It's hard to believe we've almost put two months of 2017 in our rearview mirrors. As someone who participates in group fitness classes this is also the time of year when we begin to see the influx of new yogis and cross-fitters that pushed our classes to capacity thin out as their fortitude in hitting newly set New Year's resolutions begins to wane. I had a passing thought that it would be an interesting exercise to see what some of the Thought Leaders in SQL Server (and the broader Microsoft Data Platform) are planning on spending time learning this year. Considering SQL Cruise is just around the corner I thought I'd rely on those individuals I selected for that event in the Caribbean as well as some from the Alaska event in August 2017 to give us all some insight. 

Ben Miller

First up, Ben Miller: SQL Server Architect, Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) and Microsoft Data Platform MVP:

"I plan on learning more about the use cases for Temporal Tables and Columnstore as it is in 2016.  Always Encrypted is the other area that I plan on learning as encryption becomes more a part of everyone’s career. I will deep dive into these technologies to expand my reach into the community and DBA career space."

Ben presented on the topic of Temporal Tables as well as providing sessions on AlwaysOn Availability Groups and SQL Server 2016 encryption features on the Caribbean SQL Cruise at the end of January 2017 so he's already putting his research to use.

Buck Woody

Next we have Buck Woody. Buck is currently an Information Technology Architect with the Machine Learning and Data Science Team at Microsoft.  Buck has held many interesting positions at Microsoft and the University of Washington. As an instructor with deep roots in SQL Server and someone who often lectures on topics deep in Professional Development and Improvement I was thrilled when Buck returned for his third SQL Cruise. Buck has transitioned from the SQL Server Program Team to Machine Learning and Data Science Team and his topics focused on that new career path. Buck plans on the R programming language, machine learning, and graph databases. He publishes a popular and extremely interesting blog about the learning arc he's going through on his journey as a Data Scientist at Backyard Data Science. Though a constant learner he's already a very adept instructor on the core points of the data science profession. On the Caribbean SQL Cruise Buck presented three stunning sessions covering data science for the DBA, R language, and a very popular professional development session on communication that was our highest-rated session for years.

Grant Fritchey

Now we move on to Grant Fritchey. I serve with Grant on the PASS Board of Directors and he's been a close friend for years. Grant is also a Product Evangelist for Redgate, a sponsor of SQL Cruise since our first event in 2010 He is an author and also the go-to expert for SQL Server Execution Plans. We try to have Grant on each SQL Cruise - the value he provides to the event and the feedback he provides back to his company make this a great partnership. Relying on his depth of knowledge about the query optimizer in SQL Server makes Grant the trainer we turn to for topics covering all aspects of performance tuning, execution plans, and the new Query Store. Grant's response the the question at hand:

"I’ve built my career supporting Microsoft products. I’ve specialized in the Microsoft Data Platform, which for the longest time meant mainly SQL Server. However, that has changed and continues to change and evolve, more rapidly than ever. I’ve changed with it, studying Azure SQL Database and Azure SQL Data Warehouse as well as DocumentDB and a little R. In the coming year, I’m going to expand that even further, again, keeping up with Microsoft as I learn (re-learn) UNIX, more R, and possibly even other data platforms as they too grow into the deeper and wider Microsoft Data Platform of the future."

This year Grant joined us to speak on the 2016 SQL Server Query Store and the Azure SQL Data Warehouse having presented on Azure topics for the past few years for us. (Yes the cruise ships have capabilities of hitting the cloud.) We are in negotiations to have him return to SQL Cruise in Alaska for August 2017.

Kevin Kline

Kevin is the Director of Engineering for our other sponsor of SQL Cruise: SentryOne. I first met Kevin in 2002 at my first PASS Summit. He was he President of the association at the time and was also the author of the first book I ever bought on SQL. It's humbling having him now present for SQL Cruise. Kevin is also a mentor and has provided extremely valuable session on leadership and communication for us in cruises past. He's another constant learner in addition to being a sought-after trainer. (Do you sense a trend?)

Kevin answers:

"I’ll be studying the architectural use-cases for a wide variety of technologies that are not in my wheelhouse. From Azure DocumentDB to Azure Data Lakes to SSAS Tabular model, I’m reading blogs and articles that help me understand what these products do well and how they can help solve customer problems. But I’m NOT going to learn the actual products. My mental analogy is that, as an architect, I need to know when and if I’ll need a crane or a backhoe. But I don’t need to be a crane or backhoe operator. Second, it’s more and more evident to me that the closer we can get to the data, the better we become at adding value to our organizations. So with that in mind, I’m learning a lot more about data science and analytics. For example, I’ve been studying a variety of common algorithms (e.g. linear regression is now my favorite, but also clustering, naïve bayes, and decision trees) not only in R, but also in Transact-SQL. Again, like the architect analogy, knowing where these algorithms are best used is half the battle."

Kevin presented a 500 level session covering aspects of the 860x series of trace flags this year on SQL Cruise in the Caribbean.

David Klee

David is the Founder and Chief Architect of the consulting firm Heraflux Technologies. He is a popular speaker at SQLSaturdays and I've had him as a Technical Leader on SQL Cruise twice now. I first met David a few years ago at a Midwest SQLSaturday and he's the person I go to when I have questions regarding VMware and virtualized SQL instances. David's specialties are private cloud architecture with VMware vSphere and MS Hyper-V, SQL Server, infrastructure and database performance, cloud enablement and migration, and systems architecture and you can see an evolution of those interests in his answer to this posed question:

"For 2017, I'm working to dig into a more holistic approach for capacity management, both for on-prem and cloud-based deployments. Right-sizing the on-prem SQL Servers are straightforward, but cloud-based DBs change quite a bit. I also feel that today's DBAs should start thinking on a larger scale, because if the DBA can performance tune a database appropriately, the savings will go directly to the bottom line. The VM can be smaller. The resources consumed could be less. Both mean that the XaaS deployed database can handle a smaller footprint while maintaining the performance that the users expect, and the smaller deployed object is 'felt' by the business immediately in reduced monthly costs. Today's DBAs have to be tomorrow's DBaaS efficiency experts to stay relevant in these constantly changing times."

Allen White

(Almost) finally we have Allen White of SentryOne whom I also serve with on the PASS Board of Directors. Allen has moved from a more technical position over the last 18 months into a sales role but that does not prevent him from continuing to present and offer technical content around his interests of Powershell and Service Broker. I was very interested in his response considering his shift to sales.

"My focus needs to primarily be on the business side, so I’ll be working on getting into maximizing what I can do with Power BI and in the analytics area. One area we often forget is how the work we do with optimizing performance positively affects business outcomes, and we need to do a better job showing the improvements in a consumable form. We also need to be much more attuned to the real business needs of the company, and provide the data focused expertise we have to the business"

After joining SQL Cruise many times over the years as a Technical Lead Allen is coming to SQL Cruise 2017 Alaska as an attendee. He's bringing his wife and mother on this cruise and while not providing technical content and training in the front of the room, he will be attending sessions and participating in Office Hours to lend his experience and knowledge towards helping attendees solve critical issues in our informal setting.

Tim Ford

Considering I asked the question to my friends it's only fair I address the question of what I'll be focusing on in 2017 as well:

"Since I am still a full time DBA/Engineer at SurveyMonkey in addition to all the other responsibilities I have from running SQL Cruise and consulting to serving on the PASS Board of Directors I still need to focus on the operational side of the technologies I support: deepening my knowledge of Availability Groups and Transparent Data Encryption as well as various cloud computing options that I'll be responsible for in the months ahead. In my previous role as Team Lead and the architect of the SQL Server environment at Spectrum Health from inception to the time I left in 2015 I always had a solid team of Server Engineers to address issues and provide the work for all it takes to get a server or VM staged for SQL to be installed and configured. Likewise the same with our storage team and provisioning SAN space for the DBAs. Now I've to rely a bit more on accomplishing some of these efforts on my own and there is a lot of networking, computer science, storage configuration task-oriented subjects where my knowledge is quite thin. I will be working on deepening my understanding of networking and storage in 2017 as well - more out of necessity than anything else. "

"There is also the need to update my Periodic Table of Dynamic Management Objects which was last revised for the 2012 SQL Server release and coming up to speed with SQL Server vNext. I'm also interested in moving ultimately towards data science as my original major in college was applied math and I still have a passion for math and statistics that never went away (no matter how hard calculus tried to kill my love of math.) To be able to bring two passions together: math and data seems like a dream come true and I'd love to move towards that role ultimately."

Conclusion

I find it interesting that the individuals I sampled in this article would have all likely pointed towards operational topics focused solely in SQL Server perhaps just 5 years ago. This current expanse of interests from these same people showcases just how diverse the Microsoft Data Platform has become in just that short amount of time. I'd love to hear in the comments what it is you're focusing on in 2017 and urge you to set defined goals around training this year that you can measure against and see progress on as the months move forward. As you do learn new things this year I also invite you to blog about the topics you're learning. Writing about new lessons learned is a good way of helping to set them in your memory - plus you can share your experiences and help others grow at the same time. It's one of the things I'm most passionate about in my daily work as well as my responsibilities as a writer, PASS volunteer, and training event producer. If you do blog please tag your posts on this initiative with the #iwanttoshare hashtag. If the topic is entry level (aka 100 level) please also tag the post with the #entrylevel hashtag. I'll be looking to showcase content from posts that use those tags to share with the wider data communities over the next months; not stopping when the year winds to a close.