Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Biggest Career Mistake

MySQLImage via WikipediaIf you've been around for any length of time chances are good you've had a few significant bifurcation points in your career where you had to make a choice. Sometimes those choices work out well, sometimes they don't. Skill and hard work play a part in the outcome but luck does as well.

Around 1997 I discovered a then obscure and very new open source database known as MySQL. MySQL has grown up a lot since then. It's currently used by Facebook for instance and provides at least part of the back end database services for many other well known sites. At that point though it was just a promising new comer that had three key advantages over it's competition.
  1. It was free
  2. It was fast
  3. It was multithreaded
Point number three was actually the clinching differentiator, at least for me. What "multithreaded" means is that it was capable of handling more than one request at a time. This made MySQL ideal for small to medium sized web sites that wanted some sort of active content. MySQL was optimized for read speed at that point in time and given the demands of the day it was a great solution. It lacked things like sub selects and other more advanced SQL features but it had enough functionality to get a lot of jobs done and the price was right.

When I got involved the documentation was a very thin. Monty Widenius and David Axmark were the two driving forces behind MySQL and at the time a lot more attention was (rightly) being focused on fixing bugs and adding features. This made perfect sense and it gave me an opportunity to step in and help. I wrote or rewrote the majority of the documentation for MySQL over the first couple of years of it's existence. I also wrote a couple of articles that appeared in the now defunct Web Techniques magazine that helped champion both MySQL and PHP. Eventually though I was faced with a choice.

I had an opportunity at work to step into a management role. This was a long term goal of mine so I took it. I was managing people who were older than me and I was in a bit over my head at the time so I had to disengage from the MySQL community and the work I'd done there. Several years later MySQL was sold to Sun Microsystems for a billion dollars.

I was never an employee of the company that owned MySQL though I did receive MySQL license number seven for free in thanks for the work I'd done.

I can't help but wonder what might have developed for me professionally if I'd passed on that management position and continued my involvement with MySQL. I learned a lot in the management job and had an opportunity to work with some great people so it wasn't a bad experience from that perspective. Weighing that against what might have been if I either hadn't been given the management opportunity or chosen differently does occasionally keep me up at night though.
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