Kathi: What does professional development mean to you?
Steve: To me professional development is the way in which you further your career. It's the planning, the process, and then the execution that helps you to become more knowledgeable, skilled, and proficient in your craft. It includes both specialized skills, like T-SQL for DBAs, but also soft-skills. Things like time management, working in teams, leading others, documenting and communicating effectively and more. I think that the professional development plan for each person is unique to that individual, though there are plenty of ideas, techniques, goals, that we can share with each other.
Kathi: You are known for many things in the SQL Server community, but mostly for your work as editor of SQLServerCentral.com. How did SQLServerCentral get started?
Steve: It's a long story, but the quick version is that 7 of us that were writing for Database Journal found ourselves without paychecks. Not from a lack of work, but because the editor in charge of the site stopped paying us. We decided to form our own site, SQLServerCentral, in early 2001. Quickly we realized that one of the seven wasn't going to contribute any work, so we bought him out and moved on. About a year later, Andy Warren, Brian Knight, and I bought out the other three founders and we moved on as a trio that built this great community that so many SQL Server DBAs and developers use today. I'm in the process of writing a history of the site, so look for a book (hopefully) later this year.
Kathi: How did you end up as editor?
Steve: I owe it all to my wife. Literally it was the fact that she was working that allowed me to become the editor. There was a point where all three of us (Andy, Brian, and myself) were working fulltime and the site was an afterhours job. It was draining us and we were trying to make a decision about whether or not to sell the site. While we were debating this, Brian closed a large advertising deal with one of our clients that netted us a chuck of money. It wasn't a lot of money, but it was enough to give us a few months cushion of operating expenses and salary. Literally about 2 months worth of expenses, so we debated about one of us being willing to quit their job and work full time for the site. It required a pay cut for any of us, but also a leap of faith that we could continue to sell advertising and pay someone's salary.
At the time, my wife was the only one of our three wives that worked, which meant two things. One that if things fell apart on the site, I wouldn't have the pressure of a family to support. The other thing was my pay cut would be lower than everyone else's since my wife's job would cover our health insurance. So I took the chance, and haven't looked back. It was the best decision I've made in my career.
Kathi: How important is it for you to attend events like the PASS Community Summit?
Steve: It was important to me to go when I was a DBA since a conference is a great way for you to grow your career. You can learn things in the sessions, get inspired from others' efforts or have some solution sparked in your mind by their presentation. It's a way that you can really grow your skills widely around the technology. It's also a great way to network with others that are in similar situations as you and share knowledge or commiserate over mistakes. It's one of those ways that helped me grow my career, and I consider it an important part of my professional development.
Now as the editor of SQLServerCentral, it's even more important for me to go and meet with both experts and the average DBA out there looking for help in their job and career. Going to the PASS Summit or a SQL Saturday are incredibly fun for me since I get to catch up with friends and meet new people. I hear stories about what is happening out in the real world. It's inspiration for many of the editorials that I write. I feel bad that I can't attend more SQL Saturdays, but I do try to get to 3-4 a year.
Kathi: What advice do you have for SQL Server professionals who would like to try their hand at writing articles or speaking at user groups?
Steve: Just do it.
It's cliched, but it's really that simple. You just need to get started. Most of the authors and speakers that you see presenting aren't any smarter than you are. Trust me, I've felt the same way as most of those DBAs out there watching presentations. Even today I see people speaking and there are times that I get intimidated by what they are talking about. However as I dig into the technology, and learn about it, I realize that it's not that complicated. It just takes some work, and some practice. If you've solved some problem at work, or written some code used in production, you could help someone else.
If you want to write, practice it. I'd highly recommend that you blog, since it's a skill that we all need. The ability to communicate in writing. You don't have to publish a blog, but at least write one for yourself. I have some advice on my Modern Resume site(http://modernresume.blogspot.com/search/label/blogging), and I give a presentation at some SQL Saturdays on what you can do here. I did one for the 24 hours of PASS last year, which PASS members can access. Practice writing, and then pick a topic. Focus on teaching someone one thing, like how to rename a file from Powershell, and then write a procedure up. Have a friend or two review it, and then submit it somewhere. We are SQLServerCentral are always looking for new authors and would be happy to help you.
If you want to speak, do the same thing. Write up what you want to say or show. I'd recommend that beginning speakers avoid PowerPoint altogether, or stick to a couple of slides only with an outline of what you want to show, and then go to work in SSMS or BIDS to explain something. Practice explaining something for 15 minutes, and then ask for a 15 minute slot at your user group, or do a short brown bag session at your job. Chances are you'll only talk for 10 minutes since most people go quicker on stage, but someone will ask a question and you'll be fine.
And then you'll realize it won't kill you. It might even prove to be fun.
Kathi: You share a lot about your family life with your readers. How do you manage to keep your work and life in balance?
Steve: Balance, what's balance? I think that I end up pinging back and forth between working too much and too little rather than maintaining balance. I'm definitely a type-A person, and my kids have learned that there are times I'm working and they need to leave me alone.
I'm lucky in that I get to work from home, and that I have a job that's flexible. Those people that have received emails from me know that I'm just as likely to respond to an email Monday morning at 9am as Saturday night at 11pm. Or as likely to be out of the office. I tend to work regularly, but in batches. I break up the day by moving to other tasks, which might be something like writing, or it might be shoveling manure from the horses. As a result I end up working all hours of the day. However I also spend a lot of time with my kids, shuttling them to/from school, going on field trips, and stopping my work to help them with homework. My wife travels regularly, so I also have the chores of keeping her horses fed and picked up after and there's the challenge of finding time with her.
I think the way that it works out, despite the regular chaos that ensues at the ranch where I live, is that I remember that this is just a job. Life is short, and you have to stop and enjoy yourself. You have to find time for all the things in your life, and at the end of the day, family, my wife, my hobbies, are more important than the job. Keep that in mind every day, and you find ways to balance things out. If you start to feel that you're not seeing your wife or your kids enough, it's time to let some work go and get back into balance.
Kathi: Anything else you would like to share?
Steve: Being a part of PASS and the SQL Community is something that I enjoy tremendously. A decade ago I would have been surprised if someone told me I'd be an author, speaker, and editor for a large community. At the time, I was a DBA trying to keep SQL Server v6.5 systems alive. My entire life has changed tremendously, in ways I never would have considered back then. Making time in your life for professional development could change your life dramatically.
It wasn't any particular plan that I had, but the constant driving forward in some direction, trying to improve myself as a SQL Server professional, allowed me more opportunities than I would ever have imagined.