SQL Server specialization: the journey

I am a self-proclaimed In-Memory OLTP Evangelist, dispelling myths and misconceptions as I preach.

Some folks might be interested in how I got here . . .

I’ve been a production SQL Server DBA for more than two decades, but throughout almost all of that time, I have not concentrated on a specific area of SQL Server – I was a “generalist”.

Around 2011, I became aware of SQL MCM Brent Ozar (b | t) , and was inspired by his dedication to the SQL Server community. One piece of advice he has stressed repeatedly, is that you must be known as a person that can relieve a specific type of pain – you must specialize. However, even with the release of SQL 2012, I didn’t latch onto anything specific.

When SQL 2014 arrived, I became fascinated with In-Memory OLTP. I studied its inner workings, probed and poked it, but became disillusioned with its extremely narrow set of use cases, so I put it down.

When I received the early CTPs of SQL 2016, I could see that things were changing for In-Memory OLTP. Most of the issues with the 2014 release were addressed, and it was integrated with new features. I became fully committed to learning everything about it – I read white papers, blogs, books, forum posts, and every page of the documentation on In-Memory OLTP for SQL 2016.

After a while, I felt ready to present to the local user group about In-Memory OLTP.

Presentation itself is an art form, and again I must mention Brent, as it’s an area of keen interest for him (many posts on his personal blog are about presentation).

In May of 2016 I was fortunate enough to connect with SQL MCM Edwin Sarmiento (b | t), who has profound SQL Server and presentation skills. Edwin pointed me to one of his online slide decks that listed presentation resources (you can see the slide deck here, and he gives excellent advice about mastering a new SQL Server feature here).

I knew my presentation skills could be improved, so I studied and practiced presenting, and when I felt I was ready, I started applying to SQL Saturdays.

The advice I received from my mentors has proven to be true – if you really want to learn something, you must teach it. Even the act of preparing educational materials makes you think like an attendee, and helps you distill the essence of what you are trying to communicate.

Timing is everything

Towards the end of 2016, I had not seen wide adoption of In-Memory OLTP. Then on November 16th, Microsoft issued a blockbuster announcement: as of Service Pack 1 for SQL 2016, In-Memory (and other formerly Enterprise-only features) would be available in non-Enterprise editions. As a result, there seems to be a lot more interest in this feature, and I’m really excited about that.

To the blogosphere

After working with the SQL 2016 CTP releases for a few months, I started blogging about In-Memory, but I didn’t want to repeat what others had already written about it. I had read dozens and dozens of blog posts, and 99% of them fell into one of two categories: internals and speed comparison. Instead, my focus was about the various ways in which deploying In-Memory can affect the database environment, from restoring databases to database architecture, and how it works with other features, such as Availability Groups and Replication, and how to troubleshoot it. I also blogged about the inevitable “gotchas” that come with adoption of any new feature.

If a question about In-Memory pops up on Stack Exchange, MSDN forums, or #sqlhelp on Twitter, I try to help. I remember how difficult it was for me in the beginning, mostly because the documentation hadn’t yet been updated for SQL 2016.

“Jaw on floor…”

I was recently contacted by SQL MCM Robert Davis (b | t), who asked if I might be interested in joining his team (I was honored to be considered). I’ve been following Robert a long time, and have learned a lot from reading his blog and attending his presentations.

My reply began with: “jaw on floor…”

I have no idea if I’ll end up joining Robert’s team, but that’s not the point.

The real point is – my efforts to specialize have paid multiple dividends, and one of them is being recognized as a technologist having deep expertise within the In-Memory OLTP space. For the last eighteen months, I’ve had a feeling that I’m on a path that’s right for me.

My journey was set in motion by a variety of factors:

  • inspiration from members of the SQL Server community
  • a genuine desire to help others
  • having an open mind
  • extreme personal motivation
  • following my intuition

I’m writing this post so that others might draw inspiration from it – just one more way to give back.

Ned Otter

New York City, June 2017

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