More DBA Rules of Thumb

A couple of years ago I posted a set of DBA Rules of Thumb (ROT) here on the blog. Over time, though, I have thought more about it and collected additional ROTs that I’d like to share with you today.

The first new ROT is to Diversify!  A good DBA is a Jack-of-All-Trades. You can’t just master one thing and be successful in this day-and-age. The DBA maintains production, QA and test environments, monitors application development projects, attends strategy and design meetings, selects and evaluates new products, and connects legacy systems to the Web.

And if all of that is not enough, to add to the chaos, DBAs are expected to know everything about everything. From technical and business jargon to the latest management and technology fads and trends, the DBA is expected to be “in the know.” For example, the DBA must be up on trends like the Big Data and Analytics movement.

And do not expect any private time: A DBA must be prepared for interruptions at any time to answer any type of question… and not just about databases, either.

When application problems occur, the database environment is frequently the first thing blamed. The database is “guilty until proven innocent.” And the DBA is expected to be there to fix things. That means the DBA is often forced to prove that the database is not the source of the problem. The DBA must know enough about all aspects of IT to track down errors and exonerate the DBMS and database structures he has designed. So he must be an expert in database technology, but also have semi-expert knowledge of the IT components with which the DBMS interacts: application programming languages, operating systems, network protocols and products, transaction processors, every type of computer hardware imaginable, and more. The need to understand such diverse elements makes the DBA a very valuable resource. It also makes the job interesting and challenging.

To summarize, the DBA must be a Jack-of-all-Trades and a master of some!

The second new ROT is to Invest in Yourself.  Aren’t you worth investing in?

Most every IT professional continually looks for their company to invest money in on-going education. Who among us does not want to learn something new – on company time – and with the company’s money? Unless, perhaps, you are self-employed!

Yes, your company should invest some funds to train you on new technology and new capabilities – especially if it is asking you to do new things. And since technology changes so fast, most everyone has to learn something new at some point every year. But the entire burden of learning should not be placed on your company!

Budget some of your own money to invest in your career. After all, you probably won’t be working for the same company your entire career. Why should your company be forced to bankroll your entire ongoing education? Now, I know, a lot depends on your particular circumstances. Sometimes we accept a lower salary than we think we are worth because of the “perks” that are offered. And one of those perks can be training.

But some folks simply abhor spending any of their hard-earned dollars to help advance their careers. Shelling out a couple of bucks to buy some new books, subscribe to a publication, or join a professional organization shouldn’t be out of the reach of most folks in IT, though.

A willingness to spend some money to stay abreast of technology is a trait that should apply to DBAs. Most DBAs I’ve known are insatiably curious and many are willing to invest some of their money to learn something new. Maybe they bought that book on XML before anyone at their company started using it. Perhaps it is just that enviable bookshelf full of useful database books in their cubicle. Or maybe they paid that nominal fee to subscribe to the members-only content of that SQL Server portal. They could even have forked over the $10 fee to attend the local user group.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that companies should not reimburse for such expenses. They should – it provides for better-rounded, more educated, and more useful employees. But if your employer won’t pay for something that you think will help your career, then why not just buy it yourself?

And be sure to keep a record of such purchases because unreimbursed business expenses can be tax-deductible.

What do you think? Can you come up with any more Rules of Thumbs for those of us in the world of Database Administration?


I'm a data management strategist, researcher, and consultant with over three decades of experience in all facets of database systems development and implementation.
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6 Responses to More DBA Rules of Thumb

  1. Troy Coleman says:

    Hi Craig,
    I could not agree more with your blog. I would not only say spend some money on user groups, books, but also conferences such as IDUG to network and keep up on the latest. I would add to your rule of thumb and that is you should pick a topic you want to learn more about then write about it. It will force you to learn the topic and then submit to IDUG content and maybe even present the topic at work to others, to your local DB2 user group or even IDUG to get a free pass.

    • Zacarias says:

      If only life were like that. In most corporate shops I’ve seen, the database (warehouse, whatever) developers and the DBAs are completely separate and communicate by emails and change request tickets. Then there are middle-tier or Reporting teams in further departments and we never see them or find out much about what they do, except that the middle-tier guys want to get rid of us so they can be more Agile. Sigh.

  2. Mike Krafick says:

    It’s interesting you mention to diversify. I’m finding that it’s ok to widen your scope a little, but that being deep, very deep, with a “specialty” (physical DBA, Performance guy, etc) seem to be more valuable in the market for DB2. I wonder if that is the difference between a consulting job (need to be jack of all trades) and a permanent job.

    Although, just for a safety net in your career diversifying is a smart thing to do.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    • Thanks for the input, Mike. I think there is a spectrum here whereby you can make yourself more useful to your organization or group by being very specialized. But I think it becomes a little more difficult to find another job. I think that is the case because you’d be limiting yourself to only those specific openings that focused on the specialty; for example, if you focus deeply on backup/recovery then it becomes difficult to get a job where performance tuning is a big part of the job (and b&r only part of it).

  3. Vonani says:

    1. What specific tasks can a DBA do during:
    a. Conceptual database design phase
    b. Logical database design phase
    c. Physical database design phase
    2. Discuss each of the following with regards to database performance
    a. Partitioning
    b. Raw partition vs. file system
    c. Clustering
    d. File placement and allocation
    e. Re-organisation

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