My 5 Questions series continues with Russ Thomas (blog | twitter | linkedin).

At SQL Saturday Portland 2013, Russ asked me and Grant Fritchey to sit in on his presentation, “Verbal Judo for the DBA”. Grant and I had fun taking on roles with other members of the audience, talking through situations, learning how to communicate. I thought, “This guy knows how to teach people!” As I’ve gotten to know Russ over the last couple of years, I’ve realized he knows a lot more than that!

Russ runs a “Monthly DBA Challenge” for his DBAs and his blog readers, and I love it. If you want to sharpen your DBA skills, watch for these every month! I also had the pleasure of watching Russ develop from a first-time SQL Saturday speaker into a PASS Summit speaker – congratulations Russ! I even had the pleasure of co-presenting with him at SQL Saturday Madison 2015, where we did an SSMS Showdown!

The SSMS Showdown gets serious

The SSMS Showdown gets serious

I had a few fun questions for Russ, and he had equally fun answers!

You’ve gone from being a DBA to managing a team of DBAs. What is the best part of managing a team, and what is the worst part of managing a team?

Best part of being a manager is working with a team of talented, smart, and fun people. I work really hard when hiring to find the right fit. It’s not always that straightforward. But we are all data nerds – and treat each other like a close knit family. We have a lot of fun, and a lot of stress, which makes us a pretty tight team.

Hardest part, by far, is losing people. It’s a great time to be in a data field – job opportunities for high end talent is pretty amazing. It’s always hard to see people you’ve worked with move on, there is always another company with deeper pockets, but I remain in close contact with almost all of them. Still feels like a team when I see them at a SQLSat or PASS.

I suppose the other hard part is finding time to still get to be a hands on DBA myself. Meetings, meetings, meetings.

You didn’t just change jobs a few years ago, you changed careers. Why did you choose to go into (come back to?!) the database field?

As a kid I always wanted to be a cop. I have an older brother who was in law enforcement that I always looked up to. In high school I loved computers and when it came time to figure out a way to get myself through college I started building clipper database applications and reports for a small telemarketing company. I quickly found that designing databases just spoke to my inner creativity and engineering mind.

After college however, I got the opportunity to join Clark County Sheriff’s Office in the Portland metro area. I became a commissioned deputy with them shortly after I was offered a position coordinating technology assets. For the next ten years I got to play in both fields of interest. Regular excitement as a deputy and responsibility for keeping the police reporting, crime reporting, and jail management systems (all SQL Server based) online. How’s that for accidental DBA?

One time, no joke, I was doing a felony arrest at gunpoint on two drug dealers after a short pursuit. We finally got both cuffed and then they had to sit in the back of the car while I called into the county IT data center and walk the tech through restarting the SQL Service. They’d been paging me during the entire pursuit about the server being down. After I hung up one of the guys in the back of the cruiser leans up, “who the f*** are you?“, relax buddy, I’m the IT guy.

During that time I also added four kids and it became clear that I was going to have to focus my career to have enough time and money for both family, job, hobbies, and hopefully someday retirement. At that point I decided to switch full time to database administration.

Every time I see a cruiser race by with full lights and sirens I get homesick, but becoming a full time DBA has been an amazing adventure as well. Also, an adventure that pays a whole lot better with a lot less stress on my family.

You’re going to be stranded on a desert island. What are 3 books that you bring with you?

  1. Pappy Gunn – the most amazing profile of a WWII pilot that I’ve ever read – no adventure story on earth can match what really happened with this cat.

  2. Book of Mormon – yep, I’m Mormon

  3. And let’s see… probably the Martian – great book, especially for someone stranded and deserted.

There’s a lot of talk about getting kids involved in STEM early to help them choose that as a career path. As a dad, what are your thoughts on that?

Personally, I want my kids to do whatever they love. I have a daughter who has been saving her babysitting money for two years and wants to get her pilot’s license when she turns sixteen. She’s currently 13 and has her plan already figured out for funding it. She’s doing ground school right now.

Meanwhile, my 10 year old daughter is fascinated by the weather. So much so, that we constantly watch old re-runs of strangest weather on earth. She has pulled every single book from library that she can on meteorology.

Those interest however came from exposure. Colorado has amazing lightening storms, hail storms, the occasional tornado – my 10 year old eats this up. My other daughter, I used to take to air-shows.

It’s impossible to gain an interest in something you’ve never been exposed to. I am a huge advocate of any effort to get kids exposure to STEM as early as possible. It won’t speak to every kid, but there are a lot of kids who’d never have known if they hadn’t been introduced.

I discovered technology in high school when a math teacher lent me a Teach Yourself Pascal programming book. I was hooked from the first page. All my kids love science and have had teachers who’ve helped them find outlets for that. My 7 year old, for example, is convinced his electrocuting robot design will win battle bots some day by destroying the other robots internal electronics. Something else we’re going to have to figure out how to fund.

Would you rather spend a week in Disney World or a week in a national park, and why?

Does Whistler Mountain Bike park in British Columbia count as a national park? If so, definitely that. If not, I’d still probably pick a week mountain biking in Moab / Fruita – but it’s not an easy choice. Hanging out at Disneyland with my kids is pretty dang fun too. Something we do every other fall.


Russ, thanks for answering my questions. I’m looking forward to seeing you at PASS Summit – and watching you present!