Tech Outbound – Training on the High Seas.
So, I have returned from my first trip out on Tech Outbound, formerly SQL Cruise, and I have to say it was not what I expected. It was so much more.
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Tech Outbound is different, that is the first thing to say. Run by Tim Ford (t|b) and his wife Amy it is not a training event in an identikit hotel on the edge of town or at an airport. This edition of Tech Outbound was hosted on the Norwegian Escape cruise ship as it toured around the Caribbean, stopping off at a number of the islands along the way. The schedule was for classroom training sessions on the days that we were at sea and were confined to the ship. When we were in port the attendees could to head off on excursions to experience the sights and sounds. On these days we also held 'office hours' sessions where attendees and speakers would gather to discuss what had been covered in sessions, as well as ask any questions and share their experiences related to the work they do on a daily basis. Essentially this was an immersive training experience where there was the chance to learn as much away from the classroom as in it.
This was my first time on a cruise ship. I had heard all the stories, and had a number of preconceptions about what it would be like. I can say for starters that the environment was nothing like I expected and that was only the beginning.
Aside from the obvious – being on a moving ship – the venue for training was much like that of a large resort hotel. There was a wide variety of places to eat and drink, while also having the chance to get away from the hustle and bustle by retreating to my cabin. So far, very similar to a traditional training venue. I noticed things were a bit different from when at first we met up as a group: attendees and speakers had brought family with them. While Tim had the training covered, Amy was there to help sort things out for those not in the training. This was a very inclusive experience for all those attending.
There were a number of returning attendees who had been to a number of previous cruises which is something that stood out to me. To get people back consistently Tim and Amy are doing something right, that is for certain.
Once we were at sea, we were straight into training on the first day out of port while heading to our first stop. On the first day, we had Argenis Fernandez (b|t) giving us the 101 lowdown on Linux and how, with SQL Server, we will have the opportunity to build new data platform solutions. Then we had Steph Locke (b|t) helping us to understand the fundamentals of data science, followed by Grant Fritchey (b|t) covering query tuning tips and tools. These sessions were longer than your typical SQLSaturday or User Group presentation, allowing the speaker to go into more depth and the attendees to ask more questions. Once sessions had finished, we moved onto the first "office hours" session, where everyone gathered for a general chat. Topics ranged from items covered during the day, all the way through to GDPR, which would become a recurring theme through the whole week.
Days two and three were "in port" which meant that everyone had the chance to take advantage of the various excursions that are on offer from the cruise ship or just take a walk ashore. However, we had an office hours session first thing, where attendees and speakers got the chance to catch up over coffee and talk shop. At the end of day three, when everyone was back aboard, Kevin Kline (b|t) delivered a training session on "Presenting Ideas to win Executive Support." This was a non-technical session that concentrated on how to communicate effectively. With a view to helping technical staff understand just what is important to their managers and the business and how to talk to them, helping to get the business to sign off on your ideas. This session generated some great discussion, with attendees and other speakers alike giving examples of things that worked and did not work for them through their careers.
Tech Outbound attendees and speakers chatting about Data Platform during Office Hours
Day four already, and now it is time for me to deliver the first of my sessions. Building on the session from Argenis, I spoke about the options for High Availability on Linux with Availability Groups and Pacemaker. This is something that I can see starting to come to the fore in the next couple of years given the ease of deployment and low overhead of Linux, however, one key thing I call out is the need for strong Linux skills in the team to support the OS and clustering elements. After this, Kevin and I had our sponsor session, looking at the SentryOne solutions and how they can potentially help professionals across the Microsoft Data Platform (DBA/Dev/BI).
Next up was Steph Locke discussing how R can solve a number of ETL headaches that exist, giving attendees more options when they are building out ETL platforms at work. Finally, Argenis delivered a session on how storage systems have evolved, from the early days of SCSI through to the latest NVMe, and into the future with non-volatile memory. Looking at how to test the latest generations of storage systems that have a lot more intelligence than the traditional boxes of disks that we have worked with in the past. The day was rounded out with another office hours session, where there was a lot of discussion around GDPR and what it means to businesses with regards to existing and new systems as well as the scope into areas beyond traditional data platform.
Day five was another day ashore, this time at an island owned by the cruise line. After the morning office hours sessions, I took the chance to get ashore and go for a swim and relax with the other attendees and speakers. Even here we are discussing things that we have learned this week so far, and comparing experiences from our careers on difficult scenarios and how we solved them.
Once we were back on board, I delivered another session on proactive techniques for DBA and Developers, looking at tools and methods to deal with issues before they become problems. Kevin helped me with this session and delivered a great demo on how to build out an empty database with production statistics and
I rounded out the day by catching up with a few of the other attendees, and we grabbed some food and talked shop until the jetlag caught up with me.
Normally there are three days at sea, but on this trip we had that reduced due to hurricane issues, so we were in port again. However, we still had the training schedule to follow so it was over to Grant to deliver two great sessions for us. The first was looking at how to do HA/DR properly in Azure with Azure SQL Database and IaaS VMs. Doing an Azure session on a cruise ship would be risky you'd think, given the satellite connectivity, but because we were in port it seems that they had run a line to shore and a good connection was available for Grant's demos. The second session was covering GDPR and data privacy, given the discussion all week in this area it was a great topic to be covering and everyone got a lot of value from it.
After class, we headed into town and followed Grant as he took us on a walk to John Watlings rum distillery, where we had a tour and sampled a little of the product. We had quite a group of us out for this, made up of speakers and attendees, generally chatting and still learning and discussing all sorts of Data Platform topics. I had a good chat with a couple of people around database sharing and some of the potential patterns and important aspects of HA/DR for such a design. Then it was back to the boat for a bit of food and final office hours. This is the final day as tomorrow we need to disembark and head home.
After this week, I am now a firm believer in Tech Outbound and what Tim and Amy are doing. This training experience surpassed every expectation that I had for it and was an incredible experience. One thing that should be clear is that this is most certainly NOT an excuse for a jaunt out on a cruise ship. The level of content delivered as well as the constant immersive discussion around what was being taught and other key data platform topics were fantastic.
When it comes to identifying your next training course, this is something that I would strongly recommend is at the top of your list, if you need some help convincing your boss that this is not just a boondoggle then hopefully these key takeaways will help you build your business case (and you could ask one of the many repeat cruisers for their opinion, too).
There are top quality speakers delivering relevant and high-quality training. Just look at the speaker list on the site which includes Kevin Kline, Grant Fritchey, Itzik Ben-Gan, Aaron Bertrand, Bob Ward, and Buck Woody to name but a few. All of these are leading experts in the field and deliver fantastic training and advice.
This is far more than training. Not only do you get the chance to learn from the speakers in sessions, but you get to spend a whole week with them discussing topics that are important to you. Imagine being able to spend a week with Itzik Ben-Gan, Buck Woody, and Jes Borland to talk shop — well you can. All three of these incredible speakers, and others, will be on the Alaska cruise in September. This, combined with the chance to draw on the experience of other attendees, means that you will come back with more than just what is on the course sheet. You will also come back with additional skills and experience to draw upon in your daily job.
One thing that is very clear is that having the chance to immerse yourself in this training environment means that you come away with more than the knowledge in your head. You end the week with a set of new friends who you can call upon if you need some advice or help with issues at work. Tim creates a Tech Outbound mailing list for each group so that it is easy to ask for feedback and ideas from a group of trusted peers who you now know. Some of these people are consultants that charge large daily fees, and now you have access to their skills and experience at the end of an e-mail.
Overall, the whole Tech Outbound experience was incredibly valuable to me; if Tim and Amy will have me back as a speaker, then I will jump at the opportunity. Otherwise, there is the very real chance that I will become a returning Tech Outbound attendee, as it was a great experience. I would really encourage anyone who wants in-depth training to look at this seriously; if your boss is unsure because it is a cruise, then be sure to use the reasons that I have listed above.
I hope to see you at a future Tech Outbound event.