Be the surgeon

March 13, 2012

It’s a phrase I use often, especially when teaching, and I wish I had realised the concept years earlier. (And of course, fits with this month’s T-SQL Tuesday topic, hosted by Argenis Fernandez)TSQL2sDay150x150

When I’m sick enough to go to the doctor, I see a GP. I used to typically see the same guy, but he’s moved on now. However, when he has been able to roughly identify the area of the problem, I get referred to a specialist, sometimes a surgeon.

Being a surgeon requires a refined set of skills. It’s why they often don’t like to be called “Doctor”, and prefer the traditional “Mister” (the history is that the doctor used to make the diagnosis, and then hand the patient over to the person who didn’t have a doctorate, but rather was an expert cutter, typically from a background in butchering). But if you ask the surgeon about the pain you have in your leg sometimes, you’ll get told to ask your GP. It’s not that your surgeon isn’t interested – they just don’t know the answer.

IT is the same now.

That wasn’t something that I really understood when I got out of university. I knew there was a lot to know about IT – I’d just done an honours degree in it. But I also knew that I’d done well in just about all my subjects, and felt like I had a handle on everything. I got into developing, and still felt that having a good level of understanding about every aspect of IT was a good thing.

This got me through for the first six or seven years of my career.

But then I started to realise that I couldn’t compete.

I’d moved into management, and was spending my days running projects, rather than writing code. The kids were getting older. I’d had a bad back injury (ask anyone with chronic pain how it affects  your ability to concentrate, retain information, etc). But most of all, IT was getting larger.

I knew kids without lives who knew more than I did. And I felt like I could easily identify people who were better than me in whatever area I could think of. Except writing queries (this was before I discovered technical communities, and people like Paul White and Dave Ballantyne). And so I figured I’d specialise.

I wish I’d done it years earlier.

Now, I can tell you plenty of people who are better than me at any area you can pick. But there are also more people who might consider listing me in some of their lists too. If I’d stayed the GP, I’d be stuck in management, and finding that there were better managers than me too.

If you’re reading this, SQL could well be your thing. But it might not be either. Your thing might not even be in IT. Find out, and then see if you can be a world-beater at it.

But it gets even better, because you can find other people to complement the things that you’re not so good at.

My company, LobsterPot Solutions, has six people in it at the moment. I’ve hand-picked those six people, along with the one who quit. The great thing about it is that I’ve been able to pick people who don’t necessarily specialise in the same way as me. I don’t write their T-SQL for them – generally they’re good enough at that themselves. But I’m on-hand if needed. Consider Roger Noble, for example. He’s doing stuff in HTML5 and jQuery that I could never dream of doing to create an amazing HTML5 version of PivotViewer. Or Ashley Sewell, a guy who does project management far better than I do. I could go on. My team is brilliant, and I love them to bits. We’re all surgeons, and when we work together, I like to think we’re pretty good!


This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Argenis

    Rob – I’d hire you as our SQL Dev Surgeon any time. I have some (a lot) code that needs an intervention.
    Thanks for the post!

  2. Greg M Lucas

    Funnily enough Rob, you were one of the people I was thinking about in the final paragraph of my T-SQL Tuesday #028 post.  I know I’m not at your level but I also know that I’ll never get to your level if I try and become an expert in everything (and neither can anyone else)

  3. Rob Farley

    Argenis – thanks for the compliment, and you’re welcome for the post.
    Greg – I’m flattered, but I think you’re probably closer than you imagine.

  4. Andy Galbraith (@DBA_ANDY)

    I have heard this sentiment (or one like it) numerous times in my life, and I realize I have never done a good enough job of embracing it – I am too much of a generalist as my role through the last ten years has always been the production DBA that has to do a little bit of everything.
    The question that comes to mind as I read your post relates to the hot new kid (relatively new anyway) in the certification world – the MCM.  I was excited about the MCM when I first heard about it, partially because as I said, I am a generalist (generally a generalist anyway {-:), and I thought I could apply myself and take it down.
    …and then I read the spec’s – must be a certified DBA and DBDeveloper.
    I have never considered myself a developer (maybe a T-SQL developer, but even then not a star) and seeing this made me cross the MCM off my list.
    I am starting to ramble, but isn’t the design of the broad scope of things like the MCM contrary to "Be a Surgeon"?  What makes more sense moving forward in a career – being the ultimate "know some about everything" as the MCM, or "Being a Surgeon"?

  5. John Paul Cook

    I have to ask, where does the nurse fit in to all of this? The nurse’s role really matters to me!  🙂

  6. Anup Warrier

    Great post and it helped me to think twice if I am on the right track or not.Thanks for that.

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