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Birds of a Feather

By Hakim Ali,

Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is out of the office.

Like me, I'm sure most of you have participated in conferences and gatherings, either in-person or virtual, on technical and non-technical topics ranging from SQL Server to software development to fan clubs of sports teams to school PTA groups. And like me, I'm sure most of you have probably had this observation: there is something different about the people that participate in SQL Server gatherings. There is a certain sense of camaraderie that is not often found in other groups. Members tend to get along quite easily, there are very strong friendships, and people often go out of their way to help others. A few years ago at SQL Summit, I heard Buck Woody mention that members of other groups at Microsoft had observed (with a hint of envy) that SQL Server user groups had a stronger sense of community than those others. We even have a term for this community: #SQLFamily.

So I was wondering: what is it about this group of people that creates this sense of family? Is this just a random stroke of luck? Or is there something else at play here? I think it is the latter: there is something here that not only attracts these people to databases and to SQL Server, but also to each other in a communal sense. In my humble opinion, it is a personality trait: that we tend to want things to make sense. Perhaps slightly more so than the general populace. Perhaps to the extent that we are inclined to make things make sense when they otherwise wouldn't. This probably leads to the desire for turning chaos into organization, for taking random pieces of text and numbers and blobs and putting them into neat tables. For normalizing data. For setting things right, whether technical or otherwise. For helping out others when they are struggling with a learning or organizing issue. Perhaps more than just the sense of humanity and giving back, it is the innate desire to want others to also make sense of chaos (and to do it the right way).

If this is true, then I'm going to go out on a limb and make a couple of bold hypotheses for our lot. One: we tend to be slightly OCD. Now before you instantly deny having this trait, consider if you have ever done any of the following: format somebody else's code before working on it; check in a code change just for formatting; line up a database/ER diagram so all the connections are nice and straight; name files and folders a certain way so they are properly ordered; rearrange items (clothes/shoes/pantry) so they are ordered a certain way; be very particular about your neat desk/car. This tendency probably results from wanting things to make sense, for wanting there to be order.

Another surprising hypothesis: we tend to lean the same way politically. I say this based on research that indicates that people who lean in one direction are driven more by a sense of moral values, loyalty and authority, while people who lean the other way are driven more by equality, justice and fairness. One of these leanings is more aligned with wanting things to make sense than the other. I'll let you figure out which one. This idea seems to be supported by a few members of the SQLFamily who are outwardly clear where they stand politically via their writings/blogs/social media. Further, in my admittedly limited participation in political conversations, I have yet to come across a database guy/gal who leans the other way.

These facts individually may not count for much, but taken together they seem to suggest a pattern. This does not mean that we all have the same political inclination, but rather that if the general population is closer to 50:50 in a 2-way race, we are very likely more skewed in one direction.

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