Category Archives: Professional Development

There will be no Doctor No, for now!

A few weeks back several SQL Server bloggers discussed their academic pasts…well here I’m going to let you in on a little secret of mine too. I failed out of college too. I was a Management Information Systems major and limped along with a 1.82 GPA before I got tossed from The University of Mississippi in 1999.

Fast forward a few years, in 2002 I went back to school at Benedictine University in Lisle Illinois to study Computer Science.  There I finished my Bachelors degree in 2005 with a 3.98 GPA graduated with honors. I was fortunate to learn from a collection of retied Lucent engineers…and if you know the history of corporate research…Bell Labs engineers. It was an unbelievable educational experience. And they were cool too, we watched the 2004 Cubs in the classroom that fateful night Steve Bartman got a little too ambitious around a foul ball . 

From that academic experience, I knew I wanted to continue my education. And on the inside, I wanted the right the ship of what happened in 1999. So I applied to the University of Mississippi (again) and was admitted into their Ph.D. program for Computer Science. My pursuing an advanced degree had two goals, the intellectual achievement behind that and also proving to myself simply that I could do this.

I started graduate school in 2006. I finished my Ph.D. comprehensive exams in 2009, my Masters degree in 2010, and finished my course work for Ph.D. in 2013, published in two peer reviewed conferences and delivered one of those papers at an international Computer Science conference in Barcelona, Spain. In that same time frame, we had two beautiful daughters, I started Centino Systems and worked (and continue to work) hard at being the best that I can be professionally. I overcame a huge personal barrier in 2016 and began public speaking and also started releasing training courses with Pluralsight. But with all that success and the time demands that came along with them, one thing started to fall behind…my academic pursuits. As a doctoral student, you’re expected to work independently and conduct research, under the guidance of a research advisor, to move the knowledge of a topic into uncharted territory. And for the last three years, I certainly have tried to dedicate the time to my academic studies, but I have been exceptionally fortunate with the business opportunities that have come my way. The decision I have made is by no means a bad thing, not one bit!

So, now that the start of the fall semester has come, I need to make a decision, it’s time to put my pursuit of my on hold. At some time in the future I’ll get back on this train…but for now, there will be no Dr. No! 

Speaking at PowerShell Summit!

Speaking at PowerShell + DevOps Global Summit 2017!

I’m proud to announce that I will be speaking at PowerShell + DevOps Global Summit 2017 on the conference runs from April 9th 2017 through April 12th 2017. This is an incredible event packed with fantastic content and speakers. Check out the amazing schedule!

This year I have two sessions!

On Tuesday, April 10th at 10:00AM – My session is with none other the Jason Helmick. Our session is “Cross platform Management – Windows/Linux

Here’s the abstract

Let Jason Helmick and Anthony Nocentino take you through a fun filled, demo heavy adventure of how Windows and Linux admins can work together managing a heterogeneous environment. You will learn all you need to know from both sides of the aisle to get started!

On Wednesday, April 11th at 10:00AM – I’m presenting solo on “Linux Fundamentals for the PowerShell Expert

Here’s the abtract

PowerShell is now available on Linux and your management wants you to leverage this shift in technology to more effectively manage your systems, but you’re a Windows guy! Don’t fear, iIt’s just an operating system! It has all the same components Windows has and in this session we’ll show you that.

We will look at the Linux operating system architecture and show you how to interact with and manage Linux system! By the end of this session you’ll be ready to go back to the office and get started working with Linux In this session we’ll cover the following – Process control – Service control – Package installation – Configuration management – System resource management (CPU, disk and memory) – Using PowerShell to interact with Linux systems

PowerShell Summit

 

5 Must Haves Before You Start Consulting

Please join me at IT/Dev Connections on Oct. 12 at 8:00AM* where I’ll be hosting a Birds of a Feather session “Moving to Independent Consulting” Bring your questions!

*Yes, an 8:00AM session in Las Vegas, but if you’re serious about going out on your own…you’ll already be up :)

The most common questions I’m asked during networking sessions at technical conferences and events aren’t technical! People want to know what it’s like being an independent consultant. Things like how to get started and what to look out for are common themes.  So I wanted to share the some of the discussion points I bring up when I’m having these conversations. In this post I’m going to boil it down to the top 5 “must haves” before you start consulting, there’s certainly more…many books have been written about it!

  1. Defining Your Niche 

    This is what you’re going to sell, the thing that your client wants or needs. It’s crucial that you specialize in an area. For me I have a very wide breadth of knowledge but I also have extraordinary depth in many areas. This is due to the excessive :) amount of education and training I’ve put myself through and also my career experiences. That all makes me an exceptional problem solver. The domain of the problem doesn’t matter that much. Give me the information and I’ll work out a solution. But guess what, “problem solver” doesn’t sell! Why? Because when people are looking for consultants, they’re looking for someone to make their problems to go away. These are usually very well defined problems. So define what you’re exceptional at doing, that’s what you’re going to sell. Write it down. Try to build a paragraph out of those ideas. That will be your pitch to your client. This is such a crucial step. It defines who you are to your client. For me I’ve used marketing consultants and mentors to help define my niche. The consultants I’ve worked with are worth every penny and the mentors are invaluable. The funny thing is I’m still fine tuning this. 

  2. Finding the Right Client 

    Once you know what your niche is, you need to identify who you’re marketing to, the consumer of your services. I’d like to be able to say that this “must have” is the most important but they’re all so crucial to success. Who purchases your services and what does that client look like? For me, the people that want my services are Chief (CIO) or Director level people that have a well defined problem to solve that they can’t solve with their internal resources. This can be a system performance issue, high availability design related or an overall system scalability issue. These are the people that make the decisions and sign the contacts. 

    Now the people I work with are the individual contributors on the teams. The architects, engineers and administrators, we develop the solutions and solve the problems, together. What I’ve learned through the years is I like working in smaller teams that have big, interesting problems. So in this sense, size matters. Smaller teams are more agile and as a individual consultant I can affect more positive change in a smaller amount of time. This isn’t entirely going to exclude a potential client, but is something I look at closely when onboarding a new client. Because…personality matters! You need to find a group that you sync up with well. Would you want to go out after work with your team? For me that’s a big facet of finding the right client. Because when you’re in a conference room for hours working out a solution, if you get along with your client, everything will work better. 

    What this all boils down to is…don’t just take any work. This idea is core to your success. You need to be happy with the work you’re performing and who your performing it for. If you’re enjoying it, you’ll produce better results and your client will be happy. Simple enough.

  3. Pricing Your Services 

    You’re worth more than you think, for whatever reason it’s human nature not set your value accurately. It’s also our nature as consultants to want to make our clients happy. But when it comes to setting your rate…you both need to be happy. Think about it this way, if you give a client a huge discount today and later a perfect client comes along at your normal rate, who are you going to want to spend most of your time with? Your focus shifts and your original client isn’t getting the attention they deserve and their satisfaction decreases. Remember, we’re in the business of keeping clients happy! There’s tons of empirical data on the Internet for setting the actual dollar amount based on you’re skills so I won’t go into that. The key here is setting a value that you and your client are pleased with. After a while, your client will care less about your rate because you’re providing value. Solving problems, making their lives easier.

  4. Time Management

    I’m going to be honest, this is my Achilles heel. It’s hard. In fact, scheduling is proven to be NP Hard :) Again there’s tons of data in the web about this and here’s what I do. 

    Time blocking – most of my clients have me on a retainer. I work for them for a fixed amount of time each month (This ties in with pricing, longer term contracts mean better rates for clients and more consistent work for me). But we’re in IT and somethings will take longer than you’ve expected or sometimes something will blow up for one client when you’ve allocated that day to another client. So I allocate my calendar based on my commitments and leave a whole day, each week, for that potential skew. If a client loses time during their scheduled allocation because of a fire, I allocate time out of that extra day. 

    Every day make a list – every morning I sit down and literally write down in a notebook what I need to get done that day. If it’s a big project, break it down into smaller tasks and do those. Doing this provides you a metal boost, a sense of accomplishment. It motivates you to keep moving. 

    Get up early – I wake up around 4:30AM. Yea, don’t laugh. I use this time to wade the sea of email I get and make that list I just told you about. I also read blogs and do the social media thing during this time. It’s my time, the rest of the working day will be my clients’ time. 

    Outsource everything you don’t like doing – Find things you can get rid of and give them to someone else to do for you.

    Billing – in theory this is not completely outsourced as I do my own time and billing. I use Freshbooks for my accounting package, which makes this insanely easy. Freshbooks does all my timekeeping for billable hours, invoicing and expenses. It literally takes me 10 minutes to send bills to clients that include line item details of hours worked and expenses with receipts attached. 

    Get an accountant – taxes are hard and time consuming. I used to like doing them myself, but I found I spent three to four days a year working on this. Not an effective use of my time. 

     

  5. Protecting You and Your Client

    Find an attorney you trust – Have him/her write a general contract for your services with your terms. This will be the base for your negotiations with your client. You’ll send it over to them and if they have a legal team, which many clients do, they’ll send back a version with revisions and sent that right back to your attorney. I have my attorney review every contract, my eyes literally cross when I read them (Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, but I offer my experiences to you as a consultant).

    Insurance – Be certain to have some sort of protection for yourself, there’s many types of insurances for businesses. Some I’ve seen are general liability, professional liability and even cyber liability. On the grand scheme of things these things don’t cost a lot of money and can really help you out of something goes south!

I hope this post gets you started on your road to independent consulting. Take the time to sit down and think about what your motivations are, set some goals and like any technical project you’ve ever worked on build a plan and do all the thinking up front!

Check out these references I used in this post – 

The Secrets of Consulting  – Gerald Weinberg

Brent Ozar’s Personal Blog 

Immersed in SQL Server at SQLskills

Over the last two years I have had the pleasure of attending all three SQLskills Immersion Event classes. This training is second to none in its quality and intensity. The three courses help you look at SQL Server from different angles and are major parts of my job and likely yours as well. Each course uses a building block approach where you’re introduced into core fundamentals that the later modules build upon with more advanced topics.

IE1 – Internals and Performance

This class lays the foundation, it tells you how SQL Server does what it does, where it puts data and how it retrieves data. Guess what, that’s not simple stuff and SQLskills does a great of of making this approachable! After this class you will start to approach problems differently because you know how it works. Simple as that.

IE3 – High Availability and Disaster Recovery

I jumped to this class after IE1 due to my current role. The main objective of this course is how to protect your data. I often use a quote from this course with my customers, you don’t need a backup strategy, you need a restore strategy. It’s that type of thinking that differentiates the SQLskills team from the rest. In this course you’ll see Kimberly do the Partial Database Availability demo, where the storage subsystem is a USB hub with several USB sticks and she simulates a drive failure by pulling one of the USB sticks out and the database stays online. It’s awesome.

IEPTO2 – Performance Tuning and Optimization

This class may have been my favorite, likely due to it being the last and having all that other stuff in my head already. Looking back, IE1 was theory/how it works, this course is how SQL Server interacts with hardware, (disk/CPU/Memory), how you interact with SQL Server (query plans and statement execution) and techniques to find out what’s wrong (baselining and extended events). After this class you will have a solid understanding of where the potential pain points are on your SQL Server and how to fix them.

General Comments about the classes

Actionable – almost everything you’ll learn at a SQLskills Immersion Event you can take back to the office and affect positive change. Every once in a while during a course you’ll hit an esoteric topic, it will be identified as such but presented in the name of completeness. Buckets :) With the knowledge you gain, you will approach problems in new and creative ways. 

Professional – during IEPOT2 there was a brief power outage. Paul didn’t waiver a bit and began instructing the class by referencing the printed slides. Further the projector blew out, and was immediately replaced by Jonathan. I’m telling you this because the SQLskills team leaves nothing to chance in their training every thing is thought out. True professionals.

Team work – during IEPTO2 the group was struggling with thread scheduling concepts in parallel tasks. As there’s always more than one SQLskills instructor in the room and Paul jumped in and helped the group along with a diagram and clarifying explanation.

Small class size – the classes are limited to approximately 30 students. This allows everyone in the group the chance to ask questions and spend time with the instructors.

Personable –  each of the instructors are very approachable people and always respond to questions with patience and respect. 

Thanks to Erin ( b | t ), Glenn ( b | t ), Jonathan ( b | t ), Kimberly ( b | t ) and Paul ( b | t )!

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Reflections as a consultant

Let’s just start with the last three years have been fantastic! This blog post is a slight deviation from the technical content on my blog. We’re going to focus on career and professional development for a minute.

In 2011 I was thrust into the world of consulting…accidentally. Accidentally you ask, how can that happen? Well, at the time I worked remotely for a large health care practice doing system design and software development on the Microsoft stack. Fun and innovative stuff, with great leadership in fun environment. Learned a lot! Well, they were acquired by a much larger organization and the new corporate policy didn’t allow for remote workers. So rather than terminate me they asked if I would like to be a consultant. Well, who wouldn’t right? I had dabbled in consulting for years in the off hours, and always wanted to make the jump. This was the push that I needed. That left me with one huge question…

How do you run a consulting firm?

Certainly at the time I knew some technical stuff, I had been in the industry for 10 years and I was working on a PhD in computer science (still am :). But what I didn’t know is how to run a consulting firm. Client satisfaction, finances, marketing, professional development and that’s just the short list. Missteps occur, but as long as you learn you’ve made some progress.

Some successes include:

  • Client satisfaction – Have a decent set of clients where I’m working on cool problems…still have 100% client retention :)
  • Marketing – The web site went live, added a blog this year and a video
  • Professional Development – Attended 2 SQLSkills training classes and the Fall SQLIntersection, not to mention numerous books read
  • Business Network Development – Meeting people in the SQL community
  • Technical Community Involvement – Completed a book review for Ben Navarez, working on one more for Kelan Delaney

Where do we go from here?

Well, here are some goals for this year

  • Refine the marketing message – easily and concisely communicate what Centino Systems does  
  • Continue to develop blog content – with an emphasis on SQL Internals and database system architecture, speaking to client’s business and technical needs
  • Deliver a public presentation – build, refine and deliver a top notch presentation(s) at a SQL Server User Group or SQL Saturday
  • Process Optimization – develop repeatable processes. This is key for my success and my client deliverables. It will save me time and clients will get better and consistent services.

…and with that all laid out, why do I think I need to be mentored?

The answers are simple:

  • Collaboration – There’s a lot in the road ahead and having someone to collaborate with, exchange ideas both technical and non-technical is invaluable. 
  • Learning – Computer systems are incredibly complicated, if you stop learning you will be left behind. This would in an incredible chance to have someone guide me through the deep technical nuances of relational databases systems and system design with excellent insight.

Thank you for reading and good luck!

Follow me on Twitter: @nocentino

Email: aen@centinosystems.com

web: www.centinosystems.com