Being a database administrator (DBA) can mean long hours, headaches and accepting blame, but it can also mean satisfaction, good pay and accepting praise, says one veteran.
A recent post on SearchOracle.com's Eye on Oracle Blog which suggested that "database administration is for suckers" sparked a flurry of debate among DBAs, whose opinions on the topic truly ran the gamut.
Some fervently disagreed with the blog entry and posted responses which pointed out that database administration is a respectable career with a healthy salary. Others agreed with the blog, saying the long hours DBAs put in and the ever-increasing amount of flack they put up with from the likes of application developers and storage managers simply aren't worth it.
But Jeff S. Buelt, who is well schooled in the ways of the DBA, says that both groups are right and that being happy as a DBA is simply a matter of knowing how to play the game.
Buelt is currently the director of information technology at Pro Staff, a Minneapolis-based temporary staffing firm, but he did his time in the DBA trenches before joining Pro Staff. And when he first went to work for Pro Staff 10 years ago, he served as an Oracle DBA consultant working on a PeopleSoft implementation project.
Buelt agrees that DBAs face tough challenges, but by approaching the job with a problem-solver attitude, he was able to turn his DBA frowns upside down and eventually advance to the level of IT director to boot.
"I loved being a DBA," Buelt said. "I think some of the biggest challenges were probably the night and weekend work, and whenever something went wrong it seemed like everybody always pointed to the database."
Overcoming long hours
When Buelt experienced horrendously long hours as a DBA, it was usually at the start of a new DBA job -- jobs where he often found himself replacing DBAs who left, presumably, because of -- you guessed it -- long hours.
So Buelt made it his business to find out what types of problems were causing the long hours and make them go away.
Being a problem solver can make a DBA feel good, even if everybody's pointing fingers at him, Buelt said. It's how Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott must have felt after fixing a serious technological problem that threatened the crew of the Enterprise on television's Star Trek.
"[People may] come to you and say, 'Hey, payroll is running an extra hour. Why is that happening?' " Buelt said. "If you can take that and fix it and make it quicker, you look like a hero, and that's kind of the stuff that I've always liked about being a DBA."
What's more, he said, DBAs who fix problems will ultimately foster better relationships with developers and storage managers, even in a culture of finger-pointing.
"That kind thing is part of the organization's culture, and if you can change that and get everybody working together, I think that helps," Buelt said. "But if there's a lot of stress and a lot of just pressure on people to perform, sometimes that breaks down and then people do end up pointing those fingers -- and that's part of what can make [database administration] not a fun job."
One way Buelt tries to foster better relationships in his role of IT director is by having people in different groups spend time together.
"We do a lot of team exercises where we'll have the developers go out to lunch with the DBAs," he said. "I now have three DBAs who report directly to me, and I would say they probably love their jobs too."