I’ve been watching Steve Stedman’s Database Corruption Challenge with glee. Steve (@SQLEMT) is running one of the toughest kinds of blog posts you can do: an ongoing series that involves a lot of prep, urgent timings, and dealing with plenty of contributions/questions/answers from a lively audience.
That is seriously hard work.
So I emailed Steve and put even more work on his plate – an email interview. Here’s how it went:
Brent: What made you decide to do a corruption challenge?
Steve: I was working on a blog post to explain the concept of how to pull in data from a non-clustered index when there is corruption in the clustered index. After spending a few minutes on the blog post, I decided that rather than just explaining the concept, it might be fun to throw it out as a challenge and see if anyone would like to participate. I posted the first database corruption challenge. After about 6 hours, you (Brent) were the first to respond with your solution. You also posted a link on Twitter, which increased the visibility of the Database Corruption Challenge. Over the next 36 hours a total of 91 participants responded to the challenge, with 22 correct solutions that resulted with no data loss. By this time I was having fun and decided to create the next challenge.
Brent: As a blogger, I try to write about things I want to be known for. Do you want to be known for challenging corruption issues? How does the corruption challenge tie into your personal branding?
In March 2015 I left my full time position and I decided to pursue building my freelance consulting business Stedman Solutions LLC (http://StedmanSolutions.com). I hadn’t really decided on a branding for myself and company to begin with. It certainly wasn’t my intention to establish a brand when I posted that first Database Corruption Challenge. There are many different avenues to build a brand for my business, but I have learned that to really succeed you need to enjoy what you do. I am really enjoying challenging corruption issues, and I am enjoying the work that it has pushed my way.
Brent: How long does it take to set up for a new corruption challenge?
Setting up the challenge really varies week over week. The first challenge took about an hour to prepare, however I learned a great deal after posting it. As a result I now test challenges much more extensively before releasing them. Challenge #6 took about 3 hours to prepare, test, and to write the blog post. Challenge #4 and Challenge #5 took more time. The interesting thing is the challenges that take me the longest amount of time are not necessarily the best challenges. Each week I test the challenge against SQL Server 2014, 2012, 2008R2, and on some weeks I even include 2008 and 2005.
I find that I spend the majority of my time in reviewing and scoring all the submitted answers. I have been amazed at how many different approaches people have taken to solving corruption. The benefit of this is that week over week I am continually learning something new. At a minimum I spend at least an hour a day on the Database Corruption Challenge. The day after launching a new challenge, it takes about 6 hours of my time to review and respond to all the solutions that people submit.
Brent: After launching the first challenge, I know you were surprised by the interest in it, and you ended up setting up an email newsletter. There’s a lot of us who love challenges like this! What else were you surprised by?
One thing that really surprised me was around week 5 of the contest a comment from a SQL Server MVP who said something like “I don’t like contests like this where there are really only 4 or 5 people who can compete or win.” That really shocked me, given that the average number of winning participants each week so far has been 18, certainly above 4 or 5. Keep in mind the challenge is intended to be a learning experience as well as a bit of a contest. I really enjoy seeing people learn from their encounters with specific types of database corruption that they had never encountered before. Especially when they are able to learn from and improve both their skills and confidence. Given that, it doesn’t really matter how many people can compete, but how many people can learn.
Brent: Were there any moments that made you think, “I’m so done with this”?
Yes, most definitely week 5 of the challenge! To begin with the setup process just to be able to work on the challenge was too difficult. Many people were frustrated by this and they shared their frustration with me. Week 5 involved a corrupt boot page in the database that needed to be copied with a hex editor, just to be able to get to the corruption. So for everyone reading this, I apologize, the remaining weeks will be better.
Brent: Were there any moments that made you think, “Wow, I’m so glad I did this”?
There have been many of these.
Recently at a SQL Saturday someone who I had never met before walked up to me and said “you are the database corruption guy right?” We chatted for a bit and I learned that he had just started participating in the Database Corruption Challenge, and was enjoying the learning. It’s a nice feeling when a complete stranger walks up to you and recognizes you for something good you have done.
Another WOW moment was when I received a comment from a participant who said “You should invite all the participants to meet up for a happy hour or similar at the PASS Summit in October”. That let me know that this more than just a competition, it was turning into a social event. One of the things that I enjoy about working with SQL Server is the strong community, and the suggestion to meet up for happy hour has certainly confirmed it.
Brent: What advice would you give to other bloggers who were thinking about running an interactive contest?
Just do it. But have a way of measuring if there is some impact. Also have a way to get out, or end the contest if you find out your contest isn’t working.
Collaborate or partner with someone on your contest. It can be lots of work for just one person, so if 2 or 3 people work together you may be able to achieve something greater, with less work than if you tried to do it alone. I wish I had done this.
Be sure you have the time to commit. The contest will take more time than you expect.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. After doing the Database Corruption Challenge I have stronger opinions on what works and what doesn’t work than I did before.