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DBA Education

I always consider taking seminars and technical conferences as a key component in my DBA education framework

Last week (Jan 21 to 22, 2008), I attended MS TechDays Canada 2008 in Vancouver, BC. Though the quality of the sessions is above the usual business-promotion-focused sessions, I still feel the quality is only suitable to DBAs with limited experience.

I attended PASS in 2006 and numerous other SQL Server related sessions before, and I must say most of time I feel the sessions are of limited help to my daily work. This brings me to think of this question frequently:

What is the best way to train a seasoned DBA? 

After some reading, thinking and research, I believe DBA education can borrow practices/experience from the mature MBA education model, one of which is to use lots of case studies.

Case study aims to train a student to put what have been learned into realistic usage with sound logic behind. The beauty of a case study is that you can look at a case from different perspectives, marketing, production, R&D, leadership, logistics, cost management etc, and there is no right or wrong to an case analysis, however there is definitely a difference between a good analysis and a not-so-good one.

In DBA world, we have something similar, when faced with some strategic issues, such as how to make disaster recovery plan best suitable to the company, how to improve DBA  work quality, how to ensure and enhance db system health, how to increase added-values to the stakeholder community etc, we can approach the issues from different perspectives too, such as developing home-made utilities vs leveraging 3rd party tools, upgrading  to take advantage of the new features vs. implementing well-crafted process to achieve the same goal. Again, there is no right or wrong here, but there is absolutely suitable or not-so-ideal scenario when considering the approach in the context of the particular business.

With this said, I'd like to see that in future, I can read books composed of business cases dedicated to DBA, and I can attend technical conference with sessions that discuss thought-provoking cases using the real world experience from the presenters. I wish someday I can contribute one or two chapters to such kind of books and/or make one or two presentations with my real world cae as well.


Posted by Steve Jones on 28 January 2009

Interesting thoughts. Anecdotes, and case studies definitely help, but who writes them? I'd like to see this work, but I think we'll have a hard time getting these done.

I had an idea for something similar, getting someone to phrase and describe a complex issue/need in their environment and then having people contribute suggestions and ideas for architecting and implementing a solution, but it really needs someone to then take that feedback and go through it, updating and editing the article. Sort of a wiki, but with the versions somehow linked in there.

Not sure if I can get it working, but I think some type of case study book would be nice. Perhaps we could start with articles here and then compile them into a book?

Posted by Brad M. McGehee on 28 January 2009

I have spoke at many conferences, and as part of the "call for speakers," I usually submit 8-10 ideas, ranging from the more basic topics, all the way to advanced topics. For whatever reason, the basic topics seem to be picked more often than advanced topics.

I also speak at a lot of users groups, and often I get more leeway on what topic I present. What is interesting is that when I speak on more advanced topics, they seem to go over better than beginning sessions, which seems to support your position.

I have an MBA, and I am very familiar with the case study approach to teaching and learning, and I think it would be a great idea. The hard part, of course, is coming up with good case studies. When ran I SQL-Server-Performance.com, I wrote a series of short case studies, and they were fairly popular. But it was hard to keep a good flow of articles going. Much DBA work is routine, and identifying good case studies is hard.

I wonder if another approach could be to create sessions around "simulated case studies?" What I mean by this, is to develop common DBA type activity scenarios, then develop the solution, step-by-step, until the solution is resolved. While not as "real" as true case studies, it would go a long way to making many sessions much more interesting and practical.

I am going to think about how I can do this in future presentations I am creating, and I'll report back when I found out how they have been received.

Posted by Jeffrey Yao on 28 January 2009

Thanks for the comments, Steve and Brad.

I totally agree that in the case study approach, the key is the case itself. A good case is vital to the quality of this approach. Regarding developing cases for DBA study, I have a few ideas that I may blog in future, but in general, the quality of a case primarily depends on the author(s), whose knowledge and perspectives can make huge differences.

Brad, how about you start a DBA case study theme in SSC? and we can give analysis comments following your blog?

Posted by Brad M. McGehee on 28 January 2009

That's interesting. Perhaps I can do this as part of the process of creating new presentations. I'll have to think how to best go about this, but you have a great idea.

Posted by Jerry Sommerville on 3 February 2009

I think that this type of education model could be very popular, but I agree case studies hinge on the case itself.  I would be willing to contribute if called upon. Over the years I have been involved in some interesting scenarios that might prove interesting to others. I'm sure there is others out there who would also contribute in some way.

Posted by TimothyAWiseman on 3 February 2009

I think the case study idea is great, if we can find good cases (just to echo every other comment so far).

One other thing I have started finding helpful is to look into the theory behind databases in general.  I am currently pursuing my Masters in Mathematics, but I am also taking graduate level courses on database theory.  They provide virtually no information on the practical side of things, but they have helped me get an understanding of why a lot of things are recommended (such as 3NF) and how certain things like the indexes work.

This has not affected my day to day work very much at all, but it has helped me in explaining and teaching some of the more junior people at the office and its always good to know why I am doing something in addition to how to do it.  

Posted by ReshadIT on 3 September 2009

Dear Scholars:

I just want to tell everyone how pleased I am of this idea and that you have my vote.  Also I personally feel even the beginner to intermeidate DBA's can take advantage of this approach if they are ambitious enough to take apart detailed discussions of seniors.  I too just wanted to comment on one factor that will inevitbly be encountered as a challenge in developing case studies as the ones mentioned. The more technical and advanced a case study,  the more ideas and approaches are introduced therefore alot of seniors who feedback to advance topics have the tendencyto be astrayed from the technical truth and the issue.

I am noticing the timeline of the response here but I was intrigued when I have come across this idea.

Thank you for the oppurtunity to comment.


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