I Get Certified

2015-07-22 22.36.53
I’m too wrecked to go out so I am having a small party at home. Here is my invited guest.

As of 5.15 pm today, I am an Oracle-certified MySQL developer!

Somewhere in the distance, a dog barks.

Yeah, OK. Boasts that you have to explain are not good boasts. For the last four months I have been studying hard for a qualification in something most people have never even heard of.

Which is a shame, because it is actually the secret language that runs the world.

But first, let me tell you about my day. This was… a tough day. Not only did I take a two and a half hour professional exam, I attended a two hour public meeting right after. The way it began though – well that was even worse.

You know when you know you’re doing something wrong? I mean, when the front of your mind thinks everything’s all right but the back of your brain is waving frantically to get your attention? The feeling you’re forgetting something that you decide to ignore. The nagging awareness that you probably shouldn’t blog while drinking a bottle of wine. Sometimes you know deep down that you’re making a mistake but it just doesn’t seem to reach the surface. So yesterday evening I was being very organised for my exam. I did all the little things, like making sure the car had petrol and water – even that the windscreen washers were working properly. Yet even as I did it I thought to myself: “You know, there’s a danger here. This is breaking my routine. If I break my routine to do all these checks, I could forget one of the important things I do routinely. Fortunately though, I haven’t forgotten anything this time.”

So I finished checking the windscreen washers and went peacefully to bed. Leaving the the car electrics switched on.

This morning an hour went on trying to charge, shove, and sometimes swear the battery back into life before I eventually got a jump start off a neighbour; hardly the calm and collected pre-exam preparation they recommend. Perhaps it was for the best though. Had I time I would probably have indulged in some last-minute panicky “study” as likely to confuse as to clarify. And the record shows I actually seem to do better in exams when faced with non-starting cars. It wasn’t déjà vu, this did happen before.

Outside the venue I met up with Nick and Diarmuid, two of the best students in the class, and was relieved to find that they seemed at least as nervous as me. Because we were (for no readily apparent reason) doing the exam in batches of three, we had feedback from those who sat it earlier in the day. The news was… mixed. On one hand, almost everyone so far had passed. On the other, they had all said it was harder than they’d expected. You can imagine which of those hands seemed more significant to three people about to walk into an exam.

Or about to try. We went to the front door only to find a sign saying to use the side door. We went to the side door only to find it locked. We rang the intercom, only to get an answering machine. I hope I didn’t actually leave the message that went through my head at that point.

But they let us in eventually, and when they’d done with mugshots and fingerprinting (well, almost) they sat us at the consoles. The exam is a computer-based, multiple choice affair not dissimilar to the driving theory test. Except instead of being about stuff everyone needs to know, it’s about stuff nobody in their right mind wants to even think about. I had a tense moment when the very first question was completely unintelligible to me, another when I came to one that, I will swear to my dying day, did not have any possible correct answer. But mostly I felt like I was doing OK. Afterwards Mark our tutor asked me on Facebook how it had gone. I said I thought I’d got about 3 in 4. When the results came through – in only about 15 minutes, mercifully – it transpired that I had 78%. The passing grade is 64. I am a Certified MySQL Developer.

Which is what, exactly?

It’s like this. Once all the important knowledge was kept in wise old people. That’s what the word “wizard” originally meant: Old guy who knows things. Later, with the invention of writing, far more information could be kept within books. But in this information age in which we’re living, the vast (vast vast) majority is kept in databases. They are the electric libraries, the quiet machines behind the scenes of every modern technomarvel. And that’s how I ended up here, basically. MySQL is as important to modern Web design as HTML itself.

And on the way home I attended a public meeting about technology and the arts, part of the campaign to make Galway the European Capital of Culture in 2020. Asked for suggestions on the theme of a digital city, I sketched out an idea for an app so spontaneously that it took even me by surprise. A good idea? I can’t tell. I was very tired by then. Some great ideas come when you’re tired, but so do some great hallucinations. I can only say that it’s simple – so simple that it has to be either brilliant or obvious. The difference, I guess, being whether someone else has done it already. Such is the fine line between stupid and clever.

But it would be great to do, I hope they take me up on it. And why wouldn’t they? I’m an Oracle certified database developer. That’s like a wizard from the future.

Diary Of A Frightened Man 5 – The Zone

Picture the scene. I’m doing a practice run with my driving instructor. I am a cat-bag of nerves, slopping adrenaline, making error after error. The lessons of the preceding ten months, the intense practice I’d done in the last weeks and days, are coming to nothing. I was forgetting to signal, forgetting my mirrors when stopping and turning, riding the clutch, coasting… The inattentive habits I’d worked like hell to eradicate were all back, all at once.

Nerves were making everything seem to happen too fast to control. Who can possibly look in a mirror, make the correct signal, look in another mirror, depress a clutch pedal, let up an accelerator, select the right gear, apply a little brake, let up the clutch pedal gently but not too slowly, steer, look in every possible direction for hazards, and pay attention to where you’re going all in the correct order and in such quick succession that you’re actually doing several of them at once? Ridiculous. It can’t be done. And that’s just one corner.

Then the heavens open. And not in the good way where divine providence looks down and beams me out of there. That I could’ve used. As in torrential rain. Torrential by Irish standards remember; a country where we say it’s fine if it’s only raining a bit. Some of you live places where weather like this would constitute a national emergency. Visibility was suddenly non-existent, the heater struggled to keep the windows demisted but succeeded only in making the car unbearable, conditions became hazardous and continued into ludicrous. I am dispirited. It’s not enough that I’m driving like a brain-damaged chicken, I now have to ford a flooded road to even reach the test centre.

I think to myself, I did not pick a good day to book a driving test.

So what happened next was quite weird. But it is what often happens in these situations. You could call it correct fear. Suddenly the adrenal glands stop being an impediment and start doing their job of maintaining my balance on the tightrope of concentration. All the hours of practice come back to me now. Instead of everything happening at once, there seems to be time to do it all. It’s… almost boring. Intense yet slow, like a black and white film. I’m no longer desperately worried about my driving test, because I’m doing my driving test. I’m in The Zone – one of those rare times when you live completely in the present.And in the present, there’s time for everything.

It was not perfect however. I made one mistake so bad that as soon as we were through the tester started giving me a hard time about it. My heart sank. And then it began to dawn on me that if I’d failed, he wouldn’t be bothering to give me a hard time about one mistake.

I am a driver now.