Relax, nobody dropped the production database…
There I was, coming to the end of my contract with the data science team at NHS Digital, working on shutting down their mahoosive SQL Server, and beginning to think about looking for the next contract. So I was trawling the job sites, as usual, and keeping half an eye on LinkedIn, and I got a message from James Boother, who I’ve known for years thanks to various SQLBits events and SQL Saturday Exeter (I remember what you did, James…) He suggested a chat, which kinda escalated into a couple more formal chats, and suddenly – as in less than one office hour after the fourth such chat – I had an email with an offer and a ridiculously close start date.
After the fastest recruitment process I’ve ever seen (once it got going), I have abandoned the world of contracting and gone back to the Permie Life, for a little company called Coeo, as a “Data Platform Principal Engineer”, working in the team looking after their support clients.
Two(*) Three months later, my head is still spinning – but that might be less to do with the pace of the work and life generally over the last few weeks. But that’s another story(+).
(*) Yeah, I’ve been taking my time over this…
(+) Don’t ask, unless you’re bringing me beer. Or gin. Gin’s good. Anyway, given the time lapse between starting this post and publishing it, things have calmed down on the life front…
Why Go Permie?
Well… They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, because it was the offer I requested, and it would have been a bit churlish to turn it down. It’s financial stability for me, which, given the current state of the UK, and the offspring reaching A Levels / University ages mightn’t be a bad thing.
Once upon a time, when I was new to the whole contracting thing, SQL Bits put on a conference at York University. I had nothing else to do that Saturday, it was free, it was only an hour’s drive from home, and there was the chance of meeting a couple of guys I’d been chatting with over on Ask.SQLServerCentral. So I went. The first person I met was one of the guys I’d been hoping to meet – Jonathan “fatherjack” Allen, and the next person was Kev Riley – both of whom were AskSSC regulars. And I also met a few other guys, including the one and only Buck Woody, and topped him up with coffee, but that’s another story, and Kevin Kline, and Rob Farley who greeted me with “Oh, *you’re* the twitter guy”. I guess I had a reputation already. Oh dear. I mean, I’d only been a full-time DBA for a few months.
Aaanyway, where was I? Oh yes, pondering the future while meeting people.
During that day, I think the idea either came to me, or coalesced, that maybe after two or three years of doing short term (three to six month) contracts, I would start hunting around for a permanent role again (at this point, I really had only been a contractor for a few months, and was still in the “permie” mindset). I had enjoyed my time as a consultant many years ago – it had that mix of talking with people across and through an organisation rather than just a small team, a wide ranging role, lots of new challenges – much like contracting, but with a regular guaranteed pay packet. And the short term contracts over that time frame would be, what, 8-10 different environments, different sets of problems, different ways of thinking – so a reasonable exposure to the product set and the way people used it. (I should point out that, at that point, I already had 15 years of experience of SQL Server, having been working with it since 1995, but it had only ever been part of my job – the rest of it being, well, the whole IT career thing – programmer, consultant, architect, manager, general fac totum.)
This is rambling a bit – let’s move it along.
So Who To Work For?
What to look for? Over the next few years, my wishlist of things started coming together. A mix of work types, a solid team, a friendly bunch of people, a challenge, no, regular challenges. Oh, and some training would be nice! I mean, I probably wasn’t going to get all that at a large organisation, and my experiences of being contracted through a certain three-letter organisation was definitely sub-optimal, so I was thinking about smaller (but not too small) firms.
But what sort of firm? Straight consultancy? or a pre-sales technical role? Over the years, I got down to a small list of companies, most of whom will be familiar to those who attend these conferences – Microsoft (obviously not meeting all the criteria, but on the list by dint of being Microsoft), a couple of suppliers (Redgate, obviously, and maybe SolarWinds and SQLSentry/SentryOne), and Coeo.
Well, they offered…
…Yeah, there’s more to it than that.
When I started out in this SQL Server contracting line, they were a small(ish) firm with a reputation for having some of the most qualified SQL Server guys in the country, if not the world. Microsoft used to have a MCM (Microsoft Certified Master) programme, very limited, very expensive, very hard to get. And then they went one better with the MCA – Microsoft Certified Architect. And, in the UK, the company that had the most of these MCMs/MCAs outside of Microsoft was Coeo. And this was not a large company. So I knew they were serious about training and certification.
I definitely remember having a conversation with a couple of their guys at SQLBits in Brighton in 2011. One of those guys was Gavin Payne, who set up the system that I was looking after at that time at MessageLabs. And, given the age of bits of it, he was surprised that some of the servers were the same as the ones he had set up… It turns out that ML/SYMC wasn’t the only company Coeo & I shared as previous clients – yes, even though I’d never worked for them, I was still recommending them, based on their reputation.
I’d kept in touch with them at Bits, and other events, where they were regular sponsors, and the question of working for them did crop up from time to time, but they weren’t looking for remote-based staff, and I would have to be in the office most of the time, and that wasn’t an option – not as a permie, anyway.
And then came Covid, and lockdowns, and home-based working, and they found that they could cope with people being remote, and now they have staff up and down the land – which is one of the reasons that James started trying to get in touch.
Various other #sqlfamily friends have been through Coeo’s ranks, which I’m not quite sure what to think about – but none of them have left really recently, and some of them were there for quite a long time, so maybe it’s all OK really. I’ve not gone asking, because that always seems a bit odd to me. Certainly it’s more a question I would discuss over a beer than over email, and these things are quite often personal.
Anyway. I’ve been there for a few months now, and I finish work most days with my brain fried – I’m not used to having to think this much! I think another few months of this I’ll have hit pretty much every weird and wonderful feature of SQL Server – and every version from 2005 onwards – and I’m keen to keep going.
And, who knows, maybe they’ll even let me blog on their site as well as my own! Although, given the rambling above, I suspect I’ll be edited. Heavily.