Three Life-Changing Events


Paul Randal started a meme about three life changing events that brought him to where he is today. Brent Ozar tagged me, so here's my story of how I came to be a DBA.

Introduction to Computers

My introduction to computers started way back in 3rd grade. A group of us third graders got to over twice a week to the 4th-6th grade elementary school and participate in an accelerated class called Excels. And the school had recently acquired a brand new TRS-80 like the one to the right here. Naturally, we were among the first kids to get to play on it. And there I was introduced to BASIC and realized I had a knack for programming. Every time they rolled that computer into the classroom, I was the first one on it. Actually, I was usually the only one who wanted to jump on it, which suited me just fine.

From there I went to take a BASIC programming class where we were coding on VIC-20s. I moved on to C-64s, Apple IIs, and Ataris. This led to a computer competition in 7th grade where we were coding on Atari 800 XLs. By 9th grade I was writing door programs professionally for BBSes. We also ran a BBS that flipped from Wildcat! to Spitfire to TAG. And thus I entered into the computer profession as a professional at the ripe old age of 14.

The Air Force and Expectations

As a sophomore at The Citadel I had come to the determination that I wanted to serve in the US military. I was already in Air Force ROTC and there was a chance to pick up a full technical scholarship to try and secure a technical slot as an officer. So I took the appropriate steps, got the scholarship, and signed on with a contract. Air Force officer training typically happens between sophomore and junior year. I went to Sheppard AFB in Witchita Falls, Texas. For four weeks I went through officer training. But it wasn't easy. Far from it.

On day 2 I injured my shoulder. I later learned (while at training) that I had partially dislocated it and had damaged the soft tissue in the shoulder. It was so bad that I was ordered to begin physical therapy while at training. But my orthopedic surgeon cleared me to remain at camp to complete the course. The camp leadership, however, seriously wanted me to go home. If it hadn't been for the intervention of a sergeant who realized they were cutting some corners, I would have gone home and ended up repeating the next summer after having completed the bulk of the hard stuff.

In my mind, I couldn't go home. I was still able to function, and therefore, I should finish training. This is the mindset I learned as the son of US Marine. This is the mindset that was reinforced in me as a cadet at The Citadel. If you get hurt, even while at training, but you can go, you go. You don't get a do-over during a real operation. So that's what I did. For this mindset, I received comments like "Showed gross poor judgment for remaining at camp despite a serious injury." I was furious. When the Marines (father and uncle) in my family found out, they were furious, too. This experience jaded me towards the US Air Force. I honored my contract and did my four years, but over time I saw a big difference between the mentality I had of how the military is supposed to be and how the unit I was assigned to functioned. I was in a staff type unit and I had received orders to another staff type unit. How I gone over to an operational communications squadron, I probably would have remained with the US Air Force. But I didn't. I had four years of more of the same experience as I did at officer training and I wasn't looking for anymore. So I separated from Active Duty.

The good news is that during those four years in the US Air Force I continued to code (even though officers with a programming background and a programming specialty (AFSC, Marines and Army call it MOS) were no longer supposed to code... another reason I got so jaded). I learned ASP, got really familiar with IIS, NT, and, of course, SQL Server.

For Lack of an M. Div.

Another reason I separated out of the US Air Force is I wanted to serve as a youth pastor somewhere. I had done youth work under my church's youth pastor and when I broached the idea with him, he thought it was a great idea. I was hoping to go back to Columbia, SC, land a position, and go on to seminary at Columbia International University. I had some folks trying to help me do just that, but it didn't work out.

There were two strikes against me. Because I hadn't received my first call to a full time position, I hadn't being ordained (this is typically how it is done in Southern Baptist churches). I was looking for my first full-time position. No problem, a lot of churches said, if you have a Masters in Divinity, you're all good. But that meant I would have been completed seminary. Which is what I was hoping to get into and earn my M. Div. I couldn't get my foot in the door. Things would have been different had I been a graduate of a Bible college with a ministry related degree. But I was a graduate of The Citadel carrying a physics and a mathematics degree. So no one was willing to even interview me.

Facing the fact that I needed a job, in order to feed my family, I went back to IT. I was hired on as a system administrator working primarily with NT 4. However, when I got to the job, our help desk system reeked. We couldn't find tickets. The interface was terrible about that. We couldn't track tickets that originated out of Columbia. But the database back-end was SQL Server 6.5 and I had read/write permissions based on how the application worked. So in a short time we had an ASP based web site that let us track everything. And a lot of groups started getting really scared because we were suddenly calling about tickets that had sat in queues for months. They knew the system wasn't so great and that tickets would easily get lost. And they were using that fact. And then Columbia somehow started to track down its tickets. It's amazing how things turned around.

From there I went on to another job as a web developer, which turned into a senior DBA position, which led to the systems and security architect position. A year ago I had the opportunity to go back and focus on SQL Server again as a DBA. I jumped at the chance. And that's where I still am today.


Jack Corbett, you're up. You too, Mike Walsh. Marlon Ribunal, I think you'll fill out the list nicely.