Secret to be a successful DBA


When you just start your career as a DBA, there’s a few things that I think are very fundamental to have so you can be a successful one.   This goes for pretty much every profession actually, but I’m focusing this post for DBAs, because, well, that’s what I’ve been doing in the last ten plus years.   I’m not talking about mastering T-SQL or being a PowerShell Guru or even knowing about SQL and Index Internals here, no I’m talking about basic, fundamental skills that will make you become a successful DBA.   Don’t get me wrong, those other skills will make you very successful (and are critical to get you through an interview or two) but there are some skills that are overlooked and can put you ahead of the competition.

1.  Know how to ask the right question

I mentioned this on yesterday MemeMonday post.    How many times have you heard your customer say ‘the web site/program abc is slow‘ ? One of the fundamental troubleshooting skill is the elimination process.  You need to be able to ask the right question to eliminate the area that is not the problem so you isolate the real issue.  Done well, and you may find out the problem isn’t even the SQL box, but that is a different post.

2.  Know where to get help

You don’t know everything about SQL Server.  I don’t think anybody does.  SQL Server is a huuuuge product that has many components in it and there will be a moment that you will face a challenge.  To know where to get help is one of the most important skills to have.   Sure, there’s tons of books out there and internet full with information but knowing where to get the help that you need is important.    One of the most helpful ways is to leveraging twitter #sqlhelp hashtag.   Brent Ozar (Blog | Twitter) have a whole section about Twitter here to get you started and he blogged about how to use the hashtag here.

3.  Know how to communicate to your customer

It never gets old, but you hear it all the time about the DBA versus Developer battle.    My developer is driving me crazy.   My developer is giving me attitude.  I can go on and on.  Having worked the other side of the fence in my past, I know the Developers have the same versions of the conversation about the DBA.    Well, let me start by saying as a DBA – your developer IS your customer. Sometimes an extra effort on your part by ensuring the good relationship between DBA and your customer can take you an extra mile.

4.  Status Report.  Top 3 things

Weekly one-on-one’s with your manager are important.   You need to solicit feedback and get some help to prioritize your tasks.  On top of that, what I personally find is very useful is to have a short status report.  I called it my Top 3 Things.   It contains the top three things that I did for the week before, top three things that I didn’t get to do, and the top three things that I want to do for the next week. For me, it’s extremely useful to keep me on track on the things that I have on my plate and to keep my manager informed on what I am doing, and things that I didn’t get to do because other things took precedence.   And those things come so handy during review time!

5.  Free Training – Teach Yourself!

There’s so many resources available to you, free.  Now, you have to actually make the time to get those information and utilize those free resources.   For those who are lucky enough that your company has a budget to send you to cool training like SQL Cruise, SQL PASS or SQL Immersion – congratulations, but there are many of us that can only live vicariously through twitter during those events.   My suggestion to you, make the time to train yourself.   Block a time on your calendar to read blog post or watch some webcast daily. If you can’t block a whole hour, block a half hour.  However you can manage your time within your 8 hour day, but make the time.   If there’s SQL Saturday within your driving distance, pack your car for a road trip and make the time to attend.   Those are free resources for you to advance yourself.   It’s yours to grab, but you have to come and get it.

These “secrets” are a small sample of what is out there.  Invest in your career, and your career will reward you.


MemeMonday: 11 words…

Thomas LaRock (blog | twitter), has challenged us to write eleven word blog post, called Meme Monday and since Mike Reigler (blog | twitter), Dev Nambi (blog | twitter) and Kendra Little (blog |twitter) tagged me this morning, here’s mine:

Asking the right question is a secret of a successful DBA

I will have separate blog post this week talking about this very subject, but for today — 11 words will just have to be it.

With this, I’m tagging three people:

1.  Dianne McNurlan (Blog | Twitter)

2.  Crys Manson (Blog | Twitter)

3.  John Robel (Blog | Twitter)

This is fun!


Where are they going now?

My husband, John Robel (blog|twitter) posed a very interesting question shortly after the Women in IT (WIT) lunch at SQL Saturday Chicago.    He commented that in the group discussions about the subject, we hear a lot of stories on how we (current Women in Technology) got into the IT field some years ago.    SQL University has a whole week of series about Women in IT that dedicated to just that (Jes, Julie, Audrey, Jen and Wendy – thanks for awesome posts!) and we all know that back then, the choice for women was somewhat limited or we didn’t get a lot of advice or directions, or we weren’t encouraged enough.   Whatever challenges that we had back then, we want to make sure that our children (boy or girl) won’t have them, right?

So the question that he posed to me was if that was the challenge then, what are the challenges now? Where is the next generation going now?  Where are the women going now?  No school counselors are telling them to go to only go to nursing school or be a secretary (right?)  So, what career path are they are choosing today?   Are the enrollments to the Computer Science School’s higher today for women?  It’s a different era today, with all the technology that is available to everybody (well, mostly everybody).

I’m curious to see what’s everybody take on this so please let me know your thoughts!  Where is the generation of women who are in the pipeline for their schooling and careers headed?  If they are no picking technical courses or careers, what are the picking?  You 20-somethings out there (plus or minus a few numbers on either side,) where are you headed?  What is driving your decisions?

My next steps are to take your ideas and thoughts and send them back to the group of High School girls I am mentoring in Indonesia.  The cultural shift I can handle, but I am really interested to know why you all are making the choice your making over here where there isn’t as much restrictions for women…


I’m a Woman. And I work in IT

I read two awesome posts here and here, about Women in IT this week as part of SQL University (which is an awesome resources), written by Jes Borland  (blog | twitter) and Julie Smith (blog | twitter) and I can’t help but feel nostalgic and proud of the fact that I, too, work in this very rewarding field.

I sent the link of the blog to my high school friend and she was very impressed (she’s currently a teacher at our high school and I have promised to keep her nameless.) She wanted me to write something so she can show it to her class as an example that Women (and men) can have a very rewarding career on Information Technology or IT.

Let me share a little bit of my background.   I’m originally from Jakarta, Indonesia.   Growing up in the culture that women did not an have equal opportunity with men (sad, but true), we were taught to go to school so we can meet ‘nice gentlemen’.    When I was in high school, a lot of my friends were choosing a management school (so they can meet nice gentlemen,) or nursing school (because that’s where most girls go.)  The idea that us girls could go to any engineering school,  medical school, or computer science school were far from reality since there wouldn’t be a future for us (that was the exact word from my high school counselor at the time.)  Well,  I was always a rebel, and I was always fascinated with math and science so I figured, what the heck – I’m going to do it anyway.

I did a lot learning on my first year in college, but what challenged me the most was my class in Information System Management category.   Anything related with data management always fascinated me.   It was supposed to be an elective since I haven’t picked my major yet, but then I took my first programming class and I found my first love.    Basic, Pascal, RPG, CoBol, C, Assembler.   Ahh.  I did them all.   I felt like I went to a different country and learn their language.   My first real relationship was with my Commodore 64.    I treasured that baby the same way I treasured my BMX bike.

Fast forwarded a few years, I finally graduated with Computer Science major and ready to conquer the world.   The word of my high school counselor was ringing in my head.   There is no future for me, since nobody will hire me.   I was not ‘wife’ material in my hometown standard at the time, so I was kinda screwed.   Then it dawned on me.   I should look for an entry level job at some American company with the hope that they will see past the gender, since well, they are American, right?  I did find the job but I spent my first 3 months just really mastering how to make my boss’s coffee perfect and schedule his meetings.   I was hired as data entry, but I ended up as his personal assistant until one day, he was replaced by Suzanne Reynolds, who I owed a lifetime of gratitude (Jes, I’m borrowing your term here).  She was my mentor, my teacher and someone that believe in me while I started to doubt myself.

I soaked so much knowledge during the period I worked there, learned about DB2  and database management system as a concept and it’s like another world just open for me.   I moved to a different company three years later and primarily worked with Access database and VBA.   I quickly realized the limitation of MS Access and started to poke my head around to SQL Server and there’s no going back from there.   Within six months, I relocated from Jakarta, Indonesia to Miami, Florida on my own, not knowing any soul, half across the world from my family to do things that I love to do and the rest is history.   I truly enjoy my job and this is a very rewarding field.   Yes, not all my previous jobs were unicorn and rainbow but I always tried to learn from each and one of them and take the good and rid the ugly.   Today, I can really say that I’m at a point of my career that I’m very proud of and so glad that I was a rebel 20 something, years ago, and listened to my guts on pursuing what I love to do.    Jes was dead on about the mentor.   I am trying to be one right now and I am a living proof on the outcome of someone that have one growing up.

I am a mama of two young daughters and I want them to understand about what I do and how much I love what I do.   And for all the student of my high school, do not be shy, go after your own dreams.  The counselors are not always right, women can and do succeed in this world in fields you would never think of.   I don’t know much about engineering or medical field so I can’t speak on their behalf, but I know about IT field and I love it.  It is very rewarding and it’s not all doom and gloom.   The image of the IT professional working in the dungeon and getting isolated from the rest of the world are not true.   I know the challenges of my hometown are tougher due to cultural differences but where there’s a will, there’s always the way and I am more than welcome to answer any questions for you.

Not too long ago, I was one of you.   A shy girl from a village, outside Jakarta.   You too, can be where I am today.



Clip the coupon, Go on a cruise

So you still are not sure about broaching the SQL Cruises idea on the powers that be?  Let me offer one more way that you could try the big sell…

At my job we already have budget set aside for tools and licensing of Quest products, so for me the offer of free stuff was initially just a nice benefit.  Hey, maybe someone out there could use that to help him or her offset the costs of training I thought to myself (and wrote a blog about it.)

But then I had an idea.  I could still take advantage of this free licensing even though we already were going to purchase it.  I whipped out my fancy management calculator and crunched some number and confirmed it could be done.   Since both training and licensing are capitol purchases and come out of the same pool of money, why not move some around.  Bosses always like to see you move $ from one bucket to another if it saves on the bottom line and that is just what I did.

By leveraging the $8,000+ worth of software licensing being offered by Quest, I suggested that we move some capitol funds from the licensing bucket to the training bucket.  With an overall net savings, I was able to get another training under our belt this year, such as Immersion and SQL PASS since my SQL Cruise attendance already been approved.   Pretty awesome, eh?

So even if you already have budget for licensing, don’t take it for granted that it could not benefit you in other ways.  Always look for opportunities to bring something back from training to the company that sent you there.  It will help ensure the next time you ask for it, you are more likely to get it with less haggling.  Saving the company money is usually right up there with improving stability and performance as a priority.  The difference here is that you can show them real dollars upfront before they invest.

Quest has given you, and through you, the company that is paying for you, a coupon worth possibly more than $8,000.  Clip it, bring it, and use it.  Don’t turn the page, it is real money!


So you want to go to SQLCruise?

… but not sure how to get your boss’s approval on that?

If you go to the SQL Cruise site, you’ll find tons of reasons on how to smooth your manager over.   Brent Ozar (blog | twitter) has various posts talking about that and my husband, John, actually wrote a post from a manager’s point of view that you can share with your manager.   He was not sure about the whole training on the cruise ship concept when I made him carry my bags asked him to join me on the train-cation last summer and he wrote about his experience.

If those posts still get a no-no from your manager, you are in-luck because the announcement just out today from SQL Cruise that all cruisers will get FREE All SQL tools from Quest.   Yes.  Free.  All.   You read right.    It’s Litespeed, Spotlight, Foglight (which by the way, the most awesome tools for diagnosed your wait stats), Toad, Benchmark.   You name it.   Go to their site here, and check out their collection of SQL Tools.   That is what you are going to get, on top of the many uber-cool swag that is going to be announced soon.

So here’s what you need to do:

Download those awesome tools, RIGHT now (if you haven’t already).   Do an eval against your own environment and write down a summary of the benefit of these tools (you can’t just make this one up, you actually need to sit down and install, and evaluate a lot of things).   Just use a couple of tools to start with.  I suggest Spotlight and Foglight.   Heck, throw Litespeed in there too.    Those are the three tools that I know has helped my team tremendously do our job and be aware of potential problems before they become one.

When you are done, present that document to your manager during your 1-on-1 (if you don’t have 1-on-1, you should set recurring one today) and do your sales pitch on how these tools can help your company.  If you peek her/his interest, the next question should be the cost, which you should already have it ready.    Yes, you might see a frowny face, since those tools are not cheap (which they shouldn’t be since they are pretty awesome), and that’s your cue to have this conversation:

No worries, we can get these tools way cheaper

Really?   How?

By sending me to SQL Cruise!   See as an attendee – I will get all of these tools for free and that’s over $8000 on value, and if you send me to SQL Cruise – the training will cost only $895 for Alaska one, plus the cruise, which around $900 and travel to Seattle which will be around $400 (I’m just throwing the number here, you get the idea).   That’s like a quarter of the actual cost!  And we get all of these tools for free AND I get the knowledge to bring back and can share that to our entire development team, and don’t get me started with the networking benefit that WE (here’s the key, it’s the company and you, not just you) will gain from this event


Here’s the paperwork for it, you can just sign it right here for me to expense all of this cost

There ya go.   Now get going and do your homework and hopefully I will see you at SQL Cruise Alaska!

PS.  A big shout out to Quest for their awesome-ness.   Thank you for supporting SQL Community!