Whiners and Whingers Get Wedgies
There I was, just a couple weeks back, whining that I wasn’t getting tagged by friends when a new meme comes out. Sure enough, when my friend, Paul Randal (blog | twitter), starts a new meme with me as one of the first handful of people tagged, it’s taken me a full ten days to get a response out the door. Yes – I deserve a wedgie.
In Paul’s initial post, I saw that he’d asked for three events that were pivotal in why I’m where I am today. To be honest, I’ve been noodling over my response ever since Paul first tagged me. So, in a sense, I’ve been writing this blog post for about twelve days now. Not that I’m off the hook or anything.
What Didn’t Make the List
Still, I have to admit it’s taken me some time to get to a point where I could write about the events that have brought me where I am today. Because, when I give a truly honest accounting of some of these major life changing events and pivotal decisions in my life, I’m not always proud of what I see. Like item #4 on my list of life-changing decisions. Don’t you DARE ask about #4. I mean it. If you do, there will be blood (see picture below)…
There are also a couple other non-events that also had a huge impact on my life’s direction. By non-event, I mean these things didn’t have a specific date and time. But they were enormously influential about how I handled opportunities or even helped make opportunities happen. First, I’d be remiss not to mention the impact that my personal faith has had on my life. Countless decisions were steered by that faith. Second, my upbringing naturally had a huge impact on shaping my personality, preferences, fears, and joys. (My mother is Italian, so I can honestly say that Parmesan cheese is one of life’s greatest joys.) Finally, my immediate family -marrying very young and having a rather large family- also meant I made a lot of decisions in certain ways, such as opting not to move for a better job so that the kids could have greater stability. Things would be very different if I’d put my own desire and ambitions ahead of them. With that said, let’s hit that top 3 list.
Pivotal, life-changing events shouldn’t come knocking on your door every day. In my case, one of the first and most pivotal events for me happened about 3/4 of the way through my senior year in high school, just a few months before graduation. Like my brother from another mother, Buck Woody (blog | twitter), money was a huge issue in my household. (I’ll save you the sob story. But trust me, there were many tears.) So whatever college and career I chose had to provide the most upward mobility as quickly as was humanly possible within the boundaries of the law (that meant no drug dealing). This is where my analytical side kicked in. Looking over my college scholarships, I examined the undergraduate catalogs at the various universities in one hand and the salary survey about their respective careers in the other.
I came up with a two-column list. The first column contained college majors that I would really enjoy career-wise, though not necessarily big money careers. Column #1 contained entries like teaching, writing, farming, and being a stoner. Notice how entries in column #1 were all among the most noble of professions and yet virtually guaranteed a life of penury? Yeah, I noticed that too. The second column contained college majors that I could tolerate, but had much better money prospects. Column #2 contained entries for engineering, medicine, law, becoming Hugh Hefner’s protege, and … computers.
I’d lived with computer since before I could read or write. My father was an analog computer engineer and, I still remember with great clarity, the desk-sized analog computer we had in our house in the 1970’s. It had 4K of memory, used punch cards, created a flurry of discarded chads when it would write data out to a punch card. My dad taught me about binary, octal, and hexadecimal, and the joys of vacuum tube computing. Unfortunately, he did not teach me how to throw or catch any sort of ball, which had dramatic repercussions throughout my school year (refer to wedgie picture above) – but I digress. Suffice it to say that by the time college rolled around, I was already well versed in 8-bit computing (I used Kaypro’s for you Osbourne and Sinclair snobs out there) and could envision that being a good career.
Right about the same time I was choosing a future career, just before I graduated from high school, IBM launched an exciting new business computer called the IBM PC. It was a hugely successful product with the ultimate killer application – a spreadsheet. (The spreadsheet was an amazing innovation in its day. VisiCalc was the one I remembered being all the rage at the time.) These personal computers were also hugely expensive – a nicely loaded IBM PC or XT could routinely cost $5,000 and that’s in 1983 dollars, friends. So that’s when I started a part-time business, which I maintained all through college and a short while after, building and selling IBM PC clones. I learned a lot from that experience – how to pay taxes like a responsible business owner, a lot about salesmanship, quite a bit about business accounting, business law, and the goodness of being an entrepreneur. One surprisingly good outcome from all of this was that I didn’t have to sell out my love of writing and teaching. That’s probably 40% of what I do today, just with computers.
Another major turning point in my professional life occurred in the early 1990’s. By that time, I’d held a couple professional jobs of the programmer/analyst variety working with Unix-based CAD/CAM tools, dBase, Fortran, and very early versions of Oracle. While my skill in these technologies was growing by leaps and bounds, this particular event isn’t about technology. You see, my first three professional jobs (outside of my own little business) all held in common the fact that I worked for terrible bosses. (I wonder if it’s any coincidence that these bosses, all male, were from the John Wayne school of management?) I then had the opportunity to move from those smaller businesses to a fairly large company called Nichols Research Corporation, now a part of Computer Sciences Corporation. I gleefully clapped my hands because my title was “Research Scientist” and, get this, I was actually working on NASA and US Army missile projects. I was literally a rocket scientist! However, the thing that truly amazed me about this new work environment was that my bosses were women. Great women. Women (like Liz Kennedy, Pat Burns, and Bev Meeler) who were collaborative, consensus-driven, and encouraging. They made me wonder why my male bosses never figured out that cussing an employee for 15 minutes at a time might not be the best way to motivate staff. These excellent business leaders taught me my first real world lessons in the difference between the autocratic style of management versus the coaching style of management. It was a lesson that I carried with me the rest of my life and try to instill in others whenever I get the chance. (Blatant Plug – Attend my top-rated professional development sessions at the next PASS Summit and read my professional development column in the PASS Community Connector e-newsletter!)
The number one event that changed the course of my life came up quite accidentally. I’d set my sights on earning a Master’s degree and, as the truly lazy know, you can complete a Master’s degree two semesters early by writing a thesis rather than sticking strictly with classes. Laziness (or perhaps it’s creativity?) raised it’s head once again with this thought “Why not write my thesis as a dual-purpose document? One that will earn the advanced degree and be published as a book?” That’s when I saw a rather small advertisement in the back of one of my favorite computer magazines of the day, a now defunct mainframe-oriented publication called Datamation, calling for authors for a new IT series they were starting. I pitched my master’s thesis and was shocked that I was accepted. I find it funny that I finished the book, Oracle’s Cooperative Development Environment, but never finished the Master’s degree. That book helped me land a new job in Nashville, TN at a prestigious Big 3 accounting firm, which helped me get another book deal with O’Reilly & Associates, which earned me a seat as a founding board member of the Professional Association for SQL Server, which helped me land my current, wonderful job at Quest Software. And which will eventually earn me a place in history for being the first database expert to dance on the bar at Coyote Ugly.
What Others Are Saying
Let me be honest with you. I really enjoyed this meme. And it’s one of the things that I’ve really enjoyed seeing happen with the SQL Server community in the last year or so – people opening up and sharing. This is what community is all about. One hundred years ago, I would’ve been thrilled to live in a town with as many supportive and encouraging friends who were just down the street from me. But thanks to the technology we work with and the willingness of all of these people, it’s almost like a small, friendly (Southern!) town all over again. I intend to read more in the meme thread, but here are just a few others that I’ve already read and enjoyed:
- Brent Ozar (blog | twitter): I loved BBS’es too, amigo!
- Kim Tripp (blog | twitter): She taught the first SQL Server class I ever attended!
- Jorge Segarra (blog | twitter): He’s Mr Popular, being tagged 4 times. But who doesn’t love chicken, I ask?
- Scott Gleason (blog | twitter): Does Mr. Gleason watch Glee?
- Donabel Santos (blog | twitter): She’s a ninja, but a very nice one who’s not likely to cut your arms off.
- Andy Leonard (blog | twitter): We’ve got to Mrs Leonard and Mrs Segarra to cook a big ol’ dinner for us. Then we can all die happy.
- Jeremiah Peschka (blog | twitter): You’d think it was a movie based on real events, with a little extra drama added in, but it was ALL real.
There are so very many other good ones that I could go on for several more paragraphs. The reason I mention them, though, is that I somehow feel closer to all of these people. And at the end of the day, our lives are really and truly about the people we have touched and the friendships we have made. Everything else stands for naught.
So on the off chance that others have not yet been tagged, I’d like to loop in these folks from far-afield: Simon Sabin (UK), Henk Van Der Valk (Netherlands), Edwin Sarmiento (Philippines), and Charlie Hanania (Switzerland).