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How To Simply Say You’re a DBA

Have you ever looked back on a conversation where someone asked you “what do you do?” and felt disappointed with your reply? Same here.

So how do you explain to someone, who is not familiar with your field, what it is exactly that you do?

Just last week my girlfriend and I were out to dinner to celebrate our six year anniversary together. Now she knows that I work in Information Technology and as a consultant that specialises in database systems. Those are some nice fancy pants words but what do they really mean?

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein

Quite right Albert old chap. It would seem that I have done a pretty poor job up to now of explaining what is I actually do to, how shall we say, to non techies. Deciding to put things right, the following discussion ensued….

SQLBrit: Think of an online store that you have used to make a purchase, like Expedia or Amazon.

GF: How about Sainsbury’s home delivery?

SQLBrit: Perfect. These are examples of web applications, a software program or solution, at the heart of which you will often find a database.

GF: Ok, so what does a database actually do?

SQLBrit: Think of a web application as being like a Formula 1 race car. You interact with and control the race car using the steering system, which is akin to the interface/controls you would use with a web application. These are clearly visible aspects of the car/web application but in order for everything to work there are mechanical components that are busy behind the scenes.

GF: Like the engine?

SQLBrit: Right. In a web application you can think of the database as being the engine. The more powerful and highly tuned the engine is, the faster the car can theoretically run. It’s my job as the Database Administrator to ensure that the engine runs fast and efficiently.

GF: And if the engine breaks down, the whole car does.

SQLBrit: Exactly! The car is dependant on many components working together in order to run, the same is true for a web application.

GF: So you’re an engineer?

SQLBrit: In a way yes. SQL Server is a specific database product/engine that I specialise in.

GF: Why can’t you fix/specialise in the whole car?

SQLBrit: Take McClaren for example, they are the car builders sure but the engine is built by Mercedes. You have different types of engineers who specialises in different parts of the overall high performance vehicle.

GF: So who am I in all of this?

SQLBrit: What? My girlfriend last I knew.

GF: Well I’m the customer.

SQLBrit: You mean the driver.

GF: You’re such a geek…..

Want to sit next to me at your next dinner party? Of course you do!

How do you explain or describe what you do to non techies?

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Credit: Photo by Sharon Y used under Creative Commons

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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