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DBAs and the Fear of Time Off

By Rodney Landrum,

I sat at my desk staring at a calendar for the months of May and June, on which I'd circled 18 days, many consecutive, a few isolated. I glanced nervously towards my boss’ office and then, resolved, leapt up, and strode in that direction, a steely glint in my eyes. My mission was clear. My boss examined the circled dates, his expression deadpan. He sighed lightly, lifted his eyes to the ceiling, contemplative, laying out in his mind what was happening on those weeks. When his eyes returned to me, I saw in them resigned acceptance. “Put it on my calendar,” he said “and could you close the door on your way out, please?”

In my experience, asking for your due time off (your DBA-cation) is a nervous dance, a delicate balancing of the needs of both the requestor and the granter. When I first moved to my current company, in 2006, I set about my new job armed only with a one-page Excel spreadsheet listing the names (and only the names) of our SQL Servers, a laptop and a Blackberry. The latter device tied me closer to my job than I'd ever been before. Each Level 1 alert, when a server or process failed, announced itself to the loud, insistent tune of one of my favorite Fugazi songs, which in hindsight was a mistake. To this day, I still cannot listen to it without jolting upright and checking the pulse in my neck.

I was responsible for everything and had no one, really, to back me up, so what little vacation time I stole meant being out of the office but "still available", in case there were issues. By choice, I tended to stay fairly close to home, my laptop on my back. My loving wife understood and we made it through until, one year, she gently pushed under my nose an article about travel in Europe.

By this time, a few support staff had joined the team but, even so, I spent several days consumed by guilt over my impending request, nervously prepping for the conversation with my boss. I got the approval, but on condition that I had international coverage for my Blackberry, so they could reach me in an emergency. For three days in Copenhagen, the tension was unbearable, checking emails every 30 minutes, convinced something was going to blow up and I would have to catch the nearest plane home. On the fourth day, I accidentally left the Blackberry charging in the hotel room and was without it for almost four whole hours, while we toured the city. It was enough to cut the ties, and I finally relaxed and enjoyed the rest of my time away. When I returned to work on Monday, there had been no disasters, no fires, and my boss even said to me “I thought you weren't back until Wednesday.”

These days, my DBA-cations are much more relaxed, since I have a full staff to watch over things while I'm gone. Still, the dread of asking for time off has never quite left me, nor the expectation that there will be some impediment. I also get to be the other partner in the dance, as my own team members trail into my office, asking for their time off. A few days ago, a DBA came in and handed me a calendar, similar to the one I used. He embarked on a rapid monologue about his family, how he had already paid for the trip, trying to convince himself as much as me that it would be OK to take the time he had rightfully earned.

I leaned back, fingers resting on my chin, staring at the ceiling. He was on a few important projects around that time. After a long, thoughtful pause I said, “Your Blackberry has international coverage, right?”

He looked at me with dread. I let it linger for just half a beat.

“Just kidding, you are good. Put it on my calendar”.

Rodney Landrum (guest editor).

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