Advice for my past self

July 9, 2024

Louis Davidson (@drsql) asks what advice we wish we’d had – particularly when we were starting out first data platform job.

I’m not really sure when that was.

I did computing at university, and in the mid-90s I was working as a Research Assistant writing code under a couple of professors who were in the Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning space. But I don’t think I’d consider that as my first “data platform” job. Not really. I was taking subjects like Neural Networks, but Data Science wasn’t a term people used back then. I tried (unsuccessfully) to get a job in the Australian AI Institute, and I considered doing post-grad in Edinburgh University in their AI school, but instead I got a job consulting. I had bills to pay.

From 1998 to 2006 I was working mostly as an Application Developer in Melbourne, then London, and then Adelaide, and databases were just part of the job. I didn’t consider myself a data professional. I figured I was in software. Even when I was a project manager or running a small department in a company that did something a little different, I was in software. I learned in my first few months of consulting that data was the thing that mattered most, but I didn’t realise I could be a data professional per se until later.

In 2005 I started running the local SQL Server User Group, and still do today. In 2006 I was awarded MVP status, and I think it was only around then that I realised that I could specialise.

That time in 2005 and 2006 was significant for me, and led to starting the business in 2008.

I learned some things between 2005 and 2008 that I wish I had known earlier. Properly known.

I don’t find myself wishing I could go back 30 years and tell myself that AI was going to become big in the ’20s. I don’t find myself wishing I could go back and tell myself that I should do that PhD after all. But I do wish that I had understood that I could be a data specialist earlier, and I really wish I had understood the benefits of the technical community much earlier.

I’ve always been a people-person. If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know this about me. As much as I like being able to solve technical problems, I’m far more interested in the people that are going to be using what I build. Much more so than the technical aspects. A puzzle might be a useful exercise for my brain, but it doesn’t drive me like the interest I take in people. I think I didn’t really click that the technical community would be full of people I could serve in that way. The community within my university wasn’t like that. Nor were my colleagues. These weren’t the types of people who would go to a user group meeting just because they wanted to learn. And so when I started to go along to user group meetings, I saw a different kind of community. I saw groups of people who wanted to solve things. Who wanted to know what they could be doing with technology. And I saw that I could help that community, by making sure that meetings happened, and also by being prepared to get up on stage.

I wonder what it would’ve been like if I discovered the significance of data and the technical community while I was still at university. Maybe in 1996 or 1997. (And if I’d had the time to be able to get along to meetings.)

Perhaps my career would have gone in a very different direction. Perhaps I would’ve been involved in PASS a lot earlier.

Perhaps is an interesting word. I don’t know how things would have been.

Looking back, I did learn these things nearly 20 years ago, and my life did change quite significantly. In the mid-to-late ’00s I met a lot of amazing people in the technical community (including our host Louis), and I continue to meet people now. It’s still a great place to be, and I still tell people who are new in their careers to see what kind of communities there are.

Data is the most significant technology, but people are far more significant.

Perhaps I always knew it. But maybe I needed someone to tell me.


Leave a Reply

LobsterPot Blogs

Blog posts by Rob Farley and other LobsterPot Solutions team members.


Related Blogs