The Skill Set of the Exceptional DBA

  • Tony Davis

    SSCarpal Tunnel

    Points: 4385

    Comments posted to this topic are about the item The Skill Set of the Exceptional DBA

  • James_DBA

    Default port

    Points: 1422

    Tony,

    I just got done reading your editorial about the “Exceptional” DBA. I am writing in response to your question about what I think makes an “Exceptional” DBA.

    I think my idea will be way different than that of which you will read; this is because I think what makes an “Exceptional” DBA is one that specializes in an area that will never be requested, never be acknowledged as being important, and never be thought of as being exceptional. So, why do I think this would make the DBA “Exceptional”? What could possible not be considered “Exceptional” while in

    actuality being “Exceptional”?

    Well, the answer is something I do every day; something that is the pillar of being able to meet your current requirements for being an “Exceptional” DBA. This is a specialty area, but not in High Availability, not in Business Intelligence, not even in query tuning; it’s actually a specialty that is much more important!

    I look at an “Exceptional” DBA as being someone that isn’t just exceptional at their current DBA responsibilities. What makes someone “Exceptional” is the ability to go into any DBA position such as production, development, a small shop, an independent consultant, an enterprise position, and still be “Exceptional” in all these environments by maintaining this one specialty! I don’t think someone is exceptional if they are a master at BI only, or HA, or can create a T-SQL that can pull up every important report in a matter of seconds instead of minutes.

    The area of specialty is in the ability to research, the ability of knowing where the resources are for any given topic. This is far more valuable than knowing the Database Engine inside out, or Business Intelligence.

    The DBA that specializes in knowing where the best resources are, where to research a topic, how to utilize those resources is a DBA that can walk into any given situation and be able to perform. Grant that someone that specializes in BI can help an enterprise that is looking for someone that needs a BI position filled; but, what happens to that DBA when the trend moves away from BI and something else becomes the next big thing for an enterprise. Or, what happens if that DBA wants to move to a smaller business atmosphere and realizes that BI isn’t what that smaller business needs?

    This is where the knowledge of learning comes in; I’d rather have a broad knowledge of every topic within SQL and know where to go for my resources in topics that apply today! Not tomorrow, not yesterday! My experience in this business is that my employer (whoever it is today or next year or in 30 years) only cares about what I know now; and in most cases just cares about my ability to get the job done effectively and properly.

    Again, this is all my opinion of what makes someone standout above all other DBAs. This is someone that I would put my faith into being able to perform any and all tasks that I ask of them. As I stated earlier I am of this type of a DBA, and strongly believe this to be the best way to set you apart from anyone other DBA. It never makes it on paper, but can easily be discovered during the time you speak to the DBA. I do wish this would be something that employers would test for during the interview process; I sometimes get amazed at some of the questions that get asked that could so easily be answered just by spending 5 minutes on the MSDN website and doing research! I’m not saying there is such a thing as a stupid question or anything like that; I’m just saying that if more people spend time specializing in the ability to find their answer they would spend less time repeating a question on a mailing list, a forum or webcast…the knowledge of finding the answer will definitely benefit them and increase their productivity!

    If you don’t chose my article as the winner for this week; please take strong consideration for one of the winners for the copy of “How to become an exceptional DBA”.

    Thank you,

    James Rea

    ~ Without obstacles, you cannot progress ~
    http://sqln.blogspot.com/

  • Jeff Moden

    SSC Guru

    Points: 996655

    Heh...Again, I thought we were talking about "exceptional" DBA's. You posted...

    I would suggest that any Exceptional DBA needs:

    Sound knowledge of all "core" aspects of a DBA's job

    Inside-out knowledge of one chosen specialist area

    Adaptability

    That certainly makes a "good" DBA. And, I agree with James, above... a "good" DBA should have the ability, knowledge, and tenacity to quickly find out those things (s)he may not know and apply them correctly.

    I also agree that the "exceptional" DBA must also know the business climate and how business requirements may or may not affect the server.

    ...But those things are expected of DBA's (or, at least, they should be).

    What separates the "good" DBA from the "exceptional" DBA is simply the word "Why" and that which surrounds the word. Take the problems posed on the previous post about "exceptional" DBA's. Both require explanations as to "Why" something should or should NOT be done. The exceptional DBA must not have only the knowledge to identify a potential problem, the courage to say "No", the ability to quickly Feret out the required additional knowledge to come up with a fix/alternate fix, (s)he must also be able to effectively communicate "why" something must or must not happen.

    I've had good teachers and bad. The ones that were really exception were the ones that could explain "why" some caclulation needed to be done or "why" I needed to learn something. People tend to get on board more quickly when you explain "why". Yep, it takes a bit longer... but, like a teacher, the best DBA's in the world are nothing but "the guy who takes care of the server" unless (s)he has the communication skills and the correct attitude to effectively explain the "Why" without loosing the bubble.

    --Jeff Moden


    RBAR is pronounced "ree-bar" and is a "Modenism" for Row-By-Agonizing-Row.
    First step towards the paradigm shift of writing Set Based code:
    ________Stop thinking about what you want to do to a ROW... think, instead, of what you want to do to a COLUMN.
    "Change is inevitable... change for the better is not".
    "If "pre-optimization" is the root of all evil, then what does the resulting no optimization lead to?"

    Helpful Links:
    How to post code problems
    How to Post Performance Problems
    Create a Tally Function (fnTally)

  • James_DBA

    Default port

    Points: 1422

    This further illuatrates my point. An exceptional DBA that can answer 'why' must be able to research the subject. They must know what the right question is to ask, and where to go to get the answer.

    Research skills and resource knowledge is the most important skill. As you stated with your teachers, the exceptional teacher(s) had explained the 'why'. This can only be perormed by further researching to find out 'why' the calculation is made.

    An effective communicator can definitely move things along faster and smoother. Without the knowledge from researching the subject, they'd be ineffective to explain 'why'.

    Thanks,

    James

    ~ Without obstacles, you cannot progress ~
    http://sqln.blogspot.com/

  • David.Poole

    SSC Guru

    Points: 75366

    I think what constitutes an exceptional DBA changes depending on the economic climate.

    Obviously technical competence comes into it but at the moment the ability to wring the last possible clock cycle out of your existing SQL licenses is at a premium at present.

    If you are in the position where people will voluntarily use you as the first point of contact for database information rather than the last then you are probably an exceptional DBA.

  • Jeff Moden

    SSC Guru

    Points: 996655

    David.Poole (4/20/2008)


    If you are in the position where people will voluntarily use you as the first point of contact for database information rather than the last then you are probably an exceptional DBA.

    I think that's probably the best summary of an "Exceptional DBA" that I've ever heard.

    --Jeff Moden


    RBAR is pronounced "ree-bar" and is a "Modenism" for Row-By-Agonizing-Row.
    First step towards the paradigm shift of writing Set Based code:
    ________Stop thinking about what you want to do to a ROW... think, instead, of what you want to do to a COLUMN.
    "Change is inevitable... change for the better is not".
    "If "pre-optimization" is the root of all evil, then what does the resulting no optimization lead to?"

    Helpful Links:
    How to post code problems
    How to Post Performance Problems
    Create a Tally Function (fnTally)

  • Jeff Moden

    SSC Guru

    Points: 996655

    James_DBA (4/20/2008)


    This further illuatrates my point. An exceptional DBA that can answer 'why' must be able to research the subject. They must know what the right question is to ask, and where to go to get the answer.

    Research skills and resource knowledge is the most important skill. As you stated with your teachers, the exceptional teacher(s) had explained the 'why'. This can only be perormed by further researching to find out 'why' the calculation is made.

    An effective communicator can definitely move things along faster and smoother. Without the knowledge from researching the subject, they'd be ineffective to explain 'why'.

    Thanks,

    James

    I agree... one without the other, in either direction, will be ineffective.

    --Jeff Moden


    RBAR is pronounced "ree-bar" and is a "Modenism" for Row-By-Agonizing-Row.
    First step towards the paradigm shift of writing Set Based code:
    ________Stop thinking about what you want to do to a ROW... think, instead, of what you want to do to a COLUMN.
    "Change is inevitable... change for the better is not".
    "If "pre-optimization" is the root of all evil, then what does the resulting no optimization lead to?"

    Helpful Links:
    How to post code problems
    How to Post Performance Problems
    Create a Tally Function (fnTally)

  • Chuck Lathrope

    Mr or Mrs. 500

    Points: 568

    I think the exceptional DBA has to go beyond the advanced understanding of the technology and get into the realm of interpersonal dynamics and business decision making.

    Do they convey a positive attitude so management and users feel they are approchable?

    When asked a technical question they are able to answer in a way that the user can understand?

    Can they convince management that purchasing x software package will be a benefit to company?

    Can they mentor other DB developers and DBA's?

    Can they point out and educate developers on best practices, and if using current code as an example, can they do it without offending someone who may have written the code?

    Do they implement new functionality because it makes business sense, not just because it is cool technology that would be fun or great to add to resume?

    If there are 20 projects and time to do 10, do they make decisions by themselves, or get other business decision makers input on best use of company time?

    Do they put their ego aside when it comes to changing implementations that they developed?

    Do they work with other support teams in a cordial way?

    The list could go on, but my point is that exceptional DBA's don't work in isolation, they get input from business leaders, and they are open, honest, and patient with others.

    -Chuck Lathrope

    http://www.sqlwebpedia.com

  • butleric

    SSC Enthusiast

    Points: 127

    I agree that David's definition is probably the core of what makes any DBA exceptional.

    Naturally, any good DBA has the core skills in place, and (although we are only looking at hard skills) has the personality and people skills to be eminently approachable by all his/her colleagues.

    As the manager of both developers and DBA and coming from a business background, I think there is one vital aspect needed to stand out above the crowd, and that's the willingness and enthusiasm to learn more of the business requirements and become a partner to the developers in delivering the best solution to the customer.

    As Ian Massi pointed out in his response to the last editorial, there are many benefits from learning a bit of each others field of expertise. We have found fewer locks and greater efficiencies from teaching a few of the high availability principles to those still learning their trade (and even those who have been around for a few years :D)

    The good DBAs run their own systems efficiently, the exceptional ones help the TEAM to perform better.

    Ian Butler

  • Eric Mamet

    SSChampion

    Points: 11711

    Thanks for these comments guys.

    I thought the lack of "human skills" shocking in the ealier definitions.

    I have seen many excellent teckies who were far from fantastics because of lack of communication skills.

    David's definition is definitely excellent!

    😉

    Eric

  • ChiragNS

    One Orange Chip

    Points: 26137

    Nicely summarised by David.

    "Keep Trying"

  • Michael Belcher-485948

    Grasshopper

    Points: 22

    One characteristic of an exceptional DBA, in addition to the core knowledge, troubleshooting skills, research ability, etc, etc, is a set of almost infalible instincts. These instincts or "gut-feelings", which he trusts implicitly, provide him with an ability to accurately assess in general terms (ie; good or bad) if not in detail, the consequences or outcome of a given set of circumstances affecting the environment within which his databases live. Typically, he has bet career on his instincts multiple times, and yet he (and his databases) are still around.

    The Exceptional DBA is constantly monitoring and assessing threats within the environment his database lives in. In addition to his instincts, also exceptional is how far and wide the edges of this environment extends. It does not end at the firewall, or the perimeter of the network, or even at the walls of the data-center itself. What about the quality of the staff who work at the data-center? What about staffing policy of the organization he works for? What about proposed organizational changes within the IT department?

    In addition to the infrastructure and development teams, these also are areas from which threats to the database can originate, and that isn't all. Exceptional DBA's have trouble recognizing where their boundarys are.

  • timscronin

    SSCertifiable

    Points: 6851

    people skills should also include some business analysis skills. Any good dba should understand why, not just how. When working with users and developers this makes both life and success much easier

  • Loner

    SSC-Insane

    Points: 21279

    I absolutely agree interpersonal skill is important for a DBA. A 'good' DBA may have the best technical skills. An 'exceptional' DBA is the one who help the users (developers, business users and network administrator...) to do their jobs better, and the users trust the DBA and they are not afraid to ask for help.

  • ric.yok

    Newbie

    Points: 9

    First, the exceptional DBA is a guy that maintain all the databases users (direct/indirect) happy.

    The skills needed for do it, is a great superpower: superknowledge on databases, programming languages, a variety of topics about tecnology (hardware, software,etc), WEB (0,1,2,3,...), Intranets, Extranets, DW, BI, groupware, workflow.

    And skills on administration, like organization, plannning, costs, etc...

    And more important, understand the mind, the soul of users of tecnology!!!!

    And, if the DBA is not from USA or GB (like me), is very important to learn english, study the english language very well.

    Portuguese version:

    Primeiro, o DBA excepcional é uma pessoa que mantem todos os usuários de banco de dados (diretos/indiretos) felizes.

    As habilidades necessárias para obter isto, é um grande superpoder: superconhecimento sobre banco de dados, linguagens de programação, uma variedade de tópicos sobre tecnologia (hardware, software, etc), WEB (0,1,2,3,...), Intranets, Extranets, DW (DataWarehouse), BI (Business Intelligence), groupware, workflow.

    E habilidades em administração, como organização, planejamento, custos, etc...

    E mais importante, compreender a mente, a alma dos usuários de tecnologia!!!!!

    E, se o DBA não for dos Estados Unidos da América ou Grã-Bretanha (como eu), é muito importante aprender idioma inglês, estudar a língua inglêsa muito bem.

    Thanks, and excuse-me for my poor english:blush:

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