People sometimes ask me why the avatar that I often use is Yogi Bear. Well, it’s because Yogi is famous for the phrase “Smarter than the Average Bear”. A phrase that I always keep in the back of my mind. Not because I have an over-inflated opinion of myself but as a reminder to always maintain a search for knowledge. You see, Yogi was a bear that lived in Jellystone Park and would trick tourists out of their picnic lunches because he was “smarter than…” well you get it. Not that I am trying to trick people out of giving me things, rather the phrase has come to mean someone who is better than average at anything.
So what does all this have to do with anything? Well, I want to talk about how to become successful at anything you put your mind to. Specifically, how you can branch out in your career. You see over my 25+ year career I have performed several roles from statistician, Developer, Project Manager, DBA, BI Architect and Product Manager. Was I an expert when I started in these roles? No but I would like to think that I became very good at it in a short amount of time. So how do you get there, well I like to think it’s based on few simple things:
- Finding your passion.
- Absorbing as much information as you can.
- Finding “domain” experts.
- Presenting…it forces you to become an “expert”.
In the rest of the blog, we will cover how you can accomplish these things.
Finding Your Passion
Let’s face it no one is going to pursue knowledge, let alone a career, in something they are not remotely interested in. The people that I meet in the database world that are Microsoft MVPs, speakers, “experts”, etc. all have one trait in common. They all love what they do and are extremely passionate about it. For these folks, they are the first ones to find out about new features or functionality in SQL Server because they care…a lot. This promotes a thirst for knowledge. Some people who don’t have the same passion, look at it as an obsession. But it’s this obsession that keeps you plugged into the community, blogs, websites, etc. This leads me to my next point, read, read, read…
Absorb as Much as You Can
When you are passionate about something you want to find out as much as you can about it. For example, I am a musician and about 10 years ago I read an article about building your own guitar effects. I thought that was kind of cool and within 6 months I had a garage full of circuit boards, resistors, switches, and capacitors. I had subscribed to every forum and website for others with the same interest. In six months I had gone from knowing nothing to building several complex guitar effects. (Of course my wife thought I was crazy…another story).
In the SQL Server world, we had an issue with an application recognizing a SQL Server instance on a cluster. I knew a few things about how clusters work, but was by no means an expert. Because I actually love what I do, I contacted all my resources, checked the forums, Googled the topic and was able to resolve the issue. I could have easily thrown it over the wall as someone else’s problem but in the process of researching the problem I gained a pretty good knowledge base of clustering and Availability Groups. This gained knowledge makes me much more effective in my job.
Find Domain Experts
Earlier I mentioned briefly contacting other resources for help. I would have not had a clue who to contact to “educate” me on the technologies involved in solving an issue if I had not built an established network of people who were experts in their respective domains. Let’s face it nobody knows everything, so you need contacts to go to when you get stumped or to at least provide a different perspective. In the Clustering problem I mentioned, I was able to get only so far and then I contacted one of my contacts who does this stuff all the time. He was able to walk me through the issue and ask questions. When I got off the phone, I knew way more than I did when I got on the phone.
So how do you build your rolodex of domain experts? Look inside your own organization. Ask questions like “Who knows the most about…?” or “Who is the expert in…?” Another good resource is blogs. This gives you a feel for whether the author really knows about the subject. Seminars and events like SQL Saturdays are a good place to meet subject matter experts and get contact information. I keep in touch with several folks in the SQL Server community that I met speaking and blogging in the community.
Presenting Will Force You to Become an Expert
I know for some of you presenting is like a sharp stick in the eye. However, it’s one of the quickest ways to gain knowledge. Why is that? I like to think it’s the fear of looking like you have no clue what you are talking about. I have purposely picked topics that I had an interest in but not a lot of knowledge in. It forced me to go out and research the technology, figure out how it works and what real world uses there are. When I was done I had to put it all together in a cohesive understandable presentation. I then had my coworkers and friends review it. There is no way you can put together a good presentation without understanding your subject matter and being prepared to answer questions.
There are lots of opportunities to speak and/or put presentations together. Here are some ideas:
- Create your own blog.
- Write Forum Posts
- Present at a SQL Saturday
- Present at a local SQL User Group
- Present to your team or within your organization
So this may seem somewhat daunting, but in practice once you dedicate yourself and make it part of your routine it becomes second nature. You will also find you just might become the go to guy/gal in your organization because you have such wide breadth of knowledge on technical subjects. Hopefully, this gives you some ideas on how to broaden your knowledge base and become “Smart than the average bear”