Being that I share my testimony a good bit of how I came to work with SQL Server full time and what really got me pumped and progressing along in my career, I would love to hear other peoples stories as well. Mine is pretty simple. Accidental DBA working with SQL in addition to other technologies, recruited by the CTO 5 years ago to be a full time DBA. Three months into the new role I attended the PASS Summit (revival of SQL Server) and was hooked from then on. Quickly started attending SQL Saturday's, then started speaking at them, took over a user group, became a regional mentor for PASS and the list can go on. I didn't have a mentor at work so the community became my mentor. For others, thinking back on your career, what was that big thing that really sticks out for you as propelling your career forward.
I don't really have that ONE moment. I started working seriously with IT as a consultant, developing Microsoft Access systems in 2000. I quickly got into web development and even touched the first betas of .NET (or aspplus as it was called back then). We used SQL Server in some projects, but it was rare and I was never myself responsible for the database project. However, I was already hooked on database design. For me, the heart of an app has always been the data tier. The rest is just a matter of making the data tier available to the audience :) The dotcom crash got me looking for a safer job and I started working as a Web- and Windows developer for an old, stable manufacturing company in 2001. SQL Servers were all over the place, and I dug right into optimizing an analytical system, where the database developers had left cursors all over the place. In procedures called from a webpage where the user sat waiting for the result. The developers had even had to increase the timeout for the webpage, from the default of 30 seconds. With not too much effort, I found ways to optimize the procedures down to half seconds instead of half minutes. Had I done it again today, it would probably had been a matter of milliseconds. That was when I really realized the difference between a data set and a bunch of data rows. I got more and more into the different parts of SQL Server, helped the infrastructure group create a backup/restore-program, dug into SQL Server statistics and index fragmentation, made more than a few mistakes. I took a few SQL Server courses, with SQL Server MVP Tibor Karaszi as teacher. I think that was what brought me into the online SQL Server community. I liked how he spent half the coffee breaks reading and answering questions in usenet-groups, I think that later on inspired me to share. Also professionally, I really love it when I can help someone solve that tricky performance issue, or help someone use a built-in construct instead of cursors/loops.
My defining moment was back in 2001 when i stopped a SQL Server to move database (data/logfile) to another server. Copied the files into the default directory of the destination server and did not understand why the database failed to show up in Enterprise Manager after I started the SQL service. So I explained to the person who owned the database that it is corrupt and that I will create a new one for him. He just has to add the data back in (took two days, his daughter helped him). When I attended my first SQL training class a month or so later, Tibor Karaszi explained the concept of attach/detach and backup/restore and I felt kind of like an ''insert word of your choice''. But hey, I was now a trained SQL Server DBA that already had made the most stupid mistake that anybody could make. I sure wasn't about to make any more mistakes ever again!
I started working in IT in 1988. I did tech support for a few years while I taught myself programming languages. I started programming full time in 1993. Almost every program I worked on was data related. I started with Oracle at a bank. Then I went to work for a consulting firm that was a Sybase shop. We didn't have DBAs so we had to do all that work too. In 1995 we started using SQL Server. I had to learn it in addition to Sybase. In 1998, in my first .COM, working as a developer, I complained to the boss about the lack of DBA support (we didn't have one). He made me the DBA (and gave me a pay raise). It's the extra money that DBAs were making back then that convinced me to drop development and completely shift to DBA work. The funny thing was, it was an easy shift. I'd been doing so much data work because we never had DBAs or, when we had them, they wouldn't support us in development that we had to do everything ourselves.
Like many others, I came to SQL Server through the development path. I was a PowerBuilder/Sybase developer back in the 90's and we did all of our own stored procedure development, so I had a good grounding in TSQL before coming to SQL Server. When I moved on to the next company, another developer and I were migrating some SQL Server database from one server to another. Before the other dev detached the first database, I asked if he was going to back it up before detaching it and he said "I never thought of that. You should be the DBA" He spoke with his boss the next day and I got DBA appended to my job title and became the backup tape shuffler and query optimizer as well as the teacher of all things stored procedure. Now, a couple companies later, it's all I work with and, like @Tim, I attend user group meetings, SQL Saturdays and PASS Summits, just without speaking frequently - you can ask the Omaha user group what a bad presenter I am. Though it's been a while, so they may not recall :)
My story is much like everyone elses. I started in application support that included installing SQL Server as an application. I would setup basic database maintenance plans not really knowing what the heck I was doing. All it took was that first outage where we had a corrupt database, well not really corrupt, it went suspect and I had to perform a restore. Since I was the only guy who knew how to do that I was deemed the new office DBA and told my focus was the database environment first, then help with other applications second. I purchased a few books and became hooked. Little did I understand that you could make pretty good money only working in database administration. People think we are gods. Little do they know this stuff isn't really all that hard once you understand it, but I guess any profession is that way. Cheers