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A well-earned break from the database

By Phil Factor,

For many database professionals, it's rare to be able to take more than a week's holiday at a time. Some panic, or are you consumed with guilt, at the thought of taking any real holiday from work at all. They are compelled to stay in touch even when they are away. After all, what if something breaks?

Sure, your expertise is important when things go wrong, but hopefully you've documented, maybe even scripted, the processes that deal with all the known things that could awry, so that even a manager could deal with them.

However, as any shepherd will tell you, sheep have misadventures, and even die, in extraordinary and creative ways that you never could have predicted. Databases, and database applications are uncannily similar. I've had more than one database get tangled up in the metaphorical wire, such as the time when a password generator started to produce swearwords. I've had one or two drop off a cliff. An autopsy on a dead server will often reveal a bizarre chain of unlikely events and failures that led to database-demise syndrome.

Sometimes, even while lazing on a distant sunny beach, listening to the breakers and sipping Pina Colada, it's hard to fight the occasional twinge of fear that someone in Ops will be mistreating your server. However, they will just have to get on with it. You've left instructions for fixing most problems. There are ways around most crises. It's up to them.

It is best to be liberal with your expertise. In fact, if you have become 'indispensable', then you are failing at an important aspect of your job. The best and most competent people I've ever worked with were those who spread their expertise liberally, sharing their knowledge, and so inspiring others around them. Major organizations don't like employing heroes; they want competent and versatile people who can adapt to different roles and are good at ensuring that whoever takes over their existing role finds it easy to 'pick up the reins'. As the old management saying goes, 'if anyone in your organisation becomes indispensable, dispense with them.'

In talking to DBAs and Ops people in a high-availability setting, I always like to ask how they ensure that problems can be fixed at any hour, whoever is on duty. The answer can get complicated, involving all manner of ways of ensuring someone is available to communicate with and assist whoever is 'holding the fort', even if it's a rather grumpy CIO, at three in the morning. Scripting helps enormously, as does documentation, possibly in source control, and this can include videos, diagrams, and wallcharts. Sure, there are mobile phones, still a few pagers, but these should not be an option if you are on that distant beach.

If you've covered the obvious contingencies then your conscience is clean, and there should be nothing to stop you enjoying that long holiday, every now and again. You've earned it.

Phil Factor.

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