I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die (First business trip)

I started my first non-intern development job at SMC Partners in Hartford. The company is a systems & management consulting (SMC) for the health insurance industry. Keep in mind at this time, I was just fresh off my first internship and had absolutely no knowledge of the health insurance industry besides going to the doctor for my annual physical with a $20 copay.

I was commuting roughly 60-90 minutes depending on traffic. This didn’t bother me too much because at the time, I was beginning the work for my Bachelor’s degree at Central Connecticut State University, which is located in New Britain — about 15 minutes from the office. I’d be driving basically that far anyways, so it worked out.

The health insurance industry is incredibly complex. This is in part because of the differences in law between state insurance regulations and the other part being because of the various business areas that encompass the entirety of health insurance systems. Overwhelmed with the complexity of my upcoming work, my manager reassured me that, “If you can figure out the health insurance industry, you can figure out any company out there.” That gave me some piece of mind at the time and was some pretty decent advice.

My second week at this job and I was assigned to assist with the development from the ground up of an enterprise data warehouse for Hometown Health in Reno, Nevada. Some of the tasks that needed to be completed were designing the ETL process, designing the structure of the tables, and consolidate & parameterize approximately 550 reports. I was told we were to use SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) for the reports, which at the time was brand new to me.

I was informed the following week that I was necessary for us, my manager and I, to go to Reno and visit the client on site. This is amazing! I just started and they are going to pay me to travel! I was beyond excited for this. This was about a month away, so in the meantime, I performed analysis on the reports and cataloged them into an access database.

When I finished my Reno prep work, I assisted a fellow team member and data architect, Keith Evans. Keith is a humorous irish guy that was incredibly well versed in all things data. He taught me the foundations of data warehousing, OLAP databases, and ETL. He taught me that a star schema is preferred over a snowflake, he taught me about abnormal database normalization such as 5th normal form and higher, and taught me the power of SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS). I don’t think I enjoyed talking with any other co-worker as much as I did with him. I will be forever grateful for everything I learned from him because what I learned from him was incredibly unique skills to have with someone with my level of experience. And the most important thing I learned from him was that M&M’s from Ireland taste better than the American variations!

The time had come for my flight to Reno. We were only staying for the week but some clean mountain air would do me good. When we land, I discover the airline lost my luggage. So I had no clothes, no ties, no business wear, and was informed that the client perfred consultants to wear business formal. My nerves are at an all time high. Luckily, after getting the rental car, we drove to Marshall’s and bought a few outfits until my luggage was found.

The next morning we go to the client’s office after a restless night of sleep. This was my first ever real client meeting and had no clue what to expect. My manager begins discussions with the client and asks me to take meeting minutes. I never liked taking notes. Not in school. Not in work. But as a subordinate, I had to comply no matter how poor my notes were. I was so attentive to the content of the conversation because I was afraid to miss anything and disappoint my manager. It was exhausting hanging on every word everyone said. Is this what being a developer is like? I thought I’d be coding most of the time but here I am, taking notes for hours on end.

My luggage was found and delivered back to my hotel room at the El Dorado in downtown Reno. Now that I had my things, I was able to relax a little more and started exploring the casino.

Most of the week I spent at the client’s office, fighting off nose bleeds from that clean Tahoe mountain air, taking notes, listening, and meeting all the key stakeholders. Even though I did less than an hour of coding my entire trip, I learned the most about what it means to be a consultant. I left Reno, re-energized, reinvererated, and ready to learn everything I could in both the business and technological spaces.

If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it’s lethal.

–Paulo Coelho

Lessons learned:

  • Commuting more than 30 minutes one way is not sustainable for a long time.
  • Complex industries make development work more interesting.
  • Never check luggage on business trips.
  • When at higher altitudes, drink more water.