Lessons from Volunteering

Saturday I volunteered at a work-day at our church. Our building is one of the first buildings built in this area of Washington, so it’s a beautiful old structure, which of course means there’s lots of maintenance.

I’m fairly decent with tools, I’ve done some woodworking in my day, and I’ve even rebuilt a car or two. But working on a structure this old requires some special skills, skills that I don’t (or didn’t) have. And as I re-glazed a stained-glass window into an ancient window opening, I was not only humbled, I thought about how the entire project was handled and how I could learn about being a better DBA. I decided to share those lessons I learned here.

Not everybody knows what you do
This seems obvious – but I’m so often on the “knowing” end of a project that it’s easy to forget. Several of the other people at the workday knew what went where, how things worked, and what to do to take something out or put it back in. Even with my construction skills, I felt a little overwhelmed. Happily, the people that were there were VERY gracious and helped me do what I could. The nice thing is that they did not talk down to me or treat me like an idiot – they found out what I did know, and then mapped that to what I could do. They helped me learn, and by doing that I became useful to them.
This is also true in our career field. Are you having trouble between developers and data professionals? Buy a pizza, have a lunch and each team should take a turn at learning what the other knows, and what they would like them to know.

If you’re good at something, lead
One of the people at the workday was an older gentleman who was amazing in his knowledge. He’s a contractor, who’s dad trained him in construction starting at 5 years old! And in fact, his dad (and him) actually helped build this church. He’s an amazing guy. But he was running from task to task, doing all of the “hard” things. So I pulled him aside, and told him that we couldn’t do what he could do – but we were all willing hands and heads. I explained that if he would be willing, he could lead us. I asked him to group us into skillsets, and then come help each of us as needed. He agreed, and soon we were all productive.
You should do the same. If your kid’s school needs a “teacher for a day”, step up. Teach the kids what you know about databases. You’ll be surprised! Don’t be afraid to take a leadership role where you are.

Break things down into simple tasks
To do the two things above, you need to plan a little. The gentleman that helped us at first gave us things like “re-glaze that window.” After we stared at him blankly, he broke down the work into the steps of heating the old glaze with a torch, gently removing the old glaze, replacing the section of glass, and re-applying the glaze, all the while showing us the little parts of those tasks that keep the glass from shattering.
One of the easiest things to do when you’re a technical professional is to “glaze over” all of the little steps into a large one. You’ll need to learn to break things down into the simplest components, or at least the simple components that are needed for your workers.


I hope these tips are useful – I’ve been applying them each day.

Skip to main content