I was tagged by Glenn Berry in the meme that Paul Randal started a few days ago, so I need to tell my story to keep it going. So here goes.
A Girl, A Guy, and a Tennis Racket
When I was a young fellow, I liked a girl. She liked me. Unfortunately (at the time) and fortunately (in clear hindsight, knowing what I know now), the definition of like was much much different. Eventually, she introduced me to her boyfriend, who became my best friend throughout college. I met my wife through a friend of his (whom she was dating at the time.) His friendship changed me from a super introverted geeky guy who would probably have been first on the list to be interviewed if some incendiary device was used on my high school to a simple introverted nerd. He got me my first job in IT working with databases, and really helped me see how computer science was the place to be (though he wouldn’t consider what I do “programming” as last I remember he was a hardcore C++ programmer).
He wasn’t like a perfect influence of course, and we spent many school hours playing Gauntlet (the video game) and/or Tennis (the real sport), and later when I was finishing my degree, and he was finishing his Master’s, golf. And honestly I spent more time with him than I did with my own family at times, causing a lot of grief. We lost touch due to some “stuff” that happened, and I haven’t seen him in 17 years now, but honestly his influence on me continues today.
A Move to a Beach
The day I lost touch with him was the day we moved from Tennessee to Virginia Beach to work for CBN (whom I have worked for since then except for a short stint at a dot-com in Nashville. This was the day my family truly came together. We moved from our families, friends, etc, and started to only influence one another. The first years there were the best years in many ways, as it was before my wife or I got important/time consuming day or night jobs. So in part it was just a great thing for us as a family. The other half of the equation was that I was given an amazing chance to learn and grow. I started as a DB developer in Cleveland, TN, with a guy who was pretty good, so I was a solid newbie. But CBN let me go to several database design/programming classes, and was instrumental in encouraging us to speak at conferences.
Another factor was that several people I worked with who really knew relational databases and I was able to really educate myself in ways that are often impossible for some people. Add to that spending a few nights and a few weekends doing this stuff over time, and my career was given a great push…
Being Critical of Other People’s Work Led to Other People Being Critical of Mine
About 11 years ago, I was attending one of those conferences where I was speaking (which was due to my bosses influencing me to speak) I met the guys at WROX press, who needed tech reviewers. I got involved and by doing a good job, in an email exchange with the editor, something was said like “would like to work with you again” and I said “Sure, and if you ever get a book on database design, I would be more than happy to review it”. The reply was “Good idea. Why don’t you write it.”
The rest is painful, glorious, painful, painful, wonderful history. Looking back on the first version of my book, you can see that I didn’t know enough to write a book. Stuff like terminology was all over the place, and some of the stuff in the book was not super. But it wasn’t bad either. Granted it took me 9+ months working 30+ hours a week (plus quite a few weeks of vacation, though I didn’t miss any of my daughter’s school activities!) to finish the book, and the brutality of the comments from tech reviewers was very painful at times (some were pretty snotty, actually, but in retrospect most were spot on.)
That book was that last turn in the road that delivered me to where I am today (which is good, because every time I think about how long it took, I realize that I could have went back and worked for Wendy’s and made a lot more money than I did on the book!) So am I suggesting you all go out and write a technical book? No way, and it has nothing to do with not needing the competition (well, not *everything* to do with it). The fact is, unless you are truly gung ho and ready to spend lots of time on a book, you will hate yourself. I forget where I first heard it, but some famous person was quoted to have said that it is a wonderful thing to have written a book. It is like being a parent in many ways. It is great to have a 20 year old daughter. And while the process up to that age was a labor of love, it was always a little painful, worrisome, scary, etc, etc. Worth it? Of course. But if I woke up tomorrow 20 years ago knowing what I know today, after I put a bed down on Superbowl 24, I would be pretty frightened. Back then it was an adventure, just like every camping trip you go on when it is sunny when you leave and raining actual no fooling cats and dogs by the time 10 minutes after you are in your tent, which promptly blows away.
I can sum up my advice in two sentences: 1. “The only thing worse than writing that book you have in you, is not writing it.” 2. “If you can think of nothing you would rather do than write a book, then write it, otherwise run away”
Mostly because I didn’t include my wife or child in the list as much as they deserved (if it was a top 100, 50+ would include some action from them), I need to include my list of runner’s up items. There have been so many other events that made me what I am, and I wouldn’t have survived without my wife and child, who are my best friends of the past 17 years. Barely a day goes by that I speak with the child (who isn’t a child anymore, as I previously mentioned) and certainly none goes by without talking to my wife unless one of us is REALLY busy. So that list includes, but is not limited to: Day I got Married; Day I became a Father; Day I became a Grandfather, Day I first ate hot chicken; Day I become an MVP; Flunking out of Engineering; Give up on becoming a Mathematician; Working with Paul Nielsen; Meeting Arnie Roland; Meeting Kevin Kline; Meeting Joe Webb; First PASS Conference; Day I ate my first McRib. Honestly, these are almost as important as those three, but in terms of being influential to my career not quite as much.
I will tag Paul Nielsen, because working with him has really elevated my game and speaking abilities, and I wonder what got him here. Also Kevin Kline, because with a name like his, I should get a few more hits to my blog. Plus, I will bet his are pretty interesting