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The Disappearing DBA

By Tony Davis,

During a "difficult period", a developer tends to sink from view. When delivery dates have slipped, and testers are hammering them with bugs they've found in their 'perfect' code, the developer will sit quietly in the corner, unnoticed by most, doggedly bashing away at their keyboard.

However, when things are going well, when an awesome new feature has been completed or particularly knotty programming problem solved, everyone knows about it. Suddenly they are the gunslinger, the hotshot; rightly proud of their achievement they swagger around the office telling all to anyone who will listen.

The DBA often looks on wistfully. For him, the "fame trajectory" seems to work in reverse. When a server is down or performance is suffering, customers are quick to complain, and managers are eager to point the finger of blame. During difficult periods, the DBA is the centre of attention. The harder the DBA works, and the smoother everything is running, the more invisible the DBA becomes.

In short, it is the unfortunate lot of the DBA to work their way towards absence. In a recent blog, Andy Leonard notes that DBAs think differently to developers, and it's true. The DBA role requires a completely different mindset, and a very different perception of what "success" means.

Some DBAs, perhaps envious of the high profile developers, make a point of highlighting their achievements, sending regular emails that report uptime on the company servers, improvements made to database processes and so on. This isn't such a bad idea, but most seem content with a working life spent keeping deliberately out of the limelight. Plaudits and esteem are all well and good, but they don't trade for much at the bank. What DBAs lack in public profile they tend to make up in personal remuneration. They accept the occasional public lambasting with good grace, perhaps consoling themselves using Phil Factor's old trick of calculating, on the hourly rate, how much they are being paid to receive it.

One cannot change human nature, and so it may be better to aim for an image of quiet efficiency rather than gun-slinging hero. Whereas the developer can bring a spring to his step from thought of the recognition of the quality of his work and skills, the DBA can cheer himself from the thought that it has been a nice, quiet month; and now it's payday.



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