SQL quiz 2 – Greatest challenges

Grant also tagged me to tak part in Chris Shaw’s second SQL challenge – “What are the largest challenges that you have faced in your career and how did you overcome those?” Neither of these are strictly technology challenges. Most of those can be overcome by consulting google, the manual or an expert on the subject.

1) Welcome to the deep end

The first challenge that I’m going to write about took place around five years ago. At the time I was a web developer working at a bank. I was also the person there who knew the most about SQL Server, though that’s not saying much. Basically I could write queries better than the other devs.

The main system that we were working on was slow. Actually, slow’s a compliment. It crawled during busy periods. There were no DBAs and none of the devs knew enough about SQL to even begin to troubleshoot. The company hired an external consultant to come in and fix the problem. It’s probably the best thing they could have done.

The consultant required that one of the in-house staff be assigned to work with him, to both assist and learn so that the next time there was a performance problem, the in-house staff could handle it. Because of my knowledge of SQL, I was the one chosen.

I thought the assignment would be a piece of cake. I thought I knew a fair bit of SQL. I was wrong.

The consultant was an expert in every sense of the word. He had forgotten more about SQL than I had ever known, he could glance over a query and list the problems with it and he had no tolerance for pretence or excuses. If I didn’t know something I was expected to ask or research it. If I said something would be done by a specific date, it had to be done by that date.

Looking back, I think that was the hardest I’d ever worked at that company. I spent the days at the office working on the performance problems, either with the consultant or alone based on his recommendations and guidance and I spent the evenings reading through SQL docs and resources he’d provided.

By the time that project was over, I had an exceedingly good idea just how little of SQL I knew and how much there was still to learn.

It was all good. That was the beginning of my shift from just another web developer to the database field that I enjoy so much now.

2) A whole new way of working

The second challenge is one I’m still going through now, so there’s no resolution.

Up until August this year, I was a database developer/DBA for a large bank. It was a good job, it paid well, but I was starting to get seriously bored. SQL forums provided more challenge than the job did. I decided, after much thought, to move to the consulting role.

To say it’s a challenge is an understatement.

Firstly I have to juggle work for different clients to ensure that everything gets done by when it was promised. There’s no manager to complain to when there’s too much work.

Instead of a regular 8-5 at an office, I’m working whatever hours are necessary from home. I’m easily distracted and there are a lot of distractions at home, from the TV and XBox in the lounge, to the bookshelf full of Sci-fi and fantasy in the study, to the cats, etc, etc. Then I get angry with myself if I haven’t got as much done as I think I should.

What I’m trying is to set small tasks and specific deadlines for them, even if they’re only going to take a couple of hours. That way I can stay focused on them and there’s visible progress.

So far it seems to be working fairly well. We’ll see how the next few months go.

Oh, and the consultant from challenge 1. He’s my colleague now.

I think most people have been tagged with this already, so I’m only going to pass it to one person. Let’s see if Kalen has anything to say on this subject

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