DBA 101: It Takes Confidence

A good database administrator projects confidence – without being a jerk.

This positive yet firm attitude helps the DBA accomplish their job in tough situations:

  • A programmer insists their code is fine, and it’s a database problem that the DBA needs to fix
  • A manager asks the DBA how much to budget for server hardware next year
  • A project team says they want to run a mission-critical app on dilapidated hardware with no plan B

A wishy-washy DBA surrenders in those discussions and the database infrastructure suffers for it.

Managers – when you’re hiring a DBA, take a note of their attitude.  Are they selling you on their ideas, their background and their skills?  Is it a successful sale?  Remember that after they’re hired, they will have similarly small blocks of time in which to sell you on other ideas like database outage windows, purchasing strategies, and T-SQL problems.  A DBA has to be positive yet firm in their business relationships.

Candidates – do a shot of Jager before the interview.  Okay, maybe not, but act like you did.  And yes, I’m posting this because I recently conducted a phone interview with a candidate who was a total yes-man: he had the skills, but he lost his chance because both me and the manager saw that he’d get walked all over.

More DBA Career Articles

  • Gaining Experience for a DBA Job – a reader asked how to do it, and I gave a few ways to get started.
  • Development DBA or Production DBA? – job duties are different for these two DBA roles.  Developers become one kind of DBA, and network administrators or sysadmins become a different kind.  I explain why.
  • Recommended Books for DBAs – the books that should be on your shopping list.
  • Ask for a List of Servers – DBA candidates need to ask as many questions as they answer during the interview.
  • Are you a Junior or Senior DBA? – Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but I explain how to gauge DBA experience by the size of databases you’ve worked with.
  • So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star – Part 1 and Part 2 – wanna know what it takes to have “SQL Server Expert” on your business card?  I explain.
  • Becoming a DBA – my list of articles about database administration as a career.
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8 Comments. Leave new

  • What do you do about the opposite problem? I was the supervisor for a DBA who maybe was too firm in his positions. I felt like he was just doing what we hired him to do. I was able to have discussions and reach compromises with him, but he stepped on so many toes that my manager fired him. Now we are having a hard time replacing him. Yikes!

    Reply
  • That’s a good point, and it was on my mind when I wrote the first sentence – but then proceeded to forget about it, hahaha.

    I think that’s actually a more common problem, too. The old joke is that DBA stands for Don’t Bother Asking, because we’re so tough, confident and firm.

    My solution: explain to the DBA that they’re a self-contained business. They have customers (end users & developers) who want to buy a product (a fast, reliable database). The DBA is selling that product, but he needs to remember that he’s not the only person selling that product. His customers can choose to buy a lesser product (a slower database server without a DBA) or buy it from another vendor with better customer satisfaction. Sometimes that vendor is an outside consultant, sometimes it’s a remote DBA, sometimes it’s just another employee.

    Explain to him (well, to the next one) that the key to their success isn’t how fast the database runs, or how seldom the database goes down. Instead, the key is satisfied customers. If the customers love the DBA, then the DBA can count on raises and a great career. If all they deliver is uptime and pissed customers, then the monetary success won’t be so easy to come by. The users grant the raises, not the database server.

    Reply
  • Oh, and by the way – yeah, everybody’s having a hard time hiring DBAs right now. It’s truly a DBA’s market, not an employer’s market. Three or four years ago, that was different, but what a swing it’s been.

    Reply
  • DBA: Delightful Bohemian Androids

    Reply
  • Confidence is one thing, getting stabbed in the back by a fellow dba coz he wants in with the cookie in charge is an entirely different matter… It seems I will be looking for work elsewhere soon, this was the 2nd time he pulled a Brutis on me to catch shine with new management.

    Reply
  • Hi Brent,

    I recently joined IBM Software group as a fresher out from college.A comp.Sci. grad from Bangalore. I read your article and quite motivated . I am in a team which performs System Verification and Testing of DB2. I am asked to get the DB2 and DB2 DBA certifications required for my work.My query is: where I will be down the line after few years, Also help me to chalk out my career path as I am impressed and interested to become a DBA in future.

    Waiting for your response….!

    Reply
  • Hi, Cybreek. That’s a great question, but it’s kinda tough to answer because it’s hard for me to chart out your career path. Instead, I’d suggest that you find out what you really enjoy doing (hopefully it’s database administration) and you go from there.

    Reply
  • As a follow-up update to you Brent ,

    I am a DBA with alias ‘cybreek’ who asked you the career path question 7 years ago.
    I still have the same question but well, I have loved the journey so far ! 🙂

    Best Regards,
    Shivraj(@shivrajk)

    Reply

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