Recently there was an interesting thread on OTN forums where an Oracle DBA asked for career advice. During the discussion, it went into an interesting direction when Oracle experts Jonathan Lewis and Tom Kyte jumped into the discussion and shared the secret of their success. As per Jonathan, one needs 5 years of focused effort to become a guru like him, Tom Kyte, Cary Millsap and Tanel Poder.
This 5 years (or around 5 years) is a point to note here. There are around 1,800 days in 5 years and 6 hours per day means around 10,000 hours in total to practice and learn Oracle. While reading the thread Immediately I did these calculations in my mind and resulting 10,000 hours thing ring a bell in my mind that I’ve read this somewhere.
In Nov’2008 a book named ‘Outliers’ was released by my favorite author, and I think most influential of our time, Malcolm Gladwell. In the chapter II, Malcolm discusses how 10,000 hours rule play an important role in someone’s journey towards perfection. He took examples of Bill Joy, Bill Gates, the Beatles and also shared some study results. For the sake of giving an example, let me summarize Bill Joy.
Bill Joy is a legendary computer scientist who had written UNIX language and after graduating co-founded Sun Microsystems, which recently acquired by Oracle. Bill did his B.S. from University of Michigan. He joined Michigan in the fall of 1971, the very first year when the university’s computer center opened. Michigan was one of the first universities in the world to have time-sharing system, where hundred people could do programming simultaneously.
Bill Joy did programming eight to ten hours a day during Michigan. In 1975, he enrolled for M.S. at Berkeley. There he buried himself even deeper and did programming day and night. He used to stay up until two or three in the morning. As per Bill, he became proficient programmer by his second year of Berkeley. Bill confirmed that it was the time when he had completed his 10,000 hours of practice.
Now, let’s come back to our original discussion of how to become Oracle guru.
As per the thread, Tom took around 6 years to become an Oracle expert (Oct’94 – 2000) and Jonathan suggested one should practice for 5 years to become proficient. In Back to Basics presentation, Tanel Poder shares his knowledge curve and as per him, it took him around 6 years (1999 to 2005) to become expert and during 7th year of this learning journey, he had release his high-profile snapper. I am not sure about the practice time for other Oracle gurus like Cary Millsap and for that matter Julian Dyke, but one thing I can say that they must have completed 10,000 hours of practice.
Now the question should be, can anyone become a proficient in his/her field by practicing. Malcolm touched this thing and suggested that there is a thing called innate talent and achievement is talent plus preparation. For example, not every person reading Oracle documentation will have same set of questions in this mind, test those scenarios and eventually learn from them. Talented people have divergent thinking, inquisitiveness, skepticism which enable them to learn different and new things, which otherwise people tend to ignore.
Now other than talent and practice there is a third (and perhaps most important factor in some examples) called opportunity. Malcolm explained how opportunities helped above successes in a big way. There were stream of opportunities that came Bill Joy’s way, for example. Because of University of Michigan, he was able to practice on time-sharing systems instead of with punch cards, because the university was willing to spend money, he could stay up all night; and because he was able to put in so many hours, he was able to get the opportunity to rewrite UNIX.
I am not that much fortunate to meet others, but I had met Jonathan Lewis in Hyderabad during AIOUG meet last month and where I had asked this question and he kindly replied that he had been asked to learn Oracle by reading the manuals and he did a lot of practice and study to learn the “new” software (perhaps Oracle version 5.1). At the time when Oracle was evolving, Jonathan had something under his belt which made him ahead from others in the game. Isn’t that a great opportunity that your organization ask you to become familiar and learn new software application, which after some years become No1 in it’s domain and there are not many people around which know it better than you.
So in short, talent does matter but what mattes a lot is practice and it’s 10,000 hours of practice which makes your brain to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery. Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good, it’s the thing you do that makes you good. As Frank A. Clark quoted “Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential”.