Full Contact Computing
Bare knuckles, no holds barred computing

Are You A DBA Hero Or A DBA Chump?

I was on a job interview a while back for a DBA position with a billion-dollar international corporation and I was asked an interesting question: “Describe one or more situations in which there was a major problem and you jumped in and became the hero by fixing it”.

Here’s how I answered it:

“I can think of only two. In one, a SAN crashed and when the Linux admins got it back up, everything was corrupted. They wiped it clean and I had to install Oracle, patch it up to the right version, and then use RMAN to recover three instances. I got everything back, no problem.

“In the other, the Senior DBA moved an instance to another mount point and told me to delete everything on the old mount point. I did, and we quickly found two problems: One is that the senior DBA only had one controlfile for the instance he had moved, and the other  – but then, you’ve already guessed it, haven’t you? – is that his one and only controlfile was on the mount point he told me to wipe clean. So that was a day that lasted from 7 a.m. until about 2:30 a.m. for me as I worked with Oracle support on the phone until we got it fixed.

“But I think that’s really a trick question. If you have a guy that pops up and says, ‘Yeah, there was this problem that I fixed, and this one, and this one, and that one, and another one over there’ – then I would want to look very closely at exactly why he was having all of these problems.

“I mean, is it something external, like a hardware failure, or is he being a sloppy DBA? My philosophy is that you become the DBA hero if you install the software correctly, you patch it correctly, you set up your instances correctly, and you monitor and maintain them. You’re not a hero if you create a problem with bad practices and then you jump in and fix it. That makes you a chump. The real hero has all of his stuff squared away and he never has those problems in the first place.

“So I would be very suspicious of anyone who has a long list of disasters with his databases. I’ve been a DBA for 8 years with well over 100 instances and I’ve only had two disasters. One was not my fault, and the other – well, I guess I could have checked to make sure that the controlfile was not in use, but then it wasn’t my habit to double-check everything that the Senior DBA did. So I’ll take half the fault on that one.”

I got the job.

But the real question is for you: are you a DBA hero or a DBA chump?


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