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Guest Post – The Last Starfighter

Today I am delighted to be able to share with you a guest post from one of my all time favourite bloggers in the SQL community. Their high quality, unique and creative content regularly making the cut for a place in the SFTW post roundup. I’ve been an avid reader of theirs for a number of years and I suspect many of you are too. So when they agreed to share their story here on the blog for the “What’s it Like to be a DBA”  post series I was ecstatic and humbled.

Ladies and gentlemen I give you the Database Whisperer, Mr Michael J. Swart (Blog|Twitter).

How I Got Started

There was an obscure sci-fi movie released in 1984 called “The Last Starfighter”. In it, Alex, an average teenager, beats a video-game which turns out to be an alien starfighter recruiting tool. An alien “scout” picks him up and Alex becomes our galaxy’s newest starfighter. The rest of the movie is about him blowing up bad aliens using his spaceship’s secret weapon: Death Blossom.

Cheesy, Predicatable, Cliche and as a ten year old, I loved every second of it.

What strikes me now is that Alex got an amazing job/career that he didn’t even know he wanted. This job didn’t exist when he was a kid. The opportunity presented itself and he (eventually) took it.

That’s me and that’s how I got started. I was good at math (that’s maths for you Brits) and I attended a University where Math and Computer Science students got along quite well in the same faculty. It turned out that computer jobs were easier to get than math jobs so half way through I switched majors from math to computer science. That was me then, a software developer.

My gigs after graduation basically could be described this way:

  • Web app developer
  • Backend developer for web apps
  • 50/50 software/db developer

Then 5 years ago, I saw an opening for a job focusing 100% on databases. And it’s one of the best career moves I’ve made. I’m still in this role today as a Senior Database Developer. Just like Alex, the opportunity presented itself to me and I took it.

Typical Day

There’s so much variety in what I do, there isn’t any such thing as a typical day. For example today I:

  • Talked about transactions and levels with a software developer who asked me to review his code before checking it in. He needed the transaction to be atomic, but was worried about concurrency.
  • Debugged a utility I wrote that generates code to purge data based on a data model.
  • Reviewed existing code base to identify areas of the application on which to focus. We’d like to turn on RCSI and we don’t want to be surprised with any unexpected gotchas.

And tomorrow I plan to:

  • Help a business intelligence team with some performance issues they’re having. They’ve already narrowed it down to the performance of a few queries and want to see if I can tune it (this is the fun stuff).

I’m lucky that my role at work allows for such variety.

Advice to DBA Hopefuls

I’ll narrow this down to one piece of advice: Try not focus on just becoming a DBA. I think that complementing skills multiply your effectiveness. For example, instead of becoming just a DBA you could become:

  • A DBA and a software developer (like me)
  • A DBA and a windows or network administrator (this is common)
  • A DBA and a support specialist.

The last example (tech support specialist) might be one of the fastest ways I’ve seen someone learn quickly. Learning from mistakes (it doesn’t matter whose mistakes) can be a quick way to gain experience when you’re starting out with only a little experience. Probably the fastest way I know of short of finding a dedicated mentor.

Thanks Michael! You can read more fantastic SQL content, including Mr Swart’s unique signature artwork of course, over on his blog http://michaeljswart.com/

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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