Month: December 2022

The Year That Was That Wasn’t

The Year That Was That Wasn’t

Trigger warning: suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety

In the spring of 2019 I was inches and seconds away from jumping off a bridge in New York City. In fact, were it not for Jason Isbell’s “Hope the High Road” playing in my earbuds at a very fortuitous moment, there is a very good chance you would not be reading this post. This is not where the story begins (or ends) but it sets important context for the rest of this post.

“But wherever you are I hope the high road leads you home again…”

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Hope the High Road”

There are many negative things about the blurring of the work/life boundary for people that work in technology. That blurring had been building for a while but COVID accelerated it (due to a massive shift towards working at home) and brought with it a mountain of additional stressors as well. If there is one semi-positive thing from all of this, it’s that so many in our industry have been much more open about the mental health struggles they are experiencing. It is in that spirit that I share my experiences in this post.

By most outside measures, I have nothing to be unhappy about. I’ve co-authored two books in the last two years, I’ve been awarded a Microsoft MVP designation five years running, my health is reasonably good, and I occasionally get to drive race cars and live out a childhood dream. I’ve been fortunate to have good jobs I liked with teams I liked and, when those became detrimental to my health due to their pace and hours, I’ve been fortunate to find new jobs (with no interruption) that were better suited to my career goals and personal health yet were still at great companies with people I liked. Despite that, my mental health has been a significant struggle for years. I never made time for understanding or treating it and, as a result, that struggle has grown more intense in the last three years since that night on that bridge.

I started taking meaningful steps to address those struggles in the middle of 2021 by looking for a therapist via my insurance company’s provider portal. This launched a frustrating series of phone calls to offices that didn’t exist, were no longer on that insurance plan, or no longer employed that provider. I eventually found one provider who would take my insurance and was reasonably close to my house but, in those few visits, I learned that not only did he not keep good notes on my situation and the things I was telling him but he was accidentally telling me things about other patients because he thought I was them. The office was dreadfully disorganized. I stopped seeing him but they certainly did not stop sending the bills for the visits. I was back at square one.

That time back at square one was marked by increased depression and continuing (and increasing) anxiety attacks that made it a struggle to even convince myself to get out of bed some days. During many of those I couldn’t summon the strength or calm needed to drive a car (and those with even a cursory knowledge of me publicly know how much I love driving cars) or do basic tasks around the house. I could often successfully suppress this to perform at work (turns out even my topsy-turvy brain thinks getting fired is a pretty bad idea) but had stretches of days where I accomplished nothing outside of my professional obligations because I simply couldn’t will myself to do anything else.

I restarted therapy in late 2021 with a local friend that I have known for years in other contexts. She takes a more holistic approach to identifying triggers, conditioning, and deep-seated beliefs that may manifest in things like depression, anxiety, and other issues. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made and I encourage all my readers to pursue the types of treatments that they feel best suit them, holistic or otherwise, if you are experiencing issues similar to mine. Don’t give up if your initial attempts prove fruitless and frustrating.

I also took to heart Eugene Meidinger’s (b | t) wonderful “How I Deal with Depression” presentation from SQLBits 2022. Among many helpful bits of advice was a discussion of how he uses the app Daylio as a bit of a daily mood tracker that provides data to analyze over the months and years. I haven’t missed a day since downloading it after SQLBits and it’s proved valuable and complementary to the work I’ve been doing with my therapist.

You may be reaching the end of this post and wondering what the title, “The Year That Was That Wasn’t”, means. When I look around parts of my house, it looks like I’m stuck in a time warp. There are projects and gadgets and things that haven’t moved all year because I’ve been struggling with my mental health and taking care of myself. Despite some wonderful professional and personal moments in the last year, in many ways it feels like I’ve done nothing and I’m surrounded by the casualties of my chaotic mind.

But, as my therapist says, I am “still showing up for myself”. I am still here. You’re still here too. That’s not nothing. If you’re reading this and experiencing nothing like what I’ve described, I’m grateful for that. Hopefully you can use this post as motivation to check in on your friends, even the ones who “seem fine”. If you’re reading this and it is resonating with you, feel free to reach out to me and connect. I wish you peace and strength and whatever you need to make each day a little better than the last.

With that, I’m closing the book on 2022 with a renewed commitment to help myself and help others in 2023. Thanks for reading – maybe this year will be better than the last.

Shaking Hands and Broken Demos – My First Presentation

Shaking Hands and Broken Demos – My First Presentation

When I got into consulting in late 2015 I was fortunate to have Brad Ball (@sqlballs on Twitter) as my first manager. At the time, our company required their consultants to do at least one presentation (webinar or in-person) per quarter to get the company’s name (and the consultant’s name) out there to help drive business. While I was thrilled to get into consulting, I was terrified to begin public speaking. I stuttered when I was younger (and sometimes as an adult) and that had led me to avoid any remote possibility of having to speak to a room full of people. While I now give a session about that part of my journey, the speaking requirement was terrifying to me at that point in time. Were it not for Brad’s kind and patient guidance as I put together that first session I likely would never have gone through with it and gone to find a different job. I am so glad I did not.

When that first presentation (on Always On Availability Groups in SQL Server) was completed and delivered via company webinar, it then came time to find in-person opportunities to deliver the session. The Louisville, KY user group was a natural first option as I live about an hour east in Lexington. At the time, if memory serves, the user group was run by Chris Yates (@yatessql on Twitter) and John Morehouse (@sqlrus on Twitter). If memory doesn’t serve and I’m wrong about that, it is because of the abject terror I was experiencing as presentation day crept closer! What I’m definitely not wrong about is what Chris and John have given back to the community and, ultimately, how helpful they were to me on presentation day and ever since.

If you are not familiar with Always On Availability Groups, it’s fair to say that demoing them from a laptop is quite complicated. There is a Windows cluster involved, some intricate networking, and a few VMs running SQL Server. In addition, there were some resources that needed to be spun up in a very particular order. I had practiced my demos over and over again and they were working flawlessly. I was still terrified but knew at least the demos would be sound even if I bungled my presentation. I pointed the car west to Louisville and started on my way.

During my presentation, I think I may have broken every rule of public speaking. My hands were shaking so, except for a bit of typing, I gripped the sides of the podium so tightly I’m surprised I didn’t tear them off. I’m pretty sure I looked down at my computer or back at the screen (or both) to see my slides. I don’t think I read them verbatim but my memory of that is blurry to say the least. I knew I could rely on the soundness of my demos but, with all my nerves, I hadn’t spun up the various VMs in the correct order, which broke one of the network links, which broke all my demos. I figured out what I did on the ride home – but that was far too late.

I tell this story to say this to new speakers – I messed up in almost every conceivable way. I broke a lot of “the rules” of public speaking and technical speaking. Were it not for kind people encouraging me and pointing out that people still learned about a topic they didn’t know much about, my speaking career may have ended there. But there are many of us who owe a debt of gratitude to people like Brad, Chris, and John (and so many others in our community). We’re here to help, we’re here to encourage, and we’re walking proof of how getting involved in the data platform community can change your career arc and your life. If you’re interested in speaking, an event like New Stars of Data (run by the incomparable Ben Weissman and William Durkin) is the perfect way to start speaking. If you’re nervous – it’s ok! So many of us are here to help. Happy holidays, readers, and take care of yourself.