A look back, and a look forward

Time flies. My father used to wear a t-shirt that claimed, “When you’re over the hill, you pick up speed.”

I’m turning 40 in a few days. I still feel like a teenager in many respects.

SQL Server, released in 1989, is 27 years old now. It’s about the same age I was when a career change became necessary. I became a lecturer, briefly, then a high school teacher, and a tutor on the side, sharing my knowledge, all the while learning how people learn.

Combined with my so-called “train the trainer” learning a decade prior in college and the help desk support job from around the same time, it allowed me to unlock ways to explain technology to people. In so doing, I realised that I had a real arrogance about technology. Whereas I wanted people to bend to its ways, I realised that it was technology that had to adapt. Now when I build products, the aim is to be as simple as possible.

When I went back into the tech world after teaching (for money, as it turns out—it’s always about the money), I tried to keep this new perspective. We need to review our thinking and assumptions more often than we do.

SQL Server, and Azure’s Platform as a Service, have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. Things we had to worry about as little as four years ago are being made much easier by the newest versions. Self-tuning databases, the Query Store, In-Memory OLTP, and recent changes to SQL Server 2016’s Service Pack 1 are all things Microsoft has learned and borrowed from competitors and customers alike, to produce probably the best relational database engine currently on the market.

Microsoft challenged their own assumptions. The market required it. Five years ago it was unheard of, the thought of Azure hosting Linux and Windows equally, with NoSQLs and Red Hats and Oracles and SAP HANAs, oh my! We even have Linux on SQL Server now. I still don’t know what it’s for, but it’s really very clever how they did it.

(Full disclosure: I didn’t know what cameras on phones were for, either.)

I’m a technology Luddite. I literally break technology more often than I care to admit, though admittedly not because I think it’s taking my job. I call myself a living edge case and a human beta tester. It’s usually accidental, but if something is going to break, it’ll break around me.

As a result, while I tend to have the latest shiny computers and electronics, I write my important notes in a Moleskine notebook I carry with me. It was a gift from my spouse and has Smaug on the cover. It has no lines on the pages, because sometimes I need to sketch things in meetings. I prefer a resilient hard copy any day of the week, and flipping back the pages of the book has a certain feeling that technology can’t touch.

When SQL Server 2000 was released, Microsoft’s marketing claimed that the database server could look after itself. Of course this turned out to be false, and I was still working with 2000-era databases until quite recently. Marketing played nicely into my bank account, thank you.

However, the trend towards not having to manage databases is continuing apace. Azure SQL Database takes much of the administrative burden away so that most people who need a database can get one easily, without concerning themselves about maintenance tasks and how the data drive was formatted. Technology is getting better. It is adapting better to people.

Looking back on 2016, I recognize my only fondness for past eras of computing is borne by nostalgia. SQL Server 2016 is the best version of the stand-alone product. Azure SQL Database keeps getting new features so frequently that it obsoletes my blog posts, sometimes only days later.

I am looking forward to the new challenges this brings. I feel overwhelmed sometimes, but I know I’m not alone. There will always be performance issues, and database corruption, and customers not taking or testing their backups. I’ll find a gap there, and as for all the other stuff, I’ll keep learning.

If you would like to chat about this some more, feel free to contact me. I’ve taken a break on Twitter, but you can find me there at @bornsql , and I respond to direct messages.

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