I was tagged by Steve Jones in the meme that Paul Randal started a few days ago, so I need to tell my story to keep it going. It is interesting,but not terribly surprising that many SQL Server DBAs are ex-military, and that many of them got an early start with personal computers.
I joined the Marines two weeks out of high school. I was an avid military history buff, I played Avalon Hill war games (like PanzerBlitz), and built model tanks and airplanes as a teenager, so it seemed like a natural thing to do at the time. I had actually signed up in January of my senior year in high school along with my best friend under the “delayed entry program”. We were so “gung-ho” that we were actually counting the days until we left for boot camp in San Diego! After we were in boot camp for a few weeks, I temporarily doubted the wisdom of my career choice, but I made it through just fine in the end. I had joined as a “bonus baby” in the Combat Arms Program, so I got a whopping $2500 enlistment bonus.
I ended up as an 0311 Basic Rifleman, which meant that I spent a lot of time walking and crawling around in the dirt. My company Gunnery Sergeant decided that I would make a good radio operator, so I ended up carrying an AN/PRC-77 radio (which weighed about 25lbs) on my back, along with all of my other gear. This was actually a good thing, since I was always with the Company Commander in the field and I always knew what was going on. It was also more interesting to talk about things like astronomy, military history, etc. with the C.O. than the things that most young Lance Corporals in the Marines usually talk about.
After a couple of years as a grunt, I was getting tired of walking. I had always been interested in Tanks, so I was able finagle my way to transferring in to Tanks, ending up as a Tank Commander of an M60A1 Rise/Passive tank as a Corporal. Around this time, I bought a Commodore VIC-20, and taught myself how to program with Basic. One of the first things I did was getting a clerk at Radio Shack to print out the source code from a Commodore PET game called B1 Nuclear Bomber, so I could retype it into my VIC-20, converting it to a 20 column display and adding sound effects. I also entered the “vital statistics” for about five years of Playboy Playmates of the month into a database, and wrote all sorts of calculations to figure out which one had the “best” body. Pretty geeky, I know, but learned quite a bit. I got out of the Marines as a Sergeant, and went to U.C. Irvine. I think I grew up quite a bit during my tour in the Marines, and I got my first taste of programming.
After a B.A. degree in Economics, and a M.A. in International Affairs (I wanted to be an intelligence analyst like Jack Ryan), I found myself working as a claims adjuster for the California State Automobile Association (CSAA) in San Francisco. Just as I got out of grad school, the Cold War was winding down, so there weren’t too many job opportunities for Soviet specialists. After a few years as a claims adjuster, I was pretty bored, so I decided to learn Visual Basic 3 and Microsoft Access 2.0 in my spare time. Since I was living in San Francisco, I was able to pay my own way to go to a Visual Basic Insider’s Technical Summit (VBITS), which blew my mind. While I was still a claims adjuster, I wrote several small applications with VB and Access to do things like calculate paint times for auto repairs, decode VIN numbers, keep track of claims assignments, etc. Again, I learned a lot, in a somewhat more professional setting. I also got my first Microsoft Certification back in 1995. After trying to transfer to the CSAA I.T. department, which failed since they were still 99% mainframe, I got my first real I.T. job as a VB/Access developer at Keane. I ended up working at Taco Bell’s Corporate HQ in Irvine, and I spent the next several years doing client/server development at various companies. As I became more senior, I was drawn more to data access and databases themselves, especially SQL Server. Spending a number of years as a developer was very valuable, and it got me interested in databases.
Not long after 9/11, I was working as a developer and later a performance architect at a company called Mortgage Cadence. I spent most of my time doing load testing and performance testing on their main software product which used SQL Server 2000 as a back-end. This software was a typical three-tier architecture, that was ultimately bottlenecked at the database layer as you added more and more load and additional middle-tier servers. This forced me to get pretty good at tuning SQL Server 2000, and doing query optimization. I also became very interested in server hardware, since I often had to recommend hardware for a specific load level to large customers. It also crystallized my desire to be a full-time DBA rather than a developer. After a few years of this, a friend of mine at Microsoft told me about a Database Architect opening at NewsGator, which I took advantage of in early 2006. NewsGator was a trial by fire (in a good way), since I had to deal with very challenging workloads with very low end hardware, in a 24x7x365 environment. This forced me to to learn a lot very quickly, and was instrumental in me becoming an MVP in 2007. I had been blogging, answering questions in the MSDN forums, and doing other “MVP” things, but getting nominated and awarded my MVP was a very pleasant surprise. Over the past four years, I have tried to continue contributing to the SQL Server community, by speaking at conferences, and more recently getting involved with writing books. Becoming a DBA really allowed me to excel in my career, and I have been much happier with the work. The mindset I learned as a Marine, and as a software developer have made me a much better DBA, so everything ties together.
I am going to tag Donabel Santos (SQLBelle on Twitter), Louis Davidson (drsql on Twitter) and Ross Mistry (RossMistry on Twitter).