As I re-read the original Looking Back post I realized I didn’t include anything about the fear part – stepping away from an established career focus to do something else for a while. I’ve been a SQL guy for a long time, I started using SQL Server in 1998 and I was working with data for a while before that. It’s hard to think about giving that up, about losing momentum, falling behind, etc, etc.
At the time a year seemed like a lot, but not out of the realm of reason, and in a lot of ways I looked at it and treated it as a working sabbatical. Then came the decision to make that break closer to two years. That wasn’t quite as worrisome, but it was still cause for thought. How long can you leave a field/technology before it becomes untenable to return, or at least difficult to return at the same level/salary?
I made a deliberate decision to not be finding reasons to use SQL Server during the day – that would have been going back to the comfort zone. It did force me to use Access from time to time to crunch some data to help me make some decisions (and that only reinforced my love/hate relationship with Access). I also made the deliberate decision to stay engaged, though at reduced levels, with my network. I went to some events,went to the Summit,talked to people in the SQL world.
Today I’d say I’m rusty, but not lost. I’ve spent little time with SQL 2012 so I’m behind on using new features, but I think when it’s time to return it will be a few weeks to grind off the rust. It reminds me that SQL Server, even though it has changed a lot, has in a lot of ways changed incrementally. The visual change from Enterprise Manager to SSMS was jarring, but a DBA today using SQL 2000 (and plenty are) could easily make the leap forward. Of course, that assumes doing data to day DBA/data work, which I’m not. That still leaves me wondering what is the longest you can go before you cannot return? Or is that true? Or how long can you maintain dual skill sets, dual networks, etc?
That fear of falling behind certainly bothered me, and I took some time to think on it before deciding. Today I think that kind of change bothers me less – a result of experience no doubt.
The lessons here are not simple. It’s not as easy as saying never fear change, or don’t worry about falling behind. Changing jobs, taking risks, there is no right answer, no formula, or it wouldn’t be a risk. I guess I would tell you, though, that if you get a chance to step away for a year take it. Grow and see what happens. Maybe you’ll return rusty and eager, maybe you’ll take a different path – just have to see. If you think of it as a working sabbatical (oxymoron?) it makes a lot more sense.
Not sure I explained that well, but I’m going to post as is – writing about fear isn’t the easiest thing for me.