On March 17, 2014, I became an employee of Oracle Corporation for the second time. My first round with Oracle started in August 1987. My second son, Eli, was less than a year old. I’d been incredibly bored with my consulting gig, which consisted of babysitting a reporting system on a DEC10 “mainframe”, based on a flat-file database – but a database.
So I checked the Help Wanted pages (no Internet, no smartphones, no LinkedIn) and came across an ad from Oracle Corporation. It contained the word “database”, so I figured: “Why ?”
I was hired, even though I was completely ignorant of relational databases. Ok, not completely. I’d read an article by Codd and memorized “Twelve Rules of Relational Databases.” But no one ever asked me about relational theory. Instead the key question seemed to be: “Are you comfortable talking in front of groups, large and small?” I was, after all, interviewing for a “pre-sales” (sales consultant) position.
Fortunately (?), I’d been very active for the past several years organizing Americans to protest facets of our government’s policies in Central America, and yes I’d spoken often to groups large and small. My manager-to-be at Oracle seemed pleased enough with this, and I got the job. I never thought my political activity would help me land a software job, but that’s exactly what happened.
Looking back on that moment, I see now that it foreshadowed a significant, but not widely recognized characteristic of my career: The popularity of my books and trainings stem as much from my communication skills (the delivery) as from whatI am communicating (the content).
I’ll get back to that in a moment. Well, joining Oracle changed my life. For one thing, I had to go out and not only buy some suits, but wear them every day. And then after five years with the company, I left to do some consulting, and a few years later ended up publishing Oracle PL/SQL Programming (O’Reilly Media) in 1995. Now that really changed my life!
For the next almost-19 years, I have focused almost exclusively on the Oracle PL/SQL language. I wrote nine more books on the language (probably about 4 too many, actually), of which over 400,000 copies have been sold. I traveled to dozens of countries to share my obsession (expertise) with PL/SQL in trainings and presentations. I built and designed PL/SQL testing tools, code generators, code libraries, and more. I wrote lots of articles for Oracle Magazine and other publications. I attended many, many Kaleidoscopes and Collaborates and International Oracle User Weeks and Oracle Open Worlds and….my wife got really tired of my traveling. Sigh….and that is why I have pledged that in Round 2 with Oracle, I would not start living on airplanes again.
For much of those 19 years, I worked for Quest Software and then Dell as a PL/SQL Evangelist. Quest and Dell helped sstrengthen the PL/SQL community not only by offering such amazing tools as Toad for Oracle, but also by funding my position and giving me a tremendous amount of freedom to continue learning about, writing and writing about PL/SQL.
But I decided last year that I wanted to close out my career as a software professional (I will, after all, be 56 in September 2014) with the company that created the programming language that transformed my life: Oracle Corporation.
Wasn’t I lucky that the head of all product development at Oracle, Thomas Kurian, was also a former PL/SQL product manager! Otherwise, Oracle might not have been interested in having me back. ☺
So what will I be doing at Oracle Corporation?
My title continues to be PL/SQL Evangelist, and PL/SQL will continue to be my main focus, of course. I will help promote the language, add to the collateral available for PL/SQL, write articles for Oracle Magazine and post content on Oracle Technology Network, present at the key Oracle developer-related conferences. In other words, all the usual stuff.
But I see my evangelism as a two way street: I want to make sure that developers around the world take the fullest possible advantage of PL/SQL, yet I also want to make sure that Oracle generally and the PL/SQL development team in particular recognize the importance of the PL/SQL community, and leverage it fully.
Ever since 2010 I have been writing daily quizzes (and more) on the PL/SQL Challenge. I have been amazed at the enthusiasm of hundreds of developers to test their knowledge on this site. And it has been fantastic to see many PL/SQL experts who might otherwise never be known or recognized by their peers step forward to share their expertise. This was one of my “hidden” goals of the PL/SQL Challenge.
You see, I have never been entirely comfortable with being (one of) the “go to guys” on PL/SQL. I know very well that for all of my depth and focus on PL/SQL, I am really not very strong technically. I am no Tom Kyte, no Bryn Llewellyn. I only took three computer programming courses in college, all 101 level. I mostly got lucky – and fell into programming at a time when a degree in computer science simply wasn’t a requirement (1979!).
It turns out that my main strength, the main reason (I believe) that my books and presentations became so popular, is that I am a good at communicating ideas, techniques, etc. in a way that people find accessible. I never learned how to write and think like a computer scientist, so people can actually understand – and enjoy – what I write. Because of the limitations of my formal training, I often have to think my way step by stepto an understanding of how things work (I can’t just know things from my university days). I then share that step-by-step process with my readers, which helps them understand. Finally, I seem to find it impossible to keep my sense of humor out of what I say and write – and boy did my readers appreciate that!
Bottom line: it makes me a little nervous when so many people look to me for “all the answers” to their PL/SQL-related problems. I don’t have all the answers. But I am pretty sure that if I do not, there is someone out there, some Oracle technologist who has worked with PL/SQL for years, who has a computer science degree, who has faced different challenges than me, who might just have the answer you need, a code sample to save you hours of work, a piece of advice that can save several bangs of the head against the wall.
But how to get the question to the person who can answer it? Of course the OTN discussion forums and places like Stackoverflow provide a way to expose this expertise and make it available to many. I hope to complement those kinds of efforts with new initiatives at Oracle. You will see announcements over the next year regarding this community building effort. But in the meantime if you have any ideas for me on this topic, please do not hesitate to send me an email.
The Two Me’s Online
I have, for years, offered my thoughts (some might say “rants”) on my Feuerthoughts blog and @stevefeuerstein twitter account. Going forward, I will cleanly separate my Oracle-related posts from my personal content. So here’s a quick guide to the sites and accounts I will be using.
If you follow my @stevefeuerstein twitter account, I urge you (if an Oracle technologist and not my mom) to also follow me on @sfonplsql. I will soon ramp up with daily PL/SQL tips and more.
Time to Get to Work!
Lots to do, lots to do. Including coming up to speed on a Macbook. I am making the switch after 30 years with DOS and Windows. Fun, scary, frustrating, liberating. More on that, too, to follow