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Top 3 Reasons Why Evernote is worth $1 billion to me

Everyone heard about Facebook’s recent purchase of Instagram for $1 billion dollars. No one can imagine how they came with such price tag for a bunch (a big bunch) of pictures with special filters added. I never used Instagram and I don’t think I will ever. I’m happy with my regular’ol Flickr, Twitpic and Picasa.

One free application that is really worth $1 billion is Evernote. Why? Well, it’s way more than just another online organizer to me. And it’s even better than the Trapper Keeper I carry around.

Reason #1: No more emailing back and forth
One of the best reasons why Evernote is so valuable is the fact that I can write notes or take pictures of a whiteboard with my smartphone and they will auto-magically synchronize with my laptop and iPad or vice-versa. No more emailing back and forth so that I can download them. The notes and pictures go right into my user-defined notebooks I saved the notes under and show up wherever I have Evernote configured.

Reason #2: No more wallet full of receipts.
As a consultant I travel a lot and taming my receipts monster for my T&E reports is not an easy task. At the end of a week-long trip my wallet looks somewhat like a juicy double-decker burger. With Evernote, I can take a picture of the receipt with my smartphone, tag it and upload it to my expenses notebook. I can do it right there at the restaurant when the waiter or waitress brings the check and add notes related to the expense.

Reason #3: Share & Grab
Another reason why Evernote is so valuable is the fact that I can share my notebooks and notes with other people. Imagine how cool it is to brainstorm and whiteboard and be able to share those notes, pictures, videos, links, etc with your teammates. Awesome, right! Well, it doesn’t stop there, you can even use third-party extensions and applications like ifttt.com to save content to an Evernote notebook from Tweeter, Facebook, email and other channels based on the criteria that you define. Make sure to check-out the Evernote Trunk section for a complete list of apps.

Just wanted to share this as I find it very useful and believe that applications such as Evernote should be the next billion dollar company. Please comment with other ways you use Evernote for: Recipes? CRM? Reminder? Your own private Facebook? sa password vault?


I have been Knighted

As I announced on my 2000-2010 a Decade in Retrospect blog post I have joined the ranks at Pragmatic Works and started my first day today. I’m excited to join such a great professional team, full of experts in the SQL Server and Business Intelligence field. There is no waste of time here. Lots of engagements from the get go. Less than an hour at work, I got in my first brainstorming session. An hour later I have been assigned to two client engagements I will be involved with during the next few weeks. I will also be involved with the Virtual Mentoring services. If you have purchased Virtual Mentoring hours from us, I might be giving you a call soon! 

 The atmosphere here at the new offices is laid-back and you can feel a sense of teamwork from all of the guys. If you are looking to make a career move, Pragmatic Works is your best choice. Lots of expansion going on, great carer opportunities and lots of expertise in-house to tap into.


2000-2010 a Decade in Retrospect

2011: A New Year / A New Decade
The end of the year 2010 marks the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. It has been a decade of commotion in many aspects of our every day life: 9/11, war, political and economic crisis. For IT Professionals it has been undoubtedly a decade of many changes: new privacy and security regulations,  improvements in technology, shifts in delivery models like SaaS and Cloud Computing, re-shaping of roles, etc. All these changes are part of the IT evolution that never ends. 

Being an IT Professional I’ve had the need to keep up with this wave of change, always adapting, and trying to find my call. As I look back at this decade, there are so many things I have accomplished for which I’m grateful to God and to the many people who have helped me become who I am now. These are my milestones:

2000: Survived Y2K
Y2K was an event of catastrophic consequences, or so the media portrayed it. Banks were going to lose all your account data, airplanes were going to fall out of the sky, nuclear missiles will start firing at will, the end of the world was near. People started building Y2K shelters, some withdrew all their money from their bank accounts, and many embraced themselves for the turn of the century with fear. We survived.

During this time I had my own Computer Sales and Services business while finishing college back in Honduras. Y2K was very lucrative for me as many companies needed firmware upgrades, software patches and updates. I even got my hands dirty with an obscure product at that point to me called SQL Server 6.5 helping install Service Pack 5a for one customer. Little did I know this product will be what would feed my family a couple of years later. 

2001: The World collapses
9-11 made the whole world collapse to its knees in shock. I was in Honduras still sleeping when my dad woke me up and told me to come watch the news of an airplane accident in New York. As I watched in shock what appeared to be a replay of what had happened, it was several seconds later that I realized it was not a replay, it was a second plane.

At that point in my career, I was working as a jack-of-all-trades for a larger Computer Sales and Services company with foreign capital as Sales Manager, network and computer technician, graphic and web designer, and supporting a couple SQL Server and Sybase ASE database systems. I had no real clue where I wanted to focus my career on. I liked everything about IT, I enjoyed selling, building and troubleshooting those Pentium IIIs and PIVs, designing webpages with raw HTML with occasional use of FrontPage.

2002: A New Country
On a Friday morning I get a call from one of our customers requesting assistance with one of their applications that we supported. Since it had a Sybase database backend, I took the ticket and proceeded to the customer site. The issue was simple a data window was not saving the data on the screen. I put my PowerBuilder skills to work, and pinpointed and solved the issue in 10 mins. It turns out that the developer of this third-party application had been trying to fix this issue for several days, causing the business loss of productivity since they had been relying on paper base format in the meantime. Next morning on Saturday, after waking up at noon from playing StarCraft all night long,  I received an instant message via Windows Messenger (yes, old school!) by one of the client’s staff. The message was, “Would you be interested in going to our Miami office to fix some of our issues there?” Cue: Coming to America by The System

2003-2005: The “Network Guy” years
Once my work contract was over I decided to apply for permanent residency, obtaining a temporary work permit and enabling me to seek other job opportunities and study. One area of IT that really interested me at the time was Cisco networking, so I enrolled at Miami-Dade College and completed the CCNA program with flying colors. Little did I know, that no company was willing to hire a guy fresh out of some Cisco classes to manage their network. After several interviews, only one company gave me a chance, and boy it changed my life.

It was an airline, but all their networking was outsourced so all I had to do was open the door for Cisco technicians to come install and configure equipment at our data center. I learned some things here and there from them, but the most valuable lesson was that all the configurations were given to them by their top-level Cisco engineers, and they simply copy/pasted into the equipment’s configuration. I could have written the configuration myself, but no, that’s the job of experienced CCNPs and CCIEs. That was a little heart-breaking for me and soon realized Cisco no longer appealed to as my career focus.

Working at this airline I expanded my knowledge in other areas, Windows Server troubleshooting, Exchange, IIS, some Oracle Financials, and SQL Server. At this point I learned upgrading, installing and troubleshooting SQL Server 2000/2005. I did not like it, since databases was not an area I was interested in. I thought of database professionals back then as being the equivalent of report writers. And no, report writing was never my call and never envisioned myself being so, but little did I know.

2005: Newly Wed
While working for the airline, I met my wife. It was not love at first sight, quite the contrary. Our jobs crossed in a way in which we did not get along at the beginning. After several months of having to work together, I discovered her true-self and immediately fell for her. After a short relationship, we decided to get married. 

2006: An Angel from Heaven
In 2006, we were blessed with our oldest daughter. That’s when it hit me: Get your career on track! During this period I had left the airline job and decided to start my own company, with two incomes, I could afford a lower-income as I built my customer base. I had a good two-month start but when my wife gave me news of our baby, I panicked and decided to get a job, get my career on track, and start saving for a house.

After a six-month contract with a Cruise Line, I was offered a management job at a financial services company I used to provide networking and desktop support services during my short-lived entrepreneurial time.

2007: A New Career / A New Home
According to the job description I was going to be IT and Operations Manager. I knew the IT Management part, but Operations? The great thing was that the previous Operations Manager was becoming full-time Marketing Manager for the company. He had been Marketing and Operations manager but the Operations Management part was more in par with IT since all the company’s processes had a technology aspect to it. He was great to show me all the tasks he did for Operations and it helped me fine tune some processes and introduce new technology to facilitate our operations such as SharePoint, SQL Server 2005 and other technologies.

As our daughter grew, so was her need for space. Living in an apartment in Miami was not the best of places to raise a very active little girl. During that time the housing bubble was on the rise and properties in Miami became outrageously expensive. On the other hand taxes were high and schools were bad. Thinking in a long term investment for our home and for a good area to raise our girl we decided to move to the suburbs of Tampa. My employer allowed me to relocate and work from our Tampa office.

2008-2010: SQL as a Safe Heaven / A Second Angel from Heaven
Several months after I moved, our management meetings became more and more centered on the loss of revenue. Every month the conversations revolved around the sharply decrease of customers coming back. The real estate bubble had just exploded. The majority of our customers where in the construction business, mainly immigrants who now where out of work and had been relocating north to other states were there was still some construction going on. The forecast was to close down in a period of six months. I could not afford losing my income as we were expecting our second daughter and decided to jump ship. At that moment only two areas were safe to do a career move, government or health-care. I was lucky I was able to land a job as database administrator for a local government organization, what I considered a safe-heaven, to weather the economic crisis.

By the end of 2008, our youngest daughter was born. Another angel sent from the heavens.

My move not only let me  weather the economic crisis between 2008 to 2010 but it also allowed me to learn so much about database administration. This organization also gave me the opportunity to build my skills as a Business Intelligence architect and developer. I was given the task of architecting our Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence solution, which I was able to accomplish with great results, allowing our Executive Team to be able to surface important facts about the population and geography served.

2010: My calling
After going through some organizational changes at my local government job and due to some other family related factors I decided to move on and pursue other opportunities out there. At the moment, my heart was split between Database Administration and Business Intelligence. I received two offers, one as DBA and for ETL developer. I was ready to accept the job as DBA when a third offer came from nowhere to become a Business Intelligence Consultant. I had always wanted to be a consultant but did not feel I had enough knowledge and experience to become one. After a lot of soul searching I decided to take the plunge and accept the offer as a Business Intelligence Consultant. It was the best decision ever. I had found my true calling.

During 2010, I became more active in the SQL Server and Business Intelligence community. I decided to get my SQL Server certifications. I jumped on Twitter, started following and met MVPs, book authors and all of my blogging rockstars. I established new friendships. I attended and spoke on my first SQL Saturday, I attended PASS Summit 2010 and I became the leader of the Tampa Bay Business Intelligence PASS Chapter.

The 2011 New Year awaits great things for me. The beginning of a new decade. The continuation of my true calling as a Consultant in the Business Intelligence field. A new employer: Pragmatic Works (website).

More details coming soon…

4 certifications in 30 days

On June 23rd, 2010 I achieved a professional milestone by becoming a Microsoft Certified IT Professional, MCITP: Database Administrator 2008 passing Exam 70-450.  Along with this certification I ended up earning a total of 4 certifications:

Exam 70-448 MCTS: Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance
Exam 70-431 MCTS: Microsoft SQL Server 2005 – Implementation and Maintenance
Exam 70-432 MCTS: Microsoft SQL Server 2008 – Implementation and Maintenance
Exam 70-450 MCITP: Database Administrator SQL Server 2008

See my official transcript at https://mcp.microsoft.com/authenticate/validatemcp.aspx and enter Transcript ID: 913755 and Access Code: transcript2010

* Note: Exact time-frame was 43 days. I had last exam scheduled within 30 days from initial test but had to re-schedule due to last-minute high priority project meeting at work.

At first glance you may think:
1) I have photographic memory and memorized each and every page of the training material.
2) I am a SQL/BI god or rock star (Thanks @mikeSQL) </blush>
3) I am the more handsome and smarter love child between @Buckwoody and @BrentO.

The reality is that:
1) My memory span is as bad as the page memory lifespan of a poorly configured SQL Server.
2) I’m humble enough to say that I know enough to get the job done.
3) No, I’m not as half as smart as our SQL masters and rock stars, but more handsome…definetely!

So here is the 5 step process I followed preparing for my certifications:
1) Play
2) Read
3) Break
4) Fix
5) Practice Test

My 5 step process in detail:
1) Play. First, setup several SQL Server instances in a virtualized environment. Install all features and try to figure things out on your own first.
2) Read. Research and read how to do the things you could not figure out by your own.
3) Break. Once you figure things out, run several scenarios to break whatever you had running in order to learn from error messages and logs. This helps to learn what not to do in a production environment.
4) Fix. After breaking something try to fix it. If you cannot fix it on your own, read and reasearch it. Tweet #sqlhelp if necessary.
5) Practice Test. Go through the Practice Tests that come in the CD included with the Self-paced books to measure your understanding of a specific topic or objective. You can customize these tests to include only questions about specific objectives.

Takeaway #1: Do all the Practice Exams that come with the Companion CD and view the answer to the questions you got wrong to get the right answer and explanation. Re-take the Practice Exams covering only questions you answered incorrectly.

Takeaway #2: Practice, Read, Break, Fix, Self-asses…loop

As usual, you need to understand the concepts, terminology, vocabulary, and acronyms of any technology you want to master. In order to achieve this, you need a combination of experience and reading.  Reading and memorizing just don’t work. Exam crams and brain dumps don’t work and you are just cheating yourself.

You don’t have to be a book-worm. I have purchased more than 20 books on SQL Server and Business Intelligence but have not read even one of them from front to back. What I do with each exam is I lookup the exam objectives and cross out the ones I feel 100% confident (concepts and hands-on experience). The ones I did not cross out are the ones I seek good reference material on.  And where do you get the best learning and reference material from? The official self -paced training books,  Microsoft Books Online (BOL) and last but not least…your SQL MVPs’, masters’ and rockstars’ books, white papers, blogs, etc.

These are part of the books I used to prepare for all these certifications:

When I say experience, I don’t mean xxx number years of experience being a Database Administrator or Developer. By experience I mean, hands-on working knowledge,  the “Oh, yeah, I know how to do that” type of confidence.

There is a saying by Confucius that summarizes it all (modified a little by me):

” What I hear I forget. What I see I remember. What I do I understand.”

Acquiring the hands on knowledge is key to a real understanding of SQL Server and its features.

Failing to pass a certification test
If you fail it is ok. I learn a lot more by failing. I call it “Success by failure” or “Learning from failure”. Many people fail because of the fear of failure itself. Take advantage of exam discounts and vouchers like Second Shot offers from Microsoft.

Takeaway #3: Failure is an option. Success is a choice.

Again, what if I fail?  It’s ok to fail !

Failing a certification exam does not mean that you are no good. Failing an exam means that there are areas or features that you need to get more familiarized with either conceptually or hands-on or both.

Takeaway #4: If you fail an exam, keep a record (mentally or write it down on pad provided) of the features or exam objectives that came up on the exam and for which you did not feel confident on the answer. Do not write down the question(s). It is against the rules and most likely they will not come up again next time you retake the exam. After failing your test, go back home and read and play with those features that you identified you needed more understanding. Re-take the test immediately. Don’t let time pass by.

So where do you start?
In my case, I’ve been working mostly on Business Intelligence and Database Maintenance on SQL Server 2008 for the last two years at my current position. As the appointed Technical Project Manager, Architect and Developer of our Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence Solution for my current employer, I have spent endless nights doing all the planning, envisioning, configuration, development and deployment of our SSIS Packages, OLAP Cubes and SSRS Reports. It was only natural for me to go first for the MCTS: SQL Server 2008, Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance Exam 70-448.

What learning resources did I used for Exam 70-448?
1)  Self-Paced Training Kit for MCTS 70-448
2) Business Intelligence Boot Camp by TechSherpas Tampa, FL
3) The Data Warehouse Toolkit (Second Edition)
4) The MicrosoftData Warehouse Toolkit: With SQL Server2005 and the MicrosoftBusiness Intelligence Toolset
5) Microsoft SQL Server 2008 MDX Step by Step
6) Pro SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services
7) Smart Business Intelligence Solutions with Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Next on my certification path was SQL Server Administration, Maintenance, Configuration and Deployment. Since I have been working with SQL Server 2005 since its release to market I felt that I should prove myself worthy on SQL Server 2005 by passing Exam 70-431. Although, since mid 2009 I had migrated all our production databases to SQL Server 2008 and had not used SQL Server 2005 since then, I still felt, for sentimental purposes perhaps, that I wanted to have SQL Server 2005 under my certification belt.

I believe this strategy worked really well for me because it allowed me to focus on the new features of SQL Server 2008 for the MCTS: SQL Server 2008 Exam 70-432.

What learning resources did I used for Exam 70-431?
1) MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-431): Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Implementation and Maintenance
2) Microsoft SQL Server 2005: Database Essentials Step by Step

Having passed the MCTS: SQL Server 2005 exam with no problems I immediately scheduled the MCTS: SQL Server 2008. Since I have been using SQL Server 2008 for more than a year in our production and testing environment, I felt confident to simply go over some of the concepts to reinforce my knowledge.

Once I passed Exam 70-432 MCTS: SQL Server 2008, I felt I wanted to go all the way and obtain my MCITP: SQL Server 2008. One area I did not felt 100% confident was the dreaded performance monitoring and tuning part of every DBA’s job. So I buckled up and did deep dives on performance monitoring and tuning based on Andy Warren’s (@sqlandy) methodology and his blogs along with the many blogs from our other SQL masters and rock stars.

After going over more than 20 books, reading hundreds of blogs, spending late night hours practicing hands-on and assessing my knowledge through practice exams, I was able to pass Exam 70-450.

 What learning resources did I used for Exam 70-432 and  Exam 70-450?

1) MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-432): Microsoft SQL Server 2008-Implementation and Maintenance
2) Professional SQL Server 2008 Internals and Troubleshooting
3) SQL Server 2008 Query Performance Tuning Distilled
4) Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Internals
6) SQL Performance Tuning Class by SQLShare (Instructor: Andy Warren @sqlandy)

The bottom line:  Do not attempt to obtain all of these certifications just by reading books or doing practice exams. The hands on experience really counts. Nowadays it is so easy to build your personal training labs on your home computer or laptop with free virtualization tools like VMWare.

So what is next?
Microsoft Certified Master (MCM). The MCM will take me a year or two of preparation and most probably I will attend one of Paul Randal’s and Kimberly Tripp’s (www.sqlskills.com) Public Immersion event in 2011 to help me prepare on some advanced topics. During this period I will have completed several infrastructure upgrades to our current OLTP Production system as well as really interesting Business Intelligence at my current employer.

In the meantime I will be working towards achieving certifications and advancing my skills on Virtualization technologies (Hyper-V and VMWare), SAN Administration (EMC, HP), Windows Server, Active Directory, SharePoint  2010, PowerPivot, PowerShell, Exchange 2010, Citrix, MicroStrategy, .Net Programming, Project Management PMP, and the list goes on…

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