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Talking about best practices and attitudes – Solving the daily basis DBAs problems - Part 3

This article contains a discussion regarding the alternatives to solve specific problems found in a DBAs normal day at work.


Every professional that work with databases such as a programmer, a DBA, a system administrator or an analyst should have the ability to solve unexpected problems that appears during a normal day at work. This ability, also known as troubleshooting, is very important to maintain the computing system and applications up and running in order to support the enterprise business.

Based in this scenario, this article presents a discussion regarding the attitudes that can be taken when an unexpected problem arises in the database during normal daily operations. This discussion is presented in the format of questions and possible alternatives that should be chosen in order to solve the proposed problematic situation. The alternatives available focus on operational aspects, behavioral actions and technical procedures needed to solve the issue.

To know the best option among many in problematic situation is one of most important and appreciated skills that IT professionals should have specially when working with databases and mission critical applications. The benefits of having these skills include the trustworthy of the professional, the gain of advanced technical knowledge, the feasibility to justify the purchase of new resources and also autonomy to work alone without constant supervision.

In this third and last part of the article the last five situations as discussed with the alternatives presented sowing what is the best attitude given the context in which the DBA must handle the unexpected problems.

Commentaries about the situations

Commentaries about situation 6: This situation contain three common and important characteristics: 1) The notification of an urgent problem by means of a note without a negotiable deadline for the fix; 2) The avoid of responsibility by the development team; and 3) The load put in the DBA shoulder to solve this problem until a specific time. Unfortunately many corporation notes and formal communications still contain these three characteristics when a message is leaved of top of the DBA's desk or in an e-mail sent.  Some new professionals may panic upon receiving this type of message which complicates even more the situation.

The DBA that choose the a alternative resembles that firefighter that always complains about the low budget of the corporation while the house is consumed by the fire. Who choose the b alternative represents the profile of the professional that always thinks he/she is the victim and look for excuses to blame something or someone else instead of start working. Those who choose the c alternative represent the type of professional that forgot some operational details and focus on technical aspects only. The d alternative is the most recommended course of actions after the reading of the note and can be complemented by the technical steps presented in the alternative c that will lead the DBA to the correct solution for this situation.

Commentaries about situation 7: Every professional that work with databases will someday encounter situations like this: a simple and small mistake will create a big problem that produce a giant headache and demand several hours of work. The situation 7 discuss about how to behave in the type of meeting called lesions learned usually conducted after a big problem is solved. In this type of meeting we can really see if the DBA follow the good professional's principles or if he/she do anything to not loose his/her job position.

The a alternative is used by many professionals and it shows that the professional is trying to abstain and avoid punishment for its actions. Unfortunately when we are working with big databases and critical process that can change the overall economic status of the company we don't have second chances. However, in situations like this the honesty is the right approach and should be chosen instead of fawn over.

The b alternative presents a desirable attitude: to assume the mistake. Trying to transfer the responsibility arguing that the flaw was on other person's shoulder characterize the professional as one that put its job on top of the truth and do not hesitate to think first in herself/himself then the company and then in others.

The c alternative again shows the professional that chose to be the victim of the circumstances instead of assuming the mistake and handle the consequence of its actions. Although the professional is right when saying about the unusual work circumstances, he/she should remember that a deal was made to regulate work done outside normal business hours. Also, try to increate the time to find the root cause of the problem demonstrate that the professional wants to avoid the consequences by trying to make people forget what happen.

The d alternative contains and ethical and morally correct actions: assuming the mistake without making it a personal drama. Say that the mistake was not intentional, already has being corrected and point out that certain measures were taken to avoid the occurrence of the same problem again. This line of conduct shows that even when someone make a serious mistake the correct course of actions was adopted and the DBA is ready for whatever consequences that may happen.

Commentaries about situation 8: This situation demonstrates a work environment where developers can create stored procedures without the DBA's supervision. However, two mistakes were made: the developer did not predict the different folder structure in the production environment and DBA did not tell the developer about this difference in the production server.

Create hypothetical scenarios and use sarcasm and pessimism as the a alternative shows are bad ideas when dealing with an unexpected problem. The correct course of actions is to keep calm, do not overreact and take positive measures towards the problem's resolution instead of focusing in the difficulties or in the amount of work needed to be done.

Some DBAs that may be in the edge and do not show any sign of patience can face this situation as a trigger to unload a great amount of frustration. Although the DBA may be right, completely transfer the guild of all problems is not good for anyone because this attitude puts an end in the team spirit. Also, try to punish someone assigning a task that not belong to them will only make things worse they already are since the developer would not know how to accomplish these task and eventually the DBA will  have to make the reinstallation and all the configurations needed.

The c alternative is the best choice for this situation because it prioritizes the dialog with the manager and focus on the planning before the complete reinstallations. We can imagine that, after the problem is solved, it is necessary to schedule a meeting to discuss corrective actions to avoid this type of situation in the future.

The d alternative appeals to the DBA's sarcasm. This type of attitude is not recommended because the team is going through a delicate and tense situation. Otherwise, a little joke can alleviate the tension by a productive commentary such as "let's solve this issue right now and everything should be as it was before".

Commentaries about situation 9: This situation describes a common scenario found in companies that are growing: the hire of a new employee that is not used to the work in environment and is starting in IT area. Here the focus should be on how to face and deal with a situation where a junior employee made a mistake, something that we all do in the beginning of our career. Know how to handle this situation in the right way can be an excellent way to step up because this may create opportunities for training, education or even make the DBA close to a leadership position in the company.

To make use of irony and sarcasm in situations like this, as the a alternative presents, is not recommended because the junior DBA already may be very emotionally regarding what just happen. It is common that in the first days of work in a new company the new employee be watched very close like a child since he/she still is in the adaptation period and learning how things are done in the company. Assign a big responsibility to the junior DBA during this adaptation period is also a mistake since the correct action is to first watch some attitudes of the junior DBA and increase by small increments the tasks and responsibilities assigned to the new employee.

The b alternative shows that the DBA did not handle well the junior DBA's mistake because the senior DBA shows how it should be done and did not educate the learner in order to avoid the repetition of this mistake. However, if the learner already have understand what he did wrong and already apologized by the mistake it is not necessary to say anything else, because he/she already recognized the flaw and give an important step toward a mature professional.

The c alternative is the best option here. We can note the warning to the developers, the learner education and the private talk to show that, at least while the junior DBA does not have full autonomy for the work, he/she should follow orders. The senior DBA must be careful in this private talk because if the wrong tone is used the leaner's creativity and will to step up can be compromised. It is important to show that the learner known the way the company works and how things are done in the corporation.


This last part of the article discussed the last five situations presented in part one and alternatives to solve them.

It is important to remember that the DBA must resist to its primary instincts that lead to the fast solving of the problem. Each scenario presents a different situation that must be analyzed according with the rule and procedures of the company. Also, it is recommended not to panic, always focus on the problem and the circumstances and be responsible by the problem in the first place.

Each unexpected situation can improve the DBA career since know how to dealt with unexpected problems is a major skill for every professional that work with databases. Besides, the expertise obtained while solving daily problems is a characteristic appreciated by the companies and can generate good benefits such as the trust of superiors, the highlight of the professional among others, and the possibility to be a strong candidate for the next promotion regarding a leadership position in the company.

Mauro Pichiliani has the Master of Science degree on collaborative systems by the Aeronatics Institute of Technology (ITA) in Brazil. He is a specialist on database technologies with more than 8 years of experience on the industry...

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