Thanks SQLBatman. It’s not like I need to do work or something.
Who has been a great leader in your career and what has made them a great leader?
First, I need to define what I understand a leader to be and then I’ll see if I have any great ones on the list. There are a lot of ways to define what a leader is. You could say simply the managers, team leads, CEO’s and CIO’s that you’ve worked for or with are leaders. But I don’t see that. I think of a leader and I see Henry V and the St. Crispin’s day speech, “…And gentlemen in England now-a-bed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” I think of a leader as the guy who stands up and says, “Hey, let’s go to hell,” and you fall into line behind the guy and off you go. Now, I realize that we’re working in IT and trips to hell, service pack rollouts not withstanding, are not exactly a part of the job description. But, I still have this idea of someone who makes suggestions, gives guidance, and simply commands through his prescence, not because he’s been with the company the longest or was assigned as the lead by someone else with institutional power. Personal power makes a leader. The person who will end up in charge wherever they go and whatever they do. And when they’re in charge, you’ll follow them, not blindly like an idiot, but because they demonstrate qualities that makes you believe that they’re going to take you into hell and back out, possibly in one piece.
So, who has been a great leader in my career? That’s really hard. I have worked with some simply amazing people. I’ve worked for some terrific managers. I’ve also worked with and for people that were wasting perfectly good oxygen. I have one guy that really stands out as being a simply outstanding leader. I say this quite simply because if I got a phone call from him tomorrow asking me to come to work with him, I’d probably go. Vipul Minocha.
I only worked for Vipul for about 10 months back in 1998-99. We were working at a start-up that has subsequently failed. Vipul was the head of development and I was one of his VB developers. Vipul was technically smart as hell. He knew programming languages and databases and business management. But he didn’t stand up and declaim his knowledge. Instead he stayed out of the way and cleared paths for the rest of us to get our jobs done. He’d review our work every so often and suggest ways we could do things better, approaches we hadn’t thought of, other stuff. He was really great. The company on the other hand was a flipping nightmare. In the first four months I worked there we went through two different dba’s. A few weeks after the last one had left I stormed into Vipul’s office, mad as hell. I’d just run into a whole bunch of database problems on the code I was working on. I listed all the stuff that was wrong and what should be done to fix it and I asked Vipul where the heck a DBA was coming from… Yeah. I walked out of the office with a mandate and a new mission. Vipul really helped out with a lot of my first stumbling steps as a DBA. He could have done the job better than I did, but he was actively growing me into something new, a development DBA. Unfortunately, the stresses of working for the start-up were too much AND another start-up offered me a ridiculous amount of money to work for them as their cheif DBA (meaning, only, at first), so I left. I understand that Vipul has gone on to found a consulting company. It’s actually quite a ways away from where I live or might have been tempted to look him up.
Vipul was a great leader because while he set direction, he didn’t micro-manage. He let you swim on your own, but he never let you drown. He had an agenda and a set of goals that he sold to all of us. We followed him willingly because it was pretty clear he was going to get where he wanted to go, either with us, or without us. He encouraged learning and experimentation, but never lost sight of the end-point. He was a real joy to work with and for. It’s a shame we were in such a wretched environment with a bunch of total jerks (who, by the way, undermined Vipul on multiple occasions, they were the opposite of great leaders) because I ended up working more for them than for Vipul. Still, it was a heck of an experience and he set a very high bar that I couldn’t clear at the time, but it gave me something to strive for.
That’s enough, I hope. Time to inflict this on others.