I go to asktom.oracle.com 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 groups.google.com bought from dejanews.com – 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.* (comp.databases.oracle.*, .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 comp.databases.oracle.server/tools/misc (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