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.
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?
Drew: I think we’re well enough into the era of cloud computing that everyone should at least know not just what a cloud provider like Azure or AWS is, but also what different services they offer. It’s not enough anymore to say “oh yeah, I’ve worked with the cloud.” I think most people who want to explore this space should be at least to say something like “I’ve stood up a database as a service in Azure” or “I’ve built a VM in EC2.” And if you can’t, there’s still plenty of time to start learning. Oh and by the way, more and more services are coming to cloud providers each and every day. I don’t think that NOT knowing these things puts any kind of expiration date on your current job, but if you’re looking for new opportunities, you might start to find yourself at a disadvantage.
Mohammad: Do you ever see the traditional SQL Server DBA role being replaced/eliminated?
Drew: Nah, I don’t think DBA jobs are going away… but I *do* think the DBA roles (as well as future DBA job descriptions) are changing. It’s not enough to know just how to take backups and apply indexes anymore. I think the DBA role needs things like automation experience (like PowerShell, or bash), and some exposure to DevOps. You can’t discount the need to learn new platforms either, like Linux. Suddenly, it’s not enough to know just how to restart a SQL Server instance anymore; you need to know how to restart a service on Windows AND Linux. We’re also in new territory with containers, too. It’s and exciting time for DBAs… if you’re not against setting aside time to learn.
Mohammad: What are you most proud of doing/accomplishing for the SQL Server community so far in your career?
Drew: I know I have a lot to be thankful for and proud of but honestly, I think I was at my best when I was working on the HASSP project. It was silly, stressful, and fun all at once and I got to work with some pretty amazing people on it. We’re not done, either, so if you want to catch up on what we’ve done so far that link will take you to the first post announcing the project, and I’ve got a running diary of blog posts detailing the journey (so far).
Mohammad: What non-technical/non-fiction book/s would you recommend? If you only read technical books…what do you recommend?
Drew: I like a good technical book as much as the next person, but I really like historical, non-fiction books the most. I’ve recently finished a couple really good ones. First, it was “The Hunter Killers” by Dan Hampton which tells the story of the Wild Weasel program in Vietnam, and the nerves of steel that those pilots and radar operators had to possess to basically be missile bait and put their lives on the line for other air crews. It’s got a nice mix of anecdotal references and historical storytelling to make it a fun read about a difficult time to be an airman. I also just finished “The Taking of K-129” by Josh Dean which talks about one of my favorite stories ever: Project Azorian, or the CIA’s attempt to steal a long-thought-lost Russian submarine from an impossible depth. It’s equal parts spy thriller and technical manual that talks about just of how crazy of an idea it was, to the people who helped solve incredible technical problems using then-unproven technology. It’s harrowing and unbelievable, but they really did it (and just how successful were they? Or do we STILL not know the whole story? Check it out!
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?
Drew: I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. I know that for me, my career really took off once I started exploring automation. Just saying “I want to learn how to do ‘X’ with PowerShell” has opened a lot of avenues for me. For instance, my day job is “Senior DBA” but I recently joined a project team focused on a big data implementation, and one of the first things I’m doing for that team? Automation! I get to do something new and exciting, all while learning about big data pipelines and specifically, how to set up automation around getting data to a distributed system, training models, implementing the models, and then ultimately processing and consuming the data. I did have to step away from some of the day-to-day DBA things, but in the end I’m getting to apply skills I already have and learn a bunch of new things in the process, like Azure Databricks and Python. I think this just a really long way of saying that I think the days of just knowing SQL Server isn’t enough, and you should absolutely diversify your skills portfolio.
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?
Drew: My biggest mistake was getting too comfortable. I was at my last job for eleven years and while I can’t say with the utmost confidence that had I stayed I would still be there, but there was plenty to work on with lots and lots and lots of technical debt that needed solved. For all I know, it might still need solved. Regardless, my skills languished because I wasn’t getting to work on too much new stuff, and I had this crazy idea that I wanted to try people management. I did get my shot at it, and it was fine… but I found myself missing the deep technical challenges I was used to solving. When I did finally muster up the courage to leave that role (and company) it turned out to be the best thing I ever did for career and well-being. I have never been more energized, challenged, and ultimately fulfilled than I am now. I get to work with great people, solve tough problems, and still have a ton of fun. So my biggest regret is not having the courage to do it even sooner than I did. It all worked out, but it’s a fascinating “what if?”