You Shall Know Me By My Deeds

I read a post recently at Brent Ozar PLF titled Who’s Going To Hire You? The gist of the post was that your co-workers are basically interviewing you constantly, so you should always make an effort to do your best work. I have to say, I completely agree with this and, like Brent, this fact led me from one job to another. In truth, it actually, led me to change careers completely! Here’s my story.

I graduated college with a degree in electrical engineering. I was living in Southern California at the time and found work as a junior engineer at a company in the telecommunications industry. I was responsible for writing engineering change orders, sourcing parts, and laying out out and routing the circuit boards we developed. I really enjoyed that last task. It involved a combination of engineering, geometric problem solving, and design. I worked for the company for about three years. I was sharing an apartment with a childhood friend and I slowly began to sour on the whole Southern California dream. This was a serious change for me. I was a California native, born and raised in Orange County, just a few miles from Disneyland (close enough to see the fireworks each night in the summer). But I began to realize it would be years before I could afford a house. Traffic was everywhere, virtually 24 hours a day. The weather was great, but frequently, there would be days choked with smog. TheĀ Rodney King riots had recently happened. I started thinking about moving elsewhere.

It just so happened that I had a vacation planned to Connecticut, so I managed to set up a single interview while I was out there. This was also for a electrical engineering position responsible for PCB layout and design. I got an offer and decided to move. (In retrospect, moving to Connecticut, one of the states with the highest gas taxes and one known for being a retreat for wealthy people, probably wasn’t the wisest move if I was looking for a cheap place to live.) So this California boy packed up and moved across the country. And.. well..

It sure is different living on the East coast. For one, the sun rises out of the ocean and doesn’t set into it. For some reason, that really threw me off. Back then, the whole concept of healthy eating was almost unheard of on the East coast. Pizza? You better order it with extra pepperoni and sausage. Forget veggie. And if you suggested pineapple and ham, you’d better run for your life. It took me a couple of months, but I was finally able to pin down one other thing that bothered me: I felt claustrophobic. I was used to the relatively flat terrain of Southern California with its few scrawny palm trees. I could usually see for miles (smog permitting). In Connecticut, there were hills covered with trees. It was pretty to look at, but you often couldn’t see more than a mile into the distance. It wasn’t all bad though. I loved being able to take a train into New York City, for instance.

And then there was winter. Snow. WTF? OK, I had experienced snow before and knew before I moved that living in Connecticut would mean I would become intimately familiar with it. I had gone skiing several times in California and liked it. But months of it? All the time? I liked the fact that I could bring ice cream home from the store in the trunk of my car without worrying about it melting, but honestly, after two months, I was ready for the snow to be gone. I remember it being April and watching the snow falling. I thought “Isn’t April spring? Why is it still snowing?”

(All in all though, I think I did pretty well in the snow, considering my origins. I didn’t have any car accidents and only lost control on my car once, for a very short time (only as long as it took for the car to spin through one complete revolution). Although I did make some stupid California-boy mistakes. The most memorable: I was at a gas station filing my tank and decided I needed to clean my windows. I took the squeegee from the bucket of water (which wasn’t frozen for some reason) at the base of the gas pump island and ran it across my front window – where the water instantly turned to ice. This was one of those “I hope no one saw that” moments. And I never once slipped and fell on ice – almost. It was my very last day in Connecticut and I was standing outside waiting for the cab to take me to the airport. I slipped and fell. I can’t begin to tell you how pissed off I was that I had made it through basically the whole winter, only to fall on my last few hours in the state.)

It was during this time in Connecticut that I got a call from a guy I used to work with in California. He had been the president and head of the engineering department of the first company I worked for and was now building an engineering department for another company in Arizona. He asked if I wanted to join him as a software engineer, working with databases.

Now keep in mind, up to this point, my entire career had been hardware-based. The only experience I had with software was maybe a single class in college and my own tinkerings on my home computers, starting with my old Apple II+ in high school, and later 286s, 386s, and 486s in college. I told him sure, but reminded him I had no experience with databases or software. He said that was OK. He knew me, knew my work, and felt I could do the job.

So after one year in Connecticut, I moved most of the way back across the country to Arizona and started my involvement with SQL Server as a database developer. This was when SQL Server 7.0 was just released in beta and that’s what I learned on. I was lucky to have as a mentor at the company one of the software engineers who helped me learn not only the T-SQL language, but good programming methodology. Since that time, I’ve worked at three other companies, moving from a database developer to a database administrator. I’ve discovered I love SQL Server. I love managing close to 100 servers. I’m quite happy with my new career.

And I never would have discovered any of this, if that one person didn’t have faith in my abilities, faith I’d earned by doing my best, day in and day out. Even though I was moving into a completely different field, he still felt confident enough in my abilities to take a chance on me.

Yes, your coworkers are interviewing you right now. Every day. You never know who will give you that career-changing call or when it will come. But you can increase its chances of coming by taking pride in your work and doing the best job you can.

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