November 19, 2010 | SQL Server

Un-SQL Friday : Building a Brand

[This is an overly verbose and self-centered entry into @MidnightDBA's Un-SQL Friday.]

I've been unintentionally building my current brand since 1996.  This was the year I learned the wonders of desktop publishing (if you can call Corel Draw desktop publishing) and Internet publishing (a.k.a. HTML).  Microsoft pushed out Internet Explorer 3.0, which finally brought both JScript and VBScript to those of us who disliked Netscape.  A script kiddie was born.  I learned the ins and outs as best as I could, and helped other people code for *both* browsers on an IE-HTML mailing list.  To this day, I am still friends with a few of the people that frequented that list.  My participation there earned me a nod for my first Microsoft MVP award in 1997, and also prompted my very first job offer while I was still at University in northern Ontario (much to the chagrin of my classmates).

So, roughly a day after graduating, I moved from Canada to Rhode Island to take a job with a start-up called Waterworks Interactive.  Soon thereafter, I was involved in a beta for Internet Information Services (IIS) 3.0, which included Active Server Pages.  It took me about two hours to be hooked.  "What? You can present data from a *server* onto a *client* web page?  And the data can come from a *database*?"

At Waterworks, we built several web sites for some high-profile clients, but the most interesting one was a simple shopping cart application for a condom distributor in Boston.  Bored with the problems I had solved in our own work, I sought out places where I could help other people solve their problems, too.  Thus began the NNTP portion of my career.  Initially I was helping people out with just ASP problems (by 2006 I had close to 23,000 newsgroup posts in the microsoft.public.inetserver.* hierarchy), and then I moved on to SQL Server (by 2009 Google shows that I had over 20,000 posts in the microsoft.public.sqlserver.* hierarchy).  It wasn't long before I realized that I couldn't scale to provide tech support for thousands of fellow developers, especially when a lot of them have the same questions over and over again, so in 1999 I created a web site called aspfaq.com – a list of frequently asked questions (and answers, of course) dealing primarily with ASP and SQL Server. Don't go there now; it has been taken over by malware slimeballs.

In the summer of 2006, I sold the aspfaq.com property.  In exchange for handing over the rights to the content and signing a non-compete agreement that would last three years, I received a wire transfer larger than any consulting project I'd handled to that point – and to this day.  The site is relatively static these days, but it still has plenty of relevant information for SQL Server professionals, even if you ignore the content dedicated to the 5 people left in the world still running classic ASP.  Google still shows a top result for articles I wrote 10 years ago.

Shortly after abandoning my contributions to aspfaq.com, I was invited by Adam Machanic (blog | twitter) to blog here at sqlblog.com.  I was honored, of course.  Initially I used the platform to help illustrate solutions to problems I observed either in my own workplace, my consulting gigs, or in the community.  Occasionally I would give a nod to tools that helped me do my job, such as Red Gate and SQL Sentry.  I was always (or at least tried to be) careful to keep my posts unbiased and of general interest to the community.  This, perhaps coupled with my involvement on twitter and StackOverflow, has led to invitations to speak at user group meetings, code camps, and SQL Saturday events – these things always make me deathly nervous, but I am happy to do them even if only one person in the audience benefits from sharing my knowledge. 

My dedication to pointing out all of the snafus Microsoft has had with SQL Server and – more importantly – how to work around them, continues to spur messages of thanks, both publicly and privately.  It is a fun game trying to beat the SQL Server Release Services team to the punch on announcing new service packs and cumulative updates for the various versions of SQL Server currently under support.  And my passion for improving the product via Connect is sometimes exhausting (and usually frustrating).  I was also fortunate enough to be involved in the SQL Server MVP Deep Dives project, contributing two chapters, and I think this was in large part to my extensive blogging experience here and my contributions to the community over the years.

I think all of these things have helped develop my brand, and have contributed significantly to the value both my current and former employers have placed in me.  I hope that my stock in the community continues to rise, as it is a spectacular feeling to be recognized for my efforts, even if I'm not on the list of the top 10 SQL Server celebrities.  I think the SQL Sevrer community is exploding, and with every event or T-SQL Tuesday or twitter meme, I feel we all get a little closer.

I apologize if I don't have any direct or meaningful advice on building your own brand – but I feel very strongly that it is tied almost unilaterally to community contribution.  Because who else is your brand for, except the community?  And that's kind of my point.  I don't really care about "my brand" – I just feel that it is a reflection of what I try to do for the community.