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Being an extremely productive DBA

By Tony Davis,

Over on Simple-talk, Louis Davidson is writing a series of short articles on "what counts for a DBA". In his latest piece, Education, he talks about the need for a DBA to guard against becoming rusty, and resistant to learning  new things, and instead to be continually acquiring new knowledge wherever they can, from books, blogs, conferences, mentors, training classes and so on.

It's a sentiment with which few would argue, but then from it springs the age-old question of how much support a DBA should expect from their organization, in these endeavors. For many DBAs the answer is little-or-none. The problem stems from a failure in many organizations to recognize the potential value of their DBAs. According to Brad McGehee, author of How to become an Exceptional DBA:

"At one large corporation where I worked, the CEO didn't really know what a DBA was, and considered IT a cost center, not a profit center. As such, he was always trying to cut the budget, even cutting costs on disaster recovery"

In such an environment anything as grand as a training budget is likely to be considered off-limits. In order to change this perception, the DBA has to work hard to prove that there is not necessarily a direct correlation between time spent "on the job", and productivity. This is perhaps the most important tenet of Bob Pozen's concept of extreme productivity. It is up to the DBA to prove that time spent acquiring new knowledge and experience can and will translate into real value for the organization's efficiency and profitability, and this must be presented to the management in the form of tangible results, and numbers they will understand. Surely, this is the only way that time spent by the DBA unshackled from their servers, will cease to be deemed "time and money wasted"?

At the same time as learning new skills and technologies, customers must continue to be well-served, routine tasks must be efficient and automated, uptime remain unaffected, and so on. It's a difficult balancing act and one with which many DBAs, especially senior DBAs struggle. Faced with a list of important data administration tasks, they are likely, consciously or otherwise, to nominate themselves as the best person to tackle them. As a result they spread themselves thinly, work incredibly long hours, but actually become less productive. According to another of the extreme productivity principles, "know your comparative advantage", the senior DBA should, instead, focus on tasks that only he or she can do and trust the team with the rest. It will allow the senior DBA the time to focus on the acquisition and implementation of new knowledge, in areas that will truly benefit the company. In turn, other team members will gain valuable experience and learning opportunities.

What do you think? I'd love to hear from DBAs who have reached a stage where they feel their role is truly valued, where training is encouraged and they are judged on productivity and results rather than time. How did you get there? Conversely, if you're not there yet, what are the biggest barriers?



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