…and where’s the second half gone?

I mean, it can’t be that my calendar shows December and the year is almost over? Alright, I see I definitely have to work on my time management. For now, let me complete the reports of events I have spoken at, and for next year I will try to find another rhythm for my blog posts.

First there was SQLSat Paris in beginning of July (actually on the last Saturday of our vacation 😯), which this time took place not in the Montparnasse tower, as I had hoped, but in the “Le 253” near the Place Stalingrad. Organized by Belgian MVP Isabelle van Campenhoudt (b|t) and Frenchman Jean-Pierre Riehl (b|t), this event hosted around 70 attendees and 20 speakers in a nice venue, with a patio where you could mingle with the others during the breaks.

One gig that evolved rather fast for me was SatRday Amsterdam. From submitting to holding the talk on September 1st it took less than two months, including confirmation, booking travel and hotel. This was one of two events with the biggest attendance and best reception I had this year. There were probably around 80 people in the room, all R enthusiasts, listening to me doing an R talk! 😀 But then, they didn’t have much choice, as there was only one track – a fact I wasn’t aware of when I submitted. Thanks to the Dutch crowd, I had some jokes in between and some nice feedback after my session.

One event I was pushed to submit to by my buddy William Durkin was SQLGla, now rebranded to Data:Scotland. Another user group meeting that has developed into a full day event. Very well organized by the team around Craig Porteous (b|t), this event gave us the opportunity to visit Glasgow once again. Planning the travels I learned that booking a flight from Düsseldorf to Glasgow via Amsterdam was way cheaper than just taking that same flight from AMS. 😳 At Schiphol we met up with about half a dozen other speakers, so that felt like a family trip already.

October saw me traveling to the SQLDays in Erding near Munich for the second time, where I did one R and one SQL session. I would call it a successful event, even though the organizer in charge failed to supply me with a beer after my session (things you can learn from the Grillen event…), I quite enjoyed those two days in Bavaria.

For November there was the Join!Conference in Warsaw, Poland, on my schedule. I had spoken at the 2017 edition, and was invited again by Maciej Pilecki (t), this time even to do three sessions. The venue was the Digital Knowledge Village, Maciej had organized a Speakers Dinner as well as a “pizza and beers” evening for everybody – well done!

Topping the year off (and I really mean it) at SQL Saturday in Slovenia. I had a full room, with all ca. 50 seats taken plus several people standing – for an R session at a SQL event, that was a first. Everything was splendidly organized by Dejan Sarka (b|t), Matija Lah (t), Mladen Prajdic (t) and Tomaz Kastrun (b|t): they came to pick everyone up from the airport (and made sure you were there in time for your return flight), had set up a speakers Dinner as well as an informal one, had shuttles ready for the latter and for getting to the venue… their hospitality has always been legendary, now I can confirm from first hand experience: it is real! Gaby and I had an awesome time in Ljubljana. Hvala!

To sum it up, in 2018 I gave 17 presentations on 14 occasions, in Germany (5 of them) and 9 other countries, if you count Scotland. Only to two of them I was sent by my boss. The rest took place more or less in my spare time, which might explain why I had no days left to take off between Christmas and New Year. Four events fully covered travel and accomodation costs, 3 others paid one hotel night – the rest? I guess they call it “giving back to the Community”… 😉

For next year, I would think an average of one event per month would be OK. Hopefully I will find some more time for blog posts and other articles.
For now: best wishes, Season’s greetings & see you on the other side of New Year’s Eve!


Half-year round-up

So, to do the name “blog” justice, I should post something every now and then. Alright, here you go, let me recap where my speaking gigs have taken me during the first six months of 2018.

February saw this year’s edition of SQLBits happening in the Olympia in London. I had submitted a couple of sessions, and my newest one “50 ways to show your data” had been selected. I was happy, yet it was a bit scary to think I’d present at, well, the biggest SQL event we have in Europe. I had asked for a Saturday session, and they put me in the very last time slot, so plenty of time to get acclimatized to the venue and everything. On Friday night my wife and I attended the big SQLBits “magic” party, a stunning experience with lots of performing artists and Harry Potter lookalikes, food and drinks.
Saturday I knew wouldn’t be one of my best days, as the hotel bed and some distant noises had given me a hard time finding any sleep. So, after breakfast I returned to the room, rehearsed my presentation one more time, and made my way to the venue around Lunch time. I strolled around the venue, met a couple of friends and acquaintances, but there were at least as many of them I missed to see. My presentation went alright, at least that’s what the majority of my 32 attendees said in the evaluations. Thanks again for coming, and – I’ll improve on my intonation for the next time!

Only two days later it was already time for the SQL Konferenz in Darmstadt, Germany’s event of the year when it comes to the MS data platform. This year’s speaker dinner was held on Monday in the Darmstadtium’s restaurant, so that all of the event was in lazybones’ distance to the recommended hotel, which shares the underground garage with the venue. 🙂 I also enjoyed the party for everyone on Tuesday night and presented my “Journey through the Tidyverse” session on Wednesday.

Going to SQLSaturday Iceland in March was very special, as I like the Nordic countries very much, but had never been to Iceland before. So, my wife and I made this a slightly extended trip, going from Thursday to early Tuesday. We took a rental car, stayed at “Eric the red” guesthouse near the famous Hallgrims church, and did the touristy things you’d expect from first-timers, like the Geysir and the Gullfoss waterfall. My introductory R talk presented in Reykjavik University was even attended by fellow speaker Dejan Sarka (t)! We topped our stay off by a visit to the Blue Lagoon on our way back to the airport. Big thanks to Ásgeir Gunnarson (t) for organizing and for having me as a speaker! This visit to your country was one amazing experience!

Admittedly I don’t get around to other local PASS groups too much. But in April I followed Tillmann Eitelberg’s (t) invitation to present my “50 ways” to the folks at the Rheinland group, in the Microsoft office in Cologne.

Techorama 2018

In May I had the pleasure of attending two events, each taking place in a cinema center: first, Techorama Belgium‘s 5 year anniversary in the Kinepolis Antwerp. An event not only for database folks, but also for developers and IT professionals in general. I found it very well organized, from the communication up-front and the speaker’s gift box in the hotel room to the shuttle buses and the variety of food during those two days. They had me present my “50 ways”, in parallel to Grant Fritchey’s (b|t) session – something that seems to happen every time we speak at the same conference.
End of May I flew to Copenhagen for the Intelligent Cloud Conference, a new event focusing on the Microsoft Platform around Azure, AI, Analytics, BI, IoT and SQL. I gave my “R primer for SQL folks” session as an ‘opener’ for the AI/Data Science track and enjoyed two days of Danish surroundings, Danish design and Danish food. Did I already mention I am fond of the Nordics…? Mange tak to Jens Vestergaard (b|t) for pointing me to the call for speakers for this one!

My “home Grand Prix” SQL Saturday Rheinland took place on June 9th in St. Augustin near Bonn. Speakers dinner was in a nice, but rather remote place, that allegedly couldn’t be reached by car. To find the nearest car park was an adventure of it’s own, we zigzagged our way through Königswinter, and we didn’t find out if Tillmann just wanted to show us the nice surroundings or if he couldn’t get his SatNav to work properly. For the remaining ca. 2 km it was walking up a slope of 20° in 100% humidity. I’ll spare you the details… Saturday itself went flawlessly and just was over much too soon.

The amazing SQL Grillen event in Lingen/Emsland topped off the first half of 2018 (and started our summer vacation). Brought to life by the wonderful “Yorkshireman in the Emsland” William Durkin (b|t), what had started as a user group anniversary is now a full two-day event under the motto “Databases, Bratwurst and beer”. And with 3 precons and 35 sessions, it even beats some of the SQLSaturdays I have been to. This was my second time as a speaker, and again the event was superbly organized by William and his team, who took care of hotel bookings, shuttles to the speaker dinner and just about everything else. With internationally renowned speakers from the US, UK, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Israel and Germany (I hope I didn’t forget anyone!) this really felt like one big #sqlfamily reunion again! I didn’t see anyone not enjoying themselves, and the socializing over some beers went on until well past 10 o’clock in the evening. Just the session planning… you guessed it, Grant and I were in the same time slot once again! 🙂

But now: vacation time, yeah! 🏖 See you on the other side of SQLSatParis.

Me and Grant
Two elderly gentlemen enjoying SQL Grillen

Developer, speaker, blogger – how did all of this happen?

It’s been exactly two years today, that I stood on an international “stage” as a speaker for the first time, presenting to SQL Server professionals. So I thought this might be a good day to start a blog, tell you the story and thank some people.

Having worked as a software developer for most of my professional life, I grew a faible for data(base) related tools, and that thing called SQLServer seemed to be a Microsoft product worth to consider working with. So, developing individual software in a small shop, I joined the SQLServer roadmap around version 6.5, when we made the transition to Windows and needed a replacement for the old DOS-based BTree database backend. Fast forward: in 2001 I joined an ISV as a developer for and around the ERP software then called Navision, made by a Danish company (Microsoft acquired them just a year later). I eventually found out about the PASS community and became a member in 2006.

As a member of the German PASS chapter, I attended the usual local user group meetings more or less regularly for quite some time, and occasionally even other events, like SQL Saturdays. Being the introvert that I am, I was comfortable just attending, but my UG leaders and other members kept asking when I was going to do a presentation. I have to thank Klaus Höltgen (t), Frank Geisler (b|t) and Markus Fischer (who passed away much too early), they never got tired of nagging me about speaking. Although I considered giving a talk, I doubted my own abilities (hey, imposter syndrome, haven’t you hit us all?). I also wondered what should I talk about? What could be of interest to the others? SQL Server subjects – you all know more and better about them than I do. I discarded Navision as I didn’t think anyone was interested. So I put off speaking to “yeah, at one future point in time”.

Unrelated to all that, I was looking for something new to learn. In 2014 I tried some online courses. I started with Geospatial Intelligence, went via Process Mining, and eventually discovered the R language. R was fascinating, a language for data integration, analysis, visualization, even data science, which was sort of en vogue. Plus it is open source, meaning I could install tools like RStudio on my machine for nothing, and start playing around with it. And it was especially to my liking, as you can achieve stunning results with very little effort of coding (developers are lazy folks, you know…). I was determined, should I actually dare to start speaking, it would be about SQL and R. But, that was not going to happen anytime soon.

In 2015 I had to skip my “home” SQLSaturday, Rheinland. Our youngest son graduated from secondary school on that Saturday, and there was no discussion how Dad would spend the day. To compensate for that, I decided to attend one other SQLSaturday in a neighbouring country, something I hadn’t done before. The choice fell on Denmark, for two reasons: I really like travelling the Nordics, and I could include a precon by well known speaker Dejan Sarka (t). The precon room was really full, so we moved in a couch in the back for me and one other attendee who turned out to be speaker and author Alberto Ferrari (b|t).

Being in town anyway, I had volunteered for the early shift at the registration desk and to do the room monitoring for a couple of sessions. That way I got to meet some of the speakers, most of them familiar to me only through Twitter or other online media: Erik Svensen (b|t), Matija Lah (b|t), Kennie Pontoppidan (b|t), Stephanie Locke (b|t), but there were several more awesome people, too many to mention them all. One thing I do have to mention was the raffle at the end of the day. I won a bottle of Whisky, and when I went to the front to collect it, Régis Baccaro (b|t) said to me something like “… and next time we want to see you speak!” (Merci bien, Régis!) And I thought “Well, my friend, you wanna see me speak? You are going to see me speak!”, knowing I had plenty of time to think of something, as the next SQLSaturday in Denmark would probably be a whole year from then.

A few weeks later, the call for speakers for SQL Nexus hit my inbox, a new SQL-related event to be held in – exactly: Copenhagen, Denmark! And fate took it’s course… I had been thinking about a concept for a presentation turning around SQL and R, so I put that in writing. Then I got Neil Hambly (b|t) to check on my submission drafts, and he greatly helped me with the title and the how-abouts of my abstract (Thanks a lot, Neil!). I submitted my presentation to the Nordic SQL Nexus event, and waited anxiously for things to come.

Just one day before I was heading for the SQL Konferenz 2016 (as an attendee), a mail from the SQL Nexus team around Régis, Kenneth Nielsen (b|t) and Mark Broadbent (b|t) arrived, telling me my session had been selected. Bang, wow, what a shock – in the best sense of the word: I made it! (Mange tak, herrer!) During the next two months I was constantly bouncing in a triangle “Yay, I am going to present a session!” –  “Hmm, I have to get my slides and demoes ready in time…” – “Gulp, in a cinema theatre??”
In April I arranged to present to my local PASS chapter, as a final rehearsal for the big stage. I think I did a whole 2 hours on my talk, including some questions – a talk that was planned for 60 minutes! I realized I had to gain some speed and keep any questions to the end. I can do this! Can I?

In early May I went to Copenhagen, to check in to the Tivoli Hotel where a room had kindly been booked for me. The night before the event I joined my first ever speakers dinner, a most pleasant combination of dinner, drinks, and getting to know the other speakers. The next morning I attended the key note which took place in a huge theatre with a screen size of about 200 square meters! I was relieved to see that “my” room was significantly smaller. In between I had put on my speaker’s shirt, something I would take pride of wearing for several future occasions. I got to the room well ahead of schedule to get my equipment rigged up and to get used to the viewpoint from the front. I had invested in a video adapter and a clicker-laserpointer, and I checked that everything was working.
About 30 to 35 attendees had found their way into the auditorium, which I thought was a big enough crowd for a first-timer. I started my presentation and it felt different from the user group talk. There were more people listening to my content, but I could barely see them, as the room lights had been dimmed down. I had to rush it a little bit in order not to overrun too much, and I struggled finding the proper English words at several points. But luckily there were no problems with my demoes, the internet nor the projector, so everything worked out. When I was done, my shirt felt soaking wet (because I tend to sweat very easily, something I have suffered from since my early youth), but I didn’t mind – I was happy and relieved it was over. Only when the lights came back on I realized that Steve Jones (t) (yes, the guy in the Hawaii shirts and editor-in-chief of SQLServer Central) had been following my talk in the front row! He found some friendly words for me, if I recall it right, he said I did well. Thanks for that first positive feedback – and for proofreading this post, Steve! 🙂

I spent the remaining one and a half days of the conference attending other sessions, mingling with fellow speakers as well as attendees, having drinks and a gamble at the evening reception, and having an overall great time, feeling like a true part of the #sqlfamily. In fact those days where such a great experience that (1) I asked my self why the heck I hadn’t started this way earlier, and (2) I knew this was something I absolutely would like to do again. I finally found my way to give back to the community!

But that is material for another blog post, this one already has the length of a novel…

So with this, a big “thank you” goes to all the people I mentioned, and to all the awesome unmentioned folks who encouraged, coached or in any other way helped me on my way! One very special person I’d like to thank is my lovely wife Gaby. She believed from the start that I could do this, always backed me up, let me travel to those crazy places and even went to SQLSaturdays with me on our wedding anniversary weekend – danke Schatz!

Edit 2018-05-07 (It’s Tuesday somewhere…):
I was made aware that this post might qualify as entry for this month’s #tsql2sday. So I hope the link works, and this post complies to the rules: