It’s Magic

April 13th, 2011

Chances are your end users have no idea what a DBA does for work. There is even a good chance that your boss has no idea what you do for work, just that “well, we need a DBA, right?” You are magic.

As such you get requests from people and to them it is just that: a request. To the end user there is no difference in asking for a word document or a data warehouse. As long as they get it by their deadline then they are happy.

You are the magic that allows for it all to happen. And no one cares about the effort it takes to get things done, they just want it done.

It is up to you to help manage those expectations. Sometimes magicians want to keep the audience entranced with their show. Other times magicians like to show how the tricks are done.

Which magician are you?

Happy Fun Play Time

April 11th, 2011

You need to keep your stress levels low. One way to accomplish this is to stay involved with activities you find fun and enjoyable. Sometimes that means you need to take a break during the day. Yes, during “working” hours.

Go ahead. It’ll be OK.

Of course if you take a break during the day then you are going to need to make up those hours later. Maybe you start your day a little earlier, or you work a little later. But you will need to make sure your work is getting done.

But the real point you need to consider is this: do you want your work to define who you are, or do you want to be known for activities you do outside the office?

I call it “Happy Fun Play Time”.

What Does DBA Stand For?

April 6th, 2011

Well, that depends on who you ask. Traditionally it will means “Database Administrator”, and very few people will argue with that. But where it gets really interesting is if you list out the specific job duties for a DBA. It varies from shop to shop. In some shops, you are more of a developer. In another, you do database design. In another you are doing mostly ETL work. In another, you install, maintain, and backup the instances as your primary duty.

If you really want to know what you do as a DBA, go and ask your boss. At my last company I had (at least) four different bosses in the last 16 months. If I sent them each an email right now to list out what they thought a DBA did for work, I would get back four different answers.

Nobody knows what you do. They only know what you do not do. And they are more likely to remember your failures (real or perceived) than your successes.

It is up to you to educate them.

Resisting Change

April 4th, 2011

Often times I point out to other DBAs how their customers will resist change. But I have never asked about how DBAs handle change.

So, how do you handle change? When your boss comes to you with a request that means you will need to change the way you have done things for years, how do you react? What about when developers need you to do something different? Or when a customer need you to simply stop doing what you are doing and help them immediately with a problem?

Change is all around us, in many different forms. How we react to such change is often our ‘glass ceiling’.

Next time you are asked to change, stop and think before you react.

No One Person Knows Everything

March 30th, 2011

And neither do you.

As more and more functionality gets shoved into SQL Server, or is simply tagged as ‘SQL’, then you are going to know less and less. So get used to not knowing everything.

See, the real gift you have as a DBA is not always knowing the answer, it is knowing where to go find the answer. There is going to come a time, and it will happen fairly quickly, where you will need to go and find an answer.

Think about this for a moment, and think about where you begin your search. Are you always relying on The Google, or do you have a network of peers you can turn to when you need them most?


March 28th, 2011

I am very happy to have Spring here, as I can now look to get outside for some fresh air daily. I enjoy going for a walk in the morning, or a bike ride in the afternoon, or a jog in the early evening.

Since I changed my eating habits recently my weight loss has stabilized for the most part. The next step for me is to find a way to burn a few extra calories daily which can help me shed a few extra pounds.

It is my hope that the next time you meet me there will be less of me to see.

When Your Boss Is Crazy

March 24th, 2011

Recently I saw where a person openly talked about how their boss wanted to implement a denormalized database in order to save on CPU because they were building a web application and CPU was the most important thing.

There is simply so much wrong with that sentence. But where do you, as the DBA, start in fixing things?

I propose that instead of pointing out to your boss that they are wrong you take a different approach. Ask them for more information on all the metrics they want tracked with regards to the new database. Maybe the boss only lists CPU. If so, that’s fine. If they also list things like disk I/O, even better.

Then, ask your boss to define very specific thresholds for acceptable performance. Build the prototype of the database as they have instructed and see if the design allows for the metrics to be under the defined thresholds. If it does, wonderful. If it doesn’t, then you will be asked to recommend some changes.

And now is the time for you to start discussing the idea of implementing a more normalized database. Don’t do it in a way that says “I told you I was right”, just do it in small steps. Break out one table, then another, until you get the metrics in line with expected performance.

Eventually you will arrive at a design that is good enough for all parties. And you will have achieve this without causing an argument.

Responsive Versus Responsible

March 21st, 2011

Two things you can always do as a database professional are being responsive and being responsible.

Responsive is when you take action on an item. It doesn’t matter if it is something for you to do or not (such as when there is a disk failure and you are not a member of the server team so you can’t fix the disk immediately), if the perception is that you need to do something then your customer needs to see you as responsive. The hardest part of this is being responsive at all times of the day because the better you get at your role the more your services will be in demand.

Responsible is simply taking ownership for something. Most notably this come into play when mistakes happen, or when your actions cause a delay. Once I was not able to restore master as quickly as I would have liked. It took me about 45 minutes longer than it should have. The next day I informed my managers that I could have done better and also outlined a training plan so that any member of my team would be able to perform the same tasks in the correct amount of time. I took responsibility and I would like to think my managers appreciated my honesty.

I could have easily kept such information private. After all, its not like they even knew what a DBA does for work anyway (which was apparent because they were bewildered by my informing them of my mistake which was either a result of their never having met an honest person before or not understanding what it means to restore master).

But that’s not me, that’s not who I am. I like to be responsible. My actions are mine, and mine alone. I took the blame when I could have easily blamed others.

Be responsive, and be responsible. I believe it pays off in the long run.

What Are You Judged By Most Often?

March 17th, 2011

I like asking people this question. Often times I am told that they are judged by home much work they can do, or how well things perform. No one ever answers correctly, which always surprises me.

There is only one thing you are judged by as a DBA: time.

No one cares what you have done, or what you will do. The only thing they will consistently ask, no matter what the situation is this: how long will it take for you to get this done?

And the task doesn’t matter to them either. They could ask for a word document, for a training manual, or for a data warehouse to be built. It is all magic to them. All they want to know is ‘how long’?

And you can give them an answer, complete with a detailed plan as to how long and why it will take x number of days. But if it is even 1 hour longer than what they need they will push back and simply say “make it faster”.

And often times it is just not possible.

You’re Welcome

March 14th, 2011

Recently I was at the St. Louis SQL Server User Group giving my Performance Tuning Made Easy talk. The talk was broadcast live. I didn’t know it was going to be done live until I arrived, otherwise I would have told people about it beforehand. With the live broadcast came the ability for participants to chat with each other. I, however, could not respond in the chat room, because I was giving my talk.

After the talk was done I was given the transcript of the chat. Inside there was this gem:

“Thanks for all ur work Tom, thanks to u I’ll either be a full time DBA next month or a full time SA (Citrix) in an enterprise level environment, ur book and SQLSAT talk were a big part of that jump”

You’re welcome.