ASF 004: Mark Broadbent interview

ASF 004: Mark Broadbent interview

Introduction

Mark Broadbent. Very active member of #SQLFamily, loves communicate via social media. Organizer of the very first SQL Saturday in United Kingdom – in Cambridge. Holder of very prestigious title MCM and MVP for couple years (but everybody knows that he deserved for that many years ago).
A perfectionist who always firmly involved in everything he does.

This talk was recorded during SQL Saturday #632 in Cambridge, UK, on Saturday 9th September 2017.

Do you know what joke is circulating around Mark’s MVP award and when was the first SQL Saturday in the United Kingdom? What type of mantra does Mark profess and why he thinks himself as few emotional guy? What are the Ten Bulls and what is its significance to anything?
Find out all above and more directly from the podcast of “Ask SQL Family”.

Transcript

Kamil Nowinski: Hi, Mark.

Mark Broadbent: Hello there.

Kamil Nowinski: This is an interview that is meant to show you not only as a professional but as a normal person, show your habits, show what you do in your everyday life, maybe not very private life but…

Mark Broadbent: That may be not very interesting but I’ll do my best!

KN: You never know! But yeah, we’ll be talking about a lot of different things. So let’s start at the beginning and from a really simple thing. What is your name and where are you living?

MB: Ok, so my name is Mark Broadbent. I’m currently living in one of the smallest, not the smallest but one of the smallest cities in England -which is called Ely. The reason it’s called Ely is historically from Middle Ages when most of the area was all under water and it was well known for its eel population and even now, it’s still well known for having quite a lot of eels. Ely is about 15 miles outside of Cambridge.

KN: That’s why you chose Cambridge for the event.

MB: Exactly. If I ever wanted to downscale, I’d move the event to Ely.

KN: OK, and what do you do for the living? I know something about it but…

MB: So, I work primarily in SQL Server, as a consultant/contractor. For the last couple of pieces of work that I’ve done, they were all performance tuning-related. I’m currently working as a BI developer, which for me is kind of interesting because I’ve always tended to side on the DBA administrative side of things. I think it’s obvious to everyone that BI and business analytics are heavily on the rise (as well as machine learning), sSo it’s certainly an area I’m wanting to move into, particularly so that I can keep paying my bills.

KN: And that’s the future of IT and everyone probably needs to go in that direction.

MB: Yeah, well I’m still waiting for the day that a robot can do my job and then I can go and sunbathe all day.

KN: Yeah. Let’s talk about your blog and your Twitter, Facebook activity. Are you a fan of social media?

MB: I think if you’d asked me that a couple of years ago, I would’ve definitely say “yes”. I love the way that social media can connect us all. For instance, we knew each other long before we’ve met face to face, purely because of social media. And I think when you can put faces to people, you’re not having to waste time on that uncomfortable stage of getting to know someone. You already know what they’re about by that stage. The reason that I’ve become a little bit negative with social media is because of a lot of the political things that have been going on recently and the way that a lot of people are being shut down just because they hold completely different view. I’ve been guilty myself of posting political tweets or political posts, stating what my opinion is on things and as a result had a lot of negative comments from social justice warriors who just want to shut others down -which makes me angry. So I’ve decided to try and keep social media just purely technical-focused talking about all those irrelevant things such as “I’m having a really bad day today” or “The train ride is terrible today“ -those kind of things. I think it’s better when everyone gets on and are friends, rather than fighting.

KN: Yeah, basically people don’t like the politics. Different people have different opinions.

MB: Let me tell you about my blog because for me the blog was really the starting point of everything. I was one of those frustrated people in my company. At the time, my ideas were kind of ignored by management, and I felt they were very good ideas. I came to a realisation that it wasn’t so much that I wanted them to do what I was saying, it was more that I wanted someone to acknowledge they were good ideas. And this was the whole reason I started blogging. I thought if I could just put my ideas out there, how I do something, how things are done, not only could the whole world contradict me and say “Actually, you might find this is a better way to do it” but I might actually help other people in those things that they might not know how to do themselves. I might even get people say “Thank you very much for helping me”. But it was more me just getting my stuff out there so I was no longer this frustrated individual that was being ignored. The aim of my blog is (I guess) interesting to some, it’s called tenbulls.co.uk. I think everyone goes through their Buddhist phase or as an interest in Buddhism and I like the Buddhist mantra of being good to everyone and everything -treat everything with respect, including animals. We all (to varying degrees) adhere to that as far as we can. Ten bulls are (I’m not really sure how to describe this) but there are some wooden prints, Buddhist prints, where they describe a man’s journey with a bull and how he tames the bull. And the ten bulls are the steps to enlightenment. So what I’ve got on my blog for the description is titled the steps to enlightenment with SQL Server and…

KN: A few days ago I went through those ten points.

MB: I think Buddhist philosophy has a lot of… even if you’re not religious in any way, shape or form, it’s a good lifestyle to have I think. I don’t always adhere to it but you know, I like to think I’m a good person.

KN: OK, you mentioned something about respect for animals. Does this mean you’re a vegetarian?

MB: This is where I said I don’t always adhere to it because I did, at… I can’t remember how long ago it was now, but myself and my wife both did become vegetarians and we were vegetarians for over 10 years. The reason we stopped being vegetarians, we had two children and at the time our first child started to pick up really bad eating habits and we want our children to decide their future and their life, so the minute anything meat came on the table at school it was “Oh no, I’m not eating that because it’s meat”. Or questions about whether the food had “meat in it”. So, I made a conscious decision with the wife that ultimately they were more important than our personal ethics, and we can’t have them picking up our bad habits, so I actually forced myself back onto meat, which was probably one of the hardest things I’ve actually done. To eat that first piece of meat (it was a bacon sandwich) was really difficult because when you walk through a supermarket, as a vegetarian, you smell so much meat around the place, and it always used to make me feel really sick and I wasn’t sure how I was gonna react eating that first very first piece of meat.

KN: And you know this data like “the meat consumption is growing and growing every year”?

MB: Yeah, I think when my kids have grown up and moved out, there’s a very good chance I’ll become maybe not a vegetarian, maybe a pescatarian, so just eating fish. Its when somebody doesn’t eat red meat or chicken but they eat fish and seafood. You’re getting a lot of protein that way. I also found it’s very difficult (certainly in England) to be a vegetarian because (certainly from a fast food’s perspective) to just go somewhere and get some food quickly – it’s all meat.

KN: Because it’s very cheap, unfortunately. OK, let’s go back to your company. You were doing your stuff across the whole of UK or…?

MB: I will go wherever somebody wants me. Obviously if I do travel into Europe to do some work which very rarely happens, it would obviously have to be financially viable for me to do that but yes, my work is really focused in the UK. And primarily I do most of my work in London. I work with a lot of financial companies so most of it is in London.

KN: OK, London is not very close to you…

MB: It’s not too bad, though. Every day, I probably spend about an hour and 20 minutes going in there so it’s time to read a book or… One direction.

KN: And which one was first, your blog or SQLSaturday in Cambridge?

MB: My blog. I think I started my blog in 2009 and the first SQLSaturday in Cambridge, if I remember correctly was 2012.

KN: OK, so this is the 5th or 6th edition?

MB: I think it’s… we had one year where we couldn’t run due to personal circumstances, so I think it’s the 5th.

KN: How big is the team that prepares this event?

MB: That’s a very good question. At the moment, I primarily do 90% of the work, and my wife also does a substantial amount of work and that probably makes up the other 5–7%. And this year, we’ve got SharePoint MVP called Paul Hunt, who’s joined the team and I’m hoping… and he’s doing a good job so far, I’m hoping he’s gonna become a really key figure from the SharePoint front and we can both work well together. He’s doing a cracking job so far today, leading the volunteer team at very short notice, so yeah. I think my biggest problem with this event has always been the delegation of tasks. I’ve had people in the past doing stuff and it’s always been very difficult, partly because I’m very protective about the stuff I do, because I wanted them to a certain level, exactly how I want it. And I think one of my weaknesses as a person is that I’m expecting much from people as well. I think that’s my biggest challenge going forward. To try and make this event not just seen as “Oh, this is Mark Broadbent’s event,” I want it to be seen as an event in its own right. And the day will come when I don’t want to do this anymore, because it does consume a lot of my life and I want it to still keep running. Even if it becomes a different event, like some time in the future SQL Server and SharePoint in their current format are not gonna be SQL Server and SharePoint -I personally believe. So I would like the event (whatever it’s called -and I know there’s Azure Saturdays starting now already) to continue without me.

KN: So, because of those things, are you a perfectionist?

MB: I really am. I’ll give you one example. I noticed I check things over and over again until I’m 100% happy. But I noticed that one of our sponsors in one place in our literature had an “i” of their name missing in one of the agendas that I had sent out. I was really annoyed about that since we had already instructed printers to start printing our schedules. So I said to the printer “Stop, we’re gonna get this “i” in.” and they did it for me, but lo and behold, I forgot to update my own material so yesterday when I sent out the electronic brochure to everyone, it had that missing “i“. That really annoyed me. I’m too much of a perfectionist but as DBAs, I always say we need to be pessimistic (that the worst could happen). We have to expect the worst and you have to have pride in what you do. It does slow you down, but at the end of the day, problems do not happen as often and your services will crash less.. If they crash, you’ll be prepared. You’ll know exactly what to do, you’ll have your disaster plan ready, so it does help with those kind of things. Plan B and also plan C.

KN: How long, or from which version, have you been working with SQL Server?

MB: I believe I started in 1997. SQL Server 6.5. And either 1998 or 1999 was my first clustered experience. So it was SQL Server 6.5 running on a Windows NT 4.0 cluster. The NT 4.0 back then was called Wolfpack, the NT 4.0 Cluster was called Wolfpack. The whole reason my career kind of veered off into an HADR avenue was my experience there, and it was because I was exposed to a serious disaster of the cluster. We had, it was the financial management at the time, and I made no secrets that nobody was allowed to go in to the server room at all without my permission. Anyway, one evening, I had the financial manager coming up to me and say “Going to the pub now, you’re welcome to join us but by the way, we’ve just had a vendor install some software on this server and I hadn’t noticed them go in to the server room. The whole cluster died when they were down at the pub. So that was a nightmare because I didn’t know enough about how to recover the thing at that stage. I spent a very bad weekend thinking that I’m gonna have to just hand in my notice, just to resign from the company because I couldn’t bring their system back online, or I didn’t think I could. Luckily, by Monday morning it was up and running. So from that experience, I told myself I will never ever put myself in a situation where I don’t know what to do.

KN: And what kind of specific tools do you use in your work?

MB: At the moment, it’s primarily SSIS, which for me is good because before SQL Server 2005 came out SSIS was introduced (before that we had DTS). I’d used DTS a lot and I’ve also been exposed to SSIS periodically since 2005. So every now and again, I’d need to go and write a package here and there and never touch it again for another six months. It got to a stage with me that I felt that I never really truly learned SSIS, so being exposed to it day-in day-out now is really good for me, cause even though I know SSIS still doesn’t have enough love from Microsoft at the moment, I still think in many businesses, SSIS is gonna be around for a very long time. And I think there are a few things to come in in SSIS that people potentially may like. But we will see how that goes!.

KN: Do you use some tool to compare the meta data between versions, between the code…, from SSIS perspective?

MB: No. I had my first exposure with BIML recently, which I think in our company would be a godsend. But the problem is getting companies to accept software and sadly, they don’t like to try new things. So at the moment any code comparison tool for that, and it would be good to have something.

KN: As a speaker, how do you prepare yourself for your speech, for a session?

MB: That’s a very good question. When I first started, I used to put an awful lot of energy into it, I think if you are not confident about your speaking ability (even now I look at myself and I don’t feel like I’m a good speaker) you can still get through a session and produce some good material -but I’m always my biggest critic.

KN: Because you’re a perfectionist.

MB: Exactly. So I’ve done sessions and people have come up to me and said “great session” and I think they’re actually taking the mickey. I think they’re just joking -that’s what I’m saying to myself. But how I used to do has changed. Years ago, when I worked in a data centre (when I first started speaking) I would actually go into the server room and I would go through the entire session speaking to servers out loud, which was interesting because the very first session I did, I am almost shouting at the audience! Obviously when you’re trying to project your voice with servers humming in the background, you start getting very loud. So that was something I had to try and be careful of, not to shout too loudly, especially when I’m on a microphone. As years went on, I probably do less and less rehearsal as such, but what I would always try and do is this. I would try and run through a session perfectly once and have it recorded. And this is my top tip: I would have it recorded (because I hate listening to my own voice as I’m speaking) so I don’t have to keep listening to my own voice in real time. When I’ve got this really good session, you can piece it together, just in sound bites, but then when you play it along, it’s now a perfect session. A Dictaphone is really good for this and then you can rearrange it all so you end up with a perfect session. Now I would just replay the session over and over and listen to it. I’ve got a fairly good memory. I won’t say photographic memory, but I’ve got a fairly good memory, and I’ll just play it over and over and just watch the slides as I’m listening. By the time I’m ready for my session, I’ve pretty much learned the session so that I’m not having to stand up and practice speaking at all. I’m just listening to myself over again. Obviously, demos have to be practiced as well. So, while it all works, I think in reality it could be improved by maybe one or two rehearsals as well. But you know, I’ve got so little time these days that that’s partially why “I cheat”.

KN: Let’s talk about the MVP. How long …?

MB: So I think I was first awarded in January 2016, and it became almost a running joke for a lot of speakers who are friends of mine that I didn’t get awarded (I’d been speaking Internationally since 2010). And one of the reasons why I hadn’t got awarded up to that time was because I think there was a freeze in the UK on new MVPs so even though you were potentially doing loads of things in the community and maybe were even at a certain technical level, there was perhaps nothing they (MSUK) could do about it because they obviously have a budget to have only a certain number of MVPs -but Microsoft now seemed to have turned that on the head in the UK and more and more new people are getting MVPs, so I suspect I was one of the first batch of “new” MVPs. And it’s funny because the year that I did get awarded it, I’d had 20 nominations all at the same time. I don’t what the record is but for me at least that felt like a lot. But I think my biggest problem with the getting the MVP award -is that now they could take it away! So, it’s always one of these things that I don’t take too seriously, and I’ll be entirely honest with you, when I got my MCM, the Certified Master certification, I was literally punching the air in delight and jumping around the house, but when I got the MVP, even though I was delighted to get it and pleased I have it, it wasn’t the same mode of elation. Because there’s an awful lot of people out in the community contributing to its success and it’s very easy to not get appreciation or feel like you are getting recognition for these things. What I really don’t like is when people get awarded the MVP and then they start acting in a different way, like they’re super-special. I think all of us are the same, even people that just attend events, we’re all the same, we’re all on the same level, some of us may spend a bit more time maybe doing a bit more community stuff, some of us may spend more time doing technical stuff but we shouldn’t really feel any different or special because of that.

KN: But still, it’s an award. If you are MVP, you can feel like a special guy.

MB: While we’re all on this broadcast, what I would really love to happen with the MVP programme (and it’s something I have mentioned when we’ve had these discussions in MVP discussion) is I would really love there to be like a… If financial things were a consideration for the numbers of MVPs, I would like there to be something extra that maybe is just a stepping stone into the MVP.  Something like: “We recognise you as being technically gifted and contributing your gifts to the community, and you’re kind of almost there, so you’re on this initial stepping stone programme. Now you have insight into all our up-and-coming technologies and you can contribute to the community better. Because of this, you have more connections, more leverage with Microsoft and more say what happens. Keep going!” And from that, there’d be a lot more people, a lot more community, and then the next step is just saying “Well done, you’ve now achieved the level we want”. So, I think there needs to be something like that, rather than what appear to some as random awards. Sometimes, It really does almost seem like a random selection of people from the outside.

KN: Do you think that this is random currently?

MB: It’s not random, I’m being very unfair in how I’m talking about this. It’s not random but I think… I’ll give you an example: if nobody had ever voted for me or nominated me, doesn’t mean I almost definitely wouldn’t get the award. Usually, someone must nominate you (but perhaps not in every single time). You could (if you are that much of an egotist) nominate yourself though! I do try to nominate people. If I’ve seen people do a lot on the community, I will nominate people. I mean, they obviously have to be up to a certain technical level as well but I will nominate people because I think it’s important that people get recognised. Even just the nomination for some people is enough, and I will always explain how it works as well. You’re not guaranteed anything, you’ll not be notified if you don’t get the award. Don’t be upset about it, I keep trying to nominate and see what happens down the line, so just keep doing what you do. But I don’t think it’s important that people… people should not work towards the MVP, they should see it as like a fringe benefit almost, I think.

KN: Just do what you want to do and that’s it, focus on that. Do you remember your MCM exam?

MB: I certainly do, yeah. It was the second strain of the MCM exams. There was the version… Microsoft initially had the Ranger programme, where people would have to physically be on Microsoft premises in Redmond, and they would spend, if I remember correctly, it was either a week or two weeks there, and it cost about £10,000-£20,000 do it. Very, very restrictive, you had to get your company to sponsor you to do that. And even back then, I was thinking “I’m gonna save that £10,000 to do this. It’s gonna take me a few years to make me save that up, but I’m gonna do that.” And then they changed the name of the Ranger program into the MCM, and they still had that for a time where you had to visit for a week or two weeks and pay the money. And then, I think it was like 2010–2011, and I really became aware of the MCM through people like Brent Ozar who were blogging about it some of the time, and then they changed it so that all you needed to do, was you had to do an almost 4-hour knowledge exam, which was a bit like we’re all used to the Microsoft multiple-choice or multiple-guess exams but it was a little bit more intense than that. The questions were a lot cleverer. But even just sitting an exam for 4 hours in itself, regardless of the fact it’s multiple choice, that was quite a hard exam to do. I passed my knowledge exam in 2012 I think. And then we also had what’s known as the Lab exam, where you physically have to dial in two Microsoft’s premises and you connect to their servers and the lab environment, and I can describe it as this: imagine your very worst day at a company when absolutely everything that could go wrong, goes wrong. And this is exactly what we had. We had scenarios, if I remember, there were 12 questions. Doesn’t actually sound very much in itself but there were 12 questions, you could spend half an hour to an hour on just one of those. So what you have to do is kind of look at these things and think “How long am I gonna spend on this thing” and I don’t think I’ll break an NDA saying this, but on the very first question, it was one of these gotchas where to arrive at the solution, it would take you… and it was a backup and restore, to actually get the right answer would take you at least 30 minutes, if not longer. Or could kill you for about an hour. And now you’ve got 3 hours left to do the rest of it. So that was one of those little gotchas. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it was also one of the best I think. You also had a camera that was pointing on you and recording you, so they could actually see your movements. You couldn’t see who it was but they could see you and make sure you weren’t cheating or looking in books or asking your best friend. Maybe Brent Ozar, asking him for the answers! You were allowed 5 minute breaks to just go off and get a cup of coffee every now and again.

KN: And check the book again.

MB: Yeah, make sure your books were downstairs! And all the paperwork as well! You’re allowed to… I can’t remember now if you actually were allowed to write anything down, because you certainly weren’t allowed to take any paper away. But I’ll tell you what I did. What I did is write after the exam, after I’d sat the Lab, I actually wrote from my memory, just wrote everything down I remembered. And I didn’t pass first time. Probably most MCMs did not pass first time cause it was that hard. But obviously I would then go and research things that I was very weak in and then finally got the MCM. When I found out, it was at 5am and I had to go to work  two hours later, having been up most of the night. I had to go to work but I was literally punching the air, tweeting away how happy I was. There’s quite a nice photo where I have some of my friends who also took the same journey as me sat together in a restaurant. You’ll have heard of Edwin Sarmiento probably, who’s quite well known in the SQL and HA community. And he was on the SQL Skills course with me and there’s a guy called Shawn Gallardy as well, Ryan Rhineheart as well was with us. And a couple of other people who became friends. But there’s a shot of us at the table, and everyone you can see in the shot got their MCM before Microsoft cancelled it.

KN: Congratulations!

MB: Shame they retired it but there you go.

KN: What is your hobby? Do you have any hobbies?

MB: I used to have hobbies, when I had a life. I’ve got two young children and I guess any time that I’m not doing anything technical or business-oriented, or event planning, speaking, I’m generally just spending with them. There was a time I could tell you lots of different hobbies I used to do which I struggle to remember now but one of the things I’m still quite passionate about is film. When I was a lot younger, I used to record every single film on telly and I had a film book, like a thesaurus almost of films and reviews of films. So, what I would do I would watch a film and I’d give my own little review. And I was watching an awful lot of films! Every day I was watching about 3–4 films. I’m a big fan of black and white films. My favourite film of all time is Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum. It’s quite a famous black and white film. Robert Mitchum plays a “preacher” who is actually a prisoner, but then he’s released. He’s a really bad guy, a token bad guy. He finds a widowed woman who has two small children and he basically marries her just to get her money and then he kills her. But her two children try to escape him but he comes after them because they actually buried the mother’s money to keep it safe, and he doesn’t know where it is. So, he’s gotta get these children and he’s gonna kill them when he finds them. One of the visual scenes in the film I really love (it’s a rather chilling image) is shown as the kids are escaping by boat. The way he killed the mother was (if I remember) by tying her up in the car and… it’s obviously an old -fashioned car, one of these open-top things, and he drove it and her into a lake. So there’s this amazingly horrific scene where these two children are fleeing Robert Mitchum, the preacher, and are rowing in this rowing boat over the water to escape -and it’s a really sunny day. The sun’s shining through the water and they row over the silhouette of their mother in this car, dead and tied up and they don’t notice it. It’s really a horrific thing but it’s also a beautiful visual to see as well. I really love that film.

KN: That sounds really interesting. I must watch that film. But probably these days you don’t have time…

MB: Not as much. When I do less speaking and less event running…

KN: And have less children, I guess it’s not possible now. So how about your life-work balance, how is that you can…

MB: My children would tell you that I do far too much work. I find it quite hard really to switch off from work and my life but if I have definitely turned off from work, don’t try calling me, don’t try emailing me cause I’m not gonna reply to you. But generally, I spend too much time doing work and I do need to maybe get more work-life balance and spend more time with the kids I think. Something I’m really working on. Last year for instance, I did so much travelling, my wife said to me… in fact she said to me over social media, funnily enough (that shows you how often I was away)! She said to me over social media: “Looking forward to next weekend. It’s the first weekend in 3 months that my husband will be around”. I was doing so many events and it also cost a lot of money. I ask why am I doing all this, what benefit do I have from doing it. But it’s almost a thrill when you speak, it becomes an addiction. It’s very hard to keep up.

KN: So you’re still looking for this perfect way…

MB: This comes back down to more people, more volunteers getting involved and them all taking responsibility for the tasks I may have done in the past.

KN: How old are your children?

MB: 8 and 11. It’s an interesting age.

KN: I think it will be more interesting in the next 4 years.

MB: Yeah, and I’m not really looking forward to that, to be honest. They’re growing up far too quickly now. That’s one reason I wanna be around more just to…

KN: I can imagine. I have the same. I have two daughters, age 1 and 4 so also I’m working in London but the time to travel is one hour one way and one hour back. And also after work, I want to do something after my job, for example learning something new or checking something or just edit the podcast or just put some old post on my blog and I just put more work on my back.

MB: I find blogging really time-consuming. I never remember taking so long before. I had blog posts very recently, must’ve taken me 6 months to write because I kept writing and then it sounded rubbish. I kept going back to it and then adding this. Then came the day where I thought I had to get this pushed out so I spent like 5 hours tweaking it. And I pushed it out eventually and it became… I can’t even remember what it was now but it was something really basic on SQL Server. But it was just… I don’t know. To do with… I think it was doing financial count or something like that. No, it was conditional count. And I pushed it out and it was one of my biggest ever blog hits that I had ever had. Hundreds of hits within the first day, second day, third day, and I’m like “What’s going on, this is crazy!“

KN: So you found a very hot topic.

MB: Well, I don’t know whether something happened or… Sometimes when well-known people repost you or whatever, you do get a lot of hits. And I wasn’t sure if it was related to that or what but it was strange. That really showed me that you shouldn’t be too clever on the blog, just post something that’s relevant to you. Keep it simple, just get something out there. My biggest problem was always that I don’t want people to think… like if you publish “How to install SQL Server” for instance, you may think that’s gonna make me look like I don’t really know what I’m doing because “Who the hell doesn’t know how to install SQL Server?” So you have that mentality. But then I have another blog post I did, it was “How to install SharePoint 2013 on the Evaluation Edition of Windows,” if I remember correctly. At the time, you could only download the Evaluation RTM edition of Windows, you could not download the Evaluation edition with Service Pack 1.

KN: I remember the bug, I spent a lot of time to find the solution.

MB: This blog post, I’d spend ages in, I found lots of different sources but none of them actually tied up the answer neatly, concisely. And step by step, and it all worked. So, I basically look to all these different sources and then at myself: “Let’s just get it how I would want to.” That blog post is probably my most successful blog posts ever. And it’s SharePoint.

KN: I must double-check that.

MB: So anyway, I’ve got a 2016 version that I’m gonna have to do to keep the hits going!

Damian, so maybe you will start with your questions because I don’t have a lot of them currently.

Damian Widera: OK, I’ve got one more question about MCM. Maybe it was not yet posted, the question, so Mark, do you think it was a good move from Microsoft that this programme was killed like 3 or 4 years ago?

MB: That’s a very, very good question. No, I don’t. I think every MCM that sat the MCM believes the same thing as well. It’s funny because there’s a lot of people out there, well-known figures, I get this… a lot of my friends on Facebook who are SQL Server people, they’re quite critical of the MCM saying bad things like “Oh yeah, that’s why I’ll never sat the MCM.” It sounds to me almost like they want to justify in their heads why they don’t have one because it’s one of these silly, frivolous exams that Microsoft did. And my response to them is always the same, and I say “I never hear of an MCM saying that it was a waste of their time to do it.” And that maybe if you’d done it, you would realise what value it has. What you’ll get is a lot of MCMs who did sit the exam. They’re very passionate about the exam and I know fellow MCMs who I respect highly. I don’t actually know them personally but I respect them because I know what they went through to get the award. It wasn’t one of these things where you could do a transcender exam and then pass the test. It was a lot of work, a lot of white papers. And I think what Microsoft have done, they’ve almost put the MCM in… I’m trying to find of the right term but it’s almost one of these fantasy things now, where there’s these people called MCMs and there’s no way for other people to ever get in. So, I see other MCMs almost as like these fantasy figures almost. I think Microsoft really need to give all these top-quality SQL people some way to demonstrate to others how good they really are. I don’t think it’s fair that they can’t do that. There has been a lot of talk, you guys will probably be aware of the Microsoft professional programme where there’s a data science course that you can do and get a… I think it takes a year to do this. And I’ve heard really good things about this. I’ve heard Thomas LaRock talking about it on his blog. And there’s talk about Microsoft doing something similar for DBAs, for maybe an MCM-level certification. I think something like that might be good but no, I think it’s a bad idea Microsoft cancelled and hopefully one day they will reconsider. But the story always goes that the reason it was cancelled was because Microsoft Learning weren’t making enough money from the programme. And that was the bottom line.

DW: Oh, I was expecting that something will be… if the programme is cancelled then something new will come into the light but for four years I haven’t seen anything like that, so that’s why I’m very surprised because it was a really valuable programme in terms of knowledge that you had to possess and well…

MB: I think one of the problems is that our world is really changing so there will come a time very quickly that traditional DBAs are not gonna exist. We’re gonna be expected to do a lot of things in cloud, a lot of things in other technologies, Linux is a classic example. And how on earth are Microsoft gonna do an MCM-level test for all of those things. You’d be sitting like 50 exams, 50 lab tests to get anywhere close to that. Maybe they need to have something that is a lot of harder to pass than the current MCP exams.

DW: Yes, that’s right. And you’ve been talking about DBA. And I also observe that the role of DBAs is getting less and less important because there are a lot of features in SQL Server that try to eliminate the DBAs, like for example auto tuning of queries and smart backup. For some companies could be a good idea not to employ a DBA because you can have backup into cloud. Do you think we’re going in the right direction?

MB: In terms of companies’ perception for the need for DBAs no, I don’t think we’re going in the right direction. In terms of how Microsoft are trying to improve the experience on their products, yeah, I think they are. But I think what they need to be really doing is making the experience better for the people administrating the product, rather than maybe trying to eradicate, and I’m not sure they’re trying to eradicate, I just think it’s a consequence of what they’re doing. But I think having certain people like DBAs positions under threat because of all these technologies is actually a false thing for companies to do because in my experience, DBAs are definitely not regarded as highly as they were at once stage, or not as much as a requirement for companies. If you asked a company if they want a data scientist or a DBA, the data scientist will get the job. That said, there is nobody more important than a DBA in a company when there is a fault on the SQL Server. Suddenly, the DBA becomes the most important person in the room and all the managers are suddenly taking their interest. I think maybe more could be done from… maybe Microsoft even, to educate companies on what their requirements really should be. In order for us to support you, we need to have a DBA looking after this product, the deployment, the settings and everything. And they need to be following maybe our best practices. Otherwise, you’re unsupported. And that way, companies won’t think they don’t need DBAs, they’ll think “We do need the DBA but maybe we don’t need as many DBAs.” So it’s interesting the way things are going. Time will tell.

DW: Because like a few years ago, when the DBA was really an important person, for example Paul Randal has an excellent blog, and many other people have excellent blogs with great examples what to do in case of corruption or problems, or failures. And right now, DBAs are not going to be so useful. So in case of a simple problem, there will be no people around who can help you with SQL Server. That’s my concern.

MB: We all know that the minute that Paul Randal becomes a data scientist, it is the day that we need to stop doing DBA work. But we do have a scenario where… we’ve got this new thing now, in 2016 -I think it came in, where we have the multiple temp files that we set up on installation. But we still have the scenario where there’s gonna be lots of legacy settings where you have to be able to administrate the whole environment to a certain level and standard. And just having newer products do things automatically, it may do it automatically but it may be wrong. It may be “right” on that server that you’ve automatically installed SQL Server with four temp files. But in six months’ time, the plan is to put more CPU power (cores) in the server and suddenly the tempdb thing may be wrong for this hardware. There’s an awful lot of things that cannot be automated or set with a “one size fits all”, and the classic is autogrowth settings. I personally don’t like autogrowth at all. I like to fill it out as far as I humanly need. And I maybe allow it a few extra growths because the minute you get an autogrowth, you know you are in serious space problems. And you know that you need to speak to someone about storage, getting more storage. But SQL Server can’t make those decisions for you. Maybe this is where machine learning comes in and sooner or later we’re gonna come to a time that the installer will know your habits and how you do stuff, and how you deployed other servers and make decisions. When that happens, we’re definitely out of the job but I can’t see that happening for a while.

KN: For example like for Query Store, this is I think the example where DBAs don’t have to spend a lot of time analysing the indexes, because the Query Store and machine learning and those kind of things, future can do that for you. And I saw some articles about it and very likely it will do better than you. Maybe not in every case but…

MB: Imagine a situation with Query Store where we have… and let’s say everything was automated, so it would keep swapping the plan to how it really needs to be automatically. Imagine a situation where every plan that’s created is wrong, based upon the distribution of data. So every time the plan created is wrong, the Query Store is then automatically trying to give you the right plan. You’ll get in a situation where it’s constantly changing, so you have got a brand new bottleneck. There is no right answer here at all and you need to say “Look, just leave that alone, we cannot win whatever plan you choose.” So I think by a lot of the automation that happens, we are potentially gonna get new problems to solve.

KN: It’s possible but I’m thinking about a situation where it can help. I’m not talking about how everything could be automated. I think it won’t happen so fast that DBAs won’t be useful.

DW: Yes, but we are definitely going in the wrong direction maybe with these DBAs.

KN: But this is another story. This is a story for another long conversation I think.

DW: So maybe some other question. Other topic. Mark, how did you start your journey with SQL Server. I hope this question hasn’t been asked.

MB: That’s an excellent question. I was a Novell man and I did pretty much everything in this company, from desktop support to Novell Server support. I loved Novell as well. And I was working for a Saudi Arabian company at the time and I have a different perspective on pirate software than other people because I think pirate software can actually lead into positive things. One of our managers at the time, I’m not gonna name the company because of the pirate software, went to Saudi Arabia, came back with a CD of lots of different bits of software on it. One of which was NT 4.0 and back in that time, finding jobs with different skill sets was very hard to move into, unless you had experience. So I actually tried out NT 4.0, got very good with it, and I loved the experience as well. Then I very quickly got a job working for another company, doing the same sort of stuff but in purely Microsoft technology, so NT 4.0 Server, NT 4.0 Workstation, and there was also backend software such as Exchange server, which I was also exposed to, but also a piece of software called SQL Server. And this SQL Server installation used to manage all the corporate documents at the time. There was a product called PCDOCS Open and it would store the images of the corporate documentation within SQL Server. That was my first piece of exposure to SQL Server and I very soon realised that I wanted to focus more on SQL Server. Back at that time, SQL Server 7 was on its way out and there was a beta training course that came out, and my boss said “Put yourself on a training course for SQL Server,” so while he was expecting myself to book on a 6.5 training, instead I booked myself on SQL 7 beta training course. All of a sudden, I became very good at SQL Server and very marketable to other companies, and rest is history really. That’s how I moved on. It was a very good move.

KN: How often are you a speaker on different conferences?

MB: Last year was probably my peak, and I must’ve spoken at a conference maybe every other week. So last year I think I went to America four times to speak. Europe, anything from 6 to 10 times. A lot of time. This year a lot less. I’ve probably done about 4 conferences so far. Probably will do about 3 more before the year’s out.

KN: Have you ever been to Poland?

MB: I haven’t, no. You guys have a couple of conferences there, don’t you?

KN: Yeah, we have a very big conference, SQLDay. You must visit us!

MB: Yes, I’d love to come some time.

DW: I have one question about these conferences and speeches. I bet you really like it Mark, talking to people, sharing knowledge and give experience from other people?

MB: Erm, there’s something about it that I definitely love. Seeing brand new countries and meeting people, and seeing people you can potentially make a difference to someone is great. There are bits about speaking at other places that I’m not so keen on. It’s being away from the family. We had this discussion earlier about… I think it was offline, where we were talking about work-life balance. It’s something that I generally get wrong at the moment, so I do need to try and focus a little bit more on spending more time with the family. But I obviously get a buzz out of it, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.

DW: Maybe one more thing. How do you prepare, if you know there will be a speech and 500 people in the room?

MB: We talked earlier on this. I will listen to a recording of myself doing the session and I’ll listen to it over and over again. But another thing that I do is (and I learnt it at my very first presentation) I felt the nerves coming and I told myself “This is good, use it to help focus”. So when I feel nerves coming, I would always tell myself that and instruct my body to kind of go with it, take the nerves, take the adrenaline, use it. And whenever I tell myself that, the nerves and any shaking I ever did have will subside. I’m fairly good though now, to be honest. I don’t get as much nerves as I would really like, because I’d like to have adrenaline. I think it’s a good thing to have, always to try and stay on the edge of just falling apart or delivering the most amazing session.

KN: Recently, Rob Sewell posted a very good article about it. He mentioned that you should be nervous before your session, it’s a good thing.

MB: For me, I’ve done so many presentations, that’s very hard for me to get those nerves. I almost don’t like not getting the nerves. Another thing I have found very successful for me is I always like to have a beer. So, I think I’m quite unique in this. I’ve done it a few times and I’ve had really good feedback when I’ve done it. I think it just relaxes me a little bit. And I also think it’s quite awesome as well. You’re giving a session and you’re obviously going through a stressful period, stressful hour but then you get a beer and you can chill out and you can enjoy it. I’ve actually found that a very good experience. I’ve come out of sessions and I’ve done before and I’d hear “Wow, great session,” cos I’ve had a beer. So that’s another top tip!

DW: Definitely worth checking, maybe SQLSaturday next Saturday in Poland, I will have to check it if it’s possible to talk and drink at the same time.

KN: You are a good professional at your topic, in terms of SQL Server and probably a couple more things. The question is, are you still teaching something new during conferences?

MB: Every now and again, I’ll add in a new topic, a new session. I don’t necessarily tend to talk about a lot of the old legacy stuff. It’s all sometimes about up-and-coming technologies. Microsoft do like you to push their up-and-coming technologies. Me, it’s more from an interest perspective. And I’d be very neutral in terms of how I will explain a topic. For instance, I’m one of the biggest critics of Stretch Database. If you want to ask me about it sometime… But that’s another story. So I do try to talk about a lot of up-and-coming things. Microsoft have asked me recently to talk about GDPR, and I don’t know too much about it yet, so I have to start learning.

KN: It will be a very hot topic. We have time till mid-May…?

MB: Yes, a few months.

KN: Which of your achievements are you satisfied with the most?

MB: In life or technical? I think I would be an idiot not to say my children. I’m not a very emotional guy, I bottle my emotions. From an anger perspective, I could be very annoyed at something but it would take a lot of me building that annoyance up to actually demonstrate it. I may very casually say I’m annoyed but you’ll never be frightened by me losing my temper! The last time I cried, I think it was the birth of my son and the time before that was the birth of my daughter. It kind of surprised me actually. I was overwhelmed with emotion when my daughter was born. I had been quite stressed for a long time because it was a really long birth and I walked out of the room and it was all over. I went quietly into the bathroom and literally just cried a little bit. It took a lot out of me but you won’t see me crying anywhere else I’m afraid.

KN: Still, I think you’re an emotional guy because for my daughters, I didn’t cry. I should say that I’m not an emotional guy. But probably you are.

MB: Maybe I am. I have found, I’ll be honest (since the children) I have found things really get me that didn’t used to. Like I can watch films now and I can feel the tears coming in the cinema, and I’m saying to myself “what is wrong with you?!” Certainly, before the children that never, never, never happened. So, I think something has flipped in my head.

KN: Which is good I think.

MB: Maybe.

KN: Do you have any animals at home?

MB: If you had asked that a while ago, I would have probably said one cat. We lost a cat last year due to old age and now we’ve got a dog in the last few months, and we’ve got two brand new cats as well. So, the house is a menagerie of children pets and the wife of course.

KN: What are your daily habits?

MB: Get up, go to work, go to Starbucks and come home, watch a film with the wife, go to bed. That’s literally it. Oh, and also every day I will probably have gin and tonic in the evening as well. That’s a really nasty habit that’s formed over the last six months. Every single day, I’ll generally have a gin and tonic. And it’s costing me a lot of money.

DW: So the last question, if you can hear me, would be: what would you say to people who would like to start studying IT science? Where should they go? What specialisation should they take in your opinion? In terms of data platforms let’s say, it could be some…

MB: I would focus on the official training courses that Microsoft release. We mentioned the Microsoft Professional Program for Data Science. That’s a really good thing to do, and it’s also aimed at anything from beginners to intermediate people. I’m a great believer in books as well. I’m also a great believer in finding the right book for you. Many, many years ago I was trying to learn C#, and I went to a book shop, obviously book shops don’t exist as much as they used to back then. I went to a book shop and I had about 20 C# books just stacked on the floor, one after the other, and I sat down on a bench and went through every single one, and just skimmed through it, read maybe a paragraph or two, and I would put that one down, saying “no, that sounds rubbish the way it’s written” or “it’s just not digesting in my head.” And finally, it was nearly the last book that I had actually got to and suddenly it was beautifully written. Everything I understood that it said. And I bought that book. I’d read it front to back, probably several times, and learned.

KN: Yeah, but it’s not very easy to sit and review a book in the shop and decide which one you want.

MB: It’s not but you don’t have to spend a lot of time. You know from one paragraph whether this author is gonna really do it for you or not. So I think that’s it, just find the right book, find the right materials. I also subscribe a lot to Udemy as well, which provide a lot of unknown courses. I find some of the courses are mixed but just get as much stuff as possible. You’ve got Pluralsight as well that you can generally get through your company, get a lot of subscriptions for free from events and user groups which give them away. There’s a lot of stuff out there.

KN: Currently there’s a lot of information in the Internet.

MB: There’s too much really.

DW: But I think the most important thing is that we have to learn every day, and we cannot stop learning because the technologies are changing so quickly and new things come into the light so we cannot stop learning. And that’s what I think is important.

MB: There’s always that younger guy who’s better than you, who’s left college, he’s faster than you, he’ll make more effort than you. When I was younger, I could stay up to 4am learning something, I would get to bed for 2 or 3 hours, go into work and I’d be tired but I could do it. Now, you would not even get me going past (apart from organising my event) midnight to do learning. I want my bed, I want my sleep, I need it. So, yes, we have got to stay ahead of the curve.

KN: We are not young guys anymore.

MB: Speak for yourself!

KN: We need some sleep. OK, at the end of our conversation, tell us where we can find you.

MB: You can find me through my blog, which is tenbulls.co.uk. I do lurk around Twitter under the name of @retracement. I maybe don’t do as much Twitter as I used to do but I am there. Potentially, you could send me a LinkedIn message although I don’t tend to look at that very often or connect with people very often. I just never get around to doing that. But the main thing is if you do need to get hold of me, send me a tweet, even if it’s just to ask a simple question about something, I’ll do my very best to accommodate and communicate, or even point you to someone who can.

KN: And obviously people can find you at SQLSaturday Cambridge.

MB: Yeah, they’ll see me lurking around. If you come to SQLSaturday Cambridge, you’ll definitely see me lurking around. I’m the guy who’s looking stressed and unhappy.

KN: Oh, you don’t. OK, thank you very much.

MB: Thank you for having me, it’s been a pleasure.

DW: Thank you, have a great day in Cambridge!

MB: You too, cheers, thank you!

Useful links:

Mark Broadbent’s website: Blog
Mark Broadbent’s Twitter: @retracement

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Kamil Nowinski
Kamil Nowinski 17 posts

<p>Data Architect, MCSE Data Platform, MS BI Developer, Member of PLSSUG, co-organizer of SQLDay, speaker. Happy husband & father. #SQLFamily member.</p>

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