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T-SQL Tuesday 163: Best piece of career advice


This month’s T-SQL Tuesday is hosted by Gethyn Ellis(t).

Gethyn’s Invite to us is to write about the best piece of career advice you’ve received.

One of the most valuable pieces of career advice I’ve ever received emphasizes the importance of protecting oneself and practicing discreteness in communication at work. Some people have this as a natural skill. It wasn’t so for me. I was too quickly triggered and very outspoken during my early years at work. At that time, I held a DBA position at a small company. My intelligent, kind, and diligent boss was unfairly overlooked multiple times for a well-deserved promotion.

I openly supported my boss during occasional town hall meetings where employees were allowed to ask work-related questions to the VP (my boss’s superior). I questioned why he wasn’t being promoted. I can still vividly recall the uncomfortable silence that followed, along with the peculiar looks I received from those around me. The VP didn’t provide an answer to my question, only responding with an uncomfortable stare. After the meeting, most people seemed wary of me and avoided conversation. A thoughtful colleague stopped me in the hallway and offered a short 3-word advice, “Hey, watch your back”.

I was perplexed by their words and wondered what they meant. It also struck me that my boss never bothered to thank me for advocating on their behalf. Soon after that meeting, rumors began circulating that my boss and the VP were frequently seen socializing at various bars and restaurants. Subsequently, my boss received a promotion with significant stock options, while I was disregarded and relegated to less challenging work. I heard from a trusted source that they did not consider me someone who could be relied upon. The guy I spoke up for did nothing to support me. I found another job and left the company soon after.

I have a few similar stories. Learning the value of ‘watch your back’ took me a while. While being outspoken and emotionally honest are admirable qualities that I still I value personally, I’ve learned that expressing oneself without considering the consequences can be imprudent and risky within work environments. The same applies to advocating for others without thoroughly understanding the situation. Employment contracts are akin to marriages, with details primarily between the involved parties and not always suitable for public disclosure. Most people would prefer working things out independently with whatever that scenario may be.

Work cultures vary widely – in smaller companies, there is a high degree of visibility and therefore caution around what you say publicly. The grapevine is tighter, and who are friends with who is observed and talked about a lot. This is partly why people get wary and maintain distance if they see you as the lone person speaking up. They don’t want to be ‘seen’ as being friends with someone openly hostile to upper management.

If you are a team lead or manager, part of your responsibility involves supporting and speaking up for your team members when necessary. However, if you’re not in such a position, it is generally best to focus on your work and avoid unnecessary involvement in others’ affairs.

If you find yourself in an unethical or unfavorable situation(this may include witnessing unfair treatment to others, with all details known), I believe it’s best to consider leaving the job for another opportunity.

This leads me to consider another question. We, from the Data Platform WIT team, are accepting panelist submissions for the WIT panel at the upcoming PASS Data Community Summit. The topic we want to be discussed at the panel is ‘Got your back: Allyship at work’. How does one get to be an ally to others? I believe the first step is evaluating your standing within the company. Are your thoughts and opinions valued and respected? Do they consider you an important and influential person? If you can confidently answer “yes” to these questions, then by all means, offer your assistance. Be sure to take the consent of the person you’re speaking up for and ensure they are okay with you doing it.

Always ensure your situation is secure before taking up someone else’s cause, as it can be unwise to get involved when you’re struggling or merely trying to survive.

In summary, being mindful of protecting yourself in the workplace is essential. Prioritizing self-protection is neither selfish nor cowardly. Tact and diplomacy play vital roles in professional settings, and learning to exercise discretion when necessary can lead to significant rewards in your career.

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