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?


Tracy said...

I have a theory: People stuck in jobs like you describe deserve jobs like that. If they were worth their mettle as a DBA, and had the self-knowledge to realize it, they would, could, and should change jobs (barring extraordinary extenuating circumstances). If an employer can't keep a DBA because of the "injustice" of what the job requires, they may actually come to the conclusion that they need to "put out" a little for this job position. An employee's tolerance for a bad job ain't necessarily the employer's problem.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the main reasons I often think about leaving IT altogether.

Mick said...

in IT world, sometimes it just happens the s** breaks... companies that have situations like that should realize that in order to overwork its employees, they have to compensate them a bit extra... but reality is, most companies will give as little as possible to get as much as possible - that is the basic rule of business - make as much money as possible by spending as little money as possible.... it's unethical if the company decides to 'exploit' the employee - but ultimately, its upto the employee to speak up and if nothing is resolved, leave.. and anything suffered beyond that is not the employer's problem...

Anonymous said...

Those expectations vary from company to company.

One company I worked for told my boss, when he asked if he could work from home, said sure, at his next job with another company.

At this same company, the VP of our division would make "Snow Day" decisions from his home. He wouldn't bother coming in, but would phone in his decision on what he wanted us to. If you didn't like it, tough. Look for a job elsewhere.

Remember The Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.

Anonymous said...

sean - I've been touting the benefits of teleworking for several years now but found my voice on SSC a few months ago...echoes

Anonymous said...

One company I worked with, the boss would say I pay you for all the 24 hrs of a day. Where are the labor laws for this company? And this company pays less than average salaries.

If you decline to come to office on a holiday you would get to hear things like 'I'll put chillies down your bottom'. Its no use speaking up to employers of this kind. Its best to look for another job.

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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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