Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Riding a bike: it's just like programming a relational database

There’s something gratifying about trying your hand at something you haven’t done for years, and discovering that it all comes back to you. You might only be as good as you were then, and that may not be saying much, but at least you’re no worse.

It turns out, to my amazement, that working with the Microsoft relational database system SQL Server is just like riding a bike. Well, if you exclude the wheels, pedals, saddle, handlebars and, naturally, Lycra. Or come to that the ghastly hills.

Actually, no, that’s not right. The hills are there. You keep meeting an Alpe d’Huez here, a Mont Ventoux there. They’re logical rather than physical, but no less daunting. Or exhausting.

The joy of cycling.
Or, alternatively, of the SQL Server Query Analyzer
One of the aspects that I like the most about my present job is its variety. Whether by design or merely good fortune, I’ve found myself in something of a firefighter role, where I try to leave well alone and only get stuck in when things are going wrong: the project that’s beginning to drift seriously off timetable or is facing a major setback. The kind of task that requires all those involved to get stuck in, roll up their shirtsleeves, get their hands to the pump, and mix metaphor clichés to their heart’s content.

Hence my dusting off of my SQL Server skills, such as they are, eight or nine years after having last used them in earnest. Or do I mean in anger? Often the anger of other people, especially those who had to clear up my errors.

It’s been like meeting of old friends again. Those glorious struggles with convoluted logic: if I want to know this, then I have to get that from here, and combine it will all of those from there. Heady stuff. Exhilarating.

I wouldn’t want to do it for ever. My colleagues wouldn’t want me to do it for ever. Or, indeed, any longer than absolutely necessary. But it’s fun until the next project comes up.

It’s all come flowing back. Just like riding a bike. But I have to say I was never a Tour de France rider. I never even attempted London to Brighton as a friend of mine recently did, exciting my admiration but none of my envy. No, I was strictly a local cyclist – you know, home to office, office to shops, that kind of thing.

Still, it worked. And my SQL’s working. And that’s gratifying.

Haven’t fallen off the saddle yet.

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