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The Value of a Mentor


September 21, 2009 by Mike Hillwig

If you’re a junior DBA, or if you’re just starting your IT career, this is certainly a blog post you want to read.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my career by working for some fantastic managers and learning from some amazing mentors. I used to be intimidated by people who knew more about things than I did. If you’re young in your career, my best advice to you is to seek out people who know more about things than you and sponge as much knowledge from them as you possibly can.

When I worked for Lotus/IBM, I had a mentor named Carol. She is still one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. And when think about Carol, some of the lessons she taught me come racing to the front of my mind. She once told me “There are many people who know more about this than you. Fortunately, none of them are in this room.” Her point was that I knew my stuff and I shouldn’t be afraid to tell my clients what I thought. In her words, my guesses were better than their facts. I knew my product, and my clients were paying a lot of money for my advice. If I didn’t believe in it, my clients wouldn’t, either.

A few years later, I was on a contract at a public utility company. I was working for a woman named Jeannette. She taught me most of what I know about SQL Server development. At the same time, I was working with a DBA named John. This is the guy I had worked with at a previous company. John taught me a ton of what I know about query optimization.

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet Brent Ozar from Quest Software. I’ve read an awful lot of the stuff he’s written about SQL Server, and I consider him a virtual mentor. As we were talking, he helped me realize that I have a lot of experience and that I’ve written a few things that show I know what I’m talking about.

If you’re young and learning, seek out people who know things. Learn from them. Have confidence in what you know, and appreciate that there is always more to learn.