I was pretty excited when I read the theme for this month’s T-SQL Tuesday. Argenis Fernandez (@DBArgenis) is hosting this month and he has asked us to talk about why we specialized in a particular technology. I’m guessing that will be SQL Server for most of us. I imagine my story isn’t too different from many others, but I do have a story to tell.
Two years ago I was working at a small company as the “Manager of IT.” Over the course of eight years I had reached a point where I did actually manage other employees, but for most of my time there this title meant that I was the IT department. I remember sitting dow to write a job description after I had been there for a few years and I wrote down eleven different job titles that I was performing. I handled everything from custom programming, to Network Administration, Desktop Support, and yes, I was also the DBA. It was at this company that I learned how to install SQL Server 2000 and increased my knowledge slowly over the years to become if not an expert in SQL Server, at least knowledgeable enough to fix things when they broke (or break things and then fix them).
At some point it became clear to me that I had reached a plateau in my technology career at this company. I could stay on and focus on a management career, but I was pulling further and further away from doing any technology work. Focusing on management sounded about as much fun as having my eyes poked out with a sharp stick so I started to look at my options. I could go to another small company and be an IT generalist again, and possibly end up in the same place in a few years, or I could specialize and promote those skills in a new job search.
I decided that the technology I enjoy working with the most is databases. Microsoft tools and SQL Server were what I knew best so I would focus on that in my next job. It took some time and in the end I had to take a cut in pay to move on to a job that allowed me to focus on SQL Server, but it was the best thing I have ever done for my career. It was a job with law enforcement and the data was the most interesting data I’ve gotten to work with so far. While I was there they gave me time and encouragement to study for Microsoft SQL Server certification. I passed the first level exam (70-432) for Database Administration and added this to my resume. I would probably still be there today, but after about a year the economy had other ideas and I started to look for another position before mine was eliminated.
This second job search last less than two weeks. There seemed to be a perfect storm of SQL Server jobs available and my new experiences added credibility to the work I had been doing for years. This job was focused on SQL Sever development using SSIS and T-SQL. I was fortunate to work with some extremely talented people and I got about three years of SQL Server experience in 9 months. While I was there I passed the first level exam (70-433) for SQL Server Development. It was a great job with great benefits, but they made some changes to the bottom line and I walked in one day to be let go with about thirty of my coworkers.
The third SQL Server job search took about a week. I had learned enough to pass technical interviews with some aplomb and I had several recommendations from previous employers extolling my SQL Server knowledge. I am now working at large company doing ETL and support for their Enterprise Data Warehouse. I’ve had to come up to speed on a few things (like Oracle because they are not only a SQL Server shop), but for the most part I am looked at as an “expert” and expected to know things. Not only have a specialized in SQL Server, but now I find I am specializing in the SQL Server BI Tools. I admit there are times when I miss knowing the entire picture and being able to have input on more than my piece of the puzzle, but my career has taken leaps and bounds since I decided to specialize. I think knowing those other pieces and how they work helps me in the work that I do. It has also forced me to learn things quickly so when there are new aspects of SQL Server that I need to know I dive in knowing I’ll figure it out.
As I am wrapping up this post I realize I skipped over a big part of my experience, #SQLFamily. When I got to my first SQL job and started researching SQL Server I found a very rich online community. I remember stumbling upon Strate SQL when he started his 31 Days of SSIS. I started reading his blog and then a few others (Brent Ozar, SQL Aloha). Soon after I attended my first SQL Saturday and after that I fell down the Twitter rabbit hole. There is this amazing support system for asking questions and getting information about SQL Server that I have not seen in any other tech community. If I had stayed a generalist I would never have found this great group of database professionals. I’ve been attending the meetings at PASSMN for the last year and half and meeting people in the relatively small SQL community. Next week I start giving back to that community by presenting as a local speaker at the March PASSMN meeting.