This is not the year you were looking for

I was awarded an MCSA: SQL 2016 Business Intelligence Development this week. I figured I'd promote it on LinkedIn but as often happens with me when I have spare time, I reflect on things. There's been a lot to reflect on and as I started to plan out this post, it has turned into a bit of catharsis. In the grand scheme of all of the things going on in the world, I'm totally aware that my challenges aren't major, but they're relative and I find it useful to share and reflect.

2020 was supposed to be a special year for me and my family, it was a year of special birthdays for all of us. By the time the year was out, we'd have a ten-year-old, a teenager and my wife and I would celebrate our 40th birthdays! We were planning on a special holiday to celebrate, I was to be best man (hopefully should still be) at my best friends wedding later this year. I also started a new (this) business with a long-term associate. We hadn't really catered for a global pandemic in our business plan!

I was surprised at how much of a challenge this has been for me personally. I was really comfortable with the concept of lockdown from the start. I've been working remotely on and off before, on numerous occasions, so that side of it wasn't going to be a problem and my squad at the time transitioned to remote working really well.

There have been so many other issues to contend with that I hadn't really anticipated. Not being able to see family or friends, unable to support grandparents who have been ill for fear of making them worse, fundamental issues like what do you do when a washing machine breaks (seriously....second week of lockdown!), how to keep fit and worst of all we've not been able to attend a funeral of a close family member. My wife and my now-teenage daughter both celebrated their milestone birthdays in isolation too.

And the reality is that these issues are compounded when trying to ensure the whole family is coping with this complex situation. How my children are coping has been very different - on the one hand, I have an older daughter who has taken to the new normal reasonably well, she speaks to her friends on the phone and that is enough to keep her going, on the other hand, my younger daughter places massive importance on social interaction and has found isolation quite upsetting, but they have both at different times found it very hard to deal with.

And if that wasn't bad enough my coffee machine broke (seriously...fifth week of lockdown!). On the balance of everything going on in the world right, this is not a big deal I realise, but really??

This whole experience is totally different for each of us. Reflecting on my kids' experience, they couldn't have been more different in how they have approached things even though they've been brought up with the same principles, taught the same values and ideas on how to deal with adversity. And that's the same for all of us, each and every one of us will have a different perspective, different views, different challenges, some might find it hard enough just to do a day's work remotely, some will be struggling with isolation, whilst others will revel in the social distancing (I know at least one who is!).

Social media can be unkind in these situations, unnecessary pressure can be put on us to achieve and fulfil potentials during a situation that none of us are really prepared for. If life serves you lemons you make lemonade right? Someone on my twitter feed posted that if you don't come out of lockdown having learnt [insert any random skill here] then you have failed, someone on my LinkedIn feed speculated that people should be measured by what you achieved during lockdown.

There is a quote I heard at some point during the lockdown, I've no idea what I was listening to at the time, but have traced it back to an author called Damian Barr;

"We are not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.”

If you've not read the poem this quote is from, I highly recommend you go find it and take a read. It's pretty cool. For me personally, the only thing any of us should be measured on at the end of all this is if we managed to steer our own boat out of the storm.

My contract came to an end abruptly at the end of April - things were reprioritised as a consequence of COVID, which is fair enough. That led me to consider what I was to do next since the market was completely dead (at the time), who is kicking off data projects in the middle of this chaos? So I decided to use the time to pick up certs on my area of expertise. I've been a Business Intelligence technical lead for 10 years, and very recently have moved into consulting. I've been in the industry for around 15 years but never put the time aside to properly get qualified.

I set a target of obtaining an MCSE in Data Management and Analytics by the end of June. I really wanted to pick this up because whilst Microsoft has put an end to these exams in 2021, I get to keep them for 3 years and there's a fair amount of value (in my opinion) in capping off my experience with this cert whilst also working towards my Azure Data Engineering Associate cert.

Studying whilst in lockdown has been a harder challenge than working in lockdown! Where I'm normally free to be interrupted "unless I'm on a call" because it's easy to drop a piece of code to have a chat about a maths question or a comprehension question, there are no flags now, so interruptions are constant. Dad's not working, I need help and he can help me. This is totally fine, but those interruptions have been disruptive to my flow of studying and keeping momentum has been a challenge.

And the kids' schoolwork has its own complications for me because they go to a Welsh-medium school. I wanted my daughters to have the opportunity to speak Welsh (an opportunity I didn't have) but that means that all of the work...except for their English in Welsh. I get by with some conversational Welsh, but me going over the concepts of Algebra in English that they are learning in Welsh is an added complexity that Algebra doesn't need. We've had tears, arguments, frustration but we all have a newfound patience that we never had before after doing this for 6 weeks. It has certainly given me a newfound admiration for the work that teachers do!

So here is my current achievement, I’ve gone from setting the goal to MCSA certified in roughly 5 weeks. I’m intending on turning that A into an E by the end of the month, so I've got just under 3 weeks to achieve that. But probably, my greatest achievement of the last few weeks (months) is ensuring my kids keep momentum with their schoolwork and ensuring our boat is going to be ok. I need to find myself a stand-in teacher badge. And learn some more Welsh…


If you made it all the way down here, thanks for reading my post and enjoy your day.