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Putting Priorities into Practice

 Yesterday I posted a review on the book Choosing to Cheat. I had begun putting some of the principles into practice long before I read the book, about 2 years ago, in fact.

Architect - A Popular Title Nowadays

In December 2001, I switched from being a senior SQL Server DBA to a brand new position at my organization, which was titled Enterprise Systems Architect. Over time that title evolved to be just Systems Architect in keeping with industry branding. Basically my role was an infrastructure and security architect. My first big project was our Active Directory implementation. And then I was responsible for keeping it healthy. Within a short period of time I was dealing with all areas of infrastructure, including LAN and WAN networking (from a server perspective) and especially with regards to servers and deployment of services for our multitude of customers. As part of these duties, and in conjuction with our AD project we did a lot of cutting edge stuff. For instance, our AD test environment was deployed on VMware GSX Server, before there ever was an ESX Server or vSphere. We put blade servers into use. It was a fun, but demanding job. Then you put all the security duties on top of that. There was a huge demand on my time. Working late 3 or 4 nights a week and working multiple Saturdays in a row wasn't unusual. That demand took away from family and it took away from ministry. Still, I was torn because I love dealing with infrastructure architecture. I still help out with the guys, like this past week when I took a look at a site scheme in AD to try and better balance access to the domain controllers. But I'm not involved as I once was. I'm back as a senior SQL Server DBA now. And that's where the bulk of my duties lie.

Security - One of Those Fastest Growing Job Areas

I had the opportunity to transition to a pure security role. It would mean a lessening of my workload, but it also meant a lot of Saturday work. My oldest son wanted to get back into soccer and the league we were looking at played Saturday games. Then there are all the opportunities lost for family vacations, for day trips, etc. And while a flexible work schedule lets you get a day back during the regular work week, when you start looking at how many things happen for families only on Saturday, it would have meant missing those opportunities with my family. I really, really like security. And I like being a security professional. It's a constant challenge. There's always something new and exciting going on. New exploits. New attack vectors. New defenses. I'm still involved in security, I still keep up at a high level, but nowhere close to the level I once was managing. I've unsubscribed from many of my security lists, for instance, where it wasn't unusual for me to process literally hundreds of emails and blog posts a day looking for the nuggets. Even now, like with the recent ASP.NET disclosure, I'm tempted to go back into deep diving in security.

Taking a Step "Back"

So January 2009 I returned to being "just" a senior SQL Server DBA. I gave up my enterprise security and directory services privileges and went back to just those I get being a development DBA. A lot of folks wondered whether or not I could handle the reduced authority. From an industry perspective it is considered a step back and some wondered if I could be satisfied being "just" a DBA. I keep putting just in quotes because DBAs are still busy folks. But now I'm not on call 24/7. I don't get many phone calls at 3 AM about some process that is hung or some server that won't come back up. I'm not being asked to come into the office on Saturday to deal with a web site defacement because of a weakness in a hosting provider. I'm not working every Thursday night and almost every Saturday. I have more time to spend with my wife and be a part of my children's lives growing up.

Do I miss my old position? Most days I do. I jokingly respond to my former server compatriots whenever the newest challenge comes their way that "I'm glad I'm a development DBA." But I do miss being in the trenches. I do miss the day-to-day problem solving. I do miss the comraderie and teamwork required to do IT infrastructure well. I do miss the sheer amount of information I had to process and keep up with to do my job on the security side. But I can't have everything. I could have my old job or I could have a family I will enjoy growing old with. Put in that perspective, when I start feeling nostalgic, when I start doing that "I wish" thing, I remember how good it is to be able to help coach my son in soccer, show my boys how to fold an origami frog, or watch my little girl practice the initial ballet fundamentals I remember doing when I took ballet as a kid for a year.

Am I where I should be? No. I'm still struggling with how to fit seminary into my schedule. So far, it hasn't fit. I've signed up for, paid for, and subsequently withdrawn from two courses on-line (History of Christianity I and Greek I).  Some weeks are crazy and it takes a toll on me, like last week, when I was too physically ill to go to SQL Saturday #46 - Raleigh. And my health needs a lot of work. It has to become my #1 priority. I've always struggled with sinuses and allergies. Even when I was a kid and playing baseball and soccer regularly and running cross country, I remember being felled by them. But they affected me a whole lot less when I was in great shape. So that's really what needs to happen next. I need to get in great shape again. And I still need to figure out how to do at least a monthly date night with my bride. We've been on a few dates since I switched back to being a SQL Server DBA, but not enough. We need more time for just the two of us. And that means looking at our priorities. And making hard choices. So this is still a work in progress. It always will be. But to be bluntly honest, I am more content, less stressed, and more fulfilled than I was this time two years ago. That tells me I'm on the right track. So I'll keep re-assessing my priorities and making adjustments. That's life.


K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.


Posted by Jack Corbett on 21 September 2010

Very nice post, that really outlines a common problem.  In technology we also need to be careful to "BE" home when we are home, meaning turn off the tech and be with the kids.  

The ability to make things work with family is one of the great things about being with NTM.  The organization understands these kinds of issues.

Posted by AndyG on 21 September 2010

Everyone I know in IT has this problem (or a very similar one) - Jack's comment rings true as well about turning off the tech at home - 24/7 on-call makes it especially hard to be fully present sometimes.

Great post!

Posted by Steve Jones on 21 September 2010

Good luck finding the balance. I am struggling as well, and it is a challenge to find time with a family and career.

Congrats on stepping back a bit and adjusting priorities in a way that seem to better fit you.

Posted by Mark (AjarnMark) Caldwell on 22 September 2010

Well said and well done, Brian!  This is particularly pertinent to me where I now have two young kids that want my attention and I want to be with them, and my boss has explicitly made it clear that "at my level" he expects at least 45, and better 50, hours per week of productivity from me.  Oh, and did I mention that 60-90 minute commute each way, depending on traffic?  It usually means I'm up doing work from home after everyone else has gone to bed, but I'm looking for a better solution.

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