Reflections on Leaving Microsoft
Several members of my SQLFamily have made adjustments to their career path recently. Several of us got together for #SQLNomz yesterday to celebrate our job changes, though granted, we don’t generally require an excuse to get together. Yesterday (Friday, 3/30/2012, in case you’re reading this in the future) was my last day at Microsoft. I join the wonderful team at Idera Software on Monday as a Sr. Product Consultant (more on what that means in a future blog post). Likewise, it was my good friend and pre-con cohort Argenis Fernandez’s (blog|@DBArgenis) last day at Coinstar, and he is joining Microsoft Consulting Services (which sounds like a pretty cool position) on Monday.
Another friend, Dev Nambi (blog|@DevNambi), had his last day at Microsoft just a few days before mine. He wrote a great blog post on it: Retrospective: Leaving Microsoft. This blog post has inspired me to write my own retrospective blog post on leaving Microsoft (hint: you’re reading it right now).
Reflections of Microsoft
I spent a little less than 5 years of my career at Microsoft. In DBA years*, that’s at least 8 ½ years. Here are some stats for that time:
- I worked on 4 different groups
- TS&E Operations (Technical Services & Engineering)
- CAP Architecture & Performance Engineering (APE for short)
- PQO Operations (Product Quality & Online)
- Microsoft Learning Advanced Certifications team
- Worked as a DBA, a SQL developer, an Operations Engineer, and lastly as a Program Manager
- Spent 2 years a v- contractor and 3 years as an FTE
- Worked with some truly talented and dedicated people
- Became a SQL Server Certified Master
- Presented at my first SQL Saturday in October 2009 at the Microsoft Commons (pictured above)
* DBA years = the time it would take you to put in the number of actual hours worked if you did it without going over 40 hours per week. For the record, I just made this term up, and I claim copyright on it henceforth.
Reflections on Developers
We database administrators really like to poke fun at developers, and I’m just as guilty of that as anyone. But the truth is that I worked with some really great developers at Microsoft. The best engineering team I have worked with to date in or outside of Microsoft was the CAP engineering team. I worked with the CAP team as both a SQL developer and as an operations engineer. They are a highly skilled and dedicated team who work really hard to make sure they are producing efficent code in the client application, middle-tier, and in the database. Yes, you heard me right. They write efficient, performant SQL code. They have to. CAP is a highly critical application for Microsoft and performance is very important. CAP also interfaces with a lot of other internal critical applications (too many to remember them all), and if CAP is down or slow, they are all down or slow to some degree.
Some of the things that I think the CAP team does right (other than right good code):
- They have 3 development teams: New features, Sustaining (bug fixes), and Architecture & Performance
- They have several dedicated QA/Test environments including one that mirrors the production environment for performance testing
- They listen to others. I never felt like I had to fight to get things done that were right for the operations team. They truly partnered with operations and listened to our needs (like automating tasks that other dev teams would have just expected Ops to do manually)
- They were a shining example of how Agile Engineering is supposed to work. I’ve heard Agile often referred to as Fragile, but not when talking about CAP. They were fluid, consistent, and delivered with great results.
They really embodied the Microsoft philosophy of “Word hard, play hard”. It was often referred to as the “Dave and Melissa* Show” (Melissa DeLong and Dave Benton). The head program managers were equally skilled at party planning. Their events were always wacky, a lot of fun, made the team’s bonds stronger, and somehow always seemed to involve large quantities of inflatable monkeys.
* I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out that Melissa is also a very gifted chocolate maker. Her chili pepper chocolates are to die for!
Reflections on Relationships
More than anything, what I will take with me when I leave are some friendships that I am fortunate to have. There are several people that I want to call out. this is by no means the complete list, but these people have been really key for me.
- Bob Elder: I actually worked with Bob before Microsoft. I’ve worked off and on with Bob since I got my first real IT job in February 2000. Bob was the reason I went to work at Microsoft, and he really helped me figure out how to make my way through the Microsoft landscapes. Bob was sometimes my coworker, sometimes my manager, and always my friend.
- Jimmy May: You may know him as that guy that taught us all about disk partition alignment or you may know him as @AspiringGeek on Twitter. However you know Jimmy, you respect him. Jimmy is the closest thing I had to a mentor in my career. I’ve talked to Jimmy a lot about career paths, and the best thing I learned from Jimmy is to follow my passion. I’m a happier person for it, and I don’t think that I would be making the move that I am now if I hadn’t learned this valuable lesson from him.
- Meher Malakapalli: I met Meher (@MeherSQL) shortly after I joined Microsoft. I had done a big database mirroring project at my previous employer and one of my first projects at Microsoft was to consult on a mirroring project for an application there. Meher was one of the IT engineers for the application. I had many conversations with Meher after that about database mirroring. It was really Meher’s idea that I write a book on database mirroring. It probably wouldn’t have happened if he had not planted that idea in my head.
- Jonathan Foster: I remember shortly after I joined PQO Operations, Jonathan told me that he’s always wanted them to hire a DBA from whom he could really learn how to be a good DBA. I didn’t know it then, but I soon figured out that Jonathan is the one who should be teaching other people. I convinced Jonathan to co-present one of my sessions at the SQL PASS Summit last year. Jonathan talked about the soft skills of a good DBA like working with your engineering team, engineering for operations, and understanding the needs of your stakeholders. Jonathan is a great DBA, but he truly excels at the soft skills more than any other DBA I have ever worked with. I think he is under-appreciated and under-utilized at Microsoft, and I constantly urge him to look elsewhere.
- Katherine Myers: I worked with Katherine in TS&E Operations and again later in PQO Operations. There isn’t a Certified Master program for SCOM, but if there was, she would be the first person I’d think of. She did really really unique stuff with SCOM when most people were still using MOM. She built in a lot of automated processes for the application test teams to perform common tasks that they simply did not have permissions to do like getting the event logs from the machines and resetting test data. It may not sound like much from my description, but her work in this area drastically reduced the demands on the time of the entire team. Katherine left TS&E before I did when she accepted a position in XBox Live Operations. When Katherine told me later that she was leaving XBox Live operations and going to return to being a contractor, I immediately lobbied my managers to hire her. She is now revolutionizing monitoring in PQO Operations as part of their infrastructure team. I keep telling Katherine that one day I’m going to start my own company so she can come work for me and spread her SCOM expertise far and wide.