Three Events That Brought Me Here

Back in January, Paul Randal (Blog | Twitter) started a wonderful blog meme that asked you to write about 3 events in your life that brought you to where you are today.  I had the pleasure of reading many excellent posts written by people that I really look up to.  I wanted to participate, but I didn’t have a blog back then.  I’m 7 months late to the party (the story of my life!) and I’ll warn you that I don’t think my tale is nearly as inspiring as others that I've read, but I thought I’d share anyway.

1.  I was too young for the job

I grew up in the Chicago suburb of Brookfield, Illinois.  The local claim to fame there is Brookfield Zoo, which also happens to be the biggest employer around – especially if you’re a high school student looking for a summer job.  The summer after my sophomore year, I was doing just that.  I applied at the zoo, did an interview (which mostly consisted of a kindergarten-level math test to ensure I knew how to count coins and make change) and afterwards felt pretty confident that I’d land a job for the summer.  A few days later I got a phone call that they would not be hiring me because I wouldn’t turn 16 until September.  I was upset that I couldn’t work at the same place as most of my friends, but I didn’t give up my job search.

A few weeks later I found an ad posted at school that the finance department of the neighboring city, Riverside, was looking for some summer help.  I interviewed and ended up getting that job.  Instead of spending my summer outside slinging hot dogs and getting attacked by bees, I got to sit in an air-conditioned office and count money, file papers, and work the front desk – oh, and for better pay too.  I did a good enough job there that they asked me to stay on at the end of summer and work a few days a week after school.  I actually ended up working for Riverside on a seasonal basis until I graduated from college.

After 2 years in the finance dept., I wanted a change and switched to building & zoning.  I learned how to do basic inspections (fences, footings, backfills and the like), and shadowed the professional inspectors on more difficult ones (framing, roofing, plumbing, electric, etc.)  I learned a ton about how to build & maintain a house and what to look for to see if contractors are cutting corners.  I also helped with the paperwork side of the department, and quickly learned that dealing with paperwork really sucks.  Determined to come up with a better way, I started playing around with Microsoft Access and before long I wrote an application for keeping track of permits, contractor licenses and inspections.  I kinda liked that database stuff and bought some books about it.  Though it’s gone through countless revisions since then, that program is still in use there, as well as a few other cities I’ve sold it to.  I fully believe that not getting that job at the zoo that summer is responsible for what led to my love of databases and current career.

2.  I was too dumb for the job

Fast forward to my senior year of college.  I was graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in Computer Engineering (think hardware design) despite the fact that I learned I really didn’t like it 2 years prior.  I took the bare minimum of CompE courses and instead focused on Computer Science.  After a good internship with a software company the previous summer, I was looking for a software job.

I ended up having a whole bunch of interviews with a company that writes software for stock & options traders – “Bartering Breakthroughs” or “BB” as they’re known in the financial world.  They interviewed me twice on campus and brought me up to Chicago twice for interviews at their office.  I was really excited about what they did, the people I met, the company culture, etc.  A few days after my last interview, the HR department called and offered me the job.  I was completely giddy to have found a job in December of my senior year!  I knew this was what I wanted so I immediately accepted.  Their recruiter faxed me all the stuff, I signed & returned the offer letter and a bunch of NDAs, and she sent me a bunch of “internal documents” about what to expect and things I can work on before I start just to be a little more prepared.

My elation was incredibly short-lived though.  A few days later the following email chain occurred.  I still have the emails, and this is verbatim:

Recruiter: Hi Bob!  Quick question for you: What is your GPA?

Me: Hi [redacted], It's currently 2.8

Recruiter: Darn-it!  This totally my fault.  I should have been more thorough.  Bob only has a 2.8.  If he’s totally a no, then he’s a no.

If Bob would let us make a case for him: his references are really good, specifically his reference from his internship last summer at [redacted].  He has worked all though school and he is in the marching band, which is a huge time commitment (they practice almost as much as the varsity athletes).

What do you think? We would obviously lower his offer quite a bit if we were to move forward?

I immediately replied to her with something like "Umm, I don't think you meant to send me that" and about 2 minutes later she called me frantically apologizing between sobs.  She meant to click "Forward" instead of "Reply".  About a week later I got a standard letter saying "We're sorry but we are unable to extend an offer of employment to you at this time" and never heard from them again.  To say I was crushed was (literally) the understatement of the year.

I ended up spending the rest of my senior year interviewing for jobs, and finally got an offer about a month before I graduated.  I was hired as an application developer by Morningstar, a financial research company.  I was happy as a developer, but I really wanted a spot on the database team.  Fortunately a lot of the stuff I wrote required database access, which means I got to know Chuck Rummel (Twitter), the database team leader, quite well.  I'm sure I got on his nerves when I'd come over to his desk and ask why I couldn't have rights to do things like launch my own procedures or ask questions that warranted a 25 minute answer, but he definitely got the hint that I was interested!  When a spot on the team opened up he asked me if I would like to work for him, and the rest is history.

3.  I found the community

I realize that many DBAs are the sole database person at their company, which can lead them to feeling like the entire world (or at least their company) is against them.  I have been extremely fortunate so far in that I have always worked as part of a team, but still I feel that I have benefited tremendously in the time since I’ve found the SQL Server community.

About 2 years ago a co-worker (who’s an application developer) told me about the Chicago SQL Server User Group, and how he was on their mailing list but had yet to actually attend a meeting.  I found their site and signed up for the mailing list just as he did.  For about a year I got their emails but never went to a meeting.  Finally one month I decided to go, and was treated to the pleasure of seeing Brent Ozar (Blog | Twitter) give a talk.  I learned a ton and was immediately hooked on the meetings.  A few months later I emailed Brent with some questions I had about career development and what steps he thought I could take to help myself progress more quickly.  The advice he gave, which is a common occurrence on his blog, was to join Twitter, get in touch with people, and start a blog of my own.

I won’t go as far as saying that Twitter has changed my life, but it definitely changed my career.  I’ve met an amazing circle of people through Twitter, and because of that I’ve found out about all kinds of events and webinars where I’ve been able to learn a lot of awesome stuff and meet even more people.  A few months ago I also started this blog, and have been extremely encouraged by the supportive members of the SQL Server community.  I know I have a long way to go in terms of my skillset and career, but thanks to the community I know I’m on the right track.