July 2013 Spotlight: Meredith Ryan

2012 Exceptional DBA and WIT VC chair Meredith Ryan is excited to see more PASS women in leadership roles, shares what she’d look for in an exceptional teammate, declares her love for her tablet and knitting, and says, “Get thee to a SQLSaturday!”

Tell us about your life with SQL Server – what are you doing now, what path did you take to your current position, and what excites you most in today’s world of data?
I started out like most SQL Server folks I know – doing something completely different. I started out in IT back in 1998 at a Help Desk and worked my way into SQL Server by 2006 or so. I've told my “how I got here” story a few times; you can read it here. After several years as a production DBA on an operational team, I recently made the move to more of a development DBA, and in March I joined the SQL Server database performance team at ExactTarget, a salesforce.com company. I spend my days reviewing T-SQL code for performance and standards adherence and troubleshooting performance issues in our extremely large and busy databases.

I think the thing that excites me most is that there is still sooooo much to learn. Every day I learn about some new trick or pitfall that I didn't know about yesterday. The other thing that really makes me happy about SQL Server is that I know that I'm not alone. There are tons of people out there that know different things than I do about the platform, and we can help each other to be better at what we do. That's awesome to be able to say that about your profession.

As chair of the PASS Women in Technology (WIT) Virtual Chapter leadership team, what’s the most inspiring development you’re seeing among women in our community, and what’s one thing you’d love to see happen in the next year?
One of the things I've seen recently with women in our community is the increase in female speakers, mentors, volunteers, and MVPs. It seems like the number of women who are making their voice heard has grown exponentially – and it's fantastic. I would love to see that trend continue over the next year, and beyond that. We have extremely talented, intelligent, passionate women in our community who have things worth sharing – let’s keep it up!

If you could share one message with today’s children about gender and work attitudes, what would that be?
I have an 8-year-old daughter, so this is something I've given much thought to. It breaks my heart to hear her talk about not doing something because it's a “boy thing” – even though she kind of wants to do whatever it is. I try to reinforce to her that she can be and do whatever her heart desires; if she wants to be an engineer, a detective, or a fashion designer, she can. There are no “boy jobs” or “girl jobs” – just jobs, and people with the right skills, talent, and desire to do them. She has a strong technical and scientific influence in her life, but I also make sure she is exposed to art, music, gardening – anything she shows interest in – so that she can really learn that there are no restrictions on where her life can lead her.

You head up communications for the Albuquerque PASS Chapter (ABQSQL) – any tips for reaching out to members and potential members and encouraging more involvement in local user groups?
This is a hard one. I think the best thing I can suggest is that you have to find the medium that works best for your members. I would love it if I could reach our membership on Twitter or LinkedIn, but they just aren't there. I send a lot of email to our chapter members because that is how they best receive information. It took some time and was very much trial and error to figure that out. Once you find that medium, just make sure that you use it consistently.

As a technology professional, what’s your philosophy for getting the most from social media? And what’s the story behind your @coffegrl Twitter handle?
I try to keep my professional and personal social media presence separate. I use Twitter and LinkedIn professionally and keep my personal interactions on Facebook and LiveJournal. Twitter has been a life-saver for me at work more times than I can count. The SQL community is raring to go there, and everyone is there to help everyone else. My participation tends to wax and wane, depending on my workload, but I know that the community is there if I need it. And when I have time, I try to return that favor to others by answering questions on #SQLHELP. My best suggestion would be to use social media as a mentor to bounce ideas off of. Even more important, remember to turn it off from time to time.

The origins of @coffegrl come from a little place called KaffeWerks, which was a great local coffee shop that also ran a BBS out of a back room. When I discovered it, my default handle was already taken and a friend that knew me well suggested @coffegrl as a replacement. It stuck – most likely because of my coffee habit. :)

What would you tell someone who’s never been to a SQLSaturday?
To find the closest, soonest one and go! Plane, train, automobile…  however you need to get there, you need to get there. Once you are there, be prepared to be overwhelmed with the knowledge and community that will be shared with you for FREE. It will be the best career move you can make on a Saturday – I promise.

As winner of Red Gate Software’s 2012 Exceptional DBA award, what characteristics would you look for in an exceptional coworker?
It's a good thing I have a bunch of awesome teammates, or this question could get me in trouble. I want teammates who are honest, humble, intelligent, willing to give honest feedback, willing to receive honest feedback, and willing to have fun at work. Since I work almost 2,000 miles away from my closest teammates at this point, it's also important to me that they are comfortable communicating electronically. We use IM, email, and video chats often.

What’s your favorite time-saver at work? How about your favorite gadget?
Historically, my favorite time-saver at work has been a good auto-formatter. There are a few out there so I won't list them all, but I find my job (especially now) almost impossible to do if I can't hit a hotkey combo or click a button to get formatted code. I'm lost without Plan Explorer from SQL Sentry and Ignite from Confio, too – I don't think I could work without them these days.

My favorite gadget is my tablet. I use it for everything I can. I take notes on it, I use it as an e-reader (both leisure and technical), I play games, keep my knitting patterns on it… you name it. If I can do it on my tablet, I will.
What do you like to do when you're not working or focused on the SQL Server community?
I try to focus on my family – both the humans and the four-legged members. We like to travel (leaving the fur babies behind usually), go find local events to experience, or just spend time goofing off in the pool. I also read avidly and try to knit every single day – it's like meditation for me.
“If I weren’t a technologist, I would be…”
Can I be a professional cruiser? I was lucky enough to participate in SQL Cruise Alaska this year, and my whole family is hooked on cruises. We daydream about taking one of those “Around the World in 180 Days” cruises… Honestly, I'm not sure what I would do if I weren't a technologist. I fell into this career, and I tend to think that things like that happen for a reason.

What does community mean to you?
Friends and family. We're all in this together, and we're stronger that way – just like a big family!

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