Performance and Internals Curriculum

Recently, I participated in the SQLskills Immersion Event for Internals and Performance hosted by Kimberly Tripp (b | t) and Paul Randal (b | t).  My classmates consisted of Senior DBAs from a variety of countries and industries.  We had people from coast to coast and a couple from Europe, as well.

I say participated because this truly is an interactive experience.  Consider a typical class where you sit back and passively listen to an instructor who clicks through the installer wizard and PowerPoint slides.  In this class, you have to actively participate in order to get the most from it.

College Daze Revisited

There is so much information thrown at you, if you do not actively try to assimilate it and ask deep, focused questions, then you do do not stand much of a chance of retaining any of it.  Think about it like like drinking water from a fire hose.  You will get wet, but your thirst will not have been quenched.  By the end of the week, I had taken seventy-seven pages of notes!

The Class

While the class followed a formal curriculum, you are encouraged to ask questions that deviate from the planned outline.  Paul and Kimberly each have the requisite knowledge to answer any question to any level of depth.  Internals and architecture are their respective sweet spots.

They really work hard to foster an open environment where the participants feel comfortable with one another and are willing to open up and share their experience and knowledge.  There will be times when the answers and learning come from the other participants.  When this happens, Paul and Kimberly transcend the role of instructors and become facilitators; guiding us all on a journey of SQL Immersion.

During the breaks, we were able to ask follow-up questions or to dive deeper into an impromptu architecture sessions.  On multiple occasions, I was able get advice specific to my environment from both Kimberly and Paul.

The Food

Ask any teacher and they will tell you the importance of a good breakfast for learning.  If you have ever been to training in a strange city, you know how difficult it can be trying to get a good breakfast.  Between getting from the hotel to the training center and finding a place to eat; either you end up late to class, or you skip breakfast altogether.  In the end, your learning suffers.  Then comes lunch; you have to go find a place to eat, rush through, and still come back late.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

By providing a quality breakfast and lunch on site, all of those problems are removed.  Plus you get extra time to bond with your classmates and talk some shop.  These truly became valuable times where we were able to discuss stuff from class, trade stories, or share some techniques with one another other.

The Camaraderie

Goose Island

After each day’s formal class ended, there was an informal session where the learning continued.  The first night, we had an ice breaker session.  We all met at the hotel bar to have a drink, loosen up, and really get to know each other.  This had the effect of making everyone comfortable with one another.  As the week progressed, we deepened our trust with one another, and were able to ask riskier questions and even take a stab at answering a few ourselves.

After our socializing, one of the locals organized a Portillo’s run.  Portillo’s is a local chain which serves Chicago style hotdogs and Italian Beef’s.  I gotta say, these were some of the best dogs I’ve ever had; I am a convert.

The second night, the Chicago SQL Server User Group meeting was hosted on site.  First, Kimberly ran a question and answer session from the audience.  The coolest part for me, was the realization that I could answer many of the questions myself after being in her class for only two days.  Afterwards, we were treated to a demo session of SQL Sentry’s Plan Explorer.  This is a free tool which gives you a much more useful view of Query Execution Plans than SSMS.  It renders the execution plan in a much better fashion, and allows you to sort the various pieces by relative cost, IOs, etc.  This allows you to drill down to the problem area very quickly.

On the third night, they took a group to the local Microsoft office to see a presentation by Andy Leonard on SSIS.  I must admit I opted out of this excursion.  By midweek, by batteries needed a little recharging, plus I had seen his presentation during SQL PASS.

Thursday Free4All

For the forth night, Kimberly and Paul opened up the floor for the students to have a go at presenting some mini-sessions.  We got to learn about survival skills for being a DBA, gained some insight from the perspective of a software vendor, and saw how to use SSDs in an office with a limited budget.  I think is a wonderful opportunity to get some experience with presentations and to get some feedback from the masters.

Friday, we had some goodbye socializing.  It was a sad day, saying goodbye to the friends you have made during the week.  I think it speaks volumes when you consider how bummed we all were to have to leave and return to the real world.

The Location


The Performance and Internals Immersion Event was held at the Oakbrook Terrace Hilton Suites just outside of Chicago from May 2nd through the 5th.  The hotel and rooms were were very nice, and we received a great room rate courtesy of SQLskills; which included free Wi-Fi access.  The hotel bar had some excellent local brew on tap, Goose Island’s Honker’s Ale.  There was also a nice workout room, pool, and hot tub which allowed you to work off any stress and relax.  The hotel staff was very nice and were ready to help with any requests.  If you wanted to explore the surrounding area, a shuttle was available that could take you to some local shopping or the commuter train station in Elmhurst.  From there, you could ride into downtown Chicago; $4 one way, $7 round trip.

Rick Bayless' Xoco

Chicago is a wonderful city with many attractions and friendly people.  Some fun excursions include the Navy Pier, Canal Boat Architecture Tour, Lakeshore Drive, and Steve’s Segway Tours.  There are tons of great restaurants, as well.  One of my highlights was dining at Rick Bayless’ Xoco.  I’m a huge fan of his Mexico – One Plate at a Time series on PBS.  Thank you to Brent Ozar (b | t) for recommending the restaurant to me.

Depending on the time of year, be sure to bring a sweater or jacket as Chicago can get a little cool. Especially if you’re coming from Texas.  Most days were very pleasant with clear skies.

The Cost

The quality of education you receive from SQLskills is far and away superior to any you will receive from the standard Microsoft classes.  What is interesting, is that they both cost the same.  A one week Microsoft class will set you back three large, assuming you don’t have any vouchers; SQLskills charges the same price.  On top of that, they feed you a very high quality breakfast and lunch.  You get extra night-class sessions if you so desire.  You get to network with a variety of Senior DBAs from across the industry and planet.  And, you can even get some one-on-one advice from Kimberly Tripp and Paul Randal.

The Executive Summary

This is not a class for the beginner Database Administrator.  However, if you are mid to senior level, then this is where you want to be.  You will be in a class taught by the best, surrounded by the best.