Befriending Dragons

Intersectional Coaching Journeys: Reframe, Unblock, Move Forward


Taking Flight a.k.a. The Data Dragon’s Life After Microsoft

Cross-posted (with slightly worse formatting) from

Taking flight like Toothless from How to Train Your DragonLife is a journey – we can choose to fly through it with our wings spread to catch and channel the winds, or we can let the winds pummel us to the ground. I choose to take flight, enjoy the journey, and land on my feet. Then take off again. Even when the flight happens because of an unexpected push from the nice, comfy nest, it’s possible to spread our wings and take off in the direction we choose. Especially when you’ve decided you’re a Data Dragon. Yes, that’s me. Cindy the Data Dragon.

Wha...? Huh? Wha…? Huh?

What am I talking about? One of those life changing events that sneaks up on you sometimes.

Last Thursday I got a very unexpected call and I got to experience hearing the words “you’ve been laid off” for the first time ever. It was effective the same day, at least as far as job elimination. I am a Microsoft employee until September 15, my options are wide open after that.

I could choose to sit around and feel sorry for myself, ask countless “why me” and “why now” questions. What I did instead is remember that I am likely in a far better position than many of the other 13,000 people laid off the same day. And remember that now I don’t have to wonder and worry about the remaining Microsoft layoffs that are expected. And remember that this opens up many wonderful opportunities. And remember all the friends, co-workers, and customers who instantly offered support (thanks Sean, Terry, and Linda for the coffee followed by the much stronger drink and the rest of you for all the calls, emails, and IMs). And thank those same folks for the job leads, introductions, and recommendations on LinkedIn that immediately started pouring in – keep them coming! The Data Dragon chooses to concentrate on the good things, dive into making sense of things, and move on to new and better things. (Yes, Murshed, I again referred to myself in the 3rd person).

So now what?

I am going camping this week, I plan to make time for getting out of town again for a few days or weeks before the end of September (SLC ComicCon anyone?), and I am going to get my beautiful back yard back under control and add more colorful things growing in it. I am going to take my time finding the right Big Data job, not just any job.

Connect with me on Skype (, follow me on Twitter (SQLCindy | Cindygross), and send pics of you toasting the Data Dragon and her beautiful future!

Don’t stand in my way, the Data Dragon is taking flight and looking forward to all the wonderful things in my future!

Green-eyed Data Dragons like me never stay down long!

Green-eyed Data Dragons like me never stay down long!


HDInsight Big Data Talks from #SQLPASS

SQL PASS Summit 2013 was another great data geek week! I chatted with many of you about Big Data, Hadoop, HDInsight, architecting solutions, SQL Server, data, BI, analytics, and general geekiness – great fun! This time around I delivered two talks on Hadoop and HDInsight – the slides from both are attached.

Zero to 60 with HDInsight takes you from an overview of Big Data and why it matters (zero) all the way through an end to end solution (60). We discussed how to create an HDInsight cluster with the Azure portal or PowerShell and talked through the architecture of the data and analysis behind the release of Halo 4. We talked about how you could use the same architectural pattern for many projects and walked through Hive and Pig script examples. We finished up with how to use Power Map (codename GeoFlow) over that data to gain new insights and improve the game experience for the end user.

The next session I co-presented with HDInsight PM Dipti Sangani: CAT: From Question to Insight with HDInsight and BI. We went deeper this time. Not only did we present an end to end story with how our own internal Windows Azure SQL Database team uses telemetry to improve your experience with SQL Server in Azure PaaS but we also went deeper with demos of Hive, Pig, and Oozie. We also gave another archetypical design scenario that will apply to many of your own scenarios and talked about how HDInsight fits with SQL Server and your other existing infrastructure. The deck covers your cloud and on-premises options for Hadoop on Windows including HDInsight Service, Hortonworks HDP for Windows, OneBox, and PDW with Polybase.

Please let me know if you have any questions from the talks or just general HDInsight questions!


Self-Service BI Works!

When I talk to people about adding self-service BI to their company’s environment I generally get a list of reasons why it won’t work. Some things I commonly hear:

  • I can’t get anyone in IT or on the business side to even try it.
  • The business side doesn’t know how to use the technology.
  • This threatens my job.
  • I just don’t know where to start either politically/culturally or with the technology.
  • I have too many other things to do.
  • How can it possibly be secure, allow standardization, or result in quality data and decisions?
  • That’s not the way we do things.
  • I don’t really know what self-service BI means.

#PASSBAC 2013 Cindy and Eduardo 

So what is a forward thinking BI implementer to do? Well, Intel just went out and did it, blowing through the supposed obstacles. Eduardo Gamez of Intel’s Technology Manufacturing Engineering (TME) group interviewed business folks to find those who were motivated for change, found a great pilot project with committed employees, and drove the process forward. They put a “sandbox” environment up for the business to use and came up with a plan for monitoring the sandbox activity to find models and reports worth adding to their priority queue for enterprise BI projects. The business creates their own data models and their own reports for both high and low priority items. IT provides the infrastructure and training including products like Analysis Services, PowerPivot, Power View, SharePoint, Excel, SQL Server, and various data sources. The self-service models and reports are useful to the business – they reduce manual efforts, give them the reports they want much faster, and ultimately drive better, more agile business decisions. If a model isn’t quite right after the first try, they can quickly modify it. The same models and reports are useful to IT – they are very refined and complete requirements docs that shorten the time to higher quality enterprise models and reports, they free up IT resources to build a more robust infrastructure and allow IT to concentrate on projects that require specialized IT knowledge. Everyone wins with a shorter time to decision, higher quality decisions, and a significant impact on the bottom line.

Learn more about how Intel TME is implementing self-service BI:

Eduardo ( and I ( or @SQLCindy) are happy to talk to you about Self-Service BI – let us know what you need to know!

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PASS BAC PREVIEW SERIES: SQL Professionals and the World of Self-service BI and Big Data

Are you excited about the upcoming PASS Business Analytics Conference? You should be! This conference will offer a wide range of sessions about Microsoft’s End to End Business Intelligence (including Self-Service BI), Analytics, Big Data, Architecture, Reporting, Information Delivery, Data Management, and Visualization solutions. Whether you are an implementer, a planner, or a decision maker there is something here for you!


What makes this conference different? Why should you put in the effort to attend this conference in particular? We are seeing a paradigm shift focused on shorter time to decision, more data available than ever before, and the need for self-service BI. There are exciting technology solutions being presented to deal with these needs and new architectural skills are needed to implement them properly. Self-Service BI and Big Data are very different in many ways but also responding to the same problem – the need for additional insights and less time spent getting to those insights and the resulting impactful decisions. Self-Service BI via PowerPivot, Power View, Excel, and existing and new data sources including HDInsight/Hadoop (usually via Hive) offers fast time to decision, but you still sometimes need Enterprise BI to add additional value via services such as data curation, data stewardship, collaboration tools, additional security, training, and automation. Add in the powerful new data sources available with Big Data technologies such as HDInsight/Hadoop that can also reduce time to decision and open up all sorts of new opportunities for insight and you have many powerful new areas to explore. Not to mention that Dr. Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics, is one of the keynote speakers!

Read more about my thoughts on Self-Service BI and Big Data in this #PASSBAC guest blog published today: PASS BAC PREVIEW SERIES: SQL Professionals and the World of Self-service BI and Big Data

And sign up for the session I am co-presenting at #PASSBAC with Eduardo Gamez of Intel: How Intel Integrates Self-Service BI with IT for Better Business Results

Take a look at all the information tagged with #PASSBAC and tweeted by @PASSBAC, there are some good blogs, preview sessions, and tidbits being posted. Get your own Twibbon for Twitter, Facebook, or however you want to use it, the Twibbon site will add a ribbon to the picture of your choice:


If you’re going to be in Chicago anyway, you might as well stay a few extra days for two nearby SQL Saturdays. The weekend before the conference take a short hop over to Madison, WI for #SQLSAT206 on April 6, 2013 at the Madison Area Tech College. Then head over to the bacon, uhhh, PASS BA CONference April 10-12. Stay one more day in Chicago (technically Addison, IL) for the #SQLSAT211 sessions at Devry. This is a great opportunity for even more SQL Server immersion and networking!

See you at #PASSBAC in Chicago in April!


Small Bites of Big Data

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Big Data – All Abuzz About Hive at #SQLPASS Summit 2012

Big Data – All Abuzz About Hive
Small Bites of Big Data

Cindy Gross, SQLCAT PM

I hope to see you at the #SQLPASS Summit 2012 this week!

There are many reasons people come to the PASS Summit – SQL friends, SQL family, networking, great content in 190 sessions, the SQL clinic, the product team, CSS, SQL CAT, MVPs, MCMs, SQL Community, and sometimes just to get away from the daily grind of work. All those are great reasons, and they all make for a great Summit.

This year I am focusing on BI and Big Data. For the Summit this year I will be introducing you to Hive. Hive is a great way to leverage your existing SQL skills and enter into the world of #BigData. Big Data is here in a big way. CIOs are pushing it, business analysts want to use it, and everyone wants to gain new insights that will help their business grow and thrive. Don’t let Big Data pass you by, leaving you wondering how you missed out. Hive is fun and interesting, and for SQL Pros it looks very familiar. Come to my talk and come by the SQL Clinic to ask questions throughout the week. Please come up and introduce yourself at any time, I love to meet new SQL Peeps!

BIA-305-A SQLCAT: Big Data – All Abuzz About Hive
Wednesday 1015am   |   Cindy Gross, Dipti Sangani, Ed Katibah

Got a bee in your bonnet about simplifying access to Hadoop data? Want to cross-pollinate your existing SQL skills into the world of Big Data? Join this session to see how to become the Queen Bee of your Hadoop world with Hive and gain Business Intelligence insights with HiveQL filters and joins of HDFS datasets. We’ll navigate through the honeycomb to see how HiveQL generates MapReduce code and outputs files to answer your questions about your Big Data.

After this session, you’ll be able to democratize access to Big Data using familiar tools such as Excel and a SQL-like language without having to write MapReduce jobs. You’ll also understand Hive basics, uses, strengths, and limitations and be able to determine if/when to use Hive in combination with Hadoop.

And there’s more! Here is a sampling of blog posts about this year’s summit:

After the Summit, you can still stay involved. Follow some SQL Peeps on Twitter, sign up for a few SQL blog feeds, and buy a book or two. Attend local events like SQL Saturdays and User Group meetings. Reach out to your fellow SQL-ites and stay in touch with those you meet. Keep SQL fun and interesting and share what you learn!

See you at the #SQLPASS Summit 2012!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this small bite of big data! Look for more blog posts soon on the samples and other activities.

Note: the CTP and TAP programs are available for a limited time. Details of the usage and the availability of the CTP may change rapidly.


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What’s all the Buzz about Hadoop and Hive?

What’s all the Buzz about Hadoop and Hive?

Why it Matters for SQL Server Peeps

Small Bites of Big Data

Cindy Gross, SQLCAT PM

On September 20, 2012 we have another 24 Hours of PASS event! This PASS Summit Preview will give you a taste of what is coming at this year’s PASS Summit. There are 190+ technical sessions this year at the Summit, and you’ll get a preview of 24 of them at the #24HOP event tomorrow! Come hear about some of the hottest topics and features in the SQL Server, BI, and data world.

One of the big buzzwords over the last year or so is Hadoop, and the most familiar part of Big Data and Hadoop to most SQL Server professionals is Hive. Do you wonder what it is and why you should jump in now while it’s still new and growing by leaps and bounds? I have just the #24HOP session for you!

#24HOP: What’s all the Buzz about Hadoop and Hive? – Why it Matters for SQL Server Peeps

Everyone is buzzing about Hive and trumpeting the virtues of Hadoop. But what does it mean? Why does it matter to a SQL Server and/or BI professional? Come get a taste of the Hive honey and see why this new technology is worth buzzing about!

During this talk I’ll give a very high level overview of Big Data, Hadoop, and Hive (for the nitty gritty details come to the Summit!). I’ll also go through why Hive matters in the SQL Server world, what a SQL Server Peep might end up doing in a Hive world, and why it is important for you as a SQL Server Peep to jump in and get your feet wet with Hive now.

Once you’ve heard this #24HOP talk I hope you’ll be fired up about Hive and more anxious than ever to sign up for the  PASS Summit to learn even more about Hadoop, Hive, Big Data, and all things BI and SQL Server. I’ll be co-presenting at the Summit with SQL Server PM Dipti Sangani:

SQLCAT: Big Data – All Abuzz About Hive [BIA-305-A]
Session Category: Regular Session (75 minutes)
Session Track: BI Platform Architecture, Development & Administration
Speaker(s): Cindy Gross, Dipti Sangani

Got a bee in your bonnet about simplifying access to Hadoop data? Want to cross-pollinate your existing SQL skills into the world of Big Data? Join this session to see how to become the Queen Bee of your Hadoop world with Hive and gain Business Intelligence insights with HiveQL filters and joins of HDFS datasets. We’ll navigate through the honeycomb to see how HiveQL generates MapReduce code and outputs files to answer your questions about your Big Data.

After this session, you’ll be able to democratize access to Big Data using familiar tools such as Excel and a SQL-like language without having to write MapReduce jobs. You’ll also understand Hive basics, uses, strengths, and limitations and be able to determine if/when to use Hive in combination with Hadoop.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this small bite of big data! Look for more blog posts soon on the samples and other activities.

Note: the CTP and TAP programs are available for a limited time. Details of the usage and the availability of the CTP may change rapidly.

UPDATE 9/28/12 – demo steps to load the AdventureWorks data to Hive are available at

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Women in Technology – Why Does it Matter?


Women in Technology – Why Does it Matter?


The yearly SQL PASS summit is always one of my favorite times of year. It’s a week packed full of great technical content and many networking opportunities. Not to mention the parties and fun. J And of course the #sqlkilts. One of the highlights of the #sqlpass conference is the Women in Technology (WIT) Luncheon. This year quite a few men (and a couple of women) wore kilts that day and several of those wore shirts designed by @MidnightDBA saying “I’m supporting Women in Tech. What are YOU doing? (Plus, I look hot in a skirt)”. They came with the rest of us to hear a panel that discussed topics such as how women influence innovation, how women affect the bottom line, and why high tech jobs benefit women. Many audience members participated with comments and questions. I was so inspired by the day that I am taking some of the key points and summarizing them.


This year we had a great panel of speakers:

Billie Jo Murray, General Manager, SQL Central Services, Microsoft

Nora Denzel, Senior Vice President and General Manager – Employee Management Solutions, Intuit

Michelle Ufford, Senior SQL Server DBA,

Denise McInerney, Staff Database Administrator, Intuit

Stacia Misner, Principal, Data Inspirations


The number of men in the audience at the WIT luncheon continues to grow each year, as more people realize that supporting women in tech takes support from both men and women and that everyone benefits from the diversity. As Nora said: “Welcome to the women, and also welcome to the men, and also welcome to the men in skirts”. The number of women in technical jobs is decreasing at a faster rate than in other occupations, and the percentage of computer science graduates who are women is plummeting. Going forward it will be harder and harder for companies to recruit women into technical jobs. There doesn’t seem to be a good explanation for why this is happening. There are plenty of hypotheses but so far there doesn’t seem be consensus on the causes and more importantly on what to do about it.


So why do we care? Why does it matter how many women there are in tech? Why do we need a special group, time, or event just for WIT? There were many good points given about this during the lunch, both from the panel and from the audience. As Nora and Michelle both pointed out, at a high level diversity helps teams deliver a better product and fosters innovation. When you have people from different backgrounds, they approach the problem/product/issue in varying ways. The more approaches you have during the development phase and the broader the base for feedback, the more innovative and useful the end product is. This isn’t just some people sitting around a room and complaining; studies have borne this out. Gender is only one aspect of diversity, but it’s an important one. As the panel said, diversity is a means to an end. Diversity done right attracts great talent, leads to higher ROI, and makes the workplace healthier. Diverse companies are more likely to be voted a great place to work and that higher morale can translate to a better bottom line. Denise shared a great quote from Bill Gates. BillG was giving a speech in Saudi Arabia to an audience segregated by gender. There was a question to BillG about whether Saudi Arabia could become a top competitive economy by 2010. His answer: “…if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get too close to the top.”


Women (yes, stereotypically and not across the board) tend to approach tech projects differently than men. Often they take the perspective that technology’s purpose is to help others and therefore they think of projects in those terms. Teams shaped by stereotypically male dominated thinking often take an approach of fixing a problem or using something just because it’s “cool”. Both approaches have their place, and when they’re combined the innovation can explode (hopefully in a good way).


So what incentives are there for women to take a tech job and stay in the tech industry? I would argue that it’s a fun career, but what else is enticing? How about money and financial security? Tech jobs tend to pay well in general. The gender wage gap tends to be lower in the tech industry, so for the same job there’s a higher chance a woman will be paid as much as a man with the same skills. As Denise said, with the increased financial security from a tech job, a woman has greater control over all aspects of her life. From another perspective, as women in tech we are “thought workers”. That means we are valued for how smart we are, for our brains. In the tech world we can compete on the basis of our ideas. Despite the constant media message about women having to always compete for who looks the best, see who can dumb themselves down the most, and avoid math and science, in the tech world we can shine based on our merits.


If it’s such a great career path for women, why aren’t there more women here? I already mentioned the rapidly decreasing percentage of women with computer science degrees, though I have heard that in other countries that may not be the case. But why don’t women apply for tech jobs? Is it the geek image? A lack of desire to work around all that testosterone all the time? The media-fed feeling that women just aren’t good at math, science, and the “hard stuff”? The lack of glamour or perception of long hours? A feeling that we won’t fit in? Again, there is no consensus on why. If we could figure that out, maybe it would be easier to solve the problem. As Jimmy May said, “she-geeks are cool”, and we need to communicate that to women.


For women already in the tech arena, how do we approach our jobs? There seemed to be wide agreement that as women we are much more likely to seek perfection of an idea before we present it. We aren’t as likely to speak up at meetings if we don’t feel we are 100% prepared. We need to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s ok to make mistakes or to say “I’ll have to get back to you”. As Billie Jo said, women need to “sit at the table”. This applies both literally and figuratively. She talked about attending large meetings with so many attendees that there were chairs lining the walls as well as around the table. And who does she see sitting in the chairs “out of the way” around the edges instead of at the table? Women. Take a seat at the table, say something even if it’s not brilliant, and be an active participant. Despite the common perception of many women, we don’t have to know everything and do everything to be good at our jobs. Don’t wait for perfection before acting; step in and become a participant. The example was given that if a job application has ten requirements a women with “only” nine qualifications will not apply, but a man with only one qualification is likely to submit an application. That’s a bit exaggerated but does show a gender gap that many of us can identify with. Get over it! Move on and become a player in the tech game!


Now we’re all convinced that we need to have WIT. And we also know women aren’t getting many computer science degrees. So who do we recruit? How about math or physics majors? Billie Jo expressed an appreciation for music majors because the way their minds work is similar to what is needed in a tech environment. I know very successful techies with degrees in such seemingly unrelated fields as English. So don’t limit your search to the typical candidates. If something isn’t a true, absolute requirement, word the job description so it’s clearly a “nice to have” and you may see more women apply. Try to find the essence of what you’re looking for and include that description instead of some example of how someone else typified that essence. And remember that a broad background in college and life is very helpful. Billie Jo pointed out that her experience is that women tend to have a broader background in their coursework. This makes them more flexible and often makes it easier for them to fit in and advance at work. Stacia made the point that we need to look at people in the business world, especially for business intelligence type work. Don’t think of tech vs. non-tech. If IT people rely on a business person who consistently takes the real world requirements and makes them understandable to a techie, maybe they are a candidate for an IT job. Look beyond the normal and expected and you may be surprised who you find.


Life/Work balance always seems to come up when we talk about WIT. It’s not only women who need this balance, but for some reason we seem to be the ones who visibly seek it. This is a discussion for another time, but one important point an audience member made is to ask your family for help. It’s ok to tell your spouse that you’re going to SQL PASS next year and it’s the partner/spouse’s responsibility to look after the kids that week. It’s ok to ask them to do some extra housework while you prepare the presentation you’re going to give at your local user group (or at SQL PASS!). You support them and they feel good when they get to return that support. So ask for support from your friends and family and don’t feel bad about it!


So what can each of us do to support and encourage WIT? Some of the ideas suggested include:

·         Watch the lunch panel here: PASS Summit 2010 Women in Technology Live Streaming Panel Discussion

·         Don’t wait to be perfect or have perfect knowledge before you act.

·         Mentor women who would make good SQL MVPs or SQL MCMs (BJ offered to help!).

·         Don’t put up with a lack of WIT support at your company.

·         Be a peer mentor (to a man or woman) and seek out a peer mentor (man or woman).

·         Nominate qualified WIT peers for the MVP program.

·         As a WIT: submit an abstract for a conference, offer to speak at a user group or code camp, get involved in public/visible ways.

·         Have 1:1 conversations about tech, WIT, and/or diversity with people you can influence.

·         Thank the WIT in your life, starting with the SQL PASS WIT planning team!



#passwit search!/search/%23passwit

#passwit search

Main WIT page at SQLPASS!/sqlpass!/pass_wit