Interview – Andy Mallon

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: Andy Mallon (b | t): Andy Mallon

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

Andy: The cloud is here to stay. Over the next five years, it is absolutely going to be used by more people in more ways. Not everyone will have their databases running in the cloud, but aspects of our infrastructure will continue to move into the cloud. Part of our job as data professionals is to help determine what technologies and features we use, what the infrastructure looks like, etc.

Five years ago, that primarily referred to hardware purchases, virtual vs physical, Standard vs Enterprise, and selecting from the features that came in the box. Five years ago, Windows Azure (as it was called at the time) was still pretty novel and wasn’t on the radar for most people to use in that selection process.

Now, Azure is starting to creep into the real-life architecture decisions that we are making. Companies large and small are using the cloud for DR, for elasticity, for novel services, and for massive computing power. In the past year, I’ve worked with both a 100-person company and a 15,000-person company who are both making major investments in the cloud.

Five years from now, I think virtually every company will be looking to use the cloud in some fashion or another. It might not be necessary to be an expert at the cloud, but everyone will need to be familiar with it. We’ll need to be able to know when to use the cloud, and we’ll need to be able to keep up when our employers decide that they are ready to use specific cloud services, and we’re expected to help implement and maintain those systems.

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

Andy: The SQL Server DBA role is constantly changing. For example, hardware advances (faster, more powerful, cheaper) have moved the line when it comes to performance tuning. Hardware configurations with lots of RAM & all-flash SANs are more forgiving today than when I started working with SQL Server.

Things are going to continue to change. The skills that are important today may not be important tomorrow. There may be new skills that we need tomorrow that we don’t yet have. However, the job of DBA isn’t going away. DBAs will still be around to watch over databases, backups, high availability, and disaster recovery.

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

Andy: Earlier this year, I was awarded the Microsoft MVP Award for the Data Platform. It isn’t the award itself that I am proud, of, but what the award represents. The award recognizes not only my expertise with SQL Server, but also that by doing what I love, I am having a positive impact on the SQL Server Community. I’ve only been blogging & speaking for a few years, but I absolutely love doing those things. It’s been great to be able to do something I love and know that I’m helping others.

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

Andy: Most of my reading is technical or current events (I’m a total news junkie!). But I absolutely love Stephen King. He recently wrote a trilogy of books that was really great: “Mr Mercedes“, “Finders Keepers“, and “End of Watch“.

Another of my all-time favorite books is “Stolen Lives: Twenty years in a desert jail“, a memoir by Malika Oufkir detailing her childhood living in the royal court in Morocco, to being a political prisoner with her family.

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?

Andy: SQL Server and the Microsoft Data Platform is simply too vast for anyone to understand it all. Everyone will always have large chunks of the Data Platform that are unknown. THAT’S OK. I have literally never touched SSAS in my career, and I’m quite OK with that. Nobody should feel like they need to know everything–It’s much more important to understand what the limits to your knowledge are.

I also feel that if you’ve been using SQL Server for a long time, then you’re an expert at something. That “something” might be very narrow, or somewhat general–but your battle scars have helped you learn some aspect of SQL Server in detail. As a DBA, the best skills we have are the ones that we’ve learned through real-life experience. Embrace your experience, and build on that experience as you try to learn new things. Ultimately, your experience is the best tool you have for growing your own career.

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