I was tagged a while back from God knows who to answer the latest question starting with Chris Shaw on his blog. Who has been a great leader in your career and what made them a great leader? Granted I am coming in a little late to this party, but it took me a while to think this one through. Once I read the directive closer though the answer was clear. Keyword was career. I’ve had the pleasure and displeasure of meeting may individuals that have had a profound influence on me as an individual, father, husband, neighbor, and occasional asshole. There was a single individual that made three distinct decisions that impacted me in ways I could never have imagined. This was my original Manager as a SQL Professional.
My first foray into an Information Technology career was as an Access Developer. Go ahead and laugh, get it out of your systems all of you. It was an interesting time, because there was a vacancy in the Management position over the team I was hired into, we were offsite from the rest of the I.T. Department, and pretty much did our own thing. I was hired by my coworkers. When we finally did hire a Manager, he was a very strong personality. I came from a small, family-owned company led by a man that had probably the strongest personality you’d ever have to deal with. He did a great job of training individuals to work for his competitors. In short, he was a dick. He would tell you so if you met him, just after he told you how stupid you were were since you probably only had an 8th grade education. Yeah. Dick. Therefore I got along glowingly with our new Manager – I was used to dealing with strong personalities, and it was nice to deal with one that was rational.
Mark and I got along just great. He treated me as an equal, as green as I was. He made no secret that he wished he was able to be more hands-on and I think he tried to give me what he could not have. Opportunities at a technical level. It was these opportunities that allowed me to be what I am now.
Initial SQL Training
Mark had the opportunity to go to a SQL Server boot camp earlier in his career at a place called ACREW. The place was great: top-notch training, great food, and beautiful scenery. The site was called Sweetwater Lodge, a retreat just off I-70, West of Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Evergreen, CO. We were there two weeks and walked away with our MCSDs (well 5/6 of us did.) It was the culmination of months of training on my own and I feel like I did not memorize (as is often the case at these boot camp sessions) but actually earned the certification. It was a great experience.
He Led A Horse To The Kool-Aid, and Boy Did He Drink
I mentioned above that I earned my MCSD, as in Microsoft Certified Solution DEVELOPER. Yes, the consumate DBA was a Developer. So now you know which skeletons duke it out in my closet. Access Developer v. SQL Developer. So flash back to April 2001, I’ve earned my certification just weeks prior and I’ve been asked to go on a little walk for coffee. On that walk, by Team Lead explained to me that I was going to be the new SQL DBA. I had to laugh for a couple reasons: we did not have a DBA, so how could that make me the N-E-W DBA? Also, I just earned my Developer certification. My first words: “you guys like spending money.” I was not pleased. My attraction to SQL Development was the creative power I had over the databases and application I was creating. I feared that would be lost and that I’d be doing nothing other than making sure databases were online. I had no idea what a DBA did, though I thought I knew all the answers. Looking back now I could not be happier with the outcome. Being the sole DBA for 8+ years allowed me to build the environment from the ground up: from 1 server and 13 databases to 80+ instances, (including 3 Enterprise clusters hosting a total of clustered 7 instances) hosting a total of 1,200 databases.
Initial Exposure to The Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS)
I was given approval to attend a SQL Server Training Conference of my choice in 2001. I had selected a SQL Connections conference when Mark trumped me and said that it looked like PASS was a better choice. Due to the September 11th bombings the summit was delayed until January 2002, but I ended up going to the Summit and volunteered to be on the leadership team of the recently formed Special Interest Group (SIG) for DBAs. It was really an amazing experience. The leadership and educators were so approachable, even for a noob like me. That initial Summit was Mark’s idea. It was my decision to get involved. From that initial volunteering decision I’ve moved on to various leadership roles within PASS and the greater SQL Server community: SIG Quizbowl EmCee and Programmer, Programming Committee Leader, Member of Editorial Committee, Blogger, Book Author, Technical Article Author, User Group President – it all started because I was placed at that Summit, by that man. I also had a Hell of a time skiing in Winter Park with now current PASS Board Member, Lynda Rab, after a chance meeting in the hotel lobby. We both ended up volunteering that year for the SIG and we’ve both moved on nicely from there. Perhaps the inventor of the snow ski is responsible, and not Mark at all. According to Wikipedia that person was Türd FürgüsØn, from Norway, circa 2000 BC. So, thank you Türd.
Kind of Deep Metaphor Lies Ahead
Giving Mark credit for these decisions is the right thing to do. They were his choices. What I did with them was all me, and the thousands of people that have molded my life since birth. The grandfather that landed on the beaches of Normandy at D-Day and found, rebuilt, and eventually provided General George S. Patton with the Cadillac Model 75 that he died in. (Okay, Patton found out about the car and where my Grandpa, James D. Conrad, stashed it and laid claim to it.) He tought me that working hard and being resourcefull, orderly, and organized are valuable traits. The mother who raised me after the accidental death of my father in a construction accident when I was 3 years old taught me to persevere through the worst possible times one can imagine. (Though I will never forgive her for her taste in music back then; come on Mom, Barry Manillow, The Carpenters, and Kenny Rogers? Seriously, that could be considered child endangerment by today’s standards.) The father, that through his actions demonstrated that heroism is not something that you have time to think about; it happens in a split second and you either have it or you don’t. (Thank you Dad for the lovely case of agoraphobia that goes along with it.) The Step-Father who tought me how to be strong men can have weaknesses, and who let me drive across the Mackinac Bridge at the age of 14 so he and his fishing buddies could stop have way across to pee over the side. The sons and wife that have shown me just how challenging, rewarding, and meaningful life can be. The best friend since age 5 that uttered the phrase Database Administrator to me on a biking trip in Utah all those years ago. The teachers, employers, friends, enemies, customers, ex-girlfriends, co-workers, pets, and idols that have all left some sort of mark on me.
A pond is forever changed when a single pebble is dropped to it’s hidden depths. The effect is invisible on the surface, but the pond will never be the same. Each person we come into contact with leaves a mark on us long after they’re gone. We do the same to every other person we meet. Maybe the world would be a far different place if we all realized that. Maybe I’m just realizing that now, and it took a foolish little exercise in egotism, which is really what a blog is, to come to that conclusion.