T-SQL Tuesday #59: My Hero!

TSQL2sDay150x150This month’s edition of T-SQL Tuesday is being hosted by Tracy McKibben (T|B). I was challenged by Aaron Bertrand (T|B) to participate in this T-SQL Tuesday. I instantly knew what and who I wanted to write about, but my schedule being what it is prevented me from writing the blog entry until straight up at midnight.

Since this installment of T-SQL Tuesday happens to fall on Ada Lovelace Day, Tracy tells us that our mission – should we choose to accept it – is as follows:

Ada Lovelace has been an inspiration to many. In keeping with my blog theme, let’s call her a hero. We all have our heroes, those people who we admire, who inspire us, who we strive to be like. Who is your hero?

When I think about the contribution to the modern world given us by Ada Lovelace, I see the sort of hero which I love the best. Y’see, I’m most inspired not by the blood-n-guts heroics of an action film hero or the testosterone-laden conquests of a sports hero. I’m most inspired by the quiet hero who makes the world significantly better without the least bit of concern for praise or glory or fortune. I get dewy eyed from those quiet Medal of Honor heroes who say, even as the President himself pins a medal to their chest, “I was just doing what is right, sir. And that is reward enough”.  That is what inspires me. That is what I want to emulate.

But I didn’t always know that.

I was 19 years old in 1987, when I happened upon a film playing on PBS. Back in those days, kids, you pretty much had to watch what was playing on the dozen channels or so that were available. Take it or leave it. I took it. Now for some context, I was penniless and from a family that was also very short on pennies at that time. I’d earned a few scholarships to my local university covering much of my tuition and although I wasn’t flunking out, I wasn’t quite thriving either. It was a struggle. I worked three jobs simultaneously, each one a part-time affair, that gave me just enough in aggregate to squeak by and keep my rusting, derelict car on the road – barely – and gas in the tank. I was short on more than just simple dollars. I was struggling with hope itself. It is fricken hard to be poor, the kind of poor where you skip meals because you simply have no money to buy food kind of poor. (Keep in mind that a single hamburger was less than $0.50 at the time). It’s demeaning. It’s depressing. And it’s a dozen times worse, emotionally speaking, when you live in the midst of affluence and wealth. So my 19-year old self dealing was with all of these difficult emotions swirling around in my head, wrestling with the very concept of what it means to be a MAN in Cold Ware era USA, when this quiet animated feature begins to play.

[Sidebar: I’d missed the very beginning of the film, so I didn’t know that it was that year’s winner of the Acadamy Award for Best Animated Short Film or that it’d also won the Short Film Palme d’Or. I didn’t know those things, in fact, until just now when I finally dredged up the video on YouTube. I found this video within 3 minutes of my first Google search. 3 minutes! On a video I hadn’t seen in almost 30 years. Good grief, people! We live in an era in which we no longer have to wonder the answer to ANY question and yet we spend all our time looking at funny cat pictures? WTH?!?]

The film was called The Man Who Planted Treesand you can see it at the embedded link below. I ask you to watch it. It’s almost 30-minutes on the dot. That’s a big investment of your time. I know you have a thousand other things begging your time, but maybe you could carve out a few for this small thing? Pretty please?

I think the most important lesson I learned from  The Man Who Planted Trees is that to make something really, truly good and strongly enduring takes a lot of time, perhaps decades, and hard effort. A corollary of that lesson is that even small changes today, like compound interest, can deliver amazing payoffs in the future to everyone’s benefit. That’s the hero I wanted to be like when I grew up. And I had it on my mind, years later, when I was asked to take a seat as a founding board member of SQLPASS in 1999.

There are many so real-life heroes who, when you consider it, could’ve deviated from the same path walked by the Man who planted trees. What if Alexander Fleming had patented penicillin so that he could “maximize his investment” and “restrict competition”? What if Marie Curie had hidden all of her radium studies behind trademark and trade secrets barriers? What if Jonas Salk had said to himself “I can make a lot of money off of this smallpox vaccine!” And Ada Lovelace herself, she established the early dictums of computer programming simply because she thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual exercise offered by Babbage’s difference engine. I shudder to think what our world would be like today without heroes like Ada.

-Kevin

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