DBA 201: Training a Guardian of the Data

    By: Michelle Malcher on Jun 13, 2017

    Training a Guardian of the Data

    By Michelle Malcher ◾ Bobby Curtis, Editor

    The role of database administrator is critical within any organization. As you evolve from a junior administrator to a senior administrator, you not only take on more responsibilities, you accept the duty of guiding the role’s future and the safekeeping of your organization’s data.

    As a senior database administrator, you’ve seen and designed a variety of databases environments, configurations, installs and administration tasks. Performance tuning becomes more interesting because of your deep understanding of the database and its interaction on the servers. High availability is something you can manage in your sleep because you have learned to properly configure and architect.

    At the same time, the database team should be growing to match the environment. With a growing environment, this means you are gaining experience, and you are now the senior or lead database administrator responsible for onboarding new team members or training junior administrators with less experience in your environment. You have progressed from a technical resource within the organization into a leader and mentor. It’s your job to ensure the organization’s success in both supported technology and retention of intellectual knowledge.

    Let’s examine how this opportunity to train the future guardians of the data can benefit your organization.

    Mentoring the New DBA

    Mentoring a new or junior database administrator can be a rewarding adventure for the senior database administrator. Often times, you spend a large amount of time doing a task over and over again; hopefully, these repeatable tasks find their way into an automation script written to ease the repetitive processes. Outside of these repetitive tasks, there are plenty of tasks that database administrators perform on a regular basis to keep an environment available and manageable.

    These tasks are a perfect mentoring opportunity for you and someone new to the database administrator role. More seasoned database administrators can use these tasks to teach and develop junior database administrators to become productive team members, eager to learn more and be involved in the database environments.

    When mentoring a new database administrator, you want to keep them focused on the issue and task at hand. In order to do this, the information you provide needs to be detailed. You need to explain why the steps are set up the way they are while avoiding the long history lesson of database versions. There will be opportunities to talk about how difficult it was with version 7 or what you had to do for backups back in the day over coffee. The main objective is to prevent any confusion related to the activity. Another important step with any new database administrator is to teach them the starting point for troubleshooting. This should be detailed when going over the environment.

    Spending time with the new database administrator might be difficult because your regular work needs to continue, but having them shadow you during this time provides an opportunity to ask questions. If you are a member of a larger team, having them work with a few other database administrators on different tasks provides exposure to other areas and provides a shared experience for the team.

    Checklists are important for several tasks related to the database environment and mentoring other database administrators. They are useful to form repeatable processes and provide quick documentation. There should be process checklists, for example, when going through migrations or database changes. An excellent starting point for new database administrator is to walk through a process with the checklist.

    Here is my new DBA checklist:

    1. Discuss the overall database environment, including applications, and why they are important to the business.
    2. Discuss privilege access and the responsibility that goes with that access. There should be an understanding that using the role and planning security is important.
    3. Go over privilege access in non-production versus production environments, activities allowed and the change control process.
    4. Have them locate the database environment and process documentation. Make sure that they are asking questions as the documents are being reviewed.
    5. Plan shadowing time and pairing time for working through tasks together.
    6. Assign set tasks to be completed or monitored.

    This is not a complete list, and there are additional items that are part of the next section: onboarding.

    Onboarding to the Database Environment

    There are different ways to configure database environments — from using Cloud Control to homegrown scripts — and there can be multiple ways of getting the same task accomplished. When bringing on a new database administrator, do not assume anything is known about how the environment is configured because every organization has different standardizations. Understanding Oracle commands and what needs to be managed in the database is the baseline; anything above that baseline is what you will need to demonstrate or cover in your onboarding materials.

    Senior database administrators should also know by now that having all of the details of the environment in their heads doesn’t guarantee job security. Documentation or instructions about how the environment is set up are critical to onboarding new database administrators to the environment. This documentation can come in the form of database diagrams, easy-to-use tools to set environment and automate scripts and checklists for different processes.

    Providing documentation will allow for simplified cross-training and onboarding because the lead database administrator can spend a few minutes going over a couple of things and then direct the new DBA to the documentation. Work can continue and new database administrators can be acclimated.

    Different tasks should be shown by allowing the new database administrator to perform the task and watching as the senior database administrator walks through it. This not only allows for hands-on learning, but it solidifies the checklist or documentation. If there is a step missing, the new database administrator will find it either by asking a question or having missed a step, which might cause a detour or an issue.

    It is always better to give more information and allow for hands-on tasks for a new database administrator to be acclimated to a new environment. Experienced database administrators might just want to jump in, and they have great experience to contribute, but encourage them to understand the environment first and hear why things are the way they are.

    These steps will help with the onboard process of a new database administrator:

    1. Explain the overall database environment, versions, platforms and some of the major applications being supported.
    2. Provide details where the documentation is available and be open to alternatives on how to share documentation.
    3. Walk through checklists and allow for hands-on review of these checklists.
    4. Explain applications and databases that might be handled differently and why, and at a future date, be open to new ways of looking at these databases.
    5. Explain what is monitored and tools in use.
    6. Detail out standards and baseline configurations for databases. This should also be part of the documentation but is important enough to review.
    7. Allow time for questions and for them to work on their own to explore in a safe matter.
    8. Set up time to plan for future developments and changes. This will give everyone a chance to talk about what is being planned and gather input for these changes.

    Always a Reason

    It’s important for everyone — not just the senior database administrator — to remember there is always a reason for how things are configured and set up in the database environment. It might not be the best reason, but there is always a reason.

    For new database administrators coming into the environment or learning something new, keep this in mind. Understanding the current environment first is key. After that, discussions can be had to figure out appropriate changes or dive into the real reasons. Conversations like this open up the door for further discussions and working well with each other.

    Data is important to support the business and the applications that drive the business. The database administrators are the guardians of the data that supports these business demands and goals. Understanding what the business requirements are is a bonus, but being able to communicate how the business requirements translate into how the databases are managed is a major task of the database administrator. If that is made clear, you will have a great baseline for the environment. Then you’ll adjust and work together to support and manage a highly available and secured environment.

    Released: June 13, 2017, 7:02 am | Updated: June 13, 2017, 7:12 am
    Keywords: Department | DBA 201 | mentoring | Michelle Malcher | training

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