Failed Projects

This editorial is from way back, published in 2005, but perhaps still a good one today. This is being re-run as Steve is at the Data Platform Summit.

Friday is poll day, at least as long as I can be creative with them. And of course, remember to put them out on the right day Smile This week is more of a software development issue than a strictly SQL Server one, but take it how you will and get your post in here for everyone to see. Humility and responsibility are the keys this week. So without further ado…

Have You Ever Failed In A Software Project?

A simple yes or no would suffice for the poll question, but I’ll set an example and give you my answer with an explanation. The short answer is yes. The longer one is abbreviated in the interests of space, but I have made an attempt to set things as I best remember them.

When I came to Denver 7 years ago, it was with a startup company in the financial services market with a few simple software products, but some trouble getting them stable and focusing the IT group. I was excited at the opportunity, the dot com boom was, well, booming, and I was thinking I’d make a million with this company. Fast forward 2 years and I resigned, somewhat burned out, and thinking I’d done everything I could.

Thinking back I think I had done lots and given a lot, but I still failed and part of it was me not taking a leadership role more than I did and part of it was getting burned out and part of it was not really forcing the company to stop and make good decisions regardless of the time involved. I instead put up a bit of a fight, but then went along with the constant “just patch it” and we ended up burning most of a year getting nowhere because the underlying base products were a mess. I resigned, the company lost about 30% of the development staff, floundered for a couple years and was sold. Not sure anyone made money on that deal.

As I’ve looked back, I realize it was a dysfunctional company, but I think I could have made a difference, stepped up as CTO (it was offered to me) and driven things forward. Oh well, I learned quite a bit from the experience and grew from it.

Steve Jones


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Opinions and Votes

This editorial was originally published on Aug 19, 2013. It is being re-run as Steve is away at the Data Platform Summit.

When you work with a vendor, you may report bugs, issues, or strange behaviors in software. These area facts, and are valuable pieces of information that vendors do care about. When you exclaim that a particular bug or missing feature is critical, you’re stating an opinion. The importance or priority you place on an item is not necessarily the same priority the vendor places on the item.

We see this every day in our work, as clients and customers send us issues with our applications and systems. We triage the items and may or may not fix them in the order the customer would like them fixed. Our management may set priorities that we don’t agree with. It’s a complex interaction that involves many factors, all of which are weighed differently by different people.

However the end user (client, customer, etc.) often doesn’t understand why the priorities are different and why can’t we just see how badly an item needs to be fixed? I see this all the time, though from the end user perspective. I use lots of software, and I find lots of issues and failings, especially in SQL Server. My priorities aren’t Microsoft’s priorities, and I accept that. I provide them with an opinion of what I think, not a vote. If they don’t agree with my opinion, or choose to work on other priorities, I don’t think they aren’t listening to me. I think they disagree with my opinion.

Like it or not, politics is important here. The art of influence is important, and while an individual opinion doesn’t matter, lots of opinions can have influence. Again, however, these are opinions and influences, not votes. We can convince Microsoft to change direction at times, or work on certain issues, but it takes participation and rational, reasonable debate, not childish exaggerated complaints and insults. We want to influence and convince, not upset and anger.

Steve Jones


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Hiring Heterogeneously

This editorial was originally published on Jul 22, 2013. It is being re-run as Steve is on vacation.

I wrote recently about tech interviews and hiring, and even on an interesting interviewing technique for senior people. However we need to hire more than just senior people. We need to hire junior people, and intermediate people. Those roles are important for both growing the experience of your staff, and not getting caught with a “” as a bottleneck or single point of failure. No, that’s not Brent Ozar, though someone with his talent might be the single point of failure in many organizations.

Not everyone can be a superstar-expert-architect that decides how the system is built. Not all architects should spend time coding basic insert/update/delete code or adding clustered indexes to tables. We need a variety of talent levels that can get complete different types of tasks. There is tedious administrative work, supporting roles, necessary, though unexciting work like reviewing security, logs, audits, and more. While you can automate much of this busy work, there are still tasks that we must assign to people.

There’s another consideration as well in hiring that all too often people overlook. Hiring too many people that are too similar, who may think alike, who may view problems the same way can lead to an environment that doesn’t grow and expand, that loses it’s creativity over time. There’s a great quote that says “Where all men think alike, no one thinks very much” (Walter Lippmann). It’s important to have a diversity of opinions, and when you hire new people, you should consider this. You want talented people, and people that get along, but not necessarily all thinking about problems in the same way.

The world is a richer place for the diversity we have, and varying opinions, thoughts and ideas. We don’t all get along, but many of us can work together with mutual respect, considering each others’ viewpoints as we work to build solutions to the problems we face.

Steve Jones

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Hiring Guitarists

This editorial was originally published on July 1, 2013. It is being re-run as Steve is on vacation.

Hiring good people is hard, though in some cases it might not matter as much as others. If I am hiring entry level developers or DBAs, I have a lot of candidates, I’m not investing a lot, and I shouldn’t be too concerned if I have to let someone go and find a new employee. Given the fact that the people are often unproven in this case by definition (they’re junior levels), I should be prepared as a manager to make more mistakes at this level.

However at the senior level, hiring needs to be done more carefully. The high costs, the limited number of candidates, the responsibilities I give senior people, along with the trust I need to bestow upon them means that I can’t afford to make the same percentage of mistakes at the senior level. Most importantly, I don’t want to hire expert beginners instead of experts at this level.

I ran across a post on a way to hire senior developers that I thought was very interesting. In particular, I was struck by the analogy of hiring a guitar player. For the most part, I’d agree that if I wanted an experienced guitar player, I’d want the expert, not the expert beginner. If for no other reason than I don’t want to argue with an employee that does things my way, including making the same mistakes I’d make, and then explaining to me this is how I had specified things to be. I want a senior people to warn me, and influence me to do better.

I’m not sure how I’d devise a similar level of test for a senior level DBA, though I do like the idea of giving them some scenario or simulation that has flaws or problems and seeing if they’d correct them, point them out, or leave them in place as they moved on to “play” the scenario. I’m sure there’s a way to do this, and a balance between how to evaluate the responses.

Ultimately I want senior people to fix things, make them better, and provide a smooth path to increase quality. I want them to point out flaws, and warn me about issues. If I insist on making poor choices, I want their support, but if they can influence me to do better, I’d prefer they did. That’s one mark of a senior person.

Steve Jones


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Using Merge–#SQLNewBlogger

Another post for me that is simple and hopefully serves as an example for people trying to get blogging as #SQLNewBloggers.

I was playing with some data, loading it into staging tables and then moving it to a real table. I typically have done this with T-SQL, writing efficient upsert code that works well. However, I haven’t used Merge in a long time and thought I should practice a bit with the structure.

Note: Merge isn’t that efficient and most experts do not recommend it (Aaron Bertrand, Dwain Camps). If you decide to use Merge, make sure you are aware of performance implications with your system. It should be fine with smaller sets, but be aware of potential issues if your data scale grows.

There’s a nice Simple Talk article on Merge that helps you understand how this structure works. There are lots of tips and tricks with merge, but the basic idea is that I can decide to merge data from one table into another and handle the various cases of rows that exist or don’t exist, and what to do. This is the classic upsert, where we insert new rows and update existing ones.

A Quick Scenario

I was actually playing with some SQL Saturday data, so let’s use that and set up a few tables. We’ll set up an Event table and an EventStaging table with some data.

, EventName VARCHAR(200)
, City VARCHAR(100)
, EventDate DATE

, EventName VARCHAR(200)
, City VARCHAR(100)
, EventDate DATE

   (1  , 'SQLSaturday #1 - Orlando 2007', 'Orlando', '2007-11-10')
, (4  , 'SQLSaturday #4 Tweener(Sun) - Orlando 2008', 'Orlando', '2008-06-05')
, (2  , 'SQLSaturday #2 - Tampa 2008', 'Tampa', '2008-02-15')
, (3  , 'SQLSaturday #3 - Jacksonville 2008', 'Jacksonville', '2008-05-03')

insert dbo.EventStaging
   (4  , 'SQLSaturday #4 - Orlando 2008', 'Orlando', '2008-06-07')
, (5  , 'SQLSaturday #5 - Olympia 2008', 'Olympia', '2008-10-11')
, (6  , 'SQLSaturday #6 - Cleveland 2008', 'Cleveland', '2009-02-01')
, (7  , 'SQLSaturday #7 - Birmingham 2009', 'Birmingham', '2009-05-30')

The data is loaded into EventStaging and then needs to move to Event for the application. If you examinet the data, you’ll see that the events with ID =4 is in both tables with different data. Events 5, 6, 7 are only in the staging table and need to be moved.

We can see the data here:

2017-07-07 17_24_11-SQLQuery6.sql - (local)_SQL2014.Sandbox (PLATO_Steve (62))_ - Microsoft SQL Serv

To move this data, let’s start with the merge header

MERGE dbo.Event ev
  USING dbo.EventStaging es
  ON ev.EventID = es.EventID

This opening is looking to merge data into the Event table using the EventStaging table as a data source. The join is included in the ON statement and follows the rules like any other join clause.

The next part of the statement is similar to a CASE statement, with a series of WHEN MATCHED or WHEN NOT MATCHED statements with THEN clauses that determine what happened.

MERGE dbo.Event ev
  USING dbo.EventStaging es
  ON ev.EventID = es.EventID
    SET ev.EventName = es.EventName
      , ev.City = es.City
      , ev.EventDate = es.EventDate
   THEN INSERT (EventID, EventName, City, EventDate)
         VALUES (es.EventID, es.EventName, es.City, es.EventDate);

The two statements I have listed handle the update and insert. The first says that when we match a row, meaning there is a row in EventStaging that matches Event on the EventID, we will update the Event table (that’s the MERGE target). In this case, the rows 5, 6, 7 will fall into this case.

The WHEN NOT MATCHED is when there is a row in EventStaging that isn’t in Event, we insert the data. Note again, we don’t need to specify the table name in the INSERT.

When we run this command, the four rows in EventStaging are processed, with 3 inserts and 1 update. After running this, we can see the results here:

2017-07-07 17_24_40-SQLQuery6.sql - (local)_SQL2014.Sandbox (PLATO_Steve (62))_ - Microsoft SQL Serv

The name of the Orlando second event (#4) has changed, as has the date.

This is a quick look at Merge, and a handy command that you should consider using with smaller sets of data.

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Accelerating Your Career

This post was originally published on Apr 23, 2013. It is being re-run as Steve is on vacation.

I ran across an article on ways to accelerate your career and for the most part I think these are good ideas and suggestions. Networking, finding a mentor, and more will help you no matter what business or field you are working. Some of the advice is geared towards those people looking to climb the corporate ladder and move into management, which is not necessarily what many of us want. If that’s the case, ignore those items. There was one item, however, that I thought was particularly interesting for data professionals.

The seventh item on the list notes that you should spend 10-15% of your time working on a project that’s outside of the scope of your job or team. That might sound crazy, and even dangerous, but it’s a good idea if your boss isn’t opposed to it. Having knowledge about the way your business works, the way they use data, or solve a problem, could be valuable in your existing job. You might notice a pattern or way in which you could improve either your job or someone else’s. Over time, helping in a variety of departments builds friendships, increases your networking, and might show your boss you deserve a raise.

Many of us end up working with data as a widget. The job of a developer or DBA is writing code or managing data, and sometimes don’t often think much about the actual industry in which we are working. Gaining deeper knowledge of the way your particular business works means you can better understand why you are asked to solve a particular problem. That knowledge can lead to a better solution. It might also make your job just a little more interesting.

For the typical US worker, that’s 4-6 hours a week. For the IT person, that might be a little more time, but I think it’s worth the investment. I wouldn’t be overly driven in this area, and if I were working on extra projects at work, I’d eliminate (or cut down) on the time I was spending learning new technologies. Life requires balance, and if you tackle something new in one area, make sure you know what you can give up.

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T-SQL Tuesday #93–Interviewing Patterns

tsqltuesdayIt’s time for T-SQL Tuesday, and this is a good topic. Not too close to T-SQL, but certainly something many people are interested in.

Kendra Little hosts this month, and her topic is interviewing patterns and anti-patterns. Things that are good, or things that might appear good, but are bad. Be a candidate or an interviewer.

You can read more about T-SQL Tuesday at

Pattern: Groups

One of the things that I think makes a good pattern for interviews is a group. It’s rare that any of us actually works alone or with just one person. Even if our group is 1 or 2 people, we often interact with others in different ways.

Those other people depend on our knowledge and skill. Why not use them in an interview.

I’ve had quite a few interviews like this, but they all are similar. Get the candidate in a conference room and bring in multiple people to ask questions. Usually it’s a round robin with everyone taking turns asking questions. Ideally, the same questions to all candidates from the same people. The discussions can veer into slightly different directions, but ideally in similar veins for everyone being considered.

I’ve been in the candidate seat with as few as two (one isn’t a group) and as many as 12 or 13 others. This can be stressful, but if everyone is probing, then the candidate needs to interact and communicate with those that they’ll actually work with. In my mind, a good test.

Anti-pattern: Confrontation

I love the old Monty Python Silly Interview skit. I’ve been tempted to do something like this, but never have. It’s not fair to the candidate, and I’m not sure it tests anything well.

I had a couple rough interviews in the past. One was where a VP of a small company was excited and interested after having talked with me over the phone and then in his office for 30-45 minutes. He then brought me to his consulting sysadmin/programmer, who peppered me with scenarios and questions. However, this gentlemen argued about every answer, and implied that I was answering incorrectly. In many cases I knew I wasn’t and said so, however the confrontation continued. In some cases, I just admitted I wasn’t sure.

Later, I came to be friends with the guy, but never too close. He tended to rub me wrong most of the time because he was closed, cold, and argumentative. It was a good job, and we got along, but if he had been my boss (I was interviewing to be his), I wouldn’t have accepted.

The other one was similar. I had a good phone interview with a technical person and then went in to meet the manager. He was brusk and short with me, constantly letting me know he was in charge, he didn’t think much of my credentials, and I should be expecting to work hard. With that offer was a pay cut I couldn’t accept, but not sure I would have in any case. His manner made me think that every day would have include some sort of insult, browbeating, or other unnecessary action.

I think we can make an attempt to evaluate candidates without being jerks.

Pattern: Flexibility

The last pattern I like is the idea of quizzing people in a flexible manner. I’ve never liked schoolteachers or managers implying that most of our work is extremely set and susceptible to deadlines without flexibility. Or that we work a certain way. The real world isn’t like that.

BTW, if you have hard deadlines, like shows or events, your stuff better be done well in advance, not hours before.

When I’ve had good interviews, or gotten a good handle on a candidate’s skills, it’s from adapting to them. Some people like to show something on a computer. Some will whiteboard, some like to discuss the question in detail and ask their own questions. I’m OK in all those cases. When I work with the person, I get a better feel for how they think, how they solve problems, and what catches their eye.

I can also evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and decide where they might fit in our team.

Evaluating someone is hard enough without being rigid about what we do. Expecting everyone to take a test well, or be able to answer any question orally, or any other specific way of interaction is asking to miss out on some potential good candidates, as well as potentially hiring someone that is good at interviewing, but not working.

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It seems like a lot of holiday this summer. A long weekend in Wyoming, a week at Grand Lake, another few days near Evergreen, and now another week gone. I’m getting my holiday in this summer.

I’m off to India this week, for a week’s holiday with family. Then I have a week at the Data Platform Summit and 6 talks plus a pre-con. I guess I need a week to relax before that.

Enjoy summer as it comes to a close and I’ll be back next week.

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Learning through Puzzles

A few years ago I ran across the Advent of Code challenge. It’s an interesting set of puzzles that you are asked to solve. Most are at a scale that wouldn’t be practical to solve manually. Once you solve a puzzle, there is usually a second part that’s unlocked (you must put in the solution) and then your progress is tracked on the site. A new puzzle is released every day leading up to Christmas, but you can skip around and solve puzzles as you like after that. I had fun in 2016 working through puzzles in T-SQL, PoSh, and Python. I need to go back and work the 2017 items.

Recently I was trying to brush up on some Python skills and ran across the PythonHow challenge. Before going on to rework some exercises and coursework, I decided to see what I remembered. The  puzzles are easy, but one leads you to the next. In other words, you start with, when you solve the puzzle, you get a letter, say “r” (that’s not right). You change the URL to and you get the next challenge.

That’s a neat way to get build a flow. I could imagine that as a way of teaching someone new skills. Maybe you want to help someone learn R (currently our Wednesday Questions of the Day) or window functions. Give them a problem, and once they solve it, the answer leads them to the next puzzle. A puzzle game, but one that paces you according to your understanding of a topic.

I wonder how many people might like learning like this, or perhaps might be frustrated when they can’t solve something. Maybe this is a nice addition to something like a Stairway Series, giving readers a chance to practice skills. Do you think this is a good idea? Not a super hard, challenge the experts, but maybe a way to help those that are beginners or intermediate SQL people learn to code better.

Maybe some of you would like to build some small puzzles in T-SQL that we could link together? This might be a fun way to set up a T-SQL Advent calendar one year. Feel free to submit some to me.

Steve Jones

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The 2017 Data Platform Summit

I’m off in a couple days to India for a week of vacation and then the 2017 Data Platform Summit. This is my first time attending, and I’m excited to go. A new country to visit and present in.


In addition to the sessions listed above, I’ve got a pre-con on Aug 15 on Building a Database DevOps process, and there are a few chalk talks as well. All in all, a busy week for me.

If you’re in the area, consider coming to the event. You can visit the conference site at

If you want to see the cast, check out this video: The 2017 Star Cast

Follow the event on Twitter with the #DPS2017 hashtag as well. See you in Bangalore.

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