SQL Rally Slide Deck and Photos

I’m working on a more comprehensive review of last week’s SQL Rally event, but I’d like to go ahead and share my slide deck and photos from the event.

For those who attended my Data Quality Services session on Thursday, thanks so much for coming.  I had 100 or so in attendance, and a lot of good questions and discussion on this topic.  You can download the slide deck here.

If you saw me at the event, you know that I didn’t go anywhere without my camera Smile  I have a few hundred pictures from the event that I’ve loaded onto my Flickr site.  You can view or download those pictures here.

DQS Composite Domains and Value Combinations

As I’ve been working with Data Quality Services over the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time working with data domains, composite domains, and rules.  In that exploration, I’ve found some behavior that might not be expected when performing cleansing operations against a knowledge base containing a composite domain.

In this post, I’ll outline the expected data cleansing behavior for composite domain value combinations, and will show how the actual result is not what one would expect in this case.  I’ll also briefly describe a couple of workarounds to address this issue.

Overview

Here’s the layout of the issue at hand.  Composite domains can be created in knowledge bases in DQS, and encompass two or more existing organic domains within the same knowledge base.  Those composite domains can then be leveraged in a data cleansing project; if you engage all of the included domains that are part of a composite, that composite domain will automatically be included as part of the cleansing operation.  Now from here a reasonable person (and by “a reasonable person,” I mean me) could assume that if the composite domain is used as part of the cleansing operation, that it would perform the cleansing operation across the product of the composite domain rather than just the individual domains therein.  However, my experimentation has found otherwise.

Make sense? Don’t worry – if I lost you in the problem description, I think a simple example should bring it back into focus.

Example

I’ve been using automotive data for a lot of my recent DQS samples, so we’ll stick with that for now.  I’ve got a reference set of data with (mostly) valid automobile data that I’m using to build a DQS knowledge base through the knowledge discovery activity.  Included in the reference data are automobiles of various make and model, among them the Chevrolet Camaro and several flavors of Ford automobile (we’ll get back to these specifics in a second).  When I import this information through knowledge discovery, it renders both Ford and Chevrolet as valid automobile makes, and the Camaro is present as a valid model of automobile.

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Now, I want to create an association between make and model, since model is mostly dependent on make.  I create a new composite domain in my knowledge base, and use the combination of Make and Model domains to build this new composite domain.

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With that done, I’ll republish the knowledge base, and we’re good to go.  Next, I’ll create a DQS cleansing project that will leverage the knowledge base we’ve built with this automobile data.  I’m going to use a smaller and dirtier set of data to run through the cleansing process.  This data will also bring to light a counterexample of the expected behavior of the composite domain.

When I wire up the table containing the dirty data to the new cleansing project, I get the option of including the composite domain since I’m leveraging both of the elements of that composite domain against the data to be cleansed.  By clicking the View/Select Composite Domain button I can see that the Make and Model composite domain is used by default.

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Before I run the cleansing operation on this DQS project, let’s peek at the data we’ll be cleansing in this new project:

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You’ll see that I called out a particular entry, and it’s probably clear why I referenced the Camaro earlier.  In our dirty data we have a Ford (valid make) Camaro (valid model), but there’s no such thing as a Ford Camaro in production or in our knowledge base.  When the make and model domains are individually verified, this record would be expected to go through the cleansing process with no changes at all.  However, because we’ve got a composite domain set up to group together the make and model, I expect this to fall out as a new entry (rather than a match to something existing in the knowledge base) since our KB does not have the Make and Model combination of Ford Camaro.

However, when I run the cleansing operation and review the results, what I find is not what I expected:

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Under the Make and Model composite domain results (notice the individual Make and Model domains are not present, since we’ve engaged the composite domain), I find that the incorrect Ford Camaro entry is shown, but instead of showing up under the New tab, it instead surfaces in the Correct tab indicating that the value is already present in the knowledge base.  Given that the displayed reason indicates a “Domain value” match, this seems to indicate that, despite the use of the composite domain, the individual domains are instead being used for aligning the cleansed data with the information in the knowledge base.

Workarounds?

Ideally, what we’d see is the Ford Camaro entry pushed to the New tab since there is no such combination in the KB.  However, there are a few limited options to work around this.

First, you could create a separate field containing the entire make and model combination in your source data, and perform the Make + Model validation against the single field.  This is probably the most realistic workaround as it doesn’t require a lot of static rules.  However, it still means that you will likely need to reengineer the way you stage the data.  It’s a generally accepted practice to store data elements as atomic units, and building a Make + Model field limits your options or forces you to undo that same operation later in the ETL.

You also have the option to create rules against your composite domains to set if/then scenarios for data validation.  For example, you could create a rule that dictates that if the car is a Camaro, the make must be Chevrolet.  However, unless the cardinality of your data is very, very low, don’t do this.  Creating static rules to deal with data semantics is like pulling at a loose thread on a sweater: you’ll never find the end of it, and it’ll just make a mess in the meantime.

Resolution

I’d like to see this behavior fixed, as I think it will lead to confusion and a lot of extra work on the part of data quality and ETL professionals.  I’ve created a Connect bug report to address this behavior, and I’m hopeful that we’ll see a change in this behavior in a future update or service pack.  Feel free to add your vote or comments to the Connect item if you think the change I describe would be useful.

Conclusion

In this post, I’ve highlighted the unexpected behavior of composite domains in data cleansing operations, along with a few workarounds to help you get past this issue.  As always, comments and alternative suggestions are welcome!

DQS Validation Rules on Composite Domains

In Data Quality Services, composite domains can be created to associate together two or more natural domains within a knowledge base.  Like natural domains, composite domains can also contain one or more validation rules to govern which domain values are valid.  In my last post, I discussed the use of validation rules against natural domains.  In this post, I’ll continue the thread by covering the essentials of composite domain rules and demonstrating how these can be used to create relationships between data domains.

What is a composite domain?

Before we break off into discussing the relationships between member domains of a composite domain, we’ll first touch on the essentials of the latter.

Simply, a composite domain is a wrapper for two or more organic domains in a knowledge base.  Think of a composite domain as a virtual collection of dissimilar yet related properties.  As best I can tell, the composite domain is not materialized in the DQS knowledge base, but is simply a meta wrapper pointing to the underlying values.

To demonstrate, I’ve created a knowledge base using a list of automobile makes and models, along with a few other properties (car type and seating capacity).  I should be able to derive a loose association between automobile type and seating capacity, so I’ll create a composite domain with those two domains as shown below.

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As shown above, creating a composite domain requires nothing more than selecting two or more domains from an existing knowledge base.  After the composite domain has been created, your configuration options are generally limited to attaching the composite domain to a reference data provider (which I’ll cover in a future post) and adding composite domain rules.

Value association via composite domain rules

The most straightforward way to associate the values of a composite domain is to create one or more rules against that composite domain.  When created against a composite domain, you can use rules to declare if/then scenarios to describe allowable combinations therein.

Back in the day, before marriage, kids, and a mortgage, I used to drive sports cars.  Even though that was a long time ago, I do remember a few things about that type of automobile: they are fast, expensive to insure, and don’t have a lot of passenger capacity.  It’s on that last point that we’ll focus our data quality efforts for now.  I want to make sure that some sneaky manufacturer doesn’t falsely identify as a sports car some big and roomy 4-door sedan.  Therefore, I’m going to create a rule that will restrict the valid domain values for seating capacity for sports cars.

I’ll start with some business assumptions.  What’s the minimum number of seats a sports car should have?  I think it’s probably 2, but I suppose if some enterprising gearhead decided to convert an Indy Car into a street-legal machine, it would likely be classified as a sports car too.  Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that, in an edge case, a sports car could have just a single seat, so our minimum seating capacity for a sports car would be 1.  On the high side, design of sports cars should dictate that there aren’t many seats.  For example, the Chevrolet Camaro I had in high school could seat 4 people, assuming that 2 of the people were small children with stunted growth who had no claustrophobic tendencies.  However, we can give a little on this issue and assume that they somehow manage to squeeze a third rows of seats into a Dodge Magnum, so we’ll say that a sports car can have a maximum seating capacity of 6 people.

Now, with that information in hand, I’m going to use the Domain Management component of the DQS client to set up the new rule against the “Type and Capacity” composite domain from above.  As shown below, I can set value-specific constraints on the seating capacity based on the automobile type of Sports Car.

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As shown, any valid record with a car type of Sports Car must have a seating capacity of between 1 and 6 persons.

Of course, sports cars aren’t the only types of automobiles (gasp!), so this approach would likely involve multiple rules.  Fortunately, composite domains allow for many such rules, which would permit the creation of additional restrictions for other automobile types.  You could also expand the Sports Car rule and add more values on the left side of the operator (the if side of the equation).  For example, you might call this instead a “Small Car rule” and include both sports cars and compact cars in this seating capacity restriction.

Other uses

Although we’ve limited our exploration to simply interrogating the value of the natural domains within a composite domain, this is by no means our only option for validation.  For example, when dealing with string data you can inspect the length of the string, search for patterns, use regular expressions, and test for an empty string in addition to checking against the actual value.  Shown below are some of the options you can use to query against a string value in a domain rule.

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When dealing with date or numerical data, you have the expected comparison operators including less than, greater than, less than or equal to, etc.

Conclusion

This post has briefly explored composite domains and shown how to add validation rules to a composite domain in an existing knowledge base.  In my next DQS post, I’ll continue with composite domains to illustrate a potential misunderstanding in the way composite domains treat value combinations in cleansing operations.

DQS Domain Validation Rules

dqsA compelling feature of the new Data Quality Services in SQL Server 2012 is the ability to apply rules to fields (domains) to describe what makes up a valid value.  In this brief post, I’d like to walk through the concepts of domain validation and demonstrate how this can be implemented in DQS.

Domain validation essentials

Let’s ponder domain validation by way of a concrete example.  Consider the concept of age: it’s typically expressed in discrete, non-negative whole numbers.  However, the expected values of the ages of things will vary greatly depending on the context.  An age of 10 years seems reasonable for a building, but sounds ridiculous when describing fossilized remains.  A date of “1/1/1950” is a valid date and would be appropriate for classifying a person’s date of birth, but would be out of context if describing when a server was last restarted.  In a nutshell, the purpose of domain validation is to allow context-specific rules to provide reasonableness checks on the data.

A typical first step in data validation would involve answering the following questions:

  • Is the data of the right type?  This helps us to eliminate values such as the number “purple” and the date “3.14159”.
  • Does the data have the right precision? This is similar to the point above: If I’m expecting to store the cost of goods at a retail store, I’m probably not going to configure the downstream elements to store a value of $100 million for a single item.
  • Is the data present where required?  When expressing address data, the first line of an address might be required while a second line could be optional.

Domain validation goes one step further by answering the question, “Is a given value valid when used in this context?”  It takes otherwise valid data and validates it to be sure it fits the scenario in play.

Domain validation in DQS

Even if you don’t use this term to describe it, you’re probably already doing some sort of domain validation as part of your ETL or data maintenance routines.  Every well-designed ETL system has some measure sanity check to make sure data fits semantically as well as technically.

The downside to many of these domain validation scenarios is that they can be inconsistent and are usually decentralized.  Perhaps they are implemented at the outer layer of the ETL before data is passed downstream.  Maybe the rules are applied as stored procedures after they are loaded, or even as (yikes!) triggers on the destination tables.

Data Quality Services seeks to remedy the inconsistency and decentralization issue, as well as make the process easier, by way of domain validation rules.  When creating a domain in DQS, you are presented with the option of creating domain rules that govern what constitutes a valid value for that domain.  For the example below, I’m using data for automobile makes and models, and am implementing a domain rule to constrain the value for the number of doors for a given model.

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With the rule created, I can apply one or more conditions to each of the rules.  As shown, I am going to constrain the valid values to lie between 1 and 9 inclusive, which should account for the smallest and largest automobile types (such as limousines and buses).

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For this rule, I’m setting the conditions that the value must be greater than zero or less than ten.  Note that there is no requirement to use this bookend qualification process; you can specify a single qualifier (for example, greater than zero) or have multiple conditions strung together in the same rule.  You can even change the AND qualifier to an OR if the rule should be met if either condition is true – though I would caution you when mixing 3 or more conditions using both AND and OR, as the behavior may not yield what you might expect.

That’s all there is to creating a simple domain validation rule.  Remember that for the condition qualifiers, you can set greater than, less than, greater than/equal to, etc., for the inclusion rule when dealing with numerical or date domain data types.  For string data types, the number of options is even greater, as shown below:

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Of particular interest here is that you can leverage regular expressions and patterns to look for partial or pattern matches within the string field.  You can also check the string value to see if it can be converted to numeric or date/time.

The rule in action

With the new domain validation rule in place, let’s run some test data through it.  I’m going to create a few test records, some of which violate the rule we just created, and run them through a new DQS project using the knowledge base we modified with this rule.

I’ll start off with the dirty data as shown below.  You can probably infer that we’ve got a few rows that do not comply with the rule we created, on both ends of the value scale:

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After creating a new data cleansing project, I use the data shown above to test the rule constraining the number of doors.  As shown below in the New output tab, we have several rows that comply with this new rule:

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In addition, there are two distinct values found that do not meet the criteria specified in the new rule.  Selecting the Invalid tab, I see the values 0 and 12 have failed validation, as they fall outside the range specified by the rule.  In the Reason column, you can see that we get feedback indicating that our new rule is the reason that these records are marked as Invalid:

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So by implementing this rule against my data, I am able to validate not only that the value is present and of the correct type, but that it is reasonable for this scenario.

Conclusion

In this post we’ve reviewed the essentials of domain validation and how we can implement these checks through domain rules in SQL Server Data Quality Services.  In my next post, I’ll continue the discussion around domain rules by reviewing how these rules can be applied to composite domains in DQS.

SQL Saturday Houston Recap

Last month I made the trip with some other Dallas-area speakers down to Houston’s second annual SQL Saturday event.  This was one of the shorter trips for me – we drove down on Friday afternoon/evening, and left out late Saturday.  It was good to be away from home for just one night (rather than the two nights I normally stay for SQL Saturday), but it definitely made for a long Saturday.

The facility for this event was not too bad.  It was some sort of educational institution for at-risk kids, and had fully equipped (although dated) video equipment.  One of my two sessions was the first one of the morning, and the room I was in had a bad projector in it.  A couple of guys from the school crew (they had folks there on Saturday for the event, which turned out to be quite useful) came and replaced the projector – with another bad one.  The third one finally worked, but it wouldn’t mount on the ceiling so the parked it on the desk – a little awkward with space tight already, but we made it work. 

Registration was very tough.  Houston was one of the first to try out the online check-in process on the SQL Saturday website, but unfortunately this process relies on attendees remembering their PASS website login.  Compounding the problem was the fact that they only had one computer for people to use for check-in.  I know that Nancy Wilson, the Houston group leader, has been in touch with PASS staff about a better way to handle check-ins without going back to paper.

Lunch was good.  Like last year, they catered barbecue for the event (in Houston, is there anything else?).  The vendors were all set up in the cafeteria where lunch was served, so it worked well to get some face time with attendees before and after they ate.

Like last year’s event, I thought it was well organized.  My only two suggestions would be:

  • Registration changes.  Hopefully we’ll get a web-based way to check in attendees without having them log into their PASS accounts at the point of check-in.
  • Timely notification to speakers of their selection.  Speakers were notified just a month ahead of time, which is an awfully short time frame since many (most?) of the speakers are coming from out of town and need to make travel arrangements.  It wasn’t as much of an issue for me since I didn’t fly, but I suspect that a few of the speakers probably got pinched on airfare due to the late notification.

Overall a good event!  I’ll definitely be back for next year.  By the way, I took a few pictures and posted them on my Flickr account.

Win a Free SQLRally Admission!

NTSSUGv6_1As those of you in our local North Texas SQL Server User Group are aware, we have given away one free 2-day pass to SQL Rally during each of the past two user group meetings.  Unfortunately, a schedule conflict has forced one of the winners to withdraw from the event.

However, someone else’s loss can be your gain.  Tomorrow afternoon, we will be giving away a free, 2-day pass to SQL Rally!  We’re going to be soliciting entries into a drawing that will be held just after noon tomorrow, and the winner will be announced immediately thereafter.

The Rules

Of course, there are always rules.  Fortunately, there are only a few of them:

  • To be eligible, you must have not yet registered for the 2-day SQL Rally conference.  (If you’ve registered just for the precon(s) but not the 2-day event, you can still enter to win).
  • You MUST be able to attend SQL Rally in Dallas next Thursday and Friday, May 10-11.  Please don’t submit if you can’t make it to both days of the event.
  • You’ll be responsible for your own travel and lodging costs (if any).  This giveaway is only for entry into the 2-day SQL Rally.
  • This prize is nontransferable.

How to enter

Sound good?  If so, send an email to the address sqlrally@ntssug.com and include the following information in the body of your email:

  • Your full name
  • Preferred email address
  • Telephone number

The deadline is tomorrow at noon.  Shortly thereafter we will print all of the names on paper and draw one lucky winner.  The winner will be contacted directly and announced via the NTSSUG distribution list.

This giveaway is sponsored by the North Texas SQL Server User Group, a group of SQL Server professionals who meet regularly for education and networking.  If you’re in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and are interested in getting engaged with the local SQL Server community, check us out.

May the odds be ever in your favor!

SQL Rally–1 week out

speaking_rallyIt’s hard to believe that after all the hard work, planning, and prep, that SQL Rally Dallas is just a week away! This time next week the conference will be in full swing for Day 1 of the regular sessions. The preconference seminars actually start on Tuesday, so it’s going to be a full week of learning’, Texas-style!

For my part, I’m going to be delivering a presentation on Thursday. I’ll be talking about SQL Server Data Quality Services, one of the new features of SQL Server 2012 that I’m really excited about. This one is designed for kids of all ages – whether you’ve never touched DQS or have been playing around with it for a bit, you’ll get something from this intro session.

“I’ll be there!”

If you’re already registered, great! Be sure to stop by my session and say hello – I’d be happy to meet both people who read my blog.

Remember that there are lots of networking opportunities to go along with the sessions and precons. If you love the night life and/or like to boogie, we’ll be having meetups at the Uptown Bar and Grill on Wednesday and Thursday nights. (Edit: The Wednesday night event is still on, but the location has been changed to the WXYZ Bar inside the Aloft hotel.) On Thursday, they’ll have karaoke for those of you who have a good voice or a high threshold for embarrassment. On Friday morning (if you don’t sleep in from the late night singing), meet up with me, Andy Warren, Sri Sridharan, and others at the convention center for coffee and chat. There’s even talk of an unofficial meetup near the convention center on Friday night to watch the broadcast of the Rangers pounding the Angels.

If you are registered for the 2-day conference but haven’t committed to a precon, I would encourage you to give them another look. Each one of the 7 preconference seminars is a full day deep dive into a single subject, delivered by presenters who are experts in their fields. Whether you want to learn about DBA topics, SSAS, or professional development, there’s a good chance you’ll find a good fit. Remember, these run on Tuesday and Wednesday, so you could even take in 2 of the precons. The full-day precons are priced at $219 each, which is an excellent bargain given the quality of the education you’ll get.

“I’m still not sure…”

I hear you. Perhaps work is busy and there’s nobody to take the slack if you are gone for two or three days. Maybe the boss says he won’t pay for it. It could be that you’re afraid that the material will be over your head, or that perhaps you won’t know anybody. Getting away from the office and out of the comfort zone is taxing, no doubt.

But I’d like to submit to you that your career is worth it. At SQL Rally, you’re going to be surrounded by 500-600 people who are a lot like you – problem solvers who want to learn. Every demographic and skill level will be represented, from those just starting out to experts with decades of experience. You’ll get the opportunity to talk shop and compare challenges with hundreds of other database professionals, which is an experience you can’t get from a book or online course. You’ll get to meet and chat with authors, MVPs, MCMs, IT business owners, and other folks who have a lot to teach (and I promise you that they’re just regular people, and most of them truly enjoy getting to know fellow professionals).

In addition to the educational benefits, the networking opportunities are probably the most significant element of Rally. If you’ve ever looked for a job, tried to hire someone, or needed a partner to help solve a problem, you quickly realize the need for networking especially in a wired world. There’s simply no replacement for knowing people in this business. I shared with you in my last Rally blog post about how I came into the job that I have now purely because of the networking contacts I’d made at PASS events. Build your network – one day, you’ll be glad you did.

So if you’re not already registered, I’d encourage you to do what you need to do to be a part of this event. Beg the boss (give him/her this), skip the double-foam-extra-wheat-skinny-caramel-mochas this month, pull an extra shift or two, whatever it takes – it’s an investment, but you won’t be disappointed.

Eight Words

I remember a lot of things about that day.  It was July in Texas, which is to say, it was unbearably hot.  For the work I ended up doing that day, I was way overdressed in my long-sleeved blue button down and khakis.  I was training a new guy – Andy – who had recently been promoted from Service Agent (car washer) to the Rental Agent (working behind the retail counter).

Space was unusually tight that day.  As a franchised car rental agency, we shared a location with an auto dealership, and square footage was at a premium.  As a result, our entire indoor existence was confined to a space about the size of a decent sized bedroom.  There was nowhere to hide – if you had even a whispered conversation in that space, everybody in the office could hear it.  In the office that day was the site manager, another rental agent, Andy, and me.

And Bob.

Bob was the boss. He wasn’t always in the office; overseeing four different franchise locations called him away a lot, but on that day he found his way to us. When I say Bob was in “the office”, what I really mean was that Bob was in the middle of our small retail space.  There was no private office, no place for Bob to retire to for conducting high level business.  When Bob was in town, he took over the manager’s desk, which overlooked the tiny rental area as well as the parking lot where the rental cars were prepped and stored.

Bob was a difficult man, but not intolerable.  He was highly critical of mistakes, but usually had the professionalism not to scold you in front of customers.  He was polite in his own way, and when things were going very well, he could be downright nice.  I never knew him to lie, and he didn’t seem to show favoritism to anyone.  Still, he was a tough nut, and anytime he was in the office the whole staff would be on edge.  It was an unenviable position to be the person who screwed up Bob’s mood, as he ended up taking it out on all of the staff equally.

That day was largely unremarkable, save for eight little words that Bob said to me.  And because of those eight words, I’ll remember that day – and the way Bob treated me – for a long time to come.

Those eight words

Our four rental franchises were part of a single business entity, so we shared a fleet of cars.  As such, it was a daily occurrence to transfer vehicles from one location to another to accommodate advance reservations and expected walk-up business.  Everyone had job titles – rental agent, service agent, site manager, driver – but as a small business, we were expected to do whatever was required.  Service agents normally washed and detailed cars, but were commonly called upon to help customers at the counter.  It was not uncommon to find well-dressed rental agents scrubbing or fueling a car, and site managers had to do it all.  And with the volume of cars that had to be transferred to various locations, everyone was a driver.

On that day, I had transferred a car from another site to our location, after which I linked up with Andy to help show him the ropes.  To demonstrate to him how things really worked, I took him out to detail a car (in our dress clothes, of course) to reinforce that his promotion didn’t mean he’d left behind the days of stinking of sweat and Armor-All.  Polishing the car in the hot Texas sun, it didn’t take long to get hot and sweaty.  Back in the cramped office, the air conditioning was a welcome relief, but only for a moment.  Bob asked for a word with me outside.

It wasn’t unusual for Bob to ask for a private conversation, but this time there was something different about his tone.  It was cold and firm – more so than usual.  Maybe it was always like that with Bob, but it really stands out that day.

I met Bob outside, and he led me over to a car in the to-be-detailed area – in fact, it was the same car that I had transferred from the other location just that morning.  He walked me around to the passenger side of the car, and pointed out a small but noticeable scratch and dent on the rear passenger door.  I immediately began thinking, “Did I do a walk-around before transferring the car?”  We didn’t have a lot of fixed policies around these things, but for my own peace of mind I almost always walked around and checked for any unreported damage before I drove a fleet car.  That day, I couldn’t remember if I’d checked.

Bob wanted to get to the bottom of this.  He was very upset, and was obviously choosing his words very carefully.  He told me that I should confess immediately if I knew anything about the origin of this damage.  Then he said the eight words for which I will always remember him:

“If you lie to me, I’ll fire you.”

Bob and I had never been friends.  He was the boss, and I was the subordinate – that line was silently yet clearly drawn.  Still, we were decent to one another.  To my knowledge, neither of us was ever dishonest to the other before or since that day.  I was young and prone to occasional foolishness, but was still a reliable and trustworthy employee.  And in spite of that, I’d just been threatened with termination if I couldn’t convince my boss that I truly knew nothing about the damage to a fleet car.

Before responding to Bob, my mind went a thousand directions at once.  I was afraid.  I’d left a stable job of six years just months before to take this position.  I had an apartment, a car payment, and other obligations that are unfriendly to an unemployment check.  I was confused.  Did I transport a damaged car?  Did I check it?  Could the damage have occurred after I got here?  Or even worse, did I unknowingly hit something that caused the damage?  I was angry.  I’d never demonstrated any sort of dishonesty, and couldn’t imagine why I would be treated as a liar.

In the end, my response to him was one of reserved anger.  I clearly communicated to Bob that I had no knowledge of the damage, and that I was offended that he’d treat me with such disrespect given our history together.  Bob seemed to be surprised at my frustration with him, but it must have been enough to convince him that I really was telling the truth.  Neither of us ever spoke of that conversation to each other ever again.

And on down the road

Bob and I had an unremarkable relationship after that – neither good nor bad.  Not long after that encounter, I left the rental agency to take another job.  I haven’t spoken to Bob since my last day there; it’s not that I’ve avoided him, just that our paths have never crossed.

Bob was probably a good man.  I met his wife and kids on a couple of occasions, and they seemed great.  He had two long-timers who had been with him for a while, and although he treated them badly at times, they stuck with him.  He had a good head for business, and was a very hard worker.  And yet, the one thing that stands out in my mind about my time working for Bob was that one conversation and those eight words.  “If you lie to me, I’ll fire you.”

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not at all bitter about this experience.  In retrospect, though the rental car agency wasn’t a great job, I truly learned a lot from the job – and from Bob.  Though I doubt he intended it, he taught me more about business than I’d learned in six years working in a big box retail store.  It was in my time there that I found my entrepreneurial spark.  I’m glad I worked there, glad I worked directly for him, and glad we had that conversation.  I learned a great lesson from that conversation.

The takeaway

That experience emblazoned in my mind, I carry to this day several lessons from that conversation.

1) In tense situations, words are weapons. Choose your arsenal carefully.  Most workplace conversations don’t qualify as being life-altering, but it’s important to recognize when the things you say can affect the trajectory of a career.

2) Little things you say can have a lasting impact.  I’m willing to bet that Bob never gave this conversation a second thought after it was over.  He likely passed it off as just another conversation with a subordinate.  However, my young and impressionable mind remembers everything about it – I was scared as hell that everything I had worked for could be taken away due to no fault of my own.  If he was to read this post, I’d bet he would be shocked that such a trivial conversation would create such an impression that it would still ring clearly after almost two decades.

3) Don’t treat everyone the same.  This is a tough one, especially for me, because my traditionalist upbringing pounded into me that everyone ought to be treated equally.  However, we need to be careful with how this is interpreted.  People should be treated with equal fairness, but this doesn’t mean that the way you interface should be identical from one person to the next.  The approach you take with a hard-nosed veteran will likely be different than the way you handle a fresher just out of college.  Similarly, an eager-to-please performer shouldn’t be handled in the same way as a slacker who barely makes it to work completely clothed.  Bottom line: everyone will be treated differently based on where and who they are, but everyone has the right to be treated fairly.