBits at SQLBits

We are pleased to announce our inaugural DiTBiTs Cheese and Wine event at SQLBits XI on Friday 3rd May at 5pm in Room 1. The DiTBits site is here, and this is a cross-post.

Our topic is as follows: Networking in IT. Can more diverse networks provide better networks?
Is business networking useful in our careers?
How much has networking helped you in your career?
How can you build good social media profiles – or are these even necessary?

Attendees can enjoy Cheese and Wine refreshments whilst during the Panel discussion and interaction. Then, we’ll have a Flashmob Speed Networking at the end, just to tie things together before everyone shoots off for the party – so bring your business cards!

We are pleased to welcome our following panellists:

Denise McInerney is joining us from the United States, so please be sure to give Denise a hearty SQLBits welcome! Denise McInerney is a DBA-turned-Data-Analyst. She lives in Silicon Valley where she is employed by the software company Intuit. Denise founded the PASS Women in Technology chapter and currently serves as a member of the PASS Board of Directors. She is a Microsoft MVP.

Mark Broadbent is well known within the UK and across the world as a dedicated PASS ‘Outstanding Volunteer’ award winner and UK Regional Mentor. He is a SQL Server specialist and speaker focusing on HADR & upgrade solutions and in 2011 was awarded Microsoft’s Community Contributor award and in 2012 received the PASS Outstanding Volunteer award. He is the proud host of the first UK SQLSaturday, and is hosting another SQLSaturday event in Cambridge later this year.

Stephanie Locke works primarily in the BI space as a Senior Analyst responsible for delivering high profile projects and educating & mentoring others.  She coordinates the local user group for SQL Server and tries to help grow the community.

The host for the inaugural DiTBits event is Jen Stirrup, a SQL Server MVP who best-known for her work in Business Intelligence and Data Visualisation. She is the current holder of the SQLPassion Award, presented by PASS at Summit 2012, for her work in helping the European SQL Server community. Jen has presented at TechEd North America, TechEd Europe, SQLPass and SQLBits and is the proud host of SQLSaturday Edinburgh.
If you have any questions, please get in touch with or feel free to browse around our site.
Who are DiTBIts? Take a look here.

Where the blazes is Nottingham? Travel to SQLBits for International Travellers

If you’re thinking of coming to SQLBits from outside of the UK, what’s the options available to you? Here is a summary of the sections in this page, and I hope you will find it useful. Any comments or questions, please leave a comment so I can add new detail, to benefit everyone.

What is Nottingham all about, then?
Travelling from the United States

  • Travelling from Manchester
  • Travelling from London Heathrow 

 How do you get from the centre of Nottingham to the East Midlands Conference Centre and Orchard Hotel?
Driving in the UK

What is Nottingham all about, then? 

  • Well, it’s the home of the Raleigh Chopper.
  • DH Lawrence was born near here. You may have read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which is a historical landmark in British legal history surrounding obscenity. In 1960, Penguin actually went to trial for publishing it. Penguin were found ‘not guilty’ due to the novels’ literary merit. Take that, Fifty Shades of Grey!
  • King Charles I started the Civil War near here.His execution led to Interregnum, where England was a republic for a short time. Thought we always had a monarchy? Nope. Take a look at the official British Monarchy website for more information.
  • In 1607 the founding Pilgrim Fathers left Bassetlaw to start their new life in Holland. It was 13 years later – in 1620 – when the Pilgrims finally reached Plymouth, USA. Which segues us nicely into the section entitled:

Travelling from the United States

You can arrive from Manchester, or London airports. Manchester is about 70 miles away from Nottingham.
If you come into London, Heathrow is perhaps a better choice than Gatwick, since Gatwick is at the very south of London.

  • Travelling from Manchester

Manchester may be slightly cheaper than Heathrow.  How do you get from Manchester Airport to Nottingham?

National Express

Service NX350National Express Coach – they operate buses from Manchester Airport. Some services go direct to Nottingham, other services require that you change at Leeds. Here is an example for Service NX350, which takes you from Manchester Airport to Nottingham. This is a long journey though – three hours minimum. Not what you want, if you’ve just had a 9 hour flight from the US. That said, Manchester is a great place to stop overnight if you want to see a different part of England.
National Rail might be a better option. It is quicker, at 2.5 hours to get from Manchester Airport to Nottingham. You can get a train from Manchester Airport to Manchester Piccadilly station, and then catch a train from Manchester Piccadilly to Nottingham. 

  • Travelling from London Heathrow
Heathrow offers lots of options to get yourself to Nottingham. 
Train from London Heathrow:
If you want to use the train, I think that going from:
London Heathrow to Paddington using the Heathrow Express, then…
Paddington to St Pancras then….
St Pancras direct to Nottingham, is probably the simplest. Other suggestions, please leave a comment.
The Heathrow Express takes you from the airport to Paddington Station. 
You can then take an Underground tube from Paddington to London’s St. Pancras station.  Here is a map of the St. Pancras area so I’d suggest you take a look at it. Here are two routes, which take about 15 minutes. The reality is that both trains go from Platform 16, and follow the same route. Here is a tube map to help you to see what I mean.
  • From London Paddington, take the Circle Line (Eastbound, Platform 16) which is a direct service to Kings Cross St Pancras Underground Station 
  • From London Paddington take the Hammersmith & City Line (Eastbound, Platform 16) which is a direct service to Kings Cross St Pancras Underground Station.
 Once you get out of the tube station, you will see the magnificent St. Pancras station. St Pancras International was named after St Pancras Old Church. Dating back to 400 AD, it is believed to be one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England. Just look for the clock, and you enter the station from the archway.
London’s St. Pancras Station is a fantastic example of Victorian Gothic architecture. Here is the staircase, inside St. Pancras hotel.
It has Betjeman poetry engraved on the walls. Some of the train sheds were bombed during the Second World War, which has only been partially reglazed at the time of writing. 

Once you get to St. Pancras, you can get your train to Nottingham. To book your tickets, go to the National Rail website.

How do you get from the centre of Nottingham to the East Midlands Conference Centre and Orchard Hotel?

The official EMCC website is here but they seem to advise getting a taxi.  Here is the number of the EMCC to ask for a taxi, if you need one: 0844 346 1216

Driving in the UK

There are some nearly quarter of a million miles of roads in Britain. Many of the roads are built on the old roads laid down by the Romans centuries ago. Roads in Britain range from wide modern motorways down to narrow country lanes usually bordered by hedges, stone walls, grassy banks or ditches. Cities and towns tend to have narrow streets because they date back to well before cars were invented. A lot of towns, like my nearby St. Albans, date from Roman times and were not designed for today’s traffic.

There are plenty of car hire places, but I’d suggest that you specify an automatic or you might get a manual / gear stick / gear shift or whatever you call them.

We also drive on the left hand side of the road in the UK. Why? Because it’s the law.
Don’t text / tweet / talk on the mobile (cell) whilst you drive.
Roundabouts – these are the most contentious for non-Brits. Here is what the British Government’s ‘Highway Code’ has to say about the issue. It boils down to:

  • If there are two lanes: if you’re turning right, go into the right lane. If you’re turning left or straight ahead, use the left lane. This is the rule, unless the road markings say otherwise.
  • Always give way to the person coming from the right. He has priority over you. Let any traffic from your right, go first. Then you go. The people on your left hand side…. they’re waiting for you.

Any questions, please leave a comment and I’ll pick it up here, for everyone’s benefit.

See you at SQLBits!

Jen x

Want to learn Analysis Services and not sure where to start? Here’s a helping hand!

Recently, someone asked me for a list of good books, sites and other resources for learning SSAS. Here are my thoughts!

  • You’re an absolute beginner. What do you do?
  • What in-person events can you attend?
  • So you’ve done all these, and want more Analysis Services. What next?  
  • My favourite SSAS sites! 

You’re an absolute beginner. What do you do?

Start with the Technet Tutorial. Follow it step-by-step. When you’re done, then do it again – but this time, don’t look at the site to do it! This will help you to see what areas didn’t ‘stick’ the first time.

Take a look at the Microsoft Free e-book collection. Yes, free! Go and take a look! See if anything there will help you.

Try the TechEd webinars. Here is a range of the top ones, from Dandy Weyn  

I’d recommend the Analysis Services team blog for a regular read. 

I’d also spend time on the Professional Association of SQL Server  (SQLPASS) website. If you’re not a member, it’s free to join, and you can access a wealth of material, from beginners to advanced, delivered by SQL Server experts around the globe – for FREE! How awesome is that?
For example, take a look at their Business Intelligence Virtual Chapter for webinars, downloads and more. Well worth a look!
If you can, I’d think about purchasing the DVDs from the SQLPass Summit. I have had some much value from these DVDs. In fact, I still listen to 2010 Summit sessions, as well as 2011. Therefore, I’ve had massive value from the Summit DVDs, making it a great investment. 

What in-person events can you attend?

Attend a local SQL Server User Group. These are usually organised by SQLPass volunteers, and you can probably find one near you!   

If you are in Europe, attend SQLBits. No excuses. It has to be done! The UK has a great SQL Server community and this is the longest-standing, largest free European SQL Server community conference. I love this conference – great people, great learning, great community spirit!

If you are in the US – or can travel to the US – go to SQLPass Summit. This is the pinnacle of SQL Server community events in the US, and I regard it as a huge honour to be picked to speak. Like SQLBits,  I love this conference – great people, great learning, great community spirit! Once you attend for your first time, you’ll go home and book up for your second visit next year. Seriously. It is *that* good. I’m travelling 5000 miles to attend – there’s dedication for you!

If you can’t afford to attend SQLPass Summit, but still want free (or nearly free!) in-person training, take a look at the SQLSaturday events that occur across the globe.  Most events are free, but some ask for a contribution towards lunch. In my opinion, this is a great investment of your time.

If you can make Orlando in December, think about attending SQL Live 360. This looks set to be an awesome conference. There are different streams, including SharePoint and Visual Studio. You can register here! 

So you’ve done all these, and want more Analysis Services. What next? 

Expert Cube Development with Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Analysis Services

This book is by Chris Webb, Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari. It’s very well written, and it is a great reference and guide from very experienced authors, who will help you to take your SSAS to a deeper level. It is full of practical advice, and will help you to deliver your SSAS cube more professionally.

This book is very detailed, and I’d put this at more the ‘expert’ level rather than the beginner. It’s a great reference for nuggets of information
My favourite SSAS sites:

Chris Webb‘s blog

Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari blog

 I hope that helps!





SQLPass Elections – who I’m supporting and why

The Professional Association of SQL Server has elections for the board, and the deadline is 12th October at noon for those of you who haven’t voted yet. 

In this blog, I’m going to share with you my thoughts on whom I’m supporting for the election. Each one of the candidates has my absolute admiration, but it’s been massively difficult to narrow it down to three. Here are my thoughts.

I personally believe that this election should be about voting for the right person with the right skills to take PASS to the next international level. The global growth of PASS  is going to need a steady hand and careful steering, so I’ve had a think about the people who can best help that to happen.

James Rowland Jones

After all the issues of the last election, communication is vital. It’s been important to ensure everyone’s voices are heard in the discussion, particularly around the global growth of PASS. 
Given the issues at the last election cycle, James‘ measured and reasoned response was impressive, and he has had to step up to the PASS plate with a harder start than other Board members.  It says a lot for James’ tenacity that he’s put himself for more hard work this year.

I believe James is the right person for PASS Board of Directors; he brings skills and experience that are unmatched. He brings to this role his SQLBits leadership experience, which has grown to be the most successful, and largest, European community SQL Server conference. He already has self-reliant business acumen, gained from years of delivering hard projects as part of both large and small organisations. – and I believe that James has consistently shown these qualities, and has the evidence to support it. Therefore, I believe he has a good mix of technical and business skills, and is the right person to be on the Board of Directors.

The last election cycle was difficult and unfortunate, and I think that lessons have been learned all around and I hope that everyone will move forward. James has consistently demonstrated that he can do this role, and I believe that his good work should be allowed to continue. 

Wendy Pastrick

Wendy has been a solid supporter of the fledgling Women in Technology growth that we are starting to see here in Europe. I’m intensely grateful to her for all her support and wisdom. Do you ever get emails sometimes where you think “I wish I’d thought of that?” Well, I have that feeling every time Wendy writes me an email! I’ve appreciated her support that is always balanced and reasonable, and I can sense wisdom and leadership from her support. Wendy has never failed to help me, and always has a wise word.

I have always appreciated Wendy’s enthusiasm too. It can be complex to organise WIT events across Europe, with our boundaries of culture and language and attitudes towards WIT.  I always feel buoyed to get a tweet or an email from Wendy, wishing us all the best – and she always remembers when our events are on! When I’m alone, speaking in a new country, such as Bulgaria or Germany where I don’t speak the local language, it’s great to feel a friendly ‘hello’ and support from the other side of the world, and it tells me that we are getting somewhere with WIT in Europe.

It’s good to feel that someone is right there with you, and I’d like to thank Wendy for all the unseen things that she does, in order to help move WIT forward.

Kendal van Dyke

I’ve known Kendal for a long time, and I’ve admired his work to take the SQLSaturdays to a new level as part of the team with Karla. I’ve got nothing but intense admiration for the SQLSaturday team, Kendal and Karla in particular, who work extremely hard and produce great results for the SQL community.
I’ve always admired Kendal’s emphasis on the production of high-quality training materials for PASS, and I think that this is a strategic area where PASS could really make a name for themselves in the SQL Server community.  

I don’t want to get into heated debates – and as I said before, each of the candidates has my deepest admiration and it’s been extremely tough to pick three.

I hope that you will use your vote too! 


Are SQLPass right to hold a Business Analytics conference?

Recently, the Professional Association of SQL Server announced that they were planning to hold a Business Analytics Conference in the spring of 2013. I read the announcement, and I’m super-excited about it for a number of reasons.
I’m happy that there is a demand for a subject which I’m passionate about, Business Analytics and Business Intelligence. If you’ve ever tried to get into some of the popular Business Intelligence sessions at SQLPass Summit, then you’ll know that sometimes you can’t get in the door since there’s no room. In other words, the Business Intelligence and Analytics sessions are just mobbed. I know that I’ve repeated Business Intelligence sessions at SQLBits and at TechEd Europe, since people want to know about Business Intelligence. Other people who’ve repeated sessions include Peter Myers, for example. For TechEd Europe, the Business Intelligence ‘Power Hour’ was one of the top sessions out of a whole gamut of IT-professional oriented topics.
I believe that PASS are responding to community demand for a Business Analytics event, and I’d personally welcome a ‘gathering’ of people who are excited about this subject as I am.
I believe in this Business Analytics event…. but then it became clear that there was a lot of genuine anger as well. Some seemed to say that SQLRally was chopped to make way for this Business Analytics event, and let’s be fair, some people are real SQLRally fans – myself included. Some even went as far as to argue that this was just a money-making machine since Business Intelligence is a popular topic, which I think is a really negative way to look at it.
All this stramash genuinely made me sad. I was in two minds whether to write this blog, and then I thought that I’ve the same right to express my opinion, and others are free to disagree or agree as they see fit.
I think that, if you want to make serious money, you’d be nuts to put on a SQL Server conference as a way to do it. If you look at the details of the Budget, we’re not talking millions of pounds. The profit is $100K, which will flow back into their reserves. You have to have money aside in order to set up events such as SQLPass Summit; for example the event venue will want security and paid up front; you’ll have to pay for other things such as advertising, marketing and the other things that will encourage people to participate.
All the ‘goody bags’ that people are eager to open: someone has got to pay for those. The meals that we all enjoy; the free beers that we expect; the events we expect to attend out-of-hours; the prizes, the raffles etc etc. As an audience, we have high expectations from these events. Have you heard people whinge about goody bags and food? See what I mean?


What I’d really like to see is PASS do something that doesn’t come with a ton of baggage. A clean start. Remember that a lot of these events and hard community work – and it is hard work, preparation and sweat – comes from volunteers. For example, some people, including myself! flew from here in London to Dallas to present at SQLRally – at our own expense, away from our families, and volunteered our time for our sqlfamily. It is my privilege to be flying out for SQLPass Summit in November 2012 in order to see my favourite SQLFamily members, old friends and new community members alike.
The volunteering doesn’t just end with the events: there are webinars and user groups and chapter meetings and online events.. the list goes on.
So, I’d like to say a huge Thank You to the volunteers who put on this massive effort for us, the sqlfamily, the sql server community. I think that I’d like to see more ‘thank you’ to the volunteers, and to PASS… and less politics. I’m hoping that this Business Analytics event will go ahead with a real community spirit in place, with people behind it. Remember that some of these attendees will be novices, who are looking to learn and share in the community. You could be sitting next to the next Brent Ozar or Kalen Delaney – who knows?
I think that people just need to be given a chance sometimes, and I wish the organisers and volunteers at PASS my very best wishes and thanks for all of their hard work in putting this event together for us, the sql family. As Mother Theresa said, Peace starts with a smile…. and this is a smile from me.

To summarise, I think that PASS are right to hold this event. The sheer numbers of BI people at events – not just SQLPass, but SQLBits and TechEd too – are testament to the fact that there is a real community need for a BI ‘gathering’.  I hope that you will start to become as super-excited as I am, and I hope to see you there!