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Total Recall

This is the final entry in my #SQLNewBlogger challenge. You can read the previous entries here:

Part 1: The Intersection of Art and Science
Part 2: The Art of Improvisation
Part 3: What Motivates You?

One of the biggest challenges in an actor’s life is learning lines. Only some actors are good at it (I am not one of them), thus many techniques exist to assist them to memorise words created by someone else.

In 2006, while working on a 150-day project to migrate a bank’s management reporting systems (or “Business Intelligence”, as the cool kids were calling it) from SQL Server 2000 to 2005, we had to learn a lot of new ways to do things.

Microsoft has been good to us by including a lot of features and behaviours to maintain backward compatibility, but in most cases, it is a good idea to learn the new ways. This also helps you on your career to becoming a Senior DBA. It all comes down to continually learning new stuff, to remain skilled and relevant.

During the course of that 150-day project, I arrived at work one morning, had my coffee from the company canteen with the team, and then sat at my desk to write some T-SQL. I realised I could not remember the ALTER keyword.

Not only had I forgotten the ALTER keyword, but I also could not remember how to look for it. As I recall, eventually I right-clicked on a stored procedure and chose “Modify”. It was the longest ten seconds of my life.

I have never forgotten that keyword since. And why would I? It was a curious moment in my already established career working with SQL Server.

As an actor, I’ve never been good at learning lines quickly. It is why I was replaced, in junior primary, as a lead in the school play. More recently, shooting a television commercial, we had to do sixteen takes to get my lines correct on film. Even then, the director made me do pick-ups afterwards just in case.

One particularly memorable play I was in, had a tricky script where the character’s lines would repeat. Naturally, during opening night in front of a paying audience, I got stuck in a loop and could not for the life of me remember the right exit line.

Just as I was beginning to panic, Eskom, South Africa’s now-famous-for-the-wrong-reasons electrical supplier, decided to cut power in the general vicinity of the community hall in which the play was being performed.

Unlike in 2015, where they now have backup generators and the show must go on, we refunded the tickets, asked everyone to come back for the following performance, and I was comfortably able to get through that section when we did the play again. It was the longest week of my life.

The only way for me to get my lines down is to practise them, over and over again. I recently learned a new technique, based in immersive scene study, to predict the shape or idea of the lines, and that helps.

But as with working in the SQL Server sphere, or anything else in life for that matter, if you do not practise, and don’t do the work, you will forget, no matter how good your memory is.

Just as I did with the ALTER keyword and the psychotic play, make sure you have a fallback plan. I don’t mean for you to sabotage the electrical grid or kick out the power cable from your server. I want you to keep in mind that there is something beyond Books Online or MSDN. I’m talking about Twitter, and specifically #sqlhelp.

A community of people exists to help you do better. That is why #SQLNewBlogger even exists. We are in this together. The SQL Family sticks together. Join up with Twitter if you have not already, and start interacting with the community.

Visit a user group in your area, or start one if it does not exist. Attend a SQLSaturday (they are free!). Volunteer at a SQLSaturday event. If you have the resources available, attend the annual SQL PASS Summit and network with other like-minded folks. Participate and learn. Keep your skills sharp, and share your knowledge with other community members. Every bit counts.

(In memory of Larry Toothman, a.k.a. @IowaTechBear.)