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:


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