Changes in Priorities and Direction

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Everyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love Data Warehousing. I’m one of those fortunate few who finds their work fascinating, and I tend to dive head first into new projects.

I was recruited to join a team on a multi-terabyte data warehousing project late last summer. I was leery to take the position because project had already been attempted by numerous other teams, which had failed, and subsequently no longer worked for the company. However, the Architect in charge was very persuasive and the lure of a ground breaking project, using some of the best toys out there, was something that I couldn’t resist. I knew going in that this might be a short term situation, but I calculated that the benefits outweighed the negatives.

After I started, it became obvious that the team and project was in a state of flux. The Architect, who I previously mentioned, left shortly after I started, leaving the team to push forward anyway. The executive in charge of the project was fond of saying, “Teams pick their own captains,” and that’s what happened here as I was shortly placed in charge of the project as the new Architect.

I was running a team of a dozen in-house data professionals, as well as directing the efforts of world class consultants in SSIS and Dimensional Modeling. Though I already knew these consultants personally, working directly with them were some of the highlights of my career so far. While I’ve already performed almost every individual role in the complete data warehouse life cycle, being in the position of Architect (and project leader) was particularly enlightening since it gave me a deeper appreciation of the entire process.

It was an amazing, rewarding, and exhausting experience. I got the chance to prove my skills to some of the industry’s best; finding solutions to problems that stymied some of the biggest names in our industry. However, it was not all rainbows and butterflies.

Stress and Burnout

In many data warehouse projects, the technical challenges (though formidable) can pale in comparison to the political and social challenges. As many of us have experienced, business decisions aren’t always based on technical reality. I worked 70 to 80 hours a week for more than 6 months to try to fulfill very aggressive insane deadlines; with no end in sight. I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic, but I had completely lost my work/life balance. Being the geek that I am, and all of the learning that was taking place, I didn’t see the situation clearly. It was taking a toll on all of the other aspects of my life. I wasn’t able to sleep, wasn’t eating properly. I fell way behind in my personal and professional correspondence.

Moments of Clarity


My sister, Regan, and I in 2011

My sister became critically ill the third week of March, and I caught the first flight back home to Michigan to be with family. I stayed a week, but the doctors said the crisis would be long term, and they wouldn’t be able to provide a prognosis for weeks or months. I did not want to leave, but I had a multi-million dollar project with a large team that was counting on me in DFW. This incident put a spotlight on what I was doing to myself and my family due to overwork and lack of balance. After a good deal of quiet reflection, I gave two weeks notice to my previous employer near the end of March. Tragically, my sister died early Easter morning. She was only 41, had young children, and her loss devastated my entire family.

Lessons Learned

The death of my sister really put an exclamation point on the whole mess. I’ve learned a lot through this whole ordeal, and I’ll share some of them with you in the future. However, the most important thing I learned was that while career is important, and what we do affects a lot of people, it isn’t as important as your physical and emotional well-being. Family commitments absolutely have to come first. No matter how fascinating the project is, I cannot neglect my personal life for very long. It’s not fair to myself, my family, or my clients.

New Beginnings

It’s always important to focus on what is good in our lives. My career continues to go well. As I was deciding to leave my previous gig, one of my independent consulting clients came to me needing some long term help with their data warehouse project. It’s a fascinating project, terabytes of data, challenging text file imports, and I’m learning C# to boot. This gig should last for several months and has been perfect for me as I transition to the next phase of my career. This good fortune can be directly attributed to my work in the PASS Community. I want to sincerely thank my #SQLFamily for all of their help and support.

More to come in future posts.

12 comments to Changes in Priorities and Direction

  • Jen

    Very timely post for me…thanks Dave. In my quest for a good work review and all that comes with it, I’ve been neglecting my relationship with my kids. My moment of clarity was this past Friday, when we found out my daughter had shoplifted $200 worth of stuff. Although I like my job and live learning new things there, I’ve got to get my priorities straight. Thanks for reinforcing that. I’m really sorry for your loss, and I’ll. keep you and your family in my thoughts.

  • I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, David. We can’t be reminded about making sure our priorities are in the right place too often– thank you for writing this.

  • Brandon

    This is a great reminder, Dave — thanks for reminding us all what’s truly important.

  • Great post David and again my deepest condolences to you and your family on your loss. If you need anything let me know.

  • Erika Nicholson

    Great post, you have a gift in writing. I am truly sorry for your loss and wish you success on this adventure.

  • Great post David. We all need to be reminded that even though we love SQL Server there are other more important priorities in life. In fact, it has lead me to a new job just like you 😉

  • Thank you, David, for an impressively honest and useful post. I wish you and your family all the best as you recover from the loss of your beloved sister. Forty-one is far too soon, but I’m glad your family will have a balanced, focused you in the mix.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  • First, my condolences to you and your family.

    I had a similar conversation with a senior co-worker today. He told me I have a great chance at earning more money somewhere else.

    I told him there’s more to life than money and career.

    My current company is very flexible and accommodating.

    In the last 2 weeks, I was able to attend my son’s academic award ceremony and, on a separate occasion, spelling bee contest. I am a young dad (got married when I was 22). I know there’s a lot of great opportunities out there – opportunities to move my career 10 notches up. But I am a husband & dad first before anything else.

    I am placing my family on top of my career. Few years back I was doing more. But, yes, indeed, there’s more to life than money and career.

  • The first thing I do when I teach a career class is to have the students list their goals. Most of the time the goals are all work-related – which is important, and a good thing, but I have them re-write their “real” goals, the ones about family and friends.

    Here’s mine: “I consider my career a success if my daughter will always want to have an ice-cream with her dad.”

  • So sorry to hear of your loss. She was a beautiful lady.

  • My condolences, and I hope you are holding up.

    I hope that you are considering the time you spend with family and loved ones, as well as time on your physical health, to be as important as your career.

    Work to live, always.

  • David, I am very sorry to hear about your sister. But thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for the reminder that we should not lose sight of what really matters the most.

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