Monday - Interview with a Wiki Ninja
Tuesday - TNWiki Article Spotlight
Wednesday - Wiki Life
Thursday - Council Spotlight
Friday - International Update
Saturday - Top Contributors of the Week
Sunday - Surprise
Good day, everybody!
Today I want to introduce Tim Pacl - many times SQL Server BI and Power BI category TechNet Guru Winner.
Let's start the interview, shall we?
Who are you, where are you, and what do you do? What are your specialty technologies?
I am a pretty average guy living near Austin, Texas. I am a college drop-out who spent nearly 20 years in the United States Navy as an electrician and nuclear propulsion plant operator aboard submarines, retiring in 1996. I started my career in the computer industry doing tech support for Dell in 1998. I left in 2006 for a short period as a developer for Razorfish. Now I am now back at Dell as a TFS Architect. My specialties are C#, Team Foundation Server, and SQL Server Reporting Services. If anyone still has an old instance of Microsoft CMS Server 2002 running, I can do that too.
What is TechNet Wiki for? Who is it for?
It is for sharing knowledge about Microsoft technologies, of course. Sharing implies both those that are relaying information, the authors, and those that are consuming it. In some cases, they are one and the same. So TechNet Wiki is for anyone with, or in need of, knowledge about Microsoft products and technologies. Let’s face it, with the popularity of Microsoft products worldwide, especially Windows, that makes this wiki a valuable tool for most everyone.
What do you do with TechNet Wiki, and how does that fit into the rest of your job?
I am like many, both an author and consumer of TechNet Wiki. I started as a consumer of information both in TechNet Wiki and MSDN forums. I began “authoring” by answering forum posts first. I ventured into authoring in the Wiki when I saw a post in the “SQL Server Reporting Services, Power View” forum for the TechNet Guru competition. That is when I wrote my first articles based on some of the forum posts I had answered. In my job as a TFS Administrator, I maintain an internal Team Foundation Server wiki for my customers. I also started an internal blog for those that were engaged in TFS report writing to share my lessons learned. I am moving more and more of this private content into TechNet Wiki and simply linking to it from my internal site. Doing this will allow me to leverage the broader community’s knowledge within my organization.
What is it about TechNet Wiki that interests you?
It is the community. TechNet Wiki would be far less valuable if it were only written by Microsoft employees. It might even be indistinguishable from MSDN Library. Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly great value in the authoritative information presented by the experts at Microsoft that is available in MSDN Library but the real value in TechNet Wiki is the diversity of authors and therefore the diversity of their experiences reflected in the many articles. It is not uncommon for people to adapt a Microsoft product to a task its creators had not considered. These people experience interesting problems whose solutions may be adapted to even more scenarios. This is what you find in the extensive array of articles in TechNet Wiki. That is something that is only available in this medium.
What are your favorite Wiki articles you’ve contributed?
SSRS: Converting Between Tablix Controls is probably my favorite. This topic is one of the epiphanies that has fueled my interest in SSRS. It was such a great “aha!” moment when it clicked that they were all the same underlying control. Runners up include SSRS: Chaining Parameters and Using Custom Code in SSRS Reports for Advanced String Operations. Having come from a background as a developer I appreciate the power of custom code. The advanced string operations article is a custom code entry point for report developers. There is so much more that can be done with code in reports. Chaining parameters explores what I consider the hidden power of report parameters. This is just one of those hidden capabilities.
How did your passion for SQL Server BI develop?
I started with SSRS reports out of necessity. As a TFS Administrator, I received several requests to modify the out-of-box SSRS reports. The most common request was to exclude weekends from the Sprint Burndown report. Out of that necessity, I learned enough about SSRS and the associated technologies to make the requested changes. Others had tried but I had succeeded. That brought with it some job satisfaction. With new reporting requests coming in all of the time, I began to learn more and more about SSRS but it was a series of epiphanies that really fanned it into a passion. The first was the Rectangle control. I thought this was in essence a border control early on. When I realized it was actually a canvas… wow! When I discovered that the apparent three table like controls were actually three presentations of the same control (tablix), wow again! That understanding enabled me to quickly convert these controls on the fly and led to a deeper understanding of SSRS. Then I really started doing some interesting things with parameters. One after another “aha!” moment and as my understanding grew, my excitement over the newly learned capabilities of SSRS grew with it. Who knew you could do so much with SQL Server Reporting Services!
What could we do differently on TechNet Wiki?
One of the greatest features of a wiki is its growth through community contribution. One of the greatest shortcomings of a wiki is its growth through community contribution. The community contribution has fueled a wealth of documented innovation and information but has left it in a vast pool called “TechNet Articles”. There is little structure that would allow someone to browse to the article they need. We don’t always know the keyword(s) that best describe the information we seek so search will not always get us to it. As a community, we need to be better about linking our articles into the organizational structure that has already been provided.
Do you have any tips for new Wiki authors?
Don’t be afraid to jump right in but start your jump from the right platform to avoid a mess. There are several useful articles on authoring wiki articles that I missed when I wrote my first article. Here are three that I recommend all potential authors read before they start:
The “See Also” section in these articles will point you to dozens of other helpful articles but if you start with these three, you are more likely to make a big splash than to execute a belly flop.
I would also leave you with this thought, when you publish an article it does not mark its completion. It simply turns over ownership to the community, of which you are a part. Others may update your article with additional information or to correct obsolete information but they will never have the same stake in that article as you do. Their names will only be on it until the next revision but as long as the article exists, your name is on it as its creator. Revisit your articles now and again to keep them relevant and valuable.
I like Tim's advice to us all about keeping our articles current - this is very important.
I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I did and congratulate Tim on his great accomplishments. Let us know any additional questions you have for Tim or your comments.