A letter to a former me

June 11, 2019

Hmm. This month’s T-SQL Tuesday topic (hosted by Mohammad Darab) is to write a letter to an earlier version of myself – the 20yo version. Obviously a lot has changed since then (more kids, less hair)… I’m going to focus on the career-related stuff though. Sometimes I think if I had it to do over again I wouldn’t get into something IT-related at all, because I’m typically much more interested in the people-consulting than technical-consulting. I do technical because people care about it, not for the sake of technology.

The pieces of advice that I would give to myself are about the significance of data, the significance of community, and the risk of not having a full-time job.

The signficance of data

When I left university, I started right away in a consulting firm. I was offered the job half way through my final (honours) year, and I turned up not really having a clue about how it all worked. I knew enough about how to write software, and fumbled my way through the consulting side, working out that I could solve clients’ problems in code, and help them be happier with the bespoke applications we were producing. Over the years through various jobs in various cities I started to realise that the only important thing was the database. I only wish I had’ve realised that earlier, and the fact that it was possible to specialise in data. In 1998 I was offered the chance to get into OLAP Services (as it was then) but was distracted by the rest of life, and a mindset that customers mostly wanted applications.

The significance of community

I only realised the significance of the technical community in the 2000s. It was this that helped me realise you could specialise in data, and that the world was so much bigger if you were involved in user groups. It was 2004 when I started to attend user group meetings, and 2005 when I was asked to take over the leadership of the Adelaide SQL Server User Group. I had no problem presenting, but before 2004 I didn’t even know that there were meetings. I’d attended TechEd Australia 1999 (in Brisbane), and never realised that I could’ve attended user group meetings in the city I was living. If I’d realised this earlier, then maybe I could’ve had the chance to impact the third thing…

The risk of not having a full-time job

It took a big leap of faith to quit permanent employment and set up my own thing, and in hindsight I wish I’d done it earlier – although it had taken me a long time to realise the significance of data and of community, such that I built up a profile that formed a foundation capable of attracting customers. It had worked in my favour in London in 2000 when Enron collapsed and the city became full of IT contractors, because my permanent role was secure. But until I was over 30 I had always chosen the stability of permanent employment.

So what I would be telling my younger self would be to open my eyes to the opportunities in data and in the technical community, so that doors to self-employment could open. I do what I do for the sake of my customers, but I have the chance to serve them only because I realised those first things.


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