Is it possible to improve one's environment, by going rogue?

  • Today Steve Jones posted an excellent article on whether or not your company has a talent gap. I recommend you read it.

    While responding to Steve's article I had a thought. I felt my ideas were too far off Steve's article, so I didn't want to detract from his thread. So, I'm going to ask it here.

    I work in an environment which in many ways haven't updated their technology and techniques in several years. I'd like to improve this situation, but that means bringing about a cultural change. This year I finished reading Gene Kim's book, The Unicorn Project. It's an excellent book, which I enjoyed reading. In the story, the heroine, Maxine, works for a very old-fashioned automobile parts company that is very firmly stuck in the past. With the help of others, they formed a group called The Rebellion, which brought about positive change in their company. All exceptionally good and noteworthy, in a book of fiction.

    I don't work in an organization that is as stuck in the past as Maxine's company is. Nevertheless, some of what Kim describes in his novel applies to where I work. This may be true of where you work as well. What I'd like to ask here is, can such grassroots efforts to change the culture of a company/agency, really take place in real life? Or are such transformations only available in books of fiction?

    Kindest Regards, Rod Connect with me on LinkedIn.

  • I've been involved in that kind of work before, changing things from within without institutional support. I'd say, on a guess, I failed 75% of the time and succeeded 25%. I had a boss once who explained to me that you can have institutional power or personal power. That everyone gets a little bit of both. Institutional power though, that one is purely top down. You only have as much power as the organization gives you. Personal power is completely bottom up, sideways as well as top down. Personal power, your ability to influence others and convince them of a path, is potentially, way more powerful than the institutional power. However, it can be squished instantly if the institution decides it wants to. It's not easy. It really is about picking battles and then going to work using interpersonal skills. It's the one reason I try to convince others to go to local user groups, SQL Saturdays or whatever, to present sessions. It's not that you're necessarily going to teach backups better than someone else. It's about building your skills of presentation, teaching, support and communication. Those are going to give you personal power that you can then try to use to influence your org. However, you might fail.

    That's my $.015 take on it.

    The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood...
    Theodore Roosevelt

    The Scary DBA
    Author of: SQL Server 2017 Query Performance Tuning, 5th Edition and SQL Server Execution Plans, 3rd Edition
    Product Evangelist for Red Gate Software

  • I agree with Grant here, and would like to add that you miss 100% of the chances you don't take.

    I know in my organization, once a product hit a certain dollar amount, my former bosses wouldn't even listen to how good the tool was as they knew it wouldn't get approved above them.  We could have found a product that would save the company millions long term but had a high initial cost and it would get shot down before we could explain how cool the tool was.

    My current boss broke that barrier that we had and we are now in the process of buying a million+ dollar tool that will save us tons when the project is complete.

    The trick is knowing who to bring the ideas to and when "new blood" comes onto the team who is willing to take a crack at breaking the cycle, encourage them.  Work with them.  As long as you think it is a good idea.  If you think it is a bad idea, work with them on that too.  Don't ever just shoot down an idea that someone else wants to run with simply because you don't like it.  For example (not my scenario), if you hear that people want to move your databases to the cloud, work with them on why it is a good idea or a bad idea for your specific scenario.  If you are storing highly confidential data that you need 99.999% uptime on, passing that off to a 3rd party to secure and keep the HA may end up costing a lot more than keeping it on prem.  On the other hand, keeping it on prem means you also need to keep the hardware chain up to date and patched.  What I mean by hardware chain is all the way from where the internet comes in to the physical or virtual machine.  A security flaw in a firewall or a switch may require an immediate firmware patch and may result in downtime you cannot afford.  But not patching it means your data may get leaked.  Having it in the cloud means all you really need to worry about is that you pay the bill and that you secure the VM or SaaS as best you can.

    It really depends on what you are trying to improve and how it will help the "end goal".  If you are switching from CVS to GIT (for example), that is a pretty good change that will offer benefit to the company long term.  If you are looking to switch from Windows to Linux, that will have a large learning curve and support can be challenging if you don't have the skillset already in house.  So example 1, the ROI is pretty good and quick.  ROI in example 2 may not be worth it.

    The above is all just my opinion on what you should do. 
    As with all advice you find on a random internet forum - you shouldn't blindly follow it.  Always test on a test server to see if there is negative side effects before making changes to live!

  • I like your explanation, Grant. And excellent support for encouraging engagement in local user groups, doing presentations, etc. Fortunately, I do both (last presentation was last month to my local .NET user group). I believe I could use more practice, but thank you anyway.


  • Thank you, Brian, great feedback as well! I don't believe I've done a good job of identifying like minded people on an idea.


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