I Don’t Care Who You Are



This is a story about a SQL Server database administrator (DBA) I hired many years ago. I am no longer with that company and names have been changed. Except mine 🙂


This is also a post for T-SQL Tuesday #93 and the series is called Interview Patterns & Anti-Patterns and it is hosted by Kendra Little. Thanks Kendra!

Interview Process

At this particular office, we had a need for a full-time DBA. One of our datacenters was also nearby.

My process was to get candidates from recruiters, conduct phone screens, and if they sounded like a good candidate, to bring them in and conduct a two-part interview. Part 1 would just be talking- background, resume items, war stories, SQL knowledge and wisdom. Part 2 would be hands-on technical. I would spin my laptop around and with SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) launched, have them tell me about the instance it was connected to. I would then ask a series of questions to demonstrate their level of hands-on technical chops. From there if they did well, they would come back in later and meet the rest of the IT team and then a final decision would be made as to extend an offer to hire them or pass.

Enter Stage Right

I had been through a lot of candidates via phone screen and had some come in for an in-person interview. Some people talked a good game but then bombed on the technical hands-on part. I think I made several people nervous when I said, “Don’t screw anything up, this is a production server you are connected to.” While that was true, I really wasn’t trying to scare them but it does show a certain level of confidence and maturity when you can keep your cool. DBA(s) need to be able to handle pressure, stress, being tired and still be able to function in a cool, calm, and collected manner.

Agent 003 was waiting for me at the reception desk to the IT area. I got there, reached out to shake his hand and he smiled and grabbed me with his left hand and gave it a solid shake. I looked down and noticed he didn’t have a right arm- he had a prosthetic.

Now the job description listed the usual be able to lift 70 lbs stuff but I was more interested in his brain and skills and not in his physical abilities.

I began to think about how is he going to type on my laptop? Do I need to get him a full-sized keyboard? Any other assistance devices? It had never occurred to me that I need to be able to accommodate somebody like this. Surprise! He typed just as fast as I did but with only one hand.

Agent 003 passed with flying colors both parts of the interview, met the crew, offered him a job, and he accepted!

Personal Observation

I don’t care who you are. Can you do the job? I don’t care if you are a reformed, one-eyed, one-horn, flying purple people eater https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Purple_People_Eater, provided of course that people are friends, not food.

Maybe sometime in the future when the kids have graduated college and I can go back to school full-time I want to work on career 2.0 – becoming a neuroscientist. So I enjoy reading about the mind and the brain. For example, one book that I read (The Brain That Changes Itself) http://amzn.to/2hGtmp7 and he’s also recently published another one on the same subject of neuroplasticity- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity

Up until ~30 years ago, scientists believed our brains are hard-wired at a certain age and that the brain does not significantly change after that. Well, sometimes scientists are dead wrong. So I knew that Agent 003’s brain, besides being an awesome DBA, was able to cope and adapt to probably anything the job might require of him. The human brain is an amazing machine and it is capable of re-wiring itself in new and sometime marvelous ways.

The other point I want to make is that all of us are getting old. It will not be too long before we are wheeling around in Ferrari wheelchairs or exoskeletons or some other contraption. As long as we have our brains intact and can communicate with the world, we can perform useful work. I’ll talk about my vision for teleoperation/telerobotics and drones another time.

So I don’t care who you are, what you look like, etc.- my only concern is can you do the job.

Hired and Dinner

Shortly after Agent 003 accepted the job, I returned to go over job responsibilities, daily tasks, future projects, expectations and the like and I took him out to dinner.

We went to Texas de Brazil, an incredible Brazilian steak house. This is not a place for vegetarians 🙂

So we are enjoying our cornucopia of lots of different kinds of tasty meats when Agent 003 says, “Todd, you are probably wondering about my right arm.”

“Well, yes I am. I figured you would bring it up at some point.”

“My father was very religious growing up and he caught me masterbaiting.”

I kicked back in my seat, rolled my head back and just busted out laughing, really loud. I felt all kinds of eyeballs on me from the other patrons but I didn’t care. That was the best deadpan delivery I had ever heard.

If I remember right, he worked on an offshore oil rig and his arm got caught in a chain. They couldn’t get him to proper medical attention immediately and he ended up losing his arm 😦

We enjoyed the rest of the night and he was one of the best DBA(s) I have ever known. His sense of humor, technical chops, working with difficult people were second to none.

So in closing, just focus on people’s brains and skills that pay the bills. I don’t care who you are or what you look like. Can you do the job?

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Hard to Admit Academic Failures- Here Is Mine

The original post which inspired myself and others to respond: https://ozar.me/2017/06/i-failed-13-college-courses/

And now, an expanded version of my response.

My academic career began in the mid-70’s. Some of my earliest memories of TV reporters were of Walter Cronkite wearing his horn-rimmed glasses and talking about the Vietnam War.

At that time, the Space Race had become routine too. It seemed like nobody cared about the relative and regular miracle of access to space. I grew up wanting to be an astronaut/scientist. But I had a fear of Math.

My dad was an engineer at the time so I grew up watching him explain things in terms that I could understand and building stuff together.

An aside, my grandfather (his dad) was the coolest person I knew. Grandpa had a Caterpillar D4 bulldozer, ’56 Ford Dump truck, machine shop (I love the smell of a machine shop to this day), welding equipment, other tools & equipment and a host of semi-finished/unfinished projects.

He had the largest hands of a human you had ever seen. He dropped out of school in the 8th grade and had to start working to support his family. With his hands.

Even to this day I will never forget his immortal words, “Todd, once you get your smarts, no one can take them away from you.”

Grandpa and Grandma (and my dad and his sister too) grew up from folks who faced the Great Depression, also known as The Greatest Generation.

For this post, I just want to focus on some of my academic exploits. But I also want folks to have some kind of context of who I am and where I came from.

I was identified as gifted and talented (GT) I think in the 4th grade. I took my first in-person IQ test at that time. This guy had a stopwatch and he asked all kinds of questions. I did the best that I could.

I got into a GT program at a public school at that time. It was intense, lots of experiences and lots of reading.

Later we had to move and that kind of threw a wrench into things. By the time I reached high school (HS), I was still really smart but had NO study skills.

So I coasted through HS and graduated with Honors. I remember but don’t have a picture handy of my 18th birthday cake. It actually said “UT or Bust”.

Went to UT at Austin… Then the wheels feel off. I partied too much. And it cost me dearly. Sometime I will get my transcript from that time but I got a few F’s that first semester.

Second semester, I was really in bad shape. And then even more bad news. During Spring Break, I went back home and my parents and I had decided that college was becoming a huge waste of money and I was not doing what I needed to be doing.

So I needed to drop all of my classes. UNFORTUNATELY!!! The last day to drop classes w/o a GPA hit was the day BEFORE Spring Break. So I went into the office, begged and pleaded but was told their hands were tied.

I was going to get 5 F’s for that semester. If any of you want to compute your freshman cumulative GPA for 5 courses with 0.0 for a semester, go ahead.

I was mentally crushed. There was no hope for me to EVER return back to college with that milestone around my neck. I had let down my parents, myself, and all hopes and dreams of being the first grandkid to get a college degree.

My grandparents were disappointed with me. Not one of their grandkids had ever gone to a major college and here I was, their first best chance, and I blew it.

After my health began to slowly return, I applied for whatever jobs I could do. I began pumping gas at a full-service gas station. Remember full-service gas stations??? Yes, I’m old.

My habits were hard to shake off and I fell into a group of “friends” who loved to party too. I got fired from that job. Shortly thereafter I began working at Discount Tire.

Let me say this- I LOVE Discount Tire. I love the smell of tires. It is the smell of money and of hard, back-breaking work. So I began my blue-collar career in earnest.

After a while, I began to put 2 + 2 together. I knew some folks in the late 80’s making over $150k/year managing a high-traffic store. But if one got stuck with a low-volume store as a store manager, well then you just had to deal with it.

Anyway, I started going to church again and taking college classes at night. I hated taking classes after work. I smelled like a tire with a fresh coat of Right Guard and colonge. So embarassed.

Started to get some good grades and decided I didn’t want to change tires the rest of my life. So I talked to Mom and Dad about moving back in (I had moved out a while ago into my own apartment) and wanted to go back to school full-time and finish what I had started.

“As long as there is no partying. And if you get any bad grades? You’re done and you are out of here. Understand?”, “Yes Sir!”

So with a chip on my shoulder, I moved from Plano back to Houston and went to the Admissions Office at the University of Houston (UH). Now, understand when I was in High School, folks would kinda look down on UH as “that” school you could ALWAYS go to if one couldn’t get into a better school.

The admissions counselor pulled up my transcript from UT and Richardson (in Dallas) and gave me the grim news. “I’m sorry Mr. Kleinhans, but you do not meet the minimum requirement for admission to UH.”

I’m like, “WHAT??? That UT thing was FIVE years ago! I’ve grown up and I know and respect the value of time and money!”

“The numbers are the numbers. You can take some classes at Houstom Community College (HCC) and pull up your GPA. Once you can do that, we’ll talk again. In about 1.5 years if things go well for you.”

I quit my full-time, decent paying job and moved back in with Mom and Dad for this??? I sucked in my pride, picked up my chip, and started the slow climb out of GPA Hell.

Good news was that I was able to continue working for a local Discount Tire store so I changed tires all through school and paid my way through.

Went to HCC for 1.5 years (where I did great at Math. What is fear? False Evidence Appearing Real) and then applied and got accepted to UH. I was so excited! Sad news- my Grandfather died during my first semester at UH. I was devastated. For a few weeks, I was unable to think straight. His death hit me really hard.

During all of this I had met my future wife and without her I don’t think I could have made it. She is STILL my best friend and the only reason I didn’t just drop out from school and stick with something I knew- grind away changing tires.

Finally got a BBA in Marketing from UH. I just wish I didn’t have a nagging fear of math as that prevented me from enrolling in any computer science classes. Dumb on my part.

Got married, bounced around a few jobs, moved to Colorado, bought a house, started a family, joined the U.S. Navy Reserve when I turned 30, and began working on a Master’s degree. Finally finished in 2003 with a Masters of Information Systems from the University of Colorado at Denver (dang, that’s a lot of words 🙂 and that story is another tale of trials and tribulations.

And here we are today! I am now looking to transitioning from being a database adminstrator to a data scientist. Wiser and WAY more mature now and I have no fear of math anymore 🙂

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