Exceptional DBA 2012 Finalist – What exactly got me there?

As you may know from my pestering, this year I am one of five finalists in the Exceptional DBA awards.

Each year I make the effort to enter into the Exceptional DBA competition. I do not do this to win, but to reflect on my accomplishments from the previous year. This past year has seen a lot of changes for me. I left a job to go to another, left that to branch out on my own as a contractor, started my own consulting company and now have even gained my own clients. I have attended seminars, release events and even took the SQL Cruise to Alaska. My skill set and networking abilities have grown exponentially because of all this. All this was possible because I finally decided to take my fate into my own hands. When I received notice that nominations were open for the Exceptional DBA finalists this year, I made sure to get over to the site and get my information updated and submitted.

Somehow this qualified me as one of the finalists this year. Needless to say I’m ecstatic that the nomination happened, and I do cross my fingers and on occasion ask the stars for help in being the winner (Twinkle, twinkle little star…. Admit it; you do it on occasion too!). Reality is that it is up to all of you, my peers & SQL Family to determine if I am the one to be the winner and be granted to opportunity to represent an amazing community that has helped to change my life.

You didn’t vote yet? Hurry! There is still some time to vote as of this posting.

You can vote here: http://www.exceptionaldba.com/vote

For your voting convenience they placed me at the top of the page (it’s an alphabetical listing, but I still have to play every angle right?)

Choose the candidate you feel best represents to you what it is to be a DBA and to represent the community. Regardless of what happens I fully intend to continue my contributions to the community and to continue to push myself and others to all become Exceptional DBAs.

If you did not get a chance to complete an entry for this year’s Exceptional DBA award, don’t despair!  Below are the questions from the 2012 Exceptional DBA awards nomination form and the answers I provided, typos and all.

Question 1: Briefly describe your job history as a DBA:

I started in the ‘data’ industry performing data entry at a large CPU manufacturer. After a while I was able to move into some development projects and got my first taste of really working with a database directly. The work included SQL code tuning, reports, backup strategy, and other basic DBA functions. I was hooked and attended some training to improve my skills. I was promptly hired by the company performing the training to be a Sr. database consultant for Seagate Info (Crystal Reports enterprise solutions). Working with a huge variety of clients with just as many different databases I was required to learn a significant amount of how each system worked, especially the DBA tasks such as backups, query tuning, data structures, & file structures. The clients I worked with exposed me to a large variety of system sizes and complexities which allowed me to continue to hone my skills so that I could more accurately design and implement database strategies to meet & exceed business needs. After a few years of constant travel consulting I transitioned into the insurance industry with a company developing a SQL server & .Net based application.  Through exposure to the development world, with some top notch developers, I was able to focus on the skills required to better assist and communicate with development teams and management with regard to their databases. Once day my wife called me about a job opening they had for a SQL DBA at her company. This was the chance I had been working for so long. I secured the position and the official title of ‘DBA’ was mine! While there I worked on the conversion and migration of a legacy DOS based database system to a new SQL server database and took the opportunity to start seriously focusing on SQL server administration. Through various training methods I worked with the development teams and upper management to design and implement a plethora or custom applications, A full disaster recovery plan, clusters for high availability and replication for reporting and analysis purposes. After a while I had the opportunity to go to Amtrak as a consultant to become their only in house application DBA. I was handed 600+ servers with 1800+ databases ranging from SQL 6.5 to SQL 2008 R2. I was able to find huge savings through consolidation of servers and worked on establishing a strategy for upgrading the various systems to more current SQL servers to maintain support. After a short while at Amtrak I was asked to join a 3 person data team working on a government project with another client. That team has grown to 11 senior level members working to migrate and develop.  The team has become the ‘flagship’ of the project with managers recommending we talk to other teams to help them get their processes and teamwork to be more like ours.

 Question 2: What is your biggest accomplishment in SQL?

My biggest accomplishment is currently evolving. I use that term evolved because it grew into something I wasn’t expecting and yet I am very proud of it having happened. In my current position as a data team lead I have actively been encouraging my team members to keep up with the current technology, even if we are not using it. I regularly schedule meetings to get together and watch live webcasts and to discuss what we can do to continue to improve our part of the project. I encourage all team members to attend the local user group’s meeting and to also consider attending SQL Saturdays when they occur. I even carpool team members to the meetings and back to the office, even if out of my way so they can experience the SQL Server community and learn how valuable it is to share the knowledge we all have. It has gone so well that some team members are harassing me when I can’t make it to a meeting due to work or other plans interrupting.  Just recently a few members joined me for their first SQL Saturday experience in Philadelphia. A couple members even volunteered to help with the event as I did. They were so enthralled they are planning to go all the way up to NY and down to Florida to attend upcoming SQL Saturdays. For me the accomplishment of introducing others to the community and having it thrive is a great feeling.  I can only hope my accomplishment of getting them interested and active will continue witht hem as they move onto other projects when this one ends.

 Question 3: What is the biggest mistake you have made as a DBA, and how did you deal with it:

Ugh…the bad memories! They haunt me!

I had a production system that the email alerts were not working on due to the company switching email providers and not communicating the correct configuration information to everyone. Apparently the daily backups of this financial system had been failing for some time (months) when the database corrupted needing to have a restore done quickly. Thankfully a secondary weekly full backup was working and we were able to restore to that point with only a couple of days needing to be re-entered. No job loss, but a lot of concern and fear grew from it. I certainly learned that there is no real substitution for monitoring other than looking at the systems yourself from time to time. Monitoring tools are great and can make it convenient. But they can fail and it is your neck on the line, not the tool’s. Once the situation was handled I went through each server in detail, ensured notifications were working, and setup some manual scripts I could run against server groups to tell me if things were OK at a glance. For a few months I provided daily server status updates to management to smooth things over and continue to use monitoring tools as well as my little quick check scripts to ensure things are working as they should in all my projects and at all my clients.

Question 4: What SQL Server community activities have you participated in:

I attend my local user group meetings (there are 2 in the DC area) whenever I can. Due to them being an extra hour away from home it makes it rough at times, but I do commit to it at least once a month.

I have attended a few of SQL Saturdays and volunteered to co-ordinate all the food for the last SQL Saturday in DC. I just got back from SQL Saturday in Philadelphia where I volunteered to help in any way I could.

In March I attended Dev Pro Connections for SQL server 2012 release in Vegas. It was my first chance to get to a large convention and I decided while there to become much more active on Twitter.  I commented on my experiences at the event and even hooked up with some new DBA friends via twitter. I had the chance to chat with some great people in the SQL community at the event and as a result I now plan to attend at least 2 large events every year.

I just returned from the latest SQL Cruise to Alaska. That was a life changing experience and I highly recommend it to everyone out there. Nothing is quite like being locked away with a bunch of experts at sea for 7 days. In talking with the presenters and other cruisers I have been greatly influenced and inspired to start presenting to local user groups and even at other events if the opportunity arises. Currently I am working on some presentations to be able to submit over the next couple of months for upcoming events.

Question 5: Finally, why do you think you should win the Exceptional DBA Award?

To be frank and honest I would love to win! I admit I have an ego and just like everyone else it needs a good stroking every now and then.

Seriously though, it would be an honor to win the award. I feel it would help affirm the years of work I have put into learning SQL and becoming an Exceptional DBA are recognized by more than just me, my family and a few local peers and team members. I may not be the most technically advanced DBA out there, and I may not work with the largest DBs out there (~8 TB is my personal max so far). I do have a great personality and presence gained through working hard on the soft skills required to compliment the technical skills I have. Over this past year with all the changes that have happened in my personal and professional life I have come to the realization that it really isn’t all about me (how often does a DBA say that?). It is about others and the influence I have on them regardless of them working in databases. In my opinion it’s the work done with and for all the other disciplines out there that makes a truly Exceptional DBA.

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