Year 5: May 2018 – May 2019


In my last few posts, I’ve walked down memory lane, and talked about a ton of great successes I’ve had in my five years as blogger & speaker. It’s been fun to reminisce about how far I’ve come and brag about some success. Today’s post has a bit of a different theme.

Failure is always an option

At SQL Saturday Columbus 2018, I recorded a super fun video with Bert Wagner (blog|twitter|YouTube), Drew Furgiuele (blog|twitter), and Erin Stellato (blog|twitter) about our SQL Fails. Bert was hosting our “talk show” and Erin, Drew, and myself told some stories about DBA failures. I told a very real story of my first “oh sh**” failure from early in my career, which turned into a learning moment for me. I blogged that story here, and you can watch the video on Bert’s site.

In Year Five, I took a risk

In July, I wrote that I was hanging up my DBA cleats, and becoming a Product Manager. It was an exciting opportunity to do something new, to have the ability to shape a product I’d been using for years. I knew that it was a big change, and any big change comes with an associated risk. DBAs, in particular, are risk-averse people focused on keeping the world running, and generally that aversion to risk extends to our lives outside databases. We think things like “Heck, I’ve got a mortgage to pay. I’m not going to gamble with my career.” But there’s a saying that you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take…you can’t win the bet if you don’t place it.

I thought I’d give it a shot.

Changing careers was a bit of a calculated risk. I knew the product that I was going to be managing. My good friends Aaron Bertrand (blog|twitter) and John Q. Martin (blog|twitter) would be my teammates, so I would have a support system to help me be successful. I’ve been a DBA for years, and switching to be a PM would be different–but I would be making software for DBAs & data professionals, so it wouldn’t be entirely foreign to me.

Except I wasn’t happy

Being unhappy at work is a super complex issue, and you aren’t my therapist, so I won’t rehash it all in detail. I will talk in terms of “big buckets” that led to me being very unhappy with the role.

First, my expectations for what I would be doing on a daily basis didn’t match up with what I was doing. Part of this falls squarely on my shoulders. I could have done a better job during the interview process to find out details about what my day-to-day would look like. I honestly didn’t know what the hell a Product Manager does. I researched it a bunch, read a book, then another book. BUT… in hindsight, I could have simply asked some more direct questions about what I’d be doing. It’s kind of funny–I’ve frequently given advice to people to ask pointed questions during interviews to find out what they’ll be doing. Yet, it was a spot where I didn’t listen to my own advice.

Shortly after I joined, the PM team saw some staffing changes with folks departing the team. The result was a steeper learning curve, more work, less of the “fun stuff” (ie, geeky, nerdy, and technical stuff) that I’d been looking forward to. This took a job that was not-quite-what-I-expected, and made a turn to definitely-not-what-I-expected. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly happy with what I was doing.

But I wasn’t doing a bad job

Even though I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t doing a bad job. I was juggling a few projects. I launched a new product SKU. I was getting tons of really positive feedback from both my manager, and my coworkers. It was encouraging to know I was doing a good job. But… I still wasn’t very happy with what I was doing. And I knew that because I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t putting my full self into my job. I wasn’t doing my best work.

I was still failing

You might think “that’s harsh, Andy!” If I wasn’t doing a bad job, then I wasn’t failing. But my thinking is, If you think of things as binary, then it’s either success or failure–and this was a failure. You could argue that there’s a middle ground between the two, but I was failing to achieve my goal, even if I didn’t fail at the task.

Regardless, failure isn’t a bad thing. We learn from failure.

In January, I had a little reality check with myself. I wasn’t happy. I was doing a good job (especially considering I had never been a PM before). But I wasn’t happy. And my unhappiness was going to affect my commitment to do my best. Unhappiness at work tends to bleed over into your personal life, and makes you unhappy when you’re not working. And life’s too short to be unhappy.

I sat myself down and thought about 2019.

  • Would I be miserable & unhappy in the near future?
  • Could I see myself still being a PM at the company in 12 months?
  • If not, was there some other position at the company that might be a better fit?

The answers I came up with were Yes, No, and No. That last answer might surprise some people–but I’m a DBA, and while the company makes software for DBAs, they don’t really need any DBAs themselves.

I decided that if I wasn’t going to be happy, and I wasn’t going to last, then it was best to start looking for another job. It’s surprisingly hard to admit to yourself that a job you were really excited about isn’t working out. When you take a new job, you usually expect to be there for years–and six months in, I was realizing that I needed to move on. If I wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t fully invested in the job, it’s not fair to me or my employer. I didn’t want to reach the point where unhappiness grew to apathy.

Moving on

In March, I started a new job, back as a DBA/Architect. I don’t regret my stint as a Product Manager. It was a great experience. In fact, I think that we learn the most from our mistakes and failures. That was the whole point of the SQL Fails video I mentioned at the start of this post.

Year Five was a rough one. Emotionally, I was a bit all over the place–excited about a new job, then disappointed with my job. My blogging suffered. From November 2018 to March 2019, I published only five blog posts. It was my least productive blogging period since my first year. In the last 2 months, I’ve turned things around–this post is my 12th post since starting my new job. I feel that I’ve got my groove back, and Year Six will be an awesome one. Year Six starts tomorrow, and it’s already off to a great start.

Additional Reading

3 Comments

  1. Your openness and ability to have a direct, frank discussion with yourself is admirable, Andy. It’s something that I think is diminishing nowadays.
    I would tend to agree with what you said though:
    Basing success on what people are telling you is not something you can really control. It’s based on their opinions, the marketing, and networking of your work at the time.
    Basing success on giving your all to a job is something that you can control. Success comes down to a simple equation of “did I give my best?”, outcome irrelevant.

    Hope you continue to kick ass!

  2. Wow Andy, love the candor. You always get me thinking… and I’m sure you will rock the newest direction.

  3. Andy – your strength of character in recognizing the situation, and your candor in dealing with it, stand as an example to everyone. We can all work hard, and given the right skill and training, do well at a job. That doesn’t always mean it is the job that will keep us happy for years to come.

    As you said, life is too short. I look at the time you spent with us in high regard, and we’re very happy for you that you found something that has your spirits soaring again.

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