Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Rant To Beat ALL Rants

This week I want to talk about what's been happening recently on SSC. As probably most of you know, I wrote the first in a series of articles on interviewing. In case you haven't heard of it, you can read it here.

During the discussion on this article, some of you said it must have been a joke, while others reverted back to the dark ages and performed a modern version of the Inquisition. I'll get to how I feel about that in a minute, but first I want to explain what the article was all about.

I wanted to say this so many times during the discussion, but I really wanted to see how far it would go... and originally, I was going to come clean in the 2nd installment, but I just don't think it can wait.
Let me say first off that this was a very carefully crafted piece. Didn't any of you catch onto the fact that the article was called "How to Mess Up an Interview"... GET IT?? I messed up the interview... (actually, one guy did get it... thanks, Paul, and while I think genius may be stretching it, I appreciate the vote of confidence.)

I've always had a flare for the dramatic, and when I conceived this series I had one thought in mind and that was to really drive the point home. So what I decided to do in this first installment was to give the readers just a little something to show them the kinds of things that can start out innocently enough but then completely blow an interview. The published draft of the piece was probably my 7th rewrite. Believe it or not, I actually got the idea from one of the worst interviews I ever had the pleasure to conduct. This guy went off on how dumb his current employer was, and how he was the only one there who knew anything at all. In the course of answering a question about the biggest disaster he had ever been a part of, he had a few choice things to say about the people he worked with including referring to the NOC guy as a stupid N-word... 3 TIMES!!!
When I asked him about his team and how they work together, he referred to his fellow DBAs as Jesus freaks who would just assume hold hands around the server and sing Kumbaya than to actually learn anything to actually fix the problem. It amazes me sometimes the lengths people will go to keep you from hiring them.

So anyway, I wanted to write this first installment in a way that would completely fail an interview. I started with that guy's interview as a model, but I had to be more subtle. There's no way I could possibly say the things he said, so I wrote one draft after another trying to tone it down to not only something believable, but something that would get my point across. In other words, I wanted to be that guy you wouldn't hire because he's just a little too... off, I guess.

The point of that first piece was to show that regardless of what you have to say, if you say it wrong, nobody will listen. There was some good solid advice in that first installment, but many of you refused to even see it because of the way it was presented.

Some of you weren't offended at all. You are my main audience. Others just didn't listen because they didn't like the way it was presented, but they kept their professionalism and just stated that they disapproved and went on about their business. You are also my audience. However, the hardcore zealots out there who not only denounced me and my writing, but also SSC as a whole, well, you are not my audience, and frankly, I'm ashamed to be in the same community with you. You embarrassed yourselves, and you embarrassed us all with your childish and petty behavior. Imagine professional people going on a public site and making a spectacle of yourselves like you did... and even cursing. You were so self-righteous, and smug, and proper, that you forgot how to conduct yourselves in public.

And for those of you who had Steve remove you from the list because of it... I say good riddance. If you're going to be that way we don't want you anyway, and you're only hurting yourselves. Personally, I enjoy getting my SSC newsletter every day, and there have been a lot of good articles. If you guys want to screw yourselves out of the knowledge you get from SSC because of one carefully-crafted piece, then you deserve what you get.

Well, let me just say that I've proven my point.

I did get a lot of support privately though. Many of you wrote me to express your support. I want to thank each and every one of you who did that. And those of you who supported me publicly, I thank you too. I didn't think anything I said was offensive either, but apparently, that's the kind of thing you can't dictate.

That's fine though... you guys turned a simple article into some kind of holy war and gay-bashing party.

And by the way... that gay thing really wasn't a slam on homosexuals. It's just an idiom that some people use. You know, like those other literal idioms like 'pulling your leg', 'heart of gold', 'broken heart', 'be an a-hole', 'look a gift horse in the mouth', etc. And the point of putting in the piece was to show you in the next installment that you have to re-train yourself to not use common phrases that could possibly offend. I got called down at work once for using the phrase 'partners in crime'. You just never know what will set somebody off (evidently).

So now it's up to you guys... do you want to see the rest of the series or not???
I await your response.
Sunday, October 09, 2005

Stone Age DBAs

This rant is something very close to my heart. One of the things that really gets to me is the hours production DBAs are expected to work without any of the benefits that come with it. We're constantly being asked to get up in the middle of the night working on problems, and on those nights we do get to sleep we've been up very late rewriting code, or reviewing indexes, etc. On average I would say that most real production DBAs get about 4-5hrs of sleep a night. And by 'real production DBAs' I mean those in really busy shops, it has nothing to do with skill level.

So with all this outside work what do we have to show for it? We get to be in the office 9-6 every day as well. In almost every job I've had I've been expected to keep full office hours as well as work almost a full shift outside as well as be on-call 24/7. That includes holidays too because more often than not, the users aren't going to be working on the holidays so the company expects that to be the perfect time for me to come in and perform an upgrade without having to pull extra downtime. And of course, I can't do it from home over VPN, I have to actually come into the office and leave my family to sit in the server room.

What really gets to me is that these are companies that have full VPN access. There's no excuse for me to have to come into the office to do something I can do just as easily from home. I've had it out with so many IT managers and they just can't get around the old American mindset that the only work that can be done has to be done in the office. Technology should be freeing us from such archaic thinking, but it hasn't effected us as of yet. There are still plenty of companies out there who think you have to be in the office to be effective, when the exact opposite is true. If you actually pay attention to how many people come up to your desk to interrupt your work, and how many times you stand around and talk to someone about complete B.S. for 20mins at a shot, you'll find that spending a little quality time alone with your work at home will be a welcome change.

The whole thing is really a huge contradiction anyway. My last boss used to work from home when he wanted to really buckle down because the office was too distracting. When we requested the same thing he said there was no reason for us to be out of the office to do our jobs. He actually said and I quote: "People work 9-6 in America." and "VPN is designed to be used after hours so you can work more than your 8hrs, and so that you don't have to come in in the middle of the night when there are problems." What a serious load of CRAP!! Another reason they like to give is that people in other departments will want to start working from home if they let us, and they can't get that kind of thing started. My answer is usually the same thing... well, the users in payroll don't get called in the mniddle of the night and have to get up and look at systems for hours at a time. And the next time one of them complains that they should get to work from home because I do, just tell them that would be fine, but next time I get a call in the mniddle of the night, I'll call you and make you get out of bed too... because if I have to be up, you have to be up. Sure, other departments have to come into the office all the time, but quite often they've got jobs that either can't be done from home, or their job stops after business hours. They get to go home and forget work.

The life of a production DBA is different. Being always on call forces us to do things differently. We can never go to a baseball game or a movie or even a family gathering where they can be out of reach. We can get called away from our plans on a moments notice. I don't know the last time I saw an HR emergency that called the benefits girl out of a movie or woke her up in the middle of the night. It just doesn't happen.

As a reward for this level of service, we should be allowed to pretty much come and go as we please. If we need to work from home for a couple days that should be ok. If we need to take off early most days, or take a half day, or whatever. I had to pay an extra $300/mo for childcare because my boss wouldn't let me get off in time to get my little girl after school... because people in America work until 6... period.

This is the kind of ridiculous thinking that's holding us back. It increases traffic, drives up your blood pressure, and wastes gas. It even costs the company money because they have to have space for everyone when they could use fewer cubes if they let people work from home a couple days a week someone else could be in your spot while you're not there.

My current job isn't like that at all. We've got so many remote sites and we do everything over the wire anyway, so being on the wire from home isn't any different than being on the wire in the office. As long as we do our work we'll be able to work wherever we like. I personally would never abuse my privilege because I don't want to lose it, but I also know the second I do, the party will be over and I'll be in the office every day without fail.

What do you guys think? What are your experiences and thoughts on this topic?

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Sean McCown
I am a Contributing Editor for InfoWorld Magazine, and a frequent contributor to as well as I live with my wife and 3 kids, and have practiced and taught Kenpo for 22yrs now.
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