• On the "Be the Next Microsoft Employee" show, we talked a great deal about how to engage you, dear reader, in the process. We're trying to show two things:

    1. How cool it is to work here
    2. How important training (and certifications) are to your professional career

     I think we've done that. There were a LOT of unknowns within this event, and that's always exciting and fun. We never expected how close the competitors would be, that each would win a challenge (not planned or scripted that way), or that it would be as hard as it was to select a final winner. We did want you to watch, and be involved. So we decided to create a Play@Home challenge - something that would allow you to engage with the contest, and win real prizes.

    So what should this contest look like? I thought about creating more of the SQL Server challenges that you could run and respond with the correct answer. But how would I simulate the time, the pressure and more? Also, how could I ensure the contest is fair from the standpoint of the right versions, editions, and so on? How could I have you "present" to us?

    So we decided - we won't. Rather than give you a technical challenge, we asked you to send one to us. Each week, I gave you a challenge based on the ones the contestants took. I asked you to show me how you would test for a specific skill or HR trait.

    And you responded. We got some AMAZING submissions. It's clear you thought this through, put in some time, and did a lot of work. Congrats to you all! I hope the attempt - even if you didn't win - made you learn a little more. In fact, I hope this entire experience helped you learn a little more.

    But some of you went above and beyond. You submitted some really over-the-top responses, and so we awarded you a prize. Lots of free e-books, which gave you an even bigger chance to learn. But in the end, one person did a little better than anyone else. His stuff was really well done, submitted, complete, and thorough, right from the start. Even so, just like in the show contest, it was a tough choice. Everyone did such a great job, but the attributes I mentioned put this individual at the top.

    And the winner is....

      Chuck Norris!

    OK, just kidding. I knew you would jump down and not read all that stuff I wrote that I really put a lot of time in, and just look for the winner. The *real* winner is.... Ryan Roper! Fantastic Job! Awesome!

    So what did he win? Just some congrats? A warm fuzzy feeling? No! He won a LAPTOP. A brand new one, and not too shabby at all. It's an HP Folio - thin, sleek and fast. (completely opposite of me)

    Congrats again. Great work.


  • Ahhh, I'm very happy to be back home, and back to normal life again.  While the whole experience during the BTN project was fun, it was very intense.  It's definitely one of those things that I'm glad I did and of course in the end it was SO worth it because I'm actually working for Microsoft! 

    It's funny because ever since the show ended the other contestants and I have been emailing back and forth, and the overall sentiment is that life seems so mundane after the show.  Without having the incredible stress, nervousness, and elation of going through the challenges everything else seems to not shine as bright.  I'm sure the feeling will pass, though, and life will return to normal.

    I was so hesitant to do the show...I was really worried about the format.  EG:  Would there be elimination challenges, voting off of contestants, 24/7 filming, etc...but overall it was a really great experience.  All the folks involved with producing and putting the show together did a great job at making it fun yet challenging.  The judges were also excellent...tough but fair, and always provided salient feedback.

    I want to thank the other contestants again - I learned so much from them over the course of the show, and I feel like we did support each other throughout.  The group camaraderie we had was genuine and definitely made going back to the house after the challenges a recuperative experience...particularly after some of the more trying challenges.

    It still hasn't sunk in yet that I’m working for Microsoft!  I'm SO excited...It's was hard to move out to Seattle without a job lined up and it's a really great feeling knowing I’m doing something I can be psyched about.

  •  I wanted to share with you some things I learned, or observed, about “The Guys” during our time together in the contest.  I, at least, hope they enjoy, and maybe even chuckle, when they see themselves through my eyes:


    Alex – The youngest one of us.  He was born in Mexico City, son of a laborer.  His family moved to New Mexico and he watched his friends get girlfriends that turned into wives when the responsibilities of fatherhood demanded it. Intentionally deciding not to follow in their path and despite the stigma of his culture that often doesn't consider a man working unless he is working with his hands, he took out student loans and got a college education.  (Impressive.  Most impressive.) Then, when it was apparent that his career options were limited in New Mexico, he moved to Phoenix, AZ.

    This boy can eat! He loves calamari, steak and mojitos.

    Alex quotes:  "I'm working towards diabetes."   "I can fall asleep anywhere."  "That isn't real world."


    Chris – The resident dad. He has two boys, ages 2 & 4.  The closest one to my age and, no, I’m not telling you how old I am.  His wife has done a 1/2 marathon.  (Repeat impressive statement here)   He works for the State of Texas (cush).  Specialty:  spacial data.  Very Texan: loves sports, decent pool player, and orders his steak medium rare.  When we decided to eat at the house one night, he cooked all of our steaks out on the grill to perfection.  Our trusted driver.  He learned the streets and got us to the set on time every day, navigated downtown and located a parking spot for the baseball game, and I don't think I've ever seen anyone successfully park as close to a wall as he did.  

    Chris quotes:  "Dude, I just threw up a little bit."   "He's gotta have his GMA in the mornings.  I can respect that."   "I turned on the rear wiper for Alex.  I'm there for you like that, bro."


    Mike – The resident circus freak.  He has been with his wife for something like 11 years. (Insert impressive statement again).  He met her when he was a bouncer, sir.  She is a doctor and is marveled by his uncanny luckiness. He can do this snap, slap, rhythmic thing with his hands and fingers so well you can recognize the heavy metal tune he is "playing", and he sings in the shower. (Yes, Mike, everyone could hear you.)   He purchases his energy drinks by the twelve-pack but he needs more than energy drinks to improve his pool game.   Check out my video congratulating Mike here: http://youtu.be/JqQyH1aKvOg

    Mike quotes:  "There is always a song playing in my head."   "Maybe we should ask about Microsoft's dental coverage."   "I am so not looking forward to this."

    Stacy quote - "Give me a pair of pliers...we'll take care of that *** right now."

    I can hear Chris laughing.  

  • The proof lies before you now.

    I can't believe that it was only two months ago when I posted my initial blog regarding Be the Next Microsoft Employee, asking you to decide whether we at Microsoft are really serious about the value of getting trained and certified to validate your skills. I hope you enjoyed the show and the many blogs from the judges, participants and interested fans as I was over that time. The show itself was incredible. It had drama; it showed the value of understanding SQL and the common (and not-so-common) challenges that IT Pros can confront on any given day and how they can overcome those issues by deploying the skills they've learned.

    The show also clearly showed -- in my somewhat biased opinion -- the value of getting certified. Each of the challenges the contestants faced over the course of the show were ones that specifically are addressed through our certification exam process. Pete Harris did a great job in his blog post last week outlining the alignment of the five challenges with exams.

    I want to congratulate all four contestants Alex, Chris, Mike and Stacy for their enthusiasm, work and willingness to put themselves in front of the world for this event. And a special congratulations and welcome to Mike as he is now a fellow Microsoft employee. Based on what I saw, I know he will be a great addition to the SQL team. I also want to thank the judges and the entire team for their work on putting together a great program. And finally, a special call-out to Mark Protus, who conceived the effort and sold the idea to multiple teams even amid numerous Doubting Thomases that he could pull this off (including me).

    I would love to hear what all of you thought of the concept and what you think we should do next.

  •  WOW!  What an amazing time this has been.  I can’t say “Thank You” enough to Microsoft and all the generous sponsors.  The laptops are amazing.  Thank you so much, HP.  To a person, we’ve all said how awesome they are.  Back to Microsoft, you put on an amazing show.  I am honored to have been a part of it.

    All and all, I guess I’m pretty pleased with my showing.  Technically, I never came in last for any challenge.  Even Mike, who won the thing, came in last once.  My goal when entering the competition was to not ‘look like a fool’.  I feel I did a good bit better than that and maybe even impressed a few people in the process.  The stress of the cameras, the clock, and a strange environment cannot be overstated.  It was tough. 

    Sometimes we are our own worst critics.  We all worked extremely hard during and after the challenges.  We would come back to the house afterwards and study and compare notes on the day’s events.  Always looking to improve and not caring about the consequences of helping a ‘competitor’.  It’s a theme that plays over and over again throughout my career.  I can honestly say that egos and agendas were checked at the door.  It was some of the best training that money can’t buy.  If Microsoft Learning could bottle this up and sell it, they’d make a killing.  It was a great experience.  Because of that, I feel I’ve made friends that will last a lifetime.  To badly paraphrase a Top Gun quote, "Stacy, Mike and Alex can be my DBAs any day."  Congrats to Mike for being named the Next.  He definitely deserved it.

    So where does that leave me?  I still love my job at the Texas Natural Resources Information System; I also teach a GIS data management class at Austin Community College.  In my spare time, I think that I’ll pursue an MS certification.  Meeting Bob Taylor was very cool.  Maybe some day, I, too, could be a SQL Certified Master.

    Congrats again to Mike and all the other contestants.  Thanks again to Microsoft and HP.  Thanks to the production crew, Mark, Fred, Mikal, D'Artanian, all the Speeds (A, B, and C), Charlie, Mimi, Jaimie, Lindsey, Erika, and the rest of the crew.  You were great.  It's gotta be a tough job to make a bunch of database dorks look good on camera. Thank you so much! I had an AWESOME time!

    Lastly, a special 'Thank you' to my wife for being amazing and allowing me to pursue a dream.

    Here's a pic of one of the vegatable stands at Pike's Place Market.  It's the real deal.  Alex and I were there grabbing breakfast at Lowell's.  Great grub.  Highly recommended!

    Also, check out my last video blog.  Please excuse Alex's potty mouth. ;-p



  • So we're down to the wire on the Play@Home contest on "Be The Next Microsoft Employee". First, let's see who won last week's challenge:

    • Joseph Hagan
    • Ryan Roper
    • Timothy Corey

    Congratulations! Great Job! You'll get those free books as a prize that we've been talking about. We'll also be selecting the grand prize winner this week - look for the next blog entry. That person gets a brand new laptop - and it's a pretty nice one to boot (did you see what I did there?).

    But there's another challenge. No, we won't give you a prize for this one. But there is a trophy - the best one of all. The challenge is this:

    How do *you* learn?

    Describe what steps you take, what disciplines you have, and what plans you make for getting to the place you want to be in your career. No, you don't have to send it in - but it would be great if you post it here, as a comment for everyone else to see. But most importantly, you need to have those steps, plans and actions to take control of your career.

    It's the biggest professional challenge of all. To realize that you control your career.  

  • It is time to go home and get back to our normal lives and use what we learned to tackle big problems at work and cherish all the memories from being on the show.  A big thank you to everyone who made this show possible and all the folks involved from the person applying make up to the producer of the show.  The judges were excellent at sharing their knowledge with us and allowing us to learn from them and become better professionals.  This was a great experience and for anyone thinking of joining Microsoft I have to say that it is awesome to be on campus and just by entering those buildings you can feel some of the geekness sticking to you.

    Mike, Stacy, and Chris are very smart and have a lot ahead of them and I look forward to meeting up with them again in the future, maybe at SQL PASS or at some SQL Server training.  Here is a picture of the house where we stayed during the duration of the show:

    I spent a lot of time studying at this table and looking towards the ocean with my HP Folio laptop.  I would have never imagined that this 15 inch Folio laptop had so much power and very stylish not to mention its long battery life.


  • I busted my ass on that presentation!  
    (Deep breath and exhale.) Okay, I had to get that off my chest.  Thank you for listening.

    I’m okay.  No, really, I am.  I’m just disappointed, but, hey, I’ve been disappointed before.  It doesn’t mean I’m going to give up.  I just keep pickin’ em up and puttin’ em down, one foot in front of the other.  I press on and keep hammering away.  I’m just going to have to try a little harder, but one day…one very wonderful and glorious day… it will happen.   You just wait and watch!  I will be the next Microsoft employee. 

  • I’m not sure where the fourth challenge ended and the fifth challenge began – especially the social experiment side of them both.  Buck just blasts in the dining room.  I should have known something was up.  He hadn’t stuck around for any other challenge.  I should have known when he didn’t leave that we were in for a major surprise.  As he gave us the challenge, he told us ‘not to stay up all night’.  For those of you with kids you’ll understand how this engages the subconscious mind.  It’s like telling a child “Don’t trip” and then they trip.  The subconscious mind doesn’t understand “no – don’t – can’t”.  Buck might as well have required us to stay up all night!

    So, we all stayed up all night working on our designs, researching, learning details about the technology, perfecting designs, and practicing our presentations.  It was brutal!  Absolutely brutal! 

    We all commented on how it had been so long since any of us had pulled an all-nighter.  During this challenge we were allowed to converse.  In fact, Buck encouraged us to do that.  I had never dealt with CPI or PII data before.  I should have taken my cues from Alex and Mike on this.  They were splitting the data between local SQL Server and SQL Server Azure.  Stacy and I didn’t.  This played a factor in my technical design.  Mike and Alex (correctly) separated the data creating a design that used the cloud for the bulk of the data and only housed the sensitive data locally.  Stacy and I created designs that only utilized SQL Azure.  We threw everything in the ‘cloud’.  This was technically incorrect because of chain-of-custody requirements for some of the data outlined in the requirements.  I know that now!  In research for my presentation, I found a client list for SQL Azure.  I made an assumption that those companies would have this type of data.  It led me down the wrong path.  If they do have this type of data, they don’t store it in Azure.

    As tired as I was, I was able to muster some confidence for my presentation.  I thought I presented well, they just didn’t like everything I had to say.  My lack of understanding of how to deal with this type of sensitive data lead to the technical flaw in my design and presentation.  It was uber-fatal.  It dropped me from the running for this week’s challenge and I have to think cost me a shot at being the over-all winner of Be The Next.  I still feel extremely honored to have had this experience.  It was unforgettable.  I offer my sincere congratulations to Mike.  He is very deserving.  After he won the first challenge I said that he would be a factor.  That was an understatement.  Microsoft has a great Next Employee in him.

    Here's a pic on the way to give our presentations at MS, Alex grabbed a power snooze. He's smart. I'm driving. I'm dumb.

    Want more? Judges tell all. The good, the bad and the (sometimes) ugly. >>

  •      This is the best challenge of all and one that I will never forget because of time it took us to complete it.  By now we all have won a challenge and winning this challenge means that someone would have won more than one challenge and anyone was capable of pulling a win.  Mike won the challenge and again he deserves it because he is a dedicated person who works hard and is not afraid to learn new things.  We all spent a lot of time preparing for this challenge and got very little sleep but we all enjoyed the opportunity to get to know each other by studying together and exchanging ideas.  Here is a picture after the challenge that shows how much fun we had and how great it is to work for Microsoft:

         It is amazing to be there and meet the people behind the scenes who make things happen and I had a blast.  Although I did not win the challenge, I take with me great memories and several friends with whom I am sure I will keep in touch.  The judges were also very nice to talk to and Karen is someone to follow and learn from.  Buck is definitely a geek and a fun person to be around.  A big congratulation to Mike who will be the Next Microsoft Employee—he definitely fits the culture.

  • Four Judges

    Wow.  That was exciting.  I can't tell you how fun it was to be the final guest judge for the Be the Next Microsoft Employee challenge.  I'm still stoked from watching a great team of people make all this happen!

    The Contestants and the Challenges

    First, the contestants:  by now you know that Alex, Chris, Mike and Stacy are our four contenders for being The Next Microsoft Employee.  I had not seen their previous challenges or outcomes.  I had their bios, the same information you have on this blog.  Other than that, I was going to judge this event just based on a 15 minute presentation they were to make. Talk about pressure on all of us.

    The group was asked to present as if they were consultants to a client (the judges) who wants a solutions recommendation for their data platform.   We have our own clients and need to ensure that we can meet their needs.  We were looking for the proper mix of software installations and configurations to meet our goals:

    • Achieve better performance
    • Handle sensitive financial and personally identifiable data
    • Pass data from internal home-grown systems and our ERP system
    • Replace our small reporting system
    • Achieve high availability
    • Support spikes in demand
    • Scale for growth of doubling our customers every 4-7 years.

    What I Wanted to See and Hear

    I was looking for presenters to address the key parts of any proposed solution:  a technically correct set of proposals, with a cost, benefit and risk assessment for each recommendation.  Not all my fellow judges agreed with that last part, but executives want to hear recommendations as a business case, not just a list of technical features.    I also wanted to see them be able to present their solution at the right level of detail given their time constraint (15 minutes) and audience (executive level IT and business).   Finally, the challenge mentioned that the organization had some big problems to solve, but was also a bit...thrifty.  I expected to see a set of proposals that spanned a range of investments.  I also expected the slides to be readable.  They weren't.  You can read more tips on how to make a great technical recommendation on my own blog.

    What We Heard

    For the most part, the candidates proposed similar solutions: a combination of SQL Server internal instances for managing sensitive and personally identifiable data and Windows SQL Azure for scalability to handle spikes in demand.  I did point out that none of them addressed the performance issue to any degree, although some of their proposals would most likely include performance gains.  Some of them missed some special technical constraints with SQL Azure and that turned out to be a significant miss.  Others were confused as to how sensitive data and the cloud could be mixed.  Solutions also included SQL Server Reporting Solutions (SSRS), SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), and SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS).

    One interesting thing is that while 15 minutes can seem like a very short time, most of our contestants used much less than that.  I'm not sure if they were being efficient or if they could have spent more time describing their solution and their rationale for their recommendations. 

    ...And the Winner of the Challenge is…

    It was a close call for the judges.  We had come down to Alex and Mike as the top two presenters in this challenge.   Mike impressed us with the organization of his presentation, his technical recommendation was nearly flawless, and he did a good job talking to us at the right level of detail.   He included a combination of Data Quality Services, SQL Azure, Virtualization, AlwaysOn and Reporting Services in his solution. Alex was close with a similar solution, but was a bit weaker on presentation style and communication of why he was recommending certain features.

    We had to choose one, so we had a vote.  Mike won the vote, with Alex as a runner up. It was a very difficult choice.  Very difficult.  Knowing that I was voting on something that could get someone an offer to work at Microsoft was thrilling and tough.

    PASS Summit 2012 Logo

    A Pass to SQLPASS

    The prize for this challenge was a pass to the 2012 PASS Summit, also known as SQLPASS. This event, hosted by the Professional Association for SQL Server  brings SQL Server professionals from around the globe to connect, share and learn about SQL Server.    This year's Summit will be held November 6-9 in Seattle, Washington. I hope to see our challenge winner, Mike there on his golden ticket pass. Perhaps he'll even come to see one of my sessions.

    While judging the challenge and the presentations was awesome, the most exciting part was what happened after this challenge: finding out which of the contestants was going to be presented with an offer to Be the Next Microsoft Employee.

  • WOW - Today was a roller-coaster of emotions.  Let me start by saying I cannot believe that I actually won the show.  I'm so excited to be getting a job at MS, it's a dream come true.  I'll try to recap the day as it occurred so you get a full array of my emotions.

    First, we all stayed up all night working on the final challenge.  The challenge itself was wicked hard and you should check it out on the site.

    We had to leave the house at 7:00 AM to get to the building where the final challenge would take place, so we had basically until 6:30AM to work and then get ready to leave.  I "penned" the last slide of my presentation at 6:29.   I was totally unhappy with my presentation and I was unable to add any polish to it.  I was pretty sure it was technically sound, but because I had worked on it all night I had NO TIME to practice it, which made me really nervous while I was speaking.  Before we left the house I called my wife to tell her "Sorry, I'm not going to win today and I won't be working at Microsoft."  I was very bummed out.

    During the actual presentation of my solution to the judges, I was so nervous and felt totally disorganized.  My brain was absolutely fried from staying up all night...I think I had 4 Redbulls this morning.  I walked away from the judges totally dejected...I had fumbled speaking at least 4 times, and just overall felt like I had done a poor job.

    However! Fortunately the technical merits of my presentation were good, and that was what I was judged on.  It was enough for me to WIN!  I get to keep the laptop, I won a ticket to go to SQL PASS Summit 2012 this November, AND I won the grand prize of getting an offer from MS for a job!  I still can't believe it!

    I can't thank the other contestants enough-I would not have been able to put together a final presentation without their help.  We worked together throughout the night and were literally bouncing ideas off of each other up until we had to leave the house.  Each and every one of them is amazing-the amount of work and dedication they showed this week was unreal-and I am glad I got the chance to get to know them.

    Watch my personal reaction to all of this! -

    Want more? Judges tell all. The good, the bad and the (sometimes) ugly. >>

  •    Well, it’s hard to believe the final challenge is finally here. http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/certification/bethenext.aspx By now you’ve probably watched, and we’ve announced that we did in fact make an offer to a contestant…but wait, you still have a chance at this week’s prize – and after this submission, I’ll go through all of the submissions for a grand prize winner for a new laptop! Read on to find out how…


    Challenge Background

    This week I’m joined by two guest judges instead of one: my friend Karen Lopez and another friend Pete Harris. This was an immense challenge – VERY hard to do – and an incredibly short time to do it. It will exercise everything the candidates know about systems, business requirements, and SQL Server – and even data beyond SQL Server. While there is no single “right” answer, there are lots of pitfalls.

     To make it even tougher, we’re checking for technical accuracy, completeness, complexity turned into understandable, and presentation skills. I think any technical professional would find this a worthy challenge indeed.

     You’ll recall from the last episode that I dropped in unexpectedly at dinner the night before the final challenge. I gave the contestants the following information, warned them not to stay up all night, and left. I was told I had a way of ruining a perfectly delightful dinner.

    Here’s a sample of what they got:



    We have a customer request to help them design a SQL Server layout to meet their data platform needs. You’ll need to evaluate their requirements, and suggest the proper mix of software installations and any configurations you think they need to meet their goals. They have the hardware they are going to use – in fact, they just renewed their lease with their vendor, so it gets refreshed every couple of years. You don’t have to include servers, networks or storage in your suggestions. They are multi-national, with this data system spanning multiple countries.


    We have a need for a data system to integrate with our internal software and the external software we run for our clients. The internal software is a mix of smaller applications running the .NET stack, an SAP system with another RDBMS server, and an internal reporting system. We currently take a 100GB or so extract of data from the SAP system, which is used by a mix of the internal systems and the external software. After value is added to the data, we pump that out to a reporting system. Right now, we’re having issues around scale and features. We’d like for the system to perform better and also we want to replace the current simple reporting system which uses de-normalized tables into something more along the lines of a full BI solution.  That’s on our short horizon.

    The external application houses customer data from what they enter and also from the SAP extract. It has Privately Identifiable Information and Credit card information in it, so security is top of mind. We also need to ensure that we maintain high-performance on this system, and we can’t sacrifice High Availability – our RTO/RPO is really tight. This is a typical OLTP system, but it does have a reporting component for the customers – although we don’t show PII or Credit Card data in those reports. We seem to see spikes from time to time in the reporting at certain times of the year. We do have a record of those times. The way the applications work is each customer gets their own database, which average around 50-100GB each. We currently have about 300 customers, and are looking at doubling that every 4-7 years in current projections.


    The candidate who uses the proper editions, layouts, security considerations, asks the right questions, and presents the solution the best.


    I explained that the contestants could use any tool they liked to present their solution. It could be as complex or as simple as they liked – and in any style they wanted. Unlike the previous challenges, there would be no interruptions, no questions, and no feedback. At Microsoft we face these kinds of challenges every day.

    Challenge Recap

    So what would you do if you were given a huge requirement like this at dinner? Would you work a while, sleep, and then practice the next morning? Would you stay up all night? Would you present to each other to make sure you did it right, or keep your design secret?

     They stayed up all night. We have film of it. I am amazed at these folks, the level of effort they put into the solutions, the care they exercised to understand the requirements, and the way they presented it, all on no sleep. Truly amazing. I would happily hire each of the contestants, and I’m honored to have them on the show. They worked hard, researched, came up with designs and refined them. This time, no interruptions, no silliness. Just pure focus for an entire night.

    The presentations were different from each other. It’s clear they took a different approach in each one. Some of them had mistakes or omissions, but to be able to put something together of this quality after no sleep is just truly awesome.

    In the end, the decision was so tight that we had to take a judges vote. Up until now, there were pretty clear winners, but everyone did so well that it wasn’t unanimous. But we did pick a winner. Mike’s design was well thought out, complete, and he explained it incredibly well.

    I’ve been asked about a few of the challenges we offered the contestants. Weren’t some too easy, and others too difficult? After reading my recap, some have said “I’d be able to do that easily.” Really…

    Perhaps you wouldn’t. When you’re in a stressful situation, in a strange place, with minimal information, the difficulty level rises tremendously. You've had the benefit of reading the challenge and its intent, seeing the results, and watching the show. Remember, we didn’t clue the contestants in to what we were really after – so they were solving not only the technical challenge, but the challenge of what we were really asking. Is that part of life here at Microsoft? Oh yes. Is it stressful here? Yes – but not always. It’s a stress that we take on willingly – we believe in what we do, and we want others to work with us that are passionate as well. We strive every day to do the best we can – and we want others that feel that way too.

    So in the end, yes, this was “unrealistic”. It’s pretty rare that you run the gamut of all the parts of SQL Server, in one week, with little to no sleep, less info, and a film crew following you around while you’re away from home and still have your day job calling you at night. These contestants are a cut above your average technical professional. Each one is a winner, regardless of a contest.

    How about you? Think you’ve seen something that interests you at Microsoft? Or perhaps you’d like to know more about what you need to learn to work at one of our amazing clients…. Check back here on “Born to Learn” and with Microsoft Learning frequently. There are resources, classes, materials, books and more to help you become a technical professional at the level of these contestants. And when you do get that knowledge, stop by and chat with us. I promise, no cameras this time. J

    Your Challenge and Last Week’s Winners

    It’s your final turn to have a say. Design a challenge that combines everything there is to know about SQL Server – in one design. It can take longer than the previous challenges did, but you must include how your challenge shows a person really knows SQL Server – not just technical detail, but how to use it, and how to describe that use to others. It’s trickier than you think. :)

    Last week’s winners:   Joseph Hagan, Ryan Roper, and Martin Cox. Congratulations! Next week I'll announce this week's contest winner and the winner of that laptop…


  • Be the Next judges have proven to be a colorful lot. The guest judges for Be the Next finale are no exceptions.

    There are in fact two guest judges next week—it is the finale after all! Karen Lopez, aka Data Chick, and Pete Harris, aka SQL Pete.

    Aside from the obvious—she’s a chick and he’s a dude—here are other data points to help you tell them apart when you watch next week:



    Sr. Project Manager and Architect, InfoAdvisors

    Learning Product Planner, Microsoft

    Famous because…she’s a SQL Server MVP and blogs for InfoAdvisors.

    Famous because…he helped design the SQL Server 2012 Certification and Training portfolio. Made famous as they used one of the Mastering titles in which he appeared in various videos.

    Focused on data: Loves data Architecture, especially around design, data sharing, information standards, internationalization and data quality.

    Focused on content: Joined Microsoft in 1995 to build the Mastering Series developer training products. Has done a variety of work around Microsoft but almost always focused on content in some way.

    Planned for a career in tech. Studied Computer Information Systems at Purdue, jumped right in to technology consulting—enjoying every minute of it.

    Got into tech when his dad bought him a PC in grade school and has been hooked ever since.

    Pioneer of ‘Technical Barbies’—that means Barbies who have technical jobs…

    Obtrusive Percussionist for The Castaways—that means he drums without drumsticks…

    As you can see, next week the guest judges will continue the tradition of offering their own colorful commentary. There might even be an appearance by a Very Special Barbie (VSB) as well as some drumming—stay tuned…

    Don’t miss the Be the Next finale on August 21!


  • This week’s challenge was both fun and disappointing.  It was fun in that it was a group collaboration challenge, but disappointing in that we lost as a group.  We were provided an error message and needed to come up with what we, as a group, thought the answer was.  I suggested an answer that was wrong unfortunately!  Alex actually came up with the correct answer, but sadly we didn't present that as the solution. The judges awarded Alex with a "technical" win, which was pretty sweet for him. The prize was amazing...a 1 year MSDN subscription.  Congratulations to Alex!  I'm pretty bummed out because if we had won the challenge today as a group, all of us would have gotten a subscription I think. :(

    Oh!  One thing the judges did give us was a Nokia Lumia 900, the latest phone offering the Windows Phone OS.  It's really fantastic and can't wait to start using it.   

    The challenge took place in a very different location today ...we were on the Bainbridge Island Ferry.  It was very cool...the views were spectacular!  They used the ferry as the timer for the challenge too...very creative.  We had until the ferry returned to dock to come up with the challenge answer.  The captain of the ferry even came down to wish us luck.

    Once the challenge was completed and we were back at the house, we had a visit from Buck.  He gave us the final challenge to work on.  I truly think a part of that man enjoys torturing us a little bit. ;) The final challenge is REALLY hard and I suspect I will have to stay up the entire night to finish it.  I'm really freaking out because I don't think I'm going to be able to produce as good a presentation as the others will...which basically means I feel like I'm toast. :(

    Watch my personal video reaction here -

    A pic of the space needle from the deck of the ferry -


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  •  Hey folks – sorry I missed posting last week, I was a bit indisposed trying to land a project.

    Well, let’s talk about this week’s challenge, the location, and the outcome… 

    As others have discussed, the challenge took place on one of Washington States finest ferries, and it was indeed a timed exercise – Seattle to Bainbridge Island and back… the ferry over to Bainbridge was used by the film crew to set up, assess how sound and video would be affected by engine and wind noises and how the sun and water would affect lighting etc.   It allowed the judges, Buck, Dandy and I to discuss the challenge, what we were looking for from the contestants and decide on some alternatives should Alex, Mike, Chris or Stacy solve the challenge in short order.  The return trip as noted by the contestants as well as Buck and Dandy was fully allocated for the challenge…

    With the setup complete and film crew, judges and contestants in place… the Ferry horn sounded and the challenge began and as noted by others… solved in 30 seconds… oh wait… not quite.  As it so happens, Alex did solve it in less than a minute, than Chris and then I think Alex did again… but they were looking so hard for the answer they missed the easy answer and they weren’t really listening to each other.  It was amusing in the beginning and then it just became difficult and disappointing to watch.

    After the judges ended the review session and it came time to present their answer/solution, the decision on who would present came down to a rock, paper, scissors contest.  As Chris described in his blog, we were less than thrilled with that decision making process and we let them know.  If I remember correctly, what you saw on the episode was only a small piece of the feedback they received as a team on not only the quality of the presentation but their decision to use R,P,S and then the actual lack of clarity and agreement in the answer that was actually presented to the judges. 

    Certainly, expectations from the judges was a lot higher than the outcome we received, however…. each of the previous three challenges had messed with them in some form or another, so it was quite logical to expect that this challenge would be no different and I guess technically we continue the trend.  Buck and Dandy had set the challenge up to be a lot more difficult than it really was, and the setup and the setting added to the difficulty. 

    At the end of the day, the judges were able to spend a few quick minutes de-briefing from the day and that’s when Buck let me know he was going to give the Mike, Chris, Stacy and Alex the last challenge over dinner.   At first I thought it was a good idea…give them all an opportunity to start thinking about the last challenge and how they’d present their solution.  But then Buck let me know, that they were going to be presenting their solutions first thing in the morning and they’d have to be ready to go at 8:00 AM.   This meant they’d have to be up all night prepping for their presentations…. My next reaction was hoping they’d taken the feedback that we’d been providing to them all week… especially the advice to collaborate.

    We’ll find out soon enough.

  • For this week’s challenge we took a beautiful ferry ride across the Seattle harbor to Bainbridge Island.  The views were great - the Olympic range on one side and the Cascades on the other.  Rainer stood off in the distance like a lone sentinel.  Seattle is awesome!  The ride over was easily the best part of the day because the challenge was an epic fail in the eyes of the judges.  And, to quote a classic, The Pokey Little Puppy, they were “very displeased.”

    The ferry ride was the ‘clock’ for the challenge.  Just a 33-minute ride, so we had to work fast.  The challenge was an error statement submitted to MS by a customer.  The whole team immediately jumped in.  It was chaos.  I can’t read well when people are going nuts like that.  I find it to be very distracting.  I asked Stacy to read the entire challenge and be the lone voice.   After she finished, the discussion erupted.  Evidently, Alex pointed out the issue fairly quickly, but none of the rest of us heard him.  I feel bad for my part in that.  I distinctly remember telling the group that I had seen this issue before.  In explaining what I thought was the issue; I evidently restated what Alex had already brought up.  The judges told us afterwards that the correct technical solution was brought up FOUR separate times, but the group never came to an agreement on it.  I really can’t understand why that is.  What was wrong with our dynamic that we couldn’t get the correct answer to stick when there were FOUR separate conversations about it?  We were flawed as a team when it came to communication everyone contributed to the failure.  None of us were blameless.  The Judges were NOT happy.  So much so that they didn’t award a collaboration winner, only a technical award to Alex for being the first to state the issue.

    I feel like my biggest part in the failure came when I “let” Stacy present.  The judges were super-pissed (especially Buck!) about the roshambo (rocks-paper-scissors) to determine the presenter.  I was pretty well taken aback when Stacy REALLY wanted to do it.  I thought I was a good choice for presenter, but I didn’t want to offend her.  Instead, I took an easy way out and left it to “chance.”  In hind sight, I could have dropped a ‘Spock’ on her Sheldon Cooper style, a la Big Bang Theory; to ensure a win, but what I really should have done is be more insistent.

    Congrats to Alex for the technical win this week.  He has very good technical skills and was able to show them off this week.  We pretty much all apologized to Alex afterwards for not listening better.  Our team got the message loud and clear, though.  It’s awesome to be a superstar, but it’s even more awesome to be on a team of Superstars!  We’ll grow and bounce back from this.  #BeTheNext.


    Here are a few pics I snapped of the ferry ride for your enjoyment.




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  •  What an awesome day, and what a beautiful part of our Country. We went for a trip on the ferry! I think it was the Bainbridge Ferry. The weather was simply amazing. If you have ever spent a summer in Texas, then you know what the heat is like.  The fact that I actually got cold during the month of July is an accomplishment in and of itself.  And the Olympic mountains are a breathtaking sight when one is used to flat land all around.  We don't even have proper hills where I live.

    We had a challenge on the ferry and I presented our findings to the judges. We were supposed to have thirty minutes, but it ended up being more like fifteen, to determine as a team the root of the problem. Only upon beginning the presentation to the judges did I realize that we had discussed a number of possibilities, but we never formed a consensus on what the issue was…Doh! Too late now. Oh, man, it was so bad.  If it wasn’t bad enough to be embarrassed in front of the judges, all of my colleagues, friends and family get to witness my failure when the show airs.  Niiiiice. 

    I couldn't wait to get back to the house.  We had a lovely dinner and looked forward to a nice, quiet evening, but before we could even start desert, guess who let himself in and proceeded to ruin our evening? 

     Yes, Mr. Buck Woody himself. 

    When he opened the door, I could hear a song playing far off in the distance.  Only a snippet of lyrics followed him into the house  “…been around for a long, long year stole many a man’s soul and faith…” before he shut the door behind him.   (Didn’t he say his mother’s name was Rosemary?)  This was in no way good for us.  He gave us the final challenge, and my, my, it is a good one:  Global company, web app, pii data, 300 databases geographically dispersed running a different rdbms needs a data warehouse solution.  Present to the business executives in the a.m.

    Remember when your English teacher taught you that two negatives create a positive?  “I couldn’t not look at the tangled mess” means you looked at it, right?  So, with that same train of thought in mind, can you think of a time when two positives  create a negative?  Don’t worry.  I’ll wait.

    Can’t think of one?  Well, how about this?  When Buck told us to not stay up all night working on the challenge, I thought to myself, “Yeah, right.” 

  • I’ve always been a big fan of challenges and competition, in the years that led up to becoming a Microsoft Employee, I worked together with several consultants in a strong competitive database world. It’s with that intake that I gladly agreed to be a guest judge on Be the Next Microsoft Employee.

    When working for Microsoft, one of the key strengths is the diversity of a team, different personalities, different opinions on how a solution should be built, or a project should be executed upon.

    Be the Next Microsoft Employee reflected that, and we had our competitors working together as a team, encouraging the kind of team work that is so critical, while maximizing each individual team member’s talent.

    And certainly there was a lot of talent on the team, but unfortunately on the team challenge: NO WINNER, since they lost as a team.

    I was impressed with all candidates, but in the T-SQL debugging challenge for which we had the Washington State Ferry as the ‘timeclock’, there was one candidate that impressed me the most. The “SQL Hulk” Alex, did lead the team to the correct solution eventually, but was unfortunately overruled by “Captain Zimm” Stacy and “Turbo” Mike.

    Now the interesting thing is, had Alex voiced his opinion more strongly, they most likely could have resolved this SQL Puzzle in less than 10 minutes, and would have set the judges for a tough selection and had
    "The Buckster" worried.

    Because that didn’t happen, … the team of judges felt that we had no clear winner, since they lost the entire challenge. It’s that simple: you win as a team, you lose as a team.

    Because Alex truly impressed me with his knowledge on the task leading towards the solution, I did feel that he had the strongest T-SQL knowledge, a value that I truly appreciate as a Microsoft Certified Master.
    When I shared that feedback with my peer judges we decided to award Alex the technical prize.

    One of the lowlights was the un-preparedness to suggest and present their solution to the judges.
    As Track Owner for the Database Track at major events, I certainly value preparedness when it comes to presenting on any topic, despite the fact that you might have had lack of preparation, or even a solution to present.
    Rock – paper – scissors is not the right strategy to determine on who is going to present, and even more, you need to know and agree on the answer prior to delivering a presentation.

    In each of the candidates, I discovered what I was looking for in the next MSFT employee—a diamond in the rough. With the right coaching, each of those candidates has the great potential to succeed and exceed in the day to day job working for one of the largest IT organizations in the world.

    While we had a joyful ride on the ferry under nice Seattle sun (incredible but true), it did feel great to be a judge, having gone through the tension on how close they actually were to the actual solution was a key highlight.
    The error occurred in this challenge is certainly one that people make when writing triggers, which truly comes down to understanding on how triggers work and deal with the inserted / deleted tables as part of the trigger action.
    As guidance you should review http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms191300.aspx and clearly understand those concepts. When a trigger fires, it necessarily does not produce a single record in the inserted, deleted table, which truly relates to the error message occurred.
    Still can't believe they were so close, but yet so far out.

    Now what was up with “Which takes longer: making coffee or installing SQL Server”?

    In my presentation at TechED North America , I showcased that SQL Server deploys incredibly fast on a Windows Server Core platform, by performing command-line based installations, also called “unattended installations”. The entire session was recorded and posted on the Channel 9 TechED North America page here.

    As a SQL Server DBA, you  probably want to explore many more of our SQL Server Hands-on coolness, which you can do on our online hosted lab platform: www.microsoft.com/sqlserverlabs.

    Happy SQL Server everyone – and good luck to our contestants getting ready for their final episodes..

     Dandy Weyn


  • I am very happy that I was able to contribute to the team and give the solution that the judges were looking for.  The whole team was very focused on today’s collaboration challenge and we all had fun on the ferry sharing ideas on how to do things in SQL Server.  I am enjoying every minute of the show and learning SQL Server tips from Buck and Dandy.  Tim DiMarco also gave us some useful tips when it comes to presenting in front of many people.  Stacy, Mike, and Chris had some very good ideas to solve the challenge and they could have easily won the challenge and although I won the individual challenge I know that we did it as a team and in my mind we all won today.

  • The fourth challenge is live! Watch it here: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/certification/bethenext.aspx Read on to find out more about the technical side of the challenge, and how you can enter to win free books and be entered to win a new laptop!

    This week I was joined this week by Dandy Weyn, aka “The Belgian” Sr. Technical Product Marketing Manager here at Microsoft. We were fortunate to have him along on this ride… this challenge was full of drama. And it shouldn’t have been – read on to find out more…

    Challenge Background

    I was actually afraid of the simplicity of this challenge. Here’s the text of what we gave the contestants:


    We got an e-mail from a developer today. We need you to solve it - but this time, as a group. It reads:

    "I'm using SQL Azure Data Sync to keep two tables in sync. I have to sync only one table, and the table on SQL Azure has a trigger, but the table on my local SQL Server doesn't have this trigger (because apart from the shared one table, the two databases have nothing in common).

    When I try to sync it fails with this error:


    Sync failed with the exception "GetStatus failed with exception:

    Sync worker failed, checked by GetStatus method.

    Failure details:

    An unexpected error occurred when applying batch file C:\Resources\directory\61e9d741c80a47b4ae195f8.NTierSyncServiceWorkerRole.LS1\DSS_syncjobmxdkfaopaery\a0e8b11a-a08.batch.

    See the inner exception for more details.

    Inner exception:

    Failed to execute the command 'BulkInsertCommand' for table 'dbo.tblUser';

    the transaction was rolled back. Ensure that the command syntax is correct.

    Inner exception:

    SqlException Error Code: -2146232060 - SqlError Number:512,

    Message: Subquery returned more than 1 value.

    This is not permitted when the subquery follows =, !=, <, <= , >, >=

    or when the subquery is used as an expression.

    SqlError Number:3621,

    Message: The statement has been terminated.

    For more information, provide tracing id ‘bb8e3787-27c1-4b7e-9a26-6db2ff6724d3’ to customer support.


    When I disable my trigger, the sync works! 

    My trigger:

        CREATE TRIGGER [dbo].[UpdateUsersTable]

        ON [dbo].[tblUser]


         INSERT INTO  [dbo].[Users] ([userID], [PartnerOrganizationId])

        VALUES ((select [userID] from inserted), (select [country] from inserted))


    What do you think is happening?"

    Did you see it? (Post the answer as a comment if you think you do – and post the fix as well) Actually, the answer is right there in the question. But the twist was this – we had the contestants work on the challenge as a team. Interesting things happen when more than one person works on a problem….

    Challenge Recap

    The contestants have “day jobs” where they have real-live responsibilities. One of the contestants had a production issue to take care of and had worked late into the evening and even the morning of this challenge – and came out to the challenge as well. This is a really talented, dedicated group of folks. I’ve heard from lots of you who have told me “I can’t imagine the stress of an interview like this, with cameras rolling and multiple people picking apart my solution.” I agree – I designed these challenges, and I can tell you that they aren’t easy. They may not look to have rhyme or reason at first, but I hope in these explanations you find that we really thought them through to learn more about the candidates.

    And it’s not just a technical challenge – we have a Human Resources judge (Tim) who’s been watching carefully to see how the contestants interacted. In the last challenge the contestants worked as a team even when we didn’t ask them to – which was a great breakthrough for them. Although they ended up designing their solutions individually, they were informed by the work they did as a group prior.

    Today was different. We asked the team to work on the challenge together. I didn’t tell them what that meant – and they just jumped right in (mistake number 1). They should have decided who would do what, and how. Who knew the answer. Who *thought* they knew the answer. Who wasn’t sure at all. And….who was the best presenter. They had been presenting individually until now…they didn’t consider who would speak for the group (mistake number 2). The best presenter had won the previous challenge – but groupthink got in the way. More on that in a moment.

    My fear was that the answer to this puzzle was so obvious it would be solved in seconds. In fact, we had another challenge ready for them to work on so we wouldn’t have a boring challenge!

    But that concern wasn’t necessary. Although it isn’t shown in the clip, one of the contestants got the answer in under 30 seconds. But the group didn’t listen (mistake 3) and just kept going in different directions, even thinking that SQL Azure doesn’t support Triggers (it does, just fine).  The person with the right answer kept trying to get his point across – a little – but when he couldn’t make headway, he joined in the group and allowed his answer to be ignored (mistake 4).

    Time ran out. No answer was clear. I asked for a leader to speak for the group (who hadn’t even decided a single answer – mistake 5) and the team used – get ready for it – “Rock, Paper Scissors” to decide! Big number 6! Bad Team! Bad! :)

    And then they got the wrong answer (did you find the right answer yet?), presented it poorly, and didn’t even agree in the end on the solution. Fail, fail, fail. The other judges and I were NOT happy. Did that come through on the video? :)

    Working in groups is a part of life here at Microsoft, and it's very important to me. You have to be able to do things on your own, of course, but the products and solutions we have span multiple versions, countries, laws, regulations, industries and so on. We need teams to make sure we do these things right. You have to be able to negotiate an idea – never attacking a person, but always attacking the logic of a decision.


    In the end, we failed the entire team. There was no winner, since they got it wrong, debated it wrong and presented it wrong. We did award a technical winner to one contestant, since he got the right answer, but I faulted him still for not being able to get his ideas across.

    In life, and especially here at Microsoft, you run into people in groups who may not want to hear your answer. But if you’re right – and you *know* you’re right – you have to find a way. Argue, be nice, show, tell, dance, do something. You’ve got to be able to get yourself heard – in fact, the more convinced you are that you are right, the harder you have to try. Our customers deserve it.

    Your Challenge and Last Week’s Winners

    Agree? Disagree? It’s your turn to have a say. Design a challenge that has a group of people create a solution for something. Don’t make it too vague, and don’t make it too easy – after all, we want to see the group form together, come up with ideas, and pick a winner. Describe how your challenge would do that. Describe possible stress points, and remember, there doesn’t have to be a single “right” answer like we had in this challenge. We had only 30 minutes for them, so we had to give them a way to “win” in that time.

    Last week’s winners: Joseph Hagan, Martin Cox and Ryan Roper - Congratulations! Just one more submission, and you - along with anyone else that submits - are well on your way to that laptop…

  • You may know him as Dandy Weyn, or ‘The Belgian’, or as @ilikesql. Or perhaps as a Sr. Technical Product Marketing Manager for SQL Product Marketing and that he writes the blog, I Like SQL. For any of you who have attended TechED or PASS Summit, he’s the guy behind the content for those events.

    But did you know that…

    • Dandy has trained over 20,000 people on SQL Server in person?
    • He owns Master certification on SQL Server?
    • He can install SQL Server faster than he can make a cup of coffee?

    Dandy has somewhat of a love/hate relationship with coffee. His inner techie was initially unleashed when an IT guy spilled coffee on the backup tape after formatting the wrong hard disk. Enter ‘The Belgian’, who was able save the corporate data using some pc tools he had sitting on his 386 desktop at home.

    This is the guy contestants need to impress on Episode #4 of Be the Next as he’s this week’s guest judge!  Would you be nervous? (Did we mention this episode takes place on a ferry?)


  •  This is what I call a “Woulda, shoulda, coulda.”  I was close, so very, very close!  I woulda used the colored markers if there were a couple of more colors.  I shoulda not have mentioned my solution was in production somewhere.  Yes, I know one cannot use solutions like cookie cutters.  My proposed solution contained the changes I felt were necessary to fit the situation.  I coulda won if I had stated that.   Woulda, shoulda, coulda…

    Note to self: color = good, no color = bad.  If there aren’t enough colors, use them anyway. 

    I must remember to point out the changes made in a solution to customize it to the situation or else appropriateness will be suspect.  Got it.  I will not make that mistake again.

    I truly am glad Chris won today.  Don’t get me wrong, I wish I would have won, but since I didn’t, I’m glad it was Chris.  He is a really sharp guy and he deserved it.  He just better not win another one…just kidding! (no I’m not) 

  • This challenge was fun to do and I focused on learning from previous challenges to do better each time.  My strategy was to show my knowledge of BI and this challenge was perfect for it.  I really thought I had a good plan because I expanded on the different phases of a data warehouse implementation.  One of my strengths is being detail oriented and I quickly expanded on the different phases of a BI solution but unfortunately the judges were not looking at the detail level and instead the focus was on the higher level design.  Chris’ solution included a nice flow of the data and the technologies used and he did a great job using visuals that were easy to read and follow.  He deserved to win the challenge and is someone who people can learn from when it comes to presentation and knowledge about this subject.

                    Stacy and Mike were also very close and we all were happy to see Chris win because he is a great person and SQL Server enthusiast.  We decided to take a break and go get some coffee and I took a picture of him after his big win:

  • Phew!  This week’s challenge went well…I didn’t win, but I also didn’t make any glaring mistakes.  Congratulations to Chris for the win!  He got a sweet prize which I’m totally jealous about – a new Xbox with Kinect.

    The challenge itself was really fun but hard.  There were actually 2 components involved…1) They wanted to see the 4 of us contestants collaborate in a brainstorming session, and 2) Come up with a high level solution diagram for a fairly complicated ETL/BI problem.   I’ve had experience with working on ETL solutions, but not at the design/overview level.  I really want the folks from my job at QSP to look over the challenge when they post it.  I think they’ll get a kick out of it.

    I was a little frustrated with myself today though…once we started brainstorming I started to diagram out all of the components of the challenge out on paper but I should have been working on the giant whiteboard they provided us.  Stacy did that though thankfully and the 4 of us were able to hammer out the details of the challenge together.  If she hadn’t I don’t think any of our presentations would have been as successful.

    One thing I’m very thankful for is that all of us contestants have a  great group chemistry.  No one is acting like they have a big ego or causing difficulties amongst us.  It makes dealing with this whole situation a lot better.  Last night (after the challenge which shall not be named) we went out to grab groceries for a huge steak dinner we all cooked up back at the house.

    Tonight we got tickets to go see a Seattle Sounders game which was great!  The crowd was insane…there was an entire section of the crowd which was going nuts the entire game, like you see at European soccer games.  I snapped a pic of the section...you can tell by all the giant flags they waved about.


    Our next challenge involves something on the Seattle ferry…I’m not entirely sure what to expect but I imagine it will be harder than today…seems to be the trend.

    Watch my personal video response to this challenge  -


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