My career as a performance engineer started in a strange way. In 1998, I worked at Deloitte & Touche on the outskirts of Nashville. I had just been assigned to a new development team that built the firm’s internal time and expense tracking software. Prior to this I had a technical support background. I spent the first part of my career focused on the end of the software development lifecycle. Now I was positioned closer to the beginning. I was in “QA”, but didn’t fully understand what that meant. I was in this new role and suddenly designated as “the guy who is going to run that new load testing software”. I had no clue what it was. My manager pointed across the room. There was an intimidating new computer in the corner. This would be my responsibility. 

My manager said, “Don’t worry we are sending you to training in a week. In the meantime, we are in the process of running a load test using some external consultants. Why don’t you go talk to them and see if you can pick up any pointers that might help you get started before the training class begins?” What happened next is where fate and spite completely aligned.

The Conversation

I’ll never forget the conversation between my 28-year-old self, approaching the consultant in an attempt to gain knowledge. He said, “Scott, I don’t want to put a glass ceiling on you, buddy – but this isn’t something you can do with your background. You need to leave this to the professionals and stay out of our way.” Suddenly, I’m in 8th grade Algebra getting hit in the head with an eraser – thrown by the teacher – telling me I was too lazy to learn! (Yes this actually happened). 

I snapped back to the present, and spoke back in a calm but firm voice. I said, “From this day forward, I am dedicating my entire career to performance testing, and the next time you see me, I will know more about this than you.” Then I went to my manager and shared this conversation. She said, “Oh don’t pay them any mind. They are just upset we aren’t going to keep paying them $250 an hour to do this much longer. We are bringing this in house.” Suddenly, a ray of light from heaven came down. I was enlightened and illuminated! I had a new calling in life. I was going to be a consultant who knew how to do load testing!!! I never did make those kinds of rates, but I digress…

A consultant working with us on the project, the honorable Vincent McBurney, was kind enough to sit down and show me everything he knew about LoadRunner version 4.5 and database virtual users. It went completely over my head and by the 10th line of C code, my eyes were rolling in the back of my head and I was about to pass out. I thought to myself, “maybe I can’t do this.” I tried reading the manuals and clicking around with the LoadRunner GUI, but it wasn’t doing much good.

Getting Trained As A Performance Engineer

Eventually, as my manager promised, I was sent to a formal training class. I traveled to Atlanta, GA where TBI (which later became Orasi) was the regional Mercury partner. They had a week-long class, and the amazing Ken Willet taught me in my first class. Later on I would take additional training classes from the legendary Phil Hardman

Once I got the hang of it through a lot of hands on working with it, load testing became something I was good at and enjoyed. There’s something about seeing the tears of a developer as their application goes down in flames. It always gives me that warm, Christmas feeling all over. 

I haven’t stopped learning. I still have to ask for help figuring things out like everyone else. I don’t have all the answers. It’s one reason I like to have a large network of contacts – in hopes someone has an answer I don’t.

The Takeaway To Becoming A Performance Engineer

My career in performance engineering wasn’t something that was planned, and it was very much a situation where I was designated to fill a blank space in the organization. With the right motivation, it was something I learned to have a passion for. While my career was originally born out of dogged determination to prove someone wrong about my abilities, the financial motivation wasn’t a bad side effect. This has turned out to be one of the best decisions in my professional career. 

An even better feeling than destroying the life of a bad developer (not the good ones, the jerks – you know who I am talking about) – is the one I get when I see people I have trained over the years who are still doing it or who have made a nice career path for themselves with the skills they gained learning from me or working with me. It’s great to hear someone say they read a “how to” article I shared and it helped them get through a project. It’s really great to meet people in person I have never met who feel they have known me for years (sometimes decades). I love meeting and talking to them and listening to their stories as well. 

What’s your story? How did you get to be a performance engineer?

Make sure to check out this blog about my first experience with load testing.