Interview – Kevin Kline

I decided to start a series of blogs where I interview key people in the SQL Server community. Instead of me asking technical questions, I plan on asking about their outlook on the future, books they read (non-fiction and/or technical),  and their overall thoughts on where technology (mainly SQL Server) is headed. You can find more interviews here.

Next up: Kevin Kline (b | t):

Kevin Kline
Kevin Kline

Mohammad: Where do you see SQL Server technology evolving to 5 years from now? More cloud focused?

Kevin: A few distinct but interrelated evolutions are occurring simultaneously. First, Microsoft now cares most about owning the enterprise data center no matter whose technology was originally in there. So you’re going to see a lot more support from Microsoft in the area of open-source technologies that were previously anathema. You’ve already seen SQL Server on Linux, but why stop there? There’s considerable mindshare behind PostgreSQL, MySQL, etc. Microsoft wants to serve its customers on all of those platforms. Second, cloud is indisputably a “thing” to be reckoned with. If you’re a SQL Server DBA and you’re not catching up on cloud technologies, then you’re definitely falling behind. And don’t forget, in the cloud, poorly performing SQL code and applications cost the company money. So you’d be well served to start learning as much as you can about tuning SQL Servers. Third, the data science disciplines are a “thing” as well. Microsoft is building out these offerings as an adjuct to SQL Server with each new release and sometimes without a new release. One of the great things about the cloud is that it reduces the need for old fashioned skills of DBAs of the 1990’s. If you switch your energies from maintaining those skills into learning a bit more about ML and data science algorithms, you’ll be much more valuable to the business where you’re employed. Finally, the pace of innovation will continue to accelerate. Microsoft has truly mastered a new paradigm of software development. That means new features and capabilities will continue to roll out with regularity. As a person who’s tried hard to keep up the pace, I find it a struggle. For me, this has two implications: A) You’d best specialize so that you don’t go crazy with all of the new things to learn, and B) if you aren’t at least studying a little bit every day, you’re probably complacently settling for obsolescence.

Mohammad: Do you ever see the traditional SQL Server DBA role being replaced/eliminated?

Kevin: First of all, there will be DBAs doing exactly what they’re doing now even 20 years from now. That’s reality. I still talk to many people every year who develop apps in COBOL for mainframes. I’ve heard a lot of pronouncements that “X technology is dead!” In truth, most popular technologies never truly die. They just fade away bit by bit in a process that takes a long, long time. Heck, they only turned off TTY services for the deaf in the last couple years. That’s a telegraph era technology!

However, our profession certainly isn’t standing still. In many ways, the DBA will be more important than ever. But the DBA of tomorrow will be a lot different than the DBA of today. Most DBAs I know are pretty good at coding SQL, but not great. You’ll have to pursue mastery to stay relevant. Many DBAs of today aren’t really specialists in the knowledge domain of the organizations they work for. That’ll have to change if the DBA wants to add value to data science and data visualization projects. I guess what I’m getting at is that many organizations are getting better at collecting data, but they still have almost no idea how to turn that data into actionable information. The DBA of the future will be able to assist on those kinds of projects.

Mohammad: What are you most proud of doing/accomplishing for the SQL Server community so far in your career?

Kevin: I’m most proud of being a founder of the international PASS organization and being its president from 2004-2008. I was president for two terms for a very simple reason, we were on the verge of extinction and needed consistent, focused leadership to survive those difficult times. When I say “leadership”, I don’t mean myself. I mean the team of leaders we’d assembled at that time – Wayne Snyder, Joe Webb, Bill Graziano, Rick Heiges, and others. The entire team was laser-focused on making the organization survive and thrive. When I attend the PASS Summit today, with its many thousands of attendees and many hundreds of speakers and dozens of monthly webinars, I like to think “I was one of the few who dug the well that watered this beautiful garden”. :-)

Mohammad: What non-technical/non-fiction book/s would you recommend? If you only read technical books…what do you recommend?

Kevin: I read a LOT of non-fiction books. One such book I’d recommend is “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jarrod Diamond. The book is a masterclass in the connectedness and long chain of cause-and-effect in the human experience. The book was inspired by the question “Why did Western civilization achieve salience in the last few centuries when other civilizations were far more advanced in other earlier epochs?” The short answer is guns, germs, and steel – guns that won wars, germs which we Westerners were immune to but wiped out tens of millions in other civilizations, and steel with its advanced prerequisites in chemistry, metallurgy and supply chains. He then proceeds to answer the even deeper question of “Why did Western civilization get those things before others?”, which is the riddle to be solved. I also love: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Godel Escher Bach, Connections, The Story of English, The Checklist Manifesto and most everything that David Ambrose has written (Band of Brothers, Undaunted Courage).

Mohammad: For someone who’s career focus has been on one aspect of SQL Server (i.e. high availability), do you think it would be wise for them to become a “jack of all trades” by starting to learn, SSRS/IS/Azure, etc. or remain focused on their area of expertise? In another words, which would you say is more valuable? mile wide / inch deep or inch wide / mile deep?

Kevin: Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Strive for mastery. Invest yourself in deliberate practice, frequently engage in experimentation, and read voraciously. To do this effectively, you can’t be a generalist. The good news is that the experts command a higher wage and better billing rates. 😊 If an analogy helps, thinks about professional sports teams going through their annual draft. They don’t say “We’d like a good all-around player”. They say “We want the best power hitter / running back / defender we can get”. They want someone who is singularly talented. Now, if you’re good at more than one thing, more power to you. But you’re not even going to be in consideration for the great jobs if you’re not an A+ player in one of the important specialties of your field. Strive for mastery.