What is Your Biggest Weakness?

David Stein started a fun little game of blog tag and zapped Brent Ozar who, in turn, zapped me. The challenge here is to answer the interview question “What is your biggest weakness?” David’s answer was that he loves to jump straight into code. Brent’s answer is that he only wants to do things that he can do better than everyone else and only if he can do it quickly (Brent is what I call a Type A Slacker).

What’s my biggest weakness apart from a fondness for car keys and the gas pedal?

Well, there are two glaring flaws that come to mind. One is Brent’s raging flaw – if I don’t see myself as having any chance of being better than just about everyone, I don’t have a lot of interest in doing something.

As for my second flaw: if I’m going to do something and do it well, I’m also going to study that subject as if it were an academic subject. If I’m going to do itand I’m going to do it well, I’m going to understand why I’m doing it, how it works under the hood, and why it works that way. I will pursue the academic theory behind a subject thoroughly, sometimes far more than is necessary.

I love music. Over the course of my life, I have taken lessons in piano, guitar, and the french horn. I have taught myself the fundamentals of multiple percussion instruments, clarinet, and the fife. I’ve studied music theory formally in music classes and lessons and informally on my own. I’ve experimented with a variety of techniques to produce the sounds I want and have even taken apart and reassembled various musical instruments to gain a better understanding of their inner workings. Sounds like someone who likes music, right? Well, here’s the catch: I approached all of these instruments methodically, even though I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time. Ultimately, music became a passionate hobby: I knew that I would never be a great musician or composer. I didn’t have the drive or talent.

When I went to college I got a degree in English. I’ve always loved the written word. Rather than focus on analyzing literature, I studied the craft of writing. I read every book we were assigned on writing multiple times. I analyzed my favorite authors’ writing styles. I pared down my writing and built it up in other styles. I challenged myself to write about subjects I had never written about. I studied writing the way that many people study math or science.

I’m very lucky that I’m in a career where I can go beyond my immediate tasks, look inside, and find the theory that makes it all tick. It sometimes takes a good tug to pull me back from the theory to focus on the practical. Thankfully, so much of database development is based on a thorough understanding of theory that it’s okay to go off on a tangent.

Who is next in this game of tag? Matt Nowack, and Joe Webb.