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


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.