Thursday, April 14, 2011

Don't Be Afraid, Not Being The Smartest Person In The Room

"I don't have to be the smartest person in the room". I once didn't take a job because of this phrase.  It was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me and it worked out quite well for a friend of mine.  But I'm getting ahead of myself, let me tell the story from the beginning.


A little philosophy first.  I'm not going to go Ayn Rand or Immanuel Kant on you, but as Louis Davidson (Blog|Twitter) would say, "We're drinking my flavor of Kool-AID today.

I don't have to be the smartest person in the room.  I don't, just don't need to.  Sometimes you will be, sometimes you won't.  If you don't worry about it, then it takes a lot of pressure and stress off.

"But Balls", you say, "Why are you afraid of being smart!?"

Ahh but that's just it Dear Reader, I'm not Afraid.

We've all been in the room with someone that THINKS they know everything.  We've all worked with someone, that just always had to be right.  Have you ever worked with someone like this on the day they were wrong?  

I have a better question would you want to be them on the day they are proven wrong?  No I wouldn't either.  If you always HAVE to be right, then being wrong is a crushing blow.

People can be afraid of a lot of things.  They can let themselves be ruled by fear, fear that your boss won't listen, fear that you don't know as much as the guy sitting next to you, Fear of Not Being the Smartest Person in the room.

I've seen this back fire on so many people that I've always wanted to take a different approach.  I find that you never know where the best idea will come from on a team.  It could be the developer that has been written off as lazy, that has a great out of the box idea.  It could be the obnoxious DBA that has some insight into the best way to layout a project's architecture.  It could be a Server Engineer that has really good insight on code management and migration.

If you make yourself open to the possibility that everyone has something to contribute, then you don't close yourself off to ideas.  And again you take a lot of weight off of your shoulders.


A couple jobs ago I was looking for a new position.  I had reached what I felt was a ceiling.  I had been a Sr. Developer, mentored others, gotten my SQL Certifications, and filled the roles of a Sr. DBA & Sr. Developer.  I had worked on some cool projects, and really loved the people I had worked with.  

However, I wanted to grow and we were a very top heavy team.  A lot of people had been with the company for years, many had their Masters in IT or MBA's, MCAD's, and MCSE's brilliant people that I'm still very happy to call friends.  But with a great experienced group the only way to move into the full time job I wanted was for someone to leave.


So I struck out to find greener pastures.  One particular job had advertised itself as Sr. DBA position.  I applied, and found that the person leaving the job was Awesome.  The company hated to loose Awesome, the client that Awesome served was thrilled with them, and Awesome had no desire to go but was moving to follow his wife's career.

We met several times over a month, and I went on-sight to meet the client.  The more I learned about the position, the more it didn't feel like a good fit.  I found that the only reason they wanted a DBA and were requiring an MCITP for SQL was because Awesome had that and they wanted Awesome II.  It was more of an Analyst/Team Lead position.

While meeting the client, I was asked to explain how I would describe myself as a Manger.  And I said "I'm not afraid, not to be the smartest person in the room.  I think everyone brings something to the table, I like to listen, I like to consider what the boots on the ground have to say, I don't think that my position entitles me to ideas that are more brilliant than anyone else, and as a Manager I'm not afraid to cheer someone on who's smarter than I am in a subject.  If I find someone smarter than I am, I want to learn from them, so I can be as educated as possible on the subject at hand."


To be honest I thought it was a pretty good answer, and I'm still satisfied with it.  When we left the client site, the person who would have been my future manager, tore into me. 

I believe the coversation started out with "I DON'T KNOW WHAT IN THE HELL THAT SHUCK'S GOOD OLD BOY, HUMBLE CRAP WAS......" Needless to say I was taken back.   But I stuck to my guns, which probably only served to enrich the colorful nature of the rest of our conversation.  

The remainder of the conversation centered on how I always, ALWAYS, needed to be the smartest person in the room.  As I explained a little earlier, this flies in the face of how I work.  You can take a job where you compromise yourself, but I can't see how you can do that and be happy.

I told my wife later, that had I already taken the job the tone of the conversation would have left me worried that I would have been fired.  We talked about it that evening, and even though it would have been a significant raise, SIGNIFICANT RAISE, I asked if she would be alright with me passing.  My very wise and beautiful wife replied by saying that she didn't know why I was still even considering it.


The day before I decided to pass a brilliant friend of mine, Perfect, found themselves without a job.  When I had worked with Perfect previously, Perfect had been an Analyst that had been a Team Lead over Developers, and was a perfect for this job.

I got Perfect's resume, and called and informed the recruiter I had been dealing with that I wouldn't be taking the job replacing Awesome.  Despite protests, I told them it may not seem like it, but I've got a person for this job whose Perfect.  I didn't have any hard feelings.  I wasn't the right person, and they weren't the right fit for me.  But I was going to send them Perfect's resume, and they should set up a meeting as soon as possible.

Perfect still works there, Perfect loves their job and is very successful.  And me, I found a little job up in D.C. working for the President, that led me to the Great State of Florida where I was very happy to land.

I guess my only parting advice Dear Reader would be don't be afraid of a someone who is smarter than you.  Embrace them, learn from them, and work hard.  At the end of the day how can anybody be unhappy with learning something new, and making themselves better.




1 comment:

  1. Great story!!! The office misses ya! SQL question for you though...our new DBA showed me the sizeable performance gain of a clustered index over "regular" indexes. In fact, he demonstrated that the non-clustered index isn't used during the queries. So that left me with the question - "What purpose would a non-clustered index serve?"