I’m writing and posting this blog post on my flight home to Boston on American Airlines. I knew AA had Internet connectivity on some routes for awhile (i.e. New York to LA), but it’s nice to see it being offered on more of the fleet. Is it cheap? Well, no. $9.95 for basically a couple of hours, but for someone like myself whose daily work involves keeping connected, I love it.
Now, I said connected, but I’m not a smartphone guy. I don’t want my e-mail on a phone. I don’t want to really browse the web on a phone. My experiment with smartphones was a dismal failure (the device is nice, though – the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1A; anyone want to buy it?) largely because I only really used the phone as a … wait for it … phone. So I went back to having “just a phone” (as much as you can get that these days) and I couldn’t be happier. Truth be told, I have one of the AT&T broadband modems and if I need to get online when on the road, I use that. I always say to people to e-mail me – if I’m online, I’ll respond, otherwise I’m out and about. Another reason for the modem is that a lot of hotels still charge for Internet. While what they have may be faster than my modem (which is glorified dial up; let’s be honest), I’m not going to pay at a hotel for INternet. Sounds funny coming from the guy writing a blog post at 30,000 feet, but in my cost containment structure, paying AT&T per month is cheaper than paying per day or week multiple times on the road (including airports, too).
I’m also a dedicated device kind of guy, and I generally don’t conform to trends. I’m sure that comes as a HUGE shock to those that know me (ha). Take for example a DVD or Blu-Ray player: it can play the various optical disc formats (CD, DVD, B-R, and possibly DVD-A and SACD as well), but if you want, say, good sound, 9/10 times the player won’t be as good as a dedicated audio-based CD player or a more expensive version. I’m still the guy who is buying that not insanely priced but not cheap dedicated CD and/or SACD player even today. I’m a dying breed, I know. Don’t remind me. (And before you ask, I do have a portable music player; I go through them like water.)
All of this connectivity has led to what I believe is a bigger issue: people are chained to their smart devices and phones. Heck, now I see people riding bicycles and talking or texting. Talk about Darwin at work – that really is an accident waiting to happen. This virtual tethering has had what I believe are two effects, one personal, one professional. I fly and I often see people with a work device (say, a Blackberry) and a cel phone/personal device (read: iPhone). They’re checking e-mail and looking at both. It cracks me up. I also love when people can’t wait 10 seconds after touchdown to check their device. From a professional standpoint, it’s gone from beepers to this, where work can get in touch with you at any time of day and pretty much expect you to respond. That’s where I draw the line. If I’m in the middle of playing a gig (did you know I was also a musician who has recorded some CDs and doing a new one this fall?), the last thing I want to think about is having to check a phone to see if I got an e-mail. If I’m around, I’m on the laptop. If not, I’m not. I’ll get back to you later. People who really need to get in touch can pick up the phone and call me … they have my number.
On the personal side, things like Twitter and Facebook wouldn’t be what they are without all of this connectivity. Social networking is good from a personal and professional standpoint. I’m on Facebook and Linkedin, but I’m not sure why (especially Twitter) people need to put every update of their life on there. Sometimes it’s just too much information I don’t want to know about. I don’t think anyone is that interesting or important, but on the flip side, I also get it. You won’t find me on Twitter; that’s where I draw the line for myself. My phone will remain a phone for connectivity of the human kind.
I’ve also seen a paradigm shift in the way I do e-mails as a result of all of this connectivity. I’m not sure about you, but I can write a long e-mail. I noticed a few years ago I was getting no responses to some, and realized that most people were reading it on a smartphone (or something like it), so in any e-mail communication, I keep it brief or I make sure that the salient points are now in the first 1 – 3 sentences, and provide more detail after that so at least they can get the gist of what is being said quickly even if they don’t read the whole thing. It’s a skill everyone – including DBAs – need to master.
DBAs in a 24×7 environment have a tough challenge, and there’s no getting around some kind of tethering device which ties you back to work, but let me caution you: you’ll burn out at some point if all you do is work 24×7. I’ve been there; it’s not fun. Politically, that’s really hard to do. But you have to work with your management to set up reasonable boundaries to create some kind of resonable work/life balance. As an independent consultant, it’s hard. I have no guaranteed paychecks, so I tend to be connected more than not, but I have control over that. I know the parameters if I accept a client engagement, too, and we define their access to me within reason. Do I work nights and weekends? Absolutely, but not all the time.
Manage your career as a DBA or IT pro smartly: yes, we all need to put food on our tables and a roof over our heads, but at what cost? I can’t answer that for you; it’s a totally personal and subjective thing. Do I have work/life balance all the time? Ask my friends when I was writing Pro SQL Server 2008 Failover Clustering; they’d probably tell you no, but I think I gigged more as a musician during that time than I have in the past few years.