Interview – Steve Jones

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: Steve Jones (b | t): Steve Jones

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?

Steve: SQL Server is advancing so rapidly, that I struggle to think where we might be five years from now. I certainly expect that we’ll have 4 more versions by 2022 and be on v18. With the pressure to add features to sell new versions, I expect Microsoft to both push the envelope of SQL Server with new concepts, but also add many more under-developed, unfinished, and perhaps abandoned features.

There will definitely be a greater cloud focus, with new concepts like Stretch DB that seek to build a hybrid approach. I’m not sure how much greater adoption we’ll see, as pricing and usefulness might limit adoption, as has happened with StretchDB.

I do expect a convergence of technologies, with more of the Cognitive Services being integrated into SQL Server, likely as function calls, and requiring some connection to Azure from your local instance. Again, there will be lots of concerns here, but many of the instances in a company might not contain any sensitive information and be used almost as application servers for some specific purpose.

I do think a more intelligent optimizer and additional tuning options will come from integrating a SQL Server database with the Azure cloud to make more recommendations, perhaps even ways that queries might be better constructed while returning the same results.

Lastly, I think that some of the CosmosDB technologies will merge with SQL Server and I’d expect that we will see (in Azure first), easy connections to consume or query other APIs in SQL Server. I’m actually surprised that MongoDB wasn’t included ahead of graph in SQL Server 2017, but I expect it to come.

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

Steve: I don’t want to waffle, but yes and no. The traditional DBA that needs to manage a certain number of instances and ensure they perform well, with 90% of their time spent on administrative tasks is likely to diminish. These days many sysadmins are becoming more capable of building SQL Server instances on demand, using tools like Chef, Puppet, and DSC. At the same time, many development tools are taking over some of the complexity of building applications against SQL Server.

This doesn’t mean either of these groups can do a better job than a focused DBA, but there’s a bar of value for the job. I think far too many DBAs aren’t focused on the value they provide and instead focus on doing a job that’s needed. As the need might erode, or the value over some other tool/framework/person diminishes, I can see that companies might choose to not hire additional DBAs, not replace DBAs that leave, or even look to move DBAs to new jobs.

That being said, many companies are very slow to change and I expect there will be traditional DBAs in many companies in five years if they have them today.

My concern is that far too many DBAs are complacent today and not improving or adding skills that may be important if they need to change employers.

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

Steve: I’m most proud of building a community at SQLServerCentral. I constantly hear from people how the site has helped them at some point in their careers. While I’ve written and spoken many times, it’s the collective community coming together at SQLServerCentral that has really touched many others. I’m proud and honored to have been a the steward of the site for so many years.

A close second would be the creation of SQL Saturday. That was originally Andy Warren’s idea, one that I wasn’t confident would succeed, but it’s grown in a way I never foresaw. I’m glad I supported Andy and I try to continue to support the franchise today under the PASS brand.

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

Steve: I read a lot. For a few years I used to track books I read and managed to complete over 100 in a year a few times. That became too cumbersome, especially during international travel when I might finish a book or two on a plane and forget to write a short review. My interests vary, though I lean towards more fiction as a release and break from a busy life.

For technical books, I’m reading R in a Nutshell now, which isn’t a great read. It’s tough to go through and delves more into the technical aspects of the language aspects rather than teaching more practical uses. Still, it’s a good background.

My technical recommendations would be:

For other books, I think a variety is good. I’ll give a couple recommendations in different genres that people might enjoy:

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?

Steve: I dislike this view of your career, or really much of the world around us. Things are more complex and nuanced than doing x or y. I see my children, and many others, often viewing an issue or choice as between two ends of a spectrum when there are many choices between those ends.

Between being a mile wide/inch deep and inch wide/mile deep there are many other places. I would say that you should view your career in two ways. First, as I hear in yoga constantly (often as I struggle to maintain some posture), impermanence is a part of our world. Making a decision about what to learn or improve in your career isn’t a lifelong decision. Don’t be paralyzed by the weight of a decision on what to learn. Whether you choose to focus more on the engine or expand to ETL/SSIS, you can change your mind.

Second, I would recommend that you continue to move forward, but try to evaluate what you’re learning periodically to determine if it’s a good fit for you. The fit can be that this technology advances your career (or gives you options) or that you enjoy it. Either one of those is a win for you.

To give you a better answer, I’d aim to do two things at any one time. One, deepen some aspect of what you know well. I think I know quite a bit about the engine, but I also realize there is a lot I don’t know. I’m not even sure of the volume of what I don’t know. It’s possible there’s more I need to learn than I know now.

Second, I always think gaining knowledge about new areas is a good idea. I’ll never know if I find some technology interesting. I also never know when some problem might be related to what I know. I’ve found that my knowledge of networking, storage, C, email protocols, and more have helped me solve a problem whose issue wasn’t related.

Andy Warren and I once debated the idea of learning and how much can you learn in a year. We decided that a focused individual, working full time, could likely pick up 2 skills in a year with 100 hours of work. Most of us could manage 50 hours and one “advanced intermediate” level of skill if we try. More than that is tough, but possible if you are really motived.

Above all, strive for balance. We work to live, not live to work.

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