I recently saw a Tweet from Kendra Little where she asked the simple question, “What got you into databases?” I’m intrigued by people’s stories of how they got into their current careers so I looked through the thread. There were lots of interesting paths shared and even a blog post was shared by someone who had recently written about how they got into a career involving databases. Kendra’s question and all of the interesting responses inspired me to write a post about my story.
It was a Dark and Dreary Night
Actually, it was February 2008. For a number of years I had been a team Supervisor at a physical security company called Interface Security; think ADT only much smaller. I was good at leading the team of 8-12 people as we used a critical piece of software to interact with customer accounts. I understood a lot about this software and was often the “lucky” person to be selected to do application failovers. This involved using a custom GUI from the vendor to shut down all the services of the application and start them back up, pointed to a new server. I haven’t worked there in almost 7 years, but I can still see this GUI in my mind. Anyway, the woman who was the liaison between our company and the software maker was leaving her job to go work for the software maker, Bold Technologies.
I had reached about the top of the pay scale in my position and, at that point, there really was nowhere else for me to go in the company. The next few positions above me were taken and those people weren’t going to leave any time soon. The employee who was leaving asked me to apply for her job. At first I was adamant that I didn’t want to do that and that I didn’t know enough. She insisted that I did know enough and that I should apply. I gave it some more thought and decided to throw my hat in the ring. After a conversation with my boss two levels above me (Dan Reynolds) and about a month later, I had the job and the title of Manitou System Administrator. Manitou was the name of the software.
Interface Security was in the planning phases of a major version upgrade for this software. I took the job thinking I was just going to manage software. However, we were also going to be doing hardware upgrades for the servers this application was running on. My desire to understand everything even tangentially connected to the software got the better of me. We completed the software upgrade later that year and the server hardware upgrade as well.
Lee, Meet SQL Server
As part of that application upgrade process, I learned that there was this thing called SQL Server installed on the servers we were going to replace. I dove in head first to learn all I could about SQL Server. I learned that the process I was controlling with this company’s custom GUI was actually transactional replication under the covers. I loved learning about it and it was an important process to understand for my company and for my role.
About 18 months after starting the new role I began learning T-SQL using whatever free tutorials I could find on the internet. I started experimenting with SQL Server Reporting Services. I began to augment the application’s reporting capabilities with SSRS, at first just building the reports and making them available via the Report Manager and then later by scheduling them to be delivered to various people. In Jan 2012 I was officially moved into the I.T. department.
During that time I discovered the Microsoft Certified Master video training that Kimberly Tripp and Paul Randall recorded. I watched all the videos, some of them multiple times. There was so much I didn’t understand, but as I kept watching them and searching for information on the internet, the more the concepts made sense. I was by no means on my way to being an MCM for SQL Server, but I was learning rapidly.
Somewhere in the following years I started experimenting with what at the time were brand new features in Excel to help with reporting – Power Query and Power Pivot. I used those new tools to pull in and visualize data so that I had both SSRS and these new Excel tools at my disposal.
I also found Brentozar.com during those years. At the time, it was Brent, Kendra Little, and Jeremiah Peschka. Later, as I continued to learn from all of them, they added Jes Borland. This post was one of my first forays into performance tuning. I found it after the I.T. Director asked me to look into the performance problems that the financial system was having. It was also on SQL Server.
Earning a Microsoft Certification
In May of 2012 I completed a certificate in database technology from the Continuing Education Center University of Missouri at Saint Louis. The course I took there were concentrated two day courses on various parts of SQL Server. They advanced my career greatly. Somewhere along the way, I bought a book called SQL Server 2008 R2 Unleashed. I read that book, watched the aforementioned MCM videos and all the blog posts I could from BrentOzar.com. I bought a Microsoft practice test and then a test from another vendor as well. At night around 9pm, after my three kids and my wife went to bed, I would study for about 2 hours a night, 5 nights a week. I studied probably 4-8 hours on the weekends too. This went on for months.
In May 2013 I got my first certification. It was for Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Implementation and Maintenance. I took the test on the eighth anniversary of my dad’s passing. I took it for me to advance my career, but I took the test on that day to attempt to honor him as well. The test was challenging, but I passed and I was ecstatic! I knew he would have been so proud.
A Change of Title
I held the Manitou System Administrator title until March 2014 and continued to grow more and more as a data professional. In March 2014 I got a title change to Database Administrator. I was elated! I had achieved a remarkable career change from a Call Center Supervisor role to a Database Administrator!
Wife and Kids –
My wife, Dacia, missed time with me on the weekends when I was studying for my first certification to help me break into the world of database administration. She handled the kids while I was sequestered away in my basement office studying like crazy. My kids, of course, missed time with me because of that too. I missed being with them, but it was necessary to help all of us as I was trying to advance my career and support a family.
Dan Reynolds – Interface Security
My previous boss, Director and then later Vice President of Customer Operations, Dan Reynolds was instrumental in my career development and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention him. He believed in me from years previous when I had been working under him in the Call Center. I continued to work closely with him even after I officially went into I.T. He took me to the user conference for the software I was managing. It wasn’t cheap and I was grateful. I learned a lot at those conferences and met a lot of great people at Bold Technologies while I was at those conferences. I met a lot of people from other companies working in the same role I was in. Dan helped me pursue education for SQL Server at the Continuing Education and Training Center at the University of Missouri at Saint Louis.
Amy Spurgeon – Interface Security/Bold Technologies
Amy was the support person who encouraged me to apply for her job before she left. She pushed me to consider the possibilities.
Josh Tafoya – Bold Technologies
Josh was a person in the support department at Bold Technologies when I started my application support role. He knows the Manitou software very well. He helped me understand the software better and he taught me a lot about what it meant to be an I.T. professional.
Matthew Narowski – Bold Technologies
Matthew held a number of roles at Bold while I was at Interface and was eventually named either CEO or President at Bold. He was patient and taught me a lot about I.T. support. He explained a great many things to me about the world of I.T. in general.
I am sure there are others who made contributions to my transition into a new career. I thank all of you.
I hope my story helps and encourages you along your own journey.