How To Become An Awesome DBA – 3 Skills I Learned From My DBA Mentors.

How To Become An Awesome DBA – 3 Skills I Learned From My DBA Mentors.

May 25, 2016 Off By dianarobete

There are many things to learn and skills to improve, in order to become an awesome DBA.

Today, I will share with you, the 3 most important things I learned from my mentors, that helped me be the DBA I am today.

Throughout the years I had multiple mentors in my career. Some of my mentors were real people, DBAs with more experience and knowledge than I, that I had the privilege to work with. Some of my mentors were authors of books I still dearly cherish. I do not know these people in person, however, I learned a lot from them too.

Imagine you are working as a DBA for years now, which DBA do you want to be?

1) First one in the office, last one to leave, working 10 hours a day, stressed out, afraid of the next thing to break.


2) Always on time in the morning, and on time to leave, happy and cheerful, confident and knowledgeable, looking forward to new challenges, relaxed.

Guess which one should you strive for?

Yes, it’s statement # 2.

Working on the following 3 skills on a daily basis, skills I learned from my mentors, will make you become a confident, knowledgeable, relaxed and happy DBA!

I don’t want to keep you waiting, here it’s what I learned from my mentors and I am going to share with you:

1. Read. Learn. Repeat.
2. Plan. Plan. And Plan Some More.
3. Document. Documentation Is Gold.

1. Read. Learn. Repeat.

In my very first DBA job, as a practicum student, my mentor taught me that no matter how busy your day, dedicate 15-30 minutes every day to learn something new related to your career. Be that reading an article from a blog post on self development, reading a few pages from an Oracle book, such as Christian Antognini‘s book Troubleshooting Oracle Performance, or Cary Millsap‘s book Optimizing Oracle Performance, or prepping for your OCP exam.

Being a DBA requires you to keep your skills up to date. Learning never stops.
Imagine the amount of new skills you can learn in today’s technology: Oracle 12c, Hadoop, SQL Server 2016, Unix, Oracle Golden Gate…
Imagine the amount of skills to sharpen: tuning skills, reading execution plans, improving backup and recovery, change management, documentation…

The list is never ending, the learning never stops.

Keeping sharp and learning new things will make you confident and knowledgeable.

2. Plan. Plan. And Plan Some More.

From another mentor I learned the importance of planning any type of deployment, be it a simple script deployment, to a more complicated change control, or a database/application upgrade.
The easiest and fastest part of a deployment is actually running the script in your production environment. You could be spending hours/days/weeks or even months on developing and testing a deployment plan, and the execution of such plan could take only a few minutes, or hours.

To better plan for any type of change, you need to have a high level understanding of how the applications work and connect to the database, of how the server and storage system work and their relation to the database.

When you understand how everything is related, coming up with a plan is easy.

What goes into planning?

The following list is only a subset of things to consider:

– in scope and out of scope items
– people involved in the deployment process
– deployment and rollback steps for each individual or team
– estimated timing information
– multiple deployment and rollback simulation
– user testing and user sign off
– change control if applicable and approvals

Planning will make you proactive, instead of always being in a reactive state to problems. Proper planning will also ensure successful deployment.

3. Document. Documentation Is Gold.

I learned the importance of documentation for the first time during my DBA training. Our wonderful teacher, emphasized the importance of documentation.
I am still surprised when I come across database sites with minimal or no documentation at all.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of documentation! Document everything. If you wonder whether you should document it or not, the answer is DOCUMENT.

I would consider 2 major categories for documentation:

Category 1: simple, daily task documentation, for work that you perform for a ticket

– changing passwords
– creating users
– extending data files
– fixing backup errors
– and other similar tasks.

For every single problem you work on, document the solution.
Treat each and every single task, as if it was audited. I always ask myself, what could I be questioned on, if I would have to explain my work.
Let me give you an example. You get a tablespace running out of space warning. Things I document for such a task are:

– prior to extending the data file: file name, size, max size, increment by, available space on disk
– extending the data file: the statement(s) I ran.
– after extending the data file: file name, size, max size, increment by, available space on disk

Category 2: documentation of your database, I call this “The DBA Handbook”.

The handbook includes all the information you need to run and administer your databases. The handbook is a living, breathing, constantly changing documentation of your site. You need to maintain the handbook with the changes that occur.
You add documents to your handbook as you come across new things.

What will your handbook include?

– database and server diagrams
– backup and restore procedures
– shutdown/startup procedures of databases and any application that you are in charge of
– user management procedures
– database security
– oncall instructions
– common errors and fixes
– performance problems and fixes

Having documentation will make you confident, ready to fight any problem!

Remember the 3 important things in becoming an AWESOME DBA: