Wise man or Wise guy? You Decide

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Archive for the ‘Lessons’ Category

An Explanation of Why to Use Stored Procedures

Posted by sqlwiseguy on May 9, 2009

I wish I was a smart as the guys I interact with on sites like SQLServerCentral and TwitterPaul Nielsen, @PaulNielsen on Twitter, has an excellent blog post today on Why Use Stored Procedures that I think is a must read for everyone involved with SQL Server.  I am a huge advocate of stored procedures and Paul does much better job explaining the why’s than I ever could. 

So thanks Paul, now I have someplace to point the nay-sayers.


Posted in Blogs, Development, Lessons, Programming, SQL Server, Standards | Leave a Comment »

JumpstartTV Featured Content

Posted by sqlwiseguy on May 8, 2009

My video, Creating a Performance Counter Log, is the featured video on JumpstartTV today.  This is a short one covering how to create a counter log using Perfmon.  This is a pre-requisite for another video I have done, Integrating Performance Monitors with SQL Server Profiler

A side note, I really enjoyed making the videos and I think the short (less then 5 minute) how-to videos are a great way to get some practical knowledge.

Posted in JumpstartTV, Lessons, Online Presence, Published Articles, SQL Server, Technology, Training, Windows | Leave a Comment »

Software Developers, Remember that People Need to Use Your Software

Posted by sqlwiseguy on May 7, 2009

As a hybrid DBA\Developer I had the message of the title reinforced through a negative experience with a web site this past week.  Please bear with me as I tell a fairly long story/rant to illustrate my point.

The web site I had an issue with is www.sunpass.com.  SunPass is Florida’s prepaid toll system and they provide a web site to manage your account.  There are 2 devices you can purchase, a portable transponder and a SunPass Mini Sticker transponder which applies to your windshield and is only good for 1 vehicle.  My wife and I purchased a SunPass Mini and I went to the web site and activated it and I set up my account so that it would auto-replenish using one of my credit cards when the balance dipped below a certain threshold. 

Well, last week we traded in the vehicle that had the Mini in it, so we bought a new Mini for our new vehicle.  This is when the trouble started.  I went to the SunPass web site to activate the new Mini.  I logged into my account and nowhere on my account home page was there a link to activate a new transponder or remove the old transponder.  I thought, “Well, the package says I can activate it online and I activated the first one online so I know it has to be here somewhere.”  So I double–checked and nope, not there.  I went back to the SunPass home page and, lo and behold, the “Existing Customers activate a New Transponder” link was on that page instead of my account home page.  Alright that’s not the most intuitive interface, but I only spent about 10 minutes trying to find it, but at least I found it.  So I clicked on the link and here is what happened:

SunPassError Wait a minute, I don’t have a commercial account, what’s going on?  So I lookup the customer agreement and here is the definition of a commercial account:

5.2 Commercial Accounts: Primarily for companies or businesses with corporate owned, leased or rented vehicles and/or trailers. A current Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) must be provided to open an account of this type. FEIN information must be kept current and may be requested by a SunPass® representative at any time. The minimum opening balance for a Commercial Account is dependent on the User’s estimated monthly usage, but must be a minimum of $50.00. User shall be notified of any changes to the required replenishment amount on their monthly Account Summary Statement. For Commercial accounts to qualify for tax exempt status, User must provide a valid tax exemption certificate at the time of account activation.

Nope, I didn’t provide any of this information when I setup my account so, why am I getting this message?  I found the contact us link and sent them a message asking why I was getting the message.  As expected I got a non-response response:

Please call customer service

The next day I got a letter from SunPass telling me that I had a negative balance and I needed to call them to pay up.  Now I’m not only confused, but I’m a getting a bit ticked off, I mean, I did setup my account to auto-replenish, why isn’t it happening?  Back to the web site to make sure auto-replenish is setup, yup, it is.  So I call customer service to deal with the issues.   Here are the answers I got:

  1. Can’t add transponder because I have a commercial account.
      The reality is that when they added the new Mini’s they could not treat them like regular transponders, why I don’t know, so if you open your account with a Mini your account is treated like a commercial account.  So you have to call to activate any new Mini’s on your account.  I asked “How was I supposed to know that?” and the answer is you have to call.  So I suggested that they fix the message to tell me the REAL reason the web site doesn’t do what asked.
  2. Can’t delete the old transponder.
      Again, because it is a Mini it is treated differently and they assume you will disable it by taking it off the windshield so you don’t need to ever disable the transponder.  I asked, “How was I supposed to know that?” and the answer is you have to call.
  3. Auto-replenish isn’t working.
      Apparently the system had a “glitch”, so while the web site is showing that auto-replenish is setup it really never was.  I asked, “How was I supposed to know that?” and the answer is you have to call.

So now to the point of the post. What could the developers/designers done differently to provide a better user experience.

  1. Put account related activities on the account home page.  So an add transponder link on my account home page in addition to the main home page would have made life much simpler and intuitive.
  2. Provide a message that conveys the real reason functionality is not available.  Tell me that you cannot add a Mini to an existing account, not that I have a Commercial account.  In my opinion, the real answer is to not provide the functionality at all.  If account type = Commercial do not show the Add transponder link.
  3. Catch errors and tell the user that their efforts were unsuccessful.  If something goes wrong in setting up auto-replenishment tell me!  If it happens in a batch at the end of the day, send me an email telling me it failed.  Don’t wait to send me a letter when I’m already in the hole.

Please keep the end user in mind when designing and developing your applications.  Don’t frustrate your customers, whether internal or external, with poor design.

Posted in Expectations, Lessons, Problems, Programming, Rants, Standards, Suggestions, Technology | 1 Comment »

SQL Quiz #4 – Great Leaders in My Career

Posted by sqlwiseguy on April 16, 2009

Chris Shaw has posted another SQL Quiz and I was tagged by Grant Fritchey

What is a Leader?

My definition of a leader is someone who inspires others to reach beyond their comfort zone. 

The inspiration can be through example, encouragement, or challenging.

An Early Example

I’m going to start by going back to one of my first jobs, which was at McDonald’s.  Anyone has been at McDonald’s and seen that there are many managers that work at the restaurant, and, to be honest, most of the time they are not great leaders, but where I worked there was one manager who was a good leader, Dennis Bouchard.  He never asked a crew member to do something he would not do, and was never afraid to be challenged by one of us high school kids.  He and I would go nose to nose on some issues and that is what I respected him for.  He knew what needed to be done, challenged us to get it done, waded in when we were struggling, and allowed us to disagree with how it should be done.

A Current Example

The person who is currently challenging me to do more is someone else who was tagged by Grant, Andy Warren.  I met Andy in the fall of 2007 at a one day seminar by Joe Celko before the first SQLSaturday in Orlando.  I got to know him through OPASS and having him come in and do some consulting on a project at work.  Since meeting Andy I have begun blogging, written 4 articles for SQLServerCentral, done several videos for JumpstartTV, spoken at OPASS, spoken at SQLSaturday #8, committed to speak at the Space Coast User Group, and submitted 2 sessions for the PASS Summit.  In doing all these things my knowledge and experience in SQL Server had probably doubled.  If you had told me 2 years ago that I would have done all these things and met (online and in person) the people I have met, like Grant, Gail Shaw, Steve Jones, and others, I would have told you that you were nuts!  All this because Andy took an interest in me and challenged and encouraged me to do more.  Thanks Andy.

I have not seen either of these folks tagged yet, so I’ll tag:

K. Brian Kelley
Lynn Pettis – a new blogger, but an experienced SQL Server guy.

Posted in Community, General, Lessons, SQL Quiz, SQL Server | 2 Comments »

Things I Wish I Had Known

Posted by sqlwiseguy on February 14, 2009

I was tagged by Tim Mitchell in the latest, as he says, get to know you question, started by Mike Walsh, about what you have learned that you wish you had known earlier. There have been a lot of very smart people “tagged” in this thread and there have been some common themes, some of which I will hit on as well. So let’s get started.

When in doubt ask!

I do not have a normal computer science education, so when I got my first job I really felt like I needed to prove myself so I was very hesitant to admit I didn’t know something. I would spend 2 hours researching and figuring out something instead of asking a co-worker. Of course, this meant I spent more hours at work in order to accomplish what needed to be done. Now as an experienced developer, I’ve realized that I’m never going to know it all and that the best resource I have is the people I know. Don’t let pride or reputation keep you from asking for help

Educate yourself

This has been mentioned by others, but it bears repeating. If you want to progress in your career take and make the time to educate yourself. I agree with Brent Ozar that you should pick an area you are passionate about and become the expert in that area. You should be “the man” for Reporting Services, Profiler, etc…

Get Involved

Another common theme, but, in my opinion, very important. Don’t just attend user groups, events, or online communities like SQLServerCentral get involved in them! The more you put in the more you will get out of each of these communities. I have learned more in the past year by answering forum questions, going to meetings and events, speaking, and writing articles, than in the previous 5 years. I was fortunate to be able to speak at SQLSaturday 8 in Orlando and in preparation I probably learned more than anyone who attended my session. In my time on SQLServerCentral (my preferred site) I have gotten to know some great SQL minds like Grant Fritchey, Gail Shaw, Jeff Moden, R. Barry Young, Lynn Pettis and others. Through our interactions on SSC I’ve been able to develop a network of “go to” people when I have a problem I can’t solve.

Share your knowledge and document everything

It’s great to be indispensable, until you want to go on vacation. Teach your co-workers about what you do and document everything. If someone can’t fill in for you for a week, you need to get to work on getting someone up to speed. This actually makes you more valuable to your employer because you are making everyone more productive.

Take time for your family and yourself

We all know someone who works all the time and if you don’t, you probably are that person. Sometimes long hours are necessary, but they are not a badge of honor. Long-term you will be more productive if you work normal hours and take your vacations. You will also like your job more, too. If your boss expects your regular week to be 50 or more hours, start looking for another position now! I regularly worked until 8 or 9 pm when I was first married and missed out on having some more fun times with my wife before we had kids. Now I do my best to be out at 5 pm so I can enjoy my kids and wife. Life is more than work and work will be better if it is only part of your life.

I’m closing in on 40 and I’d like to think I’ve learned some lessons and I’d like to pass them on. I still feel like one of the young guys though.

Since it’s the weekend and I think all my blogging friends have been tagged I’m going to pass on tagging anyone else.

Posted in Lessons, SQL Quiz | 1 Comment »