One DBA's Ongoing Search for Clarity in the Middle of Nowhere


Yet Another Andy Writing About SQL Server

How To Get Started With the SQL Server Community

I created an email of content recently for a client I was working with who was looking for ways to get involved - places to find training, people to interact with, and so on.  I started writing the email while I was on-site in the hotel that night and it turned into pages and pages of info, and when I sent it to him and a few colleagues one of them suggested I post it here.

A little of the data is specific to things close to that DBA (in Texas) and I started editing it out, but decided not to as that content still provides valid examples of events and functions that most of us have in our areas.



Here is the link to the free Twitter e-book from Brent Ozar:

It is definitely a book – a many page PDF.  There are also several shorter entries that may be faster to go through when you have time:

…and here is a sample #sqlhelp conversation that happened just recently while I was working on another client’s new install – as you can see I asked a question and within ten minutes I had two different people responding (for FREE!), one of whom is a Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) and a high-end trainer.  Sometimes it will be hours before you get a response at slow times of day, but in general #sqlhelp is highly monitored and very useful.  Note that neither of these people follows me directly – they saw my question only because it contained the #sqlhelp hash tag:

As Brent mentions in one of his links, an easy way to follow a group of people is to follow someone’s list – these are groupings made by individual Twitter users for their own management of people, but they can be followed by others.  For example I put almost all of the SQL Server people I follow into a list named SQL_Peeps:

If you click on the link you will see the feed of the currently 369 people on the list – if you follow this list you will see these people in your Twitter feed without individually following each of them.  This is useful way to find people to actually follow as it exposes you to people you may not know but who are relevant to the list.  As you find individual users interesting I would strongly advise you do individually follow them, as there are some Twitter functionalities (like Direct Messaging for example) that require you to be following individuals directly.

Useful hashtags to follow:


#sqlpass – tweets related the Professional Association of SQL Server (PASS) – more below

#sqlsaturday and #sqlsat – tweets related to PASS’s SQL Saturday program – more below

#sqlfamily – more personal tweets between SQL Server folks, such as prayer needs and personal accomplishments as well as social gatherings – We are all #sqlfamily

#sqlserver – broad information about SQL Server

#sqlblog – less frequently seen but used by multiple folks to publicize their blog posts

Twitter can be easier to use if you use a client application – with the death of Classic Tweetdeck I have been trying out Hootsuite and it is decent – it allows you to post to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and view multiple streams at once – here is a screenshot of my Hootsuite screen:

As you can see I have multiple streams visible at once (which you can raise or lower as you wish – if you only want to see one or two streams across the screen and scroll over to see the others Hootsuite allows you to do so).

As you can also see in the screenshot above, there are many clients out there – every time you see a Tweet that says “1:35pm via Tweetdeck” or “6:45am via MetroTwit” Tweetdeck and MetroTwit are Twitter clients.  You don’t have to use a Twitter client, but if you start using Twitter with any regularity you will probably find one useful.

Twitter can be a great tool or an enormous time-suck (or both) just like any other social networking tool.  I find that the value I get – both the knowledge from tools like #SQLHelp and the community and camaraderie from interacting with my SQL Tweeps – far outweighs the limited time wasted.  If you think you are spending too much time on Twitter (or Facebook or LinkedIn…) then you probably are – you wil never keep up with everything that happens online, but the key is you don’t *need* to – just get value from what you do see.



There are more SQL Server blogs than you could ever hope to keep track of, such as my poorly updated blog at and David Klee’s much more active blog at

The best source of who you really must be reading is Thomas LaRock’s list – Tom is @SQLRockstar, a product evangelist (yes they call them evangelists) for Confio and a great speaker if you get a chance to see him (Check him out on a lighter topic here talking about how “There are seven days in a week, and Someday isn’t one of them.”)  His blog rankings list is regularly updated here: where Tom keeps track of folks who increase or decrease the quantity *and* quality of their material and moves them up and down the list accordingly.  If you follow the blogs on Tom’s list (and don’t forget to follow Tom too, because he always leaves his blog off the list) you will have an amazing daily dose of SQL Server knowledge.

I have been using Google Reader to follow the RSS feeds for the blogs on Tom’s list, but since Google Reader is about to die (thanks Google – NOT!) I have recently switched to feedly – I find it much easier to have a one stop shop for reading multiple blogs each day as they are released then to check 20+ blogs every day to see if there is a new entry.

Another way to follow many of the people on Tom’s lists (and many others too) is to watch one or more of the blog aggregator websites – the main ones are (from Redgate) (from Quest Software, now Dell) and (created years ago by SQL Server MVP Adam Machanic).  If you don’t want to mess with an RSS Reader and don’t want to watch dozens of individual blogs, checking these three sites each day will cover a lot of that ground for you.  Some people are even syndicated on more than one of these three sites. 



PASS is the Professional Association for SQL Server (Microsoft SQL Server, as my Oracle colleagues will remind you that Oracle, DB2, and most other RDBMS’s are all SQL Servers, and PASS almost exclusively deals with Microsoft SQL Server) – the largest manifestation of PASS is the annual PASS Summit, usually held in the fall.  In 2013 the Summit will be in Charlotte, NC,  during the week of October 14th-18th.  PASS underwrites a broad array of user groups, educational events, webcasts, and other functions, but when many people say PASS they are referring to the Summit (as in, Are you going to PASS this year?”)

The cost of the PASS Summit is set up as a sliding discount – the earlier you register, the larger of a discount you get.  The price usually starts around $1000 immediately after the previous year's Summit, and then steps up a couple hundred dollars every few months until October when it will usually run around $1900-$2000 if you register onsite.

The Summit is usually set up as a three day event with two days of optional pre- or post-cons to fill out the week.  The 2013 Summit is technically Wed-Fri and there are two days of full day pre-cons on Monday and Tuesday.  (You can see a listing of 2012’s sessions to get an idea what I’m talking about here The price of the pre-cons for 2013 is $395 each and I have always found them to be worth the money (especially if your company will pay for them!)

For SQL Server training there is only one thing you can do that is better (in my book) than go to the PASS Summit, and that is SQLskills Immersion Event training (see below) but Immersion Events are more expensive and do not have the broad community that the Summit does – an Immersion Event is 20-25 people, while the Summit is literally thousands.



The next major attraction to PASS is the SQLSaturday franchise

SQLSaturday is a one day nearly free training event (free plus $10-$20 to cover lunch) with multiple tracks of sessions – like one day of the PASS Summit.  Some SQLSaturdays have full day pre-cons on Friday which usually run $100-$150, again a great deal if there is a topic you are interested in.

SQLSaturday #107 was in Houston last April:   If you look at the schedule for SQLSAT107 here you will see the broad array of speakers and topics featured.

They did not have an event in Houston this year, but many cities alternate years with other metro areas – for example in Omaha we just had a SQLSaturday and next year Lincoln, NE will have one, and then in 2015 Omaha will have one again.  Dallas just recently had a BI-only SQLSaturday.

It looks like the nearest SQLSaturday to Houston currently on the calendar would be SQLSaturday #234 in Baton Rouge in August (08/03/2013) -   Yes it is a four hour drive away – but I bet you will find it worth your while and worth the gas too.  Even if you don’t want to speak, watch when the schedule of sessions come out (usually 2-3 weeks after the Call for Speakers ends, so look in late June) and see if there are any topics that make it worth the drive.

This is another use for Twitter – as you will see about halfway down the event page, the hashtag for this event is #sqlsatbr – follow that on Twitter and you will find out right away when the Schedule is posted, what other Tweeps are thinking of attending, and so on.

SQLSaturdays are grassroots events put on by volunteers who search out sponsors, arrange venues and caterers, schedule speakers, etc. etc. and they are a lot of fun too.


SQL Server User Groups

PASS also underwrites many of the SQL Server DBA and BI user groups in existence.  There are Virtual Chapters and Local Chapters

Virtual Chapters sponsor webcasts on topics in their specific area, usually monthly or bimonthly – if you sign up for them at the link above you will get email notifications of upcoming webcasts.  This is an easy way to see some very high end speakers without having to travel anywhere at all.

Local Chapters are what people usually think of as user groups.  The local group for Houston is HASSUG (Houston Area SQL Server Users Group) and they apparently meet the second Tuesday of each month over lunchtime in person and via LiveMeeting.  I realize that it would mean a long lunch once a month to drive into Houston to the Microsoft Offices where they meet, but check it out!  Yes, you can click on the LiveMeeting instead and be ahead the drive time (and if you absolutely can’t drive, going to LiveMeeting is better than not going at all), but if you can do so, drive in and go in-person – you can’t meet people and network with them over the LiveMeeting! {-:


SQLskills Immersion Events

There is no single more knowledgable and friendly group of SQL Server Experts than the folks at SQLskills.  Kimberly Tripp and Paul Randal are a wife-and-husband team that are both former Microsoft employees and now offer high end consulting and training.  They have a core team of four consultant/trainers that work for them, and they are all geniuses (@SQLPoolboy, Jonathan Kehayias, from my #SQLHelp conversation above is one of these four people).  The Immersion Event training is set up in one week blocks, with each week costing $3795 ($3295 if you register 6-9 months ahead of time) – significantly more expensive than the PASS Summit (even allowing for pre-cons), but definitely worth it. David Klee and I have been through IE (Immersion Event) 1,2, and 3.  Last year I was scheduled to go to IE1 and the PASS Summit (we nominally get two training weeks eash year).  Klee and I went to IE1 and after the first day called home to our company and basically begged to switch out of going to PASS in order to go to IE2 instead (and we did!)

Kimberly & Paul do not enforce taking the classes in order IE1>>IE2>>IE3 but they do recommend it, and after taking 1 and 2 I would recommend it as well.  If your company will pay for it – DO IT!  Don’t sit on excuses of too many projects or not enough time – if thy have training funds but you are too busy to go to training, then they need more help. (/endRant) {-:


I hope all of this helps – I know everything on this list has helped me in one way or another (and still does).


  1. Andy, you are right on with all of the above. I am continually inspired by the work of PASS and people in the community. If you have any interest in presenting, contact your local user group. User groups are always looking for speakers and they provide a friendly environment to start out in. It is a great way to meet people in the community and to learn about the topic you are going to talk about.

  2. A lot of good information here for people who want to connect to the SQL community. It is sometimes hard for me to remember a time when I wasn't connected in to the SQLFamily, but I spent a lot of years as a lone wolf IT person. Thanks for spending the time to put this together.

  3. Outstanding write up Andy! Thanks for the great source of info, and thanks for the blog reference :)