Immersion Events are back!

OK – so, lots of exciting things going on. I’ve just completed my first two day partner event in Zurich (first of two in Switzerland). Today I head over to Geneva by train so that I can deliver the second two day partner event there. The partner I’ve been working with in Switzerland is Trivadis and it’s always been fun coming over here and working with them (this is my third trip to Switzerland since Mar last year and second with Trivadis)! Trivadis is home to one of my fellow RDs Meinrad Weiss and he’s always great to chat with and very clever too! In fact, I have a blog post coming based on something we chatted about during class (it’s a cool trick… stay tuned). But, regardless, one of the things that came up at the end of the day was the type of training that I did this week… (well, really the type of training that we do at SQLskills). The discussion ended up talking about the complete learning/training cycle and how do you choose from ALL of the different choices??! First, (if we’re talking about SQL Server), it takes a layered approach and a variety of different techniques, technologies and even a lot of planning/practice/coordination among staff, etc. to keep a system running WELL. In the end, it takes a combination of things (and probably training) to make that happen. As a result and based on all of these choices, we talked about training in three primary buckets…

Conferences are great when you want get a wide variety of topics covered. They’re great when you want to network with large groups on a variety of levels. They’re great when you want to see a variety of products and how they work and/or what they do. Conferences really are great when you want to go wide more than deep. Don’t get me wrong, I like doing 300-400 level sessions at conferences (and there are a lot of other speakers that do as well) BUT, in only a 60-75-90 minute session, you can only go so deep. You can do two sessions or three sessions in a topic but sometimes that’s hard to coordinate and to be honest, there’s always so much going on that you tend to lose people that are getting distracted by other tempting sessions so I’m not all that fond of going beyond two for a conference. Having said that, you can certainly hit a lot of best practices and technical depth BUT I think a conference is BEST at giving you breadth and there’s nothing wrong with that! In fact, some of the best conferences I’ve been to in a long time were TechEd in Boston and SQL Connections in Orlando… lots of great sessions and I got some great ideas of different architectures, etc. and I also learned about some great upcoming products, etc.

Depending on the vendor there are lots of options in this bucket. Probably the most obvious is MOC (Microsoft Official Curriculum). MOC has been around for a long time… in fact, that’s where it all started for me! Back in ’90 I got my MCP in something (hmmm…DOS?) and then shortly thereafter got my MCP in OS/2, LAN Manager and SQL Server and in ’91, I became an MCT (all of this while I was working for a small ATEC in Chicago called LAN\mind). Then, I went to work for Microsoft as a trainer for Microsoft University (the building 0 of Microsoft even though by that time Microsoft was a lot larger and had moved to it’s main campus in Redmond). It was a GREAT place to work. Both of these training centers (LAN\mind and then Microsoft) were a BLAST to work at and I learned an amazing amount with my team members. It seems like all of the trainers had great fun working together…one of my best friends actually rollerbladed through my class once (those were the good old days!). My point, is that this kind of training is a lot more focused… it allows you to focus for 3-4-5 days on one area of the product and it gives you some hands-on. This can be exactly what you need. The only problem is that you’re somewhat at the mercy of the instructor (well, this is always true!) and you have to hope you get someone who has really worked with the product and/or customers and really knows depth (I’ve heard EVERYTHING in terms of comments – both good and bad about MOC and most of the time it’s about the instructor). To add to this, there are some companies that “host” MOC training but don’t even really have instructors on site (which is also good and bad). In fact, I’ve received a few emails that are clearly being blasted at a ton of people (I guess MCTs) and the mails are saying things like “Is anyone available NEXT week to teach course XYX” and that just completely blows me away. Don’t get me wrong I used to jump in when possible and say “yes” I’m available and I have to think that it’s still a good class BUT… it just seems like the RANGE of quality is the most widely varying here and that’s the part that can be disappointing. With regard to the courses, these are generally good. However, I do think that MOST of the courses try to cover too many topics. Basically, each class tends to focus on a discipline – like DBA or Dev or BI and while that can be good…sometimes you need more AND sometimes certain topics really hit at least two and possibly all three of those areas. That’s where I *think* (well, I hope!), that I (we) come in with “Immersion” events.

Immersion Events
Other companies have things which are similar but my thoughts on Immersion Events are that some areas just need time and incredible depth to really understand. I always make fun of this old Chinese proverb but it’s so true: give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. The point is that anyone can tell you a command and how to implement something… but if I can really tell you why something works the way that it does and show you how you can see it and troubleshoot it, then you’re going to be able to use that and leverage that when other things go right/wrong. I believe heavily in internals and the lower levels of how pages, extents, files, filegroups, data v. log, locking… if you start to get a feel for how all of these things are interrelated, you can make better architectural decisions AND you’ll know what the other impacts are of a variety of decisions. For example, transaction design (esp. long running transactions) impacts the types and lengths of time that locks are held (ok, that’s a “well duh”) but poorly written transactions not only cause blocking (which in turn, affects performance) but can also impact the size of your transaction log and whether or not the log can be cleared. This can end up not only causing performance problems but can impact recovery and even some of your secondary systems (or cluster) down the road in terms of restart recovery (because a long UNDO can take time and in SQL Server 2000 and SQL Server 2005 (in 2005 it’s ONLY the non-Enterprise Engine editions), users cannot access a database until UNDO has completed. (sidenote: the SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Engine editions (Developer, Enterprise Eval and Enterprise) have Fast Restart which allows users to access the database after REDO has completed and while UNDO is processing. The good news is that data integrity is maintained because the records being processed by UNDO are locked and inaccessible (unless lock hints are used).) Finally, if you’re waitinf for UNDO, this can lead to the perception of potentially A LOT of downtime. And – all of this could be because of a poorly written application. So, my point is that knowing the impacts of something from end to end and really diving into how things work – that’s what some classes do. That’s what Immersion Events do. We take one area and we really try to focus on a subset of features (new features/critical features) and then we just try to go deep. We’ll often hit on best practices in other areas and other options but we really try to go deep in the more critical areas. The other thing that we do with Immersion Events is that we try to extend the courses with other types of learning – group troubleshooting, guest speakers, hands-on, *interesting* demos and then we end the day with BYOP (“Bring Your Own Problem”). BYOP sessions are unstructured sessions that typically run from 4:30 – 6pm after an 8:30am-4:30pm course day. BYOP is designed so that you can apply what you’ve learned during the class day to your own systems and challenges. If it’s a tuning class, we strongly urge you to bring your laptops and external drives – loaded with database backups, sample applications/workloads and Profiler Traces – so that you have real world data/problems for real world (and specifically YOUR WORLD
J) tuning scenarios. If it’s an architectural class (like Bob’s classes in SODA), then we want you to come with your ideas and current architectures so that we can see if other features and/or alternatives could provide better x, y, z (insert performance, flexibility, control, etc…). The BYOP sessions begin with group discussions – focusing on similar systems and/or challenges and then the groups will move into deep troubleshooting discussion groups from there. Basically, the aim of an Immersion Event is to have an intense and focused event where not only do you come back with a few new/critical features to leverage but you may have even solved some of your most frustrating challenges.

OK, this blog entry really wasn’t planned to be this long but it’s a discussion that I got into last night that started to motivate this. At the end of my partner event at Trivadis (not quite a full blown Immersion Event but *very* close – certainly in terms of technical depth but just not the really long days and BYOP), they were really pleased that we had just spent two full days on nothing but Indexing (Internals to Statistics to Advanced Indexing Strategies to Maintenance). They told me that they felt like they were ready to tackle a few problems and a couple folks said that they already knew what they were going to do to fix a thing or two. One person came to me telling me that they really didn’t think that I could tell them WHY one of their more complex problems “worked” the way that it did but after the module on statistics he said he knew exactly what was going on. And – I love when I get mail from folks after class… I just chatted with someone from my last class who told me that they had a query that was taking 15 mins (over a 2.8 billion row table) and now (after some of my Advanced Indexing Strategies) the query is taking 9 seconds. Can’t complain about that, eh? J

Anyway, learning can be fun AND there are lots of ways to learn. I think the best way to a better system is to combine all of the above (and don’t forget webcasts, blogs, whitepapers, Hands-On Labs, etc.). The basic point is that you should attend some conferences to get a wider variety of topics and architectural options, attend some training to get started with a variety of technologies and then attend Immersion Events to really get the depth and focus to solve some of your more complex challenges. And – you can certainly substitute webcasts, blogs, whitepapers and a few other options for some of these training options but sometimes you really need to get away and “Immerse Yourself” in the technology!

And – OK, I have another reason for blogging on this topic today… we’ve (SQLskills) just announced our new Immersion Event lineup for summer/fall 2006. We’re hitting three cities in the US (Chicago[land], Redmond, and New York City) and we’re targeting some intense classes around Performance Tuning, Service Oriented Database Architectures, Tuning BI (IS/AS/RS) Environments AND Always On Technologies. They’re going to be great fun, in-depth, hands-on courses with long days so that we can all really focus and “get it done”. And we’re still adding some guest speakers (Gert (aka Data Dude) is joining us in New York and it looks like the famous “SQL Apprentice” will join us in Chicago for some BYOP on SQL – details to be posted shortly). Check out the complete lineup of events here.

Let me know your thoughts on training in general and/or in specific. Really, I think all types are good and all have their time/place. I just happen to like the deep “Immersion” ones more than anything!

Hope to see you there!

3 thoughts on “Immersion Events are back!

  1. Hi Kimberly,

    This may not be the right place to post this, but I was trying unzip on of your downloads from your SQLskills SQL Immersion Event on January 24 – 27, 2006 and it’s asking for a password.
    Would you be able to provide the password? Thanks.

    Loved your TechNet WebCasts.


  2. Well… usually Immersion Event content is only for Immersion Event attendees :). However, I have made sure that all of the demo code is not password protected!


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