T-SQL Tuesday #111: Why I Do Things with Databases

Somehow these monthly posts continue motivating me to write abstract thoughts which allow for a modicum of reflection.

This month’s topic comes from Andy Leonard (b|t), who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few times whether in NC or VA. Why do we do the stuff we do? Why have we focused so much on our career development? Well, it may seem pretty standard, but there are multiple “why” questions that can be asked in a string.

Why did becoming a data professional become appealing?

In college, when I had a class introducing me to database concepts, I had the chance to think about more advanced features of Access from my high school days and how to query this data. The consumption of information and its interpretation goes a long way. There is a phrase I heard at one time: In God we trust; all others must bring data.

I do this because I showed an aptitude for this ability, and knew there could be a challenge learning how to move data from one place to another. I ended up working with Microsoft SQL Server by default at my places of employment, which obviously led to me building a resume on how to swing the hammer, but I then was able to see how it was more than just “SQL development” but actually analyzing and managing the data to solve problems.

The biggest aspect today which keeps me loving what I do is the evolution of analysis and automation to get this abundance of data managed more efficiently. With predictive analytics taking having taken off, I really get to see how consumers of the data can make informed decisions based on facts. I get to see at the end how the use of data can contribute to society.

Okay, why is this a good way to contribute to society?

For the majority of the last five years, the companies I have worked for are all in the healthcare industry. It’s an industry where the concern is the betterment of other humans’ lives. That alone is reason to like where I ended up when interviewing for different jobs, as I know the companies I am part of are about reaching a person in need.

On an individual level, I provide for the household, which is of utmost importance. However, treating this as a legit career is more motivation to really stretch the difference being made to allow for the level of security to stay in the industry. It doesn’t feel like “living to work” either, as taking lessons back makes the “job” aspect easier to manage.

Then why involve yourself in a professional association like PASS?

Naturally, this also comes back to this question and why I’m writing this post. Well, I first joined looking to get better at this job. I didn’t know much then, and there’s still more I don’t know versus what I do know with both changes in the platform and my struggles to apply lessons taking a while.

So why did you increase your involvement, from volunteering and periodic blog entries to throwing your hat in the tech speaker circuit?

The reason is two-fold. The more selfish reason: it helps me raise my profile on my career track while motivating me to learn more. The less selfish reason: because I’m totally an expert in some areas who can talk down to others on how to do stuff better addressing how I have solved a problem will help someone looking for a solution. I soaked up knowledge for a while, but then gave my first talks on a professional level in late 2016-early 2017. I gained enough confidence to slowly become an okay public speaker who could then teach the next set of beginners a few things. As for the facilitation and assistance at events, volunteer work is a way to keep this outlet going to keep it alive. Another great thing about having a professional community is that it forces me to network with others. As a person on the spectrum, networking is a weaker suit but the ability to meet people who have all kinds of interests to bond over is key.

Autism? Why do you involve yourself there?

The spectrum is part of why I showed an aptitude for this subject area, with my compulsive abilities to sort. To get off data for a moment (somewhat), I volunteer with the Autism Society of North Carolina as someone hoping others sufficiently have their living standards improved. The chance to encourage kids on the spectrum to do programming, for instance, can tap into abilities that are often overlooked due to the social quotient.

With all that being said, WHAT is the message?

(What? This is asking why! I’ll let it go.)

Do what you love, and love what you do, and leave a positive impact.

That was 2018, So Here are Goals for 2019

Usually we here some degree of “the year was fun” or “screw this year, and next will be better.” On the surface, the engagement and the house made for a pretty outstanding year. Also, I got a volunteer promotion in the late fall as the Vice Chair of the ASNC Human Rights Committee, adding a little more responsibility on site visits and ensuring plan reviews are completed by the right members. However, this also took enough time that a lot of intended professional and running goals fell by the wayside.

Last time I wrote a blog for a T-SQL Tuesday concerning 2018 goals, it was a public goal accountability type of post in terms of learning. So what was accomplished (struck from the record)?

  • MBA Program and ITIL: finally graduated in December, and got a certification. Both check.
  • DBA fundamentals focus: well, this is subjective, but I think I reached this goal through some simple blog learning and shadowing some DBAs. I think I gained a better understanding on keeping backups and even temporal tables. I’ll call it a win for now.
  • Mid-level Python and mid-level R development: my focus was more on architecture, so this got scrapped.
  • Two new talks: I had one, though it will continue to mature. Got to discuss normalization and took it on the road (yet never published the blog, which I was terrible at this year). However, I didn’t devote time to consider a second to add to my rotation of…three. Still figuring out the presenting benchmarks.
  • Set up a true home lab and my own database: never got the data I wanted in full, and didn’t try. Or maybe I was afraid of all the XML files I created without trying JSON instead. Big miss anyway.
  • Get reacquainted with MySQL: I’ll call this one a win because of a server I dealt with that used MySQL. Very generalized, but I got to check the nuances between PL/SQL and T-SQL again.

So last year was unsurprisingly too ambitious on the professional front. However, it’s time to try 2019 again, even if I did not publish this post until February.

To start, my first goal is the most important: do well in year one as a first time husband. My start date is April 20. I hear the manager was also expecting a lifelong commitment to the craft. With that in mind, this means I want to be cautious as I continue in my career to not try for too much. I write this because data is more than a job to me, but there’s a matter of still enjoying it while making time for other fun things in life.

Now this year’s professional goals.

  • Actually make that custom database happen: I want to make my home lab actually look like something worth demoing, which means I should consider the test database I use needs to be a heck of a lot more robust, and I don’t want to be using World Wide Importers a ton. So that racing database which I want to more fully design is where I will start, which will require some creative thinking when I talk to the timers…or to the company behind the prediction algorithms.
  • One new talk to speak on: after not meeting last year’s goal of two, I would rather focus on tweaking the current ones when I have time in addition to adding a new topic for both my own growth and because I was told that my topic idea was rather good as many others have asked this same question in the early days of their jobs/assignments. May start that one with a blog post this time, so no more details…yet.
  • Speak to a new audience, whether it’s a specialized user group locally or even outside the Triangle: I’m hoping that any of those talks can be presented outside of my work environment or my SQL Server community, as I’d like to change up the audience for my own growth. It likely depends on the subject on if I can speak at a group with another language as the focus, whether it is a bunch of analysts who are beyond my pay grade when I was an analyst, or the .NET developers I yell at when they develop bad SQL code and haven’t learned from my own mistakes (I don’t yell; I just quietly facepalm).
  • Learn SQL to JSON integration techniques: so this is something I will need in my next adventure; I will get to that in a separate post. Considering that the only character that likes XML file imports is No One Ever, I think transitioning to JSON could be smoother, but someone will try to fight me over it.
  • (Re)start the MCSA certification exam (stretch – get the certification): time to get back to something I started and then let expire. The database development exam structure has changed since, and I feel more prepared for both exams. This does not mean I finish the exams and get my cert, but I officially train and possibly complete one exam with the intent of the next one not long after.

Hopefully this is a bit more reasonable than the previous year, as now we’ve found a groove as homeowners. So now it’s time for my other major extracurricular activity outside of my career industry…the one where I use my feet a lot.

I did run more miles than the previous year, though it’s not because the last eight months were something outstanding. I had a goal of 1500 miles and missed even hitting 90% of that. My excuse is that I was burnt out after the Shamrock Marathon training cycle and subsequent race ended with a thud. The miles dropped because the desire was lacking, especially as a house and the final stretch of my MBA pursuit took priority. On the good side, I did have half marathon, 10k, and mile personal bests.

For 2019, I want to get back to a spot I was in when it came to endurance versus speed.

  • 1500 miles on the year: I’m going to start an actual training plan which uses some algorithms to create a plan. It’s less than $100 annually, so I can squeeze it in to personal expenses outside the household ones. I believe many of us hobbyists also have a similar mentality to pros and semi-pros that when it comes to miles, we wish to ensure that they count for something.
  • Run my third marathon and break 4:00 (stretch – 3:35): I had this goal for Shamrock and then mile 18 is where everything fell apart. I’m not at a Boston level as some of my friends are, but I think if I put in the work at something I love, this can work. Also not hoping to get a stomach bug in the days heading into the race; that would help.
  • Run a 5k at a consistent sub-6:40 pace (stretch – break 20 minutes): I am a sadist who likes to run fast (for me), though I am very mediocre at my fastest. After I smoked the Rocket Mile last year, however, I’ve found algorithms which predict 19:30 when running on an even course (a rarity). Again, the plan combined with the algorithms (and badgering their data scientists if I’m crazy) would tie into learning more data science techniques if I give myself free time.
  • Racing at least once every 8 weeks at a minimum, and four times in the same span as a maximum: this will be interesting, as that means I need to watch what summer races I select. Charity type is a priority, especially with my likely return as Triangle RunWalk for Autism competitive ambassador.

Data growth is important to me, as is my running stress therapy. So let’s see what 2019 brings after this stream of consciousness entry. Any tips on the realism of the goals or where to begin?