K. Brian Kelley wrote a counterpoint to my recommendation that DBAs should specialize and focus their training. I respect Mr. Kelley a lot: he’s been in the United States Armed Forces. I don’t want to run into him in a dark alley. He’s a nice guy, and he’s got a lot of integrity, but that means he’s just going to give me a ten second running head start before he kicks my geeky rear. I’ve seen Burn Notice. I know how this stuff works.
With that in mind, I’ll explain it another way.
As a former homeowner, a wannabe furniture-builder and DINK (dual income no kids) household, I’ve accumulated a fair amount of tools. I’ve got saws, drills, hammers, allen wrenches, routers, all kinds of electrically powered Man Gadgets. I know how they operate, and I can say with a fair bit of certainty what tool I need to grab when I’m looking at a project.
My work with these tools is marginal at best. I won’t hurt myself or the ones I love when I fire up the rotary saw, but my work is never going to be sold for profit at a furniture store. Not even Goodwill. My stuff is the kind of stuff you see marked “As Is, All Sales Final.”
However, if I walk into your garage and I see you handling the hammer by the metal end, and using the wood end to pound a nail into a board, I will suggest to you that you try turning it around for better results. (Unless you’re a former member of the Armed Forces, in which case I’ll offer to hold the nail for you.)
My IT experience is pretty similar. I can walk into IT shops or project meetings, listen for a few minutes, and tell who’s handling the hammer by the metal end. That doesn’t mean I know how to do their job – but it means that I can tell they don’t know how to do it either. In IT, that’s a lot of what a DBA has to do. He doesn’t necessarily need to know how to program a .NET application, configure a firewall or lay out a report in Crystal, but he’s seen enough people doing it that he knows who’s doing it wrong. We absorb things because we’re around so many different IT specialties.
When I recommend that DBAs specialize, I’m talking about the things that they choose to learn. They’re going to learn a lot of other things by accident or by osmosis, and that’s great – it makes your experience even stronger. But those things will come regardless – I wouldn’t choose to spend time learning how to do those things if I could avoid it, and instead focus on my core competency. (Man, I hate that phrase.)