A Live Conference Experience at Data Minds Connect 2021

Last week I was privileged to attend a live conference in Belgium. dataMinds Connect 2021 took place in Mechelen, just outside of Brussels. I had submitted months ago, was accepted, but didn’t know I’d actually get to go until late September. However, I was glad I went.

A Normal Experience

I’ve been able to live parts of my life across the last year, but many things were limited in some way. Either I couldn’t do some activity I expected, or everyone was masked and separated. I’m grateful for what I could do, even with restrictions, but I’ve missed the world since 2019. The exception for me was a volleyball tournament in Orlando in June. It was a busy convention center without masks; the type of event I went to regularly the last few years.

dataMinds Connect 2021 was the first normal work event I’d attended since SQL Saturday #910 in Slovenia. This was a good sized event, 400+ people, and it felt good. People were interacting with each other, able to shake hands, see each other talking, and recognizing faces was a great experience.

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I enjoyed being able to chat with people in person, watch body language, meet new friends and see ones that I’ve missed.

There were multiple sessions during the day, with 15 minute breaks for coffee or a snack. I got to speak in front of a good crowd, was able to see their reactions to my talk, and interact with them.

Communication and COVID Rules

I’ve had this event on my schedule for months, and I was happy with the way it was handled. Benni De Jaere (@BenniDeJagere) had emailed early with information on the event, venue, travel, and accommodations. A few months ago he contacted me again, asking if I was coming and giving guidance on the local restrictions.

Just before the event, we got another long email with all the details of what we needed to be concerned about, how to get tested, quarantine rules, etc.

While the event did not publish a specific policy, they did note they were deferring to local regulations. Since those can change, and even government sites can struggle to keep coordinated, this was fine for me. Grant (@gfritchey) and I were communicating, trying to decide the rules we needed to follow. I went through the border first, so I let him know about my experience and how to find the testing center and then our plans for quarantine.

Foreign travelers needed to be tested and show vaccine proof. From there, the city where the event was held (Mechelen) was fairly open. Brussels was more restricted, and I wore masks and abided by their rules while there.

I understand some people being concerned about safety under this pandemic. I don’t expect events to act differently than their local area. If they do, then they need their specific restrictions published. If not, then we are old enough to check the local guidelines and decide if those are acceptable to us.

Overall

I think Benni and his crew did a great job of setting up and running an event. Almost no one has done this in 18 months, and despite the delay, they smoothly handled a large crowd of people at entry and throughout the day.

I thoroughly enjoyed the event, the people, and the area. I had never been to Belgium before, but it’s on my list as a place to come back to in the future, hopefully at another dataMinds Connect.

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Burning Out

I haven’t burned out, but I’ve been close. There was a time a few years back when I was working a lot, traveling a lot, trying to watch activities with my kids, making time for my wife, and more. While I have had stretches were I feel like that (like the last month), usually I have calm periods that balance my out. Across about 18 months, I realized I hadn’t gotten enough breaks and worked with my boss to lighten the load.

During the last 18 months under the pandemic, I’ve had a few busy times, and some stress, but overall, I’ve managed to cope well. My coping tips have helped, and I’ve made a conscious effort to demand less of myself and slow down. It helps that I work for a UK company that values balance and tries to ensure employees work hard, but not too hard. While I  sometimes struggle and get very busy, I do get to balance that out and relax at times.

That hasn’t been the case for everyone this past year. There is a blog about developer burnout, noting that a lot of developers shouldered a larger workload during the pandemic. I think the move to remote work is stressful, and it can be hard to adjust to expectations, or know what we should expect. There is often a feeling when you work remotely that you need to do more, because no one else can see how hard you are working. There is also a temptation to take some of the time that you used to spend commuting and get a few “extra” things done each day.

Many managers also haven’t known how to adapt to remote work and can add to stress with either more work, higher expectations, or a lack of awareness of how employees feel. They may unknowingly, or purposefully, make things worse. Add to all of this the challenges of managing kids, juggling noise in your workspace, and finding space to work with others in the house. It’s no wonder many people felt some burnout in the last year.

The article gives some stages of burnout, a way to measure yourself, and some strategies for coping. While a lot of these may feel like common sense, when we are overwhelmed and busy, we often forget common sense. It’s easy to dismiss the effectiveness of simple strategies. It’s also easy to underestimate just how much better you will feel by taking even small steps to combat burnout. Even things you think might make a tiny difference can help.

I know there are some very poor work environments and awful managers. If you are in these situations, I’d urge you to look hard to find a new position somewhere, anywhere. Even another bad job will give you a change of scenery and can help in the short term. Even in the poor jobs, however, I’ve often had others that felt the same way in my team or in a related team. Talking, sharing, and bonding with others in a similar situation can help, if for no other reason than you can share, vent, and empathize with each other.

Burnout is a real problem among technology workers. It’s not a personal failure, but it is something that you have to recognize in your situation. It is also important to make changes and find ways to reduce the stress of your situation over time. There aren’t usually quick fixes, but there are ways to change your life to better handle the situation.

If you are struggling, please reach out to friends, family, or others and get help. Things can get better.

Steve Jones

Listen to the podcast at Libsyn, Stitcher, Spotify, or iTunes.

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Daily Coping 25 Oct 2021

I started to add a daily coping tip to the SQLServerCentral newsletter and to the Community Circle, which is helping me deal with the issues in the world. I’m adding my responses for each day here. All my coping tips are under this tag.

Today’s tip is to recognize that you have a choice about what to prioritize.

This seems like an obvious tip, but I see myself, and most others, often not prioritizing work. We tend to work on a FIFO method, first in first out, or within the squeeky-wheel methodology where the loudest voice wins.

I am guilty of this at times, though I certainly get caught up in working on the thing that is due soonest, letting deadlines drive my workflow.

At times I do find better ways to work, and occasionally I remember that I can set priorities. A couple weeks ago I was slammed, running from thing to thing (literally as I was in the Redgate office), and letting others dictate my schedule.

This week I aim to do better. I have things due today, some tomorrow, some Wednesday. Then things open up a bit from a deadline perspective. However, I know that there are some items I can do today, which will relieve some pressure. I’ll prioritize a recording today, then a review of something for tomorrow. Those should eat up half of today. From there, my plan is to focus on the question of the day for a few hours. I need to build up a queue, and I know that tight focus time here will likely get me a couple weeks of questions, which reduces lots of stress.

I’ll worry about Wednesday tomorrow or Wednesday.

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Maybe It Is DNS

There are jokes about how often DNS is a problem. There are stickers, shirts, and mugs you can buy. There’s a classic haiku, which leads into a rant about the struggles of sysadmins. I will admit that I know a little about DNS, but I find myself confused at times and usually seek assistance from others when something doesn’t work. The old days of a single MX record and a few A records to map names to IPs has grown into a much more complex system.

DNS usually works. In fact, it’s lower on my list of things to check these days, though I do often get a quick DNS check when I ping an address. There are some failures, and these days when large companies have issues, it can affect a lot of people. Akamai had an issue and knocked off a large chunk of the Internet. When Facebook had an issue recently, it not only affected customers, but the engineers that were trying to fix things. Some couldn’t even get into buildings. I guess relying on a single domain might be a bad idea.

Most of us rely on DNS in our organizations, which means that a rising level of DNS based attacks is disconcerting. These are still behind the issues we have with ransomware and DDoS attacks, but when DNS doesn’t work, a lot of stuff shuts down. I could see a lot of people that work inside a company’s domain for most of their work being unable to accomplish anything.

I tend to use a number of domains for my daily work. Evernote and Dropbox are essential, but if one were down, I could still do things with local copies. Red-gate.com is certainly important, but as long as SQL Server Central is up, I can do something different. Actually, if both were down, I could still write or create questions. I’m more bothered by slowness in my connection or machine than losing any particular service.

I haven’t every been too worried about DNS security, but I left sysadmin work when it was a simpler time. These days, I suspect many organizations might want to be sure they are paying attention. If they use a lot of services connected to one domain, I might think about having a secondary domain connected to a few. If I were in charge, a sqlservercentraladmin.com might be one I’d set up.

Steve Jones

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