Your First Days

    By: Bill Sawyer on Apr 20, 2017

    Your First Days

    By Bill Sawyer  ◾  Gary Gordhamer, Editor

    So you've made the decision to be an Oracle DBA. You’ve either been doing the job, or you’ve been assigned to do the job in the near future. Where do you go now? You must consider two things in your earliest days: How are you going to learn, and what things do you want to ensure you do or avoid doing?

    Understanding Learning

    In general, there are two types of learning: declarative and procedural. Declarative learning includes facts, concepts, principles and mental models. Declaration learning is knowing “that," procedural learning is knowing “how” — this is problem solving that ranges from well-structured to ill-structured problems. It is possible for you to learn the declarative components of becoming an Oracle DBA without a learning environment, but unless you have an eidetic memory, that approach will take longer.

    However, it is not possible to learn the procedural components without a proper learning environment. And declarative learning is accomplished much faster when it is done in conjunction with and contextually aligned with procedural learning.

    Likewise, there are three types of learning activities: cognitive, affective and psychomotor. Cognitive learning is about knowledge. Affective learning is about feelings and emotions. And psychomotor learning is about skills that are performed.

    Becoming an Oracle DBA is recognizing that the first learning activities you are likely to acquire are psychomotor. You are going to sit down at a computer, use a keyboard and mouse (or other input devices), and you are going to interact with an Oracle database. After you have begun to develop capabilities in the psychomotor skills, you will enable a deeper application of the cognitive and affect activities.

    To embark on the learning, you will need a few things: a library of what you are trying to learn; access to the software and tools you are trying to learn; and a learning laboratory to combine these things in a way that will not interfere with your normal job.

    Your Learning Library

    Ever thought about a library or museum? Most of them have more materials than they can readily make available. Libraries and museums have limited space and limited resources, and they make choices about serving the needs of their users. They do this through a curator.

    Why is curation important for learning about the Oracle Database?

    If you go to Amazon and search on Oracle Database, you will find 10,575-plus books returned as possibly meeting your criteria.

    If you Google “Oracle Database,” you will get 20,400,000-plus entries returned.

    If you go to and search for Oracle Database, you will get 116,333-plus possible matches.

    In the current release only, there are well over 1,000 Oracle Database product documentation guides. If each guide averaged 250 pages (and that is low), there would be 250,000 pages. If you read 100 pages per day, it would take you almost seven years to read all the Oracle Database documentation. Even if you focused on a single release, it would take you more than a year to read it all.

    How can you possibly dig through all of this? You can’t. You need a curator. I will be your initial learning curator, but you will quickly find that you are adding your own items to your collection. You may have found other curators that help you learn in a manner more appropriate for you. And you will independently find content on your own, and maybe even create your own content to help yourself and others. However you get there, creating that library is an important part of your professional development.

    Your Learning Environment

    You need a technical environment in which to learn.

    WARNING! Never mix your learning environment with any production, development, QA, release or other environment. Learning environments must be isolated environments used for learning only.

    Why is it essential to have a clear separation of learning environments from any other environments? Production environments are production environments and should never contain anything that is not needed to run, maintain or diagnose the production environment. Making mistakes in production can also lead to not having a DBA job.

    Other environments are typically intended to be close mirrors of the production environment. Why? Because it helps minimize errors as artifacts (e.g., PL/SQL code, objects, tables and data) are moved from these other environments to production. Or, those environments are used to diagnose and repair problems in the production environment, and being a mirror is essential to reproduction of the problem. Because the production environment would never have learning artifacts, none of the mirrors should contain these artifacts.

    However, in 2016, it is simpler to just have your own learning environment. The cost and ease with which you can set up a learning environment simply doesn’t justify taking the risk to do anything different. Simply stated, most basic laptops (8GB of RAM or more) can be your learning environment using Oracle’s free VirtualBox software (or many other VM solutions). Oracle Databases for learning purposes can be small in both their RAM and storage setups, so there is no need to duplicate what you have on a database production server just to enable yourself to learn. Oracle also provides many pre-built virtual machines for VirtualBox with database and other technology pre-installed.

    Setup Your Account and Download the Software

    If you are going to work in or learn about Oracle technologies, from its database through any of its applications (E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft and others), you are going to need an account. You will use your email address as the registered email for your account.

    Getting an Account

    Oracle has a lot of information available on its website, both for its customers and business partners. In order to access most of the Oracle learning resources, you will need to sign up for a free account.

    Note: Without an account, you will not be able to access most of the content described in this reference guide. This is not an optional step. This should be considered a mandatory action. To obtain your own account, simply visit the website and click the “register” link at the top of the page. Choose “Create Account” and fill in all your information. Once your email address is verified, you’ll be able to sign in.

    Most of the access used by Oracle is either open access via a URL or it requires an account. Some items only require an account, but in some cases, you need to join the community with your account. One of those special access rights cases is Oracle Technet (OTN).

    Community Membership – Oracle Technet (OTN)

    OTN is Oracle’s technical community. OTN is listed as Oracle’s community for developers, administrators and architects. If you are a functional user of applications, this may seem both intimidating and not very useful. However, it is also the community where people with technical expertise meet, and having access to those minds can be a very good thing.

    OTN membership is free and is a good thing to get and have ready. Sign in to your Oracle account on the Oracle website, go into the “My Profile” page from your account and select the Communities link on the left menu bar. Choose “edit” on the Oracle Technology Network Communities and set the “Choose/Update Your Display Name” field. 

    Download Software

    To install Oracle’s database (or any other software) content, you need to download one or more items from Oracle. Oracle provides its software through multiple delivery methods. As mentioned above, you can download pre-build virtual server images for VirtualBox from OTN). You can also download install media from either OTN or Oracle’s e-Delivery site. Here is an example using e-Delivery.

    Go to 

    Log in with your account.

    Read the Export Restrictions, and then select the Accept button.

    At the search page, set the Linux/OVM/VMs checkbox, and then type your product (like Oracle Database). In this case, it shows the Oracle Database Enterprise Edition being selected, but you can access the full range of Oracle products. You will likely select the Platform (e.g., Linux x86-64 or Microsoft Windows x86 (64-bit)).

    You will have to complete a couple of additional pages, including accepting the trial license agreement(s) in order to download the software you’ve selected.

    Oracle Learning Library (OLL)

    Long ago, Oracle posted a series of hands-on labs called Oracle By Example (OBE). These labs walked you through installing, configuring and using an Oracle product. Over time, more and more of these were released, along with additional learning content.

    To manage all of the OBEs and newer learning objects, Oracle created the Oracle Learning Library (OLL). OLL is Oracle’s repository of learning content that is freely available and can be accessed by you at a time convenient for you. To view OLL content, go to the following website:

    As a general rule, OLL has extensive coverage of the base Oracle technologies and limited coverage of the applications products. There is a growing library of Fusion content, very limited E-Business Suite content and currently no PeopleSoft content. This will change over time, and you should check periodically to see if new content is available and applicable to you.

    General Heuristics

    Wikipedia defines a heuristic as, “any approach to problem solving, learning or discovery that employs a practical method not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect, but sufficient for the immediate goals.” In other words, these are rules of thumb that are not optimal or perfect, but they do work. Here are some good DBA heuristics to get you started.

    Pay Close Attention to Security: Information security is one of the highest priority items that organizations face, and, as an Oracle DBA, you are going to have to learn to be in front of these items. Oracle publishes what it calls Critical Patch Updates (CPUs), and you should watch these closely. Select difficult passwords that are not part of any dictionary. Shut down unused user accounts, and regularly review the access rights of all user accounts in the system. Be very careful about sharing administrator passwords, and change those passwords on a regular basis.

    Pay Close Attention to Performance: Many of the database administration books will focus on ideal designs. Bottom line: Your users will never come to you with the praise, “Man! This database had a gorgeous design.” But, if your database does not perform well, you will hear about it constantly.

    Pay Close Attention to Backups: There is simply no reason for you, as an Oracle DBA, not to protect your organization’s data. Often, a production database is the only place a specific piece of data exists (such as an order, a customer profile, etc.). If your organization is not allowing you to back up their data, you better have several emails where you raised this as a serious issue. If after all these emails, they are still not providing a mechanism to back up their data, you should keep your résumé up-to-date.

    Pay Close Attention to Listening: Listen to your users, your developers, your IT co-workers and your business leaders. They will tell you if they are satisfied with your performance as their DBA. 

    Be Wary of Violating 1-3: While you should listen, you should never listen to bad advice from your users, developers, co-workers or business leaders. I would say that you should never do this, but never is too big a word. If you ever violate numbers one through three, you should be protecting yourself and your organization by fully documenting the violating and who approved it. Sometimes the hardest job of a DBA is being able to say “no.”

    Finally, it is worth me writing, and you reminding yourself, that ultimately there is no singular definition of an Oracle DBA. Your focus could be highly technical and focused on supporting developers. You could be a design-focused DBA who learns that ideal designs are both elegant and performant. You might become an application-focused DBA and learn that many of the common tools and techniques are not available to you due to restrictions imposed by the application.

    The tools, skills, techniques and processes of an Oracle DBA are like a large collection of building blocks. The permutations in which those blocks can be assembled is quite large. Some of the permutations are similar, with mild cosmetic differences. Others are driven by completely different mental models of what the end design will be. Perhaps most importantly, the end state of the assembled blocks may not even resemble the intended end state when the assembly was started.

    You might be looking at your own choices as if it is just a collection of unassembled blocks, or you may be partially assembled and recognizing that things are (or need) changing. I started my experience with Oracle in version 6. I can tell you that my own assembly is far different than I intended then, and could have ever reasonably predicted. I’m sure that I will change even more in the decades and versions to come.

    So, if you’ve made it this far, you have the foundation. How are you going to assemble your own Oracle DBA construct? Is this all you need? No! It is just a start, but it will give you a solid start for a successful role or career as an Oracle DBA. Where you take it from here is up to the choices you make. Choose wisely!

    Released: April 20, 2017, 7:27 am | Updated: June 2, 2017, 9:15 am
    Keywords: Department | best practices | DBA 201 | resource

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