Is Technical Writing Important?

Many Colleges and Universities now offer certificates in technical writing. As a DBA the idea of technical writing important to me (and after all I do have a blog to maintain). Technical writing can have quite a lot of scope though. It can encompass:

  • Writing instruction manuals
  • Building reports
  • Creating graphs and charts
  • Web layout
  • Font choices
  • Working with various tools
  • Analyzing data
  • Building proposals
  • Plus lots more

I think that a lot of technical writing skill comes along as a natural progression of working in the IT business (at least for most people), but what about those folks that are new out of college? Do you feel that new graduates should have a feel for technical writing? Would a certificate in technical writing be beneficial in helping graduates get jobs? Would someone with a certificate be more likely to get an interview with your company?

These are all important questions and I am looking for you, the good reader, to assist me in gathering some data.

Please, spend a couple of minutes and fill out the survey below or the version over at SurveyMonkey. I will share the results once the survey is complete.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Fun With Recruiters

I love it when I get those special kinds of emails from recruitment agencies who claim they have the perfect position. I got one of those kinds of emails last week, I thought I would share it (as well as my response).


Title: Front End Web Development Lead
Position Type: Direct Placement
Location: Bothell, WA, United States

Duration: 0-6 month(s)
Job Description:
Front-End Web Development Lead – Bothell, WA
Every day over 19,000 Amdocs employees, serving customers in more than 60 countries, collaborate to help our customers realize their vision. We have a 30-year track record of ensuring service providers¿ success by embracing their most complex, mission-critical challenges. 100% of Fortune¿s Global 500 quad-play providers rely on Amdocs to help them run their businesses better.
Amdocs is a ¿can do¿ company that leads the industry, is fully accountable and most importantly, always delivers. This is our DNA. Our success has been sparked and sustained by hiring exceptional people. If this sounds like you— if you have the drive, focus and passion to succeed in a fast-paced, delivery-focused, global environment– then Amdocs would like to talk with you. Amdocs: Embrace Challenge, Experience Success.
– Please Note: All applicants must be currently authorized to work in the United States without employer sponsorship now or in the future.
Role Overview:
We are looking for a Front-End Web Development Lead to be a team lead directing a multi-shore group of developers tasked with providing issue resolution support for a very large-scale web retail store. Some of the responsibilities and duties include, but are not limited to:
Interface with defect assurance team to accept inbound production issues for resolution
Direct and coordinate work of offshore development team to ensure accurate and timely resolution of front-end production issues
Interface with customer development, business, and other teams as needed to provide good service, promote team visibility and positive perception
As team grows, evaluate potential additional team candidates and support Amdocs executive management by providing expert advice as required to grow our presence with the customer and provide continuous improvement
Provide analytical support to identify, develop, and drive strategic improvement initiatives involving functionality improvements, innovation solutions, and development and implementation methodologies
Serve as trusted advisor to management and client
Work day-to-day with key client management, development fulfillment partner, QA testing organization, providing expert support to each as needed and appropriate
Support development of improved governance of production defect management, including definitions of severity, criteria for prioritization, and defect management lifecycle processes.
5+ years front-end web development experience
5+ years hands on experience with the following key technologies: JSP Integration, HTML / HTML 5, AJAX, CSS, JavaScript, JSON, XML, JQuery
Strong leadership skills
Large scale /enterprise web retail experience
Integration with ATG Commerce
Integration with Adobe CQ
Experience with other industry standard integration technologies (e.g. WebLogic)
Technical leadership experiences in relevant technologies
Telecom experience
All Amdocs roles require strong verbal and written communications skills, position-appropriate mentoring/leadership abilities, ability to quickly master new systems and/or processes, capacity to stay organized while managing competing priorities, and a deep customer service orientation, both internally and externally.


I’m a database guy, I’ve never been a developer let alone a dev lead, and so I replied…


As a solutions provider I would expect you have have some great analytics. This leads me to ask the question as to what part of my skillset or background leads you, or anyone at your company to believe that I would be a good fit for, or consider the opportunity that you list below.


If I ever get a response I’ll be sure to post it.

Do You Trust Your Application Admins?

I was sitting at my desk, happily minding my own business when an alert came through that a database backup had failed. Ok, backups fail, I just figured one of the transaction log backups hiccupped (we’ve been having some problems the last few days).

When I looked at the failure it was a backup trying to write to the C drive on the server.

I NEVER backup to C. It can easily fill the drive and take down the system.

A bigger indicator that something was up was that all of our backups are done across a 10Gb network to a centralized location for ease of tape backup. This indicated that someone, not a DBA, had the access to run a SQL backup.

I trawled through the permissions on the server and nobody has that level of access so I couldn’t figure out who had done this and how.


So What Happened?

Looking through the SQL logs I saw multiple attempts by a contractor to login to SQL, all of which failed, then about 5 minutes after the backup error came through. Interesting stuff, so I walked over to the contractor and asked what was going on.

After he was unable to login he went to the application admin who helped him out with access…using the application service account.

One of the third party applications from Microsoft some unnamed vendor has a database on that server. Due to the nature of the well designed code the database owner has to be the same as the service account of the application. The application admin knows this password (not my doing).

After logging this contractor in as the application service account the app admin walked away and left him to his own devices. As a result this contractor was dbo on a database which manages security for the entire company. We should just consider ourselves lucky all this guy did was attempt to perform a backup.


Preventative Actions

In order to try and prevent this kind of thing in the future I am looking at implementing a login trigger for the service account which checks the host and application connecting and denying access to anything not in a specifically approved list. There is also a conversation going on to possibly disable interactive logons for the service account using a group policy at the domain level.


It is a Matter of Trust

While the application admin is obviously at serious fault here it leads to a question of how well do you trust your admin team?

Domain admins will be able to access your SQL Servers (get over it, there is no way you can keep them out, if they really want in there are numerous ways for them to do so).

Anyone with a password could share that with someone else and allow them to access your servers.

Ultimately you have to trust those that you work with to do the right thing. It’s always sad when those people let you down.

Extended Properties Are Your Friend

It’s nice to have friends, why aren’t you a friend of extended properties? They can make your like so much easier by helping to document your databases and objects.

Take a basic table create statement

CREATE TABLE [dbo].[EatSomeBoogers](

    [ID] [int] NOT NULL,

    [BgType] [varchar](20) NOT NULL,

    [Size] [smallint] NULL,

    [Viscosity] [tinyint] NULL





Pretty simple and we can infer a lot of the information about the table, but we mention size, are we measuring in inches, feet, yards?

We can add extended properties that will help to provide that sort of guidance for someone to reference later on.

EXEC sys.sp_addextendedproperty @name = N'Details',

    @value = N'Size is measured in mm', @level0type = N'SCHEMA',

    @level0name = N'dbo', @level1type = N'TABLE',

    @level1name = N'EatSomeBoogers', @level2type = N'COLUMN',

    @level2name = N'Size'


We can also add properties at the table level:

EXEC sys.sp_addextendedproperty @name = N'Purpose',

    @value = N'Holds information about all the gold digging’,

    @level0type = N'SCHEMA', @level0name = N'dbo', @level1type = N'TABLE',

    @level1name = N'EatSomeBoogers'


And at the database level:

EXEC [MyDB].sys.sp_addextendedproperty @name = N'Usage',

    @value = N'Will handle all information as relates to digging' 



You can even add extended properties to other objects, like stored procedures:

EXEC sys.sp_addextendedproperty @name = N'ProcUsage',

    @value = N'Gets booger sizes and types', @level0type = N'SCHEMA',

    @level0name = N'dbo', @level1type = N'PROCEDURE',

    @level1name = N'GrabBoogers'



What’s great is that you can then quickly and easily query the extended properties for your objects:


        OBJECT_NAME(ep.major_id) AS ObjectName ,


        WHEN c.name IS NOT NULL then 'COLUMN'

        else o.type_desc

        END AS ExtendedPropertyType,

        c.name AS 'ColumnName' ,

        ep.name AS ExtendedPropertyName ,

        ep.value AS ExtendedPropertyValue

FROM    sys.extended_properties ep

        LEFT JOIN sys.columns c ON ep.major_id = c.object_id

                                   AND ep.minor_id = c.column_id

        LEFT JOIN sys.objects o ON ep.major_id = o.object_id

ORDER BY ObjectName, ColumnName




This give you a really quick and easy way to document your objects. I highly recommend that during your next development project that you make life easy for yourself and add extended properties to your objects (and trust me, your DBA will thank you).

How Do You Provide Passwords To Your Users?

Passwords are a necessary evil and there are times when you have to hand out a password for a SQL login (because the POS application doesn’t support Windows Authentication). Traditionally I’ve done this by sending an email to the user with the login and a separate one with the password, figuring that internal security controls would be good enough to prevent anyone from accessing both emails. Recently it came to light that all emails were being siphoned off and an information security team had access to all email that traversed our Exchange servers. Now I’m not saying that I don’t trust these guys, but there’s no way in hell I would ever let them get one of my passwords.

I needed to come up with a better solution for getting passwords to users that had a pretty good level of security around it. Yes, I know that the password can easily be set to force a change at the next login, however this does not work in a lot of cases where it will be used by an application and the person doing the configuration doesn’t have the knowledge or tools to go in and change the password themselves.

I decided that I wanted to have a two-factor authentication type method that would limit the availability to a password and that would provide the information once and once only for the user so that it would never be stored for a long period of time.

First I created a table to hold the password and a unique-identifier and nothing else. I didn’t want to store a login name along with this data just for extra security purposes. This way even if someone got access to the password they wouldn’t know what login it was for, helping with additional security.

CREATE TABLE [dbo].[PwInfo]


      [AuthenticationID] [uniqueidentifier] NULL ,

      [NewPwd] [varchar](128) NULL






ALTER TABLE [dbo].[PwInfo] ADD  DEFAULT (NEWID()) FOR [AuthenticationID]



Now I needed a quick and easy way to get a password once entered. I wrote a procedure that accepts the AuthenticationID, returns the password and then deletes the entry.

CREATE PROCEDURE [dbo].[GetPwdByAuthenticationID]

    @AuthenticationID UNIQUEIDENTIFIER




    DECLARE @NewPwd VARCHAR(128)


    SELECT  @NewPwd = NewPwd

    FROM    dbo.PwInfo

    WHERE   AuthenticationID = @AuthenticationID


    DELETE  FROM dbo.PwInfo

    WHERE   AuthenticationID = @AuthenticationID


    SELECT  @NewPwd





Finally I added a proc which would accept a password, add it to the table and then return some information to later allow the password to be retrieved.

CREATE PROCEDURE [dbo].[AddNewPassword] @NewPwd VARCHAR(128)






          AuthenticationID UNIQUEIDENTIFIER



    INSERT  INTO dbo.PwInfo

            ( NewPwd )

    OUTPUT  INSERTED.AuthenticationID

            INTO @AuthIDTbl

    VALUES  ( @NewPwd )


    DECLARE @AuthenticationID VARCHAR(128)

    DECLARE @Msg VARCHAR(4000)


    SELECT  @AuthenticationID = AuthenticationID

    FROM    @AuthIDTbl


    SELECT  @Msg = 'Password added. Add the users AD account to the report folder (http://ReportingServices/Reports/Pages/Folder.aspx?ItemPath=%2fDBA+Reports%2fUser+Password+Information )and remove once they have pulled the data.


Send the following to the user:


For your security purposes please visit the following URL in your browser http://ReportingServices/Reports/Pages/Report.aspx?ItemPath=%2fDBA+Reports%2fUser+Password+Information%2fGet+Password and enter the authentication ID of '

            + @AuthenticationID

            + '


This is a one time use authentication token, if you need the password information again you will need to contact the production DBA team.



    PRINT @Msg





If you read through this code you’ll see that it outputs a message that provides a couple of links to Reporting Services. This is where the extra authentication comes in.

Within Reporting Services I created a report which called the GetPwdByAuthenticationID proc and just returned the password (nothing more). This report lives in it’s own subfolder which is only accessible by the DBA team.


Here’s how it works:

A user requests a password from us, we pull that password from our secure repository (highly encrypted) and use dbo.AddNewPassword to add this password to the table. We get back a message which we then use to email the requestor; this contains the URL and the AuthenticationID that they need to enter into SSRS to get the information out. We then go to SSRS and grant the user browser permissions in the folder, allowing them to run the report and get back the password. Once they have retrieved the password we then go and remove the user from the folder, closing down access once more.

This provides several layers of security:

  • The user must be logged in to AD with their own account to be able to access the report
  • The user must have the the AuthenticationID provided by the DBA team to get the password
  • The password has a one time access restriction meaning the process cannot be repeated
  • The login is never given along with the password and never stored by the DBA team together except in a highly encrypted password vault inaccessible to anyone but the DBAs.


I feel this a much better solution than sending passwords via email, and considering it only took an hour to put together I figure it a very worthwhile piece of my time. Sure, there are improvements that could be made around automation of access and notifications to users, but as a quick win I think this does a good job.


I’m interested to know what solutions you other folks might be using for those times when you need to provide password information to users. Please comment below.

Passing SQL Data To Command Line Processes Within SQL Jobs

Wow, that title is a bit of a mouthful, let me give you a scenario to help understand what the business problem was that I ran in to today.

We have a production database running on SQL 2008 which contains a CLR procedure that accepts a reportID value, queries some data and writes out to the filesystem on a remote share. This procedure is called by multiple daily and weekly jobs to perform extracts for business partners. Yes, I know this is ugly. The database has TRUSTWORTHY on, which is a big security risk and we wanted to mitigate that risk with the minimum amount of work required.

Here’s an example of one of the jobs that makes the call in to that proc:



SELECT  @ReportID = ReportID

FROM    dbo.ReportList

WHERE   BusinessPartner = 'Customer1'

        AND Frequency = 'Daily';


EXEC Data2File @ReportID;


The first step to changing this was to get the CLR code out of source control and rebuild it as an executable file. This took the developer about 60 minutes. Now I had to figure out how we were going to call the executable with the appropriate ReportID.

The obvious way to call this would be to create a cmdline job step for D:ExportExeData2File.exe (the name and location of the new executable). This would be great except that it doesn’t contain the ReportID. The smart move here would be to just pass along the ReportID in the cmdline, except that we don’t know what that is for any particular report as they get deleted and added fairly frequently, we need to actually pass the results of the query along. The cmdline really wasn’t going to help here.

As is frequently the case, PowerShell came to the rescue.

All I had to do was create a PowerShell job step, run the query, pass the result into a variable and then call the executable with the variable. Sounds really simple, it took a few minutes to get it right, in the end I wound up with the following PowerShell script that runs from within a PowerShell job step:

$ErrorActionPreference  = "Stop"


$Query = @"


FROM    dbo.ReportList

WHERE   BusinessPartner = 'Customer1'

        AND Frequency = 'Daily';



$ResultSet = invoke-sqlcmd -ServerInstance MySQLServer -Database MyDatabase -Query $Query -QueryTimeout 30

[int]$RptID = $ResultSet.ReportID

Write-Output "Calling Data2File.exe with ReportID: $RptID"


& "D:ExportExeData2File.exe" $RptId


In this script I’m building the query, calling it with invoke-sqlcmd and then passing the output ReportID to the external executable.

While this is still pretty ugly and not the way that this sort of thing should be done (SSIS anyone?) it does work and more importantly it allows me to turn off the trustworthy setting on that database and improve the security on my SQL Servers.

Changing SQL Agent Job Subsystem Queue Lengths

In the event you are running a lot of jobs on your SQL Server, or you happen to have a great number of jobs that kick off close to each other and use the same subsystem (i.e. PowerShell) then you might receive a warning in the SQL Agent Error Log stating that the job step “is being queued for the PowerShell subsystem”.

This queuing is deliberate. Microsoft put in safeguards around the various subsystems that the Agent calls in order to help prevent any particular subsystem from taking over all the worker threads (after all you wouldn’t want your 25 PowerShell job steps preventing your queries from running because they’d taken all the worker threads would you?)

This is one of the reasons that I like to use dedicated servers just to handle all jobs/ETL processes. I like to keep my local jobs to just maintenance processes (backup/reindex/checkdb) wherever possible. In doing this I need to be sure that I am able to increase the max worker threads associated to a subsystem to be sure that jobs don’t get delayed. As such I keep an eye on the SQL Agent Error Log and server resources to check that I don’t get thread starvation issues (and being just a job server that’s pretty unusual).

Today I saw a bunch of warnings in the log to do with PowerShell job steps being queued. This wasn’t a surprise as I had added a whole bunch of new jobs and had not adjusted things from the default values. First I went through and grabbed the default information for each of the subsystems so that I could easily revert if the need arose:

SELECT [subsystem_id]



  FROM [msdb].[dbo].[syssubsystems]



As you can see here there are only 2 worker threads set for PowerShell. I need to bump this up to 20 so that it could handle the concurrent job load. I have plenty of memory available on the server so I’m not concerned with the overhead associated with the loading of PowerShell either. Always something you need to keep in mind (oh and you have to be a sysadmin to be able to update this table).

UPDATE msdb.dbo.syssubsystems

SET max_worker_threads = 20

WHERE subsystem = N'PowerShell'  


Checking the value again yields the updated information:

SELECT [subsystem_id]



  FROM [msdb].[dbo].[syssubsystems]



Now it’s a simple case of restarting the SQL Server Agent service for the change to take effect.

Note: Applying Service Packs or Cumulative Updates could potentially reset this value, so make sure you document the change and confirm it after any upgrade (for example http://support.microsoft.com/kb/972759 )