Archive for the ‘#DBAJumpStart’ Category

“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.