The R.E.S.T. for SUCCESS

[callout]This blog post is the third in a series that covers the four (4) things that you need to propel you towards success, both in business and in life. They were taken from my journal entries back in 2016.[/callout]

STORY

I can count the number of times that I’ve had the opportunity to spend real quality time with my dad. He’s lived in the US ever since I can remember. It’s one of the reasons I try to find opportunities to spend quality time with him.

Maybe it’s just my observation but I find that the older generation loves to talk. They talk about their experiences, their stories, their adventures, their successes (they don’t want to talk about their failures). Whether it’s my parents or the IT guy who’s about to retire in a few years, they really do love to talk. Do you agree?

As a consultant, I try my best to listen and take as much notes – mental or written – as I can. I ask a lot of questions – and a lot more follow-up questions. I listen to their stories, sometimes trying to understand the real meaning behind them. I listen to the stories behind the story. This conversation with my dad was no different.

I picked him up at his house to grab some lunch. It was raining really hard and his mobile phone was not working (and, in case you’re wondering, it wasn’t a smart phone). I figured this could be a great opportunity for meaningful conversations. As we head over to the food court, he started sharing stories about his experiences working for United Airlines. He was a pioneer in the Philippine airline industry despite the fact that he didn’t finish his engineering degree. You can tell that he’s street smart.

How an Electrical Tape Saved Flight UA872

A sip of his coffee was all he needed to get going. “Our family has a reputation for strong work ethic.” Curious as always, I asked what he meant. He recounted the story of flight UA872 in 1987. He worked graveyard shifts and just got home from work when the phone rang. His boss asked if he can fix an electrical issue that prevented flight UA872 from leaving Taipei. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was waiting for an update on the flight since it had been grounded for a day. They were about to impose a strict fine on United Airlines.

None of his colleagues could do it. The ground crew in Taipei couldn’t either. He thought they were just making excuses. For one, who would want to be on a 14-hour flight from San Francisco to Taipei and back just to fix an electrical issue? After a busy shift with no additional pay for the trip, there’s no motivation for anyone to take on the work.

Does this sound like your normal weekend oncall schedule?

But he obliged. He grabbed a cup of coffee and hopped on to the next UA flight to Taipei.

When he arrived at the scene, the Taipei ground crew explained the situation. He instructed one of the crew members to test some of the panels on the cockpit while he headed off to the right wing where the electrical issue was. Keep in mind, this was 1987. There were not a lot of instrumentation available on the cockpit back in those days. A few taps on the wires, several exchanges of instructions from the cockpit and he was able to figure out what the problem was. All he needed to fix the electrical issue that kept the plane grounded was – you guessed it – a roll of electrical tape. It took him less than 4 hours to fix the issue, considering that the plane had been grounded for almost two days with a potential fine from the FAA. He was then instructed to be on the cockpit on the flight back to San Francisco to monitor the issue.

I finally figured out where I got my troubleshooting skills from.

Stories Connect

You’ve probably noticed that my blog posts and presentations are mostly wrapped in stories. While other experts present facts and details about SQL Server, I tell stories. That’s because we humans are hard-wired to tell and listen to stories. Even before the TV was invented, stories dominated entertainment. We watch a movie and know instinctively whether or not the story is great. We grew up listening to stories. We laugh, we cry, we get angry – emotions are aroused. Stories make us human.

I’m not a natural storyteller. But I’m a natural story-collector, if there is such a thing. Until I realized how powerful stories are in making an impact. My very first PASS Summit presentation back in 2007 was intentionally framed with a story. I was scared because it was my very first presentation in North America and my very first time to tell a story in a presentation. And I have been doing it ever since.

In my consulting engagements, I tell stories of my other customers who used SQL Server 2016 feature X and feature Y to meet their business requirements. But beyond the factual stories of how they used the features, I tell the backstories of how they ended up implementing a solution. One of my favorites is why I don’t trust backups.

I tell the story of a payroll company who called me to fix a database corruption issue. The worst time to have a database disaster for a payroll company is a few days before payroll. Oh, and all of their backups were useless. For me, it’s no longer about fixing corrupted data pages or recovering as much data as I possibly can. It’s about that single mom who might not be able to pay the rent on time because payroll got delayed.

Or that SharePoint upgrade project that was scheduled for a cutover. It’s about the remittances that my fellow Filipinos overseas workers needed to send back home to pay for their children’s school tuition.

It’s amazing how we set aside differences when we can all relate to the story being told. Or how a project gets delivered on time because it mattered. You probably won’t remember everything that you’ve heard from a recent SQL Server presentation. But I can guarantee that you’ll remember a story you’ve heard from a few years ago.

Because stories do connect.

Boring: The Story Without The Struggle

I wished telling stories was easy. But it isn’t. Which is why I am still in the process of learning. I just finished reading the book Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield. Still learning, still exploring.

Every hero in a story has to have a struggle. And the struggle has to be real. Star Wars has Luke Skywalker. The Martian has Mark Watney. Passengers has Jim Preston and Aurora Lane.

And you thought my dad ended up being the hero in the story. He didn’t. After filing his expense report, he got reprimanded for a US$ 85 breakfast. Again, this was 1987. Considering inflation, this amounted to US$ 182 in 2016. He tried to explain. He couldn’t go outside of the hotel to grab something to eat because it was very early in the morning and flight US872 is scheduled to fly back to San Francisco before 6AM local time. Convenient stores were not that many in those days.

He got reprimanded for a US$ 85 breakfast. Despite the fact that he just saved United Airlines tens of thousands of dollars in possible FAA fines plus ground maintenance costs if the flight stayed longer in Taipei. US$ 85 seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the possible cost. But he got reprimanded nonetheless. He told his boss that he would never take on any remote assignments after that incident – even US domestic ones. He retired in 1997 and, to this day, still tell that story with disgust.

I listened with intent as he told his story, trying to find a similar theme from my own experience. Maybe you have yours. And maybe it is still bothering you.

That is the struggle. That’s what keeps our stories human – and exciting.

But struggles don’t need to stay as they are. The most compelling stories are the ones that change the hero – whether be it their behavior or their way of thinking.

Call to Action

Recall a story that made an impact in your life. Own that piece of your story. Tell it like someone is waiting to watch your biography on the big screen. Because someone is. It may feel awkward at first. But the more you practice telling your story to yourself, the more it feels natural.

It may well end up becoming your resume.

The R.E.S.T. for SUCCESS

[callout]This blog post is the second in a series that covers the four (4) things that you need to propel you towards success, both in business and in life. They were taken from my journal entries back in 2016.[/callout]

EMPATHY

 

From its simplest definition, empathy is the awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. While it feels really good when friends and family understand what we are going thru, this is very rare in our line of work. When the DBAs (Default Blame Acceptor) get blamed when an application runs really slow, when the project manager rushes to complete a task even when the engineers haven’t had a good night sleep, when the sales people promise the customer that anything and everything can be done, empathy seems to be a lost art in the IT world.
 
 
While doing some Always On Availability Group design work for a global travel company, I asked a very simple question that drove our entire conversation: “what’s your most challenging issue at the moment?” When I asked that question in a room full of smart engineers who read SQL Server memory dumps for lunch, I anticipated a somehow technical response. At the back of my mind, I was thinking “could it be the quorum configuration?” “Maybe the shared storage that their SQL Server FCIs used?” “Could it be the network connectivity between their production and DR data centers that affected their DR strategy?
 
 
One of the engineers whispered loud enough for me to hear, “work-life balance.” Now, I didn’t expect a non-technical response in a room full of highly technical people. But I knew exactly what he meant. I jokingly responded, “you’re not alone; I’m a recovering workaholic.
  
 
I shared stories about being called at 3 AM after having worked the prior weekend to fix a database availability issue. I told the story about asking one of my customers for a cold relief medicine on the second day of my 3-day onsite engagement because I had a SharePoint farm upgrade go-live scheduled immediately after. The sleepless weekends because I was the only scheduled on-call DBA, the missed family holidays because I’ve been on a 7-hour conference call with a customer to fix an issue, and many others that I know you can relate to. I can imagine you smirking just thinking about your own experiences.
  
 
I further asked for their personal stories. We spent our lunch breaks with the engineers sharing their experiences.
  
 
Guess what the main theme was of our Always On Availability Group design discussions?
  
 

Behind every technical problem is a struggling human being

  
 
I sketched a high-level design of the proposed infrastructure – a stretched, multi-site Always On Availability Group that will leverage Distributed Availability Groups in SQL Server 2016. Every design component circled back to the main theme: work-life balance. We wanted to design and implement the solution to minimize downtime – so we could avoid getting called at 3 AM to fix an availability issue. We tried our best to simplify the solution so that the operations engineers can quickly take over the care and feeding of the infrastructure after go-live. From quorum configuration to multiple network adapters, the availability and resiliency of the design architecture focused on what mattered to them: work-life balance.
  
 
 
The database engineering team listened not because I was the expert. They listened because they knew I cared. The fact that one of my good friends is their lead database engineer was a plus. They knew I understood their pain, they felt that I cared. Because I did.
  
 

Call to Action

  
 
I’ve made it a standard practice to find the human aspect behind every technical issue. It’s hard because, truth be told, we geeks would rather work with machines than humans. Isn’t this why we’re in this field in the first place? Computers are logical and rational; humans often times are not. Computers can be fixed; humans don’t want to be. But instead of being logical and rational, why not start with just being curious. Ask a lot of questions. Listen. Ask follow-up questions. As the late Dr. Stephen Covey once said, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find out and how easy it is to understand someone when you are curious.

The R.E.S.T. for SUCCESS

[callout]This blog post is the first in a series that covers the four (4) things that you need to propel you towards success, both in business and in life. They were taken from my journal entries back in 2016.[/callout]

 

When I went to my very first PASS Summit back in 2007, my goal was to learn as much as I can by attending as many sessions as I possibly can. I chose the sessions I wanted to see, prepared my schedule and set alarms on my phone so I won’t forget. I did the same for my very first Microsoft MVP Summit in the same year.

 

But I realized one very important thing. While I did not intentionally make the effort to meet people and develop relationships during those conferences, it was my experiences with people that I remember the most. I remember how Aaron Bertrand (Twitter | blog) made me feel welcome at my very first PASS Summit despite the fact that I wasn’t part of the “cool kids club” – I was a Windows Server MVP in a room full of SQL Server MVPs (Aaron thought that I intentionally let him win in a game of pool since people from the Philippines are known for being good at the game – I don’t even know how to play the game). I remember the hugs I got from the rest of the #SQLFamily the next year I was at the PASS Summit. I remember Geoff Hiten (Twitter | MVP Profile) helping me navigate the Microsoft campus in Redmond at my first MVP Summit.

 

These experiences made me rethink my strategy every time I attend events. I no longer attend events to learn something new. That’s the easy part. My priority when attending events is to meet people and develop new relationships. And this is “still” a huge struggle for me – I’m an introvert. But I do make the effort of going outside of my comfort zone to focus on people.

 

But don’t think this is all touchy-feely. Yes, meaningful relationships are important in our personal lives.  It enriches the emotional aspect of who we are as an individual.

 

It’s good for business

 

Yes, it’s also good for business…or your career, in general. Let me give you some personal examples.

 

It was at my first PASS Summit that I met Jeremy Kadlec, the other guy behind MSSQLTips.com. He gave me the opportunity to write articles for the site and has become instrumental in building my professional profile online. At some point, my paid articles helped me pay the bills when I was struggling financially.

 

It was at my first Microsoft MVP Summit that I met Adam Machanic (Twitter | blog). Remember, I wasn’t a SQL Server MVP back then and still living in Singapore. We spent time discussing potential opportunities to do work together. The next thing I know, I was on a plane to explore the next phase of my life and career in Ottawa, Canada. He made sure I got hired by this Ottawa-based company specializing in remote DBA services.

 

It was also at my very first PASS Summit that I met Dandy Weyn (Twitter | blog), worldwide technical lead for data platform for the office of the CTO at Microsoft. One of the smartest SQL Server geek I know who has both the technical and non-technical skills, he introduced me to some of the Microsoft partners and vendors that gave me the opportunity to do business with them. Those introductions were responsible for almost 60% of my revenue in 2016.

 

I could go on and on and list the valuable relationships I’ve made throughout the years. And while I don’t get to hang out with them on a regular basis (hey, we’re on different parts of the globe), I keep in touch thru Skype, email, social media or even phone calls. I make it a point to spend time with them when we’re attending the same events.

 

Do you want to know how practical this means to you? I bet you can identify a job opportunity or a consulting project you’ve had in the past that was a result of a relationship built over time.

 

Relational marketing

 

I think I’ve coined the term “relational marketing” back in 1999, I just don’t have the appropriate attribution for it 🙂 But I am a big believer of building and maintaining meaningful relationships. In fact, I share a very important concept that we can learn from databases on this:

 

 

This is the main reason why I limited registration for my online courses. Because I want to build meaningful relationships. I want to do business with people who consider me their friend. Because that’s how I believe businesses should be.

 

At the PASS Summit, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with those who registered for my online course. I’ve had coffee and meals with them, listened to their stories, watched their PASS Summit presentations, laughed at their jokes, shared their pains and cheered their successes. Same thing at the Microsoft MVP Summit.

 

Overall, I’ve received and given more hugs and high fives in those two weeks than on any other given week of the year.

 

RELATIONSHIPS

 

It’s the R in R.E.S.T. You can’t succeed in life if you don’t develop and maintain meaningful relationships. In fact, if you trace back the major events in your life, I’m sure it was made possible by someone who you have a relationship with – both personally and professionally.

 

Can you guess what the E stands for?

The Problem with Waiting for the Hot Water

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Here’s another one of those things I knew nothing about before moving to North America: showering with hot water. When it’s hot and humid, the last thing I want is to shower with water that’s even hotter than my cup of coffee. That’s why you rarely see hot water heaters installed in showers found in tropical countries. Heck, we like our water cold – except for coffee.

Not so much when you have below freezing temperatures for more than three months in a year. A hot water shower in North America is a necessity.

You turn on the hot water for about a minute or two – sometimes even longer – before you step inside the shower.  You wait. Until the water is hot enough for you to enjoy. And, then, you take a shower.

We do the same thing in life. We wait for the perfect opportunity, the right circumstances, the comfortable conditions.

The good book has something to say about this.

Some people wait until everything is perfect before they make things happen. Other make things happen even when things seem to be imperfect.

Which one are you?

And, BTW, jumping in the shower when the water is cold is not such a bad idea. It gets me in a high energy state. I don’t do it often, though.

The Snow Blowing Machine

Winter in North America involves shoveling snow. Being born and raised in a tropical country, I had no clue about how to deal with this cold, crushed ice-like substance falling from the sky. Until I had to clear my driveway so I can get my car out of the garage.

Watching other people dealing with the snow in their driveway, I notice something. Many (including me) use a shovel to clear the snow. We endure the freezing cold weather to remove snow from our driveway – chipping off ice formations and pouring salt –  just so we can get on with our day. A few have snow blowers, a gas- or electric- powered machine that will suck snow from one area (in my case, the driveway) and direct it to another area.

Guess who gets the most out of their winter mornings?

It’s those with the snow blower. Those using shovels would take hours to clear their driveway while those with snow blowers can be done in minutes. It doesn’t matter how skillful you can be with clearing snow on your driveway – you’re still using a shovel. Your ability to enjoy a hot cup of coffee in your breakfast table on a chilly winter morning is hindered by that one thing: the shovel.

But then I noticed one more thing: a horizontal stick with a name and phone number placed at the end of a driveway. It’s from a snow removal company and every driveway that has the stick gets serviced. No more shoveling nor clearing the snow using a snow blower. The snow removal company will do it for you. Then they will do it for other people in the neighborhood.


As technology professionals, we get so caught up with “our shovel.” It’s the skill that we worked hard to learn, the tool that we prefer to use, the mindset that we carry around with us. We get so comfortable with “our shovel” that we forget there are better ways to do things.

  • the operations engineer who would rather handle tickets than analyze what caused them in the first place
  • the database administrator who would rather deal with failed jobs and backups than learn analytics
  • the developer who would rather write code than properly communicate with the team and present his ideas
  • the senior engineer who would rather design systems than learn leadership principles and accept the promotion

Becoming really good at using “our shovels” is not the issue. It’s believing that “our shovels” are the ultimate goal. I think it’s because we feel a sense of significance, knowing that we are really good at something. Or maybe because we are afraid of trying out new things and feel like a beginner all over again.

Is your shovel holding you back?

P.S. My shovel is still in my basement and a snow removal company is clearing the snow on my driveway. I now have the extra time to work on possibly starting another company.