Interview – Matt Gordon

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: Matt Gordon (b | t):

Matt Gordon
Matt Gordon

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?

Matt: I certainly think they’ll be in a tougher spot than they are today. As a consultant, I’m seeing an increase in customer cloud adoption so logic follows that anybody dismissing the cloud as a fad is going to have a tougher and tougher time finding places that do not have any data resources in the cloud. That said, there are still companies running SQL Server 2000 so I’m sure there will still be DBA opportunities somewhere for folks who believe the cloud is a fad. Those opportunities, however, are likely to be a career dead end.

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

Matt: I think the answer to that depends on what you mean by “the traditional SQL Server DBA role”. If the traditional role is reading a maintenance checklist every morning and manually handling issues that arise from that then, yes, I think the traditional role will eventually be eliminated. Between the advancements that monitoring tools are making and the automated maintenance and tuning available in the cloud (and increasingly on-premises as well), there won’t be many opportunities at all for somebody whose job is, by choice, maintenance-driven and manually performed.

However, if you see the traditional role as being a combination of automating manual tasks, performance tuning, HA/DR design/work, and architectural guidance, then I don’t think that role is going away – it’s just changing. Somebody with that role would be well-served by keeping up with all the advances in on-premises and cloud-based SQL Server versions so that they can perform their duties to the best of their ability, but even the increasingly automated nature of HA, performance tuning, and other “advanced DBA” areas like that require care and feeding and a knowledgeable person guiding all of this.

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

Matt: It sounds corny, but the community has done far more for me than I have done for it. Before I got into consulting, my previous company strongly discouraged community contributions so it wasn’t until I got into consulting three years ago that I was able to involve myself in the community beyond attending the occasional PASS Summit or SQL Saturday. It has been an incredible three years where I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some good friends, make some good professional connections, and learn a lot more than I knew a few years ago.

Having said that, if I’ve accomplished anything “for the community” at all, it’s that I have motivated a couple folks to begin speaking after they saw me and chatted with me. I’ve had a few conversations where people came up to me asking how I got into speaking (long story short, Brad Ball made me 😊) but then falling back on “I’m not comfortable speaking in front of people”. When I hear that, I share that I stuttered as a kid and was scared to death of speaking or reading in front of a group of any size. I’ve overcome that fear to some extent and sharing that story has inspired a couple people to begin their own community speaking contributions. If I’m proud of anything, I’m proud of that.

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

Matt: I think I’d recommend a couple authors more than specific titles. I’m a bit of a dork for biographies, especially those of political figures, so anything by Jon Meachem in that genre is excellent, in my opinion. I’d also strongly recommend anything by the late Anthony Bourdain. I was a big fan of his, and I’m gutted that he’s gone, but he was an excellent writer and anyone would be well-served to read the books he left us with.

I’d also like throw in a bit of a plug for a semi-technical book that I’ll be in! Malathi Mahadevan wrote “Data Professionals at Work” (no, I don’t get a cut of each purchase!) and was kind enough to include an interview with me in the book. There are a lot of fascinating people interviewed for the book and anybody who does what we do will likely find some interesting nuggets in there.

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?

Matt: In my opinion, diversifying your skill set as a data professional is critical these days. That said, I think it’s nearly impossible to be a jack of all trades as a data professional these days. For example, if you say “I am a SQL Server 2019 expert” that means you have expert-level knowledge of HDFS, Spark, containers, HA/DR, Machine Learning Services, SSAS, SSRS, SSIS, and the database engine itself. The list of people walking around with expert-level knowledge on all of those topics and the sub-topics contained therein is very short.

My advice would be to focus on a handful of things that are interesting to you and could potentially add value to your role at your company. It may be things in Azure, it may be ML Services in SQL Server 2017 and later, it may be Power BI. The only thing I’d say is make sure that areas of interest are things that seem to be priorities for Microsoft. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to become the world’s foremost database mirroring expert.

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?

Matt: Honestly, my biggest mistake was not becoming involved in the Microsoft data platform community at a much earlier time than I did. It has been the single most important thing I’ve done to increase my technical knowledge and advance my career. Beyond that, I’ve made some good friends as well. Even if you’re naturally introverted like I am, one thing I’d pass along to the readers is network, network, network. If you’re not comfortable speaking, volunteer with your PASS local group, local SQL Saturday, etc. It’s been a wonderful thing for me and I wish I’d done it a lot sooner.

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