I bet you think you suck at databases.
You’re sitting there on your computer, reading all kinds of blogs, watching presentations online, and you’re thinking, “Everybody knows more about databases than I do.”
We all feel that way. There’s even a name for it: Impostor Syndrome.
I have it too. For example, about a decade ago, when I headed to Redmond to attend Microsoft’s $20,000 Certified Master program, I kept thinking, “Everybody else there has gotta be different than me. I’m not really supposed to be there, for sure, but at least I’ll be able to spend a few weeks rubbing elbows with people who really are good with databases.” The instructors told us that the program was designed so that when Microsoft had a really ugly customer support situation, they could send out a Microsoft Certified Master, and know for sure that the problem was gonna get handled, no matter how severe the problem.
When I passed all 3 exams and the lab, my opinion of myself still didn’t change. I still thought I sucked at databases.
Today, in the year 2019, I still think the same way: I don’t know enough. It’s just that now, I can say that I’ve made a lot more mistakes, and I just like to help other people avoid the same mistakes that I’ve made.
You’re just like me.
Except you need to start sharing.
If you’ve been reading my blog posts, even just the 20-some posts in my DBA Training Plan, you already know a lot more than most database administrators. Seriously.
What, you think other people with your job aren’t Googling their way through their daily work? Go read the questions at DBA.StackExchange.com or StackOverflow.com. We’re all winging this together. We’re all facing an overwhelming number of databases, applications, error messages, and email alerts. We’re all trying to find help in any way that we can get it.
You can offer some of that help.
There are so many ways you can give back to the community: blog, present, answer questions, record YouTube videos, chat on SQLhelp, or contribute improvements to open source tools.
Giving back pays you back, too.
Oh sure, there’s a fantastic feeling when you see the light go on in someone’s eyes because they suddenly grasp a new concept, or when you watch the web site visitor numbers go up. (Slowly. Very slowly.) But there’s much more than that, and they’re selfish benefits, but I’m going to tout them here in an effort to win you over into the Contributor Camp.
You get recognized when in the speaker room. When you introduce yourself at events, people will recognize your name and thank you for your contributions – because the speakers needed your help, too.
People will start seeking you out. They’ll say hi to you at events, follow you on Twitter and Instagram, and get to know you as a person. You’ll build relationships that will last the rest of your life.
Companies will start seeking you out, too. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is for your career. Go read Rock Stars, Normal People, and You to learn how it turned my own job hunting around. If you’ve already read that, go re-read it again. No, I’m not fishing for web site hits – I’m doing just fine, thank you, hahaha.
People will leave comments. Well, okay, this one’s kind of a mixed bag, because sometimes they thank you for all your hard work to make their life easier, but sometimes…sometimes they won’t.
Yes, people will criticize your work.
It happens to all of us.
Sometimes, they’re going to point out an error in your work. You’re going to feel like an idiot, but…you already feel like an idiot, right? The only difference is, it’s going to happen in public. But “public” is just your blog or a Stack Overflow answer or a Github issue. It’s not like it’s happening on national TV. We’re a tiny industry, and nobody’s gonna remember that one time you made a mistake – especially if you handle it by testing your work afterwards to double-check, thanking the commenter, and integrating the correction into your work.
Other times, they’re mistaken, and this is kind of a mixed bag too: sure, you can be proven correct, but you still have to go the extra mile of working with the commenter to explain yourself in more detail.
Other times, there’s no right or wrong answer – the work is a matter of opinion – and that can be kinda grueling, too. But even then, be excited and thankful because your work prompted them to get up off their rears and leave a comment.
Let’s do this.
Don’t let the prospect of comments trigger your impostor syndrome: you can do this. It’s time to decide how you’re going to give back and make a plan to pull it off. To help, here’s my PASS Summit 2016 half-day session, 500-Level Guide to Career Internals:
Brent, thanks so much for posting this! I have been a DBA for over twenty years and have had multiple SQL certifications, I have worked with SQL 6.5 all the way up to SQL 2017 and I have had many colleagues compliment my skills etc and yet there are so many times when I struggle with the imposter syndrome thoughts! My son is a C# developer and he and I were just talking about this last week! I told him one thing I love about the SQL Server community is the willingness to share and help out our fellow database professional brethren (and sistren?). I think it is so important to have a healthy view of your own strengths and weaknesses and be honest about what you do know and what you don’t know! I feel like I learn something almost everyday by following educators like you and others in the biz and by seeking to dive deeper into areas I know I could learn more about. Thanks again for being real, I hope this inspires even more open collaboration in the SQL community!
Stefanie – awww, thanks! You’re absolutely right – this community is so helpful and sharing.
Thank you Brent for this amazing series. Your way of explaining even hardest technical concepts makes them look easy. Thank you again.
Thank you Brent, this PASS session is really inspiring, though probably still not enough for me to start writing blog hehe ) Just have too much stuff to figure the @#$ out )
No problem – that’s totally a valid takeaway, like I mention during the session. It’s okay if you sit through that and go, “whoa, I can’t figure the @#$ out,” and then at least you don’t have to feel guilty about not contributing. It’s a valid choice! Life is full of tough choices.
Thank you for being a great member of the community and also thank you for inspiring me to give back. I
Brent, your site rocks! Been recommending the site to everyone I know. I have also recommended your services to businesses, although none have them has followed up on it as far as I know. Guess they prefer to suffer…
Andre – hahaha, thanks!
So refreshing to see hear this perspective. It’s important to see that we are all human and doing the best we can. This may be your finest post, Brent.
Taking a moment to say thank you for this series. It’s helped me see I’m on the right path but has also given me some good steps to take next. I signed up for a WordPress blog yesterday, jumped back into (the middle) of a certification book that I stalled out on months ago, and even thought I could one day present at SQL Saturday.
Awesome, glad I could help!
I’ve really enjoyed this updated series of blog posts, especially liked the rock star post. So often in work we get tasked with doing everything, or are written off as being negative for daring to suggest that certain tasks reside with different teams. These articles have helped reaffirm that doing it all is not achievable and is not the best way to succeed, and I also like the advice and email suggestions for handling people.
Great to see so many people inspired to give back too. Well done and thanks a lot.
Hey, Brent Thanks! Made me feel a little better. But the truth is being a SQL Server DBA doesn’t seem enough!
Had been laid-off last November and still can;t find a job (I Definitely suck at explaining things)! But I enjoy all your classes and blogs immensely!
Prabhakar – oh no, sorry to hear that! Go ahead and post the links to where you’ve been giving back as described in this post, and I’ll help get the word out.