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2 Jun 2016

What makes a good DBA

We DBAs are a funny old bunch (“Really?!?” I hear you cry – Yes! Really!) – I’m sure we can seem to the untrained outsider somewhat Forest Gumpy (box of chocolates and all that).  There are many conflicting traits that could be considered beneficial for a DBA to have – although a lot of the time these can be quite paradoxical traits and ultimately it’s hard for a DBA to know HOW to act (is it any wonder that a great deal of us seem to have personality disorders?).

Approachable Techie

For example – A DBA must be technically clever. Of course! Databases are complex pieces of software and are ever evolving with new features and all sorts of complicated mechanisms of working.  However, a DBA must also be human enough (as opposed to android) to translate the complex nature of databases to those uninitiated people such as users – no mean feat!

Cooperative Control Freak

Your data is of ultimate importance to your business – so, a DBA must be paranoid in their approach to protecting the database – they shouldn’t let ANYTHING jeopardise the valuable data. However, someone who is paranoid can come across very negative or lacking in confidence – this can be a big turn off to users and managers!

Balanced Achiever

DBA needs to have patience. It’s common for a DBA to need to prove their working via experimentation before being let loose on production systems- a task that can often be trying and seem unnecessary, but, often absolutely vital to take proper precautions before releasing fixes to live environments. Still, sometimes in the interests of getting things done, the DBA also needs to be assertive when the time comes, to force the issue through so as not to allow for unnecessary delays in correcting faults.

Practical Ground Breaker

DBA needs to be imaginative – yes, we need a DBA that comes up with great new ideas, innovative solutions to problems and inventive ways of working. However, a DBA also needs to know when to be boring – i.e. when to just go with the tried and tested “easy fix”.

Modest Businessman

In the light of all this – I would have to say that the two greatest facets a DBA can have are those of pragmatism and humility.  Pragmatism to know how to balance and taper their approach to a particular scenario – as described above situations can require quite conflicting stances.  Also, given the minefield of issues and situations – not least to say that we are often dealing with business critical issues that have a habit of raising emotions. It is therefore vital for a DBA to have humility to understand that they won’t always get it right, that sometimes a better idea will come along and not to take this too much to heart.

How a DBA can keep moving with the times?

I’ve recently read a number of articles about the future of the DBA role in the new world of Cloud ComputingBi-Modal IT and whatever else you want to call it.  Ultimately there is a whole host of worry mongering going on about what happens to DBAs when all DBA work is automated by some whizzy piece of software that does it all for you.

Yes, I agree that some of the day-to-day tasks of the DBA will diminish – a lot of this is being automated, or at least set up in such a way that it can be easily managed via Enterprise Manager or some other GUI based tool that all but makes the DBA “day job” redundant. However, there is a lot more to it than that.

Understanding and Dependability

Integration will play a huge part in IT going forward – It does seem strange saying that since when I started in IT around 15 years ago – it was a key business driver to diversify solutions such that single points of failure could be eliminated! Seems we have come full circle!  Anyway, cloud systems are all well and good – but they all have to integrate with one another, single sign on solutions, reporting solutions, data warehousing solutions – these things will not simply disappear in the new world and they all need to talk to one another and play nicely together. DBAs are quite unique in that their knowledge stretches across pretty much all areas of IT systems (from hardware, to networking, to operating systems, to databases, to applications and to user experience).  Who else is better to talk to about architecting a solution to integrate IT solutions than our friendly neighbourhood DBA?

Trust and Security

Also security – these systems all integrated together – they need to remain secure. Again, the DBA already knows about data security, already knows about how the systems are plugged together and hence knows about the entry/exit points which makes them ideally placed to keep a handle on system security.


In addition to all this – the same “complicated” activities that DBAs perform will still be there – performance tuning for one. Whilst systems in the cloud are designed to be a “one size fits all” – and as such the database and applications are tuned for that solution (think of how well games run on a dedicated PlayStation machine as opposed to a PC – it’s been written and optimised for PlayStation hardware!) – there are always going be certain customers that have customisations and specific requirements. Also, Oracle are now allowing “in house” cloud builds on Exalogic hardware – how long before this restriction is lifted and you can have “in house” cloud on anything?  Who, then will be tuning your systems?

Why DBA’s are a necessary asset

I see the model we have here at Claremont working very well in this brave new world – given the lack of necessity to have DBAs performing much of the day to day “grunt work” of a DBA. It may be financially unnecessary for many Oracle houses to employ dedicated DBAs, yet there is still a requirement for consultation on subjects such as integration, security, performance and more (these are just the examples I used here). A managed service with Claremont could be just the ticket – regular systems health checks, regular access to trained, experienced professionals with all the personality disorders you would expect from a DBA on your side.

So whilst there is a lot of scare mongering going on in the world of the DBA – I see this not as a situation where a DBA should be worried about the future, but one where the DBA Is actually encouraged by the future.  There’s a lot of exciting things happening, and actually the likelihood is that the DBA job will evolve in such a way as to remove the tedious boring maintenance stuff and become a more pure technically challenging world.

The future is bright! The future is Claremont DBAs!

Mike Sowerbutts

Mike Sowerbutts

Managing Consultant

Mike is responsible for Claremont’s DBA delivery function across both Consultancy and Managed Services practices.In addition, he is responsible for the maintenance and enhancement of Claremont’s internal IT infrastructure.