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T-SQL Tuesday #28 – Jack of all Trades, Master of None

March 13, 2012

tsqltuesdayIt’s that time of the month again, T-SQL Tuesday Tuesday. This month Argenis Fernandez, MCM, and big round SQL teddy-bear is hosting. His topic is Jack of All Trades, Master of None.

The second Tuesday of every month is when the blog party takes off. If you want to participate, read Argenis’ post and write your own entry. If you want to host, contact Adam Machanic.

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

After my third year of college, I went to work at a new hotel in Virginia Beach. I hadn’t had much experience in the restaurant industry, other than cooking one semester at college, so they hired me to be a busboy and room service waiter. I opened the hotel working in the café, but the slow start caused some people to quit. When a waiter didn’t show up one day, I volunteered, got a chance, and moved up in the world. When a bartender didn’t show up one afternoon, I volunteered, and had a new gig for the rest of the summer.

It’s been a mantra for me for the most part in my career. I like challenges, I like new things, and I’m not afraid to tackle much. The same way I moved up in the restaurant business to new (and better paying) jobs worked in technology. However the “jack of all trades” philosophy hasn’t been just about getting new jobs, but also being better at my main job.

At more than a few companies, I’ve been happy to fill in for the network person, the sysadmin, the Exchange manager, the developer, doing my best to fix something or improve it. As I’ve been a DBA, I’ve worked on PHP, ASP, HTML, XML, Cisco IOS, configured T-1 lines, changed batteries in UPSes, and more. Those skills have helped me to understand how things are put together, and enabled me to solve more than a few complex problems, in complex architectures, because I could truly see the forest. Even if I didn’t understand how everything worked, I knew how lots of parts were supposed to work, and how they were plugged together.

Even today in SQL Server, I write about all sorts of topics, and review pieces on all aspects of the SQL Server platform. I don’t know how to configure them all as an expert, but I know a lot about how most of the platform works, even if I don’t know all the details. Sometimes that’s enough to get me by.

It’s not all perfect, and I don’t think being Jack is better than being a master. There are more jobs for the “Jacks” of the world, but the pay tends to be lower. Masters make more, but have fewer opportunities, and fewer places they might get to live/work at any point in time. There’s a (I think) higher level of satisfaction from being a master in some area of your field, and I can appreciate that. I’ll also say that most of the “masters” I know that are fairly specialized have this innate motivation to learn more about their topic, which bleeds off into other sections of their field, making them knowledgeable in a “Jack” way on other parts of their industry.

In the end, I think it’s fine to be a Jack or a master, just be true to yourself. Do the things that you enjoy, and if that’s one or the other, you should have a great career.

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