Do You Want a Job?

Posted: December 10, 2013 in #DBAJumpStart, Career, SQLServerPedia Syndication

“If you could give a DBA just one piece of advice, what would it be?”

John asked 20 successful and experienced SQL Server professionals this exact question. I share my own thoughts with you below and you can find all our answers together inside DBA JumpStart, a unique collection of inspiring content just for SQL Server DBAs. Be sure to get your free copy of DBA JumpStart.

This post is part of the SQL Community Project #DBAJumpStart by John Sansom.

Recently I was asked about the piece of advice I would pass along to a Jr. DBA or someone considering becoming a DBA. I tried to determine what my one piece of advice would be, the one piece above all others that I would pass along. I went back and forth thinking on this for weeks. The idea alone that someone would want my advice is humbling. I considered a number of things that I would pass along both technical and non-technical. I considered my personal pet peeves and if I could change the industry how would I change it? Each consideration I reflected on was based on what I wanted to tell someone and, well, that is what I am doing here. I even thought about what I would say if I was in an elevator at the PASS Summit and I was asked what the one piece of advice would be and I imagined I only had 30 seconds to answer before all of us in the elevator went our separate directions. Eventually I reached a point in my personal reflection where I started to think about the questions I have been asked in the past and I let that direct my answer. So when I am asked, “What is the one piece of advice I would pass along to new or Jr. DBA’s?” I won’t list 50 items making it sound like I just can’t grasp the whole concept of what that ONE thing is….

How can I become a DBA?

This must be the number one question I am asked. I have had this discussion so many times I debate if people are serious when they ask me this question. I have tried to encourage and motivate some of them by suggesting books, websites, even blogs and twitter accounts that they should follow, yet only a few have gone on to become Database Administrators. There are times I start to think I have failed my self-appointment as DBA Ambassador. I looked at my approach a few times and adjusted it thinking I must be answering in the wrong way. Now I am not so sure. I don’t think I have been fair when communicating how much of a commitment becoming a good DBA is (I have never considered myself to be a quick learner so this may just be my impression).

Granted, this collection of my thoughts is not meant to classify everyone who considers becoming a Database Administrator, but is simply a reflection on the most recent discussion I had during lunch at an event I was speaking at. This discussion happened at a table with a handful of people who, like me, were late to lunch and it was obvious a speaker ran late, yet again (that was me).

So the discussions started with the question, “How can I become a DBA?” with follow up questions along the lines of “What pays more, a Developer or an Admin?”, and the question if there is more money in networking.

I want to pause here and mention these are all valid questions. The difficulty I have with writing this post is the tone of this discussion. The obvious tone that I and others at the table received was that of someone who wasn’t all that interested in becoming a DBA because of what we do, but a tone of wanting to be a DBA because of the pay or because some IT magazine said there was room for a lot of growth (again, not a bad reason to choose this field). It would be like determining you wanted to become a church pastor without having the religious belief.

What advice did I pass along or what advice would I would pass along to anyone entering the field? Decide if this is a job or if it is a career – If you’re looking for a job, then you may just want to keep looking. Being a DBA isn’t a job, it is a career…maybe even more than a career. It becomes us. Some of us who are DBA’s fell into this field by accident (no one else wanted to do it) while others of us chose to be a DBA and planned our education to become a DBA. No matter how we became a DBA, the DBA’s that I know of who have succeeded in what they do, treat being a DBA as way more than just a job.

In my opinion, I would describe the difference between a job and a career as:

  • A job is something you do 8 hours a day, five days a week. Sure, sometimes it comes with a little overtime, however, for the most part, the time when you arrive at work and the time you leave work is the same each day. The motivation to go to the job is focused around the money, mostly because that is how one pays the bills. Some may think of a job as a bad thing but it isn’t. Jobs can sustain you while you study for another career. Some may not like the idea of becoming so ingrained with their work. Many people like the idea of leaving work at 5:00 PM each day to know they are making their way home or to school, or on their way to a hobby of some sort. There isn’t anything wrong with wanting a lifestyle like this. I like to think of a job as a light switch, something that can be turned off and on when the time is right.
    • A career is work that you can’t put down, somewhat like a good book. There is something there that draws your attention to it, something that makes you say, “You know what? I am going to skip book club today because I want to figure out why this does what it does.” (Whatever it may be!) A career will leave little traces of itself scattered throughout your life: for example, I sat down the other night to watch a TV show that I find entertaining but as a commercial came on, I found myself starting to concentrate on a design issue I had been working on. Before I knew it, I had an idea. I started up the laptop and thought about making a quick note so I could get back to the show. I did a couple tests and came to realize that not only had I missed my TV show but the next show as well, not to mention it was WAY past my bedtime!
    • Just a few days ago I saw a car accident just outside a local military base. I saw a longtime friend out directing traffic. My friend is over 70 years old and has spent his life working for the safety of the United States in the US Army. The police were already on scene along with the fire department and EMTs. Why was he standing out there even though he is retired? Because this was his career. He knew that by directing traffic he relieved a resource and he knew that resource could then focus on assisting with the rescue efforts or the cleanup. My friend may not have thought about this decision as I have. Why? Because being a first responder isn’t his job. It never was his “job”. At one time he may have been paid to do it actively, but this day he did it because it is just who he is.

The tasks of a DBA are difficult to define precisely. Sure, there are things like backups and restores that fit into the DBA category nicely, but what about performance tuning? Should that be done by whoever developed the code? What about building a data flow or the design? Being a DBA is like being a ‘Jack of all Trades’. There is so much that can impact the stability of the database, anything that touches the database can impact the primary role of the DBA. Aspects that relate to hardware, operating systems and even networking can impact the core responsibilities of the DBA. Throughout my 15 plus years as a DBA, I have worked on all those aspects and more.

If the idea of long nights, early mornings and solving problems while you sit at the dinner table does not appeal to you, don’t worry! It doesn’t to too many of us either but we do it. We do it because we are called to do it. There is a lot of satisfaction of fixing what other people can’t and doing what other people won’t. If all you want is to walk out the door after your shift is over or to turn off the light switch because your work for the day is done, I recommend that you keep looking for work that fits your lifestyle a bit better. Keep in mind also that if you are motivated and driven by recognition, awards or the admiration of everyone at a company, often you will not find those things as a DBA.

If you like the idea of leaving the office at 7:00 AM when the work day is about to begin, knowing that all the faces you see coming in as you walk out of the building are going to have a good work day because you were able to fight through the sleep deprivation, face the errors that caused others to run and hide and that you’ve muscled through the last 12 hours of your 24 hour shift without eating anything, then being a DBA may be right up your alley. When we as DBA’s are doing a good job, no maybe better said as… when we as DBA’s are doing a great job, the database performance is fast just like everyone expects it to be. The database is stable just as everyone expects it to be. After whole SAN storage failure the database is back online ready for business… that is what the organization expects it to be. When a DBA is doing a great job we are meeting expectations and all too often many who are not DBA’s don’t know all the work it takes to meet those expectations.

  1. Max Trottier says:

    Hey Chris!

    We did a survey among our users a few months ago asking what are the best tips they would give to someone who wants to start a career in IT. I thought I would share the top 10 tips with you!

    – Don’t get a “I Know everything better” complex
    – Improve your social skills -> this made a lot of things easier in my life
    – The “I” in IT is more important than the “T”. And the best place to get “I” is from people.
    – There are two types of IT companies: business-centric and technology-centric. If you like to geek out, avoid business-centric companies, and the other way around.
    – Grow a sense of humour to survive the stressful situations that you will encounter when something might not go as planned.
    – Be open and flexible, i.e., learn to implement what you may not know rather than being boxed into learning and implementing what you know. This will stand you in good stead and give you a broad background as you grow in your career.
    – While you are in college do a search for the job you will be seeking when you graduate, and do a gap assessment amongst the experience, projects, technology, and certifications you will need to land the job
    – Be focused on what cluster you want to specialize in. IT is far too big to a generalist.
    – Don’t bank on ONLY ONE technology. Sometimes, your choice ends up disappearing from the landscape (Hello Netware, I am looking at you!).
    – If an IT company has a dress code – RUN!!!!

    For the complete article, you can visit our blog:

    • Chris Shaw says:

      Hi Max,

      Thanks for the reply. Can’t say there is much on that list that I would not agree with. When I have a free few minutes, I will be sure to check out that article. There are a couple points in here that in my opinion I don’t think they can be stressed enough.


  2. Cody says:

    This post leaves a terrible taste in my mouth.

    While I would agree it is probably best not to choose a career based on a search for money, I don’t see that same argument used to dissuade others in any other professions (doctors, dentists, and plumbers) or any DBAs willing to take massive pay-cuts because they feel the extra money is somehow ruining the experience.

    The much more common justification of the “Don’t chase money because it means you’re not serious!” mantra is in job advertisements from well-to-do companies that are trying to guilt highly skilled DBAs into joining them for substandard wages and conditions.

    No thanks.

    They also use your next argument that a “real” DBA should expect to be working 24-hours (16 for free) because if you love something you should do it for free and constantly otherwise you’re just not being serious.

    If anything it’s the DBAs who demand reasonable hours and reasonable compensation that are the serious ones, and the yahoos who promise the world while placing no value on their own worth that leave a trail of devastation and are not to be trusted.

    When someone chooses to become a DBA they do not give up families, responsibilities, interests, and free time outside of the database world. And yet you insinuate (but would you follow through with I wonder) that you are willing to give up more than anyone else in a race to the bottom, dragging down working conditions in the industry while trying to shame anyone who would want to do things reasonably.

    DBAs should be supporting each other for stronger worker rights and protection, not frivolously justifying the made-up reasons for which cheap or abusive companies can take them away.

    (This was a long and emotionally charged comment typed on the fly with no editing possible, so forgive any errors)

    • Chris Shaw says:

      Hi Cody,
      Hi Cody,
      First I want to thank you for taking time to read this post, in addition thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment, I know at times when things get busy putting your thoughts down so this must be something that you are passionate about.
      I want to make sure that I clarify what I am saying, and maybe I did not say it as well as I should. I think people who want to become a DBA, should consider many of the benefits and the negatives that come along with the career of being a DBA. Some of these include the hours worked, or the time that it takes to learn new features. Other Pro/Con’s can be money, job satisfaction even flexible schedules or the opportunity to work remotely. Each one of these should be evaluated and each person should determine what the order of priority is for them. Consider teachers, many of them don’t make as much money as what they should (that is my personal belief may or may not be shared by others). I think it could be argued that someone is a teacher gets the rewards from working as hard as they do from other items then money. I would think it is fair to say that the majority of teachers did not become teachers with the idea they would be millionaires, I have not done a lot of research so I could be wrong. With that in mind however, I would thing that being a teacher has the benefits of having a lot more flexibility during the summer time frames. Overall though I believe that it the critical decision that someone needs to make when trying to determine if they want to become a teacher needs to be done from a understanding of what the benefits and the negatives are and how those compare to the individuals goals and motivations.
      I think the same can be said for a DBA… If someone wants to become a DBA because it pays more, they might be in for a bit of a surprise. Can it pay well, sure but if an individual prefers to work outside in the sun or never wants to work after 5:00 PM they should reconsider.
      When I direct the question to if someone wants a career or a job, it could be re-worded to something along the lines of how committed are you? Does the individuals priorities match with the requirements, not only with the overall career choice requirements but the job requirements as well.
      Ok, so that was a lot to say, but I am not sure it directly responds to your comment, and I think you make some great points. Let me add to this a very generic statement and I would be more than happy to expand on it, if you think it is worthwhile…
      I do believe there are companies and or organizations that try to take advantage of their employees. There are going to be many employment opportunities that will promise great job satisfaction, yet they hide or mislead people by not telling them about the sacrifices they require. Sacrifices to include items such as less time at home with the family, lack of any appreciation outside of the paycheck or just too much work for any single individual. I have been told by at least two different companies I have interviewed with that part of the compensation is knowing that the work the company or organization does helps people who are in great need and the award or benefit is being part of making the world a better place. I can see that as being a real benefit to a job, I honestly can, however I would expect to see that everyone in the company to share the same benefit and in the specific case that I am thinking about the same sacrifices when it comes to salary. Yet I know for a fact that upper management at the organization I am thinking of is compensated very well, yet the rest of the employees rely on compensation of job satisfaction. In my case this was not the place for me, I felt the company was not being exactly honest. However this is a completely different story.
      I don’t believe that anyone should work for free, nor do I believe that anyone should be required to make a sacrifice that just does not align with what they want out of a career. From time to time each job may require more than individuals are willing to give, or can give. There are times when companies take advantage of that. The key is balance… and I fight with it a lot. There will be times when I have to work more than I would want to, and I would rather be hanging out with my wife. I am fortunate enough that where I work, I am encouraged to balance my life so extra sacrifice is addressed with some sort of reward sometimes it is worth the sacrifice, and sometimes it is not. If a company doesn’t allow for me to live in a well-balanced lifestyle to what is important to me, then I have to make that decision to move on.
      I apologize for the long response, I too am passionate about being treated fairly, and that a company should take care of those who help them succeed. If I missed the point on what you were saying please let me know. I am open for the discussion.
      Thanks, and sincerely thank you again for leaving your thoughts.

      First I want to thank you for taking time to read this post, in addition thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment, I know at times when things get busy putting your thoughts down so this must be something that you are passionate about.

      I want to make sure that I clarify what I am saying.

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