Michael J. Swart

May 14, 2013

Myself in 2004

Filed under: Miscelleaneous SQL,SQLServerPedia Syndication — Michael J. Swart @ 11:53 am

This is me in 2004

9 years ago

I’m in the center with the glasses

This picture was taken in an electronics factory in Zhongshan, China.

I’m not a big traveler and I never have been.  I thought the opportunity to see China was a once in a lifetime thing. In my case, I found myself making the trip three times courtesy of my employer. It wasn’t the adventure I thought it would be. Unlike most tourists to China, my memories don’t include much else other than hotels, ferries and factory locations like the one you see here. I remember counting the days until each trip was over.

When I look at this picture, I remember a lot of things. I remember the anti-static lab coats and I’m reminded that I used to have more hair than I do now. The machine in front of me is meant to test a motherboard for the upcoming XBox 360. The guy on the right was an engineer, a hardware guy. My job was to install and support the software that collected test results and store them in a SQL Server database.

In Over My Head?

I remember the other people in this photo. It was an amazing assembly of talent. The people here were smart. But not just smart, they were smart and competent. They were ambitious and passionate about what they do and it’s rare to see that. I felt a little overwhelmed and I felt a little out of place. Everyone seemed so confident about what needed to be done. I guess I was no different. I knew what I had to do, but the confidence I showed was half acting.

For the most part, I was lucky. I installed the software and waited for a problem to support. It’s a testament to the company I worked for that I was able to wait more than work. But it wasn’t all super-smooth sailing.

Eventually I was asked to troubleshoot a burning issue and I wasn’t used to the pressure; hopefully it didn’t show. I felt like I was thrown into the deep end in order to learn how to swim. The head guy asked me to resolve something (and by the way Michael, the factory can’t operate until you do). The issues I faced were new to me and the pressure was on. Here’s a small subset of the kind of things I was asked to tackle:

  • Replication configuration issues. <bleah!>
  • Log files filling up (because replication’s log reader wasn’t operating properly)<ouch>
  • Concurrency bottlenecks. <just the beginning of the rest of my life>

In my career up until then, I was always able to ask a more experienced colleague for help. Here was the first time where I was it. There were no other colleagues to call on. If I couldn’t crack this nut, it wasn’t going to get cracked. In this case it was me and books online vs. SQL Server 2000. I did eventually get through those days and it felt amazing to beat those issues. But during the crisis itself, there was some anxiety.

Out of the Deep End

I came away from those experience with a bit more confidence than I started with. It was the first time I thought, “I’m fine, I can handle this”. By the end of my trips to China, the confidence I was showing wasn’t acting any more. I wasn’t just solving such crises, I was avoiding them. And back in Canada, I was asked to be on-call overnight in order to field questions from others in China.

I don’t believe there exists a training course anywhere that is equivalent to the confidence gained by solving these FIX IT NOW crises.

And it didn’t stop there, these other things helped boost my confidence even further:

  • SQL Server released 2005 with features that made a DBAs life so much easier than when supporting 2000.
  • I left my software development job for a different job focusing on databases full time.
  • twitter and #sqlhelp happened. It made me feel like I had the world on call. I don’t use it as much as I used to, but it’s nice to now it’s still there if I need it.

The Guy in the Picture

I’ve showed this picture a couple times to others in the past year. Each time I was encouraged to blog about it. This is me doing that. I have a lot of stories I could tell about these trips. In fact, I wish now that I kept a journal. So dear reader, if sometime in the future, we find ourselves hanging out and have nothing to chat about, ask me about 2004 Michael. Until then…


  1. Crises and unplanned production outages do happen. Sometimes if you’re quick enough you can resolve a problem before anyone notices or avoid them altogether. But here’s the irony. Say I help my company dodge five issues. But on the sixth issue, I struggle for a few days before cracking it. It’s ironic that I am recognized more for the work I put in on that sixth issue than the other five. I don’t know why. It’s not a communication thing. People just remember the trouble and the fact that I (eventually) helped. I have yet to figure out a way to handle that

    Comment by Michael J. Swart — May 14, 2013 @ 11:59 am

  2. Another memory,
    I remember that this was one of the trips where a Canadian and Russian sat in a lounge in China and listed to a Filipino singer sing about an Englishman in New York.

    Comment by Michael J. Swart — May 14, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

  3. More hair isn’t always better. 🙂

    Comment by Cressa — May 14, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

  4. Great post (as usual) Michael 🙂
    I found myself reflecting back on 2004 recently as well. It was the year I joined a large local company as a Systems Architect; I was in over my head and loving every second of it! One of the things I remember most is how amazing all my peers were. I can identify 100% with what you mean by “smart and competent” (emphasis on “and competent”) and lucky for me I can even include “fun”. The progress of architect, to DBA, to DB Dev, to Sr. DB Dev has been such an exciting ride -and so unexpected by 2004 me- and I’m so thankful. The people, the places, the tech, the challenges; so much to look back on.
    It’s funny though, I these days I sometimes feel so far removed from the “FIX IT NOW” issues that things seem a little stale. I guess in keeping with the swimming analogy I find myself splashing around in the shallow end a lot of the time and forays into the deep end are well planned and managed. I still love what I do, but it feels like something is missing. Thanks to this post I think now that something is “challenge” …and not just the challenge of having a mountain of the same cookie-cutter dev work to do :p

    Comment by Andrew — May 15, 2013 @ 10:57 am

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