Category Archives: Life

One year at Delphix

It’s been over a year since I leapt into the void.

OK, more than a little melodramatic.  In many respects, I was leaping from the void by joining a promising and exciting startup company like Delphix.

Business was still brisk as an independent consultant at EvDBT, but for the past several years, I was experiencing what I called “just-in-time engagements”.  That is, new consulting engagements were just mysteriously showing up at the right time just before the current one was ending.  Frankly, it was getting a bit spooky, and I had been on pins and needles for a couple years watching it happen, wondering like a farmer if the day would come when the rain did not appear on time.  That day had shown up previously, during the recession of 2001 – 2002, when I experienced about 2-3 weeks of no work early in 2002, but that was the only dry spell I encountered in almost 16 years at EvDBT.  However, I wasn’t eager to see another one…

So a little over twelve months ago, on 01-May 2014, I left the world of Oracle technology consulting that I had first entered on January 15, 1990.  Well, I haven’t really left Oracle technology, but I’m no longer making a living at it.  Oracle is a big part of Delphix, but only a part.

What have been the highlights during my first year at Delphix?

  • learning data virtualization
  • learning how to tune virtual databases for Oracle and SQL Server
  • learning VMware and earning my VCA certification
  • carving a personal niche within a small company
  • became proficient at Windows Powershell    <- no kidding!  true!
  • continuing to present at Oracle conferences, often traveling and presenting with my brilliant wife, Kellyn Gorman

Yes, Kellyn and I got married during the past year!  It took us each a few tries at marriage, but we each hung in there, and got it right this time.  They say that remarriage is the triumph of optimism over experience, and I’m delighted to say that optimism trumps experience.  We did the deed in grand style, spending the week at Oracle Open World in San Francisco, coming home on Friday and getting married that Sunday in a tiny ceremony with immediate family only.  We finished up the RMOUG TD2015 call-for-papers on Wednesday and Kellyn publshed the agenda on Thursday, and then on Saturday we flew to Europe to do a joint-keynote and present at the Slovenian Oracle Users Group in Ljubljana and the Croatian Oracle Users Group in Rovinj.  After spending time with Joze and his lovely wife Lili, we blasted out of Croatia and scooted over to beautiful Venice for a quiet, blissful week-long honeymoon, meeting with Lothar and his lovely wife Birgit during the week as well.

Then, it was back to reality through the end of the year, getting swept up in the preparations for the RMOUG conference.

Delphix had a spectacular Q4 ending on 31-January 2015, where that financial quarter alone equaled the earnings from the entire previous fiscal year.  Lots of celebrations, victory laps, and high fives at the company all-hands meeting in early February, but what none of us in the Professional Services division saw was the looming tsunami of freshly-sold new deployments cresting just over our heads.  That wave crested and crashed down on us, and I found myself buried in work.  Just now, four months later in the new fiscal year, I’m finally able to look up and look around to find that winter and spring have passed and summer has arrived.My second year at Delphix has begun, and I’m curious as to what it will bring.

I’m continuing to heed the advice of Tim Minchin, who counsels against pursuing one’s Big Dream and instead suggests passionate dedication to short-term goals, in short that one be “micro-ambitious”.  That is say, that thing that is right in front of you right now?  Do it the very best you can, and put your back into it.  Whether it is a blog post, cutting the lawn, an email, or a new wax ring for the toilet in the basement.  Especially the new wax ring – don’t bugger that up!  And then do the next thing the same way.  And the next.  And the next.  Before you know it, you’ve climbed a mountain and have made a pretty good career besides.

Not unexpectedly at a small fast-growing company, hints have been made of a transition from the technical track to the managerial track.  This would finally reverse the track switch I made over 20 years ago while at Oracle, when I stepped off the managerial track in favor of the technical track.  I’ve never looked back on that decision, but should I be “micro-ambitious” here as well, take the new task right in front of me, and work to excel?  Or stick to my guns, stay with the technical track?

I’ve learned that it is a mistake to just “go with the flow” and bob along with the prevailing current.  If one is to succeed at something new, it must be a whole-hearted plunge accompanied by a full-throated war cry.

So, if you hear a strange noise rather like a cross between a “Tarzan yell” and someone choking on an avocado pit, don’t be alarmed.  Just listen a little longer to find whether you hear the “splat” of my corpse hitting pavement, or the “whoosh” as I learn to fly again.

And rest assured, that wax ring in the downstairs toilet?  Nailed it.

Hello Delphix!

After almost 16 years as an independent consultant, with a couple side-steps into the world of small consulting-services startups, I’ve accepted an offer from Delphix, a startup building the future of information technology, enabling agile data management and storage virtualization.

I’m closing EvDBT as a business, since the employee count will reduce from one to zero, and finishing up my consulting engagements, starting with my new employer on 01-May 2014.

Thank you, EvDBT.  You were my lifeboat and my vehicle to a better career and a better life!

15 years of EvDBT

I worked at Oracle Consulting for eight and a half years, from January 1990 until July 1998, starting as a senior consultant and finishing as a technical manager.  In the summer of 1998, I was experiencing a dual crisis in my career, directionally and ethically.

From the directional perspective, Oracle Consulting was sending very clear signals that the way Gary Dodge and I were doing business in the Denver consulting practice was not aligned with corporate goals.  The corporation wanted vertical “centers of expertise” with global and national scope.  In Denver, Gary and I managed about a dozen generalists, with experience ranging from very junior to very senior, who effectively covered all types of technology.  Our goal was to let each person work locally on the type of work they enjoyed, occasionally coercing some to try something different.  Many of us had families, and all of us lived in Colorado for a reason.

Attempting to adhere to corporate direction, when we received a request from a local customer, we began to first contact the relevant national or global “center of expertise”.  Most often, we would be told that nobody was available within the next few weeks (or months) and that, when they did become available, the rates charged would reflect a very senior person coupled with travel expenses.  We would feed that response back to the customer, who understandably became concerned or irate, and asked for one of our local generalists, whom they had probably used previously, which would have been our first response anyway.  In almost each case, we would end up staffing one of our local folks in the engagement, who completed the engagement often before the national or global group’s person became available.  As this continued, the pressure from corporate became more direct, complaining about a “black hole in the Rockies”.  So, looking ahead into the future at Oracle, I saw a model of business with which I wasn’t comfortable:  our local people getting on planes to work elsewhere, while out-of-town personnel were flying into Colorado to work here.  Perhaps it looked good from a higher level, but from our street-level view, it was absurd.

However, I also had a more serious ethical problem.  I had been sent to Los Angeles to work an engagement involving my primary expertise at the time:  Oracle Parallel Server on IBM RS6000/SP clusters.  The customer was a start-up website job board.  Both IBM and Oracle were determined to sell some massive hardware and software in there, and were working together toward common purpose with rare cooperation.

Except the customer wasn’t cooperating.

Instead, they had come up with a far less-expensive scheme involving dozens of commodity servers, where the one server contained a master database to which new job postings were added and changes were made, which was then replicated to dozens of read-only database servers using backup/restore, with a connection load-balancer directing traffic.  This allowed their read-mostly website to scale as needed by off-loading the reads from the master database and segregating writes from the read-only databases.  It was fast, cheap, and easy — a rare occasion when it wasn’t necessary to choose only two.  It was novel for the time, I was impressed, and said so.  Nowadays, such a thing is called a reader farm and can easily be implemented using Active Data Guard.

However, the IBM and Oracle teams were adamantly opposed – fast, cheap, and easy would ruin the lucrative deal they had planned for themselves.  So I was directly ordered by the regional vice-president in charge of the deal to reject as unworkable the customer’s plans and instead extol the virtues of Oracle Parallel Server and IBM RS6000/SP clustered servers one way or the other, and recommend it strongly in conclusion.

What to do?

I certainly did not enjoy being ordered to lie.  Not asked, but ordered.  On the other hand, I worked for Oracle and I had a boss and that boss stated very clearly what to do, as he had every right to do.  After all, no blood would be spilled, no babies would be killed.

So my solution to the ethical dilemma was:

  1. Complete the engagement as directed
  2. Prevent it from happening again

I am not smart enough to avoid making mistakes, but I believe in making mistakes only once.  I did what I was told to do, enduring the astonished looks from the good folks who couldn’t believe I was spouting such nonsense.  I subsequently resigned from Oracle, to avoid ever having to make that mistake again.  But having resigned from one well-regarded corporation, the question became:  are there any corporations, anywhere in the world, where I would not be asked to do something like that again?

The answer was simple and, in August 1998, Evergreen Database Technologies, Inc opened for business.

The first person I told of my decision to resign was Gary Dodge.  He wasn’t my supervisor, but we were peers.  I entered his office and closed the door, and he looked up and commented, “Oh, that’s not a good sign.”  I sat down and told him, and he nodded and said, “Well, good thing you closed the door, because I’m leaving also.”  He didn’t leave Oracle, but he left consulting, for the same directional reasons as I.  So, we didn’t inform our management together, but we informed them at the same time.

EvDBT hasn’t been open continuously over the past 15 years;  I have far too much to learn.  I spent a few years attempting to start another consulting-services company with some colleagues, and that ended unsuccessfully.  Any deal that starts with handshakes inevitably ends with lawyers, so my lesson is to always start with lawyers so that it ends with handshakes.

At one point, I hired in with Compaq Professional Services because they offered an intriguing opportunity.  However, my timing was bad, as Compaq was absorbed by HP a few months after I started, and knowing that I would not enjoy the noise and mess of the mating of the elephants, I moved on.

Thank you all for the past 15 years, and I look forward to the next 15 years.

Update on Friday 18-Oct 2013:  I’ve received some criticism and questions for my perceived criticism of Oracle in this article, particularly with the ethical dilemma described above.  I didn’t write this to criticize Oracle as a company, the situation simply happened while I was working there.  It is a large company like many others.  Corporations are comprised of people who respond in varying ways to the incentives given them.  I’m personally aware of many people with similar roles at Oracle who have not and never will react to their incentives in that particular way.  Likewise, I know of a few who would have reacted far worse.  It’s all part of the grand pageant of human behavior.

The person who ordered me to do my job was not himself facing an ethical dilemma.  He had brought me onto the engagement to expedite the deal, and he never imagined that I would balk;  it just wasn’t professional.

He had a task to do, and I began to jeopardize the success of that task.  I would hope to be as decisive and effective as he.

Remembering Gary Dodge…

The world lost a remarkable person this week, my friend and mentor Gary Dodge.

He is survived by his wife Luann, to whom he was married 33 years, by his daughter Brigid and by his son Ryan, and by a tight-knit and equally talented and accomplished family.  And by friends and admirers too numerous to count, worldwide.

As long as I knew him, his email signature stated, “Building tomorrow’s legacy systems today, one crisis at a time“, succinctly expressing his dry, lightly-warped sense of humor, suitable even in an uptight business environment.

He is deeply missed.  Thank you, Gary.