SQLBits 2015 – Super Heroes!

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(Thanks to Pyramid Analytics for the amazing sketch – They accurately captured my physique!)

Before I get in to making all those who were unable to attend SQLBits peanut butter and jelly, I would first like to thank all the organisers, speakers and the wonderful helpers! Without them the conference would not be possible, or at least it wouldn’t run smoothly! A special thanks to Annette Allen for running the helpers (hard!) and for allowing me to be part of such an awesome bunch of helpers – I don’t want to say that the helpers this year we the best ever – but we were pretty damn awesome!

For those of you who do not know, SQLBits is the largest SQL Server conference Europe with more than 1500 attendees. For the last few years SQLBits has been a 3 day conference with day 1 being a pre-conference training day, followed by 2 days of hour log sessions. This year the SQLBits organisers opted to add another day to the bill in the form of a mixed pre-conference training day / session day. I really like this idea as the conference is always over in a flash (pun intended).

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Day 0: aka “Travel day” * How many bags!
I am based in the UK so didn’t quite have the same journey times as other attendees (who come from as far as America & South Africa). My journey time was a little under 5 hours by taxi, train, tube then the DLR. I was a helper last year and frankly I loved it! You get a completely different experience when wearing a green shirt, I recommend it to you all! I was helping this year so was eager to get to the ExCeL centre early to help out. Upon arriving at the ExCeL it was clear that SQLBits was not a little fish area any more. If you have not been to the Excel before it is MASSIVE! By my estimate it is half a mile long (which made finding a vending machine fun!) If that isnt enough there were 2 other conferences and a movie being filmed at the same time – massive! Over the 4 days I racked up 30 miles on fitbit. Any way I digress.

If you are under any idea that running a conference is easy, take a look at the amount of bags that needed to be packed (~1800). Sounds like a lot of work but it is made easy by amazing company! Upon arriving I was able to catch up with old friends and make some new ones! As always there was beer and pizza for those who helped (always a good bribe for IT nerds!).

After the bag packing we headed to the Aloft (the hotel connected to the ExCeL) for a well deserved catch up and some drinks. My junior developer came with me this year which was awesome as he had to listen to me talking about bits for the last year and this year he was there. Particular highlight of the evening for me was spending some time chatting to Itzik Ben-gan about TSQL – If you don’t know Itzik then you should checkout his books (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Itzik-Ben-Gan/e/B001IGQENW).

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Day 1: Pre-conference day & the boat ride
After a 06:15 wake up call I was off to the ExCel for day 1 of SQLBits. The weather was brilliant, crisp and clear, which made for a very pleasant walk from my hotel to the ExCeL. Helper briefing at 07:30 was followed by an hour and a half of checking in lovely attendees. I was monitoring Adam Jorgenson and Bradley “King of costume changes” Ball’s Optimising your companies data lifecycle” session at 09:00. This was a great session with a real mixture of content, DBA, BI & machine learning. I particularly enjoyed Bradley’s many costume changes!

Train hard, party harder should be the tag line of SQLBits! Following a day of training was the SQLBits boat tour of the Thames. How do you get 300 SQLBits attendees from the ExCeL to the boat? Squeeze them all in the DLR! This was a lot of fun!

This was a great evening and I got to see London from a different perspective. Back to the hotel for an early night!

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Day 2: Standard sessions & the pub quiz
Another 06:15 start for another 07:30 helper briefing. This was a half pre-conference training and half general sessions day. I was too slow with my selection and missed out on some amazing sessions. My junior attended David Peter Hansen’s SSIS internals pre-con which I would have loved to attend. Hopefully I will have chance to see it again in Exeter in April (http://sqlsatexeter.azurewebsites.net/). I spent a lot of the day hanging around the community area chatting to folks about user groups SQL Saturday conferences – needless to say I had a blast! You guys are amazing!

When I did get to a session I attended the following:

Deadlocking for mere mortals – Jonathan Kehayias. Great session. I love deadlock graphs!
Data loading performance presentation – Matan Yungman. Matan is a gent! Great session, great speaker, great podcast!
Azure SQL DB – Nigel Ellis – Azure SQL DB 12 is funky! Really great session!

This was a very DBA flavoured day for me. As a BI developer I typically tend to stick with what I know. This in the past has been really limiting. Stepping out of your comfort zone and expanding your knowledge in a different area, allows me to understand more about the engine which allows me to write better queries. By only attending 3 sessions I missed a lot of great content, but not to worry! SQLBits put all their content online after the event! There is almost 12 conferences worth of content on their website! Hundreds of hours of expert training, all FREE!

I have attended the last 3 SQLBits and every year I have been incredibly envious of the teams who win all the amazing SQLBits prizes. This year there were so many awesome prizes on offer, ranging from t-shirts to Blu-ray boxsets and large Lego sets. My team this year came 3rd (I think), which meant we missed the prizes. :( Never-the-less it was a great quiz!

Day 3: Standard sessions, the Cow note (as it will hence be known) & the super party!
As a helper I spent the Friday morning posted down stairs directing people to registration and the key note. The Key note was interesting. This year the key note was delivered by Rohan Kumar – Director of software engineering at Microsoft. In true super hero style Rohan appeared from the bat mobile! Did he go on to tell us about SQL Server V next? No! We learnt about wi-fi cows. There were some genius tweets going back and forth though out the session.

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After the Cow note, I got back to attending sessions.

Practical T-SQL Tips and Tricks to Coding – SQL Sentry. I got to see some great tools in action. Plan explorer is great!
Query Tuning Mastery: Clash of the Row Goals – Adam Machanic. Adam is a great speaker! You don’t write sp_Whoisactive without knowing your stuff!
Deep into Isolation levels – Boris Hristov. Another great session. I love Boris’ Google hangouts, so it was great to meet him in person.
Indexing Internals – Denny Cherry. At this point in the day my brain had melted! Denny always delivers a great session!

After the last session, it was a quick dash back to the hotel before the Party. SQLBits is known for its amazing parties! In 2013 I was dressed like a dragon, 2014 saw me head-to-toe as a steampunk gent. 2015 was super hero themed. I LOVE super heroes! I must have decided and then undecided 50 times before settling on my costume idea. I am a massive fan of Adventure Time so this year I was Finn! Unfortunately 95% of SQLBits attendees had never seen Adventure Time. I ate, drank, partied, rode a zip line I even battled aliens with Steve Jones. Yet again this was an amazing event.

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Day 4: Saturday sessions & the trip home :(
Saturday is the FREE community day and is chock full of content. Sessions started at 08:15 an ran until 18:00 – pretty full on!

I attended the following sessions:

How to decide if your database is a good candidate for Virtualisation – Denny Cherry
Analytics Master Class-exploiting exotic patterns in data – Mark Whitehorn. This session was the best session at SQLBits and possibly the best session I have attended at any conference. Mark is a Professor at Dundee university and his teaching style was spot on. The content was tricky but demonstrated in an accessible way. After a regular session there is typically a few people left asking questions. Testament to Mark, half the room were waiting to ask more. I really hope you all watch this session when it is available.
The BI Power Hour – Matt Masson. They say what happens in the Power Hour stays in the power hour – It was awesome 😛
Introducing the Reimagined Power BI Platform – Jen Underwood. Power BI is great!

And with that, SQLBits was over for another year and this year was great! I had a blast and met some really amazing people – especially those who knew me through this blog!

See you all next year!