A Shirt. A Conference. A Village
Fair warning. I’m in a sentimental mood. I’m tired. I’m caffeinated. I have my “nice headphones” on listening to my eclectic collection on shuffle but somehow it turned into “With or Without You” from U2 on repeat a few times. . . And I just went to change into bedtime clothes. I tried to put on the rattiest old conference shirt in my pajama collection and realized the holes have grown so big on it that my head went into a random tear from wear instead of the actual sewn “head hole”. Combine that with the fact that I got this shirt 10 years ago this fall, the recent changes to my career going off on my own building a company with a main service focus on Sr. DBA on Demand services, a rainy day, and some paperwork to get caught up on and, well, you get a post. About a shirt, a conference, a village, and people. Well maybe. We’ll see where I go.
Not Just Any Shirt. . .
I’ve been working with SQL Server for 17 years. That doesn’t seem possible. Heck, I had to literally open Calc to get my age right. For some reason I’ve been telling people I’m 36 all year when I’ve been 37 since last December. I’ll be 38 before the year ends, apparently. 17 years experience with a single technology is possible for me. I’ve blogged a lot about my career on this blog here since 2009. I won’t share the old details. Suffice it to say it’s been awhile, Google can help you if you really care. It started with SQL Server 6.5 in a support role and it has continued up to SQL Server 2016.
But this shirt marks an important point in that journey. You see, 10 years ago I was a 7 year “veteran” of working with SQL Server. I had worked on some fun projects. I thought I knew more than I did. I had been to some local User Group meetings. I had read many SQL Server books. I had started getting into these blog things. A copy of SQL Server magazine seemed to be everywhere in my house. I had been to a few launch day events and single day events in the Boston area. I’d never traveled overnight to a conference though. Heck I hadn’t really traveled much – I think around then I did a quick side gig consulting in Juarez Mexico to a PC manufacturer helping them with tuning, otherwise I really never left on my own for a trip even.
So I went to the PASS Summit in 2006. While there I picked up a T-Shirt promoting SQL Server 2005, which I had some experience with by then already. So I got this shirt (it looked better when I first got it) at an event at the Experience Music Project in Seattle – or maybe at the sponsor hall, but I got it. A stupid kitschy thing. I kept it along the years for some reason. I’ve gotten rid of the 2006 attendee backpack when we moved to the farm here last year. I’ve kept a handful of t-shirts that fit alright because it’s good to have a t-shirt when you are a farmer and don’t seem to make the time to go clothes shopping.
But yeah. This (now) ratty shirt. It has a story. I want you to think about this shirt when you go to a technology conference as an “alumni” attendee, as a human, as a first time attendee, as a speaker or as an organizer.
The 27 year old who picked up this shirt . . .
. . . wasn’t really connected to anyone.
. . . had never been to a SQL Conference.
. . . was excited about learning.
. . . didn’t know there was a “SQL Server Community”
. . . was a shy wallflower who would never dream of speaking, blogging, tech editing a book, accepting an author contract for a book, starting a company.
He was just another face at a conference. I didn’t know that in the ten years since getting this shirt I would. . .
. . . start blogging with encouragement and advice from folks I met at that first Summit and do it for 7 years.
. . . join a company co-founded by someone whose face I saw in SQL Server magazine each month.
. . . join a company co-founded by SSIS master and speaker/author MVP extraordinaire Andy Leonard.
. . . speak at this very same conference 3 or 4 times in the following years!
. . . be recognized as an MVP by Microsoft 6 times in a row and, for some reason, still counting.
. . . mentor and coach (I hate even using those words because the folks I have in mind have taught me more than I ever taught them) a couple folks along the way.
. . . start my own company here this year changing my focus a bit from the company I was, in a sense, a part of the first vision of, missing “founder” because of hesitation and timing.
A SQL Village. . .
I met so many people at that first event. So many people who give themselves away (did I mention I was listening to With or Without You on repeat? Was about to write who give, and who give, and who give, and who give themselves away…
But I didn’t ). My old boss and friend Andy Kelly brought me to a dinner with the leadership and consultants at Solid Quality Learning and their spouses. I felt so out of place. Like dining with celebs. I really just wanted to walk over to Kalen Delaney and say “Your book. The orange SQL Server 2000 book. It changed my life. It hooked me and made me grow from 6/5/7.0 dabbling to a real DBA“. I wanted to just keep looking at Itzik and talk about his T-SQL challenges and puzzles. And I was just eating with them. I don’t think I said too many words. But they said words to me. They welcomed me as a fellow SQL person.
At a “Data Dude” launch party that Summit, I met Erland Sommarskog. He didn’t know me from a hole in the wall but he chatted me up and we talked for quite awhile that night. Adam Machanic I knew a bit through Andy and the local user group Adam ran in Boston – he chatted me up some and introduced me to folks. Networking came to me. I wasn’t going to go out and do it. It felt like it wasn’t quite my tribe in a sense, I didn’t know everyone. So many people just chatted with me randomly. I can’t tell you how encouraging that was. Hearing others talk about their day jobs and their experiences. I wasn’t alone!
After that? I started reading more blogs. Went to more events. I eventually joined twitter where folks like Brent Ozar encouraged me that even me – a mid level person with 10 years by then of experience had stuff worth sharing. That turned into encouragement from others in speaking. Somehow I started giving back to the village. It sort of just organically happened. It felt natural and unforced. And I hate public speaking! I now run with a close friend the Seacoast SQL Server Users Group in NH. I’ve been recognized as an MVP each April since 2011. I help folks out. I make sure to be at the networking and events at the Summit and love meeting new folks at them or at SQL Saturdays. I love giving myself to them. I get excited seeing that person at their first SQL event and talking with them. Listening to them. Talking about what’s coming. The village grows. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see new bloggers start or speakers start. I did a few series way back when encouraging others to blog and speak. And folks did and it’s great to see.
A Lesson. . .
So this is long word count wise. I think I broke it up some. But a lesson to end. Maybe a reminder. Actually reminders:
To the alumni – Don’t forget to make the new folks feel welcome. “Hey!! How are you?! How’s your conference so far? I’m Mike. Who are you?” goes a long way.
To the first time attendees – Don’t sweat it. Don’t spend the whole time in your hotel room or Shiro’s sushi bar like I did the first couple nights (though do go to Shiro’s and get the Omakase or Shiro’s new place). Get out there and take those offers to chat up if you like. I’m not saying you have to be fake. Quiet introspection isn’t bad at all. So don’t force it. But I bet you’ll have some great 1:1 chats with folks like you and end up with some great friendships and encouragement even in small doses.
To the organizers – Learn from PASS and their Summit and the work they’ve done for first timer events. Optional networking events are great way to start. Get the alums encouraged at meeting others.
To the speakers – Keep giving. I don’t know any speakers or bloggers who do this out of selfish motivations first. It’s expensive to go to a SQL Saturday or conference with no speaker travel reimbursement! Keep giving yourself away. Chat with the attendees. Take some time to answer questions and encourage.
This shirt. It really isn’t a shirt to me.
“Old Mike” went to that conference. He was a solid DBA. He had a chip on his shoulder and thought he was pretty good and had a pride problem towards others at the day job. He thought DBA meant “Don’t bother asking”. He read books to learn – but mostly just to try and get that raise and keep his day job going job well and move up the ladder. This was a job and it was about him..
“New Mike” left that conference. He had a bigger idea of just what the SQL community was. He realized how little about the product he knew (and that was SQL Server 2005’s debut time frame, so much more to learn. There have been 5 releases of SQL server since that fall night 10 years ago!!!). He realized how much others shared and was interested in that. He had new friends. He softened his attitude a bit realizing that the perils and frustrations he faced as a DBA weren’t unique at all. He met folks like Joe Webb and Kevin Kline who taught him soft skills in addition to the technical skills. Eventually he’d grow to where he is now – realize he knows even less now than he did then but loves giving back and loves watching light bulbs go off.
Sure. Maybe I’m baiting you for comments. But this is the kind of post I want to hear from you on!!! I don’t care about how many comments I get. I just enjoy seeing them and hearing your thoughts. So leave a comment, a tweet, a facebook comment, a linked in comment or send me a post card. Here are some questions:
- Should I throw this away? My wife said on my FB post where I shared the image of it “finally one too many vent holes? I thought the armpit blowout from awhile back was enough. yes, let it go.” – is she right? Or should I keep it? I’ll let your votes help me decide what to do.
- What’s your oldest conference shirt? And why do you still have it?
- You remember going to your first event or getting involved in your own tech community for the first time? What are some things you think we can do to better welcome the new folks?