Happy New Year, SCN! Matt Fraser is a Senior Database Administrator with the Seattle Public Schools, and our first SCN Member of the Month for 2015. Matt is an outdoor enthusiast, novelist, SAP guru and all around great guy. I enjoyed hearing about his worldly adventures and getting to know his community spirit, and fun-loving zest for life.
Some of the highlights from our talk:
- He sang the ABAPer’s Carol for SCN! You must listen 🙂
- His description of the aurora in Antarctica actually makes me want to visit there (and I don’t do cold well)
- His genuine appreciation for his SCN “extended family” and the friendships he has made is really moving and a reflection of the human impact of virtual communities
- He reveals a little known secret about rain in Seattle…
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you live, what you do at SAP, and other things you would like to share with the community (hobbies, fun facts)?
I live in Seattle, in the heart of the city, not far from downtown, in the Magnolia neighborhood. One of the great things about Seattle is the topological variety, otherwise known as hills, which means that great views can be found from many parts of the city (see attached photo Seattle at Night which shows the view of downtown from my condo). I’ve lived continuously in this city since 1991, although as you know from my BIF I spent the first four of those years working overseas, so it was more of an address of record than a residence. I also spent part of my childhood here, though I also grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and lived at times in New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Virginia, Texas, and southern California. I was born in New Zealand, but have been in the United States since the age of 5. All that moving around seems to have given me a very ‘neutral’ accent (to my own ear, of course), which seems to mean that everyone always thinks I’m from Canada, eh? Well, I have visited there…
I got involved with SAP almost by accident, but as you say, I pretty much covered that in my BIF. My responsibilities today are still very much Basis, as they have been for about eighteen years, but they range from deeply technical tasks such as installations, upgrades, patches, troubleshooting, tuning, security, etc, to more process-oriented and adaptive tasks, such as developing policies around release management, change control, and planning our future landscape architecture. Oh, and sometimes I actually do something that looks like my title, i.e. database administration.
I tend to over-commit a lot — I really need to learn how to say “no” once in a while — and as a result I tend to end up on lots of boards and committees. I’m currently serving as president of my condo homeowners association, and vice commodore of my yacht club, and in the past I was also chair of a neighborhood district council. I did manage to let that last one go; now if I could just manage to repeat that experience…
Yeah, so, hobbies. What are those? Oh, right, things done for the fun of it. Well, I do enjoy sailing quite a bit, and also hiking and backpacking. I was quite active in local climbing for a while, but have pretty much dropped off from that the last several years due to simple lack of time. Climbing safely, and actually enjoying it rather than enduring it, requires a fair amount of constant training, and I just haven’t been able to keep up with that, so I had to make some hard choices. I still like to look at all the technical gear hanging on the wall of my storage unit, though. It looks totally cool. I even remember how to use some of it.
Actually, I have a theory about why some sports are interesting to me and others like me — if they involve lots of technical gear, then they’re fascinating. If it’s just a ball and a pair of shoes… meh. So, climbing, backpacking, sailing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, winter camping… these things are fun. Now I need to take up diving; that has a lot of technical gear!
Arguably, hiking isn’t all that technical, beyond a backpack and a good pair of boots (though you can get carried away with the Ten Essentials). But, this is a simple activity that I truly love. My wife and I are very active hikers, and frequently can be found on the trails in the Cascade Mountains.
The other thing I do a lot of is read. I read constantly, whenever I’m not actively engaged in something else. I don’t watch TV (I do like movies, though); instead I spend my evening “downtime” reading. I don’t read as fast as I used to — when I was younger I would go through a book a week, easily — it tends to be late in the evening before I get to settle down with my book, and then… I fall asleep over it. So, it’s slow now, but that’s all right. It just means I will never run out of books in the ever-expanding “to read” pile.
When did you become a member of SCN and which areas are you most active in?
My profile says I’ve been on SCN since 2004, so that must be true. Actually, I think that’s about right, though I don’t think I ever did more than lurk until 2006 or 2007, which is when I started asking and answering questions. However, I did not go beyond the discussion forums, into the realm of posting any blogs or documents, until this past year. This March will be my one-year anniversary of my first blog post.
So, my blogs and documents (not counting my BIF) have appeared in SAP on SQL Server, IT Management, SAP ERP HCM Payroll North America, and SAP GUI. For discussion forums, though, I follow SAP NetWeaver Application Server, SAP on SQL Server, SAP GUI, Software Logistics, SAP on Microsoft Windows, and SAP NetWeaver Technology Platform. Oh, and Coffee Corner. Can’t forget that one! I would follow SAP NetWeaver Administrator (aka the Basis forum), except it gets so much posted to it all the time that it would consume my activity feed, so I had to drop it, just checking in once in a while if I think about it. I also “drop in” on SAP Solution Manager, as I’m spending a lot of time working on this lately, but I don’t feel expert with it (it’s my nemesis!), so I’m there to partake of others’ expertise, not so much to provide my own.
What motivates you to share your expertise? And how do you find the time to contribute so actively on SCN?
Something that came up in the comments on my BIF probably best exemplifies this. I was responding to Thomas Zloch and wrote “SCN is like a great extended family sometimes — we annoy each other, we help each other, we grumble about each other, we can’t do without each other. At the end of the day, we need each other.” I wish I’d thought of that to put in the BIF itself! However, the sentiment is true. It’s the “C” in “SCN”: Community. I fully realize this is a great deal for SAP, getting customers and partners to actively help each other, rather than relying solely on SAP Support, but it’s a win-win for the customers like me, too. There is a huge community of expertise out there, and it’s likely that every problem that can be encountered has been encountered. If you have a question or a problem, someone probably has the answer or solution. And it’s very much a “pay it forward” kind of deal. The system doesn’t work if we aren’t all willing to jump in, roll up our sleeves, and help out our fellow in need. Plenty of people have helped me; I’m paying it forward.
As for finding time, well, that’s tricky sometimes. I’m not nearly as active as many others, and my availability goes in phases, depending on project workload. Right now, my workload is pretty high, with a bit of backlog, so I’m contributing considerably less than I had been, say, six months ago. I still try to “check in” twice a day or so, and if I see something that I can help out with quickly, I’ll do it. My blog posts tend to be about things I’m working on at the time, and if it’s fairly complex, organizing it into a blog post turns out to be a great way to organize the work itself, keeping me on track and documenting what I do.
Your BIF provides a great background on how you got involved in SAP’s products and technologies… So instead, I will ask you your own question… If you hadn’t made a career with SAP, or perhaps in IT at all, what would you be doing with your life?
That’s easy. I’d be a best-selling novelist. Well, a novelist, anyway. Or an oceanographer. I sometimes feel I missed my calling, as how cool would it be to have a job that always had you either at sea investigating and exploring things, or on coastlines staying close to it? There was a time when I actively considered becoming a merchant mariner, which is the trade my father was in. I could probably have been quite happy captaining ships around the oceans of the world. And who knows? If this SAP gig doesn’t work out…
Your BIF also mentions a novel you’ve been working on. Can you give us a preview? I can’t help but wonder – does it draw on all your interesting travels? Or tech? Or both? Or neither?
Ah, the big super-not-so-secret novel! Actually, it’s far more mundane than all that. My current work is a romance. Yes, you read that right. There it is; my secret’s out. Ok, maybe not formula Harlequin bodice-ripper style, more on the contemporary romantic comedy angle (though light on the comedy; I just don’t think I’m that funny). Basically it’s the story of a young woman who is very unhappy in love, who keeps dumping her boyfriends because they just aren’t quite… well, something. She becomes convinced there’s something wrong with her, until she meets the guy who… well, you know, there’s always a guy in these stories who is somehow different. Except, of course he is avoiding commitments like the plague, due to his own backstory, and holds our heroine off at arm’s length, which naturally just makes her want him more. And of course she has a dark secret in her past. And so on for about 60,000 words. Well, 45,000 at present, but I expect it to grow in rewriting.
I’m really going to have to come up with a better blurb than that, though.
Two years ago I got about 35,000 words into a piece of literary historical fiction about 19th-century immigrants traveling from England to New Zealand. The main character was a young child on board the ship, a girl who ends up befriending the very gruff and weather-beaten bo’sun’s mate (deck boss) and changing his outlook on life to something lighter and more colorful. I never did finish that one, however, but may take it up again later.
What was it like those winters in Antarctica with 24 hours of darkness the whole season? I just saw a Myth Busters episode about cabin fever – but they were there less than a week.
Well, I was certainly there more than a week! Actually, winter in Antarctica has much in common with SCN: community is the key to getting through it. It becomes a very close-knit group of people who work hard and play hard, all together. You tend to make friends for life while there, for sure.
The constant darkness does take its toll. It’s fascinating, you do get used to it, and at times it’s beautiful, especially when the sun slowly starts to return at the end of the season. But, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, and everyone’s work really slows down. Part of that is the effect of all the darkness, part of it is unavoidable due to the cold and the weather — anything requiring going outside just takes longer. The rule of thumb was summer-time construction in McMurdo took about six times as long as the same project Stateside, and winter-time construction took six times as long as summer construction. I don’t know if that’s really true, it’s just what we said to justify being sloths, but definitely everything took longer.
Still, there’s nothing quite like going a few miles out onto the ice shelf on a clear day, with the ice and the mountains dimly lit by pale moonlight, and watching the stars. As Crosby, Stills & Nash sang, When you see the Southern Cross for the first time… Next thing you know, there’s a greenish tinge to the deeper blue-black between the stars, and suddenly the aurora is falling in great rippling sheets across the sky, horizon to horizon. It’s an otherworldly thing, and unfortunately practically impossible to capture on camera.
Cameras. Well, they weren’t digital at the time, and you had to be careful about your film freezing, else it would split and crack as you wound the roll.
Then, of course, there are the parties. Thank god we didn’t have Facebook then. ‘Nuff said.
If a new member came to you and asked for your advice on how to be an active and respected member of SCN, what would you say?
I would say to lurk for a while. Watch, read, pay attention, before posting or responding to anything. Get a feel for how people respond to things. Then go to Getting Started on SCN and read through the topics listed there, including, of course, The SCN Rules of Engagement. Have a look at the Reputation tab of your own profile, and check out the first missions. Do them in order, and you won’t go too far wrong. Those “First Steps” and “Ready Set Go” missions are there for a reason. Then start participating in the forums, in areas of your own expertise or where you need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice, but do definitely search before posting. There has been quite a lot posted on this topic; it’s hard to improve on what has come before.
Is there an SCN member you admire (OK… you can name a few)? And for what reason?
Wow, there are quite a few! Colleen Hebbert, Jelena Perfiljeva, Jürgen L, Kristen Scheffler, Marilyn Pratt, Reagan Benjamin, Steffi Warnecke, Steve Rumsby, Susan Keohan, Tammy Powlas, Tom Cenens, and others. I’m probably leaving out quite a few that I’ll remember later and have a d’oh! moment about. I admire these people because they embody the community spirit I spoke about earlier. They participate whole-heartedly, they contribute with expertise, they blog fearlessly and tirelessly, and/or they help selflessly. They don’t all work in the same ways — some are more bloggers and others are more question-answerers; some volunteer gobs of their time. Some are just downright clever in their writing. Sometimes they step in out of nowhere and save the day. They are always polite and patient, and when they do feel the need to remind someone of the expected etiquette here, they’re polite about doing so. I think that’s important. I could go on about each of these people at length.
|Did you sing your The ABAPer’s Holiday Carol for your co-workers? Will you sing it for the community?
I did not! I did send it to them, though. But since you ask so nicely… Be warned, though, your ears may be ruined for life.
Just the carol portion of our video…
Easy question: Mac/iOS or Windows? Or Android?
Nothing easy about it! I’ve been a long-time Windows user, but about a year ago went Mac. I still use Windows at work, but I’m all Mac at home now. I’m still probably more comfortable with Windows; I definitely know it a lot better; but I’m loving my Mac.
I’ve been an iOS user since the iPhone 3GS (and I had an original (pre-classic) iPod before that); I don’t see myself going with Android anytime soon.
Are you on Twitter?
Technically, yes, though I’m a very infrequent user. You can find me at @casertz (which was the name of a deep field research camp I worked at on the Polar Plateau, about 400 miles from the South Pole).
Every month, a member of the SAP Community Network is recognized for exemplary behavior: sharing knowledge with peers, being helpful and taking on additional tasks to support community engagement. See the list of previousSCN Member of The Month Hall of Fame.