Interview – Mindy Curnutt

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: Mindy Curnutt (b | t):

Mindy Curnutt
Mindy Curnutt

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

Mindy: While a lot has changed in the Microsoft Data Platform in the last 5 years, the customers I work with have not changed nearly as quickly, and I really don’t see that pattern changing much over the NEXT 5 years. To be clear, I work mostly with the transportation and logistics industry (think 18 wheelers & railroads). I see many companies attempt to maximize ROI by keeping hardware and database platform licenses as long as possible. (It’s very common for our customers to still be on SQL 2008 and SQL 2008 R2. We even have a handful that remain on SQL 2005!) There IS some adoption of cloud technologies in this particular industry, but really, they are just now starting to dip their toes into Azure and AWS. What they are adopting “in the cloud” is not their main fleet ERP, it’s the standard applications that don’t need major customization (email, project management, human resources management). For these out-of-the box applications, I see active and enthusiastic adoption of SaaS based solutions. For the larger transportation fleets in the US, their ERP systems are highly customized and have been developed over long periods of time. Their solutions are mature and very robust, and primarily based on legacy style client-server architecture. It’s just not that easy to move a full ERP ecosystem into the cloud. Add to that a demographic that generally feels that being cutting edge isn’t a priority. Five years from now I expect the majority of the large trucking company ERP platforms that run on SQL Server will still be on-prem. They may be virtualized, but they won’t be in the cloud.

On the opposite side of the coin, I think that for newly developed software, developing SaaS based products that live in the cloud is already the predominant and accepted way to do things. Software companies are not building brand new applications that have a local install or are client-server in their architecture anymore. Startups and brand new applications are almost solely using the cloud as their infrastructure. Five years from now almost all applications written between now and then will have a cloud based database backend.

Older on-premise client-server based applications will need to adapt over time or they’ll die out. That’s not going to happen in a brief 5 years, but it is a sign that’s fairly obvious to anyone paying attention. The on-premise servers eventually are going to have a mostly “Kodak Moment”. It’s not going to be in 5 years though. Maybe 15. I’ll be almost 65 then….yeah, 15 sounds good (ha ha).

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

Mindy: Not in the next 15 years. Beyond that, I have a hard time imaging what’s going to be happening with technology. I don’t know that in 2002 I could have imagined what the iPhone/Android does today. 30 years ago I certainly had no idea where we would be with technology today, it’s really astonishing if you stop and think about it a bit. But in the next 15 years…while the DBA may not need to be concerned with backups or maintenance anymore (Administrative role significantly reduced), the concept of a Data Professional, who helps design / architect for scalability, and more importantly – who understands the business, that’s going to be needed for a long time to come. Especially the business part. It’s one thing to simply tune a stored procedure or SQL statement, it’s quite another to look at what it’s doing, understand the code itself, and then question “Is that even necessary? Why are we doing that? The business doesn’t work that way.” Sometimes code is written under a false assumption or incorrect idea about how a business works. It takes a combined skillset with an understanding of both the business rules and database platform. A computer algorithm is going to have a very long way to go before it can replace that piece of what a DBA provides.

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

Mindy: That’s an awkward question because I don’t want to appear like I’m bragging. I love working with SQL Server and data. I’m very passionate about it. I’ve devoted over 20 years to it, and it’s been very rewarding. I guess the things I’m most proud of to date are:

  • Being one of the 3 Program Managers for the PASS Summit for the last 3 years in a row (2015-2017). It’s a huge amount of work, but leading teams to go through all the abstracts, choosing the presentations, balancing the program and then scheduling – I can directly see the results of all our work each time I attend Summit. It’s a very good feeling. I love my #sqlfamily.
  • Building a team of DBAs at my workplace pretty much from scratch. It’s a great team, currently 5 members, hopefully soon to be 6 (we’re looking for a new teammate, preferably out of Oklahoma City). I love mentoring them and leading them, being their champion and encouraging them. They’ve all grown so much and I feel that because of my passion for SQL Server I encourage their passion. Two of these DBAs have presented at their local SQL User Group in Cleveland now, and one of them is about to do his 2nd SQL Saturday. Almost the entire team is actively blogging publicly now (https://drcdba.com/, https://ericblinn.com/, http://iconicdba.com, http://www.sqlmason.com). It makes me really proud and happy to see them growing professionally and being excited about their career.
  • The Keynote speech I delivered at TMW and PeopleNet’s In.Sight conferece. The subject was Data Quality and Reference Data. I spoke to almost 3000 transportation industry leaders in the big ballroom at the Gaylord Opryland. I have had compliments on the speech continually since, and it’s really reaffirming. I hope to be invited to speak again this year.
  • Being elected to the Board of Directors for the North Texas SQL Server User’s Group.
  • And of course, being awarded a Microsoft Data Platform MVP.

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

Mindy: I read a lot of self-help books for things I am trying to get better at. These are my latest books I’ve been thumbing through:

  • Talk Like Ted, – The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds – Carmine Gallo
  • How to Self-Publish, – a guide for Author-Preneurs – Kayla Fioravanti
  • Steal the Show, – from Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches – Michael Port
  • The 4-Hour Work Week, – escape 9-5, live anywhere and join the new rich – Timothy Ferriss
  • Behind the Cloud, – the salesforce playbook – Marc Benioff
  • Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard – Chip & Dan Heath

And I just ordered this book last night, it had good reviews and it sounded interesting:

  • IBM and the Holocaust – The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation

And I love history, especially local history. I love knowing who built an old building and what a neighborhood used to be like, how the roads got to be the way they are. I live in Dallas now, and these two Dallas history related books have been fun for me to read:

  • Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker
  • Dallas-Forth Worth Freeways, Texas-Sized Ambition
    On this one, I have the table book – whoah, it’s now $299! Good grief. Fortunately, you can download each chapter in full color via PDF here

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?

Mindy: One of the things that has allowed me to excel in my career was the inch wide / mile deep approach. Suggesting that someone else do that is complicated though because it requires opportunity. It takes time to become a mile deep. Until you get to be a mile deep, what are you? (I guessing digging that mile deep trench??). How will you generate income in the meantime? I was lucky to be given the opportunity to develop my skills because I landed a job with Unisys who was invested in developing mile-deep SQL Server Scalability and Performance folks from within their ranks. They would send us off to Unisys University and different Unisys and Microsoft Performance Laboratories for multiple weeks/year for boot camp style immersive training. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

When someone needs a specialist, that’s who they call. It doesn’t make sense for a brain surgeon to also be good at oncology. Both of these are inch-wide / mile-deep specialties. People will pay more and explicitly seek out those professionals when they need one. A general practitioner on the other hand is a mile-wide and inch-deep. There are lots and lots of general practitioners. Same with Pediatricians. They still make a very good living, but they aren’t able to charge rates similar to the medical specialists. Ever gotten a bill from an anesthesiologist? It’ll make you gasp.

As far as what I think is wise. I think it’s wise to understand what makes you happy, look at the opportunities you have been presented and make a career decision based upon those things. Sometimes you don’t actually make a career “decision”, it just kind of happens. There is no right answer for everyone. Had I not been given the opportunity I was given, I could well have ended up more a generalist, you never know. Life is weird that way.

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