Interview – Derik Hammer

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: Derik Hammer (b | t):

Derik Hammer
Derik Hammer

Mohammad: Do you think people who dismiss the cloud as a “fad” or just don’t take it serious enough to learn about it (i.e. Azure, AWS, etc), will be in a tough spot to find a job 5 years from now?

Derik: I believe that there are three categories of IT professionals.

  1. The 95th percentile who are continuously embracing new technologies and keeping their skills honed to razor sharpness, even on technology where few have built a working knowledge of
    1. a. These professionals are true leaders in the industry. They are also ones who risk their time on technologies which they will either never use or the industry will come to shun.
  2. The 70th percentile who are more pragmatic with their skills. They are great at what they do and focus on practical matters, such as the technologies which currently make up the majority of the industry and have the majority of problems to be solved.
    1. These professionals are good to great and have valuable skills. However, they will be slower to adopt a new idea. They may wait for the 10 new trends to dwindle into the 1-2 concepts which will stand the test of time. Then they will begin embracing those 1-2 new technologies.
  3. Everyone from the 70% mark and below.
    1. These professionals are guided by their current situations. They are less concerned about the industry as a whole and more concerned about the problems which lay in their immediate organization. Some will be concerned about being marketable for their next job but many will seek to stay valuable in their current location by practicing the skills which are immediately necessary for their organization.

Both categories, 1 & 2, are embracing the cloud. The cloud has proven its worth between 2006 and today. I think that it goes without saying that those who embrace the cloud will be exponentially more marketable year after year. Buck Woody once told me, “the cloud is to on-premises as telephone companies are to switch boards.” He believes that there will come a day when cloud computed it so optimized and cost effective that no company will have an on-premises data center, unless they are a cloud provider. I whole heartedly agree and have thrown my career down that path.

However, there is a place in this industry for technology that is 10 years old and the future of there being zero on-premises data centers is multiple decades away. I do not believe that professionals who dismiss the cloud will have trouble finding a job but it will limit their options and likely those options will be limited to companies which less enjoyable to work for. Those laggard organizations will probably not provide a fun, challenging, and engaging IT career.

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

Derik: This question is always about how you define the traditional SQL Server DBA role. If you were to search for a set of responsibilities for a SQL Server DBA, you would find a list of tasks which definitely will be replaced and eliminated. However, in a technology industry our roles are not really defined by our tasks. We are professional problem solvers, we are professional learners. There are likely between 5 and 10 different mind-sets which embody the entire industry. If we think of the traditional SQL Server DBA in terms of the operational and infrastructure mind-set that they possess, then no. Their role will never be eliminated.

The technology that they use will change. The specific tasks that they perform will change. I have worked as a DBA, an application Developer, a Data Architect, and an ETL Developer. I can say, with confidence, that we will always need data pros who worry about the infrastructure and operations of our systems. I can also say that a developer has no place worrying about those things. I have led teams who were forced to where multiple hats which required them to have multiple mind-sets. It does not function well. We need our DBAs to think like DBAs and we need our developers to think like developers. We solve different problems and have very different problem solving methods.

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

Derik: It is hard to pick what I am most proud of but I will give you two examples of thinks which are upper there for me.

First was when I was asked to speak on a DevOps panel for Redgate SQL in the City Summit New York. I am particularly proud of this event for three reasons. First, I was asked to speak, I did not submit. Having someone reach out to me rather than approve my submission meant the world to me. Next, it was a DevOps panel. DevOps is an area of particular interest for me and I do think of myself as highly qualified. However, DevOps is not what I am known for. To many this conference may have seemed to be very “off-topic” for me. This showed that there was a group within the community who knew me for more than just what I have published on my website. Finally, Bob Ward was on that panel! I was star struck all the way through that conference. I still find it amazing to say that I was speaking in the same group as Bob Ward.

The next is much list of a victory but much more valuable. I am proud to say that I have been able to mentor a small handful of people who were just entering the SQL Server community. Most of them I met when I was leading my SQL Server User Group but there were also a couple whom I helped through my company. Being able to provide guidance and feel like I was genuinely helping them grow in their careers and within the community, has been very fulfilling.

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

Derik: I love epics and series, usually in the fantasy or science-fiction genres.

My favorites are:

Mohammad: For someone who’s career focus has been on one aspect of SQL Server (i.e. Database Engine), 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?

Derik: I do not believe that there is one answer to that question. I find it important for a person to declare a major goal for their career. This goal can change as time goes by but having one is very help. For example, my professional goal is, “to make a global impact as a data professional.” I get the most satisfaction out of feeling like I have provided lasting value to a person, to a department, to a company, or to the industry. For me, I have been leaning more towards leadership and embracing strong knowledge of diverse areas of computer science. This is because I feel that that will help me make the widest and most profound impact.

However, a number of years ago, I felt that my path was to become the most knowledgeable SQL Server DBA who specialized in performance, high-availability / disaster recovery, and automation. The Derik from year back embraced the inch wide / mile deep concept. The Derik of today is broadening my conceptual knowledge, building my leadership and soft skills, and embracing technology agnostic behaviors. For example, my current role has me working exclusively with Amazon Web Service technologies, such as Amazon Redshift.

I think that the key is to choose a path and then ask yourself what is needed to get from A to Z.

Mohammad: Lastly, I really believe in not only learning from your mistakes but, if possible…learning from the mistakes of others. What is your biggest mistake? If you could go back in time, is there something that you regret not doing? And if so, what?

Derik: I do not spend much time on regret. Typically, I tend to only regret being dishonest or not upholding my integrity. Even my mistakes, like you say, are learning opportunities therefore they do not merit a regret. I have made countless mistakes but I think it is most valuable to tell you about a mistake that I see in others.

I see many professionals waiting for an opportunity and/or feeling like they owe their current organization loyalty. Do not do that. Do not worry about whether your resume looks like you have just been bouncing around. Actively seek out opportunities and if you have trouble finding them, find opportunities that you want and find out what skills you need or what steps you need to take in order to be able to grab them. Spend all of your professional hours working to make yourself better. Understand that your salary is only a portion of your compensation for the work you do. You should hitch your wagon to a company because they are going to pull you down the road that you want to go. The moment that your path changes or you have learned from your current situation as much as you can, seek out the next step on your path.

In order to do that, however, you must decide what your path is. Remember that it is not about saying yes to that one right thing, it is about saying no to millions of others.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.