Just an idea: Bare Bones SQL

I’m reading Andy Warren’s excellent essay “Thoughts on raising funds and spending funds for PASS chapters”, and it’s bringing together a bunch of long-stewed thoughts. Simply:

What if there’s room for “Bare Bones” SQL user groups?

The bare bones basics of Bare Bones SQL

For those who don’t want to read a huge essay, the essentials:

  • There’s room for a vastly simplified SQL educational forum in the pantheon.
  • Something locally run by one or two people. No central governance.
  • Without ANY money attached.
  • Without any frills.
  • With a firm focus on education.
  • Naturally small groups are perfectly fine. No emphasis on large growth.
  • When it’s time, pass it on or let it go. There’s nothing wrong with impermanence.

What we have

The current spectrum of user group offerings (in the SQL Server/PASS sphere) holds everything from incorporated UGs with sponsored food, to small low-fund UGs, to the (basically) cash-free virtual UGs. There’s room for all of those, demand for them.

But I personally don’t tend to make time for the virtual UGs – it’s not much of a networking event, and the classes themselves are only sometimes enough to prompt me to sign on. I don’t habitually go to small UGs, though I’ve been known to make out of town trips to speak at them. And I don’t go to my local, large, incorporated UG, because I’ve run into too much frustration with some of the politics.

There’s room for all of these, there’s demand for all of these. But I’ve talked to plenty of people who might be interested in a more bare bones approach to user groups.

What we could do

Because his article is what got me on this train of thought, I’m going to talk about the idea of Bare Bones SQL (BBSQL) as it relates to the points in Andy’s article.

Introductory ideas:

  • “chapters work hardest to find speakers and sponsors” – It would be nice to eliminate the sponsor aspect of this, cutting your work (as a UG leader) in half.
  • “a reluctance to manage (or even have) a checking account or money” – I can see that. I wouldn’t want to either. Bare bones SQL eliminates that hassle.

What funds are for:

  • “food for attendees” – If you could find a venue that allows it, BBSQL meetings could be bring your own dinner events. This doesn’t appeal to everybody, but it would to me. (I HATE generic pizza month after month.)
  • “Facility fee.” – Yeah, I’m thinking maybe libraries or universities, if the local MS shop tries charging a fee. (Some of them have, for security guards or other reasons.) Finding a free venue is historically a challenge, but we knew getting into this idea that BBSQL wouldn’t be easy; it just presents a different set of challenges.
  • “SWAG” – Nice at some events. “Bare bones SQL” gets the idea of “no swag” across with the name, so that’s nice.
  • “Speaker gifts.” – See above.
  • “SQL Family events.” – A very nice thing to do. BBSQL could take up a donation, if we really wanted to, for such things. Or just send a bunch of nice messages.
  • “Support items” like projectors, etc. – Again, nice, but a luxury in the BBSQL philosophy. Perhaps the founder and chair could pony up if something is really needed, or one could, again, take up a collection, but in all I’m thinking “Bare bones” is in the name. I bet the library has a projector, and all of us have laptops. (For those of you objecting about the founder coming up with the money, I say well then, don’t do that. Also, Andy mentions: “It’s worth noting that it’s not uncommon for the chapter leader/team to pay out of pocket for food/expenses because they didn’t have time to find a sponsor.”)
  • “Banking/account fees” – No money on hand, no problem.
  • “…SQL Saturday” – I don’t yet completely envision what, if any, large events BBSQL would do, but true to the name, I think they should be bare bones event. Sean and I have pictured putting together simple boot camps, either at home or at a venue, with only a couple of tracks and maybe 3-4 speakers per track. Small events.
  • “Guarantee speaker travel costs” – This is difficult for even medium to large PASS user groups to do on any kind of regular basis. For BBSQL, one would rely on catching talent as it comes into town – this might make a somewhat flexible meeting schedule imperative – and/or relying on local talent, and/or getting remote presentations (as many smaller UGs already do).

SQL community as a business

What comes out of all of this: When you make SQL education into a business of any kind, even if it’s putting back money for the next meeting or event, you start to think in terms of growth. We’ve seen some discomfort in the SQL community with the ever-expanding PASS business model (e.g., the “Professional Association of SQL Server” isn’t really JUST for SQL Server any more, which has made a good many people feel a little disenfranchised).

Businesses want growth, because the bigger you are (the philosophy goes), the harder it is to fall apart. But let’s turn the underlying assumption on its head: why shouldn’t BBSQL groups come and go as interest waxes and wanes? What’s wrong with a group lasting a handful of years, or 8, or 10, and then fading? It’s perfectly possible to help a double handful of people with their careers, book club-style, and then go on about other things.

Permanence is tied to money, and money is tied to permanence. In short: permanence isn’t a goal of BBSQL.

SQL community and politics

Here’s a sticky bit to the idea of BBSQL: I think they should be small autocracies. An autocracy turns out TERRIBLY when it’s large and/or compulsory, but is absolutely perfect for small models like this.

We have on one hand Conventional UG (CUG), with a board and maybe some finances and plans. And we have a BBSQL. The CUG meets, discusses, argues, can have dissention, gets flak from the user base about decisions made – all the standard things that happen when you have a group of people running things. This isn’t always a bad thing – after all, everybody needs someone to balance them out, regulate extremism, and all that. But I have found that I’m the type of person that runs like anything to get away from the kind of conflict that arises out of board maneuvering* and the often-resultant politics.

And so I’m drawn to the idea of the BBSQL. I found it, I run it, I advertise to people. Maybe in my first year it’s just me, Sean, and two or three friends. Maybe the next year we get a dozen more, maybe not. But it’s mine, and I run it the way I want to. If I run it in a way people don’t like, they’re not going to stay. That’s the joy of the small, non-compulsory autocracy; people “vote with their feet”. Pure simplicity, ish.

Diversity in groups

This leads us to another aspect of Bare Bones SQL: it’s not homogeneous. Not all chapters would look the same. Indeed, some BBSQL groups might look completely foreign to other groups. Maybe this one decides it does want to incorporate some conventional aspects to UGs. Maybe that one has a code of conduct. Maybe a third is dedicated to educating college students. Maybe a fourth is for “earthed” DBAs only, who knows. What’s wrong with that? All groups are by nature exclusionary, in that they focus on a specific area of interest. And in general, what’s wrong with diversity?

As long as the entire playing field is equal and open to anyone willing to start a group, I think that’s fine. Maybe this idea takes off, and next year there are a few dozen BBSQL groups dedicated to the enthusiastic overuse of SQL Profiler. Well, they’re your groups, and that’s fine by me. (You’re wrong in your content, of course, but it’s a free idea, so have at it.)

I can’t stress this enough: part of the nature of BBSQL is that there is as much room for differences of opinion as there are people who agree with you. (There’s a far better way to say that, but I can’t think of it just now…)

Bare bones conferences

“But what about conferences?” I think conferences can fit in the BBSQL philosophy, sure. But it’s not going to be the kind of conference you’re used to. Even SQL Saturdays, which definitely have the right idea, still have sponsors and swag and speaker gifts and shirts and paid venues, and so on and on.

A BBSQL conference would need to be a joint venture between several groups. It would probably need money, of course – you can’t often get even a medium venue for free – so that means a charge, and most likely sponsors as well. The trick is finding the balance between size (I doubt any BBSQL conference would be in the thousands of attendees), cost, and usefulness to attendees and sponsors.

In short, I imagine a SQL Saturday, with way fewer trappings. Maybe I’m thinking too small, maybe not.


There will be quite a few objections, and many of them will be valid. There are problems with venues, with dedication to the idea of frugality, with attracting members, with the very small nature of these groups. Again, we’re trading one set of problems for another. It’s a matter of which set is less burdensome to the organizers and members.

A very large number of you will have absolutely no use for this idea. That’s perfectly fine, too. I’m not proposing the replacement of the existing structure. I just think there’s room for another kind of group, and I wanted to identify what that would look like.

How do we get started?

Frankly, I’d like to put one of these together. The initial plan would look something like this:

  1. Set up a central website. This is one of the few organizational tools that I think is necessary.
  2. Find a place and a more or less regular time.
  3. Line up speakers. (Between me, Sean, and a handful of friends, we have enough speakers for a year or more.)
  4. Announce on Twitter, blogs, etc.
  5. And, go.

It’s really not that hard, and that’s the point. It shouldn’t be hard to learn, to network, to further IT education in the community.

BBSQL central tenants, as I see them:

  • A vastly simplified SQL educational forum.
  • Run by one or two people. No central governance.
  • No money attached.
  • No frills: venue and little else.
  • Firm focus on education.
  • Naturally small groups are perfectly fine. No emphasis on large growth.
  • When it’s time, pass it on or let it go. There’s nothing wrong with impermanence.

Your thoughts?

I want to know your objections. I want to know what I’ve overlooked, or forgotten. I want to hear arguments and agreements and complaints. What’s working already? What’s not?

And, I leave you with this last quote from Andy’s excellent article:

It’s entirely possible to run a chapter without ever touching cash or having a sponsor. I think it’s limiting, but it’s possible. If that’s your choice, I’m good with that. The goal is, after all, to connect/share/learn. However you get there!

Happy days,
Jen McCown

While you’re here, go check out our new, free reindex solution Minion Reindex! Minion Reindex is easy to install, and features Live Insight, several levels of ordering and configuration.


Session: Introduction to Powershell Cmdlets for DBAs

I’ve given my new Powershell Cmdlets for DBAs session a handful of times now, and just realized I haven’t blogged about it!

Abstract: You’ve been hearing about this newfangled craze, and it’s time to learn exactly why it’s called POWERshell. You’ll want to take notes, or better yet, bring your laptop and start using Powershell immediately. We will get Posh running and then I’ll introduce you to the basic concepts, with examples to make things happen right away. We’ll work on SQL Server with Powershell, and learn some cool techniques. Come see this all-demo, hands-on session!

Comments:  This is totally a beginner session. We start by talking about what Powershell is and why it’s awesome, and get into the most basic of basics:

  • write output to the screen
  • aliases
  • connecting to SQL Server from Powershell
  • getting help
  • playing with cmdlet options
  • write to files
  • piping
  • variables

and on and on.

Enjoy, send me questions and feedback, all that jazz. Happy days!
Jen McCown


Download Minion Reindex FREE at MidnightSQL.com/Minion

Minion Reindex is here

We released Minion Reindex by MidnightDBA unto the world, accompanied by a press release on SQLServerCentral.com, and people have responded so incredibly positively. We’re quite literally thrilled.

Webinar Today!

Before I get to anything else: set up an alert for our Minion Reindex Intro Webinar TODAY (Monday, October 27, 2014) at 12:00 PM Central time. Sean will introduce Minion Reindex, walk through demos, and take questions.

People say nice things about Minion

Some feedback so far:

The configuration options are pretty powerful and more open than what I’d expected from a free tool. The ability to override down to the table level is pretty cool, as are the pre/post script options at that level. …it’s very apparent that Jen & Sean put quite a bit of thought and time into making this a very configurable and useful tool.
– Peter Schott

Using @MidnightDBA#MinionReindex on a DW instance and I like the history and progress information
Thomas LeBlanc

Reviewing #MinionReindex docs. @MidnightDBA did great work putting this together! Very impressive!
Andy Yun

The very first question in response to the SSC article was, “What are the benefits over what Ola’s maintenance script is already providing?”  The longer answer is there on SSC (and the really long answer is our 61 page product documentation), but the short answer is: it does more of what WE as DBAs and consultants want our routine to do. I want fewer jobs, better configuration options, database and table ordering, live insight while the routine is running. So, that’s what we made.

So now we’re relaxing after the crunch of the “OH YEAH WE GOTTA MAKE SURE THIS IS READY” release atmosphere. And, sure, obsessing a little about tweets and comments and download counts.

Go do things

If you’re interested in using or playing with Minion Reindex:

  • Download the module at www.MidnightSQL.com/Minion
  • And while you’re there, check out the awesome documentation
  • Maybe fill out a feature request
  • Or subscribe to the newsletter

If you already love Minion Reindex and want more people to love it too, consider these options:

  • Shout it out on Twitter (#MinionReindex)
  • Write a blog
  • Or an article
  • Put it on your slide deck
  • Announce it at your user group
  • Rent a billboard
  • Shave the name into your dog
  • Chisel the words in letters 100 feet tall on the mountains of your homeland

Pretty much any of those would be great, if you’re so inclined.


Happy days,
Jen McCown

P.S. Andy Yun asked about the licensing models listed in the EULA, which mentions a Standard and Enterprise edition (in addition to the Free model). Just so you know: Minion Reindex is free. It will always be free. But someday, it will also be a component in a larger product, with an expanded feature list. The Standard/Enterprise wording is there just for the future.

Real news, real tech.