10 Things Every DBA Needs to Do That Have Nothing to Do With Databases

The average Oracle DBA is very technically focused and up-to-date on the new products and features that arrive every few months and the new patches that come every few days. DBAs also work at the crossroads of various disciplines and departments—dealing with programming/data, hardware/software/network, functional expertise, licensing/IT finance, and security/HA/DR/etc. However, while DBAs are highly skilled at the technical aspects of their jobs, there are important non-technical capabilities that they should also master.

During the Quest Forum Digital Event: Database & Tech Week, Gary Gordhamer, managing principal consultant at Viscosity North America, presented 10 things that all DBAs need to do to excel in their roles and that have nothing to do with databases.

How DBAs Can Excel

Gordhamer has 28 years of IT experience and 27 years of experience with Oracle—ranging from 6x up to 19c. He has also worked in a variety of industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, utilities, banking, and printing. Through all of those years of experience, Gordhamer has picked up some important lessons for DBAs.

Gordhamer has worked with hundreds of DBAs throughout his years of experience. He has mentored many young DBAs and has also been mentored by many senior DBAs. According to Gordhamer, these 10 traits will help DBAs increase their

technical abilities—or at least increase the perception of their technical abilities.

Here are the 10 traits:

  1. Getting things in writing
  2. Taking notes and saving everything
  3. Improving writing skills
  4. Being process-oriented
  5. Leading people to the answer
  6. Speaking and communicating clearly
  7. Understanding that while psychomotor learning is desired, cognitive learning is the reality
  8. Asking questions
  9. Doing what you say you will do
  10. Realizing that positive things come from saying no

The first helpful trait is getting things in writing. Generally, DBAs work in environments with people who are mostly in different groups (DBAs, developers, project managers, applications owners, and users), so communication needs to be clear and concise with no room for interpretation. Having documentation of what work is supposed to be done and proof that it was done correctly are examples of items that need to be put in writing.

The second tip is to take notes and save everything. Save items such as My Oracle Support notes, links to blogs, technical white papers, terminal output from changes, alert logs, and OS message files. You have almost unlimited storage at your disposal along with powerful search mechanisms. With the technology today, you don’t have to worry very much about organization because you have the search option. Some examples of times to take notes might include when you are making a change, working on an issue or incident, planning for a change, discussing options, or researching. You want to capture screen captures, HTML pages, PDF reports, and text information. Gordhamer also mentioned that if you are going to run more than one command, then you should make a script out of it and

document the commands you will run or did run. With desktop search, you can use almost anything, from basic tools to web tools. You can also utilize collaborative tools such as Git, Bitbucket, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Google Docs, and SharePoint.

Improving Writing and Other Skills

The third trait that DBAs should embrace is improving their writing skills. Are you getting your point across? Written communication is very prevalent, and it is important to remember who, what, where, when, why, and how. Always reread an email before you send it. It is beneficial to consider a second point of view, add back words you may have thought were redundant, and remove words that are truly redundant.

The fourth trait is to be process-oriented. Ask yourself questions such as these:

  • What am I doing?
  • What is my goal?
  • If someone else was going to do this, what would they need to know?
  • What if something goes wrong?
  • What is needed?
  • What outside of my domain is needed?

The fifth tip is to lead people to the answer. You will work with many people of varying backgrounds. You may have seen a situation or problem before, but it may be new to many others. Persuasion is not typically just you telling someone else what to do. Most people have to arrive at the answer themselves. It is helpful to listen, provide feedback, repeat their answer, restate the question, and ask probing questions.

Communicating Clearly

The sixth trait DBAs should have is speaking and communicating clearly. People only know you by what you say or what you do. In IT, people will probably hear more of what you say than see what you do. Speak clearly and to the point and do not omit information. If you need a moment to collect your thoughts, just say that. State your goals and objectives, if needed, and remember that intentions can be easily mistaken. Poor communication can lead to poor professional relationships. It is important to know your audience and adjust your presentation and style accordingly. Learn to summarize and be concise when communicating to upper management. Be detail-oriented when communicating to peers.

The seventh note is learning that psychomotor learning is desired, but cognitive learning is the reality. Everyone wants psychomotor, or hands-on, learning and access to full systems, but that isn’t realistic. The fact is that you can’t try everything, and you need to read documents, envision the outcomes, and utilize cognitive learning. Learn to see how a system will react.

The eighth tip is to ask questions. When engaging the customer, don’t just ask, “What?” but ask, “Why?” as well. When acting as a gatekeeper, don’t assume anything. Remember to trust but to verify. Gordhamer gave several recommendations for ways to be an active listener. Repeat back what you heard and ask if it was correct. When you give feedback, phrase it in your words and how you understood it. Add your questions and expand on the assumptions. Create a dialogue even if there is no one to start it with. Open the door for the other person to change their mind and never back them into a corner.

Follow Through

The ninth skill is to do what you say you will do. Never lie—whether intentionally or unintentionally. If you don’t know how to do something, don’t pretend you do. If you are willing to learn or want to learn to do something, then say so. If you need to do research or need to plan something out, then say so. The quantity of things you promise versus the quantity of things that you complete should always be the same.

The tenth and final tip is about saying no and how positive things can come from saying no. For some reason, it is frequently the job of the DBA to say no, but saying no can lead to good outcomes such as finding new ways to do things, discovering new opportunities, and protecting your organization.

These 10 traits can help DBAs increase their technical abilities and become overall more efficient and effective in their role. To hear more about these vital DBA traits, check out Gordhamer’s presentation from Quest Forum Digital Event: Database & Tech Week.