This post is inspired by a LinkedIn series in which 60 leaders of business where asked to tell a story of “My Best Mistake“. Those cringe-worthy moments that changed their careers.
I read through some and decided I needed to figure out which was my cringe-worthy moment, my best mistake.
There were a lot to pick from, as I believe there were a lot of mistakes made over the years. I try to not worry too much about them since I believe that they are the foundation to learning and getting better.
It took a while, but I narrowed down the pivotal moment in my career thus far.
My Best Mistake:
I was working full time at a company where I was brought in as the first SQL Server DBA. Well, the first DBA ever at the company. I worked closely with the manager of the department to not only learn the company data and systems, but to also learn the working of the business itself. The manager agreed to become a mentor for me as I worked towards becoming a manager of IT.
We were working on a very difficult migration from an old DOS based database system to a newly custom developer SQL Server database. All with no documentation. I hunkered down and started learning both the old and the new system and started creating a complete data migration process. Over the course of 4 years I learned the workings of the company pretty well, and had a real grasp on the old and new database working and functionality. During this time the manager worked with me to help hone skills such as ‘seeing the forest for the trees’ and detailed work quality checks prior to anything going to our internal customers. We talked about the team, how things were going, and where things were heading. It all seemed good. There were lots of moments of extreme pressure from the upper management, execs and parent company to finish this project and things progressively got worst and worst. I stuck through it all though. I wanted to see the project succeed, and I had a goal int he company to move up if the opportunity presented itself.
There were many days of confrontation about why I did something a certain way, why did I not consult with the manager who was not available when needed. I knew I was a key player int he project and making it work, but was not told that in terms that were the best to use. Stating to someone: ‘You are a single point of failure for this project’ does not have the same effect as ‘we would not be able to do this without you’. After a while I was sequestered to my cube. I was even relocated in front of the manager so s/he would know if anyone was coming to ‘chat’ with me and distract me from the work at hand. It wasn’t that I was not getting stuff done, just the opposite, I was dealing with people to get the answers needed to move the project forward.
I remember many a time other team members, and employees in different groups, asking why I put up with it all. “I would have quit by now’ they all said. I would just look at them and say “I am here to do this job, and I’m going to do it right and see it succeed.” I knew I had a mentor in management and someone that was pulling for me based on the work I did. Finally in my career there was a chance for things to go where I wanted them to, and someone was actually helping, not hindering that opportunity.
Then the day came. The manager gave their 2 weeks notice before a critical deadline for the project. I kept working in my sequestered little world, trying to get as much done and solidified before the manager’s departure. I had been working for years to learn that position and was getting ready in my head to possibly take over the project and department. All the hard work would finally pay off.
The 2 weeks went by, and nothing. In fact, I wasn’t even spoken to at all for the 2 weeks of transition to a fellow developer on the project. In fact I didn’t get a goodbye from my mentor until the last moments of the final day of them being part of the company. I still feel those were ‘forced’ as I happened to be in certain places (by chance) as the manager popped in ‘making the rounds to say Goodbye ‘.
Needless to say I was crushed. My self confidence was shot, I was exhausted on the verge of burning out. I did everything I could to make the manager and the project be a success and got nothing for it. Not even a real ‘Goodbye’ from my mentor for years.
Sure, the project was a relative flop when done as a lot of stuff was glazed over or skipped in the interest of hitting deadlines rather than having it all work properly (I still hear stories of the system from friends), But it still was a pivotal moment for me.
I started looking for a new opportunity immediately and as soon as one came I was gone. I had had enough. I was not going to let others control my future anymore. I was going to step up and start doing things in my career for me.
I went on to work at Amtrak for 6 months as the only in house SQL DBA, then moved on to head up a 10 person Sr. SQL DBA team on a large government project. The team I lead was one of the only ones on the entire project that was consistently on time and on task with anything thrown our way. During that project is when I went out on my own as an independent SQL Server Consultant. I also decided that I would get active on twitter, and start attending various conferences and events associated with SQL Server around the country. From that I stepped up to organize the SQL Saturday for Washington DC for 2012 & 2013 and have started an official PASS chapter (PASSDC) in the DC area.
I also started Waterox Consulting, and I have not looked back. Sure there are lots of mistakes that have been made, and that are still being made. The one mistake though that changed everything, was believing that someone else could make things happen for me. It is a mistake I will not make again.