Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend the SQLBits conference, the largest community-led SQL Server conference in Europe which ran from March 4th to 7th 2015. Every year, the SQLBits conference is held in a unique UK venue with a unique theme to go along with it – previous SQLBits conferences have been held in universities, gorgeous hotels and a golf resort. This year, they chose the ExCel London and the theme of the conference was super heroes.
The SQLBits conference sets its self apart from other conferences, not only with its themes but its choice of speakers. A whole flock of Microsoft techies spoke at March’s conference. Microsoft Partner Director of Engineering Rohan Kumar gave the keynote at this year’s conference. Other Microsoft speakers included Distinguished Engineer Nigel Ellis, Partner Software Architect Conor Cunningham and Mark Souza, General Manager Microsoft Azure Customer Advisory Team, as well as a host of other SQL heavy hitters.
This was my first time attending the conference and my first impressions were very positive. There were many technical lectures, workshops and sessions, which were all taught by Microsoft Certified Masters. Everything was very well organised and there were lots of opportunities to network and meet new people. If you didn’t get a chance to network during the day then the superheroes themed parties in the evenings provided another opportunity to network in a more informal setting.
All of the session information and materials from the conference can be found here. From my perspective, the most interesting and useful sessions were:
- A practical guide to using charts & graphs!
- The future of the Data Professional
- Five Ways You Can Become the Enterprise Data Hero
- Behaviour Analysis MDX
- Tools and Tips: From accidental to efficient DWH developer
- Automating Your Database Deployments
Gems that I took away from these sessions were ways of carrying out continuous database integration, delivery and deployment and practical guidelines for clever use of charts and graphs.
Ways of carrying out continuous database integration, delivery and deployment
When discussing continuous database integration, delivery and deployment, there is one condition: Database source code should be managed in the Version Control System (VCS). It turns out that 24% of DBAs do not manage their database source codes in VCS (according to Redgate’s poll of 377 developers conducted on SQLservercentral.com at the end of 2013). If you have databases in the VCS then there are three basic rules to deploying a continuous database process:
- Never give up! You should try to do it over and over again until you succeed! Even if it has errors or if your way is longer.
- Use some tools - any tool that supports automatic process will do, but do not think too much about the functionalities of this tool because…
- Most continuous database processes will be built in PowerShell (or analogous command interpreter in the operating system which is different from Windows).
“A tool that supports continuous database processes is crucial but you can create effective ways to support continuous database process using any tool from the market”
These rules are generic and may not address many of the doubts that you might have but it’s important to understand that every continuous database process is different. You have to be prepared to solve some custom problems during implementation. Invest time in this area as it’s unrealistic to resolve some problems over a short period of time. You have to improve the process constantly. To summarise, a tool that support continuous database process is crucial but you can create effective ways to support this process using any tool from the market.
Practical guidelines for clever use of charts and graphs There are many different ways of presenting data with charts (graphs), reports, diagrams and dashboards. However every element of the data presentation interface has detailed recommendations and you should not build any user interface without a basic knowledge of these recommendations. To be clear, by “recommendations” I mean:
- Specific cases when other elements should be used;
- A list of pros and cons;
- Comparison with two or three other elements of interface.
So do not have reinvent the wheel! You can just use rules that have been developed by some really smart people. Three simple yet essential guidelines to keep in mind are:
- Bar charts are better than column charts because the human eye compare vertical views (bar charts) better than horizontal ones (column charts). In addition, management of labels in bar charts are much easier than in column charts.
- One chart or one graph can be used instead of table with many columns. For example: You can show a couple vital information about one object (Customer, Store, Factory etc.) on one Bullet graph (for example: sales value, estimate of the sales value, budget, current month sales and previous month sales value in the one chart) instead of using table with five columns.
- You should not use pie charts or map charts when you want to show specific information. These types of charts are useful mainly for marketing purposes but it’s not useful when showing data to managers or analytics because the visibility of values or comparison of values on these types of charts are very difficult and sometimes even impossible.
As you can see I’ve really learned a lot from the conference. The SQLBits conference is just on another level. You have to go in order to understand how amazing of a conference it is. To have some of the best minds from Microsoft, a great venue and incredible organisers all in one place makes this conference really special.
If you want to register for the next one, the bad news is that the dates haven’t been announced yet – but the SQLBits organisers have announced on Twitter that they are discussing the next conference so keep an eye on their Twitter profile here for announcements.