20 January 2011

What Counts for a DBA: Passion

One of my first questions, when interviewing for a DBA/Programmer position, is always: “Why do you want this job?” The answers I receive range from cheesy hyperbole (“I want to enhance your services with my vast knowledge”) to deadpan realism (“I have N kids who all have a hole in the front of their face where food goes”). Both answers are fine in their own way, at least displaying some self-confidence, humour and honesty, but once in a while, I’ll hear the answer that is music to me ears…

I LOVE DATABASES!

Whenever I hear it, my nerves tingle in hopeful anticipation; have I found someone for whom working with database isn’t just a job, but a passion? Inevitably, I’m often disappointed. What initially seemed like passion turns out to be rather shallow enthusiasm; the person is enthusiastic about working with databases in the same way he or she might be about eating a bag of Cajun spiced kettle chips; enjoyable, but not something to think about too deeply or take too seriously.

Enthusiasm comes, and enthusiasm goes. I’ve seen countless technical forum users burst onto the scene in a blaze of frantic question-answering, only to fade away within days, never to be heard from again. Passion, however, is more of a longstanding commitment. The biographies of the great technologists and authors of the recent past are full of the sort of passion and engrossment that lead a person to write a novel non-stop for a fortnight with no sleep and only dog food to eat (Philip K. Dick), or refuse to leave the works of the first tunnel under the Thames, even though it was flooded (Brunel).

In a similar (though more modest) way, my passion for working with databases has led me to acts that might cause someone for whom it was “just a job” to roll their eyes in disbelief. Most evenings you’re more likely to find me reading a database book than watching TV. I’ve spent hundreds of hours of my spare time writing blogs and articles (some of which are only read by tens of people); I’ve spent hundreds of dollars travelling to conferences, paying my own flight and hotel expenses, so that I can share a little of what I know, and mix with some like-minded people. And I know I’m far from alone in this, in the SQL Server community.

Passion isn’t everything, of course, and it isn’t always accompanied by any great skill, but in almost every case, that skill can be cultivated over time. If you are doing what you are passionate about, work turns into more than just a way to feed your kids; it becomes your hobby, entertainment, and preoccupation. And it is this passion that gives a DBA the obsessive stubbornness, the refusal to be beaten by even the most difficult problem, which is often so crucial.

A final word of warning though: passion without limits can turn weird. Never let it get in the way of your wife, kids, bills, or personal hygiene.

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Louis Davidson

View all articles by Louis Davidson