Confessions of a Junior SQL Server DBA

– Photo by Milada Vigerova –

Wayne was getting ready to meet the director of engineering, the person responsible for hiring him. They spoke briefly over the phone for the scheduled interview. The director happened to be from Romania but spoke very good English that you’ll think he grew up in America. The role: Windows engineer. This shouldn’t be a big of a deal. After all, that’s how he got started in the technology industry.

He was escorted into a meeting room to wait for the director. After shaking hands, he was introduced to the rest of the team. Looks like this was just for formality’s sake after all; he’s officially hired minus the paperwork. The hiring documents will be available before the end of the meeting and all he needed to do was to sign them.

But now Wayne is having second thoughts. As the whole team talked about the different challenges that they need to address, he felt like he was the wrong person for the job. The director explained how the whole business unit depends so much on the 50 SQL Server 2000 instances that they are maintaining. “We only have one customer,” said the director, “a global financial institution based in the US. And we are their data center. You’ll be responsible for all of these SQL Server instances while you assist with maintaining all the other Windows servers.” Not paying too much attention on what the director said, Wayne thought “That’s probably why we he spoke very good English. Could he have gone to an international school as well?

Wayne thought they got it all wrong. Or maybe he just misunderstood. He applied for the job to be a Windows engineer, not as a SQL Server DBA. And, so he asked to confirm, “Sir, so I”ll be responsible for all the SQL Server databases?” The director replied, “Absolutely. And Krishna here will handover all of his tasks before he leaves in two weeks. That should give you enough time to get yourself acquainted with the environment.

Wayne didn’t expect this at all. But I guess there’s no turning back now. He just quit his previous job because he was getting all stressed out and frequenting the health clinic. Besides, this was a much better offer than his previous one – flexible time being the biggest perk. It sure would be helpful with two toddlers in the family. As he was signing the employment contract, he just couldn’t get the thought out of his head, “can I meet their expectations?

As he walked out of the building, Wayne decided to just sit beside the river and think. He had a lot of questions at this point – did he make the right decision, was he just trying to escape his previous job, is he really up to the task, was he in his right mind, is he being a fraud, etc. He didn’t really see himself as a DBA, let alone being hired to do work as one. His hands began to sweat just thinking about all of these. And there’s just one word to describe how he’s feeling: INSECURITY. He will be working alongside a team of the best data center engineers in the country. Heck, they even have an award for it. He felt like the rookie in a room full of veterans. Would they even hang out with or talk to him? He’s already feeling this way and he hasn’t even started on the job. He can hear the voices of self-doubt whispering despite the noise of the crowd. Could he be setting himself up for failure?

Can you relate to Wayne?

I know I can. Because, I was Wayne 10 years ago (somebody actually called me Dwayne once because of his accent.) And, yes, this was my story. If you’re starting out in your career as a SQL Server DBA, you’re guaranteed to feel some sense of insecurity and self-doubt. But don’t let that feeling overcome you. Otherwise, you’ll quit even before you get started. So, how, you may ask, can we overcome this feeling as we get started in our career or any big endeavor. Here are a couple of things that worked for me and that may work for you, too.

  1. Reach out and ask for help. One sign of a successful individual is his/her willingness to ask for and accept help from others. Click To Tweet Experts were once amateurs who worked hard to master their craft. And, let me tell you that they are more than willing and happy to share what they know to somebody who is getting started. And, let’s not forget that they are also humans like us. We may share the same interests as they do. I’ll never forget how SQL Server MVP and expert Aaron Bertrand (blog | Twitter) made me feel very much welcome in a room full of SQL Server MVPs back in 2007 when I attended my very first PASS Summit. He made me feel like I’m one of them despite the fact that I wasn’t even a SQL Server MVP back then. All I did was ask to be introduced. Besides, we have a wonderful SQL Server community that has created an environment of “we’re here to help.
  2. Learn fast, fail fast. The internet has made information available for everyone who has access to it. There is no excuse for not learning what you need to know to get your job done. Gone are the days when all we had were printed books and the CDs that contain SQL Server Books Online. Read blog posts, articles, newsletters, etc. that relate to what you do as a SQL Server DBA. Build a test environment on your computer or on the cloud and test out what you’ve learned. I was lucky enough to know how to use Connectix Virtual PC that I started building my own lab environment. That also allowed me to fail fast in a safe environment which gave me the confidence to continuously improve my skills.
  3. Stop beating yourself up. I did this a lot when I was starting out. Like I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t talented enough, wasn’t skillful enough, wasn’t this and wasn’t that. But I realized that it’s setting a different atmosphere when I interact with people. How would you like to be around someone who has a very low self-esteem? Heck, I don’t even want to be around myself. But that’s when I realized that it needs to change. If I want change to happen, it has to start from within. That also means getting rid of all negativity and anything that would hinder our growth. Even today, I still feel insecure when tackling some of my most challenging tasks. I’m not a naturally positive person. But I make it a daily habit to start my day with a positive thought to drown all the negativity that may surround me throughout the day. It has made a big difference in my life and career.

What about you? How did you feel when you were starting out as a SQL Server DBA? Share your story in the comments section below.

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12 thoughts on “Confessions of a Junior SQL Server DBA

  1. Sir,
    This is my story too, when I started my career I was windows engineer who has to manage SQL boxes; those days web forums were used (FB Group now a days) and that is where I learn key concepts. I love #sqlcommunity, people are always helpful and willing to share we just need to ask for help as you’ve rightly mentioned. Positivity, it is all inside, inner side of us we just need to keep up the spirit, the positive attitude and we will definitely learn something new.

    • I actually got a question today about whether or not this was true. This was indeed my personal story 10 years ago. But when I was writing Visual Basic 4 code back in 1999, I relied mostly on the MSDN Library, mIRC and bulletin board systems (BBS) to find people who I can ask for help. That’s how I met Ken (probably not his real name) online who I owed much of my knowledge about writing Visual Basic code.

  2. Hi Edwin,

    Your experience is very true. Nearly 98% related to me. Reading it was like reading my story of life starting out as a DBA, except that my English boss was like ‘Here’s 6 of SQL 2000 instances and we are having a problem with one of our clients, I’m going out for a meeting and would back in an hour’.

  3. Ha!
    I started out as an insurance underwriter of aircraft, with the side job of maintaining the Access back end. I got started using SQL because I told the company that Access would not hold up much longer under our load.

    In 1995, not a whole lot of people/website to turn to for SQL help. Heck, not a whole lot of books about it even. Luckily I was young and full of willingness to learn 🙂

    • I was trying to recall what I was doing back in 1995 until I realized that I was still in my sophomore year finishing up an advanced calculus course that I failed twice. I frequently visited our library to check out computer books but only found programming-related ones (Popular Science magazines are my favorite.) That’s how I actually got into bulletin board systems (BBS) and IRC channels – asking questions and learning from those who have the passion to share their knowledge.

      Thanks, Anders, for reading my blog post.

      • I used to login to sqlteam and sql-server-performance.com every day and try to learn by asking questions, and would answer those questions which I can. And, I still love those web forums and bbs boards comparing to FB groups 🙂

        • It’s a personal preference. The goal is to go to where the communities congregate and serve them there. I used to not like FB because there’s a lot of noise in the messages. So I try to make it point that I add value as much as I can and contribute to lowering down the noise.

  4. Interesting to know how you get into SQLDBA profession.
    Although, it gives me an answer that before a couple of years, I was interviewed by one manager of a company. He asked me can you manage SQL Server? I said Yes. Are you able to manage Windows Server?
    I said No. I come from development side; I started my profession in .net and then Moved to SQL Server. He said how you are going to manage SQL Server when you do not know anything about managing Window Server? He showed me a door and did not give a chance to answer. I thought, Leave it. They do not understand window admin and SQL DBA is different domain. But After reading your blog and other’s experience, I got to know this is what lots of people think.

    • Thanks for reading, Gaurang.

      I feel like interviewers are sometimes missing the point. Our previous experiences are what they use as a basis for identifying whether or not we can accomplish something. What if they asked, “Do you think you can learn how to do this in a week?” Followed up by “Do you think you can accomplish these tasks in 2 weeks?”

      Imagine trying to buy the latest iPhone and thinking, “can I do this with the latest model of the iPhone?” Then, you test it out to see if, indeed, you can. If you’re happy, you can keep the iPhone. If not, you can choose to return it and get a refund. It’s interesting that we would rather give an inanimate object a chance to prove itself than we would a human being.