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Tony Davis is an Editor with Red Gate Software, based in Cambridge (UK), specializing in databases, and especially SQL Server. He edits articles and writes editorials for both the Simple-talk.com and SQLServerCentral.com websites and newsletters, with a combined audience of over 1.5 million subscribers. You can sample his short-form writing at either his Simple-Talk.com blog or his SQLServerCentral.com author page. As the editor behind most of the SQL Server books published by Red Gate, he spends much of his time helping others express what they know about SQL Server. He is also the lead author of the book, SQL Server Transaction Log Management. In his spare time, he enjoys running, football, contemporary fiction and real ale.

IT Admin for Thrill Seekers

Published 27 April 2012 11:01 am

A developer suggested to me recently that the life of the DBA was, surely, a dull one. My first reaction was indignation, but quickly followed by the thought that for many people excitement isn’t necessarily the most desirable aspect of their job.

It’s true that some aspects of the DBA role seem guaranteed to quieten the pulse; in the days of tape backups, time must have slowed to eternity for the person whose job it was to oversee this process, placing tapes into secure containers, ensuring correct labeling, and.sorry, I drifted off there for a second. On the other hand, if you follow the adventures of the likes of Brent Ozar or Tom LaRock, you’d be forgiven for thinking that much of a database guy’s time is spent, metaphorically, diving through plate glass windows in tight fitting underwear in order to extract grateful occupants from burning database applications.

Alas it isn’t true of the majority, but it isn’t as dull as some people imagine, and is a helter-skelter ride compared with some other IT roles. Every IT department has people who toil away in shadowy corners doing quiet but mysterious tasks. When you ask them to explain what they do, you almost immediately want them to stop, but you hear enough to appreciate that these tasks are often absolutely vital to the smooth functioning of an IT organization. Compared with them, the DBAs are prima donnas.

Here are a few nominations:

  • Installation engineer – install all of the company’s laptops and workstations, and software, deal with licensing, shipping and data entry.many organizations, especially those subject to tight regulation, would simply grind to a halt without their efforts.
  • Localization engineer – Not quite software engineering, not quite translation, the job is to rebuild a product in a different language and make sure everything still works.
  • QA Tester – firstly, I should say that the testers at Red Gate seem to me some of the most-fulfilled in the company. I refer here to the QA Tester whose job is more-or-less entirely to read a script, click some buttons and make sure the actual and expected values match.
  • Configuration manager – for example, someone whose main job is to configure build environments so that devs can access their source code; assuredly necessary for the smooth functioning and productivity of the team, and hopefully well-paid.

So what other sort of job in IT should one choose if the work of a DBA proves to be too exciting? Or are these roles secretly more exciting than many imagine? I invite you all to put forward your own suggestions.

Cheers,
Tony.

5 Responses to “IT Admin for Thrill Seekers”

  1. nick harrison says:

    The only job that is really for the thrill seeker is Production Support. When you are in an environment where production is down and a department is bleeding revenue until it come back, and it is your responsibility to get it back up, then you are the hero diving through plate glass windows in tight fitting underwear to save the day.

    All other jobs are fairly boring, but can be made exciting.

    If you are the DBA who moves a table space from disk to another disk increasing throughput under load, that can be exciting.

    If you are an Installation Engineer who buids a powershell script to completely automate locking down a laptop image that will be deployed to every sales person in the field, that can be exciting.

    If you are the Localization engineer who discovered that a common abbreviation has an obscene slang meaning in a new market in time to avert a PR nightmare, that can be exciting.

    If you are the QA Engineer who discovered a security vulnerability in the new quarterly update before the update is deployed to 400 remote users, that can be exciting.

    If you are the configuration manager who gets to work out and automate the processes to accommodate concurrent multi version development, that can be exciting.

    Of course, if the right people are not in the right place, then everyone’s job gets a little bit more exciting and interesting.

    Imagine if the application has to be redesigned because the system cannot handle the load or company growth is impeded because properly configured laptops cannot be deployed quickly or worse misconfigured laptops are deployed all too quickly.

    Imagine if everyone is left scrambling to rebrand the application because the offensive abbreviation is not found in time or the security vulnerability is not found and is actually exploited in the wild.

    With the right people in the right jobs and excelling at them, maybe we can all avoid the unnecessary excitements and get our thrills from the satisfaction of a job well done.

  2. timothyawiseman@gmail.com says:

    Leon Battista Alberti said “No art, however minor, requires less than total dedication if you want to excel in it.”

    Some jobs do not permit anyone to excel in them becuase they value predictability over quality and want the worker to be little more than a cog in the machine. In such jobs, it is hard to find excitement on any regular basis. However, that is certainly not true of all DBAs and I think it is not true of all of the jobs on your shoft list either.

    Any job which requires any element of creativity, art, or leaves room open for exploration and a celebration of quality work rather than merely consistent work can hold a great deal of excitement for those who truly seek to master it.

  3. Keith Rowley says:

    I agree with Timothy,
    “Any job which requires any element of creativity, art, or leaves room open for exploration and a celebration of quality work rather than merely consistent work can hold a great deal of excitement for those who truly seek to master it.”

    I love the creativity I get to use as a DBA, but then I am as much a database programmer as a DBA so that might be part of it.

  4. SergioE says:

    Hi, mi little grain of sand is tha the job of make the help files and the manual is one of the most boring tasks, I’m not sure if I’m ok with the english word, I believe the role is Documenter.

    I’ve done in the past a little of all the 6 roles for a small company for a medium project: dba, installation, localization, qa, configuration, and documenter; and the most boring of all was for me the documenter one.

  5. carlaAbanes says:

    what would be exciting for me is production support of sql data center…wish i could be one of those guys someday.

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