Watch your step! Don’t become a DBA-hole

No, I’m not discouraging anyone from being a DBA. I’m just discouraging DBAs from being A-holes.

DBAs (and IT folk in general) have a terrible reputation for being curmudgeons, jerks, and a-holes. These guys exist, and working with them is a miserable experience–but they’re a minority. Unfortunately, they are a memorable minority and they give the rest of us a bad name.

DBAs are charged with watching over the data. It’s our job to make sure the data stays safe, secure, and highly-available. It’s a balancing act. You need to make sure the data is always there when people need it to do their job. You also need to make sure the data is never there for people who oughtn’t get to it.

I often see folks claiming authority and issuing edicts to accomplish their goal of protecting data. The problem is that authority is something you earn; it’s not something you claim. You have to have the experience and knowledge. You have to demonstrate, through your actions and outcomes, that you know what you’re doing. You have to earn the respect of your peers and coworkers. That’s how you become an authority.

Sometimes, people will question your authority. They’ll question your decisions. Don’t let it get to you. Use your experience to justify your decisions and authority. Instead of getting defensive, get logical. If you engage in thoughtful debate based on facts (and not emotions!), you’ll probably come to the right conclusion. You might even come to the conclusion that you’re wrong–and that’s OK. You’ll earn more respect and gain more authority by admitting you’re wrong and learning from it than if you close your eyes and try to be right all the time. Even the best, smartest people are wrong sometimes.

You can enforce the rules and be a pleasant person, too. It can be tough. Rules mean telling people no. Rules mean making decisions that might make some people unhappy. Rules mean choosing between options with no single “right” choice.

Rules are there to accomplish a goal, to make the big picture work, to be successful. If your rules are well-crafted, you’ll be able to explain them and people will understand (even if they don’t like it). If you are willing to change the rules, to question your own rules, you’ll be able to enforce them and still offer great customer service. You can be an authoritarian and still be likable.

I’ll say it again–it can be tough. It’s not easy. But it’s possible.

If your rules aren’t well-crafted, or you can’t explain them, people won’t understand. That’s when you become a DB-A-hole.


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  1. Speaking at SQL Saturday #470 in DC - Andy M Mallon - AM²

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