Monday, January 18, 2010

What Three Things Brought Me Here

I was tagged by SQL Rockstar, aka Tom LaRock, after this thread was started by Paul Randal-not-Paul-Tripp (I wonder if Kim disagrees?). It’s an interesting, introspective question. What three things got you going.
I could go with getting a computer early, or something in education, but the truth is I don’t think those things shaped me. They were the result of a high curiosity in math and computers, of wondering how the world works, having ambition, etc.
I could go with the fact that I spent part of my childhood fairly poor and hated that. It definitely drove me on to work hard, but it wasn’t a fundamental change. It did, however, keep me from trying to pursue a career in music since I hated the poor struggling band lifestyle and I could have given that up at any time to have a regular paycheck.
Instead I’m going to go with three events that I think fundamentally moved my life in the direction it’s taken, and prevented me from going in another direction.

rugby Rugby

I’ve always enjoyed sports, and to the dismay of my Mom, often violent sports: football, martial arts, and in college, rugby. I picked up the game in Hyde Park in London, and when I returned to the US, I joined the University of Virginia team.
It was great fun, and I moved from a 2nd row grunt on the “A” team to the scrum half on the “B” team. A move I was happy to make as I got to run free, touch the ball, and often got to make the first tackle on ball movement out of the scrum.
My senior year, early October, we had an off week. So as usual we were practicing in Madison Bowl on campus, scrimmaging each other. I picked the ball up out of the scrum and took off to the right, coming around the scrum and moving into open space. A quick fake toss and I turned back inside, only to be caught by the other scrum half. Not our “A” team scrum half, who was about 5’ 8” and 160 lbs, but our “A” team eightman, who was 6’ 2” and 220lbs, a little larger than me.
Unlike the tackle above, I got dropped down on my left shoulder and it separated. A grade-III separation that put me in a sling for 24x7x8 weeks and that was the last rugby play I was ever a part of. It also changed my life.
At this point I had been an economics major, and had just started signing up for interviews with many investment banks. I wanted to go to Wall Street to work for Shearson Lehman or Bear Sterns, in true 80’s fashion. The realization that I wasn’t invincible, that life was hard, and that I might be seriously hurt changed my priorities that October. I cancelled interviews, put rehab first, and by May of the next year, when I graduated, I was able to finally do push-ups again.
I decided to move my life into a direction that was more enjoyable to me, even if it meant less money.

Bad ears

In 1991, a couple years out of school, I was wandering around life. I’d enrolled back in a local college to do some graduate work, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I’d spent a year managing a night club and having fun, but it became boring. My girlfriend at the time was from California, and we moved there, thinking that it would be a change, and a way to move forward. Living in San Diego was nice, but trying to get my life going was not. So I decided to enlist in the Navy and enter their nuclear submarine program.
I’d always wanted to serve, and had seriously considered applying to the Naval Academy in high school. So I met a recruiter, we talked, and with great grades, especially in math and science, it looked good that I would be accepted into the Officer Candidate School and the Navy Nuclear Program. I signed papers and early one morning I went downtown into San Diego for my physical.
That’s an interesting experience, including the drug testing where you urinate while someone watches you. I felt like I was doing great in all the programs until we reached the auditory lab. They put me into a soundproof box, headphones on, and I had to click a device when I heard a sound. I knew this was an issue, and when I got out, I moved on to more tests. Eventually the lady running the lab found me and brought me back. She showed me the results, which have my left ear down to about 20% of normal. She offered to let me take the test, and hinted that “looser headphones” might help. I took it, slipping both sides of the headphones up to listen, and this time got to about 60% on the left ear. Enough to pass.
However I knew this would be an issue in the service, and might be dangerous in a critical situation. I told her to submit the first results, and then went to meet the recruiter, informing him I couldn’t join.
That changed my life in that I was disappointed, but I realized that I should just get on with my life. I moved back to Virginia, enrolled in grad school, and started driving forward with a higher level of intensity.

dosimeter-for-x-rays-gamma-beta-radiation-213486 Bad Software Engineering

While I was in graduate school, with every intention of becoming an electrical engineer, I got an internship with the Surry Nuclear Power Plant in Virginia. The plan was that I would work a semester there and a semester in school. I did this a few times and eventually moved into the network administration group, which was more interesting than the Electrical Engineering group. And safer! No getting close to 1000V wires that were an inch in diameter.
Eventually they hired me to work with them and I dropped back to part time in grad school. One of my first assignments was to help deploy a new radiation monitoring system that would integrate with dosimeters (shown to the right) and record radiation received by workers in the plant. It was mandated by the NRC and I arrived at work Dec 31, at 6pm to help get this installed for the new year.
I finally left the plant on Jan 2 at about 3 or 4pm, exhausted and ready to get home, but due back in about 15 hours for a week of almost 8 hours on, 8 off as we tried to stabilize this system that was constantly failing. That poor software engineering effort, not written well, nor tested under load, changed my life. It was written on SQL Server 4.2 on OS/2 1.3. I migrated through versions, spending hours reading about SQL Server and the OS, until we stabilized on Windows 3.1 Advanced Server. From there I developed a great interest in RDBMS’s and moved on to one SQL Server job after another.
I think without this project, I might have become a network administrator instead of a DBA.


That’s it, the three things I think most influenced where I am today. I’ll tag these people.
  • Gail Shaw
  • Jack Corbett
  • Glenn Barry
  • Marc Beacom
Please link back to me, and to Paul’s post.

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