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About Martin

These “about” pages are generally all the same, so I thought I would break with Tradition a little…

I never intended to be a computer person. I wanted to be a lumberjack (sorry, drifted into Monty Python there). The computing stuff just happened to me by random drift…

During my school years, I was sure I was going to be a scientist or a surgeon. I might have squeezed into medical school on my ‘A’ levels (the exams you take at 18) but I would have been at the bottom academically and I feared I would end up being a General Practitioner and not a surgeon, as you had to be really very good to get a shot at surgeon – and I knew I lacked the empathy to be a decent GP. Turns out most GP’s do too…

So I did Genetics and Zoology at college, sort of 2/3 of two degrees at the same time. I got 2/3 the results and so becoming a proper scientist was going to be tough too. Besides, most of my peers who stayed in academia…all the most weird ones…not for me.

That left me looking for work at the end of the 1980’s when there was not a lot of work, especially in science (as Margaret Thatcher, bless her little cotton imp costume, hated scientists). I decided to look for a job as someone doing medical testing and lab work for the National Health Service or a trainee computer programmer, whatever I got offered first. Why a trainee computer programmer? Well, at the time there were so few people who had degrees in computing that they would take anyone with an aptitude and I had played around on my brother’s Spectrum (when he was out with his mates) before college.

After a few months I was tired of being told I had “nearly got the job” {did they tell all of us that?} and so I decided to work with animals of the non-human variety and volunteered to assist at the PDSA, a charitable veterinary service. I got to spend one day feeding baby hedgehogs, watching a cat have it’s teeth removed, seeing some pet consultancy work and having it drummed into me that the role would mostly involve clearing up sh1t and being scratched/bit by really angry pets – and really enjoying it. Before finding out I had an offer of a job with an actually salary.

The NHS were willing to train me to understand and administer the machines used in NHS labs to do biochemical tests (like check your blood type and see if you had the correct chemicals in your cells). Unbeknown to me, a few days before I turned up a couple of the new trainees for the patient administration computing side pulled out – and I was transferred before I even started.

Thus I began my career as a computer programmer. I learnt an obscure language called MUMPS on those wonderful machines known as VAXs and PDPs. Good kit, sadly missed. Not so sure MUMPS is missed though. But I was pretty good at it and I also started giving training courses and doing off-site work, which I enjoyed – as no one told me it was hard work most people avoided. My only problem was my boss changed and I hated my boss and my boss hated me and neither of us was mature enough to get over it. So he made me work on this terrible reporting package *everyone* hated. It was based on this bizarre “relational” concept and had this embedded SQL language in it. Or, as I later found out, a partial attempt at SQL. No one could get it to work properly.

I managed to get it to work. Not only that, I managed to teach other people how to use it. That was not my boss’s plan, thus he was very, very annoyed…work life was getting pretty bad now.

Thankfully, a friend of mine at that time told me he could get me an interview at his company, which I had heard of. It was called Oracle, who did the television text news/info service for Channel 4… I honestly had my first telephone chat about the job thinking that was the case.

Anyway, I had the interview, they were interested in the relational reporting tool I had abused and that I knew the specific patient admin system they were replacing on one project {not that they told me this} – I got the job. And on the second day I was there, they sent me to this place called Nottingham, to work on a massive hospital system they were working on replacing the system I knew. And I did not leave for over 2 years.

That is how I learned Oracle and the rest is, as they say, history.

After my time with Oracle’s UK health team I went contracting (self employed) and worked at many places. I was lucky, I kept stumbling into roles where the databases were classed as massive (VLDBS) and they wanted to use the latest features of Oracle. Which made me attractive to other companies with massive database or who wanted the latest features.

Then, in 2001, a role came up as the database services manager for the¬†Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (WTSI) – the UK side of the Human Genome Project. They wanted someone who knew the latest Oracle, VLDBs, development and…Genetics. And was cheaper than most average developers in London. That was me then.

So, that degree in genetics was finally worth something to me beyond simply personal interest. Who knew.

It was a wonderful role and I got to do some very challenging and interesting things. I ended up managing both the DBAs and several development teams, which widened my experience. We built some of the largest Oracle databases around at that time, at least ones that people would talk about. Our largest was almost 100TB when I left and the team got it to 1/2 a petabyte before another institute took it over – and immediately shut it down as it scared the hell out of their DBAs. We won an award off Oracle at the time, which unfairly had my name on it. Fairness was partly re-established when I took the trophy out the box and it cut my hand wide open.

That role and that experience allowed me to become something of an authority and talk about stuff that others found interesting. I’m not saying I did not work hard to get to that position, but I do acknowledge there was a fair slice of luck involved.

The role came to a conclusion and I returned to selling my soul to the highest bidder, only now in London and the financial sector and not the Midlands near Birmingham. Better pay, way more obnoxious banker types. At least I got to read “New Scientist” on the commute in and out, I saw many more different ways of running IT departments and development projects and it’s let me semi-retire whilst I still have the whit to enjoy it. Semi retire.

I like cats.

Comments»

1. Fahd Mirza - August 10, 2010

I am also very much proud of my 2TB database, and yes I also ‘foolishly’ yes to most of my employer’s demands, but that has always resulted in learning new skills and pushing my limits.

2. Rohit - November 3, 2010

Very informative blog Martin.

Oracle people love tinkering with very large databases. Though I am not into Oracle, but delivered few apps. on Oracle back-end too.

I want to create a sample VLDB, but not following how to gather data.


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