T-SQL Tuesday #112 – Dipping into your Cookie Jar

T-SQL Tuesday?

Participating in a T-SQL Tuesday is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And I’m actually doing it now!
T-SQL Tuesday has some rules but to make a long story short, it’s a blog series where a host picks a topic and the entire community is invited to write about that topic. The host then creates a “round up” post that also includes some commentary.

The ever awesome Shane O’Neill (twitter | blog) is this month’s month. And Shane has asked that people write about what keeps us going through the difficult times. Those cookies in that cookie jar that you can dip into.
Something technical or non-technical, doesn’t matter.

I’ve been thinking if I should posting something and have had some ideas since I first saw the T-SQL Tuesday invitation. Today I was reading some of the posts already out there. And Andy Leonard’s submission (twitter | blog) motivated me to still participate.

Some background

You wouldn’t be wrong to call the first 24 years of my life a waste.
Apart from that, it hasn’t been easy either.
There’s a bit of a “chicken or the egg” dilemma in those two statements.
While it still impacts me, luckily from my current perspective as a 34 year old, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter that much anymore.

Life is like a, erhm, jar of, erhm, cookies

In the few years I’ve been on this planet, I’ve learned to get energy from the little things so I can stay motivated. This is basically the cookie jar Shane is talking about.
Somewhere during my first 24 years of life, I read about some Buddhist ways.
This somehow got mangled up and stuck in my head and I started living by what I remembered.
– Don’t yearn for anything, it will only bring you sadness.
– Be positive as hate and negativity in general will only erode yourself.
– Whatever you do, act out of kindness towards others and help them first.
– Always tell the truth

While I’m not perfect, I still try to hold myself to this every day.
And yes it’s hard as people don’t know how to react or even tend to abuse you or just “outplay” you since you’re just playing very straight forward with no ulterior motives.

Cookie 1 & 2

After “the dark ages” came 2 years of my life that gave me a ton of perspective. I worked at a help desk in a call center and just did my job as good as I could.
Good enough for the teamcoach and HR guy to tell me if they could clone me, they would.
First cookie in the jar!

Later my colleagues, whom I didn’t have that much contact with, ensured I got a small “promotion” away from the phones and towards the backoffice.
Whatever their reason for lifting me up, It was an awesome time that changed all of our lives in a positive way.
Second cookie in the jar!

Cookie 3 & 4

The 4 years after that, I worked at a different call center, first for a short period as a sales agent, then 3.5 years in IT.
My team coach, who was having a hard time herself in a political minefield, strongly suggested I apply for a part-time job in our IT due to what I was doing with Excel to manage sales calls.
At first it was manually composing reports in Excel through a horribly painful manual way of typing all the data in Excel.
As lazy and quickly bored as I am, I started automating my work.
Ultimately I ended up connecting to a SQL Server 2005 database and writing queries in excel to pull in all the required data.
My team coach going out of her way to help me grow is my third cookie in the jar

The call center grew from 20 people to 300+ people and ultimately I had to learn more of the Microsoft BI stack to stay on top of things. At my first conference I ever attended, I sat in a session by Kevin Kline (twitter | blog) who gave, something like “10 tips for SQL Developers”. Some people weren’t impressed, I was.
One of the tips was to join twitter, even if only to read all the #SQLHelp tweets and read what others are saying.
Kevin changed my life by introducing me to the #SQLFamily. I count this moment as my fourth cookie, as I was lucky enough to experience this small but life changing thing. Through the community I learned a ton of cool stuff and becoming active on twitter impacted me in an even larger way.

Cookie 5, the chocolat chip one with Oreo filling!

In the almost 5 years since I moved on to a consultancy firm, I’ve slowly become more active in the community.
It all started innocent enough tho. Speak at a local user group, interact with more people on twitter, tweet interesting and helpful things.

Until it all exploded exploded about 2 years ago!
I’m lucky enough to have been chosen to deliver about 50 sessions in the past 2 years.
Through that I met a LOT of very smart people that I knew from twitter and that I looked up to (and still look up to!).
And through these awesome people I’ve learned and grew in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined.
Recognizing that not everyone is as lucky as me to experience all of this, I fondly think back to meeting these people. They helped me set up user groups and a conference and through that help me help the community.
So for me this is the biggest cookie that will keep me going for a looooong time to come.

Looking at my cookie jar

I’ve been very lucky in past years with several people giving me chances that I’ve fully used.
And thanks to the community my life has changed even more for the better and through the community I’ve made some great memories that will likely keep me going through some rough times.

The road to Microsoft MVP – Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series The road to Microsoft MVP

In the previous posts, I’ve told you how I got my first MVP nomination, what i’ve learned from others about the MVP program in 2017. Next I’ve updated you on my activities in 2018, a post I originally started writing in october.
Now we’re december, and it’s time for the 3rd part of this installment!

Let me take you on a short journey

Imagine this.

Very busy year behind you.
You’ve seen a ton of “SQLebrity” people.
Kevin Kline came to your session (and didn’t leave!), you even had a great chat afterwards that HE initiated!
Steve Jones “crashed” your session, made you nervous by standing behind you during your presentation and you had to ask him to sit down.
And of course you’ve met Jen Stirrup again and had a great talk with her that almost made you late for your own session 😀
Let’s not forget Stephanie Locke who taught you a lot about diversity in tech over pizza and beer with Alex Yates, Rob Sewell and others
You’ve spoken to so many people who inspired you throughout the year.
And I mean, really inspired you. You’re so inspired that you could just as well be on fire.

Your year has been so awesome that you’ve actually stopped thinking about the MVP nominations during all of that. And then, on a saturday morning, after a tiring week you open your eyes. You’ve just slept great, birds are chirping outside and because you’re a bit lazy, you pick up your phone to check it in bed.
You’re not wearing your glasses and with your phone about 10cm from one eye, you’re looking at it. Because that’s just the way badly near-sighted people do that.
The next bit all happens in about 5 seconds.

You notice you’ve got some new mails as usual.

One of them is from Microsoft.

It’s from the MVP program.

“Must be some random notification again.” You think to yourself.

But before deleting the mail, you open it anyway. Because you’ve always been curious like that and you have time to kill on this lazy day. And who knows, maybe it’s actually a mail from a Nigerian prince!

But then you see it…

BAM! You’re awake!

You double check to see if it’s actually what you think it is.

Your heart starts racing and you just want this moment to never end.

Snap back to reality

I’m extremely happy and grateful to have been awarded Microsoft MVP in the AI category. It’s an incredible honor to be in that very small club of excellent people.
How small? Currently I’m the only one in Belgium.
And there’s 8 of us if you count all neighbouring countries (Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and France).
So out of 179 million people in those countries, only 8 got awarded in this category. That’s mindblowing.

Counting all categories, there’s 55 people who currently are awarded Microsoft MVP in Belgium.
And counting all neighbouring countries, we’re 8 MVP’s in the AI category out of a grand total of 417.
That’s really special!

However, all of this doesn’t change who I am, what I do and why i do the things that I do. It doesn’t change why people like or dislike me. It doesn’t change the fact that I value openness and helping others over other things. And it certainly doesn’t change the fact that i value the people in the community and their opinion more than any award.

Let’s not forget that there are still a LOT of people out there in the community who deserve this honor, maybe even more than me. And in the way (I think) I’ve learned how the program works, I’m sure they’ll be awarded as well in due time.

But why so quiet?

People have been wondering why I’m not screaming the news that i got awarded from the rooftops. I’ve actually had a lot of linkedin/facebook/twitter private messages and people tweet at/about me as well. All of them asking this question or making a remark about it.
The thread that below screenshot came out of was a nice example.

I’ve sent private mails and messages to the people who’ve been supportive with a nice “thank you”. But i didn’t feel the need to make a big deal out of this.
One reason is that there’s a lot of people out there who don’t like to see all the “OMG, I got awarded” messages every month, either because of various good or bad reasons.

Another reason is that, although I may be loud at times, I’m not someone who goes around and “promotes” himself.
I’ve learned to use all media to get content out there, but i still feel bad about talking too positively about myself.

What’s next?

I’ve realised several things shortly after i calmed down again.

  1. I might not be re-awarded. Since before october, I’ve been telling everyone i was scaling down on the amount of talks i’d be doing in 2019. There’s a lot of stuff coming towards me, and i just don’t have the time or the money to be on the road for almost half of the year.
  2. We’re not even in the new year and i’ve already submitted to 13 events. 10 of those are in the first half of the year. But i’ve been pickier with the locations of the events. Let’s see how many accept me as a speaker.
  3. My MVP award means I’ll have my first ever award to put on display! Where will i put it?!
  4. I’m not sure what caused me to suddenly be worthy of the MVP award. And I’m still pondering about it. Since october, i didn’t have any activities anymore. Some people have told me to just accept it as one of the strange mysteries of the program and just do what I do as people at Microsoft seemed to have liked that.

I’m starting technical blogs again as well, so you’ve got that to look forward to.

Conclusion

Since december 1st, 2018, i’m proud to call myself the first MVP in the AI category in Belgium. 

Turns out, i do have some value 😉

I’ll just keep doing what I love doing. Helping others and ensuring they grow as tech workers, as speakers and as a person. If i get re-awarded or not, i’ll still be part of this great community, which is more important than any award.

The road to Microsoft MVP – Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series The road to Microsoft MVP

Warning

This is a less ranty than my first “road to MVP” post.
I’m finishing this post at the end of december. And while I know there’s already a 3rd part as well, I found it important to continue with my original plan for these posts. Which is, to document my journey towards becoming an MVP, no matter how long it would be or even if it would ever happen.
I do hope you as a reader have use for these posts, either way, don’t hesitate to contact me through the comments or on twitter or even linkedin if you have any questions.

Previously on this blog

About a year ago, I made a post about my experience and feelings about getting nominated for the MVP award by quite a few people I look up to.
I ended that post stating that while it had been 1-whole-full-year-omg-so-long of being nominated but not awarded, the fact that I had gotten nominated by people I look up to and the feedback I received from people in the community meant a lot to me. Maybe even more so than an award.

Fast forward a full year

Almost a full year has passed since that post.
I didn’t pay much attention to my MVP nominations anymore and when people asked if they could nominate me, I’ve been declining their offers. I’ve been declining nominations because this year, for me, was about getting even more involved with the community and just having some relaxed fun.
Due to all my new activities, this blog didn’t receive much new content, although I have quite a few new drafts ready!

Presenting at conferences & user groups

In 2018, I kept speaking at conferences and user groups, kept meeting people and most importantly, kept having fun. I’ve met so many great people and learned a ton from them in the past year.
Only issue I had, is that working full time as a consultant AND speaking this much tends to become a bit much. So I stopped all speaking engagements in october, with SQL Saturday Holland being the last event I spoke at.

Microsoft Advanced Analytics User Group

In the Microsoft Advanced Analytics User Group I organise, We’ve held 10 meetups in 2018, with quite a bit of wraps and pizza being eaten. Come join us if you’re into Big Data, Machine Learning, IoT or any related technologies

Power BI User Group

I started a Power BI User Group because we don’t have that yet in Belgium. We had 10 awesome meetups and I got to know a lot of great people who work with Power BI in Belgium.
Come join us next time if you’re working or even thinking about working with Power BI!
Our audiences tend to be a mix of everything in between deeply technical and pure business users. That tends to mean everyone wins as we can learn from each other!

Power BI Days conference

As we did our Power BI meetups, I got feedback from people. People who couldn’t make it during the week but also from people outside of Belgium who wanted to attend some meetups. So I started a free conference in september, and people seemed to enjoy it. One day in Belgium and one day completely virtual.
We had quite a few people for a saturday, but what surprised me was that the virtual event on Sunday had a ton of people as well!
Simply amazing to see how speakers and attendees invest in their future by attending events like this in the weekend.

Next up: Power BI Days 2019-01, come join us, either in Mechelen or online! www.powerbidays.com

Rest of the year

For the rest of the year, I haven’t planned much. A couple of user group meetups, catch up on work and just spend some time with my girlfriend.

Conclusion

It’s been a very busy year, i’ve met ton of new people, I did way too much and by september I was already telling people that I’d be scaling back on speaking at conferences due to my personal life getting much busier in 2019.

Either way, It’s been worth every minute of my time and I’ve had a blast doing all of this.
I can only say that you should try to speak at as many conferences and user groups as well. If you’d like some help in any form, let me know. From coming up with an idea together, to practicing your session together, I’m here for you. Others are here for you as well, check out www.speakingmentors.com.

Towards Personal Data Science with Power BI

I just finished my session at SQLGLA, with a full room there were more people than I could’ve hoped for.
Looking at the other speakers, I’m not even sure if i would’ve attended my own session!
But a small miracle happened and I got a full room aside from 5 badly placed empty seats 🙂

 

On to the session!

I submitted one of the sessions I started speaking with several years ago.

Towards Personal Data Science with Power BI

After dusting it off and getting some new demos working, I was ready to go!
That is, up until a day before the event when I read this excellent post by Leila Etaati (twitter) on how to easily use the cognitive services in Power BI.

After blatantly stealing her code (and obviously giving credit) my demo went from way too many lines to easy to grasp!
So thank you Leila! 🙂

Now the session basically contains a short summary of what you need to know about Machine Learning to get started.
Once you have that basic knowledge, it’s time to go into demo’s.

I show how to build a predictive model in Azure Machine Learning using the Titanic dataset, a golden oldie.
The dataset is small enough to use in a presentation and still explain some basic principles.
Added benefit is that you can keep the demo nice and simple.

Having built a predictive model in Azure ML and having deployed it to a predictive web service, I switch to Power BI.
In Power BI

 

We import the dataset and using the AzureML package in R we use the AzureML package to connect to the webservice and score our data.
Next up is visualising that scored data in Power BI.
For this session I built a very simple report, showing the results while also showing that cool Power BI Report Page Tooltip feature.

 

 

You can even take it a notch up and evaluate your models by having the output of your predictive models next to the actual values.

Here are the goods

So you want the presentation slides and the demo materials?
I’ve put them online on dropbox.

Citizen Data Science – A rant on why it is already reality

This rant is a reaction to a LinkedIn post I was tagged in because i promote citizen data science.

There’s a lot of bullshit being sold about data science.
And for every person who thinks they’re the data science unicorn and all the rest aren’t skilled enough, there’s a company proving otherwise.

I’ve talked with a lot of people about this topic and presented on why I believe Microsoft i supporting this with their tooling.

Read on for some ranting and reasoning.

Read moreCitizen Data Science – A rant on why it is already reality

The road to Microsoft MVP – Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series The road to Microsoft MVP

Warning

This is a post about me and my reflection on the Microsoft MVP award.
It basically is a rant.

 

Some history

Back in january of this year, out of the blue, someone in the community I’ve looked up to since entering the data world asked if it was ok if they’d nominate me for the Microsoft MVP award.

For those who don’t know, being awarded the MVP status is considered by many as one of the highest honors you can receive in the Microsoft Community.
Even more so when you know that there are only about 4000 MVPs worldwide in all Microsoft categories and even less (about 300) in the Data Platform / SQL Server category [*].
With only about 150 people outside of the US being awarded MVP for the Data Platform category, you can quickly see what an honor it is to be one of the few people outside of the US to receive this award.

Not so fast

As I said, I got asked if I wanted to be nominated back in january.
While incredibly nice, I didn’t put a lot of value on the award since I was just having fun meeting new people and learning from everyone I met.
On top of that, I didn’t think I was near worthy enough for this honor. However, just the thought of having been nominated by someone known over the entire world and generally considered a community leader was already very cool!

Long story short, I didn’t let this person know it was OK to nominate me until May and didn’t even complete the nomination until the end of July.

Nomination != Award

At the end of July I had spoken internationally at a bunch of events and had met a ton of awesome people in the community. Quite a few of these people turned out to be MVPs and during dinners before or after the events we’d talk about things ranging from beer and food to the community in general.

One person I was talking with dove into his journey towards becoming an MVP. The part of his story that stuck with me the most was how he had been very active and even respected in the community and it still took him over 5 years after his first nomination before receiving the MVP award.

I received a similar warning in January from the person who wanted to nominate me. They warned me that they could nominate me but this didn’t actually mean that much.
It’s still up to Microsoft to select you.
And that apparently is the hard part of becoming an MVP.

What now?

It quickly became apparent that while most of these people weren’t an MVP at all, they were still extremely enthusiastic about what they do and most of them had even been actively sharing their knowledge with the community for a long time already.
For me this blurred the line between what defines a non-MVP and MVP person. They both seem to do the same thing for the entire community, only one gets recognized and the other one doesn’t.
Although I’m probably missing a lot of important details when making this comparison.

So knowing that this nomination would probably not result in instant “MVP-ness” and most likely not even in the long run, I filled in the forms at the end of July. With that, I had officially accepted the nomination itself.
While I still thought that this one person I looked up to considering me worthy enough was more awesome than actually winning some award from Microsoft.
This initial consideration gave me a better feeling than the thought of perhaps, someday, winning some award.

Back to the real world

As time went by, I slowly kept filling in my community activities in the nomination form.
Near the end of 2017 the pressure started growing as I received more nominations, 6 so far.

And so far I haven’t received an award yet. Some might get discouraged by this, but again, for me getting nominated by more and more by people I look up to means more than receiving an award.
Partly because the award is meant to recognize the work you’ve done for the community and these nominations basically do the same thing in my opinion.
But also because by just being active in the community, you already receive a ton of recognition and you learn so much.

* the amount of MVPs worldwide was borrowed from Kevin Kline’s MVP blog post here.

Microsoft Professional Program – Data Science

Last year, from oktober 2016 up to january 2017, I participated in Microsoft’s Professional Program, specifically the Data Science track.
It was only the 1st public iteration of the program but back then it already felt like a mature course.
This probably had to do with the fact that there had already been a private run of the course in the months before.
David Eldersveld (twitter | blog) was one of the participants in that original run and he gives you a high level overview on his blog.

In this post I’ll be going into a bit more detail and explain how I experienced the program.
In short, there was joy and there were tears.

Read on for the full story!

Read moreMicrosoft Professional Program – Data Science

I’m attending and presenting at… ALL THE EVENTS!

This year I’ve already presented at more events than I dreamt off at the start of the year (5).
And the invites keep coming in! (5 more!)
This is going to be a long read, a punishment from me to me because I slacked off in blogging in the past months.

So apart from being bored, there’s 2 reasons why you would want to read this post.
1) Interest in, but some fear of, attending and presenting at conferences, user group and community events in general.
2) You’re me from the future and you’re wondering about that amazement and the exciting feeling the young Jan had about these first events. You’re wondering about what fears you overcame and you want to look back at how it all started.

Expect to find the following:

  • UK Power BI Summit (2017/02/17)
  • Denver SQL Server User Group (2017/03/17)
  • Battle of the Beards (2017/03/29)
  • SQL Saturday Israel (2017/04/26)
  • Belgian Information Worked User Group (2017/05/09)
  • in short: 5 more events to find me at before the end of june!

So whichever reason you have, come on in and start reading!

Read moreI’m attending and presenting at… ALL THE EVENTS!

Rubbing DevOps on your Database

DLM Lifecycle

I’ve had quite a busy year and one of the things I’ve done was attend a 3 day Database Lifecycle Management (DLM) training.
If you’re into DevOps, Continuous Integration (CI) , Continuous Delivery or Deployment (CD) or you’re just automating as much as possible, then it’s very likely you’ll run into some challenges regarding your databases.

For most people, overcoming these challenges cost a lot of time.
But even before you can spend a lot of time overcoming your challenges, you’ll notice that there are a ton of tools out there that can help you.
So you’ll first have to pick the tools you’re going to use and then you need to learn how to use them.

This brings us back to the training I got to attend thanks to my employer Ordina.
More specifically, they were 3 workshops lead by Alex Yates (blog | twitter) from DLM Consultants (website | twitter).
In total they covered the 3 different main parts of the Database Lifecycle Management process.

  • Database Source Control
  • Database Continuous Integration
  • Database Release Management

Read on for my experience with these full-day online workshops.

Read moreRubbing DevOps on your Database

Back from a break in 2016

What a year!
2016 just flew by and I almost missed it!
Let’s recap what I think are some highlights of the year:

Community

  • SQL Server 2016
    We got a ton of Community Tech Preview (CTP) versions and then launch of the latest SQL Server version
  • Power BI became even more incredible than before
    And everyone is loving it!
  • Azure Data Factory became a lot easier to use
    But it seems to be getting no love yet
  • Azure Machine Learning got some incredible new features
    Opening a lot of possibilities which I’m not seeing covered by anyone yet!
  • I presented my first webinar
    And luckily there’s room for improvement 🙂
  • The SQL Community Slack channel
    Which is a great resource to get in touch with other community members
  • PASS Summit 2016, Ignite 2016 and ML & DS Summit 2016 all came and went. I still haven’t watched everything I wanted to see from these great events.

Personal

  • I made a bazillion draft posts for this blog.
    And I’m going to start completing and posting them.
  • I started writing a book.
    And that’s way harder then I previously imagined.
  • I taught a couple of SQL Server and BI related classes to 2 groups of starters at Ordina, the company I work at.
  • Teaching others helps me get new insights as well.
    Mainly in how I bring some types of content to particular audiences and how I can help others grow.
  • I’ve started participating in a couple of user groups
    Most notably: satRdays and as readers of my blog already know: Virtual Global Power BI User Group
  • I participated in the new SQL Server beta exams
    They were not at all comparable to the ones for SQL 2012/2014. In my opinion they were much harder but also less related to real world things. I’m sure they will change a lot before going live but a blog post about them will follow soon.
  • I’ve started the MPP courses from academy.microsoft.com after a couple of tweets with David Eldersveld (blog | twitter).
    He’s also made a great post about it, go read it.

What’s next?

This blog and everything else community related are things that always keep going forward.
With so much new things appearing, my first instinct is to play around with those things before posting anything about it.
However, I’ve learnt that sharing while you learn is something most people seem to appreciate. People tend to love following the growing process. I can only guess that it helps them measure their own progress.

I’m also sure that a lot more cool stuff will be happening in the community in the coming months and years.
Until then, let’s try together to keep up with all things data related.
So if you have questions or want me to blog about something in particular, please contact me via the comments or on twitter!

This is my second post to catch up on a year of saving drafts, watch out for more.

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