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The DBA Tax

By Steve Jones,

This editorial was originally published on July 9, 2012. It is being re-published as Steve is out of town.

When I started working with a small company in Denver over a decade ago, SQL Server 7 had just been released. One of the marketing messages for the product was that it was self-tuning and didn't need a DBA. More than a few of my friends asked if I was worried about my job. If we upgraded from SQL Server 6.5, would I lose my job? Was I worried? I wasn't and we've seen in the decade since that there's no shortage of a need for DBAs to manage database systems.

That hasn't stopped many companies from trying to build products and solutions that don't have a DBA tax. They want a tool that doesn't need a DBA, or a developer to tune queries. Some get closer than others, but most still require someone with technical skills to work on the platform, and help ensure it runs smoothly.

When PowerPivot was released a few years ago, I heard no shortage of fears from data professionals that this tool would eliminate much of their work. Since then I've heard no shortage of consultants and BI developers say that this tool has spurred even more work for them. It simplifies prototyping, and allows for a better front end experience, but it also requires better data, cleaner data, and better models of data for users to work with. They are drowning in work.

It's easy to let fear drive you. It's easy to let your concerns over technology replacing you limit your willingness to experiment and improve the systems you work on. However if you improve yourself, and your skills, I don't think you'll ever be seen as a "tax" on your company's computer systems, but rather an asset that is worth paying the ongoing cost to keep.

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