Just Say No

Just say no was a tagline from my youth. As I recall, it didn’t work well then, but I hope it will work better for a different audience and in a different context today. I was reading Brent Ozar’s note about one of the toughest things for consultants to do: saying no. While I certainly think this isn’t a problem for some people that can’t find work, I do think this is an issue, and one that isn’t just a problem for consultants.

I have worked with many people across my career, and one of the things that most of them have struggled with is saying no. Maybe it’s fear over being scolded (or worse) by a manager. Maybe it’s the simple desire to please others. Perhaps it’s because we simple are eternal optimists, and we think we can handle everything thrown at us. No matter what your reason, many people find the inability to say no plagues them throughout their careers.

I’ve learned to say no across the last decade. I probably say no to more things than I agree to accomplish. There are times that I worry about how much I decline to tackle things at work. However I have learned to deliver what I agree to, and deliver it well. I’ve learned that to do that, I can’t tackle every project, idea, or assignment. There are times I have to push back and refuse (politely) to do something.

It’s a luxury for sure. I have been successful in my career, and I’m not in a position where the loss of my job would wreck my life. However I also realize time is the most valuable resource I have at work. Time is also the most valuable resource I have in life, and I have to learn to balance my use of that resource to continue to be successful. Hopefully you learn that as well.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.1MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn. feed

Branding Yourself for a Dream Job–Powerpoint and Questions

I had a few people ask about the deck, and I’ve uploaded it here: Branding Yourself for a Dream Job.

I also had a couple good questions at the end after people had left, so I thought I’d put them here.

What about a picture on my LinkedIn/resume?

I have had a few people ask this in the past, and I forgot to cover this in the talk. My only advice is that if you want to put one up, use a professional picture. Have someone take one.

Other than that, it’s a hit and miss prospect. We all have prejudices, and hiring managers/HR people are no different. If you’re a women, or old, or a minority, you might have some people exclude you based on your picture.

Personally I don’t see much benefit to adding a picture. Keep that information back until you need to disclose it.

Does it matter how many blogs I have?

No. However you will likely want to maintain them, so don’t tackle too much. I would suggest no more than 2, one for your career and one for something else.

A Week Before Networking at the PASS Summit

It’s a week before the Networking Dinner at the PASS Summit. Andy Warren and I are hosting the event next Monday, October 26th, at the Yard House in Seattle. The address is at 4th and Pike, just a few blocks from the convention center.

Register here if you can come.

There’s no cost, other than you covering your own food and drink expenses. We would like registration just to try and ensure we have enough staff at the restaurant.

This is a great chance to network with fellow data professionals. If this is your first or second time at the PASS Summit, please come and meet some people.

The Poor Soul

This editorial was originally published on May 11, 2011. It is being re-run as Steve is away at SQL in the City.

I recently had someone post this after I made a comment about someone taking responsibility for their database server.

“So Steve, what would you recommend then for those poor souls?  As being one of them it drives me nuts to constantly be told I can’t get more training as it’s not my true job position yet I’m responsible for making the databases work. “

I’ve been in this spot a few times, in and out of IT. I’ve been tossed into cooking or bartending jobs without training and had to learn quickly how to do the job, and I’ve had the same thing happen in IT. In a few cases the companies knew it was a bad situation and they eventually got me training, in others they didn’t. Here’s the advice I have for you.

Ultimately you are responsible for the job. Tough love, but you’re being paid for that job, so you are responsible.  That means you have to learn how the technology in your environment works and how to solve the problems you have.

First, get your resume up to date. Make sure it is ready for submission, and you are prepared to get fired every week.  Keep an eye on the job market and save some extra money, because to me, the financial security for my family comes first.

Second, learn to restore data and then make sure you have backups in place. This is secondary because if you have a failure quick, you want to be ready to get a new job. But ultimately no matter what breaks or doesn’t work, getting data back first is crucial.

As you go through all of this, you might be fighting fires. So while you practice restores or document the environment, you might be trying to fix things and asking questions of others, but invest the time to get yourself into a solid position.

I’d also talk to my boss regularly. Every time I found a place I didn’t know something, I’d make a note and let my boss know this is a hole. Maybe I can learn it, maybe I can’t, but I could use help. That might be the best ROI for conferences. Go, make friends, get contacts that can fill your knowledge holes. Or find consultants you can call.

Steve Jones

Choosing Your Tasks

This editorial was originally published on May 13, 2011. It is being re-run as Steve is out of town.

I have been working for SQLServerCentral for nearly a decade. I started in 2002 and in that time I have had to define my own job most of the time. Early on Andy and Brian had a list of things they thought I should be doing, and there were certain things to get done each week, but it was a general list.

This Friday I thought this was a topic for a good poll. Answer this question:

What percentage of your time is self-directed?

By self-directed I mean the tasks that you choose to do because you think they need to be done for some reason. This is opposed to the specific tasks that someone assigns you and gives you some deadline for finishing. If someone asks you to “tune the server”, I don’t consider that a specific task, and you would have to pick items to work on, and determine how much time you spend on them, that’s a self-directed task.

Do you have a good amount of self-directed time? When I used to manage a series of production servers, I usually had at least half my time as self-directed time. I could look at poor running queries, contact groups with proactive ideas for improving performance or preventing problems. I even had time to schedule DR testing. That took a lot of investment over time. I had to understand each system, set up monitoring and standards, build in data capture and analysis routines, and of course, plenty of alerting mechanisms.

I think that a great production DBA will have a lot of self-directed time after 6-12 months on the job. A development DBA, however, will likely be constantly responding to code requests and enhancements, which is one reason I prefer the former job.

Steve Jones

Are you a Data Scientist?

It seems that there’s no shortage of re-branding attempts being made in all industries and by all types of people. I still remember when most of us were called computer programmers instead of developers. Not many people writing C# or Java code would want to be called “programmers” today.

One of the latest fads is the call for more data scientists to work on big data, another equally, poorly defined term. However it seems that he definition of what a data scientist is has been so ill defined that almost anyone that can write a query using aggregates might define themselves as a data scientist.

A good thing if you are looking for a job. Many of you might find opportunities (and raises) if you convince a hiring manager that you are a data scientist. However I’d be wary of living on just the new brand without growing your skills. If your company comes to expect more, especially with regards to advanced statistical analysis, you might find yourself in a bind.

I ran across a piece that looks at the skills that a data scientist might actually need. I don’t know how many managers might understand the difference between simple discrete rules engines and more subtle, complex, multi variable, adaptive algorithms, but there can be a big difference in how well the system actually performs for your company.

No matter what you choose for your carer, I’d certainly encourage you to continue to learn more about how to work with data. Whether you want to learn more about statistics, pick up R, or improve your visualization skills. Keep Learning. Keep your brain active and work to improve before you find yourself without a job and in need of training. Every little bit you learn helps and the practice of continuous improvement builds a habit that will serve you well over time.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.7MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.


I’ve been looking to work on my programming skills a bit and try some new languages. I’d like to grow my career in a few different ways, as well as investigate where some of the new languages and platforms might be useful for data analysis. As I’ve talked to some developers and been looking around, someone recommended Exercism.io.

Exercism.io is a site that allows you to practice coding exercises and get feedback from others. When you visit the site, it’s an interesting look, and invites you to log in through GitHub. If you’re not a member of GitHub, and you’re a developer, you probably are making some sort of mistake.

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Once you log in, you really need to download the command line client and execute it. Once you do, you can configure it to connect and download exercises. Each of these is placed in a folder, as shown:

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For each of these languages, you get an exercise that you need to complete in that language. I’ve been playing with Python, and I had a first exercise of hello-world. In the python folder, were my exercises (you can see I’ve moved on).

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The hello-world folder had a read me and a test file (it’s since gotten my program in there). The Readme has instructions and the test file is a set of tests that can be executed to check your program.

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When you pass the tests, you submit your solution from the command line client. The submissions appear on the website and people can comment on your code. I am in no way commenting on any else’s Python code at this point, but I did get a comment on my leap year calculation.

2015-09-14 12_46_26-exercism.io

I looked over the comment and then changed some code. I had to futz with the command line to get this to resubmit, but as you can see, I ended up getting a second iteration in there. No comments on that one, but we’ll see.

It’s an interesting idea to share code and get comments. I think mostly this is a way to formally practice some exercises and get comments from experienced users, but the volume means that potentially you won’t get comments on your solutions. I know many of the SQL users may, or may not, comment on solutions.

I think this is interesting, and I’m tempted to try to do something like this for SQLServerCentral. The hard part of putting together enough questions that others can practice in an organized fashion.

Data Sprawl

When I was starting in the computer industry, it seemed that we had many choices for platforms, but once we had decided on a direction, the companies I worked for standardized on those systems. It seemed that there was less interoperability between vendors, or even subsets of products from those vendors.

That’s changed and these days I see products from different hardware vendors, different OSes, different development languages, even different database platforms being co-mingled and mixed throughout all sizes of companies. I see developers moving from Windows to OSX to Unix without a blink and data professionals going from SQL Server to MySQL to Hadoop easily.

Well, maybe not easily. Certainly there are challenges in learning how MySQL operates differently from SQL Server, which is a long way from the import and processing of data in NoSQL systems. However I do see some SQL Server professionals rising to the challenge and learning to work with these disparate technologies.

It seems to me that many of us in the future will need to develop multiple skill sets with different technologies just to be effective. Many of our companies will continue to deal with more data sprawl as not only will data be stored in RDBMSs and Excel, but we’ll get cloud services, NoSQL systems, and more that contain sets of data our organizations want to combine together.

We have seen XML and Hadoop integration in the SQL Server platform, with both R and JSON coming in SQL Server 2016. While I don’t know that any of these will come to dominate data analysis, I do think that it will behoove data professionals to be sure they keep their ability to learn sharp by experimenting with new technologies and growing their skills. Your company might not use Hadoop (or any new tech), but if you don’t learn about it, you won’t know if it meets a need you have.

However, even if you don’t decide to use the technology, the effort spent learning about it will not be wasted. Your brain will be more flexible, and you’ll have less anxiety if you’re asked to take a look at a new technology, maybe graph databases, something that is probably wildly different from anything you’ve ever used.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.6MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn. feed

Who’s a Good Developer?

I hear people in all industries and careers say that all of us should hire the best person for the job. We should pick the most qualified person and engage their services. However what’s left out of most of this advice is the most important question: how do you measure the best?

We talked about this recently in a DLM Workshop led by Ike Ellis. He asked the question: how do you tell who’s a good developer? Think about it for a few minutes. I’m sure you (think you) know who the best developer or DBA is in your company, but how do you know? What’s the measure?

I suspect you’ll find it to be a very abstract idea. Perhaps it’s like pornography, where you know a good developer when you see them, but if so, then have you always been able to tell a good developer right away? In an interview?

Embedded in the idea of determining who’s good and who’s not is the idea of ranking. Is there any way to rank one developer over another? I think you might be able to do so, but only in broad ranges. We (as a group) might feel Developer A is better than Developer B, but not necessarily better or worse than Developer C. However, do we have any way of ranking these two that would stand up to outside analysis?

I don’t have any great ways of measuring one developer v another. A best I think you can trust a developer to get a particular project done, and to the satisfaction of the client. However the trust would be based on previous experience and not any objective measures.

This isn’t likely to be a problem that we will solve anytime soon, in any industry. I think the best way to gain confidence in someone is to examine their body of work. See how it matches up with the work expected from an individual and then cross your fingers, trusting they continue to perform as expected.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.4MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn. feed

Working with People

Many DBAs have gotten the reputation of being difficult to work with. I think some of this is based on the impedance mismatch between developers and DBAs that seems to cause issues in many organizations. Many developers want their changes to be deployed quickly, while DBAs want extensive review and testing to be sure that no problems will occur. This prioritization of stability over enhancements by DBAs does make us seem difficult to managers, PMs, and no shortage of clients.

As the job of data professional has morphed and matured, many of us that might have been strictly DBAs or developers in the past now often need to work with many other people. We find all types and ranges of personalities that we must deal with, and I would guess many of us find other people difficult to deal with.

Learning to work with difficult people is a skill itself, and I ran across a piece that talks about a few ways that each of us might work with those we find difficult. Maybe more importantly, if we are perceived as difficult, perhaps we can learn a few things about ourselves and how we might adjust our own personality to work with others, or even perhaps we can give others ideas on how to best interact with us. The piece looks at emotional intelligence (EQ), which isn’t necessarily correlated to any other sort of intelligence, so don’t think a low EQ implies anyone is lacking technical talent.

Our interpersonal interactions are important. As important as our technical skills, if not more so. Learning more about ourselves and learning how to better work with others are important skills for us that can help ensure we have an enjoyable, as well as successful, career.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.0MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.