Tuesday, June 07, 2005

How do you tell a good DBA?

I've seen many a DBA in my years it seems. I've done technical interviews over the phone and in person. I've been introduced to the DBA staff at many a client site, moving from cube to cube trying to remember names and faces (I'm terrible at names). As a consultant, it seems to me that it's very important to quickly size up the DBA's you will be working with. So, I ask the question, how do you tell a good DBA?

Now, as a consultant, I can't go around giving formal technical interviews. I am not sure this would go over that well....

Me: Hello Mr. X, I have to work with your group and I need to figure out who the good DBA's are and who the idiots are.

Not making friends there.... I kind of pondered on this, and I think I have a subjective set of criteria I use to make some rather rapid decisions. It's not perfect, but it works a good deal of the time:

1. How many books do they have, how worn are they, and WHAT books do they have?

No books, bad news. You are in a managers office.

If the cube is filled with a bunch of 10 year old C books on the book shelves that are dog-eared, but few if any Oracle books, I'm in trouble.

If the cube is filled with a bunch of new Oracle books on bookshelves that look like they have never been touched, you are probably in trouble.

If the cube is filled with only a few, well worn, carefully chosen titles on the bookshelf, you are probably in very good company (but beware, you might have a neat freek on your hands).

If the cube is filled with only a few, well worn, carefully chosen titles scattered all over the place, with paper hanging out of them, dog eared and well used, hey, this is a DBA I can work with!

If the cube is filled with only a few, well worn, carefully chosen titles scattered all over the place, with paper hanging out of them, dog eared and well used, and there are stacks of printed metalink notes, even better!

2. What does the DBA talk about when you meet him?
Ok, if the DBA spends more than 2 minutes talking hobbies or his last vacation.... all wonderful topics, when you sit down to talk, be worried.

If, after a couple of minutes the DBA says, "Hey my hit ratio is 98.9%, how do I make it 99%"... You might have a problem.

If, after a couple of minutes the DBA says, Hey, here is a document on all of our instances, he's probably a good DBA.

If, after a couple of minutes the DBA is demonstrating the HTMLDB application he made that interfaces with the Oracle SGA to produce performance reports without interfering with Oracle itself..... it's time to be scared of this DBA. :-)

3. What is the DBA's response to your request for access

If the DBA's response is: OK, I'll fill out the paperwork and it will take a week....

Well that just simply means you are working at a fortune 5000 company that will be going bankrupt in the next 10 years or so.

If the DBA's response is: Ok, normally it takes a week but I'll take it down and handle it myself so it's done today. This is a *good* DBA most likely, or he knows he's going to be able to shovel off his work on you. One of the two is probably true.

Just a few thoughts....

Robert

16 comments:

John Hurley said...

I have been on both sides and after doing the consulting gig for 7 years I am back in-house. What you have is a pretty good first cut and matches well against my own experience. As you partially noted much of how the interaction will go depends on how big the shop is, how political the situation is, whether you are working on a relatively long term project or fighting a fire. As far as books that I look to see including some of more recent ones well they better have Cary Millsap's Optimizing Oracle Performance, a Feuerstein book or 2, Practical Oracle8i by Jonathon Lewis, all of the Tom Kyte books, and the Robert Freeman RMAN book, and maybe some of the older Mike Ault books. Books that will (in my opinion) reflect negatively include any with the name of a certain East Coast author.

Anonymous said...

Item 3, seems kinda silly to use as a measure to judge a person whether they are good DBA or not. A companies policy (security wise) needs to control/manage outside consultants access to theirs systems. (Sometimes an HR rule). Annoying to us consultants, but smart for the resident DBA to follow.

As for number of books; worn out books. Come on ! That's how you judge a DBA? Perhaps his/her books are at home. Maybe they are smart DBA's and know that DBA information is on-line (like Oracle manuals) Besides, I once worked with a DBA who has 15 books in their cube. We called his cube "Borders". He was a "want to be a DBA". Skills wise, not very good at all and I think will never be a good DBA. (and he was not much for small talk either, therefore no hobby conversations....)

I think you can come up with better measures/observations to tell if someone is a "good" DBA.
Now, if they have Tom Kytes books in their cube, thats a good sign, but does not mean their a good DBA...yet. Seems you would know if they are a good DBA,say.. following an actual database analysis/overview of their systems. (And after you ask them DBA questions...see what their answers are.) and whats the shape of their backup and recovery...... Then you will know. Not because of your items 1, 2 and 3.

Robert G. Freeman said...

>> Item 3, seems kinda silly to use
>> as a measure to judge a person
>> whether they are good DBA or not.
Hmmmm... perhaps it was all meant to be silly? :-D

Robert G. Freeman said...

By the way Anonymous.... I think I figured out who you are (at least in this case). No need to hide unless you really want to. You are *welcome* here. If not, thats fine.... come anytime.

Anonymous said...

Well then. Let me be silly. Bad DBA's, if your reading this and Robert Freeman is coming to your site to observe you - Implement these 3 simple tasks.

1. Buy 8 to 10 "used", but recent Database books. (the more worn the better) Go to amazon.com for could deals and fill that cube!. Fold the corners of serveral pages and carefully place about 10 or so bookmarks per book. (replace the C books with C# and Java). Buy two RMAN books. (tell him the 2nd one is for a friend)

2. When you first meet Robert, only discuss SGA, latch contentions and RMAN commands and the latest Ault book. Please, no discussions on what you did over the weekend, or movies you just watched or feelings about Michael Jaskson trial. Stick with the Oracle jardon. and if tell him your hit ratio is 22% and life is just fine. Ask Robert '"whats your favorit RMAN command?". When he responds, say 'thats my favorite too ! wow, you and I think a like!" awesome !

3. When RF ask for access - give him the keys asap ! full access to your systems baby. ( and don't tell HR or the IT security group). Companies require time to process his access request? Tell him, I break the rules for you Mr. Freeeman.

But do plan to leave your company in 9 yrs, before it goes bankrupt in the 10th year.

Now that is silly :-^

Robert G. Freeman said...

Well, I don't generally go to observe, I generally go to work.... which requires access you see. I just never understood why a company who knows you've been comming for a month, and who is really needing to get the work done, get so caught up in red tape.

Where do I get a job as an observing DBA, sounds easy!

I do like the idea of buying 2 RMAN books, redundancy is a good thing... keep one at your backup site!

Now... I gotta pick myself off the floor. :-P

Anonymous said...

well. I have your RMAN book and its quite worn.
And I have bought for 2 friends last year.

Without it, 3 different (client site) recoverys would have been delayed.

Robert G. Freeman said...

That makes me happy. That is what I'm all about, helping others. Truly.

Don Burleson said...

Anonymous said:

"well. I have your RMAN book and its quite worn.
And I have bought for 2 friends last year."

Yes, they make a great gift. . .

The reality is that we get lots of calls from managers to evaluate their DBA’s. Managers don’t understand everything that a DBA does, and they often wonder-aloud if their DBA follows DBA best-practices, and they call-on Robert to evaluate them.

I’ve seen Robert in-action, and he has dozens (if not hundreds) of cues that he uses to size-up Oracle professionals. They don’t always make sense to the uninitiated, and there are loads of unobtrusive ways to know the real-deal from a poser.

For example, I sometimes ask DBA’s to name some of the folks who answer questions on MetaLink. . .

John Hurley said...

Don said something about naming people that answer questions on metalink. In the real world that I live in, the quality of support that I get from oracle is not at all optimal and neither are the answers. Most oracle professionals that I know use metalink as a last resort after doing as much leg work as they can themselves. It is the sad truth. Don's point or thought just is not real world in my opinion.

Robert G. Freeman said...

I think Metalink has it's place, but I admit that I use Google quite a bit more. The Google search engine is just so much better in my opinion.

With Metalink, I get tired of the "This is not a public bug" screen... you track a bug down, have these great expectations and boom, I gotta get with customer support and ask about the darned thing. I understand why this happens, but it doesn’t mean I gotta like it!

Also, they need a logout option in Metalink.... anyone else notice that one doesn’t seem to exist (if you know where it is, please tell me).

OTOH, once in a while, you find a real gem on Metalink that does not appear anywhere else. Doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

Niall said...

I entirely agree about the 'not publically accessible' bug screen - i just wish that non publically accessible bugs were unindexed (or indexed differently for oracle employees) so they didn't show up on the results (or i'm about to log a tar see if there is anything relevant) screen in the first place. if you can't show me the data, don't show me the search result.

Peter K said...

If the cube is filled with only a few, well worn, carefully chosen titles scattered all over the place, with paper hanging out of them, dog eared and well used, and there are stacks of printed metalink notes, even better!
Hahah...there are always exceptions. One of my DBA has a junkpile of a cube with printouts (years and years worth) and books and while he might be technically competent (barely), he's not a good DBA. Why? He doesn't ask Why or How nor was he interested in others' opinions.

Jeff Hunter said...

For example, I sometimes ask DBA’s to name some of the folks who answer questions on MetaLink. . .
what can I say?

1. How many books do they have, how worn are they, and WHAT books do they have?
I'll have to admit, I've got several books from version 7 & 8 still on the bookshelf. Maybe they rarely get used, but I have a philosophical problem with throwing out books.

3. What is the DBA's response to your request for access
How about "Oh, just use 'connect internal'"?

Anonymous said...

For example, I sometimes ask DBA’s to name some of the folks who answer questions on MetaLink. . .


And if they answer "well, should I count myself?" is that good or bad?

oregano said...

What about the dog-eared books I use to prop up my monitor?

 
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