SQLPeople: An Interview With Andy Leonard

The thing that I most enjoy about going to conferences, SQLSaturdays, and user group meetings is the people I get to meet or see there. That’s why I was intrigued when SQLPeople was announced a few months ago.

Recently I had an opportunity to spend time with Andy Leonard (twiter | blog) when he came to Nashville to deliver SSIS training for a client. I truly enjoyed the afternoon we spent savoring hot beverages on the porch of a local coffee shop.

More recently I talked with Andy about SQLPeople. Here’s what he had to say.

JW: Tell me a little about yourself, Andy.

AL: I’m a believer, husband, dad, and grandfather; a farmer, author, and blogger; a SQL Server database developer and SSIS architect. I’m an engineer at heart and I’ve been honored to be a SQL Server MVP for four years.

JW: Professionally speaking, how do you spend your day?

AL: Tweeting. Seriously, I schedule many tweets about a week (or more) in advance – especially the stuff announcing blog posts and Andy Leonard Training, Inc. courses. My days are divided between billable work, business development, and community activities.

JW: You’re known as one of the top SSIS people in the world. How did you get started?

AL: I think there are lots of really smart SSIS people in the community – plus me! I was fortunate enough to be working for Brian Knight when writing began on the Professional SSIS 2005 Wrox book. Brian found himself needing authors and was kind enough to give me an opportunity to work on the project.

JW: How did you learn SSIS?

AL: When we started working on that book, the only people that knew anything about SSIS were the developers building it. They put out Channel 9 videos and blog posts and we gobbled them up while the bits were still warm. I also built relationships with members of the SSIS team at Microsoft. Folks like Donald Farmer, Matt Masson, Ashvini Sharma, and Kirk Haselden were very patient and transparent with me as I bugged them via email. Donald and Matt remain patient with me as I continue to learn. As you know, the SQL Server Community is awesome. I continue to learn SSIS from Jamie Thomson, Adam Machanic, Brett Flippen, Rob Farley, Todd McDermid, John Welch, Jessica Moss, Rafael Salas, Julie Smith, and many others (too many to name!).

JW: How has the SQL community helped you in your career?

AL: Gosh, I wouldn’t have a career without the SQL Server Community. Or I would, but I can’t imagine it would be this cool. I first interacted with the Community via books and newsgroups (remember newsgroups?). I was in a temp-to-perm position (still a temp) trying to get my first big data warehouse to perform when I ran across a post from Kalen Delaney about the impact of Where clause field order in VLDB tables. Everything else I’d read talked about selectivity and density, and I’d tried just about everything to get this one query to perform. Since the reporting tool generated T-SQL semantically, the Where clause was always ordered the same way – which just-so-happened to be the inverse selective/dense order! I took Kalen’s advice and the warehouse started returning results. I got to meet Kalen and Ken Henderson at the PASS Summit 2004 (“The Year of the Storms”). I went into that conference suffering from a serious case of Imposter’s Fear – I kept thinking “someone is going to figure out any day now that I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. Then I’ll get fired.” I left the Summit thinking “I’m a database professional.” That was the beginning of what the SQL Community has done for me.

JW: What is SQLPeople?

AL: That’s a good question! I have an evolving blub posted on the About page. SQLPeople is more defined by what it’s not than what it is, so I’ll start there. SQLPeople is not a bureaucracy. There’s no hierarchy, administrative staff, or leadership in the sense of a board; rather Brian Moran and I bounce ideas around and implement the stuff that survives our strategic thinking email chains. Right now, SQLPeople is a series of interviews to help the SQL Community get to know each other better. Some of the people interviewed are recognizable industry names. Some are not, or at least not yet! I’m learning things about our peers right along with everyone else. I find each interview fascinating and really appreciate the support from the SQL Community. There’s also an upcoming SQLPeople Event in Richmond Virginia 9 Apr. Brian and I have a few ideas worked out that we’ll be announcing this Spring, and we’re always thinking about cool new ways to serve the Community. We believe the key to Community is serving others. Hence the name: SQLPeople – people are first.

JW: How did you come up with the idea for SQLPeople?

AL: Ok, this is weird but true: I had a dream. In the dream I was sitting on a stage interviewing someone and there was this banner hanging from the front part of the stage with the SQLPeople logo. I woke up – it was around 4:00 AM – went to my office and used Word to capture that logo from the dream. I saved it and went back to bed. When I woke up a few hours later, I honestly thought I’d dreamed the whole thing – getting up and everything. But when I checked Recent Items I found SQLPeople.docx. The idea for interviews and SQLPeople Events started there. Serving the Community is something I’ve enjoyed doing for a long time. I hope to continue.

JW: Who is currently involved?

AL: Brian Moran and I are shepherding the vision. Chuck Boyce is working with us on media ideas. Everyone contributes to “visioneering.” We seek – and take – advice from lots of people in Community leadership. We listen, we do not discriminate, and attribute anything we use.

JW: You’ve been involved in other SQL communities. How is this one different?

AL: The “flatness” of it all is very appealing. You don’t have to be elected to be heard (and receive a response / attribution), bureaucracy is non-existent; this combines to allow more focus on serving individuals and the Community. Preserving the “brand” is often a consideration for organizations (as it should be). We preserve the SQLPeople brand by serving people – first.

JW: Are there different aspects to SQLPeople?

AL: Yep. There are the Interviews, of course. There’s the SQLPeople Person of the Year. There’s SQLPeople Events. And there’s more to come – look for an announcement in April and another in the September timeframe. And that’s just the stuff we’ve thought of so far!

JW: What’s the main emphasis of the group? Networking, education, community, something else?

AL: Inspiration is at the top of the list. We believe the items you list flow from inspiration. I know a lot of database professionals. I’ve taught a lot of folks SSIS, and I’ve learned the number one issue isn’t that people don’t know SSIS; it’s that they don’t know what’s possible. With all the information available online, if I can show you something is doable, you can figure out a way to do it. If, while showing you it’s possible, I can inspire you so that you want to do it – there’s no stopping you. Networking, education, and community are very important and all of them have a place in SQLPeople’s endeavors. But they all start with Inspiration.

JW: Tell me about the inaugural SQLPeople event.

AL: It’s in Richmond Virginia on 9 Apr 2011. Scheduled speakers include Michael Coles, Gray Proulx, Jeremiah Peschka, Kendra Little, Brian Moran, and Scott Currie. The format is a 20-minute presentation followed by a 20-minute interview (by me) with questions from floor. We’ll do two speaker sessions/interviews followed by a networking session of 30-minutes; rinse and repeat. Chuck’s recording everything and the goal is to host the videos at SQLPeople.net. Folks can learn more and sign up at the website </ShamelessPlug>.

JW: If you could accomplish only two things with SQLPeople in the next 24 months, what would it be?

AL: Wow, that’s a good question. My first wish is for two more wishes! Seriously, though… The SQL Community is huge and growing. First, I hope SQLPeople refocuses the global conversation in the SQL Server Community on serving individuals and our community. My personal motto is: I am Here to Help™. I see that reflected in SQLPeople already. There’s too much fear, self-preservation – and frankly, selfishness – demonstrated in the recent actions of organizations within our community. Watching it has been personally wrenching. I understand the logic behind the tragic decisions, made even more so by allowing (insisting, even) that people serve process instead of the other way around. SQLPeople isn’t against anyone or any organization. SQLPeople is for people. Second, I’d like to facilitate ideas, projects, and events that inspire database professionals while remaining what Umair Haque describes as a Meaning Organization. As such, we think about significance, outcomes, harmony, purpose, peace, love, and ambition.

JW: What’s your long-term vision for SQLPeople?

AL: Long-term specific goals are really fuzzy at this time. Brian and I have put a lot of thinking into framework-type strategy (the aforementioned Meaning Organization, for example) and thought experiments. We’re in the “what if?” business. Patterns are emerging. Sometimes we bring templates to the table from experience – things that have worked well and things that have not. Sometimes the patterns emerge organically and we grab our boards and start surfing. SQLPeople has less vision than you’d expect from an idea focused on bring inspiration, but it has a purpose. And that purpose is to serve the SQL Community.

JW: What about the project makes you really excited?

AL: I sound like a broken record: Serving the SQL Server Community is really exciting stuff! There are so many ideas out there – so many visions – that need a little initiative applied. I haven’t mentioned this previously: the writings of Seth Godin serve as a pretty cool source of execution ideas. As do the writings of Andy Warren and some guy named Joe Webb. The thing about executing visions is it requires work, trust, and respect. I’ve seen volunteer organizations struggle with this – inside and outside of the SQL Server Community. Rather than try to collect all the initiative under a large umbrella called SQLPeople, we’re hoping to inspire and facilitate folks with good ideas. Brian and I have no illusions: the potential of SQLPeople lies not with us – it lies with the Community, with the people.

JW: How can others participate in the project?

AL: I tried to think of everybody when I sent out the interview questions, but I left out a bunch of cool and interesting people! If you’d like to be interviewed for SQLPeople, please email me (andy@sqlpeople.net). Folks are welcome to read and comment on the interviews and coming-soon content on the SQLPeople.net website. For people interested in attending, the SQLPeople Event in Richmond should be a blast. Also, our announcements scheduled for April and September 2011 will provide more ways for (SQL)people to join in the fun.

I really appreciate the time that Andy dedicated to this interview. He’s a quality guy. If you have an opportunity to spend some time with him, don’t pass it up. You won’t regret it.

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