Monday, May 09, 2005


I go to daily… Still I have one question -- what makes you so eager, so consistent and so helpful.. There are lots and lot of Oracle experts.. Some of them may be better than you.. I'm talking about those geeks at Oracle Corps.. But no one has that kind of interest and don’t know what to say -- that urgency to help/answer the queries (sometime they are pretty bad too, sometime they are too naive) ... But hey it has been 16 yrs with oracle for you and I feel like you are keep going more strongly... So tell us ... I want to know about that motivation.. And that mission which you show in answering our queries..

How could I turn that one down? Wow, thanks. Except of course for that “some of them may be better part” – only kidding, I know what I know… I go to others many times, frequently. I know what I know and that is it. No one knows it all (every day, every single day, I learn something new about Oracle – no kidding) I frequently go to:

  • Joel Kallman -- Oracle Text questions
  • Tyler Muth -- HTMLDB
  • Sean Dillon -- all things XML
  • Mark Piermarini -- Java
  • Clarke Colombo -- Spatial
  • David Knox -- Security
  • Xuan Cuong Bui -- Optimizer
  • Sam Khoury -- Warehouse Builder/BI

Just to name a few inside Oracle. I get them to help from time to time on asktom.

So, the question is simply, why do I do what I do. I almost thought for a while I wanted to be a teacher, think I still do sometimes (still time for that later in life). Seeing the light bulb go on over some ones head – classic. I feel a little like a teacher, I’ve actually seen people graduate from asktom. They came in as ‘newbies’. Asked a lot of questions – a lot. You could see them grow in knowledge, they started challenging the answers to their questions. And then they stop coming – no not because I ran them off, but because they didn’t need to ask so often. I ran into one of these graduates just a couple of weeks ago. I said “hey, you don’t come to the site much anymore”. He laughed and said he does, he just mostly reads now, he knows how to find most of the answers on his own now. He is answering the questions for people. That – that was excellent. Goal achieved.

It all started when I got into the usenet newsgroups over a decade ago. The signal to noise ratio was much better back that – no bought from – it was a little more exclusive, harder to get to. I used “nn” and "rn" – character mode command line tools to read and post to a couple of groups, all of which started with comp.databases.* (*, .sybase.*, and .informix.*)… Boy, looking back at some of my posts in comp.databases.sybase and comp.databases.informix (I just re-read some while writing this), there was a bit of passion back then in the middle to late 90’s. The database wars were in full force (not everyone I interacted with back then would recall it fondly). Saw a lot of names I haven’t seen for a while – some names I’m still in touch with.

Before you think it was/is all charitable, there is something I get out of this as well. Most of my attention back then went into (I’m sure the guys on the Informix/Sybase newsgroups didn’t see it that way). It was the way I started my day, pretty much every work day. It was a great way to see what was bugging people, what they were having a hard time with. It was an awesome way to find out what challenges people were having that I didn’t know how to solve (yet). I viewed it as my crossword puzzle. Some people do the crosswords to get going in the morning, I did the newsgroups. I still do the equivalent – I don’t feel awake until I’ve made the rounds. I learn as much as I teach, I’m sure of that. I read lots of forums, I participate in a select few.

I remember the first time I saw what impact this could have. I was at a customer site, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We were starting a tough meeting (the old Oracle is bad, database X was so much better, what are you going to do about it meeting). We did the introductions and when it got to me and I said my name – the person across the table said “from the newsgroups” and I said yes – she said “you just saved our butts on this jdbc/lob issue, way above and beyond, much more than anyone could expect…”. Basically, because I had helped – the entire tenor of the meeting changed at that point. We were no longer the enemy database, but were there to help. It has happened many times since, they knowing I wanted to help, to make them successful, that that was my goal – really helped.

I have strong ideas about the right way to approach things in Oracle and database development in general. I got started as a database developer, not as an Oracle developer. I had a pretty good database mentor (after Woody Lons taught me to program), Guy DeCorte was his name. (Just an amusing side note, for the longest time I was sure that DECORTE was a keyword in databases. All queries were of the form “select * from DECORTE.tablename” – every single query, and no one knew ‘why’, it was just so. Then I met Guy and said “hey, that’s funny, your last name is a SQL keyword”. Talk about feeling ‘not smart’). He made me read lots of what at the time seemed esoteric text books. I was the lead developer on a project working with Guy to make a data modeling tool. The tool never went anywhere but I learned to program Windows 286/386 and a lot about database design. More than I would have under normal circumstances. Perhaps this is why I so fervently believe the data is what is relevant, applications come and they go and they go and they come. Data – it tends to stay around. I’ve since always taken a very data centric approach to things. Get the data right and the applications just happen and happen and happen again. Get the data wrong and well, you have a single application everyone hates.

Answering questions, working with people lets me get that feeling across. Ask me how to do something, and I’ll peel back the onion – see what you are really trying to do and try to describe the best way to accomplish that, in the database.

And occasionally, I get to make a thing that was running in hours run in seconds or minutes. That is very cool. High fives all around.

But mostly I think it is the brain exercise of “what’s going on”. The solving of the mystery behind the problem. There was exactly one time in 17 years that the setting of a single parameter in the init.ora file fixed a problem on a “system wide” scale – and that was only found after analyzing the situation (no silver bullets from me, sorry – no fast=true). The init.ora parameter funny enough was optimizer_mode – and no, it was not setting it to rule that fixed anything! It was first_rows – and only because the customer was using Discoverer to retrieve multi-MILLION row result sets, looking at the first page or two and discarding the results. They meant to be doing top-n reports, only they did not know that. Quick fix for them was first_rows (for most other people, that would be wrong…)

So, there is the satisfaction of making someone more successful with Oracle, that is good. There is the satisfaction of figuring out something, performance ‘tuning’ is sometimes like a good mystery – it is not always obvious. There is the feeling you get doing a technical seminar (I like those a lot more than a sales presentation). The interactive Q&A – the back and forth, the sharing of ideas, it is a really good feeling. Spending 8 hours on your feet for 3 days can be very draining, but at the end – it is a really good feeling. The absolute sense of community. That is important too. It might sound strange, but it really is a community out there. When I go to a conference – such as IOUG-A last week – it is like a reunion. I’ve met tons of people over the last decade because of this software called Oracle – and made many friends. It really is a community.

So, there is the mental sparring that goes on. The challenge. I don’t mind the easy/simple questions – we all have to learn, I don’t think they are naïve, they are just “new”. The only questions that I wish I didn’t get are the ones I specifically list as “I don’t do these questions” – when you ask a question, I have a list that I ask ‘you did read that right’, many times people click the box but ignored the list. Neither end of the internet connection ends up satisfied with those.

Keep the questions interesting and I’ll do this (the asktom stuff) for years. It’s been almost 5 and a half years so far – still interesting.

Favorite things to do on the job:

  • Seminars, getting the word out. Totally technical seminars.
  • Work with customers on their problems. I’ve made many long term friends over the years this way.
  • The Q&A thing -- wakes me up in the morning. The feedback is awesome. The mental challenge -- nothing like it. Always in search of a neat SQL query challenge


Anonymous Pratap said....

Thanks a lot Tom. You have been a mentor for all of us. We are lucky to have Asktom as well as your books to learn from.

Mon May 09, 08:42:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Rachel said....

What makes you think you have to wait to be a teacher, that what you are doing now is not teaching? You do it in a less interactive way, only because email/blog comments and answers/asktom is not an immediate response but you reach a heck of lot more people this way.

Mentoring, answering questions, giving presentations, writing books -- all that is teaching in a less traditional way.

Thank you for being a teacher -- I learn from you always.

Mon May 09, 08:54:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

What makes you think you have to wait

I meant it in the more "formal sense", but yes -- much of this is teaching.


Mon May 09, 09:07:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous bill thater said....

now, I'm not a regular at AskTom for several reasons. one it wasn't there when i started.;-) and two, frankly you intimidated the hell out of me.;-) but AskTom reaches way beyond just the web site. it gets referenced on oracle lists, and even in some books.

and i learn and admire you for doing what you do. me, i don't have the skill or patience to even try it.


Mon May 09, 09:11:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Just an amusing side note, for the longest time I was sure that DECORTE was a keyword in databases.

Well, TKprof stands for Thomas Kyte Professional, Right? ;-)

Mon May 09, 09:17:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Robin said....

Well, TKprof stands for Thomas Kyte Professional, Right? ;-)

Infact this what I believed for almost 3 yrs(my professional career life), before I read it in one of the posts that its Trace Kernel profiler.

Mon May 09, 09:43:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Connor McDonald said....

That's the saddest thing about* nowadays. Full of quite bright people who take great pride not in helping, but be-littling others especially the newbies.

Its gone right off the rails.

So sad...

Mon May 09, 09:44:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Robin said....

I forgot to thank Tom in my previous post.

Thanks Tom. I owe my professional existence to asktom.
Besides all the technology help that I get from you, I've learnt more like, Creativity, experimenting , managing passion and work life.
By any means are you also the mentor of Eduard DeBono ( i am sure you know him, famous speaker on creative thinking), or is it the other way round.......? Plain curiosity.

Mon May 09, 10:05:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Bob B said....

What do you want to do after you officially retire?

(Note: This is more of a "What will you do 20 years from now?" type question)

Mon May 09, 10:40:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

What do you want to do after you officially retire?

I cannot imagine being retired. I think I'll be working until I cannot anymore. And I cannot even fathom what job that'll be -- given that what most of us do today didn't exist 20/30 years ago, I'm thinking "things will change".

I work very differently today in 2005 than I did in 1995 than I did in 1987. I do very different things too. So, whatever it is -- I'm sure "data" will be involved

Mon May 09, 10:48:00 AM EDT  

Blogger R Menon said....

Very good question and great insights! Looks like your interest in Oracle is the key to your success. I read somewhere that
only around 2% of people in the
world work in areas that
coincide with their true passion?
Is it true in your case?
I notice that you indicated
you would have liked to be
a teacher. But what if you were
given a complete choice on
all accunts so that you can
choose your dream profession?
Would you be still doing the
same thing?

Certainly not so in my case,
I would have loved to be a singer
of movie songs but that is a different story!:) If any indian
is reading this, he/she would
understand - movie singers in
India are treated as GODs pretty
much (at least the earlier generation ones.)

Also, if you get some time
please respond to my other
query I posed in "Who..."

This blog is turning out to
be my second favorite place
to visit...

Mon May 09, 01:56:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

There are a small number of people on the dejanews oracle groups that are incredibly obnoxious. Someone asks a question who is a newbie and they get ridiculed. The best thing to do is to redirect them to the Oracle-L listserv or the forums. The people doing the ridiculing are the ones who claim to know what they are doing.

I don't use the otn forums because I don't like the format. I have been told the content is pretty good.


Mon May 09, 02:36:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Tarry said....

Asktom has been my homepage for several years now. When I'm consulting/coaching my juniors/or plain answering questions. If there is something I don't/can't grab an "example" to state/emphasize my point, I quickly look it up at the asktom.

Good work fella(s) and keep it up.

Mon May 09, 05:23:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous robert c. said....

Thanks so much Tom for sharing your knowledge and for your dedication from Asktom to your fine books.

Mon May 09, 05:42:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

In one of the interviews I was asked whether using a view will be slower than querying on base tables. My answer to that question was they are same.When they asked why --- I gave them Asktom reference saying there are examples which shows that the plan generated is the same.After some other HR type questions I was offered the job.Thanks a lot Tom for the passion with you help the Oracle community across the globe.

Tue May 10, 02:57:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous suresh said....

I have been a regular reader of your site asktom for more than 3 years. I have learned a lot regarding oracle database from your site, and it has tremendously increased my confidence level.
Your contribution to Oracle Community is awesome. Please Keep up the good work.

Tue May 10, 03:06:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous San_mat said....

Dear Tom,
Thanks a lot for your work to oracle community.
I wish you all the best in life.

Tue May 10, 04:51:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Alberto Dell'Era said....

This is the best blog of yours - best self-description I've ever seen ...

You may frame it in a chapter ;)

Tue May 10, 09:38:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Hi, Tom

Off topic...

Have you noticed this?

Scheduled Downtime

We will have 1 hour of scheduled downtime on Tuesday, May 10th at 4pm (Pacific Time), to do some database maintenance.
– Eric [5/9/2005 05:11:00 PM]

Care to guess what database Blogger is using?

Tue May 10, 10:03:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

Care to guess what database Blogger

do you know?

But as blogger is a "freebie" site, and continous uptime for *any* system costs $$$$$, I can imagine thousands of innocent reasons for this, from a hardware upgrade, software patch, new feature addition...

Tue May 10, 10:11:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

do you know?

I don't know. What I know is Blogger can be very very very slow and annoying. I always hope Google would send some clever heads to help out Blogger. Apparently, it will never happen.

Tue May 10, 10:22:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Jo Holvoet said....

This post rang a few bells !
SQL tuning is also something I love doing : they are often as you noted logic puzzles, and you can really blow someone's mind if you get their query from an hour down to a couple of seconds. And this leads right to your comments about getting the data (model) right : the toughest queries to tune (for me anyway) invariably lead to a very bad design which makes writing the queries hard enough, let alone tuning them.

Tue May 10, 11:04:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Oracle Programmer said....

When I read ur post on asktom, I also have same question in my mind why this person giving so much time and energy to answer all these questions. I inspired to start my own blog now as a Oracle Programmer. Though no one read it now, I want to contribute to oracle community what i know. That's gr8 about motivation. my puzzle solved.

Tue May 10, 11:19:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

You talked about a few days ago people graduating from your site and what joy that gives you. I think I am somewhere in asktom middle-school now. I can't imagine ever graduating. I instead imagine asktom school continuing to extend it's school year as I approach the old date for the final.

It is a nice idea, but I'll accept the fact that regardless of how much I progress in the next 5 years, you are going to remain at least years ahead. Maybe that's because you are at least 10 years older than me, but most likely due to your dogged dedication to learning more.

You make things so easy for us. Sometimes I wish I had to struggle more to find answers. The answers would stick a little better if I had developed them myself.

Wed May 11, 09:40:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous D. Witten said....

No one knows it all (every day, every single day, I learn something new about Oracle – no kidding)

I used to evaluate candidates for Oracle Developer positions by asking them to rank their various Oracle skills (PL/SQL, Tuning, etc) on a scale of 1 to 10. If anyone ever actually put down 10's, I devalued those resumes. I've been working with Oracle databases since 1990 and one of my mantras is "I know enough to know I don't know everything."

Wed May 11, 06:49:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Martin said....

David Knox -- Security

I just realized this guy doing security is kinda funny, his name being Knox. Did he get that name after he became your security expert, or is it just his name ;-)

Thu May 12, 10:08:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

I just realized this guy doing security

I didn't get that? Or did you mean like "fort knox", that must be it ;)

He was named knox long before he knew security...

Thu May 12, 11:41:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Martin said....

Yeah Fort Knox is what I meant :)

Thu May 12, 12:20:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

A lot has been said here and elsewhere about Tom's profound technical knowledge, deep insight, and mentoring mastery. There is another rare quality that he possesses, which impressed me most: an incredible intellectual honesty.

Hats off to you Tom.

Fri May 20, 10:10:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....


(Once again) felt need to read your thoughts on "motivation". I have been working (??) on a project since last 6 months and without doing much I have received a negative feedback. The funniest part is when I joined the team, I was given an impression that I am a newbie in oracle / datawarehousing / performance tuning and existing team members are close to supernaturals. During these 6 months, I found even "basic" project management skills missing. And by the way, none of the team members had come across the suggestion to implement Type 2 dimensions that is part of OWB documentation. No proper induction process, no defined communication channel, no time management and on top of it my feedback was as if I am an "expert".
While I have still managed to stick to my ongoing learning process, don't know really how to handle this situation.
Just wanted to share this with somebody (and I don't have any girlfriend either...:))


Wed Apr 05, 12:24:00 AM EDT  


<< Home