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A Book, a Mentor and a Community

It’s 2006 – I’m at the SQL PASS Summit. My first one. A former manager, colleague and friend of mine invited me to dinner with a bunch of his business partners. It would have been one of the small number of social things I did that year. Otherwise I was a wall flower, in my room pretty early, alone and keeping to myself. So anyway – the dinner. My friend was Andy Kelly, his business partners were a lot of the founders or partners at his company at the time – what was then Solid Quality Mentors. So I had dinner next to Itzik Ben-Gan, across from Fernando Guerrero, near Brian Moran and I’m pretty sure Kalen was there. I can’t explain what it felt like at that point in my career to be surrounded by these folks but I think the conversation with my wife went something like, “You wouldn’t believe it! You know that orange book I always read and took everywhere – the woman who wrote it – Kalen – she was there!! You know that SQL Magazine?!?! Like the folks who edit and write regular columns were there. These guys are gurus of gurus and they know it all. They wrote the book. I had.. I had dinner with them. They talked to me! They talked about their work, I was eating with them!!” I admit it – I was star struck. Here I was – this kid who was decent at SQL and knew his stuff but would never even dream of writing a blog, an article, etc. I was shy – I hated public speaking – I was totally amazed at these people speaking up on raised stages, talking to rooms of people even with microphones! I’d never be anywhere near where these superstars were, but it was cool I got to eat with them once.

[Insert Movie/TV-Show Sound Effect to Signla Time Travel Here]

It’s 2012. I have a literal bald spot now that I can touch. I have two more kids, I’m 6 months away from my 10th wedding anniversary. I’m sitting in the airport waiting to board a flight home from a business meeting with my new business partners. I’ve been working on high end and fun SQL Server challenges for all sorts of customers as an independent consultant. I’ve gone into business with one of the very people I was having dinner with that night – one of the original founders of that company, in fact – Brian Moran. I’m going into business with two guys who are SQL Server MVPs and incredibly well respected members of the SQL Server community. I’ve actually taken flights just to go speak at events – in public – in front of people – with Microphones! I’ve spoken for two years at PASS – on those raised platform stages. I blog, I’ve had a couple people even say “Oh! So you’re Mike Walsh – I’ve read your blog!”

So… What the heck happened? How did I go from a high school dropout whose life consisted of partying to a technologist? How did I go from a tech support rep who couldn’t understand what the folks in training mean when they said something about an application having a database (“What?! An application is like an .exe file… Why would it need a database? What do you mean application ‘information’ is stored in the database?!?!”) to someone who enjoys teaching other people how SQL Server works? From a guy too afraid to speak up in a meeting to someone eager and pumped up to deliver a presentation to a room of strangers?

Well – I’ve blogged about that a bit for various #memes over the years (on my testimony, on mentors, on perspective) but I wanted to use that long introduction to setup three big parts of where I am. I don’t share any of this in a spirit of bragging (I firmly believe I am where I am because of God’s influence in my life and the three things I mention here. I like to say I am where I am in spite of me). Instead I share it to inspire. No… I’m not so proud to say “even you can be me!” (I wouldn’t want you to be me) but I mean you can do more than you think you can. You can overcome more than you think you can overcome. I am not smarter than you – I guarantee you that. In fact I could rattle of at least 40 names without applying any effort of SQL people who can tune better than I can tune, who carry more knowledge than I carry and can talk internals better than I can – and that’s without any effort, I am sure there are hundreds I could name! I didn’t have a better upbringing than you – I was on free lunch my whole life, had a hard working single mom, never went to college and didn’t even get my high school diploma until I was 20 something. I make up for these shortcomings by trying to work a little bit harder, I’ve focused more on knowing where to find the right answers and how to test and use searches to help me. I listen (my wife may disagree a bit here…) and work well with clients. I want to solve their problems with them. All of these things combine with an intense passion for SQL Server and its community to put me where I am.

Those three things that I wanted to thank?

Inside SQL Server 2000

Sounds silly, but I owe a huge part of where I am to Kalen Delaney and her work on this book. I started with SQL Server 6.5 and 7.0. but I really got going with SQL Server 2000. This hardcover book lived with me. It went everywhere I went. Right.. Everywhere. I brought it on the train ride to DC when my wife and I were going on a first trip together. I consulted it at work and read and re-read the chapters. The way Kalen treated the internals made it an exciting book to read. I wanted to know how SQL worked, and what the building blocks of the building blocks were. This book was an amazing thing to read for someone who wanted to learn it only cemented my desire to learn more. It only made me eager to read more articles and try more experiments.

Andy Kelly

I’ve mentioned him before in posts here. How blessed was I to have my very first DBA job manager be Andy Kelly?! He was in one of the earlier batches of SQL Server MVPs, he had a passion for internals in SQL and was working closely with the product team of SQL in a lot of ways already. I’ll never forget the first couple weeks working with him – half of my day was sitting in his office with him whiteboarding everything about SQL Server. He didn’t have to do this! There were experienced people around. He could have just gave me tasks, showed me how and been done. Instead he chose to mentor me . He chose to invest his time in teaching me. He didn’t just “teach” me, but he got me excited about SQL Server. He talked about all the new things in this SQL Server 2000 that was just coming out. He talked about why it rocked, how it worked and went as deep as I wanted with the knowledge. I learned a ton from him – but even more importantly, I caught his passion for technology. That’s what I want Linchpin People to be – I want the Andy Kellys of the world, even the folks who are where I am – even the folks who’ve been doing this for only 3 years – I want them to be able to invest their energy into mentoring others and see others grow both in knowledge and passion for their career.

SQL Server Community

I’ve been a broken record and cheerleader for the SQL community for a few years now but looking to list all the folks who inspired me to blog and taught me through their blogs would turn this already long post into a lot longer. The people like Paul Randal and his early days of blogging over at the Storage Engine blog. The people like Brent Ozar encouraging me to try it out and syndicate. The people like Adam Machanic and his SQLBlog site. These people further inspired me to be passionate about technology. Posts like Linchi’s showed me how to test things myself and quantify information before making a stand. The folks at PASS – especially now with the initiatives that board members like Tom LaRock thought up with the PASS first timers welcomes (wish they had that in 2006!) The PASS HQ folks who encouraged me to help organize the Birds of a Feather lunch. The people like Andy Leonard who encouraged me to run a SQL chapter. I could keep going but, as I’ve said over and over and over again, we have a community of givers in the SQL Server world. We have a community of people who throw themselves into other people. That has inspired me to a desire to do the same and I’ve learned in the process through receiving what knowledge they freely share.

The SQL community inspired me to give. I started blogging a few years ago, I started answering online questions 5 or so years ago. I didn’t know it all then (in fact I probably thought I knew more then than I do now… The more I’ve grown, the more I realize how little I know relative to what is out there to know – if that makes sense – or do I sound like Yogi Berra?) I couldn’t answer every question, I didn’t understand every nuance of every topic I intended to blog on. You know what happened, though? I started learning more. I started increasing my knowledge – I grew. So I’ve grown by taking from the SQL community and I’ve grown by giving to the SQL Community. Interestingly enough that is also one of the models that Linchpin is looking to build out in our philosophy, or culture. Like I said in the announcement post – we all grow, or no one grows… And there will be times where we are on the giving and receiving end of mentoring and teachingΒ  – but there is learning no matter which side you are on. I’m a great example of that – 12 years ago I didn’t know how to say SQL Server (well to be fair, some say I still say it wrong, but you knew what I meant…)

You add these three things together and it’s tough to not be inspired to strive to be better, to want to know more and to want to apply it. I am no different or better than you – I guarantee it. You’ll grow when you get involved. Whether you take advantage of the learning at SQL Saturdays, SQLServerCentral, the bloggers, the 24 hours of PASS, the conferences or you take advantage of learning through investing yourself in helping others grow (Or BOTH!!!) – you will learn. You will grow. It may not feel like it right now but you will.

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Article by Mike Walsh

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14 thoughts on “A Book, a Mentor and a Community”

  1. Thanks for such an inspirational post and especially thanks for the kind words. I was very happy to share my knowledge and passion with you then and still to this day. I am glad to have worked with you over the years and even more so to be able to call you a friend. Keep up the good work and congrats on the new venture.

    Andy

    Reply
    • Thanks Andy – It was awesome learning from you, man. I mean sure, once I was done I had to do all the boring work so you could answer newsgroup posts all day and do all that cool MVP stuff but hey, it’s all good πŸ˜‰

      Reply
  2. That was a really great post, Mike – thanks for writing it. My (14 years old) son and a few of his friends are getting into programming and I’m definitely going to get them to read it, because it really shows how valuable mentoring and helping others is.

    As Andy says, Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Thanks Mike!

      That’s great they are into programming. There’s a lot of other crap that could steal their time on these nasty computer contraptions. Glad to hear they are having fun with science and math. Even at 14 and even just getting into programming – they still have ways they can learn through teaching and mentoring. Hope they pick that up early and remember that through the next stages in their lives. Sure beats putting up a tent in NYC mad at the world for not giving you what you think it owes you πŸ˜‰

      Reply
  3. Great post and it’s been awesome to watch you grow in the community and professionally. You’ve got a great group of folks to grow with at LP, looking forward to seeing you guys succeed.

    Reply
    • Thanks Jorge! It’s been awesome watching you grow in the community and professionally as well, man! You don’t know how ecstatic I was when you finally got awarded MVP – it was a long time coming for you. You’re definitely one who gives more than he gets and I know you inspire others in the community.

      Reply
    • I love that – “and they have a way of prying you out of your shell.” I tell you… If my High School (and Middle School…) was filled with folks with the SQL Community mentality, it would have been a much more fun time πŸ˜‰

      Thanks for the comment, Tracy!

      Reply
  4. Mike,
    That is a very inspiring story. I have even passed it on to someone just starting out, hopefully it will help him too.

    How do you manage the time? I mean you have to balance work + family + extra SQL stuff + writing + home duties + being healthy. I am on a new quest to figure out how everyone does this successfully. Cause I just am not getting it figured out on my own.

    Reply
    • Hey Tamera!

      Thanks for the compliment and it is great to know you felt like it might help someone else out πŸ™‚ That’s why I wrote it!!

      I only wish you wouldn’t ask such tough questions!!! “How do you manage the time?” That’s a work in progress – like me… I’m 40lbs overweight so I obviously save some time on the being healthy part. I’ve been posting less blog posts. I work at home – but I’m not “home” as much as I should be… So I guess the short answer is I really don’t. It isn’t the community stuff that does me in though. As long as you promise to not tell anyone – it’s the slacking off… It’s the time that I get lost in a 16 “new tab deep” journey in Wikipedia or getting mad reading political argues.. It’s that crap that kills my other time when it does… There is hope though!! I’ve been doing better at managing my time. I’ve been getting blog posts out, I’m working on a reboot of the User Group with a new location since we had location struggles, I’m posting a bit more, I’m saying no or “not yet” to new clients a bit more, etc. But still – it’s a work in progress πŸ™‚

      Reply

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