Friday, April 17, 2009

I’ve Contracted Quizitis

I’m not surprised though, it’s been going around the SQL community for the last week or so. The first known case was Chris Shaw, and from there it spread via the intertubz to our good friend SQLBatman. Misery loves company, especially if you’re Kathy Bates. So SQLBatman wrote up an article and tagged me (among others), with the stern and eerily vague warning: “DO NOT BREAK THIS CHAIN”. I hate chain letters. But I like SQLBatman, and Chris really did have a good idea with the leadership topic, so here goes. The question is:

Who has been a great leader in your career and what made them a great leader.

And it’s a tough one. A lot goes into making a leader, and good leaders are hard to come by these days. To me, a leader is someone who alters your course for the better, or helps you to stay the course when you’re ready to give up. They believe in you, even when you’re not sure you can make it. The leader I’m going to talk about did all of these things – in fact, if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t even be in this field.

Like many of the IT professionals and developers that I know, I didn’t set out to be in computers. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always liked them, but to me, a computer meant gaming first and everything else a distant second. Through high school and university, I had no intention whatsoever to get into computers, and when I left university and started in the working world, my first few jobs had nothing at all to do with computers (also nothing to do with my major in university, but that’s a different story for another day). As far as I knew, Codd was a fish.

Little did I realize, all that was soon to change.

I had (have) a friend named Silvana, who was working as the General Manager for a food distribution company. Essentially, the company imported and distributed all manner of foods to restaurants and caterers. One of her initiatives in the company was the establishment of a fine foods division – specialty foods to differentiate the company from it’s competition, and to appeal to the high end chefs in the city of Toronto. Now there’s a big difference between shipping a $15.00 case of ketchup, and packing and shipping $150.00 bottles of 30 year old balsamic. The company very quickly found out that the staff who was very good at shipping the commodity items weren’t the best choice for handling the fine foods. As it happened, I was particularly miserable at my current place of work (where I was a butcher’s apprentice – again, another story for another day), so when Silvana gave me a call and asked if I’d like to work with her, I jumped at the opportunity.

Stocking shelves, packing boxes, and shipping soon turned into purchasing and replenishment. When price lists needed to be made for the new department, I got a crash course in Excel, which was my first database. Soon I tired of making price lists in Excel, so I grabbed a copy “Crystal Reports for Dummies”, and started hacking together Crystal Reports. Word got out that somebody in the company (other than our incompetent service provider) could actually make these Crystal Reports thingies, and requests started flooding in to create new reports, and enhance existing ones. Now had the next event not occurred, this is probably as deep as I ever would have gotten into the wonderful world of computers.

>> Enter Fate <<

Right around this time, the (then) IT administrator for the company went on extended leave – she was going to be gone for three months, and wouldn’t have any contact with the company during that time. This shouldn’t have been a problem – the environment was fairly stable, and though our ERP provider had more than a few screws loose, he could help us if we needed it.

Not two weeks after the IT manager went on leave, a scheduled upgrade to the company’s primary production server went awry. The new server had a faulty RAID array controller. The server hadn’t been tested or burned in in any way, so the hardware fault didn’t present itself until after the ERP software’s database had been migrated over and put into production.

Unbeknownst to the company, the RAID controller had decided to die a very slow and painful death. Our ERP system used Pervasive (which I wouldn’t recommend to my worst enemy), and the RAID controller was slowly and insidiously corrupting the Pervasive data files. By the time a major batch process failed a week later, the database was a mess.

Wasn’t this supposed to be about great leaders?

Yes it was - hold tight. With the IT administrator on extended leave, nobody was able to take control of the data recovery and make sure that the company could keep doing business. Because of the work I had been doing in Crystal, I understood a little, if only a little, about the database. I was deathly afraid of even touching the database, and I couldn’t write a query to save my soul. Luckily for me, Silvana saw potential. She encouraged me to go for it – to step into the IT administrator’s shoes, and try to pull us through the situation.

The three weeks that followed saw me working 7 days a week, and 18 hours a day. Many days I didn’t get home to sleep, so I slept on a couch in the office. Now here’s the sign of a great leader – for every hour that I was there, she was there with me. It didn’t matter that she didn’t know much at all about technology, and that the only support that she could provide was moral. She had encouraged me to take a leap, and she was determined to back me up, every step of the way. Every time I fell down, she picked me up and pointed me back in the right direction. Silvana believed in me – and gave me the support and encouragement I needed to prove her right. I learned more in the weeks and months that followed than I’ve ever learned in such a short span in my life. By the time the IT administrator returned from her leave, I was actually more qualified to do to do her job than she was, and so began my career in IT.

Now that I've shared my "in the beginning" story, it's time to tag a few other SQL Server bloggers for this leadership thread. I would love to read what the following people have to say:

Arnie Rowland

Jonathan Kehayias

Denis Gobo

1 comment:

Martin S. Stoller said...

Rofl. Like the way you struck out "which was my first database" when mentioning Excel.

Now the funny thing is, on WINDOWS, before MS-Access, and WAY before SQL Server became available, my first "DB" was MS-QUERY (Office 3.0). Before that of course there was DBASE/Clipper on DOS and some great little non-SQL DBs on C= AMIGA.

MS-Query was (is?) a great little SQL engine, and I actually sometimes miss it. It can run selects directly off of text files and even Paradox (shudder) Dbs...

Anyway, we all start somewhere!

Cheers,
Martin