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How did I get involved with this SQL Server thing?

There is another quiz going around the SQL Server blogosphere. Great question again, “How did you get started with SQL Server?” I was tagged by Denis Gobo (Blog, Twitter) when he answered this question here. You can hit his blog to track the lineage of this one.

I have been working with SQL Server for just over 10 years now. I guess to paint the start we should go back a little bit to my “pre-techie” life… Maybe I’m going back too far on a blog talking about my professional skills but hey it’s my history and it helepd shape me.

Pre SQL Mike

I worked throughout High School at a hotel in a small Maine tourist town. I worked in a lot of roles (started as a dishwasher and eventually moved to the Front Desk) and assumed the unofficial computer geek role. Flashback a ways and I was always a bit of a computer geek, from my first TRS-80, to the C-64 (blogged about them here for a different quiz). At the hotel, I impressed myself with my notepad HTML abilities as I worked on a project to develop a self service concierge system that was supposed to give area information to guests (Internet wasn’t as widespread, still mostly dialup and no kiosks/etc. in the area… Spent a lot of time answering the same questions and I wanted to put more in the guests hands). Due to various reasons this never made it to the other side of the desk but it was used a little bit behind the desk for some information. Really simple, really ugly.

“Database”  – I didn’t use a database for that information system, data points were hard coded into the notepad html code. At that point in my mind a database was defined as a flat file to store my music collection or some address information. A spreadsheet really (funny, today one of my pet peeves is folks talking about their “excel databases” they want my help with spread throughout the enterprise).

Due to many reasons, I focused more on work and other things and school work trailed off. I lost interest and eventually stopped going to High School. After 6 years at the hotel, I was comfortable and “content”. Met a great gal at work, was really impressed with her but she wanted someone with their life more together: enter motivation. Quite a few things changed in my life through meeting her, her family and the God her family worshipped. Two of those were: Going back to get my diploma and looking for a job that utilized a talent I had developed on my own and taught myself: “computer stuff”. (I married that girl, by the way..)

Contract to Perm Tech Support

Around ’98 I signed up for an e-mail distribution for jobs in the state I was living in at the time (NH) and saw a posting that looked interesting… A software company needed Tech Support help, talked about helping with printing problems (their primary business was check printing software that tied into large ERPs…), computer issues, etc… “I can do this”, crossed my mind so I made my first resume and sent it in. To my surprise they wanted an interview and the interview was largely about troubleshooting skills. Something that is important in every role I have ever held (both with and without computers). One of my first blog posts was about a troubleshooting methodology and I wrote a SQL Server Central article about the topic also.

I got the job! meet Relational Databases

I got the job. First order of business was two weeks of training. Well the first week was about the software, how it worked and what went wrong with it, etc. It was a training class for all new hires. Well the second week really piqued my interest. They started talking about the database behind the application. Talking about the tables that the application used perform various functions in the application. Talking about the configuration tables, the  data for the application, etc.

What? Tables behind the application???

I… I thought a database was just used to store information like what CDs I owned and which ones I liked. Maybe store account information. What the heck are these tables that control an application they are talking about?! I was intrigued and had to learn more. I started digging deeper and learning about relational databases, I got more intrigued. I am a math geek deep inside, I messed up by not applying myself in mathematics in school but this relational theory stuff looked interesting. I really liked the ability to change configuration information without having to rebuild/deploy code. I liked the order of the relational model: no matter how crazy the data points may be, no matter what kind of business logic may exist, the database brought some order (well, most databases do… remember I was still an idealist as I was learning at this phase of the career 🙂 ) to the chaos.

On The Job

I was still high on this database knowledge. The Application at that time was on Oracle 7 something, SQL Server 6.5 and SQL Server 7.0… I took some computer based training for the Oracle stuff and really started getting into this Structured Query Language stuff. I had an opportunity to take some SQL Server 7.0 development and administration training, I jumped at it. I really picked up all I could, installed SQL at home and started playing with it a lot. In the support role my focus was more on Database Administration (a lot of our SQL Server shops didn’t have DBAs) and helping some bad default setups and SQL Server issues.

I just kept learning, trying and growing and instead of it getting old hat or boring there was always something new. This was exciting and fun to learn. After about 6 months on the support team, I became a go-to guy for database issues. We had an advanced support team for issues we couldn’t take and I hung out with those couple of guys and talked database talk with them. I would try and head off other resources database issues before we had to “bother” them and that was a huge growth.

An amazing opportunity

I had a chance to work for Andrew Kelly at another company. I didn’t know who he was, SQL Server 2000 was still very new and I believe Andy was either a new MVP or about to be one. I remember he was always on those newsgroup things (that’s why he needed a Junior DBA, most likely 😉 ). For some reason, he decided to hire this kid with not much experience but a passion for SQL Server. Working for Andy consisted of getting into “large” (They were at the time on SQL 7.0 or the early releases of SQL Server 2000) databases, rolling out maintenance tasks, monitoring performance, learning the vital importance of backup strategies (and testing them), hardware and performance issues (with some basic DTS packages thrown in for good measure.)

The best part about working for Andy was some amazing 1:1 training from someone with such knowledge. He created some classes for me about database administration, new features of 2000 and he patiently explained so many concepts to me that stick with me to today.

He also more or less made me get Kalen’s “Inside SQL Server 2000” book when it was pretty darn new. That book and I became great friends. I lost my original copy sadly but it was WELL WORN. Binding falling apart, scribble from notes I had to write while on a trip with my (at the time) girlfriend and that was all I had to write on during the train ride to DC (or NYC? I forget). I read and re-read that book. Nah it wasn’t all consuming but it really helped me in my journey to learn more about SQL and I always learned something new (even recently I had to re-read a section for a custom course I delivered for a SQL 2000 site that, for various reasons, can’t upgrade.. Sure enough, I picked up new information, nearly 10 years after the book was published).


That first role that sparked the interest in SQL and the second role that nurtured that growth set me on the path I am on today. I was laid off from that company with Andy, and have worked at various roles since then. Always relying on my DBA and Performance pet peeves/knowledge but getting to wear different hats (some all at the same time): Developer, “Architect”, SQL Server Consultant, SQL Server Blogger who has himself fooled he has a lot of new stuff to offer the blogosphere, unofficial project manager, Performance team lead, etc. etc.

So it’s been over 10 years and I am still very much not bored of SQL Server. Still thoroughly enjoy working with it in all of the above capacities and I still love learning new information and getting to work with new features.

Will I be doing SQL stuff in 10 years? Who knows… Maybe I’ll be supporting legacy non-cloud SQL Server installations for the same kind of money COBOL folks charge today 🙂 Maybe I’ll be focused on the data within whatever the latest and greatest data storage mechanism is then. Maybe I’ll be a Pastor 🙂

I am very happy that I made the discovery of SQL Server and relational databases the way I did. It has been a fun career so far and while every day in the office may not be a fun day, it has overall been a great time.

I am not going to tag anyone since I am a bit late to the game… How about you though? Blog a post and link back here or ping me on twitter. Share your story in the comments.

Article by Mike Walsh

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