Friday, March 03, 2006


So you’ve been plugging away as a DBA for quite some time now. You feel that you are ready to take the next step. What do you need to learn to become a Senior DBA? The following roadmap can help you along the way.

Route #1: Read all of the documentation – The Oracle documentation is not always the easiest thing to read. Many times, you bounce from document to document just to make sense out of the whole thing. If the documentation were the best thing around, then there wouldn’t be a market for all of those Oracle books that you’ve got sitting on your bookshelf. But the documentation does contain information that is not found anywhere else. For instance, nowhere else will you find details of every single INIT.ORA parameter or V$ view. Books may make reference to a few of them, but the Oracle docs talk about all of them. I have yet to meet a very good Senior DBA who has not read the Oracle docs from top to bottom. This isn’t a coincidence. The Oracle docs are a must read. And when a new Oracle version hits the market, you will have to reread the docs again. You may have read the Oracle Concepts Guide twelve times by now. But when Oracle 10i is released, you will have to read it again. Any new concepts for the 10i release will be noted in the docs. If you truly want to get to the next level, read the docs. There is no escaping it.

Route #2: Become an expert – The Oracle database is a very complex beast. To get to the next level, you will need to master many components of the product. Start with backup and recovery. Become a backup and recovery expert. You do this by intentionally breaking the database and seeing how to recover it. Try to break the database in every possible way and see if recovery is possible. You will soon be able to know backup and recovery principles inside and out. After you have become an expert in backup and recovery, become an expert in another area. You will have endless subjects from which to choose to master. Keep this process up for your entire career. But keep in mind, no matter how much of an expert you become in a certain area, someone, somewhere knows more than you do. Don’t take this personally. Just try to learn as much as possible from that individual.

Route #3: Actively participate in newsgroups, forums, and user groups – Previously, I mentioned how the various newsgroups and forums are a great place to learn new things. Now is the time for you to take the next step and answer any questions that you can. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn in this process!

Route #4: Write white papers and present them – This is similar to the route mentioned above. First, it is important to share the information that you have learned. If your career has made it this far, then it is mostly likely due, in some part, on the contributions of others. So now is your time to contribute to the next person. Second, an amazing thing happens when you attempt to share your information. That information undergoes an amazing process in your brain when you attempt to formulate it into a clear, concise topic that others can use. This process solidifies the information for you that is not done with other methods. So sharing that information in white papers, at conferences, and in newsgroups and forums is a great way to learn and take your abilities to the next level. Along the way, you have to do two things. One, recognize that you will make mistakes. Others will be happy to point out those mistakes, sometimes in a manner that is not very nice. Don’t try to hide from your mistakes. Own up to them and learn from them. Two, learn to say that you don’t know the answer instead of trying to bluff your way through it. People will know when you are trying to pull the proverbial wool over their eyes. Simply tell them that you are unsure of the answer at this time, and you will get back to them when you know the answer. If you keep these two points in mind, your integrity will be intact and you will grow as an IT professional.

Route #5: Become an expert in Oracle troubleshooting – The Senior DBA is often the person who is looked towards to solve those complex Oracle issues. You will have to use all the skills at your disposal, which you have been building your entire career, to solve many of these issues. Everything I’ve mentioned above will be used to troubleshoot problems; documentation, books, newsgroups, test cases, and other DBAs will all become resources to assist you in solving problems.

Route #6: Become an expert in performance tuning – The Senior DBA is often the person who is looked towards to tune database and application performance. If you are the Senior DBA and you cannot analyze performance bottlenecks, then your company will look elsewhere for these services.

Route #7: Become an expert in capacity planning – The Senior DBA is often the person who is looked towards to plan for database capacity in terms of data growth and transaction growth. The Senior DBA needs to be able to spot capacity bottlenecks in the system before they severely impact application performance. For instance, the DBA should know that more disk space needs to be purchased long before the database runs out of available disk space. Not keeping an eye on capacity planning can lead to a downed production database.

Route #8: Keep an eye on newer technologies – The Senior DBA should have a good idea what is going on in the IT community as it relates to database technologies. Are there technologies available now that can help the database? For instance, learn the advantages and disadvantages of Storage Area Networks and how they apply to database system. Are there technologies that will be available in the near future, which can help us? For instance, at the time of writing this paper, Linux operating systems are becoming more and more popular. What does Linux have to offer you for your database OS platform? Will it work for your organization?


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