Year number 2, working for a start-up

Just like last year, I wanted to write a blog post about how the past 12 months went. But this year all of a sudden everything changed for me. But let’s start at the beginning…

 
Beginning of the year
The beginning of 2017 was pretty relaxed. After the really busy year I had (2016), I decided for myself that I needed to turn it down a notch. The immense amount of hours I spend in the office and working from home on the evenings and weekends, the stress and workload, it all became too much in December of 2016. For 2017 I was planning to work a bit smarter instead of harder, and that should give me the opportunity to take a step back and see the rainbow through the clouds.

In the first few months this actually worked for me. It was quite surprising to be honest, but my stress started to decrease, and I could focus on the stuff that needed my attention. For example, just a few of the things I did in Q1 of 2017: Worked on our ISO 27001 certification process with a team of people, had some security calls with HUGE corporates (which were really nice), made preparations for knowledge sessions, etc.

There are a few things that do deserve an honorary mention. One of the things that started last year was a quarterly hacklab with Deloitte. In this hacklab they tested our digital- and physical-security with different approaches. Just a few things they tried are: pen-tests (penetration tests of our software and infrastructure), phishing, social engineering, media-baiting, etc. This was really fun to make this happen together with them.

Another big project that started was our migration from a hybrid platform to Azure. This started in February, and this was a really cool project to discover new things in Azure, and a challenge to do this with the least possible amount of downtime.

We also started with knowledge sessions within the company. Together with a colleague (Pascal) we hosted the first session in March.

 
Q2: The dark times began
The second quarter of the year started out really good. Together with Pascal (not only my colleague, but also my best friend and parter-in-crime in most cases), his wife Aga and their beautiful baby girl Emily we went to Poland for a holiday, and the baptism of the little princess. Even though some things didn’t work out the way we planned, I did enjoy my stay there. Great people, great food, beautiful country. Oh yeah, and some drinks here and there…

But without knowing, my life would change all of a sudden right after I came back from holiday. Before my flight left Warschau I called home. My parents asked me to stop by on the way home, because they had something they wanted to tell me. This conversation over the phone felt somewhat uncomfortable, and I was soon to discover why. So as soon as I landed at Amsterdam Schiphol, I drove to my parents house.

The message wasn’t sugarcoated in any way. They told me my mom received the results of some tests from the hospital: terminal lung cancer. Even when I write this now, I immediately feel that sinking feeling again like I felt on the 19th of April. Just like it was yesterday.

In the weeks that followed she needed to go to the hospital over and over again. And every talk we had with doctors changed the situation. It went from inoperable to “we can slow it down with chemo en medicine”, to “we think it’s curable”, to terminal. The final diagnosis was somewhere between 8 weeks and 8 months to live. I was in the room when the doctor said that. And even though my world collapsed, I didn’t show that. I remained strong, for her.

I’ll skip some months, because it’s hard to talk about all the things I’ve seen and experienced. All I can say is that it left its marks on my soul forever.

Eventually she went to a hospice in the village we live in (which was really nice, since I could spend all my time there without losing any time on traveling somewhere). The reason for that was that she needed more care than we could give her at home, mainly because the care consisted of medical treatment and giving her shots for pain medication. But looking back now, it was only for a short period of time, not even a week…

Just 2 months and 20 days (or 80 days in total) after the first diagnosis, she passed away. That’s when the darkness began for me. It’s hard for me to describe how this feels, but I know the lyrics of a song come fairly close to that feeling:

 

There’s an emptiness tonight,
A hole that wasn’t there before.

And I keep reaching for the light,
But I can’t find it anymore.

There’s an emptiness tonight,
A heavy hand that pulls me down.

They say it’s gonna be alright,
But can’t begin to tell me how.

‘Cause I’m just sitting in the dark,
In disbelief that this is real.

 
It’s hard to express the feelings to someone who hasn’t experienced it themselves. That’s what I found out by talking to friends who experienced similar situations. Even after 4 months and 26 days, I still can’t find the words to describe it.

Another description I can relate to is: it’s “survival mode”. Nothing matters anymore, just the care for my mom mattered. And even now, it’s hard to see the true value of things, because sometimes I’m still on auto-pilot I think. It’s so much easier to see the negative side of things, when you just feel pain. I didn’t see the things that happened around me. All I could feel is emptiness, anger, feeling lost, feeling left alone, frustration, powerlessness, and I can go on. My heart was broken (and still is).

 
There were fun times though
But even though this was happening at home, I did have nice moments as well. In May I traveled with 2 friends to Seattle (my first time to the US!) and attended BUILD 2017. This was a really nice event, we saw a lot of great (new) things, and talked to a lot of interesting and smart people.

After BUILD, we stayed for a couple of days because we had some appointments at the Microsoft HQ in Redmond. Most of the appointments were arranged by Julie Koesmarno (Website | @mssqlgirl), and we talked to a number of people in the SQL Server building. We discusses some issues, ongoing development within Azure (for both Roadmap as well as Microsoft), we talked to the tools-team (and I can now FINALLY talk about Project Carbon!), etc. Great times!

 
From cloud-first to cloud-only company
Over the last few weeks, we spend time on migrating the last on-premise (or private-cloud) assets into Azure. This concluded a long-awaited change, that we’ve been planning since I joined Roadmap (which is 2 years already tomorrow). This means we’ve changed from cloud-first company in 2016 to a cloud-only, Azure-only company in 2017.

This was a long-term goal we set ourselves around 2 years ago, and I can’t express how happy I am that we made this happen this year. By doing this we went from a very busy on-call rotation (where you were called about every single night), to an on-call rotation where you get incidental calls (my last on-call was 1 phone call on a Saturday morning).

I can honestly state that this brought us and the company forward in an incredible way. So also kudo’s to you Julie, for helping us out when we needed it!

 
On to 2018
So I don’t know what 2018 will bring me, but hopefully it’s going to be a great year. A few goals are on the list again, and hopefully I can tick some of those boxes next year (presenting on SQL Saturday(s) and events (so public speaking), attending PASS Summit 2018, etc.).

Hopefully you had a wonderful year, and together we can make 2018 even better.

Cheers!

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My first 12 months working for a start-up

On December 1st of last year, I joined a new start-up called Roadmap as a DBA (Database Administrator). This start-up was founded 8 months earlier, and 2 of the members of the initial team were very close friends of mine. After a few months they needed some help in the area of data, and I was looking for a new challenge at that time. So 1 plus 1 equals 2, and after a short conversation with HR, the CEO and sharing a lot of laughs, they offered me the opportunity to embark on a new adventure.

My first day was a… ehm… let’s stick with “special” day. On this “Roadmap Day” every member of the team shared his or her thoughts about the past year, and their plans for the new year in a short presentation. But, and I say this with the knowledge I have now, this day started “the Roadmap way”. Before I knew it, I shook hands with a lot of people that would become colleagues, of which I could hardly remember the names of until many weeks after this event took place (I’m really bad with remembering names, which also doesn’t help). Then it became rather awkward. We started to jump, dance, and do all other kinds of funny stuff to “kickstart the day”. Coming from a “normal company”, this took some time to adjust to. But if you think you’ve seen the worst, wait till I tell you about… Neh… I’ll tell you about that over beers sometimes. Ask me about it, and we’ll have a great evening with a lot of laughs, I promise you!

 
Getting ready for a “normal” workday in the office
After this experience, the first day in the office started. I was handed the credentials to my email account, and had a talk over a cup of coffee with the 2 friends that already worked with the company. This talk included all kinds of information including the catch phrases: “cloud-first company”, “cool new technologies” and “do whatever you want, as long as it brings you and the company forward”.

As you can imagine, coming from a (again) “normal company” and joining a bunch of (semi-professional) lunatics was quite a culture shock (more than once I called this group a sect to be honest). All of a sudden nobody told me what to do anymore. I was handed over the credentials for the database servers, the domain (Active Directory), and they just let me go berserk. So with no idea where to start, I did what every DBA would do: check the configuration of the production environment. That should’ve been the first warning sign already. The entire production environment was literally build by developers…

And if that wasn’t a big enough culture shock, on the first day of my second week they decided in a scrum-like stand-up to give employees control over their holidays. So basically it meant that you can take as much time off, whenever you want to and how long you want to. I can’t emphasize this enough: coming from previous companies with a default policy of 20 to 25 days (this is normal in the Netherlands) where I needed to ask 3 or more people for permissions, this was kind of hard to cope with.

 
The first 2 months
During my first months, I considered my options regarding the company, the team and the job. Would this be the company for me? Would I be able to cope with the working environment? Would I fit in with this group of people? Looking back at this, one of the reasons I stayed was the fact that I was working with friends again, because I missed that the last couple of years. They kept me on the right track, and for that I’m very grateful, and can’t thank those 2 guys enough!

After about 2 or 3 months, I started to notice the change in the performance and stability of the platform, and my team. This meant I was getting more comfortable with suggesting and making changes, and the team responded in a different way. They’d seen what I could do, and all of a sudden they started asking questions. This was the first indication for me that things were improving.

 
Do whatever you want
One of the strangest concepts at first when I started at Roadmap was to “do whatever you want, as long as it brings you and the company forward”. So I decided to test this out.

On June 1st Microsoft released the long awaited RTM version of SQL Server 2016. For me, as a data professional, that meant new and shiny stuff to play with. But instead of installing it on a VM on my laptop (which I was used to in previous companies), I decided to use some of our production hardware. So I literally installed SQL Server 2016 during my morning coffee, put it into the production domain, and cautiously shared with 2 colleagues what I had done.

The reaction was nothing less than enthusiastic. They wanted to know all kinds of stuff: What are the cool new features that we can use to solve issues we have right now?! How can we leverage this when we think about information security?! When can we migrate our production server to SQL Server 2016?!

Every single one of these responses blew me away. I was used to responses as: “can’t you do this during the weekends, on your laptop, and in your own time?”. This gave me another boost to try and start leading the data- and operations-revolution for the Roadmap platform.

 
Getting more responsibility
At previous companies I worked for, I was always told what to do. As mentioned before, that’s not Roadmap. But by taking the lead in certain conversations, projects and areas, I showed people what my addition to the company could be.

To my surprise, after only a short period of working for Roadmap I was given on-call duty. So without the proper experience within the company, and without knowing all the systems, I was responsible for keeping the business alive. It couldn’t get any scarier that that!

After working 8 months together with the team, we decided to start working on splitting up roles and responsibilities. This meant that from that point on I was responsible for IT operations and the data platform. I’d never dared dream about this happening so fast, even if I would’ve known I was ready for this. To be honest, I think Roadmap is the only company that would give me such an opportunity so shortly after joining the company, so I’m very grateful for that!

 
The team
Over the past months, the team grew closer and closer. And not only the direct colleagues with who I worked, but also the rest of the team. It might be a cliché, but the colleagues started to be more than colleagues, they became acquaintances. And after a few more months, they started to become friends.

And I know how this sounds. Before I joined Roadmap I would’ve been the first one to call b*llshit on that! But you know, Roadmap has changed me. Even the colleagues of which I least expected it, became people I would love to have a beer with on a Friday night. I didn’t realize that until I started writing this blog…

 
And of course, there are downsides…
But in all honesty, of course there are downsides to working for a start-up. Especially the last few months were crazy! There were moments of stress, frustration and hopelessness. At certain times I even felt like killing my colleagues.

Crazy working days turned into crazy workweeks. Normal 8 hour workdays ended up in 16-hour workdays. There were weeks when I had to survive on 2/3/4-hour catnaps between workdays. Nights turned into sleepless nights. There were nights in which I started working at 4AM from home, put in an hour or two, before getting into the car and drive to the office. But in the end, it all worked out for me.

In all honesty, I don’t expect anyone to fully understand this. I don’t even understand it at moments! This might be something you have to experience yourself before you can understand why I accepted this. In any other “regular” job I wouldn’t have done this, but for some reason it’s part of the job at this point in time.

You know what kept me going (besides the tons and tons of coffee)? The team of crazy bastards (and I say this with a lot of love). The team that has a clear goal for the company. The team that is motivated enough to spend private time on bringing the company forward. I’ve had moments where the name on the building didn’t really matter anymore, but I kept going for the team. They changed me, and made me into someone who wants to constantly improve and broaden his horizon, more than I already was. They gave me the confidence I needed, at the time that I needed it the most. And there’s no way to pay them back for that, besides giving it my best to bring Roadmap forward.

And trust me, you’re going to hear from us soon, because we’re going to take over the world with Roadmap!

“You gotta fight ’til it hurts,
and then you do it again

Ain’t no room for second place,
Go big or go home!

Dust off and then come back for more”

 
Source: Five Finger Death Punch – Back For More

Published CDC article

A few years ago, I made a list of goals I wanted to work towards, and things I wanted to achieve. One of those things was speaking (which I achieved in January 2015). Another point on the list was to write an article for a published magazine. Today, I’m proud to announce I can cross that goal off my list as well!

In December 2014, I saw a tweet from Marcel Meijer (Blog | @MarcelMeijer ), asking who wanted to write an article for SDN Magazine. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to just go for it.

Earlier this week, I saw the magazine was available for download on the SDN website. I’m honored my article was published, and I can only hope the people who read the magazine like it.

If you read the article, I’d love to hear your opinion!

Looking back at 2014, and forward to 2015

The last year was a little bumpy, and had a lot of ups and downs. Looking back at 2014, I accomplished a lot of cool things, and set some things in motion for 2015 already. So what happened for me in 2014?

 
FORG
2014 was the first year I joined the Friends of Red Gate (FORG) program. I was surprised and felt honored, that I got the confirmation in February that I was a part of FORG. Red Gate has always been a company I respected a lot (so much, that some people asked if I had Red Gate stocks, when I mentioned them again in a conversation). The fact that they let me in their program was a huge honor for me. They enabled me to contact the product teams directly, which (hopefully) ended up in us (FORG members and Red Gate developers) improving the tooling this year.

For next year, I’m hoping I can continue working with Red Gate. There are a lot of things I would like to do in cooperation with Red Gate, that I didn’t or couldn’t do this year. Hopefully 2015 will be the year that I can do some of the things I have on my to-do list!

 
SQLCoop
In February of 2014, I started SQLCoop with 3 other people:

Julie Koesmarno (Blog | @MsSQLGirl)
Mickey Stuewe (Blog | @SQLMickey)
Chris Yates (Blog | @YatesSQL)

 
We wrote a total of 8 posts this year, in which we talked about a number of subjects. Hopefully for next year, there will be more posts about various subjects.

 
Blogging
My blogging in 2014 didn’t go exactly as planned. At the end of last year, I set myself a goal: try to blog more often, and try to write a blog post once a week. I really tried to keep up with that pace, but unfortunately I lost that pace early in the year. But I did manage to publish 30 posts this year (including this one). This is one more than last year. So I did reached my goal (blog more than last year), but not as much as I would’ve liked.

 
Blog traffic
The blog traffic increased again, in a way I didn’t expect. Between 2012 and 2013, the traffic to this blog was quadrupled. This was a stunning success, and I didn’t expect any growth for this year. But looking at the statistics right now, I see that the visitors to my blog are more than doubled comparing to last year! I was hoping for a small increase, but not this much! Looking at that, I can only hope I helped a lot of people save time, with the ramblings I call blog posts!

 
Events
This was the year of the great events. In July, I attended SQLBits in Telford, UK. This was a great event, wonderfully organized, and certainly an event everyone needs to visit at least once! People told me this was the biggest and nicest SQL event in Europe, and I can tell you: they weren’t lying! What an event, what an attendees, and what a great job from the organizers!

In October there was SQL Saturday Holland. This year was (again) better than last year, and it was a great event! Also, I got the chance to volunteer at the event. Definitely something I’m doing again next year. It was really great to help the organizers out. It was a wonderful day with great sessions, and it was the moment I got my first speaking opportunity. Nothing but good things happened that day.

 
New friends
This year I’ve also met a number of wonderful people from the community. A lot of them I met at SQLBits this year, but also at SQL Saturday. It was great to meet Matan, Tobiasz, Chris, Julie, Nicky, Pieter, Brent, Kevin, Grant, etc, or talk to them again. Meeting all those people really shows how big and diverse the community is, and it reminds me why I like this community so much. I’m confident I will meet a lot of cool people next year, and catch up with people again after not seeing them for too long.

 
Speaking
This year I started to seriously think about speaking at events and user groups. All the good stories I heard from friends in the community made me consider this. In July during SQLBits, I submitted 3 sessions for SQL Saturday Holland, and that was the first step. I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get picked. There were a lot of good speakers, and I was a newcomer with no experience. But at SQL Saturday Holland, I met Pieter Vanhove (Blog | @Pieter_Vanhove). We talked about all different kinds of subjects (including speaking), and he invited me to do a session at the SQL Server User Group Belgium in January 2015. This means I’m speaking at my first ever User Group session. Hopefully this will be the start of something good, with which I can give back to the community in time.

 
I want to with you all a very happy, successful and interesting new year! Go and try to make 2015 your year, and take that leap of faith when you have the chance! I know I did! 🙂

Don’t make a hassle…

Last week, when I posted my previous blog post, I noticed I posted 99 blogs until that moment. At that moment I thought about what to write for blog post #100. After some thought, I decided not to write anything. I didn’t want to make a hassle about it.

 
But when I had dinner this evening with a close friend from the SQL Family (yes, I’m writing this a few minutes before actually posting it), it hit me. I did need to write something. After dinner, we had a wonderful conversation about all kinds of stuff. But it sunk in during the ride home. Sometimes you just need to stand behind your principles, let other people know what you find important, and most of all: let people know you appreciate them. So that’s what I’m trying to do with this blog post.

 
I started blogging in September 2011, just as a brain dump for myself. But after a while, I started to notice people were reading my blogs, and I could help them with my posts. This lead to writing bigger blog posts, that were more technical, and not only usable in my specific cases. But blogging was only a gateway to other cool things. Applying for a job for example. Before I started blogging, it was about introducing yourself, and checking if you could fit the company and job. But after a year of blogging, I didn’t need to introduce myself anymore. People just knew I blogged, they read my posts, and they started to get to know me because of that.

 
Meeting new friends was also a side-effect in the last 2 years. Before that period, I’ve never heard about SQL Family, the community, and the awesome effort people put into that. But now, new doors are opening, and it seems that opportunities are presenting itself sometimes. The people I met, and I call my close friends now, supported me when I need it, helped me where they could, and kicked me in the butt when the situation asked for it.

 
For the upcoming years, I have a lot of plans, new ideas, and big dreams. And with the friends I’ve made, I think that’ll become reality. So thank you all out there: readers, authors, contributors, mentors, role models, heroes, and most of all: thank you my friends!

SQLBits: The new standard

Normally I don’t write blog posts about events I visit. But last week I attended my first SQLBits, and to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. It’s just another conference I thought, with a lot of interesting sessions, nothing fancy. Well, I couldn’t be more wrong than that! SQLBits isn’t just a conference, it’s a cool event where you get to meet new people, see famous speakers talk, interact with them, and they organized an AWESOME party!

 
Location
SQLBits was held in Telford, UK, close to Birmingham. By train it took about an hour away from the airport in Birmingham to Telford. The conference center was a beautiful location, with hotels close by. So you didn’t have to travel in the morning to go to the conference center. You just needed to cross the parking lot to get to the location.

 
Pre-cons
On Thursday they organized pre-cons, which are full day instructor led training sessions. You need to pay for these pre-cons, but they’re definitely worth the money. You could choose a session from a list of 11, and I attended a pre-con led by Brent Ozar (Blog | @BrentO) about Virtualization, SANs, and Hardware for SQL Server.

Brent talked about how RPO and RTO are the starting points of any SQL Server architecture. He advises that the business needs to fill out a form about RPO (Recovery Point Objective) and RTO (Recovery Time Objective), so they start thinking about what they ask IT people. After that, he discussed backup strategies, HA (High Availability) and DR (Disaster Recovery) designs, SAN’s and SQL Server hardware. And even though I was familiar with some of the subjects he talked about, it was definitely a good way to look at certain things again from another perspective.

 
Sessions
Both Friday and Saturday were filled with good sessions . It started with a keynote from Nigel Ellis (Blog | @chillidemon) about Azure. It was a really interesting talk, and a good start of the day.

After that I saw some very interesting sessions about various subjects. The rooms were good, and all on 1 floor. So no huge groups that want to change floors, which I’ve seen at other conferences. This meant that rooms were easily accessible, and you could switch rooms between sessions very quick.

 
The party
On Friday night there was a party, organized by the SQLBits team. And while I’m writing this, I’m still impressed when I look back at the party. They had it all sorted out: great food, great people, great theme! Just perfect! The theme of the party was steampunk. They arranged for a carousel, huge slide (the Helter Skelter), and various carnival booths with games and entertainment. You can find pictures of the party on Twitter.

Looking back at the party, it was the best post-conference party I’ve ever seen so far. EVER!

 
Food and drinks
Just a small thing, but this really shows that the SQLBits crew really had it sorted out: the food could be found on several locations, and there were people that carried trays with food on it. They served the food in small, square bowls which were pretty handy to hold. Also, they served a number of different dishes, so you could pick whatever you liked.

The drinks were available throughout the conference center. So if you walked from one session to another, you could grab a coffee, tea, water or juice. It was really nice that they choose this setup, instead of 1 or 2 locations, which would’ve resulted in an endless line of people.

 
Feedback
If you attended SQLBits, one of the ways to let the organizers know how you think, is by filling out the feedback forms. Even if you have any negative feedback, please let them know. You can fill in the form in the links below:

If you attended any of the days at SQLBits please can you all fill out the following survey:
http://www.sqlbits.com/SQLBitsXII

If you attended the Thursday Training Day then please fill out the following survey:
http://www.sqlbits.com/SQLBitsXIIThursday

If you attended the Friday Deep Dives Day then please fill out the following survey:
http://www.sqlbits.com/SQLBitsXIIFriday

If you attended the Saturday Community Day then please fill out the following survey:
http://www.sqlbits.com/SQLBitsXIISaturday

You’ll help the organizers with your feedback, so they can make the next SQLBits even better (if that’s possible), and you get a chance to win a £100 Amazon voucher!

 
Thanks!
The last thing I wanted to do is give a HUGE compliment to the organizers of SQLBits, the volunteers and all attendees that made this an awesome event! I’m already looking forward to next year!

Friends of Red Gate Project

A few weeks ago I received the official confirmation that I’ll be a part of the Friends of Red Gate 2014 program. This program allows the participants to directly communicate with the product teams, provide feedback to teams, and try out beta-builds of tools.

 


 
The Red Gate tools are easy to use, and give you the upper hand on administering servers and databases. So together with other Friends of Red Gate, we decided to write a series of blog posts about the tools. The first one will be posted tomorrow. In these blog posts, we will try to show you why you should use their tools, and what problems they can solve for you.

 
The group that will write posts just like me consists of 3 other people:

 
Mickey Stuewe (Blog | @SQLMickey) from Orange County, USA
Chris Yates (Blog | @YatesSQL) from Kentucky, USA
Julie Koesmarno (Blog | @MsSQLGirl) from Canberra, Australia

 
So when you’re interested in reading about the tools from Red Gate, or you want to see how people use the same tools in different jobs, you should definitely check out this series!