older man giving career advice to group of younger workers

SQL Server Career Advice: What Would Your Older Self Tell Your Younger Self?

"Work smarter, not harder" my Dad used to say. What does that mean? An obvious example is to use the right tool for the job. How do you know what the right tool is? I say experience or the advice of someone trustworthy.

Job vs. Career

I get asked for advice all the time in various situations and tailor appropriately. But, since this is a SQL site, how about career advice? The first thing is to set the stage and recognize when someone is working a job or working on a career; the former is reactionary and the latter allows room for breathing and introspection and advice to filter through.

Related: Are You Prepared to Find Your Next SQL Server Job?

If you're living paycheck to paycheck, cannot imagine where you'll be in one, three or five years, and the thought of being in the same role at work makes you reach for the bottle, you are probably working a job and aren't at a point where career advice is going to help. Telling those scraping by to "Follow their heart" might get you a well-deserved cold shoulder. So, the rest of this blurb is for those who have a little breathing room.

Best Career Advice Received

What's the best career advice I ever received? Well, it didn't come from any one place, that's for sure. The first tidbit is probably "Run towards a goal, not away from something" and would be closely followed by "It's the same everywhere." Discouraging, no?

No! What this means is to ignore the little things that are the same everywhere—politics, personnel clashes, technical debt—focus on what matters, and work towards that. What "that" is will be different for each of us. If you're not happy now, don't blindly take the next "out." Instead, nail down why you're not fulfilled and seek out something that will alleviate that. I didn't feel like I could make a difference at a previous larger company so I moved to a smaller one. Working for a marketing team meant having the requirements changed by the hour; I moved to a team that supported long-term goals.

Take Advice From Those You Trust

Perhaps even more important is to take advice from those you trust even if you don't understand it. I've been on both ends of this one. Advice I might give: Please trust me when I tell you not to cluster on that GUID. Advice I was given: Build your savings. Clustered indexes and GUIDs I understand, but why I needed to build up my savings was beyond me for the longest time. As you can imagine, following both recommendations avoided a world of hurt down the road.

Related: Sharing SQL Server Knowledge and Secrets Helps Everyone

I mentioned in the beginning being reactionary. It's my nature to make snap decisions, snap judgments, and snap mistakes! Counting to 10 when something set me on high alert was never enough. I don't remember where I read it but now I count to 22 instead. Failing that, I bluntly say, "I'm pissed off right now. I'm going to go calm down and revisit this after I cool off." It works and I wish my early twenty-something self had taken it to heart and avoided a lot of embarrassment and bad judgment calls that hurt my career.

What's good career advice you've been given? Even more fun: What would your older self tell your younger self?

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