SQL Heroes and Data Dudes

In case you are wondering where I’ve been lately, it’s been a combination of issues at work plus putting the final nails in the schedule for TechMixer University. It’s been a big team effort, and as chair of the education committee I’ve had some great help gathering speakers for the event. We just published the first round of speakers and tracks so be sure to go take a look. And if you haven’t signed up yet, you better hurry registration is rapidly filling up!

On the interesting SQL News front, thanks to Jason over at StatisticsIO I just found out about the SQL Heroes site.  They are having a contest for the best SQL Server 2008 community project submitted to CodePlex. Here’s a listing of the current SQL projects currently there. Looks like some useful utilities, and the contest still has a month left in it so plenty of time to assemble your own project and submit to the contest.

I recently began diving deeper into Visual Studio Team System 2008 Database Edition (aka “Data Dude”) and wanted to learn more about it. Fellow SQL MVP Andy Leonard has come out with a new book, the first in a series on the subject. Volume 1, available from Solid Quality Mentors, takes you from the basics of creating your first database project, into versioning your database and scripts, right into building and deploying. There’s also some interesting and useful material in the appendixes, including installation of data dude and importing a database schema. I was also interested in getting a peak at his development environment. And at a mere 15 dollars I thought it was a bargain.

devLink Almost Sold Out

I mentioned a few weeks ago I was looking forward to attending devLink. If you haven’t heard of it, devLink is a conference being held in Murfreesboro TN, just south of Nashville. It started out small but has turned into a pretty big deal. I went last year, and will be returning again this year.

I just got an e-mail, the conference is almost sold out! Less than 30 spots remain. If you want your chance to see me live and in person (and who wouldn’t?) then rush now to their site and pick up your pass. At only 75 bucks it’s a bargain you can’t afford to pass up.

iPhone or iHype?

This post is a bit off topic from what I normally talk about, but being a fan of various “social networking” platforms including blogs, podcasts and the like I feel a need to speak out about a certain insanity that occurred. Last week Apple released its new model of the iPhone, and the internet went nuts. Podcasts devoted extended coverage, blogs were gushing, internet news sites went wall to wall with coverage. Let me interject a thought here – folks, it’s just a cell phone!

Now, before the Apple fan-boys come out of the wood work to attack me, my beef is not with the iPhone itself. It’s a nice enough phone, has a lot of decent features, and even I will admit it looks very nice. But feature wise it’s not revolutionary; there are other cell phones on the market that have similar sets of features. No, my beef is more with the coverage. Leo Laporte over on http://twitlive.tv did 24 hour coverage. CNet Live did a two hour version of their show; CNet’s news show likewise had multiple episodes centered on the iPhone. What?

I have to really question this. If any of the other cell phone companies released a phone, it might get a segment which would be fine, but not wall to wall coverage. But stick a logo of a half eaten piece of fruit on it and BAM the web goes nuts. I’m not alone in my weariness of the coverage either, on Mondays’ Buzz Out Loud from CNet even Tom Meritt said “I’m so sick of talking about it I throw up a little bit in my mouth every time I say it”. (Then he showed a cool video of someone dropping an iPhone in a blender.) Perhaps it’s just the cranky geek in me, but I just don’t get it. iPhone? Sounds more like iHype to me.

The SQL Server Developer

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about for quite a while; perhaps others are drawing similar conclusions. I may even be late to the game, but if so I haven’t seen it discussed on the blogs or podcasts, and I keep up with these pretty regularly. After a lot of consideration, I’ve decided there is a new type of IT professional, the SQL Server Developer, of which I consider myself one.

Let’s start out with a basic definition. What is a SQL Server Developer? In my mind they fall into two categories. The first is the developer who works with the SQL Server Business Intelligence (SSBI) tools, namely SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), or SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS). The second is the type of developer who works in the server end, developing stored procedures in both T-SQL and CLR, scripts, designing tables and views, and other tasks not centered on the day to day activities around the actual running of the Server itself. In many organizations these two areas are covered by the same person.

So what has caused this new breed of IT professional to emerge? Two reasons as I see it. First is the introduction of SQL Server 2005 itself. It brought along a new flood of tools, many outside the experiences of the typical DBA. The ability to write CLR inside the database is very new to DBAs, most of whom have no experience with .Net coding. Note this is in no way any sort of knock against DBAs, I would not expect one to have any experience with it. Likewise with many of the other tools.

The bigger reason though is Sarbanes Oxley. For a complete background see the Wikipedia article on Sarbanes Oxley, but in brief “SOX” is a US law that makes the leaders of publically held companies accountable for the financial dealings in their company. Auditors are responsible for ensuring compliance. As a result, most corporations have put in place rules in IT that place a wall between production systems and the developers who created those systems. In my own company’s environment, and those of many others I speak with, this means the DBAs are no longer allowed to develop code. No table designs, to stored procedures, etc. They are able to develop scripts if they are used in maintaining the health of the server; those are OK because financial decisions are not being made based on those scripts.

Somebody then, had to step in and fill the gap. In many companies since these were considered development tasks the coding fell to the development group. In other organizations DBAs were divided into production DBAs and development DBAs. In either case these folks are responsible for developing solutions to business issues, and are not responsible (at least not directly) for the day to day running of the server.

Now that you understand what a SQL Server Developer is and why they came into existence, you may be asking what the point of this article is? Well, I suppose it’s a plea of sorts. I see a lot of activities / training for both the DBA and the .Net pro, but little for the SS Dev. Even Tech-Ed this year demonstrated the schizophrenia when it split the event in two. There were just as many events in the Dev week as there were in the IT Pro week that applied to the SS Dev. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen training videos, mostly from Microsoft, that cover the technologies involved. But little that talk about the overall experiences that a SS Dev. In addition, almost every book I read assumes the reader comes from a DBA background. Doing so only covers half of the target audience; keep in mind there’s a lot of us who came from a .Net background.

So what would I like to see? Well to begin with, books that don’t assume everyone has the same background. Next I’d like to see more events targeted at the SQL Server Developer. Here in Birmingham we’re planning on a SQL Saturday next spring, I’d like to see many sessions devoted to the SS Dev. Finally, there seems to be very little software, outside the tools that ship from Microsoft, to assist the SS Dev. RedGate has some nice tools, and I’ve just started investigating the ApexSQL tools, most tools seem to target the DBA primarily though. It’d be nice to see collections and offerings more targeted at development.

What can you do? Well if you recognize yourself as a SQL Server Developer, start referring to yourself as such. Talk to Microsoft and vendors, start bringing the gap to them, ask them to start providing tools and events to cover our needs. Finally, evangelize! Do presentations, blog, whatever it takes to let the world know there’s a new breed of IT Professional out there.

Arcane Fun Fridays – Game Review – Tiger Woods PGA Golf 2007

As some of my readers are aware, I recently won an XBox 360 Elite. Naturally I’ve started collecting a few games for it, being thrifty though have picked up some of my titles used. I thought it’d be fun to post a few game reviews.

Way back when, I used to really enjoy golf games on my Amiga and old 286 era PC. (Yeah, I know, I’m a wild man.) So one of the first things I picked up was last years Tiger Woods golf game.

The game adds in little character plays between shots, showing players doing various things. This is cute the first few times, but after a bit gets a little slow, there are times when I wish I could press a button to skip over these little plays and just take my shot.

In addition, some of the little plays show what I consider to be bad sportsman like conduct. For some rougher games like football or soccer this might be more common, but I’ve always thought golf to be more of a gentleman’s game. Perhaps I sound like an “old fuddy duddy” but I didn’t care much for the scenes of a player snapping his club over his knee or throwing a club across the field. I’d hate for non golfers to think this is the way Tiger or any of the other Pro’s really act on the golf course.

On the good side, game play is challenging, smooth, and fun. I’ve really enjoyed it as I’ve begun working my way through the Tiger Woods Challenge play. And the training system is one of the best I’ve ever seen in any game, any time. It takes you step by step through each component of play, and lets you practice it. Very through and comprehensive.

Overall I give Tiger Woods PGA Golf 2007 eight out of ten on the Arcane scale of fun.

Update:I played some more over the weekend, and found that in many scenes pressing the Green “A” button allowed you to skip over the scene. Really helped to speed up play. Note that not every scene has this, but give it a try and you’ll start getting a feel for which ones do and don’t.

Getting Tagged by the Software Developer Meme

There’s a “meme” going around the net. A meme, for those unfamiliar, is defined as a unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that gets transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one person to another. On the web, a meme is a theme, usually a series of questions that get passed from one person to another. After one person answers, he tags one or more other folks. Well, I got tagged!

StatisticsIO, better known as Jason Massie, got me. To keep his link chain alive, this has now gone from: Denis Gobo > Andy Leonard > Frank La Vigne > Peter Brown > Chad Campbell > Dan Rigsby > Michael Eaton > Sarah Dutkiewicz > Jeff Blankenburg > Josh Holmes > Larry Clarkin > Jason Massie > Me! So without further ado…

How old were you when you first started programming?

12 or 13, it was on a TRS-80 Model 1.

How did you get started in programming?

My dad had written a Star Wars game programming in Basic on the TRS-80. I hacked it so I could beat my sister most of the time, and the rest was history.

What was your first language?

BASIC, of course.

What was the first real program you wrote?

As I recall, it was a character generator for Dungeons and Dragons back on the TRS-80. Involved a lot of random number generation and printing.

What languages have you used since you started programming?

In no particular order: BASIC, Pascal, Quick Basic, Visual Basic, COBOL, C, C++, C#, Delphi, Fortran, dBase, FoxPro, RPG III, a little assembler, probably some more I can’t recall. Working on learning Powershell and F# now.

What was your first professional programming gig?

I guess it depends. A friend of mine and I co-wrote an inventory system for someone who wanted to start a company. It was written using compiled BASIC 1.0, and the software and DOS had to fit on one floppy disk, then the inventory for the store had to fit on a second floppy. Unfortunately they went under before we could get paid. I then went on to write a dBase II system for a lawyer to organize some charity or other, that was the first system I actually got paid for.

If you knew then what you knew now, would you have started programming / DBAing?

Oh yes, love it! There’s something rather intoxicating about making the computer sing and dance to your whim.

If there one thing you learned along the way that you would tell new developers, what would it be?

Can’t decide on one, so there are two things I’d share. First, as much fun as coding is, never forget you are there to solve a problem. Ultimately it’s not about you but about the user experience. Don’t be afraid to subjugate your ego to the success of the project, ultimately it’ll pay.

Second, take time for the peripheral skills. Communications, business, etc. These will make you far more valuable as a professional developer than technical skills alone.

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had … programming?

Hmm, tough call. Believe it or not I used to work for a prophylactic factory. It was a lot of fun coding the interfaces between the machine that printed the serial number on each one, and the production database.

Either that or right after we got married I spent close to two years working from home. My wife would sometimes sit in my lap and snuggle up while I was able to reach around her and keep coding. Distracting perhaps, but the question was about fun not productivity!

Who are you calling out?

Hmm, let’s see, that’s a tough one since this meme’s been around a while. Let’s annoy…


Rachel Appel

Amanda Launcher (AKA Pandamonial)

Jeff Barnes

Keith Elder

Chris Woodruff

Glen Gordon

Shawn Wildermuth

Michael Neel (ViNull)

Dougal Campbell

Paul Waters

Wow, looks like there are still some victims developers left after all…

August Conferences

There are three major conferences coming up in August you should know about, two in Tennessee and one in Alabama.

First up, August 9th is CodeStock. This event will be held in Knoxville TN on the campus of Pellissippi State. They also have a Twitter account you can follow to get the latest news. Looks like quite an event, I counted at least two authors and ten MVPs among the speakers!

Next up is TechMixer University. It will be held Tuesday, August 19th in Birmingham Alabama. The speaker list will be published shortly, but trust me it’s a good line up including several MVPs. And it’s free!

Finally, devLINK will be held August 22nd and 23rd on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University, just outside Nashville. This one looks to be an awesome event, some really big name speakers will be here including the dotNetRocks guys!

And you know what the best part is? Yours truly the Arcane Coder will be attending all three conferences! Best of all a lot of the guys and gals I’ve gotten to know on Twitter will be there as well, and I’ll finally get a chance to meet them face to face. To say I’m stoked would be be an understatement.

So what are you waiting for? Go sign up today, none of the conferences are that expensive, and TechMixer U Is even free! Don’t pass up your opportunity to see the Arcane Coder live and in person.

Arcane Code, MVP

Just a few minutes ago I received an e-mail. “Dear Robert Cain,” it began, “Congratulations! We are pleased to present you with the 2008 Microsoft MVP Award! The MVP Award is our way to say thank you for promoting the spirit of community and improving people’s lives and the industry’s success every day.”


I admit it’s a goal I’ve had for the last year and a half, and have worked hard to achieve, but I still have a hard time believing it’s finally happened. For those who are unfamiliar with the award, MVP stands for Most Valuable Professional. Microsoft gives the award for work in the user group communities. My award was given in the SQL area. I am humbled to be joining an elite crowd, worldwide the website shows only 223 people in this category. Even though the award is for my efforts, those efforts were in the community and I had a lot of help from the community. Thus there are some folks I’d like to publicly thank.

The first is Doug Turnure, who up until Monday was the Developer Evangelist (DE) for AL/MS/GA. Doug mentored me, and gave me a lot of practical, valuable advice. I’d also like to thank the new DE for the area, Glen Gordon, who also gave me aid. Two other DE’s, Joe Healy and Brian Hitney also deserve a word of thanks. Even though I lived out of their normal operating areas they still took time to answer my questions and let me know of speaking opportunities.

There are also some 2007 MVPs who took time to give me advice and guidance. Todd Miranda, Jeff Barnes, Wally McClure, Kevin Boles and Keith Elder deserve a big thank you.

Next I’d like to thank all my co-workers, too numerous to mention, who tolerated my constant e-mails about user group meetings, events, and suffered as I practiced my presentations on them.

I would also be neglectful if I failed to say thanks to everyone in the various user groups I attend. BSDA, BUG.Net, Steel City SQL, SOA Society, TechBirmingham and others opened their doors to me and gave me chances to give back to the community. I should also say thanks to the various user groups across the south east, such as Atlanta, Orlando, Tallahassee, and Huntsville (to name a few) who opened their doors to me.

To all the readers of my blog I also need to give thanks. Your participation via comments and e-mail feedback helped keep my blog alive as a source of ongoing information for the community.

Next I want to thank my daughters, Raven and Anna, for putting up with Daddy being gone weekly to user groups, having his nose constantly in a book or laptop, or having to travel and spend time in hotel rooms while Daddy was in code camps. (Don’t worry, they didn’t suffer too much, they invented popcorn and “chick flick” night to compensate, and with Mommy’s help easily found the shopping malls.)

Finally, and most importantly I need to thank my wonderful wife ‘Ammie’, for taking care of the household while I was giving presentations, for bringing me dinner at my computer while I worked on blog posts, and for putting up with all the late nights I’d crawl in bed after getting immersed with some fascinating new technology and losing all track of time. Thanks honey!