In My Life…

Perhaps it is that I am now on the cusp of my fourth decade as Daragh O Brien that I am getting a bit sentimental. Perhaps it is the early onset of a mid-life crisis that has me pondering how I have come to this point in my life as the person that I am. At least I hope it is an early onset mid-life crisis; the alternative means I’d need to get the finger out pronto and start achieving things.

Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Talking Heads and I am wondering “who am I and how did I get here”, a question we all ask at least Once in a Lifetime. Perhaps I’ve too much Beatles going through my head when I think of the title for this post.

So who am I? It seems that I’m a nice guy, who people respect and trust to do important things. Like being a husband, or a friend, or a manager of complex and sensitive projects. I’m someone that people come to for advice and to try and help them solve problems. At least, that’s the sense of me that I have gotten in the last week or so since I crossed over into a new demographic. My friends or family will surely comment below and deflate any ego that I may have here (that’s why they’re my friends and family).

I seem to have wound up a noted (and possibly respected) contributor to the global community of Information Quality Management professionals. I am a teacher. I am a student. Above all else I am one who seeks to learn and seeks to understand the why and the root cause of significant outcomes.

I may even play my music on the run, who knows.

From my point of view, my life as it is now is a significant outcome. And how did I get here? How have I travelled from being the nerdy jock (I vividly remember in my 5th year of high school running from captaining a national league basketball team in crucial game (that we won) to captaining my high school debating team in a national semi final debate) to being the person I am today?

It has been, in the words of Pete Townshend, “an amazing journey”. I’ve meditated and pondered on this for a few days. I realised I was doing that when the answer popped into my head – a bit like spam from the Universe.. “You have won a nugget of enlightenment and a soupcon of self-awareness. To claim your prize…”. The answer isn’t quite what I would have expected if I had expected to have asked the question and had a concious expectation. I know that that last sentence is a bit Rumsefeldian and could rank as a known unknown (you know I’ve said it but you are buggered if you know what it meant). I apologise.

Who I am now and what I am achieving boils down to a few small things, and one or two big ones. Most surprisingly to me is the layer of connections between things I am and I do now and experiences, events and people from my past. And the overwhelming urge I have is to say thank you.

I could start right back at the beginning with my parents in the early spring of 1975 (I’m a January 1976 baby). But that would make me the Kevin Costner of blogs with a production rich in detail but lacking in toilet breaks. ‘Dances with Nerds’ how are ye. 😉

Instead I’ll start at the now and work back. Right now, I have a network of friends and acquintances all of whom have helped shape me as much as my family might have had. I have ‘strong ties’ and I have ‘weak ties’ and a sizeable number of ‘middling ties’. Not all of these people are my generation. Some are older. Some are younger. All of them are precious to me as people because of the gifts they have given me.

Interestingly, many of these people have come into my life and hung around in circumstances that link them to some big stresses and traumas in my life. For example, the friend who encouraged me to first publish writings on the Web and who constantly challenges my thinking on things in good ways is a guy I met through a mutual friend who I went out with for a while in college.

Through that person I started hanging around in the office of the college newspaper that Simon wrote for. That relationship ended….hmmmm… awkwardly. Due to other baggage in my life I didn’t take it too well and became a less nice person for a while and, in hindsight, abused people around me as much as I abused myself with drinking and acting the bollox and basically not being someone you could rely on.

However, the friendship with Simon endured because we had hit it off. Simon eventually went on to set up and encouraged me to publish my first piece there back in 2001 – “The Celtic Tiger Ate My Chocmallows“. I then went on to bore Tuppenceworth’s readers with guff about the impact of poor data quality in the electoral register elections and referenda in Ireland back in 2002 – a theme that has dominated this blog since last summer.

I think it is unlikely that Simon and I would have become such good friends if we hadn’t had that link. Although we share many interests, I was a proto-hack’ in college – immersed in the shallow end of college politics, debating societies and the petty chicanery that that entailed. Simon was more honourable than that and would probably have (rightly) dismissed me as yet another gobshite if we hadn’t had the chance to share a few million laughs in a tiny office under the stairs in the Arts Block.

So thank you to that mutual friend who linked us, now long gone.

Anita was a young woman I also met in College through two muppets I had known from school (one from primary school and the other from high school). Anita and Simon. met, fell in love, and I had the pleasure of being a groomsman at their wedding a few years ago. Now they’re awaiting the arrival of their first child.

And all because Anita met two guys who knew me and as a result bumped into Simon who I hung around with. So, thank you to Trev and Sully for seeking me out as some sort of Oracle of knowledge about how college worked. I think I pulled that off for about 20 minutes and then it just became coffee and smokes in the common areas a dozen times a day.

The best man at the wedding was Fergal. He is another guy who challenges my thinking. He has written some stuff with me and has presented at an international conference on Information Quality with me. He has helped me refine my understanding of the law as it applies to the management of information quality – a theme that I keep coming back to in lectures, articles and conference presentations and which is taking me to the UK (again) and possibly the US later this year to present. He is Simon’s best friend since childhood. While Fergal was a debater from another college, without Simon vouching for me as a friend, he probably would have dismissed me as just another L&H gobshite hanger-on and gotten on with his life.

So thank you Simon for linking me to Fergal.

I met my wife through another friend from college, also now more distant than we once were. I was dragged out to a concert I didn’t want to go to and met my wife. My wife had (and still has) a habit of getting incredibly worked up when things don’t work the way they should. They are her “quality crusades”. Nearly a decade ago I started thinking about the process and information management issues that might cause the problems my wife railed against… and that started me on the road to the discipline of work and research that I am now on. So thank you to my lost friend for linking me to my wife, and thank you to my wife for linking me to what has become, I fear, a vocation.

If I hadn’t met certain people, my professional life would probably be a lot different as well. For example, I founded a business with one of my friends from college not long after graduating. That was a mistake, the business failed for a variety of reasons (well one really – my business partner) and I retreated into the ‘safety’ of life in a large corporate. I could have decided to keep pushing that business or simply decided to up sticks and seek new opportunities elsewhere (my mother during that time was forever on at me to join one of the Big 5 consultancies… I didn’t do that).

Instead I dug in in eircom. And then I got an opportunity to work for a poltically clever and visionary (in his own way) manager who saw my potential. And then I wound up managing big data integration projects. And then I realised how crucial Information Quality is to the success and failure of projects of that type. Over the past 8 years in the department I’m in, I’ve worked for a number of different managers and management styles. Interestingly, the three ‘bosses’ who have affected my thinking and approach to things have all been called John. But I probably wouldn’t have wound up in this position if it hadn’t been for the ‘flexibile’ ethics of my former business partner. To him, thanks are due for what I have now.

Through the ‘day job’ I got to go to a conference in 2002 in London. There I met Larry English. Larry has influenced me in a number of ways since and through his work in trying to develop awareness of Information Quality and the need for increased professionalism in the discipline he has created opportunities for me to contribute through the IAIDQ and through presenting at conferences. Through that connection I have met (either physically or virtually) a half dozen people who all challenge me to be better… Keith in Wales, Grant in Australia, Lisa, Dave and Bob in the US. And the thing that I find most people interested in hearing me present about- the legal issues in Information Quality, an area no-one had really looked at or considered but now scares the pants of people. (enter Fergal. yet again).

There are many other people I could list here… such as my friends Niall and Cathal from school. Cathal encouraged my business skills by letting me loose on his business plans and gave me opportunities to deal with real world business situations (some good, some bad). Niall reminds me constantly that we all sit down to take a dump and there’s more to happiness in life than big houses and material guff.

Thinking about the legal, management and technology issues draws on all aspects of my primary degree in Business & Legal Studies (which I chose over other options because I wanted to stay in Dublin for personal reasons I won’t bore you with now). That degree was an unproven quantity that frankly felt like it was being made up as the College Authorities went along. However it trained me to think on two sides of most issues (as well as dealing with uncertainty), the legal and management challenges. My inherent nerdishness gave me the interest in the technology of information. And those three threads eventually came together in the management and study of Information Quality.

But if I had chosen one of my other options – say Law and Economics or Law and Politics in the University of Ulster would I be the person I am today? I doubt it. I would have made different choices. I would have met different people. I might have found being away from my family too much to bear at that time and dropped out. Who knows.

So “who am I, and how did I get here”?

I am me. I am the best me I can be given the choices I’ve made. The choices I’ve made have taken me down certain paths and on those paths I’ve met certain people. Some of them have been positive influences. Others have caused pain and stress. But the friends I have today are the product of both good times and bad times and I am the product of their advice, support, piss-taking and the opportunities they have presented to me and the lessons I have learned with them. They are how I got here.

As for the future me, who knows who I’ll meet tomorrow and what I might learn from them.


Who are the ‘nodes’ in your life? Who are the people or experiences who link you to the good things in your life today?