RSS

Tag Archives: Ponderings

Paul and the Butterfly Effect


So now that most of you reading this have come back home from either PASS Summit or MVP Summit and are trying to get your heads around being back home and/or in the office again, so grab a cup of coffee and allow me to share a story with you…

(for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about – imagine a bunch of introverted computer geeks getting together, eating together, drinking various liquids together, learning together, and quite often having an amazingly good time while they’re at it)

This story started out as a response to a note Paul Randal (blog | twitter) wrote just after summit almost a year ago, and for any of you who’ve read my stories, you’ll be familiar with the phrase, “And it got me thinking” – usually about halfway down the story.  But this time it starts at the beginning, see, Paul wrote about this thing called “the butterfly effect” and he was talking about how making one small change in something could make major changes later on…

The links above are Paul’s, the links below will likely reference my own stories, which you’ll understand as you read along.

Paul asked for feedback on what he wrote about the butterflies, and I started writing, and thinking, and thinking, and writing.

And it went something like this:

Gosh, Paul,

It’s hard to figure out where the first butterfly flapped its wings in this story…

And please forgive me – it turned out longer than I expected, but you’ll understand when you get to the end.

I was working at Microsoft (1996-2000), and over time had sent out stories about my then 7 year old son (like this one) – and one day, I got a surprisingly snarky reply-all response back from a fellow I’d considered to be a friend.  We’d worked together (he in England, me in Redmond) – and while I wanted to fire back with all the self-righteousness in the world, how he, a young, single man, didn’t understand the joy that comes from having the privilege of having children, I backed off.

I checked with a trusted friend for advice, and then suggested to him, kindly, that in time, he would indeed understand the joy one can have experiencing a story like the one above, but he was not yet old enough to understand that.  I wished him well, and told him that I hoped that someday he would be able to experience that privilege.  I made sure not to burn any bridges, because his comment was based on youth and inexperience, and I truly valued his friendship.

Fast forward 10 years.

We’d both grown, we’d both lived, but most importantly, we’d stayed friends.

He’d moved to the US, worked for several companies, including the one I work for now, and is now back at Microsoft, based out of Chicago.

Some time back, he heard I was looking for work, and within a day, had written a letter of recommendation based on years of trust, years of both personal and professional friendship, and in part due to that – I had an opportunity to interview and was subsequently hired.

I had/got/made/took opportunities to speak (I did sessions down at SSWUG.org for a few years) and then got involved in the SQL community, starting, as I recall, with Chris Shaw (blog | twitter ).  He was one of the speakers at one of the SSWUG sessions at the time (I didn’t know about PASS then), and I was just being me, flipping him crap, and he flipped it back.  We laughed, then he asked if I wanted to speak.  I couldn’t imagine him asking that, but he did, and the conversation went like this:

“Have you ever done any public speaking?”

“Only Eulogies.”

<crickets>

“No really.  One was for my dad, and one was for a friend in my cancer survivor’s support group.”

I couldn’t imagine anything more stressful than doing a eulogy for your own dad, or for a friend who had died of the same disease you were fighting, too, so I figured I’d give it a shot.  How hard could it be, right?

Little did I know – but I worked hard, made some presentations, and I did it for three years. I met wonderful people there (Chris Shaw & Wendy Pastrick  ( blog | twitter ) were with me in the studio one of those times) and met others through the sessions.

Wendy Pastrick, me, and Chris Shaw

Wendy Pastrick, me, and Chris Shaw

…and Paul, I had a ball doing it.

This year I spoke at the SQLSaturday in Portland just before Summit – on communication, and how important it is, and how hard it is to do well. (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and a Master’s in Visual Communication (photojournalism) and am still learning)

And it got me thinking, as so many stories do…

Had I gotten mad at John (the friend in Chicago) and burned that bridge way back in 1997 when I sent that original emailed story out (I think it says 1998 in the one on the blog) – then I wouldn’t have had him as a resource to get the job I have today.

Had I not gotten that job, I wouldn’t have had the speaking opportunity in Tucson.

…nor would I have gone to Summit.

Or had the opportunities to speak.

Or made the friends I’ve made.

I wouldn’t have realized there were other people just as lonely as I was out there who worked in their own little cubicle, being one of very few people in their companies doing what they do.

I wouldn’t have learned about #sqlhelp, and #sqlfamily, and summer camp for geeks (Summit)

I wouldn’t have learned that just by tweeting something with DBCC in it, in short order you could get an answer from the guy who wrote it.

As a result, my mind has been in a state of continuous bogglement (if that’s a word) for the last 7 years.

(you realize this list could go on for a good long while.)

But I did learn – and I know a little about these things now.

I know there are folks out there who will help, who will encourage, and who will cheer me on should I need it.

Just today, I found myself on the cheering/encouraging end of that equation (one member of the SQL community came home from Summit to one less family member in the house)

I don’t know if in doing that, I was a butterfly helping someone in their own life journey. I don’t know..

And I don’t think any of those things (that family member excluded) would have happened had I gotten mad at John those many years ago.

Yes, I do think about that.

Oh, speaking of John… He and his wife now have two boys – and he understands.

Take care Paul – thanks for making me think – that was fun.

Tom

PS: not to overload you, but to take the butterfly back even further – almost 100 years ago, there was this little piece of Russian Shrapnel

if it hadn’t hit where it did, you wouldn’t be reading any of this.

And I sent it…

And just now – it got me thinking some more…

Some of the butterflies in life are good ones.  Some are bad ones.

All of them got you to where you are today.

So I’ll end this one, uncharacteristically, with a question:  As you think back, What are your butterflies? What got you to where you are today?

Take care out there, folks,

Tom

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 6, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Keeping the Electrons Happy


So I work as a database administrator, which is often something that confounds people who aren’t in IT… if I try to explain to them what I do, their eyes glaze over like a Krispy Kreme donut, and I realize I have to back up and introduce things in a little simpler way, so I usually start off with the sentence:

“I piss off electrons all over the world.”

And that gets them laughing, then I can tell them what I really do.

And the thing is, I work for a consulting firm, but I rarely, if ever, see the front end of the applications we run, or work on or build. I see domains, and servers, and databases.

My life at work consists of solving problems, pissing off electrons, and trying not to do the same to people.

For the most part, this is a good set of priorities to have.

As a DBA, you do your best to keep from making mistakes, right? You want your users happy, you want your electrons just slightly irritated, and you want your data to be as perfect as it can be.

It’s hard to see what all this looks like on the front end until you actually see it, and then it’s like being a doctor and seeing symptoms, and intuitively understanding what those symptoms mean.

And, surprise surprise, I have a story about that.

So some years back I had to go to the doc to go over some test results.

When I checked in, they asked all sorts of other questions, like, “Have you ever gone under another name? Have you ever lived at this address? And on and on and on…

I’d been at this place before, they already had this information in their system. There was no reason for them to be asking me these questions.

So I turned the tables, and asked them why they were asking me all these questions.

It turns out someone was in their system with my birthdate and my SSAN…

Hmmm…

So the good thing about this?

They noticed it.

The bad thing?

Well, – let me just take you through it – and see if you can figure it out…

The receptionist made a telephone call to fix the problem.

I was ushered back to see the doc, the nurse asked what medicines I was on. This was unusual since it was in their system, but she took all my records and entered them into the system. Sometime later, the doc came in and wanted to compare my records, current to past, and so on, but there was nothing of my medical records after 2007, meaning there were several years of records missing.

What do you think happened at this point? Take a guess, then keep reading.

I put two and two together, and because of the strange series of questions I’d been asked initially, I’d paid attention, and had made a note of the security guy’s name and number, and asked the doc if he wanted me to call, because, “It’s what I do”.

He, still trying to figure out what was going on with the keyboard, said,“Sure.”

I picked up my cell phone, called the number I’d written down and asked to talk to the guy whose name I’d written down below that.

His response: “Oh, I was trying to fix that and must have pushed the wrong button by mistake.”

I just let the silence hang in the air for a little bit while he realized what he’d said and who he’d said it to…

…and then I took off my patient hat, and sitting there in the doctor’s office, put on my DBA hat, cracked my knuckles a bit, and told him to let me talk to the person who was fixing the problem because by golly it was GOING to get fixed, and get fixed right then.

I was connected to the person who was fixing the issue, and explained that I was (ahem) SITTING IN THE DOCTORS OFFICE WHEN MY RECORDS DISAPPEARED, and would she kindly make them bloody well reappear.

Now.

She said she could merge the records, said it would take till the end of the day.

Have you ever had to project an air of calmness when it was the last thing you wanted to do?

Yeah… that’s where I was.

I tried to explain to her that I was still (ahem) SITTING IN THE DOCTORS OFFICE, WITH THE DOCTOR, WAITING TO GO OVER RESULTS, and would appreciate it if she could fix that long before the end of the day, like before I left the office, since I was there in the doctor’s office, and we were about to make some pretty significant decisions based on those results.

She said she’d work on it, and I gave her my cell number and told her to call me when she was done.

In a triumph of the anti-nerds, the doc got out a huge pad of paper and a marker and drew on it to show us what he remembered of the information he’d seen before it was deleted, and was most of the way through that when my phone buzzed.

It was the gal from IT who had worked on un-futzing the records.

She said it was fixed. She’d merged the records (her words).

The doc logged into the system again, and all my records were there.

Both he and my wife were impressed.

So we got those things taken care of, I went in later and found that in the results of the merge, my meds showed up twice, (once from the original, once from when the nurse recorded them after they were deleted).

So we (well, they) had to fix that.

I had a little chat with the IT folks at the hospital after that to get them to understand that there were folks out here who knew what was going on in there and what it meant.

And it needed to be fixed.

Because, I realized, as much as I tell people I just piss off electrons, those electrons mean something to someone.

And they have to be accurate.

And it got me thinking…

See, while I was pretty annoyed that the problem existed (it’s not that the whole situation wasn’t already stressful enough), it was an amazing learning experience, to step out of the role of being the patient and tell the doctor who was about to try to fix me, that he needed to let me do my work, in his office, so I could fix his problems, so he could see what he needed to see in order to fix mine.

Yeah, I had to look at that paragraph a time or two myself.

I wondered how long it would have taken if that had happened to someone else right then, because seriously, who else would have been in a position to know what had happened and what it meant?

I’m still a little baffled by it all, and I think that’s okay.

I started looking around at the projects the company I work for does (I work for Avanade, a consulting company), and it always astonishes me what all kinds of things we’re involved in – the stuff I rarely see, but affects people’s lives in ways that are big and small, from the drinks you might get on a flight across the country to buying a motorcycle to, even figuring stuff out at the doctor’s office.

And it makes me realize that I don’t want to piss off the electrons at all.

I want to keep them very, very happy.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

T-SQL Tuesday #60– Something New Learned


 

So – as I write this, it’s the Monday evening after Summit

Emotions are still fresh, but my mind still trying to double-clutch its way back to thinking about how to apply all the things I’ve learned and I’ve been struggling to find words to answer the question asked for this one, but I think it was narrowed down to one tweet that we’ll get to in a moment.

Like many of you, while I work around a lot of people, and work with people, most of the work I do is fairly solitary. I don’t often get a chance to learn with or just relax and chat with folks outside of work who are fighting the same battles, have similar goals, and are struggling with similar  issues.

I’d been working quite a few overtime hours, plus getting ready for my first presentation in a long time for SQLSaturday 337, so I was a little frazzled coming into Summit14, and was, frankly, looking forward to what I’ve taken to calling “Summer camp for Geeks”.

Take the best thing you can remember from any summer camp you’ve ever been to. (For me, regardless of the camp, it’s the camaraderie – so let’s go with that).

Take that camaraderie – and add to it the concept of a support group. Oh, for those who haven’t been part of a support group, let’s just go to our old friend Wikipedia, which states, in part:

In a support group, members provide each other with various types of help, usually nonprofessional and nonmaterial, for a particular shared, usually burdensome, characteristic. Members with the same issues can come together for sharing coping strategies, to feel more empowered and for a sense of community. The help may take the form of providing and evaluating relevant information, relating personal experiences, listening to and accepting others’ experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks.

Wait – let’s look at those last two sentences again one at a time…

“Members with the same issues can come together for sharing coping strategies, to feel more empowered and for a sense of community.”

Uh – yeah – there’s 5,000 of us from all over the planet, most of us working in pretty solitary kinds of positions, where it’s often hard to talk about the issues we’re facing, often because we’re the only ones in the company facing them. Interestingly, we’re often introverts, which means at some level, we’re okay with the whole “working by ourselves” thing. But it is nice to know you’re not the only one out there trying to invent this particular wheel, or shove this particular boulder up a hill… Again… (see Sisyphus). That brings us to the second of the two sentences:

“The help may take the form of providing and evaluating relevant information, relating personal experiences, listening to and accepting others’ experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks.”

Just read that again… I know, it’s likely the third time… Right – then look at the picture of the community zone below from the tweet by Neil Hambly (B|T)

I was just stunned at the simplicity of Neil’s comment, “This what #sqlhelp is like in the flesh Many folks just in the community zone waiting to help others”

Just from this shot, I see Kevin Kline (B|T) chatting with someone on the floor on the left. Wendy Pastrick (B|T) is chatting with someone about dead center. I think that might be Grant Fritchey (B|T) there in one of the blue shirts in the background. I know for sure there was at least one SQUEEEE! (B|T) there. 😉

I know there are other folks I didn’t get a chance to meet or can’t recognize in this shot – but I was in the same spot that Neil was when he took that picture and saw the same thing.

And heard the same thing.

And it was people simply wanting to help others who were going down the same path. People would come to that blue carpet and be welcomed in. They’d reach out for help, and there was someone in there, reaching back. Understand, there were folks just starting their careers in there mixed right in with folks who were pillars of the SQL community, there were beginners, MVP’s, and MCM’s, and all were reaching out to each other to help.

That help took all forms. Sometimes, someone just needed to talk something out. Other times, it was a deep conversation. Often there was laughter, and what became known as #sqlhugs as those of us who’d emailed or tweeted with others for years finally got to meet them face to face. In the shot, you see people talking with each other, you see people on their laptops while on support calls during the conference itself (it was obvious on some, you could hear one side of the conversation, “…Okay, now click ‘next’…”)

And for some, just like Neil said, it was #sqlhelp in the flesh.

If you’re not familiar with the #sqlhelp hashtag – click on that one on the left there – it’ll take you to the post Brent Ozar (B|T) put out on his blog to explain how it works, with the opening line: “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.”

And at summit – sqlhelp wasn’t just something we typed.

We got to see some of the people behind it (that’s be all of us)

We got to meet them.

And we got to experience that camaraderie of summer camp and the warm embrace of a support group.

We got to hear the laughter behind an LOL as someone got a joke, or got to actually see, talk to, and listen to the folks behind it.

And over time, what became clear to me is that while I’ve used #sqlhelp in the past and monitor it in the present, #sqlhelp isn’t just some search engine that spits out answers like ones and zeroes. . It’s real people, with real experience (and real questions), again, some just starting out, some, like I said, pillars of the community, but who all take or make the time to get an answer for you, and then, often, check back with you to make sure you got it.

#sqlhelp is folks who care, folks who’ve reached forward to others in their careers and are now reaching back to help those who need it.

That’s one thing I learned at Summit this year. Not just in my head, but in my heart.

And in case no one’s said it out loud, it’s appreciated.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on November 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Big Data, Tank Engines, and Digital Junk Drawers


The other day I had to do a backup of my computer – we’d had a power spike that took out the surge protectors, my backup drive, my son’s power supply, and his main hard drive.  In 20 years, we’d never had power go out, so this was a first, and had us wanting to make sure we didn’t have to go through that again.

It was a “not fun” few days of buying new hardware, rebuilding one machine, buying UPS’s – and fixing the backup drive, but we did it, and as is often the case with these things – it got me thinking.  My computer is like a digital attic – stuff gets stored there and sometimes referenced, but honestly, often forgotten.

I thought a little more about that – and remember in one place we lived as I was growing up – there was a garage full of stuff…

I remember thinking of it as a garage full of treasures.  An old army barracks my dad owned for a while came chock full of old radios, tools, black electric fans with wire cages, a huge pile of boards that had made up the side of a couple of Northern Pacific Railways boxcars that had last carried a load of 40,000 pounds of bananas in 1929 (a little piece of paper to that effect was still tacked to one of the boards when we found it).  That ended up being two walls of my room when I was growing up,

My grampa, on the other hand, had not just a garage full, but an entire barn full of treasures – one of which was an olive drab, unused, hunk of metal, that when you looked more closely at it and did some research, was a flathead V-8 engine made by Cadillac for small tanks in World War II. (like this one).  I’m sure it was plentiful in its time – but today? It was rare, but rare doesn’t necessarily mean valuable, and being in a barn, you had to go through a lot of crap to find the treasures.  And the thing was – he’d collected so much stuff – treasures in their own time – that some of it, while still functional and serviceable, had gone completely out of date and become obsolete while it was being stored in that barn waiting to be used again.

For years after Grampa passed on, my uncle tried to get rid of that tank engine – and people kept saying how valuable it must be, but no one would take it.   Finally, he said to one interested looking fellow,

“How much will you give me for it?”

“Well, um, I don’t know….”

“$50.00?”

“What? It’s got to be worth more than that.”

“Okay, but will you pay me $50.00 for it?”

And the guy tried to back out a bit.

“A dollar? Would you pay a dollar for it?”

And of course, the fellow wouldn’t – so this extremely rare Cadillac Tank Engine wasn’t worth a dollar, because really, something is only worth as much as someone will pay for it, right?

Some time later, I remember my dad and I looking at a cluttered attic with totally different eyes.  Again, I saw treasures, relics of a bygone era, while he was sizing up how long it would take to clean the place out.  He pondered a bit, took a deep breath, and reminisced a little bit, remembering that as a kid, he’d visited an old man who had an attic like this, full of “treasures” – and the old man said to dad, “Son, it’s just stuff…”

All I saw was treasures, at the time, but he was right.

It was just stuff.

Going back to my uncle for a moment – He and I had talked about kind of a lifecycle of “stuff” – where at first  you’re willing to trade something you consider valuable for it, and initially, this “stuff” gives to you… It could be something that saves you time, or makes you money, or brings you happiness or comfort, but it gives and you get something because you have it.

Eventually it just becomes part of your life, and it’s pretty much been there as long as you can remember, but at some point, it stops giving, and the balance shifts, ever so slightly, and this what has given you so much over its lifetime begins to take.  This goes for stuff and for things, and sometimes people and relationships in your life, and it’s a signal that it’s time to move on, or let go.  Eventually, the shift is more pronounced, and just the simple act of keeping “the stuff” starts costing more money, more time, more energy, than you get out of it.  But you’re used to having it, so you hold onto it.

And it costs more.

And I kept thinking…

In fact, I took a step back, mentally, and realized as I was sitting there configuring the UPS’s I’d bought for my computers, backing up tens of thousands of photos, and I realized that in some ways, the shift, like the photography I’d learned years ago, was making the transition from analog to digital, that my computer was full of ones and zeroes, and it was costing money to keep them.

As data professionals, we talk about how important it is to keep our data safe, and the fact is, it is important, but are we keeping too much? Just like I wondered sometimes whether it was really important for my grampa to be keeping some of the things in his barn, Is it important to keep every digital picture I ever took?  If I keep them, I have to manage them, I have to make sure they’re usable, right?

Here, let me throw a digital monkey wrench into the mix.  You’ve all got digital cameras out there now, right? How do you handle it when you have upgrades of image processing software?

The reason I ask is that a number of years ago, Microsoft made a product called ‘Picture It’ – which, for its time, was pretty good, but the problem is, none of the software that came afterwards would open the files created by this product.  So now, because I have upgraded the computer and the operating system and Picture It won’t run on the new one, I have hundreds of pictures with a .mix extension that I can’t open at all unless I find a copy of Picture it 5.0.

And, apparently, our old Windows 95 box. (it’s in the basement somewhere)

That would cost me time.

Hmmm…

A number of years ago I bought a family tree program and put a bunch of pictures in it – with all sorts of metadata in the pictures – where they were taken, and so on.  Understand these were slides and prints that had been scanned, there was no GPS data embedded in the images at all.  I couldn’t upgrade to the next version, and found that all the work I’d put into researching and getting information about the pictures that are part of my family tree – simple metadata about the pictures – was now useless – I couldn’t transfer it anywhere unless I bought the next version of the software.

Hmmm…

That would cost me money.

And now – it brought me full circle, as I was sitting there, computers hooked into the UPS systems, backup drive slowly being filled up by backed up ones and zeroes.

It had cost me both time and money.

It had me asking a lot of questions, like, “When is it important to let something go?”  As I was sitting there – looking around, I not only realized that I had thousands of images, some of which I hadn’t seen in years, that that needed to be backed up, but also realized that my computer had turned into a digital junk drawer.

I know I keep lots of email far longer than I need to.  I have piles of CD’s I’ve forgotten about.  Heck, I have piles of floppies even – and I don’t have a machine that has a floppy drive in it anymore…

Sigh.

How many of you out there could raise your hand to that one?

Dragging myself away from piles of floppies, CD’s, and the two Pentium boxes I finally got rid of the other day, I find myself thinking about the stuff we do at work.

We have stuff that we have to keep for legal reasons, which means boxes have to run in isolation on outdated software, but we have to keep them that way, we can’t upgrade them.  At least that way the data is readable, and accessible. There have been situations where people got rid of tapes of very important data only to discover that they had racks and racks of tapes they couldn’t read anymore.  We keep gathering data, we keep making more databases.  They keep growing.  I know poor database design makes some of the databases I administer and manage daily get bigger – the growth chart of one of them looks like the flight path of a homesick angel, and it is seriously causing us some trouble.

At the moment, that particular app is under discussion, but the thought of wanting to keep all the data we get, in case we need it someday (words I heard growing up many times) – is a little overwhelming.

But how do we know when that someday is?

I know digital storage, like real storage, initially, is cheap – but does it count the machines that need to handle the backups? The people to maintain them? The backups themselves? The offsite storage? How much will it cost us to manage what we had, at the expense of what we have?

I don’t have all the answers yet, in fact, I’m still struggling with a lot of it myself, but this whole concept of “Big data” – it makes me wonder when, eventually, someone’s going to have the arduous task cleaning out the digital attic…

 
4 Comments

Posted by on January 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

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

 
7 Comments

Posted by on November 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

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.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,

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…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,