My name is Brent Ozar, and I help people make SQL Server go faster.
That basically means I measure things for a living.
If I’m going to make something faster, I have to start by knowing exactly how slow it is.
When I first started working with SQL Server, I just measured it with Perfmon metrics. I spent so much time capturing metrics, interpreting what they meant, documenting them, setting up email alerts about them. Then I found out about DMVs – SQL Server’s dynamic management views. I started querying those, and wow, there was so much information available about internals, what was running now, what had run recently, how healthy the server was, you name it.
There was so much information available that I couldn’t possibly collect it all – so I bought monitoring software that captured everything. It would analyze and trend it all for me, give me nice big dashboards, and it would even send me alert emails. Page life expectancy is too low! Disk queue length is too high!
I got so many monitoring alerts that I had to set up a rule in my email to push all of those alerts into a folder. And then I didn’t even read the alerts anymore. Sound familiar?
We’re all addicted to gathering trivial numbers.
Companies do this too – not just with their SQL Server data, but with all kinds of data. This is where the “big data” trend is coming from. It’s so cheap and easy to gather all kinds of data, but nobody knows what’s important, or how they should act on it. They just collect it all and stash it away somewhere, hoping that it will be useful someday. I’m not saying big data is bad – it’s awesome, when you have a use for it. But so often, it’s just like all those Perfmon counters and DMV metrics that we gather – it just lies around unused.
We even do this with our own personal lives.
I’ve got an Apple Watch on. (It’s no good, don’t buy one. Wait for the next version.) But one of the things it does is track the number of steps I take every day. I think we’re supposed to get like five thousand steps per day to be healthy. The first few days, I looked at it every day to see if I was active enough. I made sure I was taking five thousand steps, but, uh, I’m still fat.
That data point doesn’t matter for me. I’m just piling up more data that isn’t really relevant to my quality of life. What I need is for the Apple Watch to count the number of times I lift a beer glass. That would be a much more useful metric, right?
Finding the right measurement is hard.
I used to measure my career with the wrong metric.
I’m going to ask you to think for a few seconds about one number that you might monitor that tells how your job or your career is doing.
Was it money? Your annual salary?
That’s what mine was for a really long time. It’s how I got into databases. I always looked around the company for the most expensive thing. I wanted to stand near that thing, and fix it when it broke. When I worked in hotels, it looked like the computer was the most expensive thing, so I stood by that, and when it broke, I offered to help. Then I went to work for a hotel management company with lots of desktop computers, and I looked around again. The servers were the most expensive thing in that office, so I stood near those, and when they broke, I offered to help. I got so much server experience that I went to work for a software company, and I looked around for the most expensive thing there – it was SQL Server. So I read the SQL Server manuals and stood near that, waiting for it to break.
Along the way, I learned two things:
- If you fix expensive things, you make lots of money.
- Expensive things seem to break when I stand near them.
But because I used the wrong metric, my career went the wrong way.
I got a job working for a consulting company who said me: “This client is paying us to build them a data warehouse. The project budget includes a DBA, and we don’t have an extra one, so we’re going to hire you.” The money was fantastic – the most money I’d made so far.
But after I started, they told me a little something more: “We don’t actually have any work for you to do, so we just need you to sit in a cubicle, look busy, and don’t touch anything. As long as you can do that, we’ll be able to bill hours for your time, and you’ll make great money.”
That sounds awesome, right? Sit around and get paid!
But I wasn’t doing things I was proud of.
I wasn’t really helping the business, I wasn’t learning, and I wasn’t growing as a person. I was just putting in time for money.
My family life suffered. My health suffered. Even my dog suffered. My wife, Erika, would pick me up after work every day, and as usual, she had our dog, Ernie, with her. We started driving home, and on the way, Erika and I were both so stressed-out and tensed up that Ernie leaned over between the car seats and vomited. I’ve never seen so much vomit. I’ve been around drunk adults that vomited less than Ernie did that day. It was like you turned on a faucet and she just kept going and going.
Eventually the stress got to me and I tried something different.
I let go of my money measurement just a little bit, and took a lower-paying job that sounded really interesting. I went to work as a DBA with a team of fun people I really admired. I said to myself, I’d be willing to make less money if I could make a difference, and be more proud of what I did.
Those next few years were some of the best years of my life. I worked much, much harder, and I was making less, but I loved it. I learned virtualization, learned to manage shared storage, went to the PASS Summit for the first time, even started running.
I was doing things I was proud of.
So I started measuring my job by the number of things I was proud of.
I’m not talking about avoiding dessert, I’m talking about big things I want to tell my family about, just like a couple of things per year. Big things.
When you’re proud of something, you’ll work really hard at it. You’ll be excited by it, consumed by it, and you’ll get really good at it. And when you’re proud of it, and you’re good at it, it doesn’t even feel like work at all.
And it sounds odd, but you will make money at it.
You will make a lot of money at it.
This is the age of sponsored blogs, webcasts, podcasts, training classes, independent consulting – heck, even Twitch. If you’re good at playing games and you put a lot of love into what you do, you can even get paid for that! Granted, the competition is a lot tougher – but these are new careers our parents never dreamed of.
Here’s how to start measuring your job.
- Read Steve Kamb’s Epic Quest of Awesome. It’s just a web page. If you like that, read his book, Level Up Your Life.
- Read my version, my Epic Life Quest.
- Make a list of things you’d be really proud to achieve in the next couple of years. They can be totally big tasks that you have no idea where to start – that’s fine.
Today, at SQLSaturday, look at the session agenda, and here’s how you pick sessions:
- Pick sessions that get you closer to doing something you’d be really proud of.
- Pick sessions by presenters who have done the task you’d be really proud of – whether it’s building a certain kind of app, getting a certain kind of job, or starting a certain kind of blog. Talk to those presenters after their session. They’re – we’re – here because we want to help you achieve great things.
- If you don’t know what you want to do, pick sessions that scare you, sessions way outside of your comfort zone. That’s how you learn new things you never would have considered, and that might be the career path that turns out to be right for you.
Thanks for listening to me this morning, and enjoy your sessions at SQLSaturday Israel!
What makes you proud? What makes me proud? Loving my Kids?Working at something that will create a greater good that lives after me? Thanks Brent for provoking these kind of questions.
You’re welcome, sir!
Brent… Sometimes you come across IMHO as arrogent (smart does that sometimes, I get it, some don’t). But here… Here you come across successful and wise. You have stepped up my respect for you a lot with how you wrote these things.. We have met a few times but hopefully I am not memorable (I prefer that and strive to be unmemorable) but I hope every young smart tech reads and understands this.. Being an insanely well paid guy doing what you hate and watching the clock will lead the next generation to hate tech.. They need to realize exactly what you said here early to reduce that misery. I hope you find a bit of time to share this with youth.. not conference attendees but high schoolers or that area of society so they see what success is..
Steve – it’s spelled arrogant. 😉
I had to say that. I appreciate the honesty, and while I don’t remember you by name, I’m horrible with names. I’m much better with faces, so hopefully when we meet again, I’ll remember your face (wait, that didn’t come out right either) and you can tell me you left this comment, and we’ll both enjoy that.
I struggle with the arrogance label because I truly feel like I’m just a regular guy, nobody important, and I have no power over anything. Seriously, I don’t have the slightest delusion that anybody does what I suggest – I’m a blogger running a very small consulting shop. I’m not pretending to have humility – I really don’t have any power or significance in the industry. A lot of SQL people know who I am, and I get a huge laugh out of that, but it’s not because I’m good at what I do or because I’m a genius. I’m not. I just blog and webcast and podcast, and because of that, I have a lot of name/face recognition out of my audience. I do t have any delusions of grandeur.
Now, having said that, you’re totally not the first person to call me arrogant or selfish, and i know that means I’m projecting something bad. Your opinion (along with others) means it’s real, and here’s the funny part: it bums me out because I want to live a life that I can be proud of, too. I don’t want to be seen as the arrogant guy – not because I want an artificially good reputation, but because honestly, I’m not an arrogant guy. But I must be doing arrogant things if I’m coming off that way, and that means one of two things: either I’m not doing a good enough job of portraying myself here on the blog (or wherever online), or…I actually am, and I’m arrogant. Man, I sure hope it’s not the latter, but it’s possible, because (like you) some of the people who call me arrogant (or similar terms) know me in real life too. That’s totally a bummer, reading that and thinking oof, I’m actually arrogant.
(sigh) Being an introspective adult is hard.
Now I gotta share this because it’s just hilarious: it’s 11pm here, so I’m going to go back to drinking rosé wine in bed in a $500/night hotel room, surfing Wikipedia. Cheers! (Hilariously arrogant, that, hahaha. My life is freaking surreal.)
The perception of funny people is skewed by their humor. Your humor tends … not arrogant, but something adjacent or related. Not sure what to call it. As a bit of a funny guy in my own small way, I’d say if youre reallu worried about it, consider filtering your humor just a bit to make sure it’s never even vaguely or tangentially mean or put-down-y. Or, you could just not worry about it. Some thing’s obviously working for you 😉
Interesting… I’ve noticed that too. I don’t think it’s meant that way when he says it but I have thought, on more than one occasion that a humorous response was tinged with a hint of “meanness” or was a little harsh….. It’s never been directed at me though……
Wonderfully written commentary, Brent. As always, thank you for being ! 🙂
Very nice one sir!
Very nice one, Brent. You’re surely good at making people think.
PS: that photo.. were you doing any dance? 🙂
Marian – hahaha, no, no interpretive dance in this one. I actually thought about using the stage as a progression for my career, with the left side being the start and the unhappiness, then the right being my new way of measuring the career, and using the different sides when I talked about the different points of view. When I got on stage, though, I decided against it just because I wasn’t familiar enough with the pacing of the session.
Great advice Brent! And great blog!
Great stuff Brent! You’ve inspired me over the years and this post had impeccable timing! Our stories are similar, and I’m now at the point you described where I’ve taken a less paying job. After 6 months I’m SO much happier. Things may be a little tight as far as money goes, but I can’t complain at all when I look around me. Thanks my friend. This post means more than you know.
Dave – awesome, glad the timing worked out well. I hope you don’t have to take that drop in pay too often, but when you do, I hope it pays off well like mine certainly did. Money isn’t everything.
This is another great post, and perfectly timed for me. While I’m not even close to your level, I’m making “easy money” sitting around all day and doing nothing. I get paid very well, and sometimes I fix some log shipping, but mostly I just sit here waiting for something to break. It’s not enough. I’m not proud of my work, and two days ago I gave my notice. I don’t know where I’m going next, but I’ll figure it out.
You don’t come across as remotely arrogant to me. Being successful and acknowledging it is not necessarily arrogant; especially when you are so generous with your time and ideas, from which so many of us benefit 100% for free.
Lizzie – thanks for the kind words.
You’ll be fine – I really believe there’s never been a better time to look for database work. Shoot us your resume (even if it’s out of date) at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see if it matches up with any of our clients who are looking, or give you advice on where we’d go look. If nothing else, we can give you a second opinion on the resume layout, heh. But seriously, the market is phenomenal right now.
I totally understand how stuff like my Epic Life Quest and my Instagram feed can come off as arrogant or a humblebrag. I take kind of a goofy approach to it by asking, “Would I follow myself?” I write/photograph/speak for myself, for people who happen to have the exact same set of interests as me. I look at my blog and photo feeds and go, “Yeah, I’d subscribe to that guy because it’s fun,” but I can see how it comes off as over-the-top sometimes. (Often maybe?)
I try to be super-honest, blogging about my failures and skipping class and whatnot. When I write back-patting posts like A Million Dollars, it’s not a humblebrag at all – I’m proud as hell, and I’m putting that homework on my fridge door, so to speak. I’m not ashamed to say that I celebrate publicly when things go right, and I bang my head on the desk publicly when things go wrong. We’re coming up on the next iteration of my how the startup thing worked out for me post series, and the timing is great – this one covers a year where I think I went down in flames pretty publicly, so it’ll be fun to share that one.
We have never met (I live a few thousand miles from the US on a little speck of dust you probably never heard of) but I have been following you for quite some time now. I have to tell you that I admire a lot the stellar work you do in the SQL Server community and since I discovered this blog and especially after reading this post I really admire what you are achieving in life. I think you deserve all the success you are having. I am kind of passing from a similar moment which you had and wanted to share my thoughts.
A few months ago I landed the best paying job I ever had, as a DBA with a booming multi-national. I thought getting this gig was the culmination of all the hard work I have done since my humble beginnings making cappuccinos in a coffee shop. However, a few weeks/months in I came to the conclusion, that I was kind of tricked into the job cause what the company really wants, is an intelligent monkey with the least probability to break the production servers. I find myself doing boring routine tasks that probably anyone with some basic understanding of databases can do easily. Most if not all of the suggestions I do either on my own initiative or whenever I remind my boss of my job title (yes literally), they finish in the big pile that will fuel the companies’ supreme leader’s BBQ this summer.
So it goes without saying that this job started to kill me slowly, until one day while on my way home, feeling miserable similar to how I used to be while using that infernal coffee machine I kind of arrived at the same conclusion you had. I concluded that a successful career and life in general is not measured by how much $/hr you make but by the amount of freedom you have to choose to do whatever you want to do in life. Many people don’t have this freedom and stay doing the same thing for all their life even if it bores them to death because they need to do it.
I still love databases and technology in general, but I can’t do it at my current job, so if I have to take a pay cut for me to be happy, engaged and fulfilled again then so be it!
In the meantime, just remain awesome Brent
Aww, thanks sir! Thanks for sharing the kind words.