In memory of Ken Henderson

Ken Henderson’s death really shocked me. I didn’t feel like working for a few days after I learned the news.

I met Ken twice. The first time was when I was at PASS (SQL Server conference) in Grapevine, Texas. Then I just admired him from afar. We may have traded pleasantries. I remember attending Microsoft PSS lab, and bumped into him there too. He struck me as a humble, knowledgeable person that is easy to talk to, a terrific human being. I also met Bob Ward and Bart Duncan there. They are all great folks.

The second time, I was at PASS conference in Barcelona. We may have had a longer conversation, the details of which I couldn’t remember now. When we saw each other, I remember he greeted me by gesturing toward me with a pointed index finger, kinda like cool dudes greeting each other on the streets. As an aspiring information technology professional, I sought his counsel on how to go to the next level, and I remember getting plenty of encouragement from him, which meant a lot.

In the ensuing years, we traded emails a few times. I have his The Guru’s Guide to SQL Server Architecture and Internals book, but never really finished it. That seemed to be the norm for me. I have what I call a “guerilla style of learning” when it comes to IT: I find what I need, and then move on. I am thinking of changing that habit, really dig deep through good technical books by reading cover to cover. Ken’s books will be a great starting point. His preface to this book, where he talked briefly about his childhood growing up in rural Oklahoma, touched me greatly.

When browsing through his books at bookstores 4 or 5 years ago, I remembered that I flipped through the pages looking for his snappy, clever quotes at the beginning of each chapter. Two of the which had lasting impressions: one was a translated Chinese saying: “Of the thirty-six alternatives, running away is the best option”. I was slightly amused by its translation. The other quote was from Truman Capote, the content of which I forgot, probably something about his way of writing, but it served as the first introduction for me to Capote’s work. I read a few short stories by Capote last November, and enjoyed it, although I have to say they all feel kind of weired/queer?. No offense, though. Someday I will watch the Capote movie.

Speaking of movies, I vaguely remember that Ken is a movie fan, and may even have a separate blog for it. I remember he took George Will to task in one of his posts, but I couldn’t find that blog address now.

I learned today that Ken is also the author of this fascinating blog: Infidelis Maximus — Atheism, unbelief, and other subjects of interest to religious infidels. I just had time to browse through a little bit, and I have to say I really enjoyed it.

My condolences goes to his immediate family. What a wonderful, humble, eloquent, articulate, caring, and generous human being! He lives on in many people’s memories. Here I quote his essay “The Aging Champion” he wrote for SQL Server 2005 Practical Troubleshooting: The Database Engine, as the end of this post.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, and it has to do with the value of humility. Becoming arrogant and walling yourself off from the “little people” in the world is a fast ticket to stagnation. It’s a good way to stop growing professionally. There are no little people. The world moves too quickly not to learn all you can from whomever you can whenever you can. No matter how long I work in this business, I continue to learn from practically everyone around me—new people and old alike, experienced and inexperienced as well. I have always considered myself lucky to have worked with so many great people over the years.

No matter who you are, you are never above exchanging a warm greeting or lending a helping hand when you can. People frequently write me or contact me for help, sometimes with the most esoteric of questions, and I do the best I can to assist them. I’ve been where they are, and their requests keep me moving—they keep me on my toes. I’m keenly aware that I owe much of what I’ve learned over the years to the many fine people I’ve had the privilege of coming in contact with, and exchanging a cordial greeting with them or helping them in some small way is the least I can do.

And you have to remember that there is always someone out there who’s bigger and better. When you work harder at trying to hold other people back than at helping them realize their potential, you make what should be teamwork into a zero-sum game where only one party can win—everyone else, by definition, must lose. Even if you prevail for a time, this sets you up for what I call the aging champion syndrome. Eventually someone will come along that you can’t stop. He’ll be quicker or smarter or more determined than you in some way, and you’ll soon find yourself lying flat on your back, knocked out of the match, staring up at the ref while he shouts out the 10-count, wondering why no one listens to you anymore.

3 responses to “In memory of Ken Henderson”

  1. I never met Ken, although he was a fellow support engineer at MS, but his reputation was huge, having said that I can only echo what you have said. I did exchange emails with him a few times and he was probably the most helpful and generous person I have ever encountered. His passing was a huge shock to everyone in SQL support at MS and he is still missed to this day.

  2. Thanks Clive for the comment. Good people live on in others memories!

    I just checked Ken’s Infidelis Maximus blog, and the content is no longer there. I am not sure what happened to it and what to make of it.


  3. I was hired as a SQL programmer right out of college with no experience and handed one of Ken’s books by my new boss. He said, “Your job is to work through that book.”

    I began reading and really enjoyed the writing. I wrote Ken an email letting him know I appreciated his use of “Punch-Out!” (old Nintendo game) characters’ names, and he told me that I was the first to mention it to him.

    I’m not sure why I saved that email from March 2005, but I’m glad I did.

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