PASS Summit Wrap-up and 2019 PASS Resolutions

Most years, by the time the PASS Summit has finished, I have at least written the basics of my wrap-up blog to the conference, usually when I am sitting at SEATAC eating my breakfast pizza from the little Italian restaurant. It may take me a few days or a week to post it, but that is just because my editor (also me), is a big procrastinator at times. This year was different, other than the procrastination, and my resolutions almost ended up New Year’s Resolutions… (no one ever follows through on those, hence PASS Resolutions!)

The first reason is that main area in SEATAC is torn up. It made me sad because this was such a great place to hang out and get interrupted by all of the other people leaving the Summit. Hopefully by the time I am back in March for the next conference there, things will be back to normal (or probably finished with a lot of fancy stores built up). Sbarro’s is pretty good there in SEATAC, but no breakfast pizza.

The biggest reason, though is that mid-day Thursday I started to feel kind of meh, and then Friday morning I really started to feel pretty rough. Friday night, I didn’t end up doing something cool that night (last year we went to Ruth’s Chris, and the year before I went to see Jethro Tull in concert), and I didn’t even make it to the hotel gym that night, breaking a pretty long exercise streak that my Apple Watch keeps taunting me about.

Only today, several weeks later, am I finally and up to writing about it. (Ok, so I did quite enjoy Thanksgiving, but I am still only about 90% even now).

The Summit Experience

I feel that one word that can describe the PASS Summit this year for me: Change. The times they are changing, and rapidly. SQL Server’s relational engine, once pretty much the only technical topic at the Summit, is far less prominent. And even when it is the topic, the things we are talking about include stuff that would have seemed insane just a few years ago like: Linux, Java, Python, Graph and other integrations to not strictly relational data other than spatial or xml, like Hadoop, Spark, GraphDB, and other stuff (in the relational engine via Polybase). I mean, what the heck is a container? Is this the Tupperware Summit?

Obviously, this shift in program wasn’t a major surprise to me, since I am one of the program managers, so I plays a part in shaping the content of the Summit. Even so, it still felt somewhat shocking just how much things have changed in the past 19 years since that first Summit (this was the 20th, and labeled V. 20.)

To really hammer it home, there was a keynote presentation that included Ron Soukup, Paul Flessner, Ted Kummert, and Rohan Kumar, the people who have run the Data Platform (originally just SQL Server!) since 1989. They took us down a memory lane cruise that really hit me hard as it reminded me just how different things are. (I did install SQL Server from floppy disks and did my first real procedural programming using the copy of VB 1.0 that shipped with it.)

Of course, if you know much about me, you may understand that I am not big on major paradigm changes. Not that I want the world to stay stagnant (well, I do miss my Zune and Windows Phone,) but I have specialized in the relational engine since the late 1990’s, and it isn’t changing much in ways that a relational programmer would necessarily notice. My book on relational database design really needn’t change much (other than Graph, which I hope will make a nice companion book, actually).

It can be argued that we can run SQL Server on Linux, and there are lots of internal improvements, right? Absolutely, and I want to upgrade to 2019 immediately, but from Management Studio writing queries, it’s still SQL Server.

There is a fairly new tool called Azure Data Studio (ADS, formerly SQL Operations Studio) that you can use, (it has pros and cons in comparison to Management Studio, but from the relational engine, you run queries like any SSMS could.) It is cool too, especially as it is cross platform. If you use something other than Windows it will be very welcome to have a native tool. Even many of the Microsoft people giving presentations seem to be using Macs more and more lately, so much I may consider it. Most importantly. they promised us that ADS will give us access to more database engines in the Azure stack also, so you can query other data formats interactively.

Right now, the major blocker for me using Azure Data Studio is just how much Red-Gate brings to Management Studio with SQL Prompt, but I plan to get in a blog or two about it soon, particularly as I learn more about SQL Server 2019, which is going to seriously expand the types of data that you can access directly from T-SQL, but not having the tool prompt me for JOIN criteria makes it feel less modern than hoped.

The Resolutions

Change. Stay the Same. This year my challenge to myself is to do the good part of both, and leave the bad parts alone.


I am at a crossroads of my life as a writer, blogger, speaker. Do I branch out and do completely new stuff? Or keep to the stuff I have always done? Sooner or later, I need to stretch myself and learn new stuff not just for my side work and curiosity, but in my day job, we need to keep modernizing to use the latest tools to make business decisions. I don’t want to end up the next COBOL programmer, just waiting for the platform I am comfortable with to die.

To that end, I must minimally learn about the Graph changes to SQL Server 2019. But this doesn’t seem like stretching that much to me as it is more or less an addition to the relational engine. Stretching will be getting with Azure Data Studio. Writing a few useful lines of R/Python, perhaps. Figuring out containers? Maybe even try a few new things I haven’t even heard of yet, stretching my abilities further and further. (To be quite honest, I have been going to learn U-SQL for 3+ years, and just haven’t gotten around to it).

Locally, step out and help get a SQL Server User Group in Chattanooga started. I have been a user group leader in the past, but that group was on auto-pilot. We had a location, and just needed to get sponsors and speakers (finding speakers was the thing I usually did). I have some likely excellent help here in Chattanooga, but I think we all are really busy so it is going to be a challenge to get things back up and going and finding a location and schedule that works for all of us. That same group who will run the group, also wants to get a SQL Saturday back in Chattanooga.

Stay the Same

Beyond the yearly repeating pipe dream of “learning new stuff” that I never quite do as well as I hope, this year, my plan is to just try to stay the same or at least just change just only a small amount.

I am only “great” at a few things in computing. Designing databases and writing T-SQL. Luckily these are the things I really love to do, and the world will still need for the foreseeable future. I don’t like networking, building computers, learning operating systems, or even coding in something like C# or even PowerShell all that much. I can do some of that stuff if needed, but not at any expert level, and I don’t think of it as “fun”.

This year, I have decided to keep to the sort of things I have always done, in fact, to steer even deeper into the stuff I have always done. SQL Server (and Azure SQL DB) database design and coding. I know this has the potential to end my tenure as a Microsoft MVP, as it really isn’t going deeper and wider into Azure and new technologies, but like I said last year, I refuse to make this a motivator (no matter how hard that still is to say).

To these ends, I plan to:

Keep Learning: After I get done with this blog, I will be installing the latest SQL Server 2019 CTP and will start playing with it. Make as many sample scripts that I can for future work.

Keep Writing: I make it no surprise that my favorite community activity is writing. Writing sample code and writing explanations of that code. Writing about database design. Writing about tools. If I could make a solid living writing about tech, I would.

To that end:

  • After the holidays, I will start working on some revisions to a book for SQL Server 2019 that I was a tech editor for in the previous edition. I am also tech editing half of the book.
  • Blogging every week or so, both new topics (like stuff I find in SQL Server 2019, like Graph improvements) and take many of my older blogs that show up on now, and update/refresh/re-emphasize topics
  • I will continue to write articles for my favorite products from Red-Gate (particularly SQL Prompt, which really completes Management Studio).
  • Start on my book on Hierarchies, particularly focusing on Graph in SQL Server and Azure SQL DB, and then the alternatives using relational code; as a supplement to my database design book

Keep Speaking: Every year I have tried to talk myself out of speaking because there are elements of the process I don’t like (like standing in front of a lot of people, for starters.) Last year I said I needed to change how I speak or quit. What I learned through the year is that my style of speaking fits more towards teaching a concept, more than a technique…and the concept I understand better than most is database design.

So, for early next year, I am submitting 3 sessions to SQL Saturday’s: Fundamentals of Relational Database Design, Characteristics of a Great Relational Database, and Relational Design Critique (a new session where I am going to put up flawed designs and we will discuss the issues with it. This should be a really fun session, taking elements of both of the other sessions and making it completely discussion.)

Keep Involved: I will continue to stay involved with PASS in the program committee management team, I expect to remain involved with Music City Data, along with the aforementioned Chattanooga area events.

Keep Exercising: Of everything on this list, the biggest threat to everything I do is this item. Exercising takes time and energy. Community involvement takes time and energy. So I have to remind myself often: “Don’t lose momentum, the next time you add 25% to your body weight, could be your last.” (Hey, this blog just got dark!)

Keep Having Fun: If you get tired of doing this stuff, quit anything I haven’t promised to do and move on. I also have a Disney oriented twitter feed at @disneypicaday, where I post a daily picture from the Disney parks, just for fun.

To Infinity And Beyond

So once again, the PASS Summit was a pretty big motivator in my life. I learned some concepts and learned of the existence of still other stuff that will influence my technical career. But the biggest thing it does for me is push me to keep involved and help make PASS better. One year, not likely this one, I plan to run for the PASS Board of Directors again, and not be afraid of winning.

Of course, upon my final edit of this blog, I see that I have packed my upcoming year again with more stuff than I can realistically do with some serious buckling down. Apparently that’s why I write this blog every year, to disappoint myself at least a little bit!