Blogging at SQLPerformance.com

I am honored to be a Guest Blogger at SQLPerformance.com. As a member of the SentryOne Product Advisory Council (PAC) I will be writing occasionally for the site. You can catch my first blog post It’s Not You It’s Me (I/O Troubleshooting) through simple changes.

SQLPerformance.com is about providing innovative and practical solutions for improving SQL Server performance. Whether you are running a 3rd party application database where very little can be changed, or you are a DBA at a site where getting the application developers to change anything is next to impossible, they cover both the “how” and the “why.”

The Shield

small shieldHow many of you are known as the “Grumpy DBA” or have a bad reputation with users because you are always saying no or they have to wait? I know many DBAs that have this reputation. To avoid this, I use my manager as a shield and suggest you do too. As a Lone DBA, with an extremely full plate, I learned that having that shield is necessary. It prevents me from being seen as the bad guy and protects me from work overload.

We all experience what I call, “Drive Bys”, when people are asking for stuff on the fly. Telling someone “No” while they are waiting in your office can be hard to do and can reflect poorly on you.  So how do you avoid that? While you probably cannot prevent the drive by, you can however; fix the perception the user has as they walk away. When drive bys occur I take time to listen to the user’s needs, let them know I will look into it, and then follow up with my manager without giving a yes or no to the work.  I’ve found this to be not only the best way to keep from becoming a “Yes Man” and trying to fulfill every request, but also keeps me from having to say no.

Using your manager as a shield puts management of the workload on their shoulders instead of your own.  This, in turn, keeps them apprised of the work load, and prevents your plate from getting too full without negative user perception.  My manager has no issues saying no to users or prioritizing requests appropriately.  Doing this removes you from being the bad guy and prevents the opinion that the user’s needs aren’t important to you.

The key to maintaining a healthy user relationship is to make sure their needs are heard and you are doing your best to give them what they need to be effective at their jobs. It’s easy to become the Grumpy DBA when you’re forced to be the nay sayer. With my shield in place, I can tell the users that I passed the request along and their work is being prioritized. If they have any questions they can follow up with my manager to see where their request stands.

So far this works well for me, as a Lone DBA, and has become vital in preventing me from becoming over worked, over whelmed, and burnt out.  If you don’t already have a shield in place, I would recommend talking to your manager and seeing if you can work towards one.

Good luck!

Admit You Can’t Do Everything

As most of you know, I have been a Lone DBA for 15+ years and during that time I have learned a thing or two about how to survive on my own in relatively large environments.  One of those things is knowing when to admit you cannot do it all.  Working alone on 56 servers you can imagine how the workload can seem insurmountable.  There are times when in one week I will do 70+ tasks, not including project work and daily monitoring.  To manage and get this type of workload accomplish you have to learn to work smarter not harder. That’s when you have to enlist help and hire consultants.

But I am Afraid

Many people think that hiring consultants is admitting you are incapable of doing your job. Some think that if you hire consultants, it opens the door for the company to think that they may not need an “in house” DBA. It may lead them to just hire a consulting company to do the work. At the last company I worked for employees frowned and complained every time a consultant was brought in for anything.  Some even refused to share knowledge hoping to protect their jobs somehow.   I think this is nonsense.  You shouldn’t worry about being replaced by consultants.  A consultant only has superficial knowledge of the company.  You are the one that knows the whys, how’s, and understand the needs of the business.  The consultants don’t.  Don’t let it scare you.

Free Up Your Time

The biggest opponent I have to contend with as a Lone DBA is time. I have no time; every minute of my work day is used.  My world is all about prioritizing what needs to get done. Sometimes there is just not enough time in the day.  Hiring a consultant doesn’t mean you can’t do the work; it means you are managing your work load.

I hire consultants from time to time to free up my plate and cover some of the workload so I am able to focus on higher priorities. At times, I use them to do the normal redundant or routine admin work, little things that add up to a lot of time in a week.  On other occasions, I admittedly give them stuff I don’t want to do, or get tired of doing (but if you know me, I never really get “tired” of doing anything DBA related, I am just proving a point).  I will also give them the big projects that take too much time. Time is invaluable. For example, I may need to build a new cube. That as you may know, takes a lot of time. I know how to build and design cubes, but why should I spend hundreds of hours working on that when I can farm that out?

Do You Want to Take Vacation Ever?

Vacation, what’s that? Most DBA’s can take vacation without having to do work, because there is someone to cover and share your responsibilities. When it’s just you; you take work on vacation with you. One of the best benefits of hiring a consultant or a DBA service is to be able to leave that work load at work and take a real vacation. It took me years to realize this. I took my first vacation without work just earlier this year, it was wonderful to hand the reins over for a week and not have to worry about it.

Gotachas

However, there are a few gotchas to admitting you can’t do everything and hiring a consultant. One of the main one for me is giving up what you like to do. I love the core DBA stuff; turning that over to someone else to do is not easy for me. Relinquishing that can be very tough.  I also find that having to spend time hand holding the consultant is another gotcha. Consultants do not know the ins and outs of your environment. Getting them started on a project can take time away from you but in the end it’s worth it.

Embrace It

The moral of the story is I think it’s hugely important to admit to yourself that you can’t do it all. It took years for me to realize that I don’t have to do it all.  If you are juggling a workload for many when you are just one consider hiring help. You’ll thank me for it.