#SQLPASS Election Interview with James Rowland-Jones

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 1 Comment

PASS (the artist formerly known as the Professional Association for SQL Server) is about to hold their Board of Directors election. There are 3 spots open, and 4 people in the running.

James Rowland-Jones is currently on the PASS Board, and this is his first time running for re-election. I wholeheartedly, wildly endorse James because I’m biased. I’ve known him for years in several capacities:

  • As a sponsor manager – I worked with him back in my Quest Software days when I was an evangelist and he was managing vendor relationships for SQLbits.
  • As a coauthor – on our book, Pro SQL 2008 Internals and Troubleshooting, and I’ll be the first to tell you that his chapter on latching & locking is one of my favorite chapters that I’ve ever read in a technical book.
  • As a conference organizer – now that I’m a speaker, I really appreciate the work that he and others put into SQLbits. Here’s what it’s like to attend that conference.
  • As a Board of Directors member – he calmly, reasonably dealt with all kinds of ugly questions when he was appointed to the Board without running.

So I sent James a few questions via email, and he was kind enough to take time to answer:

Brent: Two years ago, you joined the PASS Board of Directors with a focus of growing the international presence. Let’s be honest: at the time, PASS was mostly an America-focused group with a heavy emphasis on DBAs. How have things changed over the last two years?

Would you buy a used SQL Server from this man? (Hint: you should.)

Would you buy a used SQL Server from this man? (Hint: you should.)

We have made some significant changes. PASS now has regional directors for the USA/Canada and for EMEA. This was no small undertaking as bylaw changes were required to get that done. We also needed to bring the community with us as well and so we went through an extensive public consultation. In short it was a journey for us all.

Moving forward we are now looking forward to introducing the same structure to LATAM. This is very exciting and I am personally very happy with the approach we have taken. This time we have charged the Regional Mentors with delivering against measurable goals that will culminate in a regional board seat.

Brent: Looking back at 2012, what were your goals then, and how did they change over time?

The goals we set out for global growth in the vision document (PDF) really didn’t change very much. This was mainly due to the fact that we spent a lot of time in consultation; it was a significant team effort across members of the board and with direct and extensive engagement with the community.

That said what did change was the realisation and recognition that all the community portfolios need to have an international perspective and so the right course of action was to melt the global growth portfolio into the respective community portfolios BUT to then ensure that global growth goals were set as part of that directive.

Brent: How would you rate yourself as a Board of Directors member? On a 0-10 scale, where are you?

I would put myself as a solid 8. I think I do a good job and I deliver. I bring a different perspective, in part from being so involved with SQLBits, to the table and have experience with some of the event commercials that in reality is needed at the board level.

Sometimes it is hard being in such a different time zone from the rest of the board (excluding Jen). That can make some communication tough. However, that is what makes the board meetings so important. Those meetings really accelerate things for me.

Brent: In the next two years, what specific goals do you want to accomplish?

I am very keen to establish the Global Alliance Program. This is all about recognising the value and importance of strategic alignment with our commercial partners and working with them for the betterment of the community. Our partners are a key component of the community ecosystem upon whom we rely on for a number of our activities. I’ve often felt that we need to do more to help each other. Part of that includes aligning spend (read enhanced sales) but that is just a part of it. We should be able to articulate and inform our partners of what our community wants and needs are; providing them with better opportunities to engage. To achieve this we will need to understand our community to a much more profound level than we do today; we need to expand our communication into a genuine dialogue with the community. That’s an exciting challenge and one I want to be part of.

Brent: Could you accomplish those goals if you weren’t elected to the Board?

I don’t think so no. A lot of what I want to achieve requires a significant mandate. I’ve been very fortunate to have been supported by the past and the present PASS executive bodies. This is essential. Normally there is a large number of moving parts to these kinds of activities. I don’t think it would be appropriate for these kinds of changes to be delivered without direct board engagement, visibility and accountability.

Brent: The PASS Board isn’t the only thing on your plate – you’re one of the core SQLbits organizers, and you’re growing your own consulting company. Why did you choose to run for the PASS Board again?

I haven’t finished what I started out to achieve. I want PASS to be a more successful organisation; supporting the worldwide community. I would like to see that through.

I also want PASS to be more of a champion for the community: stand up, measure the community pulse and represent our voice. “The Gartner of Data” is how I have encapsulated this in my application form (PDF).

Brent: What have been your most valuable learning resources about strategy, management, and community?

I’ve been very fortunate to work with some fantastic people. People are what make this job worthwhile. Everyone I’ve met and engaged with has been willing to share their experience and offer insights. I have made lifelong friends working through the community.

That goes beyond my engagements on the board. It extends to chats like this, conversations with the likes of Steve Jones and Andy Leonard at events and also with my friends and colleagues at Microsoft. Everyone in this community is happy to share their perspective and their insights. That has been the greatest source of inspiration for me. Delivering positive change for the betterment of my colleagues in the community has been immensely rewarding.

I’ve also learned a lot being in this role. There is a lot to it and it is very different to running your own business. My peers in the leadership of PASS and SQLBits are all passionate, forthright leaders in their own right. Bringing that mix of people together to effect change can be a big challenge and I’ve enjoyed trying to rise to it. I’ve learned new skills in collaboration, persuasion and presentation – even a bit of marketing. In that sense there are many intangibles that have helped me in my professional career.

Brent: What are other communities doing right that PASS could mimic?

There has been a very healthy amount of collaboration between SQLBits and PASS. I think that is important to call out. Areas such as the community corner / community zone have emerged and built upon at the PASS Summit as a result. That’s been good to see. I think there are other opportunities to extend this. I would like to see the model of SQLBits tried in the US at some point. By this I mean the event mixture. SQLBits is comprised of paid and unpaid days which is an interesting mix for sure and adds a different dimension. This is more than just a SQL Saturday with pre-cons. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work. SQL Relay in the UK has also been very popular and I am also very impressed by what Amit Bansal and the www.sqlservergeeks.com have achieved. Just look at the number of events that group has run and how they engage with their membership.

Brent: What does PASS need to stop doing?

The Election process itself needs to be overhauled – especially the form and function of the Nom Com. Having an election to have an election is a very time consuming process I question the value. I am not convinced that the Nom Com has sufficient teeth in its current guise to make the process worthwhile. I do understand that there is history here and I am sensitive to that fact. However, one has to look at the amount of effort involved versus the return.

I have argued quite strongly for a Nom Com election and then a board selection. I would also like the Nom Com to sit for a period of time rather than as an annual event. Finally, I’d like to see the Nom Com actually make an assessment to the community of the strengths and weaknesses of the current board. That is more in keeping with commercial nominations committees but I think it is a good standard and helps to keep the board balanced.


To learn more about James:

And when your PASS Ballot arrives via email, please take the time to vote. Your vote really does matter – recently, only a handful of votes have meant the difference between making it or not.

Announcing the New Business Analytics Conference

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 1 Comment

(Dear reader – PASS just announced a few changes to BAC 2015. The strangely-worded announcement is already causing a hubbub on Twitter, and I thought, “There’s gotta be a way to say this stuff clearly and positively.” So I’m taking a shot at it – here goes. Keep in mind that I have nothing to do with the BAC, I’ve never attended it, and I don’t even know why they’re doing this stuff. I’m making this up as I go.)

Our annual PASS Summit is an incredible, mature event for data professionals. Every year, we’re lucky enough to get thousands of session submissions from volunteers all over the world who want to share their real-life experiences on amazing projects.


Our Business Analytics Conference targets a newer market: BA/BI practitioners, architects, and data scientists. We’ve learned that even though this is a young market, attendees don’t just want people who have done it on their laptop – they demand proven track records, and that doesn’t come cheap in a new market.

So we’ve decided to treat the BA Conference differently. We’re taking your attendee dollars and using them to buy training time from the very best analytics experts in the world. We understand that this means we won’t make much money on the conference, but after all, we’re a non-profit and we’re interested in growing a really strong community of sharing – just like we did with SQL Server.

These people are expensive, but we’re absolutely confident you’ll love their work. We’re excited to share the trainers and the agenda with you in the coming months.

Long-term, this conference is about data, and we want the session selections to be entirely data-driven. We want to use data about the sessions, speakers, and attendees to craft the perfect lineup. However, right now that process would require expertise we just don’t have available. We’re confident that as the community grows with us, that’s a project we’ll be able to tackle together as volunteers.

Until we get there, though, let’s learn from the very top notch industry experts that we never could have gotten for free. I believe this is an incredible training value, and I know you will too. Register now.

How I Vote for #SQLPASS Board of Directors Members

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 9 Comments

tl;dr – I’m voting for Grant, James, and Wendy.

There are 3 open spots, and 4 people running. This means you have to pick one person who won’t get in.

I’m a data guy, so I made a spreadsheet of what’s important to me:

PASS Board of Directors Candidates

PASS Board of Directors Candidates

When I elect somebody to a volunteer position, I want to know what they accomplish. Ideally, they blog and tweet about what they’re doing, but I understand that not everybody likes to communicate that way. Just in case, I also read the PASS Board of Directors meeting minutes looking for what they’ve accomplished. Finally, I read their election profiles to see what BoD accomplishments they’re proud of.

I gotta be honest: I had a really tough time deciphering what the 3 incumbents have done this year. That alone is a big problem, and it means I’m 100% sold on giving Grant a vote. He’s a communicator and a bridge-builder – if anybody can bring transparency to PASS, it’s Grant.

As to the incumbents, I know JRJ was heavily involved in SQLbits, and I’ve written about what a kick-ass job they’re doing of growing the global community. I’m sold on giving JRJ another vote.

Wendy made a list of what she’s done in her election profile, so she gets my last vote.

It’s absolutely nothing against Sri – I’m sure he’s a great guy doing great things – but I just don’t know what they are.

The Real Problem with Relational Databases

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 9 Comments

They’ve become too easy.

It’s too easy to just dump any kind of data in there.

It’s too easy to query the database rather than cache data for a period of time in the app.

It’s too easy to join all the tables together rather than pick just the tables you need.

It’s too easy to write spectacularly, horrifically bad queries.

It’s too easy to copy/paste bad designs from the web that have gradually gained good SEO over time.

It’s too easy to install them and go live on really crappy hardware.

It’s too easy to scale for the first couple years because they just work.

Over and over, I see developers succeeding with specialized data storage platforms not because these new platforms are easy – but because they’re harder. Developers are wary of these new tools, so they’re careful. Developers pay close attention, read all the blog posts about it, the HackerNews links on it, and even dig into the source code.

If only they’d put that much time into learning relational databases.

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