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More General and Less SQL

You may think you're cool, but you'll never be 'Steve McQueen driving a Ferrari at Le Mans' cool.

More General and Less SQL

You may think you're cool, but you'll never be 'Steve McQueen driving a Ferrari at Le Mans' cool.
You may think you’re cool, but you’ll never be ‘Steve McQueen driving a Ferrari at Le Mans’ cool.

Last week I received an email from my friend Mike Walsh (blog | @mike_walsh), who commented on the look and feel of this blog as well as the general content. Mike and I have been friends for more than 10 years now so it’s safe to say “he knew me when”.

I reminded Mike that this blog had a makeover last year, and replied to his comment about the content I’ve been writing for the past six years. Mike’s comment about my content was this:

“…more general and less sql. Makes sense with your role.”

Mike’s comment wasn’t a negative one, it was just an observation of his, and his note was supportive of my work here over the years.

Still, that comment got me thinking about what I’ve been doing here. I don’t post as frequently anymore, maybe only a few posts a month. The reason for that is because my writing is in demand in many more places these days and it can be hard to find the time for blog posts here. But the content itself, is it less SQL?

Maybe it is, and in my reply to Mike I told him how I’ve always viewed having a data professional career is similar to how an F1 racing team can be broken down into three roles. If you don’t know what F1 racing is because you only know NASCAR and left-turn only stock car racing then let me tell you that F1 is where Juan Pablo Montoya used to race.

Mechanics

The folks that keep the engine running in peak condition, are always there to work fast, and put out any fires that crop up. Many DBAs liken their roles to being a mechanic, and with everything under the hood of SQL Server these days I think an F1 mechanic is an apt comparison. You are expected to know a lot about a very specific thing (database engine, car engine), you are expected to have an amazing set of tools, and you are expected to fix issues quickly no matter what the situation. Hard skills are of most value here.

Drivers

Some people don’t want to be under the hood, they would rather be behind the wheel. These are the folks that have their hands “less dirty” as they progress through their career, most often into middle management roles. They enjoy project work, they enjoy working close with the mechanics (but not being one), and they enjoy being in the winner’s circle from time to time as the result of being part of a winning team. Hard skills and soft skills have equal value here.

Owners

Some people just want to help put all the pieces together and run a successful business, or team. These are the executives, the architects, the folks that don’t get paged in the middle of the night unless their driver or ace mechanic needs bail money. They can see, and they can comprehend, the bigger picture when it comes to the data industry. They pay attention to trends, they gather data, and they know that if you wait six months everything will change. Hard skills aren’t valued much, if at all. Soft skills reign supreme for owners.

When Confio bought me all those years ago, they weren’t looking to have me be a mechanic. They wanted me behind the wheel. Over time I’ve taken the steps to learn about what it takes to be an owner. My role now at SolarWinds is to be someone that can help make a big push when needed. Mechanics don’t move the needle as much as an owner can.

So, yeah, I guess I don’t write as much about weird SQL things as I once did. And I think that’s just fine. I’ve often said that blogging should be done to feed your soul, not the soul of others. If you find yourself blogging because you think you need to keep up with others, then you are doing it wrong. Write what you want to say, when the words feel like they need to come out of your fingers, and publish when you want and not when someone tells you to publish.

Final Thoughts

There’s nothing wrong with gravitating towards any one (or more) of these roles in your data career. I have friends that have moved between each of these roles, as it seems every few years they need to try something different.

How you become a mechanic, or driver, or owner isn’t important to anyone else. Some paths may take longer than others, so you need to remain positive and keep visualizing the end result. No one is going to be concerned about your past, all they will want are tangible results delivered with a ribbon on top.

Getting there can be tough. Being there can be tougher. And staying there can be the hardest thing of all. And if you want to move beyond the role of a mechanic then you must start working on the soft skills. Hard skills have a salary cap, but soft skills do not. Even the most talented mechanic, the ones with more hard skills than anyone else, can (and will) be replaced if they also happen to be jerks to everyone else around them in the garage.

Lastly, make sure you take time for yourself. Put your family first whenever possible, but remain responsive and responsible, and never be afraid to admit that you do not know everything. You spent a long time getting to your role, so make certain you are enjoying your life, your career, and the ride.

  • mrxinu

    I like the way your brain works, my friend.

    I just had to try this new tag, too.

    • ThomasLaRock

      Ooooohhhhhh….I was wondering what you meant. Interesting.

  • > Hard skills have a salary cap, but soft skills do not.

    This is very true, although in IT hard skills alone can get you higher than most other places. It’s one of the few industries where a non-manager can make more than a plumber I can think of.

    I’m mostly self taught as a developer, and anyone who follows me on twitter knows I’ve been diving into home improvements with similar passion and methodology as I dove into IT. One of the things that really strikes me is unless I find some crazy artisanal niche to specialize in, I’d never make as much money with my hands and powertools as with my hands and a keyboard.

    Posts like this remind me that I often look up, realize I’ve run as far away from soft skills as possible, and I’m surrounded by people that did the same. I sometimes feel like the upper echelon of IT is the soft skills special Olympics.

    • ThomasLaRock

      Thanks for the comment Justin. I had not thought about how tech allows for niche services to provide income that other industries may not be able to provide.

  • John

    Great blog post, Tom. It has been fun reading your blog over the years and seeing many of your great Someday moments. I really love your last paragraph. As an individual who has shifted between all three roles its the last paragraph that is most important in my opinion regardless of any role you are in.

    • ThomasLaRock

      Thanks John, much appreciated.