I recently had the pleasure of catching Paul McCartney in concert, and he was amazing. I have been a fan forever and have heard him tell the same stories he over and over with great delight. A familiar tale he tells is about when he wrote the song Yesterday. He woke up with the tune in his head, and put words to it: Scrambled Eggs, oh my baby how… Ok, so the words changed a little. But you can’t dispute he has an amazing gift for music, and he wasn’t trained as a musician and doesn’t even read music.
I know DBAs and programmers that have such gifts with computers. They have the innate ability to write the code to solve problems in their sleep, in any language, and seemingly were born knowing how to solve technical problems. Some of these people are ten years old and can just bang out code that I am not even able to understand (and I have had something of a solid career in programming myself.) If you were born with such gifts, be thankful, and use them to help the rest of us.
On the other side of the coin, is the aforementioned “rest of us,” ranging from slightly gifted to well, slightly south of clueless. I fit squarely in the last group when I first went to college. I was skill-less, other than being a super-fast burger flipper, but I desired a civil engineering degree. I wanted to build bridges like the Linn Cove Viaduct at Grandfather Mountain in NC. Then I failed out of engineering classes. Then on to math, where I accumulated the minimum GPA to get a degree, which I realized probably wasn’t going to get me employed in the math factory. Finally, I found computer science which I was slightly better at than I was at math, but only maybe in the middle of my class, if that.
My life changed when, back in the early 1990s, I became one of the first accidental DBAs. At the time, I was a LAN admin on Novell, and I was again clueless. I knew just a bit more than how to reboot the server to fix problems, but only just a bit more. This still pretty much describes my current networking skills with Wi-Fi. Then I received the gift that would change my life. Our IT group went to a conference named COMDEX and learned about this new product: SQL Server. The other member of the team started working on a mainframe replacement. A person I worked with quit, leaving a database programmer shaped hole in our company, and I did double duty for a while. I never looked back.
When I first got started, I was terrible. We didn’t have user groups or small conferences, but I had a manager who forced me to do a good job at building parts of our database, teaching me normalization in a way that made sense well enough but wasn’t quite enough for me. It made me dig deeper and deeper into the materials that were available at the time. Probably the most significant gift I received when my next manager said the only way you will ever get to go to conferences at the nonprofit I worked at, was speaking at the conference. I was the only person on the team that took him up on it. I spoke at a Computer Associates conference on Erwin that year. After I left there (temporarily), I ended up at the second PASS conference, where I met a publisher and asked if anyone wrote a good book on database design. He said, “Why don’t you?”
The gifts keep coming and only increase in the great conferences that I attend every year, the blogs I read, and even the great tweets from the community. You would be amazed at how so many people have contributed to getting me where I am today, some purposefully to help me, some just putting stuff out there, some pointing out when I have been wrong (often very wrong) over the years. Sometimes gifts hurt.
If you aren’t a natural, the fact that you found this blog means you have some idea where to start. A lot of gifts aren’t addressed to you specifically. Most are just thrown out into the ether to share with everyone. Count the gifts you have received from the community, coworkers, family, parents, whoever got you where you are today. And these gifts are not for hoarding. Regift as often as you can. Share with a user group. Write a blog. Contribute to Twitter’s #sqlhelp, volunteer for a local non-computer organization, or whatever you can do. I can barely count the number of people that I have seen join the community and thrive (often leaving me in the dust!) It will be worth it for you, for the community and possibly me.