Today, August 1, 2013, marks my one year anniversary as a member of the SQLskills team. Simply put, it’s been a great year. Challenging in many ways, exhausting at times, but absolutely what I wanted (and expected) to be doing in this role. Over the past year I’ve been asked many times, “How’s your new job?!” It’s not-so-new now, but since I didn’t blog much about the non-technical side of life during the past year, I thought I’d use this post to tell you about my new job. Specifically, the five most important things I learned during the past year.
Talking, out loud, is important
Working for SQLskills means I work remotely, therefore I work from home. This was quite an adjustment. I knew it would significantly change the rhythm of each day, but I had no idea what it would look like. I’ve considered writing about it many times, but a few months ago Merrill Aldrich wrote a post, Telecommuting, Month 9, that explained – very well – many of my own thoughts and observations. In the comments my friend Jes Borland, who also works from home, clearly articulates one challenge of working remotely.
I found out that what I miss is being able to say, out loud, “I have this idea. What do you think of it?” and getting immediate feedback.
Yes. YES! I love the solitude of my office…having the entire house to myself. Some days I don’t even turn on music or anything for background noise. But when I want to talk about something, I want to talk about it right now…out loud (funny sidebar, this video makes me laugh…let’s taco ‘bout it). Trying to discuss ideas over email or chat isn’t the same. It doesn’t create the same excitement, or the cross-pollination of ideas that occurs during a true conversation. As Joe says, “it’s where the magic happens.” It’s true.
Half the battle is realizing the problem. The other half is figuring out what to do about it. I make notes about what I want to discuss, and then fire off an email or set up a WebEx. Jon and I have had numerous late night WebEx sessions where we talk through something, and suddenly at 1 AM I find myself with a litany of post-it notes spread across my desk and ideas churning in my head. I love those moments. They are not as organic or spontaneous as they were in an office setting, but I can still make them happen with a little effort.
When theory meets execution
SQL Server is a vast product, and many of us have seen and done a lot…but we haven’t seen and done everything. As such, there are scenarios and tasks that we’ve read about, that make sense, but we haven’t actually walked through on our own. We know what’s required to set up an availability group. We have the checklist, the steps are logical, we can estimate how long it will take, and we’ve read every supporting blog post and technical article we can find. But I’ve yet to find anything that replaces the actual execution of the task. In some cases, what’s expected is actually what happens. And that’s a wonderful thing. But there are other times where what is planned is not what occurs. I like this quote I just read in Bob Knight’s book, The Power of Negative Thinking:
Don’t be caught thinking something is going to work just because you think it’s going to work.
Planning beats repairing.
Theory and execution are not always same – it’s certainly nice when they are and when the implementation goes as planned. But don’t rely on it. Ultimately, practice and preparation are required to consistently ensure success.
Nothing can replace experience
If you’ve worked in technology a while, you know that a core skill is troubleshooting. And to be good at troubleshooting, you must have an approach, a methodology that you follow as you work through an issue. But to be really good at troubleshooting, you also need to recognize patterns.
I came into this role with many years of experience troubleshooting database issues. But I spent the majority of that time looking at the same database, across different customer installations (if you don’t know my background, I used to work for a software vendor and as part of my job I supported the application database). I became familiar with the usual database-related problems, and knew how to quickly identify and fix them. We typically call this pattern matching, and I found it well explained in this excerpt from The Sports Gene, where it’s defined as “chunking.” From the article:
… rather than grappling with a large number of individual pieces, experts unconsciously group information into a smaller number of meaningful chunks based on patterns they have seen before.
In the past year I’ve seen a lot of new patterns. And some days were extremely frustrating because I would look at a problem, get stuck, and then ask another member of team to look at the issue with me. It was usually Jon, who would often look at the issue for a couple minutes and then say, “Oh it’s this.” It was infuriating. And I would ask Jon how he knew that was the problem. And the first time I asked him I think he thought I was questioning whether he was right. But in fact, I just wanted to know how he figured it out so quickly. His response? “I’ve seen it before. Well maybe not this exact thing, but something similar.” It’s pattern matching. It’s chunking. It’s experience. You cannot read about it. You cannot talk about it. You just have to go get it. And be patient.
I have a great team
I actually have two great teams: my team at work and my team at home. I work with individuals who are experts in the SQL Server Community. Their support is unwavering. Their willingness to help knows no limits. I am always appreciative for the time and the knowledge they share, and I am proud to not just work with them, but to call them friends. To the SQLskills team: thank you for a fantastic first year – I look forward to what’s ahead! (And happy birthday Glenn!)
My team at home is Team Stellato: my husband Nick and my two kids. The first year of any job is an adventure, and for me there’s a lot of overhead – a lot of thought around what I’m doing, what I need to finish, what’s next, etc. And much of that continues when I’m not at my desk. I haven’t always been 100% present this past year and over last 12 months I’ve said, I don’t know how many times, that I’m still figuring it out. And I am still figuring it out. It’s hard to balance everything. It’s hard to stay in the moment all the time. I firmly believe I can do it, but I also believe I can do it better than I’m doing it today. Thank you Nick for just being you – being supportive, understanding, and patient, and for making me laugh. We’ll get there. And thank you to my kids for trying to understand that being at home and being available aren’t always the same thing. This year I will do better at being present during our time.
Make time for the gym
The last item to mention is something I need to be successful, but it may not be necessary for everyone. It’s exercise. It seems pretty straight-forward, right? For some reason it’s a continual battle I fight in my head. I don’t always have enough hours in the day to get done what I want to get done, so something has to give. I’m very quick to sacrifice a run, a spin class, or a hot yoga session. My though process is: “I will need 30/60/90 minutes for that workout. That’s time I could spend working/hanging out with my family/having lunch with a friend.” But when I give up that work out multiple days in a row, my mental and emotional health suffer…more than my physical health. A work out clears my head – solutions come faster, ideas flow easier, I am more focused when I need to be – and it reduces my stress. It’s ironic if you think about it…making time to work out introduces this stress (“Can I do everything?!”) but the act of working out makes everything else I need to do so much easier. And it’s not about how far I run, or how many classes I get to in a week. It’s the workout itself – whether it’s an intense 50 minutes of spin, a 1.5 mile run while the kids bike, or an hour in the yoga studio.
Year 2 and beyond
So, how’s my new job? It’s great. In many ways it is exactly what I expected, and in other ways it’s not – and that’s not a bad thing. I didn’t anticipate every challenge I would have in working from home, but I am not afraid of them, nor do I think they’re unconquerable. I have learned how to step back and critically look at where I am in my career, and evaluate what’s working well and what isn’t. And this is working well. It’s hard – hard because I am learning a ton and juggling many things, and that can be exhausting. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. I hate to be bored! I absolutely love working with people who know so much, because it reminds me how much there is to know and what I can learn. It is a fantastic motivator for me. And the SQLskills team is fun. A little weird at times but very fun and extremely supportive. I cannot explain the importance of that, for me, enough. And so begins year 2, let’s see what adventures this brings…IE0 anyone?!!