What I Do When I’m NOT Writing SQL

Published on: 2018-02-13

This post is a response to this month’s T-SQL Tuesday prompt created by Aaron BertrandAdam Machanic created T-SQL Tuesday as a way for SQL users to share ideas about interesting topics every month.  This month’s topic is “Your passions outside of SQL Server”.


Getting away

I spend most of my days in front of a computer.

While this is great because I love technology, a few times a year I like separating myself from all forms of semiconductors. I do this by going camping.

I highly recommend watching this week’s video on YouTube – I was able to include way more photos and video clips there!

Camping is a mental reset where I can focus on activities that are completely opposite of what I do every day. It involves different challenges and skill sets, and provides a literal breath of fresh air when compared to working in a typical office environment.

How did I come to enjoy sleeping on the ground and learning to survive with only 20lbs of gear? Let me describe three distinct eras in my camping evolution.

I didn’t grow up camping

High school Bert’s first camping trip in Vermont

My family never went on camping trips. I always enjoyed the outdoors, but I never learned any basic outdoors skills like you might learn in scouts.

My friends during high school came from similar upbringings. We didn’t know anything about building campfires or sleeping in tents, but we wanted to learn.

So, during the summer before college we decided we’d drive up to Vermont, rent a campsite at a state park, and learn to live outdoors.

While an immensely fun trip, our skills were lacking since we basically ended up eating ramen and sleeping in our cars (because our incorrectly set up tent gushed with rainwater during the middle of the night).

We kept at it though, going back every summer, until we managed to figure out how things should work. After a few trips we were no longer eating just ramen and not needing to sleep in our cars anymore.

Have tent, will travel

My outdoor skills improved as I continued to camp through my college years; I learned to cook food over coals, stay dry during the harshest rain storms, and light fires with a single match instead of half a can of camping stove fuel.

During this time I also realized that could travel almost anywhere and have my accommodations cost less than $20 per night PER CAMPSITE.

I must have been thinking “the water is too clear and warm for this New Englander”

This meant my friends (and future wife Renee) spent college spring break camping through the Everglades and the Florida Keys. We spent our days kayaking, zip lining, and eating key lime pies before returning to our ocean front campsite for the evening. I think in all that trip cost us less than $400 per person for 9 days of fun, including gas for the minivan.

Ultra cheap vacation to Yellowstone National Park

Ultra cheap vacations continued and I now graduated to cooking single pot meals and foil packet dinners. My car was still parked nearby but I wasn’t having to sleep in it at night.

I even ventured back to Vermont and proposed to Renee there while camping (she said yes even after three days of no showers. That’s when I knew she was a keeper).

Backpacking and gourmet food

Everything we need, carried in and carried out.

Camping eventually evolved into backpacking – instead of having a car a few feet away with a cooking stove and cooler of cold food, now I was learning about how to go into the wilderness for days with everything I would need carried in on my back.

Backpacking is truly exciting. You get to go and see places only accessible by a long hike on foot. The trips require more planning, both in terms of hiking routes, food preparation, water scouting, wildlife management, etc…. all things that invigorate my researching, detail oriented personality.

Living out of a backpack also means that you can easily fly to locations and still have a cheap vacation. I got to see beautiful National Parks like Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and Shenandoah all because I knew how to fit everything I need to survive into a carry-on and personal item (except for stove fuel, bear spray, and pocket knife …some things you just have to buy on location).

Not only is visiting these places cool to begin with, but camping overnight in them means you get to see the park early before any car driving tourists arrive and you get to stay out way longer after they all leave the park to go grab dinner.

By this point my car is parked miles away from where I am sleeping and my food game has stepped up. Although I am limited to carrying everything I need in a pack, we frequently dine on pad thai, pizza, and cinnamon rolls.

After a long day spent hiking…
… these are the only foods I need to eat.

Who says you need to be roughing it while camping?

Thanks for reading. You might also enjoy following me on Twitter.

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Learning Through Blogging and Speaking

Published on: 2017-12-12

This post is a response to this month’s T-SQL Tuesday prompt created by Mala Mahadevan. T-SQL Tuesday was created by Adam Machanic and is a way for SQL users to share ideas about interesting topics. This month’s topic is Setting Learning Goals for 2018.


Prefer watching instead of reading?  Watch my T-SQL Tuesday #97 response on YouTube.

What do I want to learn in 2018?

Next year I’m going to strive to learn more about tasks usually reserved for a DBA – backups, replication, user and role permissions, etc…

As a developer, I am generally isolated from the day-to-day work of a DBA.  Not that I necessarily want to be responsible for a system’s backups (and restorations!), but I do feel that I am missing out on a broader understanding of SQL Server by never having to perform these tasks myself.

I like being able to do-all-of-the-things, or at least know how to do them, because I think it makes me a better developer and a better architect of solutions.  By not having an expert knowledge of things like availability groups, I feel like it hurts me when it comes time to architect solutions.

The learning process

I like to learn by doing.  Since I’m not planning on becoming a DBA anytime soon, I’ll need to create my own scenarios to learn how these different DBA specific features of SQL Server work.

This won’t give me real-world experience, but for the most part I am ok with that – I’m trying to learn more details on the broader concepts rather than the nitty gritty of various real-world scenarios.

The best way I’ve found to learn by doing in this academic sense is through blogging.  I like blogging because it forces me to learn a concept well enough to be able to articulate it back easily to my readers (hi mom!).

Blogging forces you to create demos that point out features that are critical to understanding a demo.  If I can create a demo that recreates a real-world scenario, then my understanding of that problem in the real-world will be pretty good; at least way better than if I just read a book or MSDN article.

Implementation

Blogging is all good and fun, but the best way I’ve found to really understand a topic is to present it.  If you can teach someone else then you have a pretty good handle on the content.

Now, I’m not aspiring to give a 500-level talk about disaster-recovery planning, but I do think I can learn enough to present some 100-level topics to SQL Server beginners who are just a few books online articles behind me.

The best part about presenting is that you will have people smarter than you in the room with you.  Or at least people who have a different perspective about the topic than you.  These people will generally ask really good questions that…you don’t know the answer to!

But there’s no shame in saying you don’t know the answer.  It’s actually a wonderful opportunity – after the presentation, you can take your time and learn the solution.  Then blog about it so others can know the answer too.  Then incorporate into your future presentations.  It’s a beautiful cycle.

Thanks for reading. You might also enjoy following me on Twitter.

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