I was tagged
by SQL Rockstar, aka Tom LaRock, after this
thread was started by Paul Randal-not-Paul-Tripp (I wonder if Kim
disagrees?). It’s an interesting, introspective question. What three things got
I could go with getting a computer early, or something in education, but the
truth is I don’t think those things shaped me. They were the result of a high
curiosity in math and computers, of wondering how the world works, having
I could go with the fact that I spent part of my childhood fairly poor and
hated that. It definitely drove me on to work hard, but it wasn’t a fundamental
change. It did, however, keep me from trying to pursue a career in music since I
hated the poor struggling band lifestyle and I could have given that up at any
time to have a regular paycheck.
Instead I’m going to go with three events that I think fundamentally moved my
life in the direction it’s taken, and prevented me from going in another
I’ve always enjoyed sports, and to the dismay of my Mom, often violent
sports: football, martial arts, and in college, rugby. I picked up the game in
Hyde Park in London, and when I returned to the US, I joined the University of
It was great fun, and I moved from a 2nd row grunt on the “A” team to the
scrum half on the “B” team. A move I was happy to make as I got to run free,
touch the ball, and often got to make the first tackle on ball movement out of
My senior year, early October, we had an off week. So as usual we were
practicing in Madison Bowl on campus, scrimmaging each other. I picked the ball
up out of the scrum and took off to the right, coming around the scrum and
moving into open space. A quick fake toss and I turned back inside, only to be
caught by the other scrum half. Not our “A” team scrum half, who was about 5’ 8”
and 160 lbs, but our “A” team eightman, who was 6’ 2” and 220lbs, a little
larger than me.
Unlike the tackle above, I got dropped down on my left shoulder and it
separated. A grade-III separation that put me in a sling for 24x7x8 weeks and
that was the last rugby play I was ever a part of. It also changed my life.
At this point I had been an economics major, and had just started signing up
for interviews with many investment banks. I wanted to go to Wall Street to work
for Shearson Lehman or Bear Sterns, in true 80’s fashion. The realization that I
wasn’t invincible, that life was hard, and that I might be seriously hurt
changed my priorities that October. I cancelled interviews, put rehab first, and
by May of the next year, when I graduated, I was able to finally do push-ups
I decided to move my life into a direction that was more enjoyable to me,
even if it meant less money.
In 1991, a couple years out of school, I was wandering around life. I’d
enrolled back in a local college to do some graduate work, but wasn’t sure what
I wanted to do. I’d spent a year managing a night club and having fun, but it
became boring. My girlfriend at the time was from California, and we moved
there, thinking that it would be a change, and a way to move forward. Living in
San Diego was nice, but trying to get my life going was not. So I decided to
enlist in the Navy and enter their nuclear submarine program.
I’d always wanted to serve, and had seriously considered applying to the
Naval Academy in high school. So I met a recruiter, we talked, and with great
grades, especially in math and science, it looked good that I would be accepted
into the Officer Candidate School and the Navy Nuclear Program. I signed papers
and early one morning I went downtown into San Diego for my physical.
That’s an interesting experience, including the drug testing where you
urinate while someone watches you. I felt like I was doing great in all the
programs until we reached the auditory lab. They put me into a soundproof box,
headphones on, and I had to click a device when I heard a sound. I knew this was
an issue, and when I got out, I moved on to more tests. Eventually the lady
running the lab found me and brought me back. She showed me the results, which
have my left ear down to about 20% of normal. She offered to let me take the
test, and hinted that “looser headphones” might help. I took it, slipping both
sides of the headphones up to listen, and this time got to about 60% on the left
ear. Enough to pass.
However I knew this would be an issue in the service, and might be dangerous
in a critical situation. I told her to submit the first results, and then went
to meet the recruiter, informing him I couldn’t join.
That changed my life in that I was disappointed, but I realized that I should
just get on with my life. I moved back to Virginia, enrolled in grad school, and
started driving forward with a higher level of intensity.
Bad Software Engineering
While I was in graduate school, with every intention of becoming an
electrical engineer, I got an internship with the Surry Nuclear Power Plant in
Virginia. The plan was that I would work a semester there and a semester in
school. I did this a few times and eventually moved into the network
administration group, which was more interesting than the Electrical Engineering
group. And safer! No getting close to 1000V wires that were an inch in
Eventually they hired me to work with them and I dropped back to part time in
grad school. One of my first assignments was to help deploy a new radiation
monitoring system that would integrate with dosimeters (shown to the right) and
record radiation received by workers in the plant. It was mandated by the NRC
and I arrived at work Dec 31, at 6pm to help get this installed for the new
I finally left the plant on Jan 2 at about 3 or 4pm, exhausted and ready to
get home, but due back in about 15 hours for a week of almost 8 hours on, 8 off
as we tried to stabilize this system that was constantly failing. That poor
software engineering effort, not written well, nor tested under load, changed my
life. It was written on SQL Server 4.2 on OS/2 1.3. I migrated through versions,
spending hours reading about SQL Server and the OS, until we stabilized on
Windows 3.1 Advanced Server. From there I developed a great interest in RDBMS’s
and moved on to one SQL Server job after another.
I think without this project, I might have become a network administrator
instead of a DBA.
That’s it, the three things I think most influenced where I am today. I’ll
tag these people.
- Gail Shaw
- Jack Corbett
- Glenn Barry
- Marc Beacom
Please link back to me, and to Paul’s post.