Before we start on the main part of the interview, tell us all a little about yourself.
Wow you start with my favourite subject… seriously I hate talking about myself. It’s a bit like when I’ve had a long day at work and get in doors and my Wife asks “how’s your day?” –that just drives me crazy. I hate talking about that stuff, except of course when I’m having a good old whinge about something; then she is forced to listen!
Anyway I digress…
I have lived all over the UK which I think has made me a little restless in life and work -which I guess makes me perfect for my current role as a SQL Server Consultant working for my company called SQLCloud which provides specialist SQL Server solutions and training across the many facets of SQL Server. Anything from implementing AlwaysOn Availability Groups to writing documentation!
I am probably best known in the SQL Server world for my HA/DR skills but I’m really interested in all areas of SQL Server and other technologies outside of the Microsoft stack.
Some people may also know me over the last few years from Speaking at SQL Server events around the world. I absolutely love doing this, and it is such a great platform to learn from and meet new people and see new places.
According to Wikipedia you are a chef, you kept that one quiet! As a bonus question, what’s your favourite dish (extra points for making a pun on SQL Server)?
You know that is so awesome that you have dug that up! Mark Broadbent “The Famous Chef” is someone who I became aware of (I think) around 25 years ago and put an end to my ambitions of being a Celebrity Chef – I mean how confusing would it have been to have two of us? Perhaps one day I might end up performing DBCC CHECKDB to his RecipeDatabase J.
How did you start in SQL Server?
Ah SQL Server… such a great product now but when I first started using it perhaps not so much. At the time (1997) I was supporting many different technologies and platforms and one of those was SQL Server 6.5. I was really fond of its simplicity and usability and the product essentially did what we wanted. With the arrival of the impressive SQL Server 7 rewrite, I could see the product had a big future and bit by bit started focusing more of my attentions in that direction. Now I probably spend the vast majority of my time looking at or being involved in all things SQL Server, but I am passionate and interested in many other technologies –especially if they have relevance to that database platform.
I can’t pass up the opportunity to congratulate you on passing the MCM knowledge exam. So well done! I know it’s something that you have been after for a while, I recall a long interesting conversation about a number of things including this at a hotel bar in Dublin last year. Any tips you’d like to share?
Thank you! Things on the MCM front have taken slightly longer than I’d hoped since other priorities have got in the way, but it was very important for me to at least attempt the Knowledge exam before the end of 2012 to keep up momentum on that target. I think if I was to give one particular tip to anyone, it would be to set realistic and attainable goals -but people should never underestimate their ability or potential ability. I firmly believe that nearly anyone can do or learn anything given enough time and effort, and this is something I always try to apply to my own life. However hard I may find a subject or situation, there is usually reasons for being in that position. Persistence, versatility and dedication are usually the key, so the message is keep trying and try harder!
As I said in the tongue in cheek intro we have known each other a little while and I know that you are very committed to the community cause. What drew you in to the SQL Server community?
Very good question! My first step into the SQL Server Community was really when I first started blogging and it is incredible to think that this was nearly 4 years ago now! I found it an amazing outlet to say all those technical things I wanted to say and at the same time help people in the process. It’s funny but you start realising that the more you help others the more you help yourself in so many other ways and at the time these can be both obvious and less obvious things. Over time I started to make more and more friends with like-minded SQL professionals across the world, and there is something personally very rewarding when I receive emails from people thanking me for a particular piece of advice or help that I may have given. For them it may have saved them months or weeks of work, but for me it may only have taken a couple of minutes of my time.
You are of course a PASS affiliated chapter leader in the UK and now also a regional mentor, but before that new post you decided to bring the very first SQL Saturday to the UK. For those people who may not know what SQL Saturday is, why don’t you outline it for us?
To describe SQLSaturday in a nutshell I would say that it is essentially a small to medium size SQL Server conference with a more relaxed atmosphere. It fills that void between a user group and a large SQL conference –and not only will you make some great friends and contacts at a SQLSaturday, you will receive excellent training for free and have a great time in the process!
The brand is very strong in the US, what made you think it could port over to the U.K.?
At the time I first had the idea for bringing SQLSaturday over to the UK (which was in 2010) there was only really one dedicated SQL Server event of note running in the UK, and then we had less SQL user groups. I wrote about how I had the idea to put on a SQLSaturday on my blog at http://tenbulls.co.uk/2012/05/04/change-and-make-a-difference/ but I have never really talked about why I thought it could work. Now there is a little more happening in the UK, but the appeal of SQLSaturday events remains the same in that they are a chance to meet up with fellow professionals and friends in a more formal type of atmosphere whilst still listening to presentations on something we all love hearing about –SQL Server! I believed that if the UK could have a network of SQLSaturday events up and down the country then this could help make free SQL Server training much more accessible to everyone, but more importantly help grow the SQL Server community and promote SQL to a wider audience.
Kudos for bringing the event across the pond, were there many obstacles to overcome in order to facilitate the event?
There were many obstacles that had to be overcome that stemmed from the fact that this was the first SQLSaturday event in the UK and I think a lot of people were nervous for various reasons. It was important to everyone that the event was a big success, but you have to understand that planning and implementing an event is a logistical nightmare. Was I the right person for the job? Did I have the right experience? Could I put the right team together? Will the concept work in the UK? These were just a small selection of the concerns but it is important that those questions get asked. I was personally never in doubt that I could deliver a successful event, but you have to demonstrate your confidence to others through action.
What would you say was the most difficult part of an event to pull together? Is there anything that the team you assembled particularly dreaded?
Probably the most difficult part of the event was really putting together the right team. It took quite a long time and a couple of failed attempts to get the right people onboard but once we had everyone working well together they were fantastic.
I am not really sure if there was anything that we particularly dreaded, but I’m sure I can speak for anyone in saying that there was always this little voice at the back of our minds saying “I hope it all goes to plan”. I knew that problems would happen on the day, so it was important to think about all of those possibilities and be able to address them if necessary. Planning and discussion is really the key to all of this.
Having started my own user group I’m now starting to appreciate the effort that goes into running an event. How do you plan for such a great undertaking? / With running your own company it must be a struggle to find the time to fit everything in, how did you manage to cope with all the extra work?
The volume of volunteer time that goes into these events is absolutely staggering and is really hard to understand where it gets spent on. Probably one of my biggest memories from running the event is that of me hunched over my keyboard and answering emails from early morning till late evening. I also remember our deadline for making the printers with our event brochure and I literary spent 18 solid hours making sure it was ready for submission. A lot of coffee was drunk that day I can tell you!
A lot of the hard work can be avoided through experience, delegation and teamwork so without the others making sacrifices on their time too, things would have been even worse.
You must be really proud of what you have achieved with the event. Do you think the event realised its potential?
Absolutely. To know that we were responsible for delivering that event fills me with a great deal of satisfaction and pride. I personally think that the event over achieved in many ways, and feedback was excellent. I really don’t think I could have hoped for anymore from the first event, which of course makes trumping it next time a very difficult prospect.
You must have received loads of feedback from the event, if you were going to do another one what would you do differently and why?
Feedback has been very positive and really any changes that are made will be either minor or dictated through logistical circumstances. There are definitely a couple of tweaks in a few places that I hope to make but when the time comes I will look to consulting the rest of the team before making any specific decision. Probably the one thing that I hope to do next time is have far more lead time running up to the event. It is amazing how quickly time flys by when you are putting these things together and having more of it will certainly be a big plus!
With SQLSaturdays becoming more prominent and the third SQL Relay in the pipeline for later this year, do you think that sponsorship for all these events is sustainable in the current climate? To put it another way, do you think events will need to put more focus on a pay to attend model?
Probably one of the biggest challenges for all of us when hosting events is being able to get those events financed. There has to be a natural limit on available sponsor funds, but I don’t think we are there yet. Obviously your question pertains more to events in the UK but the problem is even bigger than that. As SQLSaturday and other SQL events become more frequent across Europe we are not just competing with each other for sponsor funds but with the rest of Europe and in some cases the World.
SQLSaturdays are free (some events charge a very small lunch fee) so we have to look to generating funding through pre-cons, seeking new sponsorships, become more appealing to existing sponsors. Perhaps the pay to attend model could work for other events, but it is not something I think we want for SQLSaturdays. This is one reason why we need to carefully grow these events so that we can find the right balance.
What was your most memorable moments from SQL Saturday 105 and 165?
SQLSaturday 105 Dublin was a great event and there were a lot of good memories. I really enjoyed the Speaker meal that was held on a canal barge travelling up and down the canal, also an excellent meal with Marco Blasio, Christina Leo and Matt Mason the night before at a restaurant famous for having President Kennedy eat there. I also enjoyed our little walk around Dublin!
From my own event (SQLSaturday 165) there is also a lot to choose, but I remember fondly the event wrap up where Buck Woody had the audience in stiches and also being amazed at how many stayed till the bitter end. I remember my very first sip of Cider at the after event drinks and feeling an immense amount of satisfaction and gratitude to the rest of the team and helpers –it was a great feeling to have.
You have of course been to a number of SQL Saturday’s in the U.S. Do you think that SQL Saturday cam become that big in EMEA?
It is possible that over time SQLSaturdays can become bigger than the U.S but the biggest problem is perhaps that each EMEA Country speaks its own language. Therefore their challenge is to make sure they can appeal to their native countrymen and also appeal to foreign (English) speakers and attendees. SQLSaturday Lisbon got the balance right by hosting a mix of native Portuguese sessions and English language sessions. I don’t really think getting good foreign speakers will be the biggest obstacle; the challenge is really to draw people from abroad simply to attend and see the content. This will be useful from a sponsorship, funding and publicity perspective and also to build the community across international boundaries. Let’s not forget that this perceived obstacle can become one of their biggest strengths if we start using these opportunities to make the most of the trip and take the family. Europe is so rich in different cultures and interests that SQLSaturdays in EMEA could become incredibly popular.
Without SQLSaturdays, I would never have seen New York, Portland, Lisbon and Dublin when I did, and now I can’t wait to see them all again!
Having just passed the MCM knowledge exam I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one already, but for completeness what’s your next big ambition?
Obviously completing the MCM is paramount, and that is one of many challenges I have set myself for SQL Server. Really, my biggest ambition at this moment in time is to try to be more organized and productive and I’m trying to implement new techniques to get there. If I succeed, I’ll let you know!
Thanks for your time Mark and all the best for your new role as PASS Regional Mentor.
You can find out more about Mark at his blog http://www.TenBulls.co.uk
Following this post from a syndicated source and want to read other interviews in the series? The anchor post for this series can be found here.