ASF 034: Alex Yates interview (part 1)

ASF 034: Alex Yates interview (part 1)

Introduction

Alex is a Data Platform MVP who loves DevOps.
He’s has been helping data professionals apply DevOps principles to relational database development and deployment since 2010. He’s most proud of helping Skyscanner develop the ability to deploy 95 times a day. Alex has worked with clients on every continent except Antarctica – so he’s keen to meet anyone who researches penguins.
A keen community member, he helps organise Data Relay and he created speakingmentors.com. He blogs at workingwithdevs.com, speaks wherever they’ll let him and manages the DLM Digest quarterly email: a report on the latest database DevOps news/tutorials. He was awarded his first MVP award in 2017.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, this talk has taken place online on 10 July 2020 (Friday) using Zencastr platform.
Interviewer: Kamil Nowinski (T) & Michal Sadowski (T).

Audio version

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Transcript

KN: Hello, Alex! How are you? Good morning!

AY: I’m good, thank you, I’m good. How are you?

KN: Very good, thanks! Thank you for accepting our invitation to this podcast Ask SQL Family. Could you introduce yourself at the beginning? What is your name and where do you live?

AY: OK, cool. My name’s Alex. I live in Cambridge in the UK. Alex Yates. I’ve been helping people with DevOps and specifically to solve the problems that data poses to DevOps for the last 10 years. I started that journey at Redgate for a few years as a salesperson and pre-sales engineer. And in 2016 I quit and started my own company DLM Consultants. I also do a whole bunch of community stuff. I’m one of the organizers of Data Relay, which is a big 1000-person five-city conference in the UK. We run that once a year, except for this year, because COVID. And I set up a website called Speaking Mentors a while ago, because we need more speakers.

KN: We will ask about all these things but before we go into that, I would like to ask you what you’re doing for a living specifically right now. I mean, I would like to have or hear more details because DevOps is a very wide topic.

AY: So what’s the question? Specifically, what am I working on at the moment?

KN: Yeah, for example, yeah. What kind of work are you doing under this DevOps phrase?

AY: Cool, so the primary part of my work is helping my customers to basically make their database change management and deployments easier. DevOps is a big, broad concept that touches on lots and lots of things. And my primary technical expertise is to help people source control and deploy databases, because most people aren’t very good at that. So that’s what I do primarily. But more broadly than that, I also mentor and coach people with general DevOps principles, because as much as the technical stuff can be hard for database source control and stuff, actually it is just details and what’s much more important is people understand the underlying reasons why we’re source controlling databases and how that fits into the bigger DevOps picture. So I do a lot of coaching and mentoring at a slightly higher level, so that folks can understand the importance of continuous delivery pipelines but also the importance of kind of feedback and developing that DevOps culture within an organization.

MS: Can we take one step back and could you please describe what are the three advantages of DevOps for someone that is not familiar with DevOps?

AY: So the three advantages of DevOps… There are quite a few.

MS: There can be 5.

AY: OK, so the high-level objectives is it helps you release your stuff more quickly, more reliably and more cheaply. That’s the headline feature. The point is that we’re trying to change that vicious cycle where deployments go badly, so people try and wrap more bureaucracy around them and do them less frequently because they’re scared of them. But then the problem is that they become even bigger and even more complicated and they’re all more likely to fail. So it’s this counterintuitive thing where in order to make your deployment safer, you need to do them more frequently, which is a weird jump for a lot of people. And there are a whole bunch of reasons that I could talk about all day why that’s important, but ultimately I help people to safely release more frequently and to reduce the overhead and any manual work that needs to be done to get a release out the door. Because the easier it is to deploy, if it can be a kind of “click a button, off it goes” or if it can even be fully automated, that frees you up to release more frequently with less overhead, which means your deployments become smaller and safer, and more reliable. And also it means you don’t have to invest six months building a thing before you put it in front of your customers. If you can change the way that you work into much, much smaller features, then you can start delivering on your ideas much, much more quickly, in a single sprint or even just a few hours. The perfect ideal is you have an idea, you have a hypothesis, you want to test it out, you release one version to some people, one version to other people, if it’s a really, really small thing, you could put the code together in a couple of hours, get some feedback on it in near real-time and then iterate. That’s the ideal. Obviously, a lot of people are a long way away from that, and in database land that almost feels impossible to a lot of people. That’s because you’re standing at the bottom of Mount Everest and staring at the top of it. So I help people to start taking those first few steps to start heading in the right direction.

KN: So what do you think, what is the maturity level of DevOps for the organization on average?

AY: On average?

KN: I know that Redgate has an annual report about that state and this information is divided by sections.

AY: I’m always nervous when we start worrying about maturity models because it kind of gives this prescriptive idea about what DevOps looks like. And ultimately, I feel to a certain extent that’s putting the cart before the horse. Like, the objective is to do whatever your business needs to do. It’s to do whatever wonderful idea you have and to get it out there quickly and reliably, and safely, and to get feedback on whether it’s working so you can iterate and have your next idea. That’s what we want to do. So if we define it as a maturity model, what that often ends up looking at is “are you source controlling this way, are you deploying this way?”. You need to do the things in a prescribed order, which I’m not sure that’s that valuable. It’s like you’re doing the things because the book tells you to do the things or because you have to do source control first and then you do this first, and then you do this. And it seems to me to both be more beneficial and also easier to sell if you focus on things the other way around. So what are your business objectives and let’s make sure we meet those.

KN: And that perspective also I think is much easier to be understood by the business.

AY: Exactly. How many times do people have trouble in IT because you have technical geeks and I’m going to say “the business folks” in inverted commas, because I don’t like describing the business as “other” than IT because IT is part of the business. But fine, you tend to have the commercial senior exec folks who don’t really understand IT and can’t speak tech language, and you have the tech folks who are very, very good at understanding the inner workings of SQL Server but don’t understand the business.

KN: That’s what I meant, yeah.

AY: And they seem to speak completely different languages. And one of the things that I think is amazing about DevOps is that it gives both IT geeks and company directors a shared language that they can speak, which helps them to understand the economics of software development basically. And it helps to put general good practices in cold economic terms. And I think when you can do that, it creates far better conversations in the boardroom about whether we take this approach or that approach. I think it’s much healthier. As it happens, for exactly the same reason, that’s why it becomes a marketing buzzword, because if you can do it internally at your organization, when IT folks are talking to senior managers, all the sales and vendors, everybody who sells anything that could vaguely have the word DevOps attached to it suddenly finds that they can do the same thing in their sales pictures and their marketing content. So that’s why both I think it’s amazing and also why I think it’s kind of being seen as a bit of a marketing buzzword. I mean, ultimately, it’s all rooted in the fact that these are general good, common sense ideas that actually work, but the message can be implemented differently and better or worse, depending on your motives.

MS: So I would say that the DevOps is not only some kind of new technical trend that is just visible on the market, but it’s also some kind of mental change for the whole organization, that there is much more connection, or even alignment between the business and IT, correct?

AY: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to get out with my mentoring stuff as well. I began to get frustrated. When I first started my company, I was basically saying “I’ll come and help you build your deployment pipeline” and I approached it very much from a technical perspective and developers and DBAs understood what I was talking about but the managers didn’t really get it, and I often found I was going into an organization and I would help the tech folks put together some great tech solutions for releasing changes reliably and regularly, but it’s always a human problem at the end of the day. Gerhard Weinberg has a famous quote: “No matter what they tell you, it’s always a people problem”. It was so true. I would go in and I would help somebody set up their deployment pipeline and then I’d realise: actually, you know what? As amazing as this is, I’m not sure how much benefit this organization is going to get out of it, because IT managers just don’t seem to understand how to manage projects in a way that’s going to work. I can give you the most amazing deployment pipeline in the world but if you’re still only planning to release once every 12 months, then OK, I may have made your life a little bit easier at that deployment time, but ultimately you’re not really going to see the benefits because the very first time you use this deployment pipeline is in six months time, by which point you’ve forgotten how to use it. It’s missing the whole point. The complexity of the deployment, quite apart from how you ship it to the end user, like the complexity of this code that you’re deploying means that your deployment is obviously going to fail. So I got frustrated with that, so I’ve been deliberately trying to not just help tech folks to build deployment pipelines, but actually come in at a slightly higher level and mentor the senior leadership to help them understand that a lot of the reasons why the organization is failing at delivering updates isn’t solely because the tech isn’t working. It’s because the tech are being forced into managing their projects in a way that fundamentally is well-suited to large, scary failures.

KN: And I think you manage that very well, working for and helping Skyscanner develop the ability to deploy almost 100 times a day. Wow! Tell me something about that.

AY: To be fair, that was a long time ago now.

KN: A few years ago, right?

AY: It was, and actually when I did that, that was very much at a technical level. I probably need to update my buyers. So that was back when I worked for Redgate, rather than DLM Consultants. I worked with a few folks at Redgate, including Grant Fritchey and Steve Jones, a group of five of us put together a training programme to help folks understand how to use the Redgate SQL Change Automation PowerShell cmdlets, which were brand new at the time. We had this new product at Redgate that would help people to deploy their stuff and I was a sales engineer working with Steve and Grant and a couple of others on how we can actually train people and coach them how to use it. So we put together this training programme and we delivered it in a few places and I’ve been speaking in my role as a sales engineer at Redgate to some of the folks at Skyscanner, and a few of them came over to this training class. So obviously we went to the training class and helped them to explain how it would work. We had like a whole bunch of whiteboarding sessions specifically with the folks at Skyscanner because they had some interesting technical problems, which I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to talk about them because probably NDA, so I’m not going to go into any detail. But they had some interesting scale issues, so we did a bunch of whiteboarding about how to put it together. And then they went and tried it and it worked really well. We had a webinar afterwards to talk through the implementation. And yeah, that design that we put together, I think it was at a precon at SQLSaturday Exeter many years ago, that became their deployment model for production. And that model that we put together on a whiteboard in Jurys Inn in Exeter became the model of how they manage their database deployments. And they were able to scale that up something crazy. And it wasn’t just 95 times a day. It was also because each one of those deployments doesn’t just go to one environment. It gets fanned out to like hundreds of databases. So yeah, it was a really, really interesting technical problem. And it was right at the beginning of SQL Change Automation. And it was also one of my first real experiences of consulting. I mean, I was still at Redgate and I was still a pre-sales engineer at the time, but…

KN: But you felt like working on the client-side, yeah? As a consultant.

AY: Absolutely, after I’ve spent a couple of years at Redgate, there’s only so many Redgates SQL source control demos that one person can do. And I didn’t enjoy trotting out the same demo over and over, and over again. What I really enjoyed was saying: “Right, OK, that’s your nice, wonderful perfect world problem. Here’s my real-world complicated scenario. How are you going to make those tools work in this real-world scenario?”. And so it’s really fun to kind of think through all of that. And that definitely set me on the path to wanting to be more of a problem solver. And I enjoyed that an awful lot more than I ever enjoyed selling software licenses, which is ultimately the reason I quit Redgate.

KN: OK, this is a very good moment. So tell me who said that: “Try quitting the best job of your life without any idea where your next pay check is coming from”.

AY: I believe that was from one of my blog posts. I can’t remember but it sounds a bit like me. It might be on the About Me page on my blog.

KN: Yeah, it’s you. It’s a quote from your website. It’s from a page about you, basically.

AY: Yeah, Redgate was the best job I ever had. And I was a film star for a bit. I say “a film star”… I walked in the back of a Harry Potter film. I’ve been to work for the day with Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint and the rest of them. But yeah, Redgate was definitely the best job I ever had, until I decided to start working for myself.

KN: Exactly, you decided to resign from Redgate in 2016, right? And started your own business.

AY: Yeah, it was the day before the Brexit referendum. And obviously, I was nervous going into that, and if we’d voted to leave, it was like “well, what’s going to happen to the economy?”, so in many ways that was a “right, I’ve got to do it now, because I don’t know what the result is going to be tomorrow”. I actually expected the result… Everybody else at Redgate was like “no, of course we’re gonna remain”. But that’s because they lived in one of the most pro-Remain cities in the UK. So I was like “I don’t know what’s going to happen but I’m blatantly not going to have the confidence to do this tomorrow, so I’m going to do it now”. So I handed in my resignation the day before Brexit, so that I couldn’t go back on it. And then I couldn’t go back on it.

KN: What inspired you to take that step?

AY: Well, I’ve been “umming” and “ahing” about it for a while. Over the last few years at Redgate, organizations like Skyscanner and various other organizations I got to work really, really closely with, more as a consultant, I really, really enjoyed that. As I worked my way up the ranks and sales at Redgate, obviously at Redgate you start as a salesperson answering the phone to people who want to buy SQL Compare and trying to convince them that they want to do something bigger than that. And over the course of several years, I worked my way up to being a pre-sales engineer, much more of a technical consultant and I was speaking at events and I was beginning to really make some friends and get to know people in the SQL community. And the more I did that, the less I took satisfaction out of selling licenses and the more I enjoyed solving problems. So my last couple of years at Redgate, I was more and more thinking “I really, really want to go and do this, some sort of consulting thing”. I recognized that most organizations don’t need a full-time Alex Yates. They need somebody to come and show them the right way, and then I need to go. So it felt to me like I can deliver the most value if I go to organizations to deliver training or consulting or whatever, or mentoring for a short period of time and then leave and go somewhere else. That to me felt like how I could deliver the most value to the world with the skills that I had. So it’s like “well, that’s what I want to go do”.

KN: And also make your life happier? Because you need to be happy with what you’re doing at your work, on the professional side.

AY: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s one of those things, in any job there will always be bits of it you don’t enjoy. Frankly, I’m running my own company right now, I hate accounting. I just can’t stand anything to do with it. Like, I wanna earn money from customers, invoice them, pay whatever tax I need to pay and then keep the rest of it. In my mind, I would love it if it was that simple, but it rarely is. I hate everything to do with it because law is one of those things that it doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with it, you end up just having to do it. And I just find it so boring. So for me now, accounting is the thing that I hate the most.

KN: But do you have your own accountant?

AY: I do but it’s not as simple as just having your own accountant because there will be questions about, well, “how should I do this, how should I do that?”. Because of the nature of the work I do… The very first year I was in business, I didn’t have any UK clients. Every single customer I had to get on a plane for, which means that I was working with different customers in different countries, different currencies, so it wasn’t good enough just to understand how to manage all my finances based on UK law and UK taxes and VAT and stuff. I had to understand how that works internationally. And then I was also doing online training sessions that people could buy tickets for, and they could be buying tickets from anywhere in the world so there were various different business models I had and each of them just seemed to raise more questions about how I do this and how I do that. So just because you have an accountant doesn’t mean you don’t have any accountancy issues. And then there’s bookkeeping as well which is another whole part of this. Frankly, when I started the company, I didn’t even know what an accountant did or what a bookkeeper was. I have since learned… My favourite thing that I used to do when I was doing my accounting and doing all my bookkeeping, getting all my receipts out and logging them and using my accounting software and putting in the tax for this and the tax for this, have you ever watched “Black Books”, series 1 episode 1, the one where Bernard is doing all of his accounts?

KN: No.

AY: It’s a hilarious British comedy with Dylan Moran and Bill Bailey. Dylan Moran is a bookshop owner and he has to do his accounts, and he feels roughly how I feel every time I have to do my accounts. So what I used to do is I used to put that episode on, put all the receipts out in front of me and pull myself a massive glass of red wine. And that was how I would do my accounts. Sooner or later that didn’t work very well, so at that point I hired a bookkeeper. But my point is that whatever job you do, whatever you’re doing, there will be bits of it that you don’t like. And for me the bit I don’t like is accounting but I tell you what, it’s a lot easier to do the bits of the job you don’t like when you’re doing it for yourself. Because when I was doing it for somebody else, and I had jobs that I didn’t like, I just found that really hard to drum up the motivation to do all the boring jobs. Whereas when you’re doing it for yourself, it’s like “well, I have something invested in this”. For me, there was just a big personal life difference, the amount that I enjoyed what I was doing and the amount that I was willing to put up with the bits I didn’t enjoy.

MS: OK, can we move back to the very beginning? So the question is when and how did you start your journey with computers? When and how did it start?

AY: When you say computers, do you mean coding?

KN: Something bigger than the calculator.

AY: Well, I enjoyed playing my Nintendo 64 as a teenager. I was pretty good at Golden Eye and Mario Kart, and Rogue Squadron (that was a good one). When I went for my initial Redgate interview, I didn’t know the first thing about tech. I was just looking for a job in sales because I graduated with a drama degree and didn’t have any skills and sales felt like a way I could earn a decent living. And they asked me to do a technical presentation as part of my interview. And the technical presentation was “Describe what happens when you type a web address into a web browser”. Kind of what actually happens at that point and I have to present that. And the feedback that I got afterwards was that I did very, very badly at that. I actually did quite well at the sales part of the interview which was like a roleplay negotiation call. Apparently, I did very well at that, but I was hopeless at the technical part. So I started my job at Redgate feeling like I’d fluked the interview. And despite the fact that I was so rubbish at tech, they’d taken a punt on me because apparently I was good at sales. And I find it ironic now that actually it turns out I really didn’t enjoy the sales part of the job and it was a tech stuff that I really enjoyed. I think it was at Redgate… I’ll tell you what it was. It was a few months into me starting at Redgate, I started at Redgate at about the same time that Grant Fritchey started at Redgate. I mean, I didn’t know who he was. I mean, I barely knew what a computer was let alone knowing who was who in the SQL community at the time. But Grant had flown over to the Cambridge office and the sales team had grabbed a meeting with him, because most of the salespeople were graduates who had never met a software developer in their life. And it was an opportunity to kind of meet a DBA, because these are the people that we sell to, and talk to them and kind of understand who they are and what makes them tick, because that would hopefully help us to build up rapport with them in our sales calls. And somebody asked him a fairly direct question. Something along the lines of “how can you get a DBA to like you as a salesperson?” and he basically burst out laughing and said DBAs hate salespeople. He said “look, what can you teach a DBA about how to build a database? Like if you’ve got a DBA who has got decades worth of experience building this stuff and you, some graduate salesperson, never written any software in your life, you’re going to tell him how to source control and deploy his databases. Are you kidding me?!”, and he just laughed in our faces and I was like “yeah, that makes a lot of sense, why would anybody trust me?”. So what I took away from that was that if I actually wanted to sell anything, if I wanted any DBA to take me seriously, I needed to learn my stuff.

KN: Technical stuff?

AY: Yeah, exactly. So at that point I kind of made it my mission to make sure, like, I can’t be a better DBA than Grant Fritchey, no way, but I might be able to learn one specific niche better. Like, take everything else away, I’m never going to be the person you call to performance tune your databases. I’m probably not going to be the person you call to set up an amazing monitoring system. But I can learn one thing, I can just take one sliver and make sure I’m the expert at that particular niche. And if I can build up the ability to talk about that confidently and to know that little bit more than the DBA, then the DBA… I’m never going to tell the DBA anything to do with query plans but I’ll be able to speak with authority on that piece. And if I can demonstrate that level of understanding, then maybe DBAs will listen to me on my sales calls when I am talking to them about various source control strategies. So that’s what I did, I made that my mission. It took me several years before I could speak and open my mouth without embarrassing myself, but that’s what I tried to do. I did an open university degree in my spare time, I set up a coding club at Redgate, I intentionally went out of my way to sit with the developers, rather than the salespeople at lunch breaks and things. And over the years, through osmosis, I became sales champion for various products, typically the source control deploy type products. And so I was attending stand-ups, and I was getting into the rhythm of how developers work, what makes them tick, and I was also handling the feedback process, so like, the people in your organization who typically speak to your customers the most are the salespeople, and in most organizations that’s a massively untapped resource, because the salespeople know what makes the customers tick. What do they like, what don’t they like, what sells it, what doesn’t sell it, what makes the customers really annoyed about it. So I took responsibility for managing that feedback process, kind of bringing all the feedback together from all the salespeople and then presenting it to the developers and saying “look, this is what sales are telling you”. So in the process of doing that, like all of those things combined together meant that I really, really had to learn the topic of database source control and deployment like the back of my hand. Because typically, our customers would come up with complicated technical things and in order to be able to explain it to the developers, I’d have to be able to understand it and then the developers would ask me questions or I need to have a conversation with the developers about “what if we did this, what if we did that?”.

KN: And you wanted to lift up your skills in that area.

AY: Exactly, and the more I did that, the more I enjoyed it.

KN: So that’s a very good time to go to the next topic I wanted to ask you and talk about, which is MVP. So got the first award in 2017. I remember exactly, we were sitting in the venue at SQL Grillen in Germany when you got that “Wow” email, right?

AY: Yeah, I’d actually received it one or two days earlier but it had gone to my junk folder. And I was about to delete it because it just looked like Microsoft spam. I was literally about to delete it. I knew I’d been nominated for MVP but because of the way the schedule was back then, I was expecting that if I was going to be accepted it would have been the previous month. So when I didn’t hear anything the previous month, I assumed I hadn’t been selected. Which is fine – it was like the first time I’d been put up by MVP and I’d only been nominated by one person and I definitely had and to some extent still do have an inferiority complex. I think all of us do. And I was like “well, clearly I’m not gonna be selected”. So I never really expected to be selected and when I didn’t receive the email, I thought “well, it’s nice to have been nominated, maybe if I keep plugging away in a couple of years, I’ll make it”. So I wasn’t expecting it at all. This email came in, I was just going through my junk, just clearing it out as you do periodically, and I saw this email, and I was like “holy cow, that’s amazing!”. And it was really, really cool to be at an event when I received it, because it’s a really, really special thing to receive that email, especially for the first time, but not many people are lucky enough to actually be at a SQL event when they get the news. It was lunchtime-ish at SQL Grillen. I think I had two sessions that day, because I did one session for SQL Grillen but on that same day I did another session for GROUP BY. And William Durkin who manages SQL Grillen, he was so kind, he was so great, in the middle of SQL Grillen he gave me a lift to his own house, so that I could present my GROUP BY session from William Durkin’s house.

KN: So you presented from his house, OK.

AY: Yeah, so if you look back on my GROUP BY sessions, I think it was the second one I did, “Getting CI right for databases”, something like that. If you watch that session, that’s on the day that I found out I was MVP. And I got the email in between these two sessions, and I was surrounded by like everybody at SQL Grillen, a whole bunch of the SQL family were there. You were there, Prathy was there, I think the first person I told was Eelco Drost, who now works for Data Masterminds with William.

Just after get known about his MVP recognition

KN: And we took a picture of that moment, right?

AY: We did! We’ve not got a webcam but that picture is up on my wall. You, Kamil, you are on my wall. If you ever see me presenting, I’ve got a bunch of pictures behind, and I got that photo printed out and I’m looking at it right now. It’s the top one, which means sometimes, depending on the camera angle of my webcam, it gets trimmed off.

KN: I was surprised at the beginning. Thank you very much, it’s a big pleasure. I will attach the picture to the post on the blog. It’s you, it’s me and it’s Prathy.

AY: And you’re on my wall now, right next to my very first MVP certificate. Pride of place, top and centre of my wall behind my webcam.

KN: Thank you!

MS: What does MVP mean for you and what are the benefits that are most important for you from your perspective?

AY: What does MVP mean for me? It’s an honour to be recognized for it. I mean, it does come with some obvious advantages. It certainly gives you a bunch of gravitas. When you’re talking about a topic, people tend to listen a bit more, which is nice. So there definitely have been advantages. I have had customers that I’ve worked with who either started out by searching for an MVP that lives near them that knows this topic or who have said when they were comparing me versus somebody else, it was the MVP that’s swung it. So yes, there have obviously been business benefits to it. And I think every single MVP would probably say the same thing. But mainly it’s just an honour to be recognized for the work that we do for the community. We don’t do it for that but it’s nice to receive it. And it is amazing. But the biggest benefit, to be honest, is MVP Summit for me. Up until COVID, the ability to go over to Seattle once a year and kind of see what’s going on at Microsoft and get the inside loop on what they’re thinking and get the ability to talk to them about the direction with various Microsoft products, that’s really, really, really cool.

KN: And the opportunity to meet them in person. The Microsoft campus as well, that’s a great experience as well.

AY: The opportunity to have a beer with them and rant with them about “we should do it this way, we should do it that way”, they’re quite fun conversations. Many a time it’ll be getting into the small hours of the morning in a bar somewhere in Seattle and you’ll see geeks arguing about… Arguing is a strong word but debating the direction that Microsoft should be going on this topic or that topic. It’s a really fun time for a geek. That’s cool.

MS: It’s great pleasure to meet someone in person but nowadays there is a pandemic situation so…

AY: Now it’s all done over video conference and to be honest that saves us all a bunch of money. I mean, it’s never quite the same to meet somebody over video conference as it is face to face, but I’m not too upset about that, to be honest. I did always have a conscience about the environmental impact of everybody flying over to Seattle, so doing it remotely suddenly makes me feel an awful lot better about that. So there are positives and downsides. Obviously it’s a lot less expensive, because I don’t have an employer to pay for it for me, I’m paying for it all out of my own pocket. Oh well, I’m paying for it all out of my company’s pocket. So yeah, doing it remotely saves a bunch of money and is much better for the environment. So pros and cons.

MS: It’s affecting the conferences but it’s also affecting the local communities, so how do you think it will affect the local communities? Because at the moment we cannot have the normal meet-ups as it was a few months back, and how do you think it will go in the future?

AY: I don’t know, I don’t have a crystal ball. What I would say is that one of the things I’ve seen a lot is local meet-ups meeting on Zoom or Teams or whatever other video conferencing tool they want to use. And in many ways that makes stuff more accessible and more inclusive. It’s a lot easier for a lot of people to attend. And I wonder whether there is going to be more of a democratization and wider distribution of on smaller online type things in the future, rather than big central conferences. I’ve always cared more about local events than events 3000 miles away. MVP Summit is a bit of a unique one because there isn’t anything like it anywhere else. And you’ve got various smaller meetings throughout the year but MVP Summit is a bit different. But as for other events, I’ve always preferred local, domestic events over big, international, everybody-get-on-a-plane events. And I wonder whether the shift to online is going to take that a step further where people need to travel less but can access more. Yeah, there are questions about losing kind of the hallway track and the face-to-face and the networking, the communication. I don’t have a much better answer to that than anybody else does at this stage. I think that people will get better at that. Whether they’ll get good enough at that to ever make in-person events redundant, I doubt it. But I hope that the effect of this is a bigger decentralization of events so there’s a shift to smaller, more local events with less travel than bigger, centralized, everybody in the world fly to the same city. I would like to see more smaller and local events, and online events.

To be continued…

Useful links

Alex’s profiles & websites: Twitter | DLM Consultants | Speaking Mentors | Blog
Conferences: Data Relay | DataGrillen | GroupBy | SQLBits

 

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Kamil Nowinski
Kamil Nowinski 178 posts

Blogger, speaker. Data Platform MVP, MCSE. Senior Data Engineer & data geek. Member of Data Community Poland, co-organizer of SQLDay, Happy husband & father.

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