Rock Stars, Normal People, and You

I’m just like you, except I’m from your future.  Lemme rewind a few years and explain.

My Job Search Five Years Ago

Not as Happy as I Look
2005 – Not as Happy as I Look

In 2005, I was working from home doing database administration, coding, and Classic ASP.  I absolutely loved my coworkers, but I was burned out, and the company was in rough financial shape.  They’d missed a couple of paychecks, and I decided I needed to make a change.

After months of careful searching, I went to work for a consulting company because I had this idyllic image of consultants; I saw them as the best of the best, hired guns who were called in when the situation was really dire.  At my company, we’d had a couple of situations where we’d cried out, “We’re in over our heads!  Bring in the consultants!”  People in suits rolled in with briefcases, asked questions, and gave us answers that sounded pretty good at the time.  I naively thought I’d be working with an elite squad of gurus who could help me take my skills to the next level.  Data warehouse project in dire need of T-SQL skills?  I’m in – sign me up.  The client’s BI team had been building the data warehouse for the last two years.  Two months before it was set to go live, they all simultaneously quit, leaving no documentation behind.

Consulting wasn’t quite what I’d expected.

My instructions were to report to the client’s office, share a cubicle with my fellow consultants, don’t touch anything, don’t talk to the client, and look busy.  My whole purpose on the payroll was to bill hours.  The project plan called for a DBA, therefore the company could bill for DBA hours without me really doing anything.  My salary was less than the company’s billable rate, so I made money for them just by sitting there, and of course they wanted me to sit there for a lot more than 40 hours per week.

I had to bite my tongue while my project manager made one horrendous design decision after another.  (“Let’s store both the natural and surrogate keys in the fact tables, and index all combinations of both of them.”)  The manager made Dilbert’s boss look brilliant – and friendly to boot.  This guy scowled at us openly, insulted us in front of the client, and began setting us up for failure.  He didn’t expect us to finish on time, so he told the client and the consulting company that he’d been stuck with incompetent employees, and surely he could fix everything given a few months and much smarter staff.

We delivered on time thanks to two factors:

  • A hurricane closed the client’s office for a couple of weeks, buying us time
  • We threw out everything the manager did, and rewrote the whole thing from scratch in the last 3 weeks

When we crossed the finish line, I thought the worst was over, and we’d be off to another project.  Not so much – it turned out the client was happy with our work, so they extended our contracts and wanted us to build more features.  Since I was generating money, the consulting company refused to move me to another project.

Calgon, Take Me Away

I’d screwed up, and I wanted out.  Bad.  So I started looking for jobs somewhere else, and …

I couldn’t find anything.

I got turned down again and again.  No college degree.  Not enough experience.  Too much experience.  No clustering experience.  No replication experience.  When I finally found a gig, I took it out of desperation because I was so miserable with Manager From Hell.  Things were so bad, I took a job where a dozen people worked in a 20×20 room in school-style desks with barely enough space for a keyboard and mouse.  If anybody needed help (or a good time), they could reach out their arms in any direction and touch a coworker.

At the last minute (literally the day before I was supposed to show up for work), the client made me an offer instead.  I was overjoyed, because the client’s staff were some of the coolest people I knew.  Unfortunately, the salary wasn’t really fair.  The HR department knew they had me in a corner, and they had all the bargaining power.  I made a counteroffer, they didn’t accept, and I signed on with their original offer.

Taking that offer, underpaid or not, was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  I loved that job, I loved my coworkers, and I couldn’t have asked for a better manager.  The money worked itself out over time as I proved myself, but I was lucky.  It’s very rare that a company will say, “You’re worth more than we expected, and we’d like to reward you for that.”

Finding The Community

Drinking Alone in Denver
Drinking Alone in Denver

In 2007, the company sent me to my first PASS Summit where I had a weeklong Eureka moment.  I was stunned that so many people had the same job, same needs, and same challenges as me.  I sat through sessions, looked up at the presenters, and thought to myself, “I could do that.”  I’m comfortable in front of crowds, I’ve done internal training for years, and I’d learned a lot of nasty lessons about IT.  I heard attendees asking very junior-level questions and said to myself, “Self, there are people here that could use your help.”

At that Summit, nobody knew who I was.  I’d been blogging for years, but I didn’t really promote myself.  I just wrote about stuff that interested me, like my Perfmon tutorial, how to use VSS for SQL Server source control, and SQL Server’s “in recovery” database icon.  Some of those posts were hits, but the vast majority sank into obscurity.

In November 2007, I made conscious decisions to:

  • Start working hard on my blog
  • Start doing presentations at my user group
  • Get way, way outside of my comfort zone and work with non-IT people

Each Saturday & Sunday morning, before Erika woke up, I spent 4-6 hours writing posts, crafting presentations, and talking to vendors.  I built up a great working relationship with the marketing folks at Quest, and I wrote a few things for them like the Top 10 Things DBAs Need to Know About Storage and the Top 10 Things DBAs Didn’t Know LiteSpeed Can Do.  Sense a theme with the titles?  That’s because I was reading more about marketing, and marketing folks know that people love top ten lists.

Doing this stuff took time out of my personal life, but I was determined to make an investment in my career.  I didn’t want to have another really crappy job search, bouncing from headhunter to headhunter, having to re-prove that I wasn’t an idiot and that I was worth money.

My Job Search Two Years Ago

I would still be working for that same company today (and I still consult for them), but we had to move cities.  In early 2008, Erika was offered an air traffic controller position in Houston, and the government hiring process is notoriously fickle.  If you turn down a city, you might not get an offer again for years.  Working in ATC was a lifelong dream for her, and her dreams are my dreams, so we moved.  Unfortunately, my employer didn’t allow telecommuting, but they were gracious enough to let me telecommute until I found a new position.

After getting burned with the consulting gig, I looked long and hard for the perfect job.  It had only been a few months since I’d decided to focus on marketing, so those efforts hadn’t paid off yet.  Nobody knew who I was, and nobody was calling me with job offers.  I had my blog URL on my resume, but nobody ever said they’d read it.  I asked all the toughest interview questions, and I eventually found a production DBA job that looked perfect.  I liked the managers, the responsibilities, the pay, the hours, everything.  I thought I’d be there for ten years or more.  I knew myself well enough to know I didn’t want to go into management, and this company would let me be a pure database guy for life.  They’d had really bad turnover in the DBA team, but it sounded like people were just getting experience and then going on to bigger jobs, so that didn’t concern me.

The very first day on the job, I knew I’d made a horrible mistake.  At this very, very successful financial company, the staff had 14″ CRT monitors, 3-4 year old laptops with 1GB memory, and no pagers. If one of your servers went bump in the night, the only way you found out was when you came in the next morning.  They didn’t even have coffee or water.  If you wanted something to drink, you had to hoof it down the elevators and go to Starbucks.  You’d better hope none of your servers had problems during that time, either, because your coworkers didn’t have a way to reach you aside from your personal cell phone.

After three weeks of shocking revelations about how the basics weren’t in place, I went to my managers and laid out my concerns.  I basically said, “There’s no way I can succeed here, and I can see why people are leaving.  I know how big this company is, and I know you can’t turn this ship around quickly, so I’m going to bail before both of us get invested in this.”  The company wasn’t happy, but they understood.

The headhunter went ballistic.  She summoned me to her office building for a meeting with her manager.  I was as mellow as I could be given the circumstances – when they asked if I wanted anything to drink, I said, “Yes, could I get a bottle of water?  I’m going to work after this, and they don’t have anything to drink, so that’d really help out a lot.”  They laughed, easing the tension, but they still beat the hell out of me.  They threatened me, said I’d be put on a list and I’d never work in this business again.  They said the only way they’d help me find work was if I tendered my resignation immediately, which I did – and then they gave me the old, “We’ll call you, don’t call us.”

No Job, No Prospects – But Blogging Came Through

I’d only recently moved back to Houston at that point, and I had no local network whatsoever.  I hustled harder than I’ve ever hustled before.

I happened to have a whitepaper in progress at Quest, so I mentioned to them, “Hey, don’t publish that for 2-3 weeks.  It says I work for ___, but by the time it hits the press, I’m going to have another employer.  If you can hold off, I’ll give you the new company name.”

Unbelievably, they said, “Wanna come work for us?”  Do developers love cursors?  Hell yeah!  They didn’t technically have an open job position, but in the backs of their minds, they’d wanted to create something for a community evangelist type of person.  The only way I got this job was because:

  • I worked hard on my blog
  • I did a presentation every couple of months (either at local user groups or for vendor webcasts)
  • I actively reached out to users trying to help
  • I actively reached out to vendors to help them too
Caroline Collective Grand Opening
Caroline Collective Grand Opening

I was nowhere, nowhere near anything you’d call a “rock star” in the SQL Server world.  Quest just saw a future in me and placed a bet on it.  They weren’t betting on my SQL Server skills – they were betting that I’d continue working hard on my communications skills.  I didn’t need to learn new ways of putting indexes on tables, for example; I needed to figure out better ways to teach other people how to do it.  I was already good at helping people individually, but I needed to get better at scaling.  I had to find out how to reach more people with less work.

I started by hanging out with a totally different crowd of people.  I started coworking at the Caroline Collective in Houston, a space for freelancers of all sorts.  The time I spent there taught me more about marketing, small business, and communications than I could possibly explain.  Coworking teaches you soft skills by osmosis; you’re constantly around people doing cool things outside of your specialty, and you can’t help but pick up new ideas and techniques.  I realized that I needed to pay closer attention to what non-SQL people were doing, and apply that stuff to my own work.

Bustin’ My Hump: PASS Summit 2008

Preparing for the 2008 PASS Summit, I submitted abstracts, and – they were turned down.  Doh!  I kept presenting, doing webcasts for Quest, going to user groups, and polishing my delivery.  In Seattle, some presenter didn’t show up at the last minute, and Kevin Kline asked if I’d be willing to present in their place.  I jumped – no, I leaped – at the chance.  I did my first PASS Summit presentation!  I believe that was the best way to do a presentation, too, because I wasn’t nervous during the run-up to the Summit.  I just jumped in at the last minute, did a presentation I knew well, and nothing caught fire.

I also worked hard to improve my blogging by modeling it after blogs I admired.  When I attended the Summit keynotes, I liveblogged them the same way Engadget liveblogs Apple keynotes.  I figured if I was a reader, I would want that kind of minute-by-minute coverage, and nobody else was doing it.  It was hard work, and I didn’t get to enjoy the keynote the same way other attendees did, but I was doing a service to PASS, my readers, and thereby to Quest too.

I attended Jimmy May’s presentation on partition alignment and loved it. Douglas Chrystall (a SQL guru at Quest) and I approached Jimmy afterward, talked to him, and thanked him for his excellent session.

Becoming a Rock Star: 2009-2010

Months later, when Jimmy was approached to write a storage chapter for a book, he said he didn’t have time – but he recommended me.  Next thing you know, I had my name on a book.  That would never have happened if I hadn’t gone to the Summit and approached people I admired.

When the PASS 2009 call for abstracts came out, I submitted a few, and I got accepted.  At the Summit, I got my first autograph request, and it wasn’t even my book!  Later, I made the Best of PASS list.  I promptly fell out of my chair.

I went to the Microsoft Certified Master program, and I laughed when one of the other candidates asked, “Why do all the instructors know you?”  I joked that I’m huge on MySpace, but the reality is that they don’t know me because I’m good with databases or I’m so darned attractive.  They know me because I communicate – I’ve got a blog, I’m on Twitter, and I reach out to interact with people all the time.  That’s all.  Nothing more.

Every month, I get at least 3-4 job offers from strangers.  They all read something like, “We love your blog and your videos, we love your personality, and we can tell that you’ve got the knowledge to solve our problems.  Will you work for us?”  It’s an awesome position to be in, and as a result, my weekends are chock full o’ consulting work.  I’m able to set my rates because we both know I can solve their problems quickly.

You Can Do It. We Can Help.

Working on My Soft Skills
Working on My Soft Skills

Three years ago, nobody knew who I was, and I had to struggle to make it to the top of the resume pile.  I bet you feel that way right now too.  I bet you worry about whether or not you could find another job.  I know a lot of you talk to me about looking for another job or the interview process, because you’re not happy where you’re at.  You’re dealing with miserable managers or coworkers, too much work, or a crappy environment.  You look at “rock star” people as different somehow, like we were born with silver spoons in our mouths.

You already have the technical skills you need to get a better job.

You just need to build the soft skills.

On Allen Kinsel’s blog post about PASS speaker evaluations, a comment from Jay Taylor made me stop to think, and prompted this entire blog post:

“At a recent programming event I attended, a SQL speaker spent the first five minutes telling us that he would never have applied to speak had he known that Rock Star 1 and Rock Star 2 and Rock Star 3 were going to be speaking at the same event. Yet after he unburdened himself of hero worship and personal inadequacy and so forth, he gave one of the best presentations I’ve seen – coherent structure, strong examples, understandable metaphors.”

He’s completely right.  Personally, I still suffer from issues of hero worship and personal inadequacy.  The night before SQL Server events, there’s usually a speaker dinner event packed full of really smart people.  I look around the room and think, “Wow, I’d love to know what he knows, and I sure wish I could do what she does.”  It just never ends – you always look up to people you admire, and you always think they’re somehow different.  The reality is that the people you admire are writing, presenting, and webcasting because they want to help you.  They don’t just want to help you technically – they want to help you personally, too.

There’s not a competition in the SQL Server world to be the biggest rock star.  Paul Randal isn’t hoarding DBCC knowledge to keep it from you.  Itzik Ben Gan isn’t keeping his T-SQL tricks under a mattress.  I’m not shielding my monitor so you don’t figure out my l33t blogging skillz.  The people you see as rock stars aren’t trying to hog the mike – they’re trying to teach you to sing, and we take huge pride in seeing more people succeed.

Right now, you could write or present about something you learned the hard way, and people would think you’re a rock star.  But you’re still struggling to get a better job, a better speaking slot, or a speaking slot period, right?  You think that Other People are the ones who get book offers, or Other People are the ones who get paid to speak.  You’re wrong.

Stop thinking you’re inadequate, and start working on the things that are really holding you back.  You, too, can be a rock star a lot faster than you think, and all of us onstage are trying to bring you up with us.

How to Get Started

Become a Presenter, Change Your Life – Kendra Little explains why there’s no obvious ROI, but instead shares what you actually get.

Who’s Your Target Audience? – Don’t try to write the kind of session you want to attend. Followup: How to Pick Topics.

How to Write a Conference Abstract – Your goal isn’t to get everybody in. It’s to keep the wrong people out.

How to Deliver a Killer Technical Presentation – My start-to-finish post with tons of tips.

What Makes a Good Conference Session? – Does every session require a packed room? Demos? Slides?

How to Rehearse a Presentation – It’s not just about standing in front of a mirror or memorizing your lines.

Dealing with Presentation Criticism – Know the keys to getting useful feedback and what to do with it.

Choosing a Presentation Tool – There’s more than just PowerPoint and demos.

How to Get Readers to Pay Attention – Your abstract needs to hit ’em hard.

The Presenter’s Bill of Rights – Spoiler: you don’t have any. Everything you expect to find will break. Followup: Check Your Room Size.

51 Questions About Your Conference Submission – What pain is bringing the attendee to this session? How are they going to relieve that pain when they get back to the office? If a teacher graded your presentation, would you get an A?

Previous Post
How to Make Readers Forget About You
Next Post
I ___ with Brent

117 Comments. Leave new

  • Thanks once again Brent for giving me inspiration to better myself.

  • Great story Brent. Two years ago I never would have thought I’d be able to ask someone like yourself or Paul Randal or Adam Machanic a question, but as I’ve become involved in the community, I’ve realized what you’ve said. The thing that you all have in common is a desire to share knowledge and I enjoy sharing what I know.

    • Ha! Yeah, that’s the part that worries me is the “someone like yourself.” People start blogs, write books, and record videos because they really want to help people. When you walk up to these people, they’re unbelievably nice and helpful. I’ve never met anybody big in the SQL Server community who had a pompous ego. There’s pompous people – but they don’t become big in the community because nobody likes being around ’em.

      • I agree wholeheartedly! The Denver SQL Users Group has several MVPs and I have found them all to be approachable and really great people.

  • Thanks for the story, Brent. I love my job, but have been thrashing a bit determining how to build the “soft” skills to extend my career beyond my job. Your post is both motivating and enlightening.

  • This is the best post I’ve ever read, anywhere.

    I’d like to leave it at that, but it sounds too much like a spammer comment “OMG I just found yer blog and its awesom lulz”…

    This really speaks to me, to almost exactly where I am. With the little bit of speaking / blogging / training I’ve done, I’m already finding a few people who look up to me, and I feel a fraud. And every single person I look up to says that they feel like a fraud, too. That’s very comforting.

    You also gave voice to a lot of the self-promo and development ideas that’ve been rolling around in my head since I kicked up the effort in, oh, about September of last year…directly because of the SQLServerPedia contest.

    Between Sean (my personal, 24/7 in-house DB mentor) and community members like you, I really feel like I’m getting somewhere good. Thanks.

    • Thanks! Honest to God, I’ve used that “fraud” word myself repeatedly over the last two years. When people asked me tech questions, I felt genuinely, horribly guilty if I didn’t know the answer. “My business card says Expert! I’m supposed to know everything!” But you just can’t, and it feels better to dedicate time to helping others instead of mastering the last X% that you haven’t learned yet. Getting the MCM made me feel better, like less of a fraud, but I still sit here and think, “I don’t deserve all the good things that have happened to me in the last few years.”

      • The humbling feeling of fraud is a good thing IMO. The second someone gets on their high horse and stops helping the community will have a problem.

        What makes anyone a “Master” or “Expert” is not necessarily having an answer memorized but knowing where to find the answer.

        For Example, this crazy guy on twitter, ahem @brento, pointed me in the right direction to use the model database to change the default values for future databases. He was on the road and couldn’t test and confirm but it made me test it out and I learned a new trick by doing it on my own.

    • Not everyone gets the privilege of having a 24/7 in-house personal DB mentor. Consider yourself lucky 😉

  • Only thing to say… inspirational.

    Oh, and thanks!

  • I wanna be you when I grow up 😉

  • You were in Houston in early 2008? Dang, me too. A chance to meet gone begging. Never mind, we’ve met since and there’ll be many future opportunities I’m sure.

    • Ha! Funny. Yeah, I lived in Houston 1992-1994, 1999-2005, and 2007-2008. I love that city, got a lot of great friends there. We moved to Michigan intending to only spend a year there, but Erika loves the winters up North, so we’re in Chicago now.

  • Well said. Inspiring!!!

  • Love your perspective Brent.

  • Brent,

    Great post. While your post focuses on the SQL Server community, it’s equally applicable to the community in which I am involved: the virtualization community. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the “rock star” or “someone like you” comment, and my reply is always just like yours: “I’m just a guy like anyone else.” Thanks for bringing your story to light and inspiring others to start a journey of their own.

    • Thanks, Scott! Yeah, I wanted to write it in a way that was really applicable to everybody. Most of the communities out there are like the SQL Server community – there’s a small group of people on the cutting edge of helping others, and they get a rock-star reputation for it. Unfortunately, that rockstar label has bad connotations, and I want people to understand that it’s not exclusive, and it shouldn’t be intimidating. I hope it helps people!

  • Funny. I read your story, and it’s easy-as-SELECT-* for me to point to paragraph and sentence and say, “Ok. Here’s where I’m at now… Here’s where I’m heading… Here’s where I want to get to.” Well written, and speaks for many of us. Well done, sir.


  • Kathi Kellenberger
    April 30, 2010 11:00 am


    I had no idea about those job struggles just two years ago! I think we met at PASS 2008, and I thought you were a Rock Star already at that point. This is a great story; thanks for sharing it.


  • glad you took that comment and made it into this post, you speak the truth sir.

  • Brent,

    This is very inspiring story. I many times keep myself down, but I am very much motivated reading this. I want to be good blogger and I am open to suggestions.

    Many thanks for sharing this.

    Kind Regards,

    • Pinal and Brent you rock, I love your blogs and consult them all the time! Thanks for sharing!

  • Wow! I could have never imagined you went through all this. I’ve been in pursuit to my “ideal job” (I know my dream job will come after and through that). Just as when I need some inspiration so bad to go on, I know what blog to read to get that inspiration.

    I know I just keep on working and working. It may take me more than what it took you to accomplish all this but I won’t give up. Thanks for the inspiration, Brent.


  • Thanks for the reminder that we all gotta start somewhere. The primary key is to start and persist. ….yes I enjoy puns.

  • This is a fantastic post and the kick in the pants I need. It is really nice to read something like this and be able to identify with almost every point in one form or another.

  • You’ve got it all wrong – I *am* hoarding DBCC info – it’s how I pick up DBA chicks ‘hey baby – wanna hear about some undocumented DBCC commands?!?’

    And don’t ever imply that I could teach someone to sing. Make sheep noises maybe, but our dog can sing better than I can.

    Nice post – we all start somewhere – in February 1999 I knew zero about SQL Server when I joined the team…

    • HAHAHA, now I have to wipe the coffee coming out of my nose. Then I have to clean my coffee-stained monitor “..pick up DBA chicks” – Hilarious!

  • You’ve worked your way up and you deserve to be a rockstar and will be one as long as you keep improving your skills.Not everybody can do that in such little time.

    What stands apart is that you share whatever you’ve learned,versatility and your crazy preso skills. Thats something invaluable.

    Would love to see you preaching NOSQL gyan and meet you in person some day 🙂


  • Great positive and inspiring story. 🙂 Thank you for posting it. Good to hear some positive right now after a busy trying week. 🙂

  • Your posts continue to be some of the most inspiring reading I encounter on the web.

    If nothing else, I want to make sure that your opening line remains true for me.

  • A very inspiring post,Brent!

    In spite of being primarily an Oracle DBA,I make it a point to visit your blog every day and have always learn something new.

    Thank you for doing a wonderful job.

    So what is next for you? To become a ‘Rock Superstar’ 🙂

    • Thanks. Believe it or not, I’m going to start working with Oracle! I’m starting to work with it now to see how it compares & contrasts with MSSQL. Wish me luck!

      • People like you do not need luck……
        By your extreme focus,determination and hard work,you made your own luck…
        So beware oracle,here comes Brent Ozar:)

  • I am very inspired.

  • A few things:
    1) Hey future self! Do the Leafs get any closer to Stanley Cup?
    2) -1 (downvote) for the thin mustache.
    3) This post proves itself! This post is all about the soft skills rather than the technical skills and I’m sure it will prove to be one of your best – ( however that’s measured 😛 )

    Hooray for human interest stories

  • Yeah, Jimmy May is a great guy. I had many conversations over email with him when I was considering competing job offers from Microsoft and another company and after that as well.

    I think one of the worst things a DBA (or just about anyone else) can do is let their career stagnate. It was happening to me at one time. Complacency sets in. Fortunately, something happened to me tha made me realize that my career aspirations were dying at the company I was at, and I decided I had to move on.

  • I’m a follower of your blog and this is the first time I feel the need to actually say something! That’s very inspiring. I’ve been a DBA for 12 years and was afraid to ‘put myself out there’ by blogging or aquire the ‘soft skills’ but you just inspire me here. Congratulations. Thank you for what you give to SQL Community!

  • Thanks so much for posting this. As many have already said, it’s extremely inspiring. I only wish I had started reading your blog and getting involved with the community sooner!

  • Will we get some more soft skills at Summit 2010?

  • Thanks Brent, reading this was a really positive way to start the weekend!

  • Great post, Brent, at the absolute right time – definitely needed to read this tonight.

  • Hi Brent,

    Really great post, inspiring a lot to the people like me who are baby in community activity.

    Hope to meet you somewhere sometime!!!


    Ritesh Shah

  • Great history lesson of the famous or infamous Brent Ozar. Actually, very inspirational. Great Stuff!

  • Brent, this is your best post yet – and that’s really saying something.

    You made some great points about what employers or clients look for. Skills? Of course, but there are a lot of people with skills. Skills can be learned over time if someone is willing. However, there are a lot of very skilled people who don’t share their knowlege, who, whether it’s out of shyness, feelings of inadequacy, or plain old selfish knowledge hoarding, simply prefer to keep to themselves professionally.

    I can say that because I was like that not long ago (for the first two reasons, not so much for the knowledge hoarding). I was moderately successful for being skilled at what I do, but when I took the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone is when things really took off. Am I a more skilled craftsman than I was three years ago? Certainly, but many of the learning opportunities that helped me to hone my skills would not have been available to me had I not gotten out of my cube from time to time.

    Thanks again for a great post!

  • Hi Beny,

    Its really inspiring story. Very much motivated from your story.
    Thanks for sharing with all of us.



  • Carlos Esquivel
    May 1, 2010 2:36 pm

    Very inspiring! I’m at the beginning of the journey yet (struggling with taking the first step) but you have given me hope and strength to do it

    One million thanks!

  • Brent, its kind of funny. I went to the SQL Saturday Event in Chicago expecting to learn a few new tips and tricks.

    You shattered that preconception within the first 5 minutes the keynote.

    You challenged people to get involved in the local SQL User Group. You also put out a call for more people to start blogging and engaging in the community.

    Through your blog, I was able to get own setup and I’ve now got my work cut out for me.

    Thank you for not only being so inspirational, but also providing the tools to really help get people going.

    -=Conan The Canadian=-

  • Hello Brent,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story about your journey to where you are today. I’m quite inspired. I graduate with a BS in Computer Science in 2001 and struggled to find my first IT job during the burst of the tech bubble. It took me a year to find my first gig in the IT dept. of a local hospital. I started out building small departmental Access database (can you believe that?) and got more and more into this niche. I got some experience working on SQL 2000 and got involved in some projects writing queries, reports, stored procedures and even some ASP.NET/VB.NET work. I tried to do everything I could to bolster my skills (took some SQL classes, got my MCDBA and MCSE).

    Then, in 2004 I got 2 simultaneous job offers, one was a DBA position for a small company outside of Philadelphia, another a database analyst position for a law firm in DC. I opted for the DC position because it seemed exciting and stable. Well, it’s been six years and I have been struggling with regret whether or not I made a good choice.

    The main issue is I feel that duties and responsibilities are completely different than the job description initially mentioned. I’m left doing mostly mundane user support issue. Althought I do administer a small set of SQL database servers, I spend a majority of my time dealing with non-database issues (file servers, application support, user support troubleshooting) and as a result, very little work experience or projects with SQL. Thus, I feel like my skills have actually downgraded. I feel totally behind on SQL 2005, SSIS and not to mention haven’t even start investigating SQL 2008! It’s not that I don’t want to do more in my spare time but I find that I’m innondated at work with other responsibilities. Also, I’m a part time grad school student working on my masters in the evenings during the week. It seems like it’s not possible to get myself on the “rock star” track. Furthmore, the resources at the firm that I work at is quite limited (limited hardware, limited software, limited training, etc.).

    Can you offer any advice to break out of this cycle? I can see that if I continue this way I’ll eventually become obsolete as a DBA. I know that probably the first thing I need to do is start looking for another job, although it’s a bit difficult and kinda a catch-22 when you need the solid work experience to get that great job that’ll give you even greater work experience.

    Btw, thanks again for the awesome blog. I just recently subscribed to it. In the IT world… from my experience, there are a LOT of horders and territorial people but I still believe it’s the people that share their knowledge with others and in return keep their eyes and ears open that truly succeed. I think it’s the willingness to put your thoughts out there, allow scrutiny and hearing feedback, discourse, and about different approaches to doing things more effectively/efficiently that makes a person even better at what they do.

    Thanks again,

  • Hi Brent,

    Its a really inspiring post.

    It has motivated and enlightened me.

    Thanks for sharing with all of us.

    Thanks a lot,

  • Hi Brent
    Does @ times feel like I have been stalking you, I just seem to keep running into your blogs/tweets/books/webcasts in these last few months and I have have to say I have become a SQL Rockstar wannabe
    With some recent presentations / voluntering & a social event + some blogs now safely ticked my belt, with plans for a few more of the same as I when I get the chances
    like yourself I have started to Market myself a little in order to give me the chances to get more involved in the community
    Thanks again Brent for the you have given me these last few months

  • Yea, very interesting story Brent, and the best extract for me from your story is ‘…Three years ago, nobody knew who I was…” @ this Paragraph ‘You Can Do It. We Can Help” – very impressive. Really, you are a Rock Star MCM(SQL).

  • Tripp Southern
    May 2, 2010 1:02 pm

    Nice post, Brent, very nice. So many of us forget about the soft skills, especially the most basic ones of all; “people skills”. Worse yet, some of use seem to think that as DBAs we don’t need soft skills since our “customers” are mostly other IT folks. There have been times in my own career that I thought I didn’t need them either, even after benefitting from them repeatedly throughout my career. Thanks for reminding me.

    You bring something to the DBA Guru-Blogosphere that hereto was in short supply; a mortal face and mad writing skills. You are approachable and whip-smart, with knack for explaining highly complex concepts and tasks in such a way that they can be broken down into smaller, easily digestible pieces. The story of how you got to be that way only enhances, and demystifies, that image (and reminds me of my own career, minus the fame and international recognition, and of course the mad skills). Wise choice in sharing it. Hiring you was the best thing that Quest has done in a while, and I’ve been a fan, and customer, of Quest for 10 years.

  • Hi,

    Really nice article. I read this first thing in the morning and it really inspired me. I love your blogs. Thanks…Keep posting

  • Awesome. It’s the posts like these that keep me reading this blog even though I am not a “SQL guy”.

  • Brent, excellent writeup, as usual. Keep ’em coming!

    You mentioned how you got where you are. It was hard work. But doesn’t that mean it’s still hard work to keep it there?

    • Brian – you know, that’s a tricky question. I don’t think it’s hard work to keep a job like this if you love what you’re doing, but the hard part is looking for what you need to do next. Quest is always evolving as a company, bringing out new products and conquering new markets, and I want to make sure I’m with them on the edge of what they’re doing. I don’t want to get complacent. There’s not a job manual for what we’re doing in the marketing team right now, and we’re constantly working to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what hasn’t been tried yet. That’s hard work.

      • The way i see it, there’s another factor, that when a new version of SQL Server comes out, there’ll be a lot more work to catch up to it, MCM and testing. Some is easier, some is probably just as hard. Staying at the top isn’t easy.

        If someone wants to become a SQL Server Rock Star, he needs not only to take into account the hard work to get there, but also the hard work to stay there. Which at first, as you pointed out, is a matter of interest and fun.

        But that is nice, the way Quest treats you.

  • Work with Oracle? I hope your fingers don’t catch fire! Of course let us know if you need any help 🙂

  • Hello Brent,

    Excellent post!!! While reading your post, I was thinking as you were talking about me. I wish, I was aware of where to reach for a help in my early days with SQL Server (back in 2004-2006)…. I personally believe that reading blogs helped me learning more stuffs than BOL… sometimes…

    Thanks for such an inspiring story….

  • brent,

    this is an amazing article, you really show your blogging ‘chops’ here. not only are you able to convey your career struggles (which everyone can identify with), but you use those as a fulcrum to inspire the reader that they can do the same.

    great job!


  • Brent,

    Read this post over the weekend but didn’t have time to post until now. The bottom line is that you have a real gift for story-telling that makes all your posts interesting. Obviously, this was one of the best. It ranks up there with your MCM series. I really enjoyed those while I was working on my MCITP. I said this on Twitter and I will echo it here. Reading blogs helped me to prepare for the MCITP. There is too much great FREE content like your work that IT pros can use to better themselves. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Ron and everybody! I’m really inspired by how many people enjoyed this post. I hope it helps encourage people who were stuck in a rut like I was. I remember all too clearly how that felt!

  • Kevin Mckenna
    May 3, 2010 9:24 am

    Great post Brent – great to read your back story as it were..

  • Very inspiring Brent, thank you.

  • I did not realize you only recently came into your own, reading your blogs and watching your videos I thought you had been in the spotlight much longer. Kudos!

    Like many of the other comments I find similarities in your story. And like some of the others I have tried to venture into the community more and more. While I have not presented yet or even submitted any abstracts, I have just recently volunteered for several different things within PASS.

    I had an interview recently, they told me after 10 minutes I had an impressive resume but I was not what they were looking for (they wanted an experienced production DBA I am more a Developer DBA trying to break the mold) but they were impressed with me “going the extra mile” and getting out in the community, on Twitter and blogging and that put me at the top of their list of rejects. That mad me feel very good even though I did not get the jig. And just between you and me, I told them and felt strongly I could have done the job. My time will come.

  • Great story Brent, love the way you write, you have a knack for writing and story telling. I can predict that some day you’d be telling wonderful inspiring tales to your kids & grand kids.

  • Great post!

  • Rebecca Prince
    May 13, 2010 11:41 am

    Thank you for the wonderful post. “The people you see as rock stars aren’t trying to hog the mike – they’re trying to teach you to sing” – this is true and an inspirational part of the development community.

  • Thx Brent for a lovely post.. as someone who looks up to you & the other Rock Stars, this is very inspirational. Thx for being so humble 🙂

  • Awesome!!! Nice list of to do for the year ahead, thanks for the tips.

  • Thanks for Sharing your Story and boosting our confidence by supporting and reaching out to people like us….

    Thanks to SQLChicken(Co-worker – Awesome Guy to work Along with) who sent us Link to Quest Presentation on Jul 21.

  • Wow Brent, you never fail to inspire. In 2007, you attended your first PASS. Fast forward 2 years, you’re one of the SQL Rockstars. On your 3rd year, you’re among the greats – and definitely one of the elites.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  • by the way, I do have *your* book now that *you’ve* written, and I definitely would love for it to be signed 🙂

  • It’s several months after you originally published this post and it is still rocking! Your blog posts were the first ones I read when I first started my career as a DBA and needed expert advise. I think you even responded to one of my questions a couple years ago. It has been great getting to know you through your writing and in-person. You have inspired many people like me to come out of our shells and share our knowledge. And like you stated I do it even though other people may know more and have been doing it more than I do. It is a matter of a conscious decision to improve yourself and the community.

    Keep up the good work!

  • This is one of my most favorite blog post as well.

  • Thanks man, that’s what i needed to kick start my 2011

  • What a time I’m reading this blog post at. Couldn’t be
    anything else that would provide such ‘perfect guidance’ at this
    time. I’m sure I’m due reading this post many more times in the
    coming years. Thank you for sharing such a wealth.

  • SatyaTheDBA
    April 4, 2011 6:44 am

    Your efforts materialized… 🙂

  • Wow. I had no idea you were so much like me – consulting background and all.

    And, as I’ve already boasted before, reading your blog really was one of the biggest inspirations for me to actually get up the gumption to go out and find a real DBA job for myself. And I even quit a secure job (in this economy!) to do it. And a good decision it turned out to be.

    Now, I am a production DBA at a terabyte class SQL shop. I’ve learned more in the past 6 months than I did in the previous three years. And your encouragement was really instrumental…

    Thanks again.

  • Thanks for the career insight. I’m pretty much at the beginning of your path.

  • Excellent post and I have bookmarked this.
    Normally people have a thought like if we teach others what we have got, then we wont have that edge. This article proves it wrong in a right way 🙂

  • I’m so glad I found this post. *Thank you* for writing it. It’s exactly what I needed.

  • It is really inspiring post sir, I am almost in the same position right now like you were 5 years ago. I want to build my career in database.
    I will open up more myself now. I will focus more on working on to build my network and improving my soft skills. I like the “Hero worship and personal inadequacy” part the most.

  • Great post my friend. I am very proud of your accomplishments and you have come along way since the first time I came across you. I didn’t know who you were, however, very pleased by book blog report!!!

    Ross Mistry

  • Christopher Bellizzi
    February 15, 2013 8:36 am

    Ha 2008 PASS ah the memories. Heck If I had only known that was your first presentation I would have heckled you more! Funny (or not) how some of the same exploits get carried out by headhunters and companies.
    Keep up the good work and may the bacon be with you….

  • Three years later, and this post is still inspiring people (that would be me)! Thanks for all you do for the community.

  • Norbert Krupa
    July 22, 2013 9:08 pm

    I read the whole thing. I’m happy to hear you’re in a good place.

    P.S. Where does Erika work now? C90 in Elgin?

  • I come to the job, switch on the machine, open the browser and type, if there is a new post enjoy, else open it in the afternoon, still no new post ohf 🙁

    great post.!

  • Pollus Brodeur
    August 22, 2013 3:27 pm

    Thanks Brent !

    I enjoyed this article. It’s personal and we can relate to you in your career struggling like in a movie. And most of all, you bring a happy ending.

    Reading about your story makes me wonder how many others like you are clearing the way to a better career, a better recognition and of course a better pay. It’s not like we can easily find mentors in the “DBA” business. I guess we have to rely on what we feel is right and always keep an open mind.

  • Marlon Sanchez
    February 3, 2014 9:46 pm

    amazing post I am from honduras,tegucigalpa central america, i always i been a oracle guy , but reading your post ,You’ve sucked me learn sql, than you

  • I don’t know how I’m just now finding this blog post, but it’s by far the most inspiring I’ve ever read. I’ve always built you up to be the “Superman of SQL Server” and now I know the truth…. 🙂

    All jokes aside, I can relate to this post in so many ways. I have finally found a DBA job that I enjoy after 7 years in the field. I’ve always loved SQL Server, but the environment, managers, coworkers, salary, etc. have not matched up to my expectations. I’ve been blogging/writing tips for a few years now and it’s helped me get a few interviews and freelance jobs so I’m totally on the same page when you speak about blogging and presenting taking a lot of your personal time, but in the end it will pay off.

    Thanks for a wonderful post and for being a role model to us all!

  • The below link is broken. I want to help you for your wonderful post.

    SQL Server’s “in recovery” database icon(

    Thanks you very much

    • BAN – thanks, glad you liked the site. Where is the icon linked from?

      • in your post…
        There are some link in FINDING THE COMMUNITY paragraph.
        Please check “I just wrote about stuff that interested me, like my Perfmon tutorial, how to use VSS for SQL Server source control, and SQL Server’s “in recovery” database icon.”

        And one more… Caroline Collective is Officially Closed. Their Domain also expired.
        Please remove link from ” I started coworking at the Caroline Collective in Houston, a space for freelancers of all sorts.”

  • Very inspiring blog post!

    Although I follow your blog posts, videos and all kind of resources, I hadn’t read this one before. I came across it reading your Weekly Links email of this week, though Jes’ “Advice to an IT newcomer”:

  • The number one takeaway that I get from this is that Brent Ozar is just like me… Wait, that sounded vainer than I meant. What I meant to say is that I’m always jealous of the knowledge and skills of the friends I see at Summit. You are all a bunch of really smart people; it’s just nice to know that a Rock Star feels that way as well.

    I beat myself up at times for not being more of a Rock Star; heck, I’m not even an MVP 🙂 However, I can honestly say that every year, I’m a little further along the path. Not always sure of my destination, but I’m further along the path. The point is to find time to start walking.

    • Stuart – hahaha, thanks sir. But yeah, I know that feeling – all the cool people I’ve met in the SQL Server community have been incredibly friendly, open, humble, etc. It’s such a fun community to be part of.

  • Brent (and your team), thank you for giving us the tools we need to succeed, also thank you for stating you are a real person as sometimes it is hard not to put you on a pedestal.

    I do look up to you as you have probably done it or have seen it and you provide me with the ammunition I need to change my bad ways (shy and timid, usually) and the company I work for (Government and red tapey).

    Thanks again for everything!

  • I’m from Taiwan, and also a big fan of your blog/video. This blog really motivates me a lots. I love your video class because you can make the SQL knowledge easy and interesting to understand.

    It’s hard to image especially this part. “I got turned down again and again. No college degree. Not enough experience. Too much experience. No clustering experience. No replication experience. “

    • Tony – thanks, glad you like my work!

      It’s funny how “Internet famous” works. The people who know me, who’ve read my blog for a while, they seem to trust me. However, that’s a small portion of the SQL Server world – there’s still a LOT of people who don’t read my stuff and don’t care who I am. It makes sales calls pretty funny – sometimes people say, “Of course I know who you are, stop telling me.” The other people ask, “Why should I let you touch my server?”

  • Iain Barnetson
    April 15, 2015 9:30 am

    Inspirational, thank you!

  • Best. Read. Ever.

    Thanks Brent.

  • Thanks for posting this, Brent, and for sharing your experiences. It was very inspirational and motivating.

  • Great motiavtional story! If SQL Server had a Hall of Fame, you would be inducted.

  • Mitch Bottel
    June 22, 2016 12:06 pm

    If it wasn’t for you, Tim Ford, Kevin Kline and SQL Cruise, I would have been out of tech all together. You guys inspired me on that cruise to take my career to a whole new level. Blogging, speaking, running a local user Group in Sacramento and even becoming a regional mentor for PASS. I will always be grateful to all of you guys and this community. I appreciate you sharing you story and inspirations with all of us. See you at Summit!

  • Yihalem B Tekeba
    October 26, 2016 10:08 am

    No doubt about an amazing SQL Server community we have and I am glad and grateful to the services. However, your productivity (in quantity as well as quality) as well as your store-telling ability has captured my attention and admiration. I think, at the heart, your philosophy towards to the fellow human may be driving force behind your passion, to say the least. I always say to myself ” Long Live our community”. hahahahaha

  • […] more and more time reading the blogs of others. When you end up reading other people's stories like this one from Brent Ozar, you may also find yourself thinking more seriously about […]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.