It was the fall of 1991. I applied for and landed a quality assurance internship at SQL Solutions in Burlington, MA which was located at 8 New England Executive Park right next to the Burlington Mall. SQL Solutions was purchased by Sybase not long after. I kept that internship through the end of graduation in 1994 and there’s no question it literally set up the rest of my professional career.

I always find it interesting how one thing, one event, one interaction can sometimes change the course of your life – good or bad. I’ve been on both sides of that.

I always went home in the summertime, but when back in MA for college, I was at Sybase twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday if memory serves me correctly). Two of the people I worked closely with and were my direct supervisors were women I still have the utmost respect for today. I’ve never seen gender, color of someone’s skin, religion, etc., as a problem then or now. No one should. I learned a lot in those two years, and I am forever thankful to everyone I worked with at Sybase. In fact, one of the people I met I wound up playing years later in various jazz ensembles (he’s a guitar player). Small world.

Part of me thought I’d land a permanent job at Sybase, but that wasn’t meant to be, and I believe things worked out how they should have. The skills I acquired in those two years gave me the foundation to land my first job post-college doing QA using FoxPro (then Visual FoxPro) for a company that did medical software. In reality, it set me up for life since I’m still tinkering with databases today.

In a harbinger of things to come, I once got in trouble in that job because I automated part of what I was supposed to do using Visual Basic and Excel macros. The results were predictable, so why would I eyeball that? Let a process tell me if it was good or bad. Was I DevOps before DevOps was cool? (kidding here, folks) That little “stunt” landed me on a PIP which I survived but it taught me a valuable lesson.

I can see why automating rubbed some the wrong way – here’s this young upstart at the tender age of maybe 23 trying to tell us how to do our job. I was just trying to free my time up to be more efficient and save my time for the stuff that needed my attention. It’s funny how automation and other things are commonplace now but were not then.

The events of the past year when we’ve all been stuck at home has given us time to reflect and see how we want or need to move forward and improve. I have always looked forward, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look to the past for inspiration. I look fondly on the early years of my career. In some ways I’ve come so far, but in others, I haven’t gone very far at all. I think I found my calling early if I wasn’t going to be a full-time musician but I marched to the beat of my own drummer and I’d like to think I still do to a degree. I’m certainly older. Wiser and smarter? I hope so. Better filter? Those who know me will have varying opinions here.

I’d like to think my success to date has outweighed my failures and shortcomings. I’m a work in progress. We all are. This is why even 30 years in, I try my best to learn and do new things knowing in some cases it will be difficult or I may be ahead of the curve.

A recent interview with Tomo Fujita by Mary Spender struck a huge chord with me. Paraphrasing what Tomo said at one point is this: teachers are not better than students and can learn from them even though they are still helping the student. This one quote stuck with me: “(A) teacher is just a great student.” Fast forward to about 8:37 if you want to see that interaction. It’s such a good interview where even if you are not a musician, you can apply a lot of what Tomo says to your life beyond that little bit.

I’m no longer that early 20-something but I learn something from all of my customers and students (including anyone who attends a webinar, etc.). I may not be the smartest person in the room and I’m totally fine with that but I’m at the proverbial table for a reason and it’s not just my boyish good looks and charm (laugh – it’s a joke). I’ll never try to be all things to all people; it’s impossible. I know my limitations. I can only attempt be the best me I can be at any given moment.

That 20-something also couldn’t have imagined one internship would one day allow him to travel the world and speak to, work with, and teach thousands of people. There are very few things as humbling when people tell you how you’ve inspired them or helped them and it made an impact.

Learn from your mistakes. Learn from every experience – good or bad. Learn from those around you. You never know what may shape and spark things to come … and remember to give back.