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Slipping out of the DBA trenches

By Rodney Landrum,

Like most, I didn't set out to have a career as a DBA; I just grew into it over time. I am not a developer, however, nor will I ever be. I don’t have the mettle. I was an English major who had an Atari as a kid and got a good internship working with mainframes and UNIX.

My upstart career in IT (back then it was DP for Data Processing) started in the early 90’s and the pay was not good. I could have made more delivering pizza. In fact, I did actually supplement my income by delivering pizza, and a good thing too because I could bring home enough leftover pies to feed the whole fam damily. Then I made a "lateral" move to another company. While it was a lateral move in terms of pay, it was 90 degrees up in terms of experience. This was the early Windows NT days…I am talking 3.51. This move led to certification (MCP) and my entry into SQL Server, thank the stars. I had mentors and all the servers I could build. I was a cocky new father, weaned on Novell, RAS, NT and SQL 6.5; I was making $9 per hour and loving every minute. Soon, I moved up in the company and became a Director. However, the company was so small that I never left the trenches. I moved in and out of tech support, solving complex SQL tasks, converting data and building RAID arrays on white tower systems.

Eventually, I hired someone whom I could mentor. He knew almost nothing about SQL at the time, but was a quick study. Within 3 months he was shining brightly, absorbing as much SQL as I could feed him. I was impressed. He became a friend. Then, as these things happen, I was offered a new job, at double my current salary. I left and there was sadness, but also bright thoughts of what lay ahead. The new job was far away but I came back often and visited my old company because we were all still friends. My protégé was there, having taken on all of my former responsibilities, and was doing swimmingly. Everyone loved him. Then, as these things happen, he left too. Brightness navigates.

Many years later, I was a solo DBA for a large company and, with my English major and internships and self study and experience, I felt I had hit the pinnacle of my career. One night, after a period of silence, I phoned my old friend, who once I had taught trace flags and database restores. I found out that he was now a DBA manager, overseeing nine DBAs around the world. I was happy for him. He made really good money. I made OK money, and I wrote books and articles.

And I wondered….should I be a manager of DBAs? Is that the end point? Should I be Vice President of Data Services?  Would I be happy if I were not in the trenches?

Sometime later, I called him back and asked him a question about CLR or Log Shipping or Replication, I don’t recall precisely what, but I know it was technical and it was pressing for my new job. I suspected he would know immediately. He said he did not know but he could ask one of his DBAs. He was friendly and cared about my question. I told him I would look into it more, not to worry. He was my friend and still is. He is a DBA manager. And now, so am I…waiting for someone to ask me a question about SQL Server that I can not readily answer, and hoping it will not be tomorrow morning.

How do DBA Managers, removed from the front lines, find the time to keep up to date and retain their edge? Or is it inevitable that, slowly but inexorably, they will feel the blunting of the blade? I have found that, as a DBA manager, I really need to work doubly hard to stay afoot, and perhaps even to stay afloat, by reading incessantly and working on technical projects I assign to myself. I can get some flexibility with deadlines in the latter case, but I do make sure they happen.


Rodney Landrum (Guest Editor)

Total article views: 147 | Views in the last 30 days: 1
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