Pragmatic Transition: Lighthouses and Shipwrecks

Sometimes your mistakes are the greatest lessons...

This is the next post in my series about transitioning from a DBA to a BI consultant for Pragmatic Works. This post is a particularly sensitive one as it pertains to a lesson I had to learn the hard way. My hopes are that by writing and publishing this maybe you can spare yourself or someone else from making the same mistakes. This post is basically to teach one thing: Sometimes you’re a lighthouse, shining your light and showing people the way to safety. The lighthouse is steady and helps others through with a clear message and action. The other half is the shipwreck. Sometimes seeing the wrecks on the rocks gives others a warning about what NOT to do in a given situation. Throughout your life you will probably play both roles many times. For me, in this particular situation, I’m playing the role of shipwreck.

Before I begin let me quickly set the stage for my current position in life. For the last few years I’ve been a SQL Server DBA in shops where I was pretty much the only one. Due to this, along with very lenient bosses, I was allowed to leverage social networking on a daily basis. If you follow me on Twitter then you know I tend to tweet more than any human being should a lot. I’ve come to think of the network of fellow SQL professionals on Twitter as my extended DBA team. I would consume tons of knowledge via conversations, monitoring (and participating) in the #sqlhelp channel, reading blog posts and checking out all the various webcasts and events. This was before taking on the role of a consultant.

As a consultant you have to remember one thing: you’re no longer on YOUR time, you’re on your CLIENT’S time. When someone hires you the expectation is that you’re there to do a job and focus on that job. When you deviate from that, especially on a public platform like social networking sites, the perception is that you’re using up their time. And by using up their time, I mean wasting it. While I may be working hard on whatever client work I’m doing, yet tweeting throughout the day, the perception is that I’m not really working and my focus isn’t where it should be. Even if I scheduled every single tweet throughout the day the perception is still the same, and this is the key: perception is reality. That being the case, the “reality” I was broadcasting by tweeting all the time (as a consultant) is that I was not busy, not focused and to some extent not caring about my client. While none of these are true the fact is I should’ve been more cognizant of the perception I put out to the public, and for that I apologize to the community as a whole.

So now what do we do? Well, we move forward and learn! I now understand a little better what’s expected of me in my new role. The beauty of mistakes is it gives us a chance to learn from them. The important part of mistakes is that you DO learn from them and most importantly: MOVE ON! Mistakes happen. Not only do they happen, they happen to everyone. What matters is how you deal with it and move forward. A really great example of a shipwreck-turned-lighthouse would be a recent situation with Brent Ozar (Blog | Twitter) and his business partnership at SQLSkills. You can read the saga here, here and here. Brent’s public dealing with his situation also helped inspire this post. He took what could have percieved as a terrible situation and turned around and made it a fantastic learning opportunity for anyone looking to pursue a similar partnership in the future. He turned a shipwreck into a lighthouse!

Just remember if you make a mistake that it’s okay. Stuff happens. It’s how we deal with those mistakes that matters in the end. How about you? Have you had a shipwreck/lighthouse moment? Share your stories in the comments!

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17 thoughts on “Pragmatic Transition: Lighthouses and Shipwrecks”

    1. Thanks. Yeah the radio silence is kind of for my own good for the time being. Once I get into a rhythm for consulting life I can work social media back in. Unfortunately I have an addictive personality so I tend to go overboard sometimes. This exercise is best way for me to temper down and find a balance.

  1. Nice analogy. As a fellow consultant I’ve had to learn to avoid using Twitter or any other social media or phone app as well. As you mentioned, it is all about the perception. A 2 to 5 second tweet may seem harmless, but 5 or more of them during the day may be perceived as obstructive and to some people annoying and even rude, especially when they are paying you to be there. In other companies, it may even be against their security policies.

    My only shipwreck that has turned into a lighthouse has been assuming what a customer wants based on my interpretation of the written documentation. Half-way through the engagement either my interpretation was not correct or customer was re-defining the scope as we went forward. The morale of this was as you mentioned also, this stuff happens, and your ability to identify it as it happens, apply corrective actions and steer away from what seems to become a shipwreck is what makes you a better professional.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Thanks for comments and sharing, Jose! You’re absolutely right in that actions like that could very well written policy as well. It’s funny how something as a few tweets can seem like no big deal to you but looks very different from a different point of view. Perceptions, gotta love em!

  2. This is something I’ve always struggled with. I just don’t turn on Twitter while I’m at client sites. I sure feel left out at times but it’s always been the safest choice.

    1. Yup, Twitter is addicting due to the great stuff you can get out of it but it can quickly become a distraction. There’s alternatives for those who don’t want to/can’t weigh in “real-time” with tools like Twitter for Busy People (http://t4bp.com/index.html) but I think that takes away from the experience in interacting with folks. Social media is definitely changing the landscape of how we work and it’s a tricky balancing act to figure out.

  3. Great article, Jorge. The fear of how I would be perceived in the workplace was paralyzing for me. Rather than find the balance or rather than get a definite confirmation as to how much social media is acceptable(during or even after work hours)–I took the “better safe than sorry” road. I chose to just stay 90% quiet. I don’t think I approached it right–but it’s comforting to know that the fear wasn’t totally unfounded. I am also sure there are others out there who think it’s only the truth or reality that matters. My younger self agrees ;) But this article is a good reminder to be cognizant of perception. To not deal with it is unrealistic. :)

    Thank you for sharing…and nice job dealing with the issue.

  4. Great post, as always, Jorge!

    Social media and careers in 2011 – a paradox to be sure. You can build your qualifications for a career using social media, and then something like this can happen. Everyone reading your words understands you learned from this experience… Did your client learn anything?

    Andy

    1. Thanks Andy! Yup it’s funny how sometimes the best lessons are learned the hardest way possible. I think lessons have been learned all around so it’s a win-win ;-)

  5. Very well described and appreciate you being open with your struggles. This is an interesting situation on the job but another area I think is important to consider is at home. So to any of you that are parents out there as I am remember when it’s time to be a parent it’s sort of like they are your client. Seeing way to many parents on the smart phones while their kids are beating each other over the head with a toy. Put the smart phone down and play a game, put a puzzle together, or just talk with your kids or coworkers for that matter.

    1. Thanks Keith! Funny you mention that, in a recent mailing list I’m on there was a very long and awesome conversation about working from home and having a good work/life balance amongst other things. Very good point though, this kind of lesson does extend beyond the workplace.

  6. Losing the chicken would be worse.
    A phenix needs ashes to revive.
    As you stated “Learning from mistakes is the most important”.

    1. Haha thanks Johan! Don’t worry, the Chicken’s not going anywhere. Once my one month Twitter hiatus is done I’ll be back on during the day but my activities will probably be limited to lunch hour and occasional community activity promotion. I’m always available via email or this blog as well so feel free to hit me up anytime!

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