|Anthony L. Politano|
DBAs and other IT professionals speak the language of technology and they speak it well. But those that are serious about advancing their careers need to learn the language of business too, says Anthony L. Politano, one of the two main keynote speakers at next week's TDWI data warehousing and business intelligence conference in Las Vegas.
Politano, a data management solutions partner and consultant with New Jersey-based BusinessEdge Solutions, began his career as a DBA and programmer, but successfully made the transition into management and finally into his analyst role.
In this SearchOracle.com interview, Politano offers tips for closing the communication gap with business and explains why avoiding certain "red flag" words and attaining a working knowledge of business can do wonders for DBAs who want to get ahead.
In the summary of your upcoming keynote speech on the TDWI Web site, you quote Herbert Hoover who said, "The business of business is business." What exactly does that quote have to do with enhancing DBA and other IT careers?
Anthony Politano: What I found growing up in the IT sector is that until someone forced your hand or it was required for career progression, you never really learned much about the business area that you are supporting. And what it comes down to is that all those ones and zeros that we push around on the computer are nothing more than the automation of business processes.
Some of the people that I've went to college with and [who are] still out on the technology end, it's too late for them to learn the business. They've been pigeonholed into being a technology person, and they're very good at it, but there is probably a lot of unrealized potential for them out there. The "business of business" concept is that, yes, you're doing something computer-related that happens to be a discipline that you're providing to the business. But you need to understand the business that you're in. If you're in insurance, learn about insurance. If you're in financial, learn about financial. If you're in manufacturing, learn about manufacturing.
So, DBAs who want to move up should try to gain more knowledge of the industry verticals their companies serve?
Politano: Yes. Get the vertical knowledge plus also get some horizontal business knowledge. One of the biggest changes that happened in my career was when I started reading the Wall Street Journal. I don't have stock in the Dow Jones. I just think that reading something which is very business related and understanding the importance of disciplines such as finance and marketing and public relations and other things that you typically don't get involved in when you're in the IT world is critical. It doesn't mean that you have to become an expert and it never really has to be a part of your job description either. But you're going to be a greater asset to the company and you're going to have much greater career potential if you at least understand what is happening horizontally and vertically in the business.
What are some tips for DBAs and other IT pros to bridge that pesky communication gap between IT and the business side of a company?
Politano: You should work some themes into your conversations, or at least be prepared when the business people introduce a certain theme into the conversation that you pick up on it. Don't just fall back into your safety zone of talking technology.
What are some words a DBA should avoid while talking to the business folks?
Politano: At TDWI, I'm talking directly to data warehousing people so I picked a lot of their terms: Star schema, OLAP, Linux Unix, dimensions. All these types of things which we take for granted being data warehouse or database professionals, nobody knows what they are when you walk outside of there. [Avoiding such words] opens up those lines of communication that [lets business people know] "It's not just another tech guy that is going to force me to learn his terminology."
Is that a big pet peeve of the business world?
Politano: That is one of the biggest frustrations that I have encountered over and over again. For some reason the IT group is like the ugly American who wants everybody to speak English no matter what country they're in. We believe that no matter who we talk to in the business that the common language is technology, and it's actually the least common. The most common language in a company is actually financial. You'll also find that IT people typically can't read a balance sheet. They can't talk about simple financial things. Learn your basic terminology wrapped around accounting, because most managers are being measured against how well they do against their budget.
We've talked about generally talking to business about planning projects and such. What about talking to business when a project is going bad? Can you offer any tips for DBAs in that situation?
Politano: When the project is going bad or the priorities have changed, most technology people, even if they've already started talking in business terms, will fall back into their comfort zone. They say, "Let's throw more hardware at it," or "Let's think about retuning the database," instead of thinking about what is the business impact.
If software for production is delayed [for example] turn to your business partner and say, "What is the business impact and how can we work around it?" Don't always fall back on creating another database or a workaround program for it because there may actually be a better business solution for the problem. When the crisis hits, understand the business problem and how you can contribute to fixing the business problem, as compared to throwing more technology at it.
What are some other mistakes that IT pros make when projects start to go downhill?
Politano: A very common thing in IT is to throw a vendor under the bus. When you work in the non-IT sector, it's much rarer for people to throw a vendor under a bus. They won't try to pass it on. They won't try to pass the buck. In the end, you're the guy who said "Bring in Accenture" or "Bring in Oracle." It's you that got it wrong so step up and concentrate on fixing the problem. You're going to get the respect of the business then.
What is the one piece of advice that you'd like DBAs to take away from this interview?
Politano: Learn the business. Learn what business you're in and add business value. If you're a good DBA then you're already adding significant technical value to the company. You should continue to enhance that, but you need to augment it with adding business value. The way you do that is by understanding what the business does and then being able to apply your particular database administration capability to the problems [that arise]. Don't wait for them to tell you the problem. Start to think of the superset of the problem. The superset of the problem is the business problem. The subset of the problem is the tuning that you have to do on the database.