Great Leaders

I got tagged by both Brent and Grant on Chris Shaw’s latest quiz.

Who has been a great leader in your career and what made them a great leader?

I think the person who stands out the most is my previous manager. I’m not going to name him, and I’m not going to drone on for pages as to why I think he qualified, I’m going to give a couple of examples of things that happened.

A couple years back I realised that I was so busy keeping up with my work load that I wasn’t finding time to keep up with new developments, new ways of doing things, new releases, etc.

I went to my manager and explained to him that I was supposed, as part of my job reponsibilities, to keep up with new developments and share that information with the rest of the team, if it was applicable. However the pile of optimisation work was overwhelming. Would he mind if I put aside half an hour a day to just read books, blogs, support articles, etc, even though I had so much other work piled up that it would take a couple months to finish it all. His immediate reply, “Are you sure half an hour’s enough?”

Another time I was sitting in his office summarising the cause of a DB outage. It had been a deployment problem if I recall, it shouldn’t have happened. One of the high level business managers stormed in and demanded to know who he should shout at for this. Manager’s reply, “You shout at me.”

We all got shouted at later, but by our manager, not by the business person and it was more a case of “This should not have happened, it won’t happen again, will it?”

When I decided to leave that company, the hardest part was telling my manager that I was leaving. It turned out that he resigned two months after I left, for very much the same reasons.

Hmmm, now, who to tag?

I think Paul Randal and Christopher Stobbs

Things you know now

Grant (again) tagged me on another of these blog memes, this time started by Mike Walsh. What do I know now that I didn’t know when I started out. I’m very late on answering it, I blame that on a business trip, a pile of work I still haven’t found the bottom of, and a complete lack of enthusiasm to do anything constructive.

1) “I don’t know” is not a sign of weakness

When I started in IT, I knew everything (at least I thought I did). Furthermore I thought I had to know everything. That lead to a number of problems, from ignoring offers for help, to tackling things beyond my abilities, right up to embarrassing myself in front of management after it became apparent I didn’t really know what I was talking about.

2) Beware of self-proclaimed experts

Early on I worked with a database guru. At least, he said he was. Looking back now, older and (perhaps) wiser, many of his ‘best practices’ were nothing of the sort.

Anyone can go around claiming to be an expert. The thing is to see what other people say about them

3) Setbacks are not disasters

I was retrenched from the first company I worked for when they hit financial difficulties. I spent 6 months struggling to make ends meet. At the time I thought it was the worst thing possible. However it lead to a job that changed my focus to databases, leading to where I am now.

It also taught me what some of my major weaknesses are – administration (finding work, chasing payments, etc)

4) Usergroups are not a waste of time

I thought that when I started out (see point 1). Now I run one. Go figure

I think just about everyone’s answered this already, so no tags.

Do you know how to use Perfmon?

If not go listen to this podcast – If you think you know perfmon well, go listen to it anyway.

There’s also a video and an article linked in the show’s notes which are referred to several times in the podcast.

Top things I learned from that:

  • There are 25 counters that all admins should be monitoring, regardless of what the server does
  • Some counters are no longer useful with changes to the way disks are attached
  • It is possible, and relatively easy, to have a blackbox perfmon trace permanently running and automatically starting on server start.
  • It’s normal on Server 2008 to see some CPUs high and others not, because the cost of balancing the CPUs grows with the number of cores.

Goals for 2009

So… Goals for the next 6 months.

  • Finish reading the IT books that I’m currently busy with and read at least one more
  • Watch a webcast each month.
  • Listen to a podcast each week. This is more difficult now, since I’m not commuting every day
  • Get up to speed with Sharepoint.
  • Write at least two SQL articles to be published on the web (like at SQL Server Central)
  • Write two certification exams. At least one of those will be SQL Server
  • Get my MCT certification.
  • Get the experiments for my Master’s thesis designed. This depends on whether I’m allowed to re-register this year, after the lack of progress last year.

And my goals for the local SQL Usergroup for the next 6 months:

  • Monthly meetings with at least four different speakers
  • A SQL 2008 launch event in March or April
  • A website for the usergroup
  • At least 15-20 regular members

2008 in review

The end is neigh, at least for 2008, that is. As I write this, there are 8 hours left of 2008. As I’ve been doing for the last year, I’m going to take a look back at the last 6 months, what I achieved, what I didn’t and my thoughts on that. Tomorrow I’ll make some goals for the next 6 months.

Overall, it’s been an exceptionally good 6 months. Starting with receiving the MVP award in July, then speaking at TechEd South Africa and again at PASS in Seattle, it’s been a wild ride. Add to that, along with a former colleague, I relaunched the South African SQL Server usergroup in October. Attendance was better than I expected for the first two meetings, with 30 or so at the first meeting and 7 people pitching for a friday evening meeting late in November

In terms of the goals I set for myself back in July, things did’t quite go as well. Of the 3 IT books I ssaid I’d read, I finished one, and that was only last week. I’ve watched no web casts, I haven’t investigated Sharepoint, let alone a second project and I didn’t touch the master’s thesis for five months.

I could attribute that to the new job, and the increase in community stuff that I’m doing, and that would partially be true. The main reason is that I’ve got complacent and stuck in a comfort zone. I’m going to have to do something about that.

Enough musing.

Happy new year to everyone reading this. I hope that 2008 was all you could have hoped for and that next year is even better.

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.


Two mistakes

I was tagged by Grant to participate in a little quiz that Chris Shaw thought up. Describe two mistakes that I made involving IT…

1) The nagging feeling of something not being right

The first major mistake occurred during one of the first projects that I did from scratch after university. I was working for a small software house that specialised (at the time) in small MS Access apps. When I say small, I’m talking 5-10 users or single user desktop apps. It’s the kind of thing that Access is quite good at.

I was writing a budgetting app for a large insurance company. They wanted to be able to send something out to all of the branch managers, all of the regional managers and all of the provincial managers, so that they could capture their budget info for the next year. The main restriction that I had was that the app must not need to connect to the head office. The managers should be able to copy the app onto laptops and work from home with no internet/WAN access of any form (this was 1999). In addition, the various branch/regional/provincial offices must only have the budget data for themselves and any subsidiary offices.

So I created a second mdb file to be a template data file. It had only the budget line item data (stationary, rent, furniture, etc), copied from the main data file, but none of the offices’ actual budget values. Then, I wrote some rather complex DAO/VBA code that would create one mdb file per office by making a copy of the tempate database (because DAO doesn’t allow a file that’s in use to be copied), insert that office’s data into it, and then place that data file in a specific location so that it could be copied down to the branches.

I tested and I tested and the procedure worked perfectly. Finally the insurance company’s IT people called and said they’d finished making the required changes to the budget line items and percentages for the year and could I go in and babysit the process, since it was the first time. No problem! I went in, ran the process, checked that all the files were there (they were) and then went home. (Anyone see the mistake yet?)

All the way home I had a strange feeling that something was wrong, but I couldn’t place it.


Comment problems

If anyone’s posted a comment in the last month or so and it hasn’t appeared, it probably got incorrectly identified as spam. I’ve been getting over 100 span comments a day for the last two months and I don’t have time to read through all of them to see if a legit coment has been caught.

One year in

It’s been just about a year since I moved my blog here, to my own domain. In that time it’s grown beyond what I could have expected.

Last year September I was getting an average of 4 hits a day and a total for the month of 52. So far this month the average hits per day has been 142 and I’m expecting to go over 4000 hits for the whole month. The best day ever (3rd July) saw 831 hits in a single day and over the last year there’ve been a total of almost 15000 hits. According to feedburner there are around 50 people subscribed via rss.

In that time I’ve written 62 posts and had a total of 39 comments.

So far it’s been a ball, and I’m looking forward to another year of blogging.

So, is there anything I should change or add to the blog?

All's well that ends well

So, today was my last day working for the bank and my last day as a full time employee. From the beginning of next month, I’m a consultant. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.

I’m not going to wax long and lyrical about the years working there, that’s boring. Suffice it to say there were good times and bad, late nights and weekends working, and leave it at that.

The one thing that I will say is that without the support and encouragement of several people there, I would not be where I am today. So, a very, very big thank you to my former colleagues and managers. I won’t mention names, you know who you are.

And I have to show off a couple of photos of my old desk 😉