SQLU DBA Week – DBA Progress Report

This week was DBA Week At SQL University. We’ve seen two great posts from Robert Davis, a couple posts from me and some input from DBA Coach LaRock.

Today we’ll lighten things up. It’s Friday so let’s close our notebooks and have a classroom discussion about our attitudes and learning. There are all sorts of DBAs out there. Reluctant ones (“you can spell SQL – you are our new DBA now in addition to the duties we originally hired you for”), Great ones (Tom LaRock wrote a book, DBA Survivor, about how to become a Rock Star DBA), Development ones (they yell at themselves all day long), and the list goes on. But… No matter what kind of a DBA we are, I think we can do better than we do in a few areas. Maybe I’m off but I’m going to go there anyway.

Ready? We’ll start by talking about some attitudes to grab and ditch. While we look at some comments that could be on a DBAs Kindergarten progress report (I am not excluding myself and in the same way I normally do when getting all preachy on professional development topics, may I remind you that I am talking first to myself here?)

Does Not Play Well With Others

Sometimes we DBAs are known as being arrogant, egotistical, opinionated, paranoid, no saying jerks difficult to work with. This shouldn’t surprise you, it doesn’t me. Part of it comes down to the fact that, if we are a good DBA, we feel a burden to protect the data we serve. We feel like everyone else is out to mess things up (and sadly a lot of time, it doesn’t take years of therapy to see why we might feel this way…) and we have to take a hard line. That’s okay. When I give that “Where do I start?!” presentation one of the points I drive home is data advocacy. I use a little hyperbole and comment about how we are the only ones at our companies that care about the data in these databases. We are the only ones who care about protecting it. I know that isn’t always true but some days it feels like it. Regardless, that is how we should feel, I think. We want to protect our databases. We know whose hide is on the line when problems arise (There are those who say DBA stands for Default Blame Acceptor I think it is for this reason that our first position is sometimes “No” and why our developers think it stands for Don’t Bother Asking), we know that if we can’t ensure our databases are recoverable, with integrity, available and performance that our weekends and holidays just got axed. I like to also think it is because we care about doing a quality job every time.

So regardless of the background and rationale behind it, we have this reputation. I’ve earned it in the past, unfortunately: Ask the poor developers I sent reply all’s to earlier in m career. Ask those in go/no-go or code review meetings where I’ve taken on the persona of Sir Walsh, protector of all things data and swung my two handed sword for the knees. Ask those people I’ve taught to give up on eating fish instead of teaching them to fish earlier in my career.

So… What are we going to do about it? How can we keep our business relationships positive while still fulfilling the duties of high protector of the data in our charge? Some thoughts -

  • Check Your Motivation – Is it to be right? Is it to cover your butt? Or is there a deeper motivation? There probably is but it gets lost to often. Find the more healthy motivation that drives the same end results. In my case, I want to protect the databases I am responsible for. I want to do the best job I can. If I think of that instead of “I want to be right, I want to shut down access, slow down fast releases to production, etc.” I accomplish the same goals more efficiently and less snarkily.
  • Teach – You know… It was until my adult life (and recently, at that) that I learned that the goal in throwing a basketball into the hoop is to aim for the hoop. I always thought that the goal was to bounce it off the square in the backboard into the hoop. I was always horrible at basketball. I still am no Tom LaRock but now that I actually know the goal, the angle of my shots are much different and I even get a few in from time to time… No one taught me that. If I was out there playing with you and you’ve been playing for awhile you wouldn’t likely give me that tip. It’s too basic…Mike’s been around for a third of a century, he must know about that already… You would have been wrong though. So… Don’t Assume that everyone knows what you know! There are people who know more and people who know less. Instead of turning into an unapproachable jerk, remember where you were once and do some teaching. Setup some brown bag lunches, offer to help and review code constructively. Explain to the PMs and Management what your concerns are and why they are.
  • Explain  – Arbitrary best practices are annoying. Especially if they don’t make sense at first. If you are prescribing it, there is probably a reason, you didn’t just make it up on your own. So provide reference and learning material on these rules. If you did just make it up then reference your blog post about it ;-)
  • Ask yourself what you are doing wrong… I heard this one from our Pastor before we got married. I don’t do it as often as I should in many situations but it is a principle that works just about everywhere. When it comes to debatable/arguable points, ask what you are doing wrong and what you can do to make it better. Instead of focusing on -them- (Vendors, Developers, Management, Project Management, etc.) and all they are doing wrong ask yourself what you are doing wrong. Change it. Even if they don’t. You’ll find more people change by you changing than you trying to change others.

Doesn’t Seem To Want To Learn

Sometimes you have someone who doesn’t want to learn. Be it a developer, a vendor or a project manager. But you know what? Sometimes isn’t motivated to get better. I know, perish the thought! I am not saying we need to make our one and only goal in life to learn more about SQL Server and the DBA trade but a lot of us can do better than we do. There are User Group meetings, conferences, SQL Saturday events (that are free), webcasts, etc. out there. Attendance is sometimes pitiful at these, especially when you consider how many work in the profession and have the time in the area. Make an effort to grow and learn. Challenge yourself to get to the next level. This isn’t a mandatory skill but if I am doing your job interview, you aren’t getting the DBA job, even a Jr. DBA job if you show no desire to learn. I’d honestly rather hire someone with an okay skillset and a grasp of logic and process and a strong desire and interest in learning. Just about every time, too.

Afraid To Ask For Help

SQL Server is huge. There are experts in small sections, there are Microsoft Certified Masters who know a lot about a lot more but even they aren’t experts in every aspect, no one person can be. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a ton of people out there in the SQL community wanting to help you. A TON of people. More than other technology areas I interface with. The vast majority of them have one simple goal – to share and watch you grow. Regardless of where you stand on political and economic fronts, the SQL community has adopted the trickle down knowledge mentality and found it works. Those with the most knowledge share a lot in various formats (blogs, speaking for free, paid courses, webcasts, white papers, answering questions on forums, etc.) and that sharing causes more to share and that sharing causes all boats in the harbor to rise together. Start out on SQLServerCentral, SQLServerPedia and the #SQLHelp hashtag on twitter (yes, twitter! A great way to interact with and learn from the SQL community). In a nutshell, remember: If you aren’t growing in the community of SQL Server users, it is entirely your fault… I am serious. With all the help resources available, your growth is yours to ignore.

That’s it. DBA Week (and my long posts with it) is over at SQLU. Well this week anyway, check out the schedule and see other DBA related weeks coming up.

Some Related Posts

I’ve hit the poor dead Professional Development horse a lot here. You can subscribe to my feed for future posts and check out some related Professional Development meets Technical Career with some of my favorite posts like:

http://www.straightpathsql.com/archives/2010/03/bill-clinton-was-no-impeached-for/

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  1. SQL University - March 4, 2011

    RT @mike_walsh: Last post for #SQLU DBA Week up – http://bit.ly/gDJBZM Let's Chat about DBA Attitudes & Learning

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