What three events brought you here?

January 18, 2010 at 2:18 pm (Misc) (, , , )

Another one of the DBA bloggers games of tag is occurring. I’ve been asked by Tom LaRock to answer Paul Randal’s question; What three events brought you here. Well, mom was a cheerleader and dad was a football player, so… Oh, wait. I guess I misunderstood the question. He means what three events lead me to becoming a data geek. Well, that’s completely different. Luckily, no (further) cheerleaders will be harmed in making this (part of the) story.


When I was 16 years old and Jimmy Carter was President, Radio Shack was still considered to be the place for aspiring geek wannabe’s. It just so happened that I hit $500 in my bank account about the same time they started pushing this radical thing called a “personal computer.” I bought the base model TRS-80 with a whopping 4k of memory, an OS, a keyboard and a monitor. I supplied the cassette tape player (I’m providing links to some of the more arcane bits of technology since you young punks won’t know what I’m talking about) for storage. I also got one game, Space Warp. I started learning basic. I wrote up a random encounter generator for the Traveler role playing game that used all 4k of memory. I was hooked.

I want to Direct

But, instead of going to MIT & pursuing computers, as I should have, and unlike Paul Randal, I joined the Navy. While there I became great friends with a guy that was sold on getting out & going to film school. That sounded like great fun. So I did that. I went to film school and I started doing indie work in NYC. But, unfortunately for my film career and fortunately for my database career, NYC was not the place to be for indie film or to really break into the film business in the late 80’s. I should have been in LA or maybe up in Canada or down in the Carolina’s, but NYC was largely over as place to get started (very strong community, but few opportunities for up & comers). I supplemented my film jobs with temp work, mainly typing letters & doing data entry. One day I was asked what I knew about databases. The correct answer was nothing, but what I said was, “What do you need?” They needed a Paradox database that could store names for a mailing list. “I can do that.” I ran out & bought a Paradox book and stayed about two chapters ahead of what they needed until I had a fully (mostly) functional system up & running. I shudder to think what the thing must have looked like now, but at the time I was a hero. I got a lot more work from these guys and stopped worrying about my film career, because, I still loved computers.

You need to do something

I had been working in IT full time for about 10 years. I’d spent most of that time doing development, first in Paradox, later in VB. I was working for my first dot com. Our DBA had quit, but we’d just kept going, but after a while, we were really feeling the pain of not having someone spend all day, every day, looking at the database. Finally, I went into the bosses office and went on a total rant. “We need backups. We need consistency checks. We need someone to vet the design and validate the code.”  Blah, blah, blah. He waited until I ran out of steam and then said, “OK, what are you going to start with first?” A DBA was born.

That’s about it. You could pick any number of events, but these are the ones that kind of stand out for me.

Gail Shaw (because I always do, and she’s interesting)
Tim Mitchell (because he’s interesting)
TJay Belt (because he’s interesting too)

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Tagged Again, Two Mistakes

December 10, 2008 at 8:58 am (Misc) (, )

OK. I really do need to take a look at incoming links more often. This one was pointed out to me. Now I’m to provide two mistakes… Only two? This is another idea originating with Chris Shaw who apparently spends all day providing a duel service. He torments fellow DBA’s and provides blogging fodder. I’m not sure which is more useful to the public.

1)  HUGE mistake. Way back, much earlier in my career, I thought I could do no wrong and learn anything I needed to learn within a week or so. First time I learned that wasn’t true was when I claimed to be a database expert at the consulting company I was working for. They sent me off to a client where I proceded to trash a database server. I mean, I mucked it up totally with the gleeful abandon that comes from total ignorance. Next day, I come back, of course, nothing is working. My fault, but I didn’t know it at the time. Instead, I ask around to see if anyone else had been on the system. I find out that their local DBA had been in it. I go over and start berating this woman, who was apparently a saint. I finish ripping her a new one and she patiently walks over to the machine and begins my education as a DBA. She goes for an hour straight, just listing my mistakes. Then she suggests a couple of books, some classes, calls my boss and asks them to ship me back to the office. I leave there, humbled and totally beaten. But, I worked for a great company (except for their tendency to send out unqualified people, which they did quite a lot). They felt I had potential so they provided me with a bit of training and off I ran. Lesson learned, try to learn what you don’t know prior to screaming that lack of knowledge at the planet.

2) I was still learning my chops around databases when I decided that one of the tables I was working on needed two clustered indexes. Yeah, I know now that they can only have one. It was a much older version of Sybase and I was using a third party tool, I’m not sure which one. Anyway, I did it. I got two clustered indexes onto the table. Oh, and did I mention, it was a production table. Needless to say, that part of the database was offline. I was getting really weird errors. I struggled and fought and finally called Sybase support. I’ve got the high-mucky-mucks of the company standing behind me moistening my neck with their breath as I try to solve the problem. A few minutes with the Sybase tech support and they provide a solution, fixing the allocation errors on the table. Then, of course, the VP’s or whatever they were ask how it happened so it won’t happen again. I turn to the Sybase support guys. They ask me what I did? Nothing, says I, I was just putting another clustered index on the table when… Once the guy on the phone stopped laughing, he explained my error and I had to turn around and explain it to the VP’s. I thought about trying to shade it, but isntead I just told the truth. “I screwed up. I did something wrong.” That worked. They were satisfied. It’s something I’ve carried forward. If I screw up, I own it.

Also, TEST stuff offline in non-production environments for crying out loud!

Now, to tag. I’m going for SQLBatman & Gail again.

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SQL Quiz Part 2a

December 10, 2008 at 8:03 am (Misc) ()

I guess I should check my incoming links more often. I was tagged prior to TJay tapping me. Sorry Jeremiah.

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