I Think You’re Exceptional. No, Really.

A funny thing happened on my way to becoming a judge in the 2011 Exceptional DBA Awards.  But to get there, I gotta tell you a story about my dark past.

I used to be a developer.  No, wait, it gets worse: I coded web pages in Classic ASP, aka VBscript.  My idea of reusable code was stuff that I could copy/paste into multiple web pages.  I didn’t have a QA team – our idea of testing was to run it a few times on our own machines, and then keep an eye on it after we deployed it to production.  To me, the word exception will always remind me of exception handling, one of the many things I didn’t do well as a developer.

The bad news was that my code sucked, but the good news was that I knew it.  I wasn’t destined to be a developer, and I started transitioning into database administration instead.  I loved SQL Server, hardware, and performance tuning, so I began interviewing for jobs that would let me focus on that.

Along the way, I had a job interview that didn’t go well.  It was a company with offices in multiple states, and part of the interview involved a phone discussion with the head DBA in another state.  The DBA asked me, “If you wanted to monitor for exceptions and problems on your SQL Servers, how would you do it?”

I answered immediately without so much as a thought: “I’d buy an alerting package from a vendor.”

The DBA drilled down deeper, asking me how I’d build an alerting system with things like DMVs and SSIS, but I refused to budge.  I explained that my code simply sucked, and that it would take me way longer to build a collection utility – and even when it was done, it’d be garbage.  The DBA asked if I would use any of the freely available scripts at places like SQLServerCentral.com, and I could hear the DBA’s anger and dissatisfaction through the phone at my replies.  I just didn’t want to hassle with rolling my own software.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.  However, that experience pushed me harder to hone my skills. In my epic post Rock Stars, Normal People, and You, I documented my grueling struggle to take control of my databases, my career, and my life.  It was a long, hard road, and it all started with one simple thing:

Guess which one of us is not in IT.
Working in IT for a wine company is hard. Really.

I spent time in the SQL Server community.

I started reading blogs, watching webcasts, and attending presentations.  As I got my confidence up, I realized I could give back too, so I started presenting my own stuff.  The more I gave back, the more addictive it became.

I know you’re exceptional too – because you’re here.

When I go out and talk to people at conferences, SQLSaturdays, and user groups, I talk to people about what blogs they read.  Most of ’em don’t have time to read blogs.  You’re already in the minority just by being here – you’re taking time out of your day to advance your knowledge.  You’re not getting paid to read my blog.  You’re doing this because you love what you do, and you love to learn.  That’s exceptional.  It’s outside the norm.  Sure, I know, you think you’re just one of thousands here in the online community, but it’s easy to forget that simply by being here, you’re already ahead of the curve.  You’re ahead of the tens of thousands of database professionals who never take the time to read blogs, watch webcasts, and attend presentations.

Red Gate just launched their annual Exceptional DBA Awards contest to honor people like you.  Yes, you.  And I want you to go enter.  Stop comparing yourself to the people up on the podium, and start comparing yourself to the people who never even bother to show up to free conferences in their own town.  You’re exceptional.  Stop thinking of it as blowing your own horn, and start thinking of it as being proud of what you do.  I know you love what you do, because you’re here reading this blog.

Trust me – I’m judging the contest.

I’m honored to say that Red Gate invited me to join Brad McGehee, Rodney Landrum, and Steve Jones in judging the 2011 Exceptional DBA Awards. We’re looking for people who don’t just do their jobs, but they go above and beyond – spending time reading blog posts, answering questions online, and giving back to others.

I’m really honored to be a judge because it’s a champagne moment for me.  See, several years ago, when I was struggling through that job interview with The DBA?  That guy was Rodney Landrum.

He was right to turn me down, because at the time, I wasn’t exceptional.  I didn’t read blogs.  I didn’t know DMVs well.  I didn’t give back to the community.  But you, dear reader, are already far ahead of where I was.  You’re exceptional, and it’s time you threw your hat in the ring.

Go visit ExceptionalDBA.com today and learn more about this year’s contest.

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22 Comments. Leave new

  • Nice article Brent – Like Hansel said to Gretel – “we can’t get lost if we follow the bread crumbs!” (Or can we?)

    Expect a roller coaster and to be challenged in handling the Highs and the Lows and when your done – get right back on the roller coaster – Life -what a ride.

    Good luck your JUDGESHIP!

    Thom Duclos

  • Truly inspirational, Brent. But, what if you’re not a DBA, but a database developer?

    • Gogula – this is the Exceptional DBA awards. You’ll have to wait until you see an Exceptional Database Developer awards. Who knows, maybe Red Gate will do one in the future?

  • Nice article, I also like the Paul Harvey angle (wish I had thought of it)
    And now you know… the rest of the story.

    • Michael – bingo! I was debating whether or not to put that line in, but I wasn’t sure how many other people would remember him. I loved his radio shows!

  • I think you’re exceptional too, Brent! I would probably enter this contest if I were a DBA, but I’m not a DBA; I’m a database developer… kind of a hybrid of DBA and applications developer. I happen to work in BI, but there are many database developers out there who work solely in the sphere of the relational database. They build logical models of databases, defining relationships and cardinality – stuff like that. I know some DBAs who also do that sort of work, but I believe the fields are different. I also know some folks who can performance-tune database models once deployed. Performance-tuning is something I place squarely in the middle of database development and database administration.

    I like the Exceptional DBA Award and think you’ll make a fine judge. Have fun!


  • Brent – Thanks for sharing. I’d loved the post 🙂


    Cheers – DV

  • Thank you, sir, for yet another inspiring article!

  • Exceptional Brent,

    Inspiring article! I would like to share this with my community members. You have articulated your story in a wonderful way.

  • Thanks for the virtual pat on the back Brent.

    You make a great point, the people that belong and contribute to our fantastic community are just the tip of the SQL iceberg and are therefore by definition exceptional.

    When you’re surrounded by folks that are exceptional it can be easy to loose sight of the fact that we are all great at what we do, if I don’t say so myself 🙂

    In all seriousness if you are a DBA and you are reading Brent’s blog just go ahead and enter these awards. If you’re anything like me you’re probably your own worse critic, put all that talk to one side and let the community decide instead.I think you’ll be suprised just how exceptional you really are.

  • Brent,

    Great post!

    Loved the statement “I know you’re exceptional too – because you’re here.” and its supporting paragraph.
    Totally agree with it.

    You wouldn’t believe the struggle I’ve been through trying to get Ola Hallengren’s script accepted at my company because most of the other DBAs had never heard of him. Why? I don’t think they read any blog.

    Thank you!

  • Pavel Nefyodov
    May 26, 2011 5:22 am

    I initially read the title as “I Think You’re Exceptional. Not Really.”.
    Personally, I don’t really like the idea of such contests. Imagine, there is a lad or a lass somewhere working for not FTSE 100 company minding his\her junior database admin business. Their boss is happy, there are happy with what they are doing. In next 2 years they will get database admin position. After next 5 years they will get Senior Database Admin position with the same company and if they wish they can grow even higher in company’s hierarchy. How exceptional that is?
    Would you be where you are if instead of “14? CRT monitors, 3-4 year old laptops with 1GB memory, and no pagers.” you had brand new 21? flat screen, sleek new laptop and company’s mobile provided on top of generous package?

    • Pavel – I’m sorry you don’t like the idea of these contests. I understand how you feel – I dislike beauty pageants. I think we should all be judged by the content of our character, and that I should have won that Mister Universe contest in 1993. Can’t believe they disqualified me for a lack of muscle tone. (sigh)

  • I nominated myself 😀

    Was doing good on the questionaire until they asked me why i think i should win. never can answer those kind of questions

  • The reason why I keep on coming back to Brent’s blog is that I get inspiration from his posts similar to this one.

    I love his perspective on career – never-say-die, winning, tiger-blood attitude. If you are turned down, get up, study more, make yourself better and battle again.

    I’m at a point where I feel tired of running after my aspirations (in SQL, that is). But reading posts like this from Brent keeps the hope alive.

    I love how Brent turned those failures into something that helped him to be successful.

  • An exceptionally inspiring post!

    The part about the “dark past” and in combination of the “Rock Stars, Normal People, and You” post, the underlying message resonates with my current situation from a career perspective. Working in a professional services firm surrounded by mostly accountants who mostly see SQL as the ends but not the means can sometimes be discouraging. Almost hope there are mentors in our firm who share the same aspirations and passion you guys have.

    Maybe it’s time to move on; but nonetheless, thanks for such a great post! It helps motivates.

  • Brent,

    Great Post!
    I am glad to know that your code sucked 🙂
    I have been in that situation and I am now focusing on where my strengths are. Your post gives me more confidence to continue this journey.

    Hope I turn out at-least half as good as you 🙂

  • I share Andy’s and Marlon’s opinion. Even though I’m not a DBA, this was a good read Brent! A positive attitude combined with hard work can get you far!

  • wow,

    After reading this post, I gain more confidence. Thanks! I’ll start participate more on the SQL forums and will start my own blog. Too bad, I’m not a DBA yet, but I’ll be soon in couple month. I’ll enter this contest next year.




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