Most readers will know you already, but before we start on the main part of the interview, tell us all a little about yourself for those that don’t.
I’m currently a Technical Evangelist for Confio Software. I’ve been in the IT industry for just under 15 years having first started as a Programmer Analyst using PowerBuilder on top of Informix. I’ve always enjoyed working with numbers and data even as a child.
How did you start in SQL Server?
A previous employer hired me to do PowerBuilder on top of Sybase. At some point they also had a need to find some junior DBAs and I volunteered because I once heard that Oracle DBAs made so much money they would make it rain inside of nightclubs. I started learning how to do dumps and restores and basic security followed by some performance tuning. Eventually our shop became a dedicated Microsoft shop and I transitioned over to working with SQL 2000.
You’ve been a household name in the SQL Server community for some time now, but for many under a different name. I’m pretty sure I can work out the link here, but why use the handle SQLRockstar?
At the time I joined Twiiter I first chose SQLBatman as that seemed to describe best what it is a DBA does every day. I even asked for a big red phone and a cake dish for my cube. Eventually I decided that I didn’t want to bother trying to get the Batman logo approved by Warner Brothers so I needed a new name. I didn’t want to use my real name at the time because I wanted to stand out a bit more than that. My last name of LaRock afforded me many, many nicknames in my youth, including ‘Rockstar’. So, using SQLRockstar at the time seemed like a decent idea.
In all seriousness people confuse names all the time and I was called Douglas by no end of supply teachers and even in a few interviews. Has anybody ever called you “Mr Rockstar” and if so how did you react?
People call me many, many things. Most of them are deserved, I’m sure.
The SQLRockstar branding has been very successful for you, whilst others like myself have named their blog after their own name. If someone came to you right now and asked them for advice would you suggest they use a synonym or their real name?
I just had this discussion with a friend who was debating what to use. I suggested that they be practical and think about their goals, and their tools. If they are using Twitter to build a business brand, then use the business name (or synonym) for Twitter. If the goal is to have your name be known, then use your name. At the end of the day you still need to be interacting with people on a personal level to some degree. If you plan on using Twitter to simply stream out a series of links like a news feed than it won’t matter what you call yourself.
I have found that there are many other important decisions that one must take when creating a blog. Are there any services or platforms that you would recommend for someone who is thinking about starting a blog?
The goals are important, more than anything else. Don’t start a blog when all you really need is a landing page for your business, for example. Many people think about getting into blogging but they don’t understand the amount of writing and creativity it can take. Once you decide if blogging is the right choice for you then you can think about different platforms such as WordPress. Again, the goals are most important here. WordPress is fine as a blog platform, but it isn’t as good as Drupal would be for someone that needs to run a business.
If there was one tool that you couldn’t do without for blogging what is it and why would that be?
Learning new things. I’m lucky that I get to learn new things frequently in my role with Confio. That’s the tool that I need the most. Everything else is just a vehicle to help me get my stories out and the stories come from my experiences.
Gaining visibility is one of the key reasons that people start blogging. Do you subscribe to a “build it and they will come” philosophy or are you really into your SEO? How would you recommend people try to increase their site traffic?
I don’t spend a lot of time on SEO, because my goals aren’t to generate hits. I know other bloggers focus on measuring themselves by hits, and some believe that more hits means more reach, but I’m not currently in that camp. I write for myself first, and my audience second. Writing has to satisfy my soul first, otherwise it ceases to be anjoyable and becomes more like…work.
I think the best measure of a blog post is the number of comments, not the number of page views. It’s easy to get comments, too, you just need to take a stand on a topic and let people argue with each other on your post. If you want to build traffic then learn to write engaging content that people want to share and comment on. It’s easy to manipulate SEO to get hits. It’s harder to get folks to want to share your stories with others.
Congratulations on your MCM! Do you think that blogging has helped you in this monumental achievement?
Yes, but not in the way that you might think. Often times my blogging has led to extra learning opportunities. Most of those are of the presentation variety; webcasts, conferences, etc. Preparing a talk on some niche area of SQL Server has allowed me the opportunity to get to the MCM level in many different areas of SQL Server.
You are a really prolific blogger, how do you find inspiration for all of these posts?
Many of my posts come from experiences I have with clients and customers. I’m lucky that I get to come across new and interesting things all the time. I also enjoy writing on a variety of topics so that helps increase the amount of material available to me.
A lot of writers like routine; do you have a set routine for writing posts?
I guess so, but it changes a bit from post to post. Some posts start as notes I scribble on paper and then make their way to Evernote to be made into an outline at some point. Other posts get outlined and written fairly quickly. About the closest thing to a routine would be this; get an idea, find what would be useful for others, outline, write, edit, edit, edit, think of a decent title, edit again, find an image, edit more, think of a new titile because the first one is no good, edit again, throw in a few keywords, choose some useful categories, edit again, then publish at a decent time and share.
Although it doesn’t show, I’ve edited my responses to this interview three times already.
What have been the best and most random comments you have received on your blog?
The best comments I get are the ones that show up months later when someone stumbles across and older post and say something like “Thanks, this helped me solve an issue”. I love those. Anytime someone says that a post of mine helped them in some way is pure gold for me. I’d trade 10,000 page views for one of those comments any day.
I don’t recall any of the random ones, as I tend to not dwell on them very much.
You have of course written a book; do you think that you will be dipping your toe into the water anytime soon?
I’m currently toying with the idea of three different books. I enjoying doing technical review for others, too.
What are your ambitions for the New Year?
To work less and enjoy my family more.
No interview with you would be complete without asking about your bloggers table. It’s a really interesting concept and one that fascinates a number of people waiting to see if they appear on the list or if they have risen or fallen from grace. What catches your eye when you are looking for new talent on the board?
I actively solicit recommendations for bloggers. If you or anyone else happens to know of a blogger that should be ranked all you need to do is drop me an email. As for the ranking of bloggers I try to look at the frequency of the posts, the quality of the posts, and the volume of work in general. I tend to favor those bloggers that write posts that are meant to help others learn something without asking for something in return (i.e., not a glut of posts promoting a particular business or events).
With SQL Server 2012 we now have partially contained databases, can you see yourself adding this category for niche SQL blogs?
No, I don’t. In fact, I may have to go with something more general for non-SQL Server audiences to understand as I am looking to expand into the Cloud and Big Data.
Do you think that other social media channels such as Twitter and Google+ are replacing blogging as the main information medium?
No, I see each of those as different tools for a different goal as they have different audiences. Twitter is very limiting with only 140 characters. The folks using Google+ aren’t looking for a blog post as much as they want images and links to be shared amongst their circles. I honestly think that the real key is the URL. If I am at Twitter.com, I expect to consume one type of content. If I am at plus.google.com, I expect something else. And if I am at somethingelse.com, then I want something else.
I was looking at my demographics by country the other day for website traffic and saw that the US was way ahead with the UK second and India likely to overtake it in the coming months. Do you think about a particular demographic when writing?
No, not at all. I’m not sure if that is good or bad, either. But if I did consider demographics then you wouldn’t be finding so many references to bacon. I can’t let demographics determine my content. If I did, then blogging ceases to be fun for me and it becomes more like a job, and I already have one of those.
Thanks for your time Tom and all the best for the New Year.
You can find out more about Thomas La Rock at his website http://www.ThomasLaRock.com
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.