The Practice of Navia Aut Caput

The first manned flight. The naming of Portland, Oregon. A foot ball game.

All three have one thing in common: a coin toss  the practice of throwing a coin in the air to make a decision based on an outcome – either heads or tails.

It’s interesting to see how this has become common practice in today’s culture – the NFL, politics (a high school friend won the election as mayor to break a tie), the New Zealand lottery – all with the intent of making a decision. The premise behind this is that those who do so believed the chance of the outcome was an expression of divine will.

But even more interesting is the fact that a corresponding action came about as a result of the decision, regardless of the outcome. Think of it this way. Say you want to do a coin toss to decide whether or not to pursue a new career or to break a bad habit: heads you pursue a new career or break the bad habit, tails you do nothing. Whatever the outcome is, your action will be based out of it – the decision.

Too bad we were not taught how to make decisions in school. We spent years trying to learn and master concepts and theories that apply to our specific fields of interest. But decision making? Conditional constructs in computer programming like the “if-then-else” expression are practical applications of decision making. But life is much more complicated than bits of ones and zeroes.

In my work as a consultant, I have the wonderful opportunity to meet and interact with really smart people. But these same people would rather be experts at what they do than consider a management position like a manager or a director. When asked why, the two most common responses are that (1) they don’t want the additional responsibility and (2) they would rather have someone make decisions.  Notice that these responses pertain to both decision and action. And action is a by-product of the decisions we make. Recall the last time you let an opportunity pass by because you didn’t make a decision and, therefore, didn’t take action?

Complex decision making is a skill. Some people are really good at it while others accept the fact that they just don’t have it. Like riding a bike or tuning a SQL statement, it can be learned. Nobody was born with great decision making skills. But like any other skill, you have to keep doing it to become really good. You’ll make good decisions and bad decisions. Learn as much as you can from the bad decisions so you can improve your good decision making skills. Practice. Apply. Rinse. Repeat. Recall the decisions that you’ve made in the previous year that led to where you are right now. Imagine where you would be in a year from now based on the decisions that you will make.

Decide how you want your future to look like. A coin toss might not be a good idea.

P.S. Your quality of life is directly proportional to the amount of good decisions that you’ll make. Similarly, the people who are moving ahead in life are not necessarily smarter than you. They just learned how to develop their good decision making skills over time.

PASS Summit and The Value Of Building A Community

Photo courtesy of Sheryl’s Boys

I’m a community person. I’ve built my career around the value of communities. It all started when I was in high school and wanted to raise funds that will help the student community by improving our sports facility. We wanted to host a dance party within the school premises and invite students to participate. When the school didn’t approve of our proposal, I was disappointed. So disappointed that I gathered all of my close friends and proposed the idea of running the party outside of the school premises but within the jurisdiction of the local community for safety reasons. We had a noble goal (help the students in our school,) a business plan (host a dance party to raise funds,) and a handful of volunteers (my close friends.) I guess everyone was passionate about the idea that it started spreading throughout the different schools within our community. Soon, everybody was asking us how they can participate. We’ve expanded our fund raising efforts to include other schools in the project. It was a success and the rest was history. We won the hearts of the school administration staff that they let us do another fundraising project for the next year. I’ll never forget that experience.

This week, the SQL Server community was all hyped up on Twitter and other social networking sites talking about the PASS Community Summit. This happens to be the world’s largest and most intensive technical training conference for Microsoft data professionals – SQL Server DBAs, developers, BI professionals, data scientists, name it. There were some major announcements made this week which are considered highlights of the event. If you ask attendees, new and old, about why they made the investment in attending the event, you will get different responses. But there’s one constant theme that resonates among the different responses: PEOPLE. Communities are social units built by people for people. Seth Godin talks about building Tribes, Brian Allain talks about how community wins, social networking sites have become successful because of the idea of communities.  Successful businesses know how to build and leverage communities. In fact, many would agree with me on this that, Microsoft has leveraged the SQL Server community to build the product to what it is today. But setting aside the marketing and business aspects of building and/or being a part of a community, the real value comes from meeting some of our basic human needs – RCGC:

  1. Relationships. Along the corridors of the conference center, I see people giving hugs and high fives. Who would ever think that these are a bunch of data geeks hammering on their keyboards solving the toughest SQL Server problems? But they connect on a personal level, telling stories about the travels they’ve made, the previous events that they have attended, the next one that they will go to, the parties that they need to attend, etc. I’ve given and received hugs myself throughout the week. One that really stood out for me was meeting up (and hugging) a good friend of mine – a former SQL Server MVP – who joined the Microsoft SQL Server Integration Services team back in 2008. It’s like a family reunion since I haven’t seen him for more than 4 years.
  2. Comfort. During a conversation I had with a database administrator in a large gaming company, he mentioned about feeling one with the community. Back at work, he felt like he was all alone and that no one understood nor appreciated what he was doing. Being around and talking to people who share the same passion as he has made him feel secure, knowing that there are others who feel the same pain that he feels, enjoying the same successes that he experiences and speaking the same language. He immediately blended in even though it was his first time attending the conference.
  3. Growth. We all came to the conference knowing that we will learn something new – whether by attending sessions or simply joining a conversation. I asked questions about the recently released SQL Server 2017 on Linux. I’ve learned a thing or two about STONITH support on Hyper-V and Azure. We all desire growth in more than one aspect of our lives. The event provided an opportunity for growth for those of us who made the investment.
  4. Contribution. One speaker commented on the fact that he feels the satisfaction of seeing people’s face light up when he talks about a solution or feature that will help solve their problems. I got a kick out of the experience myself when people I don’t know approached and thanked me for the articles I’ve written on We are wired to have a desire to contribute and make the world a better place. Most of the community leaders I know have been doing this – volunteering and speaking at events – for decades and they still feel that they need to do more. My hats are off to the wonderful people in the SQL Server community that made the PASS Community Summit a successful one – from volunteers, speakers, chapter leaders, the members of the board, etc.

Being a part of a community meets one of our basic human needs. But it certainly goes beyond that. I’ve gotten contracts and  job offers in the past from people in the community. In fact, the community has definitely helped me grow my career in one way or another. But let’s leave the topic about the business value of building and/or being a part of a community for a future blog post.

Question: Fill in the blank. “The one thing I love the most about the SQL Server community is _______ ?” You can leave a comment below.

The Real Secret to Successfully Upgrade SQL Server Databases

Given Microsoft’s recent announcement of SQL Server 2017 general availability, you somehow get an idea of the frequency of releases for future SQL Server versions. This translates to more database upgrade and migration work that SQL Server DBAs have to do. However, keeping up with the latest and greatest version is not practical from a business standpoint. What might end up happening is that there would be more frequent installations of service packs and cumulative updates to keep a specific version of SQL Server in a supported configuration.

In my online course Windows Server Failover Clustering for the Smart SQL Server DBA, I walk thru the process of installing service packs on a multi-instance, multi-node SQL Server failover cluster. The process is basically the same if you want to perform an in-place upgrade. Majority of SQL Server DBAs are mostly focused on the actual upgrade process. And, why not? This is where the real action happens. But from my experience, the actual upgrade process is just but a small portion of the overall activity. In fact, what happens before the actual upgrade process determines whether or not the upgrade becomes successful.

Here’s another thing that I observed in my experience: service pack and cumulative update installations are treated like normal operations tasks. That’s a huge mistake, especially if you do not have a high availability solution in place. I remember the days of installing service packs on a SQL Server 2000 failover cluster. I think I spent more time “hoping and praying” for the entire installation process to succeed than doing the actual work. Otherwise, I’ll be stuck with rebuilding an entire cluster.

Whether you are installing a service pack or upgrading from a lower version to a higher version of SQL Server, this video will show you the real secret to successfully perform these tasks.

[youtube id=”1gktlabdHWg”]

That Intimidating Sound

Listen to the following audio clips and tell me the first thing that comes to mind (post it in the Comments section)

Audio clip #1 (courtesy of Mike Koenig)


Audio clip #2


Audio clip #3 (courtesy of Mike Koenig)


Audio clip #4 (courtesy of Grant Evans)


There’s something about sounds that trigger emotions and make us recall memories. I recently became interested in the concept of “auditory plasticity” — the process whereby our perception of sound adapts according to the aural patterns we experience. I think it’s because of the fact that as a musician, I understand the power of music to move people’s emotions. Watch how people respond to a slow classical music versus an upbeat EDM mix. It’s pretty interesting.

What’s even more interesting is the fact that it is happening to us without being aware of it. As a side effect, we generate emotions that affect the way we behave. Here’s an example.



Growing up, my mom would take us to work because she can’t afford a babysitter. We would sit at a table beside her desk, either reading a book or scribbling on a piece of paper to pass time. Their office was on a floor above the factory – a typical white-collar environment where everyone wore nicer clothes compared to those on the shop floor. The sound of high quality leather shoes walking around the office will tell you that the person approaching is either a manager or somebody with a higher status in the company.

To a four-year-old, anyone bigger who’s also wearing high quality leather shoes and expensive clothing appears to be intimidating. Couple that with the fact that they would approach you with an intimidating look and ask what the hell is a four-year-old doing in their office. Why they do it is beyond a four-year-old’s comprehension. But it’s one of the reasons I struggle with dealing with intimidating people.

It took a while for me to learn how to deal with intimidating people. In my line of work, I deal with people of different personality types. So, I need to learn human psychology to understand why people do what they do. More importantly, I needed to learn more about myself and what triggers the different emotions I feel. Because it’s the emotions we associate with the sounds that we hear that will determine how we act.

The Past, Not The Future

The problem with these experiences is that we tend to make the lessons stick without further exploring whether or not they are still valid. It’s what all past experiences are. And we make our decisions based on them. Even worse, they hinder our growth because we keep telling ourselves the stories we once experienced.

The first audio clip reminds me of the year 1986. I was a nine-year-old kid already aware of what’s happening around me. The famous People Power Revolution was underway and I was playing in the streets as I heard military aircrafts fly by. Aware of what was happening during that time and the fact that these were military aircrafts flying by, anything could happen. We were not in a state of war by any means, but, still. I guess it’s my fascination with airplanes that got me to easily recognize the sound of military aircrafts. Fast forward twenty years later and I hear the same familiar sound as I was looking out the window of our Singapore flat. Who would have thought that the sound of a military aircraft flying by could cause a slight increase in heartbeat rate and a sudden rush of thoughts that were anything but peaceful.

The third audio clip reminds me of the time I broke my right leg. Prior to the accident, I barely paid attention to anything that merely sounded like that of cracking a bone. Now it’s as if I can instantly identify what the sound is as soon as I hear it. Guess what I start to feel after hearing that sound?

These past experiences have influenced how I felt and how I respond. There currently are no signs of war going on and my right leg is already slightly functional. Yet my responses to these sounds remained the same.

It’s The Stories We Tell Ourselves

You’ve probably heard of the Chicken Little story, known for the phrase “the sky is falling.” And while the story dates back to the 19th century, it is very much relevant to these days. A recent news highlights an increase in unemployment claims in the US than expected. Even worse are news about robotics, artificial intelligence and automation that threaten to replace majority of the working population. Bad news is everywhere – on social media, the cable networks, on your phone. And we keep entertaining them. The more we think about them, the more miserable we feel.

There is no denying the reality of what’s going on around us. But it is our responsibility to take control of the stories we tell ourselves. Just like how what we choose to see is what we get, what we also decide to listen to is eventually what we get. I started telling myself that the sound of military aircraft flying by could mean that an aviation exhibition could be going on. I could then enjoy watching the amazing pilots fly their aircraft in an awesome display of skill. I started telling myself that the sound of a cracking bone could mean that my right leg is slowly getting back into its normal rhythm that I can be running on the treadmill in a few weeks.

You can tell yourself that the news about robotics, artificial intelligence and automation that threaten to replace your job is a wonderful opportunity to explore more exciting ventures. Besides, wouldn’t it be better than a boring, routine job?

We need to be aware of those intimidating sounds that cause us to feel anything but empowered. It’s one step towards knowing how to deal with them and eventually moving towards maximizing our potential.

Here’s a fun experiment. Use the sound clips played on the website to identify the emotions that you fell. Try to recall an event that lead you to feel that emotion.

The 7Ps of Success That No One Likes To Talk About

The day was about to end. My right leg was shaking as I wrapped up the training class that I was teaching. I was trying hard to avoid looking at my leg. I’ve been feeling the throbbing pain for the past three days and my leg has swollen to a point where I don’t even want to look at it. After shutting down my computer, I immediately laid down in bed, raised my leg on top of pillows, took a deep breath and just slept.

I just went thru the most physically challenging week in my entire summer.

Successful people credit goal setting as a big part of their life. They set goals, take massive action to achieve them and define much higher goals the next time. Everyone loves the feeling of achieving something. It gives us a sense of pride, confidence, significance and, of course, success. And don’t we all love to talk about the great things that came with achieving a goal?

But what isn’t commonly mentioned are the challenges and hardships that came alongside it. We try to sweep those away because of the pain they have caused us. Sure, they contributed to our success one way or another. But we certainly don’t give them the credit they deserve.

In a previous blog post, I shared about partnering with Brent Ozar (Twitter | blog) on delivering a virtual training class. I’ve been working on the content for this training class for the past few years, collecting stories from my previous consulting projects to make concepts and principles relevant. Suffice it to say, I’m overly excited about this project and the process leading up to it.

Until the unexpected happened.

It’s funny how life throws something at us to see if we really are serious about pursuing what really matters to us. As a data professional, I see this pattern all the time.

  • Orville Wright was injured and Lt. Thomas Selfridge died in a flight exhibition before the US Army
  • Apollo 11 was running low on fuel before it landed on the moon
  • Nelson Mandela was imprisoned before he managed to lead the end of the apartheid in South Africa
  • Michaelangelo contracted an eye disease before he finished painting the Sistine Chapel

I could go and on about the different people in history who encountered challenges prior to accomplishing something great. It only means one thing:

Be ready to face challenges on your way to accomplishing great things. Click To Tweet

But didn’t I say the unexpected happened? Well, yes, something did happen. I broke my right leg. I tried roller blading and it didn’t go well (I share the back story in my regular newsletter). All I knew was that I broke my leg immediately as I fell down.

This happened four weeks before the training class. I haven’t finished all of the resources that I need for the class – PowerPoint slides, scripts, demos, documents, etc. The worst part is that I have to undergo surgery and stay in bed most of the time for the leg to be fully recovered. And for the first few days after the surgery, I felt helpless, vulnerable even. I can’t go to the bathroom on my own, I can’t make my own breakfast, I can’t go out of the house, etc. Ask any highly driven, highly-productive, self-sufficient individual how it feels like to not be able to do things, even the simplest ones. I can guarantee you will get an earful.

I knew I was going to be in this situation for a while. So, I need to prepare myself to be in this situation while keeping my eyes on my goal. I had the time to think about my situation and the challenges that I faced. How do you think I came up with the 7Ps?

  1. Purpose. To keep your eyes on your goal despite the challenges, you need to define your purpose. I call it the “why behind the what“. When I deliver a presentation, a workshop or a training class, I always remind myself why I do it. I don’t do it to be famous nor to show the world how smart I am. I don’t do it to score brownie points towards my Microsoft MVP award for renewal.  I do it because of one thing. It is my purpose. You’ll see my personal mission statement in my social media profiles, my speaker profiles and every where I have contributions. In a sentence, my purpose is to help people and organizations grow and develop their fullest potential. When I’m delivering a presentation, my goal is to empower technical professionals to help them be more confident in doing their jobs. I make it a point that those who attend my workshops, presentations and training classes feel inspired and empowered after the interaction. Otherwise, there’s no point in them being around me. The world is already full of fear, uncertainty and all the negative emotions. I’m certainly not going to add more to that.
  2. Passion. Passion is defined as a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something. It’s an emotion – a feeling. Every day, we are driven by our emotions. Sometimes, we feel tired, sad, grumpy or frustrated. Other times we feel invigorated, excited, joyful or extremely grateful. Did you notice anything while you were reading those two sets of emotions? The first set made you feel, well, negative. The second set made you feel very positive. That’s because our emotions affect how we behave. Most intellectuals will tell you to ignore your emotions and just focus on the intellect (I used to be like this). But the reality is, we are an emotional human being. We need to embrace who we are and leverage it to our advantage. So instead of ignoring our emotions, we should take control so we can direct them towards our advantage.Feeling angry? Why not direct your anger towards accomplishing something of significance. Feeling frustrated? Why not direct your frustration to make positive change happen.Those who have been to my presentations can feel the passion behind what I do. I used the word FEEL because they get emotionally drawn in – they see it, they hear it, they feel it – and the energy in the room immediately skyrockets. Sometimes, I get too intense in what I do. I was once told that people can feel the emotions when I play the piano. I channel all of my energy into what I do that anybody who sees me can feel it.
  3. Push. Challenges that appear on our way towards achieving our goals do not go away. Let that sink in for a moment. THEY DO NOT GO AWAY. In order to achieve our goals we have to push. And pushing requires effort. It requires energy. It requires moving from where we currently are to where we want to go. And if the challenge is bigger than us, more effort and energy are required. Push a small box and you won’t even flinch. But have you ever tried pushing a stranded vehicle? Not the same thing.One of my challenges for the past few weeks was sitting for longer than an hour. If my broken leg is laid down on the floor like it normally would, it will start swelling. And when it’s swollen, I start to feel throbbing pain around the surgical wounds. What I did as I prepared for my training class was do some work in my desk for an hour, lie down for about 20 minutes and repeat the whole thing. It became frustrating knowing that I need to stop what I’m doing – even if I’m totally in the zone – just so I can lie down. But I knew I had to do it or I risk making it worse. Imagine what it was like delivering a training class with me for an entire day. It’s a good thing Brent suggested that we do 10 minute breaks every hour.
  4. Past. And I don’t mean the time before the present. What I mean is that mark beyond something – past the line, past the house, past 6PM. Pushing past the mark is when you’ll know you’ve achieved something. You know you’ve completed the marathon if you’ve gone past the finish line. Or you’ve won the race if you’ve gone past the finish line ahead of everybody else.We’ve all been told at some point that we cannot do something. One of my former boss told me I won’t even pass the MCDBA certification. A former colleague of my mom told me that I won’t amount to anything when I was 4 years old. Limitations are imposed upon us. And we feel helpless.You know what’s even worse? The limiting beliefs that we tell ourselves. “I’m not good enough to make it to college.” “I don’t see a good future because I had a bad past.” “I don’t think anyone will hire me because I don’t have a degree.” It’s these limiting beliefs that we tell ourselves that prevent us from even achieving anything. In order to go beyond the challenges that we face, we need to first get past those limiting beliefs within ourselves. Because, the truth is, we can only accomplish what we believe we can. The first challenge that we need to overcome is ourselves.
  5. Pain. I did say that challenges do not go away. That’s why we need to push past them. And when you’re pushing something bigger than yourself, it’s painful. Compare pushing a small box with pushing a stranded vehicle. It’s easy to see the difference.But that pain is part of the process. If you learn how to embrace it, it’s easy to see how it can contribute towards our growth and our journey towards achieving our goal.A week after the surgery, I can barely move my right foot. Any movement that I make caused extreme pain. So, I tried to avoid moving my foot at all cost. My wife (an occupational therapist) told me that the doctor will recommend physiotherapy in our next visit. And if I want to be able to walk soon, I need to start exercising my foot on a regular basis. My initial attempts were extremely painful. You can imagine how extreme the pain was by looking at my facial expressions. I started to hate doing ankle pumps and foot rotations. But I have to remind myself daily of the purpose why I need to do this – be physically prepared for my training class and be able to walk normally again – and that I need to push past this temporary pain. Because that’s what all pain really is – they’re temporary. I’m not going to be doing painful exercises forever. But I have to endure.Even as I was doing the training class. The swelling is causing pain. But I also knew that the next break is just around the corner. So I endure, smiling for the webcam not just for the attendees to see but also to condition my mind that the pain was temporary.
  6. Patience. It’s the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. In this day and age of instant gratification and digital revolution, the word “patience” seemed to have been taken out of our daily vocabulary. We move on from that YouTube video that’s taking more than 15 seconds to load. The rapid succession of text or instant messages we send when we don’t get an immediate response. We now use the self-order kiosks at McDonalds because it’s faster than talking to the service crew.I don’t have any problems with being patient. I think I got that from my dad. I can be as patient as I can be. But sometimes, I get impatient – especially with myself. I get impatient when I can’t accomplish something faster than I expected of myself. I get impatient when I feel like my efforts to push past the challenges I’m facing are not getting me anywhere. I easily let others off the hook. But I’m too hard on myself.I’ve re-learned the art of becoming even more patient. What used to take me 5 minutes to do now takes me 30 minutes because I can’t move as fast as I used to. It used to take me around 30 seconds to climb up and down the stairs. Now, it takes me 3 minutes because I have to go on my butt to not put any weight on my leg. Going to the bathroom, sitting in the dining table, taking a shower. Re-learning patience has taught me how to appreciate slowing down. And it has taught me how to become even more aware of my surroundings.
  7. Persistence. Patience on its own is not enough. Persistence is not giving up. In spite of pushing past the pain. In spite if the challenges. Pushing past the challenges requires persistence. Achieving a goal requires persistence. Because giving up is easier, most people don’t get to realize their dreams.I knew that I needed a lot of persistence in order to finish my training materials on time. I also knew that I won’t be able to do it faster than I expect of myself. So, I pushed myself harder. I spent late nights working on the training resources. I kept a regular pace of working for an hour and resting for 20 minutes. I still needed my 7.5 hours of sleep on average. I worked and I rested. And it’s been like that for the last 3 weeks. I kept track of what I was doing. And I knew I was getting close to my goal.

While I did say that it was the most physically challenging week in my entire summer, it was also the most rewarding. After the training class, I spent the entire day in bed resting my leg while doing some follow-up work. I looked back at the things I did, the challenges I faced, the actions that I needed to take and the results that I got. And while a broken leg is not something I would welcome anytime, it has become the best thing that happened to me this year.

In case you’re looking for an inspiring Instagram or Facebook post, here it is. Success comes when you get your Purpose and Passion to Push Past your Pain with Patience and Persistence

Success comes when you get your Purpose & Passion to Push Past your Pain with Patience & Persistence. Click To Tweet