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David Stein (BlogTwitter) started a new game of blog tag by asking the classic interview question, “What is your biggest weakness?” I got a chuckle out of David’s answer – he loves to jump straight into code as soon as he hears the problem.  I’m right there with him on that one.

Me?  Only one – if I had any humility, I’d be perfect.

Okay, no, seriously, my biggest weakness is a mental hangup.  I only want to do things I can do better than anybody else very quickly.

I’m not giving you a sales pitch here.  I’m not trying to say, “I like to make sure I’m successful when I take on a project.”  That’s not it at all.  And I’m not saying I’m lazy, so you should hire me because I like to find the solution with the least amount of work involved.  I’m saying if I don’t think I can win often, I don’t want to bother playing.

In high school, I tried out for the tennis team.  I went to the first practice, left early, and never went back.  While I liked playing around with tennis, I didn’t like the thought of mindlessly training over and over and over in order to be the best.  I wouldn’t play if I was going to be a half-ass player, and I didn’t have the patience to train to be the one of the best players.  Piano, basketball, soccer, volleyball field hockey, you name it, I tried it and I wasn’t really interested.

The Only Player to Defeat Me

The Only Player to Defeat Me

Chess, on the other hand – I loved chess.  As long as I could think extremely fast, I could outplay the vast majority of my opponents.  Since I could beat most of the people around me, that made me more interested in playing stronger and stronger opponents, which ended up sharpening my skills.

I still take this same approach when I look at new technologies.  I’m not interested in learning SSAS, SSIS, or SSRS because without a whole lot of training and dedication, I’d just be one of the thousands of people who get the job done.  Nothing more, nothing less.  The skills I’ve accumulated over the years don’t really translate into making me an SSIS rocket surgeon like Andy Leonard.  On the other hand, when I had the chance to jump into SAN administration, I was all over it because it would make me a better DBA.  I didn’t know any other DBAs who’d also done SAN administration, so it would move me up a notch.

I’ve been lucky to find a career that works well for my strengths and weaknesses, but I don’t think the “production DBA” job will be around forever.  In the back of my mind, I’m already looking for my next career.  To give an extreme example, “social media expert” is the kind of job I could probably nail down easily with zero effort, but I can’t say that with a straight face, so it’s out of the question.

Time to tag a few other people: hey Andy Leonard, Jeremiah Peschka, Tim Ford, and Tom LaRock, what’s your biggest weakness?

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  1. Thanks Brent. This kind of reminds me of one of my first posts:
    http://www.made2mentor.com/2008/09/are-you-willing-to-wear-the-white-belt/

    Are you willing to wear the white belt?

    • Ha! Nope, no white belt for me, not for the source of my income. I love wearing the white belt for things I do for fun, like snorkeling or sailing, but not where my income is concerned. I’ve spent too much time and effort building up a repository of knowledge, and I can’t risk taking a new career where all of my skills and knowledge don’t apply.

      I like to think of it as a sailboat. You can make changes in direction if you prepare while you’re still moving, but if you make too drastic of a direction change, you have to give up your momentum. Sailboats are relatively hard to restart once they’ve come to a halt, and you give up a lot of ground in the process. In order for me to change more than, say, 90 degrees of direction, I’d better be *really* confident that the rest of my lifetime earnings will be higher (and satisfaction, of course) in order for me to give up the momentum I’ve got so far.

      • “I’d better be *really* confident that the rest of my lifetime earnings will be higher (and satisfaction, of course) in order for me to give up the momentum I’ve got so far.”

        That’s exactly the position I was in a year ago when I wrote that. :) Through the advice of people I trust, I put on the white belt.

        I’m not suggesting that a SQL Server DBA should up and decide that his future lies in the culinary arts on a whim.

        My point was, and is, that we should always be willing to risk looking foolish in efforts to improve ourselves and our lives.

  2. Next time we’re ever in the same city, I need to try to beat you at chess!

  3. Chess night at the Summit…that’s a GREAT idea, I know Sean’d be all over it…

  4. In regards to Chess, I used to love it. My father taught me to play at somewhere around 6 years old. We’d play at least once a week for years.

    I came very close to beating him only one time, and he put away the chess board and never played me again. He was unwilling to wear the white belt. :)

  5. I had a chat with one of my managers a couple years ago about trying to anticipate the change in direction that my career needed to take because I could see being a production DBA had its limitations. Ever since then I have struggled to get my head up out of the trench long enough to gauge where I should be heading versus where I am.

    “I only want to do things I can do better than anybody else very quickly.” Is very similar to a personality trait that has been identified in either Strengthsfinder or MBTI. I remember reading something along those lines as part of the results I received from a Strengthsfinder or MBTI assessment.

  6. Pingback: My greatest weakness | Jeremiah Peschka, SQL Server Developer

  7. Eek! Where is the “Production DBA” job going?

    • I think it’ll be around for another decade or two because it takes a long time for people to abandon databases. I think the job’s going to get less desirable, though, because as hardware gets cheaper and as features are more targeted at developers, the production DBA will be seen more as overhead. Don’t get me wrong – in big enterprises, there’ll always be a need for a DBA – but I think the job won’t be as overvalued in 5-10 years as it is right now.

      I think the job market is also changing. I’ll talk about that more next year, but in a nutshell, I think we’re moving towards a micro-consultant economy based on reputation. If I could hit a web site, find a VMware consultant with a high reputation, and pay them $X to accomplish 5 small to medium tasks in my environment, I’d be likely to do it, and then build a relationship with that consultant. I think the production DBA role is heading that way, because I’m already seeing it in action on a small scale. More on that later, though.

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  9. Pingback: Impetuousness Is My Shiny | The SQL Agent Man

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  11. Great article! I think it’s notable that you want to be better than others!

    I wrote a blog post on answering the “What’s your biggest weakness?” question. You can find more here: http://blog.seattleinterviewcoach.com/2009/01/how-to-answer-what-is-your-biggest.html

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