Today we have guest blogger – Jim Czuprynski – Oracle ACE Director.
I recently returned from COLLABORATE19 in San Antonio, TX where I presented on numerous Oracle technology topics including APEX, Oracle Database 18c and 19c, and Oracle Autonomous Database. But the presentation I enjoyed giving most was named An Airline Pilot, A Urologist, and a DBA Walk Into a Bar: Thinking Like a Professional. It gave me an opportunity to translate nearly four decades of experience in Information Technology, consulting, writing, and public speaking into some practical advice on what it takes to be successful in our industry.
The Future Will Be Amazing. If We Get It Right.
One of my favorite movies is Tomorrowland. Casey, the optimistic hero of the story, likes to say that “There are these two wolves: one represents light and hope, and the other symbolizes darkness and despair. Which one wins?”
As I talked about the massive challenges our world faces today – climate change, globalization and ever-increasing technological changes – we’re definitely standing in between those two wolves every day. In his book Thank You For Being Late, Thomas Friedman suggests there are three “M’s” that will shape our civilization’s future: Moore’s Law, the Marketplace, and Mother Nature … who, by the way, always bats last, and she always bats 1.000.
Yet there is immense promise in technology too. The ITER project in France is quite close to solving our future energy needs via hydrogen fusion in the next few years. The Internet of Things and Big Data offer us a deeper view into how people interact with technology and each other than we’ve ever had. Alternative energy sources like wind and solar power are cheaper than ever, and appear to be on track to transform our reliance on fossil fuels.
As IT professionals, we are among those who are providing a lever with which to move the world into this new paradigm. It’s important that we embrace our responsibility to human civilization to empower these changes because we’re not just doers – we’re also dreamers and thinkers.
Urologists Are the Happiest Surgeons.
During outpatient surgery last summer, I asked my anesthesiologist who were the happiest surgeons. She immediately replied, “Urologists.” I must’ve looked puzzled, because she said, “Think about what they’re working on; they have to maintain a great sense of humor. And they better get it right the first time! But when the outcome is right, the patient is thrilled and thankful.”
She then explained that least happy are vascular surgeons because they are constantly repairing tiny blood vessels in patient’s bodies that have been damaged through years of abuse – usually smoking and Type II diabetes – and they already know they’ll be seeing those same patients again in a matter of months because less than 10% of patients change their lifestyles after the surgery to take advantage of the hard work their surgeons have done.
Her observations struck me as a description of the difficulties most Oracle DBAs face daily. Just like professional surgeons, we’re often forced to pick up the pieces when our development team hasn’t deployed well-written code, but what keeps us going is that perfect outcome, even if our “patient” – the end user – never calls back to tell us that her report is now running 10X faster than it was before.
Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.
I’ve been fascinated by modern aviation my whole life, and I enjoy flying immensely. My cousin is a commercial airline pilot who is also rated to provide check rides for other Boeing 737 pilots. He loves to tell stories about what happens when things go dramatically wrong during a flight, especially during takeoff. He recounted that during one dramatic near-failure, “So then we reached for the emergency checklist with all the critical steps printed in red.” When I asked why the red lettering, he looked at me sternly and said, “Because anyone who skipped those steps crashed.”
My cousin constantly spoke of the Pilot’s Mantra: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. In other words, the pilot’s first job is to fly the airplane; all other concerns – including where it’s headed, or whatever the tower or flight attendant is saying in his headset, is secondary or tertiary to keeping the plane airborne, in trim, and an eventual safe landing.
Much like an airline pilot, a professional Oracle DBA is expected to keep every database running all the time and performing within expected norms, and – most importantly – to never lose one byte of data. Therefore, it’s crucial for us to take check rides when required, especially when we’re learning to fly a new aircraft like Oracle Database 18c or 19c. And it’s our responsibility to know not only how the database works, but why it works the way it does. Otherwise, we’re likely to make a crucial mistake when something unexpected occurs and we mistakenly diverge from the checklist’s lines written in red.
A Professional … Professions.
From my perspective, the best DBAs I’ve known treat their role as what it truly should be: neither a job nor a career, but a profession. That requires an almost tireless devotion to our craft, a constant inquisitiveness as to how a new feature might solve a business problem, and a realization that our role continues to expand as exponentially as the quantity and diversity of data has.
We may not be called database administrator in the future – frankly, I believe the title Enterprise Data Architect (EDA) is a better name for what we will be doing – but either way, the key to becoming the best DBA / EDA we can be is to insist on challenging ourselves to constantly expand our knowledge base and experience, even if that requires after-hours experimentation on our own dime.
Most importantly, we need to focus on what our future customer base really needs most. I believe we need to recognize that base will be our organizations’ application developers and business units, so we’ll also have to come up to speed on how we can best assist our developers achieve maximum productivity through the application development process. That means we need to develop an understanding of how technology like Application Express (APEX) can enable rapid application development while providing security and code reusability.
A Two-Way Street, Mentorship Is.
So how do we expand the circle of excellence that our profession demands? I suggest that we take inspiration from the most recent episode of the Star Wars movie series. (Spoiler alert.)
The mentorship that Luke Skywalker eventually agrees to grant to Rey as his acolyte takes time to develop. Rey has all sorts of assumptions about her power, which Luke punctures scornfully at the start, but over time they grow to respect one another, realizing that each other’s faults and frailties actually make them stronger than they could possibly imagine. And just in case you are wondering when the sacred responsibility of mentorship ends, recall what Yoda says to Luke with a deep laugh near the end of Episode 8: “Missed you I have, young Skywalker.” In other words, it never ends. Even when you’re a Force Ghost.
Oh, BTW: Which Wolf Wins?
And finally, in case you haven’t seen Tomorrowland and are still curious about which wolf wins, it’s quite simple: The one you feed. It’s time to turn our efforts as IT professionals towards envisioning a future brighter than anything we can possibly imagine.