There are many sources of technical guidance for database administration, but sometimes the non-technical aspects are just as challenging. DBAs should be armed with a proper attitude as well as sufficient fortitude and knowledge before attempting to practice database administration. With that in mind, this month’s column offers some “life rules” to guide DBAs.
Rule #1: Write down everything. The wise DBA will always document the processes used to resolve problems and overcome challenges. Such documentation can be invaluable, should you encounter a similar problem in the future. It’s better to read your notes than to try to re-create a scenario from memory.
Rule #2: Keep everything. DBA is the perfect job for you if you’re a pack rat. It’s good practice to keep everything you come across during the course of performing your job.
Rule #3: Automate. Why should you do it by hand if you can automate DBA processes? Anything you can do probably can be done better by the computer if it’s programmed to do it properly. Once it’s automated, you save yourself valuable time and can tackle other problems.
Rule #4: Share your knowledge. The more you learn, the more you should try to share what you know with others. There are many vehicles for sharing your knowledge: local user groups, online forums, Web portals, magazines, blogs, Twitter, etc. Sharing your experiences helps encourage others to share theirs, so we can all benefit from each other’s best practices.
Rule #5: Focus your efforts. The DBA job is complex and spans many diverse technological and functional areas. It’s easy for a DBA to become overwhelmed with certain tasks, especially those not regularly performed. Understand the purpose for each task you’re going to perform and focus on performing the steps that will help you achieve that purpose. Don’t be persuaded to broaden the scope of work for individual tasks unless it can’t be avoided. Analyze, simplify, and focus. Only then will tasks become measurable and easier to achieve.
Rule #6: Don’t panic! There’s nothing you can do to eliminate every possible problem or error. Part of your job is to be able to calmly and analytically react to problems. When a database is down and applications are unavailable, your environment will become hectic and frazzled. The best thing you can do when problems occur is remain calm and go about your job using your knowledge and training.
Rule #7: Measure twice, cut once. Being prepared means analyzing, documenting, and testing your DBA policies and procedures. Creating simple procedures in a vacuum
without testing will do little to help you run an efficient database environment or prepare you to rapidly and effectively react to problem situations.
Rule #8: Understand the business. Remember that being technologically adept is just a part of being a good DBA. Technology is important but understanding your business needs is more important. If you don’t understand the business reasons and impact of the databases you manage, then you will simply be throwing technology around with no clear purpose.
Rule #9: Don’t be a hermit. Don’t be one of those “curmudgeon in the corner” DBAs who developers are afraid to approach. The more you are valued for your expertise and availability, the more valuable you are to your company. By learning what applications must do, you can better adjust and tune the databases to support the business.
Rule #10: Use all the resources at your disposal. Remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself. Many times others have already encountered and solved the problem that vexes you. Use your DBMS vendor’s technical support to help with particularly thorny problems. Use internal resources for areas where you have limited experience, such as network specialists for connectivity problems and system administrators for operating system and system software problems. Build a network of colleagues you can contact for assistance. Your network can be an invaluable resource and no one at your company even needs to know that you didn’t solve the problem yourself.
Rule #11: Keep current. Be sure you’re aware of all the features and functions available in the DBMSs in use at your site at least at a high level (and preferably in-depth). Read the vendor literature on future releases as it becomes available to prepare for new functionality before you install and migrate to new DBMS releases. The sooner you know about new bells and whistles, the better equipped you will be to prepare new procedures and adopt new policies to support the new features.
The job of the DBA is challenging, both from a technological and political perspective. Follow the rules of thumb presented here to increase your likelihood of achieving success as a DBA.