I’m not sure how I ended up on the Dallas DBAs website, but I came across their blog topic How I became a: ________ . The idea of posting up my story resonated with me, so I thought I would share. I apologize for the length in advanced, but it’s hard to lay out a career path that spans almost 20 years in a few sentences.
In my beginning
In my 20s I was working at a Denver trucking company delivering air freight on the Front Range. There were a couple of guys I worked with who were into computer gaming. I forget how it got started exactly, but I ended up hauling over a crappy hand me down computer to one of their houses to play either Half Life, Star Craft, or Duke Nukem. I got so pissed off at the crappy performance of my computer that I decided to get a new one. Only, back then it was much cheaper to build your own. So that’s what i did and that’s what got me interested in computers.
So I worked at it, passed my A+, and landed a job at Mom and Pop computer repair place after my first wife and I moved to Texas. Talk about an education in baptism by fire. Everything was done on a shoestring budget and there were times where I just had to figure it out. For instance, we had a contract to maintenance IBM dot matrix printers (the ones that used blue/green bar paper). I got sent out to a place in Abilene that had a printer running off of SCO Unix, which was a first for me. I remember spending about an hour google’ing how to update the drivers before I got it finished. Although my boss at the time wasn’t impressed, I apparently took too long.
I say dumb things
After that, I moved into Systems Administration when I came back to Denver. I ended up working for an Oracle Consulting company for almost 4 years. Working quite a bit with the DBAs, I remember giving one them some static about never wanting to learn programming nor wanting to be a DBA because I thought being a generalist SysAdmin was the top of the IT hierarchy. It’s true, you don’t know what you don’t know. So Brad or Dave, if you ever stumble across this post…know that I am still eating crow. And sometimes I wish I taken the opportunity to learn Oracle from these guys. They are two of the sharpest people I know in IT.
I stepped away from Microsoft
While I was at the Oracle Consulting company, I occasionally got to mess around with our UNIX systems. One of the truly great aspects about that job, and my boss, was I was always allowed to learn something new. So when I moved to Tulsa in 2004, I jumped at the opportunity to become a Linux Administrator. Yep, another steep learning curve. I got my first taste of supporting a large environment, including a small taste of working with database servers. I was working with Redhat Linux, Solaris, NSK Tandem machines, and MySQL. This also where I learned a little about shell programming, which sparked an interest in programming in general. However, the rotating shifts took a toll after 4 years so I ended up leaving to take a IT Director position.
Now don’t read into that. I was the IT Director of a 5 site school district in Central Oklahoma that was dirt poor. In fact, IT Director is completely misleading. I was the IT Department. Needless to say, I found out I was over my head, and there wasn’t much about that job I enjoyed, when I guy I rode with let me know about a position where he worked. So I threw my resume into the pile, and after a long interview process (which is a story in itself), I took an analyst position at another school district.
Oh I guess I should mention that during my time as a Linux Admin I had gone back to school. While I needed the bachelors to help with the job searches, I figured as long as I was there, taking the Software Engineering track was just natural. And as long as I had already earned a bachelors with a focus in Software Engineering, a Masters in Software Architecture only made sense. Right?
For 5 years at the second school district, and for 2 years at the bank….my life revolved around the AS/400. I helped install and configure a new one, wrote a batch program that ftp’ed our data to a hot spare weekly, learned about replication, how to hang a windows server off of one, and hell of lot other things. I even got pretty good at finding and solving issues using PubLive (as/400 equivalent of Google). There was even an interest in learning Cobol and RPG.
Now what didn’t occur to me until about a year into the Bank job (sounds ominous when I put like that) is I was already a DBA. At the school districts we were always querying to build reports, occasionally updating data, ensuring backups, maximizing uptime, etc. At the bank, not only was I responsible for the AS/400 but also all the databases and applications that connected to it. So I was working with SQL and DB2 LUW as well as DB2 on the 400 itself. I have no idea why it took me so long to realize that, but for 7 years I was a DBA.
Back to Microsoft
Prior to getting laid off from the Bank, I had already started concentrating on SQL Server. I was attending meetings at the Tulsa Pass User Group pretty regularly. I have to admit, I came across that group when I attended the Tulsa .NET user group. I discovered in my undergrad and grad courses, the Microsoft tools and languages came a little more natural to me. It was much easier to work with the .NET framework than to have constantly deal with what seemed like dozens of frame works for Java.
For the past 2.5 years, I have been happily working as a SQL DBA at Denver area hospital. I can honestly say I am very happy with my career and career progression. I took an orthodox path to being a SQL DBA, but every step has prepared me for it. Even my Linux experience and interest in Python seems to be working out in SQL career. And blurring the lines between DBA and database developer isn’t that uncommon. Which means I get to learn and work with all the areas I enjoy about SQL.
I can say sticking my foot in my mouth about my reluctance to learn programming or becoming a DBA has ended up with me learning and doing just that. So Morphous was right, “Fate is not without a sense of Irony”.