Ready Player Tattoo

I am sitting in my hotel room in Nashville getting ready for #SQLSatNash as I write this. I know there are a lot of #SQLFamily here at this and I look forward to seeing them again.  It is snowing outside. This is perfect weather for a Florida boy to contemplate his life and pen a long overdue blog post. I just finished reading, for the second time, Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.   The subtext of that novel could very well be my autobiography and I am feeling a bit nostalgic for the 80’s era technology.  To be honest, part of my nostalgia this week has also been precipitated by a tweet by Simon Galbraith, co-founder of Redgate, letting everyone know that I “finally” have my portrait on a wall at their headquarters in Cambridge, U.K.  In his tweet he added the larger than life (nearly larger than the wall) photo of me sliding up my left sleeve and showing off a tattoo of the Redgate logo, the little database cylinder overlaid with a small image of a gate opening.  I knew that the tattoo was the reason I was being thus honored and I absolutely am.  It was the word “finally” that made me smile and reflect. It compelled me to want share some of the backstory of the tattoos, Redgate, and my meandering path toward the light of SQL Server that, like in Ready Player One, began long ago in the 1980’s.

I am sure at age 16 I never would have imagined I would wind up being a database administrator. It is ironic though that that was around the time I created my first database.   It was really just an excuse to try out all of the software that came with my Indus GT floppy drive for my Atari 130 XE. I believe the program was called Indus Database and it was quite simple to use. I created a database of the movies I had on VHS tapes and another database of all of the pirated games I had copied (fingers crossed there is a statute of limitations here and I was in Japan so I am not sure what the copyright laws were at time).  I cannot say at that point I was “hooked” on databases but it was fascinating to me.  It was at this time as well that I also began playing around with BASIC, which was a Microsoft BASIC II cartridge for Atari 8 bit machines.   Like a lot of other computer nerds my age I had seen Wargames countless times and I had my own war dialers and unpublished BBS’s that we would hang out on after school.  I wanted to be David Lightman and hack into Protovision desperately.

Eventually I made my way through high school and in college I got a job interning as a mainframe computer operator. Two things happened around that time: I was introduced to Microsoft Access and the Internet happened. The former still did not make me want to work with databases and the latter changed everything.  I learned Unix and Novell at this time too. Somewhere looming on the horizon was Window NT and that ultimately was where I realized I needed to be. I took another job at a software development company which was a further drive and the same meager hourly pay rate but promised that I could work with Windows NT (3.51). I was ecstatic. They also used something called SQL Server 6.0. I had no idea what that was but because I had MS Access experience they thought it would be an easy transition for me to learn this “New Technology” as well. It was indeed an easy transition.

Even though the bills were being paid by the work I was doing with computers, I really aspired to write. I wanted to write the next Great American Novel and still do years later.  Ultimately when I received my degree around this same time it was in Creative Writing.  I knew there would be a way to combine my two loves, writing and computers. It was at that time that I wrote to Windows NT magazine asking if they had any opportunities for me to write an article for them. I had written for my college newspaper and several local magazines but this was my first attempt to write for such a broad audience, niche though it may be.  I was dismayed when I received an email back from the editor saying that they did not have anything at the moment but would let me know if something came up. The next day, something came up. I was sent another email CCing the editor of Windows NT’s sister magazine, SQL Server magazine informing me that they were looking for someone to do software reviews and asked if I would be interested. I am not sure if “Duh” was a common response at the time but if it was I am sure that was my reply.  I was given my first assignment to write for a nationally published magazine, one that actually was sold in a, get this, book store.

The next email I received was my assignment.  It was an application from a company called Red Gate that compared databases and could create scripts to make identical to one another.  The product was SQL Compare 1.14.  The year was 2000. Here is the review I ultimately published.

When the magazine finally came out I was elated.  I remember buying several copies.  And thus began my side career as an author.    

Flash forward to 2008, PASS Summit.  I had never met Simon Galbraith in person but I had kept in touch with several Redgaters over the years and I was hanging out with several of them at their booth.  Simon showed up at the booth and I met him there for the first time. I was a little awestruck meeting the co-founder of Redgate. I am going to say that there was an open bar because it is typically after a couple of beers when my geek tattoos come out. I was explaining why I had an Atari, a progress bar and a logo of SQL Server Magazine tattooed on my “geek arm” when my wife had the idea of me getting a Redgate tattoo. That night!  Everyone seemed to be very excited about this and then they looked to me as if to ask, “Well, are you ready?”   Smiling with a growing enthusiasm I said, “Let’s do it?”

Simon was kind enough in his disbelief that this was actually going to happen, to offer up a handwritten contract on the spot stating that Redgate would pay for the removal of the tattoo in the future if I ever came to my senses.  I still have that contract today. It is written in red ink, symbolic of the sincerity of the deal we were making. You can see a pic of the actual tattoo being applied here:

Not too long after PASS Summit I met up with Simon again and he confided that he had read the original software review and was glad to know how much I liked SQL Compare and thanked me for the review and the positive impact it had for Redgate at the time. In turn I let him know that it was my foot in the door to establish myself as an author.  The tattoo was the least I could do to remind myself and others of all of the great things Redgate has done for me and a lot of other members of #SQLFamily.  

Wait…#SQLFamily.   Hey, that would make a good next tattoo. Hashtag – I am ready.