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Organizational tools that can help you be a better DBA

By Jason Crider,

It goes without saying that individuals working with SQL Server can sometimes experience information overload. Technologically savvy individuals can often have information in multiple places and it can often be difficult to separate everything into manageable portions. In my first article, I hope that I can present information that has helped me overcome the problem of having data in many places and helped me to become a better organizer of all things related to Data.

While it may come across as elementary to most, it can be hard for certain individuals to get over the hump of managing information in order to become more efficient and excel at what you do. I hope that I can offer suggestions to help you not only meet expectations but excel at what you love to do. I am sure there are many other ways to accomplish the following, but I want to give you what I see as a way of achieving information management for the DBA.  If nothing else, I hope I can foster discussion that will give everyone more options for managing their information.

For the sake of this article, I will assume that you are using Mozilla Firefox as your internet browser. I’m sure you can adapt these suggestions to meet your needs if you use an alternative browser. I will also assume that you are on Windows as that is my primary operating system.

Firefox Bookmark Synchronizer

Once you have Firefox installed, it is time to go grab one of the best Add-ons that I have found. Firefox Bookmark Synchronizer has allowed me to manage my bookmarks across multiple computers. This allows me to get to a site that I bookmarked from work while I am working at home at 11:00 PM on a Saturday night.  Once you have installed the plug-in go ahead and use the setup wizard. For now, I will skip the Secure Password Sync option in favor of another alternative that isn’t tied to this plug-in but you can use this one if you wish.  The wizard is fairly straightforward and it will put your bookmarks on the server the first time you run it. This will allow you to merge your bookmarks between multiple computers so that you will always have the latest and greatest.

Fast Dial

Another add-on that has helped me stay on task and organized is Fast Dial. This allows me to see a start page with some of the sites that I frequent all in one place. You can see more info on this add-on in a write-up over at Lifehacker. When you install the plug-in and restart Firefox you should have a fast dial icon next to your address bar in Firefox.

To configure this add-on a little bit further you’ll need to do a couple things. Go into the Options in Firefox and change your Home Page to about:blank so that the start page will be correct. You could also leave the icon there and use that to access it but I prefer not to click.  Next, right click on an empty space in your toolbar, select Customize, and drag that four-square icon into the area with the other icons.  It will also sync up with other computers through the bookmark synchronizer so that you only have to add an item once. Once installed, you can add more pages by right clicking the page you are on and add it to Fast Dial. Their latest update has a few tweaks that I do not prefer, but it will take more to keep me from using it.

Dropbox

For everything less than 2GB, Dropbox serves as an excellent source for storing files in a central location. The reason it is mentioned here is because it can be used a storage location for the wiki that gets mention below. I will not go into the details of setting it up but feel free to check it out and see if it can serve your needs for housing a wiki or files you need from anywhere. The fact that it synchronizes from a local folder makes it easy for the average user to work without a problem.

Wiki

By this point, it’s probably certain that you have heard of a Wiki. If you are a fan of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” then you are probably using something like a wiki to keep yourself organized. There are several options when it comes to keeping a centrally accessed wiki to manage your data. Currently, I’m using MonkeyPirateTiddlyWikki  with good results.  I have also recently seen a write-up on TiddlyDu2 that may serve a purpose as well.  It may take you a little bit of reading to get up to speed on how to do everything but it has served my needs to serve as a repository for my SQL Server Info.  There are various plug-ins that could enhance your experience, but out of the box it is a pretty good start. The tags will allow you to keep up with things and being able to search through all of your scripts at once is nice. It also allows you to separate code from text by using {{{ and }}} to open and close code.

There is also a pretty neat add-on to Firefox called TiddlySnip which allows you to grab content off of a webpage and save it to your wiki. It includes the link that it came from along with the snippet so it is nice to have that as a reference. I won’t go into the details of that here but if you have questions we can discuss it in the forum.

Synergy

The last thing I will mention is Synergy. This little open source application allows you to share a mouse and keyboard between operating systems. The neatest thing to me is that you can share the clipboard between computers and save time and space on your desk. To see your mouse fly across 4 screens on 2 different computers is pretty sweet.

Summary

I hope you can use the tools that I mentioned to become a better DBA, Programmer, or whatever your job title is. This list is just a small sampling of the tools that we have available to manage ourselves and the data we have to process.  Ultimately, I hope we can all exchange dialogue on tools that help us become better at what we do. I look forward to hearing comments about what helps you get and stay organized in this world of data overload.

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