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Turn database administrator skills into leadership skills

In a session at Collaborate 16, database architect Ziaul Mannan will reveal the ways DBAs are being overlooked as potential executives and how to prove internally that DBA skills translate well to IT leadership roles.

Ziaul Mannan, a database architect at Yale New Haven Health, believes that database administrators are an untapped source of IT and business leaders. And at the Collaborate 16 conference in Las Vegas, Mannan plans to present "The DBA and the Long Game -- Seeing (and Moving) into the Future," a session on how database administrator skills translate to leadership skills.

The idea for the session comes from a central unfairness Mannan noticed in his own role as a database administrator. Mannan started working as a database administrator after college and has worked as a database administrator the U.S. and New Zealand. He has held his current job at Yale New Haven Health for 14 years. In this time, he has watched people who entered the company on the help desk or in other IT departments move up and into executive positions. Meanwhile, he reached the highest level a database administrator can attain, and there is no promotion path for him into the executive level.

Mannan describes this as not a problem for one company, but as something cutting across multiple companies fueled by the way database administrator teams are positioned. Mannan explained that, rather than having their own group, database administrators are shuffled between groups as needed to get deliverables done. Consequently, database administrator teams don't have their own leadership or anyone watching them long enough to see their capabilities. Because of this, according to Mannan, database administrators don't have as many opportunities to advance on a leadership track. "We think the DBA is underappreciated," he said.

"I have seen from the trenches that a group of potential leaders have been overlooked," he said. The goal of the session is to show "how DBAs can be looked upon as true leaders," Mannan said, adding that database administrator skills can translate to leadership skills. For instance, database administrators are depended upon to make and implement critical decisions under pressure. Mannan described a recent circumstance at his job where he was working with group of non-database administrator, IT professionals when a server crashed. The project they were working on was time sensitive and due to go live the next morning. Mannan solved the problem, decided what to do and then implemented his decision. The server recovered and the project was ready by the go-live date.

The importance of this story, according to Mannan, isn't that when, in a moment of crisis, a database administrator has to make a decision quickly and on his own, but that the database administrator is trusted to make difficult decisions. "The DBA is always at the core of any system a company relies on," Mannan said. He added that another DBA skill is the ability to lead a group to a common consensus. Also, because DBAs tend to move between groups, they get less hands-on management and have to be more self-driven.

At Collaborate 16, a conference jointly organized by the three top Oracle user groups, Mannan plans to show his fellow database administrators that they have the capacity for leadership and give them the tools to prove this to their companies.

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This was last published in April 2016

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How do you think DBA skills can help those in search of leadership positions?
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I think that DBAs are generally efficient, analytical, and frequently make difficult decisions that others have little knowledge or insight into. They’re also used to working with systems that other systems rely heavily on to function properly, which means they are used to taking on a good deal of responsibility without a lot of credit. Those skills are needed by everyone that wants to step into a leadership position.
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I have managed DBA teams for over 30 years and the critical skill they consistently bring to organizations is the ability to get partner groups to communicate and share. I often refer to DBAs as the "glue" that holds IT organizations together by ensuring that development teams and infrastructure support teams understand each other. DBAs wear many hats in most IT organizations which is further evidence of their preparation for leadership roles. In some cases, the only barrier to DBA ascension through the ranks is that their jobs tend to be so rich that they hate to leave their data management role for management positions that "require" political savvy (and, usually, the nonsense that is related).
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This isn’t something specific to database administrators. The problem seems to be the lack of their own leadership and anyone watching them long enough to see their capabilities. This is a problem shared by many other areas of IT, especially in agile environments where traditional groups no longer exist and people that work in those areas are shuffled between groups.
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