Thursday, November 19, 2009

Job Security

Job security is a really big concern for most DBAs because we tend to automate ourselves out of a job.  It doesn’t have to be though.

First I’d like to talk about the worst way possible to ensure you keep your job.  I’m talking about those guys who write impossible processes that nobody else can support.  They think that if they’re the only ones who can support it then the company will keep them around.  And unfortunately that’s not the case.  A company is gonna do what they’re gonna do no matter how much you hold their processes hostage.

Then there are the guys who do something similar.  They just refuse to document anything and they hold all of the tribal knowledge and keep it to themselves.  This isn’t exactly the same as the guy above because this guy could just have info that nobody else does and refuses to show anyone.  And again, while it seems like holding information hostage in exchange for your job would be effective, it’s not.  Companies are gonna do what they’re gonna do no matter what you do to prevent it.  So if they’re looking to get rid of someone, you may be safe for a while, but not for long.  Your boss may recognize that you’re the keeper of the processes, but if they get rid of him then the next guy in charge of you may not see your brilliance. 

So ok, taking hostages isn’t the way to go, so what is?  That’s not a really easy question to answer because the specifics change from company to company.  However, the overall method goes something like this.  Be a knowledge expert.  Don’t just be a DBA.  DBAs can be automated.  What you have to do is be more than that.  Be a data expert.  Be a process expert.  Be a troubleshooting expert.  You have to actually prove to everyone that you’re the one who’s solving problems, or preventing them.  It’s not enough to just be a DBA anymore.  Buck Woody is fond of telling people to not be DBAs.  He wants them to be DB professionals.  And while he’s right to a degree, he’s splitting hairs.  Instead of changing the name of the position, we should work on changing the meaning of the position.  Show the world what DBA really means.

And it’s not just about being an expert.  It’s about solving problems that nobody even knows are problems.Talk to users and find out what they do every day, or every month.  Find out what their pain points are.  Not only that, but also look at existing processes and try to find out where you can improve things. And by improve, I mean greatly improve.  Don’t just take a single SSIS package and improve its performance by a few mins.  What you need to do is something major.  Really increase the performance or the reliability of something.  Make something easier for your group like building a management portal.  Put your mind to it and be useful.  But don’t just manage backups and automated processes.

Unfortunately, all this is just fodder.  Again, companies are gonna do what they’re gonna do.  So there’s really no way to save your job if it’s really in peril.  Layoffs are unfortunately a part of being in the workforce.  And it always seems that no matter what you do or how good you are, or how useful and incredible you are, the lazy, stupid guy in your group is the one your company keeps instead of you.  That’s another fact of being in the workforce.  Companies have no concept of who their best people are.  I could almost guarantee you that if you poled 50 companies who their best people were, and then had the ability to magically look into the workings themselves and see who’s actually making things happen, the two lists would be completely different.  Or better yet, ask the big bosses at any company who their best people are and then ask the employees themselves.  Again, the lists will be different.  All of this is just a windy way of saying that companies have no idea who their key people are and sometimes no matter what you do you can’t secure your position.  Sometimes companies just insist on being blind and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But if you’re going to have any chance at all, then follow my (and Buck’s) advice.

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Tim Mitchell said...

Sean, good post. To carry on the theme of being a data professional, I would add to this list that you should get to know your business. Know who the decision-makers are, and learn what drives them, and more importantly, what frustrates them. It's not enough to be a problem solver - you have to solve the RIGHT problems to remain relevant. Learning the business will help you to more quickly assess priorities and remove obstacles to your company's (or clients') success.

Jen McCown said...

BTW, Buck Woody's related blogs are Don’t be a DBA – Be a Data Professional and DBA? No – Data Professionals.

Sam Greene said...

Yes! Instead of entrenching, you have to run an outreach program. Change the concept of a DBA from barrier to bridge - helping them to get where they are going.

I'm working on bringing SSAS and ad-hoc reporting in to the organization.

Coming in as an external DBA, it can be very difficult to squeeze the biz knowledge out of the organization - some people seem to horde that as can definitely take some time.

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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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