Jobs that beat the caring out of you

Ok, Since Jen and Grant started this, it’s time to share some horrors…

This happened during the five or so years I was doing consulting type work with a small consulting company (which was itself a bad idea, but that’s a whole ‘nother story). Work was a tad on the sparse side at the time and I was looking for anything. Enter a logistics company that needed some integration work doing.

SSIS and ETL work for a couple months. Not ideal, but how bad could it be?

Bad. Very bad indeed, and mostly because of management. There’s one thing at least I can say about this place, they taught me how not to manage an IT department.

I’m not going to cover everything that happened at that place, just some aspects of one project. It was a package tracking system, intended to take waybill data, vehicle tracking and some other bits and pieces and make it so that any delivery/shipment could be identified as being in a warehouse or on a truck, and specifically which warehouse or truck.

First problem. It was 6 months of work at least. We had 6 weeks. Not 6 weeks to a deadline that everyone understood was going to be missed. 6 weeks to the date that the company CEO had been told this new tracking system would be in use. Nothing that can possibly go wrong there.

First problem, the project manager. He managed by gantt chart, but that’s not all that uncommon. What was less common was that he appeared to have no concept of time management at all. I worked for them 3 days a week. During one Monday afternoon project meeting, I gave the project manager an estimate of 10 days for chunk of work. I found out later that day that he’d promised it would be in production the following week Thursday. 10 calendar days from the time he was given an estimate, at a point where I’d have had 5 working days to finish it.

That got me yelled at by the head of IT.

Second problem. The project manager and BI specialist (read Excel report writer). They both repeatedly agreed on things in meetings, and then told the head of IT something completely different, something that cast them in a good light and the developers as incompetent idiots. Once is an accident, twice might be coincidence. Three times or more however…

I got into the habit of openly recording the meetings on my phone (for ‘documentation purposes’)

Third problem. The head of IT. I’d say she was a little on the side of micromanaging, but that would be like saying a Joburg thunderstorm is a tad damp. She also had a tendency to overreact, and to listen to only one side of a story before reacting.

The last straw of that particular project was the Monday when the project manager decided that the system we were working on was going into UAT for user testing (not testers, business users). It was not in any way ready and I told him that in the meeting, as did the other developer. After listening to out explanations he agreed and said he’d get another week. It might have been enough.

Next thing I know one of the other devs tells me that the head of IT wanted a word.

No, she didn’t want a word. She wanted to scream at me for over 5 minutes, at the top of her voice, in an open plan office, in front of everyone else about how irresponsible it was to suggest that the project was ready for UAT over the project manager’s recommendations, tell me how incompetent I was, how useless I was, what a terrible developer I was, that I was a liar, lazy, and that she would have me fired and ensure I never got another IT job.

I didn’t walk out. Not quite, but I did call my boss immediately afterwards. See, I didn’t work for her. I was doing the work on contract. She couldn’t fire me.

My boss at the time was the softest spoken person I know, he never raised his voice, never lost his temper, never sounded irritated no matter what. That afternoon, when he had to drop all the other work he had planned and come out to the logistics company, that afternoon I heard him angry.

Somehow the logistics company is still in business. I have no idea how.

I’m a Pluralsight author!

My first course, Identifying & Fixing Performance Issues Caused by Parameter Sniffing, was published two weeks ago. It won’t be the last.

Recording the course was a voyage of discovery. Until then, I’d only ever done live presentations, blog posts and articles. I initially thought that the recording would be similar to live presentations, but it’s nothing close.

For presentations, I do them off-the-cuff. Oh, I rehearse them beforehand, but I have no script, no speakers notes, no cue cards. My slides are as much for me, to direct what I’m talking about at each point, as they are for the audience. Two presentations using the same slide deck are not going to be the same.

I initially tried that method for recording, and it was a mess. Because the mistakes and half-sentences and corrections that are fine in a live presentation are not fine with a recording. The recording has to be near-perfect, all those little mistakes have to be edited out and re-recorded.

The first recording I did I had to record three times and there were still places wrong.

So I switched to scripting the entire thing, and then just ‘reading’ the script, taking care that it didn’t sound like reading a script. That works much better, but the time to write the script is huge. I speak at roughly 160 words/minute. A full page in Word, with default font and spacing, is around 600 words. 30 minutes of recording means around 8-9 pages of script.

The recording, I’ve found, is the least time-consuming part of the exercise (which is good, because it’s only quiet enough to record after 8PM, I live just off a busy road with a school a block away)

The editing is the most tedious. 20 minutes of finished video requires around 40 minutes or more of recording and probably 1.5-2 hours of editing, more if it was a demo.

The demos are still a problem and one where I need to figure out a good process. What I did for this course was to record the video of the demo, do a quick edit to take out mistakes, then record the voice over the top, then edit them together. While it works, it’s a monumental pain. A 15 minute demo took 3 hours of editing to put together.

For the next one I’ll try recording the demos, video and audio, in smaller chunks. Hopefully will make it easier to piece the audio and video together. The finished clips can easily be edited together at the end. Hopefully that’ll make the demos less of a pain.


I ran into a fascinating book the other day. Mastery by George Leonard.

It’s a look at what it takes to achieve mastery in an area, be it sport, career, music or anything else. It references Aikido a lot, which is what drew me to it, but it’s not about martial arts.

It’s often asked why some people achieve such heights in certain areas. Often it’s written off as ‘talent’, the implication been those who don’t achieve such heights don’t because they don’t have the talent, and hence it’s not their fault. Talent may have some part to play, but the core of mastering any area is commitment, hard work and a lot of time. There’s no instant key to success.

George lists five keys to mastering a subject

  1. Instruction;
  2. Practice;
  3. Surrender;
  4. Intentionality;
  5. The Edge – Push the envelop.

The main point that he makes over and over is that success doesn’t come overnight. To master a subject requires a lot of time, not all of it fun. Without that time, dedication and commitment, there will not, there can not be results.

The book’s well worth the read, even if it’s just for a different perspective.

More exams

I wrote the second of my 2008 exams yesterday, doing the beta of the MCTS (Database Developer) cert. While writing it I realised I don’t know half as much as I should about XML, CLR, Service Broker and a couple of the newer additions to T-SQL.

All in all, it didn’t seem hard, but that’s hard to judge from a beta exam. I do think there was perhaps too high a focus on XML. About 10% of the questions I had were on that, but that may have been the luck of the draw.

I did the beta of the MCITP (Database Admin) about a month ago. It was a tough exam. No case studies like the 2005 exams had, but many of the questions felt like mini-case studies themselves. I had one question that was a screen and a half long. That was just the question. The answer list was over a screen log as well. All I’m going to say about that one is that you really, really need to know backup strategies to write it.

Next up, the MCTS (Database Admin). If I do that and if I pass the two betas (will only find out when the exams are officilly released) then there’ll only be one left to do, the ITP for DB Dev.


Talk about a way to start off a month.

I just got a mail from Microsoft. I have been awarded MVP for SQL Server. I am quite ecstatic and very surprised. I knew I had been nominated, but I did not expect to actually be awarded it.

Just wow.

Food for thought

I ran across this interesting article this morning. It’s long, but a very worthwhile read.

While there is a lot more to it, I came away from it with 2 realisations:

  1. To get better at something, it must be difficult.
  2. The longer you work on something, the easier it gets.

Just something to think about over the weekend.

The exceptional DBA

I was listening to a podcast the other day, and it got me thinking. What is it that makes an exceptional DBA?

In no particular order, some of the things that I think make an exceptional DBA are


We all know that IT is a fast changing industry. There’s no doubt that one has to keep learning just to keep up. An exceptional DBA should be constantly learning, always looking for new challenges, new and better ways of doing things. They should also seek to broaden their knowledge. Specialisation is great, but having at least a basic understanding of development practices, architectural principles or system administration can be extremely useful.

Once more unto the breach…

I wrote 70-447 on friday. It’s the last of the SQL 2005 exams that I intend to write.

I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t nearly as hard as I was expecting and I scored well above what I thought I would – 891. Very surprising, seeing as I don’t do much in the way of administration.

Next on the exam plans, either C# or Sharepoint. I haven’t decided yet.

Now, when are the SQL 2008 exams going to be available…..

Another day, another exam

Just wrote the second of the Database developer exams: 70-442. Designing data tier and optimising data access.

I found it easier than the other database developer exam, but still, it wasn’t easy. If you don’t know your stuff, you are going to struggle.

Personally, I’m not very fond of the case study based exam format. When I tried to read through the case study before answering questions I almost ran out of time. Now I go straight to the questions and skim through for the appropriate info for each question.

Next up, the upgrade exam from MCDBA to the new DB Admin.