Hello (Blog) World, or How MADPASS and a Horse Named Meadowlark Kicked Me into a New Gear

Good technology user groups are marvelous. So are good horses. Two came together in my life over the past year to nudge my life unto a new course.

Just over a year ago, I’d employed a friend of mine, Abby Onsgard, to help me find my next riding horse. I’d been riding since I was five years old, and after losing my childhood horse after 26 years together in 2010, it was time to find a horse I could really connect with again. Organizing the list of prospects in a manner that made my little geek heart flutter, we worked our way through a Google docs spreadsheet of prospects, many involving drives through the astonishingly anonymous landscapes of northeast Illinois. On a sweltering July day, I met a mare that made me forget the 97 degree heat and sopping humidity from the moment I sat in the saddle. She was 100% Thoroughbred, 100% mare, 100% sure of her importance in the world. Meadowlark (Lark) became mine 8/8/2011.

After a few months of honeymoon period, Lark began to really challenge me. Was I serious about this plan I had to ride her? Because she really had more important things to do –she had left a prestigious position as herd boss at her previous home and was determined to work her way up this new herd’s hierarchy. This required her full attention; she really didn’t have time to waste on this “riding horse” gig, especially if I was going to expect her to listen to me the whole time. She had plenty of tools in her bag of tricks to test my resolve. Random teleporting spooks, pop-up rearing, tantrums in the cross ties, teeth grinding snarls as the saddle approached her back, and behaving as though she’d left her (nonexistent) baby behind with a pack of wolves whenever the herd was out of sight were her favorites. Who the heck did I think I was and what had I gotten myself into?

Meanwhile, I was realizing my geek world was growing too stagnant. I’d gotten comfortable with the technology that I’d been working in and the skills I had, and I wasn’t doing anything genuinely new. Eleven years into my career as a mostly Microsoft-centric developer, I felt like I had a good grasp on .NET development, and while I’d created and maintained a number of web and batch applications, they didn’t thrill me. I’d always enjoyed working with SQL Server products and data puzzles in general, and I knew there was a user group in the area that met monthly. Against my inner introvert’s protestations of “But there will be STRANGERS there!!!” I decided to start regularly attending the Madison area’s Professional Association of SQL Server meetings. MADPASS had been running for nearly a year at that point, but I hadn’t made the time for it until December 2011. The meeting I attended made me forget my intellectual boredom and snapped my eyes open: I had A LOT to learn and a thrilling set of people to learn it from. The presenters and attendees alike were just as geeked out as I was over all forms of SQL Server and data in general. It was refreshing realize that while I often had NO IDEA what they were just talking about, but I want to know and I WILL KNOW SOON dammit!

The call soon came for people interested in helping in an event called SQL Saturday. I’d never heard of these before, but I decided to test my own resolve to keep up with this new “herd” of SQL Server professionals. When Jes Borland – a dynamo of concentrated energy, glee, and mad SQL skills – asked for someone to coordinate the volunteers for SQL Saturday 118, I agreed to take it on.

In both my geek and horse worlds, the late winter and early spring of 2012 swung back and forth between “I can do this!” and “Who are you kidding, you don’t know what you’re doing!” The solution always involved a combination of “Stop whining, do it anyway” and “Ask for help, dummy.” I brought Abby back into the picture for riding lessons, which were initially more techniques for outwitting HRH Meadowlark than lessons in strict equitation. When Lark pretended that the arena doorway was surely the gaping maw of hell, I learned to give her real work to focus on, thus leaving little capacity for antics. Friends in the horse world also referred me to an equine physical therapist that could help Lark with her stiffness and pain, as well as to a hormonal treatment that would help to keep things on a more even keel. Help is good, dummy.

I also did my best to keep up my end of the SQL Saturday team’s work, applying my own brand of pleasant tenacity to assign volunteer duties and make sure that Jes’s vision for the event logistics would gel with a location that was also under construction. The SQL Saturday team and the event staff at Madison College were helpful and professional every time I needed it. I was clearly as lucky in my geek world as in my horse world.

SQL Saturday 118 was a success, best described by its visionary. Surprising myself, I also agreed to give a short presentation at the April MADPASS meeting on SQL Server Reporting Services administration. Though I’d presented training content before at work, I’d never presented in public before. I got through it and learned that just like in my horse world, pushing myself to do it anyway and asking for help from my betters worked out.

The SQLPASS community on Twitter and the MADPASS local community were chock full of overachievers willing to share their knowledge, and I needed to keep pace. I’d been working for the same company in different positions for over ten years, and I began to worry. Was I doing the career equivalent of driving to the barn, brushing my horse, feeding her a few treats and leaving with warm fuzzy feelings but no appreciable achievement?

Fate soon decided it was time to test my career courage. Steve Novoselac  announced that the Trek Bicycle Corporation BI team was hiring. I knew something about this team already. Trek staff had a strong presence at the MADPASS meetings: they attended en masse, they presented, they volunteered, and they asked serious questions from the other presenters.

So I wrote a resume, my first in years, and sent it to Steve. I had a phone interview, where I was determined to be brutally honest about what I was and wasn’t experienced in. They called me in for a proper interview anyway. Over three hours, I met with five different people who threw meaty questions my way in rapid succession. I left feeling proud for making it through the first interview I’d had in eleven years – at least I hadn’t chickened out. Trek impressed me in person, and it was a whole new ball game from the insurance and financial services industry. Don’t let that casual dress policy fool you: these were overachievers who pushed each other and themselves.

I’d be lucky to join their ranks.

And then they called.

And asked me to do just that.

So here I am: just over a year later, with a horse and a new job that both push me physically (did I mention how fit the people at Trek are?) and intellectually. This blog is my newest challenge to myself. I am determined to post at least monthly at the start. The SQL Family is always sharing its knowledge, so it’s time for me to pay some dues. Can’t let down the family.

Now it’s time to go to the barn. There’s a horse I need to ride. Challenge accepted.

2 responses to “Hello (Blog) World, or How MADPASS and a Horse Named Meadowlark Kicked Me into a New Gear

  1. This is fantastic, Gina. Definitely keep up the great work, and stay active in the community – it all pays off for you and your peers.

  2. Great post, Gina! Congrats on your whole new direction.

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