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Life Lessons from SQLSaturdayABQ – Including one from Bugs Bunny


SQLSaturdayABQ

So it’s been a couple of weeks – but SQL Saturday ABQ has finally simmered long enough for me to write about it. I learned so much about so many things down there, and am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to share not only a meal and some learning with professional colleagues, but also reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

The trip down was great – I found out that putting my phone into Airplane Mode seemed to put some pretty cool Airplanes into pictures of an already gorgeous landscape.

I learned the Albuquerque is at 5,000 feet, and for someone used to living at sea level, I learned to appreciate the simple things in life, like, say, air.

(On our second day there the wonderful friend we were staying with took us up to the Sandia Peak Tramway. She and my wife enjoyed the gift shop at the lower elevations while I, still getting used to the 5,000 foot elevation,  went up another 5000 feet on the tram.

No, no oxygen masks fell out of the sky, but I could definitely feel all 10,378 feet of altitude there.

After I got back down, we explored some more, stopped at some lower elevations, and got a little perspective on the mountains for a little further north,

We stopped in a little town called Bernalillo and saw the Coronado Historic Site (above), and could hear the Rio Grande River gurgling down below. It was so different from what we have here in Washington – one could easily say it’s ugly and brown, but that would be missing the point – it’s got a beauty all its own, and needs to be looked at with different eyes.

As for the sessions with SQL Saturday itself…

I learned things about PowerShell in the session from Mike Fal ( b | t ) that made me want to get my hands dirty and try to find problems we’re struggling with in our environments that could be solved with a little PowerShell, and he proved that yes, you can indeed type in a demo, and then promptly demo’d why not to do it. J I loved the examples he gave, and the fact that he stuck with “learn the concepts, don’t freak about the code” – in large part because, just like in Field of Dreams (if you build it, they will come), with PowerShell, if you learn the concepts, the code will follow. You just have to understand what you want to do first – and that happens with the concepts. I’ve learned that if you give someone a problem first, and then give them a pile of tools, they’ll figure stuff out, and you’ll see creative juices flowing as they start thinking about new ways to solve old problems. It’s kind of fun to watch, and more fun to be part of.

I didn’t take any pictures of Jason Horner’s (b|t) session, but I enjoyed his presentation very much, which was full of demos and examples of databases much bigger than the ones I handle. As I recall, there were 4 (FOUR) MCM’s in the room… We were walking on hallowed ground there – and just that level of conversation, questions, and knowledge was fun to be around. I look forward to seeing more of his presentations, and applying what I learned there.

John Morehouse’s ( b | t ) session on social media had an interesting cross section of people in it – some quite experienced who are used to it, but always looking for new things to learn, and some who were absolutely new to the game and had never, ever used it.

John talked about how it can benefit you professionally, how easy it is to blur the lines between personal and professional, and how to do your best to keep them separate if needed. He made a very valid point that no matter where you are, you’re an ambassador for your company – so “think first, then post” along with the idea that once you hit send, it’s out there. Know your company’s policies on social media. That’s a huge thing. Even if you think it’s a private message, the wrong screenshots in the wrong places can be embarrassing for a long time. We also had a live demo of twitter, and how to do everything from getting a question answered with #sqlhelp, to getting a job via social media.

And I learned a lot – I got better doing my presentation on “Life Lessons in Communication” for the second time – and finally getting the butterflies in my stomach to at least fly in formation. I learned a lot from my audience, and had something totally off script pop into my head during the presentation – with the simple sentence of, “Are you solving the problem? Or managing it?” I realized I learned as much from my own presentation and audience as they did from me. Oh – and lessons are everywhere. You don’t even have to look hard. You just have to pay attention.

It was a lot of fun.

Many, many thanks to Meredith ( b | t ) and crew for getting everything together, and for the absolutely wonderful speaker’s dinner the night before. (what was that smokey salsa-y stuff on the chips? that was amazing!)

What came next was a time that can only be described as a slice of heaven.

Any of you in the IT industry know that the whole work/life balance thing is something that has to be managed very, very deliberately.  The cost of not managing it can be ridiculously high.

And so, for the next few days, I was able to spend that precious thing called time chatting with my wife and our friend, getting incredible amounts of fuzz therapy from two wonderful dogs, and just spending time away from the computer.  I allowed myself the time to absorb some of the lessons I’d learned at SQLSaturdayABQ, and then, as I watched some of the hot air balloons drift by, I realized that not all of the lessons I learned there had to do with SQL… a lot simply had to do with life. Some of them are still simmering, but all of them will end up in a story sooner or later.

Again – thanks to…

…all who attended the presentation (Jason had said I couldn’t start until he was there – I had the pre-presentation butterflies and was quietly hoping for him to be late – but he was there in the front row when I got there – so there was no backing out at all :-) –

…to Avanade for giving me the time off to go do this, and

…to our wonderful friend for sharing her lovely home and hospitality with us, and last but most certainly not least

…to my family for their patience and faith in me as I worked through it.

There are many more lessons out there to be learned, and as I find them, I’ll do my best to share them.

Oh, here’s just one:

You know how Bugs Bunny always says, “I knew I should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque!“?

I now know why he couldn’t do that.  🙂

Take care out there, folks…

Tom

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Communication, Snapshots, and Chickens (no, really)


I saw a little note the other day about “snapshots” – which reminded me of a situation we had at work awhile back.

It seems that one of the things that’s really helpful at work is being on the same page as your colleagues/coworkers.

And the way you do that is by communicating and understanding each other – and the fact that we often use different words to mean the same thing – or sometimes, we use the same words to mean different things, can present a problem.

Allow me to explain – and of course, I’ll do it with a very non-technical story…

A number of years ago, my mom was at a church social event where they had this icebreaker kind of activity, and one of the things they were supposed to do in this one was to form groups, and they were all handed cards with the name of a farm animal on it, and they had to make the sounds of these animals, and all of the like ‘animals’ were supposed to find each other, and gather together in groups.

Mom’s group was chickens.

Chickens are chickens, right?

Because chickens – or – roosters anyway, go cock-a-doodle-doo, right?

Well… If you grew up in America, roosters go cock-a-doodle-doo.

So there were a bunch of middle aged ladies, walking around this room, flapping their arms and sounding just like a barnyard. (okay, I just checked with her – they weren’t flapping their arms, but that image is too fun to let go… so with apologies to mom, I’ll let that burn in for a moment… J )

There were cows, horses, pigs – and chickens, well, roosters.

There were cock-a-doodle-doo roosters, and then there was this one gickerigeek rooster, and –

Waitaminute…

What the heck was a gickerigeek rooster?

Well, it turns out that if you’re a chicken (well, rooster) in Germany, you go ‘gickerigeek’.

You don’t go ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’.

And because of that, all of the animals who were looking for each other, found each other.

Except this one little forlorn German chicken (well, rooster), running around the room, flapping her arms (okay, not really), making the most plaintive ‘gickerigeek’ you’ve ever heard.  Come to think of it, it’s likely the only ‘gickerigeek’ you’ve ever heard.  But the thing was, as accurate as this sound was in describing a rooster’s sound, it was a sound that no one recognized.

Eventually this got someone’s attention – and suddenly there was this entire barnyard full of little old ladies interrogating a very accurate, very fun loving, and yet, very stubborn little old lady (my mom).

They asked her what was up with this whole gickerigeek thing, and the truth came out.  It became clear to them that there are different words to mean the same thing, it just depends on where you come from, and from there on out, they knew that the sound that a rooster made in the morning was heard as ‘gickerigeek’ by some, and as ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ by others.

I ran into something like this at work the other day, where the same word was being used to mean two radically different things.  There was this rather heavy duty discussion about snapshot backups and databases – and my take was that they were absolutely not a valid backup solution… I’m thinking of it from a SQL perspective.

The fellow I was talking to was the guy who runs our SAN – and he was thinking of the word ‘snapshot’ from a totally different perspective, that of the SAN itself. Used that way, the way he was doing it, it was indeed a valid backup solution.  Not what I would have liked, but valid nonetheless.

Problem was, we were both hearing the same sound, but those working on the hardware end of things were essentially talking English, and thinking ‘cock-a-doodle-doo, while I, working in SQL, was hearing it in German, thinking that sound only meant ‘gickerigeek’.

Interestingly, it turns out that we were both right, but it took the digital equivalent of me running around the room, flapping my arms going ‘gickerigeek’ for quite some time before we were able to clear it up.

The end result was that everyone learned why, when we were doing our hourly full snapshot backups through the SAN, and while everything else looked right, the transaction log kept getting full.  The thought was that the log file shouldn’t grow, but it did, to the point of filling up a good percentage of the drive.  Some config changes, a lot of learning and understanding, and we were ready to go, problem solved.

Moral of the story? Well, just like the rooster my mom was hearing, it was so important to discover and understand that the “rooster” we were hearing really didn’t sound the same to everyone.  All the technical smarts in the world won’t solve your problems if you can’t get on the same page, and eventually we did. It was good to have it cleared up, and it saved us hundreds of gigs of drive space as a result.

H/T to David Klee (T|B) for the spark to write this, which included a link to the technical explanation in more detail.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Coffee Grinders, Wisdom, and PASS


I’ve been at the SQL Pass Summit in Seattle this week, and I can honestly feel my head expanding from all the incredible information and knowledge being shoved in there by so many people who have worked so hard to put their presentations together, to share their experiences, their knowledge, and their mistakes.

And the other morning, as I was idly waiting for the hot water dripping through the coffee maker to become something useful, it got me thinking, about how often that has happened in my life, someone sharing hard earned wisdom that saved me from having to learn from my own mistakes.

I kept watching the coffee maker for a bit, then started to see the pieces come together.

See, not only is the PASS Summit in Seattle, I live in Seattle.  Coffee is more than just a ritual here, it is one of the basic food groups.  It is as necessary as, say, air, and that morning, I was about to clean out the coffee grinder when I heard my Oma (German for Grandma) stop me.

The thing is, she’s been gone from this earth, to live on in our memories, for over 30 years.  Why would she be stopping me? –

And then I remembered.

When I was little, she had a very similar coffee grinder (a Braun 220 volt one that you could wrap the cord around), and she ground the coffee the same way I do.  Fill the grinder about halfway with coffee beans, put the lid on, mash down on the button, wait until the rattle turns into a hiss, and you’re done.  Then – if it was her, she’d unplug the coffee grinder, then spoon out a measured amount of coffee into the coffee pot, if it’s me I just dump it into the filter I’ve put into the coffee maker.

But it’s what she said, in that southern German Swabian dialect I grew up hearing, as she unplugged it that stopped me.  “Also domme Leut’ däen d’r draht in d’r Steckdose bleiba lassa.” (roughly translated: „Dumb people leave it plugged in.”) – and I just took it to be a bit of gray haired wisdom that I didn’t quite understand until years later.

See, that wisdom was pretty simple: Don’t do stupid things.

In fact, it seems that her advice could have been used about 40 years later… See, it seems that a small coffee company here in Seattle had a coffee grinder made that really wasn’t too different from the one Oma had way back when.  It turns out that several people (some of them smart in some ways) managed to actually injure themselves by getting (or putting) their fingers into this little machine.  One that’s designed to take small things and make them into much smaller things.  Apparently the coffee grinders turned on while they were trying to clean them, and that advice about unplugging… a machine… that’s (let me repeat this) designed to take small objects and make them smaller… to keep it from turning on could have been quite useful. But my Oma wasn’t around to give that kind of advice, and as a result, the advice wasn’t heeded, and the company recalled over half a million of the things.

And that wouldn’t have happened if they’d been unplugged.

After I’d thought about Oma, (having unplugged the coffee grinder and put it away) I had another thought, this time about something that happened with Opa (German for Grampa) a few weeks later, having nothing at all to do with coffee.

See, growing up in Germany when I did, the towns and cities still had more than just a touch of a medieval feel to them, what with the cobblestone streets, and some towns still snug inside the walls that were designed to keep the inhabitants in, and any attackers out.  It had been this way for centuries. People were inside the walls, all the agriculture was on the outside, and one day, I went with Opa to one of the gardens that had been in the family for generations, where there were plum trees and potatoes, cabbage and cauliflower, beans and broccoli.

But to get to the garden, we had to walk through a long, narrow orchard, and the only thing Opa had to cut the grass that grew there among the trees with was a scythe, so it didn’t get cut often, and was about waist high on me.  I didn’t really care, and was having fun running through it when I noticed Opa was gone.  He was short but not that short, so I hunted a bit and found he’d crossed over the fence into the neighbor’s orchard, which, as I recall, had horses on it occasionally, and the grass there was much shorter as a result.  It really surprised me, as it was some work to get over the fence and he was over 80 years old at the time, so it was counterintuitive to even think of him going over the fence to walk down along the fence only to have to come back, and I was young and didn’t care about doing something as simple as walking efficiently (on the other side, where experience had told Opa that it was easier).  I just cared about doing it, even if it wasn’t efficient.  In fact, I asked him why he was over there, and he invited me to come over and join him, saying, in that Swabian dialect, “S’isch leichter zom laufa auf dära seite.”  (“It’s easier to walk on this side.”)

I didn’t go over there, being full of spit and vinegar (or the German equivalent) , as it were, and he didn’t push it and let me run like a young maniac through the tall grass on one side of the fence while he walked sedately over the short grass on the other side.

And it got me thinking…

Again.

There was something about that gray hair of theirs.

It symbolized wisdom.

Oma didn’t stick her fingers into the coffee grinder without unplugging it first.

That kept her from losing bits and pieces of her fingers in the grinder.

Opa did walk on the right side, where it was easier.

That was where he didn’t have to waste energy he needed for working in the garden on something as mundane as getting there.

So those were some pretty non-technical examples, but you can easily translate those into all the technical things you do, whether that’s making sure you don’t do the IT equivalent of sticking your fingers in a coffee grinder, or making sure you do the IT equivalent of taking the time to walk down the path on the other side of the fence.

While you’re here – take the opportunities you have and learn from those who have gone before, and who have done stupid things (and learned how to fix them) because you won’t live long enough to make all the stupid mistakes there are to make.

Take the opportunities, some of which you only have here at PASS.  Learn from those who have gone before, and who have done wise things, because you won’t live long enough to learn all the wise things yourself.

Look around you at the PASS Summit, both when you’re between sessions and especially at lunch.

See, most people here with some gray hair (figuratively or literally) didn’t get to be that way in this industry by being stupid.  Pay attention to the things they do. The things they do are often the result of hard won wisdom.

You’ve heard that wisdom (or, good judgment) comes from experience.

Of course, experience often comes from bad judgment.

So when you see a person who looks like they’ve been around awhile here at PASS, pay attention, not only to what they do, but also pay attention to the things they don’t do.

And don’t be afraid to ask them why.

You might learn something.

Oh, and if you’re still in the industry when you find that first little gray hair of your own sprouting, and you see a wide eyed up and coming DBA looking at you as if you’re the fount of all knowledge, shyly asking some advice on something, just to say they heard it from you, remember what it was like when you were thirsty for all that knowledge, and treat that request with  the respect and humility it deserves, because once that happens, it’s definitely time to give back to the community that helped make you who you are.

Take care –

Tom

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Male Logic, Female Logic, how it all applies to Tech


It’s been said that part of being smart is knowing what you’re dumb at.  Part of being smart is letting other people know it – but – how do you say this…  There are several ways of solving problems.  I happen to know of several ways on this, and before anyone gets all PC on me on this next bit, hear me out.  There is nothing I admire more than someone who can think their way through a problem to a solution.  I love it if they can explain it – but if they get the answer, awesome.  Now a word used to describe problem solving like this logic.  Many years ago, Bill Cosby did a little schtick on Male Logic and Female Logic – and the way he said it, the male logic was very – well, ‘logical’.  If there was a 10 step process to go through, well, it took a guy 10 steps to go through it.

It went something like this:

Male logic

One… <click>

Two…<click>

Three…<click>

… all the way up to 10.

It was simple, elegant, and – to be honest, some might consider it a little boring…

Female logic

Now female logic, he said, was a lot different – and, as much as people want to think men and women are the same, we’re not – not by a long shot.  He pointed out that giving a female the very same 10 step process, she’d go at it like this:

One…<click>

Fourteen…<click>

10.

How the heck did that happen?

In fact, ladies out there – how do you do that?

See – that 14 is COMPLETELY outside our frame of reference, we don’t think about it – it’s not there.  We can ask you how or why it happens, but explaining to someone the concept of 14 when the numbers only go up to 10 is just baffling to us guys – and the way you relate things together that have you making connections and drawing conclusions that we might not see gives you a stunning edge in some incredible areas.

Call it intuition.  Call it what you will, but and it’s like women have a math coprocessor or something so they can shove a problem over there, let it get solved, and come back in a bit with an answer that even they don’t know how they got.

And often the guy’s on step 3, the gal’s at 10,

In fact, I gave the bulk of this blog post as part of a presentation once and got an astonishing piece of feedback from a woman who had “made it” in the industry.  It came to me sanitized, and I couldn’t tell you who it was if I wanted to, but what you read above was written by a guy, me.  What you’ll read below was written by a gal, is in her words, and she quite literally wished to remain anonymous.

When I ended up in the technology industry, I was usually the first female technical peer any of the guys had worked with, and the first technical female any of the (universally male) managers had tried to manage, and it gets ugly when you’re asked for status and all of the guys are all at steps 2-4 and you’re doing something … completely different.   It’s ugly then, and it’s uglier when, without being able to explain it or teach it … you get at least the same result, faster.  And as you gain confidence, much faster. I still remember being assigned to teach a pretty talented guy who have had all the right experience and skills, how to triage a network sniffer trace.  In my mind it starts with “you scroll quickly through the packets looking for something that’s not quite right” … and I knew the exercise was doomed when I looked at his notebook and he’d neatly written “Step 1.” I knew then I would never be able to explain the concept of not really reading, just relaxing with cup of coffee and scrolling through, knowing that your subconscious will throw up an alert if it sees something that’s “not quite right”. There’s your “skip to #14” bit – I can write or use a parsing app for a network trace, but before I go the effort, I’ll just use my eyes.  Sit back with a cup of coffee and scroll through the trace, looking for patterns that “aren’t quite right”.  I’m not looking closely, I haven’t the slightest notion what I’m looking for, and when something strikes me as “not quite right” it can take me some time to figure out exactly why, but it’s often not the sort of thing I could have ever found using traditional analytics and parsing tools.

I was just thrilled to find this info.  It proved my point, not that men are better or women are better. But that they’re different, and that difference needs to be recognized, acknowledged, even if, as guys, we may not completely understand it.

In fact, please understand – this is not a jab at either gender.  There’s no way I’d say one is right or wrong, they’re just different.   And this whole “14” thing – women seeing/feeling/perceiving relationships intuitively where men might not see them in the same way, I think, honestly, that’s why, while IT is traditionally a male dominated field, that database administration (hint: relational databases…) seems to have a greater percentage of females in it.

So, is there more to the story? Yes, there is.

In a nutshell: just because a guy doesn’t understand the existence of 14 doesn’t mean her 14 isn’t valid.

And just because a gal can’t explain the 14 to a guy doesn’t mean he’s an idiot.

It takes a wise manager to see that the problem-solving skills that employees bring to the technical table, whether 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 or 1-14-10, can actually be quite complimentary.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Sometimes, things go wrong…


When my son was little – about 2, we went out to the Pacific coast of Washington State and stayed in a vacation house for a few days.  He got to run on the beach, play with things he’d never played with, and just really, really had a good time.  It was wonderful to watch.  For those of you who have children, you’ll recognize this.

He was also at this stage in life where he just wanted to do everything by himself – and, for those of you who have children, you’ll recognize some of this, too.

He was a “big boy” now, and he wanted to take care of things in a “big boy” way, so when he had to go take care of some, shall we say, personal business, he wanted to do it, as he said, “all by myself”.

And so, like many parents, I waited for him to call me and tell me he was done, so I could help him finish up the paperwork, so to speak.  And he didn’t call, and didn’t call, and didn’t call.

Finally I called in and asked if he was okay.  I heard a strained, “I’m fine!” – and then silence.  Then I heard a thump, followed by another thump.

Hmmm…

Silence followed by thumps is never good.  It seemed like it was time to go check on him, so I rushed in to see what was the matter – and in half a second I could see what had happened.

He’d been sitting on the toilet – the “grownup” toilet that everyone else used, not the little one he would normally use, and he’d been holding himself up with his hands to keep from falling in.

When he was done, wanting to be a “grownup”, he skootched himself forward until he could get off, but in doing so, left quite a bit of “evidence” on the toilet seat, the front of the toilet, and all the way up his back that he’d done so.  It was clear he’d lost his balance a bit as he was trying to stand and had bumped into the wall, leaning there to hold himself up.

The, um,  evidence was there, too.

He was standing there in the middle of the bathroom, ‘pullups’ down around his feet, surveying the scene when I rushed in and saw the whole thing.  I could clearly see what had happened based on what I just described, but instinctively wanting to confirm it, I blurted out, “Michael!  What happened?!”

His answer was priceless…

“Well, Papa.  Sometimes… things go wrong.”

There it was, plain and simple. “Sometimes, things go wrong.”

Despite the best of intentions, despite the best will in the world, as he said, “Sometimes, things go wrong.”

People make mistakes, or don’t live up to our expectations.

Things go wrong.

Things break, or don’t work like we expect.

Things go wrong.

No matter what we do in life…

Sometimes…

Things go wrong.

So how do you handle it when they do?

And, when you have a simple acknowledgement of the fact up front, how on earth can you be angry?

How do you – at work or at home – handle it when things go wrong?

What, if you were faced with that situation I mentioned, would be the most important thing?

Seems like they’d be like this, in order:

  1. Clean up Michael (as in: clean up the source of the – we’ll call it “evidence”)
  2. Clean up the toilet seat (as in: make sure things are functional again)
  3. Clean up the wall (as in: take care of any – we’ll call it ‘collateral damage’ here)
  4. This one’s incredibly important: Remember:  sometimes, THINGS GO WRONG – equipment breaks or wears out, code for our computers has bugs in it, and humans, both personally and professionally, are not perfect.

Yelling at my son about making a mess he already told me he didn’t mean to make wasn’t going to solve anything.

Managers yelling at employees when things go wrong generally don’t have much of a good result either, nor, often, does yelling in personal situations.

The important thing there was to help clean up the mess, then reassure him and let him know that everything was okay.  Just like you need to reassure and encourage the people involved so they’re not afraid to, shall we say, ‘get back in the saddle’.

And this takes us to…

5.     if you want to keep this kind of thing from happening again:

Personally: I can’t stress the importance of communication – not just speaking, but being willing to listen.  I’ll be the first to admit I’m not perfect in this and have definitely made my share of mistakes.

And realize yours might not be the only right view there.  (Yes, hard as it is to understand this in the moment,  it’s possible for two people to be right about something – and still disagree with each other). Often, one will be thinking short term, one long term.  Or, one may be thinking, we’ll call it ‘rationally’ while the other is thinking ’emotionally’.

Note: One is just as valid as the next.

Professionally: Communication here is just as critical.  You might have one person thinking long term, but unable to articulate it, while another is focused on the immediate problem, and is more vocal.

Both are valid.

Be sure to listen to the quiet people in your organization.  Make sure your people are equipped with the proper tools to do the job they’re expected to do.  Going back to my son’s analogy, it’s good to make sure the saddle’s the right size in the first place.  Instead of your people using all their strength to keep from falling into a place they’d rather not be because the hole – or the responsibility – is too big, make sure they have the skills (read: training)  to be big enough to keep from falling in in the first place.

Does that make sense?

There are many ways to handle situations like this, but for those of you doing management of some kind, understand that the minds of your employees are the most vital things you have.  Most often, it’s in there that the solutions to the problems lie.  Making them quake in fear of you isn’t a productive use of your time, isn’t a productive use of their skills, and doesn’t make them feel comfortable getting, as I said, ‘back in the saddle’.

So.

Respect them for their skills.

Forgive them for their mistakes.

Put the past where it belongs, behind you, and in doing so, you’ll help them learn, and you’ll teach them something far, far more valuable than you realize.

You’ll teach them they can trust you to have their back when they need you.

You’ll teach them they can take risks and fail, and not worry about their jobs.

But in setting them up like that – they’ll also feel comfortable right at the edge of their skill envelope, and, as one leader (the former CIO of the company I work for (yes, this means you, Dale) once said, “it’s when you’re at the edge of your envelope that you make mistakes, but that’s also where you learn the most.  Yes, sometimes you fail, but sometimes you succeed beyond your wildest dreams.”

He was right, and I appreciated that sentiment more than I ever really found words for.

It also boggled my mind that someone, with all the education he had, with all the experience he had, at the peak of his career in a company could come to the same conclusion that my then two year old son came up with on his own.

It shouldn’t be that hard for those of us somewhere between the two to come to similar conclusions, should it?

in fact, it seems like a huge part of success comes from understanding, and accepting, that…

Sometimes…

Things go wrong.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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SQL Family – (and SQL meme Mondays)


Tom LaRock’s (blog|twitter) question this month: What does SQLfamily mean to me?

Interesting concept – this SQLfamily thing, one I hadn’t really thought of, but the longer I stay in it, the more I understand it, and the more I learn there is to understand.

When I first started out in IT, I found myself reaching up to the people who’d been here longer than me, always reaching, learning, growing.

I’ve found that lately, while the reaching, learning and growing hasn’t stopped, there’s another aspect to it now.  I’m reaching, learning and growing – but reaching back, and learning a lot by teaching some of the people who are coming up the ranks behind me.  I learn so much from teaching, because I actually have to explain why I do something, and often, in that very act – understand it better myself.

I can’t tell you how many times the exercise of having to explain something has helped me understand it – even if it’s trying to explain a problem I’m having and am asking for help on.  One place I worked, the lead dba there would see me show up at his desk, with a puzzled look on my face, say thank you, and leave (leaving my puzzled look on his face).  Turns out that just in trying to figure out how to ask him the question, I’d figured it out for myself.

I’ve dealt with folks who are wonderful at answering questions, and folks that taught me much, not only in the basics, but also learning how to learn.

I’ve also dealt with folks who are the SQL equivalent of curmudgeons (nicest word I could think of) – and like it or not, learned from them.

It’s just like a regular family.  Some functional… some dysfunctional… All the wonderful fruits and nuts we’re used to dealing with in our own families.

And that’s part of it, right? We’re all human, we make mistakes, and things go wrong, often at the worst possible moment.  Having that SQL family out there is like having someone you can depend on – even if it’s not technical, but “just” moral support.

In fact, I’m training a new fellow here in the company, we’ve been troubleshooting a horked out master database on an old box that should have been put out of our misery a long time ago, and of course, I’m trying to distill years of “don’t believe the UI” into a simple “because” statement, and it’s challenging – but he’s part of the SQL family, and so while I teach him, he helps me, and it turns out he’s training others.

And that’s cool.

It’s… It’s a “Circle of Life” kind of thing…

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Coding for Georgiana…


A number of years ago, in my first job in IT, I worked for a local health care cooperative automating the data gathering of an outbound call center.

That sounds nice and sophisticated.  What really happened was that I worked in a group with a bunch of little old ladies –meant in the dearest sense you could mean it – they were little, and old, and ladies.  Imagine working with your mom or grandma to get the picture.  They made calls to new members in the various regions to inform them of the possibilities they could expect with their new membership.  My job was to automate the data gathering of the department.  Each telephone call was logged, categorized, and eventually summarized so the region could be billed for the work done on their behalf.

How this was done was simple: Paper, pencil, and a bunch of little hash marks: IIIII IIIII IIIII,

My job – summarize it so those hash marks could be turned into money at the end of the quarter.

I sat there with a solar powered calculator adding hash marks for weeks every quarter while a $2000.00 computer sitting on my desk burned electrons.  So automation became necessary, but automating it so a bunch of little old ladies could use it – correction – would use it – was key.

I’d been told that for this data gathering project, I would not be allowed to use a database, I would have to use Microsoft’s Excel.  And so, technically, I had to make Excel look and act like a database, but more importantly, I had to get these little old ladies (who can be mighty stubborn, I might add) to go from things they could see and feel (pencil and paper) to things they couldn’t (electrons).

One of the little old ladies was named Georgiana.  She had been diagnosed with ADD, and was quite aware of it, so she worked hard, with stacks of post-it notes all over to help keep herself on track.  She also was an absolute delight to work with, and would tell me any time some code I wrote didn’t make sense.  Conversely, if it did make sense, and she understood it, she would let me know – and then I knew everyone else would understand it as well.

So Georgiana became my canary in the coal mine.  She would not only tell me when she didn’t understand how some functionality was supposed to work, she would also tell me when the others had trouble.

And as a result, that trouble, whatever it was, would get fixed.  In human terms, they’d understand it better.  In business terms, their productivity would go up.  In human terms, they’d have less frustration.  In business terms, there’d be fewer impediments to them doing their jobs.

All because the code was written with the customer in mind.

I wrote thousands of lines of code for that project.  It eventually became a distributed data repository, on two separate, totally incompatible networks, that could quite literally only communicate via email, so the calculations happened via Excel macros, daily reporting happened via distributed Excel, Outlook macros and Novell Groupwise automation, and summarization and reporting at the end of the quarter was done in Excel and Word.  This took the generation of the report down from weeks to two hours, a major accomplishment – but it became very clear to me that no matter how wonderful, how exciting, how shiny, sparkly or technically brilliant the code was, if I didn’t listen to my customers – if my code didn’t solve the problems they were facing on a daily basis, then they wouldn’t use it.  If it didn’t do what the customer wanted, then all the effort I put into it was a complete waste of time.

And over time, I realized that more and more, the code I wrote was written with a little old lady in mind.  It’s been 15 years now, but in every line of code I write now is a little bit written for my friend Georgiana.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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