Interview – Stacia Varga

I decided to start a series of blogs where I interview key people in the SQL Server community. Instead of me asking technical questions, I plan on asking about their outlook on the future, books they read (non-fiction and/or technical),  and their overall thoughts on where technology (mainly SQL Server) is headed. You can find more interviews here.

Next up: Stacia Varga (b | t): Stacia Varga

Mohammad: Do you think people who dismiss the cloud as a “fad” or just don’t take it serious enough to learn about it (i.e. Azure, AWS, etc), will be in a tough spot to find a job 5 years from now?

Stacia: I think projecting out the evolution of SQL Server even a couple of years from now, let alone 5 years, is difficult to do, given the more rapid pace of release cycles of the product along with changes in computing architectures both on-prem and in the cloud. I’m not sure I would say that the technology would be “more” cloud-focused, either. Instead, I think it’s safe to say that the ability to move between on-prem and the cloud will be more seamless because the trade-offs will not be due to feature differences between the platforms. In my opinion, marketplace demand will ultimately determine whether the cloud version should ever surpass the on-prem version of SQL Server in terms of features and functions.

Mohammad: What are you most proud of doing/accomplishing for the SQL Server community so far in your career?

Stacia: Much of the work I do (classroom training, video training, conference events, books, and mentoring my clients) revolves around helping people learn how to work with technology effectively. In many cases, people learn enough not only to solve a problem their organization is facing (which is very rewarding for me to be a part of), but they also are able to advance their careers. I’m very pleased when I hear of the positive impact my work has had on someone at a personal level. Of this group, some wind up with the confidence and the knowledge to contribute to the SQL Server community as well, and that makes me proudest of all.

Mohammad: What non-technical/non-fiction book/s would you recommend? If you only read technical books…what do you recommend?

Stacia: Taking this question at face value, I really can’t recommend non-technical/non-fiction to an audience I don’t know. I’m a consultant, so my stock answer… it depends. I’d ask an individual what topics they like, and then I could make a recommendation based on my experience! I have a wide variety of interests (too many according to my husband), so I’m sure I’d come up with something. As for technical books, I tend to focus on topics and authors related to the business intelligence and analytics aspects of the Microsoft data platform. Anything written by Marco Russo, Alberto Ferrari, Chris Webb, Paul Turley, Dejan Sarka, and Jen Stirrup are the first to come to mind. I’ve also been reading books on data visualization theory, data science, R, Python, Hadoop, and big data in general.

Mohammad: For someone who’s career focus has been on one aspect of SQL Server (i.e. high availability), do you think it would be wise for them to become a “jack of all trades” by starting to learn, SSRS/IS/Azure, etc. or remain focused on their area of expertise? In another words, which would you say is more valuable? mile wide / inch deep or inch wide / mile deep?

Stacia: This is a difficult question to answer because everyone’s circumstances in terms of opportunity and interests are different. There is no right or wrong answer here. I think everyone should have some familiarity with the various technologies – maybe not inch-deep level, but enough to understand where a technology fits into the stack, what it’s good for and what it’s not good for, what impact its use is going to have (for better or worse) on the overall architecture and/or database engine, etc. Is that half-inch or three-quarters? I don’t know. The key to career, in my opinion, is doing what you love and being of service to your team and your organization. If that means expanding your skills to cover other areas, go for it. If it means being the absolute best at one thing, go for it. And recognize that the answer changes over time and place.

Interview – Steve Jones

I decided to start a series of blogs where I interview key people in the SQL Server community. Instead of me asking technical questions, I plan on asking about their outlook on the future, books they read (non-fiction and/or technical),  and their overall thoughts on where technology (mainly SQL Server) is headed. You can find more interviews here.

Next up: Steve Jones (b | t): Steve Jones

Mohammad: Do you think people who dismiss the cloud as a “fad” or just don’t take it serious enough to learn about it (i.e. Azure, AWS, etc), will be in a tough spot to find a job 5 years from now?

Steve: SQL Server is advancing so rapidly, that I struggle to think where we might be five years from now. I certainly expect that we’ll have 4 more versions by 2022 and be on v18. With the pressure to add features to sell new versions, I expect Microsoft to both push the envelope of SQL Server with new concepts, but also add many more under-developed, unfinished, and perhaps abandoned features.

There will definitely be a greater cloud focus, with new concepts like Stretch DB that seek to build a hybrid approach. I’m not sure how much greater adoption we’ll see, as pricing and usefulness might limit adoption, as has happened with StretchDB.

I do expect a convergence of technologies, with more of the Cognitive Services being integrated into SQL Server, likely as function calls, and requiring some connection to Azure from your local instance. Again, there will be lots of concerns here, but many of the instances in a company might not contain any sensitive information and be used almost as application servers for some specific purpose.

I do think a more intelligent optimizer and additional tuning options will come from integrating a SQL Server database with the Azure cloud to make more recommendations, perhaps even ways that queries might be better constructed while returning the same results.

Lastly, I think that some of the CosmosDB technologies will merge with SQL Server and I’d expect that we will see (in Azure first), easy connections to consume or query other APIs in SQL Server. I’m actually surprised that MongoDB wasn’t included ahead of graph in SQL Server 2017, but I expect it to come.

Mohammad: Do you ever see the traditional SQL Server DBA role being replaced/eliminated?

Steve: I don’t want to waffle, but yes and no. The traditional DBA that needs to manage a certain number of instances and ensure they perform well, with 90% of their time spent on administrative tasks is likely to diminish. These days many sysadmins are becoming more capable of building SQL Server instances on demand, using tools like Chef, Puppet, and DSC. At the same time, many development tools are taking over some of the complexity of building applications against SQL Server.

This doesn’t mean either of these groups can do a better job than a focused DBA, but there’s a bar of value for the job. I think far too many DBAs aren’t focused on the value they provide and instead focus on doing a job that’s needed. As the need might erode, or the value over some other tool/framework/person diminishes, I can see that companies might choose to not hire additional DBAs, not replace DBAs that leave, or even look to move DBAs to new jobs.

That being said, many companies are very slow to change and I expect there will be traditional DBAs in many companies in five years if they have them today.

My concern is that far too many DBAs are complacent today and not improving or adding skills that may be important if they need to change employers.

Mohammad: What are you most proud of doing/accomplishing for the SQL Server community so far in your career?

Steve: I’m most proud of building a community at SQLServerCentral. I constantly hear from people how the site has helped them at some point in their careers. While I’ve written and spoken many times, it’s the collective community coming together at SQLServerCentral that has really touched many others. I’m proud and honored to have been a the steward of the site for so many years.

A close second would be the creation of SQL Saturday. That was originally Andy Warren’s idea, one that I wasn’t confident would succeed, but it’s grown in a way I never foresaw. I’m glad I supported Andy and I try to continue to support the franchise today under the PASS brand.

Mohammad: What non-technical/non-fiction book/s would you recommend? If you only read technical books…what do you recommend?

Steve: I read a lot. For a few years I used to track books I read and managed to complete over 100 in a year a few times. That became too cumbersome, especially during international travel when I might finish a book or two on a plane and forget to write a short review. My interests vary, though I lean towards more fiction as a release and break from a busy life.

For technical books, I’m reading R in a Nutshell now, which isn’t a great read. It’s tough to go through and delves more into the technical aspects of the language aspects rather than teaching more practical uses. Still, it’s a good background.

My technical recommendations would be:

For other books, I think a variety is good. I’ll give a couple recommendations in different genres that people might enjoy:

Mohammad: For someone who’s career focus has been on one aspect of SQL Server (i.e. high availability), do you think it would be wise for them to become a “jack of all trades” by starting to learn, SSRS/IS/Azure, etc. or remain focused on their area of expertise? In another words, which would you say is more valuable? mile wide / inch deep or inch wide / mile deep?

Steve: I dislike this view of your career, or really much of the world around us. Things are more complex and nuanced than doing x or y. I see my children, and many others, often viewing an issue or choice as between two ends of a spectrum when there are many choices between those ends.

Between being a mile wide/inch deep and inch wide/mile deep there are many other places. I would say that you should view your career in two ways. First, as I hear in yoga constantly (often as I struggle to maintain some posture), impermanence is a part of our world. Making a decision about what to learn or improve in your career isn’t a lifelong decision. Don’t be paralyzed by the weight of a decision on what to learn. Whether you choose to focus more on the engine or expand to ETL/SSIS, you can change your mind.

Second, I would recommend that you continue to move forward, but try to evaluate what you’re learning periodically to determine if it’s a good fit for you. The fit can be that this technology advances your career (or gives you options) or that you enjoy it. Either one of those is a win for you.

To give you a better answer, I’d aim to do two things at any one time. One, deepen some aspect of what you know well. I think I know quite a bit about the engine, but I also realize there is a lot I don’t know. I’m not even sure of the volume of what I don’t know. It’s possible there’s more I need to learn than I know now.

Second, I always think gaining knowledge about new areas is a good idea. I’ll never know if I find some technology interesting. I also never know when some problem might be related to what I know. I’ve found that my knowledge of networking, storage, C, email protocols, and more have helped me solve a problem whose issue wasn’t related.

Andy Warren and I once debated the idea of learning and how much can you learn in a year. We decided that a focused individual, working full time, could likely pick up 2 skills in a year with 100 hours of work. Most of us could manage 50 hours and one “advanced intermediate” level of skill if we try. More than that is tough, but possible if you are really motived.

Above all, strive for balance. We work to live, not live to work.

Interview – Pedro Lopes

I decided to start a series of blogs where I interview key people in the SQL Server community. Instead of me asking technical questions, I plan on asking about their outlook on the future, books they read (non-fiction and/or technical),  and their overall thoughts on where technology (mainly SQL Server) is headed. You can find more interviews here.

Next up: Pedro Lopes (b | t): Pedro Lopes

Mohammad: Do you think people who dismiss the cloud as a “fad” or just don’t take it serious enough to learn about it (i.e. Azure, AWS, etc), will be in a tough spot to find a job 5 years from now?

Pedro: Definitely will – the cloud is here to stay. PaaS and SaaS models add a lot of flexibility to business and operations, and the elasticity to adjust to volatile workloads is unparalleled in cloud as compared to an on-premise data center. The 1st wave is non-critical workloads moving to the cloud, but we are already seeing trends of customers wanting to use Azure for critical workloads, namely now that cloud vendors (namely Azure) are compliant with more security certifications. Azure Managed Instance is also step in this direction, allowing a database layer of an app to just lift and shift to Azure maintaining the concept and manageability of a SQL Server instance.

Mohammad: Do you ever see the traditional SQL Server DBA role being replaced/eliminated?

Pedro: Traditional, as in running backups and such? Yes it will be eliminated, and that’s a good thing. Those are repetitive tasks that should be automated anyway. However, the role of a DBA as a shepherd of the database service, devoting skills to performance tuning, security management is far from over. And with new capabilities coming to the engine (R, PolyBase, engine now running on Linux) that require integration, a DBA role is centerstage in this regard. So in summary, a DBA won’t get replaced, if a DBA keeps updating its skills to continue to be relevant. Isn’t it the same in any job?

Mohammad: What are you most proud of doing/accomplishing for the SQL Server community so far in your career?

Pedro: personally, because it is rooted in one of the most recurrent topics in the community, is the work we’ve been doing to make query troubleshooting so much easier, with all the showplan diagnostics we’ve been adding (link) – and we’re are not done :)

Mohammad: What non-technical/non-fiction book/s would you recommend? If you only read technical books…what do you recommend?

Pedro: Technical books, I still keep the Internals series at hand. But the tech world is evolving at a pace tech books don’t remain relevant for long. For example I’ve been dedicating some of my time to making sure SQL Server online documentation keeps updated and relevant – it’s like writing a book that you need to go back to every couple months. Most of internals stuff is available at this quick URL.

Non-technical, I’ve just started on What Happened by Hillary Clinton, and I’d recommend Hit Refresh by Satya also.

Mohammad: For someone who’s career focus has been on one aspect of SQL Server (i.e. high availability), do you think it would be wise for them to become a “jack of all trades” by starting to learn, SSRS/IS/Azure, etc. or remain focused on their area of expertise? In another words, which would you say is more valuable? mile wide / inch deep or inch wide / mile deep?

Pedro: Very difficult to answer: remain vigilant, remain relevant. I just had a good friend and colleague move from a role where he was solely dedicated to Storage Engine, to a more architectural role where he needs to gain deal with breadth rather than depth. What I mean is, don’t be oblivious to the world racing by you, at the very least, if you are deep in Engine like you say, make sure Azure, BI and such are not completely strange to you.