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Relationships Matter More Than Money

Relationships Matter More Than Money

“Why are you people so miserable?”

The thing about Rob Collie is that he has a way of asking the most direct questions possible in the nicest way possible.

The year is 2010, and I am at TechEd in New Orleans. It’s my first day on the job for Confio.  We are in a bar on Bourbon Street, upstairs in a private room for one of the vendor social events. I have no idea how Rob was even there, to be honest. But he sees me and, being Rob Collie, he wants some data. So he decides to get it by accosting me in front of others.

“What do you mean,” I ask.

“Your people. You DBAs,” Rob continues. “You are all so miserable, all of the time. I see you all talking to each other on Twitter, and it’s mostly depressing. Why?”

I’m stunned. I’ve got no answer for Rob. I’m defensive, trying to tell Rob that we aren’t so miserable. Rob sees this and presses but does it in that Rob Collie way that lets me know it’s safe to open up a bit, even though we’ve just met.

I’ve never looked from the outside on our SQL Community and how we treat each other, or others. It only took a few minutes of conversation with Rob before I realized he was right. We are a bunch of curmudgeons. We complain a lot. We like to prove we are smarter than others. We like to prove we are better than others. We strut and point out the mistakes others make. We are dismissive of others, especially non-DBAs. We talk down to people with new ideas. We are everything you aren’t supposed to be online. We are a miserable lot.

I try to explain that DBAs are miserable because our jobs are miserable. On a weekly basis, we are asked to convert pickup trucks into Ferrari’s, colored green, and if we can’t do it then management will find someone else who can. Or, at least promises to try. We are asked to do things, crazy things, and when we try to explain why something might not be a good idea we are just seen as saying “no”. It’s not fun for many. And saving everyone’s ass at 2am because an end user did something silly gets tiring, especially when the people you save don’t even acknowledge that you’ve saved them. You are Superman, unbeknownst to anyone, and without a three-movie contract.

It takes about ten minutes of conversation before I see Rob’s eyes light up. It’s like he just discovered that he never need to do a VLOOKUP again, that’s the look he has in his eyes.

“Oh! I get it now! You are just like us! Excel professionals suffer in the same ways that you do. We can be a miserable bunch, too. But we don’t do it in public. And we always come together to help each other.”

And that’s when I realized Excel was a thing. It was no longer a spreadsheet. Excel became alive to me. Excel wasn’t just an application that came with Office, Excel was a Community.

Excel also had Rob. And I wanted to hang with Rob. And not just because he had a seemingly endless supply of Rum ‘n Cokes to hand out at conferences.

It’s been seven years since I met Rob. In that time I have found out things about him, personally and professionally. I found out that Rob was a former roommate of Conor Cunningham. Yes, that Conor Cunningham. Rob also worked for Donald Farmer. Yes, that Donald Farmer. Rob worked at Microsoft helping to build PowerPivot into Excel, which has changed how millions of data professionals do their jobs. Let that sink in for a minute the next time you think it’s cool that a few people are using a script you wrote. Rob’s contributions to data are cool, squared.

In short, Rob Collie knows a thing or two about data, databases, the business of data, and Community, too.

If you don’t yet subscribe to Rob (blog | @PowerPivotPro), you should. His writing is wonderful. What’s more wonderful is reading how he helps makes people lives better.

Using Excel.

I’m serious.

I didn’t believe it at first. Excel is just a spreadsheet, right? Yeah, it’s a spreadsheet used by 300+ million people. Excel secretly powers every business on the face of the Earth. Embedded in a world of Microsoft SQL Server I find myself in many arguments about what database platform to use. Now I look and smile, knowing that the single most important feature of any application is the ability to export to CSV so someone can bring the data into Excel and PowerBI.

Why Am I Telling You So Much About Rob Collie?

Rob wrote a post yesterday, a personal one, a post that struck a chord with me. Rob knew this, too. Because last night he tweeted to me as I watched the Celtics.

Rob, as usual, was right. I did like his post, The Intertwining of Professional and Personal: a Note from Rob. In the post, Rob talks about the phrase “It’s not personal, it’s just business” and explains why INPIJB is not acceptable. It’s a way for one person to absolve themselves from hurting another. I’ve had this phrase on me more than a few times and I’ve never accepted it or any variation. Here’s my reason why: When you use this phrase you are telling the other person that money is more important than your relationship.

Let that sink in for a minute.

You are telling someone, perhaps a (current, maybe soon to be former) friend of yours, that you would rather have money than their friendship. And while some jerk is now getting ready to leave the comment “everything has a price” my answer is “not my friends”.  If you can put a price on your friendships then maybe you need better ones.

A wise woman once said, “If money is all that you love, then that’s what you’ll receive.” I cannot, and will not, accept being told that my friendship has a price. I value friendships, honesty, and loyalty over money.

We are all human. All that we have is personal. INPIJB is a lie people say to make themselves feel better.

I am certain that there are circumstances where the money would matter more. But I am also certain that, no matter what the circumstance, you can put the relationship first and figure out the business part later.

Seriously, What’s This Post About?

It’s just personal, it’s not business. As Rob talked about in his post, there is a blend of professional and personal in everything we do. If you are coming to this blog for a steady stream of SQL Server tips and tricks then today I let you down.

I have long advocated that writing is something that must feed one’s own soul first before it feeds the souls of others. I needed to get these words out. Today, I woke up and this post needed to happen.

That’s how writing works for me. You should do you.

But don’t let people put a value on your friendship.

Relationships matter more than money.

  • Rob Collie

    Thanks for all the kind words Tom. I’m not always as skilled/lucky at asking difficult questions as I was that night, but I’m glad that was one of the better occasions, because knowing you has been a real pleasure.

    My first job at Microsoft was working on Setup.exe for Office 97, and then shortly thereafter, I was Program Manager for the first version of Windows Installer – aka MSI (you know… MSI files?)

    Every time I tell someone that (the MSI thing), they usually cringe and say “oh, I really HATE that freaking technology.” And I reply “of course you do, there’s nothing to do BUT hate it – it’s Setup!” What’s best case scenario, if you’re working on a software installer?

    Yeah, that’s right – best case scenario is NO ONE EVER NOTICE YOUR WORK.

    Ugh. And worst case? Computer no worky anymore. Double ugh.

    Truth be told, MSI is a freaking MASTERPIECE. Setup is now only 10% as miserable a business as it was in 1999. That’s a huge reduction in misery! But misery remains all that there is. I had to get out of that line of work.

    Spreadsheet and Database gurus, generally speaking, share that same curse. It’s still true in my experience, however, that the Excel crowd is a bit LESS grumpy than the DB crowd. I’m still not quite sure why. It might just be the environment in which I encounter the Excel crew – our biz, after all, involves giving those people a brand new lease on life. And the DB folks in our classes tend to respond almost as enthusiastically. Or maybe the reason is that the Excel crowd is a tiny bit closer to the “front” of the biz than the DBA’s? It’s incrementally easier to see and appreciate their work? (But not by a massive amount).

    My “darkest” hypothesis is that *some* (not all!) DBA’s chose their profession because on the surface it seems like a good “hideout” from the rest of humanity… y’know, locked in a quiet room, carefully minding the spools… only to find out that it’s not a hideout – there’s still a lot of interaction with the outside world, and most of that human interaction is negative (by virtue of the thanklessness of the role). The desire to find a refuge backfires.

    Even if that hypothesis bears some truth, it wouldn’t be “bad” really. It would be educational – a cue for some folks to start their own journeys of self-discovery and healing (WHY did it feel like a hideout was necessary in the first place?) and/or to continue journeys that had been started but suspended.

    It’s worth reminding any of the potentially-irritated DBA’s (or spreadsheeters!) who have read this far: I come in peace! Ironically one of the best things any of us can ever hope to discover is that there’s something damaged about us. Because hey, that means life CAN GET BETTER. If you’re carrying some hurt(s) – typically from childhood – their negative impacts are already “priced in” to your everyday life. So it’s purely good news – as long as the ego doesn’t attack said news as a threat to a carefully-curated (but somewhat misleading) self-image.

    Whether in relationships with others or in the oh-so-crucial relationship with oneself, it’s always personal.

  • chuckboycejr

    • ThomasLaRock

      Chaka Khan! Thanks Chuck, hope all is well!

      • chuckboycejr

        LOL! Likewise, Sir,

  • datachick

    Great post. I think, though, that people has used the phrase “it’s just business, not personal” to cover bad behaviours as you say. But there is a place for that thought. Last week I had a call with a potential client. It seems like a great fit. I will give a proposal that is likely not going to be a good fit their budget. I follow Weinberg’s rule of “set your price so you are happy either way”. And that’s what I will do.

    If they choose not to accept my proposal, it’s just business. I don’t take it personally. If I did, I’d spend a lot of time feeling bad. I do see this as just business.

    Where this saying goes off the rails is when a company fires an employee of 20 years via e-mail and tells they guy “it’s just business”. That’s personal. It’s bad.

    When you walk through a farmers’ market, look at some fantastic veggies, but the price is more than you want to say, it’s just business. We make these decisions several times a day. If you blog about how awful it is that this corrupt farmer wants to price gouge on the cucumbers, then you’ve made it personal.

    If you blog about why it’s your policy not to do business with foreigners, it’s personal. If you can’t sell your software to certain countries, due to export rules, you are making a business decision.

    BTW, you know I think our community is miserable because too many people value money over relationships.

    I do think we need more personal in our work. But sometimes it’s just business. In my opinion.

    • ThomasLaRock

      Yes, there are cases where INPIJB make sense, and you have given examples. But in each example above there is no personal between the two parties. They are interacting as part of a business transaction first, and interacting as people second. The problem I have with INPIJB, and what Rob talks about, is when two parties already have a personal relationship that spills into a business one.

      When I joined Confio I was told that relationships came before a sale. We made certain we did what was best for the person, even if it meant it wasn’t the best for Confio at that moment. Treating people with respect, and making certain the relationship was taken care of before business was critical to our success. We sold for over $100 million a few years back, so I’d like to think putting relationships first was part of our success.

      I can’t imagine being a person that looks at others and only sees dollar signs. And since I don’t treat others that way, it can sting a bit to find out I’ve been treated in that manner. I recognize I’m the oddball here, and that the world of business results in people putting money first. I just don’t subscribe to that newsletter.

      Thanks for the wonderful comment.

  • David Lapointe

    There is something to DBAs being miserable. Most I have worked with have this trait. Mostly it has been used as an opportunity to compain about the lowly developers and to feel superior.
    For my own part, I have found working with people to make the day better. The only failure has been working with the one DBA who exibits all the traits you mentioned – strutting, dismissive, etc. The problem is he makes my work day misserable. Who wants to work with someone like that? No wonder DBAs get a bad reputation for attitude.

    • ThomasLaRock

      Agreed! It helps to surround yourself with positive people. Sometimes, that’s just not possible.

  • David Lapointe

    My most contentious arguments have been with data modelers whom I have had the most respect for. I don’t know who was right most of the time, but I do know I would be glad to work and argue with them again – because I have respect for them, because the result was better than if either side closed off the other.

    • ThomasLaRock

      Good point. Conversations, and inclusion of other teams, is a benefit for everyone.

  • Good post, Tom.

    There’s an old saying I repeat a lot (from Maya Angelou, iirc) “People don’t remember what you did, they remember how you made them feel”.

    • ThomasLaRock

      Thanks Kevin! I want to be remembered for how I treated others, not how I treated myself.