Making a Career Change of My Own


Making a Career Change of My Own

I commented about a month ago on the high profile career changes that seemed to be going on (see The Trade Deadline Must be Drawing Near). Back then, I had no plans to make a move of my own, but I was keeping my ears open for good opportunities that would allow me to flex my SQL muscles as a newly appointed SQL Master (kind of like when a new Kung Fu master goes to the local bar to pick a fight). I was hopeful, but not expectant, that the change wouldn't require too much change.

Where am I today?

My current position is as an Operations Engineer on an operations team for the MSFT application known internally as CAP (Customer Assistance Portal). CAP is the Incident Management System used by support personnel worldwide who support any Microsoft consumer product. Basically if you can buy it in a box, off a shelf, or subscribe to it, we're the back-end and client application that the support staff are using. The CAP Operations team is a mini-team with the larger Operations team of PQO Operations. PQO (Product Quality & Online) is part of CSS (Customer Service & Support). Just about every DBA has heard of CSS but few realize that CSS is actually a very big organization that encompasses more than just PSS.

The full breadth of what PQO does is very diverse, but one of the biggest parts of that is that we mange Microsoft's online support presence. That includes things like XBox Live's support portals, the MVP website,, Visual KB, Bemis, CAP, etc. All in all, CAP Operations is a small team in comparison to all of PQO Operations. CAP Ops consists of 6 operations engineers with 3 focused on the DBA role and 3 focused on the front-end side. We actually have 3 more operations engineers who are focused on the reporting warehouse side, but we're splitting that group out from the CAP team and combining our BI applications (5 of them) into a single grouping. Even though they are still an integral part of our team, I'm not including them in the count.

Most of the applications we manage in PQO Operations have a small footprint and only have a single operations engineer assigned to them. Only a handful of us on the team are experienced DBA's and most of us are assigned to SQL heavy applications with dedicated teams. When I joined PQO Operations, there was definitely a need for providing DBA mentoring and assistance to those applications. We decided to form a virtual team of strong, experienced DBA's who are passionate about SQL Server and driving the SQL strategy for the whole team. We would basically be taking this on as extra responsibilities above and beyond our regular duties. Thus the PQO Ops SQL V-Team was born. I serve as the technical lead for the team.

Here are a few of the things we managed to accomplish in our first year:

  1. Create a standardized, robust backup process that could be deployed to a SQL Server by simply running a single script with no configuration required.
    1. The process is robust enough that it can be used for just about any situation by simply modify optional parameters of the process.
    2. It has built-in error handling for managing most errors that may occur including raising alerts and sending emails to notify of errors.
    3. It automatically takes advantage of compression for large databases using SQL LiteSpeed or SQL Server native compression.
  2. Ensure that every SQL Server in PQO Operations had the standardized backup solution in place unless there was a specific recovery plan in place that could not be met by the standardized backups.
  3. Determined which applications had high availability needs and worked with the applications' operations engineers to plan and implement a high availability strategy.
  4. Consulted with the engineering teams for code reviews and design strategy.
  5. Provided individual training with the operations engineers on how to implement and manage things like replication, mirroring, clustering, log shipping, server migrations, etc.
  6. Provided group training sessions on in-depth SQL Server topics.
  7. Published a standards and best practices document for SQL Server.
  8. Created a standardized SCOM management pack with the proper thresholds and alerting pre-configured along with making sure that SCOM is monitoring only what needs to be monitored along with a published standards document on monitoring SQL Server with SCOM. 
  9. Published a production SQL Server build-out standards document for our infrastructure team to use for production roll-outs.
  10. Respond to SQL Server outages or troubleshoot performance issues.
  11. Review architectural needs on new on boarding applications.
  12. And more ...

Where am I going?

Sorry, I got off on a tangent there. I do that sometimes. You're not interested in my current job. You want to know about the new one.

I said that I hoped the change wouldn't require too much change, and that's what I got. It became apparent over the course of the past year, that there simply was too much work for a small V-Team to accomplish and needs weren't being addressed because there was no dedicated resource on the SQL V-Team. We had been pushing to get a dedicated resource on the V-Team, someone that could be accountable to meeting an SLA for responding to requests and driving the strategy and projects of the team. Someone who's not too busy with his own application to engage with the engineering teams and follow up with the operations team to ensure that the standards and best practices are being followed. Unfortunately, this meant that we needed to add another full-time person at a time when budgets are being downsized. Our team members all wanted it. Our leads and director of operations wanted it, but it just wasn't fiscally possible.

This week, I learned that our director had decided to go out on a limb and create the new position anyway. It required a lot of shuffling around of positions to make sure everything is covered, but in the end, it is looking to be a very positive move for a lot of people. Some very skilled operations engineers are getting to take on more responsibility which will make their work more visible and help further their career goals.

Back to me, this means anew position for me in my current org. I will transition off of CAP duties over the next couple of months and take on the full time role of SQL V-Team technical lead. My focus will be 100% on providing DBA services and mentoring to the operations team and driving the SQL strategy and architecture for the team.

Among my new commitments will be providing value to Microsoft outside of my own organization. My management team believes that my extracurricular activities provide benefit to Microsoft, and this will be part of my actual duties now. Not sure what my new title will be, but for now we are calling it DBA/Architect/Evangelist.

I have to say that I love working for an organization that supports me with my career goals and who believes that I add value not just to the team, but to the whole company.