If you like that session, you’ll probably enjoy my past blog posts on consulting & contracting.
Even in 2018, $100 webcams still have pretty crappy video quality. They have tiny sensors that don’t pull in enough light. Here’s the output from one of the best Logitech webcams out there:
Ugh. Faded, bad colors. Instead, check out how a GoPro Hero looks as a webcam:
Awww, yeah – what a difference. Here’s how to make it happen:
Buy a GoPro Hero 5 – if you’re only using this as a webcam, don’t buy the more expensive GoPro models. The webcam video only uploads 1080p video anyway, so any higher resolution doesn’t really help.
Luxebell Skeleton case – so you can mount it to a tripod and have the power & video cables plugged in:
LimoStudio Table Top Tripod ($10) – because you really want the GoPro at exact eye level:
HDMI to MicroHDMI cable:
Magewell XI100DUSB HDMI USB3 Capture:
You totally don’t need this, but my blue background in that shot is Rosco Chroma Key Paint, which is like green screen paint but it’s blue. Much more spouse-friendly.
You don’t even have to install anything. Webcam apps just immediately recognize it as a webcam, like Skype:
Same thing with FaceTime, Google Hangouts, GoToWebinar, and WebEx.
Should everybody go this far? Of course not – but when you make a living online talking to other people, you don’t want to look like a faded-out relic from the 90s.
The key is that magic little Magewell XI100DUSB. It takes HDMI and turns it into a plain ol’ webcam – so you can use this same device for any HDMI input, including your Xbox, Playstation, camcorder, you name it. Anything that outputs to HDMI can be a webcam with this. It’s not cheap – but it’s worth it.
About My Office Video Setup
If you read this far, you’re probably interested in the other gear I use:
The Focusrite Scarlett lets you plug pro microphones into your computer with USB. For a microphone, I use this, but fair warning, it ain’t cheap:
The ElectroVoice RE20 lets me get right up on top of it without a noise filter, and the bass sounds fantastic. Really gives you a lot more presence than the cheesy microphones that come built into webcams & computers.
Cowboy Studio lighting kit is a great price for 3 lights, tripods, and umbrellas. They’re not spectacularly robust, but I don’t take them out of the house, so it’s not a big deal. I put one on either side of my desk, and then when I’m doing green-screen techniques, I use one to light up the wall and reduce shadows. This is important though:
LimoStudio 85W CFL bulbs – the bulbs included with the Cowboy Studio kit are alright, but in my new condo, I’ve got one wall of windows in my office. Despite thick blinds, I couldn’t light my office evenly, and these monster bulbs make all the difference. They don’t get hot when they’re on, either.
Why go to all this trouble? Well, here’s an example end result. Good stuff.
In the old days, when you wanted to learn about photography or you bought a new gadget, you went to the bookstore – in person – and you bought a book. Maybe if you had some spare time, you joined a local user group, and if you had all kinds of time, you’d sign up for a college course.
Over the last several years, the consumer gadget training market – yes, there actually is such a thing – has evolved at a breakneck pace. When you want to learn photography, you’ve got some amazing options:
- Free email newsletters like Photojojo
- Free videos on YouTube like Remember The Egg
- Ebooks like Digital Photography School
- And all the way up at the expert level, in-depth video training like the Stan Winston School
No matter how you like to learn, or what your budget is, there’s a bunch of choices.
Adding Individual Options in the SQL Server Market
Over a decade ago, when I got started with SQL Server, I perused the bookshelves at my local computer store. I’d think hard about how to spend my $50, and then I read. If I was lucky, the book came with a demo CD with code samples, too.
These days, the market is shifting fast. Here’s some of the recent offerings from individuals – not companies – in the SQL Server market:
- Klaus Aschenbrenner’s new SQLpassion Online Academy – 1-hour videos for $24.90 where Klaus covers a single topic like parameter sniffing, index impact analysis, or choosing the right clustered key.
- Edwin Sarmiento’s new HA/DR Deep Dive on Udemy – this new 11-hour, $315 course offers videos about the transaction log, recovery models, mirroring, log shipping, and even multi-site clustering.
- Allan Hirt’s recent self-published project for a Mission Critical SQL Server book – he’s written HA/DR books before, and now he’s tackling a self-published one.
I really love seeing more individuals provide their own unique take on SQL Server learning. It’s a huge market, it’s got nowhere to go but up, and it’s going to encourage more people to sharpen their skills. We’re evolving our own offerings across a range of learning options too, all inspired by offerings in the consumer gadget training market:
- A free 6-month DBA training plan
- Free webcasts every Tuesday, plus archives available in our YouTube channel
- Training videos from $29 to $299
- In-person training classes for 2-3 days
And I’ve come to a conclusion:
Training Products Are the New Blogs
When I wrote How to Start a Blog in 2008, I pushed readers to become writers:
“If you want to make a personal investment of your time in order to gain long-term career traction, then start by writing your own blog under your own domain name. It’s not going to pay off for a while – in fact, it’s going to cost you around $100 per year, and it’s going to suck up some of your time….. I highly recommend starting with your own personal blog under your own control, though, to build your own brand and benefit your career.”
I certainly can’t lay claim to the blogs that were started afterwards, but I get a little excited inside every time I saw someone start up a new SQL Server blog and thank me. Today, the SQL Server blogosphere is incredibly rich – we have so many wonderful individual voices.
A few years from now, the SQL Server training market will be just as vibrant. Paid training isn’t dead, even though book publishers are really struggling. Instead, years from now, we’ll have a wide variety of for-pay books, videos, and tutorials – all put on by individuals who use a variety of ways to deliver that material.
Just as I encouraged you then to start your own blog on your own domain name, I’ll encourage you now to manage your own training products on your own web site. It’s really tempting to sell your training material through someone else’s storefront, and it can be a quicker route to short-term money, but that’s not where long-term success lives.
When You Own Your Own Training Site
Here’s some of the fun things we’ve been doing with our own online training:
Use your own branding. Make the videos look like you want them to look, and develop your own style. We have a funky, hand-crafted style with drawings, handouts, tests, and animations, but that isn’t for everybody. If you want to emphasize something completely different in your branding, you get that capability when you run the store.
Give access to your clients. When we do a SQL Critical Care session to help folks improve performance and reliability, we pick a list of relevant training videos, and set them up with access. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Run one-time promotions. We’ve got a hilarious blog post coming where Kendra’s going to bet you $20 that you have a problem on your server. If you don’t, then you get a $20-off coupon. When we launch new videos, we try experiments like buy-one-get-one offers. You get this kind of pricing flexibility when you run the store.
Give prizes to user group attendees. When I present at a user group, I can give away one-time coupon codes good for $100 off any videos of mine, or I can put together special recorded versions of the training I just gave, and let folks access that. It’s much more cost-effective for you as a presenter instead of buying books or Starbucks cards to give away.
It’s more work – just like running your own blog is more work. But if you dream of being your own boss, doing your own thing as a consultant, you need a product. Online training videos and ebooks might just be that product.
Last week I launched a video course called The Best Free SQL Server Downloads. It costs $29, and I gave out coupon codes to drop it to $19 for the launch.
I expected to get a few questions:
How Can You Charge People for a List of Free Stuff?
If you’ve ever watched TV late at night, you’ve probably stumbled across one of Matthew Lesko’s informercials. He wears a suit covered in question marks, and he sells information about how to get free money from the government.
I have never bought one of Lesko’s books. The cynic in me says, “Yeah, right – there’s no free money anywhere.” On the other hand, my relatives in the medical and social work industries tell me that there is indeed plenty of government help out there through various programs, free for the taking. Well, not exactly free – obviously there’s fierce competition for it, and it only gets worse as more people buy Lesko’s book. Government money is a zero-sum game – there’s only so much of it to go around.
But somebody’s buying them. A lot of somebodies.
When I worked at Quest Software, we hired an SEO company to tell us what SQL Server topics were the hottest in demand. Because I worked with customers who wanted to make their SQL Servers faster, I expected SQL Server performance tuning to be #1 on the list.
Not even close.
The #1 term on the list: free SQL Server downloads.
It got more specific after that, like people looking for free scripts, free tools, free books, etc, but the dominant thing they all had in common was “free”.
And it starts to make sense when you put yourself in the frame of mind of the typical DBA. They’re alone in their organization, with no support staff, nobody else who understands what they do, and no budget for tools or training. They know there’s gotta be good stuff out there, but when you search for free SQL Server downloads, the results are actually pretty crappy.
I’ve been using SQL Server for over a decade, and I’ve got one heck of a list of good free tools. I’ve spent a ton of time sifting through a bunch of shady, bogus, non-maintained stuff, and gotten it down to just a core set that I use on a daily basis.
I gambled that people would be willing to pay $19-$29 for my list of tools, and video demos of how to use them. After all, a lot of the good free stuff out there comes with no instructions whatsoever, and it can take you quite a while to figure it out. (Just last month, Jeremiah taught me about the @get_task_info parameter for sp_WhoIsActive, and I never would have known how useful it was if he hadn’t taught me.)
How Can You Make Money Off the Work of Others?
I actually expected this question, and it never came. I bet it just got mumbled quietly or behind closed doors.
All bloggers, presenters, and book authors piggyback off Microsoft’s work on SQL Server. We’re building the missing training documentation for somebody else’s product. Some of it’s available for free, and some costs money, and the market seems to be okay with that.
I could have totally built these training videos and uploaded them to YouTube. They’d be massively popular. But…I do that already. We have an incredibly active YouTube channel where we give away dozens of hours of video training. Every week, we write new material, pay WebEx so we can host free training sessions, encode the uploads, and maintain our video archive pages. Each of us spends probably 1-3 hours per week working on this free video stuff.
People love it, and we’ll absolutely keep doing that for free as a service to the community.
But sometimes, if I’m going to do something that has a tremendous bang for the buck, I’ll spend extra time working on it. I’ll set up my green screen, lights, and videocamera rig in my office. I’ll record it in high definition, produce it to make it look better, and then upload it in 720p or 1080p. It takes me about two days of work to write and record 90 minutes worth of really good videos. The resulting product is fantastic, and it’s totally worth the $29. Heck, in the first five minutes of the first video, I show how to get $200-$300 of training for free – it pays for itself several times over – and I know the buyer would never find that content if they were just searching the web for free SQL Server downloads.
If I’m doing my job right, this video will lead to more people working with these free tools, linking to them, and training others on how to use ’em. Everybody wins.
Do You Really Think Anybody Will Buy It?
I knew from working with my consulting clients that the vast, vast majority of them don’t know about this free stuff. They might know one or two, but not all of them.
You, dear reader, are not my target market. You’re already smarter than the average bear. If you’ve been subscribing to my SQL Server blog, watching our webcasts, attending our user group sessions, and so on, then you’re different. You have a relatively large amount of spare time that you can use to sharpen your knives, and you’ll pick up on a lot of stuff over time.
Most SQL Server users don’t have that kind of time. They are overwhelmed with their day job, and when a problem strikes, they Google it. They want a complete answer, start to finish, in a single, easy-to-digest web page. That’s why Pinal Dave is so successful – he really understands what most SQL Server users are looking for. My downloads video is aimed at people who are struggling with problems, don’t have much time, and don’t have a corporate budget. At $29, they can just buy the video themselves and become a sharper DBA. It’s not so expensive that they have to worry about getting the company to pay for it.
So I took a gamble – that’s the fun part of working for yourself. You get to act on a hunch. My hunch paid off – we sold over 100 in the first week. That amazed me, because I really didn’t build it for most of our blog readers – I built it for the long term. I think it’s going to sit well in search results and have a long future ahead of it.
What If Someone Else Builds a List of Free SQL Server Scripts and Stuff?
I sincerely hope they do, and I hope every free project works harder on their documentation to make it easier for new users. At one point or another, I’ve talked to every community project person (Adam Machanic about sp_WhoIsActive, Ola Hallengren about his maintenance scripts, etc) trying to get them to sell a $19-$29 training course on how to use their product. Would you buy a 90-minute, $29 course from Adam Machanic showing how he uses sp_WhoIsActive to solve SQL Server problems? I sure as hell would.
It amazes me to write this, but even sp_Blitz™ has gotten complex enough that I could probably sell a $29, 90-minute in-depth video on how to use the advanced features like plan cache analysis and logging to a table. I’d love to do it for free and give it away, too, but if I don’t put a price tag on it, I’m probably never going to get motivated enough to take the two days off, write the demos, write the decks, and record it all. I’m sure other free tool authors are in the same boat.
Hi. I’m Brent Ozar.
I live in California with my wife Erika. I'm on an epic life quest to have fun and make a difference.
I co-founded Brent Ozar Unlimited to help make your SQL Servers faster and more reliable. I also maintain sp_Blitz® and the open source First Responder Kit repo.