Sunday, September 11, 2005


I received the coolest email ever the other day. It was from Kathy Sierra. She was saying thanks for the link (not the first time I linked) to one of her entries. She said something very interesting to me:

I'm not in the Oracle world at all, but I have to say that when you post a link to my blog, my stats go crazy. So besides enjoying your writing, your readers obviously trust what you say.

That was one of the nicest things I've had said to me and a unique way of measuring 'trust'. Her premise was - others link to her, but the clickthru rate is not always significant, given that when I linked, her hits showed it - there was something going on there.

When I was in Iceland, Gunnar Bjarnason with whom I was staying made a statement that was very similar in nature to me (probably a famous quote, I've seen variations of it with different things in place of good reputation, I'm sure if it is someone will point it out)

It takes a long time to get a good reputation, but only takes seconds to lose it.

I think that is so true. And the two go hand in hand.

Trust, but Verify, Question, Argue, Critique, Disagree. Always question. Never assume the "name" is correct just because it is the "name". Trust but question.

Trust comes with certain responsibilities I think - if you want to maintain that trust. If indeed someone does trust me, and I want to preserve that trust, it is all in my hands. The trusted person holds all of the options here.

I think open, unedited commentary is part of this. When asktom first started, I did not have the followup capability. In fact, as evidenced by the very first ever followup, it was about a year before I started doing that. That one addition is what I think makes it all work. Funny how one little addition like that was so pivotal in the end.

People have said that I have patience (usually!) when answering a long series of follow up questions. I think that is mostly because if it took that long series of followups to get the point across - it was probably my fault. I didn't say it right in the first place. I know this is a cliche, but I don't think there are dumb questions about Oracle, just unasked ones. If there is one thing I can talk about without getting sick of talking about it, it is probably my kids (and the database, bet you thought that was what I was going to say :)

You know what makes me laugh out loud sometimes? When I'm upstaged totally by someone saying "why didn't you just do this". My favorite recent example wasn't too long ago. Some asked a question about "carrying down" the last non-null value in a result set - they had sparse data and needed the last non-null value in a column carried down after sorting the results by date. I said "easy, here you go:"

SQL> select dt, val
2 from t
3 order by dt;

--------- ----------
04-JUN-05 168
08-JUN-05 157
12-JUN-05 75
10 rows selected.

SQL> select dt, val,
2 to_number(substr(max(max_val)
over (order by dt),5)) max_val
3 from ( select dt, val,
4 case when val is not null
5 then to_char(row_number()
over (order by dt),'fm0000')||val
6 end max_val
7 from t ) order by dt
8 /

--------- ---------- ----------
04-JUN-05 168 168
05-JUN-05 168
06-JUN-05 168
07-JUN-05 168
08-JUN-05 157 157
09-JUN-05 157
10-JUN-05 157
11-JUN-05 157
12-JUN-05 75 75
13-JUN-05 75

10 rows selected.

Now, if everyone was to just blindly trust without questioning - that would have been that. Game over. But, someone else read the documentation and said "Hey, this was 10g, why didn't you just:"

SQL> select dt, val,
2 last_value(val ignore nulls) over (order by dt) val
3 from t
4 order by dt
5 /

--------- ---------- ----------
04-JUN-05 168 168
05-JUN-05 168
06-JUN-05 168
07-JUN-05 168
08-JUN-05 157 157
09-JUN-05 157
10-JUN-05 157
11-JUN-05 157
12-JUN-05 75 75
13-JUN-05 75

10 rows selected.

Now it is truly "game over". That is much easier (and more efficient and so on...) and is the right answer. I'm so glad the ability to provide commentary is there on asktom, otherwise I do not believe even half the content would be "correct".

Makes it more trustworthy.

Addendum: added after I noticed blogger put an _11 on this post url. That means I used this title before. In fact, way back in May I did. Same title, slightly different spin.



Anonymous Michael Smith said....

The reason people trust you Tom is that you are always honest with us. You never ask us to rely on just what you say, you alway back it up. And you readily admit when something you say is wrong (so so rare) or incomplete (an effect of just how many different situations there are out there).

And then, there is the fact that you're just an incredibly nice guy to boot.

Sun Sep 11, 09:25:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

The reason we invariably like you :-) is we need a president like you,,

Tom for Pres

Sun Sep 11, 12:33:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

Let's not get carried away. Besides, that would be a pretty boring job ;)

Sun Sep 11, 12:39:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Arthi! said....

Its 9/11 and you ask Tom to become the President?
Quite obvious Tom refused the offer...

btw, my prayers to those victims of 9/11. Lets hope it never happens again in any part of our beautiful world...

Sun Sep 11, 12:57:00 PM EDT  

Blogger shrek said....


I happen to know a couple of the Oracle giants, and a goddess. I have to say that you are the most approachable of the crew. the first time I met you, you listened to what I had to say and actually treated me like an equal. THAT, sir, is why we trust and adminre you.

Sun Sep 11, 01:26:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Robert said....

yeah we trust you 100% Tom !

But why is the "first ever followup" link point to a followup you made to a March 2004 posting ?

Sun Sep 11, 01:57:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Tarry said....

Reason is simple.

There's a group which I'd label "Major Kick Ass Group" it could be google, it could be Tom's way of telling(mind my words not selling oracle), it could be kathy's way of kick ass teaching.

and the other is.... Ah Forget it :-)

Sun Sep 11, 02:16:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Tarry said....

Ohh Forgot to Add to the "Kick Ass group". So here's a belated addendum...

Sun Sep 11, 02:18:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Dilip Patel said....

Like Shrek noted, the thing which set you apart from other "biggies/professionals" is that you treat others as equal. That quality earns you lot more respect that you think. I have had chance to meet you once and was simply amazed by your simplicity and friendliness.

Sun Sep 11, 04:48:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Doug Burns said....

Tom said ...

"I'm so glad the ability to provide commentary is there on asktom, otherwise I do not believe even half the content would be "correct"."

And the thing that's always worked for me in a class situation (when there's constant feedback), is that I learn something too! If no one ever said 'but couldn't you do it this way instead', my knowledge would be limited by what I know or happen to have read.

Sun Sep 11, 05:02:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....


that was the date of the last modification to the post:

... originally submitted on 2-Mar-2001 23:36 Eastern US time, last updated 7-Mar-2004 9:28 ...

Sun Sep 11, 05:45:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Robert said....

so Tom, when you gonna start podcasting ?
Really looking forward to that !

Sun Sep 11, 09:18:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Rachel said....

Tom -- You, along with the other Oakies, are trusted because you not only have earned trust, you continue to do so. You have never, to my knowledge, said "because I say so" as an answer to a question. You have never gotten angry with someone for disagreeing with you. And you almost seem to relish being proved wrong, or having someone find a simpler answer. That is rare in this world.

You also are invariably polite, and are willing to spend however much time is needed to answer questions. I still remember having to almost literally drag you out from the crowd at the first NYOUG meeting you spoke at, so that you would not miss your plane.

Sun Sep 11, 10:27:00 PM EDT  

Blogger amol said....

I guess Tom's first podcast was the one on OTN (July 13th)

Mon Sep 12, 12:44:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Niall said....

A question for Tom and a comment for Rachel.

The question is what settings do you use for your feed summary in feedburner (assuming you still use that service). Orablogs summary of this article has a sentence that reads (the She is Kathy)
She said something very interesting to me:I'm not in the Oracle world at all, but 7510 rows selected.Now it is truly "game over". I'm guessing its some sort of auto-summarize?

The comment is for Rachel, come on why did you have to drag him away from those good folks - you just know his plane will be 5 hours late.

Mon Sep 12, 04:26:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

Robert -

about podcasting, I've already done two (one on otn, one on and am scheduled to do one at otn...

Rachel -

and as it turned out, I could have spent that afternoon, evening, night and the next morning with them, since my plane didn't actually take off until then. I'm going to NY today and taking the train :)

Niall -

I use bloggers "summarize" and it takes the first bit and sometimes the last bit - feedburner isn't doing it, blogger is (look at my atom.xml, that is what is fed to feedburner).

If you have entities in the first couple of sentences (like  ), it toally messes up the summary however (bug in blogger)

Mon Sep 12, 06:58:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Rachel said....

Niall -- it was the very first time Tom spoke in NYC, I didn't KNOW then that he could have stayed

Tom - it was years ago, in June, the time you filled in for Ken Jacobs and we had the meeting on the boat. I didn't know you well enough then to find out that your plane was delayed :)

and I'm sorry I won't be able to get into the city to meet up with you today.....

Mon Sep 12, 07:57:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Gabe said....

yeah we trust you 100% Tom !

I guess you don’t always get your point across.

So besides enjoying your writing, your readers obviously trust what you say.

Well, when you say something, I trust there will be reasoning/justification in making your point. In other words, I may not agree with what you’re ultimatelly saying [since it reflects your likes and dislikes which are not necessarily mine too] but I appreciate the thought process that went into saying whatever you’re saying.

As an example, you obviously think there is more than meets the eye with Kathy’s blog … I think there is less … but I can see why, as a writer, you find that subject and method appealing.

Mon Sep 12, 09:42:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Patty C. said....

I trust you because you are left-handed. ;) But seriously Tom, we trust you because you are honest, open, and real with us. We know that you really want to help us - just to help us - there are no other motives ($$$) that other people in this industry appear to have.

Mon Sep 12, 10:07:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Jeff Hunter said....

People have said that I have patience (usually!) when answering a long series of follow up questions. I think that is mostly because if it took that long series of followups to get the point across - it was probably my fault.

Patience to a fault, sometimes, IMHO. I think some people just use the followup to post their questions because they can't get the URL for a new question.

Mon Sep 12, 10:07:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Jeff Hunter said....

We know that you really want to help us - just to help us - there are no other motives ($$$) that other people in this industry appear to have.

Personally, I take offense to that. A few bad horses doesn't make the entire Oracle community a bunch of money-grubbing people looking for business by answering your questions.

Mon Sep 12, 10:12:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

I do what I do to make money myself though.

I want people to be able to use Oracle "more easily".

The more people that can do that, the more Oracle can sell, the more people Oracle can sell to.

I'm passionate about the product, and I want others to be so as well - and the only way to get that is to help them understand it and be successful with it.

So, I'm sort of in agreement with Jeff on that point. If there wasn't compensation at the end of the day, I'd have to be off doing something else. I've been very fortunate to be able to do what I do in the manner I do it.

Mon Sep 12, 10:27:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Rob H said....

The reason I trust tom is purely on the fact that when I started as a DBA, I really had very little information other than the technical documentation and books. Very difficult to understand the simple concepts. Its like they overcomplicate the descripton of things to make themselves sounds smarter (see an earlier post on tom's blog).

Then I found tom ;). It was perfect. No 'keep your buffer cache at 99%' or 'rebuild indexes daily' rules. When I started there was so many 'rules' but no proof. I kept asking why. No one answered. Now, I read asktom daily. 9/10 I find somone asking a question or tom answering one that I would have asked or one I would never have thought of. Its so dynamic.

Its not just tom we trust but the idea of what his website embodies.

Mon Sep 12, 10:31:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

I think there are several reasons why people trust you. I think people sometimes trust you too much and just recite what you say(like the init.ora = fast thing... they don't think about it themselves).

1. You are an Oracle VP. I know you don't feel that is important, but its a credential. This is not that important to me.

2. You do alot of work when you answer questions. You check for mistakes and use test cases.

3. You admit when you make mistakes. Certain oracle 'experts' refuse to accept criticism when they are wrong and refuse to acknowledge that they are wrong. Admitting that you are wrong is essential to getting people to trust you. No one is right all the time.

4. You don't talk down to people. I saw you speak in Reston, VA on 10G new features. I thought the crowd was a bunch of groupies asking very picky questions and trying to show you how smart they were. They really annoyed me. However, you handled it very well. I was impressed.

5. You have been doing this for a while. It takes time to build up credentials.

Mon Sep 12, 01:08:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Joel Garry said....

probably a famous quote

Bill Gates' bridge partner, of course. You can fix it, but...

Mon Sep 12, 02:23:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

9/11/01, Todd Beamer, Oracle Employee, United Flight 93, may God rest his soul

Mon Sep 12, 03:13:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

It's not Tom that people trust blindly...but his methodology of backing up his statements with proofs that we put our trust in. Ofcourse there are bunch of experts(?) who will criticize saying that single user scripts cannot prove everything.But they can always try to simulate a multi-user environments with any of the testing tools available (like winrunner,loadrunner) and then try to prove Tom is wrong which so far they've failed to do.Before coming to AskTom I had taken advice from Oracle gurus on face value and seen performance going down the drains.That is why I like to put my trust on Tom who can show me simple test cases that I can repeat on my systems before I jump to the guns.I think that is where Tom/Jonathan scores over other experts.Once again Tom thanks a lot for your service to the Oracle community.

Mon Sep 12, 05:01:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....


I personally feel that although you have earned all our respect and trust, the fact that we can easily track you down and hold you accountable for your work is equally important. I don't really have worry so much about whether or not your example is perfect because if I hit an issue, I can ask you directly.

You can't really say that for anyone else who's the best in their profession. I can't write to Barry Bonds and ask him how to hit a curve ball.


Mon Sep 12, 09:12:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Patty C. said....

Sorry Jeff, I didn't mean to offend you or anyone else. I was just pointing out that we have to be careful whom we take advice from because not everyone has our best interests at heart when they try to help us.

Tue Sep 13, 08:39:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Robert said....

"Michael Smith" - You are so correct about why we trust Tom!

"Arath!" - Thanks for remembering!

Thu Sep 15, 05:36:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Dan Loomis said....

Tom - I got a kick out of this quote...maybe you will too.

"In God we trust...all others bring data."
- W. Edwards Deming

Fri Jul 14, 12:59:00 PM EDT  


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