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What Color Is Your Brick?

What Color Is Your Brick?

the yellow brick road

I have been writing about databases for more than 25 years. Most of my recent professional job searches were deliberately planned; having come from a decidedly non-high-tech background, and having found that I could make sense of databases, SQL, and data warehousing in particular, I tried to stay on the same path with the companies I sought to join.

My first database road was the Red Brick road (home of Ralph Kimball), back in 1995; 21 years later, in 2016, I set foot on the Yellowbrick road and 6 years later, I’m still driving. In between my red bricks and yellow bricks, I worked for Informix (Red Brick acquisition), IBM (Informix acquisition), ParAccel (hired by Bruce Scott of Oracle fame, and home of the eventual source code for AWS Redshift–“red” again!), Pivotal, and MapR (bit of a mistake there–except for working on the very interesting Apache Drill project, which now belongs to the affluent startup known as Dremio). I also moonlighted for a while with the short-lived BitYota. Should I have gone to Databricks somewhere along the line-did I miss a brick? If Snowflake were called Snowbrick, would I have gone there?

In all of the companies I did join, I wrote stuff and/or taught stuff, having been given the opportunity early on at Red Brick to teach a few courses, live, to real customers (why do customers ask such difficult questions when you’re trapped in the same room with them?). I also managed people, or not, as the time and place demanded, but mostly I tried to write new things, often starting from scratch as the first writer to join an engineering team in startup mode. Along the way, I gained a reputation for testing stuff and opening bugs, suggesting better ways to write messages, and offering “Bobification” of the output returned by user interfaces and CLIs.

Occasionally I have been invited to change course and become full-time QA, or Education, or Product Management (even that!). Somehow I never wanted to change course that much, and I stuck to my guns as a writer first and foremost, but as a writer who knew a few things because he tried them out, and who questioned things when they didn’t seem all that intuitive or useful.

What’s the point of my story?

Well, this famous book called What Color is Your Parachute? came out about 50 years ago, advising job seekers to choose a line of work where they could survive and thrive, not just get hired and move on when the time comes. Since 1995, when I started working on databases, I have written the same function descriptions four or five times over in some cases (oh no, not window functions again!), but I chose that path and that repetition. I welcomed it, the same way you might welcome re-reading the same book at two or three different stages in your life. I have also established some really strong working relationships by following a few of the same good people from one company to another.

My personal experience aside, think about the longevity of the relational database market. Red Brick Warehouse was the de facto data warehouse database in 1996 (when Red Brick Systems went public, hooray!), and Amazon Redshift became a well-known cloud data warehouse about 25 years later (and they’re still using a lot of my words on their web site, no royalties paid!), but the SQL commands and functions that their respective customers used, or use, are very much the same. It’s good to work for companies that respect and keep the tried and true stuff (technology that really works, makes sense, and has stuck) while adding on shiny new stuff (technology that you hope will stick). 

So here’s to a big yellow parachute and many more years on the Yellowbrick road!

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