A little rant about DBA’s

Well, a while ago I was doing some interviews for a client for a Production support DBA. This was for a short term contract to look after a few systems while the incumbent was off doing more interesting project work. The thing I discovered was the absolutely dire level of knowledge displayed by the interviewees about Oracle. Things that I regard as fundamental to the understanding of how Oracle works were simply unanswered.

Q: What’s the difference between and instance and a database?
Q: What does “nested loop” mean in an execution plan?
Q: Name the memory areas within an Oracle instance.

Several candidates answered these either very badly, or not at all. Not at all? Any you say you’ve been working with Oracle since Oracle 7 and you can’t answer these questions? You have been working with Oracle for 10 years and you can’t name the PGA? or ANY components within the SGA?

If you are reading this blog, I suspect that you know the answers to the above questions. You’re the sort of person who spends a little of their own time doing research. I don’t think the questions are demanding (or are they? please tell me they are not.) Who actually hires these people? Are these chancers and charletans deceiving everyone, or just deceiving themselves.

And they were all OCP certified. How? And how little does that certification mean in reality. A tick on a CV / resume to get it past the box tickers in HR and agents.

You know, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed in the lack of professional standards that you sometimes come across in our industry.

(Note: this post has been delayed to protect the guilty)

17 Responses to A little rant about DBA’s

  1. Tim Hall says:

    Hi.

    I’m guessing they did know the answers on the day they took the exams, but if you don’t use it, you lose it. Lots of people cram for the certifications, rather than using them as a template for improving their knowledge. This is not the fault of the exams. It’s the fault of the attitude of the students.

    The internet age means you can Google your way to any solution, so lots of people don’t bother to learn anything anymore. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    Cheers

    Tim…

  2. Sad but true. I find lack of knowledge a common flaw in candidates as well. Even basic stuff like how to start and shutdown Oracle is missing from many folks I interview.

    Ben

    • Ben,

      Since I posted this, I have been told a story by a colleague about their 11G New Features course. There was a Oracle DBA of several years standing from a large well-known bank on the course who had only ever used Enterprise Manager. They had never logged into the database using SQL*Plus, and had never logged into the Operating System. I know I’m a traditional bloke, wanting to know how things actually work, but it seems that there are a large amount of people out there who simply don’t. I suppose I’m just too much of a geek. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Neil

      • Gary says:

        The problem with the ‘new’ approach is that, if you haven’t learned the underlying terminology, how can you ever ask for help.
        Its no good going to a forum and saying “what do I do when my big green graph turns all red”. Knowing that a single process has chewed up all the PGA and (with 11g) its now started on your SGA, you get an idea of what sort of problem to look for.

  3. akpadhi says:

    Maybe times are changing. Tools and props DBA are more to be found than nuts and bolts. Maybe we are outdated or what most would like to refer as oldie.. I have always felt comfortable to be on command line, but the young folks I come across prefer point and click. But honestly, basic concepts remain the same and what all admins should know… I wish…

  4. The third letter in “OCP” stands for “Professional”. Unfortunately, the OCP certification does not cover Behaviour, Ethics and Honesty.

  5. Martin says:

    Hi Neil,

    My personal observation is that the larger the organisation, the less knowledge the individual has. I interviewed several candidates who wanted a lot of money for a permanent role (70-80k in NL) last year, but most failed to tell me how to restore a database.

    The best answer besides the “we use OEM” was: “Well, if I want to do this I run the restore.sh script and chose option 4.” Now that’ll help!

    It might not even be entirely the individual’s fault, sometimes you get into a silo (backup/recovery, tuning, migration etc) which doesn’t create an all round talent. I wrote a blog post about “how would you recruit a DBA”, but didn’t dare hitting the “publish” button. Maybe I should do this…

    One interview question I’d ask: did you read the concepts guide? Seems no one bother to do this anymore, but then we have the 2-day DBA guides now ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Martin

    • Martin,

      I think the pidgeon-holing that happens in large orgs is unfortunate, but that is only half of the story. There is also the level of curiosity that you have about what you are doing and how things work. If you have minimal curiosity and can achieve your job without thinking, why bother?

      Neil.

      • Martin says:

        Yep, exactly the point.

        I have been back to my university to give future graduates some insights in how life as a DBA might be. It was on a Friday afternoon, you can imagine how many of them turned up.

        It’s like going to the gym, standing in the doorway and shout at your muscles to grow.

        Lack of curiosity is certainly something I observe a lot. Too many people download the “brain dumps” and learn them by heart without knowing what they mean. Not only OCPs, but also the “certified experts”.

        Martin

  6. mwidlake says:

    I know I am a little behind on commenting on this, but…

    It is not just DBA types where you come across this “lack of curiosity” issue. Recently I have been working with quite a few young developers and many seem to have almost no appetite for solving their own problems or looking beyond what is in front of their noses. They just come up and ask one of us oldies. With those where it has become apparent to me that they never try themselves, I’ve taken to listening to what they say, firing up google and typing in the question – and then saying “try those suggestions – and try spending just a minute or two of your time before you bug me next time”. I’ll spend hours helping someone who is willing to put some effort in. I spend no time on those who won’t.

    End Of Rant

    • Martin,

      For our generation, IT was a predominantly a “geek job”. It has become a more mainstream career, whereby people with no real IT aptitude, or desire to learn, are happy to turn up, click the buttons on the GUI and go home without actually understanding what’s going on. I see it in every IT team I work with at every type of organization. DBA 2.0 is a reality, and there will be a steady decline in the number of people who really know how the systems work, and an increase in the amount of people implementing the manufacutrers/suppliers middle-of-the-road recommendations, which for most systems will be adequate given the increase in computing power. I mean, look how fast disks spin now compared to 5 years ago ๐Ÿ™‚

      Neil.

  7. Pingback: The 10046 trace. Largely useless, isn’t it? « Neil Chandler's DBA Blog

  8. David Mann says:

    It helps to have a mentor. A good one, one that doesn’t let you get away with crap ๐Ÿ™‚

    I remember the Senior guy at my first real full time paying gig. He was a brilliant guy with one foot in the Ivory tower of software design and one foot in our deliver-or-die startup. He likened software development to alchemy. Bring me some Lead and we’ll make some Gold – together. But come to me with nothing (no research, no ideas on ways to approach your problem, unprepared with basic knowledge of tools and languages we were using) then I am sending you away to page through stacks of manuals.

    It was painful sometimes, especially when I just needed a little nudge to get over an issue and had to explore a lot of other stuff, but I enjoyed the topics I had to review to move forward.

    Interestingly enough maintaining his code was torture, he took the Lead analogy a little too far and I would sometimes encounter his variables named Pb, Pbb, Pbbb, Pbbbb and so on.

    • David,

      When I first started working in IT over 20 years ago, I was mentored by some real old-school guys (John Dalrymple and Clive Goodare) who had to program with great care and structure. It was a great learning experience. One of the main things I carry with me is the power of really good commenting – which is as true now for coding in PL/SQL or Java as it was back then coding in IBM 360 assembler.

      10 minutes spent commenting and testing can save hours debugging and fixing.

      regards

      Neil.

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