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John Sansom - SQL Server DBA in the UK

John Sansom (@SQLBrit) is a Technology Lead with the database team at Expedia, Inc. providing consulting services and support for one of the worlds largest SQL Server environments. Awarded the Microsoft Community Contributor Award (MCC) John can be found regularly blogging about Being a DBA and Professional Development over at www.johnsansom.com.

The Hollywood DBA

I’m delighted to welcome a fellow Brit to the blog to share their story in today’s guest post. Many of you will have read and enjoyed their work before, being a prolific blogger of awesome content over on Simple-Talk. A renowned personality in the UK SQL community, he is  the founder and leader of the PASS SQL South West User Group and a moderator over on the popular SQL Server Q & A Forum Ask.SQLServerCentral.com. I consider this person to be a true SQL community champion and to have them here with us for the What’s It Like To Be a DBA post series is an absolute treat and a real privilege.

Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Mr Jonathan Allen (Blog|Twitter).

How I became a DBA

Like a major Hollywood film, the story of how I became a DBA has good fortune, sadness, happiness, love and a good-looking guy in a vest. OK, well may be no good looking guy and I don’t own a vest so perhaps my story is not so much like Die Hard as I thought. It is a story however of how, at the end of the last century, I was working for a local council collecting taxes and thinking there must be something more to life than writing letters telling people to pay up or I would be arranging for the bailiffs to visit them.

I was learning TSQL in order to query the arrears database (on SQL 6.5) and producing reports on the arrears data. I was also lucky to have some good friends in the IT department and they were really very kind and supporting me as best they could. I had a couple of borrowed books and I by staying late in the office was busy studying for my Networking Essentials MCP (remember NT 4.0?). I was applying for IT jobs in various places and getting favourable post-interview feedback from the employers, one even saying they decide to give the vacancy to someone else as they thought their vacancy was too much of a dead end for me!

Perseverance paid off and I eventually got a job as an Information Systems Engineer, this was November 1999, just before the much lauded Millennium Bug was due to cripple every computerised device on the face of the earth*. Soon after that, I found myself sat next to the SQL Server and apparently that qualified me to be sent on a training course because we needed a DBA. I’ve been there ever since, carrying out upgrades of systems and SQL Servers, guiding hardware purchases, creating training courses, helping in the disaster recovery / business continuity planning and generally keeping all the databases in good order.

I mentioned my story had love in it and I feel this makes me stand out from the majority of DBA’s. Several years ago we were recruiting for a system administrator and we wanted someone with good technical skills as well as a strong administrative brain. The successful candidate was very effective in the role and I am proud to say that, despite moving on to a new employer, for the past five years Annette has been my wife.

Why do you want to be a DBA?

Sadly I can’t promise you love, luck or the chance to fire machine guns and run around office blocks in your vest** if you become a DBA. What I can promise you though is the fact that you will be one of the most crucial people in the company, standing between success and failure, by carrying out a few well-defined activities that ensure the life-blood of the business is well curated. Many people (it is mostly managers when they are breaking some bad news I have noticed) will say that the most important thing to a company is the staff. I have to disagree. If any company loses its staff then they will certainly be inconvenienced but temps can be brought in and trained. If a company loses its data then it is dead in the water. What money is due? What accounts need collecting? What stock needs ordering? Who should be paid? How much?

If data is lost then it is generally fatal to the future of the business.

A good DBA will be the point where a data loss can be avoided, having good backups, ready to restore and helping get systems back on line with a minimum of interruption will make any disaster have little effect in the trading of the business and with any luck, the great majority of the staff will know nothing about it. You save the day and then disappear into the shadows of the IT department again***.

Fortunately, disasters are few and far between which means you get to spend the intervening time working on;

  • Optimising code – who doesn’t like making things go faster?
  • Providing colleagues with the tools and data they need to make better, more informed business decisions.
  • and once in a while meeting up with some of the nicest, friendliest and most talented DBAs in the world at SQL Community events to get ideas and advice but also to build friendships that span time and oceans.

If you ask me is becoming a DBA worth it? I’d say absolutely.

You have until sunrise to make your decision. ;)

What if being a DBA just isn’t enough?

Well, if the day job just doesn’t give you enough time with SQL Server then you can get involved with the SQL Community. There are any number of ways that you can get involved and spend more time working with the software you love.

  • You could blog about it like these people at these sites – LessThanDot.com, SQLBlogCasts.com, Simple Talk (the last one is where mine is! ;) )
  • You could join a local user group (here is a map of the UK ones – http://sqlsouthwest.co.uk/national_ug.htm) and here is a list of their next meetings http://www.sqlserverfaq.com/. There are top quality speakers giving free training at 16 locations across the UK, all you need to do is make the effort to turn up and learn. Perhaps you’ll have something to add to the group and even become a regular speaker yourself one day.
  • You could should join PASSwww.sqlpass.org. More access to free training and news from the SQL Server community all across the world.
  • You could go to one of the SQL Community events I mentioned – SQL Bits, SQL Relay, PASS Summit. SQL Relay is a series of free one-day conferences across the UK, SQL Bits is a twice-a-year conference with a Community Day that is free to attend and the PASS Summit is an annual conference in the US that every DBA should attend at least once.
  • You could join in on one of the numerous SQL Server support forums such as http://ask.sqlservercentral.com, http://stackoverflow.com, msdn forums, etc and start helping out other DBAs by offering your experience and knowledge to others that are having difficulties.

* – It didn’t turn out that bad; on Jan 3rd 2000 we had 3 PC’s that had to be scrapped because they thought it was suddenly 1973 but other than that, all systems worked.

** – If you think you can avoid the security cameras then you will have to arrange this one yourself but please ask for permission and don’t get in trouble.

*** – Perhaps DBAs are more like the Men In Black?!

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