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10 Character Traits of Outstanding DBA’s

What are the character traits of outstanding SQL Server Database Administrators (DBA) ?

You know what I’m talking about. There are DBA’s out there that go way above and beyond merely getting the job done. Managing huge workloads with ease and delivering them with class. But how do they do it?

I’m certain you have seen and experienced first hand what I’m talking about and yet it can be difficult to quantify what exactly it is that makes these individuals such outstanding professionals. Personally I do not consider there to be a magic formula but rather an assortment of desirable qualities and traits that are commonly present in outstanding DBA’s.

“What character traits and qualities do you think make an outstanding DBA?”

In no particular order, here are some of the traits that I have been able to identify and consider as desirable qualities of outstanding DBA’s.

1. Excellent Attention to Detail

Ninja-like focus

"Ninja-like focus"

A DBA is regularly expected to perform complex administrative tasks incorporating multiple steps. Even with the assistance of a Play-By-Play or other detailed documentation, the outstanding DBA needs to be on the ball at all times and leave nothing to chance.

Working with mission critical production systems means you need to expect the unexpected. Check, double check and triple check implementations. The outstanding DBA knows through experience what to watch out for when administering a SQL Server environment but on no occasion will anything be left to chance. They have mastered the DBA Survival Skill of Thinking Defensively.

2. A Natural Problem Solver

Problems or rather delivering solutions to problems is the outstanding DBA’s bread and butter. They have a passion for problem solving and relish the opportunity to take on any challenge that comes their way.

Within an organisation it is quite common for the DBA to be consulted on problems that may not initially be within their domain of responsibility because their problem solving talents can be leveraged in a variety of parallel business disciplines.

Problem solving is fun for these people. The more difficult and challenging the problem, the more determined they are to solve it.

Enjoy solving puzzles? Check out this SQL Server Crossword.

3. Assertive

Being a DBA means you need to be able to communicate your views confidently, clearly, calmly and concisely, oftentimes under high pressure circumstances.

Your opinions will almost certainly be challenged, which is a good thing because it means your peers are thinking about the issue at hand. A DBA who successfully asserts themself is both polite and firm, without being an ass. See The Politics of SQL Server Performance.

"Don't be this guy!"

4. Tactful

The outstanding DBA is a master tactician, understanding that decisions will be required that at times result in a conflict of interest. The production DBA for example can often be viewed as a path of resistance to a development team and must walk the fine line of ensuring security & availability, whilst at the same time not hampering delivery.

Understanding the business and more specifically their role within it enables the DBA to maintain an objective outlook and operate more effectively within their organisation.

5. Manage Relationships

The outstanding DBA is a corporate chameleon with a talent for communicating effectively with all levels of the business. In order to operate successfully within larger organisations the DBA must forge and manage relationships across the business.

Corporate politics aside, good communication skills and character are the key.

6. A Good Decision Maker

Able to quickly weigh up the pros and cons of a situation, whilst keeping the big picture in mind, enables the outstanding DBA to make good decisions. It’s all to easy for a data professional to become bogged down in the detail but it’s important to always consider the bigger picture of all tasks undertaken.

Developing and demonstrating an understanding of the business not only assists in making good decisions but also highlight the value of the outstanding DBA to the business and it’s decision makers.

7. Humble

Far from being arrogant, the outstanding DBA has an in depth knowledge and understanding of SQL Server but is humble in it’s application. They teach rather than preach.

As a knowledge expert the outstanding DBA is keen to share their knowledge with all who wish to learn. Often very active in the SQL community, posting on forums, blogging and Tweeting, these data professionals make for excellent mentors.

Conversely the outstanding DBA is always looking to learn, understanding that no one data professional knows all there is to know about SQL Server. See Jump Start Your SQL Server Learning Today to find out more.

"Everybody Be Cool"

8. Calm Under Pressure

When it’s all kicking off and panic ensues, the outstanding DBA keeps a cool head and takes it all in their stride. You will often find this quality in Production DBA’s that work with highly available OLTP platforms daily. Pressure just goes with the territory.

9. Business Minded

Those that can demonstrate an understanding of the business, apply big picture thinking and prioritisation to their activities will deliver more value to their company. Business decision makers notice this skill, ensuring that the outstanding DBA is considered as a knowledge expert and is consulted on all business decisions that affect the environment they administer. This in turn empowers the DBA further to deliver even more value thereby continuing the cycle.

10. Approachable

Got a problem with SQL Server? The outstanding DBA is “the” SQL Server go-to-guy within their organisation. No matter what else they have going on they will make time for you and are always available to provide guidance, support and assistance.

Whether or not it is possible to master or to implement all of these traits is debatable but what is clear is that they are both common and present amongst outstanding DBA’s. What character traits and qualities do you think make an outstanding DBA? Share your thoughts and comments below.

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John Sansom - SQL Server DBA in the UK

John Sansom (Blog | Twitter) is a Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) of SQL Server and publisher of the free SQL community ebook DBA JumpStart, an inspiring collection of advice for Data Professionals, written by 20 SQL Server experts. Awarded the Microsoft Community Contributor(MCC) award, John is a prolific blogger and can be found regularly writing about SQL Server and Professional Development over at www.johnsansom.com.


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