T-SQL Tuesday: Why Do You Need DBA Skills?

This month’s T-SQL Tuesday topic asks why you need DBA skills.

Lemme borrow your car to get tacos - yeah, of course I'm a good driver.
Lemme borrow your car to get tacos – yeah, of course I’m a good driver.

I say you probably don’t.

Every now and then, you just need someone else to have good DBA skills.

Most of my clients don’t have full time database administrators.  For example, last week I helped a small software company troubleshoot database problems at a couple of their customers’ sites.  These customers had mission-critical applications they’d bought from this software company, and the data was stored in SQL Server.  If the server went down, their business would stop.

And no, the customers didn’t have full time DBAs either.

I parachuted in, took remote control of their SQL Server, spent a few hours doing a basic investigation, and gave them a list of things they should consider doing to improve performance and reliability.  We discussed how to implement those changes, and they took away a list of to-dos.  Done.

There’s a huge, gaping chasm between people who know enough to be dangerous with SQL Server versus those who can fix the junior guy’s “fixes.”  It takes a lot of experience to do things the right way the first time, and I’ll be the first to tell you that for the first 5-6 years of my career, I made more wrong moves than right moves.  I’m finally at the point where I can sit down at a complete stranger’s SQL Server, know I’m not going to put the data in danger, and know that I’m going to make improvements.  If you hear me say, “Whoops, damn,” it’s probably because I didn’t remember syntax correctly, not that a database just went offline.

You may not need DBA skills, but you need someone skilled backing you up when it counts.  You can pay people like me to help, or you can get help for free using Michael Swart’s 3 problem solving resources every DBA should knowGoogle, #SQLHelp, and StackOverflow.  Either way, the key is to know when you’re in over your head, and ask for that help before your data disappears.

The trouble, though, is that if you don’t have any DBA skills, and you trust the advice of strangers & software, you can make your server worse – not better.

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7 Comments. Leave new

  • “There’s a huge, gaping chasm between people who know enough to be dangerous with SQL Server versus those who can fix the junior guy’s ‘fixes.'”

    Ouch. How then do people cross said chasm? That line sounds pretty elitist until we read about those 5-6 years at the start of your career where you, yes, even you, made junior mistakes.

    For my employer, I’m our SQL Server SME, but I realize in the grand scale of all SQL Server DBAs, I’m nothing special. But when it comes down to it, someone’s got to take some responsibility or databases get over written during Backup Exec restores and left without full recovery for two days. The biggest thing we push in our tech tree is knowing when to escalate, even if that means an external resource.

    • Andrew – I truly apologize if it came off as elitist. I didn’t mean for it to at all.

      One way you cross the chasm is with the 5-6 years of experience. Other ways include getting experience by osmosis – hanging out on places like Twitter, StackOverflow, ServerFault, and SQLServerCentral to observe problems as they get solved. I’ve learned more watching the MVP mailing list than I’ve learned from some books – just watching someone else solve a problem is a type of training. The more involved you get, the faster you’ll cross that chasm.

      My most disappointing times are when I’m with a client and I ask their DBA team, “Who here reads blogs, watches #SQLHelp, or goes to their local PASS chapter?” and nobody raises their hand. If you only work inside your silo, you miss out on a world of experience.

      • Just calling your bluff in this article. I loved one of your previous ones where you mentioned being “that guy” at PASS Summit and not talking to a soul. I’ve been there and I look forward to being in the 5-6 years experience section of the bleachers soon.

        I totally accept your reasoning. There’s definitely better ROI in it.

  • pfft. I see you had time to write a post for the boss’s tsql2tuesday. (I tease, I tease!)

    But hey thanks for plugging my latest post.

    I know how you feel. I’m getting pretty confident in my own domain too. But there were a few years where I lived in fear of someone calling me out as a charlatan.

  • Thanks Brent for the great article. I think there is no DBA in the world who has become an expert without making any mistakes. I have been a part-time DBA and a full time developer for close to 10 years now. I read SQL Server blogs daily like a newspaper and I have successfully performed SQL Server DBA tasks as well.

    I am trying to rate my DBA skills to understand where I stand in terms of DBA skills and not be timid or be over-confident about myskills.I do not know how to rate my DBA skills. Any advise?

  • I hate saying whoops when people can hear me. They always think it is something major – for me it is when I forget syntax and have to look it up. I can live with those kinds of oopses though.

    Nice post.


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