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Right now is an incredible time to do what you love.

Bear with me for a second and watch this one-minute video from Red Bull:

It’s full of people doing what they love.  These people are at the top of their game, but more importantly, they’re sharing their game with others, inspiring and entertaining them.

The more you watch this video – and believe me, I’ve watched it dozens of times – you start to pick up on an incredible number of things Red Bull had to pay for.  Concert sponsorships.  Running contests and events.  A logo on a stadium roof.  Not to mention professional film crews taping the whole thing – all while people on stage get to do what they love.

But that only happens to rock stars and skateboarders, right?  Not to IT geeks.  Or does it?  Watch this one-minute video from Red Gate:

This was the introduction to the Red Gate DBA in Space contest.  Red Gate forked out big money for sets, a professional film crew, and an actress – all to hang out with SQL Server professional Brad McGehee to film what amounted to a huge commercial.

But that only happens to just a couple of people, right?  This isn’t a widespread phenomenon – or is it?

SQL Server Community Activists Turned Evangelists

Check out this timeline:

  • 2005: Quest hires Kevin Kline
  • 2006: Red Gate hires Steve Jones
  • 2007: Red Gate hires Brad McGehee
  • 2008: Quest hires Brent Ozar (yay!)
  • 2010: Confio hires Tom LaRock
  • 2010: SQL Sentry hires Aaron Bertrand
  • 2010: Quest hires Jeremiah Peschka
  • 2011: Red Gate hires Grant Fritchey
  • 2011: Idera starts ACE Program
  • 2012: Idera hires Robert Davis
  • 2012: SQL Sentry hires Kevin Kline

That’s a lot of activist activity over the last several years – and if you notice, it’s picking up speed.  Every time an evangelist position is filled, I used to say to myself, “Well, that’s it – now all the companies have evangelist-type positions.”  But no – scroll down the list of PASS Summit sponsors and exhibitors, and ask yourself how many of those folks have SQL Server evangelists.  There’s still a lot of potential open positions.

Why Companies are Hiring Evangelists

Ken Block is a professional rally driver who does amazing things with cars.  No, really, I mean amazing things – he’s the Evel Knievel of our generation, a master of the combination of entertainment and promotion.  Years ago, he brought in a professional film crew to capture how he likes to show off his car control, zipping around an abandoned airport.  The resulting four-minute video has over twelve million views, most of which involve jaws hanging wide open as Block does donuts around a moving Segway.

This month – one week ago today – Block published the latest installation in his series, Gymkhana Five, filmed in San Francisco.  If you don’t have the ten minutes to watch the whole thing, some of my favorite highlights are at 2:25 (doing donuts around moving streetcars), 3:40 (sailing over a hill), and 5:30 (drifting sideways through the air):

That video has received almost twenty million views in just a week.  That’s 33 views per second, around the clock.

That’s why companies are hiring evangelists.  Companies need to get their message out to the public, and conventional advertising isn’t working as well as it used to.  We’re bored.  We’re jaded.  We fast forward past the ads on our Tivo, and we use AdBlocker on Firefox.  We’re not paying attention.  Marketers know now that they have to try a new trick: they have to be part of the message.  Whether they’re logos on the side of Ken Block’s car on a YouTube video or getting DJ Audrey Napoleon to help encourage responsible drinking via short films, they’ve gotta merge their message with yours and find a way to get people to want to hear the message.

What Kinds of People Get These Great Gigs?

The best evangelists are excited experts: people who know how to do something well, absolutely love doing it, and love sharing their knowledge with others.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he posited that in order to be an expert, you have to practice the task for 10,000 hours.  He uses examples from Bill Gates to the Beatles, showing where these people put in their hours and why it mattered when they hit the big time.

It’s really hard to do something for 10,000 hours.  Most of us spend most of our day in meetings and doing email, and I’ve got bad news: unless you’re aiming to become a professional meeting attendee expert, you’re not making progress at your real dream goals.  If you really wanna be an expert, you have to minimize that non-task time and try to put in as many hours as you can at your favorite task.

I bet somewhere along the line, a guidance counselor told you, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  This matters for experts, too – it’s much easier to become an expert at a task if you find yourself putting in the hours even when you’re not getting paid.  When I wake up and walk the dog, for example, I’m on my iPhone digesting tech, storage, SQL, and virtualization news as fast as I can.  It’s not my job to keep up with this stuff – it’s my passion.  It doesn’t feel like work, so the expertise-accruing hours keep racking up faster and faster.

But if you’re not doing what you love, you have to take a dramatic step like Dan McLaughlin did.  Malcolm’s book affected Dan in a big way, and in April 2010, Dan quit his job.  He wanted to golf for a living, so he gave up photography and started putting in 30 hours per week golfing with an aim to make the PGA Tour in 2016.  He’s well on his way, and you can follow his progress at The Dan Plan.  (And you know what’s funny?  Even though he’s not an expert yet, he’s already making money doing what he loves simply by having this web site.  If he manages to make the PGA Tour – even if he sucks as a golfer – he’ll make a killing as an author and speaker just talking about how he changed his life.)

I’m not saying you have to quit your job today and go golfing.  I’m saying if you don’t absolutely love what you’re doing, and you don’t look for reasons to do it in your spare time, then you’re doomed to spend your entire life barely tolerating what you’re doing, and nobody’s going to hire you to become an evangelist for that.  However, you’re sitting here reading this blog because you at least vaguely enjoy technology – or else you wouldn’t have found me here.  Odds are, you kinda-sorta like a lot of your job, but there’s parts of it that you actively hate.

Your job is more than your job description – it also includes the environment where you’re working.  Are you passionate about sports?  Have you thought about applying to work in the IT team at your local sports franchise or fitness center?  These companies get genuinely excited when they find someone who not only knows the technology, but cares – really cares – about the company’s core business.  Old resume advice tells us to learn a little about the company we’re going to interview for, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t just matter to the company – it matters to your job satisfaction.  The more you really care about the work your company does, the more excited you’ll be to show up for work.  You have to seek out the companies where you’d be excited to work, and then you have to tell ‘em why you have the best combination of expertise and excitement.

Kevin Kline and Ken Block Didn’t Respond to Newspaper Ads

When you’re an excited expert, the right doors don’t always open automatically for you.  Yes, sometimes people come out of the door and try to frantically wave you inside, but those aren’t always the positions you want.  I see most recruiters the same way I see peddlers in tourist trap cities – standing outside the front door, waving people in, talking about the great deals they’re going to find inside.  Even when you’re an excited expert, you have to find the right doors for you, walk up to the door, knock, and if nobody answers, you have to try the knob anyway and introduce yourself to the startled occupants.  Nobody expects an excited expert to come knocking, looking for work – but once they get over the shock, they’re just as excited as you are, and they’ll make a position for you.

The bad news is that many of us are zombies, shuffling to work, expecting our managers to turn our workplace around, and when they don’t, we blindly follow these streetside peddlers into another crappy job in a crappy environment.

The good news – no, GREAT news – is that both your expertise and your excitement level are entirely up to you.

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  1. If you want to be an evangelist, start evangelizing. It has to come from a real place of course, but good things will happen :)

  2. The bad news is that many of us are zombies, shuffling to work
    For some reason I had to think of Droopy who says “I’m happy” as only he can. Just thought you would like to know.

  3. Thanks so much for the kind words, Brent! I didn’t realize this before your post, but it feels pretty good to be used as an example … for good things. I was used as an example for less good things way too much in middle school.

    But your points are right on: 1) focus on something you’re passionate about and the excellence naturally follows, 2) companies need passionate communicators who can become part of the message instead of the courier of the message, 3) Get excited about what your do and who you work for and your world will change for the better!

    Great stuff!

  4. This had me thinking about how just over a year ago I was not happy where I was and decided to do something about it. I went back to a consulting firm and after 6 months of noticing the trend you mentioned (waving people in) I risked it all & set out on my own. I am quite happy now though it isn’t easy keeping up with the opportunities that seem to be playing catch up for the 10k hours I’ve missed through my career. Even though it isn’t easy, I’m pushing through and making it happen. As you said “your expertise and your excitement level are entirely up to you.” I agree whole heartily and am excited at the potential on the horizon. Its folks like you, Kevin, Tom and too many others to mention that inspire me to continue as well. You all make it too easy to see the excitement and joy in what you do. Thanks.

  5. Great article, Brent.

    I think about this subject a lot. We’re at a very pivotal time in history where intelligent and motivated people have more opportunities than ever before to “live their dream”. Because the ‘net allows widespread exposure to even the smallest niche interests, finding your customers/audience/whatever is easier than ever. (ok, it’s not “easy”, but at least the pathways exist, if you’re willing to put in the effort.)

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  7. Great Post! I am about 2/3 of the way through a self study teaching myself SQL (the goal is to get MCTS 70-433 certified). I really enjoy the satisfaction of writing code that can help people and companies. From looking though Job postings and what not It appears I will be doing some knocking on doors and even volunteering where I can to hopefully open some doors.
    Thanks for the article it was great at giving me some hope at this change of careers I am working toward.

  8. Great post, Master Brent. I’ve remembered a quote from either Les Brown or Whitney Young, Jr. that said, “It’s better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.” I came up with my own similar quote that goes, “If you don’t have an opportunity, create one.” I was privileged NOT to be hired for any job after finishing my university degree because nobody wanted to hire somebody with a very bad academic record (I did fail 17 courses in my university days.) That experience taught me to pick myself instead of waiting to be picked. I had to create my very first job and it certainly wasn’t in a newspaper or an internet ad – it was written in my notebook some 10 years earlier.

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