May 3rd represents a small but significant milestone in my career. It was 15 years ago today, on May 3, 2008, when I delivered my first public technical presentation. That event, as brief as it was, helped to set in motion a chain of events that I could never have predicted.
In 2008, I was working in healthcare, and had recently wrapped up a multi-year project to migrate my employer’s healthcare information system. Having shifted from sometimes 80+ hour weeks during that migration to a more manageable development schedule, I focused on catching up on some professional development I had neglected during the prior 2 years. As an avid reader of the SQL Server Central website, I learned about some new event called SQL Saturday. I discovered there was a SQL Saturday event coming up soon, all the way out in Jacksonville, Florida. Too far to drive, for sure, but I had some airline miles that were about to expire, so I put them to use and booked a trip. I saw that the event was looking for volunteer speakers, and I thought it would be a good learning exercise for me to write and submit an abstract. I had no speaking experience, so I fully expected to get a rejection letter for that abstract.
A week or two later, I received an email that was both exciting and terrifying: “Congratulations, you’ve been selected to speak at SQL Saturday Jacksonville!” I was delighted in what this could do to help move my career forward, but was beyond nervous at the prospect of stepping in front of a crowd to deliver a technical presentation. I worked diligently on that presentation, and even to this day I don’t think I’ve spent as much time preparing for a single talk as I did for that first one.
On the night before the event, I attended the speaker dinner, with my imposter syndrome as my annoying sidekick. I met several fantastic people that night, including the incomparable Andy Warren. Andy and I chatted for most of that evening, and he went out of his way to make me feel like I belonged there.
The next day, I found my session room and settled in for my presentation. In spite of the nervousness that must have been apparent to everyone there, I delivered my first-ever technical presentation to a small group of around 15 people. It was a success, at least in my mind, and I got some kind words afterward from a couple of the attendees.
At the time, I knew I had just passed a career milestone, but I had no idea how much this little event would help me in the future. My nervousness about speaking in public was all but gone, and after that I began to deliver more and more technical presentations. This also led to some paid speaking and writing opportunities in the months following. With what I learned on the speaking circuit and other community events, I also started to blog more, publishing more than two dozen blog posts the following year. In January 2010, barely a year and a half after my first public presentation, I was recognized as a Microsoft SQL Server MVP for the first time.
Since that first presentation 15 years ago, I’ve been fortunate to have spoken at dozens of SQL Saturdays, PASS Summits, SQLBits, and similar events as far away as England and Portugal. I began blogging furiously, carving out more than 300 posts in the years since. I even got the opportunity to author or co-author three books. With the help of the connections and partnerships I made along the way, I left my full-time job and started my consulting company five years after that first presentation.
It’s a delight when you can look back on a single event as having been the launching point for a string of amazing happenings. When I stood in front of that small group, shaky voice and all, I had no idea where it would lead. It’s taken a lot of hard work, and I can’t overstate the value of the help and guidance I received from so many other good people throughout this journey. There have been both successes and failures along the way, but the progress of the former exceeds the drag of the latter. I’ll be forever glad that I took that relatively small step forward on that sunny and humid Florida day back in 2008.
I don’t want this blog post to be entirely a humblebrag, so I’ll leave on a note of encouragement: If I can do it, so can you. Take that first step onto the stage. Publish that first blog post. Create that pull request. Share that dissenting but valuable viewpoint. It’ll be scary the first time you do it, but there are likely great things waiting on the other side of that small act.