SQLServerCentral Editorial

Are You a Traffic Cop?


This editorial was originally published on Mar 20, 2018. It is being republished as Steve is out of the office.

There's a joke that a DBA's favorite word is "no". I think that was certainly true for the individual from whom I first learned about Oracle and SQL Server administration. He constantly pushed back on developers and management who requested changes. He wasn't rude or abrasive, though I've met my share of those individuals. Instead, he patiently would explain and debate the changes and his reasons for not wanting to make them. He had come onboard after a particularly bad deployment affected a significant portion of the company and while management listened to him, development wasn't pleased.

One of the analogies I've seen for DBAs is that they are a traffic cop. They implement the rules necessary for the safety, protection, and availability of databases systems. This is sometime at odds with the pressure developers feel to implement new features and functions in their applications that require a database. This can, and often is, resolved by using some methodology like DevOps, where the DBA, the developers, and operations staff discuss changes in advance and collaborate to ensure that functionality will not negatively impact data quality, performance, or availability.

However, this can easily take a negative turn. People often have short memories, and we are all usually busy at work. When a DBA lets a change go through that causes problems, they are reluctant to let the next one go without a thorough review. They slow down and want to double check every new line of code, or worse, they start to second guess their own decisions to allow changes, which can further exacerbate the issues.

Are you a traffic cop as a DBA? I saw this referenced as a great analogy recently, where the DBA enforces rules, perhaps taking on a bit too much power, and using these rules to limit change. They lock down too much access, even preventing metrics and data from providing feedback to developers. They may even seek to strictly enforce security by the letter of the rule, not the spirit, upsetting and angering others.

I think good security is important, and often bypassing security for the sake of convenience or expediency is a source of issues, including data breaches. There are policies that are outdated or may not apply in specific situations, and I'd say the sign of a good DBA is that they know when an exception is needed, they document and manage the process, and may even seek to have the guidance changed. They work with others to get things done, constantly looking to push work out to customers, while protecting systems. They may slow work slightly, but a good DBA works with everyone to minimize delays.

If you're a traffic cop, I'd argue your employment days are likely numbered. The world is changing, and while security grows more important, the ability to get work done securely and quickly, while working with others, will become more important over time.