TSQL Tuesday #96: Three People Who Made a Difference

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It’s #tsql2sday today, and I’m hosting it this time around! My chosen subject is “Folks who have made a difference”, with the idea that we’ll take a moment to acknowledge people who have helped us become who we are.

I have chosen three people who influenced me in different ways at different points in my life.

Colin Hannah

No, you probably haven’t heard of him, the man with the palindromic last name and the fascinatingly unmatched set of eyes (one brown, one green). He was my high school computer studies teacher, and an unusual species of superhero.

Our school curriculum allowed for Computer Studies as an extra credit-bearing subject. To be honest, I’m not really sure what was in the curriculum, because Colin mostly let me hack around by myself, occasionally surfacing with bits of sage advice, and the gentle reminder that life will be punctuated by written exams. Perhaps it wasn’t really supposed to work like that, but it worked for me.

Beyond the classroom, he was just a great guy to have on your side. He had a semi-acoustic Ovation guitar which he wielded with some skill, and on two occasions I managed to enlist him in playing for musical productions. It was during one of these where he saved my bacon during the nail-biting Mystery Of The Missing Girls’ School Key. Don’t ask, but any man who places himself between a schoolboy and the vengeance of Headmistress Jones deserved a medal.

He also utilised me as babysitter for his toddlers when he and his wife needed to escape from the kids for an evening, leaving me treats like Monty Python videos as entertainment. In another time and place, that kind of thing would be frowned upon. What I took away from it was that some rules are there to be broken in a respectful manner and with a straight face.

He left that school not long after I did, to take up a job in some government department, and during our university years, my friend Andrew Freeborn and I once tried to track him down, to no avail. Within a few years, I had word indirectly that he had died, and I never even managed to verify the story.

Thinking back on it now, he stands out as a very special kind of mentor. He provided me encouragement and space, and stood ready to help when I stumbled. I only hope I projected enough appreciation at the time.

Kalen Delaney

Sometimes a teacher can make a difference from afar, without knowing the student. In the SQL Server world, Kalen is surely the textbook example here. After all, she wrote the textbook.

In 2005 I was in the midst of a career transition, which is a nice way of saying I was working for minimum wage. I was vaguely database-aware by then, only insofar as I knew a few snippets of database design, and that one logically aspires to SQL Server to transcend Access. But SQL was just a language, and what lay beneath the surface was a closed book.

I occasionally passed through the Borders Books computer section, scanning for things that might point my way forward into IT, and one one such day I came face to face with “Inside SQL Server 2000”. Maybe it was the imposing heft of the hardcover binding that caught my attention. But a quick flip through made me realise that there is a tantalising world of database internals to be discovered.

It wasn’t really the classic way to gear up for a database developer job. But it eventually came to pass that someone was open-minded enough to take one of my job applications seriously, and when I got invited to an interview, my SQL Server knowledge came from devouring Kalen’s book. Never mind that I hardly knew how to open Enterprise Manager; they kindly kept the interview technical, hired me, and then let me figure out those details on my first day.

Without even talking about her skill as an in-person trainer, I can honestly say that nobody did more for my progression into the SQL Server world, and finding my niche, than Kalen Delaney.

Lonny Niederstadt

I suffer from a classic geek problem: I suck at socialising in large groups, either in the flesh or online. My default modus operandi is to latch on to one or two individuals as comfort zone, and then gingerly try and spread out from there.

Lonny (whom you may better know as @sql_handle or SQL Sasquatch) is one of those beacons. Famous for hilariously extended tweetstorms bordering on blog posts, and memorably describing himself as “a collection of edge cases”, I had been following him on Twitter for a while by the time I started blogging. As a multiplatform guy, he often reminds me to look beyond the confines of SQL Server, and as a human, he has a big heart and a big social conscience.

I’m not completely sure how I managed to engage him at first. But at a time when I looked up to him (not that I’ve stopped doing that!) and was finding my feet with blogging, he was among the first people to respond to my blog posts. Since he cast himself as a target audience, he has often been at the back of my mind when I write. It’s the nature of social and professional engagement: you need sparring partners, and you need friends with related interests.

When I attended PASS Summit in 2015, I had been set on meeting Lonny in person, and very happy when this materialised in the form of breakfast one morning. Within hours, things kicked up a notch when he met up with Randolph West (b | t) and they uncovered that Randolph and I spent a year in the same freaking school. Yes, the same one where Colin Hannah taught.

I got to catch up with both Lonny and Randolph two weeks ago Summit 2017. This time we met as old friends. Oh, and Randolph is now my web host 🙂

A final thought

Inevitably, this subject gravitates to talking about oneself. But the underlying motif is that this self is formed through the work of other people at pivotal moments. I am immensely grateful to everybody who has helped me grow over the years.