This afternoon, my manager asked me what I would do, if I had to make a choice between salad and SQL. This is obviously a difficult question to answer, given that one option is a (nominally) healthy choice of food, and the other is a set of imperatives, used to manipulate things in a database.
I once hired a tall and pedantic man, with eccentric hair and an elderly Ford Sierra, to teach my IT department what SQL was. My hope was that they’d be able to use this new knowledge to maintain the company’s databases, rather than me doing it, and I could concentrate on what I was paid to do (drink coffee, stare out the window and nap in the stationery cupboard). Alas, was not to be; those workshy IT gnomes sneered at the database guru, perhaps accurately detecting my scheme to upgrade their productivity, and steadfastly avoided learning anything that risked making them useful to me.
On reflection, it’s apparent that I didn’t learn much either, aside from reiterating proverbs about the forcible rehydration of horses, although one thing did stick, when our man with the senseless haircut and the antediluvian car pointed out the irony of SQL standing for Structured Query Language, when it was none of those.
How everyone laughed. In a parallel universe.
Of course, SQL was invented by Dr Codd, who was only,a scant couple of letters away from having a Cobb salad named after him, so perhaps the worlds of iceberg lettuce and normalized data are not so very far apart.
Most database administrators look like the kind of people who should eat more salad. Well, they should eat less of something else, so that their gargantuan frames might shrink a little. They clearly chose SQL over salad. I’m very fortunate that the constant rage and worry that fills my working days has kept my metabolism high and my waist relatively small. However, if I were to fully commit to salad and renounce SQL, I might find that I was out of a job and incapable of paying for more salad. I would be in the worst of all possible worlds.
Then again, in Pain And Gain, an execrable Mark Wahlberg film, one of the characters asks "Do you know who invented salad? Poor people!" So if I did find myself unemployed, I could still have my cake and eat it. My delicious, cabbage and celery flavoured cake. Why does it feel that I haven’t thought this through carefully enough?
My manager has never had to learn a line of SQL in his life, and I assume regards it, like so much sufficiently advanced technology, as magic. Not impressive magic, perhaps, more the kind of thing an itinerant hedge-wizard might do to make ends meet, in between reengineering business processes and implementing an open source saucepan, but magic nonetheless. This is a good thing, because sufficient mystery about what you do provides some latitude in how you accomplish it, but also a bad thing, because people may assume that if it’s magic, there can’t be that much to it, and therefore you can always do more.
Or spend the afternoon worrying about what would happen if you were to choose between SQL and salad.