The Makings of a Great DBA Team

As I’ve spent two “tours of duty” as a Lead DBA in my career, I often keep in mind what makes a great DBA team, noting both when companies realize what it takes and when they don’t. I’ve watched great DBA’s walk out the door because during the interview process someone decided the candidate didn’t have the EXACT skills of another DBA or they just weren’t sure what they were looking for due to the fact that the DBA role can have such a wide range of skill demands when the manager really needed to look at what skill were ALREADY in place in the company with the existing Database Administrators.

My new manager, like my previous one, deserves a lot of credit, when it comes to building a solid DBA team. He noticed the value of having different skill sets in the wide demanding arena of database administration and supports us well. Many managers do not see this value, hiring on the idea that all DBA’s are the same and that they should be able to do all the same work vs. complimenting. Even though our main support is the same database administration tasks, we each specialize in different areas and are allowed to develop our stronger gifts in the areas that benefit the company as a whole.

I’m currently working with a DBA that I worked with at a previous company for almost 2 years. The DBA, Terry is one of these guys that is solid as a rock, nothing phasing him, (I swear the building could be on fire, which when you announced it to him frantically, he’d simply look at you and say, “Oh…really…OK, well I’ll get my stuff then…” :)) He’s methodical, old-fashioned DBA that has incredibly strong development skills, but very quiet and keeps to himself.

This is a strong contrast to yours truly, who is all about the database, operations and performance tuning vs. development, all-over the board, multi-tasking 80 different tasks at once and is like Martha Stewart on acid. I’m quite out-spoken and even our new manager joked that in my interview, I said more than Terry had in two months of employment!

Although I can’t speak for Terry, (and yet many times do without even trying..:)) I’ve always felt he was a perfect balance for my working style. We actually compliment each other well and with our different personalities, we are able to appeal to different user’s needs in a DBA.

Technically, I don’t know how often I have frantically solved 90% of a problem, having 90% of the “picture” per say and I know I’m missing something, but just can’t figure it out. Having done all this leg work, it is a simple task to take my picture, that if we were to correlate it to a puzzle, I have stripes and a tail, so I’m thinking I’ve got a Tiger- take all this info to Terry and he having a complete different outlook on the database, is able to pick up where I left off, work in his steady, methodical way and come up with the last 10%.
Surprising how often my tiger ends up being a zebra, BTW… 🙂
I appreciate this in Terry- that he knows I sometimes think so fast, so furiously, figure out so much, that I’ve simply overlooked a simple, but absolutely essential piece that needed his eyes to locate, (otherwise I will sit there for hours going in circles!) Sometimes I feel stupid afterwards for not figuring out the last 10%, but most have to admit, having me do the amount of work that I can in a short amount of time and then have Terry come in and put a nice bow on and complete it? Not too shabby…:)

This is where we come back to what makes a great DBA team. It’s rarely that the best team have the same skills, but how their skills complement each other and balance out the other’s weaknesses. I believe Terry and I learn from each other consistently, yet don’t have the same interests in database administration and are happy to separate the environments by these interests, yet you know you can undoubtedly count on the other- the level of commitment is the same.

Although Terry and I were the only DBA’s at our previous company, there is a third DBA at our current one. Sanjay’s last day is on Friday and he will be departing for a position that he felt was a better fit for his stage in his career and commute, but I am sad to see him leave. This man has the best attitude and I’ll take attitude anyday, but he has the skills to go with it. His knowledge of physical design and hardware will surely be missed and I wish I would have had more opportunity to work with him. We had excellent conversations regarding the cost based optimizer, database design and other areas that I specialized in and he had a sincere interest in learning more about. As Terry and I already had a comfortable partnership, the one we had with Sanjay was just starting to build, but with respect has to come respect with decision and I do respect his to leave.

What I hope can be gleamed from this post, (or semi-rant/praise, whatever you wish to tag it as…) is that database administration is an incredibly involved and demanding arena. Rarely will you find a DBA that covers the entire venue and/or covers it well, so diversifying your group is essential. Choose DBA’s that have differing specialties with a solid foundation of database administration skills and similar commitments to each other. Diversity is the key to strength in your DBA team!

Author: Kellyn Pot'Vin

Comments Closed

  • jwittenm

    Bravo. I have been fortunate to work for exactly one such person in my career. Someone who understands what a team is and how to build it and lead it. It makes a world of difference regarding the success of the individuals, the team, and ultimately, the business.

  • jerm99999

    Finally someone else gets it. Top skills and experience are great things to have but the person needs to compliment the rest of your staff. They also have to be hungry. I always preferred to hire fresh graduates with less hands on experience but instead have the drive and hunger to learn and excel. Raising your own DBAs can be a fun challenge. Sadly senior management doesn’t always go along with your ideas.

  • DBAkevlar

    Thank you and I think we may have an opportunity in the near future. We’re about to have 1.4 million jobs in tech and no where enough qualified people to fill those roles. In hoping, like me, they’ll reach out to those with the knack and train them in the position instead of just looking for CS degrees that can’t trouble shoot their way out of a paper bag. 🙂