Interview – Randolph West

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.

Randolph West
Randolph West

Next up: Randolph West (b | t):

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?

Randolph: You’ll need to have at least a passing knowledge of one or more cloud vendors to remain competitive in the future. It’s taken a while to get to this point, but as I predicted in 2009, the excuses to avoid cloud are less compelling than they’ve ever been (excluding legacy and legal restrictions of course).

The two biggest players are Amazon and Microsoft, and they have made storage offerings attractive and cost-effective. In my opinion, storage is the gateway drug to the cloud.

Hybrid licensing and easier pricing models also help convert capital expenses into operational ones. The subscription model is predictable for vendor and customer. The future is cloudy.

Even Oracle is embracing it, which is remarkable given Larry Ellison’s comments a few short years ago.

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

Randolph: Yes and no. The traditional tasks of a DBA will be just a small part of the data professional’s role (or “data stewards” as Tom LaRock calls us). There will be a larger focus on scripting / automating repeatable tasks, and self-healing systems that do away with monitoring. There is already a shift towards being more proactive.

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

Randolph: Before emigrating from South Africa, I spent some time as a teacher and college lecturer. I have great joy seeing the look of comprehension on someone’s face when I explain something.

Since I moved to Canada, this love of teaching has been focused on the SQL Server community, and I have had the privilege of speaking at a number of conferences and user groups, road shows, and SQLSaturdays. I also recently contributed a few chapters to the book “SQL Server 2017 Administration Inside Out” (Microsoft Press, 2018).

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

Randolph: This is an impossible question to answer in a short space. I’ve easily read more books than I’ve watched films, and I’ve seen a lot of films.

My favourite book of all time is “Good Omens”, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I’ve lent this book to many people and had to buy replacement copies each time.

If I’m recommending books, it depends on the person asking and their interests. If you love science, I’d recommend “What If?”, by Randall Monroe (the person who draws the comic xkcd).

If you like books about autism, there’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon, “House Rules” by Jodi Picoult, and “600 Hours of Edward” by Craig Lancaster.

Of the classics, “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde is great. If you like British colonial humour and don’t mind kids, the William series by Richmal Crompton is a hoot.

My favourite chapter in any book was written by Warren Ellis (author of “Red”, which also became a film), in a book titled “Crooked Little Vein”.

If you can find copies, “Circles in a Forest” and “Fiela’s Child” by Dalene Mathee are South African classics. She originally wrote them in Afrikaans, and translated them herself into English.

Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend my own book, “SQL Server 2017 Administration Inside Out”. William, Sven, and Mindy would never forgive me.

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?

Randolph: I’d say that a better skill set would be the ability to learn new things quickly, and have an attention to detail. Humans are incredibly good at a number of different things, and if you devote enough time (and practice), you can achieve anything.

If you want to learn something really in-depth, you should teach someone else about it, by presenting a talk, writing a blog post, or even a book about it.

I dodged the question, but I am a person of many interests and consider myself to have a wide but shallow range of interests, with laser focus on certain things.

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