As a consultant, I solve hard problems, and I use cool tools. These tools could help you, too– and in ways that may surprise you.
Problem 1: The DBA’s Time is Money, and It’s Limited
You know what, DBAs? You’re expensive.
DBAs are frequently involved in every task that touches a database. This includes Windows security patching, writing and running adhoc queries and reports for users, granting user access, deploying code, disaster recovery planning, high availability planning and implementation and performance troubleshooting. Additionally, DBAs must ensure that the database servers are configured in a secure way and that backup and maintenance processes are scheduled and running successfully.
Often, the tasks which are the most valuable to the business don’t get enough attention because of other demands.
The trick to managing your time— which is your company’s money— is to figure out where it’s going.
Consultant Solution: Manage Your Time with Toggl
The problem with most time tracking tools is that they’re too time consuming. You start out and immediately realize you need to start tracking the time you’re spending tracking your time. You get caught in an endless loop and emerge 10 days later looking like a Unix sysadmin.
I love the Toggl interface because it’s seriously easy to use. You can very quickly record what you’re doing and classify it using a timer. You can continue activities from previous days or start new ones.
Typically, people in IT don’t do time tracking unless they’re forced to do so by management. It’s usually dreaded, but the secret is that the data is most valuable to YOU.
Track your time use for one month. At the end of the month, look at the patterns in aggregate. Look for items that took up a lot of time collectively, but which could be done by someone who is less expensive to your company, perhaps with some automation. Identify a more valuable project you could do instead, such as designing a Disaster Recovery plan for the company’s databases. Pitch this to your manager as extra value you can add, and provide the supporting data. Maybe it won’t work immediately, but over time you’re building data to help justify a Junior DBA.
Problem 2: People Don’t Know What the DBA Does
Most of your coworkers don’t understand what you do most of the time.
Solve this like a consultant. When you do a task for someone, give them a Statement of Work.
Consultant Solution: Statements of Work
A Statement of Work, or “SOW” is essentially an agreement that explains what you’re doing, what the goals are, and how much it will cost.
When you’re taking on a new project or task, make a bit of time to write up the goals for the project, how many hours of time each week you expect to devote to it, and how many weeks it will take you to complete. State what deliverables you will provide, an overview of the tasks you will do, and anything that might keep you from delivering on your estimate. This shouldn’t be lengthy or wordy— aim for clarity and brevity. Share your statement of work with your manager and the project owner.
Your statements of work can be sent by email, but store them off in a folder for your reference and review them when you complete a project. The main value you provide by writing this type of email as a DBA is helping others understand your job and see that you’re a professional.
Tip: I know you’ve got a list of things you would love to test, investigate, or research, but don’t have enough time. Once you get good at writing SOWs, you can use these to pitch projects that YOU think are valuable to your company. In exchange, you can trade off some of those time consuming tasks you tracked in Toggl that are a little too manual.
Problem 3: People Don’t See the DBA as a Person
There’s a problem that goes even deeper: Many people don’t see the extra hours you spend after a code deployment that caused the website to grind to a halt, or the late night hours you get paged because checkdb failed. Instead, they may see an empty cube in the morning if those late nights keep happening.
What people often notice about a DBA is that they aren’t in the office all the time. In many companies where there is 24×7 on-call support, the DBA may work a different schedule, come into the office less, and participate in more meetings remotely than others.
This is a huge tacit cause of friction, but you can avoid the problem.
Consultant Solution: The Webcam
Whenever I work with clients remotely, I’ve always got my webcam on. This means that no matter how long I’ve been working, I need to brush my hair, but it does something important: it helps people relate to me.
If you sometimes need to attend meetings from home, purchase a webcam, even if it’s on your own dime. Allow people to see that you’re actively paying attention to the meeting by positioning what you are working on near where the webcam is sitting— if you’re making notes on a secondary monitor, it might look like you’re ignoring the meeting.
By seeing you at work elsewhere, people will learn that you do accomplish things when you’re not at your desk. Moreover, they’ll see you much more as a person rather than a missing entity.
Being a Consultant is Fun
The true joy in being a consultant is solving problems. You can already do this as a DBA– without quitting your job! Sometimes all it takes to feel the difference is using a few new tools to help you manage your time, shape your role, and share your work with your colleagues.