Eleven Years AgoI was reading a blog post by Thomas LaRock (blog|@SQLRockstar) called Ten Years. His life and career changed ten years ago this very month. While reading this post, I realized that I had a life defining event in my career eleven years ago … also this very month. I even remember the date that it happened. It was April 3, 2000. It was a Monday morning, and I was not prepared for what I was going to face that day and for the next couple of months.
Thomas’ story has inspired me to share my own story.
Monday, April 3rd, 2000
This story actually starts out in the late fall, early winter of 1999. I had started looking for my first real job in the IT industry. I had been doing free-lance web and application development for about a year, but the job that (barely) paid my bills was working for the state of Washington in an institution for the developmentally disabled. Though it had been a very rewarding job in many ways, it was a job with no real future. I signed on with a contracting company who sent me on several interviews and I took several standardized tests to measure my technical skills.
I had done a fair amount of application development working with Access databases. I went in for an interview for a web developer position, and they ended up offering me a database developer position. Eager to get my first job in IT, I accepted it. They already had two database developers, and I would be like a Jr. database developer (though really, my skills were less than Jr. level) assisting the two existing guys. On the day I started, February 20, 2000, Peter, a VB application developer started too. We shared office space, so we became very good friends over the years. I spent a week working with the two db developers learning what I would be working on. The training sessions were very limited in scope, and I repeatedly heard, “You don’t need to know how to do that. That’s something I handle.” Many aspects of the job never got explained to me.
The work we did was creating automated processes to download data from real estate associations (MLSs – Multiple Listing Services) and incorporate their data into our systems. Many of the MLSs were using legacy systems where the only thing we could do was log in via a telnet emulator and perform screen scrapes of data as it scrolled across the screen. Our clients were member brokers of the MLSs, and we eventually built websites and other data services for the brokers and their agents using this data. With a little training, I quickly jumped on the next MLS that came in and ran with it. I was eager to demonstrate that I could do the job.
I did the job very well. Perhaps a little too well. Fast forward to Monday, April 3rd. One of the guys was usually there very early becuase he had to take a ferry to get to work. The other guy lived in Portland and would drive in late on Mondays and leave late on Fridays. The early guy wasn’t there when I got in on Monday. I figured he must have missed his ferry. Turns out he called up out of the blue and quit without warning. I figured there’d be no problems because the other guy would be there in another hour or two. Only he never showed up. Later in the day, I was informed that the other guy had been promised that he could switch to the sales team so he didn’t have to keep commuting from Portland starting on April 3rd. No one had bothered to tell me.
So here I was all alone. Many aspects of the job I had been purposely not told about because it was “theirs” and they “would handle it”. To top it off, it turns out that many of the MLS downloads had not worked correctly for quite some time. Nobody had been told that they weren’t working, and people were just starting to notice that the data wasn’t being updated. I had to figure out a lot of things on my own. And to top it off, we were just starting a new MLS integration project (Houston Association of Realtors), and our sales guys had accepted the challenge of doing it in less than 30 days. To date, the fastest anyone had completed the process had been 2 months.
Within two weeks, I had fixed all of the broken MLS integration processes and all MLSs had current data and photos. Within four weeks, I had the Houston MLS completed and in production. By the end of April, everything was running smoother with me working by myself than they were with three of us. I had a lot of help though. What enabled me to accomplish these things was a lot of hours (fortunately, I was being paid for overtime) and a lot of help from Peter, the application developer that I mentioned before. One reason the MLS integration process took so long was that there was a lot of manual work involved for setting it up. Peter figured out ways to automate a lot of those manual processes for me. Together, Peter and I revamped everything that team did. There was still a lot of customization that had to be done each time, but we got the process to where any MLS could be done in one to two weeks and much of that time was just learning each MLSs rules for using and displaying their data and making sure we complied with those rules.
The Vice President of Operations talked to me one morning near the end of April. He told me that I had really saved the company and had really come through for them. I felt great that my work had been noticed at the higher levels. Shortly after that, my boss came to talk to me, and showed me a form he was sending back to the contracting company I worked through. They had decided to increase my hourly rate by $8 per hour because I had done such a great job for them. The company ended up hiring me full-time. In the years to come, there would be several reductions in staff, but I was one of the people identified as critical that must be kept. Years later when I finally left that company and got a new DBA position, I had been recommended for it by the former Vice President of Operations at the old company. Many years later, they had asked him if he new anyone good, and he told them about me. In essence, I can say that my success at that first job and my second job can be attributed to that fateful day, Monday, April 3rd, 2000, when the two guys I was assisting quit on the same day without notice leaving me to pick up the pieces.