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Who wants to be a SQL Server DBA?


Who wants to be a SQL Server DBA?

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Maurice Newsome
Maurice Newsome
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I am a network administrator with ten years experience. I am about to engage in self study with the goal of the MCDBA. My hesitation comes from the job requrirements ranging from two to ten years experience. Should I get the certification I see no path to employment. Guidance sought.



M. Newsome, Micrsoft Certified Professional
colin.Leversuch-Roberts
colin.Leversuch-Roberts
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I guess you're probably posting from the US, and this may be different from the UK. Most roles in the UK are handled by agencies and they will filter candidates, even if they don't know what a dba does.
It's been expressed as an opinion that the DBA is often not paid to match their skill set for a permanent role so this drives the more skilled DBA into becoming an independant ( contractor/consultant ). Having been part of the interview process for many years , normally to replace myself! it's an interesting topic.
Questions I ask are based upon what can be learned in the practical sense rather from a text book - this helps weed out those with good memories but no real practical skills/experience. Questions are largely based upon what skills the candicate claims in their cv.
There is an issue that questions must be the same to all candicates to avoid unfairness and being sued for discrimination - I've actually had candidates complain about being asked technical questions!

As I work with production systems, being a production DBA, I doubt the value of asking questions based upon CODD's rules - this is something which can be memorised and yet mean nothing - I'd be more keen for a developer to understand this , most don't.
Questions should not be subjective, so i avoid cursor questions as this is a subjective matter that's been argued to death in forums - in production support it's important to resolve problems quickly so I'd rather have a cursor solution in 2 mins rather than a convoluted non cursor solution that takes 6 hours to figure out!
My personal view of your requirements is that you're probably a bit out of touch, why would a SQL Server DBA really need perl? Sure a DBA should understand a SAN but the companies I work in have dedicated teams for infrastructure, storage, networking and so on. I can't think the last time I would have built a physical server - I'd install sql server but the actuall physcial server build is always another team- true I work blue chips - but the DBA can't be an expert in all areas outside sql server. ( I can build servers myself and have a pretty good knowledge of an o/s but I wouldn't expect a DBA to know much more than how to make sure memory was being configured correctly by the o/s e.g. switches )
The whole area of sql server is now vast and the chances of finding a candidate with high skill levels in all areas is pretty slim - it's important that the skills asked for are the skills for the job not just a chance to ask lots of impressive questions about skills and areas which probably won't be required for ther core areas of the role.

The GrumpyOldDBA
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http://sqlblogcasts.com/blogs/grumpyolddba/
colin.Leversuch-Roberts
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oh by the way I disagree about sql 6.x being harder to manage/configure - it was an absolute breeze compared to building and managing a 64 bit cluster for sql 2005

The GrumpyOldDBA
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GSquared
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Since I was job hunting for a DBA position for the first half of this year, I can say a few things from the other side of the equation.

First, job descriptions are, for the most part, way too vague. I'm a very experienced database developer, with some DTS/SSIS experience, but the network and physical server aspects of the job have always been done by others in the work I've done. I sawa hujge number of job postings that basically said, "we need a DBA" with no details, or "Duties: Build and maintain databases, must know SQL".

Another missing thing is the actual product name to be used. I read through numerous postings that were titled something like, "SQL Server DBA Needed", and then after six paragraphs of how exciting their company is, it finally mentions that the databases are on a Sybase server (my skills are currently all MS SQL 2000/2005).

There are other issues. I got to one interview, and got grilled for 3 hours on DBCC commands and recoving crashed databases, even though I said, in the first five minutes, that in the six years I've been a DBA, I've never had to actually recover a crashed database, and that I've mainly operated through various GUIs and automatic maintenance plans instead of memorizing DBCC commands. They kept saying they were interested in my DTS experience and my developer experience, but the only question asked on that subject was one about the difference between the command flow and data flow in SSIS. The main thing I gathered from the interview was that the current DBA hadn't the faintest clue about how to put together a database that didn't crash regularly, had never heard of automatic maintenance, knew nothing at all about DTS/SSIS, and could probably have been replaced with a few scheduled jobs on the servers. He also made the comment that they didn't even know where all the database servers in the company were (this was NOT a huge enterprise, it's a 10-million a year company with one building and less than 100 employees). Needless to say, I didn't live up to their standards and they didn't live up to mine and we mutually passed on the opportunity to work together.

I also ran into a lot of, "requires college degree or equivalent work experience", and with no degree, but six years as a DBA and nearly 20 years in IT, I got a lot of replies that said, "well, you qualify in all regards, and we don't have any other candidates, but we can't hire you because you don't have a degree", or replies that were very interested until they found out I don't have a degree (it said so right on my resume, which means they didn't even read it). If you won't accept "equivalent work experience", don't post the job that way. It wastes my time and yours.

(Yes, a college degree indicates a robotic ability to pretend to be awake in class and to eat what the prof vomits up for you, but I've met far too many people with computer science degrees who had to ask basic questions, like "how do I reboot", or who thought the CPU was "Windows" [yes, I've had both of those exact issues come up with people who had actual degrees]. Over the decades, I've come to the conclusion that computer science degrees are a sign of incompetence and are more of a red flag than a positive thing.)

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"Nobody knows the age of the human race, but everyone agrees it's old enough to know better." - Anon
SQLnooblette
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Great article, enjoyed reading it.

Now the real question in my mind:

Okay, smart-guy, how does a person get 2 years of SQL experience? You talk about a dearth of qualified applicants. Yeah degrees are great, blah blah. But then you speak of this mythical position that isn't quite a DBA but that still has something to do with SQL Server that would give an applicant the required skills. What is that?
Jack Corbett
  Jack Corbett
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I enjoyed reading the article as I use articles like this to help me determine what SQL Server skills I am missing that I should have. I also think this article relates to the recent editorial, The General. SQL Server has become so complex that it is difficult to answer all the questions about DBCC commands, etc.. and know all about Windows clustering, RAID, etc.. The tools for SQL Server have gotten better also, so you can maintain a SQL Server without using DBCC commands directly. When I am in an interview I am upfront that there is more I don't know about SQL Server than I do know, but I know where to go to find the answers I need to a problem, whether BOL, google, or SSC. I can do the Day to tasks security, backups, restores, etc.. and in 8 years of working with SQL Server I have never had to do a point in time restore and have only once had to restore a failed server. It was a long night, but no data was lost because we had a good backup plan in place. If I were hiring a DBA, or any IT staff, the first thing I want to see is someone who know they don't know it all, but know where to go to find the answer. Just don't use QotD in the interview. Why would I know that stored procedures can accept up to 2100 parameters!w00t



Jack Corbett

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Ursus Fortissimus
Ursus Fortissimus
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Good article, but I have to take mild exception to requiring a college degree since it "shows fortitude". There are a lot of things in life which show fortitude, some of which mean you might not able to, or choose not to attend college. You could just as easily argue that it shows you had nothing but the money, support and/or time to attend college and were free of any other obligations for 4 years. If I had been able to complete my chosen degree (Mechanical Engineering) it would have given me exactly zero preparation, other than "life" skills picked up along the course of my career, for being a DBA. Just a thought.
rhat
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I have been using SQL Server for around 8 years and I have never, ever had to use a DBCC command. Why? Because I backup regularly and I design it "the right way' from the start, software and hardware wise.

Any DBA interviewer that asks you to know DBCC commands means that that shop isn't run correctly and has databases that are poorly designed and crashes regularly.

DBCC commands are wild goose chases when a siimple restore of backup is what's needed and needed ASAP.

Any DBA that thinks they need DBCC commands spends more time on DBA CERTIFICATION TESTING instead of producing reliable databases in a production environment that doesn't need constant maintenance. (By the way, that what SQL Server is designed for, to ELIMINATE this MAINTENANCE and HENCE the use of DBCC commands in the first place.)

When a DB crashes, do you think management and your customers have time for you to fish around using DBCC commands to figure out what's wrong? NO WAY!!!. It's restore, restore, restore and get it up and running, NOW!! Not tomorrow, not the end of the day, not a few hours, not one hour from now, but RIGHT NOW!!! All that time trying to figuring out wrong with DBCC commands could have been used to get a full restore up and running. Or for that matter, a partial restore or switch to the backup.

And by the way, DTS is total crap. If you are a DBA that says his shop uses it, it means they are ANTIQUATED and have to constantly support some legacy app with some GUI interface when t-SQL and SQL Server Agent will be far more powerful and more easily diagnosed.

And if you use DTS to import another database then you are a DBA that can't see the forest between the trees as you again can more easily write t-SQL to catch and modify exceptions when importing to your new database. Bottom line, t-sql will have a CLEANER import and less hassle. i.e. it's all in the code.

The article sound like it was from a booksmart DBA but clueless in the real world of production. Wait a second, the author says he works in an "academic" institution!!! That explains everything. And he can't find any DBA for over 6 month? Why? it's call JOB SECURITY, that's why. Wouldn't want someone coming in and showing management a better, faster and MORE RELIABLE way of using SQL Server would we?

It's no wonder that more than 70% of all I.T. projects fail. Clueless developers and DBA's that again are book smart and production clueless. Not to mention they are horribly SLOW in production.. Hmmm, I wonder why????
Steve Jones
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I'll say I think it shows something to finish college. It isn't a world class achievement, but it does show some ability to follow directions, learn, and continue with something for 4 years. For everyone that drifts through with prodding from their parents, there are hundreds that work hard to complete their degrees.

College teaches you how to learn to learn. It forces you to investigate a wide variety of subjects and learn something about each of them and then repeat what you've learned back under some degree of pressure. That helps somewhat with today's work as we often have to learn new skills or subjects in the work environment for new projects.

I do think a college degree requirement should be waived after you've had 5 or 6 years of work experience. It amounts to the same thing.

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Rober tGayo
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Most job posters for IT-related positions have no idea of what the requirements are that they put on the description. What true DBA is going to know PHP or C++ past anything done in school getting their degree?

I see positions for programmer analysts requiring over 10 languages. Come on now... As a developer you only need to know 2 languages really well. T-SQL and something you write the application with.
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