Eye on Oracle

Jun 18 2007   10:10PM GMT

Woe is the DBA: An old-timer weighs in

Ken Cline Profile: Clinek

In response to the DBA rant-fest from a few days ago (“Database administration is for suckers”?), Marty M. sent me this note. Read on for a true old-timer perspective — it’s not pretty. . . .  

I REALLY enjoyed reading this article and finding out that there are a LOT of DBAs like me.  I have been in the IT business for over 32 years now, and I can testify that what the DBAs said is mild and very controlled taken in light of what I’ve experienced and seen in my time.

I have convinced my children that they should never want to have an IT job as the hours are long, the appreciation is lacking, and ultimately the job can be a killer (gave me a heart attack after 30 years).

I understand the feeling we are unappreciated — we are.  As statistics show, 85% of the time DBAs are blamed for problems yet only 15% are actually database issues.  DBAs know far more about applications, systems, etc. than other disciplines (and I have been those, lest anyone want to dispute this).  As one poster mentioned, management often makes decisions relative to databases WITHOUT consulting the DBAs who have to do it, then blame them for not achieving their goals, objectives or the project plan timetable (also not set by them).

The job does pay well (in dollars) but the cost is high (in health, social, etc.)  We are dismissed from consideration for management jobs because we’re ‘techies.’ We are often dismissed in job interviews because we aren’t expert enough in our fields by youngsters fresh from school (where they have the luxury of learning ‘by the book’ and memorizing trivia that is never used in the real world; e.g.,  knowing at least 3 of 6 pieces in the Oracle SGA).  Most of us are too busy to take classes — and are not allowed to take them by management (they cost too much) — yet we are expected to be the ‘experts.’  Conversely, the items the young pups test you on (and tell management you are ‘dumb’ about) are not realistically the things you see or do in the real world.  (I turned the tables on one interviewer by asking her a real-life question on a problem I handled in Oracle that she could not answer: the ‘error message’ from Oracle was bogus.  Only a person in the ‘real world’ would know however, so I do give them some slack.)

All that said, I did enjoy knowing I was not the only one feeling this way.  I would propose that another item that needs to be broached in our profession is how to properly interview a potential employee.  I submit that it is better to use the behavioral approach to problem-solving in judging potential IT workers instead of the ‘memorized the book’ and ‘got the certification’ methods.  I have certification (a CCP) but it is ignored because it is not an OCP or an MS certification.  I have interviewed several of these certified persons and several of the ‘book memorizers’ and have found, several times, that they were not good risks, whereas a person with the proper approach to problem-solving usually makes a good worker, even when they do not know the ‘technical stuff.’ The reason is that they can deduce the problem and resolve it because they understand what us old-timers called the ‘theory and science’ of computer science.  This is something I’m not seeing taught in the colleges/universities.

Anyway, as Forrest Gump said, ‘That’s all I have to say about that.’

For the complete range of opinion about this contentious issue, check out the dozens of comments from fellow DBAs. An even older-timer (in IT since 1963!) writes there to “keep your spirits up; if you are unhappy, then retrain. You didn’t get your current job because you were dumb.”


3  Comments on this Post

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  • Peter K
    I blogged about your previous posting and I think it is a generalization. For Marty M, I was a DBA but I recognize the limitations of being just technical unless you are willing to put in the hours and hours to be THE expert so yes, "techies" can move into management but the "technie" must learn the soft skills. I agree with Marty that using behaviour approach to interviews is one way that will drive out the base personality of the candidate but it's not the only approach. The other thing that Marty has to learn too is that "turning the tables on an interviewer" does not help but confirm the interviewer's perception of the candidate. The best thing is to take the high road so that while you might not be the successful candidate, at least the impression left might lead to other positions, etc.
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  • Owoeye Johnson
    What is the advice you old Dbas have for we upcoming young Dbas. Is the profession boring or not profitable. or u advice to backout please someone reply. But I think Dba is interesting and challenging.
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  • Martin
    Owoeye - be very careful. It is sooo important to be able to spell correctly if you want to be a DBA.
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