Fellow IDERA ACE Mohammad Darab (b | t) presents this month T-SQL Tuesday blog party and the topic is absolutely wonderful for an introspective introvert like me: “Dear 20 Year Old Self”. Seeing as I am 40 years of age as I write this, 20 year old me existed in 1999 which was, thankfully, referred to in the Prince song that the title of this post references (I was getting desperate for a title). 20 year old me thought he had it all figured out, so I thank Mohammad for the opportunity to set 1999 Matt straight. Without further ado, here’s the letter to 20 year old me…
Greetings, 1999 Matt! Congrats on the sweet 8 GB hard drive you just bought. In 20 years, even the free thumb drives you get at conferences where you’re speaking (crazy I know, but we’ll get to that) will be larger than that and you’ll have a phone with 32x that amount of storage. Also, Clemson will have won two national championships in college football but not with Tommy Bowden (who you are very excited Clemson just hired but wasn’t the answer to our championship drought). In some ways, the future is pretty cool. But I’m not here to damage the space time continuum or give you a leg up in the NCAA championship future pools in Vegas. I’m here to give you advice. Here it is in semi-bulleted form since I still like that format and know you like it too:
Don’t Be So Dogmatic
You think you have it all figured out right now. While that confidence can be healthy and may serve you well off and on in the future, you’re wrong about a lot of things. Your world is small. Most of the people you know look like you and have similar experiences to your own. That’s fine, but seek out people from different backgrounds who can broaden your horizons. They will enrich your life and make you a better person. You are capable of critical thinking – apply that ability to examine the world and people around you and make the choices that make sense to you. Those choices may not be preferred by the people and structures around you but as your horizons expand your self-confidence will come from your comfort with yourself and your place in the world and not what you think you know. Make an effort to be a good person and present in the lives of those around you – being “right” doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think.
Learn More About Data
You think you are going to be an application developer when you grow up. You’re currently working your way through Clemson as a part-time general IT person but you really have no exposure to a database at all. If somebody submits an Access or Oracle ticket to the help desk, take it and run with it. Before you know it, much of the technical world will revolve around data. Those with the ability to understand, visualize, and explain where that data came from, why it’s important, and the value it can add will be in high demand and compensated fairly decently for their knowledge and adaptability in a rapidly changing world. You already know about as much C and C++ as you will ever need in the future, but take every data-related course you can take even if you think it’s beyond you. All the knowledge you absorb about data and data structures will be very important to you in the future.
You will work with new languages and platforms nearly all the time 20 years from now. Learn how to learn and learn how to study now and you’ll be in a good position once you graduate (yes, you do graduate eventually). And, no, your GPA really doesn’t matter so don’t stress about the letter grades.
Trust Those That Believe In You
Those friends of yours that believed in you enough to put you in charge of a student newspaper saw something in you that you didn’t see in yourself. They saw somebody who could represent an organization not just in writing but in person. Sure, you may stutter or stumble over a sound or letter now and then – so what?
When you were paralyzed with fear to speak in front of any group of people, no matter how large, you needed to take that challenge head on instead of finding every excuse to hide in the corner and stay quiet. Fear of embarrassment held you back for a long time and cost you opportunities. Your friends believed in you despite the flaws you perceived in your “public persona”. You’ll eventually find people in your professional life who share the belief in you that those crazy college friends of yours had and those colleagues will change your life. They will set you on a path to work and speak to audiences all over the world about what you do with data and how you can help them in their work and it will be fantastic. Don’t wait 17 years to take to heart the belief that others have in you even when you may profoundly lack that belief in yourself.
Have a good one, 1999 Matt! The next twenty years contain some very cool things and do whatever you can to remember those things and share them with those around you. You’ll also end up really liking soccer, so be prepared for that.