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Lunch is for Wimps

A real life DBA tale from the trenches with some awesome advice. That’s what one reader chose to share with the community in response to my post What’s it Like to Be a DBA. I found their story compelling and their message really resonated with me, so much so that I wanted to share it with you here. 

Please welcome the Diligent DBA, Mala Mahadevan(Blog).

1. How did you get started?

DBAs on Wall Street

Wall Street – “Lunch is for Wimps”

I was working as a Visual Basic programmer in a leading financial company on Wall Street in the 90s.

Despite being a large company with sensitive data they did not have a dedicated DBA – my boss managed a team of developers and did most of the DBA work himself. He was often overwhelmed with many things to do.

I offered to learn some of his work, particularly DBA work since databases interested me. He taught me basic dba tasks – how to do backup/restore, how to create and maintain databases and certain other things that were specific to that business. He greatly appreciated my help despite having a lot to do myself. The story went well with both of us helping each other.

One day it so happened that he was working late. The company had requirements for people to work late during monthly closes and it was one such night. He decided to go for a walk to give himself a break and walked into a bar. He got back in after a drink too many and dropped a mission critical database, bringing all the activities in the company to a standstill.

Those were days when we did not have capabilities to log in remotely or even cell phones – so the phone in my home rang at 2 am. I was asked to get in to work immediately as it was an emergency. When I went in I learnt the story and also that he had been fired. I was able to restore the database and apply the logs. They had only lost 15 minutes worth of data and they were happy. With that came the keys of my first DBA job, and I have not looked back since.

2. Describe what a typical day is for you?

I currently work as a senior DBA in a leading healthcare company. I manage about 150 servers, with a team of 3 other DBAs.

A typical day begins with a quick scan of our ticket queue – there may be tickets for failed jobs, backup failures, space issues or login problems. Sometimes these are small issues fixed easily, sometimes they may take longer depending on nature or complexity.Most of our alerting system and ticketing system is automated eliminating the need for checking individual servers since we have many.

Following that is checking the queue for change management requests. These may be requests for backups, restores, promotions and the like. Most promotions involve code reviews for standards compliance and also performance – like usage of hints, appropriate indexes and so on. This may take a few minutes or a whole day depending on size of the request.

Then there may be meetings to attend – a new application to be rolled out, a server upgrade to a newer version, a standards revision and so on. There may be documentation and internal team discussions on new features of SQL 2012, patches and service packs, scheduling off hour work and so on.

In short, rarely a dull moment and lots of opportunities to learn and grow.

3. What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a DBA/DB Developer?

It is probably the same advice I would give to anyone who wants to be good at what they do. Brent Ozar said it very well in a post on time management sometime ago – “Decide you want to be incredible”.

I have worked in many jobs and most of the time I would look to my colleagues and friends to be as motivated as I was. Many people just want a job – they will go to a training if their boss sent them, browse the Internet most of the time there too, do their jobs on a purely task basis, go home on Friday, return Monday, take the yearly vacation and go on again.

I got a lot of attitude and a lot of ‘looks’ from people when I got excited about the latest release of SQL Server or the latest great book out there or even if I stayed late trying to fix a query to run faster.

It took me a while to get it that if I had to excel it was time to ignore all that and do what is right for *me*.

Passion is nothing to be ashamed of, and if you feel a passion for what you do – grow it and find places that will support it. Grow out of the need to be like ‘them’ and you will find more people like you who will inspire and motivate you to be better.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Mala.

You are so right about the need to be both passionate and focused in purpose. To truly realise the value of your advice, one must have experienced the somewhat bizarre need for “the average” (not a nice description perhaps but accurate no less) to quell our passion and pursuit of excellence. 

Great advice!

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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