From Bits to Bytes

Turning a passion for computers into a successful career

My passion for computers started a little over 25 years ago when my dad brought home our first computer, a Commodore 64 (C64), and hooked it up to our TV. At first it served a single purpose for me and my brother – video game console. We would spend hours swapping cartridges playing games like Paperboy and Centipede. It wasn’t until I saw my dad spending countless hours entering programs from a computer magazine into the computer that I realized there might be something more than just playing games. Eventually the TV would be replaced with a dedicated monitor; the cassette player with a floppy disk drive; the C64 with a Commodore 128 (C128).

Adieu Q-Link AOL, Bonjour BBS

Along with the C128 came this thing called a modem that made funny sounds, and a subscription to Q-Link. While the early days of Q-Link were nothing like what AOL would eventually become it provided a stepping stone to connecting with others online. Soon there after we stumbled across the world of Bulletin Board Services (BBS) and the subscription to Q-Link was no longer necessary. We quickly found a group of BBSes that we would frequent and it wasn’t long before we were invited to attend our first a bulletin board service meeting. I remember vividly how everyone gathered around the guy who had a 20 MB hard drive. It was there I was exposed to the online community and gaming on a BBS and there was no turning back. I was addicted.

Soon there after I was running my own BBS on the Commodore 128. Within the first year of running the BBS the Commodore 128 would be replaced with my first PC, an XT 8086 4.77 MHz . As the early 90’s progressed so did the successive replacements in computer hardware in my room. By the time I graduated high school, my BBS was connected to FIDONet, a network of message boards much like USENET newsgroups. It wouldn’t be long before my first exposure to the Internet while in college.

Reality Bites

While I was addicted to computers going through high school my heart and dreams were to pursue a degree in meteorology in the Air Force. When I wasn’t eligible to apply for the Air Force Academy, I quickly realized that I could capitalize on my passion for computers and pursue a computer science degree. It was while taking my first (and only) class on databases the instructor mentioned the opportunity to complete an internship with a regional retailer. A few of my friends and I applied and I quickly went from converting Paradox to Microsoft Access as an intern to being hired as a full-time employee developing web applications against SQL Server. I finished college while working full-time.

It was while working under satellite team under the data warehouse team  that I got my first exposure to database administration with SQL Server. I found that I enjoyed working with T-SQL and the administrative aspects of SQL Server. Eventually, I grew tired of writing applications and when the opportunity to become what was a junior DBA on the data warehouse team opened I jumped with both feet. It was there that other two DBAs and technical architect mentored me and solidified my career as a Teradata database administrator. They saw something in me that I hadn’t yet and knew with the right guidance I would be on a path to a successful career in data warehousing. I was fortunate enough to work with them for a couple years before making what would be the biggest career decision of my life at the time.

Knock, Knock… Who’s There?

Opportunity. It knocks only so many times before turning away and knocking on the door of someone else. I can’t tell you how many times I repeated those words as I struggled with the next career decision. I was asked to work with a small consulting firm on a one-year contract in the public sector on data warehousing project as an ETL developer. I turned them down at first. I had a young family, my youngest son was only two, and even though the job was close enough I could be home every night, the uncertainty beyond the initial 12 months was the deal breaker. When that firm contacted me again a few weeks later, I took the risk after talking to someone who I trusted professionally for the advice I sorely needed. Those initial 12 months turned into 6 years.

Initially my experience with SQL to work on a payment accuracy system and a client master data model was more critical. However, as my responsibility as database administrator increased with my time on the project. This allowed me to work closely with the system DBA team to help establish best practices and workload management guidelines that affect the entire data warehouse. Before long I was a trusted by the client for my technical acumen.

During the latter portion of my time there I started to become more involved in the Teradata community. Being an active member in the Teradata community has allowed me to help others and establish myself as an expert among my peers in the community. Twitter also has broadened my interactions with experts in the SQL Server, Oracle, business intelligence, data management, data quality, and data governance. As a result, I started to blog for both my employer and for my own site on various data related topics. It was a great exposure for me and gave me the opportunity to meet new people who share similar passions with me about data.

It was a combination of the mentor I turned to six years ago and someone who I met via Twitter that helped provide guidance and insight about the most difficult career decision I have made so far – becoming an independent consultant. I have recently accepted an opportunity to be a lead DBA position on another public sector project with an initial 12 month contract. Sound familiar?

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2 Responses to From Bits to Bytes

  1. Jill Wanless says:

    Great story Rob, thanks so much for sharing. And good luck to you on the next part of your journey. How exciting!
    The start of something new is filled with so many opportunities, I can’t help but be a bit jealous! Good luck although you won’t need it!

    Jill