How I Got Here: 5 Years At Pragmatic Works
I recently celebrated my 5 year anniversary at Pragmatic Works. Boy, how time flies by. It feels like just the other day that I was a store manager for Blockbuster while going to school and living in a small apartment with a buddy who had just moved back from Orlando. Looking back over the last few years of my career I’m pretty amazed at how far I’ve come. I could do a write up about some of the cool things I’ve gotten to do over the years, but instead I’d like to take this in a little different direction. So, with that I’d like to tell a little bit about how I got to where I am today and extend a challenge to everyone.
I get to do a lot of speaking, be it training classes, SQL Saturdays, user groups or other random things here and there. Through those events I get to meet some great people. Some are just starting their careers and are eager to learn. Some are making a transition in their jobs and need to learn a new skill. Others are just because they have to be. My favorite people to talk with are the first two groups, those starting out and those wanting to learn something new. Every now and then I get the question “How did you go from manager at Blockbuster to Senior BI Consultant quickly?”
The short answer: I’ve been extremely blessed to have the right people in my life. Believe me, there is no way I would be where I am today without help from some great people who were kind enough to spend their time helping me along the way.
The longer answer: Devin Knight (Blog | Twitter) was one of the first people to help me out along my path. While I was working for Blockbuster he came to me and started talking up SQL Server to me knowing I would probably enjoy it. I like puzzles, challenges and I’m an all-around computer nerd, so it was a natural fit for me. We would, on occasion, spend some time after hours where he would show me some of the basics. What was a table, how to get data out of multiple tables, and what kind of tools are out there to move data and build reports. Just the basics, but it was unbelievably helpful as I knew some of the terminology and concepts when I picked up my first book to start learning a little more on my own. Devin was always willing to help no matter how basic the question was when I was getting started through the first couple years of my career. He continues to be one of the people on my short list to call when I need help or need to bounce an idea off someone.
Not too long after I got a call from Brian Knight (Twitter) and he offered me an entry level position with Pragmatic Works doing software support. He took a chance on a guy who knew nothing and was willing to help get me up to speed. I spent the better part of my first few weeks being quite unproductive while I learned the basics of SSIS and going through some of our other training classes as well. Everyone at PW (it was all of about 15 of us at the time) seemed more than willing to answer my basic questions to get me to the “why” behind what I was doing. Brian gave me a lot of little things here and there knowing I would struggle through some of them but that it would be a good learning experience. I like to think I’ve turned into a pretty decent consultant, but we shall see if he thinks otherwise via the comments. 🙂 Brian helped a lot when I was getting started. He had a good ability to provide just enough help so that you get pointed in the right direction but still have to do work on your own to solve the problem. That was so much more helpful early on than just saying here is the solution.
In January of 2010 I had been with the company for about 3.5 or 4 months and was put on my first solo project doing a DTS to SSIS conversion. It was a pretty scary experience being in an industry for only 4 months and going out on a project on my own. The guys at PW had enough confidence that I wouldn’t completely screw up that they sent me anyway. Trial by fire and all. The project went well and I still had a job (yay!!). I learned a ton just being able to go out and get some real world hands on with SSIS even though I wasn’t doing new development, just a conversion. After that project (about 6-8 weeks later) I was sent on another project this time doing my own ground up development. Projects continued to go well and soon I was dedicated full time to nothing but consulting.
Adam Jorgensen (Blog | Twitter)is the president of Pragmatic Works Consulting. He and I have had a good relationship since the beginning. He’s always had my back when things got heated on projects and has given me a lot of opportunities to be involved in some new and exciting initiatives at PW. Like Brian, Adam was and continues to be a wonderful guide. Always helping get me back on track when something wasn’t going quite right on a project but not giving me the step by step answer. Or giving me an idea about something that I hadn’t thought of so I could go research it and do some learning on my own. He is always busy but when it’s come down to it I could always count on him being available to help me out of a jam. Whether that’s me walking down to his office, sitting slouched on the couch chronicling some issue, drawing something out on the whiteboard or doing a phone call late in the evening when all other options have been exhausted. He continues to have allow me to get my hands on new things on internal projects and has provided a lot of good advice over the years that have help me be a better consultant from managing projects to development.
There are so many other people that have been influential in my career I couldn’t name them all. One of the first DBAs I got to work with was Patrick LeBlanc (Twitter). There was a project where I called him every day for probably a week or two straight. Every time he stopped what he was doing to explain something to me that I just didn’t have any experience with at the time. I spent about 6-7 months working with Jorge Segarra (Blog | Twitter) on his first project with PW. We taught each other a lot of things on that project since he didn’t have much hands on with SSIS and I happened to accidentally drop the master database (and screwed up a few other little things along the way, don’t trust the SSIS SMO task, just saying) from a server one afternoon which prevented access and caused all kinds of problems. I swore Jorge to secrecy about that particular incident, but it’s time. It’s been a few years, no company collapsed in the end and Jorge save my butt by being awesome (as per usual) and working his magic to get things back up and running. Even though he has moved on to Microsoft I still keep in touch. Gareth Swanepoel (Blog | Twitter) and I were fortunate enough to get to work on one of the very first PDW implementations together (outside of Microsoft’s implementations). We had some good times working on that together out in the great state of Texas. Today my direct manager is Mr. Bradley Ball (wow, what a great first name, here is his Twitter). If you ever want to know anything about page latches and…other internals stuff, I don’t know. He starts talking about internals and I get lost really quick. The point is, he’s one of the smarted guys I know on the subject and always available for question time or general complaint sessions when I need them. There are definitely others I didn’t mention, but I think you get the point.
The other part that has gotten me to where I am today is doing consulting. I have gotten to see more customer problems in the last 6 months than many people will probably get to see in 10 years. That’s the nature of consulting sometimes. Sure not all consulting is like that, but I’ve gotten to do performance tuning, SharePoint, APS (PDW), all parts of the BI stack, data warehouse design and a bunch of other stuff recently. Heck, just last week I talked to a handful of people and worked on SSAS cube design, MDX, SharePoint BI, SSAS security, SSIS troubleshooting and provided some guidance on a data warehouse design. That’s the nature of the current way things are going for me at PW. It may not always be like that, but currently it is. You have to learn quickly when that’s how things go. You learn a lot of things because you have to learn them to keep up. There is no way I would have the knowledge I have today if I started as just a report developer someplace. Consulting has been a catapult for learning for me. It’s been awesome. Even those who do consulting don’t necessarily get to do as many cool things as I’ve gotten to be a part of. As I said before, I’ve been extremely blessed to have the path I’ve traveled in my career.
If I said there weren’t a few bumps along the way I wouldn’t be telling the truth. Every client is something different. New problems, different politics, crazy requirements, old habits and interesting experiences. It’s been a really fun 5 years at Pragmatic Works. I love what I do. It’s exciting to get to play with new technology all the time. To be on the cutting edge of things like APS (PDW), cloud and big data. I get to help companies solve problems in my job every day. I enjoy getting to travel around and see new places. I enjoy the new opportunities I get each and every day. I hope there is one thing that doesn’t change and that’s my desire to learn new things. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do that here at Pragmatic Works. I can go anywhere locally and maintain the same SSIS packages day in and day out, that’s not what I’m looking for in my job. I like the changes. I like the challenge. I like getting to do training with people and drop some knowledge. I think it is fun.
The takeaway and a challenge: So, what’s the story of my last 5 years at Pragmatic Works? How did I get to where I am today? I’ve been surrounded by a lot of amazing people. There is one thing they all have in common. Each and every one of them were willing to take time out of their day to help me out when I needed it and continue to do so today. So I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone that has had a hand in helping shape my career over the last few years.
My challenge for everyone is this; be humble and help someone else. I’m sure if you think about it there have been people who have helped you along the way as well. Where would you be without those people in your life? I’m not saying we need to all take someone under our wing and mentor them 24/7. Not everyone has time for that sort of thing and I can respect that. I’m simply suggesting that next time you see someone struggling take 5 minutes and see if you can help out and point them in the right direction. Find a junior developer and spend a few minutes talking with them and let them know you’re available if they need to bounce an idea off someone. Go to a SQL Saturday or a Code Camp, present a session and let people know you’ll be around to talk after if they would like. Don’t be condescending when someone asks a seemingly obvious question on Twitter or a forum. That same question wasn’t always “obvious” to you either.
I’m not by any means saying I’m the best person at this. I could be more humble. I could certainly be more approachable. I could do better by being more involved in the community sometimes. All too often we get caught up in our own “stuff” that we forget other people need help too. A few minutes of your time could make a big difference.